Monday, October 31, 2005

Today in Iraq

Monday 31st October

  • Six US soldiers were killed in two seperate roadside bomb attacks.
  • A car bomb in Basra killed at least twenty people and injured at least forty.
  • Local doctors claim that at least thirty people have been killed in a US air raid near the Syrian border.
  • Two mortar rounds in Baghdad killed one civilian and injured four others.
  • Two mortar rounds in Bani Saad, 35 miles north of Badhdad, killed two Iraqi soldiers and injured seven others.
It's been another bad day. They are becoming increasingly frequent.

Let's not forget what George said before this all started.
"A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom to other nations of the region."
- George W. Bush, 26/02/03
Well, it is undeniably dramatic. The rest was just so much woooly headed nonsense. It amazes me that so many people still seem to trust the man's judgement. I mean, how wrong does he have to be to prove he's not qualified to lead the most powerful nation on Earth? How many more dangerous situations is he going to be allowed to create?

Regime change is the obvious answer and time is of the essence. We must not wait for the smoking gun of a mushroom cloud. Unlike Saddam though, George really does command a vast arsenal of WMD.

Who Gives a Toss?

An interesting topic has been raised over at the Sharpener (interesting for bloggers anyway). The top US blogs exert far more influence over political debate than their counterparts on this side of the water. The question is why?

To my mind, there are a number of reasons.
  1. The US has an established blogging culture. That, of course, doesn't explain why the UK does not have such a culture.
  2. The UK media provides a wider range of views than the US media. This does, I think, partly explain the lack of a political blogging culture in the UK. The UK media fills many of the niches which might otherwise be occupied by bloggers.
  3. The UK is not undergoing a clash of ideologies in the way that the US currently is. I believe this clash generates greater interest in political matters and thus, an interest in political blogs.
I'll expand on that last one a little (alert: poor attempt intellectual elitism approaching at considerable speed). Currently, the great British public are generally just not that interested in politics. OK, that's a massive generalisation but I think it's basically true. The UK public is hugely dissaffected by the political process as it is currently practised. Joe Public just doesn't care. This is partly because there is no clash of ideologies, it's partly frustration at the evasion of modern politicians, and it's partly because of the broken promises of the past and present. How often do you hear this vox pox: "It doesn't matter to me. Well, they're all as bad as each other."? It's a widely held view. The splendid people at NotApathetic had a good idea but I suspect they misjudged the depth of apathy which exists in the country. Of course, most of those people are unlikely to have bothered to give their opinion on the site because, well, it's politics and they just can't be arsed with it. Not that some didn't but by definition their opinions are unlikely to have been fully represented.

The turnout at the UK general election tells its own story. 61.3% of those eligible actually voted. There are undoubtedly many people who are very interested in politic but who still didn't vote, but I suspect they are very much a minority. In fact, most of the 38.7% of people who didn't vote were probably totally apathetic about politics. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, I also suspect that a considerable number of people who did vote also don't have any great interest in politics. They voted because they always vote, or because the family has always been Labour, or what have you. Ask them to take part in a discussion about policy and they'd be off down the pub before you had time to finish the question.

I certainly know a huge number of people (mostly but not exclusively 18 - 30 year olds) who fall into the category of just not being interested. They find my political interests to be extremely peculiar, not to mention mind numbingly boring. They'd prefer to watch the next episode of Lost, or go out for a lovely binge drink (with maybe a pill and a dance to go with it), or play GTA Violence City or something. Anything which isn't politics really. There's a debate to be had about how this has happened but I don't think the fact that it has is debatable.

So, basically, UK political bloggers don't get high readerships because they are concerned with a minority interest. The question is akin to asking why "Noodle Knitting Magazine" doesn't have a wider circulation; very few people want to know about knitting with noodles. Likewise with politics. In the UK, very few people care.

There is no spoon

We know, from the arguments presented to support the invasion of Iraq, that the US and UK government's consider reality to be an inconvenience which can be manipulated into more useful forms. Their approach to reality is that it is somehow intangible and can be controlled by statements rather than actions. This is, by any measure, a seriously worrying delusion.

Yesterday, I wrote about the US military figures which show a steady increase in casualties caused by the insurgency over the last 20 months or so. As a contrast to reality, I had intended to quote Dick Cheney from a few months back but didn't get round to it in the end. Here's the quotation in question:
The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.
Dick Cheney, June 2005
Well, Mr Vice President, *I think* you're an idiot who can't tell his arse from his elbow. Last throes? It's normally customary to base your opinions on some sort of supporting evidence rather than just hoping that saying something makes it true. Last night, given the US casualty statistics, I found myself wondering whether Dick stands by that comment. I suspect he'd say the same today but I can't be certain.

Rumsfeld on the other hand, for all his peculiarities, is a different beast altogether. His comments are generally more ambiguous with his meaning implied rather than explicitly stated. Here's a recent Rumsfelt statement on Iraq:
The pressure applied on terrorists and insurgents is having an effect.
Donald Rumsfeld, October 2005
Y'see what he did there? He only implied that the pressure was having a *positive* effect. He's a wily old fox if nothing else. It's his department which produced the figures so he knows that the insurgency is actually causing more casualties as time passes and not less. He knows that to say the pressure is having a positive effect would to bend reality a long way past breaking point. So, he implies it. It's a clever strategy, but it's no less detestable than Cheney's outright denial of the truth.

The reality is that the insurgency in Iraq is getting worse, not better. Even the US military's own statistics support this statement. It is a statement clearly grounded in the harsh reality of daily life in Iraq. Unfortunately, our leaders do not show any sign that they can acknowledge, never mind find solutions for, that reality.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Winning the War on Terror

First of all, it must be acknowledge that Iraq is only part of the "war" on terror because Bush and Blair decided that it should be. Iraq before the invasion was not a hotbed of terrorism and there has never been a single piece of credible evidence to even suggest that Saddam was colluding with Al-Qaeda (to my knowledge anyway). Today, Iraq is a hotbed of terrorism and those two men are almost exclusively to blame for creating the situation which allowed this to happen. Arrogance and incompetance have been driving our foreign policy and it has driven us into a very deep hole.*

The US military, after insisting for more than two years that it kept no records of Iraqi casualties, has released casualty figures for Iraqi civilians from January 2004 up until September 2005. The NYT seems to have broken the story after finding the figures buried in a report to Congress entitled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq", a report delivered on 13th October.** The figures are available on page 23 of this PQF of the report. I've taken the liberty of taking a screen grab of the graph for those with an aversion to PDF's. Click here to view (updated as the image didn't fit into the post properly).

The figures refer to the total of both killed and wounded coalition (blue) and Iraqi (green) casualties. They are far from complete as the US military has confirmed in response to questions put by the NYT :
"These incident reports are not intended to provide - and do not provide - a comprehensive account of Iraqi casualties," Colonel Venable said in his e-mail message. The information in the reports shows "trends in casualties resulting from insurgent attacks."
That would explain why the figures are significantly lower than all other available esimates. And the figures do not include civilians killed or wounded by the "coalition" but only by insurgents. So this is undoubtedly an incomplete picture of the true cost of the war.

Nevertheless, if we take Colonel Venable's advice and use these figures to look for "trends in casualties resulting from insurgent attacks", what conclusions can be drawn? Casualties suffered by the coalition have levelled off at around 18 per day. This has been stable for the last 10 months or so and is lower than the higher rate of 26 per day experienced from April - November '04. That's not totally bad news but it's not really good news either. The figures for Iraqi casualties tell a much grimmer picture. Iraqi casualty rates have risen steadily since January 2004 (with one blip), going from 26 per day then to 63 per day now. According to the US military's own figures, the insurgency is causing more than twice as many Iraqi casualties now as it did in January 2004. And if you add the two columns together for each period, you'll see that total casualty rates are also steadily increasing.

The. Strategy. Is. Not. Working.

How much more evidence will it take to convince these people that they're on the wrong path? Pardon me but what in the name of fuck is wrong with these fucking idiots? People are dying every day, lots of people. "We must complete the mission"? Fuck off, your mission's been a fatal disaster from start to finish (exceptfor the fact that it shows no signs of ever having a finish as such).

And it is important not to forget that each of these numbers represents a real person with their own family and their own friends and their own favourite TV programmes and their own hopes and dreams for the future. Each of these statistics represents a real person dead or injured. The limbs of real people are being blown off, the skin of real people is being burned off their bones. Families are being torn apart. These things are happening in Iraq every day. The situation is desperate and it's getting worse by the week. Something has to be done.

This situation has been created by Bush and Blair. They chose to launch this war and they chose to ignore the warnings that the situation we currently face would be the most probable outcome. They are not doing the killing but they have created the environment in which it prospers, as they were warned they would. For that, and for the incompetance which has beset the occupation and which has made the situation even worse than it would otherwise be, history will be the final judge. What is certain now is that they cannot resolve the problems they have caused. New leaders, competant intelligent ones, are required like never before.

* As was noted by Max Hastings recently.

** Possibly the most Orwellian title for a report that I've ever has the misfortune to encounter.

Getting Rid

On Wednesday, I wrote that signs were starting to appear which would suggest that Blair is losing his grip on power.
What interests me is that there were difficulties in finding an agreement acceptable to the Cabinet concerning the English ban [on smoking]. When did you last hear of policy announcements being delayed for this reason? As far as I remember, you'd probably have to go back to the Major years to find the last time it happened.
Well, it looks like the Observer might agree.
Whatever mystique the government retained was certainly punctured last week, as disputes over a ban on smoking in pubs and 'parent power' reforms to education spilled into the open. While they have occasionally quarrelled in private, the difference is ministers are now squabbling publicly.
The Observer goes into some detail concerning the Blair is having with his education reforms. I'd recommend reading the whole article if you're at all interested in these machinations. The Observer says:
Comparisons with John Major's bickering Cabinet are being made.
Hey, do you think the Observer staff often take their lead from my blog? I demand that I be properly credited (and given money)!*

The good news is that there's more. This time it's Blunkett who's causing Blair problems. Now there's a man I'm glad I don't have as a friend. Significantly, it looks like even those who have every reason to be loyal to our great leader are prepared to say no to him now. I do officially declare that lame duck syndrome has arrived in earnest. Yay and stuff. The fact that this is being motivated by self-interest rather than principle is a sad reflection on Labour MPs but at this stage anything which loosens Blair's grip on power has to be welcomed. He can't promise to further careers in the way that he once could and he's going to find it increasing difficult to keep control without his favourite method of persuasion. Get rid.

Oh, and Blunkett. What else can you say about the man? He's not content with having "been found guilty of the offence" of intervening to speed up a visa application on behalf of his mistress.** Now, I'd say that this alone means it's astonishing and just wrong to have him back in government again, but our David can't leave it at that. Instead, he seems intent on rubbing our noses in it. I remember when I used to dispair of the blatant revolving door corruption of the US govenment (both Parties are guilty of this I'm afraid). These days though, I don't need to look accross the water for my daily dose of dispair. Get rid.

* Just to clarify, this is an attempt at humour. I was going to say that I doubt if anyone at the Observer had even heard of this blog but if I think about it, Rafael, from the now sadly retired Observer Blog, might have visited once or twice. Anyway, I am 100% not serious about this.

** John Prescott, 22/12/04

A Constitution Update

Just a quick one and it's Good News!

Several Sunni political groups are going to participate in the December elections. I had feared that they would not. Well, I can say that I'm very glad that to find that my fears were unfounded. I'm afraid I still can't how it will help end to violence but it might at least prevent it from intensifying.

Devil's Kitchen has written about my previous post on this. Head on over there if you're looking for another perspective on the situation (something I always find healthy and stimulating) and my response.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Resistance is not Futile

The NO2ID campaign have started a new pledge for people who wish to refuse to register for an ID card. Their first pledge was signed by over 11,000 people (including me). This second one is for those who didn't get round to signing first time round.
I will refuse to register for an ID card and will donate £10 to a legal defence fund but only if 15,000 other people will also make this same pledge.
It's stating the obvious but every person who publicly opposes this Bill will help to create a little more doubt in the minds of Ministers as to the wisdom of the plans. I'd strongly recommend being one of those people. If this passes into law, it is never, ever, going to go away. Even if the system ends up riddled with faults and inaccuracies and even if it goes vastly over budget, as is widely predicted by most security and IT experts (those with no vested interest in the scheme anyway) , it will be too late to abolish it. Once the government starts spending money in earnest, it will become a permanent fixture of life in the UK. There'll be no turning back.

The Bill is to be debated in the House of Lords on Monday. It's widely expected that their Lordships will set about sticking the boot in with no little enthusiasm. Give it a kick for me please, my Lords.

A very big number indeed

That's how much the occupation of Iraq cost the UK taxpayer in the last financial year (April '04 - March '05). It's very nearly one billion pounds. It's also an increase on last years figures but it's still less than was spent during the first year of the invasion. When a number is that large, I tend to find it difficult to get a proper perspective as to what it really means. What I normally do in these circumstance is try to break the number down into more something a bit more managable.

The cost per year is just too big to understand, so how much did the invasion cost per month?
£75, 830,000
That's still not really comprehensible. How much did it cost per week?
No, still to big. How much did it cost per day then?
What does that buy? Difficult to say really. It looks like hours might be required. How much did it cost per hour?
That's a lot better. I can just about understand that. But it's still more money than I've ever seen (and by quite some margin). You see where I'm going. How much did the occupation of Iraq cost the UK government last year per minute?
And relax. That's a number I can get my head round. It cost £1,730 per minute to occupy Iraq last year. That really is an extraordinarily large amount of money. Hands up anyone who can suggest better ways for a country to spend more than one and a half thousand pound a minute.

All figures are approximate

Friday, October 28, 2005

Defending the Indefensible

When Patricia Hewitt makes an appearance on our TV screens, I usually end up wondering if there's ever been a more patronising politician in the entire history of democracy. I've certainly yet to think of anyone worse.

Tonight she was on the panel for Any Questions and her usually condescending tone totally deserted her. First, she struggled to avoid commenting on the recent critisisms of G.W. Bush , het boss's most trusted ally. Then, asked whether it was still "inconceivable" that there would be military action against Iran as Jack Straw has claimed, she completely lost the plot. Given Blair's hints of possible action yesterday, she just didn't know how to respond. She got so flustered that she ended up calling Jonathan by his brother's name (and more than once before he corrected her). Normally it's only Joe Public who fall into this trap and regular listeners of Any Answers will know that Jonathan is not what you'd call hugely tolerant of this error.

Although the question is undoubted a very serious one, I couldn't help but feel a tremendous sense of pleasure at her lack of composure. To be absolutely honest, it warmed the cockles of my cynical black heart. No wonder she's got nothing useful to say though. It can't be easy trying to defend what may well be the worst foreign policy decisions taken by any government in living memory. Hewitt's floundering brings us another tiny step closer to the day when that fact is fully recognised.

You should be able to listen to it online for about a week if you're so inclined. I'd recommend listening to it from the beginning but the floundering starts in earnest about 8 or 9 minutes in.

Oh dear, I'm afraid I got a bit confused. Patricia Howett didn't sound as patronsing as she usually does because it wasn't her at all, it was Tessa Jowell. Thanks to Paul for pointing that out in the comments below. Er, [insert suitable excuse here]. We all make mistakes I suppose. It's still worth listening to the broadcast just to hear a Neo-Labour Minister struggling so badly. It isn't quite as satisfying when you understand it's Jowell and not Hewitt though.

And here was me slagging Ms Hewitt/Jowell for mixing up the names of the Dimbleby brothers. Dear, oh dear...
*slopes off sheepishly*


As you may be aware, Friday afternoons are normally the best time to be on the prowl for bad news concerning the Bush administration. In this case, if I'm honest, I suspect it's just a coincidence. In fact, in this case, I don't think there's any strategy which is going to limit the damage done to the Whitehouse.

Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson: A potted history

Here's a quick roundup of what this is all about. Before the invasion of Iraq, the US government made strenuous efforts to collect as much evidence concerning Saddam's WMD as was humanly possible. This proved to be extremely difficult and a lesser man than George Bush might have been forced to question their own conviction that they existed. Dubya is made of sterner stuff though.

The US and UK government's had alleged that Saddam had been trying to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. The office of the Vice President asked the CIA to conduct an investigation into this affair. The CIA appointed an investigator to travel to Niger to conduct that investigation. The person they chose for this task was Jo Wilson, a former US ambassador to Gabon. One assumes that they were convinced that he had the necessary qualifications to carry out this task in a professional manner. Mr Wilson carried out his investigation into the claims and found them to be completely unfounded. He concluded that the small yellowcake industry (only two mines) in Niger is too tightly monitored (including by the IAEA) for these sales to have been feasible. As is now common knowledge, Mr Wilson was undisputably correct in his conclusion. The initial allegations were baed on obviously false ducuments.

He reported his conclusions to the US government but these conclusions were not what the administration wanted to hear. The response of the Whitehouse was to do what any responsible organisation would do in similar circumstances; they ignored Mr Wilson's report completely. It didn't fit with the narrative they were attempting to present so they discarded it as irrelevant. The "smoking gun of a mushroom cloud" continued to be used as an argument in favour of the imminent invasion.

Mr Wilson was, as you might imagine, somewhat concerned about this state of affairs and attempted to use normal procedures to correct the erroneous information being presented by the Whitehouse. These attempts were unsuccessful and Mr Wilson, now frustrated and angry at the deception being perpetrated by his government, and with the invasion now underway, went public with his conclusions. In his article, he presents the facts of the case and they are undeniably damning.

The Whitehouse obviously felt it had to respond in some way. Eight days after Mr Wilson's article appeared, a column written by Robert Novak revealed details about Mr Wilson which appear to have been designed to cast doubts on his ability and judgement.
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.
It is claimed that the Whitehouse had a hand in this column. The clear implication is that Mr Wilson was given the job on the advice of his wife but that he was not actually qualified for the task.* The tone of the article is clearly very much one of support for the position of the Whitehouse. The controversy concerns Novak's knowledge of the fact that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA; this is highly confidential information and not normally something journalist would reveal. It is considered to be a threat to national security to reveal details about the identity of CIA agents. It is alleged that this information was supplied to Novak by someone working at the Whitehouse. It is further alleged that this was a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr Wilson and to extract revenge on him and his family for speaking out against the government. A US grand jury has been investigating these allegations.

Latest Development
Today, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been charged with several offences in relation to the investigation. He faces the possibility of up to thirty years in prison if found guilty. In response, he immediately resigned from his position. Karl Rove, the President's chief of staff, who was also under investigation, has not been charged (although he remains under investigation by the grand jury).

It's tempting to jump to conclusions, but until the trial is completed it isn't possible to say conclusively that "Scooter" Libby is guilty. I'll stick to "innocent until proven guilty" even if the Whitehouse does not. So, at this stage this is still only an alleged case of appalling, unscrupulous, bullying behaviour from someone at the heart of the US administration.

If true though, it will prove what many people have long thought: that this US administration is incompetant, corrupt, and completely without morals. Bush, like Blair, is a man who likes to express his deeply held convictions. Bush, like Blair, used those convictions as a means to persuade the people they represent of the need to invade Iraq. Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but if someone refuses to reconsider their convictions in the face of substantial evidence that they are incorrect, then they're either an idiot or a liar (or both).

* Accusations of cronyism from the Whitehouse? What's that you say about pots and kettles?

'Es a witch, burn him

Holiday advice:

Why not liven up your Guy Fawkes celebration with this excellent idea. Personally, I'm not sure if I've got the front to try getting a Blair effigy onto a public bonfire. I may see if I can rope in some willing volunteers though. One or two people I know might do it after only a a little liquid persuasion. We'll see. It's definitely worth a go.

Regarding the title, apologies for yet another Monty Python quote. I'm a nerd. I admit it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Power of the Group

Tonight's Horizon was an investigation into the psychology of the London suicide bombers. From the summary:
It's no surprise that virtually all suicide attacks in modern times have relied on group psychology. From the squadrons of Kamikaze pilots in Japan to the highly trained suicide units of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. But new evidence from Marc Sageman shows that extremist cells can form spontaneously, without any connections to established organisations. His analysis of al-Qaeda has shown that most people who join the organisation join when they are already radicalised, and crucially this radicalisation process has happened among a group of friends. He calls it his 'bunch of guys' theory.

The 'bunch of guys' theory is a vital breakthrough in understanding the mind of suicide bombers. The willingness to carry out attacks very often pre-dates any contact with an organisation. There is no need for a mastermind figure. Recognising the importance of this and of these group dynamics, it is hoped, will help spot future cells before it is too late and, ultimately, prevent further attacks.
The idea of recruiters, people who work to persuade others to join terrorist groups, does not appear to apply to these types of suicide attacks. In effect, the "recruiter" is not an individual terrorist mastermind. The recruiter is, instead, the dynamic created by small, often insular groups of Muslims who are motivated by a sense of injustice towards Western society. In fact, according to one of the experts on the broadcast, the Al Queda organisation only accepts around 15% of those who attempt to join. They are not recruiting, they are merely selecting the "best" volunteers.

If this research is accurate then it is indeed significant. On the down side, it means that small terrorist groups can spontaneously occur without any outside influence. At the extreme, this means that even if it were possible to kill every single active or sleeper terrorist currently alive (and it obviously isn't) then there is still the risk that new groups would continue to spring up spontaneously. That is a serious concern.

On the up side though, again assuming this research is borne out, it means that we are better able to understand and prevent the radicalisation process. It means that a proper sensible strategy can be designed to combat the (quite legitimate IMHO) sense of injustice felt by many Muslims. This would almost certainly reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks. And it wouldn't be giving in to the demands of terrorists. What it would be is the opening of a dialogue with the type of people who have the potential to become terrorist at some future point.

And that's always been basically what I've been in favour of. I had previously thought that this would have to be carried out in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the terrorist recruiters. It now seems that recruiters of this type are of no great significance to the process of radicalisation. As such, this sort of reasoned approach would appear to have a very real chance of success.

The News

There seems to be something of a news overload at the moment. Some sort of mini round-up would appear to be in order.

Harriet Miers, the woman nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bush, has decided she doesn’t want to be a judge after all. She's never been one before so I guess that's understandable. Still, this will be a great loss to the US government as she was undoubtedly uniquely qualified for the role. Well, I say uniquely qualified. In fact, she has very similar qualifications to those of Michael you're doing a heck of a job Brown. Yes, they are both people the President calls friends. Well, in the case of Miers, I feel it's only appropriate to quote the wise words of Nelson Muntz: “Ha Ha”.

The Iranian President has been trying to prove that he's got a bigger sabre with an even greater rattle potential than either the British or US government. I suspect this is bluster and rhetoric, striking a pose for the benefit of Muslim/Arab public opinion. Who knew that the President of Iran knew how to Vouge? It is still a troubling escalation in tension though. It reminds me of warnings which were issued before the invasion of Iraq. I seem to remember that some people said that such an invasion would make the Middle East a more dangerous and unstable place. Were they right, I wonder? And were the US and UK government's right to ignore those warnings? It's something to think about.

The government's latest Terrorism Bill was voted on for the first time in the House of Commons last night. It passed with a majority of 378. WTF? As far as I can tell from reading various blogs from different sides of the political spectrum, this bill is opposed by the majority of people in this country (OK, I know, it's hardly scientific). Who actually supports the Bill, apart from the Blairites? I don't really know. All is not lost though; the Conservatives are planning to oppose the 90 day internment proposal at a later stage. That's better than nothing I suppose. Who is it who actually leads Conservative strategy at the moment anyway? Is it still Michael Howard? Sort it out people, for goodness sake. I have to admit that as a liberal leftie, I find it rather uncomfortable to be relying on the Tories to stop this authoritarian nonsense. What has happened to the Labour Party?

And, to no-one's surprise, more evidence has emerged to further prove that Cherie Blair is a freeloading stranger to dignity (that phrase courtesy of Justin). It concerns those highly paid speeches she gave at charity fundraising events in Australia.
According to The Australian newspaper, the watchdog Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV), acting on a tip-off, found that only 8%, or 15,800 Australian dollars, of the 192,000 Australian dollars raised from the evening made it back to the CCIA for cancer research, with 176,000 Australian dollars absorbed in paying for the dinner and guest speakers.
Is there a medical condition with symptoms including a complete inability to feel even the slightest hint of shame? Perhaps the poor woman is ill. Or should that be sick?

There's lot more going on but that's all for now. I'm off to see if can track down some good news for a change.

It occurs to me that I've made a slight error in this post. The Iranian President appealing to Arab/Muslim public opinion? True enough, but I should really have added Persian to that list, what with a large percentage of Iranians being Persians and all. Humblest apologies.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Idiot in the House

Whenever my MP speaks in parliament, the very useful TheyWorkForYou website sends me an email with a link to the relevant speech. I used to write a proxy blog for my MP and although I've stopped doing that now I still find it interesting to see what she's is up to. Ms Begg isn't the idiot in the title though.

Yesterday, Anne made a contribution to a debate on the Electoral Administration Bill. Anne highlighted a number of difficulties which people with disabilities might face when attempting to cast their vote. She mentioned that she had been unable to enter one of the polling stations in her constituency at the general election because it had not been equipped with suitable access for wheelchair users. She also raised a number of other points, particularly with regard to postal voting. I can't claim to know a great deal (ie. anything) about the Bill in question, but it seems to be a useful contribution to the debate.

That's all well and good until, after Anne is finished, up steps an idiot.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) has commanded a lot of support for her speech. She speaks from experience and with authority, especially on the difficulties faced by people with disabilities, and I am sure that the Minister of State and the rest of the House will have listened to her with great sympathy.
Patrick Cormack (Conservative, South Staffordshire)
Great sympathy? Good grief, somebody slap him. I don't want to speak for Anne but I'd be reasonably certain that she doesn't have any wish to be listened to with "great sympathy". What on earth is wrong with the stupid patronising git? I hope Anne has had the opportunity to tell him how much of a fool he is.

Or am I being to harsh on Mr Cormack? He wears glasses and, by the look of his picture, he's also a bit fat. As such, perhaps I should just listen to everything he says with great sympathy.

Tick Tock

It seems that the cabinet has finally agreed on the details for the smoking ban in England. This doesn't affect me directly because it's a devolved matter and the Scottish Parliament has already decided to implement a smoking ban in Scotland. The ban up here is going to be more stringent than the one in England with far fewer exclusions.

Personally, as a liberal minded smoker (hopefully soon to be ex-smoker), I find myself unable to decide how I feel about these bans. On the one hand, it seems like they're another step towards a puritanical nanny state and I'm certainly opposed to that. On the other though, I don't see why bar staff who don't smoke should have to endure the smoke of others. What about their rights? I'm well and truly on the fence on this and I'm not expecting to be climbing down anytime soon.

That's not really what I wanted to write about though. What interests me is that there were difficulties in finding an agreement acceptable to the Cabinet concerning the English ban. When did you last hear of policy announcements being delayed for this reason? As far as I remember, you'd probably have to go back to the Major years to find the last time it happened. We all know why this is the case: Blair rules like a King. If there is no agreement in Cabinet, he makes the decision and the cabinet are required only to add a sheepish "yes boss".

Not anymore though. For a wee while now, I've started to see hints which might indicate that Blair's bloody hands are slipping from the reins of power. Up till now it wasn't really anything I could point a finger at and say "I believe this is the beginning of the end of Blair's time as Prime Minister". Up till now. Well, I'm going to say that this very public cabinet disagreement is the beginning of the end of Blair's time as Prime Minister. I don't think he'll last more than a year now. I'm sure he would like to, but I don't think his party will allow him any longer than that. His cabinet colleagues are starting to plot and plan for what's going to happen after he's gone and the self-interest gene, which is so prominent in our politicians, is about to rear its ugly head. The clock is most definitely ticking.

Of course that doesn't mean anyone should take it for granted that he'll go within a year. It's just my opinion. And I, for one, will be continuing to call for his resignation until the very moment he leaves Number 10 for the last time. Once that has happened, the campaign to have Blair brought before the ICC will have a far greater chance of success.

Glorifying Terrorism

Two weeks ago wrote about the increasing tension between the British and Iranian governments. I suggested that it was possible that the government was attempting to prepare public opinion to accept the need to use force against Iran. I also speculated that there might have been some US involvement in this decision. I'm not claiming to be sure of this but I do find it a worrying possibility. I believe that the use of force against Iran would strengthen the insurgency in Iraq (particularly in the relatively peaceful South) and further destabilise the entire Middle East. It would, in short, be disasterous. At the same time, there is a strong possibility that the Iranian government, or at least a faction of it, really is supplying explosives to sections of the insurgency. If that's true, I just can't envisage any coalition strategy which could successfully respond to the situation. It's another effect of the quagmire we've ended up being mired in in Iraq.

Yesterday, someone commented on that post.
nazi bush
Now there's an unequivocal case of glorifying terrorism if ever I saw one. It seems to be just the sort of thing which the government is trying to ban in its new anti-terror proposals. Just to absolutely clear, I totally disagree with the sentiment of this comment. The attacks of September 11th were horrific, indiscriminate acts of violence with absolutely no justification whatsoever. The victims of these attacks were not legitimate targets; they were no less innocent than the Iraqi civilians who lose their lives on a daily basis in Iraq. September 11th saw the brutal indiscriminate murder of thousands of innocents and I desperately hope we never see anything like it again.

Having though about this overnight, I think a number of possibilities exist with regard to the comment.
  1. Robot Spam. Having checked the IP address via the Haloscan admin. gubbins, it seems that the comment was left without the writer showing up as a visitor in my visitor logs. Unlike most robot spam though, the comment does seem reasonably relevant to the post so I'm not entirely convinced that's the answer. All the same, I can't rule it out.
  2. Interweb Loon. It could just be a random nutter trying to wind people up. Stranger things undoubtedly happen every day on that there interweb.
  3. Government stooge/supporter. Call me a cynic but I wouldn't rule this out. It's be a very clever way to try to gain support for your daft glorifying terrorism proposals. If they were to find some way to leave offensive comments like this on weblogs, people opposed to the plans are confronted by the very thing the government wants to make illegal. It is so shocking that it really makes you stop and think again. And it's not exactly unprecedented for this government to manufacture a complete fiction in order to win support for their policies. I readily admit that my first impulse was to deleted the comment. Well, isn't that basically just what the government is trying to do with it's new plans? Why, I believe it is. Anyway, I've learned that it's generally best to think first and act later and now that I've thought about it, I'm glad I didn't delete it. So, government stooge? It's got to be a possibility.
  4. Genuine comment. It's also possible that the comment was left by someone who genuinely believes the sentiment it expresses. If this is the case, what I'd really like to do is ask "nazi bush" to explain why they believe this. Nearly 3,000 innocent people died on September 11th and I'd like to know what possible justification there is for wishing for more such events? Comments are open on this post if you're a real person.
So, those are the four possibilities which occurred to me. I can't say I have a strong opinion as to which of the four might be the most likely. Of course, it might also be the case that the answer is the infamous and ubiquitous "none of the above". I suppose I may slightly favour the idea that it was a government stooge (or a government spambot maybe?). Of course, I can't say that because our great leader definitely lied and manipulated us into the invasion of Iraq, this proves that his government is lying and manipulating us now. It certainly makes the possibility worthy of consideration though. Anyone have any opinions or suggestions?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

And our survey said...

Yes apparently.

I have to say that tonight's BBC 6 O'Clock News report on the result of the referendum seemed curiously optimistic. The acceptance of the constitution was presented as a significant positive step and there was almost no attempt to qualify that judgement. That's peculiar in itself but there was also not one word of coverage of the reaction of Sunni politicians to the "yes" vote. It is well known that the insurgency is predominantly being waged by Sunnis. If there is to be peace in Iraq, it is vital that the Sunnis accept the result.* As such, this omission appears totally inexplicable (I can't explain it anyway).

The BBC Online article linked above seems to have done a much better job of reporting the situation. The reaction of Sunni politicians is not good.
Sunni figures talked of widespread fraud after hearing the final results. Saleh al-Mutlaq, part of a Sunni Arab team that negotiated the constitution, called the referendum a "farce" and accused government forces of stealing ballot boxes to reduce the size of the "No" vote.
The UN has said that it is confident of the result so these claims might well be unfounded. Whether they are or not, they undoubtedly represent a serious problem for the coalition strategy.

The official line is that the constitution was accepted by an overwhelming majority of Iraqis. This is basically true (78% voted yes and only 21% voted no) but like all the best spin, it is only part of the story. Now that we have the full results, it's clear that the referendum actually came pretty close to rejecting the constitution. This would have happened if three provinces had achieved a 67% "no" vote. In the end, two provinces voted no by large margins and a third, Nineveh, voted no by a small one. The "no" vote in Nineveh was 55%, 12% short of the margin required. As some people will already know, Nineveh is the province thought most likely to have suffered "electoral irregularities" during the referendum. Using the figures from that post, I estimate very approximately that another 100,000 "no" votes (or 100,000 less "yes" votes) in Nineveh would have delivered a rejection of the constitution. So, although the constitution was supported by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, the final result of the referendum is far from overwhelming.

I should be clear though, I'm not saying that I think the referendum was fixed. I can't claim to have nearly enough information to be able to make a proper judgement on that. What I am saying is that the result was close in the crucial and controversial Ninehev province. As such, accusations that the vote was fraudulent should not be dismissed out of hand. I'm afraid that's just what the US and UK government's, along with the majority Shias and the Kurds, are about to do. The "Sunni Sour Grape" labels are due to be delivered any day now. I believe this is probably the most dangerous situation Iraq has faced since the invasion. If the Sunnis do not accept the result and if their objections are swept aside, they could withdraw from the political process altogether. If that happened, it would almost certainly be disasterous for the stability of the country. Iraq is currently on a very precarious knife edge and the next few weeks are going to be absolutely vital. One slip and civil war will probably become inevitable.

It might not come to that and I hope it doesn't. The Sunnis could accept the vote and put their efforts into campaigning for the elections in December. This might start to have some effect on the strength of the insurgency. That would be the best possible outcome and one I'm sure we would all welcome wholeheartedly. If recent history is anything to go by though, I'm afraid it won't happen that way.

* For convenience (ie. laziness) I tend to generalise about various groups without mentioning that I'm doing it. I've done it quite a lot in this post. The idea of that the "Sunnis" of Iraq, or any other group for that matter, all universally subscribe to one particular view of a situation is obviously simplistic. In reality, it might be better to say the "views of the majority of Sunnis" or something similar but it always seem to find that it makes writing slightly irritating. Perhaps I'm just being pedantic but I thought I should mention that I'm aware that I do this. I wonder if I could just ask people to read majority view or what have you when appropriate from here on in? That'd be ideal.

** This week, I shall be mostly trying to spot people who normally detest everything about the UN but who unquestioningly accept this UN judgement and use it in argument to defend their own position. 10 points if you spot one before do. The sad truth is that we know that UN officials have been known to take the odd bribe here and there (and specifically with regard to Iraq actually). Not that I'm saying it happened in this case, just that it wouldn't be without precedent if it had.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Blair's Folly

It's Iraq, just to clarify in the extremely unlikely event that you hadn't already guessed.

There's been some news on the results of the Iraqi constitutional referendum. Two Sunni provinces, Salahuddin and Anbar, have overwhelmingly rejected the constitution. A third Sunni province, Diyala, has delivered a yes vote. The result for the now crucial province of Nineveh has yet to be declared. Nineveh is the province which was causing concern last week. It looks as if the result is going to be very close there. The result is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday. Unfortunately, whichever way it goes, a controversial result is now pretty much guaranteed. That's not good news for anyone.

Just before I sat down to write this I was watching BBC News 24. As I type they are reporting that three large explosion have occurred in the area of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. There also appears to be a gun battle taking place. Details are thin on the ground as the BBC is struggling to contact its correspondants in the area (who, I think, normally stay at the Palestine Hotel). By the look of the roof-cam image the BBC is showing it's not what you'd call a peaceful day in Baghdad. Of course we'll get more coverage of this than if it had happened in another part of the city as there are so many journalists based in the area. Hopefully it won't be too serious.

Link to news of the explosions.
Update ends

There can be no doubt that the situation in Iraq is extremely grim. Last month, US military commanders predicted that the insurgency could last nine years.*
[General] Casey said the average 20th century counterinsurgency lasted nine years. "And there is no reason that we should believe that the insurgency in Iraq will take any less time to deal with,"...
Of course the coalition is planning to train up the Iraqi security forces so they can deal with this mess and the coalition troops can get the hell out of there. There's no desire in Washington to keep US troops fighting the insurgency in Iraq indefinitely. I suspect they probably would like to keep a few bases in the country but would prefer if their troops didn't have to do any of the actual fighting.

It is a disaster. And how does our great leader respond to this situation? Well, I don't even need to look it up. It goes something like this:
"Look, I understand why people took a different view about our decision to remove Saddam..." Er, that's a lie straight away, that wasn't the decision in March 2003. The decision was about non-existent WMD. Anyway, "... but the situation now is that we are in Iraq under a UN mandate fighting these terrorists and insurgents. We are there to help the ordinary people of Iraq and we will stay until the job is done. We are there because the people of Iraq want us to be there and we will leave when they want us to leave and not before."
OK, it might not be word for word but that's definitely the jist of the current mantra.

And that leads us to the results of a confidential Ministry of Defence poll which was leaked to the Sunday Telegraph. I'm assuming these figures are accurate as they don't appear to have been disputed by the government. In fact, in today's Press and Journal (not online sadly) the MoD apear to confirm their accuracy. An official is quoted as saying that these poll results relate to August which was "a particularly bad month in terms of results". And the results?
72 per cent [of Iraqis] do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.
It really couldn't get any worse. But it does.
82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops.
It really, really couldn't get any worse. But it does. Again.
Less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security.
Grim. These results show pretty conclusively that support for the occupation forces has gone into freefall. Where does that leave Blair's argument that we'll leave when the Iraqis want us to? In the same place as the "extensive, detailed and authoritative" intelligence no doubt.

I actually believe that to withdraw now would be very dangerous and that it could lead to all out civil war in Iraq. But if the Iraqis want us to leave, maybe we should. I'm afraid it's a total nightmare situation, all the options are bad. It's like it's been written by Joseph Heller. I hate to say I told you so but for crying out loud...

I still maintain that the coalition should attempt to organise a new peacekeeping force, ideally predominantly Muslim, and certainly without US or UK troops, to replace the current "multi-national" force. It's a long shot but I can't see anything else having the slightest chance of delivering a peaceful Iraq. Staying the course is not an option when you're heading for the edge of a cliff.

*I normally try to resist the Iraq-Vietnam comparisons. Although there are undoubtedly some similarities, Vietnam was a far more violent and deadly affair than the invasion of Iraq has so far proved to be. Nonetheless, I find myself wondering whether the idea of this nine year period is based on the US military's experience of fighting an insurgency in Vietnam. From a US perspective that insurgency did last about nine years. Of course it really lasted a bit longer than that (ask the French) and would probably have lasted a even longer but for the fact that the insurgents ended up winning. I could be wrong but it's not what you'd call an auspicious omen.

Power and Money

I will pledge £10 to a fund to buy a peerage from Tony Blair but only if 50,000 other people will too.
How could you possibly refuse such an enticing prospect? Sign up now before it's too late.

These days it seems that Blair doesn't even feel the need to pretend to be leading a Labour Party. Peerages for millionare Labour party donors? Do I smell elitist, money fuelled cronyism? Aneurin Bevan would be so proud.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Stop and Search and Scare

The BBC has been investigating the way the police have been using the anti-terrorism stop and search powers since the attacks of 7th July. In designated "high risk" areas the police have the ability to stop and search any vehicle or person without having to demonstrate reasonable suspicion. Unsurprisingly, a number of police forces have reported significant increases in the use of this power since the London attacks.
Hampshire police stopped more than 4,400 pedestrians and vehicles since 7 July, compared to just under 700 between 2003 and 2004... There were just four searches in Humberside in 2003/4, yet in the last three months, there were 1,830.
Well, I say unsurprising. The scale of these increases is something to behold. I suppose it is understandable to some extent, the police are human just like everyone else after all. From a purely rational standpoint, I'd say it's much harder to justify.

Starting at the beginning, our great leader will undoubtedly say that this rise is because "the rules of the game are changing". There are lots of reasons why I think he's completely wrong about that but here's one directly relating to this. Since September 11th 2001, the British public were constantly told that it was only a matter of time before the UK was targeted by terrorists. Blair would have us believe that his critics didn't believe this but that's mostly just the typical Neo-Labour smoke and mirrors. Most critics did believe that the UK was at risk. The criticism was that Blair was not addressing that threat in a reasonable and competant manner. Critics also thought that Blair was manipulating the risk for political purposes. None of that has changed since the attacks on London. The risk of more attacks is still with us, just as it was before. Blair still stands accused of incompetance and manipulation (I'd say that since the attacks the evidence of that is actually mounting). The "rules of the game" have not changed.

So, why, if an attack was (rightly) thought to be inevitable before the bombings, is it necessary for the police to increase their use of stop and search powers after July 7th? Did they not believe the warnings given previously? Perhaps if they had, the attacks could have been prevented. Right? Well, no, that's just nonsense.

Because, if you think about it, the chances of the police successfully intercepting a terrorist during a random stop and search are slim to non-existent. How many people did Hampshire police stop in three months? It was 4,400. That sounds like a lot but out of how many people in total? How many people entered the "high risk" areas in those three months without being searched? Bear in mind that the "high risk" areas are rather larger than you might reasonably expect. You'd have to count every person who visits Southampton airport for example. In those three months (summer months no less) that would have to be at least 400,000 - 500,000 people. Portsmouth is also part of the Hampshire police region so there's also the Navy base, HMS Victory, the Trafalgar celebrations, the impressive Spinnaker Tower (although to be fair I think the tower has only recently opened), visits from the Queen... That's a whole lot of people coming and going in these "high risk" areas. I think you get the point. 4,400 people stopped and searched out of what, 1,000,000? It's all gone a bit needles and haystacks. In fact, it starts to look utterly pointless.

But what about the visible police presence, surely that must have a positive effect? Many more people will have seen the police performing these duties than just those who have been searched. That should make us all safer, right? Well, I'd say no again. I doubt a determined suicide bomber is going to be greatly detered by the fact that there's a small chance that he could be searched on the way to his target. "Oh, I might be searched, how inconvenient. I'd better just not bother martyring myself for the glory of Allah". Er, no, it's just not a sensible assumption.

So, when it comes to ensuring public safety, random stop and searches really are completely useless. The chances of interception a terrorist are basically nil. The chance that it would deter an attack are equally slim.

The searches do have some effect though. Firstly, they reassure the type of person who demands that something must be seen to be done. Not a hugely useful function, but it's a possible vote winner so it's always going to be a favourite with politicians. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this visible police action does a splendid job of keeping the terrorist threat at the forefront of people's thoughts. Blair likes that, as we know, so he's more than happy to let the police carry on with these silly searches. Because if we're all crapping our pants, it's easier for him to persuade us to accept his stupid new proposals. If we're crapping our pants we might not notice that terrorism is actually one of the minor dangers we face in the modern world. As I mentioned previously, you're actually at considerably greater risk of being killed by a friend or family member. But scared people lose perspective, they accept things they might normally question. It's an unpleasant truth but our government is actively seeking to create such a climate in order to be able to aquire greater powers over the population. It's an Orwellian nightmare. Unfortunately, it's one I don't seem to be able to wake up from. An application for asylum is starting to look tempting. I hear New Zealand is nice.

There's lot's of other stuff I could write about stop and search but this is getting rather long already so I'll leave it there. I would have liked to have seen a breakdown of the racial profile of those being stopped and searched. I suspect that would tell another very bleak story. I might come back to that at some point.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I wish to register a complaint

This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
Yes, the news has all gone a bit Monty Python. At this stage there is no indication as to whether the parrot in question was a Norwegian Blue (remarkable bird the Norwegian Blue, beautiful plumage). Perhaps it was just pining for the fjords. Still, it's probably best to panic just to be on the safe side.

Or perhaps not. Common sense is provided by an expert from round my way:
Aberdeen University microbiologist and bird flu expert Professor Hugh Pennington told BBC News Britons should not be alarmed by the discovery. "The bird flu has been doing the rounds of the Far East for about 10 years and it hasn't mutated yet into the form that we really fear - the form that could infect people on any scale at all - and it may never do that," he said.
So no need to panic then. And this parrot was in quarantine. Officials say there is no risk that it passed on its germs to the general bird population in the UK. So really absolutely no need to panic then.

No need, for example, to freak people out with headlines like Bird Flu Hits Britain (btw, check out the caption under the photo of the parrot on this page) or the truly awful Polly killer hits the UK. We're all going to die...

To be honest the extraordinary level of coverage of this is really starting to hack me off now. As the BBC sensibly points out, regular flu kills about 12,000 people in the UK every year. Bird flu, on the other hand, has killed about 60 people worldwide. It might kill a lot more at some point in the future. It might not. It is certainly a good idea to plan for the worst. It is certainly not a good idea to whip up a frenzy of hysteria. The media seems to be applying the perspective of Picasso on LSD when it comes to this. Calm down dears, it hasn't happened yet.

Amanda Platell on Morgan and Paltell tonight:
I am very worried about this. Surely the government should appoint a Minister for Bird Flu. [Paraphrased]
For crying out loud. Yes, let's appoint a Minister for a disease which might be potentially dangerous to the British public at some unspecified point in the future. Good idea. While were about it, let's have a Minister for Lepers, a Minister for Vague Disease, and a Minister for Grey Goo (nanotechnology is a dangerous business, it's only a matter of time...).

This strategy is best employed in conjunction with one which ignores an actual epidemic which is happening in the UK right now but which is a just little bit embarrassing. The best approach here is to save money by making sure that STD clinics are woefully under-resourced. It's perfect, no-one's going to complain to their MP about that and the tabloids don't give a stuff so it can be ignored with total impunity.

Hurray for democracy, that wonderful system where politicians must panders to the whims of the media but can safely ignore everything else.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Guantánamo Bay

Good or Evil?

President Bush often gives ridiculously simplistic speeches concerning the pure evil which motivates the "trrists". It's always black and white with Dubya, "we" are good and "they" are evil. There are no shades of grey in his world view. Real life is nothing like that of course but by stripping out the complexities of reality George finds himself better able to deal with a world he finds maddeningly confusing. That's my interpretation anyway.

The irony is that the "trrists" world view is built in exactly the same way but obviously with the good and evil tags applied the other way round. I often wonder if George realises that the terrorist recruiters use exactly the sort of rhetoric he's so fond of. More significantly, I wonder if he realises that when they do, their firm conviction that they are absolutely right is just as deeply held as his own. I suspect Bush can't see this. In fact, I suspect he thinks that the terrorists know deep down that they are evil but maintain a pretense that they are good in order to further their neferious schemes. That's complete nonsense but there you go.*

And that sort of leads us to the weird illegal limboland that is Guantánamo Bay. I find what happens there morally abhorent. Here's the latest story to have surfaced regarding the treatment of the detainees:
  • Force-feedings resulted in prisoners “vomiting up substantial amounts of blood. When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like ‘look what your religion has brought you.’”
  • “Large tubes – the thickness of a finger – were viewed by detainees as objects of torture. They were forcibly shoved up the detainees’ noses and down into their stomachs. Again, no anesthesia or sedative was provided.”
These details come from a statement made by one of the lawyers acting on behalf of some of the prisoners. Due to the secrecy which surrounds the camp it's difficult to confirm or deny these claims. They are certainly consistent with previous stories of mistreatment of detainees. And some of these detainees have been held without charge for close to four years. There is no question that what is happening at Guantánamo is repugnant to all decent civilized people.

But I'm going to take of my decency hat and look at this from the point of view of pure self interest. If we accept that it's necessary to do whatever it takes, however unsavoury, in order to defeat the terrorists then Guantánamo must be a good idea, right? It keeps suspected dangerous terrorists out of circulation and that has to be a good thing. Well, no, it's almost certainly counter-productive. It's manna from heaven for the terrorist recruiters. It fits perfectly into their world view; the US government is evil and they are fighting the good fight against that evil tyranny. It reinforces their own belief system and provides ammunition in their attempts to recruit more footsoldiers. They will say that the US government is waging a war against Islam, that the detainees are guilty only of being Muslims in the wrong place at the wrong time. They will say that the US government's talk of the importance of freedom is just that; talk. They will scoff every time Bush claims that the US is fighting for good against the evil terrorist menace. Their arguments might be less convincing if the US administration had attempted to produce evidence of involvement in terrorism against any of the detainees. As it is, the recruiters arguments appear reasonable to many people. The result is that support for the extremists is growing throughout the Muslim world. Pretty soon we'll need to build another camp for more terrorist suspects, and then another, and another...

Guantánamo Bay is a travesty. It is not only morally indefensible but it's also fuelling the very problem it is supposed to be solving. The US government must either charge the detainees with offences in an fair and open manner or release them. How long can someone be a suspect for anyway? Four years? Even our authoritarian maniacs on this side of the pond are only claiming to need 90 days. Charge them or release them. This madness has got to stop.

* A terrorist never considers himself a terrorist. He's really not lying. He genuinely believes he's doing the right thing (otherwise he wouldn't do it). He is almost certainly wrong but it's important to realise that he thinks he's doing good. Neither Bush nor Blair seem to understand that. A post on this is probably on it's way.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Free and Fair and Fudged?

You might want to read the previous post first as it was originally going to be the introduction to this one. As you've probably already heard, the announcement of the results of the constitutional referendum in Iraq have been delayed due to concerns over voting irregularities. Regular readers will probably realise that my shock on hearing this news was entirely non-existent.

This didn't stop the US administration jumping the gun and announcing that the constitution had been accepted before having to retract that assertion in the face of criticism from the Independent Electoral Commision of Iraq (IECI) and the United Nations Election Assistance Team. Still, Condoleezza's claim was widely reported so the idea that there was a definite yes vote has been circulated nice and early. Clever really, in an obviously morally currupt way of course.

It seems that the it's the result from the province of Nineveh which is causing the greatest concern. This is not really surprising; Nineveh, containing Mosul, is generally thought to have a Sunni majority but is under the control of the Kurdish authorities. That was always likely to pose something of a problem. It's also the only province to have had its "results" declared publicly (although not officially) as far as I can tell. These first unofficial results showed an overwhelming support for the constitution:
326,000 people voted for the constitution and 90,000 against. Those figures were said to be based on results from more than 90 percent of the 300 polling stations in the province.
A litle bit too overwhelming in fact. These figures have now been updated to include the final 10% of polling stations. According to the US military "the final totals for the province were 424,491 "no" votes and 353,348 "yes" votes". That's a fairly major swing by any account but it's not enough to reach the two thirds majority needed for the province to count as having rejected the constitution. The voters at those last 10% of polling stations must have voted overwhelmingly against the constitution. How strange that they took longer to count than the "yes" votes of other stations.

And these new results are not exactly uncontroversial. Turnout in Ninehev was apparently less than 60% even though turnout in other Sunni regions was far higher. And the 353,348 yes votes appear difficult explain. In the January elections, Shite and Kurdish groups recieved a total of 130,000 votes for their parties. The extra 220,000 yes votes for the constitution are not easily understood. Minority groups? Sunnis who support the constitution? Hmm, it doesn't seem hugely likely. All in all, it looks as if the Kurdish authorities in Nineveh may have encouraged a "yes" vote in some rather dubious ways.

To be fair, it's really too early to draw any concrete conclusions yet though, there's just not enough information available at this stage. It's probably best to wait and see what happens when the result is officially declared. As I said in a previous post, some respected observers thought it quite possible that there were enough supporters of the constitution in Iraq as a whole for there to have been a "yes" vote even without these irregularities.

BTW, informed commentator on Iraq, Juan Cole, has also highlighted the Gareth Porter article linked above. His opinion is that it is "extremely perceptive".

Thirty One Months in the Desert

It is, I think, accepted that the invasion of Iraq was based on a lie. Some people might argue that this lie was unintentional but it's hard to see how anyone could argue that it wasn't a lie. Saddam did not have the WMD stockpiles we were told he had. Even the fact that it the lie was unintentional is looking increasingly hard to justify. The smoking gun of a mushroom cloud? Saddam buying uranium from Niger? That claim was based on a deception and not a very good one either. The Downing Street memo (undisputedly not a forged document) has confirmed the UK goverment understood that "intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy" (in July 2002). And, as more details emerge regarding the US administration's involvement in the Valerie Plame affair, it's increasing clear that the public was intentionally misled by the power that be. The coalition had no intention of allowing the narrative of Saddam'd WMD to be disrupted by something as trivial as the facts.

And then there's the matter of the incompetancy of the occupation. Before the war many people like myself said that the coalition didn't have a clue as to what they'd do once they'd invaded Iraq. "Where's the plan for the occupation? Do you understand how difficult it's going to be, how easily things could decend into violence?" we asked. "Yes, it's all under control", we were told. "Iraq is going to be a beacon of democracy and stability in the Middle East, a shining example to every other country in the region." And anti-war supporters all over the world said "I though it was us peacenik lefties who were supposed to be the naive ones". These days, I doubt anyone other than the most loyal of stooges is going to argue that we were wrong and the war supporters were right. There was no plan. The coalition made it up as they went along and now ordinary Iraqis are paying the price with their lives.

In some ways all of that is old news. Certainly those who've been shown to be liars and incompetants would rather we all moved on from their lies and incompetance. "The proect in Iraq is vital to the security of the region and the wider world and we should concentrate our energies on making sure we succeed in our efforts" they argue. In a way they are right. People like myself, those who were opposed to the invasion, have something in common with the liars; we all want Iraq to become a secure and peaceful country now. The liars know this and they'd very much like to exploit it in order to save their own worthless hides. Unfortunately for them, it's not going to wash. People like myself will never tire of reminding everyone of the lies that were told and certainly not while the culprits have not been held to account. They want us to move on and work together to make Iraq a safer place? Easy, take responsibility for the lies, resign, and we'll all throw our support behind the new, hopefully more honest leaders as they work to sort out the problems caused by the lies and blunders of their predecesors.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. Accountability is a dirty word in politics in the 21st Century. In a way this leaves people like me in a contradictory position. I desperately want Iraq to become stable but if it does there is even less chance that those who led us into this mess will be held to account for their actions. It's an odd position but I always try to resist the urge to look for the worst in the news from Iraq. Much of what I write concerning Iraq is very bleak but I'd argue that that's simply because the situation actually is very bleak. I believe that the coalition strategy is a disaster and that we need to seriously reconsider our whole approach to the situation.

None of this means I don't accept that Saddam was a brutal murderous dictator and that Iraq is better off without him. But that wasn't why we invaded, at least not officially. If it had been, I might still have disagreed with the invasion (or perhaps not if I'd thought the coalition actually knew what it was going to do afterwards) but I couldn't have called Blair and Bush liars. That's significant, especially when it comes to matters of life and death. If the UK parliament had voted for war knowing that the intelligence was "sporadic and patchy" and that the main aim of the invasion was regime change then my criticisms of the war would be far less strenuous. But parliament was misled, as were the public. Whether we're following a Realist foreign policy or not, misleading parliament in this way (in order to justify an aggressive war against a country which posed no real risk to the national security of UK remember) is simply inexcusable.

And are we really offering Iraqis something better? I don't know. At the moment the country is on a knife edge. There's a significant chance that things are going to get a whole lot worse if, as many people predict, the country fractures into three independent regions. I really hope it doesn't play out that way.

This was initially going to be an introduction to some thoughts on the constitutional referendum but it seems to have developed a life of its own. I think I'll write those thoughts in a seperate post.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Flee From Foul Fowl

The whole world seems to have gone bird flu crazy. I offer this awful post title as a tribute. Today, I read that the government has announced that they will provide a vaccine for the pandemic. Unfortunately, they can't actually purchase the vaccine yet because no-one has actually manufactured one because no-one knows what strain is causing the pandemic because there isn't actually a pandemic. Er, is that right? It seems a bit ridiculous somehow. Perhaps I just don't understand all this science business. Like with SARS. I must have misunderstood when I thought they said it would kill everyone on the planet or something.

The hysteria is really going beyond a joke on this one though. I heard on the radio that sales of chicken meat in the UK have dropped sharply. Hurray for panicky pointless reactionary rubbish!

There was a guy on More4 News last week trying to explain why these sorts of viruses have everyone in the UK in such a flap (sorry). His theory is that it's basically a new manifestation of Orientalism. The West transfers it's fear of the East into fear of germs from the East. It's the yellow peril disguised as a virus. Given the level coverage and reaction to the bird flu, I'm starting to think he's got a point.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Personal Information to be Nationalised

Crap. Just heard on the news that MPs have voted for the ID card bill. The majority was 25. So near and yet so far. It looks like Safety's meaningless concessions persuaded wavering Labour MPs to support the bill. Idiots.

Now it's all down to the Lords. Come on the unelected old duffers! Here's a chance for them to do something useful for the country. And if they succeed, as a reward, we should abolish them. We should also abolish them if they don't succed though.

Hmm, that strategy may need some work. Too many sticks and not enough carrots methinks.

Electing the Lords

In the past I've been somewhat ambivalent about the need to have an elected second chamber in parliament. These days, particularly with his royal Blairiness at Number 10, I've become increasingly convinced that it's the right way to go. It's got to better than the appointment system which is being so badly abused at the moment. So I say we should elect the lords. As such I've just added a button for the Elect the Lords website over there in the sidebar. Just thought I'd mention it at this stage really . I'm sure I'll have more to say on the subject in due course.

Oh my God, they killed Kenny

You bastards!

Ach, it's no skin off my nose. But lordy, those Conservative MPs really do detest poor old Ken don't they? What's that word for fear of success? Electionvictoreophobia? Hmm...

Well, I suppose Ken might have been just too old anyway. Davis seems to have lost a few votes which doesn't bode well for him (althought that might have been some DD supporters voting for Foxy to keep Ken at bay). Cameron is looking the strong favourite now apparently. He seems decent enough. I personally can't imagine him as the next Prime Minister though.

Those madcap results in full:
David Davis - 62
David Cameron - 56
Liam Fox - 42
Ken Clarke - 38

Crunch Time

Today see's the third reading of the Identity Card Bill in the House of Commons. It is important that this bill becomes law because:
  1. ID cards will stop terrorism.
  2. ID cards will stop benefit fraud.
  3. ID cards will stop indentity theft.
  4. ID cards will stop immigrants working illegally.
  5. Tony Blair says it is.
Just the one left then really. Don't believe me? Try this.

As I've said before, I think this is a very stupid bill for all sorts of reasons. I also genuinely believe that if it passes it will come back to haunt the Labour Party in the style of the Poll Tax. If it is ever to be implemented the whole scheme is going to go A over T and probably sooner rather than later. Errors, misuse of the database, fraud, huge budget overruns and the rest are going to plague this project from the moment it is launched. It'll be the National Millenium Dome of incompetance and mismanagement and it won't go away. And people will have a much stronger reaction to it as they start to realise that the government has endangered the very same private and personal information which the scheme is supposed to protect.

Still, at least that won't happen to me because I, along with 11,000+ other people, have already pledged to refuse to register if the bill becomes law. Will the bill get enough votes today? I don't know but we'll know pretty soon. If it does, things are going to take a turn for the ridiculous in no time at all.

Tory Advice Line

A free service for members of the Conservative Party.

Today's Tip:
You should be Backing Boris (via).
Go on, what's the worst that could happen?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lest We Forget

The BBC has been given unprecedented access to the RAF flight teams responsible for responding to hijacked aircraft over UK airspace. Brian Hanrahan's report was the lead story on tonight's 10 O'Clock News. The video link is on the BBC News front page at the moment if you missed it (not sure how long it'll stay there though).

There's lot's of good and scary stuff in the report. Did you know that in the case of a 9/11 type attack these pilots might have to shoot down a fully loaded passenger aircraft?* Well, yes, I'm sure you did know, doesn't everyone? It's good to occasionally be reminded that we face the constant possibility of instant burning death from above though, don't you think?

I have to be honest and say that the first thing I thought when watching the report was "unprecedented access... hmm". Just when the government is having a spot of bother trying to sell it's draconian anti-terrorist proposals. Curious coincidence that, isn't it? I wonder who made the decision to grant the BBC unprecedented access to these heroic Top Gunners at this particular moment in time? Could it possibly have been someone at Number 10?

Of course that could just be good old fashioned paranoia talking there. Possibly. I honestly can't say I'm sure either way. It does seem that that old standard of arresting suspected terrorists on suitable days (and then releasing them again without charge to far less fanfare) is starting to wear a bit thin. It's just so passe darling. Hardly even makes the front pages.

So, what do you reckon? Is this:
A) A clever bit of news manipulation by someone at Number 10?
or is it:
B) A crackpot conspiracy theory from a blogger who really should get out more?

Answers on a postcard.

* I should say that I'm not one of those people who automatically detests everything about the military. In the real world, unfortunately, a nation needs a defensive military capability. Personally, I'm glad those guys are ready to jump in those Torndoes if it ever comes to the crunch. They've got more balls than I'll ever have.

Too Important for Democracy

I've only seen this online but I imagine it's on the front page of today's Independent. It looks like another presidential decision has been made by the Neo-Labour cabal. This time it's about spending billions of pounds on new nuclear weapons systems. As usual the party isn't exactly being encouraged to add their voices to the debate.
Last week, Mr Prentice met the chairman of the parliamentary party, Ann Clwyd, who urged him to drop the idea of forcing a vote [at a meeting for Labour MPs], fearing that it would give an impression of a divided Labour Party. She also warned them that they would probably be defeated, and that even if they won, they would not alter government policy.
Even the pretense of democracy is being abandoned on this one. No votes for you, it's far too important to let mere MPs have a say. I mean, you give these people an inch and they take a mile. What next? If we started giving MPs a say it'd surely only be a matter of time before people started demanding that we take the views of the public into account as well. I mean, where would it end? The notion is absurd, a danger to everything this nation stands for.

I remember we used to have this thing we called democracy. Looking back now I don't think we really knew how lucky we were. We were like spoilt children. Happy days. But who needs nostalgia at a time like this? In these days of ever increasing danger to our national security (still not sure where from exactly but I'm sure they'll tell us when they're good and ready), democracy is a luxury we can no longer afford. Still, what price freedom, eh?

And, as we're asking about the price of freedom, why don't we ask Sir Jeremy Greenstock. What's that Sir Jeremy? I'm sorry, I didn't hear that, could you say that again. Oh this is no use. Wouldn't this be easier if you took the gag out of your mouth? What? Not allowed to? Says who? The ovenmint? Who's that...


This Wikablog thing looks interesting. I've just added Europhobia to the list as a sort of wedding present (but without spending any money, always appealing to us Scots). The Wiki is probably worth keeping an eye on, and you know, maybe adding a blog, especially one which helped you find the Wiki in the first place (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more...).

Terror in Dundee

A woman has been arrested in Dundee after acting suspiciously in the harbour area of the city. Well, I say acting suspiciously, what she was doing was walking on a cycle path. Clearly a danger to national security then.

So it was clearly justified for the police to hold Ms Cameron for questioning for several hours before charging her under the Terrorism Act. And, although the prosectutor fiscal has decided not to prosecute on this occassion, it was only right that she be warned not to expect such leniency if she reoffends in the future. In fact, the letter from the PF makes clear that she is very lucky not to have been prosecuted in this instance as "the evidence is sufficient to justify bringing you before the court on this criminal charge". I hope she's learned her lesson, the evil pedestrian.

Has common sense left this country completely? Terrorism? For not being on a bicycle? Has the world gone completely mad?

Of course the new anti-terror powers Blair is looking to introduce will only be used when it is absolutely necessary. Just like these ones. There's no reason to worry that they would be misused, no reason at all...
Does anyone believe that? I doubt it.

Btw, I'm a big fan of encouraging use of the bicycle; as I remember it's the most energy efficient method of transport ever invented. Let's not use terrorism legislation against pedestrians though, eh?

Lies from the government about the need for the new anti-terror powers?
"The three-month period is what the police and Security Service say is necessary," Ms Blears said last Wednesday at the Home Office. In fact, The Scotsman has learned from credible Whitehall sources that MI5 has not given any such advice to ministers.
Surely not.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Six Shooter

John Bolton, controversial US Ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on Newsnight earlier this week. He had quite a lot to say about the need to stop Iran developing Nuclear weapons. Sadly there was no discussion as to when the US might consider decommissioning their own vast arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Just the usual double standards then really.

But that's not what I wanted to blog about. Every time I see him I think "watch out, it's the badass sheriff". Shoot first, shoot again later (just to be sure).

Is it just me?

Psychiatrist Needed

Rant Warning
What we must not do is fall for some modern version of the old left delusion that the problem with the progressive government is that it is not left enough, and if only its leadership rediscovered its true principles all would be well.
Tony Blair 15th October
WTF? Do you know, I think I may actually hate him. His arrogance is truly something to behold. He can never be wrong you know. There is no possibility that he has taken the Labour Party far to far to the right. His way is the only way.

Well, fuck him. Back in the 90's there's no doubt that the Labour Party needed to reform. Kinnock made some decent progress but then Blair went and turned the Labour Party into the Tories in away strips. This at a time when the Tories themselves couldn't buy a vote. Let's face it, a monkey in a suit would have successfully defeated the Conservative Party in 1997. The public had had enough. It was the perfect opportunity to promote progressive left of centre policy.

Not for Blair though. He chose to mimic the Tories policies at a time when the Tories were utterly discredited. And everyone voted for him because, well, what else could they do? He sees this as a great victory, a vindication of his bold leadership. Yeah, because if the public hates him just slightly less than they hate the Tories then he must be absolutely right in every way. Er? He is clearly delusional.

And this:
Because to be in touch is to be in power...
Principles? No thanks, we've no need for those here.

Doing whatever it takes to stay in power, even if it means betraying everything the party once stood for? Lovely jubbly, that's the way to run a country...
BTW, "in touch"? It shows just how out incredibly of touch he's become if he's seriously claiming that he isn't.

Come on Labour types, wake up and smell the roses. Progressive politics? It's bullshit. Read this article if you want to talk about Blair's progressive politics. Get rid. If you don't do it soon, any Tory monkey in a suit is going to be able to win the next election, and the one after that, and...

Hysteria on the Airwaves

I heard the most bizarre thing on Any Answers yesterday (Sat 15th). Someone claiming to be a police officer and using a pseudonym started giving his opinion on the proposed anti-terror laws. Here's a sort of summary (it's about 19 mins in if you want to listen to it):

He has a problem with something he calls the "Rights Industry" or the "Civil Rights Industry". There are certain commercial interests involved apparently but that's not the main point he wishes to make. He is concerned that the argument is being "swamped by emotion, almost hysteria" and not really finding solutions. This is because the "Rights Industy" has accused the government of using the spectre of terrorism to frighten the public while at the same time using the spectre of a police state to frighten the public themselves.

But, he says, the spectre of terrorism is not a spectre. Public information will reveal hundreds or thousands of attacks, with thousands of victims and tens of thousands of injured people. Instead of facing this terrible situation, emotion and hysteria are driving the "Rights Industry" and the government apart. He then uses the dead bodies of the victims of the 7th July attacks to justify the new powers the police are looking for.

It really is one of the most disturbing things I've heard for quite a while. I do hope this man is not really a police officer. The "Rights Industry" he says. Dimbleby interupts to suggest that this label sounds disparaging and that perhaps he doesn't mean it that way. But no, the caller makes clear it is intended to sound just as it does. Then he accuses others of creating hysteria before launching into a astonishingly hysterical account of the dangers of terrorism. Thousands of terrorist attacks you say? In the UK? No, of course not. Let's not get hysterical...

It's just plain weird. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I wonder if anyone else has listened to it? I'd be interested to hear opinions on his contribution.