Friday, January 30, 2004

Michael Howard is not the only person who believes

Click here to find out why.

With a whole bunch of caveats, actually. But now is not the time.

"better to have newspapers without government than government without newspapers" - Thomas Jefferson
fun fact from the pre-history of globalization
In the 1820's, France conducted a thriving trade in the import of goats from Tibet.
Source: Paris Between Empires, by Philip Mansell
That is all.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

googlebombing is childish
not to mention duplicitous and deceitful.
can you get a backlash from a whitewash?
Apparently you can.

- Half of Britons believe the Hutton inquiry into the death of Iraq weapons expert David Kelly was a whitewash, according to a newspaper poll.

The NOP survey for the London Evening Standard said 49 percent agreed with the question "do you agree or disagree that the report was a whitewash".

Four out of 10 of those questioned said they disagreed and 11 percent said they didn't know in a poll of 521 people conducted on Wednesday.

Hutton's report cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair of lying to parliament over the Iraq war and piled blame on the BBC, which broadcast a report accusing the government of exaggerating the case for war.

Seven out of 10 of those polled said there should be an independent inquiry into the reasons the government gave for the war.

A third said they were now less likely to vote for Blair, compared to three percent who said it was more likely.

As the government never seems to learn, sometimes total victory is pyrrhic victory. If Lord H had done the typically judicious thing and come up with something anodyne, most people would have been happy to forget about the whole thing. Now he's decided to support the government against the evidence, then the evidence he chose to dismiss or disregard is brought forth once again and chewed over before a curious public.

Grinding the BBC's face in the dirt doesn't look like such a popular move either.

If the report had been more impartial, the Tories could have comfortably criticised both the government and the BBC, as is their habit. Now they're forced into the position of defending the BBC and going on the offensive against Hutton. Howard gets his teeth into the issue here.
(via Matthew Turner)

The whole furore also has the pleasant effect of making Murdoch's pravda press look isolated. This is not over...

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

lights out for the North West Frontier
The Stratfor report about a potential US attack in Pakistan is now confirmed by the Chicago Tribune

The Bush administration, deeply concerned about recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence of Taliban forces in neighboring Afghanistan, is preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, military sources said.

U.S. Central Command is assembling a team of military intelligence officers that would be posted in Pakistan ahead of the operation, according to sources familiar with details of the plan and internal military communications. The sources spoke on the condition they not be identified.

As now envisioned, the offensive would involve Special Operations forces, Army Rangers and Army ground troops, sources said. A Navy aircraft carrier would be deployed in the Arabian Sea.

Referred to in internal Pentagon messages as the "spring offensive," the operation would be driven by certain undisclosed events in Pakistan and across the region, sources said. A source familiar with details of the plan said this is "not like a contingency plan for North Korea, something that sits on a shelf. This planning is like planning for Iraq. They want this plan to be executable, now."

I don't see how they're going to do this with the troop levels they've got in Iraq right now, so if this is not disinformation of some kind it must be based on a projection that the conflict there will soon die down - or that the US is going to leave anyway, irrespective of the situation on the ground.
via Daniel Drezner
after the suspense...
...the whitewash from Lord H. It looks like Blair chose his man well. Oh well, should have predicted it...

In this sense, it must be owned, that liberty is the perfection of civil society; but still authority must be acknowledged essential to its very existence: and in those contests which so often take place between the one and the other, the latter may, on that account, challenge the preference...
David Hume, of the origins of government

The age old story of inquiries past, in other words: it's the duty of magistrates to prefer whatever interpretation of events upholds confidence in government.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

the man behind the curtain
In the New Yorker, Josh Marshall ruminates on matters imperial.

“Bill Clinton was actually a much more effective imperialist than George W. Bush,” Chalmers Johnson writes darkly. “During the Clinton administration, the United States employed an indirect approach in imposing its will on other nations.” That “indirect approach” might more properly be termed a policy of leading by consensus rather than by dictation. But Johnson is right about its superior efficacy. American power is magnified when it is embedded in international institutions, as leftists have lamented. It is also somewhat constrained, as conservatives have lamented. This is precisely the covenant on which American supremacy has been based. The trouble is that hard-line critics of multilateralism focussed on how that power was constrained and missed how it was magnified.

This strikes me as exactly right. At the time, I thought of Clinton as a kind of updated Warren Harding for an updated Warren Harding era, a party prez for post-Communism. But this is worth re-examining in the light of the rise of the neo-cons and the general preference of the current admninistration for reliance on military power as the means of preserving and extending the status of the US status as numero uno.

Does the US have more power now than during the Clinton era, in the sense of greater influence over the world and its direction? Despite the crowing over Gaddafi's admission from the cold, I'd say that the answer is overwhelmingly no, for several reasons. Firstly, as Marshall discusses, the threat of power in itself creates diplomatic opposition. In the run up to the Iraq war, the US tried to isolate France by leaning heavily on the non permanent members of the UN security council to support its invasion plans. The attempt had to be abandoned after none of them would go along. It seems odd that the greatest power the world has ever seen couldn't secure the compliance of countries like Cameroons and Angola. But given a change of political fashion they too could be a target for regime change, so their reluctance to endorse military pre-emption was understandable, to say the least. The first effect of making war a central plank of foreign policy is to weaken the US's hand diplomatic hand multilaterally.

Well, who cares? The US can lean on any individual state it wants, and as we saw in Iraq, kick it to pieces. But that's the second problem. The US has kicked to pieces two failed states - Iraq and Afghanistan - and now appears to have run out of troops to take on any more. And what's more, they are not in full control of what they have.

But what of the cowering Gaddafi? The fact is that Libya has been trying to mormalise it's diplomatic relations with the West for years. And in return for handing over a few centrifuges, Gaddafi is now effectively guaranteed a lifetime tenure as Libya's tyrant. Couple this with the decisive US tilt towards China in the dispute over the Taiwan independence referendum and you can see just how weak the US's diplomatic position is. They've exchanged a general pervasive hegemony over the direction of the world for control of whatever happens to be currently in their gunsights.

There was something vague and non-committal about the way in which Clinton used US military power, and his opponents were naturally quick to accuse him of weakness and vacillation. But in retrospect it seems judicious. US power is amplified by being the sparing use of military force. It adds a kind of negative luster to US policy as a whole. In the light of what the US can do to you, what it can do for you seems all the more generous. Now they've done their worst, and the Taliban and Iraqi guerillas are saying: is that all you've got?
of variable fees and the end of Labour.
That's that, then.

Leading fee rebel Nick Brown is to back the government's controversial plans to let universities charge variable fees in the Commons today, Guardian Unlimited can reveal.

The former chief whip told the site: "The concessions that the government have made are good enough for me. I'll be supporting the government tonight."

. I thought at first what motivated the rebels deep down was the feeling that the fees vote was a last ditch defence of Labourism, as represented by the view that public services should be provided collectively through general taxation. Of course, to most new Labour types this is simply an embarrassing ideological legacy. What they seem to fail to realize is that general acceptance of taxes is based on the reciprocity principle. The less people get out of the system, the less willing they seem to be to put into it.

Government supporters like to draw an artificial distinction. The very poor, they say, are “paying for” the education of the very rich. More accurately they are contributing to it, as they will continue to do after the legislation goes through. And it’s not just the rich that will have to pay under the new regime. As far as I can make out, the fees will be paid back by graduates whose families earn average income and even below. It will effectively be an extra tax paid by graduates from the date they get their first meaningful jobs. That tax will also be paid by the wealthy, of course, but with much less impact.

Naturally, the very rich won’t like having to pay more towards their children’s education. Now they will be joined by middle income taxpayers, who under the proposed system will be much more amenable to politicians calling for reductions in the taxes that also pay for the education system, amongst other things. Since it’s middle Britain that Blair is supposed to appeal to, get set for creeping disillusionment with Blair to intensify into a sense of outright betrayal. In short, the measure stacks the deck for a fundamental shift to the right in British politics.

I was under the impression that this conception motivated a lot of the rebels. They were not prepared to abandon their entire political raison d’etre for the sake of Tony Blair’s credibility. Maybe it is, for a lot of them. But for others, the whole thing seems to boil down to being a power play for Gordon Brown, who can now say that he has saved Blair and claim his reward at some point in the future.

Monday, January 26, 2004

does Gordon Brown infect the middle class with aids?
I don't know about that. I do know that I've been doing too many of these link and shoot quickie posts. However, here's the Daily Mail-o-matic, courtesy of Virtual Stoa.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Roy Meadow, child snatcher
This is almost unspeakably depressing.

There was no trial; she didn't have the opportunity to demand that the terrible accusations against her be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Instead, a judge sitting in his chambers decided that, 'on the balance of probabilities', she was a killer. The interests of her surviving children must come first, and they must be taken into care. Unsurprisingly, given the loss of all her children, the mother's mind and marriage fell apart. She and her husband divorced, and he became the obvious candidate to bring up the children.

But there was a catch that the organisers of the Salem witch trials would have applauded. His solicitor, David Sterrett, explained that it wasn't enough for the witch to be condemned without trial. Her husband had to join the denigration of his ex-wife and say that she was a murderer. He didn't believe that for a moment and refused to go along with Meadow. His failure to accept the omniscience of the great man was intolerable. He was deemed unfit to look after his own children and has spent so many years in courts fighting for the right to visit them that his lawyer says he is broke and suffering from 'litigation fatigue'

Read, as they say, the whole thing. First there are the crimes actually committed: several hundred women convicted of murder on what amounts to no evidence at all, and several thousand more separated from their children. Then there's the blanket of secrecy thrown over the whole affair. And then there are the signs of what might be called the characteristic pathologies of the British overclass: The inability to catch actual criminals stimulating a compensatory lust to monitor and interfere with the population at large. The notion that we are all suspects, and that no-one without anything to hide should find this disturbing. The idea that insitutionalized compassion gives you the right to destroy lives. The use of pseudo-science to validate extreme theories. The absolute confomity to current intellectual fashion. And of course, the fact that the whole process started under the government of one party and was maintained and expanded under the government of another.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

all politics is local
who British football fans hate, and why.

via Harry's place
One of those famous blogger screw ups
It's put everything in bold. Not got a clue what to do about it...
Pencilled in for 2005
Pakistan, according to Stratfor Weekly:

...the United States must, at some point, liquidate the
remnants of al Qaeda in the Afghan-Pakistani theater of
operations. Ideally, the Pakistani army will bear the burden of
moving into the tribal areas in the northwest and will do the job
for the United States. In reality, it is extremely unlikely that
the Pakistani military will have the ability or motivation to
undertake that mission. Therefore, it is likely that the United
States will try to close out the war with a final offensive into
northwestern Pakistan, preferably with the approval of a stable
Pakistani government, but if that is impossible, then on its own.

We would be very surprised if the United States launched this
offensive prior to its elections. The administration has no
appetite for another military campaign until the election is
finished. Therefore, we would expect the United States to be in a
defensive mode until November 2004. It will seek to consolidate
its position in Iraq and in the Egyptian-Iranian line. It will
work to assist the Saudi government, while carrying out covert
operations throughout the region to mop up identified remnants of
al Qaeda. This could include increased operations in northeastern
Africa and in Afghanistan. Until then, the task of General John
Abizaid, head of Central Command, will be to focus on developing
a plan for moving into al Qaeda's homeland, if you will, and
terminating the war by liquidating the final command centers.
Assuming that the preference is not to launch this campaign
during the winter -- not necessarily a fixed principle -- the
offensive would take place in spring 2005.

(subscription only, so no link). It makes sense on the face of it. But the assumption behind this is that they will have the troops to spare to do the job, which in turn means a stable Iraq. Also, if Pakistan/Afghanistan is not stable enough to serve as a troop staging area then that means infiltrating through the various central Asian republics, which in turn implies further backing for the dictatorships of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - pro-war lefties please note. Also, this is going to make the Russians feel even more surrounded, following Shevardnaze's ouster (I'm assuming here that one of Putin's main policy aims is to bring the old soviet republics fully back under Russian influence).

I wonder where Britain fits in to all this. An invasion of Pakistan - even if in the form of a large scale raiding party - is likely to be violently opposed by muslims in Britain, especially those whose families and forebears come from the affected areas. And it may be electortally convenient for the US to stage an invasion in spring 2005, but that falls just before the proposed polling date for the UK.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

an ayatollah has led them by the nose
Given his varied troubles, the last thing the PM wants is a major uprising in Basra, so it's no surprise that the British have come round to Ayatollah Sistani's view that if the occupiers are serious about democracy in Iraq, then an election might not be a bad idea.

The US-led coalition in Iraq is on the verge of bowing to Shia Muslim pressure for direct elections before the handover of power on June 30, the Guardian has learned.
According to British officials, the Blair government has been swayed by Shia arguments and the US is also shifting ground.

They believe that Paul Bremer, the US head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) running Iraq, has been persuaded of the need for direct elections, provided it can be shown that they are practicable.

What's the betting that it can be so proved? And in another part of the desert, the Kurds seem to have figured that if the coalition can be bossed about by a wily old ayatollah, they should start pulling the rope too.

Iraqi Kurds, the one Iraqi community that has broadly supported the American occupation, are expressing growing anger at the failure of the United States and its allies to give them full control of their own affairs and allow the Kurds to expel Arabs placed in Kurdistan by Saddam Hussein.

Sharia law introduced; the prospect of ethnic cleansing in the North; Sunni incendiaries and jihadis from all over. Time to wrap the whole parcel up in a pink ribbon and dump it on the UN.

after the assassination
With many folks this side of the pond looking hopefully for a white knight on a donkey to come riding to the rescue this November, and perhaps be greeted ina hail of baguettes by grateful Parisians, it's nice to see that Counterpunch remains reliably astringent on the subject of the Democrats and their hopes.

A week before the Iowa caucus a liberal, very senior Democratic US congressman from northern California was speculating to friends that Dean might well be “McGoverned”, referring to the way the Democratic Party leadership in 1972 pulled the rug out from under the South Dakotan for being far too liberal and antiwar. This senior Democrat recounted how Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd had snarled in one private party conclave that Dean “should step aside and let the adults take over”.

Aside from being vociferously against Bush’s prosecution of the war in Iraq, Dean’s threat in DNC eyes is that he has been raising money independent of the Party’s control. Dean spent $3 million of his campaign money in Iowa.

The article also contains Gore Vidal's priceless description of Senator Kerry: like Lincoln - after the assassination.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

great moments... the annals of marketing

And last, I reached Nancy Goldfarb, with Lipton Tea.

Me: So, are you pleased that Lipton is the tea of choice of Saddam Hussein? Have you figured out a way to leverage that into a marketing strategy? Maybe, "Time for a Des-pot of Tea"?

Nancy: I don't believe our plans are changing at all.

Me: So, basically, do you think it is possible to be a satanic genocidal maniac and still enjoy Lipton tea?

Nancy: I am not going to answer that. Do you have any marketing questions about our product?

Me: Yes.

Nancy: Okay.

Me: Do you know if Lipton is also the tea of choice of Osama bin Laden?

via Jim Henley.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Enough cogent, thoughtful political analysis.
It's time to sit back andspread the love.

Tony Blair has been called "a complete dickhead" by a leading Spanish politician live on television...

from Bloggerheads
A boy in the hand
This is deeply unfair. But you can't help it, can you?
It's more democratic that way
In the New York Press, Matt Taibibi shows the Democrats the way to victory this November.

The Democrats’ problem is that they are trying to counter the actual, admirable viciousness of the Republicans with a cheap imitation of viciousness. Both parties are equally unscrupulous, but the viciousness gap will remain real and unbridgeable–until some changes are made.

I think it is high time that we all admitted that outright fascism has a lot to offer American society, and the Democratic Party in particular. Not only would it be an enormously successful electoral strategy, it would be vastly superior as a governing principle to the halting, pusillanimous, fake fascism of the Republican party. Just think of the benefits of claiming the presidency on the following platform:

Read the rest. Even as parody, it's no madder than Thomas Friedman.

Crusty apothegms
Out for a few pints of foreign policy with a mate last night when he made the pithy remark that a neoconservative is just a liberal internationalist who happens to be American. Some time later it occured to me that if this was true, then the real division in Anglo-American politcs is betwen a domestic party and an international party. By that time we were well into double geopolitics on the rocks and I couldn't articulate the idea. I'm still having trouble.
Recycling news
I missed this at the time, but came to it through a bulletin board I contribute to. It's a fairly bizarre article by drunken internationalist Christopher Hitchens, whose premise is that a) a showing of Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers has been arranged in New York, b) that it will give rise to comparisons with Iraq and c) that anyone who might make these comparisons should just stop it right now and not even think about it, right mate, cos it's wrong, so just don't! (thumps table).

When Counterpunch sought to out Hitchens as an alky earlier this year, my first reaction was...hang on, that's going a bit far. But further exposure to his recent style of writing seems to confirm it - one note, table banging harangues characterized by foggy, unfocused resentment and beefy shouldered belligerence towards his audience, who might, for all anyone knows, actually agree with him....

"No, really Chris, calm down, actually I think you're right...

"uuuh, you what...well just don't, I'm not finished yet

There's also the premise of the article, an odd form of rhetorical pre-emption...

....I know exactly what you're going to say, and just don't, right? Just don't

Anyway, here's the response I made on the BBS, only slightly less than fresh...

It's interesting that Hitchens has drawn a comparison between a film about what happened in Algeria and what's actually happening in Iraq. I think you can make a case for similarities between the film and the current situation in Iraq, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Surely the real issue is whether there were any similarities between what actually happened in Algeria and what's happening now in Iraq. A good source for that is Alaistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace, which seems to be the standard history of the conflict.

I'd see similarities in a couple of main areas:

Firstly, the evolution of the Iraqi insurgency. In the book, Horne describes how the FLN started recruiting. A candidate would present himself and in turn be presented with a gun and a single bullet. He would then be told to go and kill a French traffic cop, or some such. The insurgency then edscalated through bombings, armed raids and gradually got more organized until the FLN were able to field units in battalion strength in the Algerian maquis. You can see a similar trajectory in Iraq: from random shootings to improvised explosive devices to co-ordinated suicide bombings, mortarings and now, it seems, primitive flak corridors. There's no ideology behind them yet such as the FLN had. But now they're free of Saddam, I'm sure the insurgents will come up with something.

The second similarity is in the alignment of pro-and anti-colonianlist opinion in the occupying power. Hitchens writes:

Algeria in 1956—the "real time" date of the film—was not just a colony of France. It was a department of metropolitan France. The slogan of the French Right was Algérie Française. A huge population of French settlers lived in the country, mainly concentrated in the coastal towns. The French had exploited and misgoverned this province for more than a century and were seeking to retain it as an exclusive possession.

That misrepresents the political situation. At the time of the film, France had a centre left government (under Pietre Mendes France), which sought to head off the conflict by combining military measures with a hearts and minds policy towards the population, including various economic and political reforms. Sound familiar?

More generally, Algerie Francaise was supported across the French political spectrum, up to and including the Communist Party. The French left wanted Algeria integrated into France's political structure with full voting rights for Algerians, on the grounds that this would provide France with a permanent left wing majority. As the conflict continued, the left went over to a pro-FLN position, eventually taking De Gaulle and the centre with them.

The point is firstly that pro-and anti war opinion cut across the political divide, as it has with Iraq, and secondly that many of the people involved with it at a political level genuinely believed that they were bringing enlightenment and modernity to the population...if only they could get rid of those wretched guerillas.

On to the film. It seems like pretty much every cultural product in the US that isn't actually right wing gets called marxist sooner or later. Well, the Battle of Algiers is the real thing. It's heroes are the killers and bombers of the FLN. It's other heroes are the killers and torturers in the French paratroopers. Both sides are stepping up and taking their places in the dialectic. Everyone else is just a fool or a dupe. Now that's what I call Marxist movie making.

This gives the film a certain predictive character. It's a warning about what happens to both sides under the pressure of colonial occupation. It's hero, Ali La Pointe, is a street thief and general ne'er do well who finds himself in the uprising. It's anti-hero, general Massu is a cultured and sensitive fellow who knows his Sartre and is driven to torture, by, as he sees it, brute political necessity. I suspect that there arew quite a few Alis in Iraq right now, turning from crime to insurrection. And it's increasingly looking like the occupiers are getting a little touch of the General Massus.

Anyway, see the movie if you can. It's a truly stunning film. While you're at it, see it in conjunction with Klimov's Come and See. And read Malaparte's Kaputt when you're not doing either. Then see how seriously you can take the "Greatest generation then and now" mush we're going to get this year with the 60th anniversary of D-day.

Incidentally, one thing that Hitchens doesn't mention is that Chirac fought as a lieutenant in Algeria and got wounded in the process. Bet he thinks there's lessons to be learned.
Once more, with feeling
Further to yesterday's piece on Tony the expendable, William Pfaff at the IHT diagnoses ally fatigue.

One cannot call the Blair-Bush relationship a love affair, because love affairs are reciprocal, and on George's side this affair seems to have been a heartless flirtation. Tony was useful while he was useful; and now, as the Hank Snow song has it, George has moved on.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Has it come to this?
Shock and Awe at the prospect of Number 10 hoping for a Republican victory come November. Like Davos Newbies, I’m sure that it’s the institution of the US presidency which Blair feels called upon to serve rather than individual presidents.

But it’s worth looking at the question the other way round. What use is Blair to the United States? He’s obviously a loyal ditto at the UN, but the current administration is not exactly enamoured of that institution. We’re a source of around a division of sound but underequipped troops for whatever military jaunt the US might have in mind, but they are at America’s disposal anyway. In fact the British and US armies are operationally integrated to the point that a fair proportion of the British defense budget is effectively a subsidy to the US defense budget.

The US gets these things automatically from its alliance with the UK, whoever’s in charge over here. But they are also supposed to get some utility above and beyond that, specifically from the presence of Tony Blair in power. It’s a partnership, says Tony: we are a bridge between the US and Europe. Well, middleman is a dubious occupation, but neither side seemed to mind Tony hopping about in the middle, increasing his personal leverage by playing his relationship with each side off against the other. And because, unlike the Tories, Blair is pro-European he is supposed to be better able to influence European policy in a pro-American direction.

Here’s where the problem starts. In the run up to war, Blair acted as an unofficial foreign minister for the US. He was supposed to get the Euros on board and generate wider international consensus through UN approval for the invasion of Iraq. He wqas the Republican’s go to guy for international stuff. In practice, he failed to persuade the French and Germans to get on board and could not see that they were unpersuadable until it was too late. And his wise counsels ensured that the US suffered what must have been its greatest ever diplomatic humiliation over the second UN resolution.

Naturally, the French get most of the stick for that. But all the above can’t have gone unnoticed either by the US administration or its Democratic challengers. It can hardly have raised the status of British diplomacy generally, either. As a subordinate partner in the Anglo-American alliance, Britain’s own interests are to some extent dependant on how well it serves US interests. Blair’s incompetence has made it apparent that Britain isn’t so much an ally as an appendage of the US, lessening the credibility it can bring to its support of American foreign policy initiatives.

I bet this is going to be a feature of Michael Howard’s election campaign. Vote Tory, for a better class of cultural cringe.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Theocracy beckons?
One for the pro-war left: Juan Cole reports protests at the Iraqi Governing Council's imposition of religious law on women.

Women activists representing 80 women's organizations (including the female Interim Minister of Public Works!) gathered at Firdaws Square in downtown Baghdad to protest the IGC decree, issued three days ago. Minister of Public Works Nasreen Barwari complained to az-Zaman about the lack of "transparency" and of "democratic consultation" in the promulgation of the decree by the IGC. Protesters carried placards with phrases like "No to discrimination, No to differentiating women and men in our New Iraq." and "We reject Decree 137, which sanctifies religious communalism." Activist Zakiyah Khalifah complained that the law would weaken Iraqi families.

US observers, including US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have continually worried in public about Iraq becoming a theocracy, and have rejected that option. But the American-appointed Interim Governing Council has suddenly taken Iraq in a theocratic direction that has important implications for women's rights. As reported here earlier, the IGC took a decision recently to abolish Iraq's civil personal status law, which was uniform for all Iraqis under the Baath. In its place, the IGC called for religious law to govern personal status, to be administered by the clerics of each of Iraq's major religious communities for members of their religion. Thus, Shiites would be under Shiite law and Chaldeans under Catholic canon law for these purposes.

The IGC has ceded to the religious codes jurisdiction over marriage, engagement, suitability to marry, the marriage contract, proof of marriage, dowry, financial support, divorce, the 3-month "severance payments" owed to divorced wives in lieu of alimony, inheritance, and all other personal status matters.

going native with the nativists
This report from the US Military's War College says that the effect of the Iraq invasion has been to divert attention from the war on terror, assuming such a thing is actually going on. Conservative strategist Kevin Phillips wonders what the Iraq invasion is actually diverting attention from.

When the U.S. launched a second war against Iraq in 2003 but failed to find weapons of mass destruction that Hussein was purported to have, international polls, especially those by the Washington-based Pew Center, charted a massive growth in anti-Bush and anti-American sentiment in Muslim parts of the world — an obvious boon to terrorist recruitment. Even before the war, some cynics had argued that Iraq was targeted to divert attention from the administration's failure to catch Osama bin Laden and stop Al Qaeda terrorism.

Bolder critics hinted that George W. Bush had sought to shift attention away from how his family's ties to the Bin Ladens and to rogue elements in the Middle East had crippled U.S. investigations in the months leading up to 9/11. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained that even when Congress released the mid-2003 intelligence reports on the origins of the 9/11 attack, the Bush administration heavily redacted a 28-page section dealing with the Saudis and other foreign governments, leading him to conclude, "There seems to be a systematic strategy of coddling and cover-up when it comes to the Saudis"

Phillips is the man behind Nixon's "Southern Strategy", which sought to use racial and cultural wedge issues to attract traditionally democrat leaning constituencies to the Republicans, further exploiting nativist and populist currents in American political thought.

Originally the aim seems to have been to ensure the dominance of the Republican establishment in power through riding herd on a great crowd of yahoos. The Bush presidencies, in which an East Coast political dynasty remakes itself as just plain Texas folks, seems to epitomise the process. However, Phillips seems to have taken against the Bushes in a big way. My theory: Bush junior has gone native, dislodging the traditional Wall Street/Washington types from power within within the Republican Party. And since it was these people who tdaditionally conduct foreign policy, their absence might also have made space for the neocon ascendancy, though this looks to have peaked.

As such, revealing the Bush family's overclass background and connections to the Saudis is a handy way of undermining the administration's populist credentials. It looks like the Republican mandarins want their party back. It'll be interesting to see if they are willing to endure a Democratic presidency if that's the price they have to pay.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Feel safer yet?
Depressing news from this morning's Independent.

More than four million surveillance cameras monitor our every move, making Britain the most-watched nation in the world, research has revealed...

"...It is about much more than crime. It enables people to be tracked and monitored and harassed and socially excluded on the basis that they do not fit into the category of people that a council or shopping centre wants to see in a public space."

Over the past decade, the Home Office has handed out millions of pounds in grants to police forces and councils to install CCTV systems in the belief it will reduce and prevent crime. But Mr Hugill said: "All that CCTV does is shift the crime to another area for a bit, and then it returns. If you asked most people, they would rather see the Government spending the money on more police officers than on installing cameras, which do not appear to make much difference anyway."

According to the report, we're now watched by over 4,285,000 CCTV cameras. In theory, we can now go about our business watched over by benign guardians of public order. In reality, if anyone's watching at all, it'll be a fat sweaty bloke picking his nose and saying "look at the tits on that" to his mate. CCTV certainly hasn't stopped Manchester turning into something out of Hogarth on a Saturday night, with riotous behaviour mushrooming uninhibited amidst rivers of puke.

We can add this to earlier revelations that New Labour have created 661 new offenses.

Many of their new laws conjure up an unnerving picture of a Britain on the edge of anarchy. What, for instance, explains schedule 26 paragraph 18 (4) of the School Standards Framework Act 1998, which made it a criminal offence "wilfully to obstruct an inspector conducting an inspection of a nursery"? Had kindergarten teachers locked their tots in the classroom and refused to open the door? Or armed themselves with Paddington Bears and beaten the inspectors senseless? Section 3 of the Transport Act 2000 criminalised "the provision of air traffic services without a licence". Until then, presumably, the clear and present danger of demented radio hams directing transatlantic flights into Gatwick hotels had flourished unchecked.

Boosters of the liberty loving anglosphere should note the seemingly endless appetite of the public for new and strange laws and constant monitoring. Partly it's media hype. Fear sells papers, and enables them to build status by pushing the government into action. And it doesn't help that this particular government is particularly susceptible to media pressure.

But it also chimes with the political development of Labour generally. Supposedly, they have abandoned ideology for pragmatic, results oriented policies. But in rejecting the idea that applying a general political programme can bring benefits to people's lives they have committed themselves to the micro-management of everyday life. They don't know what's better for us in the wider sense, but they do "know" exactly what we should be doing at any given point in time. This is the logical outcome of a culture of monitoring and targets.

Given the general mess and contingency of everyday life, efforts to standardize behaviour will always tend towards failure. In response, the government blames the people at large for their lack of co-operation and redouble their efforts. Eventually, everything that is not forbidden becomes compulsory.
know thyself: the smell of victory
I am Apocalypse Now. What classic movie are you?

from 6th International.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Because I say so
The Dear Leader ascends the anti-smoking bandwagon.

Blood & Treasure will avoid making the obvious libertarian point. Let the man speak for himself.

Reports in the South Korean media said Kim recently singled out smokers as one of the "three main fools of the 21st century", along with those who are ignorant about computers and music.

Elsewhere, I learn that North Korea has a feisty music industry.

The nation's favourite hits include 'The Song of Bean Paste', 'The Song of Industrial Rehabilitation for Nationbuilding', 'Please Come Back Soon After Your Convoy Duty' and 'I Also Raise Chickens'. And from the phrase book we got, in the section 'On the Way to the Hotel': 'Is the hotel far?'; 'How long will it take?'; 'The houses are very beautiful'; and 'Let us mutilate US capitalist lackeys'. That should get visitors off to a good start.

For the record, I know two people who have met the family Kim. The first went out on an official Euro delegation, the highlight of which was being forced out of bed at 3 am by cuboid security goons, hustled into a car and driven off somwehere to the leadership compound. There he was brouight into the presence of Kim Il Sung, who had heard he was English and wanted to expound on North Korea's performance in the 1966 world cup. Did the defeat of Italy at Ayresome Park not show the ability of the Korean worker, inspired by the Juche ideal, to beat and smash the lackeys of US capitalism? Indeed it did.

A couple of years later, another acquaintance went freelancing to Pyongyang in the hope of flogging off some redundant mining gear from the Derbyshire pits (ah, the regeneration of coalfield communities!). He met Kim the younger...and yes, he is mad. Giggling at nothing, conducting lively social intercourse with imaginary friends, frowning and grimacing - the full Caligula. As the meeting unfolded, the fellow found he was gradually being inserted into a complex web of contradeals, apparenrly involving him in travel to some far too interesting places. he left immediately, without performing convoy duties or mutilating any lackeys of US imperialism.
I've not seen
this on any Brit weblogs yet. From Healing Iraq.
Faith healer or heartless fraud?
Either way, I can't put it better than this.

Blair wants us to "move on", but continues to assert against all known fact that everything he said about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was right. Whether he believes this or not is no longer the issue. Fantasist or liar, Blair is unfit to govern.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Demagoguery, East and West
Thousands of B&T fans get the benefit of my Chrsitmas reading. From the Tiananmen Papers, Deng Xiaoping proposes measures to restore the Communist Party's popularity after June 4 1989:

"The second explanation we need to make is about corruption. We have to do some practical, on the ground things that show we are really serious about this problem, not just making a show of it....we should take a couple of dozen examples of corruption or bribe taking - some at province level and some at national level - and pursue them vigorously and swiftly. We should make everything public...

...This is of utmost importance! The image is crucial!"

Moving on to 2000, Tony Blair proposes measures to restore New Labour's popularity after general ennui begins to set in.

" ever, we are lacking a tough public message along with the strategy. We should think now of an initiative, eg locking up street muggers. Something tough, with immediate bite which sends a message through the system...this should be done soon and I, personally, should be associated with it. "
Anarchy, state, but definitely not utopia
Via a tip from Crooked Timber and
Marginal Revolution, I ran across a review of Vadim Volkov’s, Violent Entrepreneurs, the story of Russian klepto-capitalism from the people who practise it. The book tells how Russian criminal gangs latched on to the country’s nascent business class in the early nineties, at first running protection rackets in the traditional style. Later, as they came to depend more on this revenue the mafiyosi were driven to take a more productive role in the business, guaranteeing contracts, collecting debts, researching rivals and performing primitive forms of due diligence on potential acquisitions.

These groups were later supplanted by equally muscular but more respectable private security companies, usually composed of and led by military or intelligence veterans, with useful connections to counterparts within government. Some of the crime families then used the business skills they had learned as mafiyosi to create legitimate firms. Many of the lower level staff in both these types of security firm also served as mercenaries in the Balkans, Transdniestria and other conflicts around the Russian rim, moving seamlessly back and forth between private and public sector thuggery.

Moving forward, it’s the security and intelligence nexus within the Russian state which is now the dominant force in government as Putin reasserts the power of the state over the business oligarchs who dominated the post-communist economy and battled for control of the permanently sozzled Yeltsin. Thus, the monopoly of violence reverts to the state and protection rackets are formalized first into user fees for security services and then into taxes. And those with the power to challenge the state, or replace it as monopolizer of violence, are stripped of their power, money and freedom.

It’s a remarkable story, similar in some ways to the supposed anarcho-capitalist utopia of medieval Iceland. It surely makes the case that, under the right circumstances, business can “tame” crime and turn it into more productive economic activity. Left unchanged, the original crime/business alliance could possibly have produced private institutions and practices which performed the necessary functions of the state and acted to spread opportunity more widely. In the meantime, of course, there is a thriving “merger and assassination” sector and a general economic environment that makes the Brezhnev days seem like an economic golden age for millions of Russians.

So it’s no surprise then that they seem to have opted in large numbers for the visible hand. Strict libertarians may argue that this was a retrograde step. Non-libbos would point to the role of free market economists in unleashing the violent entrepreneurs in the first place. But it’s probably wrong to link economic criminal behaviour to either statism or laissez faire. Crime, business and politics – or maybe crime, organised crime and very well organised crime indeed – is a triangular relationship, with corruption assuming a bespoke character, tailoring itself to the particular relationships between business and government in any one state. In France for instance…

Disregard for the law has become a national habit - as we have seen this autumn with France's attitude towards the EU stability pact. There is also the current case of France's largest bank, Crédit Lyonnais, which is facing charges in the US for lying about a takeover bid in the early 1990s when it was state-owned. Corruption in the French construction industry, too, means that the EU's "level playing field" public procurement policy - in which companies from any EU country should get equal access to contracts - is a joke which infuriates building companies in Britain and elsewhere.

And in the United States….

I believe there is now a professional, well-trained elite, supported by large institutions, that is adept and willing to use corrupt practices to accumulate wealth. Despite assurances from game-theorists and anthropologists that the criminal cadre in the species remains a constant percentage over time, I believe today's mainstream, sanitized, and institutionally sanctioned financial crime rackets are being run by a new breed of crook. There have always been scandals and crooks in the history of American money, but our predator class is a distinct creation of the late 20th century.

Meanwhile, the parmalat scandal is anatomized by Edward Hugh at Fistful of Euros. He compares the off-balance sheet shenanigans of the milk megalith with the various shifts used to gain Italy Euro membership with a public sector debt of over 100% of GDP. Italy itself is Parmalat writ large.

Moving back to Russia, this is the reason why I can’t support the general criticism of Putin for the way in which he’s dealing with his boyar problem. What’s happening there seems to be a limit setting process. It may or may not have gone to far, but it’s an appropriate tendency. In much of the rest of the West, the reverse has happened. The free market process was supposed to result in a self-reliant community trucking and bartering away under the benign and relaxed eye of a modest government. Instead, it seems to have created a semi-merged political and business overclass which acknowledges fewer and fewer limits on its behaviour.

Whic brings us to Iraq. As everybody knows, mentioning the word oil in connection to the Iraq immediately marks you down as a lumpenchomskyite, outside the parameters of reasoned debate. Well, no. Aside from the business opportunities attending the occupation and complete remaking of Iraq, the invasion also holds out the prospect of breaking the OPEC cartel and re-structuring the middle east as a whole as a friendly place for businesses to do buisiness in. While this may not have been the whole story, to ignore it completely is loony coincidentalism. Why else introduce a flat tax and a fire sale of Iraqi national assets?

The Iraq invasion has generally been discussed as part of the response to 9/11. I think it also reflects a more general criminalization process in western ruling elites. or maybe a process by which there inner criminality, the animal spirits currently being put to sleep by Putin in Russia, is free to emerge.

If protection rackets represent organised crime at its smoothest, then war risking and state making – quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy – qualify as our largest examples of organised crime. Without branding all generals and statesmen as murderers or thieves, I want to urge the value of that analogy. At least for the European experience of the past few centuries, a portrait of war makers and state makers .r. coercive and self-seeking entrepreneurs bears a far greater resemblance to the facts than do its chief alternatives: the idea of a social contract, the idea of an open market in which operators of armies and states offer services to willing consumers, the idea of a society whose shared norms and expectations call forth a certain kind of government.

Apparently, neoconservatives take offence at being so named. Fair enough. How about “violent entrepreneurs”?

Monday, January 05, 2004

The man from the South
First you have this.

In an attempt to justify the war before Lord Hutton's report later this month, the Prime Minister told servicemen and women that their help in transforming a dictatorship into a prosperous democracy meant they were the "new pioneers of 21st century soldiering".

Then you have this.

Reuters reports (via ash-Sharq al-Awsat 12/31) that 400 shops owned by Christians, whom Saddam had permitted to sell liquor, have been forced to close since April, as the Shiites have come to power politically (see below). Stores have been firebombed, and some Christian shopkeepers have been shot, it is said by radical Shiite groups with names like "The Revenge of God, Hizbullah, and the Organization of Islamic Rules." Their members appoint themselves vigilantes, patrolling the streets armed in search of criminals and drug dealers, and executing them on the spot. These Shiite militias have supporters on the local councils Christians complain that they have been forced out of the liquor market, but that in many cases Muslim merchants have stepped into the breach, making inroads into what had been a Christian monopoly.

Steven Farrell reports in the London Times (12/30) of Basra: "Many of the theatres and music halls where [musicians] used to play have been shut, or converted for use by the many new Islamic parties that claim to represent Iraq's Shia Muslims, the overwhelming majority in Basra. While ice-cream and electronics stores thrive, the fundamentalists have shut down all alcohol shops, aided by rocket-propelled grenades and the summary killing of liquorsellers. Video and CD stores have been closed or had their wares heavily censored. In one CD shop in central Basra, posters of Britney Spears have been taken down. In their place are speeches of ayatollahs, to appease the self-appointed moral guardians." He says that Shiite Islamist gangs have beaten up musicians returning from weddings...

And this.

Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist who was the son of an Iraqi police colonel, died in September, three days after he and seven colleagues were arrested and placed in military custody. His body was returned to his family covered in bruises and with his nose broken. They have refused $8,000 (£4,500) in compensation and plan to take the MoD to court.

I was cynical about whether British troops were really applying to Iraq what they learned in Northern Ireland, and it seems my cynicism was misplaced. More generally, it looks like the old British imperial practice of ensuirng peace in occupied territories by casting about for and backing a credible local strongman, or faction. This does have certain practical advantages, not least that it enables you to stage credible PR operations wihout having to make use of plastic turkeys.

Friday, January 02, 2004

My first Onion link
Obvious, but in a good way.

People of all nations, in the past, you have heard Me say that whosoever shall believe in Me shall not die, but have eternal life," Christ said. "But now, I say unto you, forget I ever said that.
What they believe
What I believe, by the leader of the Conservative Party
What I believe, by he author of why I want to fuck Ronald Reagan.
What I believe is that the second one makes more sense.