31st August, 2008
Douglas Carswell, Tory MP for Harwich and Clacton and Conservative Home favourite, has written an article calling for judicial appointments “more democratically accountable.” This should sound alarm bells for anyone who thinks that the Conservatives are going to be significantly different from New Labour. The hallmark of New Labour has long been its hatred of independent institutions, because they represent alternative sources of power and respect.
Most political theorists argue that for a stable society democracy alone isn’t enough (see Pakistan in the 1990s), and that strong institutions, like the judiciary, are needed to keep elected governments operating within the law. Mr. Carswell and the other Conservosocialists don’t like this system, because it restricts their absolute power. For them, the description of Parliament as an “elective dictatorship” wasn’t a warning, but a promise.
Fewer than two-thirds of babies are registered ‘white British’ – says the Telegraph. Interesting stats in that article.
I’m more surprised that the comments accompanying the Daily Mail article were largely sane. Ahh… bless. Its not all doom and gloom when it comes to race relations folks!
Update: I like Jamie Sport’s parody on this.
30th August, 2008
There’s a good article on Lenin’s Tomb about nazis who have signed up to the US army. I don’t know much about US neo-nazi organisations, which makes the article all the more fascinating.
Tom Metzger is one of the Godfathers of the neo-Nazi movement in the U.S. The former Grand Wizard of the KKK and the current leader of the White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R), he has seen the ebbing and flowing of the military attitude to far-right extremists over the past forty years.
â€œNow they are letting everybody in,â€ he says. â€œAll the gang-bangers, all the blacks, Mexicans, and white supremacists. I would say that 10% of army and marines â€“they are not in the Navy and Air force so much â€“ are racist extremists of some variety.â€
Erich Gliebe, the chairman of one of the most important neo-Nazi groups in the United States, the National Alliance, agrees. â€œI’ve heard the military have relaxed the regulations from a couple of members that are in there,â€ he says. â€œI think if a person wants to get into the military with just saying that they are in the National Alliance now that they can. In 2008, with the declining number of troops, I don’t think they are as picky as they used to be.â€
Hmmm… I wonder what the implication of this would be. One thing strikes me though – we don’t hear much about neo-nazi groups these days, even though they clearly exist and continue to flourish.
29th August, 2008
The government has put together a panel of around twenty young Muslims, to advise three Cabinet ministers in an “attempt by the Government to tackle Islamic extremism”. The Evening Standard has more. Steve is not impressed and thinks its ‘community leaders’ syndrome again.
I don’t agree. I think there is some merit in the government trying to find out what young Muslims are thinking on the subject, on an ongoing business. The ministers are free to reject that advise of course, but isn’t it better they’re listening? Its sure better than listening to the MCB.
McCain is smarter than he looks going by his choice for running mate:
Republican presidential nominee John McCain today selected Alaska governor Sarah Palin, a relative political novice, as his vice-presidential running mate.
The move is a bold play for the potentially millions of disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters who yearn to vote for a woman candidate in the November election and who have remained impervious to Democratic pleas for party unity.
The announcement came the morning after Barack Obama’s well-received address on the final day of the Democratic convention, a transparent effort to keep pundits from discussing Obama.
Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, one of the senior women in the US Senate, praised Palin as “a breath of fresh air.”
Team Obama must be watching this turn of events with interest. Sarah Palin presents a distinct challenge for him (as noted above), she could tempt Hillaryâ€™s supporters, sheâ€™s photogenic, sheâ€™s young and sheâ€™s a feminist. The US Presidential election just got a bit more interesting.
Update: BenSix notes the other challenges she presents as being not your average Republican.
Update 2: Team Obama responds with quite a scathing attack:
Barack Obama’s campaign is blasting John McCain for putting “the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency.”
I’ve been meaning to put down my thoughts on Obama and how the election is going for a while now, so I decided to do a ‘live’ (watching rerun on BBC Parliament) blog of Obama’s speech. Look forward to reading comments.
28th August, 2008
In about 3 weeks time I’ll be going away for a long trip. The trip will be between 4-6 weeks and I’ll explain more later what I plan to do. It’s a bit crazy but let’s see if it works out. And no, I’m not going to the US to work on the Obama campaign, though if I get back early enough I do plan to do that too.
Anyway, so like last time, a few of us writers here are meeting on 6th Sept (afternoon) in central London. Next Saturday. This is a different kind of a meetup since I’ll be bringing a ton of books & CDs with me to give away (I have strong Buddhist tendencies). Hence, the theme of the meet-up is to bring at least one book that you wouldn’t mind trading away and gain others. If you’re interested in joining us, mail me. To those who’ve come before – it will be at the same venue.
The letters page of thelondonpaper yesterday was full of angry people. Some were angry at Mayor Boris Johnson’s lame performance at the Olympics handover, and others were angry at the newspaper’s article yesterday that black youths were rioting at the Notting Hill Carnival. The original article, unsurprisingly, was mostly the result of police briefing, with its clear bias.
Most of the letter writers, who said they were white, said they saw the police being completely over-the-top in harassing and targeting black youths at the carnival, to the point that it was clearly agitating people. One local resident pointed out that in previous years when the police were more relaxed, the mood at the carnival was much better. Another said he was disgusted by the racist comments that some policemen were making.
In one sense it’s a low level campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the carnival. When Boris will look to pull the carnival’s funding, he’ll use the “violence” as his excuse. The police and the media will be on hand to help out on that front. Let’s see how long it takes.
For another example, see this Daily Mail article challenging the legitimacy of “black history” by insinuating that Winston Churchill is being ditched instead. See Akela’s diary for a rebuttal.
27th August, 2008
On the Republican National Committee Web site, under the section on â€œMeet Barack Obama,â€ heâ€™s called â€œa street organizer,â€ which can mean only one thing. By insinuation, Mother Teresa would be one step from a crack dealer. “Do we know if he ever sold drugs?” Sean Hannity [Fox News], ever eager to inject a lie that fits a stereotype in the national bloodstream, asked Jerome R. Corsi, the professional character assassin and author of â€œObama Nation.â€
The Texas Republican Party targets Obama with a Web video that shows pictures of an African who lives in a shack, identified as Obamaâ€™s half-brother, George Hussein Onyango Obama. Hint, hint. And at a Washington state fair this week, the Republican booth distributed $3 bills depicting Barack Obama with Arab headgear and a camel.
From the NY Times. But apparently, John McCain is a principled candidate who would never stoop so low as allowing his party to make racist attacks. This is the great Republican Party. Anyone pretending that its some principled outfit is fooling themselves.
Anyway, Obama has now officially been annointed the Democratic candidate. Now, its time to go on the attack guys. Meanwhile, I thought this anecdote was hilarious:
Obviously, race is a tripwire topic for television, as Chris Matthews of MSNBC demonstrated all too irrepressibly on Tuesday. Mr. Matthews said the Obamas are â€œlike the Huxtables,â€ and praised Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama as exceptional role models: “They do everything right. They have great kids, they work their hearts off, they make it in their professions, they donâ€™t live off welfare, they donâ€™t commit crimes, they donâ€™t live on affirmative action.”
His two African-American guests, the seasoned television personalities Ed Gordon and Jeff Johnson, gave him a skeptical look but did not comment.
Then Unity at Ministry of Truth has a good technical explanation. Modernity on the other hand is tracking the campaign side of things and explaining what is going on.
Obviously, I’m also concerned that its so easy for people to pull domain names. But don’t some website hosting companies provide a ‘lock’ service that makes it difficult for these kind of scams to be perpetrated? Hmmm… scary indeed.
Last weekend the New Scientist reported on the harrowing developments in the world of surveillance technology. The week before, the Home Office announced plans to give law-enforcement agencies, local councils and other public bodies access to the details of people’s text messages, emails and internet activity. New technology has been developed by Seimens to ensure this kind of absolute surveillance can be integrated into one system.
This software is trained on a large number of sample documents to pick out items such as names, phone numbers and places from generic text. This means it can spot names or numbers that crop up alongside anyone already of interest to the authorities, and then catalogue any documents that contain such associates.
Once a person is being monitored, pattern-recognition software first identifies their typical behaviour, such as repeated calls to certain numbers over a period of a few months. The software can then identify any deviations from the norm and flag up unusual activities, such as transactions with a foreign bank, or contact with someone who is also under surveillance, so that analysts can take a closer look.
The system has been sold in 60 countries and 90 phone call “monitoring centres”, developed by the joint-venture company Nokia Siemens Networks, are already being used around the world, although we don’t know which countries are using it.
Whatever the level of accuracy, human rights advocates are concerned that the system could give surveillance-hungry repressive regimes a ready-made means of monitoring their citizens. Carole Samdup of the organisation Rights and Democracy in Montreal, Canada, says the system bears a strong resemblance to the Chinese government’s “Golden Shield” concept, a massive surveillance network encompassing internet and email monitoring as well as speech and facial-recognition technologies and closed-circuit TV cameras.
I’m more worried about its use by non-repressive regimes.
26th August, 2008
As if the world wasn’t dangerous enough Russia is baring it’s teeth in the face of growing opposition over it’s recent military and diplomatic actions:
Russia’s relations with the west plunged to their most critical point in a generation yesterday when the Kremlin built on its military rout of Georgia by recognising the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
Declaring that if his decision meant a new cold war, then so be it, President Dmitri Medvedev signed a decree conferring Russian recognition on Georgia’s two secessionist regions. The move flouted UN security council resolutions and dismissed western insistence during the crisis of the past three weeks on respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity and international borders.
Last night, Medvedev accused Washington of shipping arms to Georgia under the guise of humanitarian aid.
The new war is the old war as the world’s power tilts east…
The think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has just released a report saying that the state is underestimating the economic benefits of migration to this country:
“The report shows that migrants play a key role in changing the local â€˜skills mixâ€™ by filling skills gaps, and doing jobs that UK workers donâ€™t want to do. IPPR argues that local government and employers need to ensure that the benefits produced by employing migrant workers are accompanied by local strategies to ensure that indigenous workersâ€™ wages and job opportunities arenâ€™t damaged; and to ensure local businesses donâ€™t become overly reliant on migrant workers.
IPPR says that employers benefit from diversity because diverse workforces tend to be more productive and creative, which boosts business performance.”
This new report is at odds with the recent House of Lords report on immigration, which argued that net immigration has little impact on GDP per head in this country. Other bodies have suggested that high levels of net immigration has a negative effect on the economy.
Andy Gilmour has written a good piece, after I asked him, about the whole question of whether Britain has been ‘buying medals’ just because it has good sporting facilities. He rightly lays into the Tax Payers Alliance sort of stupid thinking, which I’m very pleased about.
More TPA stupidity here today about public sector pay.
An astonishing claim was made by former Mayor Ken Livingstone in yesterday’s Independent:
â€œI would question him about his role in the death of Dr David Kelly. I remember hearing his controversial piece on the Today programme, it was quite early but my kids had woken up. I heard him mention a senior intelligence source and I immediately thought one of the top ten people in MI6 has grassed up the government. It turns out to be poor old David Kelly. Basically what Gilligan did was what has destroyed so many otherwise good coppers, theyâ€™ve caught a criminal but they havenâ€™t got the evidence, so they falsify the evidence. If Gilligan hadnâ€™t distorted what Kelly had said, grossly exaggerated it, Kelly would be alive today.â€
Incredible. Iâ€™d never looked at it that way and just assumed that if any blame lay anywhere it was on the government. Isn’t this just Ken not being able to let go of losing the election or does he have a point; did Andrew Gilligan cause Dr David Kellyâ€™s suicide?
25th August, 2008
… like I need a hole in my head. But oh no, here is Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home arguing that what the world really needs is another ‘tough cop’ like George Bush.
On one hand you have to admire that – Tim sounds like one of those communists or Hizb ut-Tahrir nutjobs who believe that what the world really needs is a communist paradise or a HuT style Caliphate – who cares what the people think? Who cares about reality?
Saying these people live in a world of their own would be an understatement. Though people are sometimes of the view that only people on the left life in political fantasyland, Tim isn’t alone. A recent article in the US conservative journal National Review argued that Barack Obama’s candidacy was only possible because GW Bush made the world a safe place!
Presumably the Americans are stupid for rating GW Bush as the worst president ever. How’s that for anti-Americanism? None of these articles mention of course the corruption that was at the heart of the Bush regime. None wants to go into the lies that justified the war in Iraq. Oh, and there’s no measurement to indicate the world is a safer place. We just need a strong cop like GW Bush otherwise the world is a dangerous place. If John McSame does get into power and follow on from Bush, it will be the death knell of the Republican party.
24th August, 2008
A reader emails in to highlight this story:
Israel last night warned an attempt by peace activists to sail two wooden boats to the Gaza Strip was a “provocation” and said it would prevent them reaching their destination.
A group of 46 activists set sail yesterday morning from Cyprus and were hoping to reach Gaza later today to challenge the economic blockade Israel has imposed on the strip and to deliver a cargo of 200 hearing aids for a deaf school and 5,000 balloons.
Another passenger, Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian with Israeli and US citizenship, said: “The siege that the Israelis have imposed on Gaza is not only illegal in terms of international law, it is also immoral. Global institutions and the governments of the world know what is happening and are not doing anything about it.”
Its quite shameful that while the foreign secretary blusters about Georgia, nothing is being said about the continuing blockade of Gaza. Well done to these non-violent protestors.
Osama Qashoo has also has a personal account about this on CIF.
The protestors also have a website – freegaza.org/
I’ll be on BBC 5 Live tonight from 12:30am, talking about Britishness… my favourite topic. The hook is the proposal that, in light of Team GB’s achievements at the Olympics, we should dedicate a bank holiday of Britishness to celebrate this and.. erm, celebrate our country’s achievements. Of course, I think its a silly half-hearted effort when we should be going a lot further.
There is a rather grim story today about how Poles in the UK are suffering from high levels of depression and suicide:
“Rising costs of food and fuel, the credit crunch and increasing unemployment have all taken their toll on the 800,000-strong Polish community, many of whom are in low-wage jobs.
Polish organisations are reporting rising levels of suicide, depression, abortion and poverty. Unreleased figures from the Polish embassy in the UK reveal that as many as one in five of the 250 Poles who died in Britain last year took their own lives.”
Thankfully, the Polish economy is growing while the currency is strengthening, which makes it more attractive for Poles to return to Poland if they are really struggling here. Other immigrant groups don’t always have that luxury.
23rd August, 2008
Well… just in case you weren’t entirely aware of the economics of world trade, the Chinese government did a damn good job to tell the world they had arrived, through the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.
Not that they ever went away – the Chinese and Indian civilisations have always been big players on the global scene, except for the period of industrialisation. But now, China is back! (said in an American accent usually used for American film trailers). And you betta recognise foo’!
No, I don’t have anything intelligent to say. I’m still in awe.
22nd August, 2008
So, Obama’s vice-president choice is Joe Biden. I said last week I think it should/might be Kerry, and I know Shariq wanted someone fresher and new, but I think its the right choice for the same reasons I picked Kerry. Biden will be a good attack-dog, he has strong foreign-policy credentials, and he’s a strong Democrat. He’s also older and a Catholic which, according to Michael Tomasky, will help with those constituencies. Who am I to disagree? I love Obama’s latest ad too (on the right) – its time he started attacking McCain/McSame for his hypocrisy.
Update: Vino S disagrees, with good reasons.
I don’t disagree with Vino – that Obama could have shored up his economic credentials than foriegn policy expertise. But according to the polls, Obama is more trusted on the economy and McCain more on foreign policy. So it makes sense for Obama to focus on his perceived weak spot.
“The arrests of three men over terror offences are linked to an investigation into threats to kill Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the BBC has learned.”
Why were these three singled out? A bit unlucky methinks. A lot more people could be joining them in the cells soon.
21st August, 2008
People want simple answers to the dilemmas posed by life. Unfortunately simple answers rarely exist. With the leaked MI5 report blowing a hole in many of the popular theories bandied about, we come back to the basic question – what does drive so many of these people to terrorism in the UK?
They may not be kids. They may not be Pakistani, they might not even be brown or black. The 72 virgins theory is a no-go, and neither is the ‘deprived neighbourhood’ idea. In other words, there are no easy answers. The other point about this report should be obvious: profiling doesn’t work, and could be counter-productive.
In the meantime, the lack of simple answers inevitably makes simpletons turn around and say: ‘well, the unifying factor among all these terrorists is that they’re Muslim, so undoubtedly the problem must be Islam itself‘. There’s various problems with this theory too.
For a start, as the MI5 reports points out and as has been said before, these people don’t actually know much about their professed religion. So when some Muslim groups say ‘we need more Islamic education, not less, to tackle extremism’, they may have a point.
Secondly, if Islam was the unifying factor, then these terrorists would spend less time killing other Muslims. But most attacks by Al-Qaeda and their anger is directed at other ‘moderate’ Muslims, who they see as heretical or standing in the way of their power grab.
Thirdly, religion is no indicator of suicidal terrorism since the Sri Lankan Tamils (Hindus) have the biggest numbers of dead people in a conflict under their belt. Similarly, some of the suicidal terrorists against Israel’s occupation of Lebanon were Christian and even atheists.
Which brings us no closer to knowing what makes young Muslim men to become violent extremists. Maybe the question is wrong. Instead of trying to find the path to extremism, when there are so many, maybe we should ask what social circumstances allow extreme actions such as suicidal terrorism to become acceptable. Rather than stopping people getting into terrorism, maybe we should be asking how such extreme actions gain such wider acceptance. If social pressure (into terrorism) is the problem, maybe social pressure away from terrorism is the answer?
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There’s a thought provoking piece in The Times today about how striking gold at the Olympics maybe far more representative of how much money you spend rather your country’s athletic talent:
It is striking that Britain’s medal success generally comes in sports that are not merely expensive but that are also so unpopular that athletes cannot earn enough from prize-money and endorsements to support themselves. Success in these sports – such as rowing, sailing and track cycling – can essentially be bought by siphoning off money from the public purse and handing it to the athletes who are then able to train like professionals.
Indeed, it is a cause for self-congratulation rather than discomfiture in the sporting community that the improved success of British athletes in recent years has been achieved by outspending many of our rivals. That is not to take anything away from the athletes, who are hard-working and talented. It is merely to say that success in sport – like in the agricultural market – is easier when it receives huge state subsidies.
How does the Government get away with this raid on the public purse? By claiming that Olympic success inspires grassroots participation, which, in turn, has a benign long-term impact on the public finances. It is an argument with everything on its side except evidence. The reality is that elite success has no sustained impact on participation, and, even if it did, the fiscal effects would be ambiguous.
Well that’s one way to spend tax payers money. I expect a massive campaign from the Tax Payers’ Alliance (with full rightwing blogger backing) any day now…