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  • 25th January, 2009

    Sleepwalking to a dumbed-down world

    by El Cid at 12:16 pm    

    This is a guest post

    Is the world sleepwalking to a dumbed-down world where narrow, fanatical political agendas can flourish as the ability to engage with broader opinion is lost? Maybe the French President was on to something this week when he offered state support to the traditional press, the so-called - or should that be erstwhile - Fourth Estate:

    “President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a rescue plan Friday for France’s ailing print media including measures to save on printing and distribution costs as well as a more creative idea: a free newspaper subscription for every French person when they turn 18.”

    Do reliable traditional news sources still have a social value? Are they worth fighting for? Can bloggers really fill the gap? Where are we heading? What does it mean for our democracy?

    I was prompted to ask these questions after watching a short online movie made by Robin Sloan for the American Museum of Media History.

    Filed under: Media
    24th January, 2009

    Progressive London conference

    by Sunny at 4:55 pm    

    Hello all!
    I’m live blogging from the Progressive London conference in central London, organised by Ken Livingstone to set up a more active coalition against Boris. The place is packed with several hundred people thronging various sessions and talks. I’m actually surprised it’s so busy, which indicates there are a lot of people out there still annoyed with Boris’s win.

    More on the sessions later… there’s a blogging event later with Tory Troll and Tom/BorisWatch speaking. Right now the main session is with Ken Livingstone, Bonnie Greer, Eric Hobsbawm, Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas.
    Ken spoke first and gave us a broad history lesson about economics and the environment. Bonnie then made some predictions about where she sees the world going - including the dissolution of race and racial differences.
    Prof Eric Hobsbawm is giving a speech also focusing on the economic crisis. This has been a big topic today and you won’t be surprised to hear there has been plenty of big corporations that didn’t pay their taxes, neo-liberal capitalism and New Labour’s part in all this.
    Have we developed an alternative narrative yet? Remains to be seen…

    Filed under: Events,London Politics
    23rd January, 2009

    Stirring up Troubles

    by Rumbold at 11:21 pm    

    A government commission, The Consultative Group on the Past, which was established to try and heal some of the wounds caused by British-IRA conflict in Northern Ireland, is likely to recommend that any family who lost someone during the Troubles should be given £12,000 in compensation. This will include IRA terrorists and their Loyalist counterparts:

    “The government is to be asked to pay £12,000 to the families of all those killed during the Troubles - including members of paramilitary groups… The Consultative Group on the Past is to publish its report next week. If the recommendation is accepted by the government, the cost would be an estimated £40m.”

    The commission is a good idea, and hopefully it will allow people to move on (though the £300 million figure for their proposed programme is presumably an exaggeration). However, the idea about death compensation is a bad one. The cost, while fairly high (£40 million), is largely immaterial. The real problem is that it will once again present us with the deeply unpleasant spectacle of terrorists benefiting from their actions. This is likely to increase tensions in Northern Ireland. It was probably necessary to release some IRA terrorists to secure peace in the first place. There is no reason now why the IRA and Loyalist forces need to benefit again. It seems like a step back to many.

    Revealed: Obama’s drug-infested Pakistani connection!

    by Sunny at 4:21 pm    

    LOL. Who says Obama has no love for Pakistanis? This picture, posted on the NY Times blog, was amusing I thought, for both their hairstyles.

    Continue Reading...

    Being even-handed is soooo unfair!

    by Sunny at 11:35 am    

    On his first day, in addition to ordering the close of Guantanamo Bay, stopping all Bush’s last-minute orders, banning torture, demanding the closure of overseas CIA detention centres (read: “extraordinary rendition”) and setting out new ethics rules, Obama also appointed George Mitchell, who negotiated an end to Northern Ireland’s Troubles, as his Middle East envoy. If anyone isn’t happy with that start they need an ass-whoopin‘.

    Oh but there is! No, I don’t mean far-leftie Lenin, who will shout Uncle Tom regardless, but pro-Israel organisations in US. Apparently Mitchell is too even-handed: “Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed. But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed’ — it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support. So I’m concerned. I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.

    So the head of the (US) Anti-Defamation League not only admits foreign policy has been supportive of Israel, but thinks someone “even-handed” in a conflict is dangerous where the only way forward should be more support for Israel. This rather reminds me of those bloggers who scream “moral equivalence” when talking about Israel/Palestine. Apparently, they all want peace, but you can never, ever, ever be even-handed by treating Israel and Palestine equally! I mean… they’re…. Muslims! Even to treat them equally is favouritism! If you don’t believe how nutty these organisations are, see this.

    Meanwhile, the Obama administration has finally issued a proper statement on Gaza:

    I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who’ve faced suffocating poverty for far too long.

    Oh, he also said Israel should end the blockade. Chaaaaange is comin!
    [Also see this beautiful portrait in the NYTimes about Obama's very diverse and multicultural family]

    22nd January, 2009

    How far does Palestinian right to resistance go?

    by Sunny at 8:03 pm    

    So I asked below whether Palestinians had the right to struggle for independence. More specifically, I asked if Israel had a right to defend itself, why don’t Palestinians? What right of self-defence are they allowed? And if yes, to what extent would their actions in self-defence be proportional?

    Unsurprisingly, there was complete silence on these questions from many of the usual pro-Israeli commenters. So I put the question again to David T of Harry’s Place on this thread and he accepts that, “Palestinians do have the right to defend themselves.”

    Continue Reading...

    Azad Ali, part deux

    by Sunny at 2:45 am    

    Last week a Muslim civil servant, Azad Ali, was suspended from work because an article in the Daily Mail said he suggested killing British troops in Iraq was justified, on his blog. Sid covered it here. Now, I don’t have sympathy for his views but the Daily Mail were clearly bullshitting. Now they’ve withdrawn the article. Let’s see what happens next…

    21st January, 2009

    Quilliam Funding Shocker

    by Sid (Faisal) at 10:00 pm    

    Another day, another Muslim exposé.

    This time, the Times has uncovered, in a coup of investigative journalism, what its editors probably like to think is Quilliam Foundation’s big dirty ugly secret. And it is, wait for it: the QF receive government money…

    Whup-de-doo! That’s huge, right? Well it would be, if we didn’t know it already.

    Almost £1 million of public money is being given to a think-tank run by two former Islamic extremists, despite reservations being expressed by members of the Government and the Opposition.

    The funding is for the Quilliam Foundation — a counter-extremism think-tank set up nine months ago by Ed Husain, a bestselling author, and Maajid Nawaz, a former political prisoner in Egypt — as part of the Government’s strategy to combat the radicalisation of British Muslims.

    The scale of the funding has aroused concerns that the Government is relying too heavily on a relatively unknown organisation in its desperation to counter extremism.

    The Times understands that the foundation, which has 18 full-time staff, is paying about £110,000 a year to rent offices at one of Central London’s most prestigious addresses, which, for security reasons, have no name plate or sign outside. Inside, the offices are expensively furnished with state-of-the-art computers and plasma screen televisions.

    Doubts have been expressed by Labour and Conservative MPs as to whether the investment will produce results.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: British Identity

    The right for peoples to defend themselves

    by Sunny at 8:46 pm    

    I want to carry the conversation on, about Israel/Palestine, in a straight line if possible. So in response to my last post, a common reply has been:

    You seem to be stating that anyone who feels that Israel had a right to protect its citizens, is a warmonger, a hater of the Palestinians and someone not interested in peace.

    My position is that anyone who supported Israel’s right to invade Gaza over the last few weeks is a warmonger who had no interest in peace. My reasons are simple: it will destabilise the Middle East further, strengthen Islamist parties across the region, strengthen Hamas while weakening Fatah and needlessly kill many, many Palestinians. All of this has already happened. It also makes Palestinians more angry towards Israel and less willing to trust it as a partner who has their interests at heart. Now, I’m happy to debate these issues but most people don’t want to.

    Instead, the retreat to the lame position that Israel has the right to defend itself. Of course it does - Israel exists, should exist and I’m sure will continue to exist. I support its right to exist. But that does not absolve if of criticism.

    The real question is: if Israel has a right to defend itself, why don’t the Palestinians? I’ve stated my position on this - the Palestinians are being forcibly denied an independent and secure state they can manage themselves. So what right of self-defence are they allowed? Are Palestinians not allowed to fight for their own statehood, and only Israel is? And if yes, to what extent would their actions in self-defence be proportional?

    Filed under: Middle East,Terrorism

    These are the people Obama left behind

    by Sunny at 2:26 pm    

    If you thought Obama didn’t represent change, just remember these are the kind of people who were just in power in the United States:

    Obama has inherited victory in Iraq. Bush has done more than, as McGurn quotes Biden in early 2007, “keep it from totally collapsing…[until he could] hand it off to the next guy.” Now rather than retreat in defeat, our new president must manage to withdraw American troops without undermining their success. It will be a tremendous challenge, but the press will not be able to blame Bush if security deteriorates in Iraq after Obama gives the Joint Chiefs their “new mission.” The victory in Iraq is Obama’s to lose.

    LOL. Aren’t you glad these deluded people aren’t in power now?

    How do we improve standards?

    by El Cid at 12:26 pm    

    Guest post

    The cause of social mobility overlaps with that of a progressive racial agenda. But it also transcends racial politics and is inextricably linked with education. Historically, and in less developed countries, access to education is the key to better social mobility.

    But where the provision of state education is a given, differences in the quality of education are paramount. Hence, the issue is closely aligned with the debate over private education and the extent to which it is deeply regressive institution.

    In view of the hugely disproportionate number of privately educated entrants at the top universities and the extent to which many of Britain’s top doctors, politicians, lawyers, broadcasters, etc also got a leg up thanks to a priviliged education, it is arguably the biggest barrier to social mobility in the UK. If you believe in the principle of equality of opportunity — i.e. if you are truly progressive — then better social mobility should be high up on your wish list.

    However, as the former Conservative Dominic Lawson argued in a well-written article this week, the only sure fire way to improve social mobility is to lower standards. What do you think?

    Covering Muslims and Jews

    by Sunny at 3:28 am    

    In a discussion about the coverage of the Gaza war, I ask why I shouldn’t cover the deaths of over a thousand Palestinians compared to an increase in anti-semitic incidents in the UK. Chairwoman says:

    Because it’s happening here, in the UK, on our streets, and it’s happening because some people are whipping up other people into a frenzy. And I’m afraid that one of those people is you. I am sure that is not your intention but you post the same thing over, and over again, using different words but saying the same thing, and you tend to say it in an inflammatory manner.

    What’s so inflammatory about reporting the news? I find this line of thinking absurd anyway. When the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were happening, should I not have covered them because it might increase attacks on British Muslims? After all, I had clearly highlighted that it featured Muslim terrorists. Similarly, if the Saudi government hangs gays or restricts the rights of women, do I self-censor because it might lead to Islamophobia? That’s the implication. I don’t buy it.

    Has the Gaza invasion been polarising? Of course it had - but then Israel ignored world opinion (including repeated British calls for a ceasefire) for over 2 weeks, why should it be let off the hook so easily? We just had a war that will lead to more instability in the Middle East and a strengthening of Hamas, with over a thousand Palestinians deaths thrown in. That’s the whole point of war - it inflames opinions. If you don’t want polarisation when you have to be against war in the first place.

    And finally, I’m not the one taking sides. If I was cheering on Hamas I’d be taking sides. But cheering on and defending Israel’s actions is taking sides and it’s definitely not the side of peace and long-term stability. So I’m still the one sitting on the fence - defenders of Israel are not.

    20th January, 2009

    MPs Trying to Conceal MPs’ Expenses

    by Shariq at 8:24 pm    

    I came across this bit of news while doing some research on Apparently, the list of MPs’ expenses which was ordered under the Freedom of Information Act and has cost over £500,000 to produce will be scrapped to save MPs from embarassment.

    It should be noted that according to the Guardian report, this was a bipartisan idea as Harriet Harman has been lobbied by both Labour and Conservative backbench committees.

    The vote is this Thursday (burying bad news?) and if you want to write to your MP about this before then, there is more information on as well as here. Facebook group is here.

    Finally, does anyone have any good arguments as to why passing this law is a good idea? Off the top of my head the only thing I can think of is that in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Live blogging Obama’s inauguration

    by Sunny at 4:10 pm    

    I’m in central London right now at an event, with fellow Pickler Leon and will try and live-blog the inauguration.

    We start with a speech by Trevor Phillips, who is paying homage to Obama only weeks after he slammed Obama in Prospect magazine! Anyway, it’s a day of celebration so I won’t get too bitchy. Harriet Harman was on a bit earlier and was short and sweet.
    I have my Obama t-shirt on, woohoo!

    Filed under: United States

    The final toll on Gaza

    by Sunny at 12:11 pm    

    CNN reports:

    More than 1,300 Palestinians died and about 5,400 others were wounded during Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, the Web site of the Palestinian Authority’s Central Bureau of Statistics said Monday. Louay Shabana, head of the agency, said more than 22,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Shabana put the economic destruction at more than $1.9 billion.

    Gaza’s gross domestic product was slashed by 85 percent during the 22 days of war, and it could take a year for the economy to recover, the agency said in a preliminary report.

    About 80 percent of crops in Gaza were destroyed, according to the agency. “The pervasive sense here among the population is one of overwhelming grief, so many families have been destroyed in so many ways,” said John Ging, the top United Nations official in Gaza. Among the dead were 159 children, two of whom died in an UNRWA school that was shelled Saturday, Ging said.

    Nothing really needs to be said, does it?

    Filed under: Middle East,Terrorism

    Israel: helpfully keeping Gaza poor

    by Sunny at 2:16 am    

    There’s an interesting article on Salon on how much oil the US gives to Israel every year. This bit on page three caught my eye:

    As Peter Huber and Mark Mills point out in their 2005 book, “The Bottomless Well,” “Economic growth marches hand in hand with increased consumption of electricity — always, everywhere, without significant exception in the annals of modern industrial history.”

    In late June 2006, Israeli aircraft fired nine missiles at the transformers at the Gaza City Power Plant, the only electric power plant in the Occupied Territories. (One of the original partners in the project was Enron, but that’s another story.) The missiles caused damage estimated at $15 million to $20 million and, for a time, made Gaza wholly reliant on electricity flows from Israel.

    Thus the U.S. was providing fuel and materiel to the Israeli military, which destroyed the plant, but it was also paying to fix the damage. Call it cradle-to-grave service. The Israeli attack on the Gaza City Power Plant offers a stark example of how the FMS fuel helps assure that Israel stays energy rich while many of the citizens in neighboring regions live in energy poverty.

    Two weeks after the attack on the Gaza City plant in 2006, during Israel’s monthlong war against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Israeli aircraft attacked the 346-megawatt Jiyyeh power plant, the oldest electric power plant in Lebanon. Those attacks resulted in the largest-ever oil spill in the eastern Mediterranean. About 100,000 barrels of fuel oil that was stored in tanks at the Jiyyeh site flowed into the sea, creating an oil slick that stretched for more than 150 kilometers.

    Apparently, the Israeli government also care for Palestinians.. as long as they remain poor and destitute.

    Busty Virgin Mary causes outrage

    by Sunny at 12:00 am    

    Reuters reports:

    A prominent fashion designer has sparked outrage in Chile by dressing up models like the Virgin Mary — in some cases with ample, near-naked breasts. The Roman Catholic Church condemned Ricardo Oyarzun’s plans for a show featuring the models, and a conservative group tried unsuccessfully to block it in court. Oyarzun said he had received telephone threats and had excrement smeared on his doorstep.

    Religious extremists everywhere eh?

    Filed under: Religion
    19th January, 2009

    Farewell sucker

    by Sid (Faisal) at 10:19 pm    

    Tomorrow is George Bush’s last full day as president.

    For me, the most complete summation of his legacy is this video of Robert Wyatt’s Ship Building sung by Elvis Costello.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Current affairs

    Israel prepares evacuation; Hamas claims victory

    by Sunny at 5:56 pm    

    (Cartoon by Peter Brookes at The Times)

    Today’s Reuters reports:

    * Most Israeli troops to be out of Gaza by Tuesday
    * U.N. chief to visit Gaza, Israeli officials say
    * Hamas claims victory
    * Saudi king pledges $1 billion in Gaza reconstruction aid

    Bulldozers cleared rubble from streets and the Palestinian statistics bureau put the total repair bill at $1.9 billion.

    Gaza medical officials said the Palestinian death toll included at least 700 civilians. Israel, which accused Hamas of endangering non-combatants by operating in densely populated areas, said hundreds of gunmen were among the dead. According to figures released by Hamas and other militant groups, 112 of their fighters and 180 Hamas policemen were killed. Israel put its dead at 10 soldiers and three civilians.

    For now, Gaza’s situation looks much as it did before the conflict — armed standoff and a dim future for the 1.5 million people fenced inside the strip by a blockade aimed at punishing Islamist Hamas for rocket fire and ambitions to destroy Israel.

    So, the dynamic hasn’t really changed much. Hamas has a few hundred of its “soldiers” killed but it will face no problems in replenishing those numbers given that Palestinians will be even more anti-Israeli now and Hamas are the only “freedom fighters” in town. What exactly did Israel achieve through its foolish military action than the death of hundreds of innocent civilians and even more polarisation?

    Did it actually think Palestinians would turn towards moderation while it was raining white phosphorous on them? I thought Bush was stupid, but the Israeli government takes the biscuit in idiotic realpolitik. And will Israel now pay for the destruction of Gazan infrastructure? Now that its reduced so many schools and basic amenities to rubble, I can really see Gazans not blaming them for their increasing hardship.

    Rushanara Ali raises questions about Gaza

    by Sunny at 5:15 pm    

    Press release I was sent today.

    Rushanara Ali, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow, has met with a senior Cabinet Minister to underline her calls for a lasting and meaningful ceasefire in Gaza.

    Continue Reading...

    London’s ‘embassies’ saved

    by Rumbold at 3:16 pm    

    Despite cutting £511,000 from funding for new centres for rape victims, Boris Johnson has decided to continue to spend £1.4 million of ratepayers’ money per year on offices abroad to promote London (without offering any proof that these offices actually benefit London). The offices are considered important as they ensure that staff can go on junkets there at our expense London can be ‘sold to the world’. It’s not clear why a world-famous capital city which is an incredibly important financial centre needs to do that, but I am sure that those at City Hall who benefit from these outposts won’t complain too loudly.

    (Via Conservative Home)

    Mixed-race news

    by Rumbold at 12:58 pm    

    There were two stories this weekend involving mixed-race unions. The first was a nice snippet featuring Vince Cable’s thoughts about his wedding to his late first wife, who was of Indian origin:

    “”My father was furious,” says Cable. “He said a mixed marriage would fail and that it would outrage his neighbours.” Neither of his parents, who were Tory voters from York, attended the wedding, which was held at the Catholic cathedral in Nairobi. “My wife set up the wedding though neither of us was religious,” recalls Cable. “We did it there because it was our way of expressing our unity against the world. But the priest realised that we were not religious and so withdrew the choir from the service before giving us a half-hour talk on the evils of communism.”"

    Perhaps that talk laid the foundation for Dr. Cable’s understanding of economic affairs.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Culture,Race politics
    18th January, 2009

    Azad Ali suspended

    by Sid (Faisal) at 9:00 pm    

    A Muslim civil servant has been suspended over public statements on his blog ‘Between the Lines’.

    As well as being a career civil servant, Mr Ali has been a community activist for more than 20 years. He is also on the board of London CrimeStoppers and sits on the Metropolitan Police’s Strategic Stop & Search Committee and Police Use of Firearms Group. Mr Ali is a member of the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s Community Advisory Group and the Home Office’s Trust and Confidence Community Panel. There are few people with a higher profile within the ‘moderate’ Muslim community. He is a trustee of the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre. He chairs the Muslim Council of Britain’s membership committee and is a member of its central working committee. He is also the vice-chairman of Canon Barnet School board of governors and chairman of the Saturday Islamic School board of governors. He has a wide network of friends, making him an influential figure as the Government tries to ‘engage’ with radical Islamic groups to prevent them turning to terrorism.

    Azad Ali is the president of the Civil Service Islamic Society. He is also the official “go-between” for various government bodies and organisations such as the East London Mosque, which is the base of the Southasian Islamist organisation Jamaat-e-Islami and its UK front, the Islamic Forum Europe.

    Continue Reading...

    Milton Friedman, libertarian economics and banks unravel

    by Sunny at 3:26 pm    

    The news that Barclays is about to unravel and may even have to ask to be partly nationalised made me chuckle a bit. I remember my friend Riz telling me while he used to work there that the reports he used to produce for the Forex markets were absolute shite, and yet people paid big money to read stuff a monkey could have put together. He said it was soul-destroying work and got out before they took his brain.

    Today, Will Hutton says the going is about to get a lot worse. That inspired me to pull out this short extract from a book I read recently.

    This is from Sidney Blumenthal’s: The Emergence of the Counter-Establishment (page 90)

    The origins of the [US Federal Reserve] can be directly traced to the panic of 1907, a Wall Street upheaval that almost triggered a general economic collapse Friedman assiduously presented numerous statistics about the panic. And he attributed the stemming of the crisis to the banks’ refusal to convert deposits into currency. His tone was dispassionate, but he was scoring points. To him, government intervention always destabilises the market. And the creation of the Fed is an ideal case study.

    Shariq Updates: In case anyone missed it, a link to the first part of my review of Will Hutton’s ‘The World We’re In’.

    Continue Reading...
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