Monday, 30 March 2009

Oh, I'm so bloody proud to be British

MI5 and MI6 carried out a review of files after the launch of an unprecedented police investigation into claims by the former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed that British intelligence services knew he was being tortured.

The review has uncovered 15 cases in which the intelligence services carried out interrogations of suspects in US custody. Most of the cases relate to a period between 2002 and 2004 at American facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. (1)

Courtesy of The Independent.

I know it has always been a stupid lie that the British were decent, believed in fairplay, over arm bowling and the like. It is the national myth that we keep telling ourselves, conveniently ignoring the slave trade, throwing the Jews out, opressing the Catholics and the Irish, conquering quarter of the planet to make the British empire, our propensity for using war as a continuation of economics by other means. But it still makes me sick to be reminded how venal and savage we are, and how easily Osama Bin Laden has revealed our moral hypocrisy.
1 - "MI5 and MI6 admit fears over 15 new torture cases," by Ian Griggs, published in The Independent, 29th of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/mi5-and-mi6-admit-fears-over-15-new-torture-cases-1656625.html)

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Tories revert to old ways

A rather boring but self-important little man, Euro-MP Daniel Hannan, is temporarily famous for making a speech in which he lambasted Gordon Brown (1):

The speech itself was secondary school debating material and Hannan has the charisma of John Major on Mogadon, but it has been heavily promoted in America by the likes of the Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh. The American right are so disorganised and desperate for anything that counters the current fad state intervention, they've promoted Mr Hannan's otherwise forgettable grandstanding to the level of a phenomenum. I do wonder if the slavering hordes of the American right, watching Hannan on You-Tube, as they masturbate over their copies of 'Free to Choose', even realise that he is talking about Brown, not Obama?

Given how fickle fortune is, however, I would advise Mr Hannan take advantage of her favour, and embark on an extensive - perhaps never-ending - American tour, where he can receive the acclaim of the far right underbelly of the Republican Party forever more. Christopher Hitchens seems able to make a living out of it.

The activities of the trog-right in the USA is only of passing interest, though the fact they've been reduced to recycling a naff speech by a dull Euro-MP as ammunition against Obama shows how empty the Reprublican armoury is at this time. It will be interesting to see if the moderates are able to resist this kitchen sink tactic, and what sort of Republican party emerges from it in three years time. But that's for another day.

What is of more immediate interest is the effect this will have on the British election in 2010. At the moment, the speech is being hailed as a coup-de-grace to Brow's administration, but in the longer term, I think it might signal a revival in his fortunes. Hannan is desperately anti-European. Up until now, David Cameron ha worked very hard to preserve unity on Europe, but Hannan's hour in the sun is going to maker that much more difficult for him.

Hannan's a gibbering anti-Euro loon, and a self-promoting grandstander. His antipathy to the EU is so strong it is unlikely he'll manage to keep quiet, and his vanity will further prompt him to speak out. He'll love his new found fame and will use it to bombard his suddenly attentive audience with lots of anti-Euro diatribes.

Cameron willl be forced to say something at some point. If he endorses Hannan's rantings, he'll face a 'wet' revolt from the sane part of his party. If he slaps the little tyke down, the anti-Euro's will stage a revolt and - who knows - all piss of to join the UK Independence Party, with Hannon as its new leader.

This, from the Independent, won't help:

One of the Conservative Party's biggest financial backers in effect defected to the UK Independence Party last night, claiming he was fed up with David Cameron's policy on Europe.

Spread-betting millionaire Stuart Wheeler said he doubted the Tory leader would hold a referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty – and revealed he is giving £100,000 to the Euro-sceptic Ukip. Mr Wheeler told the News of the World he would vote for Ukip in European polls in June.

The paper said that Mr Wheeler now intended to vote for Ukip - which campaigns for withdrawal from the EU - in the European parliamentary elections in June, although he would continue to support the Tories the local and general elections.

"The EU is doing so much damage to our economy and our way of life that I can no longer vote Conservative at the European elections," he told the paper. (2)
Expect more of this sort of stuff as the irrepressible anti-Euro Tories start to speak up again.

If it gets bad enough, it might be very interesting in 2010 and the British electorate might have an election about something real, like where they stand in relation to Europe, as opposed to something trivial, like how much they doislike Gordon Brown. Which is the opposite of what David Cameron wnts. Until now, he's been on a short, straight path to No. 10 - all he has to do is smile, blame Gordon Brown for the recession, and steer clear of any solid policy and any thing that might tear his carefully constructed facade of Tory unity apart. And unfortunately, that just happened.

1 - "Daniel Hannan Rips Gordon Brown a New One," video clip posted on You Tube by the steve Gill Show, 25th of March, 2009. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mc9TVlzdEsc)
2 - "Tory backer decamps to give Ukip £100,000
," by Gavin Cordon, published in The Independent, 29th of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-backer-decamps-to-give-ukip-163100000-1656748.html)

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

You have to admire the audacity II

Don Brash is all het up about the refusal by the police to reveal what they know about the identity of the person(s) who leaked National Party emails to Nicky Hager:

Dr Brash said yesterday that he was told by Mr Quinn as he was wrapping up the case that he would be sent a copy of the police file but, a year on, he had seen nothing.

He had not followed it up, "mainly because in a sense I've moved on and it doesn't generate quite the same anger as it did back then".

But he believed police should make the file public. "I frankly think that the way the police have handled this is little short of outrageous." (1)

Come on, Don. That 'outrageous' line is a bit rich. We're the ones who were - and are - outraged by your hypocrital and disingenuous conduct in 2005.

Thanks to the unidentified leaker(s), we know what you tried to do, and we thought it was disgusting. We were so digusted we voted Clark and her dithering grafters back in for another three years. Why are you such a fan of openness now, when a few years ago you were so desperately secretive and deceptive?

1 - 'Brash angry at delays in email inquiry,' by Tracy Watkins in the Dominion Post, published 24th of March, 2009. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/2286031/Brash-angry-at-delays-in-email-inquiry)

You have to admire the audacity

It has been revealed Tony McNulty, Employment Minister in Gordon Brown's government, has claimed £60,000 in expenses for staying at his parents' home in his Harrow constituency, which is just 11 miles from Westminister and a few miles from his first home.

Not a good look, though it is not clear that he has actually broken any rules - just engaged in a mammoth exercise in piss-taking.

This, from the Indie, made me chortle because of its sheer, unashamed, unapologetic arrogance:
Since the 1970s MPs' pay has been held down to avoid public criticism and they have been encouraged – they say – to use their generous allowances. But many MPs now believe that anger over expenses means they should "bite the bullet" and opt for a one-off pay hike and a more transparent expenses system. (1)
Get that? This latest exposure of their grasping and grafting means they need to get a pay rise, not that the need to start being a bit honest. It is up to us, the taxpayers, to pay them enough so that they do not feel the need to resort to bilking us, not up to them to behave to any sane standard of decency and honesty.
1 - 'Minister faces inquiry into second home cash claims,' by Michael Savage, published in The Independent, 24th of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/minister-faces-inquiry-into-second-home-cash-claims-1652589.html)

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Truth is the first casualty ...

The other day, The Daily Mail ran a story about how the British government was allegedly insulting World War Two veterans by refusing to contribute to their appeal to raise funds to attend the 65th commemorations of D-Day.

Shrilled the Mail:

The Ministry of Defence has rejected requests for financial aid to survivors and says there will be no further official commemoration of D-Day until its centenary - when all those involved will be dead.

To compound the farce, the American and Canadian governments are sending top-level delegations to mark the momentous date.

Even the Germans will join the commemorations and remember the fallen on both sides.

Today, the Mail launches a campaign to honour and support the 500 remaining veterans' cause. (1)

The indignation was rather phoney, however. The supposed disrespect was a long held policy, of both Labour and Tory governments, that only set anniversary dates were commemorated - the last one being the 60th anniversary in 2004. Which, you'll recall, was under a Labour government.

The Mail does admit this, far down the article and after much of the huffing and puffing and "Hell in a handcart" bollocks typical of the rag:
This is on the bureaucratic grounds that the MoD supports official events only for 25th, 50th, 60th and 100th anniversaries. (2)
So, manufactured indigantion, really. This is not a dastardly plot by New Labour to disprespect our war heroes. For all the Mail's talk of giving them one last officially sanctioned hurrah, that was what the 60th aanniversay commemorations in 2004 were all about. But there was political capital to be gained by the fiercely natonalistic Mail, and the Mail is a paper that has never let something as trifling as the truth stand in the way of a chance to spew rightwing propoganda.

Then today, another twist, to the Mail's furth discredit. The British government - demonstrating the lack of spine to which we have become accustomed - has decided to cave in and, after all the commemorations will receive lottery funding and the will be attended my government figures - even though the veterans don't want them there (3).

What was really interesting, however, was the revelation that the money is not needed - the cash needed to send the 500 British veterans to the ceremony has already been raised. How so? Through a campaign launched by The Independent:

Survivors of D-Day reacted angrily yesterday to what they claimed was a belated attempt to politicise and hijack a nine-month campaign to take British veterans to mark the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

A public appeal for funds to take 500 ex-service personnel to the commemorations in France, launched in The Independent on 6 June last year, has been assured of success for weeks. The Government had been criticised for not paying the travel costs, and for not planning to send Gordon Brown to the event – but yesterday it said there would be "appropriate British attendance" and that it would "provide support so veterans can participate".

So the 'patriotic' Daily Mail is in fact just seizing the Independent's coat tails, making a fuss about an issue that has already been resolved. Their interest in the issue is political, without any sincerity. Meanwhile, the Indie, the organ of the supposedly unpatriotic and revisionist left, has been quietly working for months to get the old soldiers over to France.

Laughable. God, I hate the Daily Mail.
1 - 'Obama set to shame Brown by attending D-Day anniversary... as Labour refuses to pay for veterans' return to Normandy,' by Matthew Hinckley, Ryan Kisiel and Peter Allen, published in The Daily Mail, 19th of March, 2009. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1163083/Obama-set-shame-Brown-attending-D-Day-anniversary.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ' We'll fight Brown on the beaches,' by John Lichfield, published in The Independent, 21st of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/well-fight-brown-on-the-beaches-1650589.html)
4 - ibid.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

What did the Nats ever do for us?

I've refrained rom commenting much about the new government, to give it a chance to show how it means to behave. given that it was confronted with an almost unprecedented economic crisis on taking power, I thought Key et al deserved a little bit of lee-way. Well, they've had enough time to show us what National stands for, and I don't like it.

It is a cliche that every new governemnt must 'hit the ground running.' Most immediately trip up - Tony Blair quickly came undone with the fiasco over the retention of the Millenum Dome, Eurofighter, the Bernie Ecclestone affair and Robin Cook's ludicrous 'Ethical foreign policy,' which consisted of selling the same sorts of weapons to the same sorts of people as the Tories had, and which Robin Cook, had righteously condemned, before power instantly corrupted him.

National have managed to stay on their feet and are running well. Only thing is, they've veered further to the right than they indicated in their campaign, and have surprised me with the audacity of the open way they flaunt their neo-liberalism. Still, with generally adulatory media coverage, no-one seems to mind too much what they do.

Since they took office, they've introduced the toxic fire at will bill (1), cancelled the Electoral Finance Act (2), disembowelled the Resource Management Act (3), rolled back the faint hearted efforts Labour made towards addressing Climate Change (4), spat on gender equality (5) and cynically followed the populist posturing of ACT and Sensible Sentencing (6) while moving to contract out running the prisons that will be needed to cater for the new 'clientele' (7).

Now, on top of that, they are putting the country up for sale (8).

I would have thought the National Party, if it was to live up to its name, would show some interest in the good of the nation. There is nothing here but a reckless promotion of the short term interest of the business class and international capital looking for a low wage economy to exploit in the name of 'development' and a nice place to relax while the watch the little people scurry about making them more money.

To paraphrase Monty Python, "What did the Nats ever do for us?"
1 - '90-day probation legislation comes into effect,' by unattributed NZPA article, 1st of March, 2009. (http://www.3news.co.nz/90-day-probation-legislation-comes-into-effect/tabid/423/articleID/93354/cat/64/Default.aspx)
2 - 'Electoral Finance Act repealed,' unattributed ONE News/NZPA/Newstalk ZB article, published by TVNZ, 17th of February, 2009. (http://tvnz.co.nz/politics-news/electoral-finance-act-repealed-2491786)
3 - 'Government Reform of the Resource Management Act,' press release by the NZ Government, 3rd of February, 2009. Reproduced on scoop.co.nz.
(http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0902/S00023.htm)
4 - As described previosuly on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2009/03/fiddling-books-while-planet-burns.html
5 - 'Government kills pay-equity inquiries,' by Patrick Gower, published by the New Zealand Herald, 20th of February, 2009. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10557714)
6 - 'Three-strike law may breach rights' by Patrick Gower, published in The New Zealand Herald, 2nd of March, 2009. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10559461)
7 - 'Kiwi assets 'for sale' under review,' by Colin Espiner in The Press, 18th of March, 2009. Reproduced on tuff.co.nz. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/2271626/Kiwi-assets-for-sale-under-review)
8 - 'National's Radical Private PRison Agenda,' by Idiot/Savant, posted on No Right Turn, 9th of March, 2009. (http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2009/03/nationals-radical-private-prison-agenda.html)

Arrogant, elitist cocks

From The Independent:

Even Mr Miliband has been affected by the ongoing teething problems. One high-profile political colleague was surprised to find the Climate Change Secretary holding a meeting in a small side room with plastic chairs, rather than in the more suitable surroundings of a ministerial office.

"After holding court in the plush ministerial office of [former Environment secretary] Hilary Benn, it was a bit of a change to find Ed in a small room with plastic chairs, a table and a white board," said an official present at the meeting. "It looked like a classroom." (1)

Obviously, some in the Labour party have become too accustomed to luxury and have lost their egalitarian instinct. Surely, if it is good enough for the children of the workers, it is good enough for their political representatives?

Or are some animals more equal than others?
1 - ' No, minister: mandarins frustrate Miliband's green revolution,' by Michael Savage, published in The Independent, 17th of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/no-minister-mandarins-frustrate-milibands-green-revolution-1646521.html)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Fiddling with small change while the planet burns

An revealing combination of stories. The first one is from The Independent:

Sea levels are predicted to rise twice as fast as was forecast by the United Nations only two years ago, threatening hundreds of millions of people with catastrophe, scientists said yesterday in a dramatic new warning about climate change. Rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are likely to push up sea levels by a metre or more by 2100, swamping coastal cities and obliterating the living space of 600 million people who live in deltas, low-lying areas and small island states.

Low-lying countries with increasing populations, such as Bangladesh, Burma and Egypt, could see large parts of their surface areas vanish. Experts in Bangladesh estimate that a one-metre rise in sea levels would swamp 17 per cent of the country's land mass. Pacific islands such as Tuvalu, where 12,000 people live just a few feet above sea level, and the Maldives, would face complete obliteration.

...

It is the accelerated melting of the vast, land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, caused by rapidly rising temperatures at high latitudes, which is now speeding up the increase beyond anything previously forecast. The Greenland ice sheet, in particular, is not simply melting but melting "dynamically" – that is, it is collapsing in parts as meltwater seeps down through crevices and speeds up its disintegration. Critically, the four scientists said, this process was not taken into account in the AR4 report, leading to estimates of sea-level increase which were far too low.

They revealed remarkable figures showing just how fast it is now happening. Professor Steffen said Greenland was losing 200 to 300 cubic-kilometres of ice into the sea each year – about the same amount as all the ice in Arctic Europe. This on its own is causing the global sea level to rise by more than a millimetre a year, he added, whereas a decade ago Greenland's contribution to sea level rise was non-existent.

Dr Church said that the most recent satellite and in situ data showed seas were now rising by more than 3mm a year – more than 50 per cent faster than the average for the 20th century. (1)

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, the NACTional have other things on their mind. This from the Dominion Post, courtesy of Stuff:
Flagship schemes to "green" the public service are the latest casualties in the Government's cost-cutting drive.

The Environment Ministry confirmed yesterday that it was ditching the Labour government's goal of a "carbon neutral" public service and several other green schemes as it looked to contain costs. These include a programme to help households become more energy efficient.

Ministry chief executive Paul Reynolds confirmed government ministers had decided on Monday to axe three programmes, saving $13 million over two years and affecting 18 to 20 jobs. The ministry was also trying to find a further $1.8 million in savings. But he hoped to avoid redundancies by assigning staff to different jobs.

News of the cuts come as a Government razor gang conducts a "line-by-line" review of its spending. (2)

Get that? The problem of climate change is likely to be worse and more rapid than we had realised. And the New Zealand government is blithely cancelling commitments to offset its own emmissions, cancelling envoironmental programmes and even a bloody helpdesk which gives people advice on how to live in a more energy efficient manner. Even though, back in December, Gerry Brownlee was complaining about demand for energy outstripping supply (3). Clearly, the NACTional solution doesn't involve limiting demand through sensible, energy efficient action on the part of the consumer - Brownlee's moaning prefaced the repeal of the ban on Thermal generaltion and the scraping of the bio-fuels commitment (4).

Which tells you pretty much all you need to know about NACTional's commitment to combating climate change. Fiddling about with a few million dollars - small change, but it generates another 'Nats Cut Bureaucracy and PC Silliness' type headlines.

It is short sighted, small minded, driven by ideology and shameless political expediency. Inspite of their mealy mouthed comments that they "must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions" and are their commitment to a "50% reduction in New Zealand's carbon-equivalent net emissions, as compared to 1990 levels, by 2050," (5) they have no policies in place to reach that goal, no obvious plan and what they have done with regards the environment and climate change has been retrograde.

Basically, they are making the right noises, but haven't shown any inclination to back them up with policy. Given the indecent haste with which they moved to their 90 Days 'Fire and forget' law, nixed the Electoral Finance Act, put the Resource Management Act out to be filleted, surely they could have found some time to live up to their pledges of action on the environment and climate change.

Instead - and aside from the environmental sacrifice implied by the review of the RMA - the Emmissions Trading Scheme is put on hold (6). The ban on incandescent lightbulbs is cancelled (7). As mentioned arlier, the commitment to bio-fuels and the ban on thermal generation are thrown out the window.

The message is clear, even if not plainly stated. NACTional don't care for the environment. They don't really think climate change is real. They are still loked in a 1950s - or perhaps even 19th century - paradigm when people thought that human activity had no lasting impact on the planet, resources llasted forever and had been put there to be exploited and could be consumed without consequence.
1 -'Sea levels rising twice as fast as predicted,' by Michael McCarthy, published in The Independent, 11th of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/sea-levels-rising-twice-as-fast-as-predicted-1642087.html)
2 - 'National takes axe to green schemes,' by Tracey Watkins, published in The Dominion Post, 11th of March, 2009. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/2249807/National-takes-axe-to-green-schemes)
3 - 'Government steps in over power struggle,' by Brooke Donovan, published in the New Zealand Herald, 16th of December, 2008. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10548175)
4 -
ibid.
5 - From a speech by Bill English, delivered to the Cliamte Change and Business COnference, 20th of August, 2008. (http://www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?ArticleId=28398)
6 - 'Climate Change: Back to square one,' by Idiot/Savant, posted on No Right Turn, 16th of November, 2008. (http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2008/11/climate-change-back-to-square-one.html)
7 - 'Brownlee turns the old lights back on,' unattributed NZPA artcle, published in The New Zealand Herald, 17th of December, 2008.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

UN slams Britain for complicity in torture

The UN Special Rapporteur has identified Britian as one of the contries complicit in the torture of detainees by the USA and proxies:

The UN Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin said the US was only able to create its system for moving terror suspects around foreign jails because of the co-operation of allies, naming the UK alongside Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Canada and Georgia.

The report led to a clamour of calls for a full and independent investigation into the Government's involvement in the detention and movement of suspects since the start of the "war on terror" eight years ago.

Mr Scheinin's findings follow accusations made by British resident Binyam Mohamed, who claims to have evidence of MI5 telegrams sent to the CIA, which he says were used to direct his alleged torture during his 18-month detention in Morocco, before he was sent to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. Some individuals faced "prolonged and secret detention" and practices which breached bans on torture and other forms of ill treatment, the report says.

"Evidence proves that Australian, British and US intelligence personnel have themselves interviewed detainees who were held incommunicado by the Pakistani secret intelligence service ... where they were being tortured," the report concludes. "UK intelligence personnel, for instance, conducted or witnessed just over 2,000 interviews in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq."

Mr Scheinin says countries are "responsible" if they help other states carry out human rights violations. (1)

This is where Britian's unthinking willingness to do whatever the Bush administration demanded of it has left the country.

Warnings of where this dumb obedience would lead were issued every step of the way, but they were ignored. Those giving the warnings were called cowards, traitors, unpatriotic, useful idiots, appeasers and terrorist sympathizers.

So it's only fair that those who spat out these vile epithets accept their due. they are complicit in murder, torture (here, here and here), and rape (4). They are murderers, torturers and rapists.

1 - 'UN condemns Britain's role in torture cases,' by Robert Verkaik, published in The Independent, 10th of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/un-condemns-britains-role--in-torture-cases-1641147.html)
2 - 'Senate report links Bush to detainee homicides; media yawns,' by Glenn Greenwald, published in Saloon, 15th of December, 2008. (http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/12/15/rumsfeld/)
3 - 'CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described,' by Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, published by ABC News, 18th of November, 2005. (http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/Investigation/story?id=1322866). Second link is to 'Waiting for the Guards,' a short film made as part of Amnesty International's 'Unsubscribe Me' campaign, showing a real (i.e. unfaked, real pain) recreation of an actor holding a stress position. Linked 13th February, 2009. (http://www.unsubscribe-me.org/waitingfortheguards.php?)Third link relates to Binyam Mohamed, described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/08/this-is-why-we-are-hated-and-this-is.html
4 - 'The Other Prisoners,' by Luke Harding, published in The Guardian, 20th of May, 2004. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/may/20/iraq.gender)

Monday, 9 March 2009

Arise, New Zealand? Grow up, more like ...

I can't actually be bothered saying much about John Key's decision to restore knightoods (1). To me, it is pretty unimportant. It does signal a pathetically colonial mentality, however, on the part of NACTional, a kneejerk deference to British tradition that most people will find embarrassing - but irrelevant. John Key and his reactionary colonialist buddies can tug their forelocks to ma'am at the palace as much as they like. It shows a contemptable lack of vision on their part, but we knew that already.

The argument is, I suppose, that the traditional British honours are internationally recognised. Everyone knows where you stand with a 'Sir' or a "Dame." Very true. Sporting such a title seems to be one of the truest indicators of criminality, venality or deviancy there is. Why would the New Zealand government want our best people to be associated with alleged fraudsters (2) and incompetent, shameless idiots like Sir Fred Goodwin (3), all the way up to bloody despots like Sir Robert Mugabe (4), Sir Nikolai Ceau┼čescu (5) and Sir Benito Mussolini (6).

An honour? I doubt it, except for people suffering from a massive cultural inferiority complex, who feel the need to grovel before a HEREDITARY MONARCH - an institution the absolute opposite of a honour system based on merit. No honour stemming from such a source is worth anything.
1 - 'Knighthoods brought back,' by Tracey Watkins, published in the Dominion Post, 9th of March, 2009. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/2130467/Knighthoods-brought-back)2 - 'Stanford affair: Whistleblower speaks,' unattributed BBC News article, 5th of March, 2009. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7926895.stm)
3 - 'Sir Fred Goodwin refuses to give up £693,000 RBS pension,' by Katherine Griffiths, published in The Telegraph, 26th of February, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/4840576/Sir-Fred-Goodwin-refuses-to-give-up-693000-RBS-pension.html)
4 - 'Mugabe stripped of knighthood,' unattributed Metro article, 25th of June, 2008. (http://www.metro.co.uk/news/article.html?in_article_id=191290&in_page_id=34&in_a_source=)
5 - ibid.
6 - Wikipedia article, 'List of Honorary British Knights,' subsection 'Politics and Government,' viewed 9th of March, 2009. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_honorary_British_Knights#Politics_and_Government)

Friday, 6 March 2009

Is this what Rodney Hide had in mind?

A disabled polytechnic student has been forced to urinate into a bowl in the corner of a classroom because his wheelchair did not fit in the toilet.

...

The student cannot access the bathroom on the first floor as his wheelchair is too wide. On Tuesday he was left no choice but to look for a corner of the classroom he was in and was passed a bowl to urinate in. (1)

It is shocking that a human being was subjected to this indignity, in New Zealand in 2009. It is a bloody disgrace that Unitec have been able to get away with inadequate provision for years. Will the new NACTional government do anything to change things? Unlikely, as ACT leader and cabinet minister Rodney Hide encourages people not to provide facilities for the disabled, even if it means flaunting the law (2).

[Hat tip: No Right Turn (3)]
1 - "Student forced to urinate in class," by Jaqueline Smith, published in the New Zealand Herald, 5th of March, 2009. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10560073)
2 - "Disability Group Slams Rodney Hide," press release by CCS Disability Action, 5th of February, 2009. (http://ccsdisabilityaction.org.nz/News/PressReleases/DisabilityGroupSlamsRodney/tabid/1070/Default.aspx)
3 - 'Apalling,' by Idiot/Savant, posted on No Right Turn, 5th of March, 2009. (http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2009/03/appalling.html)

We have ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia ...

First it was Afghanistan because we were told that terrorists were there. Then it was Iraq because we were told that terrorists were there. Is it now Pakistan because terrorists are there?

We have ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia.
1 - "Sri Lanka cricketers attack: Pakistan 'greater threat than Afghanistan'," by Ben Farmer, published in The Telegraph, 5th of March, 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/4941262/Sri-Lanka-cricketers-attack-Pakistan-greater-threat-than-Afghanistan.html)

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Hoover / Brown

Reading Geoffrey Perrett's America in the 1920s, one of the similarities that caught my attention was the plight of the luckless Herbert Hoover and that of the equally ill-starred Gordon Brown.

Here is Perrett's description of Hoover accepting the Republican nomination in 1928:
... [Hoover] reviewed the country's achievements since 1920: a 45 per cent increase in national income, while population rose by 8 per cent; 2.3 million new families, and 3.5 million new houses; a 66 per cent rise in high school enrollment, a 75 per cent rise in in college enrollemnt. After spraying his audience with more figures than they could expect to comprehend as they sat sweating under a broiling sun, he summarized what the figures meant; "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us. We have not yet reached the goal, but, given the change to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty shall be banished from this nation." (1)
Change the proper nouns, and it could be Brown accepting the leadership of the Labour Party in 2007. It is fair to note that both men demonstrated a genuine desire to ease suffering and reduce poverty. Brown can - justly - claim to have done some good things as chancellor to improve the lot of people at the bottom of the heap in Britain.

The personal similarities between the two men are striking. Both are decent - by their lights, at any rate - and hard working, with first rate minds:
Hoover was described by Henry Stimson as being "capable of more prolonged and intense intellectual effort" than any president he knew, and Stimson served under every president from Teddy Rooseveldt to Harry Truman. (2)
Both Hoover and Brown are numbers men, fixated with measuring and quantifying things. This - coupled with a minimal endowment of charisma - makes them seem technocratic and aloof. Again, from Perrett:
Hoover's entire campaign was to consist of seven such speeches. He delivered them head bent, as if in rapt contemplation of his navel, left hand in left trouser pocket, nervously jiggling his keys, right shoulder working up and down. His eyes never left the page as he read in his midwestern monotone a thousand words sweated out over many hours by Hoover alone. They invariably sounded more like official reports than emotional perorations. (3)
Brown, of course, isn't quite as wooden or dry, because the spin doctors got to him. You can sense, however, that this is the style he would naturally adopt, if the image men would leave him alone to do it the way he wanted. And Brown's gauchness and social awkwardness is - to me - quite endearing. Their statistical obssession and poor presentation, however, makes makes it difficult for the electorate to warm to them. Post Thatcher, we're too accustomed to spin and image manipulation. We get uncomfortable with anything more than illusion.

Both had the ill-luck to be at the helm when the economy foundered. Neither man was responsible for what happened, but both were/are held to be culpable by their electorate. Perhaps more versatile performers would have managed to pass the blame to others, but neither Brown of Hoover would have been able to do so, even if they had been tempramentally capable of pasing the buck. Both set themselves up by claiming they were responsible for the good times that preceded the distasters of 1928 and 2008:
The Republicans ... had taken all the credit for the prosperity of the Twenties. They had thereby saddled themsleves with all the blame for the Depression when it came. (4)
Again, the parallels with Brown are obvious. Further, when the American economy collapsed int he late 20s, Hoover elected to identify himself with the economic crisis, which lead to his undoing:
Hoover assumed complete responsibility for overcoming the Depression. Alas, there was no solution to it. The banks were shakey, business paralyzed, farmers impoverished, charities inadequate, unions demoralized, cities and states broke, intellectuals misled, and all were looking to the Federal government ... (5)
Brown, whether he wants it or not, is the man who will be expected to sort out the mess of the British economy, or face the consequences. He was, after all, the man who was supposed to be in control of it, for years, before he became Prime Minister.

He will fail, like Hoover failed. The likelihood is that this will turn into a new Depression, moping around the globe for a decade, immune to any attempt to lift it. Freidman has been abandoned in favour of Keynes but it will probably prove to be a Phyrric victory. The billions and trillions of dollars and pounds and yen are thrown at the problem will fail to resolve it, just as in the 20s and 30s:
... no twitching of the reins of power could ever conquer the Depression, and for one overriding reason: to resote demmand on the scale required by government action would have first destroyed money and then destroyed the government. It would have had to borrow at least $20 billion a year for several years, at a time when the entire nation's income had fallen t $39 billion a year. Unable to borrow so much from so little, it would have had to run the printing presses until the money turned out was worth less than the paper used. (6)
None-the-less, Hoover's insistence on identifying himself with the the solution to the Depression, his failure to realise this goal, and his lack of charisma doomed him:
The animus that Hoover's name can not be exaggerated. So much more had been expected of him than almost anyone ever elected to the presidency, and the country had never fallen so low. He was derided with a hatred that went beyond hate. (7)
The Republicans were routed in 1932. It is likely the same fate will befall the British Labour party in 2010, and Brown will suffer a similar - and probably just as unfair - corrosion of reputation.

And the unseating of Hoover provides a model for the unseating of Brown. In the 1932,
Roosevelt's campaign consisted mainly of blaming Hoover for the Depression ... Roosevelt presented himself as the safe, solid, middle of the road amateur in politics who would take good care of the taxpayer's money and make sure bureaucracy was kept in check. (8)
Once more, if you change the names, it could be Cameron versus Brown in 2010, or Key versus Clark in 2008.

So much for Brown and Hoover. The next - and more interesting - question is whether the new kids on the block - Obama, Key, very probably David Cameron - have come in too soon? Hoover wrestled with the Depression for almost four years, and thus became associated with it. The New Great Depression is still in its early days, and any bright and bushy-eyed "safe, solid, middle of the road amateur in politics" runs a real risk of being too closely identified with its opening scenes, not the Grand Guignol of the main act. Will Obama, Key and Cameron be more Hoovers, mauled by a Depression they are incapable of lifting?
1 - From America in the 1920s, by Geoffrey Perrett, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982, pages 311-2.
2 - ibid, page 490.
3 - ibid, page 312.
4 - ibid, page 483.
5 - ibid, page 490.
6 - ibid, page 490. THe quotation actually refers to Roosevelt's adminstration, from 1933 onwards. The impracticality of a Keynesian solution was as real for Hoover as it was for Roosevelt, however.
7 - ibid, page 484.
8 - ibid, page 484.

Business as usual in Zimbabwe

Morgan Tsvangirai has achieved nothing by agreeing to join RObert Mugabe's government, apart from discrediting himself, and the Movement for Democratic Change, as an alternative to Mugabe's and ZanuPF. From The Independent:
A defiant President Robert Mugabe used his 85th birthday celebrations yesterday to insist that land seizures would continue, and called for the country's last white farmers to leave. "Land distribution will continue. It will not stop," Mr Mugabe told a rally in his home area of Chinhoyi, north-west of the capital, Harare. "The few remaining white farmers should quickly vacate their farms as they have no place there."

...

Mr Mugabe's stance does further damage to the credibility of Mr Tsvangirai, who became Prime Minister a fortnight ago after yielding to overwhelming regional pressure to take his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) into a coalition with Mr Mugabe. The MDC has demanded the release of political prisoners, including Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer and deputy agriculture minister in the unity government, who has been charged with treason. But he and more than 30 others remain behind bars.

The opposition has also failed to dislodge Gideon Gono, the central bank governor whose reckless printing of money has rendered the Zimbabwe dollar worthless and fuelled the highest rates of inflation the world has ever seen. Further damage to the economy is likely to result from two other developments: more land seizures and attempts to gain control of the few foreign enterprises still operating in the country.

Since the coalition government was formed, invasions of white-owned farms have surged, with about 40 having having been seized, according to a farmers' support group. As for foreign-owned businesses, Mr Mugabe signed a law last year to transfer control of mines and banks to local entrepreneurs in the name of black empowerment. Yesterday he said the government would press ahead with the policy. Such measures make it even less likely that foreign donors will help rebuild the Zimbabwean economy. Last week the MDC's secretary-general, Tendai Biti, given the thankless job of finance minister in the unity government, appealed vainly for US$2bn (£1.4bn) in emergency economic aid from SADC leaders meeting in Cape Town. (1)

Which poses the question - if Tsvangirai and the MDC are defunct, who and what will serve as the opposition in Zimbabwe? Simba Makone (2) seems to be the most likely contender, but he is- is ex-ZANU-PF, a member of the party's politburo until he announced his presidential candidacy in February last year. Maybe I'm cynical, but that does not endear him to me.

1 - 'Mugabe: Last white farmer should leave,' by Raymond Whitaker, published in THe Independent, 1st of March, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/mugabe-last-white-farmer-should-leave-1634743.html)
2 - The wikipedia biographpy of Simba Makone, viewed 1st of March, 2009. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simba_Makoni)

Theresa May: Going, Going ...

So, Theresa May is in a bit of trouble.  Tories are scheming and plotting - which they do on any day that ends in a 'Y' - and rumour...