Thursday, 15 December 2011

Rewriting Rambling John Bolton

I was reading 'Mad Dog' John Bolton's piece in the Guardian today (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/15/america-withdrawal-iraq-world-instability?INTCMP=SRCH) and it occurred to me that if he were to say the exact opposite of what he was saying, the article would be intelligent, informed and sober. Instead of being crazy, deluded and apparently genocidal.

So I took inspiration from the incomparable Lawrence O'Donnell and rewrote it for him. One challenge this presented was that it seems John Bolton wants to have it both ways: he wants to say that 1) withdrawing from Iraq will lead to conflict and an empowered Iran and instability because there will be a power vacuum. But he also wants to say that 2) invading Iraq in the first place was not going to lead to an empowered Iran and instability in the region.

His position appears logically untenable, until you realise that what he is really saying is that the US should have made war in Iran, Syria and Lebanon (to name but a few) in order to avoid this situation. The true horror of his position is just unimaginable to rational, civilised human beings.

*All edits are made in caps.
*apologies: he does go on.

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PARTY TIME, America's withdrawal from Iraq heralds FREEDOM FOR IRAQ | NOT John Bolton
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America's complete withdrawal of its troops from Iraq is an AWESOME SUCCESS. It ENDS the SHITSTORM made by President Bush's (and Tony Blair's) eminently IDIOTIC 2003 decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, WHICH RISKED the broader Middle East falling into chaos. HAPPILY, Bush himself initiated this SUCCESS by agreeing to this end point in our status-of-forces agreement with Iraq, but it was consummated by Barack Obama, who never wanted to be in Iraq, and who is now OBLIGATED to pull the plug.

But those, like Obama, who welcome US withdrawal as vindicating their opposition to the Iraq war are profoundly VICTORIOUS, AS IT SERVES TO PROTECT the international coalition's real successes in Iraq WITH the COURAGEOUS DECLARATION of their McGovernite "come home, America" strategy.

First, the world is MORE DANGEROUS with Saddam dead and his regime on history's ash heap. He was a military aggressor, a tyrant BUT NOT a terrorist supporter. His record of developing and using weapons of mass destruction is HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE, and his future course, had he succeeded in ending UN economic sanctions and freeing Iraq of weapons inspectors, WAS PROBABLY A DEMISE AT THE HANDS OF HIS OWN PEOPLE. Now, no longer will Saddam invade his neighbours and MAKE EMPTY THREATS OF the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against either his fellow citizens or foreign adversaries, AND WE CAN TAKE OUR thumb OFF the world's economic windpipe. With 20-20 hindsight, we now see we should have LEFT HIM TO THE WRATH OF HIS OWN PEOPLE, LIKE GADDAFFI.

Second, Iraq is a better place without THE US and THEIR OCCUPATION. Anyone who believes differently has to argue that tyranny is better than representative government and rebut Benjamin Franklin's penetrating observation, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty not safety." Good luck with that.

Undeniably, the period between Saddam's overthrow and today was grim, and deadly for too many. Post-Saddam, we should have rapidly handed over civil authority to Iraqis rather than establishing the Coalition Provisional Authority. BECAUSE OF the CPA's LAZY, HAM-FISTED efforts, al-Qaida and Iran were BOOSTED BY its highly visible role, thus creating steadily deteriorating security conditions, even as the Iraqi people WERE DENIED the institutions of a free society. President Bush's 2006-07 surge overcame many, but far from all, of the security threats that existed, again setting Iraq on the WAR path. It is thus particularly KIND to Iraqis that Obama is withdrawing according to a SOBER, essentially RATIONAL timetable, rather than one based on THE OPINIONS OF IDIOTS LIKE JOHN BOLTON.

Third, and JOHN BOLTON DOESN'T KNOW THE MEANING OF irony, US withdrawal from Iraq will CONSTRICT Iran's influence there and throughout the region, STYMYING Tehran's progress toward achieving ANY OF WHAT THE DELUDED JOHN BOLTON IMAGINES ARE its goals. A TINY PORTION OF THE criticism of our overthrowing Saddam rested on the argument that terminating his regime eliminated a strong Arab-Sunni barrier to expanding Iranian-Shia influence. That view was always simplistic, given the region's vastly complex religious and ethnic politics. We had NO threats to combat, and eliminating THE IRAQI REGIME inevitably CREATED THE EXCUSE TO CONFRONT IRAN in due course. FORTUNATELY, under both Bush and Obama, we ARE DEALING adequately with Iran's nuclear-weapons programme and its support for terrorism. That Iran is now more of a danger stems far more from JOHN BOLTON'S failure AND overthrowing Saddam THAN IT DOES FROM ANYTHING OBAMA HAS DONE.

IT IS THE FAULT OF BUSH AND BOLTON THAT Iran has already substantially increased its meddling inside Iraq, both influencing the regime of Nouri al-Maliki and enhancing the capabilities of terrorist thugs like Muqtada al-Sadr. It is challenging its Arab neighbours across the Gulf, threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz and target the US bases and facilities there (as well as Nato forces in Turkey). Tehran is obviously willing to shed considerable Syrian blood to keep Assad's dictatorship in power, and Hezbollah effectively in control in Lebanon. And Iran moves inexorably closer to its long-sought objective of nuclear weapons deliverable by intercontinental ballistic missiles.

IT IS QUESTIONABLE WHETHER the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq will increase Iran's relative regional power. America's Arab allies in the Gulf Co-operation Council are extraordinarily nervous about THEIR OWN PEOPLE DEMANDING REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENTS, especially under the STRONG, PRINCIPLED AND DECISIVE Obama presidency. Containing and ultimately overthrowing the regimes in Iran and Syria could have been A CATASTROPHIC MISTAKE ON A PAR WITH the US military presence in Iraq, and will clearly be much EASIER after our withdrawal. Those who say they want Iran contained should have supported WITHDRAWAL FROM Iraq A LONG TIME AGO OR, BETTER, SHOULD HAVE STOOD AGAINST GOING IN 9 YEARS AGO.

In short, our withdrawal from Iraq presages a world where Obama-style policies of American DECENCY and UNDERSTANDING have prevailed. Be warned: you'll miss OBAMA when HE'S gone. By then, of course, it will be too late.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Gingrich Surge/Car Crash

It is a seriously flogged horse to say that the Presidential politics of the US is the most ugly, crazy, un-inspiring rubbish available on basic cable. I can feel my soul eroding just watching these characters compete to be the craziest idiot at the gun fair.

I seriously need to get away from this bull, but it's like watching a car crash in slow motion.

Everyday you can see other pieces of the bumper bend and break, the engine crumpling, -will the airbags fail to open? - the faces of the people in the car widening their eyes and bracing for impact as the seat-belts stretch under the strain.

Newt Gingrich is a long-odds front-runner for the Republican nomination, but one with a 20 point lead in the polls over Mitt Romney. Barney Frank (Democrat of Massachusetts) says he doesn't feel that he's lived a good enough life to be able to run against a Republican party that nominates Newt Gingrich for president.

I happen to agree: Gingrich will fall away and the nominee will be Mitt Romney and he and Obama will have a nice little bloodless campaign in which Obama will win with 50.0000001% of the vote.

That is my prediction, and since I've made one, I now have to follow it to the end. The airbags (Mitt Romney) will open and the wide-eyed faces of those people in the car will be covered and saved by their soft embrace. Then those airbags will slowly deflate and the car-wreck will be left, still and silent, on the side of the road.

But the longer it takes for those airbags to open, the longer it goes that Romney sits on 22% in Republican polls, the more tension those watching will feel, the more and more likely it seems that this car wreck is going to be ugly, with faces splayed across the dashboard.

What happens if the airbags refuse to open?

Gingrich has a litany of sleaze, fraud, flip-flops, affairs and convictions on his record that no other politician can boast.

This is a man who left two wives, both of whom were hospitalised with potentially terminal illnesses at the time he served them with divorce papers.

This is the man who was in the third year of an affair when condemning, moralising over and impeaching President Clinton for doing exactly the same thing with Monica Lewinsky.

He is the Speaker of the House with the largest ever fine ($300,000) for ethics violations relating to campaign finance fraud, and the only Speaker to be convicted of ethics violations by a house committee. The House voted 395-28 to convict him - including 198 Republicans - making his recent claims that it was a 'partisan witch hunt' patently false.

And that's just for starters. But right now he's on about 40% in national polls of Republican voters with less than a month until the votes start getting counted. Everything this guy says is tainted by his repugnant persona, his hypocrisy, his life being the lie he accuses his opponent of.

His presence has made the dialogue horrifying. Take his comments about 'helping' children from poor backgrounds:


He also suggests that poor children should be assistant janitors in schools "to sweep the floor and clean the bathrooms" and that child labour laws should be repealed.

It is like he doesn't remember what school was like. He doesn't realise that those kids would immediately become a second class within the student body, attacked and bullied by their peers. I worked after school, as did my wife, doing service stuff (I set-up for the archery club and put up the tennis nets) but it wasn't part of a program to 'help poor kids' so there was no stigma. As soon as the category is created there would be an underclass of poor students whose job it would be to serve and clean up the mess left by the others - it's repugnant.

That's before we even address how condescending and vilifying these statements are, saying that simply because one is from a poor background, one has no idea what work is. In many cases it is quite the opposite.

Or, indeed, mention that this proposal is, in essence, a green light for children to be pressed into work for a pittance at whatever age they are able - be it by their parents or by the state.

Watching the Republican party rally to these sorts of proposals chills the blood and marks out why elections matter.

Funnily enough, they matter in the same way that airbags matter: if you're doing fine, making money, got yourself a nice business or a great job in a robust sector, then elections don't matter too much - you'll be taxed either 35% or 38% depending on who wins, the trains will be more or less often delayed, the roads better paved or not - that sort of thing.

But if you crash - if you are doing badly, if something goes wrong for you, then elections start to matter a hell of a lot more, as then you'll want some kind of way out of your situation and you might not find it in the private sector. You want incentives for hiring, or you want decent healthcare, or you want adequate public transport, or a fire engine, or a policeman at your door within five minutes. Then you want that airbag, though you may never use it.

The Republicans need Romney now to save face, but will they realise it in time? He has shown no signs of flourishing. Maybe he never will.

This could get SO ugly.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Requiem for Herman Cain

Herman Cain is gone. He's also a narcissist, as is plain from his rambling, incoherent, at times disturbingly meaningless suspension speech. I may be rather a stickler for the comprehensible use of language, but there is no way that calling off your campaign because you are a hopelessly unqualified, sleazy self-promoter who's about to file for divorce (most likely) isn't the very definition of 'quitting'.

This imbecile, completely ignorant of the world around him, was not able to grasp the first precepts of cultivating a serious public persona.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Greece: Humiliated Scapegoat

Eurozone leaders (or "Germany") have delayed the payment of 8bn euros of financial aid to Greece, amid concerns it has not done enough to curb its giant budget deficit.

Greece was due the payment as part of its 109bn Euro bailout, still yet to be ratified by its fellow member states. Greek Minister of Finance, Evangelos Venizelos, bemoaned that his country had been "blackmailed and humiliated" over its debt problems, adding that Greece had been made into a "scapegoat" for the debt crisis that has affected all member states.

Speaking to a meeting of IMF and EU officials, he bemoaned the protests of his own countrymen, his political rivals in opposition and the negative image being perpetuated by the continued resistance to austerity cuts being implemented by his government.

He laid out three "strategic decisions" that he said would put Greece back on a sound financial footing. These amounted to promising to hit the fiscal targets of 2011-12, to achieve a budget surplus "as soon as possible" and to make structural changes within Greece that would lead to it becoming more competitive.

So, basically, he said that they wanted to do what they said they wanted to do about the financial dire straits, while neglecting to say exactly what they would do to achieve these goals.

In short, Mr. Venizelos attacked the other Eurozone countries for recognising Greece's plight (apparently aid and stern words about not wanting to dole out another 100bn is "scapegoating and humiliation"), gave vague assurances with no details about how Greece would help itself and attacked his political rivals and his own people for protesting his government's plan, as if it is the only intelligent course of action.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Hopelessness of the London Riots


Everyone seems to think they have an answer as to what the riots have been about. Everyone has different ideas as to the primary causes, be they social, economic, racial or what have you.

People tend to see their own political reality made flesh by these riots. Socialists think it is the bare bones of a class struggle, right-wingers think it is a result of excessive immigration, economists think it is a result of economic uncertainty and pompous intellectuals attribute pompous intellectual reasons for the riots.

I am frustrated by this trend of commentators imprinting their own political philosophies on a situation that does not neatly fit any philosophy or motivation

The riots have been about greed, about social division, about unemployment, about anger, about frustrated consumerism, about youthful vanity, about racial tension, about a lack of respect for society, about a lack of recognition from society, about police brutality, about disenfranchised adults with no path to the dreams they've been sold, about mindless copycats, about intelligent people who want to destroy a society that has rejected and abused them and about cuts to public spending.

With all of these motivations apparent in the actions and the back-stories of rioters, I feel comfortable in saying that there are as many different motivations for as people involved in these riots. So maybe we're asking the wrong question.

The idea my brother had was that sometimes "Because I can" is sufficient motivation for rioting. Variations on "...and because I can" can be placed after every motivation one can name. The real question to ask is not why people did riot, but why didn't they not riot?

What is it that makes "Because I can" a sufficient motivation to do this stuff?

I guess you could restate "Not believing in society" in such numerous ways with enough leeway in the interpretation that it could be seen as in some way fundamental to the answer.

You could boil down reactions to the question "Why did you riot?" to: I don't believe in society: I don't believe in consequences; I don't believe I can succeed; I don't believe in authority; I don't believe I will ever afford these trainers; I don't believe you will ever help me; I don't believe I can be stopped; I don't believe I am treated fairly; I don't believe in money, etc.

All of these are a part of saying "I don't believe in society".

Without that belief, society does not function effectively. If one lacks the belief in society, simply being able to riot becomes motivation enough because at least then someone will notice you. At least then society will prove that it exists in one form or another.

It's like taking a train at random: at the end of the trip maybe things will be better but, at the very least, things will be different. It's a symptom of hopelessness: jumping on a train just to land up somewhere else, the one and only certainty is the ride.

(Picture by http://www.flickr.com/photos/madtea/)

Friday, 20 May 2011

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly Republican Lawmaking


This is how debate on a Voter ID bill in Wisconsin ended yesterday. The bill is designed to make it harder to register to vote because first time voters tend to vote Democrat.

Republicans are systematically dismantling the ability for Democrats to get elected in the state of Wisconsin. Not only are they passing a bill that means you can't register to vote unless you have you have a photo ID handy, but they have also taken away the collective bargaining rights of unions in the state, who are the chief fundraisers for the Democratic Party. They have also stripped the powers of the last Democrat with any power in Wisconsin, the Secretary of State, and given those powers to the Governor. The Secretary of State was not allowed to debate the move, nor was he allowed to speak on it in the State senate.

Also part of this Voter ID bill: period you have to live in a district to be able to vote there has been tripled; the length of time absentee voters have to get their ballots in has been halved; 20% of Wisconsin residents do not have the particular photo ID required to vote. All of these measures will hurt the Democrat vote.

Add the Citizen's United case, which allowed unlimited corporate donations to political campaigns through 'Super Political Action Committees' (some of which only have a handful of donors worth millions and millions) and it is clear the Republican's are playing hardball.

Unfortunately, as has been well documented by many, especially Jon Stewart, Democrats are pussies. So they get fucked (in the parlance of Team America).


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ken vrs. Ed: Political Calculus

I'd love it if politics wasn't a game with a scoreboard and was, instead, a profession of productive dialogue. However, it is not.

So let's look at the scoreboard:

The law that Ken Clarke apparently thought governed statutory rape wasn't as he described it. In fact, what he described as not really being rape is, as of 2003, not really rape.

So that's minus one point off Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, for not knowing the law (which is, of course, no defense in court).

Ed Milliband attacked Ken Clarke for describing a situation in which an 18 yr old and an 15 yr old have consensual sex as not as serious an offence as forcible rape.

The government which Ed Milliband supported in 2003, however, changed the law to comport with Ken Clarke's common-sense views.

So that's minus one off Milliband for deriding a common sense view and a further minus point for his ignorant hypocrisy. Then there's another minus point for opportunistically attacking instead of researching the law and correcting Ken Clarke, which would have got him a plus mark.

Ken Clarke gaffed all over the place, as he clearly thought statutory rape was AKA date rape, which it is not. He gets a minus point for using words he doesn't understand.

However, there is no legal term 'date rape' as what the media describes as 'date rape' can fall into a plethora of different legal terms. Being a QC, he just wouldn't have used the phrase 'Date rape', a term which is not specific enough for use in a court room. No points awarded here.

So that's Clarke -2, Milliband -3

No one looks good.

This is the first thing that Ed Milliband has done as Labour leader that anyone has noticed. Unfortunately, it is to attack someone for supporting the thinking behind a change to the law that happened under a Labour government. He didn't just attack him, but called for his resignation. That's pretty lamentable.

Clarke didn't know the law, which as Secretary of State for Justice is kind of his fucking job. He also didn't know the meaning of a media term that has been around for twenty years, which is baffling.

This is an example of a political storm that passes and doesn't affect anyone's thinking other than to disenchant them with politics.

If Milliband was a skilled politician, he could have had Clarke for not knowing the law, simultaneously painting the Tories as ignorant toffs who only get jobs because of who they know, not what they know. Instead he took a pot-shot that boomeranged.

His ignorant shouting only makes his ignorance clear.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Kenneth Clarke: Not a Complete Idiot.

One needs to be careful when discussing rape. I have been wrestling with the proper way to express my own views on 'Slutwalk' for the last couple of days, which I see as intrinsically linked to how society treats claims of rape and talks about prevention (as this is what sparked the movement).

Then I see on Yahoo news this story: It describes how Kenneth Clarke was being targeted by Ed Milliband for comments he made that, it was reported, caused outrage . The line that caught my attention was this:

"Mr Clarke sparked calls for his sacking after appearing to say that some rapes were less serious than others during a BBC Radio 5 Live interview." http://uk.news.yahoo.com/clarke-must-over-rape-comments-112949184.html

Of course, this could mean a range of things. The reporting made it sound like he was drawing a distinction between cases of withdrawn consent and those of forced sex.

However, he was not. He was drawing a distinction between statutory rape and other forms. Here is the important quote, from the BBC:

"When BBC interviewer Victoria Derbyshire interrupted to say "Rape is rape, with respect", Mr Clarke replied: "No it's not, if an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she's perfectly willing, that is rape. Because she is under age, she can't consent... What you and I are talking about is we are talking about a man forcibly having sex with a woman and she doesn't want to - a serious crime.""

As a Q.C., Clarke knows that cases of statutory rape and forcible rape can be treated differently in court, with statutory rape being open to being treated as a lesser crime where the age gap is insubstantial.

Where it is a case of 'consensual' sex between a 14 year old and a 35 year old, it is a very serious offence. Where it is a17 or 18 year old having consensual sex with a 15 year old it can be (not always) treated as a lesser crime.

That is not an opinion, that is a fact. Courts are allowed to interpret the law with a modicum of common sense. To point this out does not reflect on Kenneth Clarke and his views about rape or women in any way.

As a former teenager, I know that stuff like this goes on all the time and to call it as serious an offence as forcible rape is ludicrous.

Where one person is older by a matter of months than the other, the letter of the law says it is rape, but often it is nothing so sordid: it could be an expression of love between high school sweethearts who go on to have a long relationship, or who grow tired of each other over time. Either way, they might not be demeaned or scarred for life by it.

For that to be treated the same in statistics and in language as being brutally restrained and forced to be violated in a demeaning and scarring fashion is quite absurd.

The opportunistic attacks by Milliband and by shrill commentators are detrimental to having a grown-up discussion about these issues.

I sent a long, rambling message to a friend about my views on Slutwalk in which I used some quite clumsy language, which she kindly pointed out.

At some point I will publish a better expression of these views. It will be thanks to my friend's patience and intelligence in seeing that I'm not some kind of entrenched chauvinist, but someone genuinely engaging with the subject.

It is through that discourse that I understand both her views and my own better.

If public figures are chastised and attacked and lose their jobs for saying only what is demonstrably the case about different kinds of rape then our public discourse suffers.

Men with questions and thoughts on the subject will feel it necessary to keep quiet and not express them publicly.

If a man has chauvinistic views, they will never be exposed, picked apart and corrected if they cannot first be aired. If he can speak without shame and then have the meaning of his words explained to him, maybe he'll consider his views and maybe change them.

Shrill, unthinking attacks, by opportunistic politicians and others, create a taboo around an area that is to the detriment of actually dealing with the problem in the first place.

Take this gem as an example of the sort of (poorly written) diatribe that gets spat at the man:

"Kenneth Clarke the convicts (sic) friend and champion, he blames the victims for being victims,a total disgrace as an MP in a shamed and out of touch profession. Politicians are totally untrustworthy and incompetent and have no intention doing what they promised in order to get elected."

So, for saying only the most common sense thing possible about the subject in careful language, Kenneth Clarke has shamed his whole profession.

If we can't talk about something as serious and as widespread as rape without saying only that it is awful and must be stopped - in all forms, everywhere, castration is the only answer! - we are denying ourselves cultural evolution.

Discourse is how we grow. Presenting one view and then being opposed is not the same: that creates intractable disagreement. Actual discourse is considered and patient and promotes mutual understanding.

We don't learn anything by shouting the same inoffensive, reactionary, absolutist shit over and over again.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden and The Innuendo of Omission

I have been watching with some shock as the western governments and their media have rushed to condemn the Pakistani government for being unaware of Osama Bin Laden's presence in their country. I find it a challenge to follow their thinking, but will try to formulate it as forcefully as I can here.

So: Argument 1. OBL lived in a multi-million dollar compound in an affluent 'Garrison' town - built especially to hide him. Surely someone in the government knew of his presence there? How could they not - such a huge structure being built must have raised questions in the local prefecture.

Problem 1: It was built in 2005, four years after the US + allies invaded Afghanistan to find and kill OBL, destroy the Taliban and uproot Al Queda. Four years of people saying OBL was in the mountains of Tora Bora, 4 years in which rumours of his death were circulated, 4 years for security services to relax their questioning.

Problem 2: All we have is questions like "How could the compound be built without its connection to OBL being recognised?". There could be perfectly reasonable answers to this question without implicating some vast conspiracy in the Pakistani government, e.g. OBL had a businessman with a reasonably clean history register as the owner of the property. When questions were raised he answered them with a believable fiction that satisfied the planning department of the local council.

Argument 2. Abbottabad is a 'Garrison Town', filled with ex-military brass and a barracks for the training of army officers. Surely someone there suspected something to be amiss with a compound with 12 foot high walls springing up?

Problem 1: As a garrison town, it is populated by people used to accepting that there are those higher-up the chain of command who know things they do not. Asking too many questions will not help in having a long military career. Their thinking might be "So what if there is a new compound built in town? It's probably some general's residence or even a presidential hideaway. Best not to ask too many questions, or you might get implicated as a terrorist sympathiser."

Problem 2: Soldiers in the garrison are trained for a finite time there. Every term some leave for active duty and fresh faces come in. To fresh eyes, the compound might have looked like it had been there forever. They better not ask questions, or their commanders might think they are trouble, or some kind of terrorist sympathiser. Whatever the case, it's in a residential area, so it's nothing to do with them.

Argument 3. OBL was there for 6 years and no-one saw him. Either the locals were blind or they were in league with the terrorists.

Problem 1: For 5 of those 6 years OBL never left his bedroom. We can reasonably assume that he stopped going outside after year 1 because of concerns someone might see him over the 12' walls. If he was in league with the local prefecture and police force, why would he take such paranoid precautions?

Problem 2: It is not the duty of the police force to raid residential buildings without cause. The only way they would have found him is by searching every room or by doing what the Americans did for 6 months and watching the compound around the clock. Even at the end of 6 months, the American agents were still unsure there was really anything amiss with the place. When Obama ordered the mission, it was rated 50/50 that the tall shadow they sometimes saw pacing one room of the compound was their target, or just some weird hermit.

Problem 3: With the construction of the compound, the locals must have been used to supply trucks going in and out with bricks, steel and other building materials. It would be easy to hide OBL in one of those trucks, drive him from wherever he was (Afghanistan?) and install him in his new hideout without anyone raising an eyebrow.

Conclusion: There may be some complicity at some level on the part of the Pakistani government in the hiding of OBL. It would be foolish to rule this out. However, it is not necessarily the case and no evidence has been forthcoming to show it to be so.

---

Simply because he was present in their country does not mean that some alarm goes off in Islamabad and all the Muslims have a chill go up their spines, their spidey-senses start tingling, and a loud speaker says "Don't look now, but Osama Bin Laden has entered the country. Act natural and don't tell the Americans."

Their government has said that it was as much a failing of the international intelligence services as their own ISS that they didn't know he was there, which is a case of letting themselves off easy. But there is yet to be any actual evidence of complicity, or of flagrant incompetence, on their part that has been released or unearthed by any media outlet or government. All we have is the innuendo of omission.

It seems that Pakistan is being attacked for not being enough of a police state: for not going door-to-door in every town every month, searching every laundry basket and compost heap for a man no-one was sure was even in their country.

If a man stays locked in one room behind 12' high walls for 5 years, I would expect no-one to notice him if that room was in Hampstead or in L.A.

Why would it be different in Pakistan?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Campaigning 101

I find myself unsurprised by the shellacking doled out to the "Yes" campaign in the AV referendum. While all the results are not as yet in, 70% of the electorate decided they didn't want AV. And who can blame them?

Were the virtues of AV talked up? Not really.

Was the trouble with the current system explained? Not to me.

Did the the 'Yes' campaign, such as it is, concentrate on celebrity endorsement over substance? Reportedly - I never actually heard from them.

Was the whole thing a total shambles? Like Shambo the Holy Cow with bovine TB.

Today I chatted with my dad about AV. He is not a political animal and is open to a certain amount of persuasion on such matters. I gave him the run-down on my reasons for my vote of 'Yes' yesterday. We had a reasonable conversation about it.

The 'Yes' campaign failed to sell this conversation around the country.

"Vote for AV because celebrity no. 4 thinks its great" is not a conversation sane people are going to have.

The key to successful campaigning is leading the discussion. If you can't do that, you are lost.

Blair did it (by saying 'New' a lot, as I recall).

GW Bush did it (with a swagger, "trrrist evil doingers" and smear campaigns).

Obama sure as Hope and Change did it.

Major didn't do it (or anything at all of note).

Kerry didn't do it (he was a war hero who got painted as a coward and didn't fight back).

Kinnock couldn't get her done ("balding Welsh bloke wants to charge you more tax" is not a great slogan).

Neither did anyone in last year's general election, leaving us with no one in charge.

Central to any successful campaign is an ethos that can flower into an actual conversation between ordinary people who do not have all the facts at hand.

The Lib Dem's started their campaign for this referendum by saying to the British people "We know you're not going to get excited by or particularly like this...". When you start like that, nothing else you say is going to be relevant. Not to me, not to anyone.

AV was the big promise to their base, a wild gamble to secure more seats at the next general election and finally become a real party. AV was why they went into coalition in the first place.

They completely screwed the pooch.

Over the coming years, the Liberal Democrats are going to fall apart, fracturing along fault-lines created, not by this loss, but by going into coalition with the Tories, who are a party with an ideology they are diametrically opposed to.

Without any hope of redemption at the ballot box, the Liberal Democrat party is going to shatter like the teeth of some cartoon cat who just got hit by an anvil.

We may laugh: it is, after all, pretty funny.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden: Slave to The Man

The news that Osama Bin Laden had Nestle and both Coca Cola and Pepsi delivered to his compound is quite astonishing.

For a man who railed against the consumer capitalism of America to be ordering in crate after crate of Coca Cola, surely the no. 1 American export, should be enough to dispel any lingering romanticism surrounding him.

Hamas, the Palestinian authority in the Gaza Strip, mourned his death as the killing of an "Islamic holy warrior". Somebody should show them the Coca Cola: what kind of holy warrior enriches the beast he is supposed to be slaying with both his money and his body?

I was so appalled by the disgusting ethics of Nestle in Nepal - how they sold poverty stricken mothers "mother's milk substitute", on the promise that it would be better for their baby than breast milk, when in fact it was lacking in vital nourishment - that I have boycotted Nestle products for seven years.

An Islamic holy warrior should at least be able to maintain the level of personal discipline required not to buy Nestle and Coke.

It isn't hard.

I know it may seem strange to concentrate on this point, what with the guy being responsible for thousands of deaths and the terror of millions, but it is telling.

There are those who we, in the UK, would call heroes, who are responsible for the deaths of thousands and the spread of terror throughout millions.

Our heroes, we might say in their defense, were just.

We know OBL was not just, but he is also not merely a hero to his erstwhile followers. Some blind fools, like those within Hamas, claim him as a martyr, so they must hold him to a different standard.

A martyr must live a life consistent with at least his own beliefs. OBL wasn't consistent at all.

With one side of his mouth he damned the imperialist, capitalist devil infidels of the west; with the other he chugged Pepsi and Coke and chowed down on Chunky Kit-Kats ("truly a confection fit for Allah himself" he might have mumbled to himself, wiping the biscuit crumbs from his lap and washing it down with some Diet Coke: "Nothing like the real thing". He smiles to himself and leans back, before returning to his Playstation 2).

Not even the shadow of a martyr, a poor excuse of a warrior, unholy is perhaps too kind: Osama Bin Laden was nothing more than a criminal, and one who was witless enough to imprison himself in a single room for 5 years, before getting his brains blown out by a nameless soldier.

What a gormless waster.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

AV or First Past the Post? Yes or No?

I mentioned in a previous post the idea of an independent commission that should have run tomorrow's referendum.

The idea being that, instead of getting slanted leaflets coming through your door distorting the facts of what AV is, and what voting Yes or No would lead to, you'd just get a simple description of the two systems.

That way you'd just make up your own mind without being cajoled by party loyalty and celebrity endorsements.

So, here is a nice, uncomplicated description of what AV is and what First Past the Post is.

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Alternative Vote (AV) - YES

To vote, you rank the candidates in order of preference, with "1" signifying your first choice and "2" your second, etc.

If, after all of the votes are counted, there is a candidate with "1s" from more than 50% of the electorate, then they win.

If not, the candidate with the lowest number of "1s" is knocked out of the process and the second preferences ("2s") of their voters are distributed amongst the remaining candidates.

If then there is a candidate with 50% of the vote, they win. If not, the above process is repeated until there is a winner (a candidate with 50% + of the vote)

In practice this means that you, the voter, can vote for not only your favourite party, but also for a second and even a third choice.

First Past the Post (FPP)- NO

You tick the box for the candidate that you like the best.

The candidate with the most votes wins.

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(Above is as objective as I can be, below is opinion)

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So, as you can see, FPP is a lot simpler to explain. However, it has been known to cause problems that are not simple in practice.

In a situation where there are two parties with similar agendas which share by far the majority of the vote, but a third party wins while representing, in essence, a minority opinion, democracy has not really been served, in my opinion.

So, imagine a constituency where 33% vote for the Greens, 31% vote for the Hippies and 34% vote for the Globalwarming Is a Myth Party with 2% voting for the Vegans Ask God party.

In an FPP election, GIMP win, despite representing a minority opinion. In an AV election, the Greens would win, as they represent a more broad sweep of the electorate. The VAG party's 2% would be evenly divided between the Hippies and the Greens, then the Hippie vote would presumably go to the Greens leaving the result as Greens with 66% and GIMP with 34%.

The Hippies and the VAG would combine to screw the GIMP, turning the seat Green.

My finest hour? Perhaps not.

But anyway, if you have not understood what we're voting about tomorrow, I hope this has somewhat demystified the whole thing a bit.

AV is not complicated - voting in AV just means that you rank the candidates that you like 1,2,3 until you don't want to show anymore preferences. FPP gives you one 'X' on the candidate you like the best/think will represent your views best amongst the field of those likely to win/might beat the guy you really don't want to win. Vote YES for AV and vote NO for FPP.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Obama before the Weekend

On Friday, Chris Mathews put together this great piece on Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Towards the end of the piece, Bob Schrum cited a piece by Lawrence H. Tribe, written with the assistance of Obama, called the Curvature of Constitutional Space. Schrum said it was so elevated that it was difficult to read.


So, sporting my Philosophy degree, I marched to the Google and found the PDF of the piece (http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~daw/D_Realism/Tribe.pdf) in order to find out how elevated it was.

I made notes as I went (included here) to find out how complex this sort of work it is. I have to say, it isn't massively complicated. All the tricky concepts are familiar to me from other reading, so maybe I have a head start.

However, it shows a level of understanding of law and physics that I am heartened to find in Mr. Obama. He's clearly a great guy, he's smart and is deeply thought.

The comparison between him and Donald Trump, and many other Republican candidates, is stark.

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Notes on "The Curvature of Constitutional Space: What Lawyers can Learn from Modern Physics" by Lawrence H. Tribe (Barrack Obama assisted with analyses) 1989

Intro.: "Metaphors and intuitions that guide physics can enrich our comprehension of social and legal issues"

Opposes dogmatism (strict ideology) because it shuts down debate - he thinks that fluidity of thought is better than ideological intransigence.

- there is an interesting footnote, damning cost-benefit analyses as method for finding preferred conclusions - against utilitarian views

- there is no certainty to be drawn from science into law/philosophy - it is not an infallible referee that can be appealed to in cases of law or ethics.

- he feels law has not kept pace with science in the way that it understands and talks about the relationship between perception, reality and judgment.

- the American Constitution was written from the perspective of people who understood their world in non-mystical, Newtonian, mechanistic terms ("checks and balances", etc.)

- later, the theory of evolution inspired constitutional scholars to look on it as "a living, evolving thing."

- Tribe does not want to view the constitution as a 'Thing' at all, but wants to concentrate on the process of interpretation, in accordance with our scientific milieu (quantum physics and relativity).

-Tribe sees Newtonian physics as relying on a metaphysic that involves God and absolute laws.

- Tribe goes on to explain his view of the new physics in order to then construct a new mode of Legal thought/argument/"paradigm"

General Relativity

- Space is curved by masses - everything falls at the same rate, even light: reality itself is bent by the presence of material.

- Planets are not 'connected by gravity', but rather gravity is the bend of space under the weight of a mass.

The sun creates a bowl in reality, which the planets roll around in orbits. (Tribe's understanding seems to be somewhere between 2D and 3D - where masses are 3D and space is 2D, however his explanation is a brief summary, not an in-depth explication)

Curved Legal Space

- Decisions made in law affect the law itself. By interpreting a law anew, as is done with every decision, the law is changed - it does not remain unaffected by an impossible, objective obedience.

- Laws exercise power over their citizenry and so create obligation on the part of the state to maintain the personal freedoms which they are designed to regulate.

- The state is not a disinterested observer or referee, but by its nature it affects its citizenry and acts upon them. (there are some great examples in the paper, the details of which are too important to be abridged here)

Quantum Theory

- Act of observation affects what is being observed - we affect what we see by seeing it. (Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle)

- We can never be certain whether the observation affected the thing in a certain way.

- Both General Ralativity and Quantum Physics deny the possibility of isolation, of a pristine observer - of objectivity.

-- the state alters the order of society by providing a framework for order within society.

- It expresses judgments that lead society along a path. Like putting your finger on a sheet of linen will create a bowl into which fluff will tend to fall, so judging a case a certain way will coerce other cases to be decided in that way. In this way, courts are not observers, but are interacting with society through their judgments.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Chris Mathews is Terrific

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Donald Trump looks so ugly when he says "Excuse Me"; Sarah Palin looks so ugly when she can't let go; Vincent Libelle's bald-faced cheek.

This is politics as theatre.

The Royal Wedding: Arts Program Funding Gone Right


Please, dear reader, do not be angry about the £20 million on security this wedding will cost: the royals bring in (reputedly) hundreds of millions every year in tourist revenue, plus the wedding is supposed to generate £50 million in revenue for the country today alone.

I think of the Royals as a profitable arts program where we get double back what we put in. It's terrific and sort of makes sense of the whole crazy circus surrounding two wealthy twenty-somethings getting hitched.

We all play this game of "let's pretend" with the Royals, like they are somehow ordained by God to rule but don't because of (technically two) revolutions and a gradual marginalization by parliamentary manoeuvring.

They put on the gowns, we say "God save you" and everyone is satisfied. It is a piece of ceremonial performance art, but it is one that turns a profit for everyone involved, so why question it?

If only the coalition government had the same attitude to the Arts Council England, whose funding it cut by 29.6% for the next four years - despite it providing a similar level of profitability to the Royals (who, to be fair, also faced cuts).

Arts are easy to cut, but it makes no sense to cut something that gives you back more than you put in. That is cutting your profits, damaging a successful system: it's just madness. Just imagine if we didn't say "God save you" to those nice people from Windsor: the whole bloody thing would be in ruins, we'd lose millions.

Well, same with the Art Council England funding debacle. It's madness. Arts are the lifeblood of culture and without them we are poorer - literally and figuratively.

I'll finish with the famous Churchill story, on the off chance you haven't seen it before.

"During the Second World War, Winston Churchill's finance minister said Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort. Churchill's response: "Then what are we fighting for?"" (http://issues.wnyc.org/wiki/index.php/Arts_and_Culture_Funding)

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

"Yes" to First Past the Post (If you want a job done properly...)

OK, so commentary does not necessarily need to be balanced to be worthwhile, but I thought I'd have a stab at writing the "Keep First Past the Post" (FPP) pamphlet.

While I'd love to claim that I had a "Road to Damascus" moment while flicking through the "No" campaign leaflet on my door mat, the truth is I just hate seeing a job done that badly. "Perhaps" I thought "I could have done it better."

So here it is:

Vote "No" to AV; Vote to Keep First Past the Post!

1. The Most Inspiring Candidate Wins

FPP gives the seat to the candidate with the largest majority of impassioned supporters. This means that it is the candidate who inspires the most of those who care to listen to his/her views who wins.

This means that we have MPs in Parliament with strong personalities, who can get the views and needs of their constituents heard and seen to in the din of the halls of power.

Our MPs are larger than life, not the affable, inoffensive but forgettable people you might get with a system like AV.

2. Fringe Parties remain on the Fringe With FPP

In other countries there are myriad parties all sharing the reins of power, which leads to compromising, fudging and weak governance that can harm the country as a whole.

This is because they have systems which allow for too many provincial or minority issues to be represented, rather than there being strong, national parties.

FPP marginalizes single issue parties, whose manifestos are not serious blueprints for rule, in favour of the national parties who have the wider view.

3. FPP provides us with Strong Governments.

Instead of different factions all pressing for their provincial interests, our governments tend to have a shared vision for the country and the power to carry it out.

Compromising on policy can lead to excessive red-tape, weakened regulators, weakened commissions and ineffectual initiatives. Too many people with disparate ideologies creating policy can drown good ideas, making for a stagnant political climate or deadlock.

FPP will tend to result in single-party rule between elections, meaning that one manifesto can be said to be the most popular and the direction the country wants to go in.

Governments can move forward with the support of the country and introduce the initiatives they believe in. Whether they succeed or not will depend on the strength of their ideas and their personal competence, not on political wheeler-dealing within a coalition of disparate interests.

4. FPP is Proven, Trusted and our Tradition

FPP has been a part of our electoral system throughout the history of democracy in this country. Great Britain has maintained its place at the high-table of world politics thanks to almost always having strong willed leaders leading strong parties.

Our leaders have almost never had to demur on the world stage because they weren't sure that they might not deliver on their promises because of troublesome political partners.

Changing to a different system could endanger the continuance of that history and fundamentally change the character of our politics and our leaders.


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So, there it is. That wasn't so hard: Four substantive benefits of FPP, strengths it has over AV. Now: If I can do it in about an hour, why can't the policy wonks at Tory HQ, who've had a year?

Why do they insist on making non-sequitur, ad hominem arguments like "Clegg promised not to raise tuition fees; he became deputy PM in a FPP election and raised tuition fees; he supports AV; don't vote for AV"?

Why do they try to make AV seem random and complicated, when it certainly isn't?

Why didn't they just sit for a minute and argue the case for FPP?

That's the subject of another post, I think.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A 'Yes' to AV: Primary Motivations

Am I interested at all in the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum? Not really. Like most people, there are other systems I might be more interested in voting for, while AV seems like (in Nick Clegg's words) "A miserable compromise". I don't care about it.

However, I will be voting for it. What's my motivation?

1: Annoy the Tories.

I find the 'no' campaign needlessly negative. It shouldn't be a 'no' campaign at all - but a "Yes to First Passed the Post" or "Keep First Passed the Post" campaign. Instead, the leaflets I get through the door are childish and emotive drivel that rely on spreading confusion and fear in the electorate.

It is needless. Why not simply tell us about the benefits of the system they want to keep?

The 'No' campaign is run by the Tories, who have lost me through their bundling efforts at governance over the last year. In the end, it will annoy them if I vote for AV. Good.

2. Our Political System Needs Reform.

The referendum should have been run, not by parties, but by an independent special commission whose job it is to inform the voter with facts. Voting on the matter should not be a one-day event, but the ballots should be held open over the course of a week to allow a greater sample of the electorate to vote. There is no reason for this not to be done.

I don't see why this should have been a party political campaign. Why can't the voter simply be informed and make their own judgments, without the tribal coercion of red, blue and gold?

AV is said to increase the chances of more hung parliaments in the future, which I think must lead to more sweeping reform of our stupid system. I am for anything that draws us closer to a time when issues will be decided on the strengths of arguments and not allegiance.

3. Foil the Tories.

When they were cutting a deal with the Liberal Democrats in the coalition talks, the Tories forced a compromise on the voting system issue.

While the Lib Dems wanted a referendum on Proportional Representation (PR), the Conservatives forced them to settle for the AV referendum, in the knowledge that it is not really what the Lib Dems wanted.

The idea was that no-one wants AV - not Labour, not the Tories and not the Lib Dems - so the likelihood of a successful 'Yes' campaign is pretty slim with this minimal level of enthusiasm on every side.

Oddly enough, I would have certainly voted against PR.

However, after forcing this compromise from the Lib Dems, the Conservatives then set about showing AV up for being a compromise.

So: they forced the referendum on AV as a compromise, then attacked it for being a compromise. It is intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind and I would be happy to help their plan fail.

4. I haven't heard from the 'Yes' campaign.

This either means they are a disorganized rabble, or aren't active in Brighton, or that I threw it away without looking at it. The pamphlets I have seen from all parties have been sickening and appallingly written.

Having not heard from 'Yes' makes it much more likely that I'll vote "Yes" because I won't have to stomach the dishonesty they no-doubt peddle.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Benton Harbor/Catherine Ferguson School Michigan Shuffle

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Rachael Maddow has been doing a series of pieces on Michigan's move away from democracy in the last week or two. The employment of 'Emergency Financial Managers' for cities in dire financial straights, kicking out the locally elected officials and being parachuted in by the Governor, is a disturbing happening.

The idea is that if a city or a county is failing then the governor simply appoints someone to take over the running of that city or county. Someone who is not concerned with the popularity of their measures, but only with the secure financial future of the city/county.

And that all sounds fairly straight forward, as a way of circumventing the unfortunate reality that sometimes rulers must do unpopular things or face ruin, but if they do unpopular things in a democracy then they will simply be voted out.

Most intellectuals will agree that a benign dictatorship is the ideal form of government: a supreme ruler, unconcerned with popularity, who has the best interests of his/her populace at heart. One problem with this is that the populace has no way of knowing whether their dictator is going to be truly benign or wise before they are installed into power.

As they say: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It's a question of prayer whether you get a good one, or a Hitler/Mussolini/Franco/Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot/Idi Amin/Pinochet/Chauchesku (that's just the 20th century), which is something Maddow references here.

Giving business people their own little fiefdoms within a capitalist framework will lead to self-interest being served before the common good. In a democracy, self-interest is served by serving the common good, so the circle of motivations is complete.

Simply telling a businessman (as these Emergency Financial Managers all are) that they have a city to make profitable is madness. In business you can lay off workers and restructure departments, but in a city you are stuck with the same population and you cannot just rebuild a city without massive, and I mean massive, investment.

There are fragmentary similarities between ruling a city and running a business, but they are not enough to justify the equivalence that is drawn by the Emergency Financial Managers Law.

And then there is what one defines as an 'emergency'. One person's emergency is another's off-year. Who decides what is an emergency? The Governor. Emergency can basically mean that the governor doesn't like your mayor's tie that morning. The whole thing is far too subjective, far too open to abuse and corruption.

Look at Maddow's report on Benton Harbor:


Abuse? Possibly. Corruption? Oh, yes.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Mrs Palin: Not Extreme Enough.

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The frightening statistic here demonstrates that Sarah Palin is beginning to lose out to the nuttier Donald Trump. What's that you say? "Palin's as crazy as they get"? Well, I won't disagree with you, but she had not until now been a 'birther', i.e, someone who believes that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore not eligible to be president. Quite apart from the fact that even if he was born in Kenya, his mother was a US citizen and so he would be too: it is clearly a sleight with racial undertones.

It was thought that to identify yourself as a birther would be to effectively give up on being a serious presidential candidate, because it is such a nutty thing to espouse. However, Donald Trump has been making headlines, climbing polls and getting a lot of coverage for his stated birtherism. Coverage that he has taken from Sarah Palin.

I guess the point I'm making is this: Sarah Palin is not right-wing enough, not crazy enough, to court today's Republican party. Two years ago she was plenty nuts enough: probably too crazy. Not any more.

And if that doesn't scare you, you haven't been paying attention.