Saturday, January 29, 2005

New Labour Environmentalism, Part II

Bliar called for action on global warming at the rich man's club for pretending to care about the world, that is, at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

But the real news is that he tempered his arguments with references to economic necessities, parrotting the Bush admin in an apparent attempt to appease them. Which of course won't achieve anything, just heralds further climbdowns in the usual Bliar fashion.

As for Britain's own commitment to tackling the problem of global warming, just re-read Part I, or at least this quote:

NuLab-led Britain is failing its NuLab-set targets on CO2 emissions reductions, mostly due to its failure to do anything about growing road traffic - and upped by a new £7bn road-building scheme...

But there is also the strange fact of his governments' intention to raise rates for renewables (and lower it for traditional energy producers). And while last year at last the British wind industry has started to grow at a higher pace, let's not forget the laughable theatre the British Ministry of Defense stages around the issue of RAF radars and windcrafts (blocking a large part of projects). How come the German, Danish, and Spanish air force has no such problems? How come the RAF itself had[*] no such problems in Northern Germany (where both British bases and most German windpower plants are)?...

[*] UPDATE 30/01: In the course of the continuing scaling-back of British forces stationed in Germany, the last RAF base, RAF Brüggen, closed in the summer of 2001, and the last units stationed at allied bases left early next year. However, German wind power development was already extensive by then.

Still The Most Prolific Terrorists

As I noted last year, Knight Ridder agency digged up (puppet) Iraqi Health Ministry figures on civilian casualties that showed the occupiers far outdoing terrorists and careless resistance fighters:

...The ministry began separating attacks by multinational and police forces and insurgents June 10.
From that date until Sept. 10, 1,295 Iraqis were killed in clashes with multinational forces and police versus 516 killed in terrorist operations, the ministry said...

Now BBC's Panorama programme has an update - and the information it got hold of is apparently so hot they were forced to take down their article from the internet, so below I quote a secondary source. Apparently, despite the upsurge of terror attacks against civilians, the occupiers and their local auxiliaries still far outdo them (and remember, these are far from complete figures of a puppet government, think of Fallujah):

The data covers the period 1 July 2004 to 1 January 2005....
...2,041 civilians were killed by the coalition and Iraqi security forces. A further 8,542 were wounded by them.
Insurgent attacks claimed 1,233 lives, and wounded 4,115 people, during the same period.

UPDATE 30/01: BBC has now put up a modified article, after the puppet government beat out a modified interpretation of the data with them - they insist the first figure is of civilians and 'terrorists' killed by all sides in operations of the Coalition and its auxiliaries...

Yes, I do think this is more important news than the so-called elections. Here is my list of points about why these are sham elections (and meaningless):

  1. The framework of the elections was heavily shaped by then US viceroy Bremer and the then puppet quasi-government, the US-picked Interim Governing Council (IGC).
  2. In several polls, most Iraqis expressed great disdain for parties, they could better judge single persons. Yet Iraqis will have to vote for party lists, with most names on it held secret until the elections!...
  3. Why now? Bad security is not seen now as a problem that prevents viable elections, yet much less bad security was cited as reason for rejecting Ayatollah Sistani's demand in late 2002 for holding apparently similar elections exactly one year ago (as noted here). Maybe what we have now is not that similar?
  4. Indeed in practice the contestants with any chance are the US-approved parties in the former IGC.
  5. Just to make clear that deference to the US is the one and only basis for determining which party is 'legal', once the deputy head of the National Assembly rersigned in protest of the Fallujah extermination camp, US forces arrested him (despite immunity) and party members.
  6. Sistani, the fundie Iranian-born Shi'a top clergyman portrayed as a 'moderate' (just because he wants to pull the strings from the background rather than hold official titles...), does as much for a civil war as Zarkawi[*], eliminated most of the choice for Iraq's Shi'a by forging a unified list with pre-set quotas for various Shi'a groups, including SCIRI, Daawa and Chalabi's INC. Of these, Daawa is the most popular, yet closest-to-Sistani SCIRI, not that popular in Iraq because of its close relations with Iran, got just as many. But the real crude trick to increase SCIRI's quota is that SCIRI's militia, the much reviled Badr Corps[+], features on the unified list as a separate party!
  7. Sunni Arabs won't vote. Not only because of violence, nor just because of seeing the sham election for what it is: also because in large areas, the US & Allawi didn't even bother with organising registration.
  8. Exiles will vote. Now let's leave aside my general disdain for letting voters vote who won't live with the consequences. This is obviously meant to further weaken the Sunnis. Another intent may have been to ensure a higher turnout that can be brandished in propaganda -however, most exiles also see the sham elections for what they are, and until lately only 10% registered - that's why their voting & registration was extended (and still didn't reach 25% [UPDATE 30/01]).
  9. So what Iraqis will get is probably something composed of Sistani's up-SCIRI-ed list, the US-friendly branch of Communists, Allawi's quislings, and the unified Kurd warlord's list. But what will this be? Not a new government or its chooser, nor a passer of laws: it is supposed to be the body drawing up a constitution, before the real parliamentary and presidential elections. That is: just a body to make a further step in rigging 'democracy', not even the final stage in rigging. (Here is a parallel to the sham elections in Afghanistan.)
  10. There won't be any international observers - a step further down even from the abysmal level of the Afghan sham elections (which OSCE shamefully declared more or less fair, while they only had a few observers in Kabul). (This is my main reason to even include Allawi's group in the previous point...)
  11. Finally, to people who think like Johann Hari (see second comment to his own op-ed), that is, that the hopes of the majority of Iraqis trump all reasonable argument, no they don't. Iraqis can have unfortunately unjustified hopes, and Iraqis can lose their illusions. (Just as it happened in the very issue Hari holds up for self-justification: when polls showed the majority of even the Shi'a turning against the Coalition.)

[*] Or, more likely, a more powerful but propaganda-ignored (and hence media-ignored) Sunni fundamentalist group, the currently Mosul-based Kurdish Ansar-e-Islam.

[+] The Badr Corps fought alongside Iran in the Iraq-Iran war, something even most Shi'a resented them for (especially the Sadrists). After the US toppling of Saddam, it started a series of assassinations (mostly against former Baathists, including top scientists and academics) with the US looking away [Scott Ritter remembers this], and enforced stricter Islamism in cities it controlled - including Najaf, a fact largely forgotten by the media when it mindlessly repeated US/Allawi propaganda based on similar dark-age practices by Sadrists. I also direct readers to this and this older post of mine.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Homes For The Homeless

This is kind of a continuation of the previous post.

Last fall, the social ministry headed by Kinga Göncz (daughter of the popular first President of the Republic of post-communist Hungary, who is also the Hungarian translator of the Lord Of The Rings) and the major of the small village of Tarnabod initiated a programme of settling homeless people (especially families) from the capital Budapest in depopulated villages that accept them.

Participants get a farm with animals (the houses are renovated by hired local jobless people), help to start business, free heating and electricity until they have a good job, while they must accept some conditions, like not slaying the animals (but eating their eggs/breeding them). The plan was of course derided by conservatives, who like everywhere in the world believe the homeless just don't want to work, but it works so far - it works so well I hear foreign newspapers and authorities came to study it.

One Hooray For Poland

All the nationalist hoopla, the soldiering on in the Coalition of the Duped, Bribed & Blackmailed, and the "now we're in" attitude that stopped further reforms once joining the EU, and the list of idiots and incompetents nominated for the European Commission[*] made me rather cynical about the all-European value of having us Central-Europeans (or more precisely, our governments) in the EU. I mean, I didn't mean we'll wreck it - for example, back before I started this blog, in 2003, I was among the few who was certain the Polish-Spanish governments' refusal to give up some privileges won't kill the EU Constitution, and was not at all surprised at the complete turnaround six months later (why I thought so, look at the cartoon here). But I had the feeling our governments will only play blockers of progress and cheaters, and not defend the erosion of good things.

Last month, no less than the Polish government gave me a positive surprise, when the Polish delegate in the Agriculture and Fisheries section of the European Council[+] prevented the rubberstamping of an off-topic draft proposal, one that would have introduced software patents. Last week, there was another attempt with the same sneaked-in coreography, and the Polish delegate again vetoed it. (Read more details at Cabalamat Journal.)

If you feel like, you can sign (and add a comment - I didn't refrain from a sting in direction of Polish Iraq policy) a thank Poland letter here. (Even better, spread the link!)

EU mini-dictionary for the uninitiated:

  • [*] European Commission: the semi-government, the "EU bureaucrats", they make some proposals and execute what the Council decides; chosen by the Council
  • [+] European Council: the real holders of power (British right-wing and Swedish left-wing Eurosceptics would do well to redirect all their ire here, but won't), they make the final decisions, choose the Commission and influence their proposals, while making their own proposals, composed of the members of national governments, headed rotationally by another government every six months
  • European Parliament: the semi-parliament, the only democratically elected body, has a mostly consultatory role, amends Commission proposals and approves the Council's pick for Commission, the European Constitution would somewhat extend its powers
  • European Convention: it was a temporary body, composed of delegates from national parliaments, governments and the EU bodies, which composed the initial draft of the Constitution in 2003, whose final form was of course approved by the Council in 2004

Hezbollah TV

Oh, just a tidbit I can connect to the previous post, on an issue I would comment on waaay late: the banning of Lebanon Shi-ite militia Hezbollah's TV station's airing in France.

That channel shouldn't be mistaken for another persecuted Middle Eastern news service like al-Jazeera, they are a different category. For example, it was them who invented and started to spread the "4000 Jewish employees of the WTC not turning up on 9/11" story. (On the other hand, this doesn't necessarily mean that the actual arguments French authorities used to ban the airing were sound.)

Equal Time

This @ Cabalamat Journal is so good I quote it in full:

Phyllis Schafly thinks that American schools should keep "an open mind about evolution" and teach opposing theories such as Creationism (or Intelligent Design as it is now being re-packaged).

I agree. It's good to keep an open mind. So as well as saying that the 9/11 attacks were caused by al-Qa'ida terrorists, American schools should also teach the opposing theory that they were a Mossad plot.

Because, even though the Mossad theory is wildly implausible, it is still many orders of magnitude more likely than Creationism is.

Just a reminder what size of problem we are dealing with, in the USA:

...while in Britain, Bliar allowed and defended the emergence of a small network of creationism-teaching private schools (see at the end of this post of mine, in which you also find a more precise description of Intelligent Design than 'repackaging of Creationism').


[30/01: added half-sentence giving credit to Kerry]

Via Apostate Windbag, I found this surprisingly insightful post-Orange-Revolution analysis written for the British UK Ministry of Defense by Graeme Herd, a professor on security issues.

The thesis is, basically, of negative consequences in the region: authoritarian rulers elsewhere in the CIS states will react to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine with increased authoritarianism, limits on NGOs and Western organisations, which the aim to prevent the possibility of further 'velvet revolutions', in which they will be successful. He argues that the perception alone of a Western grand plan behind these velvet revolutions is enough to elicit such response, and singles out some neocons specifically for bolstering these perceptions with op-eds and public statements. He also argues that the accusation of being a front for Western services will be used against democratic movements the same way the War On Terra has been used by regimes in predominantly Muslim countries or regions to clam down on the opposition.

This rhymes well with two connected issues I have only touched here before. The first is "what to do with Russia?"

The neocons (and their DLC bedfellows in the Democratic Party, most of whose senators again proved they aren't worth the support and trust of all the US liberals lining up under the Anything But Bush banner, voting for Condi Rice - tough, to his credit, now Kerry himself was among the "No"-voters) again push for the strategy of encirclement, justified (rhetorically) with Tsar Putin's increased ante. The main EU powers, on the contrary, want to maintain relations - which, especially in the case of German chancellor Schröder, includes a lot of economic arguments and goes as far as ignoring Putin's authoritarian moves and cruelty in Chechnya in open sight. However, some lesser EU powers, most notably Poland, and some political thinkers also embrace the idea of encirclement, of closing off Russia.

In the article I also referred to at the end of the previous post, the one criticising the Hungarian government for inept foreign policy from an Atlanticist's viewpoint, the encirclement of Russia appeared in another point - one complaining about the Hungarian foreign ministry not joining in the loud pro-Yushchenko chorus and about the previous PM's idea of building relations with Russia for commercial gain.

I think the idea of encirclement is, simply put, pure idiocy. It achieves nothing positive - the enircled authoritarian ruler will only become more paranoid and more authoritarian, making people's lifes (more) miserable. Those doing the encircling will be viewed cynically by a lot of people, often majorities as having less than altruistic motives when helping break-off/pro-local-regime-change movements, and that both before and after the change (when euphoria is over), which will work against even just the achievement of encirclement itself. (Emphasis on "viewed" not because that view wouldn't reflect reality, but because whether that truth enters public consciousness is the more important factor here.)

Maintaining relations, channels that could be used to prevent political misunderstandings and escalations, and non-political connections which can be used in case of some upheaval - as done by most Western European governments with Eastern Europe after German chancellor Willy Brandt's "Wandel durch Annäherung"[*] - is much more sensible and productive, but only if you don't forget to bother the authoritarian ruler(s) with questions about human rights. Which is quite different from the crude 'economic-realist' spinelessness of Mr. Schröder et al. (Which reminds me of his role model, Brandt's successor Helmut Schmidt, not a man without shameful compromises himself, who a few years ago famously complained about the lack of far-sightedness and the general mediocry of present-day politicians.)

For the record, that's my stance on the USA, too. With its actions abroad, its stance on weapons treaties, human rights, laws of war, and the most pressing global problems, and its relative effect due to its weight, the USA is currently unrivalled as the worst of the rogue states - while its economy is a global timebomb. Which is of course why I advocate an even more independent, non-deferential approach of Europe, and an economic parting of ways. But, even if such a policy is just a distant possibility and is advocated by people far away from power, I would oppose a fully confrontational approach aimed at cutting off the Bushista USA from the rest of the world, for similar reasons as in the case of Putinista Russia. (I can't for my life understand why some here want to abadon the besieged American Left [and anti-war Right], even if most of it fell for ABB.)

The second, related issue is one of diplomacy. This is really a DUH! thing - if you don't want a regime, or even more importantly, a population submitted to its propaganda, to become paranoid about you, choose your words carefully, speak as objective as possible. A distinction that all responsible EU politicians, not to mention newspeople, and not even to think about printed or blogging pundits, should have made is between being "pro-democracy" and being "pro-Yushchenko", especially as in 'democratures' (as opposed to totalitarian dictatures) the pro-regime side is a significant part of the demos.

(In a related note, there is no democracy without a viable opposition, so just one group or alliance deposing a regime means elite change, and not necessarily real democracy. Just witness some of the disasters around my region. Hence if 'fostering democracy' means anything at all, it means fostering multiple opposed groups that don't want hegemony should they gain power - and of course institutions that would prevent any group from gaining hegemony.)

UPDATE: I avoided to sound deeper scepticism about (some) policies purporting to be aimed at spreading democracy (as those towards Venezuela), and their effectiveness even if they are honest. But you can read insightful excerpts from Eric Hobsbawm in a post by histologlion. Interesting connection there to earlier disasters, like the post-WWI disintegration of Europe.

[*] The original author of this policy, who under Brandt became secretary of the chanchellor's office, Egon Bahr, summarised the essence of it in this (translated) sentence when a treaty was signed with East Germany: "Until now, we had no relations, now we have bad relations - and that's progress."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Ukraine In Iraq

As most of you know, Ukraine contributed one of the 1000+ troop contingents for the Occupation of Iraq, because that was how former President Kuchma sought to avoid trouble with the US government (after it came out that the Ukrainian government allowed a black market deal concerning the sale of an aerial defense system to Saddam's regime[*]). You may also recall the explosion at an explosive disposal site killing eight Ukrainian and one Kazakh soldier on 9 January, after which Kuchma ordered an accelerated withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Iraq.

A story that is destined to go down the memory hole (eclipsed by the helicopter crash yesterday), if taken up by the Western press at all, is that the official investigation concluded this was a resistance attack. The good people at Lunaville (who maintain the site) translated an article that has the details. The bomb to trigger the premature explosion of piled-up ordnance was hidden inside one artillery shell.

Now to Orange Ukraine. Viktor Yushchenko was finally inaugurated as President a week ago, since then he already visited Moscow (Putin finally adapting to the new situation) and Strasbourg (to scare to bureaucrats with the prospect of yet another big would-be addition after Turkey). In the election campaign, both candidates promised to withdraw troops from Iraq - however, Yushchenko and his foreign policy adviser always added a qualifier that "it will be done under consideration of relations with Ukraine's allies". But I suspect the revelation about the hidden bomb will bar him from attempting any 'realpolitik' and won't revise his predecessors' decision of accelerated pullout.

As for the wider moral of the story. If it hasn't been demonstrated ample times before, now leaders should finally take note (but won't): trying to appease Bush and his underlings by joining in their dirty work both doesn't work (the Bush junta will work against you anyway) and will bring all by itself damages as bad as facing Bush's wrath would.

(From an op-ed lambasting an inept Hungarian foreign policy in a pro-government daily: the author on one hand claimed the country's withdrawal from Iraq "damaged" Hungary, on the other asked why it wasn't used for positive PR in the Arab world!)

[*] I couldn't be bothered to check out whether the sale would have actually been in breach of UN sanctions, or would merely circumvent a US blockade and prevent US planes from enforcing the no-fly zones with impunity. Here it is always worth to remind readers that
  1. the no-fly zones weren't UN-approved [as the mainstream media seemed to assume], nor covered by the ceasefire [as Clinton tried to argue] - they were unilaterally imposed by the US, the British and the French;
  2. the humanitarian angle of their imposition is greatly reduced by the circumstance that the first was imposed a month late, after Saddam's henchmen finished their job against the Shi'a and lesser Kurd uprising (07.04.1991);
  3. further reduced by the circumstance that the first no-fly zone was in the North, and
  4. this Northern no-fly zone nicely covered oil-rich Sunni Arab and Kurdish areas but left out half of the Kurdish areas, and
  5. the Southern no-fly zone covering mostly Shi'a areas was imposed only next year(27.08.1992);
  6. to further the irony of point three, the Southern no-fly zone was extended later (03.09.1996) after Saddam intervened in an internal conflict of the - Kurdish warlords,
  7. this extension was by a Presidential decree of Bill Clinton, at which point the French began to leave the club of self-appointed guardians (they withdrew completely after Operation Desert Fox, a failed decapitation attempt justified with a fake 'crisis' resembling the one the Bush junta created four years later, an operation that beyond dead Iraqis only acheved the end of UNSCOM);
  8. even as a tool to force Saddam to tolerate UN weapons inspectors, its significance is questionable with the background of Clinton's regime change policies that hampered (and abused: see again Operation Desert Fox) rather than helped the inspectors' work.