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Archive for December, 2008

Enough is Enough

December 30, 2008 2 comments

Israel’s latest destructive behaviour in the Gaza Strip has outraged much of the civilised world. The timing of it has been totally cynical; it’s a last-ditch attempt to destroy Hamas before the Obama inauguration and a wholly disproportionate response to Palestinian rocket attacks. It has shocked most observers in its callousness. There is a way out of the crisis; but firstly there needs to be an immediate ceasefire and a halt to the vicious Israeli military campaign.

Obama’s ‘in-tray’ just got even bigger; he will have to consider this seemingly intractable issue once sworn in. It will require all his considerable acumen to even get started but he has already demonstrated an ability to think strategically and a huge degree of personal energy and strength. He will need to muster all these qualities come January 2009.

The contrast in the current conflict couldn’t be starker. Hamas, a militant, extremist, ‘terrorist’ but elected entity against a democratic but international law breaking state that always uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Israel is supplied by the world’s biggest arsenal whereas Hamas uses the nihilism of suicide bombers and homemade rocket launchers. This is not a war. This is military conquest. There is no prospect of Arab states going into battle with a nuclear power. Such folly would only fulfil the fantasies of lunatic Armageddonites; and there are many.

Israel has lost the little remaining goodwill it had in the EU. Secretary of State designate Clinton is in for a rude awakening if she thinks her campaign rhetoric will carry any weight at the UN or round the globe. It is a massive, tragic and self-inflicted moral and PR disaster for Israel and one that the Likudniks may live to rue if this provides the spur for diplomatic settlement. There are crucial elections coming up and, if chosen, Benjamin Netanyahu may prove to be even worse for the short-term stability of the region than Ariel Sharon.

How will the Arab world react? OPEC can immediately pressurise the US by threatening to destroy the world economy through enormous oil price increases. The politics have changed since the 1970s – the Saudis are now a pliant client state, but even the House of Saud is feeling the enormous pressure from its subjects; this Israeli battering is giving succour to Islamic militants and is like a gift from Allah for Osama Bin Laden. The ‘Arab Street’ is heaving and angry; Israel’s action will only fuel revolt and fundamentalism. This is truly a witch’s brew.

The Camp David agreement offers the way forward. There should be full implementation of the Carter-sponsored plan and a compliance with all relevant UN resolutions. Timing and sequencing can be arranged as required and Israeli security may be guaranteed by a combination of the Arab League, the US and the European Union. Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution are the only realistic ways forward.

Peace between enemies is entirely possible; mindsets in the Middle East need to change. Israel cannot stagger from crisis to crisis. Nor can she impose a ‘peace’ based on fear and loathing. Security can only be guaranteed with an international treaty providing ‘lock-ins’ whereby it is clearly stated that territorial issues have been agreed and will be respected. America must use its influence to make it so.

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2009 Resolutions

December 21, 2008 1 comment

Christmas is usually a time of brief truce when it comes to relationships, war and politics. 2008 has been such a disastrous year economically and financially that this writer has stopped listening to the morning news; it’s just too gloomy. So as we go back to our families and contemplate our 2009 resolutions, how can our Governments restore some degree of hope in combating the Recession?

Governments need to focus in 2009. Think the big stuff and explain it. Don’t be distracted by roadblocks and special interests. Remember, that elected democracies have been mandated to implement changes for the good of the people. That is some level of trust and investment of power. Use it wisely.

There should be a public audit worldwide on the real merits provided by the public sphere. It’s time to end the charade that only private is good. Level the playing pitch and see how many institutions properly staffed and delivering services compete with private sector models. The number of superior public sector options will be surprisingly high. Ignore right-wing economists and think tanks that say this is not the case.

Banks need to be treated even more harshly in 2009. They need to be reminded that they operate under licence, that enormous losses should result in Directors losing their pensions or facing jail time. Tax avoidance should be shunned as a profession, regulators need to be beefed up and leaders need to have the courage to take on city whiz kids to stop a recession becoming a depression.

The World’s governments can give future generations a real legacy in climate change reform. For once, politicians can save the World, and there’s not a lot of time to do it. Go over the head or assist the laggards and ridicule the deniers. This is too serious an issue to let drift. Let’s change things today. Then let us at least have tried and failed rather than not to have tried at all.

We are strong when we are united. It was governments that banks turned to for corporate bailouts; an international approach is the only way of dealing with the crisis. Wars are fought by mobilising national and international resources; let’s mobilise the same resources for peaceful goals and change things for the better. Do not let our politicians fail us – vote for change where needed. We have a voice; let it be heard. 2009 can be our year.

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Whistle-Blowing or Political Espionage?

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment

The arrest and questioning of the Conservative Home Affairs Spokesman Damien Green raises some timely questions about sources, freedom of information and political dirty tricks. Civil liberties groups are screaming blue murder over the incident; the police entered Westminster, searched and confiscated material from an MP and threw the book at a politician for what seems to be him doing his job. However, it’s now apparent that Green was benefiting from leaks from a Civil Servant who was formerly a member of the Conservatives, applied for a job in the Opposition Home Affairs team and may have been ‘run’ as a political agent feeding confidential information to the Tory Front Bench.

Labour has been accused of ‘Stalinism’ and ‘Watergate’ style behaviour over this. On the first charge, the government have said they had no prior knowledge of the independent police investigation until Green was arrested; this will have to remain unproven until evidence is found to the contrary. On the second charge if Green turns out to have planted an agent within the Civil Service to undermine the government, then it’s the Conservatives who are manifesting Nixonian subterfuge. There are no ‘plumbers’ at work being directed from Downing Street.

The information the source leaked did not threaten state security nor was it pointing towards corruption; it was however politically embarrassing (details of inaccurate immigration figures) – leaks always occur when controversial policy documents are circulated. Should we even be the slightest bit concerned about the motivation of the leaker?

Without Mark Felt, aka ‘Deepthroat’, Watergate would not have developed into the story it became. Having a source so senior in the FBI was a huge gift to Bob Woodward; Felt gave Woodward incredibly sensitive background information about the Nixon White House – ‘Deepthroat’ at one stage saw all Hoover’s briefing material at the FBIl. Felt had conflicting motivations for helping the Washington Post bring down a President; patriotism, career ambition, jealousy, and power playing. He was a complicated figure; we will never now what his over-riding motivation for being Woodward’s source was.

If ‘Deepthroat’, the confidential source with the highest profile, had such mixed motives for being an information-conduit, we can appreciate more easily that less significant whistle-blowers are human beings with their flaws and imperfections. They are not the heroic figures Hollywood and we want them to be. Sources leak for their own personal reasons; these may be noble or ignoble.

It should be up to the source themselves, especially when a public official, whether to reveal information if it a) exposes unethical or illegal behaviour and/or is b) in the public interest. It is entirely different for a political party to seek to encourage and run a politically motivated plant within a government department or induce that individual to impart information.

This is where Green and the Conservatives may fall foul of the law. They did not capitalise on the good intentions of a high-minded public official; they are being accused of essentially running a spy (complete with his own controller) in the heart of government. This undermines rather than strengthens democracy and makes life more difficult for genuine whistle-blowers who are struggling with their conscience when they uncover political wrongdoing.  Clive Ponting was right to say that the Belgrano was outside the 200-mile exclusion zone surrounding the Falklands Islands, Daniel Ellsberg was justified in releasing the Pentagon Papers – these were important, moral issues. A partisan political hack infiltrating a government department is little different in substance to taking secret photographs and rifling through filing cabinets; it’s the unethical gathering of political intelligence, burglary-lite, dirty tricks at their most invidious.

Whoever can spin this episode to their advantage over the coming days will have pulled off a serious coup in the propaganda stakes. Labour knows that this has the potential to derail their comeback; the Conservatives are determined to turn this into a process story rather than an issues one. And the Tories are winning the air war on this one by miles so far. The ideal solution for Labour is no charges and the Conservatives being made to look duplicitous. Christopher Galley, the mole in question, has already lawyered up and given a press conference claiming a public interest defence. The strange case of the Tory mole continues…

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