Sunday, October 31, 2004

A message from Richard Nixon to Bush voters

"America must not again fall into the trap of letting the end, however great that end is, justify the means."

This may have been said on April 30th 1973, but it is as true today as it was then. Nixon lied to the American people. He tried to get out of taking the blame for his lie. But the lie was too great, and he left office in disgrace.

Nixon's lie was about a break-in. Bush's lie was about the justification for a war. A war in which over 1,000 US servicemen and between 16,000 and 100,000 Iraqis (depending on whether you believe the latest estimates) have lost their lives.

Yes, getting rid of Saddam was a good thing, but has the end REALLY justified the means?

Will the US be like Spain?

As we all know, after the Madrid bombs, the sitting Spanish government was voted out of office. There was a chorus of disapproval from the States, accusing the people of Spain of giving into terrorists thanks to the assumption that their sole reason for voting the way they did was the bombing. Of course, it was more due to the fact that the government had LIED over the bombing, attempting to pin it on ETA when there was no proof whatsoever.

Ring any bells? A government accusing a highly unpleasant group which they have wanted to get rid of for ages of being involved in a terrorist attack when there is no proof whatsoever? Mr Bush? Mr Blair?

So, will the American people now follow Spain, and get rid of a president who has tried to blame a terrorist attack on an innocent (if highly unpleasant) third party? Or will they follow Spain in the way that Spain was accused of having acted, namely allowing terrorists to directly affect their elections?

Will the American people be affected by Osama bin Laden's latest tape, or do the sensible thing and ignore him?

Saturday, October 30, 2004

About bloody time

Controversial Italian EU Commissioner Rocco Buttiglione has stood down. Why the hell didn't he do this before, and save the ridiculous situation we've had over the last few weeks? God knows...

To be fair, I can see his point - he should not be forced to resign because of his beliefs; but by the same logic we should allow a Hitler or a Stalin to get away with mass murder because they, like Mr Buttiglione, believed that certain other human beings are deserving of contempt.

Unfair comparison? Certainly. But in a job which requires the office-holder to represent all people equally, having someone who is prejudiced against certain social groups was never going to work. It's a conflict of interest, plain and simple.

But since it was announced that Barroso is going to re-jig the Commission, there has been no need to get rid of Buttiglione - if he's not given the Justice brief, then there's no problem.

So why the hell has the Italian waited until now to quit? All this delay has done is provide ammunition for Eurosceptic snipers, while weakening further the Commission's already dodgy reputation. The new commission, which should have been starting on Monday, now has to wait for another month thanks to the stubborness of one man, who had claimed to be working for Europe's best interests.

Is it any wonder people don't think much of the EU? It's a bloody shambles.

Good round-ups of the whole affair are here and here, or have a scan down past topics to the right of this post.

October surprises?

Looks like our old mate Osama bin Laden has opted for telling the truth: America's screwed no matter who the next president is, and Dick Cheney is a liar for suggesting otherwise. (OK, so that last bit was me, not Osama, but still...)

Yep, the West's favourite bogeyman has come out of hiding in a classic October surprise, alongside the massive buildup of US forces outside Fallujah in Iraq (made possible by Tony Blair's love of George) ready for an all-out attack which'll probably hit the news on Tuesday morning.

By telling the US (and the world) that "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands," old Osama (may he burn in hell) is basically saying that he's going to carry on no matter what the outcome of the election. Which we all knew anyway.

Al Qaeda's boss-man has some damn good lines: "We had no difficulty in dealing with Bush and his administration because they resemble the regimes in our countries, half of which are ruled by the military and the other half by the sons of kings... They have a lot of pride, arrogance, greed and thievery... It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American forces would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone at a time when they most needed him because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers."

I mean, OUCH... Seems like al Qaeda's been reading some of the more excitable anti-Bush blogs - the rhetoric is almost identical to some of the more over-the-top criticisms of the president. Plus the reminder that bin Laden is still on the loose couldn't come at a better time for the Kerry campaign. Which probably means that the Republicans will spin this as meaning the Democrats are terrorists, which is what they've already effectively stated by starting to attack the Daily Kos...

Oh, and here's a bit more about Republican attempts to pervert democracy... And here's a bit of good news.

As bin Laden says, "arrogance, greed and thievery" - it's the perfect epitaph for the Bush regime. The only trouble is, it's almost certainly going to be weeks before we know for sure that we've seen the back of them. And even then, he'll probably only give it another shot in 2008... Is there any hope?

DISCLAIMER: Nosemonkey would just like to assure any readers who deliberately miss the point of this post (if there is one) that he in no way endorses Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or terrorism in any way, shape or form. This is largely due to him despising violence (well, except in computer games) and having this naive belief that - just perhaps - the world would be a nicer place if we all just sat around and had a chat over a pint in the pub rather than constantly trying to blow the shit out of each other.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Constitutional changes: what it means

I suppose that if it's not ratified by a referendum (announced for early 2006 by Jack Straw this morning), it doesn't mean much - for the UK at least. But it has been provisionally signed today, so here are the proposed changes it will bring to the way the EU is run:

European Parliament: Maximum number of seats is raised to 750; Minimum number of seats per country - 6; Maximum number of seats per country - 96; Parliament's powers increased - 95 % of European laws will be adopted under the co-decision procedure; Parliament to propose and European Council to adopt a decision by a unanimous vote on the EP's composition before the European elections in 2009

European Commission: One Commissioner per Member State principle maintained until 2014; From November 2014, the number of Commissioners will be reduced to two-thirds of the number of Member States (including both its President and the EU Minister for Foreign Affairs); The Commissioners will be chosen on the basis of equal rotation among the Member States

Create an EU Minister of Foreign Affairs: Merges the tasks of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the External Relations Commissioner; Will be a member of the Commission; Will chair the Foreign Affairs Council

Council of Ministers: The presidency of the different Council formations will continue to rotate (with the exception of the External Relations Council) on an equal basis, to be decided upon by the European Council

European Council - Becomes an institution; Will be chaired by a President appointed for two and a half years, renewable once

Introduce qualified majority voting: qualified majority is defined as 55 per cent (but at least 15) of the Member States representing at least 65 per cent of the EU's population. A blocking minority can be formed by at least four Member States.

Where the Council acts on its own initiative, an initiative of a Member State or on a recommendation from the Commission or the European Central Bank, qualified majority voting will be defined as 72 per cent of the Council's members representing 65 per cent of the EU's population. This occurs notably in the fields of justice and home affairs, common foreign and security policy, economic and monetary policy and in a possible future case of suspension or withdrawal of a Member State.

Retained unanimity: Unanimity will continue to apply in the field of taxation, partially in the field of social policy and a number of areas in the area of foreign, security and defence policy. Laws on own resources, the financial perspectives and future revisions of the Constitution itself will have to be adopted unanimously. The new voting system is due to take effect from 1 November 2009.

Defence: 'Permanent structured co-operation' will be put in place in the area of defence enabling a group of Member States to build closer co-operation and to jointly undertake more complex military tasks. In the area of common foreign and security policy, Member States will be able to build 'enhanced co-operation' conditional upon a unanimous decision of the Council.

Economic and Monetary Union: Members of the euro area will be equipped with more power to make decisions under the Constitutional Treaty. It will be up to the 'Euro-Ecofin Council' (Concil configuration comprising members of the eurozone) to adopt recommendations made to Member States that are part of the euro area as well as to approve measures related to excessive deficits. The Euro-Ecofin Council will have the first say on the accession of new countries to the EMU. Members of the euro area will have a unified representation in international financial institutions.

Legal matters: Qualified majority voting will apply to a majority of areas, including the areas of asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. However, 'emergency brakes' have been inserted (by the UK) allowing a Member State to appeal to the European Council if it feels that its national interests are at stake. The Constitutional Treaty enables the Council to set up the office of the European Public Prosecutor by means of a unanimous decision. The remit of the Prosecutor will initially be limited to 'combating crimes affecting the financial interests of the Union'. This can later be extended to include 'serious crime with a cross-border dimension'.

Transparency: ne million signatures by citizens from a significant number of Member States can invite the Commission to submit an appropriate proposal to the legislator. Council proceedings, when exercising its legislative funcion, are to be open to the public. National parliaments will be informed about all new initiatives from the Commission. If one third of them consider that a proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, the Commission must review its proposal.

Misc: For the first time there is an exit clause so that a member state can leave the Union if it wants and a solidarity clause committing member states to help when another in the bloc is under terrorist attack.

The road to federalism?: In all other areas covered by the Constitution, the Member States that wish to co-operate more closely together should request the Commission to submit a proposal to the Council specifying the scope and objectives of the co-operation. The Council grants authorisation via a European decision and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. Enhanced co-operation is becoming a possibility for members of the euro-group which will be able to implement common tax policies (eg for turnover taxes or VAT harmonisation) by means of qualified majority voting.

What if it isn't ratified? See here.

Where can I get more info? Try here and here.

Where can I read the full constitution? PDF download here - but be warned, there are over 300 pages, and it is a very, very, VERY dull read...

A message for Iowa (and all of America)

Manic's done it again.

Spot on, and to be watched in full.

Update: Oh, and while you're at it, check out American Politics 101 - the facts, ma'am, and nothing but the facts...

Update 2: Let's keep a positive mental attitude.

Get your Clinton - on

E-day minus 4 and it's the home straight for BC and KE '04. Kerry looks worried, dragging former President Clinton from his hospital bed. However, despite the infamous wolves ad, which leapt out of the GOP camp last week, Bush is under a suprising amount of pressure.

An early video has been unearthed of Bush preparing for a broadcast in a somewhat unconventional way. The usually grey and starched Economist magazine has come out in favour of Kerry. It seems that Bush's huge crowds as portrayed in election broadcasts may not have been composed of real people. More seriously 58,000 absentee votes have gone missing in Florida - where, lest we forget, the election was decided by a mere few hundred votes four years ago. Finally there is the matter of missing explosives in Iraq, an issue that Bush is only now responding to... with a a tirade of abuse aimed at Kerry.

This last issue could be more important than it seems (politically). It plays into Kerry's accusations that this administration's military ventures have been conducted in a haphazard and harmfully gung-ho manner, without the necessary follow-through in terms of securing installations and restoring the peace. The other revelations are somewhat less damaging, though the missing ballots story raises the depressing prospect that this election could be even more bitter, divisive and exhausting than 2004.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The First Amendment

"What you say on the Internet can affect your real life. Due to what I said online, I now have an FBI file. And due to certain policies that a certain administration has instituted, I could now be placed on the government's "no-fly" list, could be subject to random searches of private property without my knowledge or permission, and could be subject to wiretapping surveillance. I doubt that any of these things will happen (except with the "no-fly" list – according to my attorney, that's a strong possibility and is something we are looking into), and I could just be being paranoid, but after the Secret Service showed up on my doorstep, I think I'm entitled to a little paranoia. Because shit, I never thought THAT would happen, either. So be aware."

Hooray for the land of the free!

(I wonder if Charlie's had a visit yet?)

Update: Just found the offending post via Google's cache. I shall whack it in a comment beneath this, if you're interested. Oh, and for any FBI / CIA types out there - I'm really not stupid enough to want Bush dead. A Cheney presidency is the last thing we need...

Florida: fuck-up or fraud?

Yep, 58,000 postal votes in Florida have disappeared. That's FIFTY-EIGHT THOUSAND. In a state which was won in 2000 by just 537 votes.

The US postal service inspectorate has said they find it "highly unlikely" that so many could simply get lost. Even if it was Royal Mail in charge, it would indeed seem well-nigh impossible for such a glut of post to simply vanish.

But Florida is accepting no blame:

"The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it investigated and found no criminal violations.

"The county blamed the U.S. Postal Service. 'That is something beyond our control,' Deputy Supervisor of Elections Gisela Salas said. 'We really have no idea what's going on.'"

Well THAT's reassuring for all those who posted their absentee ballots on October 7th-8th (the dates from which the post has gone).

So Florida is scrambling to replace the missing ballotts in time. In Broward County, 78,000 new ballots have been sent out: only 50,800 of the requested 127,320 absentee votes in the county have been returned.

The whole thing is naturally leading to suspicions of electoral fraud:

"Did Karl Rove hire Charles Colson and G. Gordon Liddy to break into the Fort Lauderdale post office?

"Did Jeb Bush bring in Oliver North and Fawn Hall with paper-shredders in the middle of the night?

"Did Tillie Tooter drive them into a canal? Did Sheriff Ken Jenne make them exceptionally disappear? Did Col. Mustard lock them in a cabinet in the drawing room?

"No one has a clue."

But this isn't all - the wonder that is the president's brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, has formally given his backing to Republican voter-challenging tactics, stating that "I don't think it will cause problems... I do think that people who are not eligible to vote shouldn't and the people who are should." The Democrats are unsurprisingly not amused: "It's despicable... Their goal is to harass people enough that they'll give up their right to vote or not go to the polls."

"'We made sure we are prepared for ugly tactics,' said Christine Anderson, spokeswoman for the combined Democratic campaign. 'It seems to us the Republicans are making a very proactive and blatant strategy to discourage turnout and deny citizens the right to vote.'"

More Florida fun:

  • In Pinellas County, officials acknowledged that nearly 300 St. Petersburg voters received absentee ballots that were missing the second of two pages.
  • Long lines at early voting precincts were reported throughout the Tampa Bay area and the state. Hillsborough reported 43,000 early voters as of Tuesday. Early voters in Pinellas reported lines of more than two hours in some locations.
  • There have been reports of illegal campaigning at early voting sites.
  • Computers used to check voter registrations were slow or malfunctioning in Broward, Duval and Hillsborough counties. On Tuesday, Hillsborough County's registration network went down for about 30 minutes.
The delight of this, of course, is that no matter what the outcome of this election, the next president of the United States is going to have to live with the same cloud hanging over him as Bush has for the last four years - the suspicion of the losing side that he was not duly elected.

Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat matters not a jot: this whole shebang is not healthy for democracy, and is not healthy for America.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

More voting problems - Colorado watch

Colorado, with 9 electoral college votes, is another closely-fought swing-state, which makes these reports of voting problems rather worrying:

"People in several of the most populous counties in Colorado (Arapahoe, Denver, El Paso and Jefferson) will be voting on touch-screen, computer-based voting machines next week. These machines do not provide a paper trail. Most other counties will be counting the votes on computer-based counting machines."

"many absentee ballots are being returned to senders for lack of postage. They require two stamps, not one. This is not a problem for those getting their ballots in early. But anyone waiting until the last minute may be in for a surprise if their ballot is returned to them for more postage, unopened, after the election."

Then there's also the fear that some voters have been registered twice.

It is also worth noting that the Denver Post, where these stories have come from and which is one of the state's biggest-selling papers, has recently come out for Bush. This is despite being renowned as a left-leaning rag from a largely Democratic city, and despite the fact that the Post backed Gore in 2000. Even the endorsement acknowledges that Colorado is worse off now than it was before Bush came to office.

So why the volte-face? Could it be anything to do with the fact that the paper is owned by William Dean Singleton, a friend and advisor of George W Bush and contributor to the Bush/Cheney campaign? Has he forced the editorial team's hand to help try and swing a state in which there is only 2 points between the candidates?

The readers have responded with anger:

"I live in Denver because I find it to be a progressive, forward-thinking city. It represents my values. I read The Denver Post because it used to represent my city. By endorsing Bush, The Denver Post divorced itself from me, my city and my values."

So much for Singleton's claims that the strength of the paper is that "We don't just reflect the community. We don't just report on the community. We are a part of it." Sounds about as believable as Rupert Murdoch's claims that Fox isn't biased for Bush...

Oh, and just to add to the joys of American press freedom and the US's encouragement of free speech and democracy around the globe, the official website of President Bush's campaign is now blocked to anyone trying to access it from outside the United States. (Site stat evidence here.)

Commission vote postponed (and yet more Kilroy twattishness)

Well that's going to improve people's faith in the EU isn't it? The system is, in any case, a bad one, and this is just going to underline the point further.

More on this whole sorry affair here, here, here, and here.

But on a lighter note, Robert Kilroy-Silk is a twat - AGAIN. (More here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Why I believe in our president

I believe in President George W. Bush. I've always believed him.

I believe the president invaded Iraq to secure liberty and democracy for the Iraqi people. I believe he had compelling evidence that Iraq was a significant threat to America and the world, and presented that evidence in a complete and balanced manner. Like 42 percent of Americans – and 62 percent of Republicans – I believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 attacks.

I believe we have enough troops on the ground in Iraq to ensure stability. I believe the rising American fatality rates, the rising casualty rates, and the rising American share of those coalition fatalities and casualties testify to the undeniable progress we're making there. I believe it is inappropriate and traitorous, however, for the media to broadcast pictures of American flag-draped caskets returning from Iraq.

I believed then-candidate Bush when he said during the 2000 campaign that America should not nation-build, and believe him now when he says our nation was divinely chosen for this task. I believe, as the president claims, that "free societies are peaceful societies," but that the political and civil rights in oppressive, undemocratic countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are exempt from this standard. I believe Iraqis view Americans as liberators, and that once this swift, cheap war concludes the world will be more stable, our allies more cooperative, and our enemies fewer and less threatening.

By Thomas F. Schaller - read the rest of his article here.

(via Bloggerheads - hyperlinks Nosemonkey's own - I would go through footnoting the rest, but I've got proper work to do...)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Another Bush flip-flop (oh, and something about justice)

Bush says His Party is Wrong to Oppose Gay Civil Unions. Oh, sorry - that must have been another US President George W Bush who wanted to amend the US Constitution to ban this then... (Yes, I know that technically marriage and civil unions are different, but then again, the 2nd amendment was meant to provide for an effective militia in time of war, and has been distorted by the likes of the NRA to mean everyone should be allowed to carry assault rifles... An amendment banning Gay marriage would quickly be distorted by the homophobes into banning all gay unions.)

In other news, the concepts of "human rights", "the right to a lawyer" and "the right to a fair trial" seem increasingly to be on the out in the US:

First up, the former defence lawyer of a now-conviced terrorist is being accused by the government of being a terrorist conspirator for fulfilling her duties as an attorney.

Next, the Bush administration has formally announced that the Geneva convention doesn't apply to prisoners they don't want it to apply to.

Ah! The Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave!

Why can't all these self-proclaimed US patriots who are planning on voting for Bush see that he is destroying the very foundations of the country they profess to love so much?

Meh - I'm just being silly. We should all be more patriotic. (Hat-tip to Manic for the link)

$767.85 for every US citizen

According to the Washington Post, the Bush administration is planning on asking for an extra $70 billion to help fight the "war on terror" should they be voted back into office. This would push the total cost of the war to $225 billion.

If the CIA's figures for the US population are correct - 293,027,571 - that would mean that the US has spent $767.85 for every single US citizen.

Vote early and vote often

Via blogging newcomer Cruella, a case study of what everyone feared would probably happen:

"Kim Griffith voted on Thursday— over and over and over.

"She's among the people in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties who say they have had trouble with early voting equipment. When they have tried to vote for a particular candidate, the touch-screen system has said they voted for somebody else...

"She went to Valle Del Norte Community Center in Albuquerque, planning to vote for John Kerry. "I pushed his name, but a green check mark appeared before President Bush's name," she said...

"She again tried to vote for Kerry, but the screen again said she had voted for Bush. The third time, the screen agreed that her vote should go to Kerry.

"She faced the same problem repeatedly as she filled out the rest of the ballot. On one item, "I had to vote five or six times," she said."

Meanwhile, expresses more fears that this election has already been cast into doubt. Minority voter turnout being suppressed, voter registration irregularities, attempts to invalidate registration documents, voter intimidation squads at polling booths, insufficient numbers of ballot papers, rumours of bogus officials collecting early ballots, reports of huge queues and chaos at early polling stations in Palm Beach, Florida, and now doubts over touch-screen voting accuracy.

It all sounds like shades of 2000. And we all know how well that worked out for America and for the world...

The following states are offering early voting. If you are American and you live in one of these (whether voting for Bush or Kerry), it might be an idea to start trying to fulfil your democratic right and duty sooner rather than later, lest your vote be discounted or given to the wrong guy on the day:

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma (Begins Oct 29), Oregon (by mail), Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Let us pray...

Via Manic, back from his hols and putting on a last week burst at Bloggerheads comes's Top 35 trends that say Kerry will take the White House in November. Dear God, let this not just be yet more wishful thinking...

Oh, and in case you missed it, The Washington Post has come out for Kerry.

In other good news, GTA: San Andreas is out on Friday, along with the fancy-looking new-style PS2 k-chassis (as my mate at Sony insists is its real name, despite what Google says). So if Bush does win, at least I'll be able to take out my rage on innocent pedestrians.

The only slight worry is that the student vote in the US will be too busy playing the damn thing to go out and vote for Kerry...

Sunday, October 24, 2004

A lesson for our blogging times

Charlie Brooker, TV scheduler of choice, writes a rather near-to-the-bone TV review in The Guardian's A5, throwaway listings mag, The Guide. It's astonishingly insulting and very funny. Only this week's column's musings on George Bush - "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you" - gets him picked up on the bleeding Drudge Report as The Guardian advocating assassinating the President. Rightwingers start discussing exactly what they should do about Mr Brooker. I'm guessing his email inbox is going to keep him in fresh new insults for months.

Of course, The Guardian is well aware that it has a substantial American readership via the internet. It brags about it often enough. Its Operation Clark County articles were much noted and the coverage in the paper entirely predictable (it's fairly obvious that they always wanted the idiot email responses: it helps fill up the paper printing them). The Manchester Guardian left its provincial moorings behind in the wake of the Suez Crisis to become metropolitan. Now another criminally stupid foreign adventure - one actually far worse than Suez - is turning the paper cosmopolitan.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The non-arguable case against the Bush administration

Via comes 101 facts about the Bush administration, all with sources linked. It makes for unsurprisingly enraging reading. Why are people still planning on voting for this guy?

Some choice facts:

1. The Bush Administration has spent more than $140 billion on a war of choice in Iraq.

5. During the Bush Administration's war in Iraq, more than 1,000 US troops have lost their lives and more than 7,000 have been injured.

9. The Bush Administration has spent just $1.1 billion of the $18.4 billion Congress approved for Iraqi reconstruction.

12. After receiving a memo from the CIA in August 2001 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack America," President Bush continued his monthlong vacation.

16. The Bush Administration has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money.

21. Despite repeated calls for reinforcements, there are fewer experienced CIA agents assigned to the unit dealing with Osama bin Laden now than there were before 9/11.

24. The Bush Administration granted the 9/11 Commission $3 million to investigate the September 11 attacks and $50 million to the commission that investigated the Columbia space shuttle crash.

25. More than three years after 9/11, just 5 percent of all cargo--including cargo transported on passenger planes--is screened.

30. The Bush Administration awarded a multibillion-dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton--a company that still pays Vice President Cheney hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred compensation each year (Cheney also has Halliburton stock options). The company then repeatedly overcharged the military for services, accepted kickbacks from subcontractors and served troops dirty food.

35. The Bush Administration let disgraced Enron CEO Ken Lay--a close friend of President Bush--help write its energy policy.

40. The Bush Administration turned a $236 billion surplus into a $422 billion deficit.

43. President Bush is the first President since Herbert Hoover to have a net loss of jobs--around 800,000--over a four-year term.

46. In 2000, candidate George W. Bush promised to pay down the national debt to a historically low level. As of September 30, the national debt stood at $7,379,052,696,330.32, a record high.

49. In 2000, candidate George W. Bush promised to protect the Social Security surplus. As President, he spent all of it.

66. Since President Bush took office, more than 5 million people have lost their health insurance.

81. Since 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft has detained 5,000 foreign nationals in antiterrorism sweeps; none have been convicted of a terrorist crime.

84. The Bush Administration, without ever charging him with a crime, arrested US citizen José Padilla at an airport in Chicago, held him on a naval brig in South Carolina for two years, denied him access to a lawyer and prohibited any contact with his friends and family.

88. President Bush opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commission before he supported it, delaying an essential inquiry into one of the greatest intelligence failure in American history.

90. President Bush said he was committed to capturing Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" before he said, "I truly am not that concerned about him."

92. President Bush said, "You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," before he admitted Saddam had no role in 9/11.

GOP electoral intimidation fun!

Well this couldn't possibly lead to intimidation and abuse... (NYT reg req)

Yep, the Republicans planning on are going back to 18th century electoral tactics - positioning their people around the polling booths in the key swing state of Ohio and challenging voters about whether or not they are eligible. They don't like the look of someone (perhaps because they're black - who could say?), these GOP stooges will hassle them until they either go away, vote for George, or start a fight (at which point they will no doubt be arrested and prevented from voting).

Of course, the Republicans don't see it like this. "'The organized left's efforts to, quote unquote, register voters - I call them ringers - have created these problems,' said James P. Trakas, a Republican co-chairman in Cuyahoga County." In other words, the Republicans want as few voters as possible - largely because the Democrats have traditionally benefitted the most from large turnouts, and also because the irritation with Bush has been great enough to mobilise a load of people who previously couldn't care less about politics and have been life-long non-voters.

"'Our concern is Republicans will be challenging in large numbers for the purpose of slowing down voting, because challenging takes a long time,' said David Sullivan, the voter protection coordinator for the national Democratic Party in Ohio. 'And creating long lines causes our people to leave without voting.'" Let's face it, if you're voting after work and want to get home for your dinner, you aren't likely to stick around for an hour or two to cast your ballott when this should really only take a couple of minutes.

"Ohio election officials said that by state law, the parties' challengers would have to show "reasonable" justification for doubting the qualifications of a voter before asking a poll worker to question that person. And, the officials said, challenges could be made on four main grounds: whether the voter is a citizen, is at least 18, is a resident of the county and has lived in Ohio for the previous 30 days." How can all these be proved? Well, I guess everyone's going to have to turn up to the polling station with their rent agreements, mortgage documents and passports just to be on the safe side...

After the closeness of Florida last time, the Republicans aren't going to take any chances. In 2000 they managed to get several thousand black voters taken off the electoral register, most of whom would have voted for Gore. This would have swung the state, and the election, to the Democrats. So the GOP has decided to play it a bit harder this time:

"The Republican challenges in Ohio have already begun. Yesterday, party officials submitted a list of about 35,000 registered voters whose mailing addresses, the Republicans said, were questionable. After registering, they said, each of the voters was mailed a notice, and in each case the notice was returned to election officials as undeliverable.

"In Cuyahoga County alone, which includes the heavily Democratic neighborhoods of Cleveland, the Republican Party submitted more than 14,000 names of voters for county election officials to scrutinize for possible irregularities. The party said it had registered more than 1,400 people to challenge voters in that county."

At least there is some good news: Ralph "fucking idiot who gave Bush the election last time" Nader has failed to get his name on the Ohio ballot, saving a bit of worry.

God, this is going to be close. Close and nasty. Close and nasty and probably decided by the courts again. I'm dreading this...

Friday, October 22, 2004

Bush and Kerry, sitting in a tree...

Via MeFi, and probably slow off the mark, but damn it, posts have been getting too serious on here of late...

This amused me.

Commission corruption?

It's hardly a new allegation that the European Commission has a tendency towards what many would judge dodgy dealings, but it is fairly rare for a former high-up official to make the claims, especially when the official in question is the Commission's ex-chief accountant.

The Marta Andreasen business has been going on for a couple of years now, since she was suspended by Commission Vice President and former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock in May 2002. But last week she was finally sacked (and - apparently - they did it by email, which was nice).

Why? Well, because she "repeatedly and knowingly acted in disregard of her obligations, particularly those set out in Articles 11, 12, 17 and 21 of the Staff Regulations. Those articles are expressions of the duty of loyalty incumbent upon every official. According to the case-law, the relevant obligations are intended primarily to preserve the relationship of trust between the institution and its officials or other employees, which is fundamental."

In other words, Andreasen seems to have been sacked for uncovering potential for corruption (her job) but then not keeping her mouth shut about it.

In a press conference yesterday (hat-tip to North Sea Diaries), Andreasen made the unusual decision to appear alongside former UKIP MEP Ashley Mote, who was booted out of UKIP because of an upcoming fraud trial in which he is the defendant. When attacking fraud it might be best to avoid appearing with n alleged fraudster, and when attacking the European machine it might be best to avoid apearing with a staunch Eurosceptic. People may think there's politics going on here, not the selfless sense of duty Andreasen claims to be her motive.

But even so, some interesting points have been raised, and will continue to be now that she has handed over a pile of documents to the Serious Fraud Office.

Now that this seems to be hotting up, it could prove to be catastrophic, and the Eurosceptics are sure to latch on to Andreasen's allegations with full force. Can this be countered? Corruption and incompetence at the heart of Europe is just what we don't need in the run-up to the battle for the constitution. But at least this might force the incoming commissioners to take a stand and finally break with the past.

In any case, Andreasen's findings have mostly uncovered the potential for fraud, not necessarily fraud itself. Is the Commission corrupt?

Well, shall we say that when I did some work there a few years back I was paid cash-in-hand... It doesn't look good for Brussels.

At last! A voice from the wilderness of Colorado sounds out like a foghorn; Hunter Thompson, notorious gonzo journalist and author of one of the best insider guides to late twentieth century American politics speaks out about the upcoming election.

Unsurprisingly, he's not pleased. Most surprisingly he seems to have revised his thinking on his old nemesis:

"If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a "liberal" candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell? Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today -- and who will be running it this time next year, if we (the once-proud, once-loved and widely respected "American people") don't rise up like wounded warriors and whack those lying petroleum pimps out of the White House on November 2nd.

Nixon hated running for president during football season, but he did it anyway. Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for -- but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush-Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him."

Well, maybe so.

The US, Japan, and the War(s)

The fact that the Japanese Prime Minister - in a move widely derided as unconstitutional at the time - sent 600 ground troops and 400 air and naval personnel from Japan's tiny Self-Defence Force to help out in non-combat roles in Iraq has already led many to fear that the era of a peaceful Japan is over. Now is the US out to re-write the avowedly pacifist constitution of Japan to gain a new military ally in the war on terror? Either way, it looks like the Japanese government is about to experience divisions similar to that taking place within the British Labour party over the role their country should play in this apparently never-ending conflict.

Thanks to Article IX of the Japanese Constitution, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a mean of settling international disputes... In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

This, of course, could have left Japan open to attack, so a treaty was signed by which US occupying forces would provide the protection traditionally held by a national military. The last version of this treaty was signed on 19th January 1960, stating that "For the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East," Article VI granted the US "the use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan," governed by a separate agreement, signed in Tokyo on February 28, 1952.

This agreement stated that these US forces could only be used to defend Japan from attack or act to preserve the peace in the Far East - hence Japan being used as a staging post during the Korean and (to a far lesser extent due to public protest) Vietnam wars.

However, Japan is now under pressure from the US to allow a shift in the terms of the treaty, especially since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's meeting with President Bush in New York on Tuesday. The US wants to transfer the headquarters of the the U.S. Army's I Corps from Washington state to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, setting up new command centres for the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. This new base would be used to help conduct the "war on terror", and troops stationed there might be sent anywhere in the world.

According to the Japan Times the head of the Japanese Defence Agency, Yoshinori Ono, has told the House of Councillors' Budget Committee that it is his personal view that allowing this redeployment will not violate existing treaties. But Ono's comments were quickly disavowed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, who has stated catagorically that the government will not allow the Japan-US Security Treaty to be altered, and that US troops stationed in Japan will still be bound not to venture beyond the region.

Yet Hosoda has hinted that America might still use the country as a staging post for troop movements from the west coast of the US towards the Middle East, something which some argue is technically inconsistent with the treaty: "the United States is engaged in global security operations, and Japan-U.S. cooperation in the global context should be separated from (the context of) the bilateral security treaty... I think they should not be mixed."

This is a significant shift from the the Japanese government's line after US troops were transferred to Iraq from Okinawa, where the official statement was that Japan was not aware of their destination when they left. A somewhat convenient get-out which gave Koizumi's government a bit of breathing space to work on their excuses for flaunting the constitution's central pacifism.

The proposed new US military bases are set to heighten already existing tensions within Japan. Some critics of Koizumi's closeness to Bush (a relationship which has forced official denials that Koizumi is backing Bush in the upcoming US elections) are already raising awkward questions - why, after all, should Japan welcome yet more US troops when they still have 50,000 stationed there nearly 60 years after the end of WWII?

The US in turn is tapping in to this on-going resentment of its troops' continued presence, with US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage hinting in a press conference held at the US Embassy in Tokyo on 13th October that any transformation of the US' military role in Japan "had to be done in a way that enhanced our deterrents and that lessened the burden on the people of Japan." Might the US be offering to withdraw its unpopular troops in exchange for more Japanese co-operation in the war on terror, perchance?

The Japanese government has already started to stifle attempts at protest and revive long-forgotten militaristic tendencies, despite the fact that a majority of Japanese are opposed to the Iraq war and to any changes to the constitution. Koizumi has packed supposedly bipartisan "expert" panels formed to discuss the country's future military role with his allies, and former advisors of the Prime Minister's have gone on the record to state that they feel Japan should take a more active military role alongside the US.

In short, Japan is coming under a lot of pressure to shift its attitutde to war - an attitude, lest we forget, which was initially forced on the country by the US itself. Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura has already hinted that the Japan-US alliance is more important than the legalities of Japan's own constitution, which is ringing a few alarm bells amongst those (such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Security Council of which Japan is aiming for a seat on) who feel that the Bush Doctrine of "pre-emptive defence" is somewhat in breach of international law.

So, could there really end up being such delicious irony? Could it really be the case that the only country the US has ever successfully managed to pacify and Americanise is going to be forced into becoming belligerent again in order to help the US pacify and Americanise another? Is a constitutionally pacifist nation going to be forced to build up a military and wage war to help President Bush spread his own uniquely destructive form of peace?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

UKIP's founder fed up with UKIP

Much like the rest of us... Yes, this article's from The Guardian, which is hardly sympathetic to the UK Independence Party's cause, but even so... Good stuff:

"Over the past seven years the disasters - many of them self made - have come thick and fast. Ukip has seen at least three leadership challenges, been infiltrated by racists, had a mass walkout of its national executive committee, faced allegations of intimidatory tactics, fought off claims of financial wrongdoing and battled threats of expensive legal action...

"Alan Sked, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, who founded the party, yesterday said Ukip was filled with the politically naive and intellectually challenged. Dr Sked had left the party in 1997 complaining of extremists and electoral doom. 'I kill myself laughing when I look at it now," he said yesterday. "It is a Westminster farce except it's not in Westminster.'

"It was all a long way from the ideals discussed in the party's infancy, when Dr Sked hoped to attract brilliant young graduates, political thinkers and intellectuals. Instead, he claims, Ukip was taken over by a group of 'aged xenophobes ... meaningless fuddy duddies with very little intelligence' who brought the Eurosceptic movement into disrepute.

"'There is a perfectly good intelligent case for Britain coming out of Europe, but people ... stand back in horror. I look at them and think if this bunch get into power I will flee to Brussels,' he said."

Damn straight. The rabid nonsense spouted by so many Eurosceptics is one of the major reasons I started to look at the other side of the argument - I simply didn't want to be associated with those people any more. Their alarmist, factually inaccurate rants against everything European were what turned me pro-EU.

There are still some very compelling Eurosceptic arguments, but the likes of UKIP simply aren't putting them forward, instead preferring to make headline-grabbing, often plain wrong pronouncements. Just as us pro-Europeans need a more effective "Yes" campaign, so too do the Eurosceptics need better spokespeople for the "No".

Presidential campaign roundup

For those who haven't been receiving the Washington Post's US election campaign emails for the last couple of years, you've missed out. But the latest one provides a handy summary. This policy comparison device is particularly useful for a quick reminder - even if most people seem to be voting on one issue only in this election. (Isn't democracy grand?)

Well worth checking out, even though the Post - thanks to the influence of Bob Woodward - seems to be leaning towards Bush, their coverage normally manages to give a good impression of striving towards objectivity.

MPs not as corrupt as sin shock

Political cartoonists who find themselves in a bit of a fix for deadlines might like to check out the report on MPs' finances due out today. Go on, just throw in a trough labelled "taxpayers' money" and some porcine politicians - please, it'll make a change from all the bloody chimps. In the meantime, the rest of us can all look forward to a good nosy.

MPs are in general good value, especially in comparison to certain other countries. Perhaps we should pay them more, to ensure that they really are independent, and have no need to go off cap in hand to tobacco companies (for example). They might not need to go through all the impertinence and bother of declaring their interests.

Or perhaps we should bring back something along the lines of the Property Qualification Act of 1711, to ensure the right sort of people for the job.

Nosemonkey addition: Straight Banana has a good post comparing UK MP and MEP cash situations here (although the page formatting seems to bugger up when doing direct links).

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

BBC = filthy propaganda-merchants

At least, that's the inevitable reaction of any rabidly pro-Bush right-wingers who get a chance to see (or hear about) the superb documentary The Power of Nightmares: The Politics of Fear which just aired on BBC2. If you missed it, leave it a couple of days and hope it appears online. If not, part 2 can be seen at 9pm next Wednesday.

According to the superbly-researched film, and the many high-profile interviewees contained within, our current fucked-up situation can basically be blamed on Leo Strauss - the inspiration for NeoCons like Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz - and Sayyid Qutb - the bloke who inspired the bloke who inspired Osama bin Laden. I would go into more detail, but I'm tired, it's late, and this Guardian article summarises it fairly effectively anyway:

"Straussian conservatism had a previously unsuspected amount in common with Islamism: from origins in the 50s, to a formative belief that liberalism was the enemy, to an actual period of Islamist-Straussian collaboration against the Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan in the 80s (both movements have proved adept at finding new foes to keep them going)."

This is - sadly - no sloppy conspiracy theory, but strangely compelling, and almost cliched in its Orwellian tone. The war with the Soviet Union is over. The war on terror has just begun.

It's all rather scary, but then again we knew that anyway, and as this superb documentary demonstrates pretty much conclusively, that's the whole point...

This is not a war on terror, it's a war on liberalism. Bush and bin Laden want the same thing.

(Disagree with the BBC? Disagree with me? Are you a NeoCon?)

Update: Interesting, if long, article on Bush's faith in himself and his NeoCon outlook. (Reg req)

Perhaps a phrase with fewer associations, Mr Blair?

Yep, the PM has once again displayed his singular lack of historical awareness.

As World War One kicked off in 1914, and the British Expeditionary Force disappeared off to fight on the Western Front, the soldiers and the country were promised that they would be "home for Christmas". The trouble is, the few that managed to survive what are still the most bloody and intense battles the world has ever seen didn't make it back until Christmas 1918. Hundreds of thousands had died in the meantime.

Now Blair has promised the same about the battalion which seems to be about to be committed to intense fighting in Iraq. It hardly inspires much confidence...

Then there's also the pertinent question, raised by Tory leader Michael Howard, of precisely what help a battalion of 600 British troops are going to be to an American force of 138,000... The answer? Practically none, but they'll sure help Bush to show the voters that he's got international support...

This whole situation just gets more and more depressing. Iraq is in chaos, it needs to be sorted out. But the people who triggered the chaos are not the people to do it.

There needs to be full international backing for a major peacekeeping operation. But this is not going to happen as long as the US - and specifically as long as Bush - seems to be calling the shots.

The world's dislike for the American President and his corrupt, unpleasant and ineffective administration is helping to allow the killings and the kidnappings and the terrorists' recruitments to continue.

This dislike isn't going to go away, so let's hope the President does.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Kilroy and UKIP saga continues

Anthony Wells points out that Mystery Bob's Kilroy/UKIP spoof site and Kilroy's response to it has been spotted by The Guardian, who have tracked down the mysterious one's secret identity and got a quote.

Wells also has a very good summary of the UKIP's recent troubles - good background reading for anyone confused about what the hell I'm talking about when I start slagging them off for being shit again.

Another new writer

This blog will shortly benefit from the input of a new writer from north of the border, which will hopefully ensure further regular updates about items of interest from around the world from a slightly less London-centric perspective. Plus it may allow me to get on with writing things that I actually get paid for for a change...

No jokes about haggis and caber-tossing, please...

"It is possible to say no"

So said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday about the proposed deployment of British troops into the part of Iraq affectionately known as "the triangle of death". So why do I get the distinct impression that we aren't going to? And why can't I help feeling that - even though support for such a barking right-winger should go against everything Labour is meant to stand for - the decision is being taken in part to bolster George Bush's re-election campaign?

This news has unsurprisingly been picked up on in the US, where one of the major lines of attack for the Kerry campaign has been that in Iraq it is US troops who are doing most of the dying. While some of the US media acknowledges this, perhaps unsurprisingly certain US papers don't seem to realise that the accusations that the move is in support of the Bush campaign aren't coming from the "opposition", but from Labour itself. A number of MPs have already spoken out against the proposal, and more will follow.

Which leads me to wonder - as, if British troops are deployed, this will certainly be used by Bush for political gain, will the response from America bemoaning how other countries are trying to affect their election be as rabid and vocal as it was in response to the Guardian's letter-writing initiative?

Update: Considering we don't have to get any more involved, why would we commit our troops to areas where this kind of thing is happening? As part of a UN - or even NATO - peacekeeping force, fine. But as the current occupation is illegal, why unecessarily put our soldiers in a position where they are not only far more likely to be killed (just before Christmas), but also where they are more likely to end up committing war crimes alongside their American allies?

I'm afraid I don't accept Jack Straw's claim that "we have a responsibility for sorting the situation out" in the north of the country. British troops have stuck to the south, and have - for the most part - done a damn fine job of maintaining control. I'm quite happy for the mess in the north to be sorted out by the US - whose heavy-handed techniques have at the very least been a contributing factor to the level of resistance they are facing - until such a time as there is a clear mandate for multilateral peacekeeping action.

For the record, however, I do agree that it's about time the UN got up off its arse and did something about the chaos the invasion has caused - in spite of the fact that the US-led incursions were not supported by it in the first place. sadly, the US doesn't seem to be trying too hard to gain the UN's support.

Maybe if Kerry gets in, eh? (The wishful answer to everything...)

Monday, October 18, 2004

The chaos of crusties and communists

The European Social Forum was going on in London this weekend - effectively an excuse for crusties and filthy pinko liberals to rant on about the perils of globalisation, the illegality of the Iraq war, and how much they hate Bush. Sponsored by The Guardian, it has received practically no coverage in the rest of the mainstream press despite having been attended by 20,000 people from 65 countries (hence pretty much all the links in this post pointing there) - over the three days it was on, there was remarkably little coverage.

In fact, so sparse has been the coverage everywhere other than The Guardian that the National Union of Journalists has apparently issued a press release denouncing this apparent censorship of the views of the participants (although this has yet to appear online at the time of writing). There hasn't even been much notice taken in the right-wing press which one would have expected to leap on the chance to slag off all these people they disagree with.

The brief summary of events on The Guardian's website hints why it may have been ignored - the entire event sounds like it was utterly chaotic. Ending yesterday with an anti-war march, it was marred by poor organisation and petty demonstrations - the poor organisation even affecting the demonstrations so that there ended up being demonstrations about the lack of demonstrations. There is a bit more coverage here, which only adds to the vague sense that the whole thing was somewhat pointless.

In short, the entire thing sounds like it was a rather pathetic waste of time and money. It has received no coverage, most of the debates seem to have achieved little in the way of a consensus, and whatever message the delegates were trying to get across has been singularly ignored. What could have been a great opportunity to send a clear message to the powers that be has ended up a farce which will only serve to provide ammunition for the opponents of the attendees to lay scorn and ridicule on the causes the forum was supposed to be promoting.

Good work, chaps...

Update: More on the ESF by attendee Dead Men Left can be found here, here, here and here.

"Unless the wounds of the Iraq war are healed there will be no progress"

More interesting articles from yesterday's Sunday Times which deserve a bit of attention - though it must be remembered that the Times, like all Murdoch papers, is fundamentally anti-EU...

First up, an interview with outgoing Commission President Romano Prodi which will give comfort to many Eurosceptics:

"Unless the wounds of the Iraq war are healed there will be no progress, because this has broken the spirit and divided the European countries. It has caused real discord and unhappiness among partners; it is terrible. It is all so personal... I hope tension will decrease but it will not be a short endeavour. There are long-term consequences... This war should never have been started."

(Read more at the Eurosceptic EU Referendum...)

And then an immensely flawed analysis of Britain's relationships with Europe and the US from TV historian David Starkey (met him - nice chap), which will no doubt provide ill-educated Eurosceptics with supposed "historical" evidence that Britain has few ties with Europe.

The fact that Starkey makes the classic error or attributing any importance to the Magna Carta, seems to think that the Stuart dynasty was "expelled" from the country, and conveniently ignores all the incredibly close cultural and economic ties Britain has had with France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Germany and pretty much every other country in Europe during the last millennium, demonstrates at its most obvious how selective looks at history can build a case for pretty much anything.

His claim that the "special relationship" between Britain and the US is like a marriage especially amused me - in particular the fact that he accepts it as a given, despite this being one of the most disputed ideas of 20th century international relations. If the UK/US supposed bond is like any family relationship, Britain is like the crotchety parent, the US like the wayward teenage child which has broken off from mummy. Britain has experience and wants to help the US with friendly advice, while knowing that this will mostly be ignored; the US - like all teenagers - thinks it knows best, yet still has a certain amount of love and respect for the parent whom it rebelled against and listens to them occasionally, but mostly acts like a petulant brat who is determined to get their own way.

At some point I may do a counter-article showing how Britain and the rest of Europe have been inextricably linked for centuries, taking it right back to the Celts (who despite popular belief that they are Britain's "natives" actually came from Germany) via the massive impact of the Roman Empire, the Anglo-Saxon and Viking incursions, the coming of the Normans and the Frankification of the country, the Angevin Empire which united England and France, our Dutch King William III, our German King George I (and every one since), and so on and so on...

Lack of historical awareness is one thing, but professing to be an expert and yet still making such sloppy arguments is shocking. The fact that many will see Starkey's name, think he knows what he's talking about, and so absorb his well-written but factually flawed arguments is extremely depressing...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Halliburton: wholesaler to the axis of evil

Considering how Rupert Murdoch's Fox News is so rabidly pro-Bush, it's somewhat surprising to learn that his Sunday Times has been conducting an investigation designed to politically harm Vice President Dick Cheney.

Everyone knows that Cheney's connection to oil company Halliburton sounds a tad dodgy, especially considering the fact that his former employer is now the biggest private contractor for the US armed forces, but The Sunday Times has uncovered evidence that the company is also flaunting US trade sanctions, and has been supplying Iran - part of the axis of evil - with oil drilling equipment for the last nine years. Coincidentally, it was nine years ago that Dick Cheney became Chairman and CEO of the company...

In case it gets moved to the subscription-only section, here is an edited-down (and slightly re-arranged) version:

A Sunday Times investigation has established that Halliburton has been supplying Iran with oil drilling equipment through its companies based in Arbroath and Leatherhead.

The exports — estimated to be worth more than £30m a year — have continued despite sanctions introduced by the US government nine years ago barring Americans from trading or “facilitating” business with the Islamic state.

The subsidiary’s trade with Iran soared after Cheney took over as chief executive of Halliburton in 1995. Last year it shipped more than $6m in drilling equipment and goods to Iran, but trade has grown substantially this year. The Sunday Times has learnt that the company has orders worth $2.6m for October alone.

Although he resigned as Halliburton’s chief executive four years ago, Cheney has retained a substantial interest, owning an estimated $18m (£10m) in share options... He earned $44m during his tenure at Halliburton and continues to collect deferred compensation worth approximately $150,000 a year as well as the options he retains.

Halliburton's trade with Iran was acknowledged in a confidential letter from Halliburton to one of its shareholders in October last year. It listed five subsidiaries involved: three in Britain, one in the Cayman Islands and another in Sweden.

The company said the contracts were not a breach because the subsidiaries were operating independently and no US citizens had carried out or “facilitated” the work.

However, inquiries by The Sunday Times have revealed that the company does appear to be flouting sanctions because some goods and equipment supplied to Iran were manufactured and designed in America.

The exports range from high specification oil drilling equipment, such as pumps, castings and “hole completion screens”, to domestic toiletries. They are imported into Britain from the United States by Halliburton Manufacturing and Services Limited (HMSL) in Arbroath. According to company insiders, the goods are then shipped on to Iran.

The company believes this is not a breach of the sanctions because it is supplying Britain with what it calls “stock items”, rather than equipment that was deliberately earmarked for Iran.

The Arbroath subsidiary is one of the area’s biggest employers, and Iran is a growing market for its engineering and manufacturing services.

The unit makes high-grade drilling, boring and well completion tools and equipment. But according to company insiders, they are made to Halliburton’s US designs with cosmetic modifications to make them appear British.

A former director of HMSL said the Arbroath subsidiary in fact reported directly to senior Halliburton staff at its US manufacturing base in Duncan, Oklahoma. “Our firm in Arbroath is a manufacturing base, so it reported to our main manufacturing base in the US,” he said.

Another senior figure at Arbroath said: “There is a dotted line from Arbroath to the US because it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of an American company. We are a part of the Halliburton organisation and at some point everybody reports back to the US.”

These latest disclosures come as the company faces fraud, corruption and overcharging inquiries in the US, France and Nigeria. President Bush has ordered an investigation into the firm following allegations that it overcharged the American government by $90m to supply equipment for troops in Iraq and to revive the country’s war-damaged oil industry.

The company’s trade with Iran is already being investigated by the FBI for a federal grand jury inquiry ordered by the US Justice Department.

The company has already been fined $7.5m by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for secretly changing its accounting practices, which resulted in exaggerated earnings. The charges amounted to misleading shareholders about the value of the company and related to accounting practices in 1998 when Cheney was chief executive.

If the company is found to have broken sanctions, former or current Halliburton executives could face penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $50,000.

Cheney could well be screwed. Couldn't happen to a nicer fella...

Update: Rising Hegemon has more on axis of evil corruption - including the news that Halliburton has received $18million of "reparations" from Iraq since the ousting of Saddam Hussein...

John Kerry, Lesbians and Ohio

Post-debate poll results are hitting in force, and it looks like Kerry managed to piss just about everyone off with his reference to Dick Cheney's daughter. For those who missed it, the candidates were asked if they thought homosexuality was a choice; Kerry went for the rather underhand political point-scoring by saying "I think if you talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she'll say she is being who she was, she's being who she was born as". His point is, of course, valid, but the aim of this was simply to point out to the Republicans' rabid homophobic Christian supporters that there is a sinner in their midst.

It was a cheap shot, and has backfired quite badly. 64% of voters felt his comments to be inappropriate - including half of all swing voters. At the same time, "Since the debate, the Christian right has been rallying to the side of Mary Cheney. Well-known political preachers like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson have gone out of their way to defend her right to privacy. Conservative radio talk shows and Web sites have been flooded with denunciations of Kerry and support for Mary."

But some people reckoned it was a fair point, and have pointed out the hypocracy of the Republicans in asking whether the Cheneys "upbraided Illinois Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes, who labeled homosexuality 'selfish hedonism' and said that Cheney's lesbian daughter is a sinner."

Yet despite this negative response to one aspect of Kerry's speech, at it is noted that "Kerry has regained his lead in New Jersey albeit by only 2% according to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll. More important, we now have Florida as an exact tie. A strategic Vision (R) poll taken Oct. 12-14, puts Bush ahead by 4%, 49% to 45%. But an Insider Advantage poll, also taken Oct 12-14 puts Kerry ahead by 4%, 48% to 44%. I guess we could use the Oct. 4-10 Washington Post poll of Florida to break the tie, but unfortunately it says Florida is 47% to 47%. It will probably be a real squeaker again in Florida. The results could depend on the turnout and in which counties the most voting machines fail."

So, to do the maths, "If Kerry wins WA, OR, CA, NV, NM, HI, MN, IA, WI, IL, MI, PA, NY, NJ, DE, DC, MD, CT, RI, MA, NH, VT, ME, he'll have 269 electoral votes. Take away WI and give Kerry OH and he scoots to victory with 274. (270 needed.) Give Bush everything else, and he's at 249. With OH, he's at 269. Tie. Tie favors Bush. Election decided by members of new Congress, plus each state delegation, where GOP has 2-1 advantage."

It's still as close as we always knew it would be. As long as Kerry can avoid making any more stupid comments, it's still possible - albeit highly unlikely - that he may just be able to pull this off. If you know anyone in Ohio, phone them. Tell them to get out there and vote for Kerry. Tell them to tell their friends to vote for Kerry. Tell them to tell anyone they meet to vote for Kerry. Ohio could be where this election is won or lost. Hell, even if you don't know anyone in Ohio, tell them to vote for Kerry...

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Boris, Bigley, and a sense of identity

Poor old Boris has got himself into a spot of bother thanks to a rather poorly-judged comment in The Spectator, bemoaning the country's response to Ken Bigley's death as an over-reaction.

Boris has apologised, and his boss at Conservative Central Office, Michael Howard, has apparently described it as "nonsense from beginning to end".

However, to be fair, Boris has got a point - not his silly comments about Liverpudlians being dole-scum and criminals, obviously - but he is right in pointing out that, as sad as Mr Bigley's death was (and my own views on this have already been stated), a national outpouring of grief for the death of a man in his 60s is a little bit bizarre. Why don't we have a similar reaction everytime a British soldier in his/her teens or twenties is killed? And as Boris also points out, the reaction has been utterly disproportionate when it is considered that:

"There had been a two-minute silence for Mr Bigley... according him the same respect offered annually to the million-and-a-half British servicemen who have died for their country since 1914."

But he is wrong when he says that Tony Blair and his government are not to blame for Bigley's death. Not directly, maybe. But had Blair and his cronies not launched their illegal war, there would have been no need or opportunity for Bigley to go to such a dangerous place in the first place.

Nonetheless, Boris is a silly fool if he thought that such a prominent public figure could get away with saying what many people have suggesting quietly in pubs and bars around the country for the last few weeks, namely:

"The truth is that Ken Bigley sought to make a living by undertaking work in one of the most dangerous areas on the planet. He went there against the express advice of the Foreign Office. He chose to live with a pair of Americans and seemed unconcerned about his personal security. His motives and misjudgments do not lessen the horror and injustice of his death; but they should, without lessening our sympathy for him and his family, temper the outpouring of sentimentality in which many have engaged for him."

It's almost admirable that our Boris blunders off and speaks his mind without thinking of the consequences, and because so many people find him so entertaining he'll probably get away with it.

But his comments about Liverpool and Liverpudlians (apparently they have an "excessive predilection for welfarism" and "a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche", plus "wallow" in their "victim status"), and especially about the Hillsborough disaster are hardly going to do the Tories any favours in that part of the world and would, had they been about a sexual or ethnic minority group, have instantly got him sacked from his Shadow ministerial post, and quite possibly have forced the party to withdraw the whip.

Why is it OK to slag off Scousers, Geordies and Brummies, but not to slag off homosexuals, asians or blacks? People with strong Liverpool, Newcastle or Bimingham accents are often at least as discriminated against (especially in the workplace) as people from ethnic minorities, so why aren't they also protected by anti-discrimination laws? Very confusing.

In short, the comments about Ken Bigley are not where the focus should be here, but the petty regionalist attitude which still affects so much of British society. This is part of why I have no problems with the EU: Britain is made up of so many distinct regional attitudes and accents, several separate nations, and umpteen ways of life which still continue to this day, I honestly can't see any British (or Scottish or Welsh or Cornish etc.) national identity being lost were Britain to become part of a Federal Europe.

The petty regional rivalries which are hang-ons from skirmishes stretching back aeons have survived, even though England has been one nation for over a thousand years, and the United Kingdom united for three centuries. What makes anyone think these identites are so weak they wouldn't survive being absorbed by Europe? Is it really so impossible to be both British AND English AND Scouse? Of course not - and adding "European" on top of that wouldn't - in the long-run - be a problem either.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A response and statement of principles

I’ve had another one of those comments which deserves a response in full – this time about a post I did about a pamphlet highlighting how shit the UKIP are which has been produced by the Labour MEP Richard Corbett, and which the UKIP are trying to have pulped as they claim it might jeopardise the forthcoming fraud trial of Mr Ashley Mote MEP. This might be very dull. If so, sorry. Normal (hopefully non-dull) service will be returned asap…

Please note that my anonymous respondent points out that: "the order banning reference to Ashley Mote's legal problems was only made on 5th October, after the document went to print". Now I can't claim any particular legal expertise, but when courts make such orders, I'm pretty sure they are not retroactive. As my respondent also notes, “There is no justification in publishing old material and claiming that you didn't know the rules,” but as he/she him/herself admits, the ruling hadn’t been made when the pamphlet was printed. At best, distribution of the document might be temporarily suspended while the trial is running, but considering that all it states in relation to Mr Mote are facts of public record, I very much doubt that even this will happen. I quote from the pamphlet:

"UKIP's MEPs were forced to expel Ashley Mote MEP. It transpired that Mr Mote was facing nine criminal charges of alleged false accounting and one of allegedly making a false representation regarding housing benefit."

This is a point well worth raising as (to quote from the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002):

"A person who-

"(a) is a citizen of the European Union, and

"(b) is not a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland,

"is disqualified for the office of MEP if he is disqualified for that office through a criminal law or civil law decision under the law of the member state of which he is a national."

A conviction for fraud disqualifies one from becoming an MP, and would therefore disqualify Mr Mote from being an MEP - should he be convicted. But this is beside the point: he was aware of the forthcoming trial throughout the elections, yet neglected to tell anyone. As the UK Independence Party admits on its website:

"The whip has been removed because Mr Mote did not inform the party of this situation before, during or immediately after the European Election campaign."

Had they known of the impending court case beforehand, they would not have allowed him to stand, as it case would - if it returns a guilty verdict - disqualify him from office. This would then force a byelection, and leave a decent chunk of the electorate unrepresented in the European Parliament. Not very democratic, eh? Would this not imply that Mr Mote may not have been acting in his contituents or party's best interests?

Why are the UKIP leaping on Mr Corbett (about whom I have little knowledge and certainly no party loyalty, having never voted for his party and not being a member of it) when on the same page of their website on which they explain Mr Mote’s dismissal they themselves say almost exactly what the document Mr Corbett has produced does, namely:

"Mr Mote faces a court case in the autumn concerning allegations of housing benefit fraud."

By the same logic, shouldn't they be taking out court orders against themselves? The section in Mr Corbett's pamphlet under which the short paragraph about Mr Mote is listed is indeed entitled "They have scant regard for rules or for the law", and I can see how it could be inferred from this that Mr Mote is guilty before his case has even been tried. But the wording is clear - the charges are described as allegations twice in a paragraph of only about 50 words. Plus – and this is the crucial point – it doesn’t go into any details about the charges. Had it done it would indeed have jeopardised Mr Mote's trial, and the pamphlet should indeed be withdrawn.

As it stands, Mr Mote is no longer a member of the UKIP anyway, and was barred from attending their recent party conference, so why are they leaping to his aid? He's now an independent MEP - why can't he fight his own battles? Or is it because they don't like the other contents of the pamphlet and that was the only part of it they had any hope of exploiting. Their calls for it to be pulped will be thrown out of court. At best they might get the pamphlet temporarily withdrawn until the result of the trial is clear, but I doubt it.

As for me offering to host it, I was being glib to indicate my approval of its contents. I didn’t say “if it gets taken down because of a court order”, simply “if it gets taken down”. This is because I feel more people should be aware of the factual contents of the pamphlet, and thus that it should remain online (preferably not in .pdf format, but I lack the knowledge, skills and software to convert it…), and also because I am 98% certain that it is not in breach of the law. It is, however, possible that Mr Corbett could come under so much legal pressure that he may be forced to take it down even without it actually breaching any court order due to the potential costs of defending its publication.

The whole point of this blog is that I have switched from a Eurosceptic perspective to a pro-European one, from the centre-right to the centre-left. I have worked for a Conservative MP, and I have worked for the European Commission. I hope it gives me a decent perspective on both sides of the argument: I am now broadly pro-European, but still agree with certain Eurosceptics on certain points - the EU is in bad need of reform and has lots of areas which are, frankly, unsatisfactory - in fact in some cases which are borderline disgraceful.

However, I despise the UKIP. I will regretfully admit to having voted for them in the 1999 European elections, and my uncle even stood for them in the 1997 General Election. Then they were a misguided but principled party, staffed and backed by people who truly believed that what they were doing was right. Now they are packed out with some of the most unpleasant people in British politics – racists, xenophobes and petty nationalists – and I disagree vehemently with pretty much all of the few policies they have.

Any excuse to show the UKIP up for what they are, or just to take the piss out of them, I will take it. I know that ukipwatch is a biased website – that’s pretty obvious from the fact it’s got a Labour MEP writing for it. As you may have noticed in my post, I was calling for non-partisan material of a similar sort because, as is evident from the reaction I have received, the fact that a Labour MEP was behind the pamphlet ensures that certain people will automatically dismiss it as propaganda.

This has almost turned into a statement of principles. As such, a brief final summary:

I was once Eurosceptic, now I am not, but retain certain suspicions about the precise nature of the EU as it currently stands. I come from a centre-right, fairly nationalist Tory background, but would now describe myself – were I to want to sound pompous – as a liberal internationalist. I am a member of no political party, and never have been. I have no loyalty to any one political party either. I base my voting decisions on the individual policies of the various parties presented to me on the ballot paper, and have voted, over the last few years, for at least six different parties based on my concerns at the time. Hence this blog having taken the piss out of all of them at various times.

The last few years of terrorist threats, war and chaos have convinced me that close co-operation between nations is vital, and in Britain’s best interests. I consider the responses of the UKIP and their ilk to the European project to be reactionary, backward-looking, and harmful to Britain’s best long-term interests. I also consider the UKIP to be a laughably pathetic excuse for a political party, so will continue to rip the shit out of them until they go the way of the Referendum Party, and vanish into the historical footnote which is all they deserve to be.

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