Saturday, September 04, 2004

Russian aftermath

Saturday update - it gets worse... 322 bodies confirmed so far, including 155 children.

That synonym for the free press, Pravda, responds to the crisis in a typically Cold War manner, with headlines like:

School Stormed, Hostages Released

and supposed readers' letters:

" Clearly it was for the love of the children that the Russian troops risked their own lives in this rescue operation. I believe the outcome would have been worse had nothing been done or attempts to appease the terrorists had continued. I hope the Russian people stand behind their government and not let the horrible actions of others divide them."

For fuck's sake... The delightful thing is, most of these letters are from Americans...

Friday, September 03, 2004

Russia does it again

There are not words to describe how stupid this is.

Nice to see that Putin's KGB past isn't influencing his counter-terrorism tactics at all... 100 dead, 400 wounded, yet they still let 13 of the hostage takers get away. Is negotiation no longer possible? Must we use force in every scenario these days? Does human life no longer have any value?

I despair, I really do. State terrorism is back with a vengeance in Russia, and the state is once again murdering its own citizens and demonstrating immense incompitence in the process. Which is encouraging. As is their continued stockpile of thousands of intercontinental nuclear missiles, many of which are still targeted at US and European targets thanks to no one bothering to take them offline following the end of the Cold War.

In short: Russia is a danger not only to herself and her citizens, but to everyone else in the world. Oh joy.

"W. is more popular than Kerry with dog owners"

Dear God...

The film itself, the Bush dog Barney hitting the campaign trail, sounds amusing enough. But a Kerry dog called Fifi, replete with a beret? Oooh! Kerry speaks FRENCH! France is the most evil nation in the world!

Call me stupid, but having a head of state who is able to converse in more than one language strikes me as a benefit? Bush's vague grasp of Spanish is one of the few things that almost elicits admiration. Kerry is fluent in French, and halfway decent in Italian, if I recall correctly. This can surely only be a good thing?

But that's off the point. The comments to this innocent enough little article ("Who says Republicans are stuffy and no fun!") are a classic example of the apparent mindset and "sense of humour" of your average Republican voter:

"WE [Republicans] are Red because we have American Blood flowing in our veins. They [Democrats] are Blue in deference to their European bluebloods."


Bush by numbers

An interesting article in the Independent, which makes a change, uses the Republican "statistics" technique and turns it on Bush (on whom probably more later, once I've had a chance to read/watch/listen to his speech from last night).

A lot of this is a weak, Michael Moore-style attempt to hint at conspiracies (which does no one any favours), but there are some good ones scattered amongst the "Oh look, Bush and the Saudis!" nonsense:

14 Number of Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) agents assigned to track down 1,200 known illegal immigrants in the United States from countries where al-Qa'ida is active.

Amount approved by George Bush to hire more INS special agents.

$10m Amount Bush cut from the INS's existing terrorism budget.

$3m Amount the White House was willing to grant the 9/11 Commission to investigate the 11 September attacks.

$5m Amount a 1996 federal commission was given to study legalised gambling.

$50m Amount granted to the commission that looked into the Columbia space shuttle crash.

43 Percentage of the entire world's military spending that the US spends on defence. (That was in 2002, the year before the invasion of Iraq.)

$2bn Estimated monthly cost of US military presence in Iraq projected by the White House in April 2003.

$4bn Actual monthly cost of the US military presence in Iraq according to Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld in 2004.

$120bn Amount the war and its aftermath are projected to cost for the 2004 fiscal year.

$401.3bn Proposed military budget for 2004.

5 Estimated Percentage of US air cargo that is screened, including cargo transported on passenger planes.

22,600 Number of planes carrying unscreened cargo that fly into New York each month.

95 Percentage of foreign goods that arrive in the United States by sea.

2 Percentage of those goods subjected to thorough inspection.

4.7m Number of bankruptcies that were declared during Bush's first three years in office.

2.3m Number of Americans who lost their jobs during first three Years of the Bush administration.

$300m Amount cut from the federal programme that provides subsidies to poor families so they can heat their homes.

$489bn The US trade deficit in 2003, the worst in history for a single year.

$5.6tr Projected national surplus forecast by the end of the decade when Bush took office in 2001.

$7.22tr US national debt by mid-2004.

9.3m Number of US unemployed in April 2004.

There's a lot of shite in there, and a load which are highly debatable, but also some fairly interesting ones. Especially when it comes to the economy. Quite why the Democrats are rising to the Republican bait and fixing on the "war on terror" angle when they could revisit Clinton's technique of "it's the economy, stupid" I have no idea...

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Senator Zell Miller is a tit

Here he is. Now I'll confess to never having registered this guy's name before, not being one to follow American politics to the depth where I am aware of too many senators or representatives' individual takes on policy. I've discovered this morning, since hearing him on the Today Programme, that I was loosely aware of him as the guy who called rap music "crap" on the floor of the senate (I have a tendency to agree). I imagine that most Americans would be more familiar with him.

The guy is a Democratic senator from Georgia, a former US Marine and arch conservative who has repeatedly rejected offers from the Republicans to switch allegiance. After his performance last night, I bet they're glad he never did - after all, it's far more powerful to have a sitting Democrat senator slag off the Democrats' Presidential nominee at the Republican Party Convention than to have a former Democrat.

So basically the Republicans managed to get a Democrat to slag off John Kerry live on national television to a rabid congregation of pre-converted lunatics who actually bood when Miller stated the surely laudable aim that "Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations", and again when Miller made the - frankly bizarre and nonsensical - claim that "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending."

I'm trying to work out what Miller thinks he's going to gain by doing this. He's surely going to piss off the registered Democrats who voted him to office, as well as the rest of his party. So perhaps he's finally going to switch to the party he evidently should be a member of, and try to gain swift promotion from a grateful post-election-victory George W?

Either way, the guy's a tit.

Find out more about Miller here and here - it never ceases to amaze me how good Wikipedia is getting these days...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Corruption, Cronyism, Self-Interest

Accusations that are hurled on a regular basis (and, it should be said, often with justification) against the institutions of the European Union. How refreshing it is to see those pillars of integrity - the Eurosceptic media caught bang to rights.
The plight of Conrad Black, Hollinger and their associates such as Richard Perle is enough to make you feel warm all over. Ah, those eurocrats with their gravy train lifestyle and immense expense accounts. But wait! Black blowing $43,000 of Hollinger money on a birthday party for his wife among other things). To be fair, this was even reported in one of Black's last few media possessions, the Chicago Sun-Times.

The EU to place sanctions on the US?

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, and especially to hear the respective responses of Bush and Kerry to this attack on the Byrd Amendment.

A bad day for Germany

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the start of World War Two, so why not read a German take on the invasion of Poland? Or perhaps eyewitness accounts courtesy of the BBC?

Meanwhile, madman former dictator Slobodan Milosevic blames Germany (and the Vatican) for the break up of Yugoslavia during his trial, and actress Charlize Theron suffers an unspecified injury in Berlin while filming the spy thriller Aeon Flux

More seriously, on the economic front, Germany's not looking too hot, announcing it will breach EU budget defecit rules for the third year running.

Red (white and blue) Heat

The full text of Arnie's prepared speech at the Republican convention. Some highlights:

"Here we can respectfully disagree and still be patriotic - still be American - and still be good Republicans"

Can you spot the subtle movie reference here?

"And, ladies and gentlemen, if you believe we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism - then you are a Republican!"

And finally, best of the bunch:

"To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don't be economic girlie men!"

How is this a bad thing?

The Republicans are great. In an atrotiously designed section of one of their websites they've compiled a load of statistics about mankind's potential saviour. (How accurate they are I have no idea, but we'll assume moderately to give the GOP the benefit of the doubt).

I must confess here to being one of those people who fails to see how "liberal" could possibly be interpreted as a bad thing, so mayhap I'm a tad biased? But even so, pretty much all the "facts" given here can surely only be good things?

What it basically says is that he disagrees with Bush most of the time, is against judicial killing, wants to protect the environment, provide women with freedom of choice, help out people at the bottom of the economic ladder, provide some kind of federal healthcare for the poor, can acknowledge when mistakes have been made, is against repressive and unconstitutional laws, thinks education reform requires proper funding, thinks persecuting a poverty-stricken country with sanctions because of an outdated political disagreement is wrong but thinks repressive and fascistic states should be subject to sanctions, thinks trade agreements should have environmental and labour protection clauses attached, would only appoint Supreme Court Justices who acknowledge current US law, is opposed to funding outdated defence systems, etc. etc. etc.

The man may be dull, but he has a lot of opinions I can happily agree with. Shame I'm not entitled to vote, really...

But seriously, can someone please explain to me how any of the above views are bad?

Business as usual with the GOP

Just as the Republican Convention HQ at Madison Square garden is in full on protestor lockdown (NYTIMES REG REQUIRED) so the opening speeches have cast America in the role of a nation standing proud and alone against terrorism. Rudolph Guiliani, who resembles a skeletal Robert Duvall, launched a scathing attack on... well pretty much everyone other than the Republican administration. Of particular note was his blanket condemnation of Europe, following up mention of the 1972 Munich olympics massacre and the Klinghoffer murder (the assassination of a wealthy, wheelchair-bound American while on a Mediterranean cruise - since dramatised in opera form) with the critique:

'So terrorists learned they could intimidate the world community and too often the response, particularly in Europe, was "accommodation, appeasement and compromise".'

Leaving aside the what's and the wherefores (the matter of domestic terrorism such as the Baader-Meinhof gang, ETA and the IRA among many others and also the touchy issue of sympathy for Palestinians) what's been impressive about the Republican stance is its lack of compromise. Anyone whose view differs in the slightest (Democrat or European) is an appeaser, just as was the case in the 1930s. In the lingo of post 11th September, they're either with America or against them. The scary thing is that this form of neo-isolationism is probably going to win the day in November.

While parliament is in recess, the Republican convention is available to view on BBC Parliament

A nice hi-res map of the Roman Empire

Makes a nice wallpaper.

And with that, bed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

More missed news

Did anywhere in the UK report this?

"Top diplomats and officials from thirteen countries in the Danube region met in Bucharest during July for the 2nd Ministerial Conference of the Danube Co-operation Process. The focus was on the Danube's role as a future internal river of the EU, as a main communications and transportation link between the North Sea and the Black Sea, and as a European space, with countries sharing the same democratic principles, values and objectives, despite different stages of economic development and a complex historical legacy."

As a few newspapers suggested before Europe's expansion back when we still thought we might get a summer, the focus of Europe could be shifting eastwards. I thought Britain (and, indeed, Western Europe as a whole) was meant to be cultivating these new member states and their neighbours to get them to play ball?

Instead, the only representative of Western Europe at the conference was the German Ambassador to Romania.

New York and Athens

All the portests in the Big Apple against Bush and his followers seem to be getting lots of coverage, despite being mostly peaceful and despite the 584 arrests so far largely appearing to be either for technical breaches of the law or for no violation at all.

But we seem to be forgetting the other protests going on slightly closer to home. It seems a bit odd that I find out about protests in Greece, a mere couple of thousand miles away, from a Japanese newspaper, but still...

As a Londoner utterly opposed to this city's massively ill-conceived bid for the 2012 Olympics (which will see us Londoners paying higher taxes to pay for an event we don't want), I find the fact that our dear Athenian cousins are a tad pissed off about the post-Olympics situation heartening.

But will the fact that the initial budget of 4.6 billion euros has risen by a further 2-6 billion deter the masterminds behind the London Olympic bid? Will the singularly underwhelmed response of the British public to our returning so-called Olympic heroes tell them that we just don't care about grown men and women running round in circles?

It's about time we had another protest over here. As we're entirely in the hands of the American electorate when it comes to politics in this country, and as the last major political protest we had achieved precisely tit all, we should focus our efforts on something we may have a chance of affecting. The Daily Mail should get in on this one: Stop this Olympics madness!

Then again

at least I don't live in America.

The trouble with Britain

is that although it's still August (just), I've managed to catch a cold. We should move the entire country further south. Somewhere in the Bay of Biscay should do it.

The British Disease

A halfway decent short summary of Britain's problem with Europe.

Defending British culture?

The Guardian reports that the right-wing thinktank Civitas is launching its own primary school to preserve "British culture".

It's a primary school. Yet apparently "The final aim of education is the formation of strong moral character, good manners, and the develop­ment of well-informed judgement. Good citizenship is not a subject of the school curriculum, but an aspect of conduct and behaviour that arises from knowledge of the foundations of the culture, its history, values, and institutions." The children are 4-5 years old. Are they actually aware of their own national identity at this age? I'm pretty certain I wasn't.

This is not to mention Civitas' record on pronouncing against immigration (pdf), Europe and single parent families in statistic-ridden pamphlets designed to appeal to the Daily Mail's leader writers and confuse the actual facts.

Now is it just the liberal in me, or does this sound just a tad like they want to brainwash these little kiddies at a nice early age, and produce a generation of little Oswald Mosleys?

The French "headscarf ban"

A bizarre one, this. The controversy has been knocking on for a while, since it was announced a few months back. Should the French state ban religious iconography from its schools? The muslims have been the most vocal in their opposition, but what about France's sizable Jewish population? Or, for that matter, the more observant of the Catholic majority who may wish to demonstrate their faith through those dinky little crucifix necklace things?

Now, of course, two French journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq, and their captors are demanding the abolition of the new law, which comes into effect at the start of the new school year (in a few days time). Radio correspondent Christian Chesnot and Le Figaro man Georges Malbrunot have been held by a group calling themselves The islamic Army in Iraq, who last week claimed to have executed an Italian journalist after Italy refused to withdraw troops.

How difficult it would be for France to overturn a piece of legislation over a 48 hour period (especially at a weekend) I confess to having no idea. But I imagine it would be rather hard. It would probably take the UK parliament at least a month, even if being pushed through at top speed. Normally it would take the best part of a year.

I personally reckon religion's only place in schools should be in Theology lessons. But I also don't think that the State has any right to dictate to me how I should behave when it comes to any spiritual beliefs I may or may not have.

What started as a point of political principle in France is going to end up costing lives. Whether you're religious or not, the lives should be more important. But, as always, it's not really that simple. Sadly the kinds of militant groups who are charging around taking hostages don't seem to understand the finer points of parliamentary democracy.

But then, in this case, does the French government understand the finer points of maintaining a free society? If, as they are maintaining, Church and State should be kept separate, which is why religion has no place in schools, does this not mean that the State should not interfere with the religious beliefs of individuals? And wouldn't this new French regulation count as a contravention of European Human Rights laws?

Monday, August 30, 2004

The G.O.P. - Genius or Pathetic?

Yep, the Republican convention kicks off in New York, and the G.O.P. announces it's going to repeatedly remind everyone about September 11th.

Is this reminding everyone about the intelligence failures that led to the threat being overlooked? The national security failures that led to the terrorists being able to get into the country and onto the planes without being challenged once? The immense loss of life? The resultant wars that have led to even more loss of life?

What they're blatantly trying to do is remind everyone what a strong leader Bush has been in the aftermath. But what they could end up doing is reminding everyone how weak he was in the run-up. And with Michael (not as intelligent or insightful as he'd like to think) Moore's Farenheit 9/11 still in theatres, hinting at conspiracy, wouldn't they be better focussing on Bush's achievements, rather than his single most obvious failure? His was, after all, the man who was supposed to be responsible for protecting the US, and he failed.

Is this going to be another example of a Republican plan backfiring, like their mindless attempt to alter the constitution to ban gay marriage? It's highly insulting to the families of the dead, and to the survivors. To do this in the middle of New York itself seems remarkable callous.

But then again, maybe they've got a decent gameplan this time. Perhaps they've actually thought things through. Kerry's lead in the polls, though modest, is still a major blow, considering Bush's levels of popularity in the aftermath of 9/11. Perhaps the G.O.P. has some kind of cunning plan to remind everyone how much they were behind the President back then. It's possible. Just...

It's also worth pointing out that Rudolph Giuliani's plans to liken Bush to Churchill could also backfire for anyone who knows their history: "Winston Churchill saw the dangers of Hitler when his opponents and much of the press characterized him as a warmongering gadfly. George W. Bush sees world terrorism for the evil that it is, and he will remain consistent to the purpose of defeating it while working to make us ever safer at home."

Of course, the fact that pretty much all of Churchill's military plans during WWII were disasterous, causing more harm to the Allies than good, is beside the point. As is the fact that he was also a pretty useless peacetime Prime Minister during the 1950s. Churchill is a name that resonates with Americans as symbolising great leadership. What he actually was was a great figurehead for more sensible people to work through from behind the scenes. So maybe the Bush analogy isn't too far off...

There's a new European Commission

With all the focus on Mandelson's dodgy appointment, I don't think many in the UK have realised.

The new chap who ends up being one of the most powerful men in Europe is José Manuel Barroso. Ever heard of him? He's the former Prime Minister of Portugal, yet must have done some other stuff. But Google for him and that's pretty much all you can find out on the first page of results. At least in English. It takes a bit more patience to find a more in-depth biography.

It turns out he was a communist. Which is always encouraging. Plus supported the invasion of Iraq. Which was nice of him.

Anyway, here's a breakdown of the rest of the new commissioners. I might hunt around for dirt on them - we already know Mandelson's hardly the best choice if the Commission wants to rid itself of the image of corruption and nepotism it has built up over the last few years, so it'd be interesting to find out the pasts of the rest of them.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

New writers!

Yep. In an effort to keep this thing up to date, I've recruited myself some people to help out. Assuming any of us remember, expect posts to become more frequent from now on.

(Oh, and as you can hopefully see, I worked out how to add a links section as well. Nothing fancy, but does the job. This will be added to as and when I come across things - if you want your site / blog linked, let me know.)

I've been rather busy over recent months

Hence no updates. But I think I may have found some renewed motivation.

The first part of this came thanks to browsing through the utterly unpolitical website of themanwhofellasleep, a telented chap whom I met via b3ta, and with whom I may shortly be working on a book project. He's kept his site going for years - I've known of it for at least three, probably more - and has built up a decent cult following.

The second is thanks to another bloke met via b3ta, the lovely Tim Ireland, often better known as Manic, who is the highly dedicated man behind Bloggerheads. He took the piss out of me, I called him rude names, then I started actually reading his site properly, having been aware of it for ages. It is irritatingly good.

Third, I checked out the often interesting and superbly named A Fistful of Euros, and found this blog linked there. Under the "left wing" category. Which confused me briefly, but then I suppose I do link to The Guardian rather a lot... Either way, the fact someone had noticed this and thought it worth linking to made me think it might be worth pursuing.

Finally, I checked the blog of a real-life friend of mine, which was started about the same time as I first experimented with blogging a couple of years ago. Disgustingly, he's kept it going all this time, while I have let umpteen blogs vanish into the ether (there are about three I can't even remember the addresses of).

As I've been moderately successful in keeping my jokey, nonsensical b3ta blog going for the last few months (it takes far less time to keep going than this one due to far less thinking), I reckon it's time to start this one up properly again.

Anyway, I've given it a redesign (in lovely EU colours, no less), and added comments and post linking, just in case anyone's interested. I would put in a links section down the side, but I can't for the life of me work out how. If anyone does actually read this, let me know either via comments or email (nosemonkey (AT SYMBOL) - I'd appreciate it.

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