Saturday, March 05, 2005

Why the lack of interest in Kyrgyzstan?

After yesterday's update on Ukraine, where protests at alleged vote-rigging back in November (eventually) managed to attract the entire world's attention, it struck me as particularly odd that I've heard nothing about the very similar-sounding protests going on over alleged vote-rigging in Kyrgyzstan. This could easily have been news coming out of Kiev a few months ago (via Reuters):

"I have seen tens of elections, but have never seen such "dirty" polls," Halimbay Mamajanov, 80, another voter, told IRIN. "There was an open and deliberate bribing of voters through endless free meals, alcohol to young people and distribution of 'presents'. Also it was obvious that the authorities used their administrative resources and power, while the contesting parties deployed their subordinates and some organisations that were 'supporting' them."
Whereas Ukraine's was the Orange Revolution, could Kyrgyzstan be the Lemon Revolution? There's a bit more background via EurasiaNet.

As of yet, just about the only blog I've found that's been covering events in any detail is Gateway Pundit, with posts from Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but I don't really have time to trawl the net just at the moment.

English-language Kyrgyzstani news sources also seem not to be covering events - perhaps unsurprisingly when it is run by an ex-government man. The US has condemned the clampdown on media freedoms.

Anyone else seen this covered in more depth anywhere? By the sounds of things, the elections aren't meant to be over until the 13th - this will be going on for some time...

Update: Wikipedia's page on Kyrgyzstan may be of interest - if only to find out where the place is...

Friday, March 04, 2005

NHS propaganda - adding insult to injury

Having asked, via the interweb during the Labour party conference, a question of Tony Blair (that being "Why don't you fuck off and apologise for Iraq, you twat?"), I seem to be getting propaganda direct to my inbox. All fine and dandy, but I must say that I object to be addressed as "Dear Labour Supporter". I have never been a Labour supporter, and don't particularly intend to be.

Apparently, according to the propaganda, the party of Foundation Hospitals and piss-poor Private Finance Initiatives which have cost the taxpayer millions is the party of the NHS. The fact the email has the audacity to imply that the Tories are the main party that wants to privatize the NHS after the PFI balls-up is just ridiculous.

I can not deny that the NHS has got increased funding under Labour. I will, however, deny that it has actually got any better.

My father, a conscientious NHS Dentist, earns - in real terms - less now than he did 25 years ago. Although this is not entirely due to Labour - the decline started under the Tories - Labour have done precisely fuck all to make working for the NHS an attractive prospect and, if my father and his colleagues are to be believed, are actually going to make the situation worse through their new payment plans.

If you can't get the staff, there's no hope in hell of the system being able to work. The fact that my father also lost several years' worth of pensions contributions in the Equitable Life shambles (which the government have singularly failed to do anything constructive about) and now, shortly being due for retirement, has no hope in hell of making this back only pisses me off further.

What also pisses me off is that I don't recall ever granting Labour permission to send me this crap.

The NHS is still a great service, but the recent years of wasting millions on administrative and management staff at the expense of the doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists that make the thing run is crippling what was once one of the finest examples of a "socialised" medical system in the world. To give a brief indication of how incredibly wasteful the thing is, Derek Smith, chief executive of Hammersmith Hospitals (covering just a tiny section of London), last year earned between £210 and £215,000. That's £30,000 a year more than the Prime Minister himself, for fuck's sake...

The Neocons and the EU

Via Nick Barlow, an interesting post guaranteed to raise some heckles, but with many pertinent points to make about certain American attitudes towards Europe, Islam, and the future of the EU: "many of these American 'conservatives' are actively wishing for some kind of terrible collapse in Europe, into communal war or economic destitution or whatever. Why?"

Ukrainian implications

Berlin Sprouts has a nice overview of some potential post-Orange Revolution developments on Europe's easternmost fringe, three and a bit months after it all kicked off in Kiev, which nicely complements this Washington Times piece.

Ultima Thule, meanwhile, has some worrying rumours about possible Russian reactions to the apparent push for greater democracy in these former Soviet states, including a translation of a Russian article about the threat posed to Putin by the GUUAM states (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan). Transitions Online, meanwhile, suggests that Putin must now look to Kazakhstan to maintain the Russian dream of an ex-Soviet economic alliance.

Others are also suggesting that Yushchenko's victory is having ramifications even further afield, and that Lebanon is consciously modelling its current attempts to shake off foreign dominance on Ukraine's peaceful revolution. Others are asking questions about the possible outcomes in Lebanon which sound eerily familiar to those of us who were following Ukrainian events back in November.

Orange Ukraine, meanwhile, provides a comparison between events in Ukraine in February 2005 with those of February 2004, which shows that although some things have improved, the mere installation of Victor Yushchenko as president has not been enough to sort out the country's problems.

Dan at Orange Ukraine also mentions - and dismisses - those allegations of Yushchenko having fascist connections. Suggestions he was anti-Semitic cropped up back in November - but it wasn't clear to what extent these were merely propaganda. It also wasn't clear whether the propaganda was put out by his enemies or his friends, as by all accounts in some parts of Ukraine being hostile to Jews could well be a vote winner...

Over at Neeka's Backlog, Veronica Khokhlova also mentions this worrying neofascist undercurrent in Ukraine - notably the news of the beating of an African-American diplomat in an apparently racist attack in Kiev.

In Ukraine - as in other parts of the world which have recently seen a more democratic system of government introduced, there are some improvements, but still a lot of work to be done. It's all very well getting rid of the "wrong" government, but a lot of hard graft is required to make lasting changes. The glamour of the revolutionary period may now be a fading memory, but the EU should keep an eye on events in the GUUAM states - this could be the start of something big, or it could be the herald of yet more chaos. Either way, it will have important implications for the EU's relations with Russia and its other neighbours to the east.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

"Ten concrete actions"

Busy, so a quicky. Blogging EU Commissioner Margot Wallström has launched what is described as (in typically overly-convoluted EU style) "an information note identifying the components of a structured communication and information strategy on the Constitution to support the ongoing ratification process". In other words, an outline of what will and will not be done by the Commission to ease the constitution into effect.

Unfortunately, it could be seen to be somewhat contradictory:

"The Commission has made it clear that it will not: issue propaganda on the Constitution; campaign during election periods or breach national rules on referenda or distribution of information."
Sounds good - should appease the Eurosceptics. But how can that be tallied with the next two paragraphs?
"The Commission will seek to ensure that Europe's citizens are able to take informed choices on the Constitution. To do so, it has become increasingly clear that the Commission needs to do more to demonstrate the benefits of Europe.

"The Commission will be more pro-active in setting out the political case for the adoption of the Constitution - and demonstrate its concrete benefits to citizens. The entry into force of the Constitution would enhance the ability of the European Union to deliver on its strategic objectives over the next five years. The Commission and individual Commissioners cannot therefore stand on the sidelines or refrain from entering the political debate."
The Commission promises not to issue propaganda, but then says it must be "pro-active" in showing the benefits of the constitution. Which would mean, by its very definition, issuing propaganda (albeit not necessarily in the sinister sense in which that term is now generally used). The "training seminars for national and regional journalists" likewise could sound a tad Orwellian, as could the "Constitution Packs" for students.

It all makes sense, of course, as the lack of knowledge about the constitution needs to be tackled for the electorate to be able to make an informed choice one way or the other, but considering that there have already been major objections from Eurosceptics over the - thus far fairly small - amounts of money being spent on trying to get the constitution ratified, this is just asking for trouble.

Information on the constitution needs to come from impartial sources, not from an institution which is wholly and institutionally committed to the thing. Any information coming from the Commission about the constitution will be - quite fairly - treated with suspicion. It may well be entirely factual, but the fact it will be stamped with an official logo means that it cannot be impartial, and so cannot be trusted.

The whole thing is somewhat disingenuous, methinks. Even the largely pro-EU Guardian is taking the piss out of poor old Margot, highlighting her "globe-trotting at the expense of the European taxpayer," and pointing out that "Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, who is said to wince at the mention of Ms Wallström's name, recently made clear the government would turn down any EU money to promote the constitution ahead of next year's referendum."

When are the EU bigwigs going to realise that hostility is not going to be overcome by branded official documents? When are they going to realise that "concrete actions" to convince people of the benefits of the EU are not what's required, but a demonsration of concrete benefits? The facts should be able to speak for themselves.

Of course, the problem still remains - who can be bothered to spread information about the benefits if the Commission doesn't? It's a bit of a Catch-22, and not one to which I have much of a solution.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The UK election's biggest non-issue

Asylum. A load of fuss about nothing. "The number of asylum seekers arriving in Europe has fallen to levels last seen in the late 1980s" - in the UK, asylum applications have fallen by 61% in the last two years alone.

As for all the nonsense spouted by the likes of Robert Kilroy-Silk about Britain taking "only our fair share" and all the suggestions that we take far more than our EU partners - France is actually the world's top recipient of asylum-seekers, with 61,600 last year. The UK, in contrast, while being in third place (behind the US and just ahead of Germany) received just 40,200 asylum requests in 2004 (down from 103,080 in 2002) - or 0.7 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants.

Yep, we're simply FLOODED with the buggers, aren't we?

The United Nations Refugee Agency press release has more, or download a pdf of the report itself, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries, 2004.

Some other blog views: Diderot's Lounge, The Pseudo Magazine, and Big Dog's Weblog.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The EU, US and China

There's been a lot of fuss recently over the EU ending its ban on selling arms to China. Being a wishy-washy liberal peacenik, I'd personally like it if we could ban arms manufacturers. That not being likely to happen any time soon, all I will say is "Hear, hear!" (Really, read the linked post (which was in response to this article) in full - it's spot on.)

Then there's the fact that, despite the ban, there were lots of loopholes (it would be illegal to sell a missile targetting system, for example, but fine to sell the components - as long as you did so separately), which ensured that the trade carried on regardless. The ban was a sham.

And, lest we forget, there's also the fact that loads of countries - including the US and some from the EU (Britain being probably the best example) - are quite happy to sell arms to various other states with shoddy human rights records as long as they're perceived to be on our side. How can the US justify sales of electric shock batons to Saudi Arabia, knowing these are likely to be used for torture? How can the EU justify weapons sales to Pakistan, knowing the country is a military dictatorship with a very recent history of belligerency?

Yes, China has a simply awful human rights record. But weapons are in their very nature intended to bugger up people's human rights in the worst ways possible - at best maiming, at worst killing.

There is no such thing as morality when it comes to the arms trade - the entire thing is immoral. Remember that whole "Thou shalt not kill" business in the Bible? That's common to pretty much every religion, and a belief staunchly held by most irreligious people to boot. Pretending there are gradients of morality when it comes to this stuff is ridiculous.

If the powers that be cared about morality they'd ban the arms trade completely. That, however, would cause fundamental economic problems throughout the western world, as the arms trade is, somewhat ironically considering the entire thing is designed to end lives, vital to our continuing existences. We cannot survive without the money generated by the arms manufacturers.

The current ban is exactly like the British government saying they're going to ban smoking in (some) pubs, because it'll help us get healthier. If they wanted us to get healthier, they'd ban the sale of cigarettes - by far the best way to stop us smoking. They can't, because they need the cash cigarette sales generate. Same with the arms trade. Both the pub smoking ban and the apparent arms export ban are nothing more than PR.

The EU's decision to lift the ban is shit, no doubt about it - you won't catch me claiming China's got a nice regime in charge. The lifting of the ban does, however, make perfect sense - it'll cut down on the black market, raise extra revenue for the various member states, and reduce the manufacturers' shipping costs, as they'll finally be able to sell their weapons whole again rather than pack them up as component parts in separate boxes. US complaints about the EU's decision are tit all to do with a concern for human rights, they are everything to do with economics, as now their own arms salesmen will have more competition.

Again, I say, "Hear, hear" -

"If we're going to have an arms embargo on China for human rights reasons, then let's have a real one and do away with the hypocrisy. Otherwise, please shut up."
Related matters:

The EU-China Human Rights Network
The EU's official page on its relations with China

Bush II: Human rights

US sounds alarm on human rights, But critics say US guilty of torture by its definition.

Interestingly, the report includes a number of key US allies - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Russia - among the list of those with a somewhat suspect approach to treating people nicely.

Could Bush's second term finally see an end to the kind of hypocricy we've grown used to of ticking off countries America doesn't like for doing things key allies brazenly get away with right under the noses of US officials? Might Bush II see an attempt to follow a more progressive, Nixon-style foreign policy rather than the belligerent, Reagan-style approach we've seen over the last four years? Is this all just for show, or is this the beginning of a definite shift in approach?

Meanwhile, in Britain, Charles Clarke makes a mockery of the concept of parliamentary procedure, and the government's majority in passing the controversial (to put it mildly) bill proposing all kinds of authoritarian measures is reduced to 14. Clarke, despite making some minor last-minute concessions (surely demonstrating that the policy hasn't exactly been properly thought through?), has said that he will give no more.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, has condemned the government's proposals as a "profound injustice and affront to human rights and the rule of law".

Will President Bush now start ticking off Tony and co for their proposed human rights abuses? Considering the report finds space to give the UK a slap on the wrist for its overcrowded prisons, perhaps house arrests and control orders will actually be seen as an improvement...

Update: Hmmm... Could this human rights report be an attempt to compile a list of dodgy nations so that the US can quickly work out where to send people for "outsourcing"?

("Right, this chap's probably been a bit naughty - where can we send him where they'll deprive him of sleep, strip and blindfold him, and keep him in prolonged solitary confinement until he tells us what we want?"

"How about Egypt, Libya or Iran, boss?"

"Egypt it is! Right, son - you're off to see the Pharohs!")

Update 2: A rather nice overview of some of the political theory behind the current concerns in the UK, courtesy of the really rather good Transatlantic Assembly, taking in bits of Habermas, Mouffe and Laclau, and demonstrating nicely that there's really no need to rely on irrelevant 800 year old manuscripts to demonstrate that what the government is proposing is wrong:

"There is nothing more persuasive and illustrative of a liberty of a particular society as the expressed liberty of the intolerant. As it was mentioned in a metaphor of a tight-rope walker, the art of good exercise of state power is the art of the toleration of the intolerant or in other words a careful balancing of the wish to protect the constitutional order of the given state and the acceptance of the risk of its destruction. A drive towards absolute security is the main enemy of the ideal of a liberal-democratic state."
Good stuff.

Update 3: Via Bloggerheads, the new Observer blog has a link not only to the list of which MPs voted which way (handy reference for the upcoming election), but also a transcript of a superb account from Barbara Follett MP of why detention orders should be anathema to the British way of life:
"In 1961, the South African Government introduced the General Law Amendment Act, which allowed people to be detained for 12 days without trial. By 1963, that had been extended to 90 days. By 1965, it was 180 days. Two years later, it became indefinite. At the same time, the apartheid regime was issuing control orders that restricted the right of some citizens to congregate, to work and, in some cases, to leave the confines of their own homes...

"My first husband was put under house arrest because the apartheid state believed that he was a threat to its security. He probably was; he was campaigning to give black people the right to vote and join trade unions. Given the structure of the South African state, he probably was threatening it because it believed that only whites could vote and join trade unions. House arrest hampered him, but did not stop him, which was probably why, just before his five-year order was due to expire, he was shot dead in front of our two young daughters in their bedroom. I tried to comfort them in the days that followed by telling them that we were going to go to Britain, where people were not detained without trial or put under house arrest."

No one cares

But there's now some "about this blog" style information to the right there. Every now and again some people seem to get confused about motivations, the fact I write under a pseudonym and such like - that might prevent such occurances. Any other questions, leave a comment in the appropriate section and I'll try and get back to you at some point.

Fascinating, eh?

Monday, February 28, 2005

Convenient coincidence?

One thing that always makes me chuckle going through London these days is the announcement you always get on the tube: "In this time of heightened security..." Of course, the very fact that they have to make such an announcement shows just how insecure we're all supposed to be feeling.

Today, Home Secretary Charles Clarke's delightful plan to give himself the power to lock us all up without trial is going to be rushed through the Commons. Labour's huge majority and Blair's mindless lackeys will easily be enough to see it through. But the press and public is still hostile (bar Rupert Murdoch's lot at the Sun, News of the World and Times - total readership well in excess of all the other national newspapers put together). Even the Prime Minister's wife - a far, far better legal mind than old Tony will ever be, whether you like the woman or not - is vehemently opposed.

The complacency of the public is dangerous, do you hear? By worrying about our freedoms and the ability to live our lives unimpeded we're only aiding the terrorists.

So, is it just me who finds it a tad suspicious that today - of all days - has been chosen for the launch of the London Metropolitan Police's new "terrorism awareness" campaign?

Update: Something told me I wouldn't be the only one...

Update 2: Remember, folks - BE AFRAID - "there are several hundred of them in this country who we believe are engaged in plotting or trying to commit terrorist acts".

We can't PROVE it, of course... You'll just have to take our word for it. And hey, we wouldn't lie to you, would we?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Some Sunday reading

Busy working out fancy HTML code and stuff. Have some interesting bits and pieces:

Blog housekeeping

Right people, I've found out a handy way to keep this thing looking a bit tidier, so now archives are to the right in funky little drop-down menu things (click and they shalt appear).

I'm probably going to expand this to links and things as well at some stage - should make life easier.

Speaking of which, I accidentally deleted some links a few weeks back, and I can't remember what they were. If anyone thinks I should be linking to them - or that I've missed anyone, please let me know. I've just added a few on which I had assumed I'd linked to ages ago and hadn't, so there's a good chance that absentmindedness has been my curse once again.

I've also just installed some Sitemeter code, in the vague hope that by making my visitor stats semi-public I can qualify for the minor ego boost that is a place on the British Blogs Top 10. The top 10 is unlikely (to put it mildly), but top 50 is possible. Although installing midway through a Sunday (the slowest day of the week) is probably not a good way to get my average stats up.

Still - absolutely no one cares about this, do they?

Monday edit: I've decided I don't care either. Sitemeter's shit, so I've got rid of it. The fact the Britblogs top 10 has ended already partially helped, although as there's now a similar list for European blogs, I could have kept it up. But I couldn't be arsed.

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