The Propaganda of Death

by craig on March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

The terrible loss of life in the Malaysian air crash is tragic.  But the attempt to ramp up a terrorism scare is ghoulish.  We even had both the BBC and Sky speculating that it was the Uighurs.  Now the suppression of Uighur culture and religion by the Chinese had been a great and long-term evil, and the West has been only too eager to shoehorn their story into the “Islamic terrorism” story.  There is of course an enormous security industry, both government and private, which makes a very fat living out of “combating Islamic terrorism”, and a media  which make a fat living out of helping to ramp it.  Their spreading of fear has been extraordinarily successful given that Islamic terrorism is an extraordinarily low level threat and people throughout the Western world are vastly more likely to drown in their own bath than be killed by an Islamic terrorist.  Indeed you are about 1,000 times more likely to be killed by a member of your own family than by an Islamic terrorist, though the risk of either is extremely slim.

The media uncritically trotted out the story that it was Uighur terrorists who were responsible for the dreadful knife attack at a Chinese railway station – with no evidence except that the Chinese government say so.  Only when they impugn the Uighurs does the western media drop its wary disbelief of statements from the Chinese government.

There is no evidence at all that the Malaysian plane was brought down by terrorists.  The Air France plane crash in 2009, for example, was caused by ice crystals in the pitot tubes giving incorrect air speed readings to the autopilot – this was because the plane had been incorrectly cleaned with a pressure hose rather than damp cloths.  Most air crashes are caused by faulty maintenance procedures. [A number of people have since commented that pilot error is a more frequent cause.  They may be right - but Uighur terrorists it ain't].

The two people on board with false passports were routed on to Amsterdam, and the obvious explanation is that they were illegal immigrants who had bought stolen passports.  This is very common indeed.  I know from my own diplomatic experience that passports frequently have to be replaced by tourists who no longer have them.  I also know (and I do not refer to the specific individuals referred here) that very frequently indeed the person who has “lost” the passport has sold it.  At tourist hotspots likely people are often approached to sell their passport, (about US$600 is the going rate for an EU passport) and then declare it stolen and apply for a new one.  It is a scam you encounter frequently in backpacking destinations, Thailand being a key example.

It is a peculiar kind of terrorism which does not seek to claim “credit” or publicise what has been done..  No suicide videos have emerged.  That the Uighurs would attack a plane from a state of their fellow Muslims is a ludicrous claim.  Do not be taken in by the Ministry of Fear and its media lackeys.

Stating the Obvious

by craig on March 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

One of the ironies of the Ukraine situation which has drawn no comment I can find is that the Ukrainians have been lectured on democracy by Baroness Ashton, who heads EU foreign policy despite never having been elected to anything.  A distinction she shares with Baroness Amos, now in charge of beating the drum for a war on Syria at the UN.  Amos was closely involved as a minister with the UK invasion of Sierra Leone, and shortly after resigning from office became a Director of Sierra Leone’s rutile mine, the single most profitable mine in the world.

Putin’s Victorious Defeat

by craig on March 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

Just a month ago, Putin had one of his pet oligarchs, the firmly pro-Russian multi-billionaire Yanukovich, in power in Ukraine.  Putin had been to an awful lot of trouble to ensure that Yanukovich got elected.  It is undoubtedly true that the United States and its allies funded various pro-western groups in the Ukraine – my friend Ray McGovern, former senior CIA, put a figure of US$100 million on it, and he should know.  The resources Putin poured in to ensure Yanukovich’s election were more in kind than financial, but were not on too different a scale.

In earlier attempts to put Yanukovich in power, Putin had in 2004 helped organise massive electoral fraud, and Putin’s secret service had attempted to assassinate Victor Yushchenko.  The 2010 election of Yanukovich also involved a great deal of fraud.  Russia is an influential member of the OSCE, Ukraine is also a member and that organization is notably mealy-mouthed in pointing out the derelictions of its own members. Nonetheless its observation mission of the 2010 Presidential elections stated:

 ”The presidential election met most OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections and consolidated progress achieved since 2004. The process was transparent and offered voters a genuine choice between candidates representing diverse political views. However, unsubstantiated allegations of large-scale electoral fraud negatively affected the election atmosphere and voter confidence in the process.”

That is about as close as the OSCE has ever come to accusing one of its own members of fraud.  International organisations have their obvious limitations.

Putin had put years of effort into getting the President of Ukraine which he wanted, and he had him.  Yanukovich attempted to steer an even-handed path between Russia and the West, while putting his main effort into acquiring an astonishing personal fortune.  Putin lost patience when Yanukovich appeared ready to sign an EU association agreement, and put extremely heavy pressure on Yanukovich over debt, energy supplies, and doubtless some deeply personal pressures too.  Yanukovich backed down from the EU Association agreement and signed a new trade deal with Russia, appearing on the path to Putin’s cherished new Eurasian customs union.

The west – and not only the west – of Ukraine erupted into popular protest.  The reason for this is perfectly simple. Income, lifestyle, education, health and social security for ordinary people are far better in western and central Europe than they are in Russia.  The standard of living for ordinary Polish people in Poland has caught up at a tremendous rate towards the rest of the EU.  I am not depending on statistics here – I have lived in Poland, travelled widely in Poland and speak Polish.  I was professionally involved in the process of Polish economic transformation.  There have been a large number of commenters on this blog this last few days who deny that the standard of living for ordinary people in Poland is better as a result of EU membership, and believe life for ordinary people is better in Russia than in the west.  I also of course speak Russian and have travelled widely in Russia.  Frankly, you have to be so ideologically blinkered to believe that, I have no concerns if such people leave this blog and never come back; they are incapable of independent thought anyway.

Undoubtedly pro-western groups financed by the US and others played a part in the anti-Yanukovich movement.  They may have had a catalytic role, but that cannot detract from the upswell of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who were not paid by the West, and drove Yanukovich from power. It is true that, when the situation became violent some very unpleasant nationalist, even fascist, groups came to the fore.  There is a great deal of extreme right wing thuggery in all the former Soviet Union – ask Uzbeks who live in Russia.  The current government in power in Kiev seem a diverse bunch, and seem to include some pleasant people and some very unpleasant people.  Elections this year will make things clearer.   It is also true that corruption is the norm among the Ukrainian political elite, across any nationalist or ideological divides.

In a very short space of time, Putin went from the triumph of killing off the EU Association agreement to the disaster of completely losing control of Kiev.  But for reasons including trade, infrastructure and debt, the new government was bound to come back to some relationship and accommodation with Putin eventually.  It just needed patience.

Instead of which, Putin decided to go for a macho seizure of the Crimea.  There is no doubt that the actions of surrounding military bases and government buildings by Russian forces, and controlling roads and borders, are illegal under international law.  There also appears little doubt that a large proportion of Crimea’s population would like union with Russia, though whether a genuine majority I am not sure.  I am sure under these circumstances of intimidation and military occupation, the referendum will show a massive majority.  Hitler pulled the same trick.

So now Putin can stride the stage as the macho guy who outfoxed the west and used his military to win Crimea for Mother Russia.  But it is an extremely hollow victory.  He has gained Crimea, but lost the other 95% of the Ukraine, over which one month ago he exercised a massive political influence.

The western powers will not bring any really effective sanctions that would harm the financial interests of the interconnected super-rich, be they Russian oligarchs or City bankers.  But they will now do what they were not prepared to do before, provide enough resources to make Ukraine politically free of Russia.  The EU has already agreed to match the US$19 billion in guarantees Putin had promised to Yanukovich. Before the annexation of Crimea the EU was not prepared to do that.

The Crimea was the only ethnic Russian majority province in Ukraine.  Donetsk does not have an ethnic Russian majority, only a Russian speaking majority – just like Cardiff has an English speaking majority.  The difference is key to understand the situation, and largely ignored by the mainstream media.  Without Crimea, the chances of the pro-Putin forces in the rest of Ukraine ever mustering an electoral majority are extremely slim.  Putin has gained Crimea and lost Ukraine – has he really won?

The real tragedy, of course, is that Ukraine’s relationships are viewed as a zero-sum game.  Russia has huge interests in common with Europe.  I hope to see Ukraine a member of the EU in the next decade, and Putin has made that vastly more likely than it was a month ago.  But why does that have to preclude a close economic relationship with Russia?  The EU should not operate as a barrier against the rest of the world, but as a zone of complete freedom within and ever-expanding freedom to  and from without.  And European Union will never be complete until Russia, one of the greatest of European cultures, is a member.

 

 

 

 

Bygones

by craig on March 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Sometimes an ethical dilemma can arise between justice in an individual case, and the wider needs of society.  In general, pursuing individual justice should be the priority; the law should indeed be blind.  One of the greatest abuses of power in the UK in my lifetime was Tony Blair’s intervention to halt the prosecution of BAE executives for massive corruption, on the basis that revealing corruption among Saudi sheikhs, and damaging our great manufacturer of instruments of death, was against the “wider national interest”.

The long term consequences of such exceptionalism are a license for government abuse.  However, in the question of the guarantees given to wanted paramilitaries from Northern Ireland that they would not be prosecuted, I believe the correct thing was done, and the coming inquiry is not helpful – it is like sticking a knife into a wound to check how it is healing.

I grappled with these questions in a still more extreme form as UK representative at the Sierra Leone peace talks.  The only way to end long-running violent conflicts is to talk and reason with the parties, and seek to redress the underlying causes of conflict.  To seek to inflict further state violence, in the form of imprisonment, can undermine the process.  This requires very difficult moral compromise, and it is unavoidable that victims will feel they have not obtained individual justice.  I can even understand that in these circumstances it can be right for certain amnesties or actions to be unacknowledged or secret.

Peter Hain spoke great sense last week when he said that to keep the peace in Northern Ireland, we have to let go of the past, and stop pursuing not only IRA men, but also policemen, soldiers and official murderers like those who organized the killing of Pat Finucane.  This is hard indeed for the families and the maimed, I realize.  I am also particularly pleased that John Downey did not have to stand trial; experience shows that the chances of a fair trial for accused Irish nationalists in England are slim.

Crimea Referendum

by craig on March 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

The principle of self-determination should be the overriding consideration, and the Crimean Parliament’s decision to hold a referendum on union with Russia is something which always needed to be part of a solution.  But plainly  this month is much too fast, and a referendum campaign which gives people an informed and democratic choice cannot be held while the Crimea is under Russian occupation and those against the proposed union with Russia are suffering violence and intimidation.

The EU needs to move towards Putin.  An approach that sticks rigidly to Ukrainian territorial integrity being inviolate is sterile.  An international agreement is possible, if the EU makes plain to Russia that it accepts the principle of self-determination.  Agreement should then be reached on immediate withdrawal of Russian forces into their allocated bases in Crimea, and back to Russia if there are indeed extraneous numbers, and an international monitoring presence for the OSCE.

The referendum should then be scheduled for the end of this year, with guarantees of freedom of speech and campaigning, equal media access and all the usual democratic safeguards, again to be monitored by the OSCE.

The apparent pullback from violence has been very useful, but the diplomatic and economic fallout is still potentially very damaging.  Following the Anschluss, Hitler held a referendum in Austria within one month of the military takeover and received 99.7% support.  At the moment Putin stands open to a legitimate accusation of pulling precisely the same stunt in precisely the same timescale.

 

 

 

Yanukovich and Kabbah

by craig on March 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

My old boss Mark Lyall Grant, UK Ambassador to the United Nations, is a deeply unpleasant man.  But he was quite right to dismiss Russia’s legal pretext for invading Ukraine on the basis of an invitation letter from ex-President Yanukovich.

The problem is Mark Lyall Grant is the last person in world to have moral authority to do this, as he was directly involved in drafting an invitation letter from ex-President Kabbah of Sierra Leone inviting Britain to invade Sierra Leone, which Britain then did.  Mark Lyall Grant said at the UN yesterday about Yanukovich that:  ”We are talking about a former leader who abandoned his office, his capital and his country, whose corrupt governance brought his country to the brink of economic ruin”.  Exactly the same things could have been said about Kabbah, whose government had been massively corrupt – and was again when restored, and who issued his invitation to invade from a five star hotel in London after living in exile in Guinea.

The unspeakable horrors of the Sierra Leonean civil war have led to a lazy mainstream media accepting Sierra Leone as the “good” invasion.  But the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone were not a spontaneous outbreak of human evil, they were caused by the massive corruption of ruling coastal elites in both Sierra Leone and neighbouring Liberia, compared to the appalling poverty and lack of basic services and education for those in the hinterland.  It is one of the ironies of history that the elites were the descendants of slaves returned with the very best of intentions by the US and UK, educated and given much charitable provision, who controlled the state and then set to exploiting the hinterland tribes ruthlessly from the “hut wars” of the 1880′s on.  The eruption of massive scale diamond mining from the 1960′s on escalated levels of corruption, warlordism and violence and almost continual military rule.  Laudable attempts to foster democracy did nothing to lessen corruption.  The dreadful atrocities of the RUF and Kamajors were a result of the tribal eruption that ensued.

What the British invasion did was simply to put the old corrupt elite safely back in place, and make the minerals secure for western interests.  Even more valuable than the diamonds is Sierra Leone’s rutile mine, the world’s single most profitable mine.  Following the British invasion guess who suddenly became a director of that mine? Valerie Amos, who was one of the ministers who authorized the invasion, and is now at the UN in charge of pushing for war in Syria.

I always opposed the doctrine of “liberal intervention” and still do.  But those who invented “the right to protect” were stupid enough to believe that they would forever be the only military power strong enough to seize assets in other countries.  For the historian, the “right to protect” and “liberal intervention” are precisely the same as excuses given for imperial grabs throughout the millennia.

Invading another territory is wrong when the British do it, and it is wrong when the Russians do it.  It is quite simply untrue that ethnic Russians were under threat in the Ukraine.  International law always recognizes and deals with the government actually in power in the country.  If ousted leaders are accepted as having in the right to call in freeing invasion to restore them, the world would be in a state of perpetual war.

Plainly Russian actions are illegal.  They do have an agreed right to station forces in Crimea.  It is impossible to tell at the moment if the agreed numbers have been exceeded, but the Russian production of Yanukovich’s letter would certainly appear to indicate that.  But Russian actions in blocking roads and blockading Ukrainian military bases on Ukrainian soil are plainly illegal.

Russia is behaving as what it is, an imperialist thug.  The British and the United States indeed lack any moral authority to make such a statement.  But I do not suffer from that handicap, and nor do you.

 

 

PS The story of my Sierra Leone involvement is in my book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo.  This is available for free download in a number of places around the web, including here.

 

 

The Fashion for Hypocrisy

by craig on March 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

Hypocrisy seems to be massively in fashion.  This from William Hague renders me speechless: “Be in no doubt, there will be consequences. The world cannot say it is OK to violate the sovereignty of other nations.”

Then today we have the British Establishment at a closed event in Westminster Abbey in memory of Nelson Mandela.  Prince Harry, David Cameron, all the toffs.  I was never more than a footsoldier in the anti-apartheid movement, but I trudged through the rain and handed out leaflets in Dundee and Edinburgh.  I suspect very few indeed of the guests at this posh memorial service did that.  David Cameron was actively involved in Conservative groups which promoted precisely the opposite cause.

My first appointment in the Foreign Office was to the South Africa (Political) desk in 1984.  The official British government line was that the ANC was a terrorist organization.  I faced hostility and disapproval even when I tried to get action on appalling human rights abuses like the case of Oscar Mpetha (thanks here to Tony Gooch and Terry Curran, they know why).  I got in big trouble for asking how many black guests had been received in the High Commissioner’s residence in Pretoria.

Every day, on a day to day basis, my job involved dealing with members of the British establishment, its political, business and professional communities.  The entire tenor of those meetings was how to prevent economic sanctions, circumvent existing sanctions and prolong the economic advantages to the UK of white rule.  Support for PW Botha was axiomatic.  I have no doubt many of those people or those who worked alongside them are in Westminster Abbey today.

The final extraordinary outbreak of hypocrisy is on the British left.  Russian military invasion of Ukraine is approved by them, because it is an invasion by Russia, and not an invasion by the West.  They are precisely as hypocritical as Hague.  Both think it is OK to violate the sovereignty of other nations, but only by their chosen side.

Until 1917, Russia was an Empire, avowedly so.  Thereafter the Soviet Union was a non-avowed Empire. The Crimea, and the rest of the Caucasus, was not colonized by Russia until the 1820′s onward.  The reason Crimea has a majority Russian population is that Stalin deported the Krim Tartars as recently as the 1930′s.  That was an old fashioned, wholesale  colonial atrocity, precisely similar to the British clearing parts of Kenya for white settlement.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Russian statesmen like Nesselrode appealed to the British in particular, not to oppose their expansion in the Caucasus, because as he said like the British they were white Christian Europeans engaged in a civilizing mission among savages and Muslims.  It was precisely the same colonial motivation the British used.  There is no moral difference, or even overt difference in justification at the time, between British colonization of India and Russian colonization of Chechnya.  Because Britain happens to be an island, we think of Empires as something you get to by ship.  Russia’s Empire happened to be a contiguous land mass.  But Dagestan, Chechnya, and Tartarstan were none the less colonies, exactly as were Kokhand, Bokhara and Khiva, formed to make Uzbekistan.  Yet left wing anti-colonialism does not demand decolonisation by Russia, only the West. Gross hypocrisy.

 

Putin and International Law

by craig on March 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

By sending troops into the Ukraine, (others than those stationed there by agreement) Putin has broken international law.  That does not depend on the Budapest Memorandum.  It would be a breach of international law whether the Budapest Memorandum existed or not.  The effect of the Budapest Memorandum is rather to oblige the US and the UK to do something about it.

The existence of civil disturbance in a country does not justify outside military intervention.  That it does is, of course, the Blair doctrine that I have been campaigning against for 15 years, inside and outside government.  Putin of course opposes such interventions by the West, in Iraq, Syria or Libya, but supports such interventions when he does them, as in Georgia and Ukraine.  That is hypocrisy.  There are elements on the British left who also oppose such interventions when the West does them, but support when Putin does them.  You can see their arguments on the last comments thread: fascinatingly none of them have addressed my point about Putin’s distinct lack of interest in the principle of self-determination when it comes to Chechnya or Dagestan.

The overwhelming need now is to de-escalate the crisis.  People rushing about in tanks and helicopters very often leads to violence, and here Putin is at fault.  There was no imminent physical threat to Russians in the Crimea, and there is no need for all this military activity.  Ukraine should file a case against Russia at the International Court of Justice; the UK and US, as guarantor states, can ask to be attached as guarantor states with an interest in the Budapest Memorandum .  That will fulfil their guarantor obligations without moving a soldier.

The West is not going to provide the kind of massive financial package needed to rescue the Ukraine’s moribund economy and relieve its debts.  It would be great if it did, but with western economies struggling, no western politician is in a position to announce many billions in aid to the Ukraine.  The chances of Ukraine escaping from Russian political and economic domination in the near future are non-existent – the Ukrainians are tied by debt.  That was the hard reality that scuppered the EU/Ukraine agreement.  That hard reality still exists.  The Association Agreement is a very long path to EU membership.

Both Putin and the West are reacting to events which unfolded within Ukraine.  Action by the West was not a significant factor in the toppling by Yanukovich – that was a nationalist reaction to an abrupt change of political direction which seemed to be moving Ukraine decisively into the Russian orbit.  Ukrainians are not stupid and they can see the standard of living in former Soviet Bloc countries which have joined the European Union is now much higher .  Anybody who denies that is deluded.  Of course western governments had programmes to encourage pro-western tendencies in Ukraine, including secret operations. It would be naïve to expect otherwise.  Anybody who thinks Russia was not doing exactly the same is deluded.  But it is a huge mistake to lay too much weight on these efforts – both the West and Russia were taken aback by the strength and speed of the political convulsions in Ukraine, and everybody is still paying catch-up.

Which is why we now need a period of calm, and an end to dangerous military adventurism – which undeniably is coming primarily from Russia.  Political dialogue needs to be resumed.  It is interesting that even the pro-Russian assembly of Crimea region has only called a referendum on more devolved powers, not on union with Russia or independence.  However I still maintain the best way forward is agreement on internationally supervised referenda to settle the position.  The principle of self-determination should be the most important one here.  If any of the regions of Ukraine wish to secede, the goal should be a peaceful and orderly transition.  Effective military annexation by Putin, and insistence by the West that national boundaries cannot be changed, are both unproductive stances.

 

 

 

Territorial Integrity

by craig on March 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

I am inclined to think the concept of territorial integrity is overrated.  100 years ago, a guarantee of Belgium’s territorial integrity led Britain into the most disastrous of wars.  Thankfully for all the huffing and puffing about Ukraine’s territorial integrity, no outside power is going to be stupid enough to declare war on Russia.

The boundaries of states are accidents of history.  Ukraine’s certainly are.  There never had been a Ukrainian national state until 25 years ago, and the boundaries of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic were never intended to define a nation state.  Indeed Crimea, which has never in history been ethnically or linguistically Ukrainian (it was Tartar before Stalin deported them), was only added on to the Ukrainian SSR within my lifetime for some obscure reason of Soviet politburo politics.

Rather than burble on about territorial integrity, the western world would do better to cut a deal with Putin wherein referenda on their future in Ukrainian provinces are held under international supervision with some degree of fairness.  Personally I very much want to see Ukraine in the EU, but not with a tail of Russian provinces who really do not want to be there.

Putin, of course, is a total hypocrite.  There is no doubt that the populations of Dagestan and Chehcnya had a genuine and settled desire to secede from Russia, and they have suffered Putin’s genocidal policies in consequence.  Putin is not acting from a belief in self-determination, but from naked Russian nationalism.  That is what is so amusing about the deluded left wingers supporting him against the nationalists of Kiev.

Referenda in the provinces of Ukraine, certainly.  But how about internationally supervised referenda in Dagestan and Chechnya as well?

Goosestep Foot Forward

by craig on February 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Security state” fruitcake Rupert Sutton of the ultra neo-con Henry Jackson Society has an article on the puzzlingly named and indescribably dull Zionist blog Left Foot Forward, in which he attacks Moazzam Begg.

Sutton displays precisely the mind-set of the security state, that led GCHQ to intercept the webcam chats of 1.4 million completely random British people, in the hope of finding Islamic terrorists. (They didn’t find any terrorists, but they did look at over 100,000 people masturbating).  Sutton states that Begg must be a terrorist because  ”a convicted Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) supporter identified as ‘D’ ” had used Begg’s bookshop.  And he calls me “conspiratorial”!  The poor man must see terrorists everywhere.  The fact that Moazzam Begg is now detained again, had been detained for years, has had everything belonging to him searched microscopically, and nothing has ever been found to justify a criminal charge of any kind, means nothing to witchfinder Sutton.  That anti-Muslim bigot is plainly convinced of Moazzam Begg’s guilt, though as he has not been charged, of what is unsure.

I strongly suspect Sutton supports the torture and extraordinary rendition which Begg was investigating in Syria.  If Sutton opposes torture by the state, all his pontificating on how to counter terrorism has never mentioned such opposition to torture.  Sutton manages not to mention what Begg has said he was doing in Syria at all in his article.

You may wonder why a blog called Left Foot Forward is giving space to an odious warmonger like Sutton.  All becomes clear when you realize that Left Foot Forward was founded by Will Straw, the son of Jack Straw, the enforcer of Britain’s torture policy, and the subject of Moazzam Begg’s researches into British complicity in torture.  Will Straw has succeeded to his father’s hereditary Labour candidacy for Blackburn.  The most recent article on Left Foot Forward attacks Venezuela’s socialist party and supports the CIA funded Venezuelan opposition.  Will is plainly a chip off the old block.

Release Moazzam Begg National Protest
Saturday 1 March: 12 Noon
Outside West Midlands Police Headquarters
Lloyd House, Colmore Circus Queensway
Birmingham B4 6NQ

Tories Campaign Against Scottish Independence (Shock)

by craig on February 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Keith Skeoch, Executive Director of Standard Life, is on the Board of Reform Scotland, the neo-conservative lobby group which wants to abolish the minimum wage,  privatize the NHS and pensions and restrict trade unions further.

It is difficult for Tories openly to campaign against Scottish Independence as everyone in Scotland hates them, so they do it with their corporate hats on.  This is most of the board of Standard Life:

Keith Skeoch, Executive Director, right wing political lobbyist

Crawford Gillies, Non Executive Director, Chairman of Control Risk Group, of London, the “security consultancy” of choice heavily peopled by ex MI5 and MI6 officers

Garry Grimstone, Chairman, “lead non-executive” at the Ministry of Defence, London

Noel Harwerth, non-executive Director, Director of “London First” – [Honestly, I am not making this up]

David Nish – Chief Executive, Member of the “UK Strategy Committee” of “TheCity UK”. “TheCity UK” being a body of the City of London.

John Paynter, non-executive Director, was vice chairman of JP Morgan Cazenove until the 2008 crash

Amazing that lot oppose independence, huh?

Standard Life also threatened to leave at the time of the devolution referendum and gave out no campaign materials to staff.  “Leave” of course is a relative concept – the above bunch just pop up from London from time to time to check on how the serfs are doing.

 

Moazzam Begg a Political Prisoner Again

by craig on February 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

I first met Moazzam Begg in 2005 when he came to support my campaign in Blackburn against Jack Straw.  I was immediately struck by how gentle he is.  For somebody who has been through Guantanamo Bay and suffered torture and injustice, he is free of bitterness and rancour to a degree I find quite astonishing.  It is an extraordinary spiritual quality, comparable to that of Nelson Mandela.  He does not hate.  That impression has only been reinforced every time I see him, and comes over well in his book.

What the British state did to me for opposing their torture programme was bad enough, but nothing to what Moazzam suffered.  Yet he is much less embittered than I am.

The fall of Libya further revealed the terrible truth about the extraordinary rendition programme and undeniable evidence of British complicity in torture.  This included of course the appalling case of the Belhadj family, orchestrated by criminal torturers Jack Straw and Sir Mark Allen.  As Assad’s Syria was even more involved than Libya in the extraordinary rendition programme as a supplier of torture for the UK and US intelligence services, Moazzam sensibly concluded that evidence may now be available there to be recovered from the chaos.  He has been to Syria to that end.

Last week my friend Ray McGovern called on Moazzam and discussed Syria.  Ray briefed me on the conversation, and Moazzam’s take was one of great regret at the bloodshed and despair at the ferocity of inter-Muslim rifts.  It was the opposite of violent partisanship to support one side.

Moazzam Begg has not been arrested for terrorism in Syria.  He has been arrested to stop him digging for further evidence of complicity in torture by senior politicians and civil servants in the UK.

Why Should Ukraine Not Split?

by craig on February 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

There had never been an Ukrainian nation state until the last twenty five years.  The boundaries of the old Soviet Socialist Republics were never intended to define nation states, and indeed were in part designed to guard against forming potentially dangerous cohesive units.  The Ukrainians are a nation and f they wish are certainly entitled to a state, but that its borders must be those defined, and changed several times, by the Soviet Union for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic is not axiomatic.

It is not true that there is a general desire for secession for Ukraine on the linguistic and broadly West East split.  It is true that key political attitudes do correlate closely to the linguistic split, with Russian speakers identifying with the ousted government, and favouring closer ties with Russian over closer ties with the West, while Ukrainian speakers overwhelmingly favour EU integration.  But that does not translate into a general desire by the Russian speakers to secede from a Ukraine that goes the other way.  The key to this is that two thirds of Russian speaking Ukrainian nationals view themselves as ethnically Ukrainian, not Russian.  Only a third of Russian speakers, a sixth of the general population, regard themselves as ethnically Russian.  It does appear to be true that among those who view themselves as ethnically Russian, there is a significant desire for union with Russia, and that there is probably a majority in some Eastern provinces for that idea, probably including Crimea.  But the area involved is far smaller than the linguistically Russian area.

Ethnicity is of course a less tangible concept than linguistic identity, and has little claim to objective reality, particularly in an area with such turbulent history of population movement.  But it is futile to pretend it has no part in the idea of a nation state, and is best regarded as a cultural concept of self-identification.

The historical legacy is extremely complex.  Kievan Rus was essential to the construction of Russian identity, but for Russia to claim Kiev on that basis would be like France claiming Scandinavia because that is where the Normans came from.  Kievan Rus was destroyed and or displaced by what historical shorthand calls the Mongal hordes, almost a millennium ago.  Ukrainian history is fascinating, the major part of it having been at various times under Horde, Lithuanian, Polish, Krim Tartar, Galician, Cossack Federation, Russian and Soviet rule.

Still just within living memory, one in seven Ukrainians, including almost the entire intellectual and cultural elite, was murdered by Stalin.  An appalling genocide.  Like Katyn a hundred times over.  That is the poisonous root of the extreme right nationalism that has rightly been identified as a dangerous element in the current revolution.  Pro-western writers have largely overlooked the fascists and left wing critics have largely overlooked Stalin.  His brutal massacre and ethnic cleansing of the Krim Tartar is also relevant – many were forcibly deported to Uzbekistan, and I have heard the stories direct.

Having served in the British Embassy in Poland shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I regard as blinkered those who deny that membership of the European Union would be a massive advantage to Ukraine.  In 1994 there was very little difference in the standard of living in both countries – I saw it myself. The difference is now enormous, and that really means in the standard of living of ordinary working people.  Poland’s relationship with, and eventual membership of, the European Union has undoubtedly been a key factor.  Those who wish Ukraine instead to be linked to the raw commodity export economy of Putin’s Russia are no true friends of the working people. Ukraine’s accidental boundaries include, of course, the great formerly Polish city of Lvov.

Ukraine is an accidental state and its future will be much brighter if it is a willing union.  It needs not just Presidential and Parliamentary elections, but also a federal constitution and a referendum on whether any of its provinces would prefer to join Russia.  That can give an agreed way forward to which Russia might also subscribe, and defuse the current crisis.  It would suit the long term interest of both the Ukraine and the West.  I fear however that the politicians will be too macho to see it.

 

 

 

Cameron’s Prime Aberdeen Angus Bullshit

by craig on February 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

David Cameron is peddling bullshit of the premium Aberdeen Angus kind today.  At today’s oil prices, recoverable North Sea oil is worth a minimum of 1.2 trillion and a maximum of 2.4 trillion dollars.   Cameron is claiming that potential will not be released without government subsidy of 24 billion dollars, and that only the UK government’s “broad shoulders” can raise this.

It is nauseous to dive into such bulllshit to analyse it.  To knock a few noughts off, Cameron is saying that it is impossible to raise £10 investment if you have a guaranteed return of £5,000 and possibly £10,000.  Salmond’s counter that Norway manages these things is perfectly valid.

Am I the only one who wonders why the taxpayer, under Cameron’s plan, the taxpayer – ie you and me – should fund $20 billion to decommission oil platforms when the oil companies made, at today’s values, over $400 billion in straight profit from those platforms?  That payment to the oil companies constitutes 83% of the money from the UK which Cameron claims an independent Scotland would miss out on.  The money would not actually go to Scotland at all – it would go to British Gas, BP, Shell, Exxon and other such needy people, to compensate them for polluting us (sic!).

Finally, the taxation revenue to Scotland from the oil and gas after independence will be a minimum of $240 billion and a maximum of $500 billion more to the Scottish taxpayer if Scotland were independent, than the share Scotland will get within the UK.  Purely in terms of government revenue, Scotland will still be at least US 216 billion better off in taxes even if it pays the precious 24 billion Cameron is harping on about today.

Finally, the Cabinet is in Aberdeen and discussing vital revenue and investment questions, but where are they hiding George Osborne?  Have they hidden him behind a curtain with a bucket on his head?  Come on, we want George! Bring out your Family Trust Fund Public Schoolboys!!

 

The Security State Crushes Ever Tighter

by craig on February 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

The disgraceful judges of Britain’s High Court – who have gone along with torture, extraordinary rendition, every single argument for mass surveillance and hiding information from the public, and even secret courts – have ruled that it was lawful for the Home Office to detain David Miranda, a journalist as information he was carrying might in some undefined way, and if communicated to them, aid “terrorists”.

Despite the entire industry, both private and governmental, devoted to whipping up fear, it is plain to pretty well everyone by now that terrorism is about the most unlikely way for you to die.  A car accident is many hundreds of times more likely.  Even drowning in your own bath is more likely.  Where is the massive industry of suppression against baths?

I had dinner inside the Ecuadorian Embassy on Sunday with Julian Assange, who I am happy to say is as fit and well as possible in circumstances of confinement.  Amongst those present was Jesselyn Radack, attorney for, among others, Edward Snowden.  Last week on entering the UK she was pulled over by immigration and interrogated about her clients.  The supposed “immigration officer” already knew who are Jesselyn Radack’s clients.  He insisted aggressively on referring repeatedly to Chelsea Manning as a criminal, to which Jesselyn quietly replied that he was a political prisoner.  But even were we to accept the “immigration officer’s” assertion, the fact that an attorney defends those facing criminal charges is neither new nor until now considered reprehensible and illegitimate.

As various states slide towards totalitarianism, a defining factor is that their populations really don’t notice.  Well, I have noticed.  Have you?

 

 

 

Syria and Diplomacy

by craig on January 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

The problem with the Geneva Communique from the first Geneva round on Syria is that the government of Syria never subscribed to it.  It was jointly chaired by the League of Arab States for Syria, whatever that may mean.  Another problem is that it is, as so many diplomatic documents are, highly ambiguous.  It plainly advocates a power sharing executive formed by some of the current government plus the opposition to oversee a transition to democracy.  But it does not state which elements of the current government, and it does not mention which elements of the opposition, nor does it make plain if President Assad himself is eligible to be part of, or to head, the power-sharing executive, and whether he is eligible to be a candidate in future democratic elections.

Doubtless the British, for example, would argue that the term transition implies that he will go.  The Russians will argue there is no such implication and the text does not exclude anybody from the process.  Doubtless also diplomats on all sides were fully aware of these differing interpretations and the ambiguity is quite deliberate to enable an agreed text. I would say that the text tends much more to the “western” side, and that this reflects the apparently weak military position of the Assad regime at that time and the then extant threat of western military intervention.  There has been a radical shift in those factors against the western side in the interim. Expect Russian interpretations now to get more hardline.

Given the extreme ambiguity of the text, Iran has, as it frequently does, shot itself in the foot diplomatically by refusing to accept the communique as the basis of talks and thus getting excluded from Geneva.  Iran should have accepted the communique, and then at Geneva issued its own interpretation of it.

But that is a minor point.  The farcical thing about the Geneva conference is that it is attempting to promote into power-sharing in Syria “opposition” members who have no democratic credentials and represent a scarcely significant portion of those actually fighting the Assad regime in Syria.  What the West are trying to achieve is what the CIA and Mossad have now achieved in Egypt; replacing the head of the Mubarak regime while keeping all its power structures in place. The West don’t really want democracy in Syria, they just want a less pro-Russian leader of the power structures.

The inability of the British left to understand the Middle East is pathetic.  I recall arguing with commenters on this blog who supported the overthrow of the elected President of Egypt Morsi on the grounds that his overthrow was supporting secularism, judicial independence (missing the entirely obvious fact the Egyptian judiciary are almost all puppets of the military) and would lead to a left wing revolutionary outcome.  Similarly the demonstrations against Erdogan in Istanbul, orchestrated by very similar pro-military forces to those now in charge in Egypt, were also hailed by commenters here.  The word “secularist” seems to obviate all sins when it comes to the Middle East.

Qatar will be present at Geneva, and Qatar has just launched a pre-emptive media offensive by launching a dossier on torture and murder of detainees by the Assad regime, which is being given first headline treatment by the BBC all morning

There would be a good dossier to be issued on torture in detention in Qatar, and the lives of slave workers there, but that is another question.

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime.  It is a very unpleasant regime indeed.  The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure.  What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace.  The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it.  Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech.  What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case.  It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor.  He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting.  He is acting as a barrister in private practice.  Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers.  He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting.  That is his job.  He probably regards that as not reprehensible.  What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights.  I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it.  He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”.  He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report?  How much did it pay the other experts?  Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview?  In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

That is what any decent journalist would ask.  Which is why you will never hear those questions on the BBC.

 

 

 

Those Romanians and Bulgarians

by craig on January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

One achievement of which I am very proud was my part in ensuring that the UK did not place restrictions on the right to free movement of the first EU Eastern European accession wave.  The arrival of so many Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Latvians etc in the UK has been a brilliant social and cultural development and provided some support for an economy wrecked by the reckless greed of bankers.

There can be no more stark illustration of the tiny political space occupied by the major political parties and portrayed by the mainstream media as the only “serious” political opinion, than New Labour’s shrill contention that the bankers of RBS/Natwest should only be allowed 100% of salary as a bonus and not 200%.  Why not about 5% like other civil servants, which is what they are.

To return to the subject, free movement of peoples is a great thing.  I do not want governments to tell people where they can and cannot go.  It is wonderful that I can wake up tomorrow and decide to settle in Trieste or Gorzow Wielkopolski, without permission from anybody.  Don’t take it for granted, think about it – isn’t it wonderful?

My role?  I was First Secretary Political and Economic in the British Embassy in Warsaw when the question of our attitude to free movement on accession was decided, and I produced a paper on the subject.  I researched it quite assiduously, including a meeting with the five Romany Kings of Poland in the castle at Oswiecim – Auschwitz.  My conclusion was that there would be no mass migration, but many young Polish people might typically come for a few years to work and earn money to start a home back in Poland.  My paper was influential and I was much congratulated.  Incidentally, I very much underestimated how many Polish people would come, but I am unrepentant – in fact extremely happy about it.

When I first achieved serious political consciousness, in my teen years, I should have been horrified if you had told me that in my lifetime the government would defend the receipt of intelligence from torture and indefinite detention without trial, and much educated opinion would agree.  I would not have believed the government would pay for poster vans going round with signs telling immigrants to go home.  And I would not have believed that some poor Romanian chap arriving in the UK would have been hounded by reporters- to general approbation – because of his ethnicity.

The fundamental worries about Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants do have one rational basis.  More than any other EU states, Romania and Bulgaria were admitted despite the fact that they blatantly did not meet the acquis communitaire across the full range of economic and governance measures.  The decision to pretend they did was fundamentally dishonest, and that will always have future ill-effects.  Romania and Bulgaria are less developed, worse governed and therefore more prone to mass economic emigration.

While I deprecate the dishonesty of pretending they met the acquis, however I did and do support their membership of the EU.  It was the right strategic move.  An approach that said, “you do not meet the acquis, but we will admit you to membership, now let’s work out the consequences” would have had better success.  The EU’s great mistake at present is not offering a fast track to very early membership to Ukraine on a similar basis.

In a couple of decades Bulgaria and Romania will have caught up.  I expect that, because of the difficulties of the societies from which they come in terms of crime and governance, it is not unlikely that there will be a larger proportion of social problems from these new immigrants than from other recent Eastern European immigration, and doubtless we will see these trumpeted in the racist press.  But in the long run, it is another great addition to our country and increase to our own freedoms.  I must go look at the countryside of Eastern Romania.

 

 

 

 

Signifying Nothing

by craig on January 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

empire

 

The image was the thing.  Those serried American flags beneath their burnished and distinctly imperial eagles.  Obama’s speech on the NSA was devoid of meaningful content.  The threats against Snowden and the references to America’s right to spy on its potential enemies – which seemed to mean everybody – were obviously heartfelt.  The “restrictions” on the NSA were devoid of intent, mumbled and hedged around.  Actually you don’t have to analyse what he said.  The picture says it all.

Reading the acres of media comment devoted to this exercise in changing nothing, it does seem that the task I face in explaining things is easier than I expected.  Nobody seems actually to be fooled.  You have the fascistic tendency – a majority – arguing that Obama is right, and the lesson of 9/11 is that safety can only lie in massive government intrusion into all human interaction all of the time.  Then you have the libertarian tendency, like me, who believe that nobody should be targeted until they have actually done something wrong, and the idea of continual surveillance of entirely innocent people just in case someone somewhere is contemplating doing something they shouldn’t, is terrifying.  What we don’t have much of is people pretending that Obama is actually doing something to curtail the surveillance state.

When Obama failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act against torture and extraordinary rendition, and sanctioned the killing of thousands through drone strikes, for a long time I kept meeting Americans who claimed he was not a neo-con really, but rather playing a subtle game for liberalism to win in the long term.  I don’t know anybody who believes that now, and nobody seems to be arguing it today. Obama is now an open vicious neo-con.  The picture says it all.

Some of it was almost amusing.  Obama plainly said that America would not spy on allied leaders, but reserved the right to spy on every other person in any foreign country.  I found the idea that every German may be spied on except Angela Merkel distinctly amusing.  Less amusing is the idea that the secret courts which are supposed to be a check on the NSA – with their entirely pro-government judges – would be “improved” by the appointment of a secret advocate to argue the case for privacy, without the subjects of the cases having any contact with their advocate or even being aware the case is going on.

Secret Courts are an increasing feature of life in the dog days of western world power.  In the UK we have already for many years had the situation where people may face criminal trials without being allowed to see the intelligence based “evidence” against them – often gained from torture of third parties abroad – and are “represented” by government appointed cleared – i.e. pro-security service – lawyers who are not allowed to tell their clients what the evidence is against them.  We recently have the institution of entirely secret criminal courts in which the entire proceedings are closed.  As Julian Assange pointed out on CNN, even the carefully selected secret court in the USA has found against the NSA on a number of occasions.  Obama’s extraordinary claim that their had been no abuse by the NSA was a straightforward example of the “Big lie” technique.  Again, that picture explains it all.

The suggestion that data be held not by the NSA but by a third party which will be another government institution is risible.  If they insist it is held, I vote Glenn Greenwald holds it.  After a crime has been committed, I have no difficulty with the authorities approaching the communications providers for targeted information which helps the investigation.  The deliberate conflation of that idea with permanent mass surveillance is dishonest – and the constant references to 9/11 to justify any intrusion are chilling.

Actually, what worried me most about the speech was the thought that the 9/11 excuse must be wearing thin, and that we are only seven years away from starting to have voters who weren’t even born at the time.  All those who make an extremely fat living from the security state, or who benefit in other ways economically from the docility of a population quiescent through the manipulation of fear, will start shortly to have need of a new and more urgent bogeyman.  That really will start to make the world a more dangerous place – and the danger comes from those claiming to protect us.

Look at the picture.

War Criminals on TV

by craig on January 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

Seeing Tony Blair speaking at Ariel Sharon’s Funeral – one war criminal eulogising another – was so horrifying it has jolted this blog back out of retirement.  There may be no justice, but there can be truth.

Edward Snowden Gets Sam Adams Award

by craig on October 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

Ray McGovern and the Sam Adams party have presented the Sam Adams award to Edward Snowden.  I am delighted.  This from Ray’s account of the event:

In brief remarks from his visitors, Snowden was reassured — first and foremost — that he need no longer be worried that nothing significant would happen as a result of his decision to risk his future by revealing documentary proof that the U.S. government was playing fast and loose with the Constitutional rights of Americans.

Even amid the government shutdown, Establishment Washington and the normally docile “mainstream media” have not been able to deflect attention from the intrusive eavesdropping that makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. Even Congress is showing signs of awaking from its torpor.

In the somnolent Senate, a few hardy souls have gone so far as to express displeasure at having been lied to by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and NSA Director Keith Alexander — Clapper having formally apologized for telling the Senate Intelligence Committee eavesdropping-related things that were, in his words, “clearly erroneous” and Alexander having told now-discredited whoppers about the effectiveness of NSA’s intrusive and unconstitutional methods in combating terrorism.

Coleen Rowley, the first winner of the Sam Adams Award (2002), cited some little-known history to remind Snowden that he is in good company as a whistleblower — and not only because of previous Sam Adams honorees. She noted that in 1773, Benjamin Franklin leaked confidential information by releasing letters written by then-Lt. Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson to Thomas Whatley, an assistant to the British Prime Minister.

The letters suggested that it was impossible for the colonists to enjoy the same rights as subjects living in England and that “an abridgement of what are called English liberties” might be necessary. The content of the letters was so damaging to the British government that Benjamin Franklin was dismissed as colonial Postmaster General and had to endure an hour-long censure from British Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn.

There has been a determined attempt by government to justify the need to intercept everybody’s communications, all the time.  We have, yet again, had MI5 claim there are many thousand violent Islamic terrorists running around the UK, (yet somehow not managing to kill anybody).  The cry of “paedophiles” is raised, as always.  I can imagine them suggesting the entire population be shot dead, and justifying it as making sure they get the paedophiles.  The tabloids would go with that.

There still had not been a single credible claim by the mainstream media that any named individual has died, despite that contingency being trotted out all the time as the reason Snowden and Manning should not have revealed state crimes and abuse of power.  I am hopeful that, with the internet still largely free to the dissemination of information, out next massive whistleblower is only weeks away.

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