Monthly archives: September 2008

Two Cheers For Nationalisation

The Guardian’s Larry Elliott has written an excellent piece on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I particularly like this passage:

But if the big financial institutions cannot – unlike, say, a car company or an airline – be allowed to founder, they also cannot be allowed to conduct themselves in the same way as companies where there really is a risk of failure. Congress will undoubtedly demand tougher regulations for the activities of US banks in exchange for bailing them out, and rightly so. If ever there was a time to bring in controls on the ability of banks to create unlimited amounts of credit, to restrict the more toxic forms of derivatives, to rein in the activities of hedge funds, to insist that remuneration structures are not biased in favour of reckless speculation, and to use anti-trust law to break up the power of the big institutions then this, surely, is it.

View with comments

Non-Existent “Bigger than 9/11” Airline Plot

I came in for much criticism at the time for being the first “respectable” commentator to call the fact that the “Bigger than 9/11 airline plot” was massive government hype, but my sources were very good. After a long trial a jury has now found that there was no credible evidence of plans to blow up airlines.

jurors rejected prosecution claims that Ali was responsible for an unprecedented airline bomb plot. They discarded evidence that Ali intended to target passenger jets flying from London to major North American cities with suicide attacks.

The jury did find that three of the accused were engaged in a plan to carry out domestic terrorist bombing, and there does appear some quite firm evidence to substantiate that. Doubtless the appeals process will work its way through. But this appears to be another example of a small pathetic group of failed would be terrorists who were never, at any stage, planning to take liquid explosives on to airliners.

That is the fundamental problem with the “War on Terror”, It is not that Islamic extremist terrorism does not exist. It does. Frankly given the many, many thousands of civilians we have killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, it would be surprising if it did not exist. But it is massively hyped out of all reality by a government determined to use it to justify a massive increase in its powers over the citizenry.

I ask you to cast your minds back to just how very massive the hype was about the “airline liquid bomb plot” in summer of 2006. Scotland Yard called it “Bigger than 9/11”. In particular, remember the appalling anti-Muslim stories of plans to blow up planes using babies and baby bottles – as potent and horrifying a racist urban myth as has ever been developed.

These were total rubbish.

Of the twenty one people arrested over this massive plot to blow up airlines, which the Metropolitan Police described as “Bigger than 9/11”, in the end three were convicted of conspiracy to murder and four of causing public nuisance. Not one of those dragged from their homes at 2.30 am on the direct personal instruction of John Reid was convicted.

Accepting that 7/7 was Islamic terrorism (which I realise many people do not), about 60 people have been killed by Islamic terrorists in the UK. Any death is terrible, but that is about 2% of those who died in the Northern Ireland troubles. Even in the year of 7/7, less people were killed by Islamic terrorists than were drowned in their own baths. You have more chance of being struck by lightning than killed by a Islamic terrorist.

Yet this terrorist campaign was described by Tony Blair as “A fundamental threat to Western Civilisation” and by John Reid as “A threat on the scale of the Second World War”. The astonishing thing is that they created a climate in which the media accepted those assesments without a hint of the ridicule they deserved.

Terrorism has to be fought and prevented, but that is best done by meticulous, plodding police and intelligence work. It is also fundamental, but worth saying, that opposing rather than participating in oppression, bombing, torture and illegal invasion abroad would cut the ground from under terrorism. You do not fight terrorism by massively talking it up and terrifying your population into anti-Muslim attitudes, and initiating a spiral of repression that will just cause more terror.

On December 2006 I blogged:

I still do not rule out that there was a germ of a terror plot at the heart of this investigation. We can speculate about agents provocateurs and security service penetration, both British and Pakistani, but still there might have been genuine terrorists involved. But the incredible disruption to the travelling public, the War on Shampoo, and the “Bigger than 9/11” hype is unravelling.

If anyone can point to anything more prescient, I shall be dead impressed.

View with comments

A Day in the Life

Haven’t blogged much in the last week, so I thought I would take you through my day yesterday to show the kind of stuff I’m doing. It was a slightly busier day than usual, but really not much.

04.16 Helped Nadira start her day’s Ramadan observances

04.45 Got up and dressed properly

05.15 Left home in Shepherds Bush

07.00 Flew London City Airport to Edinburgh

09.30 Meeting of Scottish University Rectors at University of Edinburgh to discuss reaction to Scottish future funding paper. Key points we make:

– Overall funding for Scottish University sector inadequate compared to rest of Northern Europe

– Lack of opportunity for student input in the “Consultation” process

– No discussion of the key question of student support. Average debt for students leaving Scottish Universities now £13,500 even though most don’t have to pay tuition fees. Students whose parents can’t afford to support them tend to have higher levels of debt. With recession looming and job prospects looking bleaker, real danger of poorer people deciding not to go to University.

– “Additional” funding linked almost exclusively to research; danger that good teaching is neglected and under-rewarded.

We also agree –

We are against the government’s daft proposals to raise the age for purchasing alcohol from off licenses to 21

We will campaign for the democratic Scottish tradition of elected rectors as Chairman of University Court to be introduced in every Scottish University

10.30 Joint Press conference of the Rectors – first in five hundred years. This goes well. Times Higher Ed were there and others who hopefully will run features. The only paper that reported it as news was the Scotsman. They have slanted it as an attack on the SNP, but then they slant everything as an attack on the SNP.

The only reference to anything I said was a joke in the diary

11.30 Post press conference meeting to discuss future strategy for Rector’s group

12.00 Walk to National Library of Scotland. Order up manuscripts relating to Alexander Burnes (whose biography I am writing)

12.50 Leave library. Phone calls from immigration lawyers and the Guardian about a defector from the Uzbek security services, Ikram Yakubov, who I am helping. Ikram has brought valuable information from a security analysis centre close to President Karimov. Much more on this to come, but here is some of his evidence:

– On a visit to an Uzbek security service detention centre he saw a CIA officer named Andrew actually present as alleged members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were tortured

– Richard Conroy, British head of the UN in Uzbekistan, was assassinated on the orders of President Karimov when the passenger plane on which he was flying blew up near Tashkent airport

– The Tashkent bombs of 2004 were an operation by the Uzbek security services to discredit the opposition

– Karimov personally ordered the Andijan massacre. Lists of those killed were carefully compiled and amout to over 1500

– SOAS lecturer Shirin Akiner does work for the Uzbek government

Obviously I have great concern for Ikram’s safety. Normally such a defector should be of great interest to MI6, but of course this is all stuff the British government denies.

13.10 Quick lunch with senior friends from the Scottish Lib Dems and SNP, to quietly forward agreement on the replacement of Council Tax by a local income tax.

14.00 Back in National Library for delivery of manuscripts. Include two fascinating letters home to Montrose from London from the 15 year old Alexander preparing to sail to India as a Cadet. I have to make copies by hand in pencil.

Some extracts from Alex to his father, April 1st 1821

“Would that my birthday were come for from that day I hope never to be a burden to anyone. Fortunately my birthday happens on Wednesady which is account day so I will be entitled to pay the very day I am sixteen…

I am astonished by your silence for except for a few lines from (illegible) and a letter from you returning the certificates I have not received a scrap from father, mother or brother.

Mr Hume [Joseph Hume] has given me a state of James’ expenditure in London which I now transmit you as also the gross anount of our equipment.

Jame’s amounts to £84 & mine to £101 odd, but the reason of the disparity is my getting all my accoutrements such as sword, cap & so in London, which James has not. This is really a great sum…”

NLS Mss 3813 ff 114-5

A PS to his mother is poignant:

PS I hope you make them feed the hawk & crow & also take care of the tulips & other flowers I had.

NB William Ross had my Greek dictionary which you can get from him when he’s done with it but not till then for you know well the circumstances of his father.

NLS MSS 3813 ff 112-3

His mother was to see Alex only once more, briefly, ten years later, when he was one of the most famous men in the country, and then never again before his death in a futile invasion of Afghanistan which he had put his career on the line to try to stop.

17.30 Leave the Library for the airport. On the bus I make calls to organise some Freshers week student meetings (anti-war and Amnesty) in Scotland.

20.30 Arrive London City. DLR malfunctioning.

21.45 Go to Madame Jojos for evening at burlesque show. Some discussions of African development projects, but mostly just relax in a group that includes some breathtakingly beautiful women – including of course Nadira. Drink a large amount of Veuve Cliquot.

02.00 Home to bed.

The rather scarey thing about this day is that not one of the things mentioned earns me a penny. I also did not get round to the very urgent task of last minute changes to The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, changes wanted by my publishers to appease the FCO and Schillings (Tim Spicer’s lawyers). Hard to settle to this because I really don’t want to do it. But that is the priority for today, together with Ikram.

View with comments