Monthly archives: June 2011

Just One Little Palestinian Story

Here is just one little story of the everyday humiliation, the destruction of Palestinian livelihood and culture, carried out by the ruthless, racist Israeli military machine.

I could post such stories every day, including many much worse, and could describe more of the political context which beggars belief – the Israeli Knesset, for example, has just passed through its committee stage a bill providing for Palestinians and other Arabs to pay the costs of the demolition of their own homes by Israel bulldozers. There is a horror to that which should not lead you to overlook a yet more horrible underlying fact contained in that sentence – exactly as in apartheid South Africa, thousands of Israeli laws are ethnically explicit.

I haven’t checked out this little olive tree story, I don’t have to. it is prototypical of thousands of such stories throughout my adult life. I have met victims and know such stories are true.

This is why I support all those working to give some justice and hope for Palestinains. And this is why I cannot understand how such controlling sections of the media and political establishments of the west have signed up so completely to defend the indefensible, to deny to themselves what kind of state Israel has in truth become.

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I am sorry that writing a book (at least the way I do it) requires periods when all else is blotted out and you only come out of that immersion as though for a gasp of air. I am still mostly researching Alexander Burnes, though I have just started jotting down the odd phrase and papragraph that will probably feature in the final version. I can’t get the phraseology on this right:

The clash of Burnes and Vitkevich, pushing the respective British and Russian interests in Kabul, is the moment which, more than many other, encapsulates the entire romance and intrigue of the Great Game. Within four years, the events now unfolding would result in the violent deaths of both of them.

Should that last phrase rather be “in the violent death of each of them?”.

I am sorry this preoccupation has precluded me blogging about the appalling marketisation of univerisites, with students seen as consumers and education as a commodity, rather than a university being an academic community in pursuit of knowledge.

The physical sabotage of the propellor shaft of the Swedish Gaza peace flotilla ship is only the start. I would strongly advise all the convoy ships in harbour to run their props in very short bursts at random but not infrequent intervals. That might deter other Israeli Buster Crabbes.

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I am currently reading “Outline of the Operation of the British Troops in Scinde and Afghanistan Betwixt November 1838 and November 1841 with Remarks on the Policy of the War” by George Buist, published by the [Bombay] Times Office, Bombay, 1843. Only 200 copies were printed, but on Google Books you can get a full copy of one in the library of the University of California, without leaving your desk in Ramsgate. The information technology is truly amazing.

But I am taunted once more and wracked with enormous frustration. Buist quotes Burnes on 23 October 1841, ten days before he was killed, as writing in his Journal:

“I have often wondered at the hatred of the officers towards the Affghans… they are blamed because they fight at night, when in fact the poor wretches are at any other time unable to cope with disciplined armies; it was the same as the Scotch highlanders pursued a century since.”

Buist adds this note:

This is copied, nearly verbatim, from an entry, dated 23 October, in a private journal of Sir Alexander Burnes which extends to 1 November, the day before his murder, and which, singularly enough, amidst the wreck of all other things has been preserved entire. It is now in the hands of his friends

This is tantalising. What can have happened to Burnes’ journals? The historian Sir John Kaye had access to them – or at least to those volumes covering Burnes’ younger years, – in the 1860’s. But they seem simply to have vanished; I found a cache of Burnes’ official correspondence in his hometwon of Montrose, but no sign of his diaries.

I have discovered that at one time a cache of Burnes’ papers were in the safekeeping of his agents, Forbes and Co., Burnes placed them there before leaving for Afghanistan specifically as he was furious about government editing and publication of some of his dispatches to falsely portray him as in favour of the Afghan War. I was surprised to find that Forbes and Co still exists and is a thriving shipping company in Bombay. While considering it very unlikely they still had Burnes’ papers, I though their archives might have correspondence relating to their dealings with him. But despite having a website that seems to indicate an interest in their fascinating history, Forbes & Co tersely denied to me having any company archives at all. or knowledge of what had happened to their company archives.

I just tell you this as an insight into the byways a biographer must tread. I have no idea if Burnes’ journals still exist or were destroyed. Are they with a descendant or private collector, or were they burnt or thrown away? Were they destroyed because of sexual or religious revelation, like so many of Burton’s papers? Certainly for a couple of generations Burnes journals were in the hands of people who respected their historical value and used them in that way. How they then came to vanish is still at this stage an infuriating mystery.

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Greek Authorities Act to Block Gaza Peace Flotilla

The US ship in the Gaza peace convoy has been blocked from sailing by the Greek authorities on the grounds that they have received a “Private complaint” that the vessel is unseaworthy.

This is ludicrous. What if I were to choose a large commercial vessel in a Greek port from Lloyd’s Register, and make a “privare complaint” that it is unseaworthy. Would it be blocked from sailing? Of course not – I should be asked to produce grounds for my complaint. Vessels cannot simply be detained on the basis of vexatious complaint. International trade would grind to a halt.

We do not yet know who actually made this complaint, nor why the port authorities have chosen to act on it. They have told the vessel it will now be subject to inspections which may take some weeks. The legal way forward must be to seek in a Greek court to stop the Greek authorities from this obviously political action in detaining the ship and disrupting the peace convoy. Secondly it is difficult to believe that the Greek people, who are not fond of their government, will approve of it acting as a pure US and Israeli puppet in this way. Political pressure needs to be brought to bear as well.

I should not be surprised any more by the cynicism of western governments, yet I still am, continually. I wonder if I will die still expecting the world to get better.

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Confused of Accra

Jerry Rawlings’ office has today put out a press release accusing me of publishing a series of “scurrilous” articles about his wife, aimed at damaging her electoral chances. This is being carried widely in the Ghanaian media.

This is strange to me because I have written no articles in the Ghanian media for years, and have not written anything about the Rawlings for over four years. Possibly someone is reproducing (without my permission, and in breach of copyright) some old material, or someone is writing pretending it is by me. But I am certainly not interfering in Ghana’s election in the way suggested.

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Rancid Sandwich and Establishment Glastonbury

A few years ago, I was thrilled to be asked to give a talk at the Glastonbury Festival, in the “Left Field” as they called it. But when I dialled the number given to organise the details, the man who answered was very curt and rude indeed, treating me as though I was trying to cadge a free ticket, despite the fact they had contacted me and asked me to speak. In fact he was so very rude, I declined to go.

I learn today that actually the VIP area at Glastonbury is swarming with minor Tory politicians who are chummy with David Cameron. I am sorry to hear one of them died, but if Glastonbury has become this cosy with the establishment, it is time to end it.

On Friday I took Nadira and Cameron on the train to see the wonderful old town of Sandwich, one of the best surviving medieval and early modern towns in England. It was as lovely as I remembered, but both the town and our experience were absolutely ruined ny the cars. The whole ancient centre is entirely devoted to throbbing traffic; streets with no or tiny pavement are premanently swished through by commercial vehicles and cars, and there is a permanent stench of exhaust fumes. It is impossible to enjoy the sight of any of the medieval town, because virtually every single old house has a permanent flow of traffic right past its doorstep.

The old tollbridge is no longer the only crossing of the Stour, so the failure to pedestrianise any part of Sandwich is simply appalling, and was to me quite unexpected. They must have the most dismal and undynamic council in the world. I strongly advise everybody against going there, unless you are interested in traffic.

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Obama Wants More Dead Rachel Corries to Boost AIPAC Standing

I am proud to call Ray McGovern a friend. He is a retired senior member of the CIA, and was so valued as an analyst that he used to give the US President his daily intelligence briefing. Ray and I both had senior government service careers, in the course of which you make personal friendships that last, hopefully as long as you do. So sometimes we both get told things from the inside of government.

As Ray sets out on the US Gaza peace flotilla ship, he has been warned in the starkest of terms that the Obama administration will do nothing to protect their US flagged vessel, or the US citizens on board, against attack by the Israelis.

I also have been cautioned by a source with access to very senior staffers at the National Security Council that not only does the White House plan to do absolutely nothing to protect our boat from Israeli attack or illegal boarding, but that White House officials”would be happy if something happened to us.” They are, I am reliably told, “perfectly willing to have the cold corpses of activists shown on American TV.”

While I know Ray to be an extremely honest man, motivated by a genuine activist christianity, I tought it was possible that his source was exaggerating. I therefore set my own diplomatic sources to work in Washington, without giving them any indication of Ray’s information. They came back with an independent report from a different source – close to Clinton rather than the White House – with exactly the same result of which Ray was warned. I was told that Obama will welcome an Israeli attack on the US ship, as giving him a chance to confirm his pro-Israeli credentials and improve his standing with AIPAC ahead of the Presidential election race. Fatalities would be “not a problem”.

There was no information that the Obama regime has quietly given Netanyahu a green light to attack the ship. But I strongly expect they will; by deniable means, of course.

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Afghan Drawdown, Libyan Murder

Could anyone watch Jeremy Bowen’s piece on BBC News last night, which showed a grieving father hugging the wrapped bodies of two tiny children killed in a NATO bombing? The fact the tiny childrens’ grandfather was a Gadaffi minister seemed to Jeremy Bowen a possible justification – he posed a dichotomy that by killing these children, more civilian lives could be saved.

But how could this warping of utilitarian judgement work in practice? Bowen quoted NATO as saying there were command and control structures in the house as well as the Minister’s family. So bombing it saved civilian lives elsewhere. What constitutes a command and control structure in these circumstances? A mobile phone? A computer? And how does destroying that little bit of infrastructure save lives so directly that it could atone for our killing of tiny children? Jeremy Bowen, who interviewed me in Tashkent and I like, should be ashamed of himself. But he did get the tiny dead children on the ten o clock news for two minutes, which has done something to undermine the pro-war propaganda pumped out everywhere.

NATO is not saving civilian lives. It is killing civilians.

Meanwhile, Obama announces the beginning of the end of the utterly pointless occupation of Afghanistan. The Afghan war was was not as illegal as the Iraq war, as it did have a connection to 9/11. But we have achieved nothing after ten years we had not achieved after one year. There is still no non-fraudulent democracy, no rule of law, no women’s rights and no economic development outwith the narcotics sector. Nor will there be, and we will have made as little societal change as the Anglo-Afghan Wars or the Soviet occupation.

We have, however, killed an awful lot of small children. And lost many of our own who were little more than children,

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Christian Values

Nadira has been refused the hire of our local church hall in Ramsgate for rehearsal because Medea is “Greek” and “Pagan”. I had thought that the Church of England had come fully to terms with the classical world since before Gibbon. And we are talking the church hall, not the church.

It is a tremendous mistake for the Church of England to start taking an interest in religion. Promoting intolerance is not what the Church of England is for. It is still an established church – do we really want a state church that bans Euripides? I fear for some reason the CofE feels a need to compete with the lunatic evangelist establishments which attract large congregations and promote miracles, speaking in tongues and other arrant rubbish. Oh dear.

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Lib Dem Foreign Policy

It has been pointed out to me that there has been a reply to my Independent on Sunday article on our illiberal foreign policy, by the obscure and evidently untalented Baroness Falkner.

Craig Murray’s polemic against the Liberal Democrats gives examples which are inaccurate, ill-informed or at best unknowing (“The biggest threat to Clegg lies overseas”, 5 June).

On Trident, Mr Murray says we have given up our opposition to an automatic renewal. The policy states that due to the “desire of the Liberal Democrats to make the case for alternatives… we are setting up a study to review the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternatives”.

To imply Lib Dem silence on Bahrain is plain ignorance. We have had discussions with the Foreign Secretary, ministers, the Bahrain ambassador, Bahraini opposition groups, human rights groups and in public meetings, to some effect.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine
Lords Chairman, Lib Dem Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs

On Trident, she fails to answer what I actually said, as opposed to what she says I said. The coalition government has approved £3 billion in development costs for Trident 2. That makes the pretence of consideration of an alternative by a “study” rather difficult to maintain.

On Bahrain, she reinforces my point. What effect have those Lib Dem “discussions” actually had on coalition policy? Where are the ministerial actions, or even statements?

Update: I have corrected Falkner’s name, which I got wrong initially.

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Persian Speakers Wanted

At least I think it is Persian. I have found a transliteration but not a translation of the poem on Shah Shuja’s coinage, and the parody of it by Kabul wits popular in 1840. It is from the Afghan historian Ghulam, recorded in Christine Noelle’s State and Tribe in Nineteenth Century Afghanistan. She transliterates it thus:

sikka zad bar sim o zar raushantar az khurshed o mah
nuur-i-chasm-i durr-i durran Shah Shuja al-Mulk Shah

was changed to

sikka zad bar sim o tila Shah Shuja -i armani
nur-i-chasm-i Lard Burnes o khak-i pa-yi Company

I certainly get the jist, but if anyone can have a go at translating I would be grateful. From experience the talents of readers of this blog are quite extraordinary!!

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Illegal Blockades

A new Gaza freedom convoy is preparing to sail, this time including a US flagged vessel. My friends Ann Wright and Ray McGovern are going to be on it. Ray tells me the ship, which is registered in Delaware, has been renamed “The Audacity of Hope”. I am not quite sure if he is joking. I hope it is true as the irony is delicious.

The boarding of a US flagged ship on the High Seas is something which, in any other circumstances, the US would never tolerate, and I am hoping that it will give Clinton a headache now – which is why that possible ship name would be so great. What is for certain, is that a US court would have jurisdiction over any incidents that happen on board, and I cannot imagine any US judge would renounce that jurisdiction. So if the Israelis shoot Ann, Ray or any of their fellow passengers, the implications could be profound.

At Ray and Ann’s request, I have added my weight to the legal assessment of their actions:

Ambassador Craig Murray is a former Alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the United Nations Preparatory Commission on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He was deputy head of the teams which negotiated the UK’s maritime boundaries with France, Germany, Denmark (Faeroe Islands) and Ireland.

As Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he was responsible for giving real time political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in enforcement of the UN authorised blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments.

Ambassador Craig Murray is therefore an internationally recognised authority on maritime jurisdiction and naval boarding issues.

“The legal position is plain. A vessel outwith the territorial waters (12 mile limit) of a coastal state is on the high seas under the sole jurisdiction of the flag state of the vessel. The ship has a positive right of passage on the high seas. The coastal state can regulate economic activity exploiting the resources of the seas and continental shelf up to 200 miles, the extent of the continental shelf, or the agreed boundary, but there is no indication of fishing, oil drilling or analagous economic activity in this case. The vessel is entitled to free passage.”

“This right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the United States is a full party. Any incident which takes place upon a US flagged ship on the High Seas is subject to United States legal jurisdiction. A ship is entitled to look to its flag state for protection from attack on the High Seas.”

“Israel has declared a blockade on Gaza and justified previous fatal attacks on neutral civilian vessels on the High Seas in terms of enforcing that embargo, under the legal cover given by the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.”

“There are however fundamental flaws in this line of argument. It falls completely on one fact alone. San Remo only applies to blockade in times of armed conflict. Israel is not currently engaged in an armed conflict, and presumably does not wish to be. San Remo does not confer any right to impose a permanent blockade outwith times of armed conflict, and in fact specifically excludes as illegal a general blockade on an entire population.”

“It should not be denied that Israel suffers from sporadic terrorist attacks emanating from Gaza. However this does not come close to reaching the bar of armed conflict that would trigger the right to impose a limited naval blockade in terms of San Remo. To make a comparison, in the 1970’s and 1980’s the United Kingdom suffered continued terrorist attack from the Irish Republican Army, with much more murderous impact causing many more deaths than anything Israel has suffered in recent years from Gaza. However nobody would seek to argue that the UK would have had the right to mount a general naval blockade of the Republic of Ireland in the 1970’s and 1980’s, even though the Republic was undoubtedly the base for much IRA supply and operations. Justifications of Israeli naval action against neutral civilian ships by San Remo is based on special pleading and an impossibly strained definition of the term “armed conflict”. ”

Craig Murray

They already have a more thorough and academic piece here, which I cannot fault.

All the boats and volunteers from various countries have my most earnest good wishes, and admiration for their courage as they brave the attentions of the murderous thugs of the Israeli state.

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World Weary

A couple of interesting articles in today’s Independent. Yet more evidence of the terrible human rights violations in Bahrain, with a report from Medecins sans Frontieres. And the Americans are fed up with Karzai for sometimes telling the truth about the occupation.

Last week a report cited in the Guardian named Afghanistan as the worst country in the world for women. We do seem to have come to an end of the rhetoric citing feminism as the justification of the occupation. Indeed, the entire media seems to be working to prepare the public for the idea that handing at least a share of power back to the Taliban won’t be such a bad thing after all. The US were quite prepared to discuss protecting the Trans Afghanistan Pipeline project with them before 9/11, so we are back at square one – only with many scores of thousands of dead and wounded, and trillions of money squandered.

But it is Bahrain which for me has come to symbolise the complete lack of concern with morality in coalition foreign policy. I can understand how the Lib Dem ministers have convinced themselves they have to rescue the public finances at home in face of unpopularity and conflict (though that in now way explains their support for acagemy schools or the marketisation of the NHS). But why they are so in thrall they cannot utter a protest at a vicious “allied” dictatorship abroad, is absolutely beyond me.

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Nigeria on Volga

I was struck during the Great Hispano-German Cucumber Scare to learn from the BBC that Russia had banned EU vegetables, and this was difficult as Russia imported 40% of its vegetables from the EU. I suspect that figure excludes Russian vegetables grown and consumed in the informal rural sector, but it is nonetheless astonishing that Russia, which has a greater area of unforested potential arable land per head of population than any other major state, is highly dependent on vegetable imports.

A small fact indicative of a huge malaise. As China and Russia hold a key summit today, China is heading for global economic supremacy, probably within my lifetime (though US resilience should not be ignored, and the process will be slower than many think). Russia, by contrast, slips further and further down the league table of global influence. We can predict future importance for China, India and Brazil. Europe faces genteel relative decline.

But Russia faces renewed absolute decline. It is a third world economy, configured around exports of raw commodities, exactly as African countries are. Because commodity, and especially energy, prices are high and likely to remain so, there is a superficial aura of wealth. But because these commodities are exported virtually unprocessed, the employment effects, and thus the distribution of wealth inside the economy, are extremely limited. Russia has oligarchs involved in energy and mineral export. They are unimaginably wealthy. It has a technocratic and labouring class employed in these industries. They are doing well. It has senior officials corruptly gaining from the state interaction with these commodity producers, either through regulation or ownership. They are doing very nicely. It has a limited service economy catering for the above groups.

All of this is the active economy. It just does not spread far enough into Russian society to carry it along. Russia is looking more and more like Nigeria, with a tiny elite, few technocrats, a corrupt officialdom and a few people servicing them, all doing OK, while ordinary people live in squalor.

Like Nigeria, Russia does not make anything. When did anyone reading this last buy a Russian manufactured good? The Soviet system collapsed in large part because it could not provide consumer goods to a population that wanted them. Like Nigeria, Russia makes very little indeed – less than in Soviet times. Russian manufacturing industry as a whole has still not recovered to Soviet levels of production. I am willing to doubt it ever will. Russia just exports commodities and sucks in manufactures – disproportionately for the luxury end of the market, reflecting its crazy wealth distribution. Exactly like Nigeria, in fact.

Of course, government extracts some tax from the commodity industries and puts it into social benefits and funds the bewildered and status diminished professionals in education, healthcare etc. But the government’s tax revenue is exceeded by capital flight, as the oligarchs simply export the mega profits from commodities into numbered bank accounts abroad. No oligarch has ever thought “Wow I made billions from aluminium or gas, now I will invest it in manufacturing expresso machines and cyclone vacuum cleaners in Russia.” They think “Which way is Switzerland? Where do I buy Highbury?”

Foreign Direct Investment into manufacture in Russia is negligible for a country of its size, because there is absolutely no guarantee of a fair rule of law, of redress against a government or that some oligarch will not covet your factory, or local big man decide to shake you down. Democracy has vanished as Putin has made it impossible for opposition groups to operate and tightened his grip on the media. The killing of independent journalists and investigators has become routine. The situation both on human rights and judicial independence is actually worse than Nigeria.

Russia is not a great power in decline. It is a third world country in decline.

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Worst Performing Ministers

It is today announced that the 200 “worst performing” primary schools are to be handed over to the private sector to run.

We recall from his second-home flipping expenses dodges that Gove is a man very keen on private gain. But this ideologically driven lunacy must stop. The subjective notion of “worse performing schools” will, more than any other factor, be found to depend on the home environment and, bluntly, family income, housing conditions and level of education from which the children come. Handing over 100,000 of our most disadvantaged schoolchildren to be practised upon by rich individuals with nutty religious backgrounds, is an abomination.

This will also deliver a great deal of cash from the Lib Dems trumpeted “Pupil premium” for schools with disadvantaged children, into the private sector.

This is an utter disgrace. If she has any honour at all, Sarah Teather must resign immediately (she is one of my Facebook friends. I shall send her a message saying that).

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Lord Liverpool

One of the delightful things about historical research is when it throws up completely unexpected facts irrelevant to what you are looking for. I remember thirty years ago finding that Richard Cobden had investments in railways in Illinois which increased sharply in value after the repeal of the Corn Laws opened up new trade routes for the vast agricultural produce of the mid-West.

I discovered today that Lord Liverpool – Britain’s most repressive Prime Minister bar Tony Blair – was an Anglo-Indian, though whether his Indian blood was an eighth or a quarter I am not quite sure. I had no idea of this. It is also a great thing that, though it seems the fact was well known, even in the bitterest period of modern British politics (1815-20) I can find no evidence of any racial jibe being made against him.

Lord Liverpool an Anglo-Indian. A black Prime Minister two hundred years before Barack Obama. Well I never.

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The Right To Murder and Torture in Private

Bahrain is threatening to sue the Independent for reporting on its rulers campaign of murder, torture, imprisonment and intimidation of its native population using foreign forces and mercenaries. Personally I advocate attacking the offices (when empty) of any British law firm which acts for them in this. Let me say that again, just in case those responsible for charging people with glorifying terrorism missed it: personally I advocate attacking the offices (when empty) of any British law firm which acts for them in this.

This is not a case of lawyers doing their impartial duty, as when defending someone, be they never so bad, under the criminal law so they can get a fair trial. This is about repressing the truth about an evil, murdering dictatorship and restricting the liberty of good, honest people – including Robert Fisk. It is not a neutral act of testing the law for lawyers to accept huge sums to try to attack British freedom in this way.

There is an interesting parallel between this case and Lola Karimova’s ongoing attempt to sue a French website for calling Karimov a dictator and mentioning the billions her father and family have stolen (Lola Karimova lives in an $85 million house in Geneva). It is interesting that both attempts are made on behalf of dictators who are backed to the hilt by western – and especially NATO – governments. Any success for the tyrants involved would be a shocking indictment of modern Western society.

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Inflation as measured by the retail price index remains stubbornly at 5.2%, despite all the obvious deflationary pressures on the economy and continuing weak consumer demand. Strangely, the attempts to explain this being offered by media pundits all miss out quantitive easing, or to use a more old-fashioned term, printing money.

It is deeply unfashionable to hold to the view that simply to create more money reduces the value of the money already in circulation in relation to the supply of available goods; but that is what all history tells us (the benchmark example being the rampant inflation after Spanish opening up of the New World greatly increased the amount of gold coinage in circulation). Common sense tells us that too. Otherwise we could simply solve many of our problems by printing another couple of trillion pounds.

A couple of years ago, I suggested “Enough quantitive easing and we can eventually get back to stagflation”. We are just about there. Why have none of the experts noticed?

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Those Americans struggling through housing repossession, unemployment and medical bills will be delighted to see it confirmed that 6.6 billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money in cash was stolen during the Iraq war, probably by members of the US’ puppet Iraqi administration. Precisely the same thing has been happening in Afghanistan, with less publicity so far.

More details are emerging about the supply of Egyptian natural gas to Israel, way below the world price and reportedly even below the cost of production, and the bribes received by Mubarak, his sons and Hussein Salem, Mubarak’s bagman. But what is going to be really fascinating to see is whether evidence comes out of US influence in the corrupt aspects of this deal, (the origins of which were in a hidden protocol to Camp David, which subsidised Israel and boosted their Egyptian puppet.

The tides of Middle Eastern events are linked in numerous ways. Pressure on Hamas to reconcile with Fatah was not only coming from their own people, but from the loss of Hamas’ support from Syria’s Assad and their operating base in Damascus. Hamas’ links with Syrian Islamic groupings, which are now in the resistance to Assad, led to this breakdown in relationships. The importance of Assad’s logistic support to Hamas has been largely overlooked. Yet the awful Assad is still viewed by the West as more accommodating to Israel than any successors might be, which is one major reason why there is still no concerted call for him to step down, despite the largest scale and most sustained violence against civilians of the entire Arab spring.

Meantime NATO’s continued bombing raids in Libya seem ever more a waste of time and money – something which UK taxpayers currently do not have to spare. That our Middle Eastern policy is based on self interest and not on support for principles of freedom is undeniable, with Bahrain the most glaring example. The medical staff are today being processed through a military tribunal for imprisonment for treating injured protestors, while yet another prominent opposition activist has died from torture, without a peep from our government. So we obviously do not care for human rights. But what preisely we are supposed to be achieving in terms of self-interest in Libya is equally unclear, as our involvement in this low level civil war fritters away money and resource apparently with no plan.

The same is true of Afghanistan, where we seem to have accepted finally that we are not going to create a western democracy, nor is there significant progress in reconstruction. It will make virtually no difference to events if we leave tomorrow or in 2015. We are paying a great price in blood and treasure for the pride and arrogance of our political class.

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Cheap Medicine and Nasty

There is a coalition lovefest going on over the new reformed NHS reforms, which have suddenly gone from being the worst think since the plague to the greatest thing since sliced bread, all with a few tweaks.

The problem is, it is the entire principle on which the reforms are based, not the mechanisms operating on that principle, which is fundamentally wrong. The underlying principle is that the NHS will work better if it operates on competition between healthcare providers, both existing NHS hospitals and clinics, and private and charitable hospitals and clinics which will have new access to NHS patients and cash.

Both Sky and the BBC have been telling us all day that competition drives up efficiency and quality.

But this is not true. If financial profit is the motive, then competition does indeed increase efficiency, in terms of maximising profit by minimising costs. But the natural tendency is for this to be at the expense of quality, except in certain specific areas of luxury good provision. Competition and profit drives the producer to give just as much quality as required to provide something the consumer will still take, while undercutting rival sellers. Where there are a limited number of providers, (and in most parts of the country there are obvious limits to the number of possible clinics and hospitals), this increasingly becomes a race to the bottom in quality, with the added temptaitons of cartelisation on price.

For a brilliant demonstration of the effect competition between providers has in real life, read “Cheap Clothes and Nasty” by Charles Kingsley.

It is hard to believe that anybody could for one moment accept the premiss that something done for love and care, will always be of less quality than something done for private profit. Yet that is precisely the hogwash promoted by Thatcherism and which New Labour under Blair signed up to completely.

Not only will a large percentage of the NHS budget now go as profit into the pockets of large business (as though Southern Cross were not sufficient warning), but there will be a whole new and still bigger infrastructure of accountants and paper shufflers regulating and processing the entirely artifical NHS “Market mechanism”.

It also worries me that so much attention is paid to the desires of the medical profession. I don’t much care what doctors think. Remember, doctors were strongly against the creation of the NHS in the first place. Remember, the medical students you knew at university are doctors now. Remember the guy at your local surgery who pulls in over £100,000 and won’t see you out of hours or at weekends, and normally has a Polish locum see you while he’s off in Corfu? Why do you care what he thinks about it? If you wanted to find a wealthy right wing nutter, you would have an easier chance in a group of doctors than among the general population.

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