Tuesday, February 28, 2006

DNA testing

Obvioulsy we all hope that the brutal killer of 18 year old Sally Anne Bowman is caught soon and brought to Justice.

But the police plan of taking DNA from 2500 local men does seem to have one basic logical flaw. Surely the murderer won’t volunteer? If this fails, what is the police’s next plan: to put an advert in the local paper asking the murderer to hand themselves in exchange for free chocolate?

There are two very real problems. One of which is a misunderstanding by the public, and the police, of how reliable DNA testing is to gain unique identification . One of the misguided people, Lecturer Jeremy Johnson, 31, who volunteered to give their DNA told the BBC: "I just wanted to get myself eliminated and the test will definitely help catch the killer. There's only a one in a billion chance you'll be wrongly convicted.”

One in a billion? Well according to Professor Ross Anderson a world famous security specialist at Cambridge University, one white person in 120 has an identical twin, with excatly the same DNA. Some twins may be adopted and not even know that they have a clone out there!

Also, let us assume human error in testing of even as low as one in 10000, this still leaves a reasonably high chance of a false identification. This is the famous "birthday paradox" - that the chances of there being two people who share the same birthday in group of 20 or so people is very high. If there is an error of testing, then the chances of an innocent person being identfied is much higher than non-statisticians might believe.

Testing errors and shared DNA lower the odds to a lot lot more than one in a billion.

Remember that fingerprint evidence used to be argued as infallible, but a system that used to compare a set of prints manually with 57 local burglars may be pretty reliable, but when you start using a national database, the chances of false matches becomes increasingly high.

But the second problem is that juries place excessive trust in DNA evidence as being conclusive, which means it is very tempting for police (who may be genuinely convinced of someone’s guilt) planting DNA evidence. Having a database of samples just makes it easier for them to fit people up. Or even for a criminal to frame you.

and throw away the key

You do have to wonder about David Irving’s basic grasp on reality.

He knew that he was wanted in Austria for making a speech there years ago denying the holocaust, and could face gaol. So what did he do – he went to Austria. What part of “being on the run” doesn’t he understand?

So now, he is appealing against the severity of his sentence, and at the same time the prosecutors are appealing that his sentence was too short. Remember that the sentencing judge cut him some slack because he had recanted his earlier lunacy in court. “I said that the [the holocaust was a hoax] based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now. The Nazis did murder millions of Jews." Irving admitted from the dock.

So while he is waiting for the judges to decide whether not to increase his sentence, he gives an interview with the BBC where he says he now only believes: “there had been isolated cases of Jewish people being gassed during World War II.” And here is his brilliant piece of deductive reasoning: "Given the ruthless efficiency of the Germans, if there was an extermination programme to kill all the Jews, how come so many survived?"

Of course, the utter rubbish spouted by the holocaust deniers has been completely refuted, including this latest preposterous claim by Irving. Personally I think that making holocaust denial a crime is a political mistake, but on a personal level I would not be too upset if Irving’s sentence were increased to the maximum 10 years.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

No More Prisons!

One letter that caught my eye in the latest issue of Socialist Worker was a letter from Pauline Campbell on behalf of the organisation No More Prisons (LINK), an organisation committed to alternative forms of justice. The issue of how we treat people who have committed criminal offenes is not an issue that th left typically agitate on. This, in a way stands to reason: 'progressive' positions on justice are difficult to make popular given the potential of crime to genuinely destroy the lives of masses of ordinary people . Yet is becoming clearer and clearer that prison ruins lives and doesnt work. In America, the conservative lock 'em up mentality that has prevailed over the last two decades has simply seen the prison population mushroom to the extent that it now exceeds 2 million (There is a great System of a Down track - Prison Song - which deals with the American prison system). Meanwhile enormous rates of reoffending in britain demonstrate the actual effect of prison on people, and their ability to relate to society at large. The best thing about theno more prisons site is that it is not dominated by 'do-gooders' - people who have little direct experience of either crime or criminal justice but want to improve the lot of the wretched. Instead if you go to the forum you will find extremely illuminating reports from people whose voices are rarely heard - the mothers, fathers and partners of people who end up inside. To be sure their idea of abolishing prison altogether raises a great number of questions. Yet now more than ever is a time when we can forgive them for bending the stick in the other direction. check out waht they have to say

Reuben

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Who let the bombs out?

Well, according to Aljazeera the occuppying forces are clearly to blame for the mosque bombing.

http://www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service_ID=10813

Here's an extract "Wednesday’s attack on al-Askariya shrine is an insult to the sanctities of all Muslims that could be seen as the continuation of the offensive move by some Western newspapers that published disrespectful cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)... With Iraq heading closer to civil war, many feel like Dr. Nabil Salim, a political science professor at Baghdad University who says that U.S.-led occupation forces share blame, directly or indirectly, for the shrine bombing."

Now we don't know who is responsible for the bombing but I was shocked by the attempt to directly link the publication of the racist cartoons (our take on the cartoons row) with the bombing. The Hindustan Times gave prominence to this "[Mahboob Ahmed] vehemently denied the US charge that the recent bombardment of Shia shrine in Iraq was the work of Al Qaeda. Entire Iraq, he pointed out, was at the mercy of US and British troops and nothing could be done without their connivance."

Some other voices seem to share the idea that the occupiers might not simply be indirectly responsible (which I think is completely reasonable) to actually saying they might be directly responsible - despite there being no evidence for this at all, other than a respectable hatred of the occupying powers.

For example the normally excellent Lenin's Tomb moves into this territory
here, but I wonder if this isn't a little hasty... Now the occupiers are dirty bastards - no question - this report from Socialist Worker is very useful at showing this, or this piece from the San Hose Mercury News, but that does not mean we should jump in feet first blaming every act of barbarism in Iraq on US special forces or whoever because "nothing could be done without their connivance" which is just plain rubbish.

The occupation has created the conditions where horrific acts of violence have become a daily occurence and human beings are perfectly capable of acting against their own self interests at the slightest provocation. I'm not ruling out the possibility that US forces are to blame - but I'm certainly not going to suggest they were until I actually have a reason to think it.

Otherwise the anti-war movement is just going to be a mirror image of the pro-war ideologues like in this CBS piece which blames Al Qaeda without evidence. I suppose if we have a world full of goodies and baddies we know without the necessity of proof that the bad things are all done by the bad people and the good things by our lot. Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps) the world is slightly more complex and we actually need to investigate things before we know what happened.

This piece in the Guardian is far more reflective for example (Martin Kettle) and what it helps clarify is that the allied forces can be held responsible for the mayhem, of which the recent bombings are a part, without necessarily being the people who laid the explosives. Of course there are also lots of things in this article that the anti-war movement will have an issue with, and rightly, but there is much here that's worth engaging with too.

I think it would be worth moving away from the good / bad sloganising model of analysis on the war, particularly because most of the public are now convinced that the war was a bad idea. What we need more of is an understanding and discussion of the complexities of the situation - a bit more depth and a little less posturing perhaps.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sympathy for the devil

There has been a great fuhrer, sorry, furore, in the media recently about Nazis. Everywhere we turn, the spectre of Nazism seems to be raising its ugly head, from Nick Griffin and Mark Collett's trial, to the sentancing of David Irving, from neo-Nazi music documentaries to Labour Party Chairman Ian McCartney's comments on the BNP's leaflet printing the most offensive of the Danish cartoons as being "straight out of the Nazi textbook."

But in all this, we have to remember, that Nazis are people too. They are a minority who find themselves at a severe disadvantage in society, a severely handicapped group and one that needs our care, consideration and sympathy as this video clearly shows:

www.apolitical.info/videos/handicap.mpeg

Student fined 80 quid for swearing under the Public Order Act

One story that caught my eye this week was a piece in the Telegraph (i dont buy it - I just read it). It related to an 18 year old student and voluntary youth worker who was fined 80 quid for swearing, during a private conversation in a public park. Kurt is refusing to pay the fine claiming that swearing is a normal part of the way young people converse. Coming from the foul mouthed generation myself I am tempted to agree. In fact my own personal feeling is that people who are emotionally upset because they hear a swear word should be referred to a psyciatrist.

I recognise that not everybody feels like this, but the uncomfortability caused to some people by the word fuck is hardly a matter for policing and certainly not a matter for an £80fine - which for most students would account for two days wages.

Now here is the really interesting part. The police force in question justified the action on the basis that swearing in public is an offence under the *PUBLIC ORDER ACT*. If this is the public order act i am thinking of (and it has been updated several times) it was brought in with the declared intention of undermining Mosely's BUF. Rather relevantly, it goes to show that if we support government authoritarianism - even whe nthe ddeclared targets are people we dont particularly like - it will in the long run come back and bite us up the arse, for want of a more articulate way of putting it.

Reuben

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Iraq - the beginning of a civil war?

Have people seen this very interesting blog Daily News from Iraq

It hosts reports every day from what's happening in Iraq - in the wake of the mosque bombing and the news reporting the possibility of a 'religious civil war' (in the Guardian and in the Independent and on the BBC) trying to keep an eye out for what is really happening in Iraq is more and more important.

I also note that the excellent Iraq Occupation Focus has a new newsletter which you can read
here (pdf)

And a quick reminder that the Stop the War Coalition
(click here) are trying to build as large a demonstration as possible for the anniversery of the invasion on Saturday March 18th - although I suspect Paul Holbourgh's call for a one day general strike may well go unheeded.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Our special relationship

I bank with Nat West.

They have closed my local branch, and whenever I ring I get a call centre in Bristol.

So I am not over impressed with those adverts on TV, that claim that Nat West are different. You know

"My pub, local,
- my bank – a call centre in India"

I wonder if they will be bringing out a new version:

Our government, shameless poodles of the Americans.
Our ex-employees: banged up in a high security Texas prison despite no evidence being offered in a UK court.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

As usual: the rabbi and the priest are both talking bollocks

After centuries of persecution various christian and jewish leaders have established a fairly elaborate facade of mutual love and respect. If you read the letters pages of the Times (or perhaps any other C of E read paper) you will see that this facade has been momentarily broken by that ridiculous man - the chief rabbi. In response to C of Es decision to divest from catterpillar, on account of the involvement of their products in the building of the apartheid wall the Chief Rabbi stated that 'The Church’s gesture will hurt Israelis and Jews without helping the Palestinians.'A fucking stupid thing to say which deserves no further comment

I was however disturbed by the response from general synod member, Paul Oestreicher that Tragically, Israel's policies feed it [anti-semitism] - and when world Jewry defends Israeli policies right or wrong, then anger turns not only against Israel, but against all Jews.

To be honest I thought the phrase 'world jewry' had gone out of fashion. I certainly did not think it was still acceptable to talk about 'world jewry' doing this wrong or that wrong as if we were homogeneous mass. Mr Oestreicher if he is enlightened enough to engage with secular thought would not have to look very far within the Palestine solidarity movement or even within contemporary commentary to find elements of 'world jewry' that do not suppport Israel full stop.

I suppose expecting religious leaders not to say stupid thingss is like expecting the royals to lead the revolution.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Two stories of the Holocaust

Surely there can be few people in the world less deserving of sympathy than dodgy historian David Irving. Especially as he is (literally) author of his own misfortune, as he chose of his own free will to go to Austria where his published denial of the holocaust is illegal.

Nevertheless it is excellent that following his guilty plea in court he has admitted: “Obviously, I've changed my views. History is a constantly growing tree - the more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989….. I would call [the holocaust] the Jewish tragedy in World War II. … Yes, there were gas chambers … Millions of Jews died, there is no question. I don't know the figures. I'm not an expert on the Holocaust."

Interestingly, at the same time there is a growing row between the German and American governments about the refusal of the Germans to release all the documents from the concentration camps, that are currently held by the International Tracing Service (ITC) in Bad Arolsen. There are apparently 15.5 miles of filing cabinets with meticulous details of the 17 million people who passed through the camp system. According to today’s New York Times the German and Italian governments, along with the ITC itself, are dragging their feet on releasing the documents to scholars because they fear further claims for reparations – the German government has already paid out $80 billion. Tempers are flaring over the issue, and Paul Shapiro, a director of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, has accused Germany of "abusing efforts to achieve consensus … exerting a stranglehold on the process." He has even gone as far as saying "Hiding this record is a form of Holocaust denial." I presume he has no aspirations to become a diplomat.

It is not clear that the documents even belong to the German government, or the Red Cross, as the USA disputes whether ownership was ever transferred, and obviously the legal owner after the end of WW2 were the victorious Allied powers. German sovereignty was restored in 1955 by the Bonn treaty, but this did not necessarily include evidence of crimes committed by the Third Reich and seized by allied armed forces.

There is a rising tide of anti-Semitism today, for example a major newspaper in Iran, Hamshahri, is offering gold coins to cartoonists to produce 12 drawings to lampoon what they call the “alleged” holocaust. It is good news that David Irving has recanted his holocaust denial, which is a serious blow for the lunatic right, and their friends. But the growing respectibility of holocaust denial in some parts of the world shows why it is absolutely necessary for all the Nazi documents to be open to scholarly review and appraisal.

Fur flies for Kate Hoey

As time goes on I find myself warming more and more to Kate Hoey MP. Admittedly she was originally imposed upon Vauxhall Labour party, who wanted the admirable Martha Osamor as candidate, but since then Hoey has developed an excellent record at standing up against New Labour.

She rebelled against the government on important votes on the Racial Hatred bill, as well as opposing the illiberal and poorly conceived "anti-terrorism" legislation, as well as opposing ID cards, and being a firm opponent of the Iraq war.

See her voting record. She was also an excellent minister for sport, who really understood the issues, rather than relying on spin and sound-bites.

But what impresses me is that she thinks for herself, and has a consistent record of opposing big government interfering in our private lives: she opposed the ban on smoking in pubs, opposed the ban on fox hunting, and even stood up to the public hysteria after Dunblane and opposed the ban on hand guns.

So I was so so so impressed by her recent response to the Daily Telegraph reporting that she had been seen wearing a Gucci watch and a fake fur coat. “The Gucci was fake: the fur was real” she replied.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

upping the ante against venezuela

In spite of the idiocy that sometimes pours out of their mouths I don't believe that the people governing the US say much by accident. That is to say that when Rumsfeld compared Chavez to Hitler earlier this month it was not simply the man being an idiot. World War 2 represents the ultimate legitimate war in the American memory. At the time of Vietnam policy makers invoked that war to rationalise their action. Comparing Chavez to Hitler was a mechanism for making him and his regime into a legitimate target for intevention. On Friday Rice said Chavez was leading countries away from democracy, referred to him a regional danger, called for a united front against him and stated that "The international community has just got to be much more active in supporting and defending the Venezuelan people,". Of course this is not the first time that the USA has attacked chavez. The point is that US commentary is more and more implying that practical action against Venezuela would be desirable.

From the blogosphere

Saw this quick report of the Muslim Action Committee demonstration over the Danish cartoons at Liam Mac Uaid's blog and thought it well worth repeating here

On a related topic Lenin's Tomb (winner of the Socialist Unity 2005 'best blog' award) reports the worrying news that
Documentary stars arrested under and Five by Five adds to the debate too

Saturday, February 18, 2006

B52-two case before House of Lords next week

Demo: 9am, Parliament Square, Monday 20 February

Early on 18th March 2003 two activists - Toby Olditch and Philip Pritchard -were arrested trying to get into USAF Fairford to nonviolently disarm theB52 bombers stationed there.

Hours later these self-same bombers were usedto bomb Iraq. Though the pair were released on bail in June 2003 they are still waiting tostand trial. Next week, a five-day hearing in the House of Lords will determine whether or not they will be allowed to present one of the keyplanks of their defence, namely whether or not the international "Crime ofAggression" can ever be deemed a "crime" in UK domestic law. Show your support for Toby and Phil by joining the demo. in ParliamentSquare at 9am next Monday (20th Feb) - but check www.b52two.org first in case there is a change of plan

Thursday, February 16, 2006

u r dad u tory bstrd

one piece of tory bollocks that made me laugh over the last few days was the report that David Cameron had been alerted to his baby's birth by text message. Seriously if you were a woman going into labour and you needed to contact your husband you would want to know that he had got the message and that he was able to come to the hospital - in other words you would give him a fucking phone call. I believe that the report that Cameron heard by text is probably part of the somewhat embarassing campaign to make the Tory boy look cool.

EU Services Directive a threat to public services

GREEN MEPS WARN SERVICES DIRECTIVE FAILS TO PROTECT PUBLIC SERVICES

The future of public services across the EU has been thrown into doubt after MEPs in Strasbourg voted to adopt a controversial Services Directive today.

The directive paves the way for commercial service providers from flower-arrangers to funeral directors to trade across borders within the EU – just as the single market legislation already allows for goods. But the UK’s Green MEPs voted against the proposals, warning they provided inadequate protection for public services – and could hit consumers hard.

Speaking after the vote the Vice President of the Green Group in the European Parliament, Jean Lambert MEP for London, said that the directive poses more questions than it answers:

“This Directive, does improve a disastrous Commission proposal, but it still lacks clarity.

“The Greens had offered a radical amendment of the legislation to make sure it could work for small businesses but still offer real protection of public services, however Parliament has chose a different route.

“Far too many doors have been left ajar for further liberalisation of public services and there are no assurances that the deeply controversial Country of Origin Principle is gone. The end result is a deal which leaves everyone claiming a victory but with nobody sire of the impact.”

Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for South-East England, added: “Though the directive does explicitly exclude health services, it does allow for international trade in education and social services: these should not be treated like widgets and washing machines – and we now need a separate law to protect vulnerable users of these essential services from the ‘race to the bottom’ in service levels which invariably accompanies the opening up of new markets.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

but i like smokey pubs!

Well as you know yesterday the government voted for a blanket ban on smoking i n pubs and clubs. Before I go into my political position on this let me start by explaining my personal vantage point. I have nearly all my life been a non-smoker. Recently i decided i like the odd cigar when go out to pubs (a bit fucking poncy i know) but this has not really effected my position.

To be honest i think the government has gone overboard - and that the actual aim of the decision was to move towards a de facto ban on smoking (ie a society in which it is so uncomfortable and annoying to be a smoker that people stop). We all know that smoking is bad for your health. Yet it is - or at least can be - a pleasurably activity. We are constantly faced with decisions where we have to balance the need to protect our health against pleasure. Drinking as much as I did last night was probably not good for me healthwise but i made a decision that the enjoyment i got out of getting fucked outweighed - for me - the damage i may be doing to my liver. A similar argument applies to smoking. In fact i find the idea that each cigarette takes 20 seconds off your life quite appealing - it means if I smoke a whole pack i'll probably shit myself one less time before i die. Of course smoking and drinking are not completely equivalent - most obviously second hand smoke can damage your health. What this means is not that we need a blanket ban of smoking of deference to non-smokers but instead that we need to provide opprotunites both for people who choose to smoke and those who do not to enjoy themselves. We could for example liscense a certain number of smoking pubs for each locality hwile keeping the others smoke free. This is similar to the way things worked on trains with smoking cars. To be honest I do not understand why we no longer have smoking cars. In fact I do understand - it's because the neo puritans pushing all of these restrictions are hiding behind the passive smoking argument. The reality is that they cannot bear wto see people choosing to harm their health and regard it as their right to intervene.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Message to Respect members from George Galloway MP

The first thing that I want to say is how grateful I am to all those members and supporters of Respect who defended me personally and the party as a whole in recent difficult weeks.

I regret not being able to prepare you for it but I hope that all Respect members will understand that I entered the Big Brother House with the best of intentions: to reach a wider audience with our message and to raise money for Interpal.

One of these aims has certainly been achieved, Palestinians and their children served by Interpal will eat or will be clothed because of it. The exact sum raised is not yet known but it is well into five figures.

The aim of getting the message across has been more difficult. Endemol, the producers of Celebrity Big Brother, gave me assurances that I would be able to do just that. I feel that they have acted in bad faith, especially in actually censoring me, although the press coverage since I came out has allowed me to make a variety of political points to a much wider audience with greater success.

The press onslaught was greater than any of us could have predicted but I am now back at work in Tower Hamlets and assisting Respect groups around the country prepare for the May elections.

As New Labour threatens Iran, faces a renewed crisis in Palestine and forces through its privatisation agenda we all have plenty of work to do. And then there is what brought most of us together, Iraq, with another melancholy milestone passed, the death of the 100th British soldier.

I know that everyone in Respect realises that these issues weigh far greater in the balance than the outcome of a celebrity TV show. So do I. And I look forward to campaigning alongside you in the coming year.



George Galloway MP

Monday, February 13, 2006

Interview with Nepalese Maoist leader

There is a fascinating full transcript of Nepali Maoist leader Prachanda's interview with the BBC, that really is worth reading. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4707482.stm

As over 13000 have died so far in the war, and due to the experience of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, I think some caution is understandable! However the Maoist rebels have recently built a working relationship with the constitutional opposition parties. And their determination not to disrupt the tourist industry suggests that they do not share the ideas of economic and cultural autarchy that led to disaster in Cambodia.

There was a good article in Socialist Worker last year from Dave Seddon, but things have moved on quite a bit since it was written:
http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php4?article_id=6101

Palestine conference

Testing this out for the first time I'm writing on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign conference on Saturday but using that as a vehicle to discuss the political situation as well. I know its a bit long for a blog but I ended up cutting back on my summary of the debates as you'll realsie if you can make it to the end....

Leaving aside the 'internalised' organisational debates the conference featured three fascinating, and very articulate contributions by invited speakers who all recognised the need to reassess the politics of the movement in the light of recent events, both inside Israel and with the electoral victory of Hamas. There was also an attempt to shift the campaign's political stance on the two-state solution to a more 'open' position which failed but which had a resonance which I gather would not have been there in the past (it was my first PSC conference).

The first invited speaker was the new official delegate from the PA to Britain Dr Manuel Hassassian. I know nothing of the man's background but he has clearly been some sort of academic and I was very surprised by the analytical tone and 'objectivity' of his contribution which spoke about the reasons for Hamas's victory which he attributed to Israeli intransigence, the role of Hamas in Gaza and the coruption of the authority (maybe he doesn't expect to keep his position for very long anyway - but as somebody commented this was a little unusual for a 'diplomat'!). Then in response to a question he noted that Israel and the US had helped to create Hamas 20 years ago (as an alternative to Fateh - see also Michel Warchawski's piece in the latest International Viewpoint http://internationalviewpoint.org/print - and this is an opportunity for me to plug Warchawski's superb memoir of an anti-Zionist Jew On the Border).

Jeff Halper's contribtions are easily available on the ICAHD ( Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions ) websiteb and there was little new here for those who have followed his recent work but it was superbly delivered as usual (but this time without the maps he normally prefers to have on display for good reason). He did confirm that Olmert will continue Sharon's cleverly designed strategy for a unilateral 'solution' in the West Bank as well as Gaza based on the Apartheid Wall constituting the new border (by the way one thing which infuriates me is to hear or read supposedly intelligent liberal commentators such as Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian talking about Sharon's transformation into a 'man of peace' - no doubt we'll get more of that nonsense when Sharon finally expires).
The strategy has been evident for some time ( so lets have no more nonsense either about Sharon not thinking ahead!) and is designed to surround the West Bank with the Wall absorbing the major settlement blocs and Greater Jerusalem as its known into Israel, but abandoning the smaller outlying settlements and the religious fanatics in places such as Hebron which are simply indefensible like the settlements in Gaza. They will then be able to declare that the Palestinians have 90% of the West bank ( a figure which will anyway exclude the Jerusalem area), get US backing for a 'generous offer' and abandon the Palestinians to a 'caged existence', life in a number of economically unviable bantustans with borders still under Israeli military control...
Its a very persuasive and deeply depressing analysis for anyone who, like myself, has visited the West bank in the last year and seen what the wall and the expansion of settlements such as Maale Adumim (actually a new town already as big as Hemel Hempstead by the way) actually mean for thePalestinian communities in the area:los of land, water supplies, employment, access to hospitals etc etc etc.... Halper repeatedly used the analogy with a prison where the inmates might well inhabit 90% of the area - and he's absolutely right to do so. The recent and very welcome Guardian articles by Chris McGreal on Israel and Apartheid (http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/story ) if anything understate how bad life will be 'on the reservation' (and referring to Reuben's post earlier - he's right to note the difference with South Africa as Palestinian labour is now excluded from the Israeli economy - Moshe Machover's analogy with native American reservations is more accurate in that respect. However the comparison with Apartheid remains vital for campaigning purposes, and the boycott issue has been and remains at the heart of campaigning across Europe now.

Despite having no illusions Geoff Halper somehow manages to retain a note of optimism ( he's been nominated for the Nobel peace prize along with a Palestinian I gather by the American Quakers but give some of the recipients of that would he want it?) . As he correctly insists, the Palestinians have been resisting for 40 years and their struggle has made a continuation of the military occupation in the manner of those decades impossible - they remain 'the gatekeepers', without whom no final settlement and therefore no stability in the MIddle East is possible, and they will not go away. But what the Israeli stance also means - and Dr Hassassian had noted this as well if not quite so bluntly - is that the two-state strategy is now utterly bankrupt , and what remains is a strategy of the Israeli rightwing and the US government to maintain an entity, the PA, which will exist solely to contain and discipline the Palestinian masses but with no meaningful autonomy, or 'viability' (the term repeatedly emphasised by Halper) in any other respect.

The threat the Hamas victory poses to that strategy was highlighted by Dr Mushtaq Khan from SOAS. His talk was too dense to summarise adequately here but he emphasised one point in particular which I've not heard elsewhere put so cogently. If all aid is cut off by the US and EU to a Hamas led government ( he called this a game of chicken by the way but does not expect Hamas to blink first) the first move by Hamas will be to stop paying the armed militias who are almost all Fateh supporters. This is likely to provoke civil war - and indeed there is already evidence of that in Gaza. That is quite apart from the fact that teachers, doctors etc already struggling to survive in the state sector will not get paid ( Dr Khan did not say this but it seems likely that the explicitly Islamic schools which are already better funded with money from outside, as I saw when I was there, will continue to operate whilst the 'secular' schools would shut down). The possible scenario is horrifying but precisely because of that he expects the EU at least to find some reason for maintaining 'aid' whilst continuing to pressurise Hamas to toe the line.

The debate on a motion 'That this campaign makes a m,arked shift of image to better accomodate the Single State solution' which followed later was very interesting. It revolved around two lengthy amendments ( I could reproduce in full but I think they can be found on the PSC website if you are interested) - one from Mike Davies from Leeds which I supported which acknowledged that the choice over 'one-state or two-state solution' was up to the Palestinian people but said that PSC campaigning should 'accomodate' both possibilities ( ie not in practice back the two-state solution' as it has done since Oslo). This lost but there was a card count for the only time on the day (I think the vote was 26 for 42 against).
The other amendment, proposed by Bernard Reagan for the executive, which then carried overwhelmingly, basically said its not up to the PSC to decide, and Bernard used his rhetorical skills to emphasise the principle of 'self-determination'. Who could disagree but as one speaker from the floor commented, by referring to a 'Palestinian state' the executive's amendment already prejudged the issue.

This is a debate which will not go away either inside or outside Palestine....and I would welcome other comments here.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

how did i miss this?

I wonder how i manage to miss this:

On the 11th of Febuary a march was called
'To defend the rights of all individuals to be able to think freely, criticize, be able to use their imaginations, to have the right to freedom of speech, and of expression' in front of BBC TV station in London.

Significantly it does seem to have been genuinely called by middle eastern progressives - including the Iranian civil rights committee who encountered once on a stall in london and who seem very good.

Organisers included:

Organisation of women’s freedom in Iraq-UK Branch, Middle East Centre for Women’s Rights (MECWR), International Federation of Iraqi refugees (IFIR) International Organisation of Iranian Refugees (IOIR), Iranian Civil Rights Committee and others. Iranian Civil Rights Committee (Iran CRC), Organisation for Emancipation of Women in Iran (OEWI).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Economist on Venezuela

Periodically the economist appears in my college common room and I will get the chance to laugh at their somewhat ridiculous coverage of Venezuela. For a publication that has the reputation of being a kind of weighty journal, their coverage of Chavez is surprisingly bad. This week they asserted that Venezuelans were looking on unimpressed by Chavez's programme of 21st century socialism while their countries infrastructure crumbled around them. A neat point - but not one based in fact. If they had looked at any independent research as to how Venezuelans felt they would have found it hard - in the last year at least - to find a poll demonstrating less than around 70 per cent support for Chavez. In fact in october 2005 a poll found that 77 per cent of people approved of Chavez's handling of the presidency. The reason? quite simple, while the wankers at the economist assert that venezuela's infrastructure is crumbling, doctors are being sent to neighbourhoods in which a doctor has never been seen and hundreds of thousands of people are being taught to read and write; and land poor and landless peasants are being given the support they need to form co operatives and collectives.

The economist did for once say one thing i agree with. A page near front carried the headline 'Free Speech Must Override Religious Sensitivities', but thats a whole other debate....

solidarity,

Reuben

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Friday, February 10, 2006

John Rose On Palestine

Last night I saw John Rose – SWP activist and recent author of The Myths of Zionism - speak in Cambridge on the subject Zionism after Sharon. He was extremely good - he didn’t simply stick to the safe subjects of Palestinian sovereignty and Human rights but actually took on Zionism and demonstrated how the idea of a specifically Jewish state in that part f the world was fundamentally flawed.

The discussion was interesting. I asked John if, in the light of Peretz's victory in the labour party, Israeli workers, whose interests run counter to those of the Israeli military industrial complex, could play a progressive role - John responded by giving a history of reactionary stances taken by Israeli labour (something which hardly makes this section of workers unique). It is certainly true that Israeli workers have taken and do in general take an anti-arab stance. But this is not sufficient to remove them from the equation. History has countless examples of social forces that are at one moment reactionary transforming themselves rapidly. Almost by accident an interesting point was raised during this meeting by a zionist who argued that zionism was not colonialism because it did not involve the exploitation of Palestinian labour - a fairly stupid argument. John quite rightly argued that the Israeli policy of exclusion as opposed to exploitation was in many ways worse. That it is. However, It is nonetheless significant when looking at Israeli society, to be aware of the fact that Zionism has been based upon more on exclusion than the super exploitation of Palestinian labour (as took place in South Africa). In the latter case the socio-economic position of white workers was thoroughly warped -a white construction worker would have black servants in his or her house. In Israel - though their is a racial divide in the job market -the exlpoitation of working class israeli jews is not cancelled out in quite the same way. It is essentially because of this that I am unwilling to write off Israeli jewish workers as a potentially progressive social force.

Although I disagree with John on this one point, he is, as i said a real authority on the matter and - perhaps more rarely - a real thinker on the subject of Zionism. I will definitely be buying his book.

If your interested it is available on amazon

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dirty tricks at Wikipedia?

There has been a recent expose that members of Staff at the US congress have been editing the Wikipedia on-line encyclopaedia to sanitise the biographies of senators and members of congress.
For those of you who haven’t used it - Wikipedia is a creative commons project that can be edited by the readers, so that hopefully a consensus is reached.
This works well with neutral subjects, but checking the debate over entries for Stalin or Hitler for example, shows that there can be no consensus over political subjects.
According to the BBC: "Using the public history of edits on Wikipedia, researchers collected the internet protocol numbers of computers linked to the US Senate and tracked the changes made to online pages. The site lists half a dozen prominent biographies that had been changed by Senate computers, including those of Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. "
This is of course a warning for those who rely uncritically on the web for factual information. The creative commons concept can be subverted by those who shout loudest, or edit most persistently.

Wikipedia tightens the Rules:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4502846.stm

Congress 'made Wikipedia changes:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4695376.stm

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"A Home Owning Democracy"

Today I attended the lobby organised by the Defend Council Housing Campaign and the trades unions, as part of a Swindon delegation comprised of members of the TGWU, GMB, UNISON and Swindon TUC. Two Labour Councillors were part of the delegation.

Myself and some TGWU members met with South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove. Our main aim was to press her on the need for a council house building programme, and the right of Councils to build new houses. Whilst they are not legally barred from doing so, rules introduced by Thatcher mean that they are heavily financially penalised if build any. Hence in the entire country last year there were only 400 built.

Our relatively new MP explained to us that she was opposed to councils building and owning housing. "We live in a home owning democracy" she explained to us. She was not best pleased when I reminded her that this was what Thatcher said, and Peter Mandelson's words in "The Blair Revolution", "we are all Thatcherites now".

Councils are not the best organisations to build housing, she said. They are very bureaucratic. It would be better for private companies to build them. Private business she said, is more efficient!

She was also opposed to 'monolithic' estates such as were built in the past. That is, estates full of....Council tenants.

The degree to which Blairites like her have moved was eloquently illustrated back at the Rally at Westminster Methodist Hall. Gerald Kaufman, old right wing social democrat spoke about the need not only to allow direct investment in current Council Housing stock, but for a big council house building programme. He told the audience that much of his surgery work related to the problems of tenants of housing associations, which he denounced as unaccountable organisations!

It's worth pausing to think through this conception of a "home owning democracy". It was Thatcher's desire to create a "home owning democracy" which led her to introduce the 'right to buy'. This was a conscious attempt at social engineering designed to destroy the political base of electoral support which most of these estates constituted for Labour.
The logic of such a conception is that you are a failure or underserving of participation in the pseudo-demoracy under which we live, if you do not own your own home. New Labour is the party of "aspiration" we are told. The Labour Party was originally the party of the collective aspiration of working people. New Labour reveres individual aspiration. That Austin Mitchell and Gerald Kaufmann appear like raging left wingers up against the Blairs and the Snelgroves is an indication of the degree to which the latter have abandoned social provision in their worship of the tenets of the free market. One of the speakers reminded us that in the 1950's and '60s, the Tories and Labour used to argue about who built the most Council houses.

What the elections reveal about the far left in Palestine and Egypt

One of the interesting aspects of the recent elections in Palestine was the failure of the left to unite to form a “third force” that could challenge the polarised battle between Fatah and Hamas. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/772/re4.htm

The total vote for the two socialist lists was 7.17%, a total of 71000 votes, and they won 4 seats.
http://electronicintifada.net/video2/electorallists.pdf

Socialists of the PFLP stood under the banner “list no. 3, the list of the martyr Abu Ali Mustafa!" (Abu Ali Mustafa is general secretary of the PFLP and is imprisoned in Jericho.) This list won 42000 votes, (4.25%).

Another coalition of socialists stood as “List 4 the Alternative” also won 29000 votes (2.92%) and seem to have stood on a more explicitly Marxist programme.

The election was undoubtedly polarised between Fatah and “Change and Reform” (The Hamas list), so getting over 7% is a reasonable vote for the hard left, and is a basis to build upon.

It compares favourably with the Egyptian elections where socialists and secular opposition parties were marginalised.

Bizarrely there was an article in Socialist Worker about Kamal Khalil - a Revolutionary Socialist - who SW claimed was "set to win" his seat in Cairo if it had not been for deliberate election fraud - govt closing the polling stations, etc, http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php?article_id=7825

Now this is of course possible, but it doesn't match the account of the elections in Al Ahram.

results: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/771/eg9.htm
electoral fraud: : http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/771/eg11.htm

The first of these articles talks about only a 10% turnout in urban constituencies, and the vote polarised between the (banned) Moslem Brotherhood and the govt party. The secular opposition have been wiped out and even former Free Officer (Nasser's close circle) Khaled Mohieddin has lost his seat. It quotes a leading oppositionist saying that people didn't vote for Khalil because his name was not explicitly Islamic. What is more the other secular politicians are admitting that they were marginalised by a polarisation between the Islamists and the govt.

With regard to electoral interference, the govt party would be more opposed to the Moslem Brotherhood (MB) than to a socialist, however revolutionary, and exactly the same electoral irregularities were practised across the country with the aim of keeping out the MB candidates, but they nevertheless won 100 seats, trebling their standing in parliament.

So the picture in Egypt is interesting, that there is an active secular left, who were able to hegemonise street demonstrations for democracy, but when it came to the actual elections, it was exposed that they stood on a relatively narrow base. Where opposition to the govt was expressed at the polls it overwhelmingly went to the Islamists. The following interesting article in al Ahram discusses the left in Egyptian society:
http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/778/eg8.htm
“There is still hope, Veteran left-wing lawyer, El-Hilali suggests, if leftists find a way to work together, though "not in the form of yet another political party". What is needed, he says, is a broad non-ideological coalition, "including as many factions as possible and able to steer away from the typical ghettoising of Trotskyites, Nasserists and the like".

“Because leftists cannot hope to achieve political change alone, El-Hilali echoed the calls made by less radical leftist factions on the importance of working with Islamists, urging "hysterical and frantic critics" of such a move to "stop". "There are fundamental differences but we are agreed on our opposition to the regime and to imperialism... There is no justification in refraining from engaging in joint work."

“Tamer Wageeh, of the Socialist Studies Centre, pointed to the "ill-defined" masses of activists who have taken to the streets in the last six years, citing Intifada solidarity demonstrations, anti-war protests and the more recent demonstrations demanding change in Egypt. But instead of swelling the ranks of left-wing factions these young and politicised activists are rejecting the left label.

"They don't define themselves as yassar (left) though they subscribe to its principles -- anti-privatisation, anti- imperialism, women's rights, Coptic rights and so on -- because the reputation of the Egyptian left has put them off. The challenge is to integrate these people into the movement."

“It is equally important, he added, for the left-leaning anti- Mubarak group Kifaya to not just maintain its activities but expand them to include socio-economic issues.
“If the left doesn't work on enhancing its appeal, he said, the results are easy to foresee. "There will be a great void and people will simply turn to the right." ”

Hamza Jailed

well unlike the mainstream press i decided not- in my title - to make a joke out of this man's disability. But I will be having a drink tonight to celebrate the locking away of Mr Abu Hamza ( I was on a blind date last night with a teatotaller - can you think of anyhting worse). When I was at secondary school it was my local mosque and I used to hear first hand from my friends ( I suppose this makes it second hand) the kind of shit this man chatted. Shame that Mr Griffin is still wondering the streets free.

Reuben

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Chavez Launches Election campaign

If you go to Venezuelanalysis.com - a brilliant source of news regarding venezuela - you will be able to see pictures of masses of people dressed in red at a rally to launch Chavez's reelection campaign. The election scheduled for December 2006 will - in my opinion mark a watershed both in Venezuelan politics and in terms of how the left relates to Chavez.

Not that long ago a friend at a party told me that our attitude to Chavez should be to support his fightback against imperialism while constantly reminding the masses that he will betray them. I of course feel less confident than this friend of mine in my ability to predict the future. I don't 'know' that Chavez (who some clearly see as the bourgious democratic, proletarian bonapartist devil worshiping puppet of capitalist free masonry) will betray the poor. By the time he is re elected, however, the rhetoric from Chavista moderates about the need to consolidate his position will be starting to wear thin, and then more than ever, we on the left, as well the people of Venezuela will have an absolute right to expect his socialist rhetoric to translate into the real transformation of society.

REUBEN

Sunday, February 05, 2006

By way of Introduction

Welcome to the Socialist Unity Network blog. This blog will be maintained primarily by myself, Reuben Rosenberg, and Salman Shaheen although all the members of the SUN team will be able to post on it.

The point of this blog?

It will be a space where debate can happen - through the comments section - where snippiets of news can be published and points can be made.


Hope you enjoy,

Reuben