Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Worm Finally Turns...

A riveting piece from Sayso’s newest contributor - The Bookkeeper

The 10th November may be the date when the worm finally ‘turned’ for the Republican party and it’s Neo-Conservative figureheads. George Allen, the Republican incumbent for Virginia finally admitted defeat in a close-run election to his Democrat rival, Jim Webb (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6134870.stm).

It is almost breath taking how quickly the wheels have come off the Republican bandwagon. The Neo-Conservative idealism that has dominated Washington and indeed world politics over the last six years is in danger of being snuffed out by the events of a most extraordinary week, and the effects are going to be far reaching. Perhaps the most significant event was the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, and on the very same day that George Allen admitted defeat, John Bolton, the President’s hand-picked Ambassador to the United Nations, finds his job on the line. It would be hard to underestimate the significance of these changes. Both Bolton and Rumsfeld were two prongs of the same fork that was supposed to turn the doctrine of the “New American Century” into reality (http://www.newamericancentury.org/). As a student of International Relations who not just 18 months ago was studying and implications that this doctrine will have on the 21st Century, I have to admit that I’m somewhat at a loose end when it comes to trying to predict what will happen now, especially concerning Iraq and our own government’s “Special Relationship”. I cannot help but think that the Democrats will want Tony Blair out of the way sooner rather than later (correct me if I’m wrong!): after all, he is tarred with the same brush over Iraq as Rumsfeld and Bush, despite his apparent political differences with the Republicans. What they have now is the closest thing to a clean slate in politics. One can only hope this optimism, albeit shrouded in uncertainty, is not misplaced. For the Democrats, the process of moving on from 6 years of humiliation and division can began. For the rest of the world, the legacy of 6 years of the same will last a lot longer.


Afterthought…

Whilst I was perusing the New American Century website my attention was immediately drawn to the map of the world on the homepage. There are a few headings over various parts of the globe, each one representing a major issue/flashpoint according to the Neo-conservative thinktank. Apparently both Africa and South America are undeserving in attention, and are instead lumped into the “Global Issues” link, almost as an afterthought. Nato is an apparently more pressing issue.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Under Surveillance - Under Attack?


There have been major reports this week in Britain revealing that we are one of the most observed societies in the world. Our movements, buying habits are all closely recorded and an increasing number of British citizens are having DNA samples collected and stored by the police, regardless of whether they are found innocent or guilty of any crime.

You might feel that none of this is a worry to you, and indeed that DNA technology has brought benefits for society through bringing more rapists and murderers to justice. Or you might be worried that our civil liberties are increasingly under attack.

Either way you should worry about the fact that we have reached this state of affairs without the issues being debated and voted upon in Parliament.

It is a sad indictment, that Britain, which has so brazenly attempted to impose democracy upon Iraq, lacks the democratic will and structures to have these hugely important issues debated.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Leban On and On...

Can there be peace in our time?

The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in Southern Lebanon towards the end of the summer provided a grim reminder of just how delicate Lebanon’s peace remains sixteen years after the end of its long Civil War. Given the institutionalisation of sectarianism along religious grounds in Lebanon, maintaining the peace is an inherently delicate balancing act and the position of Hezbollah naturally provides a point of contention for those on all sides to exploit for their own ends.

Despite its protests to the contrary, Hezbollah certainly demonstrates a number of characteristics of a state within a state; fulfilling such vital social functions as operating schools, hospitals, providing compensation packages for citizens hit by conflict and even runs its own satellite television station Al-Manar. Most contentious however, is the organisation’s military function, one which it claims is vital to protect Lebanese sovereignty from Israeli incursions in light of the security vacuum left by the army who have historically been unable to provide adequate protection in the South. This justification for its presence is made more problematic however, by the military and financial support that Hezbollah receives from Iran; a situation fuelling the viewpoint that the recent conflict can be interpreted more acutely as a proxy war fought between Iran and Israel.

The conflict was triggered in July of this year when Hezbollah fired rockets at Israeli military installations, simultaneously capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing three. Which side of the border these soldiers were on when they were captured is a hotly contested issue, but the move was denounced by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert as ‘an act of war’ and so began a mutually destructive month-long military campaign between the two. Israel held the Lebanese government publicly responsible for Hezbollah aggression on the grounds that two members of the group were in the Lebanese Cabinet and secondly because of the governments failure to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559. This resolution calls for Lebanon to take full control over its land; a measure intended principally to precipitate Syrian withdrawal, but refers more ambiguously to the status of Hezbollah, particularly in the South. Israel’s response was clearly designed to foster tension between Hezbollah and the Lebanese population, but in spite of considerable military expenditure by both sides, neither one can genuinely claim to have extracted genuine victory in the conflict.

It has now been two months since the cessation of hostilities, so what has happened? Lebanon suffered considerable physical damage, with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora announcing that the country had “paid a heavy price in lives and properties as a result of this devastating war. Also, nearly a quarter of Lebanon's population was displaced from their homes during the [Israeli] aggression." The slow rebuilding has begun, with an estimated $3.5bn needed to restore buildings and infrastructure. So far, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has donated $500m and pledged a further $100m and Kuwait has offered $300m, but the long term prospects for peace and prosperity are somewhat more difficult to forecast.

Despite the assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri in 2005, Lebanon had been enjoying a period of relative prosperity prior to the conflict, it is an important centre for international finance and has a growing tourist industry - both sectors of the economy that rely on stability to prosper. These may take longer to recover, with complaints from both sides about alleged violations of the ceasefire agreement by the other. Critics on the Lebanese side argue that continued Israeli presence over Lebanon including sonic boom tests over Beirut act as a barrier to settlement, with the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) recording more than one hundred incursions by Israel in the first month of the ceasefire. On the other side, Israeli Defence minister Amir Peretz claims that the continued surveillance has detected Syrian involvement in smuggling arms, and threatening ominously that "if the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah becomes systematic, we will have to take care of it ourselves."

What is clear is that as long as wars continue to be fought by surrogate forces on Lebanese soil, with little regard to its sovereign integrity, stability will fluctuate intermittently and the nation’s fragile peace will be repeatedly tested.

On a related note, ‘Conflict’ is one of the most addictive (and probably the most politically incorrect) computer games ever made. It is a game that I remember playing on the Atari as a young ‘un, and though the nuances of a strategy game where you take over as Prime Minister of Israel with the objective of assuming control over the Middle East were probably lost on me at the time, it’s lost none of its enjoyment.

And now it’s available to download legally for free from
http://www.the-underdogs.info/game.php?name=Conflict%3A+Middle+East+Political+Simulator

Enjoy

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Plastic Bag Challenge - Tesco responds...

Recently the SaySo team contacted the major supermarkets in the UK and asked them to stop producing plastic bags. Below is the reply from Tesco, the UK's biggest supermarket.

Their response mirrors the attitude of the world's governments to climate change. They fully realise that there are huge environmental problems that are slowly killing our planet and profess to care about the situation greatly, but when it comes to having to take any firm action to remedy these problems - rather than take any substantial and decisive action, they introduce only mild piecemeal measures.

We're all doomed...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


We have received your mail regarding the carrier bags. I fully
appreciate your comments. We aim to provide the best possible service for our
customers and any feedback or suggestions made are always very welcome.

Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience caused. While
essential for shopping, there are good reasons why we should all try to cut
down on the number of carrier bags we use.

They can take hundreds of years to degrade and use up precious space at
landfill sites. They're made from oil, so every time we throw one away,
we waste irreplaceable natural resources. And they're a danger to
wildlife, especially the birds, whales, seals and turtles that can swallow
them thinking they?re food.

Despite all this, 500 billion plastic bags are used world-wide every
year - that's over one million a minute.

We and our customers want to be more environmentally-friendly, so we've
committed to reduce the use of carrier bags at Tesco by 25% over the
next two years.

You will earn Clubcard points every time you save and reuse bags,
instead of using a new Tesco carrier bag, to pack your shopping.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

With God On Our Side


The Reagan presidency marked the beginning of a powerful coalition between the Republican Party and the Christian right. While George H Bush has since subdued this flowering coalition with ignorance and disacknowledgement, George W has ensured the Christian right have been a major bloc of support during his Administration.

As Reagan’s Vice-President, H once entered a room full of senior born-again Christian republicans and cracked, “I’m the only one in this room who has been born once.” Silence permeated the room. This kind of remark symbolised the void between politics and religion right through to his presidency. Christian-right influence became but a lobbying objective.

W, however, didn’t make the same mistake as his father. One of the consequences of the reinvigorated alliance has been a pronounced use of morality in foreign and, principally, domestic policy - bans on stem cell research, blocks in funding to pro-choice/abortion organisations, and recently a pledge to sign into law a ban on internet gambling.

Not to mention the War on Terror, framed as a crusade of Good vs Evil.

These decisions have led to staggering acts of hypocrisy. A new law will enable the US government to interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit when it comes to the interrogation of enemy combatants. You might think that interrogation methods such as sleep and sensory deprivation, the attention slap and waterboarding were the sort of things that our evil enemies would force upon noble Western heroes in the movies such as Rambo or James Bond.

The key is always how one uses language to frame actions. If you continually proclaim that you are the leaders of the free word; stand for democracy, accountability, the right of man, good, liberty, justice and dignity, all that is good and right in the world becomes your playing card. Then, in postmodernist terms, this simply becomes the truth, particularly when the media simply stand to reinforce these images. We could never be the “bad” guys.

All states are capable of being angels and devils, and most have a contemporary history of it.

Ontologically speaking, knowledge is power. That is unchanging. But knowledge of what is true is not always honesty; knowledge is power when one knows when and how to hold a monopoly on manipulating what is true. If we fail to grasp that then we are providing our leaders with our unquestioning permission to carry out heinous acts in our name under the banner of righteousness.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Did you know...



that Jack Straw is deaf in one ear? Which might partially explain why he would like Muslim women to take off their veils when they come to see him in his constiituency... Although he didn't use his hearing problems to justify his views.

If you ever have the misfortune to be in Blackburn or even worse, Westminster, and you engage in conversation with Jack Straw, you'll notice that he'll stare intently at your mouth in order to tell what you are saying.


Did you also know that Gordon Brown has a glass eye? His vision in his remaining eye is also pretty bad - but he refuses to wear glasses. If you ever come across any papers that have been written for him then you'll notice that the script is very large, so that he can make out the words.


Well fancy that...

Monday, October 09, 2006

An Imperial History of the Middle East

In 90 seconds, see how the shape of empires has changed over 5,000 years. Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? Pretty much everyone. Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Greeks, Persians, Europeans...the list goes on. Click on the link to view the short, flash-history.

SaySomething....Comment below

Read Niall Ferguson's Colossus for a tasty, if fallible, argument about US hegemony, buy Kasabian's Empire, at Amazon.co.uk