Friday, July 17, 2015

50 Shades of Grey remaindered: From Sanders to Syriza, Moving Right is Wrong for Democratic Socialists!

50 Shades of Grey remaindered: From Sanders to Syriza, Moving Right is Wrong for Democratic Socialists!


Written By: Ian Williams
Published: July 11, 2015 Last modified: July 8, 2015
The worldwide triumph of mediocrity demands explanation. Across the globe, politics seems to have been abandoned to uncharismatic personalities who make the average bank manager look glamorous. Almost the only thing that makes the favourites’ line-up for the Labour Party leadership less yawnable is the Republican presidential primaries in the states, where there are so many runners that one Congressman issued a press release to announce he was not standing.
Surely it is time to revive the tale of the emperor’s new clothes: to point out and pillory the nakedness of the new statesperson. In fact, nudity would be an interesting step up for most them. One reason for the ubiquity of the 50 shades of grey among politicians is that our current imperial tailors are spin-doctors who weave their fabric from focus group fodder. They follow the Clintonian and Blairite principle of looking for a numerous enough group of people amidst whom to hoist their standards regardless of any political principles. Bashing unions, or immigrants, or the unemployed, if that’s what the tabloids want, they will chase then them down the foxhole.
This bizarre New Labour outlook is why so many candidates arrogantly assume they can ignore what members and voters say, and instead play to the media gallery, which is located in some alternative universe where There Is No Alternative to austerity and preferential taxation for plutocrats. The dismissive comments on Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of support among parliamentary apparatchiks is symptomatic of their unconcern for what members and traditional Labour supporters want. As New Labour fades into historical oblivion, like Alice’s Cheshire Cat, the last thing we will see is the smug smile on the face of the fat cats as they take their profits and run offshore.
Here in the United States, the Republican line-up is almost a vindication of market principles. Rarely has there been such a collection of spectacular market failures, usually rescued by family or government money. Donald Trump is the most outstanding blow-hard whose horrifying support among Republican voters typifies HL Mencken’s prediction. “On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Trump’s big defence of his business acumen is that he has never been personally bankrupt, and he can rely on the amnesia of the morons and the media to overlook the repeated collapse of his businesses, the Trump Plaza hotel, the Trump Shuttle airlines and the sundry casinos. That, in its way, is iconic. As with Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates, their business failures are all too oft interred with their nomination papers. Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose minions closed access from the George Washington Bridge to a town whose mayor would not endorse him as governor, wins the chutzpah award for his candidacy.
While these murky candidates, Labour or Republican, tend to get respectfully coverage, it is interesting to check out worldwide who is getting the crowds. In the US, media attention is overwhelmingly on the pundits’ choice, Hillary Clinton. She is well known, and a woman, so almost an automatic choice among the type of American liberals who overlook the historical gender triumphs of Ladies Macbeth and Thatcher. However, despite media bubble, the crowd puller on the hustings is not the former First Lady and accomplice to Clinton’s war on welfare, but Bernie Sanders. He is the only avowedly socialist senator, and running for the Democratic primary. It is perhaps a token of his potential that the Democratic machine in New York State is trying to keep him off the primary ballot there. While Hillary and the Republicans are tapping the usual billionaire suspects, Bernie has been very successful in raising lots of small donations from well-wishers.
It has to be said that while Bernie does not exactly have the glamour, nor even the oratorical skills of his rivals, he more than makes up for it with the sincerity of his democratic socialist ideals. And now we have an inspiration. The triumph of the Yes vote in Greece shows that, in the end, principles may be rewarded. Syriza should be an example to us all.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Now you see It, Now you don't. Names on the Offenders' List.

United Nations Report

Although Left Off List of Offenders, Israeli Crimes Against Children Detailed in Report

By Ian Williams

Leila Zerrougui, the secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, addresses the Security Council open debate on the issue, June 18, 2015. (U.N. PHOTO/EVAN SCHNEIDER)

In the preceding article, Jonathan Cook details some of the issues surrounding the intense American pressure on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to drop mention of Israel from the report on Children and Armed Conflict. It was all the more appalling since the agent for the pressure was Samantha Power, who previously had enjoyed a good reputation for her concerns for international humanitarian law.
Although Israel was excised from the list of offenders in the front of the report—ironically along with Hamas, as a trade off—the U.N. Human Rights officers made sure that it was mentioned copiously in the body of evidence presented, reducing Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., to paroxysms of percentages. Interestingly, he did not even try to rebut any of the allegations specifically, but rather resorted to abstract statistics—Israel got 11 percent of the report’s attention while Syria only had 6 percent. Prosor attacked the U.N. special representative, Leila Zerrougui, for “widespread, systematic and institutionalized biased conduct against Israel.” 
The battle over the excision of Israel from the list seemed to be denting Ban’s usually well-deserved reputation for integrity, even though his spokesman Stephane Dujarric was at pains to point out to press that the specific incidents of Israeli harm to children were still detailed in the body of the report.
Indeed the report is quite explicit. It reports, along with many detailed incidents  from last summer’s conflict, that:
“87. On average, between 8 July and 26 August, more than 10 children were killed daily in Gaza. More than 80 percent of the children were killed between 17 July and 5 August during the ground incursion by the Israeli security forces. At least 13 children in Gaza were reportedly killed as a result of rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups towards Israel that fell inside Gaza.
“88. At least 2,955 Palestinian children were injured in Gaza. Preliminary estimates indicate that up to 1,000 of them will be permanently disabled. Apart from the July-August Israeli military operation, another 76 children were injured.”
However, on the day of the report, Ban  redeemed himself when he told told press: “I am aware of the controversy surrounding the report. I want to express once again my full support for my Special Representative, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, and the excellent work that she and her team have done.”
And at the introduction of the report to the Security Council he specifically singled out Israel, stating, “I am also deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year.
“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals.”
The net result of Ambassador Power’s hypersensitivity on behalf of Israel was that the country she was intending to protect was singled out more than ever! Part of the package that Washington urged on Ban and the U.N. was that the U.S. needed to get Israel taken off the list in order to ease the passage of any agreement on Iran though Congress. Ban, under attack from both sides, is in an invidious position. He needs the cooperation of the U.S. to achieve many of the objectives he wants for the U.N., and he wants the deal on Iran.

The Israeli Spoke

In yet another example of Israel being the spoke in the wheel of diplomacy, the U.N.’s regular review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was even more inconclusive than before. With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu making so much noise about Iran’s alleged nuclear effort, it takes a lot of chutzpah for congressmen ganging up on Tehran to support the one country in the Middle East which has not signed the NPT and which scarcely makes a secret of its possession of a large nuclear arsenal.
The signatory members of the NPT met this summer at the U.N. to denounce the official nuclear powers—Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.—for not taking the steps toward disarmament that they promised at the time they persuaded the rest of the world to renounce nuclear weapons. It’s their hypocrisy that India, Pakistan and North Korea cited when they went nuclear. Israel keeps quiet about it, of course, officially neither confirming nor denying its nuclear arsenal, but making sure that everyone knows about it.
In 1995, the NPT was scheduled to expire unless it was renewed, and members extracted some promises from the nuclear powers in return for extending it indefinitely. One of the concessions was the call for “the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.”
Egypt had been asking for this since 1990, and it was an expansion of the proposal that had been passed annually by the U.N. General Assembly since 1980 for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference the countries agreed to start implementing the Middle East Conference, and Britain, Russia and the U.S. agreed to work with the U.N. secretary-general to hold a regional conference on it in 2012.
When 2012 came around, however, the U.S. just postponed the conference, blaming “conditions in the Middle East” and vaguely suggesting there was lack of agreement on “acceptable conditions” by the would-be attendees. Of course, there was one state, unnamed, that would only agree to a nuclear-free region if it were the sole state excluded from the conclusions. In fact, Israel is not a signatory of the NPT—but Iran is.
Even the current unappetizing Egyptian regime maintains some principles. It reintroduced its call for a conference on a Nuclear Free Middle East into the preparations for this year’s NPT Review conference. This is, of course, an entirely laudable principle. After all, if everyone in the region eschews nuclear weaponry, then there is really no excuse for any country in the region to have them. 
In the classic way of global governance, diplomats worked around the clock to obscure the issues, but Cairo persevered and secured the language in the draft document for this year’s conference that called for the secretary-general to convene a conference on a WMD-free zone by March 2016. That would have avoided the implicit veto of having the U.S., Britain and Russia as convenors.
The United States, Britain and Canada decided not to support the draft final document from the NPT review conference because of the deadline. Speaking at the conference, Washington said it objected because the plan to set an agenda and hold a conference was not based on “consensus and equality,” and that the document proposed “unworkable conditions” and “arbitrary deadlines.” Canada, in its new role as being more pro-Israel even than the U.S., wanted Israel to be included in the negotiations for the nuclear-free zone even though Tel Aviv is not even a signatory to the NPT, so hardly in a legal or ethical position to demand a place at the table.
It seems eminently reasonable of the members attending to put a deadline on a process that the U.S. has repeatedly postponed.
As always, however, there is one law for Israel and one for everybody else.
The hypocrisy is stunning. To summarize: the permanent five, who all possess nuclear weapons, feign commitment to disarming—while modernizing their nuclear weapons systems. They continue to maintain sanctions on Iran for allegedly taking tentative steps toward refining nuclear fuel that could be used for weaponry. But Britain and the U.S. effectively vetoed a conference that sought to set up a nuclearfree zone in the region because Israel, which is a non-signatory to the NPT and has nuclear weapons, did not want them to. If there is any ethical principle there, it is very well hidden indeed.
All of the parties concerned know that Israel has nuclear weapons. They know that the whole purpose of the procrastination and obfuscation is to avoid Israel having to admit that. It is somehow perplexing that Egypt, despite massive military aid from the U.S., has the chutzpah to be independent on such issues, while the U.S., despite its massive military aid to Israel, does exactly what Israel orders.
Welcome to the Wonderland of international diplomacy. 

Friends in High Places

Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: June 14, 2015 Last modified: June 9, 2015
It helps to have friends in international politics and currently there are many examples of how it trumps any other principles. Saudi Arabia is blockading humanitarian aid to Yemen, dependent though it is for 90 per cent of its food on imports. It is also intensively and illegally bombing its impoverished neighbour. Realising, perhaps, that an action replay of Israel devastating Gaza is not good public relations, the Saudis offered to bankroll the entire $274 million United Nations appeal for humanitarian aid to Yemen. However, there is no sign of the money, while its promise might well have dissuaded other donors who thought that if the Saudis broke Yemen, let them fix it.
There is an amazing silence about the Saudi blockade of Yemen. In fact, one of the few to raise the issue, even obliquely, was the new United Nations humanitarian head Stephen O’Brien, the former Tory MP. (Incidentally, showing that friendship does not cure all, David Cameron had tried repeatedly to foist his  utterly unqualified chum Andrew Lansley for the job but even mild-mannered Ban Ki-moon stood his ground and refused.)
Visiting Yemen is disconcerting. The habit of chewing qat has the locals’ cheeks puffed up like a hamster’s pouch, but the local politics are hard to swallow as well. The Houthi “rebels” are neither Shi’a nor Iranian stooges, but have legitimate grudges against the former government in Saana. But then almost any Yemeni who was not being cut in for the president’s corruption had a grudge.
Which is one reason why what the Saudis are doing there is not only illegal and immoral, it is a mistake, compounded by all the other countries mesmerised by Saudi money who, even if they have not joined in the Saudi assault, are not striving to restrain them. To be fair, it is not just the Saudis. They have learnt from their new allies, the Israelis, that all one has to do is to make the equation that Shi’a equals Iranian equals Muslim extremism and terrorism, and everyone shuts up.
Hence one of the more bewildering couplings of the decade – Israel and Saudi Arabia. One of the few times that the Israel lobby was defeated in Washington was by, of all people, US President Ronald Reagan, who wanted to sell advanced surveillance aircraft to the Saudis. It was an exercise in reflexive anti-Arab prejudice by the lobby, since the Saudis were no military threat to anyone. Reagan won because he marshalled the military-industrial complex lobby to fight for their
right to amass petrodollars by selling unnecessary but prestigious and expensive hardware to the sheikhs.
Fast forward to the present, and we have an Israeli-Saudi axis banging the war drums in syncopated harmony against Iran, and conspiring to subvert the White House’s efforts to come to a deal with Teheran. One does not have to be a fan of the ayatollahs to wonder at the strange partnerships here.
Iran has many faults. But it has fewer than the Saudis by any standards. Iran’s Jews might have a hard time. Saudi Arabia’s don’t since there aren’t any. There have been questions raised about the standards of Iranian elections, but when did anyone last question the results of a Saudi election. Yes, Iranian women have to wear a headscarf, but when they do they can go to work – and drive there. Saudi money was deeply involved in bankrolling the World Trade Centre attacks. It has bankrolled the most primitive and recidivist fundamentalists from Afghanistan to Syria . And while we rightly deplore Iran’s emulation of the United States and China in executions, Saudi Arabia’s 88 public decapitations seem to have avoided the obloquy that Islamic State’s showier practices attract.
Saudi Arabia has come of age. It joins Israel as a country totally dependent on US military back-up while cocking a snook at the US President and getting protection at the UN. And to show the benefits, repeated lobbying by Samantha Powers, US Ambassador to the UN has secured the deletion of Israel from a report listing Israel as a maltreater of Palestinian children not least during the Gaza assault. However, it is a mixed victory: UN officials point out that the elbow twisting meant Hamas, which was also listed, is now dropped off as well, but that the actual annexe to the report details all the evidence which supported the listing. Who knows, someone might have the courage soon to point a finger at the Saudis’ blockade as a reason for Yemeni suffering.