Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bliar's African Legacy

As Bliar swans around Africa on his 'goodbye, good riddance' tour. The ongoing war in Iraq is following a fairly classic pattern of an insurgency, as the guerillas learn and adapt to become better at killing the occupiers. You can see this in the most recent attack;

"Sunni Arab guerrillas in Iraq ran a sophisticated sting on US troops in Diyala province on Memorial Day, killing 8 GIs. First, they shot down a helicopter with small arms fire. Two servicemen died in the crash. The guerrillas knew that a rescue team would come out to the site. So they planted a roadside bomb that killed the rescuers. And, they knew that yet another rescue team would come out to see what happened to the first. So they planted roadside bombs and destroyed the second team, as well."

So the occupiers take to the air to avoid being killed – using air power to hammer the enemy;

"What we do know is this: Since the major combat phase of the war ended in April 2003, the U.S. military has dropped at least 59,787 pounds of air-delivered cluster bombs in Iraq -- the very type of weapon that Marc Garlasco, the senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls, "the single greatest risk civilians face with regard to a current weapon that is in use." We also know that, according to expert opinion, rockets and cannon fire from U.S. aircraft may account for most U.S. and coalition-attributed Iraqi civilian deaths and that the Pentagon has restocked hundreds of millions of dollars worth of these weapons in recent years."

Hundreds of millions that would be better spent in Africa, the scar on the conscience of the world on things like clean fresh drinking war or AIDS treatments, but no, its being spent on bombs to drop in an unwinable war. So where does Bliar's visit to Africa link to Iraq? This little gem of information;

"Outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair is to intervene this week to try to prevent 700 South Africans – the equivalent of more than one battalion – being forced to quit the British Army because of a proposed anti-mercenary law...Mr Blair is to raise the issue in talks with Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, during his farewell tour of Africa. The South African parliament passed the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities Bill late last year...The draft legislation is aimed at curbing an estimated 20,000 South Africans hiring themselves out as soldiers of fortune in various Third World conflicts, or volunteering for foreign armies."

Bliar's African legacy – South Africans in the British Army fighting in Iraq. Nice.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Policing Priorities in the War on(of) Terror (TM)

It is often the case that you hear of a disproportionate use of state resources. So the cops in Bath spend thousands stopping a climate camp, the state spends millions trying to jail five peace protesters – and remember we are supposed to be in the grip of a tooth-and-nail fight for survival with Islamic radicals, so why is it that 20 cops have been diverted from other crimes to see if a Scottish socialist (or his wife) might have lied in a trial about who he might not (or might) have been having sex with:

Detectives are investigating whether the wife of Tommy Sheridan, the former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, committed perjury during his high-profile libel trial against the News of the World....Yesterday, police confirmed that they have stepped up their inquiry, bringing in 20 officers, whose tasks include combing through statements made by Gail Sheridan in Edinburgh's High Court last August. The News of the World was ordered to pay Mr Sheridan £200,000 after it claimed that he was a serial adulterer who hung out in swingers' clubs and took part in orgies.

20 cops!!! For fucks sake, you've got the rape conviction rate in the dumps, politicians committing war crimes and the state puts 20 cops onto a perjury case? I guess the fact that the guy in question does not believe in the neo-liberal war on terror and won in court against one of Mrdoch's papers is an issue worth 20 cops.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The War on(of) Terror Continues to Unravel

As Bliar starts to pack his things at number 10, his legacy, Iraq and its fall out continues to burn...

In Basra, militants launched an attack on the UK base in response to the killing of their leader:

In apparent retaliation for the killing of their commander, Mahdi Army militiamen launched a fierce 2 and a half-hour assault on a British base in the southern Shiite city of Basra. The British military must have been alarmed by the assault, since they called in an air strike on the militiamen. Basra crowds said that the airstrike killed 8 innocent civilians and held a public funeral procession for them.
In Afghanistan another solider is killed and four injured in clashes:
A British soldier was killed and four others wounded in Afghanistan on Friday night in heavy fighting. The death was the third this week by British forces in the Middle East. Two other deaths have been reported.
In Somalia the violence continues:
At least one person has been killed and four others were wounded when a roadside bomb went off in north of Mogadishu, Somalia capital on Saturday
In Lebanon, the blowback from covert ops starts to get nasty:
As Seymour Hersh first reported, in an article penned back in March, the U.S. has begun to fund various Sunni extremist groups as part of what Condoleezza Rice refers to as “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East”...This policy appears to have backfired in Lebanon, where a militant Sunni group, Fatah al-Islam, has drawn the Lebanese army into the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. Rather than acting as a counter to local Shia bogeyman, Hezbollah, the current backlash has Hezbollah and the U.S.-backed Lebanese army colluding in order to crush the intransigent Salafists.

Some legacy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Iran: From Axis of Evil to Super-Evil

That bastion of liberal democracy, the Guardian, ran a startling story this week on how Iran is the real bogey-man in Iraq. An 'unnamed US official' (dodgy!) stated that Iran is backing everybody in the region against the US. Iran we are supposed to believe is backing the Shia resistance (ok, I can see this, but not every Shia faction is pro-Iran), the Sunni resistance (so now they are backing people who are attacking their allies?) , al-Qaida (they are backing people who consider them to be heretics?) and now the Taliban (who, again, Iran is ideological opposed). I think all this is unlikely. So, ok, the U$ might believe all this, but the article presents no evidence of this at all. So, ok, an 'unnamed US official' might suggest this, but you would expect a journalist to talk to other people, offer counter opinion and so on – nope, it's all there uncontested on the front page.

Meanwhile the 'surge' continues to fail:

Alas, the bad news is that sectarian death squad attacks, which produce bodies in the street every morning, have crept back up. Sudarsan Raghavan of WaPo discovered that more people have been killed that way so far in May than had been in all of January, before the new security plan (the "surge") was implemented.
And fail...
Farmers in southern Iraq have started for the first time to grow opium poppies in their fields, sparking fears that Iraq might become a serious drugs producer along the lines of Afghanistan.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

'Hidden' Peak Oil Warning

You can often find very important news 'hidden' away in the business section of the paper. This is not surprising, as in a system based on business (capitalism) the real power is going to be in business and so the real news about what business does! The article is about the Russian's seizing back control of some major gas reserves from BP. What I found interesting is a nod to peak oil that is just rushed past the reader as a simple matter-of-fact statement;

BP, like other energy majors, is struggling to replace its faltering reserves...

Hang on! What this seems to say is all the major oil firms are struggling to find new reserves of oil and so seems to add credibility to reports that peak oil is here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

War & Resistance

There is an amazing article on by The Independent's Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn:

The war in Iraq that started in 2003 has now lasted longer than the First World War. Militarily, the conflicts could not be more different. The scale of the fighting in Iraq is far below anything seen in 1914-18, but the political significance of the Iraq war has been enormous. America blithely invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein to show its great political and military strength. Instead it demonstrated its weakness....Much of what has gone wrong has more to do with the U.S. than Iraq. The weaknesses of its government and army have been exposed. Iraq has joined the list of small wars -- as France found in Algeria in the 1950s and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- that inflict extraordinary damage on their occupiers.

That is something of Bliar's legacy he can be proud of - helping to give the U$ empire a push downwards. As the various resistance groups in Iraq continue to grow stronger and more dangerous, we can get an insight to how sophisticated they will get by looking at what the 25-odd years of Hizbullah's resistance to Israeli's has evolved;

It's looking at air-power:

One example, apparently under serious consideration by Hizbullah, is how to retaliate against Israel's violations of Lebanese airspace. UNIFIL has recorded more than three dozen violations by Israeli aircraft since the cease-fire came into effect. "We have reported them to the UN Security Council. What more can we do? Shoot them down?" says UNIFIL spokesman Alex Ivanko....But Hizbullah might attempt to do just that. "We were unable to make good use of our anti-aircraft capabilities during the war. This is something we are looking into for the future," says Abu Mehdi. "The resistance is planning a new strategy."

And how to strike at a larger, more powerful army - by out thinking them:

As far as I know, this is the largest and most elaborate bunker discovered so far. Just the effort that went into building it was extraordinary, and yet, it was constructed in complete secrecy....Every piece of equipment, every steel plate, every girder, every door had to be carried by hand up the side of the valley and fitted into place inside the bunker. And there was no clue as to what happened to the hundreds of tons of quarried rock during the excavation work.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Left/Right Media Divide

As British politics becomes increasingly bland and akin to a management theory, there was an interesting letter to summed up the left/right divide:

The fundamental philosophy of the right is: "It's a tough world out there and you've got to look after your own." That of the left is, or should be: "It's a tough world out there and we've got to look after each other."

This simple yet elegant summation reminded me of a debate about how in the media left/liberal opinion if often drowned out by the right (esp. in the US). Part of this is down to the right/establishment and pro-business bias of the news media (but not entertainment media) – it was suggested that the reason it was hard to win a debate is the complexity of breaking down the right ideas – however did a great job of this:

When you cut right through it, right-wing ideology is just 'dime-store economics' – intended to dress their ideology up and make it look respectable. You don’t really need to know much about economics to understand it. They certainly don’t. It all gets down to two simple words...'Cheap labor'. That’s their whole philosophy in a nutshell – which gives you a short and pithy 'catch phrase' that describes them perfectly. You’ve heard of 'big-government liberals'. Well they're 'cheap-labor conservatives'....They want you naked in as harsh an economic environment as they can create. But here’s the problem. Most ordinary people aren’t so ruthless. Most people think life is for living, not working your ass off until you drop. So if we the people can provide some basic social infrastructure for things like a basic retirement, assistance for higher education, unemployment compensation to get you through those Republican periods of high unemployment – well, most people support all of that stuff. Conservatives lose elections when they talk about undoing it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Afghanistan's New 'Democratic' Media

With British soldiers and insurgents, and lots of civilians being killed on a regular basis, it's important to remember what they are fighting for: they are fighting for democracy. The currency of democracy is free speech – most often reflected by a free press:

Afghanistan's parliament is on the brink of passing a new law that could damage the independence of the country's media. Under the new proposals, both private and state media will come under greater government control. Proposed changes include an oversight committee that will scrutinise media content....Under a new mass media law journalists could be forbidden from criticising the state or discussing the relationship between religion and the state. Mohammad Mohaqiq, the head of the parliamentary committee for culture and religion, told a recent international media conference in Kabul there should be no insult to Islam or the state by the media.

Great, but don't worry, there is lots of media there to oppose this government control freakery;

There are more than 300 publications, 152 FM radio stations and 84 TV stations across the country. Almost all, however, are controlled by pressure groups. Three or four official newspapers are almost identical, reporting only on meetings of officials. One title belongs to the former mujahideen president, Burhan ud-Din Rabbani; another to the speaker of parliament, Yunis Qanooni; a third supports the minister of culture and information. General Rashid Dustom owns one TV station; General Ata another....The one or two relatively independent voices are near bankruptcy.

Great. Now that's democracy in action. Just as the U$A keeps a journalist in Gitmo without charges, just as Sri Lankan and Colombian journalists are under threat. Democracy in action. Just glad we are shoulder-to-shoulder with these paragons of free speech. Real glad.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Bristol Local Election Results – Kiely Out/The Slow March of the Greens

I have been looking at the Bristol Local Election results, which have not changed the council numbers much with Labour winning two seats and the LibDems loosing two and the 'resurgent' Tories coming in with the same number of councilors:

Liberal Democrat 31 (-2)
Labour 25 (+2)
Conservative 13 (no change)
Green 1 (no change)

While nationally Neo-Labour are getting a bit of a hammering (last time I looked loosing 151 seats overall)in Bristol they gained two, though I think that was the 'Kiely' effect over the privatisation of homecare – Kiely lost his seat to Labour in Easton, so he's out! (Respect party managed a third place, and were pretty close to beating the LibDems)

But I think the real story is the slow, but sure march of the Greens as a political force in Bristol, and this is driven by the change in the culture of the city towards ecological and sustainable issues, plus a dissatisfaction with the mainstream parties.

This time round, the votes by % were are follows:

LABOUR 29.67
LIBDEM 27.21
GREEN 14.24
The Respect Party 0.86

If you follow the green vote over the last few years is has steadily risen; in 2004 it was just over 5%, in 2005 just over 8%, in 2006 it was just over 12% and they gained their first seat in Southville. While this time they have not won any seats, if you look how close they came it gets interesting; in Southville they were only 6 votes of winning and in my ward, Ashley they were only 110 votes behind the LibDems.

A couple of other points of note – while they may have benefited from local dissatisfaction with the LibDems, Neo-Labour polled the same percentage of votes this time as in 2006 and the fascist BNP only managed 1.96% - which is still 1.96% more that they should get.

Still, elections are only a single day of so-called 'democracy', we still have another 364 days a year to fight for our rights and environment.

You can find out more from the council site here:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Transition Bristol - Preparing for Post-Oil Life

The Transition Bristol talk at the Trinity Centre last night was a very interesting affair with many positive points and plenty of unanswered questions. The talk was about peak oil and how we might prepare for it. If you've not yet heard about peak oil (and gas), its the theory originated by petrogeologist M King Hubbert that oil is extracted from the ground in a predictable manner – initially it gushes out and is easy and cheap to obtain, then it hits a peak whereupon the rate declines no matter what. This, when applied to a regional or global supply means when we hit the peak it is downhill all the way!

(Image 'Peak Oil' by Tim Floyd, from exhibition in winter 2006 at Kebele)

The talk was a very positive and well attended event. In contrast the the first peak oil event in Bristol back in summer 2004 where a small group of us sat in around in St.Werburghs feeling very bleak about the future.

Patrick Holden, director of the soil association opened the evening saying that he felt there were three main issues facing us in the 21st century; climate change, localism and food security, remarking, "If climate change is our guilty conscience then peak oil is the train about to hit it..." He went on to introduce the main speaker Rob Hopkins to a packed out audience of a couple of hundred people.

I'll do my best to summarise Rob's speech: He said that with oil until the peak, demand has driven its supply. After the peak this reverses and supply will dictate demand. He talked of how North Sea supplies have peaked and are some of the most rapidly diminishing energy supplies on the planet. Despite this the UK government says we don't need to worry about supply until 2030 based on official figures. However for various reasons such as OPEC quotas, historically the official figures are often overestimated. He cited Kuwait as an example which may have exaggerated its reserves by double the real amount and if this is true its drops the global supply by 5%! He also talked about peak gas – as big a questions and one that follows the same theory as oil only if seems to happen at a quicker rate as our indigenous supplies that fuel about 90% of our needs currently diminish rapidly. So when will the peak hit? In the US it hit in 1970, in the North Sea it hit in in 2004. Globally the figures go from a couple of years ago up to 2050. Rob suggested that if you look to the independent surveys on the issue they tend to go for somewhere around 2009 to 2012. If this is the case, he noted, then we need to act and quoted the Hirsch Report into the Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management commissioned by the US Department of Energy;

"The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."

Coupled with the predictions of peak oil cited, that would mean action needed to begin a couple of years ago! From here he said there are four possible routes;

- Techno-Fantasy – where technology solves all our problems with sci-fi advances such as mining the moon and so on.
- Green Tech Stability – where we carry on as we are just using greener technology alternatives and hope it works out.
- Earth Stewardship – where we begin to prepare to the low-energy future as best we can.
- Atlantis – where the empire of man falls. ("The world shrinking down to a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colours. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true." - from The Road)

He suggested that Earth Stewardship is the only reasonable approach to the issue. The Techno-Fantasy is too much of a risky dream, the Green Tech Stability ignores reality (for example to run the current cars in circulation on biodiesel would take four times as much agricultural land as we have in the UK).

He talked of the issues of 'resilience' and that the amount of resilience a community has is a measure of how well it can adapt and cope with the rising oil prices that will follow the peak. This has already happened in Cuba, who following its loss of cheap oil from the former Soviet Union has to adapt, and has done so amazingly.

So what can be done? He said we need to increase the resilience of our communities. Things like local composting, planting trees with produce we can eat, local building materials, local investment schemes and currencies. This will also mean a huge range of changes; moving to low/zero energy building based on local materials, new local economics, re-discovery of old knowledge from the pre-oil days, a great practical re-skilling, designs based on local availability, growing hemp (hurah!). He set his students as Kinsale, Ireland to look at the issue and together authored the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan – a vision of a post-oil community. This has since been adopted by the town council to be implemented. There is also an ongoing project in Totnes.

Following his speech, which got a huge round of applause, Barbara Janke (LibDem leader of Bristol City Council) stood up and said she was interested in looking at this issues. Questions from the floor followed; how would a large urban area like Bristol with suburbs cope? (it was suggested that Bristol is more like a collection of villages and so it may need to be done on a community level) How do we stop people green-washing the issue (good point, no clear answers as to how), how would these ideas fare in the face of corporations/governments who saw their power eroding (we have to build the institutions and infrastructure we would like to see in the post oil world.

A couple of reflections occur – we can't be underestimate about how the powerful will respond to this crisis. We have already witnessed the launching of a global resource war (under the disguise of the 'War on Terror (TM)' which has seen tens of thousands killed, millions displaced and billions spent in the pursuit of control of the diminishing oil supply.

Another reflection is how rubbish our local paper is. On the day of this talk the Evening Pest ran with the headline 'The Quay to Success?' - an uncritical gushing about an identikit 'development' project who's design is to make the waterfront look like any other waterfront and is the antithesis of everything the packed Transition Towns meeting was discussing. (Note: this is another SWRDA project, the vacuous, gray bureaucrats who are backing another white-elephant in the form of the Bristol Airport expansion).