Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bush may bite Blair yet 

Meanwhile over the Pond the US administration lurches into a deeper crisis over its peculiar relationship with ‘Iraq and the truth’… and this has some implications for the home life of our own dear Westminster Government.

As commentator Frank Reich said in the NY Times:
It won't be easy to get honest answers because this administration, like
Nixon's, practices obsessive secrecy even as it erects an alternative reality
built on spin and outright lies.

Blair depends on the maintenance of this alternative reality for his own credibility. The investigation in the USA into the events leading up to the war will continue probably for another year or so. UK-based spin and whatever else New Labour come up with is unlikely to hide the awkward questions that will raise for Britains' own actions.

One example. A central figure in the dance of untruths is the NY Times journalist Judith Miller, a prominent cheerleader for interventionist war before the event, and implicated in teh leaking of classiied information in the so-called Plame affair. Turns out that she had some kind of advanced security clearance implying more than journalistic entanglement with her ‘security sources’. Judith Miller was one of Dr David Kelly’s US contacts and apparent confidants, and one of Kelly’s last e-mails before his death was to Miller – the one hinting about ‘dark forces’ being involved in his troubles. More on the background to Kelly and his activities may yet emerge over the coming year and this is unlikely to be constructive news for Blair.

I trust we LibDems can ensure that this is taken up in mainstream political debates and not left to the distortions of the whooping fringes of Respect and all that.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Roads to ruin redux 

A kind link to here from Liberal England misses its intended old posting on this blog on E.S Turner's "Roads To Ruin" so here is the actual direct link earlier.

The upcoming BBC TV series on Bleak House may come out in interesting times...

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Vulnerability - Germs, Ice and Terror 

A winter like the 1963 freeze. A probable flu pandemic. Terrorist attacks. All these potential disasters expose the vulnerability of our interdependent society. And the vulnerability is increased by the centralisation we develop in both ‘state planned’ and ‘private market’ institutions.

Take our food distribution system. We no longer have local market and distribution facilities. Supermarkets do not have in-store on-site stocks for more than immediate normal trading. They depend on daily deliveries from a few massive distribution centres with huge lorry traffic lads running on our roads overnight. These centres employ a large number of less well off people working close together and interconnected by the transport movement with other concentrations of people.

So, a freeze on the scale of 1963 ( all Britain snowbound from Boxing Day to late March) would throw the transport system into chaos. The distribution centres are prime terrorist targets for explosive attacks. And if distribution centre workers got infected by flu public health considerations demand they be closed down to prevent huge infection black spots.

Any one of these three perfectly feasible events would mean no food on supermarket shelves within a few days, assuming no panic buying. Lets not think about a combination of two or more.

For local communities to build up islands of safety and make the best use of what actually may be available needs some fail-safe structures and a lot of practice in social initiative. Fail-safe does not mean ‘immune to failure’ It means that if there is a fault in a system, the system can switch to the safest state possible compatible with the existence of that fault. And social initiative means building up the skills of doing things for ourselves not always accepting top-down management.

A Liberal approach to society must include building up local fail-safe institutions and encouraging the skills needed to act when the overall systems break down. Many of our modern developments over the last decade have had the opposite effects. We cannot rely on previous experiences as a guide to how we would cope today.

So should we rethink all this including globalisation?) in terms of national defence?

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Globalisation under study 

My old employers the Open University are taking a look at Globalisation. The new course DD205 'Living in a Globalised World' looks like a good bet if you want to engage constructively in arguments on this theme - and registration for 2006 is open until 31 October. To emphasies - I have no connections apart for old professional pride in this.

I suspect it will be of interest to many LibDems and others. As the course blurb says:

Living in today’s globalised world feels challenging, even confusing at
times, with distance no longer a reliable indicator of our involvements in the
world. Some of your closest relationships may be stretched out over thousands of
miles, and held together with letters, phone calls or e-mail; yet you may pass
the same people every day without giving them a second glance. Global political
concerns are becoming more extensive but also more controversial. On the one
hand, charities and other organisations are as likely to be campaigning for the
rights and welfare of people on another continent as they are for people from
your local area. On the other hand, wars are waged to rid people of 'outsiders'.
Some people don't want government or charity ‘interference’ in their affairs
from what they see as distant places.
We are all involved in these complex, global situations, where the ‘right’ course of action isn't always clear. But how should we react to calls to build global relationships with people living far from us? And how do we assess those calls not to intervene in difficult situations with people in some areas? And it isn't only other human beings with whom we have to negotiate our position in the world. We also have responsibilities to other living creatures that share the planet, and to the world itself, with all its potential resources and dangers.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

economics, power and Liberals 

The current political gropings in the Conservative Party leadersip crawl irresistably recalls this:

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral
philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for

An observation by John Kenneth Galbraith, of course, a writer all liberals (even Liberals) should read and re-read for several reasons. First because his writing is superb and witty and even politics should have moments of beauty and pleasure. Second because he casts such clear lights on the political agendas within economics. There is a huge effort by the self-interested to define economics in ways that shut out progressive and humane choices. Reading Galbraith will help us see the wider possibilities are not actually just dreams.

Galbraith is still with us – his 97th birthday was on Saturday 15th October. His lifetime covers a third of that of the USA since 1776 (and his professional observations on ecoonomics cover a quarter of that lifetime) so he has seen a lot… this New York Review of Books article on a major biography gives a good overview of his strengths and also perhaps errors. As the NYRB article concludes…

“ The importance of public goods, the central theme of The Affluent Society, has
received perhaps the most serious attention, especially in the economics of
human development. Few economists still believe that stimulating economic growth
is all that matters. Social programs for health care, education, transportation,
and other infrastructure are now widely considered integral to long-term
development. The Human Development Report of the United Nations Development
Programme publishes indexes of human development, based in particular on the
work of Harvard's Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, which include measures of health,
education, and gender discrimination.
There also has long been a constant flow of pertinent criticism from in-dependent economists emphasizing the importance of institutions and economic structure that Galbraith always believed were central to economic understanding. Galbraith refused to make simplifying assumptions that lent themselves to economic methods and other quantitative techniques…."Most economic philosophers needed only to be
right as regards their own time," Galbraith writes in The Affluent Society.
Galbraith's intellectual courage, sensitivity to the abuse of power, understanding of the limits of economic growth, and grasp of the institutions of everyday life will combine to make his body of work relevant well beyond his time…

We UK Liberal Democrats need to keep these perspectives in our active policy lives.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

World Day Against The Death Penalty 

That is today, October 10th 2005. To find out more, look at this link to the World Coalition Against The Death Penalty. Emphasis is on the Death Penalty in Africa, where it is still rather common...

The declaration to the African Heads of State says this:

Following the example of values espoused by Nelson Mandela, of the Statute of
the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Statute of the Special
Court for Sierra Leone which exclude capital punishment for perpetrators of the
most serious crimes and remembering that several African countries have never
applied the death penalty, we believe that the moment has come for all of Africa
to incorporate the right to life into the national penal code of each African
country by abolishing the death penalty.

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Murder in China political protest? 

So Taishi explodes into the world headlines – something you would expect given the account in my previous post here about Community Politics in a Chinese village. May our thoughts be with the ordinary people doing extraordinary things..

The probable murder of Lu Banglie (see today’s Guardian, 10 Oct) raises many stakes, what price for example the relationship with the Rover plant at Longbridge, Birmingham? How much will our response in the UK to this violence be modulated by the growing economic power of China within Britain?

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Taishi Village - democracy defiant in China 

You will not find a lot about Taishi Village in the 'international' INTERNET. Only a little in the international press. But the story has been all over the Chinese-Language Internet.

Taishi Village has a population of about 2000 and is in Guangdong province . The villagers are using a new law to try to force the recall of their existing Village Committee. This is real, raw, proper politics and the courage of the villagers and their dedication to peaceful protest in the face of sometimes violent official action is awesome. Read this summary of events so far and the reasons why this is important.

And never begrudge the effort of putting out a FOCUS again.

The overview from the summary:

For some time now, village-level elections have been held in certain parts
of China. These elections are treated as experiments to see how to roll
out the elections across the country, first at the village level and then at the
town level later. We are supposed to learn from experiments, but we are
not getting enough feedback about what is happening in those villages.
Taishi is that big case study.

Many things have happened over the past few weeks -- public meetings,
police beatings, a police raid to seize the village accounting ledger, mass
arrests, secret arrests, sit-in's, hunger strikes, etc. For those
sensationalistic reasons, Taishi is sitting in the middle of intense media

On the Internet, the Yannan forum in China has a special page
devoted to Taishi. People's Daily re-published an opinion piece praising the positive lessons from the election. International media have visited the village... This is
not an easy story for western media to follow because it is unfolding over a
long time-frame. But everything about Taishi from now on will be
scrutinised carefully.

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