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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

LEGALIZE IT In the Spectator Bruce Anderson reminds us that we ought to be making war on terror, not on drugs:

We have to fight the terrorists, because they insist on fighting us. But as regards the drug dealers, there is no such necessity. We are not compelled to make war on them; it would be much easier to destroy them by legalising the drug trade on which their revenues depend.
The British government could not accomplish this on its own. If, in breach of several international conventions, we made it legal for adults to purchase drugs under strictly regulated conditions, this would have only a marginal effect on the illegal drug trade turnover. We would also be roundly condemned on all sides. But the logic of our position would be irresistible. Within 10 years of Britain's deciding to legalise drugs, condemnation would give way to imitation.

High time for a courageous politician to champion this. Unfortunately I don't see anyone in British politics espousing such a view getting anywhere near the point of decision making. At the end of the day we are just going to have to wait for the day I become Prime Minister. ;)

Friday, February 20, 2004

WHAT TO GIVE UP FOR LENT? Every year it's the same question that arises with Ash Wednesday almost upon us: what to give for the next six weeks or so? Last year I gave up tea, which may sound a bit silly, but it was actually quite a challenge for me who before then had virtually lived off the stuff. In today's Guardian Susie Boyt has a nice idea, though I feel I’m too goody-goody in my personal affairs anyway, so it' not really one for me. The only orginal thing I have come up with so far is that I will no longer read pieces on politics that I agree with. Just like Jesus had to live for forty days and nights wrestling with deep doubts and being tempted by the devil, so I will at least do something vaguely similar. Or perhaps that's nonsense? If any readers have any fun ideas drop me an email.

Friday, February 13, 2004

THREE CHEERS FOR CENTRAL GOVERNMENT . . .NOT In the current Spectator Edward Heathcoat Amory rails against local government and offers a superficially semi-plausible defence of Whitehall centralism:

There is no evidence that devolving power to a local level would be either more democratic or more effective. At best, it would waste a great deal of our money. At worst, it would hand power to the worst kind of political extremists.
So we should reject decentralisation as a dangerous pipe dream. Instead, it's time to be unfashionable, to stand up for the centre, for Sir Humphrey, for Whitehall over the rest. With a few caveats, of course.

What caveats are they? What problem does he have with local democracy? He nails one point, though:

But these new assemblies, far from devolving power, are actually an exercise in regaining it for the bureaucrats. Local councils will lose much of their control over planning issues and other matters to the new regional bodies. Worse, unable to raise money themselves, they will be able to spend it - £1.7 billion a year for the three. Representation without taxation is a recipe for disaster.

But that's surely a critique of the specific means not the general idea of stronger local government, no?

Once again, they would be spending central government money but making decisions locally. They would certainly blame their failures on a lack of cash from the centre while Whitehall complained about local management. Voters would find that the buck stopped nowhere.

Well, I don't know about other local government advocates, but the way I see it, local government must also raise the tax money it wants to spend itself. That way the buck would stop very quickly and we could all very easily see where and how the money is spent.

But there is also a serious practical problem. There is simply not enough management talent to go round at local level.

Now this is absolute nonsense. Heathcoat Armory estimates we'd need about 500 chief executives to run local government. 500. That's it. How many people graduate each year from our universities with degrees in management, business studies and economics, not to mention sociology, politics, history or similar subjects that at least give a fairly good idea of political management? From these tens of thousands annually and those millions already with the relevant qualifications we cannot possible hope to find a mere 500 to professionally run our local councils? That is manifestly rubbish. So what does Heathcoat Armory suggest?

The answer is not to devolve power to new layers of government, but to hand it directly to the people; and the only effective way yet devised to do that is through the market.

He makes the first and obvious counter argument himself:

Of course, the private sector can't do everything.

So what’s to be done?

What we can't privatise we should centralise.

In the brilliant fashion we have already, presumably. There is nothing here that seriously suggests to me that I should rethink my advocacy of local government. If this is the best the centralists can do I don't think they've got much of a faint hope of going anywhere sensible.
On the other hand, let me clarify one thing: I am in favour of local government, not regional government.
Simply remember: ninety percent of politics is local, so ninety percent of government must be local too.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT TRIES TO CLAIM IRAQ SUCCESS FOR ITSELF Well I suppose this was just waiting to happen, but it appears there are the first signs that the doves are trying to claim a potential success in democracy building in Iraq for themselves. The Normblogger links to a piece in the Nation by Naomi Klein, she of No Logo fame, which outlines what direction the campaign of arguments might take. (Also don’t miss this fantastic posting.) The general gist of her argument seems to be that with all the lies, that were falsely presented as reasons for going to war, exposed as such, the anti-war movement should utilise the lie of democratisation to force the Bushies into really democratising Iraq. Well, I'm not sure all of this was lies or just a one-sided sales-pitch, as sales-pitches tend to be, and it's not like the anti-war crowd normally presented itself in a balanced fashion by carefully weighing the pros and cons of taking action either. I'm not trying to exonerate our governments from the charge of lying yet but I think we need to put into perspective why they lied. They lied, because the real reason could not be sold in either diplomatic or public relations terms. As Thomas Friedman put it:

The real reason for this war-which was never stated-was to burst what I would call the "terrorism bubble," which had built up during the 1990s.
This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as "martyrs," and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something-to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society.

Personally I don't buy this in full, but I'm convinced Blair, Bush and their allies and advisers did. And it certainly worked on the psychological level. For example, public support for military action against Saddam shot up in Australia and Britain after the Bali bomb, which on the surface wasn't connected to Saddam. To make it clear, I believe it was a mistake not to state this as the reason, perhaps couched in more diplomatic language, but our leaders did what they did, and under the circumstances it was probably the next-best thing. (If you need to be reminded of how you felt back in September 2001, I found this, found via Medienkritik, pushed all the relevant buttons for me.)
But I digress, now to Mrs Klein. I can see where she's coming from. The best argument in favour of any given policy, including military intervention, is success. All the big failures the doves were expecting have so far failed to materialise so it's quite understandable that they might try and find a way in which they can then claim the success somehow as their own. I know, it hurts to have been wrong, especially on such a big issue, but wouldn’t it be more appropriate to admit to one’s failings and move on from there?
I mean, I'm perfectly willing to accept that the wmd issue was hyped up and evidence proving their non-existence ignored by our governments. On the other hand that's presumably a little easier for me than for Tony Blair for example, because for me the actual possession of wmds was a secondary issue. No, that's perhaps not quite right. In fact for me it worked the other way round: the greater my doubts about the presence of wmds in Saddam's hands became, the more pro-war I became. The reasoning behind that was fairly simple and I wouldn't be surprised if that's what many people in government though as well: Saddam plus wmds - not good, must be stopped - topple him; toppling him when he has wmds – oh no, do we really need to?; toppling him when he hasn't got the actual weapons yet – yes, yes, yes. The hyped up argument over wmds was primarily to scare parts of the public into supporting the intervention and because Blair insisted on going the UN route which was only possible through the actual existence of banned weapons, rather than the possibility. Quite obviously deposing an unarmed Saddam was better than waiting until he was armed and consequently an invasion would become too bloody to contemplate under any circumstance except for desperate national defence. The result would have been to leave the Iraqis suffering under Saddam and then his psychopathic sons, an option I don't think decent people could have welcomed. But I'll leave this debate for now.
I've just realised this is already quite a long post, when in fact I only wanted to make some rather silly points about Naomi Klein's argumentative structure. Let's think about some alternative applications of Klein's logic. Perhaps we hawks should start getting tough on our governments to put into reality the "lies" with which they so cunningly "tricked" us. Why not call on them to go and plant some fake Iraq "weapon of mass destruction" somewhere in Iraq? Why not stage a capture of "bin Laden" in the spider-hole next door to Saddam's? Why the possibilities would be endless. And why stop there? Why don't we try and argue that the anti-war movement start faking and staging all the big catastrophes they predicted, such as hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of dead Iraqis due to bombing and starvation? What fun arguments we could have. Or alternatively, we could all just admit that some of our predictions were inaccurate, some were outright wrong and some are hard to prove beyond doubt.
Anyhows, I've gone on for far too long already. Have a nice Sunday

Saturday, February 07, 2004

COMING OUT Jackie D has a post on “coming out”, an issue I should have addressed earlier myself:

I've come out to most of my friends, and with some of them it's been pretty painless; a few of them admitted to me that they, too, had feelings and urges similar to mine, but that they had learned through bitter experience to keep it to themselves. Some of them just said, "Hey, no problem -- I love you and will support you anyway." None of my friends have actually said to me, "Look, this changes everything. We can't be friends, now," but there have been frosty moments, and some necessary distance has been put me and a couple of them. I don't so much mind that, though, because I don't need intolerant jerks as friends. And of course the friends I've made in "the community" have helped immensely

Truth is, I myself am a bit of a coward and have by and large not come out yet. Why not I have been wondering to myself? Am I scared my friends will turn away in disgust? Well, most of the closer ones suspect it anyway, it’s just the full, uninhibited flaunting that would put them off I think. They’d probably accept that too, because I don’t think any of my friends are intolerant jerks (I hope anyway). No, it’s the wider society I live in and the people I work with; it just isn’t worth the hassle being honest. Ok, so if people ask me directly and in a non-judgemental way I might just consider admitting it, but I certainly won’t volunteer it.

WHAT HITLER SHOULD TEACH US FOR TODAY I know that I just recently wrote that I wanted "no more Hitler please", so I bet you'll be wondering why I am going to bang on about it myself just shortly afterwards. But bear with me, it matters. Until I read this by Omer Bartov in the New Republic, I hadn't known that Hitler wrote a second book following Mein Kampf, that then primarily dealed with his ideas on foreign policy. Now, we all know that hawks quote the lessons of Munich too often, but I think it's important to underline what I mean by these lessons. For examply in the run-up to last year's invasion of Iraq, Hitler was quoted all over the place, both by the pros and the antis. My personal reference point about Hitler wasn't the argument that Saddam is the new Hitler, or as the doves maintained he's not as bad as Hitler (not yet, and how much better was Saddam, really so much better as to be of no concern?). My argument is one about how liberal countries view tyrannical enemies, both foreign and domestic. This is in essence the myth of the reasonable opponent, a direct consequence of democratic politics where misleading statements, empty promises and quite blatant lying are a regular feature of politicians' behaviour. The dangerous consequence is that we can become blind to the fact that politicians can mean what they say, that there is no divergence between rhetoric and intent. For example, Slobodan Milosevic didn't say he was going to expel or exterminate all Albanians in order to trick the Serbs into voting for him; he said it because he meant it, and then tried doing it. But still the yearning to negotiate with him and find a compromise was widespread and spawned a peace movement of sorts. Now, Milosevic was of course not quite as bad as Hitler, but the structural phenomenon of the Western mind just not getting it was similar. As Bartov explains about Hitler:

He was also a pathological mass murderer who caused the death of millions and the destruction of Europe, and so it is important to know that he did precisely what he promised to do. For we still do not seem to have learned a simple crucial lesson that Hitler taught us more definitively than anyone else in history: some people, some regimes, some ideologies, some political programs, and, yes, some religious groups, must be taken at their word. Some people mean what they say, and say what they will do, and do what they said.
Most liberal-minded, optimistic, well-meaning people are loath to believe this. They would rather think that fanaticism is merely an "epiphenomenal" façade for politics, that opinions can be changed, that everyone can be corrected and improved. In many cases, this is true--but not in all cases, and not in the most dangerous ones. There are those who practice what they preach and are proud of it. They view those who act otherwise, who compromise and pull back from ultimate conclusions, as opportunists, as weaklings, as targets to be easily conquered and subdued by their own greater determination, hardness, and ruthlessness. When they say they will kill you, they will kill you--if you do not kill them first.
Reading Hitler's second book is useful, of course, for students of Nazism. But they will have already read it in part or in whole, and nothing that Hitler says here will come to them as much of a surprise. This is a book that should be read, rather, by contemporary journalists, political observers, and all concerned people who have the stomach to recognize evil when they confront it. For one of the most frightening aspects of Hitler's book is not that he said what he said at the time, but that much of what he said can be found today in innumerable places: on Internet sites, propaganda brochures, political speeches, protest placards, academic publications, religious sermons, you name it. As long as it does not have Hitler's name attached to it, this deranged discourse will be ignored or allowed to pass. The voices that express these opinions do not belong to a single political or ideological current, and they are much less easy to distinguish than in the 1930s. They belong to the right and the left, to the religious and the secular, to the West and the East, to the rabble and the leaders, to terrorists and intellectuals, students and peasants, pacifists and militants, expansionists and anti-globalization activists. The diplomacy advocated by Hitler is no longer relevant, but his reason for it, his legitimization of his "worldview," is alive and kicking, and it may still kick us.

There is lot in the essay all of which must be read by anybody concerned about or even only remotely interested in the world we live in.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

CHOMSKY'S LATEST MUST-READ I wasn't going to waste valuable time reading Noam Chomsky's newest book, time I could spend more productively by watching MTV, but now I'm not so sure . . .
Hat tip to the Liberal Larry.

WHAT THE US MUST UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE EU And I might add: not just the US but Britain and the rest of EUrope too. This report by the Institute of Economic Affairs is definitely well worth a read (link via samizdata). It's a good addition to the post below, because this is the position to the, well what is the proper word, right/eurosceptical/?/etc from my own position, while still being sensibly eurosceptical which cannot be said for a lot of other opponents of the EU (ahem, you know who you are). It raises just about every major problem with the EU and the way this impacts both on the UK and also the US, hence the title. It starts off:

When the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico was sent to his dawn firing squad in
1867 at Cerro de las Campanas he was accompanied by his cook whose last
words to him were: “You said it wouldn’t come to this! You know now that you
were wrong!” Recently, when regaled by indignant American friends with
complaints about European behaviour over Iraq, British eurosceptics have felt
rather like Maximillian’s cook.
Such sceptics have known for a long time that the `project’ of European
political integration would inevitably feed anti-Americanism and reinforce
opposition to US interests, and they have tried repeatedly to tell this to
Americans friends - but their advice has mostly gone unheeded.

Indeed. But this matters not just for the US, but also for Europeans, who should be concerned to see the Atlantic widening to the detriment of their own security and prosperity. The whole piece is 40-odd pages long so I will not go through all of it point-by-point, but it is definitely worth it.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

THE AMERICANS JUST DON'T GET IT . . . BUT WHO DOES? In the current Speccie there has just appeared an essay by Robin Harris, former adviser to Maggie and now at Politeia, that could easily have been penned by me, which is why I recommend, nay, insist, you read it. (Harris actually wrote a lengthier piece for Policy Review back in June 2002, in which he tackles Britain's Atlantic/EUro-American policy choices in greater detail.) He actually nails one of the key points right from the beginning:

Yet a powerful case can be made that this Prime Minister has done great harm to the Anglo-American relationship. He has undermined this country's trust in America's motives. He has made the British public reluctant to contemplate any further action to bring rogue states to heel. He has planted the bacillus of Euro-pacifism in the only major European state hitherto immune from it.

This matters in many ways other than the obvious, but particularly on Europe, where anti-Americanism is the best bet for those who want to tie Britain into the EU unconditionally, come what may. It also puts a negative light on the traditions of limited government, which, lathough British in origin, are today thought of as being "American".
Harris concludes:

Tony Blair's travails will convince many Americans that he is the victim of anti-Americanism. Every opinion poll suggests that he is not. Britain suffers from none of that embittered envy of American great-power status that affects much of continental Europe.
The main responsibility for rectifying matters lies with the Conservative opposition. Michael Howard's forensic skills in the debates over Hutton will need to be complemented by a broader statesmanship. He will have to explain to the British public why the Anglo-American relationship is a keystone of national interest, and at the same time that national interest alone must determine the priorities of British foreign policy. It will be equally necessary, and still more difficult, to explain to America, beginning with conservative America, that Tony Blair is not and never was John Bull.

That's quite a task, I'll understate. However it is an absolutely necessary task, as our national interest lies in a position that is neither a bolt-on to America nor a bolt-on for the EU, but instead chooses its positions somewhere in between.
Of course, this implies that you agree that the UK should have a strategy of international engagement in the first place, but that's a question I'm going to ignore right now. In any case I've already decided in favour of engagement, as has the vast majority of the British establishment and presumably public opinion, so the really more important question is the how of engagement.
Of course, given the comparative failure of the Government it is up to the Conservatives to start thinking about their answer to Britain's central question of our place in the world, so we have some choice and hopefully a good choice come election time next year. To be clear about it, this is not just about boring diplomatic treaty wringing, this also has huge implications in domestic issues, on national identity even.
What I would briefly recommend to the Tories would be to explain why they supported action against Iraq independently of the question of wmds, to make it clear, that unlike Blair, under a Conservative Government the relationship to both the US and the EU would not be unconditional, and thus rule out the adoption of the euro, and pledge to hold a full inquiry into how the intelligence on Iraq's wmds was so wrong (if it is, as seems the case now).
This last point cannot be emphasised enough because the real danger doesn't come from the risk we may topple some vile tyrant and then realise that one amongst many good reasons was wrong, the real risk lies in the possibility that our intelligence services may be missing a weapons programme somewhere else, something that could have truly catastrophic implications.
The real task the Tories have ahead of them however, is not in improving the relationship to the US, which we can take for granted, but instead of improving our position in Europe. With a dedicated Eurosceptic at the helm as Michael Howard that task will be very hard indeed. My position is that British EU-policy must be positive in its outlook and rhetoric, and emphasises more that we want a different kind of EU that will benefit all EUropeans, and not to sink into isolated rejectionism, that will be both useless as policy, and would rapidly be overturned by a Labour successor Government into its direct opposite.
That is the Conservatives' big job ahead of them; let's see how they fare.

THIS SHOULD SURELY BE RECORDED SOME TIME Although this was posted a while back I luckily saved the link:

How long can all the big media keep
Their public's head in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many lies will a viewer stand
Till he turns off CNN?
Yes, 'n' how much crap must the Grey Lady print
Before she's fisked in the end?
The answer, my friend, is bloggin' on the web
The answer is bloggin' on the web.

Why did the peace marchers wish so hard
That Iraq wouldn't be free?
Yes, 'n' how many facts can the Guardian twist
Before its own readers flee?
Yes, 'n' how much more biased news will it take
To privatize BBC?
The answer, my friend, is bloggin' on the web
The answer is bloggin' on the web.

How long will Chomsky repeat himself
Till he's forgotten for good?
Yes, 'n' how many books will Michael Moore sell
Before he's finally sued?
Yes, 'n' how long will France say she's still a friend
Before this gets understood?
The answer, my friend, is bloggin' on the web
The answer is bloggin' on the web

I don’t agree with all the politics in it, but then again, when was the last time you heard a song with a political text you agreed completely with? See.

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