Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Forces Smokers in Iraq horror!

Link to BB

"Yep, a soldier walked into what I assume to the main EFI, saying he was buying cigarrettes for his unit, appro 50,000 or 250 packets! And promptly cleared out the EFI of stock and then left the country!"

Do we really want to keep this country?

Who cares about terrorists with these little sweethearts about?

The BBC, and Fearing the Future.

I'm sure we'll all be so happy to know that the chief executive of BSkyB, Tony Ball, doesn't like the BBC. After his rant about it to the Edinburgh TV festival, that was clear enough. But the real question is why it was news. After all, Mr. Ball is something like Rupert Murdoch's incarnation on earth, or at least in Britain. It is only to be expected that a Murdoch minion would use his moment in the spotlight to hammer and blast at public broadcasting. The language and culture of Ball's speech was familiar. It was all about choice and freedom and value-for-money, nice meaningless words that tend to end up meaning their opposites. Because if Murdoch stands for anything, it is the combination of economic liberalism in words with monopoly in deeds. This has been one of the great themes of our time, of course, as the powerful have spent the last 30 or so years attempting to make the world look like the assumptions of classical economics. Had all the standard assumptions - that members of a market have no power to influence it, that we have perfect knowledge, that products are homeogenous and unbranded, no barriers to entry or exit - borne any relation to reality, it might all have worked. But, of course, they don't - people are crossgrained and frequently irrational, branding has never been more pronounced, and monopoly power has rarely been as ruthless. Rupert has spent his career decrying any restriction on the freedom to trade, demanding the destruction of public broadcasters, regulations and the like - but only so as to then re-erect the barriers.

The classic example was of course football. With the aid of massive cross-subsidy, Sky bought up the rights to all the sporting events anyone cared about, all the while hyping it to the sky (where else?) - then, once a fairly large number of dishes had been sold, began to up prices and shift ever more content across channels, moving from the packages sold with the dish to ever-pricier extras. That is to say, "competition" had consisted only of the creation of a monopoly and the construction of a never-ending succession of toll booths on the road to Wembley. The same landgrabber's approach is visible throughout the Sky empire. Get a monopoly. Loss lead. Then turn on the screws. Mr. Ball's Big Idea is apparently that the BBC and Channel 4 should be forced (someone always seems to get forced) to sell all their decent programmes at the end of each year. As ITV is apparently on its last legs, and Channel 5 will soon be for sale to Rupes once the Comms Bill goes through, it's clear who would buy them. It's also clear, given the compulsion of the BBC to sell and the utter lack of other buyers, that Sky will get them for peanuts. So - public money creates, Sky profits. If you want to see the next series of Spooks, you'll have to cough up. Free money for Murdoch, and the perfect foundation for a later declaration that the BBC "isn't working", doesn't get the ratings, should be "modernised".

This should not be underestimated. Should Blair survive this autumn, we can expect a government revenge campaign against the BBC. Charter renewal will be used to force pro-Murdoch conditions on the corporation. Intensive and tiresome propaganda cheerleading in the rightwing press can only be dreaded. The question is the model of the attack - will it be Railtrackisation (some form of deliberately unworkable public-private pissup), Royal Mailing (regulatory and financial bullying "to prepare for competition", making operations impossible) or industry-ing (mass layoffs, closures, piecemeal sellout - the nuclear option)? My money at the moment would be Mailing - if you should hear that Ofcom will "regulate" the BBC, watch out!

I recently looked at the collected Steve Bell cartoons for 1987, and I was horribly struck by the fact that they seemed quite right for this week. A British prime minister of utter dishonesty but given to fits of emetic moralising over trifles, an imbecile US President high on war and goddery ("Yes! I was a martyr to my Twinkie habit until I discovered Moral Majoridy.....Now my head is clear of chemical junk and FULL of DANGEROUS RIGHTWING CHRISTIAN HORSESHIT!"), a general sense of impending doom, a government bent on building as many motorways as fast as possible...it's like I hallucinated all my life since '87 and time has been standing still. Was anybody else as depressed as I was by the decision to widen the M25? Roadbuilding was so much the hallmark of the rotten grimgrey Major years, and the centre of so much of the stewing opposition to them. This was a government that was obsessed with pouring concrete over the most beautiful parts of the country so that philistines could sweat in more traffic jams on their way to stack up more debt in giant US-owned shopping malls, whose answer to anyone who didn't like it was to pass a law that tried to ban a particular kind of music and march up a thousand cops, and who compared themselves to the Romans whilst they were at it. No wonder they seemed like mutants. And now wonder it felt like such a victory when Blair shitcanned their roads programme in 1997. Now here we are - back to square one, with mobile phones, Dubya, debt and not much else. Everything keeps happening again and it's worse every time!

One factor that might save us, though, is the class question. Destroying the railways was one thing, but there the people involved were mostly oh-so-unsexy, unreconstructed, male working-class strivers. Fresh meat for the market state. The BBC, however, has been something like the Church was in the 19th century - the career of choice for the younger sons and daughters of the educated middle classes, absorbing great swathes of recent graduates every year and positively dripping with public respect. British politicians since Gladstone ("an insular country subject to fogs and with a powerful middle class") have rarely come away from a row with the suburbs with all their limbs. Tackle the BBC again? Now that's gonna hurt.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

BBC NEWS | Politics | Kelly's talk of death in the woods


Oh Christ..."Dr David Kelly told a UK diplomat he would probably be "found dead in the woods" if the UK invaded Iraq, the Hutton inquiry has heard."

It gets worse.

"Mr Broucher said the remark was made after Dr Kelly had explained to him that he had assured senior Iraqi officials that if they cooperated with United Nations weapons inspections they would have nothing to fear.

"The implication was that if the invasion went ahead, that would make him a liar and he would have betrayed his contacts, some of whom might be killed as a direct result of his actions," he said.

"I asked him what would happen then. He replied, in a throwaway line, he would probably be found dead in the woods."

Mr Broucher said he had thought Dr Kelly was talking about possible Iraqi vengeance.

"I now see that he may have been thinking on rather different lines," he added."

Indeed he may. (BTW, wasn't it Freudian that Tuesday's mistress of state morality said he'd been killed?)

BBC NEWS| 'Chemical Ali' captured

Link to story

So how did he come back from the dead then?

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

FT.com | Jihadis said to be "flooding into Iraq"

Oh shit...

Days of Hutton and Hacks

I naturally tried to get in to the inquiry for Campbell's turn on the grill. I even got up earlier and got to the Royal Courts of Justice just under an hour earlier than on Monday. It didn't help - a queue of around 160 people had gathered. I recalled that 40 tickets were available. Obviously, my dear blog, I would have to jump the queue. Aiming at some Mancs near the front, I engaged them in conversation. Simple hustling, no? Get into their group and slide in behind them once the queue began to move. Yes. Things were going well, when a fat busybody ahead of us began to show signs of activity. It was a porker, embarrassingly male, belly bulging out of a ridiculous blue-and-white striped sports jacket'n'slacks - huge scowl, heart-attack red with weeks of sun and gin. Curiously, a pin bearing the sign of the CIA was visible in his lapel. The shade of red darkened and turkeyish sounds were audible. He is looking at me...definitely..what a bore!
"Bray bwah jumping the queue!" I said - "Yes." Hoping to brazen it out. He addressed the general public - "He won't get in yaknow - I'll see to it that you don't get in the first ten!"
"Can I ask you why you're wearing a CIA badge?" I stalled. "Indeeed youth may".
"I just have, 007."
"None of your bishness!"

Kiboshed. So I queued. Naturally, when I reached the front of the queue, no tickets. But at least there had been some entertainment...I was behind a pathologically neat woman who looked like Miss Moneypenny's boss, to take the James Bond theme a little further before hurling it behind a convenient hedge. We spoke of news websites, and blogging. That wasn't too bad, but then we had to get on to the matter at hand. And this was that terrible moment when an otherwise simpatico person suddenly opens up and reveals the terrible leathery fangs, green saliva, obscene stench, Jewish conspiracy hobby...all that good stuff.
She began by declaring that "I heard you use the word rational..well I think the public's reaction to this has been very irrational and emotional. It's Diarna (that was how she pronounced it) all over again!" I remarked that this was rather more serious. "Oh, I quite agree. But what people will not understand is that Kelly was killed (eh?) because he lied! He said one thing to his chaps, and another thing to this - journalist." (To get the sense of this remark, replace "journalist" with "smallpox" or "rat" or "paedophile" or "Nazi".)

"You see, he showed no loyalty. Loyalty!" At this point I endeavoured to point out that perhaps a conflict existed for Kelly between conscience and loyalty, but she was building up a dangerous head of pomposity...."Nobody is at all loyal these days, and if there is no loyalty to authority then there is no morality at all. These 18-30s ransacking through Greece! And this drugtaking!"

I felt my gob gaping at this remarkable statement. Loyalty to Authority indeed! "I can't really see my way to considering "my country right or wrong", or worse "my government right or wrong", to be a particularly moral statement - after all some of the worst crimes and errors in history have been committed just like that.." But this wasn't going to deny her - "If he had any concern, he should have confided in his line manager - instead of ... whispering to this journalist!" (rat, smallpox, nazi - you get the picture)" The previous days, I thought, had shown exactly how much confidence Dr. Kelly could have had in his line manager. She erupted - "What are you - 22,23,24? What experience do you have? You've never been a civil servant (actually I have)!"
I thought of Frederick the Great's crack about the two mules in his army that had done forty campaigns, but were still mules, but decided against it. She now turned on a functionary who had appeared to spread the bad news about tickets. But she still didn't get one. Ha! Later in the day, I attempted to infiltrate through the building and got as far as the stairs outside Courts 72 and 73 before the same functionary nixed me. So, the only option was to wait for returned tickets. There were none, as a messenger from the gods in the form of a policeman revealed to us. But ARD - German television - interviewed me. I failed, you'll be disappointed to know, to expose a body daubed with this site's address in fetching dayglo orange or indeed to promote it in any other way.

More seriously, what are we to make of the fact that "Dr Kelly is not asked for example whether he knew about the 45mins allegation being added in late. He is never asked that in interview by the MoD" (James Dingemans QC) which emerged on Monday? Clearly, the facts didn't matter a damn..

BBC NEWS | Hutton Inquiry today

"This was clearly an issue which was being overseen on the presentation side by Alastair Campbell," said No.10 Official Spokesman Godric Smith of the dossier today. Really? Only yesterday he had nothing to do with it!

BBC link

Monday, August 18, 2003

Covering the Story - Hutton Inquiry Today

As promised, I went off to the Inquiry today. And what a day it was.

First of all there was the MoD News Director, Pam Teare, who tried to tell us all that she had only decided to name Dr Kelly for the sake of other civil servants. Yes! It was all just to keep the poor dears out of "the media spotlight". This remarkable humanitarianism was hardly surprising though, seeing as she had apparently done nothing all the time. Despite being Director, everything seemed to be someone else's problem. It was Sir Kevin Tebbit. It was chief press officer Kate Wilson. It was Tebbit's secretary Dominic Wilson. Anyone but her. One of the day's most telling questions was the one inquiry QCs Dingemans and Knox asked everyone: "Was it not your understanding, therefore, that he did not want to be named in the statements? No-one said anything to you about that?" No. "And you did not ask?" No - she didn't. Neither did No. 10 Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, apparently think about the "strain and burden that might be imposed on Dr Kelly giving evidence to both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee" as Dingemans put it. "It was not something that came to us." was his reply. And the story sounded menacing that way.

In a No.10 meeting held at 0900 on the 7th of July concerning the Foreign Affairs Committee report, a group including all the key men - Omand, Scarlett, Tebbit, Powell, Jack Straw and Tony Blair - discussed Kelly. Sir Kevin Tebbit, it appears, said to Blair that Kelly might "say some uncomfortable things" about Iraq to the FAC. He went to say that he "undertook to find out more about his publicly expressed views". And Tony Blair "made it clear" that the MoD should be in the lead at all times and that Kelly should be called back from a training course at RAF Honington to face a second departmental grilling. This apparently was the subject of a sinister email sent by Tebbit to Powell that day. One line only: "The interview is at 1600. I am told you will know what that means!" And at some point in the discussion, Jack Straw had cause to mention Kelly's employment rights. Mr. Powell said nothing to clarify what Straw meant by this. He says he forgot. You can believe that if you wish. Mr. Powell had some other things to explain as well. For example, if No.10 had nothing to do with it - then how did he come to write an email to Alastair Campbell (who naturally had nothing to do with dossiers either!) saying "Firstly, the document does nothing to demonstrate an imminent threat...to his neighbours let alone to the West"!

Another well-known denizen of Downing St who got caught was one Tony Blair - who at "that meeting" asked for a "more forensic" analysis of Kelly, and another interview....

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Bad times in Basra

From various bulletin boards..

Firstly(NY Times):"In Basra, drivers were lining up at gasoline stations today after coalition forces brought in enough fuel to fill 550,000 cars, a supply that should last five days, the officials said.
Power cuts that officials said were brought on by looting of gasoline and sabotage of electricity lines prompted two days of riots in the city. Other factors behind the shortages include the dilapidated and obsolete condition of the refineries, officials said.

In the past two days residents lined up for several miles at gasoline stations and tried to cope with 122-degree temperatures and high humidity, a British official said today. Power stations had been running on standby generators.
The effort to keep the power stations going was continuing, a British spokeswoman in Basra, Squadron Leader Lynda Sawers of the Royal Air Force, said in a telephone interview.
The fuel shortages caused power failures at hospitals and harmed aid efforts, American officials have said.

The fuel arrived today by ship at the port of Az Zubayhr and road tankers that made their way to Basra were escorted by a convoy of British soldiers, Squadron Leader Sawers said.
In addition, a convoy of 25 road tankers was escorted by American soldiers from Kuwait, British officials said, and these are destined for towns and provinces throughout southeast Iraq.
Maj. Charlie Mayo, a British spokesman, said: "Coalition forces are determined to to everything we can to ensure oil reaches the power stations and that petrol reaches cars. We are also sending soldiers out to petrol stations to ensure that distribution takes place.
Major Mayo also said that coalition forces are stepping up efforts to provide security to power lines and to support local Iraqi contractors rebuilding the broken infrastructure."

And: "Secondly, it's much calmer here now - the youth are waving again, rather than chucking things. Still a few nasty incidents, but it's a big city, and there are weapons everywhere, and it's bloody hot, so I don't see that as being unusual. Not nice, but to be expected (Imagine London or Brum if everyone had an AK - or do they already?)....

Back to the reconstruction. There is a lot of specialist skill required, from banking to policing to civil engineering. A Lot of this is done by the 'proper' people (coppers, especially) but lots isn't, and that's where the TA come in. Quite apart from the good work done by the CIMIC teams (largely TA), quite a few guys are being taken out of their TA trades, and used for their Civvy skills. This is how the Marshall Plan worked in Germany after the War, and it is going well here too. Humble beginnings, but I think most of us here are therefore doing a bit more for this God-forsaken country this way than by carrying out our mobilised roles."

Very interesting from a policy standpoint.

But on the other hand look at this...

"Yesterday we had widespread riots in the City. At our location in (DELETED) we are colocated with (DELETED), who are responsible for (DELETED). Yesterday (DELETED) guys pulling 18 hour duties. Some of the guys in the riots were on the "Base Lines " = riot squads for 4 or 5 hours in temps over 45* C.

At one stage when the rioters got to the (DELETED) front gate all the uniformed staff in our building were formed up into 2 extra sections to reinforce (DELETED) Coy and stood outside the gate in full kit (shields and sticks) to a hail of bricks and burning tyres for a couple of hours. At one stage we had 2 x majors, 2 Sgt Majors and allied troops on the line. Visions of the film Zulu were appropriate.

Today was a bit quiter but still lots of trouble. We have had a complete ban on on movement for most of the last 2 days.

The combination of all the security problems and the ban on movement makes sorting the problems very difficult, as the staff in CPA who need to be dealing with the local ministries can't get out.

We have run out of beer in the building.

There isn't really any good news."

Details of the SA18 from GlobalSecurity

The SA-18 GROUSE (Igla 9K38) is an improved variant in the the SA-7 & SA-14 series of manportable SAMs. As with the earlier SA-14, the SA-18 uses of a similar thermal battery/gas bottle, and the SA-18 has the same 2 kilogram high-explosive warhead fitted with a contact and grazing fuse. But the missile of entirely new design with substantially improved range and speed,. The new seeker and aerodynamic improvements extend its effective range, and its higher speed enables it to be used against faster targets. The SA-18 has a maximum range of 5200 meters and a maximum altitude of 3500 meters. The 9M39 missile SA-18 employs an IR guidance system using proportional convergence logic. The new seeker offers better protection against electro-optical jammers; the probability of kill against an unprotected fighter is estimated at 30-48%, and the use of IRCM jammers only degrades this to 24-30%.

The Igla-M [SA-N-10 ] is the naval version of the SA-18.

Employer cooks man

The Guardian story

A court heard how Paul Clegg, 23 (the same age as me) died of heat inside a 40ft long industrial washing machine at work. He had climbed into the device to release sheets caught in the mechanism.

"Paul Clegg, 23, was caught inside for more than two hours because other staff did not know there was an escape hatch on the 13-metre long machine. It washed at up to 75C (167F), and had been running shortly before climbed into it on March 21.

Coroner Sheriff Payne told the Bournemouth inquest that staff called the fire brigade when it became clear their colleague was struggling to get out. Fire commander Tim Spring arrived at 9.38am when Mr Clegg was still conscious. "I asked on three or four occasions if there was an access panel. They said there was not," he told the inquest."

The fire brigade were strongly assured by none other than the engineer on duty that the only possible solution was to cut through the shell of the machine, which they did. But by the time they had cracked it open there was nothing to be done for him. And this is why.

"David Lewis, engineer on duty at Sunlight Textile Services in Bournemouth, told the inquest he had no qualifications and learned about the machine "on the job". There was no written procedure for entering the machine, or a set time to allow it to cool first. He confirmed he was one of those unable to answer the fire commander, as he had not known there was an escape hatch.

Questioned by Christopher Orchard, the solicitor representing Mr Clegg's family, Mr Lewis said there was a manual, but he had not read it and had never been asked to do so."

Well, it is a cliche that people never RTFM, but it's not a very good reason to become a killer.

"The laundry's chief engineer, Jim McGuirk, on a health and safety committee which met monthly, told the inquest jurors, to gasps from Mr Clegg's family, that he, too, did not know of any access panel."

Given the rest of the case, not knowing would be a good idea...anyway, it goes to show that whatever gabble about "elf-an-safedy" the government comes up with, and however many signs are stuck up on the walls, unless there are effective sanctions either by inspection or by trade-union organisation there will be no effect. Very likely the laundry had bits of paper and signs, enough not to breach the Health and Safety at Work Act, but such legislation only protects the guilty from civil actions unless it is enforced.

Hutton Inquiry BlogOps..

Well, it's come to my attention that the Inquiry is sitting in public. Apparently all that is necessary is to present oneself at 0915 sharp at the Bell Yard entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice and get in the queue. Obviously, this (the main story of the times) cannot go unblogged. Watch this space!

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Britain and regime change in Iraq, 1941

An interesting document about the British intervention in Iraq during the second world war...Download here

Straw lied to Parliament

An interesting but little remarked revelation from the Hutton Inquiry was that Jack Straw is now officially a liar. Some people will, of course, remember that Wor Jackie brutally smuggered (like buggered, but referring to smugness) the Foreign Affairs Committee over the false claim that Iraqi WMD could be deployed within 45 minutes. Deployed means, of course, to place troops or equipment in position and in a state of readiness for use. Jackie, though, lawyered out of this by claiming that all they had meant was "to make them available to units...I feel this is an unremarkable claim, as an order to use them would not be given if they were not available." Oddly enough, the deputy director of Defence Intelligence, Martin Howard, said at the inquiry that the "source" said that they could be
fired within 45 minutes of the order being given. Not "made available". Prepared, delivered, and fired.

Mr. Straw lied.

Doubtless he thinks we are all too ignorant to realise that chemical arms are not kept in soldiers' belt pouches. Or that they are generally stored as more than one substance, limiting the danger of accidental release or unauthorised use as well as keeping them from deteriorating. They have to be released from storage under high security and then prepared. Dr Kelly pointed out that even the most efficient handlers would have been doing very well to achieve this in 45 minutes.

Trusted psychic canines speak: It's all Arnold

Trusted psychic canines speak

But this beats the lot...."We phoned Jacqueline Stallone, matriarch of the "Rocky" brain trust, and got the official forecast from her clairvoyant canines, Rachel, Hannah and Friday. As you might recall, in July 2000, the miniature pinschers astounded the political world by correctly predicting that George W. Bush would defeat Al Gore by a razor-thin margin of "a couple hundred votes."

Never mind that the prognosticating pooches also said prison inmates would soon be sent to Mars and guarded by robots. When it comes to politics, they're golden. So, whom do they pick to win California's recall roulette?

"Arnold Schwarzenegger, by a major margin," said Mama Stallone, interpreting for the dogs, who speak no English. "If my dogs like him, he's in."

Final Candidate Count Is to Be Announced Today

LA Times story

Well, the last day of nominations is here, and so far no-one knows who's standing and who isn't!

"With California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley scheduled to certify a final list of candidates for the recall election today, confusion continued over how many candidates will appear on the Oct. 7 ballot. Shelley's office announced Tuesday that its list of prospective candidates had swelled to 247. But that widely reported number is deceptive, according to county registrars around the state, who actually handle the candidate filings.

"People see big numbers and those become the headlines," said Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County's election manager.
Registrars have been compiling their own list that indicates that the number of candidates will be closer to 145.

As of Tuesday, Shelley's staff had determined that 131 Californians had qualified to run for governor. Seventy-six others had been disqualified for incomplete paperwork — more than a dozen of whom had paid the nonrefundable $3,500 filing fee. The tally leaves 40 people that state election officials must check before today's deadline."

NEWS: Missile plot arrests

Details on the weapon recovered

Several persons, including a British arms dealer, have been caught smuggling an Igla man-portable surface-to-air missile into the US. The operation apparently involved a giant sting set up by the Russian Federal Security Bureau, which planted a weapon modified so as to be useless on them. (The British Army in Malaya went in for something similar, but preferred to plant things like grenades with instant fuses...) This has been a running fear ever since the Heathrow alerts back in the Spring and the failed attempt on an Israeli charter aircraft in Dar es Salaam. I was recently walking around the areas the police were especially scared about then, Wraysbury and Datchet, and they were right - there is an immense amount of cover out there among the gravel pits and reservoirs, as well as a near-total absence of anyone walking. Round there they prefer to drive their Range Rovers very quickly. Just the place.

"Officials say the British man successfully imported a Russian-made Igla missile into the US and believed he was selling it to an Muslim extremist.
But his buyer was an undercover FBI agent and the arms dealer's voice is heard on tape saying he wanted the missile to be used to shoot down a large passenger plane.
The FBI have denied that the plane in question was Air Force One, the US President's official aircraft. They insist they were aware the missile was being brought into the US at Baltimore docks, shipped from Russia and disguised as medical equipment.

Although no actual terrorists are thought to have been involved in the operation, intelligence officials said it was a terrifying illustration of the vulnerability of Western nations to attack by extremists. Over the last 15 months, there have been three foiled attempts by groups linked to al-Qaeda to shoot down planes carrying Western or Israeli passengers."

But, of course, "no actual terrorists"? As ever the problem with a sting is that you never know if the crime is real or created by the stingers. As Joseph Conrad put it in 1907, "it is a commonplace that spies fabricate their information; but in this sphere of revolutionary and political action....they may be tempted to fabricate the facts as well, which leads in one direction to the evil of emulation and in the other to panic, hasty legislation, and unjustified hate."

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Eyewitness: Policing the Solomons

BBC NEWS Eyewitness: Policing the Solomons

On the same theme...

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Solomons warlord surrenders

BBC: Solomons warlord surrenders

An early success for the largely Aussie intervention on the Solomons. Typically for a group of Pacific islands, political weirdness has been rife there. But most of them have avoided race war and the collapse of the state to the point where, as the Solomons finance minister said, the cabinet couldn't meet for fear of being kidnapped on the way.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Recalls, Stupidity and Terminators.

As has been widely reported, those crazy folks in California have decided to recall their Democrat governor Gray Davis. Recalling is a Californian constitutional oddity, introduced in 1911, under which any citizen may raise a petition to dismiss the governor. If enough people sign up, there has to be a vote - effectively a referendum - on whether or not to sack him. Or her. This, though, is where it gets silly. A successful recall obviously requires the election of a new governor. But for some insane reason, this vote takes place simultaneously with the recall vote and on the same ballot. Which brings about the possibility that the governor might get 49.9% of the vote in his favour, but be recalled - and then be replaced by the candidate with the biggest share of the second vote. But that might only mean - say - 20%. Wibble. Aside from the obvious absurdity of the process, there has been a lot of stereotypical Cali weirdness going on - when one of the leading candidates is an Austrian ham actor best known for his role as a killer robot and another (Arianna Huffington, whose name sounds like a joke to start with) is a British-educated Greek, as well as a wealthy pornographer runnign under the banner of "Smut peddlers for the truth!", a woman whose career has been built on putting up billboards with her face on them (Angelyne) and God knows what other hucksters, self publicists, extremists, cash grabbers, even the LA Times has to confess that California is living up to its reputation for producing more nuts than any other state of the Union. (Link)

"The New York Times, Newsweek and National Public Radio have all called this state and its inhabitants crazy in recent weeks. ABC anchor Peter Jennings routinely refers to "the craziness in California," and CNN stories carry the graphic, "California's Crazy Recall." Californians, after many generations of practice, are usually inured to insults from the jealous throngs who don't get to live here. But the recall-sparked crescendo of craziness has landed with unsettling force because so many of California's own residents have been throwing around the C-word."


But what's madder than the vanity circus gathering about the recall is the reason why all this happened to start with. Like all the US states except for Vermont, California is bound by its constitution to balance its budget every year. A Keynesian might consider this pretty mad anyway. But it's something California finds very difficult to achieve. (Don't we all!) The reasons are fairly simple to understand. For a start, the state infrastructure built in the 40s and 60s is ageing all at once (block obsolescence). Then, the federal government has cut its spending on things like education that it shares with the states. To keep the public schools going, Sacramento has to copper up. But it's the political/mental aspect that's really serious. California was the first state to have a "tax revolt" back in the 1980s. That is to say, pace Paul Krugman below, that the political culture lost the link between tax and services. This is where another Californian peculiarity comes in - citizen-initiated referenda. Any group of citizens can, if they get enough signatures, put a "proposition" on the ballot paper. If it gets a majority in favour, it's the law. In the 1980s one of these was passed to abolish property taxes, as the price of real estate soared. This, as well as the post-cold war defence cuts, brought about the 1991 budget crisis. More recently, another proposition mandated the state to restore the education funding lost due to the abolition of property taxes. Riiight.

The upshot is that, when Governor Davis proposed his budget this year, that the Republicans went ape because it contained higher taxes. They blocked it in the state senate and settled in for a long struggle. Once the crisis had built up, they launched the recall petition. What they aren't too keen on saying is that now, the recall underway, they have quietly agreed to that same budget. Otherwise the state would no longer have been able to pay its employees.
Ordnung muß sein, naturally. But it's hardly honest.

What's the Ranter's Take-Home Political Sermon for Today, then? Firstly, that tax deficiency is a dangerous illness and can be very hard to shift. Secondly, and more importantly, that direct democracy in central government is a bad idea. Everywhere that has devices like Cali's recalls and propositions or Austria's volksbegehrens tends to find that it's a tiresome charter for extremists, the self-interested, whingers and the obsessive. It may seem a fine idea to let the citizenry propose legislation, but just look at the results - and the people who support it. (The CIR campaign in Australia was riddled with gun nuts, racists and fascists.) The problem was first formulated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract. He argued that true democracy must be direct - and that only a community small enough for "the people" to be gathered easily could therefore remain a true democracy.

That doesn't mean, of course, that communities bigger than a city state (Rousseau's ideal) can't be democratic. It means that they can't be purely democratic in his sense of the word. That is to say, they have to move from direct democracy to representative democracy as the matters at hand get further from the citizen. Otherwise we have the Californian problem - direct democracy without responsibility.

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Jordan's Iraq embassy attacked

Jordan's embassy to Iraq bombed

The Jordanian embassy in Baghdad has been blown up by a truckbomb containing between 130-230kg of explosive. 7 dead so far. Apparently the wrecked embassy was then sacked by an angry crowd - gets to be a bit of a tradition, no?

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Mr Smith confiscated my essays!

Der Standard reports that an American PhD student who investigated the fibre-optic networks used in the USA and prepared a map has had his dissertation classified as secret. He continues to work in a windowless room with concrete walls, under supervision...what a wonderful world it is..

Tuesday, August 05, 2003


The following is from a public health aid worker's blog in Senegal, link.

"I was asking an elderly woman about her vision and had a hard time understanding her answers in Wolof. Generally if I ask, “Can you see well up close?” they answer with something complicated, like “Well, I can see to sew sometimes and to read letters from my friend, but not in the sun.” I love simple yes and no answers, but that’s irrelevant. This woman and I were not communicating well so I held up an index card and asked if she could read the writing on it. She squinted and squinted, but said nothing. I asked again. Same response. I turned the card over to see that I had picked up the only index card in the stack that was blank!! Ooops."

Indeed. Reminds of my exam dream with the blank question paper..

Paul Krugman on California's crisis

State of Decline

As usual, Prof. Paul Krugman of MIT's comments on economic life are well worth hearing.

"California's slide into irresponsibility, in which politicians refuse to acknowledge any connection between the government services the public demands and the taxes that pay for those services, is being replicated all across America."


"Proposition 13, the 1978 cap on property taxes, led to a progressive starvation of California's once-lauded public schools. By 1994, the state had the largest class sizes in the nation; its reading scores were on a par with Mississippi's.

Voters wanted this shameful situation remedied. Indeed, much of the recent growth of education spending was mandated by a rather complex measure called Proposition 98. So when conservatives denounce "runaway government spending" in California, what they're really talking about is the effort to hire more teachers and repair decrepit school buildings."

Sound familiar? Yes, it's another bad case of tax deficiency - the social sickness that takes hold when the political public forget that all-important link between taxation and spending.

BBC NEWS | Politics | Blair official sorry over Mitty remark

Blair apologises after spin dr. called Kelly a "Walter Mitty"

Walter Mitty was a man who fantasised about a life of intrigue and mystery. But Dr. Kelly went on secret missions to confront Russian bureaucrats about smallpox bombs. As Alan Watkins put it in the Indy on Sunday, he knew much more about intelligence than Tony Blair or the editor of the Times. Au secours monsieur Hutton...

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