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Showing posts from August, 2008

Why Mr. Darling must now resign

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Britain's Finance Minister, is an enigmatic figure. Alistair Darling has established himself as a managerial technocrat, of the type much favoured by the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, yet he also managed to retain a working relationship with Gordon Brown- the the point that Brown trusted him enough to hand over the Finance Ministry to Darling upon his elevation to Number 10. His public image is dominated by his grey hair and seemingly grey personality- hence his nickname of the Badger. This seemingly buttoned-up Morningside personality has, however, been making statements that are so emotional that they show a man at the end of his tether. Spending some part of his holiday on the Western Isles with a Guardian journalist might be seen as an error of judgement, were it not so carefully judged. His complaints that he no longer gets back to Edinburgh, nor goes to the Cinema suggest a man firmly buried by work pressure. What really shows this though

The GOP and the Big Easy faces the worst

As it Hurricane Gustav bears down on New Orleans, it seems that the Big Easy is going to be struck by a very big storm again. Hurricane Katrina left the city in tatters, and three years later much of it remains beyond repair. The hurricane was in many ways the final straw for America's patience with the Bush administration. The President was praising Michael Brown, the responsible official in the FEMA, despite the fact that it was obvious that he was totally out of his depth. That Mr. Brown had no qualifications appropriate for his office saving his friendship with Mr. Bush brought home the level of patronage and cronyism in the administration of the hapless 43rd President. Now Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on the New Orleans just as the Republicans gather to nominate John McCain and his surprise running mate, Sarah Palin, at their convention in Minneapolis. Governor Palin seems to have been chosen to trump the supposed lack of experience of Sen. Obama- however the blatant token

Night-mayor in Beijing and Caracas

Well, look lets face it, we all cringed a bit when Boris Johnson tuned up at the bird's nest stadium in Peking looking- frankly- rather scruffy. The fact that he seemed to be treating the great occasion with a certain amount of levity was certainly noted with disapproval by his Chinese hosts. Personally I was only relieved that he did not drop the Olympic flag- and a couple of times I must say my heart was rather in my mouth. It was not a particularly auspicious start to the next four years of London as an Olympic city. On the other hand, though, it was clearly gall and wormwood for Ken Livingstone to have to merely watch the spectacle that he had rather hoped to have been at the centre of. After the announcement that Livingstone is now to be the paid advisor of the windbag wannabe dictator of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, it quite brightens my day to think how much Ken must have been consumed with envy. Personally, I hope that he stays in Caracas for a very long while, since it may ta

Russia: Staring down the barrel of a gun

Since the Russians launched their well-planned war against Georgia on August 8th, there have been several opportunities for Russia to reduce the increasing tension with NATO. However, at every stage, the Russian Federation has played hardball. Firstly they have failed to implement the August 15th ceasefire agreement which they themselves signed- keeping their troops well inside Georgia proper. The Russian army has looted the port of Poti and stolen not only Georgian property, but also the property of several other nations too. The have repeatedly attacked rail and road links and have successfully disrupted oil transit from Azerbaijan to the West. As humanitarian aide comes into the only functioning port under Georgian control- Batumi- Russian naval vessels have harassed the incoming shipments and the NATO warships that have entered the Black Sea. Any criticism has been greeted with extremely aggressive- in fact bellicose- language. By recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian

Greetings Pop Pickers...

Compiling lists always struck me as a mildly weird thing to do ("Top 50 all-time great Mr. Spock moments on Star Trek" is a very minority interest). On the other hand bloggers are indeed a fairly strange bunch, so it does seem that people do take notice of Iain "Fluff Freeman" Dale's annual list of top UK bloggers , and sure enough Fluff, sorry- Iain- has come out with his annual view of the top bloggers in different categories . I think last year I was seventh or eighth in the Lib Dem list. This year- prepares modest shrug and rueful smile- well, eleventh or twelfth. Given that I simply cannot blog every day, and that much of my blogging is on fairly obscure stuff, I am mildly surprised to be in the list at all, especially when I see good bloggers like Julian at Orange by Name considered to be "below" me on the list. On the other hand the list of bloggers who care enough to take an interest and actually put together the list is a very short lis

Hoy's the Boy

It did do my heart good to hear the triple gold medal winner soon to be "Sir" Chris Hoy speak such sense: "I was proud to represent Scotland in the Commonwealth Games. That's something I will always cherish. "Scotland is part of Britain - they are not mutually exclusive. I'm a proud Scot and I'm a very proud Brit as well." As the increasingly obese Alex Salmond tries to use sport as a political football for his own narrow separatism it is good to know that real winners understand that the reality of success is the result of years of hard graft and nothing to do with the pathetic gesture politics of the SNP .

Fighting the last war- the end of effective deterrents against the Russian threat

Today is the 17th anniversary of the August coup in Moscow. The hardliners of the Politburo conspired with the Soviet military and security services to overthrow the reforming Communist, Mikhail Gorbachev. However, as we know, the coup failed and the Soviet Union disintegrated. In the past week, we have had to confront the fact that the defeat of the hardliners was by no means as complete as it seemed at the time. The secret organs of the Soviet state have turned out to be far more robust than we had hoped. Indeed, almost any figure of consequence in the modern Russian Federation- seemingly with the sole exception of President Dimitri Medvedev himself- is a former member of the Soviet security services. The education of the so-called "Siloviki"- the "security people", has been rather unusual. The core values of the KGB and the GRU were based upon a ruthlessly Manichean view of the world- Leninist conspiracy would undermine the capitalist "Imperialists". A

How to win friends and influence people

It still looks like the Russians are stalling on even beginning their withdrawal, and the increasingly blood curdling threats against all and sundry suggest that all is not well in the Kremlin. The longer the Russians continue their occupation, the more united the voices in Europe calling for sanctions are becoming. While it is disappointing that Germany remains "unconvinced" about taking firmer measures, the tart comments from Helmut Schmidt are placing the dove-ish foreign ministry in Berlin firmly on the spot. Even with Germany, Russia has severely damaged its long term relationship. Unless we see a withdrawal and a far more conciliatory tone from Moscow, the scale of the likely sanctions is only likely to grow. Further delays will see an increasingly determined NATO and the EU. This is a major miscalculation from the Kremlin and one that has already caused significant damage.

What does Russia want?

Under the Tsars, Russian government was "autocracy, mitigated by assassination". Even after the State Duma was established in 1906, there was little restraint upon executive power. After the Bolshevik revolution, the dictatorship of the Communist Party was even less a government of laws. Untrammelled executive power under the psychotic Josef Stalin led to the Terror of the Purges and the creation of the camps described so powerfully by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. Unlike the efficient German Nazis, few records were kept of the numbers involved, but millions were killed and tens of millions imprisoned under exceptionally harsh conditions. The 1980s saw an attempt to escape that grim legacy, however the process of liberalisation led to the inevitable demise of a society and a state built on terror. This liberalisation and the fall of the Soviet Union is what Vladimir Putin has already characterised as the greatest "geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century". Moreo

The recklessness of Russia

In the last few days, Russian military vessels have attacked and sunk Georgian naval vessels. However those Russian ships are based in Sevastapol - under the remit of an agreement with the host nation: Ukraine. Ukraine does not support the use of its ports in a vicious war against a friendly country. It has indicated that it will not permit those ships that participated in the action to return to Ukrainian ports. If Russia intends to break the blockade, then it will essentially be attacking Ukraine in the same way as it has already attacked Georgia. This is playing with fire. The rape of Georgia has already humiliated the West and killed tens of thousands. Unless the Kremlin pulls back from the brink, we could indeed be looking a a major war.

Georgia: seven days on and how Russia can lose

All of the Western powers accept that the invasion of Georgia will fundamentally change the way that NATO and the European Union deal with the Kremlin. However there is a deep disagreement about how far the West is able to go in punishing the Russian Federation for the illegal invasion of its sovereign, democratic neighbour. Some would argue that Russia has grown so strong that it is inevitable that the West will be forced to cave in. Fortunately a group of states- roughly speaking in the North and West of the NATO alliance and led by the United States- has made it quite clear that they intend to go beyond a token slap on the wrist. Planned joint exercises have been cancelled, and Russia's exclusion from the G-8 appears all but inevitable. As the fighting continues, those who have advocated a softly-softly approach to Russia- such as Germany- are reluctantly facing the need for a tough response. Of course these last few days most of us have been outraged at Russia's actions. No

Russia: Defying the laughter of tyrants

I have spent an emotional day with Georgians. "My best friend- I have known him since he was six- is in the artillery in Gori . I do not know if he is dead or alive". "The lines are down, I don't know where my family is" Make no mistake -this was a war of Russia's choosing. As the government of Georgia make a stand in the compound in Tbilisi, Russian troops have roamed at will across the country. The defeat is complete, but Russia continues to pretend that Georgia fights on. The latest nonsense is "Georgian agents are creating terrorist incidents in Russia". Only someone educated with the tin ear of the Stalinist could think that anyone beyond themselves could believe such a complete lie. In my opinion, Russia can no longer be treated as anything but what she has become: a treacherous aggressor, contemptuous of human life. People in the West are wringing their hands and saying "but what can we do- surely nothing?" Do Russian spies not fun

Russia: Actions have consequences

Both AP and the BBC have confirmed that Gori and Senaki- entirely Georgian cities, a long way from either South Ossetia or Abhazia have been occupied by Russian troops. The overthrow of Georgia's democratic regime appears to be under way. The shock across the world is palpable. The actions of the Putin regime are simply outrageous. No state that defies Russia, even within its own borders, can now be considered beyond Russian interference, up to and including acts of war against civilians. The Bear believes itself invulnerable and will maintain violent pressure, legal, or illegal in any way it sees fit. This is an unquestioned return to the evil ways of Stalinism, and can only be resisted by any freedom loving people. In my view Russia has already put itself outside the civilised world. Unless and until the Russian Federation withdraws its troops to the status quo ante and agrees to enter substantive talks. then NATO should make quite clear that it will not recognise any puppet reg

Blog war

Since Russia has launched cyberattacks against Georgia in parallel with their continuing military assault, I feel obliged to highlight sites that the Georgians have been able to use to get information about what is happening in the Russian invasion. The Foreign Affairs Ministry site: Also the President of Poland has established a site on his own Home page in order to get further information out: Most .GG websites are at best only intermittently accessable as a result of the Russian cyberattacks. Russian government actions over the past 96 hours- picking a fight with their small neighbour and then responding is overwhelming and totally disproportionate force have been a massive wake-up call and warning for all of us. I, and others like Edward Lucas, have warned for some time about the nature of the Putin regime- their can be no doubt about their intentions, determination and recklessness with human life. The West face

Deliver Us from Evil

I can not deny that I am much troubled by the appalling news from Georgia. The obvious determination of Russia to destroy the hard-won independence of the country is the writing on the wall for the future. Russia has gone well beyond hard-ball. The bombing of Tblisi , and the news that the Georgians are evacuating Gori - a city well inside Georgia proper suggests, pehaps, that Russia intends to occupy much of the entire country. The message that the Kremlin is giving is that any state that presumes to challenge Russian power can expect the use of every weapon in the Russian armoury against them. It means to that the probing and challenging at every turn that NATO has had to deal with over the past few years will now be stepped up. Russian money too can be used as a weapon- and it will be. My friend Edward Lucas has written well on the subject of the New Russian Hegemony, but even he is shocked, as am I, by the naked brutality that the Siloviki have displayed. Troubled at heart I deci

The defeat of Georgia: A Western response to the disaster

Despite the withdrawal of Georgian troops from South Ossetia, the Russians are continuing their attack. It is now quite clear that Russia intends nothing less than the seizure of both South Ossetia and Abhazia, the total military defeat of Georgia and the overthrow of the democratically elected Georgian President, Mikheil Saakhashvili. The folly of the Bucharest summit, which failed to invite either Georgia or Ukraine into NATO is now revealed. The objections of France might have been expected, those of Germany are simply reprehensible. The fact that Georgia, like Germany in 1949, faced partial occupation by Russian military forces and a Russian sponsored puppet government in its occupied territory was the reason to bring Georgia into the alliance and not to exclude it. Had the allied powers said to Germany then, "We would like to have you in NATO, eventually, but first please sort out your "internal affairs" with "East" Germany, then the Western powers may wel

UPDATE: Russia v Georgia

There are now reports that in addition to attacks on the Georgian cities of Poti and Gori, and the continuing fighting in South Ossetia, Russian troops are "invading" the other separatist province, Abhazia. If this is confirmed, then it is quite clear that we are not looking at a response to any Georgian moves in South Ossetia, but a much bigger operation: an attack on the territorial integrity of Georgia that must have been plned for some time. Russia appears to be attacking its smaller neighbour on all fronts: In the separatist provinces, in Georgia proper and also it has launched large sale DoS attack against Georgian Internet addresses and websites (familiar as a tactic against the Estonians last year). This is now an act of war, not only against Georgia- which has responded by declaring a state of war, and thus internationalising the conflict by bringing it under the purview of the United Nations- but also the West. This is the "Rhineland" moment. Should what n

Russia v Georgia "The First Casualty"

As far as wars are concerned, it usually pays to be pretty sceptical, as American Senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917 : "The first casualty when war comes is truth". However, with regard to the Russian-Georgian conflict that has turned hot over the past few days, the truth is actually quite clear. Russian troops are fighting inside territory that Russia, along with the international community, recognises as Georgia. The attack by Russian planes, now confirmed, against the Georgian city of Poti, is an attack by the Russian Air Force against Georgia directly. Russia has attacked Georgia- not the other way round. This is simply the latest act from the Kremlin that defies international law. I have noted in the past the massive strategic significance of Georgia to the energy pipelines from Central Asia to the West, and while the West may be unclear about how important such a small country is, Russia has never forgotten and finds the Euro-Atlantic stance of the Tbilisi government in

Black Swans, Open Systems and Fractal Geometry

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book "Black Swan" is an expansion of the ideas that he put forward in his book "Fooled by Randomness- The Scandal of Prediction" . As regular readers will know, I think that the philosophical ideas that Taleb puts forward have profound political implications . In particular ideology as a Grand Theory- that is a systematised explanation of everything- falls to pieces in the face of the uncertainty that is the basis of empiricism . Intuitively I have always distrusted grand theories, and as an undergrad and as a research student I proceeded from the basis of a partial theorist- in other words that most human activities, especially socially interactive disciplines like politics, are not closed systems , isolated from their context, but open ones . Marxists, by making a statement such as "All history is the history of class struggle" show that they believe that history proceeds from the basis of an ideological driver and t