Wednesday 30 June 2010
Monday 28 June 2010
Thursday 24 June 2010
Saturday 19 June 2010
Wednesday 16 June 2010
The lunatics are back in charge of the economy - and with a vengeance. The recent government reports on the state of the economy and the public finances are all meant to frighten us into accepting severe, if not savage cuts in public spending. This of course was the Tory message throughout the election campaign and on the back of this they won a measly 36% of the votes. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats argued against immediate cuts due to the fragility of the economy and together they won well over half the votes in the election. Despite this the LibDems have decided to join with the Tories in a coalition government. And in so doing they have betrayed their voters.
How can the likes of Clegg, Cable et al argue so convincingly against the Tory proposals and now so convincingly argue for them? What has happened to that so-called LibDem principle of trust? Vote for us LibDems - we are different, you can trust us. Turns out they are just as conniving as the rest. They either have no principles whatsoever or they were lying during the campaign. Probably both. After all what have the LibDems got out of the coalition? A promise to hold a vote in Parliament which may, just may, result in a referendum on the Alternative Vote, which is not even remotely proportional. Oh how cheaply and quickly did the LibDems sell out.
Unfortunately it will be us, or at least the less well off among us, who will have to pay the price for this treachery. In terms of reductions in income, pensions and the loss of important services. For many of us, our quality of life will be seriously affected for the worse. And all so the LibDems can enter government to prop up a Tory party that was rejected by over 60% of the electorate!
The coalition government’s economic prescription is complete and utter madness. In the midst of the deepest recession in generations they are going to make deep cuts in public spending. How on earth is that going to help the economy grow or even maintain its current level? As Larry Elliot points out in a Guardian article: “Just as in 1937, private demand in most advanced countries is too weak to sustain the recovery. Budget deficits are a reflection of high unemployment and low levels of private investment. Consumers are worried about losing their jobs and are having their incomes squeezed. That makes businesses anxious about investing.” And yet we are to believe that by making even more people unemployed and taking even more spending out of the economy the private sector is somehow going to start investing! Pigs no doubt will soon begin to fly over Westminster.
The coalition often refer to the Canadian experience of the mid 1990s as an example of how savage cuts to public spending can work to the benefit of a country. What this superficial comparison fails to mentions is that the Canadian economy was only able to grow and thus take up the slack from reduced government spending, thanks to a sharp devaluation and a boom in the US economy. Canada also experienced a sharp rise in private debt during this period. Now none, absolutely none of this applies to the UK in 2010. We have already devalued, but alas, with the fall in the Euro this is not likely to benefit us much more. Secondly our major trading partners - the EU and the USA - are also in sharp decline. To quote Larry Elliot again: “we now have the bizarre spectacle of China, Japan, the eurozone and Britain all set on reducing budget deficits while simultaneously pursuing export-led growth. This is a logical absurdity because somebody, somewhere has to be importing all the exports. If the rest of the world assumes that the US is once again going to become the world's spender of last resort it is seriously mistaken.” And with household debt at record levels is this really the time to be asking people to take on more debt? Truly this prescription is madness.
The government again and again intone that we must make these cuts or the markets will punish us. This claim has been much used by LidDems to justify their change of heart re the need for cuts. However this claim is pure nonsense and completely belied by what has actually happened to countries that have made savage cuts. Spain finally did announce a package of cuts and what happened? The next day one of the three major ratings agency downgraded Spain’s debts. So the response of the markets was to punish Spain for its budget cuts. The reason - this would reduce growth in the economy and make the repayment of debts more difficult. Clearly our coalition does not listen to the markets.
To return to the LibDems, the kind of economic policy pursued by the coalition is what one would expect from a Tory government. They argued for this during the election. However the LibDems did not, so why are they now so enthusiastically advocating this nonsensical and disastrous policy? One can only conclude that the LidDems under their current leadership - Clegg, Laws and Cable - are reverting back to a classic LIberal Party of yore. They seem all too willing to jettison their more recent social democratic inheritance. Only this can explain their all too willing acceptance of the neo-liberal agenda. Will this treachery spell the end of the LibDems? Time will tell, but if the economy does not make an improbable recovery soon, things are likely to turn nasty for the LibDems.
If you want to read a bit more about the lunacy behind the coalition’s economic proposals here are a couple of suggestions for further reading. Larry Elliot’s piece for the Guardian can be found here. Paul Krugman has written two interesting pieces for the New York Times. The first explains the bad logic of fiscal austerity and the other looks at real market response to austerity measures. And to end, a post by another Dundee blogger which punctures the myth of private sector jobs replacing public sector jobs, at least in Dundee. You can read that post here.
Saturday 12 June 2010
With the arrival of June we are definitely into summer. Though there is some disagreement as to when summer really does begin. For some people summer starts on 1st of June while for others summer only begins with the summer solstice. This should really be Midsummer, but unfortunately the weather is rarely that warm in Scotland and other northern countries in June. The warmest months tend to be July and August. So far June has not got off to a great start over here, with cloudy, rainy and quite cold days. We had Liam and Jamie at the adventure playground in Carnoustie the other day and after only a few minutes they wanted away - it was too cold! Ah, the youth of today are not as hardy as of yore. Allegedly. Anyway it was a good idea for it was pretty miserable with a cold wind coming off the estuary. We ended up inside the local library which was lovely and warm. And as an added bonus we met my sister, Pat who was there with one of her granddaughters, Erin. So it all turned out well.
Back to June, and no doubt due to the hard winter, everything is a bit later in blossoming in the garden. The tulips have all gone and only now are some of the summer flowers beginning to show. Though the poppies have yet to emerge we do have some lovely irises and cornflowers in bloom. And the patio and window boxes are full of summer plants just waiting to burst into full bloom.
For most people in Europe Midsummer is most likely to be associated with the feast of St. John the Baptist which is held on 24th June. This is still a popular time for parties and parades especially in Scandinavia and Spain and Portugal. In Scandinavian countries the celebrations usually take place on the evening of the Friday which falls between 19th and 26th June to ensure a long weekend of partying. In Spain where St. John - San Juan is the country’s patron saint the 24th is a public holiday. This means of course that the main events take place on the evening of the night before. As usual in Spain there are lots of bonfires and fireworks and the parties go on all through the night.
Corpus Christi is another Christian festival in June. It is mainly commemorated in Catholic countries and one of the most colourful celebrations takes place in Sitges. We always loved this time in early June when we lived there. The main streets of the town are turned into carpets of flowers. On the days preceding Corpus local groups draw in chalk intricate designs on the street surfaces. During the night and into the wee small hours they then fill in the designs with petals from hundreds and no doubt thousands of flowers, especially carnations. The local school usually participated and Emma and Elena have both been involved in helping out.
There does not seem to be much in the way of popular celebrations in Scotland in June. Nor do I remember any from my childhood. I guess that Midsummer festivals were too pagan in origin and too catholic in their joyous excesses for our rather dour Presbyterians of yore.
June is though a good month for sports fans. Tennis lovers have Wimbledon fortnight to look forward to. But of course this year the sports highlight, at least for soccer fans, will be the World Cup which kicked off yesterday in South Africa. This is the first time such a major world event has gone to an African country. From the previews it all looks very colourful and exciting - let’s hope the football lives up to all the expectation. As Scotland has once again missed out my three favourites are 1. Spain, 2. Argentina and 3. Brazil. That’s my wish list anyway.
For the Rutherfords, June has been a good month for weddings. So far I have only identified one death, that of my great great grandfather, David Rutherford who died in St. Andrews on 21st June 1896. My great great great grandfather, James Rutherford was born on 18th June 1796 on Easter Balady Estate, near Kinross. June was also the month of the birth of one of my oldest know ancestors, James’ father and my great great great great grandfather Robert Ferguson Rutherford. I don’t have a date for his birth but he was christened on 26th June 1764. A peculiarity of the weddings is that all four were on or around the summer solstice. David Cunningham and Lilias Dewar were married on 22nd June 1822 in Logie parish in North East Fife. They were my great great great grandparents, as their daughter Mary Cunningham who would go on to marry David Rutherford. The other three wedding were all on the 21st the day of the solstice itself. The above mentioned Robert Ferguson Rutherford married Margaret Tulloch in 1795 in Dunfermline and by chance the parents of David Cunningham were also married on the same day in the same year in Kinross. I do not alas have their names. The 21st is obviously a special day for Rutherfords, at least my branch of the family. For it was also the day on which I got married to my dear Kathleen - this was in Glasgow in 1969 so later this month it will be our 41st happy anniversary. Here is the wedding group from 1969.
In most traditions the birthstone for June is the Pearl. This lovely gem symbolizes loyalty, faithfulness and friendship. It is also the gift to give on your 30th wedding anniversary, though I think we forgot all about this at the time.
The Rose at the beginning of this post represents the birth flower for June. The red rose, which is probably my favourite signifies love, passion, beauty, respect and romance. No doubt this derives from the Greeks and the Romans who thought the rose represented Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of love. Some pagan cultures believed no undead creatures could cross the path of a wild rose. This seems to be the origin of the custom of putting a rose on the coffin of the recently deceased in order to prevent the rise of a vampire.
Wednesday 9 June 2010
With its murderous assault on the Turkish registered aid ship the Mavi Marmara, Israel has inadvertently opened up the whole issue of the legality of its blockade on Gaza. Israeli spokespersons and the whole pro-israeli hasbara brigade have intoned again and again that the blockade is legal and that the killings, though perhaps regrettable, were a necessary part of maintaining the blockade. Leaving aside for the moment the question of the legality of how the Mavi Marmara was impounded, I want to focus on the narrower question of the legality of the blockade itself.
Now I freely confess that I am no expert on International Law and even less of an expert on the various laws that govern blockades and other naval engagements. What I want to point out is that whether the blockade is legal or not does not make that much of a difference. The implications for Israel are bad either way.
Therefore let us assume that the blockade on Gaza is, as Israel claims, legal under International Law. In making this claim Israel usually refers to the San Remo Manual on Armed Conflicts at Sea, which seems to be the bible on these matters. The key point here is that the use of a blockade is only allowable in the context of an International Armed Conflict - a state of war to you and me. So Israel can only claim that the blockade is legal if it is at war with Gaza. However Gaza is not a state. What this means, as I understand it, is that the legality of Israel’s blockade of Gaza seems to depend on its willingness to concede that it is occupying Gaza and is thus in an International Armed Conflict with Hamas. But Israel does not want to do that, because it would then be bound by the very restrictive rules of belligerent occupation in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
What would this mean for Israel? In the first place it would turn Hamas militants into ” privileged belligerents” and when captured must be treated as prisoners of war, something which Israel has never done. Secondly Israel would have to recognize its continued occupation of Gaza, something it has spent years trying to persuade us to forget. Thirdly the firing of rockets by Hamas at military targets would be legal and Hamas would be fully justified in not only fighting off Israeli incursions into Gaza but also in attacking Israeli forces wherever they are found. Fourthly Israeli soldiers would no longer be kidnapped, but legally open to capture.
But of course Israel has always strenuously denied that it is still occupying Gaza. Which makes its claim that the blockade is legal pretty much null and void. Which is the view taken by most international observers, at least those outwith Israel and the USA.
The point of all this is that it is way past time for Israel to be held to account for its actions. It just beggars belief that the UK and the rest of Europe continue to allow Israel to avoid meeting its legal obligations. If the blockade is deemed to be legal that Israel must be held responsible for the well-being of the inhabitants of Gaza and must treat any captives as prisoners of war and not terrorists. If the blockade is deemed to be illegal then Israel must stop it immediately. In either case if Israel refuses to comply with its international obligations then the UK and our partners in the EU should at the very least impose a diplomatic and commercial blockade on Israel, until it does comply with international law.
A brief note on why it is unlikely that the blockade is legal. First up Kevin Jon Heller of Melbourne Law School. He admits that if the conflict between Israel and Hamas is an international armed conflict (IAC), there is no question that Israel has the right to blockade Gaza. However he goes on question the validity of this claim and writes that, “it is difficult to argue that Israel is involved in an IAC with Hamas. First, it is obviously not in a traditional IAC, because Gaza is not a state. Second, not even Israel claims that the conflict has been internationalized by the involvement of another state. And third, although the Israeli Supreme Court held - controversially - in the Targeted Killings case that armed conflict between an occupying power and a rebel group is international, Israel’s official position is that it not currently occupying Gaza.” This comes from a piece entitled Why Is Israel’s Blockade of Gaza Legal? which first appeared in Opinio Juris an online forum for informed discussion and lively debate about international law and international relations. The full piece can be read here.
Another take on the legality issue comes from Associate Professor Ben Saul, Co-Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law at The University of Sydney. In an article for ABC he dismisses the legality of the blockade by pointing out that the San Remo Manual “prohibits a blockade if "the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade". In the same article Ben Saul also makes the claim that the IDF may have committed crimes. He points out that, “if Israeli forces killed people, they may not only have infringed the human right to life, but they may also have committed serious international crimes. Under article 3 of the Rome Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation of 1988, it is an international crime for any person to seize or exercise control over a ship by force, and also a crime to injure or kill any person in the process.” You can read the full article here.
Sunday 6 June 2010
Wednesday 2 June 2010
So once again the great might of the Israel Defence Force - the self styled most moral army in the world - excels itself in the art of killing and wounding innocent civilians. A balance of nine dead and countless wounded as a result of the Israeli attack on a Turkish vessel carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. To make matters worse for Israel the attack took place in International waters. Which makes the attack either an act of piracy or even worse an act of war against Turkey. And despite Israeli claims their Forces did use violence against the other ships in the convoy. CNN has an interview in which an American woman who was on the flotilla headed for Gaza offers a first-hand account of the raid.
And all for what? To stop aid reaching the beleaguered Palestinians living in Gaza. Israel’s excuse that it needs to impose a naval blockade in order to prevent arms smuggling is laughable. Israel has one of the biggest and best equipped militaries in the whole world. While Gaza has what? Rockets from Gaza have only rarely killed anyone. And what right does Israel have to determine who can import arms anyway?
The real reason for the blockade is to punish Palestinians in Gaza for having the temerity to elect Hamas to power in the last free and fair elections in Palestine in 2006. Democracy anyone? Only if you elect our man or woman. Israel immediately imposed a ban on dealing with the Hamas government and started the blockade, supported alas by the USA and the UK. The result has been to create immense suffering and degradation, compounded of course by the massacres during the assault on Gaza in which some 1400 Gazans were killed. Ilegal, inhuman and insane: a medieval siege on Gaza in 2010. This was how the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, John Ging, described the current situation in a recent speech in London.
But why does Israel fear Hamas so much? Precisely because Hamas can be trusted to fulfill its side of a bargain. As Jeremy Greenstock, a former British ambassador to the UN, points out in an article in the Guardian: “the Hamas government in Gaza has been pretty effective in controlling the few militant groups intent on threatening Israel with rockets – imperfectly perhaps, but not a single Israeli citizen has been killed (alas, one immigrant worker was) by a rocket since the Gaza bombing stopped in January 2009. They are also the implacable opponents of al-Qaida. They won a fair election in 2006 and claim to respect democracy. Let's test them on that. At present, Hamas security people are being sniped at by the Israeli Defence Forces when they try to arrest other militant groups. This is genuinely getting insane.” The trouble for Israel is that Hamas demands that Israel withdraws from all the post 1967 territories including all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Which up till now no Israeli government has been willing to even contemplate let alone implement. So Hamas must be ostracized and if at all possible destroyed - hence the blockade.
The Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla has vindicated the Goldstone Report and its central claim that Israel used disproportionate force and deliberately attacked civilians in the Gaza assault—just as Israel, albeit on a much smaller scale, did in the massacre aboard the flotilla. And just to emphasize that the use of disproportionate violence is the norm for Israel, here is an account of the horrifying fate which befell Emily Henochowicz, a young American who lost one eye during a peaceful demonstration in the West Bank.
The continuing use of violence by the Israelis however is beginning to have a counter effect. More and more voices are being raised in calling for a complete removal of the blockade. Gaza needs to be open for normal commercial and human activity-- not just for the trucking-in of international aid. Unfortunately the last country to face up to the reality of what is happening in Israel/Palestine is the USA. Here is Glen Greenwald recounting his recent experience on MSNB. This is what counts as a liberal, progressive cable channel in the USA. And we get three Israel-cheerers, followed by Greenwald for "balance". Among the Israel cheerers is guest-host, Eliot Spitzer, Hopkins law professor Ruth Wedgwood (nee Glushien) and former Netanayahu chief of staff, George Birnbaum. As if that were not enough, Wedgwood, known for her neocon political views and her support of Bush administration policies like military tribunals, was brought back to respond to Glenn Greenwald.
The good news is that in Israel itself there are still some courageous people speaking out against the madness that seems to have taken over the Israeli government. The title for this post has been taken from part of the headline to an article by Brandon Burston in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz. In the article he makes the damning point (for Israelis): “We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself becoming Israel's Vietnam.” Also in Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy has another fine piece with the heading - Gaza flotilla drives Israel into a sea of stupidity.