Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Mopping up in Sri Lanka

I'm going to stick my head on the line here and if this blog was more public I would be getting attacked by voters in Mauritania and those following the ASEAN Security Forum in Phuket; but there hasn't exactly been much going on since perhaps the terrorist attacks in Jakarta on the 17th July. In fact one of the problems with having a birthday in August is that not much happens, it's like war and crises take a holiday. Probably the most famous thing to have ever happened on my birthday is the receiving of the Declaration of Independence in London in 1776. The reason it took so long to arrive was probably because the postman was on holiday.

Naturally I'm not naive enough to truly suggest that the world comes to a standstill in the summer but with the recession beginning to stabilise many countries will be looking to do the same. Arguably the country which needs to stabilise the most is Sri Lanka.

In the final assault of the Sri Lankan army which beat the LTTE many soldiers and civilians lost their lives and much of the Northern region (primarily inhabited by Tamils) has been devastated.

This was a couple of months ago now and the recovery has already begun. This has recently been helped with a huge loan from the IMF.

Regeneration has already begun in the North with plans for roads to be built amongst other projects. It is interesting though to see that both Britain and the United States chose to abstain from discussions over the loans in order to reflect human rights concerns in post-war Sri Lanka.

Suspicion remains rife amongst the international community mainly because the Sri Lankan government has been so secretive during the post-war period. Foreign media is not allowed to visit the camps and Sri Lanka's own traditionally free media has been censored. With reports coming in of deadly diseases spreading through the camps it is no wonder that supporters of the Tamil people are threatening legal action.

It is my opinion that this should be the least of Mahinda Rajapaksa'a worries. The Sri Lankan armed forces remains vast when compared to the population as a whole and it would be easy to squander the loan on maintaining this and offering large army pensions. Rather the President may have to step up to the plate yet again and be the bigger man in this debate. It would be both hugely popular and easy to give the money away to his own people but if the money is spent on making life better for the Tamil minority instead, then both Rajapaksa and Sri Lanka as a country will soon regain it's credibility on the world stage.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Norwich North

Firstly one has to congratulate Chloe Smith on her election victory today. I'm not going through all the statporn here but it's enough to say that a 16.5% swing and a 20% margin ahead of the nearest candidate is a pretty comprehensive win.

With parliament in recess, it is no surprise that the blogosphere has been attracted to this story like a moth to the only light left on in politics. I myself have succumbed as well, simply because there is no other news, but generally I don't like to look into by-election results too closely. With so much attention from the press and political parties alike the results are often not a true representation of either local or national feeling but how recent events are spun in the local and national press.

Furthermore the Conservative win wasn't all too surprising. We can't say that we now know that the Conservatives are likely to beat Labour in the next general election because the man on the street could have told you that. It would be unfair to even guess the results of the next general election from this for the reasons set out above.

Perhaps we can learn two things from this but I'm afraid neither are good for the Lib Dems. I've honestly not got some vendetta against the party, I'm just pointing out what I see. Firstly, the Liberal Democrats have actually lost out in terms of share of the vote going from 16.2% to 14%. I know this may be just a by-election which isn't necessarily LD-friendly but one expects them to be taking votes from Labour, not losing out to the Conservatives.

This brings me to my second point. it appears that the expenses scandal is over and has had little effect on the voters. The Conservative party were arguably the biggest losers in this debacle but seemingly gained votes from the Lib Dems who came out from the affair reasonably unscathed. If this is the public's fickle attitude only months after the Telegraph broke the story then I have little doubt it will be gone and forgotten by the next general election.

I suggest that the public are fickle but, in my opinion, it's not a bad thing this has gone both from the news and the minds of the electorate. There are much more important issues at stake which must be considered when casting a vote.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Magnificent Desolation

Despite no pretty play on the word 'Google' many people across the world will be aware that it was today, Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon and uttered those famous words. Only a select few have been to the moon, really as part of the ongoing space race with the USSR and astronauts such as Armstrong are well into their 70s.

The traditional 5 year meet of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins at the White House has attracted a lot of attention this year and certainly will more so in 10 years time. The academic discussion around the milestone has varied from sustainable power to looking after the psychological welfare of astronauts when the return to the humdrum of everyday life.

Perhaps 40 years after the Summer of '69 we should be discussing the future of space travel. Americans have become increasingly disinterested with 'the final frontier' both on a micro level and governmental. NASA has less money to work with year on year despite their important work and maintenance of the International Space Station (ISS). Many suggest that if America had continued their space campaign as vociferously as in the 1960s there would be an American flag on the surface of Mars.

But the global recession and proposals for widescale healthcare reform only highlight that America may never commit to their space program in the same way again. The time may well have come to pass the buck to growing economies such as China who, it is rumoured, are interested in taking over the ISS.

Perhaps it will be a Chinese flag we first see on the Martian planet.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Nicolas Sarkozy and the Seven Monks

Once upon a time (May 1996) in the mountains of Algeria, the heads of seven French Trappist monks were found. This sounds more like a nightmare rather than a fairytale and could indeed turn into a nightmare for the French President.

But how can a relatively small event in a North African country 13 years ago scupper Sarkozy's hopes for legal reform in the French Republic? At the time it was assumed jihadists in the form of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) executed the seven men but recent revelations suggest that they were killed as the result of a botched Algerian military operation. Meanwhile the Sarkozy reforms seek to remove the inquisitorial nature of the French legal system by getting rid of the independent investigating judges and replacing them with politically appointed state prosecutors.

At first one can see why many French legal academics are up in arms against this. The point is well summarised by the representative of the monk's families, Patrick Baudouin, who suggests "The intent of Sarkozy's plan is clear: to put investigations back under political control by eliminating the magistrate and putting prosecutors in charge". He goes on to advocate that "once an independent judge is allowed to investigate, the ability of the rich, the powerful and the state to keep the truth covered up is reduced to almost nothing."

However the system that Sarkozy wants to introduce is very similar to the more adversarial legal procedure seen here in the UK and across the Atlantic in America. Many would argue this allows cases to be investigated in more detail and gives both sides a chance to forcefully submit their argument before an independent judge. The success of such a system can be seen in nearly a thousand years of English legal history but at the same time it is hard not to support the outraged French lawyers and judges. Although the Napoleonic justice system may be in need of reform, it's promotion of independence represents one of the country's most cherished values.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Lib Dems are all a twitter with Cleggy.

Most Torys are too old for computer whilst most Labour supporters are too poor. On this basis it was always going to be the Lib Dems making breakthroughs with technology in the party politics arena. The blogoshpere is dominated by Lib Dem blogs with middle-class mothers and self-employed geeks offering their opinion on the issues of the day. Every so often they come up with good points but more often than not it's the boring drivel you would expect from anywhere on the Lib Dem, proportionally represented, pyramid of power.

Anyway the reason I bring this up is that now the party leader has joined his supporters by doing an interview with the general public via twitter. However, rather than throw himself into the great unwashed, questions will be vetted by, you guessed, The Independent newspaper.

This is being hailed by many here in geek-world as the greatest thing since sliced bread and the Lib Dems themselves are mopping it up like the badly aimed cumshot it is. In reality it's not going to be any different to any other contact method your ordinary man on the street has with Nick Clegg apart from being limited in terms of time and to 140 characters. All questions which he doesn't want to be answered won't make it through The Independent and any responses that do come back will be shortened versions of "We don't have any policies we're ever going to implement because Britain has a two-party system. We just like to chip in with nonsense about PR every so often".

Stop wasting bandwidth.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

"Disparate and misinformed Fear will keep us all in place"

Those musically knowledgeable amongst you will recognise the above lyrics from the song 'Hunting for Witches' by Bloc Party, something of an anthem for liberals everywhere I think. 'Hunting for Witches' is probably an appropriate title for this article that turned up a few days ago. I caught it on the start of 'The Wright Stuff' on Channel 5 on Friday.

Basically a couple of police forces in England released radio adverts encouraging members of the public to check if other people are sex offenders by making use of a scheme in place. Immediately once can imagine the sort of people using this scheme. Gossipy women, twats of neighbours, clingy parents.

As a libertarian I am absolutely outraged by this! The scheme can only do more damage than good. Imagine finding out for example your mother-in-law or even your fiancé had checked you out. This alone would be enough to destroy a relationship.

I'm not advocating an absolute right to privacy for paedophiles but there are already effective systems in place to prevent close contact with children. The system promotes widespread distrust and could result in rehabilitated offenders being victimised.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Coming up short

Silvio Berlusconi hosting the G8 summit only seems to enforce the idea that the meeting is little more than a jolly boys (and girl) outing. I'm not saying it's going to be a typical Berlusconi party with topless 18 year old girls but the Italian host only makes the meeting more farcical than it already is.

Arguably this is a heck of a shame as the top 8 countries wield a lot of power, particularly in relation to overseas aid. The G8 nations promised in 2005 to deliver $22 billion in aid by 2010 but four years since this commitment only $7 billion has been spent. Organisations such as Bono's ONE blame this on countries like Italy and France who have only given 3% and 7% respectively of their pledged commitment but one has to remember that one of the other major talking points in L'Aquila, the global financial crisis has put pressure on all countries.

However, whilst the recession is a cause for concern in the developed world it can be a matter of life and death in Africa. Overall growth in sub-Saharan GDP is set to drop from 5.5% in 2008 to 1.5% in 2009. This is better than a lot of countries but when considering population will continue to grow at around 3% this is potentially disastrous with 53 million additional Africans living on less than $2 a day.

From a broader economic view this may be a blessing in disguise. More and more politicians from around the world are questioning the worth of giving to a continent which loses $150 billion through corruption a year and many economists believe that aid leaves African leaders unmotivated to make changes. Despite this, with businesses failing in both America and Western Europe I would hope that more venture capitalists look towards Africa for a more sustainable source of income for various sub-Saharan nations. Foreign investment in Africa is only around 1.7% at the moment but the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts an increase by 16.8% this year.

One success story is Liberia, a country torn apart by civil war in 1993 and plagued by political instability until 2005 is now reforming. Companies such as BRE are investing in rubber plantations. Now Liberia's predicted GDP per capita growth for the next decade is 6.3% compared with -0.5% for the last decade.

So my advice for the G8 leaders? Enjoy the sunshine.

Monday, 6 July 2009

STARTing the Iran discussion

During the cold war, meetings between the leader of Russia and America over nuclear weapons were a cause for concern across the rest of the world. With the capability to destroy mankind several times over, countries understandably sat with a sense of unease. Twenty years after the cold war has finished and America is still not Russia's best friend by a long shot. When Barack Obama meets President Dmitry Medvedev today he will not have the cheering fans he has come to expect in other countries nor the over-hyped media coverage.

Despite all this the meeting is hugely important. Sure the Russian economy is suffering more than most in the global recession with the steel industry being hit particularly hard but prudence in the good times, an extensive influence over former Soviet states and more nuclear warheads than the rest of the world put together make Russia a global player on the world stage.

Many issues will be discussed in Moscow from relations with Ukraine to environmental concerns but I think the most important issue could come to be Iran. As the West looked on with growing concern at events in Tehran, neither Medvedev or indeed Prime Minister Putin even mentioned the contested election. In fact Russia was the first country to officially receive Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after his re-election.

There is certainly a special relationship between the bordering countries. Russia sees Iran as an entrance into Middle East politics whilst Iran themselves have benefited from Russia defending their interests. Of course the Russians have concerns over a nuclear Iran but don't think sanctions will stop the Islamic Republic and will rather have the effect of enraging hard-liners.

This is probably the most sensible line to adopt when looking at the issue realistically. While America and Russia re-negotiate their own START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) it may be a worthwhile cause trying to restrict the number of nukes Iran is allowed. In return for the world recognising Iran's nuclear ambitions they may well be willing to compromise in terms of the number of warheads or even a U.N. presence at their facilities.

In all honesty this may be stretching my imagination to its outer limits as Russia's relationship with Iran is nothing like say China's with N. Korea; plus Russia has more pressing concerns on it's other, European, borders. Nevertheless one has to question what is the point of having an influence in the Middle East if you're not prepared to use it?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

"Are you leading the news with that?"

Those are the words of David Milliband this morning on the Andrew Marr show in response to the leading story in the Mail on Sunday.

The newspaper suggests that the future head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has been exposed to a potential security risk after his wife maintained a Facebook page with basically no privacy settings. Before being taken down from the social networking site, the page gave information of where Sawers lives and works along with where he goes on holiday and various high-profile connections including one with controversial right-wing historian David Irving.

There have already been questions raised as to whether the story compromises Sawers appointment to the position. Patrick Mercer MP, chairman of the counter-terrorism sub-committee, explained that he had some concerns over the potential security risk at stake whilst Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesperson Edward Davey demanded an inquiry into the security implications.

It was left then to our Foreign Secretary to (once again) be the voice of reason in this furore alongside former Prime Minister Sir John Major. Milliband suggested that the amount of information released would not have been that great via Faceboook. For instance, the associations on the site are people with whom Lady Sawers is 'friends' with. I agree wholeheartedly with this view; so we know where the family went on holiday but it's not like we've got dates, flight details and what movie they're going to watch during the journey!

I can see why a newspaper would want to run with this story but Major agreed with Milliband that the issue had been "overblown". And as the Foreign Secretary so well put it: "the head of the MI6 goes swimming - wow, that really is exciting."

As a sidenote I would like to comment that I have generally been very impressed with the performance of David Milliband MP. He could easily have resigned a few weeks ago and left the government in disarray but he has stood strong and not sold out. The reaction by the British Foreign Ministry in relation to events in Iran has also been very well thought out and sensible despite the pressure on the Labour Party at home.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

A message from "very good looking gilr"

I apologise to all of you who thoroughly enjoy my politically based musings but this message sent to my blog profile is well worth sharing!

good day dearest my name is joykassala very good looking gilr and honest i saw your profile today and became intrested in you,i will also like to know you the more,and i want you to send an email to my email address so i can give you my picture for you to know whom i am.Here is my contacts email address (joykassala1@yahoo.com) i believe we can move from here! (Remeber the distance or colour does age not matter but love matters alot in life) I will be happy to seeing a good responds from you a lof of kiss and love to you.
Thanks and remain blessed.
Your's in lovely

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Now on Special Offer

So it emerged the other day that the Royal Family cost each British taxpayer 69p per year to maintain. Being the stark (raving) liberal that I am you may well have assumed that I would be well against this 'Imperialist ancient taxation' but I am not and would like to explain my reasoning based on a pure economic footing.

In America there is a subsidy for mohair. This has been around for years, originally used to guarantee the production of military uniforms. It has hung around though for more than 50 years later as one of those obscure taxes that only costs the American taxpayer a few cents per year. Nevertheless, pressure on state senators has made sure the subsidy always makes it through the budget.

Anyway the point is that this small subsidy doesn't provide any economic benefit. Journalist Eric Pianin suggested in 1953 that it "does little more than line the pockets of western ranchers who raise goats and sheep". The Royal family on the other hand are probably the first thing tourists think about when visiting Britain. I'm not saying that's all there is in Britain and tourism will just die but it has to be said that the Royals are part of our culture. The Queen as Head of State also performs an important function. State visits are important for a lot of countries and there is definitely something of a buzz when the Queen of England comes to town. I think this stems from what Walter Bagehot described as the "dignified part of government", although not truly performing an efficient part of governmental work the monarchy is venerable and respected. I furthermore believe that this acts as a stabilising influence on the political system when governments come into disrepute.

This isn't the traditional BNP rhetoric that the Royal family are what make Britain British but I think that people should look at this issue rationally and make a sensible choice.