Via the Stiftung and over here: Hieronymous Bosch action figures. Damn, and my birthday’s gone already. What mantelpiece is complete without a three dimensional figurine of St Anthony on a Flying Frog with Rats, in finest handpainted resin?
Britain is stepping up its efforts to secure an arms deal with Libya, the former pariah state visited this week by Tony Blair, the prime minister.
The Defence Export Services Organisation, the British government body responsible for arms exports, established a full-time office in Tripoli to promote British arms sales last year.
…During his visit to Sirte, the hometown of Colonel Muammer Gadaffi, Libya’s ruler, Mr Blair signed an agreement on establishing a defence partnership between London and Tripoli. A Libyan communiqué said the agreement would include the “establishment of joint projects between firms and companies in the two countries”.
Tony Blair may have some explaining to do over a major arms deal with South Africa on the last leg of his week-long Africa tour.
One awkward question which may not be on Mr Blair's agenda during this week's visit to South Africa will be his role in helping a leading British arms supplier to win a multi-million dollar arms contract.
The deal, signed by BAE, was part of a much larger arms procurement programme, with contracts signed by a range of European companies.
Some of these contracts have become bogged down in controversy.
And more recently it has also been alleged that BAE itself paid what have been termed "commissions" to ensure that it won the contract.
"We should understand this does really make a difference to people's lives and if politics is to mean anything at all it is coming and looking at the poverty and conflict in areas like this and doing something about it. The one thing I have come to despise more than anything else in my 10 years is cynicism."
President Bush envisions a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to the one in South Korea where American forces have helped keep an uneasy peace for more than 50 years, the White House said Wednesday.
The comparison was offered as the Pentagon announced the completion of the troop buildup ordered by Bush in January. The last of about 21,500 combat troops to arrive were an Army brigade in Baghdad and a Marine unit heading into the Anbar province in western Iraq.
…``I think the point he's trying to make is that the situation in Iraq, and indeed, the larger war on terror, are things that are going to take a long time,'' Snow said. ``But it is not always going to require an up-front combat presence.''
The implication seems to be that a partitioned Iraq is the frontline in a new cold war against Iran. There’s also the implication that part of Iraq has to be “ceded” to Iran, which certainly seems to chime in with the general mindset in Washington.
This follows the meeting between Iranian and US representatives last weekend. And before that, according to the latest Stratfor mailout:
Iran handed over a proposal to Crocker during a brief encounter at the May 5-6 Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt, but also chose to unofficially publicize its terms for Iraq through the Saudi-owned, British-based daily Al Hayat. The Iranian Foreign Ministry likely chose Al Hayat, a major Arab news outlet, to make a back-channel broadcast of what concessions it is prepared to make to allay Sunni concerns in the region.
In sum, this Iranian proposal called for a non-rushed withdrawal and relocation of U.S. troops to bases inside Iraq, a rejection of all attempts to partition Iraq, a commitment by the Sunni bloc to root out the jihadists and acknowledgement by Washington that the Iranian nuclear file cannot be uncoupled from the Iraq negotiations. In return, Iran would rein in the armed Shiite militias, revise the de-Baathification law and Iraqi Constitution to double Sunni political representation, create a policy to allow for the fair distribution of oil revenues (particularly to the Sunnis) and use its regional influence to quell crises in areas such as Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.
So we apparently have Iran accepting the idea of permanent US bases in Iraq. This fits in quite well with the reappearance of baby Sadr and his attempts to form a united front with Sunni parties, and the ongoing conflict within the insurgency between al Qaeda linked elements and the mainstream of the guerilla movement. Deal time coming up: time to ditch the crazies.
It puts the Kurds in trouble, though. The “rejection of all attempts to partition Iraq” seems to threaten their autonomy, and the proposed redirection of the oil spoils threatens the economic basis of that autonomy. It'll be interesting to see if the referendum in Kirkuk is allowed to go ahead.
I reported last week on the family planning riots in Bobai county, Guangxi. They’ve now spread to next door Rong county:
Protesters burned about a dozen vehicles, clashing with more than 2,000 riot police sent there to secure the area. Four protesters hurled petrol bombs at government offices, local residents told RFA's Cantonese service.
"At about 2.30 p.m. about 20,000 people came and surrounded the government buildings...They burned a lot of vehicles: motorbikes, police vans, cars," one resident surnamed Li told reporter He Shan…
…A civil rights activist based in Teng county near Wuzhou city said at least 1,300 homes had been ransacked by family planning officials to punish households with unauthorized pregnancies.
"It's been happening every day. They take all the things in their home: their belongings, their furniture, even their bedding," Mo Jufeng told RFA's Mandarin service.
According to some reports, the mob caught a female cadre and beat her to death. There are also reports of one demonstrator killed and “hundreds” injured.
Nothing much to analyse here in the sense that it’s all transparent. The party fucked with the peasants that bit too much and out came the pitchforks: your classic Chinese peasant uprising.
I thought “enhanced interrogation techniques” was just a euphemism for torture. “Good morning sir. And how may we enhance your interrogation experience today?” But no. Apparently it’s a straight lift.
The phrase "Verschärfte Vernehmung" is German for "enhanced interrogation". Other translations include "intensified interrogation" or "sharpened interrogation". It's a phrase that appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks, and hence save the embarrassment pre-war Nazi officials were experiencing as their wounded torture victims ended up in court. The methods, as you can see above, are indistinguishable from those described as "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the president. As you can see from the Gestapo memo, moreover, the Nazis were adamant that their "enhanced interrogation techniques" would be carefully restricted and controlled, monitored by an elite professional staff, of the kind recommended by Charles Krauthammer, and strictly reserved for certain categories of prisoner. At least, that was the original plan.
via.Waterboarding also had a previous life in Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge interrogation centre. You read about these things and think: Jesus, do these people have international conferences or something? Perhaps they do.
In Buda’s Wagon, Mike Davis gives a reasonably comprehensive description of the lineage of the car bomb; spreading by deliberate fostering or example from Palestine in 1947 to Vietnam to Algeria and so on. You could probably construct a similar international family tree for torture.
For a straight shooting, enlightenment spreading, generally intervening kinda guy it’s proving remarkably difficult to find out what Bernard Kouchner actually wants or wanted to do about various salient issues: see comments here and here. Chris Bertram seems to have finally nailed the jelly to the floor with this:
Q: Are you in favour of war?
A: I detest war, of which I have more experience than anyone, over a 40-year period. War is a really bad solution. But there is a worse one. That's to leave in place a dictator who massacres his people.
Well the ability to leave everyone you speak to convinced that you support them is supposed to be a qualification for a diplomat.
In his generally disgraceful Observer piece last Sunday Nick Cohen took time out from defaming aid agencies to crow about Kouchner “cleaning up the Qauy D’Orsay” and “bringing aid” to Darfur. Of course, this isn’t any more than aid agencies are currently doing, except in this case Cohen effectively accuses them of doing so through collusion with the Sudanese government.
So far, Kouchner’s proposed establishing an aid corridor to Darfur using French troops already in Chad. This is provisional on Sarkozy’s approval and on the willingness of other nations to provide military help, with no indication so far that either are forthcoming. Also, I’m not sure that this addresses the actual issue at hand. Is the problem getting aid to the camps or protecting them from the Janjaweed and other factions? As to sanctions on Khartoum, France is apparently “open to discussion” according to one of Kouchner’s understrappers. Nothing from the cleaner up of the Quai d’Orsay himself on that matter so far. As to the general Kouchner effect, this might be relevant:
Sarkozy has notably announced the creation of a new national security council bringing together defence and intelligence chiefs around the figure of the president — which could overlap with the duties of the foreign ministry.
"The foreign ministry is going to lose a large part of its power. More than ever the Elysee will decide on major moves," said Boniface.
"We will see a different style, but I don’t think we will move very far from the fundamentals of foreign policy" under previous French governments.
"There will certainly be a shift, a change of tone," in French diplomacy, agreed Pierre Hassner, of the Centre for International Study and Research (CERI).
"But the room for manoeuvre is limited and, let’s be realistic, Sarkozy will tone him (Kouchner) down a lot."
Arguably Chirac's overt cynicism in many areas and the suspicions it engendered meant that France never got the credit it otherwise should have for leading the coalition against the Iraq war. Hiring someone like Kouchner is the sensible - and cynical - response.
Catherine Bennett suggests that Brown's book teaches us that we're about to have another pious Christian as Prime Minister. I think what it teaches us is that politicians today think their political principles somehow have greater legitimacy with the public if they claim they owe more to the writing of Micah rather than Marx, or some other atheist writer. I sincerely hope they're wrong about this but I'm not sure they are. The political culture in the United States is such that I can't imagine an avowed atheist ever winning a presidential election. We are nowhere near that here, thank goodness. But God forbid, if you'll pardon the expression, we ever arrive at a place where a politician's unbelief comes to be seen as an electoral liability.
I think it’s more that if you believe in any secular authority you become liable to accusations of being ideological and through that to accusations of extremism. Professing religious belief enables you to be seen as being opposed to bad things and in favour of good things in a large, vague way without implying any particular commitment. And also you get to plead forgiveness in advance for when you screw up, because your motives are pure. I think it’s one of the little quirks of the postmodern condition in that professing faith signals that you don’t believe in anything in particular, but at the same time aren’t some kind of unpleasant hardcore cynic. Ambition and self improvement are officially Good Things in current political discourse, but need to be tempered by some vague flap at the notion that there’s more to life than material values. Religion might not be one of the best ways to do this, but it is one of the most convenient. I suppose you could equally profess an attachment to “humanist” values with the same ends in mind, provided these values stay sufficiently undefined.
In fairness it should be pointed out that the origins of the left in Britain are religious, if you go back all the way to the civil war, Milton, the Levellers and other popular beat combos of the time. But that crowd were very keen on liberty and egalitarianism, neither of which are too fashionable these days.
Well, no satin pajamas for me. But I did put up a somewhat less derisory showing than last time out, when I got all of six votes. Thanks to everyone who voted for me. And congratulations to the winners. May you die slowly of something embarrassing, but only after your prison memoirs have been remaindered.