Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Only secret ballots are democratic

Monday's Guardian article describing widespread fraud associated with postal voting has again focused concern on the problems with postal voting. What amazes me is not that fraud is going on but that those abusing the system have been so blatant about it that they have been caught. The secret ballot ensures that bribery and intimidation is next to impossible. This is because there is no way that anyone offering a bribe can ensure that that the bribee didn't actually vote for someone quite different. With a postal ballot blank ballot papers can be handed over for sums of money and the cross can be filled in by the buyer. The lack of safeguards is quite breathtaking. One women turned up to the polling station to be told she could not vote because someone had cast a postal ballot in her name. Monday's Guardian on page 4 tels how her father argued with the presiding officer only to be told there was not even a procedure for her to make a complaint. The lack of safeguards is quite rational tho. Postal voting is so open abuse that it relies on people being too honest to abuse the system. Well it is clear now that British people are not above such electoral fraud. Every time a vote is sold or someone votes the way they have only because a member of their family has stood over them while they filled in their ballot paper to ensure they voted the right way then all honest voters are defrauded.

Safeguards are a smokescreen. The postal ballot is not a secret ballot and needs to abolished. It's also clear that we need extra safeguards at polling stations. Index fingers dipped in purple ink may well not be over doing it.

More sensible reforms can be found on the Delyn Democracy blog.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Beirut bombing

Yet another bombing in Beirut,
this from the BBC
"The blast occurred at about 2130 local time (1930 GMT) and was heard across the capital.

Paramedics carry an injured man after the blast
Injured were taken to a local hospital

The bomb appeared to have been placed between a car and one of the factories, police said.

The ensuing blaze was fueled by the flammable material stored in many of the industrial buildings."

The opposition blame the Syrian government which points to the imperative to speed up the Syrian armies withdrawal.

On the clarityandresolve blog they are blaming Hizbollah
But, you know, it was probably just the terrorist killers faction of Hizbollah who did this. No need to let this little matter (and the one last week) get in the way of the West dealing with Hizbollah's legitimate political party

The Shiah are the largest group in Lebanon and like it or not many Shiah support Hizbollah. To that extent they are a legitimate political party. Legitimate political parties don't however need armed wings. In short democracies can't fucntion when political parties hang onto political wings. But the wrong isn't entirely on their side. Despite amendments, the constitution remains rigged against the Shiah and the Maronite Christian political forces really should be thinking about offering a less sectarian basis for Lebanese politics

But I feel sure that the Lebanese can sort these political problems out if left to themselves. Which is why the Syrian army needs to be out now.

Update: This blog sums up why I don't suspect Hizbollah (which really only leaves the Syrian government as a suspect)

A bomb went off in East Beirut last night, injuring at least 8 people. Frankly, this is an attempt to destabilize Lebanon and render the peaceful demonstrations and uprisings that had been happening impotent. Nobody is taking credit for these attacks, which is even more suspect. Someone always takes credit. I don't know what this means, but every Lebanese person you ask is dead convinced that these last three bombs weren't planted by their own people. Why? Because the ghost of the civil war still haunts the minds of everyone in this country, young or old. No group, no sect, no religion won that war. Massacres happened to everyone and the group that an outside army would be protecting one week would be against them the next. That war scarred people and their greatest fear is of it breaking out again.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Kyrgyz Domino

Betsy Newmark writes "How wonderful to see one more story of people using the weight of popular protest to overturn dishonest elections. And each story inspires another downtrodden people to act for their own freedoms. How far behind will Iran be?"

But the writing on the wall is not so much for Iran but for Saudi Arabia. Askar Akayev took a lot of time to keep the US sweet, signing up for the war on terror. It didn't help him a bit. The US response to the election rigging may have been obscured by diplomatic politeness yet was pretty clear.

To quote (from 16th March):
"Noting that there were reports of demonstrations in several parts of the Kyrgyz Republic, Ereli said the United States calls on that government “to continue to respond to those demonstrations in a peaceful manner.”

In addition, it is important for the government of Kyrgyzstan “to take steps to remedy the shortcomings detailed in the preliminary report and to investigate allegations of fraud and misconduct promptly and transparently," he said."

Matthew Yglesias describes that as tepid but does he really expect them to literally say "You may be a our son-of-a-bitch but you're still a son-of-a-bitch"?

The neo-con thesis had been that tyranny breeds terrorism. The logic of this is that any democracy is better than a tyranny even if that tyranny claims to be fighting terrorism. The quiet but clear US support for democratic change in Kyrgyzstan shows that the US is continuing to follow the new-con strategy if for no other reason that it is the only viable strategy for defeating terrorism around.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"British history is being turned on it's head"

This is from Lord Morgan speaking on the Today program this morning: “The history of this is extremely important and not only to historians because we have a long tradition going back at least to the 17th century during the period of the civil war and the constitutional settlement that followed it of the individual increasingly finding legal protections against the power of the state and in particular against the power of ministers. Habeas corpus. Not only labor peers but people right across the house have show extreme concern that British history is being turned on it's head, that the unwritten nature of the constitution is being abused and furthermore an absolutely fundamental achievement of the government, the passage of the human rights Act in 1998 the work very much of Lord Irving who led our rebellion the other day, this is actually being challenged by the government who created it.”

Tho Lord Morgan is a Labor peer, this is a good example of how this bill is seen to violate British traditions and after all tradition is what the British constitution is all about. I've been reading Macaulay and one underlying thread is of Liberty being pioneered by the English nation. The downside of this is this is that it is that much less concern is shown for the human rights of those suspected of terrorism that are being held in Belmarsh and who are not British. (I have in mind here Conservatives rather than Lord Morgan.) Clarke was homing in on this stressing that if this bill falls then those suspects will have to be released. But if there is not the evidence to convict them then there is a good chance that they are innocent. To be imprisoned when you are innocent is an injustice whoever you are.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Against the Terrorism Bill

There will be a picket on Wednesday at 10.00 outside the House of Commons organized by Liberty supported by Amnesty International.

Us lot here in the ungrateful Old World

One of the drepressing things about the anti-war movemnt here in Europe is how quite a few inteligent and aware people have adopted such a level of anti-Americanism that they end up in practice supporting the so called Iraqi resistance. That is to say, they end up supporting a movement that seeks power thru terror and would rule by terror should it gain power. That level of anti-americanism has clearly gone beyond rational limits and surprise surprise it serves to produce a similar reaction in the US.

No Pasaran seems dedicated to the proving the comforting thesis that all the blame for Europe-American friction is the fault of the Europeans and
'"It's because of its support for the struggle for freedom, rather than in spite of it, that the Bush administration is loathed" in Old Europe'
(quoting from John Vinocur) is par for the course.

If American readers believe that is the full story then I say Dream on. It is not simply the anti-war Europeans who dislike Bush. Americans may have missed out on a little political fracas here in Britain just before Bush's reelection. Tony Blair sent the Black Watch up from the South of Iraq ostensibly to replace American units participating in the attack on Falujah. I say ostensibly because the pretty much everyone in Britain saw it as Tony Blair doing Bush a favor to help Bush's reelection chances. The strongest opposition came from Labor MPs who had supported sending British troops for liberation of Iraq but didn't want to help Bush, of all people, get reelected. Many British Conservatives were of much the same opinion.

OK, without America the Baath would still be in power. The opinion of many Europeans who supported Iraqi liberation is that the actions of Bush, the lack of planning for what came after the fall, the corruption, the dragging of feet over holding direct elections in Iraq not to mention the extremely heavy handed way the Americans have responded to armed opposition has built up the Iraqi terrorists to the force they are.

Americans who dismiss "Old World Europe" tend to ignore where Iraq actually is. Iraq itself is in the Old World. Indeed as the home of the first cities it is bang in the center of the Old World. Indeed it is not so much that Europe is Euroupe's backyard as Euroupe is Iraq's backyard. Turkey is a candidate member of Europe so in a few years time Europe will have a common border with Iraq. Given that, it might have been expected that Bush would have appreciated that he had to consult with Europe before doing anything drastic. The seeking of a second resolution in the UN was done with such bad grace that it surprised few in Europe when nothing came of it.

And the bad relations with Europe began well before Bush began his crusade for freedom. Indeed before 9-11 he was doing his best to pretend that the rest of world didn't exist. More than anything that means Kyoto. Rejection of Kyoto may make sense in foreign policy terms if America wants to take an isolationist let-the-world-go-hang stance but it doesn't sit well with a Wilsonian carrying freedom to the world policy. I don't hold the view that the war in Iraq was a war for oil but take a moment to see how it looks from outside America. The US president rejects a treaty so that America can go on producing vastly more CO2 than the rest of the world and then invades a country sitting on vast oil reserves. (The reason why I don't accept that it was a war for oil, incidentally, is that those who say that also usually say there are loads of dictators as bad as Husein in the world. Anyone who thinks that Husein was just a run of the mill dictator should read Kanan Makiya's Republic of Fear).

My point here is not that America should sign Kyoto ( I'll leave that to Americans to argue) but that if America rejects Kyoto it has to accept the consequences of bad relations with Europe.

John Vinocur focuses on the lack of gratitude of Europe for help the cold war. He slips in "The fact is, Schröder, who fought against a United States daring to counter Soviet missiles in the early '80s...". The US daring to counter Soviet misiles meant getting stuck into a arms race over tactical nukes deployed in Germany. The point of view of Germans at the thought that the defense of Germany might rely on tactical nukes being detonated in the the then West and East Germany is likely to be a bit different from people not living there.

But Old World lack of gratitude is also to be found in Iraq. Overwhelmingly Iraqis want troops out as soon as possible. What makes that not possible is the insurgency. I don't buy that the "resistance" will pack up as soon as foreign troops leave as many anti-war activists seem to believe. The Hilla bombing in which all the victims were Iraqis is just one more illustration of how the resistance is as much anti Iraq as it is anti American. But in the first year of the occupation the resistance was pretty sporadic but gradually grew. Not proof but good reason for an Iraqi to say "Thanks USA for getting rid of Saddam. No thanks for provoking the terrorists." Where this connects up with the anti nuke German concerns of the 80s is the argument used by many in the US for the war in Iraq. That's the blotting paper doctrine. That is that the war in Iraq is in America's interests because Mid East terrorists will be attracted to Iraq to fight the Americans there rather than attack America directly. Iraqi gratitude?

But yes things are beginning to go right. I can add little to Michael Totten's thoughtful piece on the events in Lebanon. Pretty much everyone chooses pictures of Lebanonese flags to illustrate these events but at No Pasaran it's a US one.

Not being American I don't reckon that the No Pasaran folk are going to listen to me when I suggest that wasn't the most cleaver spin to put on events. I'll just ask them to read Michael Totten and ask themselves why he is so guarded in claiming credit for America.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Blair rejects suset on punishment without trial bill

Every other anti terrorism bill has become law so it is tempting to be realistic". Maybe if there was a sunset clause we wouldn't have to live with it so long. The trouble is that the only real way to oppose it it is to say quite clearly that this is a violation of our unwritten constitution, it violates principles of justice for a whole host of reasons. It is the crossing of the Rubicon. It is unthinkable to allow it to become law.

But if it goes thru, then in six months time it will be renewed. How can opponents say that this bill is the unthinkable when it has already been on the stature book for six months or so.

So this begs the question, why did Blair reject the Conservative proposal for a sunset clause? The main purpose of this bill is get the Tories. If Blair really thought this bill was needed he wouldn't risk it's defeat in this way. He has exposed himself as an opportunist of the worst kind but he knows his enemy rather well. This bill has put the Tories into headless chicken mode so it is them not Blair who, quite unfairly, are looking like the opportunists.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Hilla protest

There shouldn't really be much to say about the Hilla massacre itself. This is not war. I was talking to an anti war activist last night and when I mentioned Hilla he said he wondered who was responsible. I did him a grave injustice in assuming he was coming out with some conspiracy theory. No, his wondering was an incomprehension at such brutality.

The protest demo was a little more ambiguous. The fact that it happened at all is a sign that terror is failing. If you check out AP's account and that of the BBC it at first glance seems like two demos. At the Associated Press demo the demand is "No to Terrorism". With BBC it is an anti police demo. My point is not that the difference is the result of bias. After all, one of the BBC quotes from AP: "We blame Hilla police for this tragedy because they didn't take the necessary measures to protect innocent people" even tho that bit isn't on the AP link that I hit.

My point is only a reminder that Iraq is too complicated for outsiders to fully understand. In the "good" old days reporting from Iraq was easy. Ordinary folk mouthed Baath propagander so journalists could pretty much put any spin on that they liked. Democracy is messy and complicated where details that outsiders miss change everything. That's even more true for a democracy so much up against it as Iraq.

Not knowing those local details I find myself trying to seek parallels with events that that for me are closer to home. To me that's the way the parents of the children killed in Dunblane channeled their anguish into a movement that forced a reluctant government to almost completely ban ownership of fire arms in Britain. Probably that parallel has some validity but the Hilla people have a history of these kind of demonstrations. Back in December 2003 demonstrators, demanding elections, forced the resignation of the governor there. Nor is tragedy new for Hilla as it was for Dunblane. Hilla has it's killing fields at Mahawil where many were killed in the suppression of the Shia revolt.

It is very easy to redefine the actions of those demonstrators as part of a wider struggle. I nearly wrote "easy trap" but on some level it is valid to see that as part of a wider struggle whether those Iraqis like it or not. But first of all it is their struggle to build democracy in their own community and protect it from fear.

To be pro Iraq means listening to Iraqis but with the terrorists (aka the resistance) murdering journalists it's hard.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Liberty as the defense against terrorism

Do you remember the Whig version of history? The idea that the history of Britain is continuing progress towards greater freedom and liberty. The term itself was coined as a critique and maybe its not up to much as history. Sometimes ideas have value even if they are in a sense myths. The reason why the Conservatives find themselves in the civil liberties camp is that they do, at the end of the day, believe that Britain has fundamental liberties and that is something that has been fought for over centuries. Imprisoning people (or near as damn it imprisoning) without proof (or near as damn it without proof) is one thing that you just don't do.

It's quite clear that for labor all this talk of traditional liberty is as much old hat as clause four. Blair may say “I reject completely the allegation that this is a fundamental attack on long-standing civil liberties” (Telegraph feb 24) but if he thinks that he can answer that charge because a judge will overlook the procedure when all that judge is doing is to check that a law that denies the right to a fair trial is being properly implemented then he doesn't know what liberty means.And if he can't imagine what the effect of being punished when one has done nothing wrong he should take time to read Eric Abraham's account of his house arrest. This is lifted from James Hammerton's Blog : "I was scared for my life. No law should enable a government minister to impose restrictions that would subject anyone to this kind of experience for any period of time. Isolation and fear. These are the abiding emotions, the residue of which still lurk deep in my sub-conscious. How odd. I write this with the window wide open and the cold wind gusting around me and yet I find that I am sweating."

One might speculate his thinking goes like this. In the old days we needed all these safeguards against wrongful detention. Then the danger came from an unelected king. Now we have an elected government that has our best interests at heart. Well, no doubt Charles the First had the best interests of his subjects at heart too but he was none the less a tyrant.

But liberty is not old hat. It is more not less important in an age of terrorism. The original pretext for the invasion of Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, is completely discredited but a secondary one remains valid. That is that dictatorship breeds terrorism. Put people in a situation where they have no way of taking political action to change the world around them and they become alienated. Some become so alienated that taking actions that lead to deaths of innocent people starts to look like justifiable resistance. At the end of the day liberty is the only true defense against terrorism.

Being moderate folk, New Labor would reject the idea that this is dictatorship. They expect to go on winning elections so they will be able to ensure that no one else gets to abuse the awesome powers they are accumulating. But to those subjected to these laws, and to their friends, and to their relations, Britain is going to start to feel like a dictatorship.