latest tweet: Look everyone! It's Kevin O'Malley! Who? The lad who'll be telling us how to vote in the UN for the next few years... http://t.co/VL4yNyRBCU
(Jul 29, 23:38)




28
Dec 2010

Wikileaks

The Irish media is still filled with talk of the IMF, the ECB and the bailout. And the snow of course. It’s remarkable when you think about it; there’s almost nothing the Irish government could have done to distract us from the economy. But a few days of frozen precipitation does the job. Suddenly the news is filled with images of kids on sleds and people standing next to snow-covered cars. I’ve not yet encountered anyone combining the two stories, but it’s surely only a matter of time before columnists start talking about the shroud of snow being “appropriately funereal”, or how a blanket has been drawn over the face of the Irish state.

In the rest of the world however, the fate of Ireland is beginnning to fade a little. And although the IMF thing is still getting the occasional headline, it’s more distant… something in the background. It won’t be so bloody distant if we succeed in bringing down the euro, mind. And if I was a citizen of Portugal I’d be getting a bit concerned right about now. Nor should the people of Italy and Spain be feeling too confident.

As I write, a huge amount of private debt is being shifted onto the Irish public. On top of that, we’re being strip-mined of our remaining assets. Goodbye National Pension Reserve fund, hello Wave of Privatisation. And given how fruitful this asset grab is turning out to be, only a fool would bet on it being the last. The Irish acquiescence, along with the failure of any of our neighbours to demand a halt to this daylight robbery, is actively encouraging the “contagion” that everyone claims to fear. The international markets are instruments of tremendous power, and our political leaders are giving them incentives to topple nations. I’ve gone from wondering whether it’s incompetence or madness driving this policy, to realising it’s both. What ‘The Market’ needs right now is a hefty dose of nationalisations to get it back in line. At the same time our political classes could do with a revolution or two in order to teach them some humility. Preferably dramatic but non-violent revolutions (violence tends to breed chaos and with chaos comes a whole host of unintended consequences, and while only a fool insists violence can never be justified, it should always be considered a last resort).

Isn’t this post supposed to be about Wikileaks, though?

Sorry, got a bit carried away with the intro there. Let’s shift our gaze away from Irish matters and take a glance further afield. Ignoring the snow — which is now news across much of Europe and North America — a look at the internet media suggests much of the world is fixated on the Wikileaks saga. And who can blame them? Suddenly the headline “Website sparks war” doesn’t seem entirely fanciful.

As is so often the case lately, I find myself irritated by the polarisation that has emerged as a result of this issue. Two narratives have emerged which reluctantly I find rather simplistic and lacking nuance. And I say “reluctantly” because many of my friends, plus commentators for whom I have a great deal of respect, are promoting one of those simplistic narratives (the “Julian Assange is a hero and the various charges against him are a big American plot” version). The other narrative — less prevalent amongst those I know, needless to say — being the “Julian Assange is a traitorous rapist who seeks to destabilise democratic governments and should be hunted down and shot like the rabid dog he is” version.

Before I get onto the “hero” narrative, let me say a little something about the “villain” Assange. Now, it goes without saying that I don’t know any more about the rape allegations than anyone else. However, there are two points worth noting that cause me some consternation with respect to them. Firstly, the general murkiness of the allegations and the extreme confusion surrounding them makes them — certainly not unique — but definitely atypical in such cases. The charges were dropped, reactivated, dropped and reactivated again. So the current charges are being handled by the third Swedish prosecutor to get involved in the case. It might be argued that this is a result of the difficulty securing evidence and, hence, convictions in this kind of case. All the same, from what I’ve read it is far from normal for such cases to be passed from prosecutor to prosecutor in this manner. A cynic might suggest that two people looked at the case, concluded it had either no merit or that — rightly or wrongly — it simply could not be successfully prosecuted due to a lack of available evidence, but that a third person took up the case for reasons of political ideology or personal aggrandisement.

I should probably take a moment to state clearly (because unfortunately we live in a world where it cannot be taken as read) that if there really is evidence linking Assange to a rape or sexual assault, he should face trial and suffer the full penalty. It is perfectly possible for a person to behave with honour in one area of his life while being depraved in another and the former simply does not excuse the latter.

Nonetheless, one only has to spend a little time reading about the allegations against Assange before confusion and apparent contradiction arise. This may merely be a result of bad reporting, but given how politically charged this whole situation is, I honestly feel one can be forgiven for raising a sceptical eyebrow while at the same time hoping that justice manages to assert itself (in whatever shape it takes).

The second question that gets raised about the rape allegations is one I first saw enunciated by feminist writer, Naomi Wolf, in her article J’Accuse: Sweden, Britain, and Interpol Insult Rape Victims Worldwide. Wolf, who has campaigned for two decades to raise the profile of — and seek justice for — victims of sexual assault views the treatment meted out to Assange in even more cynical terms than I was prepared to…

… Never in twenty-three years of reporting on and supporting victims of sexual assault around the world have I ever heard of a case of a man sought by two nations, and held in solitary confinement without bail in advance of being questioned — for any alleged rape, even the most brutal or easily proven.
[...]
… the highly unusual reaction of Sweden and Britain to this situation … seems to send the message to women in the UK and Sweden that if you ever want anyone to take sex crime against you seriously, you had better be sure the man you accuse of wrongdoing has also happened to embarrass the most powerful government on earth.

Keep Assange in prison without bail until he is questioned, by all means, if we are suddenly in a real feminist worldwide epiphany about the seriousness of the issue of sex crime: but Interpol, Britain and Sweden must, if they are not to be guilty of hateful manipulation of a serious women’s issue for cynical political purposes, imprison as well — at once — the hundreds of thousands of men in Britain, Sweden and around the world world who are accused in far less ambiguous terms of far graver forms of assault.

Anyone who works in supporting women who have been raped knows from this grossly disproportionate response that Britain and Sweden, surely under pressure from the US, are cynically using the serious issue of rape as a fig leaf to cover the shameful issue of mafioso-like global collusion in silencing dissent. That is not the State embracing feminism. That is the State pimping feminism.

It’s a difficult point to argue against. For no matter what you believe about Assange or the crimes he is accused of, it simply cannot be denied that his treatment is completely inconsistent with that of anyone else in the same circumstances. I honestly believe that the authorities in most nations fail to treat sex crimes as seriously as they should do. However, Assange’s experience doesn’t redress that; it merely highlights it further and illustrates the willingness of the judicial systems of Europe to bend to the political will of the United States when it suits them (on a day when “[t]he United States and European nations said the [Khodorkovsky] verdict raised doubts about the Kremlin’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights” an idiom involving pots and kettles springs to mind).

Nonetheless, while the Swedish allegations carry at the very least a whiff of conspiracy and political opportunism, I can’t help but be cynical about Assange’s decision to become “the face” of Wikileaks. A decision that has allowed his personal behaviour to begin overshadowing the work being carried out by Wikileaks. It seems it would have been perfectly possible for Assange to have pursued a different strategy… a small collective of semi-anonymous people (akin to “The Yes Men” perhaps?) could have become the voice of Wikileaks rather than a single figurehead whose personal behaviour — whatever the truth behind the charges — has at the very least opened him up to attack and risked discrediting Wikileaks in the eyes of many.

The sad thing is that what was once a low profile but nonetheless powerful collaborative tool for exposing government and corporate corruption around the world has become one man’s high profile stick with which to beat America. As such it’s less radical and less generally useful. Most worryingly though, it may be starting to inflict some collateral damage of its own.

Because moving away from Assange and the rape allegations there’s a larger issue at stake here. I still possess the remnants of the anarchist idealism of my youth. But it’s long been tempered by a realisation that while information may want to be free, it’s not always in the best interests of people that it should be.

It’s possible, for instance, that the North Koreans already knew China and the United States had discussed — however informally — the desirability of Korean reunification under a Seoul government. But if this is the first they’re hearing about it, then there’s a real possibility Wikileaks might provoke another ship being sunk, or another artillery barrage. Or worse. The politics of the Korean peninsula are complex to say the least, but I don’t think it can be denied that the latest escalation in tension can be at least partly attributed to the actions of Wikileaks. If the publication of these cables turns out to be a contributory factor in a new Korean War can anyone really say that these leaks were worth the lives of tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people? It’d certainly take someone seriously committed to anarchism and freedom of information to consider so much death and suffering to be a price worth paying.

Especially when you consider the practical usefulness of the revelations. I mean, who seriously is shocked or surprised by anything they’ve read in the published cables? Or even in the previously published documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? We learnt that US troops callously killed civilians in both nations. There may have been a handful of people in Iowa still resolutely denying that such things happened until that famous video of the gunship firing upon injured civilians hit the internet, but I suspect 98% of those who saw that footage were merely receiving visual confirmation of something they already knew was going on.

Similarly, the news that China and the US were discussing ways of sidelining North Korea, or that the Saudis were agitating for a US attack on Tehran were probably well known by the various parties involved — as well as by most informed members of the public — so the public confirmation merely serves to heighten tension, rather than genuinely inform. And the notion that it will force the US (or China or Saudi Arabia) to moderate their behaviour in the future is beyond naive. It will simply force them to tighten security while simultaneously seeking ways to crack down on internet and press freedom.

Ultimately I find myself deeply ambivalent about Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The man appears to be embracing shallow celebrity with a certain eagerness that undercuts his campaign, while the potential usefulness of the website (and the world is indeed improved by a system that facilitates whistle-blowing) is — I would argue — compromised by becoming so highly politicised. It needs to be more discerning, and dare I say it, more responsible, about what it publishes. What was once a facility that could be used to expose government and corporate wrongdoing, has recently become little more than a political powderkeg, helping ratchet up tensions between nations, providing recruitment videos to militant organisations and placing more importance in the ability to access information than in the actual importance of that information.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


28
Dec 2010

On This Deity: 28th December 1937

Head on over to On This Deity for another article by yours truly…

28th December 1937: The Birth of the Irish Republic.

At one minute before midnight on December 28th 1937 the Irish constitution passed into law and the Republic of Ireland (or Éire) was born. Although it has been described as a revolutionary act itself, the passing of the constitution was a strangely muted – almost administrative – conclusion to several hundred years of oppression and bloody rebellions.

read the rest…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements


9
Dec 2010

On This Deity: 9th December 1987

I’ve got another piece up on Dorian’s excellent On This Deity

9th December 1987: The First Intifada.

Today we mark the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987. Various end dates are cited, usually falling between the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 and the Mehola Junction bombing of 1993, but arguably the conditions and enmities created during those first years have characterised Israeli-Palestinian relationships ever since, however one chooses to draw the timeline.

read the rest…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements


8
Dec 2010

The gulf between press release and reality

Remember the Gulf of Mexico oil spill? Remember we were told it wasn’t as bad as “the environmentalists” were making out? And remember we were told that the well had been capped and the problem solved?

Apparently we weren’t told the whole story.

Dr. Tom Termotto is the National Coordinator for the Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference. He’s been reading and collating the various studies and reports produced about the BP / Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Last week he released a report that calls into question the notion that this disaster has been successfully contained. Indeed, it appears that even the worst case scenarios being discussed when the disaster was at its most prominent fail to convey the seriousness of the situation.

Now, I’ve just read his report (republished on the Phoenix Rising from the Gulf blog), and have not independently verified any of his facts. I’m stressing this because, while I’ve feared for some time that we are being comprehensively lied to about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (there were numerous discrepancies in the media reporting of the story that rang alarm-bells for anyone with a knowledge of petroleum geology), the conclusions reached by Dr. Termotto are startlingly extreme.

He alleges that large sections of the seabed beneath the Gulf of Mexico have been destabilised by the extensive oil and gas drilling operations taking place there. Furthermore, the Deepwater Horizon explosion created numerous fractures in the already unstable rock strata and now, in his words, “the Gulf of Mexico is slowly but surely filling up with oil and gas”.

On top of that, because of the depth of the oil and gas deposits, they contain high concentrations of radioactive isotopes. To add to the problems, the chemical dispersants — which he claims are still being used underwater near the well head (see image, below) — are making a very serious problem a lot worse. These chemicals are themselves highly toxic, but even worse… they are reducing the oil droplets to a “micronized or nano-sized state”. This significantly increases the likelihood that large quantities of mildly radioactive crude oil is entering the food chain. As Dr. Termotto says, this is turning “an extremely serious regional disaster into an unmitigated global catastrophe”.

Gulf of Mexico chemical pollution

And there’s more. The leaking of gas from beneath the seabed is producing large build-ups of methane hydrates on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Given that the area is seismically active, this has the potential to spark a disaster should this build up be dislodged en masse.

The entire Gulf of Mexico has become an environmental timebomb that threatens the health of the world’s oceans. A complete moratorium on drilling in the area is the only sane response to this information, if it is shown to be valid. However I suspect that in the face of peak oil, neither the US government nor the oil companies are interested in examining Dr. Termotto’s findings, let alone acting on them. The rush for short-term profit is killing our world.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


7
Dec 2010

Budget day

At 10:40 this morning, it was announced that “EU finance ministers have formally approved the €85bn rescue package for Ireland along with its terms and conditions”. Brace yourself for a shitstorm, Ireland. And to the rest of Europe I say… “witness your future”.

It’s starting to look like a fait accompli. Barring either a popular revolution or a massive swing to the left parties (Sinn Féin or The United Left Alliance) in the New Year election, the Irish people are to be saddled with a huge debt they did not run up.

It’s like a nightmare from the 1980s. Like nobody’s learnt the lessons of the failed IMF interventions, the Long Depressions and deprivation, the political extremism and social fragmentation. Imposing these kinds of policies in the face of an ongoing global recession is utter madness. I’ve heard all the conspiracy theories about why the institutions of global capitalism would want to provoke this kind of economic collapse… but none of them convince me. They require too much vision from people we know have none. They require a level of organisation from the political elite that their overt incompetence precludes.

Later this afternoon, the government will reveal what is widely expected to be the most draconian budget in the history of the nation. The minimum wage will be slashed by almost 15%, welfare payments will be cut to the bone and the public sector is likely to be gutted. Meanwhile individual taxation will rise, but tax on corporate profits will not. Beyond that, what few state assets that were not privatised during the boom years will be flogged off — probably to the same international financial institutions that created the massive debt now being transferred to the Irish taxpayer.

And it’s all so bloody unnecessary. Yes, the Irish government needs to balance the books. We are spending more than we’re earning and that’s unsustainable. But the idea that the best way to balance the books is to dump a hundred billion euro of private debt onto the state is beyond insane (and there are sensible people suggesting the 85 billion could turn into as much as 220 billion before this whole thing is over). It’s free market ideology run riot.

And what’s more, it’s clearly not going to work. Ireland couldn’t generate that sort of income even in a global environment of massive economic growth. So, with the spectre of energy shortages looming ever closer and the consequent global depression, we’re out of the realm of extreme optimism and into sheer delusion.

Which is why the “bail out” and today’s savage budget are unnecessary. Ireland will default on this debt. Anyone who suggests otherwise (I’m looking at you, The Government) is a blithering idiot. We will default on the debt the markets have saddled us with, and possibly withdraw from the single currency.

The only choice we have is the manner in which we do this. We can do it now while we still have some assets and a cash reserve. Or we can delay it for a few years by delivering those remaining assets into the hands of global capitalism. Our leaders have chosen the second option and have thereby guaranteed themselves a place in history alongside Quisling, Pétain and other collaborators with external tyrants. The conditions of the bail out, for example, include transferring our last remaining cash reserve — the national pension reserve fund — into the banks, so that the banks can repay the bondholders. It’s criminal, and those responsible will not fare well in the long term.

I’ll write some more about this over the next couple of days once I’ve heard the budget and digested the implications.

Let me conclude with a short video. Although it’s a speech from a US senator and deals specifically with US policy, it resonates far beyond. And it should be required viewing for those about to open our doors to the rapacious hyenas of international finance.

5 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


6
Dec 2010

Back on Facebook (for my sins)

I know, I know.

I swore I’d never use the bloody thing again. And none of my past objections have suddenly become invalid. But a couple of things have arisen lately that forced me to reconsider my participation in the CIA’s big social media experiment.

Firstly… pretty much everyone I know has succumbed. Now, I’ve never been massively affected by peer-pressure, and it’s not the fact of their participation that has changed my mind. Rather it’s that I live in a different country to almost all my friends, and facebook has become the de facto medium of communication for many in my old social circle. Simply by excluding myself from facebook, I’ve ended up severing ties.

Secondly… and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, not a reason in itself to join… as someone who presently earns a (meagre) living as a freelance web developer (WordPress customisation a speciality), facebook has become too big to ignore. Two clients in the past month have asked me how to integrate their websites with their facebook accounts, and all I’ve been able to do until now is shrug my ignorance. I have very little idea of what goes on behind that blue and white login screen, so can’t really advise anyone on how best to use the site.

So yes, I’ve reactivated my old account. But don’t take that as an endorsement of the sinister system… consider me ‘press ganged’.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements