Now that the Israel/Gaza war is over (for a time), what did it cost and what did it actually achieve?

August 28th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

After the collapse of at least eight temporary ceasefires, it looks as the ‘permanent’ ceasefire between the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas is holding. So it is time to take stock of the consequences of the 50-day conflict.

What was the cost?

In Gaza, more than 2,100 were killed, most of them civilians, including about 500 children.  Some 18 alleged informers were publicly executed. At least 11,000 were injured. More than 17,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. Around one third of the population of 1.8 million has been displaced.

On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers died and five civilians – including a four-year old boy – were killed. Hundreds of families living near the Gaza border had to be relocated to safer homes further north. The firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza forced many Israelis to seek protection in shelters again and again.

What was achieved?

Israel launched the attack originally to stop the rocket assaults. The IDF claims that the weapons stocks of Hamas and other militant groups have fallen to less than a third of their pre-war levels of around 10,000 rockets either by being fired or by being destroyed in air strikes. Hundreds of Hamas men, including three top commanders and a civilian ‘money man’, have been killed. As the conflict went on, the IDF added the destruction of tunnels to their war aims. Dozens have been found and blasted. The Israeli Government claims that it has achieved a period of “quiet” and safety.

For the people of Gaza, there is now an undertaking to open border crossings with Israel and Egypt to allow humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter the enclave. Also the fishing zone is to be extended to six miles off the coast. Hamas claims that it has shown its ability to resist Israeli aggression and calls the outcome a “victory”.

But really what has been achieved?

The latest ceasefire terms are almost identical to those agreed at the end of the previous war 21 months ago. Prior to that conflict, we had the Israeli invasion of Gaza in January 2009 that was supposed to stop the rocket attacks and destroy Hamas.

Unless there are now negotiations and agreements on much more fundamental issues, the easing of border restrictions will simply lead to the smuggling into Gaza of more rockets that, at a tim e of tension, will be fired into Israel which will attack with disproportionate force and we will have yet another war in this seemingly endless cycle of violence.

There has to be significant concessions and compromises by both sides. The Egyptians, the Qataris and US Secretary of State John Kerry deserve thanks for their patient brokering of the current ceasefire – but the negogiating has only just started.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)

10 pictures of the most colourful places on Earth

August 27th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

The world is full of landscapes that are so surreal, and so intensely coloured, that it’s hard to believe they really exist. Take a look at some of the strangest, and most vibrant, views in the world here.

Posted in Environment | Comments (0)

Should Scotland become an independent state?

August 26th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Last night, I spent one and a half hours watching a televised debate on the future of Scotland and the referendum on Scottish independence to be held on 18 September. The debate was between Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

It was the second and last of two such televised debates, but the first was only broadcast in Scotland, whereas this one was shown throughout the UK. I thought that Darling had the better arguments but Salmond had the more effective style. The general assessment is that Salmond won this debate whereas Darling had won the first one.

However, the debates do not seem to be making much difference to voting intention with the ‘no to independence’ around 14 percentage points in the lead.

Of course, only the Scots will have a vote in this referendum, although the outcome will have profound implications for everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

I hope that the Scots vote ‘no’. While I would always support independence from an occupying or colonising power, as a general rule I am in favour of devolution within states and more co-operation between them rather than a fragmentation of states.

I stand by a short essay I wrote for my web site six years ago entitled “The Issue Of Nationhood” which you can read here.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

We have a rule in Britain …

August 25th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

…  If it’s a Bank Holiday, it has to rain. It’s almost a law of physics.

Today it’s a Bank Holiday in Britain and – guess what? – it’s raining (hard). I feel particularly sorry for all those involved in the Notting Hill Carnival here in London which is due to have its busiest day today.

We did have consistently hot weather in July, so perhaps we should be grateful. And, unlike northern California this weekend, there’s no question of an earthquake.

Footnote (26/8/14): In terms of rain, it proved to be the worst August Bank Holiday weekend in Britain since 1986 with up to 3 inches (76 mm) of rain in 24 hours. In terms of temperature, London had its coldest August Bank Holiday weekend since records began in 1982 at a mere 17C/63F.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

The price we pay for a free web

August 24th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

“The business model of the internet is surveillance. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing.”

This is a quote from security guru Bruce Schneider in a column by John Naughton in today’s “Observer” newspaper. It is the explanation of how web services can be ‘free’ and the price we pay in terms of loss of privacy. How worried should we be? A dystopian view of where we might be heading is envisioned in the novel “The Circle” by Dave Eggers which I have reviewed here.

Naughton’s column includes a ‘confession’ from Ethan Zuckerman for the creation of what he calls “the internet’s original sin”, that is targeted advertising which Zuckerman introduced via the pop-up ad on his Tripod-hosted  web sites. This took me back: in 1999, I started my web site on Tripod and suffered those pop-up ads before soon migrating the site to a paid-for hosting service so that my readers did not have to see any ads.

That’s the model I continue to use 15 years on, even though I’m constantly urged to take advertising.

Posted in Internet | Comments (1)

Some black and white facts about the American town of Ferguson

August 23rd, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Most people had never heard of the town of Ferguson in Missouri, USA until the the police killing of black youngster Michael Brown and the resultant rioting by the local African-American community.

Ferguson is a town which has gone from 75% white to 67% black over the past 25 years. Yet, although two-thirds of residents are African-American:

  • All but one of the members of the city council are white.
  • All but three members of the local police force are white.
  • The mayor is a white Republican.

How can this be? Only 12% of registered voters in the town cast a ballot in the municipal elections last year and whites were three times more likely to vote than black people. In 2011, an even lower turnout elected the white Republican mayor.

Throughput the democratic world, the poor and the disadvantaged are less inclined to vote than the wealthier and more privileged. As a result, the inequalities and injustices simply multiply. We have to use the power of the vote.

Posted in US current affairs | Comments (0)

What is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?

August 22nd, 2014 by Roger Darlington

“The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negoti- ated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA. The inten- tion to launch TTIP negotiations was first announced by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in February 2013, and the first round of negotiations took place between European Commission and US officials in July of the same year. The aim is to rush through the talks as swiftly as possible with no details entering the public domain, in the hope that they can be concluded before the peoples of Europe and the USA find out the true scale of the TTIP threat.

As officials from both sides acknowledge, the primary aim of TTIP is not to stimulate trade through removing tariffs between the EU and USA, as these are already at minimal levels. The main goal of TTIP is, by their own admission, to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the poten- tial profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. The stakes, in other words, could not be higher.

In addition to this deregulation agenda, TTIP also seeks to create new markets by opening up public services and government procurement contracts to competition from transnational corporations, threaten- ing to introduce a further wave of privatizations in key sectors, such as health and education. Most worrying of all, TTIP seeks to grant foreign in- vestors a new right to sue sovereign governments in front of ad hoc arbi- tration tribunals for loss of profits resulting from public policy decisions. This ‘investor-State dispute settlement’ mechanism effectively elevates transnational capital to a status equivalent to the nation-state itself, and threatens to undermine the most basic principles of democracy in the EU and USA alike.

TTIP is therefore correctly understood not as a negotiation between two competing trading partners, but as an attempt by transnational corpora- tions to prise open and deregulate markets on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a growing body of concern among EU and US citizens at the threats posed by TTIP, and civil society groups are now joining forces with academics, parliamentarians and others to prevent pro-business govern- ment officials from signing away the key social and environmental stand- ards listed above. All people are encouraged to join this resistance by getting in touch with their local campaigns – or starting their own.”

This is the Executive Summary of a short booklet written by John Hilary, the Executive Director of War on Want. You can read the full text here.

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A review of “Guardians Of The Galaxy”

August 22nd, 2014 by Roger Darlington

The pitch for this movie to the studio heads must have sounded weird (“… and then there’s a tree that hardly talks and a wise-cracking racoon”) – but it works. You can read my review here.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

Is the United States really a democratic nation?

August 21st, 2014 by Roger Darlington

I missed this at the time, but I have just come across an academic study published in April 2014. It is written by two academics from Princeton University and Northwestern University and looks at who most influences the making of policy in the American political system.

You can access the full study here. It’s a long paper in very academic language, but the conclusion is clear:

“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

If you are interested in how the American political system works, you can read my short guide here.

Posted in US current affairs | Comments (3)

Watch Stella Creasy MP trounce Austin Mitchell MP in a debate on the “feminisation of politics”

August 20th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

As I explained in this posting, when Austin Mitchell was first selected as a Parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in 1977, I was the runner-up at the selection conference. I immediately forgave him: he was a local television personality who was more likely to win the forthcoming tough bye-election than me – and he did. In the course of the next 37 years, he has been an MP of idiosyncratic views and never became a minister.

As I explained in this posting, I first came across Stella Creasy, Labour MP got Walthamstow, three and a half years ago and i was so impressed that I immediately called her “a possible future party leader”. Since then, she has become a more and more important political figure, not least as a fierce campaigner against the practices of pay day loan companies and an articulate advocate of the cause of feminism.

BBC television’s “Newsnight” programme had Austin Mitchell on last night to defend his bizarre “Mail on Sunday” article, in which he attacked the Labour party’s “obsession” with all-women shortlists. Stella Creasy took him to task for his views. For some reason, the clip seems to have been removed from YouTube by “Newsnight” but, thanks to the “New Statesman”,  you can watch it here – enjoy.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)