Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

BBC: I’m so bloody angry about this!

What! - serving American propaganda!

What! – serving American propaganda?

I’d intended to take a few days off from this blog, to enjoy some days of peace and quiet, non-contention, and so on. ‘Peace, man’, as they used to say in the 60s.

Then, I saw an online report this evening, stating that:

“the BBC World Service could broadcast programmes aimed at residents of North Korea for the first time, under proposals being discussed by MPs, corporation bosses and US officials.

Barack Obama’s administration is encouraging the Foreign Office to back plans to establish a BBC Korean service to help open up the most secret country on earth.[1] [my emphasis]

“They, [the US], believe the BBC’s reputation for impartiality could help build up trust “with [the?] communist state’s 24 million population.” [so, they – the US – admit they have no credibility at all?] [my comment]


You may have noticed my completely sympathetic remarks about North Korea and its stupendously charismatic new leader. Plus, the BBC is, deservedly so, under attack for a recent load of complete cock-ups (I’ll return to some ‘lighter’ aspects soon); but it’s a British institution, funded by the British licence payer  (internally), and by a direct British government grant derived from UK tax payers (specifically for its foreign services), i.e, the BBC World Service.

So, why  is the US involved in this, at all?

  • Is the UK really the 51st. US state?
  • What is the meaning of this much mis-quoted ‘special relationship’, which invariably means the UK wagging its tail to North (US) America?
  • Who the hell pays for this UK government-funded service? (and, that’s bad enough, in terms of national democracy vs. short-term political expediency)
  • Who, finally, are those spineless English (the BBC Trust, presumably, led by that stubborn hero of British public credibility, Lord Patten) sucking up to?

Bugger off, UK government – use your own initiative – you are currently vociferous enough about ‘UK sovereignty’ vis à vis the EU, for example.

Bugger off, Obama administration – use CNN and Fox TV for your stupid, vapid propaganda! Get out of our garden, you miserable, malicious… !

[1]: The Independent


US torture disclosure dilemma: film versus facts

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage vest, sitting in the courtroom in Guantanamo in October. Former Guantanamo chief prosecutor Morris Davis has demanded that testimony be made public.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage vest, sitting in the courtroom in Guantanamo in October. Former Guantanamo chief prosecutor Morris Davis has demanded that testimony be made public. (Graphic: AFP)

You’ve probably noticed I don’t, generally, hold positive opinions about the moral high ground of the USA, in all respects. It’s not to do with American people (several of whom I know, and admire, personally); it is, rather, about the official attitudes those people in power display and their arrogant (supply your own favoured adjective) behaviour.

So, here’s a vexed one! Disclosure, or not? Transparency, or not? The truth (unvarnished), or not?

A report from Spiegel Online International (SOI) gently, but meticulously, unpicks a moral and operational dilemma faced by various US “big suits”. Some, including Obama, come out of it quite well (he’s so frequently accused of not being able to achieve anything during his first term as President). Others – as patronising, inimical individuals who, basically, have no regard for democratic responsibility or respect.

So, I urge you to take a couple of minutes to read a most perceptive article – before you all rush to the cinema to see “Zero Dark Thirty”. And note what Senator McCain (remember him?) has to say!

Two quotes from the SOI article

“There is currently a confluence of events that will focus attention on America’s post-9/11 record of torture: a trial, a congressional report and a movie. Will they end up contributing to a more accurate accounting of what happened over the past decade? Or… ”

“On Dec. 6, 2012, Colonel James Pohl, the judge in the military commission trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) and four others charged along with him, ruled that anything an accused says in court about his treatment while in US detention is classified information that must be shielded from public disclosure. He upheld the continued use of a 40-second audio delay so such information does not get into the public domain. So much for the transparency part of the Office of Military Commissions motto: “Fairness — Transparency — Justice.”[1] [My emphasis]

Meanwhile, let us not forget that several European governments (including the UK) have been shown to be involved in ‘secret rendition’ and other such miserable – disgusting – activities.

[1]: Spiegel Online International

Image:  Spiegel Online International/AFP

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage vest, sitting in the courtroom in Guantanamo in October. Former Guantanamo chief prosecutor Morris Davis has demanded that testimony be made public.

Pharaoh Morsi’s new Egyptian pyramid scheme?

hosni and mubarak

Spot the difference! Morsi (L.), Mubarak (R.)

President Morsi of Egypt has been in power since the end of June, 2012. Not an easy job, I’m sure we all agree.

But, given the entire social groundswell process under which he was swept into this position, what should we make of his latest moves?

What’s a pyramid scheme?

Definition: “A pyramid scheme is a non-sustainable business model that involves promising participants payment or services, primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, rather than supplying any real investment or sale of products or services to the public.” [Wikipedia]

One plus, one minus

On the positive side, he was responsible for brokering a ceasefire between the state of Israel and the Hamas leadership of Gaza. That must be applauded, even though the Israelis have since shot one protesting Gazan farmer and wounded another twenty Palestinians.

So, the minus… ?

His own country is in uproar – to put it mildly. Street demonstrations, stone-throwing, arson attacks on Morsi’s party offices across the territory, fighting after Friday prayers – what’s been going on?

Rule by presidential decree

Mohamed Morsi has, “after comprehensive consultations” (with whom, I wonder), issued a wide-ranging decree that, in effect, provides him with immunity from all judicial investigation, and gives him powers over almost everything while standing up for “the protection of progress and democracy”.

All this, of course, purely and reluctantly on a temporary bias, just until a new constitution is formulated  and new parliamentary elections take place. Sure!

A rather pertinent question

“How can you enact a transition to democracy, instil respect for the rule of law and separate the powers of the judiciary, legislative and executive, by overriding all three?”[1]

Morsi maintains he has “initiated these measures temporarily and unwillingly, when all other options have failed”; but the fact remains that he has done it.

“if he succeeds in pushing a new constitution through, it will halve his power, as Egypt will become a democracy in which an elected prime minister and president will hold equal sway.”[1] Sounds good, doesn’t it? The benevolent despot, forced to enact measures for the ultimate good of – “those others”…

Egypt today

Meanwhile, Egypt now finds itself in a situation where they have to accept  “the power to enact any other measure he [Morsi] deems necessary to deal with any “threat to Egypt’s revolution.”

His predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, ruled Egypt from 1967 until 2012 under emergency laws – purely temporary measures, constantly renewed, of course!

“The law was continuously extended every three years since 1981. Under the law, police powers were extended, constitutional rights suspended and censorship was legalized.”[Wikipedia]

What now?

The frantic public demonstrations of frustration and anger on the streets throughout Egypt surely prove that this is not what so many ordinary citizens fought and died for in their Arab Spring.

“This is a crime against Egypt and a declaration of the end of [the] January revolution to serve the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship,” wrote Ibrahim Eissa, chief editor of daily Al-Tahrir. “The revolution is over and the new dictator has killed her. His next step is to throw Egypt in prison.”[2]

Well done, the Muslim Brotherhood, it seems! But, ordinary, disenfranchised Egyptian citizens have already seen this before – isn’t that why they’re out on the streets, again?

A self-inked, presidential pen can, with a flourish, sign away all that those Egyptian citizens fought for?

Spring… summer… autumn… winter… spring… ad nauseam…

[1]: The Guardian

[2]: The Independent


Gideon Levy: ‘What’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a state like this?’ *

gideon levy haaretz journalist

‘The most hated man in Israel?’

I was hoping to move away from the ongoing Israel-Gaza tragedy, but chance intervened today, in the form of an extended interview by Johann Hari with the renowned  award-winning Jewish journalist at Haaretz, Gideon Levy. (* It’s his own quote, above, by the way.)

The son of a WWII refugee from Sudetenland, Levy admits he grew up as an Israeli nationalist, not questing the general, majority dismissal of, and contempt – or worse – towards, Palestinians.

His attitude changed when he started reporting for Haaretz[2] from the West Bank and Gaza, and in the intervening 30 years, he has become a rare voice speaking up for peace, tolerance and  understanding.

In so doing, he has enraged majority Israeli opinion, regularly receives hate mail, has been physically threatened many times, been deliberately shot at by the Israeli army, and was even the target of a legal amendment that now precludes him from setting foot in Gaza. He’s also regarded as a “security risk”.

A few quotes from the interview

“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

On the episode when Israeli forces targeted him

“In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care. They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”

On living in the Israeli village of Sheikh Munis

“It is built on the wreckage of “one of the 416 Palestinian villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948,” he says. “The swimming pool where I swim every morning was the irrigation grove they used to water the village’s groves. My house stands on one of the groves. The land was ‘redeemed’ by force, its 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return.”

On Israel as a democracy

 “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”

I could go on, extensively. My recommendation is that you follow the link below[1] for a thought-provoking encounter with a courageous, committed man.


Blogger “bimo”[3] has some balanced observations to make on the subject. One of his recent Palestine items has useful links to two condemnations of biased reporting of the current conflict by western media – one of which is an open letter signed by, among others, Naom Chomsky. So, if you’re interested… yet another coincidence today.

[1]: The Independent

[2]: Haaretz

[3]: bimo

Image: Anja Meulenbelt

Democratic elections (blah, blah!)

global political handshake

When will we all shake hands – democratic ‘rulers’ and democratically ‘ruled’?

I’ve noticed over the past few weeks how many times national events or strategic decisions have been accused of being related to forthcoming elections in that country. Almost invariably, the accusations are raised by ‘the opposition’ party or parties, and are equally denied as opportunism by the party currently in power.

A former boss of mine used to famously declare that the British got their one chance of democracy every five years – i.e., whenever there was a general, parliamentary election (but never one at work!). This, in the so-called ‘mother of parliaments’.

Even that claim is disputed. Which is the world’s oldest-established democracy? Recently, a UK newspaper mentioned, in passing, that the (now) USA was “the world’s oldest democracy”. Check it out online, and you’ll find there’s no consensus – it all depends on how you define the very term ‘democracy’.

This combination of observations gave me a simple idea: to take a brief look at what’s going on these days, in terms of forthcoming, so-called democratic elections and recent political actions.


Just as a teaser: Bulgaria will suffer this ‘X’ process again in the early summer of 2013. Already, politicians of all ‘colours’ are either supporting or – more usually – criticising new policies, statements and promises of the ruling (note: everyone in the media here labels them the ‘ruling’), GERB party, currently led by PM Borisov.

GERB recently announced, for example, that they would increase pensions, not significantly raised since 2009 (the year they happened to come into power), to compensate for inflation during that period until now. The result: predictable – pre-election populism! It doesn’t help that GERB is dumb enough to have failed to agree publicly, among the involved ministries, exactly when in 2013 these increases will be applied, such is their continual idiocy in mistreating (or disdaining) their expected faithful electorate. (True? False? Will GERB deliver? At what cost to everyone?)


Moving abroad: Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, recently announced measures whereby the bank:

“would spend $40 billion each month buying mortgage bonds until the economy strengthens, and maybe even after. In its two previous programmes, called quantitative easing (QE 1, 2), the Federal Reserve bought $2 trillion worth of Treasury and mortgage bonds.

The idea is (apparently) to frustrate holders of conservative assets, so that they will have no choice but to shift money into riskier fare. As they do, prices will rise, making people richer and willing to spend more money. And that, at least in theory, will speed economic growth.”[1]

The Obama-bashers jumped straight on this, despite the recent gaffes of Romney, Republican opponent, who was revealed as stating he didn’t care about 47% of the American population, who were, dismissively, according to him, dependent on a culture of welfare.  Bernanke was an economic aide to Obama, so this is pure political, not economic, opportunism in favour of the incumbent president of the USA. Right? Wrong? True? False?


Let’s shift to Georgia (no, not the US state). Presidential elections in October, 2012. What happens this week? Video of alleged systematic, brutal and organised abuse of prisoners in Georgian jails.

“TBILISI (Reuters) – Hundreds of people rallied in Georgia on Friday in a fourth day of protests over brutality in state prisons, a bout of unrest that could damage prospects for President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party to come out on top in elections on October 1 [2012].

The protests, which broke out after two television channels that back Saakashvili’s opponents showed footage of prison abuses, have saddled him with an unexpectedly tough election battle against a coalition led by a billionaire businessman.”[2] True (T)? False (F)?

(There will be more about this interesting opposition ‘billionaire businessman’ in my short series of related items.)


And, for raw political opportunism, look north across the Danube to Romania, where there’s been cut-throat duelling all year between PM Victor Ponta and President Traian Basescu.

Again, never mind who’s right, who’s wrong (it’s the usual mixed story, it seems to me). But, significantly, the PM keeps bleating that his statements have been “misunderstood” by everyone – those Romanians who don’t support him, and even the EU and EC, where he’s been roundly condemned for allegedly bringing democracy into disrepute, charges he has, of course, denied (‘nobody understands me!’, he constantly wails). Misunderstood? With an illegal referendum packed under his belt, one intended to impeach the president (for whom I have no sympathetic leanings, by the way).

While pulling like a Romanian coal miner on the levers of domestic constitutional powers enough to alarm that wonderfully democratic institution, the European Commission, led by a certain J. M. Barroso? T? F?

Turkey (addition)

Today, Turkish courts jailed hundreds of military officers for an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government, back in 2003. Three former generals were given (nominal) life sentences of 20 years, and a further 323 accused (who all declared innocence of the charges) were handed sentences of 18 years.

All were accused of conspiring to overthrow the Islamic-leaning government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. (Fundamental and open question: Islamic-leaning / democratic? Turkey apparently still says it wants to join the EU  despite its already-defined ’democratic’ views and tenets.T? F? Right (R)? Wrong (W)?

The European democratic institutions

Finally, the EC itself. A few days ago, Barroso attempted to define his desire for European unity, not as a federation of states, but as a compromise – in my terms – between national sovereignty and the overall interests of the ‘bloc’ (does that word resound from the Cold War, or am I just getting old?). The same day, I read a brief report that European ministers were again proposing a pan-European army, with defences of the outer EU border. T? F? R? W?

It goes on, and on, I slowly realised. So,to come, a few more detailed examples of what I mean… without even expanding y chosen examples and simplistic thesis as far as the ongoing demonstrations and continued deaths and injuries caused by Islamic reaction to that stupid “freedom of speech” video – supported by a US judge. I wondered, watching TV tonight, how many protesters worldwide had actually seen the offending item – I haven’t, and shan’t bother.

The more I think and read about democracy, the more I believe it to be a convenient and misleading coinage and borrowing (Ancient Greece, the first democracy – how is that relevant today, politically?) that suits rulers wearing different-coloured ‘suits’ to fool most of the people, most of the time.

But, an alternative to this convenient, ‘liberal’ label? Isn’t it about time we threw off the shackles of capitalism, socialism, religion(ism), consumerism, and tried – just tried – to find some systems more attuned to our real common needs in a new, globalised era (forget geography, and the old-fashioned, usually divisive, ideas of national boundaries associated with C18/19 countries and nation-states, from which we seem doomed never to recover)?

Not in my time, I sadly suppose… T?F?R?W?


(You should have seen the trouble I had in order to select what I considered a fairly open, acceptable online illustration of ‘international handshake’ to illustrate this item!)

[1]: The Economic Times

[2]: Reuters

Image source:

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