Thursday, 22 December 2011

This Christmas Give the World a Gift That Truly Will Keep On Giving

If you've been following this little blog of mine (thank you for that) then you'll no doubt be aware that one of the biggest and never ending sources of irritation to me is that the Mainstream Media (MSM) whether Corporate or State is so lacklustre. Whether incompetence or deliberate policy I've come to find depressingly little accurate information in the papers and the news channels. Hell many times to me it seems like someone high up the Journo food chain is deliberately withholding information that is very important or at least potentially very important, like a long running Peasant Revolt in India.

There are a couple of exceptions, the BBC documentary wing can and still does commission and broadcast programs made with some investigative journalism and occasionally offer something against the grain of the usual wisdom were spoon fed. And theres BBC Four's World News Today which not only covers important stories from around the world but will also instead of just summarising the latest development it'll also actually make an attempt to explain the context of the story whose on which side and why they're there and what the future will hold. Channel Four and its sister More Four will also have some intelligent discussions and documentaries from time to time.

And of course theres my long standing love affair with the Socialist Daily Morning Star (that's the Morning not Daily Star).

Many who feel the same way as I do have moved on, unfortunately the greener pastures are often the result of fresh paint rather then ethical tending. What am I talking about with that tortured allusion? well I'm talking about the moving from Western media to its main competitors, non western state run or funded news services, like Russia Today, Press TV, Al-Jazeera and CCTV. Now theres nothing wrong with vary your sources of information far from it thats a mature and healthy thing to do. The problem I have is that so many of there new audiences seem to have become so jaded with the poor standards of western news that they'll happily embrace any opposition and be blind to its failings.

Services like Russia Today, and Press TV are good at digging up dirt about the West, however they are even worse apologist (hell they don't actually apologise but you get my meaning) for there paymasters in Tehran and Moscow. These governments are not exactly soft and delicate. For example I have on Press TV seen coverage of Trade union struggles, you know strikes and worries that even more repressive legislation will come into effect, and thats good however I have not seen much coverage of the much worse repression that Trade Unionists in Iran. Which from my support of Labour rights sites like Labourstart I know includes imprisonment assault, death threats wholesale banning etc. And thats not even mentioning the hypocrisy of being sympathetic to UK civil liberties organisations when your pay check is written by the executers of Atheists and Gays.

Russia Today is on balance better then Press TV if only because the Russian government hasn't committed such extreme crimes against its own people. However it is still very much a United Russia rubber stamp outfit. During the Presidential elections I was shocked how brazen they were being, they aired Medvedev's speeches in full several times, whereas the opposition's were routinely cut to a few sound bites. Furthermore the RT teams "analysis" was to ask if UR's platform would be popular, the short answer? yes. Whilst for the other candidates they would question there policies as just absurd and then mock there parties, the CPRF where an old mans club, the liberal (not liberal democrat) candidate was a weird kook wasting there time etc. They also refuse to cover any opposition groups in detail only cutting to them to dispute there claims (often with little evidence).

The point I'm laboriously trying to get at here is that if we really do won't to see the back of the monopoly on information are most important resource after water food and shelter is that we on the "radical" alternatives wing should make a concerted effort to back as much truly independent news sources as possible.

There are some very good sources of information out there however in order to really challenge the MSM stranglehold on the worlds political discourse they require financial support to keep spreading the word. I feel its only fair to state that every time I've advertised donation or funding links on this blog its been for things I myself have already contributed to (another nagging sore of mine is seeing self satisfied celebs touting for donations from the proletarian masses while they give proportionally nothing and in some cases actually get a wage for the pot shaking) myself as I think it would be hypocritical to persuade/pressure others to give if I haven't.

A couple of reasons why you should support the Real News Network from its Big Boss Paul Jay.

And for those who like Radio I can recommend the non-profit group Free Speech Radio News (FSRN for short). This station was born out of a strike at another radio station when the staff objected to censorship imposed on them by the Board of directors. That was in 2000 giving the group of global freelancers over ten years of independence.

Like with Real News I've embedded more then a few videos of there work but if you'd like a sample of why this group is worthy of support here you go.

Report on the ongoing violence in Syria.

And a special documentary on the devastation being wreaked in Mexico as the War on Drugs continues.

Well thats it for me (probably.... maybe) see you year, Merry Christmas to one and to all good day.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Kim is Dead, Long Live the Kim!

How North Koreans saw him.

Yes its true, I was a bit sceptical myself given that this wasn't the first time I've seen "Kim Jong Il Deceased" or "North Korean Leader Passes away" since his stroke in 2008, and his calender of public apperances got a bit scarce. But this time it was confirmed by the North Korean Government and News Agency though not by its English language website which at time of writting has a standard Congratulations to the new President of Tunisia as its latest story, but to be fair it will take awhile for a translation and to see if there any further developments. The Dear Leader of the Korean People has passed away aged 69, ending his 17 year reign that began in 1994 inauspiciously with a very severe famine that killed an estimated 2 million and like the famine that swept through Ethiopia in the 89's came to dominate the International communities view of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea(1) a constantly starving police state with a large military and demigod leader.

From an academic point of view I'm fascinated by North Korea, and I wonder what those in the future will make of the hermit state. It was like the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) more commonly known as East Germany was carved up out of the Cold War that was starting to get into gear by the late 1940's. And as such was officially a Socialist state ruled by the Marxist-Leninist(2) Korean Workers Party. Somehow it seems to have turned into a Quasi- Monarchy and Quasi-Theocratic state -if the rumours about the two Kim's divinity are believed by his people- fully embracing Nationalism; its guiding principle literally translates as self reliance. There is a bit of a contradiction there.

Now of course just because a new head of government or state happens to be the Child of the previous leader doesn't necessarily mean the system is a Monarchy, it could be a coincidence and they happen to be the most if not qualified then acceptable candidate available. For example in England after Oliver Cromwell died the alliance between the parliament and army held power settled on replacing the first Republican leader with.......his son Richard. However given that Kim Il Sung began grooming his son Jong Il for leadership to replace him before his death, and that Jong Il was preparing to do the same with his third son Kim Jong Un

"All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public," the news agency said.

its hard to claim that this is one of those wacky coincidences. Oh and if your wondering why the third child is being chosen over the other two, something quite unusual and taboo in the world of hereditary succession it might have something to do with the eldest Kim Jong Nam being caught illegally entering Japan in 2001, supposedly because he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland though according to some spent most of his time Korean nightclubs and Japanese brothels

"In 2001, Kim Jong-nam and his entourage, bedecked in diamond-encrusted Rolex watches and toting Louis Vuitton bags, were detained at Narita airport, reportedly en route to Tokyo Disneyland. Kim had attempted to enter the country on a forged Dominican Republic passport, using the Chinese name Pang Xiong - Fat Bear. Subsequent investigations revealed that this was not his first foray into Japan. Apparently he entered the country at least three times in late 2000. Indeed, a hostess at the exclusive gentlemen's club Soapland in Tokyo's Yoshiwara district remembered Kim's US$350-per-hour visits. She also recalls a dragon tattoo on Kim's back - tattoos are a taboo in Confucian society as they are seen to be a desecration of the body. Still today in South Korea, men with tattoos usually are thought to be members of criminal gangs."

Ignoring the scummy nature of what he did, the fact he was willing to even consider illegally entering an "enemy" nation even if he did just want to meet Mickey Mouse should disqualify him for failing the required intelligence test.

How Most of the World Saw Him

Anyway how do I personally feel about this? conflicted. I'm not sorry he is gone I am not nor never have been a supporter of North Korea. Though I wasn't thrilled with the constant possibility that the good ole Texan Sheriff of the US of A (I mean George W. Bush) stepping in and forcing the issue of transition. And I personally think the world has been too quick and willing to swallow any story about the nation that fits our preconceptions of it being an insane and constantly brutal regime that just seems to do things purely for evils sake. For example how many people know that like in China there is more then one Political Party legally operating in the North? there are three, the well known KWP the Social Democratic Party and the Chondoists a native Korean religion group, though it should also be pointed out that all those parties operate in support of the KWP and are not in opposition to it. Which is probably where my Academic interests in the nation lie, I've read several books on it including the comic by French Cartoonist Guy Delisle Pyongyang about his stay in the capital as he oversaw the outsourcing of French animation jobs first in China and now into Korea. Yes North Korea has been slowly implementing "Market Socialism"(3) for sometime now in an effort to recover from the loss of its traditional trading partners the USSR and Eastern Bloc.

Its well worth a read though Guy is a bit smug and at one point might have gotten someone in very serious trouble to soothe his own ego.

My personal favourite though has to be North Korea on the Brink by Glyn Ford the former Labour MEP. He has spent literally years interacting with both Korea's, speaks Korean well enough to know the difference between North and South dialects, and as a committed Peace Activist strongly dedicated to exposing Jingoist smears and fabrications whilst not making apologies for its quite shady and abhorrent practices. Put simply he explains the Regime not Justifies it. Doing the opposite is a trap many people fall into when trying to explain a nasty group or regime.

For example in the preamble:

"I decided to write this book because the only books I read on North Korea painted it either entirely black or totally white. It was either Socialist Utopia or part of the Axis of Evil...... Actually it is a poor beleagueered country run by an unpleaseant regime that has served its people ill. However the alternatives proffered by its enemies would serve the Koreans worse".

And theres the crux of it. This current situation is unprecedented in North Korea's short history, they have an unprepared leader at a time where both the regimes ideological and national framework and on very shaky ground. Its moved away from traditional Communist Social proclamations, it now officially supports the ideas of "Juche" (roughly translates as self reliance) and Songun (military first, essentially giving priority to the Korean People's Army in economic and social affairs) but those where Kim Jong Il's ideas and who knows what the conclusions of them will be? At least Kim Il Sung had time to prepare hid son for the job, will the Generals and Party leadership be willing to take orders from a novice because of his family name? and if not what will be the consequences? civil war? more purges? invasion of the South or from the South?

Again time will have to tell but lets hope whatever the result the peace will be maintained and a more positive regime comes out of the Kim legacy.

1: Given that Republic comes from the Latin Res Publica (The People) that essentially means the name is Peoples Power People the People of Korea, though since Korean isn't derived from Latin or Greek its possible thats only the case with the clumsy English translation.
2: Thats the fancy term for Soviet like Communist Party.
3: Thats where Communist Party run nations start opening up to Capitalist economics, but officially at least still maintain the support for socialism and Communism. The term was coined by Vietnam but pioneered by Deng Xioping's China.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Another Tragedy Hijacked by Rightwing Groups

In Liege Belgium tragedy struck as another European city became the victim of the extremely violent and bloody actions of one disturbed individual.

The culprit Nordine Amrani aged 33.

From the BBC

"A gunman has opened fire in the centre of the Belgian city of Liege, killing at least four people and wounding 123.

The man also threw grenades into a crowded square from a rooftop before killing himself, reports say.

He was named as Nordine Amrani, aged 33. He was known to police for firearms offences. Officials said the attacker acted alone, ruling out terrorism."

Pay attention to that last sentence its important. Now as I've said previously definitions of Terrorism are pretty varied but one thing they do have one common variant a political motivation. And since Nordine Amrani was acting alone that makes less likely. I think the authorities are being a bit presumptuous by ruling it out on that ground alone. Since there was another recent case of a lone "soldier" carrying out a violent attack in a peaceful European nation, and that definitely had a political motive what with Mr Breivik's Manifesto, and explicit political targets the Labour party Youth Section.

However at present no political motive has been found in this case so this one might be better placed in the serial killer/lone gun nut category. But only time will make that clear.

What is already clear though, is just like Breivik's criminal actions in Norway there victims weren't even treated or collected before people with agenda's pounced on there trauma to use this incident as further evidence for the hysterical theories. Amrani as both his name and mugshot show is of North African/Arabic descent. Moroccan to be exact, and you can probably guess what conclusions certain people on the more extreme end of the political spectrum drew from this one. Yes they claimed this was another attack by Muslim Fundamentalists as part of a global Jihad. Hell they claimed that about the attacks in Oslo and Breivik is blonde and blue eyed and quite stereotypically Scandinavian.

So its not really surprising a Moroccan with an Arabic sounding name would also have his actions added to the bandwagon. But as with Breivik the screaming of "Jihad" were at best premature and at worst outright despicable.

From the Telegraph*

"What worried him most was to be jailed again. According to my client it was a set-up by people who wanted to harm him. Mr Amrani had a grudge against the law. He thought he had been wrongfully convicted."

Persecution complex and vague ideas about a conspiracy.

"A search last night revealed in a warehouse used by the attacker, notably to grow cannabis, the body of a woman killed by the attacker before he went to the Place St Lambert," said Cedric Visart de Bocarme, a Liegeois prosecutor."

Cannabis like all forms of mind altering substances like alcohol is against Islamic custom.

And finally.

"His family lawyer, Abdelhadi Amrani in Brussels, who is not related to the killer, said that he had grown up in foster homes after being orphaned at an early age.

Miss Amrani, the lawyer, dismissed any possible terrorist motives for the attack. "He did not feel at all Moroccan. He did not speak a word of Arabic and was not Muslim. What he said is that he felt a Belgian," she said. "He was crazy about weapons but as a collector. He felt he had not had much luck in life and felt unfairly treated by the courts. This was a 'ras-le-bol' of a tormented soul: estranged from justice, and against society."

Emphasis my own.

Oh and in Italy there was a also a shooting by one Gianluca Casseri (50) killing two and injuring two more, -they were African migrants- in the city Florence.Gianluca Casseri is a white Italian with links to far right groups (though they have distanced themselves from the man) in response the Iitalian President Giorgio Napolitano had this to say.

"Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano denounced "this blind explosion of hatred" and called on Italian authorities and society to "nip in the bud every form of intolerance and reaffirm the tradition of openness and solidarity in our country".

So it looks like we have another case of violence criminality bringing out two heads of the same beast. I personally think that to take a genuine tragedy like Leige, or Oslo and then deliberately lie about facts of these cases that don't fit the agenda being advanced in order to raise hysteria and fear to be abhorrent and shows those who engage in such practices to be intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Again I extend my condolences to the victims of both these attacks and wish the injured a speedy recovery its a shame that one person with issues and a gun can cause so much hurt.

* For those outside the UK, the Telegraph is a paper so slavishly supportive of the British Conservative Party that it has the nickname "Torygraph".

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Yes Americas Palestine Stance can get Even Crazier

Current Republican Party Presidential Candidate Frontrunner Newt Gingrich.

Wild amphibian the Greater Crested Newt in its natural habitat.

In America the Republican Party's most prominent spokespeople have of course been busy jockeying for the position of Republican Presidential candidate for the 2012 elections; to take on Barrack Obama. So far its been quite an interesting race with many candidates most of whom enjoyed the spotlight as a Conservative Prodical son -In Bachman's case Prodical daughter- before spectacularly imploding just look at Pizza magnate Herman Cain's never ending sexual harassment/affair allegations.

"Herman Cain, the wealthy former pizza man, has made Clinton look like a choirboy.

In just a few short weeks, Cain has turned the Republican nominating contest into an X-rated circus of alleged horndog behavior."

Currently the non Mitt Romney* front Runner is a man by the name of Newt Gingrich whom with the deadline for actual voting to begin coming up pretty quickly has decided to turn up the fires of insanity to drum up as much coverage and support as possible.

At a recent conference for the Jewish channel Newt made the following questionable comments.

First he states that the Palestinians are an "Invented people".

Now you might be wondering what exactly is wrong with that, after all are not all peoples and nations invented to a certain degree? the answer is yes, unfortunately thats not what Gingrich was getting at when he said that, which becomes clear when he elaborates that it is only the Palestinians who are "invented" essentially stating that they and they alone are not real people. The above video points out just how ridiculous that idea is given that Gingrich is American, one of the most artificial nations in a world full of artificial nations given that they had a war to establish themselves as there own people (early happy fourth of July!) then bought some lands outright occupied and stole (I mean settled) on countless acres taken from there current tenants went to war with there southern neighbours to nick there northern territories. Hmm you know I think I see why so many Americans like Israel so much.

Also for a good comparison of how insane Gingrich comment is take another look at the documentary about Black September I posted last month. In particular the interview with the leader of the Stern Gang (the Jewish terrorist group that fought for a state of Israel) is asked a similar question given then Prime Minister Golda Meir had made the same claim Gingrich just made. His response? "of course there a people just because Golda Meir say they aren't doesn't change that reality".

A Jewish terrorist and Israeli Nationalist is more nuanced and balanced on this issue of Palestinians then an American Christian who has no actual personal stake in the Israel Palestine conflict.

But thats not the most stupid comment he made at this debate. When asked for elaboration on his earlier statement he chose to reaffirm his stance and claim it was historically accurate (Hate to tell you Newt, but unless you became a Marxist or Anarchist and have seen the lie of the Nation... then no it is not historically accurate) and then go on to say all Palestinians are Terrorists, yes not one group, not the PLO but all Palestinians even the ones who protest and resist peacefully are bloodthirsty Terrorists. And that the possibility of a Palestinian state is unacceptable.

And the arch nemesis Obama has committed treason in all but name by aiding the Terrorists in there quest for statehood.... err by not accepting the Palestinian membership bid in the UN, constantly dis-barraging Independent Palestine initiatives and punishing international bodies that don't bend the knee to US wishes.

And these comments were met with a healthy applause. But it gets better Gingrich has been a career politician for a number of years (he was speaker of the House in the Clinton years) and as he was such a long standing senior American politician was invited to several international conferences and events in an official capacity. One of the most notable was the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and Palestine, in which not only was Newt part of the American delegation he also gave a few pointers about how the Palestinians should develop and organise such there future state. Yasser Arafat valued his keen incites so much that he happily embraced with Mr Gingrich for a big photo opportunity with both of them grinning happily.

A picture says a thousand words, in this case just one word Hypocrite a thousand times over.

* Apparently a sizeable number of Republican voters/members have a serious problem with Mitt Romney, some because of his ties to Corporate finance, others because of his chasing of current Populism leading to jarring position shifts, and others still because his a Mormon.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Intifada by Quetzal

Quetzal the Spanish English Bilingual Chicano Rock Band was in 2009 set to attend a concert sponsored by the Israeli Consulate, however they decided to instead boycott the concert and recorded this song Intifada (Uprising, though literally in English translates to Shrugging off) in solidarity with the Palestinians as they commemorate (day of catastrophe) day on the 15th March.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

Firing Range

Remember this? well I've watched a few more in my off hours and I think I've found a new favourite.

Its name translates to Firing Range, and was made in 1977 by Anatoly Petrov. Unlike other Soviet era animations this one didn't cut corners, in fact the animation style (Photographica) the characters particularly there faces look almost life like. Remember that this was all done by hand as this was several years before computers started to be used in animation anywhere in the world. It won the First Prize Yerevan, USSR in 1978 and the Official Selection of Oberhausen, Germany in 1979.

The plot is about a scientist whose built a new super weapon, a tank that can read minds. Hes developing it for some Generals of an unnamed nation (its possible that the Russian dialogue does name the country and the subtitles thought it more politic to leave it out but I don't know) they mention losing colonies and "Blacks" burning there tanks so they could be either European or South African, or a veiled reference to either.

Without giving away too much the Tank responds to fear and hatred and can defend itself from aggression. The film is an anti war film -yes really contrary to the Cold War myth of thousands of T-72's revving up in East Germany just waiting to attack the USSR was very keen on avoiding conflict, and its films and writings reflected that- lets just say the greedy warmongering Generals will find there new toy to be everything they wanted and more.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Swaziland Home of Africa's Forgotten Despot

From yesterdays Morningstar

"If you were asked what you knew about Swaziland, what would be your response? What do you know about this small country of less than a million people located between Mozambique and South Africa?

As the Scottish Trades Union Congress delegate on a recent ACTSA visit to southern Africa, I had little knowledge of Swaziland.

What I saw in this beautiful country shocked and saddened me. Seventeen years after the overthrow of apartheid, another people in southern Africa are suffering under a brutal tyranny, relatively unnoticed by the world.

Swaziland is an absolute monarchy that has been ruled by King Mswati (pictured) since 1986.

The Forbes Rich List named him in the top 15 of the world's richest royals, with a personal fortune that is in excess of $100 million, enabling him to provide palaces and new BMWs for his 14 wives.

Three-quarters of the country's land is effectively owned by the king and administered by the local chiefs. With the government handpicked, the parliament has increased the king's budget by 60 per cent in the last two years.

According to the US government about "40 per cent of the government's workforce is allocated to security."

In stark contrast two-thirds of the people survive on less than $1.25 a day.

Swaziland has the world's highest HIV rate and half the population dies before 40.

Perhaps the saddest statistic is that one in 12 of all Swazi are orphaned children.

This is compounded by the growing economic crisis. The government is threatening to cut 7,000 jobs, pushing thousands deeper into poverty, while spending increases on the king and his friends.

The bedfellow of this poverty is political tyranny. Swaziland has the unenviable achievement of having a worse record on political rights than Zimbabwe.

Political parties are banned and it has endured a state of emergency since 1973.

Opponents of the regime are often arrested, tortured or even murdered as the main opposition is declared "terrorist" under the repressive Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Swazi NUS president Maxwell Dlamini and Musa Ngebuni of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) are still behind bars awaiting trial following their arrest before protests held in April.

Women are subjected to horrendous levels of gender-based violence.

A 2009 survey revealed that almost a third of women and girls aged 13 to 24 had experienced sexual violence before their 18th birthday.

The law provides no protection for women from domestic violence or rape by their husbands.

The laws governing marriage ensure that women are treated as second-class citizens. Married women are denied the right to own property and widows are unable to inherit property if they are forced from their homes by their husband's relatives.

However, the people of Swaziland have continued to struggle for democracy.

The trade unions, despite their leaders being regularly arrested and harassed, have held regular strikes and protests.

Women and students have formed groups to campaign for democracy and rights and an underground pro-democracy party Pudemo was formed in 1983.

Despite constant harassment, including the arrest of one leader, Sipho Jele, who died in custody in May 2010 imprisoned for wearing a protest T-shirt, they have grown in strength.

In 2008 King Mswati held lavish celebrations costing millions of dollars to mark his 40th birthday and 40 years of independence, but the people of Swaziland responded by organising the country's biggest pro-democracy protests with 10,000 crowding the streets of the Manzini and reassembling in the capital Mbabane the next day.

The pro-democracy movement in Swaziland has called for smart sanctions, including the denial of international travel for the royal family and their lackeys, a ban on investment in companies controlled by the regime and an embargo on military sales to Swaziland.

Until now the devastating situation in Swaziland has largely gone unnoticed by the international community, but gradually more and more voices across the world are beginning to speak out.

Swaziland needs our solidarity now. The voices of the Swazi people's struggle must be heard as Swaziland is still the land of the forgotten despot.

While there we listened, humbled, as student leaders told us of the daily danger of death or imprisonment, but they left us in no doubt that they will continue to fight until Swaziland is free.

The international labour movement must support them in their continuing struggle for political and economic freedom.

In solidarity we must advance to strengthen the trade union and pro-democracy movements building upon partnerships and projects that have raised the profile and capacity-building of trade unions and civil society in Swaziland to bring about change.

Action for Southern Africa, the successor organisation to the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, is one of the few organisations campaigning for democracy and rights in solidarity with the people of Swaziland. If you want to get involved in supporting the fight for democracy in Swaziland contact ACTSA"

Still its not all bad for local Swazi's as the above article mentions the police are
a good employer with 40% of the state workforce being in blue uniform and as we can see from the pictures below that the money in policing is if nothing else well spent.

I know I sound like a broken record sometimes but thank Christ for the Morning Star. The only time outside of blogs and the Star I've ever heard of Swaziland was a BBC documentary about Southern African snakes (Black Mamba's if your curious).

There is some good news,the "Arab spring" also inspired many non Arab Africans to rise up in many countries, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Malawi, and Swaziland amongst many others.

A petition on for the realise of National Union of Students President Maxwell Dlamini.

And the E-mail section of ACTSA to the high commissioner (Swaziland is still a Commonwealth member nation despite having a worse record on political freedoms and human rights then Fiji (Membership suspended) and Zimbabwe (kicked out) which to me seems an odd omission not many people know too much about Swaziland but you'd think the men in the suits at the Commonwealth office would be aware of what goes on in a member state, and doesn't Swaziland's continued membership make the tough stance taken against Fiji and Zimbabwe and give some creditability to Robert Mugabe's claims that he and his nation are the victims of a "Neo-colonialist plot" to break his proud patriotic African regime? Surely the last thing the Commonwealth wants to do is make Mugabe look like a victim or to be seen as biased against Independent Africans?

Spot the Difference time, ones a harsh tyrant undeserving of civilised company, the others and long term friend and ally who never put a foot wrong, but which is which?

You know what makes this omission evening more galling is that its not even a case were two nations are at odds and we have to pick either the lesser evil or at least the most pragmatic option. Swaziland is one of the few nations to stick to Zimbabwe through thick and thin.

"President Mugabe praised the king’s visit, saying that it was “rare and historic”, while also mentioning that it was wonderful that the king could, “associate with ordinary people”. This is the first time that a royal has visited a farm in Zimbabwe, according to the president.

The two leaders have vowed to support each other, and have promised to work together in the future to benefit their nations."

Fortunately though the dissident networks in both nations also share a close relationship.

"We cannot leave out the Global Zimbabwe Forum who, have continued to ensure that Comrade Solomon Sox Chikohwero represents them among the throngs of pro-democracy Swazis in the streets of Mbabane, Manzini, Nhlangano, Siteki, etc."

In fact why don't we write to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Email is here, and ask what if anything there actually doing in regards to Swaziland.

Russian Elections an Analysis

A little late but its always best to take a day or two to let the dust settling in Elections, especially with elections in Russia.

The ballots have been counted and to not many peoples surprise United Russia the election vehicle of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev dubbed the "Party of Thieves and Liars" by opponents has retained a majority with a 49.5% voting share meaning it retains 238 Duma members out of the last Duma's 315. The new Duma has representations from the same four parties that were in it last time though the other three have increased there vote share and seat numbers. They are the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) with 19% of the vote and 92 seats (up from 57) Just/Fair Russia* 13% of the vote and 64 seats up from 38, the far right Nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (yes I'm serious thats the name of the most right wing mainstream Russian Political Party) have also increased there share to 11% with 56 seats (up from 40). However out of these three the only party to consistently vote against United Russia policies has been the CPRF making the Communists the sole pillar of opposition in the "Democratic" 21st Century Russia.

A summary of the Elections.

From FSRN a feature covering the fears that the Election would be plagued by corruption and low turnouts.

"This weekend Russians will be voting to determine the country's next parliament. But there is little enthusiasm ahead of the December 4th Duma elections. Some Russians say they won't bother to turn out because they feel that the outcome has already been determined -- much like the presidential elections in three months in which Vladimir Putin faces little opposition and is expected to win. Karen Percy reports from Moscow."

The low turnout fear may have been premature with the overall figure for the entire Russian Federation being around 60% being only a slight decrease on the 63% turnout in the last Duma Elections in 2007. However the fears over election irregularities or fraud do seem to be well founded, and sadly not a recent development. The Council of Europe after analysing the election procedures and results had this to say

"The observers noted that the preparations for the elections were technically well-administered across a vast territory, but were marked by a convergence of the state and the governing party, limited political competition and a lack of fairness. "

"Although seven political parties ran, the prior denial of registration to certain parties had narrowed political competition. The contest was also slanted in favour of the ruling party: the election administration lacked independence, most media were partial and state authorities interfered unduly at different levels."

Emphasis my own.

Though they did have some positive things to say about the elections

"The observers also noted that the legal framework had been improved in some respects and televised debates for all parties provided one level platform for contestants. On election day, voting was well organized overall, but the quality of the process deteriorated considerably during the count, which was characterized by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulations, including serious indications of ballot box stuffing."

Another suspicious development is the regional breakdown of United Russia's support. Obviously in a nation as large and diverse as Russia there will be differences of opinion and differing levels of support for a political platform, however if the polls are to be believed the staunchest areas of support for United Russia are the problem territories in the Caucuses including Dagestan and Chechnya were apparently 99% of the politically active population support Putin.

"Russia’s ruling United Russia party won 99.48 percent of votes in the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya during Sunday's parliamentary elections, the republican election committee said on Monday.

With a 99.5 percent voter turnout at 456 polling stations, United Russia received support of 607,909 voters in Chechnya.

Other registered parties shared the remaining 0.5 percent, with A Just Russia being the second (0.18 percent) and the ultranationalist LDPR being the last (0.02 percent)."

Yeah I'm sure I don't need to articulate what's fishy with that result.

Another blow to Putins mandate and fuel for the claims that Elections are routinely rigged was the Presidential Elections in South Ossetia -that small border Ex-clave that along with neighbouring Abkhazia Georgia came to blows with Russia over in 2008- were the pro independence anti Russian Union(remember North Ossetia is already part of the Russian Federation) was disqualified after it looked like she had won the election.

"In the Caucasus region of South Ossetia police fired warning shots as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the annulment of Sunday's election results. An opposition leader who had campaigned to safeguard the republic's independence from Russia appeared to have won a majority of votes, but the result was overturned by the Supreme Court. FSRN's Jacob Resneck has more from Tbilisi."

Alla Dzhioyeva had 57% of the votes before the Court disqualified her, they also barred her from standing in a new election.

Troops were mobilised when supporters of Alla launched protests at the courts decision. They also released this address to the UN and international Community.

"Given that the political crisis in the republic may destabilize the situation in the Caucasus, the republic’s people urge you to immediately intervene in events in South Ossetia in order to stabilize the situation and restore constitutional order,”

United Russia is a Conservative Nationalist party favouring an interventionist state to support the economy, and a reassertion of Russia's independence from foreign and often hostile nations and powers like the US and NATO, anyone whose ever met a Russian will know that at least part of that platform would resonate with the majority of the population so why the drop in support? well for several interconnected reasons, as the nickname "Party of Thieves and Liars" shows a large number of Russians are sick of the corruption that has come to plague Russian society both public and private sector.

"During a recent visit to Moscow, I was struck by how many people told me that corruption under Medvedev was more extravagant than under Putin, when it was in turn more widespread than under Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin. More remarkable and more concrete is a recent interview by Russia’s chief military prosecutor in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the government’s official newspaper, stating that almost 20 percent of the country’s military budget is “plundered” through corruption, including fake invoices and kickbacks. If this is happening in the military, it’s hard to imagine that the situation is different in the rest of Russia’s government bureaucracy. Medvedev himself has said that $35 billion in government funds was stolen in 2010."

You may remember Putin's early premiership grabbing headlines for his crackdowns on the "Oligarchs" many of whom fled abroad often to London, thats was helpful however take a look at the list of names and see how many had been active in politics or about to enter politics when there arrest warrants were issued, it isn't all of them but its quite a few.

And then coupled with corruption is the global recession stagnating economic growth and compounding the damage that corruption is inflicting on the economy. That leaves a vibrant and robust independent Russia to fall back on and fortunately for the United Russia campaign team the West was here to lend a hand. The ongoing row over a proposed anti Iranian Missile Defence Shield being placed in Europe (Eastern Europe to be exact) has given the Kremlin the perfect excuse to rally round the flag and rattle the sabre a little.

Here they threaten a vague retaliation.

And here with the election getting ever closer they actually mention the mobilisation of troops.

However given that Corruption is a serious ailment even in the Russian Military a symbol of Russian pride and Unity since the Romanov's and the Peoples Republic of China competing with Russia for arms sales and research development cutting into there exports (arms exports are virtually a way to subsidise the costs of an arms industry) not to mention the risk that another nation might actually respond forcing another conflict, if Chechen rebels and Georgia could do it whats stopping a stronger nation from calling the bluff? In short relying on militaristic Patriotism is a trick that can only works so many times.

Of course with Putins "shock" announcement that he would be standing as Presidential Candidate again much of the focus in the media has been on how the Duma turnout will affect his Presidential election bid, given what I've already written on the subject you might infer that I think that his election (should that be re-election?) chances in a free and fair election aren't very good. Well not necessarily there is a difference between the support/popularity for a party and its leader, this is true even in parliamentary systems where the party is the main decision maker and is especially the case in Presidential systems where one man or woman(and there hand picked team of advisers) become the driving political force in the nation. The disintegration of United Russia's support base doesn't necessarily correlate to a decline in support for Putin personally though it isn't a positive indicator and if I where his PR man I'd be a little worried.

Of course the election is still a ways off and now that Putin has become the official centre of attention again how he deals with Russia problems especially with a reduced majority -though remember the non Communist parties have a track record of supporting United Russia- and if any scandal should emerge that he is personally to close to and he could find his own support frame eroded. Only time will tell of course I'm just glad that more and more people both inside and outside of Russia are waking up from his spell.

* The Russian name can be translated as either Fair or Just.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Angels in America and World AIDs Day

I attended my local area pickets on yesterdays public sector strikes however I'm a little delayed as my camera has had a few faults I'm in the process of fixing. Expect a post on it either tonight or tomorrow until then heres a quick post to commemorate this years World Aids Day, its a review by a very clever chap Kyle Kalgreen of an important and influential film made to explore what it meant to be Gay and have AIDs in the 1980s and early 90s in America. Back when AIDs was considered an exclusive form of "gay plague" and one in four Americans believed AIDs was a divine punishment from God.

The film though very long is brilliant and the review is both touching and very informative. While it is refreshing to see that in America and Western Europe the stigma surrounding the LGBT community and AIDs suffers has improved with casual bigotry becoming as taboo as racially orientated insults and moves to equalise civil rights gaining momentum other parts of the world are embracing the hysteria. In Russia with have the major and historic St Petersburg Municipality banning "homosexual propaganda" and many nations in Africa that coincidentally just happen to have a large Evangelical/fundamentalist Christian or Muslim religious population have begun to take harsh measures.

I'm sure most will be aware of the Ugandan bill to make Homosexuality a capital offence. But thats just the tip of the iceberg, in both South Africa and Zimbabwe prisons have a policy of "corrective rape" of homosexual prisoners to "set them straight" fortunately in South Africa the abhorrant practice is being shelved

In Ghana the government empowered police to lock up all the gays and in Cameroon a Gay person can recieve a maximum sentence of Five years.
There are sadly plenty more examples of this absurd abusive behaviour but I think just one of these I've mentioned should be enough to elicit disgust and illustrate why World AIDs day is an important day for education and action.

North East Lincolnshire Public Sector Strikes

Sorry this was a bit late Cameras fixed now so here we go.


"Some two million workers in the UK went on strike today, closing down approximately 60 percent of the schools in England and most schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Organizers say it could be one of the largest nationwide shut downs since the 1926 general strike halted the UK. Zoe Sullivan was in London and files this report."

I took part in the Pickets and Demonstrations in Grimsby. It was quite an impressive showing for a small town on the edge of the sea. There were around a hundred people at the main demo outside town hall, and some UNISON friends told me there was about the same number at the local Hospital, and there were many smaller pickets and gatherings throughout the town and in neighbouring Cleethorpes. In addition to the local Trade Unionists (UNISON, UNITE, GMB, NAPO, FBU etc.) I saw members from the local Labour party and some of there sitting Councillors. I also believe I saw a couple of Socialist Party members, I say believe because the only one I recognise personally has a habit of changing parties and they didn't carry any identifiers.

All in all I would say it was quite impressive and should hopefully put pressure on the ConDems to rethink there Pension "reforms", and build links between working peoples organisations to make further action easier should it be required.

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