I'm thinking of how it is the 50th anniversary already of the death of Robert Schuman, one of the founding inspirers of the dream of a united Europe in which there would never be another continental war...
War has to be deprived of its reason for being, so that the very temptation to undertake it is banished. It is necessary that nobody, not even the least scrupulous government finds advantage in waging war. I will go even further: we want to remove the means for any kind of war occurring. The worst type of opportunist would be rendered harmless in future.
Interesting item in today's BBC news: "A leading figure in Hungary's far right Jobbik Party has been forced to resign after being exposed as Jewish. Csanad Szegedi's grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labour camps." What interesting things humans are! This man is from a family that has been savagely persecuted and, guess what, he becomes a leading light in a party that wants to persecute people - gypsies mostly. And, guess what, people vote for such parties. We can guess that at least some of the people who vote for them are people who feel persecuted themselves. And so it goes on.
Hatred does not cease with hating, hating only ceases with love - this is the eternal law, so say the wise.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a result of the confluence of two powerful influences. Firstly, there is a deep disquiet about the credibility of the Western model. Public money has been used in vast quantities to bail our commercial organisations, mostly banks, in a manner that undermines the whole rationale of the model. In theory, people take risks and if they fail they reap the consequences just as when they succeed. There is a kind of perceivable fairness in this and it goes someway to justifying the fact that some people do reap huge rewards. The fact that they do so is rationalised by our being able to say to ourselves that they are the people who took the risks and if they had failed they would have faced the consequences. However, now, it seems, that it is, for some at least, a one way game. This cuts away the rationale of the whole system. The "American Dream" has mutated into a racket.
Secondly, there has been the phenomenon of the Middle Eastern "spring", the over-throwing of rich dictators by popular up-risings. Western leaders initially regarded these Middle Eastern movements with great suspicion. The fact is that they preferred doing business with the old dictators - and still do in many cases. However, when it became apparent that, in some cases at least, the rebels were going to win, there was a shift of attitude. If you can't beat tham, join them. Western leaders rolled out a string of much used rhetoric about freedom and democrasy. The demonstrations in far away countries were praised and those who suppressed them vilified. This, however, led many to ask - why not here?
So now we have a growing popular movement demanding "real democracy" and the overthrow of the power of corporations. But what does real democracy look like and is it any good? Could it run the economy and deliver the goods? There are many reasons to doubt it, but the status quo is looking in creasingly fragile.
The trouble is that nobody has any idea what could really replace the current system. Until about 1990 the world seemed to have a choice of systems. There was communism and there was capitalism. Then communism fell, consummed by its internal contradictions. Capitalists gloated believing that this meant that they had won the argument. However, there are now many signs that capitalism may be about to go the same way, consummed by contradictions that are every bit as crazy as those that afflicted the other system. So where now?
Is there any system other than these two that can feed, house, and clothe the vast population of planet earth, let alone deliver all the superfluous luxury that humans like to indulge in and play with?
How would it be for instance if corporations did not have limited liability and were actually allowed to fail when they fail? There would then be a much more severe break upon the growth of the kinds of bubbles that we have seen. There would also be a lot more people who went bankrupt. The pain would be spread around more and the accumulations would not get so enormous. This direction of development would take the morality of risk more seriously. Thinking about such ideas makes one realise that a more honest system would not necessarily be a kinder one. Dilemma.
Or, what about localism? How would it be if communities ran their own affairs, including their economic affairs, to a much greater extent than they now do. In Italy, for instance, in many areas, you cannot own a business there unless you live there - so no chains. What if real estate were not freehold, but leased from a locally elected body? This would impede labout migration and lead to communities that were internally more homogenious, but, perhaps, more different from one another. Power would devolve from central government to localities. There might be just as much conflict and corruption, but it would be differently distributed and the whole system might be more stable.
How about if one went the other way and created powerful international institutions. The European Union is currently in the thick of fighting out this possibility. What will those institutions be? Ironically, the primary candidates in Europe at the moment are the Central European Bank and the Stabilization Fund. Is the future a super-bank? Perhaps. What will happen if a sizeable number of countries do actually go bankrupt? Already many business corporations are wealthier than many countries. Are corporations going to run the world? Some say they do already, but we have not yet reached the point where governments completely cease to function. Perhaps the first world government will be a bank.
The fact is that we are getting into uncharted territory in which we do not even have much in the way of speculative ideology to go on. We are not going to go back to feudalism nor to anciant Athens. A paradigm shift may be forcing itself upon us and we have no idea what it is going to look like. The people occupying Wall Street know something is wrong - the system is sick - but they do not know where we are going. Nor do the people in government, nor those in board rooms. All are like corks floating in a torrent that is close to breaking its banks. The present system is sick because it has, in perfectly understandable ways, led ordinary people into increasingly compromised positions. We live in houses we do not really own, on loans taken from organisations that do not really have the money they loaned us, who pretend to be risk taking enterprises, regulated by government organisations that are not really independent of those they supposedly regulate, overseen by bodies, the members of whom are elected by supposedly democratic processes in which only those with access to vast amounts of money can contemplate participation, and who, once elected, find themselves enmeshed in a situation in which so many compromises of fact and principle have already been made that it would be super-human not to succomb to cynicism and manipulation.
This has all the hallmarks of civilisation in decay. History has seen this before: the decline and fall of.... (fill in the blank with any number of former systems). Something new will emerge, but there may well be quite a heap of ashes before it does so.
Reflecting on the meaning of the riots in England and trying to see the larger picture, which is to say, taking a historical and sociological rather than a psychological perspective, it seems to me that they can be seen as a species of carnival. Carnival is that time when people temporarily let off the constrictions that they live by the rest of the time. As such carnival is a kind of pressure valve. The Roman Saturnalia was an instance of carnival in institutionalised form and in many Latin American countries somethingt of the same is known. Mardi Gras in New Orleans no doubt started the same way.
Looked at it this way we can perhaps see the riots as a sign that control in English society - it is notable that there were no riots in Scotland or Wales - has been becoming tighter and has perhaps, for the moment, gone as far as it safely can. If this is correct, then the current government, while talking tough about repression and so on for public consumption, might be best advised in practice to concentrate on those aspects of conservatism that are to do with loosening rather than tightening social control overall.
We have had a substantial increase in public surveillance. When we go out of our houses we are filmed. On the roads, speed control has become tighter. Crime rates have reduced. Our mobile phones are tracked. The supposedly democratic state now knows where we are and what we are doing more presicely than the rulers of soviet Russia ever achieved.
This is, however, not just true of England. Internationally control is increasing in many ways. The human species is becoming more and more inter-connected and humans are attempting a higher level of organisation than has ever previously been achieved. It is not surprising that there are outbreaks of "indignants" from Madrid to Tel Aviv.
Propably this move toward a higher level of organisation will be successful in the end, but it is not easy of achievement and, of course, with every gain, something is also lost. Furthermore, any major advance in human civilization constitutes a move into the unknown, which means that it is not something that can be rationally or consciously planned. Although I can see what is happening, I cannot know where it is going or what the higher organisation will look like when it is achieved. This means that it is something that will happen more in spite of than with the aid of democratic politics. All rational decision making is based on the past. It is, therefore, inedequate to the needs of the future. We are always fighting the last war, not the next one. This means that even if a prescient politician were to arise, he or she could not tell the population what is happening because they would not believe it and would certainly not vote for it. This is what is happening at the moment: the populace do not know what they are part of and would not support it even if they knew, yet it will happen anyway and they will be part of it in spite of themselves.
Europe is already in many respects the highest form of organisation that humankind has so far achieved. Never before have so many people, and so diverse a collection of peoples, been so organised with so low a rate of homicide, infant mortality, or disappearance, and with such efficiency of food distribution, adequate shelter, healthy care and sophisticated communications. It is remarkable. Yet this is not an end point: the forward pressure remains unrelenting. A higher level of organisation is forming. This involves a certain centralisation of power - something that virtually nobody would currently vote for, yet which will inexorably take place. The corresponding waves of disturbance in Paris, in London, and elsewhere, are surface manifestations of the tension under the surface. Nor is this disturbance only within Europe itself, but all along its periphery in North Africa and the Middle East. Millions of people want to come to Europe or to bring their own part of the world up to a similar level of organisation.
This process of trying to make a quantum jump into the society of the 22nd century is not a planned process, nor can it be. In most respects it is a product of the "collective mind" and remains unconscious to virtually all of the individual participants, many of whom live in a general vague supposition that "things are getting worse" just as people have always done. Yet, while we worry about ecological collapse, debt crises and far away wars, the real big story is of a steady edging forward toward a degree of social control and integration undreampt of before. That there be occasional outbreaks of carnival and pillage is not surprising. It is a sign that the engine is over-heating, but even if the throttle is lowered a little, the forward velocity will only be slightly slowed, certainly not reversed.
Europe has had a shock and it needed it. The sovereign debt crisis coming at a time of global slowdown has created a storm of anxiety and brought home as nothing else could the fact that economic fundamentals cannot be ignored. Does this storm mean that the euro will collapse? No. Does it mean that Europe will decline? No, quite the opposite. Because of this shock, Europe will reach a point of greater internal fiscal discipline and economic efficiency.
Europe, taken as a whole, is already the largest economy in the world and its dominance will increase. The current headlines are deceptive. Everybody is currently worried about debt. Europe is in debt to the tune of 80% of one year's GDP. That is not good. Many economists think that 40% is healthy and Brussels rules call for 30%. However, the USA is 100% and Japan is much higher. In terms of debt, Europe is healthier than its main rivals.
People are worried about the possibility that a member state might default on its sovereign debt. They should be worried, but it is not going to happen. These worries will enable the imposition of more central control. Nobody will like it, but bit by bit it is now inevitable because the alternative is unthinkably worse. This will make Europe more centralised and more efficient. Britain will pretend to stand aloof from all this but it will conform - in fact it already has done and has been one of the first to do so. As William Haigh said while he was running the government a week ago while the PM was on holiday, Britain has taken the necessary steps and now looks to other countries (Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland) to do likewise, and they will.
Europe is still a confederacy rather than a federation and with this comes distinctive characteristics. Because it is a herd with no acknowledged leader, it behaves the way that herds do. It is prone to bunch together and even stampede when danger is around, as now. When the sun shines and the grass is rich, it loses cohesion and individuals wander off, sometimes into dangerous territory, which is what happened before the sub-prime crisis hit the world economy. However, herds have been one of nature's most successful inventions. A herd of buffalo is match for any number of solitary big cats.
It is still a confederacy because it is difficult to get individual countries to give up elements of sovereignty. Populist politicians can always gain ground by opposing such moves. However, the logic of the situation is that centralisation will happen inevitably whether it is publically recognised or not. The political institutions will lag behind the reality. Other means will be found. There has been recent concern that the European Central Bank has been adopting a role that goes well beyond its original remit. Well, yes, it would, wouldn't it? It is one of the powerful central institutions. There will be central power and if politicians will not pick it up, bankers and others will. Later people will wake up to what is happening and then there may be some democratization. In fact, already, the European parliament is starting to become more assertive.
The thing that makes all this difficult to read is that there are few personalities. Chancellor Merkel is the nearest thing to a leader and Jean-Claude Trichet has played a key role in many of the recent moves, but these figures do not have the prominence in the public eye that a president of the United States has. Europe is wonderfully Byzantine and while those who like simplicity may lament this, it is really one of its strengths. The coming budget round in Europe will be hard fought, complicated, involve innumerable deals and temporary alliances and will be easy for newspapers to poke fun at. Nonetheless, things will happen. All this complexity distracts attention from what is happening at a more fundamental level and that may well be a good thing.
Europe is growing in strength, is becoming more cohesive and more integrated. More and more European citizens spend substantial amounts of their lives in European countries they were not born in. I do. Economies are becoming more interdependent. Large amounts are being invested in infrastructure binding the continent together with high speed roads, rail links and airports. Europe's home market is much bigger than that of the USA or Japan. Furthermore, Europe has untold riches of historically accumulated cultural riches. The diversity of the continent is now generating creativity rather than war and that has been the great - truly great - achievement of the past few decades.
The political institutions are evolving more slowly than the reality on the ground but this is not bad. It is natural. Application of purist principles at a political level is not necessarily so wonderful. America's democracy is currently gtridlocked by its own checks and balances. Europe muddles through and a certain amount of clouding of the waters enables the economic fundamentals to operate. Europe is stronger then you think and will emerge as the leading superpower in due course.
Prime Minister Cameron's formula for addressing the roots of the problem that manifested in three days of burning, looting and rioting is to teach right from wrong more clearly in schools, discipline children, reinforce the criminal justice system and deal with gangs. This last point was the one to which he gave greatest attention in his speech. He also said that what has happened is criminality not protest, which is true strictly speaking but is a misleading statement because the roots surely do not, in fact, lie in a failure of the control mechanisms in society, they lie in social conditions and, as he did rightly say, in culture. Of course, what politicians say is a function of what they think will affect their audience in the way they want and does not necessarily reflect what they really think or what they will actually do at the end of the day. He is right to stress culture, but the factors that have undermined our culture are moral ones. The most obvious ones are:
1. the lies told to the public about Iraq
2. the MP's expenses scandal
3. the bailing out of banks with taxpayer's money and the growing awareness by ordinary people of the size of bonuses paid to rich people;
4. the revelation that phone tapping has been going on for years with the connivance of all sorts of important people;
5. a widespread sense that politicians internationally are losing control of the economic situation because of a lack of courage
These are the factors that create a situation ripe for anarchy. They are cultural; they are moral; but they are first and foremost about leadership and example - or the lack thereof. If the political class want to create a better culture, they need to put their own house in order. A relatively new government does have some opportunity to establish such leadership but the PM will have to do more than he has hinted at today if he is to win this battle. The "big society" and the restoration of community are excellent ideals - but where is the action?
I've had quite a bit of conversation with students today about the social problems of South Korea and of Korea as a whole. The division of the country is a kind of madness and in many ways the north and south are like mirror images of each other. Soon all the kids will be in the north and all the old folk in the south. South Korea is a more disciplined country than Britain and this has, no doubt, contributed to its economic success over recdent decades, though many of the people I spoke to see this regimentation as dysfunctional - "sick" one said. There are, for instance, different grades of university and depending which grade you go to you are then set in a particular social strata for life. This can cause a lot of trouble in families when siblings end up in different level schools. People are concerned that the society has become overly materialistic and only concerned with superficialities. There is more plastic surgery here and more suicides pro rata than anywhere else on Earth. There is also a strong gender divide. Boys are favoured. This is partly a function of a long history of Confucianism and partly, no doubt, a function of having been at war on and off for fifty years. In the actual counselling class it is apparent that some of this does show through in the areas that students find difficult. There are some strong social taboos in this kind of tight society and for counsellors to overcome them in themselves, let alone make it safe enough for their clients to do so, is quite a challenge. Having said all this, my own experience of Korean people so far is of a delightful, cheerful people with a wonderful mix of modernism and traditionalism.
The up-risings in the Middle East are attributed to the loss of patience of the population with tyranny. However, the condition of tyranny has persisted for a long time and has been generally stable until now. So what conditions have changed? There seem to me to be two and they are closely related. One is the waning power of the USA and the other is the economic downturn. The latter began with the crisis in sub-prime loans in the American housing market which was itself a function of dishonest practice and, therefore, of declining moral standards. So a decline in morale in what was the world's premier country led to a crisis of confidence in the banking sector which produced a finance famine for industry which led to deflation which caused temporarily falling demand for oil and rising food prices around the world.
In the Middle East where the ruling class must feed the masses using money derived from oil this produced a squeeze and only in Saudi Arabia and one or two gulf states were the rulers willing to dig deep into their pockets on behalf of the poor. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether the sweep of politial change will reach the Arab homeland of Arabia or not. However, regimes are changing. What will happen next? Quite likely oil proices will continue to rise for some time. If there are new democratic governments in the Middle East it will be more difficult for Western powers to persuade them to keep the oil price down. This will hit the USA harder than Europe because the average American consumes a staggering 2.5 times as much oil as the average European even though European and American living standartds are close to parity. Europe is well ahead of USA in oil saving technology. It will also hit emerging economies in a way that the economic downturn did not. This could produce further political turmoil and civil unrest even in China or India.
What can happen in countries where the population are broadly content with their politcal system? Election results can be sweeping - as in Ireland. However, what will they do when they discover that the new government cannot fix things either? Come to that, what will happen in Egypt or Lybia when the new regimes find it as difficult to provide for the population as their predecessors. Democracy does not guarantee more food.
Europe too is being gradually restructured by the effects of the economic stress. Integration continues inexorably. The fact that it is difficult for this to be achieved by concensual process means that it will happen by stealth through the economoic mechanism. This latter process will be greatly to the advantage of Germany which will emerge as the decision maker of greatest power. UK will maintain some independence of this but at considerable cost financially. All this probably means that whether China or even India dominates in the long run it may well be Europe that is the covertly emerging super-power.
Also, in Latin America, oil rich Venezuela will probably stengthen in its influence and if it retains its peculiar ideology this will also have consequences across the continent, as will the relative economic strength of Brasil. Latin America no longer dances to the US tune and the new future contains many possibilities. The situation remains very uncertain, however.
It is difficult to predict what the next knock on effect of the American decline will be but each stage is having significantly consequential spin offs and we are still a long way from the end of this particula disturbance in world equilibrium. The current focus is in the Middle East. Will the countries there be able eventually to achieve a pan-Arab union of some kind equivalent to the EU or even NAFTA? This is the only way that those countries could achieve parity with the major powers. It would not be easy but it is not impossible. Were it achieved then a new major power would emerge.
So, all in all, I am inclined to see all of the major changes that are happening at the moment as deriving from American decline. Of course, the chain can be traced back further. That decline itself has causes, and the chain back is endless. From a spiritual point of view we can note that moral decline has major effects that are economic, political, constitutional and ideological, but which are also often paradoxical and, in detail, unpredictable. Those countries that have been feckless are exposed and those that are bold in such turbulent circumstances sometimes make great forward strides. It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good and it is likely that we are entering a period of austerity and instability but also of more liberation. The world is becoming interesting again.
The Government have announced they will not pursue the previous administration’s intent for increasing the number of professions to be subject to statutory regulation. The full document from the Command Paper 'Enabling Excellence' can be viewed by following the link: http://dld.bz/N94m
It is clear from this that the Government’s preferred position is that professions such as counselling and psychotherapy be permitted to continue to operate under voluntary registers. The registering organisations will be subject to audit by the Professional Standards Authority (formally known as the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence.
This is a triumph for those who have campaigned against this extension of state power.
We had the biggest police operation for many years here in Leicester to contain the EDL and UAF demos. I don't think that the demonstrators will succeed in changing the situation here which has been exemplary for some years.
Sheila Lock, chief executive of the city council, said: "I've been overwhelmed by the reaction of both the public sector and the community.
"Both community leaders and faith leaders have said they will stand for the importance of unity and respect and I believe Leicester will be stronger for this because that's what people have said to me."
At the same time, it is clear that the movement of anti-Islam is growing at the moment (see Guardian article) and I imagine that while the economic crisis lasts this is likely to be one way in which general frustration gets expressed. When times are hard some groups need a scapegoat.
Ever since the destruction of the Ottoman Empire by the Western powers there has been a problem in the Middle East that has involved a process of imposing nation state style organisation on an area of largely tribal people to whom it was completely unsuited and this has led to periodic ethnic cleansing in an effort to produce purified states and getting the Arabs out of Israel is just one example. Getting the Turks out of Greece was an earlier one. The most bloody and awful consequence in recent times was the Bosnian war. The division of Cyprus is another example. The ungovernability of Iraq another. The idea that what we need is a secure Jewish state for Jews, Greek state for Greeks, Turkish state for Turks (what about the Kurds? oh, yes, problem) and so on. Iraq is not a country, it is lines drawn with a ruler on a colonial map.
All of this has been part of a kind of divide and rule strategy - or, at least, divide, keep trouble simmering and thereby neutralise. The broad Western strategy has been to keep the "nations" of the Middle East in turmoil and periodically fighting one another so that nobody ever gets strong enough to impede the flow of oil. "Freedom and democracy" is a complete sham here. When Iran briefly had a democratic government that proceded to nationalise the oil industry, the West got rid of it and helped the Shah to power. When the people of Gaza elect a leadership the West does not like it labels it a terrorist organisation rather than a democratic government. Hypocrisy rules.
Israel's role in all this has been to be a Western client state that has kept the pot endlessly boiling. In the Ottoman period Jews and Arabs lived side by side in cities throughout the Middle East. It was a non-problem. That Israel's policies are brutal and paranoid is just a natural consequence of a process in which Israel is just one small part. I doubt that any country in the Middle East could save itself. It needs a larger scale solution and a reversal of brutal, selfishness that has been going on for a long time, the roots of which are not in Tel Aviv or Baghdad or Cairo but in Washington, Paris and London.
What is changing is that the West is gradually losing its supremacy. This does not necessarily mean that things will get better. Forget nation building, the plight of women under the Taliban and even the Twin Towers, the West is in Afghanistan basically in order to ensure that nobody else is, but this is becoming an increasingly costly and unpopular campaign. However, would Chinese policy be any more benign? Probably not. As the West withdraws from various parts of the world, expect to see really old fashioned colonialism on the rise once again, this time carrying a "Made in Beijing" label. Where will this leave Israel? Who knows?
It may be that in the vacuums that emerge some Islamic countries may be able to take some advantage. Turkey is probably best placed, having its back to Europe, but Iran, Egypt and Soudi Arabia will also be big players. It is, however, difficult to see anything but continuation of the paralysing stalemate for the foreseeable future. There is no political solution in sight. Substantive peace-making is a non-starter so long as the West continues to see its interest as it does and continues to have the power to interfere. All that is thinkable is humanitarian assistance to soften some of the harshest iniquities that have already been committed and that we can expect to go on being committed. Jews, Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Turks, Iraqis, Lebanese and all the others are all just as much victims as the poor forsaken Palestinians.
Do try to send aid; do help individuals who leave; do expect confrontations; do expect people to get killed; do know that whatever you do will be twisted and used for political propaganda purposes; do not expect any of this to bring peace.
Also posted at http://zenpeacemakers.org/bwblog/?p=438
17 October: I am struck by the headline story today for the <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8311075.stm">BBC</a>, the <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/16/binyam-mohamed-torture-evidence-miliband">Guardian</a> and other main media which is the decision by the High Court that the UK government does not have the right to suppress what it knows about the torture of a detainee Binyam Mohamed and, therefore, by implication, torture in general. This is hugely important.
1. It is vital to human rights. If the government can detain and torture people without anybody knowing about it then the government itself becomes a terrorist organisation. This does not defend freedom, but destroys it.
2. This is also part of a running battle between the judiciary and the executive in the evolution of the British constitution. In recent years the executive has sought to reduce the power of the judiciary and this is an instance of the judiciary rightly hitting back.
3. Further, one notices that the American government is displeased and intends to fight this decision. It will be very sad if the Obama government turns out to be just as pro-war, pro-suppression, and overwheening as its predecessors. Skill in rhetoric is not enough; substance is more important.
4. The publication of this material may change the relationship between UK and USA and, therefore, between USA and Europe on the one hand and UK and Europe on the other. This is bound to happen eventually, but it takes particular incidents to move the process along. We seem to be moving toward a multi-polar world and away from US hegemony.
"9 actual or potential conflict situations around the world deteriorated in August 2007. In Burundi, politicians' homes were hit by grenades and peace talks continued to stall. Insecurity further deteriorated in the DR Congo with troop movements and clashes in the Kivus. In Guatemala, political murders spiked ahead of September elections. The situation also deteriorated in Bangladesh, Georgia, India (non-Kashmir), Iraq, the Philippines and Somalia. The situation improved in Sierra Leone, with generally fair and violence-free elections, and in Turkey with a victory for democratic process in the election of a president. For September 2007, CrisisWatch identifies DR Congo as a Conflict Risk Alert." - FULL REPORT
Nearly 4 million Iraqis have been displaced in and outside their country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, making it the largest exodus of people in the Middle East since the creation of Israel in 1948. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, on Tuesday will convene a two-day conference in Geneva to address Iraq's deepening humanitarian crisis. Displacement continues at a rate of up to 50,000 people a month, according to UNHCR.
UNICEF: Although 25 March marks the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, slavery still exists today as children are trafficked into bonded labour and the sex trade. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year to be used as domestic servants, factory workers, camel jockeys, child soldiers and sex slaves.
"U.S. and Israeli hopes of forging of a Sunni Arab alliance to contain Iran and its regional allies may be misplaced, at least at the popular level, according to a major survey of six Arab countries released here Thursday. The face-to-face survey of a total of 3,850 respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates found that close to 80 percent of Arabs consider Israel and the United States the two biggest external threats to their security. Only six percent cited Iran." - Jim Lobe article
Another typical fortnight in Iraq:
28 Jan: Sunday: 452 Iraqis, 5 GIs Killed; 182 Iraqis Injured; US Helicopter Shot Down
29 Jan: Monday: 92 Iraqis Killed, 95 Wounded
30 Jan: Tuesday: 128 Iraqis, 2 GIs Killed; 270 Iraqis Wounded
31 Jan: Wednesday: 273 Iraqis, 5 GIs Killed; 72 Iraqis Injured
1 Feb: Thursday: 138 Iraqis, 1 GI Killed; 205 Iraqis Wounded
2 Feb: Friday: 104 Iraqis, 8 GIs Killed; 22 Iraqis Injured
3 Feb: Saturday: 210 Iraqis, 5 GIs Killed; 418 Iraqis Wounded
4 Feb: Sunday: 113 Iraqis, 1 GI Killed; 125 Iraqis Wounded
5 Feb: Monday: 83 Iraqis, 2 GIs, 1 Briton Killed; 136 Iraqis Wounded
6 Feb: Tuesday: 64 Iraqis, 3 GIs Killed; 55 Iraqis Wounded
7 Feb: Wednesday: 86 Iraqis, 8 GIs, 1 Pole Killed; 64 Iraqis, 3 Poles Wounded
8 Feb: Thursday: 212 Iraqis, 4 Marines Killed; 123 Iraqis Wounded
9 Feb: Friday: 3 GIs, 1 Briton, 35 Iraqis Killed; 54 Iraqis Wounded
10 Feb: Saturday: 3 GIs, 25 Iraqis Killed; 4 GIs, 38 Iraqis Wounded
It is good to see the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking out and getting into trouble with the UK government about the Middle East even if the majority of Brits think that religion does more harm than good. The Archbishop is touring the Holy Land with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster - an important gesture of religious solidarity. However, elsewhere, I see that several parishes in the American state of Virginia have seceeded from the Anglican Communion over the issue of attitudes to homosexuality. Rowan Williams does not have an easy job.
The eyes of the world focus upon the Middle East because of the dependency of modern lifestyles upon oil. However, for Europe, Russian gas is just as important as Gulf oil and a great deal is at stake over the question of whether the EU can learn to speak with one voice in its overseas relations as well as in the shaky state of Russian society and politics. The gas pipelines from Russia are one of Europe's vital sources of supply and this dependency generates many dangers. Transiting into a new type of economy that was less fossil fuel dependent would avert many all too predictable potential disasters for the human race.
This item reflects upon the after effect of the Lebanon War, the present situation in Iraq and the wider implications
There are Sunday papers in the common room. The Lebanon war goes on. The pound is rising and the dollar falling - as a Brit in N. America I am getting richer. Actually the vulnerability of the US economy given the vast extent of its deficits is an important hidden factor in current affairs. If the descent of the dollar escalates there will be a formidable international monetary crisis and really it seems only a matter of time before it happens. America has got used to living on tick and those who underwrite it - like China - cannot afford to stop playing the game because they now hold so many dollars that they cannot afford to see become worthless. The whole thing is madness, however. For the US to get out of deficit would require unthinkable economic and political shifts here but for it not to do so is like being on a slippery slope. Sooner or later balance will be lost and all will come crashing down.
"We either die by the Americans, the insurgents in the name of jihad, the security companies, which kill you and leave you laying in the street, the Iraqi police or...the death squads. Three years after the American invasion of Iraq, I have only one wish. I do not want democracy, food, electricity and water. I just do not want to die." - Laith Muhammad, an Iraqi student.
"The toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime was worth everything. I have never felt as free to speak any day in my life as today. If George Bush did anything good, it was toppling Saddam Hussein. I am not pessimistic. But I'm upset, because the war and the occupation, which could have led to a new situation in Iraq, were squandered by the stupid mistakes committed by the American administration and military and the U.S. representatives in Iraq." - Fakhri Fikry Kareem, owner and pu
REUTERS: The top diplomats from Russia and the United States exposed their countries' widening rift on Tuesday, publicly airing disagreements over how to curb Iran's nuclear programs and other issues, such as trade and democracy. This month, Russia undercut America's drive to isolate Hamas by hosting the militant group in Moscow following its victory in Palestinian elections.
INDEPENDENT: Millions of women around the world, including those in the UK and other Western countries, are being denied effective representation because of the low numbers of female politicians, judges and employers, the United Nations has warned. Campaigners say that unless urgent action is taken on the status of women, the Millennium Development Goals on reducing poverty, infant deaths and standards of education will not be met.
I can't help agreeing with Neal Acherson that a lot of things seem to be going backwards at the moment. We went though all that struggle in the Cold War to assert the importance of values - like not torturing people - that now seem to be on the slide. Kali Yuga means dark age. It is a recurring theme in Buddhism - a time when true values are lost from the world. Who will keep a little light burning if the mighty descend into barbarism around us? Here is he latest horror story from Guantanamo Bay.
The American commitment to promoting democracy in the Middle East seems only to extend to those democracies that elect pro-American governments and seems to exempt the non-democratic ones that are pro-American. How can the USA be pro-democracy, support the House of Saud and oppose the freely elected govenment of Palestine? Ramzy Baroud offers an interesting analysis of the Palestine situation and its implications.
The global scientific body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has let it be known that its next report will, for the first time, definitively declare that it is human activity that is responsible for the simultaneous changes in sea ice, glaciers, droughts, floods, ecosystems, ocean acidification and wildlife migration that are currently taking place.
Last night Saddam Hussein appeared on our TV screens on prime time news saying, "I was responsible." Some people are now very happy that they will almost certainly get the opportunity to see that he is killed. However, it is not seemly to gloat over death. Even when the person who is killed has killed many others, it behoves us as Dharma farers to eschew killing. Those who haverelatives killed on Saddam's orders are surely to be excused from feeling some satisfaction, but those who are simply political foes or on-lookers only demean themselves by gloating. Their turn may yet come.
The trial of Sadam is a little bizarre. It is like bringing a medieval monarch before an modern jury. Many other monarchs have been equally ruthless and some are still counted as heroes. There are some in the history of Tibet that are still counted as incarnations of Chanresig. Gengis is still a national hero in Mongolia. The demeanor of a man leaves an impression. There is a serious possibility that when people look back on these things, Saddam will not be without admirers.
Here is my solution: Saddam and GWB should be sent to a small island together. There they can live out their retirement swaping stories and, maybe, play draughts together... oh, yes, and take it in turns to do the cooking.
GENEVA (Reuters) - Sri Lankan officials and top Tamil Tiger rebels began talks on Wednesday aimed at shoring up a ceasefire and halting a slide back to war but a mediator said confidence between the sides was low.
Get ready for worst drought in 75 years
Hydrologists and ecologists warn that many of Britain's best-loved trees could die off. "Trees and plants will be very vulnerable over the next months," said Richard Harding, of the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, adding that the risk of forest fires would also increase. "The rainfall from November until earlier this month was the lowest in 40 to 50 years [across England] and in the south-east there has been nothing as bad since the 1930s," said Terry Marsh, a senior hydrologist at the centre. "The recent rain has been welcome, and ground water levels are now rising belatedly, but from a very low level. There are rivers where levels are still lower than in 1976."