December 31, 2004

New Year's Resolutions

In no particular order, Maggie's Pants resolves to do the following in 2005:

December 29, 2004

Where's Blair? Still On Holiday!

Suntan Tony cares more about his holiday than doing his jobPerhaps it's too much to ask - after all the Indian Ocean Tsunami is only one the of the biggest natural disasters to hit the world in the last century - but where's Tony Blair when some real leadership is needed? I'll tell you where; still on holiday in Egypt. So while 75,000 lie dead with as many again predicted to be found buried below the rubble, and more than 5m now homeless, Tony tops up his suntan. It was only today - four days after the wave struck - that our Tony could even be bothered to issue a predictable, boring statement. Forget the platitudes Tony, what we need is action. The scale of the disaster is such that Blair should be back at Number 10, and now. A co-ordinated multi-nation aid effort with significant resources put behind it needs to be put in place. I don't expect Tony to be manning the helicopters or lifting boxes but symbolic leadership is important. Tony has failed hugely in that task. Whereas Tony was all too keen to appear before the camera's moments after 9/11 to stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" with America, when the world's poorest people are struck down he's nowhere to be seen. Shame on you Tony.

It's All About The Cash

The devastating affects of the earthquake enduced TsnamiThere's something truly sickening about the condescending 'relief' efforts that rich, powerful Western nations mount whenever a natural disaster hits a poor part of the world. Contrast the billions spent on the fraudulent 'War on Terror' and Iraq invasion with the paltry, insulting, shameful amounts pledged to the people deeply affected by the Boxing Day Asian Earthquake. As many as 100,000 are thought to be dead and 5m made homeless. Disease and poverty could kill as many again. Although human suffering is not accurately measured in numbers of dead, it puts the scale of disaster into perspective if we think that more than fifty times as many are likely to be dead as perished on 9/11 and we know what response that brought. As Tim Ireland so rightly points out, the amount pledged by US in relief aid - around $35m - is about the same as is due to be spent on President Bush's inauguration. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if some of that aid isn't tied to weapons contracts or more 'liberal' trade agreements so odious is the current US administration. The UK are no better - Trade and Development Secretary Hilary Benn went on C4 News last night to argue that the £400k pledged by the UK government was sufficient and that it isn't really about the money. Yes, yes it is - it is about the money Hilary.

December 26, 2004

Maggie's Pants Alternative Winter Festival and New Year Message

It is not an exaggeration to say that we are at a crossroads in the long arc of history. In years to come how will we view this current decade; will it be seen an era of conflict precipitated by radicalisation of religion and government or perhaps, as our leaders tell us, an era where the 'beacon of democracy and peace' will spread throughout the Middle East and the World?

There is no doubt that some momentous events have taken place in the last few years alone; 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the building of the Israeli 'Security Wall', the global political shift to the right, the deaths of Yasser Arafat and Pim Fortuyn, big government replaced by bigger corruption, the perception of rising crime, our crumbling health, transport education systems, the calcification of the housing and industrial markets and rising oil prices to name but a few. Many of these events and the reaction that they have provoked in both political leaders and their people have contributed to a growing sense of fear and foreboding. Sometimes it is fear of the unknown; crime and economic failure; but more often is it fear of what we think we know: radical Islam.

At this time of war, instability and fear what we need from our 'leaders' - those politicians in Whitehall, The Hill, Paris, Berlin and around the world - is a sense of perspective and collective responsibility. At no time since the second world war have the people of 'Western' democracies apparently been under greater threat. Fundamentalists, we're told, are building dirty radiological bombs as we speak and are prepared to unleash them on the God fearing Judao-Christian populations of the world to devastating effect. At the same time we hear every day how yobs and criminals run our streets; murdering, stealing and abusing our asylum and benefits systems.

Yet that threat has been met with overwhelming force - military conflict, the suspension of human and civil rights, and the demonisation of those seeking refuge and asylum. 50 years ago a similar process was taking place. The people to be feared were grey, mysterious mandarins in a far off land but were similarly zealous in their wish to take over the world, end freedom and change our way of life. It wasn't true about a failing Soviet Union then and it isn't true about today's demon either - Islam.

America's reaction to 9/11 was as wayward as it was swift and brutal; history tells us that nothing less was to be expected. Yet something fundamental also took place at that time. A right-wing zealous religious fundamentalist US government was followed by many whom were once thought liberal: Britain, Australia, Spain and much of Eastern Europe. It's no shift in global thinking, less than a dozen nations have sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq but it does represent a trend towards 'western democracies' buying in, on an institutional level, to this climate of fear. And in this climate it falls on the shoulders of opposition parties to call upon government to show restraint and act with a sense of responsibility. Yet in America the Democrats have rarely been weaker, in the UK the Conservatives rarely more acquiescent and in Australia Labor rarely farther from government. Even France has a conservative President, and with the German elections due, Social Democrat Schroeder ought not to count any chickens just yet.

Indeed these are worrying times for the left or anyone who believes in peace and democracy. But they are more worrying for the world. Unless tamed the inevitable course that the current US and UK administrations are taking will see the end of normal freedoms in those countries. Worse still, the 'beacon of democracy', also known as a 7000lb bunker busting bomb, looks set to shine its light on Palestine, Syria, Iran, Jordan and any other country who isn't willing to acquiesce. It's a time for restraint and a time for reflection on the mistakes of the past year. It's also a time when that call seems so very far off.

December 23, 2004

Did Bush Stop Monkeying Around?

It's an insult to great apes reallyA favourable resolution appears to have been reached in the strange case of censorship at New York's Chelsea Market this week. The artist Chris Savido's acrylic painting of George Bush, made up of many little monkeys, was taken down by gallery managers prompting accusations that the gallery was censoring the artist. Fortunately an anonymous donor has paid for the painting to be projected onto a wall at the Holland Tunnel for a month, with hundreds of thousands of people likely to see it. George Bush rarely needs to be ridiculed - he does it so well himself - but this piece certainly hammered home a message. So much so that it wouldn't be a surprise if Republicans (or affiliated groups) hadn't put pressure on the gallery to pull the piece as The White House did with Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11. The attempted censorship is bordering on the pathetic and is totally counter-productive because many thousands more people will now see the painting.

December 22, 2004

No Smoke Without Fire

There may not have been a smoking gun but it's clear from the Budd Report that David Blunkett's grubby little hands were all over Leoncia Casalme's speeded up visa application. What has been proven is that his office asked the immigration service to look at the case. The service then offered "no special favours but a slightly faster process" - 19 days rather than 150 odd. What has not been proven is that Blunkett asked for this to be done himself. Yet, what other conclusion can be reached? Ludicrously it has even been suggested in the media (briefed by number 10 no doubt) that the letter from the immigration service regarding Miss Casalme's visa accidentally made it into Blunkett's official briefcase. According to this tale his office then took it upon themselves in the spirit of kindness to action it with the immigration service - all without the knowledge of Blunkett. Although that is clearly at best nonsense and at worst another Blunkett lie, the key documents that could have proved Blunkett's intentions have mysteriously gone missing. Still, there is enough in this case for the lay voter to come to the conclusion that Blunkett abused his position within the Home Office. While it may not ensure that Blunkett is kept our of the cabinet for long - Tony doesn't care what the crime is for his cronies - it should ensure that he never ever becomes Prime Minister. We can be grateful for that at least. The best may be yet to come as further embarrassing revelations could come from Blunkett's former lover Kimberly Quinn who apparently kept a diary of the three year affair! The heart bleeds for him.

December 21, 2004

Iraq Implodes

24 dead, 19 of them American soldiers, is the latest damning statistic in this brutal and bloody invasion. That's the casualty toll from today's insurgent attack on a US military base in Iraq. To date over 1000 US and 70 British soldiers have been killed, with probably 100,000 or more civilian Iraqis butchered and there is no let up in sight. It's a good job Rummy doesn't sign all the condolence letters as he'd have arthritis by now. We've had the usual rhetoric from the Americans of course - "these people hate freedom", "they're terrorists", "it's good vs evil" and so on. What the American's what address is the core of the problem - the continued occupation, the loss of civilian life and the appalling conditions that most Iraqis face on a daily basis. Elections may help speed the process but Iraq won't be truly free for years, if ever, and the violence will not end in the short term. It certainly won't if the elections are engineered so an American puppet government continues to remain in power. More to the point why are elections right now viable at all? The violence continues just as it did back in April when they were last cancelled and it is very unlikely that the whole population will be allowed to vote at all. Call me a cynic but perhaps it has something to do with the Presidential election now being out of the way?

December 19, 2004

Devil Returns to New Labour

Beelzebub, affectionately known as Alastair Campbell in some circles, is to return to New Labour and play a major role in next year's election campaign. The Dark Lord left his job as Press Secretary to Number 10 and BBC Tormenter in Chief earlier this year to concentrate, primarily, on making a shit load of cash from his autobiography and a lecture tour. Fully wedged up, Campbell is expected to return in the lead-up to May's election. Quite where that leaves his replacement David Hill or the supposed election chief strategist Alan Milburn is anybody's guess.

Perhaps Tony's bum is getting a bit squeaky? While the Tories are as pathetic as ever, they do appear to have found a big stick to hit Labour with: Trust, Trust, Trust. Which makes it all the more strange that Campbell is back in the fold. If there's anyone who epitomises New Labour spin and deceit it's him. Presumably Campbell will not be getting the front of house role that he so desperately wanted towards the end of his tenure at Number 10.

December 18, 2004

Try or Release Belmarsh Inmates

Hands on the wall, bend over, get shaftedIt's official - the detention of 12 inmates at Belmarsh Prison under anti-terrorism legislation without charge, trial or imminent release is a fundamental breach of human rights. That was the judgment of the Law Lords this week and for once they were right. It is critical that somebody, anybody, stands up to the most illiberal, most authoritarian British government since the Dark Ages. The politicisation of arrest and detention is what the government wants but it leads to only one thing - fascism. Too strong a word? Not if you consider that pretty much anybody can be stopped and searched, arrested and then held under anti-terrorism legislation without due cause.

The government argues that breaching a small number of people's human rights is justified as it saves the lives of many others. Really? Where's the evidence and why should we believe them? If there is not enough evidence to prosecute the 12 they should and could be released - MI5 are going to follow, monitor, bug and harass the 12 for the rest of their lives anyway. There's another word for the government's actions - racist. These laws apply only to non-British nationals. Why? Because this government values the lives and human rights of non-British nationals less than they do the indigenous population. The government claims its about security yet we are not at war and there is no imminent threat - certainly no more so than when the IRA were blowing up buildings in London. Internment and the violation of personal freedoms is only justified under the most extreme circumstances and life in Britain today is far from that.

December 16, 2004

Blunkett Goes Tears Shed

Yeah right - be gone you devil and don't come back! While there is of course some sympathy that Blunkett has been caught in a carefully arranged sting - designed by a vindictive ex-lover who is attempting to deny him access to what he sees as his children - he has gone, fundamentally, because he abused his power and then lied about it. It's pretty clear cut unless we are to believe that Blunkett's staff simply took it upon themselves to fast-track the visa application in question, without any prompting from Blunkett. They did not, of course, and Blunkett had to go shamed and humiliated. It's a huge blow to Tony Blair - not only because his government's integrity has once again be questioned but also because Blunkett was his closest ally in the cabinet. I hate to use the word sleaze - but didn't the Tories use to be the party who abused their positions for personal gain?

December 14, 2004

The Good, The Bad and the NHS

Madeleine Ella
The lack of posting over the last week has been due to the birth of my baby daughter Madeleine Ella. She arrived safe and well on Thursday night weighing in at healthy but average 7lbs and 3 ounces - she's very pretty I'm sure you'll agree! Going through the process of pregnancy and birth with my partner certainly brings out many of the great things that the NHS does for the people of Britain, and also many of its faults. At times we have been indebted to the skill and dedication of NHS staff but also felt frustrated that all too often we were treated as a burden and an irritant, not as a customer. We've seen the best of modern health care provided in what can only be described (on occasions) as third world sanitation standards. We've also seen the best and worst of people - for every 'angel' there's someone who'd rather be having a chat than attending to a patient in need. The NHS is what it is because of it's people, not solely the amount of money spent on new drugs or technology. I am grateful for the medical care we have received and thank the NHS for that, but as a result I am more acutely aware than ever that the service is a long way from being what it should and could be.

December 08, 2004

America's Strange Views on Sex

I worry that neo-conservative views on sex and marriage are breading an American nation of sexually frustrated, ignorant people with some seriously screwed up attitudes towards a very natural process. Amongst the nonsense and lies being peddled by the Bush regime to the tune of $170 a year:

  • HIV can be contracted through sweat
  • Touching genitals can result in pregnancy
  • Condoms spread and increase the risk of HIV
  • A 43 day old feotus is a thinking person
  • Abortion leads to sterility
  • Half of the gay population of America has AIDS
All lies of course but it follows the neo-conservative Christian fundamentalist doctrine that Bush has so wholly subscribed too. With an average age of marriage around 30 for men and in the late 20s for women, people will never abstain permanently from sex before marriage and why should they? The worst aspect of these programmes is that the Bush regime are using taxpayers dollars to fund programmes that so obviously peddle lies in order to promote their own moral beliefs. What next, funding to promote the stoning of homosexuals? I wouldn't put anything past this regime. Even more insidious are the similar programmes funded in Africa and the Third World that have replaced traditional aid. Instead of teaching sex education and offering AIDS drugs and condoms as part of overseas aid budgets, the Bush administration is helping spread that killer disease by spinning against the use of contraception. The policy is almost certainly causing not preventing deaths in the Third World. Indeed on American soil the policy is equally destructive - there has been early evidence that incidences of teenage pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases amongst America's young are increasing as a result of Bush's programmes. First America, then the world. Infecting them one step at a time!

DUP Block Deal Yet Again

It seems, yet again, that no definitive agreement on power sharing has been reached between the parties in Northern Ireland. The problem: decommissioning of IRA weapons and how to prove that it has taken place. All parties appear to have agreed that decommissioning will take place and even gone as far as discussing independent witnesses. Indeed, all the deal appears to be sticking on is whether photographs will be taken of the decommissioning process. DUP leader Ian Paisley suggested that photographs would be a "punishment" for the IRA. Sinn Fein stated that the IRA would never be humiliated. And that was that - impasses and nobody will budge. It seems that as in the past it is the DUP that is blocking the process by making demands they know will not and cannot be met by the Republican side. Indeed, one wonders sometimes if the DUP actually want a power-sharing arrangement at all such is their obstinance. A decade ago the IRA were still planting bombs in London, and the Republic of Ireland continued to lay claim to rightful ownership of the North. Times have changed and all parties must move on from their sectarian partizanship - it is in everybody's interest that a peaceful democratic agreement is made.

December 07, 2004

Give Kofi A Break

The current US administration have never respected any international bodies let alone the UN but now it seems that the State Department is deliberately targeting the Secretary General Kofi Annan - the aim: his resignation. The campaign, which closely resembles a lynch mob, centres on allegations that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein siphoned off money from the UN Oil-For-Food programme for his own gains. The investigation is ongoing and it seems that either the US neo-conservatives have already made up their mind (probable) and/or are attempting to destabilise the UN ahead of the reports publication (definite). While there is no suggest that the Secretary General knew or overlooked large scale fraud there is a battle going on for the future of the UN. The neo-cons in the Bush regime at best see the UN as an irritant blocking their path to total hegemony over the world, and at worst as completely irrelevant. They (and the British government) have already been caught bugging Annan's office, as Claire Short so amusingly confessed. The UN has its faults of course - any organisation of that scale would. Its failure to act decisively in Kosovo, Rwanda and now Darfur have costs hundreds of thousands of lives. If the UN is not to be a glorified talking shop, it has to be strong. Yet that is exactly what America does not want right now. The earth is a small planet and George Bush, it seems, doesn't think it's big enough for the US and the UN.

December 06, 2004

Blair Meets Unelected Warmonger

... and for once it's not President Bush but the world's favourite Military Dictator; General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan! Our best buddy Musharraf has kindly been chasing those pesky al-Queda boys all over the mountains of Pakistan for the past three years. The fact that the odd goat-herder has been shot dead or carted off to Guantanamo to rot for an eternity, or that Musharraf took control of Pakistan in a coup and then declared himself President are just irritating diversions for Tony and George. Or perhaps that explains why the General has been so keen to help the West, despite the almost daily attempts on his life by his own people. Even so, that still makes him more popular than Tony Blair. I digress! The two leaders exchanged the usual pleasantries today; Musharraf demanded that Blair get tough on the causes of terrorism, Blair pledged to do something about Israel/Palestine. All very pleasant and utterly useless until one or both of them makes a radical change of direction and says no to George Bush.

December 05, 2004

Torture 'Evidence' To Be Used

US Troops transport detanees under the Stars and StripesUS Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle said this week that 'evidence' gained through use of torture can be used against the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The comments came at a U.S. District Court hearing where some of the detainees have filed lawsuits challenging their continuing detention. Not that it'll do any good; people at the highest levels of government consider the detainees to have no legal rights either in the US or under international law. Hence the continued detention without trial or access to lawyers, and the use of torture to gain 'evidence'. Not that the US doesn't uses torture of course; electrodes on the genitals, stress positions, beatings, bags over the head, sexual humiliation, and the use of attack dogs on restrained detainees are all "legitimate forms of interrogation"!

I suspect that what has been uncovered so far - images from Abu Graib and anecdotal evidence from Guantanamo detainees - are just the tip of the torture iceberg. So desperate is the US military to root out the 'terrorists' that they have lost all sight of their real objective, which is the protection of US citizens. Instead the powers that be have become radicalised themselves and are willing to stoop to new lows in order to "win" this mythical war on terror. In any case, what use is evidence gained under torture? I'm quite sure that a man will confess to almost anything when 500 volts are coursing through his testicles. Indeed, it probably doesn't really matter to the current administration if the detainees are really terrorists or not, so long as somebody is branded as such, found guilty and then locked up forever.

December 02, 2004

Blunkett 4 Justice!

Galloway Wins Libel Case

Steve Bell's Cartoon from The Guardian Newspaper
Maggies Pants is no fan of George Galloway per se. I didn't vote for Respect despite being anti-war and think he's got too many skeletons in the closet to be considered a serious politician. However, the smear campaign that greeted his noisy anti-war stance was as disgraceful as it was predictable. The government couldn't shut him up, so they attempted to discredit him. Today Galloway won his libel case against the Telegraph newspaper who accused him of taking money from Saddam Hussein. He has been awarded £150,000 in damages for the "outrageous and incredibly damaging" allegations to boot. Indeed, it was always a difficult case for the Telegraph to win - they never had solid proof, just a mention of Galloway in documents apparently unearthed in Iraq. Indeed, the Telegraph's defence was never that the allegations were provably true but that they had "qualified privilege" in printing them in the first place - that is, they can print untruths as long as it turns out to be in the 'public interest'. Note to tabloid editors: it means to the public's benefit, not that they're 'interested' per se as some of you have laughably tried to argue in recent legal cases. That the Telegraph has lost the case sends a clear message - smear campaigns in issues as serious as he war in Iraq had better be bloody good if they're to work. Indeed, such was the gravity of the error in publishing palpably untrue smears against Galloway - whatever his many faults - it should lead to the resignation of Martin Newland, the Telegraph's editor. It won't, but it should. It's interesting to see that although Telegraph.co.uk have published a factual account of the case result they have removed the offending original article and leader comment. Fortunately for us, Google cache keeps their smears live forever!