Friday, October 30, 2009
Monday, June 01, 2009
Rethinking Economics (and other good reading material)
First, the economy. There are two good articles in today's Guardian on how to reassess our economic ideas in the wake of the financial crash and subsequent depression. Robert H Frank makes a few thought provoking observations on how economic policy can be informed by our understanding of how different elements of human nature and behavioural patters can affect market outcomes. In short, it turns out that the neo-Thatcherite/New Labour ethos of letting personal greed run riot can actually have some quite damaging results. Who knew?
Meanwhile, Larry Elliot laments the dearth of serious heavyweight economists alive in the present day to offer the empirical rather than theoretical analysis that the world economy desperately needs.
Also on economic matters, Alex Kroll gives a good breakdown of how the US financial bailout effectively rewards the authors of the banking crisis, at huge cost to the taxpayer, and in a way that sets the scene for repeated disasters further down the line. Barack Obama shares responsibility for these measures, incidentally. So much for putting the needs of Main Street before the needs of Wall Street.
And so much for new beginnings on US foreign policy. Tom Englehardt sets out here the ways in which the Obama White House is transplanting many of the worst crimes and misjudgements of the Bush era onto America's new "Af-Pak" (Afghanistan-Pakistan) war. Extrajudicial executions? Aerial bombing causing massive civilian casualties which in turn breeds further extremism? How many of those who voted for Obama signed up for more of this?
There does appear to be some small movement however on the Israeli-Palestinian question, with the Obama White House making US support for Israeli colonialism less than totally unequivocal as compared to the Bush approach. The changes in policy are actually fairly minor. Instead of mumbling that Israel's expansion of its illegal settlements on colonised Palestinian land is "unhelpful", and then continuing to fund it anyway, Obama and his administration are now saying strongly that expansion must cease. That's something. But note that we've yet to see what action the new White House is prepared to take to enforce this, if it comes to it, and note also that the problem is the extent of existing settlements, not merely the possibility that they might grow further. The existing settlements already preclude the viability of a Palestinian state, taking as they do the best land on the West Bank and cutting off East Jerusalem, the beating heart of Palestinian economic, religious and cultural life, from the other Palestinian population centres. These settlements are in any case 100 per cent illegal and allowing any of them to remain would be to reward aggression and theft on the international stage. Obama therefore has barely begun to deal with this issue properly, and nor can we assume that he will. But even so, these small moves have sent Israeli leaders into paroxysms, like spoilt children who suddenly realise the game is up. This dispite the fact that in reality, Israel is not being asked to concede anything that is more than symbolic, which in itself gives you a sense of the warped relationship of dependency and indulgence that it has with the US. Rami Khouri of Lebanon's Daily Star gives a fair assessment of the situation here. And in recent weeks I've also been enjoying the blog Mondoweiss, which gives a sensitive and intelligent account of the issue from a liberal Jewish-American perspective. That's updated at least once daily, and its a good way of following debates on the US-Israeli relationship.
Closer to home, Gareth Peirce writes in the London Review of Books on New Labour's complicity in torture under the war on terror. This unsettling article lays bare an altogether sinister side to the way our country is governed. If you think ID cards are a sign of creeping authoritarianism, Peirce's article will rather put that in perspective. Her earlier article on the severe pressures facing British Muslims in the current climate is a good companion piece.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald is producing a new documentary on the Afghanistan War and releasing it on-line. Here's the website where you can view the film, and access a wealth of information on the war - a fantastic resource.
Meanwhile over at TomDispatch, Tom Engelhardt reminds us that there's a bigger question to ask about the Afghanistan War than the tactical one of "can we win or not?" - i.e. the moral question of whether, in the interests of our security, its legitimate to destroy the security of others. The equivalent of several 9/11s-worth of innocent Afghan civilians have been killed since the invasion of 2001; the UN tallies 828 as killed by Western forces last year alone, in what is likely to be a serious underestimate. The US-NATO habit of applying massive firepower from the air is bound to cause extensive civilian casualties, and also as a result drive more enraged Afghans into the arms of the insurgency, and perhaps al-Qaeda itself.
In The Nation, Nick Turse reminds us that such scenarios are not new in imperial wars of pacification, with his award-winning exposé on Vietnam's "Operation Speedy Express"; an offensive which saw grotesque levels of civilian slaughter at the hands of the US military. Methods may have changed over the past 40 years, but the basic dynamics of powerful nations imposing their will on smaller ones through the application of mechanised violence remain essentially intact. We'd do well to remember that next time we're tempted to think of Afghanistan, in contrast to Iraq, as "The Good War".
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The perfect Muslim
He raises his daughters to be assertive: they can wear whatever they want so long as it's not a headscarf. He believes in free speech and the right to cause offence but understands that he has neither the right to be offended nor to speak out. Whatever an extremist is, on any given day, he is not it.
He regards himself as British - first, foremost and for ever. But whenever a bomb goes off he will happily answer for Islam. Even as he defends Britain's right to bomb and invade he will explain that Islam is a peaceful religion. Always prepared to condemn other Muslims and supportive of the government, he has credibility in his community not because he represents its interests to the government, but because he represents the government's interests to Muslims. He uses that credibility to preach restraint and good behaviour. Whatever a moderate is, on any given day, he is it."
Gary Younge - Where will we find the perfect Muslim for monocultural Britain? - Guardian, 30 March 2009
Friday, December 12, 2008
Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan
I did promise a proper in-depth analysis of my own on the new President, but time hasn't allowed it yet. Will definitely try and get something together for the inaugration though.