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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Murder in Moscow.

As soon as Nemtsov was reported dead I knew the news would take it up as a fresh charge against the Putin regime. People are right to be suspicious given the circumstances, the background and the record of assassination in Vladimir's motherland:

Imagine if armed thugs assassinated John Boehner, the Republican speaker of America’s House of representatives, in front of the White House. Though nowhere near as sympathetic a character as Nemtsov, few would have difficulty pointing their fingers at the White House. That Putin is responsible should thus not be subject to question. But, Russia being what it is, no one can be 100% sure. The authoritarian consensus is that strong. 
It’s probably the most significant killing in the former USSR since Anna Politkovskaya was shot on Putin’s birthday almost a decade ago. Five men have since been convicted of Politkovskaya’s murder, but the questions around who ordered her death predictably remain. It is plausible Politkovskaya was murdered on orders from Ramzan Kadyrov, the thug who keeps Chechnya under Putin’s thumb, especially as three of the convicted are Chechen men. Whether or not Putin had any foreknowledge of the killing has yet to be confirmed or disconfirmed. Undoubtedly, it was convenient for a critic of Russia’s aggression towards Chechnya to be silenced. 
Following Nemtsov’s demise, the Russian government moved quickly to condemn his muder. The authorities have since suggested that the killing was a ‘provocation’ timed to undermine Putin, and are even investigating the possible role of Islamists, as Nemtsov was ethnically Jewish. Never mind that he was a convert to Russian Orthodoxy. The fact that Nemtsov was a critic of Putin has been rightly emphasised by Russian opposition figures, and Western media. Meanwhile RT has been predictably attacking Western media for its coverage of the killing. This is far from over.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

What does an honourable Tory look like?

I've always enjoyed the work of columnist and commentator Peter Oborne since first discovering his tirades against the oleaginous Tony Blair. So I was somewhat surprised to hear that he had resigned his position at the Telegraph, itself the flagship of media Toryism, where as its chief political commentator he had provided mild-mannered and sober reflections for many years.

Not so much a fulminating reactionary, Peter Oborne is an honourable conservative fellow and embodies the best of moralism. You know he means it when he's indignant with rage at political corruption, cronyism and opportunism, the three characteristics of our trilateral consensus, precisely because he's polite by nature. Compare this to Peter Hitchens, the chief fulminator, who does adhere to difficult principles and abhors the party system as it is. What's the difference? The little Hitch is a drama queen, who smells rot everywhere, whereas Oborne assumes the best of people (which isn't always an advantage).

Unlike the Daily Mail herd of scabrous journos, Oborne has kept his distance from the racist narratives around Muslims, their faith and terrorism. Instead of partaking in slanders against the Muslim community, Oborne embraces multiculturalism and tolerance, while at the same time, he condemns homophobia and other forms of bigotry. He's been willing to share platforms with Leftists on these very issues standing with the prickly George Galloway, whom he defended against a ghastly assault, as well as Charlie Brooker and Mehdi Hasan. He was one of the few commentators to argue that the London riots were a sign of a society increasingly polarised by a wealth gap. But this isn't the only instance.

On more than one occasion, Peter Oborne has eloquently raised the question of Palestinian statehood and the rights of its dispossessed people. He has not been afraid to criticise Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, and he has done so at the leading conservative newspaper. He's even dared to slam the pro-Israel lobby and its dealings with British politicians, particularly the Conservatives. Oborne may assume the best, but he's not going to pretend he doesn't see wrongdoing by his side. This is a great public service on his part.

Not enough liberals, let alone conservatives, have the brains or the guts to take a stand on the issue of Palestine. So the decision to resign can only be seen as another instance of this integrity. It only reaffirms and consolidates his record.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Trade versus democracy.

The debate on the European Union is largely framed in terms of immigration policy and outrage around vague legislation drawn up in Brussels and imposed on the rest of us. In actuality, the worst aspects of the EU project can't even be discussed - namely the free trade agreement to integrate European and American markets. It puts the welfare states of Europe directly in the firing line of corporate power. Here's an excerpt from my article at Souciant:

The most heavily-criticized part of TTIP is what is referred ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) which empowers companies to sue national governments when their profit-making is threatened by legislation. As its critics have argued, such a mechanism would specifically discourage regulatory practices, and guard against shifts towards progressive tax rates.  It would also further entrench the economic reforms of the last four decades, and raise international obstacles to any government looking to change course. The reason why it isn’t critically discussed in debates like that which took place between Clegg and Farage, is that TTIP is considered to be a fait accompli amongst Britain’s main political parties. Fiscal neoliberals, they all agree on the necessity of economic union with the United States. 
Tellingly, another side of this consensus is support for American-style health care privatization. The Health and Social Care act (2012) allows 70% of NHS contracts to be farmed out to private companies. TTIP will extend this, not just to British companies, which is bad enough, but to US companies seeking to enter the UK healthcare market. At the same time, the Cameron government has underfunded the NHS by increasing funding at 1%, while the costs of the health system rise at a much higher rate. Of course, the current coalition has spent £3 billion on a bureaucratic overhaul to ‘devolve’ power to the doctors.