Tuesday 30 November 2010

Happy Saint Andrew's Day

There should be a public holiday throughout the United Kingdom today, and on Saint George's Day, Saint David's Day and Saint Patrick's Day. Three fall in these Islands' incomparable Spring and early Summer, while the fourth, today, would preclude any Christmas anything until it was out of the way. Away with pointless celebrations of the mere fact that the banks are on holiday. If we had proper holidays, as in other countries, then everyone, even shop workers and distribution drivers, would have those days off, as in other countries.

But pity poor Sir Kenneth Calman, never exactly everyone's flavour of the month at Durham, but always very kind and civil to me. The launch of proposals based on his Report is deemed less newsworthy than the weather. An apparently never-ending war, a global economic crisis, Korea, the collapse of Irish independence (never an economic, strategic or cultural reality) after fewer than 90 years: how very Noughties his ideas now seem, and indeed are.

In any case, the last thing that David Cameron needs is another fight with his own right wing. Support for Calman within the Labour Party comes from people whom Ed Miliband has scarcely met, who have at best a chequered record at winning the elections that they contest, and who would have no votes on any legislation in this vein, whereas visceral opposition comes from people whom he has known for years, whom he sees every working day, who would have votes on any such legislation, and who have this year demonstrated that they are electorally irremovable, now to the point of outright dynasticism in some cases, of which expect plenty more in the years to come.

As for the Lib Dems, they are in enough trouble already without prodding the sleeping dog that is the heavy Scottishness of their parliamentary party, many of whom, up to and including one of the most prominent Lib Dems in the country, were only ever even mildly keen on devolution (or the EU) when they assumed that they would never be in a position at Westminster to deliver on their local communitarian populism and their single-issue campaigns, and in any case often sit for areas where the vote for it was relatively low. To their contingent at Holyrood, Cabinet Ministers could and would reasonably turn round and say, "Who are you?" Even in Scotland, would anyone know the answer to that one?

Happy Saint Andrew's Day, indeed.

Back At Them

When will the one-sided extradition arrangements with the United States be repealed? Do the Lib Dems believe in liberty, or not? Do the Conservatives believe in national sovereignty, or not?

The Other Side of the World

If China has no interest in defending North Korea, then why do the swivel-eyed old Trots have any interest in attacking North Korea?

Drinking Up Time

The beers that are almost as strong as liqueurs are already almost as expensive, and it is hardly as if 17-year-olds stand on street corners and swig half a dozen or more bottles of them apiece in an evening. They wouldn't like the taste. Are you seeing the real point here?

But there are beers as low as, or even lower than, 2.8%? What on earth for? Why not have a really nice up of tea instead? It would taste a very great deal better.

Mind you, at the moment, I'll be lucky ever again to taste alcohol. I have become a walking medicine cabinet, but it is doing nothing about the pain. Perhaps I need a 7.5% bottle of beer?

Terrorism Against Iran

Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan write:

Tehran today accused the west and Israel of dispatching a hit squad against its atomic programme, after an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed and another injured in co-ordinated attacks. The attackers rode up on motorcycles and stuck bombs to the windows of the scientists' cars as they were leaving their homes in Tehran on the way to work. Seconds later the bombs detonated.

One bomb killed Majid Shahriar, of the nuclear engineering faculty at the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. His wife was in the car with him and was wounded. The second bomb injured Fereidoun Abbasi, 52, a nuclear physicist and professor at Shahid Besheshti, and also injured his wife. Both men were senior figures in nuclear research. Abbasi, a former Revolutionary Guard, is named in a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran as working in banned nuclear activities with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the scientist accused by western governments of running a secret nuclear weapons programme.

Shahriari had no known links to banned nuclear work, but was highly regarded in his field. He co-authored an academic paper on fission in nuclear reactors with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation. An Iranian news website said he was designing a "new generation of theoretical nuclear reactors". The attacks were similar to the assassination in January of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, an expert on particle physics, killed by a remote-control bomb strapped to a motorcycle as he was leaving his Tehran home on his way to work.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, blamed "western governments and the Zionist regime" for the attacks. Both the US and Israel are reported to be conducting covert operations aimed at slowing Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes but which western governments say is a cover for developing a nuclear warhead. Earlier this year a computer worm, Stuxnet, hit computers around the world but appeared to affect Iranian industrial plant disproportionately, particularly in the nuclear programme. Today, for the first time, Ahmadinejad admitted the worm had affected Iran's uranium enrichment. "They succeeded in creating problems for a limited number of our centrifuges with the software they had installed in electronic parts," the president said. "They did a bad thing. Fortunately our experts discovered that, and today they are not able [to do that] anymore."

Last week the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that the main centrifuge plant at Natanz stopped enriching uranium altogether on November 16, and that there had been a steady decline in functioning centrifuges over the year. Nuclear experts said it was unclear what caused the problems, and speculated it could be a mix of design faults and sabotage. Other possible suspects include a Sunni rebel group, Jundullah, which today broadcast a video confession of a man it described as a nuclear worker, who admitted the existence of an Iranian weapons programme. There was no immediate way of authenticating the video, and Jundullah made no claims of responsibility for today's bomb attacks. The People's Mujahedin group has also been blamed by the Iranian government for terrorist incidents in the past, but has claimed in recent years to be pursuing a non-violent path for change in Iran.

Opposition Iranian bloggers were today debating the possibility that the killings were the work of the Revolutionary Guards or the state security services, with the aim of punishing the giving-away of secrets, or of preventing defections. However, there was no evidence to justify any such theory, or explain why Tehran would kill valued academics in this manner, rather than detain them or move them to the guarded compounds on which many Iranian nuclear specialists work, minded by bodyguards.

The attacks have come at a tense time, as the international community ramps up economic sanctions against Tehran, and with the possibility of an Israeli military attack hanging over the nuclear programme. US diplomatic cables leaked this week revealed that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had repeatedly urged the United States to mount such a military attack. Iranian officials are due to meet with diplomats from six major powers on Sunday, but there has not yet been agreement on whether the meeting should take place in Turkey (as Tehran wants) or in Switzerland. The meeting would discuss Iran's nuclear programme and a range of other regional security and economic issues.

Who targeted the scientists?

Israel The country is pursuing covert operations aimed at hobbling Iran's nuclear programme, as a less costly alternative to mounting a full-scale military attack. Israeli officials admit that such operations are in progress but they give no detail. Israel is widely believed to be responsible for the Stuxnet computer worm that caused problems for the Iranian uranium enrichment programme. The country also has a record of using assassination as a weapon in what it regards as vital national interests.

United States George Bush, when he was president, ordered a covert programme to sabotage Iran's nuclear ambitions, and that mission is still believed to be under way. Targeted killings have been approved against terrorist targets, but the revelation that a US-backed hit squad was killing civilian scientists would be immensely damaging to the administration.

Jundullah The "Soldiers of God", a Iranian Sunni group based in Iranian Baluchistan, has carried out a series of bloody attacks in recent years that have largely been focused on military targets. The group, known as the People's Resistance Movement of Iran, broadcast a video yesterday of a captive who it claims is a worker from a secret nuclear facility. It did not claim responsibility for the morning's attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists.

The People's Mujahedin (MeK or PMOI) This longstanding rebel group carried out several bombings and assassinations in the years following the 1979 revolution, but has more recently presented itself as a non-violent group. It is focusing its efforts on having itself removed from the US state department's list of terrorist organisations.

The War Party has no problem with ghastly dictatorships. It has no problem with Islamists, including in Europe, and indeed in the Iraq where such forces have been unleashed by its actions. And it has no problem with Ba'athists, cheerfully encouraging and assisting the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) that moved during the Iran-Iraq War to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which until its own overthrow in 2003 provided most of the PMOI's money and all of its military assistance.

No, it is not made up of Arabs, and Ba'athism is supposed to be a form of Arab nationalism, founded, like so many such forms, by a Christian. But if there are Russian Nazis, increasingly in Israel because at least they are not Arabs, then there may as well also be Persian Ba'athists. And there are. In fact, in backing both the PMOI and Jundullah, the neocons are backing both the Ba'athists and the Sunni Islamists in relation to the same country. But it is that country. So that's all right, then. Isn't it?

Servant of God

In addition to Fr Ashley Beck's article in the print edition of this week's Catholic Herald, Marianne Medlin writes:

Catholics are honoring the life and work of humanitarian Dorothy Day on Monday, marking the 30th anniversary of the Catholic Worker Movement founder's death. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver noted in comments to CNA that Day was a “radical” in the truest sense of the word, because she was deeply committed to “the Christian vocation.”

Thirty years ago on Nov. 29, 1980, Dorothy Day – the famous 20th century convert known for her tireless work in defending the poor – passed away at the age of 84. Born in Brooklyn and eventually raised in Chicago, she was baptized Episcopalian at the age of 12. She displayed signs at a young age of possessing a deep religious sense, editor-in-chief of CNA David Scott noted in his 2002 book, “Praying in the Presence of Our Lord.” As a young girl, Day fasted and mortified her body by sleeping on hardwood floors. One journal entry from those early years expresses her desire to suffer for the sins of the world.

Her life soon changed as the 1910s brought about a stark shift in the U.S. social climate. Day read Upton Sinclair's scathing depiction of the Chicago meat-packing industry in his book called “The Jungle,” which marked a turning point in her personal ideology. She dropped out of college and moved to New York, where she took a job as a reporter for the country's largest daily socialist paper The Call. After fraternizing with the Bohemians and Socialist intellectuals of her time – and after a series of disastrous romances, one of which included a forced abortion by a man who eventually left her – Day fell in love with an anarchist nature-lover by the name of Forster Batterham.

She eventually settled in Staten Island, living a peaceful, slow-paced life on the beach with Batterham in a common law marriage. Conflict arose, however, when Day became increasingly drawn to the Catholic faith – praying rosaries consistently and even having their daughter, Tamar, baptized as a Catholic. Batterham, a staunch atheist, eventually left them and Day was received into the Catholic Church herself in 1927. She returned to New York City as a single mother where her deep-rooted and long-standing concern for the poor resurfaced. Along with French itinerant Peter Maurin, she founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933. Living the Catholic notion of holy poverty and practicing works of mercy, the two started soup kitchens, self-sustaining farm communities and a daily newspaper. In the course of her 50 years working among the poor and marginalized, Day never took a salary.

Her legacy lives on today in the 185 Catholic Worker communities in the U.S. and around the globe. In 2000, 20 years after her death, then-leader of the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal John O'Connor, submitted Day's cause for canonization to the Vatican. With this approval, she was given the title of Servant of God, which is bestowed on a candidate for sainthood whose cause is still under investigation, prior to beatification.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver marked the occasion of Day's passing 30 years ago by reflecting on her life and work in a Nov. 29 e-mail to CNA. “Like Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day sought to live the Gospel sine glossa – without ‘glosses,’ caveats or exceptions,” he said. “She was radical in the truest sense of the word, committed to the root of the Christian vocation.” Day was also “heroically consistent” in her love for the poor, the infirm and the unborn child, Archbishop Chaput added. “Most importantly, she loved the Church as her mother and teacher, and she refused to ignore or downplay those Catholic teachings that might be inconvenient. At its best, the Catholic Worker movement she founded continues to witness her extraordinary virtues,” he said.

CNA also spoke with Donna Ecker, the co-director of a Catholic Worker community called the Bethany House in Rochester, New York. The community dedicates itself to serving homeless women and children. “Our work is emergency housing, an emergency food cupboard, a clothing room, a drop-in center, a place of worship and volunteer center,” Ecker explained via e-mail. “Although I never personally had the honor of meeting Dorothy, my Uncle and Aunt were the co-founders of St. Joseph's House and good friends of hers.” St. Joseph's House was founded in 1941 and helped give birth to Bethany House in 1978.

Ecker said that the community strives to live out Day's philosophy, noting that the house's sign by the front door states, "Let all guests be received as Christ." When asked what her community had planned in honoring the late humanitarian, Ecker said that in “keeping with the message of social justice in honor of Dorothy,” the weekly liturgical celebration at Bethany House will remember four Catholic women who were murdered during the civil war in El Salvador several decades ago. One missionary lay woman and three religious sisters from the U.S. were brutally killed while attempting to do charity work in the country in 1980. “It is the 30th anniversary of their deaths,” she explained. “Somehow, I think Dorothy would want us to remember them for their courage as we remember her for her strength and tenacity.”

Monday 29 November 2010

The Circling Hawks

I hope that the Israelis and the American neocons are very proud of the company that they are keeping: several of the most repressive, backward, misogynistic, Jew-hating and anti-Christian regimes on earth, with which they have lined up to demand the nuking of an emerging democracy with a high culture, with more women than men at university, and with reserved parliamentary representation for Jews, for Armenians (how different from NATO, and putatively EU, Turkey) and for Assyrians (how different from "liberated" Iraq).

Back Of The Net

Could Panorama cost England the 2018 World Cup? If so, then that really would be public service broadcasting.

Suck On This

I have repeatedly asked what a man on paternity leave was actually supposed to do all day while his child was still being breastfed. And now we know: he is supposed to take the child into his wife's place of employment, so that she may breastfeed at her desk or other work surface.

Reality Check

Wagner out, but Widdy still in. When Strictly Come Dancing started, the ballroom dancing fraternity hated it. Now, perhaps because it has greatly increased popular interest in their sport, they have turned all precious about it. And those people who take pop music terribly seriously have always loathed the genre of which The X Factor is an example. Haven't they?

Saturday 27 November 2010

Ed Miliband's S-Word

Anyone who has ever been active in the Labour Party knows that "Socialism" means nothing more than "whatever the person speaking happens to think". It may mean more than that in other countries or in other languages. But it does not in Britain, at least not when speaking or writing in English.

Major News

There is nothing remarkable about the fact that Margaret Thatcher took Britain into the ERM. She also gave this country the Single European Act, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Children Act, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the replacement of O-levels with GCSEs, and so much else besides.

Nor is it odd for a Conservative former Prime Minister to question the wisdom of "renewing" Trident. Grave doubts about, or outright hostility towards, nuclear weapons was the position of Anthony Head, Peter Thorneycroft, Nigel Birch, Aubrey Jones, George Jellicoe and, above all, Enoch Powell, as well as of figures farther afield such as Dwight D Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and John G Diefenbaker.

However, there is a real story here: undoubtedly acting as an outrider for David Cameron, Sir John Major has joined Francis Maude in saying what we all knew, that the Coalition wants the Coalition to continue even if the Conservative Party manages an overall majority in 2010 (fat chance, but that is not the present point). In so doing, he has made the case for electoral reform.

The Conservative Party has been hoovering up Liberals for a very long time: Liberal Unionists, Liberal Imperialists, National Liberals, Alfred Roberts’s daughter, those around the Institute of Economic Affairs (although its founders and its founding backer, like Roberts, never actually joined), and now the Liberal Democrats. The followers of David Owen, another who has never formally signed up, were in a very similar position; the last of those did not retire from the House of Commons until 2010, having sat as Conservative MP since 1987.

The Conservative Party is itself therefore two parties in one, which would be entirely separate in many other countries, competing hardly at all for the same votes and co-operating hardly at all on any issue of policy. The metropolitan, urban, capitalist, secular, libertarian, make-the-world-anew party has finally defeated and banished the provincial, rural, protectionist, church-based, conservative, mind-our-own-business party. The Whigs have finally defeated and banished the Tories. But in a context of electoral reform, which can only suit the Tories down to the ground.

They are not the only ones.

Profits Will Now Be Put Before Patients

Emigration to America beckons as one reads what Louise Nousratpour writes:

A private company headed by a former banker was chosen to run an entire NHS district general hospital today in an unprecedented step towards a fully privatised US-style health system. Circle - headed by former Goldman Sachs banker Ali Parsa - was named as the recommended bidder to run services at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, by the NHS East of England. It is believed that the operating franchise is the first of its kind for an NHS acute hospital in England.

Announcing the decision NHS East of England director of strategy Dr Stephen Dunn insisted that it was necessary to tackle the hospital's historic £40 million deficit. "This has to be a model for hospitals that face similar challenges nationally," he suggested. But the deal sparked alarm among healthcare professionals. Public-sector union Unison head of health Karen Jennings said: "It is completely unnecessary for a private contractor to take over. The hospital has made enormous progress and turned itself around," she said.

She warned that the decision was "a strong signal of the expanding privatisation of our NHS" as other hospitals in similar financial situation could now be targeted for takeover. "Profits will now be put before patients at Hinchingbrooke Hospital. Merchant banks will reap the rewards while local people will suffer the consequences." Ms Jennings accused the authorities of pricing out NHS providers by running an expensive and complex bidding process. "Hinchingbrooke hospital could have continued to turn itself around. Sadly increasing privatisation in the NHS is the only show in town for the Tories," she said.

And British Medical Association (BMA) chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said there was "no good evidence" that private companies could deliver health services any more effectively than the NHS. "Previous initiatives with the private sector, such as independent-sector treatment centres and the private finance initiative, have often proved to be quite expensive for the NHS," he said. "This is an untested and potentially worrying experiment."

Pressure group Health Emergency chairman Geoff Martin said the Hinchingbrooke Hospital takeover was a "massive step towards a fully privatised US-style system" run solely for private profit. Echoing Ms Jennings's fears he warned that the private sector would seize the oppertunity to exploit the "fiancial chaos" in the NHS to take over other hospitals with dire consequences for the future of health care in Britain. Former NHS boss Mark Britnell recently told Health Investor magazine that "more than 20 organisations could follow Hinchingbrooke's lead in the next 12 months."

Dr Dunn insisted yesterday that the deal was "not privatisation" as Hinchingbrooke would remain an NHS hospital as would its assets and staff contracts. But Mr Martin pointed out that the debt would remain with the NHS, even though it was the excuse for handing over operations to Circle. "It's a one-way ticket to the bank for the private sector where their profits are ring-fenced. By underpinning the cost of the debt, we as taxpayers are sbusidising the break-up by stealth of the NHS that people rely on and believe in."

The contract with Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust will be signed in February next year subject to approvals from the Department of Health, the Treasury and other regulators. NHS East of England said that it anticipated the successful bidder would take over the operation of the hospital from June 2011.


The Cord of Life

With my emphasis added, Matthew Hoffman writes:

Doctors associated with the German umbilical cord blood bank Vita 34 say that they have cured a child’s leukemia completely using an infusion of stem cells from umbilical cord blood. The procedure was reportedly performed in 2005 on a four-year-old girl whose chemotherapy treatment had failed and who had a prognosis of only three months to live. The procedure was possible because the parents had decided to preserve their child’s umbilical cord blood at the time of birth.

After continuous monitoring of the child for five years now, with no sign of leukemia cells in her blood, doctors say that they have confirmed that the treatment worked. “Seventy-five months have passed and we can speak of a cure with certainty,” said Eberhard Lampeter of Vita 34. According to the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, this is the first case in the world of a child cured of leukemia by her own stem cells. In most cases the child’s umbilical cord blood is not available, and the stem cells of close family members must be used.

The new treatment is the latest in a long string of hundreds of successes in the science of stem cell treatments that use mature cells rather than embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cell treatments, which destroy a human life, have never been proven effective in any medical treatment to date. Treatments with mature stem cells do not cause harm to the donor of the cells. Stem cell pioneer Dr. Colin McGuckin recently told LifeSiteNews that, despite amazing success with umbilical cord blood treatments, it remains difficult to obtain funding for research because of the “cult of celebrity” in science, which rewards controversial research over research that is truly effective in saving lives.

“People aren’t talking about cord blood because it’s not controversial,” McGuckin told LSN. “Consequently, it does not make headlines and therefore researchers who want to use the cells from cord blood do not receive funding.”

Friday 26 November 2010

Let There Be Light?

It was a Tory Government, and a very posh one at that, which nationalised electricity in the first place. Dare we hope?

Impostors All Round

Fake Taliban leader meets fake election-winners and the fake liberators behind them.

Germany Calling

The end of the euro was always going to be when Germany withdrew. That was always going to happen at some point. It now draws nearer by the hour.

Alternative Future

Margaret Beckett, David Blunkett, Charlie Falconer, John Prescott, John Reid, Ken Clarke and Steve Norris are among the younger remaining members of their respective political parties. Roll on the electoral reform that they have united to oppose.

Last Pick

I was a very fit child and teenager who was no good at sport. Pencil thin, I even had a primary school teacher who would berate me in front of the class, by no means only in PE lessons, for being overweight. It was beyond me then, and it is beyond me now, why the obvious need for physical exercise had to be met in the form of competitive sport.

As for the lesson usually said to be learned from such activity, has it ever occurred to those who come out with that argument that academic work might have been a more appropriate way of teaching that lesson? After all, it is not at all as if they themselves were the types that they glorify. Politics and the media are not exactly replete with people who look as if they were always picked first for sports teams. Is that how you picture the adolescent Michael Gove?

Yet somehow, even when made a Secretary of State, they remain convinced that they have failed at life because they were not like that, and desperately pretend to cultivate the impression that they must have been, since no one else would possibly wish to inflict the whole process on anyone else. Would they?

The slavering public school commentariat's insistence that school uniforms, of which I am a staunch defender, were given up in state schools some time a generation or so ago (when the Tories were in government and exercising far tighter control over schools than hitherto, but never mind) is totally false in my experience and in that of everyone whom I have ever met. So, too, is the slavering public school commentariat's insistence that competitive sport was given up in state schools some time a generation or so ago (when the Tories were in government and exercising far tighter control over schools than hitherto, but never mind).

What we do all remember, however, is the flogging off of school fields. When the Tories were in government and exercising far tighter control over schools than hitherto. The academies so beloved of Michael Gove, his "free" schools being a proposed form of them, are already being built with no outdoor space whatever, on the grounds that people are there, at those places of business, strictly in order to work. And remember that every school is eventually supposed to become one.

Hammer Home The Case

I have been sent the following:

The Government has regrettably delayed its decision on whether train building will return to the North East until the New Year. This is frustrating for all of us in the region who have been campaigning hard to bring train building back home to the North East.

We need Hitachi to win this contract in order to bring much needed manufacturing jobs to Newton Aycliffe and the region as a whole. During this campaign we have gained written pledges of support from each and every MP in the North East, representing all poliitical parties.

Now we would like you to take 5 minutes to contact your MP - either by letter, email or telephone urge them to write to Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, and explain to him the importance of this initiative for our region's economy.

You can find out who your MP is and how to contact them by entering your postcode here.

We are aiming to get all North East MPs to contact the Minister within the next week to hammer home the case. Please let us know if your MP agrees to write a letter and if possible ask for a copy of it. Then please share your response with us and send it to me at:

Neil Foster, Northern TUC, 39 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6QE or at nfoster@tuc.org.uk

There will be other opportunities for businesses and campaigners to further speak up on this campaign in the coming weeks. Nothing has been rules out yet, but we need a positive announcement as soon as possible.

Thank you in advance,

Neil Foster
Policy and Campaigns Officer, Northern TUC

Why Is America Still In Korea?

Patrick J. Buchanan writes:

This writer was 11 years old when the shocking news came on June 25, 1950, that North Korean armies had crossed the DMZ. Within days, Seoul had fallen. Routed U.S. and Republic of Korea troops were retreating toward an enclave in the southeast corner of the peninsula that came to be known as the Pusan perimeter. In September came Gen. MacArthur’s masterstroke: the Marine landing at Inchon behind enemy lines, the cut-off and collapse of the North Korean Army, recapture of Seoul and the march to the Yalu. “Home by Christmas!” we were all saying.

Then came the mass intervention of a million “volunteers” of the People’s Liberation Army that had, in October 1949, won the civil war against our Nationalist Chinese allies. Suddenly, the U.S. Army and Marines were in headlong retreat south. Seoul fell a second time. There followed a war of attrition, the firing of MacArthur, the repudiation of Harry Truman and his “no-win war,” the election of Ike and, in June 1953, an armistice along the DMZ where the war began.

Fifty-seven years after that armistice, a U.S. carrier task force is steaming toward the Yellow Sea in a show of force after the North fired 80 shells into a South Korean village. We will stand by our Korean allies, says President Obama. And with our security treaty and 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, many on the DMZ, we can do no other. But why, 60 years after the first Korean War, should Americans be the first to die in a second Korean War?

Unlike 1950, South Korea is not an impoverished ex-colony of Japan. She is the largest of all the “Asian tigers,” a nation with twice the population and 40 times the economy of the North. Seoul just hosted the G-20. And there is no Maoist China or Stalinist Soviet Union equipping Pyongyang’s armies. The planes, guns, tanks and ships of the South are far superior in quality. Why, then, are we still in South Korea? Why is this quarrel our quarrel? Why is this war, should it come, America’s war?

High among the reasons we fought in Korea was Japan, then a nation rising from the ashes after half its cities had been reduced to rubble. But, for 50 years now, Japan has had the second largest economy and is among the most advanced nations on earth. Why cannot Japan defend herself? Why does this remain our responsibility, 65 years after MacArthur took the surrender in Tokyo Bay? The Soviet Empire, against which we defended Japan, no longer exists, nor does the Soviet Union. Russia holds the southern Kurils, taken as spoils from World War II, but represents no threat. Indeed, Tokyo is helping develop Russia’s resources in Siberia.

Why, when the Cold War has been over for 20 years, do all these Cold War alliances still exist? Obama has just returned from a Lisbon summit of NATO, an alliance formed in 1949 to defend Western Europe from Soviet tank armies on the other side of the Iron Curtain that threatened to roll to the Channel. Today, that Red Army no longer exists, the captive nations are free, and Russia’s president was in Lisbon as an honored guest of NATO.

Yet we still have tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the same bases they were in when Gen. Eisenhower became supreme allied commander more than 60 years ago. Across Europe, our NATO allies are slashing defense to maintain social safety nets. But Uncle Sam, he soldiers on. We borrow from Europe to defend Europe. We borrow from Japan and China to defend Japan from China. We borrow from the Gulf Arabs to defend the Gulf Arabs.

To broker peace in Palestine, Obama began his presidency with a demand that Israel halt all new construction of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Today, as his price for a one-time-only 90-day freeze on new construction on the West Bank, but not East Jerusalem, “Bibi” Netanyahu is demanding 20 F-35 strike fighters, a U.S. commitment to a Security Council veto of any Palestinian declaration of independence, and assurances the U.S. will support a permanent Israeli presence on the Jordan river. And the Israelis want it all in writing. This, from a client state upon which we have lavished a hundred billion dollars in military aid and defended diplomatically for decades.

How to explain why America behaves as she does? From 1941 to 1989, she played a great heroic role as defender of freedom, sacrificing and serving mankind, a role of which we can be forever proud. But having won that epochal struggle against the evil empire, we found ourselves in a world for which we were unprepared. Now, like an aging athlete, we keep trying to relive the glory days when all the world looked with awe upon us. We can’t let go, because we don’t know what else to do. We live in yesterday—and our rivals look to tomorrow.

Celebrate The Happy Fact

The Western Confucian reproduces the wise words of GKC:

The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England. I know that this is still regarded as a historical heresy, by those who have long ceased to worry about a religious heresy. For while these persons still insist that the Pilgrim Fathers were champions of religious liberty, nothing is more certain than the fact that an ordinary modern liberal, sailing with them, would have found no liberty, and would have intensely disliked all that he found of religion.

Even Thanksgiving Day itself, though it is now kept in a most kindly and charming fashion by numbers of quite liberal and large-minded Americans, was originally intended, I believe, as a sort of iconoclastic expedient for destroying the celebration of Christmas. The Puritans everywhere had a curious and rabid dislike of Christmas; which does not encourage me, for one, to develop a special and spiritual fervour for Puritanism. Oddly enough, however, the Puritan tradition in America has often celebrated Thanksgiving Day by often eliminating the Christmas Pudding, but preserving the Christmas Turkey. I do not know why, unless the name of Turkey reminded them of the Prophet of Islam, who was also the first Prophet of Prohibition.

The Voice of Ordinary Folk

Nick Cohen writes:

On the Today programme this morning an incredulous John Humprhys could not believe Ed Miliband’s suggestion that the “squeezed middle” consisted of people earning a bit above or a bit below £26,000. The Institute of Fiscal Studies might have told Humprhys that this was indeed the band in the middle of British society, and that only the richest 15 per cent or so of people pay the 40 percent tax rate. When I last spoke to the IFS, it told me that it makes as much sense to look household income as individual salaries. By this measure, families bringing in £30-£50,000 a year make up the broad middle class, which fills so much of Britain. Exactly the people Miliband was talking about, in other words.

The financial crisis is hammering them. Their services are being cut – and they cannot afford to go private. Their taxes are about to go up, their benefits are about to be withdrawn and ministers are about to tell their children they must take on vast debts if they want to go to university. Humphrys did not seem to know it. Miliband’s definition of the middle class exasperated him. “It’s about as vague as it gets” he cried. “The squeezed middle is what? I don’t know… I’ve no idea what you mean.”

I thought Miliband made perfect sense, but Humphrys illustrated the problem that Labour faces now and the Coalition faced when it announced the abolition of child benefits for higher rate taxpayers. Star journalists – the presenters, columnists, editors and political correspondents, who set the agenda – are rich men and women. (The hacks below them are anything but.) Their success, however, depends on them believing that they are the voice of ordinary folk when they address their audience. They are elitists who must play at being populists. They must convince themselves they are middle class, even when their earnings put them among the richest 2 percent of people in the country.

They will hammer politicians from all parties who point out that the British middle class is not like them because they undermine the illusion on which their careers are built. Take the case of John Humphrys. If he told me he earns less than £150,000 I would eat my hat. If he told me, he makes less than £200,000, I would ask for a recount. In 2000 when I was young and foolish, I phoned his agents posing as the representative of Pelf.com, an exciting, if fictitious dot.com startup, and asked how much it would cost to hire him as an after dinner speaker. The going rate was £8,000 for an hour’s talk, I was told, about 2,000 times the minimum wage rate.

I don’t want to sneer at Humprhys, the way he sneered at Miliband. He is a fine broadcaster, who deserves every penny he earns. I only want to say that journalists will never understand Middle England until they realise that it is nowhere near as affluent and nowhere near as secure as they imagine, and that is about to become a bleaker and more frightened place.

Twenty More Years?

Neil Clark writes:

It's exactly 20 years ago this month that Margaret Thatcher, the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century, left Downing Street. Thatcher's negative impact can be seen in many areas. But arguably the most toxic legacy was her privatisation programme. Thatcher broke with the policy of previous post-war Conservative governments which had accepted the mixed economy post-war consensus, instead embarking on a major series of sell-offs when she first came to power in 1979. British Telecom, British Gas and British Airways were three of the biggest state-owned companies that Thatcher flogged off. She also broke up the National Bus Company and Sealink - the highly-profitable publicly owned ferry company.

But the great tragedy was that privatisation did not end with Thatcher's eviction from Number 10 in November 1990. John Major's government took privatisation even further than the Iron Lady dared to go - embarking on the disastrous sell-off of Britain's railways. To its credit, the Labour Party opposed the Tory sell-offs of the 1980s and '90s. But, to its great shame, when finally returned to government in 1997, it not only did nothing to bring privatised industries back into public ownership, it actually extended the process still further. Now, after this year's election and despite the fact that privatisation has never been so unpopular, we have the most pro-privatisation government in our history.

The Royal Mail, in state hands since 1516, is next up for sale. The Tote, a state-owned bookmaker set up by that well known socialist revolutionary Winston Churchill in 1928 and whose profits are ploughed back into racing, is also under threat. As are Britain's publicly owned forests. The government's NHS reforms mean the effective end of the state-run health system in all but name. It's interesting to note how the arguments for privatisation have changed down the years. Back in the 1980s, we were told by the Thatcherites that privatisation would improve efficiency and give customers a better deal. But the fact is that the nationalised industries of the '60s and '70s were far more efficient - and customer friendly - than their private successors.

Our railways are by far and away the most expensive in Europe with more big price rises to come in the New Year. Our privately-owned buses are the most expensive in the continent too, while in 2008 Britain saw the highest energy price rises in Europe - almost four times higher than Belgium, the next country on the list. The serial privatisers, therefore, have had to come up with a new excuse to continue with their policy. Today's Thatcherites don't say we need to privatise because it will be good for consumers, but because the government urgently needs to raise money to deal with the "deficit crisis." But it's an argument as bogus as the old ones that we were given back in the 1980s. As John Pilger pointed out in the Morning Star earlier this month, "a deficit of 10 per cent is not remotely a crisis. When Britain was officially bankrupt at the end of the second world war, the government built its greatest public institutions, such as the National Health Service and the arts edifices of London's South Bank."

In truth, it's privatisation and not public ownership that Britain can't afford. Bringing the railways, buses and utilities back into public ownership would actually save the country money in the long term. Not only would it mean that there would no longer be any need to pay subsidies to profiteering, privately owned transport companies but, in the case of the utilities, it would enable the new state-owned energy companies to reduce prices to consumers and businesses thereby aiding economic recovery. Any truly progressive - and economically literate - British political party would put public ownership right at the heart of its manifesto. Will new Labour leader Ed Miliband be bold enough to end his party's support for privatisation and revert back to the policy his party followed for much of the post-war era? Or will Margaret Thatcher, 20 years after leaving Downing Street, still be allowed to set the political agenda?

Thursday 25 November 2010

Measuring It

Harold and Lady Dorothy Macmillan were once lunching with Charles and Yvonne de Gaulle. Making smalltalk, the Prime Minister asked the President's wife what she would like when she retired. "A penis," she replied. Utterly deadpan, the General leaned over the table and explained, "Madame means, 'appiness".

Acceptable In The Eighties?

This is not a spoof:

This is uncanny. I'm washing my hands in a toilet in Chelsea and Margaret Thatcher is lecturing me. At least, I think it's her. I can't see her face, but her shrill voice echoes eerily around the urinals.

"We also had to deal," she harangues me as I turn the tap, "with the problem of trade union power, made worse by successive Labour governments and exploited by the confidence of militants who had risen to key positions in the trade union movement. Positions which they ruthlessly exploited."

As Thatcher's words waft improbably over a hubbub of moneyed Sloanes and flushing latrines, I feel like I might be trapped inside one of those surreal audio-scapes from Chris Morris's Blue Jam. But really the truth is far weirder. I'm at Maggie's, a new Margaret Thatcher-themed nightclub. Yes, you did read that right. A club inspired by the Iron Lady.

Located on the border between Tory Chelsea and blue-blooded Fulham, it's hard not to imagine Maggie's as some kind of political statement. After all, the first thing you see when you enter the club is a wall of photos featuring Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Hanging over the stairs is a picture of Thatcher flashing a two-fingered salute. And, as we now know all too well, toilet-goers are serenaded with the audiobook of Thatcher's diaries.

So, I ask the club's co-owner, Charlie Gilkes, is this the nocturnal equivalent of a neo-liberal manifesto? No, no, no, argues the Old Etonian, who opened Maggie's with his business partner Duncan Stirling earlier this year. "It's not a Tory club," he says carefully, but rather a tribute to the 80s – a bit of "childhood nostalgia for the decade of our birth". The reference to Britain's most divisive politician, he says, is tongue-in-cheek. "I know she's divisive, but I do admire her. She's a leader."

In this 80s, Thatcher-era themed club, bottles of champagne signed by the Iron Lady go for £5,000, but I make do with a Ferris Bueller Fizz, priced £10.50. A Super Mario mural adorns another facade and every table in sight has been made to look like a giant Rubik's cube, while a Neil Kinnock figurine takes pride of place next to Gilkes's own childhood collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

While Gilkes would love Thatcher herself to visit sometime – despite conceding "her nightclubbing days are probably over" – he says he turns down requests from Tory groups to hire the club. Gilkes is keen to emphasise his clientele aren't all true blues. Lots of clubbers "don't like Margaret – someone even punched in the speaker in the loos" – although one suspects the £250 fee for a table, on top of the £15 entry price, may put off most clients before they even reach the bathroom. "Adam Ant's down quite a lot," he says, while parts of Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley's signature are still visible on a poster by the door, despite a cleaner's efforts to wipe it clean. Indeed, on the night I drop by, the dancefloor is rammed with a group out on an annual public school reunion. None will own up to being a fully-fledged Thatcher-lover, though the most convivial, Matt, says his family were fans. "My father was a Thatcherite, and my mother was persuaded because she felt that [a tax rate of] 98 pence to the pound was not the most effective use of my father's money." Thatcher, he concludes, "gave us something we all need a little of: capitalism."

Back in the toilets, Thatcher warbles on. "A firm financial strategy was needed to provide economic reforms, tax cuts and deregulation of industry," she explains to a new bunch of urinating clubbers. But as we enter another winter of discontent, I'm not sure any of them get the irony.

A Chip, Not A Block

Among the Republican Senators and Senators-elect urging no vote on New START in this session is Rand Paul.

That'll teach you.

Cold Comfort

I have never seen the like. Buses reaching Lanchester from as far away as Newcastle, but into and out of Durham impregnable. Thank heavens for bacon sandwiches, nice cups of tea, and Radio Four. Saint Bede's is closed; gone are the days when it stayed open even throughout a month-long bus strike, on the grounds that Lanchester people could still come in (and we did). So much for global warming, eh?

I know, I know. As far as I can tell, any weather whatever is somehow attributable to it. But I still refuse to allow climate change to be used as an excuse to destroy or prevent secure employment, to drive down wages or working conditions, to arrest economic development around the world, to forbid the working classes and non-white people from having children, to inflate the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, or to restrict either travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich.

Reducing CO2 emissions to those effects has been a solution in search of a problem for decades: 35 or 40 years ago, it was supposed to have been the answer to global cooling. Lo and behold, that was supposed to mean no more proper jobs, no more proper wages or working conditions, no more economic development in the poor world, no more breeding by the proles and darkies, no more cheap fuel, no more mass travel, and no more meat-eating by the common people. Hell, what could you do?

But in those days there were still proper unions, close ties between European countries and their former colonies, and mass parties of the real Left. Still, it has only taken these people 40 years and a complete U-turn as to the nature of the problem. It doesn't matter what the question is: this will be always be their answer to it, for reasons that are only too obvious.

I am told that the global cooling theory was "far from mainstream". If so, then that was only because there were then still the political forces to stop it. The global warming lot have managed to create an entire academic field to which one can only belong by sharing their presuppositions; an old trick, but not one ordinarily associated so much with science. What does that tell you?

If anyone ever tells you that the answer to an environmental problem is no more proper jobs, no more proper wages or working conditions, no more economic development in the poor world (with India and China certain to pay no attention these days, anyway), no more breeding by the proles and darkies, no more cheap fuel, no more mass travel, or no more meat-eating by the common people, then write them off as politicised cranks. They said that about global cooling, they say it about global warming, and much else besides.

Unless they can come up with a solution which does not destroy or prevent secure employment, does not drive down wages or working conditions, does not arrest economic development around the world, does not forbid the working classes and non-white people from having children, does not inflate the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, and does not restrict either travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich, then they are not really interested in the presenting issue, and cannot complain too much if the people whom they propose to beggar, sterilise, freeze, confine and starve become distinctly sceptical about the very existence of any question to which that fate is supposed to be the answer.

These Simple, Simple Souls

Tim Black writes:

This week some of the Catholic Church’s biggest critics have at last found cause to sing the pope’s praises. And it’s all because Benedict XVI has finally said that it may not be completely sinful to use a condom. This, his increasingly vociferous critics argue, is splendid news for Africa. Apparently it means goodbye HIV/AIDS-creating dogma, hello conventional liberal wisdom.

The occasion for this rare bout of papal praise is the publication of the book-length interview, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, in which Benedict XVI gives his thoughts on everything from climate change to abortion. And it was here, amidst the orthodoxy, that he said something hitherto unvoiced by him or his predecessors. Using a condom, he said, to reduce the risk of HIV infection, ‘can be a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants’. So while the condom may not be right, it’s not wrong either.

Admittedly, the Catholic Church’s position is still a little bit unclear. For instance, Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi called Benedict’s remarks unprecedented, but added that they were ‘not a revolutionary turn’. Benedict’s words had simply been offered ‘colloquially’, not as part of official church teaching. Still, most were in little doubt that something had changed. In the words of UK-based Catholic journalist Cristina Odone, the pope’s statement ‘allows Catholics, when we defend our church, to be able to say that this is a not a church that condemns people to AIDS and that this is not a church that wilfully ignores the consequences of having unprotected sex’.

But the relief of those with rosary beads to stroke was as nothing compared to the excitement of those with an axe to grind. ‘Pope Benedict’s XVI’s change of heart on condoms marks a significant break with the damage done by one of his predecessors’ most romantic, wicked and wrong-headed policies’, enthused Andrew Brown in the Guardian. Over at the Telegraph, another commentator saw it as an undoubted positive move: ‘Yes, we secular liberals can hope that this is the start of a greater change, and we can regret the lives lost while we waited for it. But we should also recognise that it is a great change already, and that it will start to save lives now. And, however much some people will struggle to praise the pope, we should swallow our pride, and give credit where it’s due.’

The New Humanist, a vocal opponent of Benedict’s visit to the UK in September, felt confident enough to state: ‘There does appear to have been a change in tone from an organisation that has long given the impression that it is opposed to condoms in all circumstances.’ Such has been the near tectonic shift from blaming the pope for killing Africans to praising him for rescuing them that even the continent itself piped up: ‘Africa welcomes pope’s comments on condoms’, ran an Agence France-Presse headline.

Yet just as it was absurd to blame leaders of the Catholic Church for the problem of AIDS/HIV in Africa, so it is equally ridiculous to see the pope as the continent’s redeemer. In both cases there is an idealism at work, an idealism that would embarrass the most immaterial of philosophers. For in this idealism, ideas – Catholic ideas – are all that matter. The pope articulates one idea, people die; he articulates another, people live. It is an idealism that makes mere objects of Africans – objects to be commanded at the behest of an idea. Of course it helps the delusion if one makes a particular assumption – which is that Africans are a bit, well, simple. Not completely simple – the racism would be almost too much to bear – but certainly simpler than their Western Catholic brethren who have long taken church doctrine with a pinch of guilt. Hence as Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee put it, the ‘helpless Third World poor… die for their misplaced faith’. What else could they do, these simple, simple souls?

Unfortunately, this idealism, borne aloft by a whole heap of unspoken prejudices about African people, ignores some very material facts, not least the poverty of these countries. And in poor countries without medical infrastructure, without the drugs that now keep alive Western HIV sufferers, is it any wonder that far more people die from AIDS than in the West? Perhaps, just perhaps, a lack of development, not an excess of papery, lies at the heart of African countries’ inability to deal with the spread of horrible diseases.

This underdevelopment, this lack of socio-economic progress explains something else, too. Given the often dire circumstances in which some Africans find themselves – with mortality rates far higher than in the West and average life-spans far shorter – is it really that surprising that contraception is not at the top of many African people’s list of priorities? After all, with life considerably more precarious, one’s perception of risk is probably a little bit different to that of Westerners.

There is something obsessive about this focus on HIV/AIDS in Africa. All other concerns are eclipsed. It is not as if there are no other diseases ruining the lives of people who live in the poorer parts of Africa. In fact there are several that kill far more than HIV/AIDS does. Malaria and lower respiratory problems account for millions more deaths than HIV/AIDS. Even diarrhoea, often little more than an inconvenience in the developed world, rivals HIV/AIDS as a major killer. Yet, as Nathalie Rothschild has pointed out on spiked, the attention given to these other diseases is minimal compared to that given to HIV/AIDS. Why? Because the sex lives of Africans are of considerable interest to a Western mindset increasingly obsessed with ensuring that the wretched of the earth adjust to present conditions. And that means keeping the population down. In the baleful words of one of the pope’s newfound supporters: ‘Condoms should also be used to help reduce poverty and overpopulation, by allowing poor parents to manage their family size.’

The GOP's New Cold War

Patrick J. Buchanan writes:

Before Republican senators vote down the strategic arms reduction treaty negotiated by the Obama administration, they should think long and hard about the consequences. In substance, New START has none of the historic significance of Richard Nixon’s SALT I or ABM treaty, or Jimmy Carter’s SALT II, or Ronald Reagan’s INF treaty removing all intermediate-range missiles from Europe, or the strategic arms reductions treaties negotiated by George Bush I and Bush II. The latter cut U.S. and Russian arsenals from 10,000-12,000 nuclear warheads targeted on each nation to 2,000 — a huge cut. If Republicans could back those treaties, what is the case for rejecting New START? Barack Obama’s treaty reduces strategic warheads by 450, leaving each side 1,550.

Is this not enough to deter when we consider what the Chernobyl disaster did to the Soviet Union and what the knockdown of two buildings in New York has done to this country? Ten hydrogen bombs on the United States or Russia could set us back decades, let alone 1,000. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is holding up the treaty until he gets more assurances that the administration will do the tests and upgrades necessary to maintain the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. He should receive those assurances. Maintaining the credibility of the U.S. deterrent is a vital national interest. But does this justify holding the treaty hostage? Without a treaty, we lose our right and our ways and means to verify that Russia is carrying out the terms of arms treaties already agreed upon. How does leaving the United States in the dark about who is doing what with Moscow’s nuclear weapons enhance our security?

Not only are our allies behind this treaty — as are Republican secretaries of state and defense and ex-national security advisers — so, too, is the Pentagon. If the joint chiefs say this treaty is good for America, what do the reluctant Republican senators believe is wrong with it? Have they considered the impact of the treaty’s defeat on Russia? In Russia today, there is a widespread belief that when the Soviet Union gave up its global empire, allowed itself to be split apart into 15 nations and brought the Red Army home from Europe, America exploited her weakness by moving NATO onto her front porch.

We brought the Baltic states, all former republics of the USSR, into an alliance aimed against Russia. George W. Bush sought to bring in Ukraine and Georgia, thereby surrounding a Russia that had sought our friendship with U.S. power. Among Russia’s elite, there is an understandable distrust of the intentions of their old superpower rival. For Republicans in the Senate to kill New START would clinch the case of the anti-Americans in Moscow that we are not interested in nuclear parity but seek strategic superiority. Killing the treaty would morally disarm those Russians who see their future with the West.

On taking office, Obama put the Ukraine-Georgia accession to NATO on a back burner and canceled the anti-missile missile system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic. His policy has paid dividends. Half of the U.S. supplies going to the war in Afghanistan go through Russia. Moscow has backed U.N. sanctions on Iran and refused to deliver to Iran the A-300 surface-to-air missile system it had promised. President Dmitri Medvedev is interested in Russia’s participation in a missile defense for all of Europe.

Behind the Obama policy lies this reality. The best way, the only credible way to secure the freedom and independence of former Soviet republics like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and Georgia is not by threatening Russia with war, but by bringing Russia in from the cold and giving Russia a growing stake in aligning with the West. No matter the NATO war guarantees we have given to the Baltic republics, we are not going to war with Russia over Estonia. For the first result of such a war would be the annihilation of Estonia. Moreover, many of Russia’s concerns are our concerns. Moscow does not want to see a Taliban triumph in Afghanistan, as that would embolden Islamic secessionist movements across the North Caucasus that have conducted terror attacks inside Russia itself.

Russia is also deep into a demographic crisis, with more than 500,000 Russians disappearing every year. That this should happen is both a human tragedy and a strategic disaster, for Siberia and the Russian Far East, and all their resources could wind up under the de facto control of 1.4 billion Chinese. Richard Nixon would have supported this treaty. Ronald Reagan would have supported this treaty, as he loathed nuclear weapons and wished to rid the world of them. And simply because this treaty is “Obama’s treaty” does not mean it is not in America’s interest.

If Republicans should kill New START, and Vladimir Putin responds by using U.S. rejection to rev up Russian nationalism to terminate the “reset” and return to a policy of cooperating with America’s enemies from Pyongyang to Tehran to Caracas, does the Republican Party wish to be held responsible for that?

Russia is pre-eminent among the Slavs in their historic role as the gatekeepers of the True West, the civilisation founded and defined by the recapitulation in Jesus Christ and His Church of all three of the Old Israel, Hellenism, and the Roman Empire. She is therefore an obvious and inevitable enemy of those who adhere instead to the pseudo-West in all its social and economic libertinism and decadence, even at the barrel of a gun, and with all the internal repressiveness that both the social and the economic aspects really entail in order to maintain their godless, rootless, borderless, metrosexual globalism.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Back To School

Michael Gove's wife is a close friend of Samantha Cameron, so a Cabinet position has had to be found for him.

Mercifully, he is not allowed anywhere near the foreign policy that is his genuine interest. And today, hidden beneath his headline-grabbing public school suggestion that the Army be sent in to run the schools attended by the oiks, he has done a remarkable thing: he has effectively recanted the single most destructive thing that Margaret Thatcher ever did, namely the replacement of O-levels with GCSEs.

He has not announced its formal reversal, just as he had not announced the restoration of the grammar schools of which she closed so many that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled, and with them of the Secondary Moderns that were so much better than what has replaced them. But any step in the right direction is to be welcomed.

End The Second Home Discount?

I have a better idea. End the Council Tax, an arbitrary levy on the theoretical value of an asset which in any case one might not own, and which one certainly cannot sell unless one is supposed to go and live up a tree or something. The restoration of the rates in all but name was paid for by a two and a half per cent increase in VAT, which was hardly any way to help the poor. And all the old middle-class rates exemptions (students, clergy, &c) were brought back; they remain in place to this day.

But the myths prevail, both that the Council Tax is “universal” (in fact, it specifically replaced a universal tax, the universality of which was presented as the problem with it – astonishingly few people, rather than addresses, are liable for Council Tax), and that the Poll Tax was a massively unfair imposition on the poor, who in reality had it paid for them through the benefits system, or paid far less than they do now, or both.

Now, it is not my concern to defend the Poll Tax. It was in many ways misconceived, and in every imaginable way badly implemented. But if the people who had complained most vociferously about it had been the poor, then it would still be in place. No government since 1979 has cared tuppence about the poor. When Thatcher blamed an underclass for rioting against being dragged into any sort of civic participation, and blamed Major and Heseltine for giving in to that underclass, then she was right. Just not in the way that she thought.

That underclass was not economic, but moral. It was not the poor. It was well-heeled students, dossing graduates, and people like that. That was why there was any surrender. There would have been none to the poor. And those are the people who did, and do, object to any sort of civic participation; extremely poor people either ignore such things or never hear about them in the first place, rather than objecting to them. They who so objected did so because of the words and deeds of Margaret Thatcher, with her active scorn for the public realm and her instruction to her followers that their good fortune was their moral superiority, so that others less privileged were manifestly less worthy.

The Poll Tax has become a useful way of explaining the fall of Thatcher without mentioning the EU, just as unilateral nuclear disarmament (advocated by the Gaitskellites and many Tories in the Fifties and Sixties, and not Labour Party policy until two years and a General Election after the Limehouse Declaration) has become a useful way of explaining the creation of the SDP without mentioning that it was a direct intervention in the British electoral process by a President of the European Commission acting as such. Be not deceived, in either case.

It is also worth pointing out the very odd mythic status of the Poll Tax in Scotland, where it was introduced a year early by popular demand, where there was never a riot against it, where the Tories experienced a net gain of one seat in 1992, and where a party which bangs on and on about its alleged iniquity is now determined on replacing the Council Tax with something more than suspiciously like it.

Everyone uses lots of local services. Unless they send their children to private schools, as hardly anyone does, then most people make as much such use as each other, regardless of class or income; indeed, such things as street lighting are often significantly better in more affluent areas. But hardly anyone votes in local elections, because local government is emasculated yet expensive, and notoriously unaccountable. It has not always been any of those things.

We need to restore in full the proper powers of local government, with no tendering out of services in Conservative areas to the people who fund the local Conservative Party (in Labour areas, the Labour-funding unions rightly make sure that things are kept in house), no ultra vires principle, no surcharging, no capping (local government is in fact significantly less profligate than central government), none of the things that would not be tolerated in any other comparable country, not least including the frequent redrawing of boundaries, abolition of whole tiers, and such like.

We need to bring back the old committee system, which gave individual councillors real clout, and so made it worthwhile to buttonhole them in the street, in the pub, or wherever, or indeed to write to, telephone or email them. Eric Pickles has made a good start in allowing a return to that system, but he needs to require it.

We need a system whereby each of us votes for one candidate and the requisite number, never fewer than two, is elected at the end.

And we need a fair, efficient, comprehensible and accountable system of funding. Until anyone presents me with a better alternative, then I continue to propose an annual flat fee, fixed by the council in question, strictly voluntary, entitling the payer to vote and stand in elections to the council, and payable through the benefits system on behalf of the very poor. Central government would continue to meet much or all of the cost of statutory services to statutory standards. With its fees, the council could do pretty much whatever it liked on top, directly accountable to the people paying the bills.


You know how this one goes. We need to renationalise the railways, uniquely without compensation in view of the manner of their privatisation, as the basis for a national network of public transport free at the point of use, including the reversal of bus route and (where possible) rail line closures going back to the 1950s.

Only public ownership can deliver this. Public ownership is of course British ownership, and thus a safeguard of national sovereignty. It is also a safeguard of the Union in that it creates communities of interest across the several parts of the United Kingdom. Publicly owned concerns often even had, and could have again, the word "British" in their names.

Beyond The Jordan

Your suggestions, please, for guest editors of the Today programme.

The BBC, like any part of this country's Establishment media, is taking a risk with Mrs Reid. She might naively ask a politician a question. And we couldn't have that. Could we?

Olympic Rings and Future Kings

For all the whingeing about what, in the great scheme of things, will be the negligible cost of Prince William's wedding, we seem perfectly happy to host the one thing that, above all others, is guaranteed to bankrupt every city and every country that gives it house room. Still, at least we have probably blown any chance of the World Cup as well. Here's hoping, anyway. After that, we'd have had to have gone cap in hand to the Irish.

For Theirs Is The Kingdom of Heaven

Sign up here:

On 31 October, 44 Iraqi Christians were killed during a hostage drama after gunmen stormed the main Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad, then blew themselves up.

Among them were Father Thair Sad-alla Abd-al and Father Waseem Sabeeh Al-kas Butros who died along with the faithful who were at prayer with them.

Their names join a long list of Christians who have died for their faith in Iraq, as Christians across the entire region face a growing threat.

Despite this terrible act, we, as Arab Christians, want to reaffirm our joy and our desire to live out our Christian faith in the same land where Christ died and rose again for our salvation, and where his apostles told the good news to our ancestors.

The Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity. We have lived here since Pentecost, when the Spirit inspired our forefathers who expressed their faith through diversity – all of whom confess one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

In the tradition of the early Church, we ask that those who died as martyrs be honoured as saints. We call for the canonisation of the following fallen brothers:

— Father Thair Sad-alla Abd-al and Father Waseem Sabeeh Al-kas Butros and their companions who were killed on 31 October in Baghdad’s Syriac church
— The Chaldean Sisters Fawzeiyah and Margaret Naoum, who were stabbed to death on 26 March 2007
— Father Raghid Aziz Ganni and sub-deacons Yousef Daoud, Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Issam Bidawid, also Chaldeans who were killed on 3 June 2007 in Mosul
— Monsignor Paulos Faraj, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosel, who was found dead on 13 March 2008
(list to be completed)

We also remember brothers from other churches who died for their faith:

— Syriac Orthodox Father Boulos Iskandar, killed in Baghdad on 9 October 2006
— Father Joseph Petros, killed in Baghdad on 9 October 2006
— Father Amer Iskander, Syriac Orthodox, who was found beheaded on 11 October 2006
— Reverend Mundher Aldayr, a Protestant minister who was killed in Mosul on 26 November 2006
(list to be completed)

What better way of showing the holiness of God’s Church than by returning to the ancient practice of declaring the martyrs to be saints?

As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10). And in John 15:20, he reminds us: “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

If, as Tertullian said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” then we ask that the martyrdom of our people be officially recognised so that we may take root in the land.

For this reason, we sign this petition calling for all the Christian martyrs of Iraq to be canonised, so that the example of their life and sacrifice be an inspiration to all of us, Arab and international Christians, who are living in the Middle East.

And get praying: the popular cultus starts here.

Free Ireland

He may be wrong about many other things, but Douglas Carswell writes:

Britain has just promised £7bn towards a €90bn package aimed at rescuing Ireland's economy. But the bailout has not worked. Instead, we are sinking billions into a temporary rescue of the euro that will prolong Ireland's economic misery. So we should change course and prepare to offer a dramatically different solution – help Ireland decouple from the euro and allow the country to default on its debts.

A prosperous Ireland is in Britain's interest, as the chancellor, George Osborne, was quick to tell the House of Commons. It is not simply a case of economics. There is scarcely a street in Britain in which family ties do not bind the fate of our two islands. It is precisely because we want to see Ireland prosper that we should help it escape from the euro. It was euro membership, with ruinously low interest rates for more than a decade, that plunged Ireland into the economic abyss. Diehard euro advocates might ignore reality, but if Ireland had had interest rates set according to the needs of the Irish economy rather than a wider eurozone, it would not be in this credit-fuelled mess today.

For all the fanfare, the bailout has not reduced the amount Ireland owes by a single euro. Rather, it has seen Ireland accept more debt. Ireland has now gone beyond the point at which it can pay back what it owes. The country can either spend miserable years trapped in debt, with high taxes and higher emigration, or it can decouple from the euro – and default.

Decouple and default works. Remember how the political elite in Argentina, as in Ireland, pegged their own currency to another? Yet when the peso was decoupled from the dollar and Argentina defaulted in 2002, it was free to grow again. Argentina has been chugging along at an enviable 7% to 8% annual growth each year since.

Defaulting on its debts – impossible while Ireland remains in the euro – could follow if it were to decouple. While no one would ever then want to lend Ireland such mountains of money again, would that be such a bad thing?

What is certain is that as long as Ireland remains in the euro, its economic anguish will not end. Unable to devalue, Ireland will never become properly competitive – unless it suffers a dramatic fall in wealth. Yet a collapse in Irish wages is the inevitable outcome of the policy being pursued on both sides of the Irish Sea. How can that be in the interests of either us, or our closest neighbour?

Britain faces a time of unprecedented austerity. Yet many of the savings we have made in public services have now been soaked up by our massive contribution to bailing out the euro. Failure to bail out Ireland, some say, would place British banks in difficulty. But it is precisely because our banks are not out of the woods that we should keep any spare billions we have, for what still lurks on their balance sheets.

And the Irish bailout is also drawing us into potentially unlimited eurozone debt liabilities – in effect, it makes Britain a member of the euro as a debt union. Despite Osborne's best efforts to present it as an act of neighbourly goodwill, Britain had little choice but to cough up. Article 122 of the Lisbon treaty means we will have to hand over billions through the European Stabilisation Mechanism. Even if the chancellor were to say "no", the council of ministers would quickly overrule him. Thanks to the small print of our existing treaty obligations, should Portugal, Spain, or even Italy now seek a bailout, our potential liabilities would be unlimited.

Britain is discovering that it has been drawn into a long line of euro "debt dominoes", each one at risk from any of the others falling. Allowing the break-up of the euro could prove less ruinous than paying to keep everybody in line.

Getting It Right

Peter Hitchens writes:

During the frenzy of unreason which followed the July 7th bombing in London and the various thwarted and theoretical bombs involving liquids, underpants and shoes (none of which has ever actually gone off in non-laboratory conditions), the government decided it needed the power to lock terrorist suspects up for 42, and then for 90 days without charge or trial. Many of us objected to this on the grounds that it breached a principle of the law, which forbids imprisonment without trial. And, that principle once having been breached, who knows where it might end?

Now Edward Balls, once a prominent member of that government, accepts that this was unnecessary. He thinks we could settle on 14 or 28 days of arbitrary imprisonment. Well, it's an improvement, and a welcome admission of a mistake, for which Mr Balls should get some credit. I doubt, though, if anyone would be admitting it was a mistake if wiser people had not campaigned so fiercely against these deeply unpleasant and unjustified measures. I'd just about be ready to allow 48 hours at an outside stretch, though I think it far wiser to stick to 24. If the police really can't think of a holding charge by then, or come up with a good reason to deny bail, then the magistrates should automatically order the release of the arrested person.

As for the supposed 'terror' danger, isn't it axiomatic that a person known to the authorities is more or less useless to any serious terrorist plot, which relies totally on surprise to achieve its aims? Once a person has been so much as interrogated, his name will always attract attention on any passenger manifest, his movements will always be subject to a certain amount of surveillance, and only a complete incompetent would use such a person in any terror enterprise.

The reasons advanced for the reintroduction of arbitrary detention for the first time in 300 years (outside wartime) were not only feeble. They were deadly dangerous to the real liberties we enjoy (instead of the fanciful ones, like the alleged ability to choose our rulers, actually non-existent). Why? Because arbitrary detention, as the wise authors of England's (and the USA's) Constitutions knew, means that the state has arbitrary power to ruin the individual's life. Such power will always tend to grow up anyway, and only constant vigilance will keep it at a manageable level. An increasing amount of British law effectively abolishes the presumption of innocence (particularly in some cases involving children), and badly needs to be reformed.

Anyone who has committed a real objective crime, for which evidence can be produced, will not in any important way be protected by these ancient safeguards. If there is convincing evidence against him, he can be found guilty and punished all the more severely because of the strong likelihood that he is actually guilty. What makes these safeguards so worthwhile at any cost (and I note some judge complaining about the cost of Jury trial as if a price could be set on liberty) is that they make it very difficult for those in power to use the courts to persecute their critics and opponents.

This is the reason for the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, for the existence of Jury Trial, and the presumption of innocence which is meaningless without it, the Petition of Right in 1628, the Bill of Rights of 1689 which reasserted its principles. And that in turn gave rise to the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, whose authors consciously traced their roots to England's Great Charter and the long battle between Parliament and the House of Stuart. I have mentioned here before that, during the making of a programme on the growing threat to liberty, I was allowed to hold in my hands the actual vellum original of the Bill of Rights, and found myself trembling as I did so.

Yet these tremendous documents are now largely forgotten or unknown by supposedly educated people, and their hard, old lessons ignored in the modern passion for 'Human Rights', which sounds as if it is the same but is in fact a wholly different thing. Wise and learned men, whom we look down on as ignorant country squires but whose minds were in many ways richer and more informed than ours will ever be, knew one big thing - that power would be abused if it were not restrained. They knew it because they had seen it at first hand. They protected us against the thing they feared by hard, unrelenting laws which said that the state could not do certain things.

The language of their documents is not usually flowery and rhetorical, like the various Declarations of Rights of Man which have so often been a prelude to dreadful assaults on men. The one exception to this is the American Declaration of Independence, which is rather lovely, but which had to be ballasted and contained soon afterwards with the workmanlike carpentry of the Constitution and the emergency repairs to that Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. In the grumpy tradition of Coke, Selden and the other authors of the Petition of Right, the British and American Bills of Rights are bald, cold, hard limits on power.

'Congress Shall make no law …’ they say.

As in: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

Or, in the English original of a century before: ‘That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal;

‘That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal;

‘That the commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious;

‘That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal;

‘That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal;

‘That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law;

‘That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;

‘That election of members of Parliament ought to be free;

‘That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament;

‘That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted;

‘That jurors ought to be duly impanelled and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders;

‘That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void;

‘And that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently.’

Or, from the Petition of Right: ‘No freeman may be taken or imprisoned or be disseized of his freehold or liberties, or his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.’

And: ‘no man hereafter be compelled to make or yield any gift, loan, benevolence, tax, or such like charge, without common consent by Act of Parliament; and that none be called to make answer, or take such oath, or to give attendance, or be confined, or otherwise molested or disquieted concerning the same or for refusal thereof; and that no freeman, in any such manner as is before mentioned, be imprisoned or detained; and that Your Majesty would be pleased to remove the said soldiers and mariners, and that your people may not be so burdened in time to come; and that the aforesaid commissions, for proceeding by martial law, may be revoked and annulled; and that hereafter no commissions of like nature may issue forth to any person or persons whatsoever to be executed as aforesaid, lest by colour of them any of your Majesty's subjects be destroyed or put to death contrary to the laws and franchise of the land.’

All of this led to the USA's even harder, clearer and more codifed defences of free debate, protection against arbitrary arrest and the punitive billeting of troops, not to mention the right to bear arms which, technically, all British subjects still possess (though see my 'Brief History of Crime' for a discussion of how this important liberty has been bureaucratically revoked by stealth). And that is why, despite a startling Germanic culture of bureaucracy and over-willing acceptance of authority, English liberty has survived as well as it has (though now much under threat) in the USA. It has also survived in different conditions in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The simple point is that humans can only be free where the state is restrained. 'Human Rights' being an attempt to codify a secular morality on the basis of competing group rights, actually strengthens the state by making the courts the umpires in this competition. It also gives the courts the power to legislate, because its showy vagueness allows them to 'interpret' various phrases to their own satisfaction. Now, it is true that the US Supreme Court has managed to do this with bits of the Bill of Rights, notably the phrase 'cruel and unusual' (itself taken from the 1689 English Bill). But this is obviously intellectually shabby, as no serious person could imagine that the men who drafted this thought that the death penalty was cruel or unusual, or intended that meaning to be conveyed. But it is so much easier to do with the various universal declarations, European Conventions, Canadian Charters and now the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

This last is full of horrible weasel phrases whose effect is often quite different in practice from its apparent meaning. Nobody may be deprived of his possessions ‘except in the public interest’ (Article 17) which is as tough as wet tissue-paper. The rights of freedom of expression and to privacy ('private life') inevitably conflict. The right to marry and found a family conflict with non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, which alter the meaning and status of the word 'marry'. The promises of religious 'diversity' make all faiths equal, thus diminishing the role of the one faith which has actually defined Europe and shaped its distinctive civilisation - Christianity. The rights of children are in effect the rights of states and their agencies to intervene in supposedly free families. Articles 47 and 48 on 'Justice' are airy, open to subjective interpretation (and without any means of enforcement). What is a 'reasonable' time? Who judges the impartiality of a tribunal?

We should be prouder of, and better-informed about, the keystones of the astonishing and unusual liberty which we enjoy in these islands and which also exists in the rest of the Anglosphere (though nowhere else). Many other countries may appear on the surface to be as free and open as we are. Switzerland alone has a comparably powerful (yet utterly different) set of mechanisms for keeping the state at bay. Examined closely, most of the world's post-1945 democracies aren't that free. And we are becoming more like them.

If Mr Balls, and others, are prepared to reconsider their rather ruthless view of these matters (and of such monstrosities as identity cards) then it is a good thing for all of us. It is beginning to dawn on lots of people that the terror bogey is an excuse for governments to take powers, rather than a real issue seriously addressed by relevant measures. But if we are to continue to educate Mr Balls and his colleagues on such basic matters, we must know our own history better. It would help if Oxford graduates had heard of the Bill of Rights.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Blue Shirts On

Talk in Ireland of a Second Republic puts everything back on the table. The present Constitution was opposed by an alliance between the far wealthier and better-connected Southern Unionists, and the far more numerous Catholic "ultras" who considered it inadequate on that basis.

They were united, not only by the fact that most Protestants were far closer to much of Catholic moral teaching in those days than is often the case today, but also by a common aversion to what looked like a sort of Irish Bolshevism which they were equally determined to resist, a resistance to which they both saw the continuation of Commonwealth ties, ties among which the monarchy was not then optional, as an indispensable weapon.

And they were right. Let those who want even more of the Mammon-worshipping secularisation, and even more of the no less Mammon-worshipping loosening of the ties to Britain, make the case for a new Constitution in those terms. And let them be answered by those who recognise recent and current events as the vindication of an alternative vision, a fully and proudly Catholic-based entity fully and proudly integrated into the natural economic and cultural unit that is this archipelago.

We shall all see who wins out in the end. The proponents of a British-style social democracy such as Irish Catholics, acting on the Church's Social Teaching, have been so successful in building in the United Kingdom and in the Old Commonwealth, but such as Dev's Republic has never approached becoming? I rather expect so.

Or is that noble and realistic vision of the 26 Counties to go by default, lost once again to the fantasies of wannabes from Dev to Gerry Adams?

Divorced From Reality

Stephen Baskerville writes:

Defenders of marriage must face some hard facts or they are going to lose their fight—and with it, quite possibly, their religious freedom as well. Federal judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling nullifying Proposition 8 in California illustrates that, unless we can demonstrate very specific reasons why same-sex marriage is socially destructive, it will soon be the law of the land.

With conservatives as prominent as Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter joining those “influential Americans,” in the words of the National Review, who “have been coming increasingly to regard opposition to same-sex marriage as irrational at best and bigoted at worst,” we can no longer rely on vague assertions that homosexual marriage weakens true marriage in some way—which in itself, actually, it does not. Considerable nonsense has been written by some opponents of same-sex marriage, while some critical truths are not being heard. Confronting the facts can enable us to win not only this battle but several even more important ones involving family decline and the social anomie it produces.

First: Marriage exists primarily to cement the father to the family. This fact is politically incorrect but undeniable. The breakdown of marriage produces widespread fatherlessness, not motherlessness. As Margaret Mead pointed out long ago—yes, leftist Margaret Mead was correct about this—motherhood is a biological certainty whereas fatherhood is socially constructed. The father is the weakest link in the family bond, and without the institution of marriage he is easily discarded. The consequences of failing to link men to their offspring are apparent the world over. From our inner cities and Native American reservations to the north of England, the banlieues of Paris, and much of Africa, fatherlessness—not poverty or race—is the leading predictor of virtually every social pathology among the young. Without fathers, adolescents run wild, and society descends into chaos.

The notion that marriage exists for love or “to express and safeguard an emotional union of adults,” as one proponent puts it, is cant. Many loving and emotional human relationships do not involve marriage. Even the conservative argument that marriage exists to rear children is too imprecise: marriage creates fatherhood. No marriage, no fathers. Once this principle is recognized, same-sex marriage makes no sense. Judge Walker’s “finding of fact” that “gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage” is rendered preposterous. Marriage between two men or two women simply mocks the purpose of the institution. Homosexual parenting only further distances biological fathers (and some mothers too) from their children, since at least some homosexual parents must acquire their children from someone else—usually through heterosexual divorce.

Here is the second unpleasant truth: homosexuals did not destroy marriage, heterosexuals did. The demand for same-sex marriage is a symptom, not a cause, of the deterioration of marriage. By far the most direct threat to the family is heterosexual divorce. “Commentators miss the point when they oppose homosexual marriage on the grounds that it would undermine traditional understandings of marriage,” writes family scholar Bryce Christensen. “It is only because traditional understandings of marriage have already been severely undermined that homosexuals are now laying claim to it.” Though gay activists cite their desire to marry as evidence that their lifestyle is not inherently promiscuous, they readily admit that marriage is no longer the barrier against promiscuity that it once was. If the standards of marriage have already been lowered, they ask, why shouldn’t homosexuals be admitted to the institution?

“The world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50% divorce rates preceded gay marriage,” Andrew Sullivan points out. “All homosexuals are saying C9 is that, under the current definition, there’s no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is simply an anomaly—and a denial of basic civil equality.” Feminist Stephanie Coontz echoes the point: “Gays and lesbians simply looked at the revolution heterosexuals had wrought and noticed that, with its new norms, marriage could work for them, too.”

Thus the third inconvenient fact: divorce is a political problem. It is not a private matter, and it does not come from impersonal forces of moral and cultural decay. It is driven by complex and lucrative government machinery operating in our names and funded by our taxes. It is imposed upon unwilling people, whose children, homes, and property may be confiscated. It generates the social ills that rationalize almost all domestic government spending. And it is promoted ideologically by the same sexual radicals who now champion same-sex marriage. omosexuals may be correct that heterosexuals destroyed marriage, but the heterosexuals were their fellow sexual ideologues.

Conservatives have completely misunderstood the significance of the divorce revolution. While they lament mass divorce, they refuse to confront its politics. Maggie Gallagher attributes this silence to “political cowardice”: “Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,” she wrote in 1996. “The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.” No American politician of national stature has seriously challenged unilateral divorce. “Democrats did not want to anger their large constituency among women who saw easy divorce as a hard-won freedom and prerogative,” writes Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. “Republicans did not want to alienate their upscale constituents or their libertarian wing, both of whom tended to favor easy divorce, nor did they want to call attention to the divorces among their own leadership.”

In his famous denunciation of single parenthood, Vice President Dan Quayle was careful to make clear, “I am not talking about a situation where there is a divorce.” A lengthy article in the current Political Science Quarterly is devoted to the fact—at which the author expresses astonishment—that self-described “pro-family” Christian groups devote almost no effort to reforming divorce laws.This failure has seriously undermined the moral credibility of the campaign against same-sex marriage. “People who won’t censure divorce carry no special weight as defenders of marriage,” writes columnist Froma Harrop. “Moral authority doesn’t come cheap.”

Just as marriage creates fatherhood, so divorce today should be understood as a system for destroying it. It is no accident that divorce court has become largely a method for plundering and criminalizing fathers. With such a regime arrayed against them, men are powerfully incentivized against marrying and starting a family. No amount of scolding by armchair moralists is going to persuade men into marriages that can mean the loss of their children, expropriation, and incarceration.

The fourth point is perhaps the most difficult to grasp: marriage is not entirely a public institution that government may legitimately define and regulate. It certainly serves important public functions. But marriage also creates a sphere of life beyond official control—what Supreme Court Justice Byron White called a “realm of family life which the state cannot enter.” This does not mean that anything can be declared a marriage. On the contrary, it means that marriage creates a singular zone of privacy for one purpose above all: it is the bond within which parents may raise their children without government interference.

Parenthood, after all, is politically unique. It is the one relationship in which people may exercise coercive authority over others. It is the one exception to state’s monopoly of force, which is why government is constantly trying to undermine and invade it. Without parental and especially paternal authority, legitimized by the bonds of marriage, government’s reach is total. This is already evident in those communities where marriage and fathers have disappeared and government has moved in to replace them with welfare, child-support enforcement, public education, and tax-subsidized healthcare.

Marriage is paradoxical in a way that is critical to our political problems—and that causes considerable confusion among conservatives and libertarians. Marriage must be recognized by the state precisely because it creates a sphere of parental authority from which the state must then withdraw. Government today can no longer be counted upon to exercise this restraint voluntarily. We must all constantly demand that it do so. Marriage—lifelong and protected by a legally enforceable contract—gives us the legal authority and the moral high ground from which to resist encroachments by the state.

Prohibitions on homosexual marriage will not save the institution. As Robert Seidenberg writes in the Washington Times, “Even if Republicans were to succeed in constitutionally defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, some judge somewhere would soon discover a novel meaning for ‘man’ or ‘woman’ or ‘between’ or ‘relationship’ or any of the other dozen words that might appear in the amendment.” This is already happening. Britain’s Gender Recognition Act allows transsexuals to falsify their birth certificates retroactively to indicate they were born the gender of their choice. “The practical effect C9 will inevitably be same-sex ‘marriage’,” writes Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail. “Marriage as a union between a man and a woman will be destroyed, because ‘man’ and ‘woman’ will no longer mean anything other than whether someone feels like a man or a woman.”

So what is the solution? A measure already before Congress may show the way. Though not intended primarily to save marriage, the proposed Parental Rights Amendment is the first substantial step in the right direction. It protects “the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children.” How does this strengthen marriage? Reaffirming the rights of parents—married parents particularly—to raise their own children would weaken government interference in the family. Especially if worded so as to protect the bond between children and their married fathers, such a measure could undermine both the divorce regime and same-sex marriage by establishing marriage as a permanent contract conferring parental rights that must be respected by the state. Within the bonds of marriage, it would preserve the rights of fathers, parents of both sexes, and spouses generally, and it would render same-sex marriage largely pointless. Marriages producing children would be effectively indissoluble, and there would be fewer fatherless children for homosexuals to adopt. Men would come to understand that to have full rights as fathers they must marry before conceiving children, and they would thus have an interest in ensuring the institution’s permanence.

This is not a small undertaking. It would mean confronting the radical sexual establishment in its entirety—not only homosexuals but their allies among feminists, bar associations, psychotherapists, social workers, and public schools. It would raise the stakes significantly—or rather it would highlight how high the stakes already are. It would also focus public attention on the interconnectedness of these threats to the family and freedom. It would foster a coalition of parents with a vested personal interest in marriage and parental rights. The alternative is to continue mouthing platitudes, in which case we will be dismissed as a chorus of scolds and moralizers—and yes, bigots. And we will lose.