Thursday 31 March 2016

Ageing Well?

I ran into an old friend and colleague today.

He asked me in all seriousness whether I had retired yet.

This has never happened before.

A line has been crossed.

The Nick Cohen Challenge

The most notable thing about George Galloway's critics is that none of them has ever so much as sought election to anything in his life.

No surprise there, of course.

Who would vote for Nick Cohen, or David Aaronovitch, or Oliver Kamm, or any of that lot?

Cohen, who is now completely obsessed with Galloway, ought to undertake to contest any parliamentary seat that Galloway did in 2020, or indeed in the course of this Parliament.

Or else shut the hell up. And try, even it at this late stage, to get a life.

The Horse's Mouth

We tried to tell you. Some of our lot have spent 50 years trying to tell you.

X Marks The Spot

I stand in solidarity with the lady in this case.

Her cause was done no good at all by the unprofessionalism of her Member of Parliament.

Shoreditch Dishwater

Like Nick Cohen, whom I hope is exactly as proud as he ought to be of the audience that he has chosen, Steerpike knows perfectly well that George Galloway was not invited to the hustings that he is ridiculed for not having attended.

That is the real story here. But it would take a real journalist to report it.

Silly Milly

No Constituency Labour Party would ever select him as a candidate these days, anyway.

And what would be his pitch? "I once lost an election to Ed Miliband"?

Donald Trump: Corduroy Pillow

Trump is a regular corduroy pillow — always making headlines.

Yesterday he did it by manufacturing part of his pro-life position on the spot under questioning from Chris Matthews.

Under pressure, he said that there would have to be “some form” of punishment for a woman who procured an abortion.

Confident of his ability to wing it on anything, he tried it out here and it did not work out well for him.

There are two things going on here.

One is the politics and rhetoric of the thing, and what happened here seems pretty apparent. 

Trump’s conversion to “pro-life” principles happened fairly recently, and his commitment to pro-choice views before that was decided and extreme.

From a distance, the conversion looks pretty opportunistic (he wanted to run as a Republican and knew that the pro-choice thing was a non-starter, although it worked for the last one).

This fiasco makes it look even more that way.

He has inhabited a pro-choice world for a long time, and had simply accepted the standard caricatures of pro-lifers by the pro-abort crowd.

And then, when he adopted the pro-life position (for political convenience), he adopted what he thought it was.

In his comments, he mentioned how this was the position of a number of conservatives, thus revealing that he has no idea what he is talking about.

After everybody went up in a sheet of flame over his remarks, a clarifying comment was released by the campaign.

The “clarification,” for those interested in such things, was a complete reversal of what he had said earlier.

So the problem with his remarks is that this is not the pro-life position. This is not what pro-lifers are proposing in their legislation. 

“Punishing the women” is not what the movement is about.

But here is the second thing.

Suppose you are in a conversation with a thoughtful advocate of abortion. Suppose he is not a rabid agitator, and is not trying to slander anyone. He is willing to have an intelligent conversation with you. 

Suppose further he says something like, “Yes, I know that you do not want to punish the mothers. What I don’t understand, given all the rhetoric about ‘abortion is murder,’ is why you don’t want the mothers to face some consequences. Doesn’t your refusal to say what Trump just said undercut what you are saying abortion actually is? Murder is murder, right?” 

This is a subject that does need to be addressed carefully — the objection has argumentative weight, in other words. 

Here is a brief answer, with a promise of more to come. We are dealing with millions of cases. It is the view of politically active pro-lifers that the penalties should fall on those who know what they are doing.

Medically trained doctors know exactly what they are doing. The ghouls at Planned Parenthood know exactly what they have been selling.

And the view about the mothers, taken as a class, is that they have been fraudulently manipulated into a form of negligent manslaughter.

That kind of problem is best answered with information — ultrasounds and more. This is why pro-lifers for decades have offered support, information, care, and medical services to mothers.

The laws have been aimed at doctors who were after the blood money. And in the main, this has been a very effective and reasonable distinction.

Now of course you will have some cases where the mothers know just as much as the abortionists do.

Say that an abortionist gets pregnant herself, and then procures a late term abortion. It would make no sense to maintain that she was not guilty of anything because “motherhood.” 

But that kind of rare case is not what the political battle is over. The political battle is over the merchants of blood, the women they lie to, and the children they kill.

To Which Trump Can Only Aspire

John Pilger writes:

A virulent if familiar censorship is about to descend on the U.S. election campaign.

As the cartoon brute, Donald Trump, seems likely to win the Republican Party’s nomination, Hillary Clinton is being ordained both as the “women’s candidate” and the champion of American liberalism in its heroic struggle with the Evil One.

This is drivel, of course; Hillary Clinton leaves a trail of blood and suffering around the world and a clear record of exploitation and greed in her own country.

To say so, however, is becoming intolerable in the land of free speech.

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama should have alerted even the most dewy-eyed.

Obama based his “hope” campaign almost entirely on the fact of an African-American aspiring to lead the land of slavery.

He was also “antiwar.” But Obama was never antiwar. On the contrary, like all American presidents, he was pro-war.

He had voted for George W. Bush’s funding of the slaughter in Iraq and he was planning to escalate the invasion of Afghanistan.

In the weeks before he took the presidential oath, he secretly approved an Israeli assault on Gaza, the massacre known as Operation Cast Lead. 

He promised to close the concentration camp at Guantanamo and did not. He pledged to help make the world “free from nuclear weapons” and did the opposite.

As a new kind of marketing manager for the status quo, the unctuous Obama was an inspired choice.

Even at the end of his blood-spattered presidency, with his signature drones spreading infinitely more terror and death around the world than that ignited by jihadists in Paris and Brussels, Obama is fawned on as “cool” (the Guardian). 

On March 22 and later, my article, “Start of a New Cold War,” was published across the Web (including at 

As has been my practice for years, I syndicated it to an international network, which included, the liberal American website. 

Truthout publishes some important journalism, not least Dahr Jamail’s outstanding corporate exposes. 

But Truthout rejected the piece because, said an editor, it had appeared on Counterpunch and had broken “guidelines.” 

I replied that this had never been a problem over many years and I knew of no guidelines. My recalcitrance was then given another meaning.

The article was reprieved provided I submitted to a “review” and agreed to changes and deletions made by Truthout’s “editorial committee.” 

The result was the softening and censoring of my criticism of Hillary Clinton, and the distancing of her from Trump. The following was cut: 

“Trump is a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our skepticism. Trump’s views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than David Cameron.

“It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama … 

“The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system … 

“As presidential Election Day draws near, Clinton will be hailed as the first female president, regardless of her crimes and lies — just as Barack Obama was lauded as the first black president and liberals swallowed his nonsense about ‘hope.’” 

The “editorial committee” clearly wanted me to water down my argument that Clinton represented a proven extreme danger to the world. Like all censorship, this was unacceptable.

Maya Schenwar, who runs Truthout, wrote to me that my unwillingness to submit my work to a “process of revision” meant she had to take it off her “publication docket.” 

Such is the gatekeeper’s way with words. 

The Obama/Clinton Façade 

At the root of this episode is an enduring unsayable. 

This is the need, the compulsion, of many liberals in the United States to embrace a leader from within a system that is demonstrably imperial and violent. 

Like Obama’s “hope,” Clinton’s gender is no more than a suitable façade.

This is a historical urge. In his 1859 essay On Liberty, to which modern liberals seem to pay unflagging homage, John Stuart Mill described the power of empire. 

“Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians,” he wrote, “provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.” 

The “barbarians” were large sections of humanity of whom “implicit obedience” was required. 

“It’s a nice and convenient myth that liberals are the peacemakers and conservatives the warmongers,” wrote the British historian Hywel Williams in 2001, “but the imperialism of the liberal way may be more dangerous because of its open ended nature – its conviction that it represents a superior form of life [while denying its] self righteous fanaticism.” 

He had in mind a speech by Tony Blair in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, in which Blair promised to “reorder this world around us” according to his “moral values.” 

The carnage of a million dead in Iraq was the result. Blair’s crimes are not unusual. 

Since 1945, some 69 countries — more than a third of the membership of the United Nations — have suffered some or all of the following.

They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted and their people bombed.

The historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions.

With the demise of the European empires, this has been the project of the liberal flame carrier, the “exceptional” United States, whose celebrated “progressive” president, John F. Kennedy, according to new research, authorized the bombing of Moscow during the Cuban crisis in 1962.

(As events unfolded, of course, the bombing didn’t happen.)

Indispensable Nation

“If we have to use force,” said Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State in the liberal administration of Bill Clinton and today a passionate campaigner for his wife, “it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” 

One of Hillary Clinton’s most searing crimes was the destruction of Libya in 2011.

At her urging, and with American logistical support, NATO launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, according to its own records, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. 

They included missiles with uranium warheads.

See the photographs of the rubble of Misurata and Sirte, and the mass graves identified by the Red Cross. Read the UNICEF report on the children killed, “most [of them] under the age of ten.” 

In Anglo-American scholarship, followed slavishly by the liberal media on both sides of the Atlantic, influential theorists known as “liberal realists” have long taught that liberal imperialists – a term they never use – are the world’s peace brokers and crisis managers, rather than the cause of a crisis. 

They have taken the humanity out of the study of nations and congealed it with a jargon that serves warmongering power. 

Laying out whole nations for autopsy, they have identified “failed states” (nations difficult to exploit) and “rogue states” (nations resistant to Western dominance).

Whether or not the targeted regime is a democracy or dictatorship is irrelevant.

In the Middle East, Western liberalism’s collaborators have long been extremist Islamists, lately Al Qaeda, while cynical notions of democracy and human rights serve as rhetorical cover for conquest and mayhem — as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Haiti, Honduras.

See the public record of those good liberals Bill and Hillary Clinton. Theirs is a standard to which Trump can only aspire.

At War With Itself In Syria

The big news out of Syria over the past couple of days has been that Syrian government forces with the help of the Russian military have taken back control of Palmyra from ISIS.

The fall of Palmyra and subsequent destruction of the spectacular Roman ruins there by ISIS horrified the civilized world.

The US government had claimed from the beginning that the Russians were not targeting ISIS at all, but only the “moderate” rebels supported by Washington.

That lie now stands bare in newly-liberated Palmyra and onward, as Syrian government troops aided by the Russians speed east toward the “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa.

Meanwhile, the five-year US “regime change” effort in Syria chugs along in a very different way. We learned in a Los Angeles Times report yesterday that the US is now at war with…itself in Syria.

Yes, that’s right.

While Syrian government troops and the Russians are dealing a deathblow to ISIS in Syria, one set of rebels supported by the Central Intelligence Agency is at war with another set of rebels supported by the Pentagon!

Apparently for the past several months CIA-backed Fursan al Haq and Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have intensified their war against each other.

According to the Times piece, US Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) – a staunch interventionist – finds the situation “an enormous challenge,” adding it “is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian battlefield.”

Schiff here epitomizes the total cluelessness of the Washington political class.

It is not a challenging situation nor is it three-dimensional chess to those capable of non-Washington thinking.

It is a matter of US policy being to wage war against both the Assad government and Assad’s main enemy, ISIS.

When you fight an enemy and the enemy of that enemy at the same time it is not called three-dimensional chess. It is called madness.

If Euripides is correct that “whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad,” it seems we are halfway to destruction in the US.

Trump’s Unpredictability Doctrine

Emma Ashford does a fine job summing up the flaws in Trump’s handling of foreign policy issues:

Indeed, it is nearly impossible to tell whether he actually believes these statements, or is simply monumentally ill-informed.

Based on his comments to the Washington Post, Trump is apparently unaware of European sanctions on Russia, of the fact that Iran and ISIS oppose each other, and believes that America’s GDP is “essentially zero.” 

If we step back from substantive issues, however, another pattern emerges: unpredictability. Trump has flip-flopped on issues ranging from Syria to Afghanistan to visa policy. 

When confronted with these inconsistencies, he has denied his prior comments, obfuscated, and even praised his own flexibility. 

Unlike many politicians who moderate between the primary and general election, Trump actually touts his unpredictability as a foreign policy virtue.

Ashford does a better job than I did in my post earlier this week in explaining why Trump’s foreign policy isn’t what some of his conservative and libertarian supporters have tried to make it out to be.

It isn’t just that Trump’s positions are incoherent, contradictory, and prone to change at the drop of a hat, but he also takes pride in not taking clear positions on many important issues for the sake of keeping everyone–both foreign adversaries and the voters–in the dark.

That isn’t clever or desirable. It is the modus operandi of a charlatan who doesn’t want his marks to know what he’s up to until it’s too late.

When Trump is pressed to commit to a position, he often demurs because he doesn’t want to “give away” what he will do.

This allows him to avoid taking a firm position one way or the other on many questions, and that in turn lets him hide his extraordinary ignorance of the relevant issues.

He mimics many hawks in his refusal to rule things out, and recently took this to an absurd extreme when he is asked if he will use nuclear weapons in Europe.

He says he won’t use them, but also says he doesn’t want to “take any cards off the table.”

In his interviews with The New York Times, he didn’t want to state his position on whether the U.S. should or shouldn’t go to war over disputed territories in the South China Sea:

Would I go to war? Look, let me just tell you. There’s a question I wouldn’t want to answer. Because I don’t want to say I won’t or I will or – do you understand that, David? 

That’s the problem with our country. A politician would say, ‘Oh I would never go to war,’ or they’d say, ‘Oh I would go to war.’ 

I don’t want to say what I’d do because, again, we need unpredictability.

You know, if I win, I don’t want to be in a position where I’ve said I would or I wouldn’t. I don’t want them to know what I’m thinking.

Besides being a huge disservice to the voters, this excessive reliance on ambiguity just creates more opportunities for other governments to misunderstand U.S. commitments and to miscalculate when making their own decisions.

Ambiguity may occasionally be valuable, but in most cases it creates unnecessary confusion and uncertainty.

Refusing to answer questions on major issues because the candidate doesn’t “want them to know” what he’s thinking is nothing more than a dodge, and one that should make all voters wary of the candidate regardless of their policy views.

No one really knows what kind of foreign policy they would get from a Trump administration, and the candidate wants to keep it that way.

His fans and his die-hard opponents think they can guess what he would do, and that’s why they support or oppose him so strongly, but in the end all they’re doing is guessing based on extremely limited information.

Even if Trump happens to be taking what you think is the right positions on some issues at the moment, those positions are liable to change just as his positions have changed in the past. Ashford concluded:

So when Trump says something you like on foreign policy, remember that tomorrow he will most likely change his mind.

Trump prizes unpredictability in foreign policy, and for that reason can’t be relied on to do what he says.

We Come Back To The Fact

Robert Fisk writes:

They could go on hunger strike. They could talk to the International Red Cross. Their wretched trials could be witnessed by journalists.

Their utterly illegal detention – under international law, that is – was known about, and widely condemned as an outrageous and flagrant breech of human rights.

But they couldn’t be waterboarded.

The fact that the CIA thugs didn’t get their hands on them – or not as far as we know – must be the one charitable thing to come out of Guantanamo, whence a dozen extra prisoners are to be released, according to the Pentagon. 

91 still to go. And oh yes, one of the dozen is a Yemeni who has been on hunger strike since 2007 and has lost half his body weight.

So that just shows you. Go on hunger strike, and you get released. 

The Americans don’t want anyone dying on hunger strike; Tariq Ba Odah has been force-fed daily –strapped down, a rubber tube forced inside his nose and a liquid supplement pumped into his stomach. Sounds a bit like torture to me.

But that’s how it goes at Guantanamo. When there’s no rule of law, you’ve got to keep these guys alive. No rules, no law.

Remember how the bad guys picked up on this? Remember how al-Qaeda and Isis used those orange jumpsuits for their prisoners, how they dressed up their inmates before butchering them?

I can’t recall any US official commenting on that particular theatrical prop.

Because this would suggest, wouldn’t it, that a theatrical prop is exactly what it was at Guantanamo – a method of humiliating prisoners, of flaunting their imprisonment.

And then there were the obviously flawed charges – I can think of a bunch of Bosnians locked up to no purpose and then handed back to Bosnia, not to mention an Afghan so old he was obviously senile and let us not forget a few Brits, too – and then a few men who did indeed return to ‘active duty’. 

Because the problem is that by putting the ‘guilty’ along with the ‘innocent’ – I use the quotation marks advisedly – you make everyone innocent.

And this is the point, isn’t it?

By including men of violence with men who would never commit violence, you both contaminate the innocent and cleanse the guilty.

This is what George Bush did. This is what the Americans did.

No wonder Barack Obama wanted to close Guantanamo.

He saw in it something iniquitous: he saw in it the staining of a whole group of people – mainly Muslim, of course, often brown, even black people – who were imprisoned outside the law. 

Indeed, the law didn’t even get a look in. ‘Illegal combatants’ was the phrase, I seem to recall. Illegal – as in ‘non-legal’. 

And of course, that’s how Isis and company treated their truly innocent hostages.

They shrewdly understood that the final humiliation was to dress up their victims in the same clothes as the Guantanamo men – to make them equally ‘guilty’, equally bad, equally horrific.

That is George Bush’s legacy to us.

Now let’s go back to Ba Odah, who was taken to Guantanamo in 2002 – that’s fourteen years in prison, for heaven’s sake – but he can’t be sent to his home (Yemen, of course) because of a congressional ban on repatriations to Yemen.

And he’s one of 41 Yemenis who can’t be transferred there. Incredible! That’s almost half the entire prisoner roll-call in Guantanamo.

Now let me get this right. When they were sent to the Cuban camp, these were the worst of the worst, the bad guys, the dudes in the black hats. 

And now it turns out that the Yemenis were the worst of the worst.

But I have to say that I don’t remember many Yemenis in Osama bin Laden’s camps – and I met the man twice in Afghanistan – so how come there are so many in Guantanamo?

True, there were Egyptians, Algerians, Tunisians, Saudis (bin Laden was one of them) and Moroccans. But Yemenis?

Well, I guess the Saudis are killing a lot of them right now (the Shia variety, needless to say, for Ba Odah’s faith is commonly believed to be Sunni).

But then again, we come back to the fact that the Saudis are the principal supporters of the Wahhabi Salafist Sunni faith whose religion is espoused by the Taliban and Isis (and a lot of Gulf states).

And if we’re going to name the bad guys, maybe we should be talking about some ‘folk’ (a Bushism, by the way) who live in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as... Oh hell no, let’s not go down that road.

It may lead to Guantanamo.

Loss of Security and Control

Although she is wrong to put her faith in the EU to improve matters, Mary Dejevsky writes:

Tata Steel’s decision to sell up in the UK gave the Prime Minister a brutal welcome on his return from holiday, brought the business secretary home early from Australia, and allowed Jeremy Corbyn to strut his stuff against one of the grittier industrial backdrops this country still has to offer. 

It places at least 15,000 jobs at risk - close to 40,000 if you include the likely knock-on effects - and many of those jobs are in areas that remain dependent on a single employer.

No wonder there is much fluttering in the political dovecote. In some ways, what is unfolding in South Wales and elsewhere has the feel of a drama from the 1980s.

We are back discussing the merits or otherwise of nationalisation - if it’s good enough for a bank, why not for steel? 

Out-and-out free-marketeers are back arguing the toss with the statists - except that steel production now accounts for only 1 per cent of Britain’s manufacturing output and a fraction of the jobs that it did then, so that the costs and benefits of any rescue now look a little different. 

And then there is - how could there not be, less than three months before the in-out referendum? - the EU angle.

If we were out, say the “Leavers”, the UK would be free to slap much higher tariffs on imported steel, saving a key sector of manufacturing and the jobs that go with it.

Not so fast, say the “Remainers”, prices of practically everything metallic - from cars to pre-fab warehouses - would then rise to match, leaving the UK substantially poorer, and the EU could impose its own tariffs on UK steel exports. 

All these questions of principle and practice are relevant, but not nearly as relevant as the one question that successive governments have preferred not to ask over the same time - at least not with the degree of openness that was warranted.

And this question is: how far has the much-vaunted openness of the UK’s economy been in the national interest?

How far has the quest for foreign investment been allowed to override other considerations? Is there a point at which a country can be too “open for business”?

This has nothing to do with the UK’s membership or not of the European Union.

EU members take different views of their own home-grown industries and use different stratagems to protect what they see as their interests.

But they operate a tariff-free zone: free movement of goods, as of people.

The quarrel of the UK steel industry in general, and of Tata Steel UK in particular, is not with any other European steel producer, but primarily with China because of the scale of its manufacturing and the cheapness of its steel.

Any remedy here needs to be sought through the EU.

Its economic clout as a grouping was demonstrated when it acted - successfully - 13 years ago against discriminatory US tariffs (on steel, as it happened).

But care has to be taken not to damage other sectorial interests, in the UK, as across the EU. This is why the EU has tariffs on Chinese steel which are lower than those imposed by the US. 

Yet the bigger quarrel has to be had with this, and previous, UK governments.

In the past 24 hours a former head of the Navy, Admiral Lord West, has argued that a home-grown steel industry is vital for national defence.

If he has a point, beyond special pleading, then where were the top brass when the preponderance of the UK steel industry was sold to Indian-owned Tata?

Did the UK government of the day - it was the Blair government that signed off on the sale of then Corus to Tata - not regard steel as a strategic industry, without which the UK’s prized defence sovereignty could be impaired? 

And if it did, was there not an argument for keeping it in UK, or EU, ownership? 

Let me clarify here that my instincts are all in favour of free trade. Abolishing barriers, to my mind, is infinitely preferable to building them [why necessarily?]. 

Europe-wide free trade has been of enormous benefit [to whom?].

But if even the United States, that arch-advocate - if not perfect practitioner - of the free market draws lines around its national interests, then it surely has sound reasons.

Such has been the UK’s accelerating zeal to attract foreign money that more than half of all shares in UK-based companies are now in foreign hands. 

And the London Stock Exchange itself is about to go the same way.

Where clearly commercial goods are concerned, and there is genuine competition, it is hard to object, even where supposed “national treasures” are lost.

The problem with Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury was less the purchase as such, than the almost immediate betrayal of trust.

But what of utilities and major infrastructure?

Privatisation is one thing; a sale to non-UK, or even non-EU, interests, it seems to me, quite another [no, it is not].

While the US Congress halted a proposed sale of six ports to the UAE, many UK ports are foreign - non-EU - owned.

They include London’s Prince Albert Docks, where a Chinese developer has apparently run into some sort of undefined trouble.

The capital’s biggest airports are now all in foreign hands.

EDF (France) not only owns a major UK utility, it is about to build at least one, maybe more, nuclear power stations here, funded in part with Chinese money - a deal that has aroused qualms even among some of EDF’s own executives.

A Chinese telecoms conglomerate (Huawei) provides much of BT’s hardware. There are reportedly “safeguards” in place. Says who? The same people who signed off on it, though the US is said to have expressed reservations.

The extent of foreign ownership in the UK economy is not something that has been openly debated as such, with the downsides - loss of security and control - as well as the upsides - money, obviously - given equal airtime.

Tata’s exit offers an opportunity to ask the big questions that should have been raised - but weren’t - when Tata bought into the UK steel industry in 2006.

Trump Attempts To Abort Candidacy

Rod Dreher, no less, writes: 

“I am pro-life,” Mr. Trump said after a few attempts. Asked how an abortion ban would be put in place, he said, “You go back to a position like they had where they would perhaps go to illegal places. But you have to ban it.” 

Finally, Mr. Matthews asked Mr. Trump, “You’re about to be chief executive of the United States. Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no?” Mr. Trump responded: “The answer is there has to be some form of punishment.” 

“Ten days?” Mr. Matthews asked. “Ten years?” Mr. Trump replied: “I don’t know,” adding, “It’s a very complicated position.”

This is how you know Trump hasn’t thought about abortion for more than five seconds, much less has had contact with the pro-life movement. Almost everybody in the pro-life movement rejects the idea of punishing women who abort their children. 

It sounds illogical to the pro-choice side, and they have a point. If abortion is tantamount to murder, then why let the woman who hired the hit man abortionist get away without penalty?

The answer is because the pro-life side is not so much interested in punishing women as it is in saving the lives of unborn children.

Ross Douthat, in an exchange last year with the feminist Katha Pollitt, provided a good answer to a tough question. The question below comes from Pollitt:


8. Murder.

If zygotes are people, abortion is infanticide, a very serious crime. Kevin Williamson, a correspondent for National Review, has said that women who have abortions should be hanged.

That’s going pretty far. After all, if every woman who had an abortion were executed, who would raise the children? But if abortion becomes a crime, what do you think the punishment should be? 

I’m assuming you approve of jailing the provider, but what about the parent who makes the appointment, the man who pays, the friend who lends her car? Aren’t they accomplices? And what about the woman herself? 

No fair exempting her as a victim of coercion or manipulation or the culture of death. We take personal responsibility very seriously in this country. 

Patty Hearst went to prison despite being kidnapped, raped, locked in a closet and brainwashed into thinking her captors were her only friends. 

Our prisons are full of people whose obvious mental illness failed to move prosecutors or juries. Why should women who hire a fetal hit man get a pass?

This is the hardest and most reasonable question, and the place where I least expect my answer to convince. 

But here I think the pro-choice side of the argument, the argument for not making abortion illegal at all, rests on a belief that many pro-lifers actually share: That while abortion is killing, while it is murder, it is also associated with a situation, pregnancy, that’s unlike any other in human affairs, and as such requires a distinctive legal response. 

No other potential murderer has his victim inside his body, no other potential murder victim is not in some sense fully physically visible and present to his assailant and the world, no other human person presents herself (initially, in the first trimester) to her potential killer in what amounts to a pre-conscious state. 

And again: no other human experience is like pregnancy, period, whether or it comes expectedly or not. 

These are not, in my view, strong arguments for the pro-choice view that we should license the killing of millions of unborn human beings.

But I think they are strong arguments for maintaining the distinctive approach to enforcement that largely prevailed prior to Roe v. Wade, in which the law targeted abortionists and almost never prosecuted women. 

And I don’t think pro-lifers should be afraid to say that a pregnant woman’s decision to take a first-trimester life is simply a different kind of murder than the murder of a five-year-old, and one where the law should err on the side of mercy toward the woman herself in a way that it shouldn’t in other cases, and reserve the force of prosecution for the abortionist, the man or woman who isn’t experiencing the pregnancy, instead. 

This approach is, yes, exceptional in terms of how the state treats homicide. But its “exception from the general rule seems to be justified by the wisdom of experience,” as a pre-Roe court ruling put it. 

And while — again — pregnancy is unique, it is not the only situation where older legal forms approached killing in distinctive ways. 

Suicide, for instance, was historically treated as a form of murder in many jurisdictions, but attempted suicides were hardly ever prosecuted for the attempted murder that they had committed, whereas people who assisted in suicide were more likely to be charged. 

And a version of that distinction survives today: Suicide itself has now been largely decriminalized but assisting a suicide is still illegal, though of course a subject of much culture-war controversy, in most U.S. states.

Could one argue that this combination is illogical — that if we don’t throw attempted suicides in jail we shouldn’t make it illegal to help them make their quietus?

Certainly; this is an increasingly popular position. But I think the older position, which recognizes the reality that suicide is murder but also treats it distinctively and assigns legal culpability in a particular-to-that-distinction way, is actually the one more consonant with justice overall.

And in a different-but-related way, the same is true for abortion: A just society needs to both recognize abortion as murder and grapple with its distinctives, and that’s what an effective pro-life legal regime would need to do.


What Trump did was violate pro-life movement orthodoxy in a way that plays right into the hands of the left. See, they’ll say, that’s exactly what these anti-choice fanatics really want to do! 

It’s not remotely true, but now advocates for one socially conservative cause that’s actually making headway, however limited, will have to hit the ground distancing themselves from Trump.

And this is exactly the kind of statement that will bring out feminists and liberals in droves to vote for Hillary this fall, if Trump is the nominee — especially given his long, documented history of disrespect for women.

He’s like the Pope Francis of the Republican Party. He just says whatever comes to mind.

UPDATE: Aaaaaaaand … he’s recanted.

The Other Referendum

Morning Star readers will understandably be focused on Britain’s referendum on EU membership, to be held on June 23.

On April 6, however, a referendum will take place in the Netherlands in which the Dutch people will have the chance to vote not to leave the European Union but to reject a specific EU treaty. 

In its own way this is as extraordinary as a people being given the opportunity to say whether or not they want to stay or go.

And, though we can’t of course vote, while the British media have almost entirely ignored the issue, the result will be of tremendous importance to our future. 

The treaty in question is what’s known as an Association Agreement. The EU has such agreements with many countries, including most of its neighbours. 

They vary enormously, however, in their contents and thus in how deeply they affect lives of the peoples of the parties involved.

They can be — and usually are — simple trade agreements, but they can also be seen as stepping stones towards full EU membership.

The Association Agreement with Ukraine is one of the furthest-reaching ever. It provides for very close political, economic and even military co-operation. 

As a binding accord with a country outside the union, an Association Agreement must be approved by all of the member states. 

This has already occurred, but in the Netherlands there is a law which states that if 300,000 people sign a petition demanding it, a referendum must be held.

This was achieved on an initiative from a group of opponents of the agreement, and the government had no choice but to call and fund a referendum.

The referendum will be consultative, but in the context of Dutch politics any attempt to ignore the result would be extremely controversial, though it will only count if over 30 per cent of the 13 million or so eligible voters turn out. 

As things stand this seems likely to be achieved, and polls show voting intentions almost split down the middle. 

No-one in the Yes camp has suggested that a No vote will not be respected, while pressure from the EU to overturn it will push the Dutch people further towards a position of rejecting the European Union lock, stock and barrel. 

When in 1997 I campaigned against the introduction of the euro with the Dutch Socialist Party — a radical left, EU-critical party — it warned me that to call for actual withdrawal would mean that no-one would take us seriously. 

The SP’s opposition to the euro, and what has happened since, has certainly contributed to the fact that while it then had two MPs, it now has 15, a tenth of the total number. 

It also explains why a recent poll showed that a majority want a referendum on EU membership, and that well over four in 10 now want out. 

The Dutch people are unlikely to be given the chance to vote on actual membership just yet, but they do have the opportunity to derail this treaty, one which it is imperative — in our interests as well as their own and those of the Ukrainian people — that they seize with both hands. 

Bringing the corrupt, war-torn Ukraine into the already bloated and ramshackle union hardly seems a credible project. 

Yet while leading supporters of a Yes vote in the Netherlands deny that the Association Agreement will represent a stepping stone towards EU membership, President Petro Poroshenko and members of his government have made it clear that they disagree. 

Poroshenko has said on several occasions that he wants to see his country in the EU and Nato by 2020, and told the Polish parliament at the end of 2014 that he was “dreaming of the moment when after I end my presidency I will have a chance to run in elections to the European Parliament.” 

Neither the people of the Netherlands, nor those of any other EU member state, would gain anything from intensified co-operation with such a divided, corrupt and failed country. 

The agreement would risk dragging them — and us — into the dangerous conflict which has half the country at the other half’s throat. 

In Ukraine itself, only the corrupt and the very wealthy would be winners. The EU itself is not, of course, taking a low profile in the debate leading up to the April 6 vote. 

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is actively campaigning and has told Dutch voters to “watch out!” 

Claiming that he does not “want to threaten citizens,” he adds, however, that “they must indeed be made conscious of their responsibilities.” 

I agree with that at least, which is why they really have to vote No. Why? I’ll summarise the reasons. 

First, almost 10,000 people have died in the country in a bitter civil war which this agreement can only exacerbate, while over two million have been forced to flee their homes, half of whom have sought refuge in Russia. 

Second, the treaty is yet another neoliberal charter designed to give corporate capital access to 45 million new consumers. 

The goods and services they will buy won’t be supplied by Ukrainian firms, because the Association Agreement includes a ban on state aids, so many will be driven out of business, deprived of the assistance they need to modernise and restructure to compete on the European market. 

State-owned companies such as Naftagaz will be bought up by venture capitalists, and their employees and EU taxpayers will in different ways pay the price. 

Third, most of the financial support given to Ukraine by the EU (which means, of course, by you and me) will go straight into the pockets of corrupt oligarchs. 

Ukraine is measurably the most corrupt country in Europe and nothing in the Association Agreement will tackle this, while EU funds will add swill to the trough. 

Relations between Russia and Europe have already become dangerously confrontational. 

Russia will quite rightly feel threatened by this agreement, and the co-operation which would benefit all parties bar the corrupt oligarchs, neoliberal plunderers and far-right madmen will be set back once again.

A Stunning Victory On Two Fronts

John Haylett writes:

Liberation of the Unesco world heritage site of Palmyra last weekend by the Syrian army was a stunning victory on two fronts against Isis.

Militarily, the Morning Star called it the biggest defeat for Isis “since its fighters were driven from the Kurdish town of Kobane.” 

The united efforts of the Syrian army and allied paramilitary forces, co-ordinated with heavy bombardment by Russian forces, sent Isis troops scuttling towards Sukhnah, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to be pursued by Palmyra’s liberators. 

Forcing Isis out of Palmyra after 10 months of slaughter and mass devastation also represented a cultural triumph. Syrian Culture Minister Issam Khalil celebrated a “victory for humanity and right over all projects of darkness.” 

Isis ideologues justified on supposedly religious grounds their wanton destruction of the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, the massive Temple of Baalshamin and the Triumphal Arch built by Roman emperor Septimius Severus over 1,800 years ago. 

The ancient city’s 82-year-old director Khaled al-Asaad was beheaded in August for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of treasures that could have been sold to bolster Isis finances. 

Children were given pistols and ordered to execute two dozen Syrian soldiers against the dramatic backdrop of the site’s ancient amphitheatre. 

Damaged young minds may take a long time to recover from the abuse to which they have been subjected, but Syria’s head of antiquities Maamoun Abdulkarim believes it possible “to restore the structures damaged or destroyed by Isis” within five years.

“We have the qualified staff, the knowledge and the research. With Unesco approval, we can start the work in a year’s time,” he said. 

Unesco secretary general Irina Bokova welcomed the liberation of the “martyr city,” noting that “Palmyra has been a symbol of the cultural cleansing plaguing the Middle East. 

“The dynamiting and pillage of its treasures to break an entire society sparked a unanimous indignation and strengthened the unprecedented mobilisation in favour of the values that unite all humanity,” she declared. 

Bokova confirmed that, as soon as security conditions permit, Unesco will go with Syrian experts “to evaluate damage and protect the priceless heritage of the city of Palmyra, crossroad of cultures since the dawn of humanity.” 

Unesco’s euphoria over Palmyra’s liberation was balanced by utter silence from Barack Obama, David Cameron and their Nato allies who pass themselves off as fierce opponents of Isis. 

The Russian embassy in London questioned publicly why the Tory government had nothing to say about Sunday’s liberation of Palmyra. 

A convoluted statement emerged from the Foreign Office on Monday, pinpointing Damascus as “ultimately responsible” for the war in Syria. 

“It is deeply regrettable that the iconic site of Palmyra has become a pawn in the wider Syria conflict,” a spokesman sniffed. 

Would-be Tory leader Boris Johnson took a different line, noting reports that “Russians have not only been engaged in air strikes against Assad’s opponents but have been seen on the ground as well. 

“If Putin’s troops have helped winkle the maniacs from Palmyra, then — it pains me to admit — that is very much to the credit of the Russians. They have made the West look ineffective.” 

Johnson’s reference to Russian forces being “on the ground” at Palmyra was soundly based as a spokesman for the Russian military contingent at Syria’s Hmeymim air base announced last week that a special operations officer had been killed at Palmyra. 

He was named as Denis Tulchmanov, and had been based for a week in Tadmor, the modern town near the historical site, “spotting crucial Isis facilities and providing precise co-ordinates for Russian air strikes,” according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. 

After being identified and encircled by Isis forces, Tulchmanov faced a choice between surrender or his preferred alternative of calling in bombing raids on his own position that killed him and terrorists surrounding him. 

His final communication expressed love for his family and his determination that neither his body nor his uniform would be dishonoured by Isis. 

“He died as a hero,” a Russian military spokesman commented. 

Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov, the commander of Russia’s military campaign in Syria, had previously confirmed that special operations forces were deployed in Syria. 

“They conduct ground reconnaissance of preselected targets for Russian warplanes, assist in targeting warplanes in remote areas and perform other tasks,” he said. 

Gen Dvornikov reminded his audience that special ops personnel from the US and its allies are performing similar missions in Syria. 

However, this begs the question of why the efforts of the Russian air force have borne such bountiful fruit in not only Palmyra but elsewhere in Homs province, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo, while the Nato coalition, Kobane excepted, has bombed here and there but failed to affect Isis. 

The obvious answer is that, despite the alphabet spaghetti of armed groups seeking US favour and finance, the only fighting forces capable of taking on and defeating Isis are the Kurdish YPG People’s Protection Units and the Syrian Army, with its Iranian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan volunteers. 

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told Iranian TV on Tuesday evening that victory at Palmyra has opened the way to the eastern and northern provinces of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa. 

He accused the US-led coalition of yielding no results on the ground against Isis and of “mistakenly” attacking national facilities such as the gas facility in Deir Ezzor. 

Russian TV network RT has had some macabre fun this week by spotlighting information from a US veterans’ group reporting clashes last month between elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the Pentagon, and the CIA-armed group Fursan al Haq (Knights of Righteousness). 

Former CIA officer Ray McGovern points to confusion at Washington’s top level between national security adviser Susan Rice and Defence Secretary Ash Carter, topped off by aloofness from President Obama — who acknowledged two years ago that there are no “moderate” rebels in Syria. 

However, with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on these moderates, both the CIA and the Pentagon have to find groups on which to lavish largesse. 

While the military end of operations is in chaos, Secretary of State John Kerry continues to drift towards a more realistic political stance over negotiations in Geneva, which reconvene on April 9. 

His insistence that President Bashar al-Assad must depart as part of a political solution looks less firm, especially since Washington has effectively ceded the key negotiating role to Moscow’s man Sergey Lavrov. Kerry told CBS: 

“Russia is now helping with the cessation of hostilities. And if Russia can help us to actually affect this political transition, that is all to the strategic interest of the United States of America.” 

Whatever emerges from Geneva, the current ceasefire has assisted the Assad government to concentrate its resources against Isis and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.

The United Nations also reported on Tuesday that it has delivered badly needed medical and food supplies to about 150,000 people in besieged areas since the ceasefire began.

It's A Steel

As Donald Trump plans to nuke Europe, why is that not being used as an argument for Trident?

It is not an argument for Trident. But why is it not being used as one, by the people who go in for such things?

Does no Permanent Member of the UN Security Council get by without an independent nuclear deterrent? Yes. We do.

Trident is possibly a matter of months away from being controlled by Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

But no Permanent Member of the UN Security Council gets by without a steel industry. Does any member of the G8, either?

Renationalising steel would cost £1.5 billion per year. Therefore, we could run at the current loss for 30 years before it cost us the same as the RBS bailout alone.

Set that against the cost of putting entire towns on the dole forever.

Speaking of benefits, David Cameron, George Osborne and Ken Clarke already stood exposed as more right-wing than Iain Duncan Smith.

Today, they also stand exposed as more right-wing than Peter Lilley and John Redwood.

So much for "the centre ground".

I do wish that Trump would offer to buy even only one part of what was once British Steel, most obviously Port Talbot.

If that is losing a million pounds every day, then he ought to offer £365 million. To him, that would be the loosest of change.

Nationalisation would be offered instead within the hour.

And the prospect of such a buyer would preclude any nationalisation that was merely with a view to privatisation.

The Government is trying that trick on every state school in England.

But if we were keeping an eye on this, then we would be keeping an eye on that, too.

As I Recall

Three years ago, Parliament was recalled at Easter for no better reason than to pay sycophantic and, in terms of its sheer length, unprecedented tribute to Margaret Thatcher.

But again I say that these situations only arise because Parliament is in recess too much in the first place.

Undeniably Exceptional

A comment puts it splendidly: "Donald Trump wants to nuke Mexico if it doesn't pay for his wall. Actually nuke it."

Quite. Not much sanctity of life there. 

Trump now calls himself, "pro-life, with exceptions." 119,530,753 exceptions, it would seem.

I have been active in pro-life for more than 20 years, and it has never been in favour of prosecuting the women.

Whereas Trump was a Clinton donor and a Planned Parenthood supporter until the very recent past, and he has no idea what he is talking about.

Nor is he even sincere about it.

Wednesday 30 March 2016


White supremacists in Queensland, which was run for decades by an avowed and active ally of apartheid South Africa, now demand that their university be a safe space from the very existence of Aboriginal history.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump demonstrates his complete and utter unfamiliarity with the pro-life movement, which has always advocated action against (overwhelmingly male) abortionists rather than against women, and then in a much wider context with which it is clear that Trump has made absolutely no effort to acquaint himself.

A Very Fluid Time For International Relations

Barack Obama went to Cuba last week. This was the first visit by a US president to Cuba in nearly a century.

For the first half of the 20th century, the US kept Cuba under overt control.

Then, in 1953, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara led a guerrilla movement that overthrew the US-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Establishing a socialist regime in 1959, Cuba was taken into the communist fold and remained reliant on Soviet Russia for the duration of the Cold War.

During the 1960s, Cuba became the epicentre of the Cold War – from Eisenhower’s infamous Bay of Pigs invasion, and his attempt to overthrow the revolution, to the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world held its breath.

Cuba remained under a US blockade and trade embargo after the end of the Cold War. So the recent improvement of relations between the two countries is of great historic importance.

Following two years of secret talks, it was announced last year that diplomatic relations would be re-established.

Two meetings at regional conferences followed, and, last week, US president Barack Obama visited the Cuban president, Raul Castro.

The trip was full of spectacularly awkward moments, from the peculiar handshake between Castro and Obama to Castro’s criticisms of US healthcare. 

Nonetheless, both were clearly pleased to be taking part in the meeting. 

So what has the establishment of diplomatic relations changed? 

The financial and trade embargo on Cuba remains – this can only be lifted by Congress, which is currently controlled by a Republican Party hostile to the idea. 

GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, whose father left Cuba before the revolution, denounces the move outright. 

Cuba remains a tightly controlled authoritarian system marked by human-rights abuses and state oppression. 

However, it has been undergoing slow internal change, with small-scale private businesses opening, and limited (though highly censored) internet becoming available.

While the embargo remains, Obama’s moves are largely symbolic.

However, the recent visit, and the determination of the Obama administration to begin normalising relations with Cuba, is to be lauded – particularly as it has been done in the face of much hostility from the US political establishment.

The US embargo of Cuba is a historical anachronism – a fit of pique to punish a colony that was determined to assert its own sovereignty, and an ongoing injustice to the people of Cuba.

So, for this visit, Obama is to be congratulated.

As the US gears up to elect its next president, it is worth reflecting on Obama’s foreign policy legacy. 

At times, he has made some pragmatic and reasoned decisions – such as the Iran nuclear deal and the partnership with Russia in Syria. 

But his presidency has also been marked by some of the worst excesses of post-Cold War liberal interventionism: the funding of jihadists in Syria; the Libyan intervention; the drone war in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan; and the intervention in Ukraine. 

Obama’s varied record shows that we live in a very fluid time for international relations, meaning that it is often difficult to predict how states will act. 

There is much talk about the ‘new Cold War’ between Russia and the US, yet what is lacking is the overall political imperative of communism vs capitalism. 

Thus, in one region – Syria – the US and Russia co-operate, while, in others, they come into conflict.

What Should Be Publicly Available Data

Charles Arthur writes:

Like an embarrassed child trying to hide a broken lamp behind a curtain, Sajid Javid last Thursday, hours before the Easter break, sneaked out the news that the government wants to privatise the Land Registry. 

Perhaps he hoped nobody would notice. In vain. 

The growing number of people who rely on open government data to run businesses and understand what is happening to the country weren’t fooled at all. 

Selling the Land Registry is foolish dogma that risks creating a private monopoly over what should be publicly available data. 

It would mean squandering long-term income for short-term gain; putting vital information beyond reach of the Freedom of Information Act; and creating a future where we can’t find out how our country is owned without stumping up fees of unknown size.

The idea was floated to, and blocked by, Vince Cable in the previous administration. It’s still a bad idea. 

Just ask John Manthorpe, the former chief land registrar, who on the We own it website says: “The Registry’s independence from commercial or specialised interests is essential to the trust and reliance placed on its activities”. 

The Tories’ reason for the proposed sell-off is in the second sentence of the foreword of the consultation: “Reducing the national debt.” 

It then breezily suggests that the Land Registry doesn’t have to be publicly owned “as long as the right protections are put in place, including keeping the statutory register under government ownership”. 

Instead, it could “continue to evolve into a high performing, innovative business, delivering for customers and the wider market in a 21st century, digital economy”. 

It’s the usual buzzword bingo. 

Yet the Land Registry isn’t a burden on the taxpayer; it generates a profit, because everyone who buys or sells property is obliged to update it, and pay a fee. 

More importantly, it creates a record. 

“Enforcing land ownership is not just some random thing the state does, it’s the core thing the state does,” Francis Irving, a programmer and activist for open data who co-founded the prize-winning data startup ScraperWiki, told me. 

“In a digital age especially, registry of land and boundaries is a key part of property ownership enforcement.” 

Making land data available to everyone for free was a key change in South Africa after apartheid: it was recognised as important to make every citizen equal. 

So why do the Tories want to put price and secrecy barriers in the way of people who want to know about the country’s ownership? 

Just over 10 years ago, Michael Cross and I started the Free Our Data campaign in the Guardian’s Technology section, arguing that the fees being charged for access to non-personal government-held data – such as Ordnance Survey map data, Environment Agency flood, river and reservoir data, company filings, even tide times – were blocking the creation of a new economic sector: digital companies which could create value by putting different datasets together. 

ScraperWiki is the sort of company that relies on such access.

The proposal wasn’t initially greeted with open arms.

But following Gordon Brown’s arrival in 2009, the ball began rolling: Tom Watson, then Cabinet Office minister, was an enthusiastic proponent of free data inside the government, and we then discovered that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, held the same view, which he put to Brown at a dinner.

Brown agreed.

It turns out that running a campaign gets easier when the inventor of the world wide web and the prime minister support the idea behind it.

The big breakthrough was in April 2010, when Ordnance Survey released a huge amount of data for free commercial reuse – an idea that would have been laughable four years earlier, when small web developers were fending off lawsuits over map screenshots.

Other departments followed.

Once the Environment Agency, which had resisted calls to make its data freely available because it was an “executive agency”, at arm’s length from the government, caved in, I thought the fight would be over.

It took the 2014 floods to start getting river level data for free.

However the campaign’s work won’t really be done until the government stops having stupid ideas about privatising the data which should be publicly held.

We’ve already suffered from Michael Fallon’s decision to sell off the income-generating Postcode Address File (PAF) database with Royal Mail – which means the government had to set aside £5m (but will need more) in the budget to create a “national address register”, with exactly the same information.

PAF is now an expensive private monopoly which many businesses have no alternative but to rely on.

By contrast, you can download the “price paid” data from the Land Registry going back to January 1995 for free, and use it for business.

That’s open data – albeit with a caveat: the address data is owned by Royal Mail, so there’s a fee payable if you try to attach addresses to the price data.

Another missed chance by the Tories, through Fallon’s selloff.

Sell the Registry off, and prices could rise; as a monopoly with inside knowledge it could crowd rivals out of the information market and refuse to license data.

The worst part? The Tories know this already. In 2014 they tried the same consultation.

The first question was whether people thought a “more delivery-focused organisation at arm’s length from government” would do a better job for customers. Answer: 91% said no.

So who wanted privatisation? As the campaigner Owen Boswarva has pointed out, not small businesses, legal representatives or councils.

It was big companies such as the outsourcing firm Capita, IBM, and private equity group Silver Lake Europe.

Are we really sure they have our best interests at heart? It’s certainly not clear the Tories do.