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The new cold (online) war. March 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

Whatever the views people have on the crisis in the Ukraine, it is fascinating to see how comments sections on various media are suddenly filled with pro-Russian comments in – and who I to speak, I guess, not great English.

Just on the crisis it’s difficult to quite determine the legality of the change of power in Ukraine. On the one hand Yanukovych was not exactly impeached, although a bill and vote on same was promised imminently by the opposition. The question is is whether the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) also had the right to hold a vote of impeachment which was carried with 328 Deputies voting in favour and none against (of a total of 450 deputies). This figure included those from Yanakovych’s own party. Problem being that sources such as Radio Free Europe argue that proper constitutional procedures weren’t followed in the vote (and of a necessary 338 votes plus a constitution court review, they were ten votes short). On the other hand – and it’s difficult to pin down the chronology 100 per cent, he did appear to depart Kiev the day of the vote along with most Cabinet Ministers which whatever else is deeply problematic.

Deeply deeply unclever of the Ukrainian parliament to vote on the status of minority languages (even if the result was vetoed) directly after such a problematic transition.

In a way that may be irrelevant. Clearly sufficient political forces were swayed to turn against Yanukovych to allow the events to unfold and that may matter more. We shall see. Can’t see this ending well for any concerned, whether Ukraine, Crimea or Russia.

Ukraine and the shape of politics to come February 27, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.

Thanks to Jim Monaghan for posting this link to a very clearly written piece on Ukraine that cuts through a lot of the rhetoric we’re being subjected to on that subject from points various, whether the mainstream accounts of what is happening or elsewhere. It’s main points, that Ukraine isn’t a clear cut example of fascism versus an embattled democratically elected government, or said government versus the IMF or whatever is very necessary to keep front and centre.

One of the key points in this is made by the author of the piece, Mark Ames, when he writes:

In Ukraine, there is no populist left politics, even though the country’s deepest problem is inequality and oligarchy. Memories of the Soviet Union play a big role in turning people off to populist-left politics there, for understandable reasons.

But the Ukrainians do have a sense of people power that is rare in the world, and it goes back to the first major protests in 2000, through the success of the Orange Revolution. The masses understand their power-in-numbers to overthrow bad governments, but they haven’t forged a populist politics to change their situation and redistribute power by redistributing wealth.

The latter paragraph is a consequence, it seems reasonable to suggest, to the dynamics extant in the first paragraph. With no popular left alternative, not even a vaguely social democratic one, of any real size – and a look at the wiki page on the composition of the Ukrainian parliament is instructive, it’s as if Ukraine has a large party right of Fine Gael, and another right of Fianna Fáil and another a bit like a cross between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the social democratic left is unrepresented though there is a CP representation and a heap of Independents (sounds familiar?) – it is locked into a situation where radicalism will almost of necessity be expressed increasingly to the right of the spectrum and in then most noxious ways possible.

The depressing aspect of this, and Ames points clearly to it, is that there is a sense of collective mass action and the potential in it, but that it is directed and shaped to deliver a means of ejecting governments, but not to ensuring that their successors are any better. It’s as if they are in a political loop where there is a degree of agency to the people, in so far as they can go through the same motions, but progress achieved appears minimal.

Ames makes one other troubling point.

The front-center role of Svoboda and the neo-fascists in this revolution as opposed to the Orange Revolution is, I think, due to fact that the more smiley-face/respectable neoliberal politicians can’t rally the same fanatical support they did a decade ago.

That has an importance well beyond the borders of Ukraine. Indeed in my darker moments I wonder if politics in this state, and elsewhere in Europe, may be heading in a not dissimilar direction, where because the centre of gravity of political activity in the so-called ‘mainstream’ has tilted so far to the right the left as an option, in any of its forms, is now fading.
It’s actually not that difficult to see a situation emerge where the predominance of the centre right and right of centre parties here – which is an unarguable fact across the history of the state, is strengthened further towards the right. And particularly in relation to governance.

Just what is the DPRK? February 19, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

It’s a question that comes to mind reading about the United Nations report on North Korea. None of this will be news for those of us who follow these matters, this is, after all, a state that itself admits to kidnapping Japanese citizens (and mostly civilians at that – not that that should or does make a difference) from the coasts of Japan.

There’s much to consider – and much that some should think long and hard about, from the songbun system which seems arguably to be a perverse combination of collective and individual punishment, the use of food as a system of mass societal control, a network of prison camps, and a broad range of acts that the ICC argues ‘meets the threshold needed for proof of crimes against humanity in international law’. Where this goes next is a most interesting question. Probably nowhere given the local balance of forces and the blunt reality that the PRC will sustain the DPRK for its own geo-political reasons as long as it suits them. But on the other hand it offers a yardstick by which to measure future developments or lack of same.

This isn’t a leftwing state, the dynastic element alone is such that it precludes it from being so – and indeed the most recent events in relation to its governance where a non-blood relative was purged most publicly underlines that dynastic element even more forcefully. But if not left-wing then what is it precisely?

Interesting analysis too here:

The report concludes that many of the crimes against humanity stem directly from state policies in a country which, since it was formed from the division of Korea, has been run on a highly individual variant of Stalinist-based self-reliance and centralised dynastic rule. The inquiry found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, with citizens brought into an all-encompassing system of indoctrination from childhood.

But I wonder is that missing the point to position it within that framework because – as with the point about dynastic rule – it seems to sit somewhere else entirely where the outward trappings of Stalinism – more a reenactment than a facade – are bolted onto a much older socio-political dynamic, none of which is intended in any sense to excuse or wave away those trappings – they were clearly used to pernicious and appalling effect. But there’s almost a sense that that was opportunistic, that they provided a methodology at a certain historic moment to acquire and retain power but that their function subsequently was subsidiary. Subsidiary to what?

The state appears to contain competing elite power centres, the Army and so forth, but state legitimation is embodied in a single ruling family and all is subordinate below that level. How much or how little agency that family has is – to some extent – beside the point, though all indications are that it has more than sufficient. That is the system, that is how it is run. That is for who it is run. There is even in the attitude towards the state founder an overt element of ‘the king is dead, long live the king’. Look again at the concept of songbun, an explicit approach that pits the majority of the population as being either ‘neutral’ or ‘hostile’ to those in charge. The state itself comes into implicit conflict with those it purports to represent. That is the logic at work there.

Where concepts such as solidarity or socialism fit into this is quite some question.

Intelligence service September 10, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

Some may have mentioned this already, but what of this here? In a report on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, one which suggests that Assad was not personally involved (something that, and I’m no fan of the man, would seem entirely likely given he would be aware of the counterproductive nature of any such use of those weapons in this conflict) it states:

The intelligence findings were based on phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, Bild am Sonntag said.

What precisely is a German intelligence ship doing off the coast of Syria in the first place? It’s a fascinating question in the sense that it reveals just how far flung intelligence operations appear to be. And it raises further questions. Are there German, French, Brazilian, or whoever, intelligence ships off the coast, of say, the PRC? Vast fleets of vessels listening in on other states, and non-state actors, communications. A sort of covert panopticon.

By the way, it’s worth noting that if the BND picked up a communication like this then most likely others would have done so too (and interesting too the way this crisis is unfolding, not least the Russian response in the last twenty-four hours. It will be telling if the Syrians bow to pressure from Moscow, or rather if they feel they have no choice but to).

Characteristically gracious in victory… September 7, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, International Politics.

…was Rupert Murdoch on Twitter following the victory of the Australian right in their election.

The News Corp chief took to Twitter shortly after Abbott delivered his victory speech in Sydney. Murdoch tweeted: “Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Others nations to follow in time.”

Lovely – clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of his media outlets. Let’s hope he’s wrong.

Just on that election, what a mess. But an interesting mess in a way, because broadly speaking the economic conditions were good to great for the government (albeit softening very slightly in recent months) and the opposition was notably coy about what it intended to do once in power. In fact it seems to have been the chaos in the Labor Party leadership which ultimately sunk their chances.

How that would map onto the Irish situation is another question entirely.

Back in the DPRK, again. This time they mean business! September 4, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, US Politics.

Here from NPR’s Planet Money economics podcast one about:

U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters.


…we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.

You can also see the letters in the original at the web address above.

The podcast mentions, North Korea Economy Watch, an economy blog on that very topic, and has a fascinating interview with the guy behind it. He argues that far from the DPRK being unaware of the ‘kitsch’ or ‘novelty’ aspect of products being produced there, is very very aware and modifies its message according to the recipients.

After yesterday’s vote. August 30, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics, International Politics.

The result of the vote in the House of Commons on Syria, 285 votes against involvement in military action as against 272 for, are positive for a number of reasons. Here’s a few of them.

Firstly, because all the supposed ‘actions’ by the US or the UK are so entirely cosmetic, driven largely by domestic US political concerns. They – and this is known by everyone involved, whether pro or contra them, will make absolutely no difference on the ground. Their intention is not to damage the capacity of the Syrian state to prosecute its side of what is clearly a civil war. They assist those on the opposing side in no functional way.

All they are there to do is to reassert US ‘authority’ and in the most pointless way possible.

Secondly, because Cameron’s defeat and subsequent retreat points up the first. By being prevented from participating, and by a democratic vote, it pushed back against those who would underwrite the cosmetic action outlined above. Indeed there’s been something of a retreat even in Washington – not that that will stop some actions eventually. But it may yet underscore the futility of such approaches in this instance.

None of those arguing that Obama should be ‘tougher’ intend for US troops to land on Syrian soil. And that is what it would take – putting aside the likely catastrophic consequences of same for one moment – to seriously alter the nature of the conflict there. If that’s not going to happen, and the US isn’t going to push the regime over, then all is is effectively rhetoric.

Notably it was a defeat to Cameron delivered in part by his own, Conservatives were conspicuous in their antipathy to the prospect of intervention. This is a strand that has long been extant in Conservatism. Douglas Hurd exemplified it best during the 1990s, but I wonder is it now much more dominant as the right libertarian element becomes an increasingly significant part of the mix in that party?

Thirdly, it underscores just how partisan and self-serving Cameron and his circle were in their attacks on the vastly more cautious Ed Miliband. Whatever about Miliband’s own position, and there was no small political calculation in that, the nature of those attacks was both absurd and abysmal – and perhaps hinted in their extremity at the fact Cameron was going down to defeat. Indeed the more that comes out the more absurd the Cameron position – not least the charge that Miliband was ‘siding with the Russians’. One has to admire Jim Fitzpatrick who resigned as a shadow minister because he couldn’t accept Miliband’s proposals. Good for him, even if perhaps it was a little premature given the immanence of the government defeat.

Michael Gove et al made a right show of themselves, and crucially demonstrated their inability to accept democratic decision making. Indeed Gove’s partner Sarah Vine in attacks on twitter on those who voted against the government merely underlined how hollow the exercise was.

Vine tweeted:

I am SO angry about today’s vote. No military action would have come out of it. It was simply about sending a signal. Cowardice.

What’s interesting is that Vine doesn’t appreciate the contradiction in her own words. If Vine knows that, and Cameron knows that then presumably Assad knows that too and can and will act accordingly. And what is the particular signal, and what would Assad have done on foot of receiving it? He’s unlikely to step back from attempting to consolidate his regime on foot of a ‘signal’, and all other options appear so much moonshine short of a more decisive military advantage to his opponents. And so the dance goes one.

As to the central issue of the Syrian civil war, given that no one actually wants to do anything very much about it one way or – and given that militarily there’s not very much that can be done about, short of the sort of massive intervention that characterised Iraq, it will continue much as it has done. But without in any sense wanting to appear to champion that regime, it is of a different character to Saddam and more importantly appears much less unpopular and – arguably, more stable (ironically the Syrian regime always appeared much more ramshackle than Iraq under Saddam – not so much in material terms, but in political terms, but it has proven remarkably resilient). And yet Iraq demonstrates that even in a context of a broadly loathed regime nationalist sentiment will emerge rapidly against those who intervene. What then of a serious effort to push Assad over?

But again, that’s not on the table.

So if the Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the disastrous and potentially catastrophic limits of hard power in relation to interventions, Syria appears to point up to the limits of soft to medium power. While having clear implications for the future exercise of British power, and in fairness other European states have been generally extremely leery of involvement, that – one would hope – will have implications further afield.

That Cold War Space Race? Some think it’s back on! August 9, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, International Politics, Science.

Interesting piece here in Foreign Policy magazine about how China is moving steadily towards a point where it will be ahead of the US in terms of space activity. In a sense the PRC is already ahead given that they have an usable system to launch humans into space whereas at the present moment the US is dependent upon the Russians and will be until such time as a successor to the Shuttle emerges.

Let’s note that the PRC is already ahead of the Russian Federation with two women astronauts, and all this within a decade of sending up their first astronaut in 2003.

In a way the major problem for the US is that it is trying to return to 1960s and 1970 approaches whereas Chine is moving through those approaches without the diversion of a space shuttle or all that that entailed.

In an accompanying article John Hickman makes two salient points. Firstly that:

The Chinese have not only matched many of the achievements of the US and Russians in space – and in far less time than it took their predecessors to reach the same milestones – they did so while avoiding their biggest mistakes.


The Chinese space program enjoys some important advantages over its U.S. rival. As the recent surge in missions attest, the Chines space program likely enjoys generous and stable government funding.

The first point can be expanded upon, in fairness – and this in no way detracts from Chinese achievement in the area – the PRC is using Soviet technology as its basis, but the great advantage of that is that that technology is tried and tested. In ten years they’ve moved from getting humans into orbit to having small scale but functional space stations, something that took almost two decades for the US and Soviets.

And he makes a further interesting point that:

…the programme has the support of a unified Chinese leadership; President Xi Jinping won’t be shutting down the Shenzhou missions to diminish the legacy of his predecessors, as President Richard Nixon did by ending manned lunar exploration.

One aspect of this is the rather cosmetic privatisation of US spaceflight, where launch capacity is being farmed out to the private sector – the federal state still having to pay, naturally (and to see how cosmetic this is consider the involvement of the aerospace industry in the past). The inability of the private sector to step up rapidly is, one might hope, educative. That and a lack of political will to fund it has hobbled the US return to human spaceflight.

But that political will is central. Obviously the PRC sees long term strategic interest in pursuing these programmes, and it’s not the only one. India has a small but efficient programme in train. What will be telling is whether these developments concentrate minds in Washington. It is hard to see how they could not, but there’s a strange mood abroad these days. We live in a time when anti-statism in its rightward form is dominant. Could it really be that that sentiment might come into direct conflict with US strategic interests?

Friends Forever …… Almost…. August 2, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in International Politics.

via iish
1969 poster “…Long live the eternal and unbreakable friendship in battle between the peoples of China and Albania!.

Long live the friendship between the parties of China and Albania and the revolutionary struggle of the peoples of the two countries”


Some French Posters against The World Cup in Argentina 1978 April 15, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Human Rights, International Politics.

Some French Posters against The World Cup in Argentina 1978. The first one translates ‘roughly’ as “…..when you applaud the French team , cheers cover the sounds of people being tortured…”
I was 8 going on 9 at the time and wasn’t that aware of the Human Rights issues in Argentina back then. Looking now at the squads of the various teams its striking to see how few players played their trade abroad compared to nowadays.
Strangely I loved that Argentina team that won it, especially Mario Kempes (my sons middle name is ‘Kempes’).
Anyway powerful posters
via IISH




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