Friday, April 24, 2015

The Death March: Started 100 years ago today

As Aussies and Kiwis focus on ANZAC Day at present, it tends to overshadow an event, conventionally thought to have started today, a century ago, that is not as widely known as it should have been, not least because the land upon which it happened is, by and large, in complete denial of it.  The Governments of Australia and New Zealand, maintain this, presumably for convenience of trade with Turkey.  

That fact is an utter disgrace, and I give a rare credit to the Green Party for seeking to change this.

The Ottoman Empire was in trouble, the Great War, as it was then, was not going its way, and the Empire thought it had found one of the chief reasons, its scapegoat was the Armenians living in what is now Turkey, primarily because it saw Armenians as allied to Russia (which had often sided against discrimination and persecution of Armenians over previous centuries).  

There had been a history of periodic oppression of Armenians under Ottoman rule, as Armenians periodically rebelled against the inequality of treatment of the Ottoman state.  However, the catalyst for the events of a century ago came from the defeats of the Ottoman Empire in eastern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims fled from the Balkans to live in what is now Turkey, in what were predominantly Armenian areas.  These impoverished Muslims (who left many killed from war) were disenchanted by the relative comfort of the Armenian population, so a twin legacy of economic envy and "fifth column" fears emerged.  As Ottoman Muslims found it difficult to encourage Ottoman Armenians to turn against Armenians in Russia (which it was at war with), and there was genuine fear that Armenians would turn to fight with the Russians.

Armenian conscripts in the Ottoman army were demobilised, out of fear that they would switch sides. Their weapons were removed, and so it began.

Jevdet Bey, Governor of the Vilayet of Van, ordered 4000 Armenians to "volunteer" to defend the area from Russian attack, but the Armenians feared he would repeat his actions in villages of massacring Armenian men.  So they formed a self defence force, to protect a single square kilometre of the town of Algestan successfully.  On the night of the 23rd of April, the Ottoman Government rounded up 250 intellectuals and Armenian community leaders in Constantinople, and were moved to holding centres in Ankara, from where they were subsequently deported or executed.  In May, one of the triumvirate who ruled the Empire, Mehmed Talaat Pasha, ordered the deportation of Armenians.

Subsequently, Armenian property was confiscated, and hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forced at gunpoint, to leave their homes and businesses, and the towns and cities where they lived. Many were sent to march to Deir ez-Zor, in what is now Syria, crossing desert to get there.   Many starved or dehydrated in the process.  Some were shipped by rail, in a manner reminiscent to what the Nazis would replicate across Europe 25 years later. 

It was not just men of military age, but all men, women and children.  The soldiers had full carte-blanche to do as they saw fit, so in Damascus some would display women naked and sell them as chattels.  25 concentration camps had been set up to take the Armenians, where they were provided with woefully little rations in the way of food and virtually no medical attention. 

There are reports of villages being razed, with the inhabitants burned to death,  Estimates of the numbers killed range from the high hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million.  Raymond Ibrahim in The Commentator writes of the atrocities committed, saying they are not unsimilar to the actions of ISIS today, on some of the same territory.  

Turkey today denies that there was genocide, merely that Armenia collaborators with Russia were killed in war, and that the deportation wasn't forced killing, but that there was merely some starvation.  This continued obfuscation may reflect intense nationalistic pride, but it doesn't reflect evidence.  It is clear that, for a combination of historic bigotry and genuine military concern over allegiance, that the Ottoman's decided to remove Armenians from their country, not just without compensation, but in a manner than ensured many would die.

The continued denial by Turkey should shame its government, as it feeds into bigotry by some Turks against Armenians.  What's a further disgrace is that Barack Obama, even after campaigning about recognising the Armenian genocide, refuses to call it that as President. The continued obfuscation of the US President (if not Congress), and the governments of many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and a more nuanced (gutless) position from the UK, and of course (just to show the humanity of Islam and its  opposition to Muslim led slaughter of non-Muslims) the only Muslim majority countries to recognise it are Lebanon and Syria.  

Some Armenians think that the commemoration of the events at Gallipoli are intended to take attention away from what happened to their ancestors.  I don't believe this is at all true for almost everyone who is involved in them, but it is important that we remember and note what happened.

Today, the country of Armenia is a small fraction of the territory that was Armenian dominated, and essentially represents the territory Russia won from the Ottoman Empire, minus that which it administratively carved up into other Soviet Socialist Republics.  Notably, a large Armenian enclave remains in Azerbaijan, where a sectarian conflict has periodically raged since independence of both countries.

The genocide of Armenians helped inspire the Holocaust.  It has also helped inspire Islamic State.  It is only right that today, we spend a moment to learn and remember what was done, because of their nationality and religion, to hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  It isn't about "shaming" Turkey.  It is about not forgetting when states wage the worst act any of them can do - to torture and slaughter there own people, for the crime of simply existing.

Starving child victims of the genocide of Armenians

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Most exciting UK election in ages? In one sense... (Part One)

That's the line being taken by the UK media, of course every election is presented as a "once in a lifetime" chance, when it rarely ever is.

What is deemed exciting is that the polls for the past few years have indicated that neither major party is likely to win a majority of seats.  There are two reasons for that.  

Firstly, boundary changes that were recommended by the Electoral Commission, but which perversely need Parliamentary approval to be implemented, have not been.  This is largely because the current boundaries tend to favour Labour and the Liberal Democrats, because both parties have constituencies that have proportionally fewer voters than the ones currently held by the Conservatives.  So some MPs represent fewer voters, meaning their votes count proportionally more than those in others.  The Liberal Democrats refused to support the boundary changes in coalition, so for the Conservatives to win a majority of seats, the party needs, on average a 4-5% higher share of the overall vote than Labour, which would (notwithstanding the next point) have more seats than the Conservatives, even if the Conservatives had a higher proportion of the vote.  Remember, this is still the vagaries of First Past the Post (and voters rejected a mild form of electoral reform in a 2011 referendum). 

Secondly, minor parties are making a significant impact, in varying ways.  Not the Liberal Democrats, who expect to get hit because a fair proportion of its voters didn't agree with it backing the Conservatives and may feel lucky to win half the current lot of seats.  UKIP is taking support from the Conservatives in the south, but also Labour in the north (it is polling a strong second in many traditional "safe" Labour seats, primarily because of immigration-phobia, but also perceptions that Labour is a party of the so-called "metropolitan elite". It will be pleased to get at least 3 seats. The Greens are having a small impact too, mainly taking some Liberal Democrat voters (as the Liberal Democrats were the green evangelists of the past) and Labour ones, although the Green run Brighton Council's disasters and the shockingly poor performance of Australian born (yes I don't know why Australian Greens migrate to pollute the planet with their ideas) leader Natalie Bennett.  It will be surprising if it wins more than the one it has at present.

Yet none of those parties is having the impact of one that has a much smaller percentage of the UK wide vote, but which could win more seats than the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens combined.  It is the Scottish National Party.  Fresh from losing the independence referendum, it has rallied the 45% support that the independence idea gained into direct electoral support.  It is eviscerating both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, and is looking like winning most seats there.  By wiping 30-40 seats from Labour's tally of "safe seats", it looks highly unlikely that Labour could win a majority.  

So, the most likely outcomes of the election are for the largest party to try to cobble together a coalition or series of confidence and supply agreements, with one, two or even more parties, and to fail and find the second largest tries the same.

From a psephological point of view it is interesting.  The Conservatives could pair with the Liberal Democrats again, and possibly UKIP, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland might back the Conservatives, perhaps the Alliance Party could too.  However, the Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP (from Northern Ireland) have all indicated they would "block" a Conservative government, and so might back Labour.  The Liberal Democrats have said the largest party in Parliament is the one it would most likely work with, but UKIP is highly unlikely to go with Labour.  The DUP hasn't ruled out supporting Labour as long as Northern Ireland got its pound of pork.  Meanwhile, Sinn Fein wont take up its seats, although there have been rumours of Labour-Sinn Fein discussions.

So from a pure who does what with whom equation, it's interesting.

My suspicion is that there will be another election later this year.

However, in terms of the variety of what is on offer, it is more nomenclature than substance, as I will write about shortly.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Proper political interviews from the UK...

Whether he stays or goes should be irrelevant, because incisive political interviewing on New Zealand television is, at best, as scarce as a Macaya Breast Spot Frog.

So for my kiwi friends, I thought I'd show you what exactly you are missing out on.  Bear in mind that while the UK is not devoid of decent political interviewing, it isn't common here, and the best of the current lot - Andrew Neil - has been prohibited, by the Conservative and Labour Parties, from interviewing the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Why?  Because he asks straight questions, seeks sources, has research done to find contradictions between statements of others from the same party, stops politicians taking over interviews and refuses to let evasive answers be tolerated.

Enjoy, imagine this in New Zealand.... (and yes I know Lindsay Perigo would deliver, but New Zealand broadcasters have been braindead on current affairs for over 20 years now, so I've lost all hope)

Exhibit 1:  At 4:09 watch Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett get grilled on the parties far left spending spree lunacy and economic illiteracy, and belief that belonging to ISIS and Al Qaeda shouldn't be a crime in itself.

Exhibit 2: At 4:00, watch Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman tie herself up in her own party's policy contradictions, helped along by a proper interview.   

Exhibit 3: At 4:05  watch UKIP Leader Nigel Farage get grilled about the comments of some candidates (this is a year ago, before two Conservative MPs resigned, defected to UKIP and got re-elected at by-elections)

Exhibit 4: From the start, Scottish National Party Deputy Leader quizzed over its policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Exhibit 5: From 1:55 Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander, on the failures of increasing capital gains tax to raise additional revenue, including near the end, the Liberal Democrats not having paid the bill for policing at its previous conference.

Exhibit 6: From 1:04, Transport Secretary, Conservative MP Patrick McLoughlin, confronted about security at railway stations, environmental approach to transport.

 and more if you like....

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

John Pilger – hyperbolic fiction writer and fan of Putinesque fascism

For many years John Pilger has been the pinup polemicist of the far-left, he takes evidence and facts of actual situations, and uses them to justify his inevitable conclusion that some atrocities, suffering or disaster is the fault of Western governments and businesses.  Of course, like any decent polemicist he takes quite a bit of accuracy, points that are difficult to refute, and then uses it to hitch onto his predetermined line.

The enemy of humanity is capitalism and Western liberal democracy, and humanity’s friends are those who accept governance by socialists, nationalists, theocrats and other leaders who epitomise opposition to those enemies.  By contrast, he depicts Putin’s Russia as a proud sovereign state, ignoring blithely its suppression of dissent, and the vast corporatist gangster run corrupt economy it represents.   I can only guess it is because it reminds Pilger of his beloved USSR.

Now he has let out a vituperative narrative about the globalsituation that is long, but starts with treating the United States as morally equivalent to Nazi Germany, which should be enough to tell you what he is, a raving charlatan:

Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened. Had the United States and its satellites not initiated their war of aggression in Iraq in 2003, almost a million people would be alive today; and Islamic State, or ISIS, would not have us in thrall to its savagery.

It’s history for simpletons, and is almost laughably childish.  Yes, Auschwitz would not have happened as such as it was in Poland, but to claim that the Nazis would not have committed genocide in Germany before then is ludicrous.  To claim “almost a million” people would be alive today had Iraq not been invaded, is equally ludicrous.  Even the controversial Iraq Body Count website counts a total of one-third of that figure.  To claim even that presumes the Hussein demagogues would have not executed opponents, not invaded neighbours and not spawned proxy attacks in the Middle East.  Pilger, you see, treats the Hussein regime as having moral legitimacy and a right to exist.   It also ignores the inconvenient truth that most of the deaths were due to insurgents Pilger and his ilk supported.   

You can’t have it both ways, supporting terrorists resisting the invasion, and then blaming the other side for the people they massacre.

Furthermore, to blame ISIS on this is even more ludicrous.  ISIS was spawned in Syria, as resistance against the Assad regime (which Pilger implicitly supports, and which has always been aligned with the USSR/Russia historically), it spread to Iraq due to sectarian bigotry of the Iraqi government supported by Iran (another regime Pilger implicitly supports).  

I could go on, as pulling apart Pilger is like the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel, it’s too easy. However, given it’s too easy, I’d thought I’d summarise his turgid piece into a series of bullet points, you’ll get the picture rather quickly:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Greece votes for a dream, and it is only that

The news that Greece looks like getting a far-left government let by the soft communist Syriza Party has excited some commentators, but what is perhaps most deceptive is the claim that it is a "rejection of austerity", as if the choices to Greek people were like a menu.

In fact, the choices are far more stark, because what Greek politics is and has been ever since it joined the Euro (indeed one could say ever since it joined the European Economic Community), is an exercise is mass deception and reality evasion.

The troubles of the Greek economy are not due to "the Germans", nor are they due to "the bankers", they are due to the peculiar, though not unique, mismatch between the part of Greek society that wants money from the state (and protection for their businesses or jobs), and the part that doesn't trust the state at all, to the point that it egregiously evades taxation on a grand scale.

This mismatch used to be managed by stealthily stealing from most ordinary Greek people through continual devaluation of the drachma. 

Then it was covered by structural adjustment transfers from the EEC/EU, as Greece gained money to build transport, energy and civic infrastructure, and of course the ongoing subsidies for its agricultural sector.   When it joined the Euro, the Greek government gained access to easy borrowing in a hard currency at low interest rates, so it ran further deficits.  The OECD describes Greece's economy as thus:

In Greece, economic difficulties go deeper than the direct effects of the recent crisis and fiscal consolidation is urgent. Difficulties have been brewing for years, so when the crisis came, Greece was significantly more exposed than others. Besides the severity of its fiscal problems, Greece has, over the past several years, gradually but persistently lost international cost competitiveness, resulting in widening current account deficits, a deteriorating international investment position, and a poor record of inward foreign direct investment. 

Greece has a highly regulated protected economy, with a bloated state sector. 

Syriza wants to protect the economy even further, increase the state sector even further, cut taxes and thinks that banks in other countries, supported by taxpayers in northern European Eurozone states, will help Greece out.

There are, in effect, two paths.

Either a renegotiation of existing loans to be written off or extended is achieved, and Syriza quietly folds its promises on state sector pay, free electricity (indeed any further giveaways), and Greece remains in stasis.  or

Greece defaults on debts and leaves the Euro.

In the former scenario, it looks like at best Greece might get some easing of terms of debt repayment, but the idea that it will get half of its debt written off again, is unlikely, given the previous deal saw private Greek government bondholders accept a 50% write down of debt.  There is little real chance the Greek government could get anything from the private sector, so any further loans will be government to government.  

If Greece gets the sort of deal Syriza hopes for, it will set a precedent that Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and even French and Belgian governments will want to replicate.  At that point, you would have to wonder how much tolerance voters in Germany, the Netherlands, Finland would have for propping up their profligate southern neighbours (let alone the former communist bloc countries that went through much more radical and painful structural reforms than Greece should be facing). 

The real risk is that voters in those countries eject governments that agree to bail out other governments with their money.  After all, who wants to be seen to be bailing out Italy?  German guilt over the war can't be stretched that far.   It threatens unravelling the Euro and even the entire EU project, as parties like Syriza effectively want a fortress Europe that looks closer to the former COMECON than a customs union.

The latter scenario has seemed less likely, but I'm not so sure.  A deal gets offered to Greece that extends the terms for existing loans, in the hope that Greece engages in reforms, but ultimately Greece will run out of money.  At that point, it faces either not paying its pensions or public sector workers, or issuing a new currency, and then the Greek economy finally collapses under the weight of its fundamental contradiction.  A western European standard of living cannot be sustained with an economy that is akin to a wealthy developing country, 

The only solution to this is to reduce the costs of doing business, address the corruption within the regulatory/subsidy/state contract/tax system, remove protection for existing businesses (and jobs) and to cut the role of the state, while enabling the state to be more effective in carrying out its core responsibilities.

However, the outgoing Greek government only made modest progress on this, and Syriza is philosophically opposed to making life easier for the private sector.  Syriza believes in the state owning larger businesses and licensing/protecting smaller businesses.  It believes in a generous welfare state and public sector, and wants lower taxes on everyone except the "rich", who of course have either already left or have at least set up their accounts in a way that they are away from the hands of the taxman.

Even if Syriza does get a deal that avoids a default, it will only delay the next crisis.  An anti-business, anti-free enterprise party will continue to strangle Greece just like similar policies have done for many years.  

What's bizarre is that Greece's northern neighbours have faced much more serious levels of reform and restructuring in the past twenty years than it needs to, but they did it.  Bulgaria and Albania are both much poorer than Greece on a per capita GDP basis, but have economies in much better shape. 

The tragedy is that too many Greeks have voted for a dream that they too can convince taxpayers in other countries to buy them a standard of living they don't earn themselves, and that they can convince banks and other private investors to risk their money with a government that is unwilling to pay them back.  It is a dream, and it is about to become a nightmare. 

What I wrote before about Greece, two years ago, remains true.