Archive for the ‘International Affairs’ Category

Oops there goes another rubber tree plant

August 4, 2011

Nice to have a hobby.

The French Football Federation: Betraying the Republic?

May 1, 2011

I’m a fan of the principles on which the French Republic is founded, especially the idea that all French citizens are the same and are treated the same, regardless of their background. The problem of course being that all-too-often, the French Republic fails to live up to its own principles, whether that has been religious symbols in schools or the treatment of people of colour. The victory of the French football team in the World Cup in 1998 was portrayed as a symbol of the success of the French Republic’s values on integration – Black, Blanc, Beur were now all simply Bleu. I was in France a few months after the World Cup, and that was definitely more reflective of the feeling among those I spoke too than Le Pen’s complaints about the team.

So what on earth is going on with the French Football Federation then? The allegations that senior football officials, including the manager and former captain Laurent Blanc, had agreed on an illegal and immoral quota to limit the number of players of colour are astounding, and sickening. The Football Federation does not deny that such a discussion took place, but said that it was a matter of trying to limit wasting resources on training players who then choose to play for another country. This has been Blanc’s line as reported today.

The excuses sound almost plausible, but when placed alongside some of the quotes from the original allegations, they are hard to take seriously.

At another meeting, the French national team coach Laurent Blanc allegedly backed changing youth talent selection criteria to favour players with “our culture, our history”. Sources claimed Blanc cited current world champions Spain, saying: “The Spanish, they say: ‘We don’t have a problem. We have no blacks.'”

The website claimed Blanc had suggested that a stereotype of player, which he described as “large, strong, powerful”, needed to be changed. Blanc allegedly told a meeting of senior federation figures: “And who are the large, strong, powerful? The blacks. That’s the way it is. It is a current fact. God knows that in the training centres and football academies, there are lots.”

Not much about dual nationality in these quotes.

There is an investigation underway, the director of football has been suspended, and we’ll see what happens. These discussions as reported represent a challenge to the fundamental principles of the French Republic (never mind basic human decency). It’s hard to see how any of those involved can credibly stay in their jobs. For the good of the Republic as well as the team, they should go.


When is an Aid Worker not an Aid Worker? Or the BBC’s use of language

March 13, 2011

“Cuba jails US aid worker Alan Gross” – thus runs a BBC headline on the fact that the Cubans have gaoled a US citizen in Cuba. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I hear the term aid worker, I think of someone working for a non-governmental organisation such as the Red Cross or Trócaire or Oxfam. What I don’t think of is someone undertaking illegal work as a contractor for a US governmental agency aimed at changing the political system of a country that the US has blockaded for 5 decades. It might just be me, but this language seems very much like an attempt to put as anti-Cuban a spin as possible on this story. Compare it to the description of the Miami Five who were engaged in anti-terrorism work here. Someone at the BBC – like the entire newsroom – needs to learn what objectivity is.

Not even Hitchcock could have come up with this.

February 8, 2011

An angry bird strikes back

Informed Sources Suggest They Are Talking Rubbish

September 2, 2010

Interesting quote about the accuracy of speculation surrounding events in Korea, in a report by a BBC journalist presumably annoyed at having to repeat such rubbish ad nauseum to keep his masters (and their masters) happy.

But Brian Myers, a North Korea propaganda expert based at South Korea’s Dongseo University, urges caution, given that much of the speculation about the goings on inside North Korea is based on sources outside the country, often North Korean defectors.
“The chances of your average North Korean defector knowing that are the same odds as an English teacher in a bar in Itaewon [in central Seoul] knowing what Obama said to his cabinet last week,” he said.

Getting to Leningrad’s VE Day Celebrations in a New-Old Style

May 9, 2010

I can’t see Citybus adopting this as its next design.

And today, like every day, it is worth recalling the sacrifices of all those who gave their lives and their efforts in the struggle to defeat the Nazis.

Iraqi CP May Day Message

May 1, 2010

May Day Greetings to the Workers of Iraq

and the World

Every year, for more than a century, workers in various parts of the world, of all races, nationalities and affiliations, have celebrated the 1st of May as an internationalist occasion for work and struggle, and a symbol of liberation from the yoke of exploitation and oppression and all forms of economic, political and social slavery that violate the most basic human rights of equality and justice.

The workers and toilers of the world have continued to look at May Day as an occasion for renewed determination to continue the glorious internationalist march for more political and economic gains and successes, and social guarantees for the poor, toilers and working people, leading to socialism. The glow of the 1st of May is associated with great mass events and celebrations, giving impetus to many political, economic, social and national battles and victories.

Iraqi workers and toilers are celebrating May Day this year, along with other progressive forces of our people, with mounting feelings of resentment and concern for the general situation in the country in the aftermath of recent elections. The dominant political forces and blocs have dashed their hopes once again. Instead of speeding up the formation of a broad coalition government that adopts a national democratic programme, rejecting sectarian quotas and monopoly of political power, ensuring security and stability, reviving national economy and providing services, as these blocs had promised during their election campaigns, they began to fight amongst themselves over sharing political power, driven by narrow political, partisan and sectarian ambitions and interests that have nothing to do with the people’s basic concerns.

The working masses have the right to ask bitterly what have the ongoing political deliberations and meetings, taking place between the winning blocs, got to do with their own legitimate demands for improving the difficult living conditions, raising wages, and the enactment of a new labour law that guarantees the freedom and independence of trade union work, and the freedom of legitimate trade union activity in state sector institutions similar to private sector institutions? While the country is enduring the consequences of the tedious process of setting up a new government, the masses of Iraqi men and women who braved terrorism and dangers when they went to the polls, want the top priority to be addressing the concerns of millions of the unemployed, mostly young people, the 7 million citizens who are living below the poverty line, the 5 million orphans and the hundreds of thousands of widows. They are also demanding that the dominant blocs disclose their plans for operating the idle factories and establishing new ones, legislating a new labour law and a comprehensive social security law, and dealing firmly with all forms of financial and administrative corruption.

The Iraqi Communist Party, while congratulating the working class on its international day, expresses its full solidarity with its demands and its General Federation of Iraqi Workers, especially its legitimate demands for the abolition of Law No. 150 (1987), that converted public sector workers to government employees, and for annulling Decree No. 8750 (2005), that froze the funds of trade unions and professional associations, and thus paralyzed their work and activity. Furthermore, the Party reiterates its strong backing and support for the national campaign recently launched by the General Federation of Iraqi Workers to legislate a new labour law.

In the present critical conditions, the Iraqi Communist Party shares with the masses of people their concern about the intensifying conflict among the dominant political forces that is taking place in an atmosphere of internal divisions and external interference, with possible grave consequences. The party calls upon all political forces to put the interests of the country above any other consideration and before any other interests. Reciprocated concessions should be made to speed up the formation of a national unity government, away from the sectarian and ethnic quota system, in order to end the anxious and confused situation that prevails in the country.

The First of May will remain a guiding beacon along the path to building a promising future for mankind.

Greetings to our workers and their heroic struggles on their International Day

The Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party

28 April 2010

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Iraqi CP Website:

Sectarianism Kills (Lebanese workers)

April 25, 2010

“Sectarianism kills” and “We are for civil marriage, not civil war” read the colourful banners at Sunday’s protest in the centre of Beirut.
Hundreds of young Lebanese gathered to march for secularism in a country that lives under a deeply divisive sectarian system.

The slogan “Sectarianism Kills Workers”, sometimes shortened to “Sectarianism Kills”, was a prominent theme in Republican Clubs and then Workers’ Party propaganda throughout the Troubles. It appeared not only in posters like the one above, but also written on gable walls. It was a stark message that described the true reality of the relationship between violence and broader society in Northern Ireland. The gunmen and the bombers were merely the most extreme manifestation of the cancer that polluted – and continues to pollute – practically every aspect of life, from education to work to socialising. The terrorists were rejected by the majority of the population, but the sectarian division that led to the violence continues to be embraced by the overwhelming majority of people in the North. That is a harsh reality, but it is one that progressives must acknowledge and confront if we are ever going to defeat sectarianism.

It was with some interest then that I saw this story about the secular protests in Lebanon on the BBC website. Their use of the slogan Sectarianism Kills reflects the reality of a country still riven by deep religious divisions and where each of the 18 officially recognised sects has its own set of laws. The positions of power in the country are also divided along sectarian lines, and have been for decades, including before the civil war that devestated the country between 1975 and 1990. I remember watching the news from Lebanon during the 1980s, and thinking that Christians fighting Muslims didn’t seem that outlandish a suggestion, possibly even logical. Not of course that the situation in NI ever approached anything like that in Lebanon – partly because there were no international power politics at play as there was there – but the fundamental question of sectarianism is one parallel. It didn’t seem so inexplicable as it must have done to people in, say, Surrey.

There are of course good reasons to have power-sharing in Lebanon, but at the same time, the restrictions placed on those who do not wish to be bound by the conventions of religion and religions tradition are fundamentally anti-democratic.

Ziad and his wife Reine say they joined the movement because the Lebanese system had failed them.
They come from different religious backgrounds and, since civil marriage is not permitted in Lebanon, they could not get married.
“Our families fought each other in the civil war and then I had a big fight about my relationship. The social and family pressure is immense,” Reine says.

They had to go to Cyprus and get a civil marriage registered there. Obviously, there are class issues here. Those who can afford to move abroad or to get married abroad will do so. Poorer people will be stuck. The need for secularism is obvious – it not only offers more rights and liberation for all the people of Lebanon, but it also has the potential to foster an inclusive sense of identity that maintaining social divisions along religious lines never can.

That’s what keeps the society so split, so divided. And its also unfair. I don’t want to be associated with my sect, I want to be Lebanese,” says Kinda.

And so the march represents a small step forward towards building an alternative, and perhaps the beginning of a movement for people to rally around. Unless an alternative can be built, then what was and is true in Northern Ireland – where low-level sectarian violence continues – will be true in Lebanon as well.

The one gable wall slogan that still rings true down the years is that “Sectarianism kills workers”

Happy Birthday to the Iraqi CP

April 3, 2010

April 2nd saw the 76th anniversary of the foundation of the Iraqi Communist Party, which has been promoting progressive politics in Iraq in extremely difficult circumstances for most of the time since, whether it was armed struggle against Saddam or holding the line of secular socialism in the chaos of post-invasion Iraq. Full details here.

1 Million US Children Fall Asleep Hungry

November 18, 2009

The Guardian reports that 1 million American children regularly go to bed hungry, and that in 2008 1 American in 6 – that is 50 million people – has at some point been unable to afford food sufficient to keep themselves healthy. 6.7 million regularly do not have enough to eat. And this information does not come from a poverty or children’s charity, but from the US Government itself. The figure of 50 million is a rise of a third on the year before. Not only that, but the Secretary for Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, said he expected this year’s figure to be worse again. 17 million children live in households that experienced food shortage at some time. Unsurprisingly, those worst affected are from minorities. There are millions more on foodstamps, or who rely on foodbanks. Significantly, Feeding America, which runs 200 food banks helping to feed 25 million people, says that 40% of those it helps are families with at least one working adult.

Such figures, we are expected to say, are shocking. Which they are. At another level, however, they are the predictable outcome of the capitalist system. We are used to see people suffering hunger, and starvation as well, in Africa and Asia, but we do not expect to see it in the most powerful country the earth has ever seen, with unprecedented riches and massive productive capacity. But herein lies the point. America has a very vicious and brutal form of capitalism. Although it can be highly regulated – one need only look at salary caps and player drafts in sports to see an area where US capitalism is more regulated than European – US capitalism as we all know is much more unchecked than we in western Europe are used to, with brutal consequences for those at the sharp end of economic exploitation. That it is not just the unemployed but large numbers of working people that can’t feed their families drives home how unforgiving capitalism is.

Vilsack talks about the need “for us to get very serious about food security and hunger, about nutrition and food safety in this country.” I’m sure that is music to the ears of US agri-business, which has long benefited from the patronage of its government, both through subsidies and protection against foreign competition. They have also been benefiting recently from an alliance with the energy industry. Fidel Castro has been pointing out for some time the danger to the world’s food supply and humanity’s poorest and most vulnerable represented by the promotion of biofuels. Food security means much more than simply ensuring food on the table. The US must take into account the environmental and human impact of their policies on the planet as a whole.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels predicted that modern capitalism would result in the immiseration of the working class, provoking the proletariat to overthrow the system and institute socialism. While they in fact meant immiseration in relative rather than absolute terms, it is undeniable that the ability of capitalism to raise the absolute living standards of workers to an acceptable level of comfort has been responsible for the survival of liberal capitalist political systems. That success has blinded a lot of people on the left to the real nature of capitalism. Statistics such as these, and the figures from Britain showing that inequality has worsened under Labour, should help remove their blinkers. They should also demonstrate to those on the left inclined to single-issue campaigning the absolute centrality of politics. The main difference between the US and western Europe lies in its political culture. The US singularly lacks any significant form of working-class political organisation. Hungry children and families, ordinary people unable to access decent healthcare, parents working two and sometimes three jobs in a desperate effort to make ends meet, drug culture, criminality, apathy, and capitalism running amok are the results. If we are not to follow the US example, then we must remember the centrality of the organised working class, in trade unions and political parties.

As for the President, who has been making welcome and strenuous efforts to extend healthcare, what was his response? The situation is “unsettling”. Change you can truly believe in.