Who should we believe on Ukraine: East or West?

The rhetoric coming from the West especially the USA is that Russia is supporting the pro-Russian rebels with weapons and men. The conflict has seen shell battles between the Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian rebels, struggling to gain foothold in the eastern major towns of Ukraine such as Luhansk, Debaltseve and Donetsk. As a new ceasefire is in place, America’s foreign secretary has warned Russia to stop aiding the rebels or face further isolation and economic sanctions. However, the US and other major Western states have constantly  made the accusation that Russia is providing the rebels with military material in the absence of evidence. The only evidence provided are satellite images which appear pixelated and purportedly showing heavy Russian military hardware in Ukraine. But can America and their cronies’ accusations be trusted?

On the 12th September of 2002, George Bush addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly on the threat that Saddam posed for the world. In his own words George Bush said,

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We’ve tried sanctions. We’ve tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a nuclear weapon is when, God forbid, he uses one.’

12 days later, on 24th September 2002, the UK Government of Tony Blair published a dossier which accused Saddam Hussein of stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that were a threat to the world. Blair in the foreword of the dossier wrote,

In recent months, I have been increasingly alarmed by the evidence from inside Iraq that despite sanctions, despite the damage done to his capability in the past, despite the UN Security Council Resolutions expressly outlawing it, and despite his denials, Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop WMDs, and with them the ability to inflict real damage upon the region, and the stability of the world.’

That October, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)  released a detailed report on how the Iraqi government continued with WMD programmes in the biological, chemical, nuclear and missiles field.

Retired Army General, Norman Shwarzkopf agreed with the general rhetoric that Saddam had WMDs and he said,

If we invade Iraq and the regime is very close to falling, I’m very, very concerned that the Iraqis will, in fact, use weapons of mass destruction.’

At some point, Condoleeza Rice even claimed that there was substantial evidence to prove that Saddam’s Ba’ath Party had strong links with Al-Qaeda. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and other important dignitaries in the USA, all warned of a Saddam Hussein who was nearing completion of his nuclear weapons programme.

Earlier, on September 9, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard also demonstrated his support through his speech,

‘..There’s no doubt, on the evidence of the intelligence material presented to us, that not only does Iraq possess chemical and biological weapons, but Iraq also has not abandoned her nuclear aspirations.’

Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, appealed to European nations and the US to stand together in ridding Hussein of WMDS,

Europe and the United States must stand together in…preventing tyrannical and irresponsible regimes…[from] having weapons of mass destruction… Iraq is ruled by such a regime… The United Nations must live up to its responsibility to stop the spreading of the weapons of mass destruction. It will be too late when the toxic gases have…spread over one of our cities…’

The list of western leaders who supported the evidence that Saddam was stockpiling WMDs, and was willing to deploy them in conventional warfare with other countries, is endless. Despite the efforts of Russia, India, Iran, China and France to settle the matter with UN inspectors to assess the situation on the ground in Iraq, war was on the table.

The USA and allies attacked Iraq on 19th March 2003, and the war known as the ‘Iraq War’ only lasted up to 9 April. The Iraqi army was heavily defeated in 21 days, but all the purported stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq were nowhere to be found. The evidence provided by the British and American government was proven to be false when it was found that Saddam had no WMDs. The rhetoric suddenly changed to that of liberation and freeing Iraqi’s of a cruel dictator!

Earlier in 2003, BBC Radio 4’s Andrew Gilligan aired a programme that suggested that the ‘dossier’ commissioned by Prime minister Blair, which made the case for the Iraq war was exaggerated. Gilligan claimed to have had a high-ranking source in the government who imparted the claim that Iraq could launch WMDs in a matter of 45 minutes. This claim even though it came from an unreliable source, was published in the dossier to warn of Iraq’s capabilities of WMDs. Gilligan was later grilled by MPs  to name his source but refused to reveal the name of his source. Later on a government Scientist David Kelly admitted to having met Gilligan but claimed that he believed he was not Gilligan’s source. The Hutton Inquiry was set up to investigate the issue, and Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly were quizzed on the matter.

Gilligan later wrote of his experience with the ‘dossier’ issue on a column in the guardian newspaper,

I thought, a realistic idea of how politicians, intelligence officers and civil servants behaved. But over the months and years that followed, my views, and those of most of the country, changed. To borrow the famous words of David Astor over Suez, we had not realised that our government was capable of such folly and such crookedness.’

Today, although the leaders may have changed, it is essentially the same western governments who used false information over Iraq making claims that Russia is aiding the rebels in Eastern Ukraine with satellite image evidence that is unreliable at best. The Russian government has always challenged the notion that they are aiding the rebels, and have requested credible evidence from those states that believe they are complicit in the Ukraine crisis.

This challenge could be genuine, or it could be false.

In truth Ukraine and Russia share a very long border at 1,426 miles. Under any circumstances, it can’t possibly be an easy task monitoring against proliferation such a long border that is spread over rural (and in some cases remote) terrain. Not when your government is short of money as Kiev has been in recent months – relying on multi-billion euro loans from the EU to run its economy. Thus, it is probable that some equipment and military personnel slipped through the border into eastern Ukraine.

Still no state has produced any reliable evidence showing Russian troops aiding pro-Russian rebels in East Ukraine, and Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) not too long ago concluded that there was no evidence of Russian military equipment or personnel during the period in which they were monitoring the area. And yet many large media organisations such as FOX continue to claim that Russia is aiding the pro-Russian rebels with sophisticated military hardware, conveniently ignoring claims that some English-speaking people are fighting in Ukraine.

And at the front of this media campaign is the US Government, with the US Foreign Secretary John Kerry saying that the Russian government has been lying about its involvement in Ukraine. Even Obama mentioned ‘Russian aggression’ as a threat to the US. However, world-renowned linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, alludes to the lies of western politicians in this video here. He correctly makes the important point that Ukraine is right at the core of Russia’s geostrategic concerns, and to have NATO usurp Ukraine is not only a treachery, but a serious threat to Russia’s security.

Consequently, events that saw Crimea annexed by Russia prove that Russia is not an innocent bystander. Russia initially refused to admit that its military officials had entered Crimea, and were stirring unrest, even when there was some reliable evidence to support such a claim. But after the Crimean snap elections which saw it become a Federal state of Russia, they backtracked from their initial position and Vladimir Putin confirmed Russian involvement when he declared “Ofcourse, Russian servicemen backed the Crimean self-defense forces

Further, even in Ukraine there have been several video evidence emerge of Russian tanks in East Ukraine, including captured Russian soldiers – whose passports the president presented at the Minsk talks. In addition, several independent journalists have come forward claiming there was Russian presence in Ukraine. Still, these have been disputed by the Kremlin.

My question is, if the intelligence of the USA and its allies got it wrong with Saddam Hussein and WMD’s, how are we to trust them over the numerous claims they have made about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine? It is hard to believe such information because it was Blair’s dossier and the CIA’s report that ultimately convinced the world that Iraq had WMD’s and in the end, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians died over incorrect information. If anything, I believe the satellite images provided as evidence that Russia is aiding the separatists can be easily doctored in this age of technological advancement.

In this war of words and guerilla maneuvering between the East and the West, misinformation reins on both sides. Such misinformation has indeed reached dizzying new heights with unsubstantiated claims last week that Russia moved Saddam’s WMD’s to Syria. (See another link here making the same claim)

I believe neither side can be trusted to tell us the truth. It’s clear that there are agendas. Both sides have ulterior motives in the Ukraine crisis, as they tend to do everywhere else. Therefore, it would be equally erroneous for one to think that information coming out of Washington or London is always correct, as it is to believe Russia’s rhetoric on Ukraine. Even though looking at how Putin came back to lead Russia, after the placeholder that was Dmitry Medvedev, most people know he cannot be trusted. What was not always clear (and here if any of us forgot about some of the wars of the 20th century, then  remember Vietnam), is that the military engagements of the 21st Century will have opened our eyes to western leaders waging interests driven wars under the pretext of democracy and liberation.

SCOTLAND, why destroy an age old institution? …ENGLAND, why the Selfishness?

When you can build on its past successes or rectify the short-comings of a thing, to make it better, more efficient, quicker, etc, why would you destroy it, and start all over again?

The noise is deafening, I’m sure we’ve all heard it by now: ‘Scotland must be free’ they say, ‘Scotland deserves more’ they huff. Across the road, not too far away from these quips, another discussion is developing: ‘Scotland can’t go it alone’, ‘Ofcourse they can!’ another protests, ‘We are stronger together, this is a 300 year old institution’, ‘ No we aren’t, we haven’t benefitted from it.’… ‘Why should Scottish people trust Alex Salmond?’, Scotland this, Scotland that, ‘Scotland must remain in the UK’,…. the Yes camp, the No Camp (which patronisingly is called the Better Together campaign)…bloody hell!

Can everybody please just take a step back and calm down for a second.

We know about all this, about all the arguments on both sides of the issue. We know. I’m not sure we really need everyone from rock-stars to celebrity footballers appealing religiously to  the ‘undecideds’ because, then, the whole message becomes lost in the sheer numerousness of the hysteria, and to personalities. Sunken in an ocean of propagandist fervour. So, there will be some people who will vote ‘No’, because they don’t like Alex Salmond and the SNP. And there will be others who will vote ‘Yes’ because they are somewhat suspicious of Alistair Darling’s eyebrows. And think Cameron is a posh t**t.

C’mon. That’s not how you decide whether to form a new country or not? Surely, that can’t be the basis of such an important decision.

And I’ll tell you why, because if you go with knee-jerk impulses brought on by political hysteria and what is clearly propaganda, whatever decision you make, you could end up with a country that resembles Bosnia and Herzegovina, or something not too dissimilar to South Sudan. I mean, if Scotland votes for Independence, who should stop Shetland (a subarctic archipelago of Scotland), a few years down the line, maybe post-Salmond, to decide to do away with these pesky Scottish. And declare its own country? Or another likely outcome is that soon after a ‘Yes vote’, they decide to remain within the UK? Why can’t they do that?

Readers, that is precisely why when it came to the crunch, in February 1861, when the Confederate States of America tossed out their silly secessionist plan, the United States (the Union) rejected their scheme, and a war was declared a month later.

Because some ideas are idiotic, and must not be accepted.

A vote to decide Scotland’s future is not idiotic. And Scotland is no Confederacy. The UK is not the US, but, to break apart a union that has done so much for so many people, in so many ways, over a period of 3 centuries, may not be the best way to resolve what at the bare bones is a resource and power argument.

UnionJack1We know the merits of the union, the concerns, the scare-mongering, and even the unadulterated truth surrounding some of the issues. Any sensible 15-year-old will tell you what the deal is. But amongst those issues, are a few facts, which I believe must be spelt out again and again before tomorrow 18th of September, and even after that. By anybody who cares, even an alliance of rock-stars, politicians and celebrity footballers.

Fact 1: Scotland has benefitted from being part of the United Kingdom. Whether we can call that benefit proportionate, or whether the benefit has been ‘enough’, or indeed whether there is such a thing as proportionate benefit is a different story

Fact 2: Successive Westminster governments have not prioritized other parts of the country other than London in terms of  ‘development’. It’s not only Scotland that has ‘suffered’, its pretty much everywhere from Hull to Swansea, from Ipswich to Derry that hasn’t seen the type of improvement which London has had. Everybody knows that. London has been the Garfield-like overfed, obese cat, gobbling on much of the cat food while the rest of the cats survived on crumbs that fell out of the fatcat’s plate. While they had just about enough to remain alive, yet the fatcat expected the rest of the cats to carry it around. Perfect servitude.

Too little has been done to rectify this. If more Scots are to treasure this union, this North- South imbalance has got to change.

Fact 3: A fully fledged Federal system of governance would work far better for the Welsh and Scottish economies than the current unitary system. Forget Devolution, if Scotland (and Wales) were to control taxes, the proceeds of their oil revenues, if they were given the mandate to legislate and decide on immigration policy, etc…who would be moaning? Why not just let them have what they wish to have? At some point Westminster politicians will realise that there has got to be a price to preserve this union, and from the look of things, anything other than significant control powers, whether you wish to call it Devo Max, or Mad Max, is unlikely to work. It will only postpone the problem.

Fact 4: Generally big rich countries, which are managed properly, carry more clout than poor small countries. Big countries can wield a lot more influence than smaller countries. Forget nuclear weapons, and the whole opposition to Trident, if you are big and rich, you’ll wield a lot more global influence than if you are small. More people will take notice of you, and it is easy to push one’s weight around.

Besides the US and Canada, think of Russia, India, China and Brazil. One of the main factors determining their influence on the global stage is their sheer size alone. There are a few exceptions (Switzerland, Israel), but not many.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: If what Russia is doing in Ukraine was being done by a country the size of Scotland, or the Size of Switzerland, how easy (even psychologically) would it have been for the international community to isolate it, and come down heavily on it with sanctions? A different example: China can pretty much get away with its behaviour in the South China sea because of its sheer size. Other than that, and the consequential military might, there’s little else that explains China’s actions. If a country such as Malaysia or Taiwan was throwing its weight around in the same way as China is currently doing, few would take notice. And sanctions would have been imposed by now.

Further, if we look back in History, what has been one of the major factors contributing to the fall of the world’s major empires, if not disunity and infighting? The Roman Empire,  the Kingdom of MacedoniaThe Persian Empires, even the Ottomans. In fact if it wasn’t for divisions and infighting over land, power and resource control in the Macedons, I’d probably be writing this article in Greek. Because instead of the respective ‘states’ of each of these ancient Kingdoms innovating and improving technologically, in medicine, commerce and in other areas, bitter conflicts and strife wasted their time. One brother fought against his mother’s son, killing a man who spoke his father’s language. Wars between tribes cost thousands of lives. Instead of improving, they were revolting against each other, and fighting amongst each other with the result that they became greatly weakened; falling behind other lesser countries, and kingdoms, who overtook them…

Had some of the disunited remained united, and focussed on improving and innovating, isn’t there a good chance that they could have weathered the test of time? And survived. Ending up greater than what we now know them to have been?

Fact 5: Westminster Politicians have used unconvincing arguments of Oil and resources in an attempt to scare Scotland. It won’t work. Similarly, the BBC and other news houses have tried to bully Alex Salmond, and have been biased against the Yes camp. Some of this has backfired. If only they were impartial.

Fact 6: If Scotland votes Yes tomorrow, there could be a period of uncertainty (and hardship) because some of the people who are against independence are going to try to create havoc for Scotland (or at least a level of unpleasantness), so that they can return and gloat, saying: ‘We told you so’.

The problem is, some of these organisations and institutions are very big and powerful. If in any doubt, ask Justin Welby will you.

Worryingly, a few of these institutions have leaders who are good chums with the top brass of the present Tory government. Salmond beware.

Fact 7: And, if  there is to be hardship, no-one knows for sure, for how long and how bad it’s bite could be. The Conservatives and Labour governments of the past few decades have had to deal with demonstrations over issues ranging from closure of Mines to Imperialist Wars. At least one series of these strikes were so severe, it brought down Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1974.

How will Alex Salmond and his SNP colleagues deal with strikes and civil disobedience if the price of oil drops below what they would need to maintain an ‘acceptable’ level of debt? How much will such unrest cause the new country? And if it transpires that the SNP can’t be trusted any more, who will be trusted?

Further, with all the talk of fracking and finding alternative / cleaner sources of energy,across the world, and considering some of the forecasts on price of crude oil, who can say oil prices will not fall?

Fact 8: Even if Alex Salmond says Scotland has a potential to be wealthy like Norway (which I hope is true), unfortunately he doesn’t control the neo-liberal outfits (IMF, World Bank) which lend money to smaller, poorer countries, and which may be instrumental to Scotland in its early years as a country.  Often these institutions favour the kind of strict fiscal policy that would be in the briefcase of a chap such as George Osborne, and not some happy-go-lucky lets-spend-it all monetary policy which characterised Gordon Brown’s era as chancellor and Prime minister. And that is a huge cause of concern because then the questions which every sensible Scot will be asking will include: Are we going to end up like Greece which has instituted  tough austerity measures and thus crippled its economy. Or are we going to end up like Ireland – which is still reeling from the effects of the Eurozone crisis? Or shall we be the new Iceland (whose currency has struggled to regain people’s trust since the credit crunch). Are we going to end up like Spain – with massive unemployment – or like Cyprus, where our government forcibly confiscates our hard-earned cash from our bank accounts?

Sorry chaps, but nobody knows for certain.

Fact 9: If you are tired of illegal wars, corporate tax evasion and an elite club running the show, what you have to do is group together, and make a lot of noise through demonstrations and other means until your cause is given the attention it deserves. Together with thousands of other disaffected working class people. The one thing you do not do is decimate your numbers. Because then you are doing what Karl Marx said was counter-intuitive to a revolution. In any case, who says in 100 years time the SNP would not have become an elitist party, and we’ll be back to square one? It’s happened before, most recently in the last century, in Mexico, where a revolutionary party, the National Revolutionary Party (NRP) that in 1929 had united the people, had by 1988 (barely 60 years later) morphed into an autocratic and brutal regime that would terrorise the opposition and neglect Mexicans. Their terror only came to an end  in 1997 – when the NRP was ousted. Today, most Mexicans know that some of the negative effects of those 70 years of rule can still be felt in Mexican society.

As regards Scotland, already there has been a lot of arguments over who gets to keep what. A typical divorce scenario: Should we share the embassies? How much of the army and its equipment can Scotland keep? What about the British pound, can Scotland continue to use the pound? What about Debt, surely Scotland will need to be apportioned a part of the national debt – with few assets how will that affect its liquidity, a factor the institutions I mentioned above may need to consider before extending a line of credit? Can we share the queen? Can we share the overseas territories? All sorts of issues that need negotiating and resolving… but none of which have any concrete assurances.

Fact 10: The Race to the bottom scenario that has been preached by George Galloway is a certainty. Why would George Osborne (or indeed his successor – who is likely to be from the Labour party) allow Uk corporation taxes to be high, when just over the ‘border’ in Scotland, they are low? Already they want to appease corporations, and have been accused of being a soft touch on tax evasion by big businesses. So if Scotland cuts corporation tax, that right  there would be a sizzling gift to the English exchequer. And sadly, it will be the working class in both countries who would suffer.

To me, it’s a misplaced issue that has been blown way out of proportion and dealt with in a shambolic manner by both sides. But again, I’m not Scottish so my opinion is probably irrelevant. Having said that, I happen to dislike many of the Westminster club, for pretty much the same reasons as I’ve listed above. Which makes me an outsider (with an outsider’s view) in so far as ideology is concerned.  So, maybe, when it could be your last chance of doing so, and while Scotland remains in the UK, get yourself a bottle of Scotch then show your Scottish friends this article. Hopefully, some of the level headed ones in the Yes camp will reconsider their decisions.

Good luck.

Malawi’s Zero-sum Democracy: The Case of South Korea Labour Export – by Jimmy Kainja

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Malawi’s Zero-sum Democracy: The Case of South Korea Labour Export  via Jimmy Kainja jimmykainja.co.uk

The story that governments of Malawi had struck a deal South Korea to export labour turned that it was yet another pack of lies and deceit. If there’s any truth in it then it probably lays somewhere between the government of Malawi’s claim that it was a done deal and South Korea’s denial of such agreement. About two months later, Malawi has moved on to other issues, this story is dead in the water.

This epitomises successive Malawi governments, since the country’s return to multiparty democracy in the mid 1990s, close to zero locally initiated policies are seen through to the end, and that is how government resources are spent. The country is littered with unfinished projects. How much ministry of labour spent setting and promoting the South Korean scheme is unknown and the likelihood is that the public will never know. Because the story is now dead and there is no legal provision that empowers the taxpayer to demand information on how their money is spent.

This is how democratic Malawi is run. Successive regimes have always come up with quick-fix, populist policies that are only aimed at exciting people in short term and help the ruling party return power at the turn of five year electoral interval. No long-term policies to help Malawi wean itself off aid dependency, for instance. Nearly 40% of Malawi annual budget is subsidised by the donor community. The country’s economy nearly collapsed two years ago when Malawi’s late President, Bingu wa Mutharika foolishly decided to bite a hand that feeds – he became hostile towards donors. Donors packed their bags and leave the country to fend for itself. Mutharika portrayed himself as a victim of neo-colonialism and western imperialism, which to some extent he was but the main issue was and remains Malawi over dependence on foreign aid.

Mutharika resorted to local borrowing, meanwhile lying to Malawians that its initiative of spending no more than it could raise locally (zero deficit budget) was working. The truth of the matter only came out after President Joyce Banda seceded wa Mutharika in April 2012. The Finance Minister who oversaw the lies on ‘success’ of zero budget deficit, Ken Lipenga still holds the same portfolio. An inquiry setup by President Banda apparently established that Lipenga was not aware that the government was surviving on local borrowing. In any case this amounted to incompetence anyway. One wonders if there is anything that would stop Mr Lipenga lying to Malawians again.

Everything and anything that can help you win elections in Malawi is game, ethical or not. Ethics are not part of the game in fact. Lipenga is seen as an asset in the ruling party, so he must be taken care of. Knowing this fact, it is not surprising that President Banda’s administration is leaving no stoned unturned in its pretence that it is concerned about a huge youth unemployment rate in the country. Youth unemployment is a global problem at the moment but this cannot be President Banda’s mitigating factor, each government must sort out its own. Thus, Malawi government wanted to be seen trying to do something youth unemployment. After all Malawi has tripartite elections in May 2014 in which President Banda’s People’s Party contest. 65% of Malawi’s 14 million people are aged between 15 and 35. Thus, the youth forms a huge voting block.

The move to export labour drew a considerable amount of criticism and protest. Some have accused the government of initiating modern day slavery and others have referred to it as government sponsored brain drain. These are strong words that cannot be ignored. Yet the level of unemployment and helplessness, especially among the youth in the country means that there are thousands of young men and women ready to takes risks in search of a better life in places they have no idea about.

Now there is deafening silence on the issue as the country has moved on to other hot topics. Government resources spent on lies, suffering youths lied to and deceiving ministers maintaining their portfolios to lie and deceive again. This is a story of Malawi, a story of impunity; tale of a system that is very good at capitalising on people’s mystery while masquerading as its saviour. Those that are outraged by such system and speak out against it are labelled “controversial”, trouble-markers up in arms against the ruling part, which is a de facto government in Malawi. The country thrives on “you are either with us or you are with them” kind of totalitarian kind of politics; a zero-sum game. Sadly, no successful nation has ever been built on such foundation.