Friday, April 30, 2004

Visible arms distribution?

Found this in Hansard from two days ago:

"Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to his letter to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South dated 14 April, which countries his Department considers to have a stricter and more transparent arms exporting system than the UK. [168596]

"Mr. MacShane: The United Kingdom has one of the strictest arms export licensing systems in the world. The Government are not aware of any countries which overall operate a stricter export control policy, other than the case of countries such as Japan, which do not export any military equipment at all. We know of no other country that publicly reports more information on arms exports than the United Kingdom."

Phew, that's alright then.

Or is it?

Last week the Defence Select Committee took evidence from Safer World, Oxfam and Amnesty. But apparently Britain's 'transparent' system doesn't make it any easier to establish whether or not it leads to arms proliferation around the world:

"Q75 Chairman: Thank you, and thank you for your written submissions. They are very helpful indeed. Could I start with what I understand to be one of your key concerns which is increased proliferation, especially small arms but also proliferation more widely. Could you give us any specific examples of concerns you have about British exports leading to proliferation?

"Mr Parker: As human rights and humanitarian organisations our primary concern is around the human cost of proliferation. We also work towards suggesting solutions for the causes of proliferation, and in terms of United Kingdom exports what we would point to is the increased use of open licensing and tying that with the transparency issue in that it is very difficult to get a grip on quite how much equipment is being exported from the United Kingdom under open licences. It is very difficult for us to give you examples of United Kingdom exports leading to proliferation when a glance at the annual report shows open licences to places such as Luxembourg ‑ 91 open licences ‑ for all manner of equipment and we have no idea quite how much is going under those open licences. There is also a vast naval licence covering a huge range of equipment ranging from submarine parts through to general purpose machine guns which appears to have been granted to somewhere in the region of 40 countries but, again, with no indication of the amount of equipment going out under these licences it is very difficult to come to an informed opinion on United Kingdom exports leading to proliferation."

I look forward to seeing the report when it comes out.
Indefinite dispatch service?

I settled down to an evening of telly last night, the first in ages (although I am increasingly developing the sense that I could be better occupied).

A couple of troubling points though: first, who in their right mind ever commissioned the idea of a programme about bailiffs?! Soft and cuddly? Mean and menacing more like! Maybe its an instinctive sense of being opposed to authority, but I tended to sympathise with the people having their cars possessed - although they could have saved themselves a lot of money had they just stumped up the original £50 parking fines.

Second there was the Dispatches report on the Royal Mail. Being a resident of Tower Hamlets, I had almost forgotten the complaints which flowed into the local press last year about dumped, burnt and open post found around the neighbourhood. Last night atleasts one of the individuals who may have been involved in it was shown. But it's certainly making me think twice about sending anything special delivery.

And after having had a Switch card posted to me two years ago which went missing and ran up a few hundred pounds from my account, I've already decided I will only pick them up from the bank.

And then finally to This Week, with Andrew Neil, Diane Abbott and - standing in for Michael Portillo - Ian Duncan Smith. I hope they won't invite the former Tory leader back; even in an informal setting he seemed wooden.

But more worryingly, he seems the kind of man who when confronted with the truth will stick his fingers in his ears, close his eyes and shout, 'I can't hear you'. Otherwise how can you explain his repeated belief that Saddam had WMD despite all evidence to the contrary? No wonder it took the Tories so long to loosen his grip on the leadership.
Behind closed doors

So far news reports appear centered on the apparent irony between the American soldiers' mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in one of Saddam's old prisons.

How long will it be before journalists and commentators start to ask that if this is happening in Iraq, then what else may be happening in Guantanamo and other places where 'enemy combatants' are based?

When the British detainees were released from Cuba I did think some of the statements made by them seemed fanciful at best. Now I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

From pitch to track

Sometimes it's best to leave your childhood heroes behind.

My idol was Tony Lange, who was Aldershot's player of the year in 1987 and 1988; quite exceptional for a goalkeeper. I dreamed of playing like him one day - but my enthusiasm was always greater than my ability.

I had thought he had a bright future in football ahead of him when he left the Shots.

How strange, then to find that he now works for British Rail at Chichester.

The other 'where are they now' biographies make interesting reading as well.
Too much broth and no Cook

So yesterday my friend Mike and I attended a social democratic love-in on the future of international politics after Iraq at the LSE.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect: with 52 former ambassadors and criticising Mr Tony's foreign policy, one of the speakers was going to be Robin Cook. And given Cook's support for the disgruntled diplomats earlier in the day, it promised to be an interesting evening.

But the bad news. The Government had imposed a three-line whip on its Finance Bill and Cook wasn't able to make it. A loud groan of disappointment echoed around the lecture hall. So we would have to make do with the other three speakers, David Held, Mary Kaldor and Will Hutton.

While I agree with much of the observations made by these centre-left individuals, my hackles were raised by their assumption that not only did they agree with each other, but that everyone in the room agreed with their views. And what right does Hutton have to claim that the centre-left alone stands for 'progressive politics'? Not only is it arrogant to assume the left has all the best ideas, but it still buys into the implicit statement that human activity is on a linear trajectory which can only go forward.

Of most interest was Mary Kaldor and her view that democracy can't be imposed by war or from above - something I argued in a roundabout fashion the other week. She also pointed out that with the traditional military approach in place, a hierarchy of most to least valuable lives are created during the recent war and ongoing low-level conflict which was not compatible with the rhetoric of human rights and democracy.

She argued for a shift towards a more police-centered approach in Iraq - her assumption being that the police tend to treat all individuals equally and make no distinction between them and us, since they operate within a framework of rules; by contrast the state of war makes a distinction and generally suspends everyday rules.

I don't think she's entirely right though; tell that to the residents of Rio's favelas, whose experience of policing is hardly likely to equate with that of Kaldor's.

But even Kaldor's policing approach alone won't bring peace to Iraq; and while all speakers agreed the US-British coalition should be succeeded by a broader grouping, under the control of the UN, they recognised the tainted image that organisation currently has in Iraq.

Ultimately the panelists offered no easy answers - no surprise there then. The questions were generally desultory and Mike and I had the good sense to repair to the bar for what was the real scandal of the evening - a £3.10 pint.

Just as a few years ago the £5 pack of fags seemed likely, I am now starting to think I may need to start taking a mortgage out before I go out to the pub.
Towards a car-free environment?

The Norman Baker anti-car campaign takes another turn this week.

Not content with raising the tax on 4X4s and stopping them being used on the school run, Norman's now asking questions about the advertisement of car speeds in Monday's Hansard:

'Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will take steps to prevent car advertisements from referring to maximum speed levels achievable where these are in excess of the national speed limit. [167766]

Mr. Timms: The rules under Section 48 of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code already provide such safeguards for motoring advertising.
Section 48.3 states:
"Marketers should not portray speed in a way that might encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly or to break the law and should not condone irresponsible driving."
Section 48.2 states:
"Marketers should not make speed or acceleration claims the predominant message of their marketing communications. However it is legitimate to give general information about a vehicle's performance such as acceleration and mid-range statistics, braking power, road-holding and top speed."
Obvious really

Finally worked out how to include comments and links to other blogs.

Hoorah! So now Dad can comment to his heart's content!

Apparently all I had to do was read the 'Help' pages.


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Tubes, parties and budgets

The Lib Dem manifesto for London has been published and finally I no longer need to tap my nose whenever anyone has asked me what was in it.

There are some really good things in it and I'm pleased that some of my points were taken onboard.

The proposal to extend tube hours till 2am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings is a brilliant idea and should help demonstrate the Lib Dems are the 'young peoples' party - now all they have to do if they really want it is get off the sofa and vote!

And I'm pleased to see the original suggestion to support a broad programme of cultural events from the city's diverse communities struck a chord; there was a danger in the early drafts that the usual suspects - the Irish and Asians - would hoover up all the attention. I'm pleased that my intervention at regional conference about the need to pay attention to smaller groups - specifically the Latin Americans - was expressly noted.

I think my comment that if the London-based Irish should have a St Patrick's Day parade, then why not a Carnaval event with the Brazilian community? I think the image cheered many of the delegates and the explicit reference to the various Latin American communities made their way in.

And finally although many people will not notice it, Simon is now committed to the 'Londoner's Choice', whereby the public will be able to decide how £1m should be spent betweenthreee projects proposed by the Assembly.

Perhaps it's the policy wonk in me, but I can only muster two cheers for this policy. It's doesn't deliver what I want in its entirety - that of participatory budgeting which is carried out in Porto Alegre and other Brazilian cities - but at least it's a start. And now it's been committed to, it can be tailored and improved upon in later documents.

What do you think of the manifesto and its policies? Let me know.
All kitted out and nowhere to go

Oh dear. Am I the only one who sees Lula's proposal to double the army intake to 100,000 this year with many of those numbers coming from the favelas as a quick fix?

Lula's pulling out all the standard and stock reasons given by those who support military service: instill discipline, love of country and the rest. But what about the consequences of such a policy? If the aim of the policy is to get kids off the streets and away from the drug trade, is it wise to teach them how to more effectively use firearms? Especially if there are no jobs to go to once their tour of duty is over.

Until that is thought through, Lula's proposal smacks of desperation - and a quick headline during a period of political crisis following the allegations of bribery by a government official two years ago.

My views on military service are already known to those who are interested in them - come to think of it, I still haven't yet been to the consulate this year.

What do you think? Let me know.

Monday, April 26, 2004

They 'mayor' be positioning themselves

Interesting news afoot in the world of would-be mayors. Simon (yes, he at the Bangladeshi wedding), supposedly failed to scotch any rumours of a potential leadership bid after the mayoral campaign in today's Independent.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic the Workers Party is to choose its candidate for mayor of Rio, ahead of October's elections. The Folha de Sao Paulo suggests Jorge Bittar may get it; but where is Benedita da Silva? She's been vice-governor of the state and was a minister in Lula's government until it was revealed she had some dodgy financial dealings last year. But despite that, she still retains some support in the party.

What do you think? Let me know.
Unholy BNP-Bangladeshi alliance?

Imagine my surprise when, turning up at the Bangladeshi wedding, I saw a table had been reserved for the BNP. What possible reasons could there be for a bunch of fascists to attend such an event?

Only, it wasn't them. It was representatives of the Bangladeshi National Party in Britain.

It reminded me of the time a few years ago when a bunch of anarchists broke into a London hotel and smashed up a room reserved for a meeting of the BNP - except that time it was the Banque Nationale de Paris.
Gonna get married... Sorry, elected

Onto Lib Dem stuff yesterday, I swapped the streets of Mile End for a big event in the Bangladeshi community.

The son of on of our prominent party members was getting married and I was invited to attend. Thank God it didn't go on for ten days though! But unknowingly, I turned up way before everyone else and had to wait an hour before people slowly started to arrive.

Having never been to a Bangladeshi wedding before, I wasn't sure what to expect. The bride and groom each arrived separately with their retinue, both dressed in indigenous clothing fancier than you'll see on the Whitechapel Road on a regular Monday morning. Oddly though, neither seemed particularly happy, although I was informed this was because weddings are a solemn occasion.

Similarly, the actual 'ceremony' passed me by; the men on stage listened to some readings from the Quran, read by the imam from Brick Lane mosque and the groom was asked if he accepted the pre-arranged oath offered by his bride. So by the time the bride arrived they were already married.

I was sat at one of the most prominent tables, along with some of Lib Dem councillors, Jonathan Fryer our European Parliament candidate and later Simon Hughes, the mayoral candidate. As well as councillors from Labour, community activists and the London-based Bangladeshi press and media were there as well. Simon was even called on stage to say a few words, although pleasingly he kept all politics out of it.

One of our local activists told me that unlike the sub-continent, arranged marriages in London tend to be more informal, with a family member knowing another family who has a son or daughter seeking to get married; there aren't as many professional match-makers yet. But this is slowly changing.

While arranged marriages seem to work, he told me that when they fail it's usually because the young people - especially the women - feel inhibited from speaking to their parents and elders about what they want and expect from a match. These young Bangladeshi women, many of whom are graduates and confident outside the home, can be shy and inhibited behind the family's front door.

And yet aspects of Bangladeshi society are changing. According to one of our councillors, it is becoming more common at events like these for men and women to sit together; a few years ago there would have been segregation.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Random thought on a Friday

Given the point of the monarchy is to propagate itself, could we have a gay king?

If either of my two readers have any ideas, then please email me.
Boxing them in - for our sake rather than ours

Yesterday it was the generals. Today it's the turn of the politicians. More specifically those who voted in favour of a £1.5m glass screen to protect themselves from 'terrorist attack'.

First, since when did a glass screen cost that much? I know some fitters in Bethnal Green who could gladly do it for less than that.

But why do they even need it? Anyone who enters Parliament has to run the gamut of an X-ray machine and body search by the armed policemen at the door. If you can't find a suspicious looking phial with anthrax there it says a lot about your security.

Some good points were made during the debate which showed up thepointlessnesss of the measure; if there was a threat, one asked why the committee rooms did not also have glass screens put in the them, since the public can attend those meetings too; another asked how this was supposed to protect MPs in Central Lobby, where politicians and public can freely mingle.

But others deserve opprobrium. Stand up Oliver Heald, who said "The threat is immediate, and we need the screen now."

Oh really? It's been two and a half years since the anthrax scares in the US Congress - and to my knowledge not one case hasoccurredd here.

There was also a suggestion made which was overlooked:

"Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Does the Leader of the House agree that this is the appropriate time in the ongoing review of the security of the Palace of Westminster to address once and for all the ownership of Parliament square, and to look to ways of bringing that within the parliamentary estate and the world heritage site? It is my contention and that of others that one cannot properly secure what is inside if one has not secured what is outside.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The matter has been discussed with the Security Servic. I myself have discussed it and it will no doubt form an important part of the review."

Certain MPs have become fed up by the protestors and demonstrations taking place on Parliament Square over the last year and a half. Some would like them moved on. I just hope the Government's willingness to review the status of the square (currently a glorified roundabout) won't result in them turfing them off. A real win for democracy there!

Sometimes I think our MPs have too much time on their hands and not enough to do. So they dream up ideas like this. But then perhaps the screen is not to protect them from us, but rather the other way around.

What do you think? let me know.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Building a coalition against terror... and for profits

I should admit now that I only read through the Parliamentary record, Hansard, for work reasons. But every once in awhile I come across something which deserves to be plucked out from the usual Government non-answers.

And to think that bringing in Libya from the cold was just for their betterment. Silly me!

"Mr. Mike O'Brien: The positive developments in the bilaterial relationship have led to a significant increase in the level of interest from UK companies wishing to do business in Libya. We believe that opportunities exist for UK firms in a number of sectors, including oil and gas, airports, education and training, ports and logistics and tourism."
Myopic generals

The short sightedness of our military sometimes staggers me.

Yesterday the Independent reported that the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Michael Walker, said that "we would not see ourselves engaging in an inter-state conflict on our own."

Don't they remember the Falklands? When Ronnie Reagan, Maggie's close friend, tried to derail the British road to war?

And what about this recent statement by Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister at the end of March:

"On 15 and 16 March 2004 the Argentine naval Icebreaker, Almirante Irizar sailed through the Falklands outer conservation zone and the Falklands interim conservation zone. These are areas for which the Falkland Islands Government issues fishing licences. During the time that it was inside these zones, the Argentine vessel was challenging other vessels to identify themselves. While transit of the conservation zones is permissible, the policing of the zones by a foreign vessel contravenes the Falkland Islands exclusive jurisdiction.

"We asked the Argentine Government for an explanation of the vessel's actions. Their response was not satisfactory. We have therefore made a formal protest to the Argentine Government concerning the actions of the Almirante Irizar, underlining the need to ensure that this type of incident does not happen again. This note also reiterated that HMG has no doubts about UK sovereignty over the Falkland Islands."

Do our generals really think the Americans would join us on a shooting exercise in the South Atlantic? Although war should always be the last option, it does seem a little misguided to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to military planning.

What do you think? Let me know.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Putting my stick in

So now it's official - our youngest brother has been picked out to represent Brazil's field hockey team at the Pan-American championship next month.

Although he's not the only one to be coming from outside the country, he is the only one to be based in Europe. I anticipate an entourage of Burtons making the journey over to Canada to cheer from the sidelines.

But if any sportswriter offers to write your biography, Hugo, make sure you say some positive things about your eldest brother!

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Coalition of the Willing - Minus One More

Since when exactly did Honduras declare war on Iraq?

And what exactly is Micronesia, Nicaragua, Tonga and the Solomon Islands bringing to the 'party' in Iraq?

I wonder what the US aid budgets for these countries are for this year?

What do you think? Let me know.

Monday, April 19, 2004

British immigration checks to start in Brazil?

Some interesting news from the London section of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) this weekend. The Jornal do Brasil recently published an article on a new campaign being spearheaded by the British government to reduce the number of illegal Brazilian immigrants.

Latest figures show the number of illegals entering the UK rose by 60% between 2001 and 2002, to 2400.

The British says there's still much more work to be done to understand the relationship between the two countries, but apparently he knows the majority come from Minas Gerais, Londrina and Goias.

This comes in the wake of Britain's decision to station immigration officials at the Eurostar terminal in Brussels last week. Is it flippant to imagine whether British officials will now also be winging their way to the bus stations and airports in there places in a bid to stop them making their way to England?

What do you think? Let me know.
Avoiding asking for votes and hot towels

I'm slightly Lib Dem-ed out.

Last Thursday I helped survey some of the estates north of Old Ford Road. Surveying is always much more preferable to canvassing, since you don't have to actually ask people how they're planning on voting.

Then on Friday (Friday!), we selected our Parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow. Fiyaz Mughal, the chair of the Ethnic Minority Lib Dems won on the first round. I'm sure he'll do a good job in what is a constituency with a strong ethnically diverse community.

I had to make a short speech as well while they counted the votes; I felt rather like the hot towels that come between the main course and dessert.

Saturday I went leafletting around the estates south of where I live in Bethnal Green. It felt slightly odd distributing campaign material with my picture on them. As a candidate, I can no longer hide behind the relative cloak on anonymity which comes from just being a campaign worker!

And on Sunday we were supposed to do some leaflet delivery in Newham, but the chair's illness and the rain put paid to that Probably just as well, since I needed a break and Sunday lunch with friends in Dulwich seemed more appealing!

Friday, April 16, 2004

Intervention can bring liberation and identity - but not democracy

Contrary to the increasingly desperate rhetoric offered by George W and Mr Tony, I'm increasingly of the opinion that direct outside intervention (DOI) is unlikely to plant democracy.

I was thinking about this following the recent events in Iraq.

Can anyone give me one example - just one - of where DOI has led directly to democracy? I'm still thinking.

If we think of democracy as a form of revolution, then it's the third stage of a particular process which involves revolutions centering around first emancipation and then national identity.

In the first stage, that of emancipation, DOI can free a people deliberately (eg the French in the American revolution) or unintentionally (eg Japan in South Eat Asia). But it needn't even be overt military involvement: just maintaining a clear position in an independence movement can be sufficient, as in Britain's stance during the Latin American wars of independence.

The second stage is similar to the first, with DOI shaping a community identity either intentionally or inadvertently. But whereas the first stage can deliver a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship between the local and outside groups, the second stage is perhaps more detrimental to the relationship.

Examples of this could include the British and French involvement in the Middle East after the First World War; reaction against the Mandate powers in the newly established states helped break down the idea of Arab identity into particular national identities in Iraq, Syria, etc. The foreign involvement in the Russian Civil War helped the Bolsheviks merge their identity with that of the local populace; the Western powers in China during the Boxer rebellion helped sow the seeds of modern Chinese nationalism.

And like the fist stage, this second stage need not be overtly militarist. Traditional imperialism began to jar during and after he Second World War in Africa and South Asia, as the war rhetoric of democracy and freedom contrasted with the British and French presence in those regions. In all these cases the foreign presence was sufficient to create a reaction and a sense of identity.

And unlike the first stage, the second level of this revolution can be changed over and over again. Iran has been both a client state of the West and more recently a theocratic Muslim state; Latin American countries have fluctuated between oligarchy, democracy and military regimes.

The third stage, that of democracy, can't be achieved from outside. It has to come from within, from the grass roots. Spain and Portugal in the 1970s, Latin America and Taiwan in the 1980s, South Africa and Indonesia in the 1990s - all have been achieved on the ground by domestic supporters of democracy.

Even where the leaders of these movements have been subjected to foreign influences, the democratic revolution cannot be elite-driven. Despite the EU on Spain's doorstep it took the death of Franco to create a vacuum; in Latin America and Taiwan the military regimes were discredited economically; South Africa woke up to the demographic changes; and Indonesia suffered economically.

So where is Iraq? I suspect it is probably at the second stage, where a new identity is being created post-Saddam. While those opposed to the American and British occupation may be small, there is no groundswell of public support or demonstrations in favour of the Allies. Both Sunni and Shia have had their reasons to turn against their erstwhile liberators in the last month; and so far there seems to be no sign of democracy taking root on the ground.

Sure, there are some Iraqis, including those in exile, who want to see a democratic Iraq. But are they at the vanguard of public opinion? At the moment it doesn't seem so. Maybe when the current political allegiances break down there may be a more receptive audience to that message.

Until then the two stages of the three which are subject to DOI have been achieved: first emancipation, second, identity, which is currently underway and being re-written as we speak. But the third - and hardest - stage, which can only be established from within - democracy - has yet to find itself.

What do you think? Let me know.
War one way or another

It's the kind of result which no-one wants, but seems almost impossible to avoid.

Much of the attention has focused on the 15 deaths resulting on clashes between drug gangs and the police in the Rio favela of Rocinha in recent days. But only lip service has been paid to what happens now the key drug lord, Lulu, has now been killed.

The BBC coolly reports that a rival gang led by Dudu, are poised to seek control of the drug trade in Rocinha. But what they fail to note is what may well happen to residents.

Lulu could only maintain his position by buying the loyalty of local people through basic goods, services and creches which the municipal authorities failed to provide. But it was helped by the implicit threat of violence as well. Consequently most ordinary people would have lain low.

But now the new kid on the block, Dudu will be keen to root out all those who explicitly or tacitly supported the old regime. And that may mean many residents with no direct involvement in the drug trade or between wither gang may get caught in a bloody cross-fire.

What will the police do? If they engage with Dudu, more blood may be shed. And when they eventually leave (as they usually do), Rocinha will once again remain in the hands of one gang or another.

What do you think? Let me know.
Surveys and Wigwams

Out surveying in Bethnal Green North last night with some party colleagues. It's always the best way of getting people's opinions, since you're not asking for their vote directly but still showing your presence. Then to an executive meeting which went on and on. Everyone was getting restless and understandably wanted to go home since it was getting late. The baby started crying and even the novelty of meeting in a wigwam off Commercial Road soon lost its gloss.

And we've got it all to do again tonight. We're choosing our Parliamentary candidate and I will have to make a few observations along with our European Parliamentary candidate, Jonathan Fryer, while they count the votes. Not sure what I'm going to talk about at the moment though...

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Changes on the ground - but not in the soul?

According to the George Bush, Israel will remove all settlements from Gaza, some settlements from the West Bank.

At first sight this makes the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, appear magnanimous by offering a concession to the Palestinians when last year's road map is all but dead.

But the truth is somewhat different. Baruch Kimmerling's 2003 book, Politicide, highlighted the demographic changes taking place in the region. With the Palestinian population set to grow faster rate than the Israeli population (through both domestic birth and immigration), the pressure is on the authorities to come to a settlement and fixed borders - otherwise the Israelis may find themselves outnumbered in the present 'Greater Israel'.

George Bush's endorsement of the Sharon plan must therefore be a dream to those Israelis aware of this fact. But what does it mean to Tony Blair, whose domestic public and political opinion is less disposed to giving ground o the Israelis?

But even if this unilateralist approach by the Israelis does deliver in the way that last year's road map did not, there is still one other point made by Kimmerling which hasn't been dealt with: that of the relationship between Israeli military power and joint Israeli-Palestinian economic dependency on the other.

It will be no surprise to learn that Kimmerling's book didn't receive positive coverage in Israel. In part that's because of the depiction he makes of Israeli democracy. He suggests it's not a democracy in the European or North American sense of the word; instead it's closer to the system which existed in South Africa until 1994.

While apartheid was a form of institutionalised political separation between black and whites, economically the two were joined at the link. Just as white South Africa couldn't have survived without the cheap labour of the black population during apartheid, so too does the Israeli economy depend on the Palestinians to fill sections of their labour market.

The apartheid system in South Africa worked only so long as the regime was prepared to reinforce its position through the means of the state (i.e. police, army, etc). But whereas the South African regime eventually realised during the 1980s that its future was subject to a law of diminishing return, not least because demographic trends suggested the black population would vastly outnumber the whites in the near future. So the regime cut its losses and cut a deal with the black political class to ensure its long-term future.

The contrast with Israel couldn't be more stark. Despite the demographic changes, the Palestinians will never be able to threaten Israel militarily - not least because its Arab supporters in the region have continually failed to support them over the last few decades.

Even after a more homogeneous Israel has been established - and the borders with a Palestinian state fixed unilaterally - the economy of the two will still be interlinked. Palestinians will still depend on jobs in Israel and higher wages; Israelis will need cheap labour to maintain their present standard of living.

But given the wariness and suspicion between the two, the chances of some peaceful co-existence may be highly unlikely. Consequently, the Israeli military presence will remain, at the border crossings, along the barrier currently being built and in parts of the West Bank whose future remains undetermined.

And that pervasive militarism in Israeli and Palestinian societies will continue to prevent them from becoming, as Kimmerling suggests, 'normal'.

What do you think? Let me know.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Messing with the EU

I was reading through the proposed EU constitution yesterday (as you do). Although I did have a valid work reason to do so...

As I read through Part 1 my attention was caught by the section on the 'Democratic Life of the Union' and Article 46 which said this:

"No less than one million citizens coming from a significant number of Member States may invite the Commission to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution. A European law shall determine the provisions for the specific procedures and conditions required for such a citizens' initiative."

I think this means if you can get one million signatures to a proposed law, the EU would have to implement it. And given that there will be 454 million people in the EU when the 10 new countries join next month, the one million total comes out at about 0.2% of the entire EU population.

Anyone want to get a petition together to make Jedi an official EU religion (currently there are none)? Or demand that weights should be done in pounds and ounces?

Let me know what you think.
Young and at risk

The latest statistics from IBGE show that rate of homicides has more than doubled between 1980 and 2000, from 11.7 to 27 per 1000. The worst affected states are Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo in that order.

Men make up the largest proportion of these deaths. But it is young men between the ages of 15 and 24 who are at greatest risk, usually being dispatched by means of guns.

Meanwhile, even though illiteracy fell slightly during the 1990s, 16.5% of Brazilian families have a child aged between 5 and 17 working. In total that's 5.4 million children of school age, most of whom live in the North East. This trend may well be due in part to the 14% fall in average working wages between 1996 and 2002.

With children foregoing their education to support their families, the pressure is on them to make good money. And much of the IBGE's observation of the rising murder rate may be due in part to these young men without education and few opportunities being lured into the risky world of drug trafficking and crime.

These figures, which give an early social analysis of the neo-liberal experiment which swept Brazil and South America during the 1980s and 1990s, offer a damning verdict if true. But the problem is going to reach breaking point in the next decade or so if nothing is done to properly tackle this problem.

What do you think? Let me know.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

More of the Same?

Rocinha and Vidigal favelas are to be walled off from the rest of Rio after a weekend which saw six civilians and two policemen shot dead at the weekend.

This news comes hot on the heels of a DVD I watched at the weekend which my parents brought back from Brazil last week. Due to go out on general release later this year in the UK, Carandiru is the story of the overcrowded prison in Sao Paulo of that name. It is notorious for the massacre which happened there in 1992, when 111 inmates were killed by the state police.

Like the other big film before it - City of God - Carandiru highlights the social problems in Brazil today. Whereas the films of the 1950s and 1960s dealt with the struggle between capitalism and communism and rural poverty, today's directors are taking their inspiration from the lack of alternative belief systems, urban deprivation and inequity within society.

But the question must remain as to whether the presentation of these social ills will ultimately make decision makers realise the policies they have been using all this time haven't worked. And if so, what will they do to change them.

What do you think? Let me know.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Choosing between freedom and slavery

Immigration is becoming a political hot potato. Fences have been erected along the US border with Mexico while here in Britain last week a minister resigned for failing to tackle an apparent rise in bogus claims from Eastern Europe.

All this is a stark contrast to the nineteenth century, when the rhetoric of free trade was matched with the reality of free movement of labour. How far we are from those times!

Of all Brazilian immigrant communities during its imperial period, among the most interesting are the Confederate Americans who left the South after the Civil War. Unlike other immigrants, the Confederados (as they became known), were already immigrants - or at least their parents and grandparents were - to the American continent. This week Brazzil magazine has published my article about them.

Like any immigrant community, they came to Brazil for a variety of different reasons. But what held them together was their revulsion at what had been done to their country by the Yankees and their pining for a defeated past. Although the Civil War is often portrayed as a conflict between slave-holders and abolitionists, the truth was more subtle. Also at stake was the political and economic direction of the United States: would it follow the aristocratic Southern path, based on states' rights and plantation society; or would it adopt the Northern approach, with its emphasis on urbanisation, industrialisation and a centralising federal government?

Those who chose to leave the South for Brazil hoped to maintain their way of life. But how could it be when race relations were subtly different? In the United States their was simply black and white and being one or the other determined one's position in life. But in Brazil there was a greater mixing of colour and hence a grey - or rather brown, if you will - attitude to individuals.

But even if this difference existed and could have acted as a spur toward greater black American migration, there was still the complicating factor of slavery. While emancipation came to blacks in the United States after the Civil War, it would be more than 20 years before the same was achieved for Brazilian slaves. In other words, while it might be possible for a 'person of colour' (to use the nineteenth century term) to achieve greater social mobility in Brazil than America, those benefits could be offset by his or her arrival in the country as a slave - particularly if the white immigrant they arrived with refused to recognise Lincoln's proclamation.

With this in mind, it seems a shame that so little attention has been paid to those former black slaves who left the American South with their masters for Brazil. While the history of the white Confederados has received considerable attention, studies of the black Confederados and their motivations for giving up freedom in favour of an uncertain existence as a slave in a faraway land don't seem to have been written. And given the distance of time involved, the impossibility of carrying out oral research and the challenge of finding documentary material, this could prove difficult for historians.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Lula's fall - major crisis or expected slump?

Hot on the heels of this week's Economist, come figures from Ibope showing Lula's fall in the polls. But even though the percentage who think the Government is doing a good job has fallen 17 points to 34% in the last year, those thinking he's doing an OK job haven't shifted much.

Initially, the figures show a high degree of uniformity, across all regions and socio-economic groups.

But looking at the figures closely, expectations about personal income remain roughly the same as a year ago, although there have been concerns about rising inflation and unemployment in the last six months.

And there seems to be quite a bit of churning about what the Government's priorities should be. At first glance the current poll suggests Lula's main task should be to reduce taxes and inflation. But these priorities have slumped over the last year, by three and five points to 31% and 33% to 28% respectively. Meanwhile those who think the Government should help those who want to open a business has risen by three points to 27% and those who want Government to cut spending by five points to 26%.

Although much of the public notice of Lula in the news has revolved around the reverberations from the Waldormio Diniz case (an aide who was shown to have taken bribes) and the decision to stop bingos (and their relationship to money laundering), contrary to the Economist's claims, internal criticism by Lula's governing party over his economic policies don't seem to have made much of a dent.


Ninety percent of those polled don't know what Lula's industrial policy is and the news coverage of Workers Party criticism, Mercosur and IMF relations made little headway. But if the public start to pay more attention to comments by Lula's supposed allies in Congress, and given the Workers Party tendency to wash its dirty laundry in public, this could become a poisonous combination.

But while the public pay more attention to the bingo-money laundering story, the public generally seems to approve of the Government's response, by 53% to 39%. And perhaps Lula might be able to bounce back with similar responses in the near future.

So 'Lula slips from a small scandal to a major crisis'? Despite the Economist smacking its lips at the prospect, I don't think so. Rather, Lula and his government are becoming ordinary, just as Tony Blair and New Labour's focus on delivery took the sheen off all that was promising and shiny.

But watch out for the Workers Party's self-destruct button when the going really gets tough.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Nuke diplomacy

UN inspectors forbidden from seeing a nuclear plant. Sounds like Iraq doesn't it? But no, it's Brazil who won't let them into the facility at Resende.

I doubt the Americans will take the route they did in the Middle East. Far more likely that behind-the-scenes discussions will go on, as they have in North Korea.

But it certainly won't endear Lula and his government to George Bush; should make discussions on the UN Security Council (where Brazil and America are both members) interesting.

What do you think? Let me know.
Inevitable Sporting Triumphs

Even though Ferrari romped home in first and second place, the inaugural Formula One race in Bahrain still had entertainment. Plenty of overtaking and movement further down the running order - and BAR managed a second straight podium finish! Jacques Villeneuvre must be sick as a pig to see his number two, Jenson Button, doing better than he ever did in the car. Little wonder my other brother, a fervent BAR fan, was off the sofa in excitement.

But am I the only one who thinks next month's FA Cup final between Manchester United and Millwall will be as inevitable as Michael Schumacher's finishes have become in Formula One?
Trapped nerves and rhythms

Three lessons in and I'm starting to play the berimbau - badly. But at least it's something.

The berimbau is the main instrument in capoeira. It looks like a bow with a gourd attached and held close to the body. You strike it with a stick and gain variations in sound by holding a coin to it. It sets the rhythm of the game, being played slow or fast, depending on the mood of the participants.

It sounds easier than it looks actually. You have to balance the berimbau on your little finger. Three weeks on from that first class with Fantasma, I still have pins and needles in it - what I think is a trapped nerve.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Pre-Booking and Samba Beats

From the important to those matters of real global concern: the pressing matter of Brazilian music in London, which I wrote about on the Brazzil webzine this week.

Last night I was on the phone to my ex-girlfriend. She was at Batmacumba last weekend (the usual erratic, hard-to-find times, etc). But shock, horror: it now looks like you can't get in unless you pre-book in advance. In a way it does make sense, especially because the ICA on the Mall is a cramped, small place. Perhaps DJ Cliffy could move his clubnight to somewhere larger, but if he did it would lose the feel and become too big.

On another note I've received an email from the Sao Paulo-based group, Samba.E who play samba overlaid with techno, house and psy-trance. They've just started playing regularly out there but are interested in trying their luck here as well - since I apparently 'know the London night scene'. As if!

Of course it might be fun to try and put them in contact with someone who can help. If anyone's got suggestions, then let me know.
Europe or America - The Decision

Staying on the theme of Lib Dem-ness, I've just come out of a breakfast meeting with one of my colleagues on the European Parliament candidate list, John Stevens.

John's take on the upcoming European elections is to pose the question of whether Britain wants to become more closely associated with Europe or America. This issue is now increasingly important, especially since the Iraq crisis first blew up in mid-2002. The demonstrations before war last year and the ongoing debate since make this decision ever more vital.

He also suggested that we might be seeing the beginnings of a European identity too. Just as the 1848 protests in central Europe helped develop German identity - and eventually gave rise to a German state - so might the European reactions to the Iraq war and the Madrid bombing also provide the stirrings of a collective consciousness.

Twenty years ago if a bomb had gone off in Spain, chances are few people in Britain would have noticed. But maybe you disagree. Let me know.
Upstairs, Downstairs

Last night was the turn of Tower Hamlets Lib Dems. A survey of three high-rise blocks in Bow followed by a campaign meeting for the upcoming elections.

I despair when I see the state of some of the council housing in the borough: blighted landscapes, dumped cars, lack of attention to the buildings. No wonder people were suspicious and only spoke to us through their doors.

Because we're choosing the PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) for Bethnal Green and Bow in two weeks' time, the survey drew all the candidates, giving us some much-needed extra pairs of hands. Quite an inspired decision, whoever came up with the idea.

I just hope we decide to advertise for the Poplar & Canning Town constituency before the next survey as well!

Thursday, April 01, 2004

International Championships, Here We Come

Just had an email from the family about our youngest brother, Hugo, in Team Burton. Looks like he did incredibly well in the trials for the national (field) hockey team at the weekend and winning the trophy for the highest scorer.

All of that without any sleep following an 11-hour night flight from London and a midnight bus from Rio to Sao Paulo where the event took place.

Well done Hugo! We expect more of the same in May!
Military Coup and Nicknames

Today's the 40th anniversary of the cheekily-named 'revolution' launched by the military in Brazil and which ushered in 20 years of dictatorship.

When I was born in the 1970s a general called Ernesto Geisel was in charge, which meant - almost inevitably I suppose - I was given Geisel's name as a nickname.

Given that I ended up a liberal (with both capital and small 'L's) I've never really forgiven my parents and their friends for that...
A Leading Lib Dem? Me?!

No not really. Actually it's Simon Hughes and Sarah Ludford, who were both in Tower Hamlets last week (but I've only just seen the story now) to visit Headway House, which works with people who suffer from brain injuries. We spent an hour there, talking to the attendees and staff. When you consider their catchment area is the whole of north London and they only have limited resources, you can see how hard their work is. They can always use more volunteers.

Also, their space is on a street I jog through on my way to capoeira twice a week (I suppose I have to make a plug for Fantasma on this!) - and I never knew it was there until last week...