Archive for the ‘International Politics’ Category

The battle for Ramadi

January 4th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Ibrahim Al-Marashi at Al Jazeera writes:

For Iraqis the year 2016 has been ushered in with their military’s capture of ISIL’s headquarters in Ramadi, capital of the nation’s Anbar province. In terms of what 2016 holds for the future, the military dynamics that led to the fall of Ramadi will serve as long-term harbinger of ISIL’s ability to endure in Iraq.

Upon first glance, the fall of Ramadi appears to mean little for the long term campaign against ISIL. The recent victory brings Iraq back to the status quo as of May 2015, when Iraqi forces took retook Tikrit from ISIL towards the end of April, but then lost Ramadi right after. It took the Iraqi forces several months to return to this status quo. Over all, the victory would appear as a loss, as the Iraqi state won back Ramadi, but utterly devastated the city in the process. 

However, in the long term perspective, the fall of Ramadi is a victory in terms of the lessons applied on the strategic-political level and the evolution of Iraqi military tactics, which signals a significant setback for ISIL.

He explains the importance:

Whereas the battle for Tikrit primarily featured irregular Shia militias, the battle for Ramadi involved the (ISF), along with irregular tribal Sunni levies. This was not so much a battle for a city, but a battle by the Iraqi state to project that it still has a national army, and is willing to work with the Sunni tribes. …

On another level, the role played by national Iraqi forces in the fall of Ramadi also has implications for the creation of an inclusive sense of Iraqiness. A debate has ensued since the summer of 2014 as to whether one can claim that the Iraqi nation still exists. …

With the fall of Ramadi, the Iraqi military, which is featured prominently on this channel, can now also claim that it represents the national aspirations of Iraq. Again any Iraqi will know that the nation is divided among Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias. For the legitimacy of Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi, the Iraqi military’s victory in Ramadi is a testament of his ability to preside at the helm of what remains of the Iraqi state and nation. 

So the importance is this was not a battle won by Shia militia against Sunni insurgents. It was the Iraqi military against ISIL.

What remains to be seen after the fall of Ramadi is the ability of the Iraqi military to develop a doctrine, or a series of lessons learned in the fighting that can be carried forward in the battle for Mosul. A BBC article revealed that the Iraqi military has benefitted from a learning curve during the months-long campaign to remove ISIL from Ramadi.

The Iraqi insurgency that erupted from 2003 primarily used hit-and-run tactics against US and Iraqi forces, tactics typical of a guerilla war meant to wear down the resolve of the enemy. As a result, the US training mission had focused on ensuring Iraq’s new military could deal with this type of combat.

ISIL is different type of insurgent group, holding cities and territory, which required retraining the Iraqi military forces in sustained urban combat, fighting street-by-street, house-by-house.

This transformation of training the Iraqi military from counter-insurgency to urban combat explains why it took so long to be deployed on the front lines, creating a security vacuum which the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Shia militias filled.  

And as the Herald reports, the troops fighting in Ramadi include those trained by the New Zealand Army:

Iraqi troops trained by the New Zealand Defence Force were part of a force that has retaken the city of Ramadi from the Islamic State (Isis) terrorist group.

Defence minister Gerry Brownlee said the success was a result of the commitment to the Building Partner Capacity training programme.

“New Zealand and Australian trainers can take some pride over the successful action by the recruits.

“NZDF trainers have gone into a dangerous environment and professionally established a training operation which is upskilling large numbers of Iraqi troops to better equip themselves to fight.

“New Zealanders can be very proud of the work our troops are doing to professionalise the Iraqi security forces,” Mr Brownlee said in a statement.

It is worth recalling that Labour said the training was pointless and NZ First called the Iraqi army cowards.

This is only one battle, and there will be many more battles and some setbacks. But as the author writes, this was very important psychologically, and a key building block. And New Zealand played a small part in giving the Iraqi people a better chance of not having to live under a fascist theological barbaric regime.

France to strip dual citizens of citizenship

January 2nd, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

France is “not finished with terrorism”, says President Francois Hollande, who has used a New Year’s message to defend controversial plans to strip citizenship from those convicted of terrorism offences.

Controversial? With whom? I’d say hugely popular.

Under the plans, French-born dual passport holders could be stripped of their nationality – a sanction currently applicable only to naturalised citizens.

You can not leave someone without citizenship under international law. But if they have chosen to retain citizenship of another country and have chosen to become a terrorist (and get convicted of terrorism), I’d be all for stripping them of citizenship and deporting them after their sentence.

The proposals, yet to go before the French National Assembly and Senate, have divided Hollande’s ruling Socialists and drawn veiled criticism from his Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira.

It will be interesting to see how the vote goes on it.

Turnbull may call early election on clearing up union corruption

January 2nd, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Adelaide Now reports:

PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he is willing to call an early election and campaign on a policy of cleaning up the union movement, after a royal commission found it infested by louts, thugs, thieves, bullies and perjurers.

In his final report, Trade Union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon on Thursday recommended criminal charges be considered against 48 people and organisations and civil action taken in 45 other cases, but said this was just the tip of “an enormous iceberg”.

Mr Turnbull said a federal-state police taskforce would continue to investigate referrals from the commission. The Government will also move to establish a new registered-organisations commission to regulate unions and employer groups. The commission would have similar powers to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The Government also wants the Senate to approve by the end of the month a bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Mr Turnbull suggested he could call an early double-dissolution election if the March deadline was not met.

“We are willing to fight an election on this,’’ he said.

“If this is not passed, if we cannot get the passage of this legislation through the Senate, then in one form or another it will be a major issue at the next election.’’

What will Labor do? The unions literally control the Australian Labor Party. Up until very recently it was actually illegal to join the Australian Labor Party unless you were a union member. They control branches, selections and factions. Will they insist Labor defend the indefensible?

In his report, Mr Heydon referred to widespread misconduct that had taken place in every jurisdiction in Australia, except for the Northern Territory.

He said the commission had only uncovered “the small tip of an enormous iceberg’’.

“It is clear that in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials, there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts,’’ he said.

“These aberrations cannot be regarded as isolated. They are not the work of a few rogue unions, or a few rogue officials. The misconduct exhibits great variety. It is widespread. It is deep-seated.”

It is very deep-seated.

Widespread union misconduct in Australia

December 31st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Victorian MP Cesar Melhem has been referred for possible corruption charges by unions royal commissioner Dyson Heydon who believes his hearings have only uncovered a small tip of widespread union misconduct.

In his final report released on Wednesday, Mr Heydon says thugs and bullies are involved in unions around Australia and misconduct has taken place in every jurisdiction, except the Northern Territory.

He says the misbehaviour can be found in any unionised industry, in any industrial union at any period of time.

“These aberrations cannot be regarded as isolated,” he said.

“They are not the work of a few rogue unions, or a few rogue officials.

“The misconduct exhibits great variety. It is widespread. It is deep-seated.”

He believes what has been uncovered is just the “small tip of an enormous iceberg”.

“It is clear that in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials, there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts,” he said.

This is no surprise to those who followed the hearings. The union movement in Australia is deeply corrupt, helped by the fact they effectively control the Australian Labor Party.

Bring charities under the OIA!

December 30th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Charities that administer millions of pounds of public funds will be subject to Freedom of Information laws in wake of Kids Company collapse, under plans being developed by ministers.

Ministers want to extend FOI powers to the charity sector to allow members of the public to keep track of the way government grants are being spent.

At present charities are exempted from FOI laws despite receiving tens of millions of pounds in grants from the Government.

I’d like to see this in NZ.

If an NGO or charity (or business) is say over 90% funded by the taxpayer, they should be seen as a de facto agent of the state, and the Official Information Act should apply to them.

Matthew Hancock, a Cabinet Office minister who is leading a review of FOI in Whitehall, is driving the changes to bring greater transparency to how public money is spent in the charitable sector.

The changes, which could be in place as early as next year, would shed new light on misuse of public funds and waste.

Mr Hancock told The Daily Telegraph: “I have campaigned for transparency in many different ways and driven the open data agenda, because transparency brings accountability and improves value for money, so we should look a ways that FOI should be extended.”

I think improving value for money is key, and we spend a lot of taxpayer money on charities, without knowing how much value we get.

The plans were welcomed by campaigners for greater transparency in the charity sector.

Gina Miller, founder of the True and Fair Foundation said, ‘There is no denying that the charity sector plays a pivotal role in ensure a true and fair society.

“But it also needs to operate with transparency, accountability and be open to scrutiny.

Charities get both special tax status, and a lot of taxpayer funding, so some transparency is a good thing.

Capitalism saving the world

December 30th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Fraser Nelson writes in The Telegraph:

While overseas support has been crucial and highly effective in the struggle, the strongest force pushing back disease in the continent is capitalism; trade still brings in far more money than aid. Indoor smoke, dirty water and hunger still kill more Africans than malaria, so when a villager can afford rudimentary sanitation and healthcare, the effect on disease is profound.

A recent African Union conference set a two-year deadline to turn the whole continent into a free-trade area. This is no mere fantasy: since the beginning of the century, the value of trade between African countries has risen five times over; mobile phones are now as common in Nigeria and South Africa as they are in Britain.

A free trade zone within Africa – a very good idea. Wealth for Africa will  come from trade, not charity (but charity is needed for now).

Bill Gates’s charitable foundation has played a full role in the battle against malaria. It does not rely on pulling heartstrings to gain support, so he is free of any need to spin a tale of Africa in meltdown. Instead, he talks about “mind-blowing” progress being made before our eyes. On current trends, he says, there will be almost no poor countries left within 20 years.

If this sounds like a wild exaggeration, it shouldn’t: all the data is pointing in this direction.

This is a story that is not told very often, but it is none the less the story of our age: globalisation is spreading ideas, medicine and wealth, forcing down inequality and bringing the world closer together.

With enough capitalism, poverty might become history after all.

In 1990 over 40% of the world lived in extreme poverty, Today it is under 20% and shortly after 2020 it is projected to be under 10%. A remarkable change in just three decades.

Toynbee says UK Labour is doomed

December 27th, 2015 at 1:03 pm by David Farrar

Leading left columnist Polly Toynbee writes:

The 1% who join parties are not like other voters. Both memberships are far from the centre, Tory members even further away than Labour’s. May’s law of curvilinear disparity shows voters are more centrist than party activists, and MPs are closer to voters than are their party members.

You win in the centre.

The unpalatable answer is that policies matter less than the personality, performance and persuasiveness of leaders. Credibility on the economy and security boils down to this: does he/she look like a prime minister? Snap judgments are made. Corbyn’s image may by now be sealed for ever with too many. He’s honest – but he’s no prime minister. From no national anthem to no shooting “Jihadi John”, he doesn’t fit the template and never can.

But can he be got rid of?

Agricultural export subsidies eliminated

December 26th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Fonterra is hailing an agreement to eliminate all agricultural export subsidies at the World Trade Organisation talks in Nairobi as a “historic breakthrough”.

John Wilson, chairman of the dairy co-operative, said it was good news for New Zealand dairy farmers.

For years the use or the threat of export subsidies had pushed world dairy prices below their true level, he said.

“The Nairobi outcome takes global trade rules one essential step further towards a level playing field for dairy trade.”

It’s a good step forward. I’m not sure how widespread such subsidies were, but it is encouraging that agreement was reached to eliminate them.

Double standards

December 23rd, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

The government in the Netherlands has clarified that it is legal for driving instructors to offer lessons in return for sex, as long as the students are over the age of 18.

However, it is illegal to offer sex in return for lessons.

Transport minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen and Justice minister Ard van der Steur addressed the issue in response to a question tabled in parliament by Gert-Jan Segers of the socially conservative Christian Union party, noting that, although ‘undesirable’, offering driving lessons with sex as payment is not illegal.

In a letter to parliament the ministers said: “It’s not about offering sexual activities for remuneration, but offering a driving lesson. It is important that the initiative lies with the driving instructor, and focuses on offering a driving lesson, with the payment provided in sexual acts. When a sexual act offered in lieu of financial payment, that is prostitution.”

Isn’t that nuts?

This used to be the law in NZ. It was legal for clients to offer money for sex, but illegal for prostitutes to offer sex for money.

YouGov on why their UK polls were wrong

December 21st, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

YouGov have published why they think their polls were out in the UK election. Their conclusions:

The younger age range within the samples over-represent those who are more engaged in politics and are therefore more likely to vote. As younger people, they disproportionately supported Labour, so having too many young voters in our likely voter sample skewed the overall result towards Labour. We believe we had the party voting proportions for this age group correct but that fewer of them actually voted than our sample suggested. This can be corrected in the future in two ways: a) interviewing the correct proportion of people who are less interested in politics, and b) weighting the sample to the expected turnout for different demographic groups. The problem with both of these is that, unlike in the US where detailed exit poll data is publicly available, in the UK no detailed information is available by which we can know the correct target proportions for each age group. However, we can make better estimates of them.

Youth turnout is low almost everywhere. And if you only get to poll the politically motivated youth, then you will over-estimate their likely turnout.

In NZ the Electoral Commission has released turnout by age, so pollsters should be able to take this into account when weighting.

The oldest demographic group, the over-seventies, were under-represented in our samples. They voted disproportionately for the Conservatives, and having too few of them in our samples skewed it slightly against the Conservatives. This can be corrected in the future in two ways: a) interviewing the correct number of over-seventies, and b) weighting the over-seventies in our samples to the correct target weights.

Elderly people vote far more than younger voters.

In NZ only 62% of under 30s enrolled, voted. For over 65s it is over 85%.

One cannot discount misreporting (“shy Tories”), but we can find no direct evidence for it. In this election, polling showed dissonance between the outcome which people (in aggregate) said they wanted, and their underlying party preference. There was a strong overall preference for a Cameron-led government over an SNP-influenced government led by Labour leader Ed Miliband, although stated voting preferences would not have delivered that. It is possible that this led to some respondent misreporting, if people wanted to express their party preference and not their actual tactical vote, but it is impossible to establish this objectively as we can never know how individual respondents really voted.

This is that basically people changed their mind at the last minute as some Labour voters didn’t want Labour propped up by the SNP so chose Conservative as the lesser evil. Same in NZ where some left voters hated the idea of a Labour Government propped up by Kim Dotcom, so voted National.

An important initiative

December 19th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A new Saudi-led Islamic alliance to fight terrorism will share information and train, equip and provide forces if necessary for the fight against Islamic State militants, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday (Wednesday NZ Time).

Saudi Arabia announced earlier on Tuesday the formation of a 34-nation Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism, a move welcomed by the United States which has been urging a greater regional involvement in the campaign against the militants who control swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

“Nothing is off the table,” al-Jubeir said when asked whether the initiative could include troops on the ground.

This is potentially a very good thing.

ISIL wants Western troops on the ground as it fits their vision of a great war between different religions. If ground forces are needed, a coalition of Islamic nations is a far far better option.

A number of Islamic countries are fighting ISIL but it can be un-coordinated, and each having their own agenda such as Turkey who are more focused on the Kurds.

A statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA said the new coalition would have a joint operations centre based in Riyadh to “coordinate and support military operations”.

The states it listed as joining the new coalition included Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and several African nations.

The list did not include Shi’ite Muslim Iran, the arch rival of Sunni Saudi Arabia for influence across the Arab world. Tehran and Riyadh are ranged on opposite sides in proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

A pity Iran is not included, but one step at a time.

China and India to continue increasing emissions

December 19th, 2015 at 8:10 am by David Farrar

While the Paris agreement sees every country make a pledge to limit greenhouse gas emissions, there is a huge gap between countries that have stated they will actually decrease emissions (such as NZ, EU, US) and countries that merely promise to slow their increase.

Carbon Brief has analysed pledges of two of the largest emitters in the world. Here’s what they preduct:

screen-shot-2015-06-30-at-173643_599x408

This is China’s pledge.  As you can see they are saying they will have emissions grow from 10000 today to over 12,000.

830-india-est-ghgs-indc-copy

This is India’s.  Their pledge is that emissions will grow by 50%

Total emissions from NZ are around 71 Mt. Our 30% reduction target will see that reduce by around 21 Mt. China and India will increase by around 4,000.

No jurisdiction for plain packaging case

December 18th, 2015 at 2:54 pm by David Farrar

The SMH reports:

The federal government has won its case against tobacco giant Philip Morris Asia challenging Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws.

It means the former Gillard government’s plain-packaging laws, introduced in 2011, will remain in place.

Actually it doesn’t. The more significant case is the WTO case brought by a number of countries against Australia. That is yet to be heard and decided. This case is the one under the FTA with Hong Kong.

And incidentally the tribunal could never have ruled that the laws can’t remain in place. At best it would have decided they were a breach and there would have to be compensation or damages.

The tribunal in the arbitration, based in Singapore, has issued a unanimous decision agreeing with Australia’s position that it has no jurisdiction to hear Philip Morris’s claim.   

So this is nothing to do with the merits. It is a jurisdictional issue.

What it does show is that the fear being whipped up against Investor State Dispute clauses was vastly over-stated. The fact this case has failed to gain jurisdiction shows there is a difference between making a claim, and having it upheld.

The WTO case should be heard some stage in 2016. That is the one with the most interest for us in NZ, because we are also a member of the WTO. We were not a party to the Australia – Hong Kong FTA, so that case was always of lesser relevance.

A very very very small step forward for women in Saudi Arabia

December 13th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

Hundreds of Saudi Arabian women ran for local public office and thousands cast ballots for the first time in an historic election Saturday in the ultra-conservative Islamic nation where women are still prohibited from driving cars.

“I have goosebumps,” businesswoman Ghada Ghazzawi told The Wall Street Journal as she entered a polling station in the city of Jeddah. “We have been waiting for this day for a long time.”

The numbers of women participating in the municipal election process paled by comparison with men and doubts ran high that any woman would be elected in the results expected Sunday. But those who participated saw it as an important first step. The only elections held under the monarchy are for local councils that approve budgets and provide oversight of urban development.

The election Saturday was only the third round of voting in the country since 2005 and only men were previously allowed to participate. More than 6,000 men and around 980 women are running as candidates for the local council seats. Some 2,100 elected seats are being contested and out of 6,900 candidates,only about 980 women.

It is good that finally women can vote and even stand in some (not all) elections in Saudi Arabia. But such a long way to go to just be treated as equal human beings:

Saturday, the women cast ballots in polling stations separate from those for men, and women had to be driven to the sites.

Can’t drive, and separate polling stations.

Campaigning was difficult for female candidates who were required to address voters from behind partitions during appearances or have a man speak on their behalf, according to the BBC

And can’t be seen or sometimes even speak!

The new voting freedom was a departure in a country where women must obtain permission from male relatives to marry, attend higher education or travel abroad.  

A form of slavery.

The Paris agreement

December 13th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Governments have signalled an end to the fossil fuel era, committing for the first time to a universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change at crunch UN talks in Paris. …

The deal set a high aspirational goal to limit warming below 2C and strive to keep temperatures at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – a far more ambitious target than expected, and a key demand of vulnerable countries. It incorporates previous commitments from 186 countries to reduce emissions which on their own would only hold warming to between 2.7C and 3C.

It’s a good thing 200 Governments managed to get an agreement. That is a huge advance on the Kyoto Protocol which was around 30 countries only.

The business as usual projections for future temperature rises were around 4.5C above pre-industrial levels. This, and previous agreements, now has a track of around 3C. It is possible that future technology may find some way to efficiently extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to get it closer to 2C. I don’t think there is anyway it will peak at 1.5C as we are already at over 1.0C.

temperature

As I previously blogged, when you take the temperature decade by decade, there has been a large increase since the 1970s.  Even if you don’t find reliable the pre 1970s measurements, the trend for the last 50 years is pronounced.

 

Guest Post: Jihadists and the Nisei soldiers

December 13th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Jim Rose:

Japanese Americans interned during World War II jumped at the chance to volunteer to fight.They saw it as their last chance to prove their undivided loyalty to their country.

One Japanese father, when saying goodbye to his son, stressed that showing his loyalty to his country, if necessary through the last full measure of devotion was far more important that his returning safely to his family.

The 442nd Combat Regiment Team was the most decorated unit in World War II. Its motto was “Go for Broke”. The 4,000 Nisei soldiers in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts.

Migrants are a cut above regarding initiative and judgement. They pass many of these traits on to their children. These Japanese Americans, both migrants and native born knew that counter-signalling was required. They had to go out of their way to show their loyalty no matter how unfair any suspicions of disloyalty among Japanese Americans might have been at the time.

I am reminded of that counter-signalling by Japanese Americans during the darkest days of World War II when I read the remarks of Julie Anne Genter and Jeremy Corbyn. Both focused their pleas on the need to be inclusive and understanding why people join violent, radical groups. They and the rest of the Twitter Left had nothing to contribute regarding strategies to deter the next attack and disrupt those that are in the planning stage, but that is not new.

The notion that bad behaviour towards minority communities leads to more recruitment to the terrorists is overrated. There will be a few wind-bags who say harsh things after each terrorist attack, but if they cross the line, they will be dealt with by the police and courts in a democracy governed by the rule of law.

Acrimony towards your community following the latest terrorist attacks has little to do with the level of recruitment to these terrorist groups either now or in the past. As Alan Krueger explains:

One of the conclusions from the work of Laurence Iannaccone—whose paper, “The Market for Martyrs,” is supported by my own research—is that it is very difficult to effect change on the supply side. People who are willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause have diverse motivations. Some are motivated by nationalism, some by religious fanaticism, some by historical grievances, and so on. If we address one motivation and thus reduce one source on the supply side, there remain other motivations that will incite other people to terror.

Malcontents join the jihadists today for the same reasons they joined the Red Brigade, the Japanese Red Army Faction and Baader-Meinhof gang in the 1970s and 1980s.

Plenty of young people were attracted to communism in previous generations as a way ofsticking it to the man. Now as then economic conditions were good as were political freedoms. Italy, Japan and Germany were all at the peak of recoveries from war. Japanese incomes are doubled in the previous decade. Germany and Italy were rich countries. As Alan Krueger explains:

Despite these pronouncements, however, the available evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as important causes of support for terrorism or participation in terrorist activities. Such explanations have been embraced almost entirely on faith, not scientific evidence.

Each generation has its defining oppositional identity. Radical Islam is the oppositional identity of choice for today’s angry young men and women. Mind you, they have to buy Islam for dummies to understand what they’re signing up for.

In previous generations, it was communism, weird Christian sects, eco-terrorism, animal liberationist terrorism and a variety of domestic terrorists of the left and right with conspiratorial motivations. Look at the level of diversity of the angry young men and women on the domestic terrorists list of the FBI. One jihadists when interviewed said that 30 years ago he would probably have become a Communist as his vehicle for venting his frustrations.

There is always an ample supply of troubled and angry people so trying to redress their grievances is overrated as Alan Krueger explains:

…it makes sense to focus on the demand side, such as by degrading terrorist organizations’ financial and technical capabilities, and by vigorously protecting and promoting peaceful means of protest, so there is less demand for pursuing grievances through violent means. Policies intended to dampen the flow of people willing to join terrorist organizations, by contrast, strike me as less likely to succeed.

The current appeal of radical Islam rests on what psychologists call personal significance. The quest for personal significance by these angry young men and women is the desire to matter, to be respected, to be somebody in one’s own eyes and in the eyes of others.

A person’s sense of significance may be lost for many reasons, including economic conditions. The anger can grow out of a sense of disparagement and discrimination; it can come from a sense that one’s brethren in faith are being humiliated and disgraced around the world.

Extremist ideologies, be they communism, fascism or extreme religions are effective in such circumstances because it offers a quick-fix to a perceived loss of significance and an assured way to regain it. It accomplishes this by exploiting primordial instincts for aggression, sex and revenge. MI5’s behavioural science unit found that

“far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could… be regarded as religious novices.” The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”

Most evidence point to moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose as drivers of radicalisation. Anthropologist Scott Atran pointed out in testimony to the US Senate in March 2010:

“. . . what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Quran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world”. He described wannabe jihadists as “bored, underemployed, overqualified and underwhelmed” young men for whom “jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer . . . thrilling, glorious and cool”.

Chris Morris, the writer and director of the 2010 black comedy Four Lions – which satirised the ignorance, incompetence and sheer banality of British Muslim jihadists – said “Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks”.

Hope Shorten leads better than he drives

December 11th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Australian Labor leader Bill Shorten has been forced to apologise after he was caught on camera using his phone while driving.

The opposition leader was filmed using his phone while driving at 40kmh on Melbourne’s Kings Way in a white 4WD.

Texting while driving at 40 km/hr is not a good idea.

In a statement, his office said whomever filmed the video was equally guilty: “It appears the witness was driving while he used his phone to film Shorten.”

What moron in his office thought it was a good idea to attack the person who dobbed him in? For all they know it was a passenger who filmed Shorten.

The incident was filmed by a witness who told the Herald Sun that he first noticed the car failed to drive off when the traffic light turned green.

The witness took out his own phone to film the car after he watched it swerve between lanes driving at a slow speed.

“He was driving all over the place,” he said.

The witness then realised Shorten was the driver. “He’s one of our leaders … he should be setting an example.”

The man said he decided to share the footage after hearing of that Shorten last month crashed his late mother’s Mitsubishi into a number of cars in Melbourne. 

Shorten’s latest poll numbers are so bad he must be on borrowed time.

Boris says let’s deal with the devils

December 10th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Boris Johnson writes:

Look, I am no particular fan of Vlad. Quite the opposite. Russian-backed forces are illegally occupying parts of Ukraine. Putin’s proxy army was almost certainly guilty of killing the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet that came down in eastern Ukraine. He has questions to answer about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, pitilessly poisoned in a London restaurant. As for his reign in Moscow, he is allegedly the linchpin of a vast post-Soviet gangster kleptocracy, and is personally said to be the richest man on the planet. Journalists who oppose him get shot. His rivals find themselves locked up. Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant.

Does that mean it is morally impossible to work with him? I am not so sure. We need to focus on what we are trying to achieve. Our aims – at least, our stated aims – are to degrade and ultimately to destroy Isil as a force in Syria and Iraq. That is what it is all about.

Our mission is to remove an evil death cult, to deprive their organisation of the charisma and renown that goes with controlling a territory of some 10 million people. We need to end their hideous administration of Raqqa, with its torchings and beheadings. We need them out of Palmyra, because if Syria is to have a future then we must protect its past.

We cannot do that without terrestrial forces. We need someone to provide the boots on the ground; and given that we are not going to be providing British ground forces – and the French and the Americans are just as reluctant – we cannot afford to be picky about our allies.

I agree. In WWII Hitler was the larger evil than Stalin, so one allied with Stalin to fight Hitler.

Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress. Thanks at least partly to Russian air strikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.

With Russian air support, the Assad regime is only a few miles from Palmyra – the fabled pink-stoned city of monuments, where Isil decapitated the 82-year-old curator, Khaled Al‑Assad, before beginning an orgy of cultural destruction.

Am I backing the Assad regime, and the Russians, in their joint enterprise to recapture that amazing site? You bet I am. That does not mean I trust Putin, and it does not mean that I want to keep Assad in power indefinitely. But we cannot suck and blow at once.

At the moment, we are in danger of treating our engagement as if it weresome complicated three-sided chess game, in which we are trying to neutralise the Islamists while simultaneously preventing Putin from getting too big for his boots. If we try to be too clever, we will end up achieving nothing.

Johnson is right. Work with Putin and Assad to defeat ISIL.

Corbyn does it again

December 9th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The New Statesman reports:

Jermy Corbyn stunned attendees at the party’s Christmas party by quoting Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who served as chairman of the Democratic Front of Albania and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces from 1944 until his death in 1985. 

Dubbing Hoxha a “tough ruler”, Corbyn quoted Hoxha’s phrase that “this year will be tougher than last year”. Hoxha is believed to have imprisoned, tortured and imprisoned at least 100,000 Albanians during his reign. 

Hoxha’s rule saw one in three Albanians incarcerated in labour camps or interrogated by the secret police. Travel abroad was banned, beards were banned and up to 25,000 people were executed for political crimes. Torture was commonly used.

Economically he turned Albania into the poorest country in Europe.

Meanwhile Corbyn’s leadership of the Stop the War coalition (he has resigned as patron, but remains active) remains a big issue, after they blamed the Paris attacks on Western foreign policy. They’re so toxic now, that even the Green MP Caroline Lucas has pulled out of them.

National Front gets most votes in regional elections

December 9th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

French mainstream politicians have struggled to come up with a response to what one analyst described as the “major hangover” of a historic victory by the Front National in the first round of regional elections.

While the far-right had been predicted to do well, the FN’s record score of almost 28% of the national vote and first place in six of the country’s 13 regions by Sunday night left the traditional parties reeling.

The governing Socialist party came third as expected, but analysts agreed on Monday that the main loser was the centre-right opposition party Les Républicains, led by the former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Socialists announced they would withdraw their candidates in regions where the party was trailing and urge supporters to vote tactically to form a “Republican front” to see off the Front National in the second round this coming Sunday.

The results were:

  • National Front 27.7% (+16.3%)
  • Union of the Right 26.7% (+0.6%)
  • Union of the Left 23.1% (-6.0%)
  • Greens 6.6% (-5.6%)

The FN look likely to end up in control of two of 13 regions. What is fascinating is they got 55% of the working class vote, compared to 15% for the socialists.

Developing countries are those blocking more meaningful climate targets

December 8th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting report at Politico:

Here’s how the game works: The negotiating framework established at a 2014conference in Lima, Peru, requires each country to submit a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, called an “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC). Each submission is at the discretion of the individual country; there is no objective standard it must meet or emissions reduction it must achieve.

Beyond that, it’s nearly impossible even to evaluate or compare them. Developing countries actually blocked a requirement that the plans use a common format and metrics, so an INDC need not even mention emissions levels.

And many don’t.

Or a country can propose to reduce emissions off a self-defined “business-as-usual” trajectory, essentially deciding how much it wants to emit and then declaring it an “improvement” from the alternative. To prevent such submissions from being challenged, a group of developing countries led by China and India has rejected“any obligatory review mechanism for increasing individual efforts of developing countries.”

So what will be the impact of Paris?

MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change calculates the improvement by century’s end to be only 0.2 degrees Celsius.

I’ve seen others say it may be up to 0.7c

China, for its part, offered to reach peak carbon-dioxide emissions “around 2030” while reducing emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent by that time from its 2005 level. But the U.S. government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had already predicted China’s emissions would peak around 2030 even without the climate plan. And a Bloomberg analysis found that China’s 60-65 percent target is less ambitious than the level it would reach by continuing with business as usual.

So China has a target that it is almost impossible not to make.

The INDCs covering actual emissions reductions are subjective, discretionary, and thus essentially unnegotiable. Not so the cash. Developing countries are expecting more than $100 billion in annual funds from this agreement or they will walk away. (For scale, that’s roughly equivalent to the entire OECD budget for foreign development assistance.)

And we’re put in $200 million.

Rich countries are bidding against themselves to purchase the developing world’s signature on an agreement so they can declare victory — even though the agreement itself will be the only progress achieved.

I think that is a bit harsh. I think having every country having a target, even weak ones, will be useful. If over the next decade the temperature gain is significant, then there will be greater pressure to strengthen the targets. It can be harder to get a country to have any target at all, than it is to strengthen it.

Will Canada legalise cannabis use?

December 7th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

The new Liberal government has promised to act quickly to legalize marijuana for general use, which would make Canada the first G-20 country to end cannabis prohibition on a national level.

Personally I would to see the results of the impacts of legalisation in those US states which have done so. It will almost be a controlled experiment as we will be able to compare any changes in the crime rates and health data in those states which have legalised cannabis to those which have not.

For police forces across Canada, the month of August is harvest time.

Cops slip on their coveralls, grab thick gardening gloves, shoulder machetes and begin the annual ritual of chopping down marijuana plants hidden in cornfields, remote mountain valleys and forest clearings.

If the grower is unlucky enough to be caught red-handed, he is cuffed and taken off to court. Each police unit hits two or three of these hidden marijuana plantations, with the confiscated pot taken to incinerators. The destruction of marijuana plants goes on for about two weeks and then it’s back to normal police work.

Has this war on marijuana worked?

“No, it hasn’t,” said Clive Weighill, chief of the Saskatoon police force, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and a veteran of the August raids.

Taxing it might be a better option.

The Liberals point out that more than 600,000 Canadians have criminal records for simple possession of marijuana and the number continues to grow. They claim this is a needless destruction of lives.

Each year the federal government spends as much as 500 million Canadian dollars (roughly $375 million U.S.) on drug enforcement and prosecution, according to the auditor general. About 50 million Canadian dollars goes to raiding marijuana plantations. These figures do not include the money spent by provincial and municipal authorities.

Yet a large number of people still use cannabis. For about a decade now, studies have shown that past-year use among Canadians age 15 to 24 is the highest in the developed world, with a recent study putting the rate at 24.6 percent. For adults 25 and over the figure drops to 8 percent.

A lot of money for little results.

Will 25 year old Marion Maréchal-Le Pen get to rule Provence-Côte d’Azur?

December 6th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

She is the new girl wonder of the French far right, a glamorous 25-year-old poised to break down many mainstream conservatives’ qualms about casting their vote for the Front National.

Since she was elected the youngest MP in French parliamentary history, aged 22 three years ago, while a second year Sorbonne law student, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, niece of Front President Marine and grand-daughter of its obstreperous founder Jean-Marie, has had the fastest learning curve in French politics since Bonaparte’s.

On Sunday, buoyed by the shock of the Nov 13 Islamic shootings in Paris, the list she heads is widely expected to come in first in the Provence-Côte d’Azur region, with polls giving her some 40 per cent of the vote. Even if the third-ranking Socialists drop out of the race to favour her Gaullist opponent in next Sunday’s runoff, Marion, as she’s known, has the most chances to swing into office, giving the Front National a shot at ruling one of France’s most dynamic regions, and the second most populous after Paris.

The region has GDP of US$183 billion and a population of five million – so bigger than New Zealand.

The last authorised polls before Sunday’s vote even gave a lead to the FN in six out of 13 French regions, although this is not expected to translate into many actual victories.

Even winning control of one region will be a massive victory.

By all rational expectations, the kick-off prime time debate, a month ago, between the former Gaullist PM and presidential hopeful Alain Juppé, 72, and the lonely Ms Maréchal-Le Pen, the Front’s sole MP, looked to be an unequal battle. The Bordeaux Mayor, a consensual conservative seen as less divisive than Nicolas Sarkozy, expected an easy win spotlighting his experience and reasonableness. It didn’t go that way.

With the odd toss of her long blond hair, the poised Ms Maréchal Le Pen trounced one of France’s best-known political figures. She gave back soundbite for soundbite, smilingly quoting from Juppé’s campaign platform verbatim, forcing him to look up his own points in the book he signed, and dropping on occasion the kind of Latin quote, Boris Johnson-like, which France’s right-wing electorate loves. She made him sound old without sounding wiser.

If she wins, she will have beaten a former PM to do it.

mmlp

She is of course the niece of the overall leader of the National Front, and it is quite possible one of them will become the first female President of France.

The growing reach of Islamic State

December 5th, 2015 at 7:38 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

One of two people accused of killing 14 in California apparently pledged allegiance to a leader of Islamic State militant group, two US government sources said on Friday (Saturday NZ Time), as intelligence officials in her native Pakistan pressed the investigation overseas.

Tashfeen Malik, 27, and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, were killed in a shootout with police hours after the Wednesday (Thursday NZT) massacre at the Inland Regional Center social services agency in San Bernardino, about 100 km east of Los Angeles. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting the United States has experienced in three years.

US investigators are evaluating evidence that Malik, a Pakistani native who had been living in Saudi Arabia when she married Farook, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, two US officials told Reuters. They said the finding, if confirmed, could be a “game changer” in the investigation.

If these reports are correct, this is significant.

In Europe, factors in people who become jihadists are often cited as poverty, non-integration etc. And they are factors.

But episodes like the above scare people more arguably, because this is a guy who had a good well respected job. Got on well with his neighbours. Had a wife and a kid. But seemingly got radicalised through his wife who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State. And bang 14 people are dead.

Security agencies can spot and monitor the obvious radicals and extremists. But how do you prevent this from occurring?

And in three weeks, Islamic State has managed to kill significant numbers in Russia, France and now the US. That’s a major successful attack every week.

Yet some on the left say we should do nothing

December 4th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

BEFORE a crowd of men on a street in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the masked Islamic State group judge read out the sentence against the two men convicted of homosexuality: They would be thrown to their deaths from the roof of the nearby Wael Hotel.

He asked one of the men if he was satisfied with the sentence. Death, the judge told him, would help cleanse him of his sin.

“I’d prefer it if you shoot me in the head,” 32-year-old Hawas Mallah replied helplessly. The second man, 21-year-old Mohammed Salameh, pleaded for a chance to repent, promising never to have sex with a man again, according to a witness among the onlookers that sunny July morning who gave The Associated Press a rare first-hand account.

“Take them and throw them off,” the judge ordered. Other masked extremists tied the men’s hands behind their backs and blindfolded them. They led them to the roof of the four-storey hotel, according to the witness, who spoke in the Turkish city of Reyhanli on condition he be identified only by his first name, Omar, for fear of reprisals.

Notorious for their gruesome methods of killing, the Islamic State group reserves one of its most brutal for suspected homosexuals. Videos it has released show masked militants dangling men over the precipices of buildings by their legs to drop them headfirst or tossing them over the edge. At least 36 men in Syria and Iraq have been killed by IS militants on charges of sodomy, according to the New York-based OutRight Action International, though its Middle East and North Africa co-ordinator, Hossein Alizadeh, said it was not possible to confirm the sexual orientation of the victims.

Do we allow them to expand and expand, taking more territory, or do we stop them?