Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CIA Spying on Senator Feinstein A Step Too Far?

Just when you thought the revelations about out-of-control US government intelligence agencies couldn't get any more interesting, the latest news out of Washington DC has even hawkish conservatives shaking their heads in disbelief. It turns out that the CIA may have been illegally spying on the office of Dianne Feinstein, the geriatric Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee that audits the activities of the intelligence agencies themselves. The Feinstein allegations go further, that the CIA actually deleted documents from the senate committee's computers and destroyed documents on their own systems showing CIA malfeasance in its so-called rendition programmes where suspects were kidnapped by the CIA and taken to other countries for torture. These accusations are deliciously ironic because Feinstein has been one of the intelligence agencies' staunchest defenders against the revelations of whistle-blowers Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden.

Dan Carlin, the political and historical podcaster who is sufficiently well-regarded to have been asked to advise the US military on strategy, said in his most recent podcast that he believes the actions of the CIA might lead to President Obama's impeachment if it is revealed the president knew and approved what was going on (and the CIA has suggested this was the case). Even if that does not happen, it could lead to a constitutional crisis with Republican Senator Lindsay Graham saying 'Congress should declare war on the CIA.' As the CIA is part of the executive branch, this is a call for war on the White House.

I look forward to ongoing developments in this case.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tony Benn was a great Socialist

I have been a libertarian since university but in politics I hold the greatest contempt not for those who have diametrically opposed political beliefs but rather for those who insist on always occupying the so-called "middle ground." At university one of my best friends was a revolutionary Marxist. He used to joke that "come the revolution you'll be first up against the wall...bang, bang, bang!" My response was always, "not if I get to you first!" We both knew that neither of us was entirely joking and that, given the right circumstances, we might one day find each other on opposite sides of a fight that involved more than just rhetoric, but we were best mates nevertheless and liked nothing more than a heated political debate. Occasionally we found common ground, such as our contempt for crony capitalism and religious conservatives.

When I lived in the UK in the 1980s there were two politicians whom I admired. Both towered over their peers in the philosophical sense. Margaret Thatcher, of course, was the first of these. The other was Tony Benn. The former Viscount Stansgate (for Tony Benn had renounced his peerage in the 1960s so he could sit in the House of Commons) was a doctrinaire Marxist and as such, I had little in common with him politically. But I admired his principled beliefs and his forthright manner in expressing them.

Benn believed in a pure, democratic Marxism that is, in my analysis, as illusory as fairy dust. He stuck to his principles, even when they put him in conflict with those who would ordinarily be his allies. He detested the Soviet Union and he was as much a thorn in the side of the Labour leadership as he was to the Tories. I had the impression that there was a reluctant mutual respect behind the open contempt between Benn and his political nemesis, Margaret Thatcher. Certainly, he had a sense of humour where Thatcher was concerned, introducing to parliament in 1990 a private members' bill entitled the Margaret Thatcher (Global Repeal) Bill.

Tony Benn died last week aged 88. I tip my hat to him as that rarity in politics these days - a man of principle and courage. Give me a Tony Benn any day over the unprincipled likes of Tony Blair, David Cameron or John Key.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The hypocrisy of the West towards Russia

Tomorrow, Crimean voters get to decide in a referendum whether they shall rejoin Russia. This vote has been condemned by Western leaders who, when it suits them, love to make a big issue out of self-determination.

Gauging the reaction to Russia's response to the state of affairs in the Ukraine, you'd think the former was the biggest threat to world peace since Nazi Germany. Western leaders such as Obama, whose countries have invaded numerous independent nations over the past couple of decades, posture and pontificate as though Putin was a foaming maniac who is about to launch another world war. Here's a few facts to consider.

Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 when both countries were part of the USSR. As part of this deal, which survived the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia was allowed to maintain troops in Crimea. The Western media has reported that Russia has invaded Crimea. It hasn't, it was already there.

The events in Ukraine over the last few weeks have seen the (albeit somewhat corruptly) elected government of Viktor Yanukovych overthrown by violent protests by a unholy alliance of opposition groups that include a significant presence of Neo-Nazis. The symbolic leader of those groups is a former Yanukovych ally and gas industry oligarch named Yulia Tymoshenko, who heads the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" party.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990, the United States gave Mikhail Gorbachev assurances that it would not expand NATO east into former Soviet republics. These assurances counted for nothing with Germany joining NATO in 1990, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary joining in 1999, and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Croatia all joining since then. Thus NATO now virtually surrounds Russia from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Is it any wonder the Russians are nervous about Ukraine moving into the Western European alliance? Imagine if Canada and Mexico had joined the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War and you get a sense of how Russia must see these developments.

We saw a further example of Western hypocrisy during the Sochi Olympics with Western politicians and celebrities jumping on the bandwagon to condemn Russia's new law against promoting homosexuality. Personally, I think this is a pretty despicable law, but it needs to be put in perspective - homosexuality is legal in Russia and remains so and eight US states still have similar laws on their books to that introduced by Russia. Besides, where was that chorus of protest from all those Western politicians and celebrities when Iran recently hung two men from cranes for their homosexuality?

Vladimir Putin's Russia is not a paragon of liberty and human rights, but neither are many Western nations.  President Obama claims the right to extra-judicial killing by drone of anyone, anywhere in the world. His government still imprisons suspected terrorists without trial or due process in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba, and his intelligence agencies claim the right to extra-judicial mass surveillance of law-abiding people both within the United States and abroad. Perhaps Obama and other Western leaders should put their own liberties in order before taking such a sanctimonious attitude towards Russia.