Sunday, 24 August 2008

Oceania v Eurasia once again?

Tweedledumber and Tweedledee.

For nearly two decades I haven't had to worry about a nuclear war in Europe. Maybe nuclear wars elsewhere (ie the Middle East, India v Pakistan, Korea) and possibly a "dirty bomb" being exploded in a Western city by a terrorist group, but not an all-out nuclear conflict between the West and Russia. However, the events of the last couple of weeks has made me think that the possibility is back.

There are definitely a lot of important and/or loud people in the West (and I should think in Russia too) who would love to see the Cold War back. If Georgia was a member of NATO we would be in a shooting war with the Russians by now. Some idiots think we should have helped Georgia after its attempt to take over South Ossetia by force went awry: how? Send troops in? (Very few of these armchair generals are prepared to go themselves to anywhere more dangerous than their laptops.) Where would that end? Perhaps some people should watch The Day After and Threads and see what a nuclear war with the Russians would be like.

What has really annoyed me in the last couple of weeks has been the characterisation of Georgia as the 'Plucky Little Belgium/Poland' of the Twenty First Century, fighting against the Russian jackboot. The Russian military are not saints, as the war in Chechenya shows, but they did not kick off the current round of fighting in the Caucasus. Furthermore, Messrs Putin and Medvedev do not need lessons in corruption, ballot rigging and intimidating their domestic opponents from Mikheil Saaskashvili. I mean, who wins 94% in a Presidential contest outside of North Korea these days? The best piece I have seen so far on the whole situation comes from Mark Almond who, as someone who practically supported dissidents in the Eastern Bloc during the 1980s, is far from a Russian stooge:

Plucky little Georgia? No, the cold war reading won't wash: It is crudely simplistic to cast Russia as the sole villain in the clashes over South Ossetia. The west would be wise to stay out
Mark Almond, The Guardian, Saturday August 9 2008

For many people the sight of Russian tanks streaming across a border in August has uncanny echoes of Prague 1968. That cold war reflex is natural enough, but after two decades of Russian retreat from those bastions it is misleading. Not every development in the former Soviet Union is a replay of Soviet history.

The clash between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, which escalated dramatically yesterday, in truth has more in common with the Falklands war of 1982 than it does with a cold war crisis. When the Argentine junta was basking in public approval for its bloodless recovery of Las Malvinas, Henry Kissinger anticipated Britain's widely unexpected military response with the comment: "No great power retreats for ever." Maybe today Russia has stopped the long retreat to Moscow which started under Gorbachev.

Back in the late 1980s, as the USSR waned, the red army withdrew from countries in eastern Europe which plainly resented its presence as the guarantor of unpopular communist regimes. That theme continued throughout the new republics of the deceased Soviet Union, and on into the premiership of Putin, under whom Russian forces were evacuated even from the country's bases in Georgia.

To many Russians this vast geopolitical retreat from places which were part of Russia long before the dawn of communist rule brought no bonus in relations with the west. The more Russia drew in its horns, the more Washington and its allies denounced the Kremlin for its imperial ambitions.

Unlike in eastern Europe, for instance, today in breakaway states such as South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Russian troops are popular. Vladimir Putin's picture is more widely displayed than that of the South Ossetian president, the former Soviet wrestling champion Eduard Kokoity. The Russians are seen as protectors against a repeat of ethnic cleansing by Georgians.

In 1992, the west backed Eduard Shevardnadze's attempts to reassert Georgia's control over these regions. The then Georgian president's war was a disaster for his nation. It left 300,000 or more refugees "cleansed" by the rebel regions, but for Ossetians and Abkhazians the brutal plundering of the Georgian troops is the most indelible memory.

Georgians have nursed their humiliation ever since. Although Mikheil Saakashvili has done little for the refugees since he came to power early in 2004 - apart from move them out of their hostels in central Tbilisi to make way for property development - he has spent 70% of the Georgian budget on his military. At the start of the week he decided to flex his muscles.

Devoted to achieving Nato entry for Georgia, Saakashvili has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan - and so clearly felt he had American backing. The streets of the Georgian capital are plastered with posters of George W Bush alongside his Georgian protege. George W Bush avenue leads to Tbilisi airport. But he has ignored Kissinger's dictum: "Great powers don't commit suicide for their allies." Perhaps his neoconservative allies in Washington have forgotten it, too. Let's hope not.

Like Galtieri in 1982, Saakashvili faces a domestic economic crisis and public disillusionment. In the years since the so-called Rose revolution, the cronyism and poverty that characterised the Shevardnadze era have not gone away. Allegations of corruption and favouritism towards his mother's clan, together with claims of election fraud, led to mass demonstrations against Saakashvili last November. His ruthless security forces - trained, equipped and subsidised by the west - thrashed the protesters. Lashing out at the Georgians' common enemy in South Ossetia would certainly rally them around the president, at least in the short term.

Last September, President Saakashvili suddenly turned on his closest ally in the Rose revolution, defence minister Irakli Okruashvili. Each man accused his former blood brother of mafia links and profiting from contraband. Whatever the truth, the fact that the men seen by the west as the heroes of a post-Shevardnadze clean-up accused each other of vile crimes should warn us against picking a local hero in Caucasian politics.

Western geopolitical commentators stick to cold war simplicities about Russia bullying plucky little Georgia. However, anyone familiar with the Caucasus knows that the state bleating about its victim status at the hands of a bigger neighbour can be just as nasty to its smaller subjects. Small nationalisms are rarely sweet-natured.

Worse still, western backing for "equip and train" programmes in Russia's backyard don't contribute to peace and stability if bombastic local leaders such as Saakashvili see them as a guarantee of support even in a crisis provoked by his own actions. He seems to have thought that the valuable oil pipeline passing through his territory, together with the Nato advisers intermingled with his troops, would prevent Russia reacting militarily to an incursion into South Ossetia. That calculation has proved disastrously wrong.

The question now is whether the conflict can be contained, or whether the west will be drawn in, raising the stakes to desperate levels. To date the west has operated radically different approaches to secession in the Balkans, where pro-western microstates get embassies, and the Caucasus, where the Caucasian boundaries drawn up by Stalin, are deemed sacrosanct.

In the Balkans, the west promoted the disintegration of multiethnic Yugoslavia, climaxing with their recognition of Kosovo's independence in February. If a mafia-dominated microstate like Montenegro can get western recognition, why shouldn't flawed, pro-Russian, unrecognised states aspire to independence, too?

Given its extraordinary ethnic complexity, Georgia is a post-Soviet Union in miniature. If westerners readily conceded non-Russian republics' right to secede from the USSR in 1991, what is the logic of insisting that non-Georgians must remain inside a microempire which happens to be pro-western?

Other people's nationalisms are like other people's love affairs, or, indeed, like dog fights. These are things wise people don't get involved in. A war in the Caucasus is never a straightforward moral crusade - but then, how many wars are?

Mark Almond is a history lecturer at Oriel College, Oxford

To be honest, you've got to be a bit certifiable to start a war with Russia (or with the USA and China for that matter). History shows the Russians are not good soldiers when they march into other countries for no good reason, but on their home soil, with the local population behind them, you are not likely to come out on top, as Napoleon and Hitler found to their cost.

One man who certainly gives the impression that he would like to march on Moscow is John McCain. I invest no hopes in Barack Obama changing the world for the better if he becomes US President, but McCain seems intent on making things worse. Even if you do not think McCain is the Anti-Christ, he is definitely someone who gives the impression of being an instinctive warmonger:

If it’s war we want, McCain will deliver:The Republican candidate has been in his element during the past week
Andrew Sullivan, The Sunday Times,August 17, 2008

Last week John McCain came alive. He’s a mercurial fellow – sometimes obviously bored, more often careening around his surroundings like a white, scarred and bowed Tasmanian devil, occasionally bursting with temper, often joking, very occasionally mild and funny. But he really comes to life when a conflict is around and he knows who the enemy is. The enemy can be the president of Russia or fellow Republican senators, but they’ll know it if McCain is on the warpath.

Not many senators, after all, knew who Mikhail Saakashvili was before last weekend. McCain did. He’d spoken to him often, even nominated him for a Nobel peace prize in 2005. Randy Scheunemann, one of McCain’s closest neoconservative advisers, was paid by the Georgian government to lobby for it in Washington. And McCain’s long-standing hatred of the Russian government is common knowledge. He once mocked George W Bush for his eminently mockable statement that he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and seen a force for good. McCain said he’d looked into Putin’s eyes and seen three letters: K, G and B.

So Putin’s invasion of Georgia brought out the fiery righteousness that has marked the McCain family for generations. He dominated the news, eclipsing the laconic Barack Obama, holidaying in Hawaii, and the hapless American president, still making faces in the crowds at the Olympics. McCain sent a delegation, held press conferences, issued vague threats and championed the plucky Georgians. The prospect of another armed conflict – even better against the old Russian enemy – seemed to lift his mood. And it may lift his ratings.

Nobody who knows McCain was surprised. His ancestors, as Matt Welch pointed out in the best short biography of the man, The Myth of a Maverick, have served in almost every war America has been involved with since the war of independence. McCain’s ideal president is Teddy Roosevelt and if you want to understand McCain’s view of the world, a quick perusal of Roosevelt’s presidency is about as good a primer as you can find.

“For the McCains of the United States navy,” McCain wrote in his 2002 book Worth the Fighting For, “as well as for many of our brother officers, presidents just didn’t get much better than Teddy Roosevelt. He transformed the American navy from a small coastal defence force to an instrument for the global projection of power.” Roosevelt was also a pious scourge of the corrupt, a military adventurer who went on to win the Nobel peace prize and a pioneer of environmental protection. He loved finding enemies and defeating them and saw America’s future partly in world adventurism.

McCain’s core belief – after many years of partying, philandering and generally goofing around – is that Americans are at their best when committed to a higher noble cause. And no cause is more noble than projecting American power everywhere on God’s earth to deter evil, reward good and save the victims of bullies. I am not aware of any war in recent times that he hasn’t at some point supported. Peace-time makes him nervous, listless.

He favoured the first Gulf war and the second Iraq war. He wanted to intervene early in the Balkans in the 1990s, favoured the Afghanistan war and wanted more military pressure against North Korea. He also wants to keep the military option against Iraq prominently on the table. His problem with the Iraq war was that the United States did not send enough troops and his support for the “surge” was, to his credit, a defining moment in his recent career.

So a dramatic, polarising conflict with Russia has come as God’s gift to the Republican nominee as he trails Obama by a frustrating few points and seems unable to get ahead. It’s even better that the cause is all but hopeless and that the notion that the West will escalate conflict with Russia to insist on Georgia’s right to South Ossetia is preposterous. The hopeless-ness of this situation is partly what appeals to him.

Vietnam was his template. It was a losing battle but he fought it honourably. The United States lost the war and McCain lost his soul in that Hanoi Hilton, eventually cracking to make false taped confessions under the exact techniques now deployed by Bush against terror suspects. But he survived and refused to be released early and came back home a tortured war hero.

There’s your formula: tragic, noble victim. Domestically his great cause has been preventing lawmakers from bringing pork-barrel spending to their districts – a practice that is as old as all representative government – and curtailing campaign spending in a country where there is a First Amendment that will never, mercifully, be repealed. Yet McCain is still drawn to battling for the impossible. It somehow gives him meaning and purpose.

He is drawn to the beleaguered Kurds, the victims of genocide in Darfur, the people of Burma, the massacred Bosnians and now the plundered Georgians.

Watch his rigid, impassioned performance last week and you will see the president he would surely be. If he becomes president, there is no knowing what he would do to defend Ukraine or any other country bordering Russia. He will certainly be prepared to go to war to stop Iran going nuclear – and will strongly support Israel if it initiates the conflict.

He will never withdraw all troops from Iraq – because the withdrawal of troops always means surrender to him. He wants a “surge” for Afghanistan. And he has pledged not to raise taxes to pay for any of this. You want a Bush third term? McCain would take us right back to Bush’s first, with bells on.

The question that Americans must decide in November is whether, at this point in history, after the five-year $3 trillion (£1.6 trillion) occupation of Iraq, with a nuclear Iran on the horizon, an oil-fuelled Russia resurgent, with the American economy teetering and the Taliban rebounding in Afghanistan, the right direction for America is more military aggression, more presidential power, more unilateralism and less diplomacy.

What you saw last week is a taste of what may yet be to come. And if it sounds like a doomed strategy, it will only make McCain embrace it even more.

If McCain gets in, it looks like the only thing guaranteed to boom are the guns...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Free Market Anti-Capitalist Notes

Ayn Rand For Beginners:

For your perusal,this one from Chris Dillow:

Public vs private: what's the difference?, July 17th, 2008

For years, we’ve been told by left and right alike that the state is a vehicle for socialism whilst the private sector embodies free enterprise and self-reliance. It looks like this is pure bull.

Exhibit one. Cath Elliott describes the class conflict in the public sector:

It's pretty hard to remain objective when you see your work colleagues being shafted, year-in and year-out, by politicians and chief executives who haven't got the faintest idea of what it's like trying to survive on close to minimum wage incomes.

Exhibit two. Vanni Treves, chairman of Equitable Life, tells us that the fund management industry was nationalized years ago. The Equitable’s management, he says, was only “in part” responsible for the company’s collapse.

It was the job of the regulator to supervise what the [Equitable] management was doing…the government must pay the bills for its own failings.

In other words, fund managers were really just civil servants working under government supervision. And like civil servants, they expect the tax-payer to pick up the bill for their own failings. At least Fannie and Freddie had the honesty to admit they were government-sponsored firms.

So, the state is capitalistic in the sense that bosses and their hangers-on rip off workers, whilst what we all thought was the market sector was really a branch of government.

Confused? You will be if you think left=state=socialism and right=market=self-reliance.

But as I said, the real divide isn’t between “left” and “right” but between those who believe in spontaneous, undirected order and those who believe in top-down management, be it in government or business.

And what these two instances show us is that management (as distinct from administration), in the state or “private” sector, is much the same - an inherently corrupt activity aimed at ripping off workers, customers or tax-payers.

Also this about State Subsidies For the Pointlessly Rich from Our Future:

Wall Street Socialism, By Robert Borosage
July 16th, 2008

This weekend, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former head of the Goldman Sachs investment house, provided us with a perfect demonstration of Wall Street socialism.

He announced that the Bush administration would seek congressional approval to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government created but privately owned, profit-making housing finance companies that hold or guarantee nearly half of the U.S. mortgage market—some $5 trillion in debt. Paulson seeks and will get an unlimited line of credit to guarantee their debt, as well as authority to purchase their shares to supplement their capital base. The Federal Reserve announced it was ready to provide lending while waiting for Congress to act. Paulson said the new subsidies were designed to sustain the two institutions in "their current form."

Perfect. The two institutions have always been more fowl than fish. Created by the government in the 1930s to help lubricate the U.S. mortgage market by buying mortgages from the banks so they would have the cash to make more mortgages, Fannie and Freddie were able to borrow money at a discount because of a widely shared assumption that the government would stand behind their debts if push came to shove. Their operations were regulated, limited by laws detailing what mortgages they could assume. (They were essentially prohibited from diving directly into the subprime muck.)

But as they grew and profited, their executives pocketed lavish salaries and bonuses—giving them an incentive to grow even more (and as we discovered earlier this decade, to cook the books). Last year, for example, the Chair of Freddie Mac took home a cool $18,289,575. Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd reaped a 7 percent rise in pay to $13.4 million in 2007 while the company lost $2.1 billion and its shares fell 33 percent. Nice work if you can get it.

Now with the bursting of the housing bubble, push surely has come to shove. Foreclosures are soaring, the two institutions have sustained billions in losses, their shares have plummeted, and, according to former St. Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole, one and possibly both would be bankrupt if their assets were marked down to their current market value.

So now the Bush administration proposes to make the federal guarantee explicit and even to offer taxpayer money to help recapitalize the two banks if needed. Everything has been nationalized—except the profits and the pay scales of the bank's executives.

That's right. If the guarantees work, private speculators, having driven the stock down, will clean up on the upside. And the bank's CEOs will continue to pocket the multimillion dollar salaries that are de rigueur on Wall Street. Call it Wall Street socialism. Their losses are socialized; their profits are pocketed. You and I will pay for their failures. And if conservatives have their way, their families will pocket their successes, without even having to pay a tax for the transfer of the estates we've helped to create.

These enterprises are operating on our tab now—completely. Why not just nationalize them, as even that font of economic convention, Sabastian Mallaby suggested yesterday in The Washington Post? Sure, we'd have to add the $5 trillion in debt to the federal balance sheet, but we could add the assets also. And after Paulson's announcement, global investors are already toting up their debts onto the federal balance sheet.

Why pay dividends to shareholders when they are essentially playing with our money? Why pay managers of public enterprises the bloated pay packages of Wall Street speculators? Why allow them to finance lobbyists to shield them from accountability? The fiction of their separate existence has been exploded; let's save the dough and run them efficiently.

The bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is only the most recent and extreme version of Wall Street socialism. The Bush administration has done essentially the same for private providers of college loans. The Federal Reserve has made taxpayers the guarantor not simply of the banks that it regulates, but the shadow banking system of hedge funds and investment houses that it doesn't regulate. After the bailout of Bear Sterns, they basically are gambling with our money. The Federal Reserve has now traded more than $500 billion in federal bonds for the toxic paper of private banks and investment houses, some $200 billion of it in mortgage-backed securities, worth dimes on the dollar. This massive subsidy—justified as necessary to keep the banking system afloat—is not accompanied by limits on what gambles the speculators can make, how much debt they can take on, what rewards they can pocket. They are playing with house money—not exactly an incentive for prudence.

Republicans seem ideologically committed to these kinds of arrangements. In Medicare for example, conservatives have demanded that the government subsidize private insurance companies to compete with public Medicare, even though Medicare provides health care much less expensively. When Bush and the Tom DeLay Congress drove through the prescription drug bill, they included a provision that prohibits Medicare from negotiating cheaper prices for drugs, effectively turning the bill from a benefit to seniors to a multibillion-dollar subsidy to private drug companies (not surprisingly, after Wall Street, the drug companies finance one of the most lavish and powerful lobbies in Washington).

Now it makes sense to me for the government to subsidize housing mortgages and college loans. Encouraging home ownership and higher education are central to sustaining the broad middle class that is America's triumph. But I can't imagine why we need to let bankers and investors pocket the upside, when they are playing with our money and we're covering their losses. Public enterprise may be staid and bureaucratic, but it's a lot cheaper and more efficient than the perils of Wall Street socialism.

2011: "Come Back Gordon, All Is Forgiven"?

Just some thoughts on politics both here and abroad at the moment…

One wonders how long the Labour Party can carry on without an attempt to bring down Gordon Brown. I think the only thing stopping a coup d’etat against him is the knowledge that once a new leader has been elected a General Election will have to be called soon after. Another Labour leader without any electoral legitimacy with the public would make a potential electoral wipeout even worse. If I was a betting person I think GB will stay on until the end of the year. Then he will be ousted (the only thing I can see saving him is a major national crisis in the next few months), followed by a leadership contest. The new leader (almost certainly a NuLab Bugger-All In A Suit) will achieve another “dead cat bounce” in the polls, before a General Election is called for May or June next year (same time as the local elections or the European elections). I imagine the Labour slogan would be something similar to Stanley Baldwin’s Tory slogan for the 1929 General Election: “Safety First”.

Whenever it comes, I think the Conservatives will be the largest party. If GB stays I think it will be a handsome Tory win. If he goes…maybe not. I think that, faced with a Con win, enough erstwhile Labour supporters will come out to stop it being a landslide. However, I think the Labour Party will be out of power a long time. What makes it worse than previous ejections from office is that the grass roots of the party are in a state of terminal decline. Also there is no ideological force that could unite or inspire party members. Since the collapse of the Alternative Economic Strategy and the retreat of the Labour Left in the 1980s, there has been nothing really on offer but managing Thatcherism with a smile. As I’m sure I’ve said before, publications by centre-left pressure groups such as Compass and Catalyst are frankly yawn inducing, which can inspire no one. If, as Harold Wilson said, the Labour Party is a crusade or it is nothing, then I think it will be nothing after the next General Election.

I can see some, if not all, of the Conservative readers of my blog (I have a few!) rubbing their hands at the thought of David Cameron re-establishing their hegemony over British politics after the next General Election. However, I would caution them, particularly if they are EU-critical. As is pretty well known, the Cameroonies have modelled their plan for winning the next General Election on how Tony Blair transformed the Labour Party in the mid-1990s. Due to the massive majority Labour achieved in 1997, one part of the NuLab game plan was not implemented. To quote from The Survivor: Tony Blair in Peace and War (2005, Aurum, p.171) by Francis Beckett & David Hencke:

“The Liberal Democrats were to join the new Labour government- even if it had a majority of up to fifty seats.”

“The most extraordinary decision taken by Blair was to reserve two cabinet seats for the Liberal Democrats in advance of the 1997 election campaign.”

Only at the weekend before the 1997 General Election, when it was clear that Labour would get a majority in excess of fifty, was the plan abandoned (ibid, p.173).

So if the weekend after the next General Election David Cameron announces that Nick Clegg is the new Foreign Secretary, you read it here first…!

I would say the EU is the issue that Cameron needs the Lib Dems onside. He is, after all, the man who complained about people “banging on” about the EU and called UKIP members "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". The Lib Dems are leading members of the Far Centre’s “My EU right or wrong” brigade, as their opposition to any British referendum on the Lisbon Treaty this year made clear. My own opinion is that Cameron will also reach out to the ultra-Blairite wing of NuLab in a “Government of All The Talents” [sic!]. After all, there are a fair few careerist chancers amongst Labour MPs who have no loyalty to the Labour Party and would, if offered a position (again!) in Government, have no qualms about jumping over to the Conservatives. Not least, if the Government is led by a man who claims to be “The Heir to Blair”. (A billboard poster of DC next to that caption would probably the best way for Labour to prevent a Tory landslide at the next General Election…!)

Returning to the Lib Dems, the way things are going they appear to be returning to the days of the “National Liberals”, whose political existence was dependent on the Conservatives not standing against them for Parliament, and which almost merged with the Tories in the early 1950s. The decision to oppose a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty appeared to have cost them votes in the London Elections, not least in their electoral strongholds. Furthermore, in Camden, where I live, the Greens pushed the Lib Dems into fourth place in 11 of the borough’s 18 wards, although sharing power with the Tories on the council doesn’t seemed to have helped.

In fact, Nick Clegg seems set on committing a form of political hara-kiri, as this article from the Western Daily News suggests:

Fighting Tories not a priority - Clegg
Western Daily News 02-August-2008

LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg has stunned party members in the Westcountry by announcing that fighting the Tories is no longer a priority.

Amid plummeting poll ratings for Gordon Brown, Mr Clegg said he would focus on unseating Labour MPs at the next General Election.

More money will be spent on the seats where the Lib-Dems are “taking on Labour,” he said.

But the move will come at the expense of battles with the Conservatives who are the Lib-Dems' main rivals across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

One Lib-Dem MP said he felt he had been “cut loose” while other senior figures warned that the party faced “wipe-out” at the hands of a resurgent Tory party.

Several said Mr Clegg should be concentrating on “consolidating” the 63 MPs he has at present instead of opening up a new battlefront with Labour. “I wish he had told me first,” said one Lib-Dem MP faced with a close battle against the Conservatives.
Current opinion polls suggest David Cameron's Conservatives could sweep the board in the South West, unseating almost all Lib-Dems without the most substantial majorities. Mr Clegg recently insisted the party was performing well in the region but his move to focus on Labour seats in the South East and the North of England left some activists feeling he had given up on the Westcountry.

The party released a list of 50 target seats it hopes to win – and not one is the Westcountry, traditionally seen as Lib-Dem heartland.

Mr Clegg insists he is directing resources away from fighting the Tories because the turmoil engulfing the Government is a “huge opportunity”. In a summer podcast for the Lib-Dem website, Mr Clegg said Labour was “tearing itself apart”, and he had “never seen anything like it”.

Labour had proved it could not deliver help with spiralling energy bills or run public services effectively, according to Mr Clegg.

“It's over for them,” he insisted. “There is no point voting Labour any more. There are no safe Labour seats. They will lose every by-election they fight in this parliament. And at the next General Election, they will lose in their heartlands to the Liberal Democrats.

“A Labour vote is now a wasted vote. This is a huge opportunity for us. We've got to seize it. So I'm shifting our resources to put more campaigners and more effort into those seats where we're taking on Labour.

Mr Clegg said the Lib-Dems would launch a fundraising drive in the autumn specifically to bring in cash for fighting Labour.

But the move was greeted with dismay in the Westcountry where activists had been hoping Mr Clegg would “take the fight” to the Tories.

It also risks reigniting speculation that in the event of a hung parliament Mr Clegg would be more sympathetic to a pact with the Conservatives.

The prospect of seeing financial help and campaigning muscle diverted from the region – once seen as the home turf for the Lib-Dems under Paddy Ashdown's leadership – provoked fears that Mr Clegg had given up trying to beat the Tories.

Senior Westcountry Lib-Dems in the privately fear they are “facing wipe-out”.
“We are going to be squeezed out again and again,” said one.

“I just think people from North Cornwall to Plymouth will be thinking 'what are we playing at?'”

In short, it appears the Lib Dems are planning to be junior partners to the Cons after the next General Election. However, there is plenty of time to go until the big day yet…

Well, if we are not getting a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, the Irish appear to be having one again, after failing to give the EU the right answer the first time around. Frankly, I think the whole thing stinks- if Ireland had voted “Yes”, an EU-wide putsch would have taken place without any more ado. No wonder less and less people vote any more…

What riles me almost as much is the way that the US Presidential Elections are covered here, compared to the near silence about the lack of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. If I hear one more pundit saying “why we don’t have primaries like the Americans? Isn’t it great how they care about their democratic process?” I will scream! I don’t want to get all Euro-centric about this, but more people this side of the pond vote than they do in our ex-colony. (bit below the belt there, but…) To quote Andrew Stephen, in an excellent piece on NuLab’s infatuation with the USA:

“voter turnout is much higher in Europe than here; in Britain it averaged 76 per cent between 1960 and 1995. In the 2004 US presidential elections voter turnout was 59 per cent, and plunged to 29.7 per cent in the 2006 midterms; maybe as many as a third of all Americans do not even bother to register to vote at all.”

As for Obama, he’s another “Heir of Blair”…

Finally, I’m glad tensions have gone down a little over Iran. However, I fear there are enough war-mongers in Iran, Israel and the US who want a war, and will try by all means possible to start one. Perhaps they should settle it by a Bush v Ahmadinejad drinking contest…