Archive | December, 2012

Confident Predictions for 2013*

31 Dec

1. China and Japan will realize that the disputed islands are simply a worthless bird-poo covered lump of rock, declare them an environmental heritage site, and agree to joint stewardship. There will be a moratorium on energy exploitation within 50km of the islands.

2. Nuclear-armed USA and nuclear-armed Israel will realize the utter hypocrisy of their stance on Iran and agree a non-aggression pact with Iran. The US will demilitarize the region by withdrawing from its multiple bases in the Gulf region. Iran will provide irrefutable proof that its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful means.

3. Greece, Portugal and Ireland will tell the IMF to fuck off and tell the bankers to pay their own debts rather than leaching off taxpayers who did not run up the debts in the first place.

4. The Assad regime in Syria will realize that it cannot go on murdering its own citizens and will negotiate a transfer of power to a civilian, democratic government. At the same time, western and Gulf governments will see the folly of arming the ‘Free Syria Army’ as reports of their human rights abuses become more widespread.

5. An international levy on the arms trade will come into force. The funds raised by the levy will eradicate childhood illness worldwide.

6. NATO and western governments will apologise to the people of Afghanistan for the night raids, death by drone and the imposition of a corrupt government of warlords and narco-profiteers. The people of Afghanistan will respond by embracing more tolerant political leaders.

7. Pakistan will rebrand itself ‘the rainbow nation’ and make a point of celebrating religious tolerance and all forms of diversity.

8. The cult worship of Saint Steve Jobs will end as people realize that he was a hugely selfish man who gave nothing to charity, routinely parked in disabled parking spaces, and insisted on a 30 percent profit for all of his goods.

9. Climate change will be taken seriously.

10. The flying pig will make its debut at the Farnborough International Airshow.

* Alternatively, human beings will blunder along, believing that a mix of nationalism, profiteering, coercion and violence is the best strategy for solving common problems.


Peace Studies vernacular becomes mainstream?

21 Dec

I’ve just spent the last few days at a very interesting conference run by the Changing Character of War Project at Oxford. It was heavily attended by the Land Intelligence Fusion Centre, who seem to be the part of the British Army that thinks about strategy and doctrine. Apart from the large concentration of impossibly shiny shoes, the most striking aspect of the conference was the extent to which the military are comfortable with the language and concepts that I associate with the critical perspective on peace and conflict studies.
This is a reflection of where the military find themselves. The Afghan campaign is now about ‘end states’ and ‘drawdown’. The British military must find a rationale for the task given to them by Whitehall – and ultimately by the Pentagon. And that task is to clear out of Afghanistan by 2014. So gone is talk of defeating the Taliban and of democracy and all of those other ideas that were current in the immediate post-2001 years. This has been replaced by a more measured language that is interested in passing responsibility for security and governance to (approved) local actors. And this is where the language associated with critical peace and conflict studies comes in. Terms such as ‘enablement’, ‘local participation’, and ‘local buy-in’ now pepper the military language in relation to Afghanistan. These terms have been staples in the vernacular of peace studies for a very long time as scholars and practitioners have sought to oppose the top-down bias that we have seen in many development and peace-support interventions. But now this language has been mainstreamed by the military.
Reports from military commanders were surprisingly sociological in that they focused on things like the quality and diversity of produce in town marketplaces. The focus on military objectives (e.g., areas cleared of Taliban) seem to have been replaced by more mundane indications of ‘normality’ connected with getting the kids to school and food to market. Again, this is very reminiscent of much of the language found in critical peace and conflict studies that wishes to see peace localized and is aware that peace made in diplomatic capitals often has little connection with peace experienced in towns, villages and valleys.
In one way it is easy to criticize this use of language as being expedient; scrabbling around for a face-saving language to suit a mission that is now about withdrawal and failure. But it is possible to see this trend in a more positive light. Yes, the use of language might be expedient, but there does seem to be a genuine understanding of the limitations of western power projection and a recognition of the agency held by local communities. This can only be a good thing and let’s hope that it can inform future policy.

Who are Taxpayers’ Alliance – and why have they nothing to say about the Starbucks Corporation Tax Issue?

7 Dec

An organisation called Taxpayers’ Alliance has become a stalwart on UK news programmes. Their spokespeople crop up with regularity to fulminate against government waste. But oddly, given the title of the organisation, they have had nothing to say about one of the big news stories in the UK this week: the fact that Starbucks, Amazon, Google and a number of other corporations have been paying no or virtually no corporation tax in the UK. One would have assumed that the Taxpayers’ Alliance would be very interested in making sure that the government’s tax take is fair, as well as having an interest in how tax monies are spent.

But a scan of Taxpayers’ Alliance website shows no mention of this issue – even though it was discussed prominently in Prime Minister’s Questions and the news media. So this begs the question: who are Taxpayers’ Alliance? Well, they sound like a group of like-minded citizens who have banded together to look after the interests of the taxpayer. Indeed, Taxpayers’ Alliance describe themselves as ‘a grassroots organisation’. But that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. A Guardian report (albeit from 2009) paints a very different picture: Rather than being a grassroots organisation Taxpayers’ Alliance seems to be backed by corporate and monied interests – usually those on the right of the political spectrum.

It is possible to join Taxpayers’ Alliance but – unusually – you don’t have to pay to join. Most grassroots organisations would require some sort of joining fee to cover costs, but presumably Taxpayers’ Alliance have their costs covered elsewhere. You can donate to them online but there is little sense – from its promotional material – that it is a mass movement.

Only relatively recently have their added regional organisers to their website – suggesting a nascent grassroots organisation, but this is late in the day and there is only one listed. The rest seem to be London-based. So Taxpayers’ Alliance is very welcome to comment on the blog why they have nothing to stay about corporate tax avoidance. One would have thought the issue would be front and centre of their campaigns. It certainly is a grassroots issue in that people are vexed by it, but then you would need to a grassroots organisation to pick up on what the grassroots are saying.