…and it gets even better

Obama continues to do the right thing

Barack Obama embarked on the wholesale deconstruction of George Bush’s war on terror, shutting down the CIA’s secret prison network, banning torture and rendition, and calling for a new set of rules for detainees. The repudiation of Bush’s thinking on national security yesterday also saw the appointment of a high-powered envoy to the Middle East.

Obama’s decision to permanently shut down the CIA’s clandestine interrogation centres went far beyond the widely anticipated move to wind down the Guantánamo Bay detention centre within a year.

He cast his scrapping of the legal apparatus set up by Bush as a way for America to reclaim the moral high ground in the fight against al-Qaida.

“We are not, as I said during the inauguration, going to continue with the false choice between our safety and our ideals,” Obama said at the signing ceremony. “We intend to win this fight. We are going to win it on our own terms.”

Even when they do the right thing they still manage to be unprincipled tossers

It’s good to see that Gordon Brown has done a u-turn (for now) on exempting MPs’ expense claims from the Freedom of Information Act.

It would also be nice if he had accepted that he was wrong in principle and agreed that in a democracy it is essential that our elected representatives are properly accountable and should not be given special exemptions from the law. But no, he has instead decided to make a cheap political point and blame the Tories

He said: “We thought we had agreement on the Freedom of Information Act as part of this wider package.”

“Recently that support that we believed we had from the main opposition party was withdrawn.”

Of course it is typical of New labour that even when they introduce decent, liberal legislation they have to try to undermine it themselves. This is not the first time they have tried to scupper the FoI act and they similarly want to neuter the Human Rights Act. What can one say, except what I have said in the title above.

A good start…

From the Guardian

The US president, Barack Obama, has ordered a suspension of the controversial Guantánamo Bay military tribunals in one of his first actions after being sworn in, yesterday.

Within hours of taking office, Obama’s administration filed a motion to halt the war crimes trials for 120 days, until his new administration completes a review of the much-criticised system for trying suspected terrorists.

It’s good to see that not only has Obama addressed this issue but that it was so high on his list of priorities. It seems at least some of our optimism was not misplaced.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu

Well, it’s been eight years since I sat there avidly watching the voting numbers for Florida updating as the recounts came in, and despaired as they fell agonisingly short of wiping out George Bush’s majority in the state. And despaired again as the conservatives in the Supreme Court disgracefully stopped further recounts and handed him the presidency. It’s four years since I despaired yet again as John Kerry’s challenge faltered, not least becasue of the lies spread about his military record. But now “Dubya” has finally gone.

He will above all, of course, be remembered for the Invasion of Iraq – both for the lies told in advance and the horrendous bungling of the post-invasion situation. The wholly inadequate reponse to Hurricane Katrina was also significant, not just for impact on its victims but because I think this was the point when the American people finally lost all faith in him.

There’s plenty more of course – ordinary Americans saw wages stagnate and unemployment rise while the richest got large tax cuts, and that’s before the economy came close to collapsing altogether. Those same ordinary Americans also saw their health care costs escalate while their coverage fell, there a many millions more without any insurance and the system is still captured by the insurance companies. They can console themselves that his absurd attempt to privatise social security failed. Then there were the illegal wiretaps and the refusal to recognise the reality of climate change, let alone take any meaningful action.

There are so many other examples, but a special mention though should go to the obscenity of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib, the tearing up of the Geneva Convention and his sanctioning of the use of torture, either directly or by proxy. Thus he fundamentaly undermined America’s claim to any kind of moral authority and fatally diminished its standing in the world.

So farewell then George Bush, and also your cronies Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld et all. Your venality, dishonesty, incompetence, belligerence and naked self-interest diminished both yourself and the office of President of the United States of America. You will not be missed.

Privatising the mail

So Peter Mandelson has pledged to proceed with the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail despite strong opposition from Labour MPs.
The main reason given in justification is that the Royal Mail needs a substantial cash injection in order to modernise. Leaving aside the point made in the linked article that it has already received a loan of £1.2bn of which £600m still remains unspent, does anyone else not think it odd that when the privately* owned banks need an injection of capital they have to run to the Government for it but when the Government owned Royal Mail needs the same thing it has to go to the private sector?

*Of course the banks are PLC’s, I use the term “privately” to distinguish them from the “publicly” owned Royal Mail.

Miliband “get’s it”

Sometimes bashing the government can be a bit boring – however much the latest idiocies from the likes of Blears, Woollas and Purnell deserve a good kicking it’s nice to actually be able to praise a government minister for making a serious and thoughtful statement, and on a topic of real importance. Which brings me to David Milliband’s piece in the Guardian today where he renounces the tired and discredited “war on terror” rhetoric of the last few years.

The whole piece is worth a read but there are two paticular paragraphs that stand out, and which may herald a turning point in governmnet policy at home and abroad. Firstly,

The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common. Terrorist groups need to be tackled at root, interdicting flows of weapons and finance, exposing the shallowness of their claims, channelling their followers into democratic politics.

Exactly – many of us do not accept the manichean outlook where it’s us, the “good guys” against “them”. Some people have scorned any attempt to understand the background and motivations of those who want to do us harm, or differentiate between them, which they see as appeasement. This attitude has been translated into foreign policy over the last few years and has achieved little other than stir up even more resentment for the West, and the US in particular. With Obama soon to enter the White House many of us are hopeful that we will see a more thoughtful foreign policy pursued by the US, and Milliband’s remarks give me hope that we may follow suit.

Then there is this

We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantánamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama’s commitment to close it.

Again, this is a vitally important point. There are too many people who have been willing to sacrifice their own and others’ liberties in the name of fighting “terror” – the John Reid tendency who claim that those of us who claim that the worst possible way to react to attacks on our way of life is to undermine it ourselves by abandoning our liberal values and principles “just don’t get it”. Well, Milliband “get’s it” – let’s just hope that his colleagues in the government do as well and that we see an end to silly, illiberal laws which do little to prevent terrorism but undermine our own freedoms.

UPDATE:Justin at Chicken Yoghurt and Aaaron at Liberal Conspiracy are less impressed with Milliband. They make the not unreasonable point that he has been at the heart of the government for the last few years and could have come out with this before. That’s fair enough, but IMHO better the sinner that repenteth etc. (assuming he is speaking honestly and in good faith). On the other hand Mad Mel is distinctly miffed for different reasons.

A couple of farewells…

First of all I would like to wish all Mutantblog readers a Happy New Year. Sorry for the lack of posts recently, this was due to a combination of home and work commitments and laziness, but mostly laziness.

Anyway, I have been stirred out of my stupor by a couple of sad pieces of news for us music lovers. Firstly, this week will see the closing of The Astoria, one of London’s best venues for gigs.

It has always been a favourie venue of mine – big enough to attract decent acts whilst still small enough to retain a good atmosphere, and easy (for me) to get to, being smack in the middle of the West End. I can’t possible remember every band I’ve seen there but off the top of my head I can recall great gigs by The Scissor Sisters, The Sleepy Jackson, The Cramps, Sparks, Alice Cooper, My Life Story, Flesh For Lulu, Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians, All About Eve, John Cale, Catatonia and many more. It will be sadly missed.

As will Ron Asheton, guitarist with The Stooges, who died last week. The first two Stooges albums were way ahead of their time, probably the first real “punk” records and very few others can match them for their sheer raw excitement, which this was down to a comination of Iggy Pop’s manic energy and Asheton’s raw and brutal guitar work. There is a good obituary here and below is a clip of the Stooges performing TV Eye on their comeback tour a couple of years ago – probably my favourite guitar riff of all time.