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Monday, July 31, 2006

The Middle East Reminds me of Why the Fight Against Injustice Continues

Ok, so it’s still been a long time. I hope you’ve been doing great. You’ve been visiting the site but not commenting:-( Well, here’s some food for thought.

Tensions in the Middle East have facilitated some free-thinking, as it were, by many including the BBC, which intoned last week that the Iraq War was comparable to that pet topic of mine—the Suez crisis of 1956--where Nasser the nationalist asserted himself at the expense of the interests of his country by simply nationalizing the Suez Canal, which was key for trade for the Brits and the French.

So, this is what the Brits and the French did in order to protect their interests.

For the Brits, "collusion with the two was a way of re-establishing a hold over one of their most prized colonial assets -- the Suez Canal -- that had provided them with considerable economic leverage for many decades since the 1880s. As Stoessinger writes, "to Britain, control of the canal symbolized her status as an empire and as a world power."

For the French, "their justification was predicated on the belief that Nasser was helping fund "the Algerian rebellion against France."

This is how the BBC describes the genesis of the plot:

"Israel was longing to have a go at Nasser anyway because of Palestinian fedayeen attacks and the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran.
The ruse was that Israel would invade Egypt across the Sinai peninsula.
Britain and France would then give an ultimatum to the parties to stop fighting or they would intervene to 'protect' the canal.

And so it played out. The Israelis even had to moderate their attack in case they won before the 'intervention' forces could arrive. But the British and French went in to 'save' the canal.

There was only one thing wrong. Eden had not told the Americans.


I won’t bore you so much about the Americans except to say that the Americans were not amused. Eisenhower played a rather principled stance; the UN got involved under the aegis of the charismatic Dag Hammarskjold. The first-ever UN force—UN Emergencey Force—was deployed after the UN SG condemned the pusillanimous acts of the tripartite ruse of Israel-Britain-France. Eventually, the UN troops would supervise the gradual withdrawal of the Israelis and monitor the border between Egypt and Israel.

The regrettable and sinister element in the conflict, I wrote, was that "that considerable attention was diverted towards bringing British, France and Israel to heel, to me indicates that whilst the latter three were scattering into the woodpile like rats, the big Russian bear was walking back to its cave scot-free. In the end, the irony of the Suez debacle is that as the noise of the rats ducking for cover reached fever pitch, neither the roar of the Stentorian US nor the strong urges of the UN were able to do anything to help Hungary as it burned"

While the Suez crisis may be all well and good, I am more comfortable looking at how current crisis in the Middle East resonates with that of the Crimean War that ended in 1856, with a Treaty of Paris.

The Crimean war, in sum, saw the demise of the Russians in South East Europe, and secured the definitive demise of the so-called Concert of Europe – a kind of historical prelude to the UN’s Security Council -- that had kept the peace from 1815-1856.

Why that is significant is that it brings home the Russian factor, which I would like to broach very quickly.

I am sure you may re-call that in January, Russia cut supplies to Ukraine in a row over prices. Russia has a monopoly over Gazprom, and in April – in a far departure to the situation during the Crimean war of 150 years ago when the Brits became so Russophobic it was not funny – made explicit its plans to take over British-owned Centrica.

I think you might speculate that the Russians are at their peak, considering how the Blair government is also keen to promote the further opening of its markets. The BBC reported that the UK’s Trade Minister Alan Johnson said "Whatever the difficulties and challenges of globalisation, the answers will not be found in the stagnant waters of protectionism,"

Privatisation versus nationalisation

A lot of people might think that is a true point; I beg to differ. It is interesting, in my view, to note that the nationalisation of Nasser in 1956 runs in serious askance to the privatisation of the UK government over its state-owned Centrica, among many things. Can you, however, imagine that the UK government has been actively pursuing the privatisation of it National Health Service (NHS)?

I can hardly believe how increasingly neoliberal the UK government under Tony Blair is becoming.

More on that later…

What, for me, is symbolic is the progressive forces that I see at work in the world. I find it rather ironic that exactly sixty years after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, that saw the unleashing of progressive forces and alliances, we find in the same month of July similar progressive forces rejoicing over no less than the collapse of the talks of the World Trade Organisation.

Let’s face it: you cannot talk about the fight against imperial tendencies of, say, the United States over Iraq, without taking a critical and reflective look at the policies of the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank.

Boring, maybe, but suffice to say that those are the quintessential axes of evil.

From a historical perspective, 2006 has been a year when privatisation –both in the domestic and multilateral level – has been high.

The rather technical yet menacing acronym of GATS, or the General Agreement on Trade in Services ( is, in effect, ... international trade agreement that came into effect in 1995 and operates under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The aim of the GATS is to gradually remove all barriers to trade in services. The agreement covers services as diverse as banking, education, healthcare, rubbish collection, tourism or transport.

The idea is to open up these services to international competition, allowing the way for huge, for-profit, multinational firms.

"The GATS is not just something that exists between Governments. It is first and foremost an instrument for the benefit of business"

European Commission, 1999
Since February 2000, negotiations are underway in the WTO to expand and 'fine-tune' the GATS. These negotiations have aroused concern world-wide. A growing number of local governments, trade unions, NGOs, parliaments and developing country governments are criticising the GATS negotiations and call for a halt on the negotiations.

In India, as I write this, India is being asked to open up its legal service for foreigners to compete and many more are sure to come—most probably in camera and without public scrutiny.

The biggest threat around GATS is that it forces a locking-in of privatisation. If a country changes its mind to, say, open up its health sector to the WTO, it would have to compensate ALL of the WTO members. If you are an industrialised country, you might be able to afford it, but it would still cause a heavy strain on your budget and economy, no?

At our conference at the plush South Africa 4* star Cresta Royale Hotel (ironic, no?) the week of 17th July, Pete Hardstaff, Head of Policy at the UK-based World Development Movement argued how privatisation was being pushed very forcefully by Europe.

Whilst there are many on the European continent, one particular one I referred to earlier is that of the privatisation of the UK’s health sector under the NHS. The Socialist Worker, among many papers, has reported extensively on this. For them, it has underscored the neoliberal ideology of Tony Blair.

So alarming has this latest privatisation drive been that, in an attempt to forestall, or counter it, a website has been created to fight it:

Latest reports from today’s press indicate that the American firm (Texas-based!!) that was handed the ₤4bn NHS contract was investigated for overcharging. It has set its sights to take care of purchasing and distributing everything "from bandages to hip implants."

So, in the long run, what are the lessons here for us, small people?

I think that history reminds us of the myopic interests of leaders. Suez was one; Iraq is another. As to whether the parallels drawn can only go to underscore the perfidy, or treachery, of our governments when they decide to go a-filibustering, and particularly when it blows unceremoniously in their face, is moot.

What we, as citizens, might remember is that no matter where we are, no matter our background, the fight for global justice everywhere becomes meaningless unless it is linked with the total disjuncture of global greed—be it at the multilateral level or the governmental one.

Tags: privatisation; Global justice

Monday, July 24, 2006

I lied. Aw: Money Matters and Subsidies

Regrettably, I couldn’t make time to blog.

Instead, I reacquainted myself with the utility of being able to take Ginkgold Max (, at a rather prohibitive price of €30.00!! You take it every day, and it helps with the nasty headaches that threaten to rear their heads when your face has been buried inside a computer screen for too long.

Here’s what is says on the website:

"Suggested Usage: For mental sharpness, memory & concentration Ginkgold improves mental sharpness, concentration, memory and cognitive activity. It also supports healthy circulation to the brain as well as the extremities. And, it maintains healthy blood vessel tone and reduces blood viscosity."

I’ve had headache-free days since I started taking it—despite any strenuous activity I do—and I think my brain has been the better for it.

I was horrified, though, this morning—make that mortified—to learn that I had exhausted my "health" subsidy, which enables me get re-funds for medicals at work. I stupidly and overzealously last week bought medical-related items, without first doing my regular shopping, hoping that once I got the re-fund I could go ahead and do my regular grocering, as it were. Instead, our accounts calls me this morning after I submit the receipts to say I have a limited amount. So, I’m only getting just under half of the amount I submitted!

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch!

Let’s just say that it being a tough month is going to be the under-statement of the month!

The up-side is that health is wealth and all that, so I just gotta trim some places to manage the month well—that is after I buy my darned prepaid electricity from the little half I will get from my medicals.

Not just not enough money for the month, but no more medical subsidies till 2007!

Triple ouch!!

A sharp and acerbic lesson—if ever I saw one, in how NOT to handle your finances!

Another big upside is that with the prohibitive-costing gingko, I won’t get a headache from thinking about managing this month’s finances!

The bright side is the ONLY way, no?

Oh, have you heard?

My Head of Programmes came in waving a sheet printed from the BBC website. He was wearing a huge grin, and muttering something which only registered later: World Trade Organisation talks have collapsed, which means no deals between the developing countries and the developed. The former played their cards on the farm subsidies that are hurting African industries. You can read the article here:


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

FIFA 2006 World Cup Endgame: Histories of Violence in "the Beautiful Game"

It’s no news that the Italian Azzurris beat the French team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. What is news is what exactly motivated the putative French legend Zinedine Zidane to headbutt the Italian player Marco Materazzi on that potentially lugubrious night for France, in Berlin. The latter maintains he did not call the player a "terrorist", because he is not cultured, and doesn’t even know what it means!

If we cannot talk about ignorance being bliss at this point, I don’t know when we can. I suspect, however, that there is a degree of manipulation in the works. Who can not know the word "terrorism" in a world post-911, even if it is five years on?

What, in my view, is of critical importance here is how the Italian player knew of a Zinedine’s history of violence, which is not alien to Materazzi himself (he is alleged to have punched an opponent, Bruno Cirillo, in a tunnel two years ago, incurring an 8-match ban. So, two people with histories of violence who met each other’s match).

Ofcourse, I exaggerate: Zidane’s "history" is only that of being tempestuous at times; fans and observers alike maintain he has come a long way. But seeing him the way we saw him that Sunday night—especially as he was about to hang up his boots for "life" into retirement—was deeply regrettable for a man who had a song written about him in 2003 by one of my favourite French songwriters, Pascal Obispo. The song has a great tune, extolling Zinedine as one of "heros ordinaires"; and, I hear, a film in the offing.

I found truly amazing the speed with which investigations were launched into what was said between the two players. To the extent that the BBC employed lip-readers--as did many other organizations—in order to establish the veracity of the exchanges was not just creepy (in a good sense) to me, but a testament of professionalism at its supreme: the desire by journalists and the like to leave no stones unturned in what was fast becoming a farce.

But, truly, I think the head-butting incident is a microcosm of the macrocosm of the ever-pervading racism that is quite deeply ingrained in the so-called beautiful game. I know of many people who felt the French star was justified by the very fact that he wanted to leave his mark for standing up to a cancer that seems short of reducing.

For me, the bigger picture was the sport of football.

Ten billion people worldwide, so the statistics went, glued to the screen to watch history being made as twenty-two men kicked a specially-designed ball round a green pitch with a view to putting it at the back of each other’s opponent’s goal.

To boot—no pun intended—the almost instantaneous justice surrounding the rules of the game. A red card for headbutting; a yellow card for fouling. Observers watching the game; a referee running round trying to monitor the game in its quintessence.

If only the world operated like this!

Imagine a UN where monitoring was so effective and justice so instantaneous; and where the Security Council actually dispensed justice fairly by way of its resolutions. Utopic, maybe, but Kofi Annan, on the eve of the final, was said to have been getting green with envy as he ruminated over the world of football, and the excellence to which each team (read: country) wanted to attain.

In the article, Annan maintained that with the level of scrutiny that people have for football, if that were extrapolated to international politics, "good governance would not be an option; it would be a necessity. And with that sense of public ownership, countries would better ensure that their own resources are used in a way that benefits their own daughters and sons."

You don’t need to think about this one: you know where I stand where the UN counts.

It’s good to back. But I will disappear, albeit briefly, next week as my organisation prepares for a three-day conference in the capital. I shall be staying in a hotel for work-related purposes, and will most definitely make time to blog.

Till then!

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