Sunday, January 31, 2010

Intersting Phone Snaps Part One

I was flicking through the pictures on my phone recently and noticed that over the last two years I have compiled quite an interesting collection of snaps. I tend to take a pictures of anything remotely political. Some of my snaps are of demonstrations I attended or in some cases, came across by accident. Some of my snaps are simply of interesting things that caught my attention on the street. Anyway today I bought a USB cable so I could share some of these pictures with my Gubu World readers. My first collection of snaps are of the funeral of former President Dr Patrick Hillery which took place in April 2008.

The Former President's Tri Colour draped coffin is carried out from the pro Cathedral in Marlborough Street by members of the Defence Forces

Dignitaries exit the cathedral after the service. Visible in this picture is Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Visible in this picture is Minister for the environment and Green Party Leader John Gormly who is talking with former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. Also visible is Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan.

Army Officers carrying the coffin.

The Coffin is placed in the back of the hearse.

Army Cadets prepare a guard of honour.

The Hearse begins the journey down Marlborough Street to Glasnevin cemetery. Note the flag flying at half mast.

Senior army personel participate in the Guard of Honour.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

Sorry Mr Prez, it was far too long. 70 Minutes long, Bush used to do his in 30. I suppose it was wise though to focus on the economy. American voters have proved over and over again that they elect and will re elect leaders that are fiscally sound. Its what got Clinton reelected and what made Bush senior and Carter one termers who couldn't even get into Mr Burn's Birthday party in that episode of The Simpsons. Obama has a long way to go to prove that he can come anywhere close to balancing the budget. Even if the economy improves over the next three years he will have a very hard time convincing the electorate that he is fiscally responsible if he has not significantly reduced the deficit. Anyway, I found the speech too long and boring to analyse in detail. Even the gays in the military thing, Obama wants to end the "don't ask don't tell" policy, hardly a shocking revelation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Grading Obama

Everybody else has been doing this to mark the first year of Obama's presidency so I thought I'd give it a shot too. I however will acknowledge my limitations and stick to rating his foreign policy. Here it goes.
I'll be tougher than those who adore him at MSNBC, but fairer than those who loath him at Fox.

On the Middle East. I'll give Obama a C +. It started off well last January when he sent George Mitchell to the Holy Land. I had high hopes that the former Northern Ireland envoy would make progress but to my knowledge, little has happened. Having said that, if as I suspect, George Mitchell has been involved in intensive behind the scenes negotiations with belligerent Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria in an effort to get them to recognise Israel as part of a wider Arab Israeli settlement then perhaps Obama's Middle East strategy has been more successful than I am giving credit. For now though I am sticking with my grade mainly because of the lack of progress and because of the Obama's administrations failure to successfully lobby the Netenyahu government into a comprehensive settlement freeze. And for the Sarah Palin's and Mike Huckabee's that say America has no right to tell Jews where they can or cannot live on their own land, I beg to differ. If the United Sates is sending billions of dollars in loan guarantees and military aid to Israel on an annual basis then Washington most certainly does have the right to step in and reprimand Israel for pursuing a policy that obstructs US policy of achieving stability in the region through a two state solution.

On Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'll give the president a B. Firstly, it is clear that Obama, immediately on taking office proved that the critics who said he was weak and without the stomach to fight the war on terror were wrong. He has fought the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Quaeda in Pakistan in an aggressive manner. He has approved scores of UAV drone attacks on Al Quaeda leaders in both countries despite the political dangers of doing so in Pakistan. In his first year in office he has ordered an additional 47,000 troops to Afghanistan, thats more than Bush sent in seven years. Perhaps his biggest achievement though was convincing the Pakistani government to take the war to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This resulted in the all out offensive last May by the Pakistani military in the Swat Valley region. However there is nothing worse than a directionless war that drags on and on. I still do not understand what exactly the President wants to achieve in Afghanistan and his inability to articulate it clearly is making people nervous. My fear that Obama does not have a clear vision for Afghanistan was not helped by the unusual way he handled the request from General McChrystal for extra troops. It was not so much that it took several months to make the decision that bothered me but the manner in which he announced that he would be sending 30,000 troops, only to minutes later say that he would begin withdrawing all troops by 2011. To me it seemed as though he was trying to please everybody and ended up looking silly. Frankly he should stop worrying about looking tough for the republicans and anti war for his base. He should just do his job as Commander in Chief.

On the missile shield. Obama gets an A +. For reasons I made clear here, I always felt that the proposed Missile Defence Shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was a joke. Neither country wanted it and only agreed to it when the Bush administration bribed them with a promise of tens of billions of Euros investments in their armed forces. Obama knew the shield was not about American national security and rightly shelved it. It was nauseating to hear the right wing pundits rant how Obama had sold out our Eastern European allies Chamberlin style, in order to appease an aggressive Russia. These same pundits conveniently ignored Russia's announcement after Obama's decision that they were abandoning plans to build a missile system in the Russian enclave of Kallingrad. Furthermore, Obama's decision has and may continue to pay dividends when it comes to getting Russia on board for tough action on Iran.

On Iraq. Obama gets a B +. He has stuck to the time table for withdrawal and he didn't panick after renewed attacks last Autumn. Iraq fell off the radar big time in 2009 so its hard to judge but since there appears to be progress and violence levels have not returned to anything like the 2006 levels I am going to be generous.

On Iran. This is the most difficult call to make and I'll leave it until the end to deliver Obama's final grade. Obama's strategy of engaging Iran has not worked as far as we know. However if it turns out that there has been behind the scenes negotiations happening the doubters could be proved wrong. Imagine an opening to Iran on the scale of Nixon's famous opening to China in 1972. Such a development, if it meant a non nuclear Iran would be a major achievement. However like Afghanistan, Obama's Iran policy is unclear to me. When violence broke out in Iran last June after the disputed Presidential election Obama rightly condemned the repression but he did so quite softly. At the time I thought this was wise because an Iranian opposition movement must be seen to be a grass roots movement and not driven by Washington. I could tell from my own experiences in Iran how ingrained the 1953 Mohammed Mossadeq incident still is in the Iranian psyche. Having said that the truth is that no matter what the reform movement does on the streets of Iran the Mullahs are going to blame it on the west regardless. This is why my opinion began to harden last December when violence returned following the Ayatollah Montazeri funeral and I began to wonder if covert action against the regime is the solution. The truth is Iran has been stalling for time for years and have again demonstrated a willingness to use exceptional brutality against their own people. Anybody who thought this type of severe repression was confined to the early days of the revolution has been proved wrong. Iran and the nuclear issue is going to come to a head and I really think that 2010 could be the year. For me it all boils down to whether Obama has a clear strategy. Does he want to open up to Iran or does he want to sponsor regime change. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he has chosen one of these two options but I find not knowing which to be extremely disconcerting. Obama gets a B from me on Iran.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Massachusetts Upset

I don't do much stuff on domestic American politics. In fact this is my first post on the highly controversial health care issue. Here is my take. Last week as we know there was a massive upset in the US when Republican Scott Brown won the senate race in Massachusetts to fill the seat vacated by the late Teddy Kennedy. The view from the right is that this was a massive repudiation of the left wing Obama agenda, particularly in Health care reform. Perhaps. But I tend to agree with blogger E.D. Kain's assessment below. Mainly because I believe Obama has done nothing more radical than he said he would do during the election. I don't believe he hid the fact that he wanted massive health care reform during the 08 campaign yet, he was elected in a landslide. Read Kain's words.

He’s a guy who can treat his opponents with respect. He was out on the campaign trail shaking hands, meeting people, and trying to connect with the voters in Massachusetts. Unlike his opponent, he was able to skillfully run a positive campaign that nevertheless found its strength in discontent and anger. Unlike Sarah Palin and other Republicans these days, he did not have to resort to anger and conspiracy theories and other silly tactics; he did not have to go out and kiss the talk-radio pundits’ behinds; he did not stoop to pettiness or name-calling. He was a class act, and the voters respected that. Maybe that’s entirely personality politics, but it is the right kind of personality politics. Brown proved that he could speak to ordinary Americans without putting up a facade. And ordinary Americans appreciated that.

I dislike the wings of American politics. I always found Bush bashing boring and I find Obama bashing boring too. And I think the middle third of the American electorate, or the independents who can swing either way, would agree with me. And when they claim they are tired of business as usual in Washington, I don't think its Obama they are primarily mad about. I think its the traditional debate where the Democrats accuse the Republicans of giving in to special interests and the Republicans claim the Democrats are all about big government. Yawn yawn yawn ! I do not mean to trivialise Scott Brown's remarkable achievement and I think it is safe to say that many centrist Americans do fear that Obama is not as fiscally sound as Bill Clinton, the last Democrat in the White House.

As for the Health Care issue itself. My thoughts are as follows. America is a very different place to Europe. It has different values. Principally speaking they have an inherent distrust of government run industry. Even the liberal left tolerate for less government spending than we do in most European countries. I admire and respect this. I agree with it too, except when it comes to health care. Conservative Americans don't believe it is the responsibility of the government to provide Health Care for the people. My question is this, is their suspicion of government run health care so intense because they believe it will be less efficient or is it because they are afraid that they will end up paying for the lazy guy. America is a do it yourself, make it on your own country. This is fair enough. But I believe that the truth is many Americans are terrified of paying taxes to provide health care for the lazy unemployed alcoholic who contributes nothing to the system and only takes from it. The truth is that if America does get a public health system such people will benefit from it a will clog up the system. But it shouldn't be about that guy. It should be about the millions of hard working Americans who cannot afford health care. If the figures are accurate and there are as many as 20 million working Americans who will go bankrupt in the event of an illness or an accident in the family then this is a very bad reflection on America. If health insurance is too expensive then I believe strongly that it is the government's responsibility to step in and provide a system thats affordable. Call me a liberal European loon but that's my take.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blogs I Read Part One

I have decided to do a series of posts on the blogs that I read. I thought I should do this because my blog roll, the section on the right hand side of my blog under the heading "blogs I read", is very important to me as it is the way I keep myself up to date on the latest world events. My blog roll does more for me than the main stream media ever could, mainly because it is blunt and honest. Everyday I click on these blogs to get the news and opinions of these highly political people. The blogs I read are varied. Some are famous, others are obscure. Some are liberal, others are conservative. Most of the blogs I read are Irish, but there are also several American, British, Israeli, Iranian and Canadian. Below is a sample of some of the best.

Among my favourite is Wolf Howling. Created by GW, who often leaves comments on Gubu World, Wolf Howling is a conservative American blog which has educated me greatly on the thinking of the American right. This is a brilliant blog. GW's opinions on world events are second to none and if you want to hear an articulate, intelligent and passionate argument from a conservative point of view on the turmoil in Iran, the war in Afghanistan and Obama's health care plan, there is no better blog. And to his credit, he is not simply an Obama basher. While not a fan of the new President he always gives him credit if he believes he deserves it. In a very dignified fashion he puts the case for the conservative way in a very convincing style. Reading Wolf Howling has thought me to view conservative America not as it is so often portrayed in the media, as backward stupid, gun loving and religion obsessed but as traditional, democratic and proud. All values to be admired.

I would say I have checked Seraphic Secret every day for the last two years, even before I started Gubu World. Created by Robert Avrech, seraphic Secret is a fiercely right wing blog. Robert is an Emmy award winning screen writer in Hollywood. Robert as a conservative Jew and a religious Zionist is a staunch defender of Israel. He is exceptionally articulate and makes the case for Israel better than anyone I have ever come across. I also share his love of movies. Be warned, he has little tolerance for Israeli critics.

Time for a lefty. Juan Cole over at Informed Comment is probably the best expert on the wider Middle East on the blogosphere. He is President of the Think Tank Global Americana Institute and an author of several books on the Middle East. This guy is brilliant. I know of nobody better at dismantling a neocon argument than this guy. He misses nothing particularly in Iraq which has fallen off the radar big time over the last year. He also has his finger firmly on the pulse of the Pakistani situation and all its tribal complexities.

Its time to go Irish. Bock the Robber is probably my favourite Irish blog. Bock (real name unknown) who is based in Limerick, passes comment and the good bad and ugly of Irish society. He harbours a particular anger toward the catholic church for the way it has handled the abuse scandal and the banking system for how it has wreaked havoc on the Irish economy. His favourite international issues is the Israel Palestinian conflict which I regularly clash with him on. I would love to introduce this man to Robert Avrech, sit back and watch the sparks fly. What I love most about Bock the Robber is the raw anger that often comes out in quite a humorous away. Sometimes there is just nothing funnier than an angry man.

Above are four of my favourite blogs. I have many more on my blog roll and I intend to do a little piece on them all so watch out for Blogs I Read Part Two.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

70 Years Ago Today 19/01/40

Warsaw: The Gestapo shoot dead 250 Jews in a wood outside the city following the arrest of the Jewish born Catholic resistance leader Andrzej Kott .

Finland: The Finnish Army stages an unsuccessful attack on Russian positions at Salia.

North Sea: The Royal Navy Destroyer HMS Grenville is sunk by a mine. 81 of her 175 crew were lost.

The HMS Grenville was sunk on this day 70 years ago with the loss of 81 lives.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mrs Robinson You're trying to seduce me !

I'm sorry, I take no pleasure in the humiliation that the First Minister of Northern Ireland is experiencing right now but I just had to put this up.

Since about half of my readers are American I thought it might be appropriate to fill them in on the background to the above clip. Northern Ireland is going through a very un Irish political scandal at the moment. Don't get me wrong, we have plenty of scandals but none quite like this. A married female member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the British parliament (MP) has become embroiled in a financial and sex scandal. It is alleged that she borrowed £50,000 from business associates to help finance the business of the man she was having an affair with. She did this without declaring the money which is strictly against regulations. Pretty scandalous eh.. It gets better. She is a member of the DUP, the staunchly conservative unionist party with a strong evangelical connection of which she is the most prominent. She has angered many in the past for her conservative views on society most notably homosexuals which she described as an abomination. So given her conservative views on society and the family she would not be the most likely candidate for an extra marital affair. Did I mention that she is 61 and her lover is 19. But the best part, her name is Mrs Robinson. For those of you unfamiliar with the classic 1967 movie The Graduate watch the short clip below and it will become clear. And as if this episode couldn't be any more bizarre, Mrs Robinson is the wife of the First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson, the leader of the unionist Protestant community who historically entered into a power sharing government in May 2007 with the Nationalist Catholic Party Sinn Fein. The First Minister is also under pressure for not declaring the money once he became aware of the situation last May but I think most reasonable people can forgive him for being overcome with utter shock at the news that his wife was carrying on with a man young enough to be her grandson and forgetting to inform the revenue that his wife had come into some extra money. Mrs Iris Robinson has since resigned from all posts and has apparently been checked into a mental hospital. Meanwhile poor old Peter has stepped down for a 6 week period to deal with family issues and to clear his name.

I genuinely feel sorry for Peter Robinson and hope he bounces back despite the fact that over the years he has launched some outrageous attacks against the Irish state and in some cases failed to condemn violence against Catholics. That said in the spirit of reconciliation that now dominates North South relations I wish him all the best. It is interesting to note this case coming to light at the same time as the Gerry Adams family scandal. This time it is the leader of the Catholic community whose personal life has come under scrutiny. Gerry Adams in a recent TV interview announced that his late father subjected members of the family to physical and sexual abuse. He announced this while encouraging his own brother who is accused of abusing his daughter to turn himself into the police. It makes me think, for all the hatred and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, and for all the painstaking negotiations of the peace process, sometimes family life can be even more difficult that political life.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

70 Years Ago Today 14/01/40

Europe: Leave is cancelled for all Dutch and Belgian troops as concerns grow over German troop movements in the west. Leave is also canceled for the British expeditionary force stationed in France.

USA: Eighteen members of the pro Nazi Bund organisation are arrested for conspiracy.

Warsaw: It is estimated that deaths from starvation in the Jewish Ghetto are occurring at a rate of 70 per day.

Atrocious conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jews.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wikileaks Sensation

The latest releases this week from wikileaks has caused quite a stir internationally, particularly in the intelligence and diplomatic communities. For me, the two stories which most caught my attention concerned Iran and Korea. The news that the Saudi king privately urged the US to attack Iran would not have come as much of a surprise to people in the know. Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Arab Sunni Muslim world. Iran leads the Persian Shia Muslim world. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979 the fundamentalists in Tehran have sought to spread their form of revolutionary theocracy to the Arab world. They have done this by fomenting dissent in the nations with Shia minorities, most notably in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Lebanon. Since the turbulent years following the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Shia majority have found themselves dominating the political scene there. This is proving to be an encroachment too far for the Saudis. And the thought of them obtaining a nuclear capability, making them the most powerful Muslim nation in the process, appears to be something which the ruling elite in Riyadh are not prepared to tolerate. As I said, this simple fact of geopolitics is not shocking in itself. But for it to become so public is undoubtedly embarrassing and highly awkward for all concerned. I have a feeling that not many Saudi citizens will hear about this particular controversy. It would not sit well with the citizens of the kingdom to know that the authorities in Riyadh who are constantly trying to promote the concept of Islamic solidarity do in fact want to see the infidels take down the Iranian regime.

However it was a leak regarding US, South Korean and Chinese relations that I found most fascinating. Apparently South Korean diplomats have told the US State Department that officials in Beijing have informed Seoul that they no longer value their relationship with the communist regime in Pyongyang. This is particularly interesting given the events on the Korean peninsula in the last week. Basically, it appears there is a generational divide among the leadership in China. Younger officials in the Chinese Communist Party see the relationship with North Korea as a nuisance referring to the Stalinist regime as a "spoilt child".

The leaked document states that

A new, younger generation of Chinese leaders "would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance," the diplomat, Chun Yung-woo, predicted.

But if Seoul was destined to control the entire Korean Peninsula for the first time since the end of World War II, China — the powerful ally that keeps the North alive with food and fuel — would have to be placated. So South Korea was already planning to assure Chinese companies they would have ample commercial opportunities in the mineral-rich northern part of the peninsula.

This, if accurate is a stunning development. It would represent a fundamental change in the national interest of the most important player when it comes to North Korea. Sixty years ago this month the Chinese Red Army entered the Korean War on the side of the North Koreans, driving American and UN forces South from the Yalu river on the Chinese North Korean border back below the 38th Parallel. Today it seems that only the older Chinese view the Korean war with sentimentality and that many in fact would be happy to see a united capitalist Korea. In the context of recent events and the diplomatic approach the west needs to take to confront the threat, this if true would completely change the game.

As for the wikileaks thing itself. I think the Americans should concern themselves more with uncovering the many employees at the State Department involved in these leaks rather than obsessing with this Assange character. I'm not even sure if he has technically done anything wrong even though Republican Congressman Peter King saw fit to call him a terrorist today. And in one of the strangest examples of raw partisanship I have ever seen the New York representative claimed that the reason the Obama administration was not taking action against Assange and wikileaks was because Obama and those in his administration grew up worshipping Daniel Ellsberg, the man who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which exposed that the White House had lied about the conduct and course of the Vietnam War.

Speaking of Ellsberg, here he is appearing on the Larry King show this week to discuss the wikileaks phenomenon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dissident republicans and a Mad Sheikh

I must apologies again. My lap top required repair this week so I was off line. The stories I wished to post on or at least note were the following.

Last Friday dissident republicans in the so called Real IRA put a bomb under the car of a Catholic PSNI officer. The recently married man is still in critical condition. Constable Peadar Heffron, 33, is an Irish language specialist for the PSNI and captain of the PSNI GAA team. Now, readers of Gubu World will know that I have an anti profanity policy on this blog. Well I'm afraid when it comes to Ireland all bets are off. Let me explain why I really wish that these mother fuckers would just fuck off. Constable Heffron was targeted not just because he's Catholic, but because he is very Catholic. The RIRA are trying to bully Catholics out of the North's police force as well as frighten others who may be considering joining. They are doing this because a police force in Northern Ireland that is respected by both traditions is something they can't handle because it does not fit into their view of Northern Ireland as a sectarian state. They fear that progress in Northern Ireland legitimises Northern Ireland. This is why they are attempting to destabilise the power sharing institutions with a renewed campaign of violence. After all the North has been through they actually want to go back to British Soldiers on the streets and sectarian violence. This is a crucial moment in Irish history. So crucial that every effort should be made to prevent those opposed to progress in the North from gaining any type of capability. In the South I want to see the might of the Irish state come down hard on the enemies of Ireland to crush these treasonous bastards. We have the amended Offenses Against the State Act and the tough new anti criminal legislation. Anyone in the Real IRA operating down South should be picked up and put away for membership of a terrorist organisation. Rant over !

Also last week was the trial of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nayhan, a prominant member of the UAE royal family and half brother of the President. Sheikh Issa was on trial for the brutal torture of an Afghan grain salesman who apparently double crossed him. I covered this story last year here in what proved to be one of my most popular posts. However the Skeikh was acquitted of all charges despite that fact that there was clear video footage of him brutalising the poor soul. I was naive to expect a different verdict.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

70 Years Ago Today 6/01/40

Finland: Two Finnish fighter air craft shoot down seven Soviet bombers north of Helsinki.

Moscow: General Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko is appointed commander of Soviet forces in the Finnish war. He is tasked with turning around Russia's disastrous opening to the war. It is believed that 50,000 Red Army soldiers have perished since the war began five weeks ago.

Dublin: Taoiseach Eamon De Velera is calling for new powers to crack down on the IRA. On this day 70 years ago a Bill appeared before the Dail which would allow the authorities to arrest and detain suspects without trial. Under pressure from the British who have been angered at several recent IRA bombs in English cities De Velera was forced to act. This became particularly apparent after the December 23rd IRA raid on the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix park in which more than a million rounds of ammunition were stolen. This has led to the biggest security operation in the 26 counties since the 1922/23 Irish Civil War. It has also led to the virtual closure of the border with Northern Ireland where the Protestant government in Stormount clearly feel that a renewed republican campaign may be about to get underway.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Burj Khalifar

Apologies again for the lack of posts. I was in the fair county of Cavan for the new year and on my return to the capital found myself with an Internet connection problem. I am currently working on a detailed post on Iran, Afghanistan and my fourth favourite war movie of all time. However the minor story which caught my attention the most in recent days was the renaming of the tallest building in the world. Yesterday saw the opening of the Burj Khalifar in Dubai. Burj Kahlifar eh, that's strange, I thought it was going to be named Burj Dubai. I posted last week here on how the Abu Dhabi bail out of Dubai was going to change the politics of the Gulf and in particular how it would affect international efforts to place tougher sanctions on Iran. The name change of the world's tallest building is the first indication of this taking place. Sheikh Khalifar is the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the overall President of the UAE. As I said in my previous post, if Abu Dhabi is going to bail out Dubai it is going to do so on its terms. Renaming Dubai's pride and joy and the tallest building in the world after the head of the Abu Dhabi family is clearly one of those terms. It is obvious now that Abu Dhabi will now have much greater control over the purse strings of Dubai than ever before. One off shoot of this will be that elements in the Iranian regime will no longer be able to keep their assets in Dubai without fear of them being frozen by international sanctions.