Ominously, Libya’s chaos is spilling across the region. The country is awash with up to 15 million rifles and other weapons, and a report by the UN panel of experts this month found that “Libya has become a primary source of illicit weapons“. These arms are fuelling chaos in 14 countries, including Somalia, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Niger. Qatar is helping to deliver Libyan armaments to Syria, where Russian-made weapons bought by Gaddafi’s regime are being given to fundamentalist Islamist rebels.

In what has all the hallmarks of mission creep, a small number of US soldiers are being sent to Tripoli to begin training troops. But a stable future for Libya seems remote, however much the country’s strife is safely hidden away from the headlines. It is dividing along every fracture line imaginable: whether it be ethnic, tribal, regional or political. Most Libyans have failed to even register for upcoming elections.

There is a real prospect of the country collapsing into civil war or even breaking up. Unless there are negotiated settlements to its multiple problems, Libya will surely continue its descent into mayhem, and the region could be dragged into the mire with it.

No wonder western governments and journalists who hailed the success of this intervention are so silent. But here are the consequences of their war, and they must take responsibility for them.

I give such a large quotation because it’s lovely to see Jones worrying about Libya being a source of illegal weapons as though this doesn’t go back to before the little lad was born, as though Libya didn’t turn into the IRA’s main weapons supplier, as though this didn’t extend to being a member of the Axis of Evil WMD-making tyrants – and as though Libya didn’t leave this select club as a result of the Western intervention in Iraq that Jones so strongly opposed.

We’re used to this sort of amoral and cynical banking on the ignorance of the reader from what a friend calls the Justin Bieber of the British left and, as the comments show, he has not underestimated the readership of Comment is Free.

But yes, there will be some consequences of the intervention and some of those consequences will be bad – some will be good, like the eradication of a sadistic, rape-fuelled, torturer state – not that I expect Owen to care very much about this. As a supporter of the Libyan intervention I completely accept this responsibility.

But Jones has never shown any sign of accepting his responsibility for the consequences of his campaigning, and that of others like him: more than 140,000 dead SO FAR, no sign of an end to the violence, all the sectarian division and violence of Iraq but no possibility of removing the tyrant, no possibility of peace, the certainty of genocidal reprisals when Assad regains control, no prospect of the introduction of democracy or the rule of law.


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Britain’s ruling class has decayed not just to the point where Mr. Cameron is considered a man of exceptional talent, but to where its first priority is protecting its percentage on Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that in the 21st century what matters are banks, not tanks.

The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.

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I nearly forgot.

I want the UK out of the European Union. It’s a kleptocratic, anti-democratic distillation of everything that’s worst about its individual member states. I’d cheerfully see Europe as a free trade zone with free movement of people and capital, but not at the cost of democracy, and not as a vast bureaucracy specialising in technocratic overreach and corruption.

But I’m not prepared to support, vote for, or defend against groups like Hope not Hate a party whose leader defends casual public racism. Fuck UKIP.

That is all.


UPDATE: Chris Dillow is right, this is part of a pattern of ‘asymmetric libertarianism‘: “people want freedom for themselves whilst seeking to deny it to others”.

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A letter to my MP:

Dear Mr Paice,

I write as one of your constituents.

I know there are different views about the role of government. I generally vote conservative because I see in your party the closest match to my own, which is of a government that holds the ring in which private citizens conduct their business. I feel the government should maintain law and order and national defence, uphold contracts and agreements and provide a safety net welfare state.

The recent coalition proposal that ISPs retain all electronic communications that pass through their networks is, quite simple, a proposal to abolish the private citizen entirely.

It is profoundly illiberal (in the original and correct sense) and extraordinary coming from a party that, in opposition, fought against the Labour Party’s more predictable addiction to general precautionary surveillance.

It seems to me proof that we are actually governed by a semi-hereditary class of authoritarian civil servants who ‘capture’ new administrations, whatever their best intentions might have been in opposition.

I hope you will vote against this measure.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Risdon.

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Let me ease back into this, after a break of several months, with an easy one.

Norm asks: Why is one inequality different? The context is a piece contrasting the strides towards greater racial and gender equality in the USA with the widening economic stratification that has accompanied it.

Here’s the answer: one inequality is not different. Equality means ‘of opportunity’ – and this is precisely what is meant by greater racial and gender equality: equality of opportunity.

Differing economic outcomes are not a measure of equality. In fact, differing economic outcomes are an inevitable consequence of equality of opportunity.

The apparent paradox is no more than a conjuring trick with words. In the chalk corner we have equality. In the cheese corner we have redistribution of wealth. They aren’t the same thing at all and never will be, however much you try to redefine the meanings of words for the purpose of political rhetoric.

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This is an interesting interview with Thomas Pogge (via Norm Geras). He is concerned about global inequality and, while I don’t instinctively agree with his (redistributive) remedies, reading the piece made me aware how much room for agreement there can be across apparent political divides if an instinctive rejection of the other’s view can be suppressed.

Take this, for example:

… dictatorial regimes often manage to keep themselves in power because they are recognized by foreigners as representing the state and its people, and therefore as entitled to sell the country’s natural resources and to borrow money in its people’s name. These privileges conferred by foreigners keep autocrats in power despite the fact that they were not elected and do not rule in the interest of the population.

Or this:

If we offer a prize, so to speak, to anyone who manages to bring a country under his physical control – namely, that they can then sell the country’s resources and borrow in its name – then it’s not surprising that generals or guerrilla movements will want to compete for this prize. But that the prize is there is really not the fault of the insiders. It is the fault of the dominant states and of the system of international law they maintain. They create this disturbing fact that, if only you manage to bring a national territory under your physical control, then you will be recognized worldwide as its legitimate government: entitled to sell its people’s natural resources, to borrow and sign treaties in their name, and entitled also to import the weapons you need to keep yourself in power.

It goes much further than this, as the Arab Spring demonstrated. A policy of maintaining regional ‘stability’ led to large grants of money being made in ‘aid’ to tyrannical regimes. The scare quotes are because I don’t think the Middle East has been particularly stable and I don’t think aid is a very good word for the giving of financial support to tyrants.

And further:

… the massive corruption common in so many developing countries would be quite impossible if Western countries did not provide convenient opportunities to ship ill-gotten funds out of the country. It wouldn’t make much sense for a ruler to store in his basement large quantities of stolen cash in his own country’s currency. A corrupt ruler wants to be able to keep this money safe and to be able to spend it. And for this, he needs to convert it into a Western currency and store it in a bank abroad, where it can also earn investment returns and be bequeathed to his heirs. Global Financial Integrity estimates that less-developed countries have lost at least $342 billion per annum in this way during the 2000 to 2008 period.

The (right) libertarian-inclined writer P J O’Rourke commented that when politicians regulate commerce, the first things that get bought and sold are the politicians. Pogge puts it like this:

Our Supreme Court has even lifted this practice of buying legislation to the level of a constitutional principle by repeatedly protecting corporate spending for and against political candidates, as well as promises and threats of such spending to bribe and blackmail such candidates, by appeal to the free-speech clause of the First Amendment. I think that many citizens understand how our system works, or rather, fails to work, for structural reasons. But who has the capacity and the incentives to bring change? The banks and other corporations love the system because it allows them to buy legislation that serves their own interests even at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. Incumbent politicians love the system because it allows them to raise millions of dollars toward defending their seats. And the politicians, of course, get to appoint the judges who decide whether our constitutional protection of free speech also protects a bank’s purchase of legislation.

There isn’t much room between those two positions. But then Pogge goes on:

… the lack of a realistic political reform path leads to apathy and the kind of mindless frustration that manifests itself in the Tea Party-style hatred of any and all government.

I haven’t studied the Tea Party movement in any detail but from what I’ve seen it is far from mindless. What it is, rather, is unsophisticated, blue collar, not always very well-informed, and sometimes inarticulate. But Pogge falls into the trap, I think, of regarding them, instinctively, as enemies because he imagines them in the trenches on the far side of No Man’s Land. In fact, to some extent – not all – they are his natural allies.

It’s a very long interview and I’ve made this point well enough, I hope, not to need to give further examples. What strikes me above all is that if, instead of fighting on the grounds of principles – egalitarianism, religious conservatism, libertarianism and so on – where we disagree, people tried to find common ground in what they can agree are serious problems and then examine reality to agree what pragmatic steps might alleviate these problems, then we’d be able to advance liberalism far more effectively. Today, there is no effective, organised Liberal movement. Liberal values are scattered across the political landscape and, because they are scattered, they have few means of effective expression. Between the gaps, the illiberal, the corrupt and the self-serving can advance and profit.

We can argue about whether we should redistribute more; I think not because we’ve done lots of that I don’t think it has worked either domestically or internationally. We can argue about whether we should be striving for greater domestic and international economic freedom, free markets, free trade – which I do think have worked in practice. But wouldn’t it be better to be arguing about those thing having solved the problems, identified above, about which there can be widespread liberal consensus?

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I agree with Tim and Guido. Ian Puddick used twitter and various websites to publicise his wife’s affair with an insurance broker who subsequently lost his job, reportedly because of the stress Puddick caused him. Puddick is now facing charges of harassment.

Very many public figures and politicians are subjected to campaigns that step well beyond the realms of reasonable discourse but occasionally the campaigns are right. It would be dangerous to allow the powerful to silence this sort of criticism, so unfortunately the less powerful have to have the same lack of protection. After all, politicians should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us, and vice versa.

It’s easy to say this when you haven’t been the target of this sort of campaign. One of the good things about being the subject, myself, of an online campaign by Darius Guppy is that he gives me the opportunity to walk the walk when it comes to the subject of free expression.

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Have you shown support for the Iranian Green Movement? Here’s a report from the Green Voice of Freedom:

During a press conference held last week, a journalist for the conservative Keyhan daily asked the prosecutor, “currently, certain people beyond our boarders have a tight-knit coordination with the sedition and spread lies about leading Iranian officials in the anti-revolutionary media everyday. Does not the judiciary system have a plan to indict them?”

“It is very obvious that Iranians who commit crimes oversees, or even those who are not Iranian nationals but act against Iran outside the country are subject to being pursued or followed,” warned E’jei.

Referring to certain reform figures who have been forced to flee the country following the 2009 presidential election, he continued: “currently, there are people outside the country who once had claims within Iran, but are now shamefully cooperating with the Americans and the British while acting against their own people; and this is a dark stain for them.”

According to the website of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), he added, “they must be  pursued, and they will be punished should they return to Iran one day. And if they are outside the country, the prosecution must utilise international bodies to pursue them, something they are most certainly doing.”

Emphasis added.

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It’s a phrase that gets bandied about a lot, people often meaning quite different things by it. Here’s a take:

Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. “These are all incorrect,” he wrote me. “The rule of law means that judges decide cases ‘without respect of persons,’ that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers.”

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