Friday, 25 February 2011

Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren’t what they seem to be

Robot Wars

George Monbiot

Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren’t what they seem to be. The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns, which create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public. For example, there’s a long history of tobacco companies creating astroturf groups to fight attempts to regulate them.

After I last wrote about online astroturfing, in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them. Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression that there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.

But it now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HB Gary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.

As the Daily Kos has reported, the emails show that:

* companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of the astroturfers working for them, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.
* this software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.
* fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically re-posting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.
* human astroturfers can then be assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and re-tweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.
* with some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, “make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas”

But perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:

1. Create “10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent. … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.”
2. Automatically provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet.” [An IP address is the number which identifies someone's computer]. These are to be changed every day, “hiding the existence of the operation.” The software should also mix up the astroturfers’ web traffic with “traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organization. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”
3. Create “static IP addresses” for each persona, enabling different astroturfers “to look like the same person over time.” It should also allow “organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization.”

Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It makes a mockery of online democracy. Comment threads on issues with major commercial implications are already being wrecked by what look like armies of organised trolls – as you can often see on the Guardian’s sites. The internet is a wonderful gift, but it’s also a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection. So let me repeat the question I’ve put in previous articles, and which has yet to be satisfactorily answered: what should we do to fight these tactics?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Genie Is Out of the Bottle

... and no power on earth can put it back. It is the genie of revolution, of renewal, of rejuvenation, that is now haunting all the regimes in the region.
Uri Avnery

THIS IS a story right out of 1001 Nights. The genie escaped from the bottle, and no power on earth can put it back.

When it happened in Tunisia, it could have been said: OK, an Arab country, but a minor one. It was always a bit more progressive than the others. Just an isolated incident.

And then it happened in Egypt. A pivotal country. The heart of the Arab world. The spiritual centre of Sunni Islam. But it could have been said: Egypt is a special case. The land of the Pharaohs. Thousands of years of history before the Arabs even got there.

But now it has spread all over the Arab world. To Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen. Jordan, Libya, even Morocco. And to non-Arab, non-Sunni Iran, too.

The genie of revolution, of renewal, of rejuvenation, is now haunting all the regimes in the region. The inhabitants of the “Villa in the Jungle” are liable to wake up one morning and discover that the jungle is gone, that we are surrounded by a new landscape.

WHEN OUR Zionist fathers decided to set up a safe haven in Palestine, they had the choice between two options:

They could appear in West Asia as European conquerors, who see themselves as a bridgehead of the “white” man and as masters of the “natives”, like the Spanish conquistadores and the Anglo-Saxon colonialists in America. That is what the crusaders did in their time.

The second way was to see themselves as an Asian people returning to their homeland, the heirs to the political and cultural traditions of the Semitic world, ready to take part, with the other peoples of the region, in the war of liberation from European exploitation.

I wrote these words 64 years ago, in a brochure that appeared just two months before the outbreak of the 1948 war.

I stand by these words today.

These days I have a growing feeling that we are once again standing at a historic crossroads. The direction we choose in the coming days will determine the destiny of the State of Israel for years to come, perhaps irreversibly. If we choose the wrong road, we will have “weeping for generations”, as the Hebrew saying goes.

And perhaps the greatest danger is that we make no choice at all, that we are not even aware of the need to make a decision, that we just continue on the road that has brought us to where we are today. That we are occupied with trivialities – the battle between the Minister of Defense and the departing Chief of Staff, the struggle between Netanyahu and Lieberman about the appointment of an ambassador, the non-events of “Big Brother” and similar TV inanities – that we do not even notice that history is passing us by, leaving us behind.

WHEN OUR politicians and pundits found enough time – amid all the daily distractions – to deal with the events around us, it was in the old and (sadly) familiar way.

Even in the few halfway intelligent talk shows, there was much hilarity about the idea that “Arabs” could establish democracies. Learned professors and media commentators “proved” that such a thing just could not happen – Islam was “by nature” anti-democratic and backward, Arab societies lacked the Protestant Christian ethic necessary for democracy, or the capitalist foundations for a sound middle class, etc. At best, one kind of despotism would be replaced by another.

The most common conclusion was that democratic elections would inevitably lead to the victory of “Islamist” fanatics, who would set up brutal Taliban-style theocracies, or worse.

Part of this, of course, is deliberate propaganda, designed to convince the na├»ve Americans and Europeans that they must shore up the Mubaraks of the region or alternative military strongmen. But most of it was quite sincere: most Israelis really believe that the Arabs, left to their own devices, will set up murderous “Islamist” regimes, whose main aim would be to wipe Israel off the map.

Ordinary Israelis know next to nothing about Islam and the Arab world. As a (left-wing) Israeli general answered 65 years ago, when asked how he viewed the Arab world: “though the sights of my rifle.” Everything is reduced to “security”, and insecurity prevents, of course, any serious reflection.

THIS ATTITUDE goes back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement.

Its founder – Theodor Herzl – famously wrote in his historic treatise that the future Jewish State would constitute “a part of the wall of civilization” against Asiatic (meaning Arab) barbarism. Herzl admired Cecil Rhodes, the standard-bearer of British imperialism, He and his followers shared the cultural attitude then common in Europe, which Eduard Said latter labeled “Orientalism”.

Viewed in retrospect, that was perhaps natural, considering that the Zionist movement was born in Europe towards the end of the imperialist era, and that it was planning to create a Jewish homeland in a country in which another people – an Arab people – was living.

The tragedy is that this attitude has not changed in 120 years, and that it is stronger today than ever. Those of us who propose a different course – and there have always been some – remain voices in the wilderness.

This is evident these days in the Israeli attitude to the events shaking the Arab world and beyond. Among ordinary Israelis, there was quite a lot of spontaneous sympathy for the Egyptians confronting their tormentors in Tahrir Square - but everything was viewed from the outside, from afar, as if it were happening on the moon.

The only practical question raised was: will the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty hold? Or do we need to raise new army divisions for a possible war with Egypt? When almost all “security experts” assured us that the treaty was safe, people lost interest in the whole matter.

BUT THE treaty – actually an armistice between regimes and armies – should only be of secondary concern for us. The most important question is: how will the new Arab world look? Will the transition to democracy be relatively smooth and peaceful, or not? Will it happen at all, and will it mean that a more radical Islamic region emerges - which is a distinct possibility? Can we have any influence on the course of events?

Of course, none of today’s Arab movements is eager for an Israeli embrace. It would be a bear hug. Israel is viewed today by practically all Arabs as a colonialist, anti-Arab state that oppresses the Palestinians and is out to dispossess as many Arabs as possible – though there is, I believe, also a lot of silent admiration for Israel’s technological and other achievements.

But when entire peoples rise up and revolution upsets all entrenched attitudes, there is the possibility of changing old ideas. If Israeli political and intellectual leaders were to stand up today and openly declare their solidarity with the Arab masses in their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, they could plant a seed that would bear fruit in coming years.

Of course, such statements must really come from the heart. As a superficial political ploy, they would be rightly despised. They must be accompanied by a profound change in our attitude towards the Palestinian people. That’s why peace with the Palestinians now, at once, is a vital necessity for Israel.

Our future is not with Europe or America. Our future is in this region, to which our state belongs, for better or for worse. It’s not just our policies that must change, but our basic outlook, our geographical orientation. We must understand that we are not a bridgehead from somewhere distant, but a part of a region that is now – at long last – joining the human march towards freedom.

The Arab Awakening is not a matter of months or a few years. It may well be a prolonged struggle, with many failures and defeats, but the genie will not return to the bottle. The images of the 18 days in Tahrir Square will be kept alive in the hearts of an entire new generation from Marakksh to Mosul, and any new dictatorship that emerges here or there will not be able to erase them.

In my fondest dreams I could not imagine a wiser and more attractive course for us Israelis, than to join this march in body and spirit.

This is an Arab 1848. But US hegemony is only dented

With western-backed despots being turfed out politics has changed for ever. So just how far can the revolution spread?

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* Tariq Ali
o Tariq Ali
o, Tuesday 22 February 2011 22.59 GMT
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revolutionary murals Tahrir Square protests Revolutionary murals on the walls of newly established toilet facilities for protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

The refusal of the people to kiss or ignore the rod that has chastised them for so many decades has opened a new chapter in the history of the Arab nation. The absurd, if much vaunted, neocon notion that Arabs or Muslims were hostile to democracy has disappeared like parchment in fire.

Those who promoted such ideas appear to the most unhappy: Israel and its lobbyists in Euro-America; the arms industry, hurriedly trying to sell as much while it can (the British prime minister acting as a merchant of death at the Abu Dhabi arms fair); and the beleaguered rulers of Saudi Arabia, wondering whether the disease will spread to their tyrannical kingdom. Until now they have provided refuge to many a despot, but when the time comes where will the royal family seek refuge? They must be aware that their patrons will dump them without ceremony and claim they always favoured democracy.

If there is a comparison to be made with Europe it is 1848, when the revolutionary upheavals left only Britain and Spain untouched – even though Queen Victoria, thinking of the Chartists, feared otherwise. Writing to her besieged nephew on the Belgian throne, she expressing sympathy but wondered whether "we will all be slain in our beds". Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown or bejewelled headgear, and has billions stored in foreign banks.

Like Europeans in 1848 the Arab people are fighting against foreign domination (82% of Egyptians, a recent opinion poll revealed, have a "negative view of the US"); against the violation of their democratic rights; against an elite blinded by its own illegitimate wealth – and in favour of economic justice. This is different from the first wave of Arab nationalism, which was concerned principally with driving the remnants of the British empire out of the region. The Egyptians under Nasser nationalised the Suez canal and were invaded by Britain, France and Israel – but that was without Washington's permission, and the three were thus compelled to withdraw.

Cairo was triumphant. The pro-British monarchy was toppled by the 1958 revolution in Iraq, radicals took power in Damascus, a senior Saudi prince attempted a palace coup and fled to Cairo when it failed, armed struggles erupted in Yemen and Oman, and there was much talk of an Arab nation with three concurrent capitals. One side effect was an eccentric coup in Libya that brought a young, semi-literate officer, Muammar Gaddafi, to power. His Saudi enemies have always insisted that the coup was masterminded by British intelligence, just like the one that propelled Idi Amin to power in Uganda. Gaddafi's professed nationalism, modernism and radicalism were all for show, like his ghosted science-fiction short stories.

It never extended to his own people. Despite the oil wealth he refused to educate Libyans, or provide them with a health service or subsidised housing, squandering money on absurdist projects abroad – one of which was to divert a British plane carrying socialist and communist Sudanese oppositionists and handing them over to fellow dictator Gaafar Nimeiry in Sudan to be hanged, thus wrecking the possibility of any radical change in that country, with dire consequences, as we witness every day. At home he maintained a rigid tribal structure, thinking he could divide and buy tribes to stay in power. But no longer.

Israel's 1967 lightning war and victory sounded the death knell of Arab nationalism. Internecine conflicts in Syria and Iraq led to the victory of rightwing Ba'athists blessed by Washington. After Nasser's death and his successor Saadat's pyrrhic victory against Israel in 1973, Egypt's military elite decided to cut its losses, accepted annual billion-dollar subsidies from the US and do a deal with Tel Aviv. In return its dictator was honoured as a statesman by Euro-America, as was Saddam Hussein for a long time. If only they had left him to be removed by his people instead of by an ugly and destructive war and occupation, over a million dead and 5 million orphaned children.

The Arab revolutions, triggered by the economic crisis, have mobilised mass movements, but not every aspect of life has been called into question. Social, political and religious rights are becoming the subject of fierce controversy in Tunisia, but not elsewhere yet. No new political parties have emerged, an indication that the electoral battles to come will be contests between Arab liberalism and conservatism in the shape of the Muslim Brotherhood, modelling itself on Islamists in power in Turkey and Indonesia, and ensconced in the embrace of the US.

American hegemony in the region has been dented but not destroyed. The post-despot regimes are likely to be more independent, with a democratic system that is fresh and subversive and, hopefully, new constitutions enshrining social and political needs. But the military in Egypt and Tunisia will ensure nothing rash happens. The big worry for Euro-America is Bahrain. If its rulers are removed it will be difficult to prevent a democratic upheaval in Saudi Arabia. Can Washington afford to let that happen? Or will it deploy armed force to keep the Wahhabi kleptocrats in power?

A few decades ago the great Iraqi poet Muddafar al-Nawab, angered by a gathering of despots described as an Arab Summit, lost his cool:

… Mubarik, Mubarik,

Wealth and good health

Fax the news to the UN.

Camp after Camp and David,

Father of all your Camps.

Damn your fathers

Rotten Lot;

The stench of your bodies floods your nostrils …

O Make-Believe Summit


May your faces be blackened;

Ugly your drooping bellies

Ugly your fat arses

Why the surprise

That your faces resemble both ...

Summits … summits … summits

Goats and sheep gather,

Farts with a tune

Let the Summit be

Let the Summit not be

Let the Summit decide;

I spit on each and every one of you

Kings … Sheikhs … Lackeys …

Whatever else, Arab summits will not be the same again. The poet has been joined by the people.

Monday, 21 February 2011

It is possible to be moral without God

We should recognise and celebrate good wherever we come across it, while being ready to acknowledge and counter the darker side of human nature

Richard Harries
Sunday December 30, 2007
The Observer

Philosopher Michael Ruse has written: 'The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.' But in all the hype and embarrassment over geneticist Professor Richard Dawkins's anti-religious arguments, there is an important strand in his argument that has been overlooked: his views on morality. These are interesting and significant, and well worth weighing very seriously.

First, and most importantly, he corrects the wrong impression given by the title of his most famous book, The Selfish Gene. Many people took this to mean that he thought that human beings had no option but to act selfishly. Quite the contrary. At a personal level, Dawkins believes that whatever the evolutionary processes that have brought us where we are, we have a responsibility to act as moral agents.

He grounds this in the fact that although genes always act in such a way as to maximise their chance of replicating themselves, the organism of which they are a part may in fact act altruistically, this being the way the genes optimise their chance of surviving. He gives four examples of this, two being well-known. One is how mammals can act with great altruism on behalf of their offspring. Another is the reciprocal benefits that flowers and bees bring to each other through the process of pollination. This co-operation increases the chances of the genes of each of them surviving.

In a more speculative way, Dawkins then builds on this in suggesting that as the sex instinct is not limited to reproduction but can find a broader focus in its contribution to culture, so this capacity to think of others is no longer confined to helping kin or forms of reciprocal altruism, but can find wider expressions. From a philosophical point of view, this is important in refuting the idea that as humans we will always be driven by considerations of narrow self-interest, that morality is unnatural to our evolutionary make-up. On the contrary, Dawkins shows that it is just as built-in for mammals such as ourselves to act in the interest of others. Morality is part of our nature.

Dawkins also draws on the work of Peter Singer and Marc Hauser who presented two moral dilemmas to a wide range of people. In the first, a railway truck careering out of control down a track is about to kill five people in the way. But the onlooker has the chance of pulling a lever and diverting the truck on to a siding where there is one person standing, who will inevitably be killed. Do you pull the lever? The vast majority of people of all ages, ethnic and cultural backgrounds said yes.

In the other dilemma, there is no lever or siding, but a bridge on which sits a very fat man. If this man is pushed and falls in front of the truck, it will be stopped and save five lives. The onlooker is too light to make any difference to the truck, so jumping himself would serve no good purpose. But he is strong enough to push the fat man off. Should he do it? The vast majority of people, again from every conceivable background, said no.

Peter Singer draws some conclusions from this that I do not want to do myself, but the important point is that people's moral judgments have far more in common than used to be thought. There was a time when people loved to emphasise the alleged differences between different societies and hence the relativity of all moral judgments. But it seems we all inhabit a moral realm which we can recognise as such.

This is no surprise to monotheists who believe that all of us, whatever we believe or do not believe, have been created in the image of God and this means we have an ability not only to think, but to have some insight into what is right and what is wrong. In its most philosophical form, it is a belief in natural law, and in its most advanced legal form, a belief in universal human rights.

Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov said: 'If God did not exist, everything would be permitted.' Sartre agreed. Dawkins disagrees. Morality belongs to us as human beings. I agree too. I do not believe that a society without a religious basis for its morality will always collapse. But I do think that the relationship between morality and religion is more complex than either Dawkins or religious believers usually allow. Take an analogy: someone hears a great piece of music and responds to it in itself. But someone else knows that the piece is part of a symphony and can be even more appreciated when heard as part of the whole in which it has a crucial place. As human beings we can recognise and respond to particular moral insights. But a religious believer claims to understand these as part of a much larger whole in which they have a vital place: in particular, there is a fount and origin of all our moral insights which is good, perfect good, all good, our true and everlasting good. For a Christian, this is above all shown in the willingness of God to enter the flux of history, to redeem it from within.

Religious people have been at fault in the past for slagging off moralities that did not have a faith basis. Today, it is the other way round, with religion being widely criticised for stopping people acting with moral maturity. But the crisis of moral values is such that we should simply recognise and rejoice in the good wherever it is to be found, while continuing to converse about whether it has its place in a larger scheme of things.

Commenting on the view that a society without religion will collapse, Dawkins writes: 'Perhaps naively, I have inclined towards a less cynical view of human nature than Ivan Karamazov. Do we really need policing - whether by God or each other - in order to stop us from behaving in a selfish and criminal manner? I dearly want to believe that I do not need such surveillance - and nor, dear reader, do you.'

But this overlooks a number of points. First, many people who have strong moral commitments without any religious foundation were shaped by parents or grandparents for whom morality and religion were fundamentally bound up. Moreover, many of those in the forefront of progressive political change, who have abandoned religion, have been driven by a humanism that has been essentially built up by our Christian heritage as Charles Taylor has recently brought out in his magisterial study, A Secular Age. How far are we living on moral capital?

Then, although I believe there is a shard of goodness in every human person, there is a dark side to our nature that it is sentimental to ignore, one which is still wreaking such terrible havoc. As WH Auden put it: 'We have to love our crooked neighbour with our crooked heart.' This points to the need for both self-knowledge and grace. At the beginning of this new year, with the world so stricken with growing inequality, corruption, decadence and conflict, each of us, believer and unbeliever alike, need all the help we can get.

· Richard Harries (Lord Harries of Pentregarth) was Bishop of Oxford. His book, The Re-enchantment of Morality: Wisdom for a Troubled World, is published by SPCK next month

The Myth Of The U.N. Creation Of Israel


By Jeremy R. Hammond

21 February, 2011

Many of the historical beliefs, which have percolated down to us, are based on half-truths or on no truths at all. According to independent political analyst Jerry R. Hammond, the predominant view regarding the creation of Israel, which lies at the core of the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is no exception. He renders a detailed account of a manipulation, injustice and UN failure to abide by its own rules, which have wreaked political turmoil and humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East region for more than sixty years.

There is a widely accepted belief that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 "created" Israel, based upon an understanding that this resolution partitioned Palestine or otherwise conferred legal authority or legitimacy to the declaration of the existence of the state of Israel. However, despite its popularity, this belief has no basis in fact, as a review of the resolution's history and examination of legal principles demonstrates incontrovertibly.

Great Britain had occupied Palestine during the First World War, and in July 1922, the League of Nations issued its mandate for Palestine, which recognized the British government as the occupying power and effectively conferred to it the color of legal authority to temporarily administrate the territory. [1] On April 2, 1947, seeking to extract itself from the conflict that had arisen in Palestine between Jews and Arabs as a result of the Zionist movement to establish in Palestine a "national home for the Jewish people", [2] the United Kingdom submitted a letter to the U.N. requesting the Secretary General "to place the question of Palestine on the Agenda of the General Assembly at its next regular Annual Session", and requesting the Assembly "to make recommendations, under Article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine." [3] To that end, on May 15, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 106, which established the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to investigate "the question of Palestine", to "prepare a report to the General Assembly" based upon its findings, and to "submit such proposals as it may consider appropriate for the solution of the problem of Palestine". [4]

On September 3, UNSCOP issued its report to the General Assembly declaring its majority recommendation that Palestine be partitioned into separate Jewish and Arab states. It noted that the population of Palestine at the end of 1946 was estimated to be almost 1,846,000, with 1,203,000 Arabs (65 percent) and 608,000 Jews (33 percent). Growth of the Jewish population had been mainly the result of immigration, while growth of the Arab population had been "almost entirely" due to natural increase. It observed that there was "no clear territorial separation of Jews and Arabs by large contiguous areas", and even in the Jaffa district, which included Tel Aviv, Arabs constituted a majority. [5] Land ownership statistics from 1945 showed that Arabs owned more land than Jews in every single district in Palestine. The district with the highest percentage of Jewish ownership was Jaffa, where 39 percent of the land was owned by Jews, compared to 47 percent owned by Arabs. [6] In the whole of Palestine at the time UNSCOP issued its report, Arabs owned 85 percent of the land, [7] while Jews owned less than 7 percent. [8]

Despite these facts, the UNSCOP proposal was that the Arab state be constituted from only 45.5 percent of the whole of Palestine, while the Jews would be awarded 55.5 percent of the total area for their state. [9] The UNSCOP report acknowledged that:

"With regard to the principle of self-determination, although international recognition was extended to this principle at the end of the First World War and it was adhered to with regard to the other Arab territories, at the time of the creation of the 'A' Mandates, it was not applied to Palestine, obviously because of the intention to make possible the creation of the Jewish National Home there. Actually, it may well be said that the Jewish National Home and the 'sui generis' Mandate for Palestine run counter to that principle." [10]

In other words, the report explicitly recognized that the denial of Palestinian independence in order to pursue the goal of establishing a Jewish state constituted a rejection of the right of the Arab majority to self-determination. And yet, despite this recognition, UNSCOP had accepted this rejection of Arab rights as being within the bounds of a legitimate and reasonable framework for a solution.

Following the issuance of the UNSCOP report, the U.K. issued a statement declaring its agreement with the report's recommendations, but adding that "if the Assembly should recommend a policy which is not acceptable to both Jews and Arabs, the United Kingdom Government would not feel able to implement it." [11] The position of the Arabs had been clear from the beginning, but the Arab Higher Committee issued a statement on September 29 reiterating that "the Arabs of Palestine were determined to oppose with all the means at their disposal, any scheme that provided for segregation or partition, or that would give to a minority special and preferential status". It instead:

"advocated freedom and independence for an Arab State in the whole of Palestine which would respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and equality of all persons before the law, and would protect the legitimate rights and interests of all minorities whilst guaranteeing freedom of worship and access to the Holy Places." [12]

The U.K. followed with a statement reiterating "that His Majesty's Government could not play a major part in the implementation of a scheme that was not acceptable to both Arabs and Jews", but adding "that they would, however, not wish to impede the implementation of a recommendation approved by the General Assembly". [13]

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question was established by the General Assembly shortly after the issuance of the UNSCOP report in order to continue to study the problem and make recommendations. A sub-committee was established in turn that was tasked with examining the legal issues pertaining to the situation in Palestine, and it released the report of its findings on November 11. It observed that the UNSCOP report had accepted a basic premise "that the claims to Palestine of the Arabs and Jews both possess validity", which was "not supported by any cogent reasons and is demonstrably against the weight of all available evidence." With an end to the Mandate and with British withdrawal, "there is no further obstacle to the conversion of Palestine into an independent state", which "would be the logical culmination of the objectives of the Mandate" and the Covenant of the League of Nations. It found that "the General Assembly is not competent to recommend, still less to enforce, any solution other than the recognition of the independence of Palestine, and that the settlement of the future government of Palestine is a matter solely for the people of Palestine." It concluded that "no further discussion of the Palestine problem seems to be necessary or appropriate, and this item should be struck off the agenda of the General Assembly", but that if there was a dispute on that point, "it would be essential to obtain the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on this issue", as had already been requested by several of the Arab states. It concluded further that the partition plan was "contrary to the principles of the Charter, and the United Nations have no power to give effect to it." The U.N. could not:

"deprive the majority of the people of Palestine of their territory and transfer it to the exclusive use of a minority in the country…. The United Nations Organization has no power to create a new State. Such a decision can only be taken by the free will of the people of the territories in question. That condition is not fulfilled in the case of the majority proposal, as it involves the establishment of a Jewish State in complete disregard of the wishes and interests of the Arabs of Palestine." [14]

Nevertheless, the General Assembly passed Resolution 181 on November 29, with 33 votes in favor to 13 votes against, and 10 abstentions. [15] The relevant text of the resolution stated:

"The General Assembly….

Recommends to the United Kingdom, as the mandatory Power for Palestine, and to all other Members of the United Nations the adoption and implementation, with regard to the future government of Palestine, of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union set out below;

Requests that

(a) The Security Council take the necessary measure as provided for in the plan for its implementation;

(b) The Security Council consider, if circumstances during the transitional period require such consideration, whether the situation in Palestine constitutes a threat to the peace. If it decides that such a threat exists, and in order to maintain international peace and security, the Security Council should supplement the authorization of the General Assembly by taking measure, under Articles 39 and 41 of the Charter, to empower the United Nations Commission, as provided in this resolution, to exercise in Palestine the functions which are assigned to it by this resolution;

(c) The Security Council determine as a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, in accordance with Article 39 of the Charter, any attempt to alter by force the settlement envisaged by this resolution;

(d) The Trusteeship Council be informed of the responsibilities envisaged for it in this plan;

Calls upon the inhabitants of Palestine to take such steps as may be necessary on their part to put this plan into effect;

Appeals to all Governments and all peoples to refrain from taking action which might hamper or delay the carrying out of these recommendations…." [16]

A simple reading of the text is enough to show that the resolution did not partition Palestine or offer any legal basis for doing so. It merely recommended that the partition plan be implemented and requested the Security Council to take up the matter from there. It called upon the inhabitants of Palestine to accept the plan, but they were certainly under no obligation to do so.

A Plan never implemented

The matter was thus taken up by the Security Council, where, on December 9, the Syrian representative to the U.N., Faris El-Khouri, observed that "the General Assembly is not a world government which can dictate orders, partition countries or impose constitutions, rules, regulations and treaties on people without their consent." When the Soviet representative Andrei Gromyko stated his government's opposing view that "The resolution of the General Assembly should be implemented" by the Security Council, El-Khouri replied by noting further that:

"Certain paragraphs of the resolution of the General Assembly which concern the Security Council are referred to the Council, namely, paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), outlining the functions of the Security Council in respect of the Palestinian question. All of the members of the Security Council are familiar with the Council's functions, which are well defined and clearly stated in the Charter of the United Nations. I do not believe that the resolution of the General Assembly can add to or delete from these functions. The recommendations of the General Assembly are well known to be recommendations, and Member States are not required by force to accept them. Member States may or may not accept them, and the same applies to the Security Council." [17]

On February 6, 1948, the Arab Higher Committee again communicated to the U.N. Secretary General its position that the partition plan was "contrary to the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter". The U.N. "has no jurisdiction to order or recommend the partition of Palestine. There is nothing in the Charter to warrant such authority, consequently the recommendation of partition is ultra vires and therefore null and void." Additionally, the Arab Higher Committee noted that:

"The Arab Delegations submitted proposals in the Ad Hoc Committee in order to refer the whole legal issue raised for a ruling by the International Court of Justice. The said proposals were never put to vote by the president in the Assembly. The United Nations is an International body entrusted with the task of enforcing peace and justice in international affairs. How would there be any confidence in such a body if it bluntly and unreasonably refuses to refer such a dispute to the International Court of Justice?

"The Arabs of Palestine will never recognize the validity of the extorted partition recommendations or the authority of the United Nations to make them", the Arab Higher Committee declared, and they would "consider that any attempt by the Jews or any power or group of powers to establish a Jewish State in Arab territory is an act of aggression which will be resisted in self-defense by force." [18]

On February 16, the U.N. Palestine Commission, tasked by the General Assembly to prepare for the transfer of authority from the Mandatory Power to the successor governments under the partition plan, issued its first report to the Security Council. It concluded on the basis of the Arab rejection that it "finds itself confronted with an attempt to defect its purposes, and to nullify the resolution of the General Assembly", and calling upon the Security Council to provide an armed force "which alone would enable the Commission to discharge its responsibilities on the termination of the Mandate". In effect, the Palestine Commission had determined that the partition plan should be implemented against the will of the majority population of Palestine by force. [19]

In response to that suggestion, Colombia submitted a draft Security Council resolution noting that the U.N. Charter did "not authorize the Security Council to create special forces for the purposes indicated by the United Nations Palestine Commission". [20] The U.S. delegate, Warren Austin, similarly stated at the 253rd meeting of the Security Council on February 24 that:

The Security Council is authorized to take forceful measures with respect to Palestine to remove a threat to international peace. The Charter of the United Nations does not empower the Security Council to enforce a political settlement whether it is pursuant to a recommendation of the General Assembly or of the Security Council itself. What this means is this: The Security Council, under the Charter, can take action to prevent aggression against Palestine from outside. The Security Council, by these same powers, can take action to prevent a threat to international peace and security from inside Palestine. But this action must be directed solely to the maintenance of international peace. The Security Council's action, in other words, is directed to keeping the peace and not to enforcing partition. [21]

The United States nevertheless submitted its own draft text more ambiguously accepting the requests of the Palestine Commission "subject to the authority of the Security Council under the Charter". [22] Faris El-Khouri objected to the U.S. draft on the grounds that "before accepting these three requests, it is our duty to ascertain whether they are or are not within the framework of the Security Council as limited by the Charter. If it is found that they are not, we should decline to accept them." He recalled Austin's own statement on the lack of authority of the Security Council, saying, "It would follow from this undeniable fact that any recommendation on a political settlement can be implemented only if the parties concerned willingly accept and complement it." Furthermore, "the partition plan itself constitutes a threat to the peace, being openly rejected by all those at whose expense it was to be executed." [23] Austin in turn explained the intent of the U.S. draft that its acceptance of Resolution 181 is:

subject to the limitation that armed force cannot be used for implementation of the plan, because the Charter limits the use of United Nations force expressly to threats to and breaches of the peace and aggression affecting international peace. Therefore, we must interpret the General Assembly resolution as meaning that the United Nations measures to implement this resolution are peaceful measures.

Moreover, explained Austin, the U.S. draft:

does not authorize use of enforcement under Articles 39 and 41 of the Charter to empower the United Nations Commission to exercise in Palestine the functions which are assigned to it by the resolution, because the Charter does not authorize either the General Assembly or the Security Council to do any such thing. [24]

When the Security Council did finally adopt a resolution on March 5, it merely made a note of "Having received General Assembly resolution 181" and the first monthly Palestine Commission report, and resolved:

to call on the permanent members of the Council to consult and to inform the Security Council regarding the situation with respect to Palestine and to make, as the result of such consultations, recommendations to it regarding the guidance and instructions which the Council might usefully give to the Palestine Commission with a view to implementing the resolution of the General Assembly. [25]

During further debates at the Security Council over how to proceed, Austin observed that it had become "clear that the Security Council is not prepared to go ahead with efforts to implement this plan in the existing situation." At the same time, it was clear that the U.K.'s announced termination of the Mandate on May 15 "would result, in the light of information now available, in chaos, heavy fighting and much loss of life in Palestine." The U.N. could not permit this, he said, and the Security Council had the responsibility and authority under the Charter to act to prevent such a threat to the peace. The U.S. also proposed establishing a Trusteeship over Palestine to give further opportunity to the Jews and Arabs to reach a mutual agreement. Pending the convening of a special session of the General Assembly to that end, "we believe that the Security Council should instruct the Palestine Commission to suspend its efforts to implement the proposed partition plan." [26]

The Security Council President, speaking as the representative from China, responded: "The United Nations was created mainly for the maintenance of international peace. It would be tragic indeed if the United Nations, by attempting a political settlement, should be the cause of war. For these reasons, my delegation supports the general principles of the proposal of the United States delegation." [27] At a further meeting of the Security Council, the Canadian delegate stated that the partition plan "is based on a number of important assumptions", the first of which was that "it was assumed that the two communities in Palestine would co-operate in putting into effect the solution to the Palestine problem which was recommended by the General Assembly." [28] The French delegate, while declining to extend either approval for or disapproval of the U.S. proposal, observed that it would allow for any number of alternative solutions from the partition plan, including "a single State with sufficient guarantees for minorities". [29] The representative from the Jewish Agency for Palestine read a statement categorically rejecting "any plan to set up a trusteeship regime for Palestine", which "would necessarily entail a denial of the Jewish right to national independence." [30]

Mindful of the worsening situation in Palestine, and wishing to avoid further debate, the U.S. proposed another draft resolution calling for a truce between Jewish and Arab armed groups that Austin noted "would not prejudice the claims of either group" and which "does not mention trusteeship." [31] It was adopted as Resolution 43 on April 1. [32] Resolution 44 was also passed the same day requesting "the Secretary General, in accordance with Article 20 of the United Nations Charter, to convoke a special session of the General Assembly to consider further the question of the future government of Palestine." [33] Resolution 46 reiterated the Security Council's call for the cessation of hostilities in Palestine, [34] and Resolution 48 established a "Truce Commission" to further the goal of implementing its resolutions calling for an end to the violence. [35]

On May 14, the Zionist leadership unilaterally declared the existence of the State of Israel, citing Resolution 181 as constituting "recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State". [36] As anticipated, war ensued.

The Authority of the U.N. with regard to partition

Chapter 1, Article 1 of the U.N. Charter defines its purposes and principles, which are to "maintain international peace and security", to "develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and selfdetermination of peoples", and to "achieve international co-operation" on various issues and "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all".

The functions and powers of the General Assembly are listed under Chapter IV, Articles 10 through 17. It is tasked to initiate studies and make recommendations to promote international cooperation and the development of international law, to receive reports from the Security Council and other organs of the U.N., and to consider and approve the organization's budget. It is also tasked with performing functions under the international trusteeship system. Its authority is otherwise limited to considering and discussing matters within the scope of the Charter, making recommendations to Member States or the Security Council, or calling attention of matters to the Security Council.

Chapter V, Articles 24 through 26, states the functions and powers of the Security Council. It is tasked with maintaining peace and security in accordance with the purposes and principles of the U.N. The specific powers granted to the Security Council are stated in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII. Under Chapter VI, the Security Council may call upon parties to settle disputes by peaceful means, investigate, and make a determination as to whether a dispute or situation constitutes a threat to peace and security. It may recommend appropriate procedures to resolve disputes, taking into consideration that "legal disputes should as a general rule be referred by the parties to the International Court of Justice". Under Chapter VII, the Security Council may determine the existence of a threat to peace and make recommendations or decide what measures are to be taken to maintain or restore peace and security. It may call upon concerned parties to take provisional measures "without prejudice to the rights, claims, or position of the parties concerned." It may call upon member states to employ "measures not involving the use of armed force" to apply such measures. Should such measures be inadequate, it may authorize the use of armed forces "to maintain or restore international peace and security". Chapter VIII states that the Security Council "shall encourage the development of pacific settlements of local disputes" through regional arrangements or agencies, and utilize such to enforce actions under its authority.

The functions and powers of the International Trusteeship System are listed under Chapter XII, Articles 75 through 85. The purpose of the system is to administer and supervise territories placed therein by agreement with the goal of "development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned". The system is to operate in accordance with the purposes of the U.N. stated in Article 1, including respect for the right of self-determination. The General Assembly is tasked with all functions "not designated as strategic", which are designated to the Security Council. A Trusteeship Council is established to assist the General Assembly and the Security Council to perform their functions under the system.

Chapter XIII, Article 87 states the functions and powers of the Trusteeship Council, which are shared by the General Assembly. Authority is granted to consider reports, accept and examine petitions, provide for visits to trust territories, and "take these and other actions in conformity with the terms of the trusteeship agreements." Another relevant section is Chapter XI, entitled the "Declaration Regarding NonSelf-Governing Territories", which states that:

Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories…

To that end, Member states are "to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions".


The Partition Plan put forth by UNSCOP sought to create within Palestine a Jewish state contrary to the express will of the majority of its inhabitants. Despite constituting only a third of the population and owning less than 7 percent of the land, it sought to grant to the Jews more than half of Palestine for purpose of creating that Jewish state. It would, in other words, take land from the Arabs and give it to the Jews. The inherent injustice of the partition plan stands in stark contrast to alternative plan proposed by the Arabs, of an independent state of Palestine in which the rights of the Jewish minority would be recognized and respected, and which would afford the Jewish population representation in a democratic government. The partition plan was blatantly prejudicial to the rights of the majority Arab population, and was premised on the rejection of their right to self-determination. This is all the more uncontroversial inasmuch as the UNSCOP report itself explicitly acknowledged that the proposal to create a Jewish state in Palestine was contrary to the principle of selfdetermination. The plan was also premised upon the erroneous assumption that the Arabs would simply acquiesce to having their land taken from them and voluntarily surrender their majority rights, including their right to self-determination.

U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 neither legally partitioned Palestine nor conferred upon the Zionist leadership any legal authority to unilaterally declare the existence of the Jewish state of Israel. It merely recommended that the UNSCOP partition plan be accepted and implemented by the concerned parties. Naturally, to have any weight of law, the plan, like any contract, would have to have been formally agreed upon by both parties, which it was not. Nor could the General Assembly have legally partitioned Palestine or otherwise conferred legal authority for the creation of Israel to the Zionist leadership, as it simply had no such authority to confer. When the Security Council took up the matter referred to it by the General Assembly, it could come to no consensus on how to proceed with implementing the partition plan. It being apparent that the plan could not be implemented by peaceful means, the suggestion that it be implemented by force was rejected by members of the Security Council. The simple fact of the matter is that the plan was never implemented. Numerous delegates from member states, including the U.S., arrived at the conclusion that the plan was impracticable, and, furthermore, that the Security Council had no authority to implement such a plan except by mutual consent by concerned parties, which was absent in this case.

The U.S., Syria, and other member nations were correct in their observations that, while the Security Council did have authority to declare a threat to the peace and authorize the use of force to deal with that and maintain or restore peace and security, it did not have any authority to implement by force a plan to partition Palestine contrary to the will of most of its inhabitants. Any attempt to usurp such authority by either the General Assembly or the Security Council would have been a prima facie violation of the Charter's founding principle of respect for the right to selfdetermination of all peoples, and thus null and void under international law.

In sum, the popular claim that the U.N. "created" Israel is a myth, and Israel's own claim in its founding document that U.N. Resolution 181 constituted legal authority for Israel's creation, or otherwise constituted "recognition" by the U.N. of the "right" of the Zionist Jews to expropriate for themselves Arab land and deny to the majority Arab population of that land their own right to self-determination, is a patent fraud.

Further corollaries may be drawn. The disaster inflicted upon Palestine was not inevitable. The U.N. was created for the purpose of preventing such catastrophes. Yet it failed miserably to do so, on numerous counts. It failed in its duty to refer the legal questions of the claims to Palestine to the International Court of Justice, despite requests from member states to do so. It failed to use all means within its authority, including the use of armed forces, to maintain peace and prevent the war that was predicted would occur upon the termination of the Mandate. And most importantly, far from upholding its founding principles, the U.N. effectively acted to prevent the establishment of an independent and democratic state of Palestine, in direct violation of the principles of its own Charter. The consequences of these and other failures are still witnessed by the world today on a daily basis. Recognition of the grave injustice perpetrated against the Palestinian people in this regard and dispelling such historical myths is essential if a way forward towards peace and reconciliation is to be found.


Article by Dr. Mordechai Nisan refuting Mr. Hammond's arguments: Is UN Creation of Israel a Myth? Ask Foreign Policy Journal, published by Israel National News (INN) on 27 October 2010.
Mr. Hammond's response of 28 October 2010 to Dr. Nisan's rebuttal: Rejoinder to 'Is UN Creation of Israel a Myth? Ask Foreign Policy Journal'.

Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst whose articles have been featured in numerous print and online publications around the world. He is the founder and editor of Foreign Policy Journal (, an online source for news, critical analysis, and opinion commentary on U.S. foreign policy. He was a recipient of the 2010 Project Censored Awards for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. Read more articles by Jeremy R. Hammond.

Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst whose articles have been featured in numerous print and online publications around the world. He is the founder and editor of Foreign Policy Journal (, an online source for news, critical analysis, and opinion commentary on U.S. foreign policy. He was a recipient of the 2010 Project Censored Awards for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. Read more articles by Jeremy R. Hammond.


[1] The Palestine Mandate of the Council of the League of Nations, July 24, 1922.

[2] Great Britain had contributed to the conflict by making contradictory promises to both Jews and Arabs, including a declaration approved by the British Cabinet that read, "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." This declaration was delivered by Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to representative of the Zionist movement Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild in a letter on November 2, 1917, and thus came to be known as "The Balfour Declaration".

[3] Letter from the United Kingdom Delegation to the United Nations to the U.N. Secretary-General, April 2, 1947.

[4] U.N. General Assembly Resolution 106, May 15, 1947.

[5] United Nations Special Committee on Palestine Report to the General Assembly, September 3, 1947.

[6] "Palestine Land Ownership by Sub-Districts (1945)", United Nations, August 1950, The map was prepared on the instructions of Sub-Committee 2 of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian question and presented as Map No. 94(b). Statistics were as follows (Arab/Jewish land ownership in percentages): Safad: 68/18; Acre: 87/3; Tiberias: 51/38; Haifa: 42/35; Nazareth: 52/28; Beisan: 44/34; Jenin: 84/1, Tulkarm: 78/17; Nablus: 87/1; Jaffa: 47/39; Ramle: 77/14; Ramallah: 99/less than 1; Jerusalem: 84/2; Gaza: 75/4; Hebron: 96/less than 1; Beersheeba: 15/less than 1.

[7] UNSCOP Report

[8] Walid Khalidi, "Revisiting the UNGA Partition Resolution", Journal of Palestine Studies XXVII, no. 1 (Autumn 1997), p. 11. Edward W. Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1992), pp. 23, 98.

[9] Khalidi, p. 11.

[10] UNSCOP Report.

[11] "U.K. Accepts UNSCOP General Recommendations; Will Not Implement Policy Unacceptable by Both Arabs and Jews", Press Release, Ad Hoc Committee on Palestinian Question 2nd Meeting, September 26, 1947.

[12] "The Arab Case Stated by Mr. Jamal Husseini", Press Release, Ad Hoc Committee on Palestinian Question 3rd Meeting, United Nations, September 29, 1947.

[13] "Palestine Committee Hears U.K. Stand and Adjourns; Sub-Committees Meet", Press Release, Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine 24th Meeting, United Nations, November 20, 1947.

[14] "Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question Report of Sub-Committee 2", United Nations, November 11 1947.

[15] United Nations General Assembly 128th Plenary Meeting, United Nations, November 29, 1947.

[16] United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, November 29, 1947.

[17] United Nations Security Council 222nd Meeting, December 9, 1947.

[18] "First Special Report to the Security Council: The Problem of Security in Palestine", United Nations Palestine Commission, February 16, 1948.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Draft Resolution on the Palestinian Question Submitted by the Representative of Colombia at the 254th Meeting of the Security Council, February 24, 1948.

[21] U.N. Security Council 253rd Meeting (S/PV.253), February 24, 1948.

[22] Draft Resolution on the Palestinian Question Submitted by the Representative of the United States at the Two Hundred and Fifty Fifth Meeting of the Security Council, February 25, 1948.

[23] United Nations Security Council 260th Meeting, March 2, 1948.

[24] Ibid

[25] United Nations Security Council Resolution 42, March 5, 1948.

[26] U.N. Security Council 271st Meeting, March 19, 1948.

[27] Ibid.

[28] United Nations Security Council 274th Meeting, March 24, 1948.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] United Nations Security Council 275th Meeting, March 30, 1948.

[32] United Nations Security Council Resolution 43, April 1, 1948.

[33] United Nations Security Council Resolution 44, April 1, 1948.

[34] United Nations Security Council Resolution 46, April 17, 1948.

[35] United Nations Security Council Resolution 48, April 23, 1948.

[36] The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948.


Friday, 18 February 2011

Get bishops out of our law-making


Johann Hari: Get bishops out of our law-making

Is Nick Clegg even going to abandon his atheism, and give the forces of organised religion yet more power over us?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Here's a Trivial Pursuit question with an answer that isn't at all trivial. Which two nations still reserve places in their parliaments for unelected religious clerics, who then get an automatic say in writing the laws the country's citizens must obey? The answer is Iran... and Britain.
In 2011, the laws that bind us all are voted on by 26 Protestant bishops in the House of Lords who say they are there to represent the Will of God. They certainly aren't there to represent the will of the people: 74 per cent of us told a recent ICM poll the bishops should have to stand for election like everybody else if they want to be in parliament. These men use their power to relentlessly fight against equality for women and gay people, and to deny you the right to choose a peaceful and dignified death when the time comes.
And here's the strangest kicker in this strange story: it looks like the plans being drawn up by Nick Clegg to "modernise" the House of Lords will not listen to the overwhelming majority of us and end these religious privileges. No – they are poised to do the opposite. Sources close to the reform team say they are going to add even more unelected religious figures to parliament. These plans are being drawn up as you read this and will be published soon. The time to fight is today, while we can still sway the agenda.
But let's step back a moment and look at how all this came to pass. The bishops owe their places in parliament to a serial killer. Henry VIII filled parliament with bishops because they were willing to give a religious seal of approval to him divorcing and murdering his wives – and they have lingered on through the centuries since, bragging about their own moral superiority at every turn.
Pore through the history books and you'll find they opposed almost all of the progressive changes in our history. The Suffragettes regarded them as such relentless enemies of equality for women they set fire to two of their churches. In 1965, the then-Archbishop of Canterbury scorned the people who were campaigning for nuclear-armed countries to step back from the brink, on the grounds that "a nuclear war would involve nothing more than the transition of many millions of people into the love of God, only a few years before they were going to find it anyway". In 2008, his successor, Rowan Williams, said it would be helpful if shariah law – with all its vicious misogyny, which says that women are worth half of a man – was integrated into British family courts.
Today, the bishops claim they are really motivated by concern for the poor and vulnerable. But which two bills have brought them out to vote in largest numbers in recent years? The first was to vote against the Equality Bill, which finally criminalised discrimination against gay people in the provision of services to the public. The bishops rallied and railed to keep it legal for people to effectively hang signs saying "No Gays" outside their shops, charities and hotels. They even threatened to shut down services helping the poor if they were required to give them to gay people – suggesting their much bragged-about opposition to poverty is pretty shallow.
The bishops' second greatest passion is to prevent you from being able to choose to end your suffering if you are dying. Some 81 per cent of British people believe that if you are terminally ill and can't bear to live any longer in an agony that won't cease, you should be allowed to ask a doctor to help you end it. If you believe this is "evil" – as the bishops do – that's fine: you can choose to stay alive to the bitter end, no matter how awful the pain becomes. That's your right. But for the bishops, that's not enough. They want to impose their conviction on the rest of us. They don't even speak for their own followers: the polling consistently finds huge majorities of Christians support euthanasia too.
The bishops didn't turn out to protect the poor and vulnerable. They turned out to hurt them. The Right Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth declares he is there to show "Parliament is accountable not only to the electorate but to God". This is a surreal situation: Britain is one of the most blessedly irreligious societies on Earth, yet we are on a lonely shelf with Iran in handing a chunk of our parliament to clerics. The British Social Attitudes Survey, the most detailed study of public opinion, found that 59 per cent of us say we are not religious. And remember: even 70 per cent of Protestant Christians say it's wrong for the bishops to have these seats.
Nick Clegg promised before the election he would introduce a 100 per cent elected House of Lords – which would obviously mean an end to the bishops' privileges there. Yet now people close to him say he is going for only 80 per cent elected, with the bishops remaining on the undemocratic benches. And it gets worse. People close to him whisper he is planning to add even more unelected religious figures: an imam, the chief rabbi, and others, in pursuit of the multiculturalism the Prime Minister just disowned. So we may soon have the bizarre sight of an atheist Deputy Prime Minister expanding the number of unelected religious figures in our parliament in the name of "modernisation".
Last week, David Cameron gave a speech telling British Muslims – rightly – that they had to support "equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality... This is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe in these things". Yet he has been a key defender behind the scenes of retaining the bishops in parliament, even though they explicitly oppose "equal rights regardless or race, sex, or sexuality." They refuse to allow women to hold the top jobs in their organisation. They demanded an opt-out from laws banning discrimination against gay people, to allow individuals to express their "conscience" – a loophole so large it would render the law meaningless. Using Cameron's logic, they oppose "what defines us as a society" and do not "belong here", yet he is keeping them in a position of great unelected power. It seems his "muscular liberalism" only applies to people with brown skins.
The atheists and secularists who are campaigning for democracy are consistently branded "arrogant" by the bishops and their noisy cheerleaders. But who is arrogant here? Is it atheists who say that since we have no evidence about how the universe came into being, we should be humble, admit we don't know, and keep investigating? Or is it the bishops, who claim that they not only "know" how everything was created, but they know exactly what that Creator thinks, how he wants us to have sex, and which pills we can take when we are dying? What could be more arrogant than claiming you have a right to an unelected seat in parliament to impose beliefs for which there is no evidence on an unbelieving population?
None of this has to happen. We do not have to accept our laws being formulated by people we did not choose and do not support. But Nick Clegg needs to be pressured, fast. He has spent the last nine months shedding every principle he ever espoused. Is he now even going to abandon his atheism, and give the forces of organised religion yet more power over us? Mr Clegg, in the name of the God you and I don't believe in, step back from the bishops.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Multiple Careers are Better than One


Multiple careers are better than one

By Luke Johnson
Published: February 15 2011 21:41 | Last updated: February 15 2011 21:41
I have always been transfixed by those who lead multiple careers. They are the ones who refuse to be typecast but instead break convention by embracing a variety of roles, sometimes simultaneously, more often consecutively. To me they are among the most impressive businesspeople, switching vocations and accumulating new skills as they go, achieving great feats across different disciplines. Undoubtedly one of the true joys of being an entrepreneur is that you are not trapped in one stifling occupation but are free to roam.
There was much less prejudice against such wholesale reinventions in previous eras. Characters such as Benjamin Franklin were not seen as dilettantes, despite the fact that he was an author, inventor, printer and politician – among myriad other activities. Above all, he was a man who believed one should make one's mark in the world and not waste time. I have a poster on my wall from the RSA, where he was a fellow, with a marvellous quote from him: "If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing."
These sorts of legendary polymaths must be human whirlwinds, forever in motion, leading three lives while the rest of us struggle to make progress in just one. But there is no good reason why anyone should be obliged to stick neurotically to a single work trajectory for half a century. We shall probably all have to earn a living until the age of 70, so why not plan to convert to a different field of endeavour in midlife? It is the way to avoid the boredom of sticking to just one discipline.

A more recent renaissance figure is John Freeman. Face to Face, his pioneering series of television interviews from 1958 to 1962, has just been re-released on DVD by the BBC. He pursued an astonishing variety of trades. After university he served as an officer in the second world war, became a Labour MP for 10 years, then worked as a broadcaster, edited the New Statesman magazine, served as British ambassador in Washington, then as chairman of television company LWT, finally becoming a university professor in California. It is his 96th birthday this week. Could someone in the 21st century shift professions so seamlessly? I fear they would be dismissed as amateurish or lightweight. Yet surely the experience accumulated across a range of crafts can be immensely valuable. If you focus for decades on one narrow speciality, then you risk becoming blinkered and stale. I accept that "domain knowledge" is essential to excel in any calling. But 20 years must be sufficient to become truly expert. What then? Clearly, casting aside all that training, those qualifications, networks and reference points, is a scary step. Yet where is the excitement in an existence of routine and predictability? We should all attempt to pursue life-long learning in pastures new as a fundamental goal.
Ronald Reagan is another great example of defiance towards those who would pigeonhole you. Initially he enjoyed reasonable success as a Hollywood actor, served in the US Army, and then became a union boss, as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Subsequently, he worked as a spokesman for General Electric and was later elected governor of California. In the 1980s, he was twice elected US president and is considered by many of his countrymen to be the most successful holder of that office in modern times. Reagan skilfully used his early jobs to gain public recognition, master the art of public oration, understand leadership and develop an appeal to ordinary citizens. A rather more interesting way to gain judgment and credibility than working as a party hack, which so many of today's politicians appear to do as their form of apprenticeship.
Not everyone can afford to make wholesale changes to their livelihoods while in their prime – but many actually fail to do it through fear or laziness. Yet even cautious individuals can enjoy renewal once they are notionally retired from a first career. Everyone possesses a range of talents; and we should all aim to have second or even third acts in our working lives.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Bullet and the Elephant Express

By Raja Murthy

MUMBAI - While China has begun to earn billions of dollars exporting high-speed bullet train technology to the United States and Europe, the struggle of Indian Railways to manage its financial woes and modernization delays serves as a stark contrast between the operators of the world's two largest railway networks.

Cash-strapped Indian Railways has asked the Indian Finance Ministry for US$8.6 billion in the annual railway budget to be released this month, more than double the allocation of $3.47 billion in the 2010 budget for modernization programs.

Though railway revenues went up by 10.40% for the period 11th to 20th January 2011 - to $570 million from $517 million during the same period in 2010 - unconfirmed insider accounts says Indian Railways faces a $547 million budgetary deficit, with losses of $875 million between April and December 2010, the first nine months of its financial year.

In contrast, China Railways, which will invest $106 billion in railway infrastructure this year, has no money worries, allowing it to expand a high-speed railway network that with a combined length of 7,531 kilometers, is longer than the rest of the world's high-speed networks put together.

China latest fast train, the CRH380A, set a new record on December 3, 2010 by clocking 486.1 kilometers an hour in its Beijing to Shanghai trial. India's fastest trains, the Rajdhani and Shatabdi categories, average about 100 km per hour on their better days.

China's Railway Ministry plans to nearly double the high-speed rail network for its sleek bullet trains to 13,000 kilometers by 2012. In the same year, India hopes only to start basic work on its first high-speed rail track between New Delhi and Mumbai. Indian Railways has commissioned international consultants for pre-feasibility studies.

India might benefit from consulting China Railways for high-speed corridors, but this lack of a neighborly railway partnership only highlights how China and India, both expected to dominate global economy by 2050, have divergent strategies for their vast rail networks, a key to economic growth.

The 157-year old Indian Railways, hauling over 13 million passengers daily and calling itself the "Lifeline of the Nation", is closely linked to the common man, with its heavily subsidized fares; it offers 25% to 75% fare concessions to 50 categories of travelers, from the physically and mentally impaired to patients traveling for medical treatment, war widows, the elderly and students, including those from overseas.

China runs 91,000 km of train tracks, compared with India's 63,327 km, and both the state-owned behemoths are their country's single largest employer. The Indian Railways pay roll has over 1.6 million entries, with an additional 300,000 jobs to be filled in the next six months, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee declared on January 27. China's Ministry of Railways employs nearly 3.2 million people, more than the country's 2.3 million army troops.

In contrast to the flashy, high-speed Chinese train dragon, the slower Indian elephant steadily trudges with a more down-to-earth outlook. The 2011 Railway budget, presented separately to parliament in February ahead of the general budget, is expected to stress enhancing passenger safety, such as improving signaling systems and installing safety-related technology such as anti-collision devices (ACD) and a train protection warning system (TPWS).

China Railways, on the other hand, is being accused of paying more attention to on-rail showboats like the bullet trains, whose tickets cost nearly that of air fares, instead of improving services for the masses.

Such grumbles are reported louder during the just completed week-long Lunar New Year holidays, when around 230 million people have to be transported, the largest annual migration in the world.

Migrant Chinese workers can wait for as much as three days, often braving bitter winter winds and hunger, for train tickets that cost about 400 yuan (US$61), nearly one-third of a blue collar worker's monthly pay.

The stress was too much for migrant worker Chen Weiwei this January, who removed his clothes, except for grey underpants, and ran shouting around Jinhua Railway Station in eastern China's Zhejiang province. He had snapped after waiting third in a queue for 14 hours, only to be told that tickets were "sold out". Later, the station authorities magically changed the "sold out" status and gave Chen five tickets.

In contrast, the equivalent Indian worker need pay only 629 rupees (about $13) for a reserved second-class ticket with a sleeping berth on the Himsagar Express, in its three-night, 3,715-km odyssey between Kanyakumari, in India's southern-most tip, to Jammu city, in India's northern-most Jammu and Kashmir state.

Indian Railways has the world's largest online ticketing service - but insider fraud is often suspected, with tickets in very popular trains sold out almost instantly when reservations opens three months in advance.

For most trains and routes though, India's nationally computerized train booking system ensures that tickets, from anywhere to anywhere within the country, can be bought from thousands of Indian Railways counters nationwide, including in a small one-high-street town like Igatpuri, 150 km from Mumbai.

Internet booking, too, has cut short once daunting queues, saving millions of man-hours. The Centre for Railway Information Systems, created to use the latest information technology, reported 8.8 million online ticket transactions in January 2011, a 75% success rate from 11.7 million transactions attempted.

While Indian Railways benefits from the country's rich software expertise, it continues to import technology, such as coaches from Germany for the fully air-conditioned Rajdhani trains, even though it owns facilities like the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai.

China, in contrast, has done with its railways what it has done in other industrial sectors: import high technology, jiggle it a bit, label it as "advanced Chinese technology" and then export it heavily, undercutting the original foreign technology providers such as Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom.

Not surprisingly, China's largest train maker, CSR, last week said it expected profits in 2010 to have gained more than 50% last year from $254 million in 2009. CSR earned $1.24 billion in overseas sales. CSR is now the world's third-largest high-speed train producer, just behind Bombardier and Alstom.

In December, CSR also signed an agreement with General Electric for a 50-50 joint venture to manufacture high-speed trains in the United States. The $1.4 billion deal is expected to add 2,000 jobs in the US.

China is also competing with Japan, South Korea, France, Germany and Belgium to build a 1,100-kilometer high-speed railway in California, connecting San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego in 150 minutes, at a speed of 350 kph.

The Indian Railways suffers no such international competition anxieties as its Chinese counterpart, but with increasing traffic between the two nations, possibilities of a trans India-China rail network, and a New Delhi-Beijing Friendship Express by year 2025 will not be far-fetched.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Drugs companies have lost far more than their health

By John Kay
Published: February 8 2011 23:03 | Last updated: February 8 2011 23:03
John Kay, columist
Pfizer's decision to close its research laboratory at Sandwich is widely seen as a setback for recovery in Britain, a country that played a leading role in the development of the modern research-based pharmaceutical industry. In the last century, high profitability characterised the industry, founded on blockbuster drugs that would typically relieve, but not cure, the ill-effects of affluence – depression, hypertension, stomach acidity and arterial degeneration.
George Merck, president of the eponymous company from 1925 to 1950, famously expressed his corporate philosophy: "We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been." For many years Merck topped Fortune magazine's list of most admired companies. Johnson & Johnson's 308-word credo captures similar sentiments. In a classic business school case on ethics and corporate reputation, the company's executives applied the credo to implement a speedy product recall.
The drugs industry has thus had an implicit contract with public and government. It was permitted extraordinary profitability in return for companies behaving as exemplary corporate citizens.
Pfizer was always an odd man out. While Merck was lecturing doctors on his commitment to social responsibility, John McKeen, his Pfizer counterpart, was assuring his shareholders: "So far as humanly possible, we aim to get profit out of everything we do." In a 1994 business book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last, Pfizer is Merck's ugly sister. More assertive but less profitable, it epitomised the profit-seeking paradox – the most profitable companies are not the most aggressive in pursuit of profit.
But in the 1990s the supply of new blockbuster drugs diminished. Perhaps the low-hanging fruit had been picked, while able scientists from the academic world could more easily access venture capital to do their own thing. The industry was criticised for its focus on the minor ailments of the rich rather than the life-threatening diseases of the poor. Drug companies came under pressure from Wall Street to demonstrate commitment to shareholder value. The pay-off from marketing is immediate, the pay-off from research delayed, and their strategy reflected that. They also spent a great deal on buying each other. The greatest modern achievement of pharmacology – the cocktail of drugs that controls Aids, with public research leading the way – may be a model for future innovation.
As Pfizer jumped ahead in this environment, Merck stumbled – it would feature again in Mr Collins's 2009 book, How the Mighty Fall. A new blockbuster painkiller, Vioxx, was promoted not just for the minority of patients who derived a unique benefit but for many who might as well have taken an aspirin. Merck withdrew the product amid recrimination and lawsuits. Even the revered J&J would find its reputation tarnished by the regulator's discovery of bad practice – and dubious management responses – at the company's McNeil consumer products group.
An industry that once seemed to exemplify a constructive relationship between private enterprise and public benefit is now widely detested. US customers face spiralling drug costs. Development groups believe the industry's contribution to the world's poor is grudging and inadequate. Medical professionals view its ethics with mistrust. Its response has been a lobbying effort rivalled only by that of the financial services industry.
Such lobbying may delay, but not ultimately prevent, reversion to profit margins that reflect the new nature of the industry in returns appropriate to consumer products rather than innovative research. The future of pharmacology will probably look more like the peer-reviewed open process of incremental development based on public and philanthropic funding found elsewhere in medical science.
Pfizer has decided to attempt to meet its earnings growth targets – the patent on its popular cholesterol drug, Lipitor, is about to expire – by cutting its research budget, correctly observing that its productivity has declined. Rival Merck, in contrast, has lowered earnings projections to maintain research spending. The market's immediate verdict was that Pfizer was right. For its shareholders, perhaps. When an industry model is broken, the best business strategy may be to manage its decline.