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Sam PF's Journal Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Sam PF" journal:

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July 26th, 2016
11:49 pm

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Lesser Evils
In the final round of the 2002 French Presidential election, leftists faced an insidious choice: the two remaining candidates were Jacques Chirac, of the mainstream right-wing party, the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR, Assembly for the Republic); and Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of the far-right, explicitly racist Front National (National Front).

France has a 2-stage Presidential election system: in the first round, there are many candidates – 16 in this case; but if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, there is a 2nd stage run-off between the top 2 candidates.

Usually, that will be someone from the main right-wing party [1], and one from the Socialists. But this time, with an even more divided left than usual with 8 parties standing [2], and partly as a result, the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin came narrowly 3rd behind Chirac and Le Pen.

Most of French society was horrified that a fascist like Le Pen could come so close to power. [3] What, though, was a Socialist or Communist voter to do faced with this ugly choice in the second round of a right-winger and a far-right-winger? Stay at home? Spoil their ballot paper? Or swallow their bile and vote for a candidate whose politics they detest (and with a bunch of corruption scandals from his time as mayor of Paris)?

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June 6th, 2016
05:45 am

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Transatlanticizing
Well, it's sufficiently official and generally known by all concerned that I can make it public.

I will be moving to Boston, Massachusetts in the autumn (or fall as I should get used to calling it), to work at the World Peace Foundation, based at Tufts University, as Project Manager for their programme on corruption in the global arms industry and trade. I start there at the beginning of October. I was in Boston earlier this week to meet with them and discuss details and ideas.

I have in fact been involved in this project for the past few years, as part of an international group of academics and civil society people convened by WPF to discuss these issues and produce various materials on the subject (there's a book coming out fairly soon, plus various internet tools). The group includes South African anti-corruption campaigner Andrew Feinstein, whose book on the arms trade, The Shadow World, has recently been made into a movie, which everyone should totally see when it hits the cinemas.

The idea of the programme has been to take a rather broad perspective on the issue of corruption, looking not only at financial corruption, but at how the global arms industry and trade, and the militarist ideologies behind it, can undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Anyway, so this project by WPF has been edging forward for the past few years, but now they are able to hire someone full time, that someone being me.

The position is for 2 years initially, potentially longer if more funds are raised; however, I am taking a 2-year leave of absence from SIPRI, so I will have the option of returning at the end of this 2-year period. I am therefore not technically leaving SIPRI at the present time, but will at any rate be gone for at least 2 years. If anyone wants to apply for my position at SIPRI working on military expenditure (again, 2 years initially), or knows someone who might be interested, the ad is here.

As to whether or not I will return in 2 years, well, a lot can happen in two years, so who knows? But it is good to have the option.

I am very excited by this. It is a really interesting project, and a really good bunch of people I'll be working with, and from all I hear (and the little I've seen so far from the meetings there of our group), Boston is a fantastic city.

I am already a US (as well as UK) citizen, but this will be the first time I have lived in the US, or indeed been there for more than a week at a time. So that too will be an interesting new experience.

I will also be sad to leave SIPRI, and will miss a lot of people there, not least my team, who are also a great bunch to work with. After the storms of 2 years ago, SIPRI is now on what seems to be moving in a very positive direction, so in some ways a strange time to be leaving; but I have been crunching the military expenditure numbers for long enough, and feeling it's been time for a change for quite a while; and this definitely feels like the right move at the right time.

(Well, except that we might have President Trump a few months after I move. But since there are no shuttles to Mars Colony any time soon, there's nowhere to escape the consequences that may bring.)

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April 5th, 2016
11:43 pm

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SIPRI military expenditure data release
Quick post, as I'm exhausted. Today was the big day of the year for my secret identity as Doctor Milex, when SIPRI released our new data on world military expenditure for 2015. Link is to the press release, which also has links to the fact sheet and the full database.

I also have an entry in the SIPRI blog discussing trends in military and health expenditure, and the costs of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in comparison to world military spending. Graphics, in particular the cool interactive line graph, courtesy of our new web editor.

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March 12th, 2016
07:54 pm

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Europe's shame
I have never been so ashamed to be a European. God knows we have a horrific colonial history, and in the modern age there's the whole Neocolonial economic relationship of rich countries with the developing world and so forth.

But it is particularly appalling to witness the utter betrayal of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees on and within our borders. The utter craven cowardice, the hypocricy, the abandonment of compassion and solidarity, the collective washing of hands.

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And what is most shameful as a European, is that our governments are doing this in large measure in response to the views of the majority of their citizens. That even those, like in Sweden and Germany, who were more inclined to compassion and solidarity, have turned against the refugees. Cologne and Kungsträdgården were enough for that.

There are still those, so many, who help.The army of volunteers on Lesvos. Again, Al Jazeera has done some very good coverage of ordinary Greek people, despite their own grim economic circumstances, doing what they can to help through soup kitchens in Athens, providing food, clothing and blankets in Idomeni on the Macedonian border, and elsewehere. The Danish woman convicted of people trafficking for giving a lift and lunch to a family of refugees. So many helping across the continent in so many ways, big and small. These are signs of hope.

But those of us who favour compassion and solidarity towards refugees are, unfortunately a minority. Two weeks ago there were Refugees Welcome protests in 120 cities in 32 European countries. It is hard to find reports of them, apart from that one. I was at the one in Medborgarplatsen again, in Stockholm. But we were far, far, fewer. When Stefan Löfven flattered and lied to the crowds back in September, Medborgarplatsen was full to bursting. This time there was plenty of space, and only a part of the square filled. A few hundred maybe. It is good to have such events; but it is not enough.

I have never felt so ashamed to be a European.

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November 21st, 2015
01:29 am

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door"

These words always get me. For all that I am aware of the horrific, genocidal history of the USA, they still get me.

Once upon a time, a century and change ago, my ancestors were among the many millions of "wretched refuse", the "homeless, tempest-tost" arriving in the USA, Jews from Poland, Russia and thereabouts, fleeing the hatred and slaughter of the times.

I can only imagine how they must have felt as that statue came into view on the horizon, signalliing journey's end after months crammed on a hot, overcrowded deck. (Or maybe my great-great grandfather and his family had managed to save up loads of money from his inn in Łomża, sold the place for a good price before things got really bad, and had their own spacious cabin. Who knows?)

The country they came to was no paradise, and they would have faced all sorts of suspicion and prejudice, but they had a chance, and they were lucky enough to thrive. Likewise my dad's family, who came instead to Britain, a land of 'storied pomp' par excellence. No  paradise either, and my dad has told me some horrible stories of the anti-Semitism he faced as a child; but likewise a country that was spared the horrors of fascism, that proved a refuge and became a home.

This is my history. It is far from unique. It  is not even unusual. It is a story shared by hundreds of millions of us around the world.

For me, not just because of my own family history, but certainly reinforced by it, it seems self-evident that we, who are fortunate enough to have been born in lands enjoying relative freedom (for it is certainly no virtue of our own), should welcome to our shores those fleeing war, persecution and extreme poverty. "Will it make us richer or poorer?" "What if some of those who come are bad people?" They may be fair questions, but they should be very much secondary ones. At some level, I really find it hard to comprehend those who think otherwise.

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November 17th, 2015
01:21 am

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Refuge
These are strange times in Sweden, both hopeful and foreboding.

In the current European refugee crisis, Germany is taking in by far the most asylum seekers out of the EU nations. But Sweden is next, and by far the most in relation to population. Last month, the Migration Agency doubled its projection for the number of refugees arriving in Sweden this year to between 140-190,000. The last couple of weeks, about 10,000 per week have been claiming asylum. That means that in the past couple of weeks Sweden has received as many refugees as David Cameron has so generously agreed that Britain will take over the next 4 years.

Various notes and musingsCollapse )

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October 6th, 2015
02:05 pm

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Syria peace negotiations - a historical query
Our new Director, Dan Smith, has written an excellent blog piece, arguing for negotiated peace between Assad and his (non-ISIS) opponents - and, maybe even some time in the future, negotiations with elements of ISIS or other groups that are currently to extreme and absolute in their demands to have meaningful negotiations with.

He gives a long list of examples of nations and groups that have been in conflct, and that have ended up negotiating with each other (successfully or otherwise), despite one side or other having said for a long time that they would absolutely never negotiate with the other side. So, basically, get off your high horse about how you could never possibly negotiate with Assad or whoever because they are so evil, and grasp the nettle.

Which I completely agree with. But a rather pessimistic thought strikes me - while it very often is possible eventualy to find peace between apparently irreconcilable sides, can it be done when the fundamental point of contention is the ruler him or herself?

When the 'incompatibility' is, for example, regional or sub-national independence movements, or ethnic grievances, or visions of society (e.g. communist vs. capitalist), it may be possible to find compromises, half-way measures, ways in which different groups can live together, etc. But when it's about "Does this dictator (monarchical or presidential) get to stay in power?", where is the possibility for common ground? Maybe they stay in power with reforms, or power-sharing, or whatever, but the problem is always that the ruler, if they get to stay in power, has every incentive to renege once the rebels have demobilized. (And if they haven't demobilized, then renewed war is probably just round the corner).

So I'm trying to think of examples of conflicts - civil wars, revolutions, armed uprisings - with a goal of overthrowing a dictatorial ruler, where there has been a negotiated settlement that leaves that ruler in power. None of the cases on the list in Dan's essay fit the bill. The only example I could think of is Magna Carta, but that in fact is not an example - the Runnymede agreement broke down almost immediately, leading to the 1st Barons War; John himself died in the middle of it.

In the first phase of the Wars of the Roses, after the victory of the supporters of Richard of York, who claimed the throne against Knig Henry VI, a peace deal was achieved whereby Henry remained king, but Richard was named his heir. That broke down within 5 years.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 is another not-quite example - various reforms enacted in response to the demands of some of the rebels, but alongside the crushing of the more radical rebels. Not a negotiated settlement, and this didn't exactly stick.

Can anyone come up with any examples then? My criteria are as follows:

a) An uprising against a dictatorial ruler (including absolute or powerful monarchs), with a primary goal of unseating that dictator
b) A negotiated peace
c) That does not involve the swift departure of the ruler (which would in essence be a negotiated rebel victory)

Or does such an uprising inevitably end either in the crushing of the rebels or the departure of the ruler?

The western opponents of Assad effectively say that, while there could be negotiations, the result would have to involve Assad leaving, if not immediately then fairly soon. Which of course is not something that Assad or his supporters are willing to contemplate, and are not likely to unless his violent overthrow appears otherwise inevitable.

The only other possibility could be that Russia and Iran can be convinced that their interests can be safeguarded in a post-Assad Syria,and  that this is a better option than continuing war, and are thus persuaded to threaten to withdraw their support for the Syrian government unless Assad agrees to his negotiated departure.

Or, if there is some way round the fundamental problem with a peace deal that leaves a ruler in place, namely the incentive to renege?

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September 18th, 2015
12:26 am

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Party time?
Should I join the Labour Party? Or the Green Party, or some other party, or no party. Interested in thoughts and opinions.

I actually tried to join the Green Party before the election. I emailed them to ask if I was eligible to join as an ex-pat voter, but they never replied.

I would not remotely have considered joining the Labour Party pre-Corbyn. Now their is actually a real possibility of them starting to once again promote the sort of values and policies I support.

I'm not sure exactly how to describe myself ideologically these days. I sometimes say Libertarian Socialist, except the term 'libertarian' has possibly been irrevocably damaged. But generally leftist, and I tend to regard political parties rather pragmatically, as imperfect vehicles for advancing positive things in a particular time and place, rather than representing undying loyalties. Though the election of Jeremy Corbyn maybe puts a counter-argument in favour of party loyalty even when your party strays very far from what you see as its true values.

I have a ot of sympathies with Green politics in terms of a) prioritizing the environment, as climate change kind of is the single most important issue facing humanity (though there's every possibility that a Corbyn-led Labour Party will develop positive policies in that regard too. b) I see them as having a less-centralized, more democratic approach to tackling problems than Labour traditionally has, including the Labour left (though again that may be changing). Finally I think they are still likely to emerge as more left wing in a lot of areas than whatever compromise emerges between Corbyn and the Labour establishment. Jeremy Corbyn is great, but so are Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas.

However, Labour is a potential party of government, which the Greens are not, and moreover the Labour Party has much more of a possibility of being a real mass movement. The connection with the Trade Union movement, frayed as it is, is also something I regard as really important. Basically, Labour still has something left of its roots as a working class party, as again the election of Corbyn has shown, while the Greens, love them, are not and likely never will be.

(I am myself decidedly middle class, though I am also a proud Trade Unionist, but the point is that a political party that can, by and large, *only* attract the middle classes and hippy peacenik types, in other words that only attracts people like me and the sort of people I tend to socialize with, is not going to be able to effect change.)

Then there is the thing where the UK constituency in which I am registered to vote - Bristol West - is actually one of the few constituencies in the country where the Greens actually have a shot. They came a not-too-distant second to Labour in the election, with the Tories nowhere in sight. So I could actually be tempted to vote Green, which would rather contradict being a member of Labour. (If I do join Labour, I will be put into the Labour International branch, rather than the Bristol West Constituency LP, however).

I really am not sure what I think about this, so as I say welcome different thoughts and opinions and arguments for one or the other. (And feel free to argue as to why I should join the Lib Dems (of which I was actually a member once before), or even the Tories, though in the latter case there is not a snowball's chance in hell that you are going to convince me. But I would not consider it trolling.)

(If and when I get my Swedish citizenship, I will likewise contemplate joining a Swedish party - most likely the Left Party, but possibly the Green Party or the Feminist Initiative. But that's for later, and there are only a few people likely to read this who would be likely to be able to say much on that!)

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September 13th, 2015
11:27 pm

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Can Corbyn win?
I am delighted that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party. That the disparate voices advocating for a more just and equal Britain, against austerity, against the war on the poor and disabled, has finally found political expression in a major, UK-wide political party. That the Tory government and their vicious agenda will finally have a clear and consistent opposition. I think the effect of this will be enormously beneficial.

But can a Corbyn-led Labour Party win a general election, or at least deny a Tory victory? I don't know.

There has been a lot written on this, and it is not worth rehashing all of it, though I will attempt to summarize some of the main points. Some very good analysis by Owen Jones. Some interesting advice in terms of style, based on Ken Livingstone's successes and failures. A very positive view from a few weeks ago; and a highly sobering note from Andrew Rawnsley.

Briefly, the positive case: he has created an enormous amount of enthusiasm and got a movement behind him; he can reach out to those disenchanted by mainstream politics, both by presenting a genuine alternative to austerity and by his 'anti-establishment status'; he is perceived as honest, principled and likeable. The negative: Labour lost because they were not trusted on the economy or welfare, and Corbyn's politics are doubling down on those perceived weaknesses; getting non-voters to vote and to vote Labour isn't as easy as it sounds; he will have the media against him; he wil have half his party against him.

Who might he attract? ex-Labour supporters who have turned to the Greens, SNP or Plaid Cymru; young, disollusioned non-voters (if they can truly be reached); some UKIP supporters who vote UKIP out of a general, vague anti-politics sense, rather than ideological riht-wing politics. Who might he repel? Reasonably comfortable, centrist, swing-voters who went for the Tories this time; UKIP voters for whom immigration really is a dominant issue.

Overall, I suspect that the odds are against Labour, andI suspect would have been whoever won; Labour, in opposition, were not going to be able to convince centrist voters that they were more trustworthy on the economy simply by moving even closer to Tory positions, and they certainly weren't going to win over dissolusioned voters that way.

I think the main thing that will determine how people view the relative economic credibility of the parties is totaly out of the hands of any Labour leader, namely, what happens to the actual economy, which depends on both government policies and the world economy. If it crashes and burns, which may well happen given the way things are going in China, then that could totally destroy Tory credibility, however much they protest it is not their fault. Austerity policies will undoubtedly exacerbate any downturn, and the pain that is being inflicted through Tory welfare policies will suddenly start hitting a lot more people.

Jeremy Corbyn's message might start looking appealing to a lot more current 'centrist' voters then. On the other hand, there's a risk that, if the Tories and the media are successful in portraying Corbyn as a dangerous loony lefty, then such voters might be inclined to 'stick to nurse for fear of worse'. But it will certainly give Labour a much stronger chance, and it would create an environment in which the sort of anti-establishment mass-movement enthusiasm that Corbyn has generated through the leadership campaign might have the chance to spread further into a potential winning coalition. On the other hand, I suspect that if things do not go too terribly economically, then this movement may find it hard to break out of the circles of the already convinced, the ones who go to Corbyn rallies and share lefty articles and memes on social media - which is not enough to win an election.

The Tories could destroy their credibility in other ways too - they may tear themselves apart over the EU referendum - which is something that Corbyn and Labour can influence, depending on how they play their cards - or the new Tory leader - if Cameron keeps to what he said about not running for a third term - may not prove convincing to the electorate. Cameron, much as I loathe his policies, is a highly skillful politician, and has an air about him (however unjustified) of confidence and competence. With someone else, the Tories may fare less well.

But before all this, the biggest hurdle Corbyn faces, I think, is party management; he has the support of much of the rank-and-file members (he got just a shade under 50% of 1st preference votes amongst full party members, and now something like 15,000 new members have joined, presumably most of whom approve of the latest developments) but he is opposed by the great majority of Labour MPs.

From everything I've seen he is going to try to be inclusive in bringing all sections of the party (that are prepared to work with him) into the Shadow Cabinet, and proclaims a commitment to being open and democratic about policy-making - which presumably means being willing to accept policy positions he is not too keen on where that is the clear will of the party - and all of this will be very necessary. But it's going to be a very tough balancing act of picking which battles to fight, and where to make painful compromises. Only time will tell if he is actually able to do this.

For the record, my inclination is that he should probably stand his ground on most matters of economic policy - both because it is right, and because the anti-austerity, anti-welfare cuts message is where he has most chance of capturing public imagination. I doubt, actually, that many Labour MPs are really all that convinced of the arguments for austerity, maybe some of the Blairites, but they have been convinced that Labour only has a chance if it accepts it. So many of them might be willing to say "Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound", or something like that.

But where I think he really does need to compromise is foreign/defence policy, if he is not to totally break the Labour Party. Most especially, Labour needs to be supporting staying in the EU in the referendum. Flawed as the EU is, I really don't think there's much appetite on the left and center-left for leaving, and it is something that most Labour MPs would fight tooth and nail for. (For what it's worth, I also believe Britain needs to be in the EU, disgusted as I am by Fortress Europe and Eurozone-imposed austerity.) Likewise NATO - I am no fan, but there would be no better way to both break the party and leave an open goal for the Tories than advocating for leaving.

In opposing Trident replacement, I think there's a much better political case for him holding firm (not to say moral), and where I suspect a lot of ordinary party members would be with him (and perhaps, in their heart of hearts, any MPs). Apart from anything else, British nukes are militarily useless, as a lot of military figures recognize, and Trident replacement will take up a huge proportion of the defence equipment budget. But here the compromise might be to argue for, say, putting half or even more of the savings from cancelling Trident replacement into the conventional defence budget, with the rest for (say) green energy; even if Corbyn would ideally like to see a lot lower military spending (as would I). But it is probably a good area to open up to wider party debate to see what ordinary members actually think.

In the end, I am not higely optimistic in terms of the odds of Jeremy Corbyn walking though the doors of Number 10 in 2020 - I think it is probably no more than 50/50 that he can hold the party together long enough to make it to the election as leader. But I am hopeful, in that this is the first time in a very long time that there has actually been a real major left-leaning party in England. And he could just pull it off; the normal rules of politics says it is very unlikely, but those same rules said he was a 100-1 shot for leader in the first place; the world is changing fast, and the rules of politics with them, so just maybe Jeremy Corbyn, together with a newly-invigorated Labour Party and movement, can create a new set of rules. I hope.

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August 30th, 2015
10:47 pm

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Visitations part II
So after sabotabby left, my dad arrived and stayed for two weeks. (He left yesterday). This did not lead to so much photography, except when we took a 3-day trip to Visby, the capital of Gotland, a large island in the Baltic Sea which forms one of Sweden's 21 counties.

Visby is an extraordinarily well-preserved walled medieval city, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was a major Hanseatic League trading post, founded in the 12th century, which makes it older than Stockholm. The walls are pretty much intact and have basically been in their current form since the 14th Century.

As Gotland also has much extraordinary natural beauty to offer, the island is unsurprisingly an extremely popular holiday destination for Swedes and overseas visitors, especially from Germany I think. Not many Brits seem to have discovered it though. We went in late August, by which time Swedish kids have gone back to school, which made everything much cheaper - SEK95 per person each way on the ferry, a 3 and a quarter hours (82 nautical miles) journey from Nynäshamn, a port at the southern end of the Stockholm commuter train line, which means you can get there on your Stockholm region travelcard.

Visby is also notable for the annual Almedalsveckan in late June/early July, a huge politics festival where all the major parties, along with NGOs, lobbyists, business, unions, think tanks, and a fuckload of media of course, rub shoulders and hold all manner of events. Almedalen park lies just outside the city walls to the west, near the waterside.

But enough of my waffling - here are some photos!

Photos!Collapse )

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