Archive for October, 2007

Target for Tonight

Your instructions, gentlemen, based on the conclusions in this post.

* David Miliband’s Statement on ‘Iraq: Locally Recruited Civilians’ of 9th October stated that Britain will help to resettle- in the wider Middle East, or in the United Kingdom- Iraqis who can prove that they have worked for this country’s soldiers or diplomats for a continuous period of twelve months.
* Hundreds of Iraqis have been targeted for assassination for having worked for this country. Some have worked for a period of twelve months exclusively for the British and can prove this. Some have not but have been pinpointed for murder anyway. We have a responsibility to save these people from being murdered for the ‘crime’ of working for the British.
* There are a lot of local employees who fled their jobs before 12 months precisely because they had been targeted, or who did a 6-month tour for one British battalion and were then told to go and work for the Americans, or who did 12 months or more with interruptions, or who the Army didn’t give proper documentation too.
* Iraqi staff members must be given shelter not because of their provable length of service but according to whether they have been identified for murder by local death squads. This can be investigated on the spot by Army officers and referred rapidly to London: the process needs to start now.
* Mr Miliband’s statement did not mention the families of Iraqi employees. As Iraqi militias also murder the families of their ‘enemies’, we must resettle our employees’ families as well. Mark Brockway, an ex-soldier who hired many Iraqis, estimates that we are talking about a maximum of 700 Iraqis to resettle: this country admits 190,000 immigrants net every year.
* Iraqis have already been targeted for murder for having worked for this country. We will be shamed if we allow more to be killed for the same reason. Our soldiers, who are angry at this betrayal, and our diplomats, will be placed at risk if they gain a reputation for abandoning their local helpers.

One of the upshots of the Parliamentary lobby was at least a vague idea of the numbers. Mark Brockway’s figure is around 700 Iraqis, and a further 1,000 or so third-country nationals who work on the Basra Air Station. The big difference is that the Government apparently has a database of this latter group, and by definition they come onto the airbase to work, so they could be ghosted fairly easily in 4 or so large aircraft movements.

Oh well, write to them, or call 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP. You can also help freep the MiliBlog, but please behave with dignity consonant with the traditions of the service.

Update: The director of Basra International Airport has been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.

Says Royal Holloway prof, and I suppose colleague, David Cesarani in a wankerish letter to the Guardian:

Would Mearsheimer and Walt care to explain the power of the Armenian lobby?

Apart from “why not ask them?”, I can offer a more useful answer.

Aqoul:

The bill, pushed by Armenian-Americans, who crucially are an important constituency for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was more-or-less identical to a bill which has been put before the committee every year for decades, and which has been killed by the committee every year when the State Department urges congress not to upset relations with Turkey.

But this year, thanks to a combination of factors including (1) rampant hostility between the US executive and the legislative majority, (2) the blatant hypocrisy of this particular administration urging congress to keep quiet lest it upset foreigners, and (3) the convenient fact that this particular atrocity was committed by Muslims against Christians, the bill actually went through.

Job’s a good ‘un, then. What the hell a historian is doing pretending to be ignorant of the existence of Armenian emigration beats me.

A short compendium of US illegal surveillance links: Qwest “threatened with loss of contracts” after pre-11/9 surveillance request, says exec on insider trading rap. Greenwald blasts immunity proposal. David Isenberg. Much detail. Laura Rozen.

I have nothing very original to say, except to point out that there seems to be quite a big iceberg here. There is a big difference between the idea of sticking a fibre splitter in an AT&T Internet exchange point and glurking up the physical layer traffic, and demanding piles of CDRs. Them, eh? Call Detail Records – the database row generated by each phone call that specifies the parties to the call, the time started and ended, and details of routing and charging.

It’s the heart of what it means to be a telco, really; without them you’d be like (shiver) an ISP. They permit you to bill for everything, and they were almost certainly the “metadata” referred to. Quite simply, you’d never be able to process the total take pulled off the IX, even if enough of it was unencrypted; hence the CDRs.

There is a lot of technological difference between the two activities; one is real-time and the analysis is cryptographic, another is batch-processed and statistical. But what does seem clear is that there was an extensive new effort at surveillance of the US telecoms infrastructure.

What do the two halves of the Control Party – its Scottish and Northern wing, and its Southern and Posh wing, both – think should have no price in our society? Recap: a price is a measure of something’s value in terms of the alternatives you forgo by choosing it. Prices are a constraint; they force us to allocate resources between competing priorities. Straightforward enough, so far.

In public policy, if you wish to constrain the growth of something or the use of a resource, there are essentially two ways to do it – you can ration it, or you can tax it. The first corresponds to an artificial restriction of supply; the second to an artificial constraint on demand. Either way, what is being achieved is either equivalent to raising the price, or analogous to raising the price.

Successive governments have been quite keen on creating quasi-markets or budgeting systems for various things; GPs are meant to “buy in services” from NHS trusts, the government departments are meant to pay a capital levy to the Treasury to force them to economise capital. But what is interesting are the limits of this principle.

It seems that it is acceptable for some things to be treated as if they were cost-free; specifically incarceration, roads, and unearned income. The government frequently tries to influence the judiciary to send more people to jail, and has changed the law to make it harder to leave jail. Therefore the jails are so full it is actually impossible for some people to be released. Perhaps the Home Office should be forced to buy the extra prison places it wants from the Ministry of Justice every time it wishes to rattle the keys? Or alternatively, perhaps each court should have an annual budget for punishment, thus being forced to prioritise its use of scarce cells?

Similarly, it seems the idea of building more roads is being floated again. Simultaneously, we are told that traffic on the railways is to be demand-managed; that is to say its price is to rise in order to keep the demand from exceeding supply. But roads are treated as if they were more like air.

And finally, both clunking fist and Dave from PR are in agreement that gains captured from the housing bubble or inherited are to be taxed at a substantially lower rate than income from either wages or even company profits. It is now the policy of both wings of the Control Party that both labour and capital should subsidise the land bubble, inherited wealth, and dubious hedge-fund manoeuvrings.

Priceless indeed. You thought the elimination of the 10% lower rate of income tax was bad enough; hell, it was even framed as an encouragement to the poor to work harder. It’s not just a policy skewed to the rich, though; it’s a policy skewed to the idle rich.

As a brief example of one of the many reasons this is awful, consider the Vertu range of mobile phones; beware the Flash-ridden website. These are heavily designed, or rather designered; their design is in fact far from beautiful or functional, but is intended to convey the impression of good or at least expensive design. And they are tricked out in various inappropriately posh materials (diamonds, for example).

However, the actual electronics within the case are unimpressive. The company is a Nokia division, but very little of their engineering effort has gone into them. For example, only two of them have an e-mail client, only one has a UMTS radio, and none have WLAN support, GPS, a serious programming environment, or any of the other features Nokia packs into its most advanced devices. Nokia’s N-series devices are marketed at those whose taste in displays of wealth lies towards the Modernist end of the spectrum, and delight in technology for its own sake. Its E-series devices are marketed at people, and more importantly organisations, who actually find mobile e-mail, GPS, integration with enterprise telephone systems, VPN service, and the like useful.

Vertu’s role is to get rid of old models for silly prices to people who are impressed by ornamentation, and who are unlikely to require IPSec; rich people who don’t work and have no taste, in other words. Can you see what I’m driving at?

Oh, and I agree with every damn word of this and this.

Remember when the Airbus A380 was delayed and it was an example of the total bankruptcy of socialist Europe’s way of life? Look what’s happening with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner (and BA’s fleet)…

Boeing blamed the delivery delay on continuing problems with flight control software, being produced by Honeywell International, and integrating other systems on the plane, which it did not detail.

It said it now expects the first test flight of the 787 to take place “around the end of the first quarter” next year, suggesting it could be as late as March or even April 2008.

That is a drastic extension to its original plan to start airborne tests in August 2007. In early September, Boeing scheduled the first test flight for mid-November to mid-December as it wrestled with software problems and a shortage of bolts.

Bolts? Boeing has run out of bolts? That’s positively Soviet. Call GOSPLAN and get a brigade of shock workers on the bolts right now! There’s probably one huge bolt on a low loader in the yard at Boeing Field… Snark aside…actually, fuck putting the snark aside. Let’s get the snark out of the shed and give it a damn good snarking. There’s something about the Reuters report that makes me think the software actually uses bolts; it’s made in Seattle, after all.

I suppose they called it the Dreamliner because unlike the A380 it’s, well, still a dream.

So last night we all (well, for small values of “all” – you know who you are) got ourselves dressed up smart and went to bang on the doors of Parliament. And yes, as Dan Hardie claimed, the cops outside it are indeed polite – you’re not going to get much praise for the Met here, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

We were pleasantly surprised to be joined by none other than Chris Bryant MP; he’s a parliamentary private secretary, i.e. nearly a junior minister, so this was an impressive act. Hitherto he’s been best known for being conspicuously Blairite and being a user of Gaydar.co.uk; not any longer if I have anything to do with it.

As well as the member for the Rhondda, diehard Tory paratrooper Julian Brazer dropped in, as did his more Cameronian party colleague Ed Vaizey. And, crucially, Lynne Featherstone, Liberal MP for Hornsey, was the anchor of the whole thing. They came to hear Mark Brockway, a TA Royal Engineer who hired many of the first Iraqi employees in 2003 and who has since become the only point of contact for dozens of people trying to flee Iraq. They came to hear Andrew Alderson, a TA civil affairs officer and Lloyds banker who ran the South-East zone’s economic affairs from 2003-2004, who spoke of how British officials told him nothing was happening in Basra as the family of one of his former staff, people who had been trusted with hundreds of millions of dollars, had to smuggle one of their relatives out of the hospital for fear of reprisals.

They came to hear that the Government, after a 10-week “review”, still hasn’t got a list of the people concerned and can’t say who is responsible for the issue. They heard how staff at the British Embassy in Amman turned away former employees on the grounds that Jordan was by definition safe, while another ex-employee was abducted in broad daylight from the queue outside the UNHCR offices in the same city. They heard that despite spending 10 weeks writing an incalculably illegible statement, the Government has yet to offer any instructions on how to apply or what to do if you feel yourself to be in danger.

Better yet, they heard how civil servants informed one ex-employee that should his application for asylum be rejected, he would never be able to travel to the UK under any circumstances. This is either deeply incompetent, or a lie; they seem to have confused refusal of an application for entry with deportation, which suggests that if this was not deliberate, the people (and who are they?) dealing with the issue know nothing about immigration law.

That, indeed; time and again, it came up that the post-Michael Howard system of deterrence aimed at asylum seekers is the problem. You can’t apply if you have reached the UK; you can’t apply in a third country if this is deemed safe. And obviously, you can’t apply in Iraq, because so doing requires a perilous journey to Baghdad and entry into the Green Zone. Of course, it’s been trouble enough to stop the Government sending people back to Iraq, on the pretext that Kurdistan is safe; it’s a pity, then, that the Kurds are now imposing a requirement of sponsorship on immigrants from elsewhere in Iraq. (They’re not the only ones, either.)

Last night’s key message is this: whatever the detail of the policy, what matters is the tactics. The Government statement actually leaves quite a lot of leeway; the reference to meeting the UNHCR criteria looks rather different given that the UNHCR considers that all Iraqi displaced persons meet them, and the possibility of a grant of exceptional leave to remain (which could include anyone) has been invoked.

But the vital issue, in the real meaning of “vital”, is the practical logistics. We have to send out to Iraq a small group of officials, taken from the Army interpreters cell, the Immigration Service, and presumably MI5, to take names and addresses and assess cases. We have to provide a means of registering, at Basra Air Station, in the UK diplomatic missions, and on the Web (this was a surprisingly frequent request). And we have to draw up a schedule for people to leave on the regular airbridge flights.

Here is the text of the government’s written statement on the Iraqi employees:

On 8 August the Prime Minister announced a review of the Government’s assistance to our Locally Engaged staff in Iraq. The Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Secretary of State for International Development, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I have now agreed on the elements of a scheme.

Locally engaged Iraqi staff working for our armed forces and civilian missions in Iraq have made an invaluable contribution, in uniquely difficult circumstances, to the UK’s efforts to support security, stability and development in the new Iraq. We are hugely grateful to them for their contribution, which continues to be essential to the delivery of our mission in Iraq.

In recognition of that, we have decided to offer those staff, on an ex gratia basis, assistance which goes above and beyond the confines of what is lawfully or contractually required. Assistance will be based on objective criteria, taking into account determinable and relevant factors. It is offered in recognition of the service by these courageous Iraqis in direct support of HMG’s efforts to help the Iraqi Government and people build a peaceful, stable and prosperous Iraq.

The assistance announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will allow Iraqi staff, including but not limited to interpreters, currently working* for HMG in Iraq, who have attained 12 months’ or more continuous service, to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance of between 6 and 12 months’ salary, depending on length of service, to meet the costs of relocation for themselves and their dependants in Iraq or the region, if they are made redundant or have to resign from their job because of what we judge to be exceptional circumstances. Alternatively, these staff will be able to apply for exceptional leave to enter the UK, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the UK’s Gateway refugee resettlement programme, provided that they meet the criteria for the programme, including that they satisfy UNHCR that they meet the criteria of the 1951 Convention and need resettlement.

In addition, interpreters/translators and other Iraqi staff serving in similarly skilled or professional roles necessitating the regular use of written or spoken English, who formerly worked for HMG in Iraq, will be able to apply for assistance for themselves and their dependants provided that they satisfactorily completed a minimum of 12 months’ service, and they were in our employ on or after 1 January 2005. Former staff meeting those criteria will be able to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance similar to that available for serving staff, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the Gateway programme as set out above.

This assistance will principally apply to Iraqi nationals who meet the eligibility criteria set out above, and who work, or have worked, in Iraq in the following capacities:

as direct employees of the UK Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defence;
on Letters of Appointment from the British Embassy in Baghdad or the British Embassy Offices in Basra and the Kurdistan Region;
as direct employees of DFID and the British Council.
In addition, we are considering what assistance may be provided to a limited number of contracted staff meeting the eligibility criteria who have worked in particularly close association with us as an integral part of HMG programmes, projects and operations in Iraq.

We will announce further details, including on how eligible staff may apply, before the end of the month.

*defined as those working for our civilian missions or armed forces on or after 8 August 2007, the date on which the review of policy was announced.

Right; the good news is that the issue has been recognised, that exceptional leave to remain (ELR) has been mentioned, and that there will also be money for those who choose to go elsewhere in the Middle East. For the uninitiated, ELR provides for the grant of residence in the UK by executive discretion, whether or not a claim to refugee status can be substantiated.

The bad news is the weasel clauses, of course, which set an arbitrary limit of 12 months’ continuous service and a cut-off of 2005; God knows why. This is essentially to say that an Iraqi employee must do a tour of duty twice as long as a British soldier. This is unacceptable.

The indeterminate news is that there is no mention of the practicalities; it is one thing to have the right to refugee status or a promise of ELR, it is quite another to be able to exercise it. It is necessary that their applications be processed in advance, statements taken on the spot, and assistance be provided to physically leave Iraq.

Why 12 months? I have a little theory. The reduction of British troops coming up is taking place at the twice-annual rotation of forces; the brigades serve 6-month tours. Gordon Brown’s statement on Iraq mentions that there will be a further, 50% cut in troops in April, 2008 – that is, at the next rotation only half the troops going home will be replaced. And the next rotation would be…October, 2008. What price zero?

And why would they want to keep the employees on for another 12 months, in that case?

IMPORTANT CAMPAIGN UPDATE – READ THIS NOW

The Iraqi Employees campaign lobby of Parliament has been double-booked by Hazel Blears; we are therefore moving it from Committee Room 14 to the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, in order to avoid the risk of contamination. The times are the same and are 1900-2100, Tuesday, 9th October 2007.

Got that? It will not happen in Committee Room 14; it will happen in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House.

(PS: Gordon Brown speaking in the Commons, appears to have drunk the surge koolaid, but seems to be giving in. Written statement to follow.)

Update: Text here. Here’s the key par:

Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than twelve months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or – in agreed circumstances – for admission to the UK. And professional staff — including interpreters and translators — with a similar length of service who have left our employ since the beginning of 2005 will also be able to apply for assistance.

We will make a further written statement on the detail of this scheme this week.

Special campaign update: Whatever the Govt is leaking to the Times, we’re still going to leap into their back garden on Tuesday night. This campaign is not over until the people concerned are filing down the airstair at Brize Norton.

You can still turn up, and you can still call your MP tomorrow. Even if it turns into an emetic victory bash lovefest, with Dan Hardie and Dsquared publicly smooching and all kinds of boozy verbrüderung, it’ll still be worth it just to demonstrate that some sort of invisible mob on the interwebnets could pitch up in the Commons at any moment.

In Local News

Who is this neighbouring Liberal who just knocked 12 per cent off the Tories in Datchet?