Issue #80 June 18th - July 1st, 2004
Stalking Scottish Popsters (on a Sunday)
"Americans will never make concessions to terrorists -- to do so would only invite more terrorism -- once we head down that path there would be no end to it, no end to the suffering of innocent people, no end to the bloody ransom all civilized people must pay." - Ronald Reagan 1985
“'I settled in Pakistan in the Afghan border region. There I recieved volunteers [from Arab and Muslim countries]...these volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis.”
Osama Bin Laden on forming the fore-runner of Al Qa’ida for the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s (1)
After the death of former US President Ronald Reagan the current President Bush has attempted to take on Reagan’s mantle as - and in many ways he genuinely is following in Reagan’s footsteps in terms of policies, rhetoric – and the gap between the two. That's not to mention the fact that most of the senior members of the current administration also worked under Reagan
There are many myths about Reagan – that he brought about the end of Soviet Communism, that he defended democracy and human rights in Latin America against the ‘Communist threat’ in what he called a ‘war on terror’, that he never compromised with terrorists, that he tried to end the threat of nuclear war – and partially succeeded, that his economic policies led to an ‘economic miracle’, and finally that all this made him the most popular US President in the period since 1945.
‘Defeating Communism’ , ‘Defending Democracy’, ‘No Concessions to terrorists’
The first myth claims that Reagan forced the USSR into an arms race which it could not win – ending in its collapse and replacement by ‘free market democracies’ in former communist states from Europe to Eurasia. While the USSR largely collapsed as a result of its democratisation under Gorbachev (which it could not survive as the only thing holding it together was the discredited Communist party) there is a grain of truth in this.
Under President Carter the US had begun arming Islamic fundamentalist opponents of the Soviet backed government of Afghanistan. In 1979 – the year before Reagan was elected – the USSR invaded to try to prevent the fall of the Marxist government of Afghanistan. Atrocities against civilians by both sides were common. Reagan stepped up support to the Afghan fundamentalist ‘Mujahedin’ who were lauded in the US and Britain as ‘freedom fighters’. One such Mujahedin was the Saudi Osama Bin Laden. Another was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar , who many believe was involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre (2,3).
Similar support would later be given by the CIA during Clinton’s presidency to the Taliban – again in co-operation with Saudi and Pakistani intelligence (also see Ahmed Rashid's book - offline sources below). The FBI and CIA were restrained from investigating the activities of the Saudi royal family or Saudi businessmen such as the Bin Laden family under all post-war Presidents. Under the current President Bush though these restrictions became virtually an order to stop any investigations at all. So there is one similarity between Reagan and Bush – both aided Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network – one by active support, the other by preventing the FBI and CIA acting against it within the US. Paul Bremer - now head of the US Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq was Reagan's counter terrorism chief and ambassador to Afghanistan.
In Latin America Reagan armed, trained and funded various dictators and right-wing death squads to torture and massacre all opponents – civilian and armed – into submission. This generally involved the suppression of democracy rather than the promotion of it – Reagan called this a ‘war on terror’. For instance in Guatemala Reagan aided dictator General Rios Montt in massacring 200,000 native Indians while calling Montt 'totally dedicated to democracy'. In Honduras US ambassador John Negroponte (now newly appointed US ambassador to Iraq) oversaw torture and massacre for the Reagan administration.
Meanwhile in Nicaragua the US backed dictatorship of Somoza had been overthrown in 1979 by a popular revolution of ‘Sandinistas’. In 1984 the Sandinistas held and won elections which international observers sent to monitor the process agreed were fair and democratic. Reagan responded by training , arming and funding the Contras – opponents of the Sandinistas who included supporters of the former dictator Somoza. The Contras carried out a campaign of rape, torture and massacre of thousands of Nicaraguans – mainly unarmed peasants – in order to terrorise them into getting rid of the Sandinistas – whose left-wing economic and social policies the Reagan administration opposed. The Sandinistas, while far from perfect, were not responsible for systematic killings on the scale carried out by Somoza or the Contras. The US Congress passed the Boland amendment – forbidding Reagan from using any more US taxpayers’ money to fund the contras. A leading opponent of the Boland amendment was Republican Congressman (now Vice President) Dick Cheney.
The Reagan administration looked for other sources of funding – and found them in CIA operations which involved smuggling Latin American cocaine into the US and selling arms to the Iranian government (which Reagan frequently denounced as a sponsor of terrorism) in return for the Iranians agreeing to try to secure the release of American hostages held by terrorist groups in Iran. Reagan meanwhile denounced any compromise with terrorists (4). This would become the Iran-Contra scandal
‘ Economic Miracle’
In domestic policy Reagan cut the top rates of income tax , raised indirect taxes and cut federal spending on education, health insurance and welfare. While the right and the very wealthy (who became much richer as a result) heralded this as an economic miracle which benefited everyone through ‘trickle down’ from the wealthy to the poor. In fact the Reagan and Bush (senior) years from 1980 to 1992 saw a 10% fall in incomes for the poorest 10% of the population - while doubling the incomes of the richest 1% of the population. Nor did the US economy as a whole grow any faster – indeed the growth rate measured in GDP per capita was lower than that in the ‘failed’ decade of the 1970s. The number of Americans in poverty increased by 7 million - around 3 million of those newly made poor were made so by cuts in welfare payments (5). This was the same ‘freedom’ that Reagan was defending in Latin America – the freedom of the richest to keep getting richer at the expense of the poorest.
Once again the current President Bush is indeed following in Reagan’s footsteps – having made massive tax cuts which benefit the richest. Meanwhile by 2002 the proportion of Americans living in poverty had increased to 12.1 % - roughly the same proportion as had been in poverty during Reagan’s economic ‘boom’ in 1988-9 (6)..
‘Ending the nuclear threat’
Reagan’s 1988 Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty with the USSR certainly led to the destruction of nuclear weapons – the obsolete portion of their stocks on the American side while on the Soviet side the stagnant economy of the USSR meant it could no longer afford to maintain it’s nuclear arsenal anyway. This reduced tension and was popular - uniting America and the world in support for the treaty - but otherwise was largely symbolic.
While Reagan may have been motivated by naïve idealism in backing a ‘Star Wars’ programme to ‘make nuclear weapons obsolete’ the actual effect of such an anti-missile ‘shield’ programme – of the type now resurrected by President Bush as 'National Missile Defense' would be to turn America’s nuclear arsenal from an unusable deterrent into an offensive weapon with which the US could potentially blackmail any country in the world. If the some countries could make nuclear strikes on others while remaining safe from nuclear counter attack the world would become a much more dangerous place.As one former US admiral put it Bush’s National Missile Defence system aims at creating ‘a sword not a shield’. The practical results of the programme so far though are a long way from producing any effective system – merely providing public funds to some firms that donated to Bush.
The Most Popular Post-War President
Reagan’s supposedly unrivalled popularity is also a myth. Gallup polls conducted during his Presidency showed that based on comparisons with the approval ratings of other Presidents at similar points in their Presidency he ranked 6th out of 10. His approval rating on leaving office was lower than that of Bill Clinton or Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal in which all his administrations double dealings came to light – and he only avoided impeachment by claiming that he couldn’t remember what happened – a defence which only succeeded due to his alzheimer’s disease. At this point – with Americans shown the reality of the Reagan administration in contrast to its high flown rhetoric – his approval rating fell from 67% to 46%.
In the lack of genuine support for his policies, as in so much else, Bush is indeed Reagan’s successor – only more so.
Conclusion : Bush and Reagan’s Legacy
Through supporting terrorists like Osama Bin Laden and dictators like Saddam Hussein Reagan left a legacy to his country when they turned on it. (Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld (now Bush’s Defense Secretary) as his envoy to Iraq. Rumsfeld supplied Saddam with arms, anthrax and chemical weapons Rumsfeld went on to use the gassing of the IRaqi Kurdish town of Halabja when Reagan (and Rumsfeld) were backing Saddam as evidence that Saddam needed to be overthrown in 2002 and since. It remains disputed whether Iraq or Iran was responsible for Halabja. If Iraq was responsible though Rumsfeld is also culpable - if not he is spreading propaganda. )
Bush has learned nothing from this or from the failure of Reagan’s attempt to use military force to end terrorism in Lebanon - and is doing his bit to promote terrorism and dictatorship. The US State Department has released a report showing the ‘war on terrorism’ has led to a massive increase in terrorist attacks and casualties. Whether it is the torturing dictator Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, former terrorist Iyad Allawi – the new head of the Iraqi Interim government, or the paramilitary drug running right-wing death squads of Colombia through US military aid to their allies in the Colombian government and military the Bush administration is there providing funds, arms and training – just like Reagan back in the 80s.
In Reagan’s words
“once we head down that path there would be no end to it, no end to the suffering of innocent people, no end to the bloody ransom all civilized people must pay”.
Time to take a different path
Her Web Diary
I’m not all that sure how I found you and, well, I really don’t know you but day by day, word by word you have slipped into my life.
It’s just your web diary, that’s all I found. And one night through a countless string of web links and right-wrong turns I saw passions spilled and hearts torn wide open like I never knew existed.
And your name too, that’s when I saw your name.
If you could have seen me that night you would have reacted in capital letters. I scoured your diary entries in awe at seeing records I loved written down, in black letters, by someone else. You’d just had the summer I’d always wanted, huddled in cafes and ducking between the shadows of the street market to protect your pale skin. And you said how the summer was only useful for buying cheap winter clothes and how that when November came and darkness fell by mid afternoon you’d breath and you’d sigh like you’d only just started to live. You hated the summer like I hated the summer and waited for the days you could run across the city centre, through violent rain and muddy skies, leaving your shy awkwardness behind with those ugly sun-bleached evenings.
Back then, when I first found you, the clouds could rain almost constant bullets and the days would go by without a word. But now it’s the start of summer and you seem to be at a loose end lately, so you update your diary everyday.
Catching the train to Newcastle, halfway along the east coast mainline, I thought about you. I tried to imagine your reaction when I told you about a record I’d just bought because you said, in your diary, that you had bought it too. You settled on a half-looking glance, twisting your mouth and curling your nose, cringingly embarrassed of course, but flattered all the same. And I only did that just because, maybe I wanted to feel closer to you or somehow know you better when, really, I could never know you any better than this.
In my head, you are talking just like you write - in our conversations, that’s how you talk. You are an over-enthusiastic gaggle of words and sentences blurted out in just seconds. I can only sit there and listen, trying to catch the words that matter most from your precious lips. Your endless rambling on records, band names, twee dramas and the nonsensical ways of filling your time, they mean more to me than maybe they should, like the phone calls I never get or the conversations I wish I could have.
But then I don’t talk like I write, I write to say all those things I cannot say in real life. And maybe you do that too, maybe you are just like me.
If I met you I would find out.
But it should stay forever this way, you gabbling words out, talking through my head, on buses and trains, through east coast railway stations, in capital letters.
Stalking Scottish Popstars - Part 1
It was cold and over-cast when I stepped out of Preswick airport in Glasgow last Saturday morning. I really wasn’t dressed for cold weather. I hadn’t packed a raincoat, though I did find room for a bottle of sun-screen. Despite my sisters disbelief that I would need sun-cream in Scotland, I’m an optimist. I got on the train to the city and hoped it would clear up. I was there for the free Belle and Sebastian gig in the Botanic Gardens as part of the West End Festival.
The weather was still uncertain when I headed to the park with fellow Friends of the Heroes Rachel and Duncan and our picnic lunch. As we got closer to the park, we encountered more and more people with their own packed lunches and bottles of booze.
We arrived at about 1pm and the park was already filling up. We settled down on our picnic blanket in front of the stage. We didn’t have too long to wait until the sun came out and soon we were slathering on the sun cream as the sun got hotter. The park continued to fill up as more and more people came to find a spot on the grass and stretch out with their strawberries and champagne or the Saturday newspapers. Everyone was in good humour and looking forward to the afternoon. Even before the concert started we were all having a good time, chilling out in the sunshine.
The music started at 3pm with the James Orb Complex. Belle and Sebastian had gathered a diverse selection of bands. The James Orb complex was followed by the Mother And The Addicts, V-Twin, Camera Obscura and the Trashcan Sinatras and they were all well-received by an enthusiastic crowd.
The band people were really there to see were Belle and Sebastian and they were not disappointed. By the time the Belles came on stage the park must have been nearly full. There were people sitting and standing, singing and dancing as far as the eye could see and the band got a great reception. The band seemed as happy as the rest of us to be there as they launched into ‘I Fought in a War’. The set list included both old and new songs, including ‘Sleep the Clock Around’ with a real-live piper and ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ with Ms Monica Queen. There were hand-clapping for ‘Boy with the Arab Strap’ and finger-clicking for ‘Roy Walker’.
Belle and Sebastian is a fun band to see live because there’s so many of them and so much to watch from the diverse percussion instruments to Stevie’s poses and Stuart’s dancing. Not to mention the faces Richard pulls from behind drums! There was a wonderful moment when Stevie, Bob and Mick were all strumming away in unison, and looking just like the Robert Palmer girls, through without the lipstick and the tight skirts.
It was a magnificent gig. I was surrounded by people singing along and having a wonderful time. It had been almost a year since I had seen any live music and over two and a half since I had seen Belle and Sebastian live and it was really the most wonderful day. It was worth getting up at 5.30 to get on a plane to Glasgow and it was worth the sunburnt shoulders!
And when the gig ended and we were all slowly herded out of the park, it seemed that everyone had had just a good a time as I did. Everyone was in good spirits and the whole thing seemed to be very well organised. The whole thing ran very smoothly, though that was possibly due to the niceness of the crowd who I found utterly charming! Not only is Scottish weather fabulous but the people are really friendly too!
It was a marvellous way to start the festival season, and I look forward to coming back and doing it all over again next year – with stronger sun cream!
Stalking Scottish Popsters.
This Monday morning I found myself in work with a very soar back and throat, my feet were aching slightly and my eyes looked in the words of a kind friend "like someone has been beating you up".
These small ailments meant a major victory in my life. Afterall I had been to see Belle and Sebastian and ballboy I had survived without knocking myself unconscious! (Readers who are unable to see the obvious victory in this situation, should please note that most of my birthdays from the age of 3-9, were spent either in casualty or lying in a darkened room while I recovered from over-excitement/head injuries)
The weekend itself consisted of 48 hours of peputual excitement brought about by seeing bands that mean something to me. I know the words to their songs not because I have a good memory, but because I have listened to their CDs a hundred times. Listening to their music makes me feel a little bit happier and hearing their words makes it a little bit easier to be myself. But before I get carried away I should remember that I am only supposed to be writing about day two of this musical extravaganza. With that in mind I'll begin…
It all began at 8pm Sunday 13th June inside the Tron Theatre, for an amnesty international benefit concert.
At around that time I found myself sat in a rather comfortable seat, feeling that I was missing popcorn, or at least a soft drink of some kind. The audience was made up of an odd mismatch of people young and slightly older who seemed a little wary when our host for the evening, Andy Gray, announced that he wanted participation from us.
He also told us that the aim of the night's entertainment was to generate awareness for issues that amnesty was involved in. I noted that he had chosen the word awareness rather than excitement and sat somberly trying to look mildly respectable. First on the agenda was a play by an American theatre company 7:84. After discussions at the interval and we decided that the play wanted to make us aware that we shouldn't be so caught up in our daily lives that we become blind to everything happening around us. Either that or you should never marry a woman who doesn't like chicken.
We also watched various speakers, who presented well thought out arguments about the worldwide problem of firearm misuse. I don't know if you know this, but it is illegal for individual in this country to supply arms which result in injury or death. However it is not illegal for a country to supply firearms to another country with bad human rights records.
Then their was quite a change of mood as comedian Sandy Nelson came onto to stage and gave us a rendition of one of the most err.. graphic love songs I have ever heard entitled:
"ram it right up ye!"
Who needs flowers and chocolates when you have a song writing gift like that?!
Despite the fact that it was an amnesty concert they then decided to torture us by making us wait a whole hour for the next act, which is you haven't guessed was ballboy!
By the time the band appeared on stage the audience seemed to have changed, or at least shuffled about. And so I found myself surrounded by other excited individuals talking about the last concert they had seen or the last album they had bought. I listened quietly and was pleased with the fact that I was the only excited person present that night.
As I started playing I remembered why they were one of my favourite bands. Their songs and lyrics cut clean lines air and the words they chose seem to fit together like perfect pieces in a jigsaw. And despite the arguments I have from people who say they find band depressing I find them inspiring. They sing songs about hopes and dreams, and the future.
Of course between songs we were treated to stories about the queen, and dreams about football, but all too soon it was over and it was time to make a hasty retreat and 100 mile drive south.
As we drove through Glasgow the city was still apart from the tussle of cars, and the air was still warm. Blue lights reflected from under the bridges crossing the Clyde . I felt peaceful. It was all over and I could relax in a warm glow of memories.
I hope that this won't be the last weekend of its kind, and I hope that I both bands will continue to have long and prosperous careers. And when they do I hope that they will not mind the presence an overexcited fan appearing in their audience on a regular basis.