Monthly Archives: December 2006

… and Ulster will be wrong

The annual file-fest that is the release of State Papers got its brief hour of publicity. This fills up newsprint between the stale turkey and the New Year’s Honours (more turkeys). For most sub-editors it is a delight because it can all be pre-processed. The real dirt takes longer (and the commitment of some ambitious PhD student).

Malcolm found the gem of the 1976 State documents (as so far revealed) was the Wilson memorandum, more particularly his fears over a Unionist putsch and UDI.

To show that little changes in the minds of some folk, we should refer to Eric Waugh in the Belfast Telegraph as recently as 7th December.

Waugh proposed “an independent state of Northern Ireland”. Typically, as Unionist parlance since 1921 has had it, he confuses “Northern Ireland” with “Ulster”. Malcolm finds it somewhere between irritating and incredible that he repeatedly needs to clarify that Ulster (Uladh) comprises nine counties, six of which are “Northern Ireland” (though the most northern county of Ireland is not in “Northern Ireland”).

Waugh’s tissue of speculation is that some statelet could opt out of the Union, out of the island of Ireland, out of the European Union, and survive as a tax-haven. His model is the Isle of Man (population something like 78,000).

Meanwhile, the rest of us would be expected to contribute generously, for “the new state would require bolstering for up to 20 years by the UK, the EU – and possibly the US and even the Republic”. That, of course, ignores the continued tax revenue bled away by this parasitical “new state”. Let’s put that into proportion. Government expenditure in Northern Ireland is something in the region of £16B, which exceeds by a degree the £780M of gross expenditure by the Manx government.

Malcolm suspects that Waugh’s ideal would be more modest: pulling the wagons into a circle around the defensible Protestant heartland of Antrim, Down and Portadown, perhaps. This nicely unhitches the Nationalist baggage train, and leaves Dublin and Europe to pick up the pieces in the high unemployment areas.

Wilson was a pragmatic (one of his own favourite words) politician: Malcolm expects his oft-maligned reputation will enhance with time (for one example and modern comparison, in denying Washington’s pressure to engage in Vietnam). His opinions and fears remain relevant and should not be lightly discounted (as they were then by those omniscient mandarins of Whitehall, who managed to get things so “right” in the intervening thirty years).

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Burying bad news

Malcolm hopes that one more tombstone will not go unmarked.

By one of those coincidences that only happen with efficient news-management, Christmas Day marked the moment when the 2,974th US death in Iraq exceeded the toll on 9/11. AP have the story, but it is easily accessed here.

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No complaints of the season

This isn’t the blog that Malcolm intended (that’s a paeon to the hand-crossed ballot slip) but it seems somehow more relevant today.

Malcolm has, as they say, serious issues with most aspects of formal religion and its myriad convolutions [Why, for example, is it always emphatically the “theory of evolution” versus unqualified “creationism”?]. Even so, he has been heard to mutter that he likes ritual and music (and even smells and bells) in his “worship”. He is quite prepared to admit he is one of those whom Pope (that’s Alexander) castigated:

Some to church repair,
Not for the doctrine but for the music there.

So he was quite happy to go along with the first Leader in today’s Washington Post, suggesting that the Christmas story, despite its improbabilities and inconsistencies, is

a story not just of divinity, as it’s seen by Christians, but of humanity — and for all of us.

The essential conceit, a parallel of the Augustan Roman Empire with the present one true Superpower, resonates:

Today our own country, while never untroubled, is enjoying itself on an Augustan scale. But there is, of course, no peace. A good many of our noblest — the Roman allusion is merited here — are in difficult and dangerous conditions in that same faraway part of the world where the story of this day was set. And today a good number of them, whether religious or not, will take needed comfort in the old tale and in the atmosphere of the day and the greetings from home — most now carried instantaneously on a glowing screen, which is the new light of Christmas and bearer of good tidings. Keep it shining this day, long and often.

Nice writing, nice punch-line. So, while we cannot wish for “peace on earth”, let’s offer, and take, a little comfort.

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Ancient Chinese curse (no. 92):

May you concur with your enemies.

It really makes Malcolm’s teeth grate to have to agree, even in small part, with the misbegotten crepusculars of the Right. So Simon Jenkins in Wednesday’s Guardian caused him some dental distress. Jenkins started from a premise that (apart from the superior style) might have come straight from the Daily Turd:

What is the matter with the Conservative party? It once claimed a nodding acquaintance with the cause of liberty. Now it runs with the corporatist pack. If there is anything to be banned, regulated or computerised, it howls from the dispatch box for “something to be done”. Be it prostitutes, drugs, prisons, NHS computers, data protection or civil rights, the Tories are desperate not to be seen as out of the action. Libertarians in Britain are a disenfranchised class.

Now, Malcolm would have to accept that, except to cavil that “libertarians” are all of the Right persuasion. It grieves him to the nth degree that “liberty” and its associations have become a possession of the Right. The essence of Jenkins’s argument is that

it will have taken a serial killing to address the law on prostitution, a typical “consensual crime” in which the greatest harm is caused by the manner in which the state tries to suppress it.

While [Tory Deputy Leader and Home Affairs spokesman]

David Davis, castigates libertarians who want “prostitution and drugs reform” …
The Tories could tell us exactly what a modern Conservative means by a free society, and list the regulations and restrictions they intend to repeal in their bonfire of controls. They could seize the moment of the Ipswich headlines by declaring their determination to end counter-productive bans on consensual crime. Merely preaching an end to government interference in the private affairs of citizens is hypocritical if, when case after case comes along, Cameron funks mentioning it for fear of the press.

Now Malcolm goes along with much of that. Except that the Tory Party has traditionally and habitually argued on the basis of “do as I say, not as I do”. While preaching and imposing a higher standard of morality, the average Top Tory has gouged, exploited and prostituted the lower orders. When Oscar Wilde gave Algernon his aphorism, he was making the point:

Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.

And that’s from 1895.

Readers should realise that Malcolm, too, comes from another age, the age of permissiveness. Permissiveness got, unfairly, a bad press. It did not mean a selfish “let it all hang out”. It said that everyone should be free to do as he or she wished, provided it did not intrude on the freedom or comfort of others. In other words, it was good manners and good behaviour expanded to natural and obvious social limits. It was a pragmatic social anarchism, but (like all anarchisms) it was not nihilism. It involved applying good personal and social rules.

Malcolm’s grasp of anarchism as a developed philosophy came mainly from George Woodcock’s book, in those days a blue-covered Pelican text. It contains a telling anecdote. Anselme de Bellegarigue met Communards and challenged them: they had elected a government, and so were already enslaved. That, of course, is taking matters to an extreme. It has a truth, though, in that modern democratic governments elect their own super-government by putting themselves in thrall to the tabloid press. Downing Street (and Tory shadow cabineteers) do the utmost to bring Murdoch on side. The Bushies cuddle up to Fox News and the shock-jocks. A would-be French president apparently condones bikini shots.

Surely the time has come for the Left to reclaim the cause of personal liberty. How about this as a statement of modern syndicalism?

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

Yet that is, for crying out loud, Ayn Rand, in an appendix to Atlas Shrugged. She was, of course, merely restating good, old Tom Paine’s Rights of Man:

What is government more than the management of the affairs of a Nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family, but the whole community. The romantic and barbarous distinction of men into Kings and subjects, though it may suit the condition of courtiers, cannot that of citizens. …

Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

Paine, as G.D.H.Cole put it, was

… the first fundamental social programme put forward on behalf of the people since the days of Winstanley and the Diggers.

And, for Socialists, Paine is definitely one of ours, rather than theirs. [Malcolm was staggered to discover that his edition of Cole’s History of Socialist Thought, bought on a student’s income in the 1960s, was now charged at $1,125 on Amazon.]

So Malcolm proposes that Socialists should be prepared to cede compulsion as a policy to the Rightists, and adopt a “less-is-more” attitude to social legislation. The present Blair administration has (and even deservedly) earned a reputation for nannying the populace. After a decade, let’s restore the balance, and empower the individual against statism. We have been here before: when Jenkins uses the phrase “bonfire of controls” it is advisedly. Ludwig Erhard was using the term as far back as 1948, at the time the German currency was being reformed. Erhard, let it be remembered,

believed that only under a free market economy could an individual find true freedom, and that only a free society and free economy would deliver the wealth needed for humane social policies and programmes.

And that sounds suspiciously like the “Third Way”. The phrase, “bonfire of controls”, then became the mantra of the first two years of Churchill’s 1951 Government (Tories being never slow to jump and commandeer a band-wagon); but Harold Wilson, as President of the Board of Trade, was using it in abolishing the war-time rationing during the latter years of the Attlee Government.

By the by, Malcolm was re-reading the speeches of Herbert Morrison recently: Morrison had the reputation of being the great corporatist and author of State Capitalism in the post-war reconstruction. Even so, what comes across, repeatedly, in these speeches is a balance:

Man does not live by bread alone, and good government does not exist by legislation alone … If voluntary agreement is effective, I like it well enough. It’s OK by me! … The ideas and ideals of the past have proved their worth and have up to a point, like the ideals of the Liberals before us, been tacitly accepted by all parties. … We each of us are free and we each know that we cannot keep our democratic freedom without sharing its responsibilities.

At a time when Cameroonies are becoming some kind of Labour-lite, while David Davis ponces around as the Grand Inquisitor and Witchfinder General, let’s really put one up them. Let’s give the editor of the Daily Mail palpitions, and go with Baudelaire: “Il faut épater les bourgeois.”

Labour’s (long-overdue) reforms of drinking and gambling laws seem not to have pulled the roof of the temple down upon us. Next, for what Jenkins felicitously calls “consensual crime”. If there is no victim, why should it be criminalised? And Jenkins is correct: feeding a drug-habit means the male turns to robbery, and the female to prostitution. One involves a crime against property: the other a challenge to propriety. We have, in the case of the sex industry, created a whole spectrum of shame: at the opposite end [sic] to Ipswich’s Portman Road, les grandes horizontales enjoy public celebrity, yea the company of the owners of those newspapers that condemn their less-famous sisters. Even the consort of the British monarch could hardly arch his eyebrow: he has been attributed with the view:

I don’t think a prostitute is more moral than a wife, but they are doing the same thing.

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A curious silence?

Two days ago, Malcolm was one of the few to pick up (from the Sunday Tribune) the quite extra-ordinary story of an intimate (if heated) exchange of emails. They involved:

  • two DUP eminents: an MP (Jeffrey Donaldson), and an MLA, aspiring inheritor of the North Antrim Westminster franchise, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the DUP spokesperson on justice (all that, Ian Paisley, Jr), and
  • a convicted double UFF murderer, who has now found Jesus, but neither humility nor a civil tongue (Kenny McClinton).

What is astonishing is the silence that has followed. The murky implications of this correspondence may need spelling out:

  • McClinton claims that he has access to the DUP rank-and-file, whom the leadership are ignoring. He is suggesting that the “long war” is not over.
  • McClinton implies Paisley is failing to repay a political blood debt: “I went out on the 10th May 1977 and shot a man DEAD … to back up your father’s less than popular call for a strike”.
  • He contrasts the “good, high-paid jobs” and “large bank balances” of “DUP politicians and their sons” with the “ex-loyalist prisoners” who are “treated like something scraped off the sole of someone’s shoe; unemployable; living on social benefits” [sic].
  • In return, Paisley is making it clear that the DUP’s main interest is manipulating the policing issue to provoke strife within Sinn Fein: “Rejoice, our enemy is turning against themselves.”
  • Donaldson, despite McClinton’s abuse, more in sorrow than in anger, still greets McClinton as “a brother in the Lord.” However, he specifically asks McClinton to support the DUP leadership’s approach, as the only alternative to the Westminster “deeply green Plan B … Is that what you fought for, Kenny?”
  • Paisley had tried to secure a visa for McClinton to get into the US, despite his terrorism and murder convictions, so that he could “preach the Word”.

Let it be emphasised: Paisley and Donaldson are prime candidates to inherit the DUP leadership.

So why has the mainstream media neglected this? It is surely as significant as any MP caught playing “hide the sausage” in the wrong bedroom. Yet … silence. Even the magnificent Slugger O’Toole now seems to have lost interest: the debate thereon petered out over the issue of when a terrorist became an “ex-terrorist” (try replacing “terrorist” with, say, “rapist” or “killer” to evaluate the logic of that one).

To put it bluntly, who is leaning on whom to bring peace-and-harmony?

Meanwhile the cleavage within the DUP deepens by the day. Mainlanders may need reminding that politics in the “North” are often more akin to those of the US Deep South than to the usual UK civilised mud-wrestling. The repulsive George Wallace of Alabama steadily moved to the fringes of racism:

Seymore Trammell, Wallace’s former finance … recalls a talk with Wallace after the [1958 Alabama Governorship] defeat: “He said, ‘Seymore, do you know why I lost that governor’s race?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure, Judge. What do you think?’ He said, ‘Seymore, I was out-niggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be out-niggered again.'” [Source]

Similarly, every leader of every strand of Ulster Unionism seems doomed to be eventually out-flanked by the die-hard segregationalists to his Right: O’Neill, Faulkner; Trimble and now Paisley. Not so long ago (indeed it still appears as the first hit when one googles “DUP”), the Paisleyites were proud to be

The most religiously fundamentalist of all the Unionist parties and the leading party opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.

As of now, that link to “what we stand for” seems, curiously, broken.

The real issue is how, over the last couple of weeks, the omens for trouble within the DUP have multiplied, since Lynda Gilby in Sunday Life (the Belfast Telegraph in drag) wrote it up two Sundays past:

The DUP power struggle has begun, so sit back and watch the show.

Toppling Paisley as leader is probably unthinkable at this point.

So, as things stand, we may well have to wait until the ‘Big Man’ is called to his maker for the real fun to begin.

Either way, for the DUP, disarray beckons.

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“Bizarre”: you’d better believe it!

The [Irish] Sunday Tribune is not easily available east of the Kish light. Malcolm believes the following ought to be more widely circulated:

DUP in bizarre correspondence with loyalist murderer over St Andrew’s deal

Suzanne Breen Northern Editor

SENIOR DUP figures have been engaged in a bizarre exchange of emails over the St Andrew’s agreement with the loyalist double murderer, Pastor Kenny McClinton.

The correspondence with MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Ian Paisley jnr has been released exclusively to the Sunday Tribune by McClinton, who was the Loyalist Volunteer Force’s point of contact with the international decommissioning body.

McClinton opposes the St Andrew’s agreement and believes the DUP are “selling out unionism” by preparing to allow “unrepentant terrorists into government”.

The emails disclose that the DUP sees the agreement as a means of smashing the republican movement, with the policing issue as the final nail in the coffin.

In one email, Paisley jnr states: “We couldn’t kill them but we can destroy them and their ideology.” A republican who accepts the police is no longer a republican, he says.

“Look whose [sic] under pressure tonight . . . the traitors in Sinn Fein, traitors to republicanism! Rejoice, our enemy is turning against themselves.”

In his email, Donaldson addresses the convicted loyalist paramilitary as “a brother in the Lord”. He says no-one in the DUP likes the prospect of Sinn Fein in government but unionism is winning.

“It is clear Sinn Fein/IRA are under serious internal pressure and may well be incapable of delivering on what is required in terms of support for participation in British democracy, support for a British Police Service and recognition of British Courts and British Justice.

All of this with no prospect of a United Ireland in our lifetime. No wonder their rank and file are deeply concerned.

“These decisions are a million miles away from 1916 and the declaration of a 32-county republic. In short, the IRA has lost the battle for a United Ireland.”

Donaldson warns if unionism rejects what’s on offer, the British government will proceed with a “deeply green Plan B”, including joint sovereignty. He asks the ex-loyalist paramilitary, “Is this what you fought for, Kenny?”

In his email to Ian Paisley jnr, McClinton speaks of anger among lifelong DUP supporters and accuses the leadership of “playing party politics with your groupies, flatterers, and ‘YES’ men”.

“And while we are at it YOUNG MAN, don’t you ever in your life question my loyalty or commitment to the country I love! There’s more loyalty in my big toe than you have in your entire body!

“Where were whippersnappers like YOU when I was walking the wings of the Hblocks stark naked on the loyalist blanket protest? Where were you then, BOY?

“How dare you throw snide remarks at me. I went out on the 10th May 1977 and shot a man DEAD to take all public transport off the roads of Ulster . . . why? Because I was into shooting people dead? No!

In an attempt to back up your father’s less than popular call for a strike.

“Like the rest of you political clowns, you make plenty of TALK but actually do nothing but draw wages. I’m finished with you, and your party.”

In his response to Donaldson, McClinton claims ex-loyalist prisoners are “treated like something scraped off the sole of someone’s shoe; unemployable; living on social security benefits”.

He asks if he went to jail to ensure “DUP politicians and their sons. . . were put into good, high-paid jobs, amass large bank balances over years and years of our poverty, and wined and dined by the so-called ‘great and the good’ whose company the DUP now seem to covet while ex-Loyalist combatants are treated as scum.

Are these, perhaps, what I ‘fought for’, Jeffrey?”

He claims the DUP cares only about votes but, at the assembly elections on 7 March, “God willing, the DUP just might get one very nasty surprise. This worm is turning.”

McClinton said he released the emails “because country comes before confidentiality”. He said he regretted his terrorist involvement, which had ended 30 years ago.

Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Kenny McClinton is someone with a terrorist background who has himself stood for election and failed to achieve a mandate. He is mistaken if he thinks by publishing these emails he will embarrass the DUP. I’m happy to stand by everything I wrote.”

Donaldson said McClinton’s behaviour relating to the emails was “very unChristian by someone who professes to be a brother in the Lord”.

Ian Paisley jnr said: “My emails speak for themselves.

I’ve no difficulty with their publication . . . indeed, given the person I was dealing with, it’s not unexpected. Kenny had no problems begging me to help get him a visa to the US where he wants to ‘preach The Word’.

“He has a lot more to lose from the publication of these emails than me. By his actions, he is undermining unionism.

It’s Sinn Fein which will be celebrating the actions of Kenny McClinton. If this is the calibre of opposition to the DUP within unionism, people will draw their own conclusions.”

EXTRACTS FROM THE McCLINTON/PAISLEY EMAILS

Dear Ian jnr & D.U.P. Party Executive, > Grace and peace unto you and yours in Christ’s great and omniscent [sic] Name, my friends; may your hearts and minds be “lled [sic] with thoughts of Him. and the peace He alone can bring. Amen.

You guys in the Executive of the Party need to promptly turn this situation around before it is too late. The Executive need to get together and start to LISTEN to the dissenting voices within your own ranks, for such dissenters are politicians and politicians will not voice dissent unless they are certain that the grassroots DUP electorate are already voicing such complete dissent on the streets of our land!

The argument reportedly posited by your father that the I.R.A. would be virtually destroyed once Sinn Fein give their full support to the PSNI and Policing Board would be a sound agrument IF those signing up to Policing within Northern Ireland, UK, were honourable people, they are not. Their ‘long war’ is not over – it is merely going into different mode.

Sinn Fein in Government/Real I.R.A. in full war mode.

> With love in Truth, > Dr Cornelius K. McClinton BA (Hons); MA; Ph.D. ; D.Litt.

Ulster/American Christian Fellowship Hi Kenny once again thanks for your email even though I think your not seeing the entire picture. Look whose under pressure tonight – the traitors in Sinn Fein, traitors to republicanism! Rejoice our enemy is turning against themselves.

Its about time unionists recognised when such division within the camp of the enemy is in no small part down to our strategy of dividing them on the vital matter of law and order. Credit where credit is due! !

Well, well! That takes “bizarre” to new levels. It proves an on-going link between the DUP leadership and a blood-stained member of the UFF murder gang.

Kenny McClinton, a hardliner from the Shankill, progressed from the UDR (which trained him well) into the UDA and then to be a killer for the UFF. He developed a nice line in mailing book-bombs. In May 1977 McClinton shot Harry Bradshaw, a (Protestant) Citybus driver who had failed to toe the line when the UDA/DUP called a transport strike. He was arrested in August 1977, and eventually received two life sentences for murder. In the H-blocks he became a leader of the loyalists’ blanket protest, spending extended periods in solitary for violence to prison staff. On 12 August 1979 he suffered a damascene conversion: the H-blocks had similar effects on other loyalist killers, including Torrens Knight, the Greysteel killer, and Billy “King Rat” Wright.

He is now “Dr. C.K. McClinton, BA (Hons), MA, PhD, D. Litt., Pastor of the Ulster/American Christian Fellowship Mission”. The only legitimate degree there is an Open University Social Studies BA, earned in the nick. The rest are paper from bible-bashing degree-mills. His ordination is through “Moments of Faith International” of Waco, Texas. Devout souls may wish to send their wallets to him.

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Pinochet: the blame game

Malcolm, for once not entirely convincing us, believes a Connacht newspaper acknowledged the lingering death, after an assassination attempt, of Hendrick Verwoerd with the valediction: “He was a rotten bastard, God rot his soul” (or words to that effect). So let it be with Pinochet.

Any obituary of Pinochet which misses the “why?” factor should be instantly discounted. So, Malcolm urges all to bestir themselves and study Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File. There is also a full hard-copy on Amazon. Beginners might even start here.

Kornbluh unpicked the US Government files to show how Pinochet was manufactured, established and maintained as a tool of US policy.

Nixon’s own tapes show him, on Kissinger’s advice, planning to subvert Allende by “anything short of a Dominican-type action”. The most readable account is Chris Hitchens stitching up a prosecution case against Kissinger: the original articles were in Harper’s, but see here.

Hitchens makes it clear that the intention came from Nixon, repaying debts to Pepsico and ITT. The mechanics, the “hard line”, came from Kissinger, pliant to his President’s will, eager to please, and the arch-manipulator chairing the “40 committee”. Kissinger forthwith instigated the plot to assassinate General Rene Schneider, Head of the Chilean Army, who was too prissy and legalistic for US needs. Let it be understood: Kissinger planned the operation, actively sought out fascistic elements in Chile, and supplied untraceable weaponry, that a inconvenient and loyal officer might be removed from the equation. As Tom Lehrer put it: political satire died when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The “soft line” of US intervention was, in Richard Helms’ account of Nixon’s words, to “make the [Chilean] economy scream.” The US ambassador in Chile was ordered “to do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty.”

The Church Commission is cited as absolving the CIA from involvement in the 1973 military coup in Chile. Not so fast, says Malcolm. Hitchens and other researchers show otherwise: that the CIA and other agencies of US policy actively recruited and supplied the military in the build-up to the other 9/11 (the bloody 1973 coup in Chile). Even more: there seems then to have been a cover-up, involving US complicity in the murder of its own citizens. Witness the unresolved case of Charles Horman (try Thomas Hauser’s book, which was the basis for the 1982 movie, Missing, over which the US Ambassador in Chile (Nat Davies) tried to sue. Another victim was Frank Teruggi.

Lest we forget …

And, inevitably, an eldrich screech from today’s Daily Telegraph:

Baroness Thatcher, who remained a loyal supporter to the last, was said to be “greatly saddened” by the news.

General Pinochet
General Pinochet: thousands were killed or disappeared during his time in power

She maintained that Gen Pinochet had offered vital help to Britain during the Falklands conflict in 1982.

A spokesman said Lady Thatcher would not be issuing a formal statement but would be sending her “deepest condolences” to Gen Pinochet’s widow and family.

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Vote early and often!
Strictly for the information of the generality, and not in any spirit of self-adulation (you understand), Malcolm drew our attention to page 56 of this week’s Economist. He insisted we study it in full and in depth:

Another election mess in Florida
WASHINGTON, DC

Big doubts about a narrow victory

SINCE it is a place where alligator wrestling is a recognised pastime and tourists wear hats with Mickey Mouse ears, you might think that Florida would be immune to embarrassment. But after its punch-card ballots threw the 2000 presidential election into chaos, the state made a decisive move. It outlawed punch-cards and spent millions of dollars on touchscreen voting machines instead.

“There’ll never be a hanging, dangling, or pregnant chad again,” vowed Katherine Harris who was Florida’s secretary of state at the time of the election. In 2002, Ms Harris was elected to the national House of Representatives.

But now voters are realising that a mangled paper record is better than none at all. “At least we had the ability to determine a voter’s intentions,” said Dan Smith of the University of Florida. This year’s election to Florida’s 13th congressional district provides a handy lesson in the pitfalls of electronic voting. Weeks after election day, it is still being contested. In an odd coincidence, it is the seat Ms Harris decided to vacate to pursue a disastrous Senate run.

Initial results showed a narrow lead for the Republican, Vern Buchanan. A recount gave him a 369-vote victory. Good enough to settle the matter in some circumstances, but not these. Sarasota County, one of four (plus a fragment of a fifth) that make up the district, had an abnormally high rate of “undervotes” in the race. More than 18,000 of its ballots recorded no vote for Mr Buchanan or the Democrat, Christine Jennings. That meant that 13% of Sarasota voters failed to choose a House candidate, compared with roughly 2% in neighbouring counties. Sarasotans cast more votes for the hospital board than they did for their representative in Washington.

Because the machines provide no paper record, no one can say for sure whether the missing votes, if counted more carefully, could have changed the outcome. But pre-election polls showed Ms Jennings in the lead. If the missing votes split at the same rate as the rest of the county, she would easily have won. Ms Jennings has filed a lawsuit asking for are-run.

Officials at first downplayed the story. “I’m not sure there’s even a problem,” said a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, theorising that voters sat out the race to protest against negative campaigning. But everyone in the district saw the same nasty ads and the pronounced undervote was limited to Sarasota County.

Working out what went wrong will be complicated. In court filings, Ms Jennings attributed the undervote to “pervasive malfunctioning of electronic voting machines”. The state made election workers re-cast thousand of ballots to test the machines. Discrepancies abounded, but this only proved that there were problems during the test. “Florida election officials”, sighed one local paper, “now have two mysteries to solve.” Many are blaming a poor ballot design in Sarasota that squeezed the House race onto the same screen as the governor’s race.

At least one question got a clear answer on election day. Voters were asked whether Sarasota County should provide paper ballots, to be counted by optical scanners, in future elections. Some 55% said yes, and no one is disputing that.

Malcolm, visibly chuffed, reminded us of his previous postings on the topic: “Ahead of the news again,” he said. When we pressed him, he suggested that the Economist was deficient in two respects:

  • The account minimised the malign influence of Katherine Harris, the onlie-true begetter of Florida’s electronic voting system.
  • The little piccy (as above) accompanying the piece, a disembodied hand at a voting screen, is captioned “The perils of technology”. Malcolm feels this is disingenuous, to say the least. Don’t blame the technology, but nail those who chose this inadequate system.

Let’s stick with this second point. Florida and Ohio are the two States where most problems with electronic voting have been encountered. In both cases the defects have favoured Republican candidates. In August 2003 Walden W. O’Dell, a major Republican fund-raiser, sent out a message to his fellow big-bucks contributors:

I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.

Nothing wrong with that, surely! Dedication to a cause (albeit one of which Malcolm disapproves).

Well, the aforesaid Mr O’Dell was Chief Executive of Diebold Inc, of Canton, Ohio. He resigned, in haste, in December 2005 over charges of insider trading. The company seems accident-prone: there was the small matter of $2.6M to California for dodgy election machines Another $125K went for threatening websites who had blown the whistle on defects in Diebold machinery (the dished dirt should be here: it amounts to how anyone with a laplop, a wireless link and a sussed password could manipulate elections). Diebold manufacture and support the voting machines used in Ohio and elsewhere. Allegations of complicity between Diebold and Ohio Republicans abound (try here). In any event, elections in Ohio emit an unpleasant odour: Malcolm repeats his recommendation of Robert F. Kennedy Jr‘s article in Rolling Stone, also available here. Another useful source on the perfidies of 2004 is makethemaccountable.

The Diebold election machine branch is based in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas: it’s not that Malcolm is being any more paranoid that usual, but he has to note that’s a quick bash up I35 and US75 from Crawford, Texas.

Students of the “Nothing works faster than Brand X” (Well, then, I’m better off using Nothing!) school of double talk will enjoy the innuendo of Diebold’s press release of 13th November, after the mid-terms:

On Election Day 2006, voters in many states across the nation used electronic voting technology from Diebold Election Systems to cast their votes and sign in at polling locations. Ballots cast across the states of Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Utah and elsewhere were counted accurately and securely by election officials using Diebold touch-screen and optical scan electronic voting machines.

While there were some minor problems – both human and technical – that are typical in every election, voters cast their ballots on Diebold electronic voting machines with confidence and ease.


And a footnote: “Katherine Harris crazy” is now defined in the Urban Dictionary.

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Pin-heads and angels

Malcolm likes the legend of a young Ian Paisley (yes, there was one) being interviewed about his break-away from mainstream Presbyterianism.

“What,” the interviewer reasonably posed, “is the difference between Free Presbyterians and ordinary Presbyterians?”

Paisley thundered back (so that, at least, is credible): “They believe you are pre-das-tined to be dommed; but we believe you’ll be dommed on yer merits!”

So Malcolm was entertained by the exchange between Paisley and Gerry Adams in the Assembly on Monday. Adams had twitted Paisley by referring to the Presbyterians from Templepatrick who supported the United Irishmen of 1798. Paisley retorted that the Templepatrick Six were not proper Presbyterians at all, they were “Arians or Unitarians”; and they and the Rising had been disowned by the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster.

However, Malcolm’s chortling how, two centuries on, such matters could provide a basis for heated debate faded yesterday. They were strangled by the icy hand of Useless McCann columnising for the Belfast Telly. To Malcolm and his mates back in the early ’60s, Eamon McCann was “Useless” as a young Trot, and unrelentingly useless and trotty he has remained. His degree of utility is effectively defined by this piece: dismissively, but seriously, discussing whether a restoration of the Assembly would trigger a Papal visit, and then using this to recount (a) Tone’s view on the Papacy and (b) clerical involvement in Sinn Fein, circa 1916.

McCann has had a prime, perhaps unique, viewpoint for the whole northern Irish tragedy for the last 40-odd years: Malcolm’s complaint is his use thereof. Possessed of some presence, and a shrewd tongue, McCann had been never self-effacing, never failing to seize any pulpit available. He has scribbled, endlessly, in the cause of ideological purity, and—to be fair—he is possessed of a good pen. Electorally, though, he has been unrelenting in his opportunism. He stood in the 1970 Westminster election against Eddie McAteer as “Derry Labour”, thus neatly splitting the anti-Unionist vote. By 2003 he was representing the “Socialist Environmental Alliance” in the Foyle constituency: Useless McCameleon ran 9th of the 13 candidates, and his 5.5% made the difference between two SF glove-puppets: so, again, a neat vote-splitting. In the 2005 Westminster election his vote dropped to a pointless and harmless 3.6%. All this seems appropriate for the Unionist Telly‘s pet Trot.

As for damnation, let’s have another bit of anecdotage. In ’65, Trinity Fabians were filling and swilling the idle evening hour in O’Neill’s. By the third pint the giggle was “public trial and ritual humiliation in Lansdowne Road, public execution in Croke Park”. Malcolm made his excuses to go to the bog. When he returned he found he had been promoted to number six in the pogrom of public enemies. Useless was still well ahead on points, though.

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Blood on whose hands?

Malcolm sees that First Post was trailing the imminent MacEntee Report, due next week. With luck, other media may pick up the baton.

Let’s run the iron over First Post for a start. It seems to be a native attempt to emulate slate.com. Its intentions are laudable. Its presentation is slick. Its columnists and correspondents are the great and the good. So far it has made as much impression as a southbound gnat on a northbound windscreen. Perhaps it is nothing more than a shot-in-the-dark:

The First Post is owned by First Post News Group Limited and is backed by private investors who are involved in the development of new media opportunities. The Non-Executive Chairman of the company is Mike Turner.

The correspondence address is down in the sticks, at the same Cheltenham address as the Higher Education Statistics Agency; and the whole set-up seems pree-ty mis-ter-i-ous. James Robinson did a few paragraphs on the venture in the Observer last year that told us the brains behind the operation is Mark Law. Law was the long-time (and competent) Comment editor of the Sunday Telegraph, until he got the boot in September 2004. See the Indy’s Diary for the odd straw plucked from the wind.

Malcolm is not yet greatly impressed by First Post. Robinson quoted Law’s prospectus:

This is journalism commissioned specially for the net and is not the just a byproduct of a newspaper or broadcasting organisation… Our target readership is well-educated people between 25 and 50 who don’t have a lot of time. More and more people now expect information to be free and they are frustrated with the sheer volume that newspapers chuck at them.

Well, yes, but there’s bite-sized and there’s crumb-sized, “without the need to scroll”; there’s thin and there’s gauzy.

So, then, to the meat course.

What’s this MacEntee Report? Well, there have already been half a dozen of them, all “interim”, all non-events, but increasingly promising more to come. Patrick MacEntee (a silk in both Irish and English bars) had been set single-handed to investigate the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. His final report was due at the end of October this year, but suddenly he came looking for an extension of six weeks, promising shock-horror revelations to come. So far MacEntee has kept his cards very close to his chest.

And what’s it all about, Malcolm? Well, o best beloved, here’s the Guardian’s summary:

On the morning of May 17 1974, two cars were hijacked in loyalist areas of Belfast and a third was stolen. A fourth was taken from a car park in Portadown. In the late afternoon, during Dublin’s Friday rush-hour, the three from Belfast exploded without warning in the city centre within 90 seconds of each other. The Monaghan bomb went off 1 hours later. No one claimed responsibility. There have been no prosecutions.

33 died, over 200 were injured. All of these numbers are +/- the odd unborn child, you know. The UDA were, allegedly, striking back.

From the beginning, there was something very fishy about the Gardai’s behaviour: they seemed to have no clue as to how to handle the investigation, and quickly lost active interest. Then there was the curious nature of the bombs: they showed a degree of sophistication never before seen among the Prod para-militaries. As time has gone by, a narrative has emerged.

In 1993 Yorkshire TV did a programme, (and Malcolm is still borrowing from The Guardian):

First Tuesday broadcast Hidden Hand: the Forgotten Massacre. Given unprecedented access to Garda files and personnel, the programme made the following assertions:
• Witnesses were able to identify eight suspects, including two of the drivers.
Within weeks both the Garda and the RUC had a list of 20 suspects, all from the UVF.
The Garda was not allowed to interview suspects in Northern Ireland and its investigation was wound down after three months. The Irish government remained indifferent.
British military intelligence, which had infiltrated the UVF in Portadown, was willing to allow the outlawed organisation to carry out terrorist acts.

Other, more partial, accounts imply that the security services (any combination of MI5, MI6, SAS, RUC and the rest of the alphabet soup, and permutations of Kitson, Holroyd, Nairac, Wallace) were effectively running the loose-knit Portadown UDA/UDF mob. Much of our “knowledge” of these shady dealings comes from Fred Holroyd’s various utterances (which have been remarkably consistent, and never disproved). In that Hidden Hand programme, Holroyd said:

We ran them, we were running the organisation hands off, because the leaders belonged to us. Atrocities were allowed to be carried out by the Protestants, we knew who they were, we had information, and no action was ever taken against them.

Holroyd’s 1989 book (with Nick Burnbridge, published by The Medium Publishing Company), War Without Honour is now unobtainable, but Paul Foot recycled much of the meat. There is also a serial account in the various issues of Lobster magazine.

What is more remarkable, perhaps, is the supine position of Dublin Governments. The Coalition Government (1973-77) of Cosgrave and Corish may have wanted a quiet life, to support Harold Wilson as the only alternative to rabid Tory ultras, or even fearing further British intervention. In any case, the Gardai made a lamentable hash of the initial investigations of the bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. The seemed to possess no notion of how to deal with the forensics, so evidence was tainted and rendered useless. From early on, though, the Gardai “knew” and could have named the UDA suspects (those names are easily googled on the Net). The MacEntee Report may yet be the latest in a series of mild squibs to have emerged from Dublin in the last 30 years.

At this stage, Malcolm has not great palpitations about MacEntee. It is a one-man band; but MacEntee has an established track-record as a personal- and human-rights lawyer (he is the author of the standard texts on Irish law, and featured on the wider European stage). It is not realistic to hope he will have had much official input from London or Belfast. His overdue report may tell us whether he is merely another creature of Fianna Fáil.

What MacEntee will not reveal is the broader picture. Remember, early 1974 was febrile:

  • The Dublin and Monaghan bombings happened at a psychological moment in both Northern Irish and Dublin politics (the strike against the power-sharing Executive and strategic abstentions in the Dáil which allowed passage of the Offences Against the State Act)
  • The alphabet-soup mob were thoroughly complicit in the coup-d’état of the Ulster Workers’ Council against the Sunningdale Agreement.
  • The “Wilson Plot”, explained and then disowned by Peter “Spycatcher” Wright. [The germ of truth in Wright is the Wilson-phobia of the “American tendency” in MI5, in cahoots with the CIA.]
  • There may have been a spat between MI5 and MI6 over control of operations in Northern Ireland.
  • This was all at a time when the outgoing Heath government, the Cabinet Secretary and “respectable” media were prepared, seriously, to debate the need for a military coup in Britain (for one account see here). This was not a flash-in-the-pan: Peter Wright had been conniving with Cecil King to depose Wilson as early as 1968. It may even be true that Heath was doing a Nixon, and had instructed Michael Hanley, DG of MI5, to target his political opponents.

Malcolm does not expect the whole can of worms to be opened in his lifetime, if ever. He can only hope the younger element keep a tin-opener to hand.

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