Wednesday, July 23, 2008 

Kamm's the man!

I'm a bit slow on the uptake on this, but I've just noted, via Matt T, that Oliver Kamm has been elevated from writing the occasional column for the Times to being a full-fledged leader writer.

This is of course a triumph not just for Mr Kamm, but for blogging in general. It proves that you too, as long as you're right-wing pretending to be a leftist, spend most of your energies stalking one of the world's leading intellectuals without laying a glove on him once, and defend the indefensible to the hilt, can become one of those individuals that can boast that you've sucked Rupert Murdoch's cock. This medium truly is changing the prevailing mainstream environment.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008 

Oliver Kamm: nothing is too vile for me to try to justify.

Oliver Kamm is a deeply misunderstood man. Just because he's around the only supporter of the war in Iraq outside of government not to recant their support or at least admit they got it somewhat wrong doesn't mean that he's stubborn and wilfully blind. Just because he tried to convince us all that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't crimes doesn't mean that he's someone who wants to rewrite history with a view to the current war on terror. Just because he wrote a piece calling for "concerted diplomatic pressure, sanctions and luck" over Iran's nuclear programme on the same night as the NIE intelligence statement was published that said that Iran had abandoned its efforts to build a bomb in 2003, leading to him hastily redrafting his opinion doesn't mean that he's the equivalent of a musical hall joke. And just because his latest effort, delivering the most rancid apologia for the rendition programme you're ever likely to read, doesn't mean that in the words of some on CiF, he's a man with a revolting worldview, it also doesn't mean that he's not the most pathetic muscular liberal around. That would be Nick Cohen.

Kamm builds his entire fallacious argument around the fact that in modern terms, the abduction by Mossad of Adolf Eichmann, who was subsequently put on trial and hanged, would fall under the reference of an "extraordinary rendition". This much is probably true. There though the similarities with modern cases end. Eichmann, unlike those currently at Guantanamo Bay who were rendered there, including the most high profile detainees, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, faced a fair trial, which was not held under military auspices. Nor was he at any point subjected to anything ever even slightly amounting to torture, which many of those who have been through the rendition system allege, and often have the scars and mental health problems which do much to substantiate their claims. Argentina, although originally outraged by the breach of its sovereignty, eventually made something approaching a deal with Israel, and withdrew its original allegations and claims.

Kamm goes on:

They involve the detention of a suspect in one country and their transfer to another by the CIA. There are good reasons that the first country might wish to take this course. It might not have a legal system capable of disinterestedly dispensing justice, owing to the threat of intimidation. There might be domestic political reasons for the government to be reluctant to cooperate too closely with the United States.

None of these factors however apply to the rendition of Abu Omar from Italy, to bring up just one example. Italy had a perfectly good relationship with the United States at the time of his rendition, yet the CIA felt it necessary to kidnap Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and rather than take him back to the United States, where he could be tried for any of the allegations made against him, they instead took him to the democratic outpost of Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. The question has to be to any doubters of just what the point of the rendition programme is: why take him to such a country where torture is endemic if the CIA expressly does not torture those in its custody?

Another example is that of our own Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi. Both had some connection to the radical preacher Abu Qutada, sometimes called al-Qaida's spiritual leader in Europe, but both were intending to leave the country and set up a business in Gambia. Just before they left, el-Banna was visited by an MI5 officer that offered him to become an informer; he declined. al-Rawi is already said to have been informing MI5 of Abu Qutada's movements. Despite promises that they would be allowed to leave the country without hassle, they were stopped at the airport, and only allowed to fly later. On their arrival in Gambia they were detained, ostensibly on the reason that they were carrying bomb parts, which were in fact a battery charger, handed over to the CIA and taken to Guantanamo. Both have now been subsequently released, but el-Banna especially shows the scars of his ordeal: a Spanish judge dropped his request for his extradition on humanitarian grounds after a medical report found that

Banna is said to be severely depressed, suffering from PTSD, and to have diabetes, hypertension and back pain, as well as damage to the back of his left knee.

Kamm though isn't interested in these individual case studies of what those rendered have been through, with no apology for the treatment meted out to them beyond either domestic or international law from those responsible. He says he is both opposed to the death penalty and to torture, but those soon to go through the military tribunals at Gitmo can be executed, and we also know for a fact that at least three of the top-level detainees have been tortured. Rather, he's off on another rhetorical tangent; suddenly, bin Laden comes out of nowhere:

What they would have advised if Osama bin Laden had unaccountably declined to turn himself in was never put to the test. Had the CIA abducted Bin Laden from Afghanistan in the late 1990s (a course whose feasibility the agency investigated), some great crimes might have been averted.

The hypothetical kidnapping of Bin Laden illustrates two problems with the absolutist rejection of rendition. First, the Taliban regime in Kabul would no more have handed over Bin Laden in response to an international summons than it would have handed over Lord Lucan. Second, the evidence against a terrorist suspect might be circumstantial or partial. It might not be of a type admissible in court. I do not know if this is true of Bin Laden and the destruction of the twin towers. But I know he did it, and I want him stopped.

True, some great crimes might have been averted, but we don't know that for certain. 9/11 was long in the planning, and we know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was one of those personally in charge of those who became the hijackers. Unless both had been captured we simply don't know whether the attacks would have been stopped or not.

Kamm's two points are similarly contentious: first, there is some evidence that the Taliban may well have turned over bin Laden, as the links between the two were not as solid as they now are today, but that they weren't given enough time. Secondly, Kamm's points about bin Laden fall apart because he seems to have completely forgotten about the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and then the USS Cole bombing in 2000, both of which were the work of al-Qaida and were already being linked to him far before 9/11. As the Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright testifies, even after these attacks most of the US security apparatus still hadn't woken up to bin Laden. It was only a dedicated few who were trying to stop him and spread the word, but the US missed its chance. Moreover, if bin Laden had been captured between 1998 and the beginning of 2001, under the Clinton administration it seems less likely that he would have been tortured or mistreated, which is one of the major sticking points over rendition.

This is all part of Kamm's diversionary tactic however. He points towards Adolf Eichmann and bin Laden because he wants to take the reader's mind off the fact that overwhelmingly the rendition programme has not dealt with the most serious terrorists, but rather with those at the lowest levels or those completely innocent of any crime, or certainly not convicted of any. Kamm does stop himself for a moment and say a few conciliatory words:

Rendition is justifiable because it interdicts terrorists, and terrorism is not merely a problem of law enforcement. The particular controversy over rendition concerns torture, and on this point European objections are on firmer ground. The US is a signatory to the Geneva conventions against torture, yet terrorist suspects have been sent to countries that are guilty of human rights violations and have used torture.

Torture is wrong and does not work. As Christopher Hitchens has put it, torture is practised by those "whose whole outlook is based on stupidity and coercion, and you can bet that even with a ticking bomb nearby they would be busily gang-raping the wrong guy".

So why then is Kamm going to such lengths to defend a practice which has used torture endemically, as well those countries which Kamm himself is opposed to which have used torture? He doesn't explain, quite possibly because he doesn't have an answer to that. There's one thing he does do though, and that's defend the United States and the "war on terror" to the death if necessary, however many of his own "red lines" it breaches.

There is an important role for Britain, whose commitment to the war on terror (a phrase I use without irony because it is accurate) is beyond dispute, to intercede with the US administration. There should be no rendition to autocracies whose word on the issue of torture is untrustworthy, such as Syria. Renditions should be used only in extreme cases, against those suspected of directly plotting terrorist acts. The country to which they are transferred must exercise due process under its own laws.

This is all well and good, but this is missing the biggest factor in the whole argument. The United States itself is not exercising due process under its own laws to those in Guantanamo Bay. They're instead defined as "enemy combatants", are not subject to the Geneva convention, and are being tried by military commissions which cannot possibly provide a fair trial. Most of them have been tortured during their interrogations. This breaks every rule in the book, but then the war on terror, which Kamm nobly uses without irony, has from the very beginning held every national and international law in utter contempt. The fact is that we shouldn't be involving ourselves in renditions full stop, except to make clear our firm opposition to anyone being kidnapped by the CIA. If they want someone on these shores, they can make an extradition request, as they have done over Babar Ahmed for example. They can do the same elsewhere, and go through international channels over other individuals they seek, as everyone else has done and continues to do. It's only Israel and the US that seem to consider themselves above such things.

But Europeans have a responsibility too. We are the beneficiaries of American efforts to disrupt terrorism. Diplomacy on the issue of rendition should deal with anticipating and preventing abuses. It should not be an opportunity for hyperventilation on the identity of the hated Bush-Cheney regime and our declared theocratic enemies.

No Oliver, that's what you consider our responsibilities to be. Have any of the renditions prevented attacks on our soil? Despite Bush's claims that they foiled an attack on Heathrow through one of them, something which our own authorities seem bemused by, there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate that they have. They have however summarily kidnapped and held both British citizens and those with leave to remain outside the boundaries of international law, and considering not one individual was ever charged with any crime, regardless of what they have since admitted to doing or taking part in, I think that might well give the rise to "hyperventilation" at the injustice they have suffered, not to mention the actual bodily harm or mental scars that have gone with it.

So concludes then a highly confused, contradictory piece which suggests Kamm himself doesn't really know what he thinks. He loathes torture, yet justifies a practice which has used it and will likely use it again. He is a huge believer in "the war on terror", yet turns a blind eye to the worst excesses of it, going so far as to defend the biggest insult there could be to the liberal values he so espouses, the one sitting on an island which has itself resisted the US for nearly half a century. Some might think this makes Kamm intellectually dishonest; rather, it's just Kamm doing what he's always done, saluting capital and the stars and stripes and ignoring anyone who tells him that everything isn't just fine and dandy.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007 

No nukes? Oh, time to invade then.

Fwwippp, followed by an almighty crash. Heard that sequence of sounds? It's been echoing around the globe, ever since the combined work of the 16(!) American intelligence agencies in the form of the national intelligence estimate was declassified and published yesterday. That fwwippp was the noise of a thousand rugs being pulled from under the feet of a thousand different people, politicians, commentators, bloggers, saloon bar bores, all made to look like fools at best and warmongering loons at worst. Iran not only isn't pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, it hasn't been doing so for four years.

Those who found themselves in a heap on the floor have come up with different ways of adjusting to the new, we're a bunch of liars and chumps, world. For the Sun, which recently informed us that the only thing worse than Iran getting nukes was another cakewalk with 650,000 dead and that anyone who believed Iran wanted nuclear power for peaceful purposes was "hopelessly deluded", the easiest thing to do is to stick your fingers in your ears and pretend nothing has changed, helped along by not reporting on the NIE assessment at all. If you're Oliver Kamm, and the unfortunate author of a piece for the Grauniad which calls for "concerted diplomatic pressure, sanctions and luck" when dealing with Iran published on the same night as the report, then you quickly rehash your bullshit and present it to the hordes on CiF as if it was fresh roast beef, rather than warmed up vomit. If you're Melanie Phillips, then this "this report provokes a high degree of scepticism". Scepticism which Mel naturally didn't show towards the intelligence claims that Saddam was going to murder us all in our beds within 45 minutes, or indeed, towards the claims by one Dave Gaubatz that Iraq's WMD was transported post-war from Iraq to Syria with the help of the Russians. Incredibly, President Bush has been the most magnanimous since the report was unveiled: he's gone from talking of nuclear holocaust and world war three to saying little more than Iran remains "dangerous".

Mad Mel does though have something of a point. We should indeed be sceptical. Why should we believe the intelligence services which got it so completely wrong over Iraq that Iran has abandoned any plans for a nuclear weapons? It's perfectly rational to be concerned over the motives of those delivering the intelligence this time round: they found themselves manipulated and used on both sides of the Atlantic to make the case for a war which has proved to be far more disastrous than their worst predictions suggested. We don't know how much of an impact this has had on their thinking and briefings; intelligence has always been nuanced and uncertain, things which Blair and Bush had no time for. Who's to say that they haven't tried to stop this happening again by being even more timid and diplomatic when considering what they know or even a pre-emptive attempt to stop in Marx's famous quote history being repeated for a second time as a farce after the tragedy of Iraq?

With Iraq however there always were informed voices that struggled to make themselves heard that more or less got it right, such as Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector who was convinced Iraq had been 90-95% disarmed. He was 5% out. Robin Cook, who had been party to the intelligence as foreign secretary, stated in his resignation speech that he didn't believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as in those that could be quickly used in a military situation. Although intelligence agencies the world over were convinced that Iraq had some WMD, contrary to popular belief most didn't believe that it was an imminent, let alone an existential threat. As Richard Dearlove wrote, the "intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy". The ravings of men like "Curveball" were believed.

With Iran, it's different. As Oliver Kamm admits, Iran is not a totalitarian society, even if it is an autocratic and repressive one. Juan Cole speculates over whether the new information about Iran's nuclear program has come from a recent defector, having changed its mind from 2005 when the NIE estimated Iran was pursuing weapons, with now, two years' later, more convinced than before that it isn't and hasn't been for four years.

Wherever it's come from, it has already and will only do one thing: stop, or at least postpone any attack at least for some time to come. It also highlights the irony and inequity of the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iran for doing only, according to this latest assessment, what it is entitled to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The UN has been breaking international law, not Iran. This shouldn't negate from the fact that Iran has as yet no reactor where the uranium it has been enriching can be used for such purposes; but there is also nothing now to suggest, apart from the predictable and expected dissension from Israel, that the fuel, only being enriched to fuel grade, is for anything other than an energy program.

It also shouldn't stop the search for a complete solution. Still worth pursuing is the deal Russia has offered, where it would enrich the fuel while providing Iran with the reactors, taking away any reason for doubt. More intriguing still will be where this leaves Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself: he has been hiding behind Iran's nuclear program to negate from the criticism he has faced over the rising cost of living and his broken promise to redistribute Iran's oil wealth. With the nuclear shield taken away, and faced with accusations of endangering the nation for no good reason, his short reign could be brought to an end at the first opportunity. Those also facing defenestration should be those who have so recklessly scaremongered and demanded action: Mad Mel and her second Holocaust have never looked so laughable.

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Monday, August 06, 2007 

Iraq, Hiroshima and the pro-war left.

It's interesting to note that just a day after another high-profile Iraq war supporter has took to wearing sackcloth and ashes, one of the few remaining defenders of the war has moved on from justifying the on-going disaster there to even greater rhetorical flights of fancy, taking the opportunity that the anniversary of the dropping of the first atom bomb provides to reappraise the long-prevailing view that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crimes. Just as Oliver Kamm has never convinced anyone other than himself that he's right, his piece for the Grauniad isn't likely to change any minds.

At least with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we have the benefit of historical hindsight, the numerous sources that the last 60 years have provided us with and the on-going suffering still continuing from which to make a judgment as to its righteousness. However much we debate whether the hundreds of thousands sacrificed in the two blasts were preferable to the possibility of millions more deaths on both sides, or indeed the similarly horrific firebombing of both Japanese and German cities, such as the March the 9th 1945 attack on Tokyo which quite possibly killed more than the numbers who died at Hiroshima, it nearly always comes down to a war of numbers, as the CiF debate shows; mention the atomic bombs, and you get Nanking and the entire brutal invasion of China back in return. It has to be said they have a point: while Germany has been exemplary in coming to terms with those twelve years of fascism, some in Japan continue to engage in denial and apologism over the numerous crimes committed by the military. It isn't too much to perhaps link the unashamed slaughter, torture and atrocities committed in China, meticulously documented and photographed, summary beheadings and all, with the new vogue for both the grunts working at Abu Ghraib and the insurgents to record and revel in their own depravity. War and crimes do of course go together like love and marriage, and the second world war, with the Holocaust, the Wehrmacht's assault on Russia and the eventual Soviet revenge after the hell of Stalingrad was only what many would argue was the inevitable conclusion of both a total war footing and the dehumanising ever-present propaganda, but this was on a scale never before reached and will hopefully never be reached again.

Kamm's article on Hiroshima is only part of the malaise currently afflicting those referred to as the pro-war left, the "muscular liberals" and many other less than complimentary epithets. Johann Hari, formerly a proud member of the squad has in the last few weeks been causing major ructions after he reviewed Nick Cohen's book-length polemic on the failings of the left, and treated it with a disdain that few would have thought he previously would have shown. A flurry of replies from others sympathetic to the cause followed, with Harry's Place, the online home of the pro-war left removing a post after the possible involvement of Suue, Grabbit and Runne was invoked. Hari himself was one of the first of the gang to recant his support; as he points out in his opening, others such as David Aaronovitch and Norman Geras have also reluctantly admitted that they were wrong. Only Christopher Hitchens, Kamm and Cohen himself are among those sticking to their initial guns.

I suspect many of us who were anti-war would never have been opposed to the conflict if we had believed that the intentions of the "coalition of the willing" had been as pure as the pro-war left either decided they were. The thing was, the history both of Iraq, of occupations, the region and of total displays of power all pointed towards a potential for the situation now on the ground. Everyone could agree that Saddam was a mass-murderer who needed to be overthrown; where we differed was over how and when it could be achieved. The pro-war left never cared much for the weapons of mass destruction argument, except in the same way as both the US and UK cared for it, as a fig-leaf. While the motives behind the invasion are still not much clearer now, the passion displayed behind the pro-war intellectual argument was, as Hari writes, down to the suffering of the Iraqi people and Saddam's "fascism". Never mind that much of this was down, not to Saddam and his torture chambers, but instead to the crippling sanctions that impoverished most of those outside of Saddam's favoured circle, and the in-effect non-stop war from the sky, which cruelly but successfully contained his aspirations, this was the liberal interventionism which Blair had preached from his pulpit in Chicago, and to some it did indeed for a while become a sort of religion. While much of it has petered out as the blood has been spilt in Iraq, you can still see the embers of it burning in the demands for action on Darfur.

Even if the pro-war left had ignored the previous 12 years of policy on Iraq, they still ought to have seen, both in the US boasts about how "shock and awe" was about to descend on Baghdad, and in the vigour and vulgarity of the media support in the States for war, with pro-war protests organised by media companies just how this was going to end. Hari points out how every misdemanour committed by Saddam and then apologised for or minimised by the anti-war movement was seized upon by the muscular liberals, yet when these same atrocities or offences were committed either by the United States, in using chemical weapons in Fallujah and in the widespread use of torture, the pro-war lobby was either silent, or just as apologetic themselves. The nadir came when rather than recognising that the between 1 and 2 million that marched in London on Feburary 15th were a mass movement which represented the whole of British society, they instead continued to bleat about how the left was prostituting itself either to the Muslim organisations which shared none of their values which were signed up to the Stop the War coalition, or to either the unreformed communists or Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers' Party which also made up the bulk of those behind the coalition. They have always been more comfortable in attacking the left for its supposed dalliances and mistakes rather than extracting the hefty rafters from their own eyes. Even Hari himself can't pass up the opportunity to have a dig at Lenin's Tomb, with a spectacularly disingenuous and ill-informed attack.

Despite all the venom that has passed between the commentators who consider themselves on the left who supported the war and those against, I don't think many of us ever doubted the purity of their motives in doing so. Like with the politicians who pushed it through themselves, it was their methods of doing so that have rankled most. Again, like the politicians, those who did support it have also found themselves majorly discredited, Hitchens perhaps becoming the worst off. What was once a brilliant mind has become ever more sodden with the booze and fags, with his latest rant against religion, although a throwback to his younger days, still a very pale imitation of his former self. Cohen, once considered one of the best left-wing writers on where New Labour had gone wrong, finds himself increasingly detested and according to Private Eye had his column half swiped and given over to an ex-Express hack when he refused to give over some of it to writing about celebrities. Not that he's used the space left any better: he recently declared that the likes of Abu Qutada must be deported back to their home countries regardless of any conditions about the possibility of torture and ill-treatment. Kamm of course has always been a joke, a founder of a hedge fund obsessed with Noam Chomsky, pretending to be left-wing while writing most for the Murdoch press, yet even he seems to be descending into self-parody.

Will we in 56 years' time be having the same debate about Iraq that we're now having about Hiroshima? Most of those mentioned above will very likely by then be dead, and I'm not holding out any hopes that I'll be here either. How that debate will then be framed very much still matters now on what happens next. The war, both on ideological and military terms, is still far from over.

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Monday, April 09, 2007 

Oliver Kamm is not a blogger.

There has to be a certain amount of irony in Oliver Kamm writing an attack on political blogs for the Grauniad. Firstly, he himself runs something which many would consider to be a political blog. He obviously rises above the stinking sewer which the rest of us proles in the lower-"blogosphere" inhabit. Secondly, he's writing for the newspaper which has done much to encourage political blogging in this country: the first to launch a site dedicated to comment which includes pieces from those who have made their name purely through word of mouth on the interbutts.

He BEGINS (yes I actually previously had beings here rather than begins) by focusing on the shadowy appearance of Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines on Newsnight:

Political blogging has come of age. At least, that was the idea behind the BBC's Newsnight screening of a report by a high-profile blogger who writes under the pseudonym Guido Fawkes. His film argued that blogs provided more acute and independent political analysis than traditional journalism, owing to the absence of an editor, proprietor or regulator. Theatrically insisting on being filmed in darkness to maintain his supposed anonymity, "Fawkes" debated his thesis with Michael White of this newspaper.

It was a catastrophic performance, mainly because the blogger required continual correction on points of fact. He thereby illustrated blogging's central characteristic danger. It is a democratic medium, allowing anyone to participate in political debate without an intermediary, at little or no cost. But it is a direct and not deliberative form of democracy. You need no competence to join in.

From what we know of Staines' past, he's wrote papers for thinktanks etc, so it's hardly that he isn't competent. It's just that he was simply out of his depth, faced with two seasoned performers in Michael White and Jeremy Paxman, and hoisted himself by his own petard by agreeing only to take part if he was shrouded in darkness. It was a cock-up which made all political bloggers look daft.

Guido Fawkes is as Tim Ireland tries to point out, hardly representative of political blogging as a whole, even if he is the most successful, as he never tires of informing us. His blog is dedicated to gossip, naked speculation and some would argue smear attacks. There isn't anything particularly wrong with filling this kind of newspaper diarist void on the net: Guido does it reasonably well, but there are legions of other blogs where the last thing they are interested in is gossip.

This is where Kamm's pants begin to fall down. He claims that blogging requires little to no competence, and judging by how some blogs simply link to stories while the comments fill with outrage, he does have something of a point. The best blogs however are those that are fiercely independent, that do go in-depth and that then encourage discussion rather than throwing a cordon around any dissension. Ministry of Truth, Not Saussure, Pickled Politics are ones that instantly spring to mind. Kamm instead would prefer to ignore that these blogs don't exist: his own has no comment facility, because of the amount of people who vehemently disagree with him and his virulent pushing of a neo-conservative foreign policy, as well as his other interests, mainly insulting old communists and attacking Noam Chomsky. Out of all the "left" supporters of the war in Iraq, he's the only one who hasn't at the least expressed regret, or admitted with a heavy heart that had he known what would happen in the 4 years after the invasion, that he would have at least not openly supported the inexorable march to war. This is much the same reason why Melanie Philips (currently calling the Iranian regime "genocidal") and her ilk don't have comments enabled on their "blogs"; they're afraid of being challenged and made to look bad, if not wrong. The Daily Mail website is an example of how comments can on the other hand be a bad thing: they're so heavily moderated that hardly any dissent from the line the article is spinning is allowed, lest it start to look silly. This covert censorship is probably far worse than no interaction at all.

Kamm next has a go at the Tories:

But political bloggers are not the required type of crowd. They are, by definition, a self-selecting group of the politically motivated who have time on their hands. In his speech, Osborne commended the work of Conservative-supporting bloggers. The notion that a political party becomes credible by being responsive to its activists is an error that Labour disastrously adopted in the 1980s. Political blogging is a new vehicle for an enduring force: what James Madison, in the Federalist Papers, termed "the mischief of faction".

It's quite true that Conservative, or nominally conservative supporter bloggers are definitely in the ascendant in the UK. Whether this is down to the fact that the party is in opposition and has had to attempt to renew itself, much like how Democrat bloggers rule the roost in the US or not is a debate that could be had endlessly. Kamm though misses a trick here: most of the Conservative bloggers, or at least the most popular, are generally further to the right than Cameron's Conservatives are trying to be. Iain Dale, although loyal to Cameron, was David Davis's chief of staff during his leadership campaign, and is often critical of the Cameron agenda. ConservativeHome is noted for its hard right stance. As the opinion polls also suggest, Cameron hasn't needed to be responsive to the activists, as New Labour has instead been imploding, with Blair destroying the party through his own selfishness in staying on.

Blogs are providers not of news but of comment. This would be a good thing if blogs extended the range of available opinion in the public sphere. But they do not; paradoxically, they narrow it. This happens because blogs typically do not add to the available stock of commentary: they are purely parasitic on the stories and opinions that traditional media provide. If, say, Polly Toynbee or Nick Cohen did not exist, a significant part of the blogosphere (a grimly pretentious neologism) would have no purpose and nothing to react to.

This is rubbish. For every blog there is that focuses on the latest outpourings of Polly Toynbee, there's another that takes apart the day's real news from a stance that simply isn't given room in the papers; Stumbling and Mumbling, Flying Rodent, etc. This is also to ignore the stories that blogs have broken, and the way especially within the more authoritarian regimes across the globe that they can break the censor's monopoly on what can and can't be read and said.

The great innovation of web-based commentary is that readers may select minutely the material they are exposed to. The corollary is that they may filter out views they find uncongenial. This is a problem for a healthy democracy, which depends on a forum for competing views.

Judging by Kamm's blog roll, he's not much of one to talk. Almost the entirity of his links are given over to "muscular liberals" whose views are much like his own. He even used to link to Little Green Footballs, one of the most distasteful one-sided blogs there is. Comment is Free is one of the better places online where intelligent and reasoned discussion does occasionally take place, but Kamm never wastes much time in damning the Grauniad for whichever stance or writer it's published this week which he disagrees with.

In its paucity of coverage and predictability of conclusions, the blogosphere provides a parody of democratic deliberation. But it gets worse. Politics, wrote the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, is a conversation, not an argument. The conversation bloggers have with their readers is more like an echo chamber, in which conclusions are pre-specified and targets selected. The outcome is horrifying. The intention of drawing readers into the conversation by means of a facility for adding comments results in an immense volume of abusive material directed - and recorded for posterity - at public figures.

Or, as Kamm discovered, results in having to publish the opinions of those who don't agree with his diatribes against Noam Chomsky, who he managed to mention 1,052 times in less than a year and six months. There's no point denying that the amount of vitriol thrown around on some blogs or in the comment sections is unpleasant, and that some "swear blogs" are just nasty rather than amusing, but again, this is to see blogging through a distorted lens that only sees the bad.

The blogosphere, in short, is a reliable vehicle for the coagulation of opinion and the poisoning of debate. It is a fact of civic life that is changing how politics is conducted - overwhelmingly for the worse, and with no one accountable for the decline.

This is close in some ways to the arguments made by Tim Ireland towards something like a blogging code of conduct, or general etiquette. Blogs can be for the bad, especially when those running them are themselves fundamentally dishonest, or not prepared to let dissenting voices to interfere, but overwhelmingly the many are for the good. Speaking purely for myself, sometimes the measures being announced or proposed are so completely ridiculous or illiberal that they need to abused and poisoned in this way. Kamm claims that you don't need to be competent to be a blogger, but when faced with politicians like Hazel Blears attempting to become the deputy leader of the Labour party, it's more than apparent that you don't need to be anything other than a spouting, brainless ass-kissing robot to be a minister either. Politics may be a conversation, but if it's one in which the other person proposes bringing back flogging or making sandcastles illegal then they need to be told where to take their ideas.

In any case, bloggers are not responsible for the contempt and general cynicism about politics and politicians. This has been created thanks both to Labour's spin machine and to the wholesale breakdown of deference in society itself. They can certainly add to it, and they can distort the view of bloggers as a whole, but the media itself certainly isn't blameless either. Why else would so many publish articles such as this if they weren't in some way threatened?

Kamm then perhaps ought to try and be an actual blogger. Rather than being involved in a conversation, as he thinks political debate should be, he instead talks at you, and he's rather smug about that. Take for instance his fatuous comparison of the Communist Party of GB with the British Union of Fascists, where he insults an 94-year-old woman for having "scant imagination", while the real debate about the post occurs on a blog other than his own because of his own cowardice in not enabling comments. Forgive me if I don't take Kamm's criticisms of blogging as seriously as he seems to take himself.

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