Saturday, 22 July 2017

Crowing Under The Crown

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the media have reverted (in fact, they did so some years ago) to the situation that obtained before she ever came along.

In those days, books about the Royal Family were written, bought and read only by people who liked the Royal Family, in the way that books about trains are written, bought and read only by people who like trains, while books about stamps are written, bought and read only by people who like stamps.

And now, television programmes about the Royal Family, even ones about Diana of all people, are made and watched only by people who like the Royal Family.

In the course of the present reign, and especially of the last 30 years, Britain is best understood as one of those countries which abolished their monarchies and then brought them back again.

The British monarchy is back forever now.

And Relative Dimension

There are some pretty far-fetched events in Macbeth, but no one suggests changing the sex of the eponymous character.

The proof of the wisdom of a female Doctor in Doctor Who will be whether anyone watches.

Or at least whether anything like as many people, in this country and throughout the world, do so.

But first on The Mash Report (execrable, but then I accept that I am twice the age of the target audience), and then on Dead Ringers, the BBC has gone out of its way to insult even the existing audience.

Doctor Who fans, perhaps because there are just so many of them, crystallise in the BBC's mind its own adolescent sense, not of having too few friends, but of having the wrong ones.

That never bothered me. The cool kids and I ignored each other so happily that, when I did have cause to interact with them, then we got along fine. I am still in touch with a lot of them on Facebook and what have you.

But the BBC is boy who hates his mates, because they are not the mates that he wants, but they are the only ones that he is ever going to have.

Very occasionally, he lashes out. For example, over Doctor Who. Or in the form of The Mash Report.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Down On The Farm

Farm subsidies go back to the War, and the system put in place by the Attlee Government worked perfectly well until the Conservatives took this country into the Eurofederalist nightmare.

Now, those of them who belatedly want out of that, want it in order to turn this country into a petri dish for the utterly unconservative and un-Tory economic theories that predominated, but which never quite became monolithic, during the 40 years between Jim Callaghan's turn to monetarism and Theresa May's loss of her overall majority.

"Why should farmers get State aid when no one else does?" is the wrong question. The question ought to be why other people did not get State aid when the farmers did.

In any case, the likes of Michael Gove are wasting their time. Theirs is the farmers' party. It always has been, and it always will be.

Everyone else in it is just a farmhand, and the terms of their occupancy of their tied cottages have never been reformed. They can be evicted at any time.

On The Money

Whether either yesterday’s inflation figure or today’s borrowing figure is a good thing or a bad thing, the point is that the Government had no idea that it was coming.

The Government had, and it has, absolutely no idea what is going on in the economy, and absolutely no idea about Economics.

That ought to come as no surprise.

There have been seven recessions in the United Kingdom since the Second World War. Five of them have been under Conservative Governments.

That party has also presided over all four separate periods of Quarter on Quarter fall in growth during the 2010s.

By contrast, there was no recession on the day of the 2010 General Election.

And now, the Conservatives have more than doubled the National Debt. The Major Government also doubled the National Debt.

Yet the Conservatives’ undeserved reputation for economic competence endures. They are subjected to absolutely no scrutiny by the fake news detractors of their opponents.

Until now.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

"That's What Trade Unionists Look Like"

The First Shall Be Last

The really sad thing about how many Firsts are now being awarded is that they really did work that hard to get them.

Worked. That hard. At university. I don't know what the world is coming to.

Of course, we knew the deal: at least 50 for absolutely any old rubbish, in return for no more than 68 for anything, ever.

I was once given back something with a 7 crossed out, and 68 written next to it.

I wish that I had kept it, as a perfect representation of the glory days of an institution that is no doubt well past them now.

Utopian and Scientific?

It's always Hitler, isn't it?

The latest variation on that theme is, "You wouldn't put up a statue of Hitler in Manchester, so why put up a statue of Engels?"

Well, Hitler never lived in Manchester. Engels did.

Many monstrous figures from this country's past are prominently remembered on its streets and in its public places, and why not?

There is no more argument against a statue of Engels in Manchester than there was for Rhodes Must Fall.

"Would we tolerate Nazi propaganda in Manchester?" We ought to be more concerned about Nazi propaganda in Ukraine, whence this statue has come.

The comparison with Engels is any case not Hitler, but Nietzsche, and there are certainly statues of him in the places with which he was associated.

The comparison with Hitler would presumably be Stalin, and there are at least two streets in Britain named after him, both of them falling under Conservative-led local authorities in the South of England.

I should have to check, but I very much doubt that either Chatham or Colchester has ever had so much as an old-fashioned right-wing Labour council.

Never mind a Soviet fellow-travelling one in the immediate post-War period when Colchester presumably erected its Stalin Road, and Chatham its Stalin Avenue.

Again, why not?

After all, we fought a war, we fought the War, not only with him, but essentially for him, and it was his army that actually won it.

No good purpose would be served, but many bad ones would be, if we were ever to forget those facts.

Or if we were ever to forget the connection between Engels and Britain in general, and Manchester in particular.

Barmy Bagshawe

Louise Mensch was once a Member of Parliament.

Just give that a moment to sink in.

Amber Light?

The simple fact that Amber Rudd refused to hold an inquiry into Orgreave conceded the case of those who were calling for that inquiry.

And the simple fact that Amber Rudd refuses to publish the report into overseas funding of terrorism concedes the point of those who are calling for that publication.

But there still needs to be an inquiry into Orgreave.

And there still needs to be publication of the report into overseas funding of terrorism.

Mind The Gap?

The BBC has very successfully spun yesterday's news about itself as being about a "gender pay gap".

But in fact, it is about obscene amounts all round, to upper-middle-class, liberal-Right, mostly white people.

Men and women alike.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Value of Nothing

No one does the Pompous Tory Voice quite like Michael Fallon.

Including when he was lying through his teeth to Parliament about how a Trident had been fired at Florida.

He is so bad that the voters of Darlington once replaced him with Alan Milburn, and, at 65, he has never worked outside politics.

He has certainly never been in any of the Armed Forces. But then, hardly anyone under 75 has ever been in any of the Armed Forces.

Yet he presumes to lecture his colleagues, or indeed anyone else, on "military values".

Of course, when a Prime Minister needs, either directly or by proxy, to instruct her Ministers not to conduct themselves in the manner that is now endemic, then she has, for all practical purposes, ceased to be Prime Minister at all.

She remains nominally in office only because her party has no one else. That was how she got the job. And that is how she retains it.

Marking Her Card

Could you keep your job if you had been recorded using the n-word?

Yet you are almost certainly harder to sack than a Member of Parliament is. An MP can be expelled by a simple resolution of the House of Commons.

The thing is that it requires another MP to move it.

There is no danger that this might become a regular occurrence. It never has yet, and the provision has always been there. 

MPs using the n-word to public meetings, or anything remotely comparable to such behaviour, will always be mercifully rare.

No sensible person would actively wish his Member of Parliament ill in the conduct of her duties.

But, even if not for want of trying, I am not a politician. I am a journalist.

Cheerleading is not journalism, or vice versa. Come to that, cheerleading is not activism, or vice versa.

As an activist, I am not a member of any political party, nor will I ever be. I have been banned from the Labour Party for as long as my Labour MP, Laura Pidcock, has been old enough to vote.

Laura has entered Parliament from the employ of Show Racism the Red Card.

Unencumbered by office as a Shadow Minister or a PPS, when is she going to show Anne Marie Morris the red card?

Why has she not already done so?

The Turn of The Screws

Today's ruling against the Prison Officers' Association, only one day after yet another report had exposed the ongoing disaster in the prison system, will aid and abet yet further cuts and privatisation.

The POA is the kind of union that supports the Durham Teaching Assistants, that addressed the recent Durham Miners' Gala, that materially supported Jeremy Corbyn's Leadership campaign even without being affiliated to the Labour Party, and that  helps to fund the Morning Star.

It is being made an example of.

Well, it is an example. A very, very good one.

BBC Trust

No employee of anything ought to be paid more than 10 times the pay of any other of its employees. That ought to be the Statute Law.

Moreover, the BBC license fee ought to be made optional, with as many adults as wished to pay it at any given address free to do so, including those who did not own a television set but who greatly valued, for example, Radio Four.

The Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers. Candidates would have to be sufficiently independent to qualify in principle for the remuneration panels of their local authorities.

Each license-payer would vote for one, with the top two elected. The electoral areas would be Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions. 

The Chairman would be appointed by the relevant Secretary of State, with the approval of the relevant Select Committee. And the term of office would be four years.

One would not need to be a member of the Trust (i.e., a license-payer) to listen to or watch the BBC, just as one does not need to be a member of the National Trust to visit its properties, or a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to be rescued by its boats.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Trumped Again

And now, even Obamacare is to remain in place.

What, exactly, is the point of this Presidency?

Compensation Authority

If the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is refusing to compensate 13, 14 and 15-year-olds on the grounds that, on the balance of probabilities, they consented to their sexual abuse, then that it is because they could legally be convicted of sexual assault.

It is very high time for Parliament to tidy up the shambolic laws on sexual offences.

First, the age of consent should effectively be raised to 18, by making it a criminal offence for anyone to commit any sexual act with or upon any person under that age who was more than two years younger than herself, or to incite any such person to commit any such act with or upon her or any third party anywhere in the world.

The maximum sentence would be twice the difference in age, to the month where that was less than three years, or a life sentence where that difference was at least five years.

No different rules for “positions of trust”, which are being used against male, but not female, 18-year-olds looking after female, but not male, Sixth Formers visiting universities.

And no provision, as at present, for boys to be prosecuted at any age, even if they are younger than the girls involved, whereas girls have to be 16.

The law on indecent images is also enforced in totally different ways in relation to boys and girls of the same age, and even to boys who are younger than the girls. That must end.

Children under the age of consent can have abortion or contraception without parental permission (thank you, Margaret Thatcher). That is an argument for banning children under the age of consent from having abortion or contraception without parental permission.

Unless they decided as adults to seek to make contact with their children, then the financial liability of male victims for pregnancies resulting from their sexual abuse ought also to be ruled out. Talk about victim-blaming.

Secondly, it ought to be made a criminal offence for anyone aged 21 or over to buy or sell sex, with equal sentencing on both sides.

No persecution of girls and very young women whose lives had already been so bad that they had become prostitutes.

No witch-hunting of boys and very young men who were desperate to lose their virginities.

But the treatment of women and men as moral, intellectual and legal equals.

Thirdly, the offences of rape, serious sexual assault, and sexual assault, ought to be replaced with aggravating circumstances to the general categories of offences against the person, enabling the sentences to be doubled.

The sex of either party would be immaterial.

There must be no anonymity either for adult accusers or for adult complainants. Either we have an open system of justice, or we do not.

In this or any other area, there must be no suggestion of any reversal of the burden of proof.

That reversal has largely been brought to you already, by the people who in the same year brought you the Iraq War. The Parliament that was supine before Tony Blair was also supine before Harriet Harman.

Adults who made false allegations ought to be prosecuted automatically.

Moreover, how can anyone be convicted of non-consensual sex, who could not lawfully have engaged in consensual sex?

If there is an age of consent, then anyone below it can be an assailant. But a sexual assailant? How?

Similarly, if driving while intoxicated is a criminal offence, then how can intoxication, in itself, be a bar to sexual consent?

The law needs to specify that it was, only to such an extent as would constitute a bar to driving.

And fourthly, obscenity ought to be defined as material depicting acts that were themselves illegal, or which was reasonably likely to incite or encourage such acts.

Sentencing would be the same as for the illegal act in question in each case. American-style legislation for internally administered “balance of probabilities” or “preponderance of evidence” tests to sexual assault allegations at universities or elsewhere must be banned by Statute.

It is incompatible with the Rule of Law to punish someone for a criminal offence of which she has not been convicted.

It must be made impossible for anyone to be extradited to face charges that fell short of these standards, or for such convictions to have any legal standing in this country.

As for teaching things in schools, how is that curriculum time currently being filled?

Apply the Eton Test. Would this be taught in a school that assumed its pupils to be future Prime Ministers or Nobel Laureates?

If not, then instead fill the hours with something that was. Teach Latin. Someone will.

Convictions under laws predating these changes ought to be annulled along with those of men whose homosexual acts would not be criminal offences today.

Labour should vote against that unless it also annulled, not only all convictions in the above categories, but also all convictions and other adverse court decisions arising out of Clay Cross, Shrewsbury, Wapping, and the three Miners’ Strikes since 1970.

This would set the pattern for all future feminist and LGBT legislation. Without a working-class quid pro quo, then Labour would vote against any such legislation.

Alongside the DUP, the Conservative Right, or whoever. It is not Blair’s Labour Party now.

Neither Necessary Nor Inevitable

Jamie Hall writes:

Noel Conway’s challenge to the 1961 Suicide Act goes before the high court this week. 

His argument is that the UK’s ban on assisted suicide breaches the right to a private life under the Human Rights Act – and his aim is to have it legalised for terminally ill people who have less than six months to live. 

As someone who relies extensively on social and medical care, I have great empathy for his fear of losing dignity, and the desire to avoid suffering or a drawn-out death.

However, legalising assisted suicide is a dangerous way of achieving those goals.

Conway’s fears are not groundless.

When social care visits are rushed, being left wearing a filthy incontinence pad feels undignified; and when palliative care is cut, death can result from dehydration on a hospital ward. 

But this is neither necessary nor inevitable. 

The resources and experience exist to give everyone the care they need to have a dignified, self-directed life, and a painless, smooth death – and we should be campaigning to expand access to those resources, not to replace them with a lethal cocktail. 

When legislating to allow assisted suicide, it is impossible to implement effective safeguards that limit it to people at the end of their lives who are not experiencing mental illness or undue pressure. 

Feeling like a burden is one of the greatest risk factors for suicide: disabled and terminally ill people like me are constantly told that we are a financial, emotional and practical burden on society, with the strong implication that we would be better off not being a burden. 

Moreover, the medical profession is notoriously bad at predicting how long people have to live, and there is no way of being certain that someone accessing assisted suicide isn’t suffering from depression or experiencing external pressure. 

Assisted suicide would turn these predictions and judgments into a matter of life and death – and even one unnecessarily early death resulting from a change in the law would be one too many. 

Once assisted suicide is legalised, campaign groups argue, it will be difficult to justify offering it only to those with less than six months to live. 

What about those with less than a year to live, or those experiencing “incurable suffering”? 

In Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (among others), assisted suicide has been legalised for people suffering from mental illness alone, and safeguards have been repeatedly ignored

An emphasis on ending lives is replacing an emphasis on suicide prevention – and the difficult but worthwhile process of recovery. 

The majority of groups in favour of assisted suicide are coordinated by people who are not disabled or terminally ill, and either fear an undignified death or have witnessed a loved one dying without good palliative care

Meanwhile, neither groups run by and for disabled and terminally ill people nor the British Medical Association support assisted suicide, which would fundamentally destroy our trust in doctors to support us in making decisions that maximise our health and quality of life. 

If medical, social and palliative care are treated as an expensive luxury for disabled and terminally ill people compared with the lower cost of assisted suicide, this will inherently devalue our lives, and affect the care offered to all of us. 

Remaining alive will become a selfish decision that burdens our families, risks their inheritances, and has a huge financial cost to society. 

Disabled and terminally ill people are being told that, while other lives can improve and other people should be deterred from killing themselves, our lives are so bad we should actually be offered assisted suicide, and it would be best for other people if we accepted it.

In a world where disabled people received truly equal treatment, assisted suicide wouldn’t be an option.

Instead, we would find people who had professional, well-paid assistance that allowed them to live independently, work where possible, and have access to the best treatments for their conditions.

Assisted suicide might be cheaper and easier, but the necessary social and medical care to experience a dignified decline and a painless, comfortable death would be infinitely more valuable than the unnecessary shortening of people’s lives.

A Major Swing

A major swing to reject the constraints imposed on the trade union movement by the European Union is taking place, dramatically demonstrated by the GMB union’s congress deciding last month to change policy and now to support Britain leaving the EU and its single market. 

This is a significant change in what was previously the most pro-EU of Britain’s unions. 

The GMB’s position against membership of the single market now aligns the union with the position of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership. 

It will boost campaigning within the wider labour movement, opening the door wider for insisting on the restoration of full sector-wide collective bargaining, on the lines outlined by the excellent Institute of Employment Rights Manifesto for Labour Law. 

The GMB policy-making body congress voted for the ending of free movement of labour and to seek “advantageous terms of trade” outside the EU customs union. 

The GMB sees opportunities in leaving the EU for expanding collective bargaining and defending jobs. 

Leaving the single market can free trade unions to enforce collective agreements without employers using EU legal loopholes to undermine them. 

Additionally, outside the EU, a Labour government can direct target state investment and stem the offshoring of jobs according to GMB, something which is illegal inside the single market. 

It is worth looking at the history of this change in policy. 

It was only in 1981 that former GMB general secretary David Basnett (1973-1985) said that “anyone who thought Britain should not be in the European Economic Community wanted [their] head examined.”

Basnett’s comments contrasted with then Labour Party and TUC policy which called for unconditional withdrawal.

The attitude of the wider movement was that, when workers required redress over low pay, job cuts or the unfair sacking of a shop steward, workers through their unions resorted to collective action to deliver justice. 

Workers’ rights did not involve a tribunal judge to adjudicate over individual disputes.

The former pro-EU GMB position tied lay representatives and officialdom.

For example in three GMB congresses in the early 1980s the central executive council managed to have every anti-EU motion remitted. 

Basnett’s successor John Edmonds called on the Labour Party to fully embrace Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher’s capitalist project of the new European single market. 

Edmonds went even further in 2000, demanding that Gordon Brown reverse his opposition to Britain joining the euro. 

Before 1988, GMB operated at the TUC as a focal point of pro-EU opinion. 

This laid the groundwork for Jacques Delors in 1988 to lobby the TUC to support “a social Europe.” 

This was the package of individual employment rights held as a social democratic counterpart to the EU neoliberal single market. 

Britain’s trade unions had to surrender the union closed shop and sector-wide collective bargaining. 

It also had to accept the supremacy of EU law and the precedence of the EU “four business freedoms” over workers’ rights. 

A post-1988 generation of trade unionists arose in TUC-affiliated unions which were forced to accept the EU framework.

In reality it was a pessimist’s charter which supported the notion of a “floor” of individual workers’ rights which it was wrongly believed no Tory government could undermine. 

The unions’ surrender of collective rights for individual employment rights in the EU framework set the labour movement on a path of managed decline. 

Workers’ rights within the myth of social Europe were subsequently watered down by EU treaty changes which entrenched further “labour market flexibility.”

Attacks on workers by the John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May governments were met with acclamation from EU institutions. 

The European Court of Justice in 1996 ruled that the Major government’s two-year qualification period for unfair dismissal did not infringe EU law. 

Despite Labour reversing this, it was further extended by the later coalition neoliberal government of Tories and Liberal Democrats to deny justice for many workers. 

Similarly, when the Cameron government gutted the Health and Safety Executive, the very agency tasked with enforcing the EU-derived Working Time Regulations, the effects of the “austerity” public spending cuts rendered unenforceable many of its provisions. 

The legal mechanism to enforce other individual employment rights resides in the employment tribunal — a poor bargain for the trade union movement. 

Employment tribunals have expensive hearing fees, legalistic doctrines that are generally employer-friendly and anti-worker, while its three-month time limits on making a claim force claimants to rush claims which can then be thrown out for technical and bureaucratic reasons. GMB has found EU law a hindrance to protecting its members. 

Whenever GMB members have faced redundancy in Britain’s industries due to crises in the capitalist free market, successive governments have refused to nationalise or support jobs with state investment in line with EU rules. 

It is these experiences that laid the ground for GMB’s gradual shift from EU-enthusiasm to being one of begrudging support which was reflected in its approach to the 2016 EU referendum to one of seeking an “angry Remain vote.” 

The backing of the TUC and most trade unions for Remain in the referendum was based on two pessimistic propositions.

First, that a Tory government would tear up the “social Europe” individual employment rights, as porous and leaky as they were. 

The second, more understated, was that there was no prospect of a Labour government any time soon to reverse any damage. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and the popularity of the Labour manifesto have created the conditions in which GMB and others in the movement have reassessed their stance on the EU and dealt a severe blow to the previous pessimism.

The commitment of a future Labour government for state-led investment in manufacturing, for nationalisation of strategic utilities and the pursuit of sector-wide collective bargaining are only possible outside the EU and its single market.

The attachment of Corbyn-sceptics to single market membership needs to be understood in the knowledge that EU law’s “four business freedoms” will make much of Labour’s popular manifesto impossible to implement.

The Morning Star has consistently pointed out that leaving the EU single market would be “a step towards restoring democratic control of our economy and would remove an obstacle to progress.” 

Therefore, trade unionists who want to see Labour’s manifesto put into practice need to vote Labour everywhere and support a people’s Brexit from the EU single market.

Of Reality Itself

Tim Black writes:

Remember the Battle of Aleppo? Remember its culmination, the siege of east Aleppo? Sure you do. 

It was the battle in which the Syrian government, backed by Russia, engaged in, as the French government put it, ‘the meltdown of humanity’. 

It was the siege in which the Russia-Assad coalition sought, in the words of British MP Andrew Mitchell, ‘to match the behaviour of the Nazi regime in Guernica in Spain’. 

It was proof, if any were needed, asserted Samantha Power, the then US ambassador to the UN, that ‘what Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism.’

Of course, the reality was rather more complex than Western politicians’ Manichean perspective allowed.

Yes, over the course of the four-year-long Battle of Aleppo, many terrible things had happened: an estimated 21,000 civilians lost their lives, many at the hands of Syrian government forces; hundreds of thousands more have been displaced; and the city is a pale, devastated imitation of the vital, teeming metropolis it was before 2011.

But what happened in Aleppo was not quite the massacre of the innocents Western politicians acted as if it was. 

For a start, the Russia-backed pro-government forces were not actually fighting and killing civilians. 

They were fighting a rebellion staged by some of the most repellent, hardline Islamist groups out there, including Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly known as the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

For those who think that that was merely a pretext for Assad, and his Russian backers, to crush an army of good, moderate rebels, just look at the reality of civilian sympathies.

As journalist Patrick Cockburn noted at the beginning of this year: 

There was an implicit assumption that all the inhabitants of East Aleppo were firmly opposed to Assad and supported the insurgents, yet it’s striking that when offered a choice in mid-December only a third of evacuees – 36,000 – asked to be taken to rebel-held Idlib. The majority – 80,000 – elected to go to government-held territory in west Aleppo. This isn’t necessarily because they expected to be treated well by the government authorities – it’s just that they believed life under the rebels would be even more dangerous. In the Syrian Civil War, the choice is often between bad and worse.’


In May, the New York Times, in a report from a post-conflict Aleppo, quoted a local who spoke of life in the rebel-held part of Aleppo as a ‘chaotic wasteland full of feuding militias – some of them radical Islamists – who hoarded food and weapons while the people starved’. 

Another said, ‘No one is 100 per cent with the regime, but mostly these people are unified by their resistance to the opposition… that is corrupt, brutal and compromised by foreign sponsors’. 

But who among the Western political classes wants a rather messy truth – that life under a small-time despot like Assad is preferable to life under big-time Islamist militias – to get in the way of peddling a simple-minded, good-versus-evil narrative?

After all, that narrative, that grim fairytale, served a rather useful, triple end.

It provided grandstanding politicians and commentators with a sense of moral purpose; it continued the reheating of Cold War animosities and further demonised Russia as a callous, Empire-minded state; and, almost by accident, it diverted attention from a battle a few hundred miles away in Iraq that was to be just as brutalising and devastating as the years-long battle fought in Aleppo.

Because make no mistake, in terms of severity and civilian fatalities the Battle of Mosul, in which the US and Iraqi army fought ISIS, has been more than the equal of the Battle of Aleppo.

It may not have lasted as long, having begun in earnest on 17 October last year, and effectively concluding this month.

But, in that shorter time span, the killing, the bombing and the fighting have arguably been more intense than at any point in the Battle of Aleppo.

Little wonder that according to Amnesty International, between February and June this year, the US-backed Iraqi security forces were responsible for killing 5,805 civilians.

That figure, as Amnesty noted, doesn’t take into account the hundreds if not thousands of civilians massacred by ISIS as they tried to escape west Mosul.

So over the course of just five months, nearly 6,000 civilians lost their lives at the hands of the Iraqi-US coalition.

That is more than comparable with the 21,000 civilians the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported had lost their lives at the hands of all sides in the Battle of Aleppo over the course of its four gruelling years.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the US-Iraq coalition has caused the deaths of so many civilians in Mosul. 

On 11 January, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, reported that Mosul was ‘witnessing one of the largest urban military operations since the Second World War’. 

She also revealed that nearly 50 per cent of those being treated for gunshot wounds were civilians, a far higher percentage than in other sieges of which the UN had experience. 

As Cockburn reports, ‘On 30 December, the Kurdish health minister, Rekawt Hama Rasheed, said his hospitals had received 13,500 injured Iraqi troops and civilians and were running out of medicines’.

Amnesty International’s analysis merely deepens the impression of a battle waged with an increasing disregard for civilian life. 

It reports that, from January onwards, having struggled against ISIS tactics, which involved tunnelling through and then using civilians’ houses to launch sniper or grenade attacks, the US-Iraqi forces started using explosive weapons with large-scale and therefore indiscriminate effects. 

One Mosul resident who managed to get out in time told of how the strikes targeted ISIS snipers and civilians alike. 

‘A strike would destroy an entire house of two storeys. They’d hit one house and also destroy the two houses on either side. They killed a huge number of people.’

And then there were the reported atrocities which matched anything levelled at Syrian government forces in Aleppo. 

They even included Iraqi soldiers pushing their prisoners, who may or may not have been members of ISIS, off a cliff. 

Yet where was the outcry? Where were the MPs lining up to denounce US-backed cruelty? 

Where was the ambassador to the UN declaring that the fighting in Mosul proved that ‘what the US and its allies is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism – it is barbarism’? 

Where was the ostentatious compassion, the off-the-shelf Nazi analogy, the preening self-righteousness?

It was nowhere, of course.

Instead, an Iraq-US spokesman, US colonel Joe Scrocca, called the Amnesty International report ‘irresponsible and an insult’. 

Others simply pointed out how incredibly difficult it is to fight the Islamist insurgents in built-up urban environments. 

Residents become ‘human shields’, and family homes sniper hideouts. Civilians are therefore bound to die in the battle against the Islamist enemy. 

There is an inescapable truth to the argument that wars are dirty, that non-combatants will be dragged in, no matter how hard it is to confront.

But why then, when Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, were engaged in an equally difficult conflict in Aleppo, did so many prefer to posture and pronounce on Putin and Assad’s wickedness? 

The hypocrisy is not surprising, but that does not make it any less shocking. 

While the Battle of Aleppo is still portrayed as a humanitarian catastrophe and a war crime, the Battle of Mosul is celebrated as a decisive victory against the Islamist enemy without (if not within).

But the fact that the US-backed Iraqi military killed nearly 6,000 people in Mosul tells us something important about the Western response to Aleppo. 

It tells us that it wasn’t really motivated by a concern for human life; that it wasn’t really proof of the virtue of the West; and that it wasn’t really proof of the vice of Russia. 

It tells us that the moral hyperbole vented over the actions of Syrian government forces, and, more importantly, Russia, was opportunistic and cynical. 

It tells us that a desire to bash Russia, and burnish one’s own self-image, can lead to a dangerous distortion not just of the brutal reality of war, but of reality itself.

Content Analysis

Philip Giraldi writes: 

Not so long ago my wife and I, in a heated moment, canceled our subscriptions to the Washington Post and the New York Times on the same day.

We stopped short of burning recent copies of both publications on a bonfire in our front yard, but were elated at ending our connection to America’s leading sources of government propaganda and outrageously fake news.

We toasted our liberation with a nice glass of Oregon State pinot noir.

We had become increasingly annoyed over the constant defamation of Donald Trump as candidate and president-elect even before he was inaugurated and had a chance to do anything wrong.

But the real reason for our removal of America’s self-styled papers of record was the horrible coverage of Russia in general and what was going on in Syria in particular.

That both papers kept repeating how Moscow had interfered in the election and that Syria was using chemical weapons without providing any evidence in either case had proven to be our own red line in terms of what we would allow into our house.

Not having the papers readily available has meant that we have avoided a lot of sensational journalism explaining in some detail why the United States has both a right and an obligation to be interfering militarily in every corner of the world simultaneously, and we also missed some really crazy stuff.

Washington Post opinion piece that I completely missed when it first appeared on June 23, but which I have recently discovered, was entitled “This is what foreign spies see when they read President Trump’s tweets.”

As presumably few Americans can appreciate that Donald Trump’s tweets are actually classified documents and I was once upon a time a spy, I found the title intriguing, so I put on my tin hat and dove in.

First of all, I took note of the author.

She is Nada Bakos, self-described as a former “CIA analyst and targeting officer.” I didn’t know what a targeting officer was, but the article went on to explain it.

Per a page advertising her forthcoming book at Amazon, Nada worked as an “analyst on the team charged with analyzing the relationship between Iraq, al Qaida, and 9/11.”

Redundancy aside, as there was no actual evidence linking together Iraq, al-Qaeda and 9/11, one wonders how Bakos reacted when CIA Director George Tenet and Vice President Dick Cheney came pounding on her door insisting that there had to be a relationship to justify war.

Reportedly some CIA analysts refused to endorse the lie that Iraq was cooperating with al-Qaeda to bring about 9/11, so hopefully Bakos got it right and stood her ground.

Bakos subsequently became the chief “targeter” working on al-Qaeda notable Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who rose to the rank of First Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq before he died in a “targeted” killing by U.S. forces in 2006.

Bakos’s book’s subtitle is “My life in the CIA, on the Hunt for the Godfather of ISIS,” which refers to her role in locating and killing al-Zarqawi.

I would note in passing that al-Zarqawi was a genuine monster and richly deserved what he got.

In any event, the Amazon blurb goes on to note that “after 20 years in the intelligence field and corporate world, Ms. Bakos is currently focused on national security issues and regional stability around the world.”

One might note in passing that “regional stability” is a feelgood U.S. government buzzword that means the same thing as “humanitarian intervention” or “responsibility to protect,” both of which are sound principles that are presumably enshrined somewhere in the U.S. Constitution.

Or maybe not.

So what does Nada Bakos have to say about Trump’s tweets?

Well, intelligence agencies around the world are apparently busy trying to analyze them because “they’re trying to determine what vulnerabilities the president of the United States might have.

“And he’s giving them a lot to work with. Trump’s Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency.”

Bakos twists herself into a pretzel in trying to emphasize the importance of an intelligence agency learning everything there is to know about a foreign head of state. She draws on her own experience, recounting how:

“At the CIA, I tracked and analyzed terrorists and other U.S. enemies, including North Korea. But we never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now—to get a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind. If we had, it would have given us significant advantages in our dealings with them.”

That’s where I began to lose it.

I would first of all note that learning what one might about habits and attitudes of terrorist leaders in order to anticipate where they will go or what they would do so you can kill them is much different than assessing what the head of a legitimate government might say or do based on his or her personality.

I seriously doubt that there are teams of intelligence analysts, as Bakos claims, sitting around worrying about the deeper meaning of Donald Trump’s tweets.

There might be no deeper meaning at all, and it would seem to me that Trump is relatively transparent.

Narcissistic, quick to take offense, impulsive, unwilling to consider “details”—he is a walking id.

So what is there to figure out beyond that?

I suspect this article was written both to sell a book and to diminish Donald Trump from a new angle, one that might reasonably be described as bizarre.

Whatever kernel of truth it might contain is overwhelmed by hyperbole.

Bakos cites how the Saudi Arabians may have exploited their intelligence-derived assessment of Trump to publish favorable newspaper stories about him and line the highway from the airport with billboards praising the new American president.

But, as flattery will get you everywhere, such activity is not necessarily a brilliant insight into how to win over the new sheriff in town.

It would not have taken a genius to figure out that Trump likes to be celebrated, and it is likely that the Saudis would have made a similar effort for any American president.

And I might add that judging from Bakos’s brief bio, she likely did her “analysis” and “targeting” from the comfort of an office at CIA headquarters.

I wonder how much time she spent actually analyzing foreign leaders up close and personal.

I know from my own experience that no one in Langley in my era would have wasted much time or effort on personality profiles.

That was done at headquarters by guys and gals who holed up in the basement and went methodically through newspaper clippings.

As a CIA case officer who lived overseas in four countries, my recollection is that no one ever had the least bit of interest in the quirks of foreign leaders.

They were part of the background noise of operating overseas.

While we would have been delighted to recruit a deputy prime minister both as a source of information and as an agent of influence, it was a very low priority to step back and worry about his personal foibles.

As I recall very clearly, the Department of State generally had the “leader profile” bases well covered both in terms of foreign-government intentions and the proclivities of the key players in the host governments.

U.S. Foreign Service officers actually met with senior government officials, attended their receptions, had lunch with them, and went to their parties.

The FSOs were very well trained in making assessments and writing them up for policymakers in Washington. It was their job and they were quite good at it.

So, no, I am not buying that Donald Trump’s twittering makes the United States more vulnerable from a national security point of view, with teams of hostile intelligence officers somehow and somewhere using computers to perform “content analysis on the president’s tweets in the aggregate,” as Bakos puts it.

I do believe, however, that there is a major covert industry nationwide that is seeking to do whatever it can to delegitimize Trump and Bakos’ silly article is just one more example of what is being purveyed in the mainstream media to that end.

The jury should still be out on what kind of president we actually have, and Trump is certainly not helping his case through his unwillingness to play the game and act presidential.

But the assertion that his use of Twitter is somehow making the country less safe is complete nonsense.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Agony and The Ecstasy

Today is the seventieth birthday of the Duchess of Cornwall, while yesterday was the seventieth birthday of Assata Shakur.

Truly, that would be the agony aunt page of this occasional (and soon to be regular) editor's dreams, with all problems answered both by Dear Camilla and by Dear Assata.

Middle Without Muddle

These days, and perhaps always, what you think of public sector pay is what you think of whether or not there ought to be a secure middle class.

There now barely is one in the private sector, where even the well-paid are thoroughly precarious, and are thus unable to exercise the middle class's traditional and necessary role in social, cultural and political affairs.

If private sector pay and pensions are rubbish, then make them better. In order to do that, you may have to join something called a trade union.

Of course, there are always a Henig in the woodpile, trying to cut the pay of Teaching Assistants while daring to occupy the platform of the Durham Miners' Gala (bigger than Glastonbury, let the BBC and the rest of the London media take note).

Simon Henig's presence of that platform recalled Sam Watson, who conspired with Hugh Gaitskell to have Aneurin Bevan (a fellow miner) expelled from the Labour Party, who collaborated with the National Coal Board in closing Durham pits, who opposed all local strikes, who instructed local officials to support the management in sacking men for absenteeism, and who thus made the Durham miners the lowest paid in the country, so that it took the strikes of 1972 and 1974 to restore wage parity throughout the coalfields.

Watson got away with it all because he was a CIA agent, and there is also a room named after him in the Knesset building, which is not the kind of honour that is conferred on a casual acquaintance.

But here in the county where he was known in his day as "the Commander-in-Chief", he is almost completely forgotten now, and his name is abominated by the few who remember it.

The Henig in the woodpile, indeed.

The Core Issue

There is not much to be said for Matt Hancock.

But he really is beginning to take the fight to the pornography industry, which is one of the most important manifestations of the morally objectionable character of the "free" market system that, like all economic arrangements, is a political choice.

The legalisation of hardcore pornography, a legalisation that was logically inevitable once that economic system had been accepted, is the Blair Government's most abiding legacy to the culture of this country.

Thank goodness that neither party is any longer led by people with any time at all for Tony Blair.

If these sites can be identified for the purpose of requiring age verification, then they can be identified for the purpose of blocking them altogether.

Tom Watson, over to you.

Social Murder, Indeed

Grenfell Tower.

And assisted suicide, for any of the reasons ever cited in support of the practice.

Who, Indeed?

How did those Afghan girls ever have any trouble getting to a robotics competition? Didn't we liberate Afghanistan, or something?

This is an awful lot more important than Doctor Who.

Oh, well, the wisdom of the BBC's decision will be judged by whether or not anyone will still watch Doctor Who.

It could choose to move EastEnders to outer space (not much of a leap, one might say), but would anyone watch it?

And it has more or less chosen to redraw the character of the Doctor as the much-regenerated Sharon Watts Mitchell Watts Rickman Mitchell.

But will anyone watch it?

If not, then look out for the plot twist where she turns out to have been an impostor all along, and the real Doctor appears at the end of the next series, perhaps played by Danny Dyer.

As for the idea that this would have been "the right thing to do" even if it had lost the entire audience, why?

What is the programme supposed to be, if not popular television?

There is a reason why it is on BBC One early on a Saturday evening.

Route 66?

Momentum and others who would wish Labour MPs to require 66 per cent support in their Constituency Labour Parties before being safe from deselection ought to be careful what they wish for.

Not all MPs were selected by their CLPs in the first place.

And the one here, who at 29 is likely to be here for a very long time, is never, ever going to hit a two thirds majority in the CLP that played no role in her selection process and almost no role in her election campaign.

Jared O'Mara is usually cited as Momentum's first MP.

The Labour Party, as such, had no interest in getting him into Parliament, and no aspiration to take Sheffield Hallam, which is one of the richest constituencies in the country and which had never previously returned a Labour candidate.

But the Left within and beyond the Labour Party piled in independently, and the rest is history.

Something similar happened here in the North West Durham, where the Left within and beyond the Labour Party piled in with a view to electing Laura Pidcock, while almost the only local members who played any part were those who were in any case part of those networks.

The difference is that there barely was a CLP in Sheffield Hallam anyway, although such a CLP as there was had selected Jared O'Mara as its candidate.

There very much was, and is, a CLP in North West Durham, and it very much had not been asked whether it wanted Laura Pidcock or anyone else at its candidate.

Hard work and sheer incumbency ought to guarantee her reselection if she needed only a simple majority of the CLP.

But the combination of her views, her style, her youth, the fact that she is not local (it is a fair old move from Cramlington to her new home in Lanchester, and she has a broad Northumberland accent), the circumstances of her original imposition, and the absence of any apparent career progression despite her immediately high profile, mean that she would stand no chance of 66 per cent.

The View From The Woodpile

In seeking to equate highly disputed allegations of anti-Semitism by retired or obscure activists with recorded use of the n-word by a sitting Member of Parliament, Dan Hodges says an awful lot about himself.

Unencumbered by office, and perhaps with a particular pride in a past record as an anti-racist campaigner, has any MP yet moved the expulsion of Anne Marie Morris from the House of Commons? If not, why not?

Terrified Beyond Reason Or Self-Respect

The Government won’t publish its own report into who funds Islamist extremism in this country.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, comically claims that she is gagging herself for reasons of national security.

This is the same Government that – also in the name of national security – happily attacks civil liberty, demands the power to pry into our phone calls and emails, and searches for ‘extremists’ in schools and universities. It is the most astonishing development of the week.

But more fuss was made when Ms Rudd’s hat blew off at some ceremony than was made about this sinister decision.

Like almost all suppressed reports about terrorism in London or Washington DC, the truth that is being kept from us is that great danger comes from Saudi Arabia, HQ of the most fanatical and intolerant Islamism on the market.

Nobody really doubts that this report, if published, would say that.

The pathetic scraps of the document which Ms Rudd allowed into the open last week hinted strongly at it, for those who knew where to look.

Her statement said: ‘For a small number of organisations with which there are extremism concerns, overseas funding is a significant source of income.’ 

Hurriedly, she added: ‘However, for the vast majority of extremist groups in the UK, overseas funding is not a significant source.’

Why ‘however’? So what? If foreign funds are significant at all, that’s what we need to know. 

Because she also said: ‘Overseas support has allowed individuals to study at institutions that teach deeply conservative forms of Islam and provide highly socially conservative literature and preachers to the UK’s Islamic institutions. Some of these individuals have since become of extremist concern.’ 

By ‘socially conservative’ they don’t mean me. They mean those who support the forcible shrouding of women and who froth hatred of Jews.

How mealy mouthed to call it ‘conservatism’.

But our Government is terrified of offending the Saudis, terrified beyond reason or self-respect. 

That’s why flags fly at half-mast in London when Saudi monarchs die, and why Theresa May, poor thing, had to accept the King Abdulaziz Sash last April, a decoration awarded for ‘meritorious service’ to the despotic kingdom.

I look forward to seeing her wearing it.

I’m a realist. I can see that we have to grovel a bit to the Saudis, because we’re not as rich and powerful as we used to be, and we need their money.

But doesn’t this go too far when we suppress a report which might help us combat terrorism on our own streets, just to spare the blushes of a foreign tyranny?


The only mercy in war is a swift victory.

We delude ourselves if we think you can capture a defended modern city with bombs and guns without doing dreadful things.

Fanatical jihadis are expert at terrorising the population of such cities, preventing them from fleeing and then using them as human shields.

The shields die, in unknown thousands. 

So I am very glad to see the end of the battle of Mosul.

Last December, I was just as relieved when the Syrian state, backed by Russian air power, crushed equally ruthless Islamist fanatics in Aleppo.

But at that time I was surrounded by a media chorus accusing the Russians of terrible war crimes.

I pointed out that this was a double standard. If we did the same, we would excuse it.

I then asked those damning the Russians and Syrians: ‘When Mosul falls, as it will, and those who defeated IS are applauded, as they will rightly be, please think about this.’ 

As it happens, one rather courageous voice, Amnesty International, last week produced a careful and thoughtful report, pointing out that the West and its allies had taken less care than they might have done to avoid killing innocents in Mosul.

My view of this is that’s what war is like. If you don’t like atrocities, don’t start wars.

What was interesting was that a British general then let fly at Amnesty.

Major General Rupert Jones, the deputy commander of the international coalition against IS, said Amnesty were naive to think a huge city such as Mosul could be captured without any civilian casualties, while fighting a merciless enemy.

I rather agree with him, though Amnesty’s point was that some of those deaths might have been avoided.

But if a Russian general had said exactly the same about Aleppo last December, as he would have been completely entitled to do, he would have been torn to shreds as a barbaric war criminal by Western media and politicians. 

The old rule applies. You can’t have it both ways.

Either you accept that war against such enemies is bound to have bloody results, or you don’t.

But don’t justify your own unintended but cruel actions, while condemning those of others.

There’s a word for that which I can’t quite think of just now.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

To Come Into Effect

How is Tony Blair still a member of the Labour Party? I mean, what does he have to do?

And people wonder that I have no desire to be one. The party of Tony Blair and Simon Henig is welcome to the pair of them.

Much hilarity at the Durham Miners' Gala a week ago, as several far more important people warmly shook my hand and spoke to me, while Henig could not even bring himself to look at me as he wilted in the shadow of the prison where he will be residing this time next year.

But, much as it pains me to say it, Blair has a point. It is perfectly conceivable that Brexit will never happen under this incompetent Government, although it is also perfectly possible that that is the intention.

A Bill needs to be introduced, separate from the ludicrous Great Repeal Bill that would in fact turn the United Kingdom into a colony of the European Union, and to come into effect immediately, not "on exit day" or what have you.

That Bill would need to have five clauses, to come into effect regardless of whether or not, as becomes less likely by the day, we ever actually withdrew from the European Union.

First, restoring the supremacy of United Kingdom over European Union law, using that provision to repatriate industrial and regional policy as Labour has advocated for some time, using it to repatriate agricultural policy, and using it to restore the United Kingdom's historic fishing rights of 200 miles or to the median line.

Secondly, requiring that all EU legislation, in order to have any effect in this country, be enacted by both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or the other of them.

Thirdly, requiring that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard

Fourthly, disapplying in the United Kingdom any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament

And fifthly, disapplying in the United Kingdom anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs who had been certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

Jeremy Corbyn, over to you.

Get The Media Out Of London?

After Grenfell Tower, it would be no bad thing to get the media into London.

Into the London, and even into the West End, that most of its people inhabit.

Just as the American pioneers somehow could not see the Native Americans, and just as the Zionist pioneers somehow could not see the Palestinians, so the London media somehow could not see a social housing tower block in Kensington, at least once it had been clad in such a way as to avoid distress to the immensely wealthy neighbours.

But then, those media routinely cannot see enormous demonstrations that are going right past their offices, either.

They do not even live in London. They live in a city of their own imagination; a place of childish delusion, into which nothing must ever intrude.

Food For Thought

As Ken Loach points out, this is the first British Government to use hunger as a weapon.

Moreover, it is not doing so only in Britain.

Hunger is as much an instrument of British foreign policy in Yemen as it is an instrument of British domestic policy at home.