Mosul: Behind the headlines

When you look at news reports of the fighting in Mosul, it is easy to overlook some of the basic facts about this huge city. Until recently, it had a population of almost 1.9 million people, and is the second largest city in Iraq after Baghdad. This makes it almost twice the size of Birmingham, England’s second largest city, and more than three times larger than Boston, in the USA.

Just imagine if those well-known cities were under occupation by a well-organised army of religious fundamentalists, and being attacked by forces from their own country helped by the US or a foreign power, as well as being bombed by British and American aircraft. Think how difficult it would be to deal with the potential for causing civilian casualties, or choosing which of the people you encounter is friend or foe. The maze of streets, the apartment blocks, rooftops, factories, industrial areas, and large airports. A major river, numerous bridges, shopping areas, markets, schools, hospitals, religious buildings, and administrative offices. Every wall or fence a potential hiding place. Every rooftop or balcony a spot for a sniper, and the ability for the enemy to hide in plain sight among crowds of distressed non-combatants.

For almost three years, this city has been a battleground between warring factions; international interventionists, and government troops. If you live in a city, or have ever lived in one, then you can only try to imagine what this must be like, as I do. Even allowing for the large numbers who have fled Mosul, it is estimated that more than 750,000 civilians remain there, possibly 1 million. That is still much larger than the population of Boston, and countless other western cities. By comparison, the largest city close to where I live is Norwich. This is the biggest city in the whole county, and covers a substantial area, including many suburbs, and an international airport. I cannot imagine fighting on the same scale happening there, yet the population is only 133,000.

Another fact overlooked, is that many of the residents remaining in Mosul actually welcomed the forces of Islamic State as liberators. They had previously suffered religious persecution from Iraqi government troops and sectarian militias, and were happy to have the intervention by the fundamentalists. Many joined them willingly, and some still fight alongside them to this day. Of course for many others, living under IS was unacceptable, as they were cruelly treated for many reasons, including religious ones. But as parts of the city are recaptured by the Iraqi army, their foreign allies, the police units, and the ‘Golden Brigade’, many civilians have been arrested, detained without trial as suspected members of IS. Many others now live in fear of reprisals by the army and militia units, as the old enmities between Sunni and Shia Muslims resurface in the ‘liberated’ areas of the city.

Naturally, I am no supporter of Islamic State. This horrible organisation has no place in the modern world. But we need to look behind the news reports, the five-minutes of combat footage, and the talking heads interviews, and to be aware that replacing one form of terror with another might well be what we are helping to achieve. Not only in Iraq, but in Syria too.

Shut up, and go away

Recently, we have seen the vultures circling over the heads of both Brexit, and the Labour Party leadership. Just in time to turn the political milk sour in advance of two by-elections, that well known rent-a-mouth, Tony Blair, reappeared to make one of his ‘impassioned’ speeches about the referendum result. We didn’t know what we were voting for, according to him. We were too stupid to understand the implications, according to him. We need to reject the vote, and get behind a deal to stay in, according to him. It’s not too late to overturn the result, and refuse to accept the will of the people, according to him.

This is the man who supposedly turned his back on politics, after losing the 2007 election, then resigning his seat in a safe Labour stronghold. He embarked on the usual round of ‘pretend jobs’, book deals, and very lucrative speaking engagements. But he obviously misses the power and prestige that comes with being the British Prime Minister, and there are even suggestions that he may well return to the political arena. In the meantime, he continues to pop up and mouth off about things that he could have influenced, had he chosen to remain in his previous job instead of leaving to become a multi-millionaire. Showing his true contempt for ordinary people, and telling us that he knows what is best for us, so we should listen to him.

Then we get David Miliband, pontificating about what a bad leader Jeremy Corbyn is, and how he will destroy the Labour Party. This from a man who lost the leadership election for that party, to his own less-effective younger brother. In 2013, he resigned from politics, to accept a lucrative job as head of the cartoon-sounding International Rescue Committee in New York, USA, where he now lives. Yet this grey man, former adviser to Tony Blair, and fellow-traveller in the politics of appeasement, feels justified to comment on the current situation here, adding fuel to the fire of Labour’s spectacular defeat in the safe seat of Copeland this week.

It seems that both men still crave positions of influence in British politics. They are also happy to back-stab their former political party, with agendas bordering on the suspicious. They are both losers, and bad ones at that. And they both represent a time when the Labour Party was hard to separate from the Conservative party in ideas, policies, or physical appearance. Corbyn may well prove to be a man who cannot lead his party to election victory. Political trends are changing the world over, and the right-wing resurgence is taking its toll on traditional Labour areas too. But what we will never need are the spiteful or patronising statements from the likes of Blair and Miliband, which are totally destructive, and will do nothing to help Labour become anything other than a middle-class Conservative clone.

They need to just shut up, and go away.

Where’s David?

Following the referendum vote last summer, David Cameron beat a hasty retreat from his job as Prime Minister, closely followed by his resignation as a Conservative member of Parliament. He was so keen to get out of politics, it’s a wonder that his shoes didn’t catch fire at the speed of his departure. It says something of a man whose life was supposedly so dedicated to politics that he became the holder of the highest job in the land, only to clear off the moment he didn’t win something. Like a spoiled boy taking his football home, because his team didn’t score a goal.

We haven’t heard that much about him since, have we? He gave up a huge salary, (but presumably kept a good pension) and couldn’t even be bothered to continue to represent the Oxfordshire voters who supported him over the years. He cast aside his responsibilities like a badly-stained raincoat, without so much as a look over his shoulder.

But fear not. ‘Call me Dave’ isn’t begging for loose change outside a railway station. Far from it.
He has signed up with a lucrative agency that supplies speakers for events and dinners. The potential earnings are huge, especially for someone who can bleat on about how and why he gave up the top job in UK politics. He has claimed that he can offer ‘lessons in leadership’ as well. (Stop laughing…)

And just in case that’s not enough to keep him in designer socks, he has also struck a book deal, for his official ‘warts and all’ autobiography. Publishers Harper Collins are reported to have offered a deal that could be worth up to £800,000 at the very least. That alone is equivalent to forty years salary for someone earning the average of around £20,000 a year.
Now they just have to find someone to write the book.

And what of his wife, the lovely Samantha? Will she be sitting dutifully at home, waiting to heat up his macaroni cheese when he gets in after a long lunchtime speaking engagement? Apparently not. For she has put her name to a new up-market fashion brand, with prices starting at £100, and going up to a lot more than that. She told Vogue magazine that her forty-piece collection would be aimed at High Street shoppers. Shows how long it has been since she shopped in a High Street in Britain.

So we need not worry. Dave and Sam are sorted. Their old friends have rallied round, found them some nice little jobs, and they are set for life. Makes me feel all warm inside.

Guest post: An American’s view

I was very pleased to receive this guest post from Ed Westen in America. It is always good to hear some opinions from the other side of the Atlantic. Especially when they are well-informed, and from the heart.

“Your REDFLAGFLYING post today, “Trump and May and Corbyn,” got me to thinking, especially your last question: “Or is Democracy only good when you get what you want?” In the US, we say that our Constitution exists to protect the minority (read: those out of power) while working the will of the majority. In the UK, you enshrine minority protection with the concept, actualized, of “a loyal opposition.” The whole idea is that policy changes should neither disenfranchise those who lost an election nor make it impossible for them to gain power the next time. So, there are limits on the power of the majority. Under the US Constitution there are limits as to what the majority (winner in the last election) can do in policy area, vague and ill-defined limits, but limits none-the-less. I should think completely privatizing medicine and health care in the UK would breach one of those policy limits; but cutting away at it might be possible. In the US, overt discrimination would breach a limit; but imposing, say, voter registration requirements blacks and other minorities might find difficult to meet may, in some carefully worded laws, pass successfully given the right composition on the courts.

It turns out that neither of us live in a democracy. Rather we live in “moneyarchies.” Those with the money pick candidates for office. The rest of us pick from the choices the moneyed elite present to us. Those with money are on the Right. That is they are a conservative force in our societies. Their control over elections, media and commerce (especially jobs for the rest of us) gives them almost complete control over policy. A large segment of our populations, for reasons of class, race, simply being “rich wannabees” or having been brainwashed by what they are allowed to see, becomes their voter support.

However, make no mistake about it, even the candidates the moneyed class offers us on the Left will largely do the bidding of the moneyed elites. The moneyed elite is not a uniform oligarchy. No, it is divided by the same quest for power over each other as they have for power over us. Think of their conflicts as similar to the Wars of The Roses—a lot of foot soldier causalities, and very few royals hurt.

Strangely, the moneyed classes do not quite understand the nature or source of their wealth. By that I mean they do not know how money is created. They do not know that the more people active in their capitalist markets, the more wealth is actually available to them. They do not know their insistence on dominating politics with their choices of candidates to offer us retards the growth of their and our wealth.

Public policy in your and my countries is based on a tug of war involving what will be funded and who will pay. It is largely viewed as a zero-sum game. Take from one group to pay for something for another. What very few see, is that largely it is the rich taking from the rest of society. If the Right wins, one group of rich people get policy preference. If the Left wins another group of rich people get a slightly different set of policy preferences. This state of affairs will continue as long as private money dictates who the candidate for public office are. AND, as long as money is created by funneling it through the rich. Make financing public elections with private money illegal and democratize the creation of money and you not only change the rules of the game, you will change the policy outcomes.”

Ed Westen, 2017.

You can read more about Ed’s ideas here.
https://democratizemoney.wordpress.com/
And his entertaining daily blog, including fiction and photographs, is here.
https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/

Trump and May and Corbyn

Well 2016 was a year wasn’t it?

So we started 2017 with a US President that apparently nobody wanted, a British Prime Minister who got her job more or less by default, and a Labour Party leader whose own colleagues continue to try to depose. Add to that the rise of the Right across Europe, the squabbling over Brexit and the referendum continuing, and the media-inspired panic about Russia’s intentions and China flexing its muscles. It is looking as if this year is going to be an unmitigated disaster for the world, and will change everything as we know it.

Or will it?

Like it or not, Trump was elected. I don’t like him, but I had little time for Sanders or Clinton either. He has started to do exactly what he said he would do, much to the consternation of those who never believed he would go through with it. So he sends silly tweets, and shows off about the numbers who attended his inauguration. He isn’t very statesmanlike, and still looks somewhat surprised that he is really the president. No surprises there. He may not be allowed to get many of his policies past Congress, but at least he is trying to deliver what he promised, whether we like it or not.

Theresa may won the leadership election and stepped in after Cameron chickened out and left the game like a spoilt child, taking his ball home. Her party was never elected on the basis of her being its leader, and she was firmly against leaving the EU in the past. Yet she stepped up, got on with the job, knuckled down to negotaiting with the EU, and even going so far as to hold hands with Trump, hoping for a beneficial trade deal. Now that’s dedication. I would never vote for her party unless I had senile dementia, but given the alternatives at the moment, she has got to be the best of a bad bunch.

Jeremy Corbyn continues to behave with great dignity, despite so many of his so-called colleagues and former friends doing everything but stick a real knife into his back. That bunch of Tony Blair wannabees are more interested in personal power, than in the integrity of their own, supposedly Socialist, party. But the membership, the real people, those without any political influence, they still believe in him. Unless the whole constitution of the party is changed by the plotters within, they are likely to keep him in charge, so that we might continue to see real policies like nationalisation of industries, free university education, and a properly funded health service. Because once he has gone, you can bet your life his successors will be getting out their neutral coloured ties, and matching them with nice blue suits, as they water down everything to appeal to the confused middle classes.

So what am I saying?

In short, just let them get on with it. ‘Special Relationship’ or not, America is a foreign country. Just because some of them sound a bit like us, and they use an approximation of our language, doesn’t make their business our business. Let Trump rise or fall doing what he said he would do, and history will judge him.
As for Prime Minister May, she seems to be doing well enough, at least for a Conservative. I didn’t want her government, but I am stuck with it. So leave her alone to get on with what we voted for, getting us out of the EU.
And whatever you think of Corbyn, the Labour Party would be a grey place without him in it, and the policies would be hard to separate from those of the government. Besides, the members voted for him, so he should stay. That’s democracy, isn’t it?

Or is Democracy only good when you get what you want?

Brexit: The Class struggle behind the words.

This week has seen the British Supreme Court debating whether or not the country will be allowed to leave the EU without the seal of approval from Parliament. Naturally, the whole subject of the referendum has been subject to great scrutiny once again. Long-winded news reports, features on discussion programmes, and the constant efforts by those unhappy with the result to derail the whole process. Today I heard that Ireland is to mount a legal challenge to the result too. Well, not exactly Ireland, but a British barrister, Jolyon Maugham, who is trying to use their courts to allow for a future overturning of the current process.

It is worth looking at what is really going on here. Behind the rhetoric, lurking in the wings of the legal actions, and hiding in plain sight in the words of many broadcasters and journalists, is that old British anachronism, Class. If you examine where and by whom most of the votes were cast, it is easy to see how the result happened. Those wishing to remain in the EU were predominantly from the larger cities, and the affluent suburbs that surround them. Ignoring the overwhelming Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which had very different agendas, anyone who looks at the voting demographic can clearly see the sort of areas that voted to remain. The University Towns, the areas with Science Parks, or places where the price of property is generally unaffordable to those on average incomes. Many of those Remain voters were also from the younger age groups; some still in full-time education, or hoping to travel extensively later on. The Intelligentsia, the bureaucrats, the wealthy retired, and the second home owners, all voting to stay in an EU that suited them very nicely, thank you.

This section of the still-present British class system did not dream for one second that they would ever lose that vote. That is very clear from their reaction to defeat. They considered the Leave voters to be from the uneducated and poorer classes in the main; and these people do not bother to vote, do they? People working for minimum wage, on no-hours contracts. Those without jobs, or any prospect of finding one. Young people who could never dream of being able to go to university, and will never be able to afford to move out of the family home. Agricultural workers, industrial workers, fishermen; all have seen their industries dismantled, sold off, or crippled by regulation. Pensioners struggling to make ends meet close to the poverty line. People who left school as soon as they could, trying to earn something to make a contribution to the family income. Those who read tabloid newspapers, watch trite entertainment shows on television, and like to often eat fast food. They had no gap years, no thoughts of backpacking around Asia, or worries about which university to choose. They have never read The Guardian, or watched ‘Question Time’. Their opinions didn’t matter, and their thoughts were irrelevant. They would do what they had always done. Shut up, and do as they were told.

But they didn’t, and now the losers cannot bear it. They hate to think that this majority of their own country, one generally disregarded by the affluent south and the well-educated, actually didn’t do as it was supposed to. So now they throw everything at them. They seek to overturn that voice of the people, or to put as many obstacles in their way as they possibly can. Some dress up their protest with accusations of racism. Others assert that there should be a second referendum, as the 52% could surely never have really understood what they were doing. They don’t say why, but the implication is clearly visible in the patronising language. They believe that the 52% were low class, pure and simple. More than 17,000,000 citizens of their own country should not have been allowed a say in their own destiny, because their social position and educational background were not up to scratch.

So when you see talk of a ‘divided nation’; a country split by a bitter referendum, don’t be fooled. It is Class, pure and simple. The scourge of this island, and something that has never gone away.

Polls: Have they had their day?

2016 has been a year when we have seen polls fail at every turn. After decades of relying on pollsters, they have finally been proved to be wrong, and we have seen for ourselves how little they matter. I have some vested interest here, as I am a long-term member of the UK’s largest polling group, You Gov. Despite my scrupulously honest answers to their frequent polls, they got it wrong. Every time.

They were not alone. Every poll got the ‘Leave’ vote wrong, in the EU referendum. Just to add insult to injury, the polls everywhere also failed to predict the result of the US election, as they all decided that Trump would lose. This has continued in Europe, where they missed the results in the Italian and Austrian referenda by a mile. So, can they be trusted anymore? Obviously not.

Since the mania for polling arrived here from America in the early 1960s, their predictions have been hit and miss at best. Despite some convincing results with ‘exit polls’ at General Elections, their strike rate has been something like 50%. That equates to tossing a coin, and does not justify the huge amounts of money spent engaging these numerous polling companies to foretell events.

This year has seen their high watermark in failure. They can no longer claim to have that finger on the pulse of the electorate, anywhere. In fact, we can no longer rely on them to even tell us what a nation’s favourite biscuit happens to be. So, time for them to shut up shop, and disappear. Thanks all the same, polling companies, but we might just as well feel some seaweed, or examine the entrails of a dead goat.

Your USP has gone, and you should go with it.