Whatever The Problems Of The UK, At Least We Know What A Profitable War Looks Like!

Suppose you are an arms manufacturer (you may actually be an arms manufacturer as this is a public post!). There are three ways of making money from your products: planned or unplanned obsolescence; high maintenance costs; get your clients to buy more product, perhaps by actually using them.

Although wars have traditionally been the quickest driver of new weapons (think tank, radar, jet engine and atomic bomb as twentieth century examples) the current pace of technology makes obsolesence a realistic short-term possibility. Suppose, however, you are Lockheed Martin who make the Trident system.  It is clear that a ballistic missile maker won’t get a great many sales! Its like buying a car which is too reliable and lasts too long. So, as with the car, tying the customer to a  maintenance schedule is important.  Along with the Royal Navy submarine upkeep, the annual maintenance cost of Trident is estimated to be about £2.3bn.

What about the most destructive way of making money, getting your customers to use their weapons?  Considering the wars that have taken place over the past twenty five years it is possible to work out the desirable parameters. The war must be large enough to necessitate the use of expensive, probably missile, technology (and the occasional destruction of an asset such as a fighter plane)  Trump firing 59 Cruise missiles at Syria at around $1mil per shot is perfect! And that was just a simple retaliatory action. Small ‘boots on the ground’/police actions with mostly rifles and bullets aren’t going t make that much prfit (as in, for example, saving innocents from a central African genocide). Besides, open spaces like deserts really allow you to use the expensive stuff!

But the war must not be too big that it destabilises the world.  Fellow large multi-national Corporations like stability, so the war should not really disrupt world trade to any extent;.profit forecasts must be met. Besides ending the world is very bad for repeat sales (even for Lockheed Martin!). So the West is very cautious in North Korea!

Next the war must not be seen to have too many civilian casualties or the casualties must be easily presented as evil and thus disposable.  Ideally there should be few or none of your own casualties.  This means, either way,  the public will not get on the politicians backs to stop the conflict.

Finally the war, either during its execution but most certainly afterwards must present your investors with opportunities for profits from reconstruction.  A few months ago I wrote a post about the situation in Syria and included a report grom the Washington Post about major Gulf States (including Saudi Arabia) financial backing for Assad. If we had really wanted to sort out Syria then this is where we should have started, with the Middle East banks.  But there is no profit in this, unlike arms to be used in Yemen!

So to sum up,  Small proxy wars are best just as long as the controlling powers undeerstand the situation and it does not get out of control.

Maybe this post is simply cynical. But allowing for the fact that oil is an important driving factor in when and where we decide to go to war we are always ready to defend liberty where this a private profit to be made for organisations such as BAE systems. Otherwise, you are on your own. However cynical this post, it is nowhere near the level shown by arms manufacturers!

Ethical Patriotism: Making a Home for Liberty

‘wherever they enjoyed liberty, there they thought themselves at home’

John Toland

In pursuit of radical politics and UK republicanism I hate ceding ground to the opposition. But it seems that all too often we avoid certain issues in a misplaced idea that they are ‘bad territory’ for us. History and tradition is one such issue.  The establishment controls the historical narrative to the extent that most popular history is about monarchs, empires and generals. So a huge area is left uncontested, leaving people ignorant of the great deeds of Levellers, Chartists and Suffragettes to name but a few.

It would be churlish not to recognise that things are changing. For example, we now have an English Civil War Centre at Newark (so Republicans can start talking about it!) and an increasing number of excellent books on radical and people’s history. But, alas, the media is largely silent and education is often woeful. Similarly with art and literature. I am happy to join with others to promote the great work of the poet Shelley, but even so the Chartist poets remain largely forgotten and there are excellent contemporary poets such as Spike the Poet from Corby struggling for recognition.. Their work is inspirational.

Another subject is patriotism.  I have blogged previously about an alternative, and I consider correct, view of patriotism to the popular one which owes too much to nationalism and jingoism. But I want think about extending that concept of patriotism to involve a love of your country as a home for liberty.  Patriotism in this sense strives not only for a just and free society at home, but seeks to make sure we act justly beyond our borders (what price arms sales to Saudi!), Writing about the ideas of Marcia Baron (more here) who worked on this ethical patriotism, Igor Primoratz describes:

A patriot of this, distinctively ethical type, would want to see justice done, rights respected, human solidarity at work at any time and in any place….She would be proud of the country’s moral record, when it inspires pride.

But thee are other aspects to this view of patriotism. Now, obviously, you can only enjoy liberty at the place where you are currently and not where you were born, assuming they are different. This feature makes it ideally suitable for a world where so many people are moving around, both within and between nations and continents. Maurizio Viroli put it another way. Writing about the author of my opening quote, John Toland,  he pointed out that in his conception:

As long as the fundamental value that inspires love of country is liberty, one can find this country elsewhere. 

Am I a patriot? Yes. I believe that we in these islands can develop a genuinely free and just society, but we have a long way to go. I am a patriot because I am prepared to work towards that day and not give up.  I guess that places me in the ‘ethical patriotism’ camp. But here is the thing.  I believe that there are Irish people, French people and people in every nation who wish the same thing. I encourage, support and applaud them   Tom Paine also believed this kind of internationalism and I think he was correct.

Lastly, if Martin Luther King can have a dream, so can I. My dream is that one day the the current international race based on resources and war is replaced by a new one.  This new race will be to extend ever greater liberty to their citizens. One of the criteria for winning the race will be to assist other nations with their goals of liberty, to free citizens from domination by hunger, debt and violence. To free them from religious persecution, homophobia, sexism or any number of other prejudices That this race is endless and cannot be won but must be run.…

OK, so MLK had a better dream than me.  I can handle that!

BBC Salaries – The ‘Market Rate’ Argument Is Again Deployed To Defend Greed and Discrimination.

The grotesque salaries paid to BBC presenters including  more than £2.2m to Chris Evans who flopped as a Top Gear presenter (in an echo of banker-like huge rewards for failure) and Gary Lineker at over £1.75m has focussed attention on what is fair reward in an age of austerity.  The eye-catching issue is the gender pay gap which has, rightly, prompted a public outcry and a legal case. But I want to consider a broader aspect of this issue which necessarily impacts the gender inequality and illustrates a number of problems with our broken socio-economic model.

I want to focus on a tired old excuse that has been trotted out once again.  This time the culprit was Today presenter John Humphrys.  Now, to be fair to Mr Humphrys, he was prepared to be interviewed about the salary scandal, unlike some other presenters who mumbled incoherently as they pushed past journalists. Nevertheless the answer was depressingly familiar. ‘Its the market rate’! He said:

I cant explain it but I’ve been with the BBC a long time and its gone up and up and up. I’ve no idea whether I am worth it. However we operate in a market place and I think its difficult for the BBC, Society sets these rules.

But we must ask what is the market in this case?  White male radio presenters able to get up early and ask ill-informed and sometimes ill-judged questions (I heard the Konta interview)? The BBC must remember that it is entering the ‘market’ on our behalf while at the same time itself distorting the market by doing so. Moreover, who defines what ‘the market’ is and what constitutes good value in this market. Would it be white middle-class men?

The real problem is that Humphrys then goes on to contadict this ‘market rate’ defence by saying that, aside from two occasions when they actually cut his salary (so goodness knows what is was before!), the BBC have been simply pushing up his salary since he joined 50 years ago.  Start with £2k and after a while no one notices the gigantic payment. So less ‘market rates’ and more ‘mates rates’!. As with banking and other senior jobs the market place argument is an attempt to deceive, to imply a commercial rigour which simply does not exist! But Humphrys does have one point.  It is the senior managers of the BBC who must be held accountable for these salaries.

Once again market rates are justified in grossly inflating the salaries of the already wealthy and powerful while justifying oppressing those less well-off with little influence. The ‘market rate’ argument is curiously rejected for teachers and nurses who are leaving their profession in droves.  I am in favour of the BBC. I consider that there is a place for a medium which is not dependant upon commercial interests. But the needs to be a radical reform of the BBC, just as there needs to be a radical reform of private sector corporate governance.  What has been revealed at the BBC must also be revealed in the commercial world.

The Priestley Riots: Fake news, Trolling, Vicious Media Attacks and Establishment Collusion.

Between 14th  and 17th July 1791 a period of sustained rioting convulsed Birmingham. The name given to the unrest, The Priestley Riots,  derives from the most notable target of the violence, the chemist, religious dissenter and political radical Joseph Priestley (credited with discovering Oxygen). The trigger for the rioting was a dinner held at the Dadley Hotel in Temple Row organised by radicals and religious Dissenters to mark the success of the assault on the Bastille at the start of the French Revolution. Mobs opposed to the Birmingham Dissenters attacked and burned not only their homes and chapels, but also the homes of people they associated with Dissenters, such as members of the scientific Lunar Society. The details, however,  reveals the dark nature of establishment collusion.

According to eye witness accounts local Justices of the Peace Joseph Carles and Dr Benjamin Spencer (an Anglican vicar and, along with Carles, a member of the establishment supporting Bean Club) actively encouraged the mob. Moreover the Under Sheriff of Warwickshire, John Brooke, was heard to issue a ‘guarantee’ of judicial protection to those taking part. Prior to the 14th July banquet, various incendiary posts and leaflets were published about the event, the sources of which are still unclear but highly unlikely to be the Dissenters themselves. Likewise a cartoon was published despicting Priestley holding up a platter and saying ‘The Kings head here’. Except that Priestley was not at the dinner. Today we would call it ‘fake news’!

Events following the riots were also shocking. The magistrates (remember Brooke’s ‘guarantee’) refused to arrest any of the rioters post facto and actually released those that had been arrested at the time When the Government forced the magisrates to try the riot ringleaders, they intimidated witnesses and subverted the trials.  Only seventeen of the fifty rioters who had been charged were brought to trial with four convicted.

The riots revealed that the Anglican gentry in collusion with the judiciary were prepared to use violence against Dissenters whom they viewed as potential revolutionaries . Bear in mind that at that time religious and political revolution were almost synonymous and the Monarch was head of the Church of England (as remains the case).  Those campaigning for the religious freedom and political reforms we enjoy today had to be prepared to face uncontrollable mobs.

Following the riots Joseph Priestley was forced to flee Birmingham and set up home in London. But things were justs as bad. Vicious political cartoons continued to be published about him, In a direct parallel to today’s ‘trolling’m  letters were sent to him from across the country, comparing him to the devil and Guy Fawkes. Effigies of Priestley and Tom Paine were publicly burned.

Fake news, trolling, vicious media attacks, inciting religious hatred and establishment collusion. Sound familiar?

Can We Really Hold The Media Responsible For the Grenfell Tragedy? Yes, And This Is Why.

Following the disaster, the battle for the truth of Grenfell has started. The focus is now on the nature of the inquiry with concerns being raised over its leadership and conduct. As a direct result of his actions as part of the judiciary the Chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is viewed with deep suspicion and the initial meeting with residents was fractious.  Centre stage is an apprehension that the scope of the inquiry will be limited to just the local circumstances of North Kensington and not wider issues of social housing.

In previous blogs (here and here) I have suggested why Government and media will want a strictly limited inquiry based on a woeful deficit of democratic accountability. But there is another reason for scepticism.  Any comprehensive investigation must surely highlight the role of the media in using immigrants as a tool to drive their regressive agenda of slashing public servicess while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

The Murdoch (The Sun and The Times) and Rothermere (Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday) owned press are the obvious culprits, but we must not ignore the role of the BBC in giving continuing prominence to  UKIP and its erstwhile (and future?) leader Nigel Farage despite fast fading support and no Parliamentary representation.  The focus has been on how immigrants are responsible for everything from an inability for people to get GP appointments, through  jumping social hosing queues, to being responsible for clogging up motorways!

But the aim of papers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph goes beyond simple populist xenophobic demonisation for its own sake and is really a tool for undermining public services. Services, by the way, used by ALL of us. These papers are implicitly, but effectively, promoting the idea that the populations of weldare states do not want to share their prosperity with others who they perceive as not ‘being like them’  The argument is essentially: if the immigrants get all the public goodies then why should we pay for public services? Consequently, support for redistribution of wealth withers as ethnic diversity, driven by migration, grows. As support for public services and a willingness to defend them wanes so the argument for cutting taxes for the rich, even in a time of austerity, can prosper. Here in a nutshell is the aim of the oligarchical press. More inequality, more wealth for the 1% and the less well-off, indigenous and immigrants alike suffer. All built on a perception of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, NOT the facts!

The Grenfell Tower catastophe is where the overt xenophobic element of the media agenda converged with with the associated undermining of support for public services. Regulation influenced by corporations, cheap materials, outsourced safety checks and an attitude of anything goes  The reports of other councils such as Camden has revealed the true extent of the crisis, but it extends well beyond hosuing.  For example, why should I support an NHS if immigrants clog it up and I cannot access the service I paid for? So the case for a privatised service is advanced with the wealthy able to affors care and associated big profits for the peers of the paper owners.

A former director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Nick Pearce  examined the issue  in an article entitled Diversity vesus Solidarity: A Progressive Dilemma!. He stated:

Attention to the drivers  of public perception on race and migration.  the role of the media in shaping public opinion on race, immigration and ethnic diversity is well documented but relatively poorly researched (particularly in relation to specific groups such as asylum seekers).

How many more Grenfells must there be before the real aim of the media agenda is understood and exposed?

What Does the Grenfell Tragedy Tell Us About the Health of Representative Democracy?

SParticipatory DemocracyThat the Grenfell Tower disaster was a profound human tragedy is beyond dispute. Likewise, by general consent, the response of the non-emergency authorities was far from acceptable.  A remote and out-of-touch local council which suppressed opposition by disregarding it or actively mocking the attempt of representatives to challenge decisions. An inability to fully grasp the enormity of the problem and slapping away offers of help was mirrored by a central Government slow to react and seemingly incapable of displaying any understanding for the plight of homeless and bereaved citizens.

Now that a period of reflection is setting in, many officials are still in denial, repeating the mantra that we need to wait for a full inquiry before we know the cause of the blaze.  Within a narrow remit of the local conditions in Kensington and wider building regulations there is some sense in this, but you cannot escape the feeling that the aim is to delay and hope that by the time an inquiry reports back someone else will be in charge.

Representative democracy alone is failing us.

In an earlier post I pointed out that we need a complete rethink of rights and resources which can be wielded by citizens and civil organisations. But the possibility of such a review was immediately cast into doubt by the actions of Theresa May.  A few days after the disaster and clearly feeling the weight of public anger and resentment she agreed to meet with representatives of the victims. But where was the meeting held? In the privacy of Downing Street, which presumably left May in her comfort zone but must have been at least a little daunting to the representatives.  So why not at a neutral venue? There is no doubt that neighbouring local authorities would have been willing to have hosted such a meeting at short notice given the enormity of the disaster. But I think there is something deeper at work here than just another example of the lack of insensitivity to citizens by the Prime Minister.  It displays a fundamental fear by politicians of losing power or control; an inability to share authority where it really matters most.

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