Tuesday, 17 June 2014

I Told You So about Iraq - why Hugo is wrong

The frightening advance of ISIS fighters in Iraq has brought back questions about the 2003 war and

Unfortunately it has also brought back people writing rubbish about Iraq in the Times – something that happened a lot in 2002 and 2003.

In the Times (17th June 2014)  Hugo Rifkind , who marched against the war back then, argues that the war's opponents should not  say “We told you so!". Actually he accuses people of ‘trilling’ this, so he is obviously annoyed about people who don’t write for the Times being right. Rifkind says he doesn’t “remember that they did” and that “I don't remember predictions of chaos, sectarianism and failure” and “I'm pretty certain that's not what we were marching about”.

Of course, people were marching against an invasion for a range of reasons. But they weren’t, on the whole, marching because they thought war would be orderly and successful. The anti-war case usually relies on the idea that war causes destruction, chaos and social conflict (mostly because it does).

The pro-war side had such a variety of bad arguments for the war – often relying on lies and rubbish pumped out by the Times – WMD ! Saddam in league with Obama ! Liberation ! –that people arguing against the war had to make many cases.

But the case about chaos and sectarianism was widely made. So for example

The Daily Mirror had a major article by Denis Healey in February 2003 arguing


If anything Healey overemphasised the possible chaos and sectarianism, but he was on the right lines, writing

The most likely scenario is that there will be a civil war between the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunni Moslems and it will spread over into neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia, a very close ally of the West, and Iran, Syria and even Jordan. The Jordanian government warned Tony Blair about this only last week”

I put this to Hugo and he said I was “cherry picking”. As if an article in the multi-million selling Daily Mirror by a former Foreign Secretary was obscure.

They were hardly alone – just search any newspaper database on the words “ Chaos” and “Iraq” in the months before the war , and you’ll find plenty of results.

Think also of the many references to an Iraq war becoming “Like the Vietnam war” : They weren't made because  the war’s opponents thought Iraq would be orderly, or a  “cakewalk”

It is also important to note that what went wrong with Iraq didn’t all happen during the invasion. It was the occupation that tore Iraq apart, as the occupiers systematically weakened the Iraq state and encouraged sectarianism. The disbanding of the army and banning Baathists from office was just part of this. The US and UK occupiers encouraged sectarianism to split the rebellious Iraqi’s who didn’t want them remaining in Iraq after Saddam’s fall . They weakened the state so that it would not present a possible threat to the occupiers (which is why the supposedly rebuilt Iraqi army only got tanks, armoured cars and an airforce very much later).

We saw this unfold in front of our eyes – the looting, the botched “reconstruction”. At any point even those who supported the war could have protested about this, and our governments could have changed their course. Indeed many British army officers in Iraq raised exactly these complaints. It wasn’t just about warning about chaos and sectarianism before the war, it was about acknowledging they were happening during the occupation, and trying to do something about it.

So I found Hugo’s ‘don’t say I told you so ‘attitude really mystifying.

Particularly where he writes “I remember a whole bunch of utter guff about Halliburton and oil”. The role of Halliburton, and Bechtel and Blackwater and all the contractors in the occupation was an important source of the chaos: By handing over Iraqi “reconstruction”, including water and electricity and gas and ‘security’ to Western contractors – and paying them with Iraqi oil money – the occupiers weakened the Iraq state, and helped spread the chaos. Especially as they botched the job. The lack of water and electricity and sewage and security all added to the chaos. This was hardly a secret. The US were advertising their wild plan to privatise Iraq before the war. Hugo didn’t understand it, perhaps. It’s odd when journalists proudly display their ignorance, when I thought finding stuff out was one of our key skills.

I think at one point I did grasp why Hugo can’t remember the predictions of chaos, even though I can.

He writes that “I remember fevered debate about whether we, the West, had the right to remake the world in our image.”

Now the “Noecons” were pretending they were going to make Iraq into a modern free market liberal democracy. And apparently Hugo and his circled believed they meant it. And had a “fevered debate” about whether this was a good idea.

But plenty of people sussed out, without the need for a "fevered debate",  that this was just window dressing on some crazy imperial adventure. When Dick Cheney and his pals made those kind of noises, we didn’t believe them. We thought that sinister Dr Strangelove types were more likely to do what the US had done in Vietnam or El Salvador or Nicaragua. That there would be death squads and chaos and shady types trying to get rich from blood. People thought George Bush was a cowboy, but apparently Hugo’s friends thought he really could deliver a functioning Iraq. They just worried if that was the right choice.

The problem is that Hugo tries to make his very odd circle of pals, the kind of people who took the Noecons seriously, and make them “we”, make them stand in for all the anti-War people. And they just didn’t.

It’s the same naivety that makes Hugo want to “rescue” liberal intervention from the “tragedy” of Iraq.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Euro Elections 2014 aren't just about the right: Italians vote for Greek Party, Spanish get Indignant and say "Yes We Can". Benny from Abba helps out.

British reporting of the Euro elections won’t help anyone make sense of what has happened in the EU. Great clouds of Farage gleefully fanned around by Fleet Street obscure the view . A deep commitment by the news papers not to report what happens in Southern Europe doesn’t help. The gains for the far right were truly worrying, but there were also gains by the left.

But it is easy to paint a fair picture in broad strokes. The details are different in each nation, depending how and how much the different parties have seized on the crisis. But the big picture looks like this.

The crisis has broken many people away from the main centre parties. Stagnant wages, social cuts, businesses going bust make people very unhappy. And that makes them unhappy with the mainstream parties – Conservative and Social Democrat – who were in power when the crisis hit. They blame the mainstream parties for creating the crisis, especially as many of the politicians personally enriched themselves in the process: During the boom, bankers were allowed to invest in risky, speculative and dangerous schemes – including completely fraudulent and artificial ones. Local politicians and their business friends enriched themselves – often corruptly – in these schemes. Few were prosecuted when they fell apart in the financial crisis, but jobs, social spending and small businesses did suffer in the slump.

Former Tory voters – both suburban middle class and working class Tories – are more likely to vote to the right of the mainstream. Former Socialist voters are more likely to break to the left. The right wing parties blame immigrants for the crisis, the left wing ones put blame on the banks. The proportion of people breaking from the mainstream parties is not fixed, and it is the job of active socialist campaigners to shift the balance in favour of the left wing break.

In Northern Europe the right wing parties did better, in Southern Europe the left made more breakthroughs: This reflects an economic as well as a geographic reality, and for this map, Ireland heads southward. This puts pressure on the EU in both cases, but for very different reasons. In Northern Europe, right wing parties like UKIP or the Front National blame the EU for immigration. In Southern Europe people blame the EU for forcing the banker’s agenda. This part of the picture is barely described on the UK TV news or on the British front pages. Words like “Troika” and “Debt” and “Restructuring” which are central to the Euro elections are absent from too much British reporting. The crisis was caused by the banks, but the solution has been to cut ordinary people’s living standards to bail the banks out, leaving the bankers rich and dominant. In Greece or Spain or Portugal, the EU is the instrument used to force people to pay the banker’s price: Southern Europeans hate  The “Troika” made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund which arranged the bail-out. This will sound odd in the UK, because the press haven’t really explained how the bailout works for Southern Europe. How can people in Southern Europe hate the bail outs ? The answer is, because they bailed out the bankers at the people’s cost: The bail outs were given so that EU countries could pay their debts to banks: In effect the bankers were bailed out. The “Troika “ did negotiate “haircuts”, where the bankers agreed to take less than the full debt (because without “haircuts”, the debts were unpayable and they would have faced default). But they negotiated far harsher social “haircuts”, enforcing cuts in social spending and austerity to fund the bailouts. The EU, as part of the Troika, are a mechanism to take money of ordinary Spanish or Portuguese or Greek pockets and pass them on to the banking system. The Troika is enforcing wage cuts, spending cuts and privatisation to bail out the banks.

Hence the growth of Left wing parties who are angry at the EU in Southern Europe. This includes results for  groups based on the traditional Communist left  or some variety of the “new left” or some combination of the both . Newer organisations included Syriza in Greece,  Podemos in Spain or O Bloco in Portugal. More traditional Communist Party-ish organisations like Izquierda Unida  (united Left) in Spain

Some standouts  of the Euro Elections

(1) If you want votes, get active in the streets – Syriza  and Podemos built whole new parties not just by issuing manifestos , but by a hard , broad struggle of demonstrations, strikes and meetings.Podemos were able to relate to the "Indignados" who occupied Spanish squares in a rebellion over the economic crisis. In the process Podemos helped make the Indignados much more a part of the left. In turn, this gave a new language to the left:- A party called "Yes We Can" formed out of the "Indignant" is quite clearly finding a new way of talking about social change.

(2) Italy was the worst “Southern European “ result for the left, with Beppo Grillo’s “Five Star” movement filling the space that the left took in neighbouring countries. Grillo’s party is a bit like if voters got so sick of politicians that they voted for a  ‘Topical Comedy Panel Show’ instead  : Sneery, but are they pretty  right wing (Jimmy Carr?) or sort of left-ish (Phil Jupitus?). Grillo is making friends with Farage, so it looks more Jimmy Carr.

(3) Even among bad results there are good moments – Italy elected Three  MEPs from a party called “Anther Europe With Alex Tsipras”. Tsipras is the leader of the Greek party Syriza – so this is the equivalent of British voters electing four French socialist radicals as the MEP’s for London or Manchester or Leeds or Bristol.

(4) Even in the EU “North” there were some good results . The Front National winning the French EU elections was a very bad problem: Marine Le Pen’s party are full fat fascism compared to the semi-skimmed right wing populism of UKIP. But even in France the left had some good results. Melenchon’s Left Front  had four seats. France’s “Green” party EELV, which is a left-ish leaning party took 6 seats.

(5) One of the more standout results from Northern Europe was the first Feminist Initiative MEP elected. Soraya Post is the first MEP ever elected under the “Feminist” banner. Her election slogan was “Out with Racists and in with Feminists”. In a charmingly Swedish touch, the Feminist Initiative has been built with the hard work of many members , aided by a donation of around £80k from Benny from Abba.

So beyond the headlines about extreme right success, there were also gains for the left : Gains made by new left wing groups who were able to use new language,  form  new alliances and find new ways of  relating to movements on the street.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Kellogg's Krave, the slimy dog fart taste of corporate sugar-pushers

Kellogg's were criticised in Channel 4's  Dispatches today  (June 2014) for using "Social Marketing" to target young kids with their sickly sugary cereal Krave . I caught them up to similar slimy behaviour in 2010 
First published :
Morning Star
February 19, 2010 Friday

Feature - Kellogg's: a taste of dog farts;
Solomon Hughes explains how the government's big anti-obesity drive is being undermined by the involvement of big business

BYLINE: Solomon Hughes

Kellogg's is a "partner" in a Department of Health anti-obesity drive. And it is just about to launch a campaign to persuade young people to chomp through Krave, one of the most calorific breakfast cereals available.
Kellogg's is part of the Department of Health's Change4Life campaign. The cereal firm funds a few breakfast and swimming clubs and puts out the odd advert telling people to "move more."
Of course people need to move a whole lot more to shake off the calories squeezed into the company's sugary products.
In return, Health Minister Alan Johnson puts out statements praising Kellogg's for helping to "tackle the growing problem of obesity."
Most importantly, Kellogg's wards off any difficult regulations. The government is not going insist that its anti-obesity partners cover foods with awkward "not good for you" labels or launch a public health campaign that embarrasses the food giants.
So Kellogg's puts out Change4Life messages about the need to "eat better." But this month sees the launch of its Krave advertising drive to persuade teens to eat worse.
Krave is aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds and is made of "crispy cereal shells with a chocolate hazelnut filling."
Kellogg's claims it is "unleashing a new breed of cereal" with these unhealthy little parcels stuffed with a Nutella-like paste.
But in fact Krave is already available in France under the brand name Tresor. It comes in at around 440 calories every hundred grams - more calorific even than existing Kellogg's morning monstrosities such as Coco Rocks. They are 29 per cent sugar, 16 per cent fat.
Kellogg's got a company called Landor to market Tresor in France. Landor's data sheet on Tresor shows what Kellogg's wants to do with its chocolate paste parcels in Britain.
Landor says: "Teenagers are progressively rejecting the cereals of their childhood and opting for the bread and a spread option like their parents."
Kellogg's doesn't think 16 to 24-year-olds should eat adult food. So it wants to launch a war on toast.
Perhaps it will advertise Krave with the slogan "Don't grow up, eat our gunk." Or "Be a baby forever with Krave."
Kellogg's also wants people to suck on their processed lumps all day, because "Tresor has become a favorite snack for teenagers and no longer just a breakfast cereal."
Kellogg's claims to be backing the Change4 Life campaign, which suggests we "try replacing the unhealthy snacks with ones you don't mind them eating - fruit, oatcakes, breadsticks and frozen fruity ice-cubes."
However, the snack it really wants you to eat is a mixture of cereal flours, sugar, plant oil and dyes.
In the mind of Kellogg's, young adults are in the front line of the war against bread.
"There's a huge opportunity to grow breakfast and cereal consumption in the adult market by retaining young adults," Kellogg's sales director Mike Taylor told the Grocer magazine.
"We've focused on creating a brand that genuinely answers the demand of this market."
To get young adults craving Krave, Kellogg's is going for super-trendy "social marketing." Instead of just advertising the stuff on telly, it wants to push Krave on Facebook, by email campaigns, on message boards and the like, in a somewhat desperate effort to catch "the yoof."
Krave will also be advertised at music festivals and universities, which all suggests something a bit cynical in the marketing.
In France Kellogg's targeted young adults with the harmless name Tresor - or treasure.
But why would British teens crave cereal and want to cram it in their mouth at odd times of day or at music festivals?
Maybe this shows I am being cynical rather than Kellogg's marketers, but I know Munchies wasn't available as a trademark. Perhaps they felt "stoned" or "muntered" might be a bit too obvious.
Some of Krave's appearances on "social media" have already backfired. Sometimes attempts to make products look trendy just makes them look lame.
Constant messages - or spam - about Krave on student web boards irritated their readers so much that actual students started posting anti-marketing messages, including: "Hey student chums! I just tried this new Krave cereal by Kellogg's! It tasted really bad and made me throw up in my mouth a little."
And "After trying Kellogg's Krave I had to bleach my tongue to get the taste out of it. Gross! Do not buy this cereal."
And the delightful "I had a spoonful of new Kellogg's Krave cereal and it tasted like a dog had farted directly into my mouth."
A more sober judgement by one young taster in the Grocer magazine, who was previewing the product for shopkeepers.
She noted that the cereal "goes a bit slimy when you add milk."
To which I can only add that government anti-obesity policy goes a bit slimy when you add corporations.