Thoughts of a fly on the bar wall

It is 50 years since I started visiting bars, since then I have sat in more bars, in more places than I want to remember. I have worked behind, cooked in, served in, and managed pubs. I have conversed and argued with painters, Pakis (Ladies and Gentleman from Pakistan if you must), parasites, Parisians, parliamentarians, peers of the realm , perverts, players, pleaders, plebs, plumbers, Poles, poofters, prime ministers and prostitutes. I have written and broadcast about far cities, elegant restaurants, bordellos and mismanaged disasters.
I have heard absolute rubbish, absurd claims, downright duplicity as well as much good sense and enormous doses of reality.
Put it all these conversations together with my last few years thinking, reading and writing about the way we live, about our governance, our mistakes and our future and you get to this blog.

Sam Worthington

Monday, 7 July 2014

Lets face it - war is imminent

This is a good summary of the background to the problems in the Middle East. It is by By Joschka Fischer (Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005)

This is from the UK Telegraph pointing out that this war is not just the West and the USA’s fault – it is far more fundamental than that. From this article:
……. how ridiculous is – and has always been – the claim that Islamist violence is a direct consequence of “Western foreign policy”. It is true enough that the fundamentalists object to “the Crusaders” and their military actions. But they also object to the West’s refusal to embrace sharia; to the fall of the caliphate; to the freedoms enjoyed by women and gay people in the West; to music (in the case of the Taliban); to Jews; to pluralism; to movies, television… and much, much else.

As this former General points out – this is not going away. The West now needs to gear up to the threats of Islamic extremism and, in the long term divert serious funding, to countering their activities.
…………if the Government would only realise that dealing with this kind of jihadist threat is going to be a feature of our national security arrangements for some years to come, it would ensure that the technology is available to make sure that we are always one step ahead of the terrorists, rather than always having to play catch up.

The problem for the western countries - with significant Muslim population - is not just the return of jihadist fighters who may bring a real threat of terrorism; but the fact that the jihadists are as much about the Sunni Shia split as anti-west. In Europe Muslims are seen as Muslims first and foremost and as such have been tolerated and some would say even welcomed. There is little or no comprehension of the split between the Sunni and Shias. If those differences are now exploited in the west, there could be the kind of sectarian war that bedevilled Northern Ireland: and that on the streets of Paris, Amsterdam and Leeds

The long and the short of all these articles and comments is there is war brewing in the Middle East and how ever hard we in the west pretend it is not – it is coming our way. Whether or not it is out fault is irrelevant – we cannot put the war genie back in the bottle. Islam may have been created to unite the tribes of the Levant – but, as so often happens, it has done exactly the opposite.
Whether the coming war will drag a reluctant west into open warfare, or whether it will be a prolonged and determined terrorist campaign directed against all that our modern liberal society stands for, only time will tell. But as there are few countries without a sizable Muslim population there is a good chance that one way, or another, this war, or terrorism war, is going to in involve most of the world.

If the Middle East goes up in smoke the issue of energy will quickly become critical –modern societies’ life blood is oil. A point I am sure the jihadists of ISIS have not missed – they may well have competing and intriguing options. Close down the oil supplies and force our decadent civilisation into living without the trinkets we hold so dear and they so despise; or take over the oil fields and sell the oil to enrich their new Caliphate.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The decline of the middle class – what does it mean?

The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes.

I often think about that quote by Aristotle because it makes perfect sense. By middle class he means managers and professional people who have had decent experience of life, a reasonable education and presumable have something to lose. They are going to be the voters who actually think about what they are voting for.
The rise and rise of Western Europe over the last two hundred years created a significant middle class. The so called American dream is all about creating a strong middle class – people who owned their own home and felt comfortable in any society.
We look at our politics today and see some very strange things going on – there appears to be a disconnect between reality and policy. Politicians are only interested in getting re-elected and how they do does not seem to matter. As De Tocqueville forecast parliaments are bribing the people with their own money. On top of that political correctness has tried to take many fundamental issues off the table – immigration being the number one. A strong middle class would see and understand the issues and would not put up with what is happening by voting against it. To an extent the middle class have always been important as they were the swing voters – for a long time in the UK the left (Labour) and right (Conservative) just about cancelled each other out so the undecided or floating voters were critical and they were largely middle class – or aspiring middle class.
Globalisation, and more importantly digitalisation, has fundamentally changed many aspects of our lives. The mobile phone and the internet have focused power upwards – there is now no need to have a manager who can make a decision because the head office is a simple call away. Twenty years ago to get a bank loan meant talking to a person – now it is down to a computer and a credit score. More and more jobs that were junior and middle management responsibility have been taken away by communication and computerisation. For the first time for a long time the middle class is shrinking. Add to this massive immigration and the whole voter mix is swinging; and giving power to the poorer less educated voters. No doubt many will feel that is not all bad – but the whole idea of democracy is that people understand what they are voting for.
To an extent what is happening in Thailand could be a sign of what is ahead for the west. The empowerment of the Thai poor majority has led to corruption and the resentment of the middle classes who live in and around the capital. The middle classes begrudge having to pay for the poor particularly when they believe much of that money is wasted, or goes in corruption.
Now in the west there is growing resentment among the middle classes who see vast sums of what they see as their money, going into goods and services for people they believe either do not work or are immigrants. That resentment has been seen in recent European elections where UKIP in the UK and The National front in France – among others - did very well. But it seems extremely unlikely that either will actually win an election – they will be a noisy and significant minority. But unlike, in an immature democracy like Thailand, they will not be able to change things.
If the middle class lose power and the politicians continue to pander to the people who can elect them – and given the system that is totally understandable – financial responsibility goes out of the window. Taxes on the middle class will go up and up breeding more resentment.
Needless to say the answer is to tax the rich and the big corporations but both are mobile enough to run away when it comes to excessive taxation. The middle class have always bourn the highest relative burden of taxation simple because they were the ones who could not get away.
A rising middle class meant that there was a belief – maybe false – that sooner or later Aritotle’s ideal political community would come to pass – a falling middle class removes hope of a genuinely responsible and all inclusive government.
The argument for democracy is that it empowers people and defuses insurrection because people have the power of the vote. But if the middle class has no more power than a minority tribe in an ex-colony, and are similarly abused and used, something will have to give.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Is Obama that stupid – Assad is the only realistic solution?

I was listening, open mouthed, as I heard that Obama now wants to supply arms to the ‘good’ rebels in Syria. Is that not simple going to make a bad situation worse?
I, for a long time, have felt that the rush to get rid of Assad has never been thought through. Okay he is a bit of a despot and he is friendly with the Russians. And of course the all-important criteria for being a good guy is being a democrat (be it a sham in many countries we openly support where the votes are bought, or intimidation is rife) but Assad is not a democrat. So he is a non- elected despot who likes the Russians. Is that a reason to depose him?
Saddam Hussein was a non-elected despot who used chemical weapons on his people but he was okay until he invaded Kuwait: but his real mistake was bluffing the west (Read USA & GB) into believing he had weapons of mass destruction. That and threatening to kill George Bush senior spurred the action which has turned that country into a basket case. So that went well then!
Now there were other despots in the Middle East. The west quietly shafted the military strong man Mubarak in Egypt. After a reasonable peaceful revolution; there were those all popular elections and, oops, the Muslim Brotherhood won. So after a year, when the Muslims had not done very well at governing,  the Egyptian military got involved  and removed them from power. The military then stopped all the Muslims from running as candidates in the next election they organised. In the process they have repressed any dissenters, imprisoned thousands, as well as executing a large number. Now after those new elections there is a new president – a military strong man who has so far made Mubarak look like a nice guy. So that went will then.
Of course next door to Egypt is Libya which was run by an extremely unhelpful despot who orchestrated various terrorist attacks. I agree he deserved his comeuppance: and it was duly delivered with smart bombs et al. Unfortunately Libya has not settled down to be a nice peaceful republic – it is ruled by the mob – or more precisely by a number of competing militias. So that went well them.
Finally the so called Arab spring got to Syria. And yes as I said Assad is a despot but he kept the country peaceful and Syria had a reasonable successful society. It even had a burgeoning tourist business. And Assad was not nearly as hard line as his father. Well the history of the civil war is there to see – from what I read is the situation is pretty well a stalemate with Assad securely in power – be it with swathes of the country wrecked, or in the hands of those that oppose him. Assad has given up his chemical weapons – whether he used them or not is a matter of conjecture – he probable did but ….
Now the over spill from this war has poured into Iraq completely destabilizing that country. The problems is Iraq threaten to create a bigger Middle East wide war with Sunnis fighting Shia. Such an event could engulf the Middle East for decades endangering oil supplies- the lifeblood of the modern world. We are told the people perpetrating the war in Iraq are ISIS, a Sunni extremist group, who have risen out of the ashes of the Syrian civil war. The extremist groups have largely taken over the rebels opposing Assad. Initially there were moderate groups but they never really agreed with each other and they have faded from the scene. Libya shows us what happens when different militias start running a country – it becomes a basket case.
Surely the imperative for the west is to stop the war in Syria – and real politick would suggest there is only one side that can win quickly and hold most of the country together in some kind of order. And that has got to be Assad.
Stopping the war is important not just to Iraq but the other Syrian neighbours, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, who are housing thousands of displaced refugees. How long before the fighting spreads to these countries?
Arming the so called ‘good’ rebels is just going to drag out the civil war. Russia is still on Assad’s side so he is still going to get arms. Even with new arms to the rebels there is no certainty Assad is going to fall – in reality quite the opposite
The solution is to get together with Russia and arrange a UN stabilisation force – maybe commanded by the Russians – to go in and stop the fighting. In such circumstances surely some kind of deal could be done with Assad to promote greater democracy in the longer term.Giving arms to the ‘good’ rebels in Syria is the same as trying to put out a fire by pouring petrol on it.