Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Afghan Failure

Since 2001, 453 British forces personnel have been killed in Afghanistan and more than 2600 wounded; 247 British soldiers have had limbs amputated (the Ministry of Defence refuses to categorise the severity of these amputations on the grounds that releasing the information would help ‘the enemy’). Unknown numbers have psychological injuries.

In “Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War” Frank Ledwidge puts the cost of the Afghan War at £40 billion. The British forces wanted to have all the equipment the Americans had, but couldn’t afford quite enough of it, quite so up to date or quite so soon. Britain built a base in Helmand, Camp Bastion, bigger than any it had constructed since the end of the Second World War, occupying an area the size of Reading. It has now handed Camp Bastion over to the Afghan military which, at the time of writing, was struggling to prevent it being overrun by attackers. Everything the military did depended on the petrol, diesel and kerosene trucked in from Central Asia or Pakistan; one US estimate calculated that the price of fuel increased by 14,000 per cent in its journey from the refinery to the Afghan front line. In firefights, British troops used Javelin missiles costing £70,000 each to destroy houses made of mud bricks.  Ledwidge adds in the cost of buying four huge American transport planes to shore up the air bridge between Afghanistan and the UK (£800 million), 14 new helicopters (£1 billion), a delay in previously planned cuts in the size of the army (£3 billion) and the cost of returning and restoring war-battered units (£2 billion). More contentiously, he includes the £2.1 billion spent on aid and development, not all of which was stolen or wasted – although much of it was. Ledwidge highlights the grotesque sums spent on providing security and creature comforts to foreign consultants: an annual cost of around half a million pounds per head. He was a consultant in Afghanistan himself, besides serving there as an officer. ‘A great many people, several hundred,’ he writes, ‘could be employed in Helmand for the price of a single consultant plus security team and “life-support”.

“The soldiers who are killed and wounded today are not victims – they are not the conscript ex-civilians of the First World War. They are professionals, willingly trained in the business of killing, and (by and large) well paid and well treated while they are soldiers … Servicemen are under no illusions as to the risks they sign up to … In looking so closely at the human costs of this war, the key point that must be borne in mind is not ‘How terrible! Those poor soldiers …’ Rather it must be a realistic and firm realisation: ‘We sent them, now we must take care of the consequences.’ ”
Ledwidge estimates the cost of the British military’s bloodshed and psychological trauma – the amount spent on the ongoing treatment of damaged veterans, compensation under the recently introduced Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS), and an actuarial estimate of the financial value of human life – at £3.8 billion. He points out that, despite the AFCS, Britain’s care for its veterans falls short of the elaborate system in the United States.

An Afghan who sought compensation from the British in Helmand after losing his sight as a result of a military operation might expect a payment of £4500. A British soldier suffering the same injury would be entitled to £570,000.

British troops were moved into Helmand. The defence minister John Reid said he hoped the operation could be carried out without a shot being fired. In those first six months, The commander of the paratroopers, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal’s men fired half a million bullets. Eventually the Americans sent in the Marines, bailing Britain out. Blair and the generals had bitten off far more than the British armed forces could chew.

An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012 by Mike Martin, a Pashto speaker, a British officer who served in Helmand in the late 2000s argues that ‘insurgency is a pejorative term, one that is useful to governments in establishing their legitimacy or that of their allies and in defining their enemies.’ Martin believes that the conflict in Helmand should be seen as ‘a continuing civil war’. Because the British were ignorant of what was really going on – due, in large part, to their short six-month tours of duty and lack of linguists – they were manipulated into becoming pawns in long-running conflicts over land, water, drugs and power between local leaders. Hostility towards the British among the Pashto-speaking Pashtun tribes of Helmand goes back to the early 19th century. The British were hated in Helmand before they’d fired a shot. A popular local assumption was that the British had come for revenge. The British, Martin explains, were never fighting waves of Taliban coming over the border from Pakistan: they were overwhelmingly fighting local men led by local barons who felt shut out by the British and their friends in ‘government’ and sought an alternative patron in Quetta. The Taliban provided money, via their sponsors in the Gulf, and a ready-made, Pashtun-friendly ideological framework the barons could franchise. Since the British were hated even before they arrived, recruitment of foot soldiers was easy.

Looking at it from the Helmandi perspective, the population might well ask, ‘how can you protect us from ourselves when we are resisting you?’ This idea was recognised during the Soviet era as well. Neither the Soviets nor Nato had conceptual space in their doctrines for large sections of the population resisting them, so instead they were painted as Maoist-style insurgents from outside who were terrorising the community.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


Many Americans always believe that they too will someday join the 1%. As John Steinbeck noted, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

However, Gregory Clark, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, found that social mobility had diminished significantly in the past 100 years in the US.

“America has no higher rate of social mobility than medieval England or pre-industrial Sweden,” Clark said. “That’s the most difficult part of talking about social mobility, is because it is shattering people’s dreams.” He said social mobility is little different in the United States than in other countries, where ancestry strongly predicts adult social status. “The status of your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, and your great-great grandchildren will be quite closely related to your average status now”.

The only way to change this is to remove the mechanism that creates it. End this market/money system, and instead build system based on access to the wealth and abundance of the world that would eliminate the need for politics, the market, money and many other ills that plague the world. The American Dream is no dream at all. It’s just propaganda. It keeps the hamsters on wheel, hoping for a better life that never really arrives. Rags-to-riches is a reigning US myth. Most life histories consist of riches-to-riches, and rags-to-rags.

There are only two contending classes in our society, the working class and the capitalist class. The former has nothing to sell but their ability to work, in exchange for a wage or salary, or claim benefits if unable to find work or too sick or elderly to work. The latter, on the other hand, own all of society's means of production and distribution, and so can command the labor-powers of the former. The latter literally lives off the collective labor of the former. If social mobility is defined as movement out of the working class and into the capitalist class, and vice versa, then there is very little of it. However, the improvement of such mobility shouldn't be our goal because the division of society into classes and their relationship to each other is exploitative, oppressive and unjust. Anyone who thinks otherwise is lying to themselves and others. Our true goal should be the abolition of the capitalist class system and the state, fought for by the working class, united and self-organized.

George Carlin summed it up best many years ago, " They call it the American Dream because the only time most people will ever experience it is when they are asleep."

It's always been a lie that America's economic system supplied some sort of equal opportunity to everyone for social mobility. Sure we occasionally see the cliche of a small business started in a garage lead to vast wealth, but statistically for everyone of those that succeeds there are hundreds of thousands that don't. For working class capitalism is like the lottery. Some people do occasionally win, but it's very rare. And as John Lennon said “The rich let a few of us succeed, to give the rest of us false hope.”

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Trusting in God-men

A fine article on health-care and religion on the Countercurrents website.

Millions of rural people in India succumb to deaths due to diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, kala azar and Japanese Encephalitis that could have been avoided with basic medication or treatment. Most of these preventable deaths in villages are due to infections of communicable, parasitic and respiratory diseases. Deaths in villages from conditions like nutritional deficiencies or perinatal deaths are also avoidable if they could have accessed some kind of affordable, basic health care at the right time. Around 40% of the rural morbidity in India is thanks to water born infectious diseases. These diseases are (1) of the gastrointestinal tract - such as diarrhoea, amoebiasis, typhoid fever, infectious hepatitis, worm infestations and poliomyelitis, (2) carried in the air through coughing, sneezing or even breathing -such as measles, tuberculosis, whooping cough and pneumonia, or (3) the difficult ones - like malaria, filariasis and kala-azar. About 100 million people get diarrhoea and cholera every year. There are 12 million tuberculosis cases currently in India with 1.2 million cases added every year. Around 37, 000 cases of measles are reported every year. About 2.3 million episodes and over 1000 malarial deaths occur every year in India. An estimated 45 million people are carriers of microfilaria. Around 1.2 million cases of leprosy exist in India with 500, 000 cases being added every year. More than 85% of rural children are undernourished and around 150, 000 of them die every year.

Many primary causes of ill health are based on factors such as poverty, deprivation and environmental abuse. The health support systems of the poor are clean water, air, forests and land. Threat to these resources is the root cause of their ill health.

Most who flock to the god-men for miracle cures in India are from the groups of poor women, dalits and backward communities. They work as small farmers, agricultural labourers and artisans. They struggle hard at their work places under adverse weather conditions to produce food and other commodities for their urban counterparts. When they get sick, they have no one else to turn to except their God and these god-men who claim to have miracle cures for their ailments. They look for solutions in quacks, sorcerers and god-men. India has many such individuals, families and trusts (which are managed like modern corporations) who claim to have miracle cures for all kind of ailments. They often have a very huge fan following in the rural heartland of India. They are omnipresent and they travel to many places to conduct mass healing sessions in emotionally charged gatherings. These god-men like the shamans of yester years play multiple roles as a magician, medicine person, miracle-worker, healer, priest, mystic and master of all spiritual energies and enjoy the company of powerful business tycoons and politicians.

Such healing individuals who claim shamanic powers are not limited to Hinduism only, they present in all other religions including Islam and Christianity. Thousands of people from Kerala rush to ‘divine healing centres’ set up around the clout of healing Christian priests who are believed to have the ability to perform miracles, exorcise demons and heal afflictions.

It does not matter even if the evidence of healing offered by these God-men does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Their followers continue to believe in the testimony of those who got healed, though their healing is only a subjective experience. Critics of faith healers are usually dealt with personal attacks and they are blamed of not having enough faith. They gather support from members of their mother religion by crying ‘attack on their holy faith by nonbelieving outsiders’. They survive as medical science too does not have answers to all the questions about health, diseases and the multiple ways through which healing takes place.

In theory, the government provides some kind of health services - a three tier structure of health care consisting of Community Health Centres, Primary Health Centres and Subcentres is set up for the rural areas. But whatever limited services exist in the rural areas are either nonfunctional, dysfunctional, or are with extremely ‘poor quality’. Most often the service providers, especially doctors are not present in the rural facilities. India has just six doctors and nine hospital beds for every 10,000 of its people, compared to 14 doctors and 30 hospital beds in China. About 75% of health infrastructure, medical manpower, and other health resources are concentrated in urban areas where 28% of the populations live in villages. A recent survey of 15,000 households across 12 states noted that about half the people in India and over three-fifths of those who live in rural areas have to travel beyond 5 km to reach a healthcare centre. The survey further points out that the availability of healthcare services is skewed towards urban centers with these residents, who make up only 28% of the country's population, enjoying access to 66% of India's available hospital beds, while the remaining 72%, who live in rural areas, have access to just one-third of the bed.

Villages in the heartland of India are inhabited by poor landless laborers, small holders, and artisans. They spent their money mostly on food and some money on clothing and housing. Considering their ‘subsistence existence’, spending money on health care is indeed a luxury to them. Most of them could not afford to buy health care from the urban centers just because they are poor. Therefore in case of extreme illnesses, the rural masses turn to the private providers for which they have to borrow money from the money lenders. Many studies  have shown that medical treatment is the most important cause of rural indebtedness, next only to dowry in the rural India. Those who are indebted and those who are unable to afford a loan finally turn to quacks, sorcerers and god-men. Not only in remote rural and tribal areas but also in urban slums, the phenomenon of god-men is rampant and these god-men meet a felt need of these ailing masses.

The problem of poor access to health care by the masses is well documented by researchers umpteen times. The policy and program measures to deal with this issue are also known to experts. What we lack is the political will and guts to implement certain drastic measures. Today we are left with two options in front of us. We can either continue to leave the health care of the masses to shamans, sorcerers and godmen; and when they rally behind their miracle cures, we can blame them for their ignorance and superstitious habits and plan media campaigns to educate them! Or we can take bold steps to ensure universal access to health care.

One man's terrorist is an immature youth

A soldier who wrote of murdering immigrants and who praised Adolf Hitler has been jailed for two years after building a viable nailbomb packed with 181 pieces of shrapnel to maximise the carnage it would cause.
Ryan McGee wrote in a journal: “I vow to drag every last immigrant into the fires of hell with me.”

He downloaded a video of two bound and gagged men beneath a swastika flag, one being beheaded and the other killed by a gunshot to the head and went online to tell people to do something if they hated immigration. He supported the English Defence League, Ku Klux Klan and praised then British National party leader Nick Griffin.

A nail-bomb and cache of weapons including an imitation firearm, an air pistol, axes and knives were found in the bedroom of his family home in Eccles, Salford, and he had researched buying guns on the web. McGee also posted several pictures of himself in EDL and Ku Klux Klan clothing and standing next to EDL flags. When he was interviewed by police, McGee said he was interested in rightwing politics because he did not like mass immigration. He came from a family, the court heard, with far-rightwing views. He had attended an EDL rally and had a “No Surrender” EDL flag and an EDL T-shirt and jumper – all bought for him by his mother for his 18th birthday.

Prosecutor Roger Smart accepted McGee was not a terrorist. The CPS said it had decided not to prosecute McGee as a terrorist because “it was never McGee’s intention to use the device for any terrorist or violent purpose, and that he had no firm intention to activate the device. That’s why he was prosecuted under the Explosive Substance Act.”

Imran Khan, solicitor for Mohommod Nawaz, jailed for four and a half years for travelling to a terrorist training camp in Syria, said: “It seems that if you are a Muslim, justice is not blind.