Friday, 29 November 2013


Two suicide car bombs explode in front of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. An Al Qaeda related group immediately admits responsibility. What do the Iranians do? They blame Israel. Why would they do that when the perpetrators have admitted that they did it? Iran is an Islamic theocracy and the last thing it wants to believe is that an Islamic group would be bombing its embassy. Add to that the fact that Israel, next to the USA, is the great Satan whom the Iranians have openly stated that they will wipe off the face of the earth (very peaceful from the religion of peace) and you have the answer.

Unfortunately religion plays a big part in this conflict, Islam wants to annihilate Judaism even though it comes from the same root. The other incomprehensible thing about the accusation is that since when did anyone see the Israelis using suicide as a weapon. They don't do it, because, like all other civilised peoples, they value life. Only Islam, by some contorted method of thinking, manages to turn suicide into martyrdom. The Koran specifically forbids suicide and yet some mullahs manage to convince their followers that they will instantly go to paradise if they blow themselves up along with as many other innocent people as possible.

Go to Oxbridge where the ivory tower intellectuals have well documented debates for and against Islam being a religion of peace. There are plenty of educated and well read Muslims who will argue that it is. Then look around the world for trouble spots. Guess what? Most of them are Islamic in nature. There is no surprise that the Iranian embassy was bombed by Al Qaeda. The latter is Sunni and the former Shiite. They are constantly at each others throats. Just look at Iraq. When the Western armies invaded that country to oust Hussain they unleashed an unstoppable conflict between these two sects. They did not understand them or the effect of their ill advised invasion. The problem has continued ever since they left, and so far in 2013 over 5000 innocent people have been killed, and this is the religion of peace. They blow each other up at funerals, marriages, mosques, market places, pilgrimages and religious gatherings. Kill as many people as possible and get instant martyrdom. A truly amazing philosophy which can only be termed as primitive. The Syrian war is, of course, the primary cause of the explosions. Iran backs Assad whilst Al Qaeda backs the rebels.

The only way to get peace in the Middle East is for all the groups and nations to agree to let each other alone and foster trade. Both Arabs and Jews are great traders and have been so in the past. Their economies could flourish if they worked together and if that happened the conflict would surely die. However, don't hold your breath.

Friday, 15 November 2013


The onset of the rape of a country

Now that the rebel group M23 have stated that they are giving up the fight and are in future going to use democratic methods what are the odds on peace finally coming to that benighted country? Not great I fear. The Congo is a vast country of over 2.3 million square kilometres, [France has only just over half a million]. Its population is about 75 million. Its borders are the result of the 'Rush for Africa' towards the end of the 19th century. There was strong competition for the whole of the Congo region between the French and the Belgians or to be more precise the Belgian king, Leopold 11. In actual fact, his government was not keen on the idea at all. The explorer Stanley had travelled through the Congo region and had urged the British government to move in but, for various reasons, it was not interested. He was then persuaded to visit the Belgian king and agreed to act on his behalf. In the end the French settled for a small part of the territory north of the river Congo and Leopold got his hands on what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leopold promised philanthropy and education to his European critics but, in fact, all he wanted was money. It was he who turned it into a personal fief and then started the brutal exploitation of the country and its peoples just to amass a personal fortune.

Exploitation and punishment

This was not a homogeneous country before the advent of European exploration and colonisation. It was made up of many chieftain-ships and petty kingdoms all of whom were jealous of their patch and ruled it in the manner of tribal rulers throughout Africa. Once Leopold got his way at the Berlin conference in 1885 he was quick to take control by way of his army. Officers moved into the country, recruited locals to act as policemen and the exploitation began. Rubber was the new in product and demand for it was growing throughout Europe and America. The rubber tree grew wild in the Congo jungles and that was the start of the exploitation. Locals were forced to collect raw rubber from the forests on pain of severe punishment if they did not fulfil their quotas. The punishments included amputations and even slavery. By the beginning of the twentieth century Leopold was getting such a bad name throughout Europe and America because of the ill-treatment of the native population that the Belgian government was persuaded to take on the running of the country.

Death of expectations

he elected Belgian government administered the colony between 1908 and 1960 and this was the honeymoon period for the population. However, beneath the calm was a continual tribal ferment which transmogrified itself into parties fighting for independence. The hand-over of the rains of government from the Belgians to the MNC party led by Patrice Lumumba was anything but smooth and the bulk of white administrators fled the country. Internal turmoil began almost immediately as different parties vied for power. Lumumba was overthrown in January 1961 and murdered basically because he had communist leanings. The country descended into chaos from which it has never really recovered. Joseph Mobutu eventually gained power in 1965 with the backing of the army and ruled, as absolute dictator, till he was ousted in 1997. He was able to stay in power for all that time because he had the backing of the USA as they saw him as a bulwark against communist infiltration in Africa. The fact that he exploited his own people in similar fashion to Leopold and led probably the most corrupt regime in the whole of Africa, did not seem to bother the American administration. His overthrow only happened when the Cold War came to an end and the USA had no more use for him.

Corruption of a viable state

Since then the DR Congo has been at war with itself. The current presided Joseph Kabila, son of the last and assassinated president blames Rwanda and Uganda and anyone else who may come to mind but in the end it is tribal warfare and it has killed as many as 5 million people to date, a majority through famine and disease. This is the saddest thing of all because the country is fertile and can grow any number of crops. It is also one of the richest countries in the world in mineral resources. These include diamonds, gold and silver, copper, cobalt, iron and coal and such rarities as germanium, radium and coltan which is worth more than gold.

Many of these are mined in the most primitive fashion with the miners digging with picks and shovels and even bare hands. They seldom receive a wage of more than 10 USD per month whilst the recipients of the products, who are middlemen, reap the huge rewards. The poor in Congo are still exploited to the full by their own kind. It could and should be one of the richest countries in Africa and yet decades of exploitation and total corruption from the top down keep the country in poverty. The internal wars have kept the land from being tilled so food is scarce in a country that could feed the whole of Africa and what little infrastructure there ever was remains shattered. So the surrender of one of the factions, all be it a major one, will not bring peace and the poor will continue to suffer.

Friday, 1 November 2013


Some time ago the management of Grangemouth petrochemical facility put a plan to the workers, through their union Unite, to make the plant economical as it was losing money. The union disagreed and stated is was making money. The workers were told of the consequences and the union urged them to vote for strike action. They voted in favour, only just, but we live in a democracy so a simple majority is good enough. So out they went and the plant stood idle. The management told the union that if they guaranteed no strike action for 60 days, a reasonable request, they would reopen the plant and continue negotiations. The union refused but in actual fact, it was playing politics as the main dispute was over a sacked union official. The union was really looking after itself rather than the interests of its members but that didn't come across to the majority.

The upshot of the argument was that the owner of the refinery decided to close the unprofitable petrochemical side of the plant with the loss of 800 jobs. As the workers came out of the meeting where they learned of their fate they all damned the management for their loss. Not one admitted that they had voted for the strike or that perhaps the union was wrong. It was all down to the management who had laid out a very reasonable scheme to make the plant viable and profitable which included a massive re-investment. They followed union instructions and voted against that and then with a certain amount of hypocrisy blamed the management for the end result.

In general owners of businesses that are profitable do not close them down. If a business is unprofitable it will eventually go bust. In the eyes of most people looking on at the Grangemouth dispute they would see the terms offered as being reasonable, not great if you are an employee taking a pay cut and big changes to your expected pension, but better than no job at all. It should be mentioned here that the average pay at the Grangemouth refinery is double the national average in Scotland. So here we have a company that could be profitable with some changes in the work practices and a large investment to modify and update the plant, and a union with a grievance because of a sacked official able to make a lot of trouble because of the general unrest it sees amongst its members.

Look at union history and the same story is repeated over and over again throughout the twentieth century. When the unions were first started they were genuinely needed. The owners rode roughshod over their employees. However, give any organisation with the potential of power an inch and it's a natural instinct to take a mile. Between the two world wars the unions did a good job. They helped lift workers out of poverty and improved working conditions considerably. After the Second World War Britain was in a parlous state, the country was broke and life was difficult for most people and many businesses. In an effort to get better deals for their members, unions flexed their muscles, usually in the form of strikes. Britain became not only the strike capital of Europe but a bit of a joke. It was regularly termed as The sick man of Europe.

As the unions got stronger management got weaker and floundered in a search of ways to deal with them. The unions had the upper hand, they just called their members out on strike and the business went further into the red. During the 60s and 70s the unions got so powerful they were able to dictate to governments. They were also able to dictate to the owners and particularly to nationalised industries. The result, massive over employment in many industries and pay hikes well above inflation and often far more than the companies could well afford. This resulted in the closure of Britain's main ports such as Liverpool, London and Hull. It also led to many industries pricing themselves out of the market. Shipbuilding, car manufacture, steel production all fell foul of union manipulation and greed. They had become parasitic. And like parasites which feed on the blood of the host they eventually suck it dry and it dies even though that means their own death.

The news paper industry was a classical example. The unions ruled supreme, you were a member or you didn't work. Step out of line with a shop steward or convenor and you didn't work. On the other hand If you didn't turn up or were told not to bother and have a day or two off you were still marked in by the union official and paid by the company. Employees actually didn't have to register with the company just the union and so they didn't even pay taxes as they booked in under such names as Mickey Mouse. It was a joke and if the papers were to continue being printed something had to be done. Eventually the owners moved out of Fleet Street and in the new premises banned the unions. One famous newspaper owner offered the Fleet Street building and all its contents free to the union so it could run it as a going concern itself. It declined the generous offer because the union elders knew it was an impossible task if they were to run it as they had been.

So now back to Grangemouth. The owner stated that the petrochemical side of the plant would not now reopen, would go into bankruptcy and that the liquidators would be in by following week. What has the union done, gone running to him, tail between its legs, and told him it would accept all his proposals. He is now in the driving seat and can force through much harsher terms than he was offering before and my bet is that he will. It's always the workers who lose out but they never seem to blame the union.