Thursday, September 03, 2015

The origin of Daesh/ISIS

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ISIS founder, d June 20 2006

Daesh (or ISIS/ISIL etc) is a cruel, tyrannical and criminal organisation that should not exist.

Getting rid of it in 2015 is a challenging task.
It would have been better if it had not been allowed to develop in the first place.

So how did it develop, and could we have done anything to stop it?

Daesh evolved out of Jama'at al-Tawid wal-Jihad (JTJ), which was set up by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999, and was active during the Iraq Insurgency against the US occupation of Iraq. JTJ allied itself with al-Qaeda (AQ) in 2004, and separated from them in 2014 (rumour has it that AQ thought they were too violent.)

There are three main possible responses to terrorism - military action, financial action, and intelligence/police action. The first is counter-productive, so financial and intelligence action is very important.

I wrote to my MP on 23rd March 2004 asking how well their financial action against terrorism was being conducted. Baroness Symonds of the FCO wrote back on 23 June 2004 quoting the various international agreements on freezing terrorist assets and saying that they, the FCO, were doing their job very well.

In September 2004 JTJ captured Ken Bigley and two US citizens, Armstrong and Hensley. The Americans were murdered in that month, and Ken Bigley was murdered on 7 October.

About that time the FCO announced that they were going to freeze the assets of JTJ.

It is therefore the case that the FCO did not know that JTJ was a terrorist organisation for the first five years of its existence, or that it did know of it but for some reason did nothing to freeze their assets.

Now look at this MSN site titled "Avoiding attacking suspected terrorist mastermind".  MSN's chief Pentagon correspondent cites 3 occasions when the military was ready to kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi at his ricin factory - in June 2002, Oct 2002 and Jan 2003 - only to be turned down by the Bush administration. The reason for this failure to act is given as the wish of the Bush administration to have an excuse to invade Iraq.

“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of pre-emption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey. 

It certainly looks therefore as if the founder of Daesh/ISIS was spared financial action by the UK and military action by the US in the interests of building the propaganda case for the 20 March 2003 Iraq invasion.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Conservatives' cod psychology is neither humane nor effective instopping migration

Cameron  is on the telly looking serious about the refugee crisis. His policy is to not reward migration by pulling migrants from the sea, or helping them in any other way. One of his henchmen argues that for us to accommodate Syrians would act as a "magnet".

Cameron believes, because his advisors tell him so, that psychology says behaviour only becomes extinguished if there is zero reward. Saving people from the sea rewards putting-to-sea behaviour, therefore, sadly, much as we would like to help, we must stand back and allow toddlers to drown.

Human social behaviour is far more complex than behavioural theory as understood by Conservatives can manage.  Their psychology is doomed to fail, because migration behaviour is not in response to the pull of Britain's wondrously generous UK benefits system, but to the push from Syria's war.

Cameron is like the Leader of a Tory Council that has decided to cut the Fire Brigade on grounds that the presence of a fire brigade only encourages people to have house fires. He stands outside a burning house watching people waving frantically from upstairs windows. He is shouting "Don't worry, we're going to look at the causes of your fire". 

We have to save the present cohort of refugees, and then take action to stem the flow at source.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Work Capability Assessment doubles the Mortality Rate for those on Invalidity Benefits

Photograph: Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis

I've been trying hard to make some kind of sense of the figures released by the DWP about  the mortality of benefits claimants. It is difficult, not least because the figures are crude due to the fact that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) was forced to release them as a result of Freedom of Information requests, and the explainers around the figures given by the DWP is unhelpful to say the least.

FullFact has rightly criticised the conclusions drawn  by many news reports. Statistical interpretation is notoriously difficult, especially in the presence of complex data. Deniers will always use complexity and uncertainty such as Fullfact have found to obscure any adverse conclusion. The raw number of people who have died after being declared fit for work is muddied by right wing journalists, who calculate that some would have died anyway.

Here I have taken a different approach which by-passes the complexity, using the answer given by the DWP to Information Request 1 (p2) :

What is the total number of people who have died within a year of their Work Capability Assessment since May 2010?

This is a good question since it leads directly to the Mortality Rate of this particular group.

The Mortality Rate (MR) of a population is usually given as the number of deaths per 100,000 of a population per year.

Benefits claimants who have medical reasons to be off work, (receiving Incapacity Benefits, IB, Severe Disablement Allowance, SDA, and Employment and Support Allowance ESA), have a Mortality Rate of 1032/100,000/yr. (Figure 1 here)

The DWP paper (Table 1, p3) says that 2,017,070 people were given a Work Capability Assessment from May 2010 to Feb 2013. Within a year, 40,680 of that group died.

This particular population of benefits claimants therefore have an MR of
40,680 / 2,017,070 * 100,000 = 2017.

To be absolutely clear, the group of medically unfit benefits claimants who were given a Work Capability Assessment had a Mortality Rate of 2,017 per 100,000 per year.

The Age Standardised Mortality Rate for all medically disabled benefits claimants is 1032.

Therefore the mortality rate  for those who are given a WCA is as near as dammit twice that of the group as a whole.

The approach taken here side steps the claim that some of the deaths were going to happen anyway, or that their death was the reason that the claim was ended. We are taking a group, claimants who are on IB,SDA and ESA, and from that group selecting a sub-group who were given a Work Capability Assessment. This sub-group has a mortality rate almost exactly twice that of the main group. All other factors are the same except they were called in for a WCA.

Therefore there must be something about the WCA that caused the increased mortality.

The DWP and sources like Atos and its successor Maximus, will deny that the WCA is stressful, but any person who has had any professional contact with invalids whose source of income is at risk of being cut by 25% (which is what happens when you move from ESA to JSA) will know that DWP etc. are simply in denial. It is undeniable to any unbiased observer that stress, worry and anxiety is associated with the WCA process (whether or not they are found capable of work in the end), and  mental stress translates into physical stress which can increase the risk of death. There are anecdotal reports of suicide among those who have been judged fit for work.

Remember also that the result we have here is just the result of a WCA itself, not for assessments that conclude that the claimant is fit for work, and therefore must take a 25% income cut. We should expect that the MR for this group is far higher.

The conclusion of this simple analysis of one simple, robust set of figures is that the WCA doubles the risk of death for those who are subjected to it.

The onus is now on the DWP to prove this thesis wrong.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How can we address the causes of migration effectively?

The current migration crisis is a Green issue. In fact, it can be argued that it is not a "crisis" (in the sense of a temporary deviation from the normal) at all, but is the new normal, with climate change a key driver, both indirectly, and in the future, directly.

So, what is the solution?

First, the rejectionist Ukip/Tory solution is no solution at all. It is physically impossible to build a Berlin Wall around the UK, or even around Europe, and failing rejectionism will inevitably turn into hate speech and hate actions.

Building physical barriers is a simplistic solution to political problems that goes back to the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, the 700 kilometre Israel West Bank Barrier/Wall, and, currently, the Great Razor Wire Fence in Hungary. These barriers are symptomatic treatments, and like all symptomatic treatments, they will in the end, fail. The only real solution to the problem is the one that addresses the root causes of the problem.

The underlying causes are fourfold:

  1. War
  2. Governments that abuse human rights
  3. Poverty
  4. Climate change

War, and its aftermath, is responsible for most migration movements into Europe. Iraq, Syria and, Afghanistan are major contributors to the total numbers.

Eritrea's post-war military government with its totalitarian control drives many young Eritreans to leave. We must not forget also that Burma's military regime is driving the a huge proportion of the Rohingya people into boats.

Many others, especially Africans, are trying to escape poverty. It is wrong to believe Tory tabloid editors and Ministers when they portray these people as merely making a lifestyle choice. They are fleeing extreme poverty, and this pattern will increase as climate change places further pressure on food prices.

A study by Richard Seager of Columbia University shows that climate change  is a factor in the Syrian conflict, primarily through drought affecting food production.

So, migration is a symptom of war, governments that abuse human rights, poverty and climate change. There are two opposing conclusions that we can draw from this.

Some will just want to give up, or try with increasing desperation and anger to pull up the drawbridge.
The other approach, the humane and rational response, is to work out and apply global solutions to what is a global problem.

The Green Party, and indeed all rational thinkers, should be at the forefront of the second approach, which deserves a name to identify itself. I would propose simply to call it "the New Globalisation", in order to distinguish it from economic Globalisation which is well known, and lies behind much that is wrong in the world, as Caroline Lucas and Mike Woodin showed in their book Green Alternatives to Globalisation in 2004.

It is now time for greens, and indeed, all thinkers and politicians who prefer to deal in realities rather than knee-jerk reactions, to start looking at these global problems and coming up with answers. And answers do exist. The process will be long and slow, measured in decades rather than months or years, but the journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step, and the time to start is now.

The majority of current wars are due to dictators, Islamism and separatism.

Dictatorships can be inhibited by the Green Party's Global Human Rights Index.

Islamism is a bit of a difficult problem that deserves a post all to itself, but the essential principle of treatment is that if we stop bombing Islamic countries, there is a chance that they will stop bombing us (and also other Islamic people: we must remember that jihadis kill far more Muslims than they kill "Christians" and Jews).

The third most important cause of current wars, separatism, is an issue that can usefully be addressed by the United Nations.

There are many other actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of conflict on people. Peace Direct is an excellent organisation that supports local people who take action to stop conflict. There have been successful agreements that will inhibit the arms trade. Attention could fruitfully switch now to the control of ammunition. (See PD434 in Green Party policies here).

So if we wish to address migration, we need to address the problem of war and dictators with their attendant human rights abuses. What of the other promoters of migration, which are poverty and climate change? Again there are solutions available, and again the solutions assist each other.

Poverty is complex, intimately interwoven with environmental issues, but one of the key insights is that poor countries tend to be hot countries, that is, countries with plentiful resources of solar energy. Solar energy offers to help poor countries, not just on a small scale, but also on a large scale, since large solar arrays and Concentrated Solar Power  will turn hitherto poor countries into net exporters of energy.

Development patterns that promote equality will reduce the pressure to migrate.

The points made here are not exhaustive. There are many other issues to be considered, and as ever, if we do not manage to get a handle on human population growth we are not going to get very far with any progress.

In conclusion, the only way to manage the "migration crisis" is to address the global causes of migration - war, dictatorship, poverty and environmental degradation. These are global problems, but we live in a small world, and a new programme of action, a New Globalisation that addresses humanitarian and environmental issues, is the only effective way forward.

See also:
The Conservatives' cod psychology about migration
How to resolve the problem at Calais
Dictators are the main cause of war in 2015
Rohingya: getting to the source of the problem