Newsnotes 2015 10

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams


Labour Renewed?

Jeremy Corbyn has so far behaved sensibly after his unexpected victory. He must have noted that if 60% of the party voted for him, another 40% did not. So he kept Hilary Benn at the Shadow Foreign Minister job, and gave the Shadow Home Secretary job to Andy Burnham, his closest rival.  The biggest job given to one of his own was John McDonnell as Shadow chancellor, indicating he plans to stick to his anti-austerity agenda.

This did also mean that there was no woman among the Big Four jobs. Probably because Yvette Cooper stood down as Shadow Home Secretary, presumably thinking that Corbyn’s victory is a blip that she should sensibly distance herself from.  If her judgement is that much off, we have lost nothing much. And there are a lot of women in slightly lesser posts.[1]  I was ready to vote for a woman if she was about equal to the male candidate: but the actual candidates we got were a dismal lot.

Consider the future.  Corbyn is 66: Andy Burnham is 45. He can sensibly hope for a second chance to be leader. Hopefully he now realises that he should have taken a more left-wing line.  Another time he may ignore the media, who are in the pockets of the rich and keep on inventing sentiments that Britons allegedly believe in.  He did make a sensible remark in his manifesto about returning to the values of 1945: but he failed to follow it through.  Indeed, the modified Labour party now led by Corbyn still seems half ashamed of its period of greatest achievement.

Corbyn and his supporters reject the Blairite capitulation to Thatcherite values, which Ed Miliband was unexpectedly weak about.  Miliband should have denounced deregulation as the cause of the 2008 crisis and denounced Osborne for bailing out the rich and squeezing the poor.  Should have said that the ‘Butskellite’ system that Labour invented and that the Tories maintained before Thatcher was the best economic balance that anyone has so far found.  But Miliband was distinctly ‘leftist but ashamed of it’.  And burdened by the legacy on his father Ralph Miliband, who saw the state as a piece of sinister nastiness.[2]  Of course it’s understandable that someone could get that impression from having to flee the highly aggressive Nazi state. But a much better reading of history is to say that Hitler became powerful because he did some sensible things with state power in his first few years, applying the policies that were later and loosely called Keynesianism.  It was because Hitler re-started a stalled German economy that he gained the power that allowed him to start several avoidable wars and end up getting some seven million non-Jewish Germans killed, in addition to all of his other crimes.

Butskellism – a term used at the time for the common ground between Rab Butler for the Tories and Hugh Gaitskell for Labour – was a grand success.  It arose out of the lessons of Hitler, and of the ruthless but successful industrialisation of the Soviet Union under Stalin. The New Deal under Roosevelt in the USA had already shown that it was possible to have something similar within a Parliamentary system, if only the parliamentarians and voters would allow it. They hadn’t in the 1930s: Britain and many other nations had inflicted vast suffering on themselves in defence of ‘sound finance’.  But after 1945 and up until the 1970s, the ruling class were scared of Communism and scared of a revival of Fascism and accepted limits on their profits in exchange for social peace and security. Education and health care were free and there was very little unemployment.  It was in fact an optimum that Labour should be flaunting as its grand achievement.

It broke down in the 1970s, in part because of a shift in social values. The Butskellite system assumed that Trade Unions would accept the consensus: they increasingly asked for more.  Labour twice tried to restore the balance with a sensible Incomes Policy: the Trade Unions decided they didn’t want it.  Heath offered to share power: once again the Trade Unions decided they didn’t want it.  The 1974-79 Labour government offered even more, including Workers Control, which Tony Benn in particular was keen to promote. And still the Trade Unions decided they didn’t want it.  (This included an offer to let the Miners Union take over the coal industry, which Arthur Scargill determinedly rejected, and then wrecked his own union in a foolish struggle with bosses who would not have been there had he been wiser.)

Motives were mixed.  Traditional Labour – the people best represented by Jim Callaghan – thought that everything was fine and there was no need to change it.  Then there were swarms of ineffective Trotskyists, and the declining but powerful mass of pro-Moscow Communists, both of whom were scared of saving ‘capitalism’ by reforming it.  And even among the more sensible left, there was an irrational fear of ‘corporatism’.

Thatcher remained at first within the Butskellite consensus, carefully undermining Trade Union power but doing it in the name of individual freedom. But having briefly restored Butskellism, she then set to work demolishing it, believing that pre-1914 Britain must be restored.  Labour could and should say that all of this was nonsense and did nothing more than give an unfair share of the wealth to the very rich, the 1% or More-Than-Millionaire class.

Then there’s foreign policy: the blunders of Thatcher and Blair that we are still paying for.  Thatcher got a tremendous boost from the Falklands War, where she upheld the rights of a small British community on a previously uninhabited island, while the left were paralysed by the magic words ‘anti-Imperialism’.  But the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Iraq was utterly foolish.  Saddam was able and willing to develop Iraq in ways that were likely in the long run to create a broadly Westernised Iraq.  Without him, the process reversed and Iraq fragmented.  Kurds follow wider Kurdish concerns, including a possible war with Turkey.  Shia Arabs have linked up with Iran.  Sunni Arabs were fragmented but have now linked up with similar people in Syria to form ISIS.  Iraqi Christians and several small religions that were there before Christianity had survived the Mongol Hoards and Timur (Tamurlane), among other conquerors, but are vanishing rapidly thanks to the ‘help’ offered by Bush Senior and Thatcher, and by their various successors.

The pattern of ‘humanitarian interventions’ that began in 1991 have been brutal, costly and futile. Inhumanitarian. A provocation that has encouraged Islamic extremism.

After the disaster of the Suez Crisis, the Macmillan-Wilson consensus was to wind down the Empire and avoid getting mixed up with US overseas interventions. Both of them kept Britain out of the Vietnam War (more accurately thought of as Vietnam’s American War, following its war with the Japanese and then the French). But that sort of wisdom was abandoned by Thatcher and Blair, and we need to return to it.

[Sadly, most of the Parliamentary Labour Party was stuck in ‘New Labour’ thinking and unable to work sensibly with Corbyn.  They became a ‘Timid Tendency’ determined to remove him.]

Syria: Will the West Capitulate?

When the Syrian protests began, Assad offered open elections. A sensible or well-advised opposition would have given it a try, supposing that he might mean it. Or that if they tried it and he did not keep his word, their moral case would be much stronger.

This is very seldom mentioned nowadays in Western media, so here’s a reminder:

“Syria talks face immediate hurdle of Assad’s refusal to step down

“Opposition says president’s departure is non-negotiable, while late invitation to Iran threatens entire process…

“Assad has insisted throughout that he will not quit, while the opposition says he must go. It remains unclear how that circle can be squared.

“Assad was quoted on Sunday as saying he has no intention of stepping down and that his departure will not be on the table at the Geneva II conference.

“‘If we wanted to surrender we would have surrendered from the start,’ the Interfax news agency reported Assad telling visiting Russian MPs. ‘This issue is not under discussion. Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections.'”[3]

When the crisis first erupted, many journalists noted that Assad did have a lot of support.  Minorities and secular Sunni were scared of what might replace him. The protestors, encouraged by the West, were evidently not scared: but this was foolhardy and their cause is now wholly ruined.  As with Iraq, any possibility of Syria ending up as a Westernised state in the next decade or two has wholly vanished.  Indeed, neither Iraq nor Syria really exist any more.  Smashing secular dictatorships has meant that ‘the people’ discovered that they are actually several different peoples whose natural ties are much more logically with peoples outside of the borders.

Encouraged by the West, the opposition thought “first we get rid of what exists. Then we can have an election in which everyone can say how wonderful we are”.  They did not want to risk the electorate delivering the ‘wrong’ verdict, a view the USA sympathises with.

Back in 2012, I had no suspicion that something like ISIS would erupt.  But I was sure about the general trend:

“I recently heard a Western minister hoping that the Syrian opposition will exclude ‘violent, extremist people’. Which is hardly realistic: those are the sort of people who take to war like a duck to water.

“When you see a brutal and intolerant government, you usually find a brutal and intolerant citizenry. Or occasionally a citizenry outraged at bad treatment, as with Germany and Italy. Regardless, when you remove a repressive regime you find yourself face to face with all that it’s been repressing.

“It’s quite possible that the Assad government will lose Damascus and retreat to the Alawite heartland. This would be likely to be followed by total chaos, with Islamists likely to emerge on top. And Western pundits will once again view this as utterly unexpected and not the fault of the West.”[4]

Pro-Western Arabs are a minority.  The anti-Mubarak pro-Western protestors in Egypt turned out to be about 10%.  The Muslim Brotherhood got 37.5% and harder-line Islamists got 27.8%.[5]  There, the pro-Western demonstrators went on protesting against the elected government, but the West ignored them and allowed a modified version of the original dictatorship to be restored.

In Syria, events seem to be drifting towards a similar outcome.  Maybe with Bashir Assad stepping down but passing on power to someone similar. But this, sadly, is only likely to restore a rump Syria with its many internal divisions unresolved. It may have peace, as the Lebanon has, but it will probably never be healed.


China’s Big Parades

Britain has a whole collection of commemorations of its various wars, and celebrations of their anniversaries. Yet China celebrating the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan was treated by the BBC as something abnormal and suspicious.

It actually fits a developing pattern.  They used to be rare events:

“Military parades… hold a special place in the Chinese hierarchy of symbolic political events. In modern-day China, parades are a rare occurrence: there have been only three of them since 1960 – in 1984, 1999 and 2009.

“Notably, all of them marked the country’s main national holiday — the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. According to the set rule, the next one should have been scheduled only for October 2019, to mark the country’s 70th anniversary.”[6]

It’s actually a little more complex than that.  According to the Wiki:

“Military parades, presided over by Chairman Mao Zedong, were held every year between 1949 and 1959. In September 1960, the Chinese leadership decided that in order to save funds and ‘be frugal’, large-scale ceremonies for National Day would only be held every ten years, with a smaller-scale ceremony every five years. The last large-scale celebration during the Mao era was in 1969. Large-scale celebrations did not take place for 14 years amidst the climax of the Cultural Revolution. Since then, the most prominent National Day celebrations have taken place in 1984 and 1999, at the 35th and 50th anniversaries respectively…  The 2009 parade was the first and last time Hu Jintao oversaw this task.”[7]

Xi Jinping is scheduled to be stepping down in 2022-23, so he’s likely to be the first leader since Mao to preside over two such events.  But I doubt that’s the reason. Much more interesting is who attended.  The Economist summarised is thus:

“Thirty heads of state or government joined Mr Xi on the reviewing stand, including Vladimir Putin (hardly a notable guardian of the international order, but never mind). Their countries form a map of those parts of the world where China’s clout is strong: Central Asia (leaders of four of its five ‘stans’ turned up), parts of South-East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos); Africa (South Africa, Egypt, Sudan); as well as, increasingly, eastern Europe. The only surprising visitor was South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, fresh from a tense stand-off with the North. She resisted American pressure to turn down the invitation, presumably in the hope of persuading China to exert some moderating influence on its capricious North Korean client.”[8]

They leave out the most notable attendee; Taiwan.  Beijing has been working hard to ensure that Taiwan, originally the exiled Kuomintang government defeated in 1949, continues to drift in their direction. Commemorations of the joint victory in 1945 is a neat way of including them.  They even sent veterans, who marched as part of the parade along with veterans from the Communist forces.[9]

It went wider than that.

“Chinese troops were not marching alone on the commemorative date: They were joined by their fellow soldiers from Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Serbia, Tajikistan and Russia.”[10]

Mongolia is particularly significant: a neighbour that was once part of the Chinese Empire, and which had natural economic ties with China. But it is also a ceremony that quite a lot of the world could take part in.

If it is now to be a regular 10-year event, it will be interesting to see who turns up in 2025.


People’s Car, People’s Poison (Volkswagen)

A diesel engine has some advantages over a regular petrol engine.  Its big disadvantage that it typically burns hotter, and so turns more of the nitrogen in the air into unwanted oxides of nitrogen, polluting and dangerous to human health.  There are ways round this, but they get in the way of the other main aim, fuel economy. Handling this honestly is tricky.

Handling it dishonestly was clearly a much more attractive option for the management of Volkswagen.

Since computer power is now so cheap, it has been natural and useful to including some simple devices within the car to adjust the engine for different conditions.  But someone at Volkswagen must have realised that it was also possible to program these devices to cheat.  To spot when the car was being run in the artificial set-up of a pollution test,[11] and run the engine in a way that was wasteful of fuel but produced very few of those unwanted oxides of nitrogen.  So the car could be sold as unusually fine with a combination of low pollution and low fuel consumption.

The Volkswagen came from the socialist side of Nazi rule: they did intend a better life for those they saw as ‘good Germans’, and had been succeeding until Hitler started a war he could easily have avoided.  It was also a radically different design, which meant that a lot of ‘captains of industry’ disliked it and failed to see its potential.  The British army occupying Germany controlled the main factory. They tried to keep production going, but Britain’s Rootes Group turned it down.[12]  (Roots later failed, was taken over by Chrysler in the 1960s and its remnants sold on to Peugeot and Renault in the late 1970s).  Ford also rejected it, so the West Germans restarted it all by themselves, and it was a great success.[13]  It became what it had been meant to be, a ‘People’s Car’ the literal meaning of the name, and very much functioned as such.  Up until now.

I’d see it as one of many signs that the New Right are in sharp decline. They have failed to fix the economic disaster caused by speculators in 2008.  They have had to junk their official creed to avoid a drastic collapse, just as they did in the almost-forgotten crisis of 1987.  But the whole concentration on profit encourages cheating.  The portion of 1960s radicalism that flowed into the New Right included most of the people who believed that cheating was fine in a basically unjust world.  (Those who were after a new and higher moral standard almost all stayed on the left.)  Not many had the sense to realise that cheating tends to fail drastically in the long run.

Tighter regulations are needed.  After all, the Volkswagen cheat was written in the car’s internal computer code and should have been blatant to an expert who took a proper look. Or rather, had there been the certainty of someone independent to inspect the code, the cheat would not have been tried.  It is fair enough that car-makers should keep it confidential, since it is valuable.  But in this and much else, a trustworthy agency upholding standards on behalf of the public. An unfashionable idea since the 1970s, but fashions change and the whole world is currently changing.


What’s Rational?

The European Enlightenment vastly expanded the range of human thinking, but also included major errors.  In particular, it had a notion of ‘reason’ that was selfish, and largely ignored the vital process of building fellow-feeling among humans with different needs and outlooks.  It was this deficiency that encouraged the rival Romantic movement, which dealt better with these complex aspects of human life.

It also has encouraged a return to traditional beliefs and superstitions, several times in European and world history since the first advance of the Enlightenment.  But this is unjustified.  What typically passes for ‘Rationalism’ on social matters is mostly the abuse of reason.

There are really two forms of ‘rationalism’, used interchangeably depending on what the ‘reasoner’ wants the answer to be:

  • Version one assumes everyone is asocial and hypercalculating, does not care at all about others or social duty, but can also get instant answers about financial return.
  • Version two: everyone is still hypercalculating, but also hypersocial, seeing the lives of strangers as just as valuable as their own or as friends and relatives.

Real people are in between, mostly valuing self about those close to and those close above strangers.  May sometimes value another above oneself: often the case with parents for children and sometimes children for parents.

Then there is Professor Dawkins’ rehash of rationalism, in which genes make us selfish.  This too is nonsense. Genes function in an asocial manner, but can produce a hypersocial result: this happens with ants and bees, where most individuals have a short life and no genetic future.  Mammals are more mixed: mothers make sacrifices and sometimes fathers help. Some mammals are social, living in groups, and we are an extreme case. But still mixed in our motivations, which accounts for the existence of religion, which baffles and confuses Professor Dawkins. Religion pushes us toward the hypersocial end of the spectrum, as do some non-religious creeds, most notably socialism.  In extreme cases we can become genuinely hypersocial, seeing our own lives as no more important than other lives.

Note also that in its human aspect, hypersocial is different from conformist. People who care for others are more likely to be willing to suffer to correct what they see as an error by the group.  If you care you deviate from the bourgeois norm, where it is better to be wrong with the majority than speak the truth and be unpopular.

Now consider ‘Rational’ economics, the core idea of the New Right.  It assumes people Sociopathic or Asocial.  It purports to describe capitalism, yet ignores both status and relationship, both of which are vital for actual business.

Having excluded human relationships, the economics of the New Right fails to understand that the profit motive is an anti-social force, tending to destroy whatever society it operates within.  That was Karl Marx’s great insight, expressed in the Communist Manifesto.  The complication is, a society that constrains the profit motive in just the right ways can run very efficiently.  This saved the West from the 1940s to 1970s, allowing them to win the Cold War.

Since the 1980s, the official ideology of ruling parties in the West has been to revert to 19th century capitalism.  This has to some degree damaged the system, with growth slowing wherever such ‘reforms’ are tried.  But in practice, ‘reforms’ have been limited by the interests of the rich.  There was a massive state bail-out after the 2008 crisis.  But the ideology of free markets let it be run in such a way that the rich suffered very little, with ordinary people paying the cost of the gambling debts of the rich.


What They Believe That Ain’t So.

“I believe it was Ben Franklin that said ‘he that would give up just a little freedom for temporary security deserves neither freedom nor security’.”

This comes from an on-line discussion, and is both ignorant and wrong.  Worse than ignorant: part of an aggressive unwisdom that leads to grave errors.  There’s another fine old US saying that covers it:

It isn’t ignorance that makes you a fool: it’s what you know that ain’t so.

Franklin’s actual words were:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”[14]

The misquotations are numerous: the Wikipedia has a whole list of them.[15]  But I’m surprised that people don’t get suspicious.  Every political system including that of the USA involves some limits on Liberty or Freedom.  People can only denounce all limits if they are assuming, maybe unconsciously, that ‘all’ does not mean ‘all’ if it’s a freedom they want to see limited.  Or maybe anything I don’t like, isn’t freedom.

Franklin would presumably have said that while the US Constitution forbade many things and gave freedom to the legislature to forbid many more, it upheld essential Liberty. That’s a reasonable viewpoint: what is not reasonable is the claim that the US has always been an upholder of Freedom.  It maintained slavery for longer than most of Europe, including Tsarist Russia which abolished it in 1861.  The USA was also slower than Europe to stop using state power to interfere with people’s private sexual choices.  Both sides in its 1860s Civil War introduced military conscription, with options for the rich to buy their way out of it.  And so on.

Even more remarkably, Franklin said it only once, and in the context of a demand that everyone should pay their taxes:

“The words appear originally in a 1755 letter that Franklin is presumed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor during the French and Indian War. The letter was a salvo in a power struggle between the governor and the Assembly over funding for security on the frontier, one in which the Assembly wished to tax the lands of the Penn family, which ruled Pennsylvania from afar, to raise money for defense against French and Indian attacks. The governor kept vetoing the Assembly’s efforts at the behest of the family, which had appointed him. So to start matters, Franklin was writing not as a subject being asked to cede his liberty to government, but in his capacity as a legislator being asked to renounce his power to tax lands notionally under his jurisdiction. In other words, the ‘essential liberty’ to which Franklin referred was thus not what we would think of today as civil liberties but, rather, the right of self-governance of a legislature in the interests of collective security.

“What’s more the ‘purchase [of] a little temporary safety’ of which Franklin complains was not the ceding of power to a government Leviathan in exchange for some promise of protection from external threat; for in Franklin’s letter, the word ‘purchase’ does not appear to have been a metaphor. The governor was accusing the Assembly of stalling on appropriating money for frontier defense by insisting on including the Penn lands in its taxes—and thus triggering his intervention. And the Penn family later offered cash to fund defense of the frontier—as long as the Assembly would acknowledge that it lacked the power to tax the family’s lands. Franklin was thus complaining of the choice facing the legislature between being able to make funds available for frontier defense and maintaining its right of self-governance—and he was criticizing the governor for suggesting it should be willing to give up the latter to ensure the former.

“In short, Franklin was not describing some tension between government power and individual liberty. He was describing, rather, effective self-government in the service of security as the very liberty it would be contemptible to trade. Notwithstanding the way the quotation has come down to us, Franklin saw the liberty and security interests of Pennsylvanians as aligned.”[16]


Serving God and Serving Men

I had to look up ‘Dorothy Day’ to see just what was so significant about the Pope letting her have the title of Servant of God, and opening the road for her possible canonization.

What I found was remarkable was her actual history, as set out in the Wiki:

“American journalist, social activist, Christian socialist and devout Catholic convert. She advocated the Catholic economic theory of distributism. In 1917, Day was imprisoned as a member of Alice Paul’s Silent Sentinels, and in the 1930s she worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. Day co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1931, and served as its editor from 1933 until her death in 1980.

“Day had an abortion as a young woman and later gave birth to a daughter. She was never married in a religious or civil law ceremony, although common-law marriage laws may have applied to her co-habitations with at least two men, at different times.”[17]

Saint Dorothy, Unmarried Mother?  We are indeed in a new era.  But in the context of the Republic of Ireland having voted decisively to legalise Gay Marriage, I assume that the Catholic hierarchy now see the need to change.


God Save Our Pompous Sycophants

In the row over Jeremy Corbyn failing to sing the National Anthem, little attention has been paid to what a silly and offensive anthem it is. Do they listen with their brains switched off?

We are the only country in the world where the anthem says nothing at all about the country itself.

We are the only country in the world where the anthem consists entirely of sycophantic praise for the ruler.  Even North Korea has a decent official anthem. The Wiki entry for this anthem, known as Aegukka (and not to be confused with Aegukga, the South Korean anthem) says that internally it is mostly replaced by two hymns in praise of their first two rulers.[18]  But even these are not as sycophantic as ‘God Save the Queen’ (or King, when there is one).  They do mention the nation as well as the ruler.

Our anthem also enshrines partisan politics, dating from the brief panic in 1745 when the Jacobite cause came close to success.[19]  And the Jacobites had an excellent case, trying to restore the man who would have been king had not a parliament elected by the rich chosen to set aside the normal rules and ignore all non-Protestant heirs.  It’s not exactly anti-Scottish, because more Scots were against the Jacobites than for them. There were more Scots fighting for King George at the butchery of the Battle of Culloden than were still supporting ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’.  Still, it is bad to have the supposed symbol of unity enshrine such a cause.

Maybe Britain needs a new National Anthem.  Maybe Labour should propose this.


Nepal – Peace At Last?

Nepal had an interesting part-revolution caused by a highly successful Maoist movement.  But then politics got bogged down in a long debate about a new constitution.  The 2008 elections to this body made the Maoists much the largest party, but they could produce no definite outcome.  The Maoists lost a lot of seats in new elections held in 2012, but a solution was still difficult.  Only now have the main parties got together and produced what will hopefully be a functional system.

For me, this bit of history suggests that Lenin was entirely wise to disperse the Constituent Assembly and set up a coherent authoritarian government in October 1917.  A clear majority had voted for some sort of socialism, but there would have been grounds for endless dithering, and Russia would not have been left alone to work its way to coherence.  Between the first moderate revolution and the Bolshevik revolution, the moderate government was nearly overthrown by General Kornilov, who died in 1918 but was the founder and initial leader of the White counter-revolutionary movements.  Elsewhere in Europe, numerous governments east of Berlin that had established British-style multi-party government had abandoned them by 1933: the German Weimar Republic was actually one of the last to fall.  Copying the externals of the British system did not give new-minted political systems the informal understandings and norms that made it workable in Britain.

In Nepal, they have successfully dumped the monarchy and got a basic multi-party political system, but what comes next is anyone’s guess.

“The new republic will become a federal one. The Maoists’ proposal of federalism was later adopted by many more mainstream parties because of the diversity of Nepal. Its people speak over 100 languages. They’re split by divisions such as high- and low-caste, Nepali-speaking v speakers of indigenous languages, hill ethnicities v lowland ethnicities, and gender divisions, with high-caste men from the hills almost supremely dominant up to now.

“The new document has drawn up provisional boundaries for seven states but their names are to be decided by their eventual assemblies and a commission has yet to fix their final boundaries. Nepali society has become deeply polarised on whether the states should be ethnically delineated…

“Many members of traditionally marginalised groups fear that the constitution will still work against them as it’s been rushed through by established parties which – including the Maoists – are dominated by high-caste, mostly male, leaders…

“Hindu groups that want the restoration of the country’s officially Hindu status (abolished nine years ago) are not happy.

“The new draft enshrines secularism – although it is a moderate secularism, which says the state is responsible for protecting ancient religious practices, and also makes the cow, sacred to Hindus, the national animal.”[20]


Be Harassed To Death, Or Die Badly

“Nearly 90 people a month are dying after being declared fit for work, according to new data that has prompted campaigners and Labour leadership contenders to call for an overhaul of the government’s welfare regime…

“Ministers insisted that the data could not be used to link claimant deaths to its welfare reforms, but the figures focused attention on the government’s fit-for-work assessment process, which has been dogged by controversy in recent years.”[21]

Government policies ensure that there are very few jobs for fit young people: but also that the needy will be harassed into paid employment.  Part of a general policy of shifting the blame.

Meantime the House of Commons in a free vote has upheld the principle that people who are definitely dying and without hope must still be left to suffer, unless they have the means to be taken to a clinic in Switzerland and get a decent exit.

“MPs have rejected plans for a right to die in England and Wales in their first vote on the issue in almost 20 years.

“In a free vote in the Commons, 118 MPs were in favour and 330 against plans to allow some terminally ill adults to end their lives with medical supervision.

“In a passionate debate, some argued the plans allowed a ‘dignified and peaceful death’ while others said they were ‘totally unacceptable’.

“Pro-assisted dying campaigners said the result showed MPs were out of touch.

“Under the proposals, people with fewer than six months to live could have been prescribed a lethal dose of drugs, which they had to be able to take themselves. Two doctors and a High Court judge would have needed to approve each case.”[22]

All sorts of excuses are given. But the decision is clearly a hold-over from Christian tradition, that has always had a violent objection to all sorts of suicide. There is little basis for this in the actual Bible, but Christian traditions of all sort tend to ignore the Bible when it fails to match their prejudices.


Guns and Racism in the USA

The on-line question-and-answer forum Quora is a great place to encounter unexpected facts.  Since I’d never believed the story that possession of guns allowed people to overthrow bad governments, I went to Quora and asked if in the USA it had ever actually happened.[23]

That’s when I learned some unexpected new facts.  People knew of a couple of instances in which armed force had been used to force out corrupt local government.  And there was the part-successful Dorr Rebellion to democratise politics in Rhode Island in the 1840s.  But the main instances were white racist use of force to end the brief experiment with black people voting in the former Confederacy. The Meridian race riot of 1871, the Colfax massacre of 1873, the Election Riot of 1874 in Alabama, the Jaybird–Woodpecker War of 1888-9, the Wilmington insurrection of 1898 in North Carolina. It’s a suitable topic for a popular book: a documentation of how the Klu Klux Klan was just the unrespectable edge of something much bigger.

Of course there was collusion by higher authorities, which didn’t believe in racial equality and were happy to see it suppressed once it was clear that the South was not going to try to secede again. Only in the 1960s was the result of this racism reversed.

And then, sadly, most US blacks decided that getting their own guns was ‘the American way’.  It was, but in this case the American way was a decidedly inferior way. Black-on-black killing has ever since blighted their new freedom.


Racism In Britain

The British Empire had no coherent policy on race.  In most colonies, there was a strict racial hierarchy. But in Britain itself, things were much vaguer and rich non-whites got a lot of acceptance.

But might still get persecuted by the authorities, or discriminated against. There was a general rule against non-white officers. And attacks on mixed-race marriages, particularly when it was the woman who was white.

“Our story about the forced repatriation of Chinese sailors who had been recruited for the Merchant Navy during World War Two told of the devastation for those families left behind. Barbara Janecek shared her own tale in response.

“She had read about Yvonne Foley, whose father Nan Young, a Chinese ship engineer, was sent back to the Far East following the end of the war. He was one of thousands of recruits from Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong who lived in Liverpool.”[24]

British racism was informal because there were very few non-whites in Britain before the 1950s.  When this changed, it took a determined effort to drive racism underground.  Largely fought by the left, and obstructed by the Tories.  The local Tories successfully used the slogan ‘if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’ in 1964 at Smethwick.[25]


Boeing in China

“For the first time ever, Boeing is locating an aircraft production facility abroad — in China — as part of a bundled deal to sell 300 new planes to Chinese airlines and leasing companies. Companies moving production to China is an old story, of course, but Boeing isn’t just new to the Chinese market — this is the first time it’s ever built a factory abroad.

“The Chinese want to develop a domestic airplane manufacturing industry. But building large airplanes is difficult. So they’ve been playing Boeing and its major competitor [Airbus] off each other to get both companies to help teach a Chinese company how to do it

“In total, the planes Boeing has agreed to sell are worth about $38 billion — an enormous sum of money. That’s spread across three separate airlines and an aircraft leasing company, but all three airlines are state-owned enterprises, and the leasing company is a subsidiary of a bank that’s also state-owned. “[26]

It may not be significant in itself.  “The new factory will focus on painting and assembling twin-engine 737 aircraft manufactured in the US.”[27]  But it is typical of how China, having kept state control, can put pressure on the USA rather more efficiently than the USA can put pressure on them.

And of course it is the USA that owes China money.  The USA that would face a massive crisis if China ever stopped buying its debt.


Tea-Party Suicide

The ‘Boston Tea-Party’ was about protectionism: cheap tea owned by the East India Company was kept out.  The wider issue was ‘no taxation without representation‘: the legitimacy of tax was not disputed. The right-wingers who chose ‘Tea Party’ truly are ignorant of their own history.

And still ideologically obsessed.  One factor in the Boeing deal with China may have been the recent suspension of something called the Export-Import Bank of the United States.  Its function is to finance and insure foreign purchases of United States goods for customers unable or unwilling to accept credit risk.  This was part of the very successful Mixed-Economy strategy that let the USA win the Cold War.  But the New Right are certain that it is A VERY BAD THING.  Liberals, having no coherent answer, have mostly gone along with it and allowed the bank’s charter to lapse.  True, there was some doubtful accountancy, but that should be seen as secondary.  It is one more step downward for the USA.

The road downwards for the USA was begun by Ronald Nelson Reagan saying during a time of crisis that the state could not solve problems and that they should all be returned to the ‘free market’.  The end is indeed likely to be damnation for the USA.



Democracy – Not Made In Britain

The USA was not defined as a democracy. The US Constitution defined relationships between states and left it open how each state defined its electorate.  But by the 1830s it had democratised quite smoothly, and set an example for the rest of the world.  A better example than Revolutionary France, which had experimented with giving the vote to all adult males, but found that no coherent politics emerged.

Britain meantime was a mixture, with power shared between a monarch, an aristocracy with the House of Lords and a wider electorate in the House of Commons.  But not a democratic electorate. US Founding Father James Madison said in The Federalist Papers that half of the British House of Commons was elected by less than 6000 voters.  (Letter number 56.)  That was the system of Rotten Burroughs that existed till 1832, when the vote was extended to the richest one-seventh of adult males.


Greece –Tsipras Rules OK

It’s normal for voters to lose courage in the polling booth. But in the recent Greek election, the voters kept their nerve.  It had been expected that Syriza would be about level with the centre-right party that did so much to create the original crisis.  In fact they were 7% ahead. They and their coalition partners lost a few seats but are still secure.

Greece has a 3% threshold for seats.  The left-wing break-away from Syriza got 2.9% and so have no seats. The Socialists recovered a little. But mostly it will be business as usual.

Or business as usual until challenges to the consensus build up elsewhere in Europe.  A very real prospect.


Salt Waters of Mars

Scientists were already confident that Mars at one time had quite a lot of water.  There were any number of signs in the rocks.  But the surface now appeared dry, apart from some water-ice at one pole.  Was definitely very dry where the various landers and rovers have been.

The new discovery is about dark streaks that are seasonal.  Careful study has eliminated other possible explanations: they are extremely salty water flowing underground.

That’s all we know for now: the current rovers are nowhere near any such areas.  But we can now expect a dedicated rover to be prepared to study those areas.  If  life is there, it should be visible through a microscope, as it is in sea water on Earth.

If there are no signs of life in this salty water, that would almost certainly mean no life at all.  If Martian life existed underground, it would have adapted, just as life on Earth has colonised all of the environments that seem extreme to our sort of life.

A lack of life on Mars would be a huge disappointment.  But also an indication that life in the universe is much rarer than most people believe.  And should be cherished rather than exploited on our own planet.



Catalans have now elected a majority of representatives who want to quit Spain.  Spain does not want to let them go.  It may also be that a majority of Catalans would want to stay, but the central government evidently does not want to set the precedent and establish a right to quit.  Something to keep an eye on.



Previous Newsnotes can be found at the Labour Affairs website,  And at my own website,

















[15]  Ibid.