Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
Snippets Another Warm Year, Neanderthals in Siberia, Cave Art in Indonesia
The big problem with pre-socialist Radicalism was that it demanded Freedom without defining it.
The great merit of socialism is that it recognised that freedom for some can be oppression for others. Particularly when it comes to ownership of the means of production.
A lot of the 1960s radicals forgot about that. Their protests against ‘The System’ was too generalised to mean anything much. Many of them were incorporated without much fuss as shiny new consumer products within a modified and modernised version of ‘The System’.
This has been especially true of the Internet, the great hope of libertarians, anarchists and the liberal-left.[A] There was a rapid growth and dominance of a new crop of gigantic multinational that have behaved even worse than the corporations that they displaced. Companies like IBM did provide a ‘job for life’ for those who fitted in. Modern corporations demand less and give less.
The trend since the 1980s has been to split the population into Stars, Plebs and the Unwanted. The Stars make enormous amounts of money, but may be dropped at any time and sometimes work themselves to death (as Michael Jackson did). The Plebs include people in what used to be comfortable and secure middle-class occupations, who now find themselves undervalued and likely to be sacked. They are no longer distinct from what used to be classed as working-class trades. And where the system is strongest, in the USA, both middle-class and working-class Plebs have seen their incomes stagnate at 1970s levels. The USA has got a lot richer, but the Stars have all of the increase and the Plebs none of it.
No one else has been quite so extreme. But always the Stars have got much more than their fair share.
Below the Plebs are the Unwanted, people blamed for not having jobs even though jobs are being continuously destroyed. Up until the 1980s, the fear had been that the unemployed would turn to either Communism or Fascism. It was then noticed that a lot of them became passively helpless, while many turned to drugs or to hopeless dreams of joining the Stars. Also a lot would blame immigrants. So the numbers of the Unwanted were allowed to grow and their needs neglected, while the Stars flourished and life for the Plebs got more stressful.
It would be a horrible system even if it could deliver continuous growth. The actuality was that it damaged long-term growth in the West, with an awkward lurch into crisis in 1987 that might have prevented the West’s Cold War victory in 1989-1991. The state stepped in then to prevent the system crashing, but continued with further massive deregulation.
The predictable outcome was the financial crisis of 2008, and the recession that has happened since. But the general anti-state bias that had spread across society meant that only a minority of protestors said that regulations needed to be re-imposed. Mostly there was a meaningless demand to ‘abolish capitalism’, which had no connection with real politics. And left-wing parties were hesitant about demanding a reversal of the whole deregulation process, because voters seemed unsure on the matter. So the crisis was solved by the state pumping money into the financial system to cover the debts of the financiers, and launching austerity measures to balance the budget.
The process needs to be given its proper name – the Deregulation Recession.[B] Caused by a mass of Fancy Finance which involved the ordinary banks where the Plebs keep their money, and which are supposed to be the source of funds for small business. But priority was given to looking after the Stars, a lot of whose wealth would have evaporated if shaky financial institutions had been either nationalised or allowed to fail.
Depressingly, people in Europe and the USA are mostly still tolerating this. Letting their attention be diverted to other issues.
Ebola was discovered in the 1970s. A rare virus, but one that killed about 50% of those it infected, and was also highly infectious. Something needed to be done, but actually very little was done. Whereas the elimination of disease had once been seen as a noble cause deserving whatever money was needed, the shift into the 1970s was towards profit and away from a general duty of public care. So the then-rare disease was not tracked down and eliminated. And errors by under-funded African health programs contributed to the spread:
“In their hospital they regularly gave pregnant women vitamin injections using unsterilised needles. By doing so, they infected many young women in Yambuku with the virus. We told the nuns about the terrible mistake they had made, but looking back I would say that we were much too careful in our choice of words. Clinics that failed to observe this and other rules of hygiene functioned as catalysts in all additional Ebola outbreaks. They drastically sped up the spread of the virus or made the spread possible in the first place. Even in the current Ebola outbreak in west Africa, hospitals unfortunately played this ignominious role in the beginning.”[C]
The West has now sent in some help, as well as screening arrivals from Africa who might have the illness. There might also be some cure or vaccination, now that the West knows it might be at risk. But it seems unlikely that there will be any general policy of clean-up. Nor of re-funding and repairing damaged health services.
Meantime Cuba, which has built up an excellent health service, is playing a large role in the fight against the disease.[D]
Turkey has no intention of allowing its Kurdish minority to secede. On this basis, there is no logic in helping their enemies flourish in Syria. The border city of Kobane is being defended by much the same people as those who’d like Kurds to be able to secede from Turkey.
The West complains without being at all consistent. They caused the trouble in Syria, by encouraging the Syrian opposition to refuse various compromises that Assad offered. They demanded that Assad step down before it was tested whether he actually had majority support, which quite possibly he has.
It looked briefly as if ISIS had managed a strategic deception, concentrating Western attention on the Turkish-Syrian border while they advanced down the Euphrates towards Baghdad.[E] But the latest reports claim they are being knocked back everywhere.[F] How things go next is anyone’s guess. It will very much depend on whether the new Iraqi government manages to balance Shia and Sunni factions.
Up until the West’s victory in the Cold War in 1989-91, there was no pattern of global Islamic Terrorism. Nothing that discontented Muslims in the West might want to join. There were of course three outstanding issues involving Muslims: Israel/Palestine, Kashmir and Mindanao in the Philippines. And of course Afghanistan, but the anti-Soviet opposition was split between religious and secular elements. But each of these was local and particular. Global Palestinian terrorism had been secular and had utterly failed.
The West led by the USA broadly created the problems it now faces. Peace was made in some places, including an uneasy peace that has given Mindanao considerable autonomy within the Philippines. The West also pressurised the Apartheid regime in South Africa to accept majority rule and allow a fairly peaceful transition that surprised everyone. But no pressure at all was put on India to let Kashmir decide its own future. Afghanistan was utterly neglected once Soviet troops pulled out, leading to the destruction of the most functional secular elements when the former pro-Soviet elements were overthrown. This was followed by a futile war between warlords, which was the context of the rise of the Taliban. And when the Oslo Accords offered the prospect of a small Palestinian state co-existing with Israel, Israel was allowed to claim far too much of the West Bank. And also allowed to continuously undermine the authority of Arafat and the PLO, blaming them for acts by anti-agreement Palestinians.)
(As I’ve said before, Israel has no chance of long-term survival without a peace that most Arabs see as just. I can understand the sentimental attachment that Israelis have to places important in Jewish history in what is now the West Bank, but holding on to them in the long term will be impossible.)
The real blunder was Iraq. Saddam had run up enormous debts fighting Iran, the first modern Islamist state. The West took an amazingly naïve view, thinking that without Russia as a global rival, they could easily discard former allies who were dictatorial and independent-minded. Nothing at all was done about the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, of course: they were undemocratic monarchies but not very independent-minded. But Romania’s army was encouraged to overthrow former ally Nicolae Ceausescu. Indonesia was pressured into disgorging East Timor, dumping Suharto and moving to mutli-party democracy. In Zaire / Congo, the overthrow of the West’s former friend Mobutu was encouraged, and the country disintegrated. In Former Yugoslavia, the Croats and Bosnians were encouraged to secede without taking account of their Serb minorities, when it would have been possible to have dismantled the place peacefully after letting it join the European Union. But worst of all was Iraq, where the West somehow failed to notice that the main alternative to Saddam’s secular dictatorship were a slew of populist Islamist movements that were bound to split the country between Sunni and Shia.
Remarkably, the West learned nothing and forgot nothing. It should have been obvious that the Arab Spring would unleash dangerous forces. Instead there was vast enthusiasm, and then utter surprise when this led to further chaos everywhere except Tunisia, which itself is far from safe.
“It is easy to foresee what lies ahead. Putin will await the results of the elections on October 26 and then offer Poroshenko the gas and other benefits he has been dangling on condition that he appoint a prime minister acceptable to Putin. That would exclude anybody associated with the victory of the forces that brought down the Viktor Yanukovych government by resisting it for months on the Maidan—Independence Square. I consider it highly unlikely that Poroshenko would accept such an offer. If he did, he would be disowned by the defenders of the Maidan; the resistance forces would then be revived.”[G]
Thus spoke George Soros, in an article in the influential New York Review of Books. Is he saying that protestors in Kiev should stop the elected President making a deal with Russia? He had earlier explained why he was so opposed to a compromise peace:
“Anti-Europe parties captured nearly 30 percent of the seats in the latest elections for the European Parliament but they had no realistic alternative to the EU to point to until recently. Now Russia is presenting an alternative that poses a fundamental challenge to the values and principles on which the European Union was originally founded. It is based on the use of force that manifests itself in repression at home and aggression abroad, as opposed to the rule of law.”[H]
Europe’s troubles step from the Deregulation Recession that began in 2008 and has not yet been fixed. Speculators like Soros created it: and while Soros has undermined the economic doctrines which justified speculation, he has always rejected the idea of going back to regulation. Essentially he has no answer, except perhaps to stoke up antagonism with Russia.
Soros’s line is regrettable, because in the early 1990s he did correctly say that a Marshall Plan for Russia would have been the right move. He ought to recognise Putin as a natural result of the neglect and decline that Russia suffered under Yeltsin. And that Putin broadly stopped the rot and is trying to hang onto what Russia has still got.
Ukraine could also have stabilised, but the West seems to prefer a Ukraine that is wholly obedient to the West. And to want it ‘on the cheap’: the trouble started because the European Union was unwilling to pay the price for a trade agreement that would have done damage, particularly in East Ukraine. The February 2014 overthrow of a government that balanced the interests of the European Union and Russia was a provocation. Putin reacted by supporting the wish of the elected government of Crimea to secede. More loosely he supported secessionists in the parts of East Ukraine that felt close to Russia and were unwilling to be ruled by an anti-Russian government that had doubtful legitimacy. This led on to an indecisive civil war, with Kiev causing outrage by sending in tanks and artillery without trying to negotiate. But as it happened, they got nowhere.
Things began to get back to normal with the election of Poroshenko with 55% of the vote in the first round of the election. In second place was Yulia Tymoshenko with nearly 13%, noted for corruption and political inconsistency, one of those who bungled power after the original Orange Revolution. Poroshenko tried to win the civil war in the east, but made an uneasy peace when this proved impossible. He is now likely to make the best deal he can with Putin, accepting that he can do nothing about Crimea and tolerating the seceded regions in East Ukraine. And also accepting that if Russia is not a friend, Ukraine has to pay the proper market rate for gas.
Such a deal would be unpopular with a minority, of course. Svoboda and other neo-Nazi elements would be the main force in such protests, assuming that elections produce the “wrong” result. Neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine in World War Two tolerated Jews for their brief period of operation, only because the Nazis refused to tolerate Ukraine’s expressions of far-right nationalism. Had the Nazis been smarter, the far-right would have co-operated with the deportation and killing, as happened elsewhere.
The Parliamentary Elections of Sunday 26th October were indecisive, but two biggest winners were the rival party blocs of President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. These are the men who made the cease-fire deal with the Separatists, and will presumably make a deal with Putin if they can get parliamentary approval. Figures are still incomplete, but it seems they will have almost half the seats between them. Other parties are a mix of fragmented and sometimes hostile opinions, incapable of governing.
Virtually all parties are new, or at least a new mix of old elements. “Self Reliance”, an attempt at Christian Democracy, got 11%. The Radical Party, left-wing but hard-line on fighting the Separatists, did much less well than some polls had indicated, getting less than 8%. Yulia Tymoshenko and the Fatherland Party, including the bulk of the ‘Revolting Oranges’ from the 2004 protests, got less than 6%. The “Opposition Bloc”, representing a continuation of the ‘Party of the Regions’ and of attempts to compromise by the President overthrown in February, got less than 10%. The Ukrainian Communist Party lost votes and has definitely fallen below the 5% threshold for representation. Broadly, a majority of voters rejected the parties that could actually bridge the gap between East and West, but supported the parties that could be expected to make a deal with Russia and avoid a renewal of war.
The Neo-Nazi Svoboda lost votes and seats and are much weaker than before, despite there being no elections in the parts of the country least likely to vote for them. Latest figures (27th September) suggest they will fall below the 5% threshold for MPs from their Party List, though they will have a few MP s elected directly from constituencies.[I] They have been pushed back to the far-right margins, from which they emerged in the 2012 election. It would be highly surprising if they didn’t have another try at street violence, most likely in protest at a probable deal with Putin. The question is, would the West actually support such a protest – assuming it also got enough middle-class participants to make it respectable?
The USA, with some European Union support, has had a policy of encouraging riots whenever an election produced a result they did not like, or whenever a duly elected government looked vulnerable. I’d call this Naïve Machiavellianism: they think they are being wonderfully clever and wicked tricksters for a good end. But few ends are well-served by continuous trickery: trickery for sheer survival is generally accepted but trickery for small advantages undermines politics in general.
New ‘Maidan Protests’ could only come from the people who comprehensively lost this latest round of elections. If it gets Western support, this would confirm for any who doubted that the West’s concern is not at all about democracy
I said last month that Beijing was not going to let Hong Kong have an open election for its Chief Executive. Would not allow a system that might elect someone they could not work with.
All of this is entirely in line with the original promises. The British Empire ruled Hong Kong without any sort of local democracy, under governors appointed from London. It was Beijing who first introduced a democratic element, saying in their proposed Basic Law:
“The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”[J]
Specifying “nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee” said clearly that only approved candidates would be allowed to stand.
The student movement now seems in decline, and increasingly unsure what it is about. A vote on the concessions they had been offered was due to be held on 26th-27th October, but was then suddenly called off.[K] A gradual and peaceful decline is now the most likely outcome.
Sunday 26th October was a day that saw quite a few elections in several unconnected countries. I earlier discussed the vote in Ukraine. The others are Brazil, Tunisia, Botswana and Uruguay.
Brazil saw a narrow win for Dilma Rousseff and the Workers Party, the main party of the Left. After the popular discontent over the Football World Cup, this is definitely a positive result. Re-election after 12 years in power is rare where there is genuine multi-party competition.
Tunisia has seen secular forces get together and apparently emerge as stronger than the moderate Islamists.[L] How this goes next is anyone’s guess. Tunisia had previously lurched into crisis after the murder of some secular leaders, but recovered. It all depends now on what coalitions are formed. And on whether the Islamists stay moderate with no immediate prospect of electoral victory.
In Botswana, elections on the same day changed little. The centre-right ruling party was re-elected, though losing a few seats.
In Uruguay, the first round of voting for both President and Parliament seems to have ended with the candidate of the left-wing ruling party getting the most votes but being short of an outright win. The second round happens in November.
“China has toppled America to become the biggest economy in the world, according to figures from the International Monetary Fund.
“The White House seemed caught flat-footed by the news, crowing on Wednesday about America’s relative economic strength in comparison with the rest of the world.
“The US has been the global leader since it overtook Britain in 1872, but has now lost its status as top dog.
“The latest IMF figures show the Chinese economy is worth $17.61 trillion compared with $17.4 trillion for the U.S.”[M]
But this is only as measured by Purchase Parity. A lot of goods are much cheaper in China, mostly because wages are still much lower. Yet in terms of most goods, China is ahead:
“China produces far more key agricultural and industrial products than the US – for example, China’s steel output is about 10 times that of the US. It also produces larger amounts of other products such as grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, coal, clothes, computers, TV sets and motor vehicles, etc, than the US.”[N]
The USA still has a much bigger military, possessing about half the world’s total military force by most estimates. But whether this will do them any good is another matter.
The USA is unlikely to lose its dominance without a few more wars. But it is also increasingly committed to just the wrong solutions to its decline. So some sort of fall is almost certain.
China seems unlikely to disrupt its highly successful system of Moderate-Socialist Populist Authoritarianism any time soon. Protests occur, a great many protests, but only on matters where the Central Government might concede the point and sometimes does. Only in Hong Kong is there now any support for actually breaking the system and trying a copy of the mature Western system. There have been too many examples now of countries where this has gone drastically wrong. Where it has proved to be a veritable ‘house built upon sands’, resting on no solid political tradition and soon leading to chaos.
Britain this year had a normal summer: warm but not unusually so. A few small parts of the globe were cooler than average. Globally, though, the six months from April to September have broken all records:
“Over the weekend, NASA announced that last month was the warmest September since global records have been kept. What’s more, the last six months were collectively the warmest middle half of the year in NASA’s records—dating back to 1880.
“The record-breaking burst of warmth was kicked off by an exceptionally warm April—the first month in at least 800,000 years that atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million.
“According to the National Climatic Data Center, which keeps a separate record of global temperatures, this April ranked as the warmest April on record. Followed by the warmest May on record. Followed by warmest June on record. (July wasn’t quite as hot—just the fourth-warmest July on record.) But August—again, you guessed it—was the warmest August on record. The NCDC will release its numbers for September later this month.”[O]
It’s one world, and conventional ideas of race are nonsense. Last month I mentioned how the original European population was probably blue-eyed but dark skinned. Now genetic studies show that 45,000 years ago, a population in what’s now Siberia was intermediate between the future populations of Europe and Asia.[P]
It also seems that it was these fully modern people who interbred with the Neanderthals. All humans outside of Africa have some Neanderthal DNA, but we now have a much clearer idea of when the mixing occurred:
“Prof Paabo and his team published research in 2010 that showed that all non-African humans today have Neanderthal DNA. But that genetic material has been broken into much smaller chunks over the generations.
“By extrapolating the size of DNA chunks backwards, Prof Paabo and his colleagues were able to calculate when the first interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred. His study shows that it was between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.”[Q]
This may have happened when modern humans first came out of Africa, and would have found it useful to mix with Neanderthals, who had local knowledge.
Something that always seemed odd to me was that sophisticated cave art had only been found in Europe. I felt it was related both to the number of suitable caves and the number of people willing to delve into them just for fun. This now seems confirmed with the discovery and dating of ancient art in what’s now Indonesia, very similar to European cave art.
“Scientists have identified some of the earliest cave paintings produced by humans.
“The artworks are in a rural area on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi.
“Until now, paintings this old had been confirmed in caves only in Western Europe…
“Australian and Indonesian scientists have dated layers of stalactite-like growths that have formed over coloured outlines of human hands.
“Early artists made them by carefully blowing paint around hands that were pressed tightly against the cave walls and ceilings. The oldest is at least 40,000 years old.
“There are also human figures, and pictures of wild hoofed animals that are found only on the island…
“‘The minimum age for (the outline of the hand) is 39,900 years old, which makes it the oldest hand stencil in the world,’ said Dr Aubert.
“‘Next to it is a pig that has a minimum age of 35,400 years old, and this is one of the oldest figurative depictions in the world, if not the oldest one,’ he told BBC News.”[R]
[B] This name was suggested by Angela Clifford after several of us agreed on the need to find some suitable name for what was clearly a new process.