2014 12 – Newsnotes

Notes On The News by Gwydion M Williams

Plebs and Stars

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad State

UKIP and the Pushmi-Pullyu Strategy

And I Think To Myself, What a Fungible World

US Police as an Army of Occupation

Democracy Viewed as an Immaculate Conception

The Colour Clowns of Hong Kong

Snippets; China’s trade links, Israel, Caste in India, Ukraine, Catalan secession, Climate Change includes cold outbreaks

Plebs and Stars

“Ex-chief whip Andrew Mitchell probably did call police officers ‘plebs’, a High Court judge has said as he rejected a libel case against the Sun.

“Mr Justice Mitting said the Tory MP’s behaviour was ‘childish’ and that his version of events was inconsistent with CCTV footage of the row with PC Toby Rowland in Downing Street in 2012.”[A]

I always had believed the police on this matter. Various unofficial and mostly insulting terms are regularly applied to policemen, but not plebs. So my belief was that they didn’t make up the use of the term, regardless of whether the account of the specific occasion was true. It was later confirmed that the term was widely used.

In the modern world, where many who depend wholly on paid work would not class themselves as ‘working class’, maybe ‘pleb’ is a better term to use. I talked about this last month:

“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… 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.”

Mitchell insulting a policeman who was just applying the rules fits with this. Rules are for little people, Plebs. The Stars should be above such things. They are the Superior Persons who create the wealth that the Plebs depend upon.

Except they are not. Achievements among the Stars might suggest an above-average talent. But hear them talk and it becomes obvious that many of their beliefs are shallow and ignorant. And that they often do foolish things for no good reason, even within what should be their area of expertise.

They are not superior individuals risen by their own unaided efforts. They are a superior network of moderately talented people who know how to work smoothly with others of their kind. This was also true of the older Ruling Classes: but what we have now is an Overclass, not a Ruling Class. Ruling Classes see the whole society as their responsibility, and also expect to control it. The Overclass takes the same detached view of society as an Underclass: society either does not exist, or else it is nothing to do with them and should look after itself. This explains the broad moral failure of the New Right, which has been a hodgepodge of old and new on sexual matters. More exactly, it used Family Values as a vote-winner but was never exactly serious. The British Tories flipped on most issues once it became clear that there were more votes to be lost than gained by sounding like they believed in old-fashioned values. A similar flip by the US Republicans would astonish most people, but not me.

Economically, the New Right has lost sight of the importance of both Sympathy and Fair Play – just like most members of the Underclass, and with far less excuse. They swallowed the economic doctrine held by the Classical Liberals, but applied it with much less restraint. The Classical Liberals often behaved in a way that showed that they didn’t believe the official doctrine, and in the late 19th century they became more enthusiastic for state authority than the Tories. (Early 19th century Tories, created by a fusion of the Old Whig faction of Pitt and Burke with existing factions calling themselves Tory, did a lot of the early factory acts and tried unsuccessfully to preserve the importance of British agriculture through measures like the Corn Laws. But the two big parties regularly suffered splits and gave rise to factions that merged with the other side, so the ideological difference has never been very clear.)

When Adam Smith said “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest“, he was voicing a clever half-truth. We expect to pay for our meat, beer, bread etc. But we also expect that the vendor will mix self-interest with some idea of fairness and sympathy. Any sensible shop keeper or business person tries to make you think that they are both fair-minded and have a high regard for you personally, whether or not this is actually the case.

The standard answer is that the ‘miracle of the market’ solves it all, just as ‘natural selection’ produced superior animals and eventually humans. The New Right tend to link the two, but leaving out the ‘off-message facts’. In biology, two gigantic ‘off-message facts’ are:
Firstly, many animals manage fine without changing their bodies or way of life, Secondly, there are more animal parasites than animals that live free. Before modern medicine and hygiene, every human would have carried a large number of ‘freeloaders’: lice, fleas, worms in the gut and an entire ecosystem of bacteria.

Among humans, we make judgements and a normal society can freeze out those who don’t behave. At least a small society can do this, up to a point. The big problem is that an individual can do better by being less fair and sympathetic than the norm, provided they do this cleverly. Also some people will do it foolishly and damage themselves, but also spoil the general pattern of trust. This must have got worse as people started to live in large societies and routinely encountered people they did not know and might never meet again. That was when law became necessary, with punishments made harsh enough to put a limit on whatever any particular society defined as anti-social behaviour.

 

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad State

The rise of civilisation was also the rise of the state. The most sensible anarchists have been those who also believe that civilisation as such was a mistake and that we should return to a simple and rural way of life. I myself doubt that this is a good idea, but in any case they never found a plausible politics with which to express this feeling. The actual preservation of a bucolic paradise of small producers would need a small but powerful state set over the whole, able to stop accumulations of power. But small producers and in particular small farmers hardly ever see it so. You could break your heart trying to persuade them to control the forces that are destroying them, and many hearts have indeed been broken trying to do so. In my case, I don’t see it as particularly desirable, even supposing it were politically possible.

Classical Liberalism had the ideal of a small state, but never managed to achieve this. Countries governed by believers in liberal ideology still conformed to the rule that the rise of civilisation was also the rise of the state. Ancient states were often arbitrary in their powers, but almost always small in terms of numbers employed and the proportion of the national wealth actually under state control. Imperial China gave arbitrary powers to officials, but there would be just one single court-appointed official per xian, a unit roughly the size of an English county and often translated as county. China started out with about a thousand of these, and currently there are 1,464 of them in Mainland China out of a total of 2,862 xian-level divisions.[B] But of course modern China has a state reaching down to village level, whereas Imperial China expected magistrates to maintain a rather loose sort of order in cooperation with the local gentry, the class from whom most of the magistrates had been recruited.

During the Industrial Revolution, the British state was large and taxes high compared to most of the rest of Europe. But it was a state that was dominated by the gentry and had minimal controls for rich people or ambitious newcomers. It was also a highly protectionist state, and had been for many decades. Adam Smith asserted that progress had happened despite the state rather than because of it. But since his time, we have had many cases of successful state-promoted industrialisation. None where the state was small or inactive but the economy grew fast as Adam Smith asserted it would.

Fascism nowadays gets identified as an expansion of state power. It wasn’t really: it was the merger of existing states with populist right-wing movements that were determined to impose their own ideology. The more the right-wing populists swamped what already existed, the worse the fascism, with Nazism as the extreme case. In Spain, General Franco wasn’t very ideological and his version of fascism was fairly mild.

During and after World War Two, Britain, France and the USA adapted and adopted many ideas from both Fascism and Leninism. Produced a successful mix that won over their former foes in Japan, Italy and West Germany.

That was the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, there was also a huge cultural shift in Britain and the USA which created a global culture of a new sort. France was left behind in this process.

Equality for non-whites and for women made a lot of progress, because the Soviet Union was offering a major challenge on those issues and was ahead till the 1970s. Probably the changes would not have happened without that challenge.

Also the general emphasis on ‘freedom’ made it harder to resist other changes, tolerance of homosexuality and also an erosion of hierarchies. This was unrelated to the Soviet challenge, since they remained intolerant and hierarchical, a fixed point in a changing world.

There was also a major rise in ‘Green’ values, which had been marginal till the 1960s and only really became important in the 1970s.

Bizarrely, the generation that rose to power through those changes now prefer to claim that nothing much happened and that they are heirs to centuries of Western ‘universal values’. 1960 values rejected too much and exaggerated existing unfairness in the 1970s. That and the decision of the Left to ignore or oppose Incomes Policy and Workers Control created a frustrating deadlock in which the New Right were able to take advantage of.

They were not however able to change the basic nature of the civilisation – the more civilised, the bigger the state. Some state functions have been hived off, but the notion of shrinking it has remained unrealised. ‘Utopian Capitalism’ of the sort promised in the 1980s has remained unrealised. A serious attempt to create it in Russia when Yeltsin was in charge produced a shrinking economy and a rising death rate, and paved the way for Russia’s current alienation from the West. Putin is very much a product of this process, not its cause. Whereas Lenin and Stalin created something that probably would not have existed without them, Putin is a highly predictable product of Western blunders.

 

UKIP and the Pushmi-Pullyu Strategy

The New Right system dangles grand promises but mostly does not fulfil them. Not only did it fail to shrink the state: it has also done huge damage to the world of independent small business that Thatcher claimed to favour, and probably did genuinely want to promote.

Marx’s core argument in The Communist Manifesto – that a capitalist market destroys small independent production – remains spot on. He was over-optimistic about the new wage-earning class making an intelligent response to this situation, which is very complex. He also mistrusted the state, which was a major error, since only an expanded state has actually been able to deliver socialism. The socialist movement failed in the 1970s because it vehemently rejected the methods that had worked and pursued over-ambitious aims of getting people to ‘do the right thing’ without state power. State power is obviously imperfect, but finding something better is inherently tricky.

The New Right promised Utopian Capitalism in the 1980s: a mass of small entrepreneurs and a world that was a gigantic prosperous suburb. It’s not a vision I ever liked, but it also does not matter much, because the reality has been otherwise. Successful small businesses are an increasing rarity. The Internet and World Wide Web – both of them pioneered by state-funded research far removed from any commercial motive – have not helped. The new technology has allowed a few small businesses to grow gigantic and crushed most of the rest. The trend described by Marx in the 1848 Communist Manifesto has continued quite smoothly: independent small production continues to decline. And without welfare, the system would have been overthrown long ago by all of the losers in the system.

The New Right profited from socialist failures, but needed to do so in a devious manner. It had to go after two different constituencies, which had to be given a different message. The rich and dynamic had to be assured that they would be looked after, with the state stepping in to cure any financial crisis, as happened in both 1987 and 2008. The military would remain a gigantic customer for high technology that would not have been immediately profitable, but might lead on to many consumer products. This required some new wars and new enemies to justify such spending, so they were found in the Middle East.

Meantime a completely different set of promises had to be spun out for small producers, who continue to be wiped out by market freedoms, but need to be pointed at the wrong targets. The politicians of the New Right need authentic religious and/or traditionalist people to win elections.

This could be called the pushmi-pullyu strategy. This is a two-headed animal from the Doctor Dolittle books: described as the rarest animal in the world, the pushmi-pullyu (pronounced “push-me—pull-you”) is a ‘gazelle-unicorn cross’ which has two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body.[C] Which would have created problems for its digestive system, but since talking crap has been a common habit of both Thatcherites and US Republicans, the image remains suitable.

A lot of the ‘pull-you’ side of the ideology involves creating resentment against those who are suffering, the Unwanted in the Stars / Plebs / Unwanted system that has replaced more traditional class divides. The attitude of the declining traditionalists has anyway always been ‘if you have a problem, it is your fault. If I have a problem, it is a matter of ‘public interest’ for the state to bale me out’. This is also the view of the rich, but it has been mostly the rich who got the bail-outs.

Unemployment gets blamed on moral weakness or laziness by the unemployed, not on the planned destruction of secure jobs as part of the breaking of the Trade Union movement. You can always find some individual offenders and welfare cheats, of course. But you could do something similar for people injured in traffic accidents. Or people who get sick or injured. A minority in each category did in some sense bring it on themselves, but far more are 100 per cent victims of circumstances they did not control.

(This attitude is a hold-over from the Plutophile Heresy that infected Protestantism, and Puritanism in particular. This notion – which flatly contradicts everything in the New Testament, and relies on a few untypical examples from the older Hebrew Scriptures – sees wealth ‘honestly gained’ as a sign of Divine Favour. This is flatly opposed to the main teachings of Jesus, but preachers who rely mostly on rich donors to pay their expenses are happy to spout it. They have to know that the bulk of the Bible says something else, but supposed belief in a future assessment in front of God tends to get outweighed by material needs in churches with no reliable sources of funds beyond donations that the rich are generally the most willing to make.)

And how does UKIP fit in? Just another pushmi-pullyu, with the reactionary ‘pull-you’ head much larger, but the pro-rich ‘push-me’ head very much in control. Farage manages to sound anti-establishment but avoids most of the serious issues other than Europe.

 

And I Think To Myself, What a Fungible World

If I have time in my remaining years, I plan to write a book on economics entitled Economics If You’re Not a Sociopath. This might seem a puzzling ambition, since surely everyone would be starting from the assumption that most people care for others, and have principles. Sociopaths – people with a total indifference to the sufferings of others – are rare exceptions. Obviously no one would build a fancy system of economics that an extreme abnormality is the norm. Actually they do.

Adam Smith’s remark about the butcher, brewer and baker is one example. If those particular individuals were sociopaths, you would clearly need to address just their self-interest and not bother addressing feelings that they lack. But much more probably you’d find some alternative source for your meat, beer and bread. With the butcher in particular, you might wonder what you were eating – or even conceivably who you were eating.

So-called ‘rational’ economics would only be rational if everyone was a clairvoyant sociopath who also regarded the entire world as fungible.
Clairvoyant, to know the correct market price for everything. It is a basic assumption of ‘rational economics’ that this happens on average. It cannot be denied that individuals make errors, but it is hoped that these will even out. But there is no clear reason why they should.
Sociopathic, to be totally lacking in sympathy, accepting no duties to other humans. This is normally packaged by describing the duties imposed by sympathy as limitations on freedom. Ready to see the world as fungible, a place where anything can substitute for anything else. This allows you to claim your economics as universal without the bother of studying real societies.

This “rational” assumption follows on from Classical Liberalism, and takes very literally the economic model that Smith loosely outlined. Of course Smith also wrote another book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he assumes the exact opposite, people full of moral feeling and sentiment. This is known to experts in the field as ‘The Adam Smith Problem’. My own conclusion, set out in detail in my book Adam Smith: Wealth Without Nations, is that he was massively inconsistent and guided mostly by a desire to please the ruling class of his day. Actual Classical Liberal opinion tended to take contradictory views of fundamentals just so long as they could arrive at a conclusion that suited them. Those actually governing the country knew perfectly well that sentiments were at least as important as self-interest, and commonly more so.

You could call the New Right a diseased offshoot of Classical Liberalism. And with the current weakness of socialism in much of the world, it has unintentionally generated some equally diseased enemies. Notably the entire range of Islamic Extremism, produced by the global abuses of power by Neo-Liberalism and also Late-Vintage Liberal Imperialism. Neither has a good understanding of human values.

The current anti-tax views of the rich are based on a contempt for the rest of the society and a belief the rich do most of the important stuff. The attitude that dominated the ‘Roaring 20s’ and which led on to the Great Depression and the near-collapse of capitalism. Franklin Roosevelt, the man who saved the West at the time, had no sympathy for such views:

“The movement toward progressive taxation of wealth and of income has accompanied the growing diversification and interrelation of effort which marks our industrial society. Wealth in the modern world does not come merely from individual effort; it results from a combination of individual effort and of the manifold uses to which the community puts that effort. The individual does not create the product of his industry with his own hands; he utilizes the many processes and forces of mass production to meet the demands of a national and international market.

“Therefore, in spite of the great importance in our national life of the efforts and ingenuity of unusual individuals, the people in the mass have inevitably helped to make large fortunes possible. Without mass cooperation great accumulations of wealth would ‘be ‘impossible save by unhealthy speculation. As Andrew Carnegie put it, ‘Where wealth accrues honorably, the people are always silent partners.’ Whether it be wealth achieved through the cooperation of the entire community or riches gained by speculation—in either case the ownership of such wealth or riches represents a great public interest and a great ability to pay.”[D]

The New Right now insist that Roosevelt prolonged a crisis that would otherwise have cured itself – ignoring the small detail that it entirely failed to cure itself in other countries that had no New Deal or similar. Or the way that the government pumped money into the economy Roosevelt-style during the Crisis of 1987, which paved the way for the Soviet collapse in 1989-91. And did just the same with the crisis that began in 2008, except now there is only a weak recovery. All of these off-message facts are ignored because of the wonderfully rational nature of New Right economics. A system that assumes that everyone is a clairvoyant sociopath.

“Rational Economics” also ignores the basic fact that virtually everyone is influenced by what they see other people doing, even when it has no direct effect on them. Of course recognising that, even for clairvoyant sociopaths, would probably make the maths unmanageably complex.

Economists have been accused of ‘Physics Envy’, but tend to be badly informed about real physics. Or perhaps they manage to avoid noticing the ‘off-message facts’. In any case, they don’t follow the example of actual functional physics, where it is agreed that even the most beautiful theory can be slain by one awkward little fact. This seldom happens in economics. Worse, they pay no attention to the ‘Three-Body Problem’. Newton hit this when he tried to complete his grand work on gravitation by an exact account of the moon’s orbit. It turned out that the motion of a moon is influenced both by the body it orbits and by the sun they both orbit. And it is not a simple combination the (relatively simple) two-body motion that you’d get if each was alone in the universe. Worse, the correct maths involves an infinite set of calculations. In this case, thankfully, most of these infinite calculations would produce a tiny and insignificant result. Scientists in the 18th century managed to work out the motion well enough to know more or less where the moon would be at any given hour. A German called Tobias Mayer laboured long and hard and produced lunar tables that were good enough to help with the vexed problem of finding Longitude at Sea. This was later given a superior solution by a British clock-maker who devised the first useful chronometers, but Mayer’s widow did get a large payment from Britain’s Board of Longitude for his partial solution.

(Finding longitude on land was solved well before that, by French astronomers who realised that the positions of the four main moons of Jupiter could give a universal standard of time, which could then be compared to the rising of the sun to determine longitude with great precision. It was too complex and slow to be of use at sea, but it did finally settle the position and relative size of the main continents. And demonstrated that Europe was rather smaller than previously assumed, leading Louis 14th to complain that the astronomers had lost him more territory than his general had conquered. But I assume this was a joke: the value of territory to a monarch would be the revenue that could be drawn from it, not its apparent size on a map.)

In physics, theories are treated with suspicion if the assumptions seem unreasonable. Sometimes the evidence is overwhelming: it did not seem right that light could be both a wave and a particle, but numerous experiments showed that it only made sense if treated as in some sense both.

In the case of Rational Economics, the conclusions are seldom very accurate and sometimes wildly wrong. It never did merit being taken very seriously, and probably would not have been had it not been tailored to suit a newly rising class of rich people who were little concerned with social values.

And it’s a killer ideology. One that is increasingly wrecking the society it exists within.

 

US Police as an Army of Occupation

“After a Missouri grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown this week, it became clear immediately that Ferguson prosecutor Bob McCulloch presented the case in a way that was bound to fail. Many critics say this appears to have been entirely intentional on the prosecutor’s part…

“It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defences, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor…

“McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours and made sure the grand jury was aware of every possible piece of evidence that could exculpate the cop. In his rambling press conference Monday night, McCulloch explained that the refusal to indict resulted from the combination of contradictory eyewitness testimony and other exculpatory evidence. But it was immediately obvious to legal experts that the way the prosecutor presented the evidence virtually guaranteed that there would be no indictment, and therefore no trial. As the cliché goes, a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. But, it should be added, the prosecutor has to want the ham sandwich to be indicted.”[E]

US law starts with a big advantage for the police. Supreme Court judgements have already established that police officers can in some cases shoot suspected criminals in the back while the suspect is running away. The rule is “to prevent a suspect from escaping, but only if the officer has probable cause to think the suspect’s committed a serious violent felony”.[F] That did apply in the Ferguson case, but there were also a lot of witnesses saying the man was trying to surrender when he was shot, even though he had earlier struggled with the policeman who shot him.

It should have been for a jury to decide. It’s a fact that US soldiers sometimes disliked the Geneva Convention rule of enemies suddenly becoming off-limits if they chose to surrender. In World War Two, it has now emerged that they sometimes cold-bloodedly shot German soldiers who had surrendered. And those were white and close to the Anglo norm, people who would probably have become valued allies in a few years when the Cold War got going. For non-whites, there has always been much less tolerance. Given the overlap between police and military attitudes in the USA, a serious prosecutor could have made a very convincing case for murder.

What actually happened was an abuse of the Grand Jury system. This is an old English system that the USA retained, and which originally existed in order to prevent anyone being prosecuted if there was no good evidence against them. The normal form is for the Prosecutor to present all of the evidence they have, without reference to what the Defence might say, since this will come out at the trial. In this case, the ‘Prosecutor’ is reasonably suspected of playing to lose. The actual numbers have not been revealed, but it seems that the policeman could have been ‘cleared’ if just four out of the 12-person Grand Jury had taken his side. In a regular trial, he would have needed all twelve to claim to be cleared, and a split jury would have meant a new trial. Blatantly it is an unfair system.

But it’s also true that Afro-Americans have not helped themselves very much. When Martin Luther King tried doing things in line with Gandhi’s example, this worked. What went wrong was a later, angrier generation deciding to ignore this and do things the standard US way, noisily and with threats of violence.

Doing things the standard US way tends to fail, especially if you lack power. The turn to violence by people such as the Black Panthers was understandable but profoundly foolish. Given the numbers, it was virtually certain to fail to end racism. And it paved the way for the massive black-on-black violence that has followed.

Oddly enough, they still fail to see this. Afro-Americans are hooked on their own version of 1960s liberalism, which self-destructed while pursuing the twin goals of imposing its own values on both South Vietnam and the US South. Examples of this frozen perception can be found in the (highly entertaining) novels of Walter Mosley, best known for ‘Devil in a Blue Dress‘, featuring the classic US ‘the hard-boiled detective’, except that the man is black. Another, ‘Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned‘, sounds as if it summed up why existing methods were not working, but also shows no hint at all of an alternative. It is all very depressing, unless one is looking forward to a break-up and downfall by the USA. But it could very easily be much more messy than the Soviet collapse.

 

Democracy Viewed as an Immaculate Conception

In Democracy, you choose who govern you. Or so they say.

Representative Democracy with competitive political parties for national government actually makes you one tiny voice among millions. Some of those millions may choose to go off in a direction you don’t like at all. Which leads to protests of the sort that the US has generally encouraged after the Soviet collapse. If it isn’t MY WISH, it isn’t actually democracy, even if it technically speaking gets the most votes.

As well as this, Representative Democracy is a remarkably efficient engine for generating national or sectarian divisions that had previously been dormant or absent. Leninist parties tend to be good at fitting a diversity of peoples into a single acceptable framework, as in Yugoslavia. Or keeping Czechoslovakia together, even if they did a bad job after home-grown reformism was crushed in 1968. After the Soviets pulled out, open politics as expressed in their 1992 elections revealed that there was no longer any such thing as Czechoslovak politics: parties that won significant support were all either Czech or Slovak. It would also have added up to a deadlock, with a majority of Czechs favouring Centre-Right policies while Slovaks favoured Centre-Left. Since both of them were expecting to join the European Union shortly, as indeed they did, the split went off smoothly. But elsewhere it usually goes much worse.

Some human activities are easily transported from one society to another. This applies to various sports and games, with European games like chess and English sports like football and cricket and tennis becoming global. Not that the transplant is always successful: China’s gigantic population produces most of the world’s best table tennis players, but has only recently been producing top-ranking players of regular tennis, while the Chinese cricket and football teams regularly lose to teams from much smaller nations.

Competitive Representative Democracy is a much harder thing to transplant successfully. Its actual development in Britain was slow and messy. Parliamentary power was established as dominant in Britain in 1688, but until Queen Victoria inherited the throne as a rather naïve teenager, monarchs could mostly control parliament. Until the 1832 reforms, a couple of hundred rich families could control a majority of House of Commons seats. Only in the 1880s did a majority of adult males get the vote.

Similar things happened in most European countries: parliaments began as bodies elected by a rich minority, and mostly serving as a limited balance against royal power. When people tried importing an advanced version of the system into a country that had never known it, the system mostly deadlocked and governed badly and was not respected.

Most people prefer good government to government in which they have their own tiny voice in electing a representative who may anyway be powerless among the mass of other representatives.

Even when the system works, it commonly does not work well. Representatives may play their own game and join the ranks of the rich and powerful. And since the 1980s, newspapers mostly owned by rich right-wingers have successfully cultivated an attitude of sullen futility, equally hostile to government and big business. Big business can mostly ignore such things, since in practice only the government can curb them.

In the USA, a majority want what Obama offers to give. But they have been persuaded to mistrust him and other politicians.[G] Some people don’t bother voting: others vote against their own economic interest, in a false belief that Republicans will preserve traditional values. Very much the pushmi-pullyu effect I noted earlier.

 

The Colour Clowns of Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Democracy Protests are dying with a whimper, not a bang.[H] There was never any point in asking Beijing to open up the electoral process to the possibility of an elected leader hostile to Beijing. If there had been a positive response from people in the rest of China then the cause might have been won. But there is a broad lack of sympathy for Hong Kong, which is disliked for asking for more when they are already privileged.

Meantime the actual business of Hong Kong is business, on the US model.

“The stock exchanges of Hong Kong and Shanghai on Monday launch a much-anticipated trading link that will see billions of dollars in daily cross-border transactions and partially open up China’s closeted equities markets to the world.

“After weeks of delays the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect finally kicks off, giving international investors access to companies in the world’s number two economy, while allowing mainland investors to trade shares in Hong Kong.”[I]

This is part of a process of Hong Kong being overtaken by Shanghai. The ‘Umbrella Revolution’ has undoubtedly speeded the process. Business people strongly dislike disorder and uncertainty. Their nightmare would be an elected chief executive who got into a fight with Beijing, since Hong Kong cut off from the rest of China would soon become a ghost town.

 

Snippets

Almost unnoticed in the West, China has been building stronger trade links with the rest of Asia. This includes a major agreement with Australia, which did at least get a mention by the BBC.[J] It is also noticed in passing that China is to host the 2016 meeting of the G20.[K] But while the USA fights futile wars and while the European Union is tied up with a pointless quarrel with Russia over Ukraine, China is quietly strengthening itself and making new friends.

The really big news – yet viewed as marginal in the West – was the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.[L] The 2014 meeting was in Beijing and seems to have China central to it, as it is in geographical and economic terms. Both Russia and the USA are also members, but are damaging each other. Meantime China advances. And President Xi Jinping shows no sign of moving China any closer to the norms that the USA is trying to impose on the rest of the world.

***

At the time of writing, it has yet to be decided if Israel will decade to make itself officially an exclusively Jewish state. It has been proposed, but appals a lot of people.[M] It has been the reality from the beginning, but before now there was at least the pretence that something else was the long-term goal.

***

Meantime India has had official Universalism since independence. But the oppressive system of caste has remained strong, and is supported by many of the voters.

A recent article in the magazine Prospect explains just how bad the system is. After mentioning the case of the Afghan schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban, it cites a contrasting case in India:

“Surekha Bhotmange was 40 years old and had committed several crimes too. She was a woman—an ‘Untouchable’ Dalit woman—who lived in India, and she wasn’t dirt poor. She was more educated than her husband, so she functioned as the head of her family. Ambedkar was her hero. Like him, her family had renounced Hinduism and converted to Buddhism. Surekha’s children were educated. Her two sons, Sudhir and Roshan, had been to college. Her daughter, Priyanka, was 17 and finishing high school. Surekha and her husband had bought a little plot of land in the village of Khairlanji in the state of Maharashtra. It was surrounded by farms belonging to castes that considered themselves superior to the Mahar caste that Surekha belonged to. Because she was Dalit and had no right to aspire to a good life, the village panchayat (assembly) did not permit her to get an electricity connection or to turn her thatched mud hut into a brick house. The villagers would not allow her family to irrigate their fields with water from the canal, or draw water from the public well. They tried to build a public road through her land, and when she protested, they drove their bullock carts through her fields. They let their cattle loose to feed on her standing crop.”[N]

The majority are prejudiced and the majority can express this prejudice in elections. So nothing is likely to be fixed very soon.

***

Last month, I was expecting a deal on Ukraine. I’ve not yet lost hope: signals are mixed at the time of writing (28th November). Some people still trapped in Cold War thinking are denouncing the West for being weak in confrontation.[O]

What the article is protesting at would be quite encouraging, if true. Currently signals are mixed.   Neither the USA nor the European Union are ready to spend very much on Ukraine. They might like to arm West Ukraine for a quick war of conquest over East Ukraine, as they armed Croats against Serbs. But Russia has learned from history and seems to be arming East Ukraine.

***

Denied a binding referendum on independence, the Catalans held a vote anyway.[P] 80% voted for independence from Spain, but not a majority of the voters. So for the time being, things go on as before.

People have a notion that International Law includes some right of secession. Arguably it should, but most definitely it does not in practice. The UN mentions self-determination, but also ‘territorial integrity’. In practice states over the world can hang onto minority territories for as long as they have the will and power to do so.

***

In the new world weather system that is developing, the general trend is Global Warming. But the actual weather is a mixed bag of extremes, often meaning much warmer summer and much colder winters. (Allowing Climate Denialists to cite the fairly moderate average change.)

You may have noticed on the news the recent enormously heavy snowfalls over most of the USA. It seems to be another case of major changes that include excessive snow and cold as well as excessive drought and heat:

“Cold air is usually trapped in the Arctic by the winds that circle the pole – the polar vortex. The strongest winds found high up in the atmosphere are called the polar jet stream.

“The jet stream is naturally wavy and constantly shifting. This week, however, it developed an especially large kink over the continental US that has remained in place for several days. On the west side warm air moved up into the Arctic, while freezing polar air spilled south as far as Texas, causing temperatures to plummet.

“The enormous snowfalls in places like Buffalo were largely due to a phenomenon known as the ‘lake effect’. Winds blowing across the Great Lakes pick up moisture, which can get dumped as snow when conditions are right…

“Global warming is also increasing the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, causing not just increased rainfall, but increased snowfall as well when conditions are right. So while it might seem contradictory, global warming seems to be part of the reason for recent ‘snowmageddon’ events such as the record snowfall in northern Japan in 2013.[Q]

 

References

[A]              [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30235009]

[B]              [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counties_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China]

[C]              See [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Doctor_Dolittle_characters#The_Pushmi-pullyu] for more details

[D]              [http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Taxes/Pages/historyrooseveltmessage.aspx]

[E]              [http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/justice-scalia-explains-why-ferguson-grand-jury-was-completely-wrong]

[F]               [http://www.vox.com/2014/11/25/7279445/police-killing-civilians-law]

[G]              [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/04/republicans-win-big-election-midterms]

[H]              [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-30092508]

[I]               [http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-multi-billion-dollar-hong-kong-shanghai-link-up-launches-2014-11?IR=T]

[J]               [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-30076974]

[K]              [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-30082404]

[L]              [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-29999782]

[M]              [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/26/israeli-president-opposes-proposed-law-of-jewish-rights]

[N]              [http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/features/indias-shame]

[O]              [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/27/west-putin-ukraine-russia-crimea]

[P]              [[http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/10/catalans-vow-push-independence-80-favour-split]

[Q]              [http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26600-whats-behind-snowmageddon-that-hit-the-us-this-week.html#.VG-ocilyaO0]