2015 05 – Newsnotes

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

 

Britain’s Elected Oligarchy

The Unavoidable Victory of ‘Upper London’

How ‘Upper London’ Lost Scotland

Britain’s Continuing Decline

Old and Unhealthy American Pie

Trade to Trump Democracy?

Post-Truthfulism and the Fall of Saigon

BBC Loses Touch With Russian Realities

Snippets

Would you fly with ‘Democracy Airlines’?

Invisible Murderers in West Ukraine

Kiev Legislates for Hatred of Russia

Britain as an ethnic mosaic

How to Please Hong Kong

What Use is the European Union?

Websites

 

Britain’s Elected Oligarchy

On the eve of the election, one certainty is that a lot of people won’t bother to vote.  Not even this election, where the outcome is very uncertain as I write these notes on Monday 4th May.  Even though it should be obvious that the party with the most votes and / or seats will have a great propaganda advantage even if they can not or do not form a government.

Part of the reason for public apathy is that parliamentary elections are sold as a wonderful system where “you decide“.  It’s not, and people quickly notice it’s not.  First, your own vote is insignificant among thousands of other votes.  Second, even when you choose to vote for the winning candidate, what they then do as your ‘democratically elected representative’ is generally quite different from what they promised or implied.

The USA gives its citizens more chances to vote on a wider range of issues, and the results are mostly worse.  It functions as an oligarchy, and the various checks and balances help with this.  In Britain, the elected government can make clear decisions.  In the USA, it is never entirely clear why anything happened or failed to happen.  And there is also a tolerance for including irrelevant extras in bills.  The result is that the people vote but the rich exercise most of the power:

“After sifting through nearly 1,800 U.S. policies enacted in that period and comparing them to the expressed preferences of average Americans (50th percentile of income), affluent Americans (90th percentile), and large special interests groups, researchers concluded that the U.S. is dominated by its economic elite.”[A]

The problem for any system of Representative Democracy is how do you get more democratic input without destroying competence or coherence?  Direct single-issue votes are definitely not the solution.  They work for some issues, when opinion cuts across party lines, but more often not.  But giving coherence also allows the rich to exercise undue influence.  It is very hard to find a fix.

A good beginning is to step back from the standard belief that what we have is Democracy in some absolute or unqualified form.  The term originally meant what is now called Direct Democracy.[B]  The Athenian system would have had the whole people vote on whether Britain should join the planned 2003 war against Iraq.  The people would most likely have rejected it, whereas our ‘representatives’ overwhelmingly endorsed it.  But a lot of the time, this system was fickle and unsuccessful.

What we have in Britain and most of the West is an oligarchy that depends on intermittent approval from the voters.  Who originally were a privileged minority: the mediaeval system would be equivalent to parliaments elected just by men with property worth at least half a million, while the Reform Act of 1832 gave votes to the richest one-seventh (and of course men only).[C]

Some radicals get obsessed by the fact that Britain is still a Constitutional Monarchy, and were also unduly concerned about the hereditary element in the House of Lords.  But many successful cases of Representative Democracy evolved that way: Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.  Also Belgium if you count it as a success; the Belgian Congo and the current fragmentation make this disputable.  Of course the Greek monarchs were a genuine ‘menace to society’ in the 1960s, but against that must be set Spain where the monarch helped normalise politics.

Well-run monarchies can be defended on the same basis as Parliaments: the democracy is imperfect but these limits help ensure good government.  Indeed, the British electorate in 2011 voted two-to-one against an Alternative Vote system that would have increased their choices but perhaps made for worse government.  When making hard choices, most of the voters turn out to believe that ‘good government’ is something other than pure democracy.

(Myself, I think the rejection of the Alternative Vote was a mistake.  But the concept of balancing good government against democratic choice was not.)

Recognising imperfect realities is also a good basis for encouraging voting.  Vote and you have a small but definite influence on an oligarchy with great power to make your life better or worse.  Don’t vote and you are likely to be ignored.

One example – supposing more people had voted Labour in 1987 or 1992.  That was after the massive reduction in Trade Union power after Scargill’s bungled Miners Strike in 1984-5, which some of them may have viewed as a good thing.  Neil Kinnock would have been a fairly ordinary Labour leader and the disastrous experiment of ‘New Labour’ would never have happened.  Toryism also would probably have reverted to ‘One Nation’ Toryism, as it briefly did under Major.  And Britain today would be much more to the tastes of the 25% of the population who didn’t bother to vote back then.  More jobs and less austerity, and perhaps less keenness to nurse parasitic finance back to health so that it can inflict another crisis on us.

 

The Unavoidable Victory of ‘Upper London’

Starting to write about Scotland, I somehow hit on the phrase ‘Upper London’.  I was going to write about how London lost Scotland, which is the next section.  But a majority of Londoners vote Labour and share many of the same discontents that are making the Scottish Nationalists so popular.  They would prefer the sort of Moderate Socialism that New Labour rejected and that Miliband is hesitant about favouring.  But UKIP, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour are all variants within the hegemony of Upper London.

‘Upper London’ isn’t an existing phrase, but we badly need it.  A privileged group, wider than the actual government but still very much a minority.  One might say ‘London’ for the authorities based in London, and Londoners for the ordinary people.  Upper London would be a small group who are having a much larger influence on politics and government than it deserves.

Googling for the phrase, I discovered that there actually is one commercial outfit that uses the name.  Upper London Ltd. says it is:

“An innovative Corporate Advisory and Business Consulting boutique. We provide bespoke solutions to management, investors and stakeholders to create value, enhance performance and drive opportunities.”[D]

I thought of the phrase independently of them, but they seem to be a small but typical part of what I had in mind.  The actual power in the land, but by permission of the electorate.  London voters have even been silly enough to elect a man from Upper London in the belief that he is a nice chap who will look after them.  I can’t say how much of Boris Johnson’s apparent niceness is genuine, but he’s there to look after Upper London alone.

Not that I am saying that they are anything sinister or malicious.  ‘Upper London’ and similar people elsewhere in the world genuinely believe that they are Superior Persons, getting less privilege and much less credit that they deserve for their vast contributions to the general welfare.

Critics like Information Clearing House[E] miss the point and lose credibility when they call it a new fascism.  Fascists are mostly louts with a cult of violence, but also a genuine concern for those they class as ‘our people’.  It’s a late blooming of humanity’s ancient tribal consciousness, where strangers are only treated well when they seem worryingly powerful or else potentially useful.  The last gasp (we can hope) of an ancient world where tribal massacres, torture of enemies and slavery for captives was normal and not even seen as wrong.  Fascism brought such values back into mainstream politics in the 1920s and 1930s, but never really recovered from its defeat in World War Two.

(Back in the 1970s, I took a look at the crypto-Nazi National Front.[F]  I concluded that they would amount to nothing.  I said back then that no radical-right movement would amount to much unless it clearly distanced itself from Nazism.  I didn’t remember and connect this with Thatcherism until much later.  The more recent wave of Hard Right have also mostly succeeded by distancing themselves from the Nazi legacy.)

Upper London has a rather weak version of tribal consciousness.  Its inhabitants tend to be below average in trustworthiness and mutual aid.  They do show it sometimes, but less often than you’d expect.  For warfare, they depend on completely different human types.  (Much like the ‘Chicken-Hawks’ in the USA who organised the Gulf Wars, almost all of whom had used various legal dodges to avoid the Vietnam War when they were young men.)

History is likely to judge them as just one more stage in Britain’s decline.  Neither Thatcher nor New Labour did anything effective about Britain’s gradual loss of global status.  Britain nowadays matters only when it does the will of the USA, which makes it a waste of time.

 

How ‘Upper London’ Lost Scotland

Apart from the Green Party, the only parties likely to win seats in England are very much dominated by Upper London.  In Wales, Plaid Cymru are likely to get less votes than UKIP and will be well behind Conservative and Labour.  In Northern Ireland, all electable parties are discontent with Upper London but only Sinn Fein have a serious answer, indicated by the continuing refusal of their MPs to participate in the Westminster Parliament.  But in Scotland, the bulk of the voters have suddenly shifted to a rejection of Upper London.  A willingness to trust the Scottish Nationalists to look after their interests for whatever time remains of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.  And a desire to protest at the failure to fulfil promises they thought they had when they turned down independence.

I’ll not speculate about how the SNP will handle such power, assuming there is no last-minute panic by the voters.  (The Independence Referendum was lost by a larger margin than opinion polls had indicated.)  Instead, I’ll look at how it happened.

At the time of the Independence Referendum, it was occasionally mentioned how the Tories used to be a major party in Scotland, often the dominant party.  Since this may well be the last UK election that Scotland takes part in, I thought it worth investigating in detail.  The Wiki has details[G] but there was a problem deciding just what Scottish Toryism was.  They had existed as Conservatives till 1885 and as an alliance of Conservative and Liberal Unionist for the whole UK from 1886 till 1912. Then the Unionist Party (Scotland) from 1912 when the Liberal Unionists in England and Wales merged with the Conservatives as the Conservative and Unionist Party during the crisis over Irish Home Rule.  They were the National Government in 1931 and 1935, and continued till the 1960s as Unionists with ‘National Liberals’ as a minor ally.  But I view it as a single Tory tradition and list it as such.[H]  Likewise the Liberals got a boost from the Labour break-away of the Social Democratic Party, but they vanished almost without trace into the current Liberal Democrat party.

The voting percentages after the initial readjustments following World War One[I] were:[J]

Year Labour Tory Liberals Scot. Nats Communists
1923 35.9 31.6 28.4 2.4
1924 41.1 40.7 16.6 0.7
1929 42.3 35.9 18.1 0.2 1.1
1931 32.6 64.0 1.0 1.4
1935 36.8 49.8 6.7 1.1 0.6
1945 47.9 40.3 5.6 1.3 1.4
1950 46.2 44.8 6.6 0.4 1.0
1951 48.6 47.9 2.7 0.3 0.4
1955 46.7 50.1 1.9 0.5 0.8
1959 46.7 47.3 4.1 0.8 0.5
1964 48.7 40.6 7.6 2.4 0.5
1966 49.9 37.6 6.8 5.0 0.6
1970 44.5 38.0 5.5 11.4 0.4
1974/02 36.6 32.9 7.9 21.9 0.5
1974/10 36.3 24.7 8.3 30.4 0.3
1979 41.5 31.4 9.0 17.3
1983 35.1 28.4 24.5 11.8
1987 42.4 24.0 19.2 14.1
1992 39.0 25.6 13.1 21.5
1997 45.6 17.5 13.0 22.1
2001 43.3 15.6 16.3 20.1
2005 39.5 15.8 22.6 17.7
2010 42.0 16.7 18.9 19.9

The figures show that Tory decline in Scotland began before Thatcher, but got worse after Thatcher.  It also suggests that Scottish Nationalism was mostly in competition with Tories and Liberals.  Opinion polls now suggest a political earthquake will occur, with Scottish Labour falling and Liberal Democrats returning to the marginal status they had before the Social Democrats revived their fortunes in Scotland.  The Tory vote is likely to decline the least, hanging on to the low levels they reached after 1992.  But a vast decline from the voting majority they had in 1955 with Anthony Eden as Tory leader, and the plurality in 1959 under Macmillan.

What matters more is the likely rejection of ‘Upper London’, if the Labour vote does indeed collapse.  If things go as expected, a new independence vote within 5 years is likely and an actual separation probable.  From a selfish Tory party viewpoint this might seem fine: a Lesser Britain without Scotland would be much easier for Tories to govern and people likely to vote Tory could easily be persuaded that it was Labour’s fault.  But for Britain as a whole it would be a huge loss of power, and not to the taste of many in Upper London.  But as I said earlier, Upper London is selfish and incoherent and bitterly opposed to the sort of concessions that might have stopped it happening.

 

Britain’s Continuing Decline

The outgoing Coalition now ruling Britain is dominated by characters who seem to think that Britain’s decline began after World War Two.  They resemble classical Whigs and Tories, with all of the strengths and weaknesses of the breed.

The aftermath of World War Two is certainly when Britain fell out of the ranks of Global Superpowers.  But the decline in Britain’s relative strength had begun at least a hundred years earlier.  Britain’s dominance of manufacturing peaked in the 1840s, and thereafter it was downhill all the way.

The conventional view is that the Victoria era was Britain’s high point, a glory that we have since fallen below.  But Britons in the Victorian age had a grand heritage from the Georgians, and could hardly have failed to be powerful.  They could and did fail to built sensibly on what they had inherited.  The Victorian Era resembles the middle age of many other Empires, in which the inherited power is still impressive but the tricks learned during the rise are being forgotten and fatal mistakes are being made.

Britain’s success as a global power was established by four key events:

  1. The rise to global dominance of the British Navy.
  2. The defeat of the French in North America, who might have confined the English-speaking settlers to just the East Coast.
  3. The defeat of both the French and various Hindu and Muslim rulers on the Indian Subcontinent.
  4. The Industrial Revolution, the process whereby the British mainland became a society of an entirely new sort, a society dominated by manufacturing and machines and the factory system.

All of this was Georgian, with the key events occurring in the 18th century.  It was also entirely undemocratic: the ruling class and most of the educated rejected the idea that the bulk of the population were fit to rule themselves.  Only a few fringe radicals thought that all men should have the vote.  Only a few fringe radicals thought that women should have rights equal to men.  Electoral reform in 1832 meant that the House of Commons was elected on a fairly equal basis by the richest seventh of the population.  In today’s terms, it would be equivalent to confining the vote to men earning at least 30,000 a year, £577 a week before tax.

It is also possible that even that much democracy would have made a big difference had it come in earlier.  Some sort of electoral reform had been discussed for decades, hampered by the fact that it could only be passed by MPs who were only there because the system was unreformed.  The unreformed parliament was dominated by the gentry, and was maybe a more efficient body because of this.  The Georgian gentry were sceptical and interested in new knowledge.  They generally liked science, and saw the new industries as part of a general process of ‘improvement’.  They were not much concerned at the decline of craftsmen or yeomen, people some way removed from their own level.  But they did favour a general system of welfare, so that most ordinary people had fairly decent lives.  They were vicious on matters such as poaching, smuggling and theft, things that directly threatened their way of life.  But outside of that, they were pretty tolerant of the rest of society and inclined to be generous for as long as their superiority was secure.  (This is the substance of liberalism, of course.)

The new electorate was dominated by a strongly Protestant middle class.  A group misleadingly called Nonconformists,[K] because in England they were defined by a refusal to work within the rules of the established Church of England.  But this was not all that rigid a barrier: the Methodists began within the Church of England and later separated, while the Church of Scotland was the established church in Scotland but had values similar to some English ‘Nonconformists’.

The ‘great’ Victorian age was marked by a waste of opportunity.  A greedy elite increasingly consumed and lost interest in production.  Meantime other nations learned how to copy the best of the Industrial Revolution.  In particular, Germany and the USA learned the value of education and science.  (The USA seems to have forgotten this since Reagan and the rise of the New Right and is repeating many of the errors of Victorian England.)

Adam Smith believed that Britain’s economic rise had happened because of capitalism and despite the ‘burden’ of an increasingly large state.  But every other industrialising society has had to do the same thing – increase the size of the state, to keep order in an increasingly fluid and interconnected society.  To provide welfare when people living close to each other are no longer neighbours and have often never met: are mostly unwilling to help each other.  And to create fairness in a fluid society where many fortunes are made by reasonably competent business people who happen to find themselves in the right place at the right time.

The New Right revolted against this.  They were able to tap into the selfish side of 1960s radicalism, the notion that all would be well if everyone ‘did their own thing’.  Lots of former radicals found this very easy to reconcile with the notion of leaving everything to the market and abolishing the ‘nanny state’.

Except it did not work.  The whole wave of New Right ideas from the 1980s have failed to change the state-private balance in the West.  It has simply been adjusted to favour the rich, through ‘private enterprise’ that has to be heavily subsidised, like Britain’s railways or agriculture in the USA.  Or like the global financial system, which was bailed out at the expense of ordinary people after the massive financial crisis of 2008.

This Mixed Economy in its pre-1980s guise was the actual winner of the Cold War, because it was more flexible than the State Capitalism that was developed in the Soviet Union and which was better than the older capitalist systems which tried to limit the state.

The Thatcher / Reagan line improved nothing within their own societies except the incomes of the very rich.  It gained credibility because of the continued aggressiveness of the Soviet Union during its last years, followed by its ignominious collapse.  It also had trouble without a big enemy to confront.  It tried to find a substitute in Saddam Hussein, probably unaware that he was the best enforcer of Western values that Iraq was ever likely to have.  Now it has global Islamic extremism, but cannot really cope with it.

 

Old and Unhealthy American Pie

“When people ask Don McLean what does American Pie really mean, he likes to reply: ‘It means I never have to work again.’

“His eight-minute-long ‘rock and roll American dream’ became an anthem for an entire generation – who memorised every line.

“Their children in turn grew up singing it – fascinated by the mysterious lyrics with their cryptic references to 50s innocence, the turbulent 60s, and 70s disillusion.”[L]

Myself, I’ve seldom felt that song lyrics were worth worrying about.  You’d not expect good singing from a philosopher, never mind something with just the right mix of originality and banality to bring pop-music success.  So why expect pop stars to have anything serious to say about the world?  Albert Einstein was a decent amateur violinist, but nothing special as a musician.  (Oddly, there was also a moderately distinguished musician called Alfred Einstein, though it’s unclear how closely they were related, or if they were related at all.[M])

In the case of American Pie, I reacted to the phrase ’50s innocence’.  Are people now forgetting how cruel and unjust a lot of those 1950s values were?  Idolising an era where liberal norms were ‘moderation in all things, including enforcing social justice’?  So I went looking and found a plausible account:

“In the autumn of 1971 Don McLean’s elegiac American Pie entered the collective consciousness, and over forty years later remains one of the most discussed, dissected and debated songs that popular music has ever produced.”[N]

You can follow the link to the details, if you like.  My concern was how they were viewing the 1950s, and it was indeed as bad as I had suspected.

1950s ‘innocence’ was more like happy ignorance for those who fitted in, which was most of that generation’s teenagers.  If they ask ‘was it so bad’, my answer would ‘yes, remarkably bad by modern standards.  From a European viewpoint, somewhat behind the times even in the 1950s.  Only the USA’s need to outbid the Soviet Union in appealing to independent-minded women and to non-whites keen for equality gave us a better future.’

Good Riddance, Miss American Pie.[O]

 

Trade to Trump Democracy?

The 1950s USA did at least give a decent job to everyone willing to do an honest day’s work.  The cry of ‘freedom’ was on everyone’s lips, but you had to be careful what you said and did with those lips, at least in public.  It would have been much more honest to say ‘we have a particular set of freedoms and prohibitions that we defend as a good balance for Functional Freedom’.  Had this been said, that social balance would have had a much better chance of surviving.  As things were, the ‘freedom-loving’ system was way open to ridicule by radicals and progressives.

But radicals of the right could also play that game.  Economic prosperity was defended in various ways that did inhibit individual freedom, though Functional Freedom was high in a world where you could be sure of a decent job even if you were average or a bit below average.  Right-wingers posing as conservatives successfully asserted the ‘Rights of Money’ and promoted a number of ‘Feed the Rich’ policies.  This ‘freedom’ hurt ordinary people but created fat and flourishing banks, with vast areas of parasitic finance that bright young people could be recruited into.  And the working mainstream were weakened without getting any clear idea of what had gone wrong.  It was all freedom, wasn’t it?

The twin monsters of the planned Trans-Atlantic Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership are the intended next stage.  But there are also plenty of protests:

“The AFL-CIO has a variety of problems with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, problems with both the substance of the agreement and the process by which it is being negotiated. When I asked Trumka to lay out these basics for me, he listed his main concerns:

“‘One, it fails to address currency manipulation. Currency manipulation … has or will cost us between 2.3 million and 5.8 million jobs. China leads that group. Twenty countries have been determined to have manipulated their currency. And yet there’s nothing in the agreement to stop it. So all of the benefits they claim we could get from TPP, even if you assume every one of the benefits is right, could be wiped out the next day by a country manipulating its currency, to negate all this.

“‘Two, it has the ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] secret tribunals that are only available to foreign investors, and it thus encourages people to send jobs and money offshore. Because think about this: people invested here in the past because we had a safe, defined system and a rule of law. If they can now get that in Vietnam because of ISDS, they will send their money to Vietnam and send their products back here. The reason why countries would develop a rule of law is because of the pressure of non-investment. This eliminates that pressure, so it would slow down the migration in these countries to a real rule of law.

“‘Same with environmental standards. It fails to address climate change in any way, so that encourages people to go outside. Here’s why: if it doesn’t have the same targets or the same cooperative agreements that are just as strong as the US-China bilateral deal, it encourages them to go elsewhere so they don’t have to comply with our carbon emissions standards in this country.'”[P]

 

Post-Truthfulism and the Fall of Saigon

April 30th 2015 passed with barely a mention that it was the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.  By that time, the USA had got most of its troops back home.  But the significance of the war depended on whether or not the USA had left behind a viable regime.  The USA fleeing from the roof of its own embassy and abandoning most of those who had trusted the USA gave a clear answer about who had won the war.  It seemed a vindication of the radical protestors and a reason to distrust the establishment.

Later on, people found excuses for the war.  Perhaps it saved the rising Asian Tigers.  And a failed war run by the heirs of the USA’s New Deal could be transmuted by the New Right into distrust of the whole New Deal legacy.  But that took time.  The immediate result was a big jolt to world history.  And whereas Nixon had seemed able to organise a genuine conservatism, the price of Reagan’s success was that he turn a blind eye to the society’s vices.  As a former Hollywood actor he may not have actually cared: certainly the older morality collapsed during his presidency.

And where was all this discussed?  Nowhere I saw.

The BBC once prided itself on reporting facts.  Thatcher successfully cured that, creating a news service that no longer enjoys world-wide trust, though it is still the best English-language source there is.  You’d have been reminded of the event if you followed Al Jazeera.[Q]  On BBC Online there was one tiny item, mostly about photographers.  (Vietnam War by Associated Press photographers.[R])

It used to be said in the Soviet Union that you never knew what was going to happen yesterday.  That was direct and obvious tampering with truth and soon got ridiculous.  The Western method is much subtler.  You never know what didn’t happen yesterday: many things get written out of historic memory by selective silences.

To Post-Modernists, this might seem just as good as reality.  Perhaps we should call it Post-Truthfulism.

 

BBC Loses Touch With Russian Realities

Another Post-Truthful method could be summarised as ‘denounce Tweedeldum and avoid mentioning Tweedledee‘.  Give the impression that World War One started with the German invasion of Belgium, rather than an Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia based on their claim to Bosnia and the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir.  Or find lots of excuses to report some marginal Russian patriots with a bizarre fondness for Nazi symbolism, but say as little as possible about much more serious Fascists forming part of the government and armed forces in West Ukraine.

Another case has been hyping the smaller half of Russia’s insignificant pro-Western opposition:

“Russia’s main opposition groups say they will combine forces to fight for election in three regions this autumn.

“They are hoping for a springboard for the 2016 national parliamentary vote.

“The ‘democratic coalition’ was formed last weekend to unite six parties and groups under the banner of RPR-Parnas, the party of murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.”[S]

I explained last month that these are fragments of the 6th tier of opposition, the Russian Communists being the 1st tier.  Calling them the ‘main opposition’ is a bad joke.  The main survivor of pro-Western opinion is Yabloko, which got nearly 4% of the vote in the Russian General Election of 2011.  Unlike Nemtsov and his associates, they were not involved in government under Yeltsin.  The slew of pro-Western parties associated with the disastrous Yeltsin years get far less votes than Yabloko.

I also suspect that Yabloko is not subordinate enough for current Western tastes.  On Crimea, they do not support the Western notion that every square meter of Soviet Ukraine as it was in 1991 must be ruled from Kiev.  Instead they spread fog and darkness on the issue:

“What happened to Crimea is an absolutely unlawful military and political operation… the problem of Crimea will have to be solved: a true and free referendum will have to be conducted in the peninsula under international supervision. And only this will be able to return Russia internationally recognized borders and will start the return of the country to the international community.”[T]

Putin in February 2014 faced the unwelcome reality of a violent take-over by anti-Russian forces in Kiev, in defiance of a power-sharing agreement that he had helped negotiate.  The West was clearly not planning to do anything to inhibit this new regime.  So he moved quickly to secure Crimea, vital to Russia’s global role since it is their main sea base.  And where the regional government had long wanted to return to Russia, which they had been part of till Khrushchev detached them in the early 1950s.  Of course the process was rough and ready.  But Kiev and the West are not asking for a proper supervised referendum carried out under proper supervision, because this would be a gift to Putin.  There is little doubt that the pro-Russian side would win decisively.  Kiev’s demand is the normal right of sovereign governments to conquer secessionists with whatever force they deem suitable, the sort of thing that happened in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, and many other places.  But a norm which was ignored for Kosovo, which Putin cited as a precedent.

Yabloko dare to try to balance Russian views and interests against those of the West.  Just as in the 1990s, they agreed in principle with subordination to Western values, but objected to the observable reality of how it was being done.  Possibly they could have made a better job of it had they been in charge: it would have been hard to do a worse job.  But I suspect they’d have achieved little: they remind me of those Western left-wingers whose attitude is ‘don’t bring me workable solutions, my life’s work is complaining’.

 

Snippets

Would you fly with ‘Democracy Airlines’?

Suppose that next time you travel by air, the travel agent offered you the option of an airline where you could vote on who should be pilot.  Prices etc. are much the same as other airlines.  But once committed, you have to accept whatever pilot the majority choose.  And you don’t know for certain how competent any of them are.  Would you choose them?

(I think there were similar arguments used for ships in Classical Greek times, regarding Greek democracy.  Probably by Plato.[U]  Some ships have been run democratically: unfortunately most of them were pirates.  Of course ships involve a lot of wealth and crews are mostly not tied to the welfare of the ship, so it is almost the worse possible area for democracy to try to operate.)

Britain and many other countries acquired Representative Democracy by stages.  First elections with a small electorate and a powerful monarchy.  Then a gradual democratisation, stabilised by existing political parties with broad governing competence.  France was the grand exception, and in France there was no stability.  Twice the French opted for a dictator or an Emperor after experiencing incoherent Representative Democracy: first Napoleon Bonaparte and then Napoleon the 3rd.  The mediocre General Boulanger[V] was nearly another during the 3rd Republic, but lost his nerve.  In modern times, De Gaulle was almost a dictator, but chose to preserve a stabilised Representative Democracy and to quit when he lost a referendum.  A functional Representative Democracy takes time to get going.

With the imaginary ‘Democracy Airlines’, things would be even worse if you suspected that a lot of the passengers would prefer a different destination, somewhere you definitely did not wish to go.  This applies in the Arab World, with major submerged Islamist movements, but the West-worshiping protestors of the Arab Spring totally failed to think about it.

Which is why some countries, and most notably China, are happy to stick to a system of workable autocracy.  And why South Africa has so far kept giving huge majorities to the ANC, the only party that actually bridges the tribal and racial divides.

***

Invisible Murderers in West Ukraine

Ron Paul, US Libertarian and former Republican congressman, went against the Western consensus by drawing attention to murders in Ukraine in Kiev-controlled territories.

“Last week two prominent Ukrainian opposition figures were gunned down in broad daylight. They join as many as ten others who have been killed or committed suicide under suspicious circumstances just this year. These individuals have one important thing in common: they were either part of or friendly with the Yanukovych government, which a US-backed coup overthrew last year. They include members of the Ukrainian parliament and former chief editors of major opposition newspapers.

“While some journalists here in the US have started to notice the strange series of opposition killings in Ukraine, the US government has yet to say a word.”[W]

The ‘Silence of the Yanks’ has been notable at all stages of the crisis, starting with the violent take-over of February 2014.  Everything seems odd if you accept the official justifications.  But makes sense as a sacrifice of the future of Ukraine for the much more important goal of keeping the European Union scared and looking to the USA for protection.

It’s depressing that among politicians with real power, only a few right-wing libertarians are honest enough to question what is being done.

***

Kiev Legislates for Hatred of Russia

“The Ukrainian parliament has voted to ban propaganda and symbols for ‘totalitarian Communist and Nazi regimes’ in the former Soviet republic.

“The list of prohibited items includes street names, flags and monuments commemorating Communist leaders.”[X]

This presumably does not include the symbols etc. of Ukrainian fascists who intermittently worked with the Nazi invasion.  Because those people have been very much part of the government and armed forces since the February 2014 take-over.

These Ukrainian Nationalists want to be bitterly anti-Russian, but also to hang on to every last inch of what the Bolsheviks defined as Soviet Ukraine.  Soviet Ukraine was a merger of what the Tsars had called Little Russia and New Russia, plus some mostly-Ukrainian areas to the West that Stalin conquered.  The creation of such an oversized Ukraine was in part to keep control of it: ‘New Russia’ had an ethnic-Russian majority and a lot of industrialisation and fitted naturally with the new Soviet state.  And seemed to fit with an independent Ukraine balancing between East and West, but that was what the Orange Revolution attacked twice and has now destroyed.

The Ukrainian Nationalists want it all, but would also like to clear unwanted people off of it.  The West is doing its best to make it happen, just as it cleared the Serbs from the Communist-defined Republic of Croatia.  Ignoring that independent Croatia flew the flag of the wartime Croatia that was a very willing ally of Nazi Germany.  Or that Franjo Tudjman, its first President, had been called a Holocaust Denialist on account of what he said about Croatia’s active participation in wartime genocide.[Y]

Croatian genocide including the killing of Jews, and also gypsies, though Serbs were the main victims.  In Ukraine, some Ukrainian Nationalists would work with Jews on the grounds that other enemies were the first priority.  And have been keen to reassure Jews for now, since Russians are the main target.  But the prejudice is there and will probably surface later on.

***

Britain as an ethnic mosaic

“The Welsh appear more similar to the earliest postglacial settlers of Britain. Migration across the Channel was at significant levels between the last Ice Age and the Roman occupation.

“Yet there is no single Celtic genetic group in the UK. The Celtic areas — Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland and Scotland — are among the most different from each other genetically. The Cornish are much more similar to the English than they are to the Welsh and the Scots. Meanwhile a different genetic group occupies Devon, and the dividing line is almost exactly along the modern county line.”[Z]

Nothing so far about Southern Ireland.  I’d expect it to contain another quite distinct mosaic, including some of the oldest surviving populations in Europe.

***

How to Please Hong Kong

“China is to stop issuing multiple entry Hong Kong visas to residents of Shenzhen, state media reports.

“The move is an attempt by Beijing to ease growing anger in Hong Kong over shopping trips by mainlanders who take advantage of lower taxes…

“Many of the visitors buy up household goods in bulk to resell across the border – as Hong Kong does not charge sales tax – despite this being illegal.

“There have been angry protests in recent months over this so-called parallel trading, occasionally resulting in scuffles in shopping malls close to the border…

“Hong Kongers say this trade pushes up costs and causes huge delays at border crossings, while also complaining about poor behaviour from mainlanders.

“The authorities on both sides of the border routinely arrest people caught smuggling and crack down on commercial operators, but locals have long demanded more decisive action.”[AA]

Meantime plans for the next election are proceeding smoothly.  Everyone will vote, but only candidates approved by Beijing will be able to stand.  I assume they will allow a few oppositions, but too few to make a difference.

***

What Use is the European Union?

UKIP have raised this issue, and not been properly answered.

My answer is that it avoids war and allows cooperation between a great diversity of different peoples.

Since the end of the Soviet hegemony, there have been several wars among European countries outside of the European Union.  Inside of it, we have had only a few armed separatist movements.  The IRA and Basques and even these seem to be being resolved.

Websites

Previous Newsnotes can be found at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/.  And at my own website, https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.

 

References

[A][A]            http://www.businessinsider.com/major-study-finds-that-the-us-is-an-oligarchy-2014-4?IR=T

[B]              I explain this in more detail at https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/46-globalisation/the-many-versions-of-democracy/

[C]              See https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/40-britain/665-2/

[D]              http://www.upperlondon.com/

[E]              http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/

[F]               https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Front_%28UK%29

[G]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Scotland

[H]              The Unionist Party (Scotland) dissolved itself in 1965 and became the Scottish branch of UK Conservatism.  The National Liberals were a UK party allied to the Conservatives that dissolved itself in 1968.  ‘National Labour’ was significant in the 1930s but dissolved itself in 1945.

[I]               I view the elections of 1918 and 1922 as part of the readjustment

[J]               Where the Wiki shows nothing for a party, I show a dash.  The Scottish National Party was formed in 1934 as a merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party.

[K]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonconformist

[L]              http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-32196117

[M]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Einstein#Relationship_to_Albert_Einstein

[N]              http://understandingamericanpie.com/

[O]              Several parodies of the song have been done.  Not one that ridicules 1950s US values, as far as I know.  It would be worth doing, maybe beginning ‘so don’t try that American pie / all the racism and guns and the pigs in the sty’.

[P]              http://www.vox.com/2015/4/20/8445991/afl-cio-tpp-obama-trumka

[Q]              http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/04/vietnam-40-years-fall-saigon-150429100025151.html

[R]              http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-32483307

[S]               http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32410056

[T]              http://eng.yabloko.ru/?p=8351

[U]              If anyone knows, please let me know.

[V]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Ernest_Boulanger

[W]             http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2015/april/19/political-murders-in-kiev-us-troops-to-ukraine/

[X]              http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32239140

[Y]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franjo_Tu%C4%91man#Tu.C4.91man_as_historian  As usual, I omit non-standard letters because IT systems usually garble them.  (Most IT uses US models, where accents etc. were rarely used and mostly ignored.

[Z]              http://www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/news/2015-04-17-dna-map-uncovers-uk%E2%80%99s-secret-histories#

[AA]            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-32282029