Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
- The Mid-Atlantic Sinks Beneath the Waves
- Blame It On the Boomers?
- In Praise of Authoritarian State Capitalism
- Rights of Humans Just Like Me
- Support Israel, Hasten Armageddon
- An Impossible Diet?
- Going To Pot
“If Theresa May thought her favoured weapon – delay – would somehow ensure Donald Trump’s visit to the UK next month would be less controversial than if it had occurred last year, she appears to have miscalculated. Six months ago the president was plausibly an unpredictable nationalist constrained by the senior Republicans surrounding him. He had quit the UN’s climate change agreement but otherwise his foreign policy was largely a complaint that America had to pick up Europe’s tab…
“The two latest episodes – the US withdrawal from the UN human rights council and the sight of child immigrants in cages on the US border – are connected only by timing and the outrage they engender.
“The withdrawal from the rights council was long planned, and the US dislike of its perceived anti-Israeli bias is shared by the UK. Aware of the imminent US decision, Johnson travelled to Geneva on Monday to voice his concern to the council directly, not endorsing the US move but showing some sympathy. The predominant UK diplomatic view is that the council, for all its faults, is one of the few institutions where tyrants and authoritarians are held to account. The true beneficiary of a US withdrawal is not Israel but the Gulf kingdoms.”[A]
The startling sight of children in cages was probably not an accident:
“Crying. Screaming. Shouts of ‘Mami!’ and ‘Papa!’ This is what President Donald Trump’s policies sound like on the ground as asylum-seeking families are split apart. In the audio published by ProPublica, though, Border Patrol agents do not appear to show empathy, with one agent hearing the sobbing children and joking that ‘we have an orchestra here’ and that ‘what’s missing is a conductor.’
“In just five weeks, US officials separated more than 2,300 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. While the Trump administration has been deliberately obtuse about its intents, the ‘zero tolerance’ approach appears to be part of a strategy to scare people from illegally crossing the border — by, essentially, using the possibility of parents losing their kids as a threat.”[B]
Before he backed down, I’d been going to suggest his visit to Britain be greeted with displays of children in cages. I’m sure plenty of kids would have volunteered, from social concern or just to show off. Plus a little notice saying These Kids Are Regularly Given Food, Water and Exercise, like they do with animals at exhibitions.
Trump is sticking to his basic agenda. If immigrants are the main cause of the USA’s economic woes, then do something about it. The USA is in decline. He thinks he can stop it. Or failing that, look good in history as a man who tried to stop it.
The real problem is the bloated rewards given to the rich by the New Right. The lessons of the 1930s have been forgotten: Labour’s ‘Timid Tendency’ don’t question the dogma that state spending wastes wealth. Accepts that only money guided by narrow profit-based rules can possibly generate wealth. Britain has followed the USA’s lead, despite its failure:
“After eight years of budget cutting, Britain is looking less like the rest of Europe and more like the United States, with a shrinking welfare state and spreading poverty.”[C]
Continental Europe has also cut money for the needy – we should call it that, since big words like ‘austerity’ confuse some people. The European Union also chose to spend money bailing out rich speculators, accepting the claim that the economy could not work without them. Bad, but Britain has been worse. And may get worse again if the Tories get the Brexit they want.
But Trump may be ‘breaking ranks’ on this as well:
“Behind the scenes, Trump astonished Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat’s leader in the House of Representatives, by approving every single social program that she asked of him. As a result, the federal government is running the largest budget deficit in America’s history when the rate of unemployment is less than 4%.
“Whatever one thinks of this president, he is giving money away not only to the richest, who of course get the most, but also to many poor people. With demonstrably strong employment, especially among African American workers, inflation under control and the stock market still buoyant, Donald Trump has his home front covered as he travels to foreign lands to confront friends and foes.”[D]
Ever since Nixon, the US Republicans have massaged the prejudices of right-wing voters, while privately regarding them as ignorant trash. While making sure they got nothing. Then along comes Trump, actually believing in these things. Embarrassing the liars.
Trump is abolishing the Mid-Atlantic position that May pinned her hopes on. After divorcing Europe, we find that ‘old sweetheart’ America has alien values. That they do not much want us.
“The gulf between the earnings of younger and older people has increased by 50% in the last 20 years, leaving young workers struggling to survive, the TUC has warned in a report…
“‘We’re creating a lost generation of younger workers. Too many young people are stuck in low-paid, insecure jobs, with little opportunity to get on in life,’ said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC. ‘But unions need to reach out to the young workers in workplaces where there isn’t a union.’”[E]
Vital, because some young people have been persuaded that it was the fault of the Baby Boomers. Others think that it is just Fate and beyond human power to fix. And many of them – not just the young – feel increasing despair:
“Inequality creates greater social competition and divisions, which in turn foster increased social anxiety and higher stress, and thus greater incidence of mental illness, dissatisfaction and resentment. And that leads to coping strategies – drugs, alcohol, and addictive behaviours like shopping and gambling – which themselves generate further stress and anxiety.”[F]
The ‘do your own thing’ viewpoint of 1960s radicals has come to the end of its tether. We did have a real commitment to human freedom. But wrongly hoped that everything would become free quite naturally and without the need for the Big Bad State.
When the Baby Boomers rose through the ranks and got control of the ‘Big Bad State’, they found it very useful. But never really changed their habits of thinking. A majority believed the anti-tax and anti-regulation arguments of the New Right. Thought the economy would do much better if left alone.
The economy did not do better. Growth rates were slightly worse for Britain and the USA, even before the 2008 crisis. Much worse for Continental Europe and Japan. But a more-than-millionaire elite within each of those societies did very nicely indeed. Got a Japanese-style Economic Miracle for themselves – but whatever they thought they were doing, they were actually taking from the Working Mainstream of the society.
And it is a matter of conscious policy. The new elite have got control of the things they care about. They can keep on grabbing more:
“Thousands of small businesses based in railway arches across the UK are facing ‘extermination’ as Network Rail seeks to push through a billion-pound asset sale.
“From bakers to bike shops, mechanics to restaurants, many of the 5,500 arches across the UK’s major cities are home to traders and shop owners.
“But since announcing they would be selling their commercial property business, Network Rail has been accused of trying to strong-arm many of them out of their arches with threats of eviction if rent increases of between 300% and 500% are not met.
“There are also fears about what will happen to the businesses when the sale goes through, with a number of private equity firms interested in acquiring the vast block of real estate.”[G]
For years, I have been insisting that China wasn’t actually capitalist. That after Mao, it borrowed heavily from the Mixed Economy systems of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. That it sensibly ignored the highly deregulated example of Hong Kong, whose prosperity owed quite a lot to opium and heroin.
Hong Kong also gained by being Mao’s main outlet to the wider world, after he closed off the Chinese economy. A source of high-tech goods that the USA was stopping China buying openly. A front for Chinese goods that would have been hampered by the USA’s relentless hostility up to the late 1960s.
Non-Communist East Asia was allowed to be protectionist, because ‘Red China’ was a real menace. Current Western books imply that China was one long disaster under Mao. They stop short of giving hard facts, presumably because they know the real position.[H] For though the Great Leap Forward failed, almost everything else succeeded brilliantly. China matched the world’s average growth when the world was growing rather faster than it does now.[I]
Post-Mao China was a Mixed Economy, and much more regulatory than was ever the case in the USA or Europe. I said this and was ignored, even by people on the left who had good reason to take note. But without me having anything to do with it, something similar is breaking through to the mainstream media. Consider this from Prospect, which actually merits its claim to be Britain’s Intelligent Conversation:
“On one side is China’s model of authoritarian state capitalism in a Leninist structure with the Communist Party at its heart. On the other, a western model still not fully recovered from the financial crisis, but one based on liberty, individual freedom, and the rule of law.”[J]
The Western model used to include free education and cheap or free health care. A job for anyone who arrived on time and put in a normal amount of effort.
In the name of ‘Freedom’, these things have been stripped from us from the 1980s. People are miserable, and might look well at an alternative system. But they do not yet realise that China is that. Or rather, it is a variant on their own system, which they were conned into abandoning by smooth-talking right-wingers and cynical ex-hippies.
The West from the 1980s has damaged itself by trying to return to the Classical Capitalism that fell apart at the end of the 1920s. It was inferior to China even before the 2008 crisis.
China is authoritarian, yes. Most of its citizens think that executing rapists and drug traffickers makes them safer. Some Westerners would agree with them. It is also not relevant to economics. Harsh attitudes are typical of East Asia, including Japan, which has seldom had socialists even as junior partners in its government. Also Singapore, where the ruling party started out close to the Labour Party. Leader and long-time autocrat Lee Kuan Yew tells in his autobiography how he as an oppositionist had illicit meetings with Malaya’s outlawed Communist Party. As leader, he entirely crushed Communism in Singapore – clearly he learned a lot from Leninism!
The USA quit for the wrong reasons, but I’ve always been suspicious of ‘Human Rights’ as applied by the UN. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights included rights to work, to Trade Union membership, to health care, education and leisure.[K] In practice, the needs of ordinary people not at odds with their government get ignored. It is all about protecting Poor Little Individuals from the Big Bad Government. And while many sincerely believe this, it can also be used to undermine governments that dare take taxes from the rich to look after the Working Mainstream.
On specific individual rights, the demand is that the rest of the world match the current mix of liberty and social control currently favoured in Europe and the USA. The notion of Gay Marriage was eccentric a generation back. No substantial force called it a Human Right. But since Europe and the USA have made it their new norm, it is deemed wicked for the rest of the world not to copy them. Required that they be ‘Dedicated Followers of (Western) Fashion’.
That such demands are risky for gays outside of Europe is beyond the understanding of the Human Rights Industry. Putin has probably prevented a worse backlash against all Western values than might have happened. A backlash that began when it became clear in the late 1990s that Western ‘help’ had made Russians poorer, sicker and low-status. But the main response is whines that he is not a ‘Dedicated Followers of Fashion’.
Hard for Westerners to grasp? Imagine that superior Space Aliens had turned up in the 1950s. Promised all sorts of material benefits, but really delivered very little. Kept telling us that our failure to benefit was our own fault. And meantime kept nagging us to adopt the views on sex and marriage that we’ve freely adopted now. Values which would have seemed very alien then. How do you think people would have reacted?
Incidentally, superior Space Aliens are the theme of a 1953 work of Science Fiction, Childhood’s End. Author Arthur. C. Clarke was privately bisexual, undeclared till much later. He never openly challenged 1950s views on sex. Clarke’s famous 1956 novel The City and the Stars was probably meant to imply a homosexual relationship between the two main characters. But it is very understated, and I certainly missed it when I read back then. Most people let others do the risky pioneering work, including pro-Soviet left-winger Naomi Mitchison. Her 1962 novel Memoirs of a Spacewoman was well ahead of the much-hyped New Wave.[L]
Having left it to the Hard Left to do much of the hard work, fashionable left-liberals now write them out of history.
If Israel’s leaders and their foreign friends are not familiar with the Book of Revelation[M] from the Christian New Testament, they urgently need to study it. Because it really does count in US foreign policy. Makes sense of what would otherwise seem senseless.
Many scholars believe that Revelations is a crude rewrite for early Christians of a text from an extinct branch of Judaism preparing to revolt against Roman domination. The main Jewish Revolt ended with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple: and it so happens that Revelations says nothing about this. It is amazing gibberish that should long ago have been filed away as Abnormal Psychology. But it was accepted as part of Holy Writ when the early Christian Church was defining itself. And while many moderate Christians would see it as nonsense, it has a particular influence on the more extreme Protestant sects in the USA. People who mostly vote Republican, but Democrats are keen to lure them.
Four generations back, some of my own ancestors would have taken Revelations quite literally. Later generations pushed it to one side. My own parents ignored the Bible and never attended services, though they were buried as Anglicans. Everyone in England and Wales is buried as an Anglican, unless they specify something else. And very few would be bothered by what the Bible says about the End of the World. Such matters are a joke for most Britons – but much of the USA thinks otherwise.
The USA has always felt that it merited More-Than-Human Rights, and likewise countries it approves of. Israel is getting a US nod as it carries on seizing Palestinian land.[N] But reasons are very different from the Zionist ambition for a place where Jews can assert their own identity and have a safe haven.
One motive for creating Israel was Britain and the USA not wanting any more Jews, and perhaps hoping to be rid of those who had not assimilated well. That’s the secular side – but the Christian Bible has resonance even with those from a Latin-Christian background who cease to be overtly religious. And in the USA, there are a mass of ordinary voters who see it as true. Their support for Israel is based on a belief that this is part of God’s Plan. But their vision is not Israel as a permanent Jewish state.
If the US shifted more to Isolationism, which may be beginning under Trump, Israel could find itself abandoned. For devout voters, the script could include cutting ties and letting God’s Plan unfold with the Jewish state destroyed.
The Oslo Peace Agreement failed, because Israel wanted more land. Had a sentimental attachment to what it called ‘Judea and Samaria’, even though it was overwhelmingly non-Jewish. Have undermined secular Palestinian nationalism, and now face religious extremists who would never make peace.
I’ve said before, I am expecting it to end with something pretty nasty. Israel using its undeclared nuclear weapons on foes who are sincere fanatics and do not fear mass slaughter. I have little hope of doing any good on the matter, but feel obliged to try.
“While some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein. It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.”[O]
I’ve never seen meat-eating as morally wrong. But the survival of the planet may mean much less of it.
When he was Tory leader, I did wonder why Hague looked unhealthy and prematurely aged. Even compared him to Hagen from Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Could pot-smoking do that?
Alcohol has its dangers, certainly. I’d like to see drinks advertising banned. But anyone who drinks heavily enough to damage themselves is probably trying to ease existing woes.
Heroin and cocaine definitely hook some of their users. Pot? Harmless for most users, but not all.
Previous Newsnotes at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/. Also https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/. I blog occasionally at https://gwydionmw.quora.com/.
[I] I recently found another source besides The World Economy: Historical Statistics by Angus Maddison. This was https://www.conference-board.org/publications/publicationdetail.cfm?publicationid=2690, page 65 of a downloadable pdf
[K] http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html, articles 22 to 26
[M] Often mis-named as ‘Book of Revelations’