2015 04 – Newsnotes

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams


Money and Power.

“If inequality was really about education, we would expect to see income growth sorted by education level: wages declining for workers who never made it past high school but rising for those who finished college. But that’s not the pattern [in the USA]. Rather, wages have stagnated for college graduates, too. What separates the members of the 99th percentile from their friends in the 91st percentile isn’t a college education.

“‘All the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance,’ writes Krugman. ‘Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.’

“But there’s a reason Washington prefers talking about education than power. If the answer to inequality is simply more education, than that’s relatively easy: most everyone agrees, conceptually at least, that a better education system would be better. But if the answer to inequality is redistributing economic power, well, that’s more controversial — particularly among those who currently hold the power.”[A]

Market forces are all about power, not usefulness.  Education is useful for acquiring power, but not the main factor.  So it gets less attention than it merits, even though it is one of the biggest generators of real wealth, and also social peace.  For almost any society, most of the violence and crime comes from the less educated.

Finance has a limited role as a generator of real wealth.  But it’s a great way for a few smart insiders to grow fat at the expense of the rest of society.  Of course it gets talked up as the vital core of the society.  The media are dominated by conglomerates, who often borrow a lot of money from banks for their take-overs.  They don’t bite the hand that feeds them.

In the USA, the silly refusal to have limits on campaign funding mean that politicians depend heavily on the rich. The people doing nicely out of huge banks that do a lot of gambling and then get bailed out when things go wrong. (This is what Quantitative Easing means – one of many ‘Feed the Rich’ policies popular since the 1980s.)

All of this meant that it was unthinkable for the state to keep control of banks that had run up huge debts by speculations that had made individual traders and managers very rich.  The state was used to stop them collapsing and nurse them back to health, in defiance of “Free Market” ideology.  But once healthy they were returned to the private sector, for much the same to happen again.  And while the notion of breaking up banks that were ‘too big to fail’ was floated, it didn’t actually happen.

More widely, this is the backwash of 1960s attitudes. The view that if you let everyone do what they like, all will be well.  The view that the state should do as little as possible and mostly leave people alone.  This worked for sex, but dubiously for drugs and not at all for economics.

Wealth Creation, as distinct from commercial profit, mostly comes from those who do not exercise power.  They just need a stable configuration of authority, but the people in charge easily abuse their authority.  This might seem an argument against state power, and would be if the dream of restoring individual small property had ever been realised.  But the reality is that business elites are much more remote and unaccountable than even the worst politicians.  The prosperity of the nation is not their responsibility, and they had fed and nurtured a chorus of praise-singing economists who assert that for business people to look after their own interests is best for everyone.

People are being very slow on the uptake.  Britain seems undecided between the Tories and a very mild brand of Labour, neither New Labour nor Old Labour but best called Vaguely Labour.  And the USA may well vote in a Republican President and certainly has not lost enthusiasm for the people who restored the deficit that Clinton had briefly cured.


Just What Is Liberalism?

Is this inequality the result of liberalism?  People have a mistaken notion that liberalism and liberty are almost the same.  In fact the two English words have a separate history, though with some overlaps.  Liberty goes back to the 14th century.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original meanings were:

“1.a     Exemption or release from captivity, bondage, or slavery.

“2.a     Exemption or freedom from arbitrary, despotic, or autocratic rule or control.”[B]

But can also mean a privileged position:

“7.a     A privilege or exceptional right granted to a subject by the sovereign power.”

Liberty and liberalism both derive from the Latin for “free” – but in the Roman Empire and the Roman Republic before it, to be free was a social position not enjoyed by everyone, and with various levels of privilege above those who were free but not well-born or rich.  This original meaning is also closer to what Liberalism mostly is in practice.  Moderation in all things, including social justice.

Liberals are often guilty of neglecting the liberty of others.  Or of giving undue weight to the interests of people like themselves, when types of liberty clash.  It can mean the idea that Superior Persons should be free to do what they want.  It is assumed that this is broadly positive and seldom dangerous.  The welfare of Lesser Persons is seen as not so important and definitely should not be allowed to interfere with the grand freedoms of Superior Persons.

This is most clearly seen in the career of South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun.  Most of his policies and beliefs would make him a clear part of early 19th century liberalism.  But he was also the first major US politician to say that negro slavery was an excellent thing that should continue for ever.  Of course liberal hero John Locke was a major investor in the Atlantic slave trade.  But the USA’s ‘Founding Fathers’ mostly viewed it as an embarrassment that should end eventually.  Calhoun overturned this, so that by 1860 most of the US South preferred a war to the possibility that slavery might be limited to states where it already existed.  (The South’s choices are detailed later on in these Newsnotes.)

An aberration within liberalism?  Looking again at the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘liberal’ has a complex history:

“1        Originally, the distinctive epithet of those ‘arts’ or ‘sciences’… that were considered ‘worthy of a free man’; opposed to servile or mechanical. In later use, of condition, pursuits, occupations: Pertaining to or suitable to persons of superior social station; ‘becoming a gentleman’. Now rare, exc. of education, culture, etc.”[C]

Later meanings include:

2.a       Free in bestowing; bountiful, generous, open-hearted.

3.a       Free from restraint; free in speech or action. In 16–17th c. often in a bad sense: Unrestrained by prudence or decorum, licentious.

4.a       Free from narrow prejudice; open-minded, candid.

5          Of political opinions: Favourable to constitutional changes and legal or administrative reforms tending in the direction of freedom or democracy. Hence used as the designation of the party holding such opinions, in England or other states; opposed to Conservative.

It was only in early 19th century Britain that it became the party-political name by a loose alliance of Whigs and Radicals.  It never was clear what it meant: power came first and various people tried to attach principles to it.

People mostly think they know what freedom means, but include assumptions that they don’t notice.  Thus for Anglos, it is taken for granted that freedom did not include the right to drive an automobile without passing a test or displaying number plates.  Nor does it include the right to drive on the right in Great Britain or on the left in the USA.  Jaywalking is frowned upon but entirely legal in Great Britain: technically illegal in most of the USA but not often penalised in practice.  Freedom to smoke cigarettes largely vanished during the 20th century in the Anglosphere, while a right to freely engage in homosexuality emerged in much the same era.)

Not being a liberal, I see it different.  Functional Freedom – what you can actually do – is not the same as freedom from state regulations.  For the ordinary person, regulations that restrain the rich, the aggressive or the violent give a lot more functional freedom.

Which does not mean that I ignore the achievements of liberalism.  It removed a lot of the violence and inequality that had been inherited from mediaeval Europe, and were mostly defended by conservatives prior to reform, though not afterwards.  Liberalism also recognises that limits on power do protect, as well as hinder radical reforms.  That was the problem with Leninism: it removed the safeguards in the belief they were no longer needed now that ‘the people’ ruled.  But it turned out that removing private ownership does not end selfishness or the abuse of power.  The common response on the left has been foolish, trying to distance the original notion from the Stalin Era, which was actually the era of most solid Leninist achievement.  It’s been half-arsed, falling into the Valley of Ineffective Radicalism that lies between serious reform within a system and a successful revolution that consolidates itself by organised violence.  (A successful revolution also needs to make priorities, giving up grander schemes in order to secure some positive achievements and maybe make something more radical possible later on.)


Lee Kwan Yew – a Cold War Winner

I’d been planning to say something about Lee Kwan Yew when I heard he was near to death.  But the trash that Western news sources started talking since his death persuaded me to say more.  They noted the successes but complained loudly about the treatment of oppositionists and the Western media.  They seemed to see this as much more important than lifting ordinary people out of poverty.[D]  Or that his policies worked as a method of mass-producing Western values among people not familiar with them, whereas their alternatives fail hopelessly.

Lee Kwan Yew was the most notable of various East Asian autocrats who were pro-Western and made the main contribution to winning the Cold War.  It was one of the Four Tiger Economies that revived the reputation of capitalism, even though they deviated strongly from capitalism as defined by the New Right.  In a regional context, Communism in Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia was once a formidable force and could easily have won power in the 1960s.  Malaya expanded to become Malaysia and was rather more autocratic than Singapore: they expelled Singapore because there was a serious possibility that Lee Kwan Yew’s party could have become dominant had it remained part of Malaysia.  And in Indonesia, the Western interest was upheld by a military dictatorship that slaughtered large numbers of Indonesian Communists.

I wasn’t hugely surprised that the Western media either knew nothing of this or chose to say nothing. That they engage in small-minded bitching about Lee with the conflict safely won.  And fail to recognise the damage they have done even to their own cause by imposing a free-flowing mutli-party system on places that are not coherent nation-states and have no notion of a Government and Opposition politely taking turns to govern.  Most states in East Asia and Southeast Asia have a single governing party that always wins the elections.  There was chaos in Thailand when the “wrong people” won: for strongly pro-Western Thailand, a significant US ally in the Vietnam War, the West chose to be very tolerant when normal democracy was undermined and finally abolished with a military coup.

Taiwan was briefly held up as a shining example after the opposition party won the Presidential Election in 2000 and 2004.  Less is said about him being jailed for corruption after the Kuomintang won back the Presidency in 2008.  Likewise in Japan, the Liberal-Democrats have been the dominant party since 1945, apart from 2009 when the Democratic Party of Japan won a sweeping victory.  Followed by a sweeping defeat in 2012, after they failed to fix anything, with the Liberal-Democrats once again the dominant party.  Only in South Korea has something like a normal multi-party system been established.

In the case of Singapore, the country is small and vulnerable, and has also done much better economically than its neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia.  A high degree of social discipline has been part of the process and is intimately connected with its success.  Malaysia and Indonesia have been traditionalist, mostly allowing people to live much as they please so long as they don’t challenge authority, though Indonesia was extremely brutal in East Timor and West Papua.  Singapore has shown much more concern for its citizens’ welfare and also felt much more need to regulate them.  The two are connected.

Understanding the process is helped by being aware of late arrival of democracy in Britain itself.  Representative Government for Britain was sort-of established in 1688, after half a century of Civil War which had showed that no one faction could govern alone.  It involved continued brutal suppression of the Catholic Irish, who did not accept or fit into the new liberal system.  It was also helped by having a monarch to impose coherence and to stop a populist movement emerging, but was almost overthrown by a small army of Highlanders in 1745.  Its economic prosperity depended  heavily on sugar grown by slaves in the West Indies, where they were generally worked to death because it was cheaper to buy fresh slaves than to treat them decently.  The rather less brutal system of slavery in the southern colonies of British America also contributed, as did mass plunder of the Indian Subcontinent.

In the 1760s, the British system seemed to have settled down, with George 3rd as a monarch wholly at home in Britain and able to play Whig against Tory to get the government he wanted.  This same system provoked the American War of Independence by its small-minded refusal to give the North American colonies seats in the House of Commons, which was their initial demand.  It was also heavily disrupted by John Wilkes’ populist movement in the 1770s, which however self-destructed after Wilkes helped suppress the populist but sectarian and anti-Catholic Gordon Riots.  It was maintained by extreme authoritarianism during the years of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire, which upheld principles much closer to modern democracy than any British government of the time.  Britain didn’t reform a blatantly unfair system of elections until 1832, and only allowed the richest seventh of British males to vote for MPs.  It didn’t extend the vote to a majority of adult males until the 1880s.  And only included women in 1918, and only from the age of 30 as against 21 for men.

That’s the real history, but Britons tend to be unaware of it.  They demand a smooth fast transition to multi-party democracy.  The total failure of the Arab Spring has taught them nothing.  They continuously complain about events and never learn from them.  Which is in a way reassuring: we can safely discount the fears expressed by writers on the ‘Information Clearing House’[E] that the USA aims at some global dictatorship.  The Anglosphere’s rulers are committed to systems that have the outward appearance of tolerant democracy, assuming that they can subvert them in various ways to serve Anglo ruling class interests.  They don’t seem to understand the process clearly enough to realise that these methods won’t work in societies with a completely different history.  (And would also probably have failed if applied in their own history rather than actual brutal methods that they deplore when they venture to admit them.)

Singapore has succeeded by ignoring unwanted New Right advice.  “‘We were called a nanny state,’ Mr Lee once told the BBC. ‘But the result is that we are today better behaved and we live in a more agreeable place than 30 years ago.'”[F]  The electorate tended to agree, repeatedly re-electing his party with overwhelming majorities.

As for Singapore’s future, it has elections due in November 2015, shortly before the 50th anniversary of the state.  Currently Lee Kwan Yew’s son seems secure as Prime Minister, having smoothly succeeded the man who succeeded his father.  But in Chinese politics, the significance of Elders is often very large, and tends to lapse with their deaths.  (Remember how Mao’s authority ceased to count for much among the ruling elite once he was dead.)  I’d wondered before if the Singapore system would unravel: I still wonder.  Currently the main opposition is the left-wing Workers Party, who want and would probably create just a rather more left-wing version of the same thing. But all sorts of other developments might now become possible.  No doubt the Western media would once again express shock and amazement if functional mutli-party democracy were to open up the ethnic divides that Lee Kwan Yew successfully kept smooth.  They never do seem to learn.


The Nemtsov Murder

The West said a lot about the shocking killing of Boris Nemtsov.  But kept referring to him as ‘an opposition leader’, as if he were a major force.  He was once.  But well before his death, he had become ‘a man with a great future behind him’.

For most Russians, Boris Nemtsov was part of the discredited Yeltsin years.  At the time of his murder he was one of three co-leaders of an alliance with no national representatives and very few representatives among nearly 4000 members of various regional parliaments.  No less than five opposition parties in Russia have greater support among Russians, though only three of those passed the 5% threshold for national representation at the last election.

Nemtsov rose to prominence under Yeltsin.  And like other liberals, fell into insignificance as far as internal Russian politics were concerned, as an overwhelming majority realised what a complete botch it had been.  At one time he was a possible heir to Yeltsin.  But he was one of those held responsible for the 1998 collapse of the Russian stock market, which effectively ended his prospects.  Since then, his career had been one of continuous decline.

In August 1999, Nemtsov was one of the co-founders of the Union of Rightist Forces, a new liberal-democratic coalition which received nearly 6 million votes, or 8.6%, in the parliamentary elections in December 1999.  In the elections of 2003, it fell below the 5% threshold for national representation.  And then fragmented, with Nemtsov leading one fragment and none of them counting for much.

The most recent (2011) elections gave Putin’s supporters a clear majority, 238 seats out of 450.  The opposition parties are the Russian Communists (92 seats), a centre-left group called ‘A Just Russia’ (64) and the semi-fascist Liberal Democrats (56).  The remnants of pro-Western opinion were mainly represented by Yabloko, with 3.43% of the votes and no seats at a national level.  They do have 12 seats among nearly 4000 from the various regional parliaments, which makes them the giant among the surviving pro-Western element.  They were helped by having criticised what actually happened under Yeltsin at the time it was happening, though it’s moot if they could have done any better on the basis of their shared pro-Western beliefs.

The Union of Rightist Forces had split by 2011.  One fragment that had united with similar people as Right Cause got 0.6% of the national vote and 2 seats in regional parliaments.  Another fragment, the People’s Freedom Party, had Nemtsov as one of four leaders of an alliance, but was disqualified for having dead people and under-age children among its supposed members.[G]  At the time of his death there had been another shuffle and he was part of another alliance called the Republican Party of Russia – People’s Freedom Party.  He was one of three co-chairs.  The party had no national representatives and just a handful of seats in the various regional parliaments.

As an opposition force, Nemtsov’s people would have been struggling for 6th place against their former colleagues in Right Cause.  5th place in opposition in 2011 belonged to a small group of left-wing nationalists called Patriots of Russia, who got 0.97% of the national vote and 33 seats in the various regional parliaments.

Lions don’t kill mice. Putin had no reason to worry about Nemtsov, one of many rival leaders among Russia’s discredited mix of pro-Western liberals.  His death does however suit anyone who wants to widen the gap between Putin and the West.  Which is a lot of people, many with contradictory interests, but not including Putin.

It’s also possible that a relative of someone killed fighting against the Kiev forces in Ukraine took personally Nemtsov ringing support for Western policies and his habit of blaming Putin for everything.


Land of the Free?

The USA claims the right to meddle in everyone else’s politics on the grounds of its glorious record of upholding liberty.

It’s not actually so glorious, just made to seem so.  For instance, how many people would give the right answer if asked “who was US President when seven slave-owning states formed the Confederate States of America?

The correct answer is James Buchanan.  Abraham Lincoln was elected in November 1860, but only took office in March 1861.  South Carolina seceded on 20th December.  Six other Deep South states followed, and they assembled and formed the Confederacy in February 1861.  Lincoln as President did nothing decisive until Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter.  He then called for a volunteer army, which caused Virginia and three other slave-owning states to join the Confederacy, plus a split in authority in Missouri and Kentucky.

Lincoln had stated that he had no intention of trying to end slavery in those US states that were part of the Union.  He also did not think this was possible without a Constitutional Amendment, which would not at the time have been remotely feasible.  He was even willing to accept a Constitutional Amendment (now known as the Corwin Amendment) which said:

“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”[H]

This actually passed Congress and Lincoln signed it off.  It then needed ratification by a sufficient number of US states, which never happened.  Just three ratified it, one with questionable procedures.  But only in 1864 was it formally withdrawn.

Had the Deep South been more sensible, this rather than the abolition of slavery would have been the Thirteenth Amendment.  It even seemed to close the door to further Constitutional Amendments to abolish slavery: current legal opinion is divided as to whether it would be constitutional to do this, and it would ultimately have been for the Supreme Court to decide.  Regardless of that, it would have been a tremendous boost to ‘State Rights’, had that been the issue.

What it would not have prevented was Lincoln’s stated intention to ban slavery in the Territories, parts of the US not yet admitted as states in the Union.  He intended to stop the westward march of slavery, which had proceeded smoothly up until then.  And it was this that was unacceptable.

The other issues were the victory for anti-slavery forces in newly settled Kansas and the refusal by Congress to let southern California become a separate state called ‘Colorado’, which would probably have had a pro-slavery majority.  (The name ‘Colorado’ was later applied to a completely different state.)  And tariffs were also an issue, but tariffs could easily have been opposed within the Constitution and in Congress.

A threat to secede over tariffs or over state rights would probably have blocked any relevant legislation.  Secession, unless slavery was allowed to continue to expand westwards, was offensive enough to the North to cause a war.  Of course there were many Northerners who were ready to let slavery expand westward in order to save the union, notably Lincoln’s long-term rival Stephen A. Douglas.  Douglas however felt obliged to support the suppression of secession, as did many others who had been happy to co-exist with slavery in the South.

What could have saved the Union, short of a war?  The Southern idea was something called the Crittenden Compromise,[I] which would have formalised the Missouri Compromise, allowing slavery in territories south of a specified line.  It would have also strengthened the Fugitive Slave Laws.  Slavery would have continued to march westwards, and perhaps the efforts to split California and create a slave-owning ‘Colorado’ would have succeeded.

The actual war led to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation at the start of 1863, in which he declared slavery abolished in the states that had seceded.  There were still slave states within the Union, and he accepted that he could not touch slavery there without a Constitutional Amendment, which was only ratified after his death.  This was followed by the 14th Amendment, which confirmed that blacks were citizens, and the 15th that prevented them from being disqualified from voting on racial grounds.  This last was quickly subverted in the South, with blacks being prevented from voting until the 1960s, when it had become an embarrassment to the USA’s claims to be the global upholder of freedom.


China Stays Robust

The intellectual dominance of the New Right was established by the mess the mainstream left made of the opportunities of the 1970s.  It is now being undermined by the rise of China, which moved from strong collectivism to its own version of the highly successful system of Mixed Economy that had been introduced after 1945 by the West and by non-Communist East Asia.

The end of China’s remarkable rise has been repeatedly predicted by Western experts.  It may be that they are now giving up.  Certainly The Economist seems to have done so:

“China’s economy is not as robust as it was. The property market is plagued by excess supply. Rising debt is a burden. Earlier this month the government said that it was aiming for growth of 7% this year, which would be its lowest for more than two decades—data this week suggest even this might be a struggle… Despite this, China will continue to have three formidable advantages in manufacturing that will benefit the economy as a whole.

“First, it is clinging on to low-cost manufacturing, even as it goes upmarket to exploit higher-value activities. Its share of global clothing exports has actually risen, from 42.6% in 2011 to 43.1% in 2013. It is also making more of the things that go into its goods. The World Bank has found that the share of imported components in China’s total exports has fallen from a peak of 60% in the mid-1990s to around 35% today. This is partly because China boasts clusters of efficient suppliers that others will struggle to replicate. It has excellent, and improving, infrastructure: it plans to build ten airports a year until 2020… And its firms are using automation to raise productivity, offsetting some of the effect of higher wages—the idea behind the government’s new ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy.

“China’s second strength is Factory Asia itself. As wages rise, some low-cost activity is indeed leaving the country. Much of this is passing to large low-income populations in South-East Asia. This process has a dark side. Last year an NGO found that almost 30% of workers in Malaysia’s electronics industry were forced labour… But as Samsung, Microsoft, Toyota and other multinational firms trim production in China and turn instead to places such as Myanmar and the Philippines, they reinforce a regional supply chain with China at the centre.

“The third advantage is that China is increasingly a linchpin of demand. As the spending and sophistication of Chinese consumers grows, Factory Asia is grabbing a bigger share of higher-margin marketing and customer service. At the same time, Chinese demand is strengthening Asian supply chains all the more. When it comes to the Chinese market, local contractors have the edge over distant rivals.”[J]

The USA is still fighting a global crusade for unclear ends.  But the embarrassing failure of reconstructed’ Iraq and the dismal failure of the Arab Spring dent its credibility.  Some allies are now moving to a more middling position:

“Support for a Chinese-led development bank is growing despite US opposition, with Australia indicating that it could join the UK and New Zealand as a founding member.

“Analysts predicted that others would follow Britain’s surprise decision to put its weight behind the new $50bn institution, despite the US making its irritation clear in an unusual public rebuke.

“‘Now the US’s closest ally has been emboldened to do this, there’s very little reason for others not to, because the rubicon has been crossed. If you’re looking at South Korea and Australia, it’s a bit of a no-brainer,’ said Stephen Spratt, a research fellow at the UK-based Institute of Development Studies .

“The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is designed to provide funds to the Asia-Pacific region, is viewed with suspicion in Washington, where it is seen as a rival to the World Bank and a possible instrument of Chinese soft power in the region.”[K]

This strengthens the probability that the change in the global balance will be broadly peaceful, which I always thought likely. China is not looking for control outside of what it sees as its proper borders. Border disputes are much too small for anyone to consider a war over.  Similar disputes in the wider world tend to linger on without war and without resolution, or occasionally get fixed when both sides get tired of the dispute.

It rather depends on what the USA does. Right now, it is ruining itself in the Arab World. If the USA were to stop claiming a right to run other people’s lives, the world could easily achieve relative peace.

Note that remarkably few nations in the 20th century have profited after waging war outside of what they claimed as their proper borders. It wasn’t true for previous centuries, but perhaps the balance of cost and benefit has tipped.


Accursed Lepers and Mitochondria

It is now legal in Britain to help couples have healthy babies when the mother has a defect in tiny but vital parts of the cell known as mitochondria.

“Mitochondria are the tiny compartments inside nearly every cell of the body that convert food into useable energy.

“But genetic defects in the mitochondria mean the body has insufficient energy to keep the heart beating or the brain functioning.

“The structures are passed down only from the mother and have their own DNA, although it does not alter traits including appearance or personality.

“The technique, developed in Newcastle, uses a modified version of IVF to combine the healthy mitochondria of a donor woman with DNA of the two parents.”[L]

Alarmist talk of ‘three-person babies’ almost stopped it.  If someone nowadays said that lepers must have deserved their fate, they would be treated as obnoxious and insane.  Likewise if they said that leprosy, heart failure or cancer were part of the ‘natural order’ and should not be interfered with.  Similar views keep re-surfacing with each new medical advance.

Mitochondria actually have very little to do with human characteristics.  They supply power, nothing more.  Humans have read the entire human genome, but are still very far from understanding what it means, in part because genes code for cells and the human organism is defined by subtle interactions of these cells.  The process is ultimately under genetic control, but it’s mostly not clear how.  We know only that particular genes may cause illnesses or defects when certain dangerous mutations occur in them.

There is of course a legitimate fear of ‘designer babies’.  But humans are a very long way from the knowledge that would let them redesign a whole organism, even if this should be thought desirable.  In animals, plants and bacteria, individual genes have been inserted to allow some natural product to be produced where it was never previously made.  For humans, all that has so far been done has been fixing errors.



Money can’t buy you truth.  It can buy you a favourable opinion.  This has been done in many areas, including the creation of a dubious ‘Nobel Prize for Economics’ by a Swedish bank.  But worse things were done and are still being done on the key matters of both tobacco safety and climate change.  A recent interview with the author of an informative book gives details:

JB: In your book Merchants of Doubt, you show that many of the people who attacked the science of smoking also attacked climate change. What was motivating them?

NO: Normal scientists don’t move to totally different, unrelated issues. You have one area of expertise. No one could be an oncologist and a climate scientist at same time. So that was the key that this wasn’t a scientific debate.

“Most people assume this is just a story about people being corrupted by industry shills. The book Merchants of Doubt is the origin story, about where this all came from in the first place. We wanted to know why someone like prize-winning scientist Frederick Seitz would risk his scientific reputation to work for both the tobacco and energy industries and distort science. That’s where the ideological piece came in. We started reading their letters, what they had written. We found this free-market ideology, this idea that any government intervention is a slippery slope down to socialism. It came down to Cold War work, Cold War beliefs, that the Soviet Union is an evil empire and therefore people have to be vigilant and on guard.

JB: Politically, what do tobacco and climate change have in common that would motivate these esteemed researchers to mess with the science?

NO: They are both places where you have a problem created by a product, and that product is legal. It’s not illegal to sell or use the product, yet we’ve discovered it has created this gigantic problem. It’s market failure: the market created a problem it then has not remedied. This is a legitimate place for government intervention — carbon tax, emissions trading systems, various options one can draw on — but all require the government to do something. In the US, even though the Cold War is over, these guys tap into this anti-government strand in American culture and politics: the government that governs best governs least. The reason this gained so much traction in the 1980s is because President Ronald Reagan had come to power on this platform.”[M]

Business people get used to thinking that one opinion is as good as another and you go for the one that suits you.  In law, the opinion of the highest court with real power is the functional truth, even though people try to claim some higher ‘objective law’.  In science, there really is an objective truth and you had better get used to it.


When the British rulers of the Indian subcontinent tried to round off their domain, they found themselves bumping up against Himalayan kingdoms that were loosely tied to China, sometimes directly and sometimes via the Regional Government in Lhasa.  The exact border never really was sorted out.  The Simla Accord of 1914 would have given British India an area the Chinese call South Tibet, and which is now the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.  But though China’s representatives accepted it in return for Britain accepting Outer Tibet as an autonomous region of China, the Central Government felt too much had been conceded it and repudiated it.  A British annexation of Outer Tibet (the Lhasa valley and surrounding plateau) seemed a serious possibility and may only have been prevented by the Great War.  Later on the British authorities pushed into ‘South Tibet’ and made it part of Assam, as the North-East Frontier Tracts.  Newly independent India continued this, constituting it as the North-East Frontier Agency.

Separately from this, an uninhabited desert called the Aksai Chin was claimed as part of British-ruled Kashmir.  Kashmir was later split between India and Pakistan – India has never allowed the inhabitants to decide their own future, in part because India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came from the highest-ranking cast among Kashmir’s Hindu minority.  The Aksai Chin was next to the part of Kashmir held by India and was shown on British and Indian maps as part of India,.  India ignored it until they learned from Chinese sources that China had built a road across it, which they then chose to view as an invasion.  Nehru reacted by getting confrontational on the northern border of what was then the North-East Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh.  In 1962 China reacted, pushing Indian troops out of the entire territory, and then withdrawing again.  Presumably they found that the people there saw themselves as part of India and were best left alone.

The rational solution is for India to drop its claim to the Aksai Chin, which is utterly useless to it, in return for most or perhaps all of the other disputed territories.  China would probably accept this, but up to now India has been demanding everything.

Just possibly this is now changing.  The BBC reports “India and China have opened their first talks about their disputed common border since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power.”[N]  Maybe Mr Modi, as the dominant force in Hindu nationalism, could dare to make the settlement that Nehru’s heirs never did.


Following the Yemeni version of the much-praised Arab Spring, the place has disintegrated into tribal and sectarian blocks.  It began in 2011, when the existing President was forced out.  His replacement has failed to hold things together:

“In Yemen there is little history of sectarian strife. The two main sects, Shia Zaidi and Sunni Shafi, have traditionally been seen as moderate with minimal differences.

“But this changed when the Houthis, followers of an obscure Shia tradition who are accused of serving Iranian interests in Yemen, stormed the capital, Sana’a, in September, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the southern port city of Aden.

“Their advance had a galvanising effect in the country’s Sunni-dominated south, where al-Qaida is particularly strong and the jihadis of Islamic State are just starting to secure a toehold. A volley of suicide bombs has shaken the capital, most recently on Friday, when more than 142 people were killed in a series of coordinated attacks on mosques during Friday prayers.”[O]

States ruling populations just entering the modern world almost always need a period of authoritarian government before anything else can develop.  But none of the Western “experts” seem able to realise this.


George Monbiot recently wrote a good article about Britain’s system of ‘Cashless Corruption’.

“No senior figure has been held criminally liable or has even been disqualified for the practices that helped to trigger the financial crisis, partly because the laws that should have restrained them were slashed by successive governments. A former minister in this government ran HSBC while it engaged in systematic tax evasion, money laundering for drugs gangs and the provision of services to Saudi and Bangladeshi banks linked to the financing of terrorists. Instead of prosecuting the bank, the head of the UK’s tax office went to work for it when he retired.”[P]

Ambitious young people must soon realise that various benefits will flow to those who play along with the system.  It is not often as crude as actual cash.  Mostly it starts by being a ‘suitable person’ for promotion to the better-paid jobs.  Later there are various legal methods, including book deals and well-paid consultancies and lecture tours.  It’s an excellent way of buying up MPs, among others.  That’s why we have since the 1980s had governments that manage successfully to run the state for the benefit of the rich rather than for those who vote them into power.


Ukraine has gone quiet recently, after another failure by the Kiev Government to impose itself on the east, areas that voted solidly for the President ousted by rioters including Ukrainian Fascists in February 2014.  But Kiev probably intends to arm further and try again:

“Speaking to the Luhansk Information Center on Sunday, Deynego responded to the president’s remarks by noting that indeed a so-called ‘point of no return’ on reintegration has ‘not been reached.’ Moreover, ‘provided that there is a concrete and prompt fulfilment of a complex series of measures, Ukraine has a chance to renew itself, to cleanse itself of fascist minions and pro-fascist politicians and to return to the democratic path of development. Only in this case can we talk about reunification, reintegration…into a united, truly popular, democratic state of all those territories which, until recently, considered themselves part of Ukraine.'”[Q]

Soviet Ukraine was a bundle of similar but distinct identities, some pro-Russian and some hostile to Russia.  Only moderation could have kept it together.  Sadly, the West has given it the worst possible advice.  It will probably become yet another frozen dispute.



[A] http://www.vox.com/2015/2/23/8091137/krugman-soaring-inequality-isn-t-about-education-it-s-about-power

[B] Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v.

[C] Ibid.

[D] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/22/lee-kuan-yew, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11437131/Lee-Kuan-Yew-Asian-statesman-obituary.html, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/world/asia/lee-kuan-yew-founding-father-and-first-premier-of-singapore-dies-at-91.html

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

[F] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-12975980

[G] http://rt.com/politics/opposition-party-denied-registration/

[H] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corwin_Amendment

[I] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crittenden_Compromise

[J] http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21646204-asias-dominance-manufacturing-will-endure-will-make-development-harder-others-made

[K] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/13/support-china-led-development-bank-grows-despite-us-opposition-australia-uk-new-zealand-asia

[L] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31594856

[M] http://www.vox.com/2015/3/21/8267049/merchants-of-doubt

[N] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-32028958

[O] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/22/yemen-sunnis-al-qaida-isis-islamic-state-shia-houthis-sanaa

[P] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/18/corruption-rife-britain

[Q] http://sputniknews.com/europe/20150322/1019850135.html