Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
- Cut Taxes, Sell Yourself to China
- Shut Up, Tibet, says Britain
- Blair the Bliar, Blair the Bungler
- Killing Doctors in Afghan
- USA – Loss of the Middle-Class Dream
- Learning Nothing From 2008
- Who Won in Portugal?
- US guilt for Somali deaths in 2010-12
- 1848 And All That
Cut Taxes, Sell Yourself to China
The Tory government is determined to cut state spending. China has plenty of cash, earned from many years of trade surplus. Happy to spend it on valuable Western assets.
The top Tories may also have learned from their friends in business that ‘human rights’ criticism of the Chinese government achieves little beyond annoying most Chinese. Pro-Western elements have very little strength in either Russia or China. Russia has open elections: Yabloko, the largest such group, got only one vote in twenty.[A] The Russian Communists got nearly one-fifth of the votes. If China ever did opt for Western-style competitive party politics, the main opposition would probably be a party calling for a return to Maoist values.
(I asked about this on the questions forum Quora. Several people who knew China better than I did agreed that it might happen.)
Letting China invest in our nuclear industry matches the reality of privatisation. Small shareholders thought they were going to be empowered. But they find that they are indeed small and can be ignored by major share-holders, many of them state-owned foreign companies.
A nuclear power station is to be built in Britain to a Chinese design – good for marketing that design globally. Also “the government has also been criticised for guaranteeing a price of £92.50 per megawatt hour of electricity – more than twice the current cost – for the electricity Hinkley produces.”[B] More expensive than on-shore wind power or large scale solar power, but this government is fixated on nuclear.
The Tories have decided they need China to keep Thatcherism alive. But China has always ignored Thatcherite ‘wisdom’ and gone for a Mixed Economy, just what Thatcher tried to get away from. China is now shifting from an export-led economy to something more normal. Unlike Britain, it produces as much as possible of what its own consumers want. China has not spent much of its vast financial reserves on foreign goods – indeed, the drive against corruption has reduced the demand for foreign luxuries. And also hit golf:
“One owner of a golf equipment store in Shanghai, who was only identified by his surname, Huang, told Reuters that his store’s sales had dropped at least 30% last year.
“Golf in China was ‘about the social interaction’, he said. ‘If a company boss can’t play with a government official, there’s little point in him spending his money.'”[C]
Meantime some of the people whose job it is to make accurate economic forecasts are saying that China’s troubles are nothing serious:
“The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has said the outlook for China’s economy is not all ‘doom and gloom’.
“‘I would say that it’s a recovery that is decelerating a bit,’ she told the BBC, but said it was expected to gain momentum next year.”[D]
Shut Up, Tibet, says Britain
“‘It feels like it was when I was in China,’ Shao told the Guardian. ‘Then, every time I was arrested the Chinese police would search my rooms and take things. It reminded me of that.’
“Tibetan exile groups have also reacted with anger following the arrest of two women shortly after Shao for waving a Tibetan flag near Xi’s car. They also had their homes searched while under arrest.”[E]
These are standard British police bullying tactics against people viewed as hostile. Mostly those who have at least talked about violence: but Tibetan protestors have never yet done anything violent outside of Tibet. Why be surprised? Tibetans have all along been misled by bad Western advice. Encouraged to become a minor irritant to People’s China, when they might have got extra cultural privileges in return for clear loyalty.
No Chinese government has ever accepted Tibet as an independent country: it is ludicrously unlikely that any ever will. Globally, no sovereign government has ever recognised their claims for independence. Nor did the ‘International Commission of Jurists’, self-appointed guardians of human rights other than food, education, work and physical survival. (You may starve, be killed by religious fanatics, remain ignorant or be left on a human scrap-heap, but your right to a lawyer and your right to badmouth your own people to foreign journalists will be fearlessly upheld by them.)
Tibetan protests annoy most Chinese, including almost all of the pro-Western dissidents, another tiny minority who think the West wants to help them. They are typical in seeing Tibet as an integral part of China, just as almost all Indians insist that Kashmir and other potential separatist areas are integral parts of India. Likewise Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority view of what were once independent Tamil kingdoms, and very similar in many other parts of the world.
None of the ‘help’ that the West gave to various dissidents and separatists was ever meant for their benefit. The West uses them to weaken potential enemies, not worried by a high risk of chaos. The main point is to disrupt: if it results in a friendly government, that is a bonus. Hence the same apparent errors in Former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Ukraine. And the Rwandan massacre of Tutsis was intimately connected with the armed invasion of Rwanda by well-armed Tutsi exiles backed by Uganda, and covertly by Britain and the USA. That was the first act in the tragedy: the massacres were a stupid, brutal and ineffective response, but definitely a response and a highly predictable response.
Or you could look earlier still. Arabs and Armenians incited against the Ottoman Empire in World War One. Many people know the tale of how Lawrence of Arabia was sent to create an Arab Revolt on the basis of false promises. Few realise that what happened to the Armenians was a foreseeable result of what both Russia and the West encouraged them to do. (You can find details in a book by Pat Walsh, The Armenian Insurrection And The Great War.)[F]
Blair the Bliar, Blair the Bungler
Back in 1991, some of us said that removing Saddam Hussein would wreck the chances of a secular Iraq. At that time, Islamic extremists were marginal.
Saddam Hussein was dictatorial and repressive, certainly. So were British rulers from Henry 7th through Henry 8th, Cromwell and down to George 4th. 1485 to 1830, nearly 350 years. No monarch after George 4th really ruled, but the task was taken on by a parliamentary oligarchy who waited till the 1880s to extend voting to some 60% of men living in the British Isles.
Other societies have done it faster, with an existing model. But not that much faster.
(Some people believe that a better world would have emerged without Britain’s rise. Maybe, maybe not. What counts is to realise just how repressive a state needs to be in order to create a modern society that will then perpetuate the same values by general consensus.)
Saddam Hussein was repressive, and likewise Assad Senior and Assad Junior in Syria. Removing the repression was like opening Pandora’s Box: all sorts of monsters emerged.
So what does Tony Blair say? He’s recently explained:
“‘But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. I think even from today 2015 it’s better that he is not there than he is there.’
“Mr Blair was then asked whether the invasion of Iraq was the ‘principle cause’ of the rise of ISIS.
“The former Prime Minister said: ‘I think there are elements of truth in that. But we have got to be extremely careful otherwise we will misunderstand what’s going on in Iraq and in Syria today.
“‘Of course you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.
“‘But it’s important also to realise – one, that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would also have had its impact on Iraq today. And two – ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.
“‘This leads me to the broader point, which I think is so essential when we are looking at policy today. We have tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We’ve tried intervention without putting down troops in Libya.
“‘And we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria.
“‘It’s not clear to me that even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better.'”[G]
We in the Ernest Bevin Society have been almost alone in saying that all of the interventions were foolish. That a home-grown dictator committed to secularism and modernisation was the best you could hope for. That current British ‘niceness’ was definitely not made by nice methods.
Now Russia is taking a hand. Accepting Assad Junior as the best leader who can actually rule. And making an interesting demonstration of power by successfully firing cruise missiles from inside Russia across 1500 kilometres to hit foes in Syria. They’ve apparently also been jamming US radar. Demonstrating that Russia remains a tough enemy to fight.[H]
Killing Doctors in Afghan
It was just another callous bombing by the US air force. Except this time they hit and killed Westerners. People able to complain and be listened to by the world’s press.
“On Saturday morning, October 3, Doctors Without Borders patients and staff killed in Kunduz joined the countless number of people who have been killed around the world in conflict zones and referred to as ‘collateral damage’ or as an ‘inevitable consequence of war.’ There are no ‘mistakes’ under international humanitarian law…
” It is precisely because attacking hospitals in war zones is prohibited that we expected to be protected. And yet, ten patients, including three children and twelve of our staff, were killed in the aerial raids.”[I]
(The British media always call them Medecins Sans Frontieres, the original French name. Since it’s not what they call themselves, I reject this habit.)
Doctors Without Borders are acting as if the original United Nations dream of a world governed by International Law were real. It failed originally because neither the USA nor the Soviet Union wanted it so: each wanted to rule the world. It failed again in the 1990s, because the USA still wanted to rule the world. And was not smart enough to realise that this would be better done by reforming and beefing up the United Nations than by treating it as an unreliable servant.
Interestingly, Doctors Without Borders are now taking their formal complaints to the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. And are careful to explain that this “is not a UN body; it was formed under the Geneva Conventions”.[J]
USA – Loss of the Middle-Class Dream
“You can’t support a middle class family in America today on just $2,500 a month – especially after taxes are taken out. And yet more than half of all workers in this country make less than that each month. In order to have a thriving middle class, you have got to have an economy that produces lots of middle class jobs, and that simply is not happening in America today.”[K]
$2,500 a month is $30,000 a year, about £19,500. 51% of all American workers make less. 61% make less than $40,000, £27,000.
What happened to them? Ronald Reagan happened to them, selling an anti-state and anti-Trade-Union message. Letting them believe that ordinary hard-working people could manage fine without such things. Much more gullible and conformist than workers in Britain, they let all of the new wealth created since the 1970s go to the richest 1%. To a more-than-millionaire class that has a stranglehold on a political system where campaign spending is unlimited and slick advertising can manipulate vast numbers of fools.
But even the more-than-millionaire class is in trouble. Pope Francis, Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and our own Jeremy Corbyn are just five big names in a global challenge.[L]
Learning Nothing From 2008
“Financial workers in the City, who were at their desks after Lehman defaulted, described colleagues sitting frozen before their screens, paralysed – unable to act even when there was easy money to be made. Things were looking so bad, they said, that some got on the phone to their families: ‘Get as much money from the ATM as you can.’ ‘Rush to the supermarket to hoard food.’…
“The collapse of a global megabank such as Lehman could cause the financial system to come to a halt, seize up and then implode. Not only would this mean that we could no longer withdraw our money from banks, it would also mean that lines of credit would stop. As the fund manager George Cooper put it in his book The Origin of Financial Crises: ‘This financial crisis came perilously close to causing a systemic failure of the global financial system. Had this occurred, global trade would have ceased to function within a very short period of time.’ Remember that this is the age of just-in-time inventory management, Cooper added – meaning supermarkets have very small stocks. With impeccable understatement, he said: ‘It is sobering to contemplate the consequences of interrupting food supplies to the world’s major cities for even a few days.'”[M]
All caused by deregulation:
“The British stereotype of the boring banker began to change in the 80s when finance was deregulated. Following Ronald Reagan’s dictum, ‘Government is not the solution to the problem, it is the problem’, banks were allowed to unite under one roof activities that regulation had previously required to be divided between separate firms and banks.” (Ibid.)
But the centre-left was extremely timid about saying that the last three decades had been a major error economically. That it was useful only because the general atmosphere of deregulation allowed traditional morality to be dismantled without anyone having ever quite agreed to this. So surprisingly soon, the centre-right were able to rally and say that government spending was to blame. The Tories won two general elections on the basis, because we lacked heavyweight politicians who were ready to flatly say that this claim was nonsense.
All of the bad banking practices have returned, of course.
Who Won in Portugal?
The recent election was initially seen as a victory for the pro-austerity government.[N] The centre-right alliance Portugal Ahead got 107 seats for 39% of the votes, way ahead of their rivals.
But it is a parliament of 230. The anti-austerity Socialists got 86 seats from a vote of 32%. It was assumed that they would tolerate a minority government rather than work with the Hard Left. There are no possible centrist allies. The Left Block, allies of Syriza, have 19 seats from 10%. A United Democratic Coalition joining Communists and Greens got 17 seats from 8%. And the centre-left and pacifist People-Animals-Nature party have 1 seat from 1.4%. Could Moderate Socialists work with these?
It seems they could. The Socialists may have noticed that their equivalent in Greece has now almost vanished after several years functioning as weak accomplices in pro-rich austerity programs. The three main left parties got 122, enough for a stable government if the Hard Left would behave sensibly. It seems they will.
As I write, 26th October, the centre-right President is reluctant to recognise this coalition as the winners. Some reports call it a constitutional crisis:[O] others say it is normal politics.
[In November, the Socialists formed a Minority Government. Still ruling as at 1s September 2016.]
US guilt for Somali deaths in 2010-12
“Between October 2010 and April 2012, a quarter of a million people died in a famine in Somalia. Even in the war years, no one had seen dying like it…
“The truth about famine in Africa is that it hardly ever occurs. The Somali famine is the only one to have taken place in Africa in the 21st century, and it had its own special causes…
“Even at the height of the famine in August 2011, very little aid was getting to the epicentre in southern Somalia. Almost none of the big western aid agencies raising money to fight the famine were even present, confining themselves to a secure compound at the airport if they were in southern Somalia at all. Why?..
“The Somali and United States governments were forcing aid agencies to withhold food from southern Somalia in order to put pressure on al-Shabaab, a small Islamist group allied with al-Qaeda. Agency managers had been persuaded to go along with this strategy because, according to the Americans, al-Shabaab sometimes stole aid. A case could be made that food aid was a form of support to a proscribed terrorist group, an offence which carried severe penalties under US law. When the aid managers objected, the US reminded them that it was their biggest donor. Reluctantly, the managers capitulated.
“As a journalist, I was most outraged by the fact that so few people were aware of what was happening, or, as I later thought was more accurate, that so few were even able to imagine it.”[P]
1848 And All That
Have you ever wondered why there are no films about Karl Marx? Now one is due out in 2016:
“‘The Young Karl Marx’ opens with 26-year old Marx who goes with his wife, Jenny, into exile, and depicts Marx’ encounter with Engels, the son of a textile factory owner, in 1844 Paris.
“Set against the backdrop of the 1848 rebellions, which culminated in police raids and riots, the movie charts Marx and Engels’ journey to complete Communist Manifesto, which gave birth to the labor rights movement.”[Q]
Which sounds muddled: there were many labour, socialist and communist bodies around before Marx and Engels joined them. Still, it has to be worth something.
[Apparently finished but not yet released.]
Previous Newsnotes can be found at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/ and https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.
[F] Available from Athol Books, https://www.atholbooks-sales.org/booklist.php
[N] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/portugal/11911562/Portugals-austerity-government-wins-re-election.html and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34440667
[P] Prospect Magazine, November 2015, What Africa is really like