2018 09 – Newsnotes

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

Britons Voting For Their Own Suffering

Baby Boomers as such are not a burden on the young.  We helped create the freedoms and prosperity they now enjoy.  But a more-than-millionaire class dominates political thought and owns newspapers, magazines and television channels.  It has a strong interest in diverting anger onto the wrong people.

Most Baby Boomers are not better off than they would have been had the politics of the West not been twisted by Reagan, Thatcher and the rest of the New Right.  Maybe worse, since they fear fraud and street crime and fear for the future.  Since it is often their own children and grandchildren who suffer.

The big gainers have been a more-than-millionaire class that now gets a much larger share of social wealth than they used to.  In the USA, where 19% of the population believe themselves to be part of the richest 1%, all of the increased wealth from the 1970s has gone to the real elite.

The crime of most aging Baby Boomers is self-harming politics.  As 1960s radicals, they demanded sexual freedom and got it.  Demanded less hierarchy and formality, and got it reduced.  But most had a shallow anti-state attitude that scorned the tax-and-spend system that created them; that had given them an easy life.  They fell for the slick rhetoric of Thatcher and Reagan.

Everyone has suffered.  Britain’s quality of life has declined massively.  Nearly half the population voted to hurt themselves further with Brexit.  The USA, guided by New Right ‘wisdom’ neglected newly pro-Western Russia in the 1990s and attacked secular dictatorships in the Middle East.  Yet they do not blame themselves for the massive failure of these ‘bright ideas’.

In Britain, a crisis created by speculators was solved by picking up the gambling debts of the speculators.  It was called ‘Quantitative Easing’, and most people were fooled.  New Right ‘wisdom’ said that it was vital the failed speculators should not be inhibited from gambling again when things got more normal.

To pay for it – since the threat was fancy ‘Financial Products’, probably worthless unless backed by money given cheap by the government – we had Austerity.  Real money was taken away from ordinary people.

Often denying them life itself: “Britain’s improvement in life expectancy has slowed at the fastest rate of any leading industrialised nation other than the free-market citadel of the United States. Since 2011, the rate of improvement for men has collapsed by over three-quarters; for women, an astonishing 91%. For decades, life expectancy steadily rose in Britain: and then, suddenly, just as the Tories took power and imposed austerity, this improvement ground to a halt.”[1]

Tenants are promised help – but this government has always made life harder for them:

“There are almost 1.2 million people on the waiting list for social housing. As they wait, people are forced to pay rent they cannot afford, and as a consequence they cannot afford to buy food. It is no coincidence that the use of food banks in Britain is soaring. But the government is doing little to help. Experts say we need between 70,000 and 90,000 new homes for social housing a year to meet the need in England. Last year fewer than 6,000 were built – a record low. And there are no new funds in the offing to increase supply.”[2]

Norman Tebbit played up resentment among Council House tenants: things like not being allowed to paint their front door the colour they wanted.  It was indeed foolish.  But many who then bought the house they occupied now find it is almost worthless.  And people who would once have got Council Housing are now stuck forever renting.  Dependent on landlords who treat them much worse than the council ever did.

But the rich have a firm grip on power: “Incomes of almost all the rest of us, the bottom 90%, have flatlined. And while the whole of the top 10% has seen some growth, the share of income taken by the top 1% has more than doubled since 1975, to 13.9%. But the incomes at the very peak of the scale, the top 0.1%, have simply come untethered from reality. Everyone, except presumably the top 0.1% themselves, expresses outrage. At annual general meetings, shareholder activists withhold approval (although there are rarely enough of them to make a difference); politicians protest; the prime minister commits to action. In 2020, at last, top companies will be obliged to publish their workplace pay gap. That is an advance. But it is nowhere near enough.

“Soaraway salaries for top bosses are a marker of a winner-takes-all society. They are the encapsulation of a world where success can only be measured in hard cash and the state is expected to step out of the way. They reward financialization, where size of dividend is a proxy for value, instead of more sustainable indicators such as measures of productivity, worker satisfaction or safety. They act as a disincentive for a more productive use of resources.”[3]

Will it be fixed?  Maybe not.  Polls are disappointing.

We need a campaign to encourage voters.

If you don’t vote, you’ll be treated as if you don’t exist’.

Emphasise that it’s not just about winning.  All votes are carefully weighed and weighted, to see if there’s a trend.

 

Shed No Tears for Bomber McCain

One needs good reasons to bad-mouth a man immediately after his death.  There are plenty.

I don’t exactly hate John McCain – it wasn’t my people he harmed.  But he was part of appalling politics that has killed hundreds of thousands all round the world.  Including the USA, where he was loved by those he helped cheat.  Those he pushed to suffering and premature death.

John McCain is rated a war-hero for being shot down while part of ‘Rolling Thunder’, the illegal and ultimately pointless bombing of North Vietnam.  Bombing that killed at least 50,000 ordinary Vietnamese: maybe far more.[4]

People nowadays don’t ask how the West would have developed had the USA won that war.  (Or not except Watchmen, which is sheer lunacy.)  Defeat helped ensure that many social values of the radical anti-war protestors became a New Normal in the West.[5]

If McCain learned anything from Vietnam, it was only to be careful deploying US ground troops.  Ordinary US citizens were genuinely stoical up to and including World War Two: since then they are mostly stoical about other people’s suffering.  McCain was a late-bloomer with genuine stoicism, but also adapted to the new reality.  In his campaign for the 2008 Presidential Nomination, he joked about bombing Iran.[6]

As Republican nominee in 2008, he had a free hand to choose his Vice-President.  Chose a little-known woman called Sarah Palin.  She’d failed as Governor of Alaska and was aggressively ignorant.  Long before she was heard of, Isaac Asimov knew the type:

“‘There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

Palin paved the way for Trump.  But Trump is an experienced negotiator and businessman, even if he inherited his vast wealth from his brilliant and bigoted father.  Even if he’s made less with his ventures than letting someone else invest it, as many claim.  I also think he’s cleverer than he lets on.  Intentionally plays to the Cult of Ignorance, as did Ronald Reagan.

Had McCain been elected and then re-elected, and had the strain of a much higher and more demanding office killed him rather sooner than it did, Sarah Palin could have been President.

What he stood for was anyway bad.  He needed her to help sell policies that would hurt most of those who might vote for him: “The Republican primaries have turned into a Ronald Reagan Adoration Contest…“McCain repeatedly called himself a ‘foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.’ He declared that Republicans have ‘betrayed Ronald Reagan’s principles about tax cuts and restraint of spending.’”[7]

I’d see Reagan as the start of US decline.  Sometimes it takes time to see the real impact of bad politics.  Brezhnev is now despised, but at the time was widely praised or feared.  Right-wing thriller-writer Frederick Forsyth even has a Brezhnev-equivalent seen positively in The Devil’s Alternative, with Ukrainian nationalists as villains.

Reagan may eventually suffer as big a fall as Brezhnev, but not soon.  Back in 2008, despite the developing financial crisis, McCain was part of the pro-rich politics that played on the anti-state foolishness of Middle-America.  Unlike Britain, I don’t think the Centre-Right said ‘you’ve never had it so good’ – yet it was true.  And once the fools started voting against taxes and government power, they had it very bad again.  The more-than-millionaire elite took everything, yet are still widely admired.

McCain was born into the higher ranks of the Military-Industrial Complex.  His father and grandfather were US Navy admirals.  His McCain ancestors were Mississippi slave-owners with a 2000-acre plantation.[8]  They kept it till 1952, with blacks officially free but still viciously exploited.

McCain himself managed in 1980 to replace his fairly ordinary first wife with an extremely rich heiress.[9]  Heir to a beer business with revenues of hundreds of millions a year.  This got him involved with the Keating Five scandal.  He was one of five senators accused of trying to intimidate the people investigating a man involved in the massive looting of the USA’s Savings and Loans companies, their equivalent of our Building Societies.  An aspect of authentic US conservatism, until they were lured by promises of profit and found that millions had been spirited away: “After a lengthy investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee determined in 1991 that Cranston, DeConcini, and Riegle had substantially and improperly interfered with the FHLBB’s investigation of Lincoln Savings, with Cranston receiving a formal reprimand. Senators Glenn and McCain were cleared of having acted improperly but were criticized for having exercised ‘poor judgment’.”[10]

Even if he was as innocent as his fellow Senators chose to believe, he helped spread destructive social habits.  And aggressive bungling overseas after the Soviet collapse: “He also served on the Indian Affairs Committee where, as a keen gambler himself, he pushed through new laws that allowed native Americans to generate revenue from casinos…“In the early 90s, the new senator was involved in a corruption scandal [Keating] after he and four Democratic senators were accused of trying to intimidate regulators on behalf of a campaign donor who eventually served prison time for corrupt management practices…“After the 9/11 attacks he supported Bush’s war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, although as the latter operation dragged on, he began to question the Bush strategy and the policies of the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.”[11]

His merits?  In a widely-featured incident, he chose to be nice about Obama.  But why not?  The Clinton and Obama years were a victory for Reagan’s authentic behind-the-scenes values, giving money to the rich and ignoring the needs of the genuine non-rich conservatives who voted for them.  Trashing their social values.  It was much the same in Britain with Blair, except Thatcher was a genuine conservative with shallow understanding, and I doubt Reagan was.

And now it is all coming apart: “In McCain’s last days, he offered a full-throated defence of the idea that an internationalist, engaged American nation could serve as a guide to friends and a bulwark against foes – and railed against the man, Donald Trump, who campaigned against this world view.

“McCain exits the stage at what is, perhaps, the twilight of the American century, when the nation has focused inward, concerned about potential dangers of immigration, the entanglements of multilateralism and the challenges of a global economy.”[12]

Reagan and McCain were never functional conservatives.  Right-wing nihilists.

 

Snippets[13]

Trump Guilty of Sex!

“Those payments to women were unseemly. That doesn’t mean they were illegal”  (Washington Post.[14])

Did Trump approve hush-money for two ex-mistresses as part of campaign expenses? The source is hardly reliable: “The thought that must keep Michael Cohen up at night as he contemplates the possibility of facing federal charges for $20 million in bank fraud is the knowledge that it’s almost inconceivable he would be facing prosecution if not for the fact that his former boss got himself elected president of the United States… “Ten years ago, it seemed remarkable that America had gotten so soft on corporate crime that nobody was prosecuted for the banking malfeasance that crashed the world economy in 2008. Today we have a White House awash in scandal and criminal associations. We can only hope that if Trump’s rule comes to an end, we won’t get complacent about the dirt that Mueller has only begun to scratch.”[15]

He did a deal that included accusing Trump.  Enough for impeachment?  Probably not.

***

Fifty Years On From Russia Crushing Czechoslovakia

20th-21st August were the anniversary.  Almost ignored by the Western media.

Surely it was grist to the anti-Russian mill?

But it also ended the chance of the Soviet system transforming into Moderate Socialism.  Something like the Chinese system, the main rival to New Right values.

Perhaps someone decided it was not good to let the public think about the matter.

***

A Deadly Bridge In Italy

The Morandi Bridge was a bad and a rare design.  It could collapse suddenly, without the usual warning signs.[16]

But it was also part of corrupt and shoddy development: “Buildings and roads in southern Italy are at higher risk, and experts agree this is no coincidence. Construction firms, many of which colluded with the mafia for decades, used ‘unfortified cement’ – comprising a disproportionate amount of sand and water, and very little concrete. Profit for every pylon or kilometre of road was guaranteed, but over time these roads and bridges began to fall apart… “In 1959 in Palermo, Vito Ciancimino, a mafia boss from the Corleonesi clan, became the head of public works.”[17]

Will it be fixed?  Just now, Italians are self-wounding.  Voting for right-wing politicians who hate regulation and state spending.

***

Getting Tough With Turks

Trump’s tariffs have worked for some industries, including US-refined aluminium.[18]

Turkey is one target.  Picked on because of a US preacher held for involvement in the attempted coup.  You don’t need to like Erdogan to suspect it was another Made-in-USA coup.

Oddly, anti-Trump papers approve of hostility to Erdogan’s Illiberal Democracy.[19]  Think he will be forced to back down.

I’d expect the exact opposite.  He has an excuse for an economic crisis that he partly caused.

And ‘getting tough’ with Turks is the last thing you should do.  Not unless you are ready to shed blood, and quite a lot of blood.

As a left-winger, I am hugely amused by the USA insulting and alienating what was one of its best allies.

***

Living In Peace

“Herders in east Africa 5,000 years ago lived in peaceful communities that shunned social hierarchies, communicated intensively and worked together to build massive cemeteries, new research by archaeologists has revealed.

“Early communities did not inevitably develop powerful elites or compete violently for scarce resources, but may have worked together to overcome challenges instead.”[20]

Which is not unusual.  In ancient West Asia, some people left behind the dead of battles even before agriculture started.  Others got as far as villages and small towns with no signs of war for thousands of years.

Sadly, once war got started, it was impossible to return to a peaceful decentralised life.  A social disease with no easy cure.  Only a powerful centralised state could restore peace of a sort.

***

Another Suffering Minority

“India has published a list which effectively strips about four million people in the north-eastern state of Assam of their citizenship.

“The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of people who can prove they came to the state by 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh declared independence. “India says the process is needed to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants. “But it has sparked fears of a witch hunt against Assam’s ethnic minorities.”[21]

Like Britain and Windrush, but much larger.

***

Brains Hurt?

“Claims that US diplomats suffered mysterious brain injuries after being targeted with a secret weapon in Cuba have been challenged by neurologists and other brain specialists.

“A medical report commissioned by the US government, published in March, found that staff at the US embassy in Havana suffered concussion-like brain damage after hearing strange noises in homes and hotels, but doctors from the US, the UK and Germany have contested the conclusions.”[22]

***

Wrecked Syria

“If we want to get married, there are no girls left.”

That was a man from Syria’s ancient Assyrian Christians.  Assad’s survival lets them go home – but would they ever be safe?

“A local Assyrian militia patrols the area to keep out looters, but Mr. Youkhanna said he no longer trusts the Arabs in the nearby villages since he assumed they had helped the Islamic State.

“‘In the old days, we would see each other on the road and greet each other,’ he said. ‘Now, no one says anything.’

All down to Western ‘help’.

***

It Wasn’t Only Catholics

When the rules on sex relaxed, it took time to replace them.  To establish that the young were off-limits, and that politeness and respect were still needed. The tricky transition has been used to attack a Pope who dared speak against the rich and greedy.

Yes, some Catholic clergy were guilty.  And at least as many Protestant priests and Puritan preachers.  Not to mention Jimmy Savile, and a reasonable belief that some of the rich and powerful have got clean away with it.

And it seems the Pope chose to investigate and establish truth, after getting accusations of senior misbehaving clergy.

And yes, Catholic charities were unsympathetic to unmarried mothers.  Acting on doctrine that said they needed to be saved from hell.  Were non-Catholic charities any better?

Another case of New Right fog and darkness, mostly using honest people as their tools.

***

References

[1]              https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/08/austerity-kills-life-expectancy-standstill-britain

[2]              https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/14/tories-houses-build-landlord-crisis-league-tables

[3]              https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/15/soaraway-super-rich-shame-british-politics-pay

[4]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Rolling_Thunder

[5]              https://gwydionwilliams.com/history-and-philosophy/the-left-redefined-the-normal/ and https://gwydionwilliams.com/politics-various-articles/how-the-vietnam-war-extended-freedom-in-the-west/

[6]              http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/19/AR2007041900962.html

[7]              http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/31/AR2008013102154.html

[8]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_life_and_military_career_of_John_McCain#Family_heritage

[9]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cindy_McCain

[10]             https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savings_and_loan_crisis

[11]             https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-40705362

[12]             https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44009916

[13]             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/.

[14]             22nd August 2018 edition

[15]             https://www.vox.com/2018/8/21/17757636/cohen-manafort-white-collar-crime

[16]             New Scientist, 22 August 2018

[17]             https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/17/italys-crumbling-infrastructure-under-scrutiny-after-bridge-collapse

[18]             https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/22/business/trumps-tariffs-century-aluminum.html

[19]             https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/world/europe/turkey-united-states-tensions.html

[20]             https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/20/kenya-burial-site-shows-community-spirit-of-herders-5000-years-ago

[21]             https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-45002549

[22]             https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/14/cuban-acoustic-attack-report-on-us-diplomats-flawed-say-neurologists

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