2018 11 – Newsnotes

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

Trump Resigns as World Boss

When Thatcher persuaded Bush Senior to give Saddam Hussein no way out after he invaded Kuwait, I said he was aiming to be ‘Bush the Boss-Man’.

Everything we in the Bevin Society said back then reads very well today.  We saw that they were ignorantly wrecking the functional secularism and Westernisation of the Arab world.  If we didn’t anticipate the rise of global terrorism by Islamic extremists, it also didn’t surprise us.

Bush Senior had the sense not to go into Iraq.  He wanted it ruled by someone similar but not Saddam, so he could claim a grand victory.  Hoped they would not put the welfare of citizens above the profits of US oil companies.  But when he saw a serious alternative emerging, a religious-Shia revolt in south Iraq, he ‘accidentally’ gave Saddam a free hand to crush it.

Later Presidents understood less.  They mistook the official propaganda for truth.  Smashed stable autocratic regimes.  Were repeatedly surprised when the result was chaos.

Trump is wrong on many things, but right to see that the US cannot be World Boss.  His much-derided business contacts in Russia must have told him that 90% of Russians are deeply offended by their loss of income, security and status after Russia collapsed the Soviet Union.  Feel they were tricked, after treating the USA as a friend.[1]  He’d know what seems beyond most Western commentators: that Putin is a moderate in Russia politics.  That a revived Communist Party is his only serious rival.

Liberal intellectuals make as many errors as Trump supporters.  But they are much better at finding excuses.  And are assessed mostly by their own kind: intellectuals on the right are fewer and much less intelligent.

Intelligent people who don’t personally benefit from capitalism are mostly on the left.  But from the 1970s, when the Soviet Union ceased to be a useful guiding light, they increasingly got lost.  They fail to understand Trump, or see how he can be useful.

Trump’s much-derided UN speech breaks with the global policy first attempted by Woodrow Wilson, and revived by Franklin D. Roosevelt: the USA as the world’s gun-toting Moral Guardian.  The policy Bush Senior tried to turn into a real global hegemony.

Not seeing it so, Trump said:

“We are standing up for America and for the American people. And we are also standing up for the world.

“This is great news for our citizens and for peace-loving people everywhere. We believe that when nations respect the rights of their neighbors, and defend the interests of their people, they can better work together to secure the blessings of safety, prosperity, and peace.

“Each of us here today is the emissary of a distinct culture, a rich history, and a people bound together by ties of memory, tradition, and the values that make our homelands like nowhere else on Earth.

“That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination.

“I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship.

“We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”[2]

Not that he’s consistent: he’s not happy with Assad’s survival in Syria, and is targeting Iran.  But he is also moving away from the system of US-dominated economics that was falsely called Free Trade.  It always involved regulation and a lot of state power.  It involved large payment by the USA in return for its hegemony being recognised.  Trump is giving up on this:

Amusingly, it is People’s China that now calls for ‘Free Trade’.  Meaning ‘trade just as free or unfree as we want it’, which is also the real meaning that everyone else puts on it.

Deng, by seeming to move towards full Westernisation, got the world to open up to cheap Chinese goods.  The Chinese government retains a lot of control over both finance and nominally private companies.  Trump had solid grounds to complain:

“For example, countries were admitted to the World Trade Organization that violate every single principle on which the organization is based. While the United States and many other nations play by the rules, these countries use government-run industrial planning and state-owned enterprises to rig the system in their favor. They engage in relentless product dumping, forced technology transfer, and the theft of intellectual property.

“The United States lost over 3 million manufacturing jobs, nearly a quarter of all steel jobs, and 60,000 factories after China joined the WTO. And we have racked up $13 trillion in trade deficits over the last two decades.

“But those days are over. We will no longer tolerate such abuse. We will not allow our workers to be victimized, our companies to be cheated, and our wealth to be plundered and transferred. America will never apologize for protecting its citizens.”

He’s imposed tariffs against China, but so far China has retaliated rather than concede much.  A quarrel with the USA might suit them, as would higher prices for US luxury goods and less admiration for the USA within China.  It would ease the long-term goal of persuading Europe to become more neutral between the USA and China.

Japan has also decided that it is best to be warmer towards China.  As the BBC put it:

“Trade tensions with Washington have driven Japan and China into an unlikely friendship”.[3]

Trump might not mind.  Less hostility might be good for the less-globalised world he wants to create.

On ‘International Law’, Trump openly states what has always been the real position – the USA is not going to let its people be judged by any sort of impartial international tribunal:

“As my administration has demonstrated, America will always act in our national interest.

“I spoke before this body last year and warned that the U.N. Human Rights Council had become a grave embarrassment to this institution, shielding egregious human rights abusers while bashing America and its many friends.

“Our Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, laid out a clear agenda for reform, but despite reported and repeated warnings, no action at all was taken.

“So the United States took the only responsible course: We withdrew from the Human Rights Council, and we will not return until real reform is enacted.

“For similar reasons, the United States will provide no support in recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.

“America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.

“Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination.”

Nominal global authorities could only be tolerated for as long as the USA could be sure of dominating them.  The USA’s bungling in its brief 1990s dominance and lost status after the 2008 crash.  And no one in the US establishment would ever consider allowing US citizens to be subject to global authorities representing actual global opinion.  Trump is being logical in saying that the USA will no longer pretend.

Most important of all, he avoided bad-mouthing Russia.  Just some mild remarks about Poland building its own pipeline to get natural gas from Norway via Denmark.[4]

[And at January 2019, I still find this valid, even though withdrawal from Syria has been delayed.  And even though Venezuela is now being targeted – the USA has always had a hegemony in Latin America, with a lot of local support from the rich and privileged.]

 

Trump Upholds Feed-the-Rich

Trump remains deluded on the US economy.  Claimed success, where most people see injustice and failure.  The New York Times noted:

“Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency claiming ‘the world is laughing at us.’ Now it really is laughing — at him.

“Apparently mistaking the United Nations General Assembly for a campaign stop on Tuesday, Mr. Trump opened his annual address — usually a somber occasion for a president to assess the state of the world — by boasting that his administration ‘has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.’

“That’s when the other world leaders started chuckling.

“‘Didn’t expect that reaction,’ Mr. Trump said, like a comic in a roomful of hecklers, ‘but that’s O.K.’

“Actually, it’s not O.K. America’s president is now openly derided in the most important international forum.”[5]

But the main economic problem is policies he inherited from Ronald Reagan.  Most critics of Trump would not denounce it as the nonsense it is:

“A century or more ago, 80% of bank lending, went to businesses for genuine investment. Now, less than 4% of financial institutions’ business lending goes to manufacturing – instead, financial institutions are lending mostly to each other, and into housing and commercial real estate.

“Investment rates in the UK’s non-financial economy since 1997 have been the lowest in the OECD, a club that includes Mexico, Chile and Turkey. And in Britain’s supposedly “competitive” low-tax, high-finance economy, labour productivity is 20-25% lower than that of higher-tax Germany or France. Resources are being misallocated as finance has become an end in itself: unmoored, disconnected from the real economy and from the people and real businesses it ought to serve.”[6]

It began before Reagan, but he smooth-talked the US public into believing that their success after World War Two was the ‘miracle of the market’.  That the curbs imposed in the 1930s New Deal and its pattern of vast government spending were a burden on that success, not its cause.

His opponents conceded, with Bill Clinton saying, ‘the era of big government is over’.[7]  In fact it continued – but calling state spending an aberration made it easy to bias it towards the needs of the rich and powerful.

The lightly-regulated capitalism of the 1920s was not restored.  But many rules that business found inconvenient were removed.  And almost all of the wealth created in the USA since the 1980s has gone to a tiny more-than-millionaire class.

Most economists insist that massive speculation is essential to economic health.  I see it as no more useful than gambling or the supply of drugs to addicts.  Maybe even more damaging to ordinary people.  But the speculators take good care of economists, mostly without anything as crude as an actual bribe.

They also believe their own nonsense:

“The ‘businessman fallacy’ — the notion that a rich businessman (never a woman) can run government better than a mere politician — is Donald Trump’s basic promise. That’s why the combustion of his son-in-law, fellow real-estate heir and senior adviser Jared Kushner — whose business dealings in the White House scream conflict of interest — is so telling. Kushner incarnates the businessman fallacy. Here’s why it is a fallacy.

“It is a lot simpler to run a company than a country. It’s not even the difference between checkers and chess. It’s the difference between checkers and playing simultaneous chess on infinite boards…

“The businessman-turned-politician is often blinded by hubris. This usually stems from the ‘money delusion’: the idea that life is a race to make money, and that rich people (‘winners’) therefore possess special wisdom.

“Many businessmen imagine they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps in a free market, something that more people could do if only there was ‘less government in business’. This self-image usually omits context: the fact, say, that the businessman’s father built the company (before being jailed on a ridiculous technicality) or that government enforced his contracts and schooled his employees. A corrective to the businessman’s fallacy is to consider what happens to businessmen in Congo: they die young of cholera.”[8]

But Blair, the Clintons etc. revered business opinion, even though they correctly said that they alone had the skills to sell it to the public.  Trump encourages left-wing feelings among the young by his crude views.

Viewed crudely, the USA is working nicely for the more-than-millionaire class that Trump comes from.  That he sees as the source of all wealth:

“The tax system is made for people like Trump, but not for the rest of us…

“The recent exposé in this newspaper about the Trump family finances shines a light on the ways in which the wealthiest Americans can avoid estate and gift taxes on the transfer of assets to their children. While many of the Trump family schemes described in the report were clearly outside of the law, a disturbing number exemplify commonly used techniques.

“This would not be as troubling if the richest Americans paid more income taxes. But most of the wealth they acquire is not taxed as income. This situation — generous exclusions from income taxes combined with easy evasion of estate and gift taxes — has given the wealthiest a free pass on the costs of running the country.

“To see how the ultrarich acquire their wealth, look at the Forbes 400, an annual listing of the wealthiest Americans. This year an individual needed to have more than $2 billion to be included, and together the group controls over $3 trillion. This enormous wealth was generally acquired in one of two ways: through inheritance or by building or investing in a successful business.”[9]

 

Doctor Who and the Real Racists

If you don’t normally watch the BBC’s SF series Doctor Who, you might still enjoy an episode that covers the actual story of Rosa Parks in the 1950s USA.[10]  She refused to give her seat to a white man on a segregated bus.  This started the successful Civil Rights campaign of Martin Luther King.

Teaching real history was an aim from the series’ 1963 beginnings:

“The show was created … to fill the Saturday evening timeslot and appeal to both the younger and older audiences of the neighbouring programmes… Production was overseen by the BBC’s first female producer Verity Lambert…

“Historical stories were intended to educate viewers about significant events in history, such as the Aztec civilisation and the French Revolution; futuristic episodes took a more subtle approach to educating viewers, such as the theme of pacifism in with the Daleks.”[11]

Many previous episodes dealt with racism among invented species.  Also in the historic past, and sometimes inaccurately.  Twice, non-white companions have worried about being made slaves in a past Britain.  Britain only ever had large-scale slavery for its own people, some sold to Ireland and others to the Islamic world.[12]  Race-based slavery began centuries later, in colonies where Africans could work hard in hot climates that would have quickly killed European labourers.  Though in the West Indies, most plantation-owners found it more economic to work slaves so hard that most died in a few years and could be cheaply replaced.  Brutal though it was, slavery in the Southern USA let those populations increase.

It left a problem for settlers of mostly English origin.  Whereas French and Spanish colonies had race bias, all English settlements imposed absolute racism.  The US North did not allow slavery but was always unfriendly to non-whites, even if they’d lived there for generations.[13]  That side of history has not so far been touched: it was included in another little-known series called Timeless, which however was marred by a silly Sinister Conspiracy.

It is still good to have done it.  And it is to the credit of actress Jodie Whittaker, playing a version of The Doctor who has just changed sex, that it was much as it might have been with any previous version.

 

Brazil, Where the Politics is Nuts

The elections of a Far-Right candidate is the big news.  But Brazil was already working badly.

The deposition of the Workers Party’s elected President and the barring of their best candidate was a scandal, as I have detailed elsewhere.[14]  But it goes deeper than that.

Elections were for both President and Legislature, with an absurd number of parties.  Thirty-five of them stood, and thirty got at least one seat.[15]  Many countries have a cut-off: Germany excludes parties with less than 5% of the vote.  Assuming the same voting, in Brazil there would only have been nine parties with seats.  Similar parties would merge.

Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party resembles the Nazis in suddenly going from the margins to strength.  In 2014, 808,710 votes for the Chamber of Deputies and no seats. This time, nearly 11.5 million and 44 seats.

They are still not very powerful in a Chamber of 513 members, plus 4 out of 81 for the Senate.  I see them as I see Trump.  A regrouping of the Centre-Right, not a looming fascism.

 

Snippets[16]

Hurricanes

I said last month that for weather, ‘Abnormal is the New Normal’.  The world continues to have far more large hurricanes than normal.[17]

***

Japan Recovers

“For a country that has seen its population shrink in the 21st century, the economy has actually done pretty well. Since 2000, its per capita GDP growth is roughly on par with other G7 economies, and in the wake of the global financial crisis, its average growth was second only to Germany’s. Today, the economy is at near record low unemployment and business and consumer confidence are up.”[18]

They had a ‘lost decade’.  They are now a normal economy.

I had previously wondered if they intentionally stalled their economy in the early 1990s, to avoid US hostility when they were seen as the main rival.

I still wonder.

***

[1]              See https://gwydionwilliams.com/99-problems-magazine/the-mixed-economy-worked-quite-well/ for details.

[2]              https://www.vox.com/2018/9/25/17901082/trump-un-2018-speech-full-text

[3]              https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-45989353

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

[5]              https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/25/opinion/editorials/trump-un-general-assembly-laughter.html

[6]              https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/oct/05/the-finance-curse-how-the-outsized-power-of-the-city-of-london-makes-britain-poorer

[7]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1996_State_of_the_Union_Address

[8]              https://medium.com/financial-times/trump-kushner-and-the-businessman-fallacy-acdfd1c5b114

[9]              https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/11/opinion/trump-bezos-estate-tax.html

[10]             https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7689190/?ref_=tttr_tr_tt

[11]             https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Who_(season_1)

[12]             https://gwydionwilliams.com/40-britain/680-2/

[13]             https://gwydionwilliams.com/52-usa/both-sides-were-racist-in-the-us-civil-war/

[14]             https://gwydionwilliams.com/newsnotes-historic/2018-newsnotes/news-blog-october-2018/#_Toc527801933

[15]             https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_general_election,_2018#Congress

[16]             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/.

[17]             https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/10/us/2018-atlantic-hurricane-season-fast-facts/index.html

[18]             https://www.quora.com/What-financial-lessons-can-other-countries-learn-from-Japan

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