2019 10 – Newsnotes

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

Beyond Thunberg: Getting Back to Healthy Growth

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”[A]

That’s the Deep Green message that teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg has now fastened on.  And it’s wrong.

Myself, I refuse to give up on ‘eternal economic growth’.  It can and will happen – though a crash and recovery may also be part of our future.

A crash would be caused by people downplaying the need for an active state looking after long-term interests.  A state with a right and a duty to curb the excesses of private business.

She’s also been understood, perhaps wrongly, as telling off politicians for being partisan.  But the USA now has an unambiguous split.  Centre-Right used to support some Green policies: they are now against them all.  They used to respect science, and now deny it.  And Britain is almost as bad.

This gets worse as New Right failures become more obvious.  ‘Feed the Rich’ has been the real policy all along.  But feeding everyone’s bad habits has been part of it.  Small businesses using dirty methods have been just as destructive as the big bad corporations.

What is needed is a shift in consciousness.  And Greta Thunberg misses most of it.

Up until the 1980s, there was real scientific uncertainty about whether the world was warming, cooling to a new Ice Age, or had managed to balance.  The evidence for warming then became increasingly clear.  But meantime a vast movement led by Reagan and Thatcher had shifted public thinking away from the need for state action.[B]  It was neglected, and remains neglected.


Thomas Cook Goosed

By processes beyond human understanding, another popular brand vanishes.

The ‘Miracle of the Market’ has yet again failed to deliver what the bulk of the public actually wanted.

Yet again, tight margins and cash-flow kill a popular business that was somehow burdened with enormous debts.  Which paid huge sums to managers who led the lambs to the slaughter:

“Former bosses of the stricken travel firm came under fire for receiving payouts worth more than £35m in the last 12 years.

“Manny Fontenla-Novoa, who led the acquisition spree that saddled the company with more than £1bn of debt, was handed more than £17m in just over four years as boss of Thomas Cook, boosted by bonuses awarded for slashing 2,800 jobs following the merger with MyTravel. He quit in 2011 as the tour operator came close to collapse…

“Meanwhile, a group of international hedge funds who bet against Thomas Cook have made big profits from its collapse.”[C]

Once again, the rich profit from public misery

And it seems out of the question for the government to simply say ‘any valid airline or hotel bill owed by Thomas Cook will be paid by us’.  Instead, something awkward and inconsistent is being arranged.  And everyone will be utterly amazed when there are some unhappy failures.

But was it all down to an old firm not adapting to a changing market?  Up to a point, yes.  Members of the public have been encouraged to be their own travel agents, booking on-line.  If you do it right and are not fooled by some fly-by-night or fraudulent offers, you may get a better deal.  But not everyone has the on-line skills.  Nor the general suspiciousness to avoid being cheated.

Why?  Because this government is not actually a friend to the respectable middle-class values that many Tory voters still cherish.  ‘Don’t fix it – kill it’ is their normal attitude to anything that fails to flourish in a complex world of debt and outside ownership.

The firm began with a Mr Thomas Cook, assistant to a local market gardener from the age of ten, and later a Baptist missionary.  He first organised excursions for temperance campaigners, and later expanded it as a safe and reliable way for ordinary people to visit far-off places.

Reliable – and not adventurous, in the way the New Right now hypes.  Not noticing that their adventurousness hurts innocents.  Nor that the total growth in Britain’s material wealth has been slower than it did before they started pushing adventurousness and privatisation in the 1980s.

The promise was FREEDOM.  But apart from the richest 1%, the more-than-millionaire Overclass that currently dominates the West, it has been a phoney sort of freedom.  People scramble after small individual gains and see the defence of Group Freedoms as wicked.  Are very surprised to find themselves among the ‘losers’.  But seldom learn the right lessons.

My own position in Coventry is that I always booked with Thomas Cook, and got good service.  Possibly something new will trade at the same place, even under the same name.  But more likely it will just vanish, and I must look elsewhere.

The most safe and convenient alternative would be Virgin Travel.  But I’ve not forgotten that other branches of the Virgin Group are seizing portions of the National Health Service.  That they demand huge compensation when anyone dares say their offers are not the best ones.  And that they will be one of many entirely innocent beneficiaries of the death of Thomas Cook.

[Much of the high-street part of the business has been reborn as ‘Hays Travel‘.  But as of December 2019, some of the other staff have been let down.   See BBC Online, Thomas Cook staff say ‘benefits system has failed them’.


Yemen – Islam versus Islam, Islam, and Islam

In all the talk about Yemen, there has been little mention of the strong left-wing and secular movement that existed in the half of the land that was for a time South Yemen.

The Anglo media is full of Trotskyists and lapsed Trotskyists.  These naturally prefer not to remind anyone that pro-Chinese leftists were once a formidable force in South Yemen.  That they outfought the British Army and swept aside a collection of pro-British traditional rulers.  Such facts are embarrassing for characters who fancy themselves as bold revolutionaries: Trotskyism and other forms of anti-Stalin Leninism achieved nothing by way of revolution since they split from the mainstream in the 1920s.

Those people also obstructed left-wing reforms in the West in the 1970s, hoping for a revolution that they could never have led.  And were lukewarm about South Yemen and the once-hopeful insurgency in Oman.  Those were Stalinists and not really wanted.

Ken Loach in his cleverly-made film Land and Freedom chose to ignore the real fighters in the Spanish Civil War.  He heroize the semi-Trotskyist POUM, whose net influence was to make Franco’s victory rather more likely.[D]  And the widespread burning of churches by Spain’s viciously intolerant anarchists was another gift to Franco.  The left tried denying it, but the facts were solid.  It helped ensure that what was initially a mild centre-left government was left to perish.  That the legal and democratically elected Spanish government was not allowed to buy arms after most of the regular army revolted against it.

Those once influenced by Soviet Communism  are equally evasive.  Rescuing Leninism from the evils of Stalinism was their big idea, and it was a total flop.  Most people knew that Stalin was a continuation of Lenin’s government.  Anyone who looked into it would also find that Trotsky was harsher than either Lenin or Stalin when he exercised real power, even wanting the ‘Militarisation of Labour’.

But it fed into the mood of the time.  Real fears about power by the generation who grew up in the security and safety of the 1950s and 1960s.  And an admiration for romantic rebels – not noticing that Stalin was exactly that in his younger days.  Stalin as a very successful organiser of bank robberies after the failed 1905 revolution came close to the idealised Gangster-Paladin the media are so fond of.

The oldest stories about Robin Hood and Rob Roy show them as much nastier and less romantic than the later legends.  Vast numbers of Highlanders were bravely and tragically loyal to the Stuart cause, but Rob Roy is on record as an informer for the Hanoverian cause.[E]

In the case of Yemen, the British Empire took a chunk of the ancient civilisation as the Aden Protectorate, which persisted as a North-South split between two Yemeni states before reunification.  Not that it was very basic.  Look at a map and the northernmost tip of ‘South Yemen’ is north of any part of North Yemen.  But I suppose north and south is based on where most of the people live, and certainly where the capitals are.

Yemen suffered from the decline of Arab Socialism, and its defeat in a 1994 Civil War.  The rise of an unhealthy mix of tribal politics and several rival blends of extreme Islam.[F]  Saudi Arabia pushed the hard-line Wahabi version of Sunni Islam, upsetting a traditional balance in which different sects co-existed.  The Zaidi sect of Shia Islam became militant in turn, and this fed into the Houthi movement, though it also has Sunni supporters.  They have been the main enemies of the Saudi intervention in a Civil War sparked by the Arab Spring.

Most Western experts say as little as possible about those dreadful leftists who briefly came close to clearing away the values of the past.  Saw the contest of rival political parties as necessary, even though each party tended to cultivate a few sectarian interests and widen divisions.  The magic of Multi-Party Democracy ought to solve it all: if it actually does not, it definitely ought to have.

As to the successful strike by Yemini Houthis against Saudi oil, I’ve already done a blog about it.  Saying I doubt Iran was involved, and that little will be done regardless.[G]


Hong Kong Folly

If I were advising Beijing, I’d say that the continuing Hong Kong protests were quite convenient, and nothing to worry about.

It was much more formidable as peaceful and dignified protests.  But when this got no immediate reaction from the rest of China, protests got ever more violent.  And included extreme acts like attacking the Chinese flag and waving the flag of the USA.

All down to being dedicated followers of the fashionable notion of Structurelessness:

“Hong Kong’s Protests Could Be Another Social Media Revolution That Ends in Failure

“Building a movement was easier than finding a way to negotiate a compromise without leaders…

“Why do Hong Kongers feel compelled to assert their identity as a free people now? It’s because anyone who visited China over the last 30 years knows that it is so much more open today than it was three decades ago — and it is so much more closed today than it was five years ago…

“When everyone has a digital megaphone, it is much harder for any leader to aggregate enough authority not just to build a coherent set of demands but, more important, to make compromises on them, at the right time, to transform street energy into new laws…

“The only possible outcome is a compromise. But as the South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo argued in a Sept. 11 article, Hong Kong protesters are being hobbled by the same social networks that got them their large crowds: Because there is no leadership, there is no ability to cut a deal, and anyone who tries to compromise will get torched online.”[H]

Making Hong Kong unworkable is a foolish idea.  Beijing does not need Hong Kong, and might welcome its decline as an awful warning to future dissidents.

[As of December 2019, it looks very much as if this is Beijing’s actual policy.]


Cold Violence and Hot Violence

Cold-blooded killing has always been rated a much worse crime than killing done in hot anger.

It is also much more human.

The Goodness Paradox is a recent book explaining this.[I]  It is by Richard Wrangham, a professional primatologist who had helped Jane Goodall’s famous study of chimpanzees.  He sees that different forms of violence matter a lot.

We do much less reactive violence than most mammals.  Less violence done in a wild rage.

We do much more proactive violence than most mammals. More violence done coldly and with calculation.

Think about it in soap-opera terms.  Ted wants Mary, who is Fred’s woman.  Ted trying to lure Mary is much less likely to end violently than among most primates.

But Ted might calmly shoot Fred in the back during a hunt, or cut his throat while asleep etc.  Or Fred might do this, to end the threat from Ted.

Having police and law enforcement also means that Ted and Fred are much less likely to try violence or murder than among ‘free’ tribalists.

If Ted, Mary and Fred were chimps, immediate violence would be much more likely.  Planned violence much less so.  And it’s true also for bonobos – less violent than chimps, but more likely to start a fight than humans.

As for what Mary could do about it: she as a human would have either more or less choice than a chimp, depending on culture.  More choice if she were a bonobo.  None at all if she were a gorilla.

Worse, if Mary were a gorilla, if Ted killed her little baby then she would voluntarily become Ted’s female.  Primates do things that are off the scale by human standards.

Our evolution was not a mistake.  It is something we need to understand better.



Urban Farmers

“Cultivating fresh produce in an artificial environment is getting cheaper…

“The biggest drawback of vertical farming is the high cost of the electricity required to run the large number of LEDS. This has meant that production has been commercially viable for high-value, perishable produce only, such as salad leaves and herbs. That, nevertheless, is a market not to be sniffed at. But … a loaf of bread made from wheat grown in a vertical farm would be priced at about $23.”[J]

But the technology is advancing rapidly.  And already it could replace destructive water-greedy farming in dry areas.


Black on Black Racism

“They fled mob attacks and the torching of their stores and arrived with nothing but their children and their suitcases. More than three hundred Nigerians landed in Lagos on a flight from Johannesburg late Wednesday because their old lives — as immigrants living in South Africa — had become untenable…

“Xenophobia, they said, had long been a problem in South Africa. And xenophobia finally drove them out.”[K]

The root cause is continuing inequality.  Continuing white privilege – but black strangers doing nicely also get resented.

But to try to end that white privilege would risk the same sort of economic punishment that Zimbabwe has suffered.


Italy: More Failed Populism

As Orecchiette has detailed in past issues of this magazine, Five-Star Populism might mean almost anything!

They offered ‘new politics’.  Then entered government as partners of the Centre-Right.  And have now dumped them and partner the Centre-Left.  Switching between the main rivals, but staying in power.[L]


India: Government That Works

“PM Modi to get award from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan…

“Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or the Clean India Mission, was one of the first few ambitious projects that PM Modi launched in his first term at the Centre in 2014…

“The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aimed to make India ‘Open Defecation Free’ by 2019 and it had set out with a 5-year target to build 9 crore toilets.”[M]

‘Crore’ is an Indian term for 10 million.  And as I said last month, it is a government with real and solid achievements.

Illiberal.  Sectarian.  But the real lesson of the 1930s is that people will not respect the principles of Political Liberalism if it does not respect them.  If it does not delver basics like safety, food, jobs and sanitation.


Shopping With a Visible Face

“China’s shoppers are increasingly purchasing goods with just a turn of their heads as the country embraces facial payment technology.

“In a country where mobile payment is already one of the most advanced in the world, customers can make a purchase simply by posing in front of point-of-sale (POS) machines equipped with cameras, after linking an image of their face to a digital payment system or bank account.”[N]

This is from The Guardian, and naturally they speak of ‘concerns over privacy’.  But faces have always been recognisable by other humans.  And anything you buy using a card or mobile phone identifies you.  Your phone anyway gives your exact location, and this oddly has not been a subject of great concern.

A left-wing science fiction writer called Mack Reynolds saw part of it well in advance.  In the early 1960s, he imagined a Universal Credit Card and saw how it would allow detailed tracking of suspects by governments.  Though that was about all he got right: his books are repetitive and otherwise unrealistic.


Buddhist Religious Abuse

“Sogyal Rinpoche Dies; Tibetan Buddhist Lama Felled by Abuse Accusations…

“A charismatic Tibetan Buddhist teacher and best-selling author who abruptly retired after several of his students accused him of multiple acts of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, died on Aug. 28 in a hospital in Thailand. He was in his early 70s.”[O]

It is an odd fact that the Buddhists most respected in the West are those that least merit it.  The Tibetan version was always corrupt and superstitious and had a lot of abuse.  Beijing was fully justified in cleaning it up.


A Tobin Tax At Last?

“Labour’s tax on City deals would be a big vote winner…

“Over recent decades there has been an explosion of short-term trading, some of which – the hedging of foreign currency risk, for example – can be beneficial but most of which falls into the category of shuffling bits of paper around. The churning of assets has made plenty of people in the City extremely rich but has not led to any discernible benefits for the non-financial sector of the economy.”[P]

It would also fund the Green New Deal.  Be part of a move back to tax-and-spend.  To governments once again accepting a right and a duty to make a better world.



Previous Newsnotes are at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/.  Also https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.  I blog every month or so at https://www.quora.com/q/pwgwxusqvnzzrlzm/stats.  I tweet at @GwydionMW.


[A] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/read-greta-thunberg-s-full-speech-united-nations-climate-action-n1057861

[B] https://gwydionwilliams.com/99-problems-magazine/the-mixed-economy-worked-quite-well/

[C] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/sep/23/hedge-funds-win-big-from-short-selling-thomas-cook-shares

[D] https://gwydionwilliams.com/44-fascism-and-world-war-2/45-1-more-on-fascism-the-world-wars/500-2/

[E] See The Hunt for Rob Roy: The Man and the Myths by David Stevenson

[F] Told in baffling detail in Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict, by Marieke Brandt

[G] https://www.quora.com/q/pwgwxusqvnzzrlzm/War-on-Iran-Think-About-Iraq

[H] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/17/opinion/hong-kong-protest.html

[I] The Goodness Paradox: How Evolution Made Us Both More and Less Violent by Richard Wrangham

[J] https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2019/08/29/new-ways-to-make-vertical-farming-stack-up

[K] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/world/africa/xenophobia-nigerians-south-africa.html

[L] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-49502232#

[M] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/pm-modi-to-get-award-from-bill-melinda-gates-foundation-for-swachh-bharat-abhiyan-1594466-2019-09-02

[N] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/04/smile-to-pay-chinese-shoppers-turn-to-facial-payment-technology

[O] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/01/obituaries/sogyal-rinpoche-dies.html

[P] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/sep/15/labour-tax-on-city-deals-would-be-a-big-vote-winner