Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
- Russia’s Aggressive Support for Self-Determination
- Neo-Liberalism: Biting Off More of the Bed Than They Can Lie On
- Trump Versus Washington
- Blame It On The Boomers
- Green China?
- The Death of Ordinary Banking
- Die Hard as a Dangerous Driver
- Or Just Die
- Sorrows of South Sudan
- Sod Your Silly Oaths
Post-Soviet Russia has shown no wish to re-create the Soviet Union. What they’ve done is help some (but not all) of those who still feel pro-Russian.
In Crimea, the elected Regional Government had long wished to reverse Khrushchev’s foolish decision to lump them with Ukraine. Ukraine has a self-harming pattern of violently rejecting whatever they chose last time. Their most recent elected President is almost as unpopular as the one they chased out in 2014.[A]
The Russo-Georgian War[B] of 2008 was a response to a Georgian attempt to take back the whole of South Ossetia. South Ossetia and also Abkhazia had been contented autonomous regions within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. But with multi-party democracy, the easiest way to win an election was to go banging the drum for your own nationality and shouting about how unfairly you were being treated. Such things caused the wars of Former Yugoslavia, and even broke up Czechoslovakia.
Clashes between Georgians and Ossetians and between Georgians and Abkhazians began in the early 1990s, and steadily got worse. The Russians intervened to stop the Georgians doing a probable ethnic cleansing of minorities who looked to Russia for protection.
So what rules did Russia break? How did this become ‘Russian aggression’ that Europe needs to be protected against? The United Nations Charter mentions both ‘self-determination’ and ‘national integrity’ as guiding principles. It does not say what to do when part of an existing state wants to break away, but very seldom supports it.
The United Nations Charter made no promise to end Imperialism. The British Empire and French Empire were founder members, with the French fighting and in the end losing a war to keep control of Indochina, and later Algeria. Britain fighting a vicious war to keep Kenya.[C] Early UN members included Belgium with the Congo. Also the Netherlands, which fought a war to hold what became Indonesia. Portugal joined in 1955 without giving up its African colonies.
In the longer run, the balance tilted towards Anti-Imperialism. The method used was the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories,[D] an arbitrary list intended to free populations from rule by outsiders. It was imperfect: the United Nations was keen to give Gibraltar to Spain and the Falkland Islands to Argentina, in defiance of the people actually living there. Other peoples never got on the list, though they maybe should have. Never the less, it helped end Imperialism. Ended it against the wishes of the USA, Britain and France, all of which abstained on the crucial 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
The Soviet Union was a champion of decolonisation, while asserting that its own Empire was a voluntary association of equal peoples. It was the case that all Soviet citizens were roughly equal, which was never remotely the case with the British, Dutch, French, or Portuguese empires. Only later in the 1960s did Afro-Americans take the first steps towards real equality in the USA. The white population of the US South never really accepted this, switching from Democrat to Republican and playing a key role in the election of every Republican President from Nixon onwards. Donald Trump is hopefully the tail-end of this process, though he also needed discontented former Democrats in the declining industrial North.
The Soviet Union wrecked itself, by not moving on when many of the original aims of the Bolsheviks had been unexpectedly achieved by conventional politics. Alexandra Kollontai was the first woman since the Bronze Age to be a major leader without having powerful male relatives: but from 1969 this became increasingly common everywhere. Golda Meir became Israeli Prime Minister in that year: the first of many to get the top job without powerful male relatives, living or dead.
The Soviet Union in 1968 had crushed the attempt by the mostly-Slovak leadership of Czechoslovakia to do serious reforms of the sort that later succeeded in China. Had things gone otherwise, the Thatcher-Reagan development would probably never have happened. But it did, and the Soviet Union fell, and wars between nationalities is one result.
And what alternative is the USA offering? Brutality and political incompetence. They fought a war to replace Iraq’s secular pro-Western nationalism by docile servants of US interests. Expected them to be peacefully returned in Western-style elections by a grateful liberated population. And were astonished to get yet another set of elections in which the easiest way to win was to go banging the drum for your own nationality and shouting about how unfairly you were being treated.
In Iraq, nationality is mostly defined by religion. Tough for Christians in Former Iraq, who had been there since the days of the first apostles and are now fleeing. Also tough for various minor religions that traditional Islam had mostly tolerated. Religions which the new aggressive national-religious creeds are driving out.
None of this made sense to the Neo-Liberals: they learn nothing and forget nothing. They put enormous efforts into doing almost exactly the same thing in Syria. They were outraged when Russia saved functional secularism there.
Then there is the matter of North Kosovo. Kosovo, unlike the other distinct regions of Former Yugoslavia, had no constitutional right to secede. But the USA decided that Serbia had somehow broken the rules by taking very typical repressive measures against armed and violent separatists. They demanded that all Kosovo be separated, including regions in North Kosovo with a Serb majority.
Post-Soviet Russia is no more honest than the USA, but has been much more modest in its aims. Ending the pointless confrontation with Russia may be the one of the few good things that President Trump will do. (Though he has also killed the appalling TPP trade agreement.[E])
China meantime remains modest in its aims. It is quietly accumulating power while the USA declines. How things play out between China and Trump remains to be seen.
Donald Trump is hopefully a Trump of Doom for Neo-Liberalism. That disgusting little creed rose in the 1980s, defying the ‘common sense’ that had been painfully established in the 1940s. Having had things too easy for too long, the ‘Keynesians’ lacked coherent popular arguments to defend their very great achievements.
Neo-Liberalism had its High Noon in the 1990s, with New Labour, the Clinton Democrats, and many others making a moderate-left adjustment in the belief that Neo-Liberalism was an unpleasant truth they had to swallow. Meantime Neo-Liberalism made a complete mess of its period of dominance, offending Russia and making blundering interventions in the Middle East. Since the year 2000, they have been in decline.
Neo-Liberalism would have declined faster, had it not been for so many people sticking to the moderate-left adjustment to Neo-Liberalism and acting as if that creed were true. When George Osborne blamed the 2008 economic crisis on foolish government spending, Ed Miliband should have said that it was nonsense and that Osborne was either a liar or an incompetent fantasist. Instead he barely argued the matter. He let the Tories get an absolute majority in 2015, an election they should have lost. Yet the same Labour Party ‘Timid Tendency’ are convinced that Jeremy Corbyn is a disaster: that only a return to timidity towards Neo-Liberalism offers hope of another Labour government and nice jobs for all of them.
What Obama did was worse. The probable wrecking of many of his achievements by Trump is a result of his errors. He bailed out the banks with ‘Qualitative Easting’, rather than helping suffering ordinary people. He was somehow persuaded that if the money went to banks rather than real people, it would magically multiply itself.
This rubbish is based on a real phenomenon called fractional-reserve banking. Conventional banking has a bank accepting money from savers and lending out that same money to borrowers. This runs the risk of bad debts, but borrowers pay higher interests than savers get. Loans should also have collateral, something solid that means bank losses are small even if the borrower cannot replay.
Fractional-reserve banking is riskier, assuming that bad loans will be very few and that not much real money will be needed to cover them. But that was just what was untrue in the 2008 crisis: vast amounts of speculative games had siphoned off the real assets. Too many banks had debts they could not cover and ‘collateral’ that might be worthless. So when the government helpfully gave them cut-price real assets, they kept these to ensure their own survival. They gave very little to small businesses that needed a loan in the bad times. There was anyway money to be made from breaking up small businesses: the long term cost was someone else’s problem.
Nationalising the gambling banks and letting hedge funds collapse would have damaged the wealth of the rich overclass that has since the 1980s been moving way ahead of the societies they sit on top of. Societies they now refuse to take responsibility for, blaming the victims. Neo-Liberalism praises speculators and gamblers as a vital part of capitalism, not an aberration within it. Obama accepted this.
Bernie Saunders offered an alternative. Obama and Hilary Clinton did not. Trump doesn’t either, but he tapped into the justified anger of people who knew that something had gone wrong.
“We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people…
“For too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential.”[F]
Thus spoke Trump at his inauguration. But the problems for Middle America began with Ronald Reagan. He sounded like a conservative, but was actually a right-wing nihilist. He let power be moved from the government to rich people, in the belief this would help the economy. It didn’t, but the Soviet collapse let him seem like a success. So the US government went on supporting the anti-social habits of the rich. Trump will do more of the same, meaning that he will not fix the USA’s decline.
Trump will however axe the failed global interventionist policies that Bill Clinton and Obama sponsored just as much as Bush Junior. Which Hillary Clinton was even keener on than Obama. Trump may know better:
“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
“We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example – we will shine – for everyone to follow.”[G]
He did not say ‘we will stop this ineffective meddling’, but it amounts to that. He probably does believe that foreigners want to follow the USA’s ‘shining example’ of high gun crime, high prison population and broad decline. But such delusions may not matter much.
When you’ve messed up the economy, find a scapegoat. Or get someone else to start a quarrel between two sections of the voters who may both be persuaded to vote for right-wing policies:
“Baby boomers, people born between 1945 and 1965, will on average earn £740,000 during their lives, according to the Resolution Foundation.
“Generation X, those now aged between 35 and 50, are projected to earn 21% more than that – £835,000 on average.
“But the figure for millennials, the under-35s, is lower – they’re forecast to earn £825,000 over their working lives…
“Prof Sir John Hills of the London School of Economics found that baby boomers were, on average, net beneficiaries of the welfare state – they will get more in benefits than they have paid in tax. They have enjoyed tax cuts and a boom in welfare spending. Subsequent generations, by contrast, are likely to be net contributors over their lifetimes and get back less than they have paid in, thanks to austerity cuts to state benefits.”[H]
Now this is nonsense. It was the richest 1%, the more-than-millionaire class that now dominates, that benefited from tax cuts and increasing tax avoidance. The Baby Boomers mostly benefit from the excellent occupational pension schemes set up by the previous generation. Generation X and the millennials let these be taken away from them without much fuss.
The Labour Party needs to target this rubbish. It is a widespread view, and might stop young people voting. Or persuade them to vote Tory. Labour must emphasise that it was the rich who took the money. That only Labour is serious about restoring the balance.
“Almost three years ago, China declared their intentions to wage a war against pollution… with China’s National Energy Administration cancelling a significant number of its planned coal-fired projects, it looks like China is going to make significant strides toward winning this war… China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and shutting down 104 coal-fired projects across 13 provinces – which are expected to deliver a total of 120 gigawatts of power – will have a significant impact on their total volume of carbon emissions.”[I]
Smog is a problem. But China may also be out to boost its international prestige at the same time as Trump has the USA deny that greenhouse gases are a problem.
President Xi is stepping up state control, while also fighting for ‘trade freedom’ where it suits China. There is currently a continuing fight about whether China is truly a market economy.[J] It depends on whether you define a ‘market economy’ as a society where the government allows and even encourages the rich to profit at the expense of the rest of us.
This year will also see the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. On past form, it will designate President Xi’s successor for 2022. This will be the highest-ranking new member of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Since their 1911 Revolution, no Mainland Chinese leader has successfully controlled the succession. None apart from Deng, who threw out and disgraced his first two choices. Xi must hope to do better. Since he’s on broadly the right lines, it may be best if he succeeds.
A global fight with Trump would do wonders for Xi’s chances. There’s nothing like an external threat to make most people rally round whichever leader is in power.
“HSBC has closed more than a quarter of its UK branches over the last two years, as part of 1,000 bank closures in total.”[K]
Like library closures, this hits the old, the poor and the sick. Far too many of whom go on accepting it as a Law of Nature and vote Tory, or fail to vote.
Society does not exist. Or if it does, we will soon finish it off. And utter shocked shrieks about outbreaks of evil when misbehaviour increases.
“Over the past 45 years, we [the USA] have virtually stood still while our peers have zoomed ahead in the realm of traffic safety. Many of these countries have taken the long view and have tackled the hard, ingrained cultural, political and engineering issues that must be addressed to bring about sustained reductions in traffic fatalities. As a result, we now have traffic fatality rates per person that are three to four times greater than those in the best-performing peer countries — including Sweden, the UK, and the Netherlands.”[L]
The undoubted genius of the USA produces Hollywood thrillers where dangerous driving is routine, but hardly ever kills an innocent. Feeds the aggressive ignorance that helped All-American Losers vote for Reagan, Bush, Bush and Trump
“Recent data … shows progress on mortality rates and life expectancy is stalling; between 2014 and 2015, life expectancy in the US dropped for the first time since 1993. And despite an overall lower national mortality rate, there are pockets of the country where a person is far more likely to die.”[M]
They show a map. A map which looks remarkably like the areas that voted for Trump.
Secession creates further misery, more often than it creates good government. I felt ahead of time that carving South Sudan out of badly-governed Sudan would make things worse. Tragically, it has:
“Widespread ethnic cleansing, burning villages, looming starvation, and gang rape ‘so prevalent that it’s become ‘normal.’’ This is what UN experts found when they took a 10-day trip to the African country of South Sudan in late November.
“Since civil war broke out there in December 2013, as many as 50,000 people have been killed. More than 2.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Around 6 million people are currently at risk of going hungry, and 70 percent of schools have been closed due to the fighting. “[N]
“Civil servants and other holders of public office should swear an oath to British values, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has said.”[O]
Another piece of harassment from a party that has degraded British life. Squeezed ordinary people for the sake of a rich stratum with little real commitment to Britain. But if they do impose this Oath, why not add the following:
I will also swear to abstain from cannibalism, Satanism, incest, genocide and I will not be joining the Tory Party. And if you like, I will make all sorts of other verbal promises that harass the honest and can be shrugged off by the dishonest and self-deceiving.
Previous Newsnotes can be found at the Labour Affairs website, http://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/. And at my own website, https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.