Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
- Boeing, Going, Gone?
- Huawei – Panic Over Better Products
- Climate Change as Negligent Genocide
- Saddam’s Ghost in Sri Lanka
Boeing, Going, Gone?
“Boeing installed software that would take over and point the aircraft’s nose down if it felt it was too high and risking a stall. And would do this in defiance of the wishes of the human pilots.”[i]
I said that last month. Further details confirm it. The pilots made no significant errors. Those crashes should not have happened.
Most people will have run into software that thinks its knows best, even if just on their mobile phones. Many software writers are ‘User-Scornful’: certain they foresee almost everything. Claim a right, and even a duty, to prevent lesser mortals making foolish errors.
With the two Boeing aircraft, the automatics determinedly did a nose-dive, killing everyone on board. There was no easy way for the pilots to prevent it – and better safeguards would have cost an extra $80,000 per aircraft.[ii]
How did it happen? Part of the lousy economics that began in the 1980s:
“The Boeing scandal is an indictment of Trump’s corporate America.
“There is growing alarm in the US that Capitol Hill’s bonfire of the regulations has led to hundreds of deaths. It may be a turning point.”[iii]
That’s the 737 MAX. But their other big seller also has faults:
“When Boeing broke ground on its new factory near Charleston in 2009, the plant was trumpeted as a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub, building one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. But in the decade since, the factory, which makes the 787 Dreamliner, has been plagued by shoddy production and weak oversight that have threatened to compromise safety…
“Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes.”[iv]
I know absolutely nothing about the specifics of management at Boeing. But from the 1980s, stock-market pump-and-dump spread to productive industry. Managers learn how to produce the appearance of great success, while doing long-term damage.
Those who held out were called ‘dinosaurs’. Were thrown out after hostile take-overs.
By the time the damage shows up, the ‘smart money’ is long gone.
The system appealed to the greed of top managers with stock options. Most also have a genuine desire to do a good job. But money has a way of overriding such scruples. As does New Right ideology, which is certain it will all be for the best.
Huawei – Panic Over Better Products
US decline is helped by a vicious ideological hatred of the socialist ideas that the West took in to survive the Great Slump and to win the Cold War.[v] 1960s radicalism was often unreasonably hostile to the state. Not just objecting to state regulations about sex, where the state nowadays is often more favourable than public opinion. But despite winning over parts of the state machine, even those who stuck to their original left-wing ideals are irrationally hostile to most state power.
You could call it Dogmatic Bottomism. Real success for ‘Bottom-Up’ methods led to an unreasonable fear of Top-Down or state-run systems.
The same people also hate Big Corporations. But threw away the only efficient protection people can have against privatised Top-Down power.
With vast public fear of Top-Down state power, Yesterday’s Rebels in private business transformed very smoothly into Today’s Tyrants.
It began with Hippies becoming Yuppies in the early 1980s, with deregulated finance.
It went further with children born into that era: technologically smart but with a silly Dogmatic-Bottomist view of everything except their own power.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1984, very appropriately.
All this fed the self-interest of managers. Unsurprisingly, they liked theorists and authors who saw them as superhuman. Said they were vastly underpaid for their astonishing talents.
It has also destroyed functional conservatism. Today’s Tories have successfully blocked all plausible versions of Brexit, or ways to avoid Brexit. And it is part of a general pattern; Britain’s governing class lack a sense of duty:
“A generation of leaders who are ‘precarious, rootless and increasingly self-serving’. They grab whatever they can – be that cheap headlines or fast money – and then crash out, even while loosening the very foundations of the institutions entrusted to them. Crucially, this is a genre of politics that relies on a strong state even as it bilks it of the necessary tax revenue.”[vi]
The author targets Tories, but might agree that the US is just as bad. Maybe not that Blair’s New Labour was more of the same: but that is how I see it.
Meantime, The East is Red. China has moved on from Mao, but very few apologise for Mao. They accept that what he did was needed at the time. That China would be a total mess without his 26 years of Radical-Authoritarian rule. If he made errors, it was trying to democratise China with a population that was not ready.
The Cultural Revolution, with youngsters and ordinary workers judging their elders, was the ultimate in real-world Dogmatic Bottomism. Many radicals saw it so at the time, though naturally they now cast fog and darkness on the matter.
China still has pro-Western elements keen to abase themselves before the USA, seeing this as the only path to success. Still believe this after it proved nonsense in Russia under Gorbachev and Yeltsin,[vii] and remains so in Ukraine. They fail to notice that their idol has feet of clay, to sound biblical. (But these days, the clay is at least waist-high.)
China upholds different values. Huawei is one shining example. Western reviewers put its Mobile Phones among the best value for money. And when it comes to the corporate backbones for such products, they show signs of being the best.[viii] This naturally offends the USA.
“Over the past year, Washington’s long-simmering distrust toward Huawei, the world’s leading maker of the equipment that powers cellphone networks, has morphed into an all-out assault on the company.”[ix]
In the real world, unlike New Right stories, corporations lobby and fund politicians. They get a government that protects them. Picks up their gambling debts, as with the 2008 financial crisis, where nationalising failed banks was unthinkable.
President Obama was persuaded that money given to big banks would magically multiply and then be given to needy individuals and small businesses. Maybe still does not understand why the rich just looked after themselves.
For Huawei, crazy talk about spying is just talk. As of 30th April, the British authorities still resist US demands to avoid them and maybe buy from inferior US rivals:
“The Royal United Services Institute report said that if the Chinese tech giant was allowed to participate in the rollout of the new 5G mobile networks it could install a ‘hidden backdoor”, giving the Chinese government access to the system.
“But according to the Daily Telegraph, it was agreed at Tuesday’s meeting of the National Security Council that Huawei would be allowed to help build the ‘non-core’ parts of the UK’s 5G network, such as antennas.”[x]
Someone leaked these decisions, which disrespect the USA. We now have a big row over who it was.[xi]
Meantime there is deep suspicion that Huawei is not properly capitalist: though there is also double-think on the matter. A system where the state allows capitalism under strong regulation must be seen as capitalist when arguing for the merits of capitalism. But not capitalist when it comes to deciding what is the best role for the state. Nor for giving power to those who do the work and are likely to want to make a superior product:
“Huawei’s ownership is a murky matter because the company has never, in more than three decades of existence, sold shares to the public. The firm says that it is entirely owned by its employees, and that no outside organizations, including any affiliated with the Chinese government, own shares…
“Huawei … believes it has flourished because it does not face the short-term financial pressures that publicly held companies do. So the company has devised an ownership structure that allows it to use shares to motivate employees while still remaining closely held.”[xii]
That’s the New York Times: liberal-capitalist and keen to rubbish all other ways of life. They know the current US pattern is not working: that it goes much deeper than the Sins of Donald Trump. But they will never go beyond a liberal consensus that has proved unequal to the task.[xiii]
Selling shares to ‘the public’ always means rich individuals and investment funds buying most of them. They replace top managers who don’t give priority to short-term profits. Then dump a company they have ruined before small investors know this.
This works only for as long as the public lets them. A modest little reform like a Tobin Tax would undermine pump-and-dump and other destructive practices. But most Western politicians are too timid to demand it.
Climate Change as Negligent Genocide
“Climate change creates winners and losers. Norway is among the winners; Nigeria among the losers…
“Poor countries lost out, while rich countries, especially those who have racked up a lot of emissions over the last 50 years … have ‘benefited from global warming.’
“Inequality among nations, which has come down a lot in recent decades, would have declined far faster … had climate change not been in the mix. It estimated that the gap in per capita income in the richest and poorest countries is 25 percentage points larger than it would have been without climate change…
“Countries in temperate zones, including China and the United States, did not feel much of an effect, the study said.
“‘If you’re a really cool country you’ve been helped a lot, … If you’re a really warm country, you’ve been hurt a lot. And if you’re in the middle the effects have been smaller or much more muted.’”[xiv]
It is about lives as well as money. Poverty kills. Natural disasters kill people all over the world: but poor people and poor countries are much more at risk.
Talk of human extinction is overblow. Fearing tens of millions of avoidable deaths is not.
Recognised experts should tot up the deaths that would have been avoided had the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change been taken seriously. It might well exceed deaths caused by Hitler.
(Nearly 34 million from an avoidable war, including seven million non-Jewish Germans. That’s on top of six million Jews and five million others killed by a death-machine that drained resources from the war and helped defeat him.[xv])
Future deaths after our 1992 failure may go higher still. But will be dwarfed by the massive climate shifts that are certain if nothing more is done beyond current weak measures.
It is also far from hopeless. If half the human race die, the other half will live and should learn better. And anyone not already active can take a moral stand right now.
‘Extinction Rebellion’ got good publicity, but has a bad case of Dogmatic Bottomism. But even as I write, Corbyn calls for a National Climate Emergency.[xvi] Having taken his ideas from Tony Benn, he is comfortable with using state power for good ends.
I’d go much further, classing Climate Change as Negligent Genocide. Unreasonable risks are being run. Part of the problem is a dogmatic belief that regulation and state subsidies are inherently bad.
Saddam’s Ghost in Sri Lanka
I never had any fondness for Saddam’s dictatorship in Iraq. I was also certain from 1990 that he’d be replaced by something worse. Said just that back in 2003.[xvii]
It was even worse than I feared. For decades, the hard-line Wahabi version of Islam was a Saudi Arabian eccentricity. The West’s leaders were happy for it to be taught as ‘Real Islam’ in well-funded schools all round the world. They also attacked Secular Nationalists like Saddam, hoping for docile pro-Western leaders who would be silent as Israel gradually evicted the remaining Palestinians. And were astonished when something quite different emerged.
If you can’t fix it, don’t break it. A lesson that Western liberals and libertarians have repeatedly failed to learn.
Radical discontent with the USA’s unjust global system is sometimes socialist. More often hostile community politics, with Muslims sometimes as victims and sometimes offenders. And sometimes both, as in Sri Lanka.
Surprisingly, suicidal radicals are often those who would be happy and content, if New Right ideas were valid:
“He built his fortune on black pepper, white pepper, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla. His family lived in a beautiful white villa and travelled in a chauffeured BMW. He was feted by Sri Lanka’s former president for ‘outstanding service provided to the nation.’
“But on Wednesday the narrative of Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, one of Sri Lanka’s wealthiest spice traders, was ripped apart. Officials revealed he was in custody in connection with the devastating suicide attacks on Easter Sunday that killed more than 350 people.
“An Indian official said that two of Mr. Ibrahim’s sons, who have been identified in Indian media reports as Inshaf and Ilham, were among the eight suicide bombers who struck at hotels and churches across this island. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and investigators said Mr. Ibrahim was being extensively interrogated…
“Most of the bombers had been well educated and had come from middle-class or upper-class families.”[xviii]
Once, the discontented children of the rich mostly became socialists or communists. Sometimes came back to their roots, but with a much-improved ability to reason and be Functional Conservatives. But the New Right helped cut their numbers. Similar people are now even more dangerous to New Right values.
The truth is, any human who isn’t a sociopath wants to live socially as well as individually. The New Right trashed social values. Conventional liberals are visibly ineffective.
Things will get very much worse, if we get more climate disasters in poor countries. Most of them Muslim: but Christianity has also produced many violent terrorists claiming religious virtue. Nor are Hindus or Buddhists immune: both have sprouted vicious community terrorists, though not yet attacking Western interests.
“Last year, farmers got less than 15 cents of every dollar that Americans spent on food — the lowest amount since the Department of Agriculture began tracking that figure in 1993.
“Today a farmer can work hard, do everything right — even get great weather — and still not make it. It’s not because farmers today are any less resilient, enterprising, or committed than their parents and grandparents were. It’s because bad decisions in Washington have consistently favored the interests of multinational corporations and big business lobbyists over the interests of family farmers.”[xix]
Sadly, most farmers look to the richest and most successful among them as leaders. Their politics favour those same people. So subsidies are based on land and crops, much more than on trying to keep family farming alive.
Modern small farmers grow more food per acre. It is less profitable, because it has to support more people. But from a human viewpoint, it is far better.
Don’t worry, it’s only an earthquake
“Fracking commissioner resigns after six months…
“The UK’s shale gas commissioner is resigning after just six months, saying fracking is being throttled by rules preventing mini earthquakes…
“Ms Engel said government was ‘pandering to what we know to be myths and scare stories’ about shale gas extraction.”[xx]
She thinks the government should be relaxed about earthquakes in places where no one important lives. Or should the public hope for the same care and attention shown by Boeing and the Sri Lankan security forces?
What Should We Fear?
Having created dishonest politics and a scared population, the centre-right now whine about the public being out of control. Fearing things other than socialism, immigrants, and the poor.
But the centre-right also wants to keep power. And so are lukewarm about fracking, and many other issues of popular fear.
Some fears are foolish. The discredited criticism of measles vaccinations has caused an epidemic of a diseases that was nearly extinct.[xxi]
Honest concerns over risks have led to mindless rejection of nuclear power. It is indeed ridiculous that the planned Hinkley C station is being massively subsidised by the state.[xxii] But in China, plenty of new stations are built. They have not yet had an accident.[xxiii]
Public life needs to be made rational again. But many other things will need to change first.
Ukraine Opts for a Jewish Joke
“Despite its scarred history, Ukraine today is no hotbed of anti-Semitism. It already has a Jewish prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, and if he stays on after Mr. Zelensky is sworn in [as newly elected President], Ukraine will be the only country outside of Israel where the heads of state and government are Jewish.”[xxiv]
Outright Neo-Nazis played a big role in the Second Orange Revolution.[xxv] But set aside hatred of Jews for a later reckoning, as had their hero Stepan Bandera in World War Two. He began as an ally of Hitler: was an oppositionist after the Germans rejected his unauthorised creation of an independent Ukraine. Worked with Jews in the Underground, but switched back to supporting Hitler before the end.
In Ukraine now, outright Neo-Nazis have faded. They looked tough when attacking ordinary citizens. Unlike most Neo-Nazis, they were also brave when fighting tough enemies in East Ukraine. Brave, but not particularly successful. Mainstream politicians took over much of their rhetoric.
But fixed nothing. Only the sort of authoritarian rule that Putin applied to a disintegrating Russia would be likely to work. But instead they elected a popular comedian who happened to be Jewish.
Who can be expected to fail. And then existing tolerance of Jews may vanish. Many feared when Zelensky first stood:
“Hostility came from Mr. Zelensky’s fellow Jews, both secular and religious, for whom painful memories of czarist-era pogroms and the Holocaust are still very much alive.”[xxvi]
If Ukraine should happen now to prosper, things would be OK. But I am not hopeful.
Previous Newsnotes 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://gwydionmw.quora.com/, and tweet at @GwydionMW.
[xi] Written before Gavin Williamson was fired as the supposed offender.