Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
Having won big in the elections for the European Parliament, UKIP declare than “the people have spoken”. Actually the people have whined and grumbled, for the most part. UKIP and similar populist right-wing parties tap into widespread resentments, but have no solutions.
Being seen as racist and homophobic probably helped them. Modernism of a broadly liberal outlook has captured the other main parties, so surviving bigots have to go somewhere. In 2009, quite a lot of them voted for the fascist British National Party. This time round the BNP have been wiped out, losing four-fifths of their votes and all their seats.[A]
If we assume that most BNP switched to UKIP, that explains about half of their 10% gain. We’re told that a lot of Labour voters switched to UKIP, but Labour actually gained votes. Probably this represents a complex pattern of different blocks of voters switching between parties.
And how well will it hold for a General Election? UKIP got 2,498,226 votes in the 2009 European election, but only 919,546 in the 2010 General election. Almost two-thirds of their voters abandoned them. This time round they got more than four million votes,[B] which might mean 1.6 million in 2015, when people will know that their votes will make a real difference. Note that only 34% of the electorate voted in this European Parliament election, with UKIP sympathisers strongly motivated, while 65% voted in the last British General Election. They may get a few seats, but nothing much.
One can also be sure that the Tories will be reminded by everyone that the Tories have promised a referendum on European Union membership if they get re-elected, which would be unlikely with either a Labour government or a Labour / Liberal coalition.
Of course there may not even be a significant Liberal Party after 2015. They lost half their voters, compared to the last European election. What they’ve done as part of the Coalition has put off a lot of the people who used to vote for them.
A lot of reports have presented the European election as a triumph for the Hard Right. The success for UKIP and the National Front in France suggest this – but that is only part of the picture.
Overall, the big losers have been the Centre-Right, with the European People’s Party losing 48 seats and the European Conservative and Reformist (who include the British Tories) losing 10.[C] The centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe have also been mauled, losing 30 seats according to the BBC and 24 according to the Wiki.[D] (Calculations depend on which national parties join which European Parliament group, which can get quite complex.) This is not just the British Liberals: liberals have also lost in Italy, Germany and France. And Greens have overall done badly, losing eight seats and reduced to 47 seats.[E]
Meantime the Centre-Left have overall held their ground, losing 6 and reduced to 185 according to the BBC, but gaining 7 for 191 according to the Wiki. And the Hard Left have made a significant advance, gaining 11 seats for a total of 46.[F] That includes three new seats for Sinn Fein in Ireland, 3 new for ‘The Other Europe’ in Italy, and 9 extra for assorted leftist in Spain. But the most spectacular gain has been the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in Greece, who gained five seats to hold six out of Greece’s total of 21. They are now the biggest party, though this has been at the expense of the Greek Centre-Left, which chose to accept stringent austerity to stay in the Euro.
What of the Hard Right and Far Right? The neo-fascist Greek Golden Dawn made progress, gaining three seats, but are much weaker than the Greek Hard Left. UKIP in the last European Parliament were part of a group called Europe of Freedom and Democracy, in which parties other than UKIP made a net loss of 5 and UKIP’s 24 members are now nearly two-thirds of the group of 38. The French National Front were not part of any group in the last European Parliament: the various Europhobes seem to hate each other as much as they hate the European Union. How things will line up this time remains to be seen.
The Wiki shows 79 seats won by new and currently unaligned parties.[G] These are a mixed bag. Much the biggest is Italy’s Five Star Movement, with 20% of the vote and 17 seats, despite having no clear idea of what it wants. They seem to have taken seats and votes from the centre-right, which is good news for the Italian centre-left, who gained seats and votes this time round.
The advance of the Hard Right has been mostly a phenomenon of Britain and France, formerly the centre of great Empires and increasingly discontented with their diminished role in the modern world. The British Left has so far been totally unable to tap into this discontent, perhaps because they remain stuck in a pattern of politics that failed in the 1970s. New ideas are resisted – hardly anyone seems to want to know about Workers Control, for instance.
In most countries there is a general suspicion of the European Union, but 101 different solutions with no sign of a coherent opposition. And with a coherent core with majority support that is happy to carry on much as before. Much less of a crisis than the British media have made it out to be.
The European elections saw Sinn Fein hold its seat in Northern Ireland and win three new seats in the Irish Republic. It is now the third party in the state, at a level with the traditional governing parties Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. And it has for years been the dominant Catholic party in Northern Ireland.
It’s worth remembering that the Anglo-Irish Agreement and power-sharing in Northern Ireland were originally presented as a way of helping the nice moderate SDLP defeat the IRA / Sinn Fein. But it was the IRA that had forced the change after decades in which the regional government of Northern Ireland preferred to be a purely Protestant government.
If the arrest of Gerry Adams was intended as a piece of dirty electioneering, then it was ineffective and unrealistic as well as dirty. It turned out that quite a lot of Irish voters considered that the IRA / Sinn Fein fought a war, choose to regard it as a Good War despite most of the media telling them otherwise, and accept that shooting suspected spies is a normal part of warfare. And any sensible person knows that some of those suspected spies might have been innocent, which is also part of war. Wars always kill innocents, and the amount of fuss that is made about it tends to depend on the sort of spin that news agencies want to put on it. The BBC is currently saying as little as possible about reports of innocents killed by the Ukrainian Army operating in East Ukraine, for instance.
I haven’t followed the business very closely. But I noticed someone on the news saying that for the amount of questioning Gerry Adams was given, they must have had more than just a story taped by a man who was not even under oath.
Clearly they ought to have had. The key question is, did they?
Any British MP could ask this of the Home Secretary (currently Theresa May). Clearly, if the police had inside information about IRA operations in the 1970s, they’d have to keep it secret to protect the source. But it could be worded as a simple question admitting a yes or no answer, did they have anything significant apart from the tape?
It could also be raised in the European Parliament. Because if all they had was the tape, they really had nothing and the prolonged questioning of Gerry Adams was abuse of power. (And also backfired, but if the police abused their powers it would be a good idea to rub their noses in the resultant mess. If such things get easily forgotten about, they can be applied again, quite possibly to people with very different views and principles to Gerry Adams.)
Of course the very existence of the Boston tapes is an oddity. They were supposed to be secret and got into the hands of the police. One might well ask, “what sort of fool would suppose that anything in the USA was safe from their well-known habit of re-interpreting all promises and agreements to suit themselves?” And it seems there were warnings made early on, which somehow got ignored.
Legal chicanery has always been fundamental to the US system, beginning with the excuses used for the War of Independence. This revolt against a government that had created them, supported them and defended them was valid on a revolutionary-democratic basis. But this was not how it was argued by the mix of gentry and lawyers who were the main leaders, and who used wild rhetoric about tyranny. The new Republic began with shysterism and has remained true to its origins.
There have been a lot of significant elections lately. The election of a strong government of Centre-Right Hindu Nationalists in the Republic of India may be the most important of these in the long run. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian People’s Party) represent sectarian Hinduism, and are also more ready than Congress to open up India to globalisation.
One might have expected the BJP to be protectionist, since the big threat to Hindu values is globalisation and the cultural hollowing-out that goes with it. But being part of globalisation is also profitable for some people, so there is an easy temptation to treat globalisation as culturally neutral and blame minorities for the weakening of long-cherished cultural norms. The BJP, Britain’s UKIP and many similar Hard-Right parties share this suicidal outlook.
One could also question whether the narrow version of Hinduism promoted by the BJP and stemming from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is authentic Hinduism. It used to be a very tolerant creed and Congress promoted it on that basis, gaining much support from minorities. Of course the Congress version could be said to have run out of steam, with no notable leader since Indira Gandhi and no better idea than to be led by her mediocre descendants.
Yet the electoral result exaggerates the shift in opinion. India is one of a diminishing number of countries that still use the First Past the Post system. Votes were highly fragmented, with 31% going to the victorious BJP. Nearly 20% of the votes went to Congress, the rest all over the place. But thanks to First Past the Post, Congress got 44 seats and the BJP got 282, enough to rule without allies. And regional parties are strong in the national parliament: the All India Anna Dravidian Progress Federation, based in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in the Far South, got 3.3% of the national vote, but 37 seats. The All India Trinamool Congress, which replaced the Communists as the ruling party in West Bengal, got 3.8% of the vote but 34 seats. The Biju Janata Dal based in Odisha got 1.7% of the votes but 20 seats.[H] Even the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has its strength concentrated in the states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, and has suffered serious losses in West Bengal.
Congress is the only strong all-India party, but is weaker than ever before. It never had more than 49% of the votes, and has been in the mid-to-high 20s since 1996. The BJP, though it led the government from 1998 to 2004, used to get votes in the mid to low 20s and needed coalition partners. Now it can rule alone – but also will take the blame if things go badly. It is the party of Globalisation, better called SubAmericanisation, and this may well backfire.
The big complaint in the Western media is that the BJP rests on specifically Hindu feelings and has been involved in anti-Muslim violence. But rising Hindu nationalism is just part of a global trend of stronger nationalism and sectarianism in the face of the cultural emptiness of Globalisation. The West did further damage by knocking over secular regimes in Muslim countries and then denying any responsibility for the resultant Islamic extremism. An extremism that then strengthens rival sectarianism in countries with large Muslim minorities.
The recent election in South Africa is most significant for what did not happen. The Western media is obsessed with the notion of government by two similar but alternating ‘parties of government’, the norm in Britain and the USA. This shows no understanding of the possible perils.
It’s not just that this system is based on deep cultural roots that are not found outside of Western Europe and its offshoots. In Britain, the two-party system of Whigs and Tories emerged after several decades of Civil War in which it was conclusively proved that no one faction was strong enough to rule alone. And the electoral system wasn’t even vaguely democratic until the 1880s, when a majority of men living in the British Isles got the vote thanks to the Third Reform Act. Meantime the USA inherited British assumptions, but was dominated by the Federalist Party in its crucial early years. Democratisation under the Democratic-Republican Party in the 1830s started a chain reaction which led fairly directly to their 1860s Civil War, which had the merit of convincing everyone that whatever you wanted to do had to be done within the existing electoral system, or else you would be crushed with massive force as the US South had been crushed. But in the British Isles, the democratisation of the 1880s led to a re-assertion of a separate identity within Ireland, leading to several armed conflicts and still unresolved in Northern Ireland. To present this system as some sort of generalised formula for Good Government is absurd.
The fact that South Africa was able to end apartheid and install majority rule was a major achievement. My view is that it was mostly due to Mandela and the ANC first establishing electoral hegemony and then using it sensibly. Most of the Western media were against Mandela when it counted, though you’d never suspect it if you read them nowadays. And Mandela stayed within limits the West could live with, even though they didn’t like it. There were no major economic reforms and global capitalism can still operate profitably.
With Mandela safely dead, the Western media have pushed the line that ending ANC dominance would be the best way forward for South Africa. Fortunately, the voters mostly decided otherwise.
The ANC is at about the same level it was in its decisive 1994 victory, and slightly below the votes and seats it had in intermediate elections. Its decline can be explained by the emergence of a left-wing opposition with popular support. The newly-formed Economic Freedom Fighters have come from nowhere to be the third party in the country, with 25 seats and more than a million votes. As far as I know, the only other significant force to the left of the ANC is the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, which has declined from 5 seats in 1994 to 1 in the latest election.
In second place and to the right of the ANC is the Democratic Alliance, a party mostly of whites and the urban coloured population, people of mixed race. The steady advance of the Democratic Alliance is explicable in terms of them picking up the votes of other centrist or right-wing alternatives to the ANC. Their core was the Progressive Party, a mild opponent of apartheid in the days when only whites had the vote. They have since picked up many other elements, including the main remnants of the Nationalist Party that ruled during apartheid. But they get few rural votes and few African votes.
The ANC have got more than 50% of the votes in each of South Africa’s nine regions apart from the Western Cape, where they got 32.89%. Which is dominated by Cape Town and where Africans are a third of the population and Coloured nearly half. This is also the Democratic Alliance’s main stronghold. They also got 31% to the ANC’s 53% in Gauteng, a region dominated by the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, its administrative capital, Pretoria, and other large industrial areas. These would have many people keen to take an open-legged attitude to globalisation, like most urban centres.[I]
The ANC remains the only truly national party in the volatile diversity of South Africa. The “Congress of the People”, which was formed in 2008 as an ANC breakaway based mostly on dislike of President Jacob Zuma, has now collapsed from 30 seats to 3 and seems destined for oblivion. The sectarian-Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party has lost almost half its seats, continuing a steady shrinkage since the 1994 election. It came third with 11% in KwaZulu-Natal, and got less than 1% in the other eight regions. At its peak in 1994 it got more than half the votes in KwaZulu-Natal, but never even as much as 4% in any other part of the country.
When it comes to elections, the Anglosphere seems to have Two Commandments: Thou Shalt Have No Democracy Other Than Mine Own System and Thou Shalt Also Not Elect Persons Not Meeting With My Approval. South Africa has broken both but continues to do fine.
Note also that the Anglosphere shows no interest in change when they have reason to fear democratisation, as in Saudi Arabia and the various Gulf States. Bahrain tried to participate in the Arab Spring, but found that the West was not interested.
The West was also strikingly uninterested about continuous trickery used to frustrate an unwelcome outcome of multi-party democracy in Thailand. And about the recent coup.
To understand human existence, it helps to be clear about the things that exist regardless of human society and the things that existed before humans walked the Earth. The common saying ‘as certain as death and taxes’ is an illustration of just how many clever people are in a complete muddle about the matter.
The phrase was publicised by several famous authors. The first was Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, saying ‘Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.’ (And Defoe really did believe that the Devil existed and was politically active, taking the idea of Satanic Power just as seriously as people now believe in the nefarious influence of the CIA or al-Qaeda.) But it was Benjamin Franklin who gave us the form we are currently most familiar with, saying ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’[J]
Taxes or their equivalent have existed in all known human societies, though not everyone pays them. All known tribal societies run by various obligations. Taxes often begin as a way to simplify this, transferring a task to specialist workers whom everyone else supports. Particular individuals or classes of individuals can be exempt from taxes by the will of a human authority. This does not apply to death, though human authorities can kill people, and people can lengthen or shorten their lives by their choices, and or commit suicide.
Communities of chimps, monkeys and other social mammals seem to exist on a fairly voluntary basis, without anyone doing anything they don’t feel like. Humans almost always have to pay some sort of price for living in a society. Humans generally opt for more commitment and more benefits, though a few will chose to be tramps or hermits, asking for little and giving little.
Contrary to the popular impression, colonies of ants also work on a voluntary basis. There is definitely no enforcement, though scientists doubt that an individual ant is smart enough to choose what it will or will not do. The only enforcement is against outside ants who are seen as a threat. An idle ant that smelt OK would be ignored. A hard-working and productive ant would still get irrationally attacked if it seemed to be a stranger – but of course that can also happen among humans.
Humans have vastly more complex societies than the other social mammals or social animals. The norm is for everyone capable of work to do work of some sort, for the general benefit as well as in their own interest. In small groups this can be handled informally, with chivvying of the lazy and punishment or expulsion for offenders. In larger groups this gets formalised, first as labour obligations and later as cash payments. And often applied unfairly, as I said. But a complex modern society can not run without taxation. Taxes not paid by one person will be paid by someone else instead.
The Libertarian fantasy of a society without taxes or enforcement has been tried since the 1980s and has comprehensively failed. Treating taxes as sinful proved to be an excellent cover for reducing or abolishing progressive taxes, those taxes where the rich paid more. This has meant more paid by those less able to pay, and it is surprising that the working mainstream have let themselves be fooled. Even more surprising that they have shown such tolerance of tax avoidance. This tolerance would have made sense if taxes were an evil that could be progressively abolished, which is what the libertarians promised. But the promises of the libertarians have proved empty, and the only functional libertarian politics have been measures that fine-tuned the economy to give greater benefits to the rich.
And death? To liberals who have lost their confidence in an Afterlife, death is the ultimate subversion of individuality. Which is a shallow and a greedy attitude, and very popular among libertarians.
Death was an invention of the first organisms to get beyond the level of single cells. Single-celled organisms mostly reproduce by splitting in two, though some of them have spores to survive tough times. Multi-cellular organisms are mostly too complex for a simple split to make sense: instead the mature organism either produces a simplified miniature, or perhaps an egg.
What happened next was the invention of sex, gender and death, all of which are puzzling. The simplest sex has all adult organisms producing both male and female gametes that have to combine before a new creature can develop. This has clear advantages in shuffling genes and allowing useful mutations to spread. But sex can exist without gender. Most plants have flowers that are both male and female, and have mechanisms to avoid self-fertilisation. Only a minority – mostly trees – have individual plants that are either male or female. Many simpler animals are also hermaphrodites, but all complex animals have developed two genders, male and female. This is probably due to competition, with specialised males and females leaving behind more offspring.
This is probably also the explanation for death. Success in terms of Natural Selection should be summarised as ‘survival of the grandkids’ rather than ‘survival of the fittest’, a formula that appeared to mesh with the competitive individualism of the rising middle class. Mammals are not in fact particularly long-lived: reptiles the same size live much longer. They seem to be programmed to wear out and die at about the right time for leaving behind large numbers of offspring. We humans, with a complex culture that takes time to pass on to the next generation, have relatively long lives for our size, and extremely long childhoods. (Compare a four-year-old human to a four-year-old horse, for instance.) But we still age and die sooner than we’d wish, and no one yet has found a way to change this.
Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg seems to have survived his party’s mauling in the European elections and Local Government elections. A half-arsed plot to replace him got nowhere, probably because voters are rejecting the party in general and not just its leader.
Clegg when elected in 2007 said “The challenge for my party is clear and simple: to define a liberal alternative to the discredited politics of big government.”[K] But is Big Government really discredited? After more than three decades of rule by Tories, New Labour and Coalition, Big Government has not shrunk economically, and politically it has become more intrusive. Likewise in the USA. And after massive speculation and gambling caused a crisis in 2008, governments stepped in to save the financial system, but held back from nationalisation. Sick banks were nursed through with public money, but left free to carry on gambling. Vast salaries and absurd bonus payments were mostly left alone.
Mindless hostility to Big Government has led to the reality of Big Government over the people, but by the rich and for the rich. Being part of a government that serves the interest of the elite has been a path to riches – Tony Blair has been the most blatant example, but there are many more.
But I don’t think that those people have succeeded due to any exceptional cleverness on their own part. The problem was a loss of confidence in Big Government during the crisis of the 1970s, plus a general distrust of government by 1960s radicalism.
1960s radicalism did a lot of good, establishing freedoms that we now take for granted, but which had to be fought for. But the dominant hippy attitude was wide open for transformation into right-wing libertarian nonsense.
What you have among libertarians is a belief that their own political preferences are not actually politics, but some sort of Natural Order that would exist in the absence of power and politicians messing up the process. I think this nice idea came from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, at least in modern politics.
The problem is, no two believers in the Natural Order seem able to agree what it is. And it is definitely nothing in common with what has emerged in every actual case of existing politics breaking down. Invariably you get warlordism, sometimes followed by centralisation under some highly authoritarian regime.
It is a damn-fool notion that Perfect Politics ought to emerge naturally from the existence of Freedom. Do you really want life to drift randomly? Or have it controlled by political authorities that you choose and can replace?
People chose ‘let things drift’ when they wanted a freer and more open sex life and social life. At the same time they got resentful at other people exercising the same freedom when it did not suit them, and even more so when it cost them something.
Popular rhetoric identifies any sort of authority with fascism, which has become the ultimate insult. But in real history, Italian Fascism incorporated many former anarchists (as did Russian Bolshevism). Each of the various Fascist governments was an outsiders movement that took over the state and disregarded its traditional checks and balances. And the more the outside movement dominated the existing state, the worse the fascism. Franco in Spain came from the army and preserved the existing state, with several rival fascist or right-wing groups incorporated and subordinated. His system was eventually able to evolve into a standard West-European state. Mussolini never managed to give more than a fascist gloss to the existing state, which deposed him in 1943, though he was briefly restored by the German Army. It was the Nazi movement that wholly took over the state and partly replaced its police and army with the Gestapo and Waffen-SS. While the regular SS increasingly became a state within a state, operating with all of the traditional checks and balances removed.
Big Government is here to stay. Abuses of state power need to be dealt with as such, rather than being generalised into an overblown fear of state power.
It is now clear that Russia never had any intention of taking over East Ukraine. They needed Crimea to keep a vital warm-water port and naval base. But taking over East Ukraine would leave behind a rump Ukraine that could be solidly anti-Russian.
At the time of writing (30th May), the Ukrainian army is going all out for a military solution, ignoring any possibility of negotiating. Russian television has reported many incidents of non-combatants being hit, which is what you’d expect. The Western media have avoided mentioning this and no longer have reporters giving the view from among ordinary people there.
Russia can afford to sit back and let this new Ukraine fall into complete chaos, and let the new government lose popularity when it imposes the austerity measures the European Union is demanding. They and the USA have the wealth to win over Ukraine, just as they had the wealth to keep Russia friendly in the 1990s. But they have repeatedly shown themselves too short-sighted and greedy to win and secure new friends. Instead they lose friends and make new enemies, amidst a loyal media chorus blaming it on unexpected outbreaks of evil.
The election of a new President has so far made little difference. But Petro Poroshenko though associated with the Orange Revolution, also served in the government of Viktor Yanukovych, the president ousted on 22nd February. He won with more than 54% of the vote, with second place and less than 13% of the vote going to Yulia Tymoshenko, prominent in the Orange Revolution but also prone to make deals when it suited her. The two fascist movements had candidates but finished way down. Svoboda’s man got 1.16% of the vote, far below the 10.45% his party got at the last general election. Right Sector was lower still, 0.70%. Whereas the Communist Party candidate got 1.51% despite officially withdrawing in the face of threats and assaults. Meantime the candidate of the Party of Regions, the previous governing party, got a mere 3.03%.
It is open to the new President to dump the fascists, who seem to have lost support now that people have seen the results of their power. He could make a deal with Russia and with the East Ukrainian rebels. But whether he will be that wise remains uncertain.
Meantime Russia has inaugurated the Eurasian Economic Union, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus.[L] Following the big trade deal with China, that could count for a lot in the long run.
In the European Union, the supposed threat from Russia will continue to be used to justify highly profitable fracking, regardless of the long-term damage it does.
Snippets: [The House of Windsor and the Nazis; Generation War; Iraqi Elections; UK GDP; Religion No Longer Bothers Most People; Inheritance Tax]
Following Prince Charles being overheard comparing Putin to Hitler, Russian news have been reminding everyone about how Charles’s relatives viewed Hitler before Hitler became Officially Evil in British eyes.
” The pro-Russia broadcaster Russia Today (RT) regaled viewers with a mocked-up family tree linking royals to Nazis in a ‘Takes one to know one’ video poking the embers of the House of Windsor’s German past.
“‘If anyone knows real Nazis it’s the royal family’ the channel declared on its In the Now programme while it flashed up sepia portraits of the Queen and family.
“Here was Charles’s great uncle, the Duke of Windsor, and wife Wallis Simpson, photographed visiting Hitler at his Obersalzberg retreat in 1937 shortly after abdicating as Edward VIII. Simpson, RT senior political correspondent Anissa Naouai solemnly pronounced, ‘hung out with Hitler’.
“There was the Duke of Edinburgh, his chest weighted with medals. ‘His sister, Sophie,’ added Naouai, ‘was married to a SS officer.’ Cue photograph of Christophe of Hesse-Cassel, marching in his SS colonel’s uniform.Naouai could have added, for good measure, he named his eldest son Karl Adolf in Hitler’s honour.” [M]
[Even worse material has now emerged, suggesting a wish to see England bombed to secure a peace with Germany after the Fall of France.]
Talking of Nazism, there was a rather good German program on the matter, shown recently on BBC 2 as Generation War. It tells the story of five young Germans, one of them Jewish, caught up in the war and Germany’s eventual defeat.
I found it mostly well done, but it wildly exaggerated Polish hostility to Jews. Poles trying to re-establish their nation after World War One and after generations of foreign rule were not friendly to Jews, considering that they should either convert or leave. But during the actual Nazi occupation, almost all of the Polish resistance accepted Jews as allies. And they brought the first solid news of mass extermination to Britain and the USA, who however preferred to ignore it until most of the killing was completed and it became a useful propaganda tool.
Generation War is available on DVD, in German with English subtitles.
Parliamentary elections were held in Iraq on 30 April 2014. They ended with the current Prime Minister’s State of Law party still much the largest, but with only 92 seats out of 328.[N]
As before, it was functionally three separate elections. The Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds each have several parties competing for their votes. Shia are the majority, so they dominate whatever coalition gets put together. Kurds are functionally independent, and Sunni would like to be. Religious parties dominate, and the Sunni / Shia split is much more intense than it used to be.
And we’re still waiting for the Chilcot report, which began in 2009 over a war that was launched in 2003.
UK GDP just recovered from the 2008 crisis brought about by an orgy of speculation. Nothing has been done to stop it happening again.[O] But the Tories have a fair chance of getting re-elected on the basis of this weak recovery.
Meantime the rich continue to do very nicely. “Britain’s richest people are wealthier than ever before, with a combined fortune of almost £520bn, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.
“The total wealth of the richest 1,000 individuals, couples or families jumped 15% in a year, the survey said.”[P]
The rich got the state to bail them out when the crisis stuck. Ordinary people remained fooled by the New Right record about the state being burdensome and unable to do anything useful.
In most of the world, religion is in sharp decline. The USA is a tail-ender among rich countries, but not really an exception.
“The UK isn’t becoming a country of committed atheists. Most of the unaffiliated neither accept nor reject religion: they simply don’t care about it. In that respect, the UK looks a lot like much of the developed world…
“Even in the US – a deeply Christian country – the number of people expressing ‘no religious affiliation’ has risen from 5 per cent in 1972 to 20 per cent today; among people under 30, that number is closer to a third…
“The world’s least religious countries also tend to be the most secure. Denmark, Sweden and Norway, for example, are consistently rated as among the most irreligious. They are also among the most prosperous, stable and safe, with universal healthcare and generous social security.
“Conversely, the world’s most religious countries are among its poorest. And within countries, poorer segments of society tend to be more religious, according to the Global Index of Religion and Atheism.
“The link is supported by laboratory studies showing that making people aware of existential threats such as pain, randomness and death temporarily strengthens their belief in god. It seems to hold in the real world too: after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand – normally a stable and safe country with corresponding low levels of religiosity – religious commitment in the area increased.
“Norenzayan refers to the kind of atheism that exists in these places as ‘apatheism’. ‘This is not so much doubting or being sceptical, but more about not caring,’ he says. ‘They simply don’t think about religion.’
“Counter-intuitively, he adds, apatheism could also explain the strength of religion in the US. In comparison to other rich nations, the US has high levels of existential angst. A lack of universal healthcare, widespread job insecurity and a feeble social safety net create fertile conditions for religion to flourish.”[Q]
[But even in the USA, religion is in decline.]
Inheritance tax is a vexed question. It is fair, but it has been successfully bad-mouthed as “taxing the dead”. And it seems some people worry about passing on their own relatively small wealth to their children, without noticing that the rich are benefiting enormously from new rules that are re-creating a privileged ruling class.
Maybe a completely different approach should be taken. There is a dislike of inequality, so we need to tap into it correctly:
“75% think we are too unequal – but they don’t know the half of it: they wildly underestimate the wealth gap, with rich and poor alike imagining they are much nearer the middle than they are. Nor do they know that social mobility is falling: in 1991, 17% of top earners came from low-earning families, but that fell to 13% by 2000, with 42% from the richest families. Few know that the entire bottom half of the UK population owns only 2%-3% of the wealth…
“People wildly overestimate the likelihood of their family ever paying IHT [inheritance tax], and the amount to be paid: 40% is only on the portion above the £650,000 threshold for couples. The Office for Budget Responsibility finds only one in 20 estates pay it now: the property boom will spread it, but only to one in 10 families, meaning 90% pay nothing…
“Cameron’s inheritance tax giveaway has rekindled enthusiasm for a radical solution, endorsed from the IFS to the Fabians, FT editorials, the editor of MoneyWeek and a host of thinktanks: it’s time to abolish inheritance tax altogether and leave the dead to rest in peace. Instead, treat whatever gifts and bequests people receive as part of their ordinary taxed income. At a stroke all the wheezes, cheats and exemptions would be swept away. No doubt there would be a tax-free threshold for lifetime gifts, and the rate could be tapered. But the principle should be that all income, earned and unearned, from capital gain or sweat of brow, is taxed the same, whatever its source. Working hard for your money should no longer be taxed the hardest.”[R]
That should be the Labour Party’s next big new idea. Income tax is accepted as fair by all except the very rich. Relatively poor people owning a house could expect to pass on more to their children, assuming those children are also relatively poor.
Will Labour dare do it? Or do they remain intimidated by moans from the rich and their tame media?
[They did indeed remain intimidated.]
[Q] Issue 2967 of New Scientist magazine, page 30-35