Newsnotes 2003 11

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M. Williams

Two Black Hawks and a Chinook

Save A Soldier, Kill A Child [Cluster Bombs]

Iraq, the never-ending story

Democracy: Iraq Says No

Ghost Stories [Pro-Saddam Demonstration in Iraq]

McIslam and Normal Islam

Fragging By Proxy? [Iraq War]

Third Way Ends Sadly [Non-Muslims in Iraq]

Thieves robbed! Shock Horror in Western Eyes [Putin and Yukos]

Rational Economics [Inequality in the USA]

The New Space Race [Chinese Space Program]

Harry Plotter & the Quietly Ignorant Troll [Tory Leader Iain Duncan Smith]

Two Black Hawks and a Chinook

To govern Iraq, you need to be tough, and you need to be seen as tough.  But it’s not just fear—you need to be seen to care for Iraq as an entity in its own right, rather than as raw material for your new vision of the world.

The USA does not care and does not understand.  Thanks to Rumsfeld’s bizarre decision to go for ‘Thunder-Lite’, the actual conquest was messy.  The soldiers managed to snatch a military victory despite a bad plan.  But they were helped by Saddam’s apparent decision to move underground rather than use up everything he had in a doomed last stand.

Since when Iraq has been used as raw material for New Right fantasies.  Keynesianism was able to reshape Western Europe and much of East Asia while confronting a rival superpower, because Keynesianism worked for as long as people wanted it to.  The New Right is floundering in Iraq, because New Right ideas are bloody stupid.  They work only as an excuse for plundering existing wealth, as has been happening in Russia.  But in Russia, people were at least fooled for a while and did elect Yeltsin and his bunch of crooks.

Plundering Iraq’s wealth has so far proved difficult.  The administration of Bush Junior has been notable for ‘Pork-Barrel Libertarianism’, state power used to help the rich while the needy are ignored.  Occupied Iraq was intended to be another feast for the Fat Cats.  But oil in the ground is only valuable if you can avoid interference by the inconvenient people living on top of it. Elsewhere and especially in the Gulf states, the US has found compliant puppets willing to legitimise raw materials that pass out of the society while leaving it as poor as ever.  But in Iraq, the process has so far failed.

At the time of writing (7th Nov) the biggest news is that a second Black Hawk has been brought down, a hat-trick of American military helicopters.  More striking than the downed helicopter was the Iraqis celebrating at another ambush: Americans will no longer be able to believe the Bush line.  Hit-and-run attacks would not be possible unless the USA had overstayed whatever welcome it once had.  Iraqis now are quite happy for them to be attacked.  Even regions that are strongly anti-Saddam seem willing to let the Resistance operate freely.  And meantime suicide bombers strike unexpectedly and with drastic effect.

The bombers have been condemned for` mostly killing Iraqis, of course they are mostly killing Iraqis, it is Iraqi hearts and minds that are the key area of struggle. Under Saddam, you were safe so long as you didn’t oppose him.  Or you were until the USA chose Iraq for its incoherent crusade, demonising a regime the US had supported for twenty years.  But they are now finding that to run Iraq is not so easy.  That Saddam’s methods evolved for definite reasons in a very fragmented and violent state, a state that was trying to build a coherent society out of three major ethnic groups plus a slew of minorities.

There is also the legacy of Vietnam.  The USA resisted the idea of compromise or a Neutralist government.  Then scuttled and left its allies in the lurch. Not a good example for those wondering now if they should join the new rulers.

Save A Soldier, Kill A Child [Cluster Bombs]

I don’t suppose that the makers of cluster bombs will be using my slogan to sell their products.  Because that’s exactly what it does.  They may express it as ‘reducing battlefield losses’, but nothing is without a price.

Cluster bombs scatter dozens of tiny bomblets, which makes them militarily efficient.  Rather than one big bang that may be in the wrong place, they can saturate an area with death and destruction.  This cuts down the price in blood paid by the invading army.

But not all of these little bombs explode.  The unexploded remnant are essentially mines.  Failure rates were 5% to 10%, and are now supposedly down to 2%—which still means that most groups of 49 bomblets from a shell leaves behind one ‘mine’.  How is that acceptable?

Save a soldier, kill a child.  I’m sure that US policy-makers find some better way to package it.  But that is just what they are doing and there is no sign that they will change.

Iraq, the never-ending story

“Rather than developing weapons of mass destruction, Saddam knew that he faced defeat and was arming a highly structured guerrilla force. It suggests that the resistance is far more orchestrated than was previously thought and could take longer to destroy…

“The Iraqi dictator formed three distinct resistance networks: The first was the mujaheddin, made up largely of Iraqis from outside his ruling Ba’ath party and Islamic volunteers who had fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan…

“The second was known as al-Ansar (the supporters), comprising Ba’ath party fighters chosen by Saddam, who kept their involvement secret from the party’s old guard…  Its members were forbidden to use electronic forms of communication and kept in touch with each other by a system of messengers…”

“The third was al-Muhajiroun, distinct from but bearing the same name as the fundamentalist British-based group. It comprised some Ba’ath party officials, including doctors, engineers and military strategists, who would form the core of a new regime that Saddam hoped to build after the guerrilla war.”  (Sunday Times, 21st Sept.)

Interesting that Saddam had forbidden the resistance to use electronic systems for anything secret.  Idiocies like the Matrix film push the idea of electronic liberation, but hackers only flourish for as long as they do not annoy anyone powerful.  Saddam clearly remembers who makes the stuff and who controls it. As much the biggest market, the USA sets standards and defines designs.

A lot of it is also ‘manna’, stuff that is paid for under a military budget by talking up foreign threats, and then passed on to the private sector.  The key difference in the Cold War was ‘manna’, the US figuring it could keep control of a flow, whereas both Britain and Russia tried to stop everything.  The UK’s pioneering computer work was buried, in case it shed light on some questionable decisions, and the whole show passed under US control.

In the West, it is safe enough to use the new electronic media for legal purposes, so long as you remember that there is no real security from the builders of the root systems.  In Iraq, they seem to have sensibly avoided it.

Interestingly, a similar idea occurred to Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, playing the part of Saddam in an exercise the US staged last year.  “As the US fleet entered the Gulf, Van Riper gave a signal – not in a radio transmission that might have been intercepted, but in a coded message broadcast from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer. The seemingly harmless pleasure craft and propeller planes suddenly turned deadly, ramming into Blue boats and airfields along the Gulf in scores of al-Qaida-style suicide attacks.”  (Guardian, September 6, 2002)

In fact the fleet landed without difficulty and trouble emerged later on land.  But it’s the same idea and the USA should have known better.

Democracy: Iraq Says No

It’s clear now that there were no ‘Weapons Of Mass Destruction’, and that Bush must have known that there were not.  So we must assume that the USA there in the hope of teaching Iraqis that they have no right to be any different from the USA.

Vice-President Cheney ‘Enronised’ a recent poll to make it seem that Iraqis were accepting them.  A recent Guardian article showed how untrue this was:

“Twenty-three per cent of the Iraqis surveyed said that they would like to model their new government after the US; 17.5% would like their model to be Saudi Arabia; 12% said Syria, 7% said Egypt and 37% said “none of the above”. Hardly ‘winning hands down’.

“When given the choice as to whether they “would like to see US and British forces leave Iraq in six months, one year, or two years”, 31.5% of Iraqis said these forces should leave in six months; 34% say a year, and only 25% say two or more years. So while technically Cheney might say that “over 60% [actually 59%] … want the US to stay at least another year”, an equally correct observation would be that 65.5% want the US and Britain to leave in one year or less…

“When asked if “democracy can work in Iraq”, 51% said “no; it is a western way of doing things and will not work here.

“And attitudes toward the US were not positive. When asked whether, over the next five years, they felt that the “US would help or hurt Iraq”, 50% said that the US would hurt Iraq, while only 35.5% felt the US would help. On the other hand, 61% of Iraqis felt that Saudi Arabia would help Iraq in the next five years, as opposed to 7.5% who felt Saudi Arabia would hurt their country. Half felt that the UN would help Iraq, while 18.5% felt it would hurt. Iran’s rating was very close to the US’s, with 53.5% of Iraqis saying Iran would hurt them in the next five years, while only 21.5% felt Iran might help them.”  (Bend It Like Cheney, October 29th, Guardian.)

Remarkably, the survey did not ask ‘did you want Saddam removed’, nor ‘has the removal of Saddam justified the war’.  The Guardian may snipe at Bush’s specific policies, but the idea of ‘Liberal Imperialism’ is still cherished.  Still, it is good to have some solid facts.  The Bush administration has shown that right-wing rulers can get away with any number of lies and not be called liars.  The truth and the lies told by Bush are normally given equal weight.  This breaks down only where the lying has been too blatant, as with non-existent hidden weapons.

It’s been a general US policy to turn against allies when they stop being needed.  Indirect pressure got rid of Ceaucescu in Romania, Mobutu in Zaire/Congo and Suharto in Indonesia.  Indirect pressures and some European help turned Yugoslavia from a peaceful multi-ethnic state into a set of squabbling statelets dependent on the USA and the European Union.

Iraq has been the glitch, just as Vietnam was the glitch in their earlier round of interventions, when they successfully destroyed democratic and mildly left-wing governments in Lumumba’s Congo, Sukarno’s Indonesia, Iran under Mossadegh and many other places.

In Iraq, having gone in with the subtlety of a charging hippopotamus, the USA now finds it has nothing much to work with.  The Kurds don’t really believe in any government beyond the tribal.  The Shia tradition is also doubtful and dislikes the secular state.  The Baath were the only substantial force for secular modernisation, which is why US planners hoped to keep them as local agents, only without Saddam and other Iraqis who were not subordinate enough.

The decapitation operation was not a success, and the patient died.

The Iraqi state was a precarious network of human relationships that could not easily be disentangled from the Baath Party.  Encouraging looting was useful to get the appearance of liberation, but in the long run did more damage.  And with Secularism withering, what is emerging is several different brands of hard-line Islam.

The invasion was organised by believers in the New Right Fairy Tale, the idea that their norm is human normality, which will spontaneously emerge when oppression is removed.  You find these characters making ignorant comments on the ‘spontaneity’ of street markets in the Third World.  Not seeing that street markets have their own complex social structures. Structures that would look like sheer gangsterism and criminality to an outsider, and there is indeed an overlap.  Likewise they celebrate commerce without noticing the strong and almost universal association of Americanisation with drugs and commercial sex.  (Prostitution a common ‘entry level profession’ for people who had previously lived a contented tribal existence.)

But as I’ve said before, Saddam was the only effective Westerniser in Iraq, and the US has smashed that particular option.  There’s little doubt that the Iraqis will elect a government that I’d find thoroughly obnoxious.  But it’s not my country, and anyway I personally have found most British governments pretty obnoxious, but they were the choice of the majority.

The word now is that Iraq is “not ready” for elections. Not ready to elect the USA’s chums, for certain.  Probably not ever ready to produce a Western-style democracy.  But then just what was the sense of overthrowing Saddam?

Ghost Stories [Pro-Saddam Demonstration in Iraq]

On the 31st October, there was a large anti-US demonstration in Baghdad in which posters of Saddam were carried.  Reality like that offends even liberal critics of Bush’s war, so the matter was carefully buried in obscurity.

I was sure I’d seen a similar story in BBC Online earlier in the day, but it was nowhere to be found when I checked later, and the highly-photogenic incident was not mentioned at all on BBC One’s 6 o’clock news or Channel 4’s News at 7.

Thankfully the Washington Post site was there to confirm it: “Some protesters carried pictures of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and chanted, “God is Greatest!” U.S. armored vehicles and Humvees moved in and sealed off the area for hours, while gunfire continued. Arab television news stations here reported that four Iraqi civilians were killed but that could not be independently verified.”  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46429-2003Oct31.html).

I also found the same story on the cable version of BBC World, on the second page of a story entitled US Soldier Killed In Iraq Bomb Attack.  Elsewhere, the story seemed to vanish with remarkable speed.  The various riots and deaths are mentioned, but the pro-Saddam aspect became ‘non-news’.

Even more obscure has been the continued crisis in Serbia, and a major protest and riot on the 29th.  There is a report, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3225507.stm – remarkable how things get onto the business pages which don’t get drawn to the attention of the general public.  That mess that Serbia is in with Milosevic gone is not the sort of news they want to tell us, though business people who might trade in the region have to be given the true picture.

Meantime we still have the right to make our own small voices heard.  I have posted up my article  Iraq: The First Nine Days.  [NOT CURRENTLY AVAILABLE].  I am hoping eventually to do a matching piece about the Last Nine Days.

McIslam and Normal Islam

There was a time when Islam seemed to be fading into history.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the basic fight over the direction of the society seemed to have been settled in favour of secularism and modernisation on either the Leninist or the Western model.  But Third World nations behaving as sovereign bodies was not always convenient for the USA.  And Islam of a rather backward sort seemed a convenient weapon to use, especially in Afghanistan.  The ‘fundamentalists’ of the US Christian tradition had never let the Bible get in the way of worship of the Golden Calf.  Why should Fundamentalist Islam be any different?

But capitalist industrialisation was an outgrowth of the very Protestant-Nonconformist faith that spawned the Christian ‘fundamentalists’, and the ‘fundamentalists’ are the detritus after the thoughtful, the educated and the powerful have gone elsewhere.  These  ‘fundamentalists’ are fanatical about recent human origins in the Garden of Eden, but Jesus’s rejection of money and wealth is ignored.  Various forms of Protestantism had tried to rule in the 17th century, and failed.  Three centuries of struggle and diminishing power had left the Christian  ‘fundamentalists’ quite ready to be running-dogs for Big Business—and Big Business was also visibly part of their own culture.

None of this applied in the Islamic world.

It must be understood that what gets called ‘extremism’ in the West is actually the norm, the faith as it existed before the West conquered the Islamic realms.  The abnormality was a version of Islam that was willing to accept Western subversions of Islamic norms, and work along with secular nationalism.  The success of this abnormal quasi-Western form of Islam depended strongly on secular nationalism ‘delivering the goods’, both prosperity and a sense of dignity.  It can not succeed if Third World nations get impoverished by the international economic system.  It can not succeed if small states get bullied and humiliated every time the USA finds this convenient.

The USA have been brilliant on small things and utterly stupid on larger matters.  They nearly lost the Cold War by adopting a foolish strategy of ‘attrition’ in Vietnam.  General Westmorland correctly decided that the US military could kill more Vietnamese than they would lose Americans.  Since the USA was a much bigger and richer country, victory should have been certain.  What was left out was the minor point that Vietnamese cared passionately about the future of their own nation, and so were willing to go on suffering for much longer.

The US military should have seen an analogy in their own history, the Confederacy’s prolonged resistance to much stronger Federal forces.  It was their whole way of life at stake, including slavery and racism, but also a resistance to the commercialism and vulgarity that has triumphed ever since.  Most Southerners of an age to fight did fight, and fought on till a large proportion of them were dead.  Even Mark Twain served briefly in the Confederate cavalry, though he had the good sense to go West instead, and later write sentimental novels about the era of slavery and Southern autonomy.  He was very much a ‘summer soldier, but most of the South was fighting for everything it cared about.  It was the North that thought about giving up the fight, though this would have meant abandoning a huge chunk of what they saw as their country, and made further successions much more likely.  In the end they stuck to it and won.  But total defeat and 140 years of Northern dominance hasn’t cured the South of its liking for its own past.

In Iraq, several different types of Iraqi are fighting to impose their own model of Iraqi existence, along with the Kurds who seek their own separate existence as Kurds.  Saddam and the Baath were the hard core of secular nationalism, and were the only force that combined strong local roots with a willingness to see the world in much the same way as the US saw it.

What you now have are a collection of exiles who have ‘gone metropolitan’, lost touch with their own society and adapted individually to Western values.  Which makes them worse than useless for actually imposing those value in Iraq: they have the appearance of knowledge but no feel for the actual society.  And then you have a mix of local forces with non-Western outlooks, most notably the ‘Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution’, who took a chance by working with a government that the US certainly intended to run as obedient puppets.  For now, it is worth their while going along with it and hoping they become a real government.  But the closer they get to real power, the more likely it is that a mix of rivals would remember that they are basically enemies.  Each of them know that they must crush the others or go under.

Fragging By Proxy? [Iraq War]

The current round of Iraqi Resistance began with an impressive attack on an US headquarters at the Rashid Hotel.  It killed a US Lieutenant-Colonel, and came very close to Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

It would be elementary security to keep secret the exact location of your top man.  The US can be amazingly arrogant and careless at times, but I can’t believe they failed to do this.  And yet the Resistance knew exactly where to hit.  They got within yards of him, and must have had inside information from someone the US thought trustworthy.

This may explain the astonishing suggestion by a US General that the Iraqis just happened to launch a high-profile attack close to a prime target.  A target who was supposedly travelling secretly.  The Iraqis who targeted Wolfowitz must have known they’d need extremely good luck to actually kill him.  But coming as close as they did makes a point: no one in Iraq is safe.

So who did know?  I’m sure that the US military didn’t trust any of their tame Iraqis, who would? But who did know?  Just how did Resistance know WHEN to fire their rockets and WHERE to aim them?

The later stages of the Vietnam war saw ‘fragging’, the blowing-up of officers who were too eager to fight.  Without knowing anything about US security arrangements, I would politely suggest that looking very close to home would be a good idea.

I was also intrigued by the apparent muddle that led to fears of a revival of the Draft.  It has long been out of use, but not formally abolished.  And someone placed adverts asking for new recruits—possibly an accident, possibly as neat a bit of lawful and non-violent sabotage as you could think of.  And I’d suspect that professional military people would have been sickened by the original enthusiasm for war from all of the people who were in no danger of having to fight it.  The Vietnam War affected the middle classes, this one is currently hitting the poor and especially non-whites who found the military to be the best career open to them.

The Iraqi resistance does not have the efficiency of Communist Vietnamese, of course. But ordinary US soldiers are also not willing to trust and suffer in the way they would in the 1960s.  Nor can the burden be easily passed on to foreigners.  Allies find the US, about as trustworthy as a rattlesnake, and just as nice for close company.  Meantime US citizens show great distrust in each other whenever things start going wrong.  Always blame someone else—who knows what they’ve been up to?

In the 1950s, the USA had created an ‘ethical environment’, that fitted their ideals.  They wasted it by lying on small matters where the truth would have done far less damage than the accumulated lies were to do.  It wasn’t just Nixon—you could imagine an alternate history in which Kennedy got a second term and his private life became public, along with all the shady deals that won him Chicago in the 1960 election.

The USA in the 1960s could probably have stabilised on a neutral South Vietnam. But this would have got in the way of long-term plans to stamp a shoddy version of their own culture on everyone else.  They pushed it to the bitter end, and then dumped their allies in a fit of pique.  (The US Congress withheld funds that the US airforce needed for bombing in support of the pro-American forces, turning a retreat into a route.)

During the USA’s post-Vietnam weakness, Brezhnev and the Soviet Union seemed all-powerful and destined to take over the world.  They contemplated invaded China, and invaded Afghanistan as part of a general pattern of expansion, alienating allies.

History never repeats itself exactly.  But some patterns have a way of recurring.

Third Way Ends Sadly [Non-Muslims in Iraq]

Saddam’s Iraq was solidly secular, tolerant of the small number of surviving Middle-East Christians—people whose traditions are a direct continuation from the Apostles, without the distortions that the creed acquired after passing through Greece and Rome.  And there are some even less familiar hold-outs.

“Mandaeans are a small pre-Christian sect that honours John the Baptist. They are believed to have originated in Jordan, but persecution in the first century forced them to emigrate east. There are an estimated 100,000 Mandaeans worldwide, mainly in Iraq and Iran

“The Mandaeans have survived 1400 years of Islamic persecution, which includes many massacres of Mandaeans throughout the centuries. In 1870 an entire Mandaean community was massacred at Shushtar, north of Ahwaz in southwestern Iran, close to the southern Iraqi border.

“Persecution has skyrocketed and more than 80 Mandaeans have been murdered since the fall of Baghdad in April. Now there is great concern that Iraq’s Mandaean community… may not survive post-war Iraq.”  (http://www.worldevangelical.org/persec_iraq_24jul03.html).

The position of Iraq’s Christians isn’t that much better.  Saddam had a place for them, but if Iraq ever gets together again, it can only be as a hard-line Islamic state.

[What has happened since is even worse. Iraq has become three states: a Kurdish state, a pro-Iranian Shia state and the self-styled “Islamic State” ruling most Sunni and extending into the fragments of Syria. These have been especially intolerant, with victims including the Yazidis, another curious ancient survival.]

Thieves robbed! Shock Horror in Western Eyes [Putin and Yukos]

Russia in 1991 thought it was selling its ideals for a better life.  This wasn’t the case: they got nothing like the USA’s generous rebuilding of Western Europe and non-Communist East Asia in the 1950s.  Those countries were built up thanks to trade barriers and state intervention, the very methods that the USA itself had used in the 19th century.  But by the 1990s, ‘free markets’ were the rule.  Both the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries saw a sharp drop in their living standards, as the ‘miracle of the market’ was tested.  The ‘miracle of the market’ faired no better than King Canute’s attempts to hold back the waves.

The Warsaw Pact countries are now being incorporated into the European Union.  What numerous French or German ruler tried to do has now been achieved by a functional French-German alliance.  Most of the territories once ruled by the Prussians and Austro-Hungarians are now being gathered.  To the west, it is almost Napoleon’s empire, with Spain and Portugal content with legal equality and even Britain half-heartedly incorporated.

Russia is left out.  From Khrushchev onwards, Russia’s various attempts at improving themselves through market forces have gone badly wrong, generating corruption and damaging real wealth.  But this was never worse than under Yeltsin, where Privatisation meant corrupt officials becoming legal owners of oil and other wealth than existed already.

When the US government finally moved against Enron, the main complaint was that they hadn’t acted long before.  But though a general pattern of fraud and tax evasion is known to be normal in post-Soviet Russia, the arrest of Mr Khodorkovsky for fraud and tax evasion charges is treated as monstrous by all of the Western media.

What, after all, is Yukos except stolen public wealth?  There was a trend under Yeltsin for Russia to slip towards Third World status, with a government that neglected its people and did nothing except give legitimacy to the export of oil and other raw materials.  Only under Putin has there been some sort of a recovery.

It may be that Putin is only paying off old scores.  But the oligarchs do need to be brought under control and persuaded to pay tax and obey the law.  Going after the oligarch with the best political connections is a necessary first step.  If Yukos was the best-connected, then a successful prosecution should pave the way for more.  If it doesn’t, there would be grounds for complaint.  But that’s not the line that’s been taken by the Western media (almost all of them controlled by extremely rich business people).

Putin was willing to let sleeping dogs lie, so long as the oligarchs accepted their social responsibilities and pay tax.  Yukos, as far as I can see, thought it was cheaper to buy political influence. Russia has been recovering since a low point in 1998, but is still poorer than it was in 1990.  And that’s the economy as a whole, and measure in cash terms. The position of ordinary Russians is even worse.

The era of ‘robber barons’ in the USA was morally odious, but saw a sharp rise in national wealth.  Most of them were genuine creators or improvers of productive industry.  The culture of hedonism was more human than narrow life-hating Puritanism, which was the main alternative.

It also seems that most Russians will vote either for Putin or for the Communists.  It doesn’t fit the New Right vision of ‘democracy’, which mostly means people selecting candidates the New Right like and then opening themselves up for plunder by the USA.  But the Russians tried it and are still badly damaged from the folly of the Yeltsin years.  The western view of the Bolshevik period as a disaster is just a western view and no longer the view of the people who lived through it.

“The start of campaigning coincides with the anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution.

“A survey conducted to mark the occasion suggested that many of today’s Russians would not try to halt the revolution.

“More than 40% of those questioned said that if the revolution happened today they would either support the Bolsheviks or co-operate with them.

“More than a quarter of those polled said they would do nothing – just wait and see.

“Only one in 10 would fight the uprising.  (BBC Online, Russia election campaign kicks off, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/world/europe/3250323.stm)

Rational Economics [Inequality in the USA]

In the USA, unlike Britain, the working mainstream of the society has been losing out ever since the 1980s.  Thatcher was able to squeeze the poor and sell off state assets, mostly because anyone with a decent job and a little property was doing fine.  It’s quite different in the USA, where a century or more of paying workers well has been reversed by ‘Reaganomics’.

Since most people know that only a small minority are gaining, how do the Republicans keep winning elections?  It’s simple really—vastly more people aspire to the elite or identify with the elite than can ever hope to be in it.

19% of American taxpayers believe themselves to be in the top 1% of earners.  A further 20% expected to end up in the top 1%.  (Economist, September 6th 2003).  With beliefs like that, America is going to get a lot more unequal before public opinion revolts.

The rhetoric of Liberty has worked for now. Roosevelt had to fight to bring in the New Deal in the face of a deep-rooted belief in classical liberalism.  Without the Second World War he might have failed.  Keynesianism was accepted for as long as Communism was there as an alternative, but when the pressure eased the rich were easily able to take back lost ground.

Not that it’s genuinely classical liberal economics.  Some of the Reaganites started out believing they could dismantle the state, but they couldn’t.  The half-forgotten economic crisis of 1987 almost lost them the Cold War at the 11th hour, and theory was jettisoned so as to keep the system alive.

What you have under Bush are Pork-barrel Libertarians.  Since the reality is a vastly complex society that could not exist without the state, they adjust their ideals to suit their careers.

The New Space Race [Chinese Space Program]

The USA putting men on the moon was the key victory in the space race.  The initial Soviet advantage in space seemed to justify the Marxist vision of a non-capitalist future.  But the program was mismanaged: part of the general deterioration of what had been a highly successful economy before Khrushchev ‘reformed’ it.

In China, Deng managed to do what Khrushchev failed to do.  Perhaps because he never demoralised the society by denouncing Mao in the way Khrushchev denounced Stalin.  And also because Deng allowed enterprise in controlled areas, rather than expecting solutions to magically appear thanks to market forces.  The revival of the whole ‘miracle of the market’ notion began with Khrushchev, at a time when the West would have denied that it was capitalist and was actually practicing a kind of Democratic Corporatism.

Khrushchev also blundered by letting the USSR be seen as an equal to the USA, which it was not. China has so far been wiser, acting as one of several powers on the second rung of power, along with Russia, Japan, the European Union and maybe India.

A basic space program is almost an automatic offshoot of being a nuclear power. Intercontinental missiles are the safest way to be sure of hitting your enemy, or letting any potential enemy know they could be hit hard, which is more to the point.  Missiles big enough for that are not hard to adapt for putting people into orbit—though France and Britain chose to avoid it and opt for a European space program with no manned flights.

China’s Long March rockets are home-grown and began under Mao.  Manned flight cost much more and plans for it were dropped in the 1980s.  (More than pride, October 14th, Financial Times)  The program was restarted in 1992, after China had been through the Tiananmen crisis of 1989.  Maybe more significantly, it was after the Gulf War showed just what sort of a future the USA was planning.

Actual human-flight aspect draws heavily on Soviet technology, which was tested and reliable in a way that the Space Shuttle is not, and which by then was going cheap.  However “Shenzou is not so much a copy of the Soyuz as the next evolutionary step”.  (New Scientist, 25th October 2003).

There isn’t in fact any huge need to put humans into space, nothing much for them to do for the foreseeable future.  But China now has the third manned space program and the second or third overall space program (given that Russia is now dependant on the USA).  This puts it well ahead of India or Japan, on a level with Europe.  Which, historically, is where it normally belonged.  Adam Smith in the late 18th century saw India and China as equal to Europe, China maybe richer.  It was only in the 19th century that Europeans imagined that the gap was enormous and unlikely ever to be bridged.

Harry Plotter & the Quietly Ignorant Troll [Tory Leader Iain Duncan Smith]

Alas Poor Duncan (but what a fool).  No one now cares about the little trouble over his wife’s job.  Still, before he was voted out, the worry was he might have to go under even worse circumstances.

The issue was not whether his wife did some work.  It’s whether she actually did the 25 hours a week she was being paid for.  And it’s also about how a man at the top of politics could have left himself vulnerable.  A striking contrast to Clerk, who openly and legitimately gets an income for promoting cancer and ill-health in the Third World on behalf of the Tobacco Barons.

I’m also not surprised to learn that IDS is also a thriller writer.  A thriller is fantasy that can pass for reality, and is exactly what a politician should not be thinking.

After John Major, the Tories chose a balding leader who wasn’t taken seriously outside of the Tory Party. [William Hague]  When he lost, they sensibly replaced him with a balding leader who wasn’t taken seriously outside of the Tory Party. [Iain Duncan Smith]  And now with IDS fell [fallen], they rallied round a balding leader who isn’t liked or taken seriously outside of the Tory Party. [Michael Howard]

Can Howard the Dark Lord make them any more electable?  I really doubt it.  The Ministry for Magic Circles is long defunct.  Portillo is leaving Parliament to spend more time with his vanity.  The rest are more Bumblebores than Dumbledores, reflecting a party with an average membership of 65 and a dwindling existence outside of South-East England.  I don’t see anyone lasting long at Defence against Dark Arts. Or even Artful Ducks.

[Items in square brackets are updates added for clarity]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s