Notes On The News
By Gwydion M Williams
I am predisposed to think that rich businessmen accused of crimes are guilty. The British system has been absurdly inefficient at catching them, or at convicting them when caught. The US has been little better, but Enron was so blatant and hurt so many ordinary people that it had to be acted on.
But the USA does not want equal liability for everyone. The US got Britain to lay itself open to US warrants, without the elementary precaution of saying that it would not happen until the USA did the same. Maybe they supposed it would just be applied to ‘undesirables’, poor non-white people who were either left-wingers or Islamists.
The British establishment must have assumed that the revised rules would not apply to their sort of people. They don’t seem to have understood how massively the USA and Western Europe have diverged since the 1950s. Europe saw the fall of religious authority and traditional religious forms: Puritanism in England has almost vanished. The USA went the other way: a rigorously secular educational system left the population unprepared for religious fervour, which is growing as life gets more uncertain and stressed. Mid-Atlantic attitudes are fading: Clinton could fake having them, but he also had to solicit votes from completely different people. The inland and ignorant and religiously fervid, New Backwoodsmen who are ignorant, greedy and resentful of people who might know more than them
Britain’s elite have been enthusiastic in urging ‘Open-Legs’ policies for the rest of the world. It must have been assumed that Britons would be treated differently. Indeed, it is deeply unwise to be treating Britons so casually. But, as I’ve said before, the New Backwoodsmen are as narrow and foolish as the original Backwoodsmen. Believing in their own unique virtues and unable to make sensible allowance for the future.
A lot of the basic ideas for the Internet were worked out in Europe. Britain in the 1980s had a system called Prestel, developed by the French as Mintel, neglected in Britain till it was much too late. In parallel with this, a Briton called Tim Berners-Lee worked out the idea of the World Wide Web, and launched the first website in 1991 at CERN, the research centre on the borders of France and Switzerland. But the key to the new technology was the Internet, a system under US dominance, something they have refuse to internationalise.
There’s a recent book called Who Controls The Internet, which details how it is the USA, with the seven ‘root servers’ that control all internet links. There was a farcical episode in which the pioneers tried switching the ‘root servers’ to new machines independent of government control, the sort of thing that happens easily in Science Fiction. In the real world, the government only had to threaten legal action to get back control.
The book discusses China, explaining that commercial sex and gay rights among the topics that China blocks. I’d already figured out that the ‘libertarians’ were bliaring about the matter, mentioning only things that the bulk of their audience would approve of. The book mentions ‘Sex.com’ and also ‘Gay and Lesbian Acceptance’ (page 92), as well as obvious matters of political dissidents that the West’s ‘free’ media will keep reminding you about.
The book also complains that the Chinese government have bought filtering software developed in the USA so that companies could stop their employees looking at unsuitable material like Playboy. Given that China built H-bombs and put a satellite into orbit during Mao’s time, they could certainly have done it themselves, but the US product may have been more convenient.
Attempts to set up some sort of international agency for the internet have so far failed, with the USA continuously blocking them. This reflects a legislature full of greedy small-minded people looking to the next election and knowing the prejudices of their voters. The USA contains people who seriously see the UN as a menace, very much a case of bolting the stable door several years after the poor horse died. The UN might have evolved into a genuine world authority in the 1950s, but neither the USA or the USSR wanted it, and the USA saw to it that the UN was humiliated in Congo /Zaire, where an elected left-wing leader was naïve enough to think the UN was what it pretended to be.
What we now have is a world of diverging national states, each supreme in its own area, short of invasion by a stronger neighbour. The UN could have stopped invasions, theoretically, but the US wanted to keep the option of invasion to keep the rest of the world in line. Likewise it wants to use the Internet for control, and for the time has a firm grip on it.
Not as firm as some Western corporations would like. Yahoo China is currently being sued for “for allegedly providing links to pirated tracks” [C2]. A funny old world, isn’t it?
[I have more about this in an article at this site.]
The remarkable technical achievement of China’s railway line from Qinghai province to Lhasa could not been ignored, but the BBC has never let it be mentioned without a dollop of propaganda for Tibet’s exiles, the Dalai Lama and other slave-owners who fled in 1959 and have since missed every opportunity for a compromise return.
Qinghai, incidentally, had a large Tibetan component and was the birthplace of several past Dalai Lamas. It was linked by railway to Gansu Province and the rest of China in 1959, but taking the line on to the Tibetan Plateau was a more formidable task and has only just been done.
It could have happened much earlier. No one is keen to remember now that when the Japanese-Chinese War turned into World War Two and the USA tried to prop up Chiang Kai-shek, Tibet’s autonomous government rejected the idea of a railway through its territory to supplement the Burma Road [T]. Western Tibet – the Lhasa valley and the surrounding Tibetan Plateau – might have claimed independence in those days, as part of Mongolia was to do, the present Mongolian Republic. But the Mongolians were ready to cut their ties with Inner Mongolia, stay out of the Sino-Japanese war and instead play a part in the war against Nazi Germany, with a Mongolian contingent going right across Eurasia as far as Berlin. On the ‘Roof Of The World’, the government in Lhasa was not ready to cut ties with Eastern Tibet, the territories now in Gansu, Qinghai and western Sichuan.
The present Dalai Lama was in fact born in Eastern Tibet, in ethnically mixed territory ruled by a warlord who recognised the central Chinese government. The ‘Tibetan Government in Exile’ claims both Western and Eastern Tibet, not just the territory that Lhasa genuinely ruled from China’s 1912 collapse to Mao’s 1949 restoration of unity. As God-King of Tibet, the Dalai Lama tried to find common ground: there was enough in common between Buddhism and Communism to make a compromise seem possible and he did unambiguously give up Lhasa’s claim to have been actually independent. The agreement of May 1951 refers to the “Local Government of Tibet” and abandons the notion of Tibetan sovereignty.[T2]
If the Dalai Lama and the Lhasa government had fled in 1950, when it was clear that the new Peoples Republic was going to unify the former Chinese Empire in a way the Kuomintang’s Republic had never achieved, then they would have had a good case for being an authentic government in exile. That was the choice of the 1930s Spanish Republic, which returned only after Spain restored democracy after Franco’s death. That was the choice of Poland’s pre-World-War-Two government, which hung on and in the end transmitted its own idea of legitimacy to the post-Soviet government of Lech Walesa, regarded as Poland’s Third Republic. That was one option for the Dalai Lama, a ‘road not taken’. He accepted instead that he headed a regional government in the new Peoples Republic, accepting in principle that everything must change. Still, no one in 1950 could be sure that the new regime would stay strong and radical, rather than becoming weak and corrupt as the Kuomintang had become.
The Dalai Lama was part of a feudal elite and would not accept that this system must eventually be abolished. That was why he fled in 1959, and has since served in the West as a kind of spiritual Court Jester for western interests. He says the conventional things about greed that spiritual Court Jesters are supposed to make: he never showed the genuine independence of spirit that cooled the West’s enthusiasm for Solzhenitsyn after the Soviets forcibly exiled him and we learned what the man really believed.
Beijing has made several efforts to negotiate back the Dalai Lama, without success. Maybe the USA has been promising things – at the time of the Iraq invasion, there was loose talk of Tibet being on the USA’s military agenda, once Iraq, Iran and North Korea were dealt with. What the Dalai Lama was thinking about is anyone’s guess. In time he’ll die and the exiles will probably fragment over the vexed question of the next ‘reincarnation’. And the historic links to China’s western regions will only get stronger.
[See this article for more on the Dalai Lama]
China under the pro-Western Nationalists stagnated and even shrank: they were poorer in 1948 than they had been in 1912, when they overthrew the corrupt and stagnant Manchu dynasty. Mao sealed off China and made it strong again, with a net economic performance superior to the Republic of India, itself a success story. Deng was able to rejoin the world economy from a position of strength and avoid the ‘open legs’ policies applied to poor countries unable to stand up for themselves. It was for a long time a specialist in cheap manufactures, but this now is changing.
“China’s export drive is moving into higher gear. According to a Deutsche Bank analysis, the country’s exports of relatively sophisticated products such as vehicles, car parts, electronic components, telecoms equipment and ships grew far faster last year than traditional mainstream exports such as toys and clothing.” (Up-market China, Financial Times July 5th, [C].
A few years back, it was being claimed that China could not go beyond low-cost manufacture. I never believed it at the time, and I’m not surprised a new trend to sophistication is now visible. And all without making the changes that Western ‘experts’ insist are essential.
Russia under Putin has recovered from its decline under Yeltsin, but is still poorer than it was in 1989, when the Soviet Union began to break up [R]. Western ‘help’ meant ruin, which is why most Russians don’t want any more help like that.
You don’t hear much from Yeltsin nowadays, the occasional remarks, some friendly to Putin and some not. He used to be very fluent, producing a string of books that got translated into English. Against the Grain: An Autobiography in 1990. Putsch: The Diary in 1992. The Struggle for Russia in 1994.
What could he produce now? Too Drunk To Meet The Irish – he’d agreed to a stopover but evidently decided they were to small a power to merit politeness, and so stayed on the plane. But rudeness to foreigners might have been forgiven if he’d done a competent job. Even shelling his own parliament might have been acceptable if he’d had any ideas beyond yielding to globalisation. His next book should be From Hero to Idiot: How I Screwed Up. But I doubt we’ll ever see the man in print again. Unlike Gorbachev, Yeltsin did eventually realise he’d blundered and put in Putin to limit the damage
One person does emerge with merit from the period – Solzhenitsyn. The West thought he was their agent in undermining Soviet values, but in fact he had his own agenda and has stuck to it.
“Under Gorbachev, the concept and perception of statehood per se was discarded. (Hence his numerous acts of capitulation and unconditional concessions in foreign policy which won him kudos in the West.) On Yeltsin’s watch, that line was essentially continued, but it was further aggravated by the uncontrolled plundering of Russia, its property and national legacy, as well as by inaction and collusion in the face of a countrywide crisis. Under Putin, efforts were made, although not immediately, to reverse the trend and save Russia’s statehood…
“Parties do not grow very well on Russian soil because they are an unnatural form [of organization] for us. Our parties today are only hindering democratic development…
“Unlimited “human rights” is exactly what our cave-dwelling ancestor had: Nothing could stop him from snatching meat from his neighbour or finishing him off with a big stick. That was why every society needed governing authorities and ruling elite. Throughout the centuries, they retained full “rights” while the rights of the masses were severely limited. We have been hearing all this talk about “human rights” ever since the Enlightenment era; they have been secured in a number of countries, but not always within the bounds of moral values and principles. Yet for some reason no one has ever urged us to defend ‘human obligations.’…
“Xenophobia has never been an inherent quality of the Russian people: Otherwise the great empire, comprised of 120 nationalities and ethnic groups, would not have survived. As for the term ‘fascism,’ it is being used loosely and irresponsibly as a convenient swearword which hinders the rise of Russian identity and Russian national awareness. But German Nazism was based on German national self-glorification (long before Hitler): The same cannot be said about the humiliated and dying Russian nation…
“As all social security guarantees disappeared amid a new era of “freedom of expression,” this pent-up aggression has come through in ugly, distorted and dangerous forms such as attacks, beatings and murders committed by unenlightened young men…
“A more accurate description of this world conflict would probably be this: The Third World vs. the Golden Billion. It has been caused by the global divide between the rich and poor…
“Seeing that Russia today poses no threat to it, NATO is systematically, persistently expanding its military apparatus – to eastern Europe and to the south of Russia. This includes open financial and ideological support for “color” revolutions and the absurd imposition of North-Atlantic interests on Central Asia. All of this leaves no doubt that Russia is being encircled with a view to destroying its sovereignty. Russia’s accession to the Euro-Atlantic alliance, which is now forcibly imposing Western democratic values in various parts of the world, would result not in the expansion but the decline of Christian civilization.” [R2].
Bush Junior went where Bush Senior feared to tread – and Bush Senior was closer to being wise. Bush Senior did miss the unique opportunity to re-write the global rule-book after the Soviet collapse: he preferred to keep the old rule-book and use the USA’s unchallenged strength to cheat and bully when this seemed convenient. But Bush Senior was wise enough not to think that Iraq could be re-moulded, he just disrupted it. Bush Junior ignored the warnings and the reality has proved rather worse. He should not have gone there.
Also not into Afghanistan, where Bush Senior missed the opportunity to work with a compliant government of former Soviet supporters, the pattern that has worked passably in much of Eastern Europe. The main modern forces in the country were replaced by a mix of crooks and religious hard-liners. Naturally the advantage passed to the hard-liners, who had something worth dying for whereas the crooks quit when things got too tough.
Bush Junior might also have reached a deal with the Taliban, not hugely different people from the USA’s good friends in Saudi Arabia. Instead he send in the troops and re-created the corrupt muddle that had made the Taliban attractive in the first place.
“‘The British underestimated the strength of their enemy. All their assumptions are wrong,’ said a western security source with long experience in southern Afghanistan. ‘These ambushes are quasi-suicide missions but the Taliban have guys who are willing to do it.’” [A] Sending fighting men to Afghanistan would be like coals to Newcastle, the whole place is full of fighters, except that they cannot be trusted by the West. The process of nation-building was messed up; it is not a nation but a family quarrel. With the Taliban successfully making it a war between Muslims and foreigners, their long-term comeback becomes likely.
What’s the alternative? Not much that any Afghan could like. The Islamic world is placed very low in the New World Order, just a little above Black Africa below Hindu India and way below East Asia. Moreover the West had a specific role in messing up, corrupting or destroying the progressive core in every Islamic country except Turkey. Turkey was missed because the West had other concerns while Ataturk was doing the necessary nation-building, doing stuff in a few decades that the West did internally over several centuries and still quite brutally. Britain did not have one-man-one-vote until 1918, which is when some women were also let in. Britain didn’t let a majority of adult males cast a vote until 1884. Western ideas of nation-building don’t just ignore the cultural differences, they also ignore how history happened in their own tradition.
As I write, a small crisis in Gaza is expanding rapidly. Israel is polarising the Arab World into those who do nothing and Radical Islam. Lebanon has been dragged back into the conflict.
The logic of what was being done in Gaze is ‘ethnic cleansing’ – getting rid of the unwanted non-Jewish population. This would make sense, viewing Israel as the tail-end of European settlement, perhaps a settlement that will fail and be absorbed, as happened in Kenya and Zimbabwe and might yet happen in South Africa.
It was always odd that the ‘Jewish Homeland’ was inserted into the midst of a long-settled Arab population. The world then had plenty of places where the native population had already been swamped or replaced. But these were reserved for mainstream European settlement, including a sprinkling of Jews adapted to the culture. It was an unspoken assumption within Imperialism that Jews settlers aspiring to be a distinct Jewish society would have to settle for something marginal, Madagascar or Uganda. (Not that it was just Jews: there were areas in the early USA where Germans were ethnically dominant, but were eventually forced to join the US mainstream.)
Jews wanting to remain Jews were shunted off to Canaan, an ancient territory separated from Greater Syria where it more naturally belonged. This meant also removing the unwanted non-Jewish population, something that still seems to be going on by a mix of force and fraud, taking the land a bit at a time. Not an impossible process: it was done in North America, with the help of a terrorist outfit known as the US Cavalry. (‘General’ Custer had done a number of massacres of Indians, including women and children, before meeting his famous end at ‘Greasy Grass’.) But the expanding USA had vastly more resources than the Native Americans, who also had no friends in the wider world. Palestinians remain connected to the wider Arab and Muslim communities. Twenty million Jews worldwide are currently more useful to the ‘Anglosphere’ than the world’s billion-plus Muslims, but for how much longer? The attempt to remould Arabs in Iraq has been a pathetic failure. Saddam was secular and was not going to seek martyrdom: Iraq was mostly talk when it came to Israel. People with a serious concern about Allah’s judgement on their immortal souls are not going to be so restrained.
Note also the fate of the Serbs, loyal allies of Britain in two World Wars. Israelis were indignant: they correctly recognised the nationalist Croats and Bosnian Muslims as heirs of the pro-Nazi forces from World War Two. But the USA and Britain were more interested in an anti-socialist crusade and broke Serbia, robbing them of everything that anyone else might want. The final removal of Kosovo has not yet happened but cannot be long delayed.
With US politics remaining unstable and the electors stressed and unhappy, it is only a matter of time before there is a US president who will not support Israel. It might be hard to be overtly anti-Israel but such things can be managed subtly. Republicans since Nixon have been tapping the white-racist vote while avoiding being seen as racist, even having a few Afro-Americans as part of the team. Tapping isolationism and also anti-Israeli feeling would not be much harder. It is more likely to be the Democrats but it could be either party. Then what would Israel do?
What Israel should do is reach some stable settlement while there is still someone to negotiate with, make a deal before the struggle turns into permanent low-level warfare. But I’d be quite astonished if this actually happened.
If James 6th of Scotland had not inherited England, Scottish today would an independent medium-sized nation, on a level with Denmark or Norway and with its own distinct language, much as the Scandinavian countries are each distinct. Scotland would also have been likely to opt for the Scandinavian option of neutrality and welfare.
When Scotland agreed to Union at the start of the 18th century, the ‘British Empire’ was the lure, the growing English domain from which the Scotch were shut out despite having the same monarch. That the tie is decaying with the Empire gone is hardly surprising.
This is the context in which one should view the ‘West Lothian’ question, the right of Scottish MPs to have a say in English issues. Scotland can go its own way without much affecting England, but England is so much bigger that English decisions impact on all of its neighbours. Either Scotland has a role in the whole nation, or it should go back to being a nation in its own right.
Maybe that’s what Cameron wants. The Tories used to be a Great-British party, but retreated into narrow Englishness under Thatcher. There seems no way to take them back.
[As at 2015, this has got worse and a separation by Scotland has become highly probable.]
England’s mediocre team get to the last eight in World Cup football. This was treated as a major disappointment and was moaned about on the news for days afterwards. Unless you were following it closely, you could easily have missed the elimination of Brazil’s rather good team later on the same day.
Brazil had scored four good wins from four games, all settled within normal time. They were defeated by a French team that had previously had two wins and two draws and been runner-up in their group. England had had three wins and a draw before losing the penalty shoot-out; it was a decent result for what they were. But that was not how people saw it.
Sport has lost the idea of being fun, and gets is caught up with the obsessive need to be the winner. No one asks why the hell it should matter if your team happened to be the world’s best at one sport, or even at all sports. Life is not to be enjoyed, it is to be strived at with ever-increasing desperation.