Newsnotes 2007 02

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

If they’d lynched Pinochet for Christmas… [Executing Saddam Hussein]

Nuremberg: Good Vengeance, Bad Law

Join the army and fight the police! [Iraq]

Poland: Look Back With Malice

Double Your Money (if you’re already powerful) [Executive Pay]

China and inequality

Tibet: a land where trees once grew

Big fierce animals are losers

 

If they’d lynched Pinochet for Christmas…

It wouldn’t actually have spoiled my Christmas, but then I’m not one for religious festivals. But killing Saddam on a Muslim holy day caused deep offence even among those who wanted him to hang:

“All dictators should meet the same fate that Saddam did. However, he should not have been hanged on Eid Al-Adha. As a human being I can’t approve that. Never. Even ordinary criminals are not hanged or executed on Eid.” (Arab News, [F])

He was also hanged for a mass killing that the West ignored at the time. Similar things still happen and get accepted as normal for the Middle East: “He said that the trial was based on the Dujail incident, in which Shiite villagers were executed for plotting against Saddam, and that it was neither enough nor convincing, as Saddam was not dealing with entirely innocent citizens. “What would any Arab leader do if he knew of an assassination plot? They would all do exactly what Saddam did, maybe more.” (Arab News, [G])

The hanging was also more like a sectarian Shia-organised lynching than an act of stern impartial law. “Juan Cole, an Iraq expert at the Michigan State university, pointed out that Sunnis celebrate the festival on Eid-Al-Adah on Saturday, while the Shias, who dominate the Iraqi government, do so a day later. ‘Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shia government that had accepted the Shia ritual calendar,’ he said.” (The Hindu, [H].)

” The execution is unlikely to bridge this divide, as perceptions of Saddam’s hanging differ radically between Sunni Arab and Shia. Even the timing of his hanging seemed to reinforce the sectarian gap – although Iraqi law bans executions during religious holidays, it took place just as the Sunni’s Eid al-Adha feast was beginning. Shia begin celebrations a day later.” ((Financial Times, [J].)

Saddam made a very good exit. It was totally stupid to expect anything else. If you were going to overthrow him at all, summary execution would have been the sensible answer once he was caught. Have an international tribunal later, if you like, where you could argue about particular matters of guilt. What happened was a farce.

[The majority Shia continued to run a broadly sectarian goverment, which helped the rise of the self-styled Islamic State in Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria.]

 

Nuremberg: Good Vengeance, Bad Law

The New Right – the entire New Right and not just the ‘NeoCons’ – have drawn utterly the wrong lesson from World War Two and its aftermath. The Allied victory in World War Two was secured by 20 years of relative peace and prosperity after that war. It has lasted better than the post-Napoleonic settlement, the other big success. The punishment of Nazi war criminals may have done more harm than good. Mussolini was killed by a mob, he died much as he had lived. Hitler suicided. Goering cheated the hangman and maybe saved us embarrassment, because an impartial re-examination produces many doubts. The judgment stated that “he was the leading war aggressor”, but every history I’ve seen says that Goering was against starting the war. The balance of probabilities also favours his claim that he had no idea that deported Jews were going to be killed. As for mass bombing of civilians, the Allies were at least as guilty and have used the same tactics ever since.

Hitler and Mussolini both actively sought war, while pretending there was some sort of necessity. Their right-wing ideology told them that all-out struggle would be a good thing. It tuned out to be a very bad thing, even from a fascist point of view. Both had been quite successful as peacetime dictators. Both believed they’d be even better as war leaders, and both were seriously in error. Hitler lasted longer, because the German military had an immense competence inherited from Prussia and the German Empire. But of course he pushed it too far, over-extended and ruined it. But what really finished Fascism was the visible competence of the anti-Fascist forces after the war.

What has spoiled the USA’s Cold War victory has been their visible incompetence and dishonesty, everywhere where they had been allowed to operate.

Goering and the other Nazis got marginalised, mostly because history proved them wrong. Both halves of Germany did much better up until the 1960s, when East German shared the general malaise after reform was crushed. West Germany carried on as part of the expanding European Union. By the time this project ran into trouble, continuity had been lost.

The USA blundered repeatedly after their unearned victory in 1989-91. After World War Two, they pumped a lot of money into their defeated enemies, making long-term friends of Italy, Germany and Japan. After the collapse of the Soviet system, their advice made a bad situation worse, sucked wealth out of ailing economies and alienated Russia rather than winning it over.

The NeoCons did correctly recognise that the US had not secured its own position. Russia was recoiling. China was no longer interested. The Republic of India had never really been ‘on their wavelength’, developing according to its own Hindu dynamics. Even in Eastern Europe they had achieved less than they had expected.

They saw the problem. And then accelerated the decline by making a mess of Afghanistan and Iraq. They now seem to want to up the stakes now by invading Iran as well. This would mean initiating military action without a ‘green light’ from Congress, something that has never happened before in the entire history of the USA. But I’m far from sure now that they won’t try it.

 

Join the army and fight the police! [Iraq]

The British Army in Iraq celebrated Christmas by settling scores with some old enemies. They demolished the headquarters of Basra’s Serious Crime Unit, the same people they’d had a run-in with back in September 2005.

The BBC used to be respected for its honesty. These days it would be better called the British Bombast Corporation. They put the best face they could on a very bizarre decision: an action was justified by allegations of torture of prisoners.

I doubt they’d say the same if Cuban troops were to storm Guantanamo Bay. Of course the Cubans would do no such thing – the current confrontation between the ‘Anglosphere’ and Islam suits them and the Left in general.

In the Islamic world, the USA has shown a strong desire to have weak compliant regimes that would take an ‘open legs’ attitude. Allow their oil to be taken at a ludicrously low price – the real price being the price of energy after the cheap oil runs out. This plus support for Israel led the West to oppose regimes that were their natural allies. Most notably Nasser, but also Saddam once they thought they could do without him.

It now turns out they couldn’t do without him – something we in the Bevin Society had suspected well before the actual invasion and without pre-knowledge of the various idiocies of the early Occupation. There was no real peril from Saddam, who had settled for developing Iraq as a coherent nation and only paid lip-service to Arab Nationalism.

” In 1979, Bakr [President of Iraq from 1968 to 1979] negotiated a union with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad. This was in response to Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat’s signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1978, something that greatly distressed Assad, Bakr and Saddam. The treaty, however, called for Bakr to become president and Assad to become his deputy, threatening to eliminate Saddam from the political arena altogether.

“Acting firmly, Saddam forced Bakr to resign and assumed presidential powers on July 16, 1979. On July 22 he assembled members of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party, in an infamous meeting that he wanted videotaped, and accused many of being spies, loyal to the Syrian Ba’ath. He read out the names of 68 of his comrades, accusing them of being “disloyal”, and had them walk out of the room, where they were immediately arrested. Twenty-two of them were put on trial and executed for treason. Saddam was making his point as president: questionable loyalties to the Iraqi Ba’ath and to Saddam were now a capital offense, punishable by death.” (Asia Times, [N])

Saddam also did his best to snuff out Iran’s Islamic Revolution. It was debts from that war that pushed him into invading Kuwait – had he not invaded, he might have fallen as miserably as Ceausescu, Mobutu, Suharto and others the West thought they no longer needed.

The Congo without Mobutu is even more of a mess. Romania after Ceausescu was stabilised by the prospect of joining the European Union. Indonesia holds for the time being, but Indonesia is dominated by a single majority religious ethnic bloc. Iraq was an assembly of three peoples with closer connections across the border than they had with each other. Anyone who wanted Western culture in Iraq but was against Saddam was a fool. Fools given high office remain fools and don’t achieve anything.

The substantial part of the opposition to Saddam was those who were against Saddam precisely because he was the most effective agent of Western culture in Iraq. Also Kurds, who’d be ready to be pro-Western within their own Kurdish identity if it were allowed, and it cannot easily be allowed because the Turks would not stand for it.

Meantime it seems very unlikely that the European Union will ever admit Turkey. In real terms the European Union units the Catholic and Protestant heirs of Latin-Christian Europe, with the Greeks as a slightly awkward add-on. Turkey as a new and extremely large member just would not fit. If secular nationalism was dominant in Turkey’s neighbours it would be different, but the Anglosphere has messed up that possibility.

 

Poland: Look Back With Malice

Forgiveness of your enemies is commonly seen as one of the heavy demands that God makes on believers. I make no claim to know what some hypothetical Creator-God might think about the matter. But I am certain that forgiveness of enemies is part of every successful religion. If it can be tough for wronged individuals, it will pay off splendidly for the wider society.

Post-Communist regimes would have been wise to forgive and move on, and they have not been wise. They chose to treat Communism as a crime, ignoring how much Western Europe and the USA moved towards traditional Left positions during the Cold War, accepting sexual equality, lessening class privilege, abolishing open racism, giving up the colonial empires that ruled a majority of non-white peoples at the end of World War Two. Rather than move on, they chose to look back with malice and try to settle old scores.

They also tried to control the process. Control that failed in the case of the man briefly chosen as Archbishop of Warsaw: “We will never know the full facts, because many of the files of Department IV of the communist security service, which dealt with the church, were destroyed at the end of the communist period. That is perhaps why Wielgus felt safe from his own grey past. It caught up with him in the form of a microfilm copy of a file belonging to the foreign intelligence department…

“Stanislaw Wielgus was an academically and personally ambitious man, from a poor, conservative rural background. He wanted to go and study in West Germany, sitting at the feet of German theologians such as the present pope. He signed an agreement to collaborate in order to get there. He says he didn’t harm anyone. That’s what they always say. But the whole point of such an intelligence system is that the individual informer does not understand the value, in a larger jigsaw, of the apparently innocent scraps that they reluctantly toss to the secret police dog who is nagging them.” (Guardian, [L].)

A few months before that, the main news was about a Baltic pipeline that the Poles saw as aggressively avoiding their territory and shipping direct from Russia to Germany. To avoid the sort of trouble that Russia had with Belarus, I suppose, though the Western media never mentioned it during the crisis. They studiously avoided showing planned pipelines in the maps I saw.

 

Double Your Money (if you’re already powerful) [Executive Pay]

Britain nowadays isn’t growing any faster than it was under Keynesianism. But the very richest are doing much better:

“Top executive salaries at FTSE 100 firms have risen seventeen times faster than their workers’ pay, the TUC says.

“Taking inflation into account, executive salaries have more than doubled since 2000, the TUC calculated.

“At the same time, non-executives saw their salaries rise about 6%, once inflation was factored-in.” [A]

One commentator said ‘OK if they’ve earned it’. But does anyone believe that top executives are twice as good as they were in the year 2000?

Conventional economic theory does say that people getting twice as much money must be getting it because they are twice as good. Conventional economic theory is built around a belief that power expressed through asocial money becomes virtuous and wealth-creating. Reality shows otherwise.

What’s happened has been a shift in power from ordinary people to a rich elite. They can demand more and more for doing much the same job. People believe it because they believe that somehow nothing else is possible. Britons no longer remember that they had a decent enough system before Thatcher overturned it.

 

China and inequality

The recent survey of global wealth found China to be fairly equal, with wealth much less concentrated than in most countries. This seems surprising, given the many reports of inequality in the post-Mao era. But there’s a difference between wealth and income, what you get paid and what you own. China does not yet have unequal private ownership of wealth on the Western model, though some Westerners are looking forward to it:

“Millions of Chinese already have wealth a little below the levels needed to be in the richest 10 per cent, their wealth is rising quickly, their savings rates are high and it is likely that Chinese wealth will become less equally shared, propelling a large elite towards the top of the global league…

“Among the richest 1 per cent of the world’s adult population, some 85 per cent live in the group of seven countries – the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada. Individuals needed $500,000 in 2000 to secure a place in this group, although since 37m people owned wealth of this amount, Mr Shorrocks said it could not be regarded as “exclusive”. (Chinese to climb ranks of world’s richest, December 8th 2006, Financial Times)

Thirty-seven million dominating the rest of us seems distinctly ‘exclusive’ to me. But China still has a functional political system, one capable of resisting Western demands. The drive there is to correct the inequality in income before it turns into inequality of wealth on the Western pattern. Under-reported stories include a partial return to Mao’s system of free education for 150 million of China’s poorest ([B]), and a national subsistence allowance system for rural poor. ([C]).

Also a health system that achieved a lot at relatively little cost, till Deng let it decay and become money-driven.

“When the Communist party assumed power in China in 1949, the country was experiencing one of the worst syphilis epidemics in human history. At the time an estimated 5% of people in some large cities carried the disease.

“The new government enacted swift changes to stem the syphilis epidemic. For example, it implemented wide screening and free treatment for the disease and clamped down on prostitution. These changes led to the virtual elimination of syphilis within China.

“However new data from China suggest that the rapid social and economic changes there over the past two decades have encouraged the re-emergence of the disease. (New Scientist, [M].)

Maybe the companies doing nicely out of China’s booming economy should set up a string of ‘Deng Xiaoping Memorial VD Clinics’ to correct the problem.

 

Tibet: a land where trees once grew

Tibet has few people but rich mineral resources, which is why the West was interested and why the central Chinese government is hanging onto it. But in as far as there is law on the matter, that law backs China’s right to rule it. The ‘International Commission of Jurists’ said otherwise, but they are a bunch of self-appointed lawyers with no valid standing, very much part of the ‘Anglosphere’.

The Dalai Lama was part of a Tibetan government system established by outsiders who sought to rule it as part of the vast hinterland of the rich Chinese Empire. The Dalai Lama system was not something that grew out of Tibet’s own politics. Tibet had no coherent government after their last monarch was assassinated by a Buddhist hermit in the year 842. This lasted until the expanding empire of Genghis Khan took an interest. In 1246, the Sakya sect formally accepted the Mongols as overlords. When the Mongol Empire broke up, Tibet remained with the portion ruled by Kublai Khan, an ethnic Mongol but primarily a Chinese Emperor.

When the Mongols were driven out of the rich agricultural heart of China, Tibet became incoherent again. But the Oirat Mongols were aiming at a recreation of Genghis’s empire, or at least Kublai’s realm. They played a key role in enabling the 5th Dalai Lama to unify Tibet under the control of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. These in turn became subordinate to the Manchu dynasty that had taken over China after the fall of the Ming Dynasty, which had never controlled Tibet. The Dalai Lama and his colleague the Panchen Lama became the Manchu dynasty’s local government for Tibet.

In 1911, the Manchu dynasty were overthrown by Chinese influenced by Western ideas. It was soon shown that Western ideas would not work without the several centuries of remoulding that Europe had had under various progressive autocrats. England could hardly have become what it was without the Tudor dynasty uprooting feudalism and local rights. France would have been something very different without Louis 14th and then Napoleon.

The naive attempt to turn China into a copy of Western Europe’s end product was a dismal failure. Had they tried to modernise under the patronage of a traditional Emperor, as Japan did, they might have succeeded. The elements were there but never came together. China was a complete mess until the Communist Party took over.

Tibet, meantime, had no real state, just the weak local government that had existed in Lhasa under the Manchu Emperors and continued with little change down to the 1950s. Tibet had a primitive way of life, but not really a stable one. Many tribal societies have been very destructive and were living in the wreck of a once-flourishing land when European explorers found them. Thus it was on Easter Island, which used to have trees and was once quite fertile. (The film Rapa Nui takes liberties with history but is not wrong on the basics.)

It seems now that the Tibetan plateau is another case. “Today, Tibet is mainly covered by desert pasture, but it was likely once adorned with cypress forest, which was destroyed by local inhabitants over the past 4600 years.”[D]

Communist China has a mixed record but some genuine interest in restoring ecosystems, something that is likely to strengthen. The opposite condition is found in the Mongolian Republic, once ruled by the Manchus and for many decades run by a home-grown and fairly effective Communist movement. A movement that followed the Russians into collapse and Western-encouraged ‘reform’ that left them worse off than before.

“International conservationists have warned of a catastrophic decline in wildlife in Mongolia.

“The vast, sparsely-populated country was once a refuge for the large mammals of Central Asia.

“But in a new report, the Zoological Society of London said illegal hunting and trade had forced many species to the brink of extinction…

“In the early 1990s… the social system changed rapidly. It was formerly heavily influenced by the Soviet Union, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union there was high unemployment, and also the regulatory mechanisms broke down, so wildlife trade really increased.” [E]

[Much more about Tibet’s political history here.]

 

Big fierce animals are losers

Popular Darwinism confuses individual strength and aggressiveness with a species’ long-term chances of survival. Both among fish and land animals, the pattern has been for large creatures to go extinct and be replaced by new monsters descended from modest little creatures that lived quietly when the other monsters were still there.

“A prehistoric “Jaws” that roamed the seas 400 million years ago had the most powerful bite of any known fish…

“There were free-swimming, fast animals that all had a hard armour; most of the other fish were other placoderms which had the same hard bony covering.” (BBC On-Line 29 November 2006 [K])

Super-tough and extinct. Modern fish are descended from other members of the fish kindred.

Nor is innovation a reliable life-line. More than 125 million years ago, about the time the first birds flew, there was a group of gliding mammals. A squirrel-sized animal which used a fur-covered skin membrane to glide through the air. Not related to modern bats or gliding mammals, though – in fact not close to any surviving group of mammals.

Mammals emerged as a distinct group at about the same time as dinosaurs. They remained obscure until 65 million years ago, when Planet Earth viciously side-swiped an inoffensive comet or asteroid, causing an upset on the planet’s surface. This left the dinosaurs dead and most groups of mammals still alive.

Boss one day, dead and without descendants the next. That’s the real law of life. A rule that should encourage us to be more caring to keep our own line alive

 

References

[A] [http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/business/6212911.stm]

[B] [http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/6174847.stm]

[C] [http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200612/24/eng20061224_335463.html]

[D] New Scientist magazine, 25 November 2006, page 18.

[E] [http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/6172207.stm]

[F] [http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=90524&d=31&m=12&y=2006]

[G] [http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=90538&d=31&m=12&y=2006&pix=kingdom.jpg&category=Kingdom]

[H] [http://www.hindu.com/2006/12/31/stories/2006123102881200.htm]

[J] [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/6b4d7076-9836-11db-b2ac-0000779e2340.html]

[K] [http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/6195188.stm]

[L] [http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1987388,00.html]

[M] [http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10940-syphilis-rates-skyrocket-in-china.html]

[N] [http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IA03Ak04.html]

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