Newsnotes 1998 09

Notes on the News

by Gwydion M. Williams

East Atlantic Blues

Clinton – low crimes and misdemeanours.

Saving Private Ryan

Russia – asset stripers

Serbian shadowboxing.

East Atlantic Blues

Tories who find themselves at a lost what to do next have been floating an “Atlantic” alternative for Britain. An alignment with the USA, where murder rates are much higher, prison much more brutal, family life much more decayed – and where all of the economic gains of the past 20 years have gone to the richest 10%.

The idea was around even before we opted for an alignment with Europe in the 1970s. It faced two problems:

a) Many of those opposed to Britain being part of Europe are just as hostile to us being swallowed up by the USA.

b) America doesn’t want us anyway. We might have found common ground with the East Coast elite, while they were still dominant. But that day is long gone, and we are now too leftist for the new American mainstream.

Nor is there anything natural about an Atlantic alignment. Several other nations of Europe are also Atlantic – France, Spain, Ireland and Portugal.   Indeed Britain has less Atlantic coast than they do. England has none at all, unless you count Cornwall as English.

London is more than 3000 miles from New York. Mecca, Lagos and Moscow are all closer. Geographical realities tie us to the rest of Europe and cut us off from anywhere else.

Britain in the 19th century chance to build a European Federation with Britain as its core. No one thought it was necessary. An historic compromise with Germany was rejected in favour of free-trade dogmatism fuelled by belief in Adam Smith. For that matter the bulk of English-speaking America was needlessly lost by Lord North and a government to which Adam Smith was an advisor. (Biographers evade the issue.)

If geography allowed, would we want to swap places with Mexico? I’m sure they’d like the idea. Both Medico and Canada have had to come to terms with domination by a gigantic neighbour. The North American Free Trade Agreement means basically that the USA is free to do as it pleases and gives a few concessions in return.

I doubt that the USA want to get too close to the source of their culture. I also doubt that we want to get too close to them. It may be that British Englishness will outlast the North American sort, it is certainly in much less trouble.

Britain has de-Christianised without losing the bulk of its civilisation. America is decivilising while keeping noisy and ineffective Christian culture.


Clinton – low crimes and misdemeanours.

US voters are rebelling against clear abuse of power. The USA has never been a parliamentary system, where the majority in the legislature can bring down the chief executive. Impeachment would offer a way of achieving this, if it were allowed for every bit of Presidential misbehaviour.

Nixon was using the power of the Presidency to interfere with the re-election process. Granted, he would have won that election anyway. But there was a reasonable suspicion that he was willing to take risks to give himself sweeping powers, quasi-dictatorial powers. And a large number of those who elected Nixon had believed his image as Conservative hero and were shocked by the foul-mouthed trickster he turned out to be. Whereas the entire electorate knew what sort of fellow Clinton was when they re-elected him.

Petty quibbles such as Clinton uses to claim that sexual activity was something other than a sexual relationship are not admirable. But they are routine in Anglo-American law. It is no crazier than process whereby an investigation into a financial scandal was extended to probe Clinton’s private life in a way that is not normally possible. Why should common sense apply in some areas and be rigorously excluded from others?

As a black lady commented:

“It took Ken Starr four and a half years and $45 million to tell me where Clinton puts his penis. There’s a whole lot of things they could have spent the money on down here.” (Guardian, 16 September 1998)

The whole point of the Republican campaign is to avoid spending money on anyone except the richest 10%. As for moral example and corruption, I wonder how many parents have children who now ask “but just what were Mr Clinton and Miss Lewinski doing with the cigar?” Defending morality by publicising private lives is strange, or would be of those who did it really believed what they were saying.

At a time when it looked like Clinton was going to be discredited, The Economist had as its cover a “Wanted” poster, suggesting Clinton had forfeited his right to govern on account of where he put his penis. Now The Economist normally has no concern with Christian morality, and had even campaigned to legalise hard drugs. It is merely playing the same game that has been played for the last 20 years. The New Right pretend to be defending the traditionalists, who are mostly being undermined by the very “Free Commerce” that has been pushed. The USSR was the last significant hold-out against commercial sleaze.

But the traditionally-minded have at last noticed that things are not going as they were promised. Undermining the society undermines the society. Removing welfare does not restore a traditional morality that actually depended on small nosy communities where everyone policed everyone else. Clinton was elected by failed puritans and demoralised Catholics.

Honesty was not an option. We have seen the fate of candidates who asked the public to face up to a changed world, George McGovern etc. The USA just now has no functional morality.

Kenneth Starr could have put the substance of the matter in a couple of paragraphs. Clinton made a misleading public statement. He engaged in sexual activity not including full intercourse, and President Clinton chose to regard this as not being a sexual relationship.

Logicians might ask, did she have a sexual relationship with the cigar? Modern-minded moralists might congratulate Clinton on finding a safe use for tobacco products. With certainty, there was no need to go into such detail.

Clinton’s view that activities short of full intercourse are not sex has some support. Christian theology has long promoted such distinctions – necessary if a creed that originally rejected money and self-defence is to be used to promote sophisticated commerce and Holy War. Even on sexual matters, a great deal of rubbishy distinctions were treated as meaningful. For instance Casanova found and Italian servant girl who would happily do oral sex but maintained her virginity, intending to have a proper marriage. And in fact achieved this objective.

When I first heard of Clinton’s sex scandals, I naturally assumed he was a hypocrite. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were definitely hypocrites. But now everyone has had to have along hard look at his activities. The Republicans have made this unavoidable. And now Clinton seems much more a typical puritan, believing in traditional standards yet failing to resist temptation. He believes and sins and regrets it. Of course the nation sympathises.

The Economist magazine – among others – played the game of manipulating traditional Christians whose values they privately despise. But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. And even in America, it is being noticed that the new economics has done nothing at all about the decline of traditional morals.

The New Right promised that if they were allowed to turn the clock back to the times before Keynesianism, traditional morality would automatically be restored, and without any unpleasant interference with personal freedom. They managed to restore the privileged position of the rich. There are strong signs of a return of pre-Keynesian financial crises causing depression. But as for traditional morality, where is it?

Did the brains behind the New Right enterprise ever expect anything else? The public could not have been sold a package intended just to benefit the rich and with nothing for the poor and traditionally minded. I think of the words spoken by Mark Anthony to Octavius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, concerning their ally Lepidus:

“And though we lay these honours on this man

“To ease ourselves of divers slanderous loads

“He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold

“To groan and sweat under the business ? either led or driven, as we point the way;

“And having brought our treasure where we will,

“Then take we down his load, and turn him off,

“Like to the empty ass, to shake his ears,

“And graze in commons.”

The traditionally-minded part of the electorate have been a bunch of gold-bearing asses for listening to the New Right. But is the combination now coming apart?


Saving Private Ryan

Whatever its faults, this film is vastly above the typical Hollywood “pornography of violence”. It shows just how costly and brutal a real war is.

It mostly reflects the view of US World War Two veterans. Insensitive and often bigoted, but with a realistic knowledge of what a real war is like. It has the merit of showing both savagery of war and how tough it is to fight a serious foe.

One regrets that the cast are all white, unlike the real US army. Also that World War Two is presented as an exclusively American-German conflict, with just one glimpse of French family and none of Allies or Resistance.

On the other hand, it is not a film that would suggest it was a good idea to settle personal disputes with a gun. It begins and ends with a reminder that a large proportion of real fighters end up dead.


Russia – asset stripers

A few weeks back it emerged that Churchill had floated an Operation Unthinkable, a project from July 1945 to rearm the recently defeated Germans and ‘do a quick job on Russia’. Evidently Churchill’s knowledge of history failed to tell him that you can’t do a quick job on Russia. Still, the fact that such ideas were circulated in places where Soviet moles undoubtedly leaked it to Moscow makes Soviet hostility much more understandable. No wonder “Unthinkable” was unmentionable while the Cold War was still being fought.

Nowadays, the West seems intent on losing the Cold Peace. With a unique chance to remould Russia and Eurasia any way they want, they listen instead to bankers want money and asset stripping favours. And are then surprised when the “miracle of the market” fails to happen.

Russia under Yeltsin had abandoned the aim of all Russian governments since Peter the Great, the purpose of making Russia strong through western methods. The only coherent idea of Yeltsin’s “reformers” was to close down industry and become a simple supplier of raw material to Western Europe and America. A skilled well-educated workforce has simply been wasted by the “reformers”.

New Right ideology uses mixed assumptions, shuttles between thinking of people as totally selfish and totally altruistic. This is necessary to “prove” that selfish feelings will lead to generous actions. They get away with it, because people know from practical experience that people’s behaviour is a mix.

Consider the following case. At some crowded social gathering, you find a fire. You see that a quick evacuation will be difficult and dangerous. Do you:

a) Shout fire

b) Go quietly to whoever is in charge and report it to them.

c) First make your own escape and then report it.

d) Make your own escape while pretending that nothing has happened, and then not reporting it.

Option (d) is so against our basic nature that we shy away from thinking of it. I was surprised myself when I realised that it was the logical consequence of truly selfish behaviour. Which is in fact seldom seen, we more often see (c), a person who cheats and then tries to make up for it.

In the Crash of 1987, a lot of people seemed to have taken the fourth option. Quietly sold out and said not a word in public of what the expected to happen. Of course with stock markets, it is understood that each investor looks after themselves and no one has any obligations beyond the basic rules, which can also be bent without much moral condemnation. There is the extra complexity there someone who warns of a crash helps bring it about and may be blamed. Soros is generally regarded as having triggered the slide in the Russian economy. Though it is also agreed that it was going to happen regardless. And (probably) that he lost heavily, and more than he might have if he had not tried to help.

Soros does genuinely want to create an “open society”, safe and secure for everyone. He does also known markets inside out and knows that they are no more self-regulating than a symphony orchestra. Individuals may make intelligent adjustments, but only within some coherent central direction. Which is how all real reforms have always happened. Whether Russia now had a government that will do this is moot.

[Soros has more recently opted for anti-Russian hysteria, failing to realise that for Russians, their actions in Ukraine are defensive against the spread of anti-Russian feeling to a former ally.]


Serbian shadowboxing.

My repeated assertions are once again vindicated. Serbs can not be slaughtered by mass bombing in the way that Vietnamese were and as Arabs were. As Germans in World War Two would not have been, had there been a CNN able to go behind enemy lines and get the human reactions of people who looked just like the dominant elements in the USA. Talk of “human rights” is just talk, unfortunately. Racist attitudes have been camouflaged rather than removed in US politics.

People are puzzled that the big threats from the West started after the Serbian army had broken the back of the ethnic-Albanian resistance. It would be puzzling if real decision-making had some connection with the public rhetoric. But of course it doesn’t. Muslim Albanians, who have not so far managed even to govern their own state as the West would wish it to be run, are not going to be allowed to carve out a Greater Albania from the surrounding predominantly Christian states. And that meant in practice allowing the Serbs to do whatever they liked to the resistance. Now the Serbs go back to old position, the Kosovans maybe get autonomy but there is no question of separatism.

Tibetans take note. (It seems they may have done, in fact. As I write, it looks like the Dalai Lama is going to try to patch up a deal with Beijing, conceding that Tibet is part of China, an ethnic minority rather than a separate nation.)

[This was mistaken: the West was propagandised into accepting limited bombing from March to June 1999. And the Dalai Lama once again messed up, by failing to get a deal when Beijing was in a relatively weak position and might have conceded a lot, including perhaps limiting Han settlement in majority-Tibetan areas.]

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