Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

No Homage to Catalonia

Independence is a human right for Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

But not Kashmir or Catalonia.  Nor Sri Lankan Tamils- but the West tell off its government for crushing the rebels.

Try finding a logic to that, other than crude power politics.

Catalonia’s wish is clear:

“Catalan separatists bolster majority in regional parliament…

“The pro-independence camp appeared to have won just above 50 per cent of the vote, with low turnout…

“It was little short of a disaster for the centre-right People’s party, Spain’s main opposition group, which recorded its worst-ever election result, with less than 4 per cent of the vote. The centrist Ciudadanos group, which topped the poll in the last elections in 2017, also saw its representation collapse from 36 deputies to six.”[A]

The ‘sensible centre’ is being despised everywhere.  Ordinary people in the West know that something is badly wrong.  But can’t see how to easily fix it.  Separatism is one choice:

“Pro-independence parties gained a majority of the votes for the first time in an election, though they lost over 600,000 votes from the previous elections amidst the lowest voter turnout in history”.[B]

Catalonia’s elected leaders were punished when they claimed the right to let the people decide who ruled them.  The rest of Europe let it happen.  Just as it lets the Palestinians be oppressed by Israel, denied the separate-but-equal state they were promised.

Western sources like the BBC, once respected as trustworthy, spread fog and darkness.

The fog for Xinjiang is not to mention years of violent separatism.  Or the global links with Islamic extremism.  Or the support for China by most Muslim states.

For Tibet, the Wikipedia is infested with false claims that it was an independent state before 1949.  The current Dalai Lama was imposed on Lhasa in 1940 with Central Government support, with the customary Golden Urn test not done.  Later claims for independence were never recognised by other states or the UN.

Bodies like the self-appointed International Commission of Jurists don’t explain how a government should handle minorities making demands that the global authorities refuse to recognise as actual rights.

Had the UN become a real force, it might have been otherwise.  But that dream has long been dead.  As things are, separatism is normally a formula for war and chaos, as in South Sudan.  For now, a stable peaceful order of sovereign states is the best we can hope for.

Ukraine Remains Mired

It’s a land with a great future behind it.  With a single strong leader, it might have bounced back as Russia has.  It is a large European country with resources and a well-educated population.  But as I’ve said before, the majority have a sad habit of violently rejecting whatever they chose last time.

Mostly the worst people get elected.[C]  Greedy oligarchs who consume the wealth of others.  And scorn the needy:

“Ukraine state auctions debtors’ underwear…

“The number of debtors grew by 300,000 last year, according to official data seen by BBC Ukrainian.

“There was indignation on Ukrainian social media last year when two confiscated pet dogs were put up for sale. And an MP, Yevgeniy Brahar, became the butt of jokes for suggesting that a hard-up pensioner should sell her dog in order to pay her bills.

“Justice Minister Denis Malyuska later suggested that auctioning debtors’ pet dogs made less sense than selling more valuable domesticated animals.”[D]

They also silence opposition voices:

“Ukraine has shut down three domestic television channels linked to a politician close to Vladimir Putin, alleging that they pose a national security risk by spreading Kremlin disinformation at a time when the country is in its eighth year of an undeclared war with Russia.”[E]

Before the violence started, much of the country chose politicians who wanted friendship with Russia.  This was treated as criminal by an anti-Russian majority in Kiev during their Second Orange Revolution.  So naturally the pro-Russian areas resisted.[F]

The mess shows no signs of being fixed.  But for now, they have not repeated the entire self-destructive cycle:

“President Zelensky has packed a lot into the first year and there are four to go. Plenty of people, particularly in Kyiv, will tell you that it’s heading towards inevitable disaster; that history will repeat itself and it will all end with street demonstrations.

“But for now the wider public still appear to back their unlikely leader. Despite the setbacks, many still see President Zelensky as Ukraine’s best chance for change.”[G]

But when have New Right politics ever fixed anything?  

Reagan and Thatcher initially acted as real conservatives.  Reagan revived the USA by pure Keynesianism, state spending.  Since most of this was military, the point was missed.  Paying people to dig holes and fill them in again would also have worked, as Keynes himself said.

After this first success, New Right policies did damage.  Lost the West its cultural hegemony, which had briefly seemed secure after the Soviet collapse.

Freezing Texas, Flooding India

How can Texas be freezing, if the problem is Global Warming?

Because no one said it would be uniform.  Local cooling was always expected.  Maps of future worlds showed islands of cooler blue in a sea of warming red.

Climate Change is the proper name.  

A body of very cold air around the artic would once stay there all year round.  But is now likely to break out south:

“Heating Arctic may be to blame for snowstorms in Texas, scientists argue

“The wintry weather that has battered the southern US and parts of Europe could be a counterintuitive effect of the climate crisis…

“Cold air is normally concentrated around the north pole in the polar vortex, an area of low pressure that circulates in a tight formation in the stratosphere during winter. This rotation is likened by scientists to a spinning top, one that can meander if it is interfered with.

“This interference, researchers say, is occurring through changes to the jet stream, a band of strong winds that wraps around the globe at lower elevations than the polar vortex. The warming of the Arctic, it is thought, is causing the jet stream to shift.”[H]

In Texas, a privatised electricity system made things much worse.  I’ve blogged on this, Texas: Live Free, Freeze and Die[I] and Texas: Failures of Privatisation.[J]

Meantime glaciers are melting: a danger to those living close to them.  Particularly when large-scale works are done:

“Before Himalayan Flood, India Ignored Warnings of Development Risks

“Long before a deadly flood hit two hydroelectric dams, scientists warned repeatedly that such projects were dangerous in a fragile region made more so by global warming…

“The region has about 15,000 glaciers, which are retreating at a rate of 100 to 200 feet per decade. The melting feeds or creates thousands of glacial lakes that can suddenly break through the ice and rocky debris holding them back, causing catastrophic floods. In Nepal, Bhutan, India and Pakistan, a large number of glacial lakes have been deemed imminently dangerous by The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, an intergovernmental group.”[K]

Are the victims seen as marginal and unimportant, while cities needing electricity have lots of voters? 

Live Free and Die?

“Some nations have effectively beaten the pandemic; others have been soundly beaten. Japan’s 126 million citizens have recorded just over 5,000 deaths. With a nearly identical population, Mexico has suffered more than 150,000 deaths and counting…

“Covid’s deadliness depends on something simpler and more profound: cultural differences in our willingness to follow rules.

“All cultures have social norms, or unwritten rules for social behaviour. We adhere to standards of dress, discipline our kids, and don’t elbow our way through crowded subways not because these are legislative codes but because they help our society function. Psychologists have shown that some cultures abide by social norms quite strictly; they’re tight. Others are loose – with a more relaxed attitude toward rule-breakers.

“This distinction, first noticed by Herodotus, is in modern times capable of being quantified by psychologists and anthropologists. Relative to the US, the UK, Israel, Spain and Italy, countries like Singapore, Japan, China and Austria have been shown to be much tighter. These differences aren’t random. Research in both nation-states and small-scale societies has shown that communities with histories of chronic threat – whether natural disasters, infectious diseases, famines or invasions – develop stricter rules that ensure order and cohesion. It makes good evolutionary sense: following rules helps us survive chaos and crisis. On the flipside, looser groups that have faced fewer threats can afford to be more permissive.”[L]

Lots of Mexicans die violently, of course.  But mostly killed by other Mexicans.  In the USA, none of their foreign wars cost them what their own Civil War cost them, especially the South.  

But when US liberalism broke a racist but sociable culture, they saw no need to replace it with anything else.  They expected everyone to be nice, as they defined niceness.  And Clinton and Obama saw no need to do anything about US wealth flowing to the very rich while working people suffered.  A risk of socialism would have changed that, but socialism was unpopular and confused after the Soviet collapse.

No new functional conservativism has yet emerged.  Self-styled conservatives in the USA have been pure nihilists.

China is the future: the USA is now the past

“President Biden used his first public encounter with America’s European allies to describe a new struggle between the West and the forces of autocracy, declaring that ‘America is back’ while acknowledging that the past four years had taken a toll on its power and influence.

“His message stressing the importance of reinvigorating alliances and recommitting to defending Europe was predictably well received at a session of the Munich Security Conference that Mr. Biden addressed from the White House.

“But there was also pushback, notably from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who in his address made an impassioned defense of his concept of ‘strategic autonomy’ from the United States, making the case that Europe can no longer be overly dependent on the United States as it focuses more of its attention on Asia, especially China.

“And even Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is leaving office within the year, tempered her praise for Mr. Biden’s decision to cancel plans for a withdrawal of 12,000 American troops from the country with a warning that ‘our interests will not always converge.’ It appeared to be a reference to Germany’s ambivalence about confronting China — a major market for its automobiles and other high-end German products — and to the continuing battle with the United States over the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia.”[M]

I’d go further – the joint effort by the USA and Western Europe to remake the world in their image had failed even before Trump got elected.

And Trump might be back in 2025, or someone like him.  Thanks to reforms that the West described as a power-grab, Xi is likely to be there till at least 2027.[N]

And China in 2020 overtook the USA as Europe’s biggest trading partner.[O]  And not much of a threat to European jobs, unlike the hollowing-out that occurred in US industry.

Interestingly, India seems to have read the signs.  They ended a confrontation over a lake in disputed territory.[P]  And the BBC reports it as a genuine dispute, not Chinese aggression.

But in the USA, Trump’s habit of blaming China for Covid-19 has led to Chinese in the USA being attacked.  Along with other East Asians whom an ignorant public lump with them:

“A 23-year-old Korean woman in New York was punched in the face last March and accused of having the coronavirus. More incidents followed as the virus spread, with Asian-Americans being spat on, beaten, slashed, even attacked with chemicals…

“In January, in San Francisco, an 84-year-old Thai man died after being assaulted on the street”.[Q]

Such ignorance and hate is not accidental.  It has been carefully cultivated by the right-wing media, especially since the 1980s.  Keep ordinary people at odds with each other and not making demands on the rich.  But now it is out of control, and the USA suffers.

Europe is very imperfect, but Europe did at least drive racism underground.  The difference will count.

East Asian Harmony

Japan also has read the signs.  China since Mao has had no interest in imposing its system on others – indeed Mao had pulled back in his last years, though I’m sure he planned to resume later.  And as I mentioned earlier, Covid-19 showed an important cultural split that is broadly East-West.

“Decoupling denied: Japan Inc lays its bets on China

“Trade rift between Beijing and Washington creates havoc and opportunity for Asia’s economic giants…

“Panasonic’s decision to further signify its operations is a decisive vote of confidence in a trading model that it pioneered: bargaining technology to China in exchange for access to the largest market in the world…

“Most multinational corporations are in the same boat, whether German carmakers or US communications equipment companies. They play by China’s rules and give away technology as the price of market access…

“The other reason Japan Inc invests in China is the presence of a vast and sophisticated supply chain. Complex products such as cars require a huge number of components and a large supplier network, which exist in China but not necessarily in up-and-coming competitors such as south-east Asia. In fact, ‘companies that have moved to south-east Asia often have to import parts from China due to a lack of local suppliers’, he said.”[R]

Snippets

Texas Scandal

“His Lights Stayed on During Texas’ Storm. Now He Owes $16,752.

“As millions of Texans shivered in dark, cold homes… those who could still summon lights with the flick of a switch felt lucky.

“Now, many of them are paying a severe price for it.

“‘My savings is gone,’ said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the $16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card — 70 times what he usually pays for all of his utilities combined. ‘There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.’…

“The steep electric bills in Texas are in part a result of the state’s uniquely unregulated energy market … Under some of the plans, when demand increases, prices rise.”[S]

There are calls for the state to pay such bills.  But they come from mayors who won’t have to pay it from their budget, so who knows?

***

Amazing greed from Amazon

“Amazon ordered to pay back $61.7m after pocketing delivery drivers’ tips…

“Like other gig platforms, Flex drivers use their own vehicles and are responsible for their own expenses. Many Flex workers are used to fulfil same-day grocery orders through Prime Now or Amazon Fresh, for which customers can leave a tip via Amazon’s app.

“The FTC said that according to Amazon’s advertising, Flex drivers should ‘receive 100% of the tips you earn’, in addition to a minimum of $18 to $25 in earnings per hour.

“But beginning in 2016, the FTC alleged, Amazon started using customer tips to make up the minimum earnings, without notifying workers of the change. The practice ended in 2019, the FTC said.

“‘Rather than passing along 100 per cent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,’ said Daniel Kaufman, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement on Tuesday.

“‘Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.’”[T]

***

Brexit Blight

“Amsterdam ousts London as Europe’s top share trading hub

“UK’s departure from the EU prompts shift in dealing of stocks and derivatives”[U]

“Brexit trade disruption fuels boom at French and Irish ports

“Customs paperwork diverts trucks from UK ‘land bridge’ on to EU-Ireland sea routes…

“The surge in demand for the routes linking the island of Ireland to the rest of the EU has fuelled a Brexit boom at French ports such as Cherbourg, Dunkirk and Roscoff, and at Rosslare in south-eastern Ireland.”[V]

***

The East Is Red Again

“Anti-capitalist tirades go viral in China

“Marxist rhetoric is gaining currency among young, overworked netizens…

“In recent weeks netizens’ anger has also surged against other private firms and their bosses. Jude Blanchette, whose book ‘China’s New Red Guards’ describes a revival of Maoism among Chinese people since the 1990s, argues that opposition to big non-state businesses has long been evident in the margins of public sentiment. The government normally supports firms such as Mr Ma’s and tries to dampen neo-Maoist suggestions that China is capitulating to capitalism. But sometimes it gives Maoists more freedom to air their grievances. That appears to be happening now. Officials are targeting China’s big tech firms with new antitrust rules aimed at curbing their power. ‘It looks like they are using public frustration to help give tailwind to this campaign,’ says Mr Blanchette.”[W]

It has a lot to do with the visible failure of the Capitalism and Multi-Party Democracy that the West has been pushing.

Also the anger is typical of young male primates.  China’s leaders are channelling it.

***

Red and Black

“How a Trinidadian Communist Invented London’s Biggest Party

“The Notting Hill Carnival was canceled last year. But it likely wouldn’t exist at all without the efforts of Claudia Jones.”[X]

Global Communism did a lot to break down barriers.  Sadly, by the 1970s the Soviet system was stagnating, while the West was changing fast.

***

Viruses After Covid-19

“Scientists Are Trying to Spot New Viruses Before They Cause Pandemics

“Scientists want to build a weather system for viruses. It would require a big financial investment, plus buy-in from doctors, hospitals and blood banks.”[Y]

Other scientists seek a single vaccine to fix everything close to the pandemic we have:

“Scientists are working on a shot that could protect against Covid-19, its variants, certain seasonal colds — and the next coronavirus pandemic.”[Z]

Will it be funded?  Go and demand that it must!

***

Old newsnotes at the magazine website.  I also write regular blogs – https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams


[A] https://www.ft.com/content/3931c7e5-dc12-42e3-aab8-b16539ce2317

[B] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Catalan_regional_election

[C] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/m-articles-by-topic/m99-topic-menus-from-long-revolution-website/46-globalisation/ukraine-kievs-five-day-war-machine/

[D] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/world-europe-56085599

[E] https://www.ft.com/content/176c0332-b927-465d-9eac-3b2d7eb9706a

[F] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/2015-07-magazine/2015-07-ukraine-illegally-removed-its-elected-president/

[G] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52721154

[H] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/feb/17/arctic-heating-winter-storms-climate-change

[I] https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Texas-Live-Free-Freeze-and-Die

[J] https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Texas-Failures-of-Privatisation

[K] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/08/world/asia/india-flood-ignored-warnings.html

[L] https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2021/feb/01/loose-rule-breaking-culture-covid-deaths-societies-pandemic

[M] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/19/us/politics/biden-munich-conference.html

[N] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/post-liberalism/chinese-politics-working-well/

[O] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56093378

[P] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-56021141

[Q] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/21/opinion/anti-asian-violence.html

[R] https://www.ft.com/content/d1e2f806-1958-4cd6-8047-e27901786f26

[S] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/us/texas-storm-electric-bills.html

[T] https://www.ft.com/content/92abc0ac-1c58-46a6-94d9-2c16b31aa890 (pay site) 

[U] https://www.ft.com/content/3dad4ef3-59e8-437e-8f63-f629a5b7d0aa

[V] https://www.ft.com/content/164afe66-6130-454a-ba0b-459c9b5511fd

[W] https://www.economist.com/china/2021/02/06/anti-capitalist-tirades-go-viral-in-china (pay site) 

[X] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/world/europe/notting-hill-carnival-claudia-jones.html

[Y] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/15/health/scientists-viruses.html

[Z] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/09/health/universal-coronavirus-vaccine.html

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