Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

Notes on the News

Sadly, President Biden is no Dictator

China the Key?

Parliaments the Least Bad System?

How to Ease the Climate Crisis

Taiwan – the basics


Upper London Holds the World’s Dirty Money

Iraq: the Wrong Sort of Democracy

Sadly, President Biden is no Dictator

President Biden wants to limit Climate Chaos.  And to moderate the extreme privileges of the Millionaire Elite.  But as at 3rd November, he is obstructed by the Senate.  Not quite as Julius Caesar was: but Republicans have half the votes.  Control rests with a couple of ‘moderate’ Democrats.  

There is nothing moderate about defending the rich against the needs of the future.

COP26 has made some nice promises.  Past promises have not been met.  And Biden is further weakened by an unexpected Republican win for Governor of Virginia.  Next year he may lose control of Congress.

But a better US system might not do much.  In Britain, Boris Johnson talks nicely.  But his government does as little as it can get away with.  

All round the world, most leaders hope that someone else will pay.  They now do finally accept the peril.  But insist ‘We should not have to pay much more’.

Rich countries have wasted more than three decades.  The vast bulk of experts accepted climate change as a real threat in the 1980s.  But a few held out.  Politicians used them to delay.  

Critics said ironically ‘2% of Climate Scientists can’t be wrong’.

It was anyway crazy to delay, even if the odds had been as low as 50%.  Chances of immediate and personal disaster as low as 1% cause concern.  10% means panic.  So even if opinion had been genuinely divided, doing nothing was foolish.

Imagine you were at a nice party in some upper-story flat.  But are told ‘there is a fire below: there is a 50% chance we will die if we don’t leave by the emergency exit’.  People might get killed in the rush.  And no one would blame the warner, if the fire fighters succeeded and they’d have been OK where they were.

But with Climate Chaos, people with the money and power don’t face immediate and personal disaster.  They might go live in New Zealand – some of the very rich have bought property to secure a bolt hole.  And for now, most resist higher taxes.  

Ordinary voters, whose children will suffer, still don’t care enough.  The peril is not immediate.

Passenger air travel is safer than train or car, because air disasters are well-publicised.  There is intense pressure to be as safe as possible.  And nuclear power was largely halted in Western nations, after a few well-publicised accidents.

The sad fact is that politicians know that it is unpopular to ask people to suffer now and prevent future risks.  They could lose their jobs.  Disasters in a few decades could be blamed on someone else, or they would be either retired or dead.

China the Key?

Meantime China can be decisive.  China’s ambassador to the UK put it neatly:

“Anyone familiar with China’s political system knows that once decisions and goals are set by the CPC central committee and the top leader, they are incorporated into the overall national development programme, turned into feasible action plans and delivered faithfully by local governments and competent departments. That is how the country has achieved its development miracle over the 72 years since the founding of the People’s Republic.”[A]

Note that he includes Mao’s pioneering work, along with Deng’s opening up after Mao.  Which happened after the USA finally accepted Beijing as the legal government of China, after more than 20 years of denying it and letting the exiles on Taiwan keep China’s UN seat.  Two decades in which the USA might legally have invaded Mainland China using Taiwan as a front.

Western books on China are evasive about what Mao achieved.  A book called How China Escapes Shock Therapycorrectly says that China was wise not to follow the destructive New Right advice that did so much damage to Russia in the 1990s.[B]  But misleads when it says 

“In the period 1950-1980, most developing economies enjoyed high rates of economic growth, outpacing China’s.[C]

No source is given, but the generally-accepted figures from Angus Maddison show China matching the global average at a time when Japan and the Asian Tiger Economies had unusual success.  China under Mao grew faster than India, the USA or the UK.[D]

China’s leaders can act.  But not if it puts an unfair burden on middle-income Chinese.  Not if the West tries to give them larger burdens than Western citizens will accept:

“China is the leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions because it has a population of 1.4 billion. Measured per person, its emissions are only around eight tons, however, putting it behind the likes of Japan and the Netherlands. Meanwhile three anglophone countries – the US, Canada and Australia – emit twice as much CO2 per head, while Qatar emits four times as much.”[E]

The Wikipedia, which is not at all pro-Beijing, has a useful page on how Europe and the USA caused most of the damage.[F]

The part in yellow is captioned EU 28.

Another source says that 60% of historic carbon dioxide comes from Europe and North America.  31% from all Asia.  Just 9% from Africa, South America etc.[G]

Mainstream Western media hardly ever show contribution per head.  Nor the historic share in breaking the lucky balance that allowed the rise of civilisation.

There is always much fog and darkness from media that are mostly owned by a multi-millionaire elite.  People who could and should pay to heal the world.  That could do so by just returning to the more modest share of the world’s wealth they had before the rise of the New Right.  Before they undermined a version of capitalism that worked a lot better than the one we have now.[H]

We will not go extinct – too many people have arranged shelters of one sort or another.  Nor will civilisation collapse: the super-rich have an interest in avoiding that.  But most people still alive in 2050 may face declining living standards in a much more dangerous world.  Parts of the hottest lands might become so hot that people will have to abandon them – India may be a major victim.[I]  And more immediately, if the current Climate Chaos extends to a long failure of the South Asian monsoons, hundreds of millions would be displaced.  

Or quite possibly left to die.

Parliaments the Least Bad System?

Parliaments were invented to give a voice in government to the Moderately Privileged.  Representatives were elected by knights, gentry, merchants, and other rich townspeople.  Men not rich enough as individuals for a King’s Council or House of Lords.

And it was almost always men.  Democracy was men-only until the 20th century, with socialists the main radicals. Only the occasional female aristocratic heir had a political voice.

Different systems existed across Europe, with England copying Continental examples.  We don’t have details of the older Saxon system of Moots and a Witan, but this too was a voice for the privileged.  Those I call the Next Nine: individuals outside the richest 1% but inside the richest 10%.

They copied older European traditions of Representative Government, which were mostly not democratic.  Not even democracy for at least 50% of men in the core territory or ethnic group.  Britain only reached that in the 1880s.[J]  

I doubt the British Empire would ever have become a conventional democracy, since Hindus would have had a clear majority.

Nor can we learn much from Rome’s highly undemocratic Republic.  It was not like Athens, where for brief periods there was an equal voice for citizens, who were still a minority.  In Rome the ‘Knights’ (gentry) and the First Economic Class had between them a majority of the ‘Centuries’ that elected the Consuls, the highest authority.[K]  And oddly enough, we have no record of the other citizens protesting at their majority wishes being overridden.

The Republic was subverted by the Emperors, because most ordinary Roman citizens preferred it.  They had never actually had much influence on the top levels of Roman government: the Senate and the Consuls.

Most protests about ‘failures of democracy’ miss the point.  They assume without thinking that parliaments with multi-party democracy are the right choice.

It’s worth adding that the book series Dune includes a specific rejection of any notion that the people ruled by the heroic Atredes should have any sort of democracy.  This is not really covered by the dismal 1984 film of the first book, or the recent excellent remake. But a decent pair of TV series cover the first three books.  They follow them in specifically rejecting the notion.[L]

Likewise Game of Thrones, and most similar works.  And the Star Wars franchise has elected governments, but takes a dim view of them.  The best people strike out on their own.

In the Foundation series, currently also a TV series, the First Foundation mostly has regular elections, though often subverted.  But behind the scenes, the Second Foundation has the real power, and this is approved of.  Or in later works, not quite correct, but the future lies with group minds that replace individual identity.

The TV version has changed the plot a lot.  But kept the notion of ineffective elected rulers, so far theoretically loyal to distant Emperors.  And as in the books, the real power lies elsewhere.

Is Western popular belief in Globalised Parliamentary Democracy any more than wanting foreigners to be as similar as possible to us?  Even if it kills them?

Sadly, ‘even if it kills them’ is often the literal truth.

How to Ease the Climate Crisis

Money is said to be short for fixing the Climate Crisis.

But not for finding excuses to delay:

“A huge leak of documents seen by BBC News shows how countries are trying to change a crucial scientific report on how to tackle climate change.

“The leak reveals Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia are among countries asking the UN to play down the need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels.

“It also shows some wealthy nations are questioning paying more to poorer states to move to greener technologies.”[M]

The rich can hope to ride out major climate disasters.  They own the mass media that accepted austerity, after an immense bail-out of the rich after the Crisis of 2008.  A crisis their speculations and gambles had caused.

But for warfare, there is always plenty of money.

And little hesitation about changing everything:

“[Roosevelt] introduced, for the first time in US history, general federal income taxes. The government rapidly raised the top rate until, in 1944, it reached 94%. It issued war bonds and borrowed massively. Between 1940 and 1945, total government spending rose roughly tenfold. Astonishingly the US government spent more money (in current dollar terms) between 1942 and 1945 than it had between 1789 and 1941. From 1940 to 1944, its military budget rose by a factor of 42, outstripping Germany’s, Japan’s and the United Kingdom’s put together.

“Civilian industries were entirely retooled for war. When the car industry was instructed to switch to military production, its massive equipment was immediately jack-hammered out of the floor and replaced, often in a matter of weeks, with new machines. General Motors began turning out tanks, aircraft engines, fighter planes, cannons and machine guns. Oldsmobile started making artillery shells; Pontiac produced anti-aircraft guns. By 1944, Ford was completing a long-range bomber plane almost every hour. During its three years of war, the US manufactured 87,000 naval vessels, including 27 aircraft carriers, 300,000 planes, 100,000 tanks and armoured cars and 44bn rounds of ammunition. Roosevelt described it as a ‘miracle of production’. But it wasn’t a miracle. It was the realisation of a well-laid plan.”[N]

Taiwan – the basics

Taiwan was largely outside Chinese civilisation for a surprisingly long time.

Taiwan’s indigenous peoples were the main source of the Austronesians, a language group very different from Chinese. And a remarkable people: the first settlers of Madagascar.  

Their Polynesian branch spread right across the Pacific.  The last people to find habitable but uninhabited lands, ending with New Zealand.  West Europeans were the first humans to know where all other humans were living, but not discoverers for humans as a whole.

Mainland Chinese began settling Taiwan from 400 years ago, probably because South China was filling up.  There was complex politics involving the Spanish, Dutch, indigenous tribes, Han-Chinese settlers loyal to the fallen Ming Dynasty, and the Manchu dynasty that had conquered the core of Mainland China.

It ended with the Manchu dynasty annexing Taiwan.  And it became ethnic-Chinese:

“Immigrants mostly from southern Fujian continued to enter Taiwan. The border between taxpaying lands and what was considered ‘savage’ lands shifted eastward, with some aborigines becoming sinicized while others retreated into the mountains.”[O]

Imperial China in 1894 and 1895 had a war with Japan over control of Korea.  China had more Western-made warships.  But its rulers would not modernise their thinking or their government, unlike Japan.[P]  Korea’s loose links with China were cut.  It was annexed by Japan in 1910.

Taiwan in 1895 had not been involved, but was awarded to Japan by the peace treaty.  It needed an actual invasion to secure control, with Taiwanese creating a short-lived Republic of Formosa.

Japanese rule was harsh but effective.  Edgar Snow in the 1930s was sympathetic to China, but noted that Taiwan was much better governed.

Unlike Manchuria, grabbed by Japan with a phoney separatist movement as cover, Taiwan’s future might have been open after World War Two.  It was just as capable of self-rule as Korea, where North Korea was created by the anti-Japanese resistance with Soviet support.  Where most pro-Japanese Koreans became the government of South Korea, though the USA found a right-wing anti-Japanese exile to be the respectable face of the regime.

Taiwan was given to China by the famous Cairo Conference of 1943

“All the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, including Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China”.[Q]

That was official lying.  Manchuria had been grabbed illegally.  But Taiwan (Formosa) had been legally transferred to Japan from Imperial China.

This Cairo Conference was not attended by the Soviet Union, because they were not then at war with Japan.  But I doubt they disagreed.  Everyone saw that China by the 21st century would be a major power.  They all wanted a friendly China.

In both Taiwan and Manchuria, the regional populations were overwhelmingly Han Chinese.  But in both, many felt that the new Kuomintang rulers were worse than the Japanese had been.  There was a major revolt in Taiwan, with at least 18,000 of them killed.[R]

People can identify with their rulers: many Hong Kong citizens waved the Union Jack in the now-crushed protests.  Many Taiwanese had accepted Imperial Japan.  But power politics determined how things went.

Taiwan after 1949 was the main refuge of the defeated Kuomintang.  They also briefly retained Hainan, but soon lost it.  And without the North Koreans trying to take the whole of Korea, Beijing might have completed the job.  But during the Korean War, the USA decided also to defend Taiwan.  And they continued to pretend that it was the real Republic of China, letting it keep China’s UN seat with its veto powers.

They did not want Kuomintang troops for their Korean war, nor later in Vietnam.  They had already decided during World War Two that these were low-quality troops, mostly left to defend their home territory.

Nixon and Kissinger decided in the early 1970s that peace with China would be a good move.  They stopped pretending that Taiwan was the real China.  Beijing got China’s UN seat.

Nixon in the 1950s had generated a lot of the hysteria about a supposed betrayal of the Kuomintang by US leftists.  He knew the real situation: that the Kuomintang had been hopelessly bad.  But Taiwan had been modernised by Japanese ruthlessness.  And the Kuomintang, with no ties to Taiwanese landlords, managed the land reform that they had refused to do before.  And with vast amounts of US cash pumped in, and none of the damaging New Right nonsense pushed by the West from the 1980s, it was a successful economy.

But viewed by most Mainland Chinese as part of the Motherland.  Only Mao had the authority to decide otherwise, and I doubt he wished to.  In any case, Taiwan was still ruled by the ousted Chiang Kai-shek, and then by his son.  Only later was functional democracy allowed, with separatism surfacing.

But International Law does not in fact give a right of Self-Determination: it balances it against Territorial Integrity.  Would-be secessionists can mostly be crushed without serious global opposition.  It is a sad truth: but not to admit it can and has got many people hurt.

“Most in Taiwan — 87 percent, according to a recent poll — want to maintain some form of the status quo.

“The status quo means maintaining de facto independence but avoiding retaliation from China. And the percentage of Taiwan’s people who want to maintain the status quo indefinitely is growing. It is the best-case scenario in a sea of unenviable options.

“To be sure, if there were no risk of invasion from China, the majority would choose independence.

“But China’s President Xi Jinping has made clear that such a declaration is not available to Taiwan. So the status quo is pragmatic — and preferable.”[S]

But despite the example of Hong Kong, willfully annoying Beijing is being pushed by the West, and by Taiwan’s current rulers.

Taiwan is self-governing, and I don’t believe President Xi wants to invade.  But he can’t accept anything that implies it is an actually independent country, which is what they’ve been pushing for.


Upper London Holds the World’s Dirty Money

Tony Blair twisted the Labour Party.  He made it the servant of the Millionaire Elite.  And also became one of them.  A brief revolt under Corbyn has so far been crushed by Starmer.

Labour MPs continue to find nice and entirely legal niches in the system, even if they are never ministers.  Ordinary people suffer continuing austerity.

Tax avoidance and tax evasion are part of it:

““The wealth held in tax havens is staggering … $6 trillion to $36 trillion…

“The British network is surely the biggest…

“Britain, whose bloated financial sector exacerbates widespread economic problems.”[T]

For why I say ‘Upper London’, see Newsnotes for May 2015.[U]

Or work it out for yourself!


Iraq: the Wrong Sort of Democracy?

In Iraq, the party of Muqtada al-Sadr is now easily the strongest in a fragmented system.[V]

No friend of the USA.  In 2004, the US-chosen rulers tried to frame him for murder.  I denounced this at the time.[W]

In 2018, the Iraqi Communists were allied with Sadr.  And won 13 seats.  They shared a demand for justice for the poor – very anti-US.

Results this time are still incomplete.


Old newsnotes at the magazine websites.  I also write regular blogs –


[B] and

[C] How China Escapes Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate by Isabella M. Weber: page 259.  Routledge Studies on the Chinese Economy





[H] and

[I] (pay site).


[K] See Elites In History: Rome’s Undemocratic Republic





[P] See for details of what they did wrong.




[T] (pay site)




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