Notes on the News

Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

  • Brexit Failures
  • Wearing Out Russia
  • China ‘bites the bullet’ for Covid-19
  • Snippets
  • Australia Day a Bad Memory
  • Normal for China
  • Cities Fit for Humans?
  • Hindu Racism
  • The Internet as Electronic Slum
  • Killer Railways in the USA

Brexit Failures

“What would genuine plan for levelling up the north of England look like? Ask a German

“They have laws requiring equality between the states and a funding regime to make it happen. Imagine that kind of Britain…

“A basic law in the German constitution requiring equality between the 16 states and an annual process of funding redistribution to support it. When you visit Germany, you can see and feel the success of this policy wherever you go in the high standards of transport infrastructure and the public realm…

“The idea that the north of England cannot achieve the same economic power as other parts of the UK is not borne out by history. In the 19th century, the great cities of the north built Britain’s wealth. Liverpool was one of the most powerful ports in the world; Manchester was the global hub of the cotton industry. These two cities pioneered rail travel. An illustration of Manchester’s economic and political power came in 1862 with the refusal of its mill workers to handle slave-picked cotton, a decision that helped to end the American civil war.

“Our decline in the 20th century was not due to any weaknesses of ours but to hostile national policy, particularly on industry and infrastructure.”[1]

That’s from Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester.  Who’d be a much better Labour leader than Starmer.  But the party seems too gutless to act on Starmer’s clear betrayal of the promises that got him elected.

Britain remains dominated by Upper London – people whose wealth comes from games with money, not from producing things that people actually need.  Thatcher and her heirs let them loot the nation’s wealth.  Wealth that had been much more fairly shared in the more collectivist mood after World War Two, when people demanded that the same controls that won the war should make a decent peace.  

Such as easily-available Council Houses, which my generation were tricked into abandoning.  The private sector was expected to do it better:

“On one street in Birmingham nearly a quarter of the properties had been converted into exempt accommodation for vulnerable people, yet at least three were found to be ghost tenancies and a fourth was a cannabis farm.”[2]

Proper controls are not allowed: that would be ‘red tape’.  They were relying on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand to make the landlords virtuous.  And have greatly speeded the decline of Britain.

The Baby Boomers showed bad judgement.  But most of us are no better off than if the successful balance of the 1950s and 1960s had been updated.  We gained nothing by letting it be attacked in a crazy effort to restore 19th-century capitalism.  The gainers have been the rich, many of them born after the Baby Boom.

Generation X and Millennials seemed unsure.  But the young are now breaking normal patterns.  They are not becoming more conservative as they get older.[3]

“One is not born, but rather, becomes, a Conservative. That reliable political fact is one reason why the Conservatives have almost always treated the youth vote as an optional extra rather than a “nice to have”.

“However, in the years when the Tories won in landslides, such as 1983, the party had healthy leads among the youngest voters as well as the old. Now, that was partly because of the split opposition vote but it was also because in 1983, the Conservatives got more than 40 per cent of the vote from the youngest voters. In 2019, the party polled 19 per cent from 18 to 24-year-olds.”[4]

In 1979 and 1983, people accepted the slogan ‘Labour Isn’t Working’.  But back then, they were much more likely to get good jobs and a decent place to live.  

Tories risk becoming a dying breed.  

Supposing Starmer’s Labour wins and then disappoints?  Younger voters would mostly switch to Greens or Liberals, or to a Left Labour if one should get going.  They would let the Tory Party dwindle into increasing powerlessness.

Wearing Out Russia

Hoping to get a decisive peace by subduing Russia was Hitler’s idea.  

Also Napoleon’s.  

And if you know history, Charles XII of Sweden in the 18th century.  He was offered a good settlement after unexpected first success.  He held out for more.  He lost most of the then-powerful Swedish Empire.

Imperial Germany might have won World War One, had they made more modest demands on the Bolsheviks.  They signed an armistice on 15 December 1917.  A quick and modest settlement would have let Germany shift troops west in January rather than March.  Before large numbers of US troops started arriving, which defeated their briefly-successful Spring Offensive.[5]  

The Crimean War worked, because Britain and France settled for a modest peace.  Russia could live with it, and made a real effort to modernise.  A drive that lasted till the assassination by anarchists of the reforming Tsar Alexander II.  An assassination that involved one women of Jewish origin.  The fools in charge decided that reforms should stall, and they should instead encourage hatred of Jews.

I’ve been sure from early last year that a war to cripple Russia was planned from at least 2010.  The voters of Ukraine dared to reject the First Orange Revolution and elect a President friendly to Russia.[6]  The outgoing President chose to give Stepan Bandera the title of Hero of Ukraine.  The man began and ended the war as an ally of Hitler.  Was a Third Force massacring Jews and Poles between times.  

This was and is overlooked in the West.  Fans of the man remained part of the pro-Western coalition that grabbed power in 2014.  That refused a sensible offer of a new election and began a policy of trying to root out everything Russian from Ukraine.

Putin did not trust the new regime to respect his vital naval base in Crimea.  And the elected regional government anyway claimed a right to secede.  Had a better claim than Kosovo, which NATO fought a war for.  Which much of the Global South still does not recognise as a legitimate sovereign government.

Putin felt he had to have Crimea.  For the Donbass, his recent speech explains how he would have settled for the sort of autonomy that many minorities have within Russia.  Western reports ignore that, but here are some of his actual words:

“Since 2014, Donbass has been fighting for the right to live in their land and to speak their native tongue. It fought and never gave up amid the blockade, constant shelling and the Kiev regime’s overt hatred. It hoped and waited that Russia would come to help.

“In the meantime, as you know well, we were doing everything in our power to solve this problem by peaceful means, and patiently conducted talks on a peaceful solution to this devastating conflict.

“Behind our backs, a very different plan was being hatched. As we can see now, the promises of Western leaders, their assurances that they were striving for peace in Donbass turned out to be a sham and outright lies. They were simply marking time, engaged in political chicanery, turning a blind eye to the Kiev regime’s political assassinations and reprisals against undesirable people, their mistreatment of believers. They increasingly incited the Ukrainian neo-Nazis to stage terrorist attacks in Donbass. The officers of nationalist battalions trained at Western academies and schools. Weapons were also supplied…

“Now they admit this publicly and openly, and they feel no shame about it. They seem to be proud and even to be revelling in their own perfidy, while calling the Minsk Agreements and the Normandy Format a diplomatic show and a bluff.”[7]

Russia holds and has annexed a majority of the regions where anti-Orange parties consistently got electoral majorities.[8]  Voted for parties that Kiev has now banned, with no whisper of Western complaint.  

Russia is stressed, but will not collapse.  Russians are ready to go on suffering for a right to reclaim Russian-majority territory that Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev had chosen to combine with solidly Ukrainian regions to make a mostly-loyal Soviet Ukraine.

I also wondered if Western hopes of a Russian break-up might be realised.  It is true that only 80% define themselves as Great Russian.  But the rest are an astonishing mix of things, and I think it stable.  Only the Chechens had doubts, and most are now fighting for Putin in Ukraine.

China ‘bites the bullet’ for Covid-19

Beijing forced a hard crackdown, after the initial errors of Wuhan’s regional authorities.  They saved millions of Chinese lives.

They have now been forced to open up, since the rest of the world has decided to live with Covid.  China kept being re-infected.

So how bad has the opening-up been?

Even if hostile Western estimates are correct, it was still a success.

“Two months after China ended ‘zero Covid,’ rough estimates suggest that between 1 and 1.5 million people died — far more than the official count…

“But at the estimated levels of mortality, China would already have surpassed official rates of death in many Asian countries that never clamped down as long or as aggressively.

“At the same time, China would rank below Germany, Italy, the United States and other countries where outbreaks accelerated before vaccines became available.”[9]

I looked at a neutral global estimate.  US, 329 deaths per hundred-thousand population; total deaths 1,114,545.  UK, 324, 218,476.  Czechia, 327, 42,348.  China, 100,922 deaths.  India, 530,753.[10]

China’s deaths per 100k were too low for the source to show.  China’s population is 1,411,750,000, 7 deaths per 100K on the official death figures.  106 if the estimate of 1.5 million dead is correct: still quite low.  

India’s figures are suspicious.  India is shown as having had 44,685,499 cases, and China only 4,903,517.   Nearly 100 times as many cases, but only a little over 5 times as many deaths.

Western stories also repeated the claim that Mao caused tens of millions of deaths in the Three Bad Years.  The reality was normal poor-country death-rates for 1959 to 1961.  The rest of his rule over 28 calendar years had usually low death rates.[11]

One could with equal truth say that millions of Britons died under Thatcher’s rule.  A prankster could see who they could confuse, before pointing out that they hadn’t said that millions died who would otherwise have lived if someone else had ruled.

Thatcher’s policies probably did raise the death rate by a few thousands, and her successors have done worse.  But not as bad as the USA, which has gone against rich-country trends and has a sharply falling life expectancy.[12]


Australia Day a Bad Memory?

“Only a few years ago, on Australia Day, you would have found Kaitlyn decked out in flag-adorned regalia and poolside with a beer and barbecue sausage, proudly celebrating the holiday like millions of others.

“‘I used to host parties… I used to be really into it,’ the 24-year-old tells the BBC.

“But Kaitlyn is now part of a growing cohort of young Australians and others who are shunning the national day.

“The date – 26 January – is the anniversary of the 1788 landing of Britain’s First Fleet, which began the era of colonisation.

“It was also when Indigenous people began being oppressed – massacred, dispossessed of their lands and cut off from their culture.”[13]

It is good to celebrate something.  So why not their unification as the Commonwealth of Australia, passed by the UK parliament on 5 July 1900?


Normal for China

“‘We just want to live in a normal world’: China’s young protesters speak out, and disappear.”[14]

Sad.  But China could not jump straight to Western norms that took centuries to establish.  A British system that was not even loosely democratic until the 1880s.[15]  China tried it in 1912, and got warlordism.

The Western consensus was built after a Western definition of ‘the normal’ was created by various highly authoritarian governments.

Sun Yat-sen had the idea of a period of tutelage.  This actually worked on Taiwan.  But there, the Kuomintang had no connection with the landlord class, and so carried through a proper Land Reform that they had not dared to while ruling the mainland.

Meantime the Chinese Communist Party continues to reshape the nation:

“A Chinese province of more than 80 million people will lift restrictions on unmarried people having children and remove caps on the number of babies as part of a national drive to increase the country’s birth rate…

“National reproduction policies do not explicitly ban unmarried women from having children but proof of marriage is often required for parents to access free services including prenatal healthcare, a mother’s salary during maternity leave, and job protection.

“Those who seek to register a birth outside of marriage often face heavy fines in order to get the child a hukou – China’s crucial household registration that gives the child access to education and social services.”[16]


Cities Fit for Humans?

An interesting overview of urban life:

“The urban ideal is a 19th-century city with 21st-century enhancements

“We now realise that cars, concrete and commuting ruined cities in the 20th century…

“Early last century, cities made some fateful bad choices. Offered two new rival vehicles, they chose the gasoline-powered car over the clean, cheap and compact safety bicycle. Then in 1903, the first reinforced concrete skyscraper went up in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Concrete helps answer the vexed question of why modern cities are ugly. Before the 20th century, local, low-carbon, organic building materials, such as Parisian limestone, helped houses blend with the landscape. And before developers acquired the technology to build high, buildings were on a human scale, small enough for a pedestrian to take in… 

“Cars and subway systems allowed cities to sprawl, so commuting was invented. Especially in the US, zoning laws sanctified the separation of home, work and entertainment. City centres stood empty at night and on weekends.

“Now, we’re ditching bad modernity for 18th-century homeworking. In the US, about 30 per cent of paid full days are currently worked from home, and even more in high-tech cities. As commutes decline, banning cars becomes easier. Even the private electric car won’t be welcome in many European cities because it takes up too much space, and its production creates too much CO₂. Driverless cars are probably a long way off. However, cities should soon have driverless buses programmed to ride set routes…

“In the two regions with the most advanced transport infrastructure, western Europe and China, even intercity travel is returning to the 19th century, as trains displace planes. More international high-speed train routes are scheduled to open around Europe, most spectacularly, one from Paris to Berlin, though sadly, new passport controls are reducing London to the status of branch station.

“The new carless urban ideal should work best in European cities, which were built before the car and have few of the New York-style office towers that are now becoming redundant. Most cities outside Europe remain stuck in 20th-century mode, only even more car-ridden.”[17]


Hindu Racism

Europeans in the 19th century remade the world on racist lines.  But the ideas are much older:

“Dalits are winning against caste discrimination in the US, too…

“Caste is a hierarchical social system dating back thousands of years and practised throughout South Asia among people of all religions. It negatively affects more than 1.9 billion people worldwide and at least 5.7 million South Asian Americans, degrading their quality of life.

“It determines who can worship where, education and career opportunities, and even personal relationships — in essence, caste shapes entire lives. While caste-based discrimination in the US is not as widespread and overt as in India, where it has its roots, it exists here, too.

“South Asian immigrants from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar, Maldives, and indentured communities all report experiencing caste discrimination in the US. The Equality Labs 2016 Caste in the United States survey found that one in four Dalits in the US had faced verbal or physical assault and two out of every three said they had faced discrimination at work.”[18]


The Internet as Electronic Slum

“‘Aims’: the software for hire that can control 30,000 fake online profiles

“Exclusive: Team Jorge disinformation unit controls vast army of avatars with fake profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Instagram, Amazon and Airbnb.”[19]

One of many examples of how the libertarian vision of the Internet has failed.  

The reality is gigantic global corporations that try to bully their users, and put money first.  And a variety of criminal enterprises that spoil the genuine community values that once flourished.

All based on the 1960s vision that if you get rid of controls, something much better was certain to spontaneously emerge.

It mostly has not happened.  And usually happens when a better system also suits the self-interest of the elite.


Killer Railways in the USA

 “The rate of accidents on Norfolk Southern’s railway increased in each of the last four years, according to a recent company presentation. The record has worsened as executives at Norfolk Southern and other railroads have been telling investors on Wall Street that they can bolster their profit margins by keeping a lid on costs. At the same time, railway companies have lobbied against new rules aimed at making trains safer.

“Norfolk Southern, which earned more than $3 billion last year, invested close to $2 billion in its railways and operations, up a third from 2021. But over the past five years, it paid shareholders nearly $18 billion through stock buybacks and dividends — twice as much as the amount it invested in its railways and operations. Other large railways have paid out billions to their shareholders, too, and their shares have done better than the wider stock market over the last decade.”[20]

The sort of thing the Tories want for Britain.  That’s what the current strikes are mostly about.


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




[4]  (pay site) 





[9] (pay site)

[10], as at 15th February.







[17]  (pay site) 



[20]  (pay site) 

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