Protection money: Don Corleone

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

29 April 2017

Potus is sitting in the Oval Office, complaining of his workload and wondering what to do. He has an idea. He is surprised at this as he is not really an ideas man. He addresses his gopher.

The Donald (DT) : Get me the phone!

Gopher (G): Sir, you already have it in your hand.

DT: So I have, so I have. Smart of you to spot it. I had my hand behind my head – the hand with the phone in it – so naturally I didn’t know I was holding it.

G: Can I be of any further assistance, Mr President?

DT: Yes, tell me why I wanted the phone?

G: Perhaps to speak to a President, I mean a President who is not you.

DT: Yes, Yes, that’s a good idea. But which President?

G: Well, there’s the Chinese President and the Japanese President and the President of Mexico and there’s that nice President Putin who seems put out at the moment for some reason…

DT: People get upset at just about everything nowadays. Perhaps it’s because we have just bombed his towel-head friend…that Basher chap or whatever he’s called. These foreigners all have foreign names. How can any one remember who they are? Why don’t they just have straightforward names like anyone else? Donald, for instance? This world would be a better place if more people were called Donald. Doncha think?

G: Sure do, Mr President. Sure do.

DT: Isn’t there any other President I could ring. I always ring the same people. I need to inject some variety into my life. It’s so boring always making small talk with the same Presidents.

G: Well, Mr President, there are about 150 Presidents in the world that you could ring. There’s the President of Iran, for instance, or the President of France, or the President of Kazakhstan….or you could maybe try the President of our allies in South Korea?

DT: Yes, that’s it. I knew there was some President I wanted to talk to. I have a deal I want to make with those South Koreans. Here’s the goddam phone! Get me the President of South Korea!

G: Yessir!

Gopher is on the phone for five minutes. Reports back crestfallen.

G: Unfortunately, Mr President, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea is under house arrest. She’s been impeached.

DT: What do you mean, she’s under house arrest? What’s she doing under house arrest at a time like this? Doesn’t she know there’s a war on? Or at least there soon will be if I have anything to do with it. This is ridiculous. She’s let me down. What am I going to do?

G: Perhaps ring the Vice-President of South Korea?

DT: Great idea! Get me the Vice-President!

Gopher is on the phone for five minutes. DT chews a banana. Gopher returns.

G: Here he is, Sir. It’s Mr Kim, the acting Vice-President of South Korea.

DT picks up the phone.

DT: Hi, Jim! What’s the weather like in Tokyo these days?

Kim: Mumble mumble mumble.

DT: Sounds like the line is not too good. It doesn’t matter, anyway. You don’t need to speak. You just need to listen. OK, compadre?

Kim: Mumble mumble mumble.

DT: Jim, you may not know this yet, but last night I installed some Thud missile launchers in your country right up against the North Korean border. OK? Yes, I know it’s OK. You don’t need to answer. Well, now you’re real safe, coz those Thuds can shoot your northern relative’s missiles right out of the sky – that’s if they haven’t exploded on take-off as they usually do. But I’m real sorry that we had to base them on a golf course. That’s the worst part of this whole mission. I mean I know about golf courses. I’m very particular about them. In fact, we have one at a nice place called Mar-a-Lago down in Florida. Fancy a round, by the way? Naturally, special rates for you, my Chink friend.

Mr Kim: Mumble mumble mumble.

DT: I take that to be a yes. I’ll get the Vice-President Mr Pence to arrange it. He doesn’t have much to do. In fact, that’s actually his job, they tell, me – doing nothing. It’s a funny old place this White House, takes some gettin’ used to. Now back to business. I’ll be straight with you, Jim. I like you personally, although I’ve never seen you and maybe never will – except at Mar-a-Lago, of course. Well, Jim, I’m going to cut you a deal that you won’t be able to refuse. I am going to charge you only one billion US dollars – remember, by the way, US dollars, not some worthless foreign bucks – for the privilege of our basing our Thud missiles in your backyard. Jim, you are a very lucky man. I have done many deals in my life but you have got the best price that I have ever given to a Chinese Vice-President. Congratulations!

Gopher intervenes gingerly.

G: Excuse me, Mr President, but with the greatest respect I think you’re talking to the South Korean Vice-President.

DT: Is that so? Well, I’m not at all surprised. Those Orientals are all just asking to get mixed up. They speak different lingos and yet they look all the same. Anyway, I don’t think Jim’ll mind. I’ve been getting on real well with him. We’ve just clinched a great deal! He was so grateful for our Thuds. In fact, I’m thinking of sending him some more. The price will probably go up in the meantime, of course. But then that’s business and those Japs sure know about business. After all, we taught them all about it after we bombed the living daylights out of them in one of those wars.

DT turns back to the phone.

DT: Hi Jim, sorry to keep you waiting. My assistant here was suggesting that I had called you the Chinese Vice-President. Well, maybe I did, maybe I didn’t, who knows? But it doesn’t really matter in any case what I call you. The important thing is that you know who you are. And I am sure you do. A deal-maker like you, Jim, sure knows who he is. In any case, I don’t need to tell you that Korea used to be a part of China. You’re Japanese and you know that already. Or was Korea a part of Japan?

Silence from Mr Kim. Not even a mumble.

DT: That guy’s not answering. Fix him back up for me.

Gopher is on the phone for five minutes. Potus eats another banana. Gopher returns, ashen-faced.

G: Mr President, I have bad news for you. Mr Kim, he’s dead. He’s just dropped dead of a heart attack!

DT: No problem. Stuff happens, as they say. At least he wasn’t impeached like the other guy. Get me another banana. I can’t say it bothers me too much, to be honest. I didn’t even know the guy, although I have to say he was a pleasure to do business with. Now you go and get the protocol guys to fax over pronto to wherever my friend Jim came from a contract confirming  the deal I made with him. Jim may have passed away but the business lives on.

DT cogitates:….All the same, come to think of it, it’s a darn pity our friend Jim’s no longer around to benefit from his plan to take out a lifetime subscription to the golf club at Mar-a-Lago….But wait a minute, here’s a thought. Couldn’t we fix him up with preposterous membership – and charge him pro rata? Could be a cool deal for the club. He’d be paying his dues for ever!

Gopher: Yessir! You’re on the money there, for sure. Sounds like another of your light-bulb moments!…It certainly is a preposterous idea, but I’m wondering, with due respect, whether you might perhaps have been thinking of posthumous rather than preposterous?

DT: Could be, could be. I always tell people, “listen to what I’m thinking, not what I’m  saying.”

Gopher: That seems very sound advice, Sir. And now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be getting along to have that contract faxed out lickety-split.

DT: Right then! That’s enough bananas for tonight…I must go and see Melania now. We’ve got a dinner date upcoming. Don’t disturb me again unless it’s really necessary. And tell folks not to worry whatever happens. I’ve got my finger on the button.

DT and gopher exit by separate doors from the Oval Office.

It is a starlit night in Washington DC…and once again there is Peace on Earth to all Men of Good Will.

A grateful nation sinks into a deep slumber.

But which nation?

Antigone1984:

Readers might usefully check out our blog of 25 April 2017 Lost at sea for the background to this blog.

Otherwise, we are grateful to an article in the Financial Times (FT) of 29/30 April 2017: “US demands on S Korea prompt backlash”.

According to the FT, the Donald informed South Korea that “it would be appropriate if they paid” for Thaad (which we have called “Thud” in our skit above, since presumably at some point in the action something or other will come down to earth with a thud).

According to Wikipedia, “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD is a United States Army anti-ballistic missile system which is designed to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill approach.”

According to the FT, the Donald also reiterated the administration’s intention to renegotiate or terminate the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Moon Jae-in, candidate for the opposition Democratic Party in the Soouth Korean presidential election scheduled for 9 May 2017, is not happy. His sp0kesman said: “We should think about whether [US demands in respect] of South Korea’s unilaterally shouldering the cost [of the Thaad deployment] and of scrapping the Korea-US FTA without close bilateral consultation are in line with the two countries’ alliance.

Antigone1984: very polite the South Koreans are, as you can see. They certainly know how to defuse tension.

However, the problems don’t end there.

According to the FT, the Donald’s comments are only the latests to spark alarm in South Korea. “Officials expressed private shock this week when Mr Trump phoned Beijing and Tokyo but not Seoul ahead of an anticipated provocation by North Korea.”

Park Hui-rak, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said: “The current situation is very serious. South Korea is facing a situation where the country has become marginalised by its neighbours and excluded from dialogue on North Korea.”

It seems, not implausibly, that the installation of the Thaad base in South Korea has also sparked a reaction in China, which (according to the FT) has targeted South Korean conglomerates, such as Hyundai and Lotte, with retaliatory punitive measures. “Beijing fears that the base’s radar could be used to spy on its own military developments,” according to the FT.

Antigone1984: Beijing’s fears are justified. They will undoubtedly be used for that purpose. One feels even more sorry for the 50 million South Koreans. It is as if they were citizens of Monaco or San Marino. They now realise that they just don’t count. They are not important enough. Antigone1984 would draw another crucial lesson (which we may develop in a later blog): steer clear of alliances and stay on good terms, so far as possible, with all the world. Nobody is going to nuke Switzerland. By contrast, regardless of the fact that Estonia (population 1.5 million) is a member of NATO, the USA is not going to go to its assistance against Russia if New York or Chicago is likely to be nuked in retaliation. Get real, f0lks!

—–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

Posted in China, Italy, Japan, Korea, Military, Politics, Russia, Switzerland, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last of England

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

28 April 2017

“England is no more. That is why this is a good time to celebrate it, mourn it, sing elegies for it. This is not the place to analyse why, or when, the disappearance happened. World wars, tarmacadamed road, the influence of the Unites States of America, their music and their foods, the growth of commerce, and the growth of belief in growth; large numbers of immigrants from former colonies; shame at having possessed the colonies, regret at their loss, or a mingling of the two emotions – all these no doubt contributed to what we all know. We stand in what appears to be remote meadow land, and hear not the song bird, but the distant roar of motor traffic. We attend cathedral worship, and hear, not the words which have echoed in those stones since the reign of the first Elizabeth, but alien, jarring words, injurious to faith as well as repellent to the ear. We are of a generation that has never seen an old market town unmarred by thoughtless town planning, intrusive road signs, tactless functional building, and aggressive emendations to the doors and window frames of buildings which have stood since the the time of George III. We have watched those characters familiar in fact as well as in nursery rhyme – the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker – replaced by out-of-town shopping malls, and supermarkets. We have seen corn exchanges turned into mosques and old parsonages made into the second homes of hedge-fund managers.The England of our grandparents, then, is no more. And, what is more, the Union [of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland] is unlikely to survive….”

This is the editor’s preface to an anthology of poems entitled “England” edited by A. N. Wilson and published in 2008 by Eland Publishing Ltd.

The publisher’s blurb on the back cover says:

This collection delights in the power of an English ideal, in well constructed metre and memorable line, helping to create a legendary past of honesty, energy and innocence. Whether recited in the secrecy of the bath, or babbling [“babbled” surely?] with wild emotion over a windswept picnic, a noisy bar or in a hushed tearoom, here is a sourcebook for passion, a song book for the patriot. Armed with Byron, Blake, Brooke, Belloc and Browning, we are given access to the glorious English empire of the mind.”

The tone of the collection can be surmised from the following poem, one of the most famous in the English language, written by William Blake (1757-1827).

Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

 

And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

 

Bring me my Bow of burning gold!

Bring me my Arrows of desire!

Bring me my Spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

 

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

 

Antigone1984:

The writer of the above lament for a supposedly lost Golden Age in England, A. N. (Andrew Norman) Wilson (b. 1950), is a prolific novelist, biographer, reviewer and writer on historical and religious subjects. A former literary editor of the conservative Spectator magazine, he was educated at Rugby public (ie private) school and New (ie not new) College, Oxford (founded in 1379). The Oxford Companion to English Literature (1995 revised edition) lauds him as follows: “As a reviewer, he achieved a reputation as an acerbic and provocatively conservative critic and became an often-quoted example of ‘fogeydom’ because of his espousal of traditional values and his High Church sympathies.”

The idea that life was better in the past and that things have been going to the dogs ever since what we might call the Garden of Eden is a view commonplace in many cultures and particularly among older people as the hopes of their youth are dashed with the passing of time.

Progressives, on the other hand, accuse retrophiliacs of seeing the past through rose-coloured spectacles. As Horace said in his Ars Poetica (lines 173-174), the senior citizen tends to be “difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti se puero, castigator censorque minorum” (“awkward, querulous, a cheer-leader for the good old days when he was a boy, and quick to correct and criticize the young”).

Others, with whom we agree, believe that the past is a curate’s egg – some parts good, some parts bad.

Politically, we at Antigone1984 are committed socialists – unabashed utopians, if you like – aiming for a brave new world of justice and equality. Culturally, however, we have a certain hankering for some of the traditions, habits and rituals of the past.

On the one hand, for instance, medical advances have immeasurably improved people’s health. On the other hand, the global consecration of market-based neoliberalism as the sole economic model has led to the homogenisation of cultural diversity, the extinction of solidarity with the casualisation (“uberisation”) of employment, and the destruction of traditional communities. In this respect Antigone1984 is at one with A.N. Wilson.

The conflict between the supposedly ideal past and a degraded present is addressed in the seminal 1961 essay “The Long Revolution” by the Cambridge literary critic Raymond Williams (1921-1988).

In this book Williams takes aim at fellow Cambridge don F.R. (Frank Raymond) Leavis (1895-1978) – a titan of the Cambridge English Faculty – because of his nostalgia for a supposed organic community of the past based on a widely shared stable set of beliefs and values – the only soil, according to Leavis, in which culture could flourish.

According to Williams, the notion of the organic community is “a surrender to a characteristically industrialist, or urban, nostalgia – a late version of mediaevalism, with its attachments to an ‘adjusted’ feudal society. If there is one thing certain about the ‘organic community’, it is that it has always [been] gone. Its period, in the contemporary myth, is the rural eighteenth century; but for Goldsmith, in “The Deserted Village” (1770), it had gone; for Crabbe, in “The Village” (1783), it had gone; for Cobbett, in 1820, it had gone since his boyhood (that is to say, it existed when Goldsmith and Crabbe were writing); for Sturt it was there until late in the nineteenth century; for myself…it was there – or the aspect quoted, the inherited skills of work, the slow traditional talk, the continuity of work and leisure – in the 1930s.”

However, Williams went on the warn that “it is foolish and dangerous to exclude from the so-called organic society the penury, petty tyranny, the disease and mortality, the ignorance and frustrated intelligence which were also among its ingredients.”

He concludes by accusing Leavis of “continued allegiance to an outline of history which tends to suggest that ‘what is commonly described as Progress’ is almost wholly decline.”

The attack on Leavis was pursued by leftwing academic Perry Anderson in his famous 1968 article “Components of the National Culture” (New Left Review No 50, July/August).

Slating Leavis’s “enormous nostalgia for the ‘organic community’ of the past”, Anderson says that “the illusory nature of this notion – its mythic character – has often been criticized…correctly….Leavis’s epistemology was necessarily accompanied by a philosophy of history. The organic community of the past, when there was no distinction between popular and sophisticated culture, died with the Augustan age; Bunyan was among its last witnesses. Thereafter history for Leavis traced a gradual decline. The industrial revolution finally swamped the old rural culture…With the twentieth century…the inexorable tide of industrialism began to invade the very precincts of humane culture itself. Leavis saw the new media of communication – newspapers, magazines, radio, cinema and television – as the menacing apogee of commercialism and industrial civilization. They threatened to obliterate every civilized standard, on which the existence of culture depended, in a new barbarism.

What would Leavis have made of the internet? One need hardly ask. He must be turning in his grave.

A. N. Wilson and F. R. Leavis are not alone in their lamentation at the loss of innocence.

Antigone1984 has unearthed a yellowing cutting of an article by Alan Brien in the New Statesman of 14 August 1970:

Historically, the English countryside has been continually on the verge of being ruined for ever. Almost a century ago, Henry James said our rural landscape was ‘Cockneyfied’ – there wasn’t a view without a bench, donated by an Alderman, from which to view it. E. M. Forster claimed that no one who did not remember the pre-war scenery could have any conception of how wild, untamed and exciting it still was. Today, we are told that Pan still piped and Artemis skinny-dipped, Romany jogged his caravan keeping a wary eye open for Mr Toad, as late as 1939. To think the natural world has declined since our youth seems an inevitable, emotional by-product of late middle-age. But the destruction of the green lungs which keep us breathing is not just a subjective illusion. The real cruelty is now, perhaps always was, in the towns where bureaucrats and businessmen sign away our rights in our own land. To hear someone like Bernard Levin say that so far as he is concerned, the entire countryside could be cemented over, gives me the sort of pain I once felt at the idea of an impaled dragonfly.”

Only today 28 April 2017 vicar Giles Fraser complains in the Guardian newspaper at the increasing obsolescence of the idea of “community”:

It used to refer to the social togetherness contained within a particular area. Its key stations were the pub, the church, and the shops. In the general hubbub of such places, a magical chemistry of mutual attachment would soften the hard shells of our defensive individualism and bind otherwise very different people in a sense of common enterprise. And when people get to know each other like this they tend to look out for each other, including the most vulnerable among them. That’s probably why the church likes community: historically, it has easily been the most effective delivery mechanism for organized goodness and social care.

But in many places the very existence of community is under threat. My parish in south London is a case in point. On the Elephant and Castle edge of this parish is one of the largest property developments under way in the capital. It’s an attractive place for developers as it is a run-down area, some of it with a zone 1 [central London] postcode. Which is why the skyline is full of cranes and the cafes full of men in hi-vis jackets.”

For the most part, it seems, the new flats in the parish are being bought by foreign investors as juicy investments to park their spare cash for the nonce. Few seem actually to actually live in them. “Increasingly, my parishioners live in China,” says Mr Fraser. Local residents, many of whom have spent their lives in the parish, are being forced to move out: unlike wealthy foreign investors, their incomes are not high enough to buy flats in central London.

It’s little wonder that people have a problem with globalisation. Street by street, areas like mine are being hollowed out by capitalism…I fear that capitalism is turning my parish into a ghost town…Wealthy liberal metropolitan types who are unaffected by this sort of change are puzzled that people are turning to the far right to find answers to the evisceration of their communities. But the centre ground of politics has nothing to offer by way of resistance to the huge global forces and capital flows that are turning places like this into some soulless pile of stratospherically expensive steel and glass.”

On a more positive note, at least so far as the rural scene is concerned, optimists might like to check out a recent edition of Country Life (12 April 2017) with a keynote article by Clive Aslet entitled “The Great Village Renaissance”. Aslet predicts that broadband (when it works), the trend towards home-working, the introduction of home deliveries, the increasing awfulness of commuting and, not least, a feisty spirit of cooperation among residents are bringing about a rural renaissance – and thwarting threats from unwanted development. According to the magazine, “Villageyness is a quality that the British aspire to, even when living in the immense global city that is London… None of this is to infer that there is no hardship, isolation or unemployment in rural communities, but many villages are rediscovering the do-it-yourself spirit and making life work.

Finally, there is the joker in the pack – Brexit. Optimists would argue that, once Britain has escaped from the Procrustean bed of homogenizing Euro-regulation, as an independent nation once again in control of its own affairs, it will be in a position to resurrect past glories, recover its age-old customs and recreate the myth-laden Golden Age – now so wistfully remembered – prior to the European Communities Act of 1972, when national sovereignty was wantonly jettisoned in exchange for a mess of potage – and huge dollops of waffle – at the EU canteen in Brussels.

—–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 


 

 

Posted in Belgium, Economics, Europe, Globalisation, Ireland, Literature, Politics, Religion, Scotland, UK, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Singin’ in the Rain

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

27 April 2017

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning how to dance in the rain.”

Anonymous.

Antigone1984:

With acknowledgement to the Hollywood all-time greats who incarnated this nugget of wisdom, not least Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

—–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

Posted in Cinema, USA | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Revolting robots

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

26 April 2017

Looks like robots are going to replace humans at work in the not too remote future. In some cases, they have done so already. In some retail banks in Japan a client is greeted by a robot the minute he crosses the threshold. But it is not just jobs in banking, hi-tech, pharmaceuticals, precision engineering and mass production that robots will take, as many people seem to imagine. According to futurologists, mundane tasks such as house cleaning or cooking will soon be done by robots. The same goes for social care and even medical diagnosis and the treatment of disease. According to a recent UK study, the full impact of this new wave of automation is expected to be felt by as early as 2030.

[The word “robot” (from the Czech word robota meaning drudgery or hard work) is the name given to the mechanical creatures in the 1920 play R.U.R. (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”) by the Czech author Karel Čapek (1890-1938). Ominously, the robots revolt against their masters.]

Two recent letters from readers to London’s Guardian newspaper highlight the likely economic repercussions.

Yesterday (25 April 2017), referring to an article published in the paper on 15 April, Dr Derek Rowntree of Banbury in Oxfordshire wrote: S0, “Rise of robots puts one-third of UK jobs at risk, warns thinktank”. At what point in this progress towards robots taking over everyone’s job and leaving them without income is someone going to notice that demand is falling off so precipitously for the goods and services that the robots have been producing (because not enough people can afford them) that the robots are becoming redundant? And what then?

This was followed by a letter from John Richards of Oxford in today’s Guardian (26 April 2017): Walter Reuther, the US union leader after the war, was shown around a Ford plant in Cleveland in 1954. A Ford official pointed to some automated machines and asked Reuther: “How are you going to collect union dues from these guys?” Reuther replied: “How are you going to get them to buy Fords?”

Antigone1984:

The advantages of robots over human workers to our economic overlords are so obvious as hardly to need mentioning: no pay or pensions, no holidays or sick leave, no tea-breaks, no time-off to go to the loo, etc. To a neoliberal ideologist – or even an opportunistic money-grubbing thick-as-two-planks businessman – human workers have always been a troublesome but necessary fly in their ointment. Getting rid of them completely would be free-market nirvana. Or what 19 C Liberals called “Progress”. Nothing – least of all human beings –  must stand in the way of “Progress”.

However, in theory at least, there is no divine law stipulating that the mass robotisation of work must necessarily take place. Robots will not take over the jobs of human beings unless those in power allow them to do so. However, we live in a world where those in positions of political power (governments) act as servants to the global captains of industry and finance and ignore the wishes and interests of the mass of the people – including, in so-called “democracies”, those who have elected them. Thus, until the great unwashed come together and succeed in getting rid of the political elite that faithfully translates into practice the instructions given to them by the business mafia, there is no likelihood that our economies will be run in the interests of the people. Unfortunately, there is fat chance that the populations of the world, cowed and supine after centuries of oppression, will rise up and topple their slave-masters any time soon.

It is p0ssible, of course, that a few brave souls will follow the example of the Luddites who took direct action to impede the introduction of new technology in Britain in the early nineteenth century. These were bands of English workers, active between 1811 and 1816 during the Industrial Revolution,  who destroyed mechanized looms  in cotton and woollen mills, which they believed were threatening their jobs. They are said to have been named after a militant called Ned Ludd. However, the fate of the dissidents should perhaps give pause for thought to latter-day would-be Luddites. After a mass trial in York in 1813, many Luddites were hanged or transported as convicts to Australia. [Hanging was quite common in those days, even for minor offences, but sending those found guilty to Australia? Isn’t there a law against “cruel and unusual punishments” ?]

The authorities today are likely to take an equally dim view of such dissidence. The deployment of massed police phalanxes by the vicious anti-unionist Tory government of Margaret Thatcher to violently suppress the Great Coal Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 is a cautionary omen.

Another less incendiary reaction to the perhaps unstoppable march of the robots could be the introduction of a universal basic income.

This is the start of an article on the subject in Wikipedia (Basic Income):

A basic income (also called basic income guarantee, citizen’s income, unconditional basic income, universal basic income, or universal demogrant) is a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

 An unconditional income transfer of less than the poverty line is sometimes referred to as a partial basic income.

Basic income systems that are financed by the profits of publicly owned enterprises (often called social dividend and also known as citizen’s dividend) are major components in many proposed models of market socialism.  Basic income schemes have also been promoted within the context of capitalist systems, where they would be financed through various forms of taxation.

 Similar proposals for “capital grants provided at the age of majority” date to Thomas Paine’s “Agrarian Justice” of 1795, where it is paired with asset-based egalitarianism.

The phrase “social dividend” was commonly used as a synonym for basic income in the English-speaking world before 1986, after which the phrase “basic income” gained widespread currency. Prominent advocates of the concept include Rutger Bregman, André Gorz, Ailsa McKay, Guy Standing, Hillel Steiner, Peter Vallentyne, Philippe Van Parijs and Milton Friedman.

Pilot basic income programmes have been tried in the USA, Canada, Namibia, Brazil, India, the Netherlands and Finland. In the Finnish trial, a two-year basic income experiment that started in January 2017, 2 000 unemployed Finns are receiving, unconditionally, a fixed sum of money each month. The income replaces their existing social benefits and will be paid even if they find work.

 —–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

Posted in Australia, Brazil, Economics, Finland, India, Japan, Literature, Netherlands, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lost at sea

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

US ARMADA DISORIENTED IN ORIENT

25 April 2017

You gotta laugh. It’s about all you can do these days in the surreal world of the Donald. Resistance is futile. You can’t contest what he says because he will say he hasn’t said it. Or that someone else said it. Or that it was never said at all. Or whatever else comes from his lips. Moreover, who needs evidence to back up what you say? That’s old-style politics, particularly if you’ve got the planet’s top job and untrammelled freedom to do or say whatever you want with total impunity. Fake news – he invented it. As with Alice’s Humpty Dumpty, so far as Trump is concerned, words in today’s new Wonderland mean just what DT chooses them to mean at the time he says them. They need bear no relation to what he has said five minutes before and no relation to what he will say five minutes later. Actually, come to think of it, that’s a perfect definition of the normal discourse of any politico that you care to think of. So perhaps Trump is not that different after all. Truth and falsehood, after all, what’s the difference? They are just two sides of the same coin.

There is an upside to all this, however. There is never a dull moment in the Donald’s brave new world.

Take North Korea, for instance. Silos stuffed with nuclear weapons, a lobotomized population and the head honcho stark raving bonkers. Every other day they fire off a rocket: sometimes these explode on take-off, sometimes they crash into the sea – not a million miles away from Japan or South Korea either. Scary stuff – particularly if you happen to be Japanese or Korean.

So the Donald, being a macho sort of guy, intends to teach Kim Jung-un, the North Korean tyrant, a lesson.

After all, a few weeks ago, DT fired 59 cruise missiles at an airfield in Syria from which planes sent by Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian sociopath, had bombed a village with chemical explosives. That’ll teach ‘em. Well, actually, it didn’t since the next night they were back bombing the village again just as if the Donald didn’t exist. But why spoil a good story?

Anyway, to get back to Korea. Obviously mindful of the exploits of Philip II of Spain, DT warned those pesky North Koreans that he was sending an “Armada” to sort them out.

Unfortunately, nobody appears to have told Trump that the Spanish Armada came to a sticky end off the west coast of Ireland in the deep waters of the Atlantic. But who cares? After all, it’s a gaffe a minute in this New Age White House!

Kim Jung-un must have been quaking in his boots.

But it was not to be. As Aristotle put it so percipiently in his Poetics, “the unexpected has a tendency to occur”. [If you are Aristotle, you can get away with the tritest of comments and folks will still regard you as a sage.]

In response to the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, the nuclear-armed aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson accompanied by a fleet of battleships set off full-steam ahead – not towards the Korean peninsula, where, according to US Pacific Command, it was supposed to be going – but in the opposition direction – towards India!

On 21 April 2017 the international edition of the New York Times (NYT) said: “After it was revealed that the carrier strike group was actually thousands of miles away [from Korea] and had been heading in the opposite direction, toward the Indian Ocean, South Koreans felt bewildered, cheated and manipulated by the United States, their country’s most important ally.”

When this news came out, you could have heard the laughter in North Korea all the way from Pyongyang to the Yalu River.

The inhabitants of Japan and South Korea, major US allies who depend on the US nuclear shield to protect them from attack by the North, were not so happy. A headline in a south Korea newspaper read: “Trump’s lie over the Carl Vinson”. Narushige Michishita, a policy analyst in Tokyo, commented: “It undermines the credibility of the US leadership”.

You can say that again.

Should the trigger-happy Mr Trump decide one day to press the nuclear missile launch button, one wonders in what direction the missiles launched would actually go.

Scary, no?

The Carl Vinson incident came hot on the heels of another DT gaffe at Korean expense. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal – which made it clear that it was not only in the case of Imperial Spain that DT’s grasp of historical fact was less than perfect – POTUS baldly asserted that the Korean peninsula “used to be a part of China”.

The NYT commented: “Although Korea was often invaded by China and forced to pay tribute to its giant neighbour, many Koreans say the notion that they were once Chinese subjects is egregiously insulting.”

Youn Kwan-suk, a spokesman for the South Korean Democratic Party, said: “The 50 million South Koreans, as well as many common-sensical people around the world, cannot help but feel embarrassed and shocked.”

With friends like these, the Japanese and South Koreans might well be thinking, who needs enemies?

To be fair, you can understand the Donald’s problem. East Asia is a long way from the Big Apple  – at least 6 000 miles a way, at a rough guess – so a poor millionaire’s son  from Queens can’t reasonably be expected to make the sort of subtle distinction between nationalities that are self-evident to those guys who live in that neck of the woods. After all, the Chinks, the Japs and the Koreans, they all have slit eyes, flat faces and black hair, right? And it can’t be denied that they’re all Orientals, every man jack of them.  So what’s the big deal then? Why make a song and dance about alembicated nuances that nobody cares about, such as the fact that they have different languages, cultures, histories, customs, social habits, political systems, etc. No, the important thing is that they are self-evidently not Americans and we can safely leave it at that. Life is too short to peel a grape.

It reminds us of a court case in London some years ago. A Chinese restaurateur had been asked by police to pick out from a line of suspects the customers who had disappeared from his chop house without paying their bill. He told the court: “I’m sorry but I can’t  identify them. All westerners look the same to me.”

Antigone1984:

By way of a coda what about a little lexicographical digression?

The 2005 Second Edition (Revised) of the Oxford Dictionary of English has an entry that might prove useful to linguists seeking to sum up US politics today in a single word.

The word is “trumpery”.

As a noun, the word has two meanings:

  1. attractive articles of little value or use;
  2. practices or beliefs that are superficially or visually appealing but have little real value or worth.

As an adjective, it also has two meanings:

  1. showy but worthless;
  2. delusive or shallow.

It derives from the French world “tromperie” meaning “deception, deceit or trickery”.

However, we do not want to end on an unkind note.

The dictionary also defines the word “trump”. Inter alia, this is an informal – albeit dated – word for “a helpful or admirable person”.

Take your pick.

G’night.

—–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

Posted in China, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Military, Politics, Syria, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

France, 23 April 2017

SHOCK! HORROR!

NEOLIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT FIGURE DEFEATS OTHER NEOLIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT FIGURES

After a Sunday afternoon stroll around the elegant Bagatelle gardens in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne, there we were, two weeks ago to the day, dining al fresco, with the 7pm temperature still hitting 26° C, at the legendary La Rotonde restaurant in Montparnasse. Little did we suspect that this evening 23 April 2017 ex-investment banker Emmanuel Macron would choose this very same brasserie for a party to celebrate his victory today in the first round of the French presidential election – secure in the knowledge that, after the second round in two week’s time, nothing short of a miracle will prevent him from sitting down to dinner amid the gilded wainscoting and crystal chandeliers of the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the presidents of France.

With 97 % of the votes counted, the scores of the five leading candidates were as follows:

Emmanuel Macron (“En marche!”): 23.86 % of votes cast (8.4 million votes)

Marine Le Pen (“Le Front national”): 21.43 % (7.6 million votes)

François Fillon (“Les Républicains”): 19.94 %

Jean-Luc Mélanchon (“La France insoumise”): 19.62 %

Benoît Hamon (“Le Parti socialiste”): 6.35 %

 

Antigone1984:

The historic first-round result marked the rejection of the traditional political elite: the established left (Le Parti socialiste) and right (Les Républicains) political parties were both ejected from the race by a canny establishment opportunist, Emmanuel Macron. With an eye to the main chance, Macron snubbed  the established political parties and established his own personal political machine – a “movement” not a party – in order to promote exactly the same policies as those espoused by the establishment parties and, coincidentally, give himself a better chance of snagging France’s top job.

In the second round on 7 May 2017, the two leading candidates in today’s first round – Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen – will duke it out for the presidency.

The reason why Macron has a racing certainty of winning is that two of the losing candidates in the first round – François Fillon and Benoît Hamon – have called on their supporters to back the “En marche!” (“Let’s get going!”) candidate in the second round and most of them are likely to do so. The retiring French President François Hollande (of the Socialist Party) has also appealed to voters to back Macron rather han Le Pen. The other losing candidate, Jean-Luc Mélanchon of the leftwing “La France insoumise” movement (“The France that refuses to kowtow”), has not declared a preference for either Macron or Le Pen, but many of his leftwing supporters are likely to back Macron if only to stop Le Pen from winning.

The youthful Macron (aged 39) with his matinée idol looks is often described in the media as either “an unknown quantity” – he has never stood for elected office – or as a “centrist”. Such a description is intended to demarcate him favourably from his “far right” rival Marine Le Pen. In fact, Macron is a bog-standard rightwing neoliberal opportunist whose “En marche!” platform differs little from those of this defeated rivals Les Républicains or Le Parti socialiste. He is equally pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-business and pro-globalisation.

Like his identikit counterpart in Spain, the Catalan Albert Rivera of “Ciudadanos” (“Citizens”)– Macron realized that voters had become tired of the old familiar political faces. He stepped forward to give them that new face. And that’s where it stopped. He intended to press on with the neoliberal free-market policies of his rivals while conning the voters into thinking they were getting not just a new face but new policies too. The voters will naturally discover this in due course – but by then it will be too late. By the time the scales fall from their eyes, Macron will be comfortably ensconced in the Élysée Palace.

Naturally, as he had little new to propose, for much of the election campaign Macron kept his cards close to his chest so far as policy pronouncements were concerned. Strictly speaking, Macron is not a member of a political party. He quit as Hollande’s economy minister last year and launched his own political movement – “En Marche!”- that was supposedly “neither left nor right”. He also pledged to “revolutionise” what he called France’s vacuous and decaying political system.

 

Antigone1984: That pledge can surely be categorised as pure waffle. Macron a revolutionary? Come again. When a politician says he is neither left nor right, you can assume with confidence that he is on the right.

 

Latterly Macron has been forced to flesh out his platform and reveal his establishment credentials. For example, he wants to weaken France’s labour laws; cut business taxes; reform the unemployment system; cut public spending but boost investment; and shrink the public sector while hiring 10,000 more police and gendarmes.

It is hardly surprising therefore that the likelihood of his victory in the second round caused stock markets and the euro to rise sharply on Monday 24 April 2017. The European Union’s neoliberal apparatchiks in Brussels were also naturally exultant at the prospect that “their man” in Paris was likely to win.

In a leader on Monday 24 April 2017, London’s neoliberal free-marketeering Guardian newspaper welcomed the Macron victory on Monday 24 April 2017 with characteristic hyperbole:

The storming of the Bastille in 1789 sets the bar high. As a result, few phrases should be used with more circumspection than “French revolution”. But the result of the first round of France’s 2017 presidential election is an epochal political upheaval for France all the same. For the first time in the nearly 60-year history of the Fifth Republic the second-round contest on 7 May will be between two outsider candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Neither of the candidates of the established parties of left and right will be in the runoff…

“Now France must stand up again in two weeks’ time and complete the job by electing Mr Macron. There are only two in this race and French voters should do what they did in 2002 and rally to defeat the FN candidate on 7 May. Already, several on the centre-right have rallied behind Mr Macron. Others should follow, and so should leftwing voters too.

 

Mr Macron is the best hope of a deeply troubled but great country. Its problems range from inequality to unemployment, social divisions, terrorism, and a ruling elite with a strong sense of entitlement. Mr Macron comes from that class, is untested in many ways, is mistrusted on the left, and therefore needs to earn the voters’ trust afresh. He has been lucky in his rivals, on the left and on the right, and he was the first choice of only 23.7% of the voters. But he has been rewarded for the great political audacity of his centrist challenge to the ancien régime. Electing him in May is now the only way to open up the chance of progressive, liberal and pro-European reform in France. French voters have made a bold break with the past. Now they must finish the revolution.”

 

Antigone1984: This is, of course, complete rubbish. To bracket the first round win of Macron in this presidential election with the fall of the Bastille in 1789 is to take leave of one’s senses. The Guardian is right in saying that the establishment parties were knocked out of the race. But they were knocked out by a card-carrying member of the establishment with identikit policies to those of the establishment parties he defeated. That is why the stock market, EU Eurocrats and the neoliberal media are so delighted. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Macron is no Robespierre.

 

Looking ahead beyond this election, it would be wrong to ignore that fact support for the National Front is growing in France. The 7.6 million votes that Le Pen won today represent the strongest ever result for a National Front (NF) candidate. She gained 2.8 million more votes than her father and predecessor, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 2002 presidential election. While the NF looks unlikely to take the presidency on this occasion, there is no certainty that this could not happen at a future election if the party continues to attract supporters at the same rate as in recent years.

Appealing to an ageing white penny-pinched working-class demographic , the NF wants to slash immigration, clamp down on free trade, give priority to French citizens when allocating council housing, fix the state retirement age definitively at 60 and retain (instead of making more flexible) the statutory 35-hour working week.

The strength of the opposition to the NF across the political spectrum reflects the widespread perception, incessantly diffused by the neoliberal media, that its anti-immigration policies are based on racism and, in particular, hostility to Muslims. A good example of such media coverage can be found in the editorial from Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, which we cite below. Portraying the Front national as “a nationalist and xenophobic party manipulated by a cynical and opportunistic family”, Le Monde says that the party “is incompatible with our [ie France’s] values, our history and our identity”. By contrast, defenders of the NF claim that the party has cleaned up its act since the time it was run by Jean-Marie Le Pen. Antigone1984 does not have enough information to take a view on this question. However, we would make one point: wishing to cap immigration – for example, in the interests of a country’s national economy – does not, of itself, imply racism or even xenophobia.

In its editorial on Monday 24 April 2017 Le Monde, which essentially shares the same neoliberal views as the London Guardian, calls for a vote against Le Pen in the second round but warns against taking a Macron victory for granted:

“…..C’est arrivé, comme prévu, malgré une mauvaise campagne de la candidate FN, et un score en retrait par rapport aux différentes élections depuis 2012. Mais il ne faudrait surtout pas que la banalisation de ce résultat relativise la gravité de la blessure infligée à la nation. Pour la première fois, le FN vient de dépasser les 20 % de voix à une élection présidentielle. Sa candidate y a établi le record de suffrages de son parti, avec 7,6 millions d’électeurs, soit 2,8 millions de plus que son père au premier tour de la présidentielle de 2002. Pour la deuxième fois en quinze ans, un parti nationaliste et xénophobe, manipulé par un clan familial cynique et affairiste, se qualifie ainsi pour l’échéance majeure de notre système politique.

 

Cette récurrence devrait à la fois alerter sur l’état de notre démocratie, et déclencher, comme en 2002, un refus sans faille. Pour Le Monde, cette réaction ne souffrira pas la moindre ambiguïté. Nous avons redit, avant le scrutin, que le Front national est incompatible avec chacune de nos valeurs, avec notre histoire et notre identité. Logiquement, nous souhaitons donc la défaite de Marine Le Pen et appelons pour cela à voter en faveur d’Emmanuel Macron.

 

Mais le pire, le plus dangereux, le plus irresponsable pour l’avenir de notre pays, serait de considérer que ce prévisible-là est acquis, que la victoire du candidat d’En marche ! ne souffre pas l’ombre d’un doute. Une comparaison devrait suffire à convaincre de la fragilité de ce pronostic. Emmanuel Macron se lance dans cette deuxième partie de campagne avec 62 % des intentions de vote (selon Ipsos Sopra-Steria) là où Jacques Chirac avait conclu la sienne à 82,2 % des suffrages. Vingt points se sont évaporés en quinze ans. Comme se sont volatilisés les appels à manifester de 2002 ou la notion même de « front républicain » opposé au FN……


Le risque d’une abstention massive, un dimanche d’élection qui tombera au milieu du pont du 8 mai, est également loin d’être négligeable. Emmanuel Macron a donc moins de quinze jours pour démontrer à tous ces électeurs réticents qu’il a pris la mesure du choc subi par le système politique français.”

 

Whichever candidate is elected president in the second round on 7 May 2017, they will have to work hand-in-hand with a new National Assembly. Elections will take place in two rounds on 11 and 18 June 2017 to choose the assembly’s 577 members.

—–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

 

 

Posted in Belgium, Economics, Europe, France, Globalisation, Guardian, Politics, Revolution, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IMMIGRATION

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

5 July 2016

THE IMMIGRANT

 

Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit

Litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto

Vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram.

 

I sing of arms and the man who first from the shores

Of Troy came destined an exile to Italy and the

Lavinian beaches, a man much buffeted on land and

On the deep by force of the gods because of fierce

Juno’s never-forgetting anger.

 

The first lines of the Aeneid of Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil), who lived from 70 to 19 BC.

 

 

Immigration was a hot potato in the UK referendum campaign which ended on 23 June 2016 with a majority of UK voters opting to take Britain out of the European Union (EU).

It should not have been.

The EU is an overarching political, economic and financial federation of 28 member states whose goal is “ever closer” union leading, in the medium term, to a United States of Europe and ultimately to a global free market. The development of this federation since its first beginnings in 1952 as the European Coal and Steel Community has led to the creation of a vast corpus of EU legislation, which affects virtually every aspect of political, economic and financial life in the member states. The EU economy is based on four basic “freedoms”, ie the free movement within the EU, unimpeded by tariffs or non-tariff barriers, of goods, services, capital and people (particularly, workers).

The free movement of workers involves the migration of EU citizens between the 28 member states. In its early years, at a time when the Europe was fast recovering from the wreckage of the Second World War and its national economies were growing apace, migration between states was largely welcomed. Migrants left homelands with endemic unemployment, such as Portugal and Italy, to fill job vacancies in fast-growing economies such as those of Belgium and Germany. Since the world-wide financial crash of 2007 to 2010, however, global economic growth has slowed, stagnated or gone into reverse, making immigrants considerably less wanted in previously welcoming host countries, many of which are suffering from unprecedented rates of unemployment, particularly among the young. And we are still not out of the wood. For most countries full employment is still a pipe-dream.

Which brings us back to the Brexit campaign. The chronic joblessness experienced in Europe since 2007 has led to the rise of rightwing populist movements throughout the Continent, including Britain, where the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) has flourished. The party was founded in 1991 by the historian Alan Sked as the eurosceptic Anti-Federalist League. It was renamed UKIP in 1993. The party was led by Nigel Farage for most of the decade since 2006 until he resigned yesterday 4 July 2016, “his work done”: the UK had regained its independence. Under Farage’s leadership, the party tailored its policies to the white working-class and the lower middle classes, including erstwhile Labour voters who had hit the skids, and made significant breakthroughs in the 2013 local elections and the 2014 European elections. UKIP is now the largest UK party in the European Parliament with 22 elected members (MEPs).

Antigone1984:

 

IMMIGRATION, RACISM AND THE EU

 

UKIP and Farage took a lot of flak during and after the UK referendum campaign on the grounds that the party was a magnet for racists.

Many educated white metropolitan liberals have told us that they voted to remain in the EU mainly because they could not bear the thought of putting their ballot in the same box as Farage and his allegedly racist accomplices. The very idea made them feel sick. Oddly enough, they were quite happy to put their ballot in the same box as Big Business, Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Banksters, all of which poured shed loads of donations into the coffers of the Remain camp.

Having routed for Brexit (Britain’s Exit), Antigone1984 responds as follows:

  1. Racism – discrimination against others on the grounds of race – is deplorable under all circumstances.
  2. However, we reject the sophism often peddled by metropolitan liberals that nationalism = populism = xenophobia = racism. None of these four words are synonyms and it can be argued – and is argued by us – that the first two words, nationalism and populism, can have positive connotations.
  3. So far as immigration is concerned, you cannot put a gallon into a pint pot. No country in the world can accept unlimited immigration and survive. And no country does. However, find me a bleeding-heart metropolitan liberal who will acknowledge even the remotest possibility that there might be a sliver of plausibility to this (to us) self-evident truth and I’ll give you a fiver.
  4. To believe in immigration controls is not to be racist. To be racist is to discriminate against another person on the grounds of race. Now it is quite likely that xenophobic racists will welcome immigration controls or even a total ban on immigration. That does not necessarily mean that those who favour immigration controls are racists.
  5. UKIP strongly favours immigration controls, as does its leader until yesterday Nigel Farage. This does not prove that either UKIP or Farage are racists. It’s a case of simple logic. As a matter of fact, Antigone1984 worked with Farage (who is married to a German) at the turn of the century. We never heard him make a racist remark.
  6. Now it is quite possible that xenophobic racists will be attracted to a party such as UKIP because of the party’s commitment to controlling immigration. This does not mean that the party itself is racist. In fact, UKIP members proven to be racists have been expelled from the party. It seems to us that no one should be criticised for advocating immigration controls on the grounds that this might also be to the liking of racists outside the party.
  7. The referendum result in favour of Brexit on 23 June 2016 has encouraged a scattering of racists in Britain to come out of the woodwork and abuse immigrants living in their neighbourhoods. This is absolutely inexcusable. However, it does not invalidate arguments in favour of controlling immigration.
  8. Immigrants, desperate to get work and often living in inexpensive substandard accommodation, can undercut existing wages. They can also take the jobs of native workers. Much of what they earn is not spent in the host country but remitted to their country of origin. [There is a whole army of economists paid to refute these (to us) self-evident truths but their arguments have always rung somewhat hollow, so far as we are concerned.]
  9. In a thriving economy without sufficient native workers to service its needs, immigration can be a win-win solution for both immigrant and the host nation.
  10. As we have tried to demonstrate above, migration is an integral feature of the EU economic system. However, it is not the central feature of the European Union, which is a multi-faceted political, economic, financial and legal organism with ramifications in every sector of the EU’s member states. A rational decision on whether to back Remain or Brexit would involve analysing and assessing all aspects of EU polity – not simply immigration – before making up one’s mind.
  11. Alas! Dream on!

On the day after the UK referendum on 23 June 2016 the most frequently asked question on Google in Britain was:

What is the EU?

Can you hear the sound of hair being torn out?

Here is a passage we included towards the end of our post Contra Unionem Europaeam published 23 April 2016:

 

CHANNEL STORMS – CONTINENT ISOLATED

 

The feedback to that polemic, which has been revised many times since its original publication on 23 April 2016, has been exasperating.

 

Experts with knowledge and experience in a particular field must often tear their hair out when they hear comment from the great unwashed. We recognize the feeling. Antigone1984 has insider knowledge of the European Union gained over two decades. We also are intimately aware of the machinations and culture wars that rage behind the benign public image that the EU takes care to project. In particular, we know that the guys in charge – no matter what their political affiliation – will stop at nothing to achieve their ideological objectives. The most important of these is to establish market rule throughout the continent and confine any relics of socialism to a footnote in the history books. In a natural progression, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) has replaced Jean Monnet (1888-1979) in the European pantheon.

 

Given our experience, therefore, of the inner workings of the European Union, it is disheartening to encounter some of the reaction to the arguments for Brexit. Much of it, it seems to us, is based on sheer ignorance. There is also the boredom factor. We get the impression that much of the UK population, including educated people, know very little about Europe and care even less. Britain’s geographical and historical detachment from the mainland is still a factor today. “Channel Storms – Continent Isolated” ran a headline in the London Times in the 1930s. The UK media still bear some of the blame for the UK’s insularity. We would hazard a guess that the French newspaper Le Monde publishes twice as many detailed articles on the EU as its UK counterpart, the Guardian.

Here are some of the reactions we have had since we published the first version of that post on St George’s Day last month. One reader said they didn’t have time to wade through the arguments but disagreed with them any way. Another comment was that the reader didn’t think that the issue was as momentous as Antigone1984 and the commentariat seemed to think. Along similar lines, another reader, who had not read anything of our text, maintained that that the EU was “just a single issue” instead of being (as we see it) an over-arching leviathan with ramifications throughout the body politic. One commentator said they intended to vote against Brexit on the grounds that the EU didn’t cost much and brought some benefits. The same is true of marijuana. Few deny that there may be some benefits in belonging to the EU. The point, surely, is whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Logically, there is no point in paying even a small fee to a club if the downside trumps the upside. The latter reader then produced his clincher: “I don’t want to be associated with the xenophobes, little Englanders, racists and dog whistlers who are speaking for Brexit and attending the campaign meetings”. So the arguments are not important then? What matters apparently is the company you keep. This last comment appears to us to carry an unwarranted and invidious subtext, namely the oft-peddled sophism that nationalism = populism = xenophobia = racism. The subconscious slander, widely espoused among touchy-feely liberals, is that those who favour Brexit, or at least most of them, are racists. We do not believe that this is so. In any case, while condemning racism without reservation, we find it hard to believe that it is the key factor to be taken into account when considering the case for or against membership of the European Union. As we have argued above, the key factors are the economic system (either competition/capitalism or cooperation/socialism), sovereignty, the acceptance of national diversity, and efficient political decision-making. The “Little England” riff is played regularly by critics of Brexit.

Rising above hidebound anglo-centric navel-gazing and with our own intimate awareness of the workings of the EU from the inside,  Antigone1984 sees Brexit as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kickstart a process whose ultimate goal is to defang the EU dragon throughout the continent and thereby remove the straitjacket that is stifling the spirit,  sapping the energy and still-birthing the democratic and economic renaissance of the captive nations of Europe.

Nonetheless, random conversations with educated middle-of-the-road middle-class UK voters having liberal/centrist or mildly radical leanings confirm the impression, for what it is worth, that the critics of Brexit we have just cited are fairly typical of their class: when the chips are down and the fat hits the pan, wringing their hands and squirming with indecisiveness, they will first hem and haw and then do what they usually do in the end, that is to say, troop into the voting booths with an unequivocal thumbs-up for the status quo.

More generally, as in any election, in the UK’s EU referendum on 23 June 2016, many of those who bothered to vote at all were likely to have decided on the basis not of the quality of the arguments for and against Brexit but on the basis of their gut feelings – and which side of the bed they got out of that morning.

And, at the end of the day, those of us who are democrats have to accept that. This is democracy, warts and all, after all, not a test paper in an examination. In contrast to the views of Plato (447-327 BC), who advocated a political constitution supervised by an educated elite, democracy gives all citizens the right to vote, regardless of their level of education or their knowledge of the issue at stake.

 

A JACOBITE’S EPITAPH

 

To my true king I offer’d free from stain

Courage and faith; vain faith, and courage vain.

For him I threw lands, honours, wealth, away,

And one dear hope, that was more prized than they.

For him I languish’d in a foreign clime,

         Gray-hair’d with sorrow in my manhood’s prime;

Heard on Lavernia Scargill’s whispering trees,

And pined by Arno for my lovelier Tees;

Beheld each night my home in fever’d sleep,

Each morning started from the dream to weep;         

Till God, who saw me tried too sorely, gave

The resting-place I ask’d, an early grave.

O thou, whom chance leads to this nameless stone,

From that proud country which was once mine own,

By those white cliffs I never more must see,        

By that dear language which I spake like thee,

Forget all feuds, and shed one English tear

O’er English dust. A broken heart lies here.

 

Poem of exile by Thomas Babington (Lord) Macaulay (1800–1859), historian, essayist and politician.

 

 UNDERSTANDING AND DEALING WITH IMMIGRATION

For those who have not had enough of our immigration analysis, here is a lot more. Feel free to ignore.

To clarify our stance on immigration, here is a reprint of our extended essay on immigration, which is tucked away inside our post Contra Unionem Europaeam published 23 April 2016:

“Throughout history people in general have tended to die roughly in the same part of the world as that in which they were born. The reason is simple: people prefer to stay put and live in the same neighbourhood as their extended family and the friends with which they were brought up.

 

So why do we have immigration?

 

Immigrants can be divided into two broad categories: economic migrants seeking jobs and refugee migrants fleeing war or persecution.

 

Economic migrants

 

There are about half a million Poles in the UK and about half a million French citizens – to mention only the top two suppliers of immigrants to the UK. We already had unemployment in the UK before these immigrants came. Therefore, they are bound to take jobs from UK citizens. It’s a no-brainer. You cannot put a gallon into a pint pot. It is possible that some additional jobs are created in due course, but that is no consolation to the UK citizen who has lost their job to the incomers.

 

Immigrants can undercut the wages of UK citizens for three reasons:

 

  1. To save money to send back home, many immigrants to UK live in cheap substandard accommodation and multiple-occupation housing; as a result, they can make do with lower salaries than native workers subject to standard accommodation costs;

 

  1. They tend to come from relatively low-wage economies so that even a low UK wage is better than the pay they would get for the same work back in their home country;

 

  1. A low wage in UK is better than unemployment in their home countries.

 

The long-term lasting solution is for the world’s rich countries to provide aid and investment to create jobs in the countries from which the economic migrants come.

 

Refugee migrants

 

These are fleeing war or persecution.

 

The long-term solutionis to end wars and oppression. Western countries could help achieve this objective by ceasing to make shedloads of tainted money by selling arms in conflict zones, as the US and EU governments – particularly Britain and France – have been doing for decades in the Middle East. Britain, for example, has recently been assiduously supplying Saudi Arabia with weaponry and battlefield tacticians, thus enabling it to bomb Yemen out of existence.

Pending long-term solutions, the rich first world, which has exploited and impoverished the rest of the planet for at least five centuries, has a moral duty to treat both kinds of migrants – both refugees and economic migrants – with humanity and courtesy and to give them financial and social support. 

Here again the European Union has failed abysmally.

When the first mass waves of immigrants began to cross the Mediterranean a couple of years ago in search of a better life in Europe, the initial European reaction was chaotic. The European Union failed to come up with a collective response and it was left to the countries where the immigrants landed, mainly Italy (economically in the doldrums) and  Greece (an economic basket case) to deal largely on their tod with the new arrivals. Inevitably, once again the result was chaos.

Not every would-be immigrant managed to reach Italy or Greece. Thousands  died at sea when the rickety overladen vessels into people smugglers had stuffed them capsized. Others were rescued from drowning by European patrol boats, particularly vessels from the Italian navy, Italy having a long and honourable humanitarian tradition.

However, the number of immigrants continued to mount. Last year more than a million migrants made it to Europe, most of them ending up in Germany as a result of  the initial open-arms approach – since abandoned – adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

At this point fortress Europe began to pull up the draw-bridge.

The most inhuman approach was advocated by the British Government. From the outset of the crisis, of the big European states, Britain had taken in the lowest number of  immigrants. The few who make it to Britain are, in any case, often warehoused for years in detention camps. Britain now announced that the focus of its Mediterranean patrol vessels would no longer be on saving the lives of drowning immigrants whose dinghies had been shipwrecked but rather on pursuing the people smugglers who had enabled them to board the vessels in the first place. The British view, expressed publicly by government ministers without a shred of compunction or compassion, was that by rescuing drowning immigrants you simply encouraged more immigrants to undertake the perilous sea-crossing. The thing to do was to let those drowning drown. That would learn ’em! And it would also send a stark message to would-be emigrants back home.

Needless to say, the focus on putting the people smugglers out of business failed abysmally, as the Brits knew it was bound to do. Without police and military bases in   North Africa and Turkey and without the right to land, find and seize the smugglers in lands bordering the Mediterranean, the operation was doomed from the start. The Brits proposed it, not because they seriously believed it would work, but simply as a public relations exercise to deflect attention from the glaring inhumanity of the British plan to look the other way as the drowning drowned.

The European Union then held dozens of meetings – some seven or eight at summits of the leaders of its 28 Member States – to try and forge a common policy. At one of these the Member States agreed collectively to distribute up to about 160 000 migrants among themselves in proportion to their own relative economic or demographic size. Immediately thereafter, tearing up the agreement they had just signed, one by one Member States closed their borders and blocked entry to further immigrants. The distribution plan remains a dead letter.

Finally,  on 18 March 2016 the EU cut an immigration deal with Turkey.

Turkey would stem the flow of immigrants to Greece from Syria and elsewhere and also take back immigrants arriving in Greece after 20 March 2016 in exchange for a fee of 6 billion euros, visa-free travel in Europe for Turkey’s population of 75 million, and the resumption of talks on EU membership for Turkey.

To qualify for the visa concession, Turkey agreed to tone down its anti-terror law, which criminalises not only terrorists themselves but also journalists and activists generally whose activities or comments are deemed to have abetted terrorism.

However, the agreement is now up in the air. Europe has been slow in coming up with the readies, while the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey has no intention of toning down its anti-terror law. On the contrary, it will seek to beef it up.

Three million Syrian refugees have already entered Turkey. It is not clear that Turkey, with its still developing economy, has the capacity or the will to accommodate further immigrants, including those sent back by Greece, in decent conditions.

The EU-Turkey deal has also attracted repeated criticism from the UN on human rights grounds.

Europe, if it got its act together, certainly has the capacity to absorb further immigration. Most of the 28 EU states are among the richest countries in the world. Their joint population is 508 million. They could absorb one or two million immigrants without major disruption if they went about it fairly, efficiently and professionally.  Dream on!

The chaos of the refugee crisis is just the latest example of the inherent stasis and ultimate inadequacy of the European Union.  A better case for Brexit could not be invented.

However, it is important also, when formulating immigration policy,  to take account of the sometimes deep-rooted causes of the widespread opposition to immigration in parts of Europe.

We flesh out this point below.

 

Host country attitudes towards immigrants

 

In general, moderate immigration is accepted by native residents of host countries. It is when it gets out of proportion – admittedly an arbitrary assessment – that they resent it and this often results in increased worries about employment and a rise in racism and xenophobia.

 

That is why curbs are often imposed in the host country once immigration has reached a critical mass, whatever that may be.

 

This is a letter which was published in the Guardian on 18 April 2016:

 

Your editorial and Martin Kettle’s comments on Jeremy Corbyn’s pro-EU speech (both 15 April) fastidiously avoided addressing its failure to adequately meet the concerns of the majority of Labour voters over the EU’s inability to control the flow of people across its borders. To really keep us in Europe Corbyn needs to persuade voters that he will work with other socialist governments, themselves losing support across Europe because of this issue, to address the democratic concerns of the majority about migration.

Colin Hines
Twickenham, Middlesex

 

The concerns to which Mr Hines refers affect many ordinary people up and down the UK. Migration is of little direct concern to the affluent and complacent metropolitan elite. The latter quite appreciation immigration as it supplies them with a palatable variety of foreign restaurants at which to eat out.

 

“Que la France reste la France, que l’Angleterre reste l’Angleterre, que l’Allemagne reste l’Allemagne, et ainsi de suite.”

“May France remain France, may England remain England, may Germany remain Germany, and so on.”

Sentiment expressed by a eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament

 

 

ROOTEDNESS

 

When it comes to immigration, Antigone1984 has always been in favour of multiculturalism – the right of immigrants to hold on to their native culture and language while at the same time picking up the culture and language of the host community. We are in favour of integration, not assimilation.

However, we also recognize the importance of rootedness. People in general, in our opinion, tend to feel the need to belong to one – or more – particular cultures in which they feel at home. The German word “Heimat” – a term laden with deep-seated nostalgic connotations in the Teutonic world – is closely related to rootedness. Its meaning embraces the concepts of home, homeland, native land, native soil and even native region. A related word “Heimweh” is the German term for homesickness – a longing for one’s native land.

It is not surprising, therefore, that it is a German author who was one of the earliest to analyse the concept of rootedness. The human need for rootedness was emphasized by the German writer Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803). Here is a paraphrase of two essays on Herder by philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) in the July and August 1965 numbers of Encounter magazine:

 

Herder was responsible for three major cultural insights. He believed in:

 

  1. Populism: the value of belonging to a group or culture; every individual is inescapably rooted in his own culture, in his own nation. Pity the poor cosmopolitan who has no nation or culture to sustain him. An individual’s native language is the key component in this culture.

 

  1. Expressionism. Human society and art in particular express (or reflect) the personality of an individual or group. Works of art are intimately connected with their makers and cannot be examined in isolation or, as it were, in a vacuum.

 

  1. Pluralism: belief not merely in the multiplicity but in the incommensurability of the values of different cultures and societies and also the incompatibility of equally valid ideals, together with the implied corollary that the classical notions of an ideal man and of an ideal society are intrinsically incoherent and meaningless.

 

Herder believed in patriotism to one’s culture rather than to one’s state.

 

Like Aristotle (384-322 BC), John of Salisbury (1120-1180), Richard Hooker (1554-1600), Blaise Pascal ((1623-1662) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797), he espoused the age-old notion of society as an organism.

 

Common cultural traditions, realized in the unique language of each community, are the basis of that community (the nation). Compare the organic community of the past championed by English critic F. R. Leavis (1895-1978).

 

“…Wildly differing societies and their ideals are not commensurable. Such questions as which of them is the best, or even which one would prefer, which one would judge to be nearer to the universal human ideal….are, therefore, for a thinker of this type, meaningless,“ says Berlin.

 

The ideas of different societies are often incompatible. This is as true of the past as it is of the present. Thus, “if we choose to emulate the Greeks, we cannot also emulate the Hebrews….”

 

There is a property, not capable of being abstracted and articulated – that which is German in the Germans – which permeates the heterogeneous activities of the Nation’s life. Moreover, “the specific quality which each type of activity will show forth, will have more in common with generically different activities of the same culture than with specifically similar actions of another culture…In other words, what German epic poetry has in common with German family life or German legislation or German grammar… runs through them more deeply…than that which German poetry has in common with Hindu or Hebrew poetry.”

 

“A German exiled from the milieu of his fellow Germans, perhaps a Saxon or a Prussian forced to live elsewhere, will not feel at home there; and whoever does not feel at home, cannot create naturally, freely, generously, unselfconsciously.” Herder believes that you have to be where you belong. For Herder, the individual is inescapably a member of some group; consequently, all that he does must express, consciously or unconsciously, the aspirations of his group.”

 

We must seek to be true to ourselves.

 

“Let us be characteristic of our nation, language, scene…[We must] find our own centre of gravity…or that of the group – nation, region, community – to which we belong. Without such belonging there is no true creation, no true realisation of human goals. Hence, to foist alien values on a Nation (as missionaries were doing, for example, in India) is both ineffective and harmful. Worst of all are those who have no group, because they are exiled or self-exiled, physically or spiritually…and so doomed to sterility. As a social psychologist, Herder rose above his generation; more clearly than any other writer, he conceived and cast light upon the crucially important social function of ‘belonging’ – on what it is to belong to a group, culture, a movement, a form of life.”

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You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. 5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

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