Monday, 21 August 2017

Too Weak And Self-Serving

Daiel Larison writes:

Robert Merry sums up Trump’s weakness: 

He is merely a battery of impulses, devoid of any philosophical coherence or intellectual consistency.

The president could hardly be anything else, since the only things that seem to concern him are how others treat him and the status of his brand. 

He makes no firm commitments, and he reverses himself according to whatever is most expedient to him at the time. 

It is almost inevitable that he is winging it because he has no relevant experience or knowledge that would keep him from doing so. 

Trump believes in himself and nothing else, and Chesterton observed long ago that asylums were full of such people. 

If Bannon et al. thought they could use him as a vehicle to advance their agenda, they failed to see that he was using them only as long as they could be valuable for helping him. 

The trouble for many Trump supporters is that Trump has never believed in any of the things they thought he represented, and so they were backing a leader who had no intention of risking anything on their behalf. 

This was especially true on matters of foreign policy, where Trump’s instincts for plundering and bullying could easily be directed toward conventional hawkish goals if they weren’t already heading that way. 

Merry sums up the results of Trump’s foreign policy thus far: 

On foreign policy he has belied his own campaign rhetoric with his bombing of Syrian military targets, his support for Saudi Arabia’s nasty war in Yemen, his growing military presence in Syria, his embrace of NATO membership for Montenegro, his consideration of troop augmentations in Afghanistan, and his threat to consider military involvement in Venezuela’s internal affairs. 

Trump has certainly governed as more of a conventional hawk than his campaign suggested he would, but his actions have been quite consistent with the blundering aggressiveness that he has displayed for years. 

His support for the war on Yemen, for example, is entirely in keeping with the rather deranged view that Obama was not pro-Saudi enough

Even though Obama backed the war on Yemen to the hilt for years, Trump was always going to be more supportive and less critical because he faulted Obama for not backing so-called “allies” as much as he should have. 

On NATO expansion, Trump doesn’t care if the alliance takes on new and unnecessary members.

All that interests him is whether they pay what they supposedly “owe,” and even if they don’t he doesn’t seriously propose dissolving the alliance or withdrawing from it. 

As for Syria, his decision to order an attack on their government lines up with his contempt for international law and his desire to seem “tough.” 

He has no problem initiating illegal hostilities against other states, but he doesn’t like it when the U.S. is expected to clean up the mess afterwards.

Trump’s foreign policy has become almost entirely one favored by Republican hawks because the president doesn’t hold firm convictions on these issues and yields to what his hawkish advisers want. 

He has accepted a foreign policy of endless war because he is too weak and self-serving to pursue any other course.

No Less Than Benedict Arnold

(Note to readers: Colleges and universities have presidents. Military units have commanders. At the nation’s service academies, the Superintendent—known colloquially as the Supe (rhymes with “soup”)—combines both functions. At my alma mater West Point, the current Superintendent, the 59th since the academy’s founding in 1802, is Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, USMA Class of 1975.) 

Dear General Caslen: 

No doubt you get plenty of unsolicited advice from crotchety Old Grads and I apologize if this missive should prove annoying. 

It is not my intention to add to your burdens. 

I write concerning our fellow West Pointer, Robert E. Lee, Class of 1829. From 1852 to 1855, Lee preceded you, serving as the 9th Superintendent. 

He subsequently achieved renown while commanding the Army of Northern Virginia from June 1862 until its dissolution in April 1865. 

Back in my own cadet days during the now-distant 1960s, I readily imbibed the line that assigned Lee a place of prominence among West Point’s most illustrious and revered graduates. 

He had, after all, graduated near the top of his class, served with distinction in the Mexican War, and during the Civil War won a series of spectacular victories against the larger and better equipped (but ineptly led) Army of the Potomac. 

As a compliant young Catholic, I had learned to recite a Litany of the Saints, soliciting the favor of Joseph and John, Peter and Paul, Andrew and James, and so on, all the way to Cosmas and Damian. 

As a compliant young cadet, I had embraced a secular equivalent, a litany that included Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgway. 

No one in that hierarchy of honor and accomplishment outshone Robert E. Lee. 

That the West Point campus (in our lingo, the “post”) should, therefore, feature a Lee Gate, Lee Road, Lee Hall, and Lee Barracks seemed not only unobjectionable but entirely appropriate. 

So too with various Lee portraits on prominent display in the Cadet Mess, the Supe’s quarters, and elsewhere. 

As for the Robert E. Lee Memorial Award for excellence in mathematics, my only complaint was that I never came within a mile of winning it. 

Lee embodied the values that West Point seeks to inculcate in its graduates: Duty, Honor, and Country. 

So I was taught and so I believed.

It is my fate to be a quick study and a slow learner. 

Not until I was in my thirties, therefore, did I begin to wonder how it was that West Point should elevate to the status of role model a serving officer who had abandoned his country in its time of maximum need. 

My complaint about Lee—I admit this to my everlasting shame—was not that he was a slaveholder who in joining the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery. 

It was that he had thereby engineered the killing of many thousands of American patriots who (whatever their views on slavery and race) wished simply to preserve the Union. 

At the beginning of the Civil War, Lee famously remarked that he could not bring himself to take up arms against his home state of Virginia.

This obliged him to take up arms against the very nation that as a serving officer he had sworn to defend? 

No less than Benedict Arnold, Robert E. Lee was a traitor. This became, and remains, my firm conviction. 

As a result of recent events in Charlottesville, our fellow graduate has now returned to the limelight. 

General Lee has suddenly become a controversial figure. 

Proponents of white supremacy venerate his memory and the cause for which he fought.  Others are keen to banish Lee (or at least his image in granite or marble) from public view.

In this dispute, little space for compromise exists. 

I’m guessing that you are already reflecting on what all of this might mean for West Point, where Lee remains an inescapable presence.

If not, you ought to. Indeed, for the academy’s sake, you need to get in front of this controversy. 

That requires preemptive action. 

Don’t wait for the proponents of changing political fashion to come after you, especially given the fact that their case is unimpeachable.

Here’s my suggestion: Keep the portraits. Nobody looks at them anyway. Truth to tell, the standards for having your image hanging on a wall at West Point are not terribly high. 

The Supe who presided over my graduation in 1969 was Samuel Koster, soon thereafter reduced in rank and forced into retirement for his role in covering up the My Lai massacre.

Yet Koster’s portrait remains in Washington Hall alongside the rest of your predecessors.

Elsewhere, however, quietly expunge Lee’s name from gates, roads, halls, barracks, and awards handed out to cadets.

To put the matter kindly, he doesn’t deserve the recognition.

As with General Koster, there’s no way to excise Lee from the Academy’s history.

That he should occupy a place of honor in the Long Gray Line is something of an obscenity, however. 

Far better, it seems to me, to remember West Pointers who do exemplify Duty, Honor, and Country. 

That said, please suppress any inclination to replace Lee Gate with David Petraeus Gate or Lee Road with Raymond Odierno Road. 

You get the picture: Enough with memorializing generals. It’s time to honor lieutenants and captains. 

Consider, for example, the graduates who have given their lives in the preposterous and utterly thankless wars that our nation has waged since 9/11. 

Far better than Robert E. Lee—far better than the various generals who have presided over those wars without achieving success—they model the values to which West Pointers should adhere.

Don’t you agree?


Andrew J. Bacevich 
Class of 1969 

P.S.: Just one more thing. According to press reports, you were on the short list of candidates interviewed to serve as President Trump’s national security adviser. Congratulations on having dodged that bullet!

Which Is Better? Idiots Or Crooks?

The government’s failure to clamp down on fixed-odds betting terminals must be down to stupidity or corruption and I’m not sure which of those I hope it is. 

Which is better? Idiots or crooks? It would make a good parlour game.

It’s possible that I’ve spent more time among sick gamblers than you have (and if that’s not the case, we probably know each other). 

But if you’ve popped into a friendly high street bookmaker’s any time in the last 10 years, to bet on the FA Cup final or get some change for the parking meter, then you’ll have seen a “FOBT”. 

A FOBT is a sort of glorified fruit machine with a choice of games (roulette, virtual sport, novelties) and a massive possible loss rate. 

The biggest difference between the old fruities and these devices, waved through by the Blair government of 2001, is that you can lose £500 a minute on a FOBT. 

And people do. 

How many times, in the year ending September 2016, do you think somebody lost more than £1,000 on one of these machines? Have a think. 

We aren’t talking about rich people, glitzy casinos or friends having a big night out. 

We’re talking about people on their own, playing the slots on regular, trafficky, local streets.

Poor people. Bored people. Sometimes desperate, sometimes ill. Lonely old men. Women with their babies locked in the car outside. 

The average national wage is about £25,000. 

How many times, over a year, do you think £1,000 or more was lost in a single gambling session, on a local high street, in these circumstances? 

No. You’re wrong. It was 233,071 times. I mean, for fuck’s sake. 

Let me confess: I myself have, often, lost more than £1,000 in a single gambling session. 

But when I’m losing £500 a minute, this is what I’m getting: A high-end Las Vegas casino has sent a limousine to collect me from the airport. 

I’ve got a complimentary hotel room with a view of the iconic Vegas Strip. 

I’ve got free meals, free cocktails and a cabana (a sort of shady little house with loungers and a drinks cabinet) by a luxurious swimming pool. 

This doesn’t make me clever. It makes me a mug. 

This is what casinos give you if they think you can afford to lose the money. 

But your man down the Kilburn High Road, losing at the exact same rate because he’s depressed, lost, stuck, sad and has nowhere else to be, gets the square root of sod all.

He gets monotony, shame and kicked out at 10pm. 

This guy (or girl) hasn’t opted in consciously. They never meant to get involved for those hours or play for those sums. 

They didn’t join a casino, they wandered into the bookies: outlets once considered cheery and welcome on British high streets because betting on horses is traditional, fun and, to a great extent, social. 

But in 2001, a black hole was unrolled in the middle of them.

FOBTs are demons, succubi, squatting between the chemist and the bus stop like a pile of heroin on a cheese trolley. 

UK city dwellers complain that there are now dozens of bookies in their nearest shopping street where there used to be one. 

But most don’t know why that is. It’s because the government capped the number of FOBTs at four per shop. 

But these things are free money to their owners. Punters lose and lose and lose.

And when they disappear, or kill themselves, or their child is taken into care and they start self-medicating with drugs instead, someone else steps blindly up to feed the monster. 

So, if you’re only allowed four per shop, open more shops!

What optimistic fool, no doubt some well-meaning MP or civil servant, thought up that “four max” rule? 

Did you think you were smarter than the bookies, love? We’ve all been there. That’s the fast route to eating cat food out of the tin.

But the latest government move can’t be about optimism. 

Everyone was expecting the betting cap (or possible loss) on these machines to be slashed.

Labour and the Lib Dems went into the election actively promising it; the Tories hadn’t yet committed, but John Whittingdale warned the Association of British Bookmakers

“I can’t say I would be surprised if there are quite radical measures produced… You should brace yourself.” 

And then, last week, Philip Hammond decided there would actually be no curb at all – because, according to a Whitehall source in the Daily Mail, the attendant loss of tax revenues would be “financially crippling”.

Is this bent or just stupid? The shops pay 25% duty on FOBTs (it’s much cheaper for them than horseracing).

In return, we get an expensive rise in crime, theft and embezzlement, family breakdown, costly court proceedings and criminal damage as the machines are often smashed up

Meanwhile, many FOBT addicts are on welfare, so 100% of the money they put into the machines goes out of the Treasury and 25% comes back. 

Well done everybody. 

Let’s say it’s not bent. The lobbying and hospitality for MPs is massive and rising, but I’d hate to suggest any impropriety. 

So that suggests a moronic misunderstanding of the true maths in play. The argument is not being had on moral grounds.

If our government said they were libertarians, planning to decriminalise all drugs and abolish income tax alongside this invitation to go skint in 10 minutes at teatime in the shop next to Tesco, we could have an interesting debate. 

We could weigh up that freedom against the depression and suicide, the abandoned children and associated crime, and really challenge ourselves.

But they argue this situation is financially profitable for us, as a nation? They think we make money from it? Jesus.

That’s their understanding of economics? As professional gamblers say about chumps: I’d like to be locked up with them.

Nothing Without An Anti-Racist Backbone

Ash Sarkar writes:

So much for the sans-culottes of the deindustrialised rust-belt: when the citizenry of Trump’s “forgotten” America showed up in Charlottesville last weekend, it was in sports jackets and chinos. 

This was not the culture war the commentariat had prepared us for. 

Rather than Arlie Hochschild’s blue-collar Joe consigned to the scrap-heap by globalisation or indeed Joan Williams’ “ordinary working stiff” beset by cultural and economic anxiety, the ruddy faces of Unite the Right looked positively boujee.

It’s become a truism repeated to the point of banality: that across the global north, a revival of working class political engagement has driven electoral successes for the nationalist right. 

Dispossessed by globalist elites and mocked by a cosmopolitan intelligentsia, this demographic has been long underserved by our political classes, and neglected by the identitarian gatekeepers of cultural relevance.

Better writers than myself have debunked much of this narrative.

In the UK as well as the US, the economically downtrodden are not racially homogenous.

What’s more the existence of racial inequality makes itself known in economic outcomes: BAME households in the UK are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be amongst those hardest hit by austerity and BAME workers are over-represented in insecure and low-paid forms of employment

Between 2010 and 2015 long-term youth unemployment fell by 2 per cent for white people; in the same time period it rose by 50 per cent for BAME youth. 

As Maya Goodfellow observed, the media fixation on the white working class is not only misleading, it is an example of the very identity politics it claims to deride. 

We find ourselves in a landscape where, in Owen Hatherley’s words, class is depoliticised: framed as “a sort of nationality, based on accent, culture and a particular set of views” rather than an economic relation.

This has not always been the case in the UK.

While cultural anxieties regarding race and immigration have plagued the British political imaginary since the days of empire, left-wing and antiracist movements of the 1970s and 1980s suggested a different basis for understanding inequality. 

The Grunwick Strike of 1976 saw 137 (predominantly Asian and female) striking workers joined by 20,000 protesters, with Arthur Scargill and striking (mostly white and male) miners backing their dispute. 

Working class Londoners of colour set up “monitoring shops” in every borough in response to far-right and police violence. 

Organisations such as Black People Against State Harassment (BASH) were set up as community self-defence initiatives, and while it wasn’t without its internal divisions and problems, there was a lively and populous antiracist movement in the UK.

The breaking of the miner’s strike in 1985, and the anti-trade union crusade that followed, has long been held as the demise of working class political organisation in the UK

Arguably just as important is the response of Thatcher’s government to the riots of 1981 and 1985. 

After decades of police harassment under racist “suss” powers (an informal name for a stop and search law), “managed decline” of urban centres and high-profile instances of deaths following police contact, tensions twice boiled over into outbreaks of mass disorder across the UK as working class people of colour took to the streets. 

Thatcher had previously been to the right of the Conservative Party on issues of race and immigration: following the Brixton riots, however, her government set about implementing the findings of the Scarman Report, which recommended nationwide funding of cultural projects to include ethnic minority communities in a sense of national belonging. 

The Urban Programme’s budget blossomed to £270m and 200 new “ethnic projects” were approved in 1982-3. 

Such “ethnic projects” did little to mitigate the rampant inequalities in housing, employment and healthcare which grew under Thatcher’s neoliberal agenda. 

State multiculturalism was a programme to constrain the political effectiveness of anti-racist and industrial movements – the watchword of the day became representation rather than wealth redistribution.

By focusing on race relations, Thatcher turned a project of anti-racist socioeconomic justice into one of ethnic representation – and the working class was split along racialised lines. 

The contradictions of the multicultural project continued under Tony Blair. 

While the 1997 government were hailed as diverse modernisers, income inequalities (and associated racialised outcomes) widened under New Labour. 

The 1999 Macpherson Report’s identification of “institutional racism” in the Metropolitan Police and the protection of minority rights by the Race Relations Act 2000 made it seem like Blair’s brand of cosmopolitan social democracy was a victory for the anti-racist organisers of the 1980s. 

However in 2003, Home Secretary David Blunkett dismissed institutional racism as a mere “slogan” which “missed the point”; immigration enforcement officers were made exempt from the Race Relations Act, which called open season on state harassment of non-EU migrants.

Having separated out BAME communities from the national conception of class, Blair’s agenda began to exclude working class migrants too. 

As the BNP made electoral inroads in the white-flight ring around London, New Labour became intent on being seen as just has hard on asylum seekers as their far-right competitors in order to preserve “community cohesion”. 

However as Arun Kundnani has noted in The End of Tolerance, the case for being tough on immigration was as much about capital as it was about culture. 

Under New Labour the number of successfully granted asylum applications halved in the space of two years. In the same time period, the number of temporary work visas doubled – creating a precarious, hyper-exploitable, racialised working class.

These workers are the “forgotten forgotten”: the most vulnerable amongst a working class that was never as white as we’d like to imagine it.

Who are the white working class?

If anything they are as much a product of state multiculturalism as the diversity tsars decried in the pages of right-wing tabloids.

A cultural analysis – with its attendant vocabulary of identity, community and belonging – fails to tackle the very real material inequalities that continue to widen in our society, and disproportionately impact people of colour.

It would be a mistake for Corbyn’s Labour Party to hark back to a socialism which assumes racial homogeneity, or to continue the discourse of an authentocracy in which class is just a set of cultural distinctions.

The disintegration of neoliberal consensus across the global north presents us with an opportunity for a renewed politics of social and economic justice.

Projects of wealth redistribution are nothing without an anti-racist backbone.

It’s the alt-right who want a culture war – the rest of us are just after a decent living.  

New Laboured All Over Again In Scotland

John Beattie writes: 

The rest of the UK could be forgiven for thinking that the SNP is a left-wing party.

It says on its Twitter page that it is a centre left and social democratic party.

Whenever the SNP is featured on prominent political shows like Question Time or leaders’ debates at election time, social media is awash with people from all over the UK saying they want to move to Scotland or that they want the SNP to stand candidates in England and Wales. 

This is highly amusing to those of us who live in Scotland and experience the reality of 10 years of SNP governance. 

Behind the SNP’s smoke and mirrors is a record of failure, upper-class freebies and increasing poverty and inequality in Scotland. 

Many of its supporters are guilty of cherry-picking specific issues and using them as justification for their claim that the SNP is doing great within the realm of the devolved areas.

However, the reality is somewhat different. 

For example, the SNP and its supporters claim that the Scottish NHS is “better than in England.” 

This appears to be the nationalists’ benchmark, as long as it is a little bit better than the savage Tory government’s record in England. 

However, this is done to mask their failures. 

The example they persistently use is NHS accident and emergency waiting times in Scotland. 

It is true that recently, Scotland has had the best record for patients being seen within four hours. 

This is lauded by the SNP and its supporters as proof that the SNP is doing a good job in Scotland’s NHS. 

However, while they laud this, they are sweeping grave problems under the rug. 

Cancer patient waiting time targets have been deteriorating in Scotland. 

The Scottish government target is that 95 per cent of cancer patients will wait no more than 31 days for a decision to treat cancer and wait no more than 62 days from referral to get their treatment. 

Across Scotland, NHS statistics show that the 31-day target has dropped from 97.8 per cent in 2011 to 94.1 per cent by the end of 2016. Recently it has moved back up to 94.9 per cent. 

The 62-day turnaround target has dropped from 96.3 per cent to 88.6 per cent in the same period. It now stands at 88.1 per cent.

One can only imagine the worry this will cause those who are concerned about the progress of their cancer. 

There is also a developing crisis of treatment waiting times in the Scottish NHS. 

In 2012 the SNP implemented a legally binding guarantee that patients would be treated within 12 weeks. 

In 2015, the number of people waiting longer than the 12-week target was 1,759 patients and that had increased to 11,168 as of March 2017. 

Health isn’t the only devolved area where the SNP has received much criticism; it has also been condemned over its track record in education. 

Literacy and numeracy skills among Scottish children have been declining under SNP control. 

The party has received most criticism in relation to the attainment gap. 

Poorer Scottish children are falling further behind their wealthier counterparts, and, lagging behind their English counterparts, which ironically contradicts the “better than in England” nationalist mantra. 

Overall, Scottish schools have been cut to the extent of more than £1 billion under the SNP. 

The SNP plan to tackle 10 years of failure in Scottish education is to hand head teachers in Scotland £120 million to try to clean up the mess the SNP has made via constant local authority budget cuts. 

Interestingly, this approach places responsibility for closing the attainment gap in these schools with the head teacher. 

One would suggest this is called “passing the buck.” 

The SNP is expecting its £120m investment to solve problems caused by £1bn of cuts. 

It just doesn’t add up. 

There is also the issue of free university tuition in Scotland. 

The SNP consistently and falsely claims to have been the party that scrapped tuition fees. This is not true. 

It was Scottish Labour which scrapped tuition fees in favour of what was known as the “graduate tax.” 

The tax levied on graduates when they gained employment after leaving university-funded student bursaries. 

Free university education might be a noble policy, but it has not been funded properly. 

You may have seen nationalists claim that Corbyn’s Labour has been nicking their policy on tuition fees. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The SNP funds free university education by cutting college places and bursaries for people from poorer backgrounds. 

Under the SNP more than 130,000 college places have been cut and bursaries for poorer Scots have been consistently reduced. 

These cuts to college places have been criticised by opposition parties in Scotland who cite college as being the main route to higher education and university for people from poorer backgrounds. 

Worryingly, as a result of these policies, poorer kids in Scotland are less likely to go to university than their English counterparts, another example of conditions in Scotland not being “better than in England,” as the SNP and its supporters like to claim. 

It appears that the SNP’s policy on education as a whole has failed the poorest Scots. They have suffered most as a result of the SNP’s £1bn of cuts to schools. 

After leaving the Scottish education system, where achievements in key areas like literacy and numeracy have been declining, they find their second chance for an education, a college place, limited. 

If they manage to jump that hurdle, they can go to university and get a “free” education, but support from the Scottish government for poorer kids has declined, creating another — ironically, a financial — barrier for the poorest Scottish kids. 

This is effectively a regressive policy.

Kids from wealthier backgrounds, who are most likely to stay on at school and achieve the higher grades needed to go directly to university, can expect no tuition fees. 

However, poorer kids who didn’t do so well at school and need to access the college route can expect many challenges because the SNP has been directing resources away from them to benefit the wealthier kids. 

This is the reality of the situation in Scotland and a far cry from the “progressive” image the SNP likes to project to people across the UK. 

Free university education is a noble idea and one that we should support, but we should not support it when it is clear that it’s paid for by slashing college places and bursaries for poorer people. 

When you properly analyse the SNP’s record it becomes clear that their small-c conservative approach to governance in Scotland has left us with an education system in steep decline and an NHS that is slowly descending into a crisis. 

There are very challenging times ahead for the nationalists. The SNP talks progressive and acts conservative. 

Where have we heard that before? We’re being “New Laboured” all over again in Scotland. 

In 10 years of SNP control standards have been declining. 

The party’s most ardent supporters apply what I call the “Andy Murray syndrome” — i.e., their belief that when Murray wins he’s Scottish and when he loses he’s British. 

Whenever statistics are favourable they demand that the SNP is given the credit, and whenever they unfavourable, Westminster is to be blamed and lambasted for it. 

There are now calls from within the SNP to embrace a socialist, progressive outlook. 

This is quite perplexing to those of us who are familiar with Scottish politics because we have been told for quite some time that the SNP is a “progressive” party. It is anything but. 

This is why Labour’s journey back to the political left must stay on course.

This strategy will help us expose the SNP’s conservatism and win back our Scottish working-class heartlands.

Get Them Tolled

A clock?

MPs and others should be made to bow before Grenfell Tower, and before every foodbank in the country.

"He Who Controls The Past Controls The Future"

And that is was why, between 60 and 100 years after the Civil War, statues and other elaborate monuments were put up to commemorate long-dead men who had committed treason against the United States.

Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. But neither of them ever committed treason against the United States.

Lincoln was a racist towards the African-Americans, and he was a genocidist against the Native Americans. But he never committed treason against the United States.

FDR interned the Japanese-Americans, and Truman nuked the Japanese. But neither of them ever committed treason against the United States.

Are you starting to see the point?

There would not be a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford if he had waged war on the British Empire.

There would not be a Stalin Road in Colchester, or a Stalin Avenue in Chatham, if Stalin had been on the other side in 1945. (There would not be much else, either.)

This is not about slavery. It is not even about the memorialisation of the recently fallen, which the Confederates were not by the time that these things were erected.

This is about treason.

And as such, it is a crossroads moment for paleoconservatism as surely as it is for the Trump Presidency.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Just A Second

The news that one in 10 adults now owns a second home makes even more urgent the need to change the law to require planning consent for change of use before a main home can be converted into a second home.

This is a test of Theresa May's sincerity in wanting "a country that works for everyone". It is a test of her party's claim to represent the countryside.

And it is a test of the usefulness of the relatively few MPs for rural areas who are not members of that party.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

So Much For Anti-Fascism

Our actions, including those of Spain, created the entity that has attacked Barcelona.

The Syrian Arab Army is at war with that entity, and not without success.

Yet we are at war with the Syrian Arab Army.

So much for anti-Fascism, in Syria as in Ukraine.

On which note, if "the Nazis were left-wing because", oh, who the hell cares, then why is it the neocons who still support them in Ukraine?

And why is it the Alt-Right who wave their flag on the streets of Virginia?

All Power To The People

A couple of emails have asked why I was "hostile" to Pakistan.

But I am a strong proponent of the deportation of Altaf Hussain to stand trial in that country.

The supporters of the present Government of India have murderous intent towards me as a friend of the Dalits and as a proponent of self-determination as, on balance, the best solution to the dispute in Kashmir.

And I see a strong case for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the Subcontinent's greatest statesman since independence.

The circumstances of his overthrow and murder, however, serve only to illustrate my point that Britain supported the creation of Pakistan in order to ensure British and then American military bases in a highly strategic area by means of a state defined only by Islam, so that any apparent departure from a hardline Islamist identity had to be put down by the Army with strong British and American support.

For all its imperfections, for 50 years the strongest voice for an alternative vision of Pakistan has been that of the Pakistan People's Party.

Moreover, the proposed and emerging economic corridor from Gwadar and Karachi to Kashgar places Pakistan at the heart of the One Belt One Road initiative, which is one of the most exciting developments of the twenty-first century.

India, on the other hand, refuses to have anything to do with it.

I am not "hostile" to India, either, by the way. But the supporters of its present Government are extremely hostile to me, a fact in which I take great pride.

Is Trump Now At War With Trumpism?

Freddy Gray, who once had the dubious pleasure of being my editor, writes:

Ding dong Steve Bannon is gone – and all the liberal world order is cock-a-hoop.

As Democrat congressman Tim Ryan said, ‘Good. He had no business being there to begin with.’ Or as Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. put it, ‘Steve Bannon should have never been a White House official.’ 

Maybe it is a good thing that Steve Bannon, an apocalyptic thinker better suited to Breitbart and Talk Radio agitation than real power, is gone. 

And yet and yet – in the craziness that is Trumpland, Bannon was the closest thing to a coherent strategic thinker in the White House. Who is there now? 

Bannon had principles – mad ones, perhaps – but a thought-through worldview. I’m not convinced anybody else in the White House does. 

Bannon reportedly kept a list to remind the President of his campaign pledges on immigration, Obamacare and battling the global elites. 

His departure now raises the question: what’s happened to Trumpism? Is Trump now at war with Trumpism? 

And if Trump doesn’t have the movement that put him in power, what does he have? 

Bannon’s departure has been expected for some time. 

In fact, given that he appears to have been sidelined in early April, following the US bombing of the Assad regime in Syria and his departure from the national security council, it’s remarkable that he has lasted as long as he did. 

He and Trump’s alliance was always a marriage of convenience. 

Bannon dresses like a slob; Trump cares a lot about matters sartorial. 

Bannon’s differences with the dapper son-in-law Jared Kushner have been well-reported – although it’s worth noting that the two men were actually quite close before and after the election. 

But Bannon’s influence over the administration has dwindled in the last few months. 

It was well-known that he was behind a lot of the leaks which have so annoyed Trump. 

Bannon was crucial to winning Trump the election, but in power his ability to impress Trump has decreased.

Bannon’s extraordinary interview with American Prospect earlier this week, in which he essentially dismissed Trump’s North Korean policy as a crazy distraction from the great economic war with China, suggested he knew his time was nearly up. 

The generals – John Kelly, H R McMaster, and James Mattis – appear to be controlling things. 

The generals can do message discipline, and present a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic administration. 

But should we comforted by that? 

Or is this just another sign that the Trump administration – the government of the most powerful country in the world, remember – has no idea what it is doing?

The Story of Charlottesville Was Written in Blood in The Ukraine

Ajamu Baraka writes:

What is the character of racist right-wing politics today?

Is it the crazed white supremacist who plows into an anti-fascist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, or can it also be the assurance by Lindsay Graham that an attack against North Korea would result in thousands of lives lost…. but those lives will be “over there”? 

What about the recent unanimous resolution by both Houses of Congress in support of Israel and criticism of the United Nations for its alleged anti-Israeli bias? 

Would that qualify as racist and right-wing, since it appears that the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians is of no concern? 

And what about the vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to go even beyond the obscene proposal of the Trump administration to increase the military budget by $54 billion dollars and instead add a whopping $74 billion to the Pentagon budget?

What I find interesting about the current discussion around what many are referring to as the emboldening of the radical white supremacist right is how easy it is to mobilize opposition against the crude and overt white supremacists we saw in Charlottesville. 

So easy, in fact, that it’s really a distraction from the more difficult and dangerous work that needs to be done to confront the real right-wing power brokers. 

The white supremacy that some of us see as more insidious is not reflected in the simple, stereotypical images of the angry, Nazi-saluting alt-righter or even Donald Trump.

Instead, it is the normalized and thus invisible white supremacist ideology inculcated into cultural and educational institutions and the policies that stem from those ideas.

That process doesn’t just produce the storm troopers of the armed and crazed radical right but also such covert true believers as Robert Ruben from Goldman Sachs, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Tony Blair and Nancy Pelosi — “decent” individuals who have never questioned for a moment the superiority of Western civilization, who believe completely in the White West’s right and responsibility to determine which nations should have sovereignty and who should be the leaders of “lesser” nations.

And who believe that there is no alternative to the wonders of global capitalism even if it means that billions of human beings are consigned permanently to what Fanon called the “zone of non-being.”

This is the white supremacy that I am concerned with.

And while I recognize the danger of the violent right-wing movement, I am more concerned with the right-wing policies that are being enacted into law and policy by both Democrats and Republicans at every level of government.

More than two years ago I wrote that:

“The brutal repression and dehumanization witnessed across Europe in the 1930s has not found generalized expression in the U.S. and Europe, at least not yet.

“Nevertheless, large sectors of the U.S. and European left appear to be unable to recognize that the U.S./NATO/EU axis that is committed to maintaining the hegemony of Western capital is resulting in dangerous collaborations with rightist forces both inside and outside of governments.”

The impetus of that article was to critique the inherent danger of the Obama administration’s cynical manipulation of right-wing elements in Ukraine to overthrow the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych.

Not only was it dangerous and predictably disastrous for the Ukrainian people, but because U.S. support for a neo-fascist movement in Ukraine took place within a context in which the political right was gaining legitimacy and strength across Europe.

The political impact of the right gaining power in the Ukraine could not be isolated from the growing power of the right elsewhere.

Which meant that the Obama Admiration’s selfish, short-term objective to undermine Russia in the Ukraine had the effect of empowering the right and shifting the balance of forces toward the right throughout Europe.

But because Obama was incorrectly seen as a liberal, he was able to avoid most criticism of his policies in the Ukraine, in Europe and domestically.

In fact, liberals and the left both in the U.S. and in Europe generally [quite a word here; that would be disputed from Counterfire to the Morning Star, and from Jeremy Corbyn to George Galloway] supported his Ukraine policies.

However, playing footsie with right-wing elements in the Ukraine and underestimating the growing power of the right has resulted in powerful and dangerous right-wing movements on both sides of the Atlantic who have effectively exploited endemic white racism and the contradictions of neoliberal capitalist globalization. 

The ascendancy of Donald Trump cannot be decontextualized from the racial, class and gender politics of this moment here and abroad.

The alt-right that showed up in Charlottesville this past weekend was mimicking the tactics of the frontline neo-fascist soldiers who orchestrated the coup in the Ukraine, yet everyone is saying this is a result of Trump.

The objective fact is that the U.S. has become a dangerous right-wing society as a result of a steady shift to the right over the past four decades.

The idea that Trump’s election somehow “created” the right cannot be taken seriously and cannot be reduced to the crude expressions of the alt-right.

The structures of white power, that is the structures and institutions that provide the material base for Euro-American white supremacy and its ideological reproduction, should be the focus of radical opposition.

But the capitalist order and its institutions — the World Trade Organization, IMF, World Bank, and global Westernized higher education that serves as the material basis for hegemonic white supremacist power – escape critical scrutiny because popular attention is directed against a David Duke and a Donald Trump.

Trump and the alt-right have become useful diversions for white supremacist liberals and leftists who would rather fight against those superficial caricatures of racism than engage in more difficult ideological work involving real self-sacrifice — purging themselves of all racial sentimentality associated with the mythology of the place of white people, white civilization and whiteness in the world in order to pursue a course for justice that will result in the loss of white material privilege.

Looking at white supremacy from this wider-angle lens, it is clear that support for the Israeli state, war on North Korea, mass black and brown incarceration, a grotesque military budget, urban gentrification, the subversion of Venezuela, the state war on black and brown people of all genders, and the war on reproductive rights [no, the African-American male is the victim of a triple genocide in the womb, on the streets, and on the battlefield, while the eradication of non-white people is fundamental to global population control] are among the many manifestations of an entrenched right-wing ideology that cannot be conveniently and opportunistically reduced to Trump and the Republicans.

And when we understand that white supremacy is not just what is in someone’s head but is also a global structure with ongoing, devastating impacts on the people of the world, we will understand better why some of us have said that in order for the world to live, the 525-year-old white supremacist Pan-European, colonial/capitalist patriarchy must die. 

Your choice will be clear: Either you join us as gravediggers or you surrender to class and racial privilege and join the cross-class white united front.

The alt-right is waiting, and they are taking recruits from the left who are tired of “identity politics.”

Friday, 18 August 2017

Third World America

As Tim Stanley tweets, "The White House is now dominated by the military and the President's family."

The American Republic has become one of those countries. Bluntly, a Third World country.

Under the party called Republican.

The party of Abraham Lincoln, for all his faults, yet which cannot bring itself to disavow the symbols of the Confederacy.

The symbols, not so much of slavery, as of treason against the Republic.

"Keep A Bit of India"

So said Churchill.

But it was the Attlee Government that did it. To put it politely, that Government's foreign policy record was rarely as admirable as its record in domestic policy.

The Muslim League initially opposed independence altogether, and it was duly cultivated by the same British authorities that had directly created the Muslim Brotherhood in order to oppose Egyptian independence.

The Brotherhood has enjoyed good Foreign Office contacts ever since, and for most of the period since 1947 Britain has at least broadly sided with Pakistan.

After all, the British military top brass had enthusiastically supported the creation of Pakistan as a seat for British military bases, and not least for new airbases, in strategically the most important part of the Subcontinent, right where the Great Game had been played out in the nineteenth century.

Pakistan was the first state ever to have been founded specifically for the sake of Islam, and it was hoped that it would become the focus of global Muslim allegiance and aspiration, all the while within the British Commonwealth and retaining the British monarch as Head of State.

Pakistan retained the monarchy longer than India, so that, in her time, the Queen has been Queen of Pakistan, having sworn at her Coronation to govern its people (and, indeed, those of apartheid South Africa) "according to their respective laws and customs".

The scholars at Deoband had opposed Partition, arguing that the idea of a "Muslim nation" in India was contrary to the universal mission of Islam.

But Partition severed the Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan from the influence of Deoband itself, making them prey to the Pakistani Army in its role of reinforcing the most hardline definition of the country's Islamic identity in order to keep the feud with India going, and thus consolidate the power of the Army.

That suited the Americans in the Afghanistan of the 1980s and 1990s, just as it had suited the British in earlier times, and just as it had suited them both when the Thatcher Government and the Reagan Administration had enthusiastically supported the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq.

We know the rest. Or, if you don't, then you should.

Meanwhile, 70 years after Partition, the "Muslim nation" is divided almost equally among three countries.

Bengal was not even mentioned in the acronym that gave rise of the name of Pakistan, but East Bengal had to be included initially on the balance of populations.

No one ever expected all of India's Muslims to move to Pakistan. Indeed, that would have been impossible to manage.

Neither of those things, however, was at all germane to Britain's motivation in supporting its creation.

"Only In America Do We Celebrate Treason"

Only in America do we celebrate treason. 

The Confederate States of America – and those who governed and fought for it – were in open rebellion against the United States in order to preserve slavery. 

This is not a matter of debate. It is historic fact. 

What has been debated this week, though, is what to do with the memorials celebrating these white supremacist traitors. 

Neo-Nazis and white nationalists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee, leading to the death of a young woman. 

On Sunday night, a group of activists in Durham, North Carolina took it into their own hands and tore a statue down. 

On Monday, President Trump posited a rhetorical question to the country: if we tear down statues of Lee, will we next tear down statues of Presidents Washington and Jefferson? 

That seems unlikely, even though recasting the context in which we talk of Washington and Jefferson is long overdue. 

Both owned slaves and both were avowed white supremacists. 

But a general who waged open war against the United States? 

That one seems fairly straightforward. We shouldn’t commemorate him at all. 

Thousands of these statues litter the southern landscape from Virginia to Texas, reminding everyone who passes that the south once thought it was perfectly acceptable to buy and sell human beings based on the colour of their skin. 

Those who support retaining the statues insist that they are a necessary part of history, a reminder of an ugly period in our past.

Removing them, they contend, would be tantamount to ignoring or rewriting that history. 

This argument holds no water, though. 

Germany remembers everything the Nazis did without erecting statues to Erwin Rommel. 

Nazi paraphernalia and iconography, when displayed, is done so in museums where historians can provide context to the atrocities committed by Hitler’s regime.

Concentration camps are considered sacred ground, where reverence for those who perished is incumbent upon anyone who visits. 

In America we have weddings on plantations. 

We celebrate the antebellum south as though it was some chivalrous, charming, sophisticated culture instead of acknowledging it for what it was – a brutal slave-holding fiefdom where violence was all that kept its majority black population from rebelling. 

We have to grapple with this history, but statues celebrating Confederate generals or eulogising the “brave boys in grey” don’t do this. 

In fact, the majority of these statues were erected between 1920 and 1970, at a time when the freed black population was being brutally oppressed under Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement sought to change that. 

They were meant to be reminders of just whose country this was. 

That’s the history these statues truly represent, not some Gone with the Wind fantasy that never existed. 

If we want to commemorate this history accurately, then, the statues must fall. 

Put them in a museum where historians can provide context and information about what they represent, why they were erected, and what really happened. 

In their place, erect memorials to the slaves who were tortured and died throughout the south. 

Turn plantations into sacred spaces where Americans can learn about the brutality of slavery, not have a jaunty day out at a slave owner’s mansion. 

Build statues to Abigail Adams, who advocated abolition and women’s suffrage long before it was in vogue. 

Commemorate the union soldiers who died to preserve the union. 

These are the people we should memorialise in our civic religion – not a bunch of racist traitors. 

There’s a difference between celebrating history and learning from it. 

The Confederacy and slave holders generally speaking don’t deserve our reverence. 

Their world is not our world, and thank God for it, because brave women and men defeated them. 

Clinging to these statues says as much about us in 2017 as it does about the people they honour or the folks who erected them.

Those who defend these statues now must reckon with which they’re truly doing – preserving an historic record or celebrating white supremacy.

Antisemites For Israel

Giles Fraser writes: 

My mother-in-law has just arrived from Israel for her summer holiday.

First she coos over her grandchild. Then we sit on the floor and unwrap the beautiful pots and cups that she has made for us. 

We chat about how things are in Tel Aviv – the people, the weather, new restaurants. Soon enough we turn to politics. 

Here the mood changes. Great place, Israel. Terrible politics. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staged a rally of his supporters last week.

In the face of mounting accusations of corruption, he hit back at the media and the liberal elite who he says want to unseat him. 

Such are the similarities between Netanyahu and Donald Trump, it is hard to know who is copying whom. 

Netanyahu deliberately plays up the connection. 

Which is why events in Charlottesville, and Trump’s half-hearted condemnations of US fascism, have given Israel’s PM a political headache. 

Condemn Trump and he risks alienating his political soulmate. Not condemn Trump and he looks like being soft on neo-nazism. 

Most Israeli politicians got it right. 

Reacting to Trump’s “there are two sides to every story” line, Yair Lapid insisted

“There are no two sides. When neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville with antisemitic slogans against Jews and for white supremacy, the denouncement is unequivocal.”

But Netanyahu took three days to come up with a condemnation of neo-nazism, slipped out in an English-language tweet. 

Should it really have been so difficult for an Israeli PM to condemn nazism?

A problem for the Israeli right is that there are quite a few, especially on the outer fringes of rightwing politics in the US, who don’t much care for Jews, but purport to admire and support Israel because of its commitment to maintaining a particular racial majority within its borders. 

Speaking on Israel’s Channel 2 News on Wednesday, the alt-right’s Richard Spencer, one of the leaders of the Charlottesville rally, gave an astonishing example of this “antisemites for Israel” philosophy. 

“Jews are vastly over-represented in what you would call ‘the establishment’ and white people are being dispossessed from this country,” he said of the US.

Yet he continued: 

“An Israeli citizen, someone who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood, and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me who has analogue feelings about whites. 

“You could say I am a white Zionist – in the sense that I care about my people, I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves. Just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.” 

This is staggering stuff. 

Richard Spencer is the man who chanted “Heil Trump” during a Washington rally. 

His followers responded with the Nazi salute. 

Praise from a man mired in the worst sort of antisemitism should prompt soul-searching on the right of Israel’s political establishment. 

These are not admirers that they should want. 

More shocking, some concede that Spencer and his like have reason to find common cause with some of Israel’s outer political fringes.

As the former PM Ehud Barak said of Charlottesville: 

“You can’t say you don’t see things here that bear a certain similarity – when you look at the Lehava demonstrations or La Familia activity, or the ranting against journalists covering Netanyahu investigations.”

Lehava is an acronym of the Hebrew for “Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land”. 

It is especially against mixed marriages (like mine) between Israeli Jews and non-Jews. 

And it also wants to rid Israel of Christianity.

La Familia are fans of the Beitar Jerusalem football team. 

A few months ago I went to see them playing an Israeli Arab team from Galilee, Bnei Sakhnin – though the Sakhnin fans were not allowed into the ground. 

My remedial Hebrew was not enough to make out what they were singing to the rows of empty seats opposite.

“We are going to burn your village down,” was how my friend translated it.

Barak is right, the parallels with Charlottesville are sometimes difficult to avoid. 

And the problem everywhere with these outer fringes is that they are getting less and less outer. 

Frightening, isn’t it?