Tuesday, December 10, 2019

UK General Election : The Clown vs. the Cold Warrior

I've only just moved from the UK to Australia, but I spent 14 years living there and so have been through three general elections, and the EU referendum.  The 2019 general election wasn't meant to happen, but it was inevitable after the 2017 general election that didn't need to be called, because the 2015 general election gave the Conservatives a majority for the first time since 1992 and the UK has five year electoral terms.

Most coverage will claim that this is a Brexit election, and although it is a major factor, for me it isn't the number one factor.  Sure, if you want Brexit done you'll vote Conservative (except for a tiny handful of seats where the Brexit Party has a much better chance than the Conservatives), given Labour is campaigning on a second referendum (where it will negotiate a different deal with the EU, and then Corbyn will be neutral on it) and the Liberal Democrats are campaigning on remaining in the EU.

However, to me although that is important for many reasons, it is much less important than what SHOULD be the biggest issue of this election - stopping the election of a hardcore socialist and his team, who are fundamentally opposed to capitalism, individual freedom, property rights and highly sceptical of the values of the Enlightenment and Western liberal democracy.

I wont say much about Boris Johnson because I don't like him.  He's a flake, a showman and a clown.  He is enthused about vanity projects (there were plenty when he was Mayor of London) and when he isn't interested in anything he wont worry about detail and wont focus.  An entertaining raconteur and journalist, a great philosopher he is not.  He lies and obfuscates, and changes his position to suit whatever is popular.  There are many reasons why he didn't proceed to be a candidate for leadership in 2016, but he is the man of today - and he is beyond doubt profoundly preferable to the entity on the other side.

Corbyn is a mediocre mild-mannered pathetic little man, who has surrounded himself with sinister flunkies who range from the moronic to the despicable.  His record on openly supporting the IRA, including inviting senior members to Parliament days after the Brighton bombing, is well known.  You can almost guess his position on every single international conflict and issue by working out which side is supported by the West and be sure he is on the other side.  He did shows on the Iranian propaganda TV channel Press TV, his first instincts are always to believe the side that isn't a member of NATO, which isn't a Western liberal democracy and always isn't Israel.  He even backed General Galtieri - the Argentinian military dictator - over Britain in the Falklands War. 

His most senior advisors are not just Cold warriors but actually pro-Soviet and in one case pro-North Korea Marxist-Leninists (Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray).  He himself bemoaned the fall of the Berlin Wall because of the loss of the "achievements" of the German Democratic Republic (not those shot dead trying to cross the Berlin Wall of course).  Corbyn cheered Venezuela's Chavez regime as being a model for the world, and he openly celebrated the Cuban regime as well.  This was quaint and vile as the MP for Islington North, as potential PM for the world's fifth largest economy, NATO's second most powerful member and a nuclear power, it's simply scary.

The anti-semitism is well known, as his Labour Party has sheltered and selected candidates who have openly anti-semitic views.  At best he has a blind spot and doesn't know what is anti-semitic, at worst he simply thinks Jews aren't an oppressed group because, of course, they tend to be wealthy and successful, but worst of all, Israel - a country he has spent his political life campaigning against.

Beyond that are the policies his Labour Party are promoting this election.  Not just higher taxes and more spending, but a quantum leap in spending every year.  Some of the more sinister policies include requiring all businesses with 250+ employees to hand over 1% of the company shares to employees each year, over ten years.  Effectively a form of confiscation of the business.  There are mass nationalisations, with the Government deciding how much it will pay for them, no negotiation, effectively a third world style confiscation of businesses (and the reasoning behind it being that they are "profiting too much" from consumers, except that energy prices are capped, water prices are regulated by Ofwat and rail prices are determined by the Minister - none of the nationalised sectors bear much resemblance to a free market).  Labour wants to exchange shares in private businesses for newly issued public debt - because that's what you want, a promise from a socialist government with its heavily devalued currency, to pay you. 

For those who say there is nothing to worry about, let's be clear what a vote for Labour is in this election.   It's a vote to say:
  • Capitalism should be overthrown;
  • Private property rights are worthless, the state can take businesses off you to give to whoever it wants or take for itself;
  • The Government should monopolise education (no private schools)
  • Businesses should get permission from government to open (any business with at least 50 employees will need state certification for being gender neutral)
  • The media to be "fairer" to the policies, politicians and opinions of the Labour Party and its ginger groups;
  • Israel shouldn't exist;
  • Russia, China and Iran are morally equivalent to the United States at best, and morally superior at times;
  • State control of prices is good for everyone;
  • Calls for Islamist government aren't to be feared (just blank out the misogyny, homophobia and anti-semitism)
  • Identity politics is central to public policy (all business will have to report their sex and race pay gaps and explain themselves to a bureaucracy why they are apparently sexist and racist)
  • Jews should just put up and not complain, because the anti-semitism they say they get is just because they back Israel (which is an apartheid state little different from Nazi Germany).
I didn't mention Brexit because honestly, it pales into insignificance.    Yes it is an opportunity to free the UK from the EU's overweening control, and its commitment to a fortress against free trade from the outside, and protection of sunset industries.  However, as good as that opportunity is, the UK doesn't have a major political party willing to take advantage of much of that, in fact the Conservatives are promising to maintain and enhance labour and environmental laws, and beyond opening up trade to the world, there is little sense of the opportunity to liberalise domestic laws outside the EU.

Moreover, the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson is centrist, it is promising to spend billions more and has abandoned fiscal discipline in favour of trying to compete modestly with Corbyn's absurd levels of promises of spending.   Anyone who claims Boris and the Conservatives are far right, are either ignorant or just revoltingly minimising what actual fascism is - because there is little difference between the Conservatives and Blair's Labour - the main difference being the end of the EUphilia of the Blair era.  The Conservatives are still regulating the energy market to raise prices for a transition away from fossil fuels, they are still planning to ban the sale of fossil fuel powered motor vehicles and they are unrepentent about supporting more money for the world's biggest civilian bureaucracy - the NHS.

Yet don't think it can't happen that Corbyn can win.  He raised Labour's vote in 2017 to 40% from 30.4% in 2015, primarily by raising turnout.  The great failure of the Conservatives (and indeed the Labour right) has been to not confront, challenge and undermine the philosophy of socialism and Marxism, in fact the UK education system has been a vehicle for some to promote it, and this has been reinforced by the broadcast media (especially Channel 4 and the BBC, both state owned) and universities.  The Conservatives, by and large, don't push more trust in individuals and markets, they embrace interference, tax, spending and regulation.  So why be surprised when the party that BELIEVES in central planning, control, socialism and a big state is more convincing, especially to the young.

Realistically if Boris doesn't win, it is more likely the UK has some cobbled together coalition of the left, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and a handful of others maybe able to create a majority government (but they wont get support from any Northern Irish MPs, because Sinn Fein refuses to sit in the House of Commons - that so many of its members at one time wanted to blow up).  If it does, it will be because of Boris and because of a long legacy of failure to communicate and present a clear choice.  In 1983 Margaret Thatcher took on Michael Foot's socialist Labour Party, and won convincingly, because it was a fight between a similar level of Marxism as Corbyn, and Western liberal capitalist democracy.  Sadly in this election, Boris is no Margaret Thatcher and more frighteningly Corbyn is no Michael Foot (at least Foot was no anti-semite)

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

70 years of the most deadly tyranny of human history

The People's Republic of China is celebrating 70 years today, but for anyone who believes in the dignity of humanity, any semblance of individual rights and freedom, or even believes that human beings should deal with each other in a context of truth, honesty and openness, it should be a day of mourning.

For all of the tales of the economic successes in mainland China since it abandoned Maoism in 1978, it is overwhelmingly a tale of blanking out the horrors of the rule under Mao, the ongoing horrors of a techno-authoritarian state that still treats its people as a means to an end, and a system that spread the spilling of blood beyond its borders.  Despite the power, prestige and wealth of China today, it is still poorer, materially and in human terms, on a grand scale, than it would have been had Mao's madness been defeated.  Indeed, had Mao not come to power, there are literally millions of people outside China who would not have been murdered by the regimes that he explicitly backed, armed and supported.

For China, as with Germany and Korea, there is a quasi-scientific laboratory of what would have been had the Communist Party been defeated.  Hong Kong may seem the obvious one, but the more compelling one is the "other" China, the Republic of China, in Taiwan.

You see in 1949, Taiwan was largely agricultural when the Kuomintang fled the Chinese civil war and set up its based in Taipei.  Sure, I don't have any delusions about the regime of Chiang Kai-Shek.  He was bloodthirsty, intolerant of political plurality and ruthless against dissent, but he did not embark on crazy plans that created mass famines, nor did he shut down the education system and economy for a Cultural Revolution.  More notably, as the People's Republic was recovering from the poverty, purges and madness of Maoism in the 1970s and 1980, the Republic of China on Taiwan saw off Chiang Kai-Shek, and his son, and became a vibrant, dynamic liberal democracy.  It has been so now for over thirty years.  

So Taiwan is free and Chinese, but it is also much wealthier per capita.  On average, incomes in Taiwan are 2.5 times that of mainland China.  Car ownership is 2.7x higher in Taiwan than the mainland.  Now of course the mainland has a much more diverse and complex demographic than Taiwan, but given Taiwan was a rural backwater in 1949, it truly is an economic miracle (the same tale is that of south Korea, as the southern half of Korea was mostly rural, but the north industrialised, not that you would know today).

By other indicators Taiwan is superior, on inequality the GINI index is 0.336 compared to 0.468 for the PRC (1 is highest inequality).  So "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is less effective at reducing inequalities than a capitalist liberal democracy.

However, this is about much more than economics.  China lost between 18 and 56 million people in the Great Leap Forward primarily due to man-made famine, as Mao diverted farmers to making what was effectively junk steel, farmers were forced to surrender a third of output for export and many other centrally directed follies such as the mass slaughter of birds (the Four Pests Campaign) resulting in an invasion of insects.  Beyond the famine was the political murders, the purges and the suicides due to the political campaign.  Frank Dik├Âtter's book Mao's Great Famine devastatingly portrays the horrors of the time.  Mao was certainly history's greatest killer.

Beyond that, the PRC has executed millions as political prisoners, its maltreatment of Tibetans and today of the Uighur community in Xinjiang province are all horrors in their own right.  The Black Book of Communism estimates 65 million died due to the policies of the People's Republic of China, including murders, suicides and famines.  Sure some may argue details, but Mao did after all encourage the USSR to start World War 3 claiming that China could lose half its population and still have more people than the United States.  The One Child Policy nationalised human fertility and means there are now 30 million "surplus" boys or rather men who will never statistically find a female partner. This is also apparently affecting crime, as boys grow up in male dominated environments.  For all of the Communist Party's propaganda about the rights of women, it still owns the fertility of Chinese women, and it has never had women remotely close to power (excluding the psychopathic Jiang Qing).  

The PRC claims to have esteemed credentials in international peace, but they are disingenuous.  This is the country that released the last ever atmospheric nuclear weapons test (16 October 1980), which started war with India in 1962started a conflict with the USSR in 1969 and then attacked Vietnam in 1979 (because Vietnam removed China's Khmer Rouge from slaughtering the people of "Democratic Kampuchea").   

For within a year of founding the PRC, Mao encouraged fellow megalomaniac Kim Il Sung (as did Stalin) to attack the Republic of Korea, starting the Korean War.  When it all went sour when the US led UN forces pushed the regime to the Yalu/Amnok River, Mao sent in his "Chinese People's Volunteers" to save the Kim Il Sung Democratic People's Republic of Korea, prolonging the war by two years.  It's the People's Republic of China that has kept the world's only third generational hereditary Marxism-Leninist dictatorship afloat with the world's longest personality cult.  That's not something to be proud of.

Then you can look at Indochina, and consider the Khmer Rouge. Backed by Mao militarily, financially and ideologically, Pol Pot took inspiration from Mao's peasant revolution to deindustrialise Cambodia, empty the cities and put the entire population into slave like conditions to produce rice.  The starvation and slaughter of opponents (including anyone with much education, or who wore glasses) saw a third of Cambodia's population killed.  The Khmer Rouge abolished money, private property and business, and in the process extinguished millions of lives.  The People's Republic of China continued to back the regime after Vietnam invaded and overthrew it (as did some Western powers to their disgrace for some years), and today Beijing keeps the kleptocratic bully Hun Sen in power as it engages in neo-colonialism of Cambodia.

Today we can see the PRC building bases on disputed islands in the South China Sea, its neo-imperialism with developing countries as it accesses resources and provides authoritarian regimes with means to track dissent.  The PRC continuously talks of international relations in its simplistic and self-serving way, with one of its key principles "non-interference in each others' internal affairs", which is the tyrants' code for "if you don't mention us murdering our citizens we wont mention yours". For the Communist Party of China, executing dissidents and abusing Chinese people is an internal affairs, it regards itself as accountable to nobody.  Part of its view on internal affairs is Taiwan, which it does not tolerate as a competing regime.  Unlike Korea and the former divided Germany, the PRC has long taken the view that there being only "one China" that countries could either recognise the government in Beijing or the government in Taipei (admittedly Chiang Kai-Shek embraced this while he was alive too).  Even though the Republic of China government in Taiwan has de-facto relinquished any legal claim to govern the rest of China, the People's Republic of China considers itself the sole legitimate authority on Taiwan, so reserves the right to use force to "reunify" the country.  So Taiwan is diplomatically isolated, even though it is, to all intents and purposes, a capitalist liberal democracy with the freedoms seen in Western liberal democracies, and indeed Japan and the Republic of Korea as well.  Beijing is so threatened by the example across the Taiwan Straits, of Chinese people peacefully interacting and living in harmony under liberal democracy, that it seeks to blank it out of history and international affairs.

However, for today - a day ordinary Chinese people are not allowed near the celebrations in Beijing (remember any "People's" Republic is ironic, as it is only about the people as an abstract, not the messy, complicated, diverse and curiosities of real individual humans), because realistically the celebrations are NOT about the achievements of China, but the achievement of 70 years of a political monopoly on power by one of the most inept, corrupt and murderous political entities the world has ever seen.  China's growth in the past forty years is a testament to the hard work, determination and ability of Chinese people set somewhat free after thirty years of totalitarian tyranny, but it is in spite of the central control and direction of the Communist Party of China.

Had China avoided the catastrophe of Mao, it would today be a developed country, with a longer life expectancy, higher standard of living, with literally millions more people of talent and ability thriving, and a vibrant culture of debate, discussion, civil society and community.  Not a culture of fear, surveillance, authoritarianism and concealment of history and reality.  It may more closely resemble Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and Japan, and be a force for economic and political freedom, and the values of human dignity and the individual.

The People's Republic of China has been a catastrophe for so many in China, and has contributed to catastrophe elsewhere.  It is a threat to the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is the world's greatest executor.  It is a modern surveillance state, built on intellectual property theft and a culture of fear, corruption and intensive state control, moreover the country is simply the tool of the Communist Party of China, which is itself not accountable to the government (nor is the People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the party and state).  For the people in China, they may feel justified in celebrating the last forty years of remarkable economic growth and improvements in net standard of living for so many, but that is only because they partially embraced the economics of free market capitalism after decades of totalitarian central planning.  The Communist Party of China got out of the way to enable this, but what it does today is dehumanise and classify the people of China, treating them as servants of the Party and the State.  The people of China deserve better, and some people of China have that.

The future of China can be seen in Hong Kong and Taiwan, if the Orwellian bullies of Beijing dare let them be themselves, and reflect on what could have been and what could be, if they just trust the people.  After 70 years, the people of mainland China ought to be allowed to grow up, speak out without fear and choose those who govern them, and expect the basic principles of rule of law, individual freedom and autonomy, private property rights to apply to them, as they do to the 23 million Chinese people in Taiwan and the many millions of others worldwide.

I'll leave my final comment to the Mainland Affairs Council of the Republic of China in Taiwan:

"The Chinese Communist Party has persisted with its one-party dictatorship for 70 years, a concept of governance that violates the values ​​of democracy, freedom and human rights, causing risks and challenges for the development of mainland China... Its shouting about the struggle for unity, great rejuvenation and unification is only an excuse for military expansion, seriously threatening regional peace and world democracy and civilization...The lifeline of the survival and development of mainland China is not tied to one person and one party"

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Brexit: The incompetent, the cowardly and the unprincipled

Almost all of UK politics has been about Brexit.

Yes, it's all been about Brexit and it all still is.  As a believer in free markets and smaller government, I supported Brexit, not so much about ending freedom of movement of people (although there is a strong case to have limits on convicted criminals crossing borders in the EU), but about escaping the high wall of the EU Single Market and Customs Union.  This is where the lazy nonsense from both left and right about Brexit being akin to Trump's success falls rather weak.   For a start, the mandate for Brexit was much greater than the one Trump got.  Trump lost the popular vote, but won the electoral college, whereas Brexit won the popular vote (although the attempt by some to balkanise the UK by saying London voted to "remain" as did Scotland misses the point, it was a UK wide vote on UK foreign policy, which isn't a devolved matter).  Moreover, Trump is a protectionist and an idiot on economics.  Brexit has never been about little Britain or fortress Britain, and virtually none of those who advocated Brexit saw it as the UK turning in on itself, but rather breaking free of the EU to be open to the world.   Indeed, even those who wanted Brexit to enable restrictions on immigration saw it as an opportunity to treat EU citizens on a par with those from the US or India and the like. 

The absolute political abomination around it comes from a whole host of sources which have been undermined by a Prime Minister who neither lack the intellectual nor visceral fortitude to advance in a way that would maximise the interests of the UK and indeed the EU as well.  These include:
  • A loud vocal and substantial number of MPs, mostly Labour, but also some Conservatives (and certainly all Liberal Democrats and nationalist MPs) who want to over turn the referendum result with their banal call for a "People's Vote" (apparently the last referendum wasn't so honoured with such a title).  Virtually everyone calling for a second referendum didn't like the result of the first one, and I doubt any of those calling for it would have supported a second referendum if "Remain" had won.  
  • A deeply divided Conservative Party that doesn't have a clear vision of what it wants from leaving the EU.  It should want maximum market access, it should want control over domestic regulation and regulation of trade with other countries.  However, some want to leave without a deal, some want to leave with a deal that makes leaving conditional on the EU supporting it, and some don't want to leave at all.  The PM wants to leave with a deal that the EU demanded, which some who voted to leave regard as worse than staying in the EU,
  • A deeply divided Labour Party, which ranges from a significant rump who want to remain, a small group who strongly support leaving, and the leadership which isn't keen on committing to anything, primarily because the Trotskyite Jeremy Corbyn has spent most of his life thinking the EU is a capitalist conspiracy for free trade and investment across Europe which interferes with his desire for large scale nationalisation of industry, ending competition in many areas and supporting subsidies for failing industries.
  • A civil service which is oriented towards the status quo, which means not leaving.  David Cameron told the entire civil service not to plan for leaving the EU, so it is lost and trying to work out what it would all mean.  The Foreign Office mind you is in its normal state of affairs, which is not to upset anyone overseas.  It's not at all interested in playing tough with the EU.
The EU has played the UK government like a tune.  It disgracefully raised the issue of the Irish border, despite explicitly statements from both the UK and Irish governments that neither would reinstate a hard border if there were no deal.  Why should they?  The UK does not seek to hinder movement of people or goods from the Republic of Ireland, and the Irish Government has no interest in doing so either (indeed the goods flows across the Irish border are insignificant, being mainly fresh food and road gravel).   What is going on is that the Irish Government, having changed part way through the negotiations on Brexit, to be a minority government with Sinn Fein support, has been seeking to build support by supporting the EU beating up the UK.

This is what is fundamentally problematic with the "deal" Theresa May wants support for.  It includes a "backstop" that would mean a customs border in the Irish Sea that places Northern Ireland within the EU Customs Union.  By no means should the EU (or the UK Government) do anything that essentially undermines the territorial integrity of the UK and the Good Friday Agreement itself as part of the withdrawal agreement.   A stronger PM would just have dismissed this, pointed out how neither side wants a hard border and the UK has no issue with EU goods and people travelling across the Irish border, and leave it to the EU to ask Ireland what it would do in return.   Understandably, the Democratic Unionist Party threatens to bring down the May Government if it persists with this, as it should.  Notwithstanding that the DUP is effectively a "blood and soil" unionist party that is akin to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, the whole matter of the future of Northern Ireland should be up to the people who live there.

So it was defeated by the House of Commons early in the year, but since then there have been subsequent votes including the so-called Brady amendment, which called for the PM to negotiate for removal of the Irish backstop.

The EU's response has been "we wont change", but time is ticking, as it is fewer than 50 days away from the UK leaving the EU, without a deal.  What does that mean?
  • The EU stops getting money from the UK (don't underestimate what that means, it is around £173m per week in net terms);
  • The EU can choose to impose its standard tariffs on imports from the UK (under WTO rules, it is the Most Favoured Nation tariffs), and the UK could reciprocate (they would be the same as the UK has EU tariffs at present), or either or both could refrain;
  • The UK no longer has a role with any EU organisations.
It could be highly disruptive to trade, but it is entirely up to both sides.  Hysteria over food shortages and the like is entirely up to the UK to avoid, because it could simply maintain existing trading conditions unilaterally.  However, I would expect the EU to want to impose tariffs or worse (bans or limits on imports), as "punishment" because of its protectionist instincts.  The UK could respond in kind of course, but it would be a trade war started by the EU - which despite the culture war in the UK over Brexit, is not open and not globalist at all.

The EU wants to make it uncomfortable for the UK, it really wants it to be painful to leave its club.  It wants to make an example of the UK, so that others don't want to leave the project.   The majority of EU Member States receive money from the European Commission, so it is unlikely they would leave, but the richer members, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are different.  They are not net recipients, but they are also not beset with the war guilt and fear about fascism that binds Germany (and to a modest extent Italy) to the EU.   However, the UK is still the second largest economy in Europe.  It is entirely in the economic interests of all EU Member States that the UK trades as freely as possible with them, for both goods and services.

On freedom of movement, the UK faces an ongoing dilemma.  There is a lot of support for restricting immigration more generally, but this is primarily due to concerns over housing prices and overcrowding of public services.  There are also concerns about some cultural aspects of migration (particularly high concentrations of Pakistani Muslim migration given the Rotherham scandal), but this is mainly historic in locations where there has been poor assimilation and integration.   Most of those migrants never came from the EU.  Yet when the EU faces a crisis across its members it has proven itself to be inept and incapable of responding.  It was paralysed when European countries (yes the EU is NOT Europe) engaged in a genocidal war in the early 1990s in the Balkans.  It has been paralysed when hundreds of thousands fled the war in Syria (which it, of course, didn't dare want any intervention in).

Leaving the EU does put the UK at risk of one eventuality, a socialist government led by Jeremy Corbyn wouldn't be constrained by EU rules requiring competition in various services, such as energy and transport.  However, leaving the EU will break the UK away from being bound by rules imposed by Brussels and Strasbourg that it cannot escape from.  This is why small authoritarian parties, such as the Greens and the Liberal Democrats are so enamoured by the EU - it imposes legislation (directives!)  that could never be passed by the UK Parliament.   Although it might be argued that the EU Parliament could get more attention, quite simply the EU Parliament does not have the authority to introduce legislation or repeal directives.  The European Council has the sole authority to propose bills to the Parliament, including bills to repeal directives.

Leaving the EU is a liberal venture, it is one that opens the UK to the world, that breaks it out of the sclerotic protectionist trading bloc that isn't interested in tax competition or indeed in allowing the rest of the world to trade using its comparative advantages.   It does not remotely resemble the aggressive protectionism of Trump, and by wanting to put all UK immigration on a similar basis, it doesn't resemble the spectre of xenophobia that many think it does.

However, it has divided the UK like few issues have in recent years.  The various groups are:
  • Continuity Remain: Those who reject the referendum result, reject having a referendum and are viscerally true believers that EU membership is economically, morally and spiritually virtuous.
  • "People's Vote" Remain:  Those who say they support the referendum result, but say everything has changed now, so "the people" should have a chance to reverse it.  None would have called for this had the vote gone the other way.
  • Soft Brexit Remain:  Those who say they want the UK to leave the EU, but stay in the Customs Union (meaning it can't negotiate separate free trade agreements with other countries) and the Single Market (meaning it has to follow Single Market rules for its own market).  Essentially being an EU rule taker without a say on the rules.
  • EFTA Leave:  Those who believe the UK should leave the EU, but simply join the European Free Trade Agreement, which means remaining in the Single Market for trade with the EU, but outside the Customs Union.  Effectively a stepping stone either to remain or to leave in full.
  • May's Deal Leave:  Those who support the PM's deal, which is to leave, but have a backstop so that Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union if no free trade agreement is agreed with the EU.
  • FTA Leave:  Those who want a much looser deal, negotiating a simple free trade agreement, but leaving the EU in every sense, they are often part of....
  • No-Deal Leave:  Those who just want to leave, unconditionally and THEN negotiate a deal with the EU.
My bet is that the UK will leave, but will negotiate a temporary deal to buy time for further renegotiation.  If it doesn't leave, the Conservative Party will implode and it wont be over.

For me, I'll just be glad when the culture war over Brexit is over.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh: Both sides have lost the plot

To paraphrase Rod Liddle on BBC Question Time on 27 September 2018:

"If you are against Trump then Brett Kavanaugh is a rapist, no trial needed.  If you are for Trump then Christine Blasey Ford is a liar who has been manipulated by the Democrats."

An issue that should be a matter for cool heads, considering evidence on its merits, both questioning those making allegations, but also not dismissing them outright as obvious lies, has been completely dominated by the toxic binary tribal polarity that has become the trend.

Yes, you have to wonder with Kavanaugh having had a high profile career for some years why these allegations have emerged when Trump nominates him for the Supreme Court?  If he had been a Hilary Clinton nominee, and so had different views, would he have been similarly challenged?

Likewise, being nominated for the Supreme Court is the highest profile judicial appointment in the US.   Some women who have been sexually abused do not report it straight away, or even over some years, due to shame, fear of disbelief and the obvious difficulties of presenting evidence to police or to a court, and being cross examined.  The nature of sexual abuse is that shame, self-blame and self-doubt all come into play.   The one useful element of the #metoo movement is that it did reduce the stigma of sexual abuse victims speaking out as they should (what went wrong with it the idea that anyone speaking out automatically means that anyone accused is guilty until proven innocent).

So Kavanaugh has become on the one hand, a challenge to the fundamental maxim of our civilisation that anyone accused is innocent until proven guilty.   However, some of those defending this are also challenging the notion that someone who raises an allegation of a sexual crime should be listened to and given emotional support in making a complaint.   It is not contradictory to both accept that victims of a sex crime (which almost always happens in private, so is a matter of she's says/he says or vice versa)  need to have channels to speak out, and should be listened to by the Police and complaints taken seriously as with any other crime, BUT also treat anyone accused of any crime as innocent until proven guilty.

Few say that women who claim to be victims of sex crimes should shut up or not report the offences.  It has been more a case that police have been reluctant to take on such cases, not least because of the difficulty and complexity of gathering evidence and proof, which is inherent in the very nature of those crimes.  However, it is important that complainants be treated with due respect.  The sooner a rape or sexual assault is reported, the more likely that action can be taken on it, and the more likely that evidence will be believed.  

Specifically, the bill would require "an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity." Getting consent is "the responsibility of the person who wants to engage in initiating the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the consent of the other person to engage in the sexual activity." The consent has to be "ongoing" throughout any encounter.

What this means is that in a sexual encounter, acquiescence wont be deemed to be consent, which depending on what presumption you place on such encounters, can mean two things.

If you assume that, in most cases, most people act with mutual respect and the interactions they have with people in such circumstances (who they consent to be with, and be close with) are based on that, it means that no one can just kiss, or reach out and touch another person intimately without it being effectively a crime.  Even if you are in a sexual relationship with someone,  it literally means actively consenting to every step in an encounter.  "May I kiss you? yes.  May I touch your thigh above your knee? Yes. " etc etc.  

BUT WAIT (the outrage builds)

What if you assume that in these circumstances there is a relationship of power (identity politics states it is a misogynist culture, dominated by men with rules by men for men,  or even a rape culture)?  Then yes you (men only really) SHOULD have explicit consent for touching a woman, for touching her genitals, for every step in the process, otherwise YOU are the problem, because you're basically a potential rapist.

Pardon me if I think that if someone believes they have been sexually assaulted, in any institution, their first recourse should be the police and the criminal justice system, not some sort of kangaroo justice system.  

However, that is another issue, and a serious one that not only libertarians, but most people across the political spectrum who believe in the fundamentals of common law and the criminal justice system should be concerned about.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Korea: Real change or the cycle of bluff?

North Korea watchers are split on what the outcomes of the latest diplomatic activities on the Korean peninsula will mean.  There was the usual, tiresome, anti-Trump kneejerk reaction to his threats to the DPRK, which of course follow the DPRK's missile and nuclear tests, all of which breach UN Security Council Resolutions.  Trump rightfully declared that no regime oppresses its citizens like North Korea.  Liberty in North Korea gives you more on this, which I wont repeat.  It's a regime that controls movement of its people not only to leave this prison state, but to leave your own town.  It runs gulags in which it incarcerates entire families for the political "crimes" of one (that mean elderly relatives down to babies).  It is difficult to exaggerate the scale of this, but it's also important to remember that this ISN'T a priority internationally.  

So let's be clear about what the DPRK is.

  • Totalitarian regime with unrivalled levels of control on media, speech, movement of people compared with virtually any other country.  There is little internet access, almost no access to broadcasts from outside the country, and very few ever have permission to travel outside the country.  There is very little private enterprise, with what there is being restricted to informal (but tolerated) market stalls.  All other retail and trading activities are undertaken by the state, and economic activity is directed by central planning with limited use of price as a tool to manage demand and supply.
  • Highly militarised, with a standing army of 1.1 million (and over 8 million reservists) out of a population of around 25 million, with the military taking around 20% of GDP.
  • It is the creation of the USSR, which entered the northern half of Korea near the end of World War 2 as the US entered the southern half, as Japan withdrew its imperial forces.  Japan had occupied Korea and treated it is a vassal state since 1910, treating Koreans in many cases as slave labour.  The UN sought to hold elections across Korea, but the USSR refused to allow the holding of an election in the northern half.  The south held elections, and the Republic of Korea was formed, with the first President Syngman Rhee.  The north declared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea shortly thereafter, with a Stalinist system led by Kim Il Sung.  At the end of the 1940s the US withdrew from south Korea, and Kim Il Sung was given approval from Stalin and Mao to reunify Korea under a communist system, starting the Korean War.  After three years of bloodshed, including UN intervention on the side of the south (led by the USA), the war ended roughly at the same point as where it started.  The DPRK declared "victory" as it claimed the south started the war, led by "US imperialism".  
  • The USSR instituted Kim Il Sung as Supreme Leader of the DPRK, with a Constitution and party/state structure mirroring that of the USSR at the time (under Stalin).  Kim Il Sung was a minor guerrilla fighter who led a small band of resistance against the Japanese, before fleeing to the USSR where the Red Army schooled him in Stalinism.  
However, it is important to remember what it tells its citizens:
  • They are the luckiest people in the world with (as Barbara Demick's book was titled) "Nothing to Envy in the world".
  • South Korea is a "puppet regime" run by the USA as a slave colony of fascism, where the people revere the Kim dynasty and ache for reunification under their leadership.  South Korea would quickly reunify with the North if the US imperialist withdrew their "troops of occupation", but the USA treats its south Korean "subjects" like the Japanese used to.
  • Kim Il Sung led an army which was responsible for liberating ALL of Korea from Japanese imperialism, and he entered Pyongyang to adoring crowds grateful for his feats of military acumen.  Kim Il Sung was the most intelligent, skilled, amazing, adoring and generous man of all history, he is admired globally by billions of people, and his works are consumed by them and inspire their own feats.   
  • Other countries are either impoverished or comprise a small rich elite that take advantage of a mass of downtrodden workers, who are all impoverished, without the wondrous goods and free housing, healthcare and education of the DPRK.  
  • The Korean War was NOT started by the DPRK, but by the USA wanting to aggressively turn all of Korea into a slave colony.  The US has always wanted this.
Kim Jong Un's number one priority is regime survival.  This has two elements.  One is protection from foreign attack (primarily the US, seeking to destroy its nuclear arsenal) and the other is internal revolt.

Kim Jong Un may have a big ego and be ruthless, but he is no fool.  For decades, the DPRK relied on the Cold War to ensure that it didn't really fear any US attack, because that was deterred by the USSR.  However, with US military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein, to support the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi and to strategically attack military sites in Syria, there is real fear of the US (particularly under Trump, compared to Obama), striking the DPRK.

Yes Kim Jong Un knows the US fears the DPRK striking back, not so much with nuclear weapons, but with a massive conventional attack on south Korea, which may also include chemical and biological weapons (it is widely believed that the DPRK has all three primary types of WMDs).  However, he also knows that the US and south Korea can easily defeat the DPRK on the battlefield with conventional weapons and if nuclear weapons were used by the DPRK, Pyongyang would almost certainly be levelled by a similar response.  He is as deterred by the devastation and scale of death as the US is, so he is keen on lowering of tensions.

His survival also needs protection from internal revolt.  The only institution capable of doing this is the military.  Mass revolt by the population is almost inconceivable, as the whole country outside Pyongyang faced starvation during the late 1990s and there was little sign of resistance.  However, shortly after Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, his widow (who was not Kim Jong Il's mother, but his stepmother) apparently sought to get the military to stage a coup against Kim Jong Il (widely thought of as a lazy psychopathic playboy), but failed.  His response was the "Songun" (military first) policy that effectively sidelined the Korean Workers Party as the centre of authority, making the military the priority of the party, the state and the economy.

This is where the rational interest of denuclearisation, reduction of tension and peace on the Korean peninsula faces a conflict of interests with those of the Korean People's Army.  Kim Jong Un will know that if he significantly reduces the economic commitment of the state to the military he risks the military taking over.

So he has TWO choices, assuming that ignoring the military isn't an option.

1.  Don't demilitarise at all.  Re-enter the familiar cycle of detente, with rhetoric of peace.  Conduct no more nuclear tests, even allow unprecedented levels of inspection of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site (which is already destroyed) and seek a lowering or ending of economic sanctions. It will not dismantle its existing arsenal, but it will buy time for trade and investment.  It will demand that the US withdraw from south Korea before anything else happens (despite claims to the contrary) and after a period of a year or two of more trade, the cycle of sanctions and threats will recommence.

2.  Corporatise the military.  Sign a peace treaty, get US assurances of non-aggression, but retain WMDs and a formidable defence capability, but redirect the defence sector's activity more towards trade and the (black) economy.  Let the army run businesses, allow limited foreign investment in factories and infrastructure and become rich.   The military can then be part of a pseudo-capitalist reform programme that enriches those within it, enables it to upgrade its own equipment and grow the economy.  This will also mean that the current elite can enrich themselves through a mild form of liberalisation and capitalism.  Think China in the 1970s, but don't go too far down that path.

For as long as the Kim clan lead, the Kim Il Sung myth needs to be sustained.  That means that the big lies of the regime must be protected.  North Koreans can't know that their brethren in the south live with a level of prosperity AND freedom that they could hardly imagine.  So don't expect very much loosening of trade and travel between north and south.  South Koreans will be able to visit very carefully managed resorts (and be expected to spend a lot of hard currency), but north Koreans wont be travelling.   The tight control on media, movement of people and information will have to be maintained, otherwise it risks the broad mass of the population who are neither in the military nor the elite, asking questions and demanding to live more like south Koreans.  They'll want the houses, the clothes, the electrical goods, the cars, the freedom.  All of that will bring down the DPRK, particularly if the military split.  

So what do I think will happen?

I think there will be a lot of talk.  I think the US will demand, as a bare minimum, full inspection and verification of the dismantling of the DPRK's nuclear arsenal and concrete steps to build confidence between the sides.  That could mean allowing unrestricted family reunifications across the border,  greater travel from the south to the north, trade and investment, and allowing cultural and sporting exchanges.

However, the DPRK only wants three things: the US to withdraw from south Korea, a guarantee to not be attacked and an end to economic sanctions.  It can't afford to open up, so it is stuck.  

By no means should Trump agree to US withdrawal from south Korea without a least full verifiable dismantling of the nuclear weapons programme, and ideally also chemical and biological weapons (if the DPRK opens those up then it will be a transformative change).  Although it could certainly agree to a non-aggression treaty based end to the war, it still needs to maintain deterrence against conventional attack.   However, what should not be neglected is the push for closer interaction between the Koreas at the personal level.  I'm far from convinced that Kim Jong Un is doing anything other than playing for time, cementing his reputation in the north and pushing to get economic sanctions eased to help enrich the elite of his regime (and encourage some investment.

He is stuck between the legacy of his grandfather (and father's) web of deceit and the military's position to overthrow him.  The China reform option isn't really there.  However, let's take the calming of tensions as a good thing and hope that it's an opportunity to break the regime open a bit more.  The more that happens, the better the chances for the millions north of the DMZ.