Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
As Kosovo declares independence with the encouragement of the US and most of the EU, one can well wonder whether all these people (starting with the Kosovars themselves) know what they are doing. The last 50 years have been full of countries splitting and joining, and almost always with nasty consequences that no one had anticipated. On the world-wide scale, this includes the WTO, and its junior cousin, NAFTA. Both of these are disastrous to the longer-term interests of working people, but these have stood still for having this done to them, often on the promise of cheaper goods. More visible is the fate of India since partition and of USSR since the Asian republics have been “freed” of the yoke of Moscow. Then Yugoslavia was freed of the legacy of Tito, which was 40 years of peace and relative prosperity. And we see the benefits that freedom from Britain has given places in sub Saharan Africa. Now we can expect Kosovo to seek inclusion in EU, and unthinking supporters of their independence will surely accept that, given the penury that separation from Serbia will surely bring upon them, and that will open the door to the Albanians, who will exacerbate the flood of cheap labor from E Europe. I am reminded of the saga of German unification. In the 60s and 70s, it was said that in Europe everyone was against that except the people. When it came, everyone cheered, but it has not been easily digested in Germany, even though the people are as close together in heritage as, say, the Southern and Northern Irish. And there is no doubt that while the Albanians think of themselves as one people even across that border, they will soon discover that they are uncomfortable bedfellows, not to mention they and the French, who have still not assimilated the Corsicans. The madness we know as nationalism divides more than it unites, though it keeps uniting people into units that ignore the other forces that divide their underlying interests. The little bits of Yugoslavia now have their own flags and their own parliaments, but they lack the economic strength they had 40 years ago, and that might be more important to them in the long run than any number of national anthems.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Just last week, the British Government was “shocked, shocked”, they said, to discover that American planes had used British air bases in the process of flying prisoners to obscure places where they could be tortured without any interference from obsolete rituals like those required by the US Constitution or the Magna Carta. I saw them on BBC, the picture of offended innocence, declaring that they had not been provided by the Cheney administration with any proof that the unmarked planes landing and taking off from their bases were engaged in any such enterprises. Living here this Winter surrounded by statues and monuments attesting to the glories of the great British Empire, it was hard to remember that this was once a serious nation, not some sort of Uzbekistan. The ministers of state were happy to be taken for idiots, as they were required to do by their masters in Washington. At least an idiot can take refuge in the fact that he was born that way, but a toady is nothing but a toady. The Prime Minister here knows that as soon as he no longer imagines that he has an influence in the greatest agglomeration of coercive power the world has ever seen, he can no longer pretend to himself or his voters that he is somehow superior to inferior nations like France or Germany, to say nothing of Sweden or Denmark. Of course, we know what happens when someone knows better than the idiots in the White House, and says so. Gen Shinseki had his career terminated right away, and Attorney General Mukasey could not admit to knowing that waterboarding is torture. Meanwhile UK, a poor country, spends billions of dollars in maintaining a huge army and navy for a nation their size in order to pretend that they are still a world power, and the “Labour” Party bankrupts the working people with ruinous taxes so as not to trouble the plutocrats with the costs of playing at war and subjecting even poorer peoples to yield up their labor and their natural resources to the monopolistic power of the robber barons represented by Wall Street. Talk about the Emperor having no clothes. The Mother of Parliaments joins all the nations of EU in slavish obedience to a regime that no one could possibly accept as a superior.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
Like Madison, London has a problem with the quality of the air, due in part to automotive pollution. Only London has it worse. In fact, London has worse air than any other city in W EU. But unlike Madison, London is not sitting on its hands waiting for a solution to be given it by the national government or a charitable benefactor, or to fall from the heavens. They are planning for it and are prepared to pay for it, within reason. So when the Socialist mayor of London decided that the only thing that could relieve the congestion there was a daily fee of £5 (now £8) to drive in the center of the city in the middle of the day, he also exempted low-pollution cars like the Toyota Prius from the fee. And now large trucks that have not been certified for low pollution must pay £200/day to enter the city. The commercial interests howled, but the additional fees go not into the city’s pocket but pay the cost of a huge expansion of bus service, including an expanded system of bus lanes. Now they have come up with another move to lower the pollution even further. They want to encourage people to drive electric cars, not just hybrids. Instead of waiting for it just to happen, they are moving proactively. They are starting to provide free parking for electric cars, and even free electricity, thus doubling the range of the battery-driven vehicles. And in response, the city is beginning to blossom with very small cars with essentially zero pollution. If Madison were able to follow a proactive philosophy, a portion of our cars would run without pollution and at very small cost per mile, even if the parking and electricity were not free. But adding a certain number of free parking spaces with free recharging could start the ball rolling. Of course, nothing like this happens unless it is promoted by professional lobbyists, and even then hardly ever. We can make our town into a more comfortable and greener place if someone could be found who could profit from the example of London, which is actually a poorer city per capita than Madison and less friendly to social engineering on this scale. Let’s learn from others and do well for ourselves.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
There is a peculiar symmetry between certain aspects of the Democratic and Cheney parties. The GOP is supported by many people who wish that there were laws constraining things like abortion, same-sex marriage, & fornication, while allowing the quiet establishment of the forms of worship they themselves favour. GOP are said to retain the allegiance of these voters by displaying their own fealty to the same views, even while doing almost 0 to promote those ends. At least that is the burden of books like What’s the Matter with Kansas? On the other side of the aisle sit the Democrats, who allege they are deeply concerned with the welfare of US working people, but who do nothing, even when they are in the majority, to restore the protections of the New Deal. All that seems to be required in wooing their votes is a few words addressed to the generalized support for these principles. This last week the crisis in the economy moved the Congress to try to energize the market for consumer goods by putting $150 b or so into the hands of the working poor, people who would pretty certainly spend it about a fast as it came in. But W said that he wanted a big slice of it for corporations, & almost none for people who are poor enough not to pay income taxes. And so the Democrats, who are satisfied to take half a loaf or even less, caved in again and did as W said. They are very good at that, having had lots of practice. But at root perhaps is the fact that the divorce between the Democrats and the working class engineered by over 70 years of propaganda in the kept press of the plutocrats has borne fruit, so that even the unions, who are ostensibly the voice of that class, do not receive the support of that party, except lip service. And they do not even seem to mind, rather like the conservatives of Kansas on the other side. And they whimper and advertise their supposed discontent, but they also are supported by the plutocrats and don’t really mind. So a lot of the relief for the slow consumer market will go not to those who would spend it, but to people who already have more money than they can spend to buy true satisfaction.
While watching some of the Democratic candidates for president in the past few weeks, I took note of some of the good works they had been attributing to themselves and, I must admit, being a bit impressed by some of them. Hillary was proud of the time she had expended on civil rights, gender rights and human rights but I noticed, as before, no real attention to the rights of American workers as such. Obama had given attention to the needs of those workers who were desperately poor, but nothing noteworthy about the average workers, those in the middle of the wage scale, at about $12 - $20 an hour. As with Hillary, these workers were not poor enough, it seems, to have gained his pity, and thus were ignored. Indeed, except for Kucinich and Edwards, none of the candidates seem to have shown any concern for average working people, though all the GOP, and even some Democrats, showed interest in the needs of American corporations, banks, and the needs of the owners of our economy. And it occurred to me that was just fine with those owners and their friends and sponsors in the media, who largely find lordly concern with the crippled and discriminated tolerable and even commendable, so long as it is purchased by a stringent ignoring of the needs of those workers, once thought prosperous, who flourished in the age when the unions were still paying attention to the needs of the working class generally. So Hillary and Obama and all the GOP pass muster with Rupert Murdoch and those like him, while they pay no heed to the likes of Kucinich and Edwards, who do not worship at the altar of economics according to the U. of Chicago. And where are the workers themselves in all of this? It appears that they are too wrapped up in the horse-race aspects of the election, or even in the entertaining parts of the lives of the Packers and the Badgers, to pay attention to their own needs and those of their families. And their unions are too busy playing the game of politics and the strategies of power to have any time or effort left to protect the workers, their families, or their economic welfare.
It is surprising how weak a reed similarity of principles or individual benefit is compared with the desire of people to “vote for someone who looks like me”. We see it today e.g. in