Virus to Johnson. “Feeling lucky…punk?”

The UK economy has been hit worse by the Coronaviris crisis than any other in the developed world. (1) The OECD projects an 11.5% drop in economic activity.

Under the impact of this economic pressure, the government is compounding its problems by trying to unlock the economy before the virus is contained and without adequate systems for containing it; which sets us up for chaos.

The measures announced by the Chancellor on July 8th are hopelessly tactical, lack any strategic vision capable of mobilising people behind it; and amount to little more than a set of minor bungs to Conservative supporting sectors – the stamp duty holiday primarily benefiting private landlords, the £1000 retention bonus just a top up for firms that are secure enough to retain their workers until January.

The decisive question for any economic recovery is investment. If the government and/or companies invest, the economy is stimulated, work is done, goods are made and services provided, income is generated, tax revenue comes in, workers are hired and so on, in a virtuous cycle.

The problem we have is that we have a government which believes that the purpose of economic activity is not “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”, nor the most efficient use of available resources to enrich the lives of the people, or address deep rooted threats to our civilisation like poverty or ignorance, let alone the degradation of the environment we live in and the breakdown of the climactic conditions we need to survive. They believe that the purpose of the economy, and society come to that, is to produce profits. All else flows from that.

That’s why they are not committed to state led investment to put as many solar panels as possible on as many roofs as we can find and wind farms in all the potential places, to retrofit our housing and public building stock to reduce energy demand and bills, to strategically invest in urban mini forests and rewild swathes of the countryside, to electrify our remaining railways – to mention just four initiatives that could generate jobs while cutting carbon emissions as drastically as we need to. Instead, they are giving tiny nudges to the private sector in the hope that they will invest – in anything, they are not fussed about what – instead.

The problem with that is that they won’t. The private sector is risk averse and will only invest if it thinks a profit can be turned on the investment. If the experience of ten years of austerity – in which this approach was tried to death – isn’t enough to convince, a recent survey of company finance directors by Deloitte should be enough to administer the coup de grace. Sixty five percent of the companies surveyed said that they will be cutting investment in the next three years.

The Private Sector is not going to invest.

That is because eighty percent of them expect their revenues to decrease in the next year.

80% also believe that their business faces uncertainty – could close – in the next year too.

This is underlined by the latest projection from the Office for Budget Responsibility. And what a reassuringly anal retentive title that is; conjuring images of mean spirited accountants in their counting house, counting out their money, and taking care of the pennies so the pounds can take care of themselves. They project that – left to itself – the economy will not recover until the end of 2022 and unemployment will rise rapidly to 10% in the meantime. One in ten workers having to claim and scrape by on Universal Benefit.

For the government’s approach, there is an even more serious problem. Investment from the private sector is contingent on profitability, and most of the companies in the survey are cutting dividends to share holders and cutting down on share buybacks, which inflate the salaries of top executives. No profits, no “animal spirits”, no investment. Boris Johnson can wave all the Union Jacks he likes; his patriotic verbal bluster does not affect the hard nosed financial calculations currently being made, except, perhaps negatively as the gap between his “global Britain” rhetoric and the reality of what we are heading for at the end of the year is clearly understood in business circles.

Fewer than a quarter of firms are increasing Dividends (profit payments) almost two thirds are paying nothing.

This is overwhelmingly the case for manufacturing, in which 90% cut payments. The Manufacturing and Engineering employers organisation MAKE UK reported on 20 July that only 15% of companies are back to full time working and begged for an extension of the furlough scheme for another six months to help prevent the worst loss of skilled jobs since the 1980s. (2) With the cut off point for the scheme in October, firms are already starting redundancy processes so they can carry out the legally required consultation period before the axes fall. This is on a very large scale in manufacturing, with just over a half of them planning redundancies in the next 6 months. Other hard hit sectors, like hospitality and retail, are not going to be saved by a few half price pizza vouchers for slow days in half of August.

Of those planning redundancies, 8% are looking at between a quarter and a half of their workforce, while a third are looking at a tenth and a quarter. Imagine how it feels to be working in one of these places now.

The Chancellor’s statement that “this is not a time for orthodoxy and ideology” is about to be exposed. Without drastic government action, and direct investment, thousands and thousands of workers are about to lose their jobs, which will prevent any recovery taking place at all and put people all over the country into desperate straits. The ending of the eviction ban this week just as this kicks in adds a whole extra layer of insecurity and threat.

No doubt the government considers this bracing and character building because, instead of investing, they are planning to cut regulation and launch twenty Free Ports, which will suck such investment as there is to zones that don’t pay tax and blight everywhere else. As if what is holding these companies back from the scale of investment that is needed is the “red tape” that holds them to minimally acceptable standards of behavior towards their employees and the environment.

Crucially, this is not what the company finance directors told Deloitte. They did not say they were primarily concerned with regulation. They were very clear about the three factors which inhibited any investment plans.

1. The Coronavirus pandemic.

2. The prospect of a No Deal Brexit.

3. Worsening Geo-political conflicts (for which read Trump’s trade war with China and the fear that worse could follow). (3)

So, the three big issues preventing the private sector from investing are the central plank of the government’s agenda – “get Brexit done”- their willingness to be dragooned into a fight with China by the USA and their failure to get on top of the virus.

The paradox of this is that had a Corbyn Labour government been elected in December neither a supine response to pressure from the USA to engage in a trade war, nor a no deal Brexit would have been on the agenda. Nor is it possible to imagine that such a government would have handled the Coronavirus crisis worse than this one has. Almost without exception, the countries that have performed most catastrophically have been wedded to neo-liberalism. The allegiance of the business class to Conservative rule therefore comes across as a form of self harm, but underlines the essential perception that, for them, economic well being, even of their own firms, comes second to continued control of the economy by their class. If they are prepared to hammer themselves in this way, the harm done to the rest of us is collateral damage that barely registers on their radar.

Faced with the scale of this crisis, the response to all these issues from the Labour opposition should be clearer, louder and sharper and demonstrate the vision that the Conservatives lack.

  1. The Coronavirus pandemic. Its clear from this that squashing the virus down to nothing is a precondition for a serious economic recovery. That’s what was done and is happening in China. And New Zealand. That should be Labour policy. Not hinting that the UK will be “left behind” if it tries to do so. Particularly because the government here is instead hoping that the number of cases will continue to decline, even as they remove the conditions that enabled it to do so. Scientific advice, including from SAGE, is that this is rash and unlikely to come off. Countries in Europe that reopened when their level of infections was lower than the UK are now facing a rebound. While the UK is as yet nowhere near being in the sort of mess the USA is in, with exponentially rising infections and a daily death rate double what it was last month, there’s a sense that Johnson is looking down the barrel of the threat is crossing his fingers, touching wood and feels lucky. Labour has called for the furlough scheme to be maintained in specific sectors, which is a sensible bottom line and the least that could be expected from a half competent government, but to retain jobs we need a far stronger commitment to a jobs guarantee that involves retraining and redeployment from sectors that are going belly up and to actually put the vision and plans for a green transformation right up front as an alternative to the collapse that the Conservatives are about to preside over. A Green Jobs campaign is imperative. The UK commitment to this – £3 billion -is excruciatingly small.
  2. No Deal Brexit. 65% of companies have made no preparation for conditions after 31 December because they don’t know what they are going to be. Here we go, over the cliff. What the wreckage will look like on the beach next year is anyone’s guess. Labour made a mistake in not pushing for a transition extension. We should argue for a unilateral declaration of continuity with existing arrangements until a deal can be made and ask the EU to reciprocate.
  3. Connivance in the growing US Cold War with China. This is already impacting on inward investment. Tik Tok has already shelved plans to build its HQ outside of China in London – losing a potential 5 000 jobs. The removal of Huawei from the 5G network, and proposals to extend this to 4 and 3 G, will both cost directly and cut the efficiency of the broad band service available (because Huawei technology is in advance of any of its competitors). The increasingly aggressive campaign from Ian Duncan Smith and his allies on the right of the Conservative Party to join with the US in breaking the world economy into two spheres of influence will be very damaging for all concerned – even if, as too often happens, trade war does not lead to the real thing as it escalates. A nervousness about this on the part of the government, who have given quite a slow time scale to strip out Huawei technology and hinted to the company that they are doing so under duress and might back off once no longer under Donald Trump’s heel (so much for taking back control), has not been matched by any doubts from Labour’s foriegn policy team, who are trying to prove to the US that they are back to being Atlanticist true believers and have been urging the government on. This is a disastrous policy that should be reversed.

Anneliese Dodd’s comment “If people felt Labour was only criticising and not suggesting solutions, they would question what on earth we’re doing” is quite right, but requires some solutions to actually be put. That would mean

  1. Argue for whatever action is necessary to protect public health and eliminate the virus as the fastest way to be able to regenerate social activity (not just the “economy”).
  2. Put forward a plan for massive state led investment in green transition both as an end in itself and a way of generating the employment we need to avoid economic collapse.
  3. Resist the demands from Trump for the world economy to be broken in two and for the UK to tie itself to the less dynamic half – with the USA projected to account for 3.3% of world growth in the next two years to China’s 51%, according to the IMF, and developing countries, most of which will align with China, accounting for over 40% of the rest.
  4. Argue against a No Deal Brexit and for an extension of current arrangements to prevent even further economic disruption as we go into 2021.
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/10/uk-economy-likely-to-suffer-worst-covid-19-damage-says-oecd
  2. https://www.makeuk.org/news-and-events/news/furlough-extension-vital-for-key-industry-sectors-to-prevent-jobs-bloodbath
  3. Figures and quotes from the Guardian 20/7/20. Few signs of optimism in boardrooms as firms cut investment, dividends and jobs.
  4. https://www.wri.org/resources/charts-graphs/green-stimulus-spending-country

The US and UK are standing on thin ice – and have no claim to the moral high ground.

“I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just.” Thomas Jefferson.

In Monday’s Commons debate on scrapping the Hong Kong extradition treaty, Conservative MP and former Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said the following, ” For decades now, we have turned a blind eye to China’s democratic deficit and human rights violations, in the hope that it would mature into a global responsible citizen. That clearly hasn’t happened. Is this now the turning point where we drop the pretence that China shares our values?”

The accusations made against China are grim ones which they strongly deny, but coming from the countries that brought you – just in recent years – waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Special Rendition, the Fallujah Free Fire Zone and extra judicial drone assassinations (with 601 casualties in Yemen alone between 2011 and 2017) (1) you have to wonder what human rights values “we” have been modelling; and how China has supposedly diverged from them, by allegedly doing what we have done in plain sight for so many years.

It has to be said that it is a strange sort of “genocide” in which the ethnic group supposedly being targeted is rapidly growing in numbers and proportion of the population, and an odd kind of “cultural/religious suppression” in which the number of Mosques has increased by a factor of ten in the last thirty years. Just over 2000 Mosques in Xinjiang in 1989, over 24 000 now.

Our Values?”

Does Mr Ellwood mean that a tough line with street protests to “dominate the streets or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks”, is way out of line with anything a Western power would contemplate or carry out? (2) If so, he hasn’t been paying much attention lately or, indeed, ever.

Does he mean that mass incarceration is unacceptable? This would be odd, because the USA currently locks up 2.1 million people, 25% of the total global prison population; way above any other country and far more per head than China does; while England and Wales, with 145 prisoners per hundred thousand people, have the highest per capita prison population in Western Europe and Scotland is not far below; all well above China’s 118 per hundred thousand (3).

Land of the free?

Can he mean the exploitation of free, or ludicrously cheap, prison labour to produce goods for well known companies? Again, this would be odd because that’s what US prisons do. McDonalds, Wendys, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Verizon, Sprint, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, KMart, American Airlines and Avis are documented beneficiaries. (4)

He can’t mean interning people without trial who are in rebellion against the state, because that’s what the UK did in Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus and the North of Ireland and the US did with its “strategic hamlets” programme in Vietnam. So, that would be completely in line with “our values”, wouldn’t it?

Nor can he mean that sterilising ethnic minorities is out of line with “our values” , because that’s what the US did throughout the twentieth century at home- 25-50% of native American women in the 1970s, a third of the female population of Puerto Rico between 1938 and 1970, countless Black women given unnecessary and involuntary hysterectomies (Mississippi appendectomies), 150 prisoners in California as recently as 2010 – and to many more abroad throughout Latin America and beyond, including up to 200 000 indigenous women in Peru in the 1990s. (5)

He can’t mean disregarding local democratic rights and imposing an unwanted regime from the outside, because that’s what the United States has done 20 times by invasion and another 56 times by interventions short of that since 1949. Some of these have been very bloody. Two million Vietnamese killed, half a million Indonesian Leftists massacred in 1965, thousands and thousands throughout Latin America for decades. Whatever you think of China, it would take them a long time to catch up with a record like that.

Nor can he mean communities feeling unsafe at the hands of the police force that is meant to “protect and serve” them. The chance of being shot dead in the streets by the police was approximately 2000 times greater in the US than in China in 2019. (6)

The raw figures for 2019. USA 1004, China 2. The US population is a quarter of China’s.

Perhaps he means having a threatening military posture to intimidate other countries? But here again the US posture is far more threatening, both in terms of military expenditure, on which the US spends $4 for every $1 spent by China…

Who is threatening who here exactly?

…and even more starkly in terms of overseas military bases, of which the USA has 800 and China has 3.

Even the UK has 16, more than five times as many as China. If you look hard, you’ll just about see them.

Who isA Global Responsible citizen”…?

A responsible global citizen faces up to the fundamental challenges facing humanity and seeks co-operation to solve them. The gravest threat to all of us is climate breakdown. China is committed to the Paris Agreement, has met its targets early and raised them. The United States under Trump is walking out of the Agreement on the grounds that “we believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,” Wells Griffith, Trump’s envoy to the Katowice COP 2018. (7) If every country adopted the US approach, we’d have no hope of avoiding the melt down of our civilisation. Its not mature and its not responsible. The unilateral, selfish action they are taking threatens all of us with catastrophe. Mr Ellwood does not appear to have noticed, or, if he has, does not think this to be of any significance.

In the immediate global crisis caused by COVID19, the records of China, the UK and US certainly show a divergence in values. China put public safety first and, despite an initial fumble by local officials, managed to crush the virus and keep domestic deaths down to just over 4600. In the UK and US, by contrast, commercial considerations and half baked libertarianism has led so far to almost twice as many deaths in the US as there were cases in China with the virus well out of control and infections rising exponentially again. The most conservative figure for UK deaths is ten times the Chinese total (and therefore 200 times the rate per capita). A little humility about this on the part of the people responsible for it might not go amiss.

The political effect of this in China has been to boost the standing and legitimacy and standing of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party. (8) This was always far stronger than Western opinion has ever been able to comprehend, but looking out from a society that has been kept largely safe – as well as having risen from extreme poverty in living memory – the mounting casualties and sheer chaos of the “West” shocks and horrifies popular opinion. The first duty of government, after all, is to keep its people safe. Job done there. Not here.

Economically, the Chinese economy is now recovering. It was already larger in purchasing parity terms than that of the United States before COVID hit. The seeming insanity of the efforts by the Trump administration to reopen their economy while cases are rising is explained by their fear of falling further behind. The IMF projects that 51% of world growth in the next two years will be in China. The US, by contrast, will account for just 3.3%.

As the virus spreads exponentially again, pushing the US proportion of global deaths back up to 15%, from a low of 9% last month, employment and economic activity have gone through the fastest collapse in history. This stokes the US political crisis and fuels the Black Lives Matter uprising. This titanic crisis of health, survival and livelihoods – and the Trump adminstration’s callous indifference, bluster, denial and authoritarian incompetence- has revealed to a popular majority that the enemy is at home and in high places.

The controlled response to the virus in China has saved the world many infections and deaths. That of the USA continues to threaten any other country that trades or deals with it.

China has put a moratorium on debt repayments from 66 struggling developing countries. The USA has imposed sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. (9)

China has pledged that any vaccine developed in the country will be a common good for the whole world. President Trump has applied “America First” even to this, cornering the market in available treatments, gazumping other countries supplies, while, with the UK, insisting on patent rights (which puts pharma profits above cheapness and availability). Clearly a divergence in “values” there.

The increasingly delirious accusations being made against China – which in the media are presented as a labyrinth of mirrors, with each story of each allegation being reported as though they were evidence of it – reflect the desperation of a US ruling class who can feel the earth falling away under their feet. The majority of the world, as reflected in UN votes, do not believe this US narrative. Twice as many countries voted with China on both Xinjiang and Hong Kong as voted for “Western” resolutions; which were supported only by wealthy close US allies, the imperial bubble that likes to think of itself as “the global community.”

And the Left?

The dominant current in the UK Labour Movement, the Labour Right, historically gives the US complete credence. Even devotees of an “ethical foreign policy” are usually highly selective about where they look to demonstrate their ethics. I hope that what is written above is enough to convince that this position doesn’t have a leg to stand on – morally or in any other respect. For the right, this is a matter of realpolitik, so whats true doesn’t really come into it. But there are also currents that identify themselves as “far left” and take a militant line on domestic politics, but never saw a US intervention they didn’t like, nor a State Department attack line they are unwilling to shout through a social media megaphone. For all the reasons above, a pro Washington line is the most reactionary position that can be taken and, in current circumstances, will lead those that espouse it down a road towards giving the USA the social support it needs to threaten a war that could kill us all.

Others, more on the left, will have no illusions about the messenger, but will accept part or all of the message; and will consider articles like this too uncritical. The bottom line here is, that whatever critical view is held about China, or actions it is alleged to have taken, these currents do not line up with Washington and are not willing to allow themselves to be used in giving support to the war drive that is already taking place in economic sanctions and aircraft carrier deployments.

It is stopping these that is the imperative. Arguments about other matters will only be able to continue if the gathering momentum towards war and environmental collapse are stopped and the precarious structures of global co-operation are strengthened.

1.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targeted_killing#/media/File:Graph_of_Average_Casualties_in_US_Drone_Strikes_in_Yemen_2002-present.png

2. https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/02/transcript-of-trumps-call-with-governors-dominate-or-youll-look-like-a-bunch-of-jerks/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

4. http://blackeconomics.co.uk/wp/big-businesses-that-benefit-from-prison-labour/

5. https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/unwanted-sterilization-and-eugenics-programs-in-the-united-states/

6.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States

7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/gdpr-consent/?next_url=https%3a%2f%2fwww.washingtonpost.com%2fworld%2feurope%2fthat-was-awkward–at-worlds-biggest-climate-conference-us-promotes-fossil-fuels%2f2018%2f12%2f10%2faa8600c4-f8ae-11e8-8642-c9718a256cbd_story.html

8. https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3093825/beijing-enjoys-greater-legitimacy-any-western-state

9. Petition against these sanctions here. https://docs.google.com/forms/u/0/d/e/1FAIpQLSeX3BVo8lQy2bDBmjcbJkphiP_HI9tnrTnI_DZlKo8DTZFJcw/formResponse

Following the Science – a long way behind. It won’t all be over by Christmas.

We are living through a paradox. The continuing slow decline in COVID infections and deaths in the UK – which the government is claiming as a success – is happening largely because the population has been ignoring government attempts to get them out and about and spending.

The R rate has stayed just below 1. This means that the number of infections continues to slowly decline, though the Prime Minster’s boast that the UK is now testing more people than Germany. France, Italy and Spain simply indicates how much worse the situation is here than there – because we HAVE to carry out those tests.

Keeping safe despite government advice.

Schools. Despite strenuous government attempts to reopen schools before the end of term – as a precondition for getting parents back to work – the continued dogged insistence by the education unions that conditions had to be safe enough to do so meant that this plan had to be abandoned. So, only 16.9% of students were in school on 9 July. This figure had been the same for the preceding two weeks and looks like this. (1)

School attendance June – July.

Imagine if the government had got its way and a significantly larger proportion of students and their teachers had had to go in to school. Is it possible to believe that this would not have had a negative impact on the R rate? There is no doubt that the education unions, led by the NEU, have saved lives.

Shops and pubs and bars. Since reopening, there has similarly been a dramatically reduced footfall in inessential shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes compared to this time last year. Pubs and fast food are running at about 30% of last year’s level, while retail overall is still 40% down and restaurants are 60% down. The effect of this cautious response on the part of the public has been to keep the R rate just declining.

So, the more the government’s boosterism succeeds in enticing people out, the more likely it is that the R rate will go back up. The conflict between these clashing imperatives will be played out throughout August. Boris Johnson is gambling that the current rate of decline is going to continue at its current rate – always a risky thing to take for granted – which would mean that the virus would be almost eliminated by late October. But at the same time he is taking measures to further significantly ease the restrictions which have allowed that decline to take place. If this overcomes the caution currently being shown by the population as much as he wants it to, and everyone is enticed out by the mouth watering prospect of a half price pizza on an August Tuesday, a further slow down in the rate of decline can be assumed and a rebound cannot be ruled out.

A further paradox is that the understandable caution being shown by most of the population has made the government wake up to the value of masks. This is not so much the result of them suddenly realising that a virus transmitted by aerosol projection from the breath will be severely restricted by mask wearing; more a desperate search for something – anything – that can boost confidence enough to get more people out and about. They have had to pay the price of a few fringe idiots on their libertarian wing – who see the requirement to become slightly uncomfortable too much of a price to pay to keep their neighbours safe – demonstrably cutting up their Conservative Party cards on social media in protest at this tyrannical requirement and staging a demo at Speakers Corner against the threat of vaccination and being microchipped by Bill Gates and George Soros. Takes all sorts.

More seriously, the government’s confidence that any further outbreaks can be identified and tackled at a local level is undermined by the current ineffectiveness of the contact tracing system; which needs to be contacting at least 50% of the people who have contracted the virus to work effectively. Over the weekend of 18-19 July it was only contacting 37%.

At least 50% needed for this to work.

In Blackburn , a local hot spot possibly on the verge of local lock down, only 44% of 779 close contacts of one infected person had been followed up. (2)

In his July 17th speech, the Prime Minister said that he was hoping for “a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest – possibly in time from Christmas” while at the same time conceding that “as we approach winter, we will need to go further – not least as many more people will show Covid-like symptoms as a result of seasonal illnesses.” This could be an understatement. Last week, senior Doctors and Scientists convened by the Academy of Medical Sciences warned that a second wave could kill 120 000 people on top of the 65 000 excess deaths we have already had.

Just when they told you it was safe to go back in the water.

Back to the Office? Perversely the government is pushing for people who are currently safely working at home to go back into work from August 1st, presumably on the public transport they should be avoiding at the busy times they will be expected to use it. This contradicts the advice of the Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, who flatly stated that “there is absolutely no reason to change” this guidance. In ignoring this the UK government is following the example of the USA, where Centre for Disease Control guidelines for reopening schools have been shunted aside as “impractical” and “expensive” by President Trump. The council chair of the BMA, Dr Chand Nagpual, warned “To introduce measures for shops, but not other situations where Physical distancing is not possible – including some workplaces – is illogical and adds to confusion and the risks of the virus spreading.”

If Boris Johnson still claims to be “following the Science”, he is doing so from further and further behind; which means that he will neither eliminate the virus nor preside over an economic recovery. We are heading for a feisty autumn. The next Blog will look at the economy.

  1. https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/attendance-in-education-and-early-years-settings-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak
  2. Figures from the Guardian 20/7/20.

Is the US shouting in the mirror at its own reflection?

The US and its allies are accusing China of carrying out “genocide” through birth control methods against the Uighur population in Xinjiang, even though the Uighur population is rising quite rapidly.

China flatly denies this accusation. It would contradict both the PRC Constitution – which guarantees equal rights to all ethnic groups in China and aims to help promote their economic and cultural development – and the observable practice of the state towards ethnic minorities; which include positive discrimination measures that would be denounced as “political correctness gone mad” in the West, but is seen by the central government as important for improving the economic development of ethnic minorities. *  The previously strictly applied one child policy did not apply to ethnic minorities; and its recent relaxation in Xinjiang, as well as elsewhere, has simply put the Han population there on a level footing. 

It seems that the USA is looking in the mirror and shouting at its own reflection. The accusations they are directing at China are exactly what the US has done itself – on a very large scale – both at home and abroad.

Overall, this has become an established, habitual practice. “U.S. women of color have historically been the victims of forced sterilization. Some women were sterilized during Cesarean sections and never told; others were threatened with termination of welfare benefits or denial of medical care if they didn’t “consent” to the procedure; others received unnecessary hysterectomies at teaching hospitals as practice for medical residents.” 

They have used this on 

  • Native Americans, with 25-50% of Native American women sterilised between 1970 and 1976. Full report here.
  • Black Americans, especially in the South. “Mississippi appendectomies” was another name for unnecessary hysterectomies performed at teaching hospitals in the South on women of color as practice for medical students… A third of the sterilizations were done on girls under 18, even as young as 9. The state also targeted individuals seen as “delinquent” or “unwholesome.” A full account is here 
  • LatinX women. In Puerto Rico,  approximately a third of the female population was sterilised between the 1930s and 1970s and this has also been common on the US mainland. 
  • Prisoners, the most recently reported cases being 150 women sterilised in California prisons between 2006 and 2010.

It was also applied on a global scale. The 1969 Bolivian film Blood of the Condor was based on stories told to the film maker by indigenous women in the Andes of US Peace Corps style “aid” workers sterilising them without consent; so it was clearly not an abnormal practice. The furory caused by this film led to the expulsion of the Peace Corps from the country.

It was openly stated in official US State documentation.
In 1974, with defeat looming in Vietnam, officials under Henry Kissinger wrote National Security Study Memorandum 200, which argued
“… that population growth in the least developed countries (LDCs) is a concern to US national security, because it would tend to risk civil unrest and political instability in countries that had a high potential for economic development. The policy gives “paramount importance” to population control measures and the promotion of contraception among 13 populous countries to control rapid population growth which the US deems inimical to the socio-political and economic growth of these countries and to the national interests of the United States since the “U.S. economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad” and the countries can produce destabilizing opposition forces against the US.”

One of these countries was India, and the forcible sterilisation of 6.2 million men during the state of emergency in 1976 followed direct US pressure. Its legacy is continued drives directed at impoverished and minority women, which are still taking place on a significant scale and causing loss of life, as can be seen from this report from 2014.  The Guardian noted in the same year 

“Sterilisation camps” are held in Chhattisgarh between October and February as part of a programme to control India’s population, which stands at 1.26 billion. Women who go through the surgery are given 1,400 rupees (£14) by the state, the amount reportedly paid in this latest case.

A total of 1,434 people died from such procedures in India between 2003 and 2012.

Authorities in eastern India came under fire in 2013 after a news channel unearthed footage showing scores of women dumped unconscious in a field following a mass sterilisation.

right-wing US site also reports that the US helped finance the sterilisation campaign of Peru’s President Fujimori in the late 1990’s, “largely aimed at lower-income women and members of indigenous populations living in the Peruvian highlands” and affecting up to 200 000 women.

From this its clear that even if all the specific accusations currently raised against China were true – and many of them are lurid – they would neither be peculiar to it nor distinct from the customary practice of the countries making the accusations. More to the point, the accusation of “genocide” is contradicted by the reality of a growing Uighur population in Xinjiang.

*Ethnic minorities were exempt from the population growth control of the One-Child Policy. 

Ethnic minorities have guaranteed places in the National People’s Congress as well as governments at the provincial and prefectural levels and participation in the CCP is encouraged. 

Some ethnic minorities in China live in autonomous areas which guarantee the freedom to use and develop their languages, and maintain cultural and social customs. 

Preferential economic development and aid has gone to these areas. 

Minorities have widely benefited from China’s minimum livelihood guarantee program (known as the dibao) which was introduced nationwide in 1999 and had nearly twenty million beneficiaries by 2012; and, depending on province, lower tax thresholds and lower entrance requirements into university. 

The fall of the Lonesome Pine.

Just over the crest of Wakeman’s Hill there used to be a house that my children were very frightened of when they were little. The path to the front door was overshadowed by huge pine trees; making it seem like a portal to a darker place, “where clowns live”.

For some time only one of these trees has survived. It stood impossibly tall and straight like an arboreal member of the Brigade of Guards. An imported species, with no local eco system to keep it company, it nevertheless had a certain dignity, respectably keeping itself to itself as befits life in a suburb.

On Saturday it was under assault. A hectic squad of tree butchers were bustling around a wood chipper, grinding and spitting through its amputated lower limbs. High up over their heads, a “tree surgeon” in a hard hat stood on the stumps of these, bent on arboricide and rapidly slicing his way though more with a chain saw, which he sometimes let drop to swing from the rope on his belt as he climbed higher. The effect on the pine was to make its remaining foliage resemble an arrow head on a long shaft, that was pointing accusingly at the sky. “Father, father, why hast thou forsaken me?”

An hour later, coming back from the shop a strong smell of pine resin covered the hilltop as a parting gift and lingering presence, an aromatherapy of death.

In the gutter. Growing to the stars.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, a foxglove had somehow managed to grow and bloom in the gutter. Life finds a way.

The Mountain Laboured and brought forth a Mouse. Or, there is such a thing as (half) a free lunch.

The failure of the Conservative Government to have any sense of proportion about whats important and what isn’t in the less than stimulating stimulus package announced yesterday, is both appalling and predictable.

Faced with a climate emergency that is going to destroy human civilisation unless we make a serious and immediate investment in a transition to sustainability – a policy that has overwhelming public support – the Chancellor of the Exchequer today earmarked just £3 billion to it.

Roll that number around in your head for a moment. £3 billion. Thats

– less than a quarter of the cost of a third runway at Heathrow (£14 billion)

– less than one sixth the cost of Crossrail (£18 billion)

– less than a thirty fifth of the cost of HS2 (£106 billion).

That looks like this.

You wouldn’t want to think that saving human civilisation was as important as any of these would you?

More to the immediate point, it is only one pound for every nine they are spending on roads. That looks like this, showing the balance in Conservative souls between saving civilisation and building some bypasses.

Spending announcements in billions 8/7/20

The enormous gap between what is needed and what they are prepared to do in retrofitting homes is as stark as their plans for school buildings. Last week they announced that they would retrofit less than a twentieth of what is needed by 2030. Today they announced plans for retrofitting just 650,000 houses out of the 15 million that need doing. That looks like this.

Retrofitting announcement 8/7/20 in thousands of pounds

The phrase “Mind the gap” comes to mind.

The £2 billion being allocated to this is well below the effort being made in comparable countries, which can be seen here.

Budget allocation for home insulation

This is also being done as a Voucher Scheme whereby individual households apply for support. This is probably the least efficient way of doing it, but has been chosen because it will work through the market as a series of individualised consumer decisions made by people who think they can afford the outlay and who can navigate the online application process. It could therefore to fall as flat as the Cameron government’s “Green Deal”, launched with much fanfare in 2013 and buried two years later after a derisory uptake that cost more than it saved. Investing in Local Authorities working through entire estates in one go to target people in fuel poverty and take advantage of economies of scale would be far more effective and have more of a sense of a collective social mission to transform society as a whole. Which is why its the last thing they’ll do.

Rishi Sunak’s other measures – offering to subsidise half of a meal out on dull days at the beginning of the week for two and a half weeks in August, a bonus of £1000 (wow) for every worker kept on beyond furlough until January, and a stamp duty holiday for those few who can still afford to buy a house (until next Spring) while having no plans to invest in building more- are little more than gimmicks of mass distraction and serve only to show the imaginative limits of a government structurally incapable and unwilling to do what is needed and hoping to muddle through while whistling into the wind with its fingers crossed.

The B team Strategy

Thanks to Labour Briefing for publishing this. (1)

Labour was defeated in December as the result of a strategic choice by every fraction and institution of the ruling class to crush Corbyn’s challenge. Their serious disagreements on Brexit were subordinated to that.

However, the self soothing myth on the left that “It was (only) Brexit wot lost it” – as if a more pro Brexit policy would have saved us – was one of the factors in a demoralised – and overwhelmingly pro remain – membership voting for Keir Starmer as leader.

Since the election, Boris Johnson’s government has blown its initial dominance– regularly polling at above 50% until mid April – with its appalling handling of the Coronavirus crisis. This is an unavoidable consequence of deliberate policy. The “take it on the chin” approach favoured by the most ruthless fraction of the ruling class – from the Wall St Journal to Dominic Cummings – the subsequent lackadaisical lockdown and premature reopening has given us the worst death rate and deepest economic crash in Europe.

Keir Starmer’s response has manifested a politics that Antonio Gramsci called “corporate”; which he defined as a set of ideas and polices defined and limited by someone else’s hegemonic, or dominant, framework. So, instead of clearly putting people before profit – a hegemonic line in the interests of the whole of society – he has gone out of his way to be understanding of the government’s difficulties and given them the benefit of the doubt, while seeking an entirely unrequited “national consensus”.

The nudges he has given them towards an “exit strategy” have given them political cover to exit too early. Criticisms at PMQs– however forensic – have been entirely tactical. Welcoming the government’s intention to reopen most of the economy on July 4th encourages a demob happy attitude that is already blowing away social distancing. Unions and scientists are voicing the concern that should have been heard louder and clearer in parliament. Caveats and scrutiny are hollow when a blank cheque has already been signed.

This is meant as reassurance to the ruling class that Labour could be a safe B team that would not threaten their interests and might therefore be allowed a sniff at government in the fullness of time. Sacking Rebecca Long Bailey fits into this because she has supported the NEU’s stance that children should only go back to school when it is safe to do so.

Polices have again become more a matter of what a Labour government would do and not about what campaigns Labour will actively support to change the balance of forces on the ground; leading to defensiveness when such movements erupt outside a parliamentary framework. This can be seen in the legalistic response to Black Lives Matter and failure to challenge the fake Tory narrative that throwing a statue of a slaver into a harbour is some sort of threat to war memorials.

His statement that Labour would not support an extension to the transition period for negotiating deal with the EU gives another green light to the government. In this case to leave the EU with no deal in December; followed swiftly by the trade deal with the US they are already negotiating. This will enable the most sweeping attacks on the working class since Thatcher; as UK labour and environment standards are reduced to US levels and the NHS is handed over to US insurance and pharmaceutical companies. It also means being a client state in other respects with very little room for maneouvre.

This active embrace of a Britain that is “global” primarily by virtue of being firmly wedged under Uncle Sam’s armpit, is expressed by statements from Lisa Nandy and Stephen Kinnock, echoing US sabre rattling. We are in an extraordinarily dangerous moment. The US administration is at war with a large part of its own population, is actively sabotaging global co-operation on tackling climate change, and its trade war against China is increasingly predicted to turn hot. That could kill us all. Being a cheerleader for US aggression is the last thing we need to be.

In a period of “disaster capitalism” in which “recovery” will be marked by ruthless measures from the government that put profit before people, the future of the Party depends on us not going along with any of the above in “the national interest” but mobilising people against it.

  1. https://labourbriefing.org/

Nandy gets it wrong on Huawei.

As we head to a no deal Brexit and serve ourselves up like a trussed chicken to the United States to pick over, any residual resistance from any part of the government to allowing Huawei to retain any input into the UKs 5G networks is evaporating fast.

This is not a commercial or technical consideration. Huawei has the technological edge, and there are no “Western” companies that can match it. Using alternatives to the best technology on offer involves significant costs – both in the expense of the system itself and the effects of having one that does not work as well as it could.

There are a number of spurious arguments put forward for why this sacrifice is worthwhile – centring on “national security” and political alignment, which are curiously lacking in self awareness.

This follows sanctions from the US to prevent Huawei using any technology with a US patent and pressure from other members of the “5 Eyes” international intelligence network ,which binds the US with the old “White Commonwealth” countries (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and given voice – inevitably – by former Head of MI6 Sir John Sawers, though any old spook would have done.

The presumption here is that sharing anything and everything by way of “intelligence” with the USA – in the fine old tradition of a “special relationship” that trades in “special rendition” – can only be a good thing; whereas inadvertently letting some information slip through to China is the road to some sort of unspecified national disaster.

This requires a presumption of emnity with China that follows from one of two ideas.

One is that China is a Communist country which has been unwilling to trade in the reasons for its successful economic and political rise – essentially state direction of investment – for “Western norms” and this must be a bad thing. President Trump complained last year that the direction of investment by the state gave China an unfair advantage in economic development. In other words, it worked better than leaving things to “the market” i.e. decisions made by capitalists in their own interests. In a reverse of Deng Xiao Peng’s dictum “I don’t care whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”, Trump’s solution was not that the US should adopt what is clearly a more effective system, but that China should sabotage itself by allowing the private sector the whip hand, thereby “adopting Western norms” and slowing itself down.

The other is that China is just another capitalist country that can be expected to behave like any other capitalist country and therefore the competition is zero sum and ruthless. Often these mutually contradictory ideas co-exist in the same article.

The paradox here is that China’s approach is what it calls “win, win” and it does not favour either political – let alone military – confrontation nor dividing the world into competing trade blocs which exclude each other’s technology. This is working. The IMF projects that China’s economy will account for just over half of global growth in the next two years, while the USA will account for 3.3% and the EU will shrink slightly. The rest of global growth will come from the rest of the developing world. This is reflected in political votes at the UN, where the USA is no longer in an unchallenged position to strongarm majorities as the growth generated by trade with China gives the rest of the developing world a bit of room for manouvre and self assertion.

The presumption that keeping the UK as a self subordinating permanent auxiliary of the USA – the defining foundation of British foreign policy since Suez – can’t be questioned in this situation, leads to some surreal arguments.

Tobias Ellwood, Conservative Chair of the Commons defence committee, for example, argued that China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and crackdown in Hong Kong were reasons to exclude Huawei under US pressure. Trump’s crackdowns on the Black Lives Matter movement, which have involved 26 deaths (none in HK) seem to have passed him by. As has the US handling of Coronavirus. There have been more deaths in the US than CASES in China. If the Chinese handling of these crises has been so bad in his eyes as to cut technological and commercial links, why does the catastrophic performance of the US get a free pass?

This has, sadly, been cheered on by Lisa Nandy as Shadow Foreign Secretary; who has taken a position in alignment with the Tory hawks voicing US pressure; with an added insular spin calling for “far greater strategic independence from China, which means that we need to have homegrown alternatives for our 5G Network and our nuclear power.” (1)

How these “alternatives” are to be “grown” is not spelled out. The UK has neither the domestic capacity to “grow” it in either of these areas in the time available – even assuming that new nuclear power stations are preferable to investment in genuine renewable energy.

This is a parodic echo of Harold Wilson’s critique of the Tory governments in the early 60’s for cancelling the “home grown” Blue Streak missile and buying into the “Moss Bros deterrent” of the US Polaris system – only to in turn cancel the “home grown” TSR 2 fighter bomber and buy US F111s for the same reason – the UK “alternatives” couldn’t be got to work properly.

The “homegrown” rhetoric is a fantasy to cover a strategic subordination to the US, which is engaged in a new cold war offensive – that, even if their wildest accusations against China were true – and many of them are very wild indeed – is not in our interests.

The bottom line here is that the UK has very little strategic independence from the USA at a time in which the Chinese answers to our fundamental problems

1 Handling the pandemic

2. Sustaining an economic system that allows a hopeful future

3 Working globally to prevent climate breakdown

4 Making sure we avoid a war

are better than those coming from either of the potential US administrations and – for that matter – our own government.

  1. Guardian p10 6/7/20

If this is Johnson’s idea of boldness – save us from his timidity.

Well. he did invite the comparison

Boris Johnson claimed today that his plans for UK government investment stand comparison with FDR’s US New Deal in the 1930s.

The graph above compares the spend per head of population in pounds using today’s purchasing power.*

If you look really hard you will see Johnson’s “bold” plan (£75 per head) as a slight smear on the right. Roosevelt spent the equivalent of £4881 per head.

“Ambition were made of sterner stuff.”

The above was written on Tuesday. At PMQs today (Wednesday) Johnson announced that far from £5 billion being the figure he’d first thought of to kick start the economy – perish the thought, even though this is exactly how it had been reported in the press – the real figure was £100 billion.

Assuming that this is not just Johnson channelling Trump – who regularly inflates the numbers he’s talking about as he runs through a sentence “millions, billions, gazillions” rather like a 9 year old for whom all large numbers translate as “lots”- this is, of course, twenty times better than five billion but still barely a quarter of what Roosevelt did, as can be seen here.

Spend per head at current values in pounds

There are four other considerations.

1. Roosevelt’s New Deal lasted six years. Johnson’s is spread over ten. So, a quarter as much over nearly twice as long.

2. The impact of the COVID crisis is a much deeper and quicker collapse than even the Great Depression and requires a qualitatively deeper stimulus from the state – not nervous tinkering of this sort.

3. We have a no deal Brexit currently being set up by Johnson’s henchman David Frost, a man who manages to look like Crabbe and Goyle at the same time, which will further throw the UK economy into trouble; so this begins to look less like a New Deal more like a fig leaf to cover the all out onslaught we are going to face on labour and environment standards once the replacement deal with the USA is signed.

4. Its not at all clear how much of this announcement is actual new investment. The billion for schools infrastructure appears to be money that they are simply replacing under a different label having already cut a comparable amount, leaves the capital budget below where it was in 2015-16, even if it were all to be spent in 2021 rather than spread over ten years. (1)

1. https://www.tes.com/news/ifs-school-buildings-cash-wont-reverse-decade-cuts

*Thanks to Jeff Lever for the calculations.

Government investment in schools. A thirtieth of what’s needed.

In Billions by 2030. Figures from Teach the Future

This graph shows that the government’s planned investment of £1 billion in the schools estate over ten years is less than one sixth of what is needed just to deal with repairs and just one pound for every twenty three that would be needed to make all our school buildings zero carbon by 2030.

This is not preparing a shiny new future, more “make do and mend” while we wait for the apocalypse.

Teacher verdict: “Must try harder.”