Tony Blair – Yesterday’s Man in Tomorrow’s World

If you read the speech by Sir Anthony Charles Lynton Blair KG on “After Ukraine – what lessons for Western leadership” , take a moment or two to contemplate his photograph. Right down to the washed out tones, this is the face of a man who has split his soul into many parts and scattered them like depleted uranium shells all over the world; a tightened mask showing the strain of a twenty year struggle to suppress the self awareness of the consequences of his decisions that is nagging away at the back of his mind. As a practicing Anglo Catholic, he must have confessed to some of them, and worn out a few rosary beads, all the better to double down on the world view that led him to make them in the first place.

His central argument is that, like 1945 and 1980, 2022 “the West is at an inflection point”. He says “the West” because the rest of the world is defined in relation to it and only comes into the picture as an object for “Western Strategy” to manipulate. As always with Blair, his use of language is designed to obscure as much as it illuminates. “The West” is a shorthand phrase that he uses because it has largely positive associations (in “the West”). Try substituting “The Global North” throughout, and there is a jarring dissonance in his message. The “Global North” is redolent of Global inequities in wealth and power, ruthlessly maintained by its members, is therefore a more accurate label for the powers he is talking about, and this undermines the foundations of his argument; which is why he doesn’t use it.

This can be seen in his opaque description of 1945 as his first “inflection point”. At this time “the West had to create new institutions of international governance, of defence, of European cooperation in place of not one but two world wars caused by conflict between European powers”. This awkward phrasing is designed to skim over the nature of those World Wars – as inter imperialist conflicts between Global European Empires, the result of which was the crushing of a challenge from Wilhelmine, then Nazi Germany and replacement of the weakening Global dominion of the British Empire with the Pax Americana. Nor does he examine the beginning of a breakdown in global imperial dominion in the Russian revolution and foundation of the USSR, nor growing movements for colonial freedom. Nor the way that the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was dependent on the Red Army and largely Communist led Partisan movements in Europe; and the people of China in Asia; both Nationalist and Communist. This is the context for the West’s strategic choices at that point. Blair’s “new institutions” were those required to coral weaker European imperialisms beneath the USA’s new dominion. In 1945, the USA was producing 50% of global GDP and was able to afford to rebuild its rivals as subordinate powers, drive the Communist Left out of post war coalitions in Western Europe by 1947, and cement them into NATO by 1949. These were the initial moves in the first Cold War; predating the formation of the People’s Republics in Eastern Europe in 1948, and the formation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

Blair goes on to argue that the strategy for the 1945 “inflection point” in Europe was broadly Social Democratic, building welfare states, modern infrastructure for health and education “to make available to the broad mass of the people what had hitherto been restricted to a privileged few”. He can no more bring himself to say “for the many not the few” than he can note the nationalisation of significant industries, but this is broadly right. What it misses is why this was done. Marshall Aid was not charity. The calculation in the USA was that if the US did not rebuild Western Europe on its own model, and provide some hope and prosperity, the civil war against Nazi collaborators led by Communist Partisans in countries like Italy would re- erupt and the USA could “lose Europe” in the way it “lost China” by 1949.

In 1980, by contrast, the “inflection point” overturned that settlement. “In 1980, after years of nuclear proliferation, we (sic) sought the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of liberal democratic values.” This was via the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution in favour of markets and private enterprise” against “a burgeoning state power that seemed to hold back the enterprise of the people, not nurture it.” It should be noted that Blair declares himself quite agnostic about the character of the strategy launched at these inflection points, so long as there was “a governing project” whatever it might be “, a plan, a way of looking at the world which sought to make sense of it and provide for the advancement of the people.”

His problem here is that the results of the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” has been a shift in wealth and power from “the broad mass of the people” to “the privileged few”. As he notes, “living standards are stagnating”, while “inflation is causing real wages to fall” and public services like the NHS are “pretty much on its knees”. We could add that in countries like the UK and USA, life expectancy is now actually declining. He further notes that the 2008 crash led to emergency economic measures that “rewarded those with assets” while “penalising those without.” The polarisation of wealth has become dizzying. The mass of young people today do not expect to live as well, or as long, as their parents. Even leaving aside climate breakdown, the future looks less like a promise than a threat. Needless to say, Blair doesn’t propose anything that would change this.

Instead, he bemoans the way that “the broad mass of the people” have become susceptible to “rampant populism” and “laying the blame for the condition of the people onto ‘elites'” Perish the thought that the stagnant living standards of the many should have anything to do with the grotesque over accumulation of the few. With no answers, Blair simply bemoans the decline of centrist, consensual managerialism of the sort he embodied in government.

He goes on to argue that the “partisan, ugly and unproductive” domestic politics is destabilising for “the West’s” projection of power internationally; but with no answers to provide hope or decent living standards and, in fact supporting polices that will make the economic attack on “the broad mass of the people” worse, he has simply put his finger on an unresolvable conundrum for anyone with his politics.

He argues that as US global engagement is “determined” by domestic politics, it lacks consistency and coherence. “Foreign policy looks unpredictable”. This is nonsense, as there is a direct continuity in US foreign policy in the “tilt to Asia” and preoccupation with containing China. The tactics may change, but the strategic objective has been consistent.

In ringing the alarm that “domestic politics appears dysfunctional” he does not reflect that the economic basis no longer exists for it not to be. In an attempt to stimulate the economy to prevent it being outgrown by China, the Biden administration put in a huge economic stimulus package – $1.9 billion in 2021 – 96% of which went on consumption and only 4% on investment. The net effect of that has been stagflation; GDP growth of 0.4% in the first quarter of 2022 with inflation eating away at wages and pensions at 9.1% and a dramatic knock on effect destabilising the rest of the world. It should be noted that 75% of the price increases in the US predated the start of the war in Ukraine. With the “American dream” faltering for so much of its population, the approach of the increasingly fabulously rich billionaire class is to fund massive campaigns of online distraction designed to divide the unity of the population; racism, “anti woke”, encouraging nationalist militias like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, alongside poisonous anti feminist currents like the Incel movement, and spiced up with wild conspiracy theories like QAnon; with its tepid British echoes in the debacle of the Brexit delusion. This “turmoil” is a function of the gross inequality that Blair is unwilling to challenge, because the people pulling the strings are the milieu he moves in now. Whether he did or did not have an affair with Wendi Deng, the rumour that he might have illuminates the world he lives in.

Blair has no answers to the reasons for this crisis, so he moves swiftly on to something “new”. “Western democracy needs a new project. Something which gives direction, inspires hope, is a credible explanation of the way the world is changing and how we succeed within it”.

Now, what might that possibly be? Is there an existential threat facing the whole of humanity that’s crying out for global leadership, that countries with wealth and technology have contributed to more than anyone which requires urgent and immediate action if the despair felt by the 54% of young people who feel that “humanity is doomed” is to be turned to hope, respond to the credible explanation for why the world is heating up and give direction to everyone in overcoming it? A look out of his air conditioned apartment at the Red Heat conditions, or a quick look at the wild fires across Europe, the drought that has reduced the Po to a trickle in places and lowered the water level in the Rhine to a point that shipping barges up and down it is now in question might give him a clue. You’d think Climate Breakdown would be a no brainer. There is no bigger issue. It has the potential to unite humanity in creating a better world, because we will need one to keep temperatures down and survive it. Blair does not go for it. This is not because he is dim, but because the sort of leadership required from the world’s wealthiest countries would be as difficult for them as a camel threading the eye of a needle; as its the polarisation of wealth, domestically and internationally, and the over consumption of the top global 10% – most of whom live in “the West” – that is accelerating us beyond 1.5C. Rather than take that on, Blair, and the class he represents, ducks the biggest issue of our time. These people are no longer even in a position to pretend to be leading humanity.

He rather lamely mentions climate change in one other place, saying “we should continue to lead in the climate debate.” Debate?! How about leading in climate action? His problem here is that the West/North seeks to carry on with its current “way of life” and hopes to get away with its gigantic carbon footprints by dumping the costs of transition onto those parts of the world that have done least to cause the problem and are already suffering the most from it. Now that Senator Joe Manchin has finally scuttled the last feeble twitchings of Joe Biden’s massively watered down Green New Deal – killed it stone dead – the United States is now naked in the COP Conference Chamber; and, again, can no longer get away with even pretending to lead on the greatest challenge facing us. The prospect of a Republican controlled Congress and Presidency after 2024 (whether it is the horror of a disinterred Donald Trump or a smoother Trumpite like Ron Desantis) means that the US may be moving back to outright denial and sabotage of Global cooperation. Blair averts his eyes from the reality here, because, for him, being in a bloc with the USA is an imperative, averting climate breakdown somehow optional.

So, having ducked the global imperative, Blair fishes around and decides that the West’s domestic mission has to be “all about harnessing the technology revolution”. As Eccles once said in the Goon Show, “I’m the anti-climax”. This is no more than a re-tread of Harold Wilson’s “white heat of the technological revolution” as the solution to all ills in the 1960s. So, not so new.

Its also quite clear that its more about making the world safe for Google, Facebook and surveillance capitalism in general than providing a genuine global vision, as, having make a token genuflection to “legitimate concerns around data protection and privacy” he confirms that these concerns should not “shackle innovation or lose us competitive advantage”.

The attraction of a technological/technocratic way forward for Blair is that the “20th-century politics of right and left don’t really fit with it”; which is a wonderfully confident declaration that simply isn’t true. His problem here is that investment in general, and in R&D in particular, in neo liberal capitalist economies is very low. UK business investment is still below what it was in 2008 for example. Technology is only deployed when it is profitable to do so. Without “a burgeoning state power” to “nurture” investment, on the Chinese model, there won’t be enough of it to break out of Blair’s doldrums. But doing so would require a break with the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” that Blair is in favour of. So, snookered.

So far, so stuck.

Moving into foreign policy its impossible to read a sentence like “Ukraine should be a pivot point, reviving our sense of mission” without realising that – far from learning anything from Iraq – he wants to do it all over again, all over the world.

His lack of self awareness is illustrated by his argument that the Russian invasion means that “we” can no longer believe in “big power rationality” ; as the Russian invasion is “a brutal and unjustified act of aggression…on the absurd pretext that (Ukraine) somehow threatened the aggressor”. Let’s go back to 2003. The UK, along with the USA and others, invaded Iraq, on two pretexts. 1. That it was involved in the 9/11 attacks – which everyone knew it wasn’t – and 2. That it had “weapons of mass destruction” capable of being deployed against the UK in 45 minutes. These WMD turned out to be a work of fiction concocted by our Intelligence Services to make the invasion sellable to the public; which should make us take anything else they say with at least a pinch of salt. More to the point, this was precisely an “absurd pretext that (Iraq) somehow threatened the aggressor” (in this case us). When you compare that with the Russian fear that 1. NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world, spending over 60% of global arms spending, and $19 to every $1 spent by Russia, has expanded right up to their borders and 2. has started the process of incorporating Ukraine, training its troops from 2014 on, and 3.has refused to discuss mutual security guarantees and 4. NATO missiles stationed in Ukraine could hit Moscow in less than 5 minutes (not 45) you might begin to wonder whose fear of being threatened was more “absurd” and whose “big power rationality” should be subject to question. For Blair, of course, reason is compliance with the most powerful force. All else is subordinate to that.

His view that Ukraine should be seen as a “pivot” is, however, not primarily directed at Russia, but China. After all, as he says, inadvertently revealing how how “absurd” are NATO claims that Russia is poised to steamroller all over its neighbouring countries, Russia has an economy “70% the size of Italy”.

China is a different kettle of fish. China has an economy already larger than the US in PPP terms and is growing significantly faster, which means “We are coming to the end of Western political and economic dominance.” Even on Blair’s chosen field of the technological mission, “China has caught up with America in many fields of technology and could surpass it in others”. 5G a case in point.

Us dominance is already unravelling. As Blair acknowledges, “China…has pursued an active and successful engagement with the world, building connections in respect of which, as far as I can witness, there is a deep reluctance, even on the part of traditional American allies, to give up” whereas “the West and the international institutions it controls have been bureaucratic, unimaginative and often politically intrusive without being politically effective”.

So, the difference with 1945 and 1980 is that the West is no longer ascendent and “for the first time in modern History the East can be on equal terms with the West”. This is a bit exaggerated. We’re not there yet, but Blair can see the writing on the wall.

What concerns Blair is that after 2008, President Xi has “re-established the supreme power of the Communist Party”. We should note that this is a Party of 90 million members and enjoys around 95% support from the population, according to studies from Harvard University; which has no reason to inflate or prettify these figures.

The 2008 crash was indeed a moment at which a lot of people in China took a hard look at the neo-liberal model and saw through its failings, supporters of being more like the US, and accepting a role within a US dominated global system, got a lot quieter and, as Blair notes, now “China will compete not just for power, but against our system, our way of governing and living.” Given that “our way of living” is unsustainable, that’s probably just as well.

Again, Blair argues “we cannot rely on the Chinese leadership to behave in the way we would consider rational”. This translates as, we can’t rely on them to do what we tell them, and they are big and powerful enough to be able to get away with that sometimes.

His argument that an invasion of Taiwan should not be ruled out because peaceful re-unification is inconceivable shows a poverty of imagination, unable to project forwards to a point at which China is constructing a prosperous “ecological civilisation”, as Xi puts it, and becomes a relatively attractive prospect for people on that island.

His presumption that divisions can be fostered and pro Western/Global North forces cultivated would require “the West” to be able to offer a more positive alternative. The example he chooses is almost surreal. “As his Covid strategy has shown, strongman leadership carries inherent weaknesses when people fear to challenge what should be challenged.” As China’s Covid policy has kept deaths there below 5,000, compared to over a million in the US and 200,000 in the UK, you might be forgiven for wondering who should be challenging what. Had China modelled its response on the chaotic insanity of Donald Trump and busines first approach of Joe Biden and had a similar death rate, they have lost over 4.7 million people by now. Clearly people must be mad not to be demonstrating in the streets to follow “our way of governing”.

Blair’s strategy for dealing with a world in which “China is not rising, its risen” is to consolidate primarily around core military alliances, NATO SEATO, AUKUS, 5 eyes, increase military spending, invest in cyberwarfare and attempt to promote “soft power”. Increasing military expenditure at a time of declining wages and life expectancy, is likely to be unpopular in the medium term. Hence his statement that “we need political leaders prepared to stand up to domestic political pressure”. There is an undemocratic logic in this, as one way of standing up to domestic pressure is to restrict and remove the levers available for people to express it.

He favours hanging tough. Once committed to an intervention, whether in Afghanistan or Libya or Iraq, it becomes imperative to sustain it. There is a strong whiff of wishful thinking about this. Permanent occupation propping up corrupt puppet regimes was unsustainable in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not primarily for domestic reasons. An armed forces permanently bogged down in two, three many Afghanistans, is not going to be capable of intervening elsewhere when needed. Blair wants his cake and eat it.

His resounding liberal human rights mission also falls foul of some of his key alliances. Even taking “the West” at its own self estimation, Joe Biden fist bumping Mohamed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia underlines the point that the USA has never been squeamish about the regimes it allies with, promotes and defends. As FDR said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch”. As Blair puts it “if we have disagreements about human rights we should say so, but that shouldn’t prevent us supporting them when they’re faced with threats common to all of us”. “All of us” here meaning the Global 1%.

As Blair notes, “the human spirit wants to be free”. In large parts of the world that takes the form of wanting to be free of US sponsored coups and the conditions of IMF finance that act a lot like pay day loans and sabotage development.

His final point is that “the craziness in our own politics has to stop”. He cites the influence of Nigel Farage (an agent of Trump) and Jeremy Corbyn (a rare blast of sense and decency) in the UK, but is oddly silent about Donald Trump. With the US Supreme Court on an evangelical end of times rampage against abortion rights, environmental protection, and gun control, he does not mention the January 6th attempted coup, nor the pending Supreme Court case slated to hand State Legislatures the right to ignore the popular vote in the next Presidential election and choose their own slate of electors just like Trump wanted them to last time; nor the measures being driven through Republican controlled States to disenfranchise global majority voters. The “craziness” in the USA is just getting started. Blair will no doubt find a way to accommodate to that, but those who have thought like him in the past, confronted by the increasing “craziness” and rogue state aggression coming from the USA, will have to resolve a political crisis of their own.

Stats for Socialists: US priorities on Ukraine

The $4billion in aid to the world’s poorest countries to help them cope with the blowback from US sanctions (with $2.7billion coming from the US) is a desperate attempt to manage a situation that risks running out of control so that the war can be prolonged without two, three, many Columbias.

The US commitment, so far, to nineteen times as much spending on munitions (most of which will make its way to US arms manufacturers) shows what their priorities are.

On the one hand, hunger, primarily produced by their own sanctions. On the other hand, a war they want to pursue into next year if they can keep their own polities and those of the Global South stable enough.

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington

The commitment by the US of $40 billion to funnel war fighting material into Ukraine makes it clear that this war is being driven by neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington.

$40 billion is ten times Ukraine’s 2021 military budget.

Figures from Wikipedia

If the aid were a country on its own, it would be the tenth biggest military spender in the world, not far below Japan and Saudi Arabia, well above Italy and Australia, and double the budget of Canada or Israel.

Figures from Institute for International Strategic Studies, using average market exchange rates.

This comparison can be seen even more clearly if we leave off the USA and China, as the two countries with an expenditure in a different league to all the others – the US especially.

It is also noticeable on this graph that the UK spent more on its military in 2021 than Russia did.

It is clear from this that the US is pushing for a long war, that it will sabotage peace negotiations and keep sanctions in place even if a ceasefire is achieved. The knock on effects on the rest of the world are already grim and will get worse unless a peace deal is reached.

The UK’s role as the USAs most bellicose supporter will be discussed at an online meeting – Opposing the New Age of Militarism – on June 15th organised by No Cold War Britain.

To stop a bad guy with a gun – you need to stop him getting the gun.

Warning. Writing this makes me feel simultaneously weepy and nauseous, so this contains material that might make you feel the same.

The rifle used to kill 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde Texas on Tuesday was an AR15. This is a devastatingly lethal semi automatic weapon that anyone over the age of 18 in Texas can just buy privately with no restrictions, or walk into a store and buy, with a minimal “real time” background check, no permit required and no record of sale; thanks partly to the seven relaxations of gun safety rules by Governor Gregg Abbott last year. There is no registry of firearms in Texas. People over 21 can “open carry” hand guns. In fact, gun laws are so lax in Texas that smugglers ship guns from there into Mexico. Texas Governor Abbott described the mass shooting on Tuesday as “inexplicable”. Perhaps he can’t join the dots that the rest of the world seems to be able to manage.

The NRA likes to say that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Which is as asinine as you can get, because its a lot easier to kill people if you have a gun. Especially a gun like an AR15. Oddly enough, no one is allowed to carry a gun – openly or otherwise – at the NRA convention this weekend in Houston. Given that they see themselves as “the good guys with guns”, you might think this would cause protests. After all, if a “bad guy with a gun” gets in, how are they going to defend themselves?

This is how what the AR15 can do is described in a post that is evidently enthralled by it, and paints a sickening picture of why it is that the remains of those killed on Tuesday had to be identified with DNA tests.

A remarkable feature of the AR 15 rifle is its lightning speed when it is being fired, and even if peradventure the bullet fired does not hit its mark, the gun can get reloaded in a very short and fast amount of time. The reloading speed of the AR 15 mimics those seen in the military rifles being used in war situations requiring combat action. A feature that enhances the firing speed of the AR 15 gun is the fact that the rifle possesses a muzzle of very high velocity. This high velocity muzzle contained in the gun when used with a .223 bullet round can successfully guide the bullet fired to hit its mark (possibly an animal) while also producing a powerful rebound action if the bone of the animal is hit.

The firing speed of the AR 15 can leave a devastating and destructive mark on its target and this is hugely because when the gun is fired, the bullets are ejected out of the muzzle at a high speed. If the bullets come in contact with an animal, they are bound to cause great damage to the bones and internal organs of the target. An AR 15 can fire around 2 to 3 bullet rounds per second, this means that in 15 seconds, an AR 15 can fire about 30 to 45 bullet rounds, so in a minute, an AR 15 rifle can fire up to 120 or even 180 bullet rounds (depending on how fast the shooter is to reload the gun with bullet rounds while continuing to squeeze the trigger).

You might want to take a deep breath after reading that. Or go for a walk. Or have a weep. It really should be enough to read that and know that these weapons should not be on sale. No one should feel under threat from them. But, in the US, those who stand for “the right to bear arms” react with self righteous fury when this is even suggested. When Beto O Rourke stood up at Governor Abbott’s Press Conference this week to make the connection between the dead children and the gun that killed them, the cry from the platform that he was a “sick son of a bitch!” was vehement. A similar proportion of Republican voters oppose an assault rifle ban as believe in the Great Replacement Theory (and there will be some overlap). Their notion of “law abiding citizens with guns” is that the “law abiding citizens” are people like them, “protecting themselves” from dangerous others. Its unfortunate for that argument that some of the mass shooters are “Second Amendment People” who have gone the whole hog into white supremacy, like the Buffalo shooter last week.

To get this onto the emotionally safer ground of devastating statistics.

  • Since 2017, firearms have become the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the United States, and the curve on the graph is continuing to go up.
  • World Population Review stats from 2009 -2018 show the USA had 288 school shooting incidents in that period. The next worst country was Mexico with 8.
  • In 2018, CNN reported that the U.S. had 57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined.
  • The frequency and deadliness of all kinds of mass shootings in the US has gone up 33% since 2010.
  • After mass shootings, gun sales go up because people are frightened, with 63% of gun owners citing “personal protection” as their motivation for buying one. So, the main reason for owning a gun is that other people have them and might threaten you with them; so mass shootings are good for business. Three times as many guns were manufactured in the United States in 2020 as it 2000. Good for business. The gun stalls at the NRA Convention will do a brisk trade this weekend.
  • Assault rifles – at an average price of $800 each for an AR15 – are their most profitable line.
  • There are 120.5 guns per 100 people in the US, more than double the next most gun saturated country, which is Yemen at 52.8 guns per 100 people.
  • There are 400 million guns in total in the United States. Half of them are owned by just 3% of the population (10 million people with an average 20 guns each).
  • 40% of Americans live in a house with a gun, but 70% do not own one.
  • Gun owners are more likely to be men than women (39% : 22%) White than anyone else (36%) rural than suburban or urban (41% : 29% : 20%) older than young and Republican than Democrat (44% : 20%). Some of these categories overlap.
  • There has been no Federal Gun Safety Legislation since the 1990’s, even though 89% of US citizens support universal background checks and 67% an outright ban on the sale of assault rifles.
  • Senator Ted Cruz has received $176,00 from the NRA, which works out at $37,000 for every child killed on Tuesday. He sells himself cheap. Marco Rubio has had $3,303,000.

The line from the NRA and contemptible figures like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is that, rather than remove, or control, or even register weapons capable of killing whole classrooms full of children – schools should be “hardened”, teachers should be armed so the “bad guy with a gun” can be stopped by a “good guy with a gun”.

The problems with this argument are obvious; which is why no one is allowed to carry a gun into the NRA Convention centre.

There were a lot of “good guys with guns” at Uvalde. There have been “good guys with guns” at other incidents and it hasn’t done a lot of good. A “good guy” with a hand gun has almost no chance at all against a “bad guy” with an AR15, or any other kind of rifle.

This is not new. I remember that in the Buffalo Bill Annual, that I read avidly time and time again when I was 8, an inquest jury in the 1880s brought in a verdict of “suicide” for man who tried to take on an opponent armed with a rifle by drawing a handgun on him.

In the case of the police at Uvalde, there is also a serious question about the motivation of the “good guys with guns”, given that it took them an hour to get in, and they were screaming at, handcuffing and shoving parents who were imploring them to do something in the meantime. The school being overwhelmingly Latino, the Police tending to the Right and seeing them as the sort of people Trump wanted to build a wall to keep out, might be an explanation that won’t be peculiar to that locality. Whose lives matter?

So, are Trump and the NRA proposing to have armed guards in schools with assault rifles to even up the odds? Are the teachers supposed to have an assault rifle propped up by their whiteboard, primed and ready to go, just in case? Are they supposed to devote time to training so they can “safely” take out an armed intruder without hitting anyone else? What are the chances of these weapons being seized and used in a massacre themselves? Nothing like having the tools for the job close to hand. How jumpy would these teachers and schools get? So, what does this do to the school? And the students? Turning a school into an armed camp is a hidden curriculum for Dystopia.

The question for them is actually a simpler one. If it had been illegal to buy a gun in Texas, would those children and their teachers still be alive? That they would is so obvious that the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the NRA and its supporters think that their cold, dead hands are a price worth paying for their “Second Amendment Rights”.

To contrast that with what has happened here.

  • After Dunblane, there were two responses. One was to tighten up laws on gun ownership. This was a political consensus. Major and Blair went up to Dunblane in a show of unity. It had overwhelming popular support.
  • The other was to tighten up security at schools. This had been quite relaxed until then. At the school I used to teach at, local people used to use the playground as a short cut between the estate and the shops. You’d be on playground duty and nod to the parents you knew, strolling past with their shopping bags. After Dunblane, the gates were shut and the security buzzers put in. There was an additional control door put in between the reception area and the rest of the school and all other doors were made so they could only be opened from the inside. That was replicated across the country and there have been no mass shootings in schools since; more because the guns are hard to come by than the schools are harder to get into, but both help.

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France there was a lot of concern because a school next to the Magazine’s Offices had implemented its emergency procedures, which meant that everyone trooped out into the playground like they would in a fire drill, making them more vulnerable to being shot – had the killers been interested – than if they’d stayed where they were. Local Authority Health and Safety Committees had to draw up Emergency Procedures in the event of such an incident. There had been plenty of school shootings – like Columbine in the US – that did not spark this response, so I think there was an aspect of this that was about fitting schools into their place in the “war on terror” and – had the procedures drawn up become the basis for regular drills like the “duck and cover” exercises that brought the Cold War into every US classroom in the 1950s – they would have had a purpose well beyond safety procedures. In the event, while teachers were given INSETs about what to do – essentially lock the door and get everyone down behind a brick wall – and distinctive alarms set up and tested once a week as a reminder, most schools that I know of did not do drills with the kids. This was for obvious psychological reasons. The chances of such an incident were and are vanishingly low. But the chances of psychological damage from safety drills done often enough were very high.

Parents here feel safe sending their kids to school. As they should. In the US this is no longer the case. The rage, fury and despair on display in US media and podcasts this week shows a society that is tearing itself apart. Its now the long holidays in America. Schools are shut. How is everyone going to feel in late August when its time to go back?

On the far right/QAnon sites, the conspiracy theories are already starting. This was fake. Actors. Staged. Because the Libtards want to take away your guns. The NRA, with its weirdly appropriate symbol that looks like a steer skull with an entry wound in the middle of its head – will pull its usual strings and press its usual buttons, pushing for more guns as the cure to the guns that are already out there – the profits will pile up at Smith and Wesson and Colt and Olin Corp – and the spiral of US self destruction will take another turn – even as it pushes to recover its military mojo in its European front yard -while we wait for the next mass shooting; unless there’s enough of a surge from the majority that don’t own guns and want them under better control; and they vote out every “sick son of a bitch” that takes money from the NRA and pushes their line.

A matter of priorities: Bernie gets it right.

In the United States there is a tragic argument that is putting desperately necessary investment to begin to shift the country away from its gas and oil guzzling model – falsely and fatally projected to the rest of the world as a mirage of modernity to which they should all aspire, but which is now not even viable for the US itself if it wants to survive this century intact – at risk.

The danger is that President Biden’s $550 billion ten year package will be derailed by opposition from Republicans in the Senate, in alliance with two Democrat Senators who are widely seen as wholly owned assets of the fossil fuel industries (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona).

While $55 billion a year is completely inadequate to move the US onto a track on which it would be doing its fair share of carbon emissions reduction, its provisions are supported by majorities of US citizens and for fossil fuel interests to derail it completely would bog the USA down completely in an outmoded form of society and scream to the rooftops that its political system is simply the best democracy that money can buy.

Stalling progress buys time for the restoration of fully fledged climate denialism should the Republicans regain control of Congress in the 2022 mid terms and the White House in the 2024 Presidential elections. At which point the US would be back to being a huge rogue state. This would be politically clarifying, but all of us would pay a terrible price for the enlightenment.

It took the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement to overthrow Trump last year. Nothing is certain, but for the fossil fuel fraction of capital to retain its power, it will need an increasingly fascistic political expression. Trump, Bannon, Bolsonaro; these are no longer aberrations or outliers, they are a possibly paradigmic future for the leaders that late, late capitalism will need to sustain itself until it runs out of road and goes off the cliff.

By contrast, the military budget is an almost complete consensus. The imbalance here is grotesque. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it on the Senate floor on Wednesday “At a time when the scientists are telling us that we face an existential threat in terms of climate change, we are told that we just don’t have enough money to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and create a planet that will be healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations. Just don’t have enough money. Yet today the U.S. Senate will begin consideration of an annual defense budget that costs $778 billion.”

Here’s what the contrast in the proposed (and contested) sum for climate change and the bipartisan consensus for military spending looks like, along with an equally instructive comparison with the sums committed for each in China. The US is spending 14 times as much on its military as Biden is proposing for green investment. China is spending one and a half times as much on green transition as on its military.

Bernie has stated that he will vote against. Hopefully other progressive Democrats will do the same to put down a marker that by 2050 the shiniest military in the world won’t be of much use to save even the USA itself from climate impacts that will overwhelm its infrastructure.

Leading from the Rear?

Much ink has been spilt proclaiming the “leading role” of the USA in combatting climate breakdown; with large countries like China and India in the developing world seen as the problem.

The figures from the latest Carbon Change Performance Index explode this myth.

Overall, with scores given for Greenhouse gas emissions (40%) Renewable energy (20%) Energy use (20%) and Climate Policy (20%) the USA ranks 55 (out of 64). China is at 37. India is at 10. The 64 countries covered are responsible for 92% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Their more detailed report groups countries into categories for overall performance.

The USA is in the “Very low” group, along with Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and Poland (amongst others).

China is in the “Low” group, along with New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, Vietnam and Ireland.

India is in the “High” group along with the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Chile and Finland.

On specific categories, the USA ranks

  • very low (i.e. poor) for greenhouse gas emissions: China is also rated very low but India is rated high.
  • very low for renewable energy; China and India are rated medium.
  • very low (i.e. poor) for energy use: China is also very low. India is high.
  • medium for policy: China and India are rated high.

The policy is what points to the future, if they are carried out. China has a record of meeting or exceeding its targets and the IEA assesses that its plan is viable and can be accelerated. In fact, China is due to invest £3.4 trillion to reduce carbon emissions in the next decade, which is more than the US and EU combined. The US plan has already been hobbled in Congress and there are worrying signs that the possible Second Coming of Donald Trump in 2024 (or someone like him) will throw any semblance of global cooperation out of the window.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. All countries have more to do – but some have more to do than others.

In his friendly review of Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown argues that the 2010 Copenhagen summit failed to lead to the breakthrough we needed because of both “the reluctance of the US to make legally binding commitments, and the deep suspicion of China, India and the emerging economies of any obligations that they believed might threaten their development”. (1) He then anecdotally glosses over the former and emphasises the latter by recounting the rather startling image of “Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd” having to be “physically restrained from punching the Chinese negotiator.” What an unreconstructed colonial incident that would have been. (2)

It might seem odd that the man who, as Chancellor in 2005, campaigned to “Make Poverty History” should put an equals sign between the refusal of the US – the worlds heaviest emitter per capita and the country with the biggest global legacy of carbon emissions – to see world leadership as anything other than getting away with the most it could, at the expense of those less powerful than itself – and the desire of the developing world not to stay poor; let alone foreground the latter. The way that he does this – possibly unconsciously – could stand as a warning that this attitude – that seeks a global division of labour in which the worse off and worst hit parts of the world do the heavy lifting, and restrain their development in the common interest, while the wealthiest countries try to make only those moves that maintain existing patterns of wealth, power and ways of life – is likely to find expression again and again in the run up to, at, and beyond the COP in November. There is already a significant effort going in to paint the more industrialised parts of the developing world in general – and China in particular – as the flies in the global ointment.

A recent report from US Researchers shows how much more work every country has to do if we are to hit the Paris target of keeping the global temperature rise within 1.5C – beyond which we are likely to be in danger of feedback loops that will make it incredibly difficult for us to control. (1) The additional effort needed for a selection of key countries looks like this.

Please note that this is what is required to have a 50:50 chance of staying within a 1.5C rise.

So, China has to do 41% more, just under half as much again as its already doing, while the UK has to almost double its efforts (97%) and the USA, India and Japan roughly quadruple theirs (203%, 190%, 229% respectively) and South Korea almost nine times as much. So, while John Kerry’s argument that China “isn’t doing enough” is true, nobody is, and the Washington has far more to do than Beijing; so a little humility might be in order. Closer to home, the frequent trope from UK Ministers that we “lead the world” on this are neither true – we are well behind the Chinese – nor relevant. It doesn’t matter if you are leading a pack of slower runners, if you are not going to get to the finish line before nature calls time on the race.

This blog is the first in a short series.

1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-021-00097-8#Tab1 The worrying thing about this Report is that it puts a lot of emphasis that only an 80% increase in global effort would be needed to stay within 2C, as if it would not be extremely damaging and dangerous for us to end up there and it is just too much to expect that we could do what we need to if it was remotely inconvenient in the short term.

2. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/feb/17/how-to-avoid-a-climate-disaster-by-bill-gates-review-why-science-isnt-enough

When is a “surge” not a surge?

The Guardian reports a new “surge” in cases in Hebei Province in China. This amounted to 33 people on 10 January and led to an immediate city wide lockdown and quarantine to eliminate further domestic infections. Because China has the virus under control, this can be done.

The comparable figures for new cases in the UK and USA were 59,937 and 313,516 respectively, because our governments have not got the virus under control. That looks like this.

Some “surge”.

The use of the term “surge” is clearly designed to reinforced the UK government’s defeatist narrative that the virus cannot be defeated, even in places where it has been.

The importance of consciously examining the language we are reading to see how our responses are being manipulated is made clear by this example.

Popping the Radio 4 bubble. Why China has good reasons not to be “more Western”.

It has become a cliche of Western punditry that China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 should have gradually made it “more Western”; and therefore acceptable to “the international community”of wealthy countries and the classes that run them. This is usually cloaked in the language of “representative democracy”, but actually means that they believed that China’s economy would “liberalise”, allow the private sector to dominate domestically, and following from that, pro US business forces would press the CCP to allow a political framework that would facilitate the interventions from the State Department that are routine in virtually every other country; and thereby fit into a US dominated world internationally – on the game plan of the internal coup by sections of the Nomenklatura that overturned the Soviet Union. This was- and is – expressed in a touching faith that “free market capitalism” is the only way that an economy can be run efficiently; which is always true for those that own it, but not for the rest of us who just work in it.

This has not happened. Deng Xiao Peng’s comment – “I don’t care if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice” – was widely, possibly willfully, misinterpreted in the West as a vindication of market mechanisms and nothing but; paving the way for the rule of capital to be restored in the same way that it was in the former USSR; which among other things led to a decline in male life expectancy to 58 in Russia in the mid 1990s and collapses in living standards so severe that the per capita income in Ukraine today is still below the level it was in 1989. On the contrary, the way that China has incorporated market mechanisms within state direction is now causing conniptions in the US and UK precisely because China’s growth has exposed their own failings, especially since neo-liberalism ran out of steam in the 2008 crash. An event that brought it home even to the most pro US currents in China that all was not well in the “shining city on a hill” and that perhaps it didn’t present such an alluring model of the future after all.

What this means for people’s lives can be seen in the following figures.

In 2001, at the point China joined the WTO, life expectancy was 70.59. Per Capita income was $3,207 (in PPP terms*). The percentage of people living on less than $5.50 a day, the World Bank’s higher level of poverty measurement, was 80.6% and those on less than $2 a day – truly grinding poverty – was around 44%.

By 2008 – at the time of the Western credit crunch – life expectancy had risen to 75.14. Per capita income was at $7,577. The percentage of people living on less than $5.50 a day was down to 60.6%.

As the Western economies stagnated and held down by austerity, China reoriented investment away from exports to internal infrastructure – from high speed rail to renewable energy – and the net result was that by the end of 2019 per capita income had risen to $20,273; and by the end of 2020 life expectancy to 76.96, the percentage living on less than $5.50 a day down to 23.9% and those on less than $2 a day to 0%.

These figures – the reality of the staggering improvement in quality of life that they represent – and China’s apparent immunity to economic stagnation and austerity – are also a challenge to those sections of the left in the West who consider it to be just another capitalist country. The ruling class here are under no such delusion.

Listen to the smug and thoroughly insular discussions among the commentariat on Radio 4 and there is now a cosy consensus – with opinions stated complacently and neither challenged nor explored – that the time has come to “stand up to China” and “President Trump didn’t get it all wrong”. The critique now is that the CCP run economy is “authoritarian” and – as it runs on state directed investment – provides “unfair competition” to the West. In other words, it works better. It is more effective and efficient. In the Western view, they can provide cats in black or white, but they must be privately owned. If a state owned cat catches more mice, it has to be put down.

These discussions are taking place in societies still stricken by Coronavirus – as governments put commercial considerations ahead of health, leading to a catastrophe for both – and people in China look Westwards in horror at the mess the former “Global leadership” have made of it.

*Purchasing Power Parity. This compares what can be bought with a given sum – so a lower income in one country is balanced against lower prices and compared with the higher income and higher prices in another; so a more accurate comparison can be made. One dollar in China buys roughly what $1.50 would buy in the USA. In PPP terms, the Chinese economy is already larger than that of the USA. $24.16 trillion: $20.81 trillion. With four times the population, however, per capita income is still substantially lower.

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