Archives for category: EU
In William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral, we meet a class of people, the klept, who have more money than they could ever use and play games with large swaths of humanity, often to the death. Gibson didn’t have to reach far for models; examples of the kleptocracy are all around us. The damage they do is not quite at the scale of Gibson’s klept only because Gibson imagines hundreds or thousands of timelines they can use for their playgrounds. (The chapter entitled Parliament of Birds (pdf) gives a good idea of what the klept are about.)
I’ve been considering writing about our modern klept for several weeks now and just when I think there’s nothing worse that could happen, I only have to consider the headlines for a moment. The most public members of the Klept, or maybe just their public representatives, are (not surprisingly) Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and (new member!) Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. When I thought I might be able to let this idea go, go on to writing something else, I saw this BBC headline: US and Brazil agree to Amazon development.
The world is quite literally on fire from Alaska to Siberia to Australia to, indeed, the Amazon. Instead of finding ways to protect these places for future generations, these so-called leaders are letting them burn so that the land can be exploited for oil and agribusiness. Bolsonaro’s very clever – if he doesn’t do anything about the fires, he solves one issue that he’s publicly declared a problem: the native populations of the Amazon basin. If they no longer have a forest in which to live, they’re no longer in need of any kind of protection. The other advantage I’ve read about is that he can then allow monoculture farming of in-demand commodities such as soybeans. (This becomes attractive given how Trump has buggered up the Chinese market for American soybeans. Trump’s trade war with China is one that probably could use some delving but it makes little sense to me as yet.)
And if neighboring Venezuela is anything to go by, there’s probably oil to be drilled as well. (Note that the vast majority of Brazil’s untapped oil holding is found in a region off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, rather far from Venezuela.
Man looking right forking dollars into his mouth while much smaller man has pennies to eat. Caption: When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. Frederic Bastiat, French economist.

I know that equating fat and eating with greed is problematic, but we’re dealing with the oversized share of wealth consumed by the few at the expense of the many. I think this illustration addresses that pretty well.

And if we let Alaska burn, it may be easier for the oil companies to get into ANWAR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – a protected area that contains some desirable oil reserves). At the moment there are fires throughout central Alaska, but not in the northeast corner where ANWAR is located. Difficult to access Siberian reserves are also going to be easier to get at once the place burns. (Yes, I’m being terribly reductive. The fact that these fires are starting because of record high temperatures caused is not lost on anyone concerned, though.)
This isn’t exactly the klept in a nutshell. But the high-stakes games being played with the lives of large numbers of inconveniently located people form the heart of what the ultra-rich and the world leaders who front for them are about (and have always been about).
The thing with Johnson and the mess that Parliament is trying to clean up is that Johnson’s a really minor member of the klept. Cursory web searches suggest that his net worth is about two million pounds. More than I’ll ever see in a personal bank account (unless things go really tits up, Zimbabwe style), but in the grand scheme of the very wealthy, not very much. So why is he pushing for no-deal Brexit so hard? The short answer is that the klept in the UK stand to lose a lot of money when the new EU Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive goes into effect next year. Pretty much all of the large-scale folks who have pushed Brexit stand to lose a lot of money. Johnson, it seems, is mostly just a front for those folks.
There’s more to address regarding the American klept, including folks like Mitch McConnell, but it’s going to have to wait.

MP Ben Bradley wants to ‘fix Tory image problem’ according to a massively disingenuous BBC Newsbeat article. According to the young conservative MP for Mansfield, the Tories’ problem is that they’re perceived by the young as being old, grey, and boring. He wants to appeal to ‘Young people, people from ethnic minorities who just don’t vote for us’. He’s pushing for conservatives from popular culture to get the message out. The article goes on to say that ‘any improvement in image would have to be backed up by policy.’income_inequality

You can see the problem here, right? Tory policies that appeal to young voters are pretty thin on the ground. The article cites ‘The Conservatives cut housing benefits for 18 to 21-year-olds, introduced a lower minimum wage for under-25s and is the only major party against lowering the voting age to 16.’ Well, there’s a start. What else?

How about hard Brexit? Voters under 50 voted overwhelming to remain in the EU. (18-24s did so by a 3-1 margin; 56% of 25-49s voted remain.) All current evidence points to the Tories staying on that very unpopular highway despite all the signs advising them to turn off.

Brexit, like the recent US tax plan, is a boondoggle for the already very wealthy. The reason the government is pushing it so hard, despite the referendum having been clearly an advisory measure (see the first paragraph here, is because there’s so much money to be made getting Britain out from under EU regulatory regimes. It’s not as though the boot is onerous, just that it’s portrayed as such by whiny-ass bitches like Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s media empire was massively pro-Brexit. Why? When Anthony Hilton of the Evening Standard asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union, he replied, ‘That’s easy. When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.’

That’s several other articles that have already been written by folks better at this than I am. Laurie Penny, for example.

What does this have to do with what young people want? Young people want a government that acts in the interests of all citizens and does so with transparency. Simple.

What else do young people want? They want for the parties in power to act with resolve against keeping them in poverty. A fully functioning and fully funded NHS and reasonable/zero tuition fees are absolutely at the heart of this.

Reasonable secondary education tuition fees. You know, the ability to leave college not ass-deep in debt. Anywhere in the Tory manifesto? Of course not. If every second 23 year old already owes one of the banks nearly 30,000 pounds, the banks are happy. (Personal history: Tuition fees were introduced in the California public college/university system by Ronald Reagan when he was governor. Once the fee was introduced, it only went up. The CSU system’s tuition increased about 300% in the four years I attended (1985-1989) and is now almost USD 6000 per year. The UC system is over USD 12000 per year.

However, when the banks are happy, Tory campaigns are funded. One can’t expect the current government to rescind that.

And the NHS? Chronically underfunded under the Tories for almost seven years. Setting the NHS up for failure seems to be the Conservative party’s national sport. And they’re winning. They set up metrics like getting some percentage of A&E patients seen in under four hours that they then don’t fund the service to meet. And the papers all bemoan how poorly the NHS is doing. The rest of the world sees in this an obvious ploy. Set the NHS up to fail and then sell it off to the lowest bidder. Worked out beautifully for the Royal Mail as well, but the Royal Mail is only tangentially related to the real world health of its users.

What else? Safe housing estates. Because young people don’t just think only about themselves (all the stupid cracks about Millennials aside), they want for the people amongst us with the least to at least be safe in their own flats. You’d think that’d be a no-brainer, especially after the Grenfell tragedy. Nope, we’re not going to do anything to require property owners to make sure they’re buildings aren’t twenty-story fire traps. Thanks for asking.

Other things? How about a rail system that doesn’t gouge the young commuter (who may no longer be able afford to live near the city they work in) out of a large chunk of their pay packet. Well, nationalization isn’t going to happen, but rail networks that work for commuters and not shareholders? Too much to ask. I suppose the manifesto’s commitment to putting 40 billion pounds into improving Britain’s transport over the next decade is nothing to sneeze at, though it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the rail companies’ revenue. In 2016 alone, one parent of Govia Thameslink (operator of Gatwick Express, amongst other services) saw revenues of 3.4 billion. And because of privatization, Govia Thameslink is only one of about 20 different rail operators in the UK.

So, to recap: The way to appeal to the young is to champion and implement policies that affect them and the people they see around them positively rather than negatively. It’s quite simple, but the Tories know who butters their crumpets, and it’s not the youth of Britain.

Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, set in Victorian England, tells of an illiterate girl, raised with an Oliver Twist-like band of criminals, who is hired out as a maid to an orphaned Japanese heiress in the care of her uncle. There are some truly Dickensian plot twists including an involuntary commission to a madhouse. Central to the plot is the love that develops between the young thief (Sue) and the young lady (Maud).

Chan Wook-Park’s Handmaiden is a Korean adaptation set in World War II-era occupied Korea. While there are obviously some dynamics between the Korean and the Japanese characters that might be lost on a Western audience, there are only a few indications of the period. Japanese soldiers on a ferry, for example. A note at the beginning of the film lets us know that subtitles in white indicate Korean, while subtitles in yellow indicate Japanese. That said, the film mostly takes place on a wooded country estate. (Occasional music cues indicate a debt the filmmakers feel they owe to Downton Abbey.)

Arranged in three parts, the first details the story from the perspective of the thief (Sook-Hee). She arrives, plays her part, which is to make the heiress (Lady Hideko) fall in love with he Fagin character (Count Fujiwara – a Korean who can play a convincing Japanese aristocrat) so that he can have her committed. It concludes with the three going off to celebrate the marriage and the honeymoon. Hideko’s role is to play a somewhat head-sick ingenue.

The second part goes back earlier in the story to when Fujiwara conspires with Hideko’s uncle (Kouzuki) and guardian to take the girl away so that her inheritance will devolve back to the uncle. Kouzuki, we learn, is a collector of pornography. Lady Hideko has been trained from a young age to give dramatic readings of this material to selected guests. She’s not the naïf we thought we’d met in part one. These readings are some of the most intense scenes in film. With everyone in the room fully dressed, they’re more sensual than the actual sex that the film portrays.

In the third we learn of the double-cross planned by Hideko and Fujiwara. I don’t want to give anything away to folks who’ve neither read the novel nor seen the movie, but the film gives very little time to the madhouse sequence which was one of the more unexpectedly harrowing pieces of writing I’d ever come across. The fact that Sook-Hee is illiterate makes for some amusing moments early in the movie, but these moments are used to contrast only Hideko’s dramatic readings. The contrast is far more disturbing and used to much greater effect in the novel.

Kouzuki and Fujiwara both receive an interesting (and somewhat horrific) comeuppance.

I’ve become rather prudish in my old age and found some of the sex rather gratuitous. Beautiful, but distracting from the power of the rest of the film. I knock off a star for the combination of that and the missed opportunity of the madhouse. Otherwise, Handmaiden is beautiful, intriguing, and very well crafted.

I think this might be another one of those cases where a politician is saying outrageous things to distract the public from what’s really going on. I honestly don’t know what Theresa May’s agenda is. She’s not as transparent as say Jeremy Hunt. We know he’s trying to crush the doctors’ unions because of the massive amount of money that will come his way from a privatised NHS. May? Perhaps I just don’t know enough about her. But at the moment she’s making noise that rather than leave the EU, Britain should just leave the European Convention on Human Rights. (Let’s not entertain, for the moment, the fact that membership in the EU requires membership in the ECHR.)
Her position, according to The Guardian, is that the ECHR has tied Britain’s hands with regard deportation of extremists such as Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, ‘and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.’
This is where I usually stop reading when these things come up. The point of human rights conventions is to bind the signatories to be better at this stuff than non-signatories. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what any other country does when it comes to human rights. The UK decided at a certain point to be one of the good guys in this regard and say, ‘We will respect very basic human rights and will treat all with due process.’
It’s a very short document, clocking in at just 55 large-print pages, many of which are taken up with repetitions of ratification and depository information. Life, liberty, security, prohibition of torture, and prohibition of slavery all appear on the first page. The other basics, including due process, right to thought, expression, religion, privacy, and assembly come on the next seven pages. The next 16 cover the court itself. The balance covers the various protocols on human rights and freedoms. Interesting bit: In 1983, when the death penalty was abolished under Protocol 6, there was an addendum specifying that the death penalty could be imposed under certain circumstances in time of war. In 2002 this addendum was rescinded under Protocol 13.
With this in mind, it’s BS about other countries keeping us from doing what’s right (not just what’s right according to treaties we’ve signed) that got people so worked up when Dick Cheney said we had to torture to get information out of supposed bad guys. No, we don’t. We’re better than that, and have signed conventions (in that case, The Geneva Convention, but the idea is the same) as outward signs that we strive always to be better than that. Except when our leaders say, ‘Nah, we don’t have to be better – we’re exceptional.’ Or some such noise.
May was discussing Britain’s ECHR responsibilities in the context of a speech ostensibly supporting continued EU membership. She went on to say, however, ‘The states now negotiating to join the EU include Albania, Serbia and Turkey – countries with poor populations and serious problems with organised crime, corruption, and sometimes even terrorism. We have to ask ourselves, is it really right that the EU should just continue to expand, conferring upon all new member states all the rights of membership?’ Good question, I suppose, but the UK has an equal say in the admission of other countries to the EU. Organised crime and corruption weren’t issues when Italy and Greece joined. Or perhaps not to the same extent. She just wants some to be more equal than others.
May went on to say that Britain should be able to draft and amend at its own bills of human rights that apply to Britons. Again, we’re better than that. (Yes, I’m an American married to an English woman and say ‘we’ even though I have few rights to call myself a Brit. According to one friend, knowing why the M25 is called The Road To Hell is sufficient.) We should be able to look Europe and the world in the eye and say that the rights we enjoy should be available to all and that we’ll fight for that to be so. (It demeans weasels to say that May is trying to weasel Britain out of her responsibilities under UCHR.)
A week or so ago I read a screed denouncing new film versions of The Jungle Book and naming Rudyard Kipling a racist expletivedeleted. This article quoted extensively from Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden. Yeah, racist to the core with its references to colonised peoples as ‘half-devil, half-child’. The title itself makes us modern progressives cringe at the thought that whiteness alone made one group responsible for bringing others to modernity. What Kipling was arguing for, however, is that those who consider themselves civilised ‘fill the mouth of famine and bid the sickness cease’ even as others, no matter what we name them ‘bring all (y)our hope to naught.’ Yes, it’s terribly racist to name those others ‘sloth and heathen folly’, but the burden Kipling lays upon us is to do the work. In the Jewish tradition, there’s the concept of Tikkun Olam, heal the world. Get out and do the work of peace, of healing, of working for the safety of the disadvantaged. While Kipling names both the objects of the work and its obstacles with terms we consider abhorrent now (and were, in truth, abhorrent in 1899), the call is to be the good guy and do the work of making the world better.
May, on the other hand, is calling on Britain, do default on its obligations to better itself and contribute to the betterment of the European collective.

Corbyn election shows Labour’s delight in losing, says Italian PM. Okay,  based entirely on this article, I don’t think Italy’s unelected prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is in a position to comment on Corbyn’s electability. (If I’m reading his history correctly, while Mayor of Florence, Renzi earned the leadership of the Democratic party – as such, he forced the PM, Enrico Letta, to resign last year in his own favour. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matteo_Renzi
He says it has nothing to do with Blairite or anti-Blairite. Well,  yes it does.
He’s left of centre,  but ‘takes on trade unions and forges alliances with conservatives to further his agenda.’ How has he done that? From the same wikipedia article, his ‘government brought the Jobs Act before Parliament, which provided for, among other things, the abolition of Article 18 of the Workers’ Statute, which protected workers from unlawful dismissal.’
Sounds like a Blairite to me. And that means someone who will claim the mantle of working for the working class to line his own pockets and forge his own legacy. Yes, I’m partisan about these things.

Clinton and Blair did the same thing and spent much of their times in office screwing the workers to the delight of Wall Street and London City bankers. And paving the way for Republican/Tory successors.

Blair took the UK into Iraq when no one else in the EU saw reason in it. This did wonders for the arms dealers and helped create the ISIL we’re fighting now. It did not help the working population of Great Britain.

Renzi refers to ‘the last one to be called Red,’ Ed Milliband, as if being branded anything at all by the Daily Mail is something to run from. The thing to run from is selling out your constituency. Blair’s natural constituency, as far as I can tell, was quite similar to Cameron’s, but he claimed to be Labour. Renzi’s words and actions (as reported by the Guardian) put him in the same category. Left by name, good ol’ public schoolboy by predilection.

His policies are not entirely without merit. I’ll note that he sacked the leaders of state-owned companies who weren’t meeting expectations, rather than privatising the companies outright (the way Blair and his successors did). He then replaced them with women. A positive move.

When Renzi praises Cameron for standing up to the refugee flood at Britain’s gates, he again betrays those who should be the focus of the leadership of the left, not to mention that of the free world.

And about that headline, ‘delight in losing’ is a clickbait quote. Heaven forbid Labour voters simply vote for someone who appeals to their better angels. In America, we have huge swaths of the electorate voting not only against their better angels but against their own self-interest.

In some additional fairness to Renzi, that same Wikipedia article also mentions his opposition to austerity measures which is always a good thing in a minister claiming to be on the side against the bankers.