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The Hung UK Parliament

2017 June 9
by Ian Welsh

Final results are 318 for the Conservatives, 262 for Labour, 35 for the SNP (Scottish), 12 for the Liberal Democrats, 10 for DUP (Democratic Unionist) and 13 “Other”.

There are 650 seats total, meaning 326 are needed for a majority.

DUP is who the Conservatives will govern with, and they are the Protestant unionists in Northern Ireland. Not very nice people and associated with violence on behalf of staying in the UK.

Labour will not be forming the government, odds are, but this is a victory for Labour in that the Conservative’s majority is reduced to a minority.

72% of 18-24 year olds voted, which is unprecedented to my knowledge.

The takeaway is simple: left wing neoliberalism is dying (and with luck is dead), in England. A straight up message of nationalizing railroads and energy; of free tuition, of building homes, did far better than the neoliberals have done in years.

This was a 2 party election: 3rd parties shed followers.

Corbyn outperformed massively, which is the risk of demonizing one’s enemies. Having screamed about how terrible he was Blairites are reduced to saying “anyone else would have done better, May was awful”, which after they’ve lost two elections to Corbyn and been wrong about him 3 times, sounds weak.

Center-right parties are dying or reinventing themselves.  There is no appetite for mealy-mouthed neoliberalism. Go all right, or go what passes these days for hard-left. The demographics are 100% on the left’s side: the younger people are, the more they are left wing, and now, they’re even voting if offered politics which appeal to them.

I mean, given the university loans crisis, it seems like basic politics to offer them debt-forgiveness and free tuition.

In more immediate terms, the question is whether May will survive. Boris Johnson is likely sharpening his knife collection as we speak: she didn’t have to call this election and lost her majority in it, after a terrible personal performance in which she appeared scared to appear in the same room as Corbyn.

The second issue is when the next election will be. Is a coalition with the DUP in the works? Is it a strong coalition? It wouldn’t take much for the Conservatives to lose a vote of no-confidence and be back at the polling place, though other parties will be reluctant to knock them out with good reason, fearing that Britons will punish them for having to go back to the polls immediate.

A new election may be necessary, soon, and accepted as such, if the Conservatives find themselves unable to effectively negotiate Brexit.

I shall be interested to see if Labour MPs, who still hate Corbyn, launch another attack. There have been gestures of peace, but many will never give Corbyn credit for anything, and genuinely do disagree with his politics. I assume, however, that they will at least wait a while, while continuing to snipe and leak in hopes of weakening him.

We shall see.

Overall I’m very happy with this result. I expect(ed) the realignment to take till 2020/24 for demographic reasons, but this is an early earthquake of better politics to come.


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The Labour Surge in Britain (Election Day Thread)

2017 June 6

Update 2: Betting markets now think Corbyn will be PM.  I cannot, in my entire life, recall an election I have been so happy to watch.

Update: Exit polls point to a hung parliament, Tories with the most seats, which means they’ll be given the first chance to form a government. But we’ll see.

Leaving this up on election day. Anecdotally, more young people voting than usual. We’ll see. Corbyn’s probably the best candidate I’ve seen in my adult life and I’m hoping he wins.  Use this is a thread related to the election.

So, Brits vote on Thursday for a new government. When the election was called, the Conservatives under May were up over Labour by more than 20 percent in most polls. Today, the spread has tightened, with Labour behind in most polls–but not all.

As was the case in America with Sanders v. Clinton, the divide is generational. Under 44 is for Corbyn, over 44 is for May, and the younger they get, the more they’re for Corbyn. The problem, as everyone has pointed out, is turnout: Youngs tend to vote less.

Even the best polling doesn’t show a straight up Labour victory, it shows the Tories failing to get a majority. Polls in Britain have tended to be wrong away from Conservatives, but, given how unreliable polls have been over the past few years, I certainly have no idea how this will go. I certainly didn’t expect the election to be this close when it was called, though I’m very glad to be wrong.

Unless Labour wins, expect that Labour MPs will launch another coup attempt against Corbyn, even if his results are good.

I want to emphasize that they are doing so for ideological reasons. The excuse that Corbyn was hopeless doesn’t cut it any more, but they will still try to take him down. This is because they genuinely don’t believe in his politics: They want to be slightly less cruel Conservatives, not 60s style social democrats updated to treat women and non-whites well.

Those are their genuine beliefs: They’re neoliberals. They blocked censuring Tony Blair for Iraq, they like cruel austerity politics, and war.

It’s interesting how much better Corbyn has done during the campaign: It seems that when the media can no longer lie about him as much, and when May no longer has the media covering for her incoherence and, well, excusing her repeated refusals to appear in public (which are now looking like cowardice not calculation), Corbyn shines.

Certainly, Corbyn regularly gets rock star treatment: The people who like Corbyn really like him. No one is enthusiastic for May.

So, we’ll know soon. No prediction from me, but a preference. May will do incalculable harm if she gets a term: gutting worker and environmental rights, social welfare, and the NHS. Brits have another possibility. This is the last off-ramp. If they don’t take it, it’s on them.

 

The Cause of the Opiate Epidemic

2017 June 4
by Ian Welsh

Let us introduce you to Rat Park. You’ve heard the story about how addictive drugs are. Put a rat in a cage with a lever for water and a lever for water with drugs (heroin/cocaine) and without drugs, and the rat will soon be hitting the lever for drugs as fast as it can.

Drugs are sooooo addictive.

Right.

Well, here’s rat park.

Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: Everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

Sigh.

Somehow the story of Rat Park doesn’t get told often. I’ve read a lot on pain policy and addiction, and I hadn’t heard of it until recently.

Why is that, I wonder?

What has changed in the US to cause the “sudden” opiate epidemic, do you think?

Well, we all know the answer. The US isn’t “Human Park” any more, it’s a dystopian nightmare, full of poverty, despair, and people isolated from friends and family. The social welfare stats for large parts of the country are in free fall.

When life is shit, people turn to chemical joy–or chemical anaesthesia, at least.

What the US is doing is cracking down on opiate use, as if it’s a criminal problem. OR they are pretending it’s a medical problem.

It’s neither. It’s a social and economic problem to do with a society which offers shitty lives for people.

In the 1800s Emile Durkheim, the pioneering sociologist, did a study on suicide. He did it specifically because suicide seemed like the most individual of decisions.

And he found it wasn’t, that the likelihood and number of suicides tracked social engagement almost exactly. Roman Catholics committed suicide the least and had the strongest social ties. After the Catholics were the Protestants, then then non-religious, and those categories tracked how much social contact people had.

Most of who we are is other people and our relations to them. Most of the rest is our environment. Decisions that seem like they are made by individuals are really only partially so; they are informed by the environment in which we live. They are influenced by people, economic opportunities, and beauty, or the availability of love, friendship, security, and hope.

The opiate epidemic won’t be “fixed” through criminilization or medicalization: Even if opiate overdoses go down, people will turn to other forms of self-destructive behavior. This is because the problem isn’t opiate availability, it is that their lives are objectively shit.

Want to fix the opiate epidemic? Start with a 90 percent marginal tax rate on the richest people in America and spend the money on making everyone else’s lives better. Oh, and do simple stuff like universal health care, which, well, costs less and produces better results and doesn’t lead to despair, because people know that if they get sick they’ll get the care they need and it won’t cost them everything.


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Saying Is Doing

2017 June 2
by Mandos

(NOTE: POST BY MANDOS)

So. Trump has just announced his pullout from the Paris accords.

It doesn’t really matter whether the Paris accords actually did anything material or did anything material that was significant against climate change. What matters is that the Paris accords were the unifying symbol of public agreement that climate change was a thing. Trump’s move defaces that symbol. What he said does something. Insofar as that symbol is defaced, the probability of doing material things that might have an effect on the physical world is reduced, including saving whatever of human civilization can be saved, in extremis. If not reduced, then optimistically, changed — if it actually creates a galvanizing moment. Which it probably won’t, but we’ll see.

Saying is doing, symbols are at least as important as what is material, politics has limits as constricting as those of “nature,” assuming you believe in a false dualism and hierarchy between politics and the “natural” world.

The Real Threat To Europe Is Neither America Nor Russia

2017 May 29
by Ian Welsh

So, much hysteria over Donald Trump’s disdain for NATO and his dislike of Germany.

Andrea Merkel said that Germany no longer has a reliable American partner.

Oh dear. Oh dear.

Let us lay out the simple facts:

..the EU’s population is 508 million. When the UK leaves, it will be 447 million.

Russia’s population is 143 million.

The EU minus Britain has a GDP of 18.1 trillion (purchasing power parity), Russia has an economy of 3.5 trillion (ppp). Germany alone has a GDP (ppp) of four trillion.

So, if NATO dissolves, Europe should be perfectly capable of defending itself. It it cannot, it is because it refuses to actually allocate resources to defense against an opponent it outweighs.

Europe does not need NATO for defense from Russia.

Now, let us be even more brutally frank, since WWII Europe has been an American protectorate. It is that simple, some commenters will probably disagree, but I’m not going to waste time proving the obvious.  Protectorate, indeed, is a kind way of putting it.

The truth is that America withdrawing is no danger to Europe. Europe has all the resources it needs to defend itself and care for its own affairs: people, a large economy, and technology. What specific technologies it does not have it is completely capable of developing or buying.

Furthermore, NATO expansion is one of the major causes for enmity between Europe and Russia, since Russians note that NATO is far far more powerful than them, and see its expansion, when George Bush Sr. promised it wouldn’t expand, as offensive.  (I agree with them. You may be foolish, and disagree, but American foreign policy bobbleheads and “thinkers” have been quite clear about their intent.)

The real threat to Europe is not Russia, nor American disengagement, but as it has been since German unification under Bismarck, Germany.

Germany is already integrating the units of smaller European countries into its own military.

Germany (and, yes, Germany WAS the prime mover) already destroyed an entire European country, Greece, to bail out its own bankers.

Germany’s industrial policy and clout has impoverished the European “South” through enforced austerity and the imposition of the Euro, which makes German exports cheaper than they should be and the exports of Southern European more expensive than they should be.

Germany essentially runs the EU’s monetary policy at this point, a policy which has been in the self-perceived interests of Germany, and only coincidentally in any other country’s interest. (Something the French should get around to noticing, and stop kneepadding for the next German annexation of France, even if not in name.)

Germany is the actual threat to other European countries sovereignty. This might be acceptable if a German hegemon had a record of caring about what happens to non German countries, but the record is clear and visible on the ground in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece and even France, that it is not.

It is entirely true that the entire Eurocrat class is implicated, and that every European country has collaborators, including France (Macron is merely the latest to take the throne, and there is no question of his complicity, since he ran Hollande’s austerity program.)

Nonetheless, weirdly, the policies they promote are the ones that rebound to the benefit of Germany, and it is Germany who is widely understood, as in the case of Greece, to have the deciding vote.

Europeans should decide if a further federalized European Union, run by the Germans, for the Germans, is what they want, because that is what is on offer.

Trump should be a sideshow issue for Europeans. He is not a significant danger to them, except in the sense that he may be unleashing the Germans even further.

As is often the case, the politicians Europeans should be most scared of are their own: the collaborators who run their governments, and the German politicans who are sure that what is best for other Europeans countries is, coincidentally, identical with what they are sure is best for Germany.

(And anyone who thinks that Merkel is not essentially malign simply has not paid attention. If an evil person opposes a more evil person they do not become “good”. This is not to deny, that like many evil people, she has not done some good things.)

Look to your own house for the person who will beat and abuse and likely kill you. True at every level.


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Open Thread

2017 May 29
by Ian Welsh

Due to the lack of posts about current events, comments are piling up in older posts. Feel free to comment here on current politics and off-topic items.

The Flying Trees

2017 May 29
by Ian Welsh

A long, long time ago, when the world was young, the gods had children.

Gods can fly, but their children cannot.

So the elder Goddess of Joy created the flying trees.

The trees, themselves, didn’t fly–except when young, when every spring they would fly for weeks, looking for perfect soil and the laughter of children, but any child who ate one of their fruit could fly, for three days.

And the trees spread across the world; their seeds spread and were fertilized by the laughter of the children of the Gods.

Gods are not as we, and their children are children for an Age.

But eventually the children of the Gods grew up, and left their nursery.

The trees remained in their millions. They no longer spread, for they could not without the laughter of divine children, but also they were immortal and never died. So when, some Ages later, the Gods, feeling the cradle needed someone to nurture, created humanity, breathing in life and the most dangerous of gifts, free will, humans grew up among the flying trees and for their children, too, the fruit allowed flight.

For Ages it remained so, the delight of childhood, the freedom of flight.

Then someone, who is not known, discovered that flying suits could be made from the wood of flying trees. And that adults could use them to fly.

The Gods thundered and sent oracles, and the Goddess of Joy wept, but nothing stopped the mortals, and the Gods kept to their law of respect for human free will.

So the trees were cut down, and because no more could grow, in time there were no more flying trees.

Some time after that, a long time, there were also no flying suits, as they were destroyed in accident, or fire, or from simple wear and tear. Wars were fought over the remaining suits, scraps were used for repairs, great prayers were sent to the gods, but nothing availed. Finally no adults soared the skies.

And so, today, neither children nor adults fly, and the Gods, clustered about a sorrowful Joy, have turned their faces from the world.


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My Friend Peter

2017 May 28
by Ian Welsh

Peter was the kindest man I ever met. I moved into his old house one winter in the early nineties. Rent was $235/month, there was a shared kitchen and showers and seven tenants. On the ground floor lived the landlord — Peter, and his Japanese wife.

I lived there three years. They were thin, cold years for me. Sometimes I was employed—as a bike courier, a dispatcher, a mover, a baker, a painter, or anything else I could find. Other times I scrabbled from day job to day job, helping anyone who needed it for cash on the barrelhead. There were some grim months on welfare, some trips to the food bank, even a few meals at the soup kitchen. I was rousted a couple times by rent-a-cops as “undesirable” (read: looking like a bum).

My clothes were threadbare, and I would look in the mirror and I could already see myself at fifty, living the same hand to mouth, job-to-job life.

Through it all, two people helped me, two people stuck by me and never made me feel worthless. One of them was Peter. Peter let me work a lot of my rent off with jobs around the house. I painted this or that, under careful supervision I did plumbing work, I shoveled snow, and I laid bricks. Peter taught me how to learn — he’d show me how to do something, tell me to, “Do it right, and take your time, because if you do it fast first, you’ll never ever do it right.” And those months when I was late on rent, those months when I was mortified to be on welfare – he cut me slack and he never made me feel small.

Peter was old. He had been born in Germany. And he had fought for Hitler.

He liked to talk about his life — and quite a life it had been. He’d been a spy for the CIA after the fall, until the day his handler cut him loose when he was fleeing from what would become East Germany, pursued by Soviet troops. “Not willing to risk an incident,” said his handler. “Not willing to keep spying for you,” said Peter. He had been a stage manager, had been Volkswagen’s chief North American tester, had been a translator and had broken codes, among many, many other things.

Peter said, and I believed, that his family had been opposed to the Nazis. His father had been a VP at Siemens and when Peter was caught, at a youth camp, listening to Allied broadcasts, he was able to save his son and have him assigned to a prison camp (no, not that type of prison camp) commandant as an aide. While there, Peter got himself in more trouble and wound up in the camp jail for a couple of days. The cells in that camp faced each other, with a row of bars in between. The prisoner across from him was a gypsy man and they spent two days playing cards and talking. At the end of it, the prisoner said, “Today I will be hung as a partisan. You seem like a good man, so I want to ask you if after the war you will go tell my people.”

Peter agreed, and the gypsy continued. “They think I am a partisan leader – someone other than I am. I haven’t told them they’re wrong. What I want you to do, after the war, is go tell my people that I died for this man.”

As the war ground on, the Germans began to run into severe manpower shortages. Other young teenagers Peter’s age were drafted and sent into occupation duties, where they served alongside older veterans. Peter was drafted and sent to France.

He said there was very little real resistance in his district; or, as far as he could tell, most of France – just one sniper they chased in desultory fashion and never caught – the chasing mostly involving staying absolutely silent and still at night while waiting for a muzzle flash at which to aim.

One day, he went through a French hospital town. Because it was used to care for injured soldiers, it had never been bombed. While there, he and a comrade saw Allied bombers overhead. The French pointed up and said, “Look, our planes!” Peter screamed at them to get into the bomb shelters, but most of them didn’t. After all, they were their planes. Peter and his friend got in a shelter, then the bombs started falling. A lot of the French who had wondered at those planes didn’t survive that day.

He also went through Dresden the day after the bombing. But he never described what he saw there to me.

I asked Peter why he left Germany and emigrated to Canada. His reply was, “Everyone pretended they didn’t know what had been going on. We all knew. I couldn’t live there anymore.”

I lived with Peter for three years and when I left he told me two things. One was a piece of advice on living life: “Never do the same job for more than five years, Ian, you won’t be happy if you do.” (He was right, as I found out the hard way. Wisdom, they say, is learning from other people’s mistakes. I’ve never been wise.)

The second thing he said was, “My family has a custom where every year we pick out someone to help and do so for the entire year, and sometimes longer. We know we do harm all the time. It’s not balance. But we hope it makes up.”

But it wasn’t just one person. I never saw Peter act meanly or unkindly. I never saw him treat anyone but with dignity. I never saw anyone who needed a kindness Peter could give who didn’t get it.

That man, who fought for Hitler, might have been the best man I’ve ever met.

(Back to the top, as I was thinking of Peter today – Ian.)

(Originally posted April 18, 2010.)


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