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Forgetting History

Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian on how T Ronald Dump crossed a line when he failed to condemn neo-Nazis after Charlottesville.

The worst thing was that the incumbent President of the United States – supposedly the leader of the free world – conveyed moral equivalence between Nazism/fascism and those who oppose it. That is breathtaking in its lack of awareness and abdication of responsibility for decency.

I have read an article which claimed that just because you opposed Nazism it didn’t mean your cause was necessarily good. What?

WHAT?

(The rationale was that Stalin fought fascism/Hitlerism, the implication, that since Stalin was bad then so, if you fight Nazism, are you.)

[I hesitated to post the link here as I didn’t want to encourage the writer in his false comparisons but finally decided to. (Here.)]

Quite apart from the outrageous insult his proposition is to those Allied soldiers who signed up to fight in the Second World War and even more so to those who gave their lives doing so, (it implies they were fellow travellers, duped) what a despicable piece of whataboutery that false equation represents. It gets the whole thing exactly the wrong way round.

The true state of affairs is that if you don’t fight Nazism/fascism then your cause is bad.

Apparently 9% of US citizens polled after Charlottesville believe that neo-Nazi or white supremacist views are acceptable. If the poll is representative that means 30 million people in the US share those beliefs. That is a forgetting of history right there.

How did it come to this? How did people come to forget those vile views (and the actions which resulted from them) were what their grandfathers had to fight against? How can a belief in the US as a bastion of freedom co-exist with an ideology whose aim is to extinguish freedom? (Even as that ideology is dressed up as a crusade for freedom of expression – or historical memory.)

A Professor Halford E Luccock of Yale University is quoted in the New York Times of 12/9/1938 as saying, “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled “Made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism”.”

Beware those who fly flags of whatever colour.

How Much Do Ant and Dec Get Paid?

The Tories came up with this wheeze to get the BBC to publish the salaries of its top earners as a way of kowtowing to the wishes of their masters’ at News Corp, Sky and elsewhere as part of their continuing project to undermine the BBC. The theory seems to be that people will object to TV Licence money being “wasted” on celebrities who (by definition) are not doing a “proper” job.

Agreed these are ludicrous sums, but no more so than top footballers’ pay (perhaps less) or the even more egregious amounts paid to heads of banks and CEOs/directors at large companies, who don’t do a proper job either.

And what’s appropriate for the BBC is surely good for its broadcasting rivals too.

After all, if I happen to buy a product that has been advertised on ITV, I still pay for Ant and Dec’s salaries even though I never watch them. Ditto for anyone that appears on Sky. Why should their payments be any more commercially confidential than those who appear on the BBC?

I look forward to the day when the salaries of those at ITV and Sky are made public instead of just being estimated.

I won’t be holding my breath though.

Bow Down. Know Your Place!

I have scarcely been disturbed so much by a British Prime Minister’s address than I was today by Theresa May.

The tone of her speech announcing her snap decision to have a General Election reminded me of nothing so much as President Erdoğan of Turkey who promised to ignore criticism by international observers of the recent referendum “result” in that country.

The way in which this has been greeted shows that the Fixed Parliament Act is not worth the paper it is written on. If a Prime Minister can just announce an election any time and everyone strings merrily along what was the point of it? Jeremy Corbyn’s acquiescence to the prospect merely gives him the opportunity to write his own long suicide note.

It makes a complete mockery of the electoral process – and to any objections Tories in Scotland may have to a second Scottish Independence Referendum on the grounds of weariness with ballots, or unripe time. The pretence that this is about anything other than embedding May’s own grip on the Prime Ministership is as breathtaking as it is mendacious.

And how can we believe anything she now says? This is something she emphasised she would not do and yet…. (OK she is a politician but this is brazen beyond belief.)

But none of that is my main concern. May’s line that “there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” is truly chilling. She is effectively saying that there should be no quibbling with her policies, that everyone should do as she says.

This is not any kind of democracy that I know.

Does she not believe in opposition? That those who do not agree with her have not just a right, but a duty, to speak out? (And to be represented in Parliament.)

It would seem, from her own words, that she does not.

This is the stance of a dictator.

So. “All hail Theresa Erdoğan, saviour of the nation.”

May Day

So. This is May’s day.

… — … … — … … — …
Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot. Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot. Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot.
Mayday! Mayday!

We in the UK have recently been sailing troubled waters but now we are coming out of a lea shore and are about to enter the full blast of the storm. Who knows what the political landscape of these islands will look like in three years’ time? A second Scottish Independence referendum has been made ever more probable by the UK goverment’s stance on a so-called hard Brexit and deaf ear to other voices.

Scottish independence might have been achieved on a relatively friendly basis in 2014 but I doubt that’s at all likely now.

The febrile English nationalists (for that is what they are) who have driven this headlong rush over a cliff have no thought of (or care for) Scotland – and still less for Northern Ireland for which this represents a double crisis, the “cash for ash” scandal having led to a breakdown of the power sharing arrangements. They will exact a heavy price for what they will no doubt see as a betrayal of “England, their England”.

I believe Theresa May is trying to look stern when she lectures all and sundry in the House of Commons and on television but to me she looks threatening – as in, don’t dare cross me, my revenge will be sweet – despite there being no substance behind her bluster. Scotland can look for no favours from her.

I never thought that another politician could achieve a position lower in my esteem than Margaret Thatcher did but Theresa May has managed it. (David Cameron, aka Mr Irresponsible, though he is entirely responsible for the mess the UK now finds itself in and amply demonstrated his irresponsibility by doing so and more so by running away from the consequences, is merely a buffoon by comparison.) May is potentially dangerous. Not so much in herself as in what may come after her.

The First Steps

Despite the First Amendment to the US Constitution the new President of that country has set in train a course by which freedom of speech in the US might be going to be curtailed.

This is the way a toddler responds to criticism. And neutering the press, is, of course, the way dictators behave.

It’s a classic tactic. Define an enemy against which your supporters can rally. Even when that so-called enemy represents the bedrock of your country’s system of governance – a system which you have sworn to protect.

Add in the fact T Ronald Dump has already gone for Muslims, Mexicans, transgender people, judges and now the press; who will be left to speak up when he comes for you?

To be clear, T Ronald, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them a traitor to their – and your – country. Arguably it makes them more of a patriot than you are.

My country (or my President) right or wrong is a pernicious doctrine.

In fact in a democracy it is the highest duty of a loyal citizen to point out to his or her government when it is doing something wrong.

Core Values?

In yesterday’s Guardian G2 there was a wonderful scathing article written by the US born comedian Rich Hall dealing with recent events in his home country.

In it he satirises the US penchant for owning, and using on each other, firearms.

A striking sentence concerns the number of terrorist-related deaths carried out by people from the seven countries subject to the, now legally suspended at least till appeal, ban on entry to the US.

That number?

Zero.

(Though Hall does balance this by saying there have been three – thwarted – attacks using knives.)

I don’t suppose such satirising of what Hall characterises as the US core value of gun crime will change anyone’s mind, though.

Passages

From the Show Business world of my youth, Mary Tyler Moore.

From the Politics of my young adulthood, asker of the West Lothian Question, hounder of Thatcher over the sinking of the General Belgrano, a real thorn in the side of the establishment, Tam Dalyell. His home The House of the Binns is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. The good lady and I visited there a few years ago now and saw Tam at a distance. He looked frail. We did, though, later strike up a conversation with his wife, Kathleen Wheatley, over armorial china of all things, and she seemed a very down to earth person.

Well-known actor, a memorable Caligula in I, Claudius, also The Naked Civil Servant, The Elephant Man and Doctor of sorts, John Hurt.

Mary Tyler Moore: 29/12/1939 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.
Thomas (Tam) Dalyell: 9/8/1932 – 26/1/2017. So it goes.
John Vincent Hurt: 22/1/1940 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.

I Miss the Soviet Union

Remember those bad old days of the Cold War? The evil Commies who stamped on people’s rights and stifled individualism?

Well, maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

Yes, life in the Eastern Bloc wasn’t a picnic and freedom of expression is a good thing – provided it isn’t taken too far.

But… The existence of the Soviet Union kept big business in the West honest (to a point.) Inequality was much less pronounced in the UK then than it is now; in the US too I wouldn’t wonder. With the example of a competing economic system to hand there was a brake on excess, those inclined to it restrained their greed. When so-called Communism (a description which was woefully inaccurate, there was little communal about it, it was an autocratic oligarchy) collapsed, the brakes came off and CEOs and executives of big companies let their impulses off the leash. Thoughts of paying and treating fairly the true source of any wealth created by a company’s endeavours, the workers, evaporated. Instead, those workers were squeezed, marginalised, treated with contempt, their abilities to protest curtailed – at least in the UK.

There is a thought amongst certain people – on both sides of the Atlantic – that government is in and of itself a bad thing, “A conspiracy against the people.” (These are probably mostly the same people who want to do whatever they like with no comeback.)

A Trump Presidency may be the experiment that tests that idea.

To destruction.

Unfortunately it won’t be its advocates whose lives will be destroyed. In times of turmoil it rarely is.

Lack of government does not mean freedom, it means anarchy. It means no protection against predators and wrongdoers. It means those with the deepest pockets have no barriers to their avarice prevailing. (It also means they in turn have no protection beyond what they can buy.) In effect, though, it means slavery – either real or (poorly) waged – for the majority.

Regulation of human activity – in any sphere – is actually a necessary constraint. “Freedom from” is as important as “freedom to”.

Which leads to the thought; if you are a woman working in the Trump White House, how safe will you be in terms of your personal autonomy? How free will you be from coercion?

Stop the World: I Want to Get Off

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.

“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.

“I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country” – Donald Trump.

“We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

“The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours” – Theresa May.

“Where there is discord may we bring harmony” – Margaret Thatcher.

Well; the last of these three didn’t work out well.

I don’t expect the first two to do so either.

Trumping Democracy

I happened to catch on BBC rolling news today a “speech” given by one Donald J Trump. This consisted mostly of him opening his mouth and letting anything pour out (or, as the phrase has it, letting his belly rumble.) There was absolutely nothing of substance in it whatever, merely the assertion and vacuous sloganising of a blustering braggart and bully.

I note that he has also repeated his belief that the US Presidential election is rigged against him.

So, let me get this clear; the reopening of an FBI investigation against his opponent isn’t rigging but its subsequent finding “no evidence of criminality” is? Is that perhaps because the first was to his advantage and the second wasn’t? (And yes, Donald, it is possible to trawl through millions of emails in a few days. There’s something called a “search” function that will allow you to do precisely that.)

The claim of rigging sounded to me remarkably like someone who thought they weren’t going to win anyway getting their excuses in first.

Yet the attitude behind it is the culmination of a trend I noticed a long time ago whereby Democratic Presidents don’t seem to be afforded the same leeway as that accorded to Republicans.

You may remember eight years ago I predicted that Barack Obama would face four (or eight) years of hounding if he were to be elected. I wasn’t wrong. As I recall it started as soon as he was sworn in (or even before if you don’t think the original swearing in was legitimate.)

To claim the election is rigged goes against everything the US is supposed to stand for. The cornerstone of democracy is that leaders are replaced peaceably – and the new one is accepted by the old and his/her supporters. Claims of illegitimacy put that peaceful handover in danger (and in the case of a country awash with firearms might even lead to civil war.)

There was also the small point of Trump suggesting during the campaign that he didn’t know what the “Second Amendment people” would do if his opponent wins. To which I say this, if Trump loses and the then President Hillary Clinton is subsequently assassinated the prime accused in any court case ought to be Donald Trump, for incitement to murder.

Later on the BBC news showed a speech by Clinton in which, by contrast, she appeared measured, thoughful, rational and reasonable. (To be fair that wasn’t a big ask.)

Mr Trump has been revealed (is even proud of the fact!) to have paid little or no tax for at least a ten year period and hasn’t released details of any tax payments in the years since. I find it incredible that a tax avoider can put himself forward to become the head of state of a country to which he has made no such monetary contribution. (My view is that it is the duty of a citizen to pay the taxes necessary for the country in which they are domiciled/make a living to be run successfully. And to do so without complaint. The only point to be debated is the level at which the taxes ought to be levied, not whether they are to be ignored.)

In amongst his ramblings Trump said America* was a laughing stock.

Not quite yet, Donald. Not quite yet.

But if you are elected President the US will not only have become a laughing stock overnight; it will have removed itself from the status of a serious nation and be seriously weakened as a result. Far from making America great again it will diminish it hugely. You can not have someone with the character traits of a narcissist in charge of a country’s diplomacy. Especially when that country is the most important in the world and whose actions may impact on allies and potential foes alike. (I shudder at the thought of any such person being in charge of the nuclear launch codes.)

US citizens might say their election is none of my business. To that I would reply “no annihilation without representation”.

A former US President once used the phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Good advice; especially the “speak softly” part.

*Don’t you just love that appropriation of a whole two continents’ name to a polity which occupies only a small portion of its landmass?

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