Monday, June 27, 2016
When Americans looked at World War 2 Europe, what they saw was a continent addicted to war where protection from tyranny took a barely material second place to what was clearly a wholly discredited nationalism. When Americans tried to understand why war was second nature to Europeans they concluded that Europe was fatally flawed by its inability to move past its narrowly regimented ethnocentric national interest. And so the Marshall Plan (before it became overtaken by the Cold War) was the first volley fired in the war on the bellicosity of European chauvinism and towards the creation of a supranational union that would bind all the old enemies into one united super-state.
It has been observed that Europeans and those people of the ‘old world’ viewed strategic decision making based on their history. It was backward facing and unsuited to resolving its own issues without recourse to violence. The USA had a mere few hundreds of years of history to proclaim, so it made its own future, based on imagination and idealism. It is here that its entrepreneurial spirit was nurtured.
This forward looking approach is the reason that Israelis and Americans are usually vilified in the same breath. Both nations are representatives of the ‘new world’ - implicit in the name is a rejection of the old ways and its tainted history.
Both nations have been forced into defensive or offensive positions by their ideological enemies. Both are yet to come to terms with the ‘old world’ reality which is an intellectual incapacity to learn from history. The question is not whether a clash of civilizations can be appeased (because it cannot) but how and whether, mutually exclusive ambitions are capable of reconciliation?
If the over-arching principle that drives the USA is safeguarding its national political institutions, the subsequent failure to protect human rights is a fundamental failure of strategic understanding. It should be noted that Britain is similarly deluded in its approach to tyranny. Without a philosophical commitment to freedom for all, political liberty may be used as the means by which tyranny spreads and infects the body of the nation. Like a microbial infestation, fascism, which is the application of tyranny, honors no borders. Universal human rights can only be possible if they are equally understood and crucially, applied equally. Without certain fundamental rules of engagement (see next paragraph), political liberty is little more than a vehicle used to expedite fascism which in this case signifies both a pretense to equal human rights and a particular bias against equal protection before the law. That final conditional inequality undermines society.
The fundamental rules of engagement are the most simple to apply. All people are welcome to take shelter under the cultural umbrella that defines the society into which they have sought refuge, as long as they do not cherry pick what they are willing to accept. Democratic nations are united by the consensus they live out and not by the selective tolerance they provide to people who reject any accommodation with them. Similarly, the so called ‘nanny state’ is created, not by being too caring but by failing to inculcate in everyone a narrative of personal responsibility both towards each other and towards the society they share.
According to Michael B. Oren the refusal to accept responsibility is the largest single obstacle to fostering democracy and forging peaceful co-existence between peoples of different backgrounds. (‘New Essays on Zionism’ 2006)
Zionism is the Jewish right to self-determination. Its failure was that in its wider utopian Universalist naivety it did not appreciate the opposing Muslim theological narrative of religious triumphalism and an Arab conquest narrative that was (and remains to this day) inextricably intertwined with Islamic identity, revanchism and a need to sow discord among its competitors and ideological enemies. Again, Michael Oren expresses this well when he says: “Islam developed during a period when Muslims ruled most of the civilized world” therefore “Islam harbors no misgivings regarding power – the attainment of power is incumbent on every individual Muslim. Arab Muslims thus have a problem with a palpably powerful Jewish State.” – ibid
Zionism’s failure to understand the hegemonic nature of Islamic society should have served as a lesson for Europe’s enthusiastic proponents of integration and unity. In Britain, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (Trevor Phillips OBE) publicly decried multiculturalism claiming it was out of date and legitimized what divided communities rather than encouraging what united them.
Israel does need to fight harder against the coercive, voluntary segregation of culturally disparate (Arab and ultra-orthodox) communities. Michael Oren proposes that we flag-waivers for Zionism bear a weighty responsibility “to prove to ourselves, and the world that the phrase ‘Jewish State’ is not in fact a contradiction in terms……(to shoulder) the responsibilities of reconciling our heritage with our sovereignty, our strength with our compassion, and our will to survive with our desire to inspire others.” – ibid
Put another way, Zionism must show its equal benefits to all its communities so that the compulsion to embrace it becomes not just 9 till 5 but 24-7.
For the USA it is free markets and open borders, where liberal values are a means to an end (social and economic comfort). People who are comfortable do not go out of their way to kill each other (unless they are political or theological sociopaths). Prosperity should be the end result of a free market economy. However, like all absolutes, theory and reality are dependent on the strength of human laws to hold back the darker ambitions of human nature: greed, peoples’ blind passion for being right all of the time (which inevitably means that they are wrong most of the time) and peoples hunger for exercising power over others.
Neither restraint nor intellectual pluralism is the modus operandi of a missionary faith or of a zealous political ideology. Communism is a political ideology with many of the attributes of an embryonic religious faith. ‘Progressives’ and others on the extreme left of the political spectrum inevitably share aspects of fascism. They include intolerance (they will mask it as ‘zeal’) for any world-view that has not been sanctioned by their political bible, vigorous attempts to ostracize those people who disagree with them and their tactics, and, proscription for any counter-narrative. The gauleiter of the secular Inquisition thus ensures the right to free speech is no more than a delusion, a basic right that is only enjoyed by his or her followers.
American and Israeli Exceptionalism have at their (separate but connected) heart and soul a Universalism that has the potential to benefit all of humankind. It is only through intelligent engagement and careful language that their shared idealism can be demonstrably proven correct, serving as a light unto the nations of the world.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
We will soon be voting on whether to remain members of the grand European project or to leave it. I present below some observations.
Britain is currently the world's fifth largest economy based on total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – Britain’s GDP currently stands at $2.8 trillion. The list below (at least in terms of relative position) agrees with the World Bank, UN and CIA world Factbook position on global GDP trends.
IMF World GDP Ranking 2015
GDP (Millions of US$)
World trade declined 1.7% in the first three months of 2016. It is this trend that is the main threat to British prosperity and not the hysterical projection of BREXIT proposed by champions of the Remain campaign.
The reverse projection, bumper growth, would put Britain on course to become the world's fourth largest economic powerhouse ahead of an ageing Japan and Germany in the 2030s, according to the Centre for Economic & Business Research’s latest world economic league table. The total cash value of the UK economy will grow to around $4.7 trillion by 2031, but is expected to be quickly overtaken by Brazil in fourth spot by the 2040s.
That is if we place our trust in economic star-gazing.
The UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world. 44% of our exports go to the EU. However, the EU benefits from maintaining a healthy economic relationship with us to a far greater degree. Britain in the year ending 2015 had a £68 billion trade deficit with the EU. So no, the European Union is not going to threaten us with dire consequences when the potential material damage would be far worse for them than for us.
Europe is declining in financial importance while Asia and South America are ascendant. The EU currently represents about 20% of Global trade but that percentage is declining. It is estimated that in the future the EU will be no more than 10% of the global economy. The EU has no trade deals with the worlds’ largest economy (the USA). Nor does the EU have trade deals with Brazil, India, Australia, or China. If we left the EU we would remain its biggest single export market.
We are a net contributor to the EU budget (we give Europe £10.1 billion per year more than we receive from Europe). The Remain campaign focuses on the £350 million that the exit campaigners remind us, is sent to Brussels bureaucrats every week, to be spent by unelected European politicians. They aren’t entirely straight with us. We receive in terms of university, research and agricultural grants (amongst other items) £156 million per week from the European Union. That still leaves Britain with a net figure of £194 million per week haemorrhaging from British coffers. This is where the excess payment figure of £10.1 billion originates.
I do not have a principled objection to paying money into an integrated Europe except that Europe is neither integrated nor is it unified towards one purpose. I will explain.
A friend of mine is a keen cyclist who likes to follows the route of the Tour de France on his bicycle. He does cycling trips around Europe. On his trips to Spain he has observed that there are entire stretches of A-class road that he and his friends would cycle along where they would not see a single car, often for many kilometers. The hundreds of millions of Euros those roads cost to build across Spain were simply the visual manifestation ‘proving’ the power and influence of corrupt local Spanish politicians. There was no local benefit to their construction, there was certainly no regional or national purpose served by their planning and implementation.
What those empty, meandering roads epitomized were the corruption as well as the greed at the heart of the current European project. That attitude we know from history is core to any project or grand historical scheme benefiting entrenched tribes or factions usually at the expense of some other tribe or faction. The issue the EU faces today is that there is no accountability and no public recognition that anything is wrong.
The reluctance to forego any diminution of its own financial benefit is the big problem killing the EU – corruption facilitates decline, it does not engender democracy, human rights or world peace. Corruption creates national bottlenecks that embitter the losing faction (the ones missing out on all those truckloads of cash). ‘Priorities’ may be significant for one nation but completely insignificant for another.
The EU, if it is to successfully pool its resources and focus on integration of all of its citizens has lots of questions it is not even beginning to discuss. For instance: If countries have entirely different pension or taxation policies then their individual cost and revenue streams are going to be always out of synchronization with each other. Inequality breeds exploitation and resentment. If the people in each country in the union do not enjoy the same opportunities then the basis for a stable relationship does not exist. Good governance is measured by equality of risk. That also means however that in order for the EU to succeed it must have fiscal integration as an end target and that requires uniformity of fiscal policy. Without it, the perception of institutionalized corruption will continue to drag down the EU project. Shouldn’t we be addressing those issues?
In the United States of America there are 50 states and the District of Colombia. Only the federal government is permitted to run a deficit while individual states are forbidden to do so. But then, the EU is not a federated system but a confederation. The difference is crucial. A confederation is a union of States individually maintaining primary sovereignty over their affairs while devolving some authority to the central bureaucracy. In a federation, primary sovereignty is given to the central government which exercises control over every member state in areas defined by but not exclusively including the military, diplomatic relations and the economy.
The predicament of the EU is that political unity means having a single army, a single currency and unified border controls. The contradictions that define a confederation make it inherently too weak to maintain the union and too conflicted to bring about the equality that is needed to unify its separate units. In order to work the European Union has to be an integrated i.e. a federated entity.
If the European Union is working towards a federated, possibly even a two tier unity then it explains the Incrementalism which is fundamental to current EU policy. But because of the inherent dishonesty within this approach the EU must be reformed and this reform is not liable to happen under current conditions where the debate over intentions has not even started.
In one lecture I attended (with thanks to Professor Brendan Simms) it was proposed that Europe was not a club that many were clambering to join but a shared destiny. “Europe is Greece, Rome and the Enlightenment” (apologies but I don’t know who said this). The rejection of enlightenment principles (some Eastern European nations as well as Turkey have little experience of the Enlightenment) means that common interests are not always the reason for joining. Turkey understands the union as a confederation rather than as a union so it can never agree to fulfill all of the conditions of full membership. It is on record as having repeatedly reminded Turkish expatriates that their primary loyalty is to Turkey and that they must not integrate into their host society (going so far as to threaten those people who stand aside from the Turkish nation).
People are selected for a European political sinecure as a means of rewarding them for past service to their party or as a means of ridding the party of an individual who has become a political liability or embarrassment. Direct elections to the European parliament and for top jobs in the European Commission would enhance the prestige of the European Parliament; it would also herald in an era of political transparency and accountability. Both are necessary for a healthy democracy to remain so and entirely missing from the current European project.
Brendan Simms pointed out that Poland in 1717 and the Holy Roman Empire (in 1806) disappeared because they could not reform. Contrast this with The 1707 Act of Union which consolidated power in the United Kingdom and similarly the USA in the 1780’s. Both created frameworks for unity and a common identity guaranteed by the power wielded by centralized authority.
“There was a pharaoh and he knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1.8) this refers to the arrival of a new Egyptian king who did not know Joseph or his generation of immigrant workers. The textual reference to forgetting Joseph raises questions about the extent to which oppression is linked to a minority group's involvement in, and commitment to the larger society. But it also raises questions about the historical tensions between host societies and their guest workers/immigrants and the fears, whether rational or not that makes the debate so difficult to present.
Simms said that the World War 2 generation are dead and even their children are in the 70’s (at the very least). What happens when they forget the war? The German people are still very embarrassed by it. But is it not relevant that Poland, Germany, Greece and France have all got significant voting populations that have embraced the National Front? I will just point out some of the other countries with recent electoral results below.
The Swiss People’s party is a right wing, populist, political party and the largest party in the Swiss Federal Assembly. It is also Eurosceptic. In Denmark’s general election in 2015 the Danish People’s Party (described by the media as right and far-right wing) secured 21% of the vote; in Hungary, the far-right Jobbik Party (described as radical nationalist) won over 20% of the parliamentary vote. In Austria the Freedom Party polled 49.7% of the vote on 22nd May 2016. Norbert Hofer came within 0.6% of being elected President of Austria. His party, founded after WW2 by “former” Nazis is nationalist and anti-immigration, its credentials are toxic.
Throughout Europe, nations are not rejecting greater union; they are fighting an identity crisis they do not see being adequately addressed by their political elite. The issue of immigration and refugee absorption are part of the debate over European identity that again, is being ignored because the issues they raise are apparently too complex for our simple brains to comprehend.
It is this disrespect that politicians and bureaucrats have for us all that is at the heart of the rise of fascism in Britain and throughout Europe.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
How to examine the issue of our European identity and Britain’s current campaign to decide on whether we stay in Europe or Leave it?
The EU has held up identity politics as a means of empowering minorities at the expense of the majority. The EU in its current form has marginalized the working classes, impoverishing successive generations of the poor. Given the extremely high unemployment position of European youth (the EU average is 19.4% as at February 2016) it is not surprising that traditional fascism is once more on the march.
Britain has betrayed the working classes, effectively reneging on its commitment to narrowing the gap between the classes. In Britain, since 1976 there has been a continuous deterioration in the position of the lower classes vis-à-vis the middle to upper classes. Since 1976 every British parliament has recorded progressively fewer MPs who were not educated within the private school system. We have been told that only the ‘lower classes’ vote to leave - so now it is a simple class issue and we can assume the implication that ‘they’ should stay ‘down’ in their ‘rightful place’.
So are immigration and economics the only vital issues in the debate? Must our vote on the 23rd of June be based on these two issues? There are many issues causing unease within society. Unless we are able to discuss them all without fear of being labeled something we are not then all we are going to receive are insults and platitudes, and that is the summation of the debating tactics of both sides.
The half-truths thrown about by both sides of the Brexit campaign have helped to discredit the campaign. We are told that leaving will destroy much of the nations’ wealth and bring to an end our comfortable way of life. We have even been told a Brexit could precipitate a World War. The one constant of this campaign has been the contempt demonstrated by all parties to the debate. Former Prime Minister, Sir John Major described Boris Johnson as a likeable man and a court jester. Lord Stuart Rose who is fronting efforts to keep Britain in the EU dropped a bombshell when he admitted to a group of MPs’, big business favors membership of the EU because it is depressing British wages. (Daily Express Mar 3, 2016). The corollary is that a Brexit would boost British workers' wages. The truth is that a Brexit would cut off employer access to an unimpeded and excessive flow of cheap labor.
It sounds bizarre that no-one has criticized the low level of debate. Our politicians and business leaders, panels of experts and the unions, across the board they have all been guilty of engaging in a campaign of mendacity, half–truths sold as gospel and derision universally waged against opponents.
This has not just been a dirty campaign, it has been a campaign that has assumed we are all either too stupid or too greedy to listen to any intelligent debate.
Binary prejudice is the idea that we are blind to anything that does not fit into neat dualistic categories defined by the most vocal or forceful group within society. It sounds like something that could explain why our politicians and business leaders treat us so badly.
Something is or is not and there is no room for shades of colour. It is the simplistic argument of an uncomplicated, more brutal era. It is not that old hatreds are returning; in many people they never went away but simmered with malevolent patience just below the surface; a veneer of civility and calm. And then we are made to feel guilty that arguments over immigration are just about prejudice, when they are not. Society has lost its post World War 2 inhibitions which prevented the bigot from expressing their prejudices or acting out their fantasies. Partly as a consequence of this renewed nihilism we are witnessing a return to the expression of many of our old fears. Our security is conditioned on practicing a McCarthyistic mantra (in the UK it is mostly left of centre but in much of Europe, fascism is also emphatically right-wing). An unintended consequence of our appeasement of Islamism has been that it has encouraged both bloodshed and prejudice. Of greater threat to the stability of society, it has led to a lack of credibility in government’s willingness to protect the people. And that is a fundamental break in the social contract that is at the centre of modern government. When government does not acknowledge or address people’s fears over the personal threat that extremism creates, a direct consequence is the counter-radicalism response.
Economic and physical insecurity has returned and we have also lost our moral compass. But are we that different to the Europeans many of us want separation from or are we all assumed to be equally stupid?
We have lost our way and a simple example proves it:
On the 5th of June 2016 the Swiss government ran a referendum which proposed providing every person with a basic income as a constitutional right. Put another way, it proposed paying all its unemployable citizens a wage for life. Switzerland argued that recognizing some jobs as having ‘disappeared’ meant that society was responsible for not financially penalizing the ‘unemployable.’ The resolution was defeated by a margin of over 3:1 (76.9% against to 23.1% for).
23% of people voted in favor and many who voted against it would have done so from personal greed only!
Maimonides was a Sephardi philosopher, astronomer, Rabbi and physician who lived from 1135-8 to 1204. He proposed ten levels of charity, of which the highest level (and therefore the greatest act of charity) was that a man (or woman) gave a fellow human being the means by which they could support themselves and their family. If in the name of globalization we have lost that Maimonidean understanding of human dignity as the Swiss surely have, then truly, our society has lost its way. It is the obligation of society to care for its people. It is not a national right for a nation to right-off its vulnerable members of society, either by ignoring them or by paying them off.
If Europe is not just a club but part of our shared destiny then it is an integrationist enterprise which will one day come about through full fiscal union, creeping legal annexation and the final act of creation - a federal European super-state. Policy will then be imposed: with federal diktat from the top and local negotiation on implementation passed down to national parliaments. Am I exaggerating this scenario?
In the three year period 2011-2014 66% of laws and 67% of new offences enacted in the UK parliament came from the Council of Ministers (European Commission). This Incrementalism is fundamental to EU integration on a policy level. The issue not being debated is that without political transparency and accountability the EU is travelling at speed down a path to becoming no better than one more corrupt dictatorship.
The EU is incapable of reforming itself without a serious scare (which a Brexit would provide). That is something we should have been discussing. The EU has a vision – that shared destiny I referred to earlier. We are not discussing any of the issues that arise out of that vision. We are not dealing with any of the issues that have always confronted human society because they are both philosophical and political construction (and politics is by its nature, prejudiced). To discuss anything in practice would mean getting our metaphorical hands dirty. Far easier to speak in generalities and leave the detail to future generations.
This is the real reason everyone in the debate is being so coy about the question of our relationship to the European Union.
If no nation can stand alone then what are the real differences between remaining in Europe and leaving the Union (given that even then we will be enormously impacted by our relationship with the EU)?
The issues are of huge importance and yet all anyone has done so far is to insult us and to attempt to scare us without attempting to provide any serious discussion of the pertinent issues. The one thing we know with certainty is that all predictions are forecasts and therefore not factual but based on personal bias.