Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Case Against the EU

The response of the European Union to the 2007-9 global crisis lacked democratic solidarity, protection of individual rights and social renewal, exposing starkly the lack of proper democracy in the EU. Its forms of democracy were generally observed but not the content of them, and even the forms were sidelined by emergency measures.

National electorates had a free choice of whom they wanted in their parliaments but the parties thus elected had no freedom to choose their economic or social policies in response. Big business and big banks used an army of lobbyists to set the political agenda in Brussels and thus the equivalent policies by national governments. The electorate, especially the working class and those deprived of work, as well as small business owners, found themselves deprived of any voice in how they were governed—how they wanted to respond to the crisis.

Liberal democracy everywhere seemed blind to its own erosion, but the working class directly experienced the hardships of neoliberal EU policies which they had no means of influencing. The proletariat experience was that of a growing awareness of their loss of sovereignty, the issue that had motivated British trade unions, many in the Labour Party, and bold spokespeople like Tony Benn, to oppose the referendum of 1975 to Remain in the EEC—as the EU was then—after Heath had taken us in with no reference to the people's wishes.

Popular sovereignty is the working people and small business owners that rely on them having some influence on their living and working conditions. In ensuring the real participation of the lower class, liberal democracy has always been deficient and social democrats also failed to notice it. It has led to a growing sense of despair and powerlessness among poor workers who had seen their jobs and communities disappear. This was the cause of the mass protest visible in the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum. To ignore that protest will only exaggerate their despair, and lead to the response often seen in the last century, and increasingly today in the European Union—fascism.

The decline of democracy and loss of sovereignty indicate the shift the EU was intended to generate in favour of capital and against labour, leading to a escalating insecurity of employment, income, health care, social provision,pensions, etc. Meanwhile capitalists rapaciously appropriated national wealth, thereby vastly increasing inequality. These trends were happening throughout the capitalist world ever since Thatcher and Reagan had made greed and therefore neoliberalism respectable, but the EU with its "Social Chapter" conjured by Jacques Delors to persuade workers and particularly trade unions to get onside—and succeeding—rather than trying to counter inequality failed adequately to confront its own crises—like that of the Eurozone—continued to favour capital and worsened labour conditions, wages and social action needed to mitigate the problems.

On top of these systemic failures of the EU caused by its self inflicted legal obligations to favour competition, the migrant crisis—exacerbated by the US and Nato's military bullying of nations in the Middle East and North Africa—gave right wing, fascist and cryptofascist forces a perfect excuse to spread fear of a threat of alien hordes taking over white peoples' countries in Europe. Islam was again posited as the historic enemy of Christian Europe. It was an ideal excuse for the right to claim to be the guardians of national sovereignty as guardians of Christian Europe and claim popular leadership on all matter political.

Yet in the UK, for long a multicultural country with a national fondness for foreign food—Indian, Chinese, Italian—the fear was not of the Asian or African refugees so much as the impoverished workers from Eastern Europe entering because it was one of the EU's Four Freedoms, that of free movement, whereby these poor people were willing to undercut the wages and conditions of those working people here who were already suffering poverty and deprivation themselves. The aim of the free movement clauses of the four freedoms set in the concrete of EU law is precisely to boost capital at the expense of labour by the legal enforcement of the right of poor Poles, Rumanians and others to move to wealthier countries in Europe to undercut local wages and conditions, thereby cutting capital costs and maximising profits.

Those of us on the Left advocating leaving the EU do so because it cannot be a liberal--meaning free and fair—democracy when it is conditioned by immovable pro-capital, pro-competition laws built into the roots of its legal structures. It is "neoliberal", a modern economic ideology hearking back to Adam Smith's description of early capitalism in "The Wealth of Nations", but devoid of Smith's precautions. Smith considered Liberal to refer to the freedom of the bourgeoisie—the capitalist class—to do as it liked economically. Neoliberalism differs from it in that the precautions that Smith foresaw as needed in liberal capitalism—because it could be foolishly rapacious and potentially unstable, needing those limits to be placed upon it by the otherwise liberal state—could be bypassed and just applied in exceptional circumstances. Marx went much further in the next century, explaining that the intrinsic instability of capitalism meant that it could not be permanently managed. It was a sort of house of cards that could be built with care, and repaired to a degree, but ultimately would collapse. The periodic crises we find in capitalism are the equivalent of a few cards falling out of place and needing attention, but eventually there will be a terminal crisis leading to social revolution and socialism, often preceded by imperialist wars to grab the resources of other people like a burglar robbing a house when needing fresh funds.

These crises keep happening but so far the capitalist class, with the aid of its lackeys in government, have been able to avoid the collapse except in certain circumstances where the might of world capitalism us subsequently exerted by sanctions or military intervention to overthrow the revolution. So neoliberalism ultimately is a synonym for blatant capitalism and has little or nothing to do with what most people would understand as "liberal". Of course, the Liberal Party is capitalist as was New Labour, the remnants of which are still in the Parliamentary Labour Party and doing their utmost to stop us from leaving the EU.

Germany is the ascendant member of the EU, initially making use of its industrial leadership and favourable trade balance to become the EU's creditor nation, enabling it to force EU debtor countries to accept internally oppressive policies like market liberalism and austerity as conditions of its financial bail-outs—Greece being the archetypal example. Such adverse practices causing income maldistribution and weak demand, impacting on our high streets, is a consequence of the devotion of the EU to its capitalist and neoliberal bases in the treaties. Governments have to try to solve the crises in the interests of capital and competition at the expense of labour and the social policies that could mitigate the effects. Of course, the proper answer is to reject neoliberalism all together, as the Corbyn led Labour Party proposed to do, but for which an exit from the neoliberal restraints of the EU is essential. The social democratic attitude within the EU is precisely what is not needed—and the reason for its rapid decline—as exemplified by Martin Schulz, leader of the German Social Democratic Party in 2017 who argued that austerity could be stopped and national investment promoted by aiming to have a fully federal United States of Europe by 2025 (achieving what Hitler in Germany and his henchman Moseley in Britain wanted before the last war). As if to emphasise the EU attitude to democracy, he wanted to expel member states who opposed his plan. The UK could still be the first if leavers refuse to accept the establishment bullying and propagandising that has saturated the country in the three years since the decision was taken.

The social democratic left in the UK seem to hold similar views to Schulz, defending the EU in the name of socialist internationalism. They imagine the EU offers simply a neutral structure of union government and administration able to adopt and apply any policies based on their merits. The EU is, to repeat it yet again, structured in law to favour capital and obstruct labour. Inasmuch as this means industrial capital, it is the German industrial capitalists who benefit. The EU is beyond left wing reform. The notion that some campaign to co-ordinate left wing governments in enough countries simultaneously so that they can enforce a programme of anti-neoliberalism is utter fantasy, for even if it happened, restructuring the Eu would still be an almost insuperable problem. It is not in the least likely because the "democracy" of the EU is designed to make it essentially impossible. What is possible is to leave!

The democratic deficit of the EU is the reason for the popularity of the right wing authoritarian parties across Europe. The paradox is that the EU's own authoritarianism would suit them, if they were able to control the EU bureaucracy. To counter this menace the policies hitherto proposed by the Corbyn government need to be followed, and real socialist internationalism would be to use them to influence the left across Europe, whose own leaders have sold out to neoliberalism. These are policies to favour labour, strengthen democracy, regain sovereignty, and offer socialist rather than purely capitalist recipes for change could be spread from a successful implementation here.

In short the left must reject capitalist conformity and recapture its traditional radicalism. Not to do so leaves that field open to the bogus offerings of the ultra right and cryptofascists to gain even more strength from popular support, only to turn to their real masters, the capitalists and their militarists, once they believe the left has been out maneouvred and the working class have been conned.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Standing by Venezuela and Why!

Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, and their movement in Venezuela, are characterized as socialist demagogic authoritarians who have brought the country to economic disaster. Complaints about authoritarianism and the quashing of dissent ring hollow when the US just conducted a major sales deal with Saudi Arabia, a repressive monarchy that only months ago had one of its most prominent critics, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in Turkey.

Never mind the “Lost Decade” of the 1980s or the extensive corruption scandals of the 1990s, creating the breakdown that made the rise of Chavez possible. Pre-Chavez Venezuela is presented as stable and prosperous, and while it was before the 1980s, most of its population lived in poverty like most capitalist countries in the underdeveloped world, while only a privileged few enjoyed the benefits of the country’s oil riches. Chavez’s cardinal crime was to direct those riches toward helping the poor, which even his critics admit he did.

The real victims here are the ordinary people of Venezuela. Whether Maduro goes or stays, the classes at war within the country will not be pacified, especially with the US stoking the fires until it gets the outcome it wants: a return to the plunder of Venezuelan resources to fuel US industries while most Venezuelans wallow in misery.

A Reuters news article on 1 February said that the US, Canada and several Latin American governments claim Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro “stole his second-term election” in May 2018. It’s worth recalling that, in Brazil, the election of fascist Jair Bolsonaro was recognized by the governments that now refuse to recognize Maduro, even though former Brazilian president Lula da Silva (who would have had a superb chance to win) was disqualified and imprisoned based on extremely dubious corruption allegations. Moreover, unlike Capriles and López, da Silva was not involved with several US-backed efforts to violently overthrow the government.

The allegation Maduro stole the election doesn’t make sense. It is remarkable to see the Western media dismiss this election as “fraudulent”, without even attempting to show that it was “stolen” from Falcón. Perhaps that’s because it so clearly wasn’t stolen. Yet Trump and a new Iraq-style Coalition of the Willing have recognized an opposition legislator--Juan Guaidó--as Venezuela’s interim president.

Guaidó didn’t even run in Venezuela’s May 2018 presidential election. In fact, shortly before the election, Guaidó was not even mentioned by the opposition-aligned pollster Datanálisis, the opposition-aligned pollster the international media has cited the most for nearly two decades, when it published approval ratings of various prominent opposition leaders. According to Venezuelan pollster Datanálisis before the election. Henri Falcón, a well known politician and former two-term governor of the Lara state (2008-2017), was tied with López for top stop in popularity among opposition leaders, and actually did run in the election (defying US threats against him). Falcón finished a very distant second in that election, over four million votes (47%) behind Maduro. Nobody has shown or even attempted to show that any votes, never mind millions of votes, were stolen from Falcón.

In Venezuela’s electoral system, any amount of ballot stuffing is detectable in any contested election. That’s why, in 2012, Jimmy Carter said the electoral system was the best in the world. That soundness of the electoral system helps to explain the vitriol Falcón received from other Maduro opponents over his decision to run in the election. US officials threatened Falcón with sanctions if he ran. During the campaign, one of Falcón’s top advisors became exasperated enough to publicly ask the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Guaidó’s party) to “stop spreading lies” that a secret pact existed between Maduro and Falcón. Ballot stuffing aside, an election can be grossly unfair in other ways. Much was made about two prominent opposition candidates who were disqualified from running--Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles.

Was Falcón denied access to media coverage during the election? No. He and his economic advisor, Francisco Rodríguez, travelled all over the country and appeared on Venezuela’s top private TV networks, where they lashed out at Maduro. In fact, Falcón launched his campaign with a 35-minute speech on Venezuelan state TV, in which he skewered Maduro as the “hunger candidate” who had turned the people into impoverished “slaves”.

After Falcón lost, he then insisted on a new vote, despite having passionately urged people to vote because he had obtained electoral guarantees. The election was moved back by a month as demanded. His allegation was that the government had bribed voters at puntos rojos (tents set up near electoral centers which are used for exit polling). But there are gaping holes in that story:
1. votes are secret in Venezuela, so offers of a chance at a prize or other inducements at these puntos rojos can, at best, increase turnout, but not the government’s share of the vote;
2. there were four different groups of observers who monitored the election, and they concluded it was clean. Their reports are available;
3. economic sanctions and threats by the US government were a massive attempt to sway the electorate--to send the message that voting for Maduro will bring intensified economic sanctions (which, in addition to being illegal, were already killing people). This US interference in Venezuela’s election makes a joke of the alleged Russian collusion with Trump in the 2016 presidential election that has received so much frenzied media attention.

So why wasn’t Falcón "recognized" by Trump? What’s the argument for Trump anointing Guaidó? The US recognizes the 2015 national assembly election won by the opposition, as it would have recognized the 2018 presidential election had Falcón won. And part of article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution says that if the president “abandons” his post, the president of the national assembly takes over until new elections are held. Guaidó was very recently named the national assembly president. The constitutional argument that Trump and his accomplices have used to “recognize” Guaidó rests on the preposterous claim that Maduro has “abandoned” the presidency by soundly beating Falcón in the election. Caracas-based journalist Lucas Koerner took apart that argument in more detail. But, Maduro did not "abandon" the presidency by soundly beating Henri Falcón in a clean election that was marred, if anything, by murderous US interference. It’s also clear that Trump (and his Iraq-style "coalition of the willing" to oust Maduro) is not Venezuela’s Supreme Court.

What about the Miami Herald‘s claim that Maduro “continues to reject international aid”? In November 2018, following a public appeal by Maduro, the UN did authorize emergency aid for Venezuela. It was even reported by Reuters (11/26/18), whose headlines have often broadcast the news agency’s contempt for Maduro’s government. It’s not unusual for Western media to ignore facts they have themselves reported when a major “propaganda blitz” by Washington is underway against a government. For example, it was generally reported accurately in 1998 that UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq ahead of air strikes ordered by Bill Clinton, not expelled by Iraq’s government. But by 2002, it became a staple of pro-war propaganda that Iraq had expelled weapons inspectors.

And, incidentally, when a Venezuelan NGO requested aid from the UN-linked Global Fund in 2017, it was turned down. Setting aside how effective foreign aid is at all (the example of Haiti hardly makes a great case for it), it is supposed to be distributed based on relative need, not based on how badly the US government wants somebody overthrown. But the potential for “aid” to alleviate Venezuela’s crisis is negligible compared to the destructive impact of US economic sanctions. Near the end of Wyss’ article, he cited an estimate from the thoroughly demonized Venezuelan government that US sanctions have cost it $30 billion, with no time period specified for that estimate.

The Miami Herald could have cited economists independent of the Maduro government on the impact of US sanctions—like US economist Mark Weisbrot, or the emphatically anti-Maduro Venezuelan economist, Francisco Rodríguez. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the US will freeze Venezuelan assets and block oil payments for Venezuelan oil imports to the US. This would not only be illegal, but would also be yet another crippling blow to the country, says co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)’s Mark Weisbrot

Economist Francisco Rodriguez, who’s the economist who probably knows the Venezuelan economy better than anyone in the world-–he’s chief economist at Torino Capital, a Wall Street investment banking firm, and he had estimated that the economy would shrink 11 percent a year, but upped that to 26 per cent shrinkage of the economy this year, which is Great Depression levels. It would destroy what’s left of the economy, and it would kill a lot of people. The embargo has already killed many Venezuelans, because this is the source of dollars for the Venezuelan economy, and that’s what’s used to import medicines. You know, when when the government had money there were about $2 billion worth of medicines being imported, and the sanctions already took $6 billion out of oil production. And this would knock off about, again, the decision to recognize the parallel government would knock about half of their oil revenue off over the next year. So the numbers we’re talking about are enormous. They’re basically all the remaining imports that the country could have. So for sure that will kill a lot of people if they actually do it.

It’s all illegal, of course. The sanctions that Trump imposed in August of 2017, or you can go back further to the Obama sanctions in March of 2015, the sanctions have always been illegal under the OAS Charter, under the UN Charter, under the treaties that the US has, various international conventions that the US is a party to. And also under US law, because the president has to state in order to impose these sanctions in the executive orders going back to 2015, both Obama and Trump, have had to say that, under our law, that Venezuela poses an unusual and extraordinary threat. To the national security of the United States, which everyone knows is false. And so on that basis it’s really not even legal under US law, because the president is stating something false in order to comply with the law.

What can they do to without some help from other countries?--what can they do to make up for this kind of terrible blow to the economy? That’s the purpose of it. You know, for the past year or two, or more, there has been this narrative in the media that all of this is directed to pressure the Maduro government, the Venezuelan government, to do certain things. Now, the latest has been to hold new elections. Previously it was other demands.

But this was never true. The purpose has always been to increase the suffering in Venezuela to the point where the government’s popularity falls so much that the military intervenes, or somehow, through violence, the government is overthrown. That’s the–that’s the actual strategy. And it’s, of course, become much clearer now.

The international context is very important. It’s important for people to understand, because the media narrative is kind of a clash of civilizations narrative. On the one side you have this so-called authoritarian government in Venezuela, and you have China, and Russia, and Turkey recognizing the government. And then you have the so-called democratic countries. But the Latin American countries that are aligned with the US are almost all right-wing governments that are doing what the US wants.

And in Europe it’s very interesting, too, because you have now Germany, and France, and the UK, and Spain all with this ultimatum, this eight-day ultimatum. And this was the result of one person, the prime minister of Spain, who some of the other countries, especially Germany, tend to follow on Latin America. Pedro Sanchez, who was opposed to the Trump sanctions, decided to go over to the Trump side. Who knows what the pressure was, or what they offered him.

This is really kind of a coalition of the willing, as in the Iraq war. It’s not this clash of civilizations at all that’s presented in the media. And if you go back to 2013, you can really see this. Because in 2013, Maduro won the election, and there was absolutely no doubt about it whatsoever. No doubt about the vote count, no doubt about the election. And everyone in the world recognized it, except the United States. And at that time they had just the right-wing government of Spain and the head of the OAS. And then those two peeled off, and it was only the US by itself saying this election was not valid and the president was not legitimate. And that–and then they had to give in.

So you see, even when the whole world recognized the election, the US tried to side with the opposition, who was in the streets with violent protests, trying to topple the government even though there were no doubts about the election whatsoever. So this is just–this shows you how fake the whole thing really is. It has nothing to do with elections, or democracy, or this clash of civilizations that they’re creating. It’s just about the same regime change that they’ve been trying to do for 17 years.

Illegal US sanctions were first imposed in 2015 under a fraudulent “state of emergency” declared by Obama, and subsequently extended by Trump. The revenue lost to Venezuela’s government due to US economic sanctions since August 2017, when the impact became very easy to quantify, is by now well over $6 billion. That’s enormous in an economy that was only able to import about $11 billion of goods in 2018, and needs about $2 billion per year in medicines. Trump’s “recognition” of Guaidó as “interim president” was the pretext for making the already devastating sanctions much worse. Last month, Francisco Rodríguez revised his projection for the change in Venezuela’s real GDP in 2019, from an 11 percent contraction to 26 percent, after the intensified sanctions were announced.

The $20 million in US “aid” that the Miami Herald is outraged Maduro won’t let in is a rounding error compared to the billions already lost from Trump’s sanctions. Former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield, who pressed for more sanctions on Venezuela, dispensed with the standard “humanitarian” cover that US officials have offered for them:
“And if we can do something that will bring that end quicker, we probably should do it, but we should do it understanding that it’s going to have an impact on millions and millions of people who are already having great difficulty finding enough to eat, getting themselves cured when they get sick, or finding clothes to put on their children before they go off to school. We don’t get to do this and pretend as though it has no impact there. We have to make the hard decision—the desired outcome justifies this fairly severe punishment." (Intercept, 2/10/19)

How does this gruesome candor get missed by reporters, and go unreported? Speaking of “severe punishment”, if the names John Bolton and Elliott Abrams don’t immediately call to mind the punishment they should be receiving for crimes against humanity, it illustrates how well the Western propaganda system functions. Bolton, a prime facilitator of the Iraq War, recently suggested that Maduro could be sent to a US-run torture camp in Cuba. Abrams played a key role in keeping US support flowing to mass murderers and torturers in Central America during the 1980s. Also significant that Abrams, brought in by Trump to help oust Maduro, used “humanitarian aid” as cover to supply weapons to the US-backed Contra terrorists in Nicaragua.

In the Miami Herald, the use of US “aid” for military purposes is presented as another allegation made by the vilified Venezuelan president:
“Maduro has repeatedly said the aid is cover for a military invasion and has ordered his armed forces not to let it in, even as food and medicine shortages sweep the country.”

Calling for international aid and being democratically elected will do as little to protect Maduro’s government from US aggression as being disarmed of WMD did to prevent Iraq from being invaded—-unless there is much more pushback from the US public against a lethal propaganda system.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Are we primarily egalitarian or authoritarian?

In 1987, Harvard primatologist, Richard Wrangham, studying how human behaviour relates to that of our closest primate relatives, noticed that as humans, gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees share a recent ancestor and more than 98 percent of their genes, any behaviours these four species of apes shared today must also have been present in their common predecessor about seven million years ago--their“Common Ancestor”.

Wrangham identified social behaviour shared by the four species like social life and attacking others of the same species. But Bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas had hierarchical societies, with often aggressive dominant alpha males. Yet human hunter-gatherers were egalitarian, apparently lacking innate hierarchical communities and any inclination to dominating leaders. Before 10,000 years ago, only essentially egalitarian human societies seemed to have existed on our planet. Human communities were tiny (no more than about 150) with no strong leaders at all. As genomes take at least a thousand generations to change our nature significantly, most human genes have evolved from the genetic makeup of people living in these small Paleolithic bands. Yet today, not only are there fairly egalitarian human societies in the world, but also some people are ruled by despots. Somehow, primitive communism degenerated into a more hierarchical and unequal world.

How could evolution explain these curious and contradictory facts? Our primate relatives are hierarchical but our own ancestors were not, but we seem to have reverted at least partially in recent history. Discoveries in the fields of anthropology and primatology resolved the puzzle because all apes actually resent authority and being bossed around, and will form coalitions to resist it.

Christopher Boehm, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Southern California, suggested that though we may have a deeply rooted instinct to exert power over others, we also have what may be an equally strong aversion to abuses of power, along with some natural tendencies to punish people who commit those abuses.

Boehm surveyed 48 small, nonliterate societies spread across the globe, ranging from small hunting and gathering bands to more sedentary tribes, to see exactly how egalitarian they were, and why. He suggested that with the advent of anatomically modern humans who continued to live in small groups and had not yet domesticated plants and animals (hunter-gatherers), all human societies most likely practised egalitarianism and most of the time successfully--they maintained political parity among adults. Boehm identified the following mechanisms expressing ambivalence towards leaders, anticipation of domination, and countering the dominance hierarchy:
• Public Opinion
• Criticism and Ridicule
• Disobedience
• Extreme Sanctions.

Males who turned into selfish bullies, or even just tried to boss others around were treated brutally, as moral deviants. Because all hunter-gatherers faced bullies or self-aggrandizing political upstarts, and faced them in spite of their strong egalitarianism, if they had not so diligently worked against inequality, they would have turned hierarchical. Boehm wrote:
"As long as followers remain vigilantly egalitarian because they understand the nature of domination and leaders remain cognizant of this ambivalence-based vigilance, deliberate control of leaders may remain for the most part highly routinized and ethnographically unobvious."

So, an urge to dominate is still present in human nature, meaning that to stay egalitarian hunter-gatherers use ostracism, shaming, rejection by the group and sometimes murder to hold down power-hungry upstarts. In other words, by nature today’s hunter-gatherers still incline towards dominating one another, just like the other three species of living apes, and therefore fall in line with other primates, the Common Ancestor and humans all down the evolutionary line. Why then are these primate species with the common ancestor motivated to share power equally though apparently inclined to domination? Boehm's postulate is simply that egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong. It is because the instinct to dominate is accompanied by a natural resentment to submitting to domination.

In a contemporary but undeveloped human hunting band, the upstarts who attempt to dominate the others are dealt with harshly. But both wild and captive male chimpanzees that have been studied extensively are extremely ambitious politically, and will form political coalitions to try to unseat the alpha male. Large coalitions can form in the wild to challenge domineering former alphas and run them out of the community.

Evidence from the other species of apes does not support the notion of inevitably dictatorial hierarchies. A phylogenetic comparison among macaques suggests that despotic dominance styles were likely to have evolved from egalitarian dominance styles. Moreover being the "top dog" is not necessarily enviable. Alpha males suffer from their position. They commonly have higher metabolic rates and higher levels of stress hormones. In wild male baboons, the alpha male experiences high levels of both testosterone and glucocorticoid, causing high-ranking males higher stress levels, reducing health, fitness and life. These two hormones have immunosuppressant activity, permitting increased parasitic infestation and infection risks, thereby lowering survival rates. So alpha males enjoy high rank for a shorter time and accompanied by poorer health from the stress of his position.

Now the lowest ranking males in the hierarchy also have high stress levels from being everyone's "underdog", leaving the intermediate beta males most fit, with less stress yet some reproductive and feeding opportunities. It follows that a society in which all were at the same level has advantages in group fitness.

The main worry of the alpha male is to be ousted by a revolution. A tactic of older, subordinate male savanna baboons is forming alliances to combat higher-ranking males to get reproductive access to females. These lowest ranking males would get no opportunity to copulate otherwise. A fight broke out in Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania between Pimu, the alpha male, and four of his underlings. They killed him.

Captive gorillas, like wild and captive chimpanzees, may attack a dominant silverback. But male bonobos do not form coalitions. They don’t need to. They don’t fight with neighbours, and they can’t really tell when a female is fertile, so there’s little reason to bicker over them. Instead males spend a lot of time with females with the hope that she will mate with them when the time is right.

Two neighbouring troops of baboons had different group dynamics, one near a dump had plenty of food and were generally peaceful. The other lived further into the bush where food was scarcer, and the males were more competitive and aggressive. The aggressive troop would raid the dumps scaring off the local baboons while they fed, but were less picky in what to eat. On one occasion they gorged on some discarded food that was tainted, and that the local primates had learned not to eat. The consequence was that the raiding party of aggressive males all died. But now, with the most aggressive males gone, there were far fewer confrontations among the remaining males yielding a more peaceful culture which lasted more than a decade. Robert Sapolsky said:
“If that can occur in a troop of baboons, you don't have a leg to stand on when claiming the inevitabilities and unchangeability of human societies.”

Chimps often practice infanticide to get rid of rivals’ offspring and to hasten a female’s return to fertility, but this usually doesn’t happen in bonobos. Male bonobos are bigger than the females and have bigger teeth, but unlike male chimps they don’t boss the females around. Bonobos can form quite small female coalitions that nevertheless allow the females to challenge dominant males. Researchers saw an alpha male bonobo, who was also the son of the dominant female, attacking a young female carrying an infant. The females present immediately came to the unfortunate's defence. The doubly privileged male  was driven off and evicted from the band. So the females bond sufficiently to dominate the males, and even powerfully enough to overthrow a male hierarchy. Indeed, primatologist Frans de Waal’s studies with captive chimpanzees show that females, too, can band together to partially control their alphas.

Because Boehm's postulate, common to the apes, seems to stretch back to the common ancestor some seven million years ago, the Common Ancestor must have disliked dominating behaviour, and joined coalitions to trim the power of its alphas or those ambitious to be alphas. Egalitarianism conditioned by punishment for unfair behaviour may allow altruistic traits to spread, as game theory models predict. Based on model simulations, egalitarian punishment may also have been a precondition for adapting tools as weapons.

The extent of our social groups is wide--from quite egalitarian to quite despotic. In his book, "Hierarchy in the Forest", Boehm traces the roots of these contradictory traits in chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and early human societies. He examines the group structures of hunter-gatherers, then tribal segmentation, and finally at present-day governments to see how these conflicting tendencies are reflected. Human history has rebuffed political thinkers like Thomas Hobbes who thought strong, authoritarian leaders necessary to rule unruly commoners.

Humans became both anatomically and culturally modern at least 45,000 years ago, and the insistence in today's foraging bands on an egalitarian society is much more distant back. The egalitarian bands arrived at a largely implicit “social contract”, by which individuals yielded any desire to dominate so as to remain equal with other group members. And these hunter-gatherers cooperated effectively because their societies were small. Today, a large nation can aim to limit power and uphold a common justice, but it must take precautions against would-be dictators who will still try to usurp a power over everyone.

The capitalist system is a slow but steady accumulation of power by a tiny minority of uber wealthy people. We are failing to counter the concentration of power and will either become subordinates or slaves, or society will have to be destroyed and rebuilt. We ought not to let either of these happen, but should demand an egalitarian world now!

(This summary primarily indebted to the work of Christopher Boehm)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The meaning of Brexit

Brexit does not mean Brexit unless the UK is a sovereign state after leaving the EU. That cannot be the case if the UK government has been required to accept "full alignment" with the rules of the internal market and the customs union because of the Irish border. PM May claims that "full alignment" does not mean we have to accept EU rules and regulations but that we use our own ways of achieving alignment!

Mutually agreed standards obviously helps trade between nations, and those states which choose to trade harmoniously with each other will agree whatever standards assist the process providing that they do not make difficulties elsewhere. The EU already has trade agreements with other countries without making acceptance of EU rules a condition.

And free trade does not necessitate regulating trade union activities, worsening conditions and pay, pensions or redundancy provisions, nor obliging industries that are not involved in exporting to implement the same standards necessary for exporting to any particular country, including the EU. It is for our own government to set the standards that we want for our own people to be able to provide for their own dependents, without being beholden to foreign corporations or, indeed, our own!

It means the UK must not be regulated as a member of the single market, or as if it were such a member. It must be free to set its own policies for its own people and subject only to those people--the electorate. If we were to accept the so-called soft-Brexit of leaving the EU but remaining in the single market, our governments, of whatever hue, would be a hostage to decisions in Brussels by the EU bureaucrats and their corporate puppet masters.

EU harmonisation of labour, bankruptcy, taxation, and corporations is a delight to big business for whom the system is designed. The so-called Social Chapter, much vaunted by left Remainers, has repeatedly been proven to be bogus, even by the ECJ on the occasions when it has been appealed to, and in practice in all those particularly southern European countries that are suffering at the hands of the EU.

Moreover, although the emphasis os constantly on external trade and therefore all those businesses involved in it, it is the vastly larger number of small local businesses that will benefit most from not having to regulate their products to no purpose for them. They will, of course, be subject to whatever regulations an independent UK government imposes on businesses as a whole, but, free of the EU bureaucracy, the UK government could make appropriate provision for small non-exporting businesses should it wish to.

Blair promised us we should not be subject to the idiocies of the CAP during the New Labour period, yielding up some of the rebate on the £350m a week membership bill for it, and got absolutely nothing for it from the EU! Out of the EU we would be liberated from it, and could distinguish properly between needy smallholders and wealthy lowland multi-acre ranches.

As for foreign trade, given that we remained subject to EU control, what would be the incentive for external countries to trade with us when our regulatory framework was the same as that of the EU. They will think they might as well trade directly with the EU and so we might as well have remained a full member anyway.

A soft Brexit might as well be a no Brexit if it means remaining a member of the single market and subject to its decisions and not our own. A hard Brexit has always simply meant Brexit, plain and simple, then the agreement between free civilised countries over how relations between them including trade will be managed. That the EU trades with lots of the world's countries without the need for common regulations about almost everything proves that the obstruction of these negotiations by the EU is their usual tactic of trying to force a referendum reversal, as it did in other cases like Ireland and Denmark. No one on the left should be fooled.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Political Threat of Today

The political threat of today is the attempt by the billionaire backed radical right to undo democracy, centrally in the USA, but world wide.

That something was happening began to be realised in the early 2010s. Extreme decisions were being made by some US elected officials:

  • In Wisconsin in 2011, the newly elected governor, Scott Walker, submitted legislation to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, by new rules decimating their membership.
  • In New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started vicious attacks on teachers who were left wiondering why.
  • Some other GOP-controlled state legislatures were cutting public education by legalising unregulated charter schools and offering tax subsidies for private education.
  • In 2011 and 2012, legislators in forty-one states introduced more than 180 bills, mostly aimed at low-income and minority, young and less mobile elderly voters, to suppress voter turnout.
  • Finally the Republicans aimed a massive campaign to defeat Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, told the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, “we are destroying our institutions”. What he and other, even conservative, critics never considered was that was the objective!

Well, some did. William Cronon, a University of Wisconsin historian and the incoming president of the American Historical Association, having looked into Wisconsin Governor Walker’s attack on trade union rights, declared:
“What we’ve witnessed [is part of a] well-planned and well-coordinated ‘national’ campaign”.
He suggested that others look into the funding and activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) whose members were not revealed to the public. Every year Republican legislators could draw on hundreds of “model laws” for them to introduce to their states. Such laws covered:

  • attacks on labour unions
  • rewriting tax codes
  • reversing environmental protections
  • privatizing public services
  • acting against illegal immigrants.

A fifth of them succeeded in being passed!

What was going on? Jane Mayer, a well known investigative journalist, in 2010 drew attention to those who had poured more than a hundred million dollars into a “war against Obama”. She wrote Dark Money a book revealing that two billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch (each worth $48.7 billion in February 2017, according to Forbes) were training operatives to staff supposedly independent but really connected institutions like the Cato institute. Rich right-wing donors led by the Koch brothers were supplying masses of untraceable money to groups and candidates intent on crippling unions, restricting voting, deregulating corporations, taxing the poor, and denying climate change all informed by the schools of trained operatives they had built. The current vice president, Mike Pence, is an example having been with many of these organizations over the years.

Historian, Nancy MacClean, extended Mayer’s discoveries and this year published a controversial book, Democracy in Chains, explaining them. George Monbiot wrote that the book was “the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century”. She found James McGill Buchanan to be the intellectual source of the threat to democracy. Charles Koch became interested in Buchanan’s work in the early 1970s when he called on his help to start the embryonic Cato Institute. Buchanan became a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute.

Charles Koch was an entrepreneurial genius who had multiplied the earnings of the corporation he inherited by a factor of at least one thousand, but he also had a dream of liberty—not individual liberty for all, though that is how it is always presented, but of a capitalism all but free of governmental interference and thereby able to achieve the prosperity and peace that only this form of capitalism could produce—well that is his dream! How, though, could it be achieved in a democracy? Only by grooming the most promising libertarian thinkers to find a way. Koch had obsessively worked for three decades to do it.

From the outset, Charles Koch made it clear to Buchanan he wanted no one to know what the objective was. The people would not support the plan, so the cabal had to work in secret. Stealth was to be an intrinsic element of the conspiracy, and Buchanan agreed. They would use their knowledge of “the rules of the game”—how modern democratic governance works—to win.

Buchanan sought an economic definition of incentives to analyse and influence government behavior. Justice and fairness did not come into it for Buchanan. He was only aware of “collective” power, and that, once formed, democratic movements tended to persist, keeping tabs on government officials and sometimes using them to vote out those who stopped responding to their needs. The only fairness that concerned Buchanan and Koch was that the rich minority (and those who dreamt of joining them) suffered, and that was not “American”.

Buchanan regarded the need for elected representatives to respond to the demands of the electorate to win their votes as “government corruption”. He determined to stop it, but he recognised few politicians would risk electoral rejection to carry out his ideas. He named the study of how government officials make decisions (ie political behavior) “public choice economics”. His analysis of how the rules of government might be altered so politicians and administrators could not act on the will of the majority he called “constitutional economics”. The electorate and their organized social and political groups that sought to influence government representation became “the collective order”—the enemy!

So, by the end of the 1990s, Koch had from Buchanan the ideas he wanted. From then on, he donated generously to save capitalism from democracy—permanently! Buchanan’s deep analyses of how incentives guide government action was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986 having initiated research on how politicians' and bureaucrats' self-interest, utility maximization, and other non-wealth-maximizing considerations affect their decision-making!

Buchanan believed that government failed because of bad faith—because activists, voters, and officials alike used talk of the public interest to mask the pursuit of their own personal self-interest at others’ expense. By the 1970s, he was insisting that the people and their representatives must be permanently prevented from using public power as they had for so long. Those diligently representing their electorate had to be manacled. The plot is a fifth-column assault on American democratic governance.

The dream of this movement, its leaders will tell you, is liberty. Buchanan told an interviewer:

I want a society where nobody has power over the other. I don’t want to control you, and I don’t want to be controlled by you.

It sounds so reasonable, fair, and appealing. But the last part of that statement is by far the most telling, because the “you” Koch, Buchanan and their trained cadres do not want to be controlled by is the majority of the people. To them, unrestrained capitalism is freedom. What this cause really seeks is a return to oligarchy, to a world in which both economic and effective political power are to be concentrated in the hands of a few, an elite. It is fascism.

The way forward was by shifting the focus from “who rules” to “changing the rules”. For “liberty” to thrive, Buchanan decided the task was to figure out how to put legal—indeed, constitutional—shackles on to public administrators and legislators. They would no longer have the ability to respond to the mass of the people to get government to do their bidding. Once these shackles were put in place, they had to be binding and permanent. Though euphemistically called the “constitutional revolution”, by legally enforcing the permanent rule of a capitalist elite, indeed, it was a stealth road to fascism!

Realising that the vade mecum of revolutionary organization had already been written by Vladimir Lenin, Koch appreciated the power of Lenin’s system of cadres. So, paradoxically it seems, he funded “cadres” of high-level operatives to build a movement that refused compromise. The cadres fed morsals of the plan to elements of the large active conservative grassroots base thereby gradually drawing them in. Indeed, after 2008, the cadres increasingly adopted a cloak of conservatism, seeing advantages in doing so, though contrary to their aim to destroy the democratic system. Similar opportunism motivated Koch’s courting of the religious right, even though many libertarian thinkers, Buchanan included, were atheists who looked down on believers. Their aims had considerable common ground with TV evangelical types—men like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Tim Phillips, money grubbing exploiters themselves. So they were happy to sell libertarian economics to their flocks, especially campaigns against public schooling and calls for reliance on family provision or charity in place of public welfare.

The Koch team’s most important stealth move, beginning in the late 1990s, and the one that proved most critical to success, was to wrest control over the machinery of the Republican Party, tough the plotters had no loyalty was to their own anti-democratic cause.

US senator Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, spotted the mischief makers, perceptively describing the infiltrators as “cannibals” seeking “the end of governing as we know it”. The Reagan Republican and six-term US senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, exploded after being targeted by a challenger from his own party in 2012 and declared:

These people are not conservatives. They’re not Republicans. They’re radical libertarians… I despise these people.

They were not what they claimed. This cause is different. Pushed by relatively small numbers of radical-right billionaires and millionaires who have become profoundly hostile to America’s modern system of government, an apparatus decades in the making, funded by those same billionaires and millionaires, has been working to undermine the normal governance of our democracy. And the Republican Party is now controlled by fanatical believers in a selfish capitalist goal that brooks no compromise.

Although its spokespersons would like you to believe they are disciples of James Madison, the leading architect of the US Constitution, it is not true. One of their manifestos calls for a “hostile takeover” of Washington, DC. Their real eighteenth century hero is John C Calhoun. He developed his radical critique of democracy a generation after the nation’s founding, as the brutal economy of chattel slavery became entrenched in the South—and his vision horrified Madison.

Their cause, they insist, is liberty, by which they mean the separation of private property rights from the reach of government, and the takeover of social services (schools, prisons, western lands, and much more) by corporations. For the many it is anything but liberty, it is slavery. The objective of the Kochites is to stop democratic resistance, and they have almost succeeded.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The News from the East. Rome 20s AD

Interviewer for the World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea.

Hi, everyone. I was sitting in an inn in Jerusalem a week and a half ago. At the table next to me was Herod’s personal translator. I sort of did a double take, I said, hi, how are you? I knew the guy. I’d known him for years and years. I said, are you okay? Fine, fine no problem, he was having a bread and wine with friends. He walked out. This is the same inn that later on I saw Pontius Pilate walk into with several special forces men to protect him and his guests for dinner. I have to ask myself sometimes what’s going on.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer example of an army that thought it was an army of liberation, and has become an army of occupation. It’s important, perhaps, to say that some of those soldiers attached to the tenth legion had a pretty shrewd idea of what was going on. You got different kinds of behavior from Romans soldiers. You got this very nice guy, Gallus, who had been a baker, very sensitive towards people, didn’t worry if people shouted at him. He remained smiling. He just said that if people throw rocks at me or stones at me, I give them salt to lick. There was another soldier who went up to a middle aged man sitting on a seat and he said, “If you don't clear out of that seat, I’ll break your neck”, and there was quite a lot of language like that as well. There were good guys as well as bad guys among the Romans as there always are in armies, but the people who I talked to, the centurions and tribunes and so on, most of them acknowledge that something had gone wrong, that this was not going to be good.

One guy said to me, every time we go down to the river here—he was talking about the river area in Jordan—it runs into the Dead Sea—it’s like the German forest down there. You always get shot at and you always get stoned—I mean, have stones thrown at them. Some of the soldiers spoke very frankly about the situation in Jerusalem. One man told me—I heard twice before in Jerusalem itself, once from a Greek schoolmaster and once from a fairly senior officer in what we now have to call the Jerusalem Authority, the authority that’s hanging on there until they can create some kind of Jewish kingdom—they all say that the road into Jerusalem now comes under nightly bandit attack from the surroundings from Jews. Two of them told me that every time a military squadron comes in at night, it’s attacked. In fact, some of the Roman outriders are now going back to old Gallic tactics, they’re hounded so much. There is a very serious problem of security.

The Romans still officially call them “the remnants of Judas the Galilean” or just “terrorists”. But in fact, it is obviously an increase in the organized resistance and not just people who were in Judas the Galilean’s forces, who were in the Zealot Party or Judas the Galilean’s rebels. There was also increasing anger among the Herodean community, those who were of course most opposed to Judas the Galilean, and I think what we’re actually seeing, you can get clues in Judea, is a cross fertilization. Herodeans who are disillusioned, who don’t believe they have been liberated, who spent so long in Perea, they don’t like the Romans anyway. Essenes who feel like they’re threatened by the Herodeans, Herod’s former acolytes who’ve lost their jobs and found that their money has stopped. Samaritans who are disaffected and are beginning to have contacts, and that of course is the beginning of a real resistance movement and that’s the great danger for the Romans now.

Interviewer for The World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea. There’s a rumour in Rome that legionaries in Judea are stalked by faceless enemies at night, and Josephus writes about how organized the resistance is, how it seems to come alive at night and that what’s clear, he says, is some attacks are premeditated, involve cooperation among small groups of fighters including a system of signaling the presence of Roman forces: talking about the use of secret messages when forces come and then the attacks begin.

Yes, I’ve heard this. I also know that in Bethphage, for example, there’s a system of placing water jars on a prominent rooftop. When the legions approach, the Roman convoy approaches, there’s a water jug on the highest point of the roof. When the last legionary goes by the same spot, the jug is taken down, and the purpose is to work out the time element between the jug going up and the jug coming down because by that, they know how big is the convoy and whether it’s small enough to be attacked. That comes from Simon Peter's mother, who joined the rebels and was taking part in an actual operation.

One of the problems with the Romans I think is that the top people in imperial circles and the Senate always knew that this wasn’t going to be human rights abuses ended, flowers and music for the soldiers, and everyone lives happily every after and loves Rome. You may remember when Pompey first came to Jerusalem, something your Emperor didn’t dare to do in the end, he came with a massive escoprt of legionaries.

Governor Pontois Pilatus made a speech which I thought was very interesting, rather sinister, in the big hall at the Antonia Tower. He said we still have to fight the remnants of Judas the Galilean and the terrorists in Judea, and I thought, hang on a minute, who are these people? And it took me a few minutes to realize, I think, what he was doing. He was laying the future narrative of the opposition to the Romans. That is, when the Romans get attacked, it could be first of all laid down to remnants of Judas the Galilean, as in remnants of the Parthians who seem to be moving around in Mesopotamia now in cohort strength—but never mind. It could be blamed on the Zealots, so Rome was back fighting its old enemies again. This was familiar territory.

If you were to suggest that it was a resistance movement, that would suggest the people didn’t believe they had been liberated, and of course, all good-natured, peace loving people have to believe they were liberated by the Romans, not occupied by them. What you’re finding for example is a whole series of blunders by Pontius Pilatus, the Roman head of the occupation authority in Jerusalem.

First of all, he marched into the temple with his legions’ standards. Well, I can’t imagine any army that better deserves to be dissolved. Then, he took the temple corban, the central funds that pay the wages and fund the rituals. It means that all but the richest priests of the many priestly families are deprived of their welfare and money. Now if you have thousands of educated Jews who suddenly don’t get paid any more, and they all know each other, what are they going to do? They are going to form some kind of force which is secret, which is covered. Then they will be called terrorists, but I guess they know that, and then of course they will be saying to people, why don’t you come and join us.

It was very interesting that in Arimathea, a young man came out to see me from a shop just after the Roman searches there had ended and said some people came from the resistance a few nights ago and asked him to join. I said, what did you say, and he said, I wouldn’t do that. But now, he said, I might think differently. I met a Herodean Jewish family in Jerusalem who moved into the former home of a Galilean spook. This family had been visited three nights previously by armed men who said, you better move out of this house. It doesn’t belong to you unless you want to join us. The guy in Arimathea said that the men, the armed men who came to invite him to join the resistance, had weapons, showed their knives to identify themselves as Sicari, and said, we’re still proud to hold our weapons for Yehouah and ha Eretz. So, now you have to realize that Arimathea and other towns like it are very unlike Caesarea, are very much pro-Judas the Galilean. Arimathea is the site of great resistance activity by the Zealots, it gives people massive employment. They all loved Herod in the way Romans love their emperors or go to prison otherwise. They’d rather not, but now there is a serious resistance movement.

On top of this, you can see the measure of what I think is basically desperation. I’ve been thinking about this, and Pontius Pilate now asked the legal side of the Jerusalem authority to set up the machinery of Jewish torture. In other words, Jews are going to be tortured and murdered. “Controlled”, I think, is the official word they use, but it means tortured and killed. That is the kind of language that Herod used. Jews are used to torture and death. After all, they lived with it for more than 40 years under Herod and his son. Now when you question the Romans about it, first of all they deny it. Then the bolder ones accept it, then other people involved in the administration say, well, it’s probably true, yes, it is true.

But the problem is the wild rumours appearing in Judea. Now, of course there’s no tradition of Philosophical fairness in Judea. There are those that say it’s a good idea, no tradition for example of letting the other side have a say, checking the story out, going back on the ground and asking the other side for their version of events, Socratic method. It doesn’t exist. It’s a little bit, but not much. What you get after saying that Romans are going with Jewish prostitutes, Roman troops are chasing Jewish women, that Jewish women are being invited to marry Pagan foreigners, is that this is worse than it was under Herod the Great. Other rumours are of of Roman beatings. There are also rumours of “I was Herod’s double”, and the opening of the mass graves of children. They’re not totally one sided against the Romans.

But you can see how the occupation forces, let’s call them by their real name, are troubled by this kind of news because it seems to them to provoke or incite animosity towards the liberators of Judea, which it is not meant to do. But of course the problem is that the Rabbis in the synagogue are saying the same thing about the Romans. Now, the last quote I read from Roman official bulletins said that it may be necessary to control what the Rabbis were saying in the synagogues. Well, this is preposterous. I sat on Solomon’s Portico in the Temple a few weeks ago and listened to a speaker teaching a sermon there. I think he was saying the Romans must leave immediately, now. Well, under the new rule presumably he’s inciting the people to violence. What are we going to do? Arrest all the Rabbim in the synagogues, arrest all the scribes who won’t obey, close down the synagogues? I mean what Jewish scribes need are courses in democracy from Greek philosophers brought up in real democracies.

You can come along and say, look, by all means criticize the Romans and put the boot in if you want to, but make sure you get it right. And if you also do that you have to look at your own society and what is wrong in it and how Herod the Great ever came about. He didn’t just come about because Rome supported Herod, which my goodness they did. But Pilate is not interested in this. What Pilate wants to do is control, control the scriptures, control the Rabbis, and it doesn’t work. A lot of the incidents taking place now, the violent incidents are not being divulged.

Interviewer for The World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea. Josephus, you were just talking about a lot of the attacks we’re hearing about—what seems like a good number, a lot of the attacks—on Roman forces are not being reported.

Right, I have a colleague, for example, who went down to Arimathea before the incident I was describing to you earlier, after two pikemen, one Roman had been killed in the sword fight, he reported, I spoke to both sides. On his way back he was traveling past the town of Herodian a rather sinister place where the huge prison is where Herod executed so many prisoners, including a well known Baptizer back in the late 20’s. As we were, as the colleague was passing by the town, he saw a young man come up and throw a spear at a Roman centurion leading on a horse. The spear missed them and hit a donkey carrying a Jewish mother and children, wounding two small Jewish children, a very clear account of what happened. No bulletin ever emerged that this incident had occurred.

Now, over and over again we keep seeing things, seeing small incidents occur, soldiers threatening people outside custom’s houses because people are trying to jump the line and escape without paying. And it just doesn’t make it back into the Roman record of what’s actually happening in Judea. The danger here is not so much that we’re not being told about it because we can see and find out for ourselves. The danger is that the Roman leadership in Jerusalem, and of course, especially back in the Capri and Rome is also not being told about it. Or if it is, information is only going to certain people who can deal with that information.

It’s very easy to say, well Judea’s been a great success we’ve got rid of a dictatorship, an unruly people are being pacified under Roman rule or whatever interpretation you want to put on that. Human rights abuses have ended, certainly the Herodean kind. But if you try and if this information goes up the ladder every bit of it to people like Pilate, I’m not sure it all is—I think it should be—then you can see how the authority doesn’t represent the reality.

One of the big problems at the moment is the Romans and, to some extent the Greeks, particularly the Romans in Jerusalem. They’re all ensconced in this chic gleaming marble palace, largest, most expensive palace. There they sit with their advisors trying to work out with Rome how they’re going to bring about this new democracy in Judea. They rely upon for the most part former Jewish exiles who never endured Herod the Great, who are hovering around making sure that they get the biggest part of the pie possible. When they leave the palace, when they go into the streets of Jerusalem, the dangerous streets of Jerusalem, they leave in these military convoys with legionaries in the front and back, soldiers, plain clothes guys with turbans and weapons.

One Jew said to me the other day, “who did you think was the last person we saw driving through town like this?” I said, Herod the Great? They all burst out laughing, of course, they said, exactly the same.

We are used to this just like they’re used to censorship. I think it’s difficult—you need to be in Jerusalem to understand the degree to which there’s been this slippage of ambition and slippage in the ideological war. I was in small hotel called the Angel the other day—it has a cool bath, slaves continuously fanning the air. Just going to have a meal in the evening, I came across two westerners, each with drawn swords passing me in the hallway.

I said, “Who are you?”

He said, “Well, who are you?”

“I’m a guest in the hotel. You have swords. Who are you?”

He said, “We work for D.O.D”

“Department of Defense, right?” (But he was obviously Greek—he had a Greek accent.) “Hang on a second you’re not Roman.”

“No, we’re a Greek outfit hired to look after D.O.D. employees in Jerusalem. That’s why we’re armed.”

I said, “Who gives you permission to have weapons?”

He said, “The Jerusalem Authority, we’re here protecting them.”

Now, how often have Jews seen armed plain clothes men moving in and out of inns, they have for more than 20 years, now seeing them again. Well these guys are not going to string them up by their fingernails and electrocute them in torture cells. But again, the image, the picture is the same. The armored escort, war horses in the street, soldiers kicking down the doors searching for, “terrorists”. The censorship plans. Plain clothes armed men going into an inn asking who you are immediately by asking them who they are, same system as before. It has this kind of ghastly ghostly veneer of the old regime about it. The Romans are not Herod the Great, they’re not gratuitously murdering first born children, they’re not lining up people at mass graves, of course they’re not. But if you see through the eyes of the Jews, it doesn’t look quite that simple.

And your emperor only mildly, rather pathetically and rather cowardly, criticized the Authority for an alleged atrocity. This was an attack which was meant to kill the political head of the Essenes. And in the ghastly role which the Jews and Romans play in their bloody and useless conflict, I can understand why the attack was made in that context.

But that attack did not kill the Righteous Teacher, it killed a little child of five and a young woman. Now your leader said that that was "troubling". That isn’t troubling that’s a shameful act, that’s a despicable thing to do. But there was no strong condemnation from Tiberius, he just said it was troubling. If an Essene had attacked Roman forces or a Roman political leader involved in encouraging violence, had killed a little Roman girl, and a young innocent Roman woman Mr Tiberius would not have called it troubling. He would have said it was a shameful, terrorist act, which it would have been. How can it work when the most powerful emperor of the most powerful state in the world, Rome, can be so gutless and cowardly in condemning the killing of two innocent people.

It is not troubling. It is an outrage that those two innocent people died. Just as it would be if the Jews had done it. Just as it is when the Jews do do it. For Tiberius it is not an outrage. Not a tragedy. Not shameful. It is merely troubling. Like a flood is troubling or a heavy rainfall that kills people or a storm is troubling. In that context how can this new peace possibly work.

It’s called a Roman road map, who invented the phrase road map? I suppose the poor old Senate and all the historians dutifully used the word Roman road map. They can’t use “peace process” because to bring peace they have to create a desert.

At large and continuing to expand Roman settlements, the Romans and Roman retired soldiers only in occupied Jewish land. What have the Jews done? Caiaphas says I’m going to finish terrorism, there’s going to be no more violence by the Jews and, bang, there immediately is. We have the three main violent groups, Essenes, Zealots and Galileans immediately carrying out the banditry.

And then praised by Jesus, I remember thinking, he’s praising them, that’s against the Roman road map so Romans have got a green light to knock him off and they tried and failed. I remember interviewing Jesus along similar lines about six months ago in Galilee, as I was talking to him I saw a Roman equestrian pass by the window and his body guard, Simon, looked around very nervously and I thought, oh, no, please go away and so I finished the interview.

But I always thought he was a target, he always had two sicari with him all the time. That’s not the point. Jesus is a very tough Jew, a very ruthless Jew. He was one of the Jews who was driven from Galilee into Tyre and Sidon in 0-20. I actually met him there in southern Tyre in the hills, when he was living rough, months after months on Mount Hermon.

This is a very rough character, very tough guy—grew up the hard way in guerrilla warfare as well as politics.

But when you’re going to have a situation where you have an Roman Governor who doesn’t want to end the settlements, who is indeed the creator of the settlements, and a Jewish High Priest who can’t stop the holy war and a Roman emperor who is so gutless he can only call a killing of a woman and a child troubling, what chance is there for a Roman road map or peace process or any other kind of agreement in eastern marches?

I wanted to end, back in Judea. Joseph Caiaphas who has addressed the Sanhedrin is saying that Jesus the Galilean is moving in an arc around the Jordan River starting northeast of Jerusalem. He said finding Jesus the Galilean would just be a matter of knowing whom to talk to. He says based on information from credible sources, he believes the Jewish rebel wants revenge and has obtained two awords for attacks on Roman forces. Caiaphas says Jesus the Galilean is paying bounty for every Roman soldier killed. Your response?

I long ago gave up putting any credit in anything that Joseph Caiaphas says. The real issue is not where is Judas the Galilean, he could be sitting in Athens or Ecbatana or he could be sitting in Lydda or in the Jewish countryside somewhere. Obviously there were plans to hide him in advance. You know this goes back to another issue of the degree of real effort to find him. Just look back, the Romans wanted to arrest Cleopatra and bring her to Rome. We were going to capture Simon Peter, he’s still on the loose. We were going to capture James the Less, a dwarf, not difficult to identify. But he’s still on the loose. We can’t get John in Judea or Simon, the sons of Judas the Galilean. We can’t get Jesus the Galilean himself. We only got Judas Iscariot because he killed himself.

Joseph Caiaphas says that Jesus the Galilean is moving in an arc, he maybe moving in a circle or square for all I know but it’s clear he’s still alive. That’s the point.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017