Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brexit Myths

The vote to leave the EU was not driven by Britain’s white working classes, according to a report.

Faiza Shaheen said: ‘Mainstream Brexit analysis tells us that it was the white working class alone that drove the Brexit vote, concluding that this group’s needs are distinct and that they should take precedence over the needs of other groups.
‘Apart from being untrue, with 59% of the middle class voting for Brexit versus 24% of the working class, this analysis and its conclusions are turning the clock back on progress in our multi-racial community.’

The report said that although white voters were likelier to back Leave in the 2016 referendum if they were poor and Remain if they were rich, some 59% of the middle-classes voted to quit the EU compared with 24% of the working class.
It said that 70 of the 107 most racially diverse parliamentary constituencies voted Remain, while 99 out of the 107 least racially diverse voted Leave.
The report said poor white people have more in common with ethnic minority communities than they do with the white middle classes, who are ‘culturally further apart’.
Runnymede Trust director Omar Khan said: ‘The white working class have more in common with poor ethnic minority communities than they do with the white middle and upper classes.
‘Poor white and BME (black and minority ethnic) people are bound by shared experiences of social deprivation, but there is also more social interaction between them than between the richest and poorest thirds of white people.
‘The label “white working class” isn’t helping the white working class because it is all talk and no action.
‘Rather than offer a desperate and empty form of ethno-nationalism, the best way to raise up this section of society is for central and local government to adopt policies to benefit all working class communities.’

The cost of flesh

The environmental costs of raising animals to eat — in particular, poultry, beef, and pork — are immense. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that animal-food production adds 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per year — that’s 14.5% of all greenhouse gases produced by humans. The industry eats up 30% of the earth's land mass, including 80% of what used to be the Amazon rain forest. 70% of the grain grown in the U.S. is consumed by food animals, and runoff from factory farming has created 230 "dead zones" along the east coast of the U.S. Producing one pound of animal protein requires “12 times as much land, 13 times as much fossil fuels, and 15 times as much water as it does to produce one pound of soy protein,” 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Nation-building

That European nations have existed for more than 300 years.


For thousands of years, the borders between cultures (traditions, customs, languages) in Europe were much more fluid than today. It was not possible to say e. g. "These are the French", "These are the Germans" and "These are the Italians", because the cultures flowed into each other. People also did not feel French, German, Italian, whatever, because that thought only came up in the 18th century. People felt allegiance to their family and their village, not to larger cultural units. 

There were countries, but the countries did not map onto cultures. They were either small kingdoms or large multi-ethnic empires whose monarchs usually acquired territory through inheritance, conquest or marriage, without thought to the culture or language of the people whose rulers they became. There was no patriotic resistance to this practice until the 18th century. For the most part, it wasn't a problem, because the administration was local, in the hands of feudal lords who did speak the local language and knew the local practices.

What changed?

Several factors led to the creation of distinguishable cultural units:
  • Book-printing. It would have been too expensive to print books in the hundreds of languages / dialects spoken in Europe at the time, so printers supported the standardization of languages and the promotion of a few languages over others. Language is both an indicator and a means of creating different cultures, because different languages give access to different information, a different canon of folk tales and literature and so on.
  • The reformation created new cultural distinctions in Europe, because previously most had had the same beliefs, celebrated the same church holidays, used the same religious rituals and so on. It also encouraged people to think for themselves, starting a wave of secular philosophers.
  • States centralized their administration and weakened the feudal lords. This meant a need for a lot more state officials, i. e. career opportunities for those who felt loyal to the state. The introduction of national languages and national education circuits meant that officials, unlike feudal lords previously, could not hope to keep their position if the territory fell to another country. Officials within one country would network, while there was much less contact across the border, furthering cultural differences.
  • Later (this list is not chronological), with the advent of industrialization, which brought schooling to a much larger share of the population, the above affected everyone. (Even in our united EU, it is not simple to have one country's certificate recognized in another.) This contains people within one country's borders and gives them a certain stake in that country's situation. The exposure to the public school system also creates distinguishable cultures, especially when the state uses schools to spread a national narrative.
  • In the 19th century, all European countries introduced national holidays, museums and monuments telling the story of their nation, uniting people by making them feel part of the same history. In most cases, this history was a relatively new invention, first heard at most 100 years ago, even though it described the nation as having existed much earlier (e. g. in France every student learns: "our ancestors the Gauls...").

The idea of nations

German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was the originator of the idea that there are a number of distinguishable cultures in Europe. According to him, just as every human has his own character, formed by his past and his environment, so each people has its own culture and mentality, the Volksgeist, formed by its past, its environment and its livelihood. This was the birth of Cultural Nationalism. (Cultural because Herder did not talk politics at all)

Another German philosopher created Political Nationalism: Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He thought that each nation stands above its individual members and the members have common characteristics because of Volksgeist, distinguishing themselves from members of other nations. According to him, national awareness lay slumbering in the unconsciousness of its members but eventually had to come to the front. After becoming aware, each nation has the ability, through its national will, to decide its destiny by way of political struggle. The highest goal for a nation was the formation of a sovereign nation-state free of foreign influences. Fichte's philosophy created the picture of nationalism as an organic and natural development that each people was entitled to, when the truth is that none of the peoples in Europe's previous thousands of years of history had had a nationalist awakening. His philosophy has been used to justify all later nationalist movements, no matter if they're state nationalist, separatist or integralist in nature.

The aftermath

Fichte's ideas initially had very little traction in Europe, but sooner or later many governments and many people wanting to grab power saw the advantage of promoting the nationalist narrative. 

There's an essay by Stan Verschuuren which really opened my eyes - he narrates not just what I just explained here, but also the further spread of the idea. He winds up telling the entire modern history of Europe, from the 19th century Polish revolts to the German reunification and the Scottish independence movement, through the lens of nationalism, its pre-requirements for success and its motivations. I loved this essay so much that I attempted a translation (originally in Dutch) into English, which you can find at Stan Verschuuren on Nationalism

Welcomed Migrants


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Iran welcomes refugees

Roughly 6 million people were displaced from Afghanistan to neighboring countries amid the Soviet War in 1979. Nearly 40 years later, Tehran still shelters 1 million registered refugees, and another 2 million are thought to be living there, making it the world's fourth-largest refugee population.

Sivanka Dhanapala, head of the office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, "The leadership demonstrated by the Iranian government has been exemplary in hosting refugees and keeping borders open" He went on to say, "In a world where you have multiple bad stories about hosting refugees, I think Iran is really a good news story," he said. "It's a story that's not told often enough."

The U.N. also hailed a 2015 directive from Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei that called on education administrators to allow all Afghan children, documented or not, to attend Iranian schools.
"We've also worked with the government on incorporating refugees into a government-sponsored health insurance scheme which is a ground-breaking development not just for Iran but globally for refugees," 

Friday, March 10, 2017

US Wealth

The top 10 percent of Americans makes just over 20 percent of the nation’s income, but owns 76 percent of its wealth.

Today, just four American families own as much wealth as 40 percent of the entire population.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rage Against the Machine

Buyer Beware

Remember the Great Recession of 2007/2008? Maybe you lost a job, got a pay cut, or saw your retirement savings or home value evaporate. Maybe you even lost your home altogether, or saw your small business go under while the banking corporations got bailed-out. Wall Street hopes you have already forgotten all about it for they are poised to repeal all those regulations that were passed to prevent another economic crash.

 Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the first independent agency with the sole mandate of protecting consumers against scam artists, predatory lenders, and bad actors in the financial sector, caught Wells Fargo creating millions of bogus accounts without their customers’ permission. Wall St's friends in the Trump camp have pencil it in for removal of powers.

The Dodd-Frank law made rules to keep banks from making risky bets with your money. For instance, it requires banks to keep some skin in the game by maintaining a 5 percent stake in loans they originate, so they have a stake in the success of the borrower and the loan. It also encourages banks to keep some cash on hand in case of emergencies, just like the rest of us try to do at home. Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president — and now a Trump economic adviser — claimed that banks obliged to maintain a healthy reserve of funds are being forced to “hoard capital.” Cohn say abolishing these rules will help “ordinary” consumers. The truth is, cheap credit is already abundant. The commercial and industrial business industries are booming. Credit card and auto lending are at record highs, and mortgage loans are almost back to their pre-2008 crisis high. But Wall Street lenders want to take greater risks in search of greater rewards.