Neo-Liberalism

The ‘Global Order’: Myth Teary-eyed nostalgia as cover for U.S. hegemony

By ANDREW J. BACEVICH

From: The American Conservative

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During the Age of Trump, Year One, a single word has emerged to capture the essence of the prevailing cultural mood: resistance. Words matter, and the prominence of this particular term illuminates the moment in which we find ourselves.

All presidents, regardless of party or program, face criticism and opposition.Citizens disinclined to support that program protest. Marching, chanting, waving placards, and generally raising a ruckus in front of any available camera, they express dissent. In normal times, such activism testifies to the health of democracy.

Yet these are not normal times. In the eyes of Trump’s opponents, his elevation to the pinnacle of American politics constitutes a frontal assault on values that until quite recently appeared fixed and unassailable. In such distressing circumstances, mere criticism, opposition, protest, and dissent will not suffice. By their own lights, anti-Trump forces are fending off the apocalypse. As in November 1860 so too in November 2016, the outcome of a presidential election has placed at risk a way of life.

The very word resistance conjures up memories of the brave souls who during World War II opposed the Nazi occupation of their homelands, with the French maquis the best known example. It carries with it an unmistakable whiff of gunpowder. After resistance comes revolution.

Simply put, Trump’s most ardent opponents see him as an existential threat, with the clock ticking. Thus the stakes could hardly be higher. Richard Parker of Harvard has conjured what he calls Resistance School, which in three months has signed up some 30,000 anti-Trump resistors from 49 states and 33 countries. “It is our attempt to begin the long slow process of recovering and rebuilding our democracy,” says Parker. Another group styling itself the DJT Resistance declares that Trump represents “Hatred, Bigotry, Xenophobia, Sexism, Racism, and Greed.”

This is not language suggesting the possibility of dialogue or compromise. Indeed, in such quarters references to incipient fascism have become commonplace. Comparisons between Trump and Hitler abound. “It takes willful blindness,” writes Paul Krugman in the New York Times, “not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare.” And time is running short. Journalist Chris Hedges says “a last chance for resistance” is already at hand.

In the meantime, in foreign-policy circles at least, a second, less explosive term vies with resistance for Trump-era signature status. This development deserves more attention than it has attracted, especially among those who believe that alongside the question that riles up the resistance—namely, what values define us?—sits another question of comparable importance: “What principles define America’s role in the world?”

That second term, now creeping into the vocabulary of foreign-policy specialists, is liberal, often used interchangeably with the phrase rules-based and accompanied by additional modifiers such as open, international, and normative. All of these serve as synonyms for enlightened and good.

So Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution, describing what he refers to as the “twilight of the liberal world order,” worries about the passing of “the open international economic system the United States created and helped sustain.” Donald Trump’s misguided emphasis on “America First,” Kagan writes, suggests that he has no interest in “attempting to uphold liberal norms in the international system” or in “preserving an open economic order.”

Commenting on Trump’s Inaugural Address, Nicole Gaouette, CNN national-security reporter, expresses her dismay that it contained “no reference to America’s traditional role as a global leader and shaper of international norms.” Similarly, a report in the Financial Times bemoans what it sees as “a clear signal about Mr. Trump’s disregard for many of the international norms that have governed America as the pillar of the liberal economic order.” The historian Jeremi Suri, barely a week into Trump’s presidency, charges Trump with “launching a direct attack on the liberal international order that really made America great after the depths of the Great Depression.” At the Council on Foreign Relations, Stewart Patrick concurs: Trump’s election, he writes, “imperils the liberal international order that America has championed since World War II.” Thomas Wright, another Brookings scholar, piles on: Trump “wants to undo the liberal international order the United States built and replace it with a 19th-century model of nationalism and mercantilism.”

In Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl and Hal Brands embellish the point: Trump’s strategic vision “diverges significantly from—and intentionally subverts—the bipartisan consensus underpinning U.S. foreign policy since World War II.” Failing to “subscribe to the long-held belief that ‘American exceptionalism’ and U.S. leadership are intertwined,” Trump is hostile to the “open, rule-based international economy” that his predecessors nurtured and sustained.

Need more? Let Gen. David Petraeus have the last word: “To keep the peace,” the soldier-turned-investment-banker writes in an essay entitled “America Must Stand Tall,” the United States has established “a system of global alliances and security commitments,” thereby nurturing “an open, free and rules-based international economic order.” To discard this legacy, he suggests, would be catastrophic.

You get the drift. Liberalism, along with norms, rules, openness, and internationalism: these ostensibly define the postwar and post-Cold War tradition of American statecraft. Allow Trump to scrap that tradition and you can say farewell to what Stewart Patrick refers to as “the global community under the rule of law” that the United States has upheld for decades.

But what does this heartwarming perspective exclude? We can answer that question with a single word: history.

Or, somewhat more expansively, among the items failing to qualify for mention in the liberal internationalist, rules-based version of past U.S. policy are the following: meddling in foreign elections; coups and assassination plots in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Cuba, South Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, and elsewhere; indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns in North Korea and throughout Southeast Asia; a nuclear arms race bringing the world to the brink of Armageddon; support for corrupt, authoritarian regimes in Iran, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, South Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Egypt, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere—many of them abandoned when deemed inconvenient; the shielding of illegal activities through the use of the Security Council veto; unlawful wars launched under false pretenses; “extraordinary rendition,” torture, and the indefinite imprisonment of persons without any semblance of due process.

Granted, for each of these, there was a rationale, rooted in a set of identifiable assumptions, ambitions, and fears. The CIA did not conspire with Britain’s MI6 in 1953 to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected president just for the hell of it. It did so because shelving Mohammad Mosaddegh seemingly offered the prospect of eliminating an annoying problem. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson did not commit U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam because he was keen to fight a major ground war in Asia but because the consequences of simply allowing events to take their course looked to be even worse. After 9/11, when George W. Bush and his associates authorized the “enhanced interrogation” of those held in secret prisons, panic rather than sadism prompted their actions. Even for the most egregious folly, in other words, there is always some explanation, however inadequate.

Yet collectively, the actions and episodes enumerated above do not suggest a nation committed to liberalism, openness, or the rule of law. What they reveal instead is a pattern of behavior common to all great powers in just about any era: following the rules when it serves their interest to do so; disregarding the rules whenever they become an impediment. Some regimes are nastier than others, but all are law-abiding when the law works to their benefit and not one day longer. Even Hitler’s Third Reich and Stalin’s USSR punctiliously observed the terms of their non-aggression pact as long as it suited both parties to do so.

My point is not to charge à la Noam Chomsky that every action undertaken by the United States government is inherently nefarious. Rather, I am suggesting that to depict postwar U.S. policy in terms employed by the pundits quoted above is to whitewash the past. Whether their motive is to deceive or merely to evade discomfiting facts is beside the point. What they are peddling belongs to the universe of alt facts. To characterize American statecraft as “liberal internationalism” is akin to describing the business of Hollywood as “artistic excellence.”

“Invocations of the ‘rules-based international order,’” Politico’s Susan Glasser rightly observes, “had never before caused such teary-eyed nostalgia.” Whence comes this sudden nostalgia for something that never actually existed? The answer is self-evident: it’s a response to Donald Trump.

Prior to Trump’s arrival on the scene, few members of the foreign-policy elite, now apparently smitten with norms, fancied that the United States was engaged in creating any such order. America’s purpose was not to promulgate rules but to police an informal empire that during the Cold War encompassed the “Free World” and became more expansive still once the Cold War ended. The pre-Trump Kagan, writing in 2012, neatly summarizes that view:

The existence of the American hegemon has forced all other powers to exercise unusual restraint, curb normal ambitions, and avoid actions that might lead to the formation of a U.S.-led coalition of the kind that defeated Germany twice, Japan once, and the Soviet Union, more peacefully, in the Cold War.

Leave aside the dubious assertions and half-truths contained within that sentence and focus on its central claim: the United States as a hegemon that forces other nations to bend to its will. Strip away the blather about rules and norms and here you come to the essence of what troubles Kagan and others who purport to worry about the passing of “liberal internationalism.” Their concern is not that Trump won’t show adequate respect for rules and norms. What has them all in a lather is that he appears disinclined to perpetuate American hegemony.

More fundamentally, Trump’s conception of a usable past differs radically from that favored in establishment quarters. Put simply, the 45th president does not subscribe to the imperative of sustaining American hegemony because he does not subscribe to the establishment’s narrative of 20th-century history. According to that canonical narrative, exertions by the United States in a sequence of conflicts dating from 1914 and ending in 1989 enabled good to triumph over evil. Absent these American efforts, evil would have prevailed. Contained within that parable-like story, members of the establishment believe, are the lessons that should guide U.S. policy in the 21st century.

Trump doesn’t see it that way, as his appropriation of the historically loaded phrase “America First” attests. In his view, what might have occurred had the United States not waged war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and had it not subsequently confronted the Soviet Union matters less than what did occur when the assertion of hegemonic prerogatives found the United States invading Iraq in 2003 with disastrous results.

In effect, Trump dismisses the lessons of the 20th century as irrelevant to the 21st. Crucially, he goes a step further by questioning the moral basis for past U.S. actions. Thus, his extraordinary response to a TV host’s charge that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a killer. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump retorted. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” In offering this one brief remark, Trump thereby committed the ultimate heresy. Of course, no serious person believes that the United States is literally innocent. What members of the foreign-policy establishment—including past commanders-in-chief—have insisted is that the United States act as if it were innocent, with prior sins expunged and America’s slate wiped clean. This describes the ultimate U.S. perquisite and explains why, in the eyes of Robert Kagan et al., Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, or Syria count for so much while American actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya count for so little.

The desperate exercise in historical revisionism that now credits the United States with having sought all along to create a global community under the rule of law represents that establishment’s response to the heresies Trump has been spouting (and tweeting) since his famous ride down the escalator at Trump Tower.

Yet in reclassifying yesterday’s hegemon as today’s promulgator and respecter of norms, members of that establishment perpetrate a fraud. Whether Americans, notably gullible when it comes to history, will fall for this charade remains to be seen. Thus far at least, Trump himself, who probably knows a thing or two about snake-oil salesmen, shows little inclination to take the bait.

Say this for the anti-Trump resistance: while the fascism-just-around-the-corner rhetoric may be overheated and a touch overwrought, it qualifies as forthright and heartfelt. While not sharing the view that Trump will rob Americans of their freedoms, I neither question the sincerity nor doubt the passion of those who believe otherwise. Indeed, I am grateful to them for acting so forcefully on their convictions. They are inspiring.

Not so with those who now wring their hands about the passing of the fictive liberal international order credited to enlightened American statecraft. They are engaged in a great scam, working assiduously to sustain the pretense that the world of 2017 remains essentially what it was in 1937 or 1947 or 1957 when it is not.

Today’s Russia is not a reincarnation of the Soviet Union; the People’s Republic of China is not Imperial Japan; and the Islamic State in no way compares to Nazi Germany. Most of all, United States in the era of Donald Trump is not the nation that elected Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower, not least of all in the greatly reduced willingness of Americans to serve as instruments of state power, as the failed post-9/11 assertions of hegemony have demonstrated.

The world has changed in fundamental ways. So too has the United States. Those changes require that the principles guiding U.S. policy also change accordingly.

However ill-suited by intellect, temperament, and character for the office he holds, Trump has seemingly intuited the need for such change. In this regard, if in none other, I’m with the Donald
But note the irony. Trump may come closer to full-fledged historical illiteracy than any president since Warren G. Harding. Small wonder then that his rejection of the mythic past long employed to preempt serious debate regarding U.S. policy gives fits to the perpetrators of those myths.

Andrew J. Bacevich is TAC’s writer-at-large.  

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Ghosts from the past, or a Threat to Europe and Democracy? #Ukraine

Treptower Park, BerlinThis is 2014 and Europe remembers the slaughter of the First World War. At least those of us with a brain will. No doubt the same gutter press, or its successors, that showed, then, complete irresponsibility, will have their own version of that glorious episode…

On May 9 those of us, with even fresher memories, will celebrate Victory Day: victory over the hydra of fascism, a victory won at a very high price by the people of the USSR, and the courageous resistance throughout Europe, and singularly, in Poland, Ukraine, Yugoslavia and Greece.

It is perhaps just timely, given this background, for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to publish a White Book on Violations of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Ukraine (November 2013 – March 2014). The White Book is a sober, well documented, record of the vicious violence, racist abuses, unlawful imprisonment, beatings, torture, pogroms, thefts, committed so far (March 2014) by the fascistic “good democrats” before and since the putsch of February 2014.

Some of the facts were, in part, known from reports mainly in the non-mainstream independent western media, the Russian news channels and local witnesses. Western mainstream media has, as ever, been conducting a smoke and mirrors disinformation campaign aimed at supporting the State Department’s claims of Russian “aggression”. I expect Mr Kerry will dismiss this as another example of “propaganda”, but do not expect a blow by blow critique of the record, since it is unassailable, each fact being dated, located with names of victims or perpetrators.

What comes out of a first reading is, first of all, a sense of revulsion that this could be happening in the middle of Europe, and that such acts, and the thugs perpetrating them, have the support of the unelected European top bureaucracy, as well as of the US government. A second thought is about how moderate the Russian response to the events has been (so far), given the long list of abuses and destruction of Russian property, and harassment of Russian journalists, that has and is taking place.

A tempting conclusion is that we are witnessing the birth of a fascist régime, in 2014, in the middle of Europe. However it will be worth for people of goodwill, here, elsewhere in Europe, and in the US, to reflect on the motivation for publishing the White Book now, as events unfold, as explained in the introduction:

The history of the twentieth century has given tragic lessons which would be irresponsible and also at times just unlawful to ignore. The White Book is a signal to those who have forgotten this or pretend to forget. Those who cynically, in pursuit of their own selfish interests and under the guise of good intentions and pseudo-democratic demagogy, are plunging a multimillion multi-ethnic Ukrainian population into extremism, lawlessness, and a deep crisis of national identity.

The onslaught of racism, xenophobia, ethnic intolerance, the glorification of the Nazis and their Banderite sycophants should be brought to a speedy end through the united efforts of the Ukrainian people and the international community. The alternative is fraught with so devastating consequences for peace, stability, and democratic development in Europe, that it is absolutely necessary to prevent further escalation of this situation.

We have to reflect on the past decades: the violence meted out to small countries and people everywhere: in South America, in Asia, in the Middle-East, in Africa. We must remember the horrors of the US-sponsored régimes of Pinochet and other puppets of corporate interests. We must admit that our horror over the violence in Ukraine, is in part due to the fact that Ukraine – like in 1990 Yugoslavia – is in Europe. But worse is being committed, has been committed, for decades, outside Europe in the name of “democracy” and “freedom”. Let us look at Iraq, Libya, Syria, at Egypt…

So, where do we go from here? The White Book was published before the murders of Odessa, where scores of local residents, protesting against the fascists, were burnt alive deliberately or beaten to death by the thugs. The violence won’t stop there. What history has taught us is that the hydra must be killed: it knows neither pity nor reason.

In the background Nato’s posturing in the Baltic and Poland. There, conservative and reactionary governments have requested “more presence”. And Nato appears to be willing to comply. There is only one problem. The Russian Federation of today is no longer what it was when Washington was running circles around Yeltsin. It is not the USSR, nor Nazi Germany in 1940… But it is there, and again, the lesson of history, is: don’t mess with Russia.

Across the globe, in the Pacific, the “Lord of the Drones”, aka the President of the US of A, is weaving his little alliances, overtly, to encircle China. One wonders what the strategy really is… There is such a thing as “folie des grandeurs”!

Back to the Ukraine, there is more to what happens there than the murderous antics of the Kiev puppets: what the IMF is doing, backed by US corporations and mercenaries: what we are witnessing is Neoliberalism in action, a virulent variety of it. And of course it is already at work, in Greece, and in Bosnia…

I will celebrate Victory Day on 9 May.

A plea for a Federation of European States/1

Europe The dilemma now facing European Union’s leaders, regarding the Ukraine crisis, is less than enviable. While it is relatively easy, and so far free of risks, for the Washington administration to turn a blind eye on the disturbing evidence of the true nature of some of the components of the ‘régime’ now seemingly in control in Kiev – after all, the régime change has been/is generously funded, supported and encouraged by the nexus State Department/CIA/American ultra-right billionaires – the position of the Union, and above all, of Germany, can only be more nuanced.

Western Europe needs Russia, even more than Russia needs Europe; which is not to say that the current crisis is not damaging to Russian interests, now and possibly in the longer term as well. The fragile economic recovery in Europe, German-led and founded on the neo-liberal principles adopted by the EU and its institutions, most notably the European Central Bank, and the quasi totality of member states governments, could receive a death blow should the present confrontation turned into a ‘new’ Cold War.

Confronting the Russian Federation, for example in a futile show of unconditional support for what is effectively a right-wing, ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist pronunciamento, in the Western Ukraine, maybe ‘business as usual’ for the Cold Warriors of Washington, it cannot be to Europe’s interests, and certainly not to the interests of its peace-loving citizens.

The ignorance of recent history and geography, a constant and alarming feature of US foreign policy and ambitions, from Afghanistan to the Balkans, and part of the sinister inheritance from the ‘Raygun era’, does not wash in countries, including those countries issued from the implosion of the USSR in the 90’s,  that were directly affected by WWII in Eastern and Central Europe. The grim statistics of casualties in the Ukraine and the whole USSR speak for themselves, and have never been forgotten, except by the hapless and US (mainly) Republican politicians. Anti-Russian and anti-semite pronouncements by the ‘democrats’, the proud fighters against ‘tyranny’, praised by Mr Kerry in Kiev, cannot over-impress those citizens of the Union, who do know some geography, and have a reasonably good understanding and memory of historical facts.

Since the country’s reunification – Einheit – Germany has been looking increasingly toward the Esat, and to those countries, Poland, the Tcheque Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic nations, that have sought and embraced Union membership. This has been concomitant with a growing and healthy cooperation with Russia, which is not limited to natural gas and oil. It will take more than a few bellicose statements from Washington DC to reverse that position.

It remains that a diplomatic and long-lasting solution must be found. Futile threats of sanctions won’t help, and may just prolong the crisis. The neo-nazis in Kiev must be dealt with, the genuine democrats supported. Peace and civil society must be reasserted, and an agreement sought and negotiated that respects the European aspirations of the western majority, while preserving the sensitivities of the Russian and Russian speaking Southern and Eastern regions.

One could dream that a Federal European Union, doted of truly democratic institutions, and freed from undue US interference, would be better equipped to achieve this.

More than a Blast from the Past?

Neo-nazis in Kiev The recent turn of events, in the Middle East, and now in Eastern Europe, appears to signal   a resurgence of what used to be called the Cold War (not everybody agrees). This is not the only blast from the past. Looking further back, the reappearance of armed neo-fascists thugs, with appropriate logos, in the streets of Kiev, like that of similar ghosts in the wake of the destruction of the Yugoslav Federation, is a reminder that those forces are far from dead. For many of us, convinced “old Europeans” – with still a good memory and some knowledge and respect for history – our concerns are exacerbated by the apparently irresponsible rhetoric proffered by the European Commission/Nato/US White House nexus. If it is true that the right-wing “revolutionaries” in Kiev are funded by a mix of shadowy – as ever – US agencies, and right-wing US billionaires, then what on earth is the EU doing blowing on the fire? What is the strategy of the German government towards those events? Who are the proxies? And in whose interests is the legitimate government of the Ukraine toppled?

I mentioned the Middle East. There, from Algeria to Syria and Iraq, from Egypt to Bahrain, the nefarious combination of US intervention – assassination by drones and shipments of arms to the local dictatorships – and Saudi funding (and even direct armed intervention as in Bahrain) can only be described as counterrevolution. Thus we have been witnessing the funeral of the Arab Spring, that never was.

What is the common thread through these events? Is it sufficient to invoke the on-march of neo-liberalism and CIA plots? In a recent article on the LRB blog James Meek evokes the steady progress of “Russian-sponsored territories” from Georgia to the Crimea. Writes Meek:

“The territories contain large populations who, with varying degrees of justification, objected to the governments handed them in the post-Soviet order of newly independent states. The Slavs of Transdniestria feared Moldova would force them to speak Moldovan, and would unite with Romania. The Abkhazians wanted greater autonomy within, or independence from, Georgia. The South Ossetians, historically close to Russia, feared being cut off, within Georgia, from their northern kin in Russia, on the other side of the mountains.”

Is a similar process about to take place in Crimea? Evidently Russia did not sponsor the Kiev uprising, but what about the fears and concerns of the mainly Russian population of the Crimea? Those thoughts bring us back to what preceded WWI: 1913. What happened then? Is it wild extrapolation to compare the present situation to that created  for Austria-Germany-Russia-Serbia, and the others, before 1914?

In “The Sleepwalkers, How Europe went to war in 1914”, Christopher Clark asks: “… we need to do more than simply revisit  the sequence of international ‘crises’  that preceded the outbreak of war – we need to understand how those events were experienced and woven into narratives that structured perceptions and motivated behaviour. Why did the men whose decisions took Europe to war behave and see things as they did? How did the sense of fearfulness and foreboding that one finds in so many sources connect with the arrogance and swaggering we encounter – often in the very same individuals?”

Should we be asking those questions now?

Pierre Omidyar co-funded Ukraine revolution groups with US government, documents show

How surprising!

Peace to her soul ~ and Why I Loathe Mrs “T”

Poll Tax riotsI started working in the Midlands around 1978 for a small engineering firm that designed, manufactured and exported high-tech telecommunications equipment to the US.  Yes, that’s right to the US of A. The firm had been founded a few years back by ex-European Space Agency British engineers who were good at what they were doing, and not bad employers either.  There were then hundreds of similar companies around the Midlands and the North of England.  By the late 80’s they were all gone, sacrificed to the Hayekian non sense that underpinned “la Thatcher”’s philosophy in life.  Ignore the noises of sycophants and of her numerous inheritors – think about this:

The craddle of the industrial revolution destroyed, entire regions laid waste by a policy of deindustrialisation paid for by plundering the riches of the North Sea, the plunder of state, that is, people-owned organisations in telecommunications, transport, energy, water, the destruction of the Coal-Mining industry and of the communities that had lived for it through two centuries, and saved the country in two world-wars, the sell-off of most of the remaining industrial base to foreign interests, the beginning of the dismantlement of the welfare state…

Was Britain in decline in 1979? No more than any other European social democracy.  Capitalism had been in crisis then since the end of the Viet-Nam war in the mid 70‘s. Britain, obviously not immune, was however still a country of moderate inequalities, fair fiscality, good public services, and good prospects of making headway in the European concert of nations, thanks to the policy of Edward Heath, an enlightened conservative  by the standards of what followed, who a few years before had taken Britain to the Common Market, through the only referendum ever held on the subject in the UK.  A majority consensus had emerged to support Mr Heath’s policies.  “Mrs T” hated Edward Heath.  Her malevolent hatred would divide the conservative party before the full blast of her divisive and vindictive  personality poisened British politics for years to come.  Edward Heath was an informed, ethical and courageous politician.  She, the “grocer’s daughter”, was a crypto fascist of the basest kind: an admirer of Pinochet and of the Apharteid régime of South Africa.  Her class instincts were to fear and hate workers, their trade-unions, and the mass of their members.  Her ideal was the hayekian pseudo paradise of the worst reaction of the 20’s, laissez faire, anti universal suffrage, anti welfare state, a proto-fascist pre-industrial petty bourgeois lunacy.

Unemployment soared to levels unseen since since the 30’s and the great depression.  But Mrs T did not care: it did not matter since the future, fuelled by North Seal oil revenue, would be all about the hyper financialisation already underway in the US.

Yes, Britain and its inbattled labour government of 1979 was in the claws of the IMF and its neoliberal gurus.  Friedman and Hayek ruled OK.  In the US Ronald Reagan inaugurated his presidency by sacking the striking air-traffic controllers – the first of many, and a decision that may (or not) have haunted his ghost years later.  But who cared? Not Mrs T! The war against democratically elected local government started, armed with the new inquisition, the unaccountable “Audit Commission”, and the destruction of the fabric of local public services and unashamed “privatisation”…  Mrs T was, literally, on the war path, the class-war path.  Or indeeed pursuing a foreign war when things appeared not so rosy?  She ignored her friend Ronald’s offer of mediation, and went to war with Argentina!  Can one imagine a more absurd situation?  But it worked, for a short while. Forget the hundreds of casualties on both sides – worse would come in the Bliar’s years, evidently her spiritual son…

Enemies abound: the British working class, battered and humiliated but not forgetting, her personal foe, the emerging Union (“I want my money back!”), and of course the villains on her own side, intelligent people who dared see that disasters were looming.  So after riots, unprecedented and soaring levels of inequalities, the abject exit from the ERM, the loss of influence in Europe, and of course being overtaken on all fronts, bar speculation, by countries that did have a real industrial policy…  “they” finally kicked her out shouting and screaming.  She would not even spare her venom for her hapless successor, honest Mr Major…

But her legacy lives on.  Britain no longer exports anything much to the US, her influence in Europe is virtually nil, what remains of her car industry is in foreign hands, as far as India and China.  After many crises and collapses (1984, 1987, 1989, 2002 and finally the crash of 2008) the “financial sector” still holds on to its incredible privileges and unethical conduct… As for inequalities the country is now more divided than ever, North-South, the very rich and most of us, renewed assaults on public services, and, looming large, the exhaustion of the North-Sea bonanza and the dependence on foreign imports of gas and oil…  Indeed 11 years whose trail goes on forever…

Which Europe?

Church in Südtirol Escaping the pseudo-olympian non-sense this summer was a privilege. Living in East London we were keen to have as much of clear space as possible between ourselves and the polluted commercial extravaganza overtaking the landscape. So we aimed for the mountains, and that country blessed with so many precious gifts, Italy.

If one was to believe the reactionary “popular” press over here, the Europhone Union is in trouble, and far worse than some others. It’s a long way from our corner of the woods to the (now) Italian Tirol, over 800 klicks across Northern France, Belgium, Central and Southern Germany, Austria and, finally, Northern Italy. This gave us a snapshot of realities over those regions. The first observation is that the state of roads has not improved in recent years, always poor in Belgium – awful traffic and driving behaviour – as the high quality of French and German motorways has suffered under so-called austerity measures, as administrations cut corners (and eventually increase costs!) Austria remains impeccable, and petrol there is somewhat cheaper than elsewhere, for reasons we have not identified. British banks (yes, the ones we pumped up and are still pumping up with hard-earned cash, we resident taxpayers) charge an outrageous £7 to 8 fee/commission for “foreign exchange” (how about that for another non-sense?) so we garnished the Euro account to avoid such. The second one is that the German automobile industry rules ok. Belgian, French, Italian, and of course, German, high income professionals (we guessed) drive Audi’s, Mercedes’ and BMW’s – and the occasional Porsche’s – as if there was no crisis. Those cars are high end models, and not few of them expensive fuel-guzzling SUV’s. I have not mentioned British number plates, but more of the same for those of HM’s subjects who dare point their noses out there in the crisis-ravaged Union!

The third, concomitant, observation, is that austerity and neo-liberal cuts in public services, and its unavoidable consequences for economic growth, have not affected people – the citizens of the Union – equally, an obvious truth already noted over here. The upper middle class – employed, fee-earning, and well-endowed in assets and insurance policies (and German cars), is doing just fine. Of course, there are huge regional, and national, disparities, as in Britain. Southern Germany, Austria and that part of Northern Italy we visited, are doing well. Like the weather, hardship is not fairly apportioned. We enjoyed a cool and occasionally wet climate in Südtirol, while other parts of the country were sweltering in African drought. So for employment and the economy. The Alto-Adige region is one of the most prosperous in Italy, indeed, in Europe. The well-managed mix of sustainable agriculture, light industries and tourism, has done miracles there. Young people and families stay in their villages, because there is work, good public services, and attractive, affordable housing, which in turn makes a stay attractive, affordable and healthy for visitors like us, who then spend their “devaluated” Euros with glee. Südtirol, that most beautiful haven of nature, which has a privileged status of autonomy in the Italian constitution, is a model of careful husbandry of natural resources, with still a balance between traditional activities and tourism. This is a far cry from the destruction of mountains, habitat and traditional farming, wrecked over the French Alps by the greed of winter sports entrepreneurs. We wished this model – the sustainable mix – was more wide-spread over Europe (more about this on my post about the Messner Mountain Museum in Brüneck).

On the way back, in reverse, through Austria, Southern Germany, Eastern France and finally the Northern Atlantic seaboard, those observations were confirmed. We totalled another 1,000 klicks, through industrial, farming and urban landscapes, stopping twice in France and visiting my childhood town (unchanged after all those years). Europe is still, by world standards, prosperous, and its citizens well aware of the onslaught on their rights and liberties. But there is hope. The tide is turning against the conservative anti-social policies that have taken us to this situation: sacrificing our young on the altar of so-called economic realities, feeding Moloch, in fact, the inept dogma of privatisation and public services roll-back that have proven disastrous everywhere in the world for the past 40 years, except for the exceptionally wealthy!

In the meantime, the German industrial juggernaut rolls on, the Chinese – some Chinese – are getting richer, and keep lending – thank you – to the citizens and banks, and government, of the US of A, and of course, “we” had the Olympic Games for 2012 (and as local tax payers, are waiting for the bill thereof). All is well.