On the narcissism of small differences

May 24th, 2017


Political & social scientist/activist/writer Susan George PHOTO/Wikipedia

In an interview with the TNI’s Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

How do you feel after Macron’s victory?

Relieved. I was sick of the elections, I think the entire country was exhausted with the whole thing. I wasn’t afraid of a Le Pen victory as I had been earlier. The polls were unanimous that the gap was too big to cover for the far Right in a couple of weeks. However, this election has created huge divisions particularly on the Left and has revealed a very fragmented France. The Front National thankfully lost, but also scored a record vote in the sense that they doubled their vote.

What drove the record high support for Le Pen?

The reasons are similar to those driving Brexit, Trump and other events. This is what you get after 40 years of neoliberalism. Inequality has increased dramatically, unemployment is stuck at about 10 percent and people feel excluded, and are justifiably worried that their children will be worse off than they are.

Le Pen’s votes came from de-industrialised regions of the North, from rural areas feeling left out of French concerns and from people who have low and falling incomes and poor education.

And it’s true that these groups have been pretty much neglected by all governments for the last 30 years. In terms of rural areas, for example, French and European policies have favoured the Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d’Exploitants Agricoles (FNSEA), representing the biggest rich farmers who receive nearly all the subsidies under EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, while small farmers get little or nothing.

It’s ironic that the big issues in these neglected parts of the country target immigrants and terrorists, who barely can be found in these communities let alone threaten them, but sometimes these simplistic answers are easier than analysing what’s really happening in society, which has been a huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich or the rural to the urban.

What did you think of the rise of Mélenchon, who was covered in international press as a surprise development in the election but ultimately failed to make the second round?

Well, from the outside he may have been an unknown figure, but inside France he’s been a prominent figure for the past ten years. He was a Socialist Party member but left in 2008, fed up with its conservatism. He participated as a left candidate in the last election (2012) and got an equal hearing but came across as an accusatory, loud, ‘angry’ candidate. He learned his lessons or mellowed with age – he’s now 65 – because this time he came across as amiable, smart and eloquent.

He is solidly left and has some very good ideas – in my view he is one of the few political leaders to have completely absorbed the theoretical and practical implications of putting the environment at the forefront and our need for a green transition. He has been an impressive speaker, charming crowds, particularly of young people, at mass events where he has spoken eloquently without notes and with the backup of a great tech team (appearing physically in one city and simultaneously in hologram in five others for example) and backed up by a sophisticated social media strategy.

Red Pepper for more

Viet Nam: A history from earliest times to the present

May 24th, 2017


Ethnic Khmer children at Wat Somrong, Vinh Long province PHOTO/Ben Kiernan, 1975

(Ben Kiernan introduces his new book published by Oxford University Press, 2017)

“The mountains are like the bones of the earth. Water is its blood,” wrote a Vietnamese geographer in 1820. Lowland Viet Nam is aquatic, but it is also multiregional and polyethnic. The country’s three historic lowland regions are bounded by extensive uplands, all linked by interrelated landscapes, economies, and cultures. Throughout the plains, water plays a key role in the economy and communications. In the north and south, the Red River and the Mekong River form wide deltas and flow into the South China Sea. Linking the two deltas is the central region, many hundreds of miles of curving coastline, broken every twenty miles or so by river mouths and port towns.

Central Viet Nam, once known as Champa, is a long, narrow coastal plain that Vietnamese often picture as a thin bamboo pole, at whose ends are suspended two bulky rice baskets, the northern and southern deltas of the Red River and the Mekong. In the past three millennia, these three lowland regions have nourished unique wet-rice civilizations, speaking primarily forms of the Vietnamese, Cham, and Cambodian languages, respectively. Overlooking the lowlands, and descending very close to the coast along the narrow central plain, forested ranges and hills (“the bones of the earth”) serve as the watersheds of the country’s many rivers, occupy three quarters of its territory, and are home to over fifty more ethnic minority groups speaking as many languages.

Thus the rich tapestry of Vietnamese history cannot be reduced to a national story, an unchanging ethnic identity, or an enduring ancient polity—any more than the country can be reduced to a singular twentieth-century war. What is known today as Vi?t Nam is a land shared and contested by many peoples and cultures for several thousand years.

Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present treats the country over the millennia primarily as a place, a series of homelands that have become a shared territory, a changing land and common home rather than a continuous culture or a developing polity.

The book focuses not on the origins of Vietnamese nationhood or the persistence of a political identity but on documenting and narrating the experiences of the variety of peoples who have inhabited the country’s different regions since earliest recorded times, as well as their interactions with their natural environments and with neighboring countries. The focus is on much more than the political history of a geographical area defined by the modern state’s contemporary boundaries. Rather, a history of the different regions within those boundaries helps to integrate the multiethnic nature of its people’s histories and their cultural relationships with the lands where they have lived.

The Asia Pacific Journal/Japan Focus for more

Einstein, Hawking and Rees set to music, singing about virtual particles, tiny satellite will soon blast off

May 24th, 2017


Singing multiverse: the Salisbury Chamber Chorus PHOTO/Salisbury Chamber Chorus

“What I wanted to write was something about the universe and our place in it: from the Big Bang, through our insignificance in the vastness of it all, our need for exploration and where space travel will take us, to the nature of light or the make-up of electrons, and finally ideas about multiverses and infinity.”

That is the motivation behind the “secular oratorio” Space Time Matter Energy by Simon McEnery, which premieres at St Mary le Strand Church in London on 10 June. The piece melds the words of famous physicists such as Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees and Albert Einstein with music and song from the Salisbury Chamber Chorus, the percussion ensemble Beaten Track and the pianist Peter Toye. If you can’t be in London on the 10th, there is also a performance in Salisbury on 17 June.

Sticking with the musical theme, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s career as a singer-songwriter looks set to take off with the release of three music videos in one month. Her latest song is about virtual particles and you can watch it above.

He may be just 15 years old, but India’s Rifath Shaarook has designed and built what is claimed to be the lightest satellite ever to be launched by rocket. Shaarook made the external shell of his 64 g satellite from 3D-printed carbon fibre. “It will have a new kind of onboard computer and eight indigenous built-in sensors to measure acceleration, rotation and the magnetosphere of the Earth,” he told the Daily Telegraph. The satellite was a winning entry in the Cubes in Space design competition and will be launched in June by NASA. The rocket will follow a non-orbiting parabolic trajectory before returning to Earth.

Physics World for more

A murderous history of Korea

May 23rd, 2017



More than four decades ago I went to lunch with a diplomatic historian who, like me, was going through Korea-related documents at the National Archives in Washington. He happened to remark that he sometimes wondered whether the Korean Demilitarised Zone might be ground zero for the end of the world. This April, Kim In-ryong, a North Korean diplomat at the UN, warned of ‘a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment’. A few days later, President Trump told Reuters that ‘we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.’ American atmospheric scientists have shown that even a relatively contained nuclear war would throw up enough soot and debris to threaten the global population: ‘A regional war between India and Pakistan, for instance, has the potential to dramatically damage Europe, the US and other regions through global ozone loss and climate change.’ How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea.

London Review of Books for more

What was done

May 23rd, 2017


This short satirical film from Bella Caledonia (by Edinburgh filmmaker Bonnie Prince Bob) filmmaker was originally banned by YouTube when it was released three weeks ago (it has since returned). As far as we are concerned it is a brilliant piece of propaganda that should go viral once again.


Here are some choice (and hilarious) lines describing the reign of the “chimera,” Margaret Thatcher:

The lunatic chimera and her henchmen wreaked an epic trail of destruction. Whilst the city of London was coated in the shiny glistening ejaculate from deregulated markets, industries that sustained the common people—such as mining, ship building, and steel manufacturing—were obliterated, consigning entire communities to poverty and atrophy.

And a small taste of the excellent historical overview that ultimately leads to Corbyn’s fictional—though entirely possible—ascendance:

A humiliating diet of bread and circuses, in conjunction with benefits sanctions, zero hour contracts, rampant unemployment and food poverty was inflicted on the people… Yet it was here, quite incredibly—in this bleak and depressing climate of casino capitalism; where public money was siphoned into private pockets; where human values were second to capital gain; and where lies transcended the virtue of truth—that Corbyn’s miraculous revolution begun.

Try to read the subtitles to the various news clips if you are not doubled over with laughter—you’ll probably want to watch it more than once.

Original Post from Bella Caledonia

Two weeks ago we launched the new film by Edinburgh film-maker Bonnie Prince Bob and his team, What was Done.

The film treads the line between dark satire, social vision and playful dystopia.The Canary compared it to Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet…

This is fake news with a purpose. These are bad dudes.

The film’s now had over 200,000 views across all mediums despite being ignored by most of the Scottish media and blogosphere and kicked-off You Tube (it’s back now).

Brilliant futuristic reminiscence of the Corbyn story by @nonideefixe

—The Agitator

The finest political art to come out of Scotland ever.

—Kevin Williamson

Best political satire Ive ever watched. Brilliant 33 mins

—Rob Gray

What an amazing piece and makes me so grateful to be able to call Scotland my home. #Resistance at its best. I’m posting on FB and sharing as much as possible.

—Rachel Du Bois

It is absolutely brilliant, hopefully it will be available on June 9th for the world to see.

—Josephine Williams

Absolutely stunning work and infinitely superior to anything our state-broadcaster could produce. Under the horror and scalpel-sharp humour this is a love letter to what remains of Labour’s soul. Scotland is leaving but there’s still time for England. Let’s hope they’re watching. Share it and back this major talent’s future projects.

—Phantom Power

So **Loved** this .. brilliantly done .. but FB censor ship has begun .. must have terrified some at the top ..more power to ya elbow..!

—Eileen Murtha Brown

If you haven’t seen it already, go watch and share…

For the mobile-friendly link go to the Daily Motion site here: http://dai.ly/x5khzvv

MRonline for more

Corporate media mourns for humanitarian imperialism but is silent on Congolese suffering

May 23rd, 2017


PHOTO/Yasuyoshi Chiba

With allies like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Washington is causing immeasurable suffering on the Congolese people because they happen to sit on $24 trillion worth of resources that are critical to the American war machine. If Americans want to act in solidarity with the Congolese they should stop pretending that US foreign policy is rooted in justice, and instead support citizen movements like TELEMA that are fighting for change in DRC.

462 military observers, 1,090 police personnel, 18,232 military personnel. At 19,784 uniformed personnel, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is the largest United Nations peacekeeping mission on the planet.

With President Trump proposing billions of dollars’ worth of cuts to the United Nations, this 17-year peacekeeping mission (named MONUC prior to 2010) may soon look dramatically different. In between the corporate media’s insatiable appetite (often used for ratings) for Russian conspiracy theories, we have heard some rumblings about the international consequences of Trump’s budget proposal.

Despite 5 million Congolese civilians murdered or dead from starvation/preventable diseases the Congolese can only be tangentially mentioned in the U.S. press. The indifference is glaring when you consider that it is our American allies: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Joseph Kabila regime who routinely murders/detains civilians to preserve his rule, who are primarily responsible for the death toll. Yet, in spirt of this inherent responsibility, the discussion of Congolese peace is primarily centered around achieving American imperial goals.

CNN’s Peter Yeo warns, “If signed, such an order would seriously endanger US foreign policy and national security interests, and put millions of lives at risk”, and Americans should “[r]emember why the US provides these funds to the United Nations in the first place. Promoting global peace and security abroad through the UN prevents conflicts abroad and minimizes the number of people who need to flee, efforts that are directly aligned with President Trump’s policy to keep Americans safe.” Another CNN, report concluded these UN cuts would be “devastating to the war on terror.”

Conflating the peacekeeping missions and other humanitarian UN programs, Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy added that Trump’s $1 billion cut “reflected the White House’s clear desire to jettison America’s traditional role as the champion of the downtrodden and embrace that of a military powerhouse to be feared.”

Pambazuka News for more

Japan’s casino plans can take pointers from Macau, Singapore

May 22nd, 2017


Fireworks explode over Parisian Macao as part of the Las Vegas Sands development during its opening ceremony in Macau, China. September 13, 2016. PHOTO/Reuters Bobby Yip

Tokyo now debating the legislation that gaming companies need as they consider investing billions of dollars in Japan resorts

The Japan Gaming Congress held earlier this month was the first major conference to bring together all the potential players since a bill was passed in December toward licensing casinos in the country.

The attendees included regional and national government representatives, casino gaming operators and suppliers; and potential lenders and investors.

By most accounts, by the time the conference ended on May 11 at the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo, the excitement was palpable at the prospects of developing casinos and related entertainment facilities in Japan.

This is perhaps unsurprising as investment bank CLSA estimates gaming revenue in Japan could surpass US$25 billion a year. Some estimates put it much higher.

Regardless of the revenue numbers used, Japan is seen as the coveted prize in the gaming industry and will be on par with Singapore and Macau, the two best markets financially today.

However, the elephant in the room at the Tokyo congress was the lack of detail to define any potential gaming investment in Japan.

AsiaTimes for more

Alcohol’s Influence on Campus

May 22nd, 2017

The Chronicle of Higher Education

One of the lessons that many students seem to learn at college, and that some of them carry over into their alumni years, is how to drink to excess. The risky behavior can be associated with negative outcomes like illness, sexual assault, accidental death, even murder. This 44-page collection describes how hard it is for colleges to restrain drinking, especially with so many bars and liquor stores surrounding campuses and so many students encouraging their friends to drink.

The Chronicle of Higher Education for more

‘Poor to be taxed more, rich to get more perks’ — Bayan Muna on DOF’s tax reform bill

May 22nd, 2017


MANILA — Partylist group Bayan Muna led a picket in front of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, May 10, to jump-start their planned protest actions against the “anti-poor tax reform package of the finance department.”

“While this tax reform measure is giving more incentives to the rich, it is, on the other hand, further burdening the ordinary consumers and the poor who will bear the brunt of the impact of the proposed new taxes,” said Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate. He called on the people especially the organized sectors “to oppose, launch and participate in more protest actions against the deceptive, anti-people House Bill 4774 being pushed by the Department of Finance.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Zarate said the poor will be hit the hardest in the excise tax on oil and the expanded value added tax (VAT) alone. “Most likely those who will suffer gravely are the commuters, house wives, students, drivers, small operators, OFWs — majority of the people since all products and services will cost more with the tax hike,” added Rep.Zarate in Filipino.

“Unfortunately, this is what the neo-liberal economic managers of the Duterte administration, led by Finance Sec. Dominguez, wanted,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Zarate. The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion bill is a key component of the DOF’s overall tax reform package.

Based on published reports, the latest version of the bill tempered the increases in auto excise tax. Although it maintained largely the same provisions in a previous version a few changes were made including a lower rate of increase.

An initial estimate of the independent think tank IBON Foundation found that in the DOF’s Tax Reform Package, the richest will pay around Php178.3 billion less in reduced personal and corporate income taxes, estate and donor taxes, and capital income taxes.

On the other hand, consumers will be paying about Php341.6 billion more for VAT on previously exempt items and on higher excise taxes on petroleum products. Additional taxes will also be paid by consumers for every sugary beverage they buy.

Bulatlat for more

Weekend Edition

May 19th, 2017