Posts Tagged ‘‘The Water Margin’’

George Galloway Interviews on China and Tax Dodging by the Rich

December 6, 2017

This is a very interesting edition of Sputnik, one of the programmes on RT, hosted by media bete noir George Galloway, and a young Asian lady simply called Gayatri. Sputnik was, of course, the first satellite put into Earth orbit by the Russians. The name means ‘fellow traveller’ in Russian, and has come to mean an artificial satellite ever since.

In the first half of the programme, Galloway and Gayatri interview Jeanne-Marie Gescher, a British sinologist, who has been studying China ever since the notorious Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Gescher has written a book about the country and its transformation, and describes how she was just about the only western person flying into China after the massacre, when all the other westerners were trying to get out. This, however, gave her a head start of a couple of years over the other academics researching China, when she was one of the very few westerners actually in the country. Galloway talks about President Xi’s party congress, and makes the point that most of it was about ‘socialism with a Chinese face’, rather than economics. He and Gescher also discuss the role of a strong central authority in governing and forming China, ever since its foundation all those millennia ago. They make the point that the role of a strong central authority is so much at the core of the country’s character and government, that it has been said that without it China is like sand. Gescher states that ever since the ancient shamans led the earliest ancestors of the Chinese to settle down, there has been a tension between two philosophies towards government and the natural order. One is that the natural world is too complex for people to understand, and so government is best carried out by a single ‘son of Heaven’ – the official title of the Chinese emperor – who governs autocratically. The other recommends instead that the world be subject to a structured investigation. This is not democratic, but it is wider than the concentration of power in a single autocratic figure. Gescher also describes the way China has repeatedly fragmented over the ages, only to come back together as a single, unitary empire again, with a quote from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the great classics of Chinese literature. To people of a certain age, the book is best known as the basis for the Chinese swashbuckling tale broadcast by the Beeb in the ’70s, The Water Margin.

They also discuss Donald Trump’s apparent volte-face last week. Before he went to China, he was full of anger at the Chinese and there was much resentment in the American media about perceived Chinese mistreatment. Trump was going to tear them off a strip about it. After he got there, however, and met the President, he ended up praising the country. Gescher states that this has shown the Chinese that Trump ‘flip-flops’. This will worry them, as there is nothing more dangerous than a leader, who so capriciously changes position.

Next on the show is Professor Steve Keen, who has also written a book demolishing economics. Keen’s a former economics professor at Kingston University, though at the end of the interview he states that he has left academia to go his own way via Patreon. Keen, Gayatri and Galloway discuss the infamous Paradise Papers and the tax dodging by the very rich. Keen himself isn’t shocked by the way the super-rich like Bono, Lewis Hamilton and the Queen have deprived the treasury of their taxes. He seems to accept that it’s just part of the pathology of the very rich. He states that they’re terrified of anyone else getting their hands on their money, and so pay enormous fees to people, who tell them how they can legally avoid paying cash.

Galloway is shocked, however, and makes the ironic point that the Queen, in her case, is actually avoiding paying tax to herself. Which is true. He also wonders about the mentality of the rich, who will spend their money on colossally expensive items like luxury super-yachts. Keen states he knows someone, who has actually bought one. This man had a 120-ft yacht, but turned it in for a 140 foot vessel, complete with space for a grand piano. He states that this comes from the sheer greed and sense of entitlement of the rich.

He then talks about the various fake holding companies and offshore accounts that the rich use in order to avoid paying tax in the country where they really make their money. He’s actually been to the Cayman Islands, and seen the office block, where so many multinational companies legally have their headquarters. He states that he read so many of the brass plaques on the building’s walls before he gave up. But it was all a scam. There was no-one in the building. It was all very much a legal fiction.

Keen himself has recommended his own way to stop this. At the moment, the tax on profits allows the rich to dodge paying tax by allowing them to cast their companies as subsidiaries working for a parent organisation somewhere else in the world. To stop them doing that, Keen recommends that there should be a tax on transactions instead, which would bring money back into the treasury and which couldn’t be avoided by setting up fake parent companies.

He also has a very different view of taxation than other economists. He argues that the point of taxation isn’t to pay for government services. Governments, by their nature, create money. They pump it into the economy. What taxation does is take it out of the economy, so you don’t have runaway inflation.

Talking about his decision to leave academia, Keen states that it was forced on him by the government’s effective privatisation of higher education. This has turned students into ‘informed consumers of higher education’. However, the league tables concentrate on the Russell Group, and so the new universities that were created post 1992 are starved of funding. This has led him to break with the university, and start crowdfunding his work. He states that he has a great bunch of people funding him through Patreon, and that he’s learned a lot from them. He is also critical of university tenure, because it creates a very conformist mindset. It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to do the opposite, but he states that by the time professors have done all the things needed to gain tenure, they are afraid of stepping out of line.

The programme ends with Galloway and Gayatri reading out some of the Tweets they have received on the shows contents. Several people remark that, whatever Trump says, America very much needs China to avoid collapsing. And others are about the Queen and the rest of the rich dodging tax.

This is interesting, as it shows that Galloway is a very good interviewer. I also find it quite a nostalgic experience, as it reminds me of what quality television on BBC 2 used to be like in the 1970s and 1980s. No fancy graphics, just the programme’s host or hosts in the studio and his or her guests, talking. You can see the same approach used by Tariq Ali on his TV show. And while it is talk, it’s very much informed talk by experts, that isn’t dumbed down and reduced to soundbites by programme editors afraid that too much pop videos have left people with an attention-span no longer than a gnat’s.

Keen’s perspective on the rich and their sheer avarice is interesting, as is his proposed solution. I’m also struck by his innovative attitude to taxation. I’ve read similar things like it on Mike’s blog, where he has reblogged material from the Mainly Macro economist. As has the Angry Yorkshireman, Tom Clarke. This looks like a positive approach to the dismal science that will break the Tory orthodoxy about taxation and paying for the welfare state.

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Counterpoint on the Stupidity of Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister

July 23, 2016

Counterpunch, an American radical leftwing magazine and site, has put up a piece by Brian Cloughey on the utter stupidity of Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign and Commonwealth Minister. He describes the political machinations and manoeuvrings of Johnson and Gove as they jockeyed for power, how Johnson stabbed Cameron in the back over Brexit for no reason other than that he thought it would bring him to No. 10; the many lies Johnson has spun over his career, and the ignorant, bigoted and sheer racist comments that have made him at once a laughing stock to the rest of the world, and a danger to Britain’s peaceful relations with foreign nations.

Cloughey states that Johnson was sacked from the Times because he made up a quote. In 2004, the-then Conservative leader, Michael Howard, sacked him from his job as front bench spokesman for lying about his adulterous affair with Petronella Wyatt, whom he made to have an abortion. Cloughey describes Johnson as

clever and has a certain juvenile attractiveness for some people because his private life is colorful and chaotic while he has a certain facility with words and gives the impression that he could be all things to all men and to a certain number of women…

The trouble for Britain is that although Johnson is a twofaced, devious, posturing piece of slime who can’t be trusted to tell the time of day, he was most effective in capturing the public’s attention and helping persuade a majority to vote to leave the European Union.

He describes how he lied about the amount Britain contributed to the EU, and notes how after Gove’s betrayal of the treacherous Boris, the Tories ditched him and elected Theresa May instead. He considers Johnson, and the poisonous, racist rhetoric of the Leave campaign to be responsible for the increase in ‘hate speech’ and attacks and harassment of Blacks, Asians and Eastern Europeans which rose to 3,000 incidents in the weeks before and after the Referendum.

Cloughey remarks on the insulting comments Johnson has made about other leading foreign politicians and heads of state. He described Shrillary as having “dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”, Obama was ‘downright hypocritical’, and Putin a ‘ruthless and manipulative tyrant’. As for Trump, he described the Donald as ‘out of his mind’ and suffering from ‘stupefying ignorance’.

He referred to the crisis in Turkey as ‘the crisis in Egypt’, declared that ‘Chinese cultural influence is basically nil, and unlikely to increase’. He also claimed that it was said that the Queen loved the Commnwealth “partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” He was no less sneering about the peoples of the Congo. When Tony Blair went off to visit the country, he declared “No doubt . . . the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.”

Cloughey writes that Johnson has tried to excuse his comments by saying that they were taken out of their proper context, without actually saying what the proper context was. And although many people would agree with some of what he said about the various foreign leaders, they are hardly the kind of comments that you want in a foreign minister, part of whose job is speaking diplomatically and trying to establish a good relationship with those with whom he’s negotiating.

Cloughey concludes:

Britain’s prime minister would do well to reconsider her decision to appoint this gobbet of slime to a position of responsibility in her government. He will not serve Britain well.

Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon

Johnson is a clever man, if only in the way he has skilfully creating an entirely false image of a rather Billy Bunterish, lovable buffoon. But his comments about Black Africans and the Chinese are likely to cause offence, and really don’t bode well for Britain’s relations with the rest of the world. Apart from the dated, offensive terms used, like ‘picaninnies’ and ‘watermelon smiles’, the ignorance behind his dismissal of Chinese culture really is stunning. The contribution of the Chinese to science and technology is immense. You only have to open a text book on the history of science to find that many of the most fundamental scientific discoveries, from printing, to paper, to watermills, rockets and so on were made by someone in the Middle Kingdom. The influence of Chinese culture is rather less, but it is there.

Let’s deal with the very obvious modern Chinese influences in British society. One of the most obvious are Chinese takeaways, restaurants and cuisine. It may not be high art or great literature, but it is a very obvious Chinese cultural influence. Very many people in modern Britain like Chinese food, and Chinese restaurants and chip shops are a very common feature of our modern high streets. Then there’s the influence of Chinese cinema. A few years ago the Chinese won critical acclaim for a number of art films, but probably far more influential are the Hong Kong Chinese action and martial arts movies, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, ever since Bruce Lee sprang into action in the 1970s. This encouraged generations of children to learn the eastern martial arts. Many of those taught are Japanese, but they include Chinese techniques too, such as Kung Fu. And then there’s the influence of Chinese literature and religion. In the 1970s and ’80s a generation of British schoolchildren were exposed to the Chinese classics The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Wu Chen-Ang’s Journey to the West through the TV series The Water Margin and Monkey. There were even two translations of Chen-Ang’s classic novel issued, both abridged, one of which by Denis Waley. The influence of the Monkey TV show and the novel behind it have persisted to this day. The BBC promotional trailer for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 were very much based on Monkey, and made by the same company that made the videos for the Gorillaz pop group. And I noticed that the other night on Would I Lie To You, Gaby Roslin’s response to a stuffed monkey produced by one of the other guests, as to do a mock martial arts move, and intone ‘Monkey’ in the type of strangulated squawk that characterised some of the voices in that series.

Going further back, there was the craze in the 18th and 19th centuries for chinoiserie, Chinese art and porcelain. You only have to turn on one of the antique shows to see at least one of the experts talking about 18th century pottery, exported to Europe, examining pieces of jade, reproduction Shang bronzes, or 18th century wallpaper, depicted with Chinese designs, usually of people going about their business. Quite apart from the very stereotypical images of the country’s art, like the paintings of the two loves on the bridge.
China has also, naturally, had considerable influence on the culture of its neighbouring and other Asian countries. This is clearly an area for someone who knows far more about these nations’ histories and culture than I do. One example of the Middle Kingdom’s considerable influence is Japan. Buddhism was introduced by Chinese monks, and for centuries the Chinese classics formed the most prestigious part of Japanese literary culture. Further west, many of the people depicted in Persian painting have a distinctive Chinese look to their features. This was because of the cultural links and exchanges between those cultures during the Middle Ages.

In short, a moment’s thought reveals that Chinese cultural influence is certainly not negligible. Nor is it likely to remain so. The country has turned into an economic superpower, and has made considerable inroads into Africa. And way back in the ’90s, its space programme was so advanced that the Quantum Physicist and SF writer, Stephen Baxter, published an article in Focus magazine predicting that the first person to walk on Mars was very likely going to be Chinese.

Now clearly, British industrialists and financiers are very much aware of how powerful China now is. You can see it by the way they’re desperately trying to encourage the Chinese to invest, or buy up, British industry, just as they were a few decades ago with the Japanese. No-one wants potentially advantageous trade deals to be scuppered through a few tactless comments from the Foreign Minister.

And BoJo’s comments may very well cause offence. Johnson made much about his suitability for the role on the world stage, because of his position as one of the British team negotiating with the Chinese during the Beijing Olympics. But his comments also suggest that he could well have the opposite effect as well. The Chinese are, as a nation, a very proud people, and I gathered from working in one of the local museums here in Bristol that there is still a considerable feeling of humiliation about their defeat and occupation by Britain and the other foreign powers in the 19th century following the Opium Wars. Many of Britain’s former colonies are very sensitive to what they see as condescension. A few years ago there were diplomatic ructions when one of the Developing Nations – I think it may have been India – accused Britain of showing ‘colonialist and imperialist’ attitudes towards it.

Johnson with his comments about ‘picaninnies’ and ‘watermelon smiles’ uses the rhetoric and vocabulary of 19th and early 20th century racism. If he uses them when he’s foreign minister, he will cause offence, possibly starting another embarrassing diplomatic row. Let’s hope he keeps his mouth shut, and leaves the talking to others better informed.

And just to remind you, here’s the opening and closing titles from the Monkey TV show. Which, even though it’s now thirty odd years old, definitely has more style and class than Boris Alexander de Feffel Johnson.