Three Sunday reads

2 Apr

The shifting balance of global power … technical aspects of China’s ascendance … the bid to protect profits for the few by moving the UK to a US model of healthcare provision at cost of falling life expectancy for the many …

My choice of Sunday reads today.


I’ll start with a March 30 piece by Finian Cunningham, cited for the most part approvingly in a post last month on the ICC warrant on Vladimir Putin. Finian writes on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Holding a master’s in agricultural chemistry, he was a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry before pursuing a career in journalism. For close to 20 years he worked as editor and writer in major news organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.

This piece opens with Washington’s sabotage of the Nordstrom pipeline before widening its focus to the shifting realpolitik of an emerging multipolar world expedited rather than halted by the proxy war on Russia in Ukraine; a war waged in cahoots with Europe’s leaders despite being decidedly against the interests of those they purport to serve.

Finian begins:

High Stakes as Uncle Sam’s Days of Impunity Are Finally Over

Russia and China are determined to hold the American perpetrators of the Nord Stream sabotage to account. Uncle Sam’s days – indeed decades – of wanton criminality are over. There’s going to be hell to pay as the imperialist tyranny in Washington hits a wall of reality.

Several weeks have gone by with the United States and its Western lackeys stonewalling at the United Nations Security Council, squirming and resisting calls from Moscow and Beijing for an international criminal investigation into the sabotage of the Baltic Sea pipelines that were blown up in September.

A swathe of independent observers, such as American economics professor Jeffrey Sachs and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, have concurred with the investigative report published on February 8 by renowned journalist Seymour Hersh which claims that U.S. President Joe Biden and his senior White House staff ordered the Pentagon to take out the natural gas pipeline that runs along the Baltic Sea bed from Russia to Germany.

Russia and China are adamant about not letting this vital subject be ignored. They want a proper investigation, international accountability and criminal prosecution. Moscow and Beijing are right to insist on this. Washington and its Western allies’ presumption of impunity has gone on for too many decades. The buck stops here and both Russia and China are strong enough to ensure that the United States cannot threaten, blackmail, or arm-twist its way out of scrutiny.

The Nord Stream project is a major international civilian infrastructure, costing in excess of $20 billion to construct over more than a decade. At 1,200 kilometres in length under the Baltic Sea, it is an impressive feat of engineering, symbolizing the mutual benefits of good neighborliness and cooperative trading.

For the United States to blow this pipeline up in order to knock Russia out of the European energy market so that it could muscle in with its own more expensive gas supplies is a shocking act of state terrorism and criminality. It is also potentially an act of war against Russia and callous sabotage against supposed European allies whose citizens are now suffering economic misery from soaring energy bills. German workers have this week shut down the entire economy from industrial protests over collapsing businesses and unbearable cost of living.

Of course, the Nord Stream sabotage is an urgent matter of basic justice, accountability for an atrocious crime, as well as massive international financial reparations. It’s almost hilarious how the self-proclaimed American protagonist of “rules-based global order” is desperately procrastinating over a glaring incident of dereliction and chaos.

But more than the essential obligation of justice is the legacy of impunity. For the perpetrators of such a wanton terrorist act not to be held accountable sets a perilous precedent. Otherwise, what is stopping the state terrorists from repeating equally brazen acts of sabotage and warmongering? The very concept of international law and the United Nations Charter is demolished, not simply undermined.

The Nord Stream incident potentially opens an era of rampant lawlessness and state banditry – by a nuclear superpower, the United States, using its Western minions for cover. The Western news media, in their reluctance to investigate, are also exposed as nothing more than propaganda channels in the service of imperial masters …

Read the full piece …

There’s a gung-ho tone to Finian’s piece I don’t altogether care for. I share his welcoming of China’s rise and the end of US unipolarity, but add a note of caution. I’ve been doing that for years: see for instance my 2016 post, Perilous days.

I was still doing that in my post a week ago on The whataboutery of Simon Tisdall, when I spoke of that writer’s:

elephant in the room blindness to the reality of an empire ruled by the most dangerous and blood-soaked regime on the planet. An empire – here’s another elephant analogy – all the more frightening for being wounded, perhaps fatally.

In which case it may yet take us all down with it.

On her blog today Caitlin Johnstone makes the same point:

I’m a bit less excited about the mounting threats to US hegemony than other anti-imperialists … a desperate unipolarist empire is a dangerous unipolarist empire. The deadliest time for a battered wife is right when she leaves.

A cornered animal is dangerous, especially when it has sharp teeth. A cornered empire is dangerous, especially when it has nuclear weapons. “If I can’t have you no one can” is a line that can be said to a partner or to a planet.

Abuse victims need to escape, but we may also be heading into the most perilous moment in all of history.

My sentiments exactly, Caitlin. We can’t go into reverse and I wouldn’t wish to. All the same, I’d welcome greater sobriety of tone from those like Finian – he isn’t alone – who rightly point to that shifting balance of power. As I said of his piece on the ICC warrant, Finian gets a lot more right than wrong. But let’s not get too cock-a-hoop about what’s happening.

To borrow from J P Sartre, I see merit in a stance of stern optimism.


Speaking of getting more right than wrong, yet being a tad cock-a-hoop, here’s my next piece. For a couple of elderly dudes – my age at least, judging by the mug shots – Jeff J Brown and Godfrey Roberts display, in a discussion of March 30, a juvenility of tone I find irksome.

To which sin they add the greater one I’ve just cited: failure to fully take onboard the dangers of the response by the US ruling class to the economic threat, posed by China rising, to its plunder of the planet. The destructive capabilities of a Washington in the grip of the crazies and beside itself with rage gets a nod, but that’s as far as it goes.

They are also guilty of making assertions, on China’s leading position in arenas I’m insufficiently au fait  with – like chip technologies – for which the ratio of claims to supporting evidence is high. But since: (a) that of ‘our’ corporate media is higher by far, and has to be considered alongside the latter’s record of lying to us on every matter vital to power, (b) the claims of Brown and Roberts have high plausibility and (c) are never given time of day in said corporate media, they serve as antidote to the delusional pictures of the world constructed by lies of omission and commission in the average Westerner’s news intake.

This read is a transcript – with the option of listening – of Jeff Brown interviewing Godfrey Roberts on his new book, Why China Leads the World. After a few paragraphs of irksome pleasantries – I really am getting grouchy in my dotage – the discussion proper begins:

Jeff: … Godfree, looking in your crystal ball, what are five things about China that most Westerners don’t know about and need to know about? 

Godfree: I think the first one is how heavily China is enmeshed in the world. How broadly and how deeply we hear about the Belt and Road occasionally, but that’s about it. But that’s one of a dozen equally enormous, very powerful networks. For example, one physical network that fascinates me is called the Global Energy Interconnection. It uses renewable energy and moves electricity around the globe with the sun from one country to the next.

Now, that’s a nice idea, you’d think, but already they’ve spent 15 trillion with a T on this thing, and it’s already starting to kick in big time, shuttling hydropower from Russia to Japan, Japan’s nuclear energy to South Korea. Russia is connected to Iran at one end of the network and to China at the other. And Africa is being hooked up. It’s an enormous project. And China, the founder, and the director is the founder, of course, the director of State Grid.

Jeff: The largest utility in the world, electric grid in China. We used to be their customers. We were their customer for years. And they provide great service. And it was cheap.

Godfree: Yes.

Jeff: So, it’s called the Global Energy Interconnection?

Godfree: Yeah.

Jeff: 15 trillion US or 15 trillion Renminbi?

Godfree: US.

Jeff: Wow. That’s incredible.

Godfree: Big bucks. It’s come from a lot of consolidation and buy-ins but the capital value that they put together is already 15 trillion. But when it’s done man, it’s automatic. Put the damn thing on automatically.

Jeff: Maybe that’s one of the reasons Saudi Arabia is deciding to look east and has come to a peaceful reconciliation with Iran to extend that electric grid into Saudi Arabia, because I know they’re doing everything they can to try to wean themselves off of oil for their energy, because they know one day they will run out. And so, they’re looking for solar, nuclear, and other ways to have adequate energy into the 21st century. But we’ll look into that. I did not know that one. I’m really glad to hear about that. What about India? What about Southeast Asia? Are they getting into it or the DPRK?

Godfree: Southeast Asia is already totally into it. They’re doing it and connecting it. And it’s quite a lively scene here. And it’s everyone’s kind of accepting it because the railway sort of, okay, as long as we’re connecting with the railway, we may as well connect our grids. And as long as you’ve got a dam that produces more electricity than you need it saves us building a coal plant.

Jeff: Yeah. And then also, just like back in the old days when the United States was stretching railroads from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States, of course, 15 to 18 million Native Americans paid the price. But as long as they were running that rail line all the way out to Saint Louis and then to Denver and then to San Francisco, they were able to run the telegraph lines right alongside the rail lines. And I’m sure as long as they’re clearing space for the rail line to come from Kunming in China down to Bangkok, they’ll probably be able to run a high-tension line along the rail line. All right. Well, that’s really interesting. What about anybody in Europe taking a bite at it, or are they being vastly suppressed by Uncle Slaughter?

Godfree: They’re being suppressed, of course. But, I mean, that was the whole point of the pipeline attacks, to decouple them. It’s an interesting gamble. I don’t think America is going to be able to pull it off. I think they’re going to lose Europe. I heard a rumor the other day that 500 billionaires from China that are the ones who are members of the Communist Party are being circulated around Europe sponsoring everything and endowing colleges and saying to the old money in Europe, listen, you’re going to get a much better deal from us, than you will from Uncle Sam, because those are the people. If anyone can save Europe, it’s them.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. I just heard read the absurd article where the US is just beating Germany, just beating Germany to a pulp to remove 80,000 Huawei 5G telephone towers and replace them with more expensive, inferior Nokia towers or Ericsson towers. And it’s going to cost 3 billion US to remove the 80,000 towers that are bigger, better, faster, and cheaper, and then spend another 5 billion US to replace the 80,000 Huawei towers that are superior.

This is just like poor Europe. They’ve got to purge their halls of power of all these fifth columnists who the United States has just infected the European woodwork in the halls of power here, with all these Washington sympathizers, because otherwise living here, I can tell you it’s just going to keep getting worse and worse. So, point number two, Godfree, take it away.

Godfree: Number two is computing, which we’re told China is inferior in, particularly thanks to the embargoes. But I think that’s misleading. The Chinese manufacture more chips than anybody on earth. Anyway, already half of the foundries in the world, the new foundries are in China more than 50%. One of them is an optronics foundry, the first commercial industrial optronics foundry that builds, instead of using moving electrons, uses light.

Jeff: Is Huawei involved in that?

Godfree: Not as far as I know.

Jeff: I saw an article that said that they were into optical chips.

Godfree: Oh, I’m sure they are. I mean, they’re into this high-tech, but this is a foundry. This is like a TSMC building. That’s all it does. It doesn’t have in fact it’s 100% Chinese IP. So, no patent problems, and no embargoes. It’s much cooler, it’s cooler, uses less power, and runs quicker. So, we can already see that when Xi announced publicly in 2015 that chips computer chips would be a bottleneck….

You can bet your bottom dollar that they’d been working on that for years before he made that announcement. That wasn’t. It’s not like America where they get up and make a grand announcement and then years later some funding comes through and something happens. No, they were already on top of it. So, we’re starting to see that pay off now. Another example. Do you remember when China took the lead in supercomputers and had the fastest?

Jeff: I’ve written about it.

Godfree: What happened was there was an immediate embargo on high-speed Intel chips to stop that. So, anyway, a few years went by and China produced the fastest computer in the world, only built entirely with Chinese chips and everything.

Jeff: Oh, absolutely. I reported on it.

Godfree: Yeah. So, this latest throttling of the embargoes coincides with a point to a problem that America has created for itself with these embargoes. China immediately went dark on supercomputing. That’s the last we ever heard of them was that time.

Jeff: When they broke the world record.

Godfree: Yeah, with 100%.

Jeff: Yeah. The Tianhe supercomputer.

Godfree: Yeah. Well, here’s the update, and here’s the consequence. China just installed its fourth exascale computer, complete with software. It’s building six more. One for each of the ten computing centers. All of them are joined with lightning-fast connections so they’ll function as one gigantic centrally controllable supercomputer, ten times bigger than anything America has ever had. But they’re not going to talk about it, because we’ll just try to mess with it. So, we’re losing. We’re falling behind and not knowing it. I mean, you’ve seen the signs. 5G is way ahead. There’s a lot of stuff like that.

Jeff: Yeah, of course, Germany is not as big as China, but in fact, I was surprised that Germany actually had 80,000 5G towers. But I can’t remember how many hundreds of thousands of 5G towers China has, but I think every.

Godfree: It has 2 million.

Jeff: Yeah, 2 million. And virtually every province, every county, and at least the county township, they have 5G across the entire country including Xinjiang and Tibet and Qinghai and Ningxia, and inner Mongolia, these unpopulated areas, all have 5G. And we don’t here in France, 5G is just almost unheard of here. We just got fiber. We just got fiber. 2023. Woo! We finally got fiber. And there are still provincial cities in France that still don’t have fiber.

They’re still using ADSL fax phones and copper wire phone lines like fax lines in the 1980s for their Internet. And we know because for two years we lived with it. When we first got here it took, I would upload a show like ours. I’d go to bed at 10:00, start uploading it and pray that it had been uploaded by the time I woke up in the morning. And that was in France up until just a few months ago. And 5G, forget it. Don’t even know about it here.

Godfree: That’s very interesting, isn’t it? It’s kind of all these little data points. All suggest one thing, drifting away for losing touch, for not caring.

Jeff: For the people, not caring for the people.

Godfree: It’s going nowhere, really.

Jeff: Caring for the 1% but not the 99%. So, profit over people. That’s the difference. And of course, in China, it’s people over profit. So, of course, people go, oh, that’s not true. They’re just as evil. They’re just as bad. No, they’re not. I’m sorry. They’re not. It’s different. So, I wonder if those ten supercomputer centers, I don’t know if the technology advanced enough but of course, China is way, way, way ahead of everybody, Europe and the United States on quantum communication, using quantum satellites and quantum lines. Do you know if those supercomputers are going to be quantum-ly hooked up or if it going to be good old fashioned? For those computers, they probably need a fiber cable about 30 or 40cm in diameter.

Read or listen to the full discussion on the Greanville Post …


My third, final and – though none are marathons – shortest read focuses on Britain. It appeared on Richard Murphy’s blogsite yesterday, April 1st, and concerns the rapid winding down of Britain’s nationalised health provision. Richard begins thus:

If we want to live for a reasonable time in the UK we can’t go down the US healthcare route

The Tories have been trying to undermine the NHS in a bid to deliver private healthcare for the benefit of those who own companies in that sector for so long that it is almost normal to now think that is what is happening in our healthcare system.

John Burn-Murdoch has published a Twitter thread based on his articles in the FT on this issue, comparing health outcomes in the UK and the USA.

He then shows three tweets by Mr Burn-Murdoch. Each features a graph, shockingly easy to grasp, pertaining to one particular area of comparison. A worthy two minute read …

… even though its author fails, I have said on other occasions, to place his accurate observations in the broader context of class rule, and imperialism at a time of that shifting balance of power noted in the first two reads.

* * *

4 Replies to “Three Sunday reads

  1. From what I can gather TSMC (second of the reads – which reads a bit like an Abbot & Costello tribute act in parts) is the state of the art chip production company in Taiwan.

    Apparently, at least according to this chap;

    … If you doubt Washington’s obsession with TSMC: China hawks say that if in a war, China seemed to be winning, America would destroy TSMC in a scorched-earth policy. That is, if it does not get its way it will destroy Taiwan’s most important industry and cause a catastrophic, years long shortage of chips for the entire world.

    Which ties in with the quote from Caitlin Johnstone regarding abusive relationships at all levels.

    The Brown and Roberts gripe about the Western communications networks is spot on. Almost twenty seven years after Blair’s 1996 LP Conference speech promising the UK an integrated broadband network of the future (brokered, I was advised at the time, at the old NCU education center at Alvescot in Oxfordshire – right at the end of the runway at Brize Norton) there are still large parts of the UK – including where this is being typed from – operating on old 20th century copper wire.

    This is because:

    1. The funding – £20 billion – was spaffed up against the wall by Blair’s Government under Chancellor Brown in the form of;

    a) the one off utilities tax Brown introduced in his first budget;


    b) the 3G auction.

    Both of which took investment out of the system.

    2. The chosen ideologically based model of competition – ruthlessly enforced by OFCOM and its predecessor OFTEL – as the only means to deliver anything rather than co-operation.

    Resulting in a situation in which by 2004 – seven years after Blair was elected under this promise – the owner and inheritor of the former publicly paid for UK network (BT) were briefing its own workforce that the promised ‘network of the future’ was already here in the form of the old 20th century copper network having more squeezed out of it via ADSL technology.

    For sure, plenty of fibre has gone in the ground since then. However, its been piecemeal and on the fly. With expensive contractor based “partnerships” across different parts of the Country in a disintegrated rather than integrated system. The effective abandonment of the Universal Service Obligation often forcing isolated rural communities to club together to put their own fibre in the ground via competing with each other to access limited funds through funding bids. Leaving those losing the bids behind.

    Meanwhile, most of the country – even urbanised areas – are still operating on the last couple of hundred meters from the street cabinets being copper.

    The ideological model’s answer is to have competitors like Virgin hitch their kit to BT poles and share BT underground duct space and joint boxes/manholes. The practicalities of who gets priority when maintenance access is required for faults and/or damage seemingly not a consideration.

    Which chimes this time with an earlier piece from the same blog as the above URL link about Taiwan:

    But, if I may, another word on trains. My wife and I were in China several years back, and rode their high-speed trains (180 miles per hour). They are startling, smooth, quiet, gorgeous. China has 24,000 miles of them. Their high-temperature superconducting maglev version, with carbon-composite body, at 360 miles per hour, is in late-stage development. America has not a nanometer, not an angstrom, of either. Coming back from Chengdu was like returning from a scifi movie.

    And this is really the meat and veg of the choices on offer. A broken, unworkable paradigm based on zero-sum outcomes or an actual future and what that means in practical everyday terms such as infrastructure (transport, communications etc); education; health & social care and so on.

    Following the twitter link tread on the Richard Murphy article (the one from which all those graphs originated) threw up this gem:

    “One strong possibility is because the US is the ultimate “individual responsibility” country. Every person for themselves, weaker social safety nets. So, far more people slip through the cracks and find themselves in situations that make obesity, violence and drugs more likely.

    Encapsulating in a single tweet nailing the problem as a cultural one in which the dominant culture – pushed by entitled elites – is one of social Darwinism. Where the obvious solutions are ruthlessly rejected en mass by its victims as ‘unacceptable socialism/communism’.

    Creating the ultimate in turkeys voting for Thanksgiving. Victims who would rather die in a ditch so that billionaires can remain billionaires. Taking everyone else with them.

    The irony being the assumption that – as Michael Crichton might well observe – despite everything else from health to transport, education to industrial capacity, energy to food production and JIT distribution networks systemically falling apart across the entirety of the Western world the systems of mass destruction will buck the trend and operate as stated.

    I reckon Larry Johnson is onto something here (if the dots are properly joined together):

  2. Thanks, Dave that adds a lot to Philip’s three reads.

    One area you might want to re-examine though is the idea that “America would destroy TSMC in a scorched-earth policy. ”

    Isn’t it more likely that half a dozen Bandera-ites on a yacht from the Baltic could slip ashore and carry out the sabotage? After all the US had nothing to do with the Nordstream business- the White House has made that very clear.

  3. The key feature not covered in depth in these three reads is that of the impact on the process of the cultural.

    Here’s Alistair Crooke at Strategic Culture covering some of this key ground:

    “Thus liberal culture – often termed ‘woke’ – is a set of precepts that defies clear definition or nomenclature; one, which from the 1970s, drifted into a radical enmity towards the eclipsed ‘mainline’. Many pretend not even to have heard the term‘woke’.

    Others (such as Professor Frank Furedi) have called the liberal shift from being merely adversarial, to being hegemonic, as in ‘our democracy’ to be, not a ‘turn’, but a rupture. Or, in other words, our project became not aimed just at rejecting previous cultural forms, but in erasing them altogether. In the political upheavals that followed, the political vocabulary of the West lost much of its salience. Left, Right, cultural Marxism – what reality is left to these labels today?

    Woke defies nomenclature by treating politics as a matter of personal moral hygiene: It isn’t something you ‘do’; it is what you ‘are’. You think ‘right thoughts’ and utter ‘right speak’. Persuasion and compromise reflect moral weakness in this vision. Yes, it is cultural revolution….

    ….since woke politics overwhelmingly is concerned with linguistics and the emotional, its’ practitioners were, and are, not very adept at doing real politics.

    This essentially is what sets the Russian and Chinese approach apart. The latter do the real politics of compromise (which is so abhorrent to a ‘moral hygiene’ perspective that is more intent on inhabiting an elevated moral station).

    In the failure to ‘achieve’ this hygienic society, an iconoclastic ‘turn’ was held to be essential – a shift to complete focus on ending those cultural and psychological structures in society, seen to perpetuate oppression, and to keeping ‘Old Think’ still ‘ticking over’.

    Once you see these (oppressive) forces in operation, adherents believed, you can’t ‘unsee’ them; you are, well, “awake”, and you should refuse any analysis or explanation that doesn’t acknowledge and condemn how they have permeated western societies.

    “Accepting this view also meant rejecting or modifying the rules of liberal proceduralism, since under conditions of deep oppression those supposed liberties are inherently oppressive themselves. You can’t have an effective principle of non-discrimination unless you first discriminate in favour of the oppressed. You can’t have real freedom of speech unless you first silence some oppressors”…

    ….This clash of vision is the ‘contradiction’ at the heart of the western crisis. It is not clear whether it is susceptible of resolution, or whether ‘something will break’ in the system….

    ….Again simply put, Russia’s quiet, background revival of Orthodoxy and China’s of Taoist and Confucian values as the possible framework against which the regulation of modern technological society can be set – in no small part – has opened the path to metamorphosis and the inflection gripping much of the world.”

    And you can see some of these fault line contradictions opening up everywhere at every level. Crooke focuses on the present cultural conflict aspects of the battle to square the circle between what is really neo-liberal ‘Democracy” and tradition in the Judiciary v Parliament row in Israel.

    Asking the very pertinent question of ‘just what is “Democracy”‘?

    Yet you can see the same issues in different form playing out at other levels and other contexts. Compare and contrast the UK ‘Loyal’ opposition leader flip flopping between contradictory positions in the space of a few months in separate promises made at the Pink News Awards over Gender Recognition and the latest supposedly Women centered initiative.

    At the same time as maintaining a congruity with UK Government ‘stated’ policies on immigration which plays to what might be termed the “Gammon Tendency” (for want of an encapsulating term) in the ‘red wall’ seats which is the antithesis of what the woke politics claims copyright over to the exclusion of other traditional ‘left’ critiques of immigration policy.

    Or the impact of the SNP policy of locating biological male rapists in women’s prisons which has arguably been one of the key factors in the withdrawal of the ultra-woke Nicola Sturgeon as Scottish First Minister.

    What Crooke does not make explicit in his SC piece is that the “erasure” of previous cultural forms under the liberal post modernist orthodoxy also includes the erasure of previous left based cultural forms. Such as class politics. Favouring instead a bastardised and inverted version of the traditional class pyramid in the form of an artificially manufactured hierarchy of oppression which is ruthlessly enforced within the purity spiral processes adopted.

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