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Billy King

Issue 163: October 2008

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

We will be adding more ‘movement’ photos to this site – both from our work and others - as we get time to do so. Billy King gives us his monthly thoughts Be very afraid Technology is a wonderful thing. Today, in the rich world, we don’t have to spend a whole day washing the family clothes as our ancestors did; we bung them in the washing machine, turn it on, and come back a bit later to find them washed and ready for drying.

Meanwhile, military technology has been making strides for centuries, and if you had a machine gun and your enemies just had spears, well, the outlook for them was rather bleaker for them than for you. But underdogs developed various guerrilla war strategies of ambush, hidden explosives etc. to even up the odds a little bit. If we take the USA as the country most likely to go to war, even their military might was constrained by the ‘Vietnam effect’ – a war of attrition against a determined enemy meant that it sustained what were found to be unacceptable levels of casualties – around 58,000 US war dead - never mind that a couple of million Vietnamese were killed, they, literally, did not count.

Until Bush took the USA into Afghanistan and Iraq, the USA had been much more choosy who it picked a military fight with, or how it did it (underhand or hidden intervention was still OK although thankfully this had become less common at the end of the twentieth century). What we see now, however, is the development of military robots, machines which can do the fighting with no human risk. Thus, if you have the technology you can fight a war with not too much risk on your side. The financial cost may be massive but the humanitarian cost, on your side, may be slight, so you may be willing to risk it.

The Guardian’s technology section on 21st August 2008 surveyed the military robotic scene in Britain where ‘robustness’ (survivability) is the key – with a swarm of robots ‘the enemy’ may be able to knock a few out but the rest may survive to complete the mission. The US military are investing heavily in swarming robots. Some look like dragonflies, others like spiders. The US military now has 3,000 airborne robots compared to 167 in 2002, and the prediction in this piece was that in just over five years the swarms of robots will outnumber the human soldiers in the British armed forces. So – expect robots to feature heavily in the rich world’s resource wars on the poor world during the 21st century. Then the military will be, truly, totally lacking in humanity.

The population goes pop
Ireland is, at current rates, going to be reaching its pre-Famine population is a few decades, an event of quite momentous significance – catching up to where it was a bit less than two centuries years previously. Now of course there are all sorts of assumptions made in this, about emigration and immigration, but the population is certainly increasing rapidly and, while the current economic crisis may knock it on the head somewhat, it is unlikely to do it in. Ireland is firmly in the richer part of the EU and nothing at the moment indicates it will not stay there and that, with established demographic patterns, will mean an increase in population of some significance. This makes building an eco-sustainable future more challenging – challenging but possible with the political and public will to get there.

Meanwhile the USA is likely to have whites in a minority before the middle of this century. The US census bureau expects those who describe themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian and Native American to increase to 54% by 2050 (whites currently make up two thirds of the population). What the implications will be for US policies of various kinds we will have to wait and see but let’s hope that this means we will have a US which is more awake to the fact that there is a world outside its borders, with a concept of how other people see things and less of being the chosen people of America (which name it mistakenly expropriates to itself rather than this term applying, much more correctly, to the whole of North and South America).

As I have stated before, Amerigo Vespucci never got near what is now the USA (while the feminised form of ‘Amerigo’ is the most likely origin of the name ‘America’, there are other contending explanations).

A taxing time
It’s a taxing time, economically, for many people in different senses – apart from the rich who manage to avoid tax by various means, including exploiting loopholes and benefitting from neo-liberal economic policies which their friends in governments have introduced, and multinationals choosing carefully where their profits magically appear (i.e. in the lowest tax regime – which in some cases is undoubtedly Ireland, Republic of).

Two interesting resources on this whole issue have appeared recently. The first is the indomitable ‘New Internationalist’ (http://www.newint.org ) whose October 2008/No. 416 is devoted to the topic. The ‘New Internationalist’ quotes from the Christian Aid report below that “the annual revenue loss to the Majority World from transfer mispricing and tax havens now runs at an astounding $160 billion a year – more than one-and-a-half times the combined development aid budgets of the rich countries in 2007.”

The neo-liberal reform agenda also includes VAT-type taxes rather than taxes on international trade – but this has led to major poor state losses, and injustice. Bono appears with other tax justice dodgers on the cover of the issue (as is now fairly well known, certainly in Ireland, U2 moved their tax base out of Ireland to pay less tax – a case of the white Stetson calling for a bigger black pot). Removing the cancer of tax havens is identified in the issue as a global priority, see e.g. http://www.taxjustice.net

Appearing previously was a report from Christian Aid, “Death and Taxes: The true toll of tax dodging” (May 2008). This predicts that illegal, trade-related tax evasion alone will be responsible for some 5.6 million deaths of young children in the developing world between 2000 and 2015 – almost 1,000 a day. As well as detailed analysis of the general world situation and specific countries (Tanzania and India), it gives recommendations for action by the UK and Irish governments, having pointed out that “Ireland has in recent years stepped up its development contribution through aid. While this is welcome, it highlights an inconsistency in that country’s development policy because, at the same time, Ireland has transformed itself into an international structure that facilitates tax dodging. To resolve this contradiction, Ireland should also now take the lead in addressing the disastrous effects of this structure on poorer countries.”

Christian Aid’s website in Ireland is http://www.christianaid.ie (they’ve offices in Dublin, Belfast and Cork).

Well, the winter is arriving and, as the cow said, that’s it for an udder month. I’m sad to see a neighbouring cherry tree cut down today (an overbearing sycamore, which also got the chop, somewhat less so), even if it was a bit big for a suburban garden - no more will its leaves and branches dance wildly in the wind in a display of wild abandon, no more will the surprisingly acrobatic pigeons have a big feed of cherries in the summer before they’d be ripe enough for us humans. Adios, Ma Cherry Amour.

Till we meet again (you and me, not me and the cherry tree, I don’t expect to be felled for a wee while yet),

Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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