|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
Blowing his own Trumpet
Clearly, blowing his own trumpet is what the USA’s President elect, Donal Trump, is best at. As a huckster who has profligately promoted his own wares with zero guarantees, will he live down to what he said (where it is not totally contradictory) or will he do the opposite? He is certainly right-wing but is he sufficiently opportunistic to tone down some of his pre-election promises? How dangerous is Donald Trump and how does he compare with other US presidents?
The fairly obvious answer to ‘how dangerous is Donald Trump?’ is ‘certainly dangerous’ but just how deeply dangerous we will have to wait and see. With his ‘truth free’ approach some aspects are difficult to tell, others not so much. With Republican majorities in both houses and a hugely pro-Big Business president, US citizens will be blasted with right wing policies including major assaults on medical care for poorer people. Most blatantly, his denial of climate change could be a major setback for, literally, saving the planet or at least saving the human species on Planet Earth.
He may, nevertheless, be more reluctant to engage in foreign wars than some of his predecessors even though, since being elected, he has pledged himself to NATO in a way he had not done before. However, given his record of support for the Iraq war – when he has more recently tried to make out he opposed it – this does not offer any guarantees either. So on a question of whether he might be less inclined to go to war than Hillary Clinton, the answer can only be a ‘maybe, maybe not’. Whether he will continue Obama’s illegal, in international law, assassination policy of ‘death by drone’ (attacking widely in a number of countries) the answer is ‘probably yes’ because he may not want to look soft, and drone strikes have become ‘normalised’, and this is despite his declared intention to get along with all sorts of foreign leaders. But plámás (flattery) will not get him everywhere, particularly after his pattern of operation emerges.
However on the issue of climate change, even if he now proclaims an ‘open mind’ on the subject, his choice of staff and declared intention to cut regulations for fossil fuels bodes ill for the planet and the people of the planet. Not that Ireland’s inaction on green energy is anything to go by but the US risks being left behind as other countries do take global warming seriously and move with the times towards a low- or no-carbon economy. Staying with fossil fuels risks become a metaphorical fossil – and the same applies to Ireland.
On social justice, on cutting taxes and regulations for big business, on health and Obamacare, it is clear that the poor will be thrown against the wall even more so than currently. His choice of staff is a clear indication of this. Trump himself has hit the jackpot in the casino. Unfortunately the numbers who will win with him are tiny and the rest will lose, whether they will lose their shirts remains to be seen.
While the ‘Alt-Right’ has hailed Trump’s victory, a more appropriate term is the ‘far right’. ‘Alt-Right’ was deliberately coined in the US as a term to give the far right a more cuddly and anti-establishment, well, alternative, image. While Trump has publicly repudiated this far right support, it is clear that his policies will generally be on a spectrum from the right to the far right, tinged with populism. But for a multibillionaire not renowned for fair treatment of his own workers, to pose as a champion of blue collar workers in general takes some beating for sheer neck, and he played the US electoral system and won.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
On the 8th November Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States, replacing the twice elected incumbent Barack Obama. Donald Trump and his Vice President Mike Pence will be sworn into office on Friday the 20th January 2017. The power and influence of the United States ensures that their presidential elections attract world-wide media coverage.
This election got the studied interest of people who but for Donal Trump as the Republican candidate would not have been particularly interested in the politics of the contestants or the outcome. The interest lay in whether the electorate would vote for a man who embraces ideas and values that seriously undermine the common good both in the United States and the rest of the world. The international media of various political hues, as well as much of the social media were aghast and bewildered by the electoral outcome. Sixty-one million people voted for Trump. (abc.net.au/news/2016-11-20)
This column focuses on Trump’s attitude towards the biosphere whose health is critically dependent on humankind radically reducing its emission of global warming gases. Trump’s view is that global warming is a hoax. In November 2012 he twittered:
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”
In January 2014 he twittered:
Any and all weather events are used by the GLOBAL WARMING HOAXSTERS to justify higher taxes to save our planet! They don’t believe in $$$$!
This is very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.” (The Irish Times, 15 November 2016)
Trump said that on assuming office his number one environmental priority is to cancel the UN sponsored Paris Climate Agreement which aims to prevent the global temperature rising above 2 degrees Celsius as against pre-industrial levels with the aspiration of curtailing the rise to 1.5 degrees C. The global temperature has already risen by 1.2 C which means that the emission of global warming gasses should be on a steep downward trajectory. Trump has also promised to “end the war on coal”, cut funding for renewable energy and neuter the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency which has a country-wide environmental monitoring and enforcement role.
Some readers may be surprised to know that Trump’s views on the environment are in sync with the widespread disconnect citizens, corporations and governments have with nonhuman nature. This is demonstrated by our treating the biosphere as a warehouse of resources to be used to ever increase our comfort, convenience and appetite for amusement. It is demonstrated by our poisoning of the soil, air, inland waterways and seas. Our disconnect is also underscored by the enormous amount of food that goes uneaten, the amount of redundant material, normally called waste, that is burnt in furnaces and dumped in holes in the ground as well as our historically epic extinction of species. (Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, Edward O Wilson, 2016)
If you think Trump’s environmental ideology is not that of most people do an eco-audit. Ask yourself how many car journeys and air flights you decided not to take because of the contribution they would have made to global warming. When did you last forego a purchase because it contained palm oil, usually described as vegetable oil? Palm oil, an ingredient in over 2,000 everyday products, is grown in Indonesia and other tropical countries on land that was once covered with rainforest. The forests and their rich variety of flora and fauna were fire-bombed and clear-felled into oblivion and the indigenous peoples who lived in them expelled. What percentage of your diet is composed of meat? Rearing animals for meat is a major contributor to global warming. (Damian Carrington, The Guardian, 7 November 2016) What are your plans to help heal nonhuman nature this Christmas rather than harm it through extravagant consumption? Will you plant a tree or cut one down?
Most governments ignore the pro-environmental agreements they sign. Ireland plans to continue to expand dairy and beef farming which will increase rather than reduce its emission of greenhouse gases. The Northern Ireland Assembly is fixated on facilitating the use of private rather than public transport. In the UK autumn budget statement the UK Chancellor did not mention climate change once.
Given that the vast majority of people do not directly work with nonhuman nature in order to earn a living, and have little awareness about the wasteful cradle to grave cycle of goods, it is understandable, perhaps inevitable, that the level of empathy that exists for nonhuman nature is not suffice to morph into sustained eco-sensitive behaviour. The Herculean challenge is to nurture positive environmental sentiments that are a catalyst for behavioural change. This should involve schools teaching pupils to base their views on evidence, think critically, and have the confidence to express their views, and change them, while respecting people who hold alternative ones. This should be an integral part of school culture. Faith groups have also an important role to play in encouraging critical thinking and eco-sensitive behaviour.
What appears to have happened in the US presidential campaign is that voters heard what they wanted to hear, which is known as confirmation bias, and did not test the polices and claims of the contestants. What is disheartening about the election of Trump is that as a herd leader in the global arena, in a country that sets legal and normative standards of behaviour, he seems set to fail humanity and the community of species we share the biosphere with. As Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, said, Trump’s election “is an unmitigated disaster for the planet.” (The Guardian, 11 November 2016)
Fortunately the power of the US Presidency is not that of an autocratic monarch and the trend towards renewable forms of energy in the United States and elsewhere will continue regardless. Trump could become the President wearing no clothes, someone whose environmental ignorance and narcissism is mocked resulting in his regressive attitude towards the biosphere melting as fast as the ice in the Arctic. (John Vidal, ‘Extraordinarily hot’ Arctic temperatures alarm scientists, The Guardian, 22 November 2016)
Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report
Number Four, by Robin Wilson
Reviewed by Rob Fairmichael
‘Never average an average’, many of us will remember our maths teacher informing us. So how do you summarise a report of 184 pages (A4) which is itself brimming over with facts, statistics, public opinion and analysis. The answer is, you don’t. What you can do is try to give a flavour of its breadth and depth, and refer to some of the most interesting and remarkable facts; what is remarkable may or may not be well known, it might even be the common sense understanding, or something entirely different. There is also the indisputable issue about how facts are interpreted.
This edition of the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report (available on the Community Relations Council website) has been written by Robin Wilson, taking over the baton from Paul Nolan who, nevertheless, was involved in the advisory group. It is again indispensable reading, and referral, for anyone who wants to have an in depth understanding of Northern Ireland. Get a knowledge of this report and your understanding of Norn Iron cannot but improve, and sections again cover safety, equality, cohesion and sharing, and political progress, with an initial background and context section also. This edition also includes additional international comparisons.
Peter Osborne’s Forward includes the fact that 83% of people in NI have a sense of belonging (covered on p.23). But number one of the ‘Ten key points’ near the start rightly point out that threats to stability come not just from intercommunal disputes but external sources, most notably Brexit but also including the British government’s austerity policy, and the Scottish referendum/dependence issue. That is a bit of a change.
Northern Ireland is a low investment, low productivity, low employment, and low income area (p.17). That is stating the economic situation pretty clearly. And there is serious brain drain (p 102) with a majority of young people indicating a desire to leave (p.149). If it was me I would be prioritising education more than anything else......but education is being seriously cut. In stating that these education cuts are “almost unique in the developed world” (p. 20), I am not sure how the Republic fares relatively – in the case of the latter the increases for 2017 do not make up for a decade of cuts. And there are few apprenticeships (p.102). NI has a serious – even drastic - fiscal deficit (p.19) and a government in Westminster who is not even interested in dealing with its clear responsibilities to support dealing with the past, financially or otherwise (p.48), let alone anything else that Northern Ireland might need.
The report concludes that “The lack of endorsement of universal norms in the round has made ‘dealing with the past’ in Northern Ireland an impossible conundrum.” (p.166) And yet the scale is staggering in a small society. It quotes the April 2016 statement by victims’ commissioner Judith Thompson that 500,000 people had been affected by the Troubles, about 200,000 of those had mental-health issues while 40,000 had suffered physical injuries – and only 18,000 had come forward seeking help.
But the times-they-are-a-changin’ for some things. There are now probably more Poles in Northern Ireland than people from the Republic (p.22) which is where the fact comes in that victims of racist crime are mainly white. NI came out least tolerant in one survey of 19 societies (p.30). But, and maybe it is a big ‘but’ and counter-intuitive, there was no overall increase in racist crimes post-Brexit. Interpretation comes in here; was the North already sufficiently xenophobic that the Brexit vote made no difference?
And some other things continue or get worse; the report rightly queries the term ‘domestic’ for intimate partner violence and shows that in 2015-16, an average of 39 ‘domestic’ violence crimes were reported every day (p.35). In a society the size of Northern Ireland, just over 1.8 million people, that is an epidemic, and an entirely unacceptable one.
‘Security situation’ deaths in the period 2006 to 2015-16 have been in the range of 1 to 5 a year: 4, 1, 5, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 3, 3 respectively (p.38). It also signs up the enduring nature of paramilitarism in the North (p.40). Victims’ group WAVE receives new referrals daily, half due to current intimidation (p.42). Nevertheless the report is clear that there is no ‘casus belli’ for dissident republicans, though they are responsible for most shootings and loyalists responsible for most paramilitary assaults (p.46). The report reproduces The Detail’s graphic on paramilitary activity (p.43). However the number of homicides is similar, now, to the UK as a whole.
A piece of good news is the exploration of alternatives to short prison sentences (p.62). The North continues to have a relatively low prison population per head of population but a high lifer rate (emanating from the Troubles). Alarmingly, half of prisoners in Maghaberry, Hydebank and the women’s prison are prescribed drugs for mental illness. That’s right, half.
On equality, Northern Ireland is not quite as unequal (GINI coefficient) as the UK though since the latter is rather unequal that is nothing to write home about. 45% of those in poverty are in households where someone is in work (p.71). 59% of households have no reserves to draw on for a ‘rainy day’ and therefore are vulnerable to debt. Northern Ireland has the lowest disposable income in the UK (p.80), and child poverty is set to increase substantially on current trends. Fair employment legislation has, however, worked in bringing about relative equality regarding employment for Catholics and Protestants. But the numbers on DLA/Disability Living Allowance (being replaced by the inferior PIP/Personal Independence Payment) are almost twice that in Britain, at least partly a legacy of the Troubles.
The report is correct in pointing to the current administration’s cohesion and sharing policy, Together: Building a United Community (TBUC) as consisting mainly of discrete projects – it would be a brave person to accuse it of being visionary – and points to its limited effects. Its challenge to segregated housing is so limited as to be almost worthless (my judgement, not the author’s). The sectarian fault line works on attitudes too; the report rightly points to “many ‘unionists’ unwittingly articulating the assimilationist model (as political representatives of ethnic majorities always do), with many ‘nationalists’ in contradistinction making multiculturalist claims (as political representatives of ethnic minorities always do).” (p.113)
Fascinatingly, Norn Ironers rate their happiness high relative to others in the UK (p.114) but the caveat is whether people in the North are more fatalistic and have lower expectations - ‘Blessed are those who expect little for they shall not be disappointed’.
Only 7% of school pupils in NI attend integrated schools, of which there are currently 63, and the rate of increase is slowing. There are questions about the effect of the ‘collaboration’ model for schools across the divide (p.122).
The report also looks at a modest increase in women’s participation in local councils (p.132). But, alarmingly, the revised 11 (previously 26) council model in Northern Ireland means it has the most remote council model in Europe – yes – with an average of 152k citizens per council (p.151); cost saving, yes, but democracy, no. One aspect where ‘democracy’ is not effective is in relation to same sex marriage (p.136); it is clear that a majority of people strongly support it and it is clear that the DUP will prevent it happening during the current administration. And there is a downward trend regarding a disposition towards living in a more integrated society (p.139).
On political progress one very interesting analysis is on the failure of devolved government to deal with hospital waiting lists (p.145). Obviously dealing with the past has been a major stumbling block and even where things are agreed they may subsequently fall apart. The results on greenhouse gas emissions have been poor (likewise in the Republic) and in the 2015 NI Life and Times Survey, 79% of people said the Assembly had achieved little or nothing (p.148). Whether the new ‘government and opposition’ model will achieve more remains to be seen.
There is more information in this report than you can possibly assimilate in one sitting, and you are not necessarily advised to try. It is not always easy reading but repays study and only very occasionally is a diagram or something unclear (I can only think of a couple of examples in the whole report which is remarkable). But to check and ‘iron’ out your overall ‘Norn Iron view’ I would certainly recommend a good dip in, plus referring to it as necessary regarding the appropriate topic. To, appropriately, quote a paramilitary slogan, it is ‘Simply the best’.
The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report
is published by the Community Relations Council and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.