We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Five, six, seven, eight, who do we assassinate?

Please try not to get arrested, but in the shadow of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, might it not be interesting to have a discussion about the rights and wrongs of assassination?

Most states, most of the time, follow a rough convention that important government employees – heads of state, government ministers, top brass et cetera – of State A do not assassinate their counterparts in State B, however wicked those counterparts may be. President Trump has shown himself indifferent to that convention. He could be praised for his courage (including personal courage: his own risk of being assassinated has obviously gone up) or damned for his disregard of the evil consequences that are likely to fall on others. In a world where national leaders target each other, wars are more likely.

Or are they? Did the fact that men like Soleimani could kill minor employees of other governments, not to mention civilians, without much personal risk, actually smooth the path to war? It does seem unjust that those steeped in guilt are sacrosanct while relatively innocent spear-carriers are acceptable targets.

Here is another question for us and anyone watching us to ponder. Many people have argued strongly over the last few hours that President Trump was right to break the convention of the immunity from assassination of senior state employees. But I have heard no one argue against the convention that only senior state employees can order assassinations.

ADDED LATER: In the comments “Chester Draws” made a very relevant point:

There is a convention that political leaders are not killed.

There is also a convention — literally — that embassies are not to be attacked. Iran broke that one first. And then again recently.

That fact alone, that until now the Islamic Republic of Iran got away scot-free with invading an embassy and kidnapping diplomats, made me much more willing to approve the unconventional killing of a representative of that government. Let those who boast that the rules do not apply to them learn that in that case the rules do not apply to them.

Free Carlos Ghosn

In other low probability news, Carlos Ghosn has escaped from house arrest in Japan, possibly in a cello double bass case.

Mr Ghosn strikes quite the Randian hero. Grandson of a Lebanese entrepreneur living in Brazil with a Nigerian mother, he moved to France to study and then moved his way up the ranks in Michelin tyre factories. After 3 years there he was a plant manager. After 18 years he was CEO of Michelin North America. Then he went to work at post-privatisation Renault and made it profitable. He took on roles at Nissan, too, an by 2005 he was CEO of both Renault and Nissan. In 2016 he became chairman of Mitsubishi too.

Maybe he upset someone at Nissan because they reported him to the Japanese government for under-reporting his compensation to the Japanese government. Now he is “suspected of masterminding a long-running scheme to mislead financial authorities”, the worst possible crime in the view of authorities but considered not at all immoral in these parts. He has also generally been attracting the ire of people who do not like it when other people earn a lot of money.

“In 2016, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who was at the time the finance minister, pressured Renault into reducing Mr. Ghosn’s compensation.”

I mean, what the fuck? Fuck off Macron.

“His own pay far outstripped those of his counterparts in Japan — he earned four times the pay of Toyota’s chairman in 2017 — and he was unrepentant.”

That is definitely Randian hero territory. They want you to repent. But never repent! It will not help you.

Ghosn says it was all plot and treason by Nissan executives who did not want him to integrate Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault. One problem is that once Japanese authorities decide to prosecute, they nearly always get a conviction. Running away was probably his only option.

But it is hard to escape from the World Government. Interpol want him, Turkish authorities arrested pilots who helped him escape, and now the Lebanese authorities are hauling him in front of judges. It remains to be seen how helpful they will be. There is no extradition deal between Lebanon and Japan.

The forgotten defence of the Falklands

April 2, 1982 is a date seared into my memory, for that was the day that Argentina invaded the Falklands: British sovereign territory. (Or should that be European sovereign territory? Not quite sure.) Anyway, it happened and it was humiliating and doubtless felt just as keenly in Paris as in London.

As we all know the islands were soon recaptured but I’ve always been curious as to what happened in that initial defence on April 2. All I’ve “known” is that the defenders were massively outnumbered and it was all over pretty quickly, there was no defence to the last man and only one Argentine was killed. Was it really that perfunctory?

Well, according to Ricky D. Phillips in The First Casualty it wasn’t, not by a long chalk.

According to the Royal Marine garrison they (and, ahem, “others”) put up the best defence possible, despite being outnumbered 100 to 1. In doing so the defenders managed to kill 60 Argentines, knock out one tracked vehicle and one landing craft. All that for no British casualties which is all the more remarkable when you consider that there is an awful lot of talk in the book about incoming fire being “heavy and accurate” and that the Marines’ plan started to go wrong more or less immediately.

So, why haven’t we heard this story? Why didn’t we hear it at the time? And why the continuing confusion over something as seemingly straightforward as the body count?

Phillips tries to answer this. One of the problems is the fog of war. Perhaps that should be the “smoke of war”. What colour was that smokebomb he asks? One eyewitness says white, another purple, other answers include red, yellow and green. Multiply that sort of confusion over something so simple a few times and you end up with a lot of uncertainty. And this is a small engagement involving small numbers over a short period of time.

The Argentine dictatorship had no interest in publicising a story of substantial Argentine losses – a position that persists to this day. British officialdom, on the other hand, were in no position to count although Falkland Islanders saw plenty of “Erics”, as they came to term dead Argentines.

When it comes to why it has taken so long for the story to come out Phillips theorises that the British government wanted to curry favour with world opinion. I am not sure I buy that, surely a story of stout defence would indicate to the world that you care?

Perhaps a clue lies in the reaction of a fellow Samizdatista at the time. While I was incandescent with rage, he could not believe that Britain was attempting to retake the islands. For a lot of Britons – especially those at the Foreign Office – who had gone through the loss of Empire it must have seemed like just another chapter in a familiar story. For us younger ones, if felt like there was a principle at stake and an important one at that. Mind you, as Phillips points out Argentines felt just as strongly.

I suspect that the Foreign Office was all ready to dole out a story of capitulation. It took time for Margaret Thatcher to make it clear that that wasn’t going to happen and by that time there were bigger issues than the honour of the Falklands’ defenders.

The First Casualty is not without its lighter moments. For instance, Argentine troops were bewildered when it turned out that the “liberated” Falkland Islanders didn’t speak Spanish. More amusing is the tale of a wizened old Admiral being brought in to look at the invasion plans. “Fascinating,” he said, “now where are your plans for taking London.” They thought he was mad. He thought they were mad. And, as it turned out, he was right.

Some – mainly Wikipedia editors – have questioned Phillips’s credibility. All I can say is that if it’s a pack of lies it’s a good one. There is a lot of detail, a lot of thought and a lot of doubt.

Samizdata quote of the day

What is the intellectual origin of the foreign policy views of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle? It is Lenin’s theory of imperialism.

In the early 20th century, building on the work of liberals such as John Hobson, Lenin argued that capitalism was being sustained only by the profits from colonial exploitation. These excess profits allowed domestic workers to be paid enough to prevent them from rising up against their capitalist employers. Imperialism was made possible by the power of capitalists to make the state provide military and political protection for their foreign investments.

From this two things follow. All foreign policy by capitalist countries is about creating empires, conquering property and exploiting resources. Kosovo as much as Iraq, Sierra Leone as much as Afghanistan, troops in West Germany as much as in Vietnam. Hence Mr Corbyn’s jaundiced view of Nato and any institutions connected with it, such as the European Union.

So Mr Corbyn argues, as he did in 2011, that “since World War Two, the big imperial force has been the United States on behalf of global capitalism and the biggest, mostly US-based corporations. The propaganda for this has presented itself as a voice for ‘freedom’ and carefully and consciously conflated it with market economics.”

The second thing that follows is that the troops on the front line of the movement to overthrow capitalism are national resistance movements. These are the heroes of socialist advance, even if sometimes they aren’t purely socialist.

So Mr Corbyn has given encouragement and support to the Iranian government, the Irish republicans, Hamas and Hezbollah, and Fidel Castro. He saw Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela as lights to the world, developing a new economic model worth emulating….

The Labour leader ignores or dismisses the idea that any of these groups or countries, such as Iran, might be imperialist powers because all that matters is that they resist western capitalist imperialism. So their imperialism, like that of the Soviet Union, is, he put it, “different”. Where resistance movements have turned to violence or fundamentalism Mr Corbyn says he disapproves but that the root cause is not their behaviour but ours….

There will be some who read this and will think I’m being unfair because I mentioned Lenin and Hezbollah and there is an election coming. But this article is unfair only if it’s an inaccurate description of Mr Corbyn’s views, and given that it is based on things he and his close advisers have written and said, it can’t be. If Mr Corbyn becomes prime minister he and his advisers will control foreign policy. Given that he departs so far from the postwar consensus and the traditional Labour position, it’s as well to understand what he thinks.

– Daniel Finkelstein, in a piece behind the Times paywall, but quoted (all of the above and more) by Mick Hartley.

How to defeat the Chinese Communists

How can the HongKongers defeat the Chinese Communists (hereinafter termed ChiComs), and preserve their HongKonger way of life approximately as it now is? In the short run, they probably can’t. During the next few months, the ChiCom repression in Hong Kong will surely get ever nastier, and the bigger plan, to just gobble it up and digest it into ChiCom China will surely bash onwards.

But then again, I thought that these Hong Kong demonstrations would all be snuffed out months ago. So what the hell do I know? I thought they’d just send in the tanks, and to hell with “world opinion”. But the ChiComs, it turned out, didn’t want to just kill everyone who dared to disobey, plus anyone else who happened to be standing about nearby. That would not be a good look for them. What are they? Russians? Far too unsophisticated. Instead the plan has been to divide and conquer, and it presumably still is. By putting violent agent provovateurs in among the demonstrators, and by ramping up the violence simultaneously perpetrated by the police, the plan was, and is, to turn the peaceful and hugely well attended demonstrations into far smaller, far more violent street battles of the sort that would disgust regular people. Who would then turn around and support law and order, increased spending on public housing, blah blah. So far, this has not worked.

And for as long as any ChiCom plan for Hong Kong continues not to work, “world opinion” has that much more time to shake itself free from the sneer quotes and get itself organised, to try to help Hong Kong to stay semi-free.

Those district rat-catcher (or whatever) elections last Sunday came at just the wrong time for the ChiComs, because they gave peaceful HongKongers the chance to make their opinions known, about creatures of a far more significant sort than rats, and at just the time when the ChiCom plan should have started seriously shutting the HongKongers up. These elections were a landslide.

The ChiComs are very keen to exude indifference to world opinion, but they clearly do care about it, because if they truly didn’t care about it, those tanks would have gone in months ago, just as I had assumed they would. So, since world opinion clearly has some effect, the first thing the rest of us can do to help the HongKongers is to keep our eyeballs on Hong Kong.

As I say, I continue to be pessimistic about the medium-term future in Hong Kong. But in the longer run, if the HongKongers can’t have a local victory, they can set about getting their revenge. And all of the rest of us who care can join in and help them.

We, the HongKongers and all their supporters around the world, can start talking seriously about toppling the ChiComs, not just by continuing to contest Hong Kong, but also by talking about China as a whole.

If the ChiComs won’t let Hong Kong be, then the HongKongers have a perfect right to start talking about China as a whole, since that’s what is now trying to swallow them up. If they aren’t allowed the distinct and distinctly better system that they were promised, then the only system they are allowed becomes fair game for their complaints and for their recommendations. That’s a claim that will make sense to anyone able to think for themselves. It won’t persuade the ChiComs, but persuading everyone else in the world with a clutch of honest brain cells to rub together is a fine start.

What needs to happen is some re-framing.

→ Continue reading: How to defeat the Chinese Communists

South Park says sorry

Yes, South Park grovels:

Some background here:

After the “Band in China” episode mocked Hollywood for shaping its content to please the Chinese government, Beijing has responded by deleting all clips, episodes and discussions of the Comedy Central show.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably saw this coming, and to their credit, simply didn’t care.

From the point of view of the Chinese government there are far too many people now paying quite close attention to them, whom they do not control. The people presiding over Communist despotisms are always touted as strategic geniuses, but I sense a change in the world. Or then again, it could just be that I attended an excellent talk about Hong Kong last night, and will be attending another talk about Hong Kong on Wednesday, at the ASI. That link may not last, so I note here that a lady called Denise Ho will be speaking.

That second link is to a report in the Guardian, which it makes a nice change for us here to be agreeing with, assuming most of us do. The Chinese government is now making enemies all across the political spectrum. They will surely “win” this battle in Hong Kong, one way or another. But are they now stuck in a Cold War that they might end up losing? Could well be. As the above non-apology from these South Park guys illustrates, to say nothing of events in Hong Kong, things are not now going entirely to their script.

Also, now that masks are no longer allowed in Hong Kong, how about a new hair-do?

Samizdata quote of the day

The ASI has renewed its call for British passport holders in Hong Kong to be given the full rights of British citizens, including the right to settle here. If this were to be done, the People’s Republic would denounce it as post-colonialist interference, but it might well make them tread more carefully.

Madsen Pirie

Imagine there’s no countries

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine, John Lennon

The Times editorial I am about to quote, like John Lennon’s much-loved song, begins with the word “Imagine”. It describes a little incident, seemingly unimportant to all but those most directly affected, that took in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. At least, Vanuatu calls itself a nation, and it has a flag and a seat at the UN and all the paraphernalia of a nation, but it seems to have decided that it no longer wishes to function as a separate state. A little incident that took place there four days ago gives a preview of what Lennon’s dream of a world where borders did not matter would really be like.

Imagine for a moment that last Friday a charter flight full of police officers from a foreign power landed at Heathrow. Picture those officers then driving to a series of addresses, identifying four British and two foreign citizens and then, declining to tell British authorities on what grounds they were taking this action, detaining them and forcing them on board the aircraft, which then took off. What might we call such behaviour?

This exact scenario was played out just before the weekend in the South Pacific republic of Vanuatu. Vanuatu might be the answer to a quiz question, but though it has a population the size of Hull it is also an independent sovereign country and a democracy. Nevertheless, last week the Chinese government sent officials to Vanuatu and arrested five men and one woman, all of Chinese ethnicity.

That the republic’s government was complicit in these arrests makes the position more and not less worrying. Before the Chinese police arrived it is reported that the six had been held without charge for several days on the premises of a Chinese company. Though the Chinese informed the government that their officers possessed Chinese arrest warrants, neither the islanders nor anyone else has been told what the charges actually are. In spite of this, local police assisted with the accompanying of the detained individuals to the China-bound aircraft.

Almost incredibly the internal affairs minister of Vanuatu has told the press that the reason why the six detainees did not appear before a Vanuatu judge was that they were not charged with any crime in the territory. Presumably if they had been then they would have had their day in court. As it is the minister has, in effect, connived at an abduction of his own citizens by a foreign power almost certainly in contravention of his country’s laws.

The South China Morning Post report on the same story is quite bold to make an explicit link to the protests in Hong Kong against the proposed bill allowing extradition to mainland China, given that the newspaper has itself been subject to pressure from Beijing.

Why is Russia trying to influence other countries’ elections by means of targeted advertising wrong?

“Nick Clegg denies misuse of Facebook influenced Brexit vote”, reports the Guardian.

Umm, okay. A lot of people are saying “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

Sir Nick Clegg, for those readers who have forgotten this rather forgettable chap, used to be leader of the Liberal Democrats and was Deputy Prime Minister for a while, back when the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives. He lost his seat in the 2017 election, which made him sad. Then he got a “communications” job with Facebook at a salary that probably made him feel better.

So nine years after Cleggmania, here he is back on our TV screens again. The Times report on the same story says,

The former Liberal Democrat leader said that social media could not be blamed for the vote to leave the European Union.

He said: “Much though I understand why people want to reduce that eruption in British politics to some kind of plot or conspiracy — or some use of new social media through opaque means — I’m afraid the roots to British Euroscepticism go very, very deep.”

Sir Nick added: “Yes, Facebook has a heavy responsibility to protect the integrity of elections from outside interference. I also think we have a duty to explain fact from some of the allegations that have been made.”

Calling for greater regulation of the internet, he said: “We forget that though these companies are huge and affect every aspect of our lives — our social lives, our business lives — nonetheless it has all happened in such a short period of time.

It is no surprise to find Nick Clegg “calling for “greater regulation of the internet”. Not only was more regulation of corporations his schtick when he was a politico, it also suits his current employers very well. Facebook can buy another twenty floors of lawyers whenever it needs them; struggling new startups cannot.

But to hear such a lifelong Europhile admit that the roots of British Euroscepticism go deep was a surprise. He is right. Russia’s puny efforts to interfere in the EU referendum were the equivalent of the eternally slandered King Canute calling the tide forward.

But in all this debate about how effective or ineffective Russia’s “outside interference” in the referendum was I have not yet heard a convincing explanation of what exactly is wrong with “outside interference” anyway.

I need not list the real crimes – waging unjust wars, murders, domestic repression – that can be laid at Putin’s door. On an infinitely smaller scale, making use of harvested data that people did not agree to make available is a bad if commonplace thing. But what is bad in principle about Russia trying to persuade British people to vote a particular way by advertising? Where did this idea come from that only British ideas are allowed to enter British brains during an election or referendum campaign? In a democracy you are allowed to vote on any criteria you like. You can vote for a candidate because you carefully researched his or her voting record and found that it best aligned with your political beliefs, or because your family has always voted for the Reds or the Blues, or because you think the candidate has nice eyes, or because your imam told you which way to vote, or because Vladimir Putin did. They all count equally. If we were to operate a system of Juche when it comes to political thought, would that not also exclude political ideas originating in the European Union?

John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

One of the particular pleasures of twenty-first century life is that it is now easy to purchase interesting books which have been around for quite a while, cheaply and easily rather than expensively and complicatedly. I recently bought, from Amazon, We Now Know, by John Lewis Gaddis, which is about the Cold War and was published in the 1990s. I’ve been meaning to acquaint myself with this book ever since I first heard about it, which must have been well over a decade ago.

I have so far only skimmed We Now Know, but I have already encountered a rather striking passage, towards the end. (Skimming usually involves looking at the end, doesn’t it?)

The Cold War, says Gaddis, was not decided in the Third World, but rather in such places as Europe and Japan. And why, asks Gaddis (pp.286-7 – his italics in bold), did “Washington’s empire in those pivotal regions”, generate so much less friction that Moscow’s:

One answer may be that many people then saw the Cold War as a contest of good versus evil, even if historians since have rarely done so.

Let me focus here on a single significant case: it has to do with what happened in Germany immediately after the war as its citizens confronted their respective occupiers. What Stalin sought there, it now seems clear, was a communist regime in the east that would attract Germans in the west without requiring the use of force, something the Russians could ill afford given their own exhaustion and the Americans’ monopoly over the atomic bomb.

Obviously, this is not what he got. Germans first voted with their feet – fleeing to the west in huge numbers to avoid the Red Army – and then at the ballot box in ways that frustrated all of Stalin’s hopes. But this outcome was not fore-ordained. There were large numbers of communist party members throughout Germany at the end of the war, and their prestige – because of their opposition to the Nazis – had never been higher. Why did the Germans so overwhelmingly welcome the Americans and their allies, and fear the Russians?

→ Continue reading: John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

Samizdata quote of the day

At a news conference last week in Brussels, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, admitted that the goal of environmental activists is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to destroy capitalism.

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,” she said.

Referring to a new international treaty environmentalists hope will be adopted at the Paris climate change conference later this year, she added: “This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history.”

The only economic model in the last 150 years that has ever worked at all is capitalism.

quoting the remarks of Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, in 2015.

h/t David Bolton

Samizdata retort of the day

Mr Putin said people living in Donetsk and Luhansk who considered themselves Russian were entitled to Russian passports.

On Saturday, he said: “We’re considering providing a simplified procedure [of obtaining Russian citizenship] to all the residents of Ukraine.”

How did Ukraine respond? Mr Zelensky said a Russian passport provides “the right to be arrested for a peaceful protest” and “the right not to have free and competitive elections.”

I am starting to cautiously warm to Mr Zelensky.