Sunday, 17 July 2016

Rise of the USSA - America Loses the Cold War

United Soviet States of America

Well, after finishing off my post regarding a counter-factual scenario in which the Soviet Union didn't collapse my creative juices continued to fire, once again thanks to the Alternate History Hub. Once again it is a scenario that stems out of the Cold War, however, instead of seeing how the Soviet Union could have avoided its collapse, we will instead be posing the question as to how could have the tables have been turned and the United States end up on the losing side.

The difficult thing with the Cold War is that it was not a war that one side could necessarily win or lose. American didn't win the Cold War in the traditional sense of the word - they won by default, namely because the Soviet Union collapsed. While there could have been a scenario in which the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, and it was the United States that collapsed, it will not necessarily be a scenario that I would explore here. In a way, the only possible scenario would have been the disintegration of the American Federal government.

However, that isn't a scenario that I wish to explore here, but rather I wish to consider the scenario that the Alternate History Hub puts to us and try to tease it out some more. Namely, the questions that I will be asking are as follows:
  • What happened to cause the United States to 'lose' the Cold War and;
  • What would the United States look like after this collapse?
Anyway, before I go any further, here is the video (it is in two parts) that has been produced by the Alternate History Hub:

Okay, assuming that you have just watched the video, there are some things that you have probably noticed:
  • Like the USSR during the 80s, the United States was facing similar problems in the 70s, namely, they had just lost an unpopular war, they were facing social unrest, and the economy had begun to stagnate;
  • The economic problems compounded the social unrest which resulted in a revolution.
What we need to consider though is that in our timeline the economic problems that were dogging the country, as well as foreign policy problems, did result in a revolution within the United States, though this was not necessarily a revolution in the style of the French. America is a functioning democracy which means that significant changes can still come about through the democratic process, as happened in our timeline. Basically, in 1980, the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, lost to the Republican Party, led by President-elect Ronald Regan, who then began to impose a number of economic reforms that were based on the Chicago School of Economics. Up until that time most government economic policy had been based about the Keynesian model, however when the problem of stagflation arose during the 70s it was believed that this model had run its course and that another model was required to take its place - the Chicago School model. As such the American political system took a sharp swing to the right.

The Problem With the Scenario
I was going to move on to the scenario where I envisaged the shift of the United States from a capitalist economy to a socialist economy and originally was going to start with the suggestion that Watergate never happened and Nixon never resigned, which resulted in a continued Republican administration. However the more I think about it the more difficulty I have in envisaging such a drastic shift in the American political system. The main reason for that is that the foundations that would lead to such a revolution simply did not exist. In fact, as far as I could see, there simply wasn't the basis for the American system to collapse, and for it to be there we would need to go a lot further back. The reasons that I give for this not being able to happen are as follows:

  1. McCarthyism had pretty much rooted out any actual, or perceived, socialist agitators.
  2. To the average American socialism was, and still remains, a very dirty word. It would have required a huge change in the thought of the American populace to accept any form of socialism at this time.
  3. The mass movements that could have resulted in a socialist shift simply didn't exist. Sure, there were the anti-war and free love movements of the 60s and 70s, however, while they were more interested in changing social thoughts and attitudes, they weren't focused on economic change.
  4. The mass movements of the 60s and 70s were social as opposed to economic. This resulted in the Christian right slowly taking control of the Republican party, to the point that when they won in the 1980s they were able to begin their agenda of shifting America to the economic right.
  5. There wasn't a huge income disparity. In fact Americans, despite the economic malaise of the 70s, were pretty well off - there was no need for them to shift to a new economic model.
As such, what I will do is write this in reference to my other blog post, the one where I theorised on what would have happened if the USSR didn't collapse, but instead, I will see how things may have turned out in the United States.

What is Socialism?
For a while, I considered myself a socialist, if only in reaction against the extreme right-wing ideology that the Anglo-American world seemed to be heading at the turn of the 21st century. I remember spending time with friends from university criticising the government and talking about how they were cutting back on spending on health, education, and infrastructure spending while also cutting taxes for the wealthy. However, it wasn't until I spent some time with a group of Socialists that I realised how extreme their ideology actually was. The thing with the people that I used to spend time with, and my ideologies, wasn't to actually overthrow the current system, but rather to wind back on the free-market reforms that were destroying the middle class. In my mind, good wages for the working class is what makes an economy works, not the extreme revolutionary beliefs of the true socialists.

So, what is socialism? Well, it is based on the teachings of Karl Marx. The thing with me is that I am more of a Bernie Saunders, New Deal Socialist as opposed to a hard-left economic socialist that seeks to destroy the capitalist system. In fact, one of the things that put me off the socialists was their constant references to 'the bosses', something that is incredibly cliched, and reeks of Marxism and Leninism - a philosophy that while it works well on paper, simply doesn't work in reality, as the failed Russian experiment proved.

It is hard to actually put socialism into a single definition, but it works on the idea of the state controlling the means of production, and that the workplace operates on a democratic system as opposed to the aristocratic, hierarchical system that it currently does. Mind you, the capitalists claim that their system works on a system of merit, namely if you are a good worker who knows what you are doing, then you will succeed. However, the reality is that our system doesn't actually work on merit, it works on cronyism and nepotism. Sure, you might be a good worker, but unless you know how to play the game - that is to network and make the right type of friends - then you are basically going nowhere. Sure, cream rises to the top, but shit also floats.

In fact, this image demonstrates what the modern corporate workplace looks like:

So, even while our society is democratic politically, in many areas it is actually very authoritarian: the military and the workplace are classic examples. What socialism proposes is that the workplace operates on a democratic process, however that causes other problems, namely because while promotions may not occur along nepotistic lines, you then get people being elected based upon the popular vote, and just because they win a popular vote doesn't necessarily mean that they are any good at managing.

The other thing is that the profits don't go to the shareholders (which tend to be the capitalists, banks, and super funds) but to the workers. Mind you, the idea of the employee share schemes are supposed to operate on those lines, but once again you find that most average employees aren't able to participate in those schemes, and in a lot of companies only management either have access to it, or are able to afford it. There are companies out there that do pass their profits down to the employees, but they tend to be few and far between.

The other thing is that essential services tend to be controlled by the government: electricity, gas, healthcare, education. They also have a greater control of the means of production, such as with factories and the extractive industries. If there is free enterprise it tends to be in the hands of the small businessman, such as the corner shop. In fact, the telecommunications industry would also be controlled by the government. This was the case in Australia when I was growing up - in fact, it was the Liberal (conservative) governments that actually privatised these industries - however through the 80s and 90s, with the push for a free-market ideology, most of these essential services were privatised, and the public health insurance was cut back to allow private insurers to enter the market.

Could America Have Become Socialist?
Well, we have seen it shift in that direction one time in the past - during the Great Depression. The stock market had collapsed, and the country had been plunged into a period of great economic uncertainly. Unemployment was at an all-time high, industry had ground to a halt, shops have gone out of business all over the country, and people were drifting from town to town looking for whatever work they could find. Mind you, the capitalists had their own ideas on how they could solve this problem, but in 1932 their worse fear happened - Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president. Actually, his reforms weren't all that bad, but in their minds, it was, to the point that the industrialists had plans to overthrow him and install a dictator as president. Mind you, the guy whom that had tapped on the shoulder to be that dictator, General Smedley Butler, didn't want a bar of it, and blew the whole plan open.

So, we have an example of how the United States could have shifted to the left, so was there another point in time that such an event could have happened? Well, as I have suggested, the 1970s didn't produce an economy that bad, and the stock market crash of 1989 didn't result in the depression, nor did the Asian Financial Crisis or the Dot Com crash. In fact, the one event that it could have happened was 2008, and the global financial crisis which resulted in the election of Barak Obama, on a platform of 'Hope you can Believe in'. Mind you, the aftermath of the GFC is still being played out, but the interesting thing is that as the period of free-market ideology progresses more and more people are being left out of the American dream as manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas, thanks to the myriad of Free Trade Agreements coming into effect.

However, 2008 could have turned out quite differently if Obama had taken a much more hardline stance. The thing was that the government had taken control of the car industry, and the banks were begging for more and more money to keep themselves afloat. The thing is that the banks, and in fact the entire capitalist system, were on their knees, and the only reason that they survived, and things have basically continued as they have been doing so for the past forty years, is because they were bailed out. However, if the American government had stuck to their free-market ideologies, and refused to bail them out, then not only would they have a couple of trillion dollars to spend on social programs, but it would have provided a different playing field by effectively wiping out the capitalist class.

The 2008 Revolution
The thing with 2008 is that the Democrats, in the 2006 congressional election, had taken control of both houses of Congress. This gave them control of the legislative process, and turned George Bush into a lame-duck president. However, they still voted in favour of bailing out the banks, which meant that the capitalist system continued as if nothing had happened, except that the life savings of millions of Americans were wiped out, and many of them were not only left homeless, but also without a job - and any job that they picked up afterwards was on substantially lower pay. However let us consider this - the Democrats, who had taken control of Congress, decided to reject the proposal, and let the banks go, well, bankrupt.

Well, that wasn't necessarily going to happen, but instead of bailing them out and letting them go on their merry way, they instead took control of the banks, and then proceeded to prosecute the instigators of the financial crisis. However, what they didn't do was cancel the debts of the executives - in fact, upon taking control of the banks they pretty much sacked all of the executives, and then filled them with their own supporters, particularly people who held more left-wing views. With many of the executives literally having been wiped out they were unable to afford the high priced army of lawyers to defend against the prosecutions. Instead many of them ended up finding themselves not only having to face gaol time, but also huge fines.

Along with this, comes the investigation into the Iraq War fiasco that had begun when the democrats took control of congress. By 2010 it had come to light that the war was indeed prosecuted on a lie, and the recommendations were that charges should be filed against the instigators - not just the administration at the time, but the corporations that were profited from the fiasco, which includes, but is not limited to, Halliburton. Having already taken control of the banks and the automotive industry, they then filed suits against some of the largest military-industrial corporations in the United States, the cases would still be going on to this time of writing.

Mind you, this scenario doesn't take into account the rise of the Tea Party, which came about through the huge government debt that arose through the bailout of the banks. However, along with the prosecution of the industrialists, the media would have also been dragged into the mix. The problem with the media is that they control the flow of information. However, Obama solved this simply by using the capitalist system to take control of the media. The 2008 financial crisis resulted in a wholesale collapse of the financial system, and by not bailing out the banks meant that the stocks collapsed even further, which resulted in the government being able to take control of the corporations simply by buying up the stocks - in the media companies such as Fox News, CNN et al. By taking control of the media they are able to take control of the flow of information, giving them greater control over what people would see, hear, and believe.

Losing the Cold War
However, this doesn't answer the question of what would have happened if the United States lost the cold war. Well, my point is that no matter how I look at it I don't think it could have happened. The only possible scenario is that the Soviet Union doesn't collapse, which means that the cold war drags on into the 90s and the 21st century. This, no doubt, would put further pressure on the United States, however with a strong enemy it is unlikely that the United States would have gone of war with Iraq in 1991, and the September 11th terrorist attacks would never have happened. However, it is still quite possible that the GFC would have happened, however that could well have dragged Russia into the crash if Russia had reformed economically as I had suggested in my previous post.

However losing the cold war would have been highly unlikely - the seeds of such a collapse simply did not exist, and the only time when American capitalism would have been replaced with a different system was in 2008, and by that time he Soviet Union had been relegated to the pages of history.

Creative Commons License

Rise of the USSA - America Loses the Cold War by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Richard III - Rise of a Tyrant

Back in 1995 I was invited by some friends to go and watch a cinematic production of Richard III at a small art-house theatre in one of Adelaide's Eastern Suburbs. I had heard of Richard III (the King that is, but then again most of us who have watched Black Adder, or even paid attention to a particular carpark in England, have probably heard of the guy), however I had never actually seen the play. Being Shakespeare I had no problems going, however I wasn't sure exactly what to expect.

As it turned out I loved it. Basically it is a cut down version of the original play (it only runs for an 1:44) set in the 1930s, and like the play, chronicles the rise and fall of King Richard. However, as I suggested, it is set in the 1930s, so while it uses modern dress, and a setting, it is still holds a feel of a bygone age. In fact, by setting it in the 1930s it works to paint a similar feel as if we were watching the play when it was first performed. Mind you, it would have been nice for all of the history plays to have been done similarly (especially by placing Henry V into the trenches of World War I), however I guess that is just another one of my dreams.

Anyway, here is the trailer, just so you can get a gist of what it is like:

When I watched this film recently (I have watched it a couple of times now since I ordered it from Amazon), Ian McKellan has stood out a lot more. He certainly looks a lot younger than what I am used to seeing (such as in roles like Gandalf and Magneto). When I first saw the film I had never even heard of Ian McKellan, and in fact knew very little about him until he appeared as Magneto and Gandalf. Oh, Robert Downey Jnr also appears as Lord Rivers, though once again I wouldn't have paid much attention to him until he hit the headlines with his drug convictions, and the fact that he happens to be Iron Man.

Come to think of it, maybe we should do a Shakespeare play comprised entirely of superheroes - nah, maybe not.


Now, like many of the movies that I have blogged about, I don't intend it to be a review, and if you wish to read my review of this film you can find it here. However, what I also do is run through the plot, though the plot of Richard III can easily be summed up as follows: hideously deformed man plots and schemes to become king, but alienates everybody and is killed. We could also go to Wikipedia, but I feel that maybe I should give a bit more of a detailed outline here.

Anyway, the film opens during the battle of Tewksbury where Richard and his brother Edward storm the headquarters of the Lancastrian King, kills him, and effectively brings the War of the Roses to an end. However Edward is ill, but since he has a couple of children the line of succession is secure. The problem is that they are too young to take the throne, so require a regent, or Lord Protector, to rule the kingdom in their place until they come of age.

Richard is appointed to be Lord Protector in case anything happens to Edward, which not surprisingly is exactly what happens. With Edward out of the way, and pretty much holding the reigns of power, Richard then systematically removes anybody that could possibly challenge his rule. As for the princes, he puts them in the Tower of London, which at the time wasn't actually a prison - just a castle. However, since Edward and Richard's other brother, the duke of Clarence, was murdered (at Richard's command) in the tower, the castle now has a rather dark and gloomy spectre over it.

With the princes, and any other potential challenger, out of the way Richard and his confidant the Duke of Buckingham politically manoeuvre the court to push for Richard to accept the crown. However Richard plays humble, which only encourages them to push him even more, so by feigning a measure of reluctance, Richard agrees to take the crown, and becomes king.

However, Richard peaks at his coronation, and from then on everything starts going down hill. He alienates his former allies, his wife dies of a drug overdose, and his enemies, who had marshalled their forces in France, land on the English beach and march on Richard's army, meeting at Bodsworth Field. Then Richard finds himself in a losing position, screams out 'a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse' and his promptly killed by Henry Tudor, who then goes on to become Henry VII.

The Setting

I find the style of using the 1930s as the setting for this particular movie works quite well as it gives us more of a perspective of what Richard's ascent to the throne was all about. As I have mentioned, the 1930s, from the perspective of the modern audience, would have been similar to the perspective of the period of the War of the Roses from the audience in Shakespeare's time. There was a significant time gap between the two events, and England had undergone a period of unprecedented stability with the rise of Henry V to the throne. This was the case with us, with a period of unprecedented prosperity between the turbulent era between the wars and 1995, when the film was released.

The film also puts Richard's ascent to the throne using imagery that resonates with us, particularly with the huge red banners that hung from the ceiling when be proclaimed his intent to take the throne. Mind you, Richard wasn't a fascist - the ideology simply didn't exist back then - and he didn't rise to power through a campaign of fear either. In fact, Richard wasn't even elected (despite parliament, or at least a crude form of it, existing at the time), he was appointed, and obtained his position through political manoeuvring. The banners at his ascension are not meant to make us think that he is a fascist, but rather using symbols that we automatically connect with fascism to emphasise the nature of his tyranny.

Oh, it also makes for some pretty cool battle scenes, especially with the use of World War II-era tanks and planes.

As far as I am aware Richard III was one of the first movies to bring the setting into the modern world, and while I hadn't seen all that many plays prior to this one (though I believe I saw a production of Hamlet when I was in high school, after studying Hamlet - and it was this play that turned me into a bit of a theatre buff, though I can be a bit of a snob, preferring professional productions over amateur productions), I have seen the occasional movie (though usually after I saw this one, even though they were released prior) and as far as I am aware they tend to all be in traditional settings. Richard III has in effect broken this mould, and in doing so demonstrates the timeless quality of Shakespeare's plays, even the ones which form part of the history cycle.

There are a couple of other things that appear in the setting that I wish to touch upon, and one of them is the image of the boar that seems to appear every so often. We first see the boar when Richard enters the stables, and one of the soldiers is feeding an apple to it. The second time is when he is at the railway station and one of the young princes accidentally pushes him over, and then grabs him by his deformed arm, and he screams, however one of the witnesses then later has a dream that it wasn't Richard screaming, but rather a boar. Finally, we see a stylised boar on the red banners during Richard's ascension, which is meant to bring to mind the Nuremberg rallies, and the red banners bearing the Nazi Cross.

The use of the boar I believe represents a rule of brute force, and by connecting Richard to the boar demonstrates what type of leader that he is going to be. He is not a benevolent dictator, he is a brutal tyrant. When the dream of Richard appearing as a boar is shown it indicates what his character is really like. Okay, Richard is incredibly charming - he wouldn't have got to where is was if he wasn't. This wasn't necessarily an England where the king got to his position through brute force alone, however it demonstrates what Richard will become once he has assumed the throne. In fact, this plays out as he goes pretty quickly from a charming, but manipulative, schemer, to what is in effect a brute - he takes on the characteristic of the boar, a brute monster that smashes through everything that stands in his way.

The other interesting image we see in the movie is that of the power plant, or more specifically the Battersea Powerplant (it certainly looked like that one, though for all I know there are probably a number of similar powerplants scattered across the English countryside). The power plant appears at two points in the movie, the first being a replacement for the Tower of London, and the second being Richard's base during the battle of Bodsworth field.

Even though the Tower of London was (obviously) still standing in the 1930s, it didn't provide a similar imposing feature - not like it did back during Shakespeare's days when it was used as a prison (though even today the tower has an aura of dread over it). Further, it is clear that the filmmakers wished to try to keep as much of the film in a near-contemporary setting, so moving to the Tower probably wouldn't have worked. However, this is different when we are dealing with an old abandoned power station. Similar to how the audience would have viewed the Tower of London back then (and there are even suggestions in the play that it was now haunted, thanks to the murder of Clarence) we would have a similar view of an abandoned power plant now.

We also have the power plant used at the end of the play, which no doubt provides a great background for an epic battle. However many of us, when we pass buildings from the industrial age, tend to view them as old and decrepit buildings with little use. As such they make a perfect place to stage a battle. As for the prison, the cold, empty rooms with no furnishing gives it a very bleak, and hopeless, feel about it.

Shakespeare's Propaganda

I remember watching a documentary a while back that suggested that Richard III may not have been deformed, and that Shakespeare added this to make him appear more dastardly. However, that documentary was produced before we discovered his skeleton buried under a carpark in Leicester. Mind you, this discovery, as can be expected in the age of the internet and social media, spawned numerous jokes regarding the discovery, and it would probably be a good idea to reproduce at least one of them.

Anyway, now that we have his skeleton we can now find out whether Richard was actually deformed, or whether Shakespeare was simply using a bit of poetic license to create a monster. Well, it turns out that Shakespeare wasn't actually making things up and it appears that Richard actually was a hunchback. Anyway, here is an image of his skeleton that I found on the internet.

Though this could always be a fake
Mind you, the main reason that Shakespeare's depiction was debatable was that the portraits that we have don't actually show him as being a hunchback, but then again that is probably not surprising considering most kings try to have themselves painted in the best possible light. Also, some contemporary sources suggest that he was a rather comely man who was a little short of statue, though as I have already mentioned the remains suggest otherwise.

The other interesting thing is that, at least considering the wikipedia article, Richard may not have been as bad a king as people made him out to be. The murder of the princes was never actually proven, and no evidence exists to suggest that he ever gave the order - our belief that he actually murdered the princes comes entirely from Shakespeare. The other this was that contemporary sources depict him as a rather competent king, not the raving mad man that we see in Shakespeare - the main reason that Bodsworth Field happened was not because he was a tyrant, but because the Yorkists, who had found themselves at the losing end of the War of the Roses, had some unfinished business.

However the picture we have of Richard is the picture that has been left to us by Shakespeare - the deformed manipulator who has no problems resorting to murder, even the murder of innocent children, to achieve his aims. However, while he is deformed, he is also incredibly charismatic, being able to persuade people to come onto his side, and play the room so as to garner support for taking the throne, without actually making it appear that he wanted the throne.

However, Shakespeare's depiction is twofold. First of all the Tudors were the ultimate victors, and what he is effectively doing it painting the Lancasters as the villains and the Yorkists as the legitimate heirs to the throne. By turning Richard into an usurper, and a violent and cruel one at that, it solidifies and legitimises the Tudor's claim to the throne. The other purpose was to remind his audience of the chaotic and violent days of the War of the Roses, which no doubt would have been in recent memory. While Elizabeth, and James, were pretty secure on the throne, there was still mutterings among certain groups that wanted them removed - however Shakespeare was warning them about going down such a path - the War of the Roses began with the usurpation of Richard II, and ended with the usurpation of Richard III. Mind you, there is no hint that Henry VI also usurped the throne, namely because he was only taking back what was rightfully his.

Climax of the War of the Roses

It is difficult to determine where one could actually put the beginning of the war of the Roses. Was it with the removal of Richard II, or with the ascension of Edward III (who embarked on the Hundred Years War against France), or was it with Henry VI, who happened to be on the throne when Joan of Arc stormed across France and began the process of driving the English out. Shakespeare plants the seeds of this civil war in Henry VI part one, during a scene in a rose garden, however the histories themselves chronicle the turbulent period between Richard II and Richard III where the kings were not necessarily secure on their throne (though the central play, Henry V, does revolve around a rather strong King who unites the kingdom against France, though that unity splinters after his death, and the kingdom once again plunges into war after Henry VI's defeat in France).

The problem with the War of the Roses was that there were no winners - even though Edward won there was always somebody waiting in the wings, in this case, Richard, wanting to take a shot at the throne. It seems that, and this is a constant theme through Shakespeare, is that if somebody takes the throne by force then their position, once on the throne, has been undermined because there will then be others wanting to take the throne away from him. In a sense, it suggests that a coup is a legitimate way of gaining power, and if the coup leader can do it, then so can others (though one does generally need support in that situation).

What the end of the War of the Roses brought was the dictatorship of Richard III, which didn't necessarily stabilise the country. At first we have Richard removing all who might be a threat to his power, and those who were killed fleeing to France to build an army to take the throne for themselves. Okay, the exiled aristocrats were all Lancastrians, however, Henry VII came to the throne as a Tudor, in effect removing the York vs Lancaster rivalry that had been tearing the country apart. Okay, while I see Richard as a York, in reality he was the last of the Plantagenet Kings, a dynasty that began to unravel with the removal of Richard II.

However let us consider the ascension of Henry Tudor: even though he took the throne by force, he took it with the confidence of the nation. By the time that Henry landed in England and began to march on Richard's army, many of Richard's confidants and allies had deserted him to join Henry. Henry's victory effectively brought the War of the Roses to an end and ushered in a period of stability, that didn't come to an end until the execution of Charles I and the English Civil War.

The Battle of Bodsworth Field

There always seems to be a big lead up to the final battle in a Shakespearean play where the main characters spend time musing on what may be their last night on Earth. We see this in Henry V where Henry spends his time wandering among the troops and developing an emotional bonding with them. We also see this in Julius Caeser, where the leaders of both sides fret over what is to come. It seems that even if one side is the stronger side, there is always a huge uncertainly in the days ahead. Mind you, in looking back on history we know the outcome of the battle, however, what Shakespeare is no doubt doing is trying to help us see inside the hearts of the soldiers, and the commanders, to try and understand their feelings on that one night.

We see a similar thing in Richard III, where there is an extended build-up to the battle. We also see how the leaders of both sides prepare themselves, with Henry legitimising his rule through his marriage to the princess, and Richard having what is in effect an incredibly disturbed sleep. Mind you, Shakespeare doesn't seem to necessarily suggest that Henry's men are all that concerned - they have the bigger force, and the stronger army. However over on Richard's side, not only is his sleep disturbed, he needs to rally his men through the reminder that the enemy is little more than a ragtag bunch of rebels, which his men are a disciplined fighting force.

However uniforms and empty rhetoric don't win wars - strategy and soldiers do. What we see in the film is that Richard is caught by surprise, and before he can even get his first orders out, the enemy is not only upon him, but in his midsts. It seems as if his confidence is trying to cover up the fact that many of his best generals, and loyal friends, have deserted him for the enemy. In the end, Richard not only loses his horse, but also loses his life.

I'll finish off here with the first episode of Blackadder, which is set during the Battle of Bodsworth Field.

Creative Commons License

Richard III - Rise of a Tyrant by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Brexit - A Messy Divorce

I'm sure many of you are aware, unless of course you are either living under a rock, or completely disconnected from the world media, that the people of the United Kingdom have recently voted 52/48 to leave the European Union. What that means in the long run is yet to be seen, however as a result of this surprise result (which, once again, the polls got completely wrong - they predicted a remain victory - and it seems to demonstrate how unreliable opinion polls are, especially in Britain, where a large Tory victory in the general election wasn't predicted either), the English Pound has taken a battering, and the stock markets have experienced a spate of volatility (though it seems to have stabilised, at least for the time being - we are still only a week out from the vote itself).

One of the reasons that I am writing this post is because the title image that I am using was on my friend's Facebook page, which was actually put up in response to Jo Cox's murder (and his profile pic had been around for quite a while), and on Friday afternoon, Australian time, when the results of the referendum had been announced, he posted in a status update - my profile picture, and my cover photo, seem to be appropriate at this time. Not only that, but a section of English society have now seen fit to run around demanding that immigrants pack up and go home - almost as if the referendum had nothing to do with the EU, and that a vote for leave was a vote to force immigrants to leave the United Kingdom. More so, when we consider that 48% of the population that voted (which considering that there was a 72% turn out which means that 35% of the population voted to remain in the EU and 38% voted to leave), to me the result was actually pretty close - if 65% or more voted to leave then that, to me, would give the leave party to lot more clout.

Anyway, here is another picture, that was taken at the Channel Tunnel, moments after the result was announced:

The surprise result of the Brexit vote have led people to suggest that we should unplug 2016, let it settle for a couple of minutes, and then reboot it, hopefully setting things back on track. Mind you, I was going to say that it hasn't got that bad yet, namely because we still haven't hit the US elections, but the with prospect of a Trump victory (and a lot of commentators, despite not particularly liking the guy, see him as being the most likely victor because, well - Hillary) I guess people want to have a hard reboot before that happens, and hopefully set things back on course.

A Stupid Gamble

It has been suggested that the whole Brexit vote was a massive gamble by David Cameron to put paid to  Brexiters (such as Boris Johnson) in his own party, and extremists such as Nigel Farange (who nobody seems to particularly like), and with the debate over pulling the UK out of the EU laid to rest he can continue with the job of governing the country (in the ways that the Tories know best - cutting back on pretty much anything and everything). However it is a gamble that back-fired monumentally, even if it it was by such a small margin. What it means is that he has been forced to resign as Prime Minister, pretty much leaving England, and the United Kingdom as a whole, in a political void.

Mind you, the whole idea of deciding something on a 50/50 vote, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous. The fact that the Brexiters won on 52% isn't actually an overwhelming majority, and the fact that quite a number of them now regret voting to leave, goes to show how stupid this gamble was. In Australia, to get a referenda passed is an incredibly complex process, and not only requires the bill to be approved by at least one house of parliament (usually the lower house as the referenda needs to be put to the Governor General by the Prime Minister), but must also not only be approved by a majority of the nation, but also a majority of the states. This makes changing the constitution something that only happens in the most extreme circumstances (and one of the successful referenda was the acknowledgement that the Australian Aboriginals were people and should have the right to vote). As such, with such an important decision, leaving it to only 50% of the people was actually quite dangerous - particularly since this is the crowd that voted overwhelmingly to name as scientific research vessel Boaty McBoatface.

Personally, what they should have done is raised the cut off higher, considering the stakes that were involved, either by setting the margin at 60%, or doing something similar to Australia, where a referendum succeeds where the entire country votes in favour (over 50%) and a majority of the states each vote in favour (over 50%). When we consider that Scotland, London, and Northern Ireland voted in favour of remaining, while most of regional England voted to leave, it does go to demonstrate that there is a huge disparity between the regions. Further, the young (those who turned out to vote that is - young people are notorious for not caring about elections, and where voting is optional, prefer to stay home and play World of Warcraft) voted in favour of remaining, which suggested there is a huge disparity between the older generation, who are yearning for the 'good old days', and the younger generation, who see greater opportunity in remaining with Europe.

What has the EU ever Done for Us

Since I am Australian and not European (though I am of European descent) I can't speak from my own experience. However, the Guardian (a newspaper that supported the remain camp) did produce a rather interesting sketch (starring Patrick Stewart) to help us understand:

If that sketch seemed a little familiar, maybe it was. Here is a similar sketch, this time as a mash-up with the Monty Python original:

Immigration Question

In the end the referendum seemed to boil down to two questions: an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels dictating how England should behave, and immigration. Now, a Brussels bureaucracy probably won't affect the lives of ordinary working people, but the perception is that immigration does. The biggest problem with immigration, as some people perceive, and as the right wing media seems to push, is that when immigrants come here they take jobs and bludge off welfare, which has lead to memes such as this one:

Mind you, this is actually twisting the statement a bit because I doubt anybody who makes the claim is suggesting that they do it both at the same time. Mind you Peter Dutton, a conservative politician in Australia, made such a comment, and was immediately met with howls of ridicule across the internet. Fortunately for him, elections aren't won or lost over the internet, however this is likely to change a lot in the future.

However, ignoring the 'bludging off welfare' for a minute (though we need to remember, at least in Australia, when refugees are allowed into the country they become entitled to welfare) and consider the jobs aspect. The thing with the EU is that it allows free flow of people, or at least a free flow of anybody who holds EU citizenship. This means than whenever a new country is admitted to the EU then a flood of cheap labour also becomes available. The other thing about holding EU citizenship is that you are entitled to work in any EU country. 

So, let us consider this: when a country has a tight immigration policy, and a small pool of people which can be employed, this pushes up wages for even the most menial jobs. However, once the doors are open, and the immigrants enter, even if they are illiterate, and innumerate, they can still work at jobs (such as cleaning, or in manufacturing, or even driving a truck) where numeracy and literacy is not required. As such, when the labour pool expands this pushes down wages. Mind you, immigrants, especially from poor countries, tend to be happy to take a job, any job, for less money, particularly when it turns out to be more money that they would have been able to earn back home. This means that the 'native' population loses out, particularly when they are used to getting paid higher wages.

However, in response to these accusations against immigrants, there is always this meme (pardon the language):

The truth is that we are job snobs - we don't simply take whatever jobs are available, at whatever wages are available - we want good jobs with high wages - an immigrant from a poor background is going to be happy with what ever opportunities are available.

Mind you, this doesn't take into account global free trade treaties. With the reduction of tariffs, that the fact that it is cheaper to make things overseas (as well as the rise of the internet), low skilled jobs, even jobs which require one to be at least semi-literate, can be moved overseas. This means that it doesn't matter whether immigration is allowed or not, if it is cheaper to build cars overseas than at home, then the company is going to build cars overseas. The same goes with call centres - despite the fact that to work in a call centre one need to be proficient in the English language, the fact that places like the Philippines and India speak English, and offer low wages, means that call centres can be sent over there. Which basically leaves us with with jobs that involve either cleaning, or customer service (or fixing roads) - both of which don't pay all that well.

Descent into Chaos

I'm glad I left this for a week before commenting on it because it does allow some of the smoke to clear, however it is clear that while it has caused chaos in Britain, though not to the extent that civilisation has collapsed (though in some cases it appears that it has). For instance, the hard-right anti-immigrants are running around believing that now that they had won the vote they can basically get rid of all the immigrants. In fact there has even been an incident of a halal butcher being firebombed. I guess this photo that has been doing the rounds on the internet sums up the attitude of this particular group:

While the stockmarket has rebounded from it's initial losses, the pound still sits at record lows, and there is talk of companies, such as JP Morgan, moving their offices out of England. Not only that, numerous treaties will need to be renegotiated, and there is likely to be another general election.

Which brings me to another point - the major parties are in a state of disarray. David Cameron announced his retirement due to losing the vote, and it was assumed that Boris Johnson would be his successor (which was the plan all along). However, he has since made the announcement that he is not throwing his hat into the proverbial ring (which sounds like a little boy who makes a big mess, and then walks away letting everybody else clean it up - then again he probably doesn't want to go down as the Prime Minister who destroyed England, but then again David Cameron is going to be a hard act to follow).

All is not well in the Labour Party either, but then there is a struggle between the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), which are comprised of a group known as the Blairites, and the membership, who support the current leader Jeremy Corbyn (the Corbynites). The problem Labour has is that the media hates Jeremy Corbyn and looks for any way of undermining him - however the members love him due to him taking the party in a different direction. Mind you, he has already lost a vote of no-confidence, however it is believed that if a leadership challenge were to come about then he would win comfortably, as it is not the PLP that decides the who the leader is, but the members.

We are also seeing the Scots preparing for another independence referendum as they wish to remain a part of the EU, and there is also a dark cloud hanging over Northern Ireland, particularly since they also voted to remain (but don't have the luxury of being able to run a referendum in the way Scotland can, so there is a general fear that there will be a return to the time of troubles).

Will Britian Exit

This is yet to be seen, however since Cameron seems to be dragging his feet with both stepping down, and invoking article 50, there is a suggestion that he doesn't particularly want to do so, especially since the remain camp are still campaigning to remain in the EU (and a number who voted leave now regret actually voting that way). Personally, I'm not going to make any hard and fast predictions, though the EU seems to want the UK to get this done with sooner rather than later. However, if there is going to be another general election (and this is a possibility), then it is likely that the winner will end up determining the way forward. However the one thing I doubt will happen is a second referendum - unfortunately democracy doesn't work like that.

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Brexit - A Messy Divorce by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.