UK defence spending review: U-turns and spin

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In the wake of the Paris attacks, the UK government launched a spending review on defence. This saw a number of U-turns on previous policy (as it became obvious just how silly and unworkable such plans were), but also a number of attempts by the government to spin itself out of trouble. It also raised some serious questions about the future of the UK armed forces. While they might be getting more hardware, it might not be the sort they need.

10,000 troops for anti-terror support

The government announced the formation of two “rapid reaction” brigades to deal with, amongst other things, “terrorist threats”. However this will involve no new recruiting of troops, just some more up to date equipment and some organisational changes. Clearly this announcement was just spin to counter the fact that cuts in policing means that the UK would not be able to respond to a Paris style attack in the way that the French have.

However, let us analyse what Cameron proposes. Now while a couple of SAS guys are the best solution if a terrorist attack is under way, but in the lead up to such an attack or the period afterwards we are talking about seeing sandbag emplacements at train stations and armoured vehicles parked outside schools, effectively turning the UK into something resembling a tin-pot dictatorship.

The army are good at doing one thing, fighting, being a defacto police force isn’t something they are trained for. And there are good reasons for them not to be used in this way. Clearly, Cameron should have taken the hint after Paris and realised that austerity will have to be abandoned and more resources going the way of the police, NHS and other first responders.

Black Friday impulse buys

I’ve previously commented on the decision to abandon the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft back in 2011. The controversy here wasn’t so much that it was cancelled. The seeds of that train wreck were laid along time before (actually under the Major government back in the 90’s). However it was the decision to scrap the aircraft without anything to replace them in this role, leaving a massive gap in the UK’s defences. Consider that even the Irish air corps (and were hardly a country known for the prowess of our military!) has maritime patrol aircraft, yet the Tories neglected all the warnings and saw fit to leave the UK without such aircraft.

Consequently it fell to the UK’s NATO allies to patrol British seas. Hence the embarrassment when it was French and Canadian forces who found a Russian submarine in Scottish waters (apparently snooping around subsea cables) earlier this month. This led to a hasty order for several Boeing P-8‘s.

This order seems to defy all normal military procurement protocols. There are several other obvious candidates, the French Atlantique or the Japanese P-1 for example. Normally a government would get all these companies to submit a bid, which would then be scrutinised by parliament (along with the media), who would then advise the government and MoD as to which one was the preferred bidder. I’m assuming the P-8 won because after hearing about the Russian submarine, Cameron googled “maritime patrol aircraft” and the P-8 was the first one that came up!

So this is but another example of Tory government bungling, ignoring the advice of experts, then running around with their hair on fire when the inevitable happens.

The F-35 gamble

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The UK remains committed towards the F-35B as the only aircraft that will operate off its carriers. One of the few decisions of recent years the Tories made that I agreed with was the decision to swap to the F-35C, with the Carriers adapted with cat’s and traps to launch and recover them. This to me seemed sensible, as the F-35C was cheaper, has a longer range, a larger payload and CATOBAR capable carriers can support a wider variety of aircraft, which could be important as I’ll explain in a moment.

Unfortunately when it was pointed out to the Tories that this change might cost them money, something that Scrooge Mc Osborne will not part with, the Tories cancelled the plan and went back to the F-35B. The problem with this is we don’t know what sort of performance we can expect out of this aircraft. So if the F-35 turns out to be a very expensive lemon the UK will have spent an awful lot of money on both carriers and aircraft that offer very little strategic value.

The history of aviation is full of examples of aircraft that seemed to offer much promise on paper. However the aircraft actually delivered wasn’t up to the task. In the Pacific war of world war II three US planes the Brewster Buffalo, the Avenger and the Curtiss Helldiver all performed well below expectations. In Europe both the Fairey Battle  and the BF-110 were built in large numbers before the war, but hastily withdrawn from frontline service when their deficiencies let to significant losses in combat.

In more recent times the F-4 Phantom, while it eventually matured to become an excellent multi-role fighter, its early experience of dog fights in Vietnam saw it struggle against obsolete Russian built MIG-17’s (the early versions lacked a cannon, something the MIG’s exploited by fighting in close quarters). The F-111 was envisaged as both a bomber for the US air-force and a long range interceptor for the Navy. However its initial experience with the Air force led to the Navy cancelling its role with the F-14 hastily deployed in its place.

And on the Russian side, the MIG-25 with its mach 3 top speed seemed to offer performance that NATO could not match. However, it had poor manoeuvrability, limited armament, a very short range and a ridiculously high rate of fuel consumption. While it was retained in large numbers to deal with American nuclear bombers should the cold war ever get hot, it was quickly replaced in front line service with more practical and capable aircraft.

So there is every chance that the F-35 might be good at one mission, e.g. dropping bombs, but crap when it comes to air defence, as this commentator suggests. Indeed an F-35 recently lost a dogfight in training to a F-16 (an aircraft designed 40 years ago!). And keep in mind, that its short range would push the British carriers much closer to an enemy shore, so they will be first in the firing line if the F-35 isn’t up to the job.

Hence why I’d argue for hedging ones bets. Building the carriers with the ability to support other aircraft and put navalised Typhoon’s, or the already carrier capable French Rafale, onto the decks to provide air cover for the F-35’s.

There is a possibility of adding STOBAR capable aircraft on the carriers. However this is entirely dependant on whether said aircraft can be adapted to this role. Furthermore STOBAR aircraft have a very limited payload and range (generally limiting them to short range air defence of the carrier).

Doubling down on the Typhoon

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And speaking of the Typhoon the UK has committed yet more money to try and get the Typhoons to be able to undertake bombing missions. We are talking about an aircraft that’s now been in service for two decades and it still can’t fulfil one of its key mission requirements.

The Typhoon’s problems go back to the dying days of the cold war. Back then, the Europeans had fallen behind both the Americans and the Russians when it came to fighter technology. They had plenty of generation IV aircraft, but they needed a fighter that could guarantee them air superiority over Europe. Hence while the eurofighter Typhoon was designed as a multi-role plane, its job as a fighter took priority. While most agree its the 2nd best fighter aircraft in the world after the American F-22, most accept its performance as a bomber has been substandard.

To me the decision should have been made some time ago to accept the reality – Keep the Typhoon as a fighter and replace the Tornado bomber squadrons instead with a cheaper and proven aircraft in this role. The American F-16, Saab Gripen or French Rafale are all obvious off the shelf candidates, with the F-35A another one on the horizon (if it proves itself of course). Instead, the government have elected to keep throwing good money after bad on the Typhoon.

Trident

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And speaking of throwing away good money, we have the money pit to end all money pits – the replacement of Trident. I object to Trident’s replacement for two reasons. Firstly, the usual moral issues surrounding nuclear weapons. And secondly the enormous expense on a weapon system the UK will likely never use.

Many of the other defence programs discussed could be easily funded just by ditching Trident, quite apart from being able to reverse a host of Tory cuts. That doesn’t mean going without nuclear weapons, as there are cheaper alternatives. But certainly the idea that we’re supposed to be hard up for cash yet the government still manages to find £40 billion down the back of the sofa to pay for Trident (or the likely final cost £97 billion!) does kind of stretch credibility.

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If the UK can afford Trident, then we can afford a lot of the other things the Tories have cut recently.

Russia doping ban

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And speaking of Russia, its worth mentioning the Russian doping ban of a few weeks ago. Now anybody who believes that doping is purely a Russian problem, is living in cloud cuckoo land (as Paul Kimmage’s recent article in the Irish Independent should hammer home). I mean least we forget that the Americans alone have seen Marion Jones, Tyson Gay, Lance Armstrong and Justin Gatlin to name but a few banned in the last few years. Similarly anyone who believes that all British athletes are clean (or French, or Irish, or Australian), well I’ve got some real bad news for you.

The reality of doping is that many have this image of it being the odd athlete sneaking a few pills in his water bottle in the locker room before a race. However in truth, its much more sophisticated, as the Lance Armstrong case shows. In truth is more akin to the training scene in Rocky IV. While the Russians will try to claim this was a few rogue athletes, the evidence is for a sophisticated state sponsored system, which would generally be more plausible. And its doubtful that any athlete could dope without Putin’s security services knowing about it.

The Russians of course claim that this is punishment for their actions in Ukraine or Syria. However, the fact is that this story first broke some time ago, so the timings don’t quite match the Russian rhetoric. Furthermore it is quite obvious that Putin began to use athletics as a political tool, much like the old soviet union in the past. Much like everything Putin, he pushed too far and his arrogance blinded him to the consequences of getting caught.

So is it overly harsh that Russia gets banned like this, when we ignore doping by athlete’s in other countries? Perhaps, however it was very difficult for either Wada or IAAF to ignore such blatant state sponsored doping on this scale. Had they not taken action, this would have all but amounted to de-facto legalisation of doping in sport.

I would argue that this scandal does mean there is a need to take a more serious look at the problem and I see only three options that will work.

The first says we maintain doping bans. In this case the penalties need to get harsher. No more slap on the wrist fines and two year bans. A minimum four year ban or ten years for serious offences, with the athlete automatically stripped of all medals won in their career to date, plus a fine equal to all sponsorship money and prize money repaid with interest, should be sufficiently severe to scare them all straight. Throw in a three strikes rule for all national teams (three athletes test positive within say a four year period, the entire team is banned for four years and all medals and resulted for the previous four revoked) and state sponsored doping will quickly be stopped. However, I don’t seem this being acceptable, because it would also mean practically every major athlete would retire for fear of getting caught, even those who haven’t been doping.

Option B is accept the fact that doping happens. That most of the recent athletic performances of the last few years have probably been as much triumph’s of chemistry as they are of sporting excellence. Just make athletes declare everything they are taking and test to ensure they aren’t overtly harming their health. We could even introduce some sort of handicap system, with athletes given a weighted belt to shave a few seconds off their time when competing against genuinely clean athletes. We could even get the drug companies to sponsor athletes. If the pharmaceuticals of Pfizer’s are going to power an athlete to success, the least we can do is acknowledge that and let them get a bit of publicity from it.

Option C is to do away with professional athletes altogether. Go back to the era of amateur athletes who run for the fun of in their time off. Perhaps a simple rule that athletes must be in full time employment, or better yet members of a university sports club (limiting any athletes career to the 3-5 years they are at college) and an active full time student. Such athletes would be a lot less inclined to dope, knowing that they would have nothing to gain financially from it and would merely be ruining their health and ability to earn in later life.

Clearly however the policy of only punishing those who get caught with a slap on the wrists is not going to work. Like a career criminal who sees prison as a risk that’s part of the job, athletes will continue to see being caught for doping as a rare but acceptable career risk.

A shot across the bow

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The shoot down of a Russian plane by Turkey was something of an inevitability. For quite sometime the Russians have been pretending to bomb IS, even though most of their attacks have been directed at the anti-Assad forces, some of whom are allies of Turkey, notably the Turkmen militia. It was these groups who the Su-24 was attempting to bomb when it was shot down.

Much of the debate revolved around whether Turkey’s shoot down was an over reaction, given that the Russian plane was only over Turkish airspace for only about 17 seconds. However from the Turkish point of view that hardly mattered. The Russians supplied them with an excuse to act and they took it.

Clearly Ankara was sending a message to the Russians, but also Washington. Since the Paris attacks the Turks have worried that NATO will adopt a “my enemies, enemy is my friend” attitude towards the Russians and ignore their actions in Northern Syria. Clearly this attack indicates that this is not acceptable to the Turks, no more than they’ll accept arming of the Kurds. Which is of course a problem because the only land force on the battlefield who is likely to defeat IS anytime soon is the Kurd’s.

While Russia, unlike the US, has a clear plan and a strategy, namely keep Assad in power, this shoot down should highlight its a plan doomed to failure. If indeed they succeed in driving out the Turkmen, the rebels will simply retreat into Turkey. Then, like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Viet Cong in North Vietnam, they’ll continue to lob artillery shells and rockets into Syria as well as launch raids into the country. The Syrians and Russians will be powerless to stop them without taking on Turkey, who currently has the largest army in the region….and NATO backing them up.

Putin of course tried to save face, claiming his forces were getting revenge for the Russian airliner (there are no IS fighters within a hundred miles of where the aircraft was shot down) and deploying anti-aircraft missiles, ignoring the fact that Turkey has some very effective ground based missile systems of its own and any attempt to shoot down a Turkish jet would probably escalate the crisis and give Turkey the excuse they need to send in their forces. And Turkey has more than sufficient military forces at its disposal to easily overwhelm the Russian forces in the region, as well as those of their Syrian allies.

What this event shows is exactly why IS exists. Because the competing interests of the various powers, Russia, the Assad regime, the Kurds, Iran, the Saudi’s, prevents them from uniting to take action against IS. As many military experts have pointed out, any moderately equipped army, supported by air strikes, would wipe ISIS off the map in a few weeks. Historical lessons that should have been learnt in 1945….or indeed during the Yugoslav war…..or the Khmer Rouge’s reign, have been ignored. And we all know what happens when you ignore the lessons of history.

Inconvenient truths

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Cameron was probably thankful for events in Paris as it allowed him to duck away from a number of embarrassing revelations which have recently emerged.

Cameron has been under pressure for weeks to announce what concessions he’s planning to negotiate back off the EU. One of those is the right to stop migrants claiming benefits for 4 years. To back up this claim he tried to suggest that 43% of EU migrants have claimed benefits. This is a figure that is vigorously disputed by many, including the UK statistics Authority, not least because the data behind it seems fairly dubious.

However, even looking at the Tory figures, a large portion of these relate to working tax credits (which is more of a tax rebate after all) and other work related welfare payments. Their estimates (and they are just estimates, i.e. probably a wildly exaggerated guess) suggest 20-28% of EU migrants may have claimed what we would normally understand to mean “benefits” (about 2.5% of the overall DWP case load). However even within these figures, the government misses an important point – that more than 72% of EU migrants have paid taxes for benefits, which Cameron proposes to strip them of the right to claim. Obviously this raises the question, shouldn’t they be given a tax rebate? Or should they be allowed to reclaim such tax if they leave before the 4 year period is up? (which many will do).

Keep in mind that the whole argument in favour of non-dom status is that they don’t put the same level of pressure on public services, so they pay less tax. Well surely if we deny EU migrants certain benefits, shouldn’t they too get some sort of tax discount? Or perhaps we should pay the tax to their home state?

Indeed there is a precedence here, Ireland and the UK have tax arrangements which pre-date the EU. These rules mean that if I went home to Ireland tomorrow, the first thing the Irish government would do, once they realised I was back living in the country, is ring the DWP and request all of my NI contributions be sent to them. If I moved back to the UK (or as happened when I moved over here) my Irish and UK NI contributions would have followed me back to the UK.

So it would not be unprecedented for the Polish or Romanians to demand similar arrangements from the UK in return. Of course, the government isn’t going to go along with that…at least not without Osborne’s dead body being made available. The fact is that paying benefits to a handful of EU citizens (possibly only in the tens of thousands of claimants) is outweighed by the taxes that millions of EU workers pay into government coffers. This would cost the UK billions a year, more than enough to screw up all of Osborne’s austerity plans, likely requiring him to either abandon this policy, or raise taxes.

Meanwhile the government has been trying to come up with ways of how to implement such measures. Unfortunately at every turn the government’s own lawyers have warned that it will be next to impossible to implement them without denying large number of British people benefits, or opening massive legal loopholes. E.g. if a Polish plumber suddenly doesn’t have to pay NI rates, he can offer a 20% discount on all of his services and undercut British competitors. If workers (British or EU) lose working benefits, won’t they be better off quitting work and going on the dole? (so you’ll be needing IDS dead body along with Osborne’s!).

Meanwhile in Oxford….

And in rural Oxford, the local county council recently received a letter from a Mr Cameron (a local toff with a known pig fetish). He lamented how the council is cutting back on public services, reducing bin collections, forcing him to have to send his butler off to take his Bollinger bottles to the tip, meaning his smoked salmon was subsequently served lukewarm and late.

The council, lead by conservatives I might add, pointed out that they’d be glad to comply but they had a problem with these dickheads down in London who kept cutting their budget. Cameron, suggests that things weren’t that bad, why council’s had only been subject to a “slight” cut and why couldn’t they just turn off a few lights or sell up some property and everything would be fine.

Oxford council responded by pointing out that a cut of £72 million could not possibly be described as a “slight fall” (then again, to Cameron its probably about as much has he spends on Caviar and champagne per year) and that the council has already let go 5,000 staff. And selling off property is hardly a sustainable way of funding a council, quite apart from the fact that it would be illegal under the council’s own rules.

And in other developments, Cameron is accused of trying to lobby Thames Valley Police to save his local police service. The level of cuts to policing is so severe that already some crimes have been effectively legalised as the police don’t investigate them anymore. And with further cuts planned its now feared likely that bobbies on the beat” will become a thing of the past.

Cameron now faces the possibility of being reprimanded for breaking the ministerial code, by putting pressure on civil servants for the sake of his posh neighbours.

Meanwhile another leak (which I take as a sign civil servants are getting fed up) suggests that behind the scenes the Tories now accept that their cuts to renewable subsidies are going to mean missing their green energy targets. This could well cost the country more than it saved via the subsidy cuts when you factor in the fines from the EU the UK will face and the costs of buying and installing a lot of power projects in a hurry to keep the lights on.

The fact is that what these events show is just how out of touch Cameron and his government is. How they are easily the most incompetent, self serving government the nation has ever had. The position that Cameron now faces, be it in Europe or rural Oxfordshire was entirely predictable. No concessions he could wring out of the EU were ever going to placate the euroskeptics, this policy of austerity is inevitably going to mean cuts to services and if the latest info is to be believed their cuts too renewable subsidies now raises the risk of power cuts from January onwards.

I hope anyone who voted Tory is proud of how things are going.

Untangling the Paris Attacks

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Let us be clear there will be only one beneficiary from these attacks in Paris and that’s the French Far right. With an election looming in about a month’s time its entirely possible they will now gain control of several French regions….and I won’t want to be a Muslim living in France when that happened (they’ll probably make them wearing little yellow stars or something). And the chances are high that their candidate may even make it onto the 2nd round of voting, a worrying repeat of the 2002 election. Indeed there’s even an outside chance now that the FN could win (although feuding within the party will likely prevent that)….which would probably result in them nuking Mecca or something.

So if getting electing a bunch of neo-nazi bigots to power in France was the intention of these attacks, well mission accomplished. Needless to say its unlikely France will halt its operations in Syria (not that this would matter, its Russia and the US who are doing most of the bombing). Indeed its likely this will intensity efforts. If Hollande or Obama now ordered in ground troops (I doubt they would, but lets suppose) then I doubt there would be too many objections after last night.

And no doubt these attacks will be wrapped up with the current migrant/refugee crisis. While acknowledging that yes there are probably some Wahhabists amongst the refugees, one has to remember the bulk of them are fleeing the Jihadi’s. Unfortunately, real Jihadi’s and Wahhabists don’t have to swim across from Turkey, they just get on a plane and wave their Saudi passport at anyone who asks.

The suggestion, as even the BBC speculated last night, that the weapons used were smuggled in via refugees, carried across a dozen land borders without anyone (fellow refugees or border guards) noticing is absurd. However, inevitably this attack will probably be justification for slamming the door on refugees, legitimate or otherwise. Again hardly a great step forward for Islam.

But why is it that Wahhabists and the far right seem to be natural allies? Well because they both basically want the same thing. Both are essentially anti-progressive Luddite’s. They are frightened by modern technology, globalisation and even curried food or “rock and roll“. Like so many similar groups throughout history, they want to return to a gilded age. However, the problem for both groups is that, this fabled age never existed.

As I’ve discussed before with regard to ISIS, the Islam of the past was very different to Wahhabism of the present. Any Wahhabi who showed up in 10th century Mecca would likely be beaten to death by the locals as a heretic within about 5 minutes. The tradition of wear full length veil’s is of relatively recent origin and historically there was seen as nothing overtly sacrilegious with images of Mohammed. In short the infidel of Islam in those days were lunatic thugs like ISIS and not the Christians and Jews (whom Muslim rulers generally tolerated, so long as they kept to themselves).

As for the far right, any attempt to implement their policies would likely bankrupt France. And while they may reminisce about how wonderful things were before the EU came along with its migrants, they seem to forget how pre-EU many French in rural areas lived below the poverty line, with none of the modern convinces they now enjoy (you know like flush toilets and electricity). Life back then was far from idyllic. It was short, hard and brutal. And anyone who really wants to return to that way of life can do so pretty easily by just emigrating to certain parts of Africa or Asia.

Certainly there is a need to recognise the threat posed by ISIS and its sympathizers. But a measured reaction is what’s needed. Some security measures, some efforts to separate genuine refugees from economic migrants (or worse), preferably with a common EU wide policy, rather than the current game of beggar my neighbour.

Certainly it is true that Muslims need to wake up to the fact that the Wahhabists are trying to take over their religion and drive it down a very dangerous road to ruin. They need to call these people out, as a Wahhabi led world isn’t the sort of place I suspect any of them would want to live in (just look at life under ISIS). And its just a matter of time before these guys piss off someone whose as crazy as them (and they blew up a Russian plane the other week) and he’s crazy enough to hit back with nukes or a ground invasion.

The West’s support for Israel also doesn’t help. Now while nobody is denying Israel’s right to exist, nor her right to self defence. But Israel’s violation of the 1967 border, the attempts of its far right to colonise parts of the West bank and the brutal behaviour of its military is a major sticking point. The West needs to adopt a neutral stance. i.e. call out the Israeli’s as war criminals (and the Palestinian terrorist groups too) impose an arms embargo, if not a full trade embargo on the entire region. And the policy on Iran’s nuclear weapons needs to apply the same standard to Israel.

And least we forget, the whole reason why ISIS exists is because of Middle Eastern oil. There’s lots of dangerous terrorist groups around the world who nobody cares about, because they aren’t sitting on top of oil fields (Taliban anybody? Remember Al-Qaeda? What about the Tamil Tigers or Farc?). I doubt the West would be entangled in the Middle East if it their main industry was dates and tallow. So getting off our addiction to oil is something that needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Egyptian delusions

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Its rare that you find me agreeing with the government on security issues. I tend to take the view that much anti-terrorism “security theatre” often has political motivations (such as the current “snoopers charter”). However, that is not to say there aren’t some crazy people out there who mean us harm, as events at the time of writing in Paris show. And that some reasonable and proportional measures are appropriate in defending against such threats.

So, as for the UK government’s decision to ban flights to Sharm el-Sheikh I’m in full agreement. The Egyptian government are not what one could describe as reliable partners. They are for one very much beholden to what I will refer to as “the camel jockey lobby”, a reference to those Egyptians who hang around tourist traps and try to entice punters into taking camel rides (bit like the fella’s selling jaunting cart rides in Killarney through the gap of Dunloe…rip off merchants!). This is by no means the first time Egypt has faced a security threat, and they have a nasty habit of ignoring or denying such threats exist.

Take for example the case of Egypt Air 990. This plane plunged into the Atlantic off the US coast in 2001. The Americans quickly zeroed in on the actions of relief first officer Gameel Al-Batouti. Shortly after the pilot left him alone on the cockpit (to go to the bathroom) the relief pilot was heard (via black box data) turning off the autopilot, disabling various systems, uttering the words “Tawkalt ala Allah” (I rely on God) before plunging the plane into a dive. When the pilot managed to fight his way through to the cockpit, the relief pilot switched off the aircraft’s engines (rendering any attempt to pull out of the dive impossible).

Despite this overwhelming evidence, the Egyptians steadfastly refused to accept the obvious – that their pilot had deliberately crashed his plane. They concocted theory after theory which could explain away the crash on mechanical factors. The NTSB investigated and then dismissed everyone one of them. While the Americans do accept that the aircraft may have broken up prior to hitting the water, this was more than likely because the pilots had exceeded the aircraft’s flight envelope. Indeed, the very damage on the wreckage was, the NTSB claim, consistent with the sort you’d see if both pilots were imputing opposite control actions (i.e. one pilot trying to crash the plane, the other trying to climb out of danger) in a high speed dive.

To this day, the Egyptians classify this crash as “unexplained mechanical failure”. Some Egyptian tabloids even tried to concoct a conspiracy theory implicating Mossad. And this is by no means a one off. In the wake of the Luxor massacre the Egyptians were very slow to react. They blamed Britain for the attacks (it policy of offering asylum to people they’d tortured) and perhaps predictably, even tried to blame an Israeli conspiracy against them.

Indeed even in 2010, when there was a shark attack off Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptians did their best impression of the mayor of Amity, denying any danger….and then blaming the Israeli’s for it (leading to some Israeli bloggers to start posting pictures of sharks wearing Jewish skull caps!).

So with this in mind, you can understand the concerns of the government spooks. They had to accept reports about lax security, put two and two together, while accepting that the Egyptians would be very slow to accept the facts and do anything about it. And when Britain decided to fly people home, the Egyptians got the hump and refused planes permission to land, effectively taking many thousands of tourists hostage for a few days.

Indeed, If you’ve been listening to media reports, you’ll have noticed how they involved the authorities in the West (or Russia) ruling out various mechanical failure possibilities one after the other (engine failure, structural failure, etc.). I suspect that this was because behind the scenes the Egyptians have been concocting theory after theory to try and dance around the more obvious conclusion.

And of course the situation was made worse by the fact it was a Russian plane that was struck. As we all know Putin has been pretending to bomb IS, even though most of their attacks have hit the Free Syrian army. Now even the most pro-Kremlin media source is left with the uncomfortable realisation that all they’ve done is stir up a hornet’s nest and paint a giant target on every Russian in the Middle East. One assumes they are now going to have to actually start bombing IS, meaning they’ll be drawn ever more into a the war in Syria. Even if and when their boy Assad falls from power, they’ll probably still be entangled in Syria.

As for anyone who goes out to places like Egypt or the Middle East as a tourist, I think it has to be accepted that these are not safe countries any more. Yes, you might get a wonderful cheap holiday in the Sun. Yes, its not fair on the people out there, the majority of whom aren’t terrorists. But until Middle eastern states put their house in order, both in terms of dealing with the groups within their borders, but those who sponsor them (read the Saudi’s), these countries will remain unsafe and they have to suffer the economic consequences for that. And the locals need to put pressure on their governments to take appropriate action to deal with these issues and confront the Wahhabists.

What Exxon knew…..

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Figure 1: Evidence is emerging that Exxon, and perhaps other oil companies, knew about climate change since the 70's [Credit: Inside climate news (2015)] Figure 1: Evidence is emerging that Exxon, and perhaps other oil companies, knew about climate change since the 70’s [Credit: Inside climate news (2015)]

A story that’s been brewing for the last few months has been the extend to which Exxon Mobil’s position on climate change may not be entirely honest. Evidence is surfacing that Exxon funded its own private research into climate change starting in the late 70’s (i.e. before climate change even became a public issue). The research revealed much of what we now know regarding climate change. However rather than take action, the company instead buried the data and threw millions the way of the climate change deniers.

Figure 2: An example of some of Exxon research, predating official research on climate by many years [Credit: Cleantechnica.org (2015) http://cleantechnica.com/2015/09/22/exxonmobil-boasts-climate-science-obscures-masquerade/ ] Figure 2: An example of some of Exxon research, predating official research on climate by many years [Credit: Cleantechnica.org (2015)]

The story has been circulating on the blogs for several weeks now, but as more and…

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Weekly Roundup

The country that went out into the cold….

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Meanwhile Cameron was in Norway this week to discuss trade. Of course this also led to some reflecting on how much of what is said by the UKIP brigade about how much better off we’d be outside the EU (like Norway) is basically bolix. Does Norway have less issues with Immigration? Quite the opposite if anything in fact! There’s been a recent trend of migrants and refugee’s using a loophole to simply cycle across the border from Russia and entering Norway legally. And of course Switzerland also has many issues with immigration, indeed the swiss are actually a minority in their own country in some districts.

Does Norway have less trouble with them pesky EU regulations?….actually, no they just rubber stamp and sign up to anything the EU passes, they have no right of veto or even a right to discuss such measures. But it costs them less money than actually being a member? Well marginally, the estimate is the UK would still end up paying 94% of what it currently pays, once the costs of EU inspection and regulation are accounted for (like Norway, we’ll be paying eurocrats to come over and make sure we’re obeying the EU’s trade rules). And once the inevitable drop in GDP (of 3-14%) is accounted for, one assumes that would probably make the country much worse off.

Meanwhile Cameron’s secret “negotiations” with the EU seem to have come a little unstuck, after several EU leaders claimed they still hadn’t a clue what changes he’s actually after….presumably whatever cosmetic changes he can get to hoodwink the tabloids into supporting a Yes vote one assumes.

Also this week the US again reiterated the point that Brexit would invalidate all US trade deals with the country. The UK would therefore need to renegotiate such deals, and its doubtful they’d get the same generous terms as the EU has managed. Now to anyone with half a brain this should be obvious. I’ve pointed this out myself several times and this isn’t even the first time the Americans have said this, nor that they’ve expressed disquiet at the idea of Brexit.

However, Farage and the UKIP bigot brigade in Mr Men land don’t seem to be aware of this. They’ve been working under the delusion (one could draw parallels to some of the SNP’s pre-independence delusions, such as automatically becoming an EU member and keeping the pound) that somehow the US will reward Britain’s efforts to destabilise the NATO alliance and harm transatlantic trade by lavishing gifts on the British.

Farage even went so far to accuse the US official in question of being a paid stooge of some shadowy pro-EU conspiracy. Now ignoring the fact that, as mentioned, this is not the first time the US has pointed this out. There is also a certain hypocrisy given that Farage himself is in the pay of various shadowy hedge fund types who plan to profit from the chaos Brexit will unleash.

The Hungry for power games

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The Hunger for power games in the US continues, with the first two cannon’s of resignation fired. This came in the wake of the democratic debate, where it became evident that this is clearly a two horse race between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, leading to two of the trailing candidates dropping out.

Meanwhile, in the GOP debate, an attempt by Jeb Bush to cut Marco Rubio down to size failed rather spectacularly. Donald “only a few million” Trump (he’s been telling a story about how he had to work his way up because his father would only led him “a few million” to get started) has now slipped in the polls and is trailing Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon…..who constantly looks and sounds like someone who conducted brain surgery on himself. Basically if you think Trump is bad, wait till you hear Ben Carson.

The GOP debate has to stand in stark contrast to the democratic party debate (the only time anyone brought up Benghazi et al, was when Bernie Sanders said he was sick of hearing about Clinton’s “damn e-mails”). Which means that on the plus side, its very likely that after the Republicans have finished knocking chunks out of each other, they is less chance of whoever they put forward getting elected.

Argie hypocrisy

You may recall how the Top Gear team were chased out of Argentina over a number plate that seemed to allude to the Falklands war? Well the Argentinians are reopening the case. Are they going to put on trial the “war veterans(many in there twenties who fought in a war thirty years ago!) who attacked the BBC crew and burnt their cars? No, they are going after Clarkson for altering the number plate as they attempted to flee the country. Needless to say this stinks of hypocrisy. One wonders what Interpol will make of it when they ring up. “What you want us to arrest Clarkson for a minor offence regarding a number plate? Ya, why don’t we arrest him for being an arse in a denim free zone while we’re at it?

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source http://jalopnik.com/more-proof-the-original-offensive-top-gear-license-plat-1644835449 points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

Also I don’t think the Argentinians understand how this plays out for neutrals. I mean personally, I can’t fathom why the Brit’s nor the Argie’s want the Islands. There is oil in the seas nearby, yes, but I’d argue this is a separate claim’s issue. But instead the Argentinians constantly choose to come across as them being bonkers mad. Ultimately one is forced to ask the question who should control the Falklands, the nutters who foam at the mouth and scream Malvina’s whenever some mentions the Falklands, or the people who are already there (okay, not very sane either, they seem to have this strange thing for Maggie Thatcher…and sheep!)

Every now and then a retired UK Admiral will pop up and say how its impossible now for the UK to protect the Island thanks to recent spending cuts. However I would argue that the Argentinian behaviour on this issue (not just Top Gear, but their defacto blockade of the Island) has now so alienated neutrals that the fact is, it doesn’t matter. Even if the UK failed to protect the Islands they would likely find their western allies taking the UK’s side. Argentina would face sanctions similar to those Russia’s been hit by, except that Argentina isn’t Russia (no oil) and its economy would quickly collapse. No doubt a US carrier battle group would soon show up to conduct “exercises” (Operation Handball?).

In short the British military won’t have to do anything, it would be just a matter of time before the Argentinians retreated with their tail between their legs. And they would have no one to blame but themselves.

Lording it over

Normally the house of lords is the sort of place you expect to more or less rubber stamp the legislation of a Tory government. However this week instead, they chose to reject Osborne’s attempts to emulate Thatcher’s poll tax by cutting working tax credits.

This is a rare, but entirely justified action by the upper house. The Tories went through the election repeatedly claiming that they won’t touch tax credits, yet blink and they were cutting them within a few months. Obviously if the Tories have now moved so far to the right that a bunch of hereditary rich guy’s think they are going too far, this should serve as a warning of how far they’ve drifted from the centre ground.

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Cameron is now talking about expanding the upper house to stack it with pro-Tory peers. Already the Lords has over 800 peers, even thought the seating capacity of the chamber is closer to at most 400. What’s he going to do, find a few hundred right-wing dwarves? High ho, high ho, its off to cut we go, with a hovel and a pick pig and a racist shit….

While I agree that there is a need for some serious reform of the House of Lords, this means cutting the number of peers and making it more democratically accountable, not stacking it with more old rich guys.

Tampon Tax

Finally, we come to the “Tampon Tax. While pistachio nuts and Jaffa cakes are subject to no VAT (because they are seen to be essentials) tampon’s are instead taxed. If ever you wanted to see evidence of how chauvinistic this government is its this. Presumably its never occurred to Cameron why his wife is always running to the bathroom and a little anxious about once a month or so.

Bigot Watch

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I came across this very scary “Shop” in Glasgow just off Duke Street. Called the “Protestant Unionist Loyalist community hub” it appears to be a shop that basically sell bigotry (Ulster flags? nazi memorabilia? video’s of Enoch Powell?). The owners claim that they are trying to fight racism against them….which sounds too me like they took banter from Celtic fans regarding Rangers current position in the leagues a little too seriously. The owners are apparently part of a well known crime family who have been at the centre of much sectarianism and fascist activity over the last few years. Why is it right wingers don’t understand the concept of irony?

One could laugh, but this is a growing trend across the UK, where many people are being squeezed by the Tory cuts, they can’t find work and inevitably they blame a convenient scape goat, foreigners or migrants, for all there trouble, much as the Irish and Jews were blamed for similar things in the past.

The reality is that, so long as employers are paying out the minimum wage and acting legally, migrants are not at any particular advantage over locals (and if employers aren’t then the solution is a crack down on dodgy businesses, not migrants). Indeed given how getting a job can often be a factor of who you know rather than what you know, the reality is that migrants are at a distinct disadvantage to locals.

Also, its often been pointed out that the hotspots for racism and UKIP tend to be the places most migrants are avoiding, largely because such places (such as East Glasgow) are employment black spots and the migrants are willing to move to where there are jobs. By contrast it is our local PUL morale officer who are they types who are most likely to be sitting on benefits, not making any serious effort to find work and being responsible for crime in their local area.

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One has to wonder if maybe all of these different racist group should just merge together to form up one singular party the UKADMRULRBRAAEPFP (UK Angry Daily Mail Readers Unionist Loyalist Racist Bigot Remember Agincourt Anti-EU Popular Front Party).

The party will have no manifesto, after all who can think straight when you’re that angry, its symbol will just be one of the Mr Men purple with rage…..a suitable symbol given how racist the Mr Men are (think about it, they’re all different colours and have something wrong with them accept for the one white guy whose Mr Good….well okay, there’s Mr Nobody too, but he’s meant to be Jeremy Corbyn. Then all the women are “little miss….”, so sexist too!)

Kids Kompany

This week saw more revelations about the demise of the “charity” Kids Company, with a report released by the NAO. Towards the end KC, a charity that operated out of a handful of London Burroughs (and may have actually only been helping at most 2,000), was receiving twice the amount of money given to Bernardo’s, a charity that operates nationwide.

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Why, you may ask, didn’t the civil servants step in to do something? Well they did, on several occasions, only for ministers to go over their heads and award the money anyway. And it is alleged they did this because the charities founder bullied minster’s into awarding more cash, by threatening to shut the charity and generate lots of negative publicity at an inconvenient time for them. And she was also quite prepared to push buttons such as accusing minsters, or the PM, of racism and putting kids on the street.

And one has to worry about the London centric nature of KC. While other charities that worked for kids in the most deprived parts of the UK have been squeezed by Tory cuts, just when they are needed most, a London based charity has cash thrown at it by the bucket load, which it promptly wastes and nobody does anything about it.

While it has to be acknowledged that KC was also funded by the previous labour government, it was under the Tories, thanks to direct action of Cameron itself, that the funds given to this charity exploded. Rising from around £10 million to £46 million when the charity collapsed. Needless to say this does raise serious concerns about Cameron and his judgement. To bring up a question asked to Miliband during the campaign, if Putin and Miliband go into a room, whose going to come out in one piece? Well if Cameron can’t handle a fat child snatcher, I don’t rate his chances against Putin, or Merkel and the EU for that matter, as being terribly good.

And yet still there are a lot of unanswered questions. No legitimate charity would allow itself to become that dependant on one source of funding, particularly for a charity expanding as it was. Nor would they be that sloppy with cash. And its difficult to believe they could blow that much cash on just a handful of kids (£23,000 a kid!). And there are all sorts of stories of the miss-spending by the charity, for example £132,000 spent on the relative of a staff member. One has to wonder if it was a scam all along, which raises even more worrying questions as regards the PM.