A soggy Yuletide Roundup

The failings of Paris

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While I’m pleased that the agreement in Paris yielded some positives, however it suffers from a major problem – it is distinctly lacking in specifics. There are no set targets nor timetable in terms of at what pace emissions should be cut, no clear policy for enforcing such cuts, no penalties to countries who renege on their commitments at Paris.

Much of the debate seemed to be as to whether a threshold of 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees should be accepted. Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and make it -1.5 degrees and commit to cooling the planet slightly for all the good it would have done! Because without some sort of concrete measures its inevitable that cutting emissions will quickly fall to the bottom of the political agenda, particularly when there are populist parties on the rise in many democracies who believe they can ignore such things as climate change.

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We can tell how meaningless the agreement reached was by the fact the UK government signed up to it. This is despite the fact that the UK has cut back on all its subsidies for renewables and reversed many energy efficiency measures. In fact it has committed to an energy policy all but guaranteed to push up emissions. Many were expecting the UK to try and veto or sabotage any agreement at Paris, but they didn’t have too, because they know that they can sign up to it, make a few meaningless speeches about saving the rainforests or hugging polar bears but otherwise ignore the matter.

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And without the necessary signal from politicians getting the energy industry to commit the sort of funding needed to bring about the necessary changes is highly unlikely. While the renewables industry is growing, its not growing nearly quickly enough and only a shift in national energy policy in many countries will produce the necessary incentives.

So I have little doubt that the next climate conference in a few years time will be to discuss how to meet the Paris accords given that few countries have cut emissions, indeed several have increased them. And no doubt without binding targets the meeting after that will be to discuss how the commitments agreed in Paris are now technically impossible to meet and less stringent targets need to be set.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire

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And should anyone in the UK wonder what’s the problem with climate change, go for a walk in York city centre sometime, or indeed many UK towns. You might want to bring wellies….and a wet suit….or a boat!

While its important not to try too link any individual weather event to climate change, it has to be acknowledged that one of the effects of climate change is more extreme weather and flooding. And the floods in the UK have been getting increasingly worse. This isn’t so much an elephant in the room but an entire family of them. And in the wake of recent flooding in the UK there is already talk of the need for a major rethink towards flood defences across the UK.

Indeed, I would go further. Building flood barriers higher and higher isn’t going to solve the problem. Flooding isn’t just a case of people getting their carpet’s wet, it has economic implications. If your home is prone to flooding you will struggle to get insurance or a mortgage and hence the value of that property, even if its in a prime location, will suffer. In my home town of Cork, a city prone to flooding (as I will discuss in a moment), the most valuable property are those outside the city centre, as those in the centre of town are vulnerable to flooding. Indeed in the wake of floods a few years ago, there are a large number of abandon buildings in the town centre, which nobody wants to invest in.

So clearly if we don’t do something to tackle climate change there will be a host of knock on economic effects, quite apart from the financial cost of building ever more elaborate flood defences. And of course more pictures of politicians standing in waders surrounded by angry locals.

Floods? Its the fault of foreigners

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I always find it amusing how the bigot brigade can twist any problem such that its the fault of foreigners, migrants….or Jeremy Corybn. These floods are a good example. While the other newspapers point to the failings in the governments flood policy, where Osborne’s austerity axe has led to cuts and preventable” flooding (expect lawsuits to follow!), or climate change, the Daily Mail instead blames foreign aid.

Yes its not Osborne’s or Cameron’s fault for cutting back on flood defences, no its those nasty evil migrants who came over here, broke into Downing street and forced the Tories to give money to the regime’s they were fleeing….before presumably running off to the nearest benefits office.

Firstly, what we call “foreign aid” should really be called “UK industrial subsidy” as its often provided to regimes on the basis that they use it to buy British goods (its more equivalent to giving these countries a UK store discount card). Inevitably some of it (perhaps quite a lot of it) does get laundered into swiss bank accounts, but it does so via British businesses. So the headline should read, British businesses help dictators rob billions while Britain is flooded.

Furthermore the whole point of such programmes is to improve the lot of of people in these countries, many of whom count as some of the poorest and most down trodden people in the world. The logic is that if we do this, they will be less inclined to take the dangerous journey across the Med and end up on our shores. So its a bit rich the Daily Mail complaining about all these refugee’s showing up one minute, then complaining about the government trying to do something to prevent such migration in the first place.

Cork flooding

And an idea of what is in store for the UK can be found in my home town of Cork. Like I said, the city has long been prone to flooding. This is nothing new, much of the city centre is founded on reclaimed marsh land, with ancient tributaries flowing in tunnels under a number of the city’s streets.

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In 2009 however the city was subject to an unusually high flood level of 3.1 metres above the usual high watermark, higher than it has ever been since records began. Much of the blame for this flood was levelled at the ESB (electricity supply board). Fearing for the integrity of the Iniscarra dam down river from the city, they felt obliged to open the flood gates and release a large quantity of water. This decision is now a matter of much debate, with a court case ongoing as to whether this decision is justified.

The argument goes that the dam wasn’t as at risk as thought. Furthermore, the ESB had held back a lot of water a few days earlier to allow police divers to search for a body down river. In essence, those suing the ESB for damages claim that the flood was “preventable”. Now while this is debatable, you can obviously see the problem for the UK government. If it can be proven that their austerity worsening the impact of flooding, then they could well find themselves sued by the insurance firms for billions of poundsso Osborne trying to save a few million could cost the country many times that amount!

But returning to the matter in Cork, I would tend to come down in favour of the ESB. Hindsight is a fine thing. Had the ESB not held back the water and a police diver drown, wouldn’t they be sued by the policeman’s family? If they had held the water on the day of the flood and the dam failed then won’t they be blamed for the loss of life that would have resulted downstream?

And like I said, flooding is normal in Cork. Anybody who bought or built property in the boom in the city centre must have surely known what they were getting themselves in for. I mean in one case they build a luxury hotel on a known flood plane. This included an underground car park right next to the river! You do have to pause and wonder what were they thinking!…or perhaps that’s the problem, they were too greedy to think straight.

And one of the main claimants in this case is UCC (University College Cork) who built several large buildings right on the flood plane, which hardly sounds sensible. And as they are paid for by the state and the ESB’s main shareholder is the state, so this court case is literally a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In essence city’s like Cork (or New Orleans in the US or Venice in Italy) are the canaries in the coal mine. They show us what they long term effects of climate change will be. It will mean lots of people loosing their homes or their investments (ending up owning a property they’ve invested heavily in that’s now rendered worthless). This is the price to be paid for a lack of commitment on climate change. And suffice to say the costs of dealing with the problem will vastly exceed the price of avoiding it in the first place.

The European migrant crisis

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Back in Ireland I happened to be listening to the annual Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture. This year it was given by the businessman and economic adviser Peter Sutherland on the theme of “Migration – The Global Challenge Of Our Times“.

In essence his point was that to deny refugees access to the safety of the EU was to undermine the core values of the not just the EU, but the post-war settlement in Potsdam. Effectively populist anti-immigration parties now threaten to undo everything the west fought for during the war.

Refugee’s, he reminds us, are afforded special status due to the lessons learnt during the holocaust. Prior to this many Jews attempted to flee the nazi’s but were turned back and refused potential safe haven’s, largely due to politicians giving in to populist and racist pressure from the bigot brigade. The most notable example of this was the MS St Louis, otherwise known as the voyage of the damned. Several hundred Jewish refugees on this ship were refused entry to the US, Canada and Cuba and ultimately forced to return to Europe, where many would ultimately die in the concentration camps.

Certainly he is not arguing for an open door policy on migrants. Indeed he argues very firmly for a centralised EU policy on this matter rather than they current policy of beggar thy neighbour. Also there is a need to sort the legitimate refugees from economic migrants. Ironically it is the very populist anti-EU and anti-migrant parties who are stoking fears over migration who represent the major obstacle to any agreement on this issue.

Efforts by the Germans to ease pressure on Greece and Italy have been exasperated by an openly racist policy from governments in the UK, Poland and Hungary. He accuses populist politicians across Europe of stoking the fears of the public and appealing to the lowest forms of deceit. He points out the 780,000 taken in by the US since 9/11 only 3 have engaged in any form of terrorism (and one of those was white!).

And as he further argues, the reality is that Europe needs these migrants. The economies of Europe need an influx of new young workers to pay taxes to fund the pensions of many new retiree’s. The price for many in the UK of curbing migration could well be the loss of their pensions.

It is of course interesting to contrast Peter Sutherland, an individual famous for being to the right of Thatcher, and the likes of UKIP. Of course its easily explained by the fact that he represents a traditional right wing economic liberal view, while UKIP represent national socialism. While they may pretend to be on the right, instead they favour a centrally planned migration policy and borders as tightly controlled as those in North Korea.

The Antibiotic apocalypse

A disturbing story over the last few weeks has been the evolution of bacteria that can counter the drugs of last resort. It is now feared we may only be a few years away from a future where the slightest cut could prove fatal, where many easily treated diseases could prove fatal, where routine medical procedures could be rendered incredibly dangerous. Ultimately the life expectancy of us all will fall for the first time in many generations.

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However what is more disturbing is how this was easily preventable. I was shocked to learn that this very same “drug of last resortwas being routinely given to farm animals in the UK (restrictions were agreed in the UK this month, which sounds like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted).

I mean you say “drug of last resort” most of us would assume we’re talking about a drug locked in a cabinet which only a handful of doctors have access too, perhaps one requiring two keys to open. But no, we were instead shovelling it into feeding trough of Daisy the cow, even thought there was nothing wrong with her!

Its not so much a surprise we’re in this predicament, but a surprise that we didn’t recognise the obvious danger decades ago and do something about it! This again, is the danger of letting major problems like this fester.

A not so magical Christmas

You’ve probably heard Donald Trump’s view that the borders should be closed to Muslims. You probably laughed as the late night comedians ripped him to shreds over it. However what’s not so funny is that, to some degree, it is already the policy of the US that they can exclude people from the country purely on the basis of race and religion.

In the run up to Christmas a British family were prevented from travelling to the US for reasons that the US authorities have not fully explained, citing the Patriot act. They were on their way to Disney land for a Christmas holiday. You can imagine the father trying to tell his kids how their Christmas was now ruined by institutional racism within the US department of homeland security.

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Since 9/11 the US has implemented a policy whereby everyone seeking to enter the country has their name run through a register. And if you’re on a no fly list, you can’t come in. However, given that the list doesn’t distinguish between one guy called Abdul Mohammed and another unrelated person, with the same name  (and its worth noting a lot of Muslim names sound alike, I’ve had three or four Mubarak’s or Mohammed’s in the same class, often from different countries), its very easy for someone to end up on the list and be banned from the US, even if your a law abiding citizen….or even a 1 year old child!

Worst of all is that there is no feedback, no appeals. Your told you can’t fly period. So much for the land of the free!

Good guy with a gun

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Its worrying how you have to rely on US late night comedy for any serious news and analysis in the US. Here’s an interesting piece by the Daily Show regarding guns. The NRA will tell you that the solution to a “bad guy” with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Well not so say the experts. The reality is that a good guy with a gun will likely be shot before he can shoot back. It takes many years of intensive training to teach someone how to react to a shooting incident. Send a bunch of wannabe vigilante’s in and they’ll likely either freeze and be shot, walk straight into a hail of bullets (their gun picked up by the shooter, which was handy as he was starting to run out of ammo!), they may shoot an innocent person fleeing from the attacker or be shot by the police as they arrive on scene (put yourself in a cop’s shoes, you enter a building where there’s been a shooting, you come around a corner see a guy with gun, what do you do? Politely ask him if he’s the homicidal manic they are looking for?).

This matches the results of FBI studies which suggest that a “good guy” only stopped a shooter on 3% of occasions….and many those good guys were unarmed!

It also mirrors the experience of the military. Studies have shown that the majority of green troops in combat will not shoot to kill. They will either freeze, shoot but aim high, or pretend to be busy doing something else (carrying ammo or wounded, making a radio call, guarding the rear for a flank attack, etc.). And we’re talking here about people who’ve been through several months of rigorous training. This is why the US security services and military train relentlessly. It is literally a full time commitment that no group of amateurs could ever hope to match.

And of course we’re forgetting that our spree shooters might just change tactics. If for example you know a university has allowed all its jocks to carry guns around campus, are you going to pitch up with a pistol?…or are you going to take pot shots at them with a rifle from a high roof top?

Ultimately the way to stop a “bad guy” with a gun is to make it harder for him to get a gun in the first place. While shootings at schools or campuses in the US are sufficiently common they now train people how to react, in Europe its practically unheard of.

Reagan in power

And speaking of America, we have revelations about what life was like in the White House behind closed doors under Reagan. In one quote “no one has ever entered the white house so grossly ill informed”.

William Leuchtenburg (a history Professor from Carolina) describes how his staff desperately tried to keep Reagan from the media (he performed all of 6 news conferences in his first year in office, a modern president would do that many in a month), in case he blurted out something crazy. Reagan demonstrated his ignorance at many meetings by not having a clue of current events (he interrupted a meeting on nuclear weapons policy to discuss the plot of the kids movie War Games). On other occasions he fell asleep during meetings…once while the French President was in the room! “You could walk through Ronald Reagan’s deepest thoughts” a California legislator said, “and not get your ankles wet.

Fortunately Reagan’s skill as an actor allowed his staff to guide him through public events, giving him cue cards and even chalking out where he should stand. Meanwhile the mandarins behind the scenes ran the country without him. While some of this turned out positive (the economy did increase for a time) but generally it proved to be a disaster (the economy fell, the deficit soared, the Neo-cons nearly started world war 3, vast sums of public money was squandered) largely because America was essentially rudderless for 8 years.

It is probably incorrect to credit Reagan with much of what went on under his reign, for it would seem the lights were on, but nobody was home!

Jersey Bankruptcy

The UKIP plan for the UK post-Brexit is to turn it into something resembling Jersey. Quite apart from the obvious problems with that, i.e. Jersey doesn’t have to pay for all of the infrastructure, military forces, welfare, pensions and other expenses the UK government has to handle, there is another flaw. That Jersey is currently tittering on the brink of bankruptcy.

The country bet heavily on property, investment and basically prostituting itself off to wealthy tax dodgers. However, since the economic downturn its been struggling to balance the books. Part of the problem for Jersey is that its lassie-faire government has left it at the whim’s of global events. And inevitably with the downturn, its seen an ever growing deficit problem that may prove impossible to fill. Likely requiring them to eventually go cap in hand to Westminster. Naturally this does not bode well for the UK as a whole, should the country vote to leave the EU.

As for Jersey, should we bail them out? My view, no! They made their bed, let them lie in it. The train-wreck of their collapse will serve as a stark example to other tax havens and tax dodgers.

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Syrian reality check time

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With a caucus of the Syrian opposition just finished in Vienna, with further talks due soon in Riyadh, its becoming obvious that there is a growing disconnect between the “plans” of the West and the actual situation on the ground.

While trying to sell the idea of air strikes in Syria, Cameron made a claim of there being 70,000 fighters on the ground ready to run in after air strikes and destroy ISIS. However the reality is that the Syrian opposition are, for the most part, not fighting IS and have no intention of doing so any time soon. While they are as horrified by IS as much as the rest of the world, the fact is that IS isn’t shelling their towns, and it is Assad and his Russian allies who are bombing them. Life is about priorities and their priority right now is taking down Assad.

On the other hand, Assad’s forces are also not fighting IS, nor are they likely to start any time soon. Certainly IS has pushed them out of large parts of Eastern Syria, something they would like to reverse. But at present, the main threat to Assad’s rule is not a bunch of IS bandits out in the desert, but the rebels knocking on his door in the west of the country, including the very hills overlooking Damascus.

The only group who could conceivably defeat IS are the Kurds. However they are reluctant to move beyond non-Kurdish areas. And the Kurds ending up in control of large swades of Syria or Iraq is unacceptable to the Turk’s or Iranians who would see that as a threat to their rule. Indeed, the Kurds haven’t been invited to the talks in Riyadh. This would be like hold the Yalta conference without inviting the US.

So in short the West can drop all the smart bombs they want but it isn’t going to change diddly squat. There are only three possible end states for Syria that I can see, none of which the West will find appealing. The Assad regime collapses and ISIS eventually overwhelm the other groups and takes over. Or Assad succeeds in finally winning back control of a ruined and impoverished country.

Or, as I suspect is more likely, the current status quo will become the final end state, with Assad in control in the West (his position harassed by rebel groups who become gradually more radical and “ISIS” like as time goes on) and ISIS in control in the East, devoting much of their time to attacks against the West or the Kurds.

There are a number of ways the west could change things, but none of them are easy. Firstly confronting Russia. The Serb’s, allies of the Russians in the Yugoslav war, only came to the peace table after NATO bomb attacks. Similarly threatening that for every bomb that falls on the rebels ten will fall on Assad’s forces and its possible Assad and the Russians can be forced to the bargaining table. Of course, there is a risk of conflict between Russia and America in this scenario. Although using drones and cruise missiles would avoid any direct confrontation between Russia and the US.

Alternatively, a policy of containment. Isolate ISIS, close the borders and wait them out. Most notably ending the trade in oil and stopping the flow of fighters into (or out of) the country. However that would mean America standing up to the Saudi’s, who are one of the main supporters of IS. Without their support and without the flow of cash and fighters the regime will collapse. However, America and the West’s addiction to oil largely prevents this. And such a blockade would also require the Turks, Iraq’s, the Assad regime and Jordanians to all co-operate, which is a pretty unlikely scenario.

This leaves the option of a ground invasion, either by a Western Army or a coalition of local armies. The Turks and Jordanians could easily mop up IS in short order. However, there’s the small matter of what happens next. Occupying such a large area for who knows how long, likely in the face of opposition from the rest of Syria.

Ultimately there are three approaches to war. The Corbyn strategy – don’t fight in the first place if you know your going to lose anyway. The fight to win strategy – whereby you go in with all the firepower, ground troops and resources needed to both defeat and then hold the territory for however long it takes and regardless of cost or casualties. Or option three, the west (and Russia’s) current strategy – the half-baked approach of chucking a couple of bombs at random out the back of a plane, cross your fingers and hope it does some good.

How republican hypocrisy undermines US security

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There is evidence that suggests that a recent mass shooting in California might have been carried out by supporters of IS. Naturally this has sent the right wing media state side into full fanatic freak mode. Even before these attacks various Republican candidates (i.e. not just Donald Trump) were calling for all sorts of intrusive measures to be taken against US Muslims. Naturally, this can only add fuel to the fire of such rhetoric and bigotry.

All I can say is that, given America’s lax gun laws, an attack like this was simply an inevitably. Its more a surprise that there haven’t been more such shootings. There have been 353 mass shootings in the US this year, yet it would seem only one of those so far has been carried out by Islamic terrorists (possibly). Which should serve as a bench mark for how rare such views are amongst American Muslims. Also, one has to point out that the easiest way to stop such shootings, be they by Muslims or as is more usual white Christians, is by implementing some regulations and checks on guns.

Of course Republicans will invoke the best way to stop a “bad guy” with a gun is a “good guy” with a gun. Ya, and how are the police or those fleeing a “bad guy” supposed to tell the difference? Also FBI studies have shown very little evidence to support this notion, indeed it suggests that increased gun ownership and carry laws increases gun related crimes.

Keep in mind, that I’m not necessarily arguing that America should adopt UK style guns controls (I think they should, but I release that’s not going to happen ,so let’s be realistic). Several nations around the world allow gun ownership, but they often apply tough regulations. All gun owners must be licensed, their guns are on a register (tied to an address and licensee) with all purchases tracked and logged on a database, which the police have access too. Needless to say a sudden surge in gun or ammunition purchases will be flagged up and likely followed up with a police visit. Such measures would have not only prevented last week’s tragedy, but also several other recent US shootings.

However to the Republicans the one right that trumps all others is the right to bare arms. Even the right to life is secondary. They are quite happy to see hundreds of shootings like this a year, as well as jeopardise America’s security, just so some hillbillies don’t have to fill in a form or two. Or so that they can fool themselves that they need their guns to protect them from “the government”….although exactly how they reckon they can stop an Abram’s tank….or a hellfire missile (or a smart bomb!), with an AR-15 has never been explained.

And since we are talking about domestic terrorism, we have the marked contrast with another mass shooting launched by a anti-abortion terrorist against a planned parenthood clinic in Colorado just a few days ago. The response from the right-wing media? Silence.

As the lawyers for the California killers have pointed out there is a glaring hypocrisy that when Muslims kill people its terrorism (again the Jury is still out on this one), but when white Christians do so its “aggressive protest”. And let’s not even start with the irony of someone who is “pro-life” trying to kill people in defence of the unborn.

And what about those who inspired this attack? Why is Carly “harvest their brains” Fiorina not currently in an orange jumpsuit in gitmo helping the FBI with their enquiries. If her name started with Al and the victims of this shooting were republicans, they’d be either smart bombing or waterboarding her about now for inspiring and provoking an act of terror.

And this is by no means a one off. A few years ago similar republican party attacks against Acorn (a group seeking to encourage those from disadvantaged communities to vote) were launched in the lead up to an election. As with Planned Parenthood, the allegations made against them were later found to have been falsified, something that the right wing media either ignored or were very slow to report. And as now, Acorn activists were ultimately attacked as a result by right-wing extremists, which again the media tended to ignore.

There is a glaring hypocrisy with the Republican movement, whereby they can ignore acts of terrorism and violence committed with guns thanks to lax laws they have enacted, as well as acts that they themselves have inspired. Yet any act by a Muslim, despicable thought the events of last week were, is immediately reason to undo the US constitution….except the bit about guns anyway!