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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3 thoughts on “A soggy Yuletide Roundup

  1. thoroughly enjoyed your take on the news, as usual. Not a surprise about Reagan! But we know that all you need to be president of the US is a lot of money. You don’t need brains. Fortunately IMHO Obama does have them.

    Happy new year and hope that beautiful Cork dries out very soon!

    Like

    • Reagan, who incidentally also used an astrologer to help decide when to schedule meetings (let’s consider the national security implications of that!) was unfortunately the template for many president’s since who’ve been about placing presentation over substance. Where a president is reduced to the role of an actor pretending to be President, but never actually doing anything. Its ironic that the Tea party types practically worship him, when during his reign it was the big government bureaucrats who were running things, public spending soared as did the deficit.

      Anyway, happy new year!

      Liked by 1 person

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