Easter news roundup

ditheads

The quiet civility of American democracy

Tripping up Trump

A meeting last week was convened by senior GOP members to figure out how to deal with Trump. Unfortunately the conclusion seems to be to support an existing third party candidate or (more likely) endorse Hilary.

One of the proposals floated at this meeting was to have some suitable Republican to run against Trump as a third party candidate  . He won’t have to go through the nomination process as in theory any American can stand for election to be president….even Canadians can apply. However in practical terms, such a move will now be very difficult, if not impossible, to pull off.

To get a candidate on the ballot papers in all 50 states there are local laws that must be met. And many of those laws were enacted by Republican states precisely to stop some third party breaking the GOP monopoly. In the state of Texas for example they will need a petition filled in with 80,000 signatures, from people who did not vote in the primaries. And they’ll need that paperwork sorted by May 9th, six weeks from now. In Florida they’ll need a whopping 119,316 signatures. The trouble is we probably won’t know whether or not Trump will get the nomination until June when California votes. By then it will be too late to do anything, although equally it will be too late for Trump to run as an independent if he is denied the nomination at the convention.

This creates something of a dilemma for the GOP. They can simply muddle along, hope for Trump to be denied the nomination and then go along with him if he succeeds. However, this would likely be catastrophic for the senate and representatives votes. The democrats would get to tar them with the same racist baloney Trump has been spouting and many anti-Trump Republicans would stay at home, leading to decimation on election day.

By backing a third party, while they will all but guarantee Hilary’s victory in the Presidential election, they will give themselves some chance of holding onto control of the senate and congress. But like I said, this is a window of opportunity that’s closing fast. Endorsing Hilary will stop her painting them as Trump’s goon’s, but its not clear whether that will be more effective in getting the vote out for the senate and house seats.

To my mind the solution lies in the hands of party supporters. If you agree that Trump, or for that matter Cruz (whose just as bad as Trump), is not an acceptable candidate and you can’t vote for Hilary, then vote for a third party. There’s plenty of options in this regard already without the GOP having to put up a third party candidate. The Libertarian Party for example (not that I support them, I’d likely vote Green, or vote for Hilary to stop some wingnut becoming president). Indeed this would have the positive effect of helping to break this corrosive and dangerous political duopoly that has wrecked American democracy.

Not so British

bhs-banner-drop-brighton1

Word is that British Home Stores (BHS) are in trouble. The media spent the week lamenting this fall of a high street icon. I saw, good riddance to them. They are owned by Phil Greed Green, a tax dodger who lives in Monaco to avoid paying tax here, then has the nerve to call his stores “British”. I’ve never shopped in these stores for exactly this reason. Perhaps if he started paying some tax in the country the company might not be in such trouble.

Banks warn about Brexit risks

737

UBS fears that Brexit could hammer the value of the pound, with serious consequences to anyone on a fixed income

The EU referendum hots up yet again. The vote racist leave campaign published a list of 250 businessmen who supported Brexit….trouble is someone’s been checking up on them and already found a few who seem to have been randomly stuck on the list without their permission. Then again, its also emerged that the vote leave campaign have been hiring EU migrants to run their call centres….I’m sorry I think my irony meter just exploded there!

Meanwhile the bank of England has warned of the risks to the UK economy if the country votes to leave, warning it might spark another credit crunch. And this is backed up by those in the banking industry themselves, 2/3’s of whom have warned of financial insecurity if the UK votes to leave the UK.

I’m actually suitably concerned myself that I’m thinking of pushing some of my savings into my Irish euro bank account where they’ll be safe, until after the referendum. But of course, I have the luxury of being able to do that. And the rich with their offshore accounts are probably already well ahead of us on that front (why else do you think Sterling is falling?). They will ride out the storm. Indeed some might well profit handsomely from it…at the expense of the poor saps who can’t move their money around, largely because they are living in it.

Its the very people who are more likely to vote for Brexit, pensioners and baby boomers who are most likely to get screwed over. As I’ve said before, if anyone is tempted to vote leave might I suggest that you buy a tin of cat food and taste it. If you don’t think you could live through retirement eating it in a stone cold house with no pension, then you really don’t want to vote leave.

Music for a jilted generation

baby_boomers_housing_affordability

Joseph Stiglitz has an interesting article out in the Guardian in which he talks about the reasons for millennial anger of the economic and social divide that now splits Western society.

In essence, the baby boomer generation had it pretty good, most are better off now than when they started out as adults. They are retiring on a final salary scheme, debt free with not only the mortgage paid off, but the house worth many times more than they paid for it. Some are on paper millionaires from the value of their property portfolio alone. And while the Tories have axed everything not bolted to the floor, going after tax credits and other payments that benefit young working families, anything that benefits pensioners (regardless of their income) has been left largely untouched.

By contrast generation Y and millennial’s face a lifetime of job insecurity, with less a matter of what career they would like to choose but what kind of job they can get and still pay off their student loan. As for saving for a mortgage or a pension LOL! They’re only hope is that the baby boomers die off before spending too much of it and they can claim the inheritance (reminds me, I need to get my dad to take up smoking again!).

Generation X’ers like me meanwhile are somewhere in the middle. We have some debts, but nothing like those of millennials, we also suffer from job insecurity (no job for life anymore), but usually have a few more years experience to help give us some control over our careers. And most of us have some savings or have some chance of affording a house, even though it will probably mean spending a considerable part of our salary for it. Pension? That’s something we’ll need to work on!

So the end result is this massive divide between two generations. We can see it in politics with the older generation more likely to favour Brexit or vote for Trump (because they basically don’t care anymore), with the younger generations (who realise what a raw deal they’ve gotten) favouring more left wing candidates such as Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders.

We can see this too with issues such as climate change. Older people are more likely to be climate change deniers, even among those who are more left wing. While young people tend to be more willing to see some measures taken against it, even those who are fairly right wing. Presumably because they know they will have to live with the consequences of climate change, while the old fogies don’t care and worry about anything that might impact on their precious pension and fixed income.

Such a generational split is very worrying for society. Not least because it will likely be resolved by enough of the older generation dying off, eventually swinging the political compass the other way. While it may seem unlikely that a politician like Sanders or Corbyn might win power now in Britain, vote to leave the UK (or vote for Trump), give it a few years of economic disaster….a couple of cold winters with no heat (due to blackouts), with a resulting change in electoral demographics, and it doesn’t then seem that unlikely.

What happened to my Dad?

And of interest to the above is this trailer to a new movie “The Brainwashing of My Dad ” which charts the rise and the effects of the gradual shift to the right of the US media….or as the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah puts it how the f**k did we get here?

In other words the Republicans have been spinning the BS for so long its taken on human form, grown a wig and taken to the campaign trail. Same as here in the UK Farage and UKIP are the natural end state of several decades of Daily Mail tabloid bigotry.

Zika U-turn

The Catholic church has long promoted the idea that contraception doesn’t work, oh condom’s will explode every tenth time they are used and increase the likelihood of STD’s. However the Zika virus and its horrible impact on babies has prompted a rethink. Now the church supports contraception…but what about all the baloney they’ve been selling for the last few decades? Do they admit that was now all lies? And once this Zika virus goes away will they be promoting the same anti-family planning BS again, business as usual?

America’s dumbest presidents

Another item of interest is this ranking of US presidents, listing the 25 smartest….and the 25 dumbest…I’ll let you guess which end of the list G. W. Bush is on (4th from bottom) and which end Obama is on.

Hinkley C – pi$$ or get off the pot!

The Bataan death march that is Hinkley C continues without breaking step. The head of EDF energy has refused to give a date at which the plant will be built. Meanwhile the company is in a legal fight with Greenpeace to keep certain documents secret that could reveal the true costs of Hinkley C and that may well prove the company has known it was a $hit sandwich from day one.

hinkley-point

The Hinkley plant has its own Edstone of sorts!

And leaked documents of a different type reveal that a number of EDF’s senior engineers want the project delayed as they fear recent design flaws highlighted in other projects might mean the plant needs to be redesigned first. They are urging a delay.

So we now have the company’s own unions (whose chief just sent an e-mail around saying he will vote against Hinkley C in any board meeting), engineers, the former chief financial officer and quite a few shareholders all urging the plant to be abandoned or delayed.

Normally for a project to become this much of a white elephant it has to be part way through construction, too far in for it to be stopped. Yet the single minded obsession of those behind it means that it will be pushed through regardless. About the only positive is that it will be such a soul destroying process, generating such negative publicity that it will all but guarantee few additional reactors will be built, in the UK or beyond.

And hence the current trend of nuclear reactors being turned off quicker than they can be replaced will continue.

Security theatre exposed

Airport-Security-Measures

One has to comment on the events in Belgium. One of the issues with recent changes in airport security that this attack has highlighted is that the increased security has just moved the problem. Rather than trying to attack the aircraft, terrorists are instead going to focus on the unsecured areas of the airport, a move many security experts pointed out was inevitable. And given the very security measures recently adopted, it means that such areas tend to be crammed with people.

snowglobs1

Indeed I would question how effective those measures taken airside actually are. Take the issue of bans on liquids on a plane. I recall seeing some poor Irish Tinker having holy water taken off him by some security guard arguing that they it was a security hazard, or old ladies having water they needed to keep hydrated confiscated. After all how many aircraft have been blown up by Irish travellers and grannies…..oh wait, that would be none!

And besides the policy is that you just have to put fluids in a small polythene bag and show them to the security guard. And how exactly is he supposed to tell nitroglycerine from shampoo? Or hydrogen peroxide from cough syrup? Granted he could smell the stuff (both have a very distinct odour) or taste it (but that said, he’d probably not want to do that for several hundred passengers a day! Not unless he wants to have to get his stomach pumped after each shift!) but this would ignore the wonders of chemistry. The fact is that its all too easy to mix in something to a liquid to change its colour, taste or scent into something completely different.

That aromatic shampoo you bought or that burger sauce probably doesn’t have the same original smell or taste you think. No, the company will have chucked in a few additives (those E numbers you see on the label) to give it a different taste, smell or colour. It would be possible for a suitably skilled chemist to take some chemical explosive and make it look, smell and taste like single malt whiskey. So the measures we are taking are simply not effective.

The implication would be to ban all liquids from hand luggage, regardless of size (what’s to stop several people sneaking little bottles through and mixing them together in an airside toilet?). But that would mean they’d probably try to sneak it in via the duty free (unless you propose to chemically test every drop in the shops airside) or via the liquids sold on board. So the only option would be to ban all liquids from planes and accept all the inconveniences that this produces (such as transatlantic flights having to land half way across so everyone can get a water break!).

Or alternatively accept the fact that the risk from liquid explosives is very low, there’s a whole reason why industrial users of explosives or the military don’t use them – they’re not suicidally stupid (while wannabe Jihadi’s are suicidally stupid, the fact is that they’d likely kill themselves trying to make such a bomb long before they got one near a plane).

I mean we handle some of the chemicals you’d need too use in such a plot in labs and they are very dangerous, often coming with toxic vapours, liquids prone to self ignition or corrosive. Quite frankly my advice for catching a terrorist would be to watch out for anyone with massive chemical burns or missing his hair!

1011CAVITY

But those super expensive scanners work don’t they?….nope! Indeed tests conducted by the FBI on the America TSA found that they failed to stop dangerous items 95% of the time. So all of this hassle and expense only improves security by 5%….and that’s only if we ignore what happened in Brussels a few days ago!

So I would argue that such measures as we are applying are simply a waste of time. Its a phenomenon we call “security theatre” where we create the illusion of security through some elaborate ceremony, even though it makes little actual difference. Quite frankly they may as well take to sacrificing chickens to the gods of flight for all the good it does.

Particularly when you realise how little security is applied to freight carried on board commercial flights. Its likely that the recent crash in the Sinai was caused by a bomb smuggled into the cargo hold, bypassing the normal security measures. Logic dictates that if you consider the threat to be that great, search everybody and everything or don’t bother with searches at all.

ben-innes-hijack-selfie

A selfie with a hijacker, now I’ve seen it all!

As for reinforced cockpit doors, while yes they keep out hijackers, but they don’t stop hijackings, as recent events in Cyprus show. However they certainly make it possible for a suicidal pilot to crash his plane as the Germanwings incident and LAM air flight 470 demonstrate. There have also been cases of planes being hijacked by the aircrew. Its possible that this was behind the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370.

So I would argue that the evidence is that such measures are proving to be counter productive. There are solutions. Some airlines make sure a stewardess comes into the cockpit when one of the flight crew leaves, but I would question what exactly they are supposed to do if a pilot tries to crash the plane. No, reconfiguring cockpits to eliminate the need for crew to leave (e.g. have a toilet accessible from the cockpit). Autopilots could be reprogrammed to make it harder for a suicidal pilot to deliberately crash his plane.

Or better yet, bring back the third crewman. Put a trainee pilot in a seat behind the two pilots. He can take over flying if one of them needs to leave the cockpit, as well as proving an extra pair of hands and eyes in an emergency. Several accidents have been avoided or the impact reduced by the lucky presence of another pilot on board during an emergency.

Of course all of these measures would be expensive and hence the powers that be are reluctant to implement them. However I would take that as an admission that the threat of terrorism is actually very low, alot less than they suggest. Most anti-terrorism is about political points scoring, rather than actually keeping people safe.

The fact is that if the goal is keeping aircraft safe that means taking a more pragmatic approach. And for starters that means avoiding anything that involves a large build up of queues and means that the security envelope starts from the kerbside. Which in America means getting rid of silly “open carry” laws that lets some redneck walk into an airport with an AR-15 (if a black person or an Asian did that, how many seconds before he got shot?).

It means applying common sense being applied by well training (and well paid) officers, not arbitrary rules applied by security drones with a bad case of Stanford prison syndrome. And it means accepting the fact that if we want real security that this is going to cost money. Noting that the half-assed measures currently applied ain’t cheap, the only difference is…they make no difference at all to security.

Weekend News Roundup

A budget Enron would be proud of

Osborne has been accused of using accounting tricks to hide a £56 billion hole in his budget. Falling growth and the risk of Brexit over the referendum have all pushed down the economy and this will soon have a knock on effect on tax receipts. Yes, he brought in new taxes, but he’ll have to charge a heck of a lot for sugary drinks to fill a hole this big. Even the Office for Budget responsibility (which he set up) are sceptical, while the IFS has warned of a risk of wages falling and that Osborne is “running out of wriggle room” in terms of his ability to meet his own economic targets.

Cdvt28MWwAAoeDF

As with previous budgets the poorest people in the UK are the worst affected

Furthermore, it is claimed that the numbers in this budget don’t add up and don’t match Osborne’s previous claims. Its considered unlikely he can meet his own fiscal rules, he will not get rid of the deficit, nor run a surplus at any point in the future and will likely have to borrow much of this missing £56 billion. In short, we are seeing the very same thing as seen in other countries who went down the austerity route, stunted growth leading to falling tax receipts. He’s just been a bit better at hiding things.

Cdvw7w-WwAAMWST

And again we see the same game, tax cuts to the wealthy (moving the thresholds for the top rate of tax), while cutting disability allowances, or an across the board cut of £3.5 billion (where that’s going to come from nobody knows, my guess is they’re going to be lifting floor boards and selling off the lead in the roof’s of government buildings). Like I said, Enron would be proud.

The reality of course, is that this austerity was never about getting rid of the deficit, nobody has borrowed more than Osborne, yes he has now borrowed more in a 5 years than the Blair/Brown government did in 13 years. It was always just an excuse through which the Tories could gut public services that their wealthy paymasters didn’t use. While at the same time providing them with tax cuts and the opportunity to buy up public services (such as the NHS) and milk them dry, much like Thatcher did with things like the Railways and power companies.

Screen-Shot-2014-10-06-at-09.36.30

Hinkley C, going full circle

650

Speaking of which, there was both positive and negative news this week regarding Hinkley C. On the one hand, a letter to staff seemed to indicate that its likely to go ahead, despite recent set backs (resignations of senior EDF staff, a halving of the share price, questions about the financial survival of EDF if they proceed). However it also indicated that this is now dependant on French government support. As the chairman of the House of Common’s energy committee pointed out, these latest developments raise serious doubts about the project’s viability. Largely because, as of now, almost every promise we were made about Hinkley C has been broken.

Let us rewind the clock. Originally proposed back under the Blair years (yes, that long ago!) the nuclear industry claimed that Hinkley C would be cheap, competitive, could be built in just 46 months and the nuclear industry actually didn’t want any subsidies. They just wanted the Greenpeace brigade off their back. And indeed a number of very naïve people, such as Monbiot or a number of other pro-nuclear environmentalists, did indeed lobby on this project’s behalf. The government passed various bits of legislation to ease the process of planning and streamline the building of the plant.

Unfortunately, what nobody picked up on was the fact that the nuclear lobbyists blinked three times or rolled up a trouser leg every time they said they didn’t need a subsidy. This was a coded message to indicate that actually they did need one, they just didn’t want to admit it. Eventually, after various abortive attempts (notably trying to turn Green Investment bank into a pro-nuclear slush fund) the previous coalition government worked this one out. And they offered a subsidy at a rate nearly three times higher than what’s on offer for solar (per kWh) and five times the wind power subsidy rate. But we were assured this didn’t matter as nuclear power is a “special” form of power and it would mean no government capital would be put at risk…….

…Only when EDF tried to raise that capital, the markets laughed them out of the room. They were simply unwilling to invest in such a high risk project, particularly as nobody could give them a firm estimate of how much the damn thing was going to cost (its drifted from £6 billion under Blair to £18 billion today and I’d guess more like £20-25 billion myself when its actually finished). Seed money from the state or a state guarantee was needed. And so they got both, the Chinese state nuclear energy company agreed to put up a third of the cash in return for the UK government agreeing to be the guarantor.

From the beginning environmentalists were assured that it wasn’t a case of choosing nuclear or renewables, we could have both. However its clear from recent subsidy cuts that this was a lie. Renewables are being killed off to make room for Hinkley C, as its business model can’t compete with Renewables. Both CCS and coal have also been killed off as alternatives. Yet still the financial industry is not willing to commit to the project. So in desperation EDF have now turned to the French taxpayers to fit the bill.

Getting the French and Chinese taxpayers to do this whole “socialism” thing for us might seem like a good idea, if you’re a Tory and its against your religion of Thatcherism. But its actually a terrible deal for the UK. Recall the UK taxpayer will be liable if the project now falls apart. And the Chinese and French get to charge three times the market cost of electricity for the next 40 years. This is the point the HoC energy committee is making. Even if you are one of the few who thinks this project is a good idea, we’d get far better value for money just buying out 100% of the project and building it as a national infrastructure project.

And least we forget the UK needs at least five Hinkley C’s just to replace its historical maximum nuclear output of 16 GW’s. The follow on plants are unlikely to arrive any time soon, certainly not before the remaining 8 GW’s retires. And with renewables knocked out of the box, its likely to mean a new round of gas fired plants being built, which does not bode well for commitments to cutting green house gas emissions.

In short every promise made by Hinkley C’s supporters, be they Monbiot, Mc Kay, the DECC, the Royal Society, etc. has been broken. By contrast the views put forward by the naysayers, be they the banks, Prof. Steve Thomas, the WNISR authors, the New Economics Foundation or indeed myself, have been proven correct. As I’ve said before, Hinkley is shaping up to be the hill on which the nuclear industry might well die on.

Clarkson backs the EU

Jeremy-Clarkson-500953

Jeremy Clarkson surprised many over the last week by coming out in favour of the UK staying in the EU. Yes, the man who likes to mock the French and German’s relentlessly wants the UK to remain part of the EU….presumably so that he can continue to mock them and make jokes about Agincourt.

Indeed, he actually argued far beyond simply staying in calling for a United States of Europe, much to the horror of many of his petrol head fans I suspect. However, I would take this as admission from Clarkson that most of his show is just an act. And in essence he’s saying a joke’s a joke, but its not funny any more when people’s job’s are on the line.

And of course leaving the EU will have an impact on employment, and what’s left of the UK car industry will take a hammering. Many of the UK’s car companies are foreign owned. Parts are brought in from factories all over Europe (indeed much of the UK car industry is parts for export to Europe) and assembled in the UK (or elsewhere). Something like 75% of UK made cars are built LHD for export. Inevitably post-Brexit, it will be all too tempting to shorten supply lines and move production to the continent.

And of course, its questionable whether his Amazon gambit will work with a reduced audience. And increasingly it looks like a vote for Brexit is a vote for Scottish independence and a vote for Boris “bike” Johnson as PM. Needless to say, Clarkson probably has visions of the M6 being turned into a bikeway! So his position is entirely understandable.

Neo-serfdom

Should you wonder just how crazy, fanatical and heartless the Brexit camp are here’s an example. Brexit will cause all sorts of economic problems, particularly if any form of restrictions to free movement of workers is introduced. While there are unemployment black spots in Britain, generally in ex-industrial areas (devastated by Thatcher) or ex-sea side resort towns (losing out to cheap package deals). But overall there are labour shortages for things like skilled apprentices or farm workers.

A vote to leave the EU will devastate farming, with some farmers claiming they’d be forced to leave crops rot in the field. The Brexit camp solution, oh we’ll get pensioners to go out and pick the crops. Why they’ll need the work and money so badly (given that without the tax receipts from EU citizens its doubtful the UK can pay pensions any more) they can even be paid less than minimum wage. Its the sort of story you read and hope its April fools day!

What this shows is how those behind Brexit are not the champions of British freedom they claim to be. In truth they are the wealthy, the corrupt and the despotic who want to turn the clock back to a time when there was an upper class and everyone else, when the serf’s knew their place.

Indeed case in point, the recent EU agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants. This has been criticised by human rights group for fundamentally altering the status of refugee’s. On the plus side, it should counter the claims that the EU means more migrants coming into the UK. But what is the headline in the Daily stormtrooper Express, they filter down everything said over the last week to one sound-bite by Donald Tusk which they then take way out of context and spin it too suggest that somehow an agreement which sends back refugees will amount to an open door to them, WTF!

What this shows is that Cameron should never have called this referendum. It will not be fought on the issues. It is being fought on whatever outrageous lies and scaremongering that the fascist inclined tabloids can concoct.

Exploitation, Exploitation

A funny spoof from the Guardian website, which mocks the TV show location, location, location. It charts the all too common decisions faced by young millennials trying to find a flat in London. Consider that in London now, you’ll be paying about 3 times the cost per square metre for a house than in the rest of the country….and that’s in a rough area or out in Luton! In the centre of town £100 wouldn’t buy you enough space the size of an oyster card.

paddington

A “compact and cosy” “loft conversion” in London

And as few can afford the hefty deposit that comes with buying in the capital, many are forced into renting, even when they can easily afford mortgage payments. Rents are now so high some are charging £74 a week for essentially a broom cupboard (many spend about £1,000+ a month, often +60% of take home pay on their rent). Ultimately I reckon rent controls are badly needed in London.

To the tower with him

The manager of slave driving sweatshop the firm Sports Direct, conman businessman Mike Ashley has been ordered to appear before MP’s to explain himself. He’s been threatened with imprisonment within the Tower if he doesn’t comply. Apparently there is a rule within Parliament (which is technically a palace of the Queen) that do allow those who are found to be in contempt of Parliament to be imprisoned within Big Ben…although not on the clock face one assumes!

White House security doing its job

Gerry Adams was incensed at being refused entry to the White House on St Patrick’s day. Ya, what where the security guards thinking! Why would you refuse to let in a known bomb maker and IRA commander, currently under investigation over several “disappeared” people.

On the plus side, if Trump was at the event it could be a very easy way of solving lots of problems. Although Obama might have to explain why a small mount has suddenly appeared in the rose garden.

IDS Quits

And last but by no means least, the quitting of the work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith, as I was typing this up last night. He is making clear that his reasons for quitting are the failure of Osborne to suspend cuts to disability benefits.

Apparently he had been lobbying for cuts to benefits given to better off pensioners as an alternative to kicking people out of wheelchairs (personally, I’d rather cut neither, but I appreciate the point he was making that we should be cutting funding from those who can afford it, not those who can least afford it but are politically expendable).

Of course one has to wonder if friction over Europe and the referendum was also to blame. Certainly, the Tory party is increasingly at war with itself.

House of Cards

house-of-cards

I wonder if some Americans wished they could vote for Frank Underwood…given the likely choice in November

Technical problems

The RNC have had to cope with a serious technical fault with their latest GOP establishment service drone Rubio the robot. In previous elections voters had complained that GOP drones came in only one colour (white!), were all fairly old and dated, wore identical suits, same colour tie and weren’t as cool as the service drones on offer from the democrats. So based on focus groups, the GOP came up with something they thought might be a winner.

19719300-mmmain

Unfortunately, the GOP forgot that the bulk of the party base are white and mildly racist. They have been opting instead to go for a variety of foreign imports or have been conned into installing ransomware in the pay of a criminal syndicate.

Meanwhile the democrats are having technical difficulties problems of their own with their latest product Clinton 2.0. This is based on the highly successful Clinton 1.0, a much admired product from the 1990’s. It had many handy features, such as double digit growth and came with a balanced budget. Unfortunately, it also came with a number of hardware problems, notably the tendency of a certain bit of hardware to turn on and then refuse to turn off whenever young interns came near.

The democrats were confident that they’d fixed all these problems, however Clinton 2.0 has proven vulnerable to the Millennial bug. It also has a habit of shutting down and hiding e-mails, or storing them in unsecured servers. And Clinton 2.0 might be vulnerable to a piece of GOP malware known as “Benghazi”.

The reckoning

Jokes aside, the dropping out of Rubio benefits only two people – Ted Cruz and Hilary Clinton. Rubio was the GOP’s best shot at defeating her and while her victory is certainly not assured, I doubt you’ll find many bookies taking bets against her winning now (last I checked they were quoting odds of 5/6).

She is well ahead of both Trump and Cruz in some polls. And even those polls where she is neck and neck with Cruz, I would point out that this is largely because the media haven’t focused on him as much as they have on Hilary or Trump. The fact is, the GOP have been slinging mud at Hilary for the last twenty years. Anyone who was going to be persuaded by negative campaigning against her has already made their minds up.

However neither of the GOP candidates have been subject to that level of scrutiny. If Trump thinks the primaries have been tough, wait until the election proper starts and all the gaff’s, racist taut’s and unworkable policies get flung back at him.

This is what worries the GOP establishment about Trump and Cruz, they remember what happened with Sarah Palin. She was a wildly popular pick as VP within her own party, but she probably cost McCain the election. Hence the balance of probability is that once the campaign proper starts Hilary will start to pull ahead of either GOP candidate (and she’s already got a clear lead on Trump) and will likely win easily .

Indeed I would argue the major threat to her is that a number of the left wing of her party defecting to some third party on election day. The irony is, that she’s actually one of the most centrist (if not right wing) candidates the democrats have fielded in a long time.  Although the crazier the GOP candidate is, the less likely it is that such defections will happen.

Shooting the hostage

And all of the above assumes essentially ideal conditions and a united GOP. Which doesn’t seem likely! There are further signs that some elements of the GOP simply will not accept Trump (or Cruz) as either the GOP candidate or as a president. They would sooner back Hilary. Recently the EIS rated Trump winning the election as one of the top ten risks to the global economy. Rumours abound of secret meetings between senior GOP figures discussing various strategies to use procedures and rules against Trump to stop him getting the nomination. There is also talk of getting some conservative figure to run as the third party candidate against Trump, thus guaranteeing that regardless of the outcomes of the primaries that he will lose.

B9318198087Z.1_20150723165544_000_GKRBEA3SS.1-0

In essence Trump has been holding the GOP hostage by threatening to run as an independent. Now the hostage is about to pull out a gun and threaten to shoot them both if he doesn’t back down. Most of the big financial donors would likely back this third party option (or Hilary). So if Trump wants to make a pointless and doomed run, he’ll be doing it on his own dime. There hope is that he’s got at least some business sense to see that he’s snookered, upon which he’ll resign and drop out.

Although personally I doubt it, as some of his ex-staffers have been pointing out their boss is an egomanic who is just about stupid enough to make a run. Take how he reacted to Romney’s attack on his failed businesses. He tried to claim they are all still up and running and that he owns them all. Well that ain’t so (the steaks came from a butcher, aptly named “Bush). In essence he proved that everything Romney accused him of was true, that he’s a liar and a fraud, who cannot accept his own failures, even when they are staring him in the face. Like the black knight, he’ll keep charging in and then claim victory even when left legless and armless.

The Presidential derailer option

And in other news, Obama has made his pick for the Supreme court. To the surprise of some he picked not a young card carrying member of he ACLU, but a moderate centrist with experience in anti-terrorism cases. This could be seen as an olive branch to Republicans that they can team up to take down Trump or work progressively with Hilary. And there is, it should be noted, a last ditch method by which Trump could be stopped, even if by some miracle he won the election.

The President and Congress, in Obama’s last few weeks, could transfer the bulk of the powers of the President to the House of Representatives (in essence they would be separating out the offices of head of state and head of government, with the speaker of the house effectively becoming the equivalent of the an American PM). With a complaint house (i.e. a majority of republicans in favour and willing to vote down any filibuster attempts by Trump supporters) this is possible. It would render Trump a neutered president. He’d get to cut ribbons and open shopping malls, throw the first pitch in the baseball season, make a speech once a year, but that’s about it.

The trouble is, once enacted it will be very difficult to undo. It would require (after Trump’s gone) a three-fifths majority of both houses, a complaint president and likely a referendum too. In the meantime US decision making will be even more constrained than now, as the role of the US federal government will be reduced to simply waiting out the clock on Trump.

Alternatively, Obama could be laying a trap for the Republicans. If they follow through with their threat and filibuster the confirmation hearings, he and Hilary, can justifiably point to this as showing that they are to blame for everything that is wrong with politics right now (Trump, the deficit, the economy, ISIS, etc.) and that it has been their obstructive behaviour that is holding back America. The GOP would be risking not just a loss to Hilary in the presidential election, but in the Senate and Congress too. Knowing full well that if Hilary wins she will almost certainly punish the GOP by picking a much more liberal candidate (maybe she’ll put Sanders or Micheal Moore up for the job!). In essence Obama has just kicked a live hand grenade into the GOP’s office. The question is will the pull the pin on it?

Double Team

cruz-trump-2016

Anyone got a sick bag handy?

Another thought is that of Trump and Cruz teaming up. Some wing-nuts seem to think this would be a great idea. Both of them on the ticket sounds like the ultimately tea party wet dream….well if your Hilary that is! Trump and Cruz appeal to the same class of voters – angry white males. However as discussed, there are lots of people who will not vote for Trump, ever! This includes large segments of his own party. Similarly there are a lot of people who will not vote for a religious nut like Ted Cruz (plus many who think an American should get the job!). Putting both on the ticket doubles the number of people that will be turned off voting for the Republicans. Again, this would make it easier for Hilary, not harder.

A better job description

In all, is it asking too much of America to write out a basic job description before the next election, listing certain “essential skills” that every candidate must meet. Failure to meet them and your application for the job of president won’t even be read and you won’t get on the ballot. Such skills could include “must be sane”, “must have read the US constitution…particularly the bill of rights”, “must understand the word hypocrisy….and the candidate should not be a textbook example of this word”, “must not have filed for bankruptcy…once let alone multiple times! A command of basic arithmetic, geography and world affairs would also be key requirements (most companies these days hold a technical interview prior to the main interview, so a similar process for each candidate would weed out the chaff).

And naturally all candidates would have to fully declare their recent financial activity (something Trump hasn’t done…nor will he ever do, as that would likely get him arrested) and release birth certificates (preferably American not Canadian!), show some ID (its ironic how American voters have to go through more hoops to get registered than those standing for president!), etc. This would have all made the primary process so much smoother.

Tripping up Trump

CVq_LT1UYAAXFup

I pointed out last week that the GOP was facing a version of the prisoner dilemma, whereby they could stick together and try to stick it to Trump or act in their own selfish self interest and cosy up to the heir hair apparent (as Chris Christie did….and what the hell was he thinking while he stood there behind Trump!).

chris-christie-donald-trump-1

Well it would seem after Super Tuesday, the rest of the GOP tried to imagine a Trump presidency… and after seeing visions of mushroom clouds, or him being hauled away in a straitjacket to the funny farm on his first day….or (more than likely!) Hilary giving her victory speech after sweeping the electoral college….they dug in their heels, threw their toys out of the pram and said hell no!

Over the last week, Trump has been subjected to a barrage of criticism from both his fellow candidates and from many GOP grandees. Mitt Romney called him a phony, a big fat phony. John McCain, joined in declaring him unfit for office, while 116 members of the GOP national security committee (which includes several ex-cabinet minsters, advisers and defence analysts) declared in a letter that Trump was “wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle” “He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence”.

And of course the Bush family do not like him (meaning we can add both still living Republican presidents to his enemies list). And as for those who see Trump as another Reagan, well as I discussed in a recent article, that is not the case and furthermore Reagan’s own son has been critical of Trump. So when we say the GOP establishment is against him, let us be clear, we mean pretty much an entire generation of the GOP including all living presidential candidates, presidents, many of the senior staff in those regimes and much of Congress including both the leaders of the house and senate.

I also mentioned in my prior article how Fox news faced a dilemma, in whether or not to go after Trump. The latest GOP debate suggests they’ve clearly decided to get the knifes out. They ambushed him on a number of fronts, notably Trump university (a degree mill scam Trump set up to capitalise on his Apprentice fame). Fox also introduced a new feature to the debates, a sort of “bullshit corrector” whereby if any of the candidates came out with some ridiculous grade A BS, the moderators would flash up an infographic proving he was talking codswollop.

Needless to say, Trump fell foul of this regularly, notably over his claim to be able to save $300 billion from the Medicare budget by negotiating a better price with drug companies. It was pointed out that the US spends a total of just $78 billion on drugs through Medicare, so even if he got all the drugs for free, he’s still be short by about $222 billion! Although oddly enough Trump was more interested in defending the size of his….hands.

I would note that I’ve long called for this in debates before (some sort of BS detector so that outragious claims can be proven to be false), notably in EU debates involving Farage and the out camp. It also does seem to suggest that Fox aren’t quite as incompetent as they’d like to pretend to be. As the Young Turks commented, Fox can do good journalism when they want to, its just they usually prefer not to as it means they can get away with the sort of silly lies and half-truths (e.g. how Birmingham is totally Muslim) they broadcast instead. But I digress….

The Red Convention

Plan A for the Republican National Committiee (RNC) had been to wait and let Trump self destruct all by himself, same as happened to many of his business ventures. While this will probably happen eventually, it probably won’t happen until after the primaries, perhaps even after the election and the RNC don’t want to wait. Plan B was to clear the field and leave in one clear challenger. But that hasn’t worked out either. So plan C seems to be to keep as many of the contenders in the field for as long as possible and deny him a majority. In effect they plan to sabotage their own primary voting system, so that the decision on the candidate will then fall to the RNC grandee’s at the convention in July, who are already working out how to knife Trump as painlessly as possible.

However, this tactic will benefit Ted Cruz more than anybody. Trouble is, there are plenty who consider him as dangerous, if not worse than Trump. And he is likely to be equally unelectable. While some polls do put him ahead of Hilary, this is probably because many voters aren’t familiar with his policies. For example, Ted Cruz wants a flat tax of 10%. The US gross domestic product is $18tn, the federal budget is $3.8tn. Even if the 10% tax is somehow applied to the entire GDP (which it won’t!). That still leaves him short by about $2tn! Doubling the flat tax might work, but that would amount to a massive tax hike for everyone who isn’t a millionaire and a tax cut for the wealthy.

I suspect the RNC plan is therefore to ice Cruz at the convention also, probably by leaking some documents regarding his ineligibility to be president to the press at a critical stage of the convention. I have this vision of Romney (who speaks French) calling out to him as he enters the convention hall “Bon Chance” and Cruz replying “Merci. Or maybe one of his aides will be caught at the border shipping in maple syrup (some varieties are banned in the US) and poutine?

That would push things the way of the chosen one Marco Rubio. He stands the best chance of defeating Hilary, but let’s face it he’s just a kid. I’m convinced he shows up to these debates on a skate board shouting cowabunga to Trump as he passes him. Rubio is the preferred candidate by the RNC simply because he can be controlled. And he can be controlled because if doesn’t anything he wasn’t supposed to do his mom will ground him.

In short, the GOP convention in July could get as bloody as the red wedding in Game of Thrones. But its likely that neither Trump nor Cruz will go quietly. If Trump has captured the most delegates, but is denied the nomination, then he’ll likely walk and run as an independent, splitting the party. And similarly I can’t see Ted Cruz going down without a fight, likely they’d have to give him a senior cabinet post or something. He might even ally with Trump or run as an independent himself.

Alternatively if the RNC don’t get their way, Trump being anointed at the convention could well prompt a series of high profile resignations and defections to the Democrats (perhaps giving Obama enough of a majority to push a few more things through). I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of some moderate republican (perhaps Romney or Paul Ryan) even running against Trump as an independent.

Why the GOP has to lose in November….to save itself

All in all, what the GOP has on its hands is a mess and a mess of their own creation. For years they’ve adopted a tactic of bait and switch, manipulating their base with the most outrageous lies, using fear and scare tactics, focusing on what are essentially fringe issues (abortion, vaccines, creationism), or adopting obviously contrarian and hypocritical position on issues (i.e. gun control, ignoring that many countries have liberal guns laws, but strong gun regulation and as a result few gun deaths…and ignoring the ease with which terrorists could exploit a lack of gun regulation). In all cases the intent of these tactics was to prevent the political debate moving onto more pressing topics (such as who was responsible for the financial crisis and is it any coincidence that since Reagan’s cuts to the top rate of taxes the US now has a deficit problem).

Indeed, the GOP’s attempts threat to filibuster to stop Obama appointing a new chief justice highlights everything wrong with the party. With the Supreme court now effectively split it cannot do its job effectively, its back log of cases will grow, and one of its key jobs is to curb the executive powers of the president (so if you are afraid of President Obama one can scarcely think of a dumber thing to do than delay the appointment of a supreme court justice). The court also oversees legislation passed by Congress. So in effect the GOP are arguing for a shutdown of the entire US government for the next 10 months or so.

If that sounds crazy, well the problem is its not that crazy to Republicans, as they’ve effectively shut down Congress for the last few years as they try to wait out the clock on Obama’s presidency, ignoring many of the issues their supporters worry about, be it the rising deficit or the fact that many are still struggling from the aftermath of the Great recession. In essence they’ve treated their supporters like sheep and now the sheep on animal farm are rebelling. Trump and Cruz are the inevitable consequences of this policy and its going to earn them Hilary Clinton as president.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily a fan of Hilary. If I had a vote in November, the only situation I’d vote for her would be to stop Cruz or Trump (although that said fallout boy is a climate denier….from Florida! That’s like being a snow denier from Alaska!) and then only if I lived in a swing state, otherwise I’d probably vote for a third party candidate. Which is exactly what I’d advise any Republicans who genuinely care about their party to do, regardless of who gets the nomination. If you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hilary, vote for a third party candidate or sit out the election. The GOP losing to Hilary and losing big, might just be enough of a shock to the system to knock some sense into the party.

The leadership would be forced to realise that they need to treat their supporters as voters and not sheep and that they need come up with policies that will actually help them, rather than soundbites. While the Tea party wing will be forced to realise that if they keep putting forward wingnut’s for election with crackpot policies they’ll loose every time to ever more left wing democrats.

Weekly round up

The biggest scam in history

F-35B-First-Carrier-Landing

For sometime I’ve been worried about the F-35 JSF, an aircraft that is now critical to the defence of the West, as it is slated to replace a whole host of other aircraft from the Harrier, the A-10 tankbuster to F-16’s and F-15’s. And this effects not just the US but many NATO member states as well. The Royal Navy will be entirely dependant on the aircraft. Indeed thanks to some rather foolish decisions by the Tories, if the F-35 fails to deliver, the carriers that the UK is currently building become effectively useless.

Hence with so much riding on it, you’d kind of hope the latest reports regarding the F-35 would be good….they ain’t, in fact they are terrible. Reports are now emerging of them repeatedly failing combat tests, the result of said test even being doctored, of engine fires or flame outs, cracks in the fuselage or of them being unable to operate during clouds or at night (so they will stop Putin, but only if he attacks on a sunny day!). Oh, and as I previously mention the supposedly “superiorF-35 recently lost a dogfight to a F-16 (an aircraft designed back in the 70’s).

fighter-chart

Now all of this would be bad enough if it weren’t for the $1.5 trillion price tag the F-35 fleet comes with. It is one of the most expensive military procurement exercises in history. Plane for plane they are many times more expensive than the aircraft they are replacing. Take the A-10, the unit replacement costs of this are $12 million v’s $110 million for a JSF. The A-10 can carry much more payload, quite apart from its huge 30mm gatling gun. The JSF has a mere 180 rounds of 25mm ammo per gun v’s the 1,000+ rounds the A-10 carries. The A-10 is designed for low speed, low level close air support, the F-35 isn’t. The A-10 can absorb large amount of battle damage (it can even stay flying if it loses part of a wing or an engine), the F-35 (as noted) can’t deal with clouds! Ask yourself, if you were a pilot, or a ground commander looking for CAS which would you rather doing the job?

10645006_970141616334796_1383775666132498238_n

Even F-35 pilots seem to acknowledge that in some roles other aircraft (such as the A-10) are superior. But so sensitive is this topic, that highlighting the deficiencies of the F-35 was labelled “treason” by a US general, fearful of a possibility of the F-35 being cancelled or scaled back. Such is the nature of the mess the US military has now got itself into when it comes to procurement.

Now it could be that the F-35 matures into a fine aircraft, its stealth capability would certainly make it useful, but one has to ask if its sensible to be putting all of ones eggs in the one basket. This has been the critical flaw in this entire strategy from day one. Also the military have fallen into the trap of thinking that just because something is newer its better. Not so! Its worth noting for example that various attempts to replace the B-52 with the B-1b’s and B-2’s have failed and its likely there will still be B-52’s in service right into the 2040’s.

So I would argue it might be sensible to scale back the ambitions regarding this aircraft, henge ones bets. Certainly as far as the UK is concerned I would suggest adjusting the carriers to take other aircraft, such as the French made Rafale or the US made F-18 and operating the ships with two sets of aircraft side by side.

Tory tax dodge scuppered….for now!

Osborne tried to pull a fast one recently, but got found out and was forced to back down…for now! He was trying to launch a raid on pension pots by removing the tax relief applied to pensions. This is a very bad idea because the whole point of such tax relief is to encourage people to save for retirement so they don’t become a burden on the system in later life. The chancellor promised he’d make up for it by guaranteeing that in future pensioners would pay no taxes once they retired.

Do you spot it? Yes he just offered many of the UK’s rich a way of avoiding payment of any tax – retire. Once they declared themselves retired they’d pay no taxes, even if their income was in the millions. Meanwhile hardworking middle earners would be forced to pay yet more taxes (on top of the tax rise already due thanks to an increase in NI rates). Given that most retirees (who aren’t rich) actually pay very little income tax anyway, they won’t really benefit from this measure after retirement.

The plan has been killed for now, but as we know the Tories are known to sneak stuff through when the country is distracted. Expect this to reappear in the closing phases of the EU referendum.

The EU referendum rubble’s on

chappatte_uk

The Brexit camp continue to be in denial about the fact that the UK economy will suffer as a result of Brexit, not least because of the years of uncertainty that will result, nor that it will give the UK greater freedoms. Take for example Canada. They recently completed a free trade deal with the EU after a “mere” seven years of work. And the price for this was commitments to comply with a host of the very EU regulations that the UKIP camp are always complaining about. And that’s just the EU, other trading blocks will cancel such deals and it will be sometime (if ever!) before they are put on the table again, notably with regard to trade with the US.

Meanwhile the head of the CBI suggested that contrary to all the evidence, the UK economy won’t be effected…and promptly got himself suspended for saying so by his own members! Indeed he’s since been forced to resign completely.

In other news speculation continues as to what will happen with Calais. The French have now hinted that they will end bilateral agreements at Calais, meaning that in the event of Brexit, migrants will be simply waved through customs at Calais (likely having got off a shuttle bus direct from Greece, Spain or southern Italy) and the first time they’ll meet a British border guard will be in Dover.

Rather naively the UKIP lot say, oh we’ll just send them back. How? The French won’t allow them back into France nor will the ferry companies allow them on the boat without assurances they’ll be allowed off the boat again. So unless they propose to build a big catapult at Dover and fling them back across the channel, the fact is that Brexit will not solve the UK’s “migrant problem” (assuming we have a problem) but instead make it worse.

The EU vote and charities

Meanwhile the charities commission has warned many environmental charities not to campaign for the UK to stay in the UK, claiming this would show political bias. WTF! This one of the most important questions put to voters in a generation. It is largely thanks to the EU why issues like climate change are on the agenda. And besides which, Brexit will effect their bottom line. Charities are being warned of a possible £200 million hit if the UK votes to leave the EU.

If Greenpeace can’t campaign for the UK to stay in then I assume then all the lobbyist for various hedge funds who want to profit from the post-Brexit chaos (whom Farage is cosy with) won’t be allowed to campaign either, nor will members of various shadowy right-wing think tanks, some of whom are using tax loopholes to help fund the Brexit campaign.

When the Mosul Dam bursts…….

A worrying story is emerging from Iraq that would only aid to the misery of those living under ISIS. It would seem that the Mosul Dam, up river from the city of Mosul (with a 1.5 million+ population) is at risk of collapse due to mismanagement of the site by ISIS.

mosul_dam_wsj

It all goes back to the days of Saddam when the dam was built. The Western companies brought in to advise the Iraqi’s recommended against building the dam where it now sits, due to the fact that the underlying soil included Gypsum and was water porous. However, the dam went ahead anyway, largely because the all-seeing dictator said it would. The foundations could have been dug deeper. This won’t have solved the problem, but they would have mitigated it somewhat, but again the Saddam regime wanted it built quickly, so such concerns were ignored.

It was only after it was built that the scale of the problems became apparent, with voids forming directly underneath it, weakening the structure. The Iraqi solution has been to pump in grouting material under the dam to plug the holes and they’ve had to do it contentiously since the 80’s. When ISIS took over the site the grouting stopped as the support staff fled. While the Kurds have retaken the area, the fear is that the dam might be too far gone to be fixed before it fails.

Winter flood waters are now building up and to complicate matters one of the doors on the sluice gates (designed to allow the reservoir to be drained to prevent this very thing happening) is jammed shut. Due to an oversight during construction, fixing this won’t be easy, certainly not given the current security situation.

The US has advised residences of Mosul to evacuate as a precaution, although exactly where they are supposed to go in the middle of a desert, nor whether ISIS will let them go anywhere isn’t explained.

Debunking the Great Reagan myth

A central founding myth of the Tea Party is the legacy of Ronald Reagan. It is one of the reasons cited for supporting Trump as they see him as another Reagan (although its worth noting that not even Reagan’s own son agrees with this one). Around Reagan, or Thatcher in the UK, cults of personality have grown that border on those of many a despot. Hence why I think it would be prudent and timely to de-construct this myth and expose the realities of the Reagan Presidency.

20110210

Figure 1: Reagan has developed something of a cult of personality that ignores the realities of his reign

Myth #1 – Reagan brought down the Soviet Union

Reality: Reagan wasn’t even in office when the Soviet Union collapsed and there is very little evidence that his policies helped push it over the edge. Economic miss-management and internal opposition offer more plausible explanations for the USSR’s collapse

Reaganite’s have a habit of claiming credit for things that happened when he wasn’t even in office, yet they are often slow to accept blame for events that occurred shortly after he left office, or even when he was in office (as we will see when discussing the economy). But it has to be acknowledged that the Soviet union collapsed after he’d left office.

The massive military spending the US engaged in is often cited as the reason why the USSR collapsed, as it couldn’t compete with the US. However in truth Soviet military spending was fairly static over the course of Reagan’s presidency, with no significant increases. This is why Republicans often cite Reagan’s star wars program for being the final nail in the coffin.

ShFR3

Figure 2: Soviet military spending and US spending, keep in mind Reagan was in power between 1981 and 1989, ironically there is a steep increase in spending under Jimmy Carter & Richard Nixon!

While it is true that the soviets did initiate a counter program to star wars, but Reagan’s supporters often exaggerate the scale of this program. One of the most expensive elements of this program was the Energia rocket booster which may well have consumed as much as 1% of the total soviet budget for a brief period. However it seems unlikely building one rocket would bring down the soviet empire. And besides Energia was a multi-use program that also launched the Soviet space shuttle and was envisaged as supporting future space station construction or space colonies. And the Russian federation continued to fund this program right up until 1993, two years after the collapse. It would seem strange, if we buy into the propaganda, that if the costs of this program were so crippling to the Russian economy they’d keep spending billions of rubbles on it for a further two years afterwards.

img_headerV2

Figure 3: The Soviet Energia rocket with the Polyus Orbital Weapons Platform test vehicle, on its way to the launchpad

Indeed the Russians continued to fund (and ultimately deployed) a number of other ABM counter measures even after the USSR collapsed. So the neo-con narrative simply does not correspond to the facts.

RT-2PM2_Topol-M-01_(1).jpg

Figure 4: If competing with the US star wars system was so crippling to the USSR, why did the Russian Federation continue to fund (and deploy) weapons systems like this Topol-M? (which can evade attempts to intercept it)

Aside – So why did the Soviet Union collapse?

Well the answer is a bit more complicated that the GOP preferred answer so it would be wrong for us to point to any one single cause. Books have been written about this topic. Certainly continued competition with the West did not help, but all the indicators were that the Soviet’s were spending money that they had. Military spending by the soviets was at around 7% of GDP and it was what was going on with the other 93% that was the problem. Western counter-espionage definitely helped, but it was the Europeans, most notably the French, who led the way here. But in simple terms, the Soviet union collapsed like a house of cards because it was a house of cards.

Ultimately the soviet system just wasn’t very good at organising at running a country. The talking heads in Moscow gave out orders and dictates, setting unrealistic targets divorced from reality and expected everyone to magically achieve them. Inevitably this created all sorts of problems. For example, they drained the Aral sea away in pursuit of cotton quotas. The Reactor at Chernobyl was built without adequate shielding and without sufficient numbers of trained staff to operate it (only one member of staff in the control room that night was a qualified nuclear engineer and he was fresh out of college!). The soviets also badly mismanaged their oil supplies, mining and other core industries. One need only look at a Lada of the era as proof of everything that was wrong with the soviet system.

Ultimately three events were largely to blame. Firstly the mismanagement of their agricultural system meant the soviets went from a net food exporter to an importer in the space of a few decades. Now initially this wasn’t a big deal, because they were also one of the world’s largest oil producers and thus they were able to use their petro-dollars to buy American grain to feed the soviet populace. This incidentally counters a key neo-con myth that the soviets wanted to destroy America. Had the Kremlin ever done so, they would have destroyed their main source of food and much of the surviving Soviet population would have starved to death over the proceeding winter.

16957.adapt.768.1

Figure 5: Missmangement of agriculture and a dire environmental policy played a major role in the collapse of the soviet system

Soviet oil production ensured they could easily spend their way out of trouble, until in 1988 when soviet oil production peaked. Given that ex-soviet oil production rebounded in the years after the soviet union, it is generally believed that this “peak” was an artificial peak caused by soviet mismanagement, rather than a geological peak caused by a lack of oil. Either way, shortly there after this the soviets started to have financial problems.

former-soviet-union-oil-production

Figure 6: Soviet Oil production, note how it rises again after the collapse of the USSR, suggesting that miss-management by the soviets might be to blame

And as if to make matters worse, the world was struck at the same time by a massive oil glut with oil prices tumbling. This was triggered by the fact that a number of OPEC nations began cheating on their quotas leading the Saudi’s to decide to “punish” them by opening the taps. However they did so right at the same time the global economy was entering into another recession, sending oil prices off a cliff. This pretty much bankrupted the USSR.

us-crude-oil-spot-prices-per-barrel-us-crude-oil-spot-prices_chartbuilder-3

Figure 7: Oil prices around the time of the Soviet collapse

Some Reagan supporters, aware of all of this, have tried to make out that this was all part of Reagan’s master plan. Pro-saudi bloggers claim instead it was the Saudi king’s idea. In reality, the collapse in oil price badly effected the Saudi economy. One of the reasons why many young saudi’s took to Afghanistan (forming what would become Al-Qaeda) at this time was because they had nothing better to do back home. And recall that the trigger for the price collapse was a sluggish economy. So we would have to believe that Reagan & H. W. Bush, along with the Saudi king, deliberately sabotaged their own economies to score a few political points against the soviets.

102165816-178265218.530x298

Figure 8: The Soviet’s didn’t take down this wall because Reagan told them, the east Germans did it because the communist system had collapsed due to internal hubris

Finally, there were many long standing opposition movements to soviet rule, the Polish Solidarity movement for example, which started long before Reagan ever got into office. Naturally when soviet bloc citizens lost their jobs and got sick of queuing for bread, they began to listen to these people and the rest is, as they say, history.

Myth #2 – Reagan cut back public spending and pushed for a smaller government

RealityThe Reagan administration was one of the most prolific deficit spenders in US history, government spending massively expanded under his reign and much of it was squandered on pointless projects. And far from shrinking the US government, Reagan hired nearly half a million extra civil servants

It is, to say the least strange that committed anti-communists in the GOP will come up with such elaborate explanations as to why the soviet union collapsed when the more obvious reason (it was basically a crap system) is a lot more satisfying. Well that might have something to do with the awkward conclusion that if the USSR didn’t collapse because of star wars, it means Reagan took $209 billion of taxpayers money and urinated it up against a wall.

government-spending-5pres

Figure 9: Federal spending under Reagan was exceptional high, even higher than Obama or G. W. Bush.

Star wars basically didn’t work and was little more than a massive fraud. Thirty years later and none of the hardware they set out to develop has been deployed. It was the biggest waste of public money in the history of western democracy.

Yet star wars was merely one of a whole host of foolish military projects either started under Reagan, or ones from previous administrations which were a waste of money and should haven been cancelled, but which he continued. The B-1 program for example had been cancelled under Carter, but was revived by Reagan. In another example, he wanted a 600 ship navy (don’t ask me why) so they brought back into service a bunch of old WW-2 era battleships that had been essentially obsolete since the 1940’s.

And, ironically given how many Tea Partiers tend to be conspiracy nuts, the US “black budget” expanded significantly over the Reagan era, as did the secrecy around it. And there is good evidence to suggest it wasn’t being spent wisely. The two programs we know about, the B-2 and F-111 were both budgeted on the assumption of orders in the hundreds, but Congress rightly pointed out that this would be insane given how expensive these aircraft were. Its likely had both aircraft been subject to greater public scrutiny prior to this, they would have been cancelled or re-designed. The similar A-12 program, was able to resist cancellation under Reagan, only to be cut as soon as he was out of office.

And like I said, this is they stuff we know about. In 1987, an oversight saw the US budget include a line item for a half a billion to be spent on a black project called “Aurora. Conspiracy theorist have claimed that this might be some sort of alien spacecraft. I propose a more obvious explanation, the damn thing didn’t work and was such an embarrassing screw up (who knows maybe it crashed on take off) that the powers that be decided to use the cloak of national security to push some soil over the corpse and tip-tow away.

omb-graph-on-debt-ceiling-use

Figure 10: The US federal deficit soared under Reagan

And it wasn’t just in defence spending that Reagan miss-spent. He’s often remembered for firing air-traffic controllers or cutting spending on welfare programmes such as mental health services. But he also expanded Medicare, the FBI, CIA and other intelligence services. He increased total federal-government employment (excluding the military) by 400,000. And he was doing all this using the country’s credit card. Reagan had been elected because Carter had run up a deficit of $79 billion. By the time he left office Reagan blew through $155 billion. Worse, Carter’s deficit was run up during a recession, while Reagan was running deficits at a time of economic growth.

Myth #3 – Reagan was a tax cutter and this stimulated the US economy

RealityReagan cut taxes for the wealthy but overall he put up taxes. There were three recessions during his reign and any growth during his reign wasn’t as spectacular as it is sometimes portrayed

The wealthy saw taxes fall from a top rate of 70% to 28%. However, the Reagan Adm. also slipped through a range of tax increases. In fact federal taxes increased every year of his presidency except for the first and the last.

This brings us to the question of why the US economy grew under Reagan, because the implication is the opposite of what is claimed by neo-liberals (i.e. Reagan put up taxes which caused economic growth !?! ). In truth there were a host of things going on, that we need to account for. The recessions of the 70’s had been quite severe and thus the rebound effect was equally large. This may have created the illusion of growth that was stronger than it was in reality.

gdp_growth_70_99

Figure 11: US GDP adjusted for inflation, note the recessions include two within his term and one during the following Bush(snr) presidency

Also, there was (as noted) an oil boom going on in the middle of his presidency, which naturally pushed up growth. Indeed, for Thatcher, once you account for the 10% added to government coffers each year because of the North Sea boom, the Thatcher era “boom” doesn’t look that spectacular. Back in the US, the early 80’s was also marked by a tech revolution in the form of video games and home PC’s beginning to reaching a mass market.

Furthermore we have to ask whether any growth under Reagan (or Thatcher) due to their market liberalisation was sustainable growth, or just a boom and bust bubble. I’d argue that recent events suggest it wasn’t sutainable growth. But even over the course of the Reagan Adm. there were several economic downturns. The first, was clearly the hangover from the Carter Adm. But the second occurred 2 years through his first term. Sluggish growth inter-spaced with various downturns and recoveries followed, with a further major recession under G. H. Bush (which, if we’re going to blame Carter for Reagan’s 1st recession, its only fair we blame Reagan for this 2nd Reagan recession).

So the growth under Reagan was at best sluggish and uneven and there is little evidence that they can be related to his policies. Noting that those policies including tax increases not cuts.

Myth #4 – Americans were better off under Reagan

RealityUnder Reagan, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer

A rising tide lifts all boats. Well not under Reagan. US unemployment increased under his term in office, largely because while the yuppies in Wall Street did rather well out of it all, many of America’s primary industries were being shut down. The Reagan era is the period when large parts of the US industrial heartland became a rust belt. And in the UK Thatcher too presided over a period when many UK manufacturing towns went from full employment to virtual welfare colonies.

7915997104_99ea327fd4

Figure 12: Wages and purchasing power under different US presidents

And should anyone blame the unions for all of these, its worth noting that many of these job’s didn’t go to Asia, but they simply moved to other Western countries. At the same time for example, that ship building was in decline in the UK, new ship yards were opened in Finland and Germany, which got (and still get) many of the very same liner contracts that used to go to Newcastle and Glasgow dockyards. And in Germany and Finland union membership is actually compulsory for workers in certain heavy industries. Similarly car makers in the UK and US started to slide at the same time that German and Japanese car production rose.

And not only did Reagan or Thatcher do nothing to stop this, they actually encouraged the collapse of heavy industry. Quite apart from Thatcher’s ideologically motivated attack on the coal mining unions, this was also the era of corporate raiders who would buy up a company and then tear it down, firing thousands of workers so they could build apartments on the same site as the factory. This was an era of sleazy destructive economics, with much corruption behind the scenes.

And while the richer certainly got very rich thanks to our dynamic dyo, the lot of many others declined, as large numbers of UK and US citizens suddenly found themselves mired in a poverty trap that their children and grandchildren still found themselves stuck in. Reagan’s tax hikes disproportionally effected the poor and middle classes compared to the better off. To my mind Thatcher’s real legacy is the Ned or the Chav, while Reagan’s is the inner city ghettos of cities like Detroit or LA.

Indeed we could go further, as the fact is that growth under democratic presidents has a tendency to be higher than under Republican presidents. Reagan’s presidency was something of a rare high point by Republican standards, but still lower than Clinton, Johnson or Kennedy.

3389618417_c320d5e1a3

Figure 13: GDP growth by US president, Reagan ranks highly by Republican standards, but average (at best) by the standards of democratic presidents.

Myth #5 – Reagan was an active president, with a vision who worked hard for America

RealityHe was an unimaginative, ill-informed and so ill-attentive he frequently fell asleep during meetings and important briefings

It is ironic that Reagan is known as a man with a vision, as this is not shared by those who knew him in office. As William Leuchtenburg (a history Professor from Carolina) describes in a recent book (based on cabinet papers from the Reagan era), Reagan frequently stunned those around him with his ignorance at current events. His mind, according to Peggy Noonan, was “barren terrain”. Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton describes how Reagan once interrupted a meeting on nuclear weapons policy to discuss the plot of the kids movie War Games. Clark Clifford regarded the president as “an amiable dunce” and as William Leuchtenburg summarises it “No one had ever entered the White House so grossly ill informed”.

This forced his staff to work hard to bring him up to speed on at least some basic level, or as David Broder (a white house aid) put it “The task of watering the arid desert between Reagan’s ears is a challenging one for his aides.”. However the fact was he wasn’t a very active president, frequently he would be given briefing papers which he won’t read, instead lazing around watching cowboy movies. On the day before a summit meeting with world leaders about the future of the economy, he was given a briefing book. The next morning, his chief of staff asked him had he read it (he hadn’t even opened it!). “Well, Jim, the Sound of Music was on last night.

As Lou Cannon, his principle biographer put it “Reagan may have been the one president in the history of the republic who saw his election as a chance to get some rest”. And on some cases he did so by dozing off in the middle of important meetings…once while the French President was in the room!

As for his political vision, it was sadly lacking. He simply did not have any, aside from the sort of vague Republican sympathies towards “low tax” or “commies bad”. As George Shultz (his chief of staff) puts it “Trying to forge policy was like walking through a swamp.Donald Regan recalled: “In the four years that I served as secretary of the treasury, I never saw President Reagan alone and never discussed economic philosophy”. You could walk through Ronald Reagan’s deepest thoughts” a California legislator said, “and not get your ankles wet.”.

As a consequence, a Republican senator went so far as to say: “With Ronald Reagan, no one is there. The sad fact is that we don’t have a president.”Of course in the absence of active leadership, the bureaucrats simply ran the country without him.

If Reagan’s government was the best American government ever, then it was a government where the bureaucrats in DC ran everything, raised taxes, expanded the federal government and ruled the people like a king.

Myth #6 – Reagan was a competent leader

Reality Even his own staff considered him mentally unstable and sufficiently unreliable that they drew up contingency plans to remove him from office under the 25th Amendment

reagan-ears

Figure 14: It did occur to Reagan’s staff that their boss might not be the full shilling

As noted it quickly dawned on many in his cabinet that the president might be mentally unstable. At the very least he was a little slow (probably early onset of his alzheimers) and not mentally competent.

This also forced him to rely ever more and more on his wife, who practically became the defacto VP. Now while president’s frequently resort to their spouse for support and advise, giving your wife top secret briefing papers is entirely another thing. And worse Nancy Reagan had a strange obsession with Astrology, something she dragged her husband into. This created something of a national security nightmare for the white house staff, quite apart from the fact that the president was now under the influence of others and not technically capable of carrying out his duties.

So serious was this situation that when Howard Baker took over as the white house chief of staff, he was advised by his predecessor to start making preparations to enact the 25th Amendment, removing the president from office on grounds incapacity. Thus it is very likely that had there been any major crisis during Reagan’s reign (such as nuclear attack), that his staff would have put this plan into action and removed him from office, either putting George Bush (snr) in charge or resorting to some sort of direct rule by the white house cabinet.

Myth #7 – Reagan was a great communicator

Reality Reagan was gaffe prone and treated his presidency much like an acting job

As Reagan’s defence chief Colin Powell put it “the President’s passive management style placed a tremendous burden on us…” . Or as Frank Carlucci, observed: “The Great Communicator wasn’t always the greatest communicator in the private sessions; you didn’t always get clean and crisp decisions. You assumed a lot. . . . You had to”.Many republicans seem to forget than in his early years the president was frequently prone to making all sorts of serious gaffes.

Such incidents led his staff to taking measures in hand to keep their president from the media, in case he blurted out something crazy. He performed all of 6 news conferences in his first year in office, a modern president would do that many in a month. In the end he and his staff took to treating the role of president essentially as an acting job. They would give him cue cards, they would put out a chalk spot to show him where to stand and he would do as he was told. As one staffer put it “Every moment of every public appearance was scheduled, every word scripted, every place where Reagan was expected to stand was chalked with toe marks.”.

The president “cut ribbons and made speeches. He did these things beautifully” Congressman Jim Wright of Texas acknowledged. But in essence the US got itself not a president for 8 years, but instead they hired an actor to play the part of a President. Unfortunately this template of a stage managed actor as a sort of presidential spokesmodel for special interests was something we’ve seen emerge on several occasions since then, most notably with G. W. Bush (jnr).

Myth #8 – Reagan’s tough line with the Soviets, or in the middle east, helped keep Americans safe

RealityHe nearly started WW3 and provoked a series of terrorist attacks against the US, notably the Lockerbie bombing

While we can look back at Reagan’s gaffe’s now with a certain level of amusement, at the time they were a little more serious. His “evil empire” speeches were taken very seriously in Moscow who became convinced that Reagan meant to attack the Warsaw Pact. As a result they were on a heightened level of alert throughout this period. This paranoia reached a head during the 1983 Able Archer exercise, which the soviets feared might be a pretext for an actual NATO first strike. They actually went on full alert a hair’s breath away from firing throughout this exercise. Worst still was a malfunction of a key early warning system (which seemed to indicate a missile attack) just prior to the exercise, which could also have led to a soviet strike had they taken these results at face value.

800px-Pershing_1_launch_(Feb_16,_1966)

Figure 15: Deployment of the Pershing missiles dramatically heightened Cold War tensions

Meanwhile, Reagan’s posturing in the middle east far from keeping America safe, had the opposite effect, leading to a wave of terrorism launched against Americans. Prior to the bombing of Colonel Gaddafi’s headquarters, the Libyans had actually been downscaling involvement in terrorism. However instead this attack lead to a pronounced escalation. It is not clear whether it was Gaddafi or some other middle east group, possibly the Iranians (in revenge for the shoot down of an Iran airliner by a US destroyer) who bombed the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie. But the very fact that there’s more than one candidates isn’t exactly an endorsement of Reagan’s foreign policy.

And of course there was his regime’s intervention in Afghanistan, which involved giving much weapons and CIA training to a group of Jihadi’s who Reagan went so far as to compare to the founding fathers…..groups we now know as “the Taliban” and “Al-Qaeda”. The actions of the CIA in Afghanistan, were naive at best and dangerously counter-productive at worst. The US was getting involved in a tribal war, which had little to do with geopolitics and they were aiding and abetting Jihadi groups who were arguably as great a danger to the US as the soviets.

that-time-ronald-reagan-hosted-those-freedom-fighters-at-the-oval-office

Figure 16: The Taliban who came to Tea, Reagan’s support for Islamists in the 80’s led eventually to 9/11

And then there’s his support for Saddam Hussein, even after he started gassing the kurds and was supplied with a large amount of weapons in the Iran/Iraq war (America also supplied weapons to the Iranians, indeed America’s policy here seemed to be to keep the war going for as long as possible). And of course there was the disastrous intervention in Grenada and Beirut to consider (again this too probably provoked a number of terrorist attacks against the US).

saddam-rumsfeld

Figure 17: Under Reagan the US was an ally of Saddam, supplying him with much hardware

That said, we need to consider that Reagan was surrounded by Neo-con hawks at this time, many of whom were urging a much more aggressive US stance on a foreign policy. There are some who argue we should credit the president with reigning in the neo-cons, as they would have almost certainly started WW3 if he had not restrained them.

Myth #9 – Reagan was a climate change denier and anti-science, just like any good GOP president should be

RealityScientific research undertaken during his term of office proved the link between recent warming and CO2 emissions, under Reagan’s term the IPCC was founded based in no small part to research conducted by US scientists

It is practically a rite of passage for any Republican candidate these days to take an anti-science position and decry “evolution”, stem cell research conducted by scientists “with an agenda”. And of course, any presidential candidate must be a climate change denier.

However George Shultz has pointed out that the Reagan white house, for all its faults, took a very different approach. While they cut research funding to a number of environmental causes, climate science funding continued. This led to the founding of the IPCC, with the US agreeing to provide a significant portion of its funding. Now some claim that this might have been a miscalculation by the Reagan white house, attempting to bury the problem in a sea of analysis. But the fact still remains that while modern republicans deny climate change (despite having access to far stronger evidence), the Reagan government was at least open to the idea of doing something.

Also around this time the issue of the ozone layer emerged. And again, while skeptical of the issue, the Reagan Adm. did at least try to tackle the problem, again with further investigation of the science and possible solutions. This eventually led to the Montreal Protocol signed under his predecessor. Again, the contrast between Reagan’s approach to environmental issues, and modern Republicans is pretty stark. Noting that he was not a person known for his pro-environmental views (Carter had solar panels put up on the white house, which Reagan then had taken down).

Of course, given the ineptitude discussed earlier, we do have to wonder how much of this was Reagan’s policy and how much of it was well informed advisers pushing pieces of paper under his nose for signature knowing he won’t bother to read it. But certainly his administration did not take the sort of actively anti-science approach that is now a virtual entry requirement for the GOP. Yes, Reagan was to the left of many modern republicans on the environment!

Myth #10 – Reagan was a racist and pro-gun and would be the ideal Tea Party president

RealityThere is little evidence to support this, his policies are largely neutral on these issues, I suspect Reagan would have been appalled at the Tea Party

To the Tea Party Reagan has become a blank canvas that you can paint anything on to. This is a common thread for the many who see Trump as a new Ronald Reagan. And equally those on the left have tended to view him as a near cartoon like bogeyman. Hence some have been going back through his speeches with a racist code book in hand and picking out various phrases and terms and interpreting them as sign’s of Reagan inherent racism.

As I pointed out earlier, anything we hear from a Reagan speech was generally scripted and not really his words. Indeed, one of his most prominent speech writers is now known to be a racist. So I would take anything said by Reagan while in office with a certain pinch of salt. Furthermore, I would argue that Reagan simply wasn’t the sort of person to form strong opinions. As a privileged white guy from California, who worked most of his life in a film industry that was more white than this year’s Oscar nominations, he probably never had sufficient contact with any minorities to form strong opinions.

But as regards “building a wall” and shipping the Mexicans out, Reagan actually enacted an amnesty that helped 3 million undocumented migrants gain residency in the US.

53ca10d228eed4e762f326a1564b2c80

Figure 18: Reagan, while supportive of the 2nd amendment, was not in favour of an unregulated free-for all

Similarly, I would argue the Tea Party view that Reagan was pro-gun isn’t entirely supported by the facts. Recall that he was nearly killed by an assassin in his first year of office. An attack that would ultimately lead many years later to the so-called “Brady law”. Over the course of his presidency he passed one measure that relaxed certain regulations on guns, but signed into law another (criminalising attempts to make concealable firearms, indeed the very law those trying to use 3D printers to make guns are likely falling foul of).

Several items of gun control legislation were drafted under his presidency, although ultimately signed into law by other presidents. The Gun-free schools act was signed by Bush (snr). While the Brady law was signed by Bill Clinton (in no small part due to Reagan stating he was in favour of it) as was the assault weapons ban (which Reagan also supported).

On the whole I’d argue Reagan was largely neutral on guns. Like many Republicans he was, at least in principle, in favour of legalised gun ownership. But he certainly wasn’t in favour of the unregulated free for all that we now see many Tea baggers argue for. And keep in mind Reagan wasn’t facing the scenario Obama now faces where spree shootings have become a daily occurrence. I suspect had Reagan faced this sort of problem neither he nor his administration would have hesitated to bring in appropriate measures.

Indeed, prior to the recent measures taken by Obama, the Brady foundation gave him an F for prevention of gun violence, suggesting he was weaker on gun control than Reagan. Yes, if we were to argue that Obama is “anti-gun” we would have to move the goal posts of what counts as anti-gun (i.e. regulation v’s banning them) so far to the right than even Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and many other republicans would have to also count as being “anti-gun”.

And as regards the tea party (aka the American Taliban), while Reagan was something of an outsider within the GOP, he was certainly not a radical, he did not favour burning the house down just for the hell of it. We’ve seen all sorts of self-destructive policies coming out of the Tea party the last few years, no-gun regulations even in the face of mass shootings, no debt ceiling increase, even if it means the US government going bankrupt (recall no President has ran up a higher deficit than Reagan), shut down Congress until Obama scraps Obamacare, or more recently threatening to shutdown the Supreme court for nearly year in the hope they can get a more conservative justice in the job. It is difficult to believe Reagan would have gone along with this sort of behaviour. I suspect he would have considered it as un-American and entirely counter productive.

Myth #11 – Reagan did not abuse his office like more recent presidents

RealityReagan should have been impeached for his involvement in Iran-Contra

Certainly it is true that many US president’s have done things in office that could be seen as an abuse of power. Obama has some tough questions to answer over the PRISM spy network, which was never subject to proper judicial, legislative nor public scrutiny. Clinton’s private affairs, while I would argue they were not grounds for impeachment, they still weren’t the sort of behaviour we’d expect from a US president. And let’s not even begin to discuss G. W. Bush lying to congress and the public about WMD’s and starting an illegal war, not to mention approving torture, detention without trial and co-operating with states known to be hostile to the US (such as Gaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria).

However, its difficult, even for G. W. Bush, to top the high crimes committed by the Reagan Adm. In two works – Iran/Contra.

For those unfamiliar with the crisis I’ll attempt a brief summary, although American Dad provides a more humorous one here. But in short, as part of his efforts to fight what Reagan considered to be communist aggression, he funded various CIA operations against socialist groups in south and central America. One group to attract US attention was the Sandinista’s. Exactly how communist the Sandinista’s were is a matter of dispute. Keep in mind they are currently in government in Nicaragua and while they are fairly left-wing, they are certainly not communist. And even if they were, they were clearly not taking their orders from Moscow.

Unfortunately for the US the main opposition to the Sandinista’s were a group called the Contras, a rebel group known to use terrorist tactics as well as trading in drugs…much of which ultimately ended up on the streets of the US. Naturally congress would not allow funding of the Contra’s, pointing out the hypocrisy of them spending billions a year on a war on drugs, but then help a bunch of drug dealers to found a narco-state.

At the same time the US was approached by the Iranians with an offer to trade US hostages in Lebanon for weapons. The Reagan Adm. approved of this sale and then diverted the funds to the Contras who used the money to buy guns. However, the Contra’s actually used some of the money to ship drugs and then used the profits of this to buy yet more guns. Exactly how compliant the CIA was all of this is still disputed, some argue the CIA actively helped the shipment of drugs into the US, others argue they knew about it but simply turned a blind eye and actively suppressed attempts to expose it. But certainly the CIA and the white house would have known that the Contras were actively using funds that they had supplied to smuggle drugs into the US.

By trading weapons for hostages Reagan was contradicting a long standing US doctrine of never negotiating with terrorists….and then giving the proceeds to another bunch of terrorists! Worse, Iran was at this point considered an enemy of the US. Many other US allies in the region considered Iran to be their main military threat, notably US ally Saddam (who again was at war with them). This is why I think we can dismiss the suggestion earlier than the Saudi’s helped America bring down the USSR by increasing oil production. After this little escapade the Saudi’s won’t have pissed on Reagan to put out a fire.

By aiding and abetting known enemies of the US (and terrorists) many have argued that the Reagan Adm’s actions on Iran/Contra constituted high treason. While that might be going a bit far, certainly his actions meet the criteria of “high crimes” and “abuse of power” laid out in the US constitution as grounds for presidential impeachment. And keep in mind this would have swept up not just Reagan but also Bush (snr) who had his grubby paw prints all over this scandal (again recall he had been head of the CIA).

However Reagan was spared impeachment by a partisan political system (the GOP knew that if they pulled the trigger on this they could kiss goodbye to the presidency next election). And the fact that they had a compliant fall guy in Oliver North….guaranteeing Oliver North would never be short of a few bob, as the GOP made sure he was well cared for afterwards…after all we won’t want him spilling his guts….

But again, we have to ask, how complicit was Reagan in Iran/Contra? I suspect he may have vaguely nodded to his staff when they discussed it, but did he actually understand what it was they were up too and the geopolitical implications of it? If it had come to trial I suspect any good lawyer would have gotten him off on grounds of diminished responsibility.

The Church of the one true Ronald

The reality of Reagan, once we de-construct the propaganda and the cult of personality, is that of a slightly senile retired actor, who through a combination of luck and coincidence managed to blunder into the white house. He was very much the accidental president. However, once in power he was quickly out of his depth and forced to rely on others, be it his wife or a snake pit of neo-con hawks, neo-liberal cheerleaders or big government bureaucrats, whom he pretty left to run the country, with mixed results. In essence for 8 years the US didn’t have a president, they hired an actor who played the role of president. Although due to this pesky thing called “the constitution” they had to give him some input on the direction his character was going to take.

But many on in the GOP will steadfastly refuse to believe this. Indeed another myth we failed to tackle is the idea that he was popular during his reign. Actually his approval ratings were no better than many other presidents while in office, at times in fact they dipped as low as 30%. Reagan’s popularity only really started to rise after his diagnosis with Alzheimers. And since then the myth’s above (and many more) have grown around him.

Reagan’s cult of personality is perhaps an interesting thing to study as it does show you how major religions get started. I won’t be surprised if in a post-apocalyptic future of a ruined America, many worship icons to the one true Ronald, the last of God’s profit prophet, before the end times. And perhaps worryingly, they are already naming everything and anything after Reagan. Thousands of streets, schools, airports, bus stops and landmarks were promptly named after him (including a mountain!). If a hobo laid down on a park bench for too long he could find himself staying at the “Ronald Reagan Restorium” by the time he sobers up. They even tried to get his face carved into the side of Mt Rushmore.

This cult of personality of Reagan is not only delusional and a disservice to the man, but it is also extremely dangerous. It raises the risk of the US repeating many mistakes committed in the past. Or worse, pursuing policies that even Reagan won’t have supported. And electing a genuine nut as President (i.e. Trump or Cruz) might just destroy the country. Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.