A day without coal

daryanenergyblog

_95742504_3acbc725-f3dd-4d7e-900c-2647e93e5919 Figure 1: Contribution of coal to the UK national grid 15-21st of April 2017 [Source: National Grid] On Friday, the UK went a full 24 hours with all of its coal fired power stations turned off. The first time the UK has operated without coal since the industrial revolution. Indeed coal has been an important energy source in the UK since the 1600’s. So this is a bit of a mile stone.

That said, it needs to be put in the proper context. The UK coal industry has been in decline for quite some time now. Even before Thatcher’s confrontation with the unions, coal was in decline. More recently quite a few of the UK’s coal fired power plants have begun to convert to co-firing with biomass. And coal fired power stations are increasingly used only for load following or peak load power. And naturally, late April is a time of…

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The libertarian slavery paradox

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The Political compass as libertarians see it

I happened to be watching the remake of the TV series Roots recently (based on the Alex Haley novel) and it did occur to me how it creates a bit of a troubling problem for libertarians. They like to see themselves as the ultimate liberals at the opposite end of the political compass to nazi’s and authoritarians. However I would argue that logic would dictate that any libertarian society would inevitably eventually become a slave owning society.

Think about it, in a libertarian society if someone owes you money or compensation for something, how do you get them to pay? Let’s suppose someone did a shoddy job tiling your roof, or he ran over your 6 year old kid and she’s now paralysed for life and needs expensive treatment, or someone simply defaults on their loans to a bank without paying (which is bad news for savers, recall there will be no federal insurance on banks under libertarianism, if enough borrowers default the bank goes under). Without a government, in a libertarian society with lax law enforcement and little to no regulations means that courts will be toothless. And without some sort of authority to enforce the law people, in particular the wealthy with their vast fortunes and private armies, can simply ignore the law. And those at the very bottom, can simply shrug their shoulders and say, well I’m broke, I’ve got nothing to pay with, I own no property, so your screwed, now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go get drunk, then drive to the park and fire my gun at squirrels near where your children play.

And the thing is that this wouldn’t only be allowed in a libertarian society, it would be considered a perfectly moral act. Libertarians often claim to follow the philosophy of Objectivism, which basically amounts to saying that its okay to be a selfish jerk and that being a kind and caring person who gives the slightest thought for others is morally wrong. In such a society, it would be considered okay to default on debts and basically screw everyone else over. This will be normal. But if everyone did that, society would quickly fall apart. Banks won’t lend money to anybody, even those with good credit. Doctors would refuse treatment without payment up front (and patients with any sense would refuse to pay until the treatment was completed). Without some sort of a system (let’s call it “a government”) to make sure people honour their obligations, the whole economy would unravel.

Now libertarians would say, oh but we’ll just have this code of honour whereby if anyone does something bad we’ll give them a terrible review on Facebook or something. Ya, and is that actually going to help? Donald Trump went bankrupt four times, you’d think after the 2nd time people would have learnt the lesson not to lend him money. You’d think nobody, least of all libertarians would have voted for him, but here we are. There are a host of well known scams around, many of them simply modern takes on old con tricks, yet thousands still fall for them every day.

They have this TV programme on UK TV called “Rogue Traders” where they set up a sting operation and catch various con-artists, dodgy used car salesmen, telemarketing fraudsters, cowboy builders and rogue tradesmen and then essentially name and shame them. Thing is, very few end up out of business. Some of them keep appearing in multiple episodes, sometimes under a new name or sometimes openly trading under the same name (one even put “as seen on rogue traders” on the side of his van!). Generally what’s stopped these people becoming season regulars is that the authorities eventually caught up with them and put them out of business.

But in a libertarian society there’s no authority and no social safety net. So how do you enforce any sort of law or civil suit? My guess is that what will happen is when the repo men arrive to cart away someone’s stuff, if they don’t find enough stuff to pay the debt, they’ll take away the debtor and his family and force them to work off the debt. This is pretty much how slavery worked in a number of society’s throughout history and how the practice of bonded labour works to this day.

Now libertarians will no doubt say, no we’ll outlaw slavery. But its going to be impossible to enforce that when the rich and the powerful have their own private goon squad. And unfortunately even in this day and age there’s several parts of the world where bonded labour is still practised, despite laws outlawing the practice. And it tends to occur in places where the government’s authority is weak or corrupt. For example in Somalia and Libya, countries with little in the way of government and lots of guns (as close to a libertarian society as you’ll find!) there are active slave markets.

And there’s the second problem for libertarians, democracy would collapse pretty quickly in a libertarian society. Taking objectivism to its logical conclusion, the easiest way to win an election is to bribe election officials and intimidate voters. e.g. the wealthy landowner threatens mass evictions, the billionaire says his goons will go on the rampage if they don’t win the election. This is how African dictators can win elections with margins of +90%. And even if the wealthy lose the election, they can simply ignore anything the government does that they don’t like, as they are essentially untouchable in a libertarian society.

In a society whereby the wealthy can grow their fortunes unchecked and utilise the power it gives them without any checks or balances, then it becomes essentially impossible to have a democratic and free society. Take for example Rockfeller or the other billionaire’s of the “robber baron” era. With no government to break up his monopoly (and an Objectivist philosophy that basically said it would be morally wrong for him to give anything away to charity) his fortune would have grown even larger, his descendants would now not only control 90% of the US oil supply, but probably 90% of the US energy supply as well as many public utilities (e.g. internet access, water, hospitals, police, fire services, etc.). At this point, they become the defacto ruling royal family of the US, emperors in all but name, with the role of US president essentially becoming “ass kisser in chief” (you can just see the debate with Hilary and Trump demonstrating their butt kissing techniques).

Now libertarians will say, oh that would never happen, we’d just boycott the business of those we don’t like (in which case you need to go look up the meaning of the word “monopoly” cos that’s sort of the problem, you can’t boycott a monopoly!). Or they’ll argue that sooner or later another billionaire will build up an even vaster fortune and take over. Oh great, so because one rich asshole is better at screwing us over than some other rich asshole, he gets to be emperor instead. Ya, that sound way better than our current system of government!

The sad fact is that libertarianism only works if you ignore the last thousand years of history. A libertarian society would quickly become a feudal society, where the rich will grow vast fortunes unchecked and abuse their power without limit. Where the poor, if they are unable to pay the vastly overinflated prices the rich with their monopolies charge, will be at risk of being sold into slavery. Where speaking out will be impossible, as the press and internet are controlled by the rich. And those who do a Robin hood and fight back will be derided as socialists and terrorists.

In truth, if there’s anything that libertarianism is at the oppose end of the political spectrum to it is democracy and free markets.

An election nobody wants

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So May wants to have an early election, in one of the biggest political U-turns in recent history. We were assured for months that there would be no such thing, why the whole reason for the fix term parliament act, which the Tories brought in during the last parliament, was essential to ensure stability and continuity of government….which they now propose to ditch at one of the most critical moments in recent UK history (hence why the markets suddenly dropped today as result of this announcement).

However the massive Tory 20 point lead in the polls proved just too irresistible to ignore. But this polling lead is due to a key electoral asset the Tories possess – Jeremy Corbyn. The danger is that sometime between now and 2020, he’d be unseated. And the upcoming local elections, where its expected labour will do badly, could be exactly the sort of opportunity for Corbyn’s opponents to do this. The Tories didn’t want to wait and risk having an election without Corbyn as labour leader, so they’ve decided to pre-empt any move to topple him.

Also there’s a lot of bad news in the pipeline over brexit. Prices are starting to go up, its starting to dawn on people that it might not have been a great idea. The Tories will face pressure from both directions during the brexit negotiations. On the one hand, they’ll have to make a lot of concessions to the EU which will infuriate the little Englanders. And on the other hand, there will be further rounds of cuts to spending in keeping with the expected fall in tax revenue. The impact of all of this on a 2020 election is difficult to foretell, particularly when you factor in a possible 2nd indyref. So the danger of waiting is their poll numbers could slide and next thing you know they’d be kicking themselves for waiting.

And there is history here. Gordon Brown was urged to have an early election after he took over from Tony Blair. Labour had seen a bounce in the polls, it was expected he’d win easily, gaining a mandate separate from Tony Blair’s. But he hesitated, in part due to some polls suggesting their majority might be reduced. Then the financial crisis hit and the rest as they say is history. Churchill too, delayed an election due to some ongoing European matters. Only for him to then lose the 1945 election to labour. So waiting might not be a terribly good strategy.

So should there be an election? My view no, and I’m not just saying that because I expect the Tories to win. They are setting a very dangerous precedence. We were told when the fix term parliament act came in that fixed terms are important for stability. However they now seem to be saying bolix to all of that, we only brought that in to control the lib dems. So instead the stability of the country will be sacrificed for the short term internal politics of the Tory party. Much as the brexit vote was held not because it was a good idea, but to resolve an internal dispute within the Tory party. And brexit is being negotiated not on terms that are favourable to the UK, but on terms that will be acceptable to the different factions within the Tory party. And of course the miners strike under Thatcher, the decision to join and then leave the ERM under Major were all made, not in the best interest of the country, but to deal with short term issues within the Tory party.

So the pattern here is that the UK national interest comes secondary to the internal politics of the Tory party. Which ever way you vote in this election won’t really matter. We’d be better off circumventing the process and all of us just joining the Tory party…although to sign up you’ll need a quart of blood from a baby and a handful of soil from your own grave! So it might not be for everyone.

Aside from this short term thinking, there is a more fundamental problem here. The Tories are going back on what they said with regard to fixed term parliaments. There is a convention of government that succeeding parliaments do not repeal bills passed by prior administrations without good reason or cause. Otherwise, the end result is political ping pong. e.g. Tony Blair or Brown repeals all of Thatcher’s privatisation policies, then Cameron spends much of his parliament bringing them back in. Nothing ends up changing. Arguably if a party campaigns on an issue at a previous election, then that’s grounds for repealing stuff. But I see nothing about repealing fixed term parliaments in the last Tory manifesto (nor do I see anything about a hard brexit either!).

So while I doubt the Tories will be stopped, its clear this election is being held for the most cynical of reasons at a time the country can least afford it.

Ban this filth: The Daily Fail v’s Youtube

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There’s been a bit of controversy recently over a Daily Mail article which (falsely) claimed that a German Youtuber was providing terrorist training by showing how to penetrate stab proof vests. “Chilling” as they put in the context of the recent Westminster attack. They almost succeeded in getting this guy banned from his youtube channel. Naturally this wasn’t true (we are talking about the Daily Fail here, aka the newspaper that supported the third reich).

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Some things never change, the Daily Mail is well known for being welcoming of foreigners

The Youtuber in question, a jolly German by the name of Jorg Sprave, runs a popular youtube channel that looks at medieval weaponry. There are a host of similar youtube channels which have a bit of a following among history buff’s, HEMA enthusiasts, reenactors, fans of fantasy roleplaying games such as D&D or Warhammer, Larpers, and fans of online MMORPG’s such as World of Warcraft. My point is that these people aren’t terrorists, they are mostly just harmless geeks.

Furthermore, the film in question was shot several months ago, long before the Westminster attacks. And the stab vest in question wasn’t a police issue (and since we are talking about it, the Westminster attacker went around the stab vest anyway) but a cheap one bought off the internet. So this was more of consumer advice than a terrorist training video. It is very important with armour to understand its limitations. Whether you are a medieval battle reenactor, a security guard at a rock concern, or a soldier on the way to a war zone. No armour is perfect, even medieval full plate armour can be bypassed. Indeed the youtuber in question has pointed out, in his satirical response to the Daily Fail, that the Mail themselves ran an article several years ago which discussed how to kill someone with a knife (that article seems to have disappeared from the Daily Fail website and the article relating to Jorg is no longer accepting comments, given how many have posted corrections to their article).

You will be pleased to learn that Youtube appear to have reversed their prior position on this incident, possibly because they googled “Daily Mail accuracy” and realised who they were dealing with. I mean there’s a website with a handy wee Daily Mail headline generator that produced remarkably accurate Daily Mail headlines (e.g. ARE HOODIES DESTROYING THE COUNTRYSIDE? or HAVE BINGE DRINKING MIGRANTS TURNED YOUR MORTGAGE GAY?). What I thought was interesting with regard to this story was the reactions of others around the world to this fake news hatchet job (see here for a good example). We in the UK are sort of desensitized to the Daily Mail. We’re so used to their lies and grade A BS than it doesn’t register. But to others its shocking that such blatant lies and half truths can apparently be printed in a Daily UK newspaper with sales in the hundreds of thousands.

So why the controversy? Why of all people did the Daily Mail launch a hatchet job against this guy? Well firstly he’s German, and we know how much they like foreigners, particularly those nasty Muslim Germans. After all its Germany’s fault that the UK had to leave the EU (I’ve a funny feeling a few years from now, when its obvious what a mistake brexit was, that this will be the Daily Fail’s line, they’ll blame migrants and the Germans for forcing the UK into brexit). Also advertisers have been worried about their ads appearing next to far right articles and videos and have been pressuring Google and Youtube to do something about it. If you want to get lots of clicks from right wing nut jobs, then the best way to do it is with the most outrageous lies and falsehoods, as those on the political right will often place comforting lies above facts. The Daily Mail itself is the ultimate proof of this strategy.

As a consequence Google and Youtube have been fiddling with how their advertising metrics work and the end result is a whole bunch of right wing youtube channels and other websites (including the Daily Mail) have seen their advertising revenue go down quite a bit. This has caught up a few people in the cross fire (e.g. such as some of the geeky videos similar to the ones I’m referring too), but clearly the Daily Fail are peeved at the fact that others are still making money from adverts when they and their right wing allies online are not. That these youtube posts are based on “facts”, while their posts are based on racist lies and right wing myths doesn’t seem to register with them.

And there is a certain irony to people who spend a lot of time in a fantasy world making posts based on facts, while a national news paper like the Daily Fail relies on lies and fantasy. If aliens ever landed on earth my guess is that the Daily Mail would come out with an article saying they were only here to claim benefits.

Send in the Clown

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As I mentioned in a prior post, its quite obvious the UK’s foreign affairs are going to suffer as a consequence of brexit. A situation not helped by the fact the UK is stuck with one of the worse people you could possibly pick for the job at one of the worse possible times in the UK’s history .

Boris Johnson spent the days immediately after America’s strike against Syria running away from reporters. There was a certain deer caught in headlights factor to it all. Then he announces he’s cancelling his scheduled trip to Russia “on advice from Washington”. This is an unprecedented move. While part of the EU it was generally expected that the UK will conduct its own foreign affairs. The EU would try to make sure we’re all on the same page and don’t contradict one another, but Britain’s foreign affairs was the UK’s business. Can you imagine the outcry if under Tony Blair, there was a crisis and we were told that the foreign secretary had cancelled a trip on advice from Brussels. It rightly led to Boris being labelled as Trump’s poodle. I mean what next, is he going to need a note from his mum any time he has to leave the country?

Next Boris came up with a ham-fisted plan for more sanctions against Russia, which were promptly rejected by the G7, leaving him standing there looking pretty stupid. The reality is that brexit doesn’t mean empire 2.0 it means the UK becoming not the partner of the US, but Trump’s sidekick. I don’t even mean we’re Robin (he gets the odd line and to fight occasionally), perhaps the word “minion” is better. Basically we’re mini-me or random task to Dr Evil.

Also one has to acknowledge that Boris Johnson was set up to fail. No doubt acting under advice from Cameron, May appointed him to the job in the full hope that he’d screw it up and destroy his chances of ever becoming PM in the process. But that said, he has made a number of unforced errors, and his floundering over this Russia/Syria issue is merely the start.

Firstly there was that whole flap about bringing back the Royal yacht Britannia, so that he could use it to negotiate trade deals with China. A couple of slight problems with that….not least that Bejing is about 100km’s inland! Then he began fighting a turf war with trade secretary Liam Fox (another one set up to fail). Then he picked a fight with Italy over Prosecco, made several very silly comments to the Germans and French (don’t mention the war!). And of course prior to the US election he managed to insult Trump, Obama & Hilary. The term bull in a china shop doesn’t quite cut it.

Given how highly the Tories were prioritising brexit and the delivery of article 50, you’d think he’d have put some thought into the likely consequences of it. The EU’s position on Gibraltar clearly caught the Tories by surprise, hence all the silly comments about going to war, or sending warships (you’re going to threaten a NATO ally, over the fact that they will impose the same customs and border controls on the enclave that the UK proposes to apply to the EU?). But you could see this one coming a mile off. The EU wants to at least give Scotland (and possibly other regions) the opportunity to join the EU, they don’t want the Spanish to try and veto that. So quite clearly, making a concession to the Spanish on Gibraltar was an obvious horse trade. Why didn’t Boris see that coming and try to head the matter off?

Normally at this point we’d discuss when should a lame duck minster like him resign, or when will he be sacked. But there’s the problem he won’t resign, because if he does his career is over. And Theresa May can’t sack him, well not until he really screws things up (starts a war with Brazil, tries to get to first base with Melania Trump, etc.), because sacking him would defeat the purpose of putting him in the job in the first place. Instead the UK will have to cope with the fact that we’ve got a upper class twit as foreign secretary at the very time we can least afford it.

Passenger 69

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United airlines sparked controversy this week for dragging a doctor off a plane in Chicago. They got themselves in all sorts of trouble due to their boss giving a diplomatic response to the media, but then sending an e-mail around to his staff which blamed the passenger, which inevitably soon found its way on to the internet. As a result their stock has nose dived and he’s been forced to eat humble pie.

Incidentally, a good parody of the incident here from the Jimmy Kimmel show.

The reason for this incident is supposedly that the plane was “overbooked”. A practice by which airlines deliberately book on board more passengers than there are seats on the plane. Actually, the true reason is that they needed to move several crew members around. So this was more down to United not hiring enough staff and being overstretched and putting its customers at the bottom of its list of priorities.

But even this overbooking business is a load of baloney. The argument from the airlines is that they need to overbook because a certain percentage of passengers won’t show up and they don’t want to lose revenue. That’s grade A BS. I missed a long distant flight recently, through no fault of my own (entirely BA’s fault) and not only have I not be refunded for that flight that I didn’t take, but they are being very slow supplying me with the paperwork to put in an insurance claim against them (likely because they know that if I do put in such a claim, the insurer will pay me off, then sue them for the costs plus expenses). Airlines overbook because they are greedy and view their passengers as little more than self loading cargo.

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What I think a lot of passengers don’t realise is to what extent you surrender your rights when boarding a flight. Airlines offer no certainty that they will get you there on time (or even arrive at all!). The conditions of carriage you enjoy with public transport, does not exist in the airline industry. And if you think things are bad in Europe, they are worse in America. Boarding a plane in the US and you are essentially entering a totalitarian state ruled over by bossy air hostesses with a nasty case of Sanford prison syndrome. And the one piece of legislation in Europe that gives passengers at least some rights? Well that comes from the EU and will almost certainly be chucked on the fire with brexit.

Budget airlines get a lot of stick for how badly they treat their passengers, although Ryanair has been trying to change its tune recently and be a bit nicer. But I think they deserve credit for at least being up front. They are a budget service, no frills, yes we’ll treat you like self loading freight, but we are letting you know that up front and we are much cheaper. The non-budget airlines instead pretend that they are something better, when in truth if the shit hits the fan, they will abandon you, as BA abandoned me for four days at Heathrow (with diarrhoea), or drag a doctor off a plane with patients waiting. Yet they’ll still charge several times the amount for essentially the same service.

Ryanair have plans to open a transatlantic service. Right now given the way the likes of BA or United treats its passengers, I’d probably fly Ryanair and save myself a few hundred, which I could then use to treat myself to a nice hotel room in New York when I arrive. And I welcome the day when budget airlines put the established airlines out of business.

Corbyn polling collapse

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We have local elections coming up in Scotland and the election junk mail leaflets have begun to arrive. And what’s the main point of attack for the Tories? yes Corbyn, even thought he’s not standing in Scotland and the one Scottish labour MP left won’t go near him with a barge poll. The Tories not only attack Corbyn for being soft on brexit (even though its obvious he secretly voted for brexit) but for being soft on Scottish independence. Meanwhile the lib dems attack him for being pro-brexit and an incompetent flip flopper. As I warned sometime ago, Corbyn has become an election liability for labour. And his pro-brexit stance has not won the party any votes, its probably costing them votes. Hence the recent terrible performances in by elections.

And polling from London puts Corbyn bottom of a table of party leaders, behind UKIP leader Paul Nazi Nuttall. His approval ratings are actually negative at -40%. And this is in London, the heartland of Corbyn support.

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Labour are looking at a collapse in the next election. My guess is that voters will split three ways, the Tories will probably end up with a majority, the anti-brexit voters will go for the lib dems and greens, while the hard brexiters who don’t understand why Theresa May didn’t just go to Brussels and urinate on Junker’s desk on June the 24th, will vote UKIP. The labour vote will be decimated .

Indeed, while the media were obsessing over the far right’s defeat in the recent Dutch elections, they missed the real story, the collapse of the traditional left wing vote in Holland, going from the 2nd largest party to only nine seats, slightly ahead of an animal rights party.

So what Corbyn’s supporters need to accept is that not only can he never win an election, but he is likely to put the party on a route towards eventual collapse and decline.

Is Tesla really worth more than Ford?

daryanenergyblog

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Recently Tesla’s share prices rose to a level which valued the company higher than the value of Ford. This at first glance seems surprising. After all Ford rakes in $115 billion a year in revenue and builds over 6 million vehicles a year. Tesla makes a 1/20th that amount and has only ever made 186,000 cars in its entire life, about the number of cars Ford makes every 2 weeks. So what’s going on here.

Well firstly technology. Ford made a very foolish decision in the 2000’s. In keeping with the rest of the US auto industry, it decided to ignore the issue climate change and pushed SUV’s extensively. Consequently it was rival firms, such as Nissan, Volkswagen and Toyota, who invested heavily in alternative power trains and smaller more fuel efficient cars. As too did new entrants to the market like Tesla. The 2008 spike in oil prices…

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Trump’s next war

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Whenever a US president is doing badly in the polls, he has a easy way of distracting the media and giving his poll numbers a boost – bomb someone. So given recent events, it would be worth reviewing the options as regards who Trump might go to war with.

Firstly, it has to be said that Trump is in a mess of his own making. Clearly the Syrians only launched this chemical attack because they’d been led to believe that Trump was a Putin groupie and naturally assumed that they could get away with this. He’d sent out all sorts of signals that suggested that, e.g. dropping the Obama era requirement that Assad must step down. This mirrors events leading up too the first gulf war where Saddam, an ally of the US misinterpreted signals coming out of the Bush Snr white house and reached the conclusion that they’d be okay with him taking over Kuwait (of course they weren’t!).

And Trump himself has been under pressure, with federal investigations ongoing into the financing of his campaign and possible links to Putin. And while Trump spent most of the last eight years complaining about Obama’s travel costs, its been pointed out that the costs of travel and security he’s run up just jetting back and forth to Mar-a-lago is set to cost as much in his first year as Obama’s total travel and security bill cost over eight years.

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Meanwhile, where was the UK in all of this? Normally when the US bombs someone the UK are part of the strike force, the PM and ministers are railing support from NATO and making speeches in front of Downing street about being shoulder to shoulder with the US. Instead, May, Boris & Fallon spend the last few days scurrying away from reporters like frightening Chihuahua’s and cancelling international travel plans. The reality of brexit is that what influence the UK had over either the US or the EU it has now lost. And given that the UK will be spending the next two decades negotiating trade deals it cannot afford to make enemies with anybody.

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The UK is now about as relevant to geopolitics as Switzerland. Much as I warned would happen in the event of brexit, rather than Empire 2.0 what the brexiters have gotten is a downgrade of the UK to that of a 3rd rate power.

Syria/Iraq

But I digress! Given recent events its possible that Trump might decide to intervene more aggressively in Syria or Iraq, taking on ISIS, Assad or both. In effect he’s simply adopting a more gung-ho version of Obama’s policy in the region. A policy he himself was critical of during the election campaign. So this represent a massive flip flop.

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However, the reason why Obama was more measured in his dealing with events in Syria was because he did not want to provoke the Russians. The US could easily overwhelm the Russian and Syrian forces with a massive bombing campaign. But there would be risk of the Russians retaliating in another sphere, most likely the Baltic.

Also bombs do not solve the problems on the ground in Syria or Iraq. All a bomb does is eliminate the target you are firing at. The pilot has barely made it back to base and ISIS have re-occupied the position he just bombed. While the US has allies on the ground, at the end of the day, brave as they are, they aren’t professional armies, they lack in terms of equipment, numbers and training. They are struggling to do the job. The battle for Mosul, a city which ISIS took in a day, is likely to run for several months.

The only way to stop ISIS, or stop Assad’s barrel bomb attacks on civilians is to put troops on the ground. Either through an invasion or a UN backed peace keeping force. To say that this could get very messy very quickly is to put it mildly. Consider we are now 5,091 days since Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq….so presumably the mission was to create a military quagmire that’s likely to last longer than the Vietnam war! Trump or NATO intervening like this would therefore mean the US getting involved in a very messy and long term mission with no obvious exit strategy. And again, that would certainly enrage the Russians. I don’t see Trump’s supporters being too keen on this (I won’t be too keen on it myself either!), indeed it would more or less guarantee him and the GOP losing the next election, likely to an anti-war left wing populist of some kind.

Iran

America’s favourite bogeyman, is another obvious target. Trump and the GOP were very clear during the campaign that they planned to tear up Obama’s peace plan, potentially leading to conflict with Iran. However to say this would be problematic is to put it mildly. The “blow back” would be fairly considerable.

The thing is that Iran and the US are essentially now allies in the fight against ISIS. Most of the forces fighting ISIS in Iraq are Shia’s, allied to Iran. The Iranians are also supplying logistical support to these forces and they have military advisers on the ground in Iraq. If America were to attack Iran, they’d be effectively declaring war on Iraq as well, so they can kiss goodbye to all of that Iraqi oil too. Their problems with regard to ISIS would magnify greatly. And as the Iranians have links to various terrorist groups (e.g. HAMAS, Hezbollah, etc.), the US would effectively be escalating the war on terror.

As a result of this obvious blow back the original Republican plan was to get the Israeli’s to do America’s dirty work for them. They would launch air strikes against Iran, with American support. However, Iran’s ally, Russia, has ruled out that possibility. They’ve recently provided the Iranians with their advanced S-300 missile system. This, in the words of some analysts, renders Iran “Israel proof. And even if the Israelis were prepared to attack, they’d run the risk of Russian retaliation against them if they did. So America would have to undertake the attacks using its own forces and that would mean facing the aforementioned “blow back” and dealing with the possibility of Russian retaliation, either in the Middle East or in some other sphere, likely the Baltic.

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More importantly, what would bombing Iranian targets achieve? Well not a lot. There would be two possible outcomes. A) The Iranians just rebuild the facilities. Or B) they invite the Russians into the country and they set up a missile base in Iran putting Israel and America’s allies in the region a few minutes flight time from nuclear attack. Neither sounds like a positive outcome.

North Korea

Trump has been fairly hawkish with regard to North Korea. Surely here’s an enemy who he can take on and beat and not face much blow back? Certainly North Korea is a bit of a paper tiger. They like to talk big, people often point to their vast army of nearly 1 million personnel and 5,500 tanks. However as one CIA officer commented “there’’s a world of a difference between an army with 5,000 tanks if half of them don’’t work”…or the regime lacks the fuel reserves to drive them all any more than a few miles! The reality is that there army is equipment with outdated vintage cold war equipment, their troops half starved and poorly trained. Their airforce has only about 40 aircraft of 4th generation fighter standard, while the South Koreans have hundreds and the Americans have thousands. The reality is that even if the US stayed neutral, the South Korean military are quite capable of defeating North Korea all by themselves. With American support, the war becomes a foregone conclusion.

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So why haven’t the South Koreans, or their US allies, done something about North Korea before? The CIA have an acronym which neatly describes the problem and North Korea’s defensive doctrine – CFC. Which stands for Crippled Fearsome Crazy. Crippled in that the country is destitute and any invader would face a massive reconstruction bill (even if they didn’t drop a single bomb, they’d be rebuilding the country from scratch). Fearsome in that they have WMD’s galore, hundreds of artillery pieces aimed at Seoul and nuclear weapons too. And while they don’t have a missile that can reach the US, they can certainly hit targets in Korea or Japan. And there’s nothing to stop them simply smuggling a bomb into San Francisco bay in a submarine or a cargo container. And Crazy in that the North Korea is a totalitarian anthill known for its wacky and insane government policy. We’re talking about a country whose official head of state has been dead for twenty years. And as they would have nothing to lose by using their arsenal, it can be assumed that they will do so if provoked.

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North Korea’s advances stealth technology allows them to hide almost the entire country at night!

So if Trump wants to make waves with North Korea, he’ll need to find a way around CFC, or be prepared to bear the consequences of breaching it. And he’s likely to find the South Koreans unwilling to do so, not unless the North Koreans do something really stupid. Also one has to consider how North Korea’s allies, China and Russia (yep they keep on cropping up don’t they?) would react to this.

The Chinese and Russians would probably object to them being described as North Korea’s allies. In truth their attitude to North Korea is a bit like most people’s attitude to some crazy racist elderly relative who goes around screaming abuse at foreigners and ethnic minorities. Its not as if you stand their applauding him for this. But if someone decided to give the old git a bit of a kicking, you’d probably not be happy about that, even if you reckoned they deserved a bit of a slap.

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The Chinese often claim they worry that if North Korea were attacked and the regime collapsed they’d face waves of refugees. In reality, that’s not really the issue. In truth they  just don’t want to share a land border with a US ally. So if North Korea were attacked, its possible they (and possibly the Russians too) would retaliate in some way. Either economically, or militarily. The economic consequences of taking on China would hit America where it hurts and Trump voters would feel the brunt of it. So any president who provokes China best be prepared to lose the next election. In terms of military intervention, there is no way the South Koreans and the US could hold back China’s massive land army if they came streaming over the Yalu river.

So all in all, North Korea is a country best handled with kid gloves…. not least because Kim Jung-un’s kid gloves are probably made from real kids!

South China Sea

China has been engaged in a long term dispute over a series of Islands in the South China sea. Under international law any Island, even if its a rock that every second wave submerges, a 12 km ring around that is considered its claimant’s sovereign territory. And for 200 km’s around it, that’s your exclusive economic zone. So the Chinese have laid claim to various rocks and reefs in the South China Sea and thus tried to lay claim to vast areas of sea, some of which may harbour significant fossil fuel reserves. More recently they’ve begun to enlarge these reef’s and build ports, military bases and air strips on them.

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Again this is a war America could potentially win. While the Chinese have a vast army, their navy is relatively small and could not stop an American invasion of these Islands. However, the Chinese could certainly give the Americans a bloody nose. Their submarines and long range carrier killing” missiles could sink US carriers and surface ships, inflicting very high causalities on the Americans. Trump would thus need to explain to the American public why thousands had to die for a few patches of soggy sand that didn’t have enough land area to bury all of the war’s victims.

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And who would America be fighting for? There are three countries disputing China’s claim – the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. The Philippines under Manchurian candidate populist Duterte has recently been cosying up to the Chinese, so he’s unlikely to be happy or support American military intervention. Vietnam would unsurprisingly be against any intervention as they would guess they’d be unlikely to benefit from it. Taiwan would worry about Chinese military or economic retaliation if they got involved. So America could go to all this trouble to capture these Islands, only to have to hand them back to the Chinese after a few months. So difficult to see the positives in this one.

Estonia and the Baltic

As noted, almost anywhere Trump chooses to go to war he’ll find his BFF Putin as being either the likely enemy, or the ally of that enemy. And the danger is that the Russians might be tempted to retaliate in another sphere if America attacks them or their allies somewhere else. The most likely flash point is the Baltic states, notably the Northern corner of Estonia, which has a large Russian population.

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Much how North Korea is a paper tiger, Russia’s military capability is often overestimated. Yes they have 15,000 tanks, but most of those are obsolete (Western tanks ran up cricket score kills against tanks of a similar vintage during the gulf war) and poorly maintained and won’t last more than a few seconds against NATO forces. In truth Russia has about 2,500 combat capable tanks, while the European NATO armies have 6,000 and America has about 3,000 more. The Russians have a large air force but again most of its aircraft are obsolete (e.g. Russian made aircraft performed very poorly against NATO aircraft in the past, e.g. during the Kosovo crisis). The reality is that they only have about 200 jets that are up to 4.5 generation standards, while NATO has over a thousand of this standard and the US has many times more (plus stealth aircraft and 5th generation fighter aircraft). While yes Russia has a large army, much of these troops are conscripts (read frightened teenagers) and veteran units who are a little too veteran (the Russians treat their army as a jobs-4-the-boy‘s program and have a lot of soldiers who are a little too old to be doing the job they are doing).

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However, this is not to suggest that NATO will have everything their own way. The very spot the Russians are likely to attack, Estonia, happens to be a spot NATO would find difficult to defend. Its very likely that if the Russians launched a strong push here they could catch NATO with its pants down and take over a significant chunk of land before NATO could adequately respond. Now there would be nothing to stop NATO retaliating, e.g. by occupying the Kallingrad pocket or driving Russian separatists out of Eastern Ukraine or the Crimea. So its all too easy to see how a war could start here and then escalate into something more serious. While Trump doesn’t want Estonia to be the hill on which he and Putin die on, it could easily be the case.

The Russian are caught up in neo-fascist patriotic fervour. They are using to seeing their military parade every year in their nice shiny boots and think they are invincible. Go on the internet and you’ll find all sorts of crap from Russian bloggers about how brilliant their army is and how their equipment is the best, which is at odds with actual performance. In truth, they recently struggled to beat a handful of lightly armed Chechen rebels and had to subcontract that out to local mercenaries. They also struggled to beat Georgia, the world’s 110th largest army.

Tempted by the assumption that Trump is their ally (much as Assad recently was) you could see how Putin might gamble on a quick military victory to earn him some browning points at home. Only to then get drawn into a wider conflict. Putin would very quickly find himself in conflict with not just NATO but with the US military. American air force planes, including A-10 tankbusters are stationed just a few minutes flying time away from this flash point and US ground forces are active in the region too. If the Russians were to attack, under current NATO rules, commanders in the field do not need the permission of the white house to shoot back in self defence. And indeed given how critical it would be for NATO to hit the Russians with everything they had the minute they crossed the border, they couldn’t afford to wait for Washington to micromanage the situation.

In other words the only way for Trump to stop getting into a war with Putin in this scenario would be to order those forces in advance of an attack to stand down. But that would expose him as the Benedict Arnold many suspect him to be. He’d be removed from office very swiftly (and likely have himself a little “accident” while awaiting trial for treason) and president Pence would immediately reverse those orders. So its all to easy to see how events here could spiral out of control.

Closing on midnight

All in all, what’s likely to confront president Trump and his team is the world is very different from what past US president’s faced. What little political capital the US had post-cold war G. W. Bush blew it on his pointless war in Iraq. Obama spent the last eight years putting out fires….as well as hunting down Bin Laden. In almost every possible theatre, the US faces the risk of serious and long term blow back if it gets involved in any conflict. And America’s likely enemy, or the ally of its enemy, is likely to be Trump’s puppet-master buddy Putin.

But the question is, what happens when Trump is humiliated in one of these potential conflicts? Or what happens when Putin’s army is sent scurrying back to Moscow with their tail between their legs? One often hears the term “cooler heads prevail”. But the real danger is that’s unlikely to happen with either Trump or Putin. Cooler heads would have said that Putin shouldn’t get involved in events in Ukraine. Nor that Trump should have fired off missiles like he did the other day, without first pulling a few diplomatic levers first. And as both are vain, insecure men, its all to likely they would place their fragile ego above the lives of millions.

The one thing you can’t deploy on a battlefield is ego, yet that’s basically both Trump and Putin’s calling card. The fatal flaw of any defence doctrine involving nuclear weapons, is that it assumes the leadership of a nation holding this is sane and rational, yet we’ve a nasty habit of electing leaders who are the very opposite of this. So it is for good reason, the doomsday clock sits closer to midnight than it has since the darkest days of the cold war.

Alternative History’s – why nazi victory was always impossible

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The UK’s new post-brexit colour scheme is revealed

The TV drama SS GB, based on the 1970’s novel of the same name does highlight one of the key themes in alternative history “what if the nazi’s won World War II”. Its a question that pops up quite a bit, notably the Robert Harris novel “Fatherland”, the 1964 British movie “it happened here”, the series and novel “the man in the high castle” or more recently this series on Youtube. I would argue that a flaw in many of these alternative histories is firstly a failure to consider how unlikely it would be for a nazi state to last for any extended period of time. And secondly, the extremely low probability of them actually winning the war in the first place.

The fact is that the nazi’s were terrible at running a country. Nazi rule was government by chaos, as this episode of a BBC documentary discusses. Hitler had some strange Darwinian views of how to organise a government. When people wrote to him asking that they be appointed to such and such a post, he’d simply write back and tell them that if they thought they were the alpha male then they should just take over. So the end result was much squabbling and backstabbing. Seven departments in the nazi government actually claimed to represent the Fuhrer, who spent most of their time fighting each other. Needless to say corruption was rife and decision making was haphazard at best.

One need only look at Germany’s military procurement policies during the war. Many obsess over Hitler’s “wonder weapons”, such as the V-2 rockets, superguns, the tiger tank, jet and rocket powered fighters, etc. But it is often forget that the allies had seen similar ideas floated, that were either rejected or developed on a slower less aggressive time scale as it was understood that they were simply not practical weapons of war. It cost as much to build a V-2 as it did to build a bomber, which could deliver a larger payload and could be reused. More people probably died making V-2’s than died in London being attacked with them. The Me-163 rocket fighter killed more of its own pilots than allied airmen. If Germany had a free press or some sort of congressional oversight many of these projects wouldn’t have never gotten very far. But such was the chaotic nature of the third Reich that these and many equally foolish projects were undertaken, squandering resources the nazi’s simply didn’t have.

My guess is if the nazi’s won, once they’d run out of foreigners to blame for all of their problems, they’d have quickly turned on each other. The state might have held itself together so long as Hitler was alive, but he was by all accounts not a healthy person by the time of his death. Its doubtful he’d have made it to the 1970’s as portrayed in Fatherland. My guess is once he was dead, the other leading nazi’s would have engaged in an epic power struggle. Keep in mind that even before he was dead, just isolated in Berlin, the nazi leadership fought with one another, with the prize merely being who got to go to the allies with their hands up. Can you imagine what would happen when the prize was to be master of Europe?

Inevitably this means the nazi state would have fractured into a series of warring fiefdoms, not unlike pre-unification Germany, with the nazi’s as a sort of ruling class, surrounded (and outnumbered) by a large number of locals (non-nazi’s in Germany, Slav’s, French, English, etc.). Gradually, one by one these fiefdoms would have been overthrown by the local populace, ending the thousand year Reich about ten centuries early. The fact is that nazism is simply too an extreme a political philosophy to survive long term.

However, we are skipping the other key point – that nazi victory was very unlikely, so unlikely that I think its kind of pointless to speculate on it. Its like asking what would have happened had William Wallace survived his execution by flinging lightening bolts from his arse. The fact is that Hitler was a nut trying to pull off the impossible. The idea that one country could simultaneously defeat four of the most powerful empires in history, the USA, The USSR, the British Empire and China (oh btw you do know WWII started in 1937 when the Japanese attacked China), is simply bonkers. And even if they could win, occupying such a vast area would have simply been impossible.

Certainly things could have gone against the allies, but it would have merely delayed the inevitable. Take for example the idea of the nazi’s winning the battle of Britain and invading. Certainly had they gained control over the skies of southern England, this would have raised the risk of an invasion. However, the Germans simply didn’t have the resources (e.g. landing craft, large numbers of paratroop aircraft and paratroopers, mine clearing and beach assault adapted vehicles, a portable harbour, etc.). It took the allies two years to prepare for D-Day, the Germans had a few months and a fraction of the resources.

Indeed, a war game played out in the 1970’s with British and German military commanders (many of them the very same people who’d have been in charge in the event of an actual invasion) resulted in a German defeat. Although the cost to the British would have been high. If this scenario had played out it would have seen the Royal Navy, charging down the North Sea from Scapa flow, with minimal air cover, to try and cut off the invasion force after it sailed. While this plan would have likely succeeded, it would have been a naval banzai charge, not unlike Japan’s operation Ten-Go. With a much reduced Royal navy and battered and depleted army, the UK won’t have been able to mount operations overseas, nor protect against U-boat attacks on convoys. And there’d be nothing to stop the Germans coming back and trying again the next summer. It would have been a case of winning the battle, but losing the war.

Of course, the real reason Britain was saved was because of the inept leadership of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s obsession with attacking Russia. But even if the UK had fallen, or been knocked out of the war, while it would have certainly effected how events panned out, it would have simply delayed the inevitable. With America, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various resource rich colonies around the world (e.g. the mine in the Congo where the Uranium for the atomic bomb came from)  still in the fight, it probably wouldn’t have changed the eventual outcome.

And we are also assuming that the US would have stayed neutral, but my guess is that if it ever looked likely that either Britain or Russia were going to get knocked out of the war, the US would have intervened, much as they did in 1917. Hitler hated America’s ethnic diversity, free press, free markets and intellectual freedom (basically for all the reasons Trump voters dislike America). And there is no way the US was going to leave a nut like him in charge of Europe. The US was in the war in all but name long before Pearl harbour, supplying munitions, ships and fighter aircraft under a dubious system of “lend lease”. US sailors had even been dressing up as Canadians and serving on ships escorting supplies across the Atlantic.

In the event of ground combat in Britain, its inevitable that US citizens would have gotten caught up in the crossfire. The British and Americans had been reading diplomatic traffic from the German and Japanese for long enough that they probably had a dodgy dossier that could be deployed as a justification for war (this is how an isolationist Congress was convinced to declare war in 1917). If all else fails, they could simply do something deliberately provocative to force Hitler into declaring war on them. And of course it was only a matter of time before one of those “Canadians” got captured by the Germans and gave a home address in Wichita Kansas (Das ist nicht in Canada!). Either way, America’s entry into the war was more or less guaranteed.

Even in the best case scenario for the nazi’s, if they somehow managed to beat the UK and then the Russians, they’d have only lasted until mid-1946 at best. Why? In two words – atomic bombs. From the earliest days of US involvement in the war they adopted a policy of Germany first, meaning defeat of Germany would be given priority over defeating Japan. This confused many, given that the Japanese had been the one’s to attack Pearl Harbour and were more of an immediate threat to America. However Roosevelt had been alerted by a letter, signed by several leading scientists, that German academics had stopped publishing papers on nuclear physics, hinting that they were probably working on something big, likely to be an atomic bomb. So plan A for the allies was knock Germany out of the war before Hitler got his hands on any nukes. And if that failed, plan B was to develop their own bomb and use it against the Germans.

However, the reality was the allies had vastly overestimated the nazi bomb program. The German’s were hopelessly behind the allies for various reasons. Its been suggested that Heisenberg, the lead German scientist, didn’t really have his heart in it (a topic the play Copenhagen debates), that he may have even gotten his sums wrong and vastly overestimated the size of a bomb’s critical mass (and thus concluded that an airdropped weapon was impossible). More likely however, it was the fact that the nazi’s, being a bunch of anti-intellectual bullies (like Trump supporters or Brexiters, they tended not to listen to the experts), they never took what their scientists said seriously and never pursued their bomb program with the same vigour as the Americans did.

So its likely that the US would have had the bomb available in mid 1945. In our timeline they used it against a nearly defeated Japan, one by one (leading many to question whether such attacks were necessary). How the allies would use it against Germany would have depended on the circumstances. In a situation where the nazi’s held much of Europe it would make sense to stockpile bombs and unleash them on Germany en-masse. The Atomic piles at Hanford, were producing enough material for 1-2 bombs a month, so by mid-1946, the US would have between one and two dozen bombs available.

B-29‘s based out of Iceland, Turkey or the Azores could reach targets in Germany, if the UK wasn’t an option. The US had also started development of the B-36, the world’s first intercontinental bomber in 1940 (prior to the US even joining the war) specifically to cope with the scenario whereby the US lost all of its possible bases in Europe. Aside from its longer range the B-36 also flew at a much higher altitude. So high that only a handful of German late war anti-aircraft guns or aircraft could reach them…..and very few of those were capable of night operations.

How ever the allied planners went about it, the fact is that some if not most of those bombers would have made it through to their targets and in the space of one night several of Germany’s major cities would have been destroyed, most of the leading nazi’s killed along with millions of Germans. Needless to say, what was left of Germany would have little choice but to surrender the following morning. So to my mind, the real alternative history is to consider not “what if the nazi’s won, how would the world look?” but “if the war ended with a nuclear attack against Germany, what would have happened next?”.

Well for starters I suspect the Russians would have taken one look at the radioactive wasteland called Germany and declined to have anything to do with the clean up. While they’d have likely ended up in control of Eastern Europe, the splitting of Germany wouldn’t have happened, nor would there be a Berlin wall, eliminating a major cold war flash point. Of course rebuilding Germany would have been harder, quite possibly it might not have happened, with what was left of the country might have been reduced to an agrarian condition post war.

Perhaps more importantly this scenario might have meant the penny dropping with regard to nuclear war earlier. Up until the 1960’s both sides military took the view that nuclear weapons were just another weapon which they need to integrate into their arsenal and the public need to get used to the idea that this is the new normal (the movie “Atomic Cafe” neatly summarises this era). The generals and politicians didn’t get the message, until the reign of McNamara, that nuclear warfare is not the sort of battle where you get to tot up the scores afterwards and work out who won. In a nuclear war, there are only ever losers. “Winning” a nuclear war, while digging yourself out of the radioactive ruins, is going to be a bit of a hollow victory. But by the time the penny did drop, both sides had a massive arsenal and it was already too late to avoid the stand off that followed.

So its possible, that a cold war that started with the mass use of nuclear weapons might have scared the superpowers straight. Both the US and Russia would have developed nuclear weapons, but their deployment would have been more muted. The doctrine would have been more towards nuclear weapons as a sort of national suicide weapon, if ever at risk of being overrun (not unlike India’s current stance with nuclear weapons). Crucially they would have never allowed such weapons to proliferate (e.g. the UK, France or Israel would be denied nuclear weapons and faced sanctions if they tried to develop them). No way the US would risk putting them in Turkey, nor that the Russians would try putting them in Cuba. And flash points like the Korean war would have panned out very differently, as both sides would have been anxious to avoid anything that could escalate to a nuclear exchange.

But certainly any scenario whereby the nazi’s hung on for longer than they did is a alternative history that would have been much darker, it would have led to a world war 2 that killed even more people, although ultimately there was simply no way they could have won.