News roundup

The Pedo party

Is it just me or does it appear like the major qualification you need to get ahead in the Republican party is to be a pedo, kiddy fiddler or sex offender of some form or another? Since Trump took over we’ve seen a long line of dirty old men going into the white house. I mean they even set up a dating site (for straight blue blooded republicans) and the male model they chose in the ads turned out to be a sex offender. Its like Trump is some sort of magnet for this sort of thing.

WW-KavanaughProtest_TT-23

Consider that evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote GOP, have gone from being 80% likely to say that a president should resign for having an affair (and quote a bible verse), to being 80% likely to say, ah it doesn’t matter, the bible? Well that says lots of things, I mean its not as if we have to take it literary!

At least it does go to prove my theory of conservative flip flop syndrome. In essence the Republicans, much like the UK Tories, aren’t really a political party anymore. They have no actual policies, no direction. They are just a cult devoted to follow which ever random nutty sex offender/tax cheat happens to be in charge at the time. And once he loses power in disgrace, they’ll shrug their shoulders and say so what, then forget about him. Recall how back in the Bush days, or Romney in 2008, they were the true messiah, failing to support them was treason again the US….until they criticised Trump! Of course, like any cult, the GOP needs funding, so they’ll happily sell their services to whichever random billionaire can afford to bribe them.

What this shows is that the democrats need to take the gloves off. The GOP won’t fight fair and you won’t win a fair fight when they’ve stacked the system against you. I’d propose that as soon as they get power back, prioritise shoring up the checks and balances. I’d federally mandate how electoral districts are organised (the states draw the line, but according to rules set by the federal government, overseen by non-partisan officials) and introduce proportional representation. Both would guarantee that the party that wins the most votes gets the most seats (the only reason why the GOP get so many seats is gerrymandering). It would also open up the possibility of smaller parties getting representation.

As for this Brett guy, once a democratic president is in charge, I’d give him and any other Trump justices a choice, resign or we stack the supreme court. There’s nothing in the constitution that stops a democratic president/congress either setting term limits on supreme court justices (which would force all but two to resign and be immediately replaced) or say appointing a few dozen twenty something women (and card carrying members of the ACLU) to the supreme court (this incidentally is what FDR threatened to do). Suddenly its likely he’ll remember some important yard work in needs to catch up on and retire.

Jacinda and the peacocks

At the UN there was controversy when some delegations showed up with babies, but at least the NZ PM’s baby didn’t make a speech and crap all over the place….unlike America’s baby (who got laughed out of the room).

8aaeac1257c66d88e91e863fbc24c042

Much was made of the NZ PM’s speech and the contrast between it and Trump’s. She spoke of unity and fixing global problems, he spoke mostly about himself and blaming others for his problems. I was reminded of something a military officer once told me about the traits that the military look for in a good officer (good judgement, leadership, team player, etc.) and there are red flags which signal that this guy should never be given command, as he’s likely to become a dangerous liability (who’ll march his unit into a minefield and get them all killed).

Well we see a lot of those red flags on display at the UN summit. Selfishness and putting oneself first is always a worry (note to Trump, there’s no “i” in team….although there is a “u” in c*nt!). An officer like this is likely to send in his boys, then take off in the other direction when the shooting starts. I recall Oliver Stone once mentioning that on his first day in Vietnam his officer put him out on point!

Dgk4vpyUcAI30N9

Other worrying red flags include impulsive behaviour (Trump again, he who dares….usually walks straight into an ambush), or equally bad, indecisiveness (Theresa May). Its important for a commander to be aware of what’s going on around them, so a detachment from reality (Trump or the brexiters) is very dangerous. And a good commander needs to listen, a bad one ignores advice (Trump again) or even punishes (Corbyn) those who offer it.

However of all of the traits you want to avoid in a commander, its one who blames others for his misfortune (such as foreigners). He berates his own men for disloyalty (have you given them reasons to be loyal, or plenty of reasons to question everything you say?). Or worse, blaming the enemy (if the enemy isn’t co-operating with your plans, well that’s kind of supposed to happen!). In short, the buck stops with the commander and any who is unwilling or unable to accept that is unfit for command.

All in all, this populist wave has left us a world led by strutting chest puffing peacocks, all of whom won’t be so much as put in charge of anything more dangerous than a stapler if they joined the military. All we can do is hope there isn’t some sort of crisis in the next few years, because I have very little faith in the majority of the world’s leaders. And its no wonder NZ is becoming the bolt hole of choice.

Hilary would have been worse

How different it would have been if the person who got the most votes had won. Mention this of course to Trump voters (or the Bernie or bust brigade) and they’ll mumble something about “Hilary would have been worse”. Really?

Would Hilary have appointed a long list of sex offenders to senior positions? (granted she’d have had to lock Bill in the basement or put him in a chastity belt). Would she have appointed a bunch of incompetents (purely on the basis of loyalty rather than ability to do the job) to senior government positions? Would she have left hundreds of important posts vacant? Would her aides have to brief her using cue cards and take stuff of her desk in case she did something stupid? Would she have gone to Russia and buried her tongue up Putin’s a*s?. Would she have started rolling back environmental protections and workers rights, or given a massive tax cut to the super rich? Would she have started a trade war for no good reason? Would Chelsea Clinton be jetting around the world acting as the defacto foreign secretary? Would she have started to use the US treasury as her own personal piggy bank, striking deals with countries on the basis of what most benefited her personal businesses? Would America have fallen from the world’s most respected nation to the butt of the world’s jokes?

The_Republican_Platform_Capture.png

As I said from the beginning, Hilary would not have been my first choice as President. But in the election you had a choice between her and the pus*y grabber in chief. I know which of those two is the lest worse scenario. This is why I do worry about the mid terms. The democrats seem to be at war with themselves. The only condition that should apply is are you willing to oppose Trump and if possible get him impeached? Anyone who meets that criteria gets my vote.

On which point btw, I strongly advise voting for republicans, even the moderate ones critical of Trump. As recent events have shown, they can be leaned on by the party and made to toe the line (probably because having had their snout in the feeding trough for so long the GOP and its donors have a lot dirt on them that they could easily leak to the media).

To draw an analogy its like the US was this town out in the old west and the position for sheriff was open. The choice was some guy in a black hat, who had a English accent (despite being German), a large scar and an evil laugh (and when he laughs birds drop dead out of the sky). Or some other guy (the man with no name), who while not being necessarily a good guy, he clearly ain’t the baddie. But no, some of the town want to vote for old man Bernie, despite the fact he’s been pushing up the daises up on boothill for the last couple of months. Well now they’re getting bull whipped by the black hat, while he burns down the church (with the preacher inside) and they are trying to console themselves that might have been worse.

Musk out at Tesla

180907100732-elon-musk-smokes-marijuana-podcast-1-large-169

So Musk managed to get himself banned from running his own company. Well to be honest this was a train wreck that was going to happen sooner or later. There’s a certain discipline that comes with being a CEO, not unlike some of those qualities I mentioned earlier. However, they are really only optional. There is in fact one key skill which a CEO must have above all else – keeping your big mouth shut!

A CEO is the face of his company. Anything he says is going to have an impact on the share price. This is why most tend to be fairly guarded about what they say, often taking the view that if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything. Hence why some of the statements from CEO’s regarding brexit should be setting off alarm bells.

Musk got himself in trouble thanks to his efforts to stop short sellers driving down Tesla’s share price. Yes, this was unfair, but on the other hand, he was kind of making it easy for them. What with calling a British diver a pedo, refusing to answer questions at a press conference because “they weren’t cool” or smoking pot live on the internet. As his downfall should show, the markets are decidedly unfair. They are a bit of a wild west. Yes the corrupt sheriff can send out his one spurs to rob your farm. Yet when you set out to take revenge its you who ends up swinging from a rope, regardless of whether or not you shot the deputy.

Which is slightly ironic given his, and other tech billionaires, affinity for libertarianism. In a libertarian world it would be even worse. Ford and GM would in fact have likely crushed him along time ago, same as Standard oil would destroy its competitors. So I suppose what goes around comes around.

Minister for starvation

DjBZ5NxWsAAuohp.png

Its difficult to avoid talking about brexit. Firstly we have the story than given the difference between where the UK would be if we hadn’t voted for brexit and where we are now, the UK is now 500 million a week worse off (you’ll recall those ridiculous promises of an extra 350 million a week!). The UK has been forced to appoint a minster of starvation supply (for the first time outside of a war).

5b7d5cdd200000430034aee0

Meanwhile, back in fantasy land, at the Tory party conference, they were trying to outdo each other with their different brexit fantasies. It was less a conference and more of a unicorn horn measuring contest. Brexit to the Tories is more about who they want to be the captain of the Titanic as it sinks and whether or not they should burn the lifeboats before anyone can use them. Meanwhile, a bunch of young Tory activists got caught with racist and classist slogans on their T-shirts, but of course that’s allowed, yet a labour supporter did it, the newspapers would be wanting Corbyn to be hung.

On a positive note, it was noted that Theresa May never mentioned her Chequers plan in her speech, which could hint that she’s going to roll over and accept whatever the EU offers her….Or it could be because she knows that if she so much as mentioned that word, it would be like playing the rains of Castamere at a wedding. Within seconds they’ve have all started stabbing one another. So probably more of a survival instinct than anything.

Increasingly it looks like we’ll just have to wait for all the brexiters to die off and vote to re-join the EU….which probably won’t take too long, ironically thanks to brexit. The NHS (which again the bus ads promised would be better off) is already in crisis, with a Breixtus of EU staff leaving, not surprising when brexit threatens to turn them into 2nd class citizens. The government’s solution? Oh, we’ll just have the nurses train as doctors or shorten their training time. I mean its not as if people die if hospitals make a mistake or something.

Making rent

Housing The Homeless

I’ve come across quite a few stories over the last few months about homelessness in California, one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the world. And we’re in many cases talking about people with jobs who are homeless, as its become difficult if not impossible to make rent in California, to the point where some are sleeping in their cars or living out of campervans. Let me repeat that, we’re talking about people with jobs, who work hard, who have kids and a family living in their cars. Welcome to Trump’s America.

Now too be fair, this is part of the hangover from the financial crisis. And we really have to pin the blame for that on past US presidents (notably G. W. Bush). And of course Obama’s recovery was a rising tide that didn’t lift all ships. Governors of California (who have come from both parties since the crash) also have to take some share of the blame. That said, Trump has cut federal housing aid, and who did he appoint in charge of housing? Ben Carson (the first person to conduct brain surgery on himself).

So there’s plenty blame to share out, the question is how to fix it. Well clearly a lack of rent control is part of the problem. If you let landlords charge $2000 a month for a flat (with a two month deposit on top), then nobody except the better off will be able to pay that. And there’s a lack of good affordable social housing. In Europe for example, try to get planning permission for a hundred luxury condos and you’ll be told nope, not going to happen, unless you add in a few dozen affordable homes or council houses.

Of course there’s an elephant in the room here we’re ignoring, one you can clearly see if you’ve ever flown over California and looked out of a window – urban sprawl and low density housing. While we’ve got problems with urban sprawl in Europe yes, but never to the same extend as it occurs in the US. Developments that would be refused in Europe are routinely approved in the US.

6a0105372158ac970b013483816376970c-500pi.jpg

In fact, government policies intended to promote car ownership are a major contributory factor, by for example legally requiring large parking lots everywhere. By contrast, getting planning permission for car parks in Europe is tricky and will often be refused (we’ve a long standing issue in my block with parking, long story but the bottom line is the council will routinely turn down applications for parking lots, unless you’ve got a damn good reason for having one and even then they’ll insist its underground).

The end consequence of this is vast spread out cities where you need a car to just get around. Case in point, the population density of LA is around 1,000 per sq km, while in London is closer to 5,000 and Paris 21,000. If the oil ever runs out LA is going to starve to death, given in some LA neighbourhoods you can literally get picked up by the cops for just walking. The US has legally mandated a country full of vast parking lots, now its got them filled with homeless people rather than apartment blocks.

revised_petrol_use_urban_density.jpg

And, as always, this highlights the shortcomings of the libertarian politics of the tech billionaires. Their lassie-faire approach amounts to them amassing vast fortunes and living in huge mansions, while the serf’s who toil away making all that money have to steal food from work, then find a quiet parking lot to catch some sleep in and hope they don’t get mugged. This is what a libertarian world looks like.

A real magic money tree, scientific publishing

zhrxbdsm-1379916057

An interesting article here from George Monbiot about the racket of scientific publishing. If you are an academic, in almost all cases you have to publish your research in a peer reviewed journal. Many academics will in fact have it in their contract of employment that they must publish a certain number each year, often in specific journals.

However these journals are owned by private companies, notably Elsevier, which was the brain child of Robert Maxwell. So in essence we academics use public funds to generate intellectual property that we are then obliged to hand over to a private company, who then charge our own university library a small fortune to be able to access it. In essence we are being contractually obliged to participate in a wealth transfer scam from the public sector into the pockets of media billionaires.

This situation could be solved relatively simply. Either the government just nationalises these firms and makes their data publicly accessible free of charge. Or it puts in place a rule prohibiting uni’s from setting targets for staff based on for-profit journals. This would mean we publish in open access journals more frequently. Faced with the risk that the intellectual property they own would quickly become worthless (scientific data tends to get obsolete pretty quickly), the private publishing houses would then likely be forced to go open access themselves……

Comcast buys Sky, Murdoch on suicide watch

.So why you may ask, aren’t governments trying to move towards open access journals? Well because they don’t want to upset media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch of course. The media is something of a closed shop, a forbidden lawn onto which politicians dare not tread….or the Sun will publish an article calling them gay.

However, in amongst all the other stories recently, a little story slipped through that’s actually of significant importance. For many years now Rupert Murdoch has sought to take full control of UK broadcaster Sky. However, while the UK’s politicians are a spineless lot, they ain’t stupid enough not to see the danger with letting him have full control of all the newspapers and half the TV audience. So they’ve been obstructing that process, although more about going through the motions than any real opposition.

49A0328E00000578-5439247-image-a-3_1519728442077

Well the phone hacking scandal forced those plans to be kicked into the long grass for a while. Brexit provided good cover to resume the process, but the chaos it unleashed slowed things down somewhat. However now at the moment of truth, what’s gone and happened? A rival firm, Comcast, has swooped in and bought Sky right out from under Murdoch’s nose. And if to make matters worse, its CEO while republican, is more of a moderate (read a greedy rich as*hole, but at least one whose vaguely sane). So its likely he’ll start to shift Sky more towards the centre ground of politics, rather than constantly supporting the Tories.

Keep in mind that for much of recent UK politics this has been going on in the background. Murdoch has supported this candidate or that and got his newspapers to sing their praises regardless of how nutty or ludicrous what they were proposing was. He’s more responsible for brexit or Trump than probably anything else. And now suddenly, in no small part thanks to Trump and brexit, he’s been pipped at the finishing post. Well, what goes around, sooner or later, it comes around. Karma can be a bitch!

Not so cool news

the-title-is-dumb-1445871757

I had a bit of a rant before about Game of Thrones season 7. However my main bone of contention was with I’d call the “cool dude” school of film making, that seems to have taken over. This brand of film making views the plot and the script as secondary and merely a way of stitching together various epilepsy inducing CGI sequences (the point of which seems to be to get the audience to say “this is cool dude”).

The trouble is that this is a style of film making that gets boring very quickly. And as its necessary to throw away much of what makes any particular genre appealing to its fan base, it tends to piss off the fans. A situation not helped by hiring directors or producers whose knowledge of say, star wars/trek is limited to whatever they managed to google while in the cab on the way to the studio.

Well it would appear the wheels are starting to come off. On the back of poor box office and bad reviews several leading actors in the latest Star trek film have quit, reportedly over pay disputes (if the film ain’t making as much they need more of those dollars for the CGI budget, which the actors seem unwilling to accept). Its possible the next star trek film might be cancelled. There’s even a crazy rumour going around that the studio is so desperate they’re going to hand it over to Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Romulans? The hateful Klingons? Vulcan fiction? Kill Kirk?).

Also on their way to the job centre are the actors playing superman, batman and Cpt. America. Meanwhile, the star wars franchise is in such disarray after the Solo movie flop (that was a train wreck you could just see coming!), that it looks like any further movies (bar the ones too far into production to halt) are also going to get canned.

In short, the customer is always right. Piss off your fans, they’ll vote with their feet. I mean I’ve not been to say very many of these movies recently because, to be blunt I’d be as well off shining a strobe light in my eye for two hours.

Ultimately the problem is these major studios have a monopoly on the story lines, nobody else can make a star trek film without the risk of being sued, even though its a genre that’s over fifty years old and its original creator has been dead for twenty years. If you left any other company (cars, laptops, washing machines, etc.) with the exclusive rights to produce a product and they’d never innovate, their products would become increasingly bloated and over priced.

So this is probably one situation where we should let the markets sort it out. Let anyone who wants to make a superhero/sci-fi movie do so. Yes some will be dire and laughably bad (the Russian film Guardians for example), but others might well be much better than anything the mainstream studios can come up with.

Katla is isn’t going to blow….for now!

41908891

If you are a tabloid reader, you might have heard that the Icelandic volcano Katla was about to erupt. For those who don’t know, Katlia is the bigger brother of the big E volcano (I ain’t even going to try and get its spelling right!) that erupted in 2010 and disrupted all of those flights. Well Katla is many times larger (with a Caldera 10km’s across) and it erupts about every 100 years. When was the last eruption? About 100 years ago! So an eruption from Katla would be far worse and could last for much longer (possibly months).

However, before you start digging a shelter or stockpiling food (a sensible idea perhaps, but for other reasons!) no, that’s not what the scientists studying the volcano actually said. In fact they pointed out they could see no signs the volcano was in imminent danger of eruption. The study did reveal a lot more about the potential impact of its eruptions. For example, in one past eruption it created a flash flood with a flow rate the Nile, Mississippi, Amazon, and Yangtze combined.

So while its unlikely to go off tomorrow, the warning is that we probably won’t get a huge amount of warning prior to any future eruption. Which given how disruptive this could be, it would seem to make sense to put in place some contingency plans for how we are going to cope, if say transatlantic flights had to stop for a few months…..so not really something the British have to worry about after March 2019 then!

Advertisements

NATO Funding

Trump, in between insulting his hosts and committing several diplomatic faux pas, criticised other Nato members over their defence spending, most notably Germany. However, the situation is a little more complicated that he suggests. If anything this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Firstly, Germany has a very short coastline, and thus not much of a navy (which means they don’t need to but expensive kit like nuclear subs or aircraft carriers). And they also don’t have nuclear weapons. Both of these factors reduces their military spending considerably, as well as the number of personnel required.

Defense-Spending-by-NATO-Countries-01

Overall, Germany has the 5th largest military in NATO. And with the exception of Turkey all of the other 3 are both nuclear powers with a large navy. It also has the 4th largest military budget (in terms of overall spending). And again, all of the 3 ahead of them are nuclear powers, with a large navy.

One could argue that while the Bundeswehr is quite capable of defending Germany itself, they lack in terms of numbers and stockpiles of equipment. This means that in the event of a shooting war they’d struggle to cope with high attrition losses for very long. And they’d be only be able to provide limited help to their neighbours.

However, that said, if there’s two headlines nobody in Europe wants to read over their Sunday breakfast its “Germany rearming” or “German troops in Poland”. So we need to apply some political realism here.

Also the German’s would probably counter by pointing out that they have a large industrial base and build almost all of the military hardware that they need. In fact they are the leading supplier of equipment to Nato when comes to things like tanks, military vehicles, artillery and heavy weapons. Indeed, even US tanks use the German made Rheinmetall 120 mm gun. So in the event of a shooting war, so long as Germany can keep those factories open, they’ll simply be able to build replacement equipment for anything they (or their Nato allies) need.

6-leopard-2-mbt

The German made Leopard 2 equips many Nato armies, with nearly 3,500 in service

And ultimately the German’s are very efficient and stereo-typically Teutonic when it comes to their military budget. That is to say, they don’t waste a lot of money on stuff they don’t need. And they manage military spending very carefully to reduce waste.

By contrast, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, the UK are hopeless when it comes to managing their military budget, with a litany of overspends and foolish projects that should never have gotten funded.

And across the pond, a significant proportion of America’s $700+ billion budget is wasted. Aside from simple poor money management or incompetence, the US has lots of military hardware it simply doesn’t need. E.g. 11 aircraft carriers, more than the rest of the world combined (at a time when its widely accepted that they are vulnerable to long range missile attack or submarines). Plus they’ve got over a dozen amphibious assault vessels (basically a mini-carrier) as well. And they’ve got large numbers of military bases in the centre of the country which don’t really serve any useful purpose (what do they think is going to happen? Chinese paratroopers are going to drop in and invade Tennessee? And don’t all the locals own guns? Isn’t that the whole point of the 2nd amendment?).

American defence procurement is littered with examples of projects that were ill-conceived from the start (e.g. the Skybolt missile), badly mismanaged (the Sgt. York), overly ambitious (Reagan’s SDI) or with no clear idea about what role the weapon system would perform (e.g. the Zumwalt class). Meaning Congress sometimes just refused to buy the finish product (if you ain’t planning on buying it, why bother wasting billions developing it?).

F35-water-landing-800_2

At a price of $1.5 trillion, the F-35 is the ultimate example of wasteful military spending

Part of the problem is that Congress has long treated the US defence budget as basically a jobs program. Republicans know that if they actually practised what they preached (small government, low taxes) that would mean the economy of many Republican voting states (who are net receivers of Government money) would collapse, sending millions fleeing for the more prosperous (and often democratic voting) parts of the country. In short, US military spending is the biggest act of socialism on the planet. One which republicans can support, yet still keep a straight face when whinging about Obamacare or the deficit.

110617DarylCagle_Cagle.jpg

And the brass in charge of the US military are well aware of this fact. Its something which they exploit to get their way (and thus further their careers, both in the army, or as a “consultant” for a defence contractor afterwards), even if the end result is billions of tax dollars going up in smoke, as this clip from the satirical film “the Pentagon wars” illustrates. And of course US military contractors can be some of the most aggressive lobbyists in Washington. Which probably explains why the US defence department has never been audited.

All in all, when it comes to the swamp that is US government spending, the US military budget occupies the deepest and dankest part of that swamp. And clearly by trying to hawk American ware’s overseas, Trump shows he has no intention of draining it. Quite the opposite in fact!

The trump whispering warmongering yahoo

Israeli president Netanyahu released a dodgy dossier, which accuses Iran of breaking the terms of its nuclear deal. Now there might be some substance to it yes, some investigation might be necessary, indeed one or two experts pointed out this is the whole reason why the Iran deal existed. However, call me sceptical, but I’d be little suspicious of the words of a president who has an ulterior motive to provoke a war. And it is more than a little ironic Israel lecturing Iran, when its an open secret that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

bendib-iran-and-israel-nukes-cartoon

The style of the presentation however indicated that it was directed at an audience of one. With prop’s and cue cards, this was clearly all laid on for the benefit of Trump. Netanyahu knows that Trump wants to have a war to help deflect from the whole Russia investigation. His original plan was to have that war with North Korea. However, as I discussed before, both Korea’s decided to make a show of peace talks to thwart Trump’s plans. Given the clear blue water between what both sides in Korea want, a lasting peace is unlikely, but they can at the very least keep up the charade until Trump’s impeached.

So basically Netanyahu may well have just come out with a big map of Iran with a bullseye on it. The situation with Iran is particularly frustrating for Israel because previously it was assumed that Israel would actually do the bombing (with US help and approval), sparing America from the not inconsiderable blow back that would emerge if it were to attack Iran. However, the installation of Russian S-300 air defence missiles has effectively rendered Iran “Israel proof”, quite apart from the risk of Russian retaliation against Israel if they attacked. Hence why he needs the US to do his dirty work for him.

Now I could try and explain how, even if these allegations are true (and they stink of what we heard in the lead up to the Iraq war), the US would still be well advised not to attack. However, that would involve using logic and reason. So my advice to those in the region is to adopt the Jung-Moon gambit. Basically they engage in their own bit of Trump whispering.

Firstly we have some neutral party propose talks. This ideally should be someone with a bit of leverage over Trump. Egypt, Azerbaijan, Turkey (countries Trump has business interests in) or of course Russia could be the ones to do it. In short Trump will either have to agree to this or risk his businesses losing out financially….or a certain pee tape finding its way onto the internet.

Now if you were Iran and a little naive, they’d bring in Hans Blix this very week, have him do some inspections and report back by the end of the month that the Israeli’s are talking bollix. But again, you’re being too logical. There needs to be lots of talking first. You’re not stalling for time, you’re stalling for impeachment. And even Trump has admitted that could happen as early as December.

Given how inept some of Trump’s people are, there’s all sorts of diplomatic traps that can be set for them. E.g. Iran agrees to inspections of its facilities, but only on conditions that other nations undergo similar inspections. Or it suggests we make the whole of the Middle east a WMD free zone, and it becomes a war crime to install such weapons in the region. Obviously this would be unacceptable to either Israel or the Saudi’s (who also have a WMD program nobody talks about, even thought they may have used them recently in Yemen). But Trump might actually be persuaded to go along with it, then hastily have to back away from the idea when his allies hear about it.

Even when the inspections go ahead, it would be better to conduct them slowly. Anything that doesn’t get inspected, you can bet the hawks will claim is where the nuke’s are being hidden. If Hans Blix looks like he’s finished, suggest there’s an oil refinery down the road, maybe he should inspect that too, just to be sure. On the way there you pass a farm, shouldn’t he inspect the septic tank? (you never know!). Hell he could go and give all of the country’s nuclear scientists a colonoscopy just to be on the safe side. The point is drag the process out and by the time the all clear comes back, President Pence will be too busy trying to pass the Handmaiden’s Act to care about foreign policy.

But jokes aside, there are many who support Trump because the subscribe to the greater fool theory. In that they think he’s an idiot who can be conned into doing things. But that works both ways. It also means he can be manipulated into doing things you don’t want by other people as well. And, if the Iraq war showed us anything, its that starting wars for narrow short terms reasons (with a moron in charge), is likely to have serious long term consequences. Any idea that’s so crazy it requires either a madman or a moron to implement is by definition a bad idea.

Taming the Trump

3035

The decision by the North Koreans to seek “peace” with the south and meet with Donald Trump, isn’t quite as unexpected as the media will have us believe. Actually, its a pragmatic solution to tame the Trump….at least until he’s impeached or leaves office by other means (his Russian employers have something of a firm “no witnesses policyas we’ve learnt recently in the UK).

The standard play book for most Republican presidents is crash the economy with a massive tax cut to their billionaire buddies. Then boost one’s poll numbers by bombing some 3rd world dictator. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Trump has been banging the war drum, hinting at a show down with North Korea, for some time. Its quite clear that he’s chosen the DPRK as his Iraq.

Of course there’s plenty of good reasons why previous presidents haven’t intervened in North Korea, or indeed why the South Koreans haven’t used their military superiority on the peninsula to take over the north. It would be a bloody mess that would make the chaos of Iraq or Vietnam seem tame by comparison.

And the North Koreans for their part have long adopted a tactic to deter invasion, what the CIA refer to as the crazy gang” gambit, often expressed using the acronym CFC for Crazy, Fearsome and Crippled. The logic is that nobody will attack them because, while there is little doubt the NK army can be defeated, the cost of that victory will be high and the winner will face the enormous costs of essentially rebuilding the country from scratch.

However, the CFC gambit only works so long as everyone else in the room are the grown ups. So with the boss baby in the White house, the threat of millions of deaths aren’t going to stop an egomaniac from starting a war. Hence they’ve had to change tactics. And the South Koreans, also don’t want a war. Much as they dislike North Korea, their long standing policy has been one of containment and wait for the inevitable collapse. This has largely worked, the North is increasingly isolated and estranged, even from China. But they could not run the risk of Trump intervening unilaterally and screwing everything up. Hence, the plan on both sides is to start “talks” even though they know those talks will go nowhere. They then bring in Trump, massage his ego and tie him up in dialogue until his time in office times out.

Will these talks achieve anything worthwhile? Probably not. What both sides want is so far removed from what the other would consider acceptable, its difficult to see a compromise that would please both parties. North Korea wants to be left alone to putter in its sandbox. However, that means the South Koreans (and the west) tolerating them running several of the biggest Mc Mafia outfits on the planet, selling missile technology to 3rd party states as well as pointing thousands of artillery pieces at Seoul.

The North giving up its nuclear weapons is one possibility, however its important to remember why they have those in the first place. Its a legacy of the Iraq war. 5,427 days since G. W. Bush declared mission accomplished (yet the war continues, now the longest & costliest in American history) with WMD’s yet to be found, its pretty obvious the reason for this war wasn’t that Saddam HAD WMD’s. No it was that he DIDN’T have them, but he did have oil. The lesson that Iran and North Korea took away from that war was, if you want to avoid a US invasion, build a nuclear bomb.

But of course, nuclear weapons are only a deterrent to sane people who will place the lives of millions above their own ego. However, giving up its arsenal would leave it open to attack by a future US president, who while vaguely sane, is also republican and looking to boost his poll numbers.

They could do what Iran has done and retreat under the protective umbrella of another nuclear armed state. However, that assumes they trust their neighbours, in particular the Chinese. As I mentioned in a prior post, if North Korea has a motto it would be “with friends like ours, who needs enemies”. And from the South Korean prospective it means instead of them staring across the border at a half starved army equipped with 50’s vintage equipment half of which probably doesn’t work. They’ll instead be facing off against the world’s largest land army equipped with the latest weapon systems that almost certainly do work. So hardly an outcome that they’d go along with either.

So my guess is these talks will be long and drawn out. They might produce some meaningful discussion on key flash points and thus de-escalate the border. The North might even offer to think about giving up its nuclear weapons over a lengthy period. The South might ask the US to withdraw its troops.

But on the whole, the main point of these talks is to prevent Trump from starting a war to save himself from impeachment. Once he’s out of the picture, its possible the talks will break down and normal service will resume.

Arming teachers

cg50f40dbd76434

So we have another school shooting in America. And Trump and the NRA’s solution? Arm teachers! Because as the graph below clearly shows more guns equals less gun violence (if you’re not seeing that you aren’t republican enough, either have a lobotomy or hit yourself over the head with a kitchen spatula a few times and it will make perfect sense). So what could possibly go wrong?…..well, lots!

Gun-deaths-versus-gun-ownership

Firstly there’s the small matter that guns are not some magical problem taker away device. You push a button and the “bad guy” magically disappears like its some sort of computer game. Real combat with real guns in the real world with real people is a little different. Chances are if someone burst in on you right now, even if you had a gun to hand, you’d probably stand there with a stupid look on your face and do nothing. This is basic human psychology and a quite normal reaction to a sudden crisis situation.

And studies have shown that the vast majority of soldiers entering combat for the first time, will not shoot to kill. Typically 80% of them will do nothing, subconsciously aim high, or pretend to be doing something else. Only about 20% will actively shoot to kill. Proper training can counteract these issues, bringing the “kill ratio” up somewhat. Gun advocates claim it brings it up to 100%, but that is dubious at best, 50/50 is more likely, outside of professional armies. Also such training comes at a cost, as there’s been a rise in PTSD since such training methods were introduced.

Indeed, reports from the Parkland shooting indicate that a police officer stood outside the building doing nothing for the first few minutes of the shooting. Some (notably Trump) have labelled him a coward. Actually, his behaviour is entirely consistent with what we’d expect. Indeed, one could argue his actions were completely logical and sensible. Such is the absurdity of US gun laws, we are expecting a lone cop armed with a pistol to run into a building and take on possibly multiple attackers (yes there was only one, but he didn’t know that) armed with assault rifles (and presumably wearing a flak jacket). Trump’s policy amounts to assuming that teachers can magically transform into Rambo and succeed where a cop with a flawless record failed.

Furthermore, even if this was a viable solution, it would simply move the problem. Shooters will just change tactics. Instead of a shooter going into a school, they’ll just set themselves up on a roof top overlooking the school and pick people off with long range rifle fire. Or they’ll go after school buses, or churches, or airports, or football games. What are the NRA proposing, we station armed guards & snipers at every possible public gathering? That we all wear flak jackets and a helmet at all times?

Also it must be acknowledged that teaching is a fairly stressful job. As a lecturer we have it pretty easy next to what school teachers have to put up with. The idea of giving a teacher in such a stressful environment access to a firearm just sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Teacher-stress-lede

US teachers report their stress levels. Trump thinks giving guns to people who are “always” or “often” stressed 61% of the time is a good idea

The NRA say, the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Well how about instead we try taking the guns off the bad guys?

The real reason why Republicans oppose gun regulation

n-GUN-FLAG-628x314

As always in America, gun violence continues and all republicans offer are their thoughts and prayers, as well as disinformation. There’s no way more gun regulation will work they say. The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Oddly enough in a recent shooting (just before Christmas) there was a “good guy” with a gun present who stood by and did nothing until after 40 people got shot. This is in line with the experience of military veterans and what psychologist say is the normal human reaction to a crisis situation. Basically, 80% of people will stand there with a stupid look on their face (even if they have a gun), aim high, or pretend to be doing something else (tending to the wounded for example). This has been demonstrated in numerous studies and interviews of soldiers going into combat for the first time, all the way back to world war 2 (with historical evidence to suggest it has been a constant in warfare since the dawn of time).

This is “good guy” gambit is merely one example of how the right will try to muddy the waters, coming up with contrarian arguments to try and avoid the inevitable conclusions. Take this example from PragerU. Its theme seems to be regulation won’t work and will be a slippery slope to a total gun ban. Or in other words “the dems are coming for your guns”.

The thing is that gun regulation DOES work. We know this because several European countries, and Canada allow the ownership of firearms, but apply strict gun regulations. I think the problem here is that many Americans assume that the UK = Europe and yes the UK has some very strict gun controls, some of the toughest in the world. And the end result is we have some of the lowest gun related crime rates in the world.

By contrast some of our European neighbours are much more flexible on gun ownership, most notably Switzerland and Finland. And there are cultural reasons for this policy. Finland found itself fighting both sides (at different times) during world war 2 and Switzerland found itself surrounded by the nazi’s. Hence a central plank of both nations self defence policy is that every male (and quite a few of the women) has a gun under the bed. And speaking of the Germans, I highlighted before a vlog post from Joerg Sprave about gun regulations in Germany and how they aren’t quite as strict as the NRA would have you believe.

The exact laws vary country to country, but in general terms gun ownership is allowed, but owners have to go through extensive background checks. You need a license and the gun must be registered on a firearms database (linked to the licensee). Regulations are usually very strict in terms of how the gun may be stored (generally locked away in a gun safe, with the ammunition stored separately in another location) and how both gun and ammo are transported (almost no chance of anyone getting a concealed carry permit, unless you work as a body guard or something). Some countries also take ballistic data from guns (so if you use it in a crime the police will very quickly know whose door to come knocking on).

And there’s also a level of bullet control. In most European countries you can’t just walk into a store and buy ammo. You’ll need to show ID and a record will be kept of the sale (meaning any attempt to stockpile ammo in advance of a spree shooting has a good chance of being detected, prompting a visit from the police). And generally the more dangerous the gun or ammo, the stricter the regulation. So while yes the average Swiss man might have an assault rifle under the bed, he might not have any ammo to feed into it . And if he’s one of the few who does, it will be in a shrink wrapped package….and the cops are known to carry out random inspections of those from time to time.

Finally, there is no real automatic right to bear arms in Europe. Owning a gun is seen as a privilege granted to law abiding citizens who have some valid reason to own a gun. And this privilege is conditional that you stick to the rules. Break the rules or start acting like an asshole (e.g. the Trump supporters showing up to political rallies and trying to intimidate people with guns) and the cops will have you’re guns off you so fast your head will spin.

Now all of that said, the rate of gun related violence and deaths in countries like Switzerland and Finland (or Germany) is certainly higher than in the UK. No matter how well you regulate, more guns = more deaths. But its a fraction of the rates we see in the US (10.54 per 100,000 in the US, against 3 in Switzerland, 1.97 in Canada, 1 in Germany and 0.23 in the UK).

So it would seem logical that if you want to vastly reduce the level of gun violence in the US, why not try regulating guns first? Well this is the crux of the point I’m trying to make. Republicans fears isn’t that gun regulations won’t work. Their fear is that they WILL work.

Let’s imagine a scenario where the US imposes strict gun regulation, much like in Canada or Europe. And let’s assume that the rate of gun deaths drops to the same levels as in those countries, which would mean a reduction of between 70-80%. What happens next?

Well no longer can the GOP use the rallying cry “the dems are comin for you’re guns” to get a few million votes each election. Guns will no longer be such a political hot potato, the dem’s will have no reason to ban them. After all I don’t see Trudeau north of the border planning on banning guns or sending the Mounties door to door to disarm people (as the GOP will have you believe would happen if the slightest gun regulation were passed). Yes, he might tighten up a few reg’s the Harper Adm. repealed, but that’s about the worst he’ll do. Of course, this also means that GOP candidates, particularly in “rust belt” swing states will now be much more vulnerable to defeat by democrats. And they won’t be getting a few billion a year from the gun lobby anymore. So all in all hardly good news for them.

But more worryingly, in response to this drop in gun deaths, Americans might say to themselves, well gee that was easy, we just passed a few reg’s and the problem largely took care of itself. Maybe we should like try that with something else. Like healthcare? Or regulating the banks a bit more closely? Blink and next thing you know they’ve turned the US into the United States of Europe. Suddenly billionaires have to pay this thing called “tax” and can’t act like total dick’s anymore and expect to get away with it.

This is the real reason why republicans and conservatives will fight gun regulations. Because they don’t want to face a scenario where regulations are shown to work. That’s actually the slippery slope they are really worried about. So when Republicans offer their “thoughts and prayerswhat they actually mean is that they see those killed in these shootings as collateral damage, human sacrifices on the altar of their neo-liberal ideology.

And gun owners need to realise that they are being used and they will be discarded should the political winds change. Its worth pointing out that many of the strict gun laws in the UK (or Australia) were enacted not by leaf eating liberals but by conservative right wing governments. Because faced with the choice between regulating guns or banning them completely, most neo-liberal politicians will opt for the total ban option and toss the gun lobby under the bus, once they’ve outlived their usefulness.

So NRA members need to understand that should the public mood in the US ever shift, they are in serious trouble. They GOP will discard them just as easily as they dismiss the tens of thousands killed by guns annually. They will push for a total ban, as they will not want to run the risk of gun regulations being shown to work.

And of course the same applies to any other lobby the GOP are currently backing, coal miners for example. If there’s one person you should never trust its a politician who will see bodies being carried out of a building and resolve to do nothing about it.

News roundup

I have been away on business for a couple of weeks. I thought it would be useful to do an update.

Bloody pathetic woman

238_196612.jpg

Prior to the election Theresa May promised to be “a bloody difficult woman” in pursuit of brexit negotiations. I recall joking that given her behaviour during the election (basically hiding from public appearances and avoiding TV debates), her strategy would probably actually involve locking herself in the loo for the duration of talks and waiting for the EU to push a favourable agreement under the door.

Well I was sort of right. Her solution to dealing with the EU was to go to Brussels and turn on the water works. And the EU “conceded” something to her, just to get this blubbering wailing mess out of the room. Of course they didn’t really concede anything, they simply agreed to talk privately among themselves about what a potential transitional trade deal would look like, which they’d already agreed to do prior to the summit, the only difference was they made this public, giving May the illusion of having won some concession when in truth she’d won nothing.

And the early results of those talks aren’t encouraging for the brexiters. It pretty much states what we’ve long been telling them. You’ll have to pay the exit bill. A trade deal will take a considerable period of time to negotiate, not only long after March 2019 but probably extending past the next general election (leaving the country in economic limbo for a considerable period of time). Access to the EU market in any form will mean accepting all of those pesky EU rules they despise on the UK statute books. Plus we’ll either need to hire several thousand new civil servants to administer and regulate those rules or pay the EU a few billion to do it all for us….oh and you’ve a month to make a decision, so no pressure!

Oh and the latest word from the WTO regarding the UK’s future trading relationship isn’t positive either. The UK could face charges as high as 10-50% hit on the cost of its exports after March 2019, not just to the EU but to a host of other countries the EU has existing trade deals with. Yes, we could do a deal with the US, ditch EU rules. But you’re assuming that all the companies who are trading with the EU, who will then instantly lose access to their customers in the EU (as they will no longer be in compliance with EU rules and thus their products will be banned from the EU), can simply wave a magic wand and find new customers in the US and establish a supply chain to those customers on the other side of the Atlantic…and do all of that over night.

Of course the problem for the UK is that there is now an open civil war ongoing in the Tory party. Micheal Fallon, a May supporter has just got taken out, so in return she took the opportunity to take out leave supporter Priti Patel (although to be fair, suggesting international development aid should be given to the Israeli army for use in occupied territories the UK doesn’t recognise Israeli control over is a sackable offence for a minister in any circumstances).

In order to get the compromises the EU wants one or both of the main leadership candidates, Dave2 (the person whom the media tycoons have chosen to lead the party) or Boris have to basically take a big bite out of a shit sandwich (if you’ll pardon the bluntness of my language), because May’s already eaten all the crusts. They would have to sign off on paying the EU tens of billions of pounds (having promised in the referendum the UK would be £350 million a week richer), they’d have to accept some level of freedom of movement, recognition of the ECJ and likely leave northern Ireland half in and half out of the rest of the UK. Either of them does any of this and they can rule out wining the post-May leadership contest. And yet she can’t sack them and put someone more complaint into their jobs. So in short, the UK has become ungovernable .

Hindu fascism

Should you wonder what possessed Mrs Patel to go to Israel without authorisation, try to overturn a long standing UK (as well as US, EU and UN) backed position on the occupied territories and then propose her department give UK development aid money to the Israeli army. Well we need to get past the idea that racism and bigotry is something that only white men are responsible for. The crisis in Myanmar and the persecution of a Muslim minority (by Buddhists under Aung San Suu Kyi) being a case in point. Unfortunately a significant number of Hindu’s, such as Mrs Patel are also fanatically islamophobic to an extend that makes Nigel Farage sound like a moderate.

Now naturally I’m not saying all Hindu’s are bigots, but certainly some are. And while I’d like to say its few on the fringes (who’ve probably made the mistake of reading the Daily Mail), in truth were are talking a fairly significant number of them. The BJP, the ruling party in India, at present, is very much anti-Muslim and more than a little racist. Indeed they are basically an Indian version of UKIP.

Their policies have included such highlights as knocking down Muslim temples (leading to massive riots that killed thousands), trying to introduce astrology as a university degree, arguing that some ancient Hindu civilisation we’ve never heard of once existed (and even conducted nuclear tests) and professing a belief that cow dung can cure cancer. They also want to stop tourists visiting the Taj Mahal, which they argue is a Shiva temple (its a mausoleum for a Muslim emperor’s wife)…..Just to reiterate, these nutters are running India and have access to nuclear weapons (well if they put the astrologers in charge of missile guidance we’ve nothing to worry about I suppose!).

And Hindu fascists have also been very quick to find common cause with other similar groups around the world. More than a few thought that India was on the wrong side during World War II, notably Savitri Devi a British fascist and Hindu convert, who is revered by both Hindu extremists and the alt-right to this day. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume Mrs Patel kept didn’t mention this little fact of history to her Israeli hosts.

Catalatrophy

1410455469000-catalonia00001

The Catalan crisis is a crisis not so much due to the Catalan’s pursuit of a referendum (assuming any referendum had the proper checks and balances, e.g. the need for a full majority, i.e. 50% of the voters to back it, they’d have probably lost it), but the conservative government in Madrid’s refusal to allow it and the brutal crack down before and after.

They’ve now likely just succeeded in convincing many Catalan’s that Madrid can’t be trusted to stay out of the regions affairs. By suspending the regional government they’ve left Catalonia with two choices, full independence, or direct rule from Madrid. And by making martyrs of the leadership, they’re just going to provide a totem for independence supporters to rally around.

And there is history here. The reason why Ireland isn’t part of the UK is because of events during world war one (a war which had nothing to do with Ireland, yet we got dragged into it) and the crackdown by the British after the Easter rising. Both events convinced the Irish that even with the proposed home rule we’d been promised London simply couldn’t be trusted not to meddle in Irish affairs. And hence we were better off outside of the UK, regardless of what economic price we had to pay to get that independence. This is not far from were Catalonia is now.

Hence while the sensible solution would be to hold a proper poll on the matter, something the left wing parties in Madrid have been proposing for sometime I might add, the window of opportunity where that could settle the matter has probably now passed. Up until recently the assumption was that (as noted) such a poll would go against the Catalan independence movement, while now its 50/50 either way. Also even if such a poll were held and even if it was a firm No vote, I don’t think the Catalan independence movement will pack up and go home. Having been beaten up by the cop’s they aren’t going to give up until they get what they want, so in essence Madrid has radicalised them. And its only a matter of time before some hot head starts setting off bombs. As JFK said “those who make political change impossible make violent revolution inevitable”.

And some of those bombs will be going off in Brussels, for the EU very firmly backed Madrid when they should have stayed neutral. This pro-Madrid stance was probably what emboldened Madrid enough that they felt comfortable sending in the riot squads. The EU’s reasoning has been that they don’t want to encourage other separatist movements. However my suspicion is that all they’ve succeeded in doing is guaranteeing that if Catalonia does separate from Spain it will be a messy breakup of Spain and that the other independence movements around Europe will now be emboldened to carry on regardless. In short the EU has made life more difficult for itself not less.

So clear the solution here, given the impossibility of a pig headed Spanish PM changing course, is for the EU to act. They should put in place a contingency plan for what to do if a country who is an EU member breaks up. If Catalonia must leave the EU (as suggested) then so too must Spain (as the conditions on which it entered the EU have now changed as well). Or both are allowed to transition into EU members. If that offends Madrid, then tough. Otherwise Brussels could find itself facing violent attack from separatists from across the continent, which would create a crisis that makes brexit look like a storm in a tea cup.

Not so Trumped up charges

woman-flip-off-the-trump-motorcade-36f16d4e-a758-43d5-b776-99378164c67b

The first charges in the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections have been made and needless to say the reaction from him and his supporters has been similar to the reaction you’d get from a toddler whose hand you caught in the cookie jar, a combination of bawling and counter claims against his sister, or in this case Hilary.

There are allegations made that suggest Hilary may have gotten funds from a pro-Putin source and certainly there’s some smoke here, but not necessarily a fire. It should be noted that it is a known tactic of Putin to secretly give money to his political opponents, usually through back channels and anonymous allies, such that the opposition don’t realise what’s going on, only to then to allow this bombshell to be leaked to the media at a time when it is most inconvenient to those opponents. That he would play the same trick with Hilary would hardly be a surprise.

However, even if the worse case scenario was true, Hilary knew about this money, well two wrongs don’t make a right. Trump’s still in trouble, he can have the cell next to her. It is deeply ironic how everything he’s accused Hilary of, Trump and his administration have now also done. He’s had his own email scandal, his own Benghazi. Yet the GOP have launched no investigation, they are too busy investigating Hilary.

To draw an analogy, its like seeing a mafia don being dragged into court and on the way in he passes a hot dog stand and randomly accuses the owner of that stand of not paying his taxes. And as a response the federal grand jury suspends his case while they launch an investigation into the hot dog stand owner’s tax affairs. And again, its the sort of behaviour that one regularly sees play out in corrupt African dictatorships.

Perhaps more worryingly is Trump’s warmongering towards Iran and North Korea. Its been suggested that he might launch some sort of attack against these countries in order to deflect attention from the Russia investigation, which does actually sound plausible. And that’s very worrying because the likely consequences of such an intervention are unlikely to be pretty serious. Tens of thousands of dead and the destabilisation of the world, probably leading to a stand off between the US on one side and China and Russia and their allies on the other sort of serious. All to massage the ego of one guy.

Paradise papers

paradisepapers-740x419

The latest paradise paper leaks are oh so predictable. Some time ago I read a book called Treasure Islands about the offshore industry and many of the very mechanisms discussed in the book are identical to what these leaks reveal. I’m sorry but this is news only to the blind and naïve.

It also explains why when the brexiters threaten to turn the UK into a tax haven post-brexit, the response from Brussels is to start howling with laughter. As author Nicholas Shaxson puts it “the largest tax haven in the world is in London”. Most of the dirty work of tax avoidance actually takes place in offices within London itself. Offshore on the tax havens, they’ll have a few lawyers and officials to sign documents and that’s it. And to be fair to the UK, Delware in the US and Luxembourg in the EU means there are equivalent operations within both the US and EU.

It would be all too easy for the EU, UK and US to simply ban all financial trade with this regions, or slap some sort of financial transaction tax on all such activity. Or worse, adopt tax and salary transparency laws (meaning everybody’s earnings and tax payment records become public, meaning it’s very easy to work out who is paying their taxes and who is on the fiddle allowing tax dodgers to be easily caught). The fact is that it is an open secret that, as one billionaire put it “only the little people pay taxes”. The rich can avoid them not because there’s no way to shut down tax havens, but because the politicians are too scared to open that can of worms and try to do something about it.

Sparkling hypocrisy

In the US, the land of the free ain’t so free. You can’t for example buy Haggis, because the FDA says its unsafe (and if the brexiters have their way, those FDA rules might well apply in the UK too). Nor can you buy a kinder surprise. And fireworks are banned in some US states. Okay, fireworks are actually dangerous, but even in elf n’safety obsessed UK we’ve seemed to find a way of regulating that to a point that’s acceptable. But no so US states still say, no fireworks, they’re too dangerous, even sparklers are banned…..But a semi automatic rifle, oh they are perfectly safe! Go figure!

A matter of education

Before the EU referendum farmers were warned that subsidies would likely go, that they’d face the risk of rising costs, being cut off from the EU markets and losing access to seasonal workers from the EU. Well now we’ve seen how a cliff edge hard brexit and a sudden imposition of high tariffs could cut off that market access (and as noted earlier its not as if they can just pick up the phone and find someone else on April 1st 2019 who wants to buy several hundred tons of cheese). Farmers costs have risen rapidly and they are worrying signs that immigration controls could cut off access to seasonal workers, raising questions as to how they are going to harvest their crops post-brexit. And this is not just a problem for farmers, it will impact on food prices as well.

And inevitably a report has now come out suggesting farm subsidies should be scraped. They point to New Zealand as a model for British farming, ignoring the fact that New Zealand has a tiny population where their costs are lower and their farms are massive. The small holdings of the type we see in the UK either don’t exist or don’t produce the same things as we do (most smaller farms are vineyards producing wine or grow fruits….not a really an option for UK farmers!). The NHS was also warned that it would face staffing shortages, which again predictably are starting to come true.

brexit-demographics-1

One has to question where brexiters are maybe a little thick. And actually since you mention it, polls do show a link between education and which way people voted in the referendum. Those with a high level of education voting largely remain, those with no education beyond GCSE’s were the most likely to vote leave.

So now you know what happened to the farmer who didn’t pay attention at school. He voted for brexit, lost his farm and ended up as a poor cotter on the estate of some laird with no healthcare or pension in his old age.

The centenary of violence celebrated

The wheel of violence that has ground over the middle east for decades rolls on. While ISIS looks like its now more or less beaten, fighting has broken out between the Kurds and the Iraqi government forces around the oil rich town of Kirkuk. The Kurds (some 30 million strong) are the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland of their own.

So we can see how this cycle of violence will just continue, the Kurds get radicalised, they start a four way war with Turkey, Iran, Iraq and what’s left of Syria, who btw are also starting to turn on the US backed free Syrian forces. 5,306 days since G. W. Bush declared mission accomplished, the fire he lit in the middle east continues to burn and it will likely continue to do so for decades more.

Indeed, strictly speaking it wasn’t G. W. Bush who lit the fire in the middle east, but the British. One hundred years ago a UK diplomat made the Balfour declaration, something that was recently celebrated in Israel, as they see it as the first acceptance of Israeli statehood. To be honest, its not the sort of thing I’d celebrate. As you are celebrating a hundred years of violence, which has seen more than a few Jews as well as Muslim’s killed btw.

And the thing is that what the British were proposing to do was use the Jews as their colonial stooges. A long standing British policy of colonisation was to drive out any disloyal locals, steal their land and “plant” some convenient lackies on that land, who were generally people they wanted out of the UK for some reason or another (the convicts sent to Australia, the Presbyterian’s in Northern Ireland, the Puritans in North America).

And it wasn’t even the local Muslims whom the British were worried about. At the time they were fighting world war one (where Germany was backed by the Turks and a number of other actors in the region) and the middle east was a key battle ground, given the Royal Navy’s dependence on oil. The first unit of British troops deployed overseas during world war one went not to Belgium but Basra to defend the oil fields. And the British, all too aware that post-war they’d face competition from their long standing rivals the French, wanted someone in the region loyal to them, rather than the French. So in essence Israel is celebrating how they became pawns of the British Empire.

And there is a further cruel irony to the Balfour deceleration. This British policy of both divide and rule (which one of the reasons for the violence and bigotry in India I referred too earlier) and planting of loyal supporters on someone else’s land was greatly admired by the nazi’s. In essence what they were doing in Eastern Europe was simply trying to copy what the British had been doing for centuries in other parts of the world (in a slightly crueller way, but same basic principle). So that’s hardly the sort of thing we should be celebrating, least of all the Israeli’s.

And so this wheel of violence will not only roll onwards, but we literally have some in the region celebrating its centenary.

The Battle of Britain, myth v’s reality

dunkirk_bob.png

One of the defining founding myths that drives many of the brexiters is the early day’s of world war II, “the Dunkirk spirit” and Britain’s victory over Germany at the battle of Britain. However the reality is that there are a whole host of myths surrounding this period that are simply not true. It is therefore important to debunk these myths, as doing so reveals a lot of hard truths that the brexiters seem anxious to ignore.

Dunkirk was a defeat

Firstly it has to be acknowledged that Dunkirk was a defeat and there’s no real way to sugar coat that one. While yes a significant number of British soldiers did manage to escape encirclement and get back to the UK, the British did ultimately lose large numbers of men, the majority of their heavy equipment, and quite a number of ships and aircraft. The word by which we would describe one side fleeing the battlefield while losing a significant quantity of its forces in the process is “defeat”.

Keep in mind that in military terms any losses greater than 10% is considered bad. Losing more than 25% in a single engagement is considered a rout. The charge of the light brigade saw 16% of the attacking force killed (with a further third of the force wounded or de-horsed), while Pickett’s charge during the American Civil war saw 22% of the attacking force killed (and again a further third of the attacking force were wounded). So by any yard stick, while yes a significant portion of the British army did escape, the losses they took were significant. Soldiers and their equipment doesn’t grow on trees, losing large numbers of either isn’t a sustainable strategy.

Its also important to acknowledge how the British and the French (who also were evacuated at Dunkirk) got themselves into this mess in this first place. Both went into the war assuming it would be fought under the same conditions as World War I. The French devoted the bulk of their forces to the Maginot line, so they looked to the British to take the strategic initiative. The British instead took up positions along the Belgian border waiting for Belgium to be attacked, upon which they’d rush into to stop the Germans.

What both sides failed to understand was that developments in combined arms tactics (i.e. the blitzkrieg) meant waiting to be attacked meant waiting to lose. Only a well fortified position could hope to halt the enemy and tank warfare allowed such strong points to be simply bypassed and outflanked. The Belgians (and the low Countries) also have to take some of the blame. It should have been obvious after the attack on Poland and then Denmark that Belgian neutrality would not be respected. And, as noted, it should have been obvious from the early battles of the war that there was no way the Belgian army could hope to defend the country. Hence Belgium’s options were to either join the allies and invite in the British and French forces prior to a German attack. Or conclude that if you can’t beat’em join em.

The German ruthlessly exploited this naivety with their attack through the Ardennes forest, which directly lead to the fiasco at Dunkirk. As one British tank commander confessed at the time, of the month or so his forces spent in France, they spend most of that time in retreat, barely got to fire a shot, other than the odd rear guard action. And his men spent a significant portion of the their time in France drunk. He was then forced to abandon his tanks on the beaches and in some cases the first use of the tanks ammunition was when the crews scuttled them.

Furthermore, the British were only able to evacuate because of a major tactical error by Hitler. Convinced by boasting from Goring that the Luftwaffe could finish them off, he halted his armies. Of course, as with most of Goring’s boasts, the Luftwaffe failed. That said, there was a certain logic to the Germans letting the British forces escape. If the British forces had been captured, then the Germans would have had hundreds of thousands of prisoners to look after, a drain on their resources. By all accounts it looked like Germany had won, the British would be forced to negotiate a peace deal.

And it should be remembered that the Nazis admired the British and their Empire. As they saw it, what Britain was doing in India or Africa (concentration camps remember were invented by the British during the Boer war), they were doing in the East. So even when it became obvious that a significant proportion of the British forces were going to escape, they probably thought no harm done.

Britain did not stand alone

The enduring myth is that Britain stood alone against Europe. Not really! As noted, quite a few French made it over to Britain, including more than a few pilots, crucial given that the British were desperately short of experienced pilots. Also many Polish and Norwegian pilots had made it to Britain, where they played a key role in the Battle of Britain.

spitfirecolour

A spitfire…..with Polish markings…damn Poles comin over here, defending us from the nazi’s…

The Poles also brought with them most of the their intelligence apparatus. Much of the Ultra code breaking set up at Bletchley park owes its origins to Polish code breakers. The Poles had come up with many of the very tactics the British would later utilise to good effect. Even the design of the first mechanical computers (the Bombe) was based on a Polish design. The problem for the poles is they lacked in terms of resources and had basically run out of time to complete their work by the time the Germans invaded. So their arrival would prove crucial to the outcome of the war.

And of course there’s the role played by the empire, notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And there was also the contribution of the Indians, something which is often forgotten. Quite apart from the direct support they offered in terms of men, machinery and supplies, they also took over roles guarding overseas bases, allowing more of the British forces to be moved back to the UK.

And while countries like the US or Ireland were officially neutral, it was a strange form of neutrality. The American blatantly favoured the British, openly shipping military supplies across, in some cases without proper payment. At one point, when the German U-boat attacks proved problematic, US sailors began dressing up as Canadians and served on ships escorting supplies across the Atlantic.

Similarly, while German pilots were interned, the Irish looked the other way while British pilots escaped. They supplied the UK with food supplies and took no action to stop thousands of Irish going to the UK to join the British military (one of my relatives actually came to the UK during the war and worked in an airfield as an aircraft mechanic). Weather forecasts were strictly controlled, with none broadcast over the Irish radio’s during the war, yet weather data was quietly passed on to the allies (a weather forecast from Valentia Island would prove to be crucial later in the war regarding the timing of the D-Day landings).

The Spitfire was, at best, a mediocre aircraft

For the British the spitfire is an almost mythical beast. The best fighter of the war, if not ever made. The reality was a little different. It was certainly fast, however it also came with a number flaws and quirks. The most notable of these was its engine was prone to cut out if the aircraft was inverted, a quite serious flaw to have in air to air combat, not least because the Germans soon figured it out and began exploiting this flaw, forcing the British to develop a quick fix.

The Spitfire design had evolved from a racing floatplane of the 1930’s (which only had to fly in a straight line, hence it had a carburettor engine and hence the problems with the engine cutting out), which made them fast but left them stuck with lots of legacy issues. Faced with a faster opponent, a Spitfire was in trouble. Fortunately, the German pilots were at the limit of their range during the Battle of Britain and could not use their aircraft to their fullest extent.

Also the obsession with the Spitfire ignores the fact that the mainstay of the RAF during the Battle of Britain was the Hawker Hurricane, which equipped the majority of RAF squadrons and accounted for the bulk of RAF kills. The Hurricane was a workhorse next to the Spitfires fancy dressage pony. It was simple and rugged, not particularly fast (but not exactly slow either) and surprisingly nimble for such an old aircraft.

So while the Spitfire wasn’t a bad aircraft, it certainly wasn’t any sort of wonder weapon and its role in the battle is somewhat exaggerated.

Radar wasn’t a secret weapon

Another myth is that the British had a secret weapon the boffins had come up with that the Germans didn’t know about – radar. This allowed the British to have their airforce in their air waiting for the German raiders, acting as a sort of forces multiplier. While the second half of this statement is true, the British did use radar to good effect, the idea that this was a secret is not.

The Germans were more than familiar with the existence of radar, they were working on it themselves. They were a bit behind the British, but by 1939 they had their first working units. They certainly knew the British had radar as well and one of the first things they attacked was British radar stations along the coast.

The problem for the Germans was that Hitler saw radar as a defensive weapon and he prioritised work on offensive weapons. So the technology was never pursued or deployed effectively during the Battle of Britain.

Hitler’s policy did have repercussions later in the war. It meant the Germans sought to miniaturise their radar such that it could be fitted into an aircraft, which they then used to equip night fighters. These night fighters would become so effective as a result that it meant being over Germany at night was just as dangerous as the American daylight raids.

Enigma code breakers played only a minor role in the battle of Britain

The cracking of the Enigma code (code named Ultra) proved crucial to allied victory in world war II, no question. However, its benefits would only kick in much later in the war, notably during the Battle for the Atlantic and the run up to D-Day. During the battle of Britain it played a minor role.

In part this was simply because it was early days, Ultra had limited resources and their successes were a lot of hit and miss. As noted, the Polish code breakers had only just gotten their feet under the desk and their British counterparts were still digesting all that they’d learnt. Indeed, they’d only succeeded in breaking the Luftwaffe code for the first time around the end of May. Also at this early stage, the penny hadn’t dropped with military high command as to just how valuable Ultra intercepts could be.

This debunks one of the great myths of World War II, that Churchill allowed the bombing of Coventry to go ahead in order to protect the secret of Ultra. This is contradicted by multiple sources and furthermore, it makes no sense. British commanders would consider an industrial city like Coventry as far more valuable than some boffin being able to read Goring’s e-mail….occasionally! Now granted, later in the war, when the true potential of Ultra had been realised, that’s a different story (which is probably how this myth got started). But certainly the impact of Ultra on the battle of Britain phase of the war was fairly limited. It had an impact yes, but it wasn’t decisive.

Churchill was not a great military leader…although he was a great drinker

If you believe the propaganda Britain won thanks to Churchill, who personally directed the battle from his war room under the the Treasury. This is simply not true, Churchill knew very little about aerial warfare so he wisely delegated this task to those who did, such as air chief Marshall Hugh Dowding.

And too be honest “great military leader” and Churchill are two things that rarely appear in the same sentence. Its more than usually “Churchill” and “military disaster”. In the first world war the fiasco of the British defeat at Coronel was largely Churchill’s fault, because he was too busy trying to help one of his aristocratic friends (a German) keep his job (for some reason someone thought it was a bad idea to have a German in charge of the Admiralty when the UK was fighting them). Then there was the small matter of Gallipoli one of the greatest military blunders of World War I, which was largely Churchill’s idea.

During the Irish war for independence, the Black and Tans were Churchill’s idea and they ultimately destroyed what support remained in Ireland for remaining part of the UK. And in World War II it is ironic that the defeat of British forces in Norway led to the downfall of Chamberlain and Churchill’s appointment, when it was largely Churchill’s fault things had gone so badly wrong for the British. So during the Battle of Britain Churchill instead did what he did best, he focused on keeping morale in the country up and basically staying out the RAF’s way.

Also it is difficult to avoid the topic of Churchill and not bring up the matter of his drinking, because he was a seriously heavy drinker. Now yes, it is true people drank more in those days that we do these days. And being Irish, me giving out about someone else’s drinking is bit of pot calling the kettle black. But he’d drink me under the table and probably a room full of my fellow Irish too. He’d have a bottle of champagne with his breakfast, beers with his lunch (not sure if that should be “with” his lunch or “for” lunch), and the best part of a bottle of Cognac in the evening, with several Whiskey and soda chasers throughout the day.

Do the maths and that’s at least ten times the recommended daily limit. If I drank that much in one day, I’d need a week’s detox to recover, nevermind doing it every day. They must have had an entire brewery going just to keep Churchill well oiled. Of course this means Churchill likely spent much of the war in a constant state of inebriation. I always thought his slurred speech was a speech impediment, but its more likely that its because he was permanently shitfaced. Which means that his infamous “fight them on the beaches” speech was basically a drunk roaring into a microphone for ten minutes. How very British.

So why did the British really win?

Well, as noted the British were better organised than the Germans. While radar wasn’t a huge secret, the British used it to good effect. They used home advantage, ensuring any pilots shot down were quickly picked up. Any RAF plane that got shot up, so long as the pilot could make it back down, the airfields had a pretty good system in place for repairing battle damaged planes and getting them airborne again pretty quickly, generally (according to my relative) within 24 hrs or less. By contrast German fighters faced a perilous journey back across the channel. And if they made it (and many of them didn’t), they could be waiting several days for spare parts to show up.

And while the nazi’s considered women to be little more than breeding machines for the master race, the British recruited many women (including the current Queen) into a wide variety of roles, land girls, the RAF wren’s, factory workers and transfer pilots (who flew planes from the factory to the airfield). This meant that the Germans neglected 50% of their work force.

So how is it that the Germans were so un-Germanic in their organisation? That was largely the fault of certain fat Prussian meat ball by the name of Goering, proof of everything that is wrong with the German diet. The only way he was going to kill a British airman was by falling on him. I have my own personal theory that Hitler became a vegetarian not long after meeting Goering for the first time. Suffice to say that even when Churchill was laying on his office floor nursing an empty bottle of Cognac he was still doing a better job than Goering was doing awake and sober.

First of all, you’ll recall what I said about the limited range of German fighters. They only had a range of about 700 miles, while a range closer to 1,000 miles (which the spitfire and hurricane’s had) is more appropriate for a cross channel battle. This meant that the German fighters had only a few minutes of combat time over England before they had to turn around and head for home. And they’d have been constantly watching the fuel gauge. And inevitably if the pilot miscalculated, they’d end up in the Channel. And as it was Goering and his air staff who specified the range for those fighters, when they were ordered them one has to wonder why they didn’t consider ordering a fighter with a longer range.

Also many German aircraft were just not up to the task. The attacks on radar stations was handled by Stuka’s, an excellent attack aircraft….so long as the enemy doesn’t have an airforce! The RAF inflicted dreadful losses on the Stuka’s, forcing them to be withdrawn. The Germans did have one long range fighter, the twin engined BF 110. However it had all the grace and manoeuvrability of a large brick. In the end they would suffer the indignity of needing single engined BF 109’s to escort them.

And Goering interfered with the tactics his pilots would like to adopt. Their preferred tactic was to try and catch the British fighters as they were climbing, ideally ambushing them by diving out of the sun. However Goering insisted they stick close to the bombers. Doubly disastrous given the range issues they were faced with.

Its worth noting that when the Allies were fighting for air superiority over Germany they were very quick to realise that needed to hit the German fighter forces while they were still climbing, or even still on the ground. Famously, when American General Doolittle arrived in the UK, on a tour of a base he noticed a sign saying the fighter squadron’s job was to protect the bombers. He ordered the sign taken down and made a new one which said the fighter’s job was to destroy the Luftwaffe.

In short he was saying to his pilots that this wasn’t an aerial jousting match between gentlemen, it was a dirty mean back alley brawl. He was telling his fighter pilots to use every underhand below the belt bastard trick they could think of, such as (as noted) jumping enemy fighters while they were on the ground or still climbing, following wounded fighters back to base and shooting them up as they landed. Or, as the British did during the battle of Britain, shooting down rescue planes as they picked up German pilots in the channel, even thought they had red cross symbols on them (which was against the Geneva convention).

Despite it all, the Germans were gradually wearing the British down with attacks on RAF airfields, by the end of August they were perilously close to succeeding. However, at this point they changed tactics and began focusing attacks on UK cities. There is debate about why Hitler ordered this change in tactics. Some argue that the German attacks on the airfield simply weren’t being effective and they Hitler sought to win through shock and awe tactics. Others content that he was angered by attacks by the RAF against Berlin.

However, what is often forgotten is that the Battle of Britain (or Operation Sealion to the Germans) was a two phase operation. Phase one was to win air superiority over the channel. Phase two was for the German army, with the aid of the Navy, to cross the channel and invade England. Now while the general consensus is that had the Germans stuck to their guns they should have been able to complete phase one. However, a cross channel invasion is a different matter entirely. Many German generals thought it was a silly idea and openly predicted disaster. Amphibious assault is one of the most difficult of all military manoeuvres to pull off. Recall what I said about 10% casualties being bad and 25% being a disaster. With an amphibious assault if you “only” lose 20% and achieve your objectives, that’s considered a success.

For the D-Day invasion the allies assembled a vast armada of nearly 2,000 ships, with lots of special equipment such as landing craft of various types, swimming tanks, obstacle demolition equipment, even a pair of portable harbours and a self assembly oil pipeline. The Germans in 1940 had only a few hundred leaky canal barges that they’d robbed off the French. So throughout the air war there had been quiet lobbying by some generals for the whole operation to be called off. Because even if the Luftwaffe could win (and few had confidence in Goering’s ability to do that), it won’t matter, an invasion in 1940 was impossible, they’d need time to prepare. So in that context, this change in German tactics doesn’t quite seem so crazy. And recall that the allies were also bombing cities, so nobody can really claim moral superiority at this point.

Of course the picture that emerges from a more realistic appraisal of the battle of Britain is very different. It portrays how the British only ended up in this mess because of past military failings and amateurist political dithering. That they were aided by allies and friends from abroad. And that had they done a brexit and gone it alone, they would have likely lost pretty quickly. That if any “boffins” and their secrets were responsible for victory, it was probably Polish immigrants rather than the engineers behind the spitfire. And it shows the allies as being a good deal more brutal and underhand than they’d like to think, and the British won largely because they were willing to fight a dirty war.

The dangers of Trump on Korea

173742

Prior to getting caught by his lies as regards protesters at Charlotteville, and thus being exposed as the racist that he is, Trump was busy trolling the North Koreans. Which isn’t so much a case of waving a red rag at a bull, its walloping the bull across the nose and then calling it gay. Its worth reviewing the situation here, as it reveals the dangers present in having the likes of Trump in the White House.

Firstly its worth looking back at North Korea’s history, or more precisely the North Korean propagandists version of its history. They say, we didn’t start the Korean war, nobody knows which side started it. The controversy over who started this war is only a controversy in North Korea. All other sources agree that it started after Kim Il-Sung, acting under orders from Stalin, sent his armies north.

Stalin calculated that he could achieve a quick and easy victory here and score first blood in the cold war. The regime of Syngman Rhee was not popularly supported, given that he was every bit as brutal as the regime up the north (if not worse). Also there weren’t that many American troops in the South prior to the start of the war because Rhee and the Americans didn’t trust each other. Incidentally, the North Koreans also try to claim that the Rhee & the US were planning to hand Korea back to Japan. The idea that Rhee, who had been implicated in plots to kill the Japanese royal family, would go along with that is obviously absurd.

So by all accounts it looked like a slam dunk, all Kim needed to do was kick down the door and the whole rotten mess would collapse before the US could do anything. There’s an old military saying that all plans survive until first contact with the enemy and this was very true in Korea. Firstly, the South Koreans by and large resisted (they disliked Rhee, but they disliked the Communists even more), costing the NK army valuable time. Secondly, the Americans pulled off an amazing feat of logistics, moving troops first into the path of the NK army to halt its advance, then undertaking a sea borne invasion deep behind enemy lines.

Thirdly, seeing the UN as just League of Nations 2.0 (a talking shop where nations left passive aggressive notes on the fridge for one another), Stalin underestimated the blow back he’d get as a result. The Russians were at the time boycotting the UN (over issues related to Berlin and Taiwan) and thus were unable to prevent the US getting a resolution passed which authorised military force against North Korea.

Now while this UN resolution was clearly taking liberties with the UN, equally it was a corner Stalin had painted himself into. If there’s one positive we can draw out from the Korean war (there ain’t many), it was how countries started to take the UN a little more seriously afterwards. Either way, this put Stalin in a tight spot, as he couldn’t directly assist North Korea, as that would be going against a resolution from the UN (which Russia had helped to found). So as the NK army was routed in the South and forced to retreat, Russia was forced to rely on the Chinese to repel the Americans.

This is perhaps the tragedy of the Korean war, it amounted to two superpower blocks basically blasting the crap out of each other and the Koreans, both north and south, getting caught up in the cross fire. Its a bit like one of those movie scenes where the two protagonists getting into a gun fight in someone else’s home/place of business and basically thrash the place, then move on and leave him to clean up the mess (if he’s still alive).

If North Korea has a motto, it would have to be “with friends like ours, who needs enemies”. Its “allies” have repeatedly screwed the country over, so it probably explains North Korea’s isolationist policy of Juche. The trouble is, that Juche doesn’t work. Consider that prior to them adopting this policy, back in the late 1970’s the North Korea economy wasn’t in that bad a shape, there GDP was significantly higher than in neighbouring China and not that far behind South Korea. Since then the Chinese economy has grown eight fold while the North Korean economy has contracted (with a slight recovery in recent years). North Korea has gone from a net food exporter with good modern farming methods, to one which can’t feed itself and is dependant on welfare from abroad. It merely serves as a poster for everything that is wrong with isolationist economics of the sort Trump or the brexiters peddle.

The other major policy of North Korea is what CIA agents refer to as the crazy gang” gambit, often expressed using the acronym CFC for Crazy, Fearsome and Crippled. The logic is that nobody will attack them because, while there is little doubt the NK army can be defeated, the cost of that victory will be high and the winner will face the enormous costs of essentially rebuilding the country from scratch.

However there is a fatal flaw in this combination of Juche and CFC. It means the North Koreans, have to be constantly playing brinkmanship with their neighbours. THey need to do this for reasons of domestic politics and to ensure that the supplies that China sends that keeps the regime going continue to roll in. And they must be careful not to be seen to back down as that could leave the regime vulnerable on the domestic front. The trouble is that this is simply not a long term sustainable strategy as it requires everyone else to be the grown ups and naturally with Trump, that’s unlikely to be the case.

Also the danger with Trump is he might intentionally try to start a war with North Korea to distract from domestic politics (his impending impeachment for example). However, as I discussed in a prior post, this could escalate very quickly and end very badly. The Republican’s concept that they can safely leave Trump in charge and then quietly knife him at a time when it is convenient for them to do so is simply not a sensible strategy.

Local election autopsy

download

With the local election results in, they make for grim reading for labour. They lost several mayoral election and 382 council seats. Should anyone doubt the disaster Corbyn is leading the party into, well here’s the evidence. Indeed you could tell it was bad by the fact that even before the counting had even started labour was already making excuses and had essentially already conceded defeat.

Firstly, the good news, UKIP were more or less wiped out, losing all but one of their seats. This to be honest isn’t that surprising, given that the Tories have spent the last few years turning themselves into UKIP. Voting for UKIP was always a protest, hence why they tended to do well in local elections or EU elections with low turn outs. However, once people had a UKIP councillor and realised what a total nob they’d voted for, they are forced to confront the fact that they voted for local government paralysis. The end result was they were always going to do badly in any election where people spent any longer than 5 seconds deciding who to vote for.

C_GDtC9XcAQh61Q.jpg

Also it should be remembered that the far right parties in the UK (and the rest of Europe) do go through this cycle of doing well, then fighting with each other, imploding, only for another head of the hydra to rise up. Many UKIP members, including Farage himself are ex-members of the National Front or the BNP. So I fear rumours of the far right’s death in the UK are greatly exaggerated. Even if UKIP do now implode, I won’t be surprised if another racist party comes along to take their place, with basically the same people in it.

But back to labour, let us look at four areas, in Glasgow they lost control of the council to the SNP (thanks to a strong swing away from them towards the Tories), in Methyr a similar thing happened, and they lost two Mayoral elections in Teeside and the West Midlands.

Labour losing in Glasgow to the Tories? WTF! Seriously! This is the sort of town where even the Unionists don’t vote Tory. I recall a past EU parliament election where the Tories got just 2,500 votes. By law of averages, half of those were probably spoilt ballot papers. And most of the locals would see that many Tory votes as a reason to form an angry mob and hunt these Tory bastards down and run them out of town. When Thatcher died there was actually a party held in George’s square. Well under Corbyn, labour are now losing elections in Glasgow.

And they also lost control of Methyr Tydfil, the constituency of the labour party’s founder, down in the Welsh valleys. This area was devastated by the miners strike, so if you want to die quickly, go into a bar in Methyr and say something positive about Thatcher. I used to live down the valley from here and one of the reasons why they had to burn Thatcher rather than bury her, was because many of the miners in this part of the world were threatening to go and dance on her grave (or piss on her grave). So they’d have needed to build a dance hall and public toilet on her grave site! But labour now can’t defend seats in a place like this.

However, it is Teeside and the West Midlands that have me most worried. Here labour lost Mayoral elections they should have easily won. Both these areas saw a strong leave vote in the EU referendum (not everywhere, but in certain parts) and Corbyn’s whole justification for his brexit strategy is to keep voters in districts like this on side. And, much as I’ve been warning for some time now, its a strategy that has comprehensively failed. Labour support has gone down, not up. There was a swing in these districts towards the lib dems too (remainers turned off by Corbyn’s pro-leave rhetoric), although they didn’t win that many seats (overall they lost seats thanks to the strong swing to the Tories).

For those unfamiliar with Teeside or the West Midlands, these areas include a large number of people who I would describe as “working class social conservatives”. These are the sort of people who don’t like change, who are insular and suspicious of foreigners, go to church regularly and by and large they don’t really buy into the labour party’s socialist leanings, yet they still vote labour. They do so because they have bitter memories of the unholy mess Thatcher inflicted on them. The West Midlands is fairly multicultural, with a wide variety of ethnic groups, Irish, Nigerian, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. Again, quite a lot of these would be regular church (or Mosque) attenders, they tend to be socially conservative, but they have also historically voted labour. And they do so because they are well aware of the racist undercurrents within the Tory party. The Tories might think that when they dog whistle with a nod and a wink nobody except their racists allies hear them. Well I’m afraid we all hear it. Hence why large blocks of people in the UK have historically voted labour, even those whom you would otherwise put in the “conservative” camp.

So what worries me, is that I would see these results as a sign that these communities, faced with the choice between UKIP-lite and a hard left Corbyn, are opting for the Tories. As they see it the choice is to be either shot by Corbyn’s red brigades or poisoned by May’s hard brexit. And they are opting for the poison, after all maybe they can find a cure to that later. And it is in districts like this, but with a stronger Tory base, where the general election will be fought. In short if labour is losing in these four districts in the local elections, areas where historically they won’t even need to bother campaigning, well what chance do they stand in other areas where support for them is historically only marginal?

And the response from Corbyn and his supporters? To make excuses and blame everything and everybody, the voters for a low turn out (actually a low turn out tends to benefit the smaller parties, not the bigger parties or the governing party), the Tories, the lib dems, even accusing his own party of disloyalty. Much as a bad tradesman blames his tools a bad leader blames his rotten luck and his own staff for his failings. A truly awful boss blames his customers (or voters). Is it fair the Tories are holding an election now? No, but in warfare you rarely get to chose the time and place of battle, fate or the enemy chooses it for you. Politics is much the same.

C943oK7XsAAdzQo

And if staff are disloyal, well that does kind of suggests you ain’t very good at the job of being a leader. Only a bad leader spends all his days accusing his staff of disloyalty. As I’ve pointed out before its not Corbyn’s left wing views that are the issue. Most labour MP’s are not secret Blairites, Tories in all but name, with Thatcher tee-shirts under their suits (as Corbyn would have you believe). I’ve met MP’s before and most are actually fairly left wing, maybe not as left wing as Corbyn, but certainly more to the left than your average person. What puts them off Corbyn is that they see him as unelectable and utterly clueless when it comes to running a political party.

Case in point, the tale of lieutenant Sobel. He was the drill instructor who took easy company (of band of Brothers fame) through basic training. By all accounts he was tough on his trainees and drill them rigorously. Many veterans credit him with preparing them well for combat in Normandy. However, he was hopeless as a field commander. During training exercises in England, he got his men lost, marched the company into an obvious ambush and worse still he refused to listen to advice from others (a bit like Corbyn). As a result, on the eve of D-day, all of his NCO’s simultaneously resigned and requested transfers (again a bit like the labour party under Corbyn!). The Army promptly replaced him. Which might seem harsh, but if a leader is looking over his shoulder and questioning his men’s loyalty and the troops are starting to question his orders, before they’ve even made contact with the enemy, the worse thing you could do is send them into combat. That would be leading lambs to the slaughter.

And its kind of the same with labour. Corbyn has some excellent qualities. He’s a good orator and he’s good at calling out the Tories lies and hypocrisy. If I wanted to organise a protest, he’s the person to call. But he’s not a leader. While it might seem crazy for labour to change leader so close to an election, the truth is labour is doing badly because they don’t have a leader and haven’t had one for nearly a year.

In short labour faces a choice between two unpleasant, but distinctly different post-election scenarios. One where Corbyn remains leader, leads the party to its worse defeat in living memory and the Tories win with a landslide that exceeds Tony Blair. He then refuses to go and leads labour into political annihilation and obscurity, probably sinking left wing politics in the UK for a generation. Or he resigns, the party deputy leader takes over, they get a poll bounce and while I doubt they could win, they might just cut down that Tory majority. And that’s crucial because the smaller the Tory majority, the more leeway labour has to prevent a hard far right brexit.