Local election autopsy

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ban this filth: The Daily Fail v’s Youtube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s next war

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

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

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

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

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

Syria/Iraq

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

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

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

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

Iran

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

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

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

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

North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South China Sea

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

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

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

Estonia and the Baltic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing on midnight

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

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

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

Trumpmagedon – one minute to midnight

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Recently Trump has made some rather insane foreign policy boasts, that have to say the least terrified many. A group of 50 or so national security experts (quite a few of them Republican war hawk types) have declared Trump as unfit for office. It is worth looking into this, as it demonstrates not only that they may have a point, but how he would likely achieve the opposite result of what his supporters claim.

Disowning NATO

Trump has talked about abandoning long standing commitments to fellow NATO members. This is worrying given his prior statements in which he claims to admire Putin. Not to mention links between his campaign and Putin. As if to make matters worse, his daughter was recently snapped holidaying with Putin’s girlfriend. So one is forced to wonder if Trump is some sort of Manchurian candidate for Putin….and in which gulag does the moron who set this one up currently reside!

But seriously, what would be the consequences of this? We’ll already EU leaders are talking about a European Army. Now there’s numerous obstacles to this (e.g. nations like Ireland and Sweden who are neutral and non-NATO members), so my guess is that this is more of a hedge against a possible collapse of NATO thanks to Brexit and/or Trump. Although it does serve to prove a point I made sometime ago, that Brexit threatens the future of NATO.

A NATO without the Americans could hold its own against Russia. The combined NATO forces outnumber the Russians in several key areas (notably fighter aircraft, Russia has barely a hundred of the latest 4.5 generation fighters, the European arm of NATO has thousands of them!). However, the Europeans would need to pull back in many other key sectors of the world, i.e. the Americans would lose the contribution of NATO allies, they would lose access to strategic European airbases and ports, dramatically undermining America’s ability to defend itself.

Also in a NATO sans-America and the UK, only France has nuclear weapons and they have only a relatively small arsenal which is concentrated in sub’s. My guess is that there would probably be a review of this policy. Other NATO countries may end up developing their own arsenals, or are given nuke’s by the French, some of those mounted on other platforms (cruise missiles, aircraft, SRBM’s, etc.).

What Trump doesn’t get about nukes

Of course this would be very destabilising to the world, we’d be basically reversing several decades of nuclear arms limitation treaties. And to make matters worse, Trump has shown a complete lack of understanding of how nuclear weapons policy works. He’s threatened to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear armed states, like Assad or ISIS or the Iranians.

Obviously the consequences of this would be many other states (not just in Europe) would go away and either develop their own nuclear weapons, or they would do a deal with an existing nuclear power (Pakistan, China, Russia, etc.) to station nuclear weapons in their country. The end consequence of threatening Iran could be a Russian (or Chinese or Pakistani) nuclear weapons base in Iran, with Israel now only a few minutes flying time away from those missiles. Hardly progress!

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Iran and Russia are on friendly terms, it is inevitable that the Russians will get involved if their ally is threatened

Note that while Israel has nuclear weapons of its own, they are more of a national suicide weapon, a last ditch means of stopping the country being overrun. They can not be launched quickly enough to counter a threat like this and would likely be destroyed on the ground by such a strike before they could be made ready for launch (some Israeli bloggers claim their missiles are buried so deep they can’t be destroyed, this is unlikely as its virtually impossible to defend against a direct hit from a nuclear weapon, and in any event the missiles would end up being buried or entombed by a strike. Also, storing them that deep merely slows down the launch process, making it more likely they’ll be caught on the ground). Israel’s missile defence system would also struggle to deal with the likes of anti-ABM missiles like the Russian Topol-M or similar missiles the Chinese are adding to their arsenal as we speak.

In short, Trump threatening Iran could make Israel very vulnerable and it could destabilise the entire region (as Iran’s enemies in the region would look to develop their own arsenals of WMD’s….some of which would also be pointed at Israel!). And Trump’s dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric would likely promote the Arab states who are friendly to the US at the moment, to throw in their lot with another global power (and sell their oil to them instead….and buy their military hardware….hope none of Trump’s supporters work in the US defence industry!).

What Trump doesn’t get is that a world with more nuclear weapons in the hands of more countries, many of them forward deployed and in the hands of forces in a constant state of high readiness creates a very dangerous situation. The very sort of scenario 50 years of detente has been focused on avoiding. In such a world the possibility of war starting is higher (either through accident or an escalation of tensions). And the time governments will have to decide on a retaliatory strike will be increasingly short.

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During the cold war both sides kept planes in the air and submarines at sea 24/7, creating a very dangerous situation, pictured is Operation Chrome Dome’s flight patterns

If Russia and China were to start patrolling their subs off the US Eastern seaboard for example (which they will do if provoked by Trump), Washington will have about 5 minutes warning in which to decide whether or not to launch a counter strike. NATO SRBM’s in the Baltic states would reach Moscow in about the same time frame. Again the whole point of nuclear weapons treaties signed over the last few decades have been to avoid this sort of scenario, where rival leaders might have to make a quick and hasty decision.

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Throughout the cold war it was the deployment of Short range missiles like these US Pershing missiles that proved most destabilising. 

Consider for example, the infamous Norwegian rocket incident, back in 1995, in which a sounding rocket launched off the Norwegian coast was mistaken for a US trident launch against Moscow. Yelstin’s nuclear briefcase actually activated, although fortunately as US/Russian relations were very good at the time, it was correctly concluded that it couldn’t be a real attack. Can you imagine what would happen if the same thing happened with Trump in charge?

So Trump is not only dangerously unqualified to be a national leader, his actions could well destroy America’s post-world war standing in the world. And the world that would emerge would be a very dangerous place….if indeed there is a post-Trump world.

News roundup

The 2nd longest suicide note in history

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The Republican national convention is currently kicking off and things aren’t off to a great start. The cops are calling for the state’s open carry law to be suspended (after recent police shootings they’ve come to realise that the solution to a bad guy with a gun is and making sure he’s not armed, and not hiding in a crowd of 100 other armed nutters). And with the cult of Trump in town and lots of angry anti-Trump protesters, trouble is all but guaranteed.

Many leading republicans are skipping the convention (and probably with all the guns are very glad to do so!) as they want to stay well away from the train wreck otherwise known as Trump. As a result the roster of speakers at the convention is a little thin, even Trump’s wife and daughter is having to speak, oh and the boss of the Trump winery (presumably to help push Trump’s merchandise). About the only senior republicans speaking are Paul Ryan (who has to speak, someone from congress had to show up and he drew the short straw), Chris Christie (aka, Trump’s official sidekick) and Newt Gingrich (Trump’s wannabe sidekick).

Meanwhile the policy agenda that will be endorsed at the convention includes a number of extremely conservative positions. For example porn is labelled a “public health crisis, they want to crack down of gays, introduce “gay conversion therapy” (I don’t know either, maybe get them to watch porn…oh no wait didn’t we just ban that?), banning abortion, etc. They’ve even managed to piss off the ADL. Although to be fair, as Israel is not a US state and both Trump and his supporters are clueless to anything outside the US, it would have to be pointed out to them on a map.

The GOP has avoided including such toxic policies in the past, because they know they would never get through congress (even some Republicans would vote against them!) and even then they would likely be struck down by the the Supreme court. All you’re doing is loading a gun with ammo for the democrats to blast away at them with for the next four months. Trump’s manifesto could well go down as the 2nd longest political suicide note in history.

Already comparisons are being drawn to the disastrous convention of 1992. Back then the GOP had spent several years trying to woo white evangelicals such as Jerry Farwell’s “moral majority” into the big GOP tent. Up till then many christian conservatives had not voted because the party of Lincoln was after all the party that freed the slaves, while the democrats had decided that minorities had all sorts of “rights” and you couldn’t like lynch em or burn crosses on their lawns no more (bloody liberals!).

Anyway this plan backfired with the Christian conservatives effectively hijacking the GOP policy committee and forced it to adopt various right wing policies, not unlike those Trump is now endorsing. This appalled many moderate Republicans, who took the view that the GOP was supposed to be the party of small government, not the party that advocates an authoritarian state that dictates what people do in the privacy of their own homes.

Consequently G. W. Bush, whose campaign was already behind due to a struggling economy, was from this point on all but guaranteed to lose to rank outsider Bill Clinton (whom most people had never heard of at the time). And lose by a significant margin he did, becoming one of the few US presidents in recent times not to win a 2nd term in office.

And to make matters worse for the GOP, the fall out from the convention led to a resurgence in support towards the third party campaign of Ross Perot’s. Now while this took as many votes away from Clinton as it did Bush, the fallout carried over into the 1996 election, where again Perot ran on a ticket appealing to small government moderate Republicans, the people edged out or booed off stage in the 1992 convention. And again, he cost the GOP precious votes all but guaranteeing Clinton a 2nd term.

So while this will be an awful sickening coronation of Trump, it also could well be a funeral of sorts for any hope of the Republicans winning diddly squat for a good few years.

Police shootings
Recent police shootings in America are cause for concern, although statistics do suggest that the overall situation isn’t quite as bad as might be thought. Cop killings have been steadily falling for sometime now.

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However, certainly the toxic atmosphere of recent months means that the police forces in America are loosing public support. It is argued that the police are only police because we the public consent to them their authority to uphold the law. If this consent is withdrawn, well they ain’t much more than a rent-a-cop mall guard. And should any cops be wondering how to tell if you’ve lost the support of the community, well when they start shooting you just for being cops, that’s probably it!

But getting shot at is only the start. And to be honest tighter gun control would solve that problem. Its the inability for police to do their job that’s the danger. If the public don’t trust the police, they won’t rely on them in a crisis, they’ll turn to someone else, likely the local Mr Big. The rise of the Mafia in America, first the Irish mob, then the Italian mob, was borne out of the fact that these immigrant communities did not trust the cops. History is in effect repeating itself.

Trident vote

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The UK is voting on Trident renewal. The Tories have been accused of only holding it now to help destabilise the labour party. And the price tag? A snip at £205 billion, or to put it in Brexit bus terms that’s £569 million a month for the next 30 years.

However, I cannot help but notice that if the vote were being held north of the border, the result would be very difference. Only one MP is planning on vote for Trident, (David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland), all the rest are either abstaining or voting against it. Is this because the missiles are based in Scotland, while the armchair chicken hawks chatter about it in Westminster, or is it because Scot’s can add and subtract and realise its a complete waste of money?

Indy Ref2 next year?
Theresa May met with Nicola Sturgeon last week to discuss the consequences of Brexit and the possiblity of a further referendum (on the EU or Scottish independence). I assume it didn’t go so well, because within hours of it ending we were hearing murmurings of a possible 2nd Scottish independence referendum in early 2017.

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Let us be clear about what is going on here. Yes the SNP want Scottish independence, but unlike Cameron they aren’t morons. Yes, the polls do show that the ground has shifted, with several polls now showing a clear (but sometimes narrow) lead for independence. But you can never guarantee anything leading into a referendum, not unless you are well ahead (and recall remain had a ten point lead at the start of the EU referendum). It would make sense for the SNP to wait as long as possible before calling a referendum. And they also realise that they have to explore every possible alternative before committing to one.

On the other hand, the Tories attempt to stonewall the Scot’s is making it very easy for the SNP. The Tories are trying to ignore this shift in the polls, ignoring the very narrow majority in the EU referendum, not to mention the fact that only 37% of the electorate actually voted for Brexit and many millions (EU citizens and British citizens abroad) were denied the right to vote, as were students not at their term time addresses. And of course an overwhelming proportion of Scot’s voted against leaving the EU.

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Of course there’s an obvious horse trade here. The Tories allow the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies some input to the terms of Brexit. And furthermore, a requirement it is ratified either by all four parliaments, or via another referendum. However, the Tories seem to be ignoring this, same way they are ignoring the fact that the EU referendum result is not legally binding and that they may face obstacles getting it through Westminster. As a result the same Tory arrogance that led them into the first inde-ref (and the EU referendum) could well be their undoing this time around.

Vote leave bus rebranded by Greenpeace
Greenpeace have somehow managed to get their hands on the infamous Brexit bus with all of the misleading slogans on it. I was surprised by this, as I assumed that, like the Edstone, it would have been destroyed….ritually burned….presumably with Gove still inside!

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Anyway, it would appear Greenpeace plan to “correct” the messages on it and drive around with it as a “vehicle for truth”.

The Tories thought that they could tell a few lies to the public, so that Boris could get to be PM, but what harm could it do, I mean who remembers politician’s promises? I mean remember when that Clegg fellow made that promise to students about fees, why they forgot about that within a week. No way this £350 million claim will come back to haunt them, next election, would it?….ah no!

The Brexit camp have created a enormous level of distrust by their actions. And yes, this £350 million claim did sway voters, and yes they expect it to be honoured, I had a conversation with someone who repeated the claim a few days ago (he seemed to think taxes were about to go down after Boris told em we’ll not be paying the £350 million anymore). Couple that with the fact that there will be little if any change to immigration rules and you could argue the Tories have made life very tough for themselves. Ironically there are worries for the future of NHS funding post-Brexit.

And if there is another indy-ref next year and project fear is resurrected, what’s the bet that the SNP counter is, these are the same people who told us we could save £350 million a week by leaving the EU. If you could write anything on the Tories party’s tombstone (well aside from ding dong the witch is dead!) it would be this £350 million a week claim.

Mrs Fracking
There are growing concerns about the axing of the DECC, which I discussed in a prior post. But worse the decision to hand over part of its responsibilities to Andrea “Fruitcake” Landsom has been called into question. She’s a pro-Fracking, climate Skeptic known for her extreme views. I could argue that its putting the fox in charge of the hen house, but actually she’d shoot the fox (she’s pro-fox hunting) and burn down the hen house to save it. She’s also on record as arguing against farm subsidies, which is obviously very worrying for farmers, who are already anxious over the consequences of Brexit.

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I mean Tim Peake got back from Space, learnt about Brexit, Trump and all that’s happened since he left and tried to rush back into the capsule (okay, not quite!).

When you ignore the lessons of history…

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The election of a Green as president in Austria was soured by the high number of votes going to the far right.

While it seems that Austria has pulled back from the brink of electing a fascist as president. But hat nearly half the population were willing to do so is deeply disturbing. Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

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And for those who argue that the Austrian Freedom party are now mainstream, no fascists here, well what are they doing going around with blue Cornflowers on their lapels? For those not in the know, this was the symbol used by Austrian nazi party when they were banned between 1934 and 1938 (after trying to overthrow the government and murdering the Prime Minster). Hofer could not send out a stronger signal as to his views, short of dressing up in an SS uniform….only that would get him arrested!

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It would be a convenient time for many to go and watch Lawrence Ree’s excellent BBC series the Nazi’s a warning from history and its follow up “Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution”. For there are many trends from the rise of the nazi’s that we see playing out again, both sides of the Atlantic.

Firstly the fact that Hitler was helped into power by those on the right (this is in fact the title of Ree’s first episode). Trump, and many European far right leaders, faced significant opposition from those on the centre right establishment initially, only for them to both become allies in the end. Well the same was true of Hitler. While in the history books we remember him for his fiery speeches. But when necessary he could tone things down, put on a suit and play the moderate deal maker. This was how he was able to worm his way into power.

Secondly, there is this myth of history that the nazi’s ceased power in an undemocratic way. Certainly once in power they began to abuse it and ignored or removed the checks and balances designed to limit or stop them destroying democracy. But the sad fact is that he was elected with 33% of the votes on a 80% turn out (this was the election just before the Reichstag fire). This means he had a mandate from 26% of the population, as compared to the recent Tory election “victory” of 2015 where they got 37% of the votes, with a turn out of 66% (i.e. a mandate from just 25% of the electorate). In subsequent elections the nazi’s achieved just short of a majority (although obviously one must doubt how honest such elections were). Even so the disturbing fact is is that Hitler won a larger mandate from the German electorate than David Cameron.

So while yes Hitler did abuse power, this would never have happened if it weren’t for millions of Germans buying into his racist rhetoric and voting for him. Of course the parties of the left in Germany at the time warned that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But no we were assured, he’s only “talking tough” and “telling it like it is”. He has to say these things to appeal to the common voter. When he says he wants to ban all Muslims Jews he doesn’t actually mean that. The real enemy is bearded lefties like Corbyn who….might tax us a little bit more to help pay for the NHS (shock horror!)…and may have said something bad about Israel’s policy in the West bank.

And as Ree’s series describes, support for the nazi’s remained strong throughout Germany (Chaos and Consent), with many millions actively collaborating with the nazi’s (ratting out neighbours, turning in Jews, etc.), right up until the middle of the war (when it was obvious what madness they’d signed up too, but it was a little late then!). And crucially, as Ree’s 2nd series points out, it would be incorrect for us to lump the entire blame for nazi crimes on the Germans alone – many other nationalist groups in neighbouring countries supported them.

The Austrians, as noted, had their own nazi parties (yes they had more than one!). And they didn’t exactly put up much of a fight when the nazi’s took the country over (they were just as fascist already, it was more a dispute over whether they wanted to be Austrian nazi’s or German ones). Indeed, many became enthusiastic supporters of the reich (Hitler after all was Austrian, not German). I recall someone once pointing out to me that of all the countries that needed laws banning fascism it was Austria. This week’s result suggests those laws need strengthening.

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One can draw many similarities between current neo-fascists and similar parties that supported the nazi’s and collaborated in the holocaust.

In Hungary during the war the Arrow Cross, of which Jobbik is the natural successor, seized control and then allied with the nazi’s and fought alongside them. Many of the Jews and Gypsies who died in Auschwitz came from Hungary, rounded up and deported there by Hungarian fascists. The Poles too, even thought they had been invaded by Germany and many did resist the invaders, but some Poles did collaborate with the nazi round up of Jews and other minorities. Some played an active role in the Holocaust itself, as also happened in a number of the Baltic states.

Perhaps the worst offenders however were the Slovak’s. Not only did they hand over all of the Jews, but they actually ended up PAYING the nazi’s to take them away (yes really!). And of course there were plenty of people in countries like France (friends of Le Pen one assumes) or Norway who also collaborated with the nazi’s. Many tens of thousands from these countries actually joined the SS and fought on the Eastern front.

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Oh, and speaking of collaborators there’s another twist to these neo-fascist movements. Many are allied with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, either being formal allies, admirers of Putin (such as Trump or Farage) or are openly taking money from Moscow. Yes, all these ultra-nationalist marching around, waving flags, proclaiming how they are proud to be French, British, Hungarian and how they reject outside influence, yet they are essentially stooges of the Kremlin!

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Le Pen meets her bosses, how very patriotic!

So clearly what recent events show is that we have a major problem with an undercurrent of fascism throughout Europe and America that needs to be challenged. And I stress America, for as this documentary from the Beeb shows there is growing far right problem in the US too (which with the combination of guns in the US I fear is almost certainly going to lead to trouble).

My guess is that about 33-20% in some countries subscribe to these views. They are then able to con enough of the remainder (generally those from the centre right) into supporting them, often by stoking fears about immigration or other lies about the parties of the left. This is one of the reasons why the lies of the leave camp in the UK are so worrying. Its critical therefore that something must be done.

And what must be done is not repeating the mistakes of the past, when politicians and business leaders got into bed with the fascists, seeing them as a better alternative to those on the left. Well they are not. When a politician comes along advocating mass deportations, turning the country into a police state, defaulting on the nation’s debts, abolishing unions and the minimum wage we have to take him at his word. Even if he flip flops on it the following week. Because history tells us we cannot take the chance that he means what he says.

Security theatre exposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly round up

The biggest scam in history

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tory tax dodge scuppered….for now!

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

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

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

The EU referendum rubble’s on

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

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

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

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

The EU vote and charities

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

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

When the Mosul Dam bursts…….

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

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

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

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

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

Debunking the Great Reagan myth

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

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

Myth #1 – Reagan brought down the Soviet Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aside – So why did the Soviet Union collapse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Figure 10: The US federal deficit soared under Reagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #4 – Americans were better off under Reagan

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

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

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Figure 12: Wages and purchasing power under different US presidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #6 – Reagan was a competent leader

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #7 – Reagan was a great communicator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church of the one true Ronald

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

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

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

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

Corybn on defense & media bias

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Converting a ballistic missile sub into a launcher for conventional cruise missiles is not a new idea

This week labour under Corybn were trying to float various policies to address what to do with the Trident submarines if they were disarmed of nuclear missiles. One option which they put forward was to simply send them out armed with conventional missiles, but without the nuclear warheads. Needless to say, the media quickly lambasted this, quickly digging up some disgruntled labour MP’s to ridicule it.

However, is this such a silly idea? A liberally leftie peacenik paper tiger? well no! And you mightn’t want to mention that to the crew of the USS Florida ….at least not while they are within missile range! They operate a SSGN, an ex-ballistic missile sub (which the Americans disarmed of nukes to comply with the latest START treaty) and loaded with cruise missiles carrying conventional warheads instead. The sub carries an incredible 154 cruise missiles, more than enough firepower to really spoil someone’s day.

A UK Vanguard or Trident replacement sub would have seven cruise missiles per VLS, giving a warload of 112 cruise missiles. A fleet of 4 of them could thus launch 448 missiles at an enemy within a very short time period. This would not only do a heck a lot of damage to the poor saps on the receiving end, but they would overwhelm enemy air defences, as even the best defended countries (such as the US, Russia or China) simply do not have the capability to deal with that many missiles simultaneously, particularly if the initial target is in fact those very air defences (this is exactly what the US has used its SSGN’s for in the recently). Needless to say, this would provide the Royal Navy with a formidable capability, one which would be much more useful than the current Trident fleet.

Its a concept known as an “arsenal ship. This was an idea floated by military theorists who questioned why you would want to use an aircraft carrier (which costs billions of dollars) and risk the lives of its crew (in the thousands) to attack a well defended target. Instead, they argued you could simply sail a less expensive ship crammed full of hundreds of missiles (e.g. even just a cargo ship, its holds filled with VLS tubes, operated by remote control) and have it unleash all of them one after the other and devastate the target, all for a fraction of the cost and without risking the life’s of sailors.

Needless to say, once the military took up to the idea, they made a few changes. Using sub’s would allow an “arsenal sub” to stealthy approach an enemy shore, which would increase its chances of survival and decrease the warning to the enemy of impending attack. And, as noted, they were planning to decommission the sub’s anyway, so its not as if it cost them a lot of money. And it ensured that the sub’s were still in service, should the Russians break the treaty and the US decided to re-arm them with nukes.

I would note that there was some opposition to this plan in the US Navy, notably from aircraft carrier and air force commanders, who obviously feared the submarine force were about to eat their lunch. So some opposition from certain sectors of the UK military would only be natural.

An alternative plan would be to re-arm the Trident missiles with conventional warheads. A Trident missile carries up to 14 MIRV’s which can be directed at separate targets within the same geographical area (so 224 targets per sub, in theory). Intercepting a ballistic missile is very difficult, only a handful of states can do this and they would struggle to cope with 14 in bound warheads, nor indeed multiple missiles launched at once (that’s sort of the whole point of MIRV’s!). So again, even with conventional warheads (keep in mind they’ll be travelling at hypersonic speed when they hit) a trident missile is really going to spoil your day. The downside is, that at $37 million a pop, its a bit of an expensive way to take out a couple of ISIS bunkers.

A more serious problem with all of this however, is the response from the UK’s nuclear rivals. The Russians see a load of trident missiles (or cruise missiles) pop out of the North Sea, they don’t know who is launching them, they don’t know what kind of warhead they carry (nuclear, conventional, chemical, a large lump of lead). Indeed they won’t even be sure initially what’s the target. They may well conclude the worst and commit to a nuclear retaliation (against NATO and the US). This is almost what happened in 1995 when the launch of a sounding rocket in Norway was mistake by the Russians for a trident nuclear missile strike on Moscow. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, but that mightn’t happen next time.

In short, a genuine criticism of Corybn’s plan is that he is proposing not so much unilateral nuclear disarmament, but to adopt a nuclear policy midway between Israel (who have nuclear weapons, but are not a declared nuclear power) and Japan (who have the technical capability to become a nuclear power within a very short time period, but have consciously chosen not to do so…unless threatened with nuclear blackmail). Whether the world, or indeed the UK’s NATO allies, would accept this is far from clear. Certainly there would have to be some negotiation and ultimately what policy the UK can then apply to these sub’s will be determined by the outcome of those talks.

So there are some real concerns regarding Corybn’s proposal. What is clear however, is that the media, even the BBC, were very quick to rush to judgement. It would seem that rather than asking some expert (e.g. Jane’s defence for example…headquarters in London), instead, they rang round the usual suspects of Tory-lite labour MP’s or right-wing leaning retired generals (the sort who still think we’re fighting the Germans) and rushed off to print with whatever sound-bite they got, rather than fact checking to see if it was true.

The media simply aren’t willing to give Corybn a fair trial. They will not allow him to air new ideas and seem determined to stoke up rebellion within the labour ranks.