Trump the African Dictator

We were warned by Trevor Noah, prior to the election, that Trump sounded a lot like an African dictator. Unfortunately, every day he and his regime are becoming ever more like one. The constant posturing for the sake of his ego, the lavish personal spending, the inability to accept criticism and of course the massive levels of corruption.

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Your tax dollars hard at work….

Trump promised to “drain the swamp” but instead, he’s done the opposite, with his cronies and family members increasingly using the assets of state for as their personal play things, be it to go shopping in Europe, holidays, or business trips abroad. The Secret service is at risk of going bankrupt given the huge bill its run up guarding Trump during his trips to Florida every weekend (where the state pays the cost of putting him up in his own hotel) or protecting and providing transport for his relatives on business trips to sign deals abroad, something that is in clear violation of the constitution.

Again, this is all reminiscent of the sort of corruption African autocrats are famous for. However, there is another aspect of African autocracies that Trump demonstrates – his supporters. African dictators maintain their hold on power through violence and intimidation of voters (which least we forget, Trump supporters also engaged in last election), but that only goes so far. A key feature of their rule is the fact that they have a core group of supporters, typically 20-33% of the population who will back them no matter what.

Make no mistake, the supporters of African dictators such as Mugabe or Obiang Nguema are well aware of the corruption and abuse of power that goes on. But they back such dictators regardless of this, because they are a member of the same tribe. Indeed, some even see a silver lining to such corruption as they expect the dictator to “share the cake. They look the other way to him embezzling billions in state funds in the hope that a few crumbs fall from the table which they can scoop up. Indeed, a candidate who actually ran on a promise to “drain the swamp” would probably lose votes.

And this is the role many in the Republican party have now fallen into. Many still back Trump not because they are unaware of the corruption allegations, or because they don’t understand just how serious his abuse of office is. Actually quite the opposite. The GOP is now a tribe, a cargo cult and they see it as necessary that they back their leader regardless of how bad he gets or how big a cliff he dives the country off.

This in of itself suggests that the conventional wisdom, that we must merely wait for investigations against Trump to conclude and see him impeached, or wait for the next election and see the GOP devastated in polls, might not work. If he’s this bad now and a hard core of the GOP are still backing up, its not going to be that straight forward to unseat him. And don’t expect future elections in the US to be free and fair.

Instead, we need to start treating Trump the same way that any African autocrat is treated if he is to be removed from power. And that means recognising that the checks and balances aren’t going to work. It means refusing to recognise his office and refusing to do business with any firm that does business with him or his companies (a list here, TK Maxx and Amazon being the key ones in the UK, along with Uber of course).

Indeed a boycott of US industry as a whole (encouraging firms to re-register themselves abroad and thus threatening a collapse in tax revenue) is really the only way forward. Its exactly how they brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

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The populist authoritarian tribe of the demagogue

I came across a piece by the Guardian encouraging its readers to break out of their bubbles and go read the views of those on distinctly republican websites, such as Reason or the American Conservative. While I appreciate the intent, the fact is there’s not much point. Regular readers of this blog will probably notice I occasionally reference these websites myself. The problem is that conservative voters don’t believe in conservatism anymore, Trump proves that.

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One could characterise republicanism as founded on four pillars – religious conservatism, a belief in small government, fiscal conservatism and strong on security. Trump breaks all of these rules. He’s a thrice married sex feint who thinks married women are fair game, fantasises about his own daughter and may have raped multiple women (or so they allege). There’s a big question mark over his religious beliefs, he is certainly not a regular attender at church. One could scarcely think of a worse choice if your a “values voter”.

As for small government, well he wants to impose trade tariffs which will basically jack up the price of many goods and services. By restricting immigration he’s basically dictating to American employers who they should hire. Keep in mind there aren’t many Mexicans in Ohio or the rust belt, they tend to congregate in the states where there are labour shortages. So if they leave or are forced out, who takes up their jobs? In short Trump is more of a central planner than either Obama or Bernie Sanders. As I discuss before, in relation to UKIP, anyone who even remotely considers themselves a libertarian or a believer in small government, you cannot be in favour of strict immigration controls. These two positions are simply incompatible. The American dream, that a migrant could come in and if he worked hard he could make something of himself, well that’s dead now.

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And as for cutting government debt, not only is that going to be abandoned under Trump, the only real question is how high does he push up America’s debt levels, some say $5 trillion, others say closer to $10 trillion, we’ll have to see. But certainly its baffling that any conservative, after all the stick they gave Obama over this issue, that they could then vote for Trump.

And as for security, well let’s just say Trump has a “unique” point of view. He’s clearly a Putin groupie, but the problem is that the US and Russia are rivals and its difficult to change that. Putin is currently installing nuclear missiles in Kallingrad, threatening not just NATO bases but US interests in the region. Putin’s allies include Iran, North Korea, China, Syria, Cuba, Pakistan and numerous others. In short, in almost any potential flash point Putin is either the likely enemy or the one supplying that enemy with weapons.

Historically republicans have believed in “firm diplomacy” of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. The idea, of the president going to Moscow and bowing before Putin and kissing his ass (which seems to be Trump’s plan) is about as far removed from a tradition GOP policy as you can get. I mean imagine if Reagan went to Berlin and instead of demanding that the Russians tear down this wall, instead he say’s actually that’s a very nice wall, can you put me in touch with the builder and does he do work in Arizona?

Campaigners pose on a 'United To Stop Trump' cardboard wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate to urge Americans living abroad to register and vote in Berlin

And already Trump is showing every sign of planning to ignore the constitution and use the presidency as a means of getting uncompetitive advantage and bully special favours from foreign governments to the benefit of his businesses, even thought that’s illegal. He’s showing every sign that he’ll be getting up to African dictator levels of corruption.

All in all if American conservatives were true to their values, they should not have voted for Trump. They could have gone into the polling booth, closed their eyes and literally voted for anyone else and they’d have been voting for a better conservative candidate. Yet the exit polls show they did and they did so not despite his policies but because of them. The fact of the matter is the republican party did not win the election, they lost it, they weren’t even on the ballot. The alt-right won the election.

And here in the UK, the Tories too have abandoned their long held political philosophy, they are no longer the party of small government and prudent financial management. Instead they are now a party of xenophobic central planners, who practice political patronage, lavishing gifts on those who they favour for political reasons (Nissian, Hinkley C), punishing those who they dislike (such as wind farms or solar power). And with the UK’s debt now out of control and inflation rising, the cost of goods in the shops going up, they aren’t even pretending to care about the state of the public finances. They’ll still serve the rich (that was never going to change) but they have essentially abandoned their political philosophy.

In this post-truth world the reality is that so-called conservatives don’t believe in anything anymore. As Adam Curtis discusses in his latest film many will now vote for a candidate who tells the most outrageous lies, even though they know that he lies and he can’t possibly keep his promises. And he knows that they know that he lies and don’t expect him to keep his promises. Its just that they find his lies more comforting that someone else’s facts. Many now subscribe to a form of government that can be best described as “authoritarian populism”, which favours big brash chest thumping strong men over anyone vaguely sensible. That he’s insane and will drive the country over a cliff in the long run does not matter to many so-called conservatives now.

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This is why Hillary and the remainers lost, they played by the rules and came across as the class swots. As this video highlights, we have now fallen for the demagogue trap Socrates and Plato warned us about in the very early days of Greek democracy. They warned that voting is a skill people need to learn. Letting anyone just vote for whoever they like is potentially very dangerous, given how easily people can be manipulated by a charismatic leader……and they were saying this without knowing about the internet or 24 hr rolling news.

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The jocks have now taken over the asylum. For them politics is now a sort of sadistic game, where they’ll cheer the murder of an MP by a racist with 50,000 tweets. For sure they’ll use their former ideology as a stick to hit the democrats with, but ignore it when one of their own tribe does the same or worse. All they care about is their tribe winning and winning by any means, even those that involve lying and cheating.

So ya, you can go visit these conservative websites if you feel like it, but it won’t do any good, republicans stopped believing in these things along time ago.

Now everyone’s been Trumped

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Analysis
So its Trump, how can 60 million people be that dumb! Many are trying to put the spin on it, that it was working class Americans in rust belt states fed up with how they are treated in Washington that swung the election. Well no, the polling data (both before and after the election) shows the vast majority of Trump voters are middle class or upper class whites who generally have a better than average income. The majority of low income whites still voted for Hillary. Certainly some more of them than did vote for Trump than would normally be expected in an election, but in theory this was cancelled out (to some degree) by an increased level of turn out and voting for Hillary by ethnic minority voters.

Indeed its worth remembering that she carried the popular vote, Trump carried the key swing states by only a tiny margin. The reality is that a Trump victory should have been mathematically impossible had it not been for large number of both wealthy or middle class Americans turning out to vote for him. So Trump is on their head, they are now responsible for whatever mess he makes.

A more crucial factor was that the “never Trump” block within the GOP clearly dithered at the final moment. I mean Republicans are such hypocrites. They launch all of that assault on Bill Clinton and Obama, go around thumping their bible complaining about how America now has no morals anymore….then vote for “grab them by the pu%&X” Trump, who is worse than Bill and far more corrupt than any president or candidate has ever been (Trump university for example, shady deals, Mafia connections) and will be spending some portion of his presidency in court. He may actually end up being indicted on bribery charges before he takes up office. And we can’t just point the finger at white men, the polling data shows a majority of white women also voted for him in certain older age groups. And least we forget Trump is likely to run up a massive deficit, far larger than Obama, so all that BS from the GOP about the debt ceiling over the last few years was clearly just political street theatre.

One fact is clear, is that facts no longer matter anymore. We are truly in the post truth world. And don’t even take my word for it. The analysis of a neuroscientist of Trump supporters is that there’s something wrong with their brains. They have an enlarged and overactive Amygdala, which means they are much more likely to overreact to perceived threats (whether real or imagined). They also have demonstrated an inability to be capable of separating fact from opinion, a trend we saw over in the UK prior to the brexit vote. In short, they believe crazy things because they don’t want to look bad in the eyes of their peers and because they gain some sort of sadistic pleasure out of the fact that it winds up liberals when they do this. Many of these are also increasingly getting their news from Facebook, or Alt-right websites who have both been accused of polarising subscribers by only showing them web pages that won’t challenge their views in an effort to get up site hits.

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And there is also the Dunning-Kruger Effect, by which many overestimate their own ability. I see this all the time as a lecturer. The people who will most overestimate their performance tend to the low achievers, who then can’t understand how it is that they failed (I’m not joking they’ll be on like 18% and want it remarked convinced that somehow we got it wrong). By contrast some of the high achievers tend to underestimate their performance (and come to me straight after the exam with the “well I know I’ve failed, what now?” line….when in fact they finished top of the class!). Or put another way, many Republicans don’t realise how dumb they actually are.

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And finally there is the racism. As in the brexit vote, some will try to argue that Trump winning had nothing to do with racism. Actually no, it very much had everything to do with it. Again the polls show that. The two leading reasons given for voting Trump were terrorism and immigration (i.e. no more darkies). On economic issues, even with low wage blue collar workers, Hillary won out easily. The simple fact is that many Americans who voted for Trump were quite willing to sacrifice some of their economic well being to see the wall build and America become a more racist place. There’s no way to sugar coat it. What Trump shows is that America is a very racist and misogynistic place.

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If Trump and his supporters aren’t fascist, why do they keep getting caught making fascist salutes

Which is hardly surprising given how the GOP have been pushing those over stimulated Amygdala buttons for many decades now. They’ve effectively brainwashed a large chuck of the US population to the point where they cannot separate fact from fiction and believe in new age myths over real data and statistics. Where some fantasy pedalling creationist, climate denying whack-job is given the same credibility as a Nobel prize winning scientist. In doing so they’ve done great damage to American democracy. I mean I was talking to someone from China the other day and enquired what he thought of democracy and he just laughed. I mean seriously, if you were Chinese, horrible thought the Communist party is, would you rather have a system that elects Putin, Trump or votes for brexit?

Trump’s other supporters
And then there’s the other group of Trump supporters, Jill Stein and Gary “Aleppo” Johnson voters. Let’s be clear, you effectively voted for Trump. Go through the data, you’ll see that in the 5 key swing states (any 3 of which would have handed the election to Hillary) and if only half of those who voted for Stein and Johnson voted for Hillary she’d have won (or if all those in 3 of those states who voted for Stein voted Hillary, she would have won).

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When Jill met Putin…..

One can’t argue with the maths, Hillary is not the president thanks to these voters. In effect by voting for either of these candidates in a swing state was the moral equivalent of taking part in a firing squad, but convincing yourself that you fired the blank round every time. Trump is on your head as well. I hope you like him, because its now your fault as much as it is the Republicans.

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Hillary tries on her inaugural gown

And given how narrow the victory was one has to look back at the e-mail scandal and the FBI’s last minute intervention. This clearly had an impact, its difficult to believe it didn’t. Now while its clear the polling data was off, it still had Hillary in about an 8% lead prior to Comey’s letter. The final polls put Hillary about 4% up. So one assumes that it caused a 4% swing against Hillary, while the polls were actually off by about 4% as well. I’m reminded of this scence from the Simpsons where Mr Burns runs for office.

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Hillary had a massive lead prior to the Comey’s intervention

While Hillary has to take some of the blame, she may not have been the best choice of candidate (recall I never said I liked her much myself, its just I could see the difference between her and Mr Disaster). And she lost this election more than Trump won it (she got several million less votes than Obama got, while Trump got less votes that Romney got!). But clearly she’s right in pointing the finger at the FBI’s intervention, noting that if true, then Comey broke a long standing electoral law and should, along with Rudolph Giuliani and Senator Chaffetz be subject to a criminal investigation. Of course with Mr stop and frisk now likely to be the attorney general, that seems unlikely to actually happen.

Bernie
Inevitably some of the Bernie brigade are chirping about how Bernie would have won it. And yes I’ve seen polls showing that. However we have to put this in context. He hadn’t just fought an election campaign and have baseless racist/sexist smears thrown at him by the GOP, with the direct assistance of the FBI. Yes, he might just have pulled it off (this election favoured the outsider), but equally its possible is that he’d have still lost, perhaps by a larger margin.

Most Americans are trained from birth to consider anyone calling themselves a socialist to be coming for their wallet, their gun and their bible,in that order. Now I know that’s BS, but that’s still what many think. And there are large number of Americans, including quite a lot in the electoral block that typically vote democrat, who will not vote for an atheist as president. Bernie may have tied down a bit more of the white working class vote, but he’d have seen lower turn out among ethic minority groups from strongly religious backgrounds. And Blomberg would have followed through with his threat to run as a 3rd party candidate.

Again, look at the demographics of those who voted for Trump (who actually voted, ignore this myth about angry blue collar voters) its difficult to see Bernie making a bigger dent. Yes he might have won, but it would have been close. Then again, technically Hillary won, it was only this dumbass electoral college system that stopped her.

Trump v’s reality
So what can we expect from Trump? Well he’s biggest opponent is likely to be this little thing called “reality” and he can’t build a wall around that. Take for example his plan to put a 45% tariff on China and 35% on Mexico. Ya, that’s the thing, stick it to the Chinese, that’ll show’em….hay why’s my I-phone now 45% more expensive? And gas prices just went up, and when I went to buy new tires for my buick they were 35%….oh wait, now I see!

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The only thing protectionism will achieve is it will make everything more expensive. Now while that’s not a big deal for those who can afford to pay 45-35% more for everything, its not so great news for anyone on a tight budget. Yes some companies might move their factories into the US, but only those who exclusively sell to Americans. As other nations will retaliate with tariffs of their own, they’d be shutting themselves out of the international market by moving into the US. It would in short, make more economic sense for Apple to relocate out of the US and abandon the American market than lose the rest of its world sales. America simply lacks the economic clout to fight a trade war with China or the EU. Trump and his supporters might think its 1928, but its not.

Then he wants to build the wall and deport all of the immigrants. Now ignoring the engineering and practical problems with all of that, the enormous costs and the fact that the Wall has been obsolete since the Wright brothers invented this thing called “planes. And who is going to do their jobs? Do you think unemployed people in the rust belt are going to trek halfway across the country to take up manual labour jobs picking crops and cleaning toilets in California or Texas for 6 months a year, then go home again? The end result of his policy will be labour shortages and crops left to rot in the fields. As a result of Trump’s policy we could well see queue’s forming outside shops, much like in Venezuela recently, as certain items become scarce.

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Economists fear the US deficit exceeding 100%….

Then there’s the deficit, his plan is to run up a massive deficit, up to $5.3 trillion to $10 trillion. Certainly, he’d push America pass the long feared threshold of 100%, at which point its likely investors will start to panic, US debt will be downgraded and interest rates will soar.

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…..because it raises the risk of national bankrupcty

Now Trump says, oh I’ll renegotiate the debt or print more money. Ya, and you do realise that will devalue the US dollar? Meaning beyond a certain point, he’s no longer a billionaire (because a billion bucks suddenly ain’t worth that much). And this would also have to push up salaries, including those of state employees. government contractors will start charging the state more for their services. Lenders will charge a higher rate of return, so again interest rates go up. In short economic meltdown.

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Another member of the Billionaire’s club! Trump’s plans would make everyone a billionaire just like him!

Certainly the “print money” option is a good idea, in a crisis, as a temporary means of restoring order. But as a long term debt management strategy its the equivalent of buying Trump wine and mixing it with water and then trying to sell it, only nobody wants to buy it at the original price, instead they’ll only buy it at a discount price. Trump is basically trying to argue that he can still make money selling this diluted wine at a lower price than he buys it. And recall the largest holder of US debt is pension funds based in the US not China.

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Trump v’s congress
The second problem for Trump is that a number of his policies will not last long in congress.

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For example one of the first groups he’ll be upsetting with any trade tariffs will be the US automotive lobby. This is a cabal of car makers, fossil fuel companies, construction firms (who build and maintain roads) and auto dealerships. A lot of US auto parts are shipped in from abroad (most notably Mexico), as is lots of its fossil fuel supply. They will be more than a little upset at the thought that their cars should be more expensive and their profits should take a hit. And these are not the sort of people you want to mess with. Keep in mind the global warming denial machine is just one tiny part of this lobby group. At a local politics level, these guys wield a lot of power (as this Adam ruin’s everything mentions), typically 20% of local sales tax comes from automobile sales. Who do you think local politicians will listen too, Trump or the guys who fund their campaign and the main source of local tax revenue?

In short, Trump messes with these guys, and they’ll see to it that the GOP will get crucified in the mid-terms. And the GOP know that, so they ain’t going to endorse a lot of the things he’s proposed. Likely they’ll pick and chose. For example his tax cut plans, they’ll go for the idea of cutting taxes to the wealthy or getting rid of estate taxes, but likely leave out the bit about closing off loopholes. Which given how ruthlessly Trump has relied on those loopholes himself (he’s probably not paid any tax for 18 years), its likely he’ll go along with. This will, as noted, push up the deficit, leave many poor Americans worse off, while the wealthiest one % are much better off. As fo

The GOP will also go after various ideological issues that play well with their electorate, e.g. repeal Obamacare, ban abortion and gay marriage, deport migrants (although oddly enough not his wife!), make gun ownership compulsory (except for Muslims and minorities of course!), etc. The environment, well they’re pretty much going to ban that, with consequences much like in this Simpson’s sketch  (its scary how old Simpson’s episodes are starting to play out in reality).However, they will likely face Filibustering tactics from the democrats, who will effectively now try to shut down congress and count down the clock on Trump’s presidency. And the GOP can hardly complain as this was essentially their tactics under Obama. In short, its likely the log jam in US politics will get worse under Trump not better.

There are some positive policies that might emerge, the GOP and Trump being the hypocrites that they are, they can be prone to a strong element of “not invented here” syndrome. e.g. Obamacare. Mitt Romney was dead set against this, and I mean who the hell came up with this job killing idea?Mitt Romney did, Obamacare was modelled along the lines of similar policies in various American states…including one brought in by Mitt Romney! This explains Trump’s dithering on repealing Obamacare. He’d be replacing it with something very similar, just a bit more expensive and not as effective.

Similarly he might get certain things passed, who knows maybe even some modest gun control measures, some job creation through another stimulus package (much of which will inevitably find its way into his and his supporters pockets of course), simply because he proposed these things rather than Obama or Hillary. But beyond that, I’d brace yourself for disappointment.

Trump v’s the world
Trump will also face opposition worldwide. Pulling back from the Paris climate deal is not that straightforward, its now entered into international law, he’s going to find it very difficult to pivot away without suffering blow back. And the deal explicitly states that a country must give 4 years notice before leaving, so that’s not even possible within his presidency.

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He also wants to make friends with Putin and break with the NATO alliance. Ya, run that by your generals first! They would be appalled and point out the dangers in such a policy towards US interests. Most of America’s forward deployed forces are in Europe. They rely on European airspace to supply forces in the middle east, conduct intelligence in Russia and watch for possible missile launches. Losing that is simply not acceptable as far as his generals will be concerned.

And I take it he doesn’t want to get re-elected? You do know that one of Putin’s allies happens to be a little place called IRAN who took delivery incidentally of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles a few weeks back. These missiles effectively make it very unlikely that Israel could now carry out any attacks against Iran without losing a lot of aircraft. As one US general put itIran is now Israel proof”. Even the US forces would now have to accept causalities from any bombing missions against Iran. Which means Trump would upset the Israeli lobby by cosying up to Putin.

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And it takes some doing to have the Israeli’s and the Arab world against you. Those Muslim’s he wants to stop from coming into the US happen to control over 50% of the world’s oil production and hold many strategic bases. They now might just go away and form an alliance with the Chinese.

More worryingly its very easy to see how Trump and Putin could get into conflict with each other. For example, egged on by pro-Putin rhetoric from Washington Putin goes into the Baltic states, much like how Saddam mis-read signals from Washington and went into Kuwait. NATO forces, including American forces respond. And note that US commanders in the field don’t necessarily have to call the president before opening fire. If US forces or civilians come under attack, (or NATO allies ask the US commander for assistance) they can respond without waiting for a presidential order. So Trump would have to explicitly order his forces to stand down, even if it meant abandoning American civilians and military forces to be shelled and bombed. He’d be committing the very crime that the GOP tried to claim Hillary committed with regard to Benghazi, except on a much larger scale. He would be vilified, even by his own supporters as a new Benedict Arnold and likely Congress will have him out of office so fast his wig will spin.

Wall street’s man
And the bad news for anyone who did vote for him because your angry about the elites in Wall street in congress, well your a moron, stay away from ballot boxes in future. One little feature of election night I noted, firstly the Asian stock market crashed, dropping 1000 points in a few hours (as you’d expect if you’d followed the campaign). So heavy were these losses that the Dow didn’t open the next day, as it had lost 5% as a consequence of these losses in Asia. Then when it opened rather than the expected falls continuing, instead it barely moved.

Then the Asian markets regained their earlier losses within 24 hrs. To me this indicates that Wall street insiders knew something the Asian stockbrokers didn’t know (but quickly worked out), the fix is in. This behaviour means one of two things A) Wall street knows that something’s planned, Trump will not be president, he’ll have himself a little “accident” in a few days time, the electoral college will vote for Mike Pence or Hillary instead, etc. Or B) He’s been fixed, they’ve got some dirt on him or bought him, he’s their man.

I’m tending towards the second option, given that he’s now talking of repealing the Dodd-Frank act, a key bill brought in by Obama to prevent another financial crisis. In short all that BS during the rallies about going after wall street and draining the swamp, no it was all lies. He’s going to do nothing of the sort. If anything he’s going to make it easier for Wall street to screw the little guy, not the other way around.

Either that or the first option is correct and he’s not going to be president for some reason.

Trump and the UK
There are some in the UK who cheered Trump’s election. Theresa May won’t have been one of those. Firstly, after going to all this trouble to get brexit to kill off UKIP it does not suit the Tory agenda to now have UKIP going around portraying themselves as the UK Trump party. Also there has never been any doubt the UK could get a trade deal from the US, the question was always how beneficial it will be. Its a bit like trying to buy a car. If you’re in a hurry you’ll get it if you pay more than its worth. You want a fair price it takes a lot longer. You may have to walk away from a few deals first.

And again, remember Trump will have to get the details of such a deal past Congress. Recall the US auto lobby. Recall May has essentially committed to getting tariff free trade for the UK car industry. Its not possible to square those two circles. If Trump concedes on this point, he’ll face massive opposition from a very powerful lobby group (who been trying to stop European made cars, essentially those owned by their bitter rivals in Japan, from gaining a foothold in the US market), with their fingers in many swing states (and the pockets of many politicians) and some of the very voters who put him in power work in this industry. If Theresa May concedes, she can be looking at hundreds of thousands of job losses in the lead up to an election. There’s a solution, but its not that easy, it will take time and careful negotiation.

And if the UK ends up part of some sort of transatlantic trading bloc, they could face sanctions and punitive tariffs from the EU and China. Given that the UK does more of its trade with the EU than America, if it has to pick a side, the logical thing to do would be to pick the EU (of course there I go with my “logic” and “facts” again). This is the whole reason why so many voted remain. The UK is too small to be a world power by itself anymore. Its option are to either pool its resources with the rest of Europe, or become a vassal state of an existing empire, literally the 51st state in all but name.

And another reason for voting remain, is that the fear of the UK becoming essentially airstrip one (of 1984 fame) if it leaves the EU. You may enquire what’s to stop the US moving its forces in Europe and stationing them in Britain. Well, firstly geography (the Middle East is too far away! And you’d still need overflight rights from the Europeans). Secondly, this would be political suicide for the Tories. All of that controversy back in the 80’s over US missiles in the UK would spark off again. This is exactly the sort of controversy that could blow the Scottish independence referendum wide open or give Corbyn a fighting chance in 2020.

Trump’s Impeachment
The GOP wanted to impeach Hillary “in her ball gown. This does seem unlikely, most of the controversies she has been accused of were simply made up or over-egged. More importantly the GOP have now set the bar for what constitutes grounds for presidential impeachment so low, its basically a given that any president whom they don’t like, if they can get the necessary votes, he can be removed from office.

And Trump has been involved in numerous scandals already, as noted he will be spending quite a bit of time in and out of court as it is. Also there are already warning signs of where a possible future scandal will erupt. Making white supremacist Steve Bannon as possible white house chief of staff for example, or that odorous brown envelope distributing toad Myron Ebell as head of the EPA, appointing his own relatives to senior posts, yet they also are trustees on the trust fund that will manage his finances during the presidency. You could start a sweepstake on how long before the balloon goes up.

And the democrats show every sign that they are going to come out of the gate swinging on the 21st of January. They feel that they have been cheated out of the presidency and are likely out for blood. They don’t have a majority enough to start impeachment, but they can start making waves. The GOP will likely try to hang onto Trump, so long as he’s useful. If he proves himself to be the disaster many expect him to be, the democrats won’t have to try very hard to convince enough of the Republicans to back impeachment. Personally I reckon a Trump impeachment attempt (successful or not) is essentially a matter of when not if.

Rise of Fascism

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Of course we are making a very dangerous assumption here. That all the checks and balances of the US government will work. But what if they don’t? G. W. Bush should have been at the least investigated over the Iraq war and those “black flights” but he wasn’t (even Trump agrees with this). Its quite clear that Trump and a number of his inner circle have fascist tendencies. The way he’s now flip flopping like John Kerry at a summer footwear convention does suggest that they regard their own supporters as sheep. Mindless drones in a cult of personality who are too be manipulated, control and where necessary betrayed.

Keep in mind that Hitler was helped into power by the very sort of people who helped Trump into power, because they saw him as a useful idiot, who could be used to keep the plebs in line, while they the establishment still secretly ran things. Of course they didn’t count on Hitler ending democracy and relying on his cult of personality to rule by degree. The checks and balances of the US state are about to be subject to destructive testing that will test them to their limits.

If they fail the consequences are pretty grim. As Obama pointed out, one has to worry about a vain insecure man like him, who can’t be trusted with a Twitter account, having access to the nuclear codes. We are very close to midnight I fear.

And if the checks and balances fail, let us remember who got us here. Republicans, (so called) conservatives, plus Jill Stein and Libertarian voters, this one is on all of you. Historians of the future may judge your actions very harshly. My own guess its we that Trump in power probably signals that the US has receded from its high water mark. The US has essentially voted to go backwards, to retreat from the world, to be a less progressive place, to be the new “sick man” of world politics (by putting a sick man in charge). And that is the real problem with this election result.

You’ve been Trumped too

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All in all, I think Trump was summed up rather well by Michael Forbes, the farmer who opposes Trump up in Aberdeenshire. In the recent film you’ve been Trumped Too, he reminisced that when Trump came to Scotland half the country loved him (including Alex Salmond) and half hated him. Now everyone hates him as they realised he’s a complete con artist, who tells tall tales, never delivers, he just fills his own pockets and massages his own ego.

My guess is that this is the reality, Trump is out for one person – himself. He doesn’t care if the country falls apart so long as he comes out on top. And that’s who America voted for!

Bigoted Britain

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One of the more unsavoury aspects of the brexit vote is how the bigot brigade now feel they can throw their weight about. There’s been a worrying rise in racist and xenophobic incidents, up 14% nationally, but as high as 70% higher in some hot spots. A number of foreigner visitors (some only here as tourists) have reported all manner of stories of random abuse being shouted at them, eggs thrown at them, shop windows smashed or being attacked in a public park. Even Lily Allen has reported how she had abuse shouted at her by a cab driver who refused to accept her fare (she’d said something earlier in the week about how the UK should take in more refugees). And this is on the mild side. We have of course the recent murder of a Polish man (now being investigated as a hate crime) and of course just prior to the referendum, there was the murder of MP Jo Cox by a pro-leave bigot.

Unsurprisingly given that Britain has become a more racist and unwelcoming place, some have had enough and there’s stories of how some Polish people are now moving out of the UK, now no longer feeling welcome. I’ve even heard talk from one or two people I know who are thinking about leaving. We’ve even got the rather embarrassing story of how the descendants of Jewish families who came to Britain to flee the nazi’s, are now fleeing back across the channel and seeking to regain their German citizenship.

The word “Britain is increasingly being seen in international circles as synonymous with the word “bigot. And anyone who voted brexit, let us be clear this one is on your head. Make whatever excuses you want, but by voting leave you made common cause with the sorts of racists and bigots a previous generation of Briton’s died to stop from taking over this country. By voting leave you betrayed every principle the UK was founded on. For shame! History will likely judge your actions very harshly.

Far right out of the closet
Stateside some Americans might be tempted to take the moral high ground and say how awfully racist the British now are…yet they still can’t explain why so many want to vote for Trump. Maybe I can offer an explanation.

In part it has to do with “the bloc”, that being the GOP voters, who for various reasons (ideology, religion, down right ignorance and stupidity), will always vote GOP no matter what. The GOP could nominate Kim Jung un, he could campaign on a platform of selling them all into slavery and randomly shot into the crowds at his rallies and I guarantee you the GOP would still carry most of the “red states”. Even if the reincarnation of George Washington was the democrat candidate.

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Secondly, Americans, much like the British, need to accept that they are a much more racist country than they have ever realised. Case in point, the Bundy brigade who held up a wild life preserve at gun point, then after a stand off, car chase and shoot out (which left one of their number dead) recently beat the rap and walked out of court without any punishment. By contrast, protesters against an oil pipeline in Dakota have been harassed, suppressed and imprisoned. A reporter, who was filming the protests, now faces 45 years in prison. Edward Snowden would get a “mere” 30 years if he arrived back in the US.

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Spot the terrorist (PS, according to the Trump bigot brigade, its not the guy with a gun)

And in other news missed within the election coverage, a Saudi student was killed in what is believed to have been a racially motivated attack. Plus, as James Comey’s blatantly politically motivated actions have illustrated, parts of the FBI are filled with racist rightwing partisans.

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An African American church burning…in the name of Trump!

One is reminded of the bad old days in the deep south where the Klan would go out and lynch someone, get caught and walk out of court scot free. Meanwhile any black or northern college activists who tried to do something about segregation would be followed around by the cops, get beaten to a pulp while the cops looked on and then get themselves arrested and the book thrown at them for the most minor offences…..then also get lynched and murdered themselves.

The unfortunate reality which this election campaign has exposed, is that racism in the US did not end with the Jim Crow laws. It just went underground, it went dark. The reality many Americans need to accept is that probably about 1/3 of the country, or at least 3/4’s  of “the block”, are racists and bigots. They do not believe that a black person is equal to a white person (some even argue that blacks were better off as slaves!). Nor is a catholic, a Jew or a Muslim equal to a WASP like them. That Hillary is automatically disqualified from being president, not because of her emails or her politics, but because she’s a women and a women can’t be in charge of a man.

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And its obvious the US far right plan to try and intimidate ethnic minority voters during the voting on Tuesday. Already some of them are showing up at polling stations with guns. The irony is their excuse is they fear the election being rigged…..so they plan on basically rigging it themselves! One can only assume that if they win, much like how the brexit brigade were emboldened in the UK, they’ll go on the rampage. We’ll be hearing stories of burning crosses on people’s lawns and ethinc minorities being driven out of white neighbourhoods.

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Again spot the terrorist…hint he’s the guy who isn’t white

Making the West history
And what are the likely consequences of all of this? I mean if foreigners leave it will mean more jobs for British people? Actually no! If one or two of the people I know leave, well yes I suppose a British person could take their job…..if they’ve got a PhD in a particular narrow field of chemistry or engineering and about ten years experience! Oh, and if they leave they take their research grant with them and the half a dozen British technicians who work for them get the sack.

As for lower paid workers, it is often argued they are doing the jobs the British won’t do. That’s not quite true. Often the problem is that these jobs are temporary posts in locations far away from unemployment blackspots. A Polish person will have no problems relocating to Inverness for 6 months to do a minimum wage job over the summer. But a Britain person in Skegness with a house and kids in school often isn’t willing to do so. Remove the option to hire the Polish person just means one of three outcomes, the job will be unfilled, raising the risk of the company shutting up shop or move overseas. The company may increase its wages to tempt a British person to take it (but that pushes up the cost of the services it offers, making it more expensive to UK customers and potentially rendering the company uncompetitive internationally). Or,  the company may seek to eliminate the job by automating it altogether. All in all, the likely outcome of this rise in racism is likely to be less people in employment not more.

As I’ve pointed out before, the UK is not Australia (i.e. a combination mining colony and holiday destination). Running a knowledge based economy in an ageing country without the ability to bring in young minds (and tax payers) and fresh ideas is likely to be a recipe for economic disaster in the long run. The next generation of inventors and innovators will skip Britain (and the US) and head for less racially charged nations. Neil Ferguson pointed out in his series a few years ago, The west, and in particular Britain’s, success in past centuries boiled down to a number of “killer apps”. Competition, Science, rule of law, etc. Now you (like me) may dispute some of this theory here, even perhaps devise your own set of “apps”, but one cannot help but point out that many of these “apps” only work on the implicit assumption that the West remains open to foreigners to coming in and open to new ideas (i.e. none of this anti-science malarkey also on the rise since brexit).

And keep in mind that the UK is at a disadvantage to other Western states because it lacks the natural resources of the US, Canada or Australia. It doesn’t have the high value exports and warm climate of Spain, Italy or France and its got nothing like the high tech industrial base of Germany. Indeed per capita, even Ireland ranks above the UK for industry as a proportion of its GDP (20% in Ireland v’s 10% in the UK).

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So brexit now threatens to undermine the UK’s ability to bring in new talent (such as scientists, doctors, etc.). Indeed the country may now lose the people it has as they seek their fortunes in other parts of the world (as the falling pound means a massive drop in relative salaries). Already quite a few recent engineering graduates are heading for the exits.

Also the other “killer app” of the UK (relative to the rest of the West) has been its relatively free markets and easy access to finance. Given that the banks are on the verge of jumping ship (for better or for worse) that crosses off that one. An orderly evacuation of New York is possible if Trump wins. And the post-brexit UK is now an economy based heavily on government intervention and political patronage, as the Nissan and Hinkley deals make clear. Those who bend’eth the knee before the brexit high sept, will have gifts lavished on them. Those who are seen to be out of favour (e.g. wind farms which have helped cut UK carbon emissions by rather a lot recently and stabilise energy prices in he wake of rising gas prices thanks to brexit) are punished for their success. Keep in mind that its likely the Nissan deal could work out as extremely costly to the UK, and Hinkley C is likely to cost the taxpayer tens of billions (on top of the hundreds of billions bill payers will have to stump up over its 50 year life). And its recently been revealed that the government will have to pick up the tab for the plant’s eventual decommissioning (which generally has worked out more expensive than building the plant in the first place).

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And one cannot help but point out the irony of a brexit won on the back of a lie that we’d get money back of johnny foreigner in Brussels to spend on the NHS….instead the UK is likely to have to pay out billions to foreign multinationals and billionaires, while the NHS is screaming for funding, with dire warnings of possibly collapse in the provision of certain services if something isn’t done quickly. Hardly progress is it! And as a whole the UK government is already facing a £14 billion shortfall due to falling tax revenue.

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And this post brexit bigotry also raises a more serious risk, the breakup of the UK. I would argue that hidden in the small print of the contract that is the UK is the long standing principle that the English, who make up the majority of the UK’s population, will not use their majority position to force English nationalist domination onto the other parts of the country. Brexit and the bigotry it has spawned obviously suggests that this particular contract has been torn up. And if that’s the case, then the UK itself is on borrowed time. I’m not sure if the Indyref2 will go the SNP’s way, we’ll have to see. I will certainly be voting yes, if only to get away from all of this awful xenophobia. But even if its another no vote, I’d still argue a future break up of the UK becomes a matter of “when” and “how” and no longer “if”, unless something is done to kill of this rising tide of bigotry. The lessons of history are not on the UK’s side here.

Recall how the Soviet Union tried to hold things together as the Commonwealth of Independent states after the fall of communism, which very quickly broke down, once the other nations saw a rising tide of Russian nationalism. Similarly Yugoslavia broke up, when the other nations feared domination by the Serb majority. Czechoslovakia split down the middle as well. And the Austro-Hungarian Empire imploded after World War I once it became clear the scale of the mess the Hapsburg’s had dragged the various ethnic groups in the country into. And least we forget Ireland left the UK also thanks to World War I because the view was taken that we could no longer tolerate English interference in Irish affairs, or being dragged into European wars that we wanted nothing to do with.

One of course hopes the future breakup of the UK will be peaceful, but speeches along the lines of how “we came into the EU as one nation and will leave as one”from the brexit brigade sound eerily similar to what was coming out of Slobodan Milosevic’s mouth in the lead up to the Yugoslav civil war. Trying to stonewall the Scots in the event of indyref2 (which seems to be Theresa May’s plan) is a potentially very dangerous tactic.

Equally headlines branding Judges “enemies of the peopleis the sort of thing I’d expect to read in Der Sturmer in the 1930’s, not the UK in the 21st century. And of course one cannot help but put point out the irony of how one of the arguments for brexit is that British judges should make decisions like this….now the British judges have spoken they’ve been vilified. There’s a very real risk that if there is a vote on brexit in parliament, of it being turned into a rerun of the 1933 Enabling law vote in Germany.

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So if brexit means bigotry, then I would argue its a price that is too high. The price is likely to be the future economic prosperity of the UK, if not an end to the UK itself. Thus brexit must be stopped, or failing that it must be set up to screw over the bigot brigade. A soft brexit, with open borders, a relaxed policy on refugees (here’s a thought, the regions which voted the most for brexit should be required to take in a higher proportion of them!) should be a priority.

And there needs to be a change in the law to drive the bigots back into whatever gutter they crawled out of. Fines, prison sentences, a block on claiming benefits or working in a public sector related job, all should be increased to make them think twice before opening their dirty racist pie holes. I’d argue this taxi driver who refused to pick up Lily Allen should be stripped of his cab license for life. Anyone who is convicted of racial hatred, I say treat them like the UKBA treats migrants to the UK. They’d have to go through several years of paying taxes but going without benefits payments or tax credits or voting rights. Then, assuming they behave (else we reset the clock and they have to start all over again), they earn the right to reapply for citizenship to get all of these things back (paying through the nose for it, going through citizenship classes & tests, etc.). That might teach them a bit of respect!

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.

How republican hypocrisy undermines US security

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There is evidence that suggests that a recent mass shooting in California might have been carried out by supporters of IS. Naturally this has sent the right wing media state side into full fanatic freak mode. Even before these attacks various Republican candidates (i.e. not just Donald Trump) were calling for all sorts of intrusive measures to be taken against US Muslims. Naturally, this can only add fuel to the fire of such rhetoric and bigotry.

All I can say is that, given America’s lax gun laws, an attack like this was simply an inevitably. Its more a surprise that there haven’t been more such shootings. There have been 353 mass shootings in the US this year, yet it would seem only one of those so far has been carried out by Islamic terrorists (possibly). Which should serve as a bench mark for how rare such views are amongst American Muslims. Also, one has to point out that the easiest way to stop such shootings, be they by Muslims or as is more usual white Christians, is by implementing some regulations and checks on guns.

Of course Republicans will invoke the best way to stop a “bad guy” with a gun is a “good guy” with a gun. Ya, and how are the police or those fleeing a “bad guy” supposed to tell the difference? Also FBI studies have shown very little evidence to support this notion, indeed it suggests that increased gun ownership and carry laws increases gun related crimes.

Keep in mind, that I’m not necessarily arguing that America should adopt UK style guns controls (I think they should, but I release that’s not going to happen ,so let’s be realistic). Several nations around the world allow gun ownership, but they often apply tough regulations. All gun owners must be licensed, their guns are on a register (tied to an address and licensee) with all purchases tracked and logged on a database, which the police have access too. Needless to say a sudden surge in gun or ammunition purchases will be flagged up and likely followed up with a police visit. Such measures would have not only prevented last week’s tragedy, but also several other recent US shootings.

However to the Republicans the one right that trumps all others is the right to bare arms. Even the right to life is secondary. They are quite happy to see hundreds of shootings like this a year, as well as jeopardise America’s security, just so some hillbillies don’t have to fill in a form or two. Or so that they can fool themselves that they need their guns to protect them from “the government”….although exactly how they reckon they can stop an Abram’s tank….or a hellfire missile (or a smart bomb!), with an AR-15 has never been explained.

And since we are talking about domestic terrorism, we have the marked contrast with another mass shooting launched by a anti-abortion terrorist against a planned parenthood clinic in Colorado just a few days ago. The response from the right-wing media? Silence.

As the lawyers for the California killers have pointed out there is a glaring hypocrisy that when Muslims kill people its terrorism (again the Jury is still out on this one), but when white Christians do so its “aggressive protest”. And let’s not even start with the irony of someone who is “pro-life” trying to kill people in defence of the unborn.

And what about those who inspired this attack? Why is Carly “harvest their brains” Fiorina not currently in an orange jumpsuit in gitmo helping the FBI with their enquiries. If her name started with Al and the victims of this shooting were republicans, they’d be either smart bombing or waterboarding her about now for inspiring and provoking an act of terror.

And this is by no means a one off. A few years ago similar republican party attacks against Acorn (a group seeking to encourage those from disadvantaged communities to vote) were launched in the lead up to an election. As with Planned Parenthood, the allegations made against them were later found to have been falsified, something that the right wing media either ignored or were very slow to report. And as now, Acorn activists were ultimately attacked as a result by right-wing extremists, which again the media tended to ignore.

There is a glaring hypocrisy with the Republican movement, whereby they can ignore acts of terrorism and violence committed with guns thanks to lax laws they have enacted, as well as acts that they themselves have inspired. Yet any act by a Muslim, despicable thought the events of last week were, is immediately reason to undo the US constitution….except the bit about guns anyway!

Blogging catch up

Been a while since I’ve had a chance for any blogging, I thought it was time for a catch up.

Greek default
The Greeks are going bankrupt….like a Greek. I think this was the problem the Germans never anticipated. They assumed that if the Greeks did default, they’d default like a German, but of course that’s not going to happen.

Instead, we have Athens basically saying they need to sleep on it over the weekend, have a referendum and even then with it looking like talks are finished, they come back to the table. If the Eurocrats thought that this was going to go to any sort of plan, they were wrong. And the assumption that the Greeks, if they vote no, will quietly leave the Euro, is flat wrong also. That would be way too logical and organised.

Again, this goes back to the beginning of this whole saga, when a failure to tackle the crisis quickly, largely because of resistance from the Germans, let to it building from a minor issue into a full blown crisis. In the end the very thing the German’s resisted, Quantitative Easing, the ECB have been forced to bring in anyway. So while yes the Greeks have to take some of the blame for this crisis, so too does the rest of the EU. And if anyone things the Greeks are going to make things easy for them, they’ve got another thing coming.

Heathrow
An interesting piece here from the BBC about the long running saga of choosing the next airport for London. Would you believe that committee after committee has been debating this matter since the Roskill Commission in 1971. They recommended a new airport on a greenfield site in Buckinghamshire. Then, as now, the government rejected this proposal and fudged the issue. And successive governments have been fudging it ever since.

So with that in mind you can understand why this week’s Airports commission report went down like a lead balloon. The problem here is that politicians keeping asking for an answer to a simple question and then not liking the answer they get back.

Expansion of Gatwick or building a new airport in the Thames estuary comes with numerous difficulties, not least of those cost, but also the issue that such an airport will be in the wrong place. Any replacement for Heathrow will serve not just London but a large chuck of England, and the bulk of people in England live either north or west of the Thames, so an airport tucked away in the South East corner of the country will necessitate a change of trains in London, something that will automatically add 1-3 hours onto any journey time.

This is the whole reason why the Roskill commission picked a site north of the capital. The present Airports commission, perhaps recognising the impracticality of this option went for the next best thing, which was to expand Heathrow.

My own view is that instead of expanding Heathrow, just make sure its integrated into the HS2 network, as this will eliminate the need for commuter flights to Heathrow, freeing up capacity. Furthermore, as HS2 passes close to Manchester and Birmingham airports, it offers the alternative of expanding them instead and offering a fast connection time to London, Heathrow and the rest of the country. Its also worth remembering that much of Heathrow is given over to cargo. Do the parcels really care where they land? Can’t we just take one of a number of airfields near London (or take over Luton or Oxford airport), turn it into a dedicated cargo handling facility (again ensuring good connection to the rail network as well as the motorways) and redirect all the cargo flights away from Heathrow?

But, like I said, the problem is that no matter what answer they come up with, its going to be unpopular with someone. The Heathrow HS2 link for example has been killed off by the usual NIMBY-ish, indeed Gatwick expansion is also resisted by various NIMBY’s in that part of the country.

Ultimately the government needs to realise that part of their job is to make unpopular discussions. So either they need to disappoint someone by expanding Heathrow, or building a new airport to the South West of London. Or re-route HS2. Or do nothing and point out to anyone in London that wants to complain about how awkward air travel is in London, or that prices are so expensive and the airports so inaccessible, well we had plans to fix this, but you objected to it!

Railway cuts
The Tories promised billions to help upgrade railway lines in the UK, all as part of their election plans for a “northern power house”. Needless to say, that promise didn’t last very long. But I have to give the Tories credit. Most governments would at least go through the motions of pretending to keep their election promises, for a year or two anyway, then act shocked and surprised when the programme they’d badly managed and starved of funds failed.

Certainly it is true that there is a desperate need to upgrade the railway lines of Northern England. Taking a train in that part of the world is like going through a time warp. It takes so long to get from, say Liverpool to Sheffield or Leeds to Hull, you’d swear they still used steam trains. But any sort of meaningful upgrade of systems here was always going to be a major job, as big as HS2 itself.

But frankly anyone who honestly believed that the Tories, a party who have been screwing over northern England since the 1800’s, were going to spend tens of billions on the north, well I’ve got some magic beans you might want to buy! This was clearly an election ploy to steal a few lib dem seats.

Tax does have to be taxing
Another lie promise that the Tories made was not to cut working tax credits. Again, any meaningful reading of their election manifesto would lead to the conclusion that there spending plans simply did not add up without some major welfare spending cuts. And the only two line items in the welfare bill with enough zero’s behind them to make those numbers work are a) pensions or b) working tax credits.

And should anyone be in any doubt that working tax credits are going, look no further than the fact that the tabloids are already selling such a cut. They are claiming that migrants in receipt of working tax credits are sending them abroad. Again, this wrong on so many levels. Migrants are at most 13% of the work force, and if this is going on (no proof is offered), it probably only effects a tiny handful (indeed the tabloids seem to admit its a figure in the tens of thousands against recipients in the tens of millions).

And when did we have that vote to impose communism and let the government tell people what to do with their money? I have a bank account in Ireland and yes I push some money from my British account into it every now and then (I don’t receive any working tax credits, but no doubt if I did they would probably class this as “sending it abroad”), as this means I’ve money I can then withdraw in euro’s when I go on my hols. Are the Daily Mail saying the government should now regulate bank account transfers? If so let’s start with the non-dom’s, like the people who own them!

More crucially of course is that these tactics mirror those used prior to previous benefit cuts. Have the tabloids claim migrants or lazy scroungers are receiving them, propose cuts, etc. So working tax credits are likely to be go quicker than you can say “boy for sale”.

United Disgust
Fifa have enough problems as it is, but if you want a good example of the endemic corruption within the organisation, or its wasteful spending on very public vanity projects, look no further than the recently released film “united passions”.

I have yet to come across a film so universally panned by critics 😳 as this film. And probably for good reason, for a film that has taken in all of $200,000 since May….against an alleged budget in the tens of millions. The film’s director has already disowned it, while Tim Roth, who inexplicably plays Blatter :??:, has been making all sorts of excuses.

Of course the film glosses over a few details. Such as the fact that the only reason why we have a world cup was due to a Bernie Ecclestone-esque power struggle between then FIFA president Jules Rimet, the British and the IOC. The film also glosses over the decision to host the second world cup in Fascist Italy. Plus they were in talks with Germany about hosting the 1942 world cup, until Hitler’s little “excursion” into Poland. Then there’s the closeness of FIFA top brass to various shadowy figures, notably various South American dictators and corporate sponsors. Or how on behalf of said sponsors FIFA has put pressure on governments to pass various legislation.

If you want to see a blatant piece of ego massaging propaganda, might I recommend this instead. On the plus side, there are rumours that Ben Afleck and Mat Damon are planning to make a movie of the book House of Deceit about the recent FIFA scandal. Perhaps they can get Tim Roth to reprise his role?

Trump, you’re fired!
Donald Trump :crazy:, professional buffoon and ego manic, has announced his candidacy for the US president. A gift of comic gold dust to US late night comedians. For Trump is known for his habit of suffering from a condition known as “diarrhoea of the mouth”

He has also shown an inability to understand the concept of irony or get a joke, as his recent spat with Bill Maher demonstrates, or indeed his various spat’s with John Steward of the Daily Show. Of course any politician who can’t handle a few comedians is sort of screwed. After all, how does he plan on handling an interview with a serious journalist or a debate with someone like Hilary Clinton?

However in amongst the various comments he’s made since declaring, were a number of racist ones about Mexicans, something which has led to NBC firing him from his own show. Mexican TV have also pulled his shows and even Macy’s has cut its ties with him.

Trump’s problem is that he’s basically a spoiled little rich kid who has lived his life in a little yes man bubble where nobody around him dares to question him. Hence he doesn’t realise how bad what he’s saying sounds to anyone how lives in the real world. I mean even Glenn Beck, a man famous for suffering from Nazi Tourettes, has come out and called Trump crazy.

Battle flag of the racists
And speaking of racists we have the controversy over the Confederate battle flag in the US. After the Charleston killer was seen posing with it, there were calls for the flag to be removed from public buildings. A problem, because inexplicably it still hangs in front of the state capital of South Carolina and its incorporated into the state flag of Mississippi.

Now some will defend the flag and say it means different things. However as John Steward puts it, this is like neo-nazi’s waving swastika’s about and claiming that it means support for Germany’s tough anti-smoking policy. The problem is that the confederate flag has long been a symbol of racists and white supremacists in the US. And it is forever tainted with the legacy of slavery. Now if they people defending it were black or liberals, okay maybe we could believe its defenders, but unfortunately they are almost universally white, conservative, right wingers.

Backing down on climate
The Pope’s letter on climate change released a few weeks ago, which was basically one step removed from a papal bull, has put Republicans in a bit of a pickle. Basically, they can’t bring up climate change denial now, without running the risk of being ambushed by journalists with the line “the pope say’s its happening and its a sin, do you plan on going to hell?”. This is a particular problem for catholic candidates, particularly given their previous positions on issues such as gay marriage and stem cell research.

Traditionally, Republicans have campaigned on the four G’s. God, Guns, Gay’s and Global warming denial. Now they don’t dare mention the first or last G, as that raises the risk of them being ambushed with the other. So this means they’ll probably be focusing more on the two middle G’s from now on…..

Taking it back
….On which point we finish with the story of a US pastor (I’ll let you guess which church) who wants to take back the word “gay” and restore its original meaning.

I happen to agree with this one. I mean “gay” is a crucial word in the English language and we need it. Now thanks to the LGBT lot you can’t read aloud a William Worthsworth poem without someone sniggering at the thought of “feeling gay”.

So yes, let’s restore this word’s original meaning. Hence why I’ll be referring to all US Baptists and Tea party members as gay #babptistsaregay #teapartyaregay :))

Of course we need someone in the UK to front this campaign. So what about Farage? He’s always hanging out in pubs with a big gay grin on him? Maybe he can do it? #farageisgay ;D

Think it will work?

News Roundup

Election
The election campaign rolls on. The tabloids seem to have worked out that UKIP ain’t going to win enough seats to hold the balance of power alone (as I pointed out before it would take a DUP alliance to help). So the consequences of the last 5 years of them running stories about how that Farage fellow is a lovely chap, is likely to backfire almost as badly as their previous articles along a similar theme in the 30’s.

So they’ve been devoting the last few days to printing stories that swallow the most absurd tosh the Tories come up with, or making “red Ed” out to be some sort of comic book villain under the sway of the evil nasty Nicola and rowdy roddy piper Alex Salmond.

Take for example the latest one from the Tories promising to enact a law that will make it illegal for a chancellor to raise certain taxes. This is a policy, which might sound crowd pleasing, but when analysed rationally it is so silly its difficult to believe anyone would propose it.

The whole point of government is to make sure sufficient revenue is raised by taxes to pay for public services. If the government abdicates its responsibility to raise tax, then inevitably it can’t increase public spending and the inevitable effects of any economic downturn, currency fluctuations, demographic changes, etc. is that the state will either be forced into making significant cuts in public services, or borrowing heavily. The end result is likely to be to reduce the UK to the same position as the US congress, where the Republicans will fight tooth and nail to defend spending in their district, but will immediately pull on their tea bagging hat and t-shirt the minute the President tries to raise taxes or borrow to pay for it. In short this is a policy whose likely outcome is national bankruptcy and a roll back of public services unseen in UK history.

As for the “red Ed” narrative, the most radical thing Ed could do is eat another bacon roll ;D. The whole reason why so many are voting for the likes of the SNP or Welsh Nationalists is because of the fear that he’ll become another Tony Blair, move to the right and a year from now he’ll be authorising torture and wars on behalf of the Americans while humming along to Boney M.

And it is supremely ironic the Tories making a fuss about how “destabilising” it would be to the UK for the SNP to end up in power, ignoring their record in Scotland, when he is almost certainly going to be forced to rely not just on UKIP but also the Ulster DUP, which as the potential to be far more destabilising. Why is it that he’s not coming under any pressure to rule out a DUP or UKIP coalition? Perhaps because that would mean him fecking off to Chipping Norton, as it would make it all but impossible for him to win.

The fact is that if all the party leaders were to stick to their guns and refuse to enter into the coalition arrangements they’ve been ruling out, the likely outcome of this election will either be a minority Tory or Labour government who will struggle to get anything passed, even a budget or a Queen’s speech. Or a Tory government with a wafer thin majority propped up by the DUP and UKIP. Any such governments will be extremely unstable and will likely collapse, something which the fixed term parliament rules the Tories introduced this parliament could well make a perfect recipe for chaos.

In short, its likely that either the party leaders, in particular the lib dem’s and/or labour will have to abandon these promises (should be easy for Nick Clegg, he’s got experience of that!) for the good of the country. Or about a year from now the Queen will be forced to step in, dissolve parliament and declare another election.

Rent Controls
THe one vaguely radical policy that labour has come out with is a plan to bring in rent controls. Naturally the Tories went into full fanatic freak out mode, painting a bleak picture that ignores the fact that many other countries have rent control, New York being a good example, so this isn’t that radical a policy. If anything I’d argue that labour’s policy doesn’t go far enough.

In essence we have an out of control property bubble in the UK. This favours few people, as I outlined in a prior post. Particularly when you consider that bubbles always burst.

And we in Ireland are the proof of that. As a consequence of the Irish property bubble you have many older people who can’t retire as they have the millstone round their neck of a buy-to-let flat they can’t rent out at a rate that will pay the mortgage. Forcing them to work on well past retirement age, pretty much until they drop.

And many of those of the younger generation, who may have bought at the wrong time are similarly crippled with negative equity they can’t shake off. For example, they’ve had to relocate for work purposes (or a growing family) and are stuck trying to rent the old place (again rarely earning enough to pay the mortgage, and that’s assuming they can rent it at all!), as they’ll never be able to sell it without wiping out their finances. All this while renting a new house, because no sane bank would give a mortgage to anyone sitting on so much negative equity. Its like having some sort of ghostly mother in law whom you can’t shake off.

So while landlords might whinge and whine, the fact is everyone will be better off with some form of controls on rent. It would almost make me vote labour…then I heard Jimmy Murphy spreading FUD about the SNP :no:.

Tabloid hate speech
Meanwhile the election has seen a rare intervention by the UN. The UN human rights commissioner has become increasingly worried by the tone of the UK tabloids and their “hate speech” towards, migrants, foreigners and even Scots. She’s pointed out how the language used recently by tabloids, such as describing immigrants as “cockroaches”, is eerily similar to the sort of language the nazi’s used or in the lead up to the Rwandan genocide.

US wing nuttery
As I pointed out last week, come 2016, its looking likely to be Hilary Clinton versus some random nut job from the Tea Party. A couple of her Republican rivals have declared, notably the likes of Ted Cruz (A Canadian fence jumper, who wants to crack down on immigration…and presumably doesn’t know what irony is!), Marco Rubio (Cuban exile, known for his anti-science and climate change denial wing-nuttery) and the man who puts the “batshit” in crazy, Rand Paul, famous for suffering from a condition known as “diarrhoea of the mouth”.

Seriously, just put Ran Paul into Google and it usually tries to suggest “nuts”. No doubt he’ll attract many of his father’s “Paulastinans” to his banner. Which is somewhat ironic, given that his daddy was the most corrupt politicians in congress. He only managed to hold onto his seat for so long because of his habit of sticking a rider onto a popular bill, one which he was sure would pass (even thought he’d then vote against it!), giving money to his district. At the same time he was calling for massive cuts in public spending, the public spending in his district quadrupled over a decade!. So again, irony doesn’t seem to be a strong point for the Pauls.

So if Hilary’s lucky, the GOP will pick some wing nut and she’ll have an easy sail to the White House. There’s also a possibly of Jeb Bush running. While slightly less insane, he is the same guy who feels that votes should be counted…until the guy you want to win does. He also has a number of items of very dirty linen in his closet (money laundering, drugs, fraud….usual for a Bush really!). And you thought our politicians were bad!

Game of Thrones
Speaking of corrupt royal dynasties, the Saudi king announced changes to the Royal line of succession this week. This upgraded a number of the younger generation into the line of succession, while relegating a number of the older members out of the line of succession.

While this is good news, a number of those now passed over for kingship were basically hardliners, or nutters…or both! So this does suggest a softer more reform orientated Saudi Arabia in future (who know maybe they’ll let the women drive the car out of the garage for her husband! :))). But it also does bring with it risks. Obviously those now out of favour may not take this slight likely. Others may not want to wait for those in the line ahead of them to pop their clogs.

In short, I’d argue that Game of Thrones is now required viewing for all Saudi princes. In which case I recommend avoiding all weddings, dwarves, pigeon pies, crazy religious groups, dire wolves, icewalls & ice giants, high places and sharp pointy things in general.

Its a Sin
The Pope has muttered various things suggesting anyone calling themselves “Christian” should do what the good book says, appears to increasing sign’s that he’s going to make a action on climate change a major issue. Already the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has issued a report which states “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity“.

And the Vatican’s position has been endorsed by the leader of the US Episcopal church, who described climate denial as “sinful”.

Needless to say this has put the fear of god (if you’ll pardon the pun) into the climate skeptics. After all the last thing the oil companies need right now is to start receiving papal bulls and priests showing up at drill sites waving crucifixes. Several skeptics quickly rushed to Rome to try an seek an audience with the pope. However these plans came a cropper when one of the priests there insisted on blessing them with holy water prior to them entering the Vatican, upon which they promptly exploded :)).

Either way, climate deniers best hope that the climate is warming, cos as far as the church is concerned, they may need to get used to warm places! I’m reminded of that song from the 80’s now.

ISIS and the Bitter Lake

If you’ve not already seen it, the BBC have a film out on i-Player by the always excellent Adam Curtis, called “Bitter Lake”. In this film Curtis discusses the effects of the West’s Middle Eastern policy, often in pursuit of oil. The film highlights how such policy has frequently become unstuck due to politicians sticking to simplistic explanations, of what are often very complex internal issues within these states. The film in particular focuses on Afghanistan and the various western interventions in this country.

The film is not for the feint hearted and includes many shocking scenes, the sort that the BBC never broadcast and hence why I doubt this film will ever be broadcast on television. For example the aftermath of an assassination “attempt” on Karzai’s convoy (about 25min’s in, which does seem to imply it was just his trigger happy security guards being jumpy rather than anything else). Indeed the film has provoked much controversy, being both praised as brilliant and on the other hand condemned by the very sorts who you’d think it would appeal too.

The film gets its name from the Bitter Lake agreement, where in the twilight weeks of World War II, in one of his last major policy decisions, President Roosevelt met with the Saudi king and they struck a deal through which the US would gain access to Saudi oil and in return the Saudi’s would get a guarantee of security. However, this deal threatened in the long term to undermine everything that Roosevelt had worked towards, and directly led to the events of 9/11.

The religion of Saudi Arabia has, since the 1800’s been not Islam but Wahhabism, an often puritanical, xenophobic and technophobic offshoot of mainstream Sunni Islam. Wahhabism itself grew as a counter to Western Imperialism (notably the Ottoman Empire) and it was both one of the Saudi Kingdom’s key strengths…but also its greatest internal threat. Indeed from time to time the Royal family has literally been forced to turn on the Wahhabists and buried more than a few in holes in the desert.

One solution that the Saudi’s developed was the idea that the best way of dealing with the more troublesome extremists, was to give them a pile of money, which thanks to the oil revenues they now weren’t short off, bundle them off to somewhere like Pakistan to set up a Madrasa and spread the good Wahhabi word. Its a bit like the old Irish policy, in some families, of sending the smart brother to college so he could become an engineer or a doctor, letting the middle ones take up a trade and become plumbers or joiners, while the idiot brother gets bundled off to a seminary. Similarly, in Saudi families, the runt of the litter, the kid who was too dumb to pass high school…and spent his spare time torturing small animals, gets bundled off to some foreign Madrasa where he’s out of sight and out of mind and not making waves for people back home.

And for a time this tactic worked, however the end result has been to create a number of very serious long term problems, notably in that these Wahhabi preachers have now indoctrinated a substantial portion of the Muslim populations in certain countries with teachings that actually contradict traditional Muslim teachings in those countries. There is for example very little tradition in many Muslim countries of women wearing full face veils. Yet many Muslim women in some countries now do so, despite the obvious practical problems it creates, as they are still expected to do the jobs and chore’s they’d long performed without wearing the veil or Burka.

This growth in Wahhabism, was fuelled by Western policies. For example, the man who actually inspired the 9/11 hijackers, was an Egyptian by the name of Sayyid Qutb. This simple school inspector had been radicalised in part thanks to his treatment by the Nasser regime, with whom the US was at the time co-operating on security matters. Nasser represented the opposing force in Islam, of Muslim secularism which sought to exploit the west and copy some of its methods, notably Western technology and industrialisation. However in the process, the Pan-Arabians succeeded in alienating many more conservative Muslims as well as trampling on the traditional systems of tribal loyalties that had held such societies together for Millennia.

For example, in the 1950’s the US helped build a dam in Helmand province of Afghanistan as part of a programme to modernise the country. However the dam forced many off their land. Also for the dam to function, it relied on a system of canals to provide water to farms, which soon became clogged due to lack of maintenance. This causes significant disruption to local tribal life as well as making it difficult for local tribes to farm, as the dam had also raised the salt levels within the water table….until the locals realised that instead they could grow Opium poppies! For decades after, this Opium crop would be a major problem for the West, both due to the drug problems that resulted in the West, but also the funds it would funnel to terrorist groups.

Recently on US TV there was a controversial debate between Bill Maher, Ben Affleck (of all people) and American author Sam Harris. The crux of this debate was a simplistic spinning of the conflicts within the Arab world into a fight between “good” Muslims versus “bad” Muslims, when in fact a more accurate analysis would be Muslims and the rest of the civilised world against Wahhabi extremists. For increasingly, during the 1980’s the Wahhabist’s “exported” from countries like Saudi Arabia were being utilised as a counter to the Pan-Arabism of Nasser, Saddam or the Asad’s, which both the Saudi’s and the US now considered as their enemies and allies of the soviets.

When a pan-Arabian regime took root in Afghanistan, the Americans tried all they could to destabilise it, eventually leading to a Russian invasion. The Saudi’s and the US (under Reagan), then persuaded many Muslim extremists to go off to fight a Jihad against the Russians in the hope that the US could get one back on the sov’s for Vietnam. They even convinced a number of Arab countries to effectively empty their prisons of many violent Jihadi’s, who had been rotting (often on death row) for various attempted rebellion’s, and send them to Afghanistan to fight to soviets….and probably in the very real hope that they’d be killed, thus solving two problems at once. Of those who went to Afghanistan included Al-Qaeda’s number 1 and 2, Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri, a follower of the aforementioned Sayyid Qutb. It seemed like a good plan…until a number of those Jihadi’s put their CIA training to good use over the skies of New York….15 of the 19 of them being Saudi’s.

And again, it was the simplistic analysis of the problem in both Moscow and Washington that was the problem. Neither understood the complex system of tribal loyalties and long running cultural rivalries. Reagan had an almost megalomaniac obsession with the conflict, even dedicating the inaugural launch of the space shuttle to the Afghan fighters…or comparing the Mujahideen to the founding fathers of the US.

Similarly the Soviet leadership did not initially understand that the reason for the revolt was due to the land reforms that had been imposed on the country and the tribal feuds this had set off. Much of the reason why local tribes fought the soviets had little to do with politics, or religion for that matter, but in defence of tribal claims. And indeed they often used one side or another against one another. For the surest way of getting you’re rival killed was to go to the Soviets and tell them such and such a person was Mujahideen, or visa versa. And many tribal elders would happily switch sides at the drop of a hat if the winds of change suited.

And when the Americans and British came into Helmand province in the 2000’s the locals played the same game, using the coalition forces to settle long standing tribal scores. In part, this was because that the West failed to understand the consequences of putting the likes of Karzai in charge of the country, who presided over a regime that was institutionally corrupt and widely despised. The end result was that both the soviet occupation of the country and the Western one did not have any appropriated outcome. And similarly in Iraq, the West backed a president who alienated the Sunni’s, who promptly threw in their lot with ISIS, who took over half the country, leaving the Americans playing catch up very quickly.

The result is to make something of a mockery of fifty years of western diplomacy and some will take this as a clear sign as to why the West should stay out of Middle East affairs. However one valid criticism would be to accuse Adam Curtis of making the very same mistake that he accuses Western governments of, he relies too much on simplistic explanations and a fairly narrow interpretation of the facts, and quite a lot of hyperbole.

For example, he goes so far as to claim that much of the global trade on stock markets is ultimately a massive ponzi scheme fuelled by Saudi oil money. This is going perhaps a little far. Certainly, a point I would make (as an expert on energy) is that much of the supposed wealth of the West is somewhat imaginary, as its dependant on the availability of cheap fossil fuels which won’t always be available, hence unless we come up with some alternatives there’s going to be some sort of major economic correction. However it would be incorrect to conclude that the stock markets only exist because of petro-dollars (he is aware that they existed long before oil came along?).

Also, one has to be careful in this narrative of blaming the West for everything. After all, nobody made the Taliban become Taliban. The US certainly scored an own goal by helping to train and equip them, but it wouldn’t be fair to blame the West without pointing the finger at other factors closer to home, the Wahhabists, corrupt and oppressive local regimes, ignorance and greed on the part of locals?

Take this Jihadi John character. Certain apologists for ISIS, such as professional moron Russell Brand, have been trying to argue its all the West fault he decided to go to Syria and take to beheading aid workers and journalists, ignoring the fact that clearly he was radicalised long before the security services got near him. Its not as if MI5 put a plane ticket in his hand and a machete in the other? And are we going to blame MI5 for those 3 girls who were groomed online and when missing last month?

But either way this film does raise awkward questions, such as what to do about ISIS. Nobody can doubt that ISIS are a murderous and dangerous perversion. Tales from within ISIS held territories speak of such horrors as mass executions, crucifixions and a regime, run by sex-mad slave drivers, that literally collects not just outrageous taxes, but even taxes paid in blood (and you thought taxes in the UK were tough!). The city of Raqqa (ISIS capital) has seen its population drop by more than half since they took over. Veils for women indeed simply aren’t enough, as in almost monty python-esque style they’ve introduced double veil’s with gloves.

In short its difficult to argue how anything could be better than leaving the likes of ISIS in charge. And the argument that we should just let the Kurds and Shia’s sort out ISIS ignores the likely consequences of that. For example, the Kurds have taken much land and territory in both Syria and neighbouring provinces of Iraq, as have the Shia’s, who are currently advancing on Tikirit….possibly with the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary guard.

But will these groups give up the land afterwards? The land captured is majority Sunni areas but with large Shia or Kurdish minorities. And it contains in many cases large oil reserves. Suppose they hold onto the land, or indeed start fighting each other over this land? It could mean that the war against ISIS is replaced with a wider internal conflict inside Iraq, or possibly a war between Iraq and Syria with Turkey and Iran backing one side or another.

But of course Western boots on the ground, won’t necessarily work out any better. After all if the plan is to repeat past Western mistakes, it would be merely a case of the West demonstrating one of the proof’s of madness (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result). Its all well and good, throwing rocks at Western policy, but its possible that a lack of intervention could be as bad, if not worse, than further intervention.

Hence why I’d argue a more effective strategy is to break our addiction to oil. No petro-dollars, no Saudi money to Madrasa’s and ISIS. It also means being careful whose side we pick. Another flash point is the West’s unyielding support for Israel, ignoring Israel ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and its production of WMD’s. Obviously, doing as Netanyahu suggests, would be dangerous, without first tackling Israeli nuclear weapons. To argue that Iran can’t have Nukes, but we’ll let Israel have them is clearly hypocritical.

In short there needs to be an end to Western double standards, backing up one heavily armed oppressive regime (such as the Gulf States), then bombing or isolating another one (such as Saddam’s Iraq or Iran) and ignoring totally the crimes of others (such as Israel). Equally thought the West needs to wake up to the fact that we’re in the mess due to attempts to secure oil reserves. So a programme of reducing the Western addiction to oil is certainly essential.

Week in review

Time to print Drachmas?
The optimist in me is looking at the climb down by the Greeks in negotiations with the EU, as promising. While its clearly not a workable deal, it shows that the Greek’s need to kerb their enthusiasm while the Germans need to cut them some slack. So it could be a step towards something more positive. Meanwhile the pessimist in me thinks that the real reason why the Greeks finally gave in is because they need to kick things into the long grass for a few months to give them time to print Drachma’s.

Actually, if I were the Greek’s, I’d start printing Drachma’s anyway. It gives them the extra option, if the Germans refuse to back down, to walk away from the Euro as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if the Germans learn in the middle of negotiations (via a suitably timed leak) that the Greeks might actually walk away and leave them with a three hundred billion bill to pick up 88|, it might serve to scare them straight. So they have literally nothing to lose.

When Tes-goes
I came across a article recently about Britain’s abandoned Supermarkets. One of the problems with the aggressive expansion program’s of supermarket chains such as Tesco’s or ASDA has been to drive local stores out of business. This causes all sorts of local issues, destroying town centres, increasing the need for cars to reach out of town retail parks, which imposes various costs on councils for new road building and reduced council tax revenue. Then what happens? Tesco’s closes its store and leaves the town without any shops at all!

Such closures can therefore have a double whammy impact on council budgets. Often in order to support such stores councils have to spend money. For example, putting up new road signs, new roundabouts and integrating approach roads and footpaths from the store into the local road network. Which, to avoid queues might also need further widening and expensive modifications. Normally something referred to as “section 106 agreements” will act as compensation to the council, releasing funds that can be ploughed into various community schemes. But with the store closed the council looses these funds, quite apart from the loss of tax revenue. The result is an an inevitable squeeze on already tight council budgets.

Its a trend very familiar to many in the US, notably thanks to ASDA’s parent company Wal-Mart, who have successfully turned many US towns into a ring of strip malls with a ghetto in the centre. And of course should Walmart for any reason be displeased with local politicians, by them for example introducing some new taxes or ordinances (pesky government, promoting local democracy!), they can and will hold the town to ransom by threatening to shut down the store. And don’t even mention the word “union”, as Walmart has a policy to close any store where staff successfully unionise.

Of course what this show’s is exactly why Councils should have been more considerate in the first place. As in, if you let Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s build a massive superstore, you do realise the economic implications for that? It would seem sensible to me in future for councils to therefore be a bit more clever. E.g. refuse any single mega store, but be clear they will allow the construction of a number of smaller stores, thus ensuring they aren’t dependant on one single supermarket chain. I would also suggest a ban on stores above a certain size is probably a policy worth considering.

Dead man’s switch
There’s been a number of accidents recently involving lorries running out of control. The tragic events in Glasgow and Bath for example. It raises the question as to whether they could be avoided somehow, by for example fitting a “dead man switch” which would automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle went out of control. Well technically yes, such systems are not new and have been fitted to many vehicles (forklift trucks, railroad cars, light watercraft, etc.) for many decades. The problem is guaranteeing that the switch will be disengaged in an emergency.

Perhaps a better way would be to use software. Many vehicles these days rely on drive by wire, i.e. when you turn the steering wheel, all you do is generate signals that go to the car’s ECU, which then communicates with the power steering system what to do. Similarly in some cars the pedals are merely transducers connected to the ECU instead of to the carburettor throttle or brakes. This is central to such features as traction control, cruise control or automatic braking.

So technically, you could easily configure all large lorries such that in the event of the driver losing conciousness, or behaving erratically, e.g. excessive sudden acceleration in an urban area, lane departure, the ECU would detect this and automatically apply the brakes. Such features could also include parking sensors around the vehicle to cover blind spots, with the brakes again being applied if, say a cyclists was detected. Consider that of the four cyclists killed in London this year, all have involved a collision with a lorry.

However, there are downsides. Costs obviously, as such vehicles system would be a little bit more expensive and would be difficult to retrofit into older vehicles. So there would have to be a transition period for such technology to be brought in. Also the problem with lorries is that you’re dealing with an awful lot of mass. Once something that big runs out of control, there’s not a lot the driver, nor a computer, can do to stop it. Which is why perhaps we need to consider perhaps simply banning such large vehicles from town centres altogether and insisting on the use of smaller vehicles to do the same jobs. More costly yes, but certainly safer for all.

Russian bombers
Several times now Russian Tu-95 Bear’s have been intercepted by the RAF close to UK airspace, provoking a furore within the press and the usual “Britain under threat” stuff. Actually no. The sharper among you may have noticed something important about the Tu-95, i.e. the fact that they are so old and obsolete they still use propellers, hardly a surprise for an aircraft designed in the 50’s! There main role in the Russian airforce these days is actually long range maritime patrol rather than as bombers. For, as a bomber aircraft, they are pretty much useless against any country with an airforce or any form of of air defence system (SA missile’s for example). This is why most countries got rid of such bomber forces decades ago, as they are simply obsolete and of questionable military value.

Certainly the situation in Russia is worrying, but parallels with 1939 are inappropriate. As I’ve discussed in a prior post, the fact is that NATO enjoys an enormous military advantage over Russia. Consider that the Russian airforce has, at most, about a hundred half decent fighter aircraft (i.e. aircraft that aren’t flying museum exhibits and are of some actual military use) against a combined NATO force of over a thousand similar aircraft or better, with tens of thousands of less advanced aircraft in support! In the event of a shooting war the Russians would be outnumbered in the sky’s ten to one, often by superior aircraft. There is no question that NATO could stop Russia and bomb Putin into submission any time they choose to do so…and shoot those Tu-95’s out of the sky before they came anywhere near the UK!

The danger is the long term implications of this activity. e.g. the reason why the UK isn’t buzzing Russia with its long range patrol aircraft is because we don’t have any of those (cancelled by the Tories) and NATO closed down its forward operations base for long range maritime patrol (in Iceland) some years ago.

So the risk is that NATO will respond to Putin’s actions by putting aircraft and troops in positions more threatening to Russia (such as in Ukraine!), which in itself raises the risk of conflict between the two kicking off accidentally. Also I reckon its only a matter of time before the Americans start bringing up missile defence again. They and the Israeli’s have been quite busy developing these systems, which are getting quite advanced and reliable. Deployment of such systems in the Balkans or Ukraine could be very destabilising, as it would effectively counter much of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, perhaps forcing them into a more hair trigger stance with what few missiles they have that can counter the NATO ABM systems.

And this is also worrying, because the very reason Putin is engaging on this strategy, even thought its undermining Russian security by doing so, is because he’s an ego-manic surrounded by Yes-men who dare not confront their boss with the truth.

A resigning matter
One subject that didn’t get a lot of media attention, particularly within the right wing media was the spectacular resignation of the Daily Telegraph‘s long standing political editor Peter Oborne, citing the lack of coverage the Telegraph had given the HSBC scandal. He accused the paper of pulling stories purely to protect advertising revenue, as well as the exertion of editorial bias by the paper’s reculsive owners (and tax exiles themselves), the Barclay brothers.

Needless to say this is a rare insight into the goings on of major newspaper and it does suggest a lot we should be worried about. We rely on newspapers to be objective in their work, as otherwise the result isn’t news, its for said media outlet to be reduced to that of a propaganda organ that plays the master’s tune, much like RT and Fox News. The justification for allowing the likes of the Barclay’s or the Murdoch’s to own multiple titles is the assumption that they will keep their noses out of editorial matters. If they can’t do that and the phone hacking scandal certainly suggested that they can’t be trusted, then these media empires should be broken up.

And of course credit due to Oborne. He might be a right wing hack, but at least he’s an honest right wing hack! ;D

Hypocrisy?
The Tories are slashing the welfare budget because they argue there are many claiming benefits who aren’t genuine hard up cases and that benefits should be more effectively means tested and that there should be a cap on how much you can received regardless of circumstances. Yet when it comes to pensioners, they intend to dole out a full whack of benefits, winter heating allowance, free TV license, bus passes, etc. without any form of means testing, even though these benefits cost the country far more than we ever spend on the unemployed.

Now I’m not saying pensioners aren’t entitled to these benefits, I’m merely pointing out the obvious hypocrisy. If you’re going to means test the very poorest people in the country, what’s wrong with applying the same rule to everybody, as labour and the lib dems have suggested? Or has it something to do with the fact that the bulk of the working class are likely to vote labour, while the bulk of pensioners are more likely to vote Tory?

Of course, many pensioners are quite likely to vote UKIP, even thought if there’s anything more threatening to the retirement income of pensioners its UKIP. Their current spokesman on the matter has in fact recently talked about a UKIP policy to scrap the state pension and replace it with a privatised system.

As I’ve said in the past, any pensioner tempted to vote UKIP, I would advise to first buy a tin of cat food and decide if you think you could live out you’re days eating it, as that’s likely to be the stable of your diet if UKIP ever got into power! :))

Its a sin
The church of England joined with other Christian groups over the last few weeks, with much fire and brimstone, lambasting corporations >:-[ for non-payment of tax and their failure to pay a living wage. No doubt chief executives need to remember the bit about how it is harder for a camel to ride through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter heaven, and all that…

…However their attempt to take the moral high ground was somewhat undermined by news that the Church doesn’t pay the living wage either, advertising several posts paying just the minimum wage. Of course one could argue, such hypocrisy is nothing new, its generally be a case throughout history for the clergy to say do as we say, don’t do as we do.

Also one has to remember that churches are non-profit organisations, every penny saved on salaries, goes to other worthy causes, such as getting the leaky cathedral roof repaired. And in fact, many churches these days, in the UK, are under huge pressure from the enormous repair bills to keep their churches and cathedral’s functioning. By contrast any money saved by Starbucks or Poundland on lower wages goes on the Chief exec’s private yacht, or the champagne breakfast at the next shareholders meeting. So there is something of a difference!