Send in the Clown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trump’s next war

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

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

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

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

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

Syria/Iraq

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

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

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

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

Iran

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

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

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

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

North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South China Sea

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

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

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

Estonia and the Baltic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing on midnight

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

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

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

News roundup

Republican racism

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If the GOP convention had a motto it would be “make America hate again”. The theme of the convention was that of a broken America (actually the economy is doing well, a lot better than before Obama took over), where crime is on the rise (actually violent crime is down….and anyway won’t gun control be a better way of tackling gun violence?) and migrants are streaming across the border (migration into the US has been falling for sometime, more are going back to Mexico than are arriving, indeed a recent spike in arrivals is being blamed (ironically enough) on Trump’s talk of building a wall).

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Why do Republicans hate America so much? Fact checkers have had to go into overdrive trying to debunk much of what was said at the convention, notably by Trump himself. Even the Wall Street Journal (hardly a bastion of left wing sentiment) has dismissed Trump’s posturings as a recipe for a recession, that would hit low income workers that hardest.

Of course the problem is that Trump’s supporters long ago traded in the truth for comforting lies. Many actually acknowledge that they know he’s lying but they still don’t care, as they put his lies above someone else’s facts. If there was one thing that died in Cleveland it was any connection between Republicans and this little thing the rest of us call “reality”.

Perhaps most worrying of all is that it is now okay to be openly racist in the US. For years the GOP practised a system of dog whistle politics, whereby they would say certain things that at face value didn’t sound racist, but were in fact a nod and a wink to racist bigots along the lines of we know what you’re thinking and we dress up in hoods and burn crosses too.

Well now, many feel free enough to pull off their hoods and come out of the closet, resulting in a rise in hate crime. Of course, this is hardly a surprise given that it was a wave of hate that propelled Trump towards the nomination in the first place. For example, the old “Obama is a Kenyan and a Muslim” card was played by one of the speakers at the GOP convention (ignoring the fact that even if it was true Obama is from Kenya, the country is 82.5% Christian, i.e. he’d be more likely to be Christian than an American!). And David Duke, the KKK leader whom Trump was slow to disavow after he endorsed Trump, is now planning to run for office on the Republican ticket. This would be simply unthinkable a few years ago.

Fortunately, the polls do put Hillary still ahead of Trump, although perhaps not far enough. The current consensus is that she will probably carry most of the major swing states. She may struggle in Florida or Nevada, although if she captures all of the rest (where she is well ahead in the polls) it won’t matter. In congressional polls, the democrats are now also ahead.

One part of me wants Trump to lose narrowly, as this one mean his supporters don’t get the message, they’ll turn inward and tear the party apart – guaranteeing Hillary gets 8 years in charge, with control of both houses and the Supreme court. However, on the other hand, it would be much better for the GOP, and democracy itself in America, for the Trump camp to lose this election and lose big. I mean mass defections to the libertarian party, enough of a lead to Hillary that she sweeps the board in the electoral college, even in traditional GOP voting states. That might be enough of a shock to the system to scare the GOP party straight and make them realise they need to modernise as a party if they want to ever win an election again.

Oh how it Bernies

And worryingly there isn’t exactly a lot of unity on display at the Democratic convention. Firstly e-mails were leaked (fortunately this time nothing to do with Hillary) which showed how the DNC was conspiring against Bernie Sanders. Now this is not exactly a surprise, welcome to the messy world of politics! Indeed Bernie himself seemed to brush it off, endorsing Hillaryagain…. on the first day.

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However, he was met by boo’s and chanting from his own supporters (prompting one Hillary supporter to quib “this is what losers look like”). They don’t seem to get the message that they’ve lost, its a choice between Trump and Hillary now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Hillary but I can tell the difference between two, admittedly unpleasant, but distinctly different post-election scenarios. One where we get Hilary, and she strengthens Obama care and implements one or two other left wing policies, but otherwise its business as usual. Or we get Trump…..and probably totalitarian rule and world war 3 shortly there after.

So the Bernie or bust brigade can’t dodge the question, are you happy for Trump to be president? Because voting for anyone other than Hillary or sitting out the election means you are essentially endorsing Trump. But Bernie can do very little about this. He’s no longer in control of his own revolution, nobody is.

Bears and guns

Speaking of Republicans and dumb animals, there’s the issue of bears and what to do if you meet a bear in the woods (well don’t disturb them if they are going to the toilet anyway, we all know what bears definitely do in the woods!). This was of interest to me as over the summer I was hiking in Sweden, where there are some bears (not many, but it is one of the few places in Europe where you might encounter a bear in the wild).

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Well the general advice is to avoid such encounters. Above all else you don’t want to surprise the bear (so make some noise and watch out near streams and waterfalls), as this would be interpreted as predator like behaviour by the bear. Equally you don’t want to soil your trousers and run away (this is prey like behaviour and even then it may follow as its curious as to why you are running). If all else fails, there’s bear spray. This is not a new brand of deodorant, but a very strong form of pepper spray.

Now gun nuts would say, well this is why I carry my 45 around with me. But the official advice is no, guns don’t help. A little 10g bullet ain’t going to stop 700 lbs of angry bear. Yes he might bleed to death or die of an infection several days afterwards, but that’s still going to leave him more than enough time to rip your head off. Making an already angry bear even angrier isn’t exactly helping.

So yet another of these gun myths is debunked. Guns don’t make you safer. Indeed, by luring people into a false sense of security they likely make the situation worse.

The unacceptable face of capitalism

Another big hairy beast is that of Phil Green Greed, the former owner of the now bankrupt BHS chain. He was slammed in a government report, which placed the blame for the collapse of the company on him, branding Mr Greed Green as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. They also suggested that if he has any morals he should get out his cheque book and write out a cheque for £570 million to pay off the pensioners.

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Is he likely to do this? Like fuck he will! We are talking about one of the UK’s most prolific tax dodgers. He was relaxing on his new £100 million yacht while his minimum wage workers got sacked. Indeed, his response has been to demand an apology from the authors of this report. This is the problem with arseholes like this, or Mike Scrooge Mac Ashley over at Sports Workhouse Direct, they are so deluded and full of their own ego that they don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing.

Furthermore, this saga also debunks one of the central myths of capitalism – that it is always in the interest of a boss to run his company well. In truth it can often be easier to make money by deliberately steering it onto the rocks, milking the company dry, not investing in new products or infrastructure (just look at the railways), all while awarding yourself a massive salary. Then in the end, you burn it down for the insurance money, or dump the whole sorry mess on the taxpayer.

This is in fact a classic mafia trick. They’ll buy up a struggling (but on paper successful) business and run it into the ground, buy stuff on credit in one door and sell it out the back for half price. Then when the banks about to foreclose, they burn it down. The Kray twins used to pull this one all the time. The only difference is that they worked on a much smaller scale. So while they got a life sentence…..Mr Greed Green got a knighthood and a £100m yacht!

The IOC – More corrupt than FIFA

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The IOC, to the shock of many, decided not to issue a blanket ban on Russian athletes at the Rio Olympics, despite numerous and quite serious doping allegations, including evidence of systematic doping at the Sochi games. This passes the buck on to the individual sporting federations. However with just 10 days to go to the start of the Olympics it is extremely doubtful that they will be able to go through the process of banning athletes.

And the Russian whistleblower who risked her career and possibly her life to expose all of this? She’s been thrown under the bus. They were supposed to let her compete as a neutral but they’ve pulled back from that one.

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It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that all of this was deliberate and planned. Anyone who thinks corruption in sport begins and ends with FIFA, I’m afraid not. The IOC president is known to be very friendly with Putin. And no doubt the IOC’s decision to hold the Sochi games in a Black Sea coastal resort miles from any snow was influenced by the decision of Putin to invite along his buddy Mr brown envelope, along with Mr ruble and his millions of friends. Naturally fearful that the Russians might expose this fact, the IOC deliberately dithered on this decision and waited until they knew it would be more or less too late for many of the sporting bodies to act.

Certainly it is true that doping is not just a Russian problem. If you believe that all Western athletes are clean, you are very naïve. However, we have evidence of blatant politically motivated interference here. I mean the evidence would seem to be that Russian athletes do train in a lab, wired up to a computer, surrounded by scientists injecting them with this or that, not unlike the training scene from the Rocky movie. Recent Russian sporting success is in fact more a success in pharmaceuticals and chemistry. And the message the IOC is sending is that even all of this can be ignored, if you pay us enough money. And to any whistle blowers the message is clearly a case of don’t even think about it.

One can only hope that hitting the IOC where it hurts, a vigorous boycott of their sponsors perhaps, will bring them to heel, although likely too late for this Olympics.

The labour civil war

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The labour civil war continues, both sides appear to be digging in. Corbyn says he ain’t going anywhere, even though it means he’s having to put up with cold silence from his side during PMQ’s. The PLP are also ignoring polls showing he’ll win by a landslide. And in retaliation, Corbyn is threatening nearly all of his own party with deselection before the next election. And in other developments, the party is threatening to block members from voting who are accused of “threatening behaviour, with party members asked to report such people – which will likely result in paranoia. Lawsuits are being filed by those barred from voting, and its likely the post of labour leader could ultimately be decided in court.

The likely sequence of events is therefore, Corbyn will almost certainly win the leadership challenge and starts a purge of his own party. The PLP will all defect to some new party, or the lib dems, Corbyn is left with a handful of hangers on (to the point where he can’t claim to be the official opposition anymore). In the next election the labour vote is split between the two factions. And the Tories, despite the economic woes of Brexit, still end up winning (presumably then going into power as a minority government or in coalition with New labour or the lib dems).

Could someone explain to me how this is helping anyone? Well anyone other than the Tories or UKIP! The fact is that Corbyn has lost the support of his own MP’s, I don’t see how he can lead the party now. Equally, the PLP need to realise there’s a grass roots push for real change (more old labour, less Tony Blair new labour) in the party and they need to listen to that.

Post coup Turkey

Last week some elements of the Turkish army, alarmed by the growing authoritarianism of President Erdogan, launched a coup. It was clearly half baked and not very well thought out. For starters they failed to capture him and his cabinet straight away. They didn’t even seem to be aware he wasn’t in the capital but away on holiday. Rule one of coups, get the guy you are trying to overthrow first. Every minute he’s free is a minute he’s mustering support in his favour. And clearly not all of the military went along with this. While Erdogan was becoming increasingly unpopular, there was no public appetite for a coup.

There is no worse case scenario for a coup plotter than launching one and failing. Its often said that if the US bid for independence failed then George Washington and all of those who signed the declaration would have been hung as traitors. The British colonies to this day would celebrate their own form of Guy Fawkes night, where effigies of the traitors of Philly are annually burned. Consider that Hugo Chavez regime is still in power in Venezuela, despite the fact he’s been dead for several years now, because despite the country’s many economic woes, no one wants to be associated with those who supported the US backed coup against him.

And so predictably, far from sending the message to Erdogan that he needs to tone things down a notch, instead its led to little short of a massive political purge. Tens of thousands have been arrested or sacked, including teachers. Several ships of the Turkish navy are still apparently missing. The US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic of Erdogan’s regime has been blamed by the Turkish government for the coup, although there is very little evidence to support this notion. Even so they have used it as an excuse to round up his supporters, who along with other opposition groups make up the bulk of those arrested (and no doubt some tortured confession will quickly emerge to retrospectively justify all of this).

There is even talk of bringing back the death penalty. This would of course invalidate Turkey’s application for EU membership. In short Erdogan is emerging as even more authoritarian that before. No doubt there will be another spike in asylum seekers fleeing Turkey, this time Turks rather than Syrians. Europe’s main ally in the region now threatens to become a source of instability and mass migration itself.

The Panama papers – an update

Finally, if you thought that whole Mossack Fonseca business had just blown over, well no. More revelations are being made every day. The latest releases relate to Africa and they reveal a fairly dirty web, showing how tax havens are used to rob the continent of its vast mineral wealth. This matters a great deal. Its often said, that on paper, if you add up the mineral resources, the population and the assets at Africa’s disposal, it should be the wealthiest continent on earth, not the poorest.

But for years Western corporations (and increasingly Chinese ones) have co-operated with corrupt local rulers to plunder Africa, lining one another’s pockets in the process, while the locals are stuck with the mess left over afterwards.

Weekly round up

The biggest scam in history

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tory tax dodge scuppered….for now!

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

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

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

The EU referendum rubble’s on

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

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

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

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

The EU vote and charities

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

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

When the Mosul Dam bursts…….

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

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

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

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

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

Syrian reality check time

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With a caucus of the Syrian opposition just finished in Vienna, with further talks due soon in Riyadh, its becoming obvious that there is a growing disconnect between the “plans” of the West and the actual situation on the ground.

While trying to sell the idea of air strikes in Syria, Cameron made a claim of there being 70,000 fighters on the ground ready to run in after air strikes and destroy ISIS. However the reality is that the Syrian opposition are, for the most part, not fighting IS and have no intention of doing so any time soon. While they are as horrified by IS as much as the rest of the world, the fact is that IS isn’t shelling their towns, and it is Assad and his Russian allies who are bombing them. Life is about priorities and their priority right now is taking down Assad.

On the other hand, Assad’s forces are also not fighting IS, nor are they likely to start any time soon. Certainly IS has pushed them out of large parts of Eastern Syria, something they would like to reverse. But at present, the main threat to Assad’s rule is not a bunch of IS bandits out in the desert, but the rebels knocking on his door in the west of the country, including the very hills overlooking Damascus.

The only group who could conceivably defeat IS are the Kurds. However they are reluctant to move beyond non-Kurdish areas. And the Kurds ending up in control of large swades of Syria or Iraq is unacceptable to the Turk’s or Iranians who would see that as a threat to their rule. Indeed, the Kurds haven’t been invited to the talks in Riyadh. This would be like hold the Yalta conference without inviting the US.

So in short the West can drop all the smart bombs they want but it isn’t going to change diddly squat. There are only three possible end states for Syria that I can see, none of which the West will find appealing. The Assad regime collapses and ISIS eventually overwhelm the other groups and takes over. Or Assad succeeds in finally winning back control of a ruined and impoverished country.

Or, as I suspect is more likely, the current status quo will become the final end state, with Assad in control in the West (his position harassed by rebel groups who become gradually more radical and “ISIS” like as time goes on) and ISIS in control in the East, devoting much of their time to attacks against the West or the Kurds.

There are a number of ways the west could change things, but none of them are easy. Firstly confronting Russia. The Serb’s, allies of the Russians in the Yugoslav war, only came to the peace table after NATO bomb attacks. Similarly threatening that for every bomb that falls on the rebels ten will fall on Assad’s forces and its possible Assad and the Russians can be forced to the bargaining table. Of course, there is a risk of conflict between Russia and America in this scenario. Although using drones and cruise missiles would avoid any direct confrontation between Russia and the US.

Alternatively, a policy of containment. Isolate ISIS, close the borders and wait them out. Most notably ending the trade in oil and stopping the flow of fighters into (or out of) the country. However that would mean America standing up to the Saudi’s, who are one of the main supporters of IS. Without their support and without the flow of cash and fighters the regime will collapse. However, America and the West’s addiction to oil largely prevents this. And such a blockade would also require the Turks, Iraq’s, the Assad regime and Jordanians to all co-operate, which is a pretty unlikely scenario.

This leaves the option of a ground invasion, either by a Western Army or a coalition of local armies. The Turks and Jordanians could easily mop up IS in short order. However, there’s the small matter of what happens next. Occupying such a large area for who knows how long, likely in the face of opposition from the rest of Syria.

Ultimately there are three approaches to war. The Corbyn strategy – don’t fight in the first place if you know your going to lose anyway. The fight to win strategy – whereby you go in with all the firepower, ground troops and resources needed to both defeat and then hold the territory for however long it takes and regardless of cost or casualties. Or option three, the west (and Russia’s) current strategy – the half-baked approach of chucking a couple of bombs at random out the back of a plane, cross your fingers and hope it does some good.

A shot across the bow

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The shoot down of a Russian plane by Turkey was something of an inevitability. For quite sometime the Russians have been pretending to bomb IS, even though most of their attacks have been directed at the anti-Assad forces, some of whom are allies of Turkey, notably the Turkmen militia. It was these groups who the Su-24 was attempting to bomb when it was shot down.

Much of the debate revolved around whether Turkey’s shoot down was an over reaction, given that the Russian plane was only over Turkish airspace for only about 17 seconds. However from the Turkish point of view that hardly mattered. The Russians supplied them with an excuse to act and they took it.

Clearly Ankara was sending a message to the Russians, but also Washington. Since the Paris attacks the Turks have worried that NATO will adopt a “my enemies, enemy is my friend” attitude towards the Russians and ignore their actions in Northern Syria. Clearly this attack indicates that this is not acceptable to the Turks, no more than they’ll accept arming of the Kurds. Which is of course a problem because the only land force on the battlefield who is likely to defeat IS anytime soon is the Kurd’s.

While Russia, unlike the US, has a clear plan and a strategy, namely keep Assad in power, this shoot down should highlight its a plan doomed to failure. If indeed they succeed in driving out the Turkmen, the rebels will simply retreat into Turkey. Then, like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Viet Cong in North Vietnam, they’ll continue to lob artillery shells and rockets into Syria as well as launch raids into the country. The Syrians and Russians will be powerless to stop them without taking on Turkey, who currently has the largest army in the region….and NATO backing them up.

Putin of course tried to save face, claiming his forces were getting revenge for the Russian airliner (there are no IS fighters within a hundred miles of where the aircraft was shot down) and deploying anti-aircraft missiles, ignoring the fact that Turkey has some very effective ground based missile systems of its own and any attempt to shoot down a Turkish jet would probably escalate the crisis and give Turkey the excuse they need to send in their forces. And Turkey has more than sufficient military forces at its disposal to easily overwhelm the Russian forces in the region, as well as those of their Syrian allies.

What this event shows is exactly why IS exists. Because the competing interests of the various powers, Russia, the Assad regime, the Kurds, Iran, the Saudi’s, prevents them from uniting to take action against IS. As many military experts have pointed out, any moderately equipped army, supported by air strikes, would wipe ISIS off the map in a few weeks. Historical lessons that should have been learnt in 1945….or indeed during the Yugoslav war…..or the Khmer Rouge’s reign, have been ignored. And we all know what happens when you ignore the lessons of history.

Untangling the Paris Attacks

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Let us be clear there will be only one beneficiary from these attacks in Paris and that’s the French Far right. With an election looming in about a month’s time its entirely possible they will now gain control of several French regions….and I won’t want to be a Muslim living in France when that happened (they’ll probably make them wearing little yellow stars or something). And the chances are high that their candidate may even make it onto the 2nd round of voting, a worrying repeat of the 2002 election. Indeed there’s even an outside chance now that the FN could win (although feuding within the party will likely prevent that)….which would probably result in them nuking Mecca or something.

So if getting electing a bunch of neo-nazi bigots to power in France was the intention of these attacks, well mission accomplished. Needless to say its unlikely France will halt its operations in Syria (not that this would matter, its Russia and the US who are doing most of the bombing). Indeed its likely this will intensity efforts. If Hollande or Obama now ordered in ground troops (I doubt they would, but lets suppose) then I doubt there would be too many objections after last night.

And no doubt these attacks will be wrapped up with the current migrant/refugee crisis. While acknowledging that yes there are probably some Wahhabists amongst the refugees, one has to remember the bulk of them are fleeing the Jihadi’s. Unfortunately, real Jihadi’s and Wahhabists don’t have to swim across from Turkey, they just get on a plane and wave their Saudi passport at anyone who asks.

The suggestion, as even the BBC speculated last night, that the weapons used were smuggled in via refugees, carried across a dozen land borders without anyone (fellow refugees or border guards) noticing is absurd. However, inevitably this attack will probably be justification for slamming the door on refugees, legitimate or otherwise. Again hardly a great step forward for Islam.

But why is it that Wahhabists and the far right seem to be natural allies? Well because they both basically want the same thing. Both are essentially anti-progressive Luddite’s. They are frightened by modern technology, globalisation and even curried food or “rock and roll“. Like so many similar groups throughout history, they want to return to a gilded age. However, the problem for both groups is that, this fabled age never existed.

As I’ve discussed before with regard to ISIS, the Islam of the past was very different to Wahhabism of the present. Any Wahhabi who showed up in 10th century Mecca would likely be beaten to death by the locals as a heretic within about 5 minutes. The tradition of wear full length veil’s is of relatively recent origin and historically there was seen as nothing overtly sacrilegious with images of Mohammed. In short the infidel of Islam in those days were lunatic thugs like ISIS and not the Christians and Jews (whom Muslim rulers generally tolerated, so long as they kept to themselves).

As for the far right, any attempt to implement their policies would likely bankrupt France. And while they may reminisce about how wonderful things were before the EU came along with its migrants, they seem to forget how pre-EU many French in rural areas lived below the poverty line, with none of the modern convinces they now enjoy (you know like flush toilets and electricity). Life back then was far from idyllic. It was short, hard and brutal. And anyone who really wants to return to that way of life can do so pretty easily by just emigrating to certain parts of Africa or Asia.

Certainly there is a need to recognise the threat posed by ISIS and its sympathizers. But a measured reaction is what’s needed. Some security measures, some efforts to separate genuine refugees from economic migrants (or worse), preferably with a common EU wide policy, rather than the current game of beggar my neighbour.

Certainly it is true that Muslims need to wake up to the fact that the Wahhabists are trying to take over their religion and drive it down a very dangerous road to ruin. They need to call these people out, as a Wahhabi led world isn’t the sort of place I suspect any of them would want to live in (just look at life under ISIS). And its just a matter of time before these guys piss off someone whose as crazy as them (and they blew up a Russian plane the other week) and he’s crazy enough to hit back with nukes or a ground invasion.

The West’s support for Israel also doesn’t help. Now while nobody is denying Israel’s right to exist, nor her right to self defence. But Israel’s violation of the 1967 border, the attempts of its far right to colonise parts of the West bank and the brutal behaviour of its military is a major sticking point. The West needs to adopt a neutral stance. i.e. call out the Israeli’s as war criminals (and the Palestinian terrorist groups too) impose an arms embargo, if not a full trade embargo on the entire region. And the policy on Iran’s nuclear weapons needs to apply the same standard to Israel.

And least we forget, the whole reason why ISIS exists is because of Middle Eastern oil. There’s lots of dangerous terrorist groups around the world who nobody cares about, because they aren’t sitting on top of oil fields (Taliban anybody? Remember Al-Qaeda? What about the Tamil Tigers or Farc?). I doubt the West would be entangled in the Middle East if it their main industry was dates and tallow. So getting off our addiction to oil is something that needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Egyptian delusions

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Its rare that you find me agreeing with the government on security issues. I tend to take the view that much anti-terrorism “security theatre” often has political motivations (such as the current “snoopers charter”). However, that is not to say there aren’t some crazy people out there who mean us harm, as events at the time of writing in Paris show. And that some reasonable and proportional measures are appropriate in defending against such threats.

So, as for the UK government’s decision to ban flights to Sharm el-Sheikh I’m in full agreement. The Egyptian government are not what one could describe as reliable partners. They are for one very much beholden to what I will refer to as “the camel jockey lobby”, a reference to those Egyptians who hang around tourist traps and try to entice punters into taking camel rides (bit like the fella’s selling jaunting cart rides in Killarney through the gap of Dunloe…rip off merchants!). This is by no means the first time Egypt has faced a security threat, and they have a nasty habit of ignoring or denying such threats exist.

Take for example the case of Egypt Air 990. This plane plunged into the Atlantic off the US coast in 2001. The Americans quickly zeroed in on the actions of relief first officer Gameel Al-Batouti. Shortly after the pilot left him alone on the cockpit (to go to the bathroom) the relief pilot was heard (via black box data) turning off the autopilot, disabling various systems, uttering the words “Tawkalt ala Allah” (I rely on God) before plunging the plane into a dive. When the pilot managed to fight his way through to the cockpit, the relief pilot switched off the aircraft’s engines (rendering any attempt to pull out of the dive impossible).

Despite this overwhelming evidence, the Egyptians steadfastly refused to accept the obvious – that their pilot had deliberately crashed his plane. They concocted theory after theory which could explain away the crash on mechanical factors. The NTSB investigated and then dismissed everyone one of them. While the Americans do accept that the aircraft may have broken up prior to hitting the water, this was more than likely because the pilots had exceeded the aircraft’s flight envelope. Indeed, the very damage on the wreckage was, the NTSB claim, consistent with the sort you’d see if both pilots were imputing opposite control actions (i.e. one pilot trying to crash the plane, the other trying to climb out of danger) in a high speed dive.

To this day, the Egyptians classify this crash as “unexplained mechanical failure”. Some Egyptian tabloids even tried to concoct a conspiracy theory implicating Mossad. And this is by no means a one off. In the wake of the Luxor massacre the Egyptians were very slow to react. They blamed Britain for the attacks (it policy of offering asylum to people they’d tortured) and perhaps predictably, even tried to blame an Israeli conspiracy against them.

Indeed even in 2010, when there was a shark attack off Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptians did their best impression of the mayor of Amity, denying any danger….and then blaming the Israeli’s for it (leading to some Israeli bloggers to start posting pictures of sharks wearing Jewish skull caps!).

So with this in mind, you can understand the concerns of the government spooks. They had to accept reports about lax security, put two and two together, while accepting that the Egyptians would be very slow to accept the facts and do anything about it. And when Britain decided to fly people home, the Egyptians got the hump and refused planes permission to land, effectively taking many thousands of tourists hostage for a few days.

Indeed, If you’ve been listening to media reports, you’ll have noticed how they involved the authorities in the West (or Russia) ruling out various mechanical failure possibilities one after the other (engine failure, structural failure, etc.). I suspect that this was because behind the scenes the Egyptians have been concocting theory after theory to try and dance around the more obvious conclusion.

And of course the situation was made worse by the fact it was a Russian plane that was struck. As we all know Putin has been pretending to bomb IS, even though most of their attacks have hit the Free Syrian army. Now even the most pro-Kremlin media source is left with the uncomfortable realisation that all they’ve done is stir up a hornet’s nest and paint a giant target on every Russian in the Middle East. One assumes they are now going to have to actually start bombing IS, meaning they’ll be drawn ever more into a the war in Syria. Even if and when their boy Assad falls from power, they’ll probably still be entangled in Syria.

As for anyone who goes out to places like Egypt or the Middle East as a tourist, I think it has to be accepted that these are not safe countries any more. Yes, you might get a wonderful cheap holiday in the Sun. Yes, its not fair on the people out there, the majority of whom aren’t terrorists. But until Middle eastern states put their house in order, both in terms of dealing with the groups within their borders, but those who sponsor them (read the Saudi’s), these countries will remain unsafe and they have to suffer the economic consequences for that. And the locals need to put pressure on their governments to take appropriate action to deal with these issues and confront the Wahhabists.

Britain’s Shame

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The migration crisis has shamed Cameron. While he’s mubbling about taking in 20,000 over 5 years the Germans are suggesting they can cope with half a million a year. Ireland is proposing to take in the same number a year as the UK (despite us having only a 1/12 the UK’s population). In a desperate effort of bait and switch, the story of a young British Jihadi killed in a drone strike a month ago was resurrected, in the hope of getting the media to change the subject.

Of course the idea that the government can fight its way out of this situation with smart bombs from 10,000 ft is naive and foolish. Only action on the ground will ultimately remove ISIS. Which means either supplying substantial resources to the Kurdish fighters (which NATO won’t do, as that would upset the Turks) or deploying ground troops (which NATO certainly ain’t going to do, because we all know how that panned out last time and again the Turks know how that one will pan out, likely spreading the conflict across the border into Turkey, something that’s already a risk).

Certainly, one has to say that the German’s in their haste to help are setting a dangerous precedence. They could be seen to be encouraging migrants to make the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean and to ignore EU policy on refugees . This has to stop. If there’s anything sensible on this issue Cameron has said, its the idea that we should be prioritising those who come in via the proper channels, those who enter the EU illegally go essentially to the back of the queue.

Indeed, at the risk of sounding like Farage, there is also a need to ensure that some Syrians are encouraged to return once the war is over. The refugee’s from Syria now arriving are the middle class and white collar workers. Doctors, nurses, engineer’s, shop keepers, etc. The loss of so many of these probably poses a greater threat to ISIS or the Assad regime than any number of smart bombs, something that’s probably not immediately obvious to ISIS and its fanatics….although I suspect they’ll figure that out once power plants start going down and their battlefield casualties soar because they don’t have the staff to treat them.

If Syria has now burned an entire generation of it professionals, then the country is in very serious trouble, as it will make rebuilding the country post-war very difficult. We need only look at Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan for proof of that.

However all of this requires a common EU policy on migration and refugees. And the very EU states who are complaining most about these refugee’s, notably the Hungarians, British and more recently the Dane’s, are the main obstacle to such a policy.

Of course the real issue here is that Cameron tied his hands several years ago, with that ridiculous pledge in the Tory manifesto to get migration down to the “tens of thousands”, a figure divorced from any connection with reality (given that over 80,000 British or their families return to live in Britain each year and nearly twice that number of students enter). Its a pledge designed purely to satisfy the UKIP bigot brigade and the Tories are forced to stick to it, or risk splitting their party.

Three No’s to Brussels

And of course, this brings us to the thorny issue of the EU referendum. Recently UKIP launched its no….or sort of no campaign. This means there’s now three separate no campaigns, something even uncyclopedia were making fun of (you know its bad when a satirical website reports stuff as fact, because the truth has become funnier than fiction).

And despite anything anyone might say, the anti-EU campaign will be primarily fought on one issue – immigration. And naturally images of hordes of migrants coming off boats has the bigot brigade practically foaming at the mouth. So Cameron’s failure to confront the UKIP wing of his party is what has effectively trapped him on the issue of immigration, and threatens to trap him on the matter of any EU referendum.

I recall speculating that once it became obvious that Cameron’s position on Europe was unworkable, he’d likely fudge the issue. The legislation passed as I understand it contains no specific timetable, so if Cameron’s re-negotiations with the EU stall (news flash, they stalled several mouths ago when it became obvious he couldn’t control his back benchers), he can just kick it into the long grass of the next election.

I feel this is increasingly likely, particularly if Corybn wins the labour leadership on Sunday. Cameron was relying on labour to do most of the heavy lifting in a pro-EU campaign. However, if they now adopt a more neutral stance as a party (or if Corybn actually campaigns against the EU), that would force Cameron to take a more active role, something that will almost certainly split his party….and then split the country if you follow the noises coming out of Hollyrood and the latest opinion polls.

In short, Europe is faced with a very large and messy crisis, which there are no easy or simple answers too. While Cameron has gotten himself into a massive mess of his own creation, one which has even fewer easy exit strategies.

Weekly Roundup

Getting it wrong on the refugee crisis

The Tories have looked on the growing crisis over refugees not as a humanitarian crisis that they need to pull their weight on, but as a cynical opportunity. They’ve been suggesting that the masses of migrants proves that there is a need to restrict the movement of people across EU borders.

However this amounts to muddling up two distinctly different issues. Internal migration between EU countries by workers, which the British benefit from, being able to travel to other EU states for work (or retirement in Spain or Southern France) and external migration from outside the EU.

Certainly some of those coming across the Med are not refugees but economic migrants and yes they are exploiting a lack of EU co-ordination on this issue. However the solution is more co-operation by EU states on this, a common policy on migrants, and agreement to share migrants and a firmer policy towards returning non-refugee’s home, particularly if they break the rules (such as breaking into the channel tunnel or arriving illegally by boat). So in many respect’s the Tories and UKIP have got it ass backwards.

However, if the Tories think they can use this to argue for changes to internal EU travel, think again. The Germans, who have taken in far more than any other EU state are very clear that unless they see some movement on Cameron’s part to take on his fair share of the burden, then the British can forget about any form of renegotiation.

The UK reported to the UN over disability cuts

And speaking of human rights violations, the UK is now being investigated by the UN for possible human rights violations over its welfare reform policies. It is alleged that these are discriminatory towards those with disabilities, who have suffered disproportionately worse than any from the recent cuts to welfare. Figures released last week by the DWP that thousands of claimants died within weeks of being declared “fit for work.

So on second thoughts, maybe the Syrians shouldn’t come here. If IDS and Osborne keep this up we might have the disabled and unemployed sneaking onto trucks to Calais to try and claim asylum from a British government, who discriminates and persecutes them!

Shot on Camera

Of course a shocking story over the last week was the shooting death of a journalist and cameraman live on air, in the US. This inevitably lead to more calls for Gun control, which politicians, afraid of the gun lobby, promptly ignored.

Of course the usual reaction of the gun lobby is to suggest that the solution to a crazy person with a gun is to encourage more carrying of guns by people to defend themselves…like in the wild west, how did that one work out? Indeed, studies have shown that regions with concealed carry laws have higher rates of gun crime.

But returning to the wild west, there-in lie the problem, in those days many towns far from encouraging the carrying of firearms actually had quite strict laws against the carrying of guns, often requiring for example that guns be deposited at the sheriff’s office as people came into town (he’d issue them with a receipt). The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral came about when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (who had been deputised by the town council) attempted to enforce local gun control laws.

Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. And now the gun lobby will hide behind lawyers and lobbyists rather than settle things “like men” as it were. Perhaps the Ok Corral would have worked out differently if the Clanton’s had their lawyer in tow?

Oddly enough thought, the Republicans seem keen on allowing guns in some places…but not others, such as Republican rallies, the G. W. Bush library and (irony of ironies) all Trump hotels and golf courses.

Osama Bin Corbyn

You know your opponents are getting desperate when they start making stuff up. Take Carmichael and his Ferrero Rocher” allegations against Nichola Sturgeon.

Well now there’s ludicrous claims regarding Jeremy Corbyn and comments he made after Bin Laden’s assassination. He said at the time that it was a tragedy that Bin Laden wasn’t captured and brought back for trial in New York. However, it was implied by the right wing media that he said that Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy (leaving out the second half of the sentence). Quite clearly Corybn’s opponents have been going over his past with a fine toothed coob looking for anything that might be used to smear him….even if its not true!

Of course, there are many who would agree with Corbyn, and not necessarily the usual leftie tree hugger types. But in reality it was no surprise really that they killed him. Given that Bin Laden used to work for the CIA, the US didn’t want him showing up in court and pointing this inconvenient little truth out and dishing out the dirt on the US.

Old big nose is back

And speaking or right wing hatchet jobs, Rebekah “Sideshow” Brooks has apparently got her old job back. So much as predicted, the Murdoch’s have gotten away with this scot free, despite admissions by Brooks herself to bribing police.

A shed load of rent

As the London property bubble continues there’s been a new trend in London, the renting out of shed’s as converted “studio” flats. One prospective tenant showed up at a apartment to find his “double bedroom” was a shed in the lounge. Meanwhile wholesale “social cleansing” continues across the city. Hence why there is an urgent need for measures to ease the problem, such as rent controls and greater building of social housing.