Monday, 10 April 2017

Trump cruise missle attack on Syria

On Friday last week, as President Donald Trump was serving roast duck to Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Florida mansion Mar-a-Lago, two US destroyers in the Med were launching Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase in Syria; this being a response to the alleged use of sarin gas to kill about 80 people in the town of Khan Shaykhun by the Assad regime on the 4th April.

As The Donald chatted with the Chinese delegation he must have looked like a real bad boy as news of the saturation bombing broke. Negotiations probably went extra smoothly after that.

Trump ordering the strike on Syria has disappointed his supporters who thought the whole point of electing him was to get America away from involvement in Middle Eastern wars, but at the same time has cheered Hillary supporters who like to see shock and awe – from a safe distance.

So why did Trump do it?

Conspiracy theories abound. Did the neo-cons somehow get to him? Fingers are pointing at his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Is Kushner running a Zionist agenda to destabilise the region? Is Trump blind to this?

Probably not. Let us not forget in the days after the 4th April the news was full of pictures of gassed children. Trump was under pressure to “do something”. Trump must know what most of us suspect: that the Syrian regime did not use the chemical weapons. Assad had absolutely no reason to use gas on the town of Khan Shaykhun and Assad would have known how the world would react if he did. 

Both Assad and the Russians, who are on the ground there in strength, claim that a regime airstrike on a warehouse being used by ISIS inadvertently released the gas that ISIS were storing there. This is far more likely than Assad deciding he needed to kill 80 civilians for no obvious reason.

So what was Trump to do? Do nothing and suffer the media onslaught for letting children get gassed, or respond with force and play into the hands of the neo-cons who want all countries adjacent to Israel reduced to rubble. Answer – put on a fireworks show.

Officially 59 cruise missiles were launched, that’s a rather odd number so most likely 60 were supposed to launch – 30 from each destroyer – probably one failed in the tube. Officially, one fell in the sea and the other 58 hit the airbase.

But the Russians, who are operating out of the airbase themselves, were warned ahead of time, since if Trump had killed any Russians Putin would have responded badly and of course the Russians told the Syrians as the Americans knew they would. Net result, when the cruise missiles arrived there was almost no-one there. The planes had mainly gone of course, and most of the staff as well. And what is amazing is that there was only a tiny amount of damage: a few hours after the attack flying operations resumed from the airbase, neither runway having been put out of use. It looks like the missiles had much reduced warheads.

It is interesting to note that the Russian observers claimed that only 23 missiles reached the base, the other 36 mainly landing harmlessly in the dessert, although nine civilians, including children, were killed in the nearby village of Shayrat.

So what Trump has done is pacify the American media while at the same time inflicting next to no damage on the Syrian regime. He has also given Putin a pretext to talk tough and say if this happens again Israel will be attacked directly. That pretty much guarantees it won’t happen again.

The net result is that Trump looks bad ass, the neo-cons have gained nothing, and Putin has been gifted the moral high ground, possibly a little thank you for all the election email hacking. Any apparent Trump vs Putin aggro is just acting. They’ll probably have a good laugh about it at the next G8.

This blog's verdict: Trump wins again.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Attack on parliament

The media is buzzing; TV schedules all over the place, journalists talking about nothing else, but what actually happened?

Early days of course, but it seems that one man rented a car, drove it along the pavement of Westminster bridge killing people and then jumped out and ran up and stabbed (to death) a police officer.

So one attacker, zero guns, zero explosives; this has to count as a minor effort, possibly even a spur of the moment thing. This is getting off lightly compared to what could have happened. With a modicum of organisation there would have been multiple attackers, they would have crashed PMQs not turned up too late, and been armed with AK-47s.  The death toll could have been substantial. We should be grateful muslim terrorists are mainly useless.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Marine "A" cleared of murder

Marine "A" serving life for the murder of a Taliban insurgent in Afghan has had his conviction downgraded to manslaughter. 

Of course, we now know he is Sgt Alexander Blackman.

The Court accepted his plea that he was mentally ill at the time.

Which is nonsense. He should never have been convicted. There is no evidence that the man he shot is even dead. And if he is dead, given that he had just be shot to pieces by the chaingun on an Apache, there is no evidence that Blackman's bullet did anything to cause or hasten his death.

Sgt Blackman should be acquitted, released, and his pay should be docked by the cost of the one 9mm round he wasted.

Budget crack'd already

That didn't take long. Chancellor Philip Hammond, Spreadsheet Phil to his friends, has backed down from his promise last week to raise the national insurance contributions of self-employed people to closer to those of employees. 

It turns out the Tory 2015 election manifesto has a pledge against raising taxes. 

So why did Phil even try to put them up? Long story, but here goes...

From 2010 to 2015 the Tory-led coalition government was very taxy spendy - they inherited a £600bn national debt and took it up past the one trillion mark. Eventually they got remorseful about just how badly they had managed the nation's affairs, and working on the assumption they would lose the 2015 general election they wrote into law that taxes could not be increased and nor could the national debt - much. (They were taken by the American debt ceiling legislation and wanted a ceiling of their own.) However, in this legislation raising the self-employeds' NICs was not banned.

So when Excel Phil considered raising that tax, rather than treating the promise in the manifesto as gospel, he took his lead from the law which they had intended to apply to a Labour government, and the law allowed him to raise the taxes. So he did.

And now he has backed down. But why? Does this indicate strength or weakness?

Plenty of backbench Tory MPs are furious. They wanted him to stick to his guns because otherwise Corbyn would be shooting straight into an open goal.

But the political calculus at Numbers 10 and 11 was more nuanced than that. Phil and Theresa decided that Labour are so weak that they could leave the goal undefended and Corbyn still wouldn't hit it.

And it seems they are right. They U-turned and nothing bad happened. Final message: we're so strong that we can act weak and it will make no difference at all.

Later today the Prime Minister will call the Ginger Nut and say, "Regarding you wanting another Scottish referendum.... Whatever."

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Budget, Spring 2017

Chancellor Philip Hammond has just delivered his 'last Spring budget', mainly because his next budget will be in Autumn this year and next year he will have a Spring statement instead. He rose at 12:37 and with an easy jokey manner told us about everything he had already told us about on numerous TV programmes. He was helped by a slew of good news: unemployment is down, employment is up, and growth is predicted to rise to 2% this year (albeit falling somewhat in future years until it finally rises to 2% again in 2020.)

Hammond: "Sorry, this is the spreadsheet bit."

However, he did have to admit that inflation will be above target at 2.4%.

His one big bite into the taxpayer was increasing national insurance on self-employed people and removing tax loopholes. The rest was giveaways: cash for the regions, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. After handing £200m to the Scots Hammond tried to drum up a cheer from the SNP but they were stony faced.

He introduced ‘T levels’ as a technical equivalent to ‘A levels’ but we already knew about them. There will be 15 T levels which will simplify the current hundreds of vocational qualifications.

You have heard of apprenticeships and internships, well now there is a new buzzword: returnship. The government wishes to support these. They are people returning to work after absence for pregnancy or other career break. The government is keen on returnship and money was thrown at them.

The chancellor doubled free childcare to 30 hours per week.

The tax rate thresholds will be:

                                        Next year                             By 2020
Basic rate (20%)              £11,500                                 £12,500                                
Higher rate (40%)             £45,000                                 £50,000

Philip Hammond sat down after 54 minutes.

Jeremy Corbyn rose to reply for the opposition and spoke for almost as long. He delivered a pre-scripted rant covering the 2000 people who sleep rough last night, the 3000 who got their meal from a foodbank yesterday, the 5 million children in poverty and the public sector workers who have not had a pay rise for 7 years. He did not actually address anything the chancellor said and asked rhetorical questions that were so long and confused that he forgot to answer them.

 Corbyn: "...and one boy didn't get his pocket money!"

Unfortunately, he lost the interest of the Labour woman beside and behind him who preferred to go online and check their likes.

How many tweeters can you count in this picture?
And why are they all women?

The use of electronic devices in the Commons is running out of control. Probably this should be banned.

All in all, a budget of no consequence with all the real excitement postponed to this year’s next budget in the Autumn.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Greece to ditch euro and adopt dollar - possibly!

It has been suggested by President Trump's new ambassador to the EU that Greece is looking at ditching the euro and adopting the US dollar. Supposedly the Greek government is actively looking at this.
After two years of tranquility after their last bail-out the Greeks are due to make another pass at the fan in July this year when they will have to find €10bn - which of course they don't have.

But are they seriously looking at the US dollar as a life raft?

This blog thinks not. No, what is happening is that the Germans are reluctant to hand over more money because there are elections and Merkel is already in deep for letting a million hostile migrants into the country so the Greeks are playing a little game with the connivance of President Trump and putting the wind up Brussels. The play being: give us more money or we will drop you and go dollar.

Obviously a lot of countries do use the dollar as their currency, so the idea is not completely outlandish. Ecuador and El Salvador use it as their official and only currency; others such as Zimbabwe use it because their own money is worthless.

However using the dollar does not actually fix anything for the Greeks. Dollarization imposes fiscal discipline just like the euro does. To get out from under the cosh they need to restore the drachma, which of course they can print at will.

So this is all bluff.

(Unless of course they plan to adopt the dollar and default on all their debts at the same time! But no, they couldn't be thinking that, could they?!)

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

President Trump's first day

What did President Trump do on his first day? 

Well, he started with "breakfast" with heads of major businesses in the Roosevelt room. A breakfast of sour grapes, bitter pills and some coffee for them to wake up and smell - no actual food was served. Trump told them to get their jobs out of Mexico PDQ because it turns out the wall is going to stop manufactured goods as well as illegals. He probably created more jobs for Americans there and then than Obama did in eight years.

Next he dropped into the Oval Office and revoked  the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TTP). The TTP has been brewing since 2008 and was basically agreed in 2016, but now it is stone dead. He hasn't done the same for the Trans-Atlantic Trade Partnership (TTIP) yet - it is less advanced than TTP and not due for ratification until 2020, but most likely Trump will kill it in due course as well.

So excellent news for America. Less so for other countries, especially Mexico which stands to lose both a hanger full of jobs and billions in remittances from its ex-pat workers in the USA, not to mention forking out to pay for the wall as well.

The UK has a major trade imbalance with the USA, in the favour of the UK, to the tune of about £40bn per year (which more than offsets our annual loss of £23bn with China.) Fortunately Trump has said that the UK will be "front of the line" for trade deals with the USA so his protectionism should pass us by. Also we export all sorts of intangible stuff like financial services and software which no wall is going to stop.

After sorting out trade Mr Trump decided to implement "small government" by declaring a federal employee hiring freeze - no positions vacant at noon on the Jan 22nd may be filled, except for military.

Then he had lunch.