Wednesday, 17 December 2014

CIA torture, ironic really

The US Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee has published its massive catalog of the CIA's torture of Islamic "detainees". It's over 500 pages long and gives gruesome details of simulated drownings (up to 20 per day), rectal feedings and food and sleep deprivation by interrogators - followed by medical officers asking the prisoner if it hurts and handing out an aspirin! (Bureaucracy beats torture.)

The irony comes from the fact that for decades the CIA has been suspected of working on advanced and illegal mind control techniques such as MK:ULTRA with sophisticated use of drugs and electrical fields. MK is a Germanic reference to Mind Control.

And yet when the need is there, it turns out all they know how to do is rough people up and pour water on them.

We're getting richer (or maybe poorer)

Yes, we really are getting richer. Yesterday the ONS published their CPI number and it was 1.0%. Today we have the earnings growth for the year and it's 1.4% - so we are on average 0.4% richer on the year.

Only a curmudgeon would point out that the RPI number was 2.0% so against that metric we're actually 0.6% poorer on the year.

In  practice everyone's  personal inflation number is going to be different so whether you are richer or poorer is down to you. But it's unusual for either of the big inflation numbers to be below earnings growth so some cause for note, if not actual celebration.

The underlying cause for inflation being down is the Saudis still trying to bankrupt the American shale oil producers. Oil is down to $60 per barrel today. This is causing pain in the oil exporting nations, especially Russia, Venezuela and Brazil but for importers it's free money (kind of) and for the last ten years the UK has been a net importing nation - not generally considered a good thing but it's working for us at the moment.

The Chinese economy is also cooling down and this is stopping them buying up stuff we want, like food. So our food inflation rate is also reduced. It's win-win at the moment.

If you're determined to find a fly in the ointment then it's worth noting that UK house price inflation is 10% on the year - and that's an average of much higher numbers in London and South East and flat or falling numbers elsewhere in the UK. London/SE prices are being driven up by expat Chinese and Russians buying up our housing stock - and quite often keeping the houses empty so not helping our housing shortage at all. This needs to be sorted out, we cannot have foreigners buying up the country.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Autumn Statement - 2014

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has this afternoon graced us with his autumnal statement in which he glossed over the not-so-good state of the economy and then showered us with goodies so we vote Tory in May next year.

First he announced that UK GDP this year would grow at 3% - at rate higher than any other G7 or Western country, but then he admitted that this was a one-off aberration as the rate would fall in future years.

He told the House that the deficit was falling and would only be £91.3bn this year - somehow not finding time in his packed fifty minutes to mention that back in his March budget he predicted borrowing of about £7bn less than that. Unfortunately tax receipts are down and the sums do not add up anymore.

Despite breaking not only his 2010 borrowing promise, and this year's promise, he none-the-less intends to legislate a "Charter on Budget Responsibility" so that future governments cannot push the country even further into the red. Pot, kettle, black much?

For the record the Chancellor intends to borrow  heavy in 15/16 and 16/17 but then run a surplus of £4bn in 2018/19 and a whacking surplus of £23bn in 2018/19! So a balanced budget is in the cards; it's just that it is always five years in the future.

Then, despite the dodgy fiscal situation, Georgie launched into his raft of give-aways: more money for GPs; pay off World War I loans; fuel duty frozen; air passenger duty cancelled for children; pension death tax (currently 55%) abolished; ISA death tax abolished; tax allowances at the basic and higher rates increased (a tiny bit) from next year, and ...drum roll... the big one coming up... stamp duty on houses (SDLT) massively reformed.

From tomorrow, yes cuts in at midnight - he's keen on this one, SDLT will only be charged on the tranche the rate applies to. Previously the rate applied to the entire purchase price of the house. This will be a big saving to anyone buying a house  for £900K or less (ish) and should put an end to stupid prices. (The slight downside is that there is probably a bulge of houses priced at £249,999 because to go over the quarter mil would tip the house into the next band. Likely these houses will be re-priced higher to "share" the gains between buyer and seller.)

The Chancellor did wield a little fiscal stick, but not in the direction of anyone likely to vote. As a little "mansion tax" of his own, Osborne is introducing a couple of higher SDLT bands: 10% up to £1.5m and 12% on everything above that. Non-doms will have to pay more for their status, previously it was £30K a year, now £60K or even £90K depending on how long they have been in the UK.

Also multinational corporations which move their profits to tax havens will be taxed 25% on those profits as they leave the country. (This sounds like a scheme extra-ordinarily difficult to legislate. Define tax haven? When is money profit rather than a necessary business expense?) This will be known as the "Diverted Profits Tax" - should be popular with the people even if difficult to enforce.

Osborne also made a few random references to policies he obviously likes but are nothing to do with the Treasury as such: English votes for English laws got a mention. It seems he is taking a position on the whole devolution debate.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls rose to respond. He started off floundering, not really knowing what to say, and mainly asking Osborne for clarifications on what he had announced, but then someone handed him a copy of the Office for Budget Responsibility's report; he had a quick ferret through it and realised how much Georgie Boy had left out and gave him a few broadsides.

It has to be said George Osborne is not looking a well man. He has developed mad staring eyes and a rabbit-in-the-headlights look about him. He has also adopted Gordon Brown's habit of gabbling at breakneck speed through speeches in the hope no-one will notice what is he not saying. If he had good news he would slow down and give it time to sink in. These are not good signs for UK Plc. Perhaps tellingly, France's biggest bank has advised its clients to pull out of the UK while they can.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

What could the Chancellor do to boost tax revenue?

Over on his blog, John Redwood MP asks how the Chancellor could increase the tax take. It seems HM Treasury is feeling the pinch on many fronts: income tax down, North Sea oil revenues down, corporation tax down.

The Chancellor is going to need a lot of money soon - tomorrow in fact. It's the "Autumn" statement (some people reckon it's already Winter - depends on your definition.) In his Spring budget the Chancellor increases taxes and takes your money, and in the Autumn statement he gives it all back by doing lots of spending.

So JR wants some ideas on how to increase the tax take so the Tories can bribe us all to vote for them in the Spring of next year.

This blog was pleased to help with the following suggestions...

The two obvious geese ripe for plucking are: (i) multinational corporates who are channeling profit through tax havens by transfer charging - they would not decamp if forced to pay more tax, the UK is just too lucrative for them, and (ii) rich foreigners who own property in the UK. France and Spain are already looking at doing this. Some of these foreigners would decamp, but since I don't like the way the country is being bought up piecemeal by people who looted their own countries I don't mind if they do leave. We should not be hidey-hole-of-choice for ill-gotten gains.

Note that neither suggestion involves you or me paying more tax.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Oil is falling

A few short weeks ago a barrel of oil would set you back over $100, but now it's down below $70. The Americans are bringing their shale oil to market at exactly the same time as the economies of the EU and China have stopped growing; increased supply, falling demand - the result is predictable.

When you consider that oil is a component in just about everything we consume that has got to be a good thing. Oil use in the UK divides about equally into thirds: transport, heating and industry. Homes, schools, offices are heated; food is transported, industry provides jobs - the benevolent effect of falling oil should permeate just about everywhere.
Apart from at the petrol pumps; that's mainly tax. If the oil price fell to £0 you would still be paying 80p a litre at the pump.

Normally Saudi Arabia would curtail the supply and push the price back up. But this time it's different - they are worried about this "shale oil" idea and want to bankrupt the investors by letting the price fall below the economic cost of shale oil production, thus ensuring the investors get no return on their expensive outlay.

This will piss off the Americans, and also the other oil producers: Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela, etc - they are all going to be on short rations for a while. We might see the odd bankruptcy and maybe even a coup d'etat.

Muhammad has reached the top

In previous years if you aggregated all the various spellings of the Prophet's name (Mohammed, Mohamed, Mohamet, etc) they came out as collectively the most popular boy's name. But in 2014, for the first time, the name Muhammad is most popular name for all boys born in the UK all by itself - up from 28th last year.

Monday, 17 November 2014

IS behead 17 captives

Today the media is concentrating on the beheading by IS of American humanitarian aid worker Peter Kassig, but it is worth remembering that in the same incident 16 others were beheaded - all captured Syrian army officers (probably).

Peter Kassig was taken by IS 13 months ago, kept in a cell, beaten regularly and then a few days ago was beheaded. During his captivity he "converted" to Islam and took the name Abdul-Rahman Kassig - presumably a conversion under duress and frankly the casual way the BBC refers to him posthumously as Abdul-Rahman rather than Peter is disgusting. (Before his death, certainly, play along, it might save his life - but afterwards this is just pandering to terrorists.)

Clearly IS needs to be dealt with, firmly and terminally. And here is the man for the job...

Bashar al-Assad, former opthalmic surgeon and current President of Syria.
President Assad is currently public enemy number two or three (after Jihadi John and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of IS.) Why the West has taken against him isn't really obvious. Presumably Israel thought they could get a more friendly regime in their near neighbour, and as an Alawite he is more Shia than Sunni so the Saudis are not keen on him, but he has never done anything to the West. Well Israel must be regretting any part they played in destabilising the Assad regime - the devil they knew was far better than the new one.

Left to his own devices al-Assad would be a reasonably benign despot at home and a friend of the West. He speaks English, despises fundamentalist Islam, trained as a doctor and had his elder brother not died would probably be working in England for the NHS right now with a host of happy patients.

Al-Assad commands considerable loyalty in Damascus and the Syrian army has not left him, nor turned on him, like say, happened in Egypt. And the motivation for the Syrian army to fight IS is enormous now. With Western backing, ie, money, munitions, access to international banking and  oil markets, and the quashing of international warrants out for him, Assad could cut through IS like a hot knife through an infidel's neck.

If IS were attacked on the ground from the west  by a Western-backed Assad regime and from the east by a Western-backed Baghdad regime they would be chopped up in short order. Al-Assad needs to become our new BFF.

Won't happen though. Chaos and beheadings will continue.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Scottish Labour are falling apart

It's Titanic time for Labour in Scotland. Their leader Johann Lamont resigned last week claiming the London Labour HQ was treating Scotland like a branch office - which they are of course; they are one twentieth the size of Labour in England - did they expect to be equal partners?

And today the deputy leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, has just resigned as well.

Take a look at this Ipsos-MORI opinion poll to see why....

Voting intentions in Scotland
 
Labour are predicted to lose 37 Westminster seats in Scotland leaving them with only one consistency north of the border. The SNP meanwhile will romp from 6 seats to 54.

It looks like the SNP will deny Labour a majority at the next general election just as UKIP deny the Tories an outright win.

There needs to be a lot of political deal-making in the next six months!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Gold: what's happening to the price

Here is a chart of the gold price over the last five years...


The chart shows the spot price of 1 troy ounce in pounds sterling. As you can see the price peaked recently-ish in September 2011 at £1,150 but today an oz will cost you a mere £760 - a nasty loss of a third for anyone who bought at peak. (Obviously you cannot buy at spot price; expect to be paying £50 over, but that's the reference price.)

And yet all the signs are that the world is experiencing massive gold demand. The Chinese as a nation and as individuals are trying to convert their dollar piles into gold before the USA's 16 trillion dollar national debt collapses their currency; the Indians buy gold by instinct, and in the UK there are no end of businesses touting for your old scrap gold.

Back in 2013 the German government got worried about their gold reserves which are mainly held abroad, in London and New York, to make them easier to trade. They initially requested a physical audit of the gold and when that was refused they demanded the gold be delivered back to them in Frankfurt. The Americans said, yes you can have your gold back, but it will take seven years!

Both the Americans and Germans presented this delay as an inevitable consequence of attempting to move 3,300 (approx) tonnes of precious metal. It must be flown across the Atlantic - nobody will insure a ship, and the insurers insist on only one tonne per flight. So naturally it's going to take a while. (At today's price one tonne of gold is worth around twenty-five million pounds.)

But, suspicious minds have wondered if this delay isn't really longer than it needs to be. There is money to be made leasing out gold to people who want to be able to show a big gold pile and maybe the Americans need the delay to get the gold back from whomever they leased it to. (The big problem with gold as an investment is that it returns no yield. The urge to lease it out is strong.)

The leasing market is so active one gets to wondering: how much gold "out there" is actually smoke and mirrors. Leased gold is routinely re-smelted and reformed into different bar sizes and designs and then smelted back on return. No-one can really be sure how much true physical gold exists. If someone demands to see "their" gold in a depository this can be arranged - it wasn't there yesterday, it won't be there tomorrow, but today you can see it. (Hint: touch it, is it still warm?)

Unless of course you want to see 3,300 tonnes - about 2% of all the world's gold - in which case that is too difficult to arrange.

Naturally if the Americans were having trouble scraping together enough gold to give the Germans their gold back neither the Americans nor the Germans would whisper a word of this publicly. If bruited abroad everyone would want their gold back. There would be a buying frenzy which guaranteed the Germans didn't get their metal back. No, far better to keep everything quiet, don't rock the boat, let the Americans return it slowly but surely. Nearly 3,000 tonnes of new gold is mined every year - as it becomes available it can be bought up and given to the Germans.

A gold shortage should be a self-correcting problem that time will solve. Wait long enough and everyone can have their gold back.

The important thing is to keep everyone calm during the wait. This means the gold price must not be allowed to run wild. If it spikes up people will get antsy about where their gold is, or worse, try to sell it and need it back so they can deliver it to the new owner. A significant fall could also trigger selling.

There is a long history of the gold price being manipulated. Back in the 1960s there was a secret agreement known as the London Gold Pool. This was an agreement between the Central Banks of various Western governments, including the USA and UK, to keep gold between a lower and upper bound. The Americans were particularly concerned to keep gold steady as they were committed to redeem foreign-held dollars in gold (although they had long before dropped the domestic gold standard.)  So the participating Central Banks watched the gold price and when it fell below the agreed lower bound they purchased gold to raise it, and when it soared above the upper bound they sold from their reserves to bring it back down.

Needless to say, the small number of people who actually knew about this agreement could make fortunes. They could see the price break its bounds and know with certainty that major buying or selling was about to occur and forward trade on that knowledge.

As history relates, by the 1970s the CBs completely lost control of gold and the USA was obliged to break all links between gold and the dollar in 1973, which resulted in aggrieved Arabs, who were holding big dollar reserves, pushing the oil price sky-high and causing the major economic slumps of the late 1970s. Gold was $36 per oz in 1970 and over $600 per oz in 1980; a 16x jump, the investment of the decade if you were holding.

What we don't know, is if there is some secret agreement in force at the moment. But the way the gold price is defying the laws of supply and demand makes it look like there is. It looks like the old firm is holding the price down to keep everything on a steady keel, basically trying to keep a lid on the price until production brings the "physical" supply in line with the "paper" supply.

If they fail, it could be spectacular.

Readers in the UK may be interested to know that there is no VAT on the sale of pure gold; and certain coins - Sovereigns and Britannias - because they are notionally legal tender, are also exempt from Capital Gains Tax. Just saying.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Interesting paper by Prof Robert Weissman

You're probably not Black, nor Jewish, but this paper on Black-Jewish relations will still make interesting reading.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Vory Tory and let Labour in

The Clacton by-election was the forgone conclusion of UKIP wiping the floor with everyone else, getting almost three times as many votes as the next runner up - the Conservatives.

Heywood and Middleton was somewhat more interesting. The results in full...
             By-election    2010 Gen elect  
    Labour   11,633   41%   18,499  40%
    UKIP     11,016   36%    1,215   3%
    Con       3,496   12%   12,528  27%
    Lib Dem   1,457    5%   10,474  23%
    Green       870    3%   - none -
Now the turnout was only 36% - half that of the 2010 general election - and informed opinion has it that low turn outs affect Labour most, Tories less so, and UKIP hardly at all.

If only those Tory voters  had gone over to UKIP they would have taken the constituency.

The conclusions are really just what we already knew:

The Lib Dems have been wiped out. They betrayed their supporters by putting the Tories into office. Come the next general election they will be lucky to have 10 MPs.

The Conservatives are hemorrhaging support to UKIP. They MUST do a deal with Farrage to have any chance of staying in government after 2015.

UKIP are rampant at the moment, but come 2015 Labour may be the big winners, by the back door of UKIP and the Tories not having done a deal.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Nick Griffin expelled from BNP - the mists clear a little

You would need to be a master Kremlinologist to figure out what is going on at BNP HQ these days.

A couple of months back Nick Griffin appears to have decided to stand down as leader (officially “Chairman”) and appoint Adam Walker as a new pro-tem leader pending elections next year. Griffin was granted the hitherto unknown title of “Honorary President” and remained a member of the Executive Council – the main decision making body for the Party. At least, that is what the public, and indeed grassroots membership, were told.

It is now apparent that Griffin was “pushed” – he did not jump. It seems that at an Executive Council meeting he faced a no confidence vote and decided to accept the inevitable and resign. He appointed Adam Walker as his deputy and then immediately quit; thus making Walker de facto leader until new leadership elections next year.

The underlying problem here is that the BNP is not an incorporated body. In a sense it does not exist. It is such a loose association of individuals that is cannot sue anyone, nor can it be sued. It cannot even enter into a contract, and struggles to open a bank account.

There have been two major legal disputes in recent years. A court action to stop a stolen Party membership list from being published, and an action started by the CEHR requiring the Party to be opened up to non-native members. As the BNP does not really exist both these actions have had Nick Griffin as a personal litigant, and props to the man, he has not shied away from the fight.

However it has left him with substantial legal fees and he has been declared bankrupt. Clearly if the Party could have sued or been sued Griffin would never have suffered this personal tragedy. But on the flip side, if the Party could be sued it would long ago have been put out of business. So the BNP exists in an amorphous state: its functions are carried out by private individuals in their private capacity, often signing contracts in their own names and using their own credit cards, and also by a number of limited liability companies associated with the Party.

Mr Griffin’s person bankruptcy does not put the Party in the clear though. As Chairman he was entitled to a cover of liability for his debts. This means the trustee in bankruptcy, the “official receiver” if you will, can demand that the BNP pay off Griffin’s debts. However long ago Nick Griffin realised this could happen and voluntarily waived his right to have his debts covered thus taking the fall entirely personally should the worst happen – which it now has. The future of the Party is going to rely quite heavily on how legally watertight this waiver is.

The transition to new leadership has not been smooth. The website almost immediately stopped being updated and diktats went out from HQ which upset long-running custom and practice and aggravated members and the paid staff.

In essence Griffin was sacked as leader because other senior members did not like him running the show as a one-man-band, but when they tried to run it they failed quite badly. The current result is that offices are closing, volunteers are withdrawing and the bills are not being paid.

Nick Griffin, in his new “role” as Honorary President, tried to do something about this. He banged a few heads together (metaphorically) and put together a report telling the Executive Council what was wrong and how to fix it. For his troubles a “Conduct Committee” was convened and it dully drummed him out of the Party. He is no longer a member of the Party he effectively founded (at least in its current configuration) and has led for the past fifteen years. This looks like extreme sour grapes to the public and was a very bad idea. Dirty linen should not be washed so overtly. The public will not vote for a party riven by internal feuds.

Expelling him may also have been intended to stop him re-standing for the leadership in the elections next year.

The future of the BNP is now looking quite parlous. Mr Griffin has a substantial personal following at the grassroots level and that may well melt away. What will be left will be a small number of super-activists using Party funds to pay themselves handsome salaries, but no boots on the ground. This may content the activists in question but is no recipe for electoral success.

As for Nick Griffin – his bankruptcy will take a year to discharge (best possible case) and after that, who knows? After the BNP becomes moribund he may seek to restart it; or he might start a different party, or maybe even try to join UKIP. (UKIP have rules about former BNP members, but being expelled may get Griffin a pass on this.)

One thing is certain; we have not heard the last of Mr Griffin. But this blog may not remain “BNP supporting” in the future. We will have to see if the new leadership shapes up.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Scotland votes NO

Yesterday Scotland voted NO to independence. It's looking like the split will be 45/55 when the final ballot papers from the Highlands arrive.

This must be a great relief to a great many people. It's probably even a relief to the people who voted yes. In their heart of hearts they must have known that there would have been years or even decades of hardship ahead had they won. A rich and prosperous Scotland is of course possible, but getting there from here would have been a hard grind. Let us not forget that the reason they joined the Union three hundred years ago is because they were bankrupt. They have never really stopped being bankrupt. Only the continual arrival of new money from the UK saved them.

Of course there are many regions and cities elsewhere in the UK which are technically bankrupt and only kept afloat by money provided by tax-payers in the richer parts. The economy of Northern Ireland is a notorious example: half their cash is donated from the mainland; yes, "donated" not earned.

The referendum result is also a relief because all the big unanswered questions go away. What would the Scots have used for money? Would they have been allowed to join the EU? Could there still have been an open border with the south? None of this matters anymore. No-one is going to try to answer them now.

However the underlying motivation for independence remains. Scotland is still the poor relation; overshadowed at home and abroad.

The Scottish problem can be summed up in one word: England. There is a country right next door to Scotland where they speak the same language, recognise your qualifications, and consider you for jobs on a complete parity with their own citizens.  And there are so many more of those jobs, and  they pay more, and the organisations are bigger and so the opportunities greater. Scotland will perpetually leak its best people south.

Solving the problem of England is possible. It would require lower tax rates in Scotland so that all endeavours have a built-in advantage. You can pay workers less if they pay less tax because they still take home more. Your goods and services will be cheaper if your business pays less tax. Consumers will buy more stuff if the VAT rate is less and they also have more cash in their pockets.

With independence though, that would not have been possible. The Holyrood government would have been scrabbling for every pound/euro/whatever. Taxes and prices would inevitably have gone up and benefits and pensions down.

Yesterday's result comes on the back of a lot of promises made by the three main party leaders and the disappointed 45% will be looking for early delivery on those promises. The MSPs in Holyrood are awaiting the arrival of many more powers. To his credit the Prime Minister has grasped the two big nettles early on - he has already indicated that the promises will be made good before the next general election about eight months away, and he has acknowledged the "English problem" - previously called the "West Lothian question" - which is the whole issue of Scottish MPs voting on English matters in the Westminster parliament.

Progress on more powers for the Scots should be fast. All three major party leaders are on board. This should whiz through parliament hardly touching the sides.

The English problem is more of a challenge. The settlement has to be fair to the English. Let us not forget the elephant in the room - UKIP. Although they have no MPs at Westminster UKIP's power comes from the fact they could deny the Tories the next government. As mentioned in the previous post English nationalism is now awake and roaming the land. Nigel Farage knows that a rich seam of discontent will be there to be mined if the settlement is unfair to the English. If the Scots get things the English do not, UKIP will be the winner.

Farage has already said that he does not consider himself bound by the pledges made to the Scots by the three main party leaders. But he does not oppose the devolution of any power to Scotland, provided England gets the same.

So the constitutional crisis is not actually over. It rumbles on, less immediate now, but still present and still prone to erupt at some future date. Nothing has ended. No questions have been answered. But at least the Union has been preserved.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

John Redwood, the coming man

John Redwood, Tory MP for Wokingham in Berkshire, one time contender for Tory leadership standing against John Major in 1995 who had resigned in a back-me-or-sack-me move, has had a "good referendum" as they say; actually they say someone "had a good war" but that's a bit dated now.

While most politicians have been trooping up to Scotland to plead with them to stay in the Union, Redwood has been the only one saying, "What about the English?"

The modern world is a contradiction of permissiveness and unspoken taboos. Obscenities which would have been stamped out in previous generations are now tolerated, even applauded by sycophants to the PC culture. Man can marry man, but no-one is allowed to say muslims rape children. (The BBC, spiritual home of political correctness, has become willing to admit just in the last year, that Asians may groom under aged girls. Asians? Are Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists involved? No, it's muslims. And "groom"? That sounds nice. Do they brush their hair?  No, they rape them.)

Another taboo, one of quite long standing, is English Nationalism. As recently as 100 years ago the UK, or Great Britain, or whatever this country of ours is actually called, was referred to as "England" and its inhabitants, the "English". The Scots, the Welsh, the Irish, they were all included in the umbrella term: the English. But decades of pandering to the peripheral nations redefined the term "England" to exclude the others. (Technical point: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all "nations" but only the UK is a "state".)

For centuries the real original English have bent over backwards to avoid making to any distinction between them and us; to avoid any possibility of "them" being considered second class citizens. Before 1997 (the election of Tony Blair) you never saw the English flag being flown. The English used the Union flag; in the streets, at football matches, on our ships - everywhere we made sure the others would not feel excluded.

And we all knew that English Nationalism was the beast that must never be allowed to waken. This blog, you may have noticed, supports the British National Party. We consider the optimal state to be England, Scotland, Wales and the entire island of Ireland. (Obviously part of Ireland is already outside the UK, but a BNP government would invite it to rejoin.) Our delineation of this state is based on a shared culture, a shared language, a shared history and a shared or merged race. We have always known that provoking English Nationalism would break up the Union and so have always opposed it.

But if Scotland leaves the Union then the UK is broken, and the urge to keep English Nationalism well corralled goes away. John Redwood MP, has already shed his muzzle and started blowing the English trumpet. When them and us are on different sides of a border then English Nationalism becomes right and proper: we will need an English parliament; we will need foreign MPs out of Westminster on days when English affairs are being decided; we will need a per-capita egalitarian distribution of public spending and we will need the foreigners out of our great institutions.

The sidebar of this blog links to Redwood's website where he writes prolifically, many times a day on occasion. He is now raising the battle standard for the English and may well make another leadership attempt if Scotland leaves and the government falls.

And frankly, this blog endorses everything he says.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Liar for Prime Minister?

Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London in May 2012 - this being the start of his second four-year term, taking him through to May 2016. At the time of his election he was repeatedly asked if he would stand for parliament while still being mayor. He always answered no to this question. He pledged that if elected he would be mayor and only mayor for the full term. Two years previously, in 2010, parliament had adopted a fixed five year term so Boris already knew the dates involved.

Last week Boris was adopted as prospective parliamentary candidate for the very safe Conservative seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. So safe that last time the Conservative candidate got more than twice as many votes as the next candidate (Labour).

The Tories of Uxbridge and South Ruislip are presumably content to be represented by a liar.

Boris has generally been quite successful at having his cake and eating it. Before he was mayor he was an MP, and before he was an MP he was a journalist. Before he was a journalist he was a management consultant, however he couldn't understand spreadsheets so he gave that up.

However he doesn't make a habit of giving up the previous job when he gets the next one. He remained a journalist after being elected MP for Henley, and remained for a while MP after being elected mayor. He took quite some persuading to give up parliament after being ensconced as mayor in County Hall. He has never given up being a journalist which still earns him about a quarter of a million pounds a year - this he describes as chickenfeed - although it is more than his mayor's salary.

Boris gets what he wants by bluster, waffle, bravado, and outright mendacity when the first three don't work. His superficial charm masks, albeit badly, a grasping, massively selfish personality. The more you learn about Boris the less you like him. He's not stupid but he lacks morals.

Boris probably anticipates a Conservative loss at the general election next year, followed by a Cameron resignation and a vacancy at the top. He will then seek to become Tory leader and thereafter Prime Minister in 2020.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Scottish independence - one week to go

Rather than discuss in detail Scottish independence, which this blog continues to consider a bad idea and unlikely to happen, here is a list of issues, most of which are not being debated by the public and media but will suddenly become rather important should the Union be broken up.
  • Transfer of £100bn to £150bn of national debt.
  • Transfer of £8.6bn of public works debt which Scottish local authorities have borrowed from HM Treasury.
  • Student loans.
  • Transfer of Premium Bonds and other NS&I investments; does Scotland "buy" these from the UK?
  • Unfunded pension liabilities; who pays? Consider a retired diplomat living in Edinburgh who spent his entire career in Azerbaijan. Where does his pension come from? There is no fund for "Whitehall" pensions, only local authority and teachers. Also police pensions are unfunded.
  • Transfer of tax records, UK might withhold these as a negotiating tactic.
  • Feasibility of using sterling informally; Scot government will be borrowing in a currency they don't control; euro crisis all over again.
  • Transfer of motor vehicle records.
  • Transfer of criminal records.
  • Extradition treaty between Scotland and UK.
  • Will Scotland honour all international treaties signed by the UK?
  • Membership of NATO.
  • Membership of Commonwealth
  • Membership of UN; security council seat?
  • MI5, MI6 and other intel agencies in Scotland; transfer of classified documents.
  • Defence of airspace with no fighters; Russians attempt an intrusion about once a week and are sent away by RAF; Mig-35s seen over Edinburgh.
  • Maritime defence; Scotland plans to have two frigates only; defence of oil fields.
  • Border control; free movement of people and goods to England?
  • Allocation of Scottish nationality; based on location of birth? Immigrants?
  • Scottish lords; still sit at Westminster? New house of lords in Scotland?
  • Will Scots be allowed to work in England without work permits?
  • Same for English in Scotland.
  • Disposition of national assets held in London? British Museum; British Library; do 8% of books have to be sent north?
  • Supreme court
  • Crown commissioners; income from the royal estates.
  • All laws and legal precedents adopted by Scotland?
  • Domicile of commercial contracts; disputes heard in England or Scotland?
  • Who pays separation costs; eg cost of shipping things north?
  • Changing the union flag to remove Scottish saltire.
  • What effect on other Commonwealth nations; Australia, New Zealand change their flags or just decide to become republics; effect on Canada, including renewed Quebec separatism.
  • Effect on EU; Catalan separatism; Basque separatism.
The ramifications of Scottish independence seem to be endless. Nothing is insoluble but the work load would be enormous. A couple of interesting documents available are:

The SNP's manifesto for independence.
The Whitehall list of affected departments.

A few things are clear. Without a seamless transition to EU membership Scottish independence is non-starter, and Scottish independence will rely heavily on English goodwill. Scotland is not self-sufficient in some important things; for example  they do not generate enough electricty. The SNP manifesto says blandly that the existing national grid arrangements will continue. Nice try! They will continue if England says yes, otherwise the lights go out.

It is likely an independent Scotland will immediately be strapped for cash. The manifesto says they may forgo assets in return for not adopting debt. They may try something like England can keep Buckingham palace provided they keep paying certain pensions and benefits.

Ironically Scotland may be in a very strong negotiating position after May 2015. If a Labour government is returned in the UK general election which only has a majority thanks its Scottish MPs then those MPs will be able write their own cheques as there would effectively be Scots on both sides of the negotiating table.

This could sit badly with the English.

However there will be a eight month window after the referendum during which the Tory-led UK government could legislate to remove the rights of Scottish MPs in Westminster. Maybe even legislate so that there is no voting in Scotland in May next year and no MPs are sent south, since they would only be in Westminster for a year anyway. A Tory government would probably do the necessary but they are in coalition with the Lib-Dems who may demur. The coalition could crack and we could even see a UK general election much sooner than planned.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Rotherham

Instead of me writing anything on Rotherham you can just watch this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwAhrU_wTdA&list=UUWOkEnBl5TO4SCLfSlosjgg

Thursday, 4 September 2014

MOD to buy 589 vehicles at £6m each

You thought we were poor and austerity was the order of the day? Nope, check out what your taxes will be buying next...

General Dynamics Scout SV: Six million quid each,
comes with side-mounted shovels and
can crush cardboard boxes.

The MOD will be spending £3.5bn for 589 of these vehicles - which works out at roughly six million pounds each. They are SCOUT SVs (Specialist Vehicles) and come with a 40mm cannon, grenade-launchers, a removable turret and a load of electronics.

It has to be said, the vehicle is basically a computer on tracks, but still, that's an eye-watering amount of money to hand out.

Given that we are now out of Afghanistan and out of Iraq and never went into Syria it is not totally clear where these 600-ish vehicles will be deployed - possibly Salisbury Plain.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Putin joining dots


Putin is joining the dots – he took the Crimea a few months ago and now he’s joining it up with the Russian mainland by sending “off duty” Russian soldiers into southern Ukraine. The extent of his territorial ambitions is unclear. He certainly wants a land corridor to Sevastopol; Odessa would be nice to have (deep water port there) and making the Ukraine a landlocked country by cutting across to the border with Romania would be the icing on the cake.


Russian territorial ambitions

The West is bleating about this and a new round of sanctions cuts in this week, as soon as the EU and USA can agree what little baubles the Russians are going to have to do without – electronics and oil exploration equipment most likely. Of course we don’t want to cripple the Russian oil industry too much because then our lights would go out.

The “nuclear option” on sanctions is to cut Russia out of the world banking system – no funds to be electronically transferred in or out of Russia. It’s unlikely they will do this. To buy oil from Russia you do need to be able to send them money. No money in, no oil or gas out; if prolonged the consequential rise in crude prices would send the West into recession. Western nose would become detached from Western face.

Meanwhile the Ukrainian government is quite laughably trying to join NATO. In NATO an attack on one is an attack on all. (Less well known is the fact the EU Lisbon Treaty has the same clause.) The Ukraine is trying to get the West to fight Russia for it.

No thanks. We should sit this one out. Let’s not forget that the Ukrainian government came to power in a coup d’etat and has absolutely no legitimacy.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has said that Russia is practically at war with Europe. That’s very wishful thinking from the Baltic. They must be feeling Russia’s cold breath on the backs of their necks. The three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) are members of NATO and an attack on them would draw us into war with Russia, but not the Ukraine, they are not in NATO and until they are genuinely democratic should not be admitted.

For the first time, over the weekend just past, Putin has started talking about the future of the Eastern Ukraine. Previously he maintained an inscrutable silence on the subject. Now he is saying a change in ownership needs to be discussed.

It must be remembered that although the West is calling Russia’s actions an invasion, for the people who live there it is more like a homecoming. They want to be Russian, or independent if they cannot be Russian.

As this blog has mentioned before, the Americans must be wishing they had never sponsored that coup back in February. It’s all gone horribly wrong.

Friday, 15 August 2014

A good day for bad news

ISIS are chasing Yazidis up mountains; Al Malaki has finally given up the reins in Baghdad; the Syrian "Arab spring" rumbles on; unreported by the mainstream media Boko Haram is making territorial gains in Nigeria (and not #BringingOurGirlsBack - looks like the girls are gone for good) and of course Israel and Gaza are alternating between ceasefire and mutual mass murder.

This would seem like an ideal time for Russia to invade the Ukraine.

Maybe they already have and no-one has noticed!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Oh no, not Sir Cliff!

The shadow of suspicion has fallen on the ultimate golden boy - Sir Cliff Richard. Police from Op Yewtree have searched his Berkshire home after receiving allegations dating back to the 1980s. The victim was supposedly a 16-year-old boy. Blue-rinses everywhere are going to be devastated.

But frankly neither the gaydar nor the paedodar are pinging on this one. It's probably going nowhere.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Lady Warsi resigns

Baroness Warsi, expenses-fiddling, toenail-painting, Secretary of State at the Foreign Office has resigned because of Gaza. Or did she quit because she was demoted in the last reshuffle? Opinions differ.

Dumpling

Either way she won't be missed. In fact this blog has no idea what she did for the country in the first place. Nor why she was made a "lady".

She was considered a disaster waiting to happen at the FO and seems to have been notorious for attending meetings where she took no part but instead wrote copious notes on what everyone else said. The general assumption is that she is planning a pay-day by publishing some dirt-filled diaries.

She may have decided that since this government has less than a year to run it was time to leave and cash in. She may also be planning a defection to Labour and have an eye on a government job after the election next year. As an unelected peer she doesn't need to worry about how her constituents would take the betrayal and she would need some time to bed into a new party.

One thing is sure, she won't be quitting the Lords and will be seen there briefly but regularly collecting her £300 daily attendance allowance.

Monday, 4 August 2014

One hundred years ago

This month, one hundred years ago...

Winston Churchill, Member of Parliament and First Lord of the Admiralty, argued in Cabinet that England should go to war with Germany and started the shooting by personally sending the telegram telling all Royal Navy ships to start hostile acts against the Germans.

Adolf Hitler, impoverished artist living in Munich, illegally volunteered for the German army as a rifleman ("rifleman" being the lowest possible rank, not his job, he was actually a messenger. He was later promoted to Lance-Corporal, or in American terms: Private First Class.) Illegally, because he was an Austrian citizen.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

PM talks tough

David Cameron had an article in the Telegraph on Monday. In it he says a lot of good things about immigration. He intends to:
  • Clamp down on bogus students.
  • Revoke driving licenses of illegal immigrants.
  • Close their bank accounts.
  • Make landlords check their tenants' right to be in the UK.
  • Deport foreign criminals first, hear appeals later.
  • Legal immigrants can only claim job-seekers benefit for three months instead of six.
  • Employers cannot recruit exclusively from abroad, must also advertise in the UK.
It's all good stuff. The benefit reform is a bit weak - immigrants can still claim Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit. (Note that selling the Big Issue counts as self-employed and opens the door to all the top-up benefits just like a job would.)

Of course none of this is actually going to happen. Dave is just talking tough because he is afraid of UKIP. Well stay afraid Dave, very afraid, because no-one believes anything you say anymore.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Unfortunate name

Here is a rather disturbed individual...

David Ruffley MP, Wife beater

Nominative determinism strikes again. Seriously, if your name is Roughly Ruffley then you need to avoid cautions for common assault. The Tabloids won't be able to help themselves anymore than a yappy little dog can ignore ankles.

Just saying.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Nick Griffin has resigned as BNP chairman

As reported here by the BBC. And a very strange article it is too; not snide; not full of malicious falsehoods; just the facts - good and bad - very unusual for the Beeb, and to be fair, the rest of the national media.

Officially this blog is sad to see him go; thinks he has done a good job converting the BNP from unelectable to would-be-elected-if-it-were-not-for-UKIP and notes he has finally put the finances in order and got the accounts passing audit for several years in a row.

The leadership toll on Griffin must be quite considerable. He has endured several court cases, all spurious but all with the potential to send him to jail if he lost. The cost of defending these has led to his personal bankruptcy. There has been continual vilification from the media.

When he looks back his two high points are likely to be: being elected as an MEP, and his Question Time appearance.

QT was a mixed bag, many said he fluffed it, but there was a serious support boost as a result. Being an MEP has been central to his life for several years; the loss of those three letters cannot be nice.

Griffin intends to remain in the party and has invented the new post of Party President for himself. In the chair as pro tem leader until elections next year is Adam Walker, a former teacher with a certain amount of "history" but essentially a sound fellow and a close friend of Griffin's.

Officially Griffin's reason for leaving is because the BNP failure at the Euro elections has caused dissent in the ranks and he wants to let the party heal itself. And it is true that a lot of nationalists hate Nick Griffin and would be members of the BNP if he were not there, or cannot be members because Griffin has banned them. In theory Walker could reach out to these disaffected potential (and often former) members and rebuild the membership with them. In practice it may turn out that being a friend of Griffin's means he has the same enemies as Griffin and the people currently outside the tent will remain outside the tent. The next few days as Walker grasps the reins will be informative. He could announce a blanket amnesty on banned former-members, but he probably won't.

It is also worth remembering that Griffin has "stood down" before now and somehow ended up still being chairman. There are scheduled leadership elections next year - why not stand down in the run up to them rather than so much sooner? Is it because he actually intends to be a candidate after Walker has taken the flack off him for a while? Alternatively it may be to give Walker some exposure in his appointed role before putting him up as a candidate for elected chairmanship.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Who shot down MH17?

No, this article does not contain the answer to the question. It just considers the options.

It seems generally agreed that Malaysian Airline's Boeing 777 flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down on the 17th July 2014 by someone using a Russian BUK anti-aircraft missile system. But everything on top of that is controversial.

Who operated the missile system? Who gave the orders?

Option one is that the "Ukrainian government" ie the government in Kiev (which came to power via a coup d'etat back in February you will recall) used a BUK system inherited from the Soviet days to shoot the airliner and the deed was done by forces loyal to Kiev fighting the separatists near Donetsk.

The problem here is that there is no real motive. The "separatists" do not have aircraft of their own so there is no chance the Ukrainian forces miss-identified the plane as enemy. The suggestion has been made that the real target was President Putin's personal "air force one" but again this is very unrealistic - the Kiev government is trying to keep Russia out of the conflict, not provoke then into attacking - and the chances of Putin overflying the region is remote. He's not completely stupid.

Option two is that the separatists fired the fateful missiles. This requires them somehow to have acquired a BUK system (comprising a minimum of 3 tracked vehicles and requiring a crew of at least ten to operate) and learned how to use it. The separatists are not professional soldiers. Until recently they were coal miners, factory workers and the like. In all probability they could not successfully deploy a BUK system even if they had one. Also, the separatists have no real motivation to shoot down a civilian airliner.

Option three is that a Russian BUK battery came over the border, did the deed, and retreated back over the border. The Russians have the kit and the expertise, and of course, they would have the full connivance of the local militia.

It should be noted that at least two Ukrainian Ilyushin army transport aircraft had been shot down in the area in the days immediately preceding MH17. It seems likely that a Russian BUK battery had been operating in the area, giving local separatists air cover and this battery shot down the 777 after mis-identifying it as military.

But this is where the blame starts to get difficult to pin. MH17 had been ordered by Kiev Air Traffic Control (ATC) to fly lower than it would normally have done. It was also flying 300 miles further north than it normally would, but we don't know if this was under orders from Kiev ATC or not.

So the possibility exists that the Ukrainian government, having lost two transport aircraft in the last few days and realising that a Russian BUK battery was operating in the area, decided to order a civilian airliner into harm's way in the hope that it also would get shot down, by accident, and this would force the Russians to remove their anti-aircraft missile battery and allow the Ukrainian airforce to operate freely in the area.

The Ukrainian government has released a recording of the BUK commander reporting to a "major" that they had shot down a civilian airliner by accident. This could be a faked recording but it seems likely it wasn't.

The most compelling scenario at the moment is then that the Russians were operating the missile battery and the Ukrainians managed to trick them into shooting down a civil airliner by ordering it to follow a flight path more typical of a military aircraft.

This constitutes a Ukrainian "win" since the Russians are now getting all the blame and have most certainly by now removed the BUK system from the area, thus giving the Ukrainians control of the skies again.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Oh Israel

Do you want to be a leader?

What does it take to be a leader? A leader of people; the leader of your country? What are the qualities that will make you a leader? No, not the qualities a leader should have, the qualities a leader needs to have to become leader in the first place?

The Bible provides some guidance on this: Proverbs 12:24 "Work hard and you will be a leader; be lazy and you will be a slave." (OK, I've munged it a bit.)

A potential leader is going to be judged against other potential leaders on how hard they work at delivering what the people want. Generally what the people want is peace and prosperity in that order. And when they've got that they want even more prosperity.

So what a wannabe-leader really needs is an enemy to fight. There is little better than a war against a despised and reviled enemy for a leader to show his mettle.

It's worth remembering that in both World Wars Germany was no threat to Britain. In neither conflict did Germany threaten us or declare war on us. On both occasions we declared war on them after disregarding overtures of peace from them. And on both occasions one man was at the heart of the decision to fight - Winston Churchill.

At the start of WWI he was Secretary of the Navy and sent the telegram that started the shooting. In WWII he was Prime Minster and established the doctrine of Unconditional Surrender which gave the Germans no option but to fight on and on long past any real desire to do so.

Right now in Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe is reviling the British and warning his people that a British invasion is imminent. Here in UK we have largely forgotten that he even exists.

In Palestine they fight the Jews. To be a leader in Palestine you must lead the fight against the Jews. To topple an old leader and become the new leader you must fight the Jews with even more vigour than the old leader. You must sacrifice more of your followers to the Jews and provoke the Jews into showing how seriously the Jews take you by bombing your houses and killing your women and children.

That is how power is won in Palestine. So the war against the Jews can never end. Any leader who stops fighting the Jews stops being leader (which can be fatal in Palestine) since the Jews cannot be defeated.

Gaza vs Israel is completely one-sided. The Israelis can win anytime they want. Their constraint is not military might - it's public opinion. The Israeli public wants peace and world public opinion sees the disparity in causality numbers and assumes Israel is an evil aggressor. There are only two possible futures in Palestine: continual war, or Israel wins. Any negotiated peace is inevitably temporary. Any Arab faction tempted by peace will get displaced by a more warlike group. But world opinion will never let Israel use enough force to win.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Leon Brittan vibe


Leon Brittan

Former MP, Cabinet Minister, EU commissioner, now Lord Leon Brittan is the subject of an accusation of rape by an anonymous woman. The alleged incident occurred in the 1960s. By a strange coincidence, Brittan was in the frame last week for being Home Secretary back in 1983 when the Home Office lost a dossier on paedophiles in Westminster.

The internet is rife with rumours about Leon Brittan, strangely few of them alleging a sexual interest in young women. Readers are directed to perform further and better research at www.google.com. The google.co.uk site should be avoided because it is effectively reporting that it is under legal injunction not to show certain results.  Also note that when you type in www.google.com manually you will get automatically redirected to the google site of your own country - you need to click the link above to stay on the American site where the information is uncensored.

The Prime Minister has announced a "no stones unturned" investigation into historical child sex abuse. It looks like a lot of dirty linen is about to be washed publicly. Home Secretary Teressa May will speak to the Commons about this in a few minutes.

In the meantime: you decide. People have been saying they "always knew" about Jimmy Savile and Max Clifford, but Rolf Harris was a surprise. What kind of vibe are you getting off Leon Brittan?

Monday, 23 June 2014

UK and Spain bond yields

Check out this table of 10-year gilt yields for various European countries... (Source)


Germany is paying 1.35% to service its debt, as befits the powerhouse of Europe. France 1.79% because they don't have a massive debt like we do. Greece (5.86%) and Portugal (3.51%) are paying a premium for being risky - not currency risk, they all borrow in euros - but default risk.

The UK is paying 2.73% and Spain 2.72%, practically identical. That's a bit surprising. Are we really equal in the default risk? The Spanish economy is supposed to be flat-lining.

Well, let's have a look at the cost of insuring sovereign debt against default. The so-called credit-default-swap (CDS) market. Here is the cost in percent of insuring debt for 5 years... (Source)


So the UK is actually the cheapest to insure. According to the markets we are the least likely to default on payments. Spain is more that three times as risky as the UK. Even Germany is just sliver more likely to default than the UK.

To square our low default risk with our (relatively) high cost of borrowing we can only assume that the markets are pricing in a fall in the value of sterling. According to the markets, if you buy UK bonds you risk losing money, not because of default, but because of a fall in the value of the pound vs the euro.

Maybe it's time to buy something European.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Gulf War 3 - This time it's not personal

A quick recap. Back in 1990 Iraq president Saddam Hussein noticed that his neighbour to the south, Kuwait, was encroaching by moving the rocks that marked the border, and was also helping itself to Iraqi oil by means of some creative sideways drilling from their side of the border. Saddam resolved to teach the tiny nation a lesson by annexing it. Being a cautious fellow he checked out his plan with the Americans first.

US ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie was dully consulted and advised that the USA was unconcerned about Arab-on-Arab conflicts and gave him the green light (the go-ahead coming originally from her boss Secretary of State James Baker.)

So in August 1990 Iraqi troops entered Kuwait and had conquered the whole country a few hours later.

At which point the then world's bigger oil producer Saudi Arabia caught fright thinking they were next on Saddam's list and persuaded US president George Bush Snr to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait. A coalition of 34 nations was put together and a big military presence was built up in Saudi. This was called Operation Desert Shield.

Iraq was attacked from Saudi in Operation Desert Spear. Needless to say the Americans (with a bit of British and other help) won easily. This was Gulf War I. It cost $60bn, and most of the cost was paid for by Saudi Arabia. Saddam was left in office as president of a much weaker Iraq.

This war could generally be considered "a success". The mission objective was achieved. Someone else paid most of the bill.

President George Bush Snr only got one term in office and was succeeded by Bill Clinton at the start of 1993. Clinton had his problems in office (the Oval Office mainly) but he didn't actually declare war on anyone and served two terms as president, ie until January 2001.

George Bush Jnr, "Dubya" to his friends, son of the previous President Bush, was "elected" president in 2001, despite receiving fewer votes than his rival Al Gore - for a month or so no-one really knew who had won. Nine months into Dubya's presidency nine-eleven happened and America went to war in Afghanistan. By 2003 Afghanistan was deemed done and attention turned back to Iraq.

By this time Tony Blair was PM in the UK and was getting on quite well with Dubya. Dubya seems to have decided to pick up where his pa left off and have another crack at Saddam. Blair, playing the Thatcher role, was right behind him. Some dodgy dossiers alleging that Saddam was building "Weapons of Mass Destruction" were downloaded from the Internet and published far and wide. The British parliament voted; the UN security council voted; and before you know it Gulf War II was born.

Gulf War I was reactive to Iraqi actions; albeit actions the US had originally condoned.

Gulf War II was more of a: let's have a war and think of a reason afterwards. Both the main players, Dubya and Blair, were walking in the footsteps of previous leaders much greater than them: Dubya, his father; Blair, Mrs Thatcher. This was a war born out of the insecurity of two of the most powerful men in the world.

Thus in March 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Half a million Iraqis were killed and the basic invasion was over by April. Saddam ran away (he was captured in December that year and executed in 2006) Baghdad was taken and statues were toppled. However American and allied forces were kept busy in Iraq dealing with insurgencies until 2011, ie Dubya never finished the job and left it as work-in-progress for Obama who took over in 2009.

Saddam Hussein was not a strongly sectarian leader. His regime was essentially Sunni but he had Christians in his government, and even women.

After the invasion the Americans ran the country by decree for a year, during which time they passed laws allowing "foreign investment" ie asset stripping, and granting immunity from all civil and criminal court actions for foreign contractors.

Then a Shiite called Allawi was elected prime minister. He lasted a year and was succeeded by another Shiite called al-Jaafari , who, topically, was educated at Mosul university. He lasted a year and then al-Maliki, also Shiite, took over in 2006.

Meanwhile all the Sunnis Saddam used to employ as army officers, civil servants and the like, were out of work and feeling the odium of being an oppressed minority. However, since Iraq is a Shia majority country there hasn't been much they can do about it.

It has to be said that al-Maliki has not attempted any sort of inclusive or conciliatory government. All his appointments to high office have been Shiites. He has openly hob-nobbed with the Shiite elite in Iran.

Now it seems the Sunnis  have finally got their act together to do something about this "unfair" situation. Sunnis are 70% of all muslims. Al Qaeda is Sunni. The Saudis are Sunni; 99% of all muslims in the UK are Sunni. So the new kid on the block, Sunni ISIS, can expect money to be lavished on it, and foreign fighters to come flocking to its banner.

This is where it all gets a bit confusing. The Saudis would naturally like ISIS to take over in Baghdad. The Saudis have major behind-the-scenes pull in America. Taking the US presidency requires money and money comes from Saudi. Bushes Snr and Jnr were both "oil men" ie, beneficiaries of Saudi largess. But Obama is more of a Israeli pawn, and he will be in office through the end of 2016. So the strong Sunni alignment isn't there. It looks like even the Shiite mother ship Iran is coming in out of the cold. The old instinctive animosity isn't there at the moment. (Iran has been PNG to America since the CIA-employed Shah was kicked out in February 1979. The embassy hostage crisis of November 1979 didn't help.)

At the moment, the Americans don't care if a Shiite regime runs Iraq. The media offensive to build up ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a major villain in the mould of Saddam Hussein or Bin Liner hasn't really got any steam behind it and the American sheeple have not been revved up to get boots on the ground. The Saudis aren't getting traction with the White House and Israelis don't care enough to make anything happen.

So Gulf War III? Mainly a low-key affair consisting of drone strikes and persuading other countries to do the grunt work and accept the inevitable body bags.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Interesting situation developing in Iraq

If you drive out of Baghdad, heading north on Highway One, you come after three or four hours to Tikrit, birthplace and hometown of the late Saddam Hussein. A few hours after that you'll be in Mosul, oil capital of the North. Time was you would have had to negotiate (bribe) your way through a lot of army checkpoints along the way, but they're all gone now.

Stay on the road after Mosul and it takes you over the border into Syria (where it's called the M4.) There's not much to see there in northern Syria, just a civil war really. The monotony of the desert will be relieved briefly when you cross the Euphrates using the bridge at Qere Qozaq. Stick with the road and eventually, if you're lucky, you'll be in Aleppo - a city which once ranked with Constantinople and Cairo - it was the western terminal of the Silk Road to China.

Now it's a bombed out war zone. It was loyal to the government but got taken by the "Free Syrian Army" in 2012 before being taken back by Assad forces. Needless to say a to-fro war across a city rather wrecks the place. The current "sit rep" is the city is 70% government, 30% rebel.

So you'll want to be pushing on. West out of Aleppo the countryside turns greener but no less deadly until the road turns into the Homs bypass. The bypass is recommended because Homs is the birthplace of the Syrian Spring. It all started there back in 2011. Homs was the first city to throw off the Assad yoke. The yoke went back on in 2012 and currently the city is under Syrian army martial law.

Giving Homs a wide birth, staying on the road, by now it is called the M5, it's a quick 50 mile hop down to Damascus.

Not that anyone is making this journey at the moment. The traffic is all in the other direction, especially if your name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, commander of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) second in command of all Al Qaeda and a decidedly more effective general than Bin Liner was in his later years.

Abu Bakr is a mysterious figure: he wears a mask in public so his features are not known, he doesn't seem to have been particularly warlike until the Americans locked him up in Camp Bucca down on the Gulf coast for four years. Prior to that he was an accademic. He has a PhD from the University of Baghdad. He comes from Samarra, a town thirty miles south of Tikrit and it seems he will be returning there shortly since yesterday his forces took Tikrit; although "took" may be too strong a word since the Iraqi army melted away and the native Tikritis would have been quite happy to see him. They've been under a Shia heel since the fall of Saddam Hussein. (Note that Saddam, Abu Bakr and al Qaeda are all Sunni while the official Iraq government in Baghdad is Shia.)

ISIS has been working its way south along Highway One since they crossed over from Syria earlier this year. Last week they captured Mosul and the way south is currently open to them.

Which is all a bit awkward for the West, well the Americans mainly. This was not part of the plan. Shias are a majority in Iraq. They were supposed to be able to hold the place. But it looks like they lack the guts for a fight. They have indulged in a common Arab practice of switching back to civilian clothes as soon as it looks like they might lose a battle. They cannot be blamed really; Abu Bakr is keen on beheading captured fighters. He's done about a hundred so far this week.

Boss of the official Iraqi government is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,  a Shia who has appointed nothing but other Shias to government posts. The President is more of a figurehead. His name is Jalal Talabani - which isn't exactly reassuring. Plan A would be to bolster these two with matériel support: guns, ammo, money.

If the Americans just stand back the whole "Iraq War" will unravel. All those casualties; all that money spent - for nothing. But it is not likely the public in America or the UK will tolerate another big war. The first one only really happened because Saddam Hussein had been demonized to the max in the media. Afghanistan happened because Bin Liner was the new bogey man. But Abu Bakr? Not seeing it. Maybe the West can bolster them enough to keep them in power. But it's going to have to be money and guns and a little air support. The public won't wear another ground war.

This means that if ISIS takes Iraq the future is sanctions rather than intervention. Call an ISIS government illegitimate. Embargo the whole country. This despite the fact the Americans were pretty close to helping ISIS take over Syria at one point. Only Russian intervention stopped them.

The other big powers in the region: Saudi and Israel, would probably not be too unhappy to see ISIS in power. ISIS are Sunni; the Saudis are Sunni. ISIS hates Assad. Israel hates Assad (because he supports Hezbollah.) The elephant in the room is the Shia stronghold of Iran. ISIS may yet turn out to be our new best friends.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Drugs and prostitution

The European Union has ordered member countries to include the sale of illegal drugs, counterfeit cigarettes and perfume, and prostitution in their official GDP growth figures. So far only Italy has said it will comply with this ruling.

It's not clear how any country could actually measure the sale of illegal goods and services (noting that prostitution is not actually illegal in most EU countries). Police seizures of drugs would measure drugs not consumed rather than the amount produced and sold.

Most likely this new rule will never really take effect, but it is a sign of how desperate officials are for any evidence of economic growth.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

French trains too wide

The French have spent €15bn making 2,000 trains, and they are all too wide for the stations!

Just mentioning it.... :)

Government have yanked nuts from vice

A few posts down this blog pointed out that criminal lawyers have got the government in a bind by claiming that legal aid is insufficient to cover defending people in complex cases. A fraud case was stayed by His Hon Anthony Leonard QC who claimed no fair trial could take place.

The government have now appealed and got that decision quashed by the Appeal Court. The case is to be re-listed.

It's not clear how the case could go ahead through. The defendants could try to represent themselves but in practice non-lawyers would struggle in the Crown Court - the process relies on everyone knowing  what they are doing. It would grind to a halt if the judge has to lead the defendants by the hand the whole way.