Archives for April 2011

Lessons learned, lessons forgotten…

The higher staffs had had no practice in command, and although they had been well trained in the theory of the writing and issue of orders, they failed in the practice…Added to this we all suffered from the fault common to all Englishmen, a fault we did not know we suffered from till war revealed it, a total lack of imagination.’
This is a quote from Dan Snow’s great grandfather Lieutenant General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow after the battle of Le Cateau in 1914.
There’s an uncanny similarity to the ‘higher staffs’ of our great coalition, is there not? And they have yet to discover that they too suffer from a total lack of imagination. Something that is likely to do more long-term harm to this country than any of their ‘cuts’ or ill-judged reforms.
‘Confusion of Command’. Memoirs of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow by Dan Snow and Mark Pottle

Share

The cunningest of cunning plans

The Tory plan to undermine and discredit Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems has been an extraordinary success. Make no mistake there can’t not have been a plan. While the ink was still wet on the coalition agreement and Nick and Vince were settling into their chauffeur driven Jaguars, nasty men in the ‘nasty party’ were already planning the downfall of Clegg minimus.

Such has been the success of the plan that Dave has made the artful dodger look like a rank amateur. It’s poor old Nick, not Dave who has been taking the blame for the pain the coalition has seen fit to visit upon us. He not only attracted opprobrium for the rise in tuition fees, he’s become the figure in the coalition people want to hate – and his party? They’re seen by many as a group of feckless toadies who took the Tory shilling.

So when it comes to the vote on AV it’s no wonder that the ‘Yes’ camp are finding things a bit of a struggle. ‘Yes to AV’ is being identified with Clegg. This means that for the first time Dave is within a gnat’s whisker from winning something. A win for the ‘No’ campaign would turn Dave into a winner. A ‘Yes’ win on the other hand, would confirm him as a serial loser. Little wonder that the Tories have been bankrolling the ‘No’ campaign – although bizarrely they stand to do better than they think under AV.

However, the master stroke of the Tory plan, and the genius of those who put it together, is that it takes account of one crucial fact – the British electorate seldom votes ‘for’ anything. Instead it revels in voting against something or punishing someone. The cunning plan has delivered both.

With just over a week to go before the ballot, the ‘Yes’ campaign needs to convince people to concentrate on the issue, not on the personality or the party identified with the campaign. They have a few days to make voters realise that a ‘No’ vote is a vote for Dave. Although, perhaps people want to give Dave the thumbs up?

Share

Scam! Scam! Scam!

“…the media and much of the populace at large have simply accepted high food and oil prices as an unavoidable fact of life, without any discussion of the causes of these price rises aside from platitudes”.

Do you understand why oil prices have gone through the roof? I expect that you think that the volatility in the Middle East has something to do with it. You’re right. It’s the reason, but more to the point, it’s the excuse. The current price of oil is almost entirely due to speculation.

Did you know that approximately 60 to 70 percent of the oil contracts in the futures markets are now held by speculators? They’re not held by companies that need oil, not by the airlines, not by the oil companies, but by investors who profit money from their speculative positions.

Futures expert Phil Davies puts it this way:

“It’s nothing but a huge scam and it’s destroying the US economy as well as the entire global economy but no one complains because they are ‘only’ stealing about $1.50 per gallon from each individual person in the industrialised world.

It’s the top 0.01 per cent robbing the next 39.99 per cent – the bottom 60 per cent can’t afford cars anyway (they just starve quietly to death, as food prices climb on fuel costs). If someone breaks into your car and steals a $500 stereo, you go to the police, but if someone charges you an extra $30 every time you fill up your tank 50 times a year ($1,500) you shut up and pay your bill”.

Were you aware that speculators have oil tankers criss-crossing the globe only allowing them to land their cargo when the price is right? This is a cartel that is manipulating the market for personal gain and our expense. A cartel well versed in how to keep prices going north and keep us shelling out.

Like the banking industry, futures markets are lightly regulated. The consequence of this lack of proper attention by governments is that we are being robbed blind.

If you think banksters are bad, speculators run a very close second. It’s time to stop this scam – and a scam is exactly what it is – because  the human cost of this unbridled greed is high, very high – and totally unacceptable.

And why hasn’t the government done something about this scam? Well, where’s the incentive? Increased oil prices means the Treasury benefits from higher fuel duty and VAT revenues. That’s the way they think: crazy, idiotic, myopic, but true.

The failure of our government and governments across the world to address the issue of speculation and to regulate futures markets properly is a scandal.

Share

A shameful silence

The Saudi forces that entered Bahrain at the request of the ruling Al-Khalifa family last month were only going to be used to help “guard strategic buildings and infrastructure’ – so we were told. The world looked on as smiling Saudi soldiers in their pristine uniforms and smart armoured cars motored into Manama – and said nothing.

Three weeks later these same troops have ‘lost’ their uniforms and are terrorising Bahrainis who dare to oppose the ruling clique. They are actively hunting down anyone who has taken part in the Lulu Square demonstrations. Over 600 people have been detained and 200+ are ‘missing’. The US has said nothing, Britain has said nothing.

What will be the outcome of this shameful silence? Simply that those striving for democratic change will believe that the West tacitly supports the Al-Khalifa  regime. It will also trash the West’s credibility in the region – certainly with those seeking change.

What politicians in the West and despotic rulers like the Al-Khalifa family appear not to have understood is that the genie is out of the bottle. The barrier of fear has been breached. Those who want change and to embrace democracy no longer have ‘the fear’ – and fear is what has kept these grubby regimes in power for so long. Democracy will prevail.

Blinded by its own self-interest, confused by its own indecision and suffocated by misplaced diplomatic caution, the West will rue the day that it traded its principles for short term, thoughtless expediency.

 

Share

The Joker in the House of Cards

Henry Porter has called the hacking scandal ‘one of the most serious post-second world war scandals to affect public life’. It’s certainly shaping up that way, but there is an even greater scandal lurking behind all this. It’s the extent to which the media, and Murdoch and his organisation in particular, now has sway over the course and conduct of British politics.

Murdoch is not entirely to blame for this. Impatient with the ponderous and deliberate nature of our representative democracy, the political class has deliberately set out to undermine the institutions that support it – including Parliament –  so that it can engage with the electorate more effectively – in other words by using the media.

Journalists are courted and rewarded by being given exclusive information. Government announcements are issued through the media, not Parliament. Like it or not the media has become a part of government.

It should come as no surprise that media moguls like Murdoch have become so powerful. In fact you could argue that their power has been gifted to them by politicians, and deliberately so. In Murdoch’s case his organisation has grown enormously over the past two decades, and with it his power, but the tables have turned. Politicians now hold little sway over Murdoch and his organisation, they now fear his power and dance to his tune.

Britain has become a representative democracy in name only. The institutions at the heart of our democracy have been debased. Our political class now exist in a totally separate world from the people they represent: a world so corrupted by fear and influence exerted form outside politics that political decisions are no longer taken for the benefit of the electorate.

Could this be about to change? Murdoch’s eagerness to get full control of BSkyB and the hacking scandal that is now engulfing his organisation, has revealed to us all just how rotten the apple is. From the gullibility of our Prime Minister who accepted an ex editor of one of Murdoch’s newspapers, widely believed to be implicated in the hacking scandal, as his press secretary, to the cowardly silence of the majority of MPs who failed to raise any objections to the BSkyB bid having been threatened by Murdoch’s henchmen if they did. Our eyes have been opened.

Maybe one of the most serious post-second world war scandals to affect public life may turn out to be the catalyst for real political change. Let’s hope so.

Share

A dilemma for the UN, a conundrum for NATO

The purpose of the no fly zone in Libya is to prevent Gaddafi’s forces harming civilians. This is what Security Council Resolution 1973 allows for. In order to achieve this, ground attack aircraft have been used to take out easy to identify tanks and heavy equipment. Unfortunately, this has only been partially successful. Why? Because for ground attack aircraft to be successful they need information: information about targets, identification of targets and the position of friendly forces. This information is best provided from the ground from forward air controllers and from accurate intelligence from the front line.

So what to do? Gaddafi’s forces have already killed well over a thousand civilians and NATO is starting to get stick for not doing what it was mandated to do.

The best solution is to get trained forward air controllers on the ground and get accurate intelligence. The best way to do this is by deploying special forces who can operate clandestinely behind enemy lines if necessary. Does this up the ante? Maybe, but it’s what needs to be done. To train up Libyans to do the job would take too long.

This measure should not be seen as the ‘thin edge of the wedge’, a precursor to the deployment of ground forces, but as an essential measure to ensure that NATO can meet its obligations under Resolution 1973 to protect civilians.

Of course special forces may have already been deployed, in which case we don’t want to know. We will have a good indication when results start to improve.

Share

Moussa Vamoosa!

Moussa’s done a bunk. Somewhat odd that he’s been allowed to leave the country. Even although he’s a free man, I’m sure a way could have been found to keep him here. A sure sign that he’s done a deal – information for freedom. As for the information – maybe we’ll know more when Gadaffi and sons have departed – or maybe we won’t.

Share

One step forward, two steps back?

So, Vickers and his cohorts have spoken. The verdict on the Independent Banking Commission’s interim report seems to be pretty unanimous…not quite a stitch-up, but far too soft.

Retail banking arms of the universal banks are going to be asked to hold  equity capital equivalent to 10% of their loans and investments to protect the tax payer form any future bankster folly. Apparently most banks are already holding near that amount.  Adair Turner, Head of the FSA, has said the figure should be 15%. Swiss banks insist on 19%. Vickers should look at this again.

Vickers is not recommending that universal banks split their investment and retail banking operations, something Vince Cable was insisting on prior to taking the Tory shilling. Instead Vickers is suggesting a ‘firewall’ between the two. This is all a bit too hazy for my liking. Our money will still be allowed to whizz back and forth through this so called firewall. This is a fudge if ever there was one – dreamt up in a banksters’ backroom and surreptitiously  ‘leaked’ to the committee members no doubt.

The other important issue is competition. Two banks handle 50% of the nation’s current accounts. This is nonsense. Vickers has suggested that Lloyds need to sell off 600 branches, but to whom, another universal bank? Until there are many, many more banks, we will continue to be stuffed by the banks. Vickers recommendation on competition needs to go much further on opening up the banking sector to new players.

Lastly, Vickers does not address the fact that our big ‘universal banks’ are far too big for an economy of our size. Even after the Vickers recommendations, universal banks will still remain a threat to our economic health, too big to fail and a threat to our democracy. In this respect the report lacks one essential ingredient..vision. Let’s hope Vickers is not too defensive about the criticism his report has received and that the final report in September is more forward thinking and… robust.

Share

Take note of this man’s wisdom……

Raghuram Rajan. We need to take note of this man’s wisdom.  Here is a short extract from one of his latest articles plus a link to a podcast of the whole article ‘Three Paths for Indebted Democracies’

“Democratic governments are not incentivised to take decisions that have short-term costs
but produce long-term gains, the typical pattern for any investment.

Indeed, in order to make such investments, democracies require either brave leadership
or an electorate that understands the costs of postponing hard choices.

Brave leadership is rare. So, too, is an informed and engaged electorate, because the
expert advice offered to voters is itself so confusing.

Economists of different persuasions find it difficult to reach a consensus about the
necessity of any policy. Consider, for example, the cacophony of arguments
about government spending: is it the only thing keeping depression at bay, or
is it moving us steadily down the road to perdition?

The debate does not lead to agreement, moderate voters do not know what to believe,
and policy choices ultimately follow the path of least resistance – until they
run into a brick wall.”

PODCAST: Three Paths for Indebted Democracies by Raghuram Rajan

Raghuram Rajan, a former chief economist of the IMF,
is a professor of finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of
Business and the author of
Fault Lines: How Hidden
Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy. His blog is at http://blogs.chicagobooth.edu/faultlines.

Share

Oh Bibi, you’re too clever by half!

Bibi is now saying that Israel has ‘no acceptable negotiating partner’ with which to continue the peace negotiations. This is despite having accepted Mahmood Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, as spokesman for the Palestinians for years. This is a tactic that was used way back in Arafat’s day as an excuse for delaying talks. It’s very clear that Bibi and his gang don’t want to talk peace, they’re too busy building illegal settlements in the ‘Occupied Territories’ (I refuse to call it the ‘West Bank’) – and they’re building them fast while everybody’s attention is elsewhere.

Meanwhile back in the US,  AIPAC, America’s hugely powerful pro-Israel lobby, is busy telling Congressmen the same thing to ram home the lie. But there’s more to this tactic. The recently published ‘Palestinian Papers’ showed that in the recent negotiations,  Abbas was prepared to go more than an extra mile to get a settlement. This got Bibi very worried indeed. He sabotaged the talks to avoid being painted into a corner and now he’s making sure they don’t start again – at least for a very long time.

Bibi’s argument now is that without Hamas – the elected, but not recognised authority in Gaza, there can be no peace. Yet he positively refuses to allow Hamas and Fatah to talk to each other.

The only conclusion to draw from this is that this Israeli government doesn’t want peace and it doesn’t want a Palestinian state – period. They are quite prepared to prevaricate and obfuscate for fifty years if need be, by which time they will have covered the whole of the Occupied Territories in illegal settlements. This is not only a very dangerous game, but is it also a massive misjudgement?

Right now Israel is losing friends fast. In America many within the Jewish community, and particularly the young, are rejecting AIPAC’s hard line, unquestioning approach. A new pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian organisation  J Street, which promotes a two state solution, is gaining in popularity.

Internationally, Israel’s old ally Turkey has turned its back on Bibi and his gang over the illegal Gaza blockade. Elsewhere post Mubarak Egypt is in turmoil and unlikely to be as pliant or as friendly as the previous regime. Jordan is looking shaky and regime change in Syria could pose big problems. There is a new dynamic emerging in the Middle East: what it will be nobody knows.

So Bibi, maybe it’s time you changed your tune. Aren’t you pushing things a little too far, letting precious time slip through your fingers? Don’t you think that the time is not far off when you might need a settlement more than the Palestinians? You might get away with playing these silly games in the short-term, but get it wrong Bibi and you’ll pay a very heavy price. It’ll be a one state solution for you old chum,  and the route to that settlement will be a bloody one. Too clever by half? Maybe not very clever.

Share