Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Israel loses German support

The latest piece in Der Spiegel is symptomatic of a shift in German political opinion. It isn't anti-Israel of course - but importantly is no longer pro-Israel either. This is quite a significant shift, and supports the view that whatever the military outcome of this conflict, however successful Israel is in destroying the Hamas rockets, that Hamas have won. War is a filthy and brutal business, and neither side has clean hands, but this must be the first war shared live on twitter and instagram. 

Our view of what constitutes a war crime changes over time. Eric Priebke was the German officer in charge of the shooting of 335 Italian hostages in the Ardeatine Caves in 1944. Post war attempts at prosecution found he could be accused of only five murders, the five extra hostages that he had himself added to the official command to execute 330 hostages. Shooting civilians in reprisal in certain given circumstances was quite lawful and not a war crime in the Second World War. Also lawful at the time was the terror-bombing by the RAF of civilian towns and cities to 'demoralise' the civilian population. Both actions were made war crimes only in 1949 - but not of course retrospectively. So Sir Arthur Harris could not be hanged for bombing Dresden any more than Eric Priebke could be hanged for shooting 330 civilian hostages. 

The changes to war-crime law came only when the true human effects became known of military actions which had previously been considered militarily expeditious and a necessary adjunct of warfare. Then it was monochrome newsreel of bundles of rags and sticks, once humans, being removed from the Adeatine Caves, and footage of German babies melted by the RAF, images that overcame protests of military necessity. And so civilisation advanced another tiny notch. 

I suspect that the images that are coming from Israel's assault on Gaza may be the catalyst for another change; the wonders of the internet have let the world see that the Palestinians are people just like themselves, wearing the same trainers and using the same mobile phones, with the same kids' pictures on the classroom walls. And filled with the same blood. 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Bankers belong in Jail

Bankers belong in Jail; so says Max Hastings, a mature and reasoned voice if ever there was one and hardly an anti-capitalist. Hastings, as we do, realises that the banking part of the City still needs serious progress to restore some minute part of its moral credibility, and that it can only come with a dozen bank board members banged up in Wormwood Scrubs.
The Mail’s City editor Alex Brummer shows beyond reasonable doubt that its excesses and crimes reflect not the isolated actions of a few scoundrels, but a culture corrupt from top to bottom. Since 2008, it has often been said that we shall see no penitence from those who run the banking industry until some of the crooks in charge have gone to jail. The bankers’ lack of shame suggests this is true.
Whilst I'm sure Theresa May would be happy to oblige, one wonders if official efforts are not being blocked at high level by the corrupt cronyism that is the hallmark of Cameron's government?

Monday, 28 July 2014

Britains worst post-war Prime Minister

I meant to get this post up for the weekend, but attempts to get a non-advert non-spying  poll widget in the post rather than parked in the sidebar defeated me. Greg prompted the idea with this assessment;

"Attlee I don't remember, but he left one legacy that, 39 years ago saved my life & just this week, my wife's - the NHS.
Churchill - the greatest PM since Wm Pitt the younger, whom, as I say, I DO remember - his powers were failing, but what a human being!
Eden - the worst PM since Lord North - everything he touched turned to shit.

Macmillan - war hero, gentleman, sharp brain, only made two mistakes - Profumo & the corrupt Marples.
A Douglas-Hume - always greatly underrated in my opinion.
H Wilson - euw - reminds me (now) of Alex Salmond - totally untrustworthy.
Roy Jenkins (You what?) The best PM we never had - if he had beaten Wilsundra for the Labour leadership, back in '62/3 things would have been very different.
Jim Callaghan - another under-rated man - who did do the right thing over the Falklands, unlike his successor ...
The Madwoman. She only did one thing right - she actually gave Trades unions legitimate power, by demanding secret ballots, to the same standard as MP's.
Major - what a prat. Some of his "advisers" were distinctly unsavoury, though some, such as the insane Sherman, were inherited from 'er indoors.

Blair. Euw, well - we were all deceived, weren't we? I should have realised, as soon as it became obvious that he was is a good christian....
Broon - like the madwoman, did one good thing - kept us out of the Euro, in this case.
The present incumbent.

Of the above, the first two, plus Macmillan, Callaghan were true patriots. Eden was mad (Suez); the rest are all traitors."

For what it's worth, my vote goes to Blair; he poisoned politics, devalued Parliament, encouraged corruption, trampled like a petulant teenager over our unwritten constitution and our ancient Offices of State, besmirched the integrity of the security services, deceived the sovereign, betrayed the armed forces and destroyed the ethics of his own party. I cannot think of one single thing that he left unfouled by avarice, fraud, mendacity and crookedness.  

Friday, 25 July 2014

There is no such thing as 'humane' judicial murder

America's attempts to make judicial killing as inoffensive as having a pet rabbit 'put to sleep' by a vet are the latest in a long line of scientific innovations intended to make official murder more 'humane'. The problem with most of them is that they are designed to offer emotional comfort for the executioners and witnesses rather than a painless and stress-minimised death for the victims. Blood is a no-no, as are severed body parts, so the guillotine and machine gun are out. As is detonating a block of C4 strapped to the victim's head. Calculated-drop hangings require a level of skills alien to US State prisons and are easily botched, leaving the victim either slowly strangled or with the head pulled off. Gas and electrocution are also flawed and uncertain processes. 

It would have been quicker and kinder to Joseph Wood this week for a Jihadist to have sawed-off his head with a blunt breadknife than to have subjected him to prolonged death by caustic drip. Whichever way you do it, there is really no such thing as 'humane' judicial murder.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Housing - a vote winner?

Many buy-to-letters are drawn from what one could call the affluent working-class, or ordinary people with a bit of capital and enough security to borrow. Whilst the idea of a 'citizen-landlordery' is fine, and much preferable to most of the social housing shambles (instant slums; just as I predicted a couple of years ago, they turned an 18th century pub down the road into a block of slum flats for Nigerian young mothers, with tablecloths nailed up at the windows and bags of used nappies just flung out on the footway), the problem is that these entrepreneurial buy-to-letters are competing directly for the same houses as the people who want to live in them, thus inflating the market. The only gainers are the dreadful crooked banks.

We have a history in this country of working-class landlordism. I think it was Skullion, the Sharpe character, who owned a small terrace of cottages in Oxford, whose rents would provide his pension when he finished portering. And indeed in truth this was not uncommon; this was the class who were the bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and roofers; well placed to throw-up themselves with their own resources a terrace of six or ten or a dozen 2-bed artisan's cottages, not large but neat, practical and attractive, each with a 10-foot front garden filled with hollyhocks and lupins. Today in Oxford I expect such things would fetch half a mill each, when the original building cost was, what, fifteen pounds?  

And surely this is exactly what our own buy-to-letters should be encouraged to do, on brownfield and infill sites here in London, too small to be of interest to the major housebuilders. Shaun Spiers in the Telegraph suggests we should divert housebuilding from large speculative building firms to smaller ones; I don't think this is the answer. Leave the volume firms alone, and allow the buy-to-letters to build for income rather than build for an instant sale profit, to become build-to-letters.  

And yes, there's a massive landbank here in London ideal for such investment; the old goods yards, wagon parks and disused land held by Network Rail under the fiction that it's 'operational' land and thus sacrosanct, on the basis of the fiction that our goods transport system may one day return from road to rail. Every suburban London station is gifted with such surplus land - sometimes already used as the station car-park, but often just overgrown with weeds and rubbish behind chain link fences, just waiting for a neat terrace of plain, simple homes designed and built by ordinary people. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Kermits agree to tut at Oligarchs

In an unprecedented hardening of sanctions against Russia, France has agreed that mayors may tut at visiting Russian Oligarchs, but has asked that this should be 'not very loudly'. Business owners in the South of France, temporary home to many wealthy oligarchs in the Summer months, were aghast at the extent of the sanctions; a spokesman said
"Our Russian guests spend millions on handbags and designer bling and keep most of the shops on the Rue d'Antibes open; how secure are they going to feel if they know that Monsieur the Mayor may pop out and 'tut' at them? These measures will hit ordinary French people hard" 
Shares in LVMH fell again today on speculation that the tutting may affect the export of the most expensive and tasteless champagne brands and that sales to Russia will be hit badly. "The oligarchs are amongst the few people in the world prepared to pay $10,000 a bottle for third-rate fizz so long as the bottle is pink and has Swarovski crystals on it" said a spokesman for Louis Roederer. 

Mr Hollande was still rejecting calls today for the tut to be downgraded to a frown. "France is committed to strong and meaningful sanctions" he said "and a frown just doesn't have the same impact as a tut".

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Ukraine - unintended consequences

As the smoke starts to clear around the downing of MH17, the fall-out could have effects unwanted and unforeseen by the key political actors. It now seems likely that the aircraft was shot down by drunken, undisciplined separatists using a missile provided by Russian intelligence. It also seems likely - as Richard North explains in detail, and as we suggested on Saturday 19th - that not only the US but the Ukrainian authorities knew beforehand that the separatists had long-range Doppler-shift SAMs. It also seems likely that the intelligence services of nations inside the 'magic circle' warned their national civil aviation authorities of the threat, who in turn warned national carriers. BA, Easyjet, Qantas and several other 'old commonwealth' carriers had already diverted.

Why Ukraine, or the US, did not explicitly issue warnings via ICAO or IATA is subject to speculation. The US would have wanted to protect the extent of its intelligence, Ukraine would have wanted to preserve the desperately needed millions from overflight fees. Both maintained the public fiction that the only threat was from MANPADS, ineffective at higher altitudes. It's even possible that there may have been those in Ukraine who considered such an event as MH17 as politically advantageous, or that the US found the commercial air corridor a useful cover for its own intelligence-gathering overflights. This will all come out in the wash over the next ten years or so.  

It's the reactions to the incident that may cause changes unwelcome to the key actors;
  • Russia will quietly disown the separatist militias and weapons and munitions supply will end. Their behaviour and lack of disciplined control around the crash site has condemned them.
  • Sanctions will hit Eurozone industry hard, as Der Spiegel reports. Asia and Australasia will benefit. 
  • Eurozone banks, already weak as eggshells, may fall - many are massively exposed to Russian loans, which may default and cause crashes, making Hypo Alpine Adria look like an overdraft breach.
  • Western governments need to leave a door open for Putin - and this is likely to be pressure for a settlement involving limited autonomy for parts of Eastern Ukraine and the protection of the Russian language there. Cameron included the option in his speech, as Angus Roxburgh reports in the Guardian
  • Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the chap who looks like a Jewish paedophile, acting as Ukraine PM, who is bitterly opposed to preserving Russian identity and together with his negative TV image is likely to be the replaceable element, dumped by the Oligarchs.
  • With Autumn on the way, Putin will cut-off the gas to Ukraine to secure concessions for the Russian minority, and the EU will decline to make up the difference.
There are still more developments to come - with the MSM again lagging behind the informal sector in putting it all together.