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Ukraine Invasion: A Failure By The West.

Posted on 28th February 2022

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The invasion of Ukraine by Russia continues to dominate the news. The world is surprised that the Ukrainians are holding out as well as they are; personally, I expected that it would all be over within 48 hours.

According to this report on The Sun, a Chechen special forces column, including 56 tanks, was obliterated near Hostomel, north-east of Kyiv, and Magomed Tushaev, the top Chechen general leading the column was reported by Meaww as having been killed. Russia is becoming frustrated by their slow progress, and have now put their nuclear forces on special alert (here, on the BBC).

The west is sending weapons to the Ukrainians, but no soldiers (western governments are to worried that sending armed forces would escalate into all-out Europe-wide war), but some governments are supporting (even encouraging) their citizens to go to fight to defend Ukraine, as reported here on the BBC. I know a Ukrainian living in Germany who is seriously considering going back to fight for his home country; not an uncommon scenario.

Instead of sending troops, the world is concentrating on vicious and wide ranging sanctions and other non-military actions:

  • EU and UK shut airspace to Russian planes (here, on the BBC);
  • The BBC reports that, after pressure from the UK government, BP will offload its stake in Rosneft and Norwegian energy giant Equinor will start divesting from its joint ventures in Russia;
  • A number of Russian banks are now banned from the SWIFT international banking network (here, on the BBC);
  • Fifa has told Russia not to compete under the Russian national flag (here, on the BBC);
  • As a result of the sanctions, Russia has more than doubled its key interest rate to 20% after the rouble slumped by 30% against the US dollar (here, on the BBC), and Russians are queuing up to get cash from ATMs amid fears of a run on banks (here, on Mint);
  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced an additional $113bn for the German army (here, on the BBC);
  • Russia has been banned from the Eurovision song contest (here, on Rolling Stone).

All this begs the question: if the sanctions are proving so effective, why did the west not act with such vigour after Russian annexed Crimea? The inaction by the western nations made Russia believe that we did not care about Ukraine and what the Russians did there. If action had been taken over Crimea, the current invasion of Ukraine would perhaps not have happened.

There are parallels here with the invasion of The Falklands by Argentina. Britain, with one of the world's most skilled and experienced diplomatic corps, somehow failed to give Argentina the impression that Britain would defend the islands. It is hard to believe that Argentina got the wrong understanding by accident, so were they suckered into a war (a war which gave a major popularity boost to Margaret Thatcher's faltering government)? Were the Russians similarly suckered into invading Ukraine, by being led to believe that the west didn't care?

UK Government Presses On With Genome Sequencing Of Babies Without Discussing The Ethical Issues.

Posted on 5th December 2021

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This article on Wired reports on the UK government's new programme to sequence the genome of babies. Initially this would be a trial programme involving just 100,000 to 200,000 babies, but would eventually be extended to include all babies born in the UK. This plan has been in the offing since an announcement in 2019 by Matt Hancock, who was at the time the UK health secretary.

The stated purpose of this genetic sequencing (identifying and treating genetic diseases) is very laudable, but experts have pointed out that such a programme could lead to a whole host of ethical concerns. Nevertheless the government is pressing ahead without discussing these. It makes me suspect that there is some other agenda behind this scheme.

The babies’ genomes will be anonymised and then added to the UK’s National Genomic Research Library, where the data can be mined by researchers and commercial health companies. That all sounds right and fine until one remembers that the UK government has previously had accidental releases of non-anonymised versions of personal health data; clearly governments can't be trusted to keep our private data secure.

Personally, I am very concerned about personal health data being mined by commercial health companies. There have already been cases where the genomes of individuals have been patented by health companies, so I am pretty certain that is what will happen with some of these babies' genomes. People are living organisms, and have a tendency to breed. Does that mean that, if my DNA has been patented by someone, I need to pay for a licence to have children, and that, if I have donated to a sperm bank, people would have to pay for a licence to use my sperm? These scenarios are not such a far stretch of the imagination, given that Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) has sued farmers found to have naturally and accidentally propagated offspring of Monsanto's patented crop lines on their land.

My personal view is that my DNA is my intellectual property, which can't be owned by someone else unless I sell it, and the legality of such a sale is itself questionable bearing in mind the rights that my living ancestors and offspring also have to parts of my DNA. Sadly, I don't expect my rights to my own DNA will be upheld by the courts, although that it yet to be fully legally tested.

Are conservatives and extremists stupid, and should we do something about it?

Posted on 7th March 2021

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This video report on "The Young Turks" got me thinking.

The report covers the results of a University of Cambridge study of Americans, which shows that extreme conservatives have difficulties with cognitive tasks (i.e. they are less smart). This study joins a growing body of work on similar themes, which generally show that conservatives are less smart or have lower academic achievement. Another example is the study which showed that people in the UK who voted for Brexit had lesser academic achievement than average.

We should be cautious in interpreting this data, because the studies show statistical correlation, not a cause and effect relationship.

If, however, we accept the suggestion that being less smart makes one more likely to hold conservative or extremist views, we should be very cautious about any suggestion that we try to do something about it. That would put us on a slippery slope, potentially leading to things like:

  • Attempts to "cure" people of their conservative views;
  • Restriction of the voting rights of conservatives and extremists;
  • Job applications being refused on the basis of one's political opinions, because they are a sign of lower intelligence;
  • A whole gamut of thought control measures by governments.

That doesn't sound like the kind of society that I want to live in. We don't restrict the voting rights of people with mental disabilities, and we shouldn't even think about doing so based on people's political opinions. Even if someone's views are the result of reduced mental capabilities, those views are still valid opinions, and we shouldn't restrict their rights to express those views (within some obvious limits, like incitement to insurrection).

The other key thing to remember is that not all extremist views lie at the conservative end of the political spectrum. I could give some examples, but some readers would probably be offended.

Of course, that doesn't stop you from feeling better about yourself, knowing that your politics suggests that you are smarter than others.

UK does the right thing for Hong Kong residents, 33 years late!

Posted on 29th January 2021

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This report, and this report, on the BBC, are about the new rules for holders of a UK BNO visa, entitling them to live in the UK. The new rules take effect from the 31st of January 2021.

The UK government are very proud of themselves for doing this. It is only 33 years too late!

Hong Kong was returned to the control of China (when Britain's lease expired) in July 1997. Hong Kong residents used to be entitled to a full British passport, but the UK government were worried about a huge influx of immigrants, and removed that right well before the handover, and introduced the BNO (British National Overseas) passport (which could only be applied for before the handover of Hong Kong), which gave holders no right of residence in the UK.

At the time, I was disgusted the the UK government: one of the reasons that I cut most of my ties with Britain when I left the country in 1990.

Finally they have redressed the matter, at least partly. As always, too little, too late. I am sure that the reason for the change has nothing to do with human rights or the protection of freedoms; if they feel those are valid reasons, they would have not created the injustice in the first place in 1997.

Republicans Are Such Sore Losers!

Posted on 24th January 2021

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Yesterday there was a protest in Munich by Trump supporters, complaining about "election fraud": a motorcade with banners and blaring loudspeakers, accompanied by a very large number of police vehicles, which drove past our apartment. This is mentioned on my News Blog.

My first thought was that it is time that they got over it, and accepted that the will of the people has finally been done.

On reflection, however, I can see the reason for their disbelief.

The weird electoral college system in the USA is inherently biased in favour of the Republican Party. Add to this that every year more electoral boundaries are deliberately redrawn to favour Republicans, and Democratic voters are disenfranchised; basically, whenever they are in power in any state, the Republicans abuse their power to tilt the next election further in their favour.

Given these biases, it is actually quite amazing that the Democrats won, and understandable that Republicans are shocked that, despite them rigging the system so heavily, they lost by so much.

The election result is a testament to just how disenchanted the US electorate is with Trump and his cronies; something that the Republican Party failed to fully understand.

Democracy under threat in the USA.

Posted on 13th January 2021

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Democracy is not well in America. Few people will not already be aware of the invasion of the Capitol in Washington DC by Trump supporters last week. This report on Rolling Stone explains that it was actually way worse than it appeared from the news coverage at the time. The protesters "erected a gallows with a noose right outside the Capitol" and some of them were captured on video chanting, "Hang Mike Pence". An Associated Press photographer was attacked as he covered the attempted coup, and another photographer was thrown to the ground by the mob. Five people died in the protests. A protester was photographed in full tactical gear and holding plastic zip ties, which were almost certainly intended to restrain hostages.

In another story, reported here by Axios, the Pennsylvania GOP refused to seat a Democrat who won in the November election, thus preventing him from voting, and removed the Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from presiding over the chamber.

Trump's term may be almost over, but I am still worried that, in the little time that he has, he may declare martial law, thus preventing Joe Biden from taking office (which I first suggested as a possibility here, in June 2020). I hope I am wrong.

Donald Trump: President for life?

Posted on 11th June 2020

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By now, everyone must have noticed what is going on in the USA, with the murder by police of George Floyd, the resulting "Black Lives Matter" protests, and the police responses to the protests.

There seems no question that there is something to protest about: there is an increasingly well documented history of racism, not just by police, and murders in America. It is well past time that something was done about this problem.

What is rather more questionable is the government response to the protests. By any standards, the response has been very heavy handed: police using military equipment and riot gear to police the protests, assaults on and injuries to peaceful protesters, troops deployed to protect some sites, tear gas used to clear peaceful protesters so that President Trump could have a photo-opportunity holding a bible (which he held upside down - this in the country where flying the US flag upside down is considered by most to be a crime!), curfews, and so on. Admittedly there has been some violence by protesters, and some looting; opportunist criminals and people who simply want a fight (the police excuse for the extra-judicial killings of blacks seem suitable here too: "a few bad protesters"). Most of the protesters, however, are peaceful. Donald Trump has nevertheless told local politicians and law enforcement groups that they need to "dominate the streets".

One has to ask:

  • Is this the right strategy to calm the situation? The protesters have valid issues which need to be addressed, and stronger policing does nothing to address them.
  • What could be the strategy behind such a brutal and unlikely to succeed approach?

Personally, I suspect that the strategy is to further inflame the situation, to create an excuse for the introduction of martial law in the USA. That would allow:

  • Even stronger policing, including the wider deployment of troops (either national guard or regular army units).
  • The suspension of constitutional rights.
  • The cancellation (which would be described as a deferment) of the upcoming presidential election, which Donald Trump seems set to lose, based on current opinion polls. That would make Donald Trump President for life, which is a truly horrific prospect.

I am not saying that this will definitely happen, and I dearly hope that it won't, but the risk is great enough, and the consequences so enormous, that US citizens should think seriously about what can be done to ensure that it doesn't happen.

President Trump seems to be working overtime to justify my new nickname for him: Donald the Hutt.

Tony Blair: "Britain needs alliances"!

Posted on 27th November 2019

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This interview by The Independent, with Tony Blair is well worth watching.

His argument is that, because Britain is no longer a superpower, we need to be part of a larger group in order to survive: to have negotiating power (or even a seat at the table), to have security, to have influence to act against climate change, and so on.

I can't fault his logic.

Should the British Monarchy be abolished?

Posted on 30th August 2019

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With all the outrage over Queen Elizabeth II approving UK PM BJ's sneaky scheme to suspend parliament (see here), there is now a movement, with growing support, for the abolition of the British Monarchy, as described in this story on NewsHub.

In the past, I have been slightly more in favour of the monarchy than against. The reason for that has always been because I am in favour of the UK having some kind of constitution. Now, however, the Queen has shown clearly that she is not fulfilling her constitutional duty.

A request by leaders of the main opposition parties to meet the Queen has also been refused, as reported here by The Express. The reason, it seems, is that the Queen doesn't want to get embroiled in the political row that she started.

It really seems that the time has come for Mrs. Windsor to be fired.

There is, however, one major obstacle: there is nothing to replace the Queen's role. The country needs a written constitution, and probably an elected president, to fill the void; not only the void that would be left by firing her, but the void that already exists because she is not doing her job. Writing and approving a constitution takes time, as does the campaigning and election of a president.

There is, of course, one other reason why we should abolish the monarchy: if we don't, then pretty soon Queen Lizzie will be replaced by King Charlie. I don't think anyone is looking forward to that prospect (except for Charlie himself).

For what it's worth, I think that John Bercow, the current speaker of the House of Commons, would make an excellent president of the UK.

Clear Abuse of Power

Posted on 29th August 2019

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This article on HuffPost.com describes the latest in a seemingly endless parade of abuses of power by President Donald Trump.

The report states "President Donald Trump reportedly told officials in his administration that he would pardon them if they had to break any laws to get hundreds of miles of his border wall built before the next presidential election, according to a report Tuesday night in The Washington Post. 'Don’t worry, I'll pardon you,' the president has allegedly told aides worried about his instructions to seize private land through eminent domain, flout environmental rules or push through billion-dollar contracts."

Even if the issue was not party political in nature (he is trying to boost his chances of winning the next presidential election by being able to show progress on building the border wall), this is a gross abuse of power. Why are the American people not up in arms about this?

The retard president needs to be stopped.

Britain Cancels Democracy

Posted on 29th August 2019

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There are many stories in the news about British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's latest ploy to push Brexit through: the suspension of parliament.

In This report on the Guardian , a reader quotes Oliver Cromwell's criticism of MPs, suggesting that the same applies to today's MPs: "Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil'd this sacred place and turned the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral purposes and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves become the greatest grievance." It reads like the very definition of politicians.

This article, also on the Guardian, takes a firm position that the suspension of parliament is unconstitutional. The problem, of course, is that the UK doesn't have a written constitution; it is instead embodied in the roles of various people (including the Queen and the speaker of the House of Commons) and protocols (established practice) for how various things are done. Boris Johnson asked the Queen to approve the suspension of parliament; she had the opportunity and the grounds to refuse, but she didn't. Basically, the Queen failed to fulfill her constitutional duty. Thanks for nothing, Lizzie!

Where is the will of the people in all this? MPs are failing to take into account, and to represent in parliament, the will of the people, by which I mean their will now, not their will when the Brexit referendum was held (yes, people's will has changed!). BJ's government is also going against the will of parliament, and the suspension is his method of doing so.

I can therefore announce the death of democracy in Britain (it doesn't matter if you agree with my announcement - after all, without democracy, what you think doesn't matter)!

'Trump On Gun Violence

Posted on 6th August 2019

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President Trump has given a speech in response to the two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, as reported here by the BBC.

He calls on the nation to "condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy". I agree: everyone should condemn Donald Trump for his racism, bigotry and white supremacy.

He also called for the stamping out of violence. One of the means that he proposes to achieve this is the use of the death penalty. Stamping out violence with violence; am I the only person who sees the hypocrisy in this?

Anyway, the USA already has the death penalty, for federal crimes and also in some states, and it hasn't stamped out violence. In quite a few cases of mass shootings, the perpetrators kill themselves, or clearly expect to be killed by police, so how is the threat of the death penalty going to deter them?

Whatever happened to "turning the other cheek"?

The Pences Respond To Accusations Of Hypocrisy With More Hypocrisy

Posted on 10th JFebruary 2019

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This piece on politicususa is a typical piece of American news: mainly about personalities and who has been wittiest, rather than anything truly newsworthy. I am only commenting on it because I really don't like hypocrisy.

Pete Buttigieg commented on Mike Pence's disapproval of Buttigieg being gay, by saying, among other things, that "If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator."

Mrs. Pence feels that this is an attack on her religious beliefs, and said "I think in our country we need to understand you shouldn’t be attacked for what your religious beliefs are and I think kids need to learn that at a young age that this is OK, what faith people have; we don’t attack them for their faith.”

Sorry, but president Trump's policies to prevent immigration, and even visits, by Muslims, which were fully supported by his VP, Mike Pence, are a form of attack on, and prejudice against, people's religious beliefs. You can't practice discrimination against people based on their religion, and in the next breath complain that someone's statements are not OK because they amount to religious prejudice.

Also, if we take Mrs. Pence's statements at face value, does that mean that, if I joined a religion whose doctrine included the killing an eating of children, she would not dare to criticise me, because those are religious beliefs? Religious belief is clearly not a defence against the law and against moral criticism, and just as eating children is morally wrong, so is being anti-gay, in most people's opinion.

Whilst people like the Pences would probably prefer that the US legal code was more closely aligned with their religious beliefs, that is not how it is. Their views do not even have a majority amongst US Christians, and Christians are not a majority amongst US voters. That is the price of living in a (pseudo-)democracy.

'Un-Australian' activists arrested

Posted on 9th JFebruary 2019

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This article on the BBC really highlights what is wrong with Australia, and unfortunately many other countries.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison criticised animal rights activists as "shameful and un-Australian" after dozens were arrested in nationwide protests. His argument is that a large part of the county's agriculture, 40%, is based on meat production. Australia is the second largest meat consuming nation, per capita, in the world.

So, yet again, moral and environmental issues take second place to economic priorities. How will we ever save the world, and therefore the human race, if we can't prioritise saving it over making a quick buck.

I understand that this is not a simple issue. Much of the farmland in Australia is good for nothing except livestock; many people's livelihood, and a lot of exports, depend on livestock farming. That doesn't mean, however, that we shouldn't try to make that farming as humane as possible.

I can't really take the moral high-ground on this issue. I eat meat, and am not likely to give that up. I am, however, trying to eat less meat, and also, where possible, choose humanely raised and slaughtered meat.

Labelling these protesters as un-Australian is the same phoney logic that called Americans unpatriotic when they protested against war.

Is Political Correctness Really More Important Than The Environment?

Posted on 6th JFebruary 2019

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I was really quite incensed when I read this article on the BBC.

Japan, like most developed countries, is facing a demographic crisis, as the birth rate falls, life-span increases, and the average age of the population rises, meaning that the pensions of a growing number of retirees will have to be paid by a falling number of working people.

Japan's deputy prime minister, Taro Aso got himself into trouble recently for saying "There are lots of weird people who say the elderly are at fault, but that's incorrect ... Rather, those who aren't giving birth to children are the problem." For this bizarre statement, he was roundly criticised by opposition MPs, who said his words could hurt couples who were unable to have children, and Taro Aso was forced to retract his statement.

REALLY?

Our planet has a whole host of environmental problems caused, ultimately, by overpopulation. Falling birth rates may, in the end, save our species and many other species, and I have to see it as a good thing.

Japanese politics, on the other hand, seems to consider political correctness as much more important than saving the planet.

It is good that Taro Aso retracted his original statement. It is just a shame that he did so for the wrong reasons.

"Morally bankrupt" and "undemocratic to the core"!

Posted on 28th January 2019

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As the crisis in Venezuela worsens, everyone seems to be taking the opportunity to express their opinions, some to support Maduro, and some to condemn him; some of these opinions are accompanied by some forceful, and even threatening language.

This report by the BBC quotes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as describing Mr Maduro's government as "morally bankrupt" and "undemocratic to the core". In that case, I would have thought that the Trump administration would love him; it is therefore rather surprising that Venezuela has not been invited to become the 51st state of the USA, since they would fit right in.

The NHS To Focus On Prevention!

Posted on 8th January 2019

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As reported here, by the BBC, Theresa May has launched a new 10-year plan for the NHS (National Health Service).

NHS bosses believe that 500,000 lives can be saved by focusing on prevention and early detection. How exactly is that news? Isn't prevention and early detection the primary purpose of any health system? It is a well established fact that the earlier an illness is detected and diagnosed, the better the chances of surviving. I am not much interested in having a doctor tell me that I am going to die, but it's OK because they know what it is; I expect to be told what I am sick with, how they will cure it, how long it will take and what side-effects there may be.

It seems, however, that the NHS bosses and the British Prime Minister, were previously unaware of the benefits of preventative medicine: 'Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the launch of the plan as a "truly historic moment".' It now seems unarguable that we have the wrong people running Britain and the NHS.

Then there is the matter of the number of lives: 500,000. Over what period, precisely? 500,000 per year; 500,000 over the 10 years of the new NHS plan, or what? Additional funding of £20bn will be given to the NHS. If that saves 500,000 lives, that is a cost of £40,000 per life, which seems a reasonable return on investment (if it is over 10 years, the cost is only £4,000 per life!). Of course, if they invested more, they could save more lives; it is all really a question of how much value a human life has to the government and the NHS. I am confident that £40,000 per life is close to the actual value that the NHS and UK government work with, since it matches calculations based on other published data.

Of course, many people forget that the NHS is partly a health insurance scheme (one where the insurance provider also provides the services to repair and maintain the health of its customers), for which British citizens and residents pay. The service that the customers receive, however, is dependent upon how much the treatment costs, and only as long as there are enough beds and medical staff are not too busy on other patients.

So,to summarise, preventative care has been de-emphasised, but that is now going to change. Under the new order, your life is worth no more than £40,000. Even if your life can be saved with £40,000, there is no guarantee that you will be saved, because the NHS might be too busy.

Why did you vote for such a heartless system; oh, I know, you didn't; you were not given any choices at any election that even touched on this subject.

Still think that the UK is a democracy? Think again!

The French Need To Make Their Minds Up!

Posted on 4th January 2019

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I assume that everyone saw at least some news about the French Yellow Jackets' protests. The whole thing was in reaction to President Macron's attempt to introduce higher fuel taxes, for which there is an environmental imperative. In the end President Macron had to back down, at least in part.

We hardly had time to draw breath before the other side started a petition. According to this report on Bloomberg, "A petition calling for legal action against the French state for its supposed failure to act against global warming had reached 1.81 million signatures as of Thursday [27th December 2019], close to the 2-million goal set by the associations that launched the initiative on Dec. 17."

Can you French people make your minds up?

Environmental protection is important - VERY. It is almost never without cost and inconvenience (i.e. higher fuel prices). You don't get to choose lower prices and greater convenience, and thus the end of human civilisation and mass extinctions, because there are other people (like me) living on planet earth, and we are not going to let you choose destruction for us and our descendants just because you want to burn hot and fast.

Trump Is Guilty Of Everything He Accuses Others Of

Posted on 21st November 2018

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There are no real surprises here, but this article on the BBC beautifully highlights Donald Trump's hypocrisy.

Each of the first few paragraphs includes one or more accusations or judgments of Robert Mueller and his team. Each of them is something that Trump is way more guilty of than anyone he accuses:

  • Robert Mueller's investigation is a "total mess" - The Donald's administration is what is a total mess, from which a constant procession of people are either fired or resign;
  • Robert Mueller's investigation is"absolutely nuts" - POTUS owns the patent on absolutely nuts, and no-one can compete (at least not anyone who is free to roam the streets);
  • Investigators were "threatening" people to provide "the answers they want" - Trump's normal conversation style is based on threatening people;
  • "They are screaming and shouting at people," - There is hardly a press conference at which the President doesn't scream and shout at people;
  • The inquiry is a "witch hunt" - The man at the Whitehouse is famous for his witch hunts (e.g. against Hilary Clinton).

As we say in England, hark at the pot calling the kettle black!

Airbnb Decision Is Shameful?

Posted on 21st November 2018

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This story on the BBC reports that the Israeli government described the decision by Airbnb to withdraw homes in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank from its listings as "shameful".

Since when can a company not make decisions about where it does business? Since these settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, if Airbnb continued to offer them, they would be open to lawsuits and/or criminal charges. The company therefore has a duty to minimise such risks. Their decision to do so is certainly not shameful; the strongest criticism that could be leveled against them is that they showed excessive caution.

Brexit: Here Are Your Choices, But You Don’t Get To Choose!

Posted on 14th November 2018

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The latest statement by British PM Theresa May, as reported by the BBC, proves that democracy is dead in the UK.

Mrs. May said "This deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our Union; or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all." In other words, there are three choices. The problem is that she doesn't want the people to choose: she is very strongly opposed to another referendum, and even fought hard (and lost) to stop a parliamentary vote on the deal, her argument being that the people have already voted in the first referendum. More importantly, it does not, as she claims, "deliver on ... the referendum".

It is rather like if you went to a car dealership and selected a model of car to purchase, and chose several options: metallic grey paint, air conditioning, a sun-roof, and a 2 litre engine. Then, when you go to collect your new car, you find that it is painted black, has no air conditioning or a sun-roof, and has a 3 litre engine. Naturally, you tell the dealer that you don't want the car, because it is not what you ordered, but he tells you that you have to take it, because you have a contract with him.

Of course, in the above scenario, the law is on your side: the contract is not valid, because the conditions were not met by the dealer. Unfortunately, in the case of Brexit, the law will not protect us. The country voted for Brexit on the basis of a bunch of "facts" which were not true, and also based on a list of promises by politicians which have not been fulfilled by the deal now on the table. Even so, Theresa May is telling us that we won't get to vote on the deal, because we already voted, even though her deal does not meet our expectations (i.e. the contract). In most walks of life and business, she would be in breach of contract, but sadly, in politics, things are very different.

So many politicians do not seem to understand the difference between strong leadership and dictatorship. This is not just an issue in the UK: the USA, among others, also fails to get it; even though their lower house is called The House of Representatives, the members of that house consistently fail to represent the views of their constituents.

Is Matthew Whitaker Actually Wilson Fisk?

Posted on 13th November 2018

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Wilson Fisk Matthew Whitaker

Coincidence? Maybe not.

Mathew Whitaker, the newly appointed interim Attorney General of the USA (in the left photo), seems to look amazingly like Wilson Fisk (right photo), the villain in Marvel's Daredevil TV series.

Of course, it wouldn't be surprising to many if president Trump appointed a career criminal to the top law enforcement position in the country.

Fake News From The White House!

Posted on 13th November 2018

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The hypocrisy of the Trump White House team, as revealed by this Vox report, should be really shocking; sadly it is what we now expect from this administration.

Donald Trump continued his war of words with CNN reporter Jim Acosta at a recent press conference; the reporter had the temerity to ask questions! Finally, a female intern was dispatched to take Jim Acosta's microphone from him; Jim naturally resisted. The poor Mr. Acosta was subsequently accused of "laying hands" on the intern. To support this fake news narrative, press secretary Sarah Sanders shared an altered video that appears to have originated with far-right conspiracy site Infowars (who are banned by most social media). I can hear you all thinking ".., but the Trump administration are the ones always accusing everyone else of fake news - they wouldn't dare do it themselves!"

Well, they do dare to do so, and we should not stand for it.

Let's look, for a moment at the legal arguments:

  • Taking the microphone (property of CNN) from Jim Acosta would have been theft. CNN should file criminal charges for attempted theft.
  • People who are assaulted, as was Jim Acosta by the intern, are allowed to use proportional force to defend themselves. The fact that the victim in this case restrained himself is a credit to both Mr. Acosta and CNN Nevertheless, assault charges could be laid.
  • The false narrative, and the publishing of faked supporting evidence, by the White House. is both libel and slander, and amounts to defamation of character. Being president grants Donald Trump immunity to many charges, but that doesn't apply to Sarah Sanders and other White House staff, and they should be sued.

As Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show, the White House believes that touching a woman on the arm is inappropriate; he should have grabbed her by her private parts, which the president clearly believes is OK (since he boasted about it).

You Are Missing The Point About Brett Kavanaugh!

Posted on 9th October 2018

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I need to be careful how I write this, to avoid being accused of being against women's rights and in favour of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape - which I am certainly not.

The world has watched in horror and amazement as the saga of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing for the lifelong role of US Supreme Court Judge has unfolded. The battle was long and vicious, but in the end to no avail; he was confirmed anyway.

Now we have the post-mortem analysis and the tearing out of hair. This piece, on USA Today, is one of very many, and like most such reports, seems to me to entirely miss the point.

Please, don't get me wrong. I don't think that a belligerent drunk serial abuser of women is the right candidate for a seat on the Supreme Court. I find the man reprehensible, his victims have my sympathy, and I applaud those who stood up to be counted.

For me, though, a far more important reason that Brett Kavanaugh is not suitable for his new job is that he demonstrated clearly, over and over again during the hearings, that he is a liar, full of prejudice, with anger issues, and who clearly felt that he had something to hide in front of the Senate Committee. A person like that is the last person who should be considered for any role as a judge, let alone a judge on the highest court in the land.

This whole debacle just shows how messed up politics has become in the USA. How can the Senators who confirmed him hold their heads up in front of their constituents after casting such partisan and irrational votes? Sure, they clearly wanted to ensure a right-wing appointment, but couldn't they have found one with better character? It makes me wonder: would they have voted for an admitted paedophile for a seat on the Supreme Court, if his/her politics were right for them?

The USA Thinks It Pays Too Much Into The UN

Posted on 26th September 2018

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This video report by the BBC is a reality check on the recent statements by President Trump that the USA pays too much to the UN.

The basic conclusion is that this is not true. UN assessed (non-optional) contributions work like income tax: the more you earn (in this case GDP), the more you pay. Calculated as a percentage of GDP, the USA pays less than all other rich nations.

The USA treats the UN as a means to get official international legal recognition and support for its foreign policy, and expects the UN to do what it says Also, the USA is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which gives them more power and influence (including power to veto resolutions). I think that they should pay more, not less. If they don't like that, then they should stop giving UN members orders (and blackmailing them when they don't want to follow those orders).

The current situation is a clear case of the USA having their cake and eating it. I am certainly not going to cry about the plight of this "poor" rich nation.

Even More Rogue Nation

Posted on 13th September 2018

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It seems that President Trump did not pay attention to my previous criticism about the USA becoming a Rogue Nation (here), and is carrying on with his programme of isolating and embarrassing his country.

The latest Rogue Nation act was to threaten the ICC (International Criminal Court) with sanctions if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Americans in Afghanistan. Even though the USA is not a participant in the ICC, and does not recognise it, the ICC has a more legitimate claim to jurisdiction in Afghanistan than does the USA, and its founders include several US allies. To take such extreme action against the ICC, and by association against US allies, is simply astounding, and arrogant.

Less than a month ago, there was a report on the BBC about how Donald Trump was threatening to pull out of the WTO (World Trade Organisation, which the USA helped establish), basically because, the USA having broken WTO rules, the WTO was supporting the complaints against America. This is petulance, pure and simple.

How long will the rest of the world stand by while America bullies anyone they choose, to get what they want?

"I fear that this has become a bad relationship"

Posted on 14th August 2018

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So, Britain is not doing what the United States wants with regard to sanctions against Iran! This report, from the Voice of America, describes the US attempt to apply pressure on Britain to step into line behind the US sanctions, and it is as subtle as a brick. Donald Trump and his cronies are about as diplomatic as an AK-47.

Remember, for a moment, that the USA unilaterally decided to pull out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), better known as the Iran nuclear deal. The other signatories (Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union) do not agree, and pleaded with America to stick with the deal, to no effect. The Trump administration chose to go it alone, but it seems that they don't like being alone after all, and are now trying to bully the UK to back them up.

I think it is time for the UK's real-life Prime Minister to give the speech that the fictional Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, gave in the movie "Love Actually".

For those of you not familiar with the movie, and unwilling to watch the clip above, the text of the speech is:

Press Conference Reporter: "Mr. President, has it been a good visit?"

The President of the U.S.: "Very satisfactory indeed. We got what we came for and our special relationship is still very special."

Press Conference Reporter: "Prime Minister?"

Prime Minister: "I love that word 'relationship'. Covers all manner of sins, doesn't it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm... Britain. We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that."

I wish!

The Case For Classifying The USA As A Rogue Nation

Posted on 25th July 2018

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Some time ago, I started referring to the USA as a Rogue Nation: the label that Western Nations apply to undemocratic nations which behave badly. Countries that have been called Rogue Nations include North Korea, Iran, Russia, Libya, Venezuela, Syria and Turkey. Here is a summary of the main reasons why I consider this label appropriate.

  • Undemocratic:
    The USA is one of the most undemocratic nations in the world, after excluding the out and out dictatorships. The influence of money on the results of elections is enormous, and there are regular examples of campaigns breaking election financing rules. The scandal of possible Russian meddling in the last US presidential election, is still going on. In the past we have seen court cases about the results of presidential elections. The electoral college system means that, often, the person with the most votes is not the one who wins. There are issues with the built-in bias in the American electoral system towards rural voters (see this article in the Economist). Voting in Congress is very strongly influenced by lobbying (mainly by rich companies). Most Congress members hardly ever attend sessions, even to vote; only if a bill has local influence on their constituencies do they vote; most voting is on straight party lines.
  • Poor human-rights:
    America’s human rights record is abominable, both within the country and overseas. The scandals of torture and mistreatment in prisons in Iraq (see this Wikipedia entry about the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse), and of extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects (see this Wikipedia entry), highlight the overseas side of this. The way that prisoners, including people awaiting trial, and people in ICE custody (e.g. the separation of parents from their children), are treated show that the same attitude to people and their rights exists at home. The use of the death penalty, no longer used/legal in virtually all western nations, is another example of the inhuman treatment of criminals (some of whom continue to be identified as not guilty after execution). The USA has recently quit the UN Human Rights Council (see this BBC report), thus removing one of the few ways that other nations can put pressure on the USA regarding human rights.
  • Failure to honour treaties and commitments:
    Another mark of Rogue Nations is their failure to honour their treaties and commitments, and here, the USA looks very bad. They have unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, with no attempt to renegotiate, and against the advice of the other signatory nations, and are re-imposing sanctions. They have pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, apparently because it is “unfair” to the USA. They have a poor record of paying their UN dues (and, as mentioned above, pulled out if the UN Human Rights Council). They are insulting their NATO allies, and suggesting that they may not honour Article 5 of the NATO Founding Treaty (which guarantees mutual defence). Despite being one of the architects of the World Trade Organisation, the USA are now breaking WTO rules by imposing import tariffs on many of their trading partners and allies (Canada, Mexico, the EU and China).
  • Trade wars:
    The USA are in the midst of starting a worldwide trade war, with the unilateral imposition of import tariffs on steel and aluminium, now escalating to ever widening tit for tat tariffs on all sides. This kind of selfish tantrum will damage world trade for everyone, and reduce economic growth for every nation.
  • State sponsored terrorism:
    One of the things for which the USA is quick to blame other nations is state sponsorship of terrorism. This is a crime in which America is a world leader. Well known examples include the Iran-Contra affair, in which the USA broke the embargo on arms sales to Iran in order to launder money to support the Contras (terrorists) in Nicaragua. The CIA were also sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood and many other terrorist groups (most recently sponsoring a number of anti-Assad fighting groups in Syria).
  • Extra-territorialism:
    The USA are specialists in extra-territorial legislation. There is the Helms-Burton Act, which penalises foreign companies who deal with Cuba; this means that any foreign company having a presence in the USA can their assets seized if parts of the company (even outside of the USA) trade with Cuba in breach of US sanctions (which prompted a complaint by the EU at the WTO), and legislation in the EU and Britain making the enforcement of the act in the EU and Britain illegal). There is the on-going programme by the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) to destroy drug crops (primarily marijuana and cocaine) in South America, using methods such as napalm bombing. There is the CIA, conducting spying and counter-espionage actions, including murders, across the world in breach of local legislation. There are also the US tax regulations, requiring all US citizens, wherever they live and pay tax, to file tax returns to the IRS, and also to the US Treasury; since the introduction of the FATCA, non-US financial institutions are now required to report on the finances of their US citizen customers, which has led to most French banks unilaterally closing the bank accounts of US citizens, and in other countries (e.g. Germany) causing the banks and credit card companies to contact their US citizen customers to get permission to share their data with the US Treasury (or have their accounts closed). If I were to actually marry my US citizen fiancée, I would also be required to report my income to the IRS, despite me being a British citizen and never having resided in the USA.
  • Environmental record:
    One of the most polluting countries in the world (per capita, second only to Australia) is America. Their cars are some of the least efficient in the world, and Americans drive everywhere. Their household energy consumption is extraordinarily huge (for heating, air-conditioning and household appliances) due to poor building insulation, the widespread over-use of air-conditioning and low efficiency appliances. The nation consumes an enormous quantity of oil, and their oil exports are increasing, despite a desperate worldwide need to reduce fossil fuel use. On top of all this, President Donald Trump wants to revitalise the US coal industry.
  • Bullying and blackmailing of other nations:
    The USA is a bully in international circles. This spring The United States threatened nations in an effort to blunt a World Health Assembly resolution supporting breastfeeding; they threatened more than a dozen participants from various countries. The USA regularly vetoes UN Security Council motions that it doesn’t like, including anything that criticises Israel or the USA itself; any attempt to take these motions to the General Assembly results in more blackmail. They also regularly try to blackmail the EU in regard to trade, because they don’t want to comply with EU health and labeling laws (GM foods, use of growth hormones, washing chicken carcases in chlorine, listing of contents, etc.) for foods exported to the EU. Also, just look at how President Trump treats other world leaders at meetings, manhandling people out of his way so that he can be in prime position in photos.
  • Money over doing the right thing:
    The prime example amongst the nations of the world, of money being more important than “doing the right thing” about any issue, is the USA. They support Israel under any circumstances, despite the Israeli settlement programme and the latest Israeli law defining Israel as a Hebrew/Jewish nation, effectively downgrading the rights of their Arab citizens. This is mainly because of the rich and powerful Jewish lobby in America. American support for China exists for different reasons (because of the size and growth rate of trade with China, and also because no western nation actually knows how to negotiate with China), but it nevertheless gets China off the hook time and time again.
  • Gun violence, crime, justice system, the size of the prison population:
    The level of crime, the broken justice system, and the size and make-up of the prison population in the USA are international scandals. Gun crime and mass shootings are always in the news. On top of that, there are constant shootings by police (mostly but not exclusively of African Americans) ; America is one of the easiest places in the world, apart from war zones, to get shot by the police (just try getting out of your car at a police traffic stop, before being ordered by a police officer to do so). The level of injustice in American courts is an outrage: not only are innocent people regularly convicted (in recent months there have been several cases of people whose convictions have been overturned due to more modern DNA techniques, sometimes after decades behind bars); in civil court cases it is usually the side with the most money and therefore the best lawyers who wins. There are the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) courts, which hear applications for surveillance warrants in espionage cases, in secret. There is a huge bias in both conviction rates and sentencing severity, depending on the ethnicity of the accused, meaning that there are few whites, but very many blacks and Hispanics behind bars. The USA has the largest prison population, per capita, of any nation in the world.
  • Anti-abortion stance:
    Parts of the USA (Texas and the bible-belt) are strongly ant-abortion. Despite the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling in the US Supreme Court, which basically says that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion, state legislators are constantly making local laws to restrict access to abortions, and the federal government is cutting off government subsidies to organisations which support and promote abortions. In almost every other country in the world, the trend is in the opposite direction; even Ireland.
  • Migrants and asylum, and the discriminatory rules, plus separation of parents from children:
    The USA was built on immigration (Irish, Chinese, British, German, Scandinavian, to name but a few), but nowadays the national feeling seems to be very much against immigration. The Trump administration made several attempts (the latest of which seems to have overcome legal opposition) to block Muslim immigration. The need for asylum no longer seems to be a valid reason to get into the USA. This year there has been a huge scandal in America and around the world, about migrants being separated from their children, and in many cases the authorities have not been able to put the families back together to comply with court orders. Some parents whose children are in ICE custody have already been deported without their children, which seems to me to be state sponsored kidnapping.
  • Wars and invasions:
    America has a history of pretending to be reluctant to get involved in wars, but in fact is one of the most warlike nations on the planet. Since the end of WW II, the USA has fought wars or more limited military actions in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada (and we still don’t really know why this tiny Caribbean nation was invaded), Somalia and Nicaragua. Donald Trump has been talking a lot recently (despite advice to the contrary from all his advisors) about invading Venezuela, and has made a lot of threats of war against North Korea (once bitten, but apparently still not shy).
  • Health insurance and the cost of health care:
    My girlfriend’s family often talk about the high cost of health care in the USA. It is exorbitant, they get very little cover, every time that someone changes jobs, they effectively have a 3 month gap in cover because they have to change insurers, and they have to pay the first $5000 of medical costs in any year before the insurance kicks in. Health care is very expensive ($20,000 for a pregnancy/child-birth seems a little steep, even though there were complications), and often the insurer will pay only part of the cost. On top of that, you can be fired for taking sick leave (our German friends simply do not believe this). Having a healthy workforce is a basic and sensible investment in economic growth: people can work better and harder and retire later if they have good health care.
  • The “it’s always someone else’s fault” attitude:
    Many Americans seem to have the attitude that everything is always someone else’s fault. This, coupled with the ridiculous concept of punitive damages (fine, if you want to boost the damages as an incentive not offend again, but the victim shouldn’t get the extra money), means that people sue for all sorts of trivial nonsense (e.g. the infamous too hot coffee from McDonalds). This is not just an issue in private issues and US internal matters, but is also apparent in Donald Trump’s America First policies, resulting in withdrawal from, cancellation of negotiations for, or renegotiation of several treaties: TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership), the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).
  • Student debt:
    The USA is not the only country to have introduced student loans for people attending college or university, but due to the incredibly high cost of education in America, especially at the top universities, the amount of debt that students are left with after graduation is at crippling levels, taking decades to repay. This prevents them from taking out loans for buying homes, and forces them to live as paupers for years. This, again, is an issue of investment in the future of the nation, and a better fairer balance is needed. The whole system discriminates against poorer students (the richer parents can pay for the children’s education, or at least help with the cost and/or the repayment of the student loans), and prevents poorer people from contributing as much as they could to economic growth. Contrast the US system with that in Germany, which provides grants for foreigners to come to Germany to study (on the condition that they leave Germany after their studies).

You might not agree with all the above arguments, and may not agree that all of them qualify the USA as a Rogue Nation, but the list is long enough that (I hope) you agree there is a case to be made. The question is, what to do? What the international community normally does to reign in Rogue Nations is to apply sanctions, to the nation as a whole, and/or to individuals in government and business. Is it time to start applying sanctions to the USA? Most countries do not have the courage and economic strength to take on America, at least not alone, but given the blossoming trade wars around the world, where nations are anyway starting to impose import tariffs on US goods and services, it is no longer such a big step to ramp them up to punish the USA for its broader behaviour.

You know what you need to do: VOTE!

UK worse off after Brexit – what a surprise!

Posted on 17th July 2018

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In this article, on GQ Magazine, the title says it all: "Brexit was always going to leave the country worse off". That is what I thought all along, but it was sold the the voting public (I was not allowed to vote in the referendum, having been out of the UK too long) on the basis that Britain would be better off financially outside the EU.

Do you think that maybe we were all lied to during the Brexit referendum campaign? Well, of course we were, just like in every election campaign. The voting public falls for the lies every time.

One of the main criticisms in the GQ article is that there was no plan: not before the referendum, and not even before triggering Article 50 (after which Britain only has two years to negotiate Brexit terms). I think that is a very good point. I understand that David Cameron expected the opposite result from the referendum, but it would have been prudent to have at least an outline plan, just in case. The pro-Brexit camp should also have had a plan. Even now, after more than a year, the government's plan is not concrete; more of a wish-list than a plan, and everything in it is open for negotiation (not negotiation with the EU, but with rebellious Tory MPs, as Theresa May struggles to stay in power).

If I did my job as badly as these politicians do their's, I would expect to be fired. I think firing these inept politicians is exactly what should happen. Just remember that when the next election comes around in the UK.

USA Does Not Want To Defend Montenegro?

Posted on 19th July 2018

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The latest stupidity from President Donald Trump (as reported in this piece from the BBC, and this one from DW) is just stunning. He is suggesting that, if Montenegro (a paid up member of NATO) is attacked, the USA might not be willing to honour its commitments under Article 5 of the NATO founding treaty, which require all NATO members to treat an attack on one member as an attack on all members).

He said several things, one of which is that Montenegro was not paying into NATO, which is simply not true (mentioned in the DW article - around 1.66% of GDP, and committed to raise it to 2% percent by 2024, as agreed by other NATO members). He also said that Montenegro is "a very strong people, ... very aggressive people. They may get aggressive and, congratulations, you're in World War Three." I think maybe he is confusing them with the USA, who are most definitely strong and aggressive, and quite capable of starting World War Three.

Apparently, President Trump is unaware that Article 5 has been invoked only once, by the USA, after the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center. Add to that that Montenegro has contributed a disproportionate (based on their population, as mentioned in the DW article, and their GDP) amount of military assistance in Afghanistan.

I do not really understand why Americans are so against NATO, and Article 5 in particular. After WWII, NATO was created primarily to protect the USA by providing an expendable buffer-zone of countries which would need to be defeated before any effective attack (conventional or nuclear) could be mounted against the USA. The European members of NATO get no credit for providing this "suicide squad", nor for bolstering US forces in wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and providing logistical and medical support to US forces.

Maybe European nations are safer without the USA. It would certainly reduce the number of reasons for being attacked by Russia.

This Man Wants To Legalise Prejudice

Posted on 29th May 2018

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This politician is unbelievable. As reported in this piece on Roll Call, Congressman Rohrabacher says it’s "OK to not sell homes to gay people". He wants the law changed to allow this kin of prejudice.

I thought, in the USA at least, we had got past this kind of prejudice, but apparently, I was wrong.

So, if we are going to change the law to make it legal to refuse to sell homes to gay people, why stop there? While we're at it, let's also legalise refusing to sell to other groups: fat people, ugly people (Representative Rohrabacher will be shit out of luck on those first two), Muslims, Roman Catholics, immigrants, women, Democrats, people who drive mustangs, people who eat sushi, and so on?

Those changes to the law will make the world a much better place, right?

NFL Protests And The Loss Of Rights

Posted on 24th May 2018

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I have to admit that I have trouble understanding the degree to which people are getting upset by the continuing "Take a knee" protests in the American NFL (National Football League). The latest development, reported in this BBC article, worries me.

The latest development is that players will be fined for taking a knee during the US national anthem. If they do not wish to participate in the ceremony, in which players stand (usually with their hand on their chest in a form of salute) during the national anthem, which begins each game, they may stay in the locker room until it is over.

In my view, this new policy violates two basic rights:

  1. The right of players to express their opinion (the right of free speech, guaranteed in the US constitution) by taking a knee in public.
  2. The right of players to show respect to their national anthem. There has been much heated rhetoric about how kneeling is disrespectful, but, where I come from, kneeling is much more respectful than standing, but now they will not be allowed to show respect in their own way (in one of the most patriotic countries in the world).

I suppose that we shouldn't let facts, or anything so irrelevant as the US constitution, interfere with a good row.

Brexit And The Undermining Of Democracy

Posted on 11th January 2018

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If anything proves that the UK government is mismanaging the Brexit process, this article from the BBC proves it.

It seems that Mrs. May’s government has not commissioned any impact assessments about Brexit.

The decision about Brexit is probably the most important single decision to be taken by the UK in decades. Not only has the Conservative government back-peddled as hard as possible about giving parliament and the public a chance to vote on whether to go ahead with whatever deal they manage to negotiate for Brexit, but they have done nothing to provide information for MPs and the public upon which they can decide how to vote.

This is a major abrogation of responsibility, and is the very opposite of democracy. If the government are unable to act responsibly, and do not support democracy, then they are not fit to govern.

Brexit And The Money Issue

Posted on 16th October 2017

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Two recent reports about Brexit highlight the hypocrisy, lies, broken promises and arrogance of the UK's conservative government.

This piece by the BBC reports Theresa May as saying "where money needs to be spent it will be spent". I find this very strange, given that saving the UK taxpayer money was one of the justifications used by pro-Brexiters during the Brexit referendum campaign; all that nonsense about £350M a week extra for the NHS (National Health Service) after Brexit.

The real facts of the matter are that there will be lots of costs from leaving the EU: the "divorce" bill, the extra costs of customs and immigration controls (especially in relation to Ireland), the bureaucratic costs of repealing EU specific legislation and of replacing it with UK legislation, additional bureaucratic costs for business importing from and exporting to the EU, bureaucratic costs for government in processing VAT and import duties for trade with the EU, costs (e.g. health insurance) for Brits who travel to the EU for work or vacation, and many many more costs.

This piece, also by the BBC, gives a summary of a recent opinion poll, which shows that people (at least people in Wales) are not willing to lose any money as a result of Brexit. The same is probably true of most of the UK populace.

So, the government is prepared to pay whatever it takes to leave the EU, but the citizens are not. Good luck squaring that circle!

How many ways, and how many times, does the government need to be told that the terms that are being discussed for Brexit are not acceptable to the voting public? Whatever the reasons of principle for leaving the EU (themselves questionable at best), they do not justify the approach of Brexit at any cost. People were asked to vote in a referendum on the basis that Brexit would save them money, and given the facts that are now on the table, their decision is now clearly invalid. The people do not want Brexit at any cost, and it is time that the government listened.

A Presidential Pardon By Tweet!

Posted on 25th August 2017

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As reported here, by the BBC,, there is some debate as to whether President Trump might pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio in a tweet. To be fair, the president has given no indication that he intends to use Twitter to pardon Joe Arpaio, but has made it clear that a pardon (in some form) is likely.

As most people must be aware by now, Donald Trump uses Twitter a lot, bypassing his advisors and speech writers to share his views on all manner of topics in tweets.

The idea of issuing a presidential pardon in a tweet, however, is shocking and incredibly stupid. Many famous people and corporations have had their twitter accounts hacked for a wide range of reasons; twitter is simply not secure enough for such serious content as a pardon.

If the Donald establishes a precedent that pardons by Twitter are acceptable, and have legal recognition, I foresee a string of hacks, so that people can pardon themselves (or others whom they support) via the president's Twitter account. That will be a dark day.

Trump And Charlottesville: When You’re In A Hole, Stop Digging!

Posted on 18th August 2017

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There have been more than enough news reports about what President Donald Trump did and didn't say about the violence in Charlottesville, and when. Here are some, in case you have been off-planet for the last week:

Various comedy TV shows have also been having a field-day with the issue:

Irrespective of where you stand on the various issues (Confederate statues, the Confederate flag, White Supremacists, Nazis, protest violence, President Trump being and ignorant lying SOB, etc.), there is one aspect of this debacle that is totally bemusing: that the Donald keeps giving speeches, answering reporters' questions, and tweeting on the matter, and by doing so, gets himself into even more hot water. Clearly, he doesn't listen to his advisors, and ignores the speeches that are written for him. Apparently he also doesn't believe in the old adage that, when you are in a hole, stop digging.

An EU-US Sanctions War May Be Coming

Posted on 1st August 2017

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This story from the BBC has me worried. The US House of Representatives has voted to impose more sanctions against Russia, although it still needs to be passed by the Senate, and signed by the President (rumours are that he will sign the bill if passed by both houses of Congress).

The EU is concerned about the impact on future energy supplies from Russia, and the negative effects on EU firms involved on building the necessary pipelines and other infrastructure. The new sanctions will limit or completely block access to US banking services for those firms, and could also lose them future business in the USA.

As a result, the EU Commission (President Jean-Claude Juncker) has warned that if such negative side-effects hit EU business or EU energy security, the EU will retaliate.

Jean-Claude Juncker did say that "The EU is fully committed to the Russia sanctions regime", but that means UN sanctions, and not "unilateral" actions by the US or others.

Any retaliation by the EU will likely involve sanctions against US businesses, and will probably lead to an escalating tit-for-tat sanctions war. So much for any "special relationship". This would have huge fall-out in the EU, The USA, and indeed all across the world; it could trigger the next global financial crisis, plunging the world into a recession.

Just for a change, this crisis was not cause by President Donald Trump, but by the US Congress acting on their own initiative; The Donald is trying to build better relations with Russia, which may or may not be a good thing.

Erosion Of Rights In The USA

Posted on 10th May 2017

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This piece in The Guardian should be cause for concern for anyone who lives in the USA.

The article describes the unprecedented number (more than 30 since the 8th of November 2016) of state laws introduced to crack down on protests. UN experts have called these laws “incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law”.

The USA is famous for its 1st Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to free speech. Now, that right is being severely limited when exercised via organised protests.

It occurs to me that this is in some way opposite to Christian principles. In the New Testament, Jesus is reported as saying "Whenever two or three people are gathered together in my name, I will be with you": you can only commune with God in organised groups. Under these new ant-protest laws, you can only exercise your right to free speech (in the states which have such laws - more than half, it seems) if you do not do so in an organised group.

Since these new laws about protests are being promulgated by Republicans, who by and large purport to be Christian, I detect a whiff of hypocrisy in their position.

Trump Demolishes The US Government!

Posted on 20th April 2017

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This short video report on by the BBC gives a frightening summary of Donald Trump's less well noticed recent decisions in his continuing programme of removing government regulations in all areas of life and business in the USA:

  1. In Alaska, bears can now be hunted while they hibernate, and wolves can be shot from helicopters. The argument is that individual states should manage wildlife resources. That argument is totally illogical: wildlife is a national resource, used by many people from outside of those states (people from other states, and international visitors). If state management of wildlife is such a good idea, why don't they take the same approach with drug control (as was done in Germany about 20 years ago, where the federal government repealed all anti-drug legislation and left it up to the individual states to draft and enforce their own)?
  2. It has been made easier for mentally ill people to buy guns without background checks. Irrespective of whether the right to bear arms, as guaranteed in the US constitution, is a good idea or not, it is an established legal principle that mentally ill people should not have all the rights of normal citizens, and the history of gun violence in the USA shows that there are problems resulting from so many guns, so why are they making life more dangerous for everyone?
  3. Environmental protections for streams has been reduced, allowing mining companies to dump toxic waste into the nation's waterways. This is a national problem, as streams, and the rivers that they feed, cross state boundaries, and pollute ground-water and the surrounding oceans. Republicans seem obsessed with letting free-market forces control so many things, but free-market forces cannot properly limit pollution unless the full costs of that pollution are passed on to the polluters (the principle of "the polluter pays") which is not currently the case, and is not even on the agenda of the Trump administration.
  4. Oil, gas and mining companies will no longer need to report money paid to foreign governments. This is a licence for bribery and corruption, and even for companies to interfere in the elections in overseas governments. The rest of the world is slowly moving to stamp out bribery and corruption, but the USA is going against the trend, in order to ensure the competitiveness of US companies.
  5. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can now sell their customers' browsing history (and other Internet usage history) without the consent of those customers. This will allow better targeted advertising, but is open to abuse. It should not be forgotten that, given the number of hacking attacks going on, once your data is out there on someone's computer systems, it will also probably leak into the hands of criminals and be used for identity theft and financial crime. Again, this is a move in the opposite direction to most of the rest of the world. I already use a proxy service for some of my Internet activity, and if my usage history was going to be put up for sale, I would use a proxy for everything (luckily there is little chance of that it Germany).

It seems that Donald Trump and his band of idiot followers are intent on removing government regulation from everything that will ensure a safe life, ethical business practices, and protect the environment.

Republicans In Trouble Again!

Posted on 17th April 2017

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This BBC report describes how a republican governor has resigned over a sex scandal. Alabama's governor, Robert Bentley, has quit over his relationship with an aide, after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against him.

I find the hypocrisy incredible, in that republicans campaign on the basis of family values, but are always getting into trouble for having sexual relations outside of their marriages. Infidelity is not uncommon in the modern world, but we hold our politicians to better standards of behaviour than ourselves.

At what point will the hypocrisy of republicans result in people not voting for them? Do voters not actually care what their politicians do, compared to what they say they believe in?

It's official: Brexit leave voters are stupid!

Posted on 21st February 2017

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Firstly, I would like to apologise for those of you (who voted to leave, in the Brexit referendum) who feel insulted by this article. This is statistical data, and does not necessarily prove that all Brexit voters are stupid, and also does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship; it merely points out a trend.

This BBC report contains an analysis of local voting data from the Brexit referendum.

The main finding was that:

  • Results were strongly associated with the educational attainment of voters - populations with lower qualifications were significantly more likely to vote Leave.
  • The level of education had a higher correlation with the voting pattern than any other major demographic measure from the census.

There were, of course, other correlations with demographic data, such as age and ethnicity, but they were less strong than with education.

So, again, sorry, but (and I am, of course, exaggerating here) if you voted for Britain to leave the EU, there is a chance that you are stupid, and a chance that that is why you voted for Brexit.

I have been caused to wonder recently, during the US presidential elections, listening to voters' reactions to Donald Trump's policies and their reactions to the outrageous things he said, whether some people may actually be too stupid (or otherwise mentally impaired) to be allowed to vote. I understand that this goes against what many people see as a principle of democracy, but maybe it bears thinking about. I don't mean to say that, because one person has a degree, they have a better right to vote that someone who doesn't have a degree, but maybe there needs to be a cut-off (perhaps based on one or more of IQ, memory, awareness of history and current news) below which people shouldn't be voting because they don't understand the issues, the consequences of their choices, and cannot identify when candidates are lying or exaggerating.

I am sure that many people reading this will violently disagree, as you are entitled to; it is just a thought, and not an idea that I am bought-in to, but one that might be worthy of analysis.

Is The UK Government The Enemy of Democracy?

Posted on 9th January 2017

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After I read this BBC news report this morning, I think the question "Is The UK Government The Enemy of Democracy?" is a reasonable one, to which the British voters need the answer.

Non-Brits may not be aware of how the House of Lords works. In some ways, it is like the US Senate, but Lords are not elected; they are instead appointed by government. Each government appoints a few, so most of the Lords were appointed by previous governments. Appointments are for life (there are still a few hereditary peers, who mostly do not vote, but no new hereditary peers are created nowadays). There has long been talk of abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected body, in the same way that there is talk of abolishing the monarchy, but there are no real plans to do it, and the public seems to have mixed feelings on the issue.

The House of Lords cannot completely block legislation (neither can the Queen); they can either pass bills or send bills back to the House of Commons with amendments, and that they can only do a limited number of times (three, I believe).

Now, however, the government has said that the House of Lords will face an "overwhelming" public call to be abolished if it opposes the bill to trigger Article 50 (to begin the process of Brexit - leaving the EU).

Hold on a minute! There are only two choices here:

  1. Either the House of Lords performs some valid and useful role in the British democratic process.
    In that case, how dare the UK government interfere in the workings of democracy. Let the Lords get on with their job.
  2. Or the House of Lords performs no useful democratic function.
    In that case, the process of abolishing the House of Lords should have already started, and should be judged by the British people on its merits.

It doesn't even matter which of the above views is right. The idea that abolition can be wielded as a punishment for "bad behaviour" fits neither of the above scenarios, and is nothing more than corrupt and undemocratic blackmail on the part of Theresa May's government.

Victory For Trump: Time To Move To Another Planet

Posted on 9th November 2016

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It seems that Donald Trump has won the US presidential election, according to this BBC news report.

Brits will probably be experiencing a feeling of déjà vu, as it is so very like the Brexit referendum, where everyone was worried at first, and then relaxed as it looked like the result would turn out OK, only to be shocked when the count was finally in.

Unless all Trump's speeches and policy statements turn out to just be posturing, the world is going to change dramatically:

  • Trump is a climate-change-denier, and wants to de-commit from the Paris climate accord. Expect the USA to increase domestic consumption and exports of coal and oil, and to reduce or completely cancel any financial incentives for the development and deployment of renewable energy. Also, any poorer nations that were hoping for aid from the USA to compensate them for the costs of the change to renewable energy are going to be disappointed. It is even conceivable, although unlikely, that the rest of the world may ultimately impose sanctions on the USA for refusal to participate in international action to limit global warming; that would change international politics and trade irreversibly.
  • Trump's famous plan to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants arriving from Mexico and to get Mexico to pay for it, is not going to improve the relationship with the Mexican government. If the USA wants its southern neighbour to cooperate in limiting illegal immigration, then it needs to maintain friendly relations, otherwise it will be a purely US problem to solve. The fallout from souring relations with Mexico could affect cooperation with all central American nations, and undermine trade deals and the operations of the DEA.
  • Trump's stated admiration for Vladimir Putin is at odds with many nations' positions. The result will be weakening of the sanctions against Russia. Ukraine will no longer have its main supporter in its fight against Russian-backed insurgents, and its attempts (probably doomed anyway) to reclaim the Crimea, or at least get some compensation for its loss. Friendlier relations between the USA and Russia will also remove the brakes (limited though they are) on Russian atrocities in Syria.
  • There are serious concerns about Trump's commitment to NATO. He seems to want to cancel the mutual defence agreement, which is the very basis of NATO. We could be looking at the gradual disintegration of NATO, with the result that European nations will need to spend much more on defence, and Europe will lose the diplomatic muscle that it has traditionally had in dealing with Russia. All of us living in Europe will be more at risk of war or of more Crimea-style annexations of territory.
  • The apparently inevitable souring of relations between the USA and Europe, and between the USA and central America, will have fallout on freedom of travel. Visas will be more difficult to get, for business and vacations, both for Americans visiting elsewhere and for Europeans and central Americans visiting the USA (visa requirements are always handled on a tit-for-tat basis, so a change for travel in one direction will result in a matching change for travel in the other direction).

My guess is that the USA is going to change from being like that supportive big brother, on whom you could count in troubled times, to being that wayward younger sibling whose actions are a constant source of embarrassment, inconvenience and cost.

I think maybe I will get in touch with Elon Musk to see if I can sign up for his Mars colonisation programme.

Trump Doesn’t Really Like Guns?

Posted on 8th November 2016

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I was rather bemused by this story in The Telegraph. Donald Trump was hustled off stage by his Secret Service detail, because, apparently, someone in the audience had a gun.

As I understand it, Trump, and the Republican party, approves of guns: of owning them, and carrying them. Their position is that widespread gun ownership makes everyone safer. I find that policy hard to square with the idea that there is danger to the candidate if someone in the audience at a rally has a gun; surely the fact that he had a gun made Donald Trump safer?

Of course, this example of hypocrisy may point to another issue: that despite policy and speeches to the contrary, Mr. Trump and his Republican apologists do do actually believe that more guns make everyone safer.

The Jews are leaving Britain because of Brexit

Posted on 11th November 2016

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This report in the Guardian should worry all Brits.

"German authorities report twentyfold increase in applications for reserved citizenship from people living in UK. Descendants of the tens of thousands of German Jews who fled the Nazis and found refuge in Britain are making use of their legal right to become German citizens following the Brexit vote." If ever there was a clear-headed economic case that Brexit is bad for Britain, this is it.

There is. of course, another possible factor: that Britain has become much more openly racist since the Brexit vote, but there has also been an increase in racism, nationalism and general anti-Semitic sentiment in many other parts of Europe. I can only guess, but I think that the economic reasons are probably the main motivation for this mass-exodus.

I am so glad that I don't live in the UK any more.

Theresa May’s Hypocrisy Over Refugees

Posted on 20th September 2016

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These two stories (about the Prime Minister's speech about immigration, to the UN, from the Guardian before and from the BBC after she delivered that speech) highlight the racism and lack of humanity of the British people, and the hypocrisy of Theresa May.

She claims to have concerns about the proportion of immigrants who are economic refugees, and plans to deal with this by limiting the number who reach Britain, and the number who are allowed to stay. It seems to be true that many people who apply to stay in richer countries are motivated by money, and that they are the wealthier of the immigrants; I have previously written about this issue amongst immigrants in Germany, here. There are, however, a number of flaws and hypocrisies in her arguments:

  1. The wealthier immigrants are precisely the ones that Britain and other host countries should be encouraging, because they have money, and will therefore be less of a drain on the country, and are more likely to work hard and earn well in the future, and make a greater contribution to country. The governments of most rich western countries will privately admit that they desperately need immigrants to fill skill gaps, rebalance the age distribution of the population as the existing populace gets older (to help pay for pensions and health care), and to generally boost the economy. It is time for some honesty about this issue, although modern politicians seem to find honesty very hard.
  2. If these wealthier immigrants are not those in real need (and there seems to be an admission in Theresa May's speech that there are some who are really fleeing in fear of their lives due to war or political persecution), then where is the plan to encourage those who are deemed more deserving? By all means turn away those who are just trying to gain money, but replace them with those for whom there is a real humanitarian case.
  3. Where is the moral justification and the fairness in her plan to insist that refugees must instead be allowed to stay in the first country (in the EU or elsewhere) that they reach? If the social and economic stress on Britain is high when large numbers of immigrants enter, it will be even higher on the poorer countries (such as Turkey, Hungary, and Greece) that they reach first.
  4. As the Americans say, "what goes around, comes around". One day, Brits may need to move elsewhere due to war or environmental disaster (and Brits are already common economic immigrants around the world, notably in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and various parts of the EU). This anti-immigration attitude will not serve us well in such a future.

I think it is well past time for some common sense, some honesty, and some sound ethics in politics and in the attitudes of people on the streets, around the world, and most especially in Britain.

Brexit Vote: The Victory Of Bigotry Over Common Sense

Posted on 30th June 2016

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As you may guess, I am rather angry about the Brexit vote, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there is the way the campaigns for and against, were conducted. Everyone should already know that politicians cannot be trusted, but the Leave and Remain campaigns have really pushed the envelope regarding lying to the electorate. What is worse is that people (voters and the press) don’t seem to care. When I was young, politicians who were caught lying to the House Of Parliament had no choice but to resign, but that has not been the case for a long time.

My main concern, the free movement of labour, which is an essential foundation to my life and work, was not a significant part of anyone’s campaign. Well, people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, thank you so much for leaving me to drown.

The main arguments in the campaigns were:

  1. Immigration -
  • 2.3 million EU citizens living in the UK, more of whom work and pay taxes in the UK than the average for UK citizens living in the UK;
  • 2.2 million UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU;
  • The majority of immigrants in the UK come from outside of the EU.

So, clearly, EU membership is not the source of any supposed immigration problem. Indeed, Britain, like most western nations, desperately needs more immigrants to fill skill gaps, and to help reduce the average age of the population (so that people’s pensions can be funded), but the government is too cowardly to declare this to the voting public.

  1. Finance and Trade -
  • UK Business came out strongly in favour of remaining in the EU;
  • Stock markets and central banks all clearly showed their concern at the prospect of Brexit, and the IMF also stated that it was a major risk to growth and stability; since the vote the markets have been in turmoil;
  • Britain’s economy is mostly based on services, not manufacturing, agriculture or raw materials, and the main growth export is financial services, but the UK has just opted out of the single European market for financial services (which is still being constructed), and this will hurt our exports in future; several banks and financial services companies are already talking about moving operations (and jobs) into continental Europe;
  • Britain’s membership of a large number of international trade agreements is through the EU, and new agreements will now need to be negotiated, some of which could take 10 years or more;
  • All the campaign arguments about Britain’s EU contributions, EU structural funding, and NHS costs are basically guesswork, propaganda and lies, and the impact of EU membership on UK finances is not clear enough for a rational decision.

So, the financial arguments for Brexit are either unclear, or demonstrably wrong.

  1. Sovereignty -
  • Some people complain bitterly about EU laws and regulations eroding British national sovereignty -
  • All those inconvenient laws guaranteeing rights and equality to the sexes, to people of different sexuality, to different races, to people with disabilities and to older people in the workforce;
  • The annoying removal of those exorbitant roaming charges when on vacation or working abroad;
  • Laws that protect the environment;
  • Laws that ensure safety of products and the workplace;
  • Laws that insist that there is actually meat in British sausages.

In general, these laws and regulations are good things, and things that should have been enacted by Westminster without the push from Brussels, if we could trust our politicians to look after our interests.

As far as I can see, there is no sound argument for Brexit on any grounds, but people voted, of course, on the basis of their own personal bigotry, rather than on the basis of facts.

The lessons that I take from the Brexit debacle are:

  1. That having elections and referenda does not make a working democracy – Britain has given the world a horrible example of how not to do democracy; it was horrific to read the reports about the trends in web-searches such as “what is the EU?” after the vote, from Brits, which shows that UK voters don’t take their democratic rights and privileges seriously;
  2. Altruism is beyond most people, or at least most groups of people – being a part of something larger and good just doesn’t count as a reason to stay in the EU;
  3. I should be ashamed of being British (and believe me, I am considering my options about nationality and passport).

I strongly believe that, because of global warming and overpopulation, the world is going to become a more dangerous and less friendly place. Now Britain will have to face that alone (it may be worse than that, as there is now serious talk of the UK breaking up due to the Brexit vote, leaving England and maybe Wales, against the world). Well, when you get into trouble, don’t come running to me, and don’t ask the EU for help.

Muslim’s Views On Homosexuality Are Irrelevant

Posted on 8th May 2016

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I don’t fully understand why the opinion poll reported in this story on the Telegraph is being taken so seriously.

The report tells us that the poll found that 52% of Muslims in Britain said homosexuality should not be legal in Britain. I suppose that many people will argue that the principles of democracy argue that this idea should be taken seriously. I see it otherwise, and not based on the usual racist arguments.

Whatever your religion is, there is no doubt that Britain is an officially Christian country. There is no official or constitutional separation of church and state, as you find in the USA or Germany. The head of state, the Queen, is also the ultimate head of the Church of England; although the UK has no written constitution, the connection of the Church of England and the government of the country is nevertheless constitutional (yes, there is a constitution, just not a written one). That means that opinions based on other religious beliefs and doctrines have no legal standing.

Even if the majority of voters in Britain believe that homosexuality should be illegal, if they believe it based on non-Christian religious beliefs, it should never become law.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not a Christian; neither am I a Muslim. Nevertheless, if people choose to live in a country that has a constitution, written or not, based on a particular religion, then they have signed up themselves and their descendants to live by the rules of that religion. Luckily for British non-Christians, modern Christianity is very flexible and tolerant, which is why living in Britain is much easier for people with “alien” belief systems than, say, Pakistan or Iran.

Undemocratic Elections in the USA.

Posted on 21st February 2016

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I am getting thoroughly demoralised by the constant stream of so-called news about the US presidential election. Candidates are still campaigning for their party’s nominations; the actual election campaigning hasn’t even started, but I am, already sick of it.

One of the least offensive articles that I have read recently about the US presidential election was this piece in The Economist, which bemoans how the fight is turning ugly, and the established order of things in US elections has been overturned.

The trouble is that American elections have always been broken: the process is undemocratic, and votes are decided by personalities and budgets rather than policies. Campaigns have always been dirty and disconnected from reality; it’s just that they are getting even more so.

The USA is the world’s champion of democracy, and has encouraged it in, exported it to, or forced it upon, many nations around the world. Democracy is not a silver bullet that will solve all ills: for the proof, just look at what is happening in countries that were part of the Arab Spring (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) and in countries which were invaded to install democratic governments (Iraq and Afghanistan). Also, an important lesson not yet taken on board by Western governments: one size of democracy clearly does not fit all. What annoys me, however, is that the main champion of democracy is a nation whose own democracy is highly questionable. What is so special about the people in Iowa (and to a lesser extent in New Hampshire) that qualifies them to have more of an influence on the choice of president than other Americans? For many elected posts, the USA also has a first-past-the-post system, as does Britain, which many other nations consider inherently undemocratic, and then there is that bizarre electoral college system which means that the candidate with the most votes does not necessarily win the election.

Another thing that is not the answer to all problems is the free market. Free market forces create competition, and as a result US society, business and politics are all more competitive than most other people ever experience. Allowing big money into such a competitive election process pretty much guarantees excess, prejudiced rhetoric, and dirty campaigns. I don’t actually know whether Donald Trump believes and will deliver on all of the promises that he has made during his election, but it seems that if you don’t behave and speak similarly (always against something or someone, and always to excess) then you can’t win the election.

Many countries have their share of weirdos and idiots standing for election (Britain has the Monster Raving Loony Party), but amongst Western nations, the USA is unique in that there a serious chance of the nut-job actually getting to run the county.

Maybe a coalition of truly democratic nations should invade the USA and install a truly democratic system. The problem with that idea (apart from the tiny issue of America’s military might and economic influence) is finding a nation that can honestly claim to be truly democratic. My number one candidate is Switzerland; if you know of any other nation that can claim that title, I would love to hear about it.

Political Correctness About Gender

Posted on 10th January 2016

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This (as reported in this BBC story) is the kind of nonsense that makes me mad.

The report is about how the Commons Women and Equalities committee is pressing the case to have a person's gender declared "not relevant" and removed from official documents such as passports and driving licences. The argument is that it creates an "unconscious bias" in job applications.

Although I am generally not a fan of the way that political correctness is warping our language, I do understand that there are cases where common terminology can cause insult or even bias. Having said that, can we please have a bit of common sense about the matter!

Passports and driving licences exist to prove people's identity. They need to give some basic information (in addition to a photograph) to allow other people to confirm that a passport or driving licence belongs to the person in question. Gender is a reasonable component of that basic identification information. Just like hair colour, eye colour, height and age, the information might be a little confusing: people can dye their hair or wear a wig, wear coloured contact lenses, wear high-heeled shoes, look younger than they are due to make-up or surgery, and dress as, or actually be, a different gender than is stated on the ID. That, however, is not a reason for removing information that does actually help to identify people in most cases.

If gender identification on ID documents is causing bias against job applicants, then the problem is not with the ID documents, but with the demand that ID be provided for job applications.

I am not against people who occupy the gender middle-ground. I have met many transgender and transvestite people, and worked with some, and I don't have any issue with them. I have no wish to insult them, but that doesn't free them from the normal obligations to be identifiable when needed. Maybe what is needed is one or more new gender definitions for use on ID documents, which specify the gender in a non-insulting way that is still useful for identification: maybe "TBD" for people in the process of gender reassignment, "Male (as Female)" and "Female (as Male)" for people who sometimes dress as the other gender.

The people who do not conform to the classic norms of our society are nevertheless a part of our society, and more and more of them are no longer hiding their true selves away from public gaze. I fully approve of this trend. I absolutely disapprove of the unfounded reactionary prejudice that such people are sometimes met with, but screwing up our language in the name of political correctness is not the answer. Prejudice needs to be addressed properly, in schools, through role models, in advertising, etc.

Why Are These Refugees Being Processed For Asylum In Cyprus?

Posted on 3rd November 2015

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This BBC report shows that something is seriously wrong with Britain's attitude to refugees. The report describes how the refugees are unhappy, and are protesting, about their treatment. I can understand why.

These refugees seem to have been very clever (it could also have been an accident, but probably not) by arriving at a UK RAF base in Cyprus. The base is British sovereign territory, and according the the Dublin Regulation their applications for asylum should be processed by the UK, for residence in the UK. Now, however, they are being processed by Cyprus, for residence there.

I really do not understand how this can be. They want to live in Britain, and the rules say that is what they should be able to apply for. In addition, Cyprus is a small country, much more easily reached by refugees from Syria, and they therefore already have more than their fair share of refugees. Britain, on the other hand, is much harder for the refugees to reach, and because of this Britain has relatively few refugees.

I don't know what kind of legal manoeuvring the UK government has been making to side-step their responsibility to these refugees, but it seems to me that it is neither actually legal nor moral. It is time for Britain to step up.

Why We Should All Accept More Refugees

Posted on 11th September 2015

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Following my previous post about the disgraceful attitude of Britain and France to accepting refugees, I read a useful analysis from the BBC about which countries are best suited to take refugees, and also an interesting article in the latest edition of The Economist.

The BBC article looks at different countries' abilities to take refugees from the perspectives of GDP, economic growth, total population and population density. Germany clearly comes out as best able to absorb refugees, but Britain and France also score quite highly. There really seems to be no excuse.

The Economist makes a sound case that an influx of refugees is good for the host country, so again, no excuse.

So, not only is taking in refugees morally the right thing to do, but several countries which are not pulling their weight are well able to take more migrants, and doing so will benefit the host countries.

There are, of course, other countries who have some moral responsibility towards the refugees. The USA is one; they obviously feel some responsibility, given the amount of money that they have been pouring in. They are the main architects, over the last 50 years, of the political landscape which has helped create the current crisis (Britain and the other colonialist nations share this blame). The USA really needs to step-up and help clean up the mess they created.

Russia is another nation with a major responsibility. Russia is Syria's main ally, and have propped up the Assad regime for decades. Of course, the problem is that Syrian refugees do not want to go there, and it is hard (and dangerous) to get there from the Middle East.

Diplomatic relations with Russia are broken at the moment, due to the Ukraine crisis, and it is unlikely that the West can persuade them to do their share. Also, their economy is in the toilet, and they can not easily afford the impact of thousands of refugees. The USA, on the other hand, is amenable to diplomatic pressure; the main blocking point is that the US presidential election campaign is already in full swing, and an influx of refugees would be hard to sell to an electorate already obsessed with migrants from Mexico and other countries to their south. Nevertheless, other nations should be pressed to share the load; even Australia (not the most refugee friendly nation) has agreed to take in increased numbers of Syrian refugees.

There is one more killer-argument for being more refugee-friendly. The world is changing: environmental disaster is looming and there are wars all over the world; economic growth is mainly in Asia, changing the distribution of wealth amongst nations. One day people of the (currently) rich nations of Europe and North America might become refugees themselves, and need to be taken in by other nations. Doing the right thing now, and setting an example for other nations, might mean a better welcome if/when that time comes.

The UK and France are disgraceful!

Posted on 8th September 2015

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This BBC story really highlights the differences between nations.

Germany has welcomed the refugees (mostly but not exclusively from Syria) with open arms; Austria too. Ordinary citizens went to the main railway station in Munich to welcome them, and to hand out clothes, children's toys, etc. to the new arrivals. The German government has said that it plans to accept 800,000 refugees (1% of Germany's population) this year, (meaning probably a similar number next year). Admittedly there are people against the migrants, but the nation is overall in favour.

By contrast, France has said that they would take 24,000 refugees; Britain has said that they will accept 20.000. I do not understand how these two nations (with similar populations and levels of wealth to Germany) can think that these numbers are enough, and that they are fair. It makes me ashamed to be British.

This refugee problem is likely to continue for years. The problems in Syria are not going to be resolved soon. Similar problems exist in Iraq (due in part to IS), Afghanistan , South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea and many other countries. War, drought, famine and religious strife are part of the modern world, and are the fall-out of misguided aid and political intervention by western nations in the rest of the world, and also in part the effects of global warming. The causes will not recede any time soon, and the richer nations need to change their attitude and come up with systematic solutions to the problem of mass migrations.

Britain and France need to "put their money where their mouth is": time to join the world community rather than just heckling from the side-lines.

Russian Borders Under Threat?

Posted on 25th June 2015

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The tension and escalation resulting from the Ukrainian crisis continues, with propaganda on both sides, but in this BBC story there is a quote from Russian President Vladimir Putin which wins the prize. The article reports that Russia has condemned the new Nato and US moves (to deploy heavy weapons - including tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery - in a number of European nations). President Putin accused Nato of "coming to our borders".

Excuse me Vlad, but we are not coming to your borders; your borders are coming to us!

An Obsession with Democracy

Posted on 4th July 2014

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This article in The Economist attempts to diagnose the ills of the Arab world. Its position seems to be that the modern interpretation of Islam is at the root of the problem: that religion is preventing democracy, free-market forces, education and religious and social pluralism.

One of the things that struck me about the article is that the author seems obsessed with democracy, both as a good thing in itself, and as the cure for many of the ills of the modern world. Not only is this position not justified in the piece, but it seems in contradiction to historical background given at the beginning of the article.

In the heyday of the Arab world their society was ruled by dictators and royalty. During this time they made enormous contributions to science, art, literature and architecture: we have Arab civilisation to thank for our system of numbers (they gave us the number zero, essential to modern mathematics), most of the ground-work in astronomy (the development of which was stunted in Europe by the influence of the Roman Catholic Church), technology for navigation and much more. If you want to see an example of Arab architecture, visit the Alhambra (and compare the Arab parts to the section that was reworked by the Spanish after they drove the Moors out of Spain - the Spanish architecture is horrible in comparison). All this was achieved without democracy; the same is true of most other great civilisations in history: China, India, the Incas, etc.

The article in The Economist mentions Indonesia as an example of a successful Muslim nation with a working democracy, but they do have some significant problems (endemic corruption, and their currency took a major dive about a year ago), and they are most certainly not Arabs. Successful Arab states in the modern world are generally not democratic: the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example.

Democracy is one of the obsessions of the modern world. The western civilisations have exported it around the planet by various means. As the colonies of the great western powers evaporated, we "gifted" the newly independent states with constitutions and democratic systems. We continue to export it, for example in Iraq and Afghanistan. We shouldn't be so surprised when it doesn't work; it doesn't work so well in the west either. The systems of government in the USA and much of Europe can at best be described as pseudo-democracies, and often fail to deliver government "by the people, for the people".

I am not saying that democracy is inherently bad, but I am saying that it is not necessarily right for every nation, every society and every religion, and I am most certainly saying that it is not an essential prerequisite for a wealthy, happy, productive, educated and pluralist state, operating under the rule of law and with sexual and religious equality.

Part of the problem, however, is that western civilisations have done too good a job of marketing the idea of democracy as the cure for all ills. This means that people around the world want, and believe that they need, democracy in order to be happy and successful. I think we might have "sold them a pup".

Moral Disability and Tuberculosis

Posted on 3rd July 2014

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This report on the BBC really causes me to doubt the competence of politicians to make rational and moral decisions.

The story describes new research which suggests that the culling of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle will never work, and that other existing control measures are also insufficient. The study recommends a new strategy be defined.

One of the facts highlighted in the BBC story is the use of testing for TB to limit the spread of TB in cattle. The test currently used does not reliably detect TB in the early stages of infection, meaning that infected cattle can infect other beasts in the herd before their disease is detected. Duh!

What is made clear by the story is that the whole strategy for TB control in dairy herds in the UK (and therefore probably elsewhere too) is based on bad science and bad control techniques. This should not be a surprise to anyone; a small amount of reading on the subject leads to this inevitable and obvious conclusion.

My real question is, how can such a dodgy scientific case be used as the justification of a programme (now finally cancelled, thank goodness) for mass culling of badgers? The culling programme is difficult enough to justify at the best of times, but how on earth can such a morally questionable activity be implemented on the basis of such a thoroughly incomplete and unsound scientific background?

I recently posted some comments, here, on a recent call by Mark Carney, the new governor of the Bank of England, for more ethics in business. How about more ethics in politics?

UK has accepted 50 Syrian refugees

Posted on 30th June 2014

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Wow! Britain has accepted 50 Syrian refugees! Give yourself a pat on the back, and sleep soundly.

To remind you of the right perspective, in this story from the BBC, the caption under the photo says it all: "Million of Syrians have fled their homes because of the conflict".

So Britain has accepted less than 0.005% of the total Syrian refugees. That is a little more than the number of migrants found dead from asphyxiation on one migrant boat by the Italian navy, as reported in this BBC story. Already this year, 60,000 migrants have landed in Italy (although most are from Africa – Syrian refugees have more direct routes for migration).

Call me negative, if you want, but I think that maybe the UK government isn't doing enough.

Political Self-Interest In Action

Posted on 30th June 2014

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This story on the BBC really drives home what is wrong with politics: "Labour leader Ed Miliband has urged people in Scotland to change the UK for the better by rejecting independence".

Scotland has always been a stronghold for the Labour Party in Britain. If Scotland becomes independent, Labour will get fewer votes, and significantly fewer seats, in elections for Westminster. An independent Scotland will mean almost no hope of a future Labour government for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So, what we have here is a desperate attempt by the Labour leader to ensure his political future: he is protecting his career; most certainly not the moral high-ground.

Excuse me if I don't take your opinions on Scottish independence seriously, Mr. Miliband.

This is what is Wrong with Politics

Posted on 24th June 2014

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This story really illustrates what is broken with our political systems.

The story describes complaints of how, so public opinion believes, politicians of all parties are using the National Health Service (NHS) as a pawn in their politics: designing policies simply to win votes, rather than doing what is actually best for the NHS.

The basic problem is that, for these politicians, being in politics is their career, leading then inevitably to act to get re-elected, rather than in the best interests of the country, let alone the world, so that they can keep their jobs.

One of the side-effects of this situation is that voter choice is undermined: the policies of most parties are often indistinguishable from each other, when it comes to what should be key election issues. Of course, when a party gets elected, what they actually do bears no relation the the policies touted at election time. There are loads of ready made excuses: other more urgent issues, financial constraints (blamed on the previous government), bowing to "overwhelming public opinion", political interference from the EU, the results of studies by experts, etc.

One way to reduce some of these undemocratic practices would be to have more referenda, like they do in Switzerland and California. This would allow the separation of decisions on policy (dealt with in referenda) from decisions on who implements the policies (the elected government).

Another way (perfectly compatible with the use of referenda) would be to bring an end to the existence of career politicians. What is wrong with a system akin to that used for jury service. People in private business, science, charities and even the military could be appointed, based on the skills, experience and track record, to serve a fixed term in government, after which they are guaranteed their old job back.

Without some radical changes to our political systems, our democracies are essentially broken. There is so much corruption, so many vested interests, so many people elected based on how much money they spend to get elected, and so many people elected on the basis of personalities rather than policies. Most worryingly, there are huge amounts of cowardice amongst politicians: they are not willing to make those unpopular but necessary decisions, for fear of losing the next election.

Time for a change, I think.