Sunday, 30 March 2014
You have to give Vladimir Putin his due - he certainly knows how to play the game. It is clear that he wanted the Crimea and, as far as he is concerned, for good reasons. A great deal of Russia's military assets are stationed there and he was never likely to simply give them up because Ukrainian democracy had raised its ugly head. His strategy is now entering the end game as was signalled when he called President Obama and assured him that he had no intention of invading eastern Ukraine as long as ethnic Russians were not threatened with retribution. The massive Russian military build up along the border with no signs that an invasion is imminent seems to add weight to his words. The truth is that he has out-witted and out-manoeuvred the Ukrainians, the EU and the United States, offering to negotiate a settlement that gives him exactly what he wants in return for not mounting an invasion he had no intention of mounting in the first place and in return for a promise to protect ethnic Russians that were never under any credible threat. Putin has adhered to the most basic principle of crisis management - he has given his opponents the opportunity to negotiate an exit without losing face. There are some commentators in the west who believe it is Putin who is trying to save face while backing away from a perilous military adventure. This is utter nonsense since Putin is still holding all the cards including the most important card of all - the Crimea - while any cards the west thinks it has are only those given to them by Putin himself. Get ready for western leaders telling us that they have faced Putin down, but have had to let him keep the Crimea in a diplomatic "compromise" that will sweeten the bitter pill of his humiliation. Get ready too for the end of the sanctions against Russia as relations return to "normal" and the west rewards Putin for being such a reasonable chap after all.
Tuesday, 25 March 2014
The Tories are so pleased with the unimagined strength of their economic "recovery" that they are planning to raise the threshold for Inheritance Tax from £325,000 to £1 million handing the richest people in Britain a nice little bonus for all the hardships they've had to endure. Inflation, the Tories are boasting, is at its lowest level for four years while wages are poised to bounce upwards sometime after the 2015 election as their austerity measures begin to take effect. You might be forgiven, however, if you've failed to notice any improvement yourself. The idea that wages will soon begin to rise remains a vague and improbable prediction based largely on wishful thinking - yours not theirs - while inflation remains stubbornly high in terms of the necessities that families need with food prices set to soar and no end in sight as far as rising energy prices are concerned. Meanwhile the idea that an economic boom is at hand is undermined by the latest batch of redundancies with 900 jobs lost as Solway Foods in Corby closes, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank close 28 branches and Royal Mail plans to cut 1,600 jobs. Meanwhile Honda has cut production in Britain by 15% citing the country's weak growth outlook and is looking to shed at least 340 jobs. There can be little doubt that Osborne's policy of austerity is working as planned with money being shovelled out of the pockets of the poor and into the offshore bank accounts of the rich. The news is also good if you happen to have a nice property portfolio as house price inflation continues unabated. For the rest of us, unfortunately, it's yet another round of "we're all in this together" - the smug, selfish and self-serving rich in clover with rest of is in it up to our necks.
Sunday, 23 March 2014
The Tories are cock-a-hoop as the YouGov poll shows that their budget has improved their chances of winning the next election from not a chance in hell to not a chance in hell. We asked a Tory party spokesman for a reaction; "This is fantastic news. We can now definitely say that our safe Tory seats remain safe and we've turned the corner as far as defeating our greatest enemy, UKIP, is concerned. We can see now that George Osborne got the balance right between confirming the prejudices of our core support and patronising the great unwashed. We have already received reports that fights have broken out as working-class biddies attack each other with their clogs to get into bingo halls and competitions have already begun to see which beer-swilling pleb will be the first to sink 100 pints and save himself £1 in tax. Meanwhile the blue rinse set and "angry from Tunbridge Wells" have found great comfort in the idea that the working class will be either too stupid or too drunk to vote in the next general election. What George should do now is hand out free flat caps to northerners and lower the price of bird seed so they can feed their pigeons at a much lower cost. Once they've been distracted by these fabulously generous goodies then we can get back to what we do best - giving ourselves a nice tax cut, closing hospitals and screwing up the education system. Obviously no one with a conscience or a sense of self-preservation will vote for us next time around, but by then we will have our hands on most of this country's assets and our offshore accounts will be stuffed to the gills. Then its just a matter of waiting for a decade or two until a new generation with no experience of us in government start voting and we'll dust off the "caring Tory party" rubbish again and Bob's your uncle!"
Tuesday, 18 March 2014
As T.S.Eliot wrote; “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper,” and, according to NASA, this is exactly how our civilisation will end. Inequality and a lack of resources will cause us to sink, in fits and starts, into chaos and a new Dark Age. Forget global warming, nuclear war or asteroid strike, we will go the way of all previous civilizations and subside under the weight of our own irrationality. As usual the root cause will be the greed of a small elite who want everything and can't have it if anyone else has anything. Our economic system is dependent on meeting demand but, despite this, the greedy and stupid continue to undermine this by denying us a fair shake of the stick. They tell us that their greed is an irresistible force of nature and that their character flaws are some sort of political philosophy. They give it a fancy name - neoliberal economic theory - amass huge amounts of wealth and then bury it in the vaults of offshore banks where it can do no one any good. The demand that we pay taxes to make it easier for them to pay none. They demand the best by denying us the basics. They encourage fear and disunity and then tell us "We're all in this together." They make us fight their wars to protect their wealth and then tell us we're not worth a decent pension or healthcare and our children have no right to a good education. They create a desert and call it progress. We vote for them and pay their wages, in effect we hire them to do a job, and they repay us with "austerity" and tell us we're a bunch of lazy, feckless scroungers who should get off their idle arses and work harder. When democracy threatens them they abolish it, when free speech becomes dangerous to their interests they curtail it. Who are these people who produce nothing remotely useful and yet tell us they are more worthy because they have a compulsion to amass immense mountains of money?
Sunday, 9 March 2014
You could be forgiven this week for wondering what century we are actually living in. If Vladimir Putin is to be believed we are somewhere in the mid-20th century. If you listen to the banks then we are somewhere in the last quarter of the 19th century during the Gilded Age. According to David Cameron we will shortly be fetching up somewhere in the 18th century, while Iain Duncan Smith won't be happy until we arrive in the depths of the Dark Ages. The problem seems to be that our politicians are getting somewhat confused as to what their role actually is. They are supposed to govern and, in what we laughingly refer to as democracies, they are supposed to look after the best interests of the people who pay their wages and underwrite their expense accounts. Instead we seem to have been saddled with a bunch of knuckle-dragging throwbacks who see their role as returning us all to some mythical golden age that exists only in their fevered imaginations. In Britain the Tories are very fond of the word "mission" but not so fond of the word "work" which they would like to cut back by shrinking the state so they can turn their attention to their non-jobs as part-time banking executives. Meanwhile Nick Clegg seems to be utterly confused, bemoaning the "ungenerous and backward-looking" politics he has done so much to create, and hoping to best Nigel Farage in the forthcoming European elections thus returning his party to their usual position of utter and thoroughly deserved irrelevance. Are these backward-looking bozos really the best we can do? Ed Miliband has said that we are better than this. All we can do is hope that, if he becomes Prime Minister, he will show us that its true.
Saturday, 8 March 2014
Rather than the budget surplus that George Osborne confidently predicted would be the result of his austerity policy it would seem that he has, instead, handed the country a £20 billion black hole in the public finances. The reason for this is quite easy to understand - if you're not a Tory that is. Austerity has reduced demand in the economy which has, in turn, delayed any economic recovery. Without an economic recovery the deficit cannot be reduced which is why Osborne has managed to increase the national debt to £1.4 trillion - more than all the governments combined in the last 100 years. His reaction to this disastrous news is to announce that austerity, the policy that is wrecking the economy, will now be extended to 2020. What then of the recovery that Osborne tells us is in full swing? He is able to claim this by telling three little porkies. First he has chosen to calculate the deficit by manipulating the real figures, using the "cyclically adjusted deficit" figure instead of the actual deficit. This miraculously "reduces" the deficit from £111bn to £85 billion. Second he is using the artificially inflated property market which feeds into the GDP figures to show an increase in financial activity. Third he is using Iain Duncan Smith's pogrom against the sick, disabled and unemployed and the zero-hour contract economy to reduce the apparent unemployment figures. Not only is the so-called recovery a cynical fiction so is the reduction of our debts. Our entire economy is being deliberately undermined for purely ideological and entirely selfish reasons. Osborne is simply trying to shrink the state so that he and his rich pals can have a nice juicy tax cut. Greed, which underpins neoliberal economic theory, was supposed to create greater economic activity and, through "trickle down", benefit us all. Instead it has become a goal in its own right while any supposed benefits for the rest of us have been abandoned. Put simply there is nothing is this for you and me, except for poverty, shrinking services and despair.
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
So, what does Vladimir Putin actually want? In 1938 Adolf Hitler threatened Czechoslovakia because he wanted war. He claimed that he was only interested in protecting ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland but his real aim was to manoeuvre the German army closer to the Soviet Union so he could eventually attack them. At Munich Hitler settled for taking the Sudetenland because that stripped Czechoslovakia of its defences, allowing him to seize the rest of the country in March 1939 while, at the same time, avoiding an unwanted war with Britain and France. Putin is now claiming that his only interest is to protect ethnic Russians in the Ukraine but this is probably nothing more than a threadbare excuse to further some other, more important, policy. So what is that? There are three possibilities. He wishes to seize the whole of the Ukraine to serve as a buffer between Russia and the West. He wishes to seize the eastern half of the Ukraine for the same reason without risking a direct military confrontation with NATO. He wishes merely to seize the Crimea to protect Russia's considerable military assets there. Whichever way you look at it though what Putin wants is a throwback to an earlier age when the "Great Game" was played out across the world and Europe was divided between competing power blocks. The idea that the Ukraine can be any form of buffer has some strategic mileage. If a war was to break out between Russia and the West then NATO forces would have to first traverse the Ukraine before their tanks could roll into Moscow. But how realistic is that? NATO is defensive in nature and clearly has no Hitler-like ambition for lebensraum in Russia. Seizing the Crimea makes more sense since that protects Russia's military assets there - especially the Black Sea Fleet. Yet even this makes little sense in the modern world. The idea that the Black Sea Fleet would then be free to break out into the Mediterranean in a winter naval campaign while the rest of its naval forces lie immobilised in its other iced up ports is ridiculous. Putin then seems to be playing a game that belongs more properly to the 19th or earlier 20th centuries and has little relevance in the 21st century. But to him that might make sense. Many world leaders look back to the 19th and 20th centuries with a sort of envious nostalgia and long to the return of a world where enemies were more obvious and a spot of gunboat diplomacy could solve most problems. It seems quite clear that Putin is such an avatar, eager to re-establish the greater Russian empire of yesteryear and keen to flex his military muscles to make him feel better about things. Of course this is all complete nonsense, but it is dangerous nonsense. It seems a pity that Russia has never fully put these things behind it and joined the rest of us in the 21st century.
Monday, 3 March 2014
There seems to be nothing that the Tories are unwilling to blame Ed Miliband for. Their latest piece of sheer tomfoolery has senior Tory MP's seriously suggesting that he is to blame for Putin's bellicose attitude towards the Ukraine. Their reasoning runs something like this; Ed Miliband voted against an idiotic Tory plan to invade Syria, ergo Putin believes that Great Britain lacks the courage to invade Russia. There are, of course, several major problems with this line of reasoning. First Boris Putin needs little encouragement to be bellicose to anyone who annoys him. Secondly if the British Army did invade Russia Putin would probably call the police and have it arrested. By far the greatest objection to this ridiculous accusation, however, is the advisory document on the Ukrainian crisis photographed in the hand of a senior official outside No.10. Basically this said that Britain should make all the usual noises about "unwarranted Russian aggression" and "economic and political sanctions" but should not do anything that might affect London's financial interests. Even with something as serious as a possible full-scale war in Europe the Tory right-wing loonies are far more interested in scoring points off the Labour party and making sure that their investments remain safe. They have managed to shoot right past idiocy and are, as usual, rushing full-tilt towards swivel-eyed gibbering insanity.