The Ice of Texas Is Upon You

Texas has never forgiven Alaska for joining the Union over sixty years ago and taking its title as the biggest of all the United States. But that’s the only way it has been surpassed. Outsiders may see New York as the brash business hub and California as the creative capital, but when it comes to down-home all-American yee-haw, Texas has them all beat. Even women drive big pickups with gun racks. Cowboy boots and Stetsons are standard business wear.

It’s not just big hats and steaks that make Texans larger than life. They see themselves as the high priests guarding the American Dream, where a man can roam free and get rich carving his personal empire from limitless possibilities. This is not just dusty nostalgia; Texans really believe this. You do not know America and what created Donald Trump if you don’t know Texans and their Lone Star State.

States guard their autonomy against the federal government with stubborn jealousy, but none more fiercely than Texas. Their cultural bullheadedness was highlighted by two events this week that show different sides of the phenomenon that is Texas and the right-wing heartland that is the closest the Republican party has to a soul: the death of Rush Limbaugh and; the big winter freeze of 2021.

Rush, the grand-daddy of all radio ‘shock jocks’ died rom lung cancer at age 70. After the Reagan administration removed all requirements for radio stations to be balanced in the opinions they broadcast, in the 1980s, Limbaugh was the first to realise the entertainment value of provocative right-wing statements made on air. He spawned many imitators but was himself eventually syndicated across over 750 radio stations

Limbaugh took no prisoners, playing to a gallery of resentful whites who saw their former prosperity lavished on others. He talked provocatively of “Barack the Magic Negro,” of “femiNazis,”  claiming “Liberals are socialists.” He railed against  “the redistribution of tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving”. This spilled over into the ‘attack dog’ tactics of Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party in the 1990s. This led the Republican Pavlovian opposition to all that Obama tried to do and laid the foundation for varied right-wing reactionary groups and thinking that got Trump elected in 2016. Nowhere does all this find more fertile ground than in Texas.

Which brings us to this week’s Big Freeze and over 3.5 million Texans without power or clean water. Ever since the Alamo, Texans have taken pride in doing things their way. So, in the 1930s when power grids were being laid across the land, Texas declined to be part of any federal project that might dictate how they did things. So they built their own. And in a state with neither sales nor income tax, money was tight and corners were cut, meaning details, like resilience against poor weather, were left out. This week, flocks of chickens came home to roost as power stations shut down with the cold and natural gas supplies to those that didn’t froze.

You might think this called for some humble pie among the Republican Governor, city mayors and sundry officials. Not a bit of it. Colorado City mayor Tim Boyd got his rebuttal in first on Facebook:

“The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!… If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handout. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!… Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish”

If this isn’t a timely, if unintended, tribute to Rush Limbaugh and all his works, I don’t know what is. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his allies in the fossil fuel industry blamed “liberal ideas” for creating the crisis, as wind turbines had frozen. But these account for under 10% of Texas’s power. Abbott claimed “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”

Rick Perry, former Texas governor and former Secretary of Energy under Trump, publicly warned against regulation of Texas’s energy system: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business. Those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t let a crisis go to waste.

Rush may be gone, but his spirit is alive and well and running the Lone Star state. However, a less well publicised tidbit, relating to Texas’ woeful response to the freeze is that Governor Abbott has quietly contacted FEMA and accepted 60 generators and a quantity of diesel to keep the lights on at key locations like hospitals.

Given this level of blinkered partisanship goes a long way to explain the slavish Trump acolytes like Sen, Ted Cruz (R TX). As recently as last August, he was mocking “California’s failed energy policies” He us reported to have fled to the Mexican tropical resort of Cancun to escape the freeze…or the embarrassment.

Given his unswerving loyalty to whatever Trump did or said, there are many outside Texas who prefer that he does not return—especially if he invites the likes of Abbott and Boyd to join him.

Permanently

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Trumpistas Should Learn from Limeys

With his conviction quashed, Donald Trump is riding high. He has survived two impeachment attempts, garnered over 70m votes and kept his narrative that his re-election was stolen alive among a huge proportion of those people. The once-proud Republican party is running scared of his power base outside their traditional support among the well-to-do. Already, the 2022 mid-terms loom large in their sights, and the prospect of Trump winning their nomination for 2024 seems possible, even probable.

But Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mantra and his iconoclastic approach to Beltway protocols and foreign policy, means the foundation of his appeal to a powerful alliance of the right wing and blue-collar disenfranchised, is built on sand. It seeks to recover the 1950’s-1970’s prestige and prosperity through political and economic domination of the globe.

The appeal of this, especially to Americans with little exposure to other cultures, is broad. It is not just to supremacist squirrel-hunters in Alabama or right-wing survivalists holed up in the Wasach mountains. It is to a wide swathe of blue-collar types who remember 1970, when $25-per-hour jobs in Detroit sent your kids to college,  paid the mortgage on a spacious tract home full of appliances,  and let you explore in the Winnebago RV parked in the driveway.

But nostalgia is not what it used to be.

Though not best placed to understand how lessons learned elsewhere lead to real future prosperity, and not re-rums of Ozzie and Harriet, Trumpistas would do well to study their former colonial masters—and avoid doing it the hard way, as they did.

A century ago, Britain was as much the top dog as America would become half a century later. In the aftermath of WWI, it bestrode the world politically and economically. Its rival, Germany, lay prostrate. It’s earlier rival, France, had bled itself dry. Russia, Austro-Hungary and Turkey lay in ruins. Only America came close in influence, which became dissipated by isolationism.

A massive Royal Navy protected global trade, not just with empire. Beside wheat from Canada, tea from India and wool from Australia came beef from Argentina, coffee from Brazil and oil from the Gulf. British-built ships carried both imports and exports of coal, steel, locomotives, machinery, clothing and whisky. The pound, pegged to a gold standard, was worth $4. But by the 1970s, Britain was an economic basket case. How?

Americans like to think of themselves as freedom-loving anti-colonials. But since the 19th-century Monroe Doctrine, they have meddled elsewhere. The Spanish-American War of 1895 produced colonies. Though Cuba and the Philippines became  independent, Guam and Puerto Rico remain colonies. So the first lesson is to take Rabbie Burns to heart and “see ourselves as others see us”. Britain was reluctant to relinquish an empire whose goal was to “make the world British”. From Assam to Zimbabwe, this bred resentment. American actions from Korea to Kandahar have bred similar resentment.

Britain’s wealth was built on exploitation of colonies. Raw materials were harvested by underpaid locals, shipped to British factories, then sold back as finished goods at tidy mark-ups. In this regard, America differed. Both abundant raw materials and a huge internal market gave prosperous self-sufficiency. British industry saw few reasons to adapt. As a result, technology (e.g. ship welding ships) developed elsewhere. Britain was still building steam locomotives in 1960; dockers resisted containerised freight; print workers resisted digital typesetting. In America, Detroit built annually obsolescent gas-guzzlers, allowing Honda, VW, etc. to eat their lunch during the oil shocks. Unlike the British, Americans did innovate: aerospace;  semiconductors; computers. But regular manufacture moved offshore, along with clothing and electronics generally.

Weak innovation meant Britain lost early leads in computers, airliners and oil production. American domination has been whittled down to aerospace, financial services, social media and fracking, plus outliers like Tesla and Amazon. The second lesson is this: Just as Britain had to relinquish a manufacturing economy, America must accept that “American-made” sounds patriotic, but is uneconomic. Caterpillar will continue to build bulldozers n Mexico because it is competing with Komatsu.

The third—and most important—lesson is the opposite of Trumpian diktat: America must swallow bumper helpings of humble pie. Stiff-ass British had to do this the hard way. After building a global empire in the 18th century, they learned few lessons from the loss of America and powered into global domination in the 19th century but imposing their culture over the indigenous wherever they went. It may have taken an inbred superiority for a few thousand Britons to hold a billion Indians in subjugation, but former colonies that never established a white majority pay much homage to British culture today. Most remain resentful or, at best, indifferent in the half-century since independence was granted.

Despite the trauma of Vietnam, America has made little progress in acknowledging other cultures (let alone accepting them). Europe is regarded as quaintly ossified, Asia as dangerously alien; Africa and Latin America as exploitable backwaters The Russians and Chinese are intractable and gloves must be off when dealing with them. But the other three-quarters of the world are seen mainly as exploitable markets.

Educated Americas and those whose travels were not just by cruise line or tour bus understand this to be a modern repetition of British cultural myopia. But Trumpistas seldom fall into either category. It is they who need to broaden their horizons from such crypto-colonial gaffes by realising:

  • Most “aliens” are proud of their culture and don’t aspire to become Americans
  • “Shock and Awe” air strikes win victories but lose hearts and minds
  • Education in state capitals or 46 presidents gives poor insight into cultures in: Korea, Cuba, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Grenada, Panama, Serbia, Lebanon, Syria. All have seen the business end of napalm, Paveway bombs or cruise missiles, giving them jaundiced views of the USA
  • That list does not mention those countries where covert operations, up to regime toppling, were done “in America’s interest”, giving more jaundiced views
  • Macdonald’s, Coke & US movies and TV shows are so ubiquitous they are seen more as cultural colonialism than friendly ambassadors

Being part of the most powerful country in the world is something Americans are rightly proud of. And, given the habitual impotence of the UN in enforcing peace and reasonableness around the world, America’s self-styled role as “Global Policeman” has both logic and merit.

Unfortunately, the advent of Trump has shown that America’s much-vaunted political system is both flawed for its citizens and dangerous for its non-citizens, as demonstrated by Trump’s ego trip dreaming America can be great again by ignoring the world and fifty years of catching up achieved by many other countries. Britain tried this between the wars. It was deep in debt (as America is now). It had an uncompetitive manufacturing base (as America has now). It assumed it need not change to hold on to its markets (as America does now). It presumed massive naval power could secure its interests by force (as America does now).

Trumpistas have a clear choice between:

  1. Grow up: learn lessons from the defunct British Empire
  2. Believe America rules the world and can shape it in its image.

Britain chose 2). Look where it got them.

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Coming Out of Our SHelll

(Published in East Lothian Courier, February 11th, 2021

Until a year ago, Scottish seafood had grown into a £1bn business, with half exported to the EU. East Lothian harbours contributed to this, landing prawns, crab and lobster, much of it for export.

A month of post-Brexit chaos ensnared lorry-loads of perishable seafood in red tape. With the EU making their temporary shellfish ban permanent a disastrous year for restaurants and their seafood suppliers, small producers like ours are suffering badly.

Seafood Scotland and allied organisations are lobbying the UK government to remove export barriers. But it is clear fishing was sold down the river during Brexit negotiations. Meantime, boats tie up from a dearth of customers and the Larkhall distribution depot sees little business The Scottish Government set up the Scottish Seafood Partnership (SSP) in 2014 to deal with such things, but they are not answering their phone. 2018’s paper on “Future Management of Fisheries” is now only good as firelighter.

Scotland’s whitefish fleet is chasing EU markets by registering boats in Northern Ireland and landing in Denmark. But shellfish are landed by inshore boats, without such options. Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has announced £6.45m for the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund for shellfish catchers and producers, plus £1m for investment in ports and harbours. This is welcome, but a short-term ‘band-aid’. We need a new, visionary strategy to meet new circumstances.

BBC2’s Cornwall: This Fishing Life highlights initiatives by inshore fishermen there in doing something about it., with scant government help. From exploiting Rick Stein’s burgeoning restaurants, they set up their own local fish market and dealt with end customers as far away as London. When Covid closed restaurants, they opened stalls to sell locally, they built small processors, selling to food shops.

This is Fergus’ opportunity: to lead this major segment in new diections; to champion world-class shellfish global;y; to ride the recovery of consumer demand: by:

  • Several Orders, regulating who fishes which catch where (c.f. Maine USA)
  • Quotas and sensible handling of by-catch
  • Restore stocks, using N. Berwick’s Lobster Hatchery as a model
  • Encourage retail fish markets, supplied direct from dockside
  • Re-introduce Scottish oysters (smaller & sweeter than Pacific)
  • Infrastructure to fly seafood globally (esp. China & Middle East)

With its picturesque harbours, excellent shellfish and proximity to Edinburgh restaurants, East Lothian would be the perfect prototype. I look forward to standing Fergus his lunch at the Lobster Shack, once this Covid distraction is done.

(East Lothian is a county in Scotland, lying between the capital, Edinburgh and the North Sea, with a long tradition of inshore fishing from its three small harbours.)

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Wind Farms or Windbags?

The Scottish energy strategy published in December 2017 sets a 2030 target for the equivalent of 50% of the energy for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption to be supplied by renewable sources. By June of last year, Scotland had installed 8,366 MW from onshore wind and 981 MW from offshore .

In theory, this means that all of Scotland’s 6 GW requirement could be met by wind alone. However, the objection often raised against wind, is that it is unreliable. It does not always blow and often blows too much. These are valid points. But there are other clean energy sources and Scotland is as rich in them as we are in wind power.

The Crown Estate and Scottish Government are behind a £4bn project to build a number of tidal power sites around the Orkney islands and the Pentland Firth, expected to generate the same amount of power as a nuclear power station. That’s 1.2GW of green energy. Some estimates have suggested that a combination of tidal and wave power from the area could produce up to 60GW of power. That would represent 10 times Scotland’s annual electricity usage.

Were Scotland to produce green energy at such levels, exporting the surplus to neighbouring countries and the engineering expertise around the world could contribute more to the Scottish economy than oil and gas do now, with the additional benefit of being sustainable, as well as non-polluting.

The Scottish Government are to be commended for the steps taken so far. They make much of their green credentials and targets for becoming carbon-neutral. Yet they seem to place a higher emphasis on social programmes, equalities legislation  and drug rehabilitation—all of which might be funded from a vibrant green energy sectpr. Are we being subjected to the window dressing of  “greenwash” by wind bags? Is this being treated with the urgency it deserves?

For example, EDF’s Neart na Gaoithe wind farm 15 km off Fife Ness was proposed in 2008 and has et to see a turbine turning. For another, the Pelamis wave generator started in 2004, was tested off Orkney, but went bankrupt in 2014. The technology was taken over by HIE’s Wave Energy Scotland, who have ploughed £41m  into 93 contracts, with little power is coming ashore to date.

Meantime, our neighbours are not hanging about. Just as the Danes pretty much cornered the wind turbine manufacture business over a decade ago, they are building the infrastructure to support major offshore wind farms. Last June, Denmark approved a PFI project between the Danish Energy Agency and Energinet for two energy islands, with a combined capacity of 5 GW. Both energy islands will connect to other countries’ grids for export sales and are to be completed by 2030. One will be built 60 km west of Thorsminde on Denmark’s west coast.

Not to be outdone, our English neighbours are exploiting the shallowness in parts of the North Sea. A Joint Venture Partnership between SSE Renewables and Equinor have started construction work on Dogger Bank A and B 130 km offshore has begun along with the onshore cable route in Yorkshire’s East Riding. By utilising the world’s largest turbines and installation vessel to provide 4.8 GW—“the UK’s largest single source of  renewable energy”.  It is ironic that the northern portion of this area was Scottish waters until the Blair government shifted the maritime boundary, north to transfer 6,000 sq. km. to England in 2000.

Scotland’s prosperity will depend on weaning itself off oil by 2050. It is blessed with more sources of renewables than any of its neighbours. But despite governmental rhetoric, the forward-looking, large scale projects in the sector are happening elsewhere.

Are we serious about our green future—or just a country of toom tabard windbags?

#941

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Closing the Augean Stable Door

It is hard to evade media wall-to-wall coverage of the Covid pandemic. To the casual observer, every niance of statistics are reported daily in meticulous detail. Who could want more coverage or more data? A conspiracy theorist might think the floodgates were deliberately opened to mask any need for questions.

For the last month, emphasis has shifted to how well vaccination are going. congratulating scientists, producers and NHS staff. The talk is of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Nobody is asking how thetunnel came to be so long and dark in the frst place. Recakking life’s great adages: “when you’re in a hole, stop digging”, the UK government seems to have forgotten this applies equally to tunnels.

That government was slow to  provide a lockdown before March 28th 2020, two months after the first cases in the UK. Since then, millions of travellers have landed at UK airports, startig with many from Italian ski resprts where Covid was rampant. Instead a mantra of “follow the science” and “save the NHS” dominated the Spring until a “world-beating test and trace system” costing £4bn was to rescue us, but didn’t Then “eat out to help out”, plus returning students and schools dragged us al back into lockdown.

A third lockdown is still dragging on, more people are evading the rules and everyone is fed up after a year of this. Mnisters still harangue the public with daily repetitions of ”stay at home; don’t visit anyone, don’t gather anywhere; etc”.

Yet all this time, the borders were open. Even with Brexit complications, 10,000 passengers a day still flooded through Heathrow. Testing of arrivals i was repeatedly rejected as a policy. Though arrivals were asked to self-isolate for two weeks, fewer than 3 in 100 were checked and most did mot comply. By the end of January, at over 104,000, Brtain had suffered the highest per capita Covid-related deaths in the world. Only now is there serious talk of requiring strict monitored quarantine for 10 days in a hotel.

Through all this, the government has repeatedly claimed the best actions in circumstances no-one foresaw. All discussion of shortcomings, failutes in test and trace, damage to economy have been swamped by feel-good focus on vaccine successes.

But those 104,000-and-rising deths demand some explanation. Because, looking beyond the veil of silece the government and media draw over elsewhere makes thoughtful observers pause. For this pandemc took everyone by surprise, including countries of comparable competence who have performed much better.

Not only is Britain the worst in Europe but its performance is shameful compared globally. Why should South Korea, with no NHS and both a polulation and GDP comparable to England have under 2% as many deaths and be almost back to normal? Schools, restaurants, concerts, etc are functional. Mwanwhile, London suffers 1 in 35 of its citizens infected, hospitals overflowing and no end in sght to a lockdown damaging both economy and residents’ metal health.

Nor is South Korea alone. Most of Europe is doing twice as well and New Zealand has executed an enviably successful campaign, as can be seen from the following charts.

What could cause such disparity? Is high regard for the NHS misplaced? Are the Brits susceptible geriatrics? Are Brits more bolshie in lockdown compliance? None of these?

What then?

The clue lies in other islands. New Zealand and Australia acted fast, implementing a strict 2-week quarantine for any arrival—visitor or citizen. The statistics for New Zealand speak for themselves. Like South Korea (whose closed land border makes it effectively an island), they are enjoying normal lives.

You can see the difficulty European countries face, especially Schengen Area. Countries like Germany have long, open borders. Controlling traffic is impossible. But what about Britain? It’s an island too. Why are its statistics not anywhere near New Zealand’s or South Korea’s?

For the last yea, Britain declined to close its border. At first, it allowed everyone in. Only since October has it made any attempt to restrict traffic—and then only from certain countries. It seems evident from comparisons above that this is a major reason for Britain’s appalling record, which continues unabated, despite over 7m vaccines having been administered to date.

But why pursue such a patently damaging policy? The UK government may not be perfect but it does things for a reason. Why should it want millions of people to enter the country during a deadly pandemic? As is common in such things, follow the money.

It is hard to make an absolute connection, but the underlying factor that raises most sense is a history of political donations totalling over £8m made by donors in the aviation businesses to UK parties, with further sums to MPs, as illustrated below.

Source: https://www.desmog.co.uk/2019/12/06/revealed-brexit-party-and-conservatives-have-received-8m-aviation-industry

The Conservative Party received £2.8m of the above. Sitting members of that party rreceived the lion’s share of donations from those same aviation businesses. These included: BAA (now Heathrow Airports Holdings), the previous owner of several other UK airports including Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh and Glasgow, which gave £1.2m. Significant amounts have been donated by well-known companies such as Airbus and Virgin Atlantic. More than half of the donations come from Christopher Harborne, CEO of AML Global, a major aviation fuel supplier. 

Source: https://www.desmog.co.uk/2019/12/06/revealed-brexit-party-and-conservatives-have-received-8m-aviation-industry

Official records show how airports, airlines and aircraft manufacturers have made hundreds of contributions, either in cash or to cover the cost of politicians’ travel. Liam Fox is not only the largest beneficiary, but the most hypocritical, having publicly stressed the need to “reduce the consumption of fossil fuels” but has backed fracking and told an oil and gas conference that “for the moment, we do require fossil fuels to deliver secure and affordable energy.” Even before the pandemic hit, Johnson’s then-new government was already being accused of doing favours for Richard Branson in a deal to rescue FlyBe a year ago.

There is, of course, no concrete link between donations to Conservatives by aviation businesses and a continued reluctance to fight Covid as othrs have—by closing down air links. This Augean stable door has been left open still —and it stinks.

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Today’s Thirty Years War

The original Thirty Years War occupied the attention and wealth of Europe for much of the 17th ©. Like most wars, it was an exercise in greed and ego that settled little. Given the carnage possible with mass use of gunpowder, it served as an ugly template for various derivations for the next three hundred years, until Europe stopped periodically squandering its young men, wealth and talents after Hitlerwas humble in the ruins of the Third Reich.

In the seventy-five years since, Europe has largely beaten its swords into ploughshares and set an example for the developing world. Unfortunately, part of that developing world sits on the largest reserves of oil known to man and they have, as yet, not got religion along those lines.

Though there has been warfare in the Middle East since records began, it was a series of imbroglios among locals. Their Thirty Years War started on August 2nd thirty years ago when Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait. The fact he then controlled some 40% of the world’s oil reserves had the West scrambling for a moral codpiece to conceal their paranoia about a dictator in control of their main fuel supplies.

Hussein gambled—much as the Japanese gambled in 1941—that if the objective was captured swiftly, then defended with massive forces that the West would see the cost in lives of re-taking the prize would make even the mighty USA balk. His timing was bad. Not only was a resurgent USA ready to reassert its role as global superpower after the humiliation of Vietnam but Russia, the only other superpower at the time was preoccupied with salvaging what it could from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Getting the Israelis to lay low and stay out of it allowed George Bush to cobble together an unlikely alliance of over 30 countries includingt Arab states. It was the broadest coalition seen since the Korean War, the last time that Russia stood aside and allowed the UN to take real action.

History relates that the Gulf War did not last long. After an intense air campaign of several weeks, the massive Iraqi forces were so damaged and demoralised that the ground war took just five days. Thousands of Iraqis died for the cost of under 300 coalition combatants. But that was not the end. It was not even the end of the beginning.

By liberating Kuwait, but leaving a weakened Saddam Hussein still there was like slapping on a plaster without first cleaning the wound. In 1951, when Truman stopped General Macarthur before he could take the Korean War over the border into China, he did the world a favour by avoiding World War 3. In 1991, George Bush Snr. stopping General Schwarzkopf for what he regarded as similar reasons was a mistake. The limited objective of deposing Hussein while his army was prostrate was a limited and quite feasible objective.

As it was, 13 years later, once the USA was angrily searching for the culprits of the 9/11 destruction of New York’s World Trade Center found George Bush’s son “Dubya” incensed enough by 2003 to try to complete that unfinished business with what Congress called “The Iraq War”, but which was, in fact, Gulf War 2, in much the same way that WW2 is sometimes seen as an unavoidable completing unfinished business of WW1. But, this time there was no broad Arab coalition in active support, nor a pliant Russia standing helpfully aside.

Once again, military “shock and awe” overwhelmed a numerically superior army in short order, with minimal casualties—except for the Iraqis. No evidence of support for terrorism, nor “weapons of mass destruction” were found. But they did find and dealt with Hussein. But in the press and public’s mind—especially in the USA—both conflicts had played out like a Hollywood script. Forget the stalemates of Korea or Vietnam. America was  back as top dog with the military muscle to prove it. And, as in that other clean-cut final result of WW2, like a second Marshal Plan would bring 38 million Iraqis and their shattered country/economy into the affluent folds of the western world, as they had with Germany and Japan.

That it didn’t work out that way lies largely in the American presumption that the rest of the world wants to be like them. The Madrid Conference of 2003 was to co-ordinate reconstruction among 25 countries involved. Unfortunately, as Wikipedia describes it:

“While reconstruction efforts have produced some successes, problems have arisen with the implementation of internationally funded Iraq reconstruction efforts. These include inadequate security, pervasive corruption, insufficient funding and poor coordination among international agencies and local communities. Many suggest that the efforts were hampered by a poor understanding of Iraq on the part of the international community assisting with the reconstruction.”

In the course of the original engagement, plus the 2003-11 extended occupation, plus the 2014 return, the USA alone spent over $1 trillion (a one with twelve noughts), or half again the entire UK budget, on military operations and investment in ‘rebuilding’ the country. Despite all this, there is still neither peace, nor prosperity. Mishandling of the Sunni vs Shia factions, mishandling of the Kurds, intrusion by ISIS all contributed to continuing unrest and occasional bloodshed, of which there is still no end in sight.

The underlying problem appears to me American ineptitude in its largesse and clumsiness in its military engagement. Combined with dogged support for Israel  and ill-judged and unsuccessful incursions in Lebanon, Somalia an Afghanistan, the Gulf version of the Thirty Years War has imprinted the USA as an intrusive and arrogant pack of unbelievers among muslims from Marrakesh to Malacca.

Quite apart from military intrusions, the aftermath of the fall of Hussein in 2003 saw a flood of American companies, opportunists and soldiers of fortune tapping into the bounty flooding Iraq. This led to opportunism and corruption among the Iraqis themselves—hardly surprising since the people had scant experience of either democracy or the rule of law since the British empire shrank to nothing half a century before. That a country with a tenth of the world’s oil should stagger on in chaps and poverty is a travesty of what the Marshal Plan did for Europe. And that cost the USA just $12 billion ($132 billion at today’s rates). Their Thirty Years War is not yet over.

But perhaps the worst outcome from the whole sorry story is that the US military think they have rediscovered their mojo, that nuclear carriers, Abrahams tanks, Apache helicopters, cruise missiles and laser-guided Paveway bombs make the world secure under their guidance. It is understandable that the rankers who man these things should be gung-ho and convinced in their invincibility. But that the top brass suffer the same delusion is dangerous. It is doubly dangerous if the Administration suffers the same delusion and believe the USA is the global policeman.

Instead of studying WW2 and the Gulf at West Point NY, Annapolis MD and Montgomery AL to study big toys to deliver shock and awe that costs over $710 billion each year, they should consider the realities of war in the 21st century. War against powers like China or Russia would be either unthinkable or cause nuclear annihilation. A recurrence of favourable circumstances for a short, ‘good’ war like 1991 or 2003 will be rare. Far more likely are repetitions of Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan, for which US forces are singularly unsuited and staff studies inadequate:

  • Most wars are ‘brush wars’, involving guerrillas, combatants indistinguishable from civilians, with ill-defined battlefields and few clear objectives for victory.
  • Gulf Wars were flukes; large scale operations against a conventionally armed enemy, fought over open desert with clear fields of fire and few civilians.
  • Strategic air power is futile. Douhet, Harris et al got this badly wrong. No war has been won by air power alone. Intimidation by bombs does not work.
  • Tactical air support does work—but only in open terrain and is expensive. F/A18s cost $70m each and need a $3bn carrier or air base to fly from.
  • The logistical ‘tail’ of US forces is massive and clumsy. Not only is this also expensive, but it tends to restrict operations to roads and deserts.
  • The cultural awareness and language abilities of US forces is negligible, creating barriers with and resentment from locals in overseas deployments

It seems the Pentagon and the staff academies are either not conversant with 21st © military home truths like the above or suffer from the trap into which many unchallenged powers fall—believing their own propaganda. Examples: the Russians at Tsushima; Bomber Command in 1939; the Soviet Army in 1941; the French at Dien Bien Phu—all thought the knew the key to success and planned on that basis.

Someone in the US top brass must surely be aware of this. But the immense flywheel of inertia created by officer ambition, Congress pork barrel and massive corporate interests like Boeing ($29bn), Lockheed Martin ($47bn), Northrop Grumman ($26bn), Raytheon ($24bn_ General Dynamics ($22bn) make change unlikely. That’s just the top five, who accrue $148bn of lucrative business from the military every year.

It is hard to see how such a dripping roast could be turned off with hot spots erupting around the world on a regular basis. The pressure from all above (but not taxpayers) to fund the best defence systems for the world’s policeman is irresistible.

But this new Thirty Years War rolls on. Because what the world needs is a bobby on the beat who knows the patch, the local villains and how to put the squeeze on them. But what the US has created is the equivalent of donut-laden guys in a heavily armed squad car. They can patrol and intimidate the neighbourhood all they like. But they will not find the bad guys, let alone end the war.

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Letter to American Friends

After more than a couple of decades of knowing each other, I hope you all appreciate the deep respect and affection I hold for your great country. As with any other country, there are times when it has not acted in a manner with which I would cheerfully associate myself. I cite the Mccarthy era, or the Vietnam war as two such hiatuses. But, as a major contributor to and defender of Western culture, there is much more of which Americans can be proud. Unfortunately, the last four years and the corrosive influence of Donald J. Trump’s bombastic reign on your proud democratic and foward-lookifg principles renders these the most regressive period of all.

A typically odious and rabble-rousing speech by Trump in Washington today, goading an angry mob of followers to do all they could to storm Congress and repudiate Biden’s clear victory in the Presidential race qualifies, in my view, to be the darkest hour before the dawn. It seems that both Warnock and Ossoff have won their respective Senate seats in GA, and so bring the Senate into 50-50 balance, with Harris holding the casting vote as VP and therefore Chair. Finally, it’s a done deal, though they will have to prise Trump’s fingers off the West Wing desk. But he’s done for. If he does get prosecuted, I hope his punishment is to be forced to watch all seven series of the West Wing TV drama, with his head locked and eyelids forced open a la Clockwork Orange.

What I hope happens now is a more effective version of Mandela’s Truth & Reconciliation Committee in South Africa, because your great country will not recover its stature and ability to be a beacon to others if the squabbles Trump catalysed—and which many Democrats reciprocated without considering the consequences—are not dispensed with and BOTH sides—not just Trump supporters—realise how much more you have in common and would benefit from recognising that fact. If Congress stays in the trenches and what you call “bipartisanship” (and the rest of the civilised world calls reasonable behaviour) is no way to run a hot-dog stand, let alone a leading First World country.

So get right on it, And quash this Covid pandemic while you’re at it—if only just to show what you can do together. Because, otherwise, I can’t come visit and bask in your warm hospitality—and I’m getting pretty impatient with that.

with affection

Dave Berry

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Mephistopheles Amidst Minutiae

Let’s gloss over it taking 99.7% of the 4 ½ years since the referendum to achieve what Liam Fox MP, International Trade Secretary called “The easiest deal in history”. Well, we all get over-enthusiastic sometimes.

In the face of widespread skepticism (including this blog), the UK now has a trade agreement with the EU that PM Boris Johnson has described as “the best deal we can have…that will stand the most ruthless scrutiny”. The Commons vote to endorse the “EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement” was a decisive 521 to 73—a whopping 448 majority. So, is that it, all done & dusted?. Errmm…no.

This deal struck on Christmas Eve does look good, compared to no deal. It avoids tariffs in either direction on goods, despite the UK leaving the Common Market. But it is only ‘good’ in the same way that falling out of a ten-storey building is better than falling out of a twenty-storey building. Neither looks good, compared to taking the stairs or, better yet, staying warm and dry and off the street where you were. Since June 2016, we have been told such alternatives were no longer open to us, that a 51.9% Leave vote on a 72% turnout was “decisive”. The Scots, who voted a solid 62% for Remain, are still not buying this.

Brexiteers conveniently forget the 65% who confirmed membership back in 1975, when PM Harold Wilson declared “14 years of national argument are over”. Today, the UK parliament was recalled to put the final nail in that statement by approving the 1,200+ page agreement, though whether all members read it is doubtful. And partisan interpretations of such a hastily drafted document are likely to echo through the next year, and beyond. The devil will, as they say, be in the detail.

Because it was such a crucial Hobson’s Choice, Tories, including the evilly mislabelled European Research Group, plus most of Labour lined up behind it. Yet, given the dire alternative of no deal, why did some rebels join the SNP, Lib-Dems and all Irish parties who lined up to vote solidly against it?

It’s not just those affected badly by the outcome, such as fishermen are against it. A variety of informed people have described it as “A Thin Deal”. What they mean by that is that much British international interaction is not covered. While what we now have covers many essential points, there are a cluster critical points that will fuel debate for years. If you think you are sick of Brexit as a news item, just wait while the following are hashed over:

  1. Financial Services. Unlike goods, the UK has a financial trade surplus with the EU, none of which is covered, despite it being 50% of the UK’s £24bn trade surplus in services. The EU may play nice and simply continue current arrangements. But they may cut up rough in a disputes.
  2. Customs. The deal avoids tariffs but there will be more customs bureaucracy and paperwork. This is because during negotiations, the UK demanded sovereignty rather than ease of access. There are over 200 such places.
  3. Animal Products. There is no agreement to certify UK animal products (not just livestock and their welfare)  meeting EU standards. This means the UK will, for example, find it  more difficult to sell lamb into the EU than New Zealand does.
  4. Fish. Cod Wars will be with us for some time. In July 2018, Michael Gove said: “the UK will be in the driving seat in quota negotiations, once the UK leaves the EU”. Fishermen were hoping for control of at least 80% of the catch, once UK waters became sovereign and left the CFP. The deal signed continues CFP control for another five years, with UK share rising from 50% to 66% of the catch. Then we start negotiations all over again. As in the 1970s, fishermen’s interests were traded away to seal a deal.
  5. Northern Ireland NI may seem to have best of both worlds: it remains in the EU Common Market as well as within the UK. This was to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, which requires an open border with Eire. However, this means a new bureaucracy across Irish Sea as goods crossing could then freely enter the EU via Eire.
  6. No Erasmus. Since 1987, the popular Erasmus scheme sent 15,000 UK students to attend EU universities each year. A similar number of European students came here. It was not included in the deal and is now closed to UK students.
  7. Hotel California” Syndrome. The UK government may peddle victory on the “Get Brexit Done” front. But (to quote The Eagles), though we can check out any time we like, we can never leave, because: a) The EU is our biggest trade partner, and b) the deal leaves many holes in that need filling. Accordingly, talks will continue via a Partnership Council that already has many working groups on myriad topics of mutual interest.
  8. Data, Travel, Security, etc. Although the agreement does cover some elements of such issues, there are many gaps to fill. For example, for data protection purposes, a further transition period of six months will enable the European Commission to complete assessment of the UK data protection laws.
  9. Quadrennial Contest? It may disturb you to know that this deal that was four years in the making will only last that long. All 1,200+ [ages, ad anything added in the interim will be reviewed in 4 years’ time. No wonder the Scots are sidling toward the door.

Though the above list makes no pretence at being comprehensive, you may wish to keep it by you to avoid being ambushed by the new of more negotiations, just when you thought it was all over. Looking forward and considering what we might do with all this hard-won sovereignty, you might see the discrepancy between their hope and reality displayed by Brexiteers and watch out for more such cognitive dissonance, as we turn our trade focus outside the EU:

I think free trade would be relatively straightforward between the UK and America. If it’s legal to buy and sell a product in California, it should be legal to buy and sell it in Clacton.”

— Douglas Carswell, former Tory & UKIP (then unemployed) MP, Apr 2017:

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Euracy

The present stushie with Europe over closed borders, banned travel and half of Kent covered with lories should not come as a surprise. Not only has the UK behaved brazenly against our neighbours’ interests in asserting “sovereignty” in the teeth of palpable benefits accrued by co-operation, but the level of our understanding of those neighbours is poor for a country aspiring to be a global leader in the 21st century.

As if to demonstrate the point, among Auntie Beeb’s many contributions to ‘light entertainment’ is the quiz show “Pointless”, normally shown on BBC1 at 5:15pm. In it, pairs of contestants are challenged to find the most obscure answers posed to 100 people drawn from the public prior to the show. The topic for the first round of the contest on Thursday, 17th December were regions of European countries.

Normally, answers range from the obvious, which would typically garner 90 or more points, to the fiendishly obscure, which may have been correctly answered by none of the 100 people—a highly desirable “pointless” result for the contestants. The answers in this case were each a list of three regions. Contestants had to identify the country.

Not only wee there an abnormally high series of incorrect answers, penalised by 100 point scores, but the obvious correct answers garnered unusually low scores. In fact, none of the 14 short lists of three regions had been correctly identified by even half of the 100 people originally asked, and many languished in the teens and twenties.

To be fair, there were a couple of right stinkers: who knows the names of Andorra’s regions? But some—Normandie; Brandenburg; Murcia—should not have taxed the average punter, the cast majority of whom have enjoyed package holidays in the sun, stag nights in other capitals and a wide choice of dirt cheap flights (at least until this year).

Pointless do not reveal where in the country their 100 are selected each time, but it’s a fair bet it wasn’t in the Brecon Beacons or the Fens. These would be city dwellers, exposed to the full gamut of media and culture. These people readily identify Wimbledon champions, TV soap characters, or even US states and their capitals. But on Europe they were dunces. Just as educated people are described as “literate” and those competent at mental arithmetic are “numerte”, those familiar with the rest of  the continent could be called “Eurate”. Sadly, the contestants ad the original 100 could be described as “in-eurate”. In this, they are typical.

The reasons lie deep in English history. Though the other nations of these islands have had their ‘in-eurate’ moments, sullen resentment of ‘Johnny Foreigner’ across the Channel has run deep in English veins since the Norman Conquest. Euroscepticism is not new. It is a millennium in the making. A grudge carried that long makes MacDonald vs. Campbell or Hatfield vs. McCoys seem lightweight fluff by comparison.

“Ah”, you say “what about: Marlborough and Blenheim; Wellington and Waterloo; Montgomery and D-Day, where we pulled European chestnuts out of the fire? None are examples of euracy. All such interventions on the continent have been military—and always to serve English interests.

Close on the heels of William the Conqueror, England became a recruiting centre for the Angevin Empire. From Henry II’s browbeating Philip’s enfeebled Franc, to Henry V’s triumph at Agincourt, to Henry VIII’s beggaring his French neighbour at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, England made its abrasive, aggressive presence felt actoss the Channel. The loss of Calais ought to have have weaned England off cross-channel confrrontation. Not a bit of it. Elizabeth egged her fleet of English pirates on to bring home more Spanish loot..

Then the prospering Dutch spice trade with the Indies came under the cosh so the East India Company could overhaul them. Then it was the turn of France, for getting in the way of imperial expansion from Madras to Montreal. Defeat in the Seven Years War turned France inward, toward revolution and a republic. This was anathema to England, for whom royal culture and patronage justified both empire and the commerce that drove it. Napoleon would have been an enemy, even had he been as pacifist as Ghandi.

Upom Napoleon’s defeat, the shift of France into an ally driven by the booming empire’s need for defence against new threats, like imperial Russia and a finally united Germany. These led, respectively, to Crimea and two World Wars, all of which reinfrced centuries of suspicion toward those beyond the Channel. Global though the vision was, it lacked education in euracy, in building bridges with foreigners.

Over the last couple of hundred years, Irish and Scots have been fellow-travellers in in this English enterprise. When the Union took its greatest formed in 1801, the English were already the dominant nation, having 60% (8.9 m) of the 15.1 m population. As well as demographic, they held political, economic and cultural centres. 4.7m Irish had links with fellow Catholics and their diaspora in America. The 1.5m Scots’ early links with France and trade with the Low Countries and Hanseatic ports was soon eclipsed. Yet their 62% vote to remain in the EU contrasts with Brexit isolationism of the English.

It has ben abundantly clear since 1603 that this union was not between equals. For 400 years, the nomenklatura running it saw “Britain’ and “England” as interchangeable terms, a practice followed by the rest of the world: Angleterre; Inghlaterra; etc.. In itself, this is unremarkable: the proportion of English people in the union is now 85%. In a country without global pretentions, this would not matter. Norway, Sweden and Finland share their Sami minorities in Lappland, yet demonstrate exemplary diplomacy in working with other culturess. All three are in Nordic Council, run SAS airlines, are members or partners of the EU, the WTO, the UN, etc. Such has been true since Sweden eschewed ambitions toward empire post-Gustavus Adolphus and the Thirty Years War. They learned euracy early.

Not so the English. Having effectively absorbed Wales, Scotland and (temporarily) Ireland, England parlayed its 17th © pirate profits into an even more profitable empire. Taking over the spice and silks trade that made Venice rich, they expanded it into a global cash cow. Industrialisation took raw materials from native/slave plantations and sold profitable finished goods back to the world. Ths required imposition of a hieratchical imperial system. There was no room for understanding of—let alone appreciation for—other cultures

Victorian dynamism and affluence needed no partners. Continental neighbours were, at best, irrelevant, at worst competitors. Authority through superiority held workers that produced the goods—whether the poor at home or indentured abroad—in thrall. This essential hierarchy bred a disdain for social inferiors. These were easiy identified becayse the ‘right’ schools and the ‘right’ pronunciation placed you idelibly in society.

Lower classes consoled themselves by subscribing to the greatness of empre and feeling superior to natives distinguished by their skin colour. Interaction with other Europeans was unnecessary, as their empires were inferior. Travel there was confined to “Grand Tours” of the cultures of Italy and Greece by the upper class. Those who did not go abroad derived biased opinions from those who did.

Despite two impoverishing world wars and a dismantled empire, a significant influence has been nostalgia over such greatness lost. Despite the six decades since Suez demolished the crumbling edifice of ‘Great Power’ status, there has been scant erosion of convistion in English superiority and the amplified hackle-raising effect it now has on our neighbours.

Once, those neighbours exhibited a similar jingoistic aggression toward each other. That was what drove centuries of internecine warfare. A change in attitude since WW2 across the continent, embodied in the EU, has shown that most of Europe’s 500m people have ditched their warring past and embraced euracy. But their tectonic shift seems lost on the English. Even 47 years at the heart of things; even 780,000 people who have chosen to live across the EU have not brought this message home.

It would be trite to blame such myopia on The Establishment, on the pukka types, on the stockbroker-and-twinsets who inhabit leafier shires around London. Because it is exhibited by ex-steelworkers in Cleveland and retired boilermakers in the Midlands, all of whom voted Leave with enthusiasm. Few had visited Eurpe beyond sand-and-sangria holidays or hen nights in Dublin or Prague. When interviewed, the reasons given were resentment at foreigners telling them what to do, with a hankering to return to a time when Britannia ruled the waves. Eurate, they were not.

Interview their equivalents in Germany, or Holland, or Sweden and their response looks to a future that can be built together. If they look to the past, it is to marvel how far they have come, while Brits have stagnated. Consider some statistics on insularity:

  • 214m (56%) people of the EU’s 382m  speak at least one foreign language; 23m (38%) of 65m Brits do..and 4m of those speak Urdu/Gujurat/Bengali
  • 90% of Dutch people speak good English; hardly any English speak Dutch.
  • almost 1m Poles live in Britain; almost no Brits live in Poland.
  • Most British who have moved to the EU live in English-speaking enclaves on Spain’s Mediterranean coast and have little interaction with locals.

A time traveller from a century ago, leaving the post-WW1 wreckage of a continent might expect to find 2020 dominated by English culture because their empire was at its greatest extent, while exhibited the most global vision through the empire, then covering a fifth of the world.

Instead, the English clung to empire amd its glorious isolation. Its flagging economy, built on Victorian heavy industries adapted slowly. Admitted late to the club in 1973, Britain never learned to grow into a pivital partner as Germany has. It never learned euracy, the pragmatic creed by which medium and small nations bury the past, influence the future and ‘punch above theor weight’, as Brtain claims, but fails, to do.

The ‘sovereignty’ mantra of the Brexiteers is delusion. In this interconnected world, glorious isolation and economic decline will be the reslt. Unless you are Chia or the USA, you must recognise that even medium-size countries are the stronger for close ties to neighbours. Geography is permanent: the EU is our only neighbour of key importance Euracy doesn’t just stop wars, it breeds prosperity. The sooner the English learn that, the better for all nations on these islads.

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Deck the Malls

(Published in East Lothian Courier, Dec. 17th 2020)

For most of us, this year was pants. Few have escaped disruption to work, family and social life. National media loves reprting in simplified sound-bites, repeated ad nauseam. Such ‘big picture’ views can overlook underlying trends. The story of high street is bundled into that of declines across the board. in larger malls and anchor stores like Debenham’s. That may be true in Falkirk, but it’s not true here.

Yes, East Lothian has suffered with the rest during the first half of the year. But our local retail quickly learned Covid-compliance to adjust better than most. They were helped by our demographics. Much of our work force now works from home, where they can enjoy our green space, as well our high streets. Flat-dwellers eager to escape Edinburgh visited in numbers. With holidays abroad excluded. Staycation soared in summer after a Spring of cancellations. All helped offset a dearth of foreign visitors.

The net result was local high streets  besting the retail big boys, although the pattern was uneven. During Spring’s three-month lock-down, supermarkets and pharmacies did well. But local tradesmen also enjoyed a surge in demand. Shops that could stay open—from butchers to bakers to hardware —switched to deliveries. Pubs, cafes restaurants and hotels wete all hurt, keeping afloat with furloughs and grants available via E.L.Counci.

June brought surprising relief, mostly in the East. Together with many home-working residents who rediscovered what high streets offer, day visitors and staycationers boosted many businesses back to normal turnover.

Galleries, craft & gift shops, florists and owner-run specialists—whether deli, fruit & veg or women’s clothing—all recovered. Cafes and restaurants had a harder time coping with social distancing. Local services like repair, t-short printing,custom ornaments, weddings, etc. did less well. The net result is that high streets in the East are enjoying seasonal footfall and sales, which started earlier this year. The county moving to Level 2 meant local people were unable to shop in an Edinburgh kept at Level 3.

Unfortunately, the same trend is less evident in high street retail in the West. Takeaways there have bounced back but, as elsewhere, pubs, discount stores, chain outlets and events-dependent businesses found takings down and no compensation for losses made during shut-down. The outlook for our local high streets os better than the telly would have you believe. This may show how it can be done. Most common comment from shop owners? To the

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