Friday, 23 March 2018

Weekend Read: Defining "Solidarity" in Law

How do you define a fuzzy, abstract concept into law?

Some while ago I wrote about the European "Energy Union", a classic piece of acquis-grabbing-by-stealth from the EC.  There were follow-ups here, here and here.  For what it is worth, the Energy Union was one of the straws that broke this particular camel's back as regards Brexit.

Anyhow, while it may be of diminishing future significance for the UK, something moderately interesting has come of all this.  Because it is now compulsory for EU nations to render "solidarity" to each other in times of dire shortage of natural gas - I think we know where this finger is pointing ... yes, you over there in the East! - and because actually it's just a warm word (for all the euro-wallahs bandy it around like a comfort blanket), the EC is trying to define what "solidarity" might mean in law.

And very necessary, too! - if you insist on this type of prescriptive Civil-Code stuff.   Although these rules aren't yet in force (so the UK made no call on solidarity back at the cold end of February, relying instead on the market) we recall that gas didn't flow our way as one would ordinarily expect when quite exceptional prices were on offer.  Yes, those Good Europeans are - of course - self-interested bastards who need to be dragged by lawyers and regulators to carry through on their hallowed *principles*.

I realise this EC doument's earnest word-smithery may be of limited interest to many readers but personally, though not a lawyer, I enjoy such sub-philosophical endeavours.  It's all in the small print.  And below are some of the things we find amongst this new euro-babble:
  • You'll have to pay "fairly and promptly" for any "solidarity" (i.e. gas!) received;
  • The "fair" price is assumed to be "not lower than market price (+ costs)", for fear of "perverse incentives" (see, they have been listening to 20 years of the UK telling them what can go wrong with interventionist energy policies);
  • All market mechanisms need to have been deployed first (ditto); 
  • Solidarity doesn't give one state any authority over another; 
  • All subject to Fundamental Rights (which I take to be a get-out clause).
What might this remind you of - if you were German?
I have a feeling certain eastern euro-nations might have been hoping for something a bit less mercenary than this.  And, needless to say, if the market mechanisms are working properly, none of it should really be required at all.

Unless, that is, Russia cuts up really rough.  In which case, (a) frankly, all bets are off.

But ...  (b) those of us *ahem* old enough to remember the 1973-74 oil crisis will recall OPEC cutting up really rough.  On that occasion a rather effective ad hoc intervention swung into place.  The forerunner of the IEA was told by the OECD to sort it out and, adroitly commandeering a powerful linear programming tool sitting in Exxon's HQ in New Jersey, this team allocated the whole Free World's available stock of crude oil based on whatever principles it deemed appropriate.  Oil was tight, but it all sort-of worked.   

See, even avowed free-marketeers can allow for state / super-state interventions when the chips are down ... preferably by people who are competent - which, as well as technical capabilities, includes having market instincts that are strong!  

By now you'll have decided whether the EC document is of interest to you ...  A pleasant weekend to all, whatever you're reading.


Thursday, 22 March 2018

Still a long road to normality: Update

The US raised interest rates yesterday, as did China following suit. It is a very long road back to financial normality after a financial crash of the like that we had in 2008 (on average 19 years historically, so we are only just over half-way!).

However, in the UK we have a particularly dovish Bank of England Governor at the moment in Mark Carney. This week has seen wage growth pick up and the economy continue to modestly improve alongside record employment. Few commentators or even economists seem to notice that with near full-employment the days of rapid economic growth are gone - all improvements have to come from either improving productivity or investment, neither of which is easy to do in the UK economy. The days of just hiring more migrants on shit wages and declaring economic nirvana as nominal GDP rises are over - THANK BREXIT FOR THAT!

Still, the Bank of England is left with a choice today, does it raise interest rates again? The Bank will likely decide to wait another month or two to see what is happening in the economy and take a view that the awfulness of Brexit means that it should stay with very low rates.

Which is a shame because we won't get investment levels from companies up and from individuals whilst the saving rate remains so low. All we see now is the continuation of the nightmare economy where the already rich borrow very cheaply and make easy returns; whilst the small companies and business are starved of capital holding back productivity gains.

Of course, too high rates can stall the economy; food retailers and general retailers are already struggling in an easy money environment so won't cope. But the wider economy will not recover its vigour until we move back to a more 'normal' economy - its a difficult balance to achieve but the Bank of England really needs to get its Hawkish skates on to fix the economy.

UPDATE: BOE holds rates, murmurs about doing something next time, circumstances allowing etc etc.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Do we care if it is Brexit surrender?

With a Remain Prime Minister, Chancellor and Home Secretary, the days of worrying/hoping for a hard Brexit have long since passed.

The EU are good at negotiating too (short-term, long-term their game is terrible, hence Brexit in the first place).

But Remoaners are going to complain what is the point if we end up with worse terms than we had, so they will never be happy.

Arch-leavers will be unhappy with all the concessions, but they always would be. Hard Brexit was the worst option in many ways and with such a close referendum would have caused as much split in the Country as a pure remain vote.

Personally, I voted mainly to gain some control over immigration, despite all the concessions, when the transition period is over this will be the case. We will be able to hold our own politicians to account for border control once more.

If we had to make plenty of concessions elsewhere, then that in the round is a good negotiation strategy. I am sure plenty of the Government's red lines were never intended to be such a thing, just as the EU's were not.

In the round then, things seem to still be going as well as can be expected. I can't see how they could be going better in the circumstances, once you filter for all the media noise.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Jeremy's Judgement

We've had two solid threads on the rights and wrongs of the nerve-gas business; and the actions and reactions; the knowns and unknowns, etc etc.  Our old friend Raedwald stirred up an even longer one  last week (- and it seems to have changed his mind on the matter).  My interest here lies in how May and Corbyn have reacted to it all, in base political terms.  I'll start by chipping in with three related points on the path to this realpolitik.

1.  Nations do indeed behave in extreme and spiteful ways, displaying crass bad judgement and, often, to the detriment of their own interests.  Let us merely recall the sordid epsiode of the Rainbow Warrior, perpetrated by none other than our good democratic neighbours the French.  This cuts both ways.  It means that to claim Putin would never have done anything like that is daft; but at the same time, you can take it as the basis of any false-flag hypothesis you wish to dream up.

2.   As Misha Glenny said in an interview before the recent screening of McMafia, when you meet an educated Russian in a suit, he might be: a businessman; an FSB agent; or a gangster - or all three.  For many purposes, "the Russians" is a term lacking today in precise definition, but nonetheless means something for the purposes of geopolitics.  It is clear Putin's government is thus able (at a superficial level of plausibility), and willing, to disavow literally anything - including a corps-scale attack on a neighbouring country.  In such circumstances, taking measures such as May has done against "the Russians" seems rather more appropriate than is being asserted in some pedantic quarters.

3.   On the subject of legalistic pedantry, it's always easy to find fault with any type of reaction or retaliation if one adopts the standards of a court of law and requires the matter to be beyond all reasonable doubt.  This, I fear, is the tone of a good many comments, here and at Raedwald's and elsewhere.   OK, we've all read David Hume; we can all summon up a 'doubt', or hatch an alternative explanation for anything (see 1. above) if we put ourselves to the challenge.  But it's not a court of law, it's the court of public opinion.  And given the present situation in Russia (see 2. above), to indulge in lawyer-like hair-splitting on judgements about Russian actions is to misapply a concept - a waste of breath.

Mrs May's Response

We all know what she's done; and given her utterly dismal showing against Hollande over the Hinkley contract when she first came into office, I suggest it's been a whole lot better than one might have feared - not only in its speed and tone of delivery, but in the way she has enlisted Macron, Merkel and Trump.

Note, in passing, the Macron / Merkel aspect to this.  They are keen (very keen - trust me on this one) that future security cooperation with the UK isn't to become some sort of Brexit issue.  So it behoves them to stand up and be counted, right now.  As they have done.  And - be it further noted - both France and Germany have been known to shuffle to the back of the room on security matters in the past.  Credit where it's due: to them, and to May - for once. 

(And for what it's worth, the public seems to agree in the ratio 5:1.  How this translates into votes is anyone's guess.  An Iron Lady moment?  Let's not get ahead of ourselves.) 

Mr *spits* Corbyn's Response

Sorry about that, I was just clearing my throat.    Well yes, we all know his instincts.  UK Bad, Everybody Else Good.  Corbyn Always Right.  Corbyn Never Backs Away.  So off he goes, to be disowned immediately and publicly by his parliamentary colleagues in large numbers.  As I've read it described, this actually discomfited him acutely and visibly.  But still, no backing down, no disowning the reptilian Milne.

So (presumably with a weary sigh) his office is obliged to make the best of it.  More; they are required to give him a line that can be written down in black and white, released to the outside (and rather hostile) world.  More still; it must come across as Jeremy Undaunted, Corbyn Courageous.  Never backing down; always right.

Well, they followed their brief.  The neat line in truculent sophistry they came up with is this:  I vehemently and resolutely insist that either Russia did this dastardly deed, OR some of those nasty chemicals (that seemed once to be in their possession, can't think how that happened) did it without their knowledge.  And this stern and unequivocal accusation by me must be followed up with resolute and proportionate action.  See how firm and fair I am.  Did I mention how firm I am?  And unbending.  And always right.  You can tell, can't you, from my righteous demeanour.

The trick is transparent (and, by the way, demonstrates he is in fact afraid of being labelled a Putin apologist: because this isn't even remotely an unequivocal statement - either of what he really believes, or 'what he ought to say'.  He actually wants to be able both to pretend still to be an upright Englishman, and to be thought not to have changed his mind or agreed with the warmonger May.) 

But presumably it passes the immediate test of: does it allow Jeremy to blow hard and fearlessly in public?  In the sure knowledge that a veritable army of sock-puppets is just waiting in the wings to love him for it (whatever they think 'it' is), and swamp CiF with upvotes.  And everyone can point to the thousands of swooning acolytes gathering on the densely-laid astroturf and say to themselves: see, it does actually work, seeming to be sticking to your guns like that.  Brazening it out.  They love him for it!  Some people actually think it's clever strategy!   There you go, Jezza-boy: you can carry on with the foreign-policy posturing.

We may allow them their heady moment of relief.   On the quiet, earlier in the week there had been a string of red-on-red incidents, most notably the General Secretary row but also others documented by Guido:  Jezza vs Abrahams; 'Corbyn & McDonnell Spilt Three Times in One Week'; 'McDonnell Orders Labour MPs to Stop Going on RT'; 'Corbyn Slaps Down McDonnell Over Anti-Semitic FB Group' ... 

Yes, we must allow for Guido being in Murdoch's pay these days; but those tensions are there to be watched as they simmer.  (At the weekend, McDonnell made sure his way of mouthing the carefully-crafted Party Line came across as outright condemnation of Russia.)  Yes, there is a hard core of Jeremy-lovers for whom, quite literally, he can do no wrong.  Yes, it's hard for observers on the other side of the political spectrum to fathom what goes on in these people's heads, and easy to underestimate their numbers and their enthusiasms.

But a couple of hard facts stand out.  McDonnell is no idle 'politics-of-protest' dilletante; and four years is a very long time.


Friday, 16 March 2018

The Mafia are branching out.

On the recent Salisbury poisoning, Colonel Korbyn, Assistant First Directorate, UK district,  suggested the attempted murder might have been by criminal Russian elements.

Image result for russian mafia
These guys look like highly trained nerve agent assassins.

Can anyone think of any Mafia organisation that has a weapons grade, bio-chemical research facility. Of a kind of which there are less than ten in the world?
That they have a scientific staff.With some of the best brains in their field. And assistants. Guards. Power supplies. Hazchem environments..The whole criminal in a volcano villain thing.

Really? Is it remotely likely?

No. some say, that would be absurd. And instead say the Mafia purchased this exotic, extremely rare, extremely well guarded, highly monitored, highly controlled, highly secure substance from someone in the base. Maybe like Newman did in Jurassic Park.
 Image result for jurassic park newman

I suppose so.
It MIGHT have been Mossad.
The CIA.
Or Joey from Friends.

Why not? 

 If you aren't going to offer any motive or any method, then you could, conceivably, blame anyone.
 It MIGHT have been me.
 My Nan went to Leningrad in 1986. Who knows what she brought back inside the 'supposed' gifts of Russian Dolls and the Sputnik paperweight?

Image result for sputnik toy

So, assuming the Russian {or, Korbyn really suspects, The Israeli} mafia, could buy, steal or make chemical nerve agents so secret we only recently found out they exist at all, why would they want to?
All the high risk, high cost expense to procure weapons grade toxins, so that when
'Miki the Frog, Koromski' absconds with half a million Roubles, he can get whacked in a way which doesn't identify the mafia?

My Mafia knowledge isn't great. But I'm fairly sure Al Capone wasn't overly troubled about gunning down his rivals in a garage, in daylight, using Thompson .45 Police sub machine guns.

1} He wanted everyone to know he'd done it.
2}he already owned the police chiefs and judges to ensure he wouldn't be caught. And if accidentally caught, wouldn't be convicted.

And there are dozens and dozens more stories just the same.

So the theory, which is absurd, has to move to, well the Mafia want to frame Putin for some reason that we cannot guess why. But its up to YOU to prove they didn't! We are just making suggestions...

Someone I knew personally. Who did a property deal with a former business partner of mine. And with his proceeds, he went to Moscow. Got involved with the Russian mob. Found dead on the floor, in his Moscow apartment, with holes in his head. My partner identified the body and sorted out his stuff.
No Polonium. No cesium 137 radiating the building. Just shot in the face, for some reason, that no one knew, except him and the mob. And they didn't even take the cash from his wallet.

{Which, I was told, is so everyone knows it was a hit. Not a botched burglary. And, the money in the wallet at death, would have been far more than when discovered. Just to ensure the homicide squad did a really half assed job on the case.}

That is how the criminal world operate.

They don't concern themselves with managing to procure highly secret, highly toxic, highly dangerous nerve agents from military lockdown, in order to bump off a former GRU colonel who was swapped to the west many years ago.

Its childish to even imagine they would.


On a separate point, but relevant.

I recently got around to listening to Vincent Bugliosi's audiobook,  Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
I've put it off for a number of years because it's 32 hours long. Even on my 4 hour car journeys, that's a stretch.

Bugliosi was a lawyer, who died only recently. He wrote this forensic examination of the Kennedy Assassination, and all of the conspiracy theories floated he could find. And he demolished every one. One by one. Some just to the point of looking very unlikely. But most to the point of  utter destruction.

Reclaiming History Bugliosi 1st-ed-2007 WWNorton.jpg

My prior Kennedy knowledge came from the Martin Sheen Kennedy film. Oliver Stone's epic JFK. And another documentary I must have seen. And the TV dramatisation 'trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.' 
I would say I thought, before the book, that there was maybe a 40% chance someone, somewhere, was also involved in the assassination. Because of Oswald was conveniently killed. And the rifle had a bent scope and was a piece of crap. And Oswald was a spy for Russia. And how did Ruby just happen to be in the basement when Oswald came out for transfer. And the magic bullet. And 'back..and to the left..back and to the left"..and all that.

Thirty minutes into this audio book, I'm 100% convinced it was Oswald. Alone. And he was killed by Ruby, alone. And NO-ONE else was involved. He decided, maybe three days before, he was going to shoot the president. And that's why the shooting is not the most skillfully executed of plans.

Because all the evidence is there. Evidence that I had never heard about before. Events and situations that have been willfully ignored, or altered, to make a conspiracy.

Evidence like, for instance, on the morning of the shooting Oswald, for the first time ever, removed his wedding ring and put into a cup on his wife's dresser. The notoriously short of cash Lee-Harvey also left all of his worldly cash and a note in the cup saying 'Take care of the children. Buy them whatever they want.'
Six or seven people saw the gunman in the window of the book depository before the shooting. One witness even pointed him out to his wife saying 'Look at that secret service guy up there."
And there are hundreds more bits of info just like this. And the links to the people who gave this info and testified to Warren Commission. Statements from police etc. etc.

So, thirty minutes in, I'm convinced. When the police arrived at the friend's house his wife was staying at and they asked' Does Lee have a rifle?' She said 'Yes. He keeps it in the garage.'
She knew he had a rifle. He'd asked her if he could keep it there. 
Oswald was arrested with two different I.D.documents in diferent names. One of them, in the name of the person who purchased the mail order rifle.
 And a revolver. A revolver that was later found to have killed officer Tippit. A murder that was witnessed by twelve people. Who mostly picked him out of three police lineups over then next two days.
And the first thing Oswald was charged with. 

So, why listen to another 31.5 hours if I'm convinced it was Oswald?
 Because it was compelling. And, mightily embarrassing to hear my own theories taken to pieces so skillfully.

Just two for-instances. 

If, as some have claimed, Oswald was a Mafia Hitman, why was he applying for jobs in the weeks before he was due to kill the President? Jobs that would move him from his strategic sniper hole in the Book Depository building, to a different location in Dallas where no presidential motorcade would pass by?

And when he got the job at the Texas School Book Depository it was for a general warehouse person. And the TSBD co had TWO building in which they sorted the books. 

In addition to its building at Elm and Houston, the Texas School Book Depository Company maintained a second warehouse at 1917 Houston. Several blocks north of the main building, the short four-story structure was well removed from the parade route, half-hidden on an unpaved section of Houston. 
Oswald's supervisor, Roy Truly, told the Warren Commission that he had had the option to assign Oswald to either building on his first day at work. 

"I might have sent Oswald to work [there]... Oswald and another fellow reported for work on the same day [October 15] and I needed one of them for the depository building. I picked Oswald."

That entry is from Wikipedia. Its in the Warren Commission files, and the files of the Dallas Police of course. But also on Wikipedia. Not that you'd ever know to look for it, unless you had a reason to do so.

Our readers here do love a conspiracy. But I was genuinely embarrassed to think how utterly foolish I had been to even briefly consider that the CIA. The FBI. The Dallas Police. The Press. The Secret Service. The Warren Commission. The Doctors at Dallas. The autopsy doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Robert Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson. The IRS. J. Edgar Hoover. The Mafia. The KGB. Castro. The Free Cubans. The US military. Had somehow, or some part of them, all conspired to shoot the nation's youngest president.

 How would you even hold that meeting? How would you arrange those people to meet to discuss their plans. And not just their plans but the cover up afterwards. For fifty years. In the age before the internet. Before computers. And who is in charge? Who funds. Where does the money come from. Where does it go? 
And why do it at all?

{The autopsy doctors are key in conspiracy theories. They have to be part of the plot as they disguise the front head wound from the grassy knoll. They disguise or conceal the other bullet wounds from other gunmen.}

In actual fact Jackie Kennedy was asked by a secret service man which hospital did she want the autopsy performed at. She said she didn't know. And the Secret Service man said it would be best a military hospital. And Jackie chose the Navy hospital. Because the President served in the navy in WW2. But his other family members were army. Jackie could have said 'the nearest.' 
It was partial chance she chose the navy hospital. She might have said anything. Might have said Vermont. Her husband's brains were still across her face and dress. As can be seen in the swearing in photo with Lyndon Johnson and when she leaves the plane in Washington.
 She refused to get changed until at the White House.

It was also chance which doctors were called. Not total chance,of course. But if you've just killed the president, you wouldn't have asked the First Lady at all. You'd have taken the body to your waiting men, at your destination,  to do their work. Without her involvement at all.
She was in shock. She wouldn't know as next of kin it was her decision alone to make.