Preaching to the converted

The UK general election campaign is up and running again, after attention was focused on France over the weekend. I have just been watching Jeremy Corbyn giving a heartfelt speech on the BBC News. His rather stumbling style is quite endearing in many ways, and the absence of slick oration and stage-managed key points also refreshing to see.

He came up with some great ideas of course. A better NHS, a fairer society, the end of privatisation of industry and utilities, and increased taxation on the rich. Yesterday, his shadow chancellor made a speech about how Labour might pay for all their promises, despite pledging not to raise taxes on anyone earning £80,000 a year, or less. This is far higher than the average wage in this country of course. I suspect that the majority of the population would consider someone wih an income of £80,000 to be very well off indeed. So, Labour attempted to sweep in the affluent middle classes yesterday, then Corbyn returned to appeal to the poor and hard-working this morning.

Listening to the Labour leader today, I found myself liking most of what he had to say. He has in roots in the Socialist origins of that party, yet current trends have forced him to temper his one-time radical enthusiasm. Bold claims to build one million new houses are best taken with a pinch of salt though, as are some of his other rather fantastic promises. But he can afford to make such promises, as he knows he is unlikely to ever be in a position to have to deliver on them. He can boast of a minimum wage increase, huge additional investment into the NHS, and getting a Brexit deal that leaves the UK in a strong trading position. He might just as well say that he will pay for a holiday in Florida for every family in Britain, or give every pensioner free electricity, and a new car. He can say anything, because he will never have to prove the truth of his words.

Jeremy Corbyn enjoys huge support within his own party. He has won two leadership elections, and survived the backstabbers among his Labour colleagues in Westminster. But the hard truth is that the Labour Party has never been in a worse place, and never before faced a potential defeat of such proportions. OK, they will probably get my vote, but that will make little difference in a county dominated by the government party. UKIP may have also lost any influence in the country as a whole, but their votes will not be going to Labour. They will be bolstering Conservative majorities instead.

As Jeremy made his speech today, he must have been encouraged by the cheering from the audience, and the whoops of delight as he drove home each point. The applause was genuine, and the enthusiasm palpable. You might have believed that he could become a real leader, a man of substance.

But he was preaching to the converted.

A bogus retirement

If you tune into any UK news media today, you cannot avoid the breathtaking news that the Duke of Edinburgh has retired from public life. Tributes to the 96 year-old are flooding in, and I am literally choking on a sea of superlatives and gushing praise. How many foreign trips he took. How many speeches he made. How many times he appeared in public. What a rock solid support he was for the Queen. And on and on. Oh, and on…

All of this exceedingly comfortable and well rewarded ‘hard work’ was for ‘our benefit’, apparently. Walking around behind your wife with your hands in your pockets, waving to a crowd from the interior of a Rolls-Royce, and muttering to film stars as you attend a premiere. It’s a miracle he lasted this long, with such arduous travails. Fighting to stay awake during boring banquets, and speeches in foreign languages might well be considered to be the ‘pit face’ in some circles. But not in mine.

In a country where basic living benefits are being withheld from the poor and the sick, and a huge percentage of the population are struggling to live on the minimum wage, and no-hours contracts, celebrating the idle life of this overpaid hanger-on is bordering on the obscene. While we are at it, let’s gloss over his racist remarks about ‘Chinky-eyes’, and ‘Darkies’ too. After all, he was only being amusing, and he’s married to the Queen.

To say he is retiring is a classic misnomer. You cannot retire from a job that was never a job. How can you retire from shooting wild birds, riding around in coaches, travelling from one luxury home to another, or cruising around on your sumptuous yacht? The man has not done a day’s work since he walked out of Westminster Abbey with the Queen on his arm, in 1947.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I am not a Royalist.

North Korea: Ramping up the tension

Judging by some news reports today, things are getting very heated between the US and North Korea. President Trump has called for a meeting of Congress, and the North Koreans are making ever-more threatening speeches, including suggesting the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Fairly normal events, like the visit of a US submarine to South Korea, something that happens often, are being seen as ‘escalation’ by both sides. North Korean artillery exercises, said to be a ‘celebration’ of the army, are seen as displays of aggression. China is getting nervous. They have asked the US directly not to attack the DPRK, which shows at least some belief that they expect the Americans are about to do just that. China suggests approaching the United Nations, and asking for their approval for military action. Russia has been quiet about the escalation in the region, at least today.

So, what can we conclude? Is Mr Trump really going to launch an attack on Pyongyang, and military targets such as airfields and installations around that country? That appears to be becoming more than a possibility, which makes it a probability. Will the North Koreans retaliate? (Always assuming they have a chance to) That’s almost a certainty. Should the rest of us be worried? Potentially.

If this was two dogs fighting on a hot summer day, someone would throw a bucket of water over them.
We are going to need a lot of water…

Theresa May calls a General Election

We all woke up to some surprising news this morning. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has called an election in June, just a few weeks away. She could have stayed on until 2020, under the rules in the UK, but instead has chosen to put her policies, and her un-elected leadership, to the voters of Britain, three years early.

The BBC reports this as a ‘surprise decision’, and as you might imagine, there is nothing else being reported in our media at the moment. But is it a surprise? Well, not to me at least, and I suspect that anyone who spends any amount of time being interested in politics is unlikely to be surprised either.

There has rarely been a time in this country when the opposition to the sitting government has been less effective. With the constant attacks on the leader of the official opposition, The Labour Party, by almost every media source, and many in his own party, it appears unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn has any hope of winning. If he does fail to do so, he will probably be forced out anyway. The Liberal Democrats also have their least effective leader in decades, so are not going to pose any threat. As for the nationalists, UKIP, their only elected members are deserting that party as fast as they can get their jackets fastened, and they have little impact in this country anymore.

As for the Scottish Nationalists, they will continue to go on about independence, Brexit, and asking for another referendum. They may enjoy a huge majority in their own country, but have little effect on the UK overall. The Conservatives enjoy one of their biggest leads in the polls for a very long time. Despite all the hoo-hah about Brexit, and talk of a ‘divided nation’, we have to face the fact that the current Conservative government is generally regarded to be doing a good job of running the country, like it or not.

In 2016, we all saw that polls could no longer be trusted though. The June election might appear to be a done deal already, with Mrs May sweeping back into power, confident in her popularity.

But you never know. Not any more…

The DPRK calls the US bluff.

Whatever you might think about North Koreans, they are nothing if not resilient.
Faced with the threat of American action against them, their response has been bullish, to say the least. Their Foreign Minister has declared that his country will launch a ‘preemptive nuclear strike against the USA’, if they detect any possibility of an attack against them from America.

Those are serious words indeed, even if they are unlikely to be backed up by the action mentioned in them. I am reminded of a professional poker game; bluffers taking on the bluffers. Both sides know that the other is bluffing, but who is actually prepared to take that chance, when push comes to shove?

This small country, with a population of 29 million, its people generally impoverished, and having one thing to show to the world, Pyongyang, has taken a firm stand indeed. On one hand, it could signal their total destruction. On the other, it could guarantee them a place on the world stage.

So. Who blinks first? Fascinating.

The ‘Super Bomb’: More financials

After my recent post about the cost of using cruise missiles in Syria, the Americans have now used a ‘MOAB’. This is a ‘Super Bomb’, nicknamed ‘The Mother of All Bombs’, a corruption of the bomb’s acronym, which stands for ‘Massive Ordnance Air Blast’. The actual designation of the device is GBU/43B, which doesn’t float well as a headline in quite the same way, does it?

This enormous explosive device is the biggest non-nuclear weapon ever detonated, according to some reports. However, during WW2, slightly larger bombs weighing 22,000 lbs were used and known as ‘Grand Slams’. The MOAB was developed at a cost of an estimated $300,000,000. This also included the cost of the 20 bombs delivered. Each one is estimated to have cost $16,000,000, and the logistical costs involved in the deployment and delivery this week are believed to be close to $1,000,000.

On this occasion, I will refrain from speculating what better use could have been made of that money. However, it is worth looking at the result. The bomb detonated just above a tunnel complex, believed to be used by insurgent fighters in the region. The blast could be felt almost two miles away, but reports say that no civilians were injured. The claim is that 36 fighters were killed by the bomb, confirmed by Afghan soldiers, and US Special Forces personnel on the ground.

The sum is simple enough. $17,000,000 divided by 36 = $472,222. That’s what it cost to kill each man in that tunnel complex. Current estimates agree that ISIS has around 20,000 fighters in Syria alone. Other sources estimate that the Taliban has a force in excess of 35,000 operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, if we use the same cost basis to destroy every one of those 55,000 remaining soldiers, we are left with a pretty big bill, one that America has to fund. $25,972,221. (Yes, almost 26 BILLION dollars)

Compared to the cost of the cruise missile attack that only killed six people, that’s very good value, I suppose. A bargain.

Syria missile attack: The financial side

I have left a few comments on other blogs about this recent event, so I decided that I also ought to write something about it on here.

I looked up the cost of that operation. Fifty-nine cruise missiles = $94,000,000. The amount needed to replace them? Around $100,000,000. Factor in the costs involved in the preparation of the attack, use of warships, and the other logistical issues, and the total is something like $200,000,000. Yes, that is two hundred million dollars.

I would have to consult those better qualified than me, but I imagine that many good things could have been done in America, with that amount of money. It costs a bit less than $100,000,000 to build a very good hospital. So that’s two and a bit great new hospitals that could have been created in some poor districts of the US. A large new high school costs about $40,000,000 to construct. So, that money could have gone to building five good schools, to help educate the children of America.

It costs less than $40,000 dollars to buy a decent-sized electric car in the US. So more than 5,000 electric vehicles could have been bought and supplied to government agencies, to help reduce pollution. I could keep going on. Flood defences, new homes for those in need, solar panels, medical research, palliative care, and so on…Even in 2017, $200,000,000 is a great deal of money, and it could, and should, have been put to better use.

So, who wins? Not the six Syrians killed in the attack. Not the rebel fighters, who still can’t beat Assad. Not the civilians, who will be caught up in just as many future battles. Not the reputation of the US military, which failed to render the airfield unusable, or even to destroy all the aircraft kept there. Not the citizens of nations all across the world, who now fear that this escalation could lead to an all-out war between Russia and NATO.

Let’s consider the possible ‘winners’ who emerge from this situation.

Assad can now claim that his sovereign nation was attacked by a foreign power. And he will be telling the truth, like it or not.
ISIS continues to operate as if nothing has happened, no doubt cheered by the thought that the US might remove Assad, leaving the way open for them to take control in the future.
The arms companies will be happy, as they make more profit from selling at least another fifty-nine cruise missiles. And that’s only the beginning of an increase in the ringing of their cash registers.
Then there are those companies involved in post-war ‘reconstruction’ and security, companies like Halliburton. They will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of another Iraq to come.

Then there is Mr Trump of course. After being under sustained attack from the American media, and failing to get the support he needed from a large section of his own population, the President has finally done something. Whether this was at the suggestion of the hawks in his own military, or his own doing, is of no matter. He is now being seen as decisive. A man of action. The American version of Putin. A strong leader, unafraid to take the moral high ground, even if that moral high ground involves using hundreds of millions of dollars worth of explosives.

And if that action helps his friends in big business, so much the better.