Re-Moaners and Trump’eters

Another few weeks drift past and yet the same issues which seem to have been in the news all year, remain.

The US never-ending election still has over 3 weeks to run and just when you think the behaviour and approach of both camps can’t get any worse they manage to achieve it. If it’s not sexual abuse allegations it’s more leaked emails. I pity the American voter. I thought our choice this side of the Atlantic was pretty bad but the candidates there look appalling.

I watched the clip of Gary Johnson who is apparently also standing as a Libertarian Party candidate – I mean really? Over five years into a civil war in Syria and this man who wants to be President of the most powerful nation on earth does not know what Aleppo is?

At least Trump and Clinton have managed to answer some questions on the subject. It’s not unusual for foreign affairs (not the sexual kind) to play little part in a US election, but one might have expected that confrontations with Russia over Syria, Ukraine and Crimea, to have some impact. Likewise relations with China over the Spratley Islands rather than ridiculous notions of simplistic arguments over manufacturing jobs in the US should have some policy. It remains completely unreported what either candidate’s plans for North Korea are. Better not ask Trump but his rhetoric can’t be worse than the accusations from US Security services that NK was behind the Sony attack.

What still amazes many commentators is that Trump is still popular with large swathes of the US electorate despite all the gaffes. It demonstrates how unpopular Clinton is but more importantly how upset many American voters are with the established political class which Clinton embodies.  Here we have some of the parallels with the UK EU debate despite the referendum.

Although there is an element of the moaning bad loser side in some of the pronouncements from what was the remain side, many did set out the risks to the economy an no-vote would bring. Several senior economists have stated that the currency changes that we have seen since end of June were a long overdue correction to Sterling’s position just exasperated by the vote for exit and on-going uncertainty of what that means. In the percentages shown everything is referred to the currency position post 23rd June, failing as usual to mention that Sterling’s value had risen significantly in the lead up to the vote.

Euro over 5 years from here shows a different story than the headlines might have you believe on 19th Oct 2011 the exchange rate was 1.14 and it closed on 14th Oct 2016 at 1.11. In particular, the rise of the pound in 2015 and the lead up to the vote is dramatic. US Dollar to Sterling is a significant fall over the same period 1.57 to 1.21 and the comments on reserve currencies should be concerning, but at the same time interest rates have been signaled upwards in the US and stay the same or lower in the UK which does not help Sterling investors. By the way Euro to US Dollar has gone down from 1.37 to 1.11 in the same time period.

I have picked an arbitrary period but some of us can remember much better and worse Pound to Dollar rates. It reached a low of 1.05 in February 1985 after the ERM fiasco and was as high as 2.11 in November 2007 as sub-prime crashed the dollar

What do we learn from that brief history- currencies fluctuate – sometimes a lot – thousands of traders around the world make money doing that.

Final discussion for today is on Credit Rating Agencies and their comments – yes the same folks that branded those sub-prime investment funds as AAA, are doing all their warnings on where the pound might go next. All the discussion is based on what the UK might do as if what might happen in the Euro (How is Greece by the way and Italy, Portugal, Spain?) will have no impact. Remember Euro zone and other EU exports to the UK, exceed UK Exports to the EU – we both have a lot to lose if we are stupid and put in unnecessary tariffs.  World trade will be damaged if Trump introduced tariffs to protect American jobs and cancels NAFTA. Likewise what will be the impact on the dollar if Trump wins and implements that piece of rhetoric.

Guess what the pound might go up or down or sideways.  Can we moan about currency traders instead?

Migrants and Refugees

It seems ages since I wrote a blog, work and proper writing interfering with Internet broadcasting.

As it is all over the news I thought I would add my views on the current crisis impacting Europe. Refugees and migrants are attempting to escape their own countries and find a hoped for better or safer life in Europe. The European politicians of all persuasions struggle to come up with a suitable soundbite that can demonstrate a caring attitude whilst maintaining their pre-held opinions.  The UK is held up as either not doing enough or doing far too much, whilst facts are mangled and as usual the politicians throw as much mud as possible. There are multiple aspects to this. First some of my definitions:

  • Migrant – an immigrant or transitory person for whatever reason
  • Refugee – someone escaping persecution or seeking safety – can be internal to a nation as many in Syria already are
  • Asylum seeker – Someone who claims that there is a fear of persecution or worse in their own country and thus seeks asylum – but can also be some person hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
  • Economic migrant – someone seeking a better life for themselves – in and out of UK

The humanitarian urge to do what we can, evidenced in Hungarian people doling out food and water to walking migrants (most may well be refugees), is only one aspect. There needs to be a practical assessment of what can be done realistically. For example Turkey is host to 2 million Syrian refugees escaping the civil war of which ISL or Dash is only one element http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224

So let’s try and stick to facts – the UK net population increase (official government 2013 figures) due to migration was 300,000.  The vast majority of these 200,000 were from the  EU. These are either family and friends of existing residents or economic migrants searching for work in a growing economy. These are all legal migrants as no one has accurate figures on illegal migrants i.e. persons form outside the EU. The remainder are those that have temporary or permanent rights to stay e.g. students or key workers.

We then have asylum seekers, some key points from http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/migration-uk-asylum

Key points

  • Asylum applications (excluding dependents) rose from 4,256 in 1987 to a peak of 84,130 in 2002. They stood at 24,914 in 2014.
    More…
  • Asylum applicants and their dependents comprised an estimated 8% of net migration in 2013, down from 49% in 2002 but up from 4% in 2010.
    More…
  • In 2014, 59% of asylum applications were initially refused. A majority of refused applicants lodge appeals. In 2014, 28% of appeals were allowed.
    More…
  • Men made up nearly 3 out of 4 (73%) main applicants for asylum in 2014.
    More…
  • In 2014, the UK received 5% of asylum claims made in EU countries (plus Norway and Switzerland), making it the sixth highest recipient of asylum claims.
    More…

The latest estimated migration figure for 2014 is 330,000 of which the asylum seekers make up approx 25,000 so 7.5%

I heard Kent Council state on the radio that the numbers of migrant unaccompanied children under 14 had gone from an average of 240 per year to 720 last year all of whom needed initially foster parents, schooling and support. A huge increase in workload http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-34139364

At the same time we have an alleged housing crisis with organisations like Shelter claiming we need to build 250,000 new homes per year just to keep pace with current population growth http://www.thehomesweneed.org.uk/ The UK’s population is now also growing for many complex reasons see the ONS statistics here but this adds a further 200,000 or so on top of the migration impact. Therefore, we are adding a city population the approximate size of Sheffield to our overall population every year.

On the BBC this morning it was explained that during the 1956 Hungarian uprising the UK took over 40,000 refugees. This has also been discussed as one of the tens of thousands estimates and comparisons for asylum to be offered.Note on 7 Sep the UK Prime Minister announced the number is 20,000

In terms of the overall net migration and population increase numbers this would be a further 10% increase.

The problem for the UK and many other countries is not the humanitarian support. We have the money and the food and water we are after all a rich nation in GDP terms. It is the very practical question of where they are going to live, go to school, get health care. We do not have many large old military bases sitting empty but they can help. Do we want tented villages near ports of entry? Where in the UK will they go. How will they be transported there? For all the claims that we must do something we need to have answers first.

November

There is no moustache to join in the fund raising of a Movember. It is long gone like the career I once expected that went with it. Seventeen years of no upper lip shaving swept away with the clip of some scissors and the scraping of a sharp blade. There was not even a tan line left behind, once the sink was rinsed. The face in the mirror was a shock, almost as much as the look on my children’s faces.  They had never known a non-moustached father nor one permanently out of uniform.

The moustache was a reminder from an earlier beard and other changes from my young adulthood. Like hair which occasionally was quite long. Now that is nearly all gone too. My multiple ages of man (The Seven Ages) may match Shakespeare’s words, but it feels like multiple adult lives.  There was the work time before the armed forces, then the military career which in turn encompassed multiple locations, jobs, stages, phases but not as many ranks as I had hoped.

Then there was the moustache-less rebirth as a civilian, jobs then as a self-employed consultant then back to the attractions of permanent roles. Again different jobs in different locations with one huge difference. I have stayed in one home. I have lived in this house longer than anywhere else, whilst jobs changed, children grew to adulthood and my little hair changed to grey.  Why this retrospective now, it is not an anniversary, but an anniversary has prompted these thoughts.

I worked from home on Tuesday and walked in the dull drizzle to the war memorial where at 11:00 I stood for the requisite two minutes and contemplated the war dead. The memorial was ill attended on Armistice Day although on Remembrance Sunday it had been busy. Then we had stopped the car for the two minutes, on a journey to see family. As I stood with my wife and the dozen others, cars drove by seemingly oblivious. The silence was in my head. The memories were in my head.

I have written before about my annoyance at not commemorating proper dates and I was glad to see the BBC make an effort on Tuesday with its coverage from The Tower of London and Ypres. Perhaps in 1918 we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the war on the proper day. I find it hard to enjoy the commemoration of the start of the war. On Monday I used my lunch break to join the crowds at the Tower of London for the stunning display:

IMG_0406Wednesday provided a shock, as my daughter’s boyfriend broke his leg during training on an Army course. This flooded memories of other notifications and more remembrance, from my service days of delivering bad news or hearing it.

The growers of the Movember Moustaches raise funds for Men’s Health. By raising funds they hope that there will be fewer notifications or treatments required. I shall not be growing one to join in although for an unshaven weekend I was tempted, but I can support them. My son is growing one – so well done him, He’s growing the one I once had my wife has just commented. I wonder, if, at the end of the month, the growers will be glad to cut, trim, and shave, the hair away. Perhaps some will remain for several years or return next year for an anniversary.

Ramblings on a Referendum

IMG_0169 I’ve just returned from a week in Las Palmas in The Canary Islands of Spain, don’t worry this is not trip advisor. Away from the UK my wife and I missed the Scottish referendum election and much of the ongoing horrors in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine alongside the Ebola crisis. Not that these events have gone away, even the referendum will have ramifications for months in the UK as the politicians will decide which of the bribes they proposed to the Scottish electorate will be fulfilled – oh and England, Wales and Northern Ireland may get some constitutional change too. How generous, although the argument now seems to be either: from Labour on what the impact will be on reducing the ability of Scottish Labour MPs to vote on English matters; the Conservatives need something to continue their fight with  UKIP.
Meanwhile another group of MPs continue to receive their salaries and benefits of MPs without ever attending Parliament or taking up their seats. Sinn Féin step forward no news there.

As I discussed in a previous post the whole referendum process for Scotland was anything but democratic for the rest of the UK in the end 55% of those voting which was 85.5% (thanks for bothering, but what happened to the other 15%) of the 4.3m, or 3.6m decided the future of 64m. We had the unedifying view of all the main political parties disappearing to Scotland with vague promises on DevoMax which they had all decided previously should not have been on the ballot. Promises put forward by Gordon Brown, so we can all believe those!. I think the SNP were right to describe this as a pointless halfway house if Scotland really wanted control it had to vote yes. Further devolved powers do not make us more united. Of course the independence movement failed to mention the real problem – with so much legislation decided by Brussels or other treaty obligations even an independent Scotland would not have had that much control just like Westminster does not. That was if the EU (Spain may well have vetoed), NATO (would take defence commitments) and the UN (they will take anyone) accepted applications. What about the World Bank, IMF, World Health Organisation these international institutions are all part of legislative and economic power base of the world. Would an independent Scotland have joined the European Space Agency? Perhaps it was this and the currency uncertainties that tipped the balance in favour on a no. Who knows perhaps it was the colour of the flag that appealed.

The Liberal Democrats (remember them they are still in the Coalition) have proposed a federal organisation of the UK as part of the reform. My son who has studied this stuff likes the idea. If it creates another layer of bureaucracy which the previous Labour regional assembly proposals did then I would be against. Labour wants to follow the example of London for more power to big cities but then what about those of us that do not live in big cities? Whatever happens Parliamentary reform is long overdue we should have far fewer MPs given the devolved powers already and even fewer in the Lords. Perhaps 500 MPs with devolved powers to regional parliaments and 250 in the Lords – elected please.

Meanwhile the Pope thinks World War 3 is effectively under way due to the conflicts throughout the world. Not quite; however brutal and the number of conflicts. Clearly it makes no difference to the victims whether the Pope thinks it’s a World War or not but human history is full of mostly unreported conflict. The battles in Africa seem never ending mostly based on tribal divisions made worse by the colonial false borders. There seems no easy resolution of the Syria conflict without supporting Assad, the very man the Western powers (and others) wanted removed, in order to defeat the allegedly bigger threat of ISIS, IS or ISL.

The appalling beheading on video of hostages adds to the fear element in the West allowing/forcing the politicians to act as if that one death is worse than the death from Ebola, Malaria, AIDS, or cancer. Horrific yes but so is a bomb from a coalition aircraft or a shell from an ISIS fighter. Remember those wonderful pictures of precision bombing. Someone’s son, brother, father, daughter, sister or mother has just been publicly killed. No squeamishness from western media in showing that video, but of course the victims are not journalists or aid workers. Not that we know who was in the vehicle or building alongside the fighter. The famous unverified reports beloved of BBC speak especially when dealing with sensitive subjects, must not get in trouble with the government when the next license fee discussion is under way even to the point of not reporting a story about a famous tennis player in case his view influences (only during voting day) the Scottish Referendum – really? The BBC’s efforts not to fall foul or the Electoral Commission are sometimes laughable, just like the promises of constitutional reform which we will now have to sit through.

Intolerance

After my excursion into religion last week I did think of writing on a less controversial subject like gay rights or paedophilia. This week’s headlines have been dominated by the events in Iraq whilst Ukraine nervously continues. Elsewhere the impact of missing girls in Nigeria has not gone away nor has the continued fighting in Afghanistan even if it is now local troops fighting rather than American or UK troops, or the other NATO forces that have been deployed there and shed their blood as well. As with Iraq, coalition forces will soon have departed and we can fully expect Afghanistan to return to its historical state of occasional tribal warfare. The Pakistan forces have just launched a major offensive.

All of the conflicts have one thing in common – religious intolerance. Just as my previous blog attracted some comments it does not mean I shall give up on my view in that all religions behave appallingly, given half the chance, and yes I do include Christianity in that view. This time I am not focusing on historical inaccuracies or whether the Bible say this or that or the Koran , Torah, and onward into whatever belief system or set of rules that for one reason or another the individual believes is the truth.

One thing is clear they cannot all be right, they cannot all have their version of God and religious duty. At the moment the conflict spreading from Syria to Iraq is between different branches of Islamic faith, Sunni and Shia. With perhaps the ISIS or ISIA forces another version of Sunni. Once Europe was full of competing version of Protestants and Catholics, helped by tribal rivalries amongst warring families so to see the Islamic faith fighting their wars should not be surprising.

Then we have on-going issues between in Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faiths in India.

The common factor is religion, not resources for a change. Organised religion as a proxy for the power of individuals. Whether it’s a leader in Iran, Saudi, Syria or or the never-ending fight of the Jewish faith and Arbia still seen in the battles over the future of Israel and Palestine. It was not that long ago that Hammas and Hezbolah were taking their fight onto the streets of what passes for a modern city in Palestine.

Compare and contrast these activities with more secular liberal societies. Has Western Europe become immune to religious tension. Certainly on the scale seen in other nations. The argument falls down where we have Syria and Lebanon. Both partially secular on the surface, Assad’s regime was and is oppressive but there did appear to be some religious freedom.

1960’s Lebanon was seen as a typical Mediterranean European-like city before it descended into chaos which thanks to the activities of Syria and Israel (expelling Palestinians) remains on the precipice of civil war.

What of the role of West in all this, the West a loose term for the alliance of USA and it’s allies. Falsehoods led to the second war in Iraq. The world’s moral indignation after 11th September 2001 has been lost. Instead of concentrating on fixing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iraq was attacked and Afghanistan ignored until it was too late. Just like Afghanistan was ignored after the Soviet Union left until the Taliban were firmly in charge.

Now we have nations whose idea of the rule of law is secret courts and mass surveillance of their own citizens using carefully worded statements to explain how they comply with a law. We have had secret rendition, we still have Guantanamo and even here in the UK we need the new Supreme Court to tell us whether a trial, for the first time in our legal history, can be held completely in-Camera.  Is this the freedom we believe we want. Judging by the lack of outrage ot these events I suppose it is. I looked at the Newspaper headlines today. There were more stories about the sex lives of minor celebrities and various free offers than there were about any of these issues.

Judging by the number of people who bother to vote in the UK approx 30% in the latest local and Euro polls and approx 60% in last general election. No one cares. The scandal of MP expenses rumbles on but virtually all of the MPs were returned at the last election just because they wore a particular rosette. The average MP is elected with 35% of the vote from 60% of the electorate who bother to turn out. Democracy in action but at least it’s better than a religious dictatorship, although it’s no guarantor of freedom of expression, religion or action and as for equality don’t get me started.