Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
The anniversary of the collapse of the Hong Kong Occupy movement is upon us. It’s remarkable to me that in-depth studies and understanding of the event remain few.
I’ve presented my initial views in an earlier article. These observations came hot on the heels of the final days of the movement. I covered the timeline, the distinct phases of the event and its immediate repercussions.
With time and more in-depth consideration, it's clear to me that the movement was bound to fail. And the causes of that failure are coming into sharper focus.
Benny Tai, the author of Occupy, is an intellectual - some would say pseudo-intellectual - with little political acumen. It’s evident his life experience is somewhat closeted as he operates in an academic domain. At times his ideas are fanciful and damaging to his cause.
As my earlier article asserted, Tai never had specific command or any control of Occupy. He blew the whistle to start it, then immediately lost sway. A collection of social justice warriors, half-baked action groups and listless students took over. Unsupported by any real institution, his efforts were a shambles.
With the mainstream democracy parties divided, it was never likely they’d coalesce around Tai. Nor did he have enough of a mandate to form his own party. In short, he had lukewarm partners and a motley collection of fringe groups.
In such a venture, organisational capacity is fundamental to success. A political party provides that structure, the mechanisms to mobilise people coherently. Tai had none of that. Further, the pro-democracy camp treated him with some suspicion. This attitude made them unwilling to harness their systems to his agenda. At best they supported him with marginal enthusiasm.
It's interesting that Occupy exposed the limitations and downsides of social media. Indeed, newly mobilised social groups took part in actions coordinated through social media. But if participation is to be enduring, it needs to be institutionalised. Which means the formation of political parties.
Social media had great success in getting the people out there, working well in a rush to the streets. Beyond that, it starts to break down as a tool of coordination because too many actors have an input. Diluted, twisted or flipped messages overwhelm the recipients. The resulting confusion causes disillusion.
Occupy affirmed this phenomenon. Social media helped drive the ‘contagion effect’ by awakening people - it’s instant and in your face. Images of tear smoke and riot police flooded out. People galvanised by this scene got off their backsides. Then the moment passes. The energy decreases, as serious consideration of the issues must take place. That’s when social media displays its drawbacks. Not able to handle the detail of political discourse, with all its nuances and subtle messages. It's an echo chamber. To attain genuine understanding, to help resolve issues deep contemplation must take place.
The Occupy people sought to address this by holding briefing sessions and meetings. Again, without the discipline of an organisation, these events spiralled out of control. Most descended into shouting sessions with the more aggressive elements storming the stage. It all pointed to the disunity of the pan-democrats cohort.
Tai was right about one thing. History has taught us that economic growth leads to social mobilisation. As people prosper, their aspirations change. In turn, this leads to a higher demand for the rule of law and a say in the way things get run. Usually, that’s a call for greater democracy.
At the same time, the traditional elites that dominate try to block entry by the newer groups. We’ve seen that in Hong Kong. The business community, who held sway under the colonial rulers, were co-opted post-1997. Beijing harnessed their knowledge. Through their direct power and behind the scenes influence, they held off broader participation by newer groups.
We know that the incorporation of newer groups into the system and taking part in politics brings stability as the norm. If not, disorder, hatred and instability may arise. The recent shenanigans in our quasi-parliament are emblematic of that. Repeated quorum calls and filibustering are a manifestation of feeling exclusion.
In the context of Hong Kong politics, many lines of influence operate. Sitting above the rest is Beijing. It's inescapable that Beijing has genuine concerns that shape its policy to Hong Kong. These apprehensions impact political development. Unfortunately, the pan-democrats haven’t acted to assuage Beijing. In fact, the opposite. They have at times signalled an intent to overthrow the CCP. As might be expected, Beijing is less than pleased.
Beijing’s bottom lines are clear; no moves towards independence, no attempts to destabilise the Mainland and don’t make Hong Kong a base for subversion. The pan-democratic forces have stepped into each of these realms at various times. No wonder Beijing views them with deep suspicion. Especially when they run off to Washington proclaiming the demise of Hong Kong.
The genuinely accountable government, which we all seek, arises when principles get recognised across society. That includes that opposition is legitimate. In Hong Kong, you see a reluctance by officials to embrace such ideas. Being accountable for their actions is an anathema. Its routine to fail to provide adequate answers or information. Frequently they fall back on confidentiality as they mitigate efforts to explain their actions.
It is thus fortunate that Hong Kong still has a strong pillar of support in the rule of law. This provides a buttress against the excesses of government by holding it to process and legal provisions. Should the rule of law lapse, Hong Kong’s position would be precarious.
Had Tai taken more time to study he would have seen that throughout history democracy never arrived in a neat package nor as a certainty. The process of getting there was messy, sequential, with stalemate at times and reversals. Its appropriate to view Occupy in that context. Another step in the direction, although futile in itself.
Three years on from Occupy, Hong Kong remains a divided society. That is perhaps the one important legacy of that period. Diverse political views continue to be debated with freedom of speech still prevalent. Except for talk of independence, I’ve never heard any Beijing official suggest you can’t say certain things.
It’s worth remembering that in many Western nations there are limits on what people can say. For example, in Germany denying the holocaust is a crime. In the UK making comments suggesting a particular ethnic group is lazy or work shy may constitute an offence. All nations have issues that trigger a comeback. For China its independence or separation of its territories.
As regards the future, in most societies it's seen that the middle class are essential players in the drive for democracy. The emergence of a middle class, with their desire for influence, has proven a catalyst force. In Hong Kong, the middle class are inconsistent democrats. They remain constrained by a degree of nationalism, and fear for the economic consequences of full democracy.
Feeding the fear is the failure of the western democracies. With electors expectations ignored in a stagnating economy, democracy looks a poor choice. China meanwhile dooms under a non-democrat system. Layered atop that is an understanding that democracy got hijacked by wealthy vested interests. This is especially so in the US, where the few benefit. Thus, they consent to an authoritarian regime with a proven track record of prosperity.
In its first bloom, Tai’s Occupy movement was primarily a student-driven initiative. The middle classes took an interest, but never wholeheartedly embraced it. Then once the police adopted a low profile approach, the movement waned and collapsed.
It was inevitable that a few radicalised elements would spin off. Some of these people have spouted the fantasy of independence for Hong Kong. This, in turn, has created greater suspicions on Beijing’s part.
Meanwhile, the moderate pan-democrats are fearful of moving into conciliatory space. Some of the astute pan-democrats recognise that concessions must happen. Both sides need to give something if Hong Kong is to progress. They are afraid that the radicals will tarnish them. Thus, they dare not move.
The momentum that Occupy had dissipated itself. It's not coming back. Pivotal figures like Joshua Wong are facing more jail time as he fights various legal charges. Distracted and as fragmented as ever, the Democrat forces are their own worst enemy.
Occupy failed because it never had substantial middle-class support; then it overstayed its welcome before descending into violence. Despite the rhetoric of the occupiers, who like old-soldiers relive the moment, you can see the movement has dissipated and is unlikely to return.
“I don’t like Mondays”, and most people don’t like hypocrites. Last week, the raggedy Irish man affirmed his place on the podium of sanctimonious champions. In a fit of pique, Sir Bob Geldof returned his Dublin Freedom medal. This announcement was another remarkable performance of virtue signalling.
Geldof asserts he no longer wants to be a recipient of the award, as it was an honour he shared with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Laureate has come under criticism after a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim's resulted in over 600,000 refugees. Suu Kyi has held her silence on this matter. By doing so, she has earned her a reputation as "one of the great ethnic cleansers", according to Geldof. He even went so far as to call her “a handmaiden to genocide.”
Now, granted, Suu Kyi hasn’t covered herself with glory nor has she moved with any urgency to address the terrible Rohingya crisis. But gestures by Sir Bob are nothing more than demands for attention. The world was already well-aware of the unfolding events in Myanmar, through international news coverage. It’s evident that Sir Bob saw an opportunity to get some exposure, so in he jumps in … “look at me, I’m angry and giving back a petty trophy.”
The same Sir Bob who pops up on TV and radio telling us how we should give money to that and this cause. Since his Live-Aid event in the 1980s, Sir Bob has spent his time polishing a reputation as the patron saint of the hungry and starving. And yet, he’s not so keen to discuss his financial affairs. He gets especially touchy about his dodgy tax arrangements and does not take kindly to questioning. In 2014, a Sky TV reporter suggested that charity wouldn’t be necessary if folks like Sir Bob paid their taxes. With his usual eloquence, Sir Bob responded “Bollocks.”
Sir Bob needs reminding that his celebrity world and charities, depend on a workforce trained by a state education system, and kept healthy by state healthcare. They depend on state-funded infrastructure such as roads and transport, a bailed-out financial community and the apparatus of law and order that protects him and his property. By not paying his fair share of taxes, the workforce is required to pay more for Sir Bob’s charmed existence. No matter how you cut it, tax avoidance is theft, regardless of what any self-appointed social warrior has to say.
A 2006 report suggested that Geldof could avoid as much a £1.4 million in taxes on his properties because of his non-Dom status. There is nothing illegal in this. However, it sits somewhat incongruous against his public platform of encouraging aid.
It’s doubly ironic that Geldof makes this move while proudly retaining his Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. If Suu Kyi’s actions or lack of them are a concern, then what about the shameful record of British imperialism across the globe. Geldof delighted in receiving an honorific from the Brits with the words ‘British Empire’ prominent. Setting aside the farce of a medal named after an empire that ceased to exist decades ago, Sir Bob has conveniently sidestepped a lot of the history.
That includes the industrial-scale exploitation of natural resources, the slave trade, the massacres, the concentration camps, the destruction of nations and national treasures. Sir Bob is apparently comfortable to be associated with that stuff.
After his Dublin stunt, people can legitimately ask why he cherry picks these positions. Some hint that his prime concern is publicity; both for the events in Myanmar and himself. Although, that doesn’t hold up given the press coverage already on the issue. Geldof can rightly claim that he brought the famine in Ethiopia to our attention. Myanmar needed no such initiative.
And while we are on the subject of Ethiopia, Sir Bob has never given a full explanation regarding the money collected during Live-Aid. There are many experts familiar with the events of 1984 in Ethiopia, who assert the money was diverted to purchase weapons. Either Geldof was naive or negligent in his dealings with the Ethiopian government.
Well recognised international groups such a Medicins Sans Frontieres pleaded with Geldof to hold off handing over any money until the proper infrastructure was in place. This approach would ensure the money reached the people who needed aid. This advice and the pleading got ignored. The cash flowed into the country, and then some went out again to buy weapons. Unpalatable as it is, Live Aid in its initial rush to help, probably made things worse.
Some commentators note that in 1984 Geldof was penniless. By the early 1990s, he appeared on the Times rich list. Idle speculation that Geldof profited personally from Live-Aid seems untrue. He did, however, have some successful commercial ventures including developing a successful TV show. I don’t subscribe to the idea that Geldof skimmed cash off Live-Aid for his pocket. That doesn’t change the fact that the money raised caused adverse consequences. Aid expert David Rieff argued that guilt-stricken donations helped fund a brutal resettlement programme that may have killed up to 100,000.
In his first iteration, its evident that Geldof was motivated by a genuine desire to help. He stepped forward, got things moving, although he didn’t understand the quagmire of Ethiopia would derail his laudable intentions. Fact: getting a nation out of starvation and functioning is no simple task. Indeed, one single concert isn't going to help especially when the money disappears in the wrong direction.
Sir Bob hit on a winning formula, that he’s since milked with relentless zeal. He created a new prototype for celebrities to gain attention through charitable activities as a whole industry of sub-Aids flourished under Sir Bob’s supervision.
A word of guidance. Geldof would be more credible if he dropped his ‘non-domicile for tax purposes’ and started chipping in to keep the country running. Then the UK might have more cash to hand out to properly targeted aid efforts. After all, Sir Bob’s ventures have had questionable benefits at best, and negative outcomes at worst. It’s enough to make that silicon chip inside your head overload.
Ok, so let's be honest, the dog is not mine. It belongs to my daughter, although I get visitation rights and walk him at least once a week. I’ve noticed that these walks produce odd behaviours in my fellow humans. They stop and talk to me.
Walking alone, without Buddy, I’ll get the occasional ‘Good morning’, but that’s it. The majority of folks pass on, going about their exercise, listening to music or chatting. With Buddy skipping along besides me, I get automatic status as a nice guy, and people tell you stuff. It usually starts with the questions … “What his name?” and “Is he a rescue?”.
A reply of “Yes” always gets a reaction. Thus, it unfolds. This week, an old chap gave me the history of his cancer, details of family health, then a discourse on fitness. I’ve had ladies tell of marriage problems, including one who left her husband because “the bastard didn’t like the dog.”
Now, Buddy is a handsome specimen for a rescue dog. A poodle mix with a waddling gait, he’s a floppy eared crowd pleaser. Size is a factor. He’s not too small, and not too big to intimidate. His manner is ‘give me a tummy rub and now’. An animal demanding attention and affection, brings out the best in people. There is a message of hope for humankind in that.
Buddy’s powers extend to business meetings. My daughter takes him to work a couple of days a month. He’s adapted well to the environment, opening the day moving around the office. His winning ways pay off with prospective clients, as he flops in their lap during negotiations. The atmosphere usually flips as he arrives, tensions lift, and deals get done. Not everyone reacts well. One client proved uncomfortable. Anyway, it was decided not to do business with her. Buddy had sniffed out a tricky prospect.
I shouldn't have a surprise at these occurrences. The power of dogs to impact human emotions, affect health and trigger other effects is well-documented. The value of dogs for physical and psychological human health has interested academics for decades. Much of the recent focus is on the role of dogs as early warning systems for human disease.
The notion that dogs help keep us well is not new. For instance, a 1992, study of 5,741 people attending screening for heart disease, discovered that the risk factors were lower for dog owners. Particularly for males. Then, research in 1996 established that dog owners have lower levels of serum triglycerides. High levels are associated with increased risk for heart attack. Across a wide range of factors, dog ownership is beneficial to health.
Then you have the finding that dogs help people recover quicker from ill-health. Dog owners were 8.6 times more likely to still be alive one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog. Sorry to say that the cat owners are more likely to have died in that one year.
The question is how does Buddy protect me from a heart attack? It’s believed many mechanisms are at play. Dogs may, for example, promote their owners’ psychological health. Dogs also shield their owners from stress, one of the risk factors associated with ill-health. In studies, the act of stroking a dog causes a decrease in human blood pressure and heart rate. That’s a good thing.
Increased physical activity accompanies ownership of a dog. The relationship between physical fitness and physiological well-being is well established. Thus, by getting you out on walks, the dog improves your fitness, which in turn enhances your mood. Double bonus there. Then, with Buddy generating people interactions, I get the benefit of social contact. That’s something we all seek.
Things get interesting when you consider the role of dogs in detecting human diseases. That some dogs can detect cancer is not surprising given their acute sense of smell. Tumors produce odorous toxins, which emerge through sweat glands and urine.
Individual dogs may be able to sense oncoming epileptic seizures in humans. Until recently, that idea seemed daft. Recent work has shown that some dogs can indeed detect the seizures. Moreover, trained dogs track their human owners for signs of an imminent attack. When they discover something, barking or pawing prompts medical help. Although, we don’t know how the dog knows an attack is coming.
Dog-based therapy schemes are well-established in prisons, medical facilities and old folks homes. Again, the dogs enhance psychological welfare with remarkable results attained in rehabilitating offenders.
And yes, dogs do make you more attractive. Academics surveyed 1,000 Americans to see how men and women perceived the opposite sex according to the type of pet that they owned.
Across the board, people found members of the opposite sex more attractive if they owned any pet. The only exception was cats. These made women less attractive to men. On the flip side, men who had a puppy were found to be a staggering 23.8% more sexy by women. Pet ownership appeared to show trustworthiness and compassion. Both genders’ perception of scariness, was increased by cat ownership. Bad news for the cat ladies.
Dogs do so much for us. They hunt, fight, guard, and find us when we go missing. They detect crime, spot diseases while allowing blind people to lead a fuller life. Amongst their many talents, the ability of dogs to socialise with us and ease our interaction with others is remarkable. In a stressful world, with constant pressures, that is their most significant skill.
With Donald Trump at the pinnacle of the nuclear decision tree, serious questions arise. He is quick to decisions, with gut instincts overriding rational debate or thought. Moreover, his mental make-up dwells on image and hubris - with a bit of riling could he take action.
We know that snap-decisions are far from optimal, especially when the unforeseen combines with long-term consequences. The use of nuclear weapons tops that list. Rushing a decision to incinerate millions of men, women and children is the most immoral of acts. Add to that environmental impact, with repercussions that would linger for centuries.
Some would argue that Trump is a rational player - that may be. Nonetheless, his behaviour is quirky, with child-like qualities coupled with blissful ignorance. That’s a cause for concern.
The good news is this; Trump alone could not start a nuclear holocaust. Moreover, there is no 'button' for him to press in a fit of pique. This week reassuring words came from the former head of the US Strategic Command. General Robert Kehler, (USAF Ret) gave evidence to the US Senate on November 14th. Keller is the guy who could execute the President's order to fire the nukes. What he had to say is profound. He affirmed that nuclear weapons are under political control, while the military executes the task. And yet, there are checks and balances in the process that limit the president.
It's important to understand that the US command and control system envisaged a worst-case scenario. In essence, this meant inbound nuclear warheads with only minutes to respond. A failure to act could destroy US missiles blunting a riposte. Thus, the hair-trigger alert evolved. For that system to work, one person has the formidable task of deciding to launch. That is the president.
In whole, the aptly named concept of MAD, mutually assured destruction, underpinned a threatening stalemate. You attack me, and I’ll get an attack underway to you before its too late. Alas, the reality of any system is that something could fail. In this instance, the competence of the president is the overriding concern.
Trump's statements over North Korea suggest he’s considering to use nuclear weapons. These comments unsettled many, both in the US and abroad. Stoking the tension with such rhetoric can be counter-productive. We know that bluster, harsh words and threats are all part of Trump’s repertoire. Then throw nuclear weapons into the equation, plus a North Korea that feels threatened. A volatile mix.
Since its creation, the nuclear bomb had a special status amongst weapons. Unlike other systems, the civilian authorities have insisted on absolute control.
President Truman made it clear "This is not a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children. Thus we have to treat this thing differently from rifles, and cannons.”
Over the years things have changed. With the finish of the Cold War, the US moved into a less aggressive nuclear posture. Nuclear bombers are no longer on alert, armed with weapons and ready to go. These systems would take days to activate in anticipation of an escalating situation. An immediate response now rests on submarines skulking around the oceans.
Kehler asserted that officers follow the ‘uniform code of military justice’. This code means acting on orders, provided these are legal and from the appropriate authority. Besides, officers are duty bound to verify authenticity and ignore illegal instructions. As the directive to use nuclear weapons proceeds through the chain of command, checks are in place at each stage.
The movies have a lot to answer for. The impression that the president can call forward the guy with the 'football' - actually a satchel - to start a nuclear launch is mistaken.
What happens is this; the President authenticates himself over a secure line. Then the military aide keys in the codes and target choices. Next, a second person, either the Vice-President or Secretary of Defense must authenticate. Then, and only then, does the 'emergency action message' flash out to the nuclear forces telling them to go.
Hence, Trump needs either the Vice-President or Secretary of Defence to agree. Besides, the president's cabinet can take away his authority to launch if 51% vote against him.
The evidence to the Senate, while not specific, indicated that the use of nuclear weapons involved consultation. Then a process of assessment and review between civilian and military leaders. Moreover, and most reassuring, the military does not blindly follow orders. The legal consideration of 'proportionality', means the military can opt to ignore the president's instructions. All the discussion that Trump alone could push through a nuclear strike is redundant.
This is history repeating itself. Similar concerns arose with President Nixon. In 1969, a US spy plane was shot down by North Korea over the Sea of Japan. As a result, 31 Americans died. Nixon became incensed, ordering a nuclear attack. The alerted Joint Chiefs of Staff delayed by asking for a specific targeting list from Nixon. Then Kissinger intervened. He directed no action until the morning "when Nixon sobers up."
That's not to say there aren't risks. Accidents, faulty intelligence and reduced maintenance, are the real threat with nuclear weapons. Close calls are well documented in the West, although not so much in Russia and China. For a full list of known incidents check here.
Hindsight is always 20/20. From each incident lessons are learnt, procedures changed. That's all well and good, except with nuclear weapons one slip is one too many. Further, the most mundane of situations can yield destruction.
Even pure clumsiness during a repair has far-reaching impact. That’s what happened on September 18, 1980, at Little Rock Air Force Base complex 374-7. A dropped socket wrench pierced a Titan II missile skin causing a fuel leak. An explosion then catapulted the 740-ton silo door skyward, in the process ejecting the warhead. This landed near the compound gate. It's fortunate that the warheads safety systems worked.
On January 24, 1961, the US bombed itself. A B-52 midair explosion highlighted the risks of flying nuclear weapons around on planes in peacetime. As the B-52 broke up, five crewmen parachuted out, while the rest of the crew perished. Two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs fell from the wreckage. One went into free-fall, burying itself 55 feet below a farmers field. It remains there to this day.
The second bomb started its arming procedures. It charged capacitors and then deployed a parachute to slow the descent. Only a single $5- switch prevented the final stage of arming. Had the bomb landed with force, it’s speculated the switch could actuate the firing.
Then you’ve got the challenge of technology producing false or confusing signals. On 26th September 1983, the computers at a Soviet command centre began reporting a missile attack by the US on Russia. Protocols demanded that Soviet missiles be launched immediately in response. This was three weeks after the Soviets had shot down a Korean airliner. Tensions were high.
Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, the duty officer, broke with procedures and waited. The system indicated five missiles inbound, which struck Petrov as odd. He'd expect a massive attack; thus five rockets didn’t make sense. He waited. After some 20 minutes, the signals disappeared. Later the cause was identified. High attitude sunlight reflection off clouds created false signals in the Russian detection satellites. The Soviets reprimanded Petrov, although he prevented a disaster of epic proportions.
Much mythology surrounds the use of nuclear weapons. Also a lot of free and ill-informed comment. Hillary Clinton made a great play on Trump's unsuitability for access to the nuclear button. She, of all people, should have known the button does not exist.
It’s an accident, error or misunderstanding that will trigger a nuclear attack. Not the mad president scenario.
A recent spat in the vitriol-filled columns of the South China Morning Post raised doubts about the readiness of the UK military. These statements prompted my research. This verified some of the claims, revealing a litany of poor decisions and waste. Most horrifying is the fact that troops had to fight with shoddy kit, unfit for purpose, in pointless wars.
History has taught us that trouble can come from unexpected sources. Catching nations unaware. The military has a pivotal role to play when things get nasty. Thus, it is disturbing to see the shambolic readiness of Her Majesties armed forces.
As things stand, the army has around 83,000 personnel. And that includes the reserves. Retention rates are getting worst, as soldiers leave for the less demanding civilian world. Attempts to massage the figures border on the desperate.
In the latest jolly wheeze, reserve soldiers get cited as trained having fired ten rounds on a 25 m range. Even if the soldier fails the fitness test, he still passes muster. All he needs to do is promise to come back later for another go. For reference purposes, the United States Marine Corp has around 185,000 active members plus some 38,500 reserves.
The Brylcreem boys are doing no better. The RAF is cut to six squadrons of frontline planes. At times defending UK airspace are no more than two interceptors. Should an enemy arrive in numbers, a response may well prove impossible to mount. For the moment, there are few operational bombers and no submarine hunting planes. That’s a concern for a maritime nation.
The late arrival of the expensive F- 35 Lightning is getting loads of publicity. At £70m a pop this is a lavish bit of kit. Unfortunately, reports suggest it's not all chocks away. Technical issues blight the plane, while its ability to fight is now in question. In recent runoffs against a Typhoon, the F- 35 lost every time. Pilots cite its low payload and lack of endurance. It would appear that its trumpeted capabilities are untested beyond computer simulations. Real-world conditions are taking their toll on this fancy box of tricks. Although, it yet may prove itself, the omens are not promising.
The RAF has taken delivery of 11 airframes to date, as it builds up a squadron. Currently, the RAF has on its books 143 Typhoons and 138 ageing Tornado jets. That only tells part of the story. 33 of the Tornados are not available for service. These await cannibalisation for spare parts. Meanwhile, over a quarter of the Typhoons are offline in the ‘sustainable’ fleet. In effect, this means the planes are moth-balled. Most of the Chinook fleet of helicopters, so crucial to trooping, also sits idle. How long it would take to activate this kit is not known. Some of the Chinooks have not flown for 20 years.
In the long run, drones provide a better option. These are not sexy as out goes the fly-boy image. Drones do the job, are cheaper to operate; have greater range, can loiter longer over targets, and are expendable. When it goes wrong, no pilot is at risk. Those who argue against drones suggest having a human see the target avoids civilian casualties. In reality, pilots are sitting thousands of feet away and using technology to see the hit point. It’s no different for a drone operator.
Anyway, evidence from recent operations points to mounting civilian casualties. It doesn't matter whether a drone or manned plane hits the target, innocents still get killed.
Should a large-scale conflict break out, the tempo of operations escalates. In no time the demands on equipment are extreme. Maintenance commitments for fancy kit and operational losses soon take a toll. At the height of the Battle of Britain, it was not unusual to have losses of 20 planes a day. Now, granted, warfare has changed. Nonetheless, we couldn’t sustain a campaign of that nature beyond a week. And can anyone say for sure a war of attrition would not occur?
The saga of the Type 45 destroyers points to failings in the Royal Navy. In mid-2016 all six Type 45s docked in Portsmouth. So what was the issue? Well, it appears the Type 45 doesn’t work at sea. The complex systems failed when powered up, as the engines couldn’t generate enough power. Plugged into the mains supply in port, it's all fine and dandy. Put to sea, turn on the systems... kaput.
The Type 45 warships got built in ‘blocks’ in different shipyards. The ‘blocks’ are then brought together for assembly of a whole ship. Unfortunately, the bits didn’t fit together. Misaligned pipes and hydraulics systems meant fitting patches. The result is piping under tension, storing energy, which could be released in rough seas. Whether this or lack of power curtailed the effectiveness of the Type 45s is unknown.
In April 2016, Type 45, HMS Dauntless was removed from active service until at least 2019. Her official status is ‘engineering training ship’ pending a refit. Why a ship commissioned in 2010, needs such a lengthy refit raises questions.
To add to the challenges, the navy failed to recruit enough sailors to operate all six Type 45s. Of course, BAE systems, who built the ships, is being paid to maintain them. Another cracking deal.
The Royal Navy has a track record of putting vessels into service with untested systems. HMS Ambush, an attack sub, was portrayed as the most advanced vessel in its class. Its sonar could detect targets thousands of miles away. Well, that's what the PR boys spouted. Then Ambush hit a huge and noisy tanker in the Med. The sonar and a fancy new periscope failed to see it. A lack of training and testing all contributed to this incident. Lucky no one got killed.
Next, we have the dozy decision to build two aircraft-carriers. The first "Big Lizzie” is stealing crews from other Navy ships because of a lack of recruits. Now the name ‘aircraft-carrier’ suggests “Big Lizzie” will have planes. Doh, no! There aren’t any currently available. The F-35 Lightning II is not online yet for carrier operations. Thus, the carrier is nothing more than a fancy ornament.
But, don’t panic here comes the cavalry. The US Marine Corp will use “Big Lizzie” for their operations. Of course, at the same time, our boys will get some training.
Adding to all the uncertainty is the survivability of carriers during a conflict. Supersonic missiles, approaching on a ballistic trajectory, mean current defences won’t work. Yet, vainglory Admirals love carriers. Big and flashy. Thus, you get to pretend you are a proper navy. The American carriers enjoy a large force of screening craft offering protection. Britain has no such capability.
Britain also has no airborne submarine hunting capability. Interesting fact; the UK donates £200m a year to India in foreign aid. That's about the amount of money needed to sustain a submarine hunting response. By the way, India has a fleet of submarine-hunting aircraft to protect its waters.
Inappropriate kit and bad decisions have consequences. In the early 2000s, at least 37 British soldiers died because of the failure to give them protection. In Afghanistan, the Brits drove around exposing themselves to roadside IEDs. Other nations trooped by air, thereby avoiding the IEDs. British helicopters were not available. Inter-service rivalry stalled a consensus on the type of helicopter needed. Then the Chinooks arrived late and went into storage.
Likewise, the use of the Snatch Land Rover meant troops had no protection against blast. In a self-serving myth, the generals sought to deflect blame for that to the politicians. It's true the politicians played a role. It's also true that senior military commanders made a mess of things. They failed to see new threats, then pursued personal and service agendas. They sent troops into the field with sub-standard kit and cannot escape blame.
The military loves to boast about its ability to respond to natural disasters. Much of its recruitment publicity material pivots around this role. Again, the truth is dismaying. Amid the destruction caused by Hurricane Irina in the Caribbean, British military efforts proved lacklustre.
Only one helicopter was available. The Lynx Wildcat has a limited lift load of 1,480kg. That compares with a Chinook, which can lift 8,600 kg. As the Royal Navy struggled to help, a dozen Chinooks sat mothballed in the UK. As a consequence British subjects were left to struggle for weeks. On adjacent islands, under French jurisdiction, the recovery was swift.
Short-sighted thinking and bright ideas have blighted the RAF in recent years. 14 Airbus planes were acquired for air-to-air refuelling and troop transportation. The smart part is the planes can be rented to civilian operators when not needed by the RAF. As usual these days, a private finance agreement managed the project. All good? Except the planes cannot refuel all types of RAF planes. To accommodate civilian use, the planes omitted the rigid refuelling boom system.
The partners in this deal is the AirTanker consortium. It stands to make a profit even if the RAF doesn't use the planes. Plus, if the RAF opts to deploy another contractor for moving troops, AirTanker can claim as much as £8,000 per flight. What a deal! In summary, the RAF has acquired tankers it can't use in all scenarios, and it pays for not using them.
AirTankers main competition comes from a company operating with Lockheed Tristar air-refuelling aircraft. These planes can handle all types of refuelling. Why’s that? These are former RAF aircraft sold off in 2014. If the RAF opt to employ their old tankers, they need to compensate AirTanker. Figure that one.
Finally, Britain prides itself on being a member of the nuclear club. That status buys it a place at the UN’s top table. It gets to play with the big boys, despite being a small island nation. Unfortunately, Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is not as independent as we thought.
In June 2016, during a test firing of a missile from HMS Vengeance, something went wrong. After leaving the sub, the rocket flew off course. Never a good thing for a nuclear missile, although this one had a mock warhead. The US military contractor then destroyed it. Yes, the US military had control of the missile in flight. This incident revealed British nuclear weapons pass their telemetry through US systems. This event was on a range under test conditions, yet it prompts many questions.
The nuclear missiles are US manufactured, maintained and leased to Britain. Thus, the whole system is dependent on the US. France has an independent nuclear system, as does North Korea. The UK has a borrowed system. As long as the Yanks is well disposed the United Kingdom, that should be fine right? Questions about the extent of US control of Britains nuclear arsenal remain unresolved. With Donald Trump in the Whitehouse who’s worried?
As a side issue, Vengeance and her sister Vanguard boats all operate on Windows XP. Anyone who runs XP knows its limitations. Recent cyber attacks must be raising red flags.
Britain is not unique in generating hubris around its military forces. Passed down the generations are tales of individual acts of heroism and robust actions. Of concern though is that myths sometimes hide facts. And these truths can be unsettling.
Yes, we stood alone for a year against Nazi Germany. Although attrition ultimately won the war, with the Russians paying the price. The Allies aided by an endless supply of US material. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the audacious Falklands campaign was a close run thing. Had the Argentinians held out for another week, the British Forces faced exhaustion of their supplies. Victory hung on thread.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, notable failures raised doubts. The death toll of 453 in Afghanistan achieved nothing. Individual British soldiers fought with tenacity throughout the war, yet this effort was all for nothing. Let down by inferior equipment, inadequate training, and no clear mission. Layed atop this, bad strategic leadership.
In Basra, British troops got caught up in a vicious civil war that they couldn’t comprehend nor hope to control. In truth, the soldiers were there so the politicians could maintain a visceral relationship with the US. In the end, the British military had to hand over to the US and pull out. Inappropriate tactics, the lack of body armour, all contributed to what was a defeat.
Which brings us to 2017. Britain’s defences are rickety at best; not fit for purpose at worst. Poor choices made by military leaders, a lack of numbers coupled with slipping standards, mean a degraded fighting ability. Instead of focusing on the basics, grand projects attract all the attention and funding. A carrier is about power-projection, and there’s the issue. Britain is seeking to create the impression its still a big player on the world stage.
With Brexit looming, the economics of maintaining fancy military projects is looking dodgy. Some tough decisions are needed. For now, the Ministry of Defence is busy selling off military real estate to generate funds. But that’s a one-off shot of cash. Once sold the land is lost forever. The panglossian statements of the ever-efficient military PR machine can’t hide those brutal truths.
I’d suggest getting back to basics. Britain needs to recognise its no longer a mini-superpower. Then, it can move to configure its military forces for protecting the nation. Instead of getting involved in futile overseas wars.
Lastly, the young men and women who are in harm's way deserve the best kit and systems. They also deserve better leaders, both political and military. I am sorry to say there is abundant evidence that aren’t happening.
Brian is having a tough year. This summer marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Harrods. Overindulgent media coverage brought back memories of the worst of his days. Forced to relive the moment when his reputation was in the toilet, his response was more morose than usual.
The tantrums he throws when he doesn't get his way don't go unnoticed. That’s why he couldn’t handle Diana. She refused to compromise, then outmanoeuvred him in the media. He was lost and looked it.
This summer events also brought into focus the future status of Fag Ash Lil, Brian’s consort. He appears determined that she get a proper title, when and if, he becomes King. Shame that the public has formed a different opinion. It's not as if there aren't enough signs out there of his unpopularity. Plus, he's had loads of time to think things over. After all, his primary job is waiting and hanging about.
Just as the summer nonsense was retreating, along came the Paradise papers. This massive data leak revealed exciting things, including Brian’s shifty investments. In 2007, the minions who look after Brian's money invested $ 113,500 in a company called Sustainable Forest Management. This company operates a cunning wheeze of trading carbon credits. Basically, you pay to pollute. No problem, nothing illegal.
Except, in the meantime, Brian is busy lobbying for a relaxation of the regulations on carbon trading. The practice is frowned upon by many as encouraging pollution. It wouldn't be the first time Brian has stumbled in his lame efforts to be an eco-warrior. Riding around in noisy gas-guzzling helicopters doesn't help the planet or his image.
Anyway, the Kyoto Protocol and EU emission standards rule out trading. That didn't stop Brian. He attacked the regulations in speeches and by bending the ear of ministers.
Brian has a habit of overstepping the mark. His so-called ‘black spider letters’ to ministers vented his views on various issues. Of course, Brian is not seeking any personal gain according to his defenders. Despite that sentiment, he managed to triple his investment since 2007-08. His mouthpieces claim no direct involvement or connection between these investments and lobbying. That is, er, bollocks my Lord. Fortunately, his lobbying efforts failed as carbon credit trading remains regulated.
Most of us are will accept some of Brian's antics if he had the decency to acknowledge his transgressions. Further, insulting our intelligence doesn't endear him to the public. Layered atop this episode is the non-transparent arrangement that surrounds Brian’s estate. The so-called ‘Duchy of Cornwall' is the archaic entity that runs his money-spinning schemes.
In 2013, the estate received heavy criticism for under the table property deals. Whether tax was due on these transactions is debatable. But, we’ll never know because Brian sought and obtained a confidentiality clause. When a Labour lord suggested reforms, pushing a private member's bills, Brian called him a ‘nutter.' This response unmasks his false edifice of amelioration.
In general, its recognised that Brian is out of touch. He's not a popular figure. The Diana saga did his image terrible damage, with any rehabilitation only partial. His PR team got overhauled in 2002 on the alleged orders of Brenda. She grew concerned that Brian’s low ratings reflected on the whole firm. A new group moved in.
Over the years they have had some success in recovering lost ground. Although there is still a mountain to climb. A large part of the British public remains ambivalent towards Fag Ash Lil.
Personally, I favour the Royal family. As I’ve said elsewhere, the institution has the utility of anchoring the nation. That said, there are limits, which Brian is testing.
The Queen is inscrutable. This trait is one of the significant achievements of her reign, which gives the throne a mystical air. By not commenting or speaking, she projects an image that sits well with the public. Yet, Brian’s refusal to shut up exposes him to mocking ridicule. Both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher had cause to complain. His unwelcome interference in the business of Parliament raised heckles. After one ill-advised intervention, Thatcher told him "I run this country not you, sir.” Undeterred, he continues to offer his pseudo-intellectual arguments.
He lectures people on the need to cut back while residing in a massive estate in extreme luxury. Stories that he travels with a white leather toilet seat are entertaining. He extols the virtues of a low carbon existence, then flies around in a private jet. God forbid, he has to go first-class on a commercial flight; be prepared for the spoilt child routine. In short, he's a hypocrite.
Throughout his life, he's had privileges beyond belief. An admission to Trinity College, Cambridge, despite sub-par academic results. His final grade was a ‘Desmond’ (2:2) - a lower second-class degree. At least he can claim kudos for being the first Royal to secure a degree.
By all accounts, he had a lacklustre navel career. Shuttled between jobs, he landed a simple command. Reports suggest he led a robust, selected crew, so that he didn’t have to overthink or make too many decisions. His sea-sickness distracted him when underway. In port he was fine, not so much at sea. That's something of an issue for a naval commander.
Once Brenda goes there is some doubt that the public will remain as well favoured to the Royals. I envisage increased calls for change, and some restraints on Brian’s conduct.
I suppose the problem is this. He's a bored bloke, and he has no proper job. Surrounded by flunkies, who indulge his feckless ideas, Brian get dilutions. He assumes that he can contribute something useful. Then reality intervenes.
Brian's speeches can be most illustrative. In 2002 he asserted he was on the planet “ to heal the dismembered landscape and the poisoned soul?” He went on "so the temple of our humanity can be lit by a sacred flame.” O, dear!
I wonder if he knows the Italian press call him "II Tampaccino.” The British are more temperate and delicate. One conservative columnist recently wrote “He possesses a strong sense of duty. Might not it be best expressed by renouncing the throne in advance?”. Here, here.
It started as a ripple; a ripple that began in Hollywood. In October the US media reported that dozens of women alleged film producer Harvey Weinstein had committed indecent assaults, sexual harassment and rape. Then more ladies came forward. The ripple was gaining momentum, and becoming a wave.
Weinstein fought to fend off the allegations. He was soon in deep water, then drowning. With 80 accusers, active police investigations, Weinstein can’t tread water for much longer. The wave swept on. It flipped Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck and others, as it gathered speed.
Then it crossed the Atlantic, crashing with tidal force on the shores of Parliament. Female staffers, clerical staff and journalists came forward with allegations against male MPs. Then 36 Tories are identified in a leaked spreadsheet that exposes a range of behaviours. Some of it innocuous, some of it awful. It’s apparent the Tories had this information for some time, perhaps years, and have sat on it. More on that later.
Not to be outdone, the Labour Party veteran MP Kelvin Hopkins was accused of sexual harassment by a young party worker. The victim claims to have told Jeremy Corbyn’s office over a year ago. Nothing happened. One lady reported her MP abuser four times before her claims got the attention deserved.
And what has been the response. A veteran Conservative MP has warned that the Westminster sexual harassment scandal is turning into a “witch hunt”.
Sir Roger Gale said it was difficult to refute claims about alleged incidents that happened years ago. The MP for North Thanet urged people “not to rush to judgement”. Meanwhile, his colleagues are working on a defence for one accused. His victim probably mistook the touch of the tablecloth for his alleged fumbling with her leg.
With attitudes like that, how can you expect victims to come forward to reveal the truth? Let's not forget MPs have used the media to attack their accusers.
Micheal Fallon was forced to resign as Minister for Defence in part due to an allegation of lewd conduct towards a fellow female Conservative MP. Fallon sought to justify his action by saying what was acceptable 15 years ago is not acceptable now. Really! Was it acceptable 15 years ago to grope ladies? Does Fallon believe that was the case? If so, we have a broader problem than imagined
The intriguing aspect of these revelations is the leaked spreadsheet. This documents talks about ‘wandering hands’, ‘can’t be trusted with young staff’ and ‘ don’t be alone with him in a taxi.’ The fact that the Whips documented these allegations, kept them on file and yet didn’t appear to address the issue is disturbing. It’s now sure the information was being used to blackmail those MPs who didn’t tow the party line. A leaked indiscretion is a potent threat.
In the process, the Whips traded the safety and vulnerability of women for short-term political gain. That leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It also speaks to the rotten core of British politics. In short, sexual misconduct was exploited to achieve a result with no consideration for the victim.
The few brave ladies that did come forward faced expulsion, as powerful party machines turned against them. A Labour Party activist alleges she was told to shut up after an MP raped her. When she sought help, a party official cautioned her that talking out would damage her career.
As the wave rips through Parliament, exposing sexual threats and a culture of intimidation, the parties are scrambling to contain the situation. It’s revealing that only female spokeswomen appeared on the Sunday political shows. From what they said, it suggests the cover-up continues. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, sought to deflect criticism assuming it goes on in other professions. As if that’s an excuse.
Labour’s spokeswomen, shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry was on the ropes. She flatly refused to answer questions, didn’t want to accuse anyone nor reveal too much about her sentiments. Sky interviewer Neil Patterson did a sterling job exposing Thornberry’s slyness. She threatened to walk out of the interview if the questioning continued. Her sisters struggling to get justice must be shocked as such a mealy-mouthed performance. And this from the party that delights in trumpeting its equality agenda.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, is faced with pressure to explain why he put Kelvin Hopkins in his shadow cabinet last year after a young party activist had formally expressed concerns about his behaviour. Hopkins remains suspended from Labour pending an investigation into claims he sent suggestive texts to a young lady.
Labour’s response is to set up an internal enquiry staffed by people appointed by the national executive. In other words, an inside job with no independent oversight nor credibility. So much for Corbyn’s integrity. He’s proving himself just another Westminster player.
‘Warped and degrading culture’ is Corbyn’s words in response. He promoted a known sex pest to his cabinet, and he stands by that decision. His moral authority has evaporated.
Teresa May is no better. A new Conservative code of conduct sort to divert attention by making it appear she’s doing something. The code states that inquiries should be conducted by a panel of three or more people, at least one of whom should be independent of the Conservatives. That’s slightly better than Labour’s closed shop approach.
Meanwhile, Damien Green, Teresa May’s righthand man, is also in the spotlight. He stands accused of having pornography on his computer. Police allegedly found this in 2008 during an investigation into leaks. Green denies the allegation. Now he’s subject to scrutiny by the Cabinet Office.
None of it goes far enough. For too long Parliament has operated behind closed doors as a boy’s club. It’s processes, traditions and very culture exude the worst of public school mentality. As the expenses scandal revealed, MPs see themselves above the law. Had similar conduct arisen in the commercial world, heads would roll, careers would end. In Parliament it’s different. You step down from this or that committee, utter a few words, and then expect to move on.
Hopefully, this time, the wave is cleansing the filth that operates at the highest levels of the Britain’s government. The Jimmy Savile saga, the paedophile's rings (Cecil Smith amongst them) and now these matters, illustrate how power gets used for deeply corrupt ends.
The wave has breached the dam of silence that surrounds Parliament. Teresa May, as usual, these days, is fighting a rear-guard action. She called for action scrambling to stay ahead as the wave engulfed her party. But questions remain about the culture that pervades the crumbling mock-Gothic Palace of Westminster.
With secrets as the currency of Westminster trading, the whole atmosphere is toxic. Then you mix in massive egos, and men operating by standards akin to Henry VIII court. You have a recipe for disaster. It’s surprising it’s taken this long for the truth to emerge. This story is just beginning.
The doom merchants are at it again. Apparently, Hong Kong is about to fall off a cliff. Surveys of questionable value get summoned up to support this apocalyptic view. Such claims are now almost a weekly event. Most conflate doubtful opinions with so-called facts. It’s all rather easy to dismiss. Even a cursory exploration throws these surveys into doubt.
This week we had the United Nations allied with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Their global survey of competitiveness covering 1,007 cities, threw up some surprising findings.
If it's believed, Shenzhen is more advanced than Hong Kong, Seoul and Boston. A rather odd result. With competitiveness tied to online activity, the survey falters. Internet access is not always possible in Shenzhen, with WhatsApp and Facebook blocked. Business activities deemed routine elsewhere are a struggle with significant impact. Connectivity both through the internet and land border is pivotal to commercial activity. The survey side-steps the issue. And there is the rub.
New York ranks first. As anyone who has visited knows, this is a bizarre result. Its infrastructure is shoddy and crumbling. Poorly maintained roads, a nightmare underground, and airports akin to the third world. Then you've got crime levels. Most respectable surveys on livability factor crime into the equation.
Education standards alone mean any US city deserves a lower rating. Meanwhile, Hong Kong scores amongst the highest for education. In maths, the US sits at the bottom of the league. Thus, in short, massive holes exists, big enough to drive through my opinions.
This week the World Bank got involved. Its report of the most accessible places to do business slipped Hong Kong from fourth to fifth place. Hong Kong’s drop is because the bureaucrats at the World Bank don’t like our insolvency arrangements. In Hong Kong, a single creditor can seek to wind up a company to secure his money.
The World Bank favours protecting enterprises, even failing ones. This is more important than the rights of investors. The World Bank has an agenda that may not tally with Hong Kong’s best interests. Thus, it is dispiriting to see our officials pandering to their whims by promising a review.
The old perennial is comparing Hong Kong with Singapore. We got more of that this week. Singapore airport launched its new Terminal Four. The media had a spasm of differentiation, citing the high-tech checks-in as a threat to our airport. Hong Kong will fade in its importance is the inference.
Ignored is the fact that Hong Kong remains the most profitable airport in the world. Meanwhile, Hong Kong handles over 70 million passengers a year. Singapore has 58 million. The cargo figures tell another story. Singapore processes 1.9 million tons, whereas Hong Kong pushes through 4.5 million tons.
Poised for more growth, Hong Kong has a third runway on the way. As the premier airport in the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong has a customer base of 120,000 million people. Singapore can’t match that. Geography is a factor.
Both airports enjoy transit passengers flying the Europe-Australasia route. The range of planes means stopovers are necessary. As ranges extend, this business will fade. As a result, Singapore stands to lose a more significant part of its passenger. Its throughput relies more on that sector. This possibility gets ignored in the headlines.
Always exercise caution when viewing these surveys. Comparisons didn't hold up, especially when apples and compared with oranges. The media is somewhat at fault. Headline writers excel at exploiting minor changes in position to manufacture a crisis. Careful analysis, allied to reasoned long-term thought, produces a more astute outcome. That's something lost in our sound bite driven, headline-grabbing age.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.