Post Election Angst

My last post focused on the allegations that Russian hackers influenced the US Presidential election. Even before I posted that, there were further allegations that Donald Trump had behaved badly in Moscow in 2012, and he was now susceptible to blackmail. So, what do we make of that?

One of the main allegations was that Trump had taken the same room in a hotel that President Obama had used previously, and he did this to defile it by bringing in prostitutes, and thus indirectly he defiled Obama. First, the allegation that Trump used the same room as Obama. I believe that, but not for any sinister reason. President Obama would probably warrant the best room in the hotel. Why shouldn’t Trump want the best room in the hotel? It is not as if he is short of cash. Further, there may well be only one really luxurious room because the demand for rooms at that price is probably low. So, quite simply, I am happy to accept the allegation that Trump used the same room, and I say, so what?

Then there is the issue that Trump brought in prostitutes. I suppose one cannot exactly rule it out, but really, it sounds ridiculous. I rather fancy that if he wanted a woman, there would be a number available, but people who go to Russia know that surveillance is rather common, and if you behave badly, there may well be consequences. Russian law, particularly to foreigners, is not quite the same as everywhere else. I recall advice given to me when I was young and I was driving in Poland, when it was behind the Iron Curtain: if you have an accident, it is your fault because you are a foreigner. Whether that was true I don’t know, but I certainly drove with more care through cities. (The countryside was different, as the chances of having a collision were negligible because the roads were basically empty but for a few trucks, and in one afternoon, a military Division heading for the Czechoslovak invasion.) I have also been to Moscow when it was part of the USSR, and the warnings from my embassy were clear: you will be watched. So if Trump really wanted to have business dealings with Russia, surely he would follow basic common sense? The basic evidence we have is that Trump really values a deal and would not sacrifice one for an hour of stupidity.

Which gets to my real issue. These allegations were made by one person who was paid to find dirt, and he has since disappeared. There is no supporting evidence whatsoever, and the author of the report cannot be made to answer or explain. In my book, the more important the allegation, the more important it is to have strong supporting evidence. What we need are facts, and the only fact we have is that one person who was paid to find dirt has reported finding dirt and has disappeared without leaving any evidence whatsoever of such dirt.

The next question is, suppose it were true? This requires someone to have recorded what happened in 2012. Why would he do that? To blackmail a businessman is a possibility, but surely whoever had the evidence would use it. Again, Trump is rich, and he might well have paid to have something go way. All the evidence is there was no such blackmail. To keep such evidence in the bottom draw in order to blackmail the future President of the United States verges on the bizarre. If they were so sure he would be President back in 2012, the more obvious move would be to take out some long-term bets. The odds back then should have been very high. Sorry, but I think the most likely story is our trusty dirt-digger went to Moscow and announced he was looking for dirt. For a suitable envelope full of euros, dollars, pounds, whatever, I am sure someone would supply whatever was desired, except, of course, evidence to back it up.

So what should happen next? I would like to think that the opponents to Trump and his policies should focus on the policies. So far, what he has done was announced in his campaign, for example he has cancelled Obamacare and the TPP. You may or may not agree with that, but they were announced policies and Trump won the election. In a representative Republic form of government, this is what is supposed to happen, the losers have to accept it and those who did not vote deserve what they get. Wild accusations against Trump are just that, and should stop. They will achieve nothing, except possibly give Trump a siege mentality, in which case he will stop listening to the thing that might have improved the effects of future action on is part. Either put up evidence or shut up.

One final and personal comment. I put a very simple version of that argument on a social medium site and some of the responses I got were quite vituperative. I was accused of supporting a Hitler, and being all sorts of things we need not state here. For me, this shows up something ugly coming into the political scene. People are so used to “fake news”, aka lies, that they think anything you state stands for your views on some side of an argument. They think everyone makes up their “news” to support their view. Just to be clear, you cannot read any political view into the above. My argument is simple: if you want to accuse someone of something publicly, put up the evidence. If you haven’t got any, shut up!

Russia hacks the Democrats??

One other piece of news that filled up the holiday period was that allegations sprang up everywhere stating the Russians hacked the Democrats and led to a change in the election result. My attitude is when something as serious as this arises, there needs to be evidence to support it. That evidence needs to be in sufficient detail to be plausible. “Fred assures me that there was,” is not evidence.

There are really two separate issues here. The first is, did the Russians hack the Democrats? A sub-question is, if yes, was it a Russian government agency, or just some private Russians? To answer the main question, we need to see evidence of when who was hacked, from where? The US Government might be a bit cagey about this, because if it announces when who was hacked from where, it starts to tell others what its capabilities are, and it may not want to do that, but if it does not, then it should have kept quiet in the first place. In WW II the British Government gave no warning to the people of Coventry that a raid was coming because they did not want to let the Germans know their enigma code was broken. That was a lot more serious than advertising that they tracked a hack on the Democratic National Congress. However, who was hacked, and with what security, is an important question because we know that Hillary Clinton had about 600,000 emails copied to the Weiner server. That should be more easily hacked, and any number of people, including but not restricted to, Russians, could have done it. For that matter, a number of industrious Republicans could have hacked it. To make this allegation stand, the details of the hack must be known.

There is one document on the web that claims to give the US government position (…) Now intelligence gathering is difficult, but forming an opinion of what happened is just that; it is not evidence. Quoting: “Some analytic judgments are based directly on collected information others rest on previous judgments.” See the problem? The next problem arises when we consider the sources of the information. Quoting: “Many of the key judgments in this assessment rely on a body of reporting from multiple sources that are consistent with our understanding of Russian behavior.” In short, sources for many of the judgments came from “the behavior of Kremlin-loyal political figures, state media, and pro-Kremlin social media actors”. To me, the social media are not exactly reliable sources of facts. You might recall that the US Intelligence community, in public statements anyway, were sufficiently convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that they unleashed a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. For me, the problem is the reputation for reliability was shot then.

Interestingly, while the CIA and the FBI had “high confidence” in these assessments, the NSA had only “moderate confidence”. The NSA should be the expert in this field. The FBI asserted it had “high confidence” that Russia tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but then, a week out from the election, FBI Director Comey effectively torpedoed her campaign. Prior to Comey’s comments, Clinton had a 10% lead in the polls I saw, and in the next few days, the lead vanished. If Comey had such high confidence that Russia trying to destabilize Clinton’s campaign, and it concerned him, why did he do that? My final comment on that document – there are about three pages describing what could have happened, including allegations that a Romanian hacker was really the GRU, and the far more pages criticizing the balance of RT (Russian television). Yep, RT probably is biased, but is it as bad as Fox News? And just because RT may be biased, what has that got to do with hacking? And why cannot a Romanian hacker be just that?

Am I prepared to believe Russia hacked the Dems? Yep. I have little doubt the Russian Security Service is busy hacking whatever it can. As an aside, the US does this too. Recall Angela Merkel caught them out hacking her computer, and Germany is an ally. If the US does this to its allies, why would Russia be exempt, and if Russia found out the US was spying on it, why would it not do the same? Even if it did not know about US spying, that would not stop it from spying. So to summarize, I am happy to accept that Russia was prepared to spy on the Dems, but I would expect they would stay quiet about it. Other individual hackers, including Russians may not have been so quiet. So, for evidence we first need to know what exactly was hacked, and exactly who was it that did the hacking? Details. We need details.

The second allegation is more serious. This is that as a consequence of the hack, the Russian government altered the outcome of the election. This requires even more detailed evidence. What we have so far is the allegation that the Russians provided details that would be embarrassing to the Dems to Wikileaks. For that to alter the election, either the contents then became highly public, or alternatively the voters in the swing states are avid readers of Wikileaks. Personally, I feel the latter is ridiculous. I suspect the average rustbelt voter really has little or no interest in Wikileaks.

But let’s suppose that could be wrong. This implies there was something in these Wikileaks that was so sensational that it swung the election. What was it? Why haven’t I heard of it? But let us suppose I have been asleep at the wheel. It would not hurt to publish this series of embarrassments, after all the allegation is asserting that it is in the public domain. Then there is the question of who provided this information to Wikileaks. It is alleged that it was the Russian government, but Julian Assange denies that, and he should know. Now it is true that Assange could be lying, but if so we need evidence that is convincing. The problem is, this all looks more like the Democrats, and Democrat-appointed officials, having a general whinge at their loss.

Also interesting is that there have been no protests against the FBI Director Comey, whose allegation a week before the election that Clinton was under investigation almost certainly would lose her votes. There is firm evidence this occurred, but nobody seems to be particularly interested in it. The question is, why not?

Is there a solution to the Palestinian question?

Back from a quiet time, and look at what happened? The first was that at the end of 2016, New Zealand co-sponsored a UN resolution “demanding” that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. This generated a surprising amount of heat, if not much light. For those who have read my fiction, I have advocated logic as a way of analyzing problems, and it seems to me this question is suitable for such an approach, not that it is likely to succeed.

We start by acknowledging where we are. Israel is a Jewish state, and it occupies by military force the West Bank, which was largely populated by Palestinians, many of whom were forced out of the rest of Israel. The two sides have been very antagonistic towards each other, and the objective is to try to find a solution where both can live in peace. The question is, what are the conditions that might lead to that outcome? In my opinion, the options are:

  1. Move the Jews out of the area. However, the Jews have such an invested infrastructure this option is not a starter.
  2. Move the Palestinians somewhere else. The problem is, where? People say Jordan, but Jordan is already overrun by Syrian refugees, and in any case, why does someone else have to pay the price? While most of the Jews came recently, the Palestinians have been there for a very long time. Whoever advocates this solution can do their own bit, by accepting a Palestinian family, providing them a home and jobs, and a guaranteed income until they can fend for themselves. In short, put your money where your mouth is. I bet there will not be sufficient takers to make a difference.
  3. Incorporate the Palestinians into Israel, with full citizenship, and enough money to make a start to life. That is a non-starter because Israel is a Jewish state, and a Muslim majority would be non-acceptable.
  4. Have a two state solution.

In my opinion, only (4) has any hope, but here the problem is the West Bank is not exactly large, and it is covered with a pox of Israeli settlements. Some people say, they are only 3% of the area. Before addressing that, we must ask, are the settlements legal?

When the first settlements were being considered, the legal counsel to the Israeli Foreign Ministry was asked whether international law permitted civilian settlement in the occupied territories. The reply: that would contravene the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements are illegal because international law forbids an occupying power from moving part of its population to occupied territory. The territory is under military occupation, and it is for that reason the Arabs who live there do not have to be integrated into Israel.

Here is the legal dilemma from the Israeli point of view. Granting citizenship to the Palestinians would mean either Israel ceased to be a proper representative republic, or it would cease to be a Jewish state. Not granting such citizenship meant they were under military occupation, and international law should apply.

In this context, it seems that everybody who keeps asserting Russia violates international law and should be punished are strangely quiet on Israel. Instead we have the rather bizarre situation where the people of the West Bank fall into two subsets: settlers enjoy the full rights of Israeli citizens, while the Palestinians are still under military occupation and have essentially no rights. The question then is, how long will this go on? Obviously, the hard right of Israeli politics seems to think, forever. Whatever else they have, compassion for the Palestinians is not one of them.

Returning to the 3% problem, the area of the settlements is not the issue. The settlements are all connected to Israel proper by roads controlled by Israel that slice up the West bank. The settlements all demand water, sewage, electricity, and other services. All of these services are controlled by Israel, and are unavailable to the Palestinians, and worse than that, Israel would not let the Palestinians cross their fixed infrastructure, because they would expect it to be damaged.

If there is to be a two-state solution, the Palestinians have to go some way. They have to accept the right of Israel to exist, not because it is right but because there is no alternative. Incidents such as the recent one where a Palestinian drove a truck through some Israeli soldiers have to stop. First it is not right to kill people, and particularly those who are not directly responsible for your problems, and second it is counterproductive, because it just firms up Israeli opinion about them. The Palestinians have been severely wronged, and everybody should acknowledge that, but the Palestinians cannot progress by living in a morass of moaning about wrongs. That does not mean that others should not do something to help, though. When the United Nations voted to form Israel, they gave away that which they did not own. In the Naqba, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced, and their property taken over by Israel. Of course, following the UN resolution, the Israelis could say they had no choice. Maybe, but if that was what the UN wanted, they should have purchased the Palestinian properties and given them to the Israelis. The fact of the matter is that Israel was founded on promises (Lloyd George offered the concept to Jews to help raise money for the war effort, which probably did not help the attitude of a certain Austrian corporal.), terrorism (it is the one shining example that proves that sometimes terrorism does work) and military force. One of the great ironies is that the Jews sent to Palestine in the late 1930s from Germany, organized by a certain Reinhardt Heydrich, set about terrorist activities against the British during WW II, while Heydrich was busy organizing the mass murder of Jews in Europe. The fact that the Palestinians and other “Arab” countries tried military means to right the wrongs done to the Palestinians is also irrelevant, although through their lack of effectiveness it has obviously made the problem worse.

But the past is irrelevant. We are here. If we accept that the two-state solution is the only possibility for civilized peace, then both sides must make serious concessions, and more to the point, the rest of the world that voted to create this problem has to come to the party with serious investment to make Palestine at least a plausible state. If you vote to give away that which you do not own, then you should be prepared to pay for it, to give the Palestinians some hope. The alternative is that the Palestinians live in perpetual military occupation, with no rights, and subjugated by a military force that does not like them one bit.

The recent example of a soldier who saw a Palestinian lying on the ground, and because he believed that Palestinian had injured an Israeli, he shot him. The Palestinian was subjugated, and would have been taken away for trial, but this soldier simply executed him. If you see interviews of Israelis, a large number (including some right wing rabbis I saw interviewed) seem to think the soldier was right. Sorry, but that is not civilized, it is not legal, and it most certainly is not helpful.

So if neither side is interested in reaching a solution, how does this end? I confess I have no idea, except I cannot see it ending well

Voting for Aleppo

With the US elections coming up, and enduring chaos in the Middle East, we have to ask, which is the best candidate to sort that out? I am not exactly enthralled by either of them. First, the scenario. As is well known, the US has supported some “moderate” rebels who have the aim of ousting Assad in Syria, and is supporting the retaking of Mosul, apparently with air power. Russia is supporting Assad in Syria. Turkey wants to deal to ISIS in Mosul. This should have a straight-forward ending?

First, look at religion. Assad has support from Shia, including Hezbollah and Iran. The rebels include some moderates, but the important ones are associated with al Qaeda. So here, Russia is supporting Shia; the US is trying to protect Sunni and terrorists. Assad himself operated a secular government, as did Saddam, so an alien observer would presumably conclude that the US is against secular governments, which makes little sense. In Iraq, the US is supporting the Shia government to take out the fanatical ISIS, and will use air power to bomb the terrorists in Mosul. Or at least, that is a somewhat oversimplified account of what might happen. So, what do the candidates say?

Trump seemingly has not clearly defined policy here. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Leaving the place to sort itself out is a legitimate policy, and may be as good as any. The problem, though, is ISIS and al Qaeda. Left to their own devices, they are hardly likely to be beneficial. A second problem is that it appears Trump has not thought about this at all.

Clinton, however, is in my mind just outright dangerous. She has announced she will have a no-fly zone over Aleppo. That raises many questions. First, why? Does she want to nourish al Qaeda, who, as an aside, have killed far more innocent Western citizens than ISIS by a long shot? The nominal reason is to protect innocent civilians, but there are more in Mosul, and the US intends to bomb that, and, of course, there was “shock and awe”, which led to a very large number of dead Iraqis.

However, there is a much worse possible outcome than killing some innocent civilians, which is most certainly bad, but my worry is much worse. What does she do if the Russian air force continues bombing? Does she order the shooting down of Russian warplanes, which happen to be over the territory of, and at the invitation of, a sovereign government. If so, what is the justification? Because we can? That is a rather slippery slope. The US is actually one of the most warlike countries on the planet, and has been at war most of the time since 1890. It has been able to do this because the war is always “elsewhere”, and they cannot do any damage to the US. The result of this is that much of the population is unaffected by such wars. That does not give the US the right to shoot anyone they feel like, though. Russia has two choices: bow down before America, or ignore the threat.

If Russia bows down, then that establishes a precedent. Everybody expects that to happen again, and that encourages (from the Russian eyes) America to do more or less what it likes. It can order Russia out of the Crimea. Now what? Bow down again? Where does it stop?

If the Russians keep bombing, and the US shoots down at least one Russian warplane, now what? Russia can either bow down, or fight back. We don’t know the Russian capability, but we do know they have some ability, so unlike other recent opposition, Russia might shoot down an American plane, or attack an American base nearby. If the American aircraft came off a carrier, what happens if the Russians sink the carrier? The Russians have a carrier somewhere nearby, so the US sinks it. Now what?

Suppose the aircraft came from Turkey. Can Russia accept a border wherein America can come and shoot them down at will with no downside? It would be strange if they did. But if Russia attacks the base, that is an attack on a NATO country, which America could use to activate the NATO alliance. At this point we note that Russia could have done something more constructive earlier. When Clinton announces the no-fly zone, Russia should announce that any attack on Russia as a consequence of Clinton’s announcement from a NATO country will be taken as a declaration of war from that country on Russia. If the country is an aggressor, that should not trigger the NATO commitment. At the very least, some more nervous countries might decide that getting out of NATO is more desirable. Maybe not, but Russia should offer the option.

Now, suppose some missiles are launched from the Baltic states, and assume they are conventionally tipped. Now what? The least we can expect is that Russia sends all its motor rifle divisions westwards. Now what? Contrary to what some people think, my guess is that NATO would offer only moderate resistance, and indeed some of the countries would pull out of NATO on the grounds that it was not their fault that Clinton started all this. It is one thing to defend against an attack on one of their allies, but something else to get their ally out of a mess of its own making. Further, unless Russia makes good progress and has the ability to walk away from this with its head held high, there is little room for later negotiation.

It is hard to see such a war remaining conventional. The US simply does not have a big enough army to conquer Russia, which is a very big place, and it is far from clear that American soldiers want to fight multi-year wars in some of the world’s worst climate. One of the two will sooner or later resort to the nuclear option and a lot of us will be turned to ash.

Maybe there are other futures following such an edict. The Russians may surrender and comply with Clinton. After a brief skirmish, both parties might see sense, but do we want to bank on that? World War I was started almost accidentally. Do we want to start WW III?

Air strikes over Syria

This was the week of air strikes that demonstrated at best, general incompetence, and at worst, something more sinister. Deir al-Zour is, or was, the seventh largest city in Syria and has an unfortunate history due to its being on the Euphrates river and being on an important trade route. Consequently it has been a target for various invaders until the Mongols simply wiped it out and thus removed the misery. However, its location led it to rise again. Now it is one of the very few centres in Eastern Syria still held by the government, although ISIS has been attacking it and by surrounding it, has meant that resupply is only possible by air. This makes the local airfield important. Overlooking, from a distance, is the al-Thardeh mountains, although I might more likely call them hills.

Now, obviously these hills are strategically important, and ISIS has been trying to capture them from the Syrian army for some time. So what does the US do? It sends in warplanes from Iraq and bombs the Syrian positions, thus allowing ISIS to capture some key strategic positions. Shortly later, a Syrian warplane tried to bomb ISIS troops, and was seemingly shot down by a US made surface to air missile operated by ISIS soldiers. What do you make of that?

The Russians argue that the US is helping ISIS. While strictly speaking this is true, I really don’t believe it is intentional. The problem, of course, is if you are bombed, it makes little difference to those on the ground whether the bombing was intentional. If you are dead, you are dead. The Russians also argue that the US refuses to coordinate air attacks with the Russians, and that seems to be not in dispute. The US spokesperson countered by accusing the Russians of point scoring, which it undoubtedly was, but that is irrelevant because the point was valid. I see a real problem here. Both claim they are trying to bomb ISIS, but the US seems to have a pathological hatred against Assad. The Russians do not have this problem so the Russians are far more likely to be aware of the Syrian army deployments, and of current conditions. To make matters worse, this is the second time this year that the US warplanes have attacked the Syrian army in this district. Either these are not mistakes, or the USAF is not learning from its mistakes.

The US says it did not knowingly strike the Syrian military, and it confused them with ISIS fighters. For me, there are several difficulties with this statement. The first is the obvious one that it should be prepared to talk to the Russians and accept intelligence. If you really do not want to kill members of the Syrian military, should you not take the trouble to find out where they are? What also bothers me is a parallel with the old hunting advice: do not shoot until you have positively identified your target. That simply did not happen. Given the strategic nature of these hills, and given that the US knows that ISIS has a number of the surface to air missiles it has given so-called moderate rebels, then it knows that either the hills must be kept in Syrian hands, or the city will have trouble with resupply and it will probably fall to ISIS.

So, what is the problem? In my view, a mixture of arrogance and incompetence. The question then is, do we accept that as an excuse? The US Air Force appears to be so technically superior to anything else around that might fight it that it can effectively do what it likes. Does that not give greater responsibility to use that power responsibly?

The second air strike was against a UN relief convoy heading to Aleppo. The US has accused the Russians of being responsible. I do not believe a Russian plane did that, but the US then counters by saying Russia is responsible for the Syrians because it is supporting them. Assad denies doing it, but he would. He may well be right. It is possible that some Syrian pilot decided to do this on his own volition, and it is unlikely Assad could find out. It is also unlikely he would try very hard.

Why would a Syrian do it? Because the UN is sending food and medical supplies to the rebels who are busy shooting at the Syrian Army. I suspect the average Syrian soldier considers such supplies will largely go to the rebels, which relieves that major problem for them, other than ammunition. This is the problem for cease-fires; they solve nothing, as both sides try to strengthen their positions, and when one side cannot do much more, it is in their interest to restart as quickly as possible. The only time a cease-fire can achieve anything is if there are grounds by which the two sides can agree to end the fighting. That requires a resolution to the issue that caused it to start. The Western politicians all want this resolved, but they also want Assad to go, and they have no idea what to replace him with, having seemingly learned nothing from Iraq. Assad would have to be mad to step down now because all and sundry would want to try him for war crimes, and such trials have only one outcome: what the victor wants. So, with no means of resolving this conflict, the ceasefire is actually counterproductive to the innocent civilians, because it merely extends the misery as the rebels get stronger. (The fact that Assad is guilty is irrelevant; he has to have some reason to step down.)

If a politician rambles on about how the various parties should end this fighting, then they should specifically state how it could be resolved, and what will happen next. Otherwise, all they are doing is point scoring, and who cares?

Russian athletes and the Rio Olympics

The Olympic Games in Rio are approaching, and despite a number of protests, some Russians may be present. The International Olympic Committee has been heavily criticized for not issuing a blanket ban on Russian athletes because of widespread doping there. Let me say at once that I cannot condone doping, but there is also a question of natural justice. Basically, the logic says:

Some Russian athletes doped

Doped athletes should be banned from competing.

So, what is the logic conclusion? Mine is, some athletes, and specifically the ones who doped, should be banned, and that includes athletes from any country who have doped. As it happens, the initial call for a total banning of Russian sportspeople has been rejected, instead relying on a dubious procedure in which various sports federations will be required to produce a list of Russian athletes they believe to be clean, which will be checked by an arbitrator from the IOC and a court of arbitration. Any Russian with a doping conviction will automatically be banned, including Stepanova, who has finished her punishment for previous doping. Fair? Then why will there be many athletes in Rio who have previously doped but have completed their punishment. We have uneven rules here.

At one point, the Russian athletes were given an “out”. All they had to do was to prove they had been clean through a sequence of tests in non-Russian laboratories that were run during the last few months. That is impossible to comply with, because nobody can go back in the past and do what has to be done. So why put in such a silly rule? My guess is quite simply there are a number of Russian athletes who have been residing or training in the US, and to include them in the ban would leave whoever issued the ban open to a serious law suit in US courts, and my guess is that there would be a number of major law firms just queuing up to take on the contingency case. That sort of ban could easily cost tens of millions of dollars at a minimum. So the rule was not there to be helpful; it was there to cover backsides. Whatever you think about that, the IOC, by passing the buck down to various sports organizations, has opened those up to the same lawsuits.

There is a further interesting thing about the Russian doping allegation: the criticism is the dopees (if that is a word) escaped notice because the second samples got “lost”. Sure, that stinks, but what is of interest here is that nobody has questioned the laboratories’ analyses (as far as I know). What that means is that Russian athletes that have always had clean first analyses should be in the clear. This is of relevance because the IOC has argued that it must make sure all athletes play on a level playing field. Well, the level playing field means that everyone else should have to go through the same vetting process. That is not happening.

Exactly what went on in Russia is unclear. The fact that a Canadian Professor produced a report, commissioned by an antidoping agency, which accused Russia of state sponsored doping does not mean that the report is accurate. The losing of second samples is indicative of something going wrong, but that does not mean the state ordered it, nor is it obvious that the state had the power to do so. Serious corruption would suffice. The problem is evidence, and what is remarkable about this report is that the details do not seem to have made a significant public appearance. We are told what it concluded, but that does not make it so. I seem to recall high level government “reports” that Saddam Hussein had huge numbers of weapons of mass destruction, and could attack London with a fifteen-minute warning. The existence of a report is irrelevant; it is the evidence backing up the conclusions that is important.

Another point that I would like to see is that if Russians are banned, nobody else can take their place. The reason I say this is that the most vociferous calls for all Russian athletes to be banned appear to have come from callers who could reasonably be considered to have friends, acquaintances, or athletes from their own country on the verge of qualifying. If there were a blanket ban on replacements, other than for clear sickness or something unavoidable, then that would mean that any potential conflict of interest would be removed from those calling for the ban, and even more importantly, from those voting.

To summarize, I have a simple view. All athletes should play by the same rules. Guilt should be personal, and based on the evidence against that person. The judges should be independent of the outcome. Rules should not be backdated. If testing organizations are found to be corrupt, then they should be disqualified and from that point, other independent organizations should be used.

Where now, Britain?

I suppose many will be sick of Brexit now, nevertheless I feel like adding my tuppence worth. My futuristic novels generally have some aspect of alternative governments in the background, or as settings for the stories, and in some ways the Federal form in one of the trilogies, and in one other story, has similarities with the EU. The reason I raise this is because I do not feel that Brexit was just a wildly irrational thing to do (and that does not mean I think it was a good thing to do) but rather I think it was a failure of governance on the part of the EU, and a failure of leadership by Cameron.

Take as an example, one Brit I saw interviewed stated his wages were reduced by three quid an hour recently, and his employer did that simply because said employer could get cheaper labour from Eastern Europe. With free movement of labour, wages fall to the lowest available, but the cost of living does not fall correspondingly. The benefits of said lower wages fall into the laps of the employing class. Accordingly, we might suspect the EU bureaucrats are more interested in assisting the welfare of the rich than considering that of the masses. Now, if that happened to you, would you vote to retain such competition for your job? More than one who voted to leave, when interviewed, said something like, “I’m broke, so I vote to break the system that broke me.”

There were two interesting concentrations of votes to remain. The first was in London, where many are professionals, and many are cheap labour from the East, both of whom benefited greatly from remaining. The second was from Scotland, and my guess is some of that was insurance: if exit won, the Scots would wish to exit from the UK and hope their voting for the EU would let them remain in the EU. In short, it was partly a vote to exit from the UK.

The votes to leave apparently mainly came from the unemployed or the wages class, and those with lower levels of education. They also came from the places that used to be part of the UK industrial zones (except for Glasgow, and it was interesting that although Glasgow voted to remain, the turnout was seriously down there, in accord with the theory that they wanted Scotland out of the UK).

There have been threats of dire economic consequences. I do not believe that trade will suffer significantly. Germany sells a lot of manufactured things to the UK, and it is hardly likely to want to lose those sales, and if it wants to keep its sales, it has to permit the UK to sell into the EU. An important point is that neither the manufacturing base nor the demand from people will change dramatically. The main danger is spiteful “punishment”. Undoubtedly there will be adverse economic consequences, and probably the one the EU fears the most is further exits. Greece must be seriously considering it.

The fact that the stock markets went crazy intially is irrelevant. As one of our Prime Ministers once noted, stock traders tend to behave like reef fish: as soon as one heads off in a new direction, all the rest follow. There was another interesting aspect of these markets, and that is a lot of smart traders took short positions. This tends to stop total collapse because the shorts have to be covered, and a sensible trader takes a good profit when on offer. Further, it did not last. At the time of writing this, the FTSE 100 was up on pre-referendum prices.

Another major concern with the EU is the influence of the bureaucrats and technocrats, and it is designed to protect entrenched interests. Thus given the bad choices by BOTH participants, it is the Greeks that must suffer rather than the owners of the German banks. The British, at least, see the EU run to maintain the traditional class system, and if you happen to be nearer the bottom, why maintain it? Over the last decade, the system has run in a way in which the establishment has caused considerable financial chaos through a mix of greed and ineptitude. So who pays? Not those who caused it. Sure, they will have taken hits, but the wealth continues to trickle up in their direction. A week later and some reality is setting in. Some of the countries like Poland and the Czech Republic have expressed concern that Germany, Italy and France are starting to take too much control; they saw the UK as an important counterbalance.

Meanwhile, the overall level of common sense seems to be diving. I have seen some commentators claim the exit is not necessarily going to happen. One way out is for the government to call an election, and if Labour won, they could take that as an endorsement not to leave. The problem with that reasoning is that it is the people who would normally vote Labour who voted to leave. Meanwhile, there was a massive vote of no-confidence in Corbyn, the Labour leader, by his party politicians because he did not campaign strongly to remain. Corbyn refuses to step down, showing a strong commitment to democracy and convention, but perhaps he is right because it is the people who he represents that voted to leave. Meanwhile Cameron has lashed out, saying he should do the decent thing and go for his failure. Failure for what? Rescuing Cameron from his ineptitude?

So, what now? I recently saw a speech from a “leaver” to the EU parliament (at least I think it was) and it was a dreadful example of diplomacy. If ever someone tried to maximise the irritation of his audience, this would have been an example, and the sad thing is, I don’t think it was intended that way. Instead it was simple uncaring stupidity. This makes no sense at all. As to what will happen next, I don’t think anyone knows, which shows the ineptness of Prime Minister Cameron. You should never call a binding referendum unless you have a reasonably clear idea of what you will do if either side wins. Cameron seems to have decided he knew what he would do if remain won: nothing. Unfortunately, that seems to have been his option if exit won, and it is simply not adequate.

We seem to have candidates

Because I am a foreigner, maybe I should not comment on the current US presidential election cycle, but I can’t help myself. After all, even if I am not an American, this is of significant interest to the rest of the world because the US is such an important country. So, what do we see happening? From my point of view the result seems almost bizarre: the presidential fight will most likely be between two candidates who are basically unliked. There have been varying attacks on Hillary Clinton for the last four years, and one cannot help but suspect that a lot of these were orchestrated by the Republicans. However, just to make this a sporting contest, it would seem, the Republicans have latched onto a candidate that even they really don’t like, and to make matters worse, that candidate has based his program so far on seriously annoying at least 70% of the potential voting public.

What I would have thought would be the most unlikely candidate, Sanders, now appears not to have a chance at nomination, but he ploughs on. He might complain about the party machine, but as far as I am aware, if the super delegates were removed, he would still lose. Notwithstanding that, he has done something quite remarkable, at least in my eyes: he has stood as a socialist (well, he calls himself one, although some Europeans would probably think he was more a slightly right wing social democrat) and nearly succeeded. That goes against what used to be considered the American way of life.

From my point of view, policy now becomes interesting. Hillary Clinton seems to represent the establishment, more or less, but it seems the majority of the electorate is tiring of the establishment. The top of the establishment is doing very well for itself, but at the expense of many at the lower end of the social structures. The American dream used to be that America was a land of opportunity, and even if you were at the bottom of the heap, you could fight your way up. There were ways to the top. They may not have been easy to find, but they were there. And even if you could not get to the top, you could get somewhere very comfortable, if you made the effort. There still are ways to the top, but they are becoming harder to find, and much harder for those below average, which means half the population. Worse, thanks to the exporting of jobs, the middle has been hollowed out, and there are far fewer ways to get comfortable. Sanders campaigned, as far as I could see, to give those at the bottom and possibly the middle a better deal. Many commentators thought his plans would not work, but they still thought he was worth supporting. What I found interesting was that it was the young who were supporting the oldest candidate. That tends to indicate the young are unimpressed with the establishment. Maybe they always were, but to this extent? The question now is, will those young support Hillary? Will Hillary bring herself to adopt some of Sanders’ policies, and if so, will she gain by doing so?

Meanwhile, on the other side, Trump seems to have made an art form out of insulting everyone, and has been very light on policy, apart from wanting to build the modest wall of America, and to keep Muslims out. His verbal lashing out by calling a judge a Mexican seemed bizarre, especially since the judge came from Indiana, or is Trump intending to give Mexico some more states?

Which raises the question, how should people who wish to rule be elected? This problem goes all the way back to Plato, who was opposed to democracy and opted for an enlightened prince. That, of course, leaves aside the problem of how to find one, and what to do if the enlightened one turns out not to be and you get the anything but benign dictator? The advantages of the Republic form of government we have include the option to turf out the disasters after a given period of time, coupled with the fact that if the government is really bad, an awful lot of politicians will be cleaned out too. Their self-interest tends to minimize a disastrous leader.

That may seem to be ideal, but I am far from convinced it is. An unfortunate problem has arisen in many parts of the world: too many politicians have opted for this as a career early on, and as a consequence, have a lot of experience at being a politician, but not much at anything else, so their chances of really understanding a problem they have to make decisions on is slim. What we have done is to find a method to get the politicians into power who are the best at winning elections, but not necessarily being any good at anything else. We appoint people to the most responsible of all jobs, the running of our country, by ignoring whether any of the skill sets required to do the job are actually present.

So, what will happen? Your guess is probably better than mine, however my guess is not encouraging. So far there has been a lot of mud thrown, and there is likely to be a lot of general disgruntlement at the end of November. Unless a very serious healing process takes place, I suspect whoever wins may find the White House something of a poisoned chalice.

Spectacular Candidate Promises

Perhaps it is just because I am a foreigner and don’t understand, but the current US Presidential primaries really surprise me. Of course it is not my place to comment on how Americans should vote, but there have been some issues associated with these that go to the heart of the voting process most of the Western “democracies” use. The problem is that the system should deliver some combination of what the people want and what is in the best interests of the country. Only too often it seems to be focused on capturing as many votes as possible from those who are not interested in the details, and this is achieved by making spectacular statements that the politician knows will not be analyzed by most recipients. Accordingly, the problem as I see it is how to make governments act in the best interests of the country while following the basic objectives desired by the majority of the public. This leaves the problem, how to achieve it?

In some of my futuristic novels, I have included various forms of governance, including one I made up myself. In my scheme, while the people vote in their countries for who will govern them, there is a higher authority that throws them out if they announce a specific policy while campaigning and, in the absence of clearly unforeseen circumstances, they refuse to implement it in a timely fashion. This higher authority also points out any impracticalities in a stated policy, and clearly analyses the likely consequences. Further, if they do not announce any policy at all, they are disqualified before the election.

The first announcement that caught my attention was to build a wall between the US and Mexico. The bit that really caught my eye was that the Mexicans would pay for it. Why would they do that? And if they refuse, which strikes me as the most likely outcome, what will the US do about that? Short of invasion, what can they do? They could specifically tax Mexican imports, but that would violate international trade agreements. The proposal of a wall would undoubtedly stimulate votes from a segment of the population, especially if the promise was they would not have to pay for it, but is that what this form of government is supposed to achieve?

Of course there is a “Great Wall” that is quite a tourist attraction, but that raises the question, would a “Pathetic Wall of America” do the same? Or is something truly grand being proposed? I confess to having made an effort to see the Berlin Wall, and the East German border wall, but the reason for doing this was to see what extent the East Germans would go to keep their citizens in. A minefield and the machine gun towers were certainly a means of restricting people from crossing, but are these the options being chosen? Would Americans tolerate this? Also, if you are going to have manned machine gun towers along the border, why not save time and money and have regular border controls? Is there not a cheaper alternative using more modern technology? Has anybody worked out how many people would have to man this proposed wall? Who would build this wall? Since so much industry has been contracted out to China over the past few decades, maybe subcontract this to China, on the grounds they have some sort of experience at building walls?

Another proposal was to close down the IRS. How, under this scheme, would the government get the money it needs to function? Even if you closed down all government functions, including defence, police, prisons, and many other essential services in a modern economy, there is still the requirement to pay interest on debt totaling, as I understand, something like 70 % of GDP. One also assumes such proposals do not include starving prisoners to death while the prisons are closed with a general lockdown in place.

An alternative would be to privatize tax collection. That has been tried, and the results have not been promising. This was the technique used by the Romans, and the tax collector had to ensure the appropriate amount of tax went to the Roman Treasury. There was no salary for the tax collector; he had to get his income from what extra he collected. This was supposed to be a fixed per centage, but as you might imagine some of the collectors got a little enthusiastic on their collection. Does the average American really want his tax collected mafia style? Then there is the question of tax evasion. Who assesses? This privatization of tax collection, if that is the scheme, would certainly generate more organized crime than prohibition. It may well be that is not the scheme, but what is?

You may say, such strange proposals would never get through Congress. But if that is the case, why is it permitted to gather votes? In one sense this does not matter to me as I am not voting and I do not have to live with the consequences. Unfortunately, that last point is not quite true. The US is such an important country that whatever happens inside it inevitably ends up influencing most other countries.

Turkish Justice

I gather Turkey claims it is a democracy, and wishes to join the European Union, which raises the question, what sort of democracy is it? Actually, it is not a democracy, because in a democracy, everyone has the right to vote on every issue; what most of have is a Republic, where the people vote for representatives to vote on issues for them, but let us put this to one side.

For a Republic to work properly, the people have to be able to assess their representatives, to ensure they vote the way they would wish. Of course nobody who has any serious thoughts on issues gets a representative to vote every way they would vote, but that is life. The representative stays in power if he or she can reasonably persuade the majority of voters that they are at least doing an adequate job, and a better job than the opponent would do. But to do that, people have to have the right to express their views without threat of reprisal. In my country, I have that right, and more than once I have published letters asserting incompetence by a politician, with an explanation of what I assert proves my point. Whether it does any good is questionable, but it is my right, and I know I can exert it without any reprisal.

Back to Turkey. That right is either not there or not working very well, as shown by the current trial of Bilgin Ciftci, who is on trial for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Apparently, Mr Ciftci produced some images of Erdogan and his expressions, and alongside these were pictures that are allegedly of Gollum, from the movie Lord of the Rings, with similar expressions. I find these quite amusing, even if the images are not exactly with the same expression. The “Gollum” always has his eyes wide open, whereas Erdogan does not. One pair has the two eating something like a meat from a chicken leg, and Erdogan has his eyes shut. Anyway, the Judge has decided to appoint five”experts”, which reportedly includes two academics, two behavioural experts and an expert on cinema productions, and they have to decide whether Gollum as portrayed in the movie is good or bad, i.e. is this a real insult?

Mr Ciftci’s defence is apparently going to be that the comparison to Gollum is not an insult, and indeed Gollum is the real hero of the series. You may well think this is funny (and I must confess to having smiled at the images) but insulting the President is punishable by a significant prison sentence in Turkey. (Imagine trawling through the web in the US to find people who had insulted President Obama and incarcerating them? The prison system would then really be overflowing.) Apparently more than two hundred people have been investigated for this “crime” between August 2014 and March 2015. Hardly a great length of time. Merve Büyüksaraç, a model and former Miss Turkey in 2006, now faces two years in prison for “insulting” Erdogan. She apparently placed some lines from the Turkish national anthem on an instagram account that had been used elsewhere to criticise Erdogan.

Anyway, back to Mr Ciftci. The situation has not become more complicated thanks to a New Zealand intervention. Yes, really!! Sir Peter Jackson, alongside Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, have issued a statement saying the Turks have it all wrong. The images are actually of Gollum’s alter ego, Smeagol, a “joyful sweet character”. What will the Turkish courts make of that? Since Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings, and the other two were script writers, it would seem they have some authority here, and more so than five Turkish “experts”.

We shall have to wait and see, but for my money, if a Turkish politician cannot stand being insulted (even if the insults seem obscure to say the least) then Turkey has no right to be in European Union. Another interesting question is what will Erdogan do about the stream of insults that I am sure will continued from Putin? Not much, I guess. And I also guess that Turkey should not be on my travel list.