Getting it Wrong on Russia

Back in February I lamented the fact that finding sensible commentary on Russia is difficult because when it comes to that particular nation, people’s views fall into one of the following two categories:

1. Russia is America’s number one enemy, they rigged the US election in order to install their puppet Trump, they are hell-bent on taking over Europe by force and they must be confronted in Syria.

2. Russia is absolutely no threat to Europe, Crimea rightfully belongs to Russia and the annexation was perfectly above-board, they have been forced to launch a war in Eastern Ukraine because of Western plans to encircle them, they are directly threatened by NATO and they have shown us all how things ought to be done in Syria.

A recent article in The Spectator is a good case in point:

What amazes me is that if you bring up Russia in America and Europe today, people react the way academics used to back in the 1930s if one criticized Stalin and his purges. Fifty to 100 million died in the gulags, and lefties the world over turned a blind eye; now you say one nice thing about Putin and you’re toast.

That is true, and worthy of discussion.

Towards the late-1980s, the Soviet ambassador to Athens befriended my father, the coldest warrior of them all, and convinced him that all Gorby wanted was to conduct business with the West. He also reminded him what Georgi Arbatov had told dad when he had been a guest of the government during the Moscow Olympics of 1980: the greatest danger Russia faced was not America and the West but the 40 million Muslims within the Soviet Union.

I can only assume the author cites the opinion of his Dad’s mate because he believes it is true. It’s clearly bollocks. The greatest predictable threat to Russia in the 1980s was a nuclear war with America; the greatest unknown threat turned out to be the collapse of the USSR. Presumably the author thinks the words hold true today, but even that’s a tough sell. Considering their numbers, Russia has encountered very little trouble of the Islamist variety from Tatars, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tadjiks, Ingush and other Muslims from the former Soviet Union. The obvious exception is with the Chechens but their push for independence and the two subsequent wars were driven as much by nationalism as Islamism (and the Chechens have always been troublemakers from Moscow’s point of view). Over time the Chechen separatists became out-and-out Islamic terrorists, but they don’t represent the biggest danger to Russia. And it’s worth pointing out that a lot of the hardcore fighters in Chechnya were foreigners, and that the most feared “Chechen” fighters who joined ISIS seem to be ethnic Russians who converted to Islam.

Either way, Russian and former-Soviet Muslims are not and never were the greatest danger facing Russia. If we want me to say what I think that is, I’d go for the insistence of its leaders to concentrate power around themselves, weaken institutions, crush any opposition, and leave no succession plan making chaos more likely each time the regime changes every generation or two. Couple that with a populous and resource-hungry China on its distant borders.

One hundred years ago, after the Tsar’s murder, westerners thought of Russia as a savage, benighted land yearning to become a second America. That was a crock, if ever there was one. Russians are a spiritual people who yearn to connect with Christ, not Wall Street.

I don’t think this chap has spent much time in Russia or around Russians. It would take one to be willfully blind not to notice how much rampant consumerism, paid for with credit cards and bank loans, has gripped Russians. A few text messages passed between family members at Easter doesn’t change that.

After the collapse of communism, America committed its greatest mistake until the Iraqi invasion 11 years later. Instead of listening to George F. Kennan, a Russian expert and diplomat extraordinaire, and to Richard Nixon, who both advised helping the new state financially as well as politically, Uncle Sam heeded neocon siren voices and encircled Russia via Nato.

And just like that, we get the full, unalloyed, Kremlin take on things. It’s hard to know where to begin. The Americans did attempt to help Russia financially and politically: they poured in billions to stop the country from collapsing completely, secure its nuclear weapons, strengthen its institutions, and get a grip on an AIDS epidemic among many other things. As things turned out the economic advice was extremely naive in that they didn’t anticipate the degree to which Russians would murder one another while transforming their economy, but that can hardly be blamed on the Americans. Sure, there was a lot of asset stripping, theft, and other dodgy practices being carried out by individuals, some of whom had state backing, but to say the Americans didn’t try to help Russia after the collapse of the USSR might as well be taken from Putin’s Top Ten List of Things to Blame on America.

What annoys me about these sort of articles is they assume Russians themselves have no agency, as if they bear no responsibility for their own situation, and are always at the mercy of the US. To counter this, I’ll refer to this post from 2007 in which I list the business-related murders in the first part of 2000 alone, a decade after perestroika. Did Americans tell them to behave like this? No. This is simply how Russians behave, American advice or not.

And this:

Uncle Sam heeded neocon siren voices and encircled Russia via Nato.

Oh please. Again, this is straight out of the Kremlin book of propaganda. The Nato expansion was more about a bureaucratic organisation wanting to increase its headcount and footprint more than a grand strategy to encircle Russia. Had America wanted to destroy Russia in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, they would have done so. As I said here:

By historical standards Russia, as part of a collapsing empire which had been defeated after a long and often bloody struggle against an ideological, military, and political enemy that remained strong, got off awfully lightly.

Now I will concede that some Nato actions – the bombing of Serbia, for example – might be construed as offensive and give Putin & Co some cause for concern, but the idea that Nato represents any sort of threat to Russia is laughable. I am quite sure that the Russians themselves don’t believe it either, no matter how much they repeat it for political purposes.

Neocons then doubled down on their folly by convincing an idiotic president and his poodle Tony Blair to invade Iraq. A trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of dead later, not a single neocon has been jailed or tried for their crimes. But Putin has been demonised by those same neocons and their networks, and by newspapers such as the Mexican-owned New York Times.

So the idiocy of the Iraq War makes Putin off-limits for criticism? I agree that the neo-cons have no moral ground on which to criticise Putin, but it doesn’t make them wrong. Not that I think they are right either, but the premise is daft.

The Nato expansion into the former Soviet block is now being called a ‘tragic mistake’ by those of us not taken in by neocon propaganda. There was bound to be an authoritarian backlash in Russia as a result.

And there we have the Russians’ lack of agency again. Incorporating the Czech Republic into Nato in 1999 simply forced Putin to embark on aggressive, anti-western policies in 2007.

And then there is the monstrously corrupt privatisation, sanctioned by a drunken Yeltsin. (Chelsea fans and other beneficiaries in London and New York should put up a statue of the drunk. Swiss and Bahama-based bankers pray for him daily.)

The author  appears not to realise that the person he is praising and his entourage are the prime beneficiaries of this monstrously corrupt privatisation. Does he think Putin and Roman Abramovich are enemies? But again, note how a drunk Russian presiding over a corrupt privatisation programme from which ruthless Russian gangsters benefited is something to be blamed on foreigners.

Of course, there is a reason for all this nonsense, and it is contained in a paragraph near the start of the article:

I’ve recently been reading rather a lot about RT. My friend, the film director James Toback — who directed the greatest movie of all time, Seduced and Abandoned — tells me it is the only news channel he watches in New York. I may be biased against the BBC and American networks because of their hypocritical claim of impartiality (as impartial as Saudi clerics judging a Jewish smuggler), but I love RT as it doesn’t do fake news. And, unlike American broadcasters, it has a sense of humour.

Russia Today doesn’t do fake news? Right.

The author has made the same mistake most people do when commenting on Russia: they have (rightly) understood that the Western, mainstream media is wrong, biased, or both and stumbled across Russia Today. They have then, for reasons unknown only to themselves, abandoned all skepticism and accepted without question what they see and hear from the Kremlin-run channel. I have noticed a similar thing with some of my friends on Facebook: they have realised that the BBC is unreliable and so start posting quotes from Zerohedge, as if they are any more truthful.

The idea that perhaps the situation with Russia is complex, each issue must be viewed separately, and the truth lies somewhere between the BBC/CNN and RT escapes most contemporary commentators. Perhaps Putin isn’t benign, but maybe he’s not quite like Saddam Hussein either. Sure, Russia might have legitimate concerns over Nato’s behaviour, but that did not compel them to embark on land-grabs and launch an insurrection in East Ukraine. There is some middle ground here, but boy do I feel like I’m ploughing a lonely furrow through it.

(As an aside, some advice for the author after reading this passage:

And speaking of girls, at our last summer party, towards the end, when I was well fuelled, I met Olga, a very pretty Russian who works for Russia Today. Olga has perfect manners, something her male counterparts are not famous for, and is well spoken and graceful. Even the MoMC thought her too good for me when they met at my birthday party.

For those of us who have spent time in Russia, few things come across as more nauseating than a middle-aged Western man, having encountered a Russian woman for the first time in his life, telling people about it.)

Decline and Fall, BBC Version

Good grief, the BBC doesn’t half peddle some shite. This is from an article entitled How Western civilisation could collapse:

The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter.

So individual liberties suffer when the economy performs badly, eh? How do we explain the Blair years, then? And we’re always being told how Obama rescued the economy, yet social tolerance deteriorated markedly. If we’re sticking to the bicycle analogy, this article has gotten off to a wobbly start.

Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group.

Is this what happens in a recession? Some examples would be nice. But I suppose there’s no need: if it’s on the BBC, it must be true.

Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

I’m glad the lefties at the BBC have finally figured out that a functioning economy is essential to stop us descending into a chaotic, authoritarian, basket-case. If only they’d extend this awareness to Cuba and Venezuela we’d be getting somewhere.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end.

They have? Civilisations have collapsed due to the economy not growing? I suppose the Soviet Union might count but they had, erm, a rather particular approach to their economy which might not apply to us.

Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse.

Imagine how good this article would be with examples to support such bold assertions of fact.

What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

Oh, they’re talking about mass immigration! Now it all makes sense! Actually, no, they’re not. This is the BBC.

Safa Motesharrei, a systems scientist at the University of Maryland, uses computer models to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that can lead to local or global sustainability or collapse. According to findings that Motesharrei and his colleagues published in 2014, there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification.

Presumably his computer model rejected political stupidity as being too obvious a cause. And when he tried to enter ethnic hatreds as a factor his Twitter account reported him to the police.

The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom, especially in terms of depletion of natural resources such as groundwater, soil, fisheries and forests – all of which could be worsened by climate change.

With the possible exception of Easter Island, where has this ever led to the breakdown of society? It seems that this is “widely understood and recognised” only by those who for some perverse reason yearn for it to happen.

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour.

Boilerplate Marxism came as a surprise to a researcher looking at human societies?

Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour.

Well, yes. Marx was forever telling us this was imminent over a century ago. Did it ever happen?

The inequalities we see today both within and between countries already point to such disparities. For example, the top 10% of global income earners are responsible for almost as much total greenhouse gas emissions as the bottom 90% combined.

Sorry, what? What have greenhouse gases got to do with dissatisfaction over wealth allocation? Is that really at the forefront of the minds of those eking out a living on a rubbish dump in Lagos?

Similarly, about half the world’s population lives on less than $3 per day.

Things have improved, then: the metric used to be $1 per day. Must have been the roaring success of international socialism that brought about the change.

For both scenarios, the models define a carrying capacity – a total population level that a given environment’s resources can sustain over the long term.

Are they still talking about economic growth here? Or have they abandoned that entirely? I’m not sure. If the former, they’re making the fallacy that Tim Worstall makes part of a living pointing out, that of believing economic growth must involve the consumption of more resources. Which is bollocks. If not…well, they’re peddling Malthusian nonsense and Ehrlich’s utterly discredited Population Bomb. Apparently this passes for noteworthy research at the BBC.

If the carrying capacity is overshot by too much, collapse becomes inevitable.

This seems to rely on a model of society which is analogous to an engine draining a fuel tank.

That fate is avoidable, however. “If we make rational choices to reduce factors such as inequality, explosive population growth, the rate at which we deplete natural resources and the rate of pollution – all perfectly doable things – then we can avoid collapse and stabilise onto a sustainable trajectory,” Motesharrei said. “But we cannot wait forever to make those decisions.”

So the answer is increased political control over society with fewer choices and rationing. And we must act now. I bet you didn’t see that coming.

Unfortunately, some experts believe such tough decisions exceed our political and psychological capabilities.

The oiks won’t do what us experts think they should.

“The world will not rise to the occasion of solving the climate problem during this century, simply because it is more expensive in the short term to solve the problem than it is to just keep acting as usual,” says Jorgen Randers, a professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School.

Those pesky citizens don’t want to respond to our doom-mongering by impoverishing themselves.

“The climate problem will get worse and worse and worse because we won’t be able to live up to what we’ve promised to do in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.”

In other words, the Paris “Agreement” wasn’t.

While we are all in this together, the world’s poorest will feel the effects of collapse first. Indeed, some nations are already serving as canaries in the coal mine for the issues that may eventually pull apart more affluent ones.

Venezuela? Zimbabwe? France?!

Syria, for example, enjoyed exceptionally high fertility rates for a time, which fueled rapid population growth. A severe drought in the late 2000s, likely made worse by human-induced climate change, combined with groundwater shortages to cripple agricultural production. That crisis left large numbers of people – especially young men – unemployed, discontent and desperate.

“Likely” made worse by human-induced climate change. Uh-huh. Anyway, poor governance, poor infrastructure, and a population with nothing to do but breed caused problems. Note that Israel – right next door – didn’t suffer the same fate.

Many flooded into urban centres, overwhelming limited resources and services there.

A rural society, then. Naturally, this is relevant to the West.

Pre-existing ethnic tensions increased, creating fertile grounds for violence and conflict.

Eh? What ethnic tensions? This may come as a surprise to the BBC, but the war in Syria is largely between the government of Bashar al-Assad and those who oppose him. It’s not Muslims v Christians v Kurds, is it?

On top of that, poor governance – including neoliberal policies that eliminated water subsidies in the middle of the drought – tipped the country into civil war in 2011 and sent it careening toward collapse.

Oh right. So insofar as there was appalling governance it was actually that which constituted sensible economics which caused the problems. And of course it was the drought which brought Syrians onto the streets in armed rebellion against the government, not decades of living under a corrupt dictatorship and the torturing of a bunch of teenagers by the regime’s secret police.

In Syria’s case – as with so many other societal collapses throughout history – it was not one but a plethora of factors that contributed, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada

Nobody thinks civil wars happen because of one thing. But if we’re going to list factors which led to the Syrian civil war, perhaps we ought to focus a little more on the regime of Bashar al-Assad and not so much on “neoliberal polices” regarding water subsidies?

Homer-Dixon calls these combined forces tectonic stresses for the way in which they quietly build up and then abruptly erupt, overloading any stabilising mechanisms that otherwise keep a society in check.

Which in the case of Syria was a ruthless and highly authoritarian government. Sort of like the one half these lunatic environmentalists want to foist on us. With them in charge, of course.

The Syrian case aside, another sign that we’re entering into a danger zone, Homer-Dixon says, is the increasing occurrence of what experts call nonlinearities, or sudden, unexpected changes in the world’s order, such as the 2008 economic crisis, the rise of ISIS, Brexit, or Donald Trump’s election.

You knew it was coming, didn’t you? Never mind civil war and depletion of resources, the real danger to society lies with citizens voting in ways not approved by the enlightened elites who peddle this crap. And the election of Donald Trump in a free and fair US presidential election is exactly like a murderous medieval Islamic cult seizing lands across the Middle East and slaughtering anyone in their path. In fact, the two are so similar I don’t know why we even bother to differentiate any more. We should just call them TRISIS.

The past can also provide hints for how the future might play out.

Well, yes. More so than Motesharrei’s bloody computer models at any rate. Hence my call for examples.

Take, for example, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

I won’t quote the whole lot, and I have no idea if the BBC has got any of this right, but the lesson seems to be that large empires are hard to maintain. How this is relevant to any Western country in 2017 is beyond me.

The Empire tried to maintain its core lands, even as the army ate up its budget and inflation climbed ever higher as the government debased its silver currency to try to cover its mounting expenses.

Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

One would think the lesson here is for governments to limit their size and spending and not debase their currencies. But the BBC doesn’t want its readers to reach this rather obvious conclusion and goes back to climate change doom-mongering. But before they do we get this rather bizarre history of the oil industry:

So far, modern Western societies have largely been able to postpone similar precipitators of collapse through fossil fuels and industrial technologies – think hydraulic fracturing coming along in 2008, just in time to offset soaring oil prices.

Eh? Here is a chart showing the oil price between 2008 and 2017:

The collapse in the oil price in 2008 game as a result of the global financial crisis stymieing demand, not hydraulic fracturing making oil production cheaper. Fracking only really started to play a role after the second collapse in 2015 – again caused by weak demand – when America became (theoretically) self-sufficient in oil production due to the new technology. But according to the BBC, fossil fuel production and hydraulic fracturing is what has kept Western civilisation going the way of the Roman Empire.

Which makes me somewhat of a hero, doesn’t it? Finally, a use for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Tainter suspects this will not always be the case, however. “Imagine the costs if we have to build a seawall around Manhattan, just to protect against storms and rising tides,” he says.

A minute ago we were being told about historical precedents and the Roman Empire. Now we’re being asked to imagine ludicrous future scenarios.

Eventually, investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, leading to fiscal weakness and vulnerability to collapse.

I have no idea what that means, sorry. Was this article even edited? Perhaps with their £3bn per year guaranteed income, times are tough at the BBC.

That is, he says “unless we find a way to pay for the complexity, as our ancestors did when they increasingly ran societies on fossil fuels.”

This is what happens when you use a 2008 version of Google Translate when writing articles.

Also paralleling Rome, Homer-Dixon predicts that Western societies’ collapse will be preceded by a retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands.

You mean immigration will reverse? When?

As poorer nations continue to disintegrate amid conflicts and natural disasters, enormous waves of migrants will stream out of failing regions, seeking refuge in more stable states.

This doesn’t sound much like people retreating to their core homelands. It sounds pretty much like present day Europe.

Western societies will respond with restrictions and even bans on immigration; multi-billion dollar walls and border-patrolling drones and troops; heightened security on who and what gets in; and more authoritarian, populist styles of governing.

Expert academic solemnly predicts the future by stating what is already happening.

“It’s almost an immunological attempt by countries to sustain a periphery and push pressure back,” Homer-Dixon says.

So less of a “retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands” than staying put with the fruits of their labour and keeping invading hordes at bay.

Meanwhile, a widening gap between rich and poor within those already vulnerable Western nations will push society toward further instability from the inside. “By 2050, the US and UK will have evolved into two-class societies where a small elite lives a good life and there is declining well-being for the majority,” Randers says. “What will collapse is equity.”

Well, yes. It was partly recognition that a wealthy elite are running the show for themselves at the expense of the majority that delivered victories for Trump and the Brexit campaigners.

Whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, the more dissatisfied and afraid people become, Homer-Dixon says, the more of a tendency they have to cling to their in-group identity – whether religious, racial or national.

Presumably this explains the rise of Black Lives Matter and the left-driven identity politics.

Denial, including of the emerging prospect of societal collapse itself, will be widespread, as will rejection of evidence-based fact. If people admit that problems exist at all, they will assign blame for those problems to everyone outside of their in-group, building up resentment. “You’re setting up the psychological and social prerequisites for mass violence,” Homer-Dixon says. When localised violence finally does break out, or another country or group decides to invade, collapse will be difficult to avoid.

A better description of the left’s reaction to Trump becoming president is hard to find.

Europe, with its close proximity to Africa, its land bridge to the Middle East and its neighbourly status with more politically volatile nations to the East, will feel these pressures first.

They’ve been feeling them for quite some time now. Only so-called leaders are in – what was that word you mentioned earlier? – denial.

The US will likely hold out longer, surrounded as it is by ocean buffers.

And with Trump at the helm, building his wall.

On the other hand, Western societies may not meet with a violent, dramatic end. In some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper.

Indeed. Unless we start hanging our current crop of politicians from lamp-posts (the French may use guillotines if they so desire), this is quite likely.

The British Empire has been on this path since 1918, Randers says, and other Western nations might go this route as well. As time passes, they will become increasingly inconsequential and, in response to the problems driving their slow fade-out, will also starkly depart from the values they hold dear today.

“Western nations are not going to collapse, but the smooth operation and friendly nature of Western society will disappear, because inequity is going to explode,” Randers argues.

He is right about the smooth operation and friendly nature of Western societies disappearing, but it has nothing to do with inequality. What will cause it is something the BBC and its supporters refuse to even discuss.

“Democratic, liberal society will fail, while stronger governments like China will be the winners.”

Then shouldn’t we be pleased that Trump is Hitler?

Some of these forecasts and early warning signs should sound familiar, precisely because they are already underway.

I want this guy’s job.

Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development, Homer-Dixon says.

Alternatively, we could just shoot those who are calling for a carefully-managed Utopia grounded in “science” and “extraordinary leadership” and let people get on with their lives. It seems to have worked pretty well so far.

Even as we weather the coming stresses of climate change, population growth and dropping energy returns, we can maintain our societies and better them.

Particularly if we ignore rubbish like this.

But that requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason.

If we abandon our natural urges, we can live better lives. How very Soviet.

“The question is, how can we manage to preserve some kind of humane world as we make our way through these changes?” Homer-Dixon says.

Here’s my suggestion: allow British citizens to keep their money in their pockets instead of forcing them to shell out £3bn per year for the BBC to publish garbage like this. A more humane gesture I cannot imagine at this juncture.

The BBC on Beslan

From the BBC:

Beslan school siege: Russia ‘failed to prevent’ massacre

Given a massacre happened, I’d say so, yes.

In the siege, Chechen separatists took more than 1,000 hostages, the vast majority of them children.

It ended when Russian security forces stormed the building. Survivors say the troops used excessive force.

In all seriousness, and acknowledging that the siege would have been an enormous challenge for even the world’s most proficient counter-terrorism force, the Russian response was absolutely shambolic in the most woeful sense of the word. It made Nord-Ost look like Operation Entebbe.

And this:

Presumably the chap who does the bylines is Irish.

US Foreign Policy Lacks Clarity? Good

The BBC, like everything else except perhaps the weather, costume dramas, and cookery shows, isn’t very good at analysing foreign policy:

Of course the thing about red lines is that they need to be crystal clear.

Yes, which was exactly the problem with Obama’s use of the term: a “bunch of chemical weapons” indeed.

In the immediate aftermath of the strike this seemed to be the case.

Well, yes: use chemical weapons, get Tomahawks fired at you.

The message was: use nerve gas again and consequences will follow.

That too.

But on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer muddied the waters.

Asked if air attacks with conventional weapons might also draw US punitive action, he said: “If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, you will see a response from this president.”

Barrel bombs, though, tend to be large canisters filled with explosives and shrapnel that are typically dropped by Syrian government forces from helicopters. In other words they are conventional rather than chemical munitions.

So was Mr Spicer broadening the red line? Belatedly the White House had to issue a clarification noting that what he really was saying was that barrel bombs containing chemical weapons would draw a US response.

I think the BBC is reading too much into this: Spicer could have used any terminology. The message is: the Trump administration can and will use military force against those it doesn’t like, in stark contrast to the policies of Barack Obama.

This lack of clarity would not matter quite so much if it was not characteristic of the Trump administration’s whole approach to foreign policy. And the stakes could not be higher.

The stakes are the same as when Obama was in charge, and we didn’t see the BBC running front-page articles about how his policy of dithering, hand-wringing, and backtracking was catastrophic even though it so obviously was.

There seems to be no central guiding brain behind the evolution of the Trump team’s foreign policy. The US president himself has failed to articulate any clear approach.

Which can be both a good and a bad thing. One of the worst aspects of Obama’s foreign policy was his constant flip-flopping and failure to back up his words with actions. This emboldened the likes of Putin and Assad to take steps which they were confident would not result in any serious reaction from the United States. The problem with this was it left the road wide open for a miscalculation, whereby somebody like Putin would either take a step too far or lose control of a situation and America would have no choice but to act, resulting in a war that nobody really wanted. Obama and Kerry also had the habit of immediately telling the world what they were not going to do in the wake of a geopolitical crisis, helpfully crossing off those options they weren’t considering. This only served to embolden America’s enemies further and increase the likelihood of a misstep.

As things stand, Trump’s approach seems to be a lot more sensible: show that he is willing to use force, and willing to use it where Obama wouldn’t, but otherwise keep quiet about what he will or won’t do given any particular situation.

With regard to Syria that may be unsettling. With regard to North Korea, it could be potentially catastrophic.

Sure, it might be better to come up with a concrete, workable policy on issues such as Syria and North Korea  – but this assumes it is possible to arrive at one. North Korea has been an intractable problem since the 1950s and there is no solution that I can see regarding Syria short of keeping well out of it. In the absence of a clear policy, it is probably better that Trump remains unpredictable and keeps America’s enemies guessing. This is far less likely to result in a catastrophe than Obama’s idiotic habit of using empty words, encouraging escalation, crying when it happens, and then doing nothing.

Bravery in the Face of Safety

From the BBC:

A viral photo of a woman smiling at an English Defence League (EDL) protester in Birmingham was snapped after she stepped in to defend a “fellow Brummie”, she has told the BBC.

The image of Saffiyah Khan has been shared thousands of times since it was taken at Saturday’s demonstration.

Ms Khan, from Birmingham, said she had intervened when she saw another woman surrounded by about 25 men.

Ms Khan, who was born in the UK and is half-Pakistani, half-Bosnian, said she “wasn’t intimidated in the slightest”.

I’m not surprised she wasn’t intimidated. Why would she be? The EDL might occupy the knuckle-dragging end of the political right but they don’t go in for beating people up at protests, let alone young women. One might be able to imagine circumstances where confronting a bunch of protesters would be intimidating, but going up against of middle-aged white men in Britain? Nah. Never in a million years was she going to come to harm, and she knew it.

She added: “He put his finger in my face. It was very aggressive. A police officer was there and the man took his finger out of my face. I wouldn’t have responded violently.”

Had the circumstances been slightly different she’d have found herself arrested for breaching the peace.

The picture was shared by, among others, Piers Morgan, who called it “photo of the week”, and Birmingham Labour MP Jess Phillips.

People need their heroines, I suppose.

Homophobic assault, but by whom?

This is another BBC story where what they leave out is more interesting than what they put in:

Dutch men are uploading pictures of themselves holding hands on to social media to stand against homophobia.

The trend was sparked by an alleged attack on two gay men on a street in the Netherlands on Sunday.

Jasper Vernes-Sewratan, 35, and Ronnie Sewratan-Vernes, 31, say they were attacked by a group of men in the early hours of Sunday morning in Arnhem, in the country’s east.

Yeah? Any description of the attackers? Not from the BBC, no. What about here:

All four arrested are from Arnhem, including a 14-year-old and three 16-year-olds. They join two who were held by police right after the attack, another 14-year-old boy and a man, aged 20.

Note the lack of names: possibly because they are underage, but what about the 20 year old? Finally after some digging around I find this:

Jasper wrote on Facebook that the attackers were Moroccan, but he did not say how he knew.

So even LGBQT publications are casting doubt on the victim’s account of who the attackers were, while the mainstream media are simply refusing to report it.

I’ve been saying for a while that gay men are going to get thrown under the bus by the progressive crowd before too long, and it appears that this is already happening. There’s a problem here, and it isn’t one that is going to be solved by Dutch men walking around holding hands with one another. I wonder which way they voted in the last election? And I wonder to whom they will run in future?

French Resistance

This is an interesting introduction to a BBC article on France:

France, despite its reputation as a beacon of progressive liberalism, has been at the forefront of a burgeoning pan-European far-right movement.

France may have a reputation as a beacon of progressive liberalism, but it is in actual fact a deeply conservative country. Indeed, the French are probably more renowned for being resistant to any kind of change than for their supposed progressive credentials.

Even socially you can see it. Third-wave feminism hasn’t gained much traction in France as elsewhere; now that the demands of the first- and second-wave feminists have largely been met, French women don’t seem to be demanding special treatment and safe spaces, nor are they complaining much about a patriarchy. And unlike their sisters in the UK, Frenchwomen have refrained from adopting the worst habits of men by going out, getting blind drunk, and having indiscriminate sex up against a bin. French women still have very old fashioned ideas about how women should dress and behave, and their approach to families and children seems like a throwback to our parents’ era. France might have taken a great leap forward in 1968 or whenever it was, but they’ve been fighting tooth and nail to prevent any kind of meaningful change every since.

Marine Le Pen, an anti-immigration Eurosceptic who may well top the first round of France’s presidential election on 23 April, is riding a populist insurgency that has been growing over the past 15 years.

Its themes are familiar in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit: concern for hardworking people, support for traditional values, and opposition to immigration and supranational busybodies.

Themes which ought to have been familiar to mainstream politicians for decades.

The title of this other BBC article is also revealing:

Is France’s online far right a threat to democracy?

“A threat to democracy” meaning, in this case, a threat to the soft left-liberal consensus of the political establishment.

I don’t think the BBC is going to do a very good job of covering this French election, do you?

The Ones Who Flee: British Edition

Once again the BBC trawls around for folk quitting a country over the political preferences of its population. Last time it was Americans running from the Trumpocaust, only their examples left much to be desired. This time it’s Europeans fleeing Brexit:

Katarina Karmazinova came to London aged 24 to study European business. Attracted, she says, by the UK’s multiculturalism and openness, the Slovakian native chose the Royal Holloway University for her master’s degree. After graduating, she decided to stay and work – she even bought a flat. But when the UK voted to leave the European Union in June last year, Karmazinova sold her flat, quit her job, and left the country. She has been travelling and writing since.

Hmmm.

“It made me sad that the UK, that advanced life I’ve always praised in Slovakia as an example politically and culturally, had now a crack,” says Karmazinova, who was in the UK for eight years. “Suddenly, half of the country showed a different face to me.”

Just like that, eh? Britain voted to leave and you quit your job and sold your flat in order to travel around and write. I don’t think we’re being told the whole story here. I assume she’s single, or at least childless: decisions like this tend not to be very compatible with a family life or a steady relationship. If I were to be cruel, and I will, I’d say she done quite well professionally earning enough to buy a property in London, but she’s reached middle age and found her life an otherwise complete, empty mess. Selling up to go travelling and writing is not a rational response to Brexit, and has midlife crisis written all over it.

For Karmazinova, it is the spirit of Brexit that is making her want to leave.

Whatever helps you get through the day, I suppose.

Some are simply considering leaving and waiting it out for now. Others have already left, returning home, going somewhere else within the EU, or decamping to a different continent altogether.

Have they? Or were they going anyway, like half of those in your Trump article?

If limits are placed on who can get work, Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, says people will start to pack up and leave.

But will they pack up and leave before such limits have been imposed, based on pure speculation? Unlikely. Perhaps this is why the BBC went to discuss it with some Americans instead of Brits and Europeans.

After getting over the “shock” of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, 33-year-old Marcin Czyza got the idea for an online recruitment firm to help people.

So Czyza launched ExpatExit.com in November. Registrants can fill out profiles and answer questions about where they would like to relocate. Within a few months, interest in the site took off. There are more than 1,200 registered candidates.

1,200 people registering in a few months? It’s hardly a stampede, is it? And bear in mind that the site itself has no content whatsoever unless you register, except for this garbage:

High costs of living? Far away from family and friends? Unfriendly atmosphere? Does this sound familiar? If the only reason for you to stay in the United Kingdom is your job, we have the perfect solution for you. Just register on our website, create your profile and indicate where you would like to work. It doesn’t matter if it is your home town or an exotic destination where you were always dreaming of living. Our job is to contact all potential employers at the location of your choice. Just give yourself a chance !

Expatexit is a natural response to the recent events which took place in the UK. It is a solution for all people who do not want to be excluded from the European and International Business and who understand that there is no need to wait until the UK begins to suffer from its new policy. We truly believe that everybody has his or her dream destination and we want to help you to get there.

I wonder how many people he’s actually helped move. I wonder why the BBC didn’t ask. Or perhaps they did, and elected to cite the number of people registering instead.

“I served the first candidates with some contacts to recruiters and human resources departments,” says Czyza.

Wow, you can just feel the value being added!

Now, he says, it is hard to keep up with all of the interest in the site, and he has started working with a number of companies in industries like finance and IT that are looking to hire people away from the UK.

How. Many. Have. Actually. Left. Question. Mark.

The UK’s not alone. In the US, interest in leaving the country rose after Donald Trump won the presidency.

Oh yes, we all remember that one.

In both countries, says Batalova, anti-immigration policies could deter immigrants, and lower immigration could have a major effect on certain industries, such as agriculture, hospitality, retail and medicine.

So could higher immigration. Which is part of the problem, of course.

“Yes, these industries will adjust over time. But they will experience a short-term shock,” she says. “You can’t train a doctor, a physicist, a nurse, or an engineer overnight.”

No, which is why we poach them from the third-world in the first place. Again, this is part of the problem.

When Dariusz Truchel emigrated to Britain from Poland in 2005, he did so with the idea that he would find “better job possibilities”. Once settled outside of London, he worked as a project manager and took a number of health and safety courses, eventually setting up his own health and safety consultancy. Truchel even bought a house.

Sounds as though he’s done quite well in Britain.

But after Brexit, Truchel, 34, began feeling pessimistic about the future. He began noticing a new attitude among people who had voted to separate from the EU.

“It is hard to describe this atmosphere because nobody dares to say it to your face, but there is a feeling of being an uninvited guest,” he says.

He knows who voted Leave, but nobody will dare say anything to his face.

He registered on Expat Exit and is now seriously considering leaving the UK.

Despite having bought a house and on the basis of a new attitude which he can’t describe and remains unsaid? He should have given Expat Exit a miss and registered on Tinder where he could meet Katarina Karmazinova: the two sound perfect for one another.

He would like to resettle back in Poland or southern Europe…

Only there’s no work.

…but is also considering Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, since German-speaking countries “attract more business,” he says.

Switzerland isn’t in the EU and he has no right to work there, of course. But apparently they’re crying out for Polish health and safety consultants.

“I expect the British economy to suffer from Brexit and I don’t want to wait for it.”

Says the chap contemplating going to southern Europe.

For Alex, a 32-year-old Romanian who asked that only his first name due to safety concerns, London was “the obvious choice” in 2014. He had completed his MBA in France and was considering opportunities in London, Berlin, Dubai, and Singapore. “When London materialised, I didn’t think twice,” he says. “I loved the city and the working culture, having worked under English managers in the past.”

Uh-huh.

And all seemed to be going well until the Brexit vote. “Before Brexit, I saw myself staying in London long-term,” Alex says. Now, he is looking at alternatives, including Dubai, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

You think Britain’s intolerant but you want to go to Dubai or Singapore?

His top concern isn’t what will happen to the UK economy but rather to his family, specifically his young child who will be starting preschool soon. “I don’t want my child to be treated badly, bullied, or discriminated against. With the recent wave of hate towards immigrants, it’s a real possibility,” he says.

Because Eastern Europeans are looked on with such favour in Dubai. Does he realise most people will assume his wife is a hooker?

“Part of the reason for coming to the UK was to give my little one a good start in life, education and culture wise.”

Which Romania was incapable of providing, presumably.

In the ethnically-diverse London neighbourhood in which Alex and his family live, there haven’t been any major problems yet, just some snide comments and a sense of gloating, he says. “It’s off-putting,” Alex says.

As are the continual comments about British people being knuckle-dragging racists.

Karmazinova, the Slovakian who left the UK, has yet to decide where she will settle – but she knows it won’t be back in the UK as long it stays separated from the EU.

Nor her native Slovakia, presumably. Why not?

The most frustrating part of Brexit for her was that she couldn’t do anything other than wait and see which way the vote went since she, like many foreigners, wasn’t eligible to vote in the referendum.

Appallingly, Russians didn’t get a say in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 either.

“I’ve spent eight years: studying, working, paying taxes and national insurance, spending money on lattes, theatre tickets and Oyster cards. I bought a flat and sold it, paid stamp duty, then bought another, learned British slang, ate fruit scones, went to council meetings, read theTime Out on the tube and laughed about its insider jokes, watched the news… until it started to feel like I belonged. I became a Londoner,” she says.

Key word: Londoner. Somebody ought to have told her that the rest of Britain is quite different.

“And yet, I could just stand by and watch.”

As things carry on much as before. Oh, the humanity!

Now, she’s watching from overseas.

Twenty quid says she’s back in London within two years.

Standing for what, exactly?

Perhaps I am the only one who is skeptical about this:

Women gathered on Westminster Bridge on Sunday to show solidarity with the victims of the London terror attack.

Is that why they were there? Or is that why they said they were there?

Many of the women wore head scarves at the tribute and said they were wearing blue to represent hope.

I’m more interested in why they were wearing headscarves than why they wore blue. Sadly, the BBC doesn’t tell us.

The event was organised by Women’s March On London group which took part in an international campaign to highlight women’s rights on the first full day of Donald Trump’s US presidency.

So it was a political event, then.

Another woman who was there, Sarah Waseem, said the Islam faith “totally condemns violence of any sort”.

Is this what you came to tell us?

She said: “When an attack happens in London, it is an attack on me.

You know, there are some people out there who wish that, in the wake of a terrorist attack, certain groups would not insist on making it all about them.

Women’s rights activist, Akeela Ahmed, who helped organise Sunday’s event said it had been “powerful and sent a clear message”.

She said there had been no speeches and that those attending had been advised to stay for the five minutes then disperse because the group had wanted it to be low key and not disruptive.

A low-key event formally organised and advertised by a political lobby group called “Women’s March On London” and reported by the BBC on its front page.

I may be being a little harsh here, but I think the memory of the victims would have been better served had these people stayed at home.