Too Much To Lose

In the comments of this post, MC makes a good point:

I read something about California recently in which the author described how the state will fine people like him thousands of dollars for a wrongly-laid drain, while ignoring the illegal plumbing of illegal immigrants.

This is related to the Hither Green Chavshrine™ and a comment made by The Manc:

It could cause a flash point, but it won’t, because decent law-abiding people have too much to lose to bother getting caught up in something like this.

I’m starting to believe that western societies, once they reach a certain level of wealth and comfort, will start to implode. One of the ways this will happen is the middle classes – who provide the the ruling classes with legitimacy – will have too much to lose to even raise their head in opposition to obvious abuses of state power. Now the masses having a lot to lose is generally a good thing: it stops them taking to the hills and enduring immense hardships while fighting pointless civil wars, for example. But as with most things, there appears to be an inflection point where the population goes from being generally satisfied to being utterly cowed. The state authorities, which by their nature look for soft targets, find it all too easy to threaten the comfortable existence of the middle classes with ruinous fines, reputational damage, and other punishments which overnight could upend their entire lives. By contrast, those who don’t have as much to lose, e.g. illegal immigrants in California or travellers in Hither Green, take a lot more effort for the ruling classes to keep in line.

You see a similar thing happening in large corporations, which interestingly Tommy Robinson mentioned in his recent podcast with James Delingpole. Robinson said the reason there is so little pushback from the masses against the ruling classes over scandals such as the Rotherham and Telford abuses or terrorism is because they enjoy extremely comfortable lives paid for by taking on colossal quantities of debt. This in turn means they are desperate to hold onto their jobs, terrified they may lose it along with their living standards. It’s not that people won’t find another job, but more they won’t find one which pays the same money: the tendency is for people’s lifestyles to expand to match their wages, meaning taking a lower paid job is not an option unless they wish to downgrade their lifestyle. If ever you’ve watched one of those programmes on TV where an expert takes a person faced with bankruptcy and tries to get them back into the black, this is an exceptionally difficult thing to do. But the expenditure which cripples most people is housing; years of government manipulation has forced the middle classes to extend themselves well beyond what is sensible, and people will put up with anything to avoid losing the only job which pays for their home. Managers in companies know this only too well, mainly because they are in a similar situation themselves, and use this leverage in the form of veiled and not-so-veiled threats to obtain compliance from their subordinates. If this goes on long enough, normal management practices are abandoned entirely and this leverage becomes the standard tool. The result is an ubiquity of moral cowardice in the workplace.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if the aims of the ruling classes and corporations were separate, but the line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred. Governments have realised they can police people’s behaviour and political opinions by outsourcing it to employers. Whether by accident or design, companies were forced to employ sprawling HR departments to remain compliant with the growing thicket of government regulations, but now serve to ensure anyone who expresses unapproved opinions gets booted from their job. As I’ve written before, what makes the situation worse is you have people on the right queuing up to defend this practice.

In summary, you have the vast majority of the population paying off mountainous debts on their homes, terrified of losing their jobs; you have managers and HR departments using this leverage as a matter of course; and you have those same managers and HR departments increasingly doing the bidding of politicians. If there is a better way of keeping a population cowed short of Gulags and mass murder, I’d be interested to hear of it.

So it’s not surprising the law-abiding in California or Hither Green are being shoved around by the authorities while illegals and travellers are free to do as they please. The shoving around is a feature of the system, not a bug. The other part of The Manc’s comment completes the picture:

The only angry young men we have couldn’t give a shit about this type of thing. It’s not the type of flashpoint that created the 2011 riots.

The only people prepared to take on the authorities are those who have little or nothing to lose by the criteria set by the ruling classes. Until that criteria changes, ordinary people are going to keep finding themselves on the wrong side; until they start voting differently, the criteria won’t change.

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Fraudsters Enabled by Modern Government Practices

A month or two ago, the ZMan included in his podcast a segment about this story:

For years, people living in a quiet neighborhood in the Northland ignored the invoices that arrived in their mail demanding payment to a homeowners association.

“Just want to let you know it’s a scam,” Tony Navarro said he was told when he moved to the Summerfield subdivision. “This is not an HOA neighborhood at all. There are no monthly fees.”

But then, just before Christmas, a $445 lien was filed against Navarro’s home and more than 30 others.

The reason? For not paying dues to the Summerfield Homeowners Association. An HOA that has no board and provides no services.

The filing of fake liens and other documents has become a big problem in Missouri. The owners of a $4 million mansion in St. Louis had to go to court to prevent a woman they accused of filing a fake quit claim deed from taking possession of their home.

This is the sort of scam the government should be shutting down immediately it comes to their attention and the perpetrators jailed for fraud. But instead we learn:

We also wanted to speak to the other person behind the fake Summerfiled HOA, but he was even harder to reach.

Al Roberts is in federal prison, convicted of $3 million in mortgage fraud. Roberts, a retired Kansas City school teacher, formed Column’s Park, the company behind the HOA. Roberts also sent out the initial invoices to homeowners.

How is this guy able to run a fake company issuing fraudulent demands for payments from federal prison? I have no idea, but it’s clear the government isn’t much interested in stopping this sort of thing. But there is a deeper point here, one which is reinforced by this tweet:

Only in a society where the laws are numerous, vague, and arbitrarily and aggressively applied with punitive sanctions for non-compliance can a scammer get away with sending dodgy demands and threats to random people with the hope of getting payment. In effect, the fraudsters are mimicking the behaviour of the state, which is key to making the scams work. The whole thing relies on the recipient being terrified of being judged to be non-compliant with an obligation they didn’t know about, and having their life ruined.

The root cause of the problem is not the scammers, but the nature of the government in the places they operate. Back when government was smaller, less complex, and applied some common sense these sort of scams wouldn’t have been possible. But those days are long gone, and criminals have stepped forward to take full advantage.

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The Defenestration of Kevin Williamson

There’s a big fuss going on in the US right now over the decision of those running The Atlantic to fire the writer Kevin Williamson, who was only recently hired. This came after several days of liberals calling en masse for his sacking because in a recent podcast he had said he thought abortion should be illegal, and women who have them be treated the same as anyone else who commits homicide. He then went further and said they ought to be hanged.

Note that he didn’t say all women who have had an abortion should be hanged. He was simply arguing that abortion should be made illegal, and when it is illegal, women who have abortions should be charged with homicide. As a conservative position this is rather unremarkable, but these days expressing views which Obama held in his first term makes you a Nazi in liberal circles. His remarks about hanging women who breach any future laws on abortion were clumsy in hindsight, but he was speaking on a podcast not writing policy.

Anyway, liberals smelled blood in the water and screamed blue murder, and The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg fired Williamson:

The top editor emphasized that Williamson’s firing was not a result of his being anti-abortion—a common position for deeply religious Americans of all political stripes—but because of how his especially violent belief conflicts with the “values of our workplace.”

What he means is that employees at The Atlantic didn’t want to work with someone who held Williamson’s views, just as Google employees demanded management fire James Damore when they learned he held different opinions to them. Naturally, demented liberal feminists stepped forward to exaggerate, misrepresent, lie, and try to convince people they would actually feel unsafe around Williamson:

Such is the level of political debate in the US these days.

I don’t have an awful lot of sympathy for Williamson, however. People call him a conservative but I think at this stage it’s fair to ask any influential American who’s worn that label for more than 10 years what exactly they have conserved. From what I can tell, they’ve ceded so much ground to liberals they might as well stop pretending they’re anything else. Most Republican politicians would much rather be Democrats, and much the same could be said about the likes of Williamson: it goes without saying he was a “never Trumper” and would rather see Democrats running government than a Republican he doesn’t like. They made a decent living from saying stuff that was a little to the right of liberals, but never so far they’d upset them and be excluded from polite company in whichever metropolitan coastal city they reside. Ben Shapiro’s another one who’s done well at this, dismantling lunatic lefty arguments but making damned sure he doesn’t stray too far off the reservation and get tossed off any list of invitations. Consider the serious, right-wing concerns that any ordinary American conservative might have and see how many people outside the Alt-Right are actually speaking bluntly about them, and not just skirting around the issue with so many caveats and contradictions they might as well not have kept quiet.

The problem Williamson has, and this will catch people like Shapiro too, is the Overton window is narrowing at such an alarming rate that even opposing abortion can now get you hounded from your job by a baying mob of lunatic women and castrated men making ludicrous claims they’re being threatened with violence. Jeffrey Goldberg obviously has no balls, or is an idiot, or perhaps both, but if you build an entire career – as Williamson did – which is dependent on people like that, and consists mainly of keeping a close eye on not offending lunatics who despise you, then I can’t say I have much sympathy. Perhaps if he spent less time bashing Trump supporters he’d have seen this coming?

The real concern here is that a baying mob of lefty lunatics are expanding the scope of who they can hound from a job. It started in academia, now it’s moved onto journalism. It’s already creeping into tech. How long before this becomes commonplace, with anyone who expresses perfectly reasonable political views suddenly finding themselves fired from their jobs, and perhaps blacklisted from their industry? A lot of people are defending Goldberg and The Atlantic on the grounds that a private company should be able to hire and fire anyone they like, but we’re on dangerous territory. What are these blacklisted people supposed to do for a living, then? Others defend the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube closing accounts of those with unapproved opinions, many of which are quite benign but fall foul of the self-appointed moral guardians of the left. Sure they’re private companies, but so are banks, insurers and electricity providers. How long before the wrong comment online causes a howling mob to descend on your health, travel, or car insurer, who suddenly pulls coverage? Or you find your credit card frozen? What options do wrong-thinkers have, short of starting their own company providing every kind of service they could ever want? And how long before everyone reading this blog is a wrong-thinker?

Something’s gone badly wrong, and liberal rent-a-mobs have found a way to seriously screw with the lives of those with different opinions while the government sits back and says “nothing to do with us”. Even if those mobs turn violent, as we see every time a “controversial” speaker is invited anywhere, we get the same line. We also get a lot of conservatives and libertarians defending the right of employers and service providers to fire someone or close their accounts when lunatics like Antonova bombard their email inboxes and Twitter feeds with unhinged rants like the one above, which makes me wonder if the right has grasped the gravity of the situation and where it could lead.

I don’t know what the solution is, and government intervention will only make things worse, but they could at least get out of the way. Having tens of millions of people in protected, unionised government jobs or working in taxpayer-funded organisations who are able to mobilise and demand CEOs of private companies clobber their political opponents is something which probably ought to be addressed. Otherwise I don’t really know, but I can see there is a problem and I’m confident in saying it won’t end well.

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Banging the War Drums

Given both sides of the American Establishment detest Trump I can’t tell if this article is supposed to appeal to Republicans or Democrats, but its language is illuminating:

President Donald Trump has spoken: He wants U.S. troops and civilians out of Syria by the fall. But don’t call it a “timeline.”

It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides.

There was a time when Democrats would be extremely happy that a president would face down hawks in the military, but nowadays they’d back nuclear strikes on Tehran if Trump advised against it.

Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Sorry, what US vacuum? Nobody has any idea what the US is actually doing in Syria, let alone why it is doing it. The US was rightly criticised for creating vacuums in Iraq, firstly by deposing Saddam Hussein and then by pulling its troops out before the Iraqi army was ready to defend the place. But unless you believe the nonsense that the CIA were behind the uprising which led to the civil war, the US is in no way responsible for any vacuum that forms in Syria. While some neocon lunatics probably believe it is America’s moral duty to insert itself into any vacuum which appears around the globe and make things worse, most normal people aren’t sold on the idea.

Besides, this assumes there would be a vacuum anyway. Assad remaining in power was assured the minute the Russians stepped in to prop him up, and Iran poured into whatever was left. So if there was a vacuum, it was rapidly filled by Russia and Iran years ago. Are American operations so significant that their cessation would radically alter the balance of power in Syria? I doubt it. But most importantly, so what? The one thing I’ve never got my head around is why anybody cares whether Russia or Iran are in Syria. The place has absolutely no strategic value for the US, and the only justification I hear for American involvement is a product of demented zero-sum thinking that what is good for Russia must automatically be bad for the US. There is absolutely no chance that Assad, the Russians, the Iranians, neighbouring Turkey, the Kurds, and roaming bands of jihadists will be able to create a functioning state that threatens American interests in any meaningful way, unless they step outside the borders of Syria. In which case, let’s keep and eye on things and cross that bridge when we get there, eh?

Granted, a Syria with a large Iranian military presence could cause problems for Israel, but my guess would be Iran will have its hands full trying to deal with the Russians, Turks, and Assad. If in the event Israel is seriously threatened, that is another bridge we can cross when we come to it. And in any case, I do hope Israel isn’t the reason America is getting itself bogged down in another Middle Easter quagmire, because that would look very bad indeed.

But the article doesn’t consider any of these points, preferring to paint Trump as an imbecile ignoring the advice of national security experts who, ahem, haven’t put a foot wrong, ever.

The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for “wasting” $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years.

What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? “Nothing,” Trump said over and over, according to the officials.

It speaks volumes that this authors of this piece believe this reflects negatively on Trump. What I want to know is why the hell the press haven’t been publishing such tirades and asking these questions themselves? And remember, Trump ran on a platform of not getting America bogged down in pointless foreign wars and the public liked it, so why the surprise he’s trying to follow through on that?

The intensity of Trump’s tone and demeanor raised eyebrows and unease among the top brass gathered to hash out a Syria plan with Trump, officials said: Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA chief Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan.

At one point, Dunford spoke up, one official said, telling Trump that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.

Trump’s response was to demand an immediate withdrawal of all American troops and an end to all U.S. civilian stabilization programs designed to restore basic infrastructure to war-shattered Syrian communities.

Sounds clear enough.

Mattis countered, arguing that an immediate withdrawal could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way, without risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in newly liberated territories, the officials said.

This reminds me of Brexit. The public were asked what they wanted, and they said they wanted to leave the EU. Cue howls from the ruling classes that this would be impossible and irresponsible. So why ask the question if you already know what’s best? Until I read the above statement I had high opinions of Mattis, but I think they’re due a revision. Calling an American withdrawal from Syria irresponsible implies America is somehow responsible for ridding the country of ISIS, which is nonsense. Have the American people been asked if they want the US military to assume this responsibility? Has Congress been consulted and their agreement secured? No, they haven’t.

As for ISIS, the only people who could be accused of arming jihadists in Syria are the Americans. The Russians have proven themselves far more willing and able than the Americans to deal with ISIS (and anyone else who threatens the Assad regime), even if we don’t much like their methods. So why not leave it to them? And note that one minute we’re being told an American withdrawal will leave a vacuum which Russia and Iran will fill, the next it will leave the field clear for ISIS to regroup. Well, which is it? I can’t see a Russia-backed Assad having much tolerance for ISIS.

And even assuming that nothing I have written thus far is true and we dismiss it all as absolute nonsense, what the hell is the Americans’ plan in Syria? What is the strategy? What is the end game? Who will run these “newly liberated territories”? And why aren’t the media demanding Mattis & Co. answer these questions and present a coherent plan, instead of looking for any excuse to bash Trump for doing precisely what he was elected to do?

What a mess. You have a civilian government which has lost control over its military which is hell-bent on fighting endless, disastrous wars on as many fronts as possible, and the media are supporting it because they don’t like the president. Who is representing the public’s interest in all of this, especially those who will be called upon to fight and die? Aside from Trump, there’s nobody that I can see.

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Planes, Dogs, and Sheep

Last week it was reported that a dog belonging to a passenger on a United Airlines flight died after it was stuck in the overhead bin on the orders of a member of the flight crew. Apropos of this, Mark Steyn asks the following question:

Why didn’t anyone on that United flight stand up for the dog and take it down from the overhead bin?

I can answer that question. Since 9/11, any member of airport staff or airline crew can squeal that a passenger isn’t being sufficiently compliant and security goons will rush in mob-handed, beat them, arrest them, and hit them with terror charges which have a good chance of sticking. In other words, you are expected to obey every instruction issued by flight crew immediately and without complaining or they will seriously fuck up your day and possibly your entire life.

The airport staff – particularly security people – and flight crew know this only too well, and are happy to wield this disproportionate power they’ve been granted. No doubt in the beginning some held back from exercising their full authority unless absolutely necessary, but you’ll always get some people – and attract more of them to the job – who take a perverse delight in barking orders at those who would otherwise knock their teeth in. Next time you’re in a British airport, watch the behaviour of those wearing hi-viz vests and carrying a walkie-talkie and ask yourself if they haven’t let power go to their heads.

So that’s why nobody intervened when the flight crew ordered the dog to be stowed in the locker overhead. Had anybody taken it down, the crew would have initiated a sequence of actions commensurate with the plane being hijacked and the authorities on the ground would have gone along with it. Having recently seen some poor sod have the absolute shit kicked out of him and dragged off a United Airlines by uniformed thugs, nobody wants the same thing happening to them. And I expect few people have the confidence that the police chief waiting at the destination, or subsequent judges, will side with them against the air crew. Many people think the purpose of the TSA and the power given to airline crews is intended to get Americans used to being compliant in front of uniformed authority figures, and I would probably agree. If that was the purpose, it seems to have worked well. If that dog were to be saved by passengers, we would have first seen the two officers who dragged that man off the flight last year accosted on the plane and beaten senseless. That would never happen in today’s environment, and Rover paid the price.

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The Bridge Collapse in Miami

It goes without saying that this is a disaster:

At least four people have been killed and 10 others hurt after a footbridge collapsed near Florida International University in Miami, officials say.

The 862-tonne, 174ft (53m) bridge fell over an eight-lane motorway on Thursday afternoon, crushing at least eight vehicles, police said.

They told local media that vehicles were stopped at a traffic light when the structure collapsed at about 13:30 local time (17:30 GMT).

It is still unclear how many people were under the bridge at the time.

For a standard, single-span footbridge to suddenly collapse in this manner in the United States in 2018 is incredible. Reinforced concrete footbridges have been built worldwide for decades, and ought to be the sort of thing a highways department can design and build on their own. Perhaps one 53m long over an 8-lane highway requires some specialist assistance, but still. This was not the Millau Viaduct.

These days engineering firms use finite element modelling (FEM) programs which can predict how a structure will perform under load, identify any weak points, and calculate the stresses induced in every location. The bridge which collapsed looks to be of an unusual design, no doubt approved by an architect somewhere, but that is precisely what the FEM models are for. Using them you can depart from a traditional design, incorporate architectural features, and still be sure your structure is sound. A newly installed footbridge suddenly collapsing onto traffic in the US is the equivalent of a batch of canned goods killing people, the contents having reacted to the metal. There is enough knowledge and experience by now to ensure these sort of accidents no longer occur.

Yet it did, so why? The BBC tells us this:

The bridge was erected on Saturday in just six hours.

It was built using a method called “accelerated bridge construction” to avoid traffic disruption. A major section of the bridge was assembled on the side of the road and then raised into place.

I’ve written before about bridge collapses, and how they tend to happen during construction, but I don’t think the installation method described above had anything to do with it. There’s a video here of the bridge being installed, and it looks to me like a pretty common technique which doesn’t in itself explain why it collapsed a few days later.

So here’s my guess: somebody screwed up the calculations or the finite element model, and nobody picked up the error. If this was in the developing world I’d be more inclined to believe it was shoddy construction or poor materials rather than a design error, but this being the US I can’t see that happening. The company that carried out the engineering was Munilla Construction company, a family-owned firm whose website is here. They’re based in Miama and have been around since 1983 and they claim:

WE BUILD YOUR PROJECT ON TIME, ON BUDGET, AS DESIGNED AND WITHOUT ANY SURPRISES.

They might want to update that at some point.

What follows is pure speculation on my part but it’s based on what I’ve observed of engineering companies and corporations over the past 15-20 years or so. Back in 1983 the firm would have employed serious engineers who held themselves accountable, and the brothers who founded it probably did a lot of the work themselves. There is no doubt this company was able to successfully deliver engineering projects for a couple of decades, so they’re not some fly-by-night outfit owned by the wife of the local mayor.

But I suspect things changed sometime in the past 5-10 years. There is nothing on the company website to suggest they succumbed to the relentless pressure placed upon firms to hire people based on their appearance and sex rather than competence and ability, but I’d be surprised if they were wholly unaffected by demands for greater workforce “diversity”. After all, this was a firm which did several projects for the public sector, and installed the bridge on behalf of a university. It’s unlikely they weren’t required to demonstrate they were fully on-board with the latest progressive directives. At a guess, I would say this is a company which has seen several experienced engineers retire over the past decade, replaced with people whose abilities are questionable.

Secondly, as I have complained about in the past, there has been a major shift in modern companies from delivering something useful – such as a bridge which doesn’t collapse – to managing processes. A lot of companies have subcontracted out the actual work – designing, building, manufacturing, operating, maintaining – and instead busy themselves with “managing” the whole process. This involves lots of well-educated people in nice clothes sitting in glass-fronted office buildings sharing spreadsheets, reports, and PowerPoint presentations by email and holding lengthy meetings during which they convince one another of how essential they are. I’m sure this is pretty much what Carillion was doing when they went bust: anything useful was done by subcontractors. The distance between those doing the actual work and those supposedly responsible for the outcome has, in far too many companies, grown into a yawning chasm. Survival in a modern company is all about compliance and obedience, and accountability is non-existent because it is no longer required.

In such an environment, it is inevitable that the quality of work suffers, errors go unnoticed, and – occasionally – catastrophes occur. Now I don’t know if that was the case at the Munilla Construction company, but somehow they’ve gone from an outfit who could deliver a project with their eyes closed to one that has just dropped a simple footbridge on eight lanes of highway. If I were investigating, I’d want to know who did the actual design and where it was done. I’d be willing to bet a hundred quid the calculations and finite element modelling were done outside the US to save money, or subcontracted to another company, and supervision – which involves expensive Americans – was at nowhere near the levels it should have been. Regardless of where they were done, I’d also be willing to bet the company spent more manhours on progress meetings and overly-detailed weekly reports to let the management know what was going on than they did checking the engineering calculations.

I might be wrong, and maybe I’m being unfair to the Munilla Construction company. But I’m not wrong in describing how modern companies work. I have a hunch we’re going to see more disasters like this in the coming years as successive generations of managers and engineers fail to deliver what were, until recently, pretty ordinary projects.

UPDATE

David Moore posts a link to this video which reckons the bridge was supposed to be supported from above using cables in the final design. If they’re right, then this is a classic case of a poorly-supported bridge span collapsing during construction, and we can all go and read my previous post. It doesn’t make the cock-up any less severe though, just slightly more understandable.

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Testing Times

Okay, so I’ve spent the morning trying to think of a reason why Putin would order this hit on Skirpal in a way that implicates Russia. Let’s look at something Jean said in the comments:

Quite simple people – as much as Putin would like to see NATO gone, he is far more interested in breaking up the EU. After the last expansion of both organizations, in 2004, he was asked whether he would cooperate with both and he replied that he couldn’t imagine not working with them. He changed his tune in 2005 after the EU commission starting talking about bringing an anti-trust case against Gazprom.

Perhaps unfairly I initially dismissed this, but let’s suppose he’s she’s right. From an outsider’s perspective, Britain and the EU are at each other’s throats, trading insults and seemingly as divided as ever as the Brexit negotiations lurch on in fits and starts. It may suit Putin to test the EU’s commitment to Britain and measure their hostility to Russia. Would the EU rush to Britain’s aid in the wake of a hostile Russian act, or will they mince their words and do nothing? The former would require principles and the belief that Russia is indeed a threat to Germany or France (the rest of the EU doesn’t count). The latter would be driven by EU hatred of Britain over Brexit and Germany’s considerable commercial interests in Russia. It’s not difficult to see how this will play out. I’d not be too surprised if Macron denounced Russia, whatever else you may think of the young French president, he doesn’t just say what everyone else wants him to. But this is weak sauce:

Mrs May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and “discussed the wide pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour and agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies to address it”, her spokesman said.

What allies? Germany? Heh.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the use of any nerve agent was “horrendous and completely unacceptable” and officials were in touch with the UK.

Downing Street said the incident was not an “article five” matter – a reference to Nato rules which say an attack on one member constitutes an attack on all.

No? Why not? I don’t think going to war with Russia is a good idea at all, but if this is a direct attack on the British people by the Russian government, as we are being told, then why does this not trigger Article 5? I know the answer: Article 5 is to be triggered only when it suits the geopolitical interests of the US. Which is fair enough, they’re the ones who will do the bulk of the nuking and the fighting.

So what will the Americans do? This is what the BBC reported:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US agreed with the UK that Russia was likely to be behind the attack.

“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences,” he added.

“We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”

Naturally, many people who think any hesitation on Trump’s part to launch an all-out nuclear strike on Moscow is proof that he’s Putin’s puppet, but we can ignore these idiots even though they’re many in number. But I don’t see why America is under any obligation to get involved here. Britain isn’t a particularly great ally of the United States right now: the public have generated considerable noise in letting Donald Trump know he won’t be welcome should he visit the United Kingdom, and he should expect mass protests of a size not seen since the Iraq War demonstrations. John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, has publicly stated that he would oppose the current US president from addressing parliament, and both Theresa May and Amber Rudd saw fit to chastise Trump for daring to retweet a video which made Muslims look bad. Sadiq Khan seems to think the office of London’s mayor has a foreign policy element, and that should be directed at criticising Trump. Then yesterday a credible story circulated that an American citizen had been denied entry into the United Kingdom because her Austrian boyfriend says mean things about Muslims.

At this point, Donald Trump would be forgiven for thinking Britain should deal with its own problems for a change. The Russians have attacked you? Oh dear. Perhaps you ought to have focused on Russian agents running around your cities with nerve agents instead of endlessly insulting me and telling me what I can and cannot share on Twitter. If I’m honest, I hope he says just that (see bobby b’s comment here, too).

So this issue is going to severely test the relationship Britain has with the US, as well as what remains of their relationship with the EU. Even if Putin was not behind this attack, he will be paying serious attention to what each leader says, and what actions they’re prepared to support. It seems an overly complicated and risky way to go about it, but perhaps this was his plan all along? We’ve got to consider it. Let’s see what the Russians say today in response to May’s demand for an explanation. I may have to acknowledge Jean called this right from the start.

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Trump on Trade

He’s a funny fella, Trump. With a single tweet he’s got everyone denouncing tariffs and other protectionist policies, with even the BBC writing articles on how damaging they are. Suddenly everyone is a proponent of unfettered free trade, which until last week was the preserve of libertarians versed in Austrian economics and fans of Tim Worstall’s blog.

I mean, up until a few days ago we had the EU mandarins and Remainers assuring Brexiteers that tariffs will be implemented once Britain departs without anyone from the mainstream media pointing out this will hurt the EU more than it will Britain. In fact, most were insisting the exact opposite. Yet with a single tweet representing perhaps three seconds of thought, Trump has inadvertently got everyone agreeing on how stupid import tariffs are. Not that anyone running the EU, which operates some of the most protectionist policies anywhere in the world, understands free trade. But it does give the Brexiteers some ammunition with which to respond to the threat of tariffs in ongoing negotiations.

Tariffs don’t make economic sense of course, and free trade does make us richer on aggregate. But the ZMan makes a reasonable point here:

The hidden cost of free trade is a lot of people you don’t know losing their jobs or seeing their wages cut. When you’re the guy getting the pink slip, the cost is not hidden and that has a social cost, as well.

This is a point many Remainers miss about Brexit: not everything is about economics. Britain may well be worse off economically after leaving the EU, but many British people don’t believe wrecking whole communities through mass immigration (which is often highly localised) is an acceptable price to pay for half a percentage point increase in GDP. Of course, the financial gurus in London don’t mind because it’s not their communities being wrecked. Note that the strongest proponents of open borders work in professions which are closed shops, hence immune from the influx of cheap labour. If Polish accountants, Portuguese doctors, and Romanian law firms could compete freely for business in London, we’d see a wholesale change in attitude from the ruling classes.

The ZMan goes on:

The fact is, a nation is its people. What defines France is the shared character and shared heritage of the people we call French. What defines a people is not the cost of goods or the price of labor. What defines a people is what they love together and what they hate together. It is the collection of tastes and inclinations, no different than family traditions, that have been cultivated and passed down from one generation to the next.

Perhaps mass immigration has brought economic benefits to Europe, but it has also brought about an erosion of social trust, particularly in certain areas where unskilled migrants are concentrated. Did anyone ask the people who live in these areas their approval before upending their society? Or did we all assume that provided everyone gets richer on aggregate, such societal costs are acceptable (particularly if you and I don’t actually have to pay them)?

It’s the same with trade. I am all for free trade, and I don’t believe in tariffs for the reasons people say. However, there needs to be an acknowledgment that there are both winners and losers of free trade, and even though the winners vastly outnumber the losers, we should not glibly deny that losers exist. For decades, the consensus among the ruling classes has been that the losers of global free trade shouldn’t be considered at all – unless they can cause political trouble like farmers in France, or have family and friends in government like lawyers everywhere – and they are acceptable casualties in the battle for economic growth. Well, regardless of what the solutions to their plight are – assuming there are any – I believe we should start by acknowledging that there are losers of free trade, and understand their concerns. It’s easy to wave a hand and say “they can do something else” and make references to blacksmiths and motorcars, but retraining is pretty difficult in a town flooded with low-skilled migrants. And blacksmiths didn’t go out of business because the state encouraged cheap car plants to be built next door while punishing those who used anvils.

Consider NAFTA, for example. This has allowed Chinese companies to set up in Mexico with no intention whatsoever of supplying goods and services to Mexico, instead using it as a back door to the USA while bypassing their environmental and social regulations. Sure, the US now gets flooded with cheap goods making everyone richer on aggregate, only swathes of the country now consists of condemned towns perishing under an unprecedented opiate crisis. This is progress how?

A big part of Trump’s presidential campaign was acknowledging the losers of free trade and globalisation, which went a long way to propelling him into the White House – while his rival hob-nobbed with billionaires and poured scorn on the unemployed working classes. His latest comments on Twitter have now got everyone discussing the folly of tariffs in general, but also forcing them to acknowledge the social costs of free trade policies and the people who’ve found themselves disenfranchised. While this remains just a tweet and doesn’t translate into bone-headed protectionism, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Hopefully some sensible policies will come out of this, not least between Britain and the EU.

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Oliver Kamm on Trump, Putin, and Syria

Oliver Kamm takes a break from telling us George Orwell’s advice on writing is rubbish to advocate war with Russia. The headline:

Trump’s abdication of duty leaves Putin unchallenged

Let’s see.

Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state in the Clinton administration, famously described America as the indispensable nation.

Ah, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. Clinton’s foreign policy can at best be described as one of benign neglect: on his watch Al-Qaeda formed, carried out deadly attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and put in all the ground work for 9/11. In terms of interventions, he put American troops into Somalia which ended in humiliating disaster and managed to drop a bomb on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade while helping Kosovars. Now I’m perhaps willing to listen to the argument that there was a humanitarian need to intervene in Kosovo, but the decision to make it a NATO action and subject Belgrade to aerial bombardment was a catastrophic mistake we’re still paying for (I’ll come back to that later). So why Albright is someone worth quoting on the subject of foreign policy I don’t know.

Her supposed vaingloriousness has been criticised but she was right. In the absence of a supranational authority capable of exercising sovereignty, the task of guaranteeing global public goods like regional security and a reserve currency falls to the world’s leading democracy.

Now Oliver Kamm was one of the biggest supporters of Tony Blair’s decision to join George W. Bush in invading Iraq, sincerely believing that bombing a population, wrecking their country, and killing thousands of them is a sensible solution to a humanitarian crisis. To be fair, at the time lots of people – myself included – thought the idea had merits. What the Iraq debacle taught us is that it didn’t, and military intervention only makes things much, much worse. To my knowledge, Kamm is the only person aside from lunatic neo-cons in the US who thinks it’s still a good idea. Presumably that’s why The Times didn’t let him run this piece on their pages.

Tragically, the United States under President Trump is suspicious of that historic role. And into the vacuum that America leaves, President Putin steps.

This is a neat little narrative, but historically inaccurate. America left no vacuum in Syria because they were never there; they left a vacuum in Iraq because Obama pulled out too early, allowing ISIS to form; and it was Obama, not Trump, who blathered on about “red lines” in Syria before doing absolutely nothing when they were crossed. Note also that a large part of Trump’s appeal was that he seemed uninterested in getting America bogged down in pointless foreign wars. But the likes of Kamm thinks it’s the responsibility of US presidents to uphold supposedly liberal principles in bombing countries against the wishes of both sets of people.

It’s an abdication of responsibility that undermines the liberal international order and betrays peoples struggling against oppression.

The immediate victims of this shift in relative power are nearly 400,000 civilians in Eastern Ghouta in Syria, who last week suffered heavy bombardment (with hundreds of fatalities) from the depraved Assad regime.

Presumably this wouldn’t be happening under Obama, who dealt with Syria and Putin in robust fashion. I might as well say it now: the entire basis of this article is snobbery about Trump on the part of Kamm. Most of his criticism ought to be directed at Obama – who is not mentioned once. Anyone familiar with Kamm’s Twitter feed will know he considers Trump to be awfully vulgar and not fit for office, not like the oh so sophisticated and well-mannered Obama.

Syria is a client state of Russia.

So what? So is Belarus. Kamm thinks the US should adopt the same zero-sum geopolitical as Putin, whereby whatever is good for Russia must automatically be bad for America. America has absolutely no strategic interest or reason to be involved in Syria. Does the US have some sort of moral obligation to ensure no state is a client of Russia? Is this a cause American servicemen sign up to die for?

The UN Security Council carried a resolution on Saturday demanding that “all parties cease hostilities without delay for at least 30 consecutive days” to allow the transport of humanitarian aid. The compromises required by Russia ensure that the resolution is an exhibition of handwringing. It doesn’t establish a starting date and it doesn’t constrain Syrian and Russian forces from continuing attacks under the fiction of being engaged in anti-terrorist operations. Essentially, all opponents of the regime are labelled terrorists by Assad, Putin and their apologists.

The UN is useless, yes. How is any of this Trump’s fault?

This is not quite the scenario that Russian state propaganda looked forward to under the Trump administration but it’s bad enough. Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the fake news channel RT (formerly Russia Today), said triumphantly on the night of Mr Trump’s election that she would retire when “Trump recognises Crimea as part of Russia, strikes a deal with us on Syria, and frees Julian Assange”. These things have not happened, nor are they likely to…

So a news channel that Kamm thinks peddles fake news makes some daft predictions which he later references in an article to support his argument – but immediately concedes were ill-founded. I can only assume the editor of this piece is a personal friend of Kamm’s.

Yet there is a new modus vivendi in international relations, whereby the Putin regime can in effect do whatever it likes, however outrageous, confident there will be no pushback from the US.

Kamm will be well aware that this modus vivendi is not new, and came about during the Obama administration. His attempts to blame it on Trump are disingenuous. Also, Kamm has obviously missed this story:

The other big story involving Russia in Syria relates to the devastating American response to an attack mounted on a base of US-supported fighters where some American advisers were located. The US responded with extreme–and I mean extreme–violence. In response to a battalion-sized attack, they threw just about everything in the arsenal at the assault–artillery, F-15Es, MQ-9 drones, AH-64 Apaches, B-52s(!), and AC-130s.

This extremely forceful response was clearly sending a message.  It reminds me of what Mattis told Iraqi tribal leaders: “I come in peace. I did not bring artillery. But if you fuck with me, I will kill you all.”  The assaulting force was f*cking with the US, and Mattis’ military responded by pretty much killing them all.

They’ll think twice next time. And that’s the point.

This represents a far greater direct action against Russian interests in Syria than anything Obama managed in his 8 years. Apparently the reason the US has had such success against ISIS in Iraq and Syria recently is because Trump handed operational control over to James Mattis and told him to get on with it. By contrast, Obama wanted to micromanage every last detail. Now personally I don’t think the US should be fighting in Syria, but given that they are – and killing Russians – it’s hard to see how this fits in with Kamm’s theory that Trump’s election is good news for Russia and he’s allowing Putin to do whatever he wants.

Indeed, interfering in America’s presidential election is one of those flagrant Russian violations of international comity, and Mr Trump was the beneficiary.

You know the article is in trouble if the author’s bought into the “Putin swung the election for Trump” bullshit. As I said already, little wonder The Times didn’t run this piece. I’m wondering why CapX did: they’re normally more sensible than this.

To point out how far American diplomatic influence has fallen under Mr Trump is a commonplace of commentary but it bears repeating.

The Nato alliance, founded in 1949, ensured that Western Europe remained democratic and Eastern Europe once again became so even in the face of Soviet expansionism and threats.

Kamm spends considerable efforts both on Twitter and in The Times telling everyone how wonderful Germany, France, and the EU are. Rather than blaming Trump for the demise of NATO and the rise in Putin’s confidence, he might want to remark on the refusal of European countries – chiefly Germany – to provide for their own defence, preferring instead to carp from the sidelines under the safety of the American umbrella. He might also want to remark on the fact that Trump has quite plainly said the European countries – chiefly Germany – must start contributing more if the alliance is to survive. He might also reflect on the fact that much of Russia’s distrust of NATO stems from the alliance’s decision to bomb Serbia for reasons which had nothing to do with its charter.

There’s nothing to be done by us pundits that will affect the world of statecraft but we can at least expose the propaganda efforts by which the Putin regime advances its goals.

We’ll oppose Putin’s propaganda by publishing risible nonsense of our own. But what is Kamm suggesting, exactly? Trump has maintained the sanctions on Russia put in place by Obama, and increased arms sales to Ukraine. Once Putin decided to guarantee the survival of Assad by military force, the US wasn’t left with much choice other than outright war with Russia. Is that what Kamm wants? War with Russia? If America’s interests in Syria were purely humanitarian, opposing Assad and Russia by arming their opponents and dragging the war out indefinitely was probably the worst thing to do.

Despite the headline, nowhere does Kamm outline what he believes Trump’s duty is, other than the vague idea he should oppose Putin. I’d be more forgiving of pompous metropolitan journalists if they offered some concrete solutions instead of lofty ideals, and didn’t airily dismiss the results of the democratic process when the masses don’t sign up to their bone-headed agendas.

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Avoid the gunman, but shoot the guy with no gun

There is a problem with this, but possibly not the most obvious one:

An armed officer assigned to the Florida school where a gunman killed 17 people last week stood outside the building during the shooting and did not intervene, the local sheriff says.

Deputy Scot Peterson has resigned after being suspended, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.

“I am devastated. Sick to my stomach. He never went in,” Sheriff Israel said.

On the face of it, the officer should have gone in and tackled the shooter, as he ought to have been trained to do. The possibility of coming up against armed criminals is why they’re given guns after all, and considering an unarmed ROCT cadet of 15 years of age sacrificed himself to save his fellow pupils, it’s pretty poor that this policemen stood outside and did nothing. Worse, he allowed the gunman to leave the building, thus endangering more lives.

Sheriff Israel said Mr Peterson was on campus, armed and in uniform when the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus in Parkland began.

He said video footage showed Mr Peterson arriving at the building where the shooting was taking place about 90 seconds after the first shots were fired and that he remained outside for about four minutes. The attack lasted six minutes, Sheriff Israel said.

Asked what Mr Peterson should have done, Sheriff Israel said: “Went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.”

Mr Peterson is yet to publicly comment on what happened. Sheriff Israel said he had not given a reason for why he did not go into the building where the shooter was.

So we can add an ineffective deputy policeman to the litany of FBI and Sheriff’s department screw-ups which led to this incident. But the NRA is to blame really, oh yessir.

However, it has been pointed out on Twitter that policemen are not obliged to put themselves in danger to save others, despite many people understandably thinking they ought to, and it’s what they’re paid for. Personally, I’ll not criticise the individual too harshly. Nobody wants to go and get shot and this chap probably didn’t realise he’d have to face down a lunatic with an AR-15 one day; when the time came, he bottled it. Yes it’s cowardly but it’s also human and understandable. Would I have done things differently? I have no idea and hope I’ll never find out, but physical courage isn’t doled out evenly and some people find out they don’t have it until it’s too late. So yes, let’s beat up on this guy a bit but consider he’ll have to live with the guilt and opprobrium for the rest of his life. If his family don’t have him on suicide watch right now, they’re guilty of negligence.

The wider problem is that there have been several high-profile instances of the police shooting unarmed men recently. Firstly there was this story about a policeman in Arizona shooting an unarmed man who was lying on the floor of a hotel corridor clearly drunk and confused by the conflicting instructions being yelled at him by different officers. The justification for the shooting, heard at the cop’s trial in which he was found not guilty of murder, was that the suspect reached to his waistband and the policeman feared for his life thinking he had a weapon.

In body cam footage of the event, Mr Brailsford can be seen telling Mr Shaver to get on the ground and crawl toward him. Mr Shaver complies, crying and asking the officer not to shoot him. At one point, Mr Shaver puts his hands on his low back. The officer warns him not to do so again.

“You do that again we’re shooting you, do you understand?” he asks. Mr Shaver, visibly upset, says yes.

Seconds later, however, Mr Shaver reaches toward his waistband. Mr Brailsford told the jury he thought Mr Shaver was reaching for a gun. A detective investigating the shooting said the motion was similar to drawing a weapon, but was most likely an attempt by Mr Shaver to pull up his drooping basketball shorts.

The officer fired five shots at the suspect with his AK-15 rifle. Mr Shaver died on the scene.

Most reasonable people who’ve seen the video think this is absolute bullshit, but obviously the jury saw it differently.

Then there was another story of an entirely innocent man being killed by a SWAT team who were called to his house as part of a prank known as “swatting”:

In this case, Wichita local Andrew Finch, whose family members say did not play video games and was a father of two young boys, answered his door only to face down a SWAT team-level response. Allegedly, one officer immediately fired upon Finch, who later died at a hospital. It’s unclear why Finch, who is said not to have had a weapon on him, was fired upon.

Here’s the photo which accompanies the second story:

Many American police forces, especially the SWAT teams which seemingly every two-bit police department now has (and gleefully uses), go around in full combat gear and armoured vehicles looking as though they’ve come straight from Falluja. In fact, much of the gear the’re toting is indeed military surplus, which explains the look. In both the incidents I’ve recounted, the policemen were out in numbers, heavily armed, and wearing body armour and killed the suspect because he made a hand movement which someone thought might have meant he had a gun somewhere. The police defend such shootings by saying their officers have every reason to fear for their lives. Many of the public, quite rightly, complain that an officer “fearing for his life” when part of a small army and facing a man who may well not be armed ought not to be a license to murder citizens going about their lawful business. These instances are not cases of a lone patrolman suddenly being confronted by a criminal in a dark alley, but the police chiefs treat them as if they were.

Possibly the only way the American public will accept police departments turning up mob-handed and killing innocent people is if, when faced with a real dangerous criminal who is unequivocally armed and murdering folk, they will jump in without hesitation and deal with him. Instead, in Florida, we have a policeman deciding it’s all a bit too dangerous and not getting involved.

What this tells the American public is the police are happy to arm themselves to the teeth and shoot an innocent, unarmed person for making the wrong hand movement; but don’t expect them to tackle a lunatic with an AR-15 who is murdering kids in cold blood. In the UK, it often appears the more law-abiding you are and the less danger you present to the police, the more likely they are to visit violence upon you. It seems the Americans have unwittingly gone in for the same deal. Reversing that should be a top priority.

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