rascott.com                                                                                 news, views and an occasional blog...

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current affairs, aviation and travel.


Note that each Jan/Feb link leads to the remaining AOB pages for that year. 10 years of diary keeping!

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#Journey to Mars

31 October 2014


Have yourself a very blue Christmas

30 October 2014

I do not like Christmas records. I do not like the religious overtones. I do not like what is almost a sense of self-righteousness that pervades so many of them. And I do not like songs which sound really dumb when you play them in August.

But my favourite band thinks differently and Blue Rodeo are realeasing a holiday album "A Merrie Christmas to You" both physically and digitally on Tuesday (November 4) through Warner.

Although the album includes a couple of well-known Christmas tunes — "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" — the rest are a slightly more modern. There are covers of Joni Mitchell, Big Star, Paul Simon, Gordon Lightfoot, the Band and more. There are also two Blue Rodeo originals: Jim Cuddy's brand-new "Home to You This Christmas" and a re-recording of Greg Keelor's "Glad to Be Alive."

The album was recorded in a week at their very own Woodshed Studio in Toronto. Each song was captured live.

"The songs are as much about the season as they are about the actual day," Cuddy said in a statement about the selection of material. "The criteria for choosing material were to find songs
that we could actually sing and make our own."

The cover art comes from an illustration by Keelor's great-uncle, who made greeting cards back in the '20s. The tracklist is below, and the name of the artist who wrote each song is in parentheses.

A Merrie Christmas to You:

1. Jesus Christ (Big Star)
2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane)
3. If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
4. River (Joni Mitchell)
5. O Come All Ye Faithful (traditional)
6. Getting Ready for Christmas Day (Paul Simon)
7. Glad to Be Alive
8. Home to You This Christmas
9. Song for a Winter's Night (Gordon Lightfoot)
10. Christmas Must Be Tonight (The Band)

Hong Kong protests reach polite impasse

28 October 2014 from Reuters

The most surprising thing about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy campaigners is that they are still there. A month after a small group of students stormed a space outside the government’s head office, the protests now known as the “umbrella movement” have confounded predictions of chaos, apathy or a violent crackdown by China. Though a compromise on democratic reform remains as distant as ever, Hong Kong’s mostly civil activists have changed the city’s political geography for good.

In the months before what was originally known as Occupy Central got underway, Hong Kong politicians and business leaders forecast that civil disobedience would cause disruption and chaos. In fact, apart from the clouds of tear gas at the start of the protests, and subsequent scuffles between protesters, their opponents, and the police, the movement has been overwhelmingly civil.

The three-lane highway that passes in front of Hong Kong’s central government buildings has been transformed into an impromptu city-centre campsite. Wandering between the hundreds of numbered, multicoloured tents on Harcourt Road feels more like attending a nerdy music festival than a hotbed of political agitation. Each evening, scores of students diligently complete their homework at specially-constructed desks, as protest leaders deliver speeches nearby.

Not all enjoy the festivities – the blockade has disrupted traffic and made it harder to move around what is normally an easy-to-navigate city, while taxi drivers, retailers and restaurants in the protest areas have reported lost revenue. Yet Hong Kong’s large financial district has mostly continued to operate as normal. Stock market investors worry more about the slowing Chinese economy than disruption in the former British colony. According to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, just one bank branch remained closed as of Oct. 27.

The protesters have also defied predictions that they would quickly lose interest. The government’s clumsy and sometimes heavy-handed attempts to end the protests have helped. The use of tear gas; the decision to call and then cancel talks with student leaders; the policemen caught on film beating up a handcuffed protester – all have spurred crowds to return to the streets.

The other surprise is that China has not ordered a crackdown. The ruling Communist Party’s harsh response to protest at home would suggest little tolerance for pro-democracy activists waving banners, umbrellas and smartphones in defiance of Bejing on Chinese soil. Yet while state media has condemned the protests, and China’s leaders are clearly watching events closely, their strategy so far appears to be to ignore rather than injure the protesters.

Beijing’s relative tolerance does not mean it is prepared to meet the movement’s requests, however. China has stuck to the proposed system for selecting Hong Kong’s chief executive that ignited the protests in the first place. Any candidate must win the support of at least half the members of a 1,200-strong nominating committee stuffed with loyalists before he or she can contest the popular vote. The protesters’ main wish – that members of the public be allowed to nominate the candidates – is as unlikely to be granted today as a month ago.

Beijing has also continued to support Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s unpopular chief executive, despite his hapless handling of the protests and revelations that he received but did not disclose payments from an Australian engineering firm.

The result is that Hong Kong is stuck in a kind of polite impasse. The movement has little hope of achieving its aims, while the government has little to offer by way of compromise. The protesters can stay in their tents for a while – the weather in November is ideal for camping. But as the city adapts and the global media turns its attention elsewhere, the protests risk losing their sense of urgency.

However the standoff eventually ends, the umbrella movement will have achieved a great deal. It has shown that significant chunks of Hong Kong’s youth are articulate, organised and determined. Their willingness to defy politicians and police to mount peaceful but disruptive protests will be something that future Hong Kong leaders will have to consider, regardless of how they are chosen.

Expert challenges MH370 story

27 October 2014 Aviation Business Magazine (An Australian pubication)

What happened in the first four hours when MH370 disappeared?

Answers to this simple question are confused or not in the public domain. Why not? If proper protocols had been followed we would not be looking for the aircraft today.

I am watching with some amazement, the amount of money being expended in the search of the southern Indian Ocean for MH370. I am not convinced by the official version of the final moments of MH370. Nor am I convinced that it is anywhere near the southern Indian Ocean and I am quite familiar with Doppler effect, satellite handshakes and all the other high tech stuff that is being promulgated!

SBS TV aired an excellent program on 5th Oct, dealing with the disappearance of MH370. It was a BBC documentary called Where is Flight MH370.

It is one of the best documentaries I have seen on the subject and it covered most of the detail and circumstances known to the general public at this point.

However, as with almost every other commentary made to date, the program studiously avoided reference to that four-hour period immediately after the aircraft disappeared. The omission of any reference to this period was blindingly obvious and made me wonder again why it is being avoided in the media and in any official commentary. Perhaps it is lack of understanding of what should have happened.

Many facts are missing, but many are available and should be released. We know that the initial period was filled with confusion and even misinformation from the airline itself which, at one stage, told ATC that it had contact with the aircraft in Cambodian airspace. This was found to be completely incorrect and the flight had never entered Cambodian airspace. In any case, it was not valid for the air traffic controllers to accept this information if they had not been in contact with the aircraft and had not given a clearance for it to deviate from its track.

The BBC documentary did refer, briefly, to the stunning inaction of the Vietnamese controller, in Ho Chi Minh centre, who took 17 minutes to ask the Malaysian controller why MH370 had not transferred to his radio frequency as had been expected.

That should have happened within two to three minutes of the expected transfer time when MH370 was instructed to establish contact with Ho Chi Minh control at the boundary of their airspace.

There has not been any explanation as to why the Vietnamese controller took so long to check on the aircraft for which he was then responsible. This is a serious matter and needs to be explained!

An explanation is also needed as to why the controller in Kuala Lumpur did not initiate a call to Ho Chi Minh centre when he saw the MH370 data block disappear from his screen. Did he not want to know why that had occurred?

The BBC documentary made no further reference to that lack of coordination and the program continued with diagrams and reference to the Malaysian military having tracked the aircraft across the Malaysian peninsula, out to the MalaccaStraits and then the AndamanSea.

The program reported the Malaysian authorities as saying that there had been heavy security issues surrounding the tracking of the aircraft so they had not been able to reveal this immediately.

We have also been told that the military determined that it was a civil aircraft and, therefore, of no concern to them.

Frankly, that is absolute RUBBISH either way you look at it!

Every professional pilot and military person knows that EVERY country maintains surveillance of its airspace to the best of its technical capability. Everyone knows that Malaysia has a military radar system which monitors ALL flights in its area of responsibility. The ex-Deputy PM, Anwar Ibrahim, who the current authorities keep trying to silence, recently stated on BBC TV that he had authorised a state of the art military surveillance system to be installed whilst he was Deputy PM of Malaysia.

So, what secret was there and what were they so protective about? What needed to be kept secret from the world even when 239 people were lost?

What should have happened, under international protocols that are well established and published in various operational documents, was that the Malaysian Air Force should have investigated the then unidentified aircraft they were tracking to ensure that it was not a threat to Malaysia.

The first action would have been for the military air defence officer to contact the civil air traffic controller and discuss the unidentified radar target to try to establish its identity. In any case the civil controller should have contacted his military counterpart to ask him to assist with finding MH370. The military system does not need a transponder to be operating on the aircraft and can identify a blip on its system without any transmission from the aircraft.

This simple coordination between military and civil officers should have solved the issue then and there. It is hard to believe that this did not occur.

Did the military air defence officer make an assumption that he was tracking a civil aircraft that posed no threat to Malaysia, or did he know?? If he was certain, we need to ask how he knew? If he was making an assumption, then he was prepared to risk the security of his nation.

Did the civil air traffic controller not think to ask the military for their assistance in tracking his missing aircraft? It is very difficult to believe that he would not have used all possible resources available to him to find MH370 at that point. A blindingly obvious resource would be the military air defence radar system. One of the civil ATC officer’s first actions should have been a call to his military counterpart to ask if he had any unidentified aircraft on radar.

The next action is that both military and civil personnel should have attempted to establish radio contact with the unidentified aircraft. The Vietnamese controller should also have been doing this on his own radio frequency. They did ask another Malaysian Airlines flight to try to contact MH370 but this was not successful.

If no communication was established, then the Malaysian Air Force should have sent an interceptor aircraft to allow the military pilot to identify and follow the unidentified aircraft to find out where it was headed. There should not have been any consideration, at that point, of shooting the intruder out of the sky, as was suggested by the Malaysian Defence Minister on BBC TV. It was purely a matter of identification.

If they had done so, we would not be looking for the aircraft now, the families would know what had happened and millions of dollars could have been saved.

There is absolutely no secret about the Malaysian Air Force ability to track an aircraft in their airspace, so why did they withhold vital information for several days? Why did they not assist in the search and reveal that they tracked it on radar flying out to the AndamanSea?

What is the secret they were guarding??

What prevented them from tracking the aircraft and sending up an interceptor aircraft to follow it and try to communicate with it?

Why is there still no information in the public domain about what happened that night during the first four hours?

Some of the answers to this conundrum are readily available but are being withheld.

The Malaysians released the voice record and transcript of the conversations between the aircraft and the KL air traffic controllers. I believe they thought this would satisfy people, and it probably has in many cases. However, what we all need to understand is that everything is recorded in the operational environment.

That first four hours is all on official record and will explain much of what occurred.

There are several recordings which have not been released and they are all on separate recorders / hard disks.

1. There is the pilot / air traffic controller recording which we have all heard and read in the media.

2. There is a separate recording of the voice coordination between the air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur and in Ho Chi Minh City. This coordination is done via a voice / data link between the control centres and the pilots do not hear it. This is fully recorded and kept for a minimum of 30 days.

3. There is another recording of the communications between the military air defence officer who was tracking the “unknown” aircraft and anyone else he talked to. There would definitely be a recording of any conversation between him and the civil air traffic controller in the KL control centre, if they did in fact talk to each other. If they did not talk to each other in these circumstances I would call it criminal negligence.

4. All telephone conversations into and out of the military centre and the civil ATC centre are recorded also. So, any conversations between Malaysian Airlines and the ATC centre would be recorded and available.

It is important to understand that all of this information is available and should be carefully examined by the air safety investigators who are charged with finding out what happened to MH370. However, it should, in these circumstances, also be made available to the families or their independent investigators to allow an assessment of what happened.

Given that the Australian tax payers are now funding a massive search in the southern Indian Ocean, I believe that this information should also be made available to improve our understanding of what happened.

Nobody can tell us that the recordings do not exist. The communications technology used is very sophisticated and operates through an unbreakable, system known as a Voice Switch. The recording is the ground-based equivalent of the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder (black boxes) on board the aircraft and the first thing that should have happened on the morning after the disappearance of MH370 is that the hard disks containing the recordings should have been taken out of the system and stored securely for examination by the investigators. There should not be any possibility of loss of data or of it being over recorded by later data.

There has been no reference to these ground-based systems and it seems that the Malaysian authorities will have to be pushed into releasing those recordings.

Therein lies the issue. Neither Malaysia nor Australia seems to wish to make this information public and could be accused of covering up vital information which would help the families and independent investigators to work out what happened.

Des Ross has been in the aviation industry for more than 35 years, as a pilot and air traffic management specialist. In that time he has been at the forefront of aircraft safety and security. Most recently he was an aviation advisor with theEU in South Sudan. He has been a global commentator on the MH370 mystery since the aircraft disappeared, appearing regularly on international media.

Conspiracy Oracle Backs Beijing from Bangkok

27 October 2014 by John Berthelsen for Asian Correspondent

For weeks, the China Daily and other top Chinese news organizations have been reporting on “secret meetings” between Hong Kong democracy advocates and US organizations such as the Washington, DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary, the National Democratic Institute.

The “secret meetings,” which have actually been reported routinely in Hong Kong’s press, supposedly have been uncovered by what is described as an authoritative and respected Bangkok-based researcher named Tony Cartalucci. The problem is that as nearly as can be told, there is no such person as Tony Cartalucci. And what “Cartalucci” appears to have done is to have created a chain of biased or bogus online stories that travel in a circle from Bangkok to Moscow to Beijing to Hong Kong in an effort to discredit the Occupy Central movement.

“Tony Cartalucci” is believed to be a pseudonym made up by Michael Pirsch, who in an abbreviated biography on the website Truthout.com, describes himself as a former “union activist and union organizer for more than 25 years and a DJ on Berkeley Liberation Radio, a pirate radio station” who now lives “as an economic refugee from the United States in Thailand.”

Repeated efforts to contact Pirsch/Cartalucci by email at his Bangkok blog “Land Destroyer” and to his personal email address failed to elicit a reply. Land Destroyer is published not only in English but Arabic, Russian and Thai, indicating a considerable amount of resources.

The leaders of Occupy Central have reacted to Cartalucci/Pirsch’s allegations with irritation, saying they are perfectly capable of running their own protest and they don’t need advice or funding from US agencies.

However, in recent days Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has picked up the allegations, telling reporters that “it is not entirely a domestic movement, for external forces are involved.” He will identify the “external forces” when the time is right, he said. Pro-government politicians Regina Ip and Starry Lee, both stalwarts of the Establishment, have made reference to an “online source” for the rumors and Cartalucci’s allegations have been widely circulation within Hong Kong’s police force and repeated by Lau Nai-keung, a leader of the anti-Occupy movement and frequent commentator in the South China Morning Post.

If indeed Leung and the others are depending on Cartalucci/Pirsch’s reporting, there is plenty of it, a lot of it recycled to Moscow through a website called New Eastern Outlook, a propaganda outlet of the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies, a division of the Russian Academy of Sciences. New Eastern Outlook, where Cartalucci is a prolific writer, delivers a daily menu of reports charging the West with a long string of terrible things. On Oct. 25, for instance, the site intimated that the British SAS special forces are behind the ISIS beheadings of British and American hostages, that the US is lying in various permutations about the Ebola virus, that it is a “documented fact” (by Cartalucci) that the US is behind ISIS, that the young Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai “was set up…as a part of a propaganda ploy by British news network, the BBC.”

Other Cartalucci articles are cycled through GlobalResearch, a leftist Canadian website that, for instance, reported on Oct. 1 that “as the US admitted shortly after the so-called Arab Spring began spreading chaos across the Middle East that it had fully funded, trained, and equipped both mob leaders and heavily armed terrorists years in advance, it is now admitted that the US State Department through a myriad of organizations and NGOs is behind the so-called Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong.”

That is news to the US State Department, which as nearly as we can see has never made any such assertions.

In Cartalucci’s eyes, as reported in Land Destroyer, GlobalResearch and New Eastern Outlook, “The goal of the US in Hong Kong is clear – to turn [Hong Kong] into an epicenter of foreign-funded subversion with which to infect China’s mainland more directly.”

The Congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy, which assists a myriad of civil society groups including some in Hong Kong, is a favorite target of pro-Beijng and pro-Moscow conspiracy theorists but in fact its budget is modest and it constantly battles to maintain its funding.

New Eastern Outlook’s current home page has a story saying, “Protesters of the ‘Occupy Central' movement in Hong Kong shout familiar slogans and adopt familiar tactics seen across the globe as part of the United States’ immense political destabilization and regime change enterprise. Identifying the leaders, following the money, and examining Western coverage of these events reveal with certainty that yet again, Washington and Wall Street are busy at work to make China’s island of Hong Kong as difficult to govern for Beijing as possible.”

Cartalucci identifies all of Occupy Central’s leaders as stalking horses for the US. Tackling one of the lead organizers of the movement, he writes, “Benny Tai regularly attends US State Department, National Endowment for Democracy [NED] and its subsidiary the National Democratic Institute [NDI] funded and/or organized forums. Martin Lee, Jimmy Lai, and [Cardinal] Joseph Zen are all confirmed as both leaders of the ‘Occupy Central’ movement and collaborators with the US State Department.

“Martin Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong, would even travel to the United States this year to conspire directly with NED as well as with politicians in Washington.”

Although Cartalucci describes the meetings by Lee and former Hong Kong Chief Secretary Anson Chan as “secret,” they have been widely reported in Hong Kong’s press including the South China Morning Post and Chinese-language papers.

Cartalucci has other targets as well. He is a staunch defender of the Thai army’s coup and In 2013, he excoriated Thomas Fuller of the New York Times for allegedly showing bias towards the forces controlled by Thailand’s fugitive billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, but adds: “I admit it is difficult for a journalist employed by the NYT to write a story that doesn't conform to the narrative of the US Empire… Thaksin allowed torture centers to be operated by the Empire, and he sent Thai troops to fight in Iraq. Both decisions are unpopular in Thailand. Therefore, the protestors must be misrepresented and their goals ridiculed.”

On the Truthout website, he also took after former Reuters correspondent Andrew MacGregor Marshall, the author of an authoritative new book on the Thai kingdom, alleging he was too closely connected to Robert Amsterdam, Thaksin’s London-based lawyer. Marshall forced him into a retraction.

Also listed on Land Destroyer’s website is Nile Bowie, described as “an independent journalist and political analyst based in Kuala Lumpur” whose articles “have appeared in numerous international publications, including regular columns with Russia Today and newspapers such as the Global Times, the Malaysian Reserve and the New Straits Times.” Bowie is also described as a researcher with the International Movement for a Just World, an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur and founded by activist professor Chandra Muzzafar.

But as with Cartalucci in Bangkok, few people in the small journalistic community of Kuala Lumpur appear to have ever heard of Nile Bowie despite his description of himself as a journalist, leading to questions whether Bowie’s name is a nom de plume as well. His affiliation with Global Times, however, puts him in company with the most virulently anti-western English-language publication in China.

A Banner on a Hong Kong Landmark Speaks of Democracy and Identity

24 October 2014 reporting from the New York Times

The giant yellow banner hanging on Thursday from Lion Rock, a rugged granite outcrop named for how it seems to crouch, lion-like, over the city of Hong Kong, carried a clear message: “I Want True Universal Suffrage.” It also conveyed an unmissable message about cultural identity.

In a video posted on YouTube, a group calling itself “The Hong Kong Spidie” said it had hung the banner, which echoed the key demand of the pro-democracy protests roiling Hong Kong. “Today we are occupying Lion Rock,” it said. (The beginning is in Cantonese. The brief English section starts at 1.33.) Its name appeared to be a hybrid of “spider” and “kiddie.”

The group said it wanted to show the world that Hong Kong was not about just money, but also spirit:

"Through this action, “The Hong Kong Spidie” aims to redefine the beauty of the “Spirit of Hong Kong people” — not merely shown in the city’s economic growth but in the recent Umbrella Movement to demand for democracy and universal suffrage."

The location of the banner was highly symbolic: Lion Rock Hill, one of the hills that give Kowloon, the mainland part of Hong Kong, its name (Kowloon means “Nine Dragons”), has come to stand for Hong Kong’s special identity, one that is stirring deep loyalty among the young people who form the backbone of the pro-democracy movement that has consumed the city since late September.

Starting in the early 1970s, a television series titled “Below the Lion Rock” expressed that identity. It ran on and off for decades, exploring daily life, migration, work and love. Its message was that life was bittersweet, with its ups and downs, but that Hong Kong people, forged by colonialism, economic struggle and the challenges of the approaching handover to Chinese rule in 1997, were all “in the same boat below the Lion Rock.” The theme song, sung by the late Roman Tam, became a Cantopop classic.

The cultural meme of the lion is figuring elsewhere in the protests.

The Hong Kong police moved quickly to remove the banner on Thursday.

And here’s the written message on the “Spidie” video, explaining the group’s aims:

"Up on the Lion Rock: Universal Suffrage for Hong Kong!

22 Oct 2014 Today, a group of climbing enthusiasts, namely, ‘The Hong Kong Spidie’, unfurled a 6mX28m banner on the top of the Lion Rock. Symbolizing the toughness and persistence spirit of Hong Kong people, the Lion Rock is a famous Hong Kong hill located in Kowloon. Through this action, ‘The Hong Kong Spidie’ aims to redefine the beauty of the ‘Spirit of Hong Kong people’ – not merely shown in the city’s economic growth but in the recent Umbrella Movement to demand for democracy and universal suffrage.

Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying recently reiterated his position that free elections were impossible, and said it would result in the city’s many poor dominating politics. Andreas, one of the members of ‘The Hong Kong Spidie’ said, ‘We were shock by C.Y. Leung’s view point that the poor should not have equality in election, and hope this action would be able to call public attention on the importance of universal suffrage.’

‘The Hong Kong Spidie’ planned this action a week ago, and spent a few hours this morning to climb up the Lion Rock and unfurled the banner. ‘The Hong Kong Spidie’ demands the Hong Kong SAR Government to listen to the voices of the Hong Kong people, to stand up and negotiate with the Chinese government on a true democratic universal suffrage for Hong Kong."

Here’s a classic rendition of “Below the Lion Rock,” sung by Ruby Wong. The video includes historic images of Hong Kong:

Leung lays bare the truth of Hong Kong elites' anti-democratic stance

23 October 2014 from the SCMP

(This is worth a read as it is essentially the same argument that is used by thePDRC/yellow shirt movement in Thailand and that is now being reinforced by the Thai junta)

At last Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has done something really useful. Everyone sort of knew what Hong Kong's elite really thought about democracy but now Leung has actually voiced these thoughts in public and said out loud that he does not like democracy and most certainly doesn't trust it.

Speaking to foreign media representatives, he said that if Hong Kong were to have full-scale democracy, then the polls would be determined by people who earn less than HK$14,000 per month and "you would end up with that kind of politics and policies".

To put this as bluntly as it deserves putting, Leung is saying that if there was anything like genuine democracy, instead of the current plans for a mutant democratic system, it would mean that the great unwashed would call the shots and end up supporting the kind of social welfare and pro-poor policies that the ruling elite have managed to keep at bay.

We can try and disentangle the flawed logic that lies behind these remarks later but, for the time being, let's focus on the cat that Leung has let out of the bag.

He is reminding us that it was neither accident nor oversight that produced the current plans for highly controlled universal suffrage.

Instead, it was a deliberate plan to ensure that Hong Kong-style democracy would be stripped of the essential element of allowing the people to choose their government.

Where does this leave the serried ranks of both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people who are urging us "to pocket" the current proposals, arguing that they are some sort of step forward?

The answer is now clear because, although the proposed system might well be capable of highly marginal trimming around the edges, its essential anti-democratic nature will, if Leung has anything to do with it, stay in place.

Some commentators are already seeking to minimise the damage wrought by Leung's remarks, trying to present it as some kind of public relations gaffe, but the reality is that Hong Kong's chief executive is quite capable of saying what he means and, more importantly, of parroting the thinking of the real bosses in Beijing.

So, let's have no more of this farcical bleating about how the constitutional reform proposals represent some kind of progress: they do not and are not designed to do so.

Meanwhile, let's consider the logic of Leung's remarks.

Clearly, he has never bothered to study the history of electoral politics, otherwise he would know that some of the most conservative voters in democratic systems are among the least well-off.

There is no such thing as an axiomatic relationship between poverty and so-called "social welfarism".

Yet he is not entirely wrong because a genuinely democratic system does exert pressure on the rulers to go beyond looking after the interests of the elite. The question, as ever, is how far and how soon?

Leung adequately reflects the contempt he has for the ordinary people of Hong Kong and fails to understand that in this community, largely composed of immigrants and the offspring of immigrants, the work and self-help ethic is very strong indeed.

The people he and his colleagues despise are pragmatic and sensible.

So why, then, does he believe that they would rush like sheep into an orgy of emptying the public coffers?

Yet there is a group that greatly fears any change in government spending and adjustment of policies that would drain their revenues and hit their privileged position.

There are no prizes for guessing who they are and for understanding the unholy alliance that exists between them and the rulers in Beijing.

But, for now, thank you Mr Leung for at least being honest.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur

Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

19 October 2014 - The Independent

Contrary to what you might imagine, Ebola the physical disease has thus far barely made an appearance in the US. But two mutant strains of the sickness, Ebola, the panic virus and Ebola, the political virus, are rife. The consequences for November's midterm elections now barely a fortnight off, and for Barack Obama's place in history, could be momentous.

It's hard not to feel sorry for Obama right now. No president is perfect, but for this one, misfortunes not of his making are arriving – like London buses – in convoys. There's Islamic radicalism and Islamic State which have drawn him into a new Middle East conflict that his foreign policy objective was to avoid at all costs.

Then the economy finally starts yielding decent figures – on growth, unemployment and the national finances – yet last week's news that the budget deficit had fallen to its lowest since 2007, a meagre 2.8 per cent of GDP (a figure most European governments would kill for) was obliterated by the tumble in US and global stock markets. And now Ebola.

Yes, mistakes in handling the threatened pandemic have been made – by all parties. The World Health Organisation was guilty of initially underestimating the danger. Western governments were (and still are) slothful in providing real help on the ground in West Africa. Here in the US, the federal government and the Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control, similarly dropped the ball. "We're stopping it in its tracks in this country," Thomas Frieden, CDC's chief, assured us only three weeks ago.

For its part, the Dallas hospital, which treated the only person who has so far died from the disease on US soil, made egregious mistakes as well. First, the patient's condition was misdiagnosed; then two nurses who tended him were found to have the disease, despite the strictest theoretical precautions. Unbelievably, the second of them, already showing early signs of fever, was permitted by the CDC to take a commercial flight from Cleveland to Dallas last week, along with 132 passengers who are now being frantically sought by the authorities.

It could be that for all the criticism he now faces, Dr Frieden will be proved right. Despite the saturation coverage, just one person (a Liberian visiting relatives in America) has died, and only two people (the nurses) have thus far been infected. As Frieden has warned, there will surely be others. But if anybody has the capacity to stop Ebola in its tracks, it is the US, boasting the most advanced medical technology on earth.

And even as a potential health scourge, the disease hardly rates. Every year alcohol kills some 88,000 Americans and tobacco close on half a million. Some 30,000 people are killed, or kill themselves, with firearms annually, and thousands more die from the common flu. But that is to reckon without the panic factor, born of fear of the unknown – be it IS, possible economic collapse, and now Ebola.

Glance at the headlines and you'd think Dallas is a city about to fall to the silent enemy within. Worst-case scenarios abound, The New York Times quotes academic experts on "public hysteria", and a New York company reports soaring sales of gasmasks and other "survival systems". On Doom and Bloom, an online store, you can buy a "Deluxe Ebola Pandemic Kit" complete with goggles, coveralls, masks, and biohazard bags for $59.99 (£37), according to the Daily Beast news website.

In an election season, where there's potential panic, there's politics. Anxious to be seen as "in control", the President last week cancelled political trips outside Washington, to attend to the crisis with his top advisers. On Friday, he appointed an "Ebola tsar" to co-ordinate the federal government's response, and signed orders for national guardsmen to go to West Africa to help fight the epidemic.

But this "drop-everything else" tactic by the President, whose approval rating has sunk to a George W Bush-like 40 per cent – may backfire, creating the very panic it seeks to avoid. And even if the Ebola menace is extinguished in the US, Obama probably won't get any credit. If it isn't, he'll certainly get the blame.

Indeed, Ebola is already being portrayed by the President's Republican foes as a "Obama's Katrina", a failure to react to a disaster as fatal to his reputation as was Bush's incompetence in handling the hurricane that devastated New Orleans. That is nonsense, as is the counter-charge from the Democrats that the crisis stems from CDC funding cuts (to which the Democrats agreed during the recent budget showdowns in Washington).

On 4 November, Ebola may not sway votes directly. But indirectly, it surely works to the Republicans advantage, feeding into a pervasive sense of national unease, reinforcing a perception of drift and weakness.

If so, then we could be heading for a Democratic disaster that would weaken Obama further. The party long since gave up all hope of making gains in the House of Representatives, where Republicans are set to enlarge their majority. The sole question of these midterms, a de facto referendum on the man who is not on the ballot, is whether the Democrats can cling on to the Senate. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to have a majority, and a fortnight ago it seemed they might come up short. Now the tide is running in their favour. Three GOP gains are all but certain: West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. Add Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado, where the Republican is leading, and it's seven.

True, a couple of Republican-held seats in Kansas and Georgia look wobbly, and the Democrats may cling on to Louisiana, another Republican target. But consider this. Ebola's incubation period is around 21 days. If so, and new cases do come to light, it could be right around the election day itself. Cui bono? Surely the Republicans.

Stability will only return when Hong Kong ends its property tyranny

15 October 2014 South China Morning Post

Sky-high property prices are the root cause of the ongoing social instability in Hong Kong. When the average household would have to put aside all their salary for 10 years to afford to buy the space for a bed - never mind eating and drinking, and other living expenses - or that incomes have grown by only 10 per cent in a decade, where is the hope for ordinary people, especially the young? Unless Hong Kong restructures its property market to serve the people, instead of milking them to the last drop, the city won't see stability again.

Hong Kong has been run like a medieval city state. A business elite at the top has the dominant voice on how wealth and income are created and distributed. Hong Kong's system encourages people to make money with maximum economic freedom and low taxes.

Tight land supply adds to the problem - often a result of hoarding by a few of the big boys. The banking system is structured to load people with a mountain of debt, which means people must work even harder to keep their tiny apartment.

The system worked when incomes were rising rapidly. When China was not fully open up to the world, Hong Kong had plenty of opportunities as a bridge between the two, and could charge a hefty premium for the service. After China joined the World Trade Organisation, those opportunities as a middleman vanished. Taxing people with ever higher property prices couldn't work anymore. But Hong Kong's system didn't adjust to the new reality. The ensuing instability is hurting everyone. The city's ruling elite, through uncontrollable greed, have done themselves in.

In contrast, Singapore has been run like a proper dictatorship. The system doesn't do stupid things to hurt its ruling class. It focuses its greed on foreigners and distributes the spoils among the people through good public housing, quality education and health care, and a nice pension. Most Hong Kong people seem to like Singapore.

When you think about it, medieval city states like Florence and Venice flourished using the same policies. They used strong militaries to protect their trade monopolies and, sometimes, just looted others when opportunities arose. Because their ruling elite had the wisdom to distribute the loot among all contributors, their enterprises or scams lasted for centuries. Their luck finally ran out when rising nation states built bigger militaries.

Both Hong Kong and Singapore are leftovers of the British colonial era. They have enjoyed much higher incomes than their giant neighbours by arbitraging their inefficiencies. The business model is not so different from Venice or Florence centuries ago. As their neighbours change, they must adapt to sustain their income premium. Instead of building ships or making semiconductors, Singapore has switched to casinos and private banking. Maybe these businesses don't smell so good, but they bring in the money to buy social peace.

Hong Kong hasn't adapted. When the old model doesn't work, the instinct here is to squeeze supply further. When the price is too high, let's carve a flat into several smaller ones. Wouldn't that make housing affordable? Hence, mini-flats have now become popular for speculators. But, even mini-flats are unaffordable. What's next? Should people learn to sleep standing up or hanging upside down?

The usual excuse against change is that Hong Kong doesn't have land. This is a big lie. Only 4 per cent of Hong Kong's land is given over to residential use. There is the same amount of reserved development land, and big developers hold a considerable chunk of it. Singapore has been developing mainly on reclaimed land. It has a real physical shortage, but has kept public housing cheap and spacious. Land isn't a constraint to Hong Kong's development.

What stands in the way is Hong Kong's ruling elite, a leftover from the colonial era, hanging onto the old model no matter what. Since they don't have other sources of competitiveness, changing would mean the end to their privileged status. This is why meaningful change won't happen through consultation among the elite. Some force has to impose the change. If Beijing wants stability in Hong Kong, it must focus on property, which means ditching its business friends.

In addition to artificially controlled land supply, interest rates play a role in the price cycle. But this confuses the debate. The interest rate cycle introduces volatility. So, if the US Federal Reserve raises rates to 3 per cent within three years, Hong Kong's property prices may fall by 50 per cent over that time.

Yet housing still wouldn't be affordable. When the price begins to fall suddenly, the debate will surely shift, and political support for limiting supply will return. Hong Kong could repeat the cycle.

Ruling Hong Kong requires a long-term vision, not the zig-zagging we've seen since the handover. During the Asian financial crisis, Hong Kong abandoned its expanded, but still modest, public housing programme, laying the seeds for today's instability. Policy responses now should focus not only on short-term issues.

Andy Xie is an independent economist

Tim Clark is totally dissatisfied with the MH370 investigation

10 October 2014

The fate of MH370 is "downright suspicious" and the Malyasia Airlines jumbo may not even be in the Southern Indian Ocean, according to Emirates chief Sir Tim Clark.

In an interview with Der Spiegel seven months after the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Sir Tim has cast doubt on the official version of events.

In an extraordinary interview with the German magazine he challenges the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s conclusion this week that MH370 flew south over the Indian Ocean on autopilot for five hours until it ran out of fuel and fell out of the sky, forcing 239 passengers into a watery grave.

Clark called for every "fact" about the tragedy to be challenged as investigators comb an area of the southern Indian Ocean seabed. He also voiced concern that efforts to get the truth might slacken, leading MH370 to become an unsolved mystery.

Clark said: "My own view is that probably control was taken of that airplane. It's anybody's guess who did what. We need to know who was on the plane in the detail that obviously some people do know.

"We need to know what was in the hold of the aircraft. And we need to continue to press all those who were involved in the analysis of what happened for more information."

Revealing he feels "totally dissatisfied" with the progress of the investigation, Clark said he remains to be convinced that MH370 was even to be found in the southern Indian Ocean.

"I am saying that all the "facts" of this particular incident must be challenged and examined with full transparency. We are nowhere near that. There is plenty of information out there, which we need to be far more forthright, transparent and candid about.

"Every single second of that flight needs to be examined up until it, theoretically, ended up in the Indian Ocean — for which they still haven't found a trace, not even a seat cushion. Our experience tells us that in water incidents, where the aircraft has gone down, there is always something.

"We have not seen a single thing that suggests categorically that this aircraft is where they say it is."

Two hundred and thirty nine passangers died when MH370 vanished in March, en-route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpar.

Leading the search for the Malaysia Airlines craft is the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.


Emirates Head Critical of MH 370 Investigation

10 October 2010 Der Spiegel interview conducted by Andreas Spaeth

Why is there still no trace of flight MH 370? In an interview, Sir Tim Clark, head of Emirates Airline, is sharply critical of the investigation thus far. He believes someone took control of the plane and maintained it until the very end.

Tim Clark has been a senior manager at the airline Emirates since 1985 and has been instrumental in developing it into one of the world's largest airlines. Today, the 64-year-old is seen as a knowledgeable expert and critic of the aviation industry. His view of the vanished Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 is a provocative one. The plane that disappeared was a Boeing 777 and Emirates operates 127 such aircraft, more than any other airline in the world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It's now October, seven months after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, and we still don't know what happened. What can still be done to gain some degree of clarity?

Clark: MH 370 remains one of the great aviation mysteries. Personally, I have the concern that we will treat it as such and move on. At the most, it might then make an appearance on National Geographic as one of aviation's great mysteries. We mustn't allow this to happen. We must know what caused that airplane to disappear.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what do you think happened?

Clark: My own view is that probably control was taken of that airplane.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: By whom? What do you think happened?

Clark: It's anybody's guess who did what. We need to know who was on the plane in the detail that obviously some people do know. We need to know what was in the hold of the aircraft. And we need to continue to press all those who were involved in the analysis of what happened for more information. I do not subscribe to the view that the Boeing 777, which is one of the most advanced in the world and has the most advanced communication platforms, needs to be improved with the introduction of some kind of additional tracking system. MH 370 should never have been allowed to enter a non-trackable situation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you mean by that?

Clark: The transponders are under the control of the flight deck. These are tracking devices, aircraft identifiers that work in the secondary radar regime. If you turn off that transponder in a secondary radar regime, that particular airplane disappears from the radar screen. That should never be allowed to happen. Irrespective of when the pilot decides to disable the transponder, the aircraft should be able to be tracked.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What about other monitoring methods?

Clark: The other means of constantly monitoring the progress of an aircraft is ACARS (Eds. Note: Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System). It is designed primarily for companies to monitor what its planes are doing. We use it to monitor aircraft systems and engine performance. At Emirates, we track every single aircraft from the ground, every component and engine of the aircraft at any point on the planet. Very often, we are able to track systemic faults before the pilots do.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How might it have been possible to disable that tracking system?

Clark: Disabling it is no simple thing and our pilots are not trained to do so. But on flight MH 370, this thing was somehow disabled, to the degree that the ground tracking capability was eliminated. We must find systems to allow ACARS to continue uninterrupted, irrespective of who is controlling the aircraft. If you have that, with the satellite constellations that we have today even in remote ocean regions, we still have monitoring capability. So you don't have to introduce additional tracking systems.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What, then, are you proposing?

Clark: My recommendation to aircraft manufacturers that they find a way to make it impossible to disable ACARS from the flight deck. And the transponder as well. I'm still struggling to come up with a reason why a pilot should be able to put the transponder into standby or to switch it off. MH 370 was, in my opinion, under control, probably until the very end.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If that is the case, then why would the pilots spend five hours heading straight towards Antarctica?

Clark: If they did! I am saying that all the "facts" of this particular incident must be challenged and examined with full transparency. We are nowhere near that. There is plenty of information out there, which we need to be far more forthright, transparent and candid about. Every single second of that flight needs to be examined up until it, theoretically, ended up in the Indian Ocean -- for which they still haven't found a trace, not even a seat cushion.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does that surprise you? The possible crash area west of Australia is vast and the search there only began following considerable delays.

Clark: Our experience tells us that in water incidents, where the aircraft has gone down, there is always something. We have not seen a single thing that suggests categorically that this aircraft is where they say it is, apart from this so-called electronic satellite "handshake," which I question as well.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At what point on the presumed flight path of MH 370 do your doubts begin?

Clark: There hasn't been one overwater incident in the history of civil aviation -- apart from Amelia Earhart in 1939 -- that has not been at least 5 or 10 percent trackable. But MH 370 has simply disappeared. For me, that raises a degree of suspicion. I'm totally dissatisfied with what has been coming out of all of this.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What can be done to improve the investigation's transparency?

Clark: I'm not in a position to do it; I'm essentially an airline manager. But I will continue to ask questions and make a nuisance of myself, even as others would like to bury it. We have an obligation to the passengers and crew of MH 370 and their families. We have an obligation to not sweep this under the carpet, but to sort it out and do better than we have done.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Malaysia Airlines has experienced two tragic catastrophes this year, the disappearance of MH 370 and the apparent shooting down of MH 17 over eastern Ukraine in July. If you led the company, what would you do?

Clark: Very difficult one. None of us has been in such a situation before, having to deal with two tragedies within a few months of each other. It will be very difficult for Malaysia Airlines to deal with the stigma. They need to take a fresh look at what they do, revisit their business model, possibly (consider) a rebranding. We as an industry need to find a way to help these guys sort out their problems. But with that kind of brand damage, it's extraordinarily difficult.

Shambles at the Vic

9 October 2014

Most managers last on average around a year nowadays but Watford FC have remarkably appointed Slavisa Jokanovic as their 4th manager of the season after just 11 League Games and 7 weeks into the new season.

They started off the season with Giuseppe Sannino who had been in charge since December 2013 but after just 3 weeks of the new season he left Vicarage Road with The Hornets sitting in 2nd after an impressive start, stating there was conflict between him and the players. He is now managing in Italy’s Serie B with Catania.

After him it was the turn of Spaniard and former Brighton Manager Oscar Garcia who only on the touchline in one game because of ongoing health problems, and in the end this forced him to leave the Hertfordshire based side after just 27 days.

The last man who exited the revolving door was Billy Mckinlay who managed just 2 games with 8 days in charge before leaving the club. The former coach at Fulham and Assistant at Northern Ireland said he had been waiting 10 years for his chance in management; sadly his first job didn't last as long as his wait. He did though leave the club with an unbeaten record with 4 points from his 2 games in charge. It is as of yet unclear why he left, there are though rumors linking him with the Fulham job .

The latest man to enter Vicarage Road is Slavisa Jokanovic who comes in from Spanish 3rd division side Hercules. Jokanović started his managerial career at Partizan Belgrade in 2008. He won the league and cup with them in the same year, and was selected as 'Best Coach in Serbia', but refused to receive the award because Partizan fared poorly in the UEFA Cup.

In the following season, his first full season, Jokanović again won the league and cup, this time winning the league by 19 points. He was the first coach in the club's history to successfully defend both league and cup.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, he then left the club by mutual consent at the start of the following season.

Since then, Jokanović has managed in Thailand, winning the league and going unbeaten with Muangthong United F.C. in 2012-13. He had a short spell as manager of Bulgarian team PFC Levski Sofia following this, but was sacked due to poor results after a few months, and is currently in charge at Spanish third-tier side Hércules CF, whom the Pozzos have had dealings with in the past through loaning out players from Granada.

Despite all the behind the scene changes at the club Watford sit in 3rd place in the Championship, level on points with the top two. The players appear to have handled all the changes calmly but now they must be hoping for a bit of consistency with Jokanovic in charge.

The main question is what is going on behind the scenes at Watford why all these changes?

October 6 remembered

6 October 2014

Today is the 38th anniversary of the October 6, 1976 massacre of students at Bangkok's Thammasat University. Details on Wikipedia.


Commemorations of that event have been banned by the ruling junta this year.

The massacre took place at Thammasat University when right-wing militia and border police attacked a peaceful gathering of student activists and protesters who had been protesting against the return of Field Marshall Thanom Kittikajorn, a military dictator, who returned to Thailand in disguise as a Buddhist monk.

Thanom, who ruled Thailand from 1958-1973, was ousted in a popular uprising that took place three years before the massacre.

Students were set on fire with petrol and a lifeless body was hung from a tree in Sanam Luang while being beaten by a chair with the right-wing crowd looking extremely happy.

Officially the day took the lives of at least 46 protesters and pulled the country back to years of military rule. Unofficially the death count is much higher.

The massacre which ended with the military coup d’état brought the political division to another level. Hundreds of books were banned. Student activists were hunted down, forcing many who were not even Communists to join the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand (PLAT), the armed wing of the Communist Party of Thailand. The conflict between the PLAT and the military government lasted for a decade until the amnesty programme in late 1980s.

Student activism and involvement in politics has also been largely passive since that date.

As shown again in 2010 the Thai establishment is ready to use violence on Thai citizens if they perceive a threat to their control.

In doing so they readily justify state violence as a necessary response to opposition that they brand as being un-Thai.

In seeking comparisons between Thailand and events in Hong Kong this last week it is reasonable to compare 1976 Bangkok to 2014 Hong Kong....hopefully with a very different outcome.

On the Oregon Trail with Blue Rodeo

4 October 2014

The Oregon Trail is a 2,200-mile (3,500 km) historic east-west wagon route and emigrant trail that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. It was one of those great romantic western adventures that in reality must have been terrifying and dangerous.

The eastern part of the Oregon Trail spanned part of the future state of Kansas and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of the future states of Idaho and Oregon.

The Oregon Trail was laid by fur trappers and traders from about 1811 to 1840 and was only passable on foot or by horseback. By 1836, when the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. Wagon trails were cleared further and further west, eventually reaching all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. What came to be called the Oregon Trail was complete, even as improved roads, "cutouts", ferries and bridges made the trip faster and safer almost every year. From various "jumping off points" branched in Missouri, Iowa or Nebraska Territory, the routes converged along the lower Platte River Valley near Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory and led to rich farmlands west of the Rocky Mountains.

From the early to mid-1830s (and particularly through the epoch years, 1846–1869) the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 400,000 settlers, ranchers, farmers, miners, and businessmen and their families. The eastern half of the trail was also used by travelers on the California Trail (from 1843), Bozeman Trail (from 1863), and Mormon Trail (from 1847) before turning off to their separate destinations. Use of the trail declined as the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, making the trip west substantially faster, cheaper, and safer. Today, modern highways such as Interstate 80 follow the same course westward and pass through towns originally established to service the Oregon Trail.

Blue Rodeo did not follow the Oregon Trail but for two nights last week they were in the American Northwest playing in Seattle and Portland.

Picture - Rob Babcock on twitter

In Seattle, on 1st October, Blue Rodeo played the Nordstrom Recital Hall at the home of the Seattle Symphony orchestra. The venue set the tone. It is the smaller venue at the symphony's home seating 500. Blue Rodeo welcomed about 450 concert-goers - ageing, well-dressed and polite. Uniformed ushers on crowd control. Cinema style seating. No interval. It all felt very professional. A bit sterile. And rather muted.

This is the Seattle set list:

Head over Heels
What am I doing here?
New morning sun
Tell Me Again
Diamond Mine
Rose Coloured Glasses
Bad Timing
To Love Somebody
Summer Girls
After the Rain
My Dark Angel
You're Everywhere
5 Days in July
Hasn't Hit me Yet
Till I am Myself Again
Lost Together

Then onto Portland on 2nd October. First up - what a nice town this is. It genuinely seems to work. Modern, efficient; good public transit. Vibrant arts scene. A downtown university keeps the city young. Great food culture. Multinational food trucks. The only thing missing is better and more affordable downtown hotel accommodation.

The Aladdin Theatre in Portland is a 600 seat music venue and was originally the Geller’s Theatre when it opened in 1928. It became the Aladdin in 1930 starting as a vaudeville house, then a family cinema and in the 70′s and 80′s served as an adult movie theater.

The Aladdin was purchased and renovated by Paul Shuback, of Shuback’s violin shop, and from late 1993) it has been a concert and comedy venue.

It has character. It also has a bar and basic food. The good news is that you can take your food and drinks into the concert.

The room was about half full for Blue Rodeo. But it was a lively and noisy crowd. Fun people. And therefore a more enjoyable concert than in Seattle. I also prefered the sound at the Aladdin. Simply more vibrant than the muffled sound of the recital hall.

Perhaps reflecting the venue the set list was a little more upbeat as well.

Head over Heels
What am I doing here?
English Bay
New morning sun
Tell me again
Rose Coloured Glasses
Jesus Christ was born today (from BR's upcoming Christmas Album) - as a side note JC has the same initials
It could happen to you
5 days in July
Diamond Mine
Summer Girls
After the Rain
To love somebody
You're everywhere
Hasn't hit me yet
Till I am myself again
Lost together

So I got my fix of Blue Rodeo. My first concerts since two years ago in Spain. Greg Keelor was in good and strong voice. Colin Cripps seems part of the furniture and I would pay good money to watch a Mike Boguski solo concert. Jim Cuddy is still the guy that the girls want to be seen with.

My only wish is that the shows were a little less predictable. There are some great Blue Rodeo songs that simply never make it to the concert stage.

In the USA Blue Rodeo are a bit like Chocolate Turtles. Both are great Canadian products yet appear little known south of the border other than to a devoted, often expatriate Canadian following. But it is also a great opportunity to see the band in smaller, more personal, venues.

The Party v the people

2 October 2014 The Economist

Of the ten bloodiest conflicts in world history, two were world wars. Five of the other eight took place or originated in China. The scale of the slaughter within a single country, and the frequency with which the place has been bathed in blood, is hard for other nations to comprehend. The Taiping revolt in the mid-19th century led to the deaths of more than 20m, and a decade later conflict between Han Chinese and Muslims killed another 8m-12m. In the 20th century 20m-30m died under Mao Zedong: some murdered, most as a result of a famine caused by brutality and incompetence.

China’s Communist Party leaders are no doubt keen to hold on to power for its own sake. But the country’s grim history also helps explain why they are so determined not to give ground to the demonstrators in Hong Kong who want to replace the territory’s fake democracy with the real thing (see article). Xi Jinping, China’s president, and his colleagues believe that the party’s control over the country is the only way of guaranteeing its stability. They fear that if the party loosens its grip, the country will slip towards disorder and disaster.

They are right that autocracy can keep a country stable in the short run. In the long run, though, as China’s own history shows, it cannot. The only guarantor of a stable country is a people that is satisfied with its government. And in China, dissatisfaction with the Communist Party is on the rise.

Bad omens

Hong Kong’s “Umbrella revolution”, named after the protection the demonstrators carry against police pepper-spray (as well as the sun and the rain), was triggered by a decision by China in late August that candidates for the post of the territory’s chief executive should be selected by a committee stacked with Communist Party supporters. Protesters are calling for the party to honour the promise of democracy that was made when the British transferred the territory to China in 1997. Like so much in the territory, the protests are startlingly orderly. After a night of battles with police, students collected the plastic bottles that littered the streets for recycling.

For some of the protesters, democracy is a matter of principle. Others, like middle-class people across mainland China, are worried about housing, education and their own job prospects. They want representation because they are unhappy with how they are governed. Whatever their motivation, the protests present a troubling challenge for the Communist Party. They are reminiscent not just of uprisings that have toppled dictators in recent years from Cairo to Kiev, but also of the student protests in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago. The decision to shoot those protesters succeeded in restoring order, but generated mistrust that still pervades the world’s dealings with China, and China’s with its own citizens.

In Hong Kong, the party is using a combination of communist and colonial tactics. Spokesmen have accused the protesters of being “political extremists” and “black hands” manipulated by “foreign anti-China forces”; demonstrators will “reap what they have sown”. Such language is straight out of the party’s well-thumbed lexicon of calumnies; similar words were used to denigrate the protesters in Tiananmen. It reflects a long-standing unwillingness to engage with democrats, whether in Hong Kong or anywhere else in China, and suggests that party leaders see Hong Kong, an international city that has retained a remarkable degree of freedom since the British handed it back to China, as just another part of China where critics can be intimidated by accusing them of having shadowy ties with foreigners. Mr Xi, who has long been closely involved with the party’s Hong Kong policy, should know better.

At the same time, the party is resorting to the colonialists’ methods of managing little local difficulties. Much as the British—excoriated by the Communist Party—used to buy the support of tycoons to keep activism under wraps, Mr Xi held a meeting in Beijing with 70 of Hong Kong’s super-rich to ensure their support for his stance on democracy. The party’s supporters in Hong Kong argue that bringing business onside is good for stability, though the resentment towards the tycoons on display in Hong Kong’s streets suggests the opposite.

Yet the combination of exhortation, co-option and tear gas have so far failed to clear the streets. Now the government is trying to wait the protesters out. But if Mr Xi believes that the only way of ensuring stability is for the party to reassert its control, it remains possible that he will authorise force. That would be a disaster for Hong Kong, and it would not solve Mr Xi’s problem. For mainland China, too, is becoming restless.

Party leaders are doing their best to prevent mainlanders from finding out about the events in Hong Kong (see article). Even so, the latest news from Hong Kong’s streets will find ways of getting to the mainland, and the way this drama plays out will shape the government’s relations with its people.

The difficulty for the Communist Party is that while there are few signs that people on the mainland are hungering for full-blown democracy, frequent protests against local authorities and widespread expressions of anger on social media suggest that there, too, many people are dissatisfied with the way they are governed. Repression, co-option and force may succeed in silencing the protesters in Hong Kong today, but there will be other demonstrations, in other cities, soon enough.

A different sort of order

As Mr Xi has accumulated power, he has made it clear that he will not tolerate Western-style democracy. Yet suppressing popular demands produces temporary stability at the cost of occasional devastating upheavals. China needs to find a way of allowing its citizens to shape their governance without resorting to protests that risk turning into a struggle for the nation’s soul. Hong Kong, with its history of free expression and semi-detached relationship to the mainland, is an ideal place for that experiment to begin. If Mr Xi were to grasp the chance, he could do more for his country than all the emperors and party chiefs who have struggled to maintain stability in that vast and violent country before him.

Hong Kong Is Ready For Democracy, But China Isn’t Ready for a Free Hong Kong

29 September 2014 Anson Chan for Time magazine

China is not ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control

For me the most heart-breaking aspect of the current unrest in Hong Kong has been to see our police force, kitted out in full riot gear like Star Wars Stormtroopers with gas masks donned, firing pepper spray and tear gas indiscriminately into the faces of crowds of very young unarmed student protesters, most of whom had their arms in the air to show that they were not holding any weapon. These pictures have shamed our city and its government in front of the whole world.

Hong Kong has a long tradition of peaceful protest, dating back to the outpouring of grief following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and now including annual June 4 candlelight vigils, and pro-democracy marches that take place each year on the July 1 anniversary of the return of sovereignty to China. Hong Kong protesters don’t hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails, they don’t burn tires or set fire to police vehicles, they don’t smash windows and loot shops. Fulfilling their side of the bargain, they have trusted that the police will fulfill theirs by managing the demonstration with a light touch and supporting their right to peaceful demonstration.

In a few short hours last Sunday, our police sacrificed decades of goodwill; their mandate having clearly changed from one of supporting freedom of expression to acting as a tool of an increasingly repressive and authoritarian government that seems committed to rule by law, rather than the rule of law. These sorts of tactics may be par for the course in Mainland China; they are totally unacceptable under the policy of “one country, two systems” laid down by the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration — the treaty signed by China and Britain that paved the way for Hong Kong to be handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.

As I write, the protest is ongoing. This is no longer just about the Occupy Central movement, which planned to block roads in Hong Kong Island’s main business district. Peaceful sit-ins have spread up-town and across Hong Kong Harbor to Kowloon. The numbers of students are being swelled by supporters of all ages and walks of life.

For the time being, our government seems to have recognized the error of its ways. Riot police have withdrawn and the mood of the crowds is more relaxed.

The question now is can trust be repaired? What will it take to defuse the current stand-off?

First, the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing must acknowledge that Hong Kong’s people have a right to be angry. Our constitution, the Basic Law, promises that we will have the right to elect our head of government and all members of our legislature by universal suffrage. Yet, 17 years after the return of sovereignty to China, we are still being told that we are not really ready for full democracy. We can have one person, one vote — to elect our next head of government in 2017 — but the two or three candidates allowed to stand for election must all be pre-screened by a nominating committee loaded with pro-Beijing sympathizers.

Having waited so long, Hong Kong people are outraged at this insult to their intelligence. Not surprisingly, it is young people, the students, who are most incensed. They can see that Hong Kong is slipping down a perilous slope toward becoming just another Chinese city. This is about their future, the preservation of their way of life and the core values and freedoms they want to be able to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

The truth is Hong Kong is more than ready for democracy; it is China that is not ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control.

Hong Kong’s Government has paved the way for the current crisis by acquiescing in a phoney process of public consultation on constitutional reform, the results of which were completely ignored by Beijing. The vast majority of protesters want nothing less than for our current head of government, C.Y. Leung, and his senior ministers, to step down. Realistically, this won’t happen — at least anytime soon. In the meantime, he and his team must come up with something that will give the protesters a reason to pack up and go home. And they must come up with it soon.

Anson Maria Elizabeth Chan Fang On-sang, GBM, GCMG, CBE, JP (born 17 January 1940) is the former Chief Secretary in both the British colonial government of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government under the Chinese rule. She was also an elected member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for Hong Kong Island between 2007 and 2008

ANA - another night awake

29 September 2014

A few thoughts on two flights yesterday long haul in Economy with ANA.

I flew on NH806 - the 06.50am departure from Bangkok to Narita and then on NH1078 from Narita to Seattle.

The first flight was an older 777-200 and the second flight a new 787-800.

The only thing consistent between the flights were the friendly and very efficient cabin crews. They are also quiet and unobtrusive. Very different from too many Emirates crews who seeem to have a party in the galley on many flights.

The 777-200 had an old style 3-3-3 configuration with good legroom but a first generation small-screen IFE that was pretty well useless for anything other than the flight map.

Oddly despite the 06.50 departure the only breakfast served was a very small banana muffin.

A hot lunch was then served 2 hours out of Narita - about 4 hours into the flight. If you have been awake since 3.45am and have not eaten at the airport you will be hungry.

I had to clear immigration at Narita to change planes - just a function of the ticket I was using. Arrivals was very speedy; departure immigration a bit of a shambles with just 5 of 14 desks working and 20 to 30 minute queues.

Online check in was available for the flight from Narita but not from Bangkok.

The 787 may be the most over-hyped plane in modern aviation. Yes it has bigger windows. But the cabin is not quiet - certainly not at quiet as the A380.

That is it. ANA used a 3-3-3 configuration for this airplane. The seats are small, short, limited in legroom and have the smallest of armrests. They are very like the Emirates 777 seats but without the extra legroom that EK offers which compensates in part for the lack of seat width. These are not seats that you sleep in.

The aisles are narrow adding to the sense of claustrophobia.

For a new airplane ANA's IFE is very disappointing. A small choice of international films; no boxed set dramas and no wi-fi.

Good job the crew are as capable and unobtrusive as they are.

Too Young to Die, Too Old to Worry

29 September 2014 - The New York Times

This weekend, the singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen is celebrating his 80th birthday — with a cigarette. Last year he announced that he would resume smoking when he turned 80. “It’s the right age to recommence,” he explained.

At any age, taking up smoking is not sensible. Both the smoker and those who breathe his secondhand smoke can suffer not only long-term but acute health problems, including infections and asthma. And yet, Mr. Cohen’s plan presents a provocative question: When should we set aside a life lived for the future and, instead, embrace the pleasures of the present?

At the start of the 20th century, only one-half of 1 percent of the United States population was over the age of 80. Industrialized nations were preoccupied with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and polio. Many of the common diseases of aging, such as osteoporosis, were not even thought of as diseases.

Today, 3.6 percent of the population is over 80, and life is heavily prescribed not only with the behaviors we should avoid, but the medications we ought to take. More than half of adults age 65 and older are taking five or more prescription medications, over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements, many of them designed not to treat acute suffering, but instead, to reduce the chances of future suffering. Stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, kidney failure, hip fracture — the list is long, and with the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ plan to prevent Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, it grows ever more ambitious.

Aging in the 21st century is all about risk and its reduction. Insurers reward customers for regular attendance at a gym or punish them if they smoke. Physicians are warned by pharmaceutical companies that even after they have prescribed drugs to reduce their patients’ risk of heart disease, a “residual risk” remains — more drugs are often prescribed. One fitness product tagline captures the zeitgeist: “Your health account is your wealth account! Long live living long!”

But when is it time to stop saving and spend some of our principal? If you thought you were going to die soon, you just might light up, as well as stop taking your daily aspirin, statin and blood pressure pill. You would spend more time and money on present pleasures, like a dinner out with friends, than on future anxieties.

When it comes to prevention, there can be too much of a good thing. Groups like the United States Preventive Services Task Force regularly review the evidence that supports prevention guidelines, and find that after certain ages, the benefits of prevention are not worth the risks and hassles of testing, surgeries and medications. Recent guidelines for cholesterol treatment from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, for example, set 79 years as the upper limit for calculating the 10-year risk of developing or dying from heart attack, stroke or heart disease. They also suggest that, after 75, it may not be beneficial for a person without heart disease to start taking statins. But that doesn’t mean everyone follows this advice.

Besides, isn’t 75 the new 65? Age seems a blunt criterion to decide when to stop. Is Mr. Cohen at 80 really 80? In his mid-70s, he maintained a rigorous touring schedule, often skipping off the stage. Maybe 80 is too young for him to start smoking again.

Advances in the science of forecasting are held out as the answers to these questions. Physician researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and at Harvard, have developed ePrognosis, a website that collates 19 risk calculators that an older adult can use to calculate her likelihood of dying in the next six months to 10 years. The developers of ePrognosis report that frail older adults want to know their life expectancy so they can not only plan their health care but also make financial choices, such as giving away some of their savings.

Even more revolutionary is RealAge, a product of Sharecare Inc. that has quantified our impression that as we age, some of us are really older, while others are younger than the count of their years. It uses an algorithm that assesses a variety of habits and medical data to calculate how old you “really” are.

Websites like these can be a convenient vehicle to disseminate information (and marketing materials) to patients. But complex actuarial data — including its uncertainties and limitations — is best conveyed during a face-to-face, doctor-patient conversation.

We are becoming a nation of planners living quantified lives. But life accumulates competing risks. By preventing heart disease and cancer, we live longer and so increase our risk of suffering cognitive losses so disabling that our caregivers then have to decide not just how, but how long, we will live. The bioethicist Dena Davis has argued that emerging biomarkers that may someday predict whether one is developing the earliest pathology of Alzheimer’s disease (like brain amyloid, measured with a PET scan) are an opportunity for people to schedule their suicide. Or at least start smoking.

Our culture of aging is one of extremes. You are either healthy and executing vigorous efforts to build your health account, or you are dying. And yet, as we start to “ache in the places where [we] used to play,” as one of Mr. Cohen’s songs puts it, we want to focus on the present. Many of my older patients and their caregivers complain that they spend their days going from one doctor visit to the next, and data from the National Health Interview Survey suggests one reason. Among older adults whose nine-year mortality risk is 75 percent or greater, from one-third to as many as one-half are still receiving cancer-screening tests that are no longer recommended.

I don’t plan to celebrate my 80th birthday with a cigarette or a colonoscopy, and I don’t want my aging experience reduced to an online, actuarial accounting exercise. I recently gave a talk about Alzheimer’s disease to a community group. During the question and answer session, one man exclaimed, “Why doesn’t Medicare pay us all to have dinner and two glasses of wine once a week with friends?” What he was getting at is that we desire not simply to pursue life, but happiness, and that medicine is important, but it’s not the only means to this happiness. A national investment in communities and services that improve the quality of our aging lives might help us to achieve this. Perhaps, instead of Death Panels, we can start talking about Pleasure Panels.

Jason Karlawish is a professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Flying High - The Improbable Rise of the Gulf Airlines

23 September 2014 - By Jim Krane for Foreign Affairs magazine

“Shiraz or Chardonnay?” the stewardess asked, brandishing a bottle of each. Our London-bound Emirates Airline flight had recently left Dubai. I glanced out the window and noted a sprawling city amid the jagged landscape below. The seat back map told me we were flying over Shiraz, Iran.

“Shiraz, please,” I responded, in sympathy for those inhabiting the city below, not many of whom were being offered a similar choice.

The socially conservative Persian Gulf is not a region generally associated with free-flowing wine or, at least until recently, the finer side of air travel. The relentless rise of its state-owned airlines thus comes as a surprise, especially given the region’s tendency toward political unrest. Indeed, one might have been forgiven for thinking that a rise in air piracy was a more likely outcome. But for the executives of legacy carriers across the developed world -- think British Airways, Lufthansa, and Qantas -- the competition from airlines flying out of the Persian Gulf is already causing a good deal of indigestion, and probably ulcers. Gulf airlines have steadily added routes, grabbed passengers, and poached crews, while leveraging their buying power to successfully demand discounts and impose design preferences on the latest Boeing and Airbus planes.

In the United Arab Emirates, homeland of two of the September 11 hijackers, two state-owned airlines are amassing huge fleets unabashedly adorned with Arabic calligraphy. Next month, they will fly tens of thousands of pilgrims in their white ihram robes to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage -- hajj -- to Mecca, steering around Syrian airspace along the way. But they will also carry on with hundreds of flights outside the region, on schedule as usual. These carriers, the so-called Big Three -- Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, Dubai’s Emirates Airline, and neighboring Qatar Airways -- have already become major global brands associated with hospitality, convenience, and safety. Their arrival has been to the airline business what the dreadnought battleship was to naval supremacy: a game changer.


The Gulf carriers owe their recent success to a host of factors, including geography, state involvement, new aircraft technology, and economic forces that are tilting the market their way.

The story starts nearly two decades ago, in 1985, with Dubai’s frustrated crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Unable to attract enough international traffic to Dubai’s modest airport, he decided to launch his own airline. Sheikh Mohammed, now Dubai’s ruler, leased a plane from Pakistan International Airlines, and donated a Boeing 727 from his own family’s private fleet. He tasked his chain-smoking uncle, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, with running the operation and hired Maurice Flanagan, a retired British airline executive, to advise him. He gave the two men $10 million in seed capital, and they succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

Emirates’ maiden flight linked Dubai to Karachi. By 1990, the airline was flying to 21 cities, including Frankfurt, London, and Singapore. A year later, Sheikh Ahmed made the first of what would become a series of dramatic gestures, slapping down $64.5 million for seven Boeing 777s. In 2001, he capitalized on the panic following September 11 to secure big discounts on 58 aircraft, including Airbus’ double-decker A380, the world’s largest passenger jet.

Now Emirates is the world’s fourth-biggest international airline. It has 227 planes flying 143 routes, most of them of the lucrative long-haul variety. In terms of passengers flown it ranks ahead of British Airways, but behind Lufthansa and budget carriers Ryanair and EasyJet. Last year, Emirates was the top-ranked airline in terms of passenger-kilometers flown.

How could an upstart in what is portrayed as a low-margin business take such a commanding position?

The region’s geographical advantage is undeniable, an analogue to the providential geology that allowed an underdeveloped backwater in the 1950s to quickly became the crucible of global energy. The Big Three Gulf carriers are located in a sweet spot for air traffic, astride the most direct pathway connecting the major population centers of Europe and Asia. Two-thirds of the world’s population lives within an eight-hour flight, and nearly 90 percent of humanity resides within the range of an A380 or 777 departing from the Gulf. By this measure, the skyscrapers of Doha and Dubai stand at the center of the world.

Studies show that flights of around seven hours are the most profitable for large carriers. Much shorter and the market favors budget airlines with stripped-down services. Much longer and the weight of additional fuel impinges on efficiency. As it happens, all of Europe and much of Asia lies within that ideal five-to-nine-hour range from the Gulf.

A route map comparison underscores the Gulf’s competitive advantage. Frankfurt and London are to the north, at the far end of the prevailing southeast–northwest traffic flow. Hong Kong and Singapore sit at the far southeastern end of that flow. The U.S. hubs are simply on the wrong side of the globe.

For Americans flying to Asia, it makes more sense to layover in Abu Dhabi, Doha, or Dubai than to make a northerly detour to Europe. Given the increasing numbers of U.S. cities served by Gulf carriers, analysts such as London-based Chris Tarry expect North America–Asia routes to shift from layovers in Europe to those in the Gulf. For similar reasons, Gulf carriers are capturing passengers flying from Europe to Australia and Southeast Asia. They are also poised to vacuum up traffic on the “commodity” routes from Northeast Asia to Africa and South America. The hubs of legacy carriers are simply in the wrong spots. “It’s tough to siphon away others’ traffic when you’re at the far end of everybody’s route map,” says Richard Aboulafia, an industry analyst with the Teal Group in Washington.

What’s more, the parts of the world the Gulf airlines serve best, such as Africa, northeast Asia, and India, also happen to be those experiencing the world’s fastest economic growth. It’s not just air traffic, but trade, investment, and political attention that are shifting toward emerging markets. By comparison, developed countries and their carriers look stagnant, with aging infrastructure built for a previous era, and high legacy costs in the form of health benefits and pensions.


Geography and demographics don’t tell the entire story. Other countries with the same locational advantage, such as Iran and Yemen, are not vying for the rich world’s air traffic. And some of the Gulf airlines, such as those in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and probably Oman, are unlikely to make the same leap. Given the proliferation of competing carriers, some may not even survive. Money-losing Gulf Air, once owned by a consortium of regional governments, has been left to cash-strapped Bahrain.

Part of what has distinguished the Big Three has been well-timed infrastructure investments. A few decades ago, Dubai’s airport was a flyblown strip next to an open shed where sweaty officials hand-stamped passports. The airport now processes 66 million passengers a year, vying with London’s Heathrow as the busiest international hub. Dubai bet big on the double-decker A380, designing an entire terminal around the lumbering plane that causes traffic tie-ups at older airports. Dubai handles nearly 300 A380 departures per week, far more than anywhere else.

Doha, meanwhile, has attempted to woo elite travelers by building separate infrastructure for business class and economy passengers -- including separate terminals and shops -- so that the two groups need not mingle at all. Abu Dhabi has ingratiated itself to U.S.-bound passengers by offering pre-clearance through U.S. immigration, while Etihad is training 500 of its personnel as “flying nannies” to entertain children.

Bosses of competing airlines allege that Gulf carriers’ advantage is built on unfair subsidies on fuel or other perks. In the case of Emirates, it’s probably safe to conclude that the airline gets no state subsidy beyond the cash, planes, and facilities Sheikh Mohammed handed over in its early days. In fact, money more often flows the other way: Emirates makes periodic contributions to the government budget. Other Gulf carriers, however, have sometimes counted on state financial support to cover losses; this past May, reports surfaced that Etihad had received an interest-free $3 billion loan from the Abu Dhabi ruling family.

The state provides more crucial support in other ways, however. The Gulf airlines benefit from favorable labor migration policies, which cut costs in ways unavailable to their competitors. Since there is no minimum wage in the Gulf, the airlines recruit cabin and ground crew from such countries as Ethiopia and India, paying wages based on prevailing rates in their home countries. Gulf airlines also benefit from the lack of taxation in their home countries.

High oil prices help Gulf carriers in two ways: they increase cash flow into the region, which, in turn, allows the state to invest in airport infrastructure; and they translate into higher fuel costs, which intensifies the efficiency advantages of the well-placed Gulf carriers over their rivals.

Another factor driving the airlines’ 15–20 percent yearly growth has been the ability to gain coveted landing rights in some of the world’s busiest airports, which Aboulafia credits to their huge purchases of Boeing and Airbus jets. The Gulf carriers have taken full advantage of favorable financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which provided $8.3 billion in loan guarantees last year that Boeing used to ease its sales to overseas customers. If congressional Republicans succeed in their effort to block the bank’s reauthorization, Gulf airlines and other Boeing customers will have to turn elsewhere for their financing. In Europe, Emirates’ purchases of Airbus A380s in particular are said to be keeping production of that money-losing aircraft afloat, and authorities there have rewarded Gulf carriers with landing slots. Aboulafia argues that these benefits have enabled Emirates to siphon away passengers from the likes of Air France/KLM, Lufthansa, and British Airways. The seamlessness of the process carries an air of inevitability.

“Europe is subsidizing the aeronautical rope that Emirates is using to hang European airlines,” he writes.

At the same time, Gulf states, and especially Dubai -- the only post-oil state in the Mideast -- have more at stake than their counterparts elsewhere. The aviation sector is a key piece of their economic strategies. Dubai’s tourism- and investment-driven economy would collapse without its air hub. That is why Emirates is managed directly by Sheikh Ahmed, a member of the ruling family who also controls Dubai’s civil aviation authority. He makes sure both get what they need.

Can the airlines keep up the pace? Two factors could dampen the trend. A drop in world oil prices could undercut their cost advantage. This factor is compounded by the arrival of long-range planes like the Boeing 787 that link far-flung markets -- such as London and Sydney -- without a stopover. However, most signs point to the Gulf carriers' continued and improbable rise.


There are, of course, broader issues behind what looks like a synchronized launch of Arab business competition with the West. Aside from less tangible gains in prestige and influence, strong air links to the world are crucial to the Gulf states’ development strategies. As post-oil Dubai has demonstrated, airlines are the bedrock elements of the monarchies’ larger plans to diversify their economies and reduce their dependence on fossil fuel rents.

Without its shiny new fleets, the UAE would be unable to host real estate conferences, fill its beach resorts, or attract players in its growing financial services sector. Abu Dhabi would struggle to host its Formula 1 races or bring visitors to its Ferrari World theme park. Qatar would have trouble hosting its diplomatic summits involving Hamas and the Taliban, while crews from Doha-based Al Jazeera might find it more difficult to gather news in regional conflict zones.

Further, air travel is a greater necessity in the Gulf than elsewhere. The same geography that provides an advantage for long-haul flights is hostile to overland travel. The Gulf monarchies lie on a long peninsula, hemmed in by sea and sand. Travel is made more difficult by tetchy borders, civil strife, and a lack of rail networks and other land-based options.

Travelers bring their wallets with them, and Dubai, especially, has leveraged its airline to create lucrative side businesses that are anathema to certain Arab sensibilities. It dabbles in the diamond trade, which inevitably links it to Israel. It engages in sea-and-sand tourism, which forces it to host drunken and promiscuous Europeans. And it maintains friendly and extremely profitable trade relations with Iran, despite attracting the umbrage of neighbors and allies. Nearly 10,000 Iranian companies are registered in Dubai, and more than 300 flights a week flow between Dubai and Iran, many of them on Emirates. Outside Tehran, Dubai is arguably the most important city to the Islamic Republic. The U.S. State Department has placed its so-called Iran Regional Presence Office, a mission focused exclusively on the Islamic Republic, in Dubai to capitalize on its role as a regional hub.

Imagine, for a moment, that the state-owned airlines of the Gulf allowed foreign investors to buy shares. One of the first questions a potential investor might ask would relate to the business effects of regional unrest. Does civil war in Iraq and Syria, revolution in Egypt and Libya, or Arab Spring disorder in Bahrain impinge on business? From outside the region, such events certainly appear threatening. But from within the region, they take on a different hue. Nearby unrest has long been a boon to the more stable political economies of the Gulf. When tourism in Egypt is off limits, hotels in the UAE and Oman are overbooked. When Iran falls prey to revolution or sanctions, its businessmen move their operations across the Gulf. Saddam Hussein’s misadventures in Iran and Kuwait made millionaires in Dubai, exiling educated refugees and their businesses. And when the Pentagon sends not just one but two carrier battle groups to the Gulf, the U.S. Navy makes twice as many resupply calls at Dubai’s Jebel Ali port. In other words, political stability in the Gulf monarchies has created safe havens for foreign investment.

A few years ago, I asked Essa Kazim, the chair of Dubai’s stock exchange, how the country’s business climate might be affected by a terrorist attack. It wasn’t one of his top worries. “We’ve never had sustainable periods of peace and tranquility in the region. But Dubai is still here and we’re growing. So what’s the worst that can happen?” he said.

A Dubaian looks at regional unrest in the same way that a Floridian looks at an alligator in his yard. What might be alarming in one context is part of the landscape in another. But things could get more complicated as travelers grow more dependent on the Gulf’s carriers and airports. Conflicts that affect their performance or viability could drag down the global economy.

For now, the Gulf carriers are enhancing the efficiency of international travel, thereby providing an increase in global productivity. At the same time, the world economy is growing even more exposed to the Middle East, relying on not only energy commodities, but also travel and logistics services. In the long run, it is probably a good thing for everyone if the Middle East becomes more integrated with the global economy. Over the short term, however, there could be hiccups. After all, the Gulf monarchies have not always been responsible stewards of oil. But if the inevitable patches of turbulence subside, there’s all the more reason to hope for a complimentary upgrade.

How Victory in the Scottish Vote is Tearing the UK Apart

22 September 2014

At the end of the movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, when it looks like our hero has the upper hand, he lets his adversary Moriarty get a stranglehold on him. This causes both men to fall to their doom in the Reichenbach waterfall.

That, more or less, is what David Cameron just tried to do to Ed Miliband and the opposition Labour Party.

To recap the plot: Scotland voted “No” to independence, but not by a massive margin. To help win the referendum, the British Conservatives, led by Cameron, had to promise major tax devolution powers, which they had opposed until the eve of the vote.

So instead of stability, we have constitutional chaos. Like a family in a soap opera, politicians are now bickering over issues that were previously containable.

The UK’s faultlines exist because one of its four nations –- Scotland –- has oil, a left-leaning electorate, but little real power. Meanwhile the biggest nation, England, has more power and is showing disturbing signs of veering towards nationalist, anti-European politics.

That the argument broke out over Scotland was only due to the timing. Now it has moved to this core issue: who does Westminster really represent?

All three main parties in the Westminster parliament –- Conservatives, Liberals and Labour –- opposed Scottish independence. But because the Conservatives have weak support in Scotland, they left it to Labour to run the campaign.

The campaign was a disaster. Labour, its activists partly bussed in from other parts of the UK, could not really hear what young, tech-savvy Scottish people were saying to them. They mobilized the over 65s with scare stories of lost pensions and economic doom, but still only managed to get a 55% no vote in the referendum.

To win, they had to promise further devolution of tax powers. Now, as a price for that, David Cameron wants Scottish MPs in the British parliament to be shorn of the right to vote on issues that only affect England.

To understand why this is emotive, think: healthcare, welfare, student tuition fees and criminal justice. All these areas of government are devolved to Scotland.

With 85% of the UK population living in England, English MPs have long asked –- why do the Scottish lawmakers get a say on English-only stuff?

So now there is big political pressure in England to make “English votes” a precondition for extra Scottish tax powers. You get more power in Scotland, but you lose the power to swing votes in Westminster, goes the argument.

This is a curveball for Labour leader Ed Miliband. Scotland is one of Labour’s heartlands, and barring 59 Scottish lawmakers from voting on the English law, healthcare and education system is a big deal. It fragments British sovereignty into the four separate nations of the UK and makes it more difficult for Labour to form a government.

Suppose Labour wins a national election, including Scotland, but then can’t get its programme for England through the English-only process in Westminster. If that happens, you have split power with the national parliament being in charge in name only. This is not some theoretical scenario: it is highly likely.

By proposing “English votes in Westminster”, Cameron gained the initiative -– but it’s not clear if he will win.

On another level, he is weakened. Cameron has been quietly vilified by English Tories for a) nearly losing Scotland and b) failing to make English-only votes a precondition for giving Scotland more powers.

And here’s the biggest challenge for Cameron. At the European elections in May, which people tend to use for protest votes, the United Kingdom Independence Party won with 27%. UKIP stands for leaving the EU, a crackdown on migration and numerous other right-wing, anti-globalisation policies.

Up to now, UKIP has been an insurgent party of the hard right. But this month one of Cameron’s MPs crossed over to UKIP, resigned from parliament, and is standing in a by-election he is tipped to win. So from October UKIP may have a member of parliament going in to the 2015 election, potentially splitting the Conservative vote.

Overshadowing the whole spat about Scotland and English parliamentary votes is Cameron’s plan to hold an in-or-out referendum on the EU in 2017. He wants to stay in Europe; many of his voters want to leave, as do many of his MPs and ministers.

This is why Cameron has emerged victorious, but weaker, in the wake of the Scottish vote. He has lost an MP to a party he described as “fruitcakes”; he nearly lost a territory containing 1/3 of Britain’s land and all its nuclear weapons. He had to offer in haste -– almost scrawled on the back of an envelope -– a level of tax devolution to Scotland he had previously opposed.

So like Sherlock Holmes, Cameron gets Miliband in a chokehold on the issue of English-only votes in parliament, and they plunge together into the foaming torrent to see who comes up alive. As in Sherlock Holmes, this is all done with decorum and politeness. But just as in the movie, it is life or death.

Ultimately, the people who will decide how weakened Cameron is are the electorate. Right now, many are simply confused, deluged in detail erupting from a question they were told was no big thing until it exploded two weeks ago.

If the British vote Cameron in for a second term, they get –- probably –- a fragmentation of the powers of the Westminster parliament and then a referendum on leaving Europe.

So maybe the best strategy for the Tories is just to pull their enemies over the balustrade, into the waterfall, where a constitutional crisis can drown the weakest and leave the strongest alive.

That’s what happened in Sherlock Holmes. Except in the movie, the hero had a secret oxygen supply. In British politics, it's anyone's guess who has one of those, or what it even looks like.

Paul Mason is Economics Editor at Channel 4 News in London. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulMasonNews.

Scotland's missed opportunity

21 September 2014

So Scotland voted to retain its umbilical cord to England and the union.

I have been thinking a lot about this over the last few weeks and I still fear that the Scottish people have missed a glorious opportunity to build a better future for their country and its people; a future where they control their own destiny.

Yes the links to Britain would always be there - as a member of the Commonwealth of nations - and linked by trade, language, and a shared history.

Two weeks before the referendum a poll suddenly suggested that the "yes" supporters had maybe just enough momentum for an independent nation.

Suddenly Westminster sprung into action. Political leaders of all parties flooded over the border in a last-ditch, stoic defence of the union. Two weeks of sudden interest after a "no" campaign that was both confused and weak.

Suddenly Westminster was promising the one thing that was not on the referendum ballot - the so-called devo-max - giving much greater self-government to Scotland. There were no clear plans - just a promise that something would be done. Meanwhile the rest of the establishment provided enough fear mongering over currency, passports and the migration south of business to persuade a small majority to give Westminster a chance.

At the start of the campaign the no campaign expected a rout. In the end PM Cameron had to rush north, in realisation that his abiding political legacy might be the end of the union.

The vibrant and euphoric yes movement, which, during the debate, evolved from a small base to come within a whisker of a sensational victory, will be massively disappointed that they didn't manage to get it done.

The supporters of independence will wait for some time but anybody believing they'll stop now is indulging in wishful thinking. Why would they? Support for independence rose during the campaign from around 30% to 45%. And the no votes were dominated only in a declining constituency of elderly voters. Yes may have lost this battle, but the war is being won.

Polls taken after the vote indicate that had voting been restricted only to the under 55s the yes vote would have won. Remarkably Scotland's future was decided by those people who have the least vested in the future.

Without a major change in the way Britain is governed Scottish independence has been postponed only - maybe 10 years - maybe 20 years. But the time will come again.

Forty-five percent of the Scottish people still voted to leave the union. That is an astonishingly high figure. This union is more than 300 years’ old. If just five voters in a hundred had voted the other way, the independence campaign would have won.

As part of the same Westminster panic, politicians promised that if Scotland voted ‘no’ to independence the country would get substantial and continued subsidies from the rest of Great Britain. It is a sweetheart deal. Yet 45% of voters in Scotland still rejected it. And that deal is now, understandably, causing resentment and a backlash in England. Politicians in Westminster may even renege on the pledge. It would not be the first time.

The referendum could be a disaster for Westminster's politicians. The Tories, at least had enough self-awareness to realise how detested they are in Scotland, stood aside to let Labour run the no campaign. But for Labour, the outcome may be costly; when the dust settles they will be seen, probably on both sides of the border, to have used their power and influence against the aspiration towards democracy. Labour voters moved from the no to the yes tea in large numbers and it may be that the Labour leadership has acted as recruiters for the SNP.

The simple fact that Labour was acting as a proxy for the Conservative government will alienate voters. It provided more (and probably decisive) evidence of just how the party has been co-opted by the establishment.

Worryingly at the 2015 election the main benefactors in England of the failure of the Tory and Labour parties could be the fringe groups such as UKIP. Xenophobia at its worst.

Cameron was at first absent and uninterested, then finally fearful. Miliband looked just as ineffective and totally lost during this campaign.

Others dancing the no tune included senior officials of banks and supermarkets dancing and of course the London press. They will have few friends among the yes generation.

The problem for the establishment is that the narrow no decision and the promises they were compelled to make now demand and require action. The referendum galvanised and excited Scots in a way that no UK-wide election has done. Like it or not, unless they come up with a winning devo-max settlement, every general election in Scotland will now be dominated by the independence issue.

And devo-max for Scotland means what for Wales, Northern Ireland and England? And there lies just one of the problems - and one of the major stumbling blocks to taking any action.

Wise yes campaigners see independence as a process, not an event. And they are right. The referendum is a beginning only. a permission to proceed. A rematch is almost inevitable.

The biggest problem for the Westminster elites now is not just to decide what to do about Scotland but, crucially, to do it without antagonising English people – who might justly feel that the  10% no majority (5 votes in every 100) is now starting to wag the dog of the rest of the UK.

Some of my friends will no doubt think differently but the yes campaign excited Scots to the possibilities of people power; the no campaign showed the political classes at their worst with a campaign based on negativity and manipulative celebrity "love-bombing."

Last week the Scots struck a blow for democracy, with an unprecedented 97% voter registration for an election the establishment had wearily declared nobody wanted. One way or another the old empire is broken.

The no campaign found enough momentum to win the day; but for Scotland this was their day on the world stage. There will be more ahead.

(One final thought - having campaigned so actively for Scotland to remain in the Union it is not without irony that Cameron will campaign in 2015 on a promise for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union - where it is likely that the politicians in Westminster will be less active in their attempts to save the Union. And to be honest the Europeans are unlikely to miss us and will happily go on led by the French and Germans.)

The Guardian view on the Scottish referendum: a big moment that demands a big response

20 September 2014

Scotland’s historic verdict was clear and decisive. So much so that, within hours, it toppled the man who has dominated Scottish politics for a decade. By 55% to 45%, a larger margin than polls had implied, Scots looked independence squarely in the eye on Thursday and said no. Most parts of Scotland voted no. The no side won 28 out of the 32 local government areas, with the majorities particularly strong in the Borders and in the northern islands. The vote sliced dramatically across electoral lines. SNP electoral strongholds in the north-east overwhelmingly rejected independence, while Labour’s deepest heartlands in the west equally emphatically embraced it. The fact that Scotland’s largest and traditionally reddest city, Glasgow, should have voted to leave the United Kingdom is particularly resonant, even though the conclusive votes for the union in so much else of Scotland – including Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the Highlands – delivered an incontrovertible final result.

That was a welcome outcome. It should settle the issue beyond argument. A narrow win for either side would have hung over Scotland for years to come, perhaps dooming the Scots to have to revisit the issue too soon. That is now unlikely, and was surely one of the reasons why Alex Salmond announced his exit from the political stage Friday afternoon. Second, the whole process was so positive. The energy and commitment of the campaign has dazzled not just Scots themselves, but the rest of Britain too. Turnout on Thursday, at 85%, was awesome, a reprimand to fashionable political fatalism. The opening of the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds has also been thoroughly vindicated. Third, Britain can indeed confront its many defects better together than apart. The yes side may have run the better and certainly the noisier campaign, but the no side had the more solidly based arguments. Finally, the result, while decisive, was close enough to mean the minority cannot be brushed aside. When 45% of your citizens tell you they want out, they are saying that the system needs changing, as it must be and will be.

A new Scottish settlement

In April 1865, when General Grant met General Lee at Appomattox to bring the American civil war to an end, the Union commander told his Confederate counterpart that he wanted Lee’s men to keep their horses, because they would need them for the spring ploughing. An equivalent reaching out and healing spirit was required from Britain’s politicians on Friday after the union’s near-death experience – and in many cases they rose to the occasion. Mr Salmond was right to say that the SNP government would work with the UK government to deliver promised new powers. Alistair Darling, who has had a rollercoaster campaign, was right to stress what Scots have in common in a victory speech which scrupulously avoided any triumphalism. And even David Cameron, who has got many things wrong over Scotland, was right to make it clear that he too was in the business of honouring campaign commitments on the new powers. This is a good start.

Mr Cameron is one of many UK politicians who has promises to keep to Scotland. It would always have been unforgivable if a no victory in the referendum had led the UK government to pull up the duvet and forget about Scotland. As it turned out, that option disappeared two weeks ago when an opinion poll put the yes campaign briefly in front, triggering a furious campaign fightback from the no side. The commitments to further powers that were then set out by Gordon Brown were clearly influential with many voters. They must now be honoured. But they need to be honoured in the same spirit that the campaigners brought to the Scottish referendum – openly, generously and rationally.

To the extent that Mr Cameron recognised this in his Downing Street statement on Friday morning, he has done the first part of what he ought to do. Scotland will now get further taxing and governing powers, he confirmed, in addition to the new powers that are due to come into force in 2016. The parties differ on important details of these powers, including the proportion of revenue to be raised by the devolved parliament and the policy areas to be brought under Holyrood’s control. Compromise on these differences is surely achievable. What is crucial, in the Guardian’s view, is that the new plans give greater control to Holyrood in as many areas as practicable while continuing to give the UK government a meaningful role in defending the things that bind the people of these islands together. That means retaining at least some ties of social and tax policy as well as those in defence and foreign affairs. Mr Brown’s ideas on this are a good basis on which to begin detailed discussions.

The English question

The political parties are also committed to coming up with a wider set of constitutional reforms affecting the rest of the UK. Reforms of this kind are undoubtedly needed. But they must not be stitched up in private between the parties. Most of all, they should not be driven through the Commons for partisan advantage. This is now a real danger. Too many Conservative politicians are far more interested in the politics of England than in those of Scotland or the UK as a whole. This would be a terrible response to a contest in Scotland which has again exposed the disconnect between the political parties and the people – a problem that is particularly stark for Labour, and that may get worse if the leftwing and popular Nicola Sturgeon replaces Mr Salmond. It would be much better for parliament to embrace the McKay commission’s sensible proposals on the handling of English affairs at Westminster – proposals which involve no major legislation – while taking time to get the bigger, possibly federal, approach right.

Characteristically, however, Mr Cameron seems to have decided to take the partisan route, in the hope that he can calm his rightwing English backbenchers and seize an initiative from Ukip. This is in every way the wrong and short-sighted approach. The political parties should open up this process not close it down. They should embrace proposals from the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Green party and others for a constitutional convention. The Scottish model from the 1990s, involving civil society groups as well as parties, with the purpose of reaching a settled and shared proposal, is a good pattern. This one could also draw, as IPPR has suggested, on Irish citizens’ jury experience. It should not be rushed. The better balanced the process, the better balanced the outcome.

In the end, though, we should not kid ourselves. The grievances that animated this campaign were above all material rather than constitutional. The economic model which dominates the lives of Scots is broken. Nationalism offered an escape, but it was one with too many risks. Yet the economic model is still broken and is still at the root of discontents that should unite England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not force them apart.

Guardian says no to Scottish independence

13 September 2014

Here is the editorial headline - "The Guardian view on the Scottish referendum: Britain deserves another chance - Nationalism is not the answer to social injustice. For that fundamental reason, we urge Scots to vote no to independence next week."

This is a link to the editorial.

The trouble with the Guardian's position is that it promises jam tomorrow - with no evidence of any real change being forthcoming from Westminster's cosy establishment. The Guardian argues that "in Britain, in Europe and even in the world as a whole, we are indeed better together not better apart" arguing that "voting no cannot be a vote against change, and there is now at last the real hope that it can be a vote for reform and decentralisation in Britain."

The Guardian suggests that we are better together - yet the Tories have promised a referendum on Europe in 2017. The connection between these two events is already intriguing. If Scotland votes yes, it’s possible that Scotland will be knocking on Brussels’ door, asking to join the EEC, just as the residual UK is heading out.

So much for better together - the Tories argue that Britain is better together but that Britain is better outside the European community. How does that make sense?

There is no plan for reform and decentralization in Britain. I am surprised by the Guardian's position - but then this was the newspaper that in 2010 endorsed the LibDems as a way of keeping the Tories out of power. So their finger is not exactly on the political pulse.

A few comments following on from the editorial are worth quoting:

- the Guardian is singing from the Establishment hymn sheet

- Time and again the press, media and the UK establishment fail to understand what this referendum is about. It's about self determination. It's about a people getting the representation it votes for. It's about striving for democracy. It's not about nationalism.

- I am disappointed that a paper which recognises the great social injustices in this country would not support Scotland breaking away from the Westminster elite who propagate and worsen them

- From the paper that urged us to vote liberal to keep the Tories out....

- The Scottish vote isn't about nationalism. It is about freeing themselves from the neo-liberal consensus in westminster, a consensus that this paper has done very little to hold to account.

- I am from England, but the Yes camp has my moral support. I look forward to the positive example they will provide to English political parties after independence

- So basically, the UK needs two major reforms (a political system which targets inequality, rather than running for London and the City; and federalism/localism), neither of which is realistically going to happen. And Scotland should vote to stay in it ... why? There's nothing approaching a case for the union from Scotland's perspective here, only a hint of why EWNI might be worse off without Scotland

Our obligation to the memory of the victims of 9/11

11 September 2014 - Jon Snow (Channel 4 news)

Thirteen years on have we learned from 9/11? Could any of us have imagined that the attack on America by mainly Saudi-born radicals on this very day thirteen years ago, would represent one of the most defining events of modern history?

From my own experience reporting sporadically across the region for over three decades, my fear is that we have not learned.

For most of the years since the second world war the contract has been clear: Gulf oil for the west in exchange for Western weapons, security, banking and commerce – no questions asked. Across the west our generous gates have allowed the most radical Muslim preachers to criss-cross the globe carrying their Wahabi messages of extremism.

Pakistan, once so recognisable a legacy of Empire, now represents the most unstable nuclear power in the world – its landscape dotted with radical Madrassas and Mosques. A whole generation of Muslim children far beyond Saudi borders, from Birmingham to Bombay, know no other view of the world than the Saudi-spawned Wahabi view of their faith.

11 US r w Our obligation to the memory of the victims of 9/11
Thirteen years after 9/11, an English speaking voice articulates the beheading of an American hostage. There are hundreds of western Muslims in the ranks of Islamic State (IS).

In waging unwise and horrific war themselves in Iraq, western powers have forfeited their capacity overtly to bolster moderate regional forces in Syria and Iraq.

In spite of the warrior pose President Obama deployed on Wednesday night, his instinct is still for the regional powers around Syria and Iraq to resolve the Islamic State madness themselves.

One is tempted to ask how many of the 1,700 military jets that the collective west has sold to Saudi and Gulf states down the years, have yet left the ground in anger against IS. How many of the Sandhurst trained officers from the region have yet been spotted in the field?

We may be part of IS’s target, just as New York and Washington were the targets of other regional radicals on 9/11.

But this time those same regional states from which the 9/11 gang sprang, know that they are now the targets too.

Watching regional events from Iran in the last week, I observed a quiet acceptance that the Shia forces in Iraq needed leadership, strategy, and gumption that only Iran’s revolutionary guard and ancillary resources could provide – and providing it they are.

And let us not forget what a top Iranian Foreign Ministry official told me which I reported several years ago; “you think we sit here in Iran fearing Israel, or America. We don’t, our fear is the radical implosion of Pakistan and nuclear implications of radical Sunni Muslims with their hands on nuclear weapons firing them at Shia Iran”.

There is a fire raging in Arabia today, which we in the west are not competent to extinguish. There is regional power to do the job, and we should not interfere with them getting on with it.

But those same regional powers should know, should even be told, that they cannot enjoy our friendship, our open gates, our Mayfair Hotels, our city finance unconditionally. Our condition must surely be that they distinguish themselves from the extremist forces that some of them knowingly, or unknowingly, have spawned, and deal with the effluent that is IS.

If the 3,000 dead of 9/11 are to be remembered with honour, we have an obligation to get this crisis right this time.

On the brink

10 September 2014

In the interests of balance this is today's better together editorial in the FT.

Scotland’s fateful choice. The case for union is overwhelming. The path of separation is a fool’s errand

Today has felt like the beast awakening - London politicians and media suddenly realizing that they are about to preside over potentially the biggest event in the history of the British Isles since WW2. Sky News has Kay McBurley on the streets of Edinburgh; the three stooges came for a photo-op; MacPrescott talked about a combined Scotland-England football team beating the Germans (he is delusional). The FT reminds us of our shared history and hints at the potential economic issues ahead. Mark Carney, a Canadian, tells Scotland, it cannot have the pound basically saying that currency union is not possible. Yet despite is flaws (mainly due to poor oversight and weak rules enforcement) the Euro works well for a much larger ad disparate group of nations.

It all feels a bit desperate; after years/decades of being taken for granted the rallying cry from an embarrassed and complacent Westminster is please don't leave me and we promise (though we do not know how) to make it up to you.

Even if the vote next week is "no" the cause of independence has found its voice and I am not sure that can be calmed by any form of devo-max. It has also sent a message across the rest of Britain that the current political system is unsustainable....

Better together keeps reminding me of a Rick Astley song - another reason to vote Yes!

Brits, booze and airplanes can be a toxic mix

10 September 2014

A Dubai court today heard that an airline passenger threatened to kill an Emirates Airline flight attendant after she refused to serve him more alcohol.

Briton AM, 40, assaulted the attendant before telling her he would chop her into pieces, Dubai Criminal Court was told on Wednesday.

The incident on June 2 took place on board a Dubai-bound Emirates flight from London.

The defendant ordered alcohol before take off, and then again 20 minutes into the journey, said prosecutors.

“He was eating and throwing away food on the floor, then eating off the floor,” said BS, 30, an Indian flight attendant.

“I went to him and asked him to return to his seat and have his meal there. I then brought a garbage bag and started picking up the food he threw away.

“He also threw food on passengers around him and jumped from his seat to the aisle and started making a mess. Some passengers asked to change seats from near him,” she said.

As she cleaned up after him, said B S, A M pulled her shirt so hard she felt pain. When she asked him to stop touching her, he got up from his seat and began insulting her.

“He stood up and told me I was trash and a sex slave,” she said, adding AM also insulted some of her colleagues.

The verbal abuse continued, with AM threatening to slap BS, kill her and chop her up if she did not provide more alcohol. Fellow attendant EM, 26, from Egypt said: “I was ordered to attend to the problem and, when I did, I saw him jumping on his seat and pulling BS from her shirt, then insulting her with very bad words.”

After the other members of the crew tried and failed to calm AM down, the court heard, he proceeded to the toilet where he lit a cigarette, setting off the fire alarm and alarming his fellow passengers.

AM fell asleep shortly before the plane landed in Dubai, though not before making further insults when told he would be met by police upon his arrival, court records showed.

He denies all the charges, including one of illegal consumption of alcohol.

Why is it always the Brits - there is something toxic about the British, alcohol and airplanes?

But why do airlines even serve alcohol? Drunk passengers are a hazard in an emergency and regularly cause unnecessary unpleasantness for crew and other passengers. Airlines banned smoking. Now ban alcohol. It really is not so hard to travel for 8 hours without a drink.

And finally why is he being charged for illegal consumption of alcohol. That makes no sense at all. Emirates serves alcohol; indeed almost encourages its use. It is also unlikely that the passenger ever expected to enter Dubai as he was presumably seeking to transit to another destination.

If consuming alcohol is illegal on a flight to Dubai then Emirates is an accessory to a crime that is committed tens of thousands of times every day.

The case was adjourned until September 24.

Preliminary Dutch report offers nothing new

9 September 2014

The first official report on the fatal 17 July 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the Ukraine-Russia border concludes what many already suspected: It was struck in mid-air by "high-energy objects from outside the aircraft."

But the preliminary report released by the Dutch Safety Board on Tuesday did not say that the plane was hit by a missile, and it did not point the finger at anyone.

The Dutch Safety Board's report will offer little consolation to the families of the victims. Dutch investigators have not been able to access the crash site. They have not been able to examine significant parts of the wreckage.

Their report is based on evidence from photographs; discussions with Ukrainian and Malaysian investigators who have accessed the site and on analysisi of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

The likely explanation of the crash near the village of Hrabove, which killed 298 people, remains that the plane was shot down by a Buk missile fired by rebel forces with or without Russian support.

The report says quite simply that "flight MH17 ... broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside ... There are no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew."

"The cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder and data from air traffic control all suggest that flight MH17 proceeded as normal until 13:20:03 (UTC), after which it ended abruptly. A full listening of the communications among the crew members in the cockpit recorded on the cockpit voice recorder revealed no signs of any technical faults or an emergency situation. Neither were any warning tones heard in the cockpit that might have pointed to technical problems. The flight data recorder registered no aircraft system warnings, and aircraft engine parameters were consistent with normal operation during the flight. The radio communications with Ukrainian air traffic control confirm that no emergency call was made by the cockpit crew. The final calls by Ukrainian air traffic control made between 13.20:00 and 13.22:02 (UTC) remained unanswered."

The CVR transcript is the saddest part of the report.

"The pattern of wreckage on the ground suggests that the aircraft split into pieces during flight (an in-flight break up). Based on the available maintenance history the airplane was airworthy when it took off from Amsterdam and there were no known technical problems. The aircraft was manned by a qualified and experienced crew."

"As yet it has not been possible to conduct a detailed study of the wreckage. However, the available images show that the pieces of wreckage were pierced in numerous places. The pattern of damage to the aircraft fuselage and the cockpit is consistent with that which may be expected from a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside. It’s likely that this damage resulted in a loss of structural integrity of the aircraft, leading to an in-flight break up. This also explains the abrupt end to the data registration on the recorders, the simultaneous loss of contact with air traffic control and the aircraft’s disappearance from radar."

The board's report is the first one coming out of the official investigation into the crash, and its cautious assessment is also due to the fact that the Dutch aviation investigators who made the report have yet to gain full access to the site where MH17 crashed to the ground, due to the ongoing conflict in the region.

The report, while not fully conclusive in establishing the cause of the crash, should but will not end some misleading, and in some cases offensive, conspiracy theories. The report is clear... there was no pilot error. No aircraft problems. No warnings. No issue with flight route.

Reality - 298 people were murdered. Probably not intentionally. Mistaken identity and a trigger happy, untrained, missile crew. But the families deserve to know what really happened. Someone or some group does know. If they had any respect for the bereaved the truth would be known.

The initial report is here:  Dutch Safety Board Preliminary Report on MH17 Crash


Spiritual spruce-up for Thai PM’s compound

9 September 2014 The Financial Times

Thailand’s ruling junta has pledged to wage war on government waste – but that hasn’t stopped it setting aside a little money to make sure it can rule in suitable style.

As General Prayuth Chan-ocha, coup leader and prime minister, prepares to host his first cabinet meeting on Tuesday in an office in the midst of a near-$8m revamp, officials are playing down reports that the changes are driven by feng shui.

Perhaps as revealing as the disclosures is the muted public reaction to them in a country where a military that has long portrayed itself as the guardian of the nation does more or less as it pleases, including forbidding criticism of the four and a half month old junta’s actions. Reverence for the supernatural in the everyday has also long loomed large in Thai society and politics, making even Gen Prayuth’s assertion last week that his opponents were now targeting him with black magic an unremarkable addition to a long tradition.

“No matter which administration is in power, one constant seems to be their belief in superstition,” tweeted Pravit Rojanaphruk, a journalist detained for almost a week by the junta after May’s coup, on Monday. “Not a good sign for Thailand.”

The makeover of the prime minister’s vast Bangkok canalside offices and residence, whose large grounds host state occasions such as the king’s birthday, comes courtesy of a $7.9m provision in a junta budget that saw funding slashed for departments including tourism and finance. The refurb had already caused some raised eyebrows late last week, when government officials unveiled the installation of almost 200 multimedia conference units, complete with anti-snooping software, at a cost of as much as $4,500 each.

Now fresh claims have emerged from a reporter historically close to the military of feng shui masters offering to oversee a modernisation spree that has included the replacement of the prime ministerial chair and the building of a Buddhist shrine. Red flowers have allegedly been replaced with yellow blooms, the colour of Thailand’s monarchy and of a pro-military conservative political movement that has long battled “red shirt” supporters of the ousted civilian government.

A government spokeswoman played down the reports, saying the compound’s refurbishment was planned under the toppled administration and was needed because the building was old. While some of the claimed alterations were “beyond the truth”, she said a new chair had been designed by the prime minister’s secretariat “to be more unique and suitable for the leader” and that the main building was being repainted yellow only because it had always been that colour. However, she said she had not yet spotted any yellow flowers and there was “no sign of feng shui as now”.

What is undeniable is that Gen Prayuth has in the past shown a taste for auspicious symbols, such as being acclaimed as prime minister by the country’s puppet parliament on August 21 – a good number for a man who served in the 21st Infantry and was born on March 21.

And the sprucing up of the premier’s offices also adds to the weight of opinion that the army chief turned premier plans to stick around, as he himself hinted in his latest weekly television broadcast to the nation last Friday.

“You do not have to love us a lot,” he signed off, echoing the words of a famous Thai folk singer. “But please love us for a long time.”


Burj Al Mars

9 September 2014

A law formally establishing the UAE Space Agency has been signed by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE.

The agency was announced in July with the goal of sending an unmanned mission to Mars by 2021.

The law, which was published in the Official Gazette, stated that the agency would have its headquarters in Abu Dhabi and have a branch in Dubai.

The first meeting of the UAE Space Agency was held in July and was led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who directed all government institutions to provide maximum support.

The unmanned probe will travel more than 60 million kilometres in nine months and will be launched to coincide with the UAE’s 50th anniversary.

“We aim for the UAE to be among the top countries in aerospace by 2021,” Sheikh Khalifa has said. “We have a great belief in the talents of our young people and the strongest determination, the greatest ambitions and a clear plan to reach our targets.”

DWC plans announced

8 September 2014

It is late - by about 10 years - but at last there is some direction about the expansion of and future for the AED120bn (US$ 32bn) expansion of Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central (DWC) which will ultimately accommodate more than 200 million passengers a year.

Originally planned for initial completion by around 2015/2016 the build out of the new airport was delayed dramatically by the 2008/2009 financial crisis. Instead the existing Dubai international airport has been expanded well beyond its original capacity with a view to generating cashflow to fund future construction at DWC.

Al-Maktoum International airport was launched before the global financial crisis hit Dubai in 2009, with plans to build the world's largest airport, featuring a 160-million-passenger capacity and six runways.

The ambitious plan appeared to have been put on the back burner due to the crisis, and the airport instead opened operations for cargo only in 2010, while small passenger operations began in October 2013 after repeated delays.

The development is anticipated to be the biggest airport project in the world and will be built in two phases. The first phase includes two satellite buildings with a collectively capacity of 120 million passengers annually, accommodate 100 A380 aircraft at any one time and will take between six and eight years to complete. The entire development will cover an area of 56 square kilometres.

For what its worth I do not like the design. Every passenger will need to take a train to a remote gate. Inevitably this means escalators and elevators, waits for over-crowded trains that are standing room only and at busy times some healthy pushing and shoving - together with a longer walk than the designers suggest.

It is not just the airport build that is critical and will need to commence at the earliest date. There are also plans for rapid rail transit from the city and surrounding area to the airport that are under preparation with the Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority.

The rail connections are critical given the airport's remote location from downtown Dubai - being some 60kms away from DXB.

At the moment DWC has a single runway and a temporary terminal with hard stands only and a capacity of about 5 million passengers a year. There are only a handful of passenger flights each day.

The airport authorities suggest that the new airport’s uniqueness lies in a radically new approach to ensure that the latest technology and efficient processes will cut the time spent completing travel formalities and reduce walking distances, enabling passengers to make fast and efficient connections between hundreds of destinations worldwide.

The decision follows months of planning by the key stakeholders in the aviation sector, including Dubai Airports, Dubai Airports Engineering Projects, Emirates airline and dnata, to ensure that a design was selected that facilitates the future growth of Dubai’s aviation industry.

The expectation is that Emirates would relocate their intercontinental hub operations to DWC by the mid-2020s. Today's announcement makes no mention of the future plans for the existing airfield at DXB.

Timing will be critical. DXB has seen capacity maximised with the construction of Concourse A (completed in January 2013), the doubling of capacity at Terminal 2 (by the end 2014), the construction of Concourse D (2015), Concourse C upgrade (after completion of Concourse D) to accommodate Emirates as the sole user, combined with associated stand upgrades, enhancements to airfield and air traffic control capacity, as well as the upgrading of existing facilities to improve the passenger experience.

The trouble is there is no room for a third runway and the existing runways are too close to allow simultaneous operations. So DXB will reach a limit of around 100 million passengers a year.

Dubai Airports expects passenger numbers at DXB and DWC to exceed 100m passengers a year in 2017. Therefore passenger facilities will also continue to be expanded at Dubai World Central (DWC) to accommodate traffic that cannot be accommodated at DXB. Dubai airports is forecasting 126 million passengers in 2020 which means DWC will need to accommodate over 20 million a year by that date. That becomes a signficant operation.

It does not take much maths to realise that at 120m passengers a year when opened DWC will not be able to handle all passenger traffic into Dubai which will require DXB to remain open. The logical move is for Emirates and flyDubai to operate from one airport and all other carriers from the other airport. Since EK's business is substantially about taking passengers from A to B via a change at its Dubai hub it will make more sense for EK and flyDubai to occupy the new airport.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, thanked Sheikh Mohammed for his visionary support of the project, and described the new airport as a vital investment in the future of Dubai. He confirmed that the aviation sector was projected to remain a cornerstone of Dubai’s economy, and was expected to support more than 322,000 jobs and contribute 28 per cent of Dubai’s GDP by 2020.

“Our future lies at DWC. The announcement of this AED120bn development of DWC is both timely and a strong endorsement of Dubai’s aviation industry. With limited options for further growth at Dubai International, we are taking that next step to securing our future by building a brand new airport that will not only create the capacity we will need in the coming decades but also provide state of the art facilities that revolutionise the airport experience on an unprecedented scale,” said Griffiths.

Dubai Airports have launches a new website giving more details of the planning for DWC.

The Dubai Airports Future of Aviation PDF

Ultimate Airport Dubai is back and hopefully better

8 September 2014

Well the first series looked more like an advertisement for Emirates Airline. There was barely a mention of Terminals 1 and 2 and who would have known that flyDubai is a hometown airline.

Like it or not it did appear that there was a very heavy hand controlling what we were allowed to see in Ultimate Airport Dubai season 1. But here we go again. National Geographic Channels International (NGCI) has selected Arrow Media to produce a second series of Ultimate Airport Dubai, following outstanding ratings for the show’s first season across territories in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Ultimate Airport Dubai will air its new 10-part season later this year on National Geographic Channel in 170 countries and 45 languages.

In Ultimate Airport Dubai, NGCI goes behind-the-scenes of Dubai International, the world’s second busiest airport for international passengers.

With unprecedented access to all facets of the airport season two follows the renovation of both the airport’s runways – a tricky enterprise that has the airport operating using only one runway for several months with huge pressure to finish the build on time. The series will be at the heart of passenger operations, customs, the control tower and flight services to see how the teams cope during a particularly stressful and demanding time.

Actually the airport fared rather well with a significant reduction in flight delays.

“Ultimate Airport Dubai is a great hit for us, which rated in all markets. The show offers a fantastic blend of airport docu-soap and mega engineering show – all set against the backdrop of a highly modern, 21st century city filled with exciting innovation. The high level of access, which the production team secured makes this show different and we are delighted to have it back in our schedules,” said Hamish Mykura, executive vice president and head of international content.

A President among the fossils

6 September 2014


The struggle for Hong Kong

The territory’s citizens must not give up demanding full democracy—for their sake and for China’s

6 September 2014 - The Economist

Chinese officials have called it a “leap forward” for democracy in Hong Kong. Yet their announcement on August 31st of plans to allow, for the first time, every Hong Kong citizen to vote for the territory’s leader has met only anger and indifference. Joy was conspicuously absent. This is not because Hong Kong’s citizens care little for the right to vote, but because China has made it abundantly clear that the next election for Hong Kong’s chief executive, due in 2017, will be rigged. The only candidates allowed to stand will be those approved by the Communist Party in Beijing, half a continent away.

At its worst, this risks provoking a disaster which even China cannot want. Democrats are planning protests. It is unclear how many people will join in, but the fear is that the territory’s long history of peaceful campaigning for political reform will give way to skirmishes with police, mass arrests and possibly even intervention by the People’s Liberation Army. That would disrupt one of Asia’s wealthiest and most orderly economies, and set China against the West. But even if, as is likely, such a calamity is avoided, this leap sideways is a huge missed opportunity not just for Hong Kong but also for the mainland. A chance to experiment with the sort of local democracy that might have benefited all of China has been missed.

China’s announcement marks the end of an era. No longer is it possible to argue that the development of democracy in Hong Kong can forge ahead even in the absence of political reform in Beijing. The arrangements, set out by China’s party-controlled parliament, the National People’s Congress, were needed because of a pledge to grant the territory a “high degree of autonomy” and eventually “universal suffrage” when it took over from Britain in 1997. To most people, that meant having the right to choose their leader themselves.

China has stuck to the letter of its promise, but not the spirit. In 2012 the chief executive was appointed by a 1,200-strong committee stacked with the party’s yes-men from among Hong Kong’s business and political elite. The proposal for 2017 is that a similar committee will select candidates who will then be presented to all Hong Kong’s voters for election. In theory the committee could allow through candidates of many political stripes. In practice, pessimism is more than justified. Only two or three candidates will be allowed, and each must win the support of at least half of the committee. Under this arrangement, democracy will mean little more in Hong Kong than it does elsewhere in China, where every adult citizen can vote for local legislators—as long as the party approves.

This is bad for Hong Kong. The territory’s four leaders since the handover in 1997 were all chosen in Beijing and rubber-stamped into office. All of them, including the incumbent Leung Chun-ying, proved highly unpopular. Under a government in thrall to Beijing, the press has been subdued by intimidation and by pressure from advertisers. The judiciary fears that it may face a test of loyalty to the mainland. Some Hong Kongers complain that even the postal service is compromised—it refused to deliver leaflets urging civil disobedience.

The story may not be over. Activists in Hong Kong have vowed to launch a campaign of civil disobedience which they call, disarmingly, “Occupy Central with Love and Peace”, but whose declared mission is to paralyse the territory’s main financial district with sit-ins. This would be the first large-scale flouting of the law by the pro-democracy camp.

The activists’ aim is correct and their courage impressive, but their tactics may be mistaken. If the unrest gets out of control and troops are deployed, it would be a calamity for Hong Kong—and would probably set back the activists’ cause. Better to stick to what the democrats have always done best: staging the kind of peaceful protests that have made the territory a model of rational political discourse in a part of the world where it is often sorely lacking. And there is another form of peaceful protest available: Hong Kong’s legislators can reject China’s proposals, even though that would mean reverting to the equally undemocratic system used in 2012. Only a few dozen democrats now sit in the electoral college. They should, in future, boycott it. There is no point in propagating a falsehood.

If Hong Kong’s people keep marching without damaging the territory’s economy, China may well simply shrug. But not necessarily. It was thanks in part to a huge and orderly protest in 2003 that Hong Kong’s puppet government shelved plans to introduce an anti-subversion bill and that the hapless chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, stepped down. Rather than break the law, Hong Kong’s democrats would do better to wield the weapon of embarrassment.

But it is not only in Hong Kong that China’s decision to strangle the territory’s democratic aspirations will be felt. China’s government has alienated opinion in Taiwan, which it dreams of bringing under its umbrella in the same way. The party appears to have concluded that the damage done to the prospects of union with Taiwan is less important than the threat that one of its opponents might win an election in Hong Kong and stoke demands across China for political reform. The territory would also become independent in all but name. That, the government worries, would encourage separatists around China’s periphery, from Tibet to Xinjiang.

But discontent is growing all over China, and Beijing cannot just sit on it. The huge new middle class is becoming increasingly frustrated with its powerlessness over issues such as education, health care, the environment and property rights. In terms of their day-to-day worries, mainlanders have a lot in common with Hong Kong’s citizens. China’s government is going to have to work out a way of satisfying their aspirations for more control over their lives. Hong Kong would have been a good place to start.

Xi Jinping, the party chief and president, had the opportunity to use Hong Kong as a test-bed for political change in China. Had he taken this opportunity, he might have gone down in history as a true reformer. Instead, he has squandered it.

NATO's Welsh invasion

5 September 2014

So the two day NATO summit in Cardiff is over. There are 28 NATO member countries though the meeting was attended by leaders from 60 countries. Seven warships, including the destroyer HMS Duncan. An army of 10,000 assorted police and guards. A twelve kilometer ring of steel around the Celtic Manor venue and Cardiff Castle.

A city under lock down.

A banquet in Cardiff castle.

This summit was originally called to discuss the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan after 13 years of fighting Taliban militants there. There are questions over how many, if any, foreign soldiers will remain after the 2014 deadline. There are even bigger questions about Afghanistan's future.

Instead the conference saw statesmen making empty threats at Russia and Islamic State, who are currently dismembering Ukraine and Iraq, two nations the west claimed only recently to have “liberated”.

The Russian intrusion into Eastern Ukraine may have re-enforced NATO and re-established its purpose. Article five of Nato's constitution says an attack on one member country is an attack on all member countries. Ukraine of course is a partner rather than a member of Nato; a convenience for Nato.

But Nato's defence forces have been stimulated by a recent article by Russian strategist Andrey Piontkovsky which argues that Mr Putin's aims were "the maximum extension of the Russian world, the destruction of Nato, and the discrediting and humiliation of the US".

It added that Nato countries such as the US and Germany would not stand by the Baltic republics, and that, if necessary, the Kremlin would carry out a limited nuclear strike in Europe in order to break apart the two sides of the Atlantic alliance.

While Mr Piontkovsky was not writing in any official role - far from it - his pronouncements were considered a sufficiently accurate assessment of some of the more extreme thinking in the Kremlin.

Meanwhile Ukraine and Russia have negotiated a ceasefire; agreed by Russia on the very day of the Nato summit just as Nato was announcing new sanctions. There will be no ceasefire. Neither side is going to back down now.

Meanwhile delegates ploughed on with discussions on the Middle Easat but without the presence of any Arab leaders who could provide support or balance. After all the west's incursions into Libya and Iraq have not exactly provided for stability or peace. Instead they appear to have fermented extremism.

Obama's in his closing statment said that "we are going to achieve our goal. We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat [Isis], the same way that we have gone after al Qaeda. You initially push them back, you systematically degrade their capabilities, you narrow their scope of action, you slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control, you take out their leadership, and over time they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could."

Mark Urban for the BBC noted on twitter an "interesting rumour on margin of #NATOSummitUK No UK bombing in Iraq until after Scotland votes. Seen as possible gift to Salmond."

Somehow it feels like more talk in a world that in 2014 appears to be more dangerous than at any time since the cold war.

So our leaders stopped talking and had a dinner instead. Thursday night's three-course meal kicked off with smoked salmon from the Black Mountain Smokery and Cardigan Bay Crab served with avocado and lemon jelly.

For their main, the world leaders enjoyed roast saddle of Brecon Beacon lamb with Welsh new potatoes, heirloom tomato and Wye Valley asparagus.

The meal was finished off with a jar of Welsh fruit summer pudding and Neal Yard’s Creamery creme fraiche.

As a reward for attending heads of state and government were also given bumper willow baskets packed full to the brim of gifts.

They include Welsh cakes, whiskey, Welsh rugby balls, a book of selected poems, woollen journals and even socks.

There really was little time to discuss anything of substance let alone agree anything decisive. Next time try Skype.

Playing down the pomp and dealing with the circumstances would do so much more to impress the people of Europe and the Americas.

New statement on fight against ISIS from UAE

5 September 2014

This is a just released statement from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).. about the fight against ISIS.. and Islamic extremism overall. (statement comes from the UAE Ambassador to the USA)

This is strong language from the UAE which is the first Arab country to issue such a statement.

FROM UAE: Statement of Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba On Challenging Regional Extremism

Islamic extremism is a Middle East problem but it is quickly becoming the world's problem too. It is a transnational challenge, the most destabilizing and dangerous global force since fascism.

For certain, the United States and the West have a big interest in this battle. But no one has more at stake than the UAE and other moderate countries in the region that have rejected the regressive Islamist creed and embraced a different, forward-looking path.

Now is the time to act. The UAE is ready to join the international community in an urgent, coordinated and sustained effort to confront a threat that will, if unchecked, have global ramifications for decades to come.

Any action must begin with a clear plan for direct intervention against ISIS but must address the other dangerous extremist groups in the region. It is also critical to tackle the support networks, the entire militant ideological and financial complex that is the lifeblood of extremism.”


Something incredible is happening in Scotland

1 September 2014 The Guardian

You could tell it was getting serious when Gordon Brown made friends with Alistair Darling; and when the Scottish Daily Mail began running doom headlines about the future of the Union. I don't know whether the narrowing of the poll lead for the no campaign was just a blip, but it doesn't feel like it.

Something incredible is happening in Scotland. The little pin badges – Yes or No – that people wear are sparking open conversation: in the pub, the swimming baths, the post office queue. An entire country of 5 million people is asking itself, sometimes quite vociferously, what it wants to be.

It's even more incredible if you consider the possible outcome. If enough people tick the yes box, then come 2016 the flag of Great Britain will have to go minus a whole colour.

It probably won't happen. But few south of the border realise how volatile the outcome is. Yes, the polls reflect bookie William Hill's confidence that there's just a one in five chance of a majority for independence – but the variables are bigger than for most political events.

Having spent last week in Glasgow, I would say the biggest variable is going to be turnout. When political enthusiasm reaches the relatively apolitical world of the council estate, the pub, the nightclub and energises people, turnout can do weird things to poll predictions. Alex Salmond claimed there would be 80% turnout. I think the chances are even higher – and if the polls actually cope with such volume, every percentage point above normal introduces volatility not captured by normal polling.

At the Sub Club, a world-famous nightspot in Glasgow, the debate was remarkably coherent, even at 2am among the intoxicated smokers huddled outside. If I could distil the vox pops among those under-30s to a single thought it would be: "We want to run our own country."

They have heard all the dire macro-economic warnings – about the pound, the banks, the debt, the non-reliability of oil money. Set against the idea of making a clean break with Westminster politics and neoliberal economics, these are risks many of them are prepared to take.

One reason the political class is not hearing the debate properly is that, on each side, there are mismatched political leaderships and tin-eared campaign groups. On the yes side, many of the young people I spoke to despise Alex Salmond. On the no side, it's fair to say Alistair Darling is not hugely representative of a coalition that includes people from the Orange lodges and the Scottish Tories, and the gay clubbers I met who were firm no voters.

If, on the morning of 19 September, we wake up and that 4/1 horse of independence has come in, the levels of shock in official circles will be extreme. The Conservatives will have presided over the breakup of the Union. Even compared with handing Zimbabwe to Zanu-PF, and Hong Kong to the Chinese Communist party, that will be a major psychological moment.

Even more traumatised will be Labour. The prospect of a majority Labour government at Westminster after 2016 will be remote. The party in Scotland will likely go into meltdown, with a Podemos-style left emerging among the pro-independence Labour camp, the Greens and the progressives around groups like Common Weal.

There will be immediate ramifications beyond the UK: in Madrid and Brussels there will be outcry; in Barcelona public joy; in Moscow quiet glee.

But the official narrative does not allow us to consider the possibility of a yes victory. The political class – and I include Salmond's SNP in this – is like the tightroper wobbling on a wire between two skyscrapers. Its members can't allow themselves to think of the consequence of falling off. The old certainties will be so dead anyway that it will scarcely matter.

What we can say, already, is that the no campaign – for all its resilience in the opinion polls – failed in its plan to turn the referendum into an issue of macro-economic risk. If it has worked, it is among the older population and not the majority of the young.

The most coherent of the young people I spoke to understood the macro-economic risk. But they weighed it against two increasingly intolerable burdens: the inability of Scotland's relatively left-leaning electorate to influence Westminster; and the inability to budge Scottish Labour away from the free-market and pro-austerity policies associated with Brown and Darling.

What this means is, even if the yes vote fails on 18 September, scoring somewhere in the mid 40s, the pattern of all future Scottish independence debates is set.

Independence has become a narrative of the people against big government; about an energised Scottish street, bar and nightclub versus the sleazy elite of official politics.

And in response, the left part of the pro-union camp has had to develop its own, "more radical than Darling" rationales. It's not something you hear from the Westminster parties, but via social media I have picked up a strong meme among Scottish trade union members that independence under the SNP is "not radical enough to bother".

Once established, political psychologies like this do not go away. History shows they intensify until something gives, and at some point it is usually the borders of a nation state.

What we know already is that a significant number of Scottish people have a dream: where statehood, social justice and cultural self-confidence fit together into a clear and popular project.

The rest of Britain may be stunned, but should not be surprised if the enthusiasm for this dream propels enough people into the voting booths to give the yes camp a narrow victory.

If it happens there'll be a lot of finger pointing, but it's obvious in advance where the biggest problem lies: it's become impossible to express opposition to free market economics via the main Westminster parties.

Some English and Welsh voters think they're doing it by voting Ukip. But the referendum offered Scottish voters a way to do it by destroying the union. Whether you think that's illusory or mistaken, it's formed the narrative on the streets.

That's where we should be watching now; the high-camp shouting match of men in suits is a diversion.

Paul Mason is economics editor at Channel 4 News. Follow him @paulmasonnews

Grumpy, green, yellow, old and male...and unelected

1 September 2014

Grumpy, unelected. old men. It is hard to find a better description of Thailand's junta appointed cabinet.

The new cabinet is dominated by the military junta who have 13 Ministers including the PM and control over most of the key positions ranging from PM, Defence, Education, Transport, Interior, Justice, Foreign Affairs and Commerce (only key ones they don’t have are Public Health, Finance, and Agriculture). Essentially, Prayuth and his clique dominate.

Prayuth’s former superior General Prawit Wongsuwan is deputy PM and Defence Minister, while another of his ex-superiors, General Anupong Paochinda, is Interior Minister.

Four of the premier’s former classmates have portfolios. General Dapong Ratanasuwan was appointed Natural Resources and Environment Minister, General Tanasak Patimapragorn is deputy PM and Foreign Minister, Gen Chatchai Sarikalya was named Commerce Minister, and permanent secretary for defence General Surasak Kanjanarat is the Labour Minister.

Prayuth’s ‘junior’ friends from pre-cadet school days, Navy chief ADM Narong Pipatanasai and Air Force chief ACM Prajin Juntong, were appointed Education Minister and Transport Minister respectively.

The Navy Chief as Education Minister will oversee a curriculum that goes back to traditional Thai values - ie know your place; rather than develops critical talents for a globalised world.

The premier’s subordinates from the armed forces who will help him administer the country include deputy Army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr, the Deputy Defence Minister, and assistant Army chief General Paiboon Koomchaya, the Justice Minister.

Other posts are taken up by former bureaucrats mostly with strong yellow shirt credentials"

Don Pramudwinai (Deputy Foreign Minister) He was a career civil servant with the Foreign Ministry. His final posting was as Thai Ambassador to the UN. An experience diplomat but still number two to General Tanasak Patimapragorn; appointing a general as the Foreign Minister is hardly going to help the junta's credibility with the international community though no dount Burma and China will approve.

Sommai Phasee (Finance Minister) Was Deputy Finance Minister in the amt appointed post 2006 coup Surayud government.

In each of the Education, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Transport and Commerce ministries the junta controls the main minister position, but a current/former civil servant is the deputy.

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul is Tourism and Sports Minister and was previously. She was Chairperson of Toshiba Thailand. Strange appointment as she appears to have no relevant experience.

Wissanu Krea-Ngam is Deputy Prime Minister and was a NLA member and Constitutional Drafter of the 2007 Constitution .

MR Pridiyathorn Devakula is Deputy Prime Minister; he was spokesperson for PM’s Office under Chatchai, Deputy Minister of Commerce under the Anand and Suchina governments, BOT Governor under Thaksin, and Finance Minister in Surayud government.

There are noticeably few people from the business world. The cabinet are almost all 60+ years old and are current and former bureaucrats and those who have been in the sphere of the bureaucracy and periphery of politics. It is a very Bangkok-centric cabinet. There is no room for alternative voices.

It is basically a rubber stamp cabinet - the NCPO is in charge and that is where decisions will be made.

Thailand's military run government

31 August 2014

So Thailand has a new government with the King's endorsement of junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s new cabinet.

Military men are in charge of almost every key ministry. Not one of them has been elected.

Prayuth, who took power in a May 22 coup, placed 11 military officers in the 32-member cabinet, including as defense minister, foreign minister, interior minister, commerce minister, education minister and justice minister. The new finance minister is a civilian, Sommai Phasee, who was part of the government installed by the Thai army following Thailand’s last coup in 2006.

The appointments, which include two former army chiefs from Prayuth’s faction of the military, indicate that Prayuth will continue to rely on those close to his junta.

Even those not from the military are “at least people who are devoted to one side of the political divide and see themselves as more righteous leaders,” said Andrew Stotz, chief executive officer of A. Stotz Investment Research in Bangkok. “These people may see a rebalancing of power as a higher priority” than a rush to elections, he said.

There will be no rush to elections. Let us be clear here. There will be no election until after the next succession. And the electoral map will be rewritten such that there can only be one winner of the election....and that will not be the red shirts, Thaksin or anyone affiliated to them.

The junta and its appointed bodies have to write a new constitution and enact unspecified measures to “reform” Thai politics and society.

Several members of Prayuth’s new cabinet were also members of the government appointed after the 2006 coup. Pridiyathorn Devakula, a former Bank of Thailand governor who will serve as Prayuth’s deputy premier for the economy, was finance minister after that coup. Sommai, the new finance minister, served as Pridiyathorn’s deputy before resigning in 2007 after a court convicted him of abuse of power over suspension of state agency official three years earlier.

“Recently, Sommai Phasee has said he would focus on tax reforms and boosting the economy,” said Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Maybank Kim Eng. “We believe it is hard to see exciting policies from him or this interim cabinet that focuses on economic reforms rather than populist policies.”

From the military, Prawit Wongsuwan, a former army chief and defense minister, will be a deputy prime minister and defense minister, Thanasak Patimaprakorn, the supreme commander of the armed forces, will be a deputy prime minister and foreign minister and Anupong Paochinda, a former army chief, will be interior minister.

Prajin Juntong, the air force chief who has overseen the economy for the junta since the coup, will be transport minister, Chatchai Sarikulya, the assistant army chief, will be commerce minister, Paibool Khumchaya, the army assistant commander-in-chief, will be justice minster, and Narong Pipathanasai, the head of the navy, will be education minister, for which he is clearly well - qualified!

The NCPO has control over the ministires that have always been considered the wealthiest for the people in power - transport, interior and finance.

The new cabinet has only two female members, Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul and Deputy Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn.