September 15, 2014
September 14, 2014
In The Register, Kelly Fiveash sums up the latest information from Edward Snowden:
An NSA and GCHQ surveillance programme — dubbed Treasure Map — grants US and British spooks access to the networks of German telcos such as Deutsche Telekom, according to a new stash of leaked documents from Edward Snowden.
Der Spiegel published the latest revelations today. However, Deutsche Telekom reportedly said it had found no evidence of such tampering on its system.
“We are looking into every indication of possible manipulations but have not yet found any hint of that in our investigations so far,” a spokesman at the company told Reuters.
He added: “We’re working closely with IT specialists and have also contacted German security authorities. It would be completely unacceptable if a foreign intelligence agency were to gain access to our network.”
The Register sought comment from the telco, but it hadn’t immediately got back to us at time of writing.
The Treasure Map programme was described by Snowden as “a 300,000 foot view of the internet” in a New York Times story published in November last year.
September 12, 2014
Usually, when someone is planning to punish their political enemies, they keep quiet about it until the votes are counted. The former deputy leader of the Scottish National Party is pretty forthright about just who is going to be facing punishment if Scotland votes yes:
Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has claimed there will be a “day of reckoning” for major Scottish employers such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life after a Yes vote.
Speaking from his campaign vehicle the “Margo Mobile”, Mr Sillars insisted that employers are “subverting Scotland’s democratic process” and vowed that oil giant BP would be nationalised in an independent Scotland.
Earlier this week, a number of banks, including Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, said they would look to move their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote.
Mr Sillars, who earlier this week claimed he and First Minister Alex Salmond had put their long-held personal differences behind them to campaign together for independence, also revealed that he would not retire from politics on 19 September but said he would be “staying in” if Scotland became independent.
He claimed there is talk of a “boycott” of John Lewis, banks to be split up, and new law to force Ryder Cup sponsor Standard Life to explain to unions its reasons for moving outside Scotland.
He said: “This referendum is about power, and when we get a Yes majority, we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks.
“The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory Prime Minister, to keep Scotland’s poor, poorer through lies and distortions. The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a Yes.”
If I had any investments in Scotland, I would be calling my broker to review them in the light of this pretty specific set of economic and political goals for an independent Scotland. It won’t be a safe place to invest any kind of retirement savings if Sillars represents more than a fringe of the SNP.
September 11, 2014
At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin looks at the breakup of Czechoslovakia and compares the possible UK-Scotland divorce in that context:
One relevant precedent is the experience of the “Velvet Divorce” between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whose success is sometimes cited by Scottish independence advocates as a possible model for their own breakup with Britain. Like many Scottish nationalists, advocates of Slovak independence wanted to break away from their larger, richer, partner, in part so they could pursue more interventionist economic policies. But, with the loss of Czech subsidies, independent Slovakia ended up having to pursue much more free market-oriented policies than before, which led to impressive growth. The Czech Republic, freed from having to pay the subsidies, also pursued relatively free market policies, and both nations are among the great success stories of Eastern Europe.
Like Slovakia, an independent Scotland might adopt more free market policies out of necessity. And the rump UK (like the Czechs before it), might move in the same direction. The secession of Scotland would deprive the more interventionist Labor Party of 41 seats in the House of Commons, while costing the Conservatives only one. The center of gravity of British politics would, at least to some extent, move in a more pro-market direction, just as the Czech Republic’s did relative to those of united Czechoslovakia.
If the breakup of the UK is likely to resemble that of Czechoslovakia, this suggests that free market advocates should welcome it, while social democrats should be opposed. Obviously, other scenarios are possible. For example, famed economist Paul Krugman claims that Scottish independence is likely to result in an economic disaster, because a small country without a currency of its own cannot deal with dangerous macroeconomic crises. I lack the expertise to judge whether Krugman’s prediction is sound. But it does seem like there are obvious counterexamples of small countries that have done well without having their own currencies; Slovakia is a good example. Moreover, although Scottish independence advocates today claim that they will stick to the pound, they could reverse that decision in the future.
All of the above assumes that an independent Scotland will be able to stay in the European Union, and that there would be free trade and freedom of movement between it and the remaining United Kingdom. If the Scots get locked out of the EU or prevented from interacting freely with the UK (perhaps as a result of backlash by angry English public opinion), Scottish independence becomes a lot less viable and a lot more likely to cause serious harm on both sides of the new border.
Peter Roberts analyzes the design trade-offs of the Queen Elizabeth class for the Royal United Services Institute:
The most important change in the Queen Elizabeth class is the open acknowledgement of the primacy of running costs at the heart of the project – manifest in crew numbers, unmanned monitoring and power generation. The UK carriers are platforms designed by economists, not warriors.
The largest costs for running maritime platforms are manpower and fuel. In terms of manpower, the Queen Elizabeth will have a crew of 650 with an additional thousand berths available for the air group. By comparison, the American Nimitz class and new Gerald Ford class, which displace around 40,000 tonnes more, are crewed by 6,000 and 4,500 personnel respectively. The French Charles de Gaulle, which in terms of tonnage is about a third smaller its British counterpart, carries a crew of around 2,500. The UK figures were driven by the necessity to avoid increasing the manpower bill of the Royal Navy. As such, the 650 figure is exactly the same as the preceding Invincible class. Allowing the same complement to effectively operate a vessel three times the size of her predecessor has forced some innovative thinking.
The use of automation and remote monitoring has been essential to meet the manpower restrictions. Cameras and monitoring equipment have been built into almost every system in the new ships. From machinery spaces to bilge areas, remote performance monitoring has allowed a marked reduction in the manpower requirements of the ships. Whilst this makes good sense in financial terms, it does not in terms of pure war-fighting capability. Naval vessels differ significantly from their commercial counterparts in terms of damage control and fire-fighting. These roles are remarkably manpower intensive. The experiences of major damage in the Falklands conflict have been reinforced at intervals by peacetime incidents on HMS Nottingham (2002) and Endurance (2008), which required the efforts of the full ship’s complement to remain afloat. The damage-control capabilities of the UK carrier platforms should, therefore, be a primary concern.
There is one further element that has not been well considered in the Carrier-Enabled Power Projection doctrine of the Royal Navy and the MoD. Protection of these assets from threats has effectively been taken ‘on-risk’, and against all operational analysis. The self defence capabilities of these ships are extremely limited. The provision of close-in weapon systems and automatic small-calibre guns does not guarantee adequate protection against a small scale naval threat, let alone a shore-based one. Naval doctrine instead requires protection of the carriers by destroyers and frigates. This is a cost-effective solution provided that the task group has the necessary units to provide such protection. But there is no evidence that the projected Royal Navy combined frigate/destroyer force could do so.
The Queen Elizabeth class is therefore an interesting example of innovation: rather than in the sense of equipment and capability, it might be more relevant to think about how risk to the platforms is being dealt with in an ‘innovative’ manner.
The second ship in the class, HMS Prince of Wales just reached a major milestone in construction:
Construction of HMS Prince of Wales, the second of two new aircraft carriers for the UK Royal Navy, has moved forward with the docking of two of the ship’s largest hull sections – Lower Block 02 and Lower Block 03.
The movement of the blocks into the dock at Rosyth marks the beginning of the ship’s assembly phase and comes only days after Prime Minister David Cameron announced that HMS Prince of Wales will enter into service, ensuring that the UK will always have one aircraft carrier available.
Ian Booth, Managing Director at the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, said: “Every milestone in the carrier programme is hugely significant and the recent announcement that HMS Prince of Wales will enter service means there is a real sense of excitement as we start to bring the second ship together. Everyone working across the Alliance is incredibly proud of the work undertaken so far, in what is currently one of the biggest engineering projects in the country, and we remain focused on delivering both ships to the highest standards.”
September 9, 2014
Andrew Coyne points out some of the parallels between the 1995 referendum in Quebec and this month’s referendum in Scotland:
It has been an entertaining, if unnerving, couple of weeks, recalling the referendum of 1995 and speculating about what would have happened had the separatists won. Now, thanks to the Scots, we may be about to find out.
Next week’s referendum on Scottish independence is indeed looking eerily reminiscent of the 1995 near-disaster: the same early complacency in the No camp, the same unbridled panic as the Yes side surges in the polls; the same unappealing mix of threats (“one million jobs”) and accounting on the No side, the same fraudulent claims (“we’re subsidizing the English”) and utopian fantasies on the Yes; the same blurring of the lines on both sides, independence made to look like the status quo (“we’ll keep the pound”) even as the status quo is made to look like independence (“devo-max” is the British term for special status). Add a charismatic Yes leader and an unpopular, seemingly disengaged prime minister, and the picture is complete.
Learning nothing from our experience, the Brits made all the same strategic errors we did, first conferring an unwarranted legitimacy on the separatist project, then attempting to pacify it with powers and money, only to watch it grow more ravenous in response. They have ended up in the same game of heads-I-win, tails-you-lose: a No vote simply marks the launch of the next campaign, while a Yes, supposedly, is forever.
We should not underestimate how much of separatism’s decline in this country can be explained by sheer exhaustion, especially post-Clarity Act. A great many soft nationalists, for whom it retains a romantic appeal, were persuaded it was simply too arduous an undertaking, full of too much uncertainty and upheaval. But if that premise appeared to have been debunked — if the British pull off the same quick divorce that the Czechs and Slovaks did in the 1990s — we might yet see the issue resurface. You see, the Parti Quebecois would crow? It is just as we told you. And Britain, of all places, has proved it.
September 7, 2014
Tim Worstall discusses how Amazon structures its business to meet various efficiency targets, a major one being the need to be as tax-efficient as possible. This upsets many political commentators, who all seem to believe that businesses should structure their activities to pay as much tax as possible:
… it’s exactly the tax laws that create one of those synergies that keeps Amazon as the one single company (even if with many different divisions and P&L centres). Because if it were a series of separate companies then those mature businesses, the ones making profits, could not simply switch their profits over to the subsidisation of those newer businesses. Instead, they would have to declare those profits, 35% would float off towards Uncle Sam and thus there would be less of that free cash flow to invest in those newer businesses.
The way the tax laws work are what keeps Amazon from splitting out those profitable businesses from those ones not yet mature enough to be making a profit.
Which brings me to the second point, one more about British political economy. We have a prolific commentator over here who insists on two separate points. I’ll not name him in order to spare his blushes but he’s often referred to as the UK’s leading tax expert. The first thing he insists upon is that Amazon doesn’t pay very much corporation tax (entirely true) but also that it ought to. The second is that many companies have vast amounts of cash, profits they have made in the past, which they don’t know what to do with. Those cash reserves should therefore be taxed away so that they can be spent on what our tax expert thinks are good uses for other peoples’ money. What I enjoy so much about this is that he manages to believe both things together. A company like Amazon, which obviously does know what to do with its free cash flow, should be taxed more. And companies that don’t know what to do with their free cash flow should also be taxed more.
It’s as if the only answer to anything ever is higher tax rates. Rather like if all you’ve got is a hammer then everything gets treated as a nail. I can’t help thinking that the views of a leading expert in anything, let alone tax, ought to be a little more subtle than that.
September 6, 2014
British PM David Cameron announced that the under-construction aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales will be active after completion, reversing the decision from the SDSR in 2010:
At the close of the NATO summit in Wales this week David Cameron delivered the good news that the Royal Navy will be allowed to retain the second aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales. This was another U-turn, reversing one of the many mistaken decisions of Cameron’s 2010 Defence Review that stated the ship would be mothballed or sold. Although undoubtedly good news for the navy, and more importantly the defence of the UK, it is difficult not to be cynical about the entire situation and timing of the announcement.
The announcement was not accompanied by much detail and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The RN and its major procurement projects must successfully navigate a general election and the 2015 Defence Review before we can be really certain about HMS Prince of Wales’ future. The biggest unknown is how will the costs of the second carrier be carried by the RN, have the additional costs been found by cuts elsewhere or has this been funded by new money?
The photo above is a computer generated fantasy, apart from the fact carriers would rarely sail in such close formation, it is highly unlikely the RN will ever have the resources to field both carriers simultaneously. Generating the extra crew that the second carrier needs will be one of the first challenges for the RN, already in the throes of a manpower crisis. Although the carrier in refit or maintenance will not require anything like a full crew, it will still require an overlap of manning.
As noted earlier this week, the Royal Navy has shrunk from 38,730 to 33,330 since 2010. It’s going to be a scramble to train (and retain) enough skilled personnel to crew even HMS Queen Elizabeth, never mind at least a cadre for the second aircraft carrier.
Update, 7 September: An interesting, but not surprising revelation from Ali Kefford (retweeted by @NavyLookout).
Apparently PM banned then CDS from mentioning carriers during Op Ellamy, when he learnt the hard way that axing Ark Royal had been a mistake
— Ali Kefford (@akefford) September 6, 2014
September 5, 2014
At Samizdata, Perry de Havilland unflinchingly points the finger of blame:
The English ‘fascist‘ movement is a bit like a bowel movement, smelly but easily disposed of. In truth they are so trivial in terms of their support or intellectual influence that I cannot escape the notion they get as much publicity as they do primarily to keep them as a boogieman to be pointed at by their equally irrelevant confrères on the loony left.
The Rotherham scandal is not about comically half witted and pleasingly unphotogenic fascists (sorry Ed Temple). It is not about Islam or Pakistanis (sorry BNP, EDL et al.). It is not even about immigration (sorry UKIP). It is entirely about how the political culture pushed unfailingly by the BBC and Guardian (and the increasingly indistinguishable Telegraph and other formerly ‘Tory’ papers) for decades has so completely enervated British institutions along with all the mainstream political parties, that such thugs could not be dealt with. We do not need more laws, we have more than enough to deal with what happened. What we need is the preposterous culture of political correctness and its obsession with race to be flushed down the toilet.
So my caring sharing multicultural leftie chums… Rotherham? That is entirely down to you. Yes, YOU
In the New Statesman, Tracey Thorn laments that she’s lost an excuse for not doing live performances herself and loses herself in the performance at the Hammersmith Apollo in London:
Six straight songs and then, just as we are relaxing, the stage transforms, and the drama begins: a multi-sensory performance of “The Ninth Wave”, the suite of songs that forms side two of The Hounds of Love (1985). There’s Kate on screen in a life jacket, apparently slipping away from us, singing “And Dream of Sheep”, one of her most beautiful songs.
I should probably write this somewhere more formal – my will, perhaps – but in case I forget, let me say here that I would be happy for you to play this song at my funeral. I weep as she sings it, partly because I’m imagining my own funeral, but also because we are witnessing a struggle between life and death, where a drowning woman yearns to be saved, to return to her beloved family. “Let me live!” she cries a few songs later. Overwhelming and exhilarating as they are, all the special effects – Kate in a tank, a helicopter search beam strafing the audience – are in the service of the songs and the story.
Why is it so moving? Well, because when finally she is brought back it is not just the fictional heroine, but Kate herself who has survived the years, and those cold seas, and returned to us. The two strands, family love and audience love, intertwine as she shows us how both mean so much to her. “D’you know what?/I love you better now,” she sings, as the first half ends and we wipe our tears.
Part two is calmer, more reflective, consisting of one side of the recent album Aerial (2005). Reprieved from death, she now revels in the simple, sensuous pleasures of life. Birdsong on a summer afternoon. The setting of the sun and the rising of the moon. In more conventional hands this could be merely decorous and pastoral, even a little twee, but somehow she has found a way to transform contentment into euphoria. The mood is hypnotic, rhythmic and trancey, and the stage dazzles with images of light and flight; less genteel garden party, more full-on midsummer rave, it could be the ultimate blissed-out headliner of a blistering, sunny Glastonbury.
And her singing voice, which I so worried about? It is a thing of wonder, any youthful shrillness replaced by a richer, occasionally gravelly tone, and with a full-throated power unbelievable in someone who has so rarely sung live. All I can think is that she must have been practising, on her own in a barn somewhere, for the past 35 years. Practising, planning, waiting for all the stars to align – her own desire, the cast of collaborators, the right time and place – in order for this to happen. And it is an ecstatic triumph, a truly extraordinary achievement.
Is it just me or are almost all TV documentaries completely unwatchable these days? I remember when I first started this job I’d review one almost every fortnight. Always there’d be something worth watching: on the horrors of the Pacific or the Eastern Front, say; or castles; or Churchill; or medieval sword techniques. But now it’s all crap like The Hidden World of Georgian Needlecraft or In The Footsteps of Twelve Forgotten South American Civilisations Which All Look The Same or A Brooding, Long-Haired Scottish Geographer Shouts From Inside A Volcano Why Climate Change Is Worse Than Ever.
The presenters have got more annoying too. I mean, I’m not saying some of the old ones weren’t infuriating with their hand-waving and tics and mannerisms and wheezings. But the new ones are just vacuous, unformed squits. They make you yearn for a reverse Logan’s Run world, where everyone under 30 is executed for being so tiresome. A lot of them are women, obviously, chosen mainly for their simpering looks and charming speech impediments and unerring knack for fronting the dullest imaginable subject matter.
No doubt the people responsible for commissioning this drivel think they’re redressing the balance, in much the same way progressive historians do when they demand we empathise with medieval peasants rather than learning about what Edward I did to the Welsh and the Scots. Well, I can’t speak for all oppressed women here, but I think I can for my wife. They’re not going, ‘Oh, good. Finally a documentary with my name on it, about what it was like to be a woman’s maidservant in Elizabethan York.’ They’re going, ‘Who is that irritating little cow? Why is she on the screen putting on that little-girl-lost voice for my husband? And why the hell isn’t this documentary about something actually interesting, like, say, castles, or Churchill or medieval sword techniques?’
James Delingpole, “The glories of John Betjeman. And why we need more English eccentrics – eg me – on TV”, JamesDelingpole.com, 2014-09-04.
September 4, 2014
Historian Max Hastings pours out the scorn toward British PM David Cameron and American President Barack Obama for their dithering and unwillingness to grapple with real world problems like the invasion of Ukraine and the rise of ISIS:
Suddenly, the world seems a frightening place. The beheading of a second American hostage by jihadist fanatics and the threat that a British aid worker will suffer the same fate has shocked the peoples of the West, as have few events since the Cold War.
We are uncertain how the Western Powers should respond.
At such moments, we turn to our national leaders for wisdom, reassurance and decision. Instead, we get posturing, dithering and waffle.
David Cameron mouths foolish nothings, proclaiming that Britain would commit ‘all the assets we have’, including our ‘military prowess’ against the Muslim extremists.
More serious, the President of the United States seems supine in the face of the gravest threats to international order in a generation.
Barack Obama boldly strides golf course fairways, while apparently washing his hands of the job the American people — and, by association, the civilised world — pay him for: to strive to lead us into the paths of righteousness.
To borrow P. G. Wodehouse’s phrase, however intelligent Obama may be, he resembles a spineless invertebrate.
This was always nonsense, but then again so much of the hype about Obama in the early days of his presidency was nonsensical. Still it does contribute to the poignancy of the moment. I’m referring specifically to the Islamic State and their celebration of slavery. MEMRI has excerpts of Facebook chats between British and French supporters of the group as they discuss the great news that you can buy Yazidi women as sex slaves.
It’s also worth noting that the president has done everything he can to claim that his domestic political opponents are engaged in a “war on women.” He won an election largely because he convinced enough women — and pliant journalists — to take this bilge seriously. Just this week the head of his party went on at great length to claim that the Republican governor of Wisconsin has been “giving women the back of his hand.”
Oh, and let us not forget, the president and his supporters work very hard to paint their domestic political opponents as religious extremists because some private businesses and religious groups don’t want to pay for procedures that violate their conscience.
Now compare this to the people who are celebrating the fact their faith allows them to enslave women.
Just think about it for a moment. The president surely knows about this. His administration surely knows about this. And yet, the president — this modern incarnation of Lincoln, protector of women and opponent of domestic religious extremism — defines his goal for the Islamic State as reducing it to a “manageable problem.” Does this mean that if the group renounces any designs on attacking the U.S. homeland (an impossibility given the tenets of their faith and ambition for a global caliphate) he will stand by as they continue to barter women as sex slaves and breeders? This is the same man who campaigned in Berlin as a “citizen of the world” and champion of global community.
Forgive me, but the term, “Lincolnesque” doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
September 3, 2014
In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour says that the upcoming NATO summit is a sign that with all the tension around the world, this is the most relevant the organization has been in decades:
The last time the UK hosted a Nato summit was in 1990, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the cold war was coming to an end, and the alliance was questioning its relevance in a multipolar world where soft power might count more than hard power. The old chestnut about Nato’s purpose voiced by the first Nato secretary general, Lord Ismay — “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in” — looked hopelessly anachronistic. Russia famously had become a country with which the west felt it could do business.
A quarter of a century later, Putin’s actions, and the ever more grisly new threats posed by Islamic militants, has given Nato a new lease of life. Indeed, Nato is now so relevant that David Cameron’s chief task as host to this week’s summit in Wales has been to ensure that the agenda does not burst at the seams. Discussions will range across the Russian advance in Ukraine and expansionist threat to the Baltics, the Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, the possibility of wider alliance air strikes in northern Iraq against Islamic State (Isis), the need for Nato to produce a viable rapid reaction force in Europe as well as respond to the threats of hybrid warfare and terrorism.
Cameron has ensured that the crisis posed by Isis — made even more pertinent by the latest beheading and the threat to a British citizen — will be discussed both at a working dinner on Thursday evening, and then again on Friday as the 28 members discuss asymmetric warfare, and how to respond to threat of terrorism.
Diplomatic efforts in advance of the summit may help the Canadian government save a bit of face, too:
A face-saving compromise may be on the way for reluctant allies, including Canada, who are unwilling to boost defence spending to meet the NATO standard.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the final statement at the Wales Summit later this week will describe the long-standing expectation that members nations spend at least two per cent of their gross domestic product on defence as an “aspirational target.”
That seems enough to satisfy the Harper government, which has balked at pressure from both the United States and Britain to substantially boost the military’s budget slashed in the drive towards next year’s balanced budget and anticipated election.
Jason MacDonald, the prime minister’s director of communications, said late Tuesday that the government is willing to spend more “on measures that meet actual operational needs, in response to global issues.”
He says Canada is not prepared to meet “an arbitrary target.”
The language not only puts out an embarrassing political fire, given the prime minister’s harsh condemnation of Russia, but it may also be enough to placate the Americans.
Canada has taken a tough rhetorical line toward the
Soviets Russians lately, but Stephen Harper’s government has reduced military spending to such a degree that he risks being seen as “All hat and no cattle” as the Texan saying has it.
The Secretary of State for Defence was asked in Parliament for a breakdown of the members of the British army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The detailed reply shows some significant changes:
Royal Navy/Royal Marines
|Year||Total, all ranks|
|Year||Total, all ranks|
|Year||Total, all ranks|