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Monday, 6 July 2015

Who really owns the money?

From many comments on the current financial crisis in Greece - and from the utterances of the Greek PM and his so-called Finance Minister - I get the impression that a majority of people have no idea of how Banks operate, and even less idea of where they get the money. It doesn't seem to register that the 'money in the bank' is actually 'owned' by the people who deposit it there, not the Bank. Nor do they seem to appreciate that the friendly 'High Street' banker is in a totally different league to the so-called 'Merchant Banking' operations in the City. For one thing your High Street manager doesn't get to play with Fund Investment - probably the worst he can do is lend a client a bit too much or allow to big an overdraft.

The guys in the city are another world. These are the guys who can move billions at the touch of a button, the men who lend huge sums to companies and to governments. But there are also limits to how much and whose money - and again, it isn't theirs or the banks. Once again, it is money entrusted to them by investors and depositors. The trick is that the Banks work for their investors and their shareholders - famously a court in the US decreed in the 1930s that the sole function of a corporation is to make a profit for its shareholders. That is what banks do when they lend anyone money, which is also why most of us don't borrow any more than we need to. After all, why pay more than you absolutely have to for the privilege.

There is much fulminating about the Banks having lent too much, or the Banks making profits at the expense of the people - but who forced anyone to borrow the money in the first place? Until the 1990s, Bank Regulation meant they had to 'hold' in their vaulty a considerable portion of the money deposited with them. Then, presumably in the belief this would bring 'growth', governments decided to allow a bank to lend almost everything it held on deposit. Thus, if a depositor put in §100, the bank could lend a borrower §90, and when he paid that into his bank account, they could lend up to §81 of that, and so on ... That fueled the 'credit boom'.

The next problem is that of governments themselves. They have, in reality, only the money they can gather in taxes to spend. If you push tax to high, the big money leaves and tax revenue falls, so goivernments are forced to balance spending and income by taking loans usually organised by the IMF. The alternative is to simply 'print more' a trick that saw the value of the British Pound collapse under the free spending Labour governments of the 1970s. Those who scream about how the €uro has 'denied nations their democratic right' to resort to the printing presses forget that the value of the money is only as good as the gold, trade or whatever that underwrites it. Bank of England notes still contain the legend 'I promise to pay the bearer on demand ...' and technically you could take your Bank Notes to the Bank that issued them and demand the hard cash in coin, preferably gold.

For years now the Greek crisis has been brewing and all the other countries caught up in it have managed to find solutions. Some, like Ireland, took the pain, fixed their overspending problem, and are now recovering, others lag, but are dealing with it. Greece alone has refused any reform. Their PM and Finance Minister have caused enormous frustration by repeatedly coming to the table with the same empty hands. As one Minister put it, they smile, they shrug, and say, you make a proposal, we'll consider it. Now they claim they want the debt written down - in other words, they want to stick their hands into the pockets of every taxpayer, depositor and investor yet again, and take even more out of everyone else's pockets while still refusing to reform their freespending.

More worrying is the fact that many of those asked, on leaving the Polling Stations, say they voted No to 'punish the banks' or to 'punish Brussels'. Fine, but tomorrow, when the banks have nothing to offer, or when Tsipras and his henchmen print Drachmas and try to pass them off on a 1 for 1 basis, it will probably take less than 24 hours for the value to crash.

Well, the people have spoken. Whether they stay in the €uro or not is a moot point. Some believe Europe will bend over backwards to keep them in. I'm not so sure they will, Mr Tsipras and his Finance Minister have annoyed everyone. So they refuse to pay their debts? Greece will find it incredibly hard to get fuel, medical supplies and a whole range of other things they can't make themselves. Countries having to work on 'cash up front' generally run into massive problems very quickly.

Will it 'kill the €uro' as so many British commentators and media 'experts' seem to hope? I doubt it. That would cause a much, much bigger problem economically for the International community than many realise and it will hurt everyone. It might be a good idea for all those journalists, campaigners and the rest, calling for Europe to 'write off the debt' or 'give emergency aid' to back off a little and consider. The Greek Referendum has been used to 'send a message' and to cover up the fact the Greek government refuses to carry out meaningful reform of an economy based on other people's money.

The Greeks have been living on and spending everyone else's money since they cheated their way into the €uro. They were eager enough in the early days to get into the €uro for the very simple reason the Drachma was shot to ribbons and only just still viable. They wanted the €uro then, because it gave them, they thought, a limitless source of funds to cover their profilgacy. They've made no effort to collect their own taxes, they allowed capital to vanish, and even the EU subsidies to disappear into projects that were just to boost the wealth of a few. They've been refusing to reform for the last five years, and now its caught up with them. Mr Tsipras wants 30% of government debt written off - which means the rest of the EU, the depositors and taxpayers must pick up his bill, presumably so he can carry on spending.

I know what my answer would be if I were a bank manager and a debtor approached me with that sort of demand. This argument is not about 'democracy' or even control of their own economy, it is about paying your own way, and paying your debts. They don't 'own' the money supply, neither does Brussels or anyone else - it belongs to us, the taxpayers, depositors, and investors.





Wednesday, 1 July 2015

An Interesting Question

I read that Mr Putin is to 'review' the legality of the independence of the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. One can only wonder at what the NATO/US/EU response will be. Another Munich Accord a´la Chamberlain's 1938 agreement with a certain gentleman with similar ambitions for his country and people? Perhaps everyone should demand a 'review' of Russia's occupation of East Prussia, the so-called Kaliningrad enclave.

Mr Putin plans, apparently, to review the legality of his county's recognition of the three small states who, as historians will know, have been overrun and occupied by just about everyone in  the neighbourhood in the past. Their brief breath of freedom between 1919 and 1939 saw them first occupied by Nazi forces, then by the Soviets. Neither occupying power earned much love or respect. Stalin's deportation of 'natives' was followed by the implanation of native Russians, so now all three countries have fairly large ethnically 'Russian' populations - just as was the case in East Ukraine, parts of Georgia and several other parts of the former Soviet empire Mr Putin has 'reclaimed' in the interests of 'protecting the ethnic Russian population' ...

In 1939 Britain, France and the Empire went to war with Germany over the invasion of Poland. Now the question hangs in the air over whether or not we will stand up for the three small Baltic States. Is their membership of NATO and the EU worth the paper it is presumably written on? Maybe, maybe not.

One problem that I can see is that Russia is far better armed now than NATO, and far less restrained by concerns of 'sovereignty', morality or international sentiment. Should Mr Putin decide the 'recognition' is illegal, what then? Another Ukraine? Very likely, although, with his army already massed on the doorstep, I suspect it will all be over in a matter of hours -- long before any of our western leaders can even get their heads round the question of a response.

Which leaves them with the same option Chamberlain faced in 1938. Oooh, we'll impose 'sanctions' and then more 'sanctions' as we watch Mr Putin roll over Finland, Poland and perhaps even the Eastern States of Germany. Do anything to stop him? Oooh, can't do that, it would be unpopular in the ballot box, and we no longer have the means anyway.

So much for 'Peace' and the 'Peace Dividend'. So much for 'Peace in our time' at any price and at all costs. We seem to have forgotten the important mxim - Si vis pacem; para bellum.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Assault on Western Civilisation

Watching and reading of the activities of the ISIS in Syria, Iraq, Libya and now Tunisia, one can only wonder at the motivation of the fanatics who flock to support this vile and psychopathic movement. It is obvious that the appeal, for young Muslims living in western countries where they have not integrated, do not wish to integrate, and are fed the ‘dream’ of a perfect Islamic ‘paradise’ founded on the Quran and the forced conversion to Islam of everyone in it, is a very complex problem. What is less obvious, to those who do not understand the roots and origins of this ideology — and one does get the impression that includes all of our political leaders, all the ‘multi-culty’ promoters and our ‘foreign policy wonks — is why it is so well supported, and why it is so violent, so barbaric in its conquests.
If they perhaps knew the real history of the Arab conquest of the Middle East in the 8th to 13th Centuries a bit better instead of the romanticised version cobbled up by the Victorian adventurers, it might be a little more understandable to them. Those who hailed the ‘Arab Spring’ and who still see ‘anyone who isn’t Assad’ as a preferable ruler in Syria, must accept a large part of responsibility for what has happened there. Their failure to understand the complex ideological, tribal, religious and internecine ‘politics’ of the region and these countries, the arming of ‘resistance’ and ‘populist’ groups — and the failure to grasp the reason local rulers are very reluctant to commit any of their armies to a fight against these psychopathic thugs makes us every bit as culpable for this mess as the ISIS itself. I sometimes wonder if it is genuine ignorance of other cultures, or arrogance that makes our western liberal thinkers assume that everyone, regardless of race, religion, culture or heritage shares the same desire of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’. 
This assumption simply ignores several facts, such as that ‘democracy’ as we know is barely 200 years old in most of Europe, and only slightly older in the US. It has long roots in the UK, but didn’t take its present form until the 1830s even there. It has no long standing cultural roots outside of Europe, and most countries outside of the spheres of control of the British Empire or the US didn’t get democratic government until after 1945. In the Arab controlled world it has no cultural base at all, and is an imposition totally foreign to their heritage and religion. 
So why are we surprised when it is rejected by the majority in those countries? Why are we surprised that the artificial boundaries civil servants in Whitehall and Paris drew on maps without considering ethnicities, religious affiliations, cultures, tribal boundaries and even languages are now being torn asunder? Why, when we invite people from these countries to come and live in ours, are we then told we must accept their desire to ‘preserve’ their cultural heritage, their desire to still dress as if they were living in a desert, or in the ‘tribal’ attire of their homelands, and refuse to integrate with our own society? Why, when the children of the first wave of families from those countries are brought up to consider themselves anything BUT British or European, are we surprised when they, or their children, reject our society and effectively declare war on it?
Travelling around the world I have perhaps been fortunate to see both the ‘official’ face presented by many of these places and the unofficial and more realistic face. The ‘official’ face would have you believe any place is next best thing to paradise. The trains (if they have any) run on time, the government looks after your best interests and everyone lives in peace and harmony. The unofficial face lets you see the hardship, the excluded members of society, the people working two, three or four jobs to try and get something better for themselves, and it lets you hear the dissenting voices. It makes you realise that while another culture may look idyllic, it may also have some nasty aspects lurking in the long grass you’d rather not have to face.
This is one of the problems when confronting Islam. The Quran is, for a large part, about ‘peace and love’. It is, like some versions of the Bible, wonderfully poetic in its language, but it also contains some commandments that are decidedly NOT about peace and love. The same can be said of parts of the Bible, certainly parts of the Old Testament, but where, in the Bible, there is a ‘New’ Testament and a ‘New Commandment’ which transcends the Old (if only some of the more fundamental among us would recognise it), there is no such ‘modifier’ in Islam. Nor is there a central hierarchy of teaching and control. Rome has its Curia, Anglicanism their Synods, Orthodoxy its Councils and even the Protestant churches have synods, councils and conferences which thrash out (sometimes with verbal if not physical blows) agreement on the meaning of texts, passages, injunctions. Islam has its ‘scholars’ and its Muftis, but everyone is able to place his own interpretation on the Quran. Anyone able to memorise large chunks of it can call himself a ‘scholar’ and anyone can set up a Madrassa or ‘school’.
That leaves the door wide open for the growth and development of the sort of fundamentalist theology that feeds organisations such as ISIS and their ideology.
I suspect that, to a very large extent, we will never see the Saudi Arabian Army, the Kuwaiti Defence Force, or the Royal Jordanian Army confront the ISIS directly. In part because the ISIS is a Sunni sect, and to a larger extent because the men who make up those armies might all to easily change sides. That, I think, is the greatest fear among the current ruling classes of the Middle East, and this is why, in the greater scheme of things I do not think the ISIS will be defeated any time soon. Nor do I think it would be a good idea for any western forces to be committed to engage them. Yes, we could probably win (assuming we didn’t have to fight with all the touchy-feely ‘rules of engagement’ tying our troops and commanders hands behind their backs), but the ISIS is more than just the barbaric scum it deploys in the field — it is also a very alluring and pernicious ideology. 
Even if we sent in the military and killed every single ISIS fighter in a wat of total annihilation, the idea would persist. And sometime in ten, twenty or thirty years time, a new ‘Caliphate’ group would emerge to start all over again. The sad thing is that western civilisation has to face up to the fact we have a choice. Accept the current ISIS as a fact and let them continue unchecked, which also means allowing young Muslims from our own countries to travel back and forth freely to join them and come home full of ideas to bring the war to us — or we can man up, stop pussyfooting, come down hard on their supporters on the internet, at home and abroad. Cut off the support, attack the ideology with fact and undermine its appeal, and then deal effectively and permanently with those who have joined their forces, fought for the ISIS and committed the atrocities. 
All very well crying about their ‘rights’ and wringing our hands over the brutality of our troops shooting someone shooting at them, we have a stark choice. Let the ISIS continue bombing, shooting and murdering its way into power — or annihilate it by whatever means it takes. That will also mean making every man or woman who has supported it, fought for it or tried to do so, pay for their criminal activity on its behalf.

Failure to do so will ensure, that like the Roman civilisation in the sixth and seventh centuries, ours is swept aside and replaced by an alien and frankly barbaric one in the not too distant future.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

A Long Break ...

This Blog has been suffering from some serious neglect for a while now. This is due, in large part, to my being heavily involved in writing a new historical novel which is now in the final stages of pre-publication editing, and partly due to a few changes of publishers for some of my other titles. Both Out of Time and The Enemy is Within are now out of print. The first is demanding a lot of time at the moment as it needed a massive overhaul to meet my new publisher's expectations, the second will need some work as well.

The good news is that Harry Heron; Midshipman's Journey and The Outer Edge are both selling well and A Baltic Affair is maintaining a steady trickle of sales as well.

From my perspective, the exciting news is that my latest book, Limehouse Boys, will be appearing in the latter half of July. The story is set in the early 1830s and revolves around the 'adventures' of a trio of orphans. It was inspired by some research into life for those in London's teeming East End at that period. Healthcare was almost non-existent, poverty was rife, corruption governed access to just about everything and crime gangs held sway. Exploitation of those desperate enough to seek a place in the Workhouses, or unfortunate enough to be orphaned and committed to one, faced a very harsh future.

The research left me shocked in some instances, angry in others, and it turned up tragedies, miscarriages and abuses in Justice, and some remarkable heroes whose efforts seem to have gone largely unrewarded. It is fascinating to read that Parliament fought tooth and nail to protect certain 'privileges' and even to perpetuate, in the interests of profits and commercial competitiveness, the abuses of child labour. Speeches were even made defending the abuses, and in some cases denying them, or claiming that the complainants were idle or lazy and exaggerating matters.

I hope readers will enjoy it, I have dedicated it to all those who have risen above bad beginnings and made their own way in the world.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Human Migrations

Humans have been migrating, I suspect, since the dawn of time. There have been many reasons for it I suspect, starting with the need to move when a familiar area can no longer support the tribe, clan, family and going all the way up to conflict and the need to escape. Individually the reasons can range from the desire to find a sexual/breeding partner to the desire for wealth and power. Then there are those who can see no hope of leading a life of hope or fulfilment in the place of their birth, and need to move to find employment even of the most basic once they reach adulthood. And when even that is denied them through war, discrimination, crime and corruption or lack of any viable opportunity, they are forced to take desperate measures.

This is where we see the sort of tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean at present. As the latest death toll rises, we hear all the usual politicians wringing their hands and saying all the usual things about ‘addressing the problem at its roots’ but doing nothing.

Reading all the usual twaddle from politicians, ‘aid agencies’, UN officials (many from the countries that ARE the problem) and commentators on various news shows, one is struck, very forcibly, by the lack of any workable solution being proposed by any of them. The UN and various ‘humanitarian’ groups all want Europe to throw open its borders and let the hordes in. No checks, no restrictions - just take them in and presumably house, feed and clothe them. Our political leaders want to give more ‘aid’ or send ‘advisers’ and, of course, the Aid Agencies and NGOs all want more money so they can do more to ‘lift people out of poverty’. All very laudable, but none of it actually addresses the root of the problem - incompetent and utterly corrupt governments.

In our haste to ‘de-colonise’ Africa in particular, we overlooked something rather important. Very few of the new ‘nations’ we left south of the Sahara had any ‘tradition’ of settled civilisation prior to colonisation, and even fewer were actually homogenous peoples. Most included more than one tribal group, and most of those tribes were traditional enemies who preyed on each other until forced to stop by the colonial power. The Mashona were happily enslaving all their neighbours and selling them to Arab slave traders at Mombasa and Dar Es Salaam right up until the British - at the behest of none other than Cecil John Rhodes (whose statue has just been attacked and now removed from the campus at University of Cape Town) sent in the Army to put a stop to it in 1898. That’s right, 1898! Robert Mugabe, take note.

Southern Africa is the classic example of historic migrations, since ALL the current ‘Bantu’ tribes now claiming it as their ‘homeland’ actually only arrived there after 1700 - around 40 years after the Dutch established their trading post at the Cape. They displaced the indigenous peoples, the Khoi folk, who formed three groups, a coastal people known to the Dutch as Strandlopers, the ‘Bushmen’ who inhabited the drier inland regions, and the Hottentot peoples of the western Cape. Another group who inhabited the central plateau - now the Free State and Northern Cape - have vanished entirely, their only traces being dry stone constructions of cattle pens and strange ‘beehive’ houses entered on hands and knees through an angled tunnel entrance. Like the Khoi peoples, they were driven out, driven into the deserts, and eventually killed on sight by the invading Bantu. Though to hear it now, it was the Europeans ‘wot done it’. Sadly, for the builders of the stone huts, the White explorers that found their remains were about fifty years too late.

So what is driving today’s mass migrations? 

To a very large extent it appears to be the failure of the post-colonial governments of almost all the African states to provide any sort of stable government. Plus the total lack of any prospects for employment, education, or to house, feed, and clothe oneself decently. Almost certainly one of the most powerful drivers is overpopulation. There simply aren’t the natural resources to support the populations now trying to subsist on them. Water is an obvious one, but so is arable land. I suspect that one reason sub-saharan Africa has not produced any settled cities or permanent agriculture is that the soil and the water available cannot sustain them. 

Thus, until fairly recent ‘colonial’ history, the agriculture tended to be slash and burn, farm it until the soil and the water was exhausted - then move on. Most of Africa is not covered by dense jungle or forest - by far the largest portion of it is desert or semi-desert, and most tribal systems prior to the colonial rush, were hunter gatherer and nomadic. Neither of these systems is suited to the massive expansion of the populations all over Africa, and the lack of industries, and lack of commercial traditions (in the western sense) means that most now have to find ways to make a living independently of the sort of system the developed countries enjoy. Nor is it likely that these will develop in the short term, given that corruption is rampant, nepotism, tribalism and sometimes xenophobia reach into every aspect of daily life.

Only those folk who have seen the shanty towns, the lack of infrastructures, the sewerage running in the streets and the lack of even the most basic services in these countries can begin to understand the desperation many feel. Only when our political classes, who burble on about ‘poverty’ and ‘economic development’ as if throwing money at it will change it, even begin to understand how their approach is simply enriching the most corrupt, and grinding the poorest even further into the mire will we begin to find a solution. Tanzania’s President has recently sold almost the entire Masai Mara off to the Sultan of one of the Gulf States. One point 6 MILLION square kilometres of land, as a ‘private’ safari park. Pity about the Masai who are now being driven from the land their forefathers first settled around the time the ‘Prophet’ the Sultan follows was hiding out in the mountains. 

Mozambique is selling huge tracts of land to the Chinese and to Western entrepreneurs for ‘development’ - and turning to small subsistence farmers off, forcing them into squatter camps, or into the hands of people traffickers so they end up on overloaded boats drowning in the Med or elsewhere in their efforts to find a decent life somewhere. The same thing is happening all over Africa, and while the IMF, the UN and other applaud these deals and approve the funding on the grounds it will help ‘develop’ the country, the reality is that most of it finds its way straight back into Swiss and other bank accounts held by - you guessed it - the ‘governing’ families and Parties who sold land they don’t ‘own’ in the first place.

Is it any wonder then that everywhere you look in Africa there are conflicts, armed and otherwise? Everywhere you look there is grinding poverty that can never be addressed? Is it any wonder the people resort to such desperate measures as to board unsuitable vessels and take the risk of catastrophe to reach what our prosperity projects as the land in which the streets are paved with gold, and everyone is a millionaire?

Easy for idle protesters, many on State handouts, to ‘demand’ we simply open the borders and take them in. Easy to scream, rant and shout that ‘more must be done’ to save the boat people, but what do we do with them once they are here? We have unemployment, we have people in poverty, we have people in need of assistance, and much as we’d like to, we simply can’t take in all those we’d like to. The solution lays in Africa itself, and though it may be painful, that is where it has to be addressed. Not on the open sea between Europe and North Africa, and not in Italy, Southern France, Britain, Greece or anywhere else in Europe.


I would suggest it has to start with stripping the ill-gotten gains from those in power there, and, perhaps under international supervision, the construction of proper infrastructures, proper services and the founding of proper industries, commerce, and, of course, education. That would be the sensible way to go — but since we’re dealing with politicians (with their own peccadilloes to protect) I will not be holding my breath to see it happen.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Interview

I was recently interviewed by Kura Carpenter, a cover designer based in New Zealand. Some readers will know that she has designed other covers for my books, so it was a pleasure to discuss my latest book with her. The interview can be read on her blog Kura Carpenter Design.


Discussions are underway on the design of the cover for my next book, set around 1836 and life in and around London and the Tahmes estuary. 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Newly Released

Some time ago I set out to republish one of my early titles. It has been a long and sometimes challenging exercise, but the 'new' book required around fifty percent new material, a lot of rewriting of the remainder and the complete excision of around forty percent of the original. I wish I'd had the professional editing and advice when I first published it ...

The result is a 'new' title and a largely 'new' story published by IndieGo Publishing as an eBook available through Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Google. Retitled Harry Heron; Midshipman's Journey, it remains within the 'canon' of my Harry Heron adventure series, and the reorganised, rewritten and reformatted book is, in my humble opinion, one hundred percent what I wanted it to be. Working with and through a professional editor has been more than an education, and it has seen my work transformed. That has, in itself, flowed through into everything else.

So, here it is, Harry Heron; Midshipman's Journey.


Cover design and art is by Kura Carpenter of Kura Carpenter Design, and the text is edited by Janet Angelo of IndieGo Publishing LLC whoc also did the internal design and formatting.