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Ukraine: Western leaders consider snub to Putin

7 Mar

fist love hate

Roadwax’s Elena Handcart has just sent this report from the Crimean peninsula:

As the RAF Chinook helicopter from Odiham in Hampshire dives through the darkness of the night towards Razdolne, Captain Sandy “Toxvig” Thompson’s tense voice rings out in my headphones.

‘Remember, Elena…not a word about this being an MI6 job and no names. Don’t mention how you got here or who you met. Right?’

I nod in agreement as the muscular physique of Chaz “Minty” Mintoe looms towards me, un-buckles my harness and drags me towards the open hatch.

“Who dares, wins…!” he says and hurls me into the darkness while the Chinook is still thirty feet above sea level. I smile and wave goodbye to one of the most handsome and brave lovers I have ever known. So sad, then, that he could never sustain an erection.

I land roughly on the waves and my unconscious body is dragged towards the shore by the savage riptide.

I awake to find myself lying on a clean yet overpriced bed in the 2-Star Radzolne Holidaya Inska. Smiling back at me from the compact yet modern bathroom area is a face I do not recognise.

‘You do not recognise my face, do you?’ The man smiles and laughs.

I get dressed and leave him. His army clothes – all insignia removed – lie scattered around the room. There is no doubt though, from the way he rubs toothpaste into his genitals, that he is actually elite Russian forces.

The hotel concierge refuses to accept my credit card and instead leads me through the maze of coridoors to the back of the hotel and freedom.

‘ My name is Dmitri and I am pro-Ukraine. Not everyone loves Putin here. Do not mention me or I will be killed.’

I nod my head and thank him.

‘Take the footpath over the mountains and you will arrive in Yalta. It is hard climb. God be with you!’

I walk round the side of the building to the main entrance and get in a taxi.

‘Yalta.’ I say. The ancient Mercedes moves off and I settle back in my seat and watch the tired faces of the tired women as they catch fish with tired faces.

Within minutes, we arrive at a checkpoint and I am arrested.

"Well...THAT was a complete bloody waste of a war."

“Well…THAT was a complete bloody waste of a war.”

TB-infected beef sold back into UK food chain by DeFRA

30 Jun

cow2JPGAccording to the Sunday Times today, DeFRA – The UK government’s Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – has been selling diseased cattle meat to caterers who supply hospitals, schools and the armed forces.

They have bought the carcasses of cattle infected with bovine tuberculosis and sold them back into the food chain.

Despite concerns by several agencies, Defra sees no wrong in its actions.

“We are the UK government department responsible for policy and regulations on environmental, food and rural issues. Our priorities are to grow the rural economy, improve the environment and safeguard animal and plant health.”

The above quote is from their website.

DeFRA recently charred its already dirty reputation with most Brits by shrugging off the scandal of horse meat appearing in beef products. When the news broke in Europe, DeFRA’s head of public affairs legged it over to France for an ‘important meeting’ and laid low. As the full extent of corruption in the food chain was revealed over following weeks, DeFRA seemed curiously detached from the situation.

Is it not puzzling that a Ministerial Department responsible for regulating and monitoring the food supply chain in the UK should

*decline to take leadership in a contamination crisis?

*generate approximately $14m revenue by purchasing and selling diseased cattle meat into the human food chain?

*not mention anything in its mission statement (above) about human welfare – any duty to citizens and consumers?

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Perhaps, their point is that their priority is to maintain the wealth and prosperity of those who own the fields and the cows. That they are not concerned with any consequential issues. Not concerned with issues relating to health and the possible spread of disease – however small.

But in a political era where the UK government has fostered exaggerated fears of terrorism, economic uncertainty, financial insecurity and invasion of privacy among its citizens, is it not strange that one of its own departments intentionally sells tens of thousands of tons of meat from diseased cattle into its own country’s food chain?

It does not take a conspiracy theorist to notice that DeFRA have again expressed not one single concern at their wildly indefensible actions while the Press and public are again outraged. Once more, actions that are highly likely to cause distress and concern among the public have come from…a government department. 

Can DeFRA’s actions really have been the result of ignorance and innocence as to the risks being taken with the public’s health and wellbeing?

The Sunday Times quotes DeFRA’s chief scientist Ian Boyd warning that bTB (bovine Tuberculosis) could “spill over” to pets and “potentially to humans”.

M bovis, the bacterium that causes bTB can survive cooking up to 60C. – source: Sunday Times, 30th June 2013

cows4cows5

Is your new car watching over you?

14 Feb

001newcars

In the 1980’s, if Britain or the United States governments had declared that every citizen must report their personal whereabouts and also to whom they spoke, there would have been an understandable mass revolt and rioting in the streets.

Instead, we citizens were sold the mobile or ‘cell’ phone.

Lured by the promise of entertainment, technology and kudos, we rushed out and bought phones for ourselves and our children.

We bought the phones willingly. The needs of government were met.

It was all about information – being connected and being in communication. Being the first to know, the first to hear.

Twenty years later, we now understand how our cellphones pinpoint our position and our conversations and texts are widely and routinely intercepted and analysed ‘in the interests of National Security’.

Our billing information has been sold and resold a hundred times. British Police forces have sold personal details of car crash victims to ambulance-chasing insurance firms. Apparently, that is okay by us. Absolutely fine.

Since we are anxious to be seen as law-abiding citizens, we trade in our privacy in a way that was utterly unthinkable, even as recently as 1990. We ignore the outrageous  invasion of our privacy by Google, Microsoft and a million life insurance and healthcare agents who now own copies of all our private details.

Some of us actually help out by uploading our private life and photo album details to Facebook.

Next on the agenda of big business and world government: our car.

“…all citizens shall declare their car  journeys, itineraries, speeds attained and addresses visited…”

We are sold ‘infotainment’ and connectivity packages for our new car. We buy them, using our own money.

Intel put it perfectly in their press release:

“…Cars are gradually transitioning from an information isolated island to a mobile information processing platform…”

The statement is almost benign in its apparent casualness.

However, be not fooled. The parking camera package that you bought because you are too stupid to park your own car can now record the license plate of the car behind and in front.

One click of a switch at “Headquarters” and every driving citizen becomes an unmarked Police cruiser, fitted with Automated Number Plate Recognition.

Your three year old car already tells tales on you to its manufacturer. When you send it in to the dealer to have it serviced, you naively believe that the big red box it gets plugged into tells the mechanic what is wrong.

It doesn’t. It uploads data to the manufacturer, who then tells the mechanic what is wrong. The manufacturer now knows if you hit the rev limiter…while in sixth gear. How often the ABS has been activated today.

028rwtrafficYou naughty thing, you! Let us hope that the manufacturer doesn’t tell the Police, or you’d be in deep trouble. Or your insurance company. Or your leasing company. Or your boss, who is considering you for promotion.

Perhaps, having read this far into my post, you are inclined to believe that I am being a little paranoid? Well, it only takes one click and your car uploads its data. The only question that remains is: to whom? 

Your car is already programmed to transmit your speed. Your sat-nav already does so.

Governments around the world are waiting for your opinion. They like opinions. It saves them having to ask.

When will the switch be ‘clicked’?

Well, that really depends on how we citizens feel about it. This is the ‘Big One’. All our other information is already accessed by the State in most Western countries but our car is the last frontier. It has always given us the feeling of freedom.

If we citizens realise that our car is now no longer a source of freedom but instead just expensive transportation, we may decide to take a taxi instead. We may rebel and refuse to buy our next car.

So the trick is to make us want to buy our next car.

It won’t be hard. Governments have progressively increased taxation on older cars and manufacturers have raised the prices of key spares to the point where it becomes uneconomical to keep them working.

As consumers, we take the hint. We buy a new car. Besides, the new one comes with an ‘Infotainment Package’…

Slam dunk.002bankrobber

The bank robber of the future will strip you, tie you up in the trunk of your car, drive to the bank and rob it in your name.

They will walk back to the car and plug in a second-hand ECU under the hood. They will dial a police crime line with your phone, drop it in the gutter and then drive you out to the woods.

There, you will be reunited with your clothes and shoes and given your keys back and told to drive off. As you gratefully sit behind the wheel, the robber will shoot you in the head, put the gun in your hand, close the door and then walk away.

According to the medical records that your doctor sold to your insurance company without your knowledge, you were taking anti-depressants.

According to the Police, always anxious to solve crime, there is an awful lot of even stronger evidence.

CCTV footage shows a person of your height and wearing your clothes and shoes, with a mask. Your phone and your car were tracked across town to the bank. Your phone is found, soaking wet – so no fingerprints there – but its call records are examined. Later that day, you are found behind the wheel of your car by a kid walking his dog.

Why you did it and where you hid the money will remain a mystery. Your life insurance company refuses to pay out to your family.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

Millions of new cars remain unsold. Join the dots…

8 Feb

DSC00283roadwax

As more than 10 MILLION brand new cars join the ever increasing backlog of unsold stock across the World – four million cars in Europe alone – factory closures are now to become a reality.

Well-hidden and secure compounds across Europe, Asia and America are the usual first home for newly-born cars awaiting shipping to dealers. But these are now so full that dealers themselves are having to store cars in their already-packed yards.

The backlog of stored new cars in Europe now runs to four million. US sources point to a similar figure for America and things are so bad in China that Mercedes Benz are offering as much as 30% discount on some new models (S-Class, anyone?) as an attempt to shift stock.

No matter how politicians of all persuasions in all car-making countries try to dress it up, the fact is that production lines and whole factories now stand to be closed as a means of reducing output to match the drop in demand.

As Jorn Madslien’s BBC article here points out, the 7 – 10% annual drop in European demand since the Banking crisis of 2008 is set to continue through 2013 according to industry analysts.

There is no evidence to suggest that this trending reduction in demand will halt. Unemployment, static wages and financial insecurity continue to keep potential customers away from showrooms.021roadwax

What many ordinary people have overlooked in the last three years is the part that national politicians have played in this unfolding catastrophe.

Anxious to deflect criticism of themselves from voters already outraged at the corruption within the financial industry that has wrecked economic prospects, many political leaders have persuaded car giants to keep production at a steady level to avoid redundancies.

In the last three years, American car-making states have seen the quite shocking sight of trains loaded with brand new cars leaving the factories bound for the deserts – where the cars are simply off-loaded and parked up – as an alternative to laying off workers or reducing pay-packets.

Now, this temporary vote-buying strategy has resulted in such high levels of surplus vehicles that the need to close whole factories has replaced the idea of cutting the odd work shift. There is now no other option left.

Discounting of new car prices at dealership level is now rising into thousands of dollars. Some makes and models are almost dead in the water, effectively having so few interested potential buyers that they may as well not be offered.

Chrysler, for example, has more than six months worth of 2013 Dodge Darts parked up right now, as the Wall Street Journal’s article here reveals.

Six months worth of Dodge Darts. At what point does a ‘new’ car technically become an ‘old’ new car? Can a car that has sat out in the open for most of a year still be described as ‘new’? One can easily imagine the challenges that car manufacturers now face.

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But showroom price discounting – especially up to amounts like 30% – can wreak havoc with the residual value of that car’s marque. The prices of ‘nearly-new’ second-hand versions plummet at auction and fleet clients and Hire Purchase customers can become saddled with a kind of negative equity on their own vehicles. Fleet News made this point six months ago in their article here.

Some commercial vehicle manufacturers have been hit really hard as savvy fleet operators have held onto their trucks for an extra year or two to avoid this depreciation risk. One major truck maker sold zero units of its product in the UK in 2011 as regular clients simply sat tight.

General Motors has only now struggled back into profit in the US after years in the red with an unloved product range. Desperate for small cars it didn’t have, it hastily re-badged Asian Daewoo products, slapping a ‘Chevrolet’ badge on them and shipping them into America.

Now, it is watching as its twin European badges – Vauxhall and Opel – fight a desperate war to survive. It is abundantly clear that 7-10% over-capacity plus some ageing and inefficiently designed production facilities cannot be propped up at all cost.

roadwaxJeep 101

In this situation, the cost will be production line workers. There are no deserts in Europe to hide millions of unwanted cars.

The emerging giant economy of China fueled the revival of hopes in 2009 for top marques like BMW, Cadillac and Rolls Royce. Dying on their feet as Europe and America struggled with a banking collapse, these big names spearheaded a rush to satisfy Chinese auto sales volume growth of 46% in that year.

But by 2010 that figure had dropped to 32% and in early 2011 it slumped to 2.5%.

We are not supposed to use the word ‘problem’. The fashionable and politically correct word today is ‘challenge’.

The ‘problem’ is over-production of depreciating consumer goods.

The ‘challenge’ for today’s politicians is to find unemployed workers jobs that can generate their family a surplus income. Enough to buy yet more depreciating consumer goods and certainly more than enough to live on.

If today’s politicians actually have a solution to this challenge, then they are keeping very quiet about it.

 

UK: A part of Europe yet apart.

25 Nov

This is the view of Britain that you can see if you look west from the edge of Europe. It has not changed since the birth of religion. This view remains constant. It is the view one gets from any ship or ferry that is heading to the Port of Dover, England.

To the home-coming Brit, first time visitor or the migrant, this view emerges usually from a cloak of  mist and cloud. The grey finger of land looms ever closer until great cliffs reveal the entrance to the small but restless port.

These last few minutes of the journey let you see yourself and your fellow ferry travelers as you really are. On deck or looking through the huge windows from the passenger lounges, we all stare at this view in silence.

There is nothing to point at, no comment worth making, no detail to arrest one’s thoughts until one is almost there.

I watch as a group of young Eastern European men and women put arms around each other’s shoulders as they gaze. One of them turns and hugs his friend and I see his cheeks are streamed wet with tears, his reddened eyes blinking furiously. His friends crowd round and he breaks his embrace and laughs and hugs them. They all laugh and hug.

By contrast, the well-dressed elderly couple turn away from the railing. He fishes a handkerchief from his sharply ironed trousers and blows his nose. She opens her handbag and suddenly rummages inside it as if attempting to kill a particularly defensive small rodent.

‘Have you got the keys…?’

Her shocked voice barks out to him, echoing across the deck above the hum and whine of the ship’s engines.

‘Yes.’ He replies, returning his handkerchief to its appointed pocket and inspecting with great enthusiasm the grey plastic decking beneath his brown and immaculately polished brogues.

A mother and father spill out through the cabin door onto the deck and repeatedly call for Imogen. Imogen leaves her position by the hand rail near me and becomes tried, found guilty, sentenced and punished in the few seconds it needs for her tired parents to dispense rough justice.

I watch as my brother takes a last photograph from the stern of the closely packed long-distance trucks that litter the open hold below. Sailors are cracking undone the chains that bind their dusty trailers to the deck and the ship’s tannoy is welcoming us to the Port of Dover in English, French and finally, Polish.

‘It sounds better in Polish’ says my brother, slipping his camera back into his jacket. ‘The French version somehow lacks a certain enthusiasm.’

Our great ferry is now shuddering violently as if something large and expensive to replace has broken loose in the engine room. The stern foams as black harbour water is angrily hurled elsewhere to let us turn and line up the bow doors with ramp number fourteen. The ferry over at ramp number nine  begins to depart and we all start to file below, down the stairs to the car deck.

As the 40 tonne trucks are let out of the holds beneath us, people go through the complex nesting procedures that are required to drive an unbroken journey from the dock to home, hundreds of miles inland.

The baby’s bottle needs to be got from underneath the suitcase in the back. The raincoats need to be folded away on the left so that father can see out of the right. The lady in the Audi TT needs her driving shoes on and her stilettos off and stored behind her. Imogen needs to be reminded once more of areas in her behaviour where her mother seeks lasting improvement.

I need to peel the black tape from my headlights so that they can once again shine more brightly to the left. I need to check the oil and water. Doing so fills the drivers behind me in the queue with horror. I am lifting the bonnet. I must have broken down. They are now trapped behind me. They will never be able to leave the ferry. I have ruined their entire holiday. I should not be allowed to drive. I drop the bonnet from shoulder height and stare back at them. Suckers. It works every time.

Our passports were checked earlier by the French Customs officer at the port in France. Then again at the next cabin fifty metres further along in the concrete wasteland by the British Customs officer in France. Then, once parked up in lines and waiting for our ferry, our load space was again checked by a British Customs officer in France.

Now, we leave the ship and join the queue that leads to the British Customs in Britain. Their concrete cave nestles at the foot of the towering cliffs of Dover. We are invited in.

The British Customs in Britain dance and swerve between the two slowly moving queues of heavily laden cars. They wave and point and beckon, let three cars straight through then stop the fourth and lean in to ask a quick question of the driver. The driver must not do two things. He must not sound nervous when asked out of the blue if he has visited Holland and his breath must not smell of alcohol.

Four policemen with loaded machine guns and hands on triggers ensure that we all focus on where we all are and why we are all here. You may look the policemen in the eye but you may not out-stare them. Not unless you wish to be beckoned to steer to the left and to a bay marked out on the wet concrete floor for those who may not understand. Look away. Appear bored and impatient.

The Eastern Europeans in their minibus are waved straight through. Customs are already fully aware who they are. The old couple are stopped. Duty Free alcohol. Where is it? How many bottles? Are there more bottles they have bought in France? Where? In the back? Show me. Fine. Thank you. Move on. The old man’s face is flushed. He was not expecting that. The customs officer knows that and that is precisely why he stopped him. You’d be surprised who tries to break the law.

My brother and I are waved straight through. Our car is sunken on its springs with over a hundred wine bottles that fill the cabin and boot under our coats and jackets. The Customs officers already know that. We are on a day trip. We are bound to be maxed out on wine that costs a quarter of the British price and tastes twice as good. We won’t be smuggling. You don’t get rich smuggling wine using a VW Golf. You use a Mercedes estate with self-levelling suspension, like the old couple did.

I am bringing into Britain what I am entitled to by British Customs. EU law says that the British are allowed to bring as much of whatever they want into Britain as members of a free-trade union of countries called the European Union. That is what free trade is all about.

But that cuts no ice with British Customs officials. They say that I am only allowed to bring in 100 litres of wine and a kilo of tobacco. Every now and then. Not too often.

Britain is different. We are an island. See photo at top of page for further clarification.

Standard Chartered and FSA stumble after NYSDFS and Jeffrey Robinson kick zimmer frames.

7 Aug

“Comatose”.

With this one word, American financial crime analyst Jeffrey Robinson described the  British Financial Services Authority on the BBC’s national radio news today.

Of course, being a writer, Jeffrey placed the word into a coherent sentence (you get more jobs that way) but his damning judgement rang out across Britain as a thousand pictures could never do.

The New York State Department of Financial Services is gunning for City of London -based Standard Chartered Bank. Standard Chartered was accused of breaking pretty much every rule that matters in an apparent attempt to launder Iranian money.

Standard Chartered shares dived by over 16% in value today as the news got out that the bank had ventured into the cross-hairs of one of the world’s most influential financial investigatory bodies.

Strange then, that Britain’s own FSA was not the one making the accusations or even raising a pair of opera glasses? Not really.

Although the FSA describes itself as the body that regulates the financial industry in the UK, it has an almost unbroken record of not regulating the financial industry in the UK. The FSA’s record is startling in both breadth of inertia and depth of failure.

The FSA has failed to step in on almost every single case relating to a British bank that is now facing charges of corruption, mis-selling, dishonesty or fraud. Almost every high-street bank in Britain is now facing legal action for one crime or another but none of those legal challenges was begun by the FSA.

The FSA appears to be run by people who share the interests of the fraudsters whom it is responsible for regulating and excluding from Financial Services. How else could it explain such a ridiculously poor performance? Has it been off work with a bad back since 2002?

And this is where Jeffrey Robinson comes in. While the American version of the British FSA is regulating British banks, the American version of our business analysts accuses the British FSA of being “comatose”.

You see, as the Americans have often pointed out, we British don’t know how to complain.

And if we do, we often find that doors close in front of us and promotions don’t appear as they used to. Our job positions are deleted in sudden cost-cutting exercises and we may be regarded as “no longer having the correct security credentials.”

Jeffrey Robinson doesn’t need a promotion to keep up with the mortgage on his apartment and he’s not scared of the greasy and corrupt men and women behind the scenes in the City of London. Many British commentators are afraid and with good reason.

Remember, Britain is a small island, easily fitting inside the footprint of some US states. David Kelly ended up committing suicide when he was hounded for leaking a few facts. Well, that’s the official explanation. Read the whole Wiki article before you reach a judgement. The undisputed facts of a very British death.

Just like in World War 2, The Americans may have dived in a little late but they do seem to be digging in rather nicely, making up for lost time. Once again, they’re fighting alongside the British people against a small band of wealthy elitists who threaten the democracy and stability of the west.

It is not quite clear whether Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Osborne are willing to ‘do a Rudolf Hess’ and extract themselves from the influence of their six Bullingdon Club friends and the dozens of Old Etonians who are now influential city bankers and financiers. It would be difficult for either of them to use the excuse: “We were only following orders.”

An out-of-touch and under-skilled Prime Minister gives the job of Chancellor to his close Bullingdon Club friend, despite that friend having no personal experience of business. Not a problem…if your city friends actually run the show from the shadows, is it?

Unless American institutions and American commentators start to speak up now, the bad guys could win for good this time.

Today’s war is not about Democracy versus Fascism, nor the failure to regulate. It is a war about Lawfulness versus the illegal and covert creation of supreme wealth and unimaginable power.

E.U. “Cookie Law” changed at 11th Hour: Wolves to be protected from sheep.

9 Jun

BBC Radio 4 News ran an excellent interview on Friday 8th June with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).The BBC has been quick to monitor business response to the EU “Cookie Law”.

The interview with the ICO’s spokesman was an attempt to discover whether the newly-implemented “Cookie Law” was being obeyed. The Cookie Law demanded that websites seek explicit consent from visitors to their site before that site is allowed to store tracking data about that user. When you consider how many ways cookie data can be stored and used against the interests of the consumer, this is not an unreasonable idea.

But very recently, just prior to the implementation of the law on 26th May 2012, the ICO suddenly added a clause to allow websites to exempt themselves from the law (and the need to ask permission) if something called “implied consent” was given by the visitor. The definition of “implied consent” appears to be that the person continues to use the website.

This is a bit like introducing a seat belt law that says: “Passengers in a car must wear their seat belt or face legal action…with the exception of those passengers who persistently do not wear their seat belt.”

Roadwax dispatched a top reporter to cover the BBC Radio interview. By sitting really close to the radio and turning the volume up, the following information was overheard:

BBC Interviewer: “Has the ICO been monitoring websites to ensure compliance with the new Cookie Law?

Man from ICO: “websites…? You mean internet websites…?”

BBC Interviewer: “Yes. Have you checked to make sure that businesses with websites are complying with the new law?”

Man from ICO: “Do you mean websites run by businesses…?”

BBC Interviewer: “Yes.”

Man from ICO: “Well…I should imagine that they have…I mean, these business people are jolly good sorts, mostly.”

BBC Interviewer: “Have you monitored the situation – yes or no?”

Man from ICO: “Well…it is still very early days. I mean, you can’t rush these things. It is all terribly complicated.”

BBC Interviewer: “So, you haven’t actually done anything to monitor the situation.”

Man from ICO: “Oh, well, I wouldn’t say that exactly. I mean, we sent someone down the shop to buy a pen…”

BBC Interviewer: “A pen…? How does that constitute monitoring for compliance…?”

Man from ICO: “Well…it pays to write things down, you know. We thought buying a pen might be a good start.”

BBC Interviewer: “Well, we at the BBC have been monitoring the situation.”

Man from ICO: “Gosh…! How frightfully clever! How did you do that?”

BBC Interviewer: “We contacted businesses and asked them whether they were complying.”

Man from ICO: “Yikes..! That all sounds thoroughly like a Sherlock Holmes story. How exciting!”

BBC Interviewer: “We discovered that a lot of businesses have not complied.”

Man from ICO: “No…! Really..? Gosh…! Well, bless my Aunt Betty. Really…?”

…and so it went on…and on…and on…

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