Rankings and levers

October 12, 2008

Newspapers have been quoting the survey by the World Economic Forum in which business leaders have been rating the solvency of world banks.

The rankings however were compiled just before the recent £50 billion bail-out by the UK, the nationalisation of the Icelandic banks and the larger US bail-out.

The website has the co-authors interviewed from the 3rd to the 7th of October. The report itself was published on the 8th October.

RANKINGS

1. Canada

2. Sweden

3. Luxembourg

4. Australia

5. Denmark

6. Netherlands

7. Belgium

8. New Zealand

9. Ireland

10. Malta

11. Hong Kong

12. Finland

13. Singapore

14. Norway

15. South Africa

16. Switzerland

17. Namibia

18. Chile

19. France

20. Spain

21. Barbados

22. Bahrain

23. Slovak Republic

24. Brazil

25. Estonia

26. Austria

27. Panama

28. Mauritius

29. Kuwait

30. Qatar

31. United Arab Emirates

32. Trinidad and Tobago

33. Senegal

34. Israel

35. Portugal

36. Iceland

37. Cyprus

38. Botswana

39. Germany

40. United States

41. Lithuania

42. Peru

43. El Salvador

44. United Kingdom

45. Greece

46. Benin

47. Costa Rica

48. Malawi

49. Guyana

50. Malaysia

51. India

52. Puerto Rico

53. The Gambia

54. Montenegro

55. Mexico

56. Croatia

57. Czech Republic

58. Jordan

59. Ghana

60. Suriname

61. Brunei Darussalam

62. Latvia

63. Saudi Arabia

64. Kenya

65. Jamaica

66. Honduras

67. Zambia

68. Burkina Faso

69. Slovenia

70. Sri Lanka

71. Pakistan

72. Philippines

73. Republic of Korea

74. Romania

75. Thailand

76. Madagascar

77. Colombia

78. Cote d’Ivoire

79. Italy

80. Bulgaria

81. Hungary

82. Cameroon

83. Georgia

84. Oman

85. Tunisia

86. Paraguay

87. Nigeria

88. Armenia

89. Morocco

90. Dominican Republic

91. Bolivia

92. Malia

93. Japan

94. Tanzania

95. Moldova

96. Bosnia and Herzegovina

97. Poland

98. Nicaragua

99. Venezuela

100. Uruguay

101. Guatemala

102. FYR Macedonia

103. Syria

104. Albania

105. Nepal

106. Mozambique

107. Russian Federation

108. China

109. Uganda

110. Serbia

111. Egypt

112. Ukraine

113. Vietnam

114. Turkey

115. Bangladesh

116. Azerbaijan

117. Taiwan, China

118. Ecuador

119. Mauritania

120. Mongolia

121. Indonesia

122. Zimbabwe

123. Tajikistan

124. Kazakhstan

125. Cambodia

126. Burundi

127. Chad

128. Ethiopia

129. Argentina

130. East Timor

131. Kyrgyz Republic

132. Lesotho

133. Libya

134. Algeria

Yes. That’s right.

The UK lies behind Peru and El Salvador.

Now given this report was a survey of the world’s economists whose advice our banks were no doubt taking; should we believe it?

Are the UK’s banks really behind Peru, El Salvador and Senegal?

Or is it an accurate representation that is slightly out of date, compiled as it was slightly before the bail-outs?

That must depend on whether you believe the bail-outs will work.

If reports are to be believed the Royal Bank of Scotland is next in line to be nationalised tomorrow. If that happens then there will be further pressure on the remaining UK bank’s to be nationalised too. The banking sector could be picked off one by one by the market and the taxpayer forced to pick up the tab.

On that Iain Dale post there have already been comments about the English taxpayer bailing out the Scottish bank.

It must be a pity, to all those who carp, that Scotland is not already independent.

An independent Scotland with a similar oil fund like our neighbour Norway could be similarly insulated from these turbulent times.

It would also have the economic levers to maintain its economy best, not just for the South-East of England as remains the case today. Remember Eddie George, the former Governor of the Bank of England: Unemployment in the north is a price worth paying for affluence in the South!

Although the credit crunch is global, take a look back at those rankings.

Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands. All small countries lying in the top 10.

Even Ireland, who have recently guaranteed all deposits in their banks, are sitting 9th.

The argument that Scotland is too small to be financially unstable is farcical! I don’t hear anyone saying that Denmark is too small and should be run from Berlin. (Not since the days of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War anyway!)

As countries large and small struggle with the credit credit crunch from the U.S. and Russia down to Iceland with its 300 000 population, this population argument of independence must be seen to be invalid. Iceland, with a population slightly smaller than North Lanarkshire, isn’t exactly Miramont Gardens in Pimlico!

Passport to Pimlico

What matters now is that we take the right decisions to get out this mess.

Those decisions may be different for each country. They may even be different for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’s why its important key economic levers are devolved away from Westminster.

Otherwise the Eddie George syndrome will hamper ‘the North’ recovering for years.

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Sarah Palin and Charles McKay

August 31, 2008

Anyone who read my previous post on Johann Anton Güldenstädt and his 18th century trip to the Caucaus mountains, at the end of the recent Russian – Georgian War over South Ossetia, would have guessed two things: I am a fan of nature and where politics and nature meet it gives me great incentive to blog.

With all the recent fuss over Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, and now Republican Vice President candidate; that’s all the excuse I need!

Particularly when Sarah Palin is backing destruction of one of the most spectular wildlife areas in North America and that site is intimately linked to a little known naturalist but one of my biggest heroes!

Charles McKay, born in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1855, was the son of a Scottish farmer. He studied Science under David Starr Jordan; a naturalist particularly noted for the study of fish and also a famous peace campaigner he became a president of Indiana University then Stanford University.

When Charles left university he joined the U.S. Army. He was sent to Alaska by Spencer Fullerton Baird as a signal officer. Baird was another naturalist and often used fellow naturalists in the military, sending them to remote places to study the wildlife, whilst carrying out their military duties.

McKay was sent to Bristol Bay in Alaska. He discovered a beautiful, rare and new species of bunting there, now named McKay’s Bunting in his honour.

McKay's bunting

There are only about 6000 McKay’s buntings in the world. They only breed on two islands in the Bering Sea; St. Matthew Island and Hall island. They winter on the coast of Alaska, and can be found in Bristol Bay.

Breeding on two Arctic islands McKay’s buntings could be threatened by global warming as the Bering Sea rises due to melting icebergs and the icecap.

Bristol Bay, the very area where Charles McKay first discovered these buntings, is now under threat from a proposed Gold and Copper mine that would be sited in the area called Pebble Mine.

Bristol Bay is also the site of one of the world’s biggest salmon fisheries. This is also at risk from the proposed mine.

And its this very place that Sarah Palin wants to see the Pebble Mine located.

Its an indication of how right-wing Governor Palin is when you realise that even the American Hunting Organisations are against the proposed mine.

The most worrying thing is that both Sarah Palin and Barack Obama were against Alaska’s Proposition 4 which would have prevented mining companies dumping their chemicals into the state water supply and rivers; it may have even prevented the Pebble Mine being built. It narrowly was defeated recently giving the mining companies a huge boost.

Indeed, it seems Sarah Palin even broke the law to campaign against Proposition 4.

The door is now open for the Pebble Mine.

Sarah Palin won’t stop it. Will Barack Obama?

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Plausible denial

August 15, 2008

As the Russian army is still in Georgian territory, south of South Ossetia, causing havoc, it seems a bad day for Boeing to announce their successful testing of their new laser gunship.

In the latest test, Boeing fitted their laser technology to an existing C-310 Hercules to try out its new laser technology.

Boeing Laser Gunship

Instead of carrying bombs and missiles, planes are fitted with a laser turret that can destroy any targets expertly. The technology could be utilised on a range of planes.

In fact, this technology has people searching for Star Wars comparisons.

A pity for science fiction buffs that the current stand off over Georgia between America and Russia jeopardises both their space programs and NASA’s involvement with the International Space Station. Star Wars type battles remain in the future.

X-wing fighter

But the thing that is getting most military analysts excited is the possibility of ‘plausible denial of air strikes’.

In other words, because there is no sign of a bomb where the target has been hit, it may be possible to deny that your aircraft – which may be a distance away – had any involvement in destroying the target site.

Absolutely scary.

I’m just glad that the Americans are supposed to be on our side.

Imagine if the Russians had this technology, would there be anything of Georgia left standing?


Güldenstädt and the Caucauses

August 13, 2008

I hope the current ceasefire between Georgia and Russia holds, so that diplomacy can take hold instead of war.

Certainly its a positive sign.

So I’m going to be positive too and write a small piece on a not so famous naturalist, Johann Anton Güldenstädt.

Güldenstädt was a Latvian naturalist and explorer, born in Riga in 1745. He studied in Germany before making the first scentific expedition to Georgia and the Caucauses.

From 1768 to 1775 he travelled throughout the region observing and noting species, languages and culture.

The Terek River starts in the mountains of Georgia. It runs near South Ossetia to North Ossetia before turning east to run into the Caspian Sea.

Its obviously here that Güldenstädt first collected the Terek Sandpiper, detailed in BWP as in 1775. (I say collected as thats what the old naturalists did. They shot the species to identify it, optics being rudimentary at the time.)

Terek Sandpiper

Its a widespread species across much of Asia, even found on African coasts and Australia. Its breeding range now stretches to Latvia and Finland and it is coincidental that it is called a Terek Sandpiper in view of the fact that the Terek River is only on its migration route southwards.

Its a very rare vagrant to Scotland and the rest of Europe.

Another species collected by Güldenstädt is the Güldenstädt redstart. This large mountainous redstart is found in the high altitudes of the Caucauses and the Himalayas.

Guldenstadt-redstart

It is also known as the White-winged redstart but doesn’t Güldenstädt’s redstart sound a lot better?

Its one of the top reasons for birders to visit Georgia.

Güldenstädt also collected and described the Ferruginous Duck and several freshwater fish.

It was only after his death in 1781 that Peter Simon Pallas – a far more well known naturalist – published an edited version of Güldenstädt’s journal; Travels in Russia and the Mountains of the Caucasus.

Perhaps when Georgia gets back to some sort of normality after this conflict, birders will once again travel to see his enigmatic redstart.


Georgia and the oil hungry Crocodile

August 10, 2008

In my last post I suggested that it wouldn’t be in Russia’s best interests in the region if South Ossetia was independent.

Paradoxically though they are right behind the South Ossetians in their bid for independence.

Its not really a genuine wish for their self determination. A genuine South Ossetian state that wasn’t pro-Moscow like Georgia would be another nightmare for Russia, opening up tensions in its own ethnic Caucaus regions.

Its nothing more than the old divide and conquer strategy.

That’s why the Abkhazia and Ajaria independence movements are also sponspored by Russia. Purely to destabilise Georgia, nothing less.

If it was only about South Ossetia then why are Russian planes bombing Georgian cities? Military tactics or an excuse to bring Georgia to its knees?

Russia does not like Georgia’s pro-Western stance. Their attempt to join NATO.

Georgia is seen as the epitome of an former Soviet republic embracing Western philosophy.

The New York Times has this appraisal:

“It’s scarcely clear yet how things will stand between the two when the smoke clears. But it’s safe to say that while Russia has a massive advantage in firepower, Georgia, an open, free-market, more-or-less-democratic nation that sees itself as a distant outpost of Europe, enjoys a decisive rhetorical and political edge.

In recent conversations there, President Saakashvili compared Georgia to Czechoslovakia in 1938, trusting the West to save it from a ravenous neighbor.

“If Georgia fails,” he said to me darkly two months ago, “it will send a message to everyone that this path doesn’t work.”

During a 10-day visit to Georgia in June, I heard the 1938 analogy again and again, as well as another to 1921, when Bolshevik troops crushed Georgia’s thrilling, and brief, first experiment with liberal rule.”

“You should understand,” Mr. Saakashvili said, mocking the Europeans who urge forbearance on him, “that the crocodile is hungry. Well, from the point of view of someone who wants to keep his own leg, that’s hard to accept.”

The Georgian President’s analogy of Czechoslovakia in 1938 when Hitler invaded – on the pretext of liberating German citizens – was also reinforced by the Swedish Foreign Minister:

“Attempts to apply such a doctrine have plunged Europe into war in the past… And we have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe,” Bildt said.

“We did not accept military intervention by Milosevic’s Serbia in other Yugoslav states on the grounds of protecting Serbian passport holders,” he added.

Poland and the Baltic States are also on the side of Georgia in the conflict:

“The EU and NATO must take the initiative and stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the east of Europe,” leaders of the four countries said in a joint statement.

“The Russian Federation has overstepped a red-line in keeping the peace and stability in the conflict zone and in protecting Russian citizens outside its own borders,” the statement added.

Again from the New York Times:

“Marshall Goldman, a leading Russia scholar, argues in a recent book that Mr. Putin has established a ‘petrostate,’ in which oil and gas are strategically deployed as punishments, rewards and threats.

The author details the lengths to which Mr. Putin has gone to retain control over the delivery of natural gas from Central Asia to the West.

A proposed alternative pipeline would skirt Russia and run through Georgia, as an oil pipeline now does.

‘If Georgia collapses in turmoil,’ Mr. Goldman notes, ‘investors will not put up the money for a bypass pipeline.’ And so, he concludes, Mr. Putin has done his best to destabilize the Saakashvili regime.”

Already we are seeing problems with the oil supply.

Azerbaijan has now cut off their oil exports through Georgia.

And it is now reported that Russian jets have bombed the main oil pipeline that runs through Georgia to Turkey .

Here’s an old map showing the oil routes in the area. There are two oil pipleines shown in Georgia. The largest oil pipeline (on the map as planned) is now in place and runs straight through to Turkey. Its run by BP and is the one that is reportedly bombed.

Oil routes in Georgia

And wouldn’t Russia like the Georgian oil pipelines in their control!

You have got to feel sympathy for the South Ossetians, their capital Tskhinvali lying in ruins.

I’m reminded of the attributed words of Calgacus, the Pictish warrior, who said of the Romans attempting to invade what is now Scotland:

“They make a desert and call it peace.”


Georgia on my mind

August 9, 2008

The Georgian President has just declared a state of war with Russia.

The region they are fighting over is South Ossetia, an autonomous region in Georgia which unilaterally declared independence from Georgia last year. Its declaration has not been recognised by any member of the UN as valid, as its referendums on the matter are not regarded as valid.

Russia holds the neighbouring region of North Ossetia.

Map of Georgia and neighbouring Russian regions

Georgian military moved into South Ossetia claiming the Russians have violated Georgian air space, coincidentally as the world’s attention was focussed on the Olympics instead.

Now the Russians have responded with air raids killing thousands. Around 30 000 Ossetians have fled.

It seems that Russian hackers have also crippled the Georgian .ge domain, making Georgian information from the internet extremely hard to find.

The U.S. educated Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has called for his troops to be removed from Iraq.

The Georgians are allies of America and Saakashvili has called for American support against Russia. There is a Georgian now representing the U.S. at archery in the Olympics.

America has so far just called for a ceasefire, so far unheeded.

Whether the Americans will actually enter the conflict is doubtful. They already have troops battling in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps the conflict can only be resolved by organising a UN organised referendum to the people of South Ossetia, with both Georgia and Russia promising to recognise the result. If the previous referendums are an indication then South Ossetia would be a free independent country.

However, both Russia and Georgia would be against this.

Georgia would lose territory and give impetus to two other autonomous regions in its borders Abkhazia and Adjara to follow the same route.

Russia would be concerned that an independent Ossetian state in the south, would ultimately lead to the loss of its region of North Ossetia wishing to join the new country. It would also give impetus to Chechnya and possibly other Caucaus regions to declare independence from Russia.

Meanwhile, the South Ossetians are caught in the crossfire between the war and politics of Georgia and Russia.

Literally.