HRC v Trump: the looming battle for the soul of America


A very solid read from today’s Guardian – barring a major shock or change in voter sentiment this will be the battle for the US Presidency – how on earth did the leadership of a great nation sink this low.

Shaping up to be Hillary v Trump: the looming battle for the soul of America

In his gilded age mansion by the sea, once intended as a winter White House for presidents craving Florida sun, Donald Trump watched television intently. News networks were calling state after state for him in the Super Tuesday primary votes for the Republican nomination. Then they cut to what was in effect a victory speech by Hillary Clinton.

The exultant Democrat voiced the deep frustration of millions of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, including “struggling rust belt communities and small towns that have been hollowed out by lost jobs and lost hope”. Minutes later Trump walked out to face the world’s media in a ballroom dripping in gold leaf, bedecked with three giant chandeliers and four white cherubs. Clinton had been in government with Barack Obama for a long time, he said. “Why hasn’t she done anything about it?”

The first shot in the duel to become 45th president of the United States had been fired.

Clinton versus Trump has all the makings of a rambunctious, vicious clash of styles. One is a former first lady, senator and secretary of state, a measured planner who appeals to the head but leaves some voters cold. The other is a brash tycoon and reality TV star who appeals to the heart by, in the words of many supporters, “cutting through bullshit” and “telling it like it is”. When the two come to debate, it will be an Olympic boxer versus a street fighter or, according to one Clinton friend quoted by The Hill website, “the smartest person in the room against the class clown”.

This is unchartered territory, even in a nation that has elected actors Ronald Reagan as president and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a governor. George Ajjan, a Republican strategist and consultant, said: “There’s no precedent for a head-to-head matchup between a traditional politician and a purely private sector tycoon on the national stage – let alone one who had his own top-rated TV show. But whether Trump’s campaign can provide enough substance and rigour to compete at a presidential level, or [will] collapse under the weight of its own bombast, remains to be seen.”

It is also a struggle between two discordant visions. Clinton has cast herself as the continuity candidate, in effect offering a third term of Barack Obama, albeit with some concessions to Sanders’s enthusiastic support on her left flank. Trump is all over the map, but has styled himself as a conservative and caused outrage with proposals to build a wall on the Mexican border and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

The criticism he offered last Tuesday offers a foretaste of a line of attack against Clinton that has served him so well already in the campaign. Pointing to her time in the White House and the State Department, it is safe to assume he will portray her as the ultimate establishment figure to an electorate feeling betrayed by Washington. This will include an “abysmal” spell as America’s top diplomat, the lingering stench around her use of a private email server and, going further back, her husband’s scandalous entanglement with Monica Lewinsky.

Moreover, where Clinton offers hard-baked policies, Trump will play on the great man theory of history: trust him, his charisma, force of personality and entrepreneurial spirit can “make America great again”. His choice of venue for Super Tuesday spoke volumes. Built from Dorian stone shipped from Genoa, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach was opened in 1927 as a private estate by one of the richest women in the world, Marjorie Merriweather Post, and donated to the US government in 1973 for use as the winter White House.

Trump bought the 128-room home in 1985 after typically aggressive wheeling and dealing. He added a Louis XIV-style ballroom with $7m worth of gold leaf on the walls and spent $100,000 on four gold-plated bathroom sinks. Michael Jackson stayed here and, when Trump married Melania Knauss at the venue, guests included Hillary Clinton. The swimming pool, beauty salon, spa, tennis courts and croquet court shout aspiration, wealth and success, a version of the American dream.

Mar-a-Lago invites comparisons with Xanadu, the palatial Florida retreat of Citizen Kane, the ego-driven newspaper magnate played by Orson Welles in the 1941 film. It reinforces the pitch that Trump is a winner like Kane, not a loser like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Whereas Kane’s campaign for the US presidency is ultimately derailed by adultery, thrice married Trump’s private life appears bulletproof in the age of celebrity. Perhaps the key to the former Apprentice host’s popularity lies in an observation made by President Calvin Coolidge in January 1925: “The chief business of the American people is business.”

Trump told the latest issue of Time magazine: “I am the most successful person ever to run for president. I built an incredible business … I go on one of these shows and the ratings double. They triple. And that gives you power. It’s not the polls. It’s the ratings … I have always been a winner. If we have the delegates at the convention, there is nothing they can do about it … I am the last person on Earth [Clinton] wants to run against.”

But the bully, showman, party crasher and demagogue – as Time’s cover put it – is also the last person many Republicans want to see at the top of the ticket, though arch conservative Cruz comes close. In the past week alone, the previous two Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, have launched unprecedented attacks on everything from Trump’s business records to his national security credentials. Numerous others have joined a #NeverTrump campaign and sworn that they cannot support Trump as the party’s standard bearer.

The morning after Super Tuesday, as smoke rose from the wreckage, MSNBC television host Brian Williams told viewers: “The Republican party is facing an existential crisis. We’re covering a moving history lesson.”

By thumbing his nose at the party elite, who waited too long to take him seriously, Trump has energised millions of people who usually do not vote or who are sick of electing Republicans to Congress only to find no change in their daily lives. Political biographer Jon Meacham told MSNBC: “Trump has managed to hijack an entire political party, and the pilots are asking why no one is on their side. The passengers are cheering for the guy who took over the plane.”

One such passenger is John Schlegel, a retired manager and Vietnam war veteran. “Donald Trump has touched a nerve,” he said. “I think he’s got America thinking again and speaking about things again that weren’t speakable until Trump started the dialogue. He’s saying a lot of things that people have got on their mind but are not secure enough in speaking them themselves, but they’re coming out now.”

Schlegel, 68, from Clinton, Ohio, added: “I think the Republican establishment is screwing the pooch when they turn on Trump. He’s the only one of them that has a chance against Hillary Clinton. I hope he wins and throws the whole establishment on their ear. They’re a bunch of spoiled kids right now: they’re not getting exactly what they want when they want it, so they’re trying to actually shoot themselves in the foot.”

Analysts suggest that the Republicans are reaping the whirlwind of a split between conservatives and moderates dating back to the 1950s, and a purge of moderates in the 1990s. Heather Cox Richardson, an academic at Boston College and author of To Make Men Free, a history of the Republican party, said: “The establishment has lost control of the beast they created through their own rhetoric and there’s no way they’re going to get it back, whatever Romney says.”

There have been ominous incidents of black people being pushed, shoved and ejected from Trump rallies dominated by a white working class hollering with the partisan passion of sports fans. Pre- and post-election violence is usually seen as a phenomenon of Middle Eastern and African countries, yet in the wake of riots in Ferguson and other cities, Richardson believes America is playing with fire.

“You can look at the fury that Trump and Cruz have incited, aided and abetted by Congress, and where is it going to go?” she asked. “Even if Trump is elected, he cannot produce what he promised. He has a lot of angry people and I don’t see where it goes apart from rioting.”

On Friday Cruz told the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington that the Republican establishment would be making a huge mistake if delegates subvert the popular will on the floor of the convention. “If that happens, we will have a manifest revolt on our hands all across this country.”

But if Trump does manage to become the Republican nominee, he will still find standing in his way the formidable battle-tested Clinton machine. Some Democrats believe she would beat Trump by a landslide, the New York Times reported last week, not least because his comments about immigrants and Muslims would alienate the African American and Hispanic voters who have proved to be Clinton’s firewall against Sanders. But Bill Clinton reportedly warned that Trump has a keen sense of the electorate’s mood and should be underestimated at the Democrats’ peril.

Dannel Malloy, the governor of Connecticut, told the New York Times: “He’s formidable, he understands voters’ anxieties, and he will be ruthless against Hillary Clinton. I’ve gone from denial — ‘I can’t believe anyone would listen to this guy’ — to admiration, in the sense that he’s figured out how to capture everyone’s angst, to real worry.”

Indeed, one chilling statistic for Clinton stands out: more than 8m voters took part in the Republican Super Tuesday contests, while the Democratic turnout was around 5.5m. This is an almost exact reversal of the figures in 2008. Obama and Trump have absolutely nothing in common except their power to enthuse. What Clinton and Trump share is a power to inspire hatred and mobilise votes not for themselves but against each other. “Hope and change, not so much,” former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, referring to the coming Clinton campaign. “More like hate and castrate.”

Clinton will be desperate to make peace with Sanders’s impassioned supporters, especially millennials, but it remains difficult to imagine her inspiring Obama-style fervour at the polls. Her strategy is likely to involve attack ads that highlight Trump’s misogynistic and xenophobic statements and question whether his temperament is suitable for commander in chief. Rich Galen, former press secretary to vice-president Dan Quayle and House speaker Newt Gingrich, said: “If I was advising the Clintons, I’d go back to that [2008] ‘Who do you want to answer the phone at three in the morning?’ ad. Is this the guy you want going toe to toe with Assad? It’s one thing to make war; making peace is much harder.

“On the other hand, Trump gets to say she was Secretary of State during some of the worst foreign policy years in the country’s history. In a debate it would be pretty much a draw. They both have great presentational skills. It will be fun to watch.”

Galen acknowledged the crisis facing the Republican party and his own culpability. “I bear my part of the responsibility for getting it there. I work inside the Beltway. The words have come out out my mouth: ‘I know how to do this better than you know how to do it.’ The message my generation was offering has clearly run its course. I wasn’t smart enough to get that.”

Tone and vision

Trump is tapping into fear and anger; Clinton says America needs “love and kindness”. Trump’s campaign slogan is “make America great again”; Clinton insists: “America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole.” Trump has vowed to build walls; Clinton has promised to break down barriers. Trump is a New Yorker with a liberal past on issues such as abortion that worries some conservatives; Clinton is a former New York senator with political baggage and under pressure to appease the Sanders left. Clinton is compared to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; Trump is compared to everyone from Benito Mussolini to Juan Perón to Silvio Berlusconi.

Jobs and wages
“The economy, stupid,” was campaign strategist James Carville’s phrase for Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against president George H W Bush. Although unemployment is below 5%, it is now received wisdom that the slow rate of wage growth incubated the frustration and resentment that powers Trump’s campaign. Clinton may do better to associate herself with her husband’s 1990s achievements than the Obama post-2009 recovery. Trump says China, Japan and Mexico are “killing us on free trade and he will bring jobs back to America.

National security
Clinton boasts experience but Sanders raised questions over her judgment: she admitted making a mistake in backing the Iraq war and, as Secretary of State, in masterminding the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, now in chaos. Then there is the saga of her private email server, under investigation by the FBI. Trump has been fiercely criticised for lack of expertise and statements advocating torture, cosying up to Vladimir Putin, being neutral on Israel-Palestine and bombing the wives and children of terrorists. There have been suggestions that the military might disobey his orders.

The signature plan of Trump’s that everyone knows is the building of a wall along the Mexican border that he insists that Mexico will pay for (Mexicans say forget it). He has also declared that he will deport 11 million illegal immigrants, which opponents say is both heartless and impractical. Clinton has called for comprehensive reform with a path to full and equal citizenship as well as closing private immigrant detention centres. She is expected to trounce Trump among Hispanic voters and benefit from American’s changing demographics. In 1980, Ronald Reagan took 56% of the white vote and won by 10 points; in 2012, Mitt Romney won the white vote by 59% and lost.

Gun control
Clinton has vowed to take on the gun lobby, just as her husband and Obama did, with varying degrees of success. She has pledged to enforce comprehensive background checks, crack down on illegal gun traffickers, hold dealers and manufacturers accountable “when they endanger Americans” and keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers. Trump has said he owns a firearm and will defend the second amendment and roll back Obama’s recent executive actions. “Gun and magazine bans are a total failure,” his manifesto says.

Clean for the Queen – the UK at its worst

Clean for the Queen…..this week the British are being exhorted to voluntarily tidy up the country for the old girl’s 90th birthday.

It is unlikely she will even notice. The monarch doesn’t often go out on your average street, let alone the grubbier ones.

Michael Gove and Boris (“photo-op”) Johnson have been posing in purple, clutching litter-picking equipment, to publicise events.

Fair enough – more needs to be done to Keep Britain Tidy.

But that costs money: a coordinated national strategy, better design of public spaces, consistent educational campaigns and penalties, more paid staff, more bins. Not just a cheapskate plan with Gove and Boris in rubbish outfits.

To add to the nonsense the CftQ campaign sponsors include a range of takeaway companies from Gregg’s to KFC. Among the bigger litter culprits.

So are you ready to “Vacuum Your Villages! Spruce Up Your Cities! Delitter The Land!”

What this hapless campaign seems to have exposed, in other words, is a profound cultural divide between those who think “Clean For The Queen” is a sweet and inspiring idea, and those who think it is a joke at best, and one with a subtext that is far from amusing.

If there is one person in the entire UK who does not need help with the cleaning, it is the Queen, who not only has a large domestic staff of her own, but also suffers the irritation of knowing that every place she visits has invariably been scrubbed and refurbished within an inch of its life, so as to protect her from any knowledge of the normal condition of her realm.

Old, infirm people whose care visits have been slashed to a miserably rushed ten minutes morning and evening need help with the cleaning. English local authorities whose street cleaning budgets have typically fallen by 16 per cent in five years need help with the cleaning. People who used to work as cleaners in hospitals or on our streets, but have seen their jobs disappear or their pay decimated over the last two decades, need help to start cleaning again, at a decent living wage.

The Queen, though, needs none of this; indeed she is conspicuous for her irrelevance to the whole business.

Clean up because it is the right thing to do. But not for your Queen.

Meanwhile you should spend your cleaning time reading this splendid takedown of CftQ from the New Statesman:

The “Clean for the Queen” campaign is Tory Britain at its worst

UAE jail for offensive whatsapp message


This is really a cautionary tale for foreigners living in the UAE.

Last Monday the supreme court in the United Arab Emirates jailed an Omani man for three years for “mocking” the Gulf state on WhatsApp messenger, local media reported.

Owaissi was also fined 50,000 dirhams.

There has been no information on who he shared the message with on the popular mobile telephone application, or how many people it reached.

The UAE is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen in support of internationally recognised President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The oil-rich country has not seen any of the pro-reform protests that have swept other Arab countries since 2011, including fellow Gulf states Bahrain and Oman.

But authorities have stepped up a crackdown on dissent amid calls for democratic reform.

Self censorship and the need to be highly cautious with comments that might be considered critical are hard to reconcile with the objectives of newly set up new ministries for happiness, tolerance and youth.

Freedom of speech is surely one of the pre-requisites of a tolerant, successful and ambitious nation.

Owaissi was convicted of violating the country’s cybercrime law which was passed in 2012. Human Rights Watch has called the law an “attack on free speech”.

The legislation governs all online communications, prohibiting criticism of the UAE’s leaders and barring calls for political reform in the authoritarian Gulf state.

Be careful.

Qatar fires Miami incident crew

Qatar Airways has apparently sacked the pilots responsible for substantially damaging a Boeing 777 when it struck a set of runway lights during takeoff from Miami in September.

Back on 15 September last year a Qatar Airlines Boeing 777-300, registration A7-BAC performed flight QR-778 from Miami,FL (USA) to Doha (Qatar). The airplane departed Miami’s runway 09 but struck the approach lights for runway 27 during departure. Both tower, departure controllers as well as crew maintained routine communication. The aircraft continued to destination for a landing without further incident about 13.5 hours later.

Those were the bare details.

Although the Qatar CEO has consistently argues that safety was not compromised two basic facts suggest otherwise. 1: The airplane entered the runway at taxiway T1 and therefore had just 2,600metres rather than the full 3,900metres available.  2: Despite damage to the airplane that was described as substantial the airliner continued its 13 hour over water flight to Doha.

A preliminary investigation determined that the aircraft entered the runway at an incorrect intersection, rather than using its full length. This meant the runway was too short for the heavily loaded plane to safely take off.

As a result, the aircraft only became airborne at the very end of the runway.

The collision with the approach lights – located approximately 60m from the end of the runway – caused a 46-centimeter tear in the fuselage behind the rear cargo door, as well as 90 dents and scratches and some damage to a metal landing gear guard.

At the time of the incident, there were four members of the flight crew in the cockpit: the captain, first officer and two relief pilots.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that all of the pilots on the flight deck that day had been fired.

Asked about their termination at a press conference this week, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the incident was the “first and last” time something like this would happen.

Never make promises that you can never be sure of.

Thaksin takes off the gloves

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has warned Thailand’s ruling generals on Tuesday that a prolonged stay in power will only worsen economic hardship in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

It is a statement of the obvious – but it came from long-silent Thaksin so it is significant, and it will upset the junta.

The junta, which took power following a May 2014 coup, has struggled to revive Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy amid falling exports and high household debt and critics say economic mismanagement is the biggest threat to its hold on power.

Speaking to Reuters in Singapore, Thaksin, 66, said the junta lacked the vision and talent to fix an economy in disarray.

Thaksin has also had interviews in the last week with the FT and Al Jazeera news. He is on a mission.


“It is a government with no freedom and no pool of talent to drive the economy,” Thaksin told Reuters. “The longer they stay, the longer economic hardship is going to be there.”

Thaksin on Tuesday denied long-standing reports he had struck a backroom deal with the military to leave his personal and family interests untouched in exchange for a retreat from politics.

“We are not talking. I have never telephoned anyone. I don’t know why I would get in touch with them and I have no need to,” Thaksin said.

Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile for nearly eight years, mainly in Dubai.

In 2010, he urged his “red shirt” followers to mobilize protests calling for elections that ended in a bloody confrontation with the military in which more than 90 people died. His legacy of village welfare and cheap rural loans made him a hero in red shirt country in the rural north and northeast where he still commands huge respect.

But critics, including the urban elite, accuse Thaksin, a former police colonel turned telecoms tycoon, of widespread corruption. He was sentenced to two years in prison in 2008 for graft in a land purchase case, which he says was politically-motivated.

Thailand has gone through six prime ministers since Thaksin was removed in a 2006 coup and finds itself once again at a crucial political juncture.

The junta has promised elections next year. But some critics are skeptical, saying the military’s objective is to block Thaksin’s allies from returning to power and to consolidate the military’s own powers by writing them into a new constitution.

Thaksin’s decision to speak to media this week has riled the junta.

“He remains a person without credibility who thinks he is above the law,” government spokesman Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters.

The government has rejected Thaksin’s offer to hold formal talks on the country’s political future.

“They said they can’t talk to me because of the cases against me but a coup is a bigger crime,” Thaksin said.

Thaksin, who said he spends his time meeting up with old friends including former heads of state, said he has adjusted to his nomadic life and makes, on average, 120 landings a year in his private jet.

He believes he will return to Thailand one day but won’t go back to face charges or live under house arrest because of previous assassination attempts.

“I am confident I can return,” he said. “I am not the bad person I am accused of being.”

Emirates adds combined Yangon and Hanoi

DSC_4438 IMG_4743From 3rd August 2016 Emirates will launch a daily service from Dubai to Yangon (RGN) in Myanmar; and continuing on to Hanoi (HAN) in Vietnam.

This new service will expand the airline’s network in Southeast Asia to 12 cities (including Cebu and Clark in the Philippines which start on March 30, 2016) in seven countries.

Hanoi will be Emirates’ second passenger destination within Vietnam, complementing Emirates’ existing service to Ho Chi Minh City which was launched in 2012 and a cargo-only service to Hanoi in 2013.

The three-class configured Boeing 777-300ER which Emirates will operate on the route offers 8 seats in First Class, 42 seats in Business Class and 310 seats in Economy Class.

Flights to Yangon and Hanoi will depart daily from Dubai as EK388 at 02:50hrs arriving at Yangon International Airport at 11:05hrs. The service will then depart from Yangon at 12:35hrs and arrive at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport at 14:50hrs. The return flight, EK389 will depart Hanoi at 22:50hrs, arriving at Yangon at 00:20hrs the next day. The service will then depart from Yangon at 01:50hrs and arrive at Dubai International Airport at 05:05hrs.

Eight hours on the ground in Hanoi seems wasteful but the timings do maximise the connections in both directions.

Bremain not Brexit

How did we get to this? Angela Merkel, like almost every leader in Europe, is determined to keep Britain in the EU. But she is annoyed that it has come to this. According to sources close to her, she blames Cameron for creating a mess in the first place, through failure to control his party and the dynamic that led to a referendum.

She is right. But we are where we are. None of this should ever have been necessary. Change the EU from within. Not have some unnecessary wasteful debate about whether we should leave something that as a nation we should be committed to.

A 23rd June referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Community. It really makes little sense. The British Isles are in Europe; it has fought for Europe. Europe would be poorer without Britain as Britain would be poorer without Europe.

The referendum will divide Britain in a way that should not have been necessary. It will raise the heat on immigration and immigrants. And of course it divides Europe – whose distrust of the British must be peaking.

Oddly it was back in 1975 that the UK held its referendum on EEC membership. It was the first time that I could vote – and at the time I was on the “no” side – largely because I did not believe we were being told all we needed to know about the costs and obligations of membership. But we voted yes – joined the EEC and this really should have been a once-off vote – in or out.

If you want to change how the EEC/EU works then change it from within.

Is the EU a good idea? Yes, fundamentally. Is it efficient? Not one bit. But instinctively we are stronger as Europeans than as members of what Emma Thompson wonderfully called “a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island”.

Of course Ms Thompson was abused by the right wing media and others. The Sun calling her a “champagne socialist.”

David Cameron has spent months negotiating changes in Britain’s membership. The rest of Europe must be exasperated. Why should Britain be special? And who will now demand some sort of special status?

So who will be lined up on which side:

The pro-exit camp has two main groups, Grassroots Out and Vote Leave – one closer to UKIP the other to the more sceptic Tories. Both seem only to appeal to those who fear a more multi-cultural integrated society and who fear European (by which they really mean East European immigrants and a demand for Britain to take in Syrian refugees). These people want to build a wall around Britain.

Cameron’s cabinet is split. Supporting an EU exit are Michael Gove, the justice secretary joined by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, John Whittingdale, the former Thatcher aide who is now culture secretary, Chris Grayling, the leader of the Commons, Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland secretary, and Priti Patel, the employment minister who attends cabinet.

Gove’s statement today at least added some intellectual weight to the exit campaign.

“I cannot duck the choice which the prime minister has given every one of us. In a few months’ time we will all have the opportunity to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or leave. I believe our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU. And if, at this moment of decision, I didn’t say what I believe I would not be true to my convictions or my country.”

“Instead of grumbling and complaining about the things we can’t change and growing resentful and bitter, we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative to the path the EU is going down. We can show leadership. Like the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back, we can become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve.”

The justice secretary showed his unease for the EU by blaming it for the rise of extremism. “Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity. Razor wire once more criss-crosses the continent, historic tensions between nations such as Greece and Germany have resurfaced in ugly ways and the EU is proving incapable of dealing with the current crises in Libya and Syria … All of these factors, combined with popular anger at the lack of political accountability, has encouraged extremism, to the extent that far-right parties are stronger across the continent than at any time since the 1930s.”

That seems extreme; it is hard to picture the EU as the source of extremism. That finger might indeed be pointed at the likes of UKIP, who Gove is now allied with.

On the stay in side is this unlikely mix of Tories, Labour and the few remaining LibDems. The prime minister and the leader of the Labour Party will be making wholly contradictory cases for staying in the EU.

David Cameron will argue that he has bravely secured a new settlement with the EU to protect the UK from too much Brussels interference. Not really. Not much has changed.

Cameron wants less European regulation of our banks and businesses, Corbyn wants more.

Corbyn wants an EU that shapes social protection of workers. And that is the last thing the prime minister could ever campaign for, if he wants to remain leader of the Tories.

Basically little has changed. Britain has always been something of an EU exception. Not needing to join the euro, retaining passport controls and not being in the Schengen free travel zone, enjoying Britain’s big budget rebate, not having to join common EU policies on justice and home affairs.


The trouble with Cameron is that he has spent his entire decade as party leader undermining support for the EU.

The EU faces real substantive issues. It has looked weak, split and immobilised over the migration crisis. It looked clueless when faced by the euro’s weakness; austerity was a predictable but wrong answer.

The EU has fumbling over the Ukraine and Crimea; it has been ineffective in dealing with Putin.

Britain has made no contribution to these real issues.

Instead Britain has forced the EU to debate the precise size of payment of child benefit to very few children of EU migrant workers. Mean-spirited. Meanwhile Osborne’s has tried to restrict EU regulation and taxation of our tax haven City of London – where barely an ethical bone exists.

As for resigning from an “ever closer union”, that looks peculiarly empty when the EU is pulling itself further apart.

Cameron’s pettiness has demeaned and embarrassed Britain. Joining a large group means group decisions, but together garnering more power against global forces. Work from withing not from without.

It is easy to forget why the EU exists. Securing democratic freedom was its founding postwar purpose, which explains the hasty eastward enlargement when the Berlin Wall fell. Former communist countries, and Greece, Spain and Portugal, were all embraced, regardless of economic cost.

The EU was a beacon of decency. And that is why we should be a part.

Instead the biggest fear is that the in/out debate becomes a referendum on immigration. Barrier Britain. But remember a leave vote doesn’t secure us against global mass movements.

Who are the British? Where do they belong in the world? What’s the future for their long-term interests? And which allies are closest to their own values? Answer those questions and you will know why we should never have even got this far.

Jeremy Corbyn understands why Britain should remain in the EU – “It’s because being part of Europe has brought Britain investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment. We are convinced that the EU is a vital framework for European trade and international cooperation in the 21st century, and that a vote to remain in Europe is in the best interests of our people.”

Corbyn will lead the Labour campain to create real change in Europe based on opposition to austerity and a Europe of sustainable growth, jobs and social justice.

Four months of debate lie ahead. I suspect the real substantive issues will get little debate. But staying in the EU, as responsible, articulate participants, is the key to changing the EU.

Lets play EK ball

Emirates Airline announced today a new sponsorship deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the world’s biggest sports franchises.

Emirates will be the Official Airline Sponsor of the Dodgers in a deal to mark its entry into the world of baseball.

Bit odd really – as the Dodgers National League games are all domestic so the Dodgers will not be flying of their official airline.

As part of the agreement, Emirates will have home plate and foul pole signage and will open a new Emirates Lounge, a 70 person hospitality space.

In addition, Emirates will feature in-game activations, occasional ceremonial first pitches and fan appreciation activities.

To extend the partnership, the Dodgers will be sponsoring the Dubai Little League All Star Travel Teams, which will now go by the name the Dubai Dodgers. That is a fun part of the deal.

The new partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers continues Emirates’ sports sponsorships. Emirates football sponsorships include AC Milan, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Olympiacos FC, Hamburg, and Paris Saint-Germain.

In recent years, Emirates has also expanded its presence in tennis with a sponsorship portfolio that includes the US Open, the Emirates Airline US Open Series, the Australian Open, the Emirates Airline Australian Open Series as well as the French Open.

In the US, Emirates is also the main sponsor of the New York Cosmos, the US Rugby Team and the San Francisco Symphony.

“Baseball is a sport that unifies many communities across the US. The spirit of competition and fair play, the continuous drive to excel, and ability to foster a shared passion and connection with its fans – these are all values we share at Emirates,” said Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline.

“This is a historic partnership as it is Emirates’ first major league team sponsorship in the US. We are proud to be the Official Airline partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are an innovative and cutting edge organization not just in the world of baseball, but also in the broader realm of popular sports and culture. We look forward to a long-term partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and to working with them to support and connect fans and the community to the team.”

Michael Young, Dodgers’ senior vice-president, Corporate Sponsorships, added: “We look forward to working with Emirates and their great staff in activating our multi-year partnership with our fans.”

Emirates first launched services between its hub in Dubai and Los Angeles in 2008. As demand grew, in 2013 Emirates began flying the A380 aircraft to serve LA travelers. Starting July 1, Emirates will bring a second daily A380 service to Los Angeles, offering a total of 980 seats per day flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Dubai.

The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise has won six World Series championships and 21 National League pennants since its beginnings in Brooklyn in 1890.

Nok – ed out re-visited

Remember the story from the weekend about Nok Air pilots striking because the airline had told them that they did not meet the ICAO safety standards.

At least that was the version stated by the airline’s CEO, Patee Sarasin.

On Monday Nok Air stated that one employee had been fired and two others suspended.

Sanit Kongpetch, a pilot and the airline’s manager of flight standards, was fired without severance or compensation for an unspecified “offense against the company.”

Two other unidentified employees were suspended for eight days while seven others face an inquiry, according to the document signed by Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin.

The airline contends the strike began after a number of pilots failed to pass a new assessment made to bring the airline in line with international safety standards.

At long last the media decided to ask the pilots what is happening….and their story is very different. The pilots say the dispute is about internal company issues.

Mr. Sanit has since complained that he was unfairly dismissed and he said the cancellation of nine flights on Sunday was due to an acute shortage of pilots.

Mr Sanit Kongpetch claimed that he was not on duty on Sunday and had just recovered from illness when he was asked by the company to report to work.

However, he said that he told the supervisor in charge of the pilots that he was not mentally fit to fly and asked to return to rest insisting that a pilot who was stressed or sick should not be allowed to fly because it might affect the safety of the passengers.

The pilot also dismissed the management’s claim that the pilots who went on strike on Sunday because they were dissatisfied because they failed the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) standard test.

“EASA test is meant to test the company’s aviation safety standard and not to test the pilots,” said Mr Sanit.

That sounds sensible.

Nok Air’s CEO had a different theory and said that Sanit signed up to fly but 15 minutes before he was due to fly he disappeared and could not be reached while the co-pilot was waiting in the cockpit.

He said there was no way for the company to find a substitute for Mr Sanit within 15 minutes and the flight had to be cancelled.

What is strange is why the airline does not have pilots in reserve to fly in the event that pilots are sick or for other reasons unable to fly?

Sanit stated that Nok Air had recently lost many pilots to other airlines.

The Nok Air CEO tweeted Monday afternoon that he would not speak to the media until the company finalizes a plan to address the problem, possibly by Thursday.

Nothing like leading from the front Khun Patee and reassuring your passengers and staff.

But then Khun Patee know his priorities; he failed to attend a government meeting with airline executives on Monday because he was filming a commercial in Hua Hin.

The CEO did attend the Transport Ministry on Tuesday, and said that the strike was caused by management’s decision to have the pilots choose to be either executives or pilots, a safety measure aimed at separating duties. At least his story is consistent.

In that typical Thai news way we will probably never get an honest version of the issues and events at Nok Air in the last week. But it sounds like an organisation that needs real leadership that builds trust with the media, passengers and regulators.

There was a further update from Khaosod English on Wednesday 17th – Nok Air Denies Flying Unqualified Trainee Pilots

Nok – ed out

Sometimes it does seem that Nok Air’s CEO, Patee Sarasin, is no more than a self-publicist…..he seems disconnected from both how to run an airline and how to interact with his passengers.

He is active on twitter; he hires only young women as cabin crew; he gets publicity for the airline through a crew recruitment reality show.

But his recruitment policy is depressingly sexist with a focus that appears more about image than safety.

The airline got some poor publicity earlier in the week when one of its ATR’s approaching Mae Sot in poor visibility appears to have missed its approach to the runway and flown far too close to the local hospital.

But today he truly appears to have lost the support of both pilots and customers….

There were chaotic scenes at Don Muang airport in Bangkok when the airline was forced to cancel the a number of flights because more than 10 pilots staged a strike after the airline apparently announced increased audit standards for the flight operations which meant that a number of the airline’s pilots did not meet the new criteria.

The new standards were to bring the flight operations department into line with those of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

But you cannot simply announce a change in the rules for your pilots without a discussion with them in advance.

The airline announced the cancellation of the eight flights at 3pm. All were scheduled to leave Don Mueang airport late in the afternoon to Chiang Mai, Khon Khaen, Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, Phitsanuloke, Phuket and Ubon Ratchathani.

Mr. Patee said to the Bangkok Post that “I am confident that there will be no problem with flight cancellations tomorrow as Monday is a normal working day when the full administration resources and back-up plans are in place.”

Hang on – Sunday is the busiest day of travel for Thailand’s LCCs as passengers return to their homes ready for a new work week. This is one day of the week when the airline needs its back-up plans to be ready to go.

Don Mueang airport director Petch Chancharoen said the airline had to arrange accommodation for the stranded travellers if it could not find alternative flights for them and described the situation at the airport as chaotic.

Meawhile the CEO has been silent on twitter and has not met with the passengers impacted by this action.