France

What happens when you poke a Russian bear?

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As written earlier in the week, regardless of one’s views on the righteousness of any attack on Syria, Putin is being faced for the first time in a long time, a leader of a foreign nation (nations as it turns out) prepared to stand up to him. Obama fled the Syria battlefield after being given a two hour window when Russia first went to the aid of Assad. If that wasn’t the ultimate sign of a bully in the Kremlin it is hard to think of what is. While sanctions may have bitten to a degree post Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight, Syria is essentially a testing ground for Putin to weigh up Western (specifically Trump’s) resolve. If we look at Russia’s response post the Syrian strike,

The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard…A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences…All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris…Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.

Kind of says it all really – Russia hasn’t been insulted. Putin has. He must have a glass jaw  like Trump! Two bullies flexing muscle. In a show down Should Putin wish to pick a direct conventional fight against 3 nuclear powers (explicitly mentioned), he knows that ‘mutually assured destruction’ is the very last option in the drawer and next to no chance of being selected despite all of the media beat up. On a conventional basis, Putin wins more battles by stirring up the hornet’s nests in other regions. Lending more support to Iran, Lebanon and Yemen. Destabilize Saudi Arabia and antagonize Israel.

CM wrote,

It is worth nothing that Syria is Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s military export wing) 2nd largest customer after Iran. Putin is sick of having the West try to remove his clients. Assad is key to Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. With an essentially pro-Iran Iraqi government and Syria as well as Hezbollah Putin has a geopolitical doormat from the troubled separatist states to Russia’s south to Lebanon.

Some arguments have been made about the risks of the American, French or UK strikes killing Russian troops or civilians on the ground in Syria handing Russia free will to attack its enemies. Scroll back to November 2015 when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter it claimed entered its airspace. Two Russian pilots were killed in the shooting and subsequent rescue. The Russians were incensed but President Erdogan is still in power and Ankara isn’t flailing after seeing its capitol turned into smoldering rubble.

This argument that the Russians weren’t given advance warnings of the attack is ridiculous. Had the Russian defence forces been on proper alert (they most definitely weren’t passed out behind their radar screens after a vodka binge) they would have detected the missile launches. Wind back to the 59 missile launch earlier last year against Syrian chemical facilities. We didn’t hear a peep from Putin. Why now? Of course he is incensed over the booting of diplomats on the nerve agent scandal but this is a showdown of ego.

Think of the long geopolitical chess board here. Should Trump have backed down on Putin’s threats, wouldn’t China’s Xi feel equally empowered to annex Taiwan by telling POTUS that he risks ‘grave reprisals if he meddles with Chinese sovereign territory’?

For all the initial snubbing of Trump by Macron on his historic election win in France, there is no way he would have gone in alone to attack a chemical facility without the guarantee of the military might of America. It is unlikely Theresa May would have done it either. So for all of the ‘unhinged’ lunatic rhetoric bandied about by the media, foreign nations don’t gamble their own sovereignty lightly, especially over something like Syria.

General Mattis has said they plan no further strikes at this stage. Does Putin order his forces to sink a US destroyer in the Mediterranean which launched those missiles? Highly unlikely. He does have the best weapon available to do that (the ‘Sunburn’) but sending US naval vessels to the bottom of the sea on a strategic strike would seem a big response to a targeted hit.

Let there be no mistake. There is a new sheriff in town. Russia has a bloody nose it didn’t think it would find itself. Putin miscalculated that Trump isn’t all Twitter-fueled bluster. Uncertainty in foreign leaders is always a risk for enemies. Trump has shown Putin he won’t be bullied like his predecessor.

Putin doesn’t want a hot war with America. The best way to strike at the US is like the last 6 decades. Undermine her at every opportunity. Supply her enemies. As mentioned before, if the Russians didn’t think it worth hitting back at Turkey for deliberately targeting its fighters, it is unlikely that Putin, no matter how ‘insulted’ he might feel will take a strike not aimed at Russians as a pretext to pick a fight with Trump. Putin has worked out the US president’s measure. He miscalculated. He won’t make that mistake twice.

For the media, running all the scare campaign stories is not only highly irresponsible (as it did over Yemen’s attacks on Saudi Arabia) but proving the lack of depth of analysis. They can beat Trump over the head all they wish but should note the actions of Macron and May following him into the region as a tacit approval of the US leader. Was he the madman they portrayed him as in the first place they would have stayed well out of it.

Watch for Putin’s response (unlikely but will threaten it will come when the evil Americans least expect) and think deeply about why it is important that the real despots (Putin, Xi, KJ-U, Erdogan) around the world no longer have the ability to exercise free will in knowledge that the worst they face is a slap on the wrist from the UN.

Sounds more like grounds for congratulation than censure. 

Group think alive and kicking

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It is hard not to laugh at the headlines in media these days. Group think pervades. The headline that 19/20 nations agree by definition must mean the 1/20 (no guessing who) is dead wrong. Sort of like one kid answering the question incorrectly to a teacher and being ridiculed by the rest of the class). This is sadly the kind of mentality which carries far more risk. Consensus is bunk. Consensus is basically the euphemism for complacency. No matter how many scandals break about homogenized temp data (even from government bodies (i.e. IPCC & NOAA to name two), deliberate concocting of data which serve a purpose or confirmation that 98% of the models using this bogus data have overestimated ‘warming’. The point is that so deeply entrenched are 19 nations in group think that they are basically falling into cognitive dissonance. That is to say they only look for the confirmation bias rather than truly seek alternative theories which might hold merit.

If one objectively reads the Paris Climate Accord the US is spot on to refuse chipping in $3bn to a pot where the three other largest polluters have openly confessed they are doing   next to nothing to combat climate change. Sure rosy press releases push the idea that they’re fully on the climate crusade bus but reality is China has no plans to actively reduce CO2 emissions til at least 2030. Do people honestly believe Premier Xi will guarantee he’ll sacrifice Chinese economic prosperity for climate abatement? President Putin? PM Modi? Will they risk putting a bullet in the brain of the economy to save the planet? Not a chance.

The French plans to ban the sale of petrol/diesel cars after 2040 is also laughable. If you want to bury relatively technology starved French automakers like PSA Peugeot-Citroen. 23 years isn’t much of a lead time in the auto industry if one is decades behind to catch up. Will the grid be able to handle the 2mn new cars France sells annually? Will anyone do the math on the toxic gunk that goes into a Li-ion battery? Will special provisions be given to emergency services which require combustion engines to power the heat exchangers that help life saving equipment function?

No. But think of it the other way. How smart is Trump to make the rest of the world do all the hard yards  at no penalty to the US? That is the art of the deal.

Over 10.6 million Frogs want to jump out of the EU’s boiling pot

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While the media and the EU will no doubt be jumping for joy they’ll overlook the fact that over 1/3rd of the French who voted, or over 10.6 million, want to jump out of the EU’s boiling pot. Think about that number – over TEN POINT SIX MILLION.  Le Pen’s father only managed slightly better than 5mn or 17.8%. Macron won convincingly (Twitter follower growth ratio accurate again) although one can hardly call 1/3rd of a population backing a far-right nationalist something to celebrate.  It is a damning figure. Period.

The extent of the Le Pen gains should be viewed by the EU as a terrible omen. However many of the Brussels brigadiers have ignored it already as their tweets make painfully clear.

After losing 15 out of 15 referendums against it  the EU desperately needs reform. The Dutch election was still a strong win for Wilders and Rutte only saved seats by adopting a more anti-EU stance. The pro-EU Dutch leftists were slayed. The Swiss recently handed back their long standing invite to join the EU. The Austrians almost voted in the far right FPO and after Greens President van der Bellen recently said all women may be obliged to wear the hijab to show cultural sensitivity they may well think to do that next time. The right wing Sweden Democrats are well ahead in the polls looking to win the 2018 election. The Italians are on the way to vote in the eurosceptic M5S party as their referendum last year on parliamentary reform became a free kick to boot out the establishment. Hungary’s Orban has had enough of the EU’s directives on migrants. Greece is being forced to sell its assets in order to secure another bailout and submit to being a Brussels’ (Berlin?) protectorate despite the EU bending over backwards with the help of Goldman’s creative accountants to get the Greeks into the club. This will not end well as Greece has 37% poverty, 58% youth unemployment and a soaring suicide rate. Now almost 10.5mn French now think the EU is not working. Brexit anyone?

The problem with elections is that even though Macron will serve 5 years, over 1/3rd of his citizens are not happy with the state of terrorism, unemployment and the EU. If Macron doesn’t solve for these problems, Le Pen’s 2022 chances grow and she’s already calling for a radical overhaul of Front National.

The press was making Macron to be a tough negotiator on Brexit. Let’s not forget that the ranting Jean-Claude Juncker has had to be brought into line by Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk over his Brexit negotiations skills (or lack there of). EU lawyers have said the other day that the  €100bn Brexit bill has no legitimacy. The U.K. Local council elections should speak volumes of May’s mandate to pursue full strength hard Brexit.

Macron’s win buys the EU time. Nothing else. In fact the truest test of how petrified the EU truly is can be summed up like this. If they were supremely confident in their own legitimacy there would be no need for the constant self-reaffirmation and shouting from the roof tops about what a great place it is. If indeed it was so, democracy would endorse them every time. As it stands the self-praise would even make Barack Obama blush.

When electoral maps speak much more than 1,000 words you’ll clearly get the picture

One thing that has struck me when looking at before and after electoral maps it is the clear signs of the growing divide of the haves and have nots. Of course people vote but imagine if land mass was the decider it would be a no contest. It is almost as if there is a bubonic plague spreading throughout many nations, especially Europe.

FRANCE (2017)- Le Pen’s first round in Dark Blue, Melenchon in Red, Macron in Grey

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FRANCE (2002) Presidential first round (Jean Marie Le Pen in Dark Blue, Jacques Chirac light blue and Lionel Jospin in Pink

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BREXIT (2016)- in blue – how many Labour safe areas turned against the party  line

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UK election (1997) – Labour Party (Red), Tory (Blue)

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ITALY (2016)- referendum – the redder the stronger the NO vote (generally denotes poorer areas of Italy)

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USA (2016)- Trump’s GOP in Red

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USA (2008) – Obama in Blue, McCain in Red

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AUSTRIA (2017) – Presidential election – Right wing Hofer in Blue, Socialist van der Bellen in green (the winner)

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HUNGARIAN REFERENDUM ON MIGRANTS (2016) – Redder the zone the higher the NO vote

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THE NETHERLANDS (2017) – election – Wilders’ VVD in blue

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History of Dutch elections – VVD (Wilders) in blue

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Populism or Finallysomeoneislisteningism?

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The chart above is showing the rise and rise of Front National, the party of Marine Le Pen. While we can be easily dismissive of her father Jean-Marie’s vitriol it is clear a growing number of French support her views. She has garnered 7.5mn votes, well beyond the 5.5mn her father achieved in round 2 in 2002. While she may well end up losing the second round there is no point rejoicing a get out of jail free card. These events are telling. It is not as if Le Pen is going away. Like Wilders in Holland she might be too extreme for some but not for 21.5% of eligible voters.

Is it any wonder the establishment parties were knocked out for the first time ever?  She is listening to a growing number of French fed up  with failure, typified by Hollande. Emmanuel Macron might seem a fresh alternative at 39yo but we’ve seen what a disaster youth can be in the form of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. His popularity is dropping like a stone as he is showing youth doesn’t equate to fresh ideas. Perhaps youth is one of his appeals which frankly is a worry although some might argue he is in touch with the 60s age group too.

Macron was a Socialist under Hollande. Very rarely does one change their party spots. In fact should he win I’m guessing he’ll be more of the same. He’ll pander to soft options and cosy up to the EU but that is unlikely to change the fortunes of those suffering the effects of long term (and youth) unemployment. That just makes Le Pen stronger the next time around. France will continue to suffer more terrorist attacks and weak leadership emboldens an enemy.

Juncker et al will view a Macron victory as a win for the EU but make no bones about the tsunami of discontent that lives inside the union. Now we have an unhinged Turkey which can not benefit the EU in any way. Greece is still a basket case. Italy worsens by the day and is far from a dead cert to avoid Italexit as its referendum concluded indirectly.

The denial from EU flunkies after the Dutch election was staggering. The comments talking of a triumph for the EU couldn’t be further from the mark. The words echoed the type of denial one might find from the England Rugby coach for why his team didn’t make the World Cup play-offs at the home tournament The fans were shaking their heads at the dismal explanation.

In almost every EU country the right wing/anti-establishment parties continue to grow in strength. Even if they haven’t won outright majorities, incumbent parties can’t rest on their laurels. They must adapt. Australians have abandoned the two major parties in droves. The no nonsense One Nation Party is filling the vacuum because they are doing one thing – listening. It is the one thing the EU continues to miss – reform. If they think the Dutch, Austrian and French election results are endorsements this year they’re only accelerating the path to failure. We all know the outcome of national coaches who fail at the highest levels!

Le Pen vs Macron – Post election followers

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Several days ago I noted that the Twitter following of Emmanuel Macron had experienced the strongest follower growth with Marine Le Pen in second. That was the result. On Facebook the growth differential had Macron in 3rd. Looking at the outcome of the day before the election and the day after the result we see that Macron grew 30,251 followers vs Le Pen’s 20,644. On Facebook we see that Le Pen has grown 41,279 and Macron 30,996 although as a percentage, Macron has grown 12% vs 3% for Le Pen.

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In any event, Twitter was more accurate and Macron would seem to carry the advantage. One thing we can say is that the establishment has been thumped again. Surely Eurocrats will breathe a sigh of relief but it is somewhat irrelevant. The outcome of May 7 will have no bearing on the ultimate demise of the EU. If the EU is constantly having to fight fires to justify its legitimacy it is clearly not deserved to rule the continent. Will keep tabs on the lead up to May 7. At this stage advantage Macron if we assume Twitter is more accurate.

Believe 1,000 people in a poll or 1.4mn followers?

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Just like during the US presidential election campaign the polling firms gave results which tended to favour the flavour of the audience. Want to put Hillary in front then go ask more Democrats than GOP and vice versa. The French presidential election run up shows similar kinds of trends with regards to the polls but the social media following as I’ve explained shows the same sort of trends as in the US and Brexit run-offs. Take a look at the Facebook follower share among the 5 leading candidates (above) and then look at the growth since the Paris shooting two days ago (below). The polls showed Le Pen dropping in popularity but she topped Facebook follower growth with 34% of net adds vs 31% for Melenchon. Macron was a paltry 18%. Fillon only 10%.

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On Twitter it was a slightly different story. Looking at the Twitter followers in total it is almost identical to Facebook.

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However the follower growth after the shooting had Macron in 1st spot, followed by Le Pen (+1 spot) and Melenchon (-2 spots).

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Reports say 40% of French are undecided in those polls of 1,000 people. Social media polling suggests otherwise. Why would Le Pen be way ahead in both forums if she didn’t stand a chance. Trump won with a Twitter/FB following which continued to outstrip Clinton. Is Marine Le Pen a more effective blogger or is it just that the French see her as someone who speaks her mind.