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Sunday, 10 December 2017

Should we lay down more asphalt in The Netherlands? Or should we think about different, more efficient delivery methods for trucks and delivery vans in order to reduce the amount of traffic?!

The call for more asphalt in The Netherlands, in order to mitigate the damage caused by the current large traffic jams, is at least partially driven by the ubiquitous ‘Just In Time’ delivery method for factories and stores. Even though JIT is very successful as a way to reduce the safety stock for companies and stores, it should not be a logistical dogma, as it has some sturdy drawbacks that rear their ugly heads in this time of year.

Last Friday, the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf printed an alarming news message about the 'cost for society' of the daily traffic jams in 2016, with respect to the road transport. 

"Over one billion of euro’s in economic damage" was caused by these traffic jams in The Netherlands, according to a spokesman of Transport and Logistics The Netherlands (TLN) in The Telegraaf:

The economic damage, caused by delays in road transport, has [in 2016 - EL] increased by roughly €100 million to a record level of €1.2 billion. In order to turn the tides, more asphalt is very necessary.

This becames clear after research, executed by TNO and commissioned by Transport and Logistics The Netherlands (TLN). The data are presented on this Friday.

“These are alarming results and we therefore urge the Cabinet to carry through the mitigation of the traffic bottlenecks at the highest possible pace”, according to TLN chairman Arthur van Dijk.

“On a number of routes more asphalt is very necessary and at the same time we want a number of new roads to be added to the investment program of the State – MIRT”.

The rest of the article consists of a description of the presumed financial damage that is caused by overtime delivery. One snippet is standing out here:

In the so-called Economic Roadmap (i.e. Economische Wegwijzer), it has been calculated which were the most expensive traffic jams for companies  in The Netherlands. 

Van Dijk: “Traffic jams not only cause annoyance, but also substantial financial damages for the whole logistical chain. Delays during the shipping process cause the required supplies to arrive too late in the stores and factories. This strongly delays the whole production process”.

Before I will give my opinion about this plea for more asphalt in The Netherlands by Arthur van Dijk, I want to take ourselves back to 2011, when the mortgage crisis had just grown into the longlasting economic slump that we came to know as the Great Recession of the 21st Century. It was one of my early articles:

The combination of increased road transport and passenger traffic led to roads and highways that were constantly overcrowded.

After the beginning of the credit crisis (in The Netherlands mid-2008), however, one could notice a clear decrease in the number of trucks on the road. Less visible but probably even more important is the substantial decrease of the average number of driven kilometers per car since 2005.

As a consequence there has been a dramatic decrease of the number and length of traffic jams in 2009, that is not at all compensated in 2010. Although the official figures from the CBS about road transport in 2010 are only presented in December 2011, a prognosis based on the core data of SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) showed an increase of 3.5% for road transport (see graph 1). This is clearly growth, but the total is still well under the total of 2007, the last year before the credit crisis.

Looking at the transport growth figures over the last three years (see graph 4), it shows clearly why the highways were less crowded, with especially 2009 being a disastrous year.

This brief view back into the economic situation of 2011 shows that the current traffic jams – irrespective of how damaging and annoying they are for the chauffeurs, the logistical companies and the big retail and wholesale companies – are first and foremost a sign of the longlasting economic growth and resulting success for these same companies after the recession.  

This is shown by the following chart, based upon data of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics. 

The development of truck transport and courier activity since 2005
Data courtesy of www.cbs.nl
Chart by Ernst's Economy
Click to enlarge
When the roads seemed much less crowded during the early crisis years (2008 – 2011), that came because they WERE much less crowded. 

Both the number of trucks and delivery vans, as the number of passenger cars were reduced in those difficult years. This happened as a consequence of the diminished economic activity, as well as the mounting unemployment in those years. 

Those crisis years are definitely over for the transport and logistics companies...

This is clearly shown by the growing numbers of trucks and other means of (goods) transport on the road (i.e. delivery vans and minivans of freelance construction workers). This in spite of the fact that it sometimes seems differently for the average lower and middle class people, who still not seem to be out of the crisis yet. 

Many lower and middle class workers are still struck by a challenging labour market and stable or even diminishing purchase power, due to the tax increases during the last 7 years. But for transport and logistics companies the acute economic crisis is already finished for years.

The question now at hand is, however, whether we should meet the desires of the transport and logistics companies – as expressed by the spokesman of TLN  to lay down enough asphalt to meet the growing road transport demands for the future.

Apart from the infrastructural, nature and environmental challenges (“Is this small and already densely populated and quite polluted country meant to be a country for the people to live in or solely for the companies to build their business upon?”), there is the following very important question:

Are we already close to ‘peak transport’ (i.e. a natural "ceiling" in the now growing need for transport and logistics) or are we only at the beginning of a longterm period of economic growth, that will lead to much, much more road transport in the foreseeable future?!

And also this question: Is it not bad infrastructural planning and execution to create a massive road grid in The Netherlands, especially for the (indeed traditionally disastrous) months September – December? Months that stand out, due to their difficult weather situation with much rain, snow and wind, alltogether causing dense traffic and hence traffic jams? Or with their upcoming national holidays (i.e. Sinterklaas and Christmas), that bring their own logistical challenges? 

This question is especially topical, as during the remaining months of the year (January - August) the traffic is normally far, far less problematic for both trucks and passenger cars. 

Everybody, who drives to his work in the spring and the summer, understands what I mean! Traffic jams are mostly non-existent and when there, they are mostly provoked by car accidents, police speed traps and road works!

I think ‘we’ (i.e.The Netherlands) should not create such a monstrous road grid in our country, as this inevitably leads to a deteriorating living situation for most Dutch citizens, due to the expansive traffic and the accompanying exhaust and noise pollution. According to myself, we should first and foremost look to the few notorious intersections, where the situation is dramatic throughout the year and can be improved quite easily.

The addition of new asphalt to the already vast and dense array of highways in The Netherlands is in most cases only a temporary solution for an eternal problem, as it only discloses the next bottleneck and congestion-prone spot on the roads. And more and better roads often provoke further growth in (fossile fueled) traffic, that in the process tends to drive with higher average speeds, due to wider and better roads.  

And there is something more...

In the Nineties, there has been the worldwide rise of Just In Time delivery (i.e. JIT), as the panacea for the logistical problems of factories, distribution centres and (large) stores.

Instead of factories and individual stores keeping up large warehouses and storages in order to maintain the necessary stock for their production and sales process, the stocks were minimized dramatically, thanks to Just In Time delivery.

Stocks were closely monitored by the Enterprise Resource Planning (computer) systems of such stores, distribution centres and factories and as soon as certain thresholds in the stocks were reached (i.e. below the established ‘safety stock level’), a purchase order was placed to replenish the stocks within an agreed, relatively short amount of time. A truck or delivery van came running in that brought the necessary parts in time to let the sales or production process run unhampered and without delays.

This JIT delivery method dramatically diminished the necessary safety stocks for factories and stores and henceforth moved the costs for maintaining storages and warehouses from the companies itself to their suppliers and logistical partners, that were bound by very strict contracts.

The factories, distribution centres and stores were extremely happy with JIT, as their safety stock diminished strongly and so did their risks with respect to stock challenges (a.o. theft, fire, loss and unsaleable out-of-fashion stock).

So all is well that ends well?! Not for every aspect... 

As JIT urged the delivery of products and semi-manufactured goods at exactly the right time and in exactly the right amount, this led to more traffic of trucks and delivery vans; much more traffic, as a matter of fact.

There is quite a difference between trucks loaded to the brim with products and semi-manufactured goods for one particular company (i.e. factory or store) at one particular spot (i.e. warehouse or storage) at one hand and trucks that are either loaded with only a few products or semifabricates for one company or with goods for twenty-odd delivery addresses at the other hand. 

In both latter cases, JIT is here less efficient than the first mentioned 'old fashioned' delivery method.

Fully loaded trucks for one particular delivery address, with only a limited number of kilometers to drive, are much more efficient than half-loaded trucks or trucks (delivery vans) that have to deal with a large number of delivery addresses.

To these eyes, this is the fatal flaw of Just In Time delivery: less efficient delivery per truck or delivery van requires more trucks and delivery vans for the same amount of goods and semi-fabricates delivery and hence to more traffic on the road.

So where JIT is the most efficient delivery method for the receiving parties, as it reduces their cost of stock, it is definitely not the most efficient delivery method for the shipping companies, as it increases their amount of trucks and delivery vans and thus the traffic in general.

Whether stores, distribution centres and factories should maintain their JIT as the most efficient delivery method for them, or should be pushed by politics to keep up larger stocks in their own warehouses and storages, in order to reduce the number of trucks on the roads, is a political question. But it is a very important question to these eyes.

It is an undeniable fact that the roads are (over)crowded with trucks and delivery vans during the last months of the year, especially when one takes the more difficult traffic situation on the roads into consideration.

However, it is much too easy to just throw down extra asphalt, in favour of the transport and logistics companies, in order to solve this problem the easy way.
This country and especially its citizens won’t really benefit from this extra asphalt at all.

To these eyes, it is much better to look at more efficient ways of delivery, that reduce the necessary number of trucks and delivery vans, while eventually maintaining the current service level for factories, distribution centres and stores. 

This is a social, political and economic problem that should be solved by politicians and economists. Not just by infratructural construction companies alone.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Impressions from India, Pt II: Forget the robotized office tools for the next ten years... the Indians are coming now!

Like I already mentioned in the previous article, I have spent two weeks with my colleagues on a business trip to India, on behalf of my supermarket chain. It was a truly wonderful experience and one that I hope to repeat in 2018.

During our stay in Noida, close to (New) Delhi, I was struck by the fact that – apart from the large European and American ICT companies that one would expect there – the globally operating audit firms had also opened large subsidiaries in Noida.

Accenture, EY and KPMG were only three of the audit and consultancy firms that I saw during a short car trip on the “Silicon Expressway” (i.e. the name I gave it) from Noida to Delhi.

Office of Accenture in Noida, India
Picture courtesy of Accenture India
Click to enlarge
For me this was a tell-tale sign that the danger for many American and European middle class knowledge workers in the audit and consultancy industry does not (yet) come from the robotization of their workplace. No, it are the extremely qualified, but nevertheless much cheaper chartered accountants/auditors and consultants in India that might pose an immediate threat to such jobs in the Western world. And they are far from science fiction.

Office of KPMG in Noida, India
Picture courtesy of KPMG India
Click to enlarge
Of course, I don’t close my eyes for the recent emergence of IBM’s Watson and other robotized administrative tools in the bullpens of modern offices. I am convinced that within roughly a decade such strategic tools have eaten away a substantial amount of the moderately complex administrative work from the people that do it now on a daily basis.

And perhaps these tools might then even execute a large share of the more complex and cautious assessment and advisory work, that is the very heart of strategic auditing nowadays.

Nevertheless, as a seasoned ICT consultant and software tester with over 25 years of working experience, I know how darn hard it is to deploy new and extremely complex information management tools in organizations that are not yet familiar with them. Especially when the managers and normal employees don’t understand how they must use these tools in the most beneficial way.

Office of EY in Delhi, India
Picture courtesy of EY, India
Click to enlarge
Even though IBM advertises Watson as “the answer to all future questions”, I suspect that the first strategic implementation programmes and projects for Watson might become an expensive failure. Just for the reason that many new and extremely complex ICT projects tend to fail initially, due to a lack of experience among the contractors and lack of focus, as well as massive resistance, among the people that should use such systems and tools.

Only in a decade or more, there is probably enough experience and confidence available to bring such projects to a successful end, as then seasoned consultants will know about the challenges and pitfalls in such complex, strategic information projects.

So for now... perhaps you should forget the robotized office tools and think about the Indians first. They are smart and very well educated and trained... and they can be deployed immediately for all kinds of administrative and assessment labour. At least, that is my idea after seeing all these Western audit firms in Noida and elsewhere in India.

Of course these Western audit firms in India will probably also have more than enough assignments within the Indian domestic market itself; assignments that will undoubtedly yield a substantial share of their annual sales figures in India.

Nevertheless, in India there is ample availability of very high qualified workers, with a profound – close to native – knowledge of English and very good education and skills. Therefore, to these eyes, it is already a sound strategy for the large audit firms  to outsource a large share of their moderately complex, routine assessment work to India.

New housing facilities for the emerging
middle classes in Noida, India

Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge
By doing so these companies strongly increase the audit capacity of their branches in Europe and the United States and it saves them roughly 50% in cost and expenses to do so.

Yesterday, I spoke with the (Indian) capacity manager of a large, Dutch ICT consultancy firm and he told me how hard it was to find sufficient qualified personnel in The Netherlands at this moment. And even though this capacity problem is most imminent for the Dutch and European ICT industries, this will also apply to complex administrative work, like auditing and accountancy. Hence, India...

The availability of sufficiently qualified and well-trained personnel is never a problem in India, with its population of roughly 1.3 billion people, among others existing of countless well-educated and very eager male and female professionals, with a strong desire for a better life for them and their loved ones.

In the past many outsourcing projects had to deal with huge setbacks and tough challenges, caused by cultural differences and mutual misunderstanding between the Indian knowledge workers and their Western principals. Nowadays, the number of knowledge workers with sufficient, hands-on experience in European and American companies, is growing. This strongly increases the success rate for large and complex projects in Europe and the United States, that are partially or fully executed on Indian turf.

Picture of shops in Delhi, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge
There is, however, a dark side about the success of the Indian knowledge workers in the ICT, consultancy and audit industry... A dark side for which the Indian consultants cannot be blamed at all, but that has nevertheless much influence upon the chances of the Western knowledge workers.

Many middle class workers in the Western world have dealt with stagnating or dropping purchase power during the last fifteen years, under pressure of the enduring economic crisis and earlier the popping of the dotcom bubble.

While the costs and expenses of most middle class workers have been rising by the year in especially Europe, due to inflation and tax hikes, their salary increases remained (close to) nought for many years in a row. Eventually this led to a stable, even dropping purchase power for many, many middle class workers.

But now the crisis has finally ended in the Western world and there is ample money at hand within the larger, profitable companies and the government. Therefore it would be the perfect time for such companies and government bodies to administer a sturdy wage hike, in order to get the middle class – as the motor of modern society – back on its feet again.

However, many large consultancy and audit firms – just like the ICT firms did twenty years before them – are now trying to cut their expenses (in my humble opinion), by deploying large numbers of knowledge workers in India. They do so in order to perform routine assessment activities overthere against lower costs, which were formerly done in the Western countries themselves. I don’t think this development is solely prompted by the lack of qualified workers in the Western world, even though this might have been a trigger initially.

Personally, I suspect it to be an ordinary austerity measure, that could have far-reaching impact on employment in the Western world. Especially as the costs for securely storing and shipping large packages (i.e. Terabytes) of classified data all over the world have dropped to almost nought and the possibilities for international video conferencing and other forms of direct communication are nearly endless and of excellent quality against low cost.

This whole development will inevitably lead to enduring downward pressure on the salaries of the middle class workers in the Western world and could hamper the oh so necessary wage hike that many Western workers are craving for. And of course this will also apply to the lower qualified workers in the Western world, who are already in a very awkward situation.

This is the reason that this development gives me mixed feelings. I am happy for the wonderful people in India, who have a good chance to rise above poverty and lead a prosperous and decent life with their relatives and friends. All these people do very well deserve to have good jobs and a good life and future ahead.

New housing facilities for the emerging
middle classes in Noida, India

Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge
Nevertheless, I have some worries about the middle and lower classes in Europe and the United States. They are already suffering from the ongoing decrease in administrative and non-administrative routine jobs at their employers and from their slowly diminishing purchase power over the last fifteen years.

The current developments in India could have additional negative impact on their direct labour situation and their immediate future, in contrary to the robotization of their workplace. The latter seems only an issue for the more distant future (say, ten years), in my opinion. 

So please don’t worry too much about the robots yet... as the people that might take over your jobs in the near future are still very human and very well qualified for the job.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Impressions from India, Pt I: How India’s traffic chaos can teach us in the Western world a lesson.

The last two weeks I have been the guest of India; the second country in the world, when it comes to population.

I, together with a group of colleagues from my employer – a large supermarket chain in The Netherlands – had the opportunity to visit one of our key suppliers in India, in a sheer unforgettable business trip.

We all resided in Noida, a neighbouring city of Indian capital Delhi, and that was also the city were the supplier was established. It was the trip of a lifetime for me and the hospitality and friendliness of the Indian people have been heartwarming! I genuinely loved this country and its sometimes peculiar, but special, culture during the last two weeks made an enormous impression on me.

A trip to India is a culture shock for Western people, to say the least…

A street corner in Delhi, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
The streets are litterally clotted with masses of garbage and people living on the streets in tents… or just in a blanket or sleeping-bag. Beggars approach you everywhere and street sellers of litterally everything don’t take a simple ‘No’ for an answer, but try to persuade you into buying some of their stuff with enormous perseverance.

A Sunday market in Delhi, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Poverty and backwardedness is always extremely palpable and tangible in India, wherever one goes. And so is the sheer wealth at some places.


Gathering at a hotel of the Lamborghini club of Delhi, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
These are the sometimes painful consequences of life in a Third World country, being in an unstoppable march towards more business success and prosperity than ever before: the dot on the horizon is very much visible, but the road towards it is long and winding.

Tens of thousands of stray animals (mainly dogs and (holy) cows) are walking in the streets and straight through the dense traffic or they are browsing through the massive stockpiles of garbage for their daily meal.

Two cows eating from a stockpile of garbage
in one of the streets of Noida, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère

And last, but not least, the traffic itself makes Western people wonder…

One thing that probably strikes every Western visitor is the blatant chaos of Indian traffic and the 24*7 continuous honking of cars, scooter cars, motorbikes, lorries, rickshaws and anything else with a horn mounted (i.e. which is everything, except people, cows and dogs). 

“I honk and therefore I am”, could be a statement of an Indian René Descartes these days.





Where excess honking is a habit in traffic that can make people angry in about every other country in the world, the Indians react indifferent or even with an understanding smile. Some lorries even beg their fellow traffickers to user their horn as a warning signal!

A picture of the traffic in Delhi, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
When you honk, the Indians might give you a little bit of space. Just enough to not directly crash in the fifteen cars, lorries, rickshaws and scooter-cars immediately surrounding you.

For the rest the survival of the fittest rules in Indian traffic: if you don’t fight for your square meter of street space before you, someone else will claim that. Giving precedence to other traffic will make you a fool, who will wait forever. Simply because nobody else will give precedence to you. So you blow your horn with a confident smile, step on the gas and fight for every meter of space, without stopping too clearly for the other traffic or for pedestrians and bikers. They are aware of you and won’t move one centimeter to both sides.


If you can pass somebody with 20 cm of space, you clearly gave them too much room to drive. Stopping for other traffic is futile, so you blow your horn once more and pass them with serious speeds. Who goes first, wins. The others are clearly sheep in search of a shepherd.

At this moment you might wonder if the daily Indian traffic is not laden with the most gruesome accidents, seeing their driving style.

A picture of the traffic in Delhi, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Well, it isn’t actually… That was the most amazing discovery that I did during my fortnight trip to India.

Taking the constant, 24*7 traffic chaos in consideration, there were amazingly few accidents. To be honest: I only saw one small quarrel caused by a tiny traffic accident, to be honest. For the rest, the traffic in Delhi seemed to run like a Swiss clockwork in all its chaos.

And that amazing fact set my mind to work: what if the totally disorderly “outlaw state” of Indian traffic, was actually safer than the watertight web of traffic regulations in The Netherlands?! It was almost impossible to believe!

The Netherlands is a country with a huge web, consisting of thousands and thousands of traffic rules for every possible situation and far, far beyond.

Pedestrians and bikes are protected by traffic laws that declare cars guilty for every accident, in which they are involved with the former.

Was the bike riding through red? Not paying attention to approaching cars? Riding in the middle of the road, while ignoring the other traffic? Looking at this telephone, while riding? Never mind! The car is guilty anyway.

The logical consequence is that bikers in The Netherlands stopped paying attention to the other traffic at all, until they find out the hard way that they are perhaps legally invulnerable, but far from immortal or physically invulnerable.

The same is true with other participants – cars, trucks, bikes and pedestrians – of Dutch traffic. Their instincts for the strange habits of their fellow-participants in traffic have all been replaced. Either by the vast web of Dutch traffic rules or by the pseudo-safety of airbags, extra strong cage constructions in cars and all kinds of modern technology, like anti-slip software and brake assistants.

Where machines get smarter over the years, the humans operating them become inevitably less smart and less skilled. That is a law of nature! Or do you still know somebody, who can calculate his supermarket sales slips by heart or find a complex route without the usage of a navigation system?!

A picture of the traffic in Delhi, India
Picture copyright of Ernst Labruyère
So perhaps the Indians, with their utterly chaotic and seemingly hopeless traffic, are touching a sensitive point of the West indeed: that too many traffic rules and too much technology actually not make the traffic in Western countries much safer, but rather to the contrary. People lose their skill set and their ability to watch out for themselves.

That would be a surprising lesson to learn for us. This lesson is extremely hard to believe, but Indian traffic might prove that it could be right anyway. Then it would be an extremely important lessons for traffic officials too. 

So step in your car, blow your horn and let the survival of the fittest begin! In the meantime, I say “Hi” from India.

Monday, 20 November 2017

About alleged crime and very real retribution: Pt2, Bernie Sanders, the best President the United States never had

Ooh Superman where are you now
When everything's gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour.

I couldn’t help being a fan of Bernie Sanders, one of the democratic candidates for the Presidential elections in 2016.

The man with the patient and wise charisma of a friendly, aging uncle and ideas that could be described as quite social-democrat for American standards (or “liberal” in the US vocabulary) ran for the nomination of the Democratic Party. He did this against Hillary Rodham Clinton, the dead-cert favorite for this presidential race and later candidate for the November 2016 elections.

Where Hillary attracted attention with her loud voice, her attacking style of debating and aggressive charisma, Bernie Sanders seemed quiet and somewhat shy and unassuming. Almost like President Jimmy Carter in his heyday. It seemed to be a battle between a barking, angry dachshund and a kind-hearted labrador dog. Eventually the noisy dachshund won and ran for president against Donald Trump. And everybody knows nowadays what the outcome of this battle was.

In hindsight, a lot of people thought that Bernie Sanders would have stood a much better chance in the presidential elections against the blunt Donald Trump – who turned into a working class hero in spite of his blatantly rich descent and lacking diplomatic skills – than Hillary Clinton did. Clinton seemed rather part of the problem, instead of being part of the solution, in contrary to Bernie Sanders.

This American problem was to these eyes the ubiquitous intertwinedness of politicians and officials, extremely rich Americans, multinational companies and financial institutions. This resulted in an overall extremely poor representation of less influential groups in the American political landscape. 

Winning elections had become extremely expensive in the USA over the years, so every private person and company that had much funding money on offer for the candidates, got a lot of listening ears to talk to. Hillary Clinton seemed much more contaminated with this American modus operandi than Sanders.

On top of that Hillary Clinton had made a bad mistake, with respect to receiving state secrets on her private email account. This and other things in her behaviour made her very vulnerable for below-the-belt attacks, by a candidate who had made his bluntness into a weapon of vocal mass destruction.

The reason that I loved Bernie Sanders so much, was that he really seemed determined to do something about the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in American society.

There had been almost ten years of this depression-like crisis in the United States. Years, in which the American middle and lower classes had suffered badly from the consequences and lost almost all their built-up wealth. This turned their sheer survival in a day-to-day business. 

Especially the circumstances in which the poor classes in the US had to live, had been deteriorating very rapidly. Hence the Flint water crisis and the generally lackluster way in which the American government reacted to crises of nature, that smashed the futures of many poor people to pieces.  And nobody in charge really seemed to care about this, as those poor people were not decisive for their (re-)election and for the remainder of their political career.

And at the same time, there had been five years of sturdy economic growth for the rich parts of American society, due to the flooding of the American market with cash money coming from the Fed (i.e. quantitative easing) and the ample availability of borrowing money against near-zero interest rates.

This made borrowing large sums of money almost for free for the people with access to the money and capital markets: extremely wealthy Americans, multinational companies and the financial wizards of the hedgefunds and the private equity companies.

Hence, a situation had emerged in which the wealthy part of American society could avoid litterally everything, while Joe and Jane Sixpack had to deal with a stabilizing or even dropping real income and more private and public crises than they could stand.

The American society always had a religious, almost fundamental hate towards anybody, who they saw as a “commie bastard” (i.e. a communist) and against everybody carrying the reputation of being a social-democrat (i.e. sneeringly called “a liberal”). Nevertheless, there seemed to be more room for a social-democrat president than in the nearly fourty years before.

It seemed that Bernie Sanders could have become the right president at the right time and place, in order to restore the confidence of the poor and middle class citizens in their political leaders. Just like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman had done three quarters of a century before him… But Bernie did not get the nomination eventually and had nothing else to do than withdrawing from the presidential race.

Hillary’s campaign, however, was destined to end in tears, frustration and incomprehension about what went wrong! Especially for all the people who did not see this trainwreck campaign coming and wondered where Donald Trump came from and what he had done to win the elections from a seemingly hopeless position…

Roughly two weeks ago, a story emerged that made clear that Hillary Clinton had not won the Democratic candidacy just by coincidence or as a consequence of the fact that she was so much better and more experienced than her liberal adversary Sanders.

The writer of this shocking story was the unsuspected chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Donna Brazil. She claimed that Hillary Clinton “wheeled and dealed” herself into getting the democratic nomination, by using “every dirty trick in the book” and lots of other cunning tricks.

The following pertinent snippets came from the political magazine Politico and were written bij Donna Brazil, the chairwoman of the American Democratic Party:

I had promised Bernie when I took the helm of the Democratic National Committee after the convention that I would get to the bottom of whether Hillary Clinton’s team had rigged the nomination process, as a cache of emails stolen by Russian hackers and posted online had suggested.

Debbie [Wasserman Schultz, the previous chairman of the Democratic National Party - EL] was not a good manager. She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was.

“What?” I screamed. “I am an officer of the party and they’ve been telling us everything is fine and they were raising money with no problems.”

That wasn’t true, he [Gary Gensler, the Chief Financial Officer of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – EL] said. Officials from Hillary’s campaign had taken a look at the DNC’s [Democratic National Committee] books. Obama left the party $24 million in debt—$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign—and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama’s campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.

Gensler described the party as fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse. Under FEC law, an individual can contribute a maximum of $2,700 directly to a presidential campaign. But the limits are much higher for contributions to state parties and a party’s national committee.

Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the DNC shortly after that.

“Wait,” I said. “That victory fund was supposed to be for whoever was the nominee, and the state party races. You’re telling me that Hillary has been controlling it since before she got the nomination?”

Gary said the campaign had to do it or the party would collapse.

Right around the time of the convention, the leaked emails revealed Hillary’s campaign was grabbing money from the state parties for its own purposes

The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.

The funding arrangement with HFA and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical. If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead.

I told Bernie I had found Hillary’s Joint Fundraising Agreement. I explained that the cancer was that she had exerted this control of the party long before she became its nominee.

There you have it. The to these eyes most suitable candidate for the American presidency was sidelined before he even stood a chance. And this happened by a candidate that was as close to being charged with corruption as she could be. That is at least when everything that Donna Brazil stated, is indeed true.

It is stated by the red and bold snippets from Donna Brazil, that the victory fund was not eventually for the official winner of the nomination, but was used instead as a private piggy bank at the disposal of Hillary Clinton. And Clinton also purchased a make or break decision with respect to the party’s communications manager and the decisive vote with respect to the other executive staff and anything else important in the DNC. No questions asked…

The candidacy of Bernie Sanders was now in fact a car with four empty tyres and no gasoline on board. The race was over before it even started.

Bernie Sanders was an “unamerican”, almost European candidate in his charisma. No self-inflicted, overly brown tan, no “wintersports” teeth, no voice that could shatter glass in a jiffy and no $1000 haircut. Summarized, he was a little bit older looking and not so smooth as the Clintons, but with the battle scars of a few decades in politics. He seemed an elderly politician with a lot of experience and (to these eyes) the wisdom to make the right decisions and not one who would start yet another useless war.

I  am convinced that Bernie Sanders would have been a really good president and a very acceptable candidate for the overlooked workers and poor people all over America, who had suffered dearly from the Second Great Depression

He was not hit so hard by scandals and not so contaminated with the stench of Wall Street money as Hillary Clinton was. On top of that he seemed a nice and honest guy to these eyes and a decent chap. But we all saw what happened in the months before the official nomination of Hillary Clinton as presidential candidate in the national elections. By controlling the money flow from the victory fund and by increasing her influence within the executive levels of the Democratic party itself, Hillary Clinton could “rig” the democratic elections, without acting illegally.

Hillary Clinton, however, was not liked and sometimes even hated by many low class workers and “white trash” and also by many – normally democratic voting – middle-class people within the party’s grassroots. People, who hated her husband’s filandering and his shameless lying about it. 

Or people who disliked Hillary’s arrogant charisma and distractedness from the likes of Joe and Jane Sixpack, in favour of the ‘fat cat’ bankers on Wall Street. In spite of the fact that Hillary Clinton could count on the black votes in the United States, it was not enough to save her from the angry majority, even though everybody anticipated that in advance. I believe that many votes for Donald Trump were in fact votes against Hillary and Bill Clinton and against everything she stood for in reality...

So many Americans – including the very religious Republican voters from the deep South and South-East and the Democratic “pentitos” who were deeply disappointed in their own party’s candidate – decided to vote for “Pied Piper” Donald Trump. 

Trump told them his stories about shutting out the Mexicans with a wall. And he promised them to tell their truths and opinions, about mass production outside the US and dumping of iron on the American market, to the Chinese government. And, last but not least, he promised to bring factories and jobs back to the United States, away from the low wage countries.

The fact that Trump himself was an accident-prone businessman at best and was not very diplomatic in his utterings against women and minorities, did not scare his voters away. And so Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States and scared the shit out of many people all over the world. 

We will never know if Bernie Sanders would indeed have become a better president than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Nevertheless, I think that Bernie Sanders is the best president the Americans never had.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

About alleged crime and very real retribution! Part I: Saudi-Arabia and the Night of the Long Knives

Oh well he'll offer you a cigarette
he'll offer you a light.
But he hasn't finished with you yet
on another long knife night.

The news that there was a ‘New Sheriff in Town’ in the religious kingdom of Saudi-Arabia became already apparent a few months ago. This happened with the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the official crown prince for his father, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

The BBC:

Few people outside Saudi Arabia had heard of Prince Mohammed bin Salman before his father became king in 2015. But since then, the 31-year-old has become the most influential figure in the world's leading oil exporter.

He has now been elevated to the position of crown prince, replacing his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef - a move that had been widely expected and could shape the direction of the country for decades.

Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power began in 2013, when he was named head of the Crown Prince's Court, with the rank of minister. The previous year, Salman had been appointed crown prince after the death of Nayef bin Abdul Aziz - the father of Mohammed bin Nayef.

In January 2015, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz died and Salman acceded to the throne at the age of 79. He immediately made two decisions that surprised observers, naming his son minister of defence and Mohammed bin Nayef deputy crown prince.

One of Mohammed bin Salman's first acts as defence minister was to launch a military campaign in Yemen in March 2015 along with other Arab states after President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced into exile by the Houthi rebel movement.

The appointment of Prince Mohammad bin Salman to official crown prince – after he allegedly organized a hostile knock over at gunpoint against former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef – was more or less expected by pundits, but it was nevertheless a surprising and very important move to the eyes of the outside world. A move that (again BBC) “could shape the direction of the country for decades”Especially because of the very young age of the crown prince, who was only in his early thirties and could theoretically lead the country for at least fourty years.

The Kingdom’s tremendous prosperity was traditionally based upon the country’s seemingly endless flow of oil, that was pumped up since the start of the twentieth century, and the gazillions of dollars that the eternally oil-hungry Western World paid for this continuous flow towards the West. 

Especially in the United States, the cheap gasoline for the infamous V8 gas guzzlers and the energy for the fully airconditioned homes in deserts like Arizona and Nevada seemed to have become a human right, that must not be abolished at all cost. And Saudi Arabia was happy to deliver to the 'infidels' in the West, in exchange for their dollars and weapons.

However, since 2008 the global economic breakdown, that emerged from the American sub-prime mortgage crisis, struck the middle and lower classes of the world at a nearly unprecedented scale. Hence this led to less consumption worldwide. And thus to less stores and shopping malls, less imports and exports and less truck transport and commuter miles in the Western countries. And this all happened at a blistering scale that even forced the mostly ignorant, energy squandering middle-class Americans to look for more fuel-efficient ways of living and driving, in order to save a few bucks.

This fuel (and thus oil)saving effect was even reinforced by the emergence of the internet and (in its wake) online shopping. It was especially online shopping that – in combination with the depression-like recession – acted like a doomsday clock for many brick and mortar store chains, which all suffered from diminishing numbers of customers and diminishing sales.

This all caused that the oil price per barrel in 2014 dropped to levels well under $60 (source: Macrotrends.net) for a number of years in a row. 

The long-term development of Crude Oil Prices
Chart courtesy of Macrotrends.net
Click to enlarge
This sheer event was responsible for acute economic problems in  Russia, Venezuela and also Saudi-Arabia, as all three were very large oil exporters that – in the process – were almost totally dependent on their energy sector as their main source of national wealth.
  
And on top of that, Saudi-Arabia had also come under fierce pressure from the important insight that the flow of oil towards the West and the returning flow of Euros and dollars towards their treasury would not be endless after all. 

Under pressure of the emerging, potentially catastrophic climate change, the West was finally moving towards a less fossile fuel driven future, by adapting (partially) electric cars and doing research into hydrogen-driven cars that would not produce the exhaust, which made gasoline and diesel cars so bad for the global environment. 

This meant that Saudi Arabia needed to adapt its economy from being almost solely oil-driven to something more modern that prospered from other sources of income, like air transport, tourism and hospitality or state-of-the-art technology and innovation. 

All this should be akin to what already happened in Dubai, Qatar and the other gulf states. These countries built new sciencefiction-like cities, mega-airports, the sky-is-the-limit hotels, skyscrapers that reach into the clouds and bedazzling shopping malls with skiing slopes(!) in the desert at 50 degrees centigrade. 

And Saudi Arabia – as the natural leader of the pack in the area – must preferably do it better and with more royal grandure. That is still the challenge for which the country stands.

Another specific Saudi-Arab problem is the swelling number of princes and other royalty, with their respective court circles within the kingdom. And all these princes and officials want to have a slice of the pie of the tremendous wealth of the Saud family, based upon the oil of the country and the countless offshore and building projects that happen overthere. 

In the past this already led to the infamous and widespread Saudi-Arab corruption and “quid pro quo” mentality, driving most Western oil, offshore and building companies crazy. This unavoidable corruption led to priceless projects on the Arab peninsula, of which at least 40% of the final invoices was paid in bribery money, meant to pay off everybody and their sister. No slush money?! Then no projects! Take it or leave it!!!

This ubiquitous corruption, in combination with the notion that the peace and quiet within the country could only be upheld with a topheavy welfare state, as well as with the suppression of minorities, like immigrants, women and (religious) opposition, made things even worse for the rulers of the Kingdom. Total suppression of people costs a lot of money: also in times of low oil prices, when the influx of dollars is not so obvious.

This is one of the reasons that the Arab state oil company Aramco is cautiously brought to the global stock exchanges. When the oil does not yield sufficient money anymore, than the firesale of the underlying oil companies must do the job. 

But the undisputed elephant in the room for Saudi Arabia is their extremely rigid version of the Islam. The Wahabism, as it is called, seemed to be one of the underlying causes for the emergence of Al Qaida and ISIS terrorism in the world. Especially this Wahabism increasingly alienated the Western World from the desert kingdom, as did recently the seemingly endless and very bloody proxy war against Iran in Yemen.

Mix all this together and one has a very poisonous mixture for the future of the desert kingdom.

Enter Prince Mohammad bin Salman as the new crown prince and de facto the new man in charge in Saudi Arabia, under the cover of old King Salman, who is probably the leader of the country in name only.

The first thing that Prince Mohammad did, after being appointed in the pivotal role of defence minister (i.e. in control of the army) a few months ago, was getting rid of his main adversary for the leadership of the country: crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef. This was the first strike for Mohammad...

And a few months later, the new Saudi-Arab government tried to lure the Western world with a few privileges for the blatantly underprivileged Saudi-Arab women: driving a car or visiting a football stadium would become "possible-ish". And their voice would finally be heard in the parliament of the Kingdom. At least, that was what we heard in the West... 

All this was a shocking new development for these Saudi Arab women that previously had nothing to say and nothing to do without the consent of their man and “owner”, in the country that was almost akin to a medieval kingdom in Europe.

When the country eventually promised to return to a less rigid form of the islam one week ago, the Western world was happily surprised and full of expectations about the winds of change in the country.

Yesterday, however, the world saw two events in Saudi Arabia with probably large implications for the desert kingdom. 

First, a Burqan 2H long range missile – allegedly fired by the Houthi rebels of Yemen – was intercepted above the airport of Riyadh. This could push the envelope even further for this bloody war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

And even more important: yesterday saw the establishment of an anti-corruption bureau in SA, And this bureau directly came into action by arresting a few, very high profile leaders and officials within the country

The list of arrested officials in Saudi Arabia
List courtesy of the Ahmadiyya Times
Click to enlarge
ABC News about these shocking events:

Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of princes, senior military officers, businessmen and top officials, including a well-known royal billionaire with extensive holdings in Western companies, as part of a sweeping anti-corruption probe that further cements control in the hands of its young crown prince.

A high-level employee at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's Kingdom Holding Co. told The Associated Press that the royal— who is one of the world's richest men— was among those detained overnight Saturday. The company's stock was down nearly 9 percent in trading Sunday on the Saudi stock exchange.

The surprise arrests, which also reportedly include two of the late King Abdullah's sons, were hailed by pro-government media outlets as the greatest sign yet that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is keeping his promise to reform the country, long been plagued by allegations of corruption at the highest levels of government.

Well, I have news for you: the arrests themselves are a fact, but IMHO these arrests have nothing to do with an emerging war against corruption in the country, even though the large news outlets are reporting this as news.

Fourty years ago, when my father worked for a large building company in The Netherlands, doing business with Saudi Arabia simply meant paying massive amounts of bribe money to everybody with a status and an important role overthere. And now about half a century later hardly anything has changed with respect to that: only the royal family became much, much bigger, as became their need for (bribe) money.

In my opinion, the notion that Saudi Arabia will become less corrupted as a consequence of these dozens of arrests, is therefore preposterous. For the simple reason that the chance that something with such a long history as corruption in Saudi Arabia changes overnight, is minute.

As far as I’m concerned, what happened yesterday was nothing less than a Night of the Long Knives: a coup d’etat executed by the (new) people in charge of Saudi Arabia in order to wipe out all their political opponents! 
In this case under the moniker of “fighting corruption”, which is probably not a very hard case to proof overthere, but not the real reason at all. 

Wiping out the adversaries of the new crown prince was the first and only purpose of what has happened yesterday. Don’t believe anything else...

And to be frank with you: last night can be the beginning of something that could very well end up in a civil war in Saudi Arabia. This might happen, when the largest factions within the huge Saud family decide to take an aim at each other, using the countless American weapons stashed away in the country to take up the fight.

Expect more arrests and perhaps more deaths to emerge from these events very soon. And expect more and harsher suppression of everybody who does not agree with the official line of leadership in the country. Fighting corruption is a container that can cover a lot of actions, executed by the powers that be. 

Prince Mohammad will play for keeps to get/stay in charge of the country, as there is no turning back for him anymore. And so will his adversaries, as far as they have not been arrested yet or left the country in the meantime.

The only chance of these events not ending in a massive bloodshed, is when the former rulers understand there is a new sheriff in town indeed. In that case they will cut their losses soon and sit still while being shaven.

However, the chance that the family (and future heirs(?)) of billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal wave their massive wealth goodbye without a fight, is very dim in my opinion.

As long as these people can make use of the vast bank accounts of Prince Alwaleed, they can call for help from all directions, including the American army or even private soldiers of fortune from South Africa or Israel. 

The same is true for the former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef and his family, who now all should worry about their health and – as a matter of fact – their sheer survival of these emerging events. They will probably also not give in without a fight to the new rulers of the country.

What is at stake for all these people is not only the political direction and the future of Saudi Arabia, but especially their own future... 

Will they continue their life of exuberant wealth? Or will they flee the country as rich exiles, in order to not end on the infamous Chop Chop Square, where all the public executions take place. And even though everything behind all this is still very well under the cloak of secrecy, I am darn sure that it is not the war against corruption that caused these events. No way!

So the worst has probably yet to come in Saudi Arabia, as more and bloodier events will undoubtedly unroll in the coming weeks and months. 

This all is not about enhanced freedom for women. And probably also not about a more enlightened view on the Islam overthere. Those were all just words to lure the Western countries into accepting the new leadership of Saudi Arabia.

But a different view on religion? Seeing is believing, but I don’t see it coming soon. This all is just a grab for absolute power: a Night of the Long Knives!

Soon, part II in this story about Bernie Sanders: the best President the United States never had!

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