Friday, March 29, 2013

England Won't Top World Cup Qualifying Group

I was a believer, or at least I really wanted to be a believer. I believed that Roy Hodgson and this England team could take care of business in an interesting Europe World Cup Qualifying Group H. I believed that despite the talent that this team had lost and the fresh memories of being completely dominated by Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals that this team could still be competitive and should make short work of reaching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. I have to admit now that I was wrong. I do not see England winning their Group H anymore placing their World Cup place in the balance.

Of course there are reasons we can find to stay optimistic and not to get pessimistic. Hodgson's team play three of the final four group matches at home, including a crucial tie against current group leaders Montenegro. There will also be those that point to the fantastic and dominating first half display against Montenegro on Tuesday as evidence of the sort of football this team can play.

The problem is that none of this, absolutely none of this aligns with what we have all been witnessing on the field with this team.

England have won three games in Group H so far and drawn three. The three wins have come against San Marino (twice) and Moldova by a combined score of 18-0. Those results demonstrate without any doubt that this is a team that can get on top of teams and has the skill and talent to dominate teams when it gets on top of them.

However, their other three results have all been disappointing 1-1 draws. First, they needed a desperate late penalty to draw with Ukraine at Wembley Stadium. They were then outplayed in Poland by Poland and potentially can consider themselves fortunate to have escaped with a 1-1 draw there as well. Finally on Tuesday night after arguably playing their best football of the competition so far, they played a poor second half and were lucky to hold on for a draw after being dominated by Montenegro.

England will probably thrash Moldova again at home in September, but does anyone really believe they can go to Kiev and get more than a draw against Ukraine? That leaves a pair of home games against Montenegro and Poland to decide their fate in October. On paper that looks do-able, but the evidence we've seen so far suggests it just isn't likely.

Hodgson's England are guilty of doing what just about every England team has done for more than a decade. They play the big games and the big moments as if petrified by fear. The aggression and furious pace they played with in the first half Tuesday was a clear sign of what a young side could be capable of. Yes, Montenegro made some strong adjustments,but England also responded negatively to it. They didn't attack the battle in midfield, they squandered possession and lost the incisiveness in their attack.

Perhaps the biggest concern is that there really hasn't been any formal recognition made by members of the team that changes need to be made and specifically that playing style and tactics are at the core of what is wrong with England right now. Until those admissions are made, it looks like England will need a playoff game to book their place in Rio.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sebastian Vettel Breaks Formula One 'Code' Much To Fan Pleasure

The weekend's Formula One action has caused its fair share of headlines. The Malaysian Grand Prix's contained more than its fair share of drama with Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel disobeying team orders by overtaking team mate Mark Webber to claim first place.

The fallout from Vettel's decision has been felt ever since. Webber appeared distraught, team boss Christian Horner was clearly displeased and the negative reactions haven't stopped there with Webber's father criticising the young German, and BBC pundit (former McClaren driver) John Watson calling for Red Bull to suspend the three-time World Champion.

The Red Bull team will be understandably concerned. For a Formula One team the Constructors' Championship is a big deal and a major friction between their two drivers, particularly with their top driver completely ignoring them will be of serious concern. Horner and co won't have forgotten the sight of their two drivers colliding and having to retire while battling for pole position at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix.

It will have been made even more frustrating as in the same race there was a piece of exemplary 'follow orders' race car driving with Nico Rosberg accepting Ross Brawn's instructions not to pass the slower Lewis Hamilton.

There is a team element to Formula One. That much is indisputable. However, it is misleading to suggest that Formula One is a team sport.

Last year's Drivers' Championship demonstrated just how many strong drivers there are in the F1 field today and just how balanced this competition can be. The 2013 season doesn't look set to be any different with Hamilton looking reasonably competitive in the Mercedes, Kimi Raikonen clearly a threat in Lotus and Ferrari are also dangerous. None of this even considers Jenson Button and McLaren who could steal some points later in the season.

Vettel knows this and he knows that if he plans on winning a fourth consecutive world title, then he will need every single point he can earn. Those extra seven points that the 25-year old earned on Sunday in Malaysia could prove crucial at the end of the season. Remember, Vettel only secured the championship by three points from Fernando Alonso last season.

Perhaps what has really angered Webber is that he isn't as good a driver as Vettel. He has never quite generated the same pace from the Red Bull, especially over the past couple of seasons.

More importantly, what do fans of F1 really want to see? Was the Webber/Vettel battle for first place more exciting or was the Hamilton/Rosberg gentleman's agreement over third and fourth what people pay to see?

Formula One is a competitive sport. A certain amount of team common sense is clearly needed, but racing between team mates is possibly the purest form of racing there is; all talk of who has the better car can be dropped and it becomes about just the two drivers and their competition.

I think I speak for all Formula One fans when I say 'bring on the Red Bull drama'. Some will enjoy following the story line, while others can just watch some exciting flat out competition between two of the better race car drivers in the world. This is after all what F1 is all about.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

European World Cup Qualifying 2014: Group-by-group Breakdown

After last night's matches the European World Cup qualifying groups have just about reached their halfway point. The Carnage Report attempts to breakdown the situation and story-lines so far for the nine groups that decide the 13 European berths for Brazil 2014.

Group A - Belgium and Croatia Stretch Lead

Friday's fixtures represented a significant shift in Group A. Macedonia and Serbia had a chance to pull themselves within three points of their respective opposition, but they both lost by 2-0 margins.

Belgium scored a pair of goals playing away from home against Macedonia, while Croatia won the potentially controversial tie against Serbia 2-0. Both teams lead Group A with 13 points, which is seven points clear of third place Wales. It seems to be between these two sides for World Cup qualification.

Group B - Bulgaria and Denmark Profit In Deep Group

This looked like an extremely tough group from the moment it was drawn. Italy, Bulgaria, Denmark and Czech Republic could all be dangerous teams in the 2014 World Cup.

Denmark secured a huge 3-0 away win over Czech Republic on Friday and having played only one home game out of the first four; the Danish have decent position in this group. Bulgaria continue their charge towards World Cup qualification taking care of Malta, but they have a tough trip to face Denmark on Tuesday.

Group C - Republic of Ireland Hold Sweden

While Germany has been gradually pulling away from the competition in this group, other results kept the battle for second place pretty open.

Republic of Ireland earned a hard fought away draw against second place Sweden to keep the gap between the two teams to a single point. Meanwhile, Austria took care of business with victory over Faroe Islands. Ireland hosts Austria in a crucial fixture on Tuesday.

Group D - No Decider In Hungary v Romania

The Netherlands appear to have asserted themselves in this group, but Friday's highlight 2-2 draw between Romania and Hungary could have created a gap between second and third place. Romania will probably be the happier of the two sides considering they were away from home.

Meanwhile, Turkey beat Andorra and absolutely need a home win against Hungary on Tuesday to stay in contention. Romania have another tough fixture as they travel to the Netherlands.

Group E - Footballing Logic Fails

Group E looked like an interesting and pretty wide open group from the offset with Norway, Slovenia and Switzerland all expected to be in contention. Friday exhibited exactly the sort of strange results that have occurred though.

Norway and Slovenia both lost home games to Albania and Iceland respectively. The result means that Albania and Iceland are now second and third; they are in legitimate contention for second place and even first if something strange befalls Switzerland against Cyprus on Saturday.

Group F - Portugal Tough Out Israel Draw

Russia have the clear advantage in this group, but an interesting and crucial clash occurred in Tel Aviv on Friday. Portugal and Israel played out a fantastic football match with the visitors emerging with a 3-3 draw.

On the one hand, Israel will be pleased with the result but will know a win in this game could have secured second place. Meanwhile, Portugal will know they missed a chance to assert their position in second place, but also that they should win the fixture when it goes to Lisbon in a few months time.

Group G - Bosnia-H Win Top of Table Clash

Bosnia knew that they would probably need to beat Greece in the home tie to keep their chances of winning this group alive and they did just that. They secured a 3-1 win and are now atop the group with a huge goal difference advantage.

Meanwhile, Slovakia missed a huge opportunity to draw level on points with Greece in second place, but were held to a 1-1 draw at home against Lithuania.

Group H - Nothing New On Friday

Ukraine's 3-1 away victory against Poland kept their slim chances alive, but both teams need an England loss on Tuesday to keep their chances alive and even then grabbing second place won't be easy. Meanwhile, both England and Montenegro secured regulation wins.

Tuesday is a huge game in this group as leaders Montenegro host England.

Group I - Spain Held By France

The clash at the top of the table resulted in a useful draw for France in Spain, but the use of that draw will probably come down to how the reverse fixtures goes down on Tuesday. Spain travel to face their big rivals needing a big away win to secure their place.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rafael Nadal Rocks Tennis World At Indian Wells

Rafael Nadal was out of world tennis for seven months due to knee injuries. Despite the 25-year old's undeniable brilliance, despite his joint fourth most Grand Slam wins (11) and despite the fact that he has won the French Open (7) more times than any other player in tennis history, it just felt like he had been forgotten. Last week's big hard court Indian Wells tournament reminded the tennis world that Nadal is definitely not a man who should be forgotten.

It is  very easy to forget great tennis players in an era where fans are spoiled by greatness. Since Nadal was last on the court a lot has happened in the ever changing landscape of world tennis. Roger Federer won the 2012 Wimbledon championship, a victory that was the 31-year old's first Grand Slam win for more than two years and his first Wimbledon title since 2009. Andy Murray then secured his first ever Grand Slam title when he secured the US Open only a couple of months later. Unquestionably the best player on the circuit without a Grand Slam title up to that point; Murray finally solved his major title goose egg.

After the feel-good stories of Federer and Murray stole the show in the second half of the 2012 Grand Slam season, Novak Djokovic reminded everyone why he is the best player in the world dominating the Australian Open to start the 2013 season.

It seems that there are so many star tennis players in the world that even a player of Nadal's quality can make a comeback with relatively little attention.

Nadal himself deliberately played down expectations ahead of his first hard court tournament for almost a year. Hard surfaces are the toughest on a player's knees and even as the Spaniard was returning to action, there was a suspicion that these early tournaments are a part of his rehabilitation as far as the knees are concerned.

He didn't make a lot of noise in the opening rounds. In fact, he looked distinctly like he was trying to establish himself after spending time on the sidelines. He was taken to tie-breaks and even to a third set; it felt like Nadal would ultimately fall down when tested against the rest of the world's best players.

A quarter-final clash against his long-time arch-rival Roger Federer saw Nadal emerge as with an impressive 6-4 6-2 straight sets victory. However, it was easy to downplay with Federer clearly struggling with a potential back injury.

He avoided both Murray and Djokovic courtesy of the draw and issues something of a warning with a 6-4 7-5 victory over 27-year old Tomas Berdych. The world number six has built up a reputation of being one of the more dangerous hard court players and Nadal appeared to be at full strength dealing with a powerful opponent.

Juan Martin Del Potro booked his final place after a pair of victories over Murray and Djokovic showing off his tremendous power along the way. After losing the first set 6-4, Nadal launched an impressive counter-attack securing his first hard court title since 2010 winning the next two sets 6-3 6-4.

The Indian Wells title clearly signifies the return of Nadal as a real challenger on tennis' world stage. Doubters will point at the fact that he didn't have to match-up against any of the world's other top three players, besides a clearly hampered Federer. He has also decided not to take part in the next tournament in Miami next week.

However, the rest of the tennis world will undoubtedly be worried, especially considering that clay court season in Europe is just about to get under way. Nadal will have a softer surface to play on, which also happens to be his favourite surface.

The current world number four has the perfect opportunity to re-discover his top form and may even start as the favourite to extend his record of French Open titles to eight; he also has the chance to win a fourth consecutive French Open for the second time in his career.

If the 25-year old can stay fit and build up some momentum during the clay court season, then the rest of the world's top players may have something to be concerned about and Nadal may just be ready to compete for top spot in the world rankings again. The world's tennis players have been given a warning shot.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

England Humbled By Wales In Six Nations Finale

England started Saturday afternoon's game against Wales with a chance to claim their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003. They finished it with a record 30-6 defeat in Cardiff that not only crushed their Grand Slam ambitions, but saw the Dragons claim the Six Nations title for a second successive season.

English Rugby will understandably feel disheartened in the aftermath of what was certainly a crushing defeat. However, the 2013 Six Nations should still be reflected upon as being a positive tournament overall for this English side and Stuart Lancaster's team have plenty to build upon ahead of the 2015 World Cup on home soil.

The game itself was a one-sided affair from the off. Wales had energy and drive that England simply couldn't match for the most part. A dogged defence prevented any more damage than a 9-3 halftime lead for the Welsh, but the feeling was that it was only a matter of time.

For England's part, they wasted far too many opportunities while in decent position. On several occasions decent positions were squandered in the Welsh half with careless, potentially even nervous, attacking play. Those mistakes were exploited ruthlessly by a Welsh side that showed all of the attacking fluency that guided it to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2012.

The defending champions fielded 12 players who featured in that campaign and it was very clear that they were determined to retain their title when given the chance to do so on home soil in Cardiff. They did so and in impressive fashion against their big rivals.

It would be easy to be hard on an England team that scored just one try in the last four games. A team that didn't look like real challengers on the big occasion. However, Lancaster and his coaching staff should take plenty of positives from this competition. This is an inexperienced and young English line-up, a fact highlighted with 10 members of the starting line-up playing their first international in Cardiff on Saturday.

The defensive effort throughout this year's Six Nations was admirable and impressive. There was a fight, grit and determination in the way in which this team defended, especially deep in their own half, which should be of great encouragement moving forward.

On the other hand, this is a team that has work to do when it is going forward. They seem devoid of speed and frequently over the last three games especially issues cropped up in terms of passing fluency. Lancaster won't want to sacrifice his defensive grit, but it is clear that he needs to instill and generate more attacking threat out of this team whether that be in terms of tactical changes or in terms of line-up alterations.

Friday, March 15, 2013

(News) CPAC 2013: The old new

Rio Ferdinand's Recall Symbolises England's Stagnation

When England football manager Roy Hodgson announced his squad for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro, taking place next week, there was one notable surprise inclusion and that was Rio Ferdinand. It's hard to imagine an announcement that could have better symbolised the complete and utter failure of English football to take any sort of step forward over the past few years.

The 'golden era' of English football was effectively pronounced dead after receiving a 4-1 trouncing at the hands of Germany in the 2010 World Cup last 16. Fabio Capello and just about everyone involved in English football discussed the idea of making a move towards younger players and attempting to change the culture of the national side.

Besides the appalling alliteration involved in the name 'golden generation', the name doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny either. Since reaching the semi-finals of the 1996 Euro Cup, England have qualified for seven of eight major international tournaments reaching the quarter-finals on four occasions, but never advancing further than that. It's actually somewhat surprising that there is so much reminiscence over the most recent generation of the English national team.

Even excluding Ferdinand's place in the squad. There are plenty of signs in Hodgson's squad that this isn't an England team that has 'moved on'. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard could well both make it into the starting line-up as Hodgson continues to take on the greatest dilemma of the past decade trying to figure out how to get two of the best central midfielders in the world to play well alongside each other.

The main reason for the bewilderment over Ferdinand's recall is routed in his exclusion from England's Euro 2012 squad after alleged friction between him and John Terry. That episode saw Ferdinand first excluded from the initial squad and then further snubbed when Martin Kelly received a call-up to the squad ahead of him.

Hodgson's testimony that his decision to leave Ferdinand out of that squad was purely for footballing reasons is unlikely to have withstood much interrogation from any of the greatest TV detectives, but he stood firm by it. Equally his assertion that Terry's international retirement had nothing to do with opening up a spot for Ferdinand is a little hard to believe.

Potentially, that is just the side story though. The real story with the England squad preparing for these qualifiers, which includes a critical trip to top of European group H Montenegro, is a team that really hasn't moved on.

England haven't moved on in terms of playing style. Expect them to at best press early against Montenegro and then drop back, at worst they will be dogmatically defensive from the very beginning. Moreover, they still haven't moved forward in terms of personnel.

Ferdinand's inclusion means that he is likely to feature in the starting line-up as the main marshal of a defence after Hodgson stronly hinted in his press conference that he would start.

The 34-year old probably does deserve his place in the starting line-up given his experience and recent form. The reality is that he along with several of England's older stars are never likely to be a part of a national side that makes a serious run in a major international competition.

Hodgson hasn't been able to usher in a new era of English football. Instead, it seems that he is becoming ever more reliant on the 'old generation' just to overcome every hurdle. Even when that hurdle is playing away against Montenegro in a World Cup qualifier that Hodgson's team really cannot afford to lose.

The 'golden generation' may no longer exist conceptually, but the same personnel are still needed to keep England's respectability as a footballing nation intact.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

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(Business) HSBC: Despite scandal and record breaking fines, HSBC are still thriving

You have to give it up to HSBC; it’s senior management somehow, incredibly, manage to avoid any jail time and get handed a fine by US regulators that is a minor fraction of their yearly profits despite US officials pointing out that there was a “mountain of evidence against the bank”[1]

Despite all the hoopla and negative spotlight over their charge by US, HSBC still remain profitable even in the face of a profit drop and are in good shape indicated Europe’s biggest bank reaching Basel III capital requirements, one of the major issues behind why banks for the last five years have failed to lend due to the fact many banks didn’t have enough capital reserves to hedge against bad loans[2].

It’s almost as if people have forgotten HSBC’s crime and look to place it in the past but it’s crimes are hard to forget if you have a strong inclination for justice.  

"If you're caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you're going to jail," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). "Evidently, if you launder nearly $1 billion for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night." (Elizabeth Warren, Quoted by Mosk)[3]
HSBC reputation took a great hit when it was revealed that the bank had helped launder the ill-gotten gains of Mexican drug lords and terrorist groups , however this is not the real crime as according to a report  in the guardian the bank continued to deal with a business as it’s competitor had wisely “stopped on fears that they were fronts for drug cartel money laundering”[4]. The HSBC effectively funnelled funds from the Cayman Islands for the business (“casas de cambio”) despite the business being a shell company with no “staff or offices” to the tune of 7 bn moving cash “ “to the US from in 2007  and 2008 [5].

HSBC, unperturbed by the United States strict sanction regime on its enemies, flouted “US sanctions on countries including Cuba and Iran” managing to process a whopping “25,000 transactions involving $19.4bn over seven without disclosing the transaction links to Iran”[6]. HSBC’s biggest crime in this whole debacle was, thanks to it less than stringent vetting of clients, providing “US dollars and banking services to banks in Saudia Arabia and Bangladesh despite links to terrorist financing”[7].

Individuals who have committed the same crimes have been buried under jails for laundering or stealing less than HSBC handled yet HSBC got away with a fine simply because the US Justice Department were preoccupied with keeping the markets happy. According to Matthew Mosk of ABC News, US Senators were less than impressed when US Attorney with a straight face and in public stated that:

"It does become difficult for us to prosecute when we are hit with indications that if we do... it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy."[8]
HSBC indictable behaviour were not found in the US as thanks to an investigation by the HMRC and a brave whistle-blower, HSBC’s clients in Tax friendly Jersey were published revealing some interesting and telling names such as Daniel Bayes, who according to the Telegraph, is a “drug dealer”[9]. The story only gets better as more names were revealed including Michael Lee “who was convicted for possessing more than 300 weapons at his house…three bankers facing fraud allegations and a man once dubbed London’s “number two computer crook”[10].

HSBC have been caught many times for breaking the rules it’s almost like they do it knowing nothing will happen but a lot of lip service and pen ink expended in critiquing the bank that will be ignored by the next crisis or news cycle and for the large part, they are mostly right to be so complacent. This is only because HSBC are not the only bank at the same game and to punish them all would mean curtains for the British economy which has become way too dependent on it financial sector over the last few decades.  

After all the crimes and rule breaking, HSBC strides across the financial world like the colossus that they are as HSBC report another year of healthy profit and have the temerity to give their CEO Stuart Gulliver, in spite of a year of scandal and embarrassment, a hefty bonus package to the tune of £2m[11]

Such galling and unjustified Bonuses in the face of a year full of banking scandal after banking scandal have rightly drawn the ire of critics and the hate of the public but be sure for HSBC to stick around as HSBC as well every other bank knows that in a market, thanks to the Great Recession of 2007-2008, with fewer players and an undying demand, market fearing politicians, regulators and business analyst know that , for the lack of a better phrase, have Britain and the world by the short and curlies.

[1] M.Mosk, 2013, Senators: ‘Prosecution Free Zone’ for Big Banks,
[2] T. Wallace, 2013,  HSBC meets Basel capital target early,
[3] M.Mosk, 2013, Senators: ‘Prosecution Free Zone’ for Big Banks,
[4] D.Rushe, 2012, HSBC fail to act on money laundering, says US Senate,
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] M.Mosk, 2013, Senators: ‘Prosecution Free Zone’ for Big Banks,
[9] H. watt, 2012,  HSBC investigation: Clients of Britain biggest Bank exposed,
[10] Ibid
[11] N.Pratley, 2013, HSBC: banking to a set of rules reaps dividends and stability,

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England Have Battle To Beat Wales For Six Nations Grand Slam

.England travel to face Wales next Saturday at 5 o'clock in the Six Nations finale with the hope of winning their first Grand Slam since 2003. However, a difficult home game against Italy, while Wales put in an impressive performance against Scotland away has many wondering whether this England team can even avoid losing by the eight-point margin that Wales need to gain for the title.

England won the Six Nations in 2011, but they haven't won a Grand Slam since 2003. Ireland, France and Wales have each won a Grand Slam in the past four years. Head coach Stuart Lancaster will know that this is a great opportunity for this English team to asset itself and gain valuable confidence as it prepares for a Rugby World Cup at home in 2015. The English Rugby program has a talented and tough group of core players and they will know that they are facing a real opportunity to build for that competition.

However, it has also become pretty clear during this competition that England is a team with issues. After a bright opening 38-18 victory over Scotland where they tallied four tries; England have managed to score just one try.

They didn't score a try in the 12-6 victory over Ireland in Dublin, they then managed only one against France, a breakdown off the opening kick-off that allowed Manu Tuilagi to run in an early score.

Still, this team still arguably entered last weekend as the favorites to win a Grand Slam. They entered a match-up at Twickenham against Italy, a country that they own a dominant 274-66 aggregate score in six Six Nations match-ups against Italy at Twickenham. The reality was that Lancaster's team produced an unsatisfying performance that wouldn't have made many fans feel comfortable. Toby Flood kicked six penalties, but this team was held without a try for the second time in this competition, and now they have just one try in the past three games.

The problem is that they face a talented Welsh team, who are only one year removed from their last Grand Slam success. Wales suffered a disappointing opening weekend loss at home against Ireland, which ended their aspirations of a repeat Grand Slam. However, since then this is a team that has gone from strength to strength.

Italy didn't look as strong defensively at the Stadio Flaminio racking up a 26-9 victory and then last weekend they set up a season ending showdown with a 28-18 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. It is perhaps understandable why many make the Welsh favourites in the match-up in Cardiff.

England seem to lack speed on the flanks, they've struggled more than any other team in the poor weather and generally they just spilled opportunities. However, this is a team that should be pumped up. They come up against a Welsh team that has been a little erratic and they have a defence that should make life very tough for Rob Howley's team.

England's line-up has a decent balance to it right now. They have the potential to score more heavily, but they also have the opportunity to build an identity as a tough team to play against and they might actually be comfortable entering Saturday's game as underdogs against a team that will need to be aggressive to succeed.

England should have the battle to beat Wales and win a first Grand Slam since 2003

Monday, March 11, 2013

(Politics) China Military and Energy Spending: A Cause for Concern?

Much has been made of China apparent rise and the factors, consequences and potential outcomes possible attached to its growth, but so far, much of it has been negative and with the rate that China is expanding it’s military capabilities and importing oil, pessimists towards China’s growth as a international player have a solid argument as to why the glass is half empty.

While China may be in a region where it is next door neighbor is a nuclear police state in North Korea and is less than pally with it’s even less than favorite neighbor in Japan, It safe to say that China are increasing their military prowess at a alarming pace with its navy “now second in size only to the US in terms of raw numbers”[1].  This is possible thanks to massive spikes in China’s defense budget with it’s leadership revealing a massive 11.2 percent boost in 2012 alone following “a long term trend of double digit percentage increases in annual spending” [2].

While it might not entirely clear just how much China is spending to build up its military power, according to Pentagon estimates, Security has no price in Bejing as spending could be “between $120 billion and $180 billion”[3]. While China massive defense spending hikes would send a shiver down any  neighboring nation's spine, China’s less than cordial behavior towards it’s  neighbors  does nothing to ease the real fears of how China will act when it completes it’s ascent to become the world’s foremost superpower.

China has been super assertive towards it’s neighbours, particularly Japan, over small disputed islands  which both sides claim to be theirs to the point that both sides have already named the island as China has named lands (currently in dispute with Japan) in the East China Sea ‘Diaoyu’ while Japan refer to the lands as ‘Senkaku’[4]. China, none to shy asserting itself, has land disputes with regional neighbours “Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia, over territory in the South China Sea”[5]

While you may now be thinking why China would kick up such a fuss in its region over  minuscule islands you would struggle to locate with Google Earth ,  the fact that the islands are, wait for it, “resource-rich” may ease your  search for an answer. China are also trying out it’s naval power in the form of “patrols and exercises” in these “contested waters” because China will eventually seek to make the islands theirs and there will be little it’s neighbours can do about it.

The news of China surpassing Uncle Sam in oil imports may have come as a shock to most due to the US’s well documented reliance on middle east oil and the even better documented foreign policy implications of relying on oil from the Middle East, but it shouldn’t have to a shock to anybody.

China has a big oil demand due to it’s population size and a slowed but still growing economy but maybe  the  concern of China becoming the world’s foremost buyer of oil was over the historical  need for oil for nations to fight sustained wars. While there is no indication that China is looking for a military confrontation with anybody, when a nation buys oil at a rate China is, the political classes of all countries involved watch closely with trepidation as there is only two real reasons for such an influx, a growing economy with a big oil demand or the preparation and possible execution of sustained military campaign.

China’s oil buying, defence spending and it’s new assertiveness in the region has a number of nations spooked, especially Japan.  Japan uneasiness over China’s growth as a military threat had made Japan increase  it’s own defence budget increase (it’s first in over a decade) by a meagre (in comparison to China’s at least) 0.8 percent and its “coast guard budget” by 1.9 percent “ in response to  China’s “incursions”[6]. It might have been more but Japan are in no position to assert itself against China as Japan is hamstrung by it inability to “service  record debt “ and a “decades old informal military spending limit of 1 percent of gross domestic product”[7].

China’s other neighbour, India are also less than comfortable with it’s  rise signalled  by it’s recent nuclear show of force and an increase of its defence budget to the tune of  $37.7 billion[8] . Both India and Japan have sought to establish stronger ties with each other with Japan  being “the largest donor of official development aid to India” [9].

Both nations, encouraged by the US especially and more importantly, have been long looking to contain the rise of China with a conspicuous increase in trade between the countries as trade between India and Japan was only $6.5 billion in 2005 but jumped to $18.5 billion just six years later[10]. However, all this minor positioning and balancing on the part of China’s regional rivals is the work of  the United States, who see China as a threat to it’s previously unparalleled global dominance.

In Sum, China rise in military and economic might was always going to scare neighbours and concern rival but the pace over the thirty has been phenomenal  and now we are only now starting to see how the world responds to what now looks like  China are looking to assert themselves more as nation of their size and stature has, and as China’s political leadership might argue, should.

[1] D. Lague and T.Y. Jones, 2013, China Defence spending seen rising as territorial rows deepen,
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] I. Reynolds, 2013, Japan Defense Budget to Increase for First Time in 11 Years,
[7] Ibid
[8] S. Choudhury, 2013, India Increase Defense Budget to $37.7 billion,
[9] T. Kitazume, 2013, Japan urged to help build India’s Infrastructure,                                                                               
[10] Ibid

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Rory McIlroy Faces Questions As Majors Season Nears

There were more than a few raised eyebrows early in 2013 when Rory McIlroy was announced as the new front-man for Nike. The deal seemed symbolic of McIlroy's replacing Tiger Woods at the top of Golf, but early in the 2013 season, questions are already being raised about that after a bizarre withdrawal from the PGA National last week.

The 23-year old from Northern Ireland signed a deal to become Nike's new ambassador in a move that makes him one of the highest paid sports stars in the world. There have been no official figures released on the worth of the deal, but reports place it between £62m and £77m over the course of five years. Those estimates man that McIlroy could be making more than £30,000 per day.

Besides the tremendous amount of cash that this deal nets McIlroy. Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that McIlroy's sponsorship deal with the brand effectively saw him replace Woods as Nike's new front man. A fact that went hand in hand with McIlroy replaces the 37-year old at the top of the Golf World Rankings.

Tiger may have been much maligned over the past few years both for his performances off and on, but he is established as one of the great golfers of all time. He has also dominated and brought the sport of Golf into limelight like no other player in the sport's history. McIlroy's effective acceptance of taking over his mantle was major statement for a 23-year old with two Majors to his name, whether it was intention or not.

It's pretty easy to understand the infatuation with McIlroy. He has won two Major championships in the past two seasons, each by a landslide. He set a record 16-under par when he won his first career Major, the 2011 US Open. The victory margin of eight strokes encapsulated the absolute dominance that he enjoyed in that competition.

One year and two months later he proved that dominance was definitely no fluke. He was simply unstoppable running away with the 2012 PGA championship, setting a record with an eight-stroke victory margin once again.

The concern and question surrounding McIlroy's game is his performance when he isn't dominating the competition. In past two seasons he has failed to post even a decent score missing six halfway cuts. This is a player whose mental toughness is questionable when his game isn't on.

The early withdrawal the PGA National will have done nothing to ease concerns that mental toughness and might ultimately be the factor that prevents McIlroy from reaching the giddy golfing heights that Woods managed.

He pulled out less than halfway through the second round of the PGA National under the strangest of circumstances. There was no discussion of a specific injury. The only suggestion was that he wasn't in a good place mentally. There were genuine concerns voiced by many over what McIlroy might be going through.

In the end it was revealed that McIlroy had withdrawn due to a toothache. That's no joke. A wisdom tooth hurting is a painful experience and would certainly stop most amateur golfers in their tracks on a Sunday.

Still, it's concerning that it seems to have effected McIlroy so badly and it is also concerning that he wasn't open and honest about his reasons for leaving the tournament early.

McIlroy ultimately apologised and stated that there was no excuse for his pulling out of the competition. The problem is that his apology doesn't address the concerns that many hold about his game. Ultimately, the 23-year old can probably win one major per year for the next decade simply by winning the competitions where everything is going right.

If he does that then his talent will be rewarded in terms of being regarded as one of the better golfers in history. Still, his endorsement deal and recent comparisons with Tiger, not to mention his fantastic talent, suggest that just maybe McIlroy has the potential to achieve more. Only time will tell whether McIlroy can develop the mental toughness to enjoy the sort of success that his Nike deal suggests he is destined for.

Friday, March 8, 2013

(News) Bill O' Reilly Meltdown: Bill O' Reilly has an adverse reaction to the facts on Fox News

Three Thoughts Post Man Utd's Loss To Real Madrid

Tuesday night saw a much anticipated Champions League second leg match-up between Man Utd and Real Madrid end in drama. United were dumped out of the competition after a controversial refereeing decision losing the leg 2-1 and the tie 3-2.

Three days after the drama, the dust has settled, but the effects are still being felt. Here are three thoughts on the story lines that have sprung up in the aftermath of one of the most dramatic results in football this season.

How Does Sir Alex Ferguson Get Away With It?

Ferguson is one of the greats of the game. The 71-year old was appointed as the manager at Old Trafford in November 1986. Since then he has made Manchester United into the most successful football club in the modern both nationally and internationally. During his tenure, Man Utd have won 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League successes.

However, time and time again, Ferguson has shown a disrespect to the media and his duties as a statesman of the game and has been given a free pass. This isn't referring to punishments in terms of fines or FA slaps on the wrist. This is reference to moral condemnation that most characters in professional sports undergo.

Personal differences between him and the BBC meant that Ferguson did not speak on Match of the Day or on any of the BBC's coverage between 2004 and 2011 with no repercussions. This is Ferguson's responsibility as an ambassador and leader of the sport.

Once again on Tuesday night, he ignored that responsibility favoring his own frustration over offering proper media representation for his football club.

Time and time again it seems like both in terms of fan reaction, media support and FA sanctions; Ferguson has been given a free pass. Time and time again over the past 26 years Sir Alex has unleashed a rant upon a referee and been allowed to get away with it. Few people could argue that the red card for Nani on Tuesday was controversial to say the least. However, that doesn't give Ferguson the right to completely disrespect the system and boycott the media because of his frustration. In fact, it is his responsibility to answer questions in some sort of measured way.

Perhaps the answer is that Ferguson has been doing this for a long time, he may not be a Premier League manager for that much longer, he may just keep getting away with it for the rest of his career.

Will Wayne Rooney Leave Man United?

The Premier League title is wrapped up, the FA cup isn't as important in comparison with the Champions League. There's little doubt that the game on Tuesday was the biggest game in Man Utd's season so far and yet Rooney was left out of the line-up in favor of Danny Welbeck and Nani.

Robin Van Persie has scored 19 goals in EPL play and has been an instant star for United. He has captured the hearts and minds of the Old Trafford fan base and with a deep group of attacking players including Welbeck, Nani and Javier Hernandez, there have been questions raised about Rooney's future in Manchester.

There are a couple of sticking points in this case. Rooney is costing Man Utd a lot of money and he is currently unfit and seemingly being outplayed by his fellow strikers. He won't be content not featuring in the team's regular first 11; it seems that a parting of the ways is becoming inevitable. 

The fact is though that selling Rooney won't be easy. The financial climate is changing in European football and Rooney's wage is huge. Ferguson won't be interested in sending Rooney to a rival Premier League club, but it's hard to find a fit financially and in terms of 'a team' that would invest in signing Rooney for a reported £20 million fee and then pay his £250,000 per week wages.

Will Jose Mourinho Win A Third Champions League Title?

Lost in the controversy of Nani's red card and even Rooney's omission from the starting line-up was that Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has positioned yet another team in a very winnable Champions League draw. Mourinho is chasing down a third Champions League title in three different countries as a manager, an achievement that may never be repeated.

The potential quarter-finals for the Champions League looks very winnable. Barcelona are in serious trouble against AC Milan already 2-0 entering the second leg. Meanwhile, the likes of Juventus, PSG and Dortmund possess only a questionable level of threat. There's a definite opportunity for Mourinho's star-studded line-up to add the Champions League title that he was ultimately expected to bring.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

(Business) Bank Of England QE program: B of E vote against increasing level of QE programme

The news that the Bank of England will not increase current Quantitive Easing levels of investment should be a cause for praise for members on the monetary policy committee who voted against expanding the £375 billion QE programme but what would have been much news would be the reduction or freezing of the programme all together.

Ever since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, banks across the globe have implemented similar programs of lending cheap money to banks in the hope that it will sink into the real economy but the results, in Britain at least have been less than successful to say the least.
The reason behind why the QE programme has not been a great success  is that what is considered success by its supporters is not really success at all. This is because, contrary to what most media outlet will tell the public,  QE is just a another word for publicly funded corporate welfare ensuring that the taxpayer funds banks that do not lend and are still making very large losses.

The news of RBS still making heavy losses despite the taxpayer being heavily invested in the bank coupled by the reasons behind those losses and the latest news of a computer crash to add to growing list similar instances has left many questions as to why the Bank of England chooses to pump money into banks that are so poorly run to the point that it would make the average observer think they were doing on purpose.

A recent computer malfunction (one in a long line of similar instances) inconveniencing its large base of customer goes to show that RBS are a state as same thing happened less than a year ago  leaving customers unable to   “withdraw cash from ATMs or check their accounts online, customers were also unable to use their card in electronic transactions”[1]The whole debacle has left the bank exposed to “compensation claims” running into millions and has provided another blow to a once proud bank[2].

If the stories do not convince readers of this article (meaning you whoever ‘you’ is) the number will leave no doubt as depressingly:

The bank posted an annual loss of more than £5bn and Stephen Hester, its chief executive, admitted 2012 had been a "chastening" year after its £390m Libor rigging fine. Its total losses since the 2008 bailout have now topped £34bn. However, the bank is still paying out £607m in bonuses in the coming weeks[3]
Seeing that RBS is faltering and looking for a private buyer,  the Bank of England seems to be coming to its senses as Governor Mervyn King in front of the Banking Commission supported  the idea of “full nationalization” of RBS in order  to split the bank “into two: into a “bad bank” of troublesome loans and “good bank” that can make fresh loans to cash-strapped businesses”[4]. While this idea not the worst idea and can actually work,  The Guardian’s Jill Treanor rightly pointed out that the idea of full nationalization is “five years too late”[5].

In sum, news of the Monetary Policy Committee voting against an increase of quantitive easing given to banks is encouraging but nowhere near how encouraging the actual end of pumping public money into private institution that are badly run and thanks to lax regulations and mickey-taking bonuses, are encouraged to continue the bad work.

[1] J Thompson and E. Moore, 2013, Computer fault anger RBS customers,
[2] S. Read and S. Anderson, 2013,  ‘#Naffwest’: Fresh compensation claims face RBS and Natwest as customers pledge to abandon bank after SECOND  computer glitch lock them out of their accounts,
[3] J. Treanor, 2013, RBS boss admits ‘chastening’ year as losses breach £5bn,
[4] J. Treanor, 2013, Mervyn King backs RBSbreakup – five years too late,
[5] Ibid


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