All posts by Max

JR Max Wheel is a business consultant and freelance writer based in Cambridge UK. I have worked for the financial services industry in the UK and overseas.

Digging up Franco-unfinished business of the Spanish Civil War.

JR Max Wheel

5 December 2019

Stumbling around in the TV schedules for anything intelligent, my eye was caught by BBC’s showing of The Spanish film “The Silence of Others”, a film which documents the attempt to bring to justice some of the Franco regime’s torturers and assassins to account for their war crimes and to investigate the horrible eugenic experiments resulting In the “stolen babies” outrage.

This film touched one personally as being a young man in Spain in the early 1970s, initially living in Barcelona, where any illusions one might have had were quickly scotched by the obvious and often personal loathing for the regime, the near refusal to speak anything other than Catalan wherever possible. This was early 1972, the country largely at peace except for the Basque Country and long-standing ETA violence and Barcelona, even in its pre-Olympic face, a delight. Behind the façade were colleagues’ constant worry, the police, for stepping out of line, I recall someone was garrotted for a trivial crime, the compulsory military service which hung over the young and the often painful silences from the older staff, who had direct experience as young men and whose families had suffered.  Much of this was oddly  still more obvious when in Madrid, still 2 years before the death of Franco. The stories were more vivid and especially in the countryside, where truly awful crimes were committed and in the same area covered by the film on the edge of the Sierra de Gredos range. Civil wars are the most brutal, bloody and unforgiving kind, what is extraordinary is that Spain  has never really come to terms with its past in a cathartic way, even Cambodia, Chile and especially outh Africa have had their Truth & Reconciliation moments, this is vital as to quote the film ” you need to be able to shake hands with your fellow citizens without rancour” It is a way of coming to terns with the past, no matter how awful. The Spanish moved with extraordinary speed from dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy and a Constitution [1978] in barely three years. In so doing they agreed a Pact of Forgetting [Pacto de Olvido] a self-imposed national amnesia to avoid confronting the horrors of the Civil War and the crimes committed by some, possibly many who were ministers under the Franco regime, some of whom went on to serve in the new democratic Spain. There has been no closure.

One particularly egregious case begins in the village of Pedro Bernardo, where an old lady recounts the loss of her parents, with typical speed the grave was rapidly concreted over by a main road.

A small group of us rented a tumble-down cottage in the nearby village over the north side of the mountain, we soon heard extraordinary stories, the local mayor who miraculously survived was banished from his village to live his entire life out away from his birthplace and family, never readmitted as having been a republican.  Across the country there are mass graves in fields, cemeteries where multiple bodies were piled in under a single-family name. It is hard to see the sunny and happy country that one learned to love and appreciate through this lens.

In a bizarre twist the film’s story is also he attempts to bring to justice those who had committed the crimes and the intervention via appeal to Human Rights and Universal Justice via an intervention of a brave judge from Argentina. Argentina of all countries with its own dreadful record of the disappeared ones -desaparecidos under another military junta. Remarkably this process is now belatedly under way, as is the equally awful story of the “stolen babies”, committed by mad eugenicist doctors to eliminate the “red gene” of socialism and republicanism. Nobody knows how many, as the records have been falsified and erased. It was a frequently used expressions during my time in Spain, almost with a note of pride but equally possibly a grim sense of humour – “How well we live in Spain” “Que bien se vive en Espana! Renaming the streets and wiping out the traces of the victorious Civil War Generals and whole squares has taken time. Exhuming the body of Franco from the grotesquely impressive Valley of the Fallen is a belated start and sits in stark contrast to those politicians who oversaw the transition to democracy, but who wanted to leave the past behind as too grisly to face and confront.

The sleep of reason produces monsters.

XR & Climate Emergency B*llocks

JR Max Wheel

21st October 2019

It is impossible to listen to or watch the news or many programmes without the ridiculous use of the phrase “climate emergency”. Many UK towns and the Government have declared it to be so, as has the Holy See, so it must be true. Except that it isn’t, in any normal understanding of the word “emergency”. XR and its lunatic antics are busy scaring the wits out of children and young adults, who naturally are concerned at the allegedly imminent planetary demise. These fanatics recall some medieval death cult, which is pretty far removed from any science, let alone the complexities of climate science.

The latter group unfortunately is equally guilty of grotesque levels of alarmism and equally quick to label any alternate views as those of “deniers”. No sane individual fails to deplore and demand action over mass pollution, air quality, loss of habitat and biodiversity, but this is all conflated with what used to be called global warming but has now morphed into climate change and again to emergency. Only part of this story is factually defensible, much is pure speculation, misleading extrapolation of trends or politically motivated . The notion that we are at or have passed some notional tipping point beyond which any adaptation or action is, or will be, fruitless is not to put too fine a point on it, nuts.

The IPCC, (not always the most reliable of sources) has rubbished this claim, as well as Dr. Taalas, the Finnish Director of the World Meteorological Organization. Speaking to Finland’s financial newspaper Talouselämä (“The Journal”) on 6 September 2019, Petteri Taalas called for cooler heads to prevail, saying that he does not accept arguments of climate alarmists that the end of the world is at hand.

This message needs to be repeated and most especially in schools, young children can hardly be expected to discriminate in an area of science which is so extreme in its forecasts, when so much is still hotly disputed. The idea that there is scientific consensus is simply wrong on both counts, the causes and degree of any give level of climate change.

 Whether the “greenhouse” effect is actually responsible for the modest levels of warming is debatable, and this argument has been going on since the greenhouse effect was first mooted in 1856. The whole debate has become “toxic”, scientists who don’t subscribe to the so-called consensus have been removed from their academic positions. Many are both well-known and formerly respected figures from prestigious universities. The latest being well known zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford from Canada’s University of Victoria, there are many, many more, whilst some have just given up an unequal struggle. That in itself is an academic scandal, as is the deliberate manipulation of temperature figures whether the infamous “Climategate saga” to emotive imagery of dying polar bears or walrus, allegedly perishing from the melting of their natural habitat of disappearing sea ice.

This has also been shown to be specious, not that anyone listening to the BBC would be any the wiser. Its extraordinary one-eyed stance on climate change means that any views outside what has become the dominant narrative are totally ignored- a further example of total bias.

Some fascinating work has been done by researchers in China who have found that the climate in N. China has been warming since 4000 B.C!  They then go on to show that there is a 500-year cycle n the behaviour of China’s monsoon. And worse that low levels of Sun activity may produce a global cooling, the very reverse of what we are taught.

What about CO2 then, everyone understands that it is a greenhouse gas, but many disagree about its causal effects. Rising levels of emissions are a fact, but if so, why is there no corresponding jump in the temperature trend. CO2 levels have been historically significantly higher than today the comparative weight given to CO2 as a causal factor seem wildly overestimated. Climate models clearly run “too hot” and hence are poor predictors.

What is fascinating is that the IPCC assigns very little weight to the role and change in the behaviour of the sun. This is astonishing, as our nearest star is a fusion reactor barely 150km away and yet its effects are regarded by the IPCC as somehow minimal.   

A controversial yet fascinating research by Professors Shaviv and Henrik Svensmark argue that the earth’s climate appears to be not especially sensitive to levels of atmospheric gases. Warming as calculated by the IPCC, based on gase,s is around 2.3W/m2 from roughly 1750-2011 This is much greater than mere sun radiance and  implies that something else is amplifying these effects, According to Svensmark and colleagues it may be the change in cosmic ray activities over the 11 year sun cycle, A very active sun interrupts the level of cosmic ray penetration to the Earth’s atmosphere, a weaker stage of the cycle allows more penetration this leads to an increase on cloud formation and reflection of heat into space. This is quite a persuasive argument and correlates well with actual LT temperature records. If so, it is a natural variation and no amount of curtailing flying,  driving , eating meat or similar measures will make the slightest difference.

So, for anyone with an open mind it looks very reasonable to look for rational explanations and to ignore the XR fruitcakes.

In or Out? Why both the EU & the UK are equally to blame for Brexit

JR Max Wheel

10 April 2019

It may seem perverse to argue that there are a number of important positives to take out of the referendum result and the political paralysis in the UK. Firstly, for many we have had a serious and protracted row over our participation in the EU, that is important. True, it has generated more heat than light, but it has illuminated many aspects of the EU’s present configuration and future challenges.

It has also revealed that article 50 as a process is fundamentally unfit for purpose. If ever a member state votes to leave of its own volition, for better or worse, article 50 is a hopeless mechanism. Firstly, it is abnormally time-bound for a period which cannot possibly address the complexity of issues likely to affect both leaving and remaining states. Secondly it is so one-sided in favour of a rules-based process, that negotiations as traditionally understood to operate are virtually impossible. It has also allowed a sequencing on a two staged process, when in fact a simultaneous withdrawal and future trade agreement would provide a more normal and probably much less contentious process. So, from many viewpoints it is almost guaranteed to produce impasse. Add to that the frustration of ill-tempered insult and finger-wagging.  This serves neither party. It is of course especially true of very close result outcomes. But It goes much further than that.

At its simplest an in/out referendum was about a relatively elementary choice, whether the UK wished to continue to subscribe to the aspiration for an increasingly federal Europe, with all that entails for nation states, including remaining members, in terms of defence, foreign policy, law and order as well as the well-worn clichés over immigration, the left-behinds from decades of increasing globalisation.  None of these issues is unique to the UK and not all member states share the direction of travel of many of the European Council and Commission. So again, we have the collision between the legitimate interest of the member nation and an aspirational set of ideas, which may never actually be realized. This drift towards “completing the project” has been apparent since Maastricht in 1992 but accentuated by Treaties of Nice and especially Lisbon (2004/9). If there was ever a moment to test the appetite in the UK for such a proto EU constitution, it was surely then. Indeed, it was and roundly rejected by Ireland, France and the Netherlands. The UK was not offered such a say, and this has rebounded spectacularly with the rise of nationalist parties. The crash of 2008 revealed multiple fault lines in many Western democracies, enforcing as it did a level of austerity that threatened long-standing public service provision. Turning points in the tide of history are often hard to disentangle, but it is a fair bet that the damage done to living standards and rising inequality have had a direct effect on the scepticism against Governments of widely differing types.

Culture and identity do matter, and they are enshrined in multiple facets, institutions, monuments and a sense of belonging. This does not translate well to multilateral bodies, which lack historical legitimacy and don’t easily “connect” to national electorates. The EU, no matter how beneficial it has been to some has always suffered from this tension, the so-called democratic deficit, coupled with the notion that even elected officials are pursuing agendas that have never really been agreed or subject to proper consultation.

If one takes the UK’s European Communities Act of 1972, its second clause allows for decisions proposed by the Commission and endorsed by a “remote” Parliament via a series of Acts or Directives to pass into law, which have never been debated or properly scrutinised by the national parliament. This has been particularly acute in the UK, where the process is to pass them into law; other EU members have frequently chosen to ignore or pay minimal attention to these directives. In this sense there is both divergence and a sense of lack of control.

The UK was always going to be a difficult member of the European club, partly for historical reasons, partly its legal system, its independent tradition and crucially its lack of any contiguous borders, with the exception of the Irish Republic. Thus, what is appreciated as logical and beneficial, freedom of movement of people, good and services and a single currency make sense within Continental Europe. The problem is that a mix of governmental remoteness and poor design/implementation of policy e.g., the single currency has left behind a legacy of problems which are now exceptionally difficult to reform. The single currency is the 21stC “gold standard”, a deeply inflexible system, where economic adjustment is only possible through the movement of real incomes, and employment, which condemns less competitive economies to keep making adjustments which never result in sustainable competitive economies. This is a core problem only capable of resolution if the key and powerful member counties were to create a system wide agreement to proper burden-sharing, deposit insurance and dumping artificial criteria on debts and deficits. Germany in particular does not want to sacrifice its exchange rate benefits to become the EU’s paymaster, understandable enough given the history, but there is an overwhelming need to address these shortcomings with all Eurozone member states.

Add this to an unprecedented level of immigration from failed or war-torn states and one comes to the inescapable conclusion that Europe so long a dominant part of the West in the 20thC  is now in relative decline to the US and China. The EU does not appear to know how to address these issues.

The UK has an invidious choice to stay or go, to make long overdue changes to its own political system or to try and effect changes from within- such efforts have never been welcomed by partner states and the result of nearly 3 years of upheaval has exhausted patience. For better or worse the UK has had a protracted and mainly internal row over its participation in what at heart remains a 1950s construct. Were the EU to adopt a real reform agenda it would make remaining a viable, even obvious option.

Break-up of the UK’s traditional political parties or damp squib?

20 February 2019 JR Max Wheel

What’s going on at Westminster? Is the sudden crack in the ranks of traditional parties by the formation of an Independent Group any more than individual desperation over Brexit or the beginnings of a big change in UK politics. Most moves like this, resignation from parties fizzle out even when like the SDP they created a viable party, but these are not normal times. Things are changing in the UK, and in many respects these changes are long overdue.  It is not only clear that the first past the post system (FPTP) has serious failings in terms of representation, and most especially when there is a close result, but that the old largely class and interest-based groupings are increasingly irrelevant to younger age groups, if they can muster any interest in voting at all.

It is also not solely about the vexed topic of Brexit although it is an important driver. References to “broken politics” are frequent. Matters European have been unravelling since the financial crash of 2008, the austerity measures, the incompetence of public sector service management and the downright greed of major transnational corporations, easily able to choose where and when to move capital and people across frontiers, with scant regard for the consequences of those affected.

The Commons has over 650 members, this is grossly overstaffed at one level and under-representative at another, namely the ability to respond to legitimate issue or grievances. The unstitching of the UK via representative assemblies or Parliaments in the constituent countries has hardly proved a resounding success either but is a sop to nationalist ideals and a divisive and expensive way to try to square the circle. It has manifestly not worked in N. Ireland. barring the relief from the troubles but the basic question of United Kingdom or United Ireland, kept on ice as too provocative. Result, a non-functional Stormont. This is a serious impediment to community harmony, let alone the deliberately provocative issue of the RoI/N.I. border.

Scotland is no better, after a failed referendum in 2014, nationalist sentiment simmers beneath the surface. Wales has an Assembly but is still a Labour dominated country more reminiscent of its industrial past than its current stagnant economic future. All three have been paid scant serious attention by Westminster since it is the golden triangle of the South East, London, Home Counties and University cities like Oxford and Cambridge that dominate. This is equally scandalous for the other English regions, whether South West, Midland, North West or East.  When taught economics years ago there was a “location of industry” theory where governments in their wisdom were supposed to pay attention to the balance of industrial and service industry distribution and with it the necessary and supporting infrastructure. This was dismissed as a result of “pork-barrel” politics and the patent failure to make sensible choices about what to back where. It was left to the market. That was a long time ago and it needs to be resurrected in the most aggressive and determined way if communities are not to left to rot.

Fixing British politics means radical change, given that cooperation and compromise are needed more than ever. It may require an acceptable version of PR, as no party has a monopoly of wisdom.

It certainly requires drastic pruning of the House of Lords or its abolition. The regions must be properly represented for decisions of national importance- just what kind of body can answer that is tricky but why not a second chamber with representatives from the 4 countries rebalanced – in effect a Federal Britain. We have long resisted the Federal Europe on offer and on balance it seems an unlikely event given the resurgence of the nation state and regional powers, these need to be recognised whether in Barcelona, Belfast or Edinburgh.  If the Independent Group can grasp any of the real needs, then they just may redraw the constitution in a way fit for purpose and government of the UK in an increasingly fractious world. It’s got to be better than the current system.  

BREXIT- The ongoing travails, courtesy of Article 50.

JR Max Wheel

17 Jan 2019


It is a pretty nearly accepted fact that triggering Article 50 prior to establishing some idea of what kind of exit from the EU was likely, acceptable and could be planned was aa major mistake. It was but just as bad was the notion that Article 50 could ever provide for satisfactory negotiations. Since it was only reluctantly accepted for inclusion in the Giscard drafted EU constitution aka the Lisbon Treaty. It was really designed to suspend or remove member states who had gone rogue and failed to comply with the EU’s provisions. As such being both a rules-based process and subject to a bizarre sequencing of withdrawal agreement and then well talk trade, this could never form the basis of any meaningful negotiation, other than staying put or be instructed how the EU wished a relatively large economy like the UK to leave. So, it has proved.

Michel Barnier is unquestionably a skilled( and perhaps typical) French bureaucrat , he Has also held all the cards since day one as enshrined in the Article, so it has always been a case of the UK negotiating on the back foot, whilst some fervent Remain voters have done their level best to throw a bagful of spanners into the negotiations whether by amendment or often clandestine meetings held with EU colleagues. This does not excuse for a moment the delay or incompetence of the UK’s negotiating team.  However, it was always the case that leaving an institution would be uncertain and hard to define other than in broad terms about the sense of loss of control of decision making – real sovereignty and the malign effects of capital as it slides effortlessly around the globe seeking better cheaper deals with scant regard for impacts on the host countries. This damaging effect – which it is true the UK could have tackled earlier and with far more vigour and the mishandled response by many to the 2008 financial fallout has and continues to produce a massive backlash – now visiting many EU member states.

I conclude that Article 50 was never fit for the purpose of negotiating the exit of a country like the UK or indeed of any major economy. Indeed Prof. Ingrid Detter, the Swedish international law professor concluded as early as summer of 2016 the worst case for the UK would indeed be triggering Article 50.   So Barnier is no magician, he just knew the strings to pull and had the support of the remarkably quiet 20+ EU states. Fundamentally it remains France and Germany that continue to dominate EU matters of state, whilst mostly there is near silence from the rest.

I have reluctantly come to the view that despite not sharing the EU desire to create a federal state – which still looks very far away that the UK is now so run down and defeatist that the giant kick up the *ss needed to reorder both our politics and economic prospects can only be served by staying put. Despite having voted to leave for reasons that are broadly based on the experience of watching over the decades, a raft of legislation, including contentious regulations, decisions and directives and passed down to us from the Commission and enacted by Parliament with so far as I can see astonishingly little real scrutiny. I did vote to join as to stay in in 1975 and to join. The EU if it is to thrive or even survive will need urgent reform and to avoid it being half-baked the UK must play a role – this time preferably with a better bunch of politicians