The rise of the Contrepreneurs

The lockdown and economic impact of the pandemic has left a lot of people bored, out of work and desperately looking for a way to get out of debt. And inevitably on the internet, you’ll find plenty of scammers looking to exploit desperate people. We are after all, living in the post-truth era and the golden age of the snake oil salesmen.

There’s now a whole industry of fake guru’s (or Furu’s) and contrepreneur’s looking to sell you the dream. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads online, get rich quick, financially free, passive income, have more time with the family, work from home, be your own boss, get the fast car, the mansion and the yacht. And these guru’s will teach you…for a price of course. And such guru’s and their cult like following has proliferated recently.

If you have a friend or family member who has fallen under the sway of one of these contrepreneur’s, I’d recommend the youtube channels of Coffezella and Mike Winnet, as both have been investigating these sorts of scams for quite sometime. Another vlogger Munecat (aka Georgie Taylor) has also done some deep dives into a number of furu’s and MLM’s.

Strangely enough, while the scams business ideas the furu’s use may vary, they all seem to follow a similar formula and sales pitch. It combines all the worst elements of manipulation and high pressure sales tactics (e.g. saying the course will cost £10k, but will make it available for £3k if you sign up now, which btw is illegal in many countries). Seriously, Mike Winnet even has a bingo game you can play along while watching these pitches.

But in all cases, the goal is the same, get the marks (and if you attend such courses, you are a mark) to commit to buying more and more expensive classes for yet more money. And they will keep milking you until they bleed you dry. And worse still, if anyone actually tries to implement any of these formula’s for success, they’ll milk you some more. And this can have tragic consequences. A ex-soldier in the UK killed himself after ending up heavily in debt after paying to attend several of these expensive seminars.

How likely is it you can actually make money off the back of these get rich quick schemes? Well you never know, you might win the lottery! In many cases theses courses are just a mishmash of amateurish hearsay (this property furu for example doesn’t even know what a timber framed house is, nor that students don’t pay council tax) and the business ideas they pitch are often dangerously flawed. Of course they sound plausible to someone who isn’t an expert, which is the whole point of scam, and why they are pitched at a certain vulnerable people (rather than people with money or business experience who’d spot the scam straight away).

Property scams

Some contrepreneurs will sell you on the idea of property investment as a way to get rich quick. However as this BBC investigation on on property Furu’s shows, its basically a fraud. Shaf Rasul from Dragon’s Den (and an actual property investor) picks apart such scams here. The reality is that property speculation is a potentially a high risk investment, especially if you are borrowing heavily, or you simply lack the experience about how the property market works (and you ain’t going to get that advice from a furu).

It only takes a small fluctuation in property prices to put you into serious losses. Buying property involved a significant number of expenses, at least £20k+ to cover your deposit, legal fees, mortgage costs, taxes, stamp duty. The average cost of owning and maintaining a home in the UK is estimated at around £9-10k per year. And those maintenance bills tend to come in fits and starts (case in point, I recently had to have a boiler replaced at the cost of several thousand pounds).

Unless you can sell the property for substantially more than it was originally purchased (plus any repair & renovation costs, which can be hard to estimate in advance), you are all but guaranteed to lose money. And recall the point here is to earn enough income to replace your job, so you’d need to be profitably selling several properties each year to earn a living (which is going to require an awful lot of starting capital or an insanely good streak of luck).

And if that weren’t bad enough, some of these contrepreneur’s, aware that their mugs clients have blown their savings on these courses, instead encourage them to borrow the initial stake money (which means you are paying very high interest rates), or proposes the use of risky buying strategies that carry much greater risks of failure. So much so that your losses can easily exceed 100% of your investment (you lose every penny, the house and still owe the banks money, potentially leading to you losing the home you live in as well).

Similarly with buy to lets, the mortgage and ownership costs (again £9-10k per year) have to be less than the rent in order to provide a monthly income, which isn’t always the case. Rents are driven by supply and demand and its all to easy to find yourself in a situation where its not covering your costs. This is a particular problem when it comes to schemes such as rent to rent. or Air BnB’ing property. As I’ve discussed before, this isn’t the cash cow its portrayed to be. If you aren’t careful you could find yourself running an illegal hotel (in violation of planning laws, building codes, while simultaneously committing tax, insurance and mortgage fraud).

All in all property investment is a bit of minefield. There’s also sorts of laws and regulations, as well as lending rules set by the banks and insurers. It is not the place for amateurs who are cash poor to start gambling in.

Day trading…or perhaps that should be called daily losing!

Another popular pitch is day trading of stocks, share, currency, crypto, etc. Again, this seems to rely on the ignorance of most people about what goes on in finance. I know people who work in the industry and no they do not spend all day screaming buy, buy, buy into one phone, while shouting sell, sell, sell into another. The reality is very different (in fact here’s an interview with an actual trader).

Instead, they spend most of their days with their noses buried in ledgers, spreadsheets and reports that are so dry and boring they’d put an entomology professor to sleep. And the traders aren’t alone, they have an entire building full of staff backing them up (data miners, analysts, computer geeks, risk management, lawyers, accountants, vampires, ghosts and ghouls, etc.). I mean why do you think banks have those massive tower blocks for?

Either way the pitch from these fake guru’s is that you in your pyjamas and a laptop can take on these massive wall street firms (with an army of staff, supercomputers and a near infinite supply of cash behind them) and win. Good luck with that one. How many day traders actually make any money? 50%?, 30%? Actually, its closer to 3% according to this paper, with only 1% producing significant returns (i.e. enough to earn a living).

In fact another point I’d make is that financial companies tend to be extremely secretive about their strategies. After all, if every body knows your strategy, they will copy it (or try to bet against you), in which case why are we paying you this huge mark up? Anyone who claims to be a successful investor who is willing to tell a couple of bozo’s on youtube his secret strategies for a fee (rather than just using that strategy to make more money) is to be treated with suspicion, as he’s either gone a little nuts, or he’s a fraudster (or a failed trader like Nigel Farage).

Amazon FBA: Helping Bezo’s get richer…while you get poorer

Another common pitch is Amazon FBA, whereby you set up an online store via Amazon. You’ve probably seen the pitch, “I sold hundreds of thousands of units for $20 which I originally bought for just $1….”Well, even if that were true, you are an awful excuse for a human being and little short of a thief. What you are doing is called “price gouging”, which is not only unethical, but also illegal in many countries (several hoarders of sanitisers & loo roll got caught for this during the pandemic).

And its a toss up as to whether the authorities or Amazon shut you down before your customers figure out what you are up to (if you can find it online for $1 so can they!). Upon which, you’ll get a load of awful reviews (drawing the attention to past and future customers) and you will never sell anything to any of these people ever again. Or your competitors figures out what you are up to and begin selling the same item for $10 or $5 (that’s sort of how capitalism works!).

But ignoring all that, there are are a number of problems with this pitch, most notably overheads (the costs of getting Amazon to fulfil the order, postage, taxes, etc.) and sales volume. The overheads eat into your profits (if any), such that, at best you are making maybe a few pence per item (or losing money with each item you sell). Which means that your sales volume would have to be huge in order to give a reasonable income. And again, there is a risk factor, what if the products just don’t sell (and given that these guru’s have every tom, dick and harry trying their hand at it, there is going to be massive market saturation).

Yes, there are companies with successful Amazon FBA stores. But they tend to be using Amazon to supplement an existing business (i.e. they have a real store in the real world), providing a way for those who can’t physically get to their store to shop, as well as assisting them in meeting customer demands in store. Ultimately this means that even if they aren’t making a lot of money, its still worth their while, if it means more traffic and a higher overall sales volume.

I mean seriously do you think Jeff Bezos, one of the most ruthless capitalists since the robber baron era, is some sort of hippy looking to let various bozos ride on his coattails and get rich quick. No, Amazon FBA its another way for Amazon to make yet more money, while discouraging anyone from trying to establish a rival online service.

The cult of MLM’s

Finally we come to MLM’s. Now, there are some MLM’s who are genuinely trying to distribute a product that would otherwise be difficult to sell by conventional means (that said, you have to question the viability of such a business model in the interney age).

However, an awful lot of MLM’s are little more than thinly disguised pyramid schemes, where the emphasis is on recruiting more members, with the bulk of sales going to new members rather than genuine customers (so it ends up piled in members attics unsold). And some MLM’s are prone to dangerous and controlling cult like behaviour (so much for being your own boss!), as discussed by John Oliver back in 2016.

A legitimate MLM would instead try to limit the number of sales people, to avoid market saturation. Bottom line, if you know someone else in your area who sells for the same MLM, its probably a pyramid scheme, in which case only those at the very top (i.e. not you) will actually make money, while everyone else will lose massively.

Scrubbing the internet

And speaking of which, there are various red flags to watch out for with furu’s, the obvious one being when they constantly showing off their expensive cars and wealth (if Bill Gates did that would you be more or less inclined to buy MS software?). But a foolproof method is to put the furu’s name into google along with a search term such as “…… is a fraud” or “……exposed”. And if the first page of hits you get is just links to the guru’s own site, or shills saying “is ….. a fraud?, not at all! (hilarious one here where one furu get’s caught out shilling for himself under a fake name).

This indicates that our furu has gone to great lengths to manipulate the search algorithms (probably by hiring an IT expert), in order to bury any genuine feedback and criticism. Likely because most of the real feedback is almost entirely negative. They are also prone to being fairly litigious often threatening people with lawsuits, or using NDA’s to gag their victims. In fact, the one skill contrepreneur’s won’t teach is that of due diligence, probably because they don’t want you conducting due diligence on them.

And it will probably come as little surprise to learn that when it comes to politics most of these furu’s are libertarian objectivists (which is basically a nicer way of saying you are a selfish thieving bast@rd), or admirers of the prosperity gospel (god wants me to be rich…by stealing off the poor, that’s what the bible says, doesn’t it?). And yes some of them are promoting the usual Covid conspiracy theories. In fact one of them got arrested recently for using money from a Covid relief fund to buy a Lamborghini.

And if they do get caught or exposed by the media, they claim its just haters who are jealous (presumably because these haters prefer to be poor), or its all a big government conspiracy….so the government, currently run by snake oil conmen, is apparently against snakeoil con men like these furu’s. Go figure!

The reality

Setting up a business isn’t easy. A significant proportion of business ventures ultimately fail (75% of them by one estimate). And I’d argue that this is likely because many people simply lack the experience to undertake such a venture, or they underestimate the amount of work that’s involved, not to mention the capital requirements (as any business will initially run at a loss for sometime).

Being your own boss” sound good, but in reality bosses are very busy people. I recall sending my boss an email once, then bumped into him in the corridor and we spending about five minutes in his office talking. During which I could see on the screen behind him my email went from the top of his inbox to disappear off the bottom of the screen. Similarly, there’s no free lunches, passive income isn’t really something most people should aspire too.

And you need a unique selling point. For example, when I was growing up, we had a neighbour who was very musical and so he ended up starting a business which re-furbishes, tunes and sells pianos. And, given that he’s got all the gear to move them safely, he also hires out roadies to music festivals. I know someone else who started off in his hippie days installing renewables (generally on the homes of other hippies), who now runs a renewable installation business. Then there’s Louis Rossemann, a right to repair advocate, who also runs a computer repair business in NY, as well as a YouTube channel (where he describes some of his struggles to get his business off the ground).

You will probably notice the trend, all of the individuals above are operating in a field where they enjoy what they are doing (and are thus willing to commit to long hours). And they have a unique set of knowledge and experience, allowing them to carve out a niche. Indeed, the advice we give students before embarking on a PhD is pick a field you enjoy doing research in, because while you might end up hating the subject at the end of your PhD (which stands for Piled higher and Deeper), you will at least have the resolve to finish it. Its no different in business. Hence the lunacy of the contrepeneur’s pitch (high risk business ventures, in a field where a penniless amateur is all but doomed to fail).

If you do want an education on running or starting a business, I’d advise checking out your local college, who will probably run professional courses (typically short P/T evening or online courses) on a variety of related topics. There also MOOC’s run by the world’s top universities. You will be taught by qualified experts and many of these courses will be accredited by an outside agency (so you’ll be getting a recognised qualification you can put on you’re CV). While some will include fees, these are often subsidised (plus there’s a long list of free MOOC courses). You’ll be paying a fraction of what a contrepeneur would charge you and getting a much better service. They might not sell you the dream, but you will at least get something for your time and money.

As the saying goes, in a gold rush the only people making money are the people selling shovels. In the post-truth era, it seems the best way to make money is by selling lies.

The one thing the Tories are getting right

So we are now warned that Covid is out of control in the UK, cases are at over 4000 a day (higher than before the last lockdown) and could rise to 50,000 a day by next month if nothing is done. And this against the backdrop of a failed track and trace scheme and a Tory government that reopened too quickly and squandered the lockdown.

And what exactly are the Tories going to do, another lockdown? Ya and I’ll just claim I’m driving to Bernard’s castle to test my eyesight (researchers are now calling it “the Cummings effect“, which likely has played a role in this uptick of cases). Or I’ll say I’m going grouse hunting (no joke they exempted grouse hunting from local lockdowns), so I just need to go around with a shovel or a spear (you don’t have to be good at grouse hunting to claim you are doing it!).

And let’s be clear Cummings did that runner to the Durham because he could see Covid cases going crazy in London and he knew all too well how badly he and the Tories had run down the NHS. He didn’t fancy dying on a dirty hospital floor in a pool of his own piss, as happened to quite a few of his fellow brexiters thanks to his actions (and let’s be clear, if you voted Tory, that is what you voted for).

And on the brexit front, we’ve been warned they’ve left it way too late to impose any sort of border controls. And that’s during normal times, it doesn’t account for this Covid effect. I mean they’ve harping on about their brexit fantasy for several decades and they can’t even get this one right! The term couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery springs to mind.

However there is one thing they are getting right, helping their friends line their pockets. Covid contracts have been handed out to Tory donors with no bidding. This has seen firms who don’t make PPE getting contracts to supply PPE or accounting firms getting medical testing contracts. And just recently the Japanese firm Fujitisu received a very lucrative contract to develop post-brexit IT systems, which is makes the Japanese willingness to go ahead with this trade deal a bit clearer (my guess is they were promised they’d get their share of the cake).

And last week failing Grayling got himself a P/T job, which will earn him £100,000 a year (for one day’s work a week) to advise a port authority…this is the same guy who cost the Government billions due to his bungling incompetence, including giving £50 million to a ferry company that didn’t actually own any ferries.

And finally, the thing I’d long predicted would happen has happened – a euroskeptic has declared brexit to be an EU plot (I expect this will be the Daily Mail’s line next year as soon as everything’s gone to pot).

So the Tories are getting one thing right, they are looking after their own. And I suppose they know how thick most Tory voters are, so they probably assume (not unreasonably) that they can just con them into voting Tory again in a few years time. After all, if you are that big a mug to believe them last election, you can be just as easily conned next time.

The real problem with brexit: ignorant and arrogant toff’s

So now we can see how, yet again, the brexiters have tied themselves up in various knots. By threatening to break international laws they’ve managed, within the space of a few weeks, to scupper any chances of a deal with the EU, piss off the Americans (and several other countries too, make it very unlikely they will get the trade deals they want, even if they drop the internal market bill), risk the break up of the UK (support for Scottish independence is now at 53-55%), provoke mass resignations among the government’s legal advisers (not exactly helpful at such a critical time), and risk the UK becoming the first country in history to effectively impose sanctions on itself.

Incidentally, if you ever want confirmation that a Tory policy is harmful, watch how they will shamelessly claim the opposite is true (war is peace and peace is war in Toryland). With Johnson preposterously selling the bill to his MP’s as vital to saving the union….by destroying it!

And all if this against the backdrop of a 2nd wave of Covid, where’s its quite clear the NHS will struggle to cope and the Tories have dropped the ball, promising a “worldbeating” testing system (of course anything the Tories claim is worldbeating usually means world beating levels of incompetence and cronyism), which doesn’t supply any tests and a tracing system that doesn’t do any tracing. And many of the same mistakes made before (where elderly patients with suspected covid where discharged and sent to care homes without being tested, to free up beds, leading to a massive spike in cases in care homes) are being repeated.

Some argue its all part of some clever plan cooked up by Dominc Cummings. I’d argue no, it simply a product of the upper class twits who run the Tory party. Many of them (Cummings included btw) were educated in posh boarding schools where children are essentially radicalised (not unlike similar institutions run by islamists). These schools enforce a particularly warped world view of British exceptionalism (rules are for other people, same as taxes) and the glories of empire, while glossing over certain details (such as all the massacres or repression that sustained that empire).

So for example, any fool would understand how much of a red flag breaking an international treaty would look to Europeans (given the past behaviour of fascist governments and the dangers in appeasing such behaviour). I mean how would the British feel if the Spanish decided to break international law in “ a limited way by now imposing a blockade on Gibraltar (effectively starving the British out).

And the influence of the Irish American lobby is well known, has Johnson never seen a St Patrick’s day parade? And, while the republicans are being a bit more diplomatic about it than the democrats, the message is similar, stick to the GFA or no trade deal. Remember that what trade agreements the UK has currently has with the US will expire on January the 1st 2021, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. People seem to forget its not just the EU we’ll be trading on WTO terms with, but everyone else in the world, the Japan trade deal for example hasn’t yet been ratified by either country.

And of course the very fact they are going back on their own withdrawal agreement (the opposition did propose a more lengthy due diligence and tried to highlight the consequences, but they were ignored) indicates they didn’t understand what it is they were signing. The withdrawal agreement and the NI protocol were rejected by Teresa May, as she was worried it would be a price too great to pay for brexit (her plan was to pretend to support a hard brexit, then force through a softer brexit at the 11th hour under the threat of no deal). Its been obvious since the start of the brexit process you have to put a border somewhere (and a border across Ireland breaks the GFA) or what’s the point in brexit? This was always going to make a hard brexit very difficult if not impossible.

While a soft brexit would negate the need for a hard border, its unacceptable to brexiters as it would quickly expose the reality that they lied through their teeth during the referendum promising things that could never be delivered. It would mean being in the EU’s orbit, still bound by its rules, but with no say in how those rules are made. And still paying more or less what is currently paid into the EU’s coffers. And even this would be more economically damaging than staying in. As such it would probably be reversed pretty quickly once the Tories were out of power.

This is why they’ve been pushing for the hardest of hard brexits, as it allows they to defer having to accept certain unpleasant realities. But its doesn’t change anything, its an ostrich strategy. The brexiters principle enemy after all is reality (which has a remainer bias) and their accumulated body of lies.

Recall for example, that signing trade deals with other countries means you have to change your laws to account for that (as trade deals require common laws…you know like EU membership!). The Japanese trade deal will require changes to state aid rules, the US deal (if they were to get it) would mean changes to food standards and the selling off of the NHS. And establishing your own institutions to regulate these new rules is likely to cost the UK far more than it ever paid to the EU.

The only difference between these deals and EU membership is that by staying in the EU, the UK would save money, retain more of a say EU affairs and have more bargaining power abroad. But the Tories aren’t details people. They are as ignorant of these pesky facts as they are about NI. And besides they know they can rely on the right wing media to lie to the public and convince them that the chocolate ration is being increased from 30g to 20g.

Which is why I’d argue that under no circumstances should anyone go easy on the brexiters over this. If I were the EU I’d announce a no deal and make it clear to Johnson that if he wants a deal (the country is in no way ready he’ll have to come crawling to the table eventually), he’ll have to drop the internal market bill, pay some sort of fine (or accept some sort of political punishment, e.g., agreeing that the parliament act does not apply to any agreement signed with the EU, which means the lords can block bills like this indefinitely, oh and stop him appointing new lords as well), and then basically wait on the naughty step for a few weeks, before talks are allowed to resume. And if so much as one tabloid story comes out suggesting the government is being insincere, talks are suspended again, compensation is requested and further punishments applied and so on.

And the US should do the same. In fact I’d suggest both the US and the EU should quietly lean on other government’s (such as Japan) and let it be known that if they were to proceed with trade talks (or ratify any agreed deals into law) that this will be seen as an unfriendly act, which will result in political consequences (don’t come looking for favours if you get into a mess).

The Tories are spoil little brats, used to getting their way. They need to learn a lesson in respect and that their actions have consequences. If they chose to do so the hard way, well so be it.

Non-white racism

The other week, the home secretary Priti Racist Patel joined Farage in a competition of shouting at the sea, or more specifically the poor migrants coming over in boats. And many, both migrants and UK citizens, are getting caught in the cross fire.

Farage “discovered” a hotel being used to shelter migrants during the Covid outbreak (it was no secret, the home office is obliged by law to provide accommodation to asylum seekers, would he rather they wander around the streets during a pandemic?), in Patel’s constituency. After which, she made the home office apologise (for doing their job competently? Is this now a crime in Johnson’s government?) and then had the migrants moved, leaving both the migrants and staff at the hotel in tears (as this face saving move on Priti Racist Patel’s part will likely cost some workers their jobs).

Farage is up to his usual tricks!

Clearly this is part of Farage plot to establish a new anti-immigrant party. Of course, this invalidates most of the anti-EU arguments as regards brexit (I recall warning back 2011 that leaving the EU worsens the migrant situation, as it makes it harder to send anyone back to France). But then again when have the right been afraid of a little hypocrisy. However, it does demonstrate what a huge mistake the Tories made by pandering to Farage and allowing the brexit referendum in the first place, naively thinking it would get the bigot brigade off their back. (as well as showing how foolish it was to vote leave thinking it would tackle immigration).

Of course Priti Racist Patel’s main job is to act as cover for the Tories racist and xenophobic policies. I mean how can someone of India origin be racists? Aren’t only white people racists? Actually, no and this is a myth that needs busting. There are plenty of non-white racists. Because many of the same factors that led to racism, bigotry, sectarianism and classicism can just as easily apply to anyone, regardless of their race.

In fact, Priti Racist Patel is a good example of this. She’s descended from refugees herself (somewhat ironically) in form of the Ugandan Indians, who were expelled from Uganda to the UK by the dictator Idi Amin. Which probably explains why she’s a rabid islamapob to the point of almost parody. She was willing to leak classified information to the Israeli’s (what’s otherwise known as treason). She’s a strong supporter of India’s Modi and his racist government (well get to that) and was urging Cameron to bomb Syria because…well why not! And yes she backed brexit, because she’s anti-immigrant, because we can’t have any more people like her coming in (another classical example of right wing hyprocrisy syndrome).

And speaking of Patel, unfortunately, India is a fairly racist country, with an awful lot of discrimination. As this blog post points out, Indian racism is multi layered. There is the simple racism between those of lighter skin and darker skin (they literally have adverts on the TV in which they sell skin creams that make you look whiter!), the divide between the north and south of the country (which have very different foods and cultures), prejudice and xenopobia against foreigners (or those who look foreign), which is a particular problem if you are black. To be blunt you’ll hear the sort of racist language in India that even Trump supporters would consider to be going a bit too far.

Of course by far the biggest cause of discrimination and racial violence in India is that of religious sectarianism, with discrimination between Hindu’s and those of the lower castes, or hindu’s v’s Muslim, Buddhists and Christians. This is a country where race riots are a fairly common occurrence.

And a key factor behind all of this is the current ruling party of India, the BJP a Hindu nationalist party. They are basically the equivalent of the British National Party or the DUP (aka the old testament with fortnightly bin collections). The BJP’s main claim to fame was the destruction of a 400 year old Mosque in the 1990’s. This event provoked a massive wave of rioting across india. The riots in Mumbai alone lasted several weeks and killed nearly a thousand people. And the BJP’s plans for reconciliation? They are currently building a Hindu temple on top of the demolished mosque.

Amongst the BJP’s other antics are requiring cinema’s to play the national anthem during which all are expected to stand, or risk getting attacked by Hindu nationalists (with cases of people in wheelchairs being attacked for not standing). The banning of non-Hindu actors from Bollywood films. Or the altering of school textbooks to require the teaching of a particular Hindu branch of astrology in all schools.

Oh and yes there’s the usual anti-Covid/denial and anti-mask madness as well. Because apparently the aforementioned astrologers failed to predict Covid, so surely it can’t be actually happening. And if it is, the Muslims caused it.

Which will all probably explain why Trump has been paling around with Modi, he’s Trump’s kind of person. And he knows there’s more than a few Indians living in the US who share Modi’s racism, whom he might be able to persuade to vote for him in November.

And unfortunately, these trends in India are shared across Asia. We have for example, the recent ethnic cleansing and genocide in Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands displaced and thousands killed. The Uygur happy fun re-education concentration camps, with similar issues in Tibet. And the Thai’s have this strange obsession with Hitler, something John Oliver has covered. I think you get the picture.

And in Africa too, unfortunately we do see quite a lot of racism and sectarianism. This can be the usual conflict between religious groups, for example the Dafur conflict or in Nigeria. Then there is violence and discrimination between different ethnic groups, for example the Rwanda genocide or the ongoing issues of modern slavery in various parts of Africa.

Now it has to be said that European colonists (you know the sort of people brexiters look up to) do bare their share of the blame. They were the ones who drew arbitrary borders, which often times stuck two groups together in a country who hated each other. And then, rather than smoothing tensions they instead poked them with a stick, favouring one over the other as part of a deliberate policy of divide and rule. So colonialism is at least partially responsible for kicking a hornet’s nest. But its not like these countries were a Utopian paradise before the colonists showed up, nor have they been since then.

Then we have people who are erroneously called “self hating” racists, or internalised racism (the more polite term), in that they are racist against their own race. Good examples being Kanye West, Candice Owens or the UK government’s race relations adviser Munira Mirza. Strictly speaking the naming convention is wrong, as its not a matter of self hatred, but more a combination of narcissism, classism as well as downright selfishness and outright greed.

The wealthy, particular those in America, are all too aware of how awfully unequal and overtly racist society is. So in order to help themselves sleep at night (in the absence of HukkaPM), they perpetuate various stereotypes and engage in victim blaming. They’ll claim that poor people and minorities (or anyone subject to discrimination) are lazy, they don’t work hard enough (ignoring completely the evidence that suggests the opposite is true, many poor people work longer hours and multiple jobs). Why should my taxes pay for them to get a hand out? So if you are a member of this class and presumably a bit self absorbed, narcissistic and selfish you are likely to buy in to this propaganda, even if you are an ethnic minority, and end up going the full Uncle Tom.

This can sometimes lead to a level of overshoot, as our internalised racist knows their peer group are a fairly bigoted lot, so they try to outdo them in order to fit in (e.g. Kanye’s trying to justify slavery). If America isn’t racist, as Nikki Haley claims, why doesn’t she stand for election using her real name Nimrata Nikki Randhawa. And if Britain isn’t racist why doesn’t Boris Johnson go by his real family name, Kemal? His grandfather was a Turkish immigrant who adopted the name Johnson to appear more British). He then sent his son, and later grandson (Boris), to upper class boarding schools, specifically to try and help blend in. Which immediately explains Boris and his pound shop Churchill act.

And lets be clear, contrary to anything Kanye says, he is a shill candidate. Trump’s team (who have helped to bank roll Kanye) know that, after the whole George Floyd fiasco, Trump has very little chance of convincing black Americans to vote for him. So instead he gets Kanye to launch a pointless election campaign, which they hope will draw away enough black voters from Biden to swing things Trump’s way. And its a tactic that Trump’s hero Putin has used before. Yet another way Trump plans to steal the election.

Broken mail sorting machines as Trump tries to rig elections

Now it is important to mention that right wing racists will often themselves highlight these racist trends among some non-whites (course they’ll leave out that little detail), as a way of excusing their racism (completely ignoring that this negates the “no ethic minority can be racist” gambit they use to shield themselves from accusations of racism). Because two wrongs make a right and an eye for an eye won’t turn the whole world blind (they grow back don’t they?).

Neither excuses the other. Its just as bad and socially unacceptable to be a racist black person as it is to be a racist white person (regardless of who you are racist against). The end results are the same. And the worst part of it all is that racism is a self-perpetuating cycle. Violence begets yet more violence. The only way to break the cycle is to acknowledge there is a problem and engage in a process of reconciliation.

Right wing policy is all about walls…and they don’t work!

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So we now know that its going to be a no deal brexit and that basically means the Tory policy is the same Trump’s – build a wall in the English channel and expect someone else to pay for it (spoiler alert, they won’t!). However there is a problem here, both for the Tories and Trump. Walls don’t actually work and can lead to the worst of both worlds.

The likelihood is that what we will see after January 2021 is long queues at Dover and Folkstone leading to serious delays and possible shortages of supplies in shops. How serious these shortages are is hard to guess, but it will not correct itself quickly, sporadic shortages of certain items (one week no eggs, next week lots of them but no flour, etc.) will be something we have to get used to, because that’s sort of the price you pay for having such border checks. As I’ve discussed before, this was the reality in the time before the single market.

Supermarkets and retailers plan their orders months in advance. They will have already started work on their Christmas stock. This is how they are able to have what you need or want on the shelves at the correct time (e.g. first decent day of sun, there’s barbecue stuff, first frosty morning, de-icing kits and snow shovels). While they can plan ahead for some certain predictable events, the trouble is that if the demand side of things causes supplies to sell out quicker than expected (as recently happened during the pandemic) its going to be harder to restock in a hurry (due to the border delays) and it will cost more money to do so, pushing up prices.

And when it comes to costs we are not just talking about tariffs, but the cost of paying for a truck to sit in a queue for several hours (or possibly for the driver to have to overnight as he’s gone over his hours). Then there is the cost of paying someone to fill out all that paperwork, estimated at £200 per item in a truck (so if you have boxes of 50 different items in the back of one truck, that’s £10,000 on paper work to move one truck across the border). Those costs will have to be borne by someone.

And that doesn’t just mean customers, it also means costs to the government and ultimately tax payers (those border facilities cost money to build and maintain, border guards don’t work for free). Indeed it has been estimated that the costs of establishing a border, as well as numerous regulatory agencies and then administering all of that, will cost far more than the UK ever paid to Brussels during its entire period of EU membership. And this doesn’t include the loss of trade or the economic damage caused by brexit.

And no, we can’t all buy everything off British suppliers. They won’t be able to produce enough to meet demand. Inevitably if everyone tries to order say, British tomatoes, the price will soar. And retailers know their customers, they know what will sell and what won’t. Hence they will not stock fruit and veg that’s the wrong colour or shape, which is why the EU had all those rules about bendy banana’s (to ensure suppliers didn’t find themselves in the situation where a supermarket rejects their entire stock for some arbitrary reason). Which is why the UK will need to come up with similar rules (then pay someone to administer them).

But here’s the problem, border controls don’t work. Inevitably people will start to circumvent them. Don’t underestimate people’s ingenuity in circumventing a disliked bureaucracy. This was, after all, the reality pre-single market. If you went to France on holiday, you made sure to fill the car boot with French wine on the way back. If going to visit relatives in the UK you’d bring over a big suitcase full of contraband, which you’d then fill up for the return journey. And truck drivers who cross borders regularly will start carrying a few “special delivery” boxes (any items that is expensive or scarce post-brexit) tucked away in the back of their truck. Professional smugglers will set up their one operations as soon as they see a way of making a profit (and that £10k a truck load, not including the savings from dodging tariffs and taxes, is going to be mighty tempting). This puts UK companies in the worst of both worlds, unable to export easily and facing competition from foreign produce that is smuggled in with no regulation, taxes or tariff’s.

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Now that’s a proper wall, unlike Trump’s puny little fence

Bottom line you can’t search every single car or truck, enough will leak in to cause problems. Take the Berlin wall. Now that’s a proper wall (Trump’s wee fence seems pretty tame in comparison) with literally an army guarding, operating under shoot to kill orders. But it didn’t work. Smuggling of people out through check points still occurred, as did the smuggling of goods into the GDR. This combination of loss of trade thanks to those strict border controls, smuggling of items into the GDR and a brain drain, is why the GDR collapsed. And speaking of which, brexit itself has already caused a brain drain with applications for EU passports soaring by up to 2000% in some cases.

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However, despite taking such draconian measures people still managed to sneak out and contraband was smuggled in

This is why the European single market came into existence in the first place. Countries thought they were playing a protectionist game of beggar thy neighbour, when they were actually playing a game of beggar thy self. This required common rules, which the EU was set the task of administering. Of course, as I’ve discussed before, perhaps the flaw of many free trade deals (or the single market) has been to adopt a very neo-liberal model, rather than one that actually works to protect jobs and the environment.

But either way, trade deals with the US or other blocks will also require common rules, just ones the UK has little say in (as the US will decide those rules, not the UK). Plus the supply lines to the these parts of the world are quite long and I can’t see much business going their instead of the EU (it will still be quicker and cheaper to just have a driver queue at Calais than wait a week or two for cargo to cross the Atlantic…plus most transatlantic trade goes through Rotterdam!).

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UK citizens are likely to reject US food

And supermarkets have already indicated they will refuse to stock certain US items such as Chlorine washed Chicken, GM foods or crops grown with heavy use of pesticides. They are doing this because they recall that there was a consumer revolt in Europe a few years back, during which such products were rejected. The EU’s labelling rules (which the US has suggested should be dropped) were brought in specifically to deal with this issue. The same process will just play out again. Supermarkets will be reluctant to stock such items. And customers, aware of the new labelling laws (and thus anything that is made with US ingredients needs to be looked on with suspicion), will just not buy anything that so much as touches America (even items currently on sale in the UK), making the trade deal counter productive.

What’s Trump going to do? Send the marines into UK supermarkets to force Texas made Cornish pasties into people’s trolleys at gunpoint. And Americans will probably still be reluctant to buy British meat (which is more expensive) given the whole mad cow business (I recall overhearing an American commenting on that, so yes that’s still a thing). Is Boris going to parachute Royal Marines (in redcoats one assumes) into American restaurants and force people to eat British steaks (and while they are at it, how about paying some taxes on your tea?…course technically it will now be Britain who will be subject to taxes without representation).

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An eight year old girl demonstrates how to climb a replica of Trump’s border wall

And the same is true of immigration controls. Firstly, they don’t work, even if the wall can deter crossing (and it won’t), they’ll just go around it via border check points….or just take a flight to Las Vegas or Florida and pretend to be on vacation. Like the Berlin wall, its an expensive act of security theatre.

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Meanwhile the UK, aware of migrants paddling across the channel, is proposing to send multi-million pound warships out to intercept them, invade French territorial waters and drop them off…likely resulting in a French warship entering British waters to drop them off in Dover, as the French have made clear that the price of brexit is that you can’t send migrants back.

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Your taxes hard at work…helping migrants to get to the UK that is!

Why oh why do all these migrants want to come to the UK? Is it because France is racist? Well, no more than the UK is racist. The issue here is that the UK (much like the US) has for years presented itself as a “world beating” land of milk and honey. And unsurprisingly many refugees, particularly those from ex-British colonies, then see it as the obvious bolt hole in the event of issues back home. After all, its how the current home secretary got here (ironically she’s a refugee herself!). So its a little late to start complaining.

Beside which, the number of jobs in an economy is not a fixed constant, it varies depending on economic activity. Strict border controls, reduces economic activity and thus leads to more unemployment. And it has been proven that migrants add more jobs than they take away.

In fact strict border controls can actually be counter productive. Put yourself in the shoes of a greedy, ethically challenged businessman. You want to get a leg up on your competitors, so you predominantly hire undocumented migrants. They will work for a much lower salary (possibly less than minimum wage) you don’t have to pay for their healthcare, pension, etc., and its a lot less likely they will unionise or go to the authorities to raise concerns about workplace safety or poor hygiene standards. Of course, once your competitors figure out what you are up to, they too will copy this model and in the end American workers (or British workers) will effectively be driven out of an entire industry.

This is pretty much what’s already happened to a number of US industries, such as the meat packing industry. And if anything Trump’s wall, or the brexiters immigration controls, will just mean more of the same. Indeed, one could argue that the it gives some business owners (such as a certain hotel baron with a habit of hiring undocumented workers) a perverse incentive in maintaining the status quo. Because if you ever actually managed to control immigration, they’d lose most of their workforce. While if immigration controls were ever relaxed, they’d face demands for a proper salary (as well as back pay) and workers would start bringing up their rights (as well as levelling the playing field for American workers).

So a better strategy would be to deflect public attention with some security theatre, while crippling ICE, by for example forcing them to devote most of their agents to patrolling and guarding a pointless border wall that actually does little to stop immigration, or sending them off to Portland to harsh some demonstrators.

Of course this is exactly why the EU did away with immigration controls for workers in the first place. They realised it wasn’t doing anybody any favours and was actually counter productive. And south America too has adopted a similar approach when it comes to the movement of labour between their countries.

Similarly, there are cases where strict protectionism can increase smuggling, by making it more lucrative for people to do it, meaning more will be willing to take the risk (or just bribe officials). After all this is the entire basis behind the drugs trade and people smuggling.

In short, right wing populism only looks like a good idea if you’ve recently had a lobotomy, or are ignorant of world economic history since the end of world war 2 (which is part of the problem, most brexiters are ignorant of history beyond the dambusters raid). The brexiters and republican policy amounts to relearning those lessons of history via the school of hard knocks with the same predictable outcomes.

A Critical analysis of SpaceX Starship

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news-092919b-lg Musk’s Starship looks impressive….but will it work?

I came across this video series from a Vlogger (common sense sceptic) critiquing Elon Musk’s Mars programme and his plans for a Mars colony. I would give it a look, its actually quite informative. They also look at the Gateway foundation, pointing to several serious technical flaws in their proposals as well…plus the fact that the foundation’s mailing address isn’t a engineering firm or a airport hangar, but a PO box in a strip mall!

The series highlights a number of the major problems with the Starship spacecraft. Notably the fact it can’t accommodate anything close to the 100 people Musk proposes, when you work out how much food & water they will need enroute (based on NASA data and the likely volume required per crew, a max of 17 per trip is a more likely figure). There’s also a potential…

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The flawed thinking of the Fallists

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I mean its not like anything bad ever came from burning art or books!

As I mentioned in a prior post, I see no reason against taking down certain statues (that frankly were put up for largely racist reasons in the first place). But I worry that if you start taking down any statue that anybody is offended by, you’ll end up taking them all down. Hell, “the statue” is an important landmark in my home town of Cork in Ireland. Its erected to Father Matthew, both a catholic priest and a leading member of Ireland’s temperance movements (so presumably he’s offending at least three groups, atheists, anyone with a grudge against the catholic church and everyone in Ireland who likes a drink!).

But much as there is a lack of understanding of history on the part of those looking to maintain these statues, its not like the right wing have a monopoly on stupidity. There are plenty looking to tear down these statues (and much else as well) who have an equally poor understanding of history.

A good example of this are the Fallists of South Africa. In addition to arguing against university fees (which makes sense given how unequal a society SA is, then again a stopped clock is correct twice a day) but they are also radical decolonisers who don’t just want to take down a few statues but roll back anything that stinks of colonisation.

In short they want to take off the curriculum anything from Western science. This video from a few years ago kind of sums the situation up, arguing Newton’s laws are racist, then arguing in favour of black magic instead and calling for science to be abolished so people can “decolonise their minds”….said while holding an i-phone!

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….said while holding an i-phone!

This is wrong on so many levels. Firstly science can’t be racist, its a method, a way of separating out fact from fiction. In short, we accept Newton’s laws, not because he was white, but because the equations are proven to be effective. And they tie into a scientific narrative stretching back many centuries (including the works of non-European scientists…some of them from Africa!). We don’t accept witch doctors, magic and wizardry because they have consistently been unable to demonstrate their supposed abilities in a controlled experiment, even when offered a substantial reward to do so.

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The Babylonians and Egyptian civilisations were some of the pioneers of the scientific method, including the study of the stars and planets

Secondly there seems to be an automatic assumption here that science is a European or a western invention. Its not, it has its roots in ancient civilisations such as Babylon (in modern day Iraq) and Egypt (in Africa!). Indeed for most of human history Western Europe has been well behind the rest of the world when it comes to science and technology. While the Egyptians (again….in Africa!) were raising the pyramids (the great pyramid being the tallest building in the world for over 3000 years!), temples and building an extensive irrigation system, they were also studying astronomy, medicine, maths and physics. Meanwhile, western Europe was still getting over the idea of using bronze rather than stone tools (no doubt there were some anti-Bronzers going around claiming that bronze tipped spears gave you cancer, but I’m sure they got the point eventually!).

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Ancient Egypt was famous for its large civil infrastructure projects, many of which survive to this day

And the ancient Egyptians weren’t a one off (noting that of course there were multiple Egyptian civilisations), Africa has seen many advanced civilisations over its history, often well ahead of their European contemporaries, the Ethiopians, or the Mali Empire  (who build Timbuktu) to name a few. And of course there were plenty of other advanced civilisations around the world as well, in the Middle east, India, China or south and central America.

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Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest civilisations

Even within Europe, western Europe (the bit that did most of the colonising) has been fairly backward compared to those in the South. Indeed when we talk of the Roman, Greek and Byzantium civilisations its better to look on them as Mediterranean civilisations, rather than purely European ones. As the key “killer app” of these civilisations was their ability to trade across the Mediterranean sea and ultimately with the lands beyond. And often times the wealthier and more developed parts of these Empires were the bits in Africa, Anatolia and the Levant.

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The Ptolemaic city of Alexandria. At its zenith in 50AD, it was one of the largest and most advanced cities on the planet

Consider that at its zenith the city of Alexandria (again in Africa) was a massive, wealthy, bustling metropolis with a population of half a million. It included the infamous great library of Alexandria (one of the great centres of learning of the ancient world) a giant lighthouse (one of the wonders of the ancient world), paved streets, running water, etc. Around about the same time London was a small circle of mud huts inhabited by a bunch of slack jawed yokel’s who’d likely try and eat a book if you gave them one (so nothing much has changed then!). Similarly the aforementioned Timbukto was, at its time, another major centre of learning and trade.

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Timbukto was an important trading hub and a centre of learning during the early Islamic period of west Africa

Its really only been in the last 300 years that western Europe has had any kind of lead. Put it this way, if we consider all of recorded history as running from the founding of Jericho (about 10,000 years ago) to the present day. And if we were to condense that timeline into a 24 hour period, then western civilisation has been in the lead for about the last 45 minutes (and the way we are going I doubt we will see out the hour!).

So what happened? Well two things, first the west kept steadily advancing while other civilisations stagnated. There were many reasons for this, but a lot of the time its often self inflicted, often slowly over time, be it environmental degradation (likely the cause of the Mayan collapse), the decay or collapse of critical infrastructure (basically they implemented a policy of austerity, failing to account for how vital it was to preserve their infrastructure), civil strife or religious fanaticism. The aforementioned great library of Alexandria was burnt down in 390 AD by fanatical Christians, an event that’s often seen as the trigger for the dark ages. And let’s be clear that’s what “decolonising people’s minds” looks like. Books being burned, scholars killed or driven away.

And of course if one civilisation decides to let the nutters take over (you know like arguing in favour of witch doctors and against established science), while another civilisation does not, that’s not going to end well for the former if those two ever meet. Not that I’m suggesting that this justifies colonialism. I’m simply pointing out it would have never happened in the first place had these civilisations kept listening to the experts and had kept sensible people in charge.

And the only difference today is that you don’t have to take your foot off the gas pedal for nearly as long to fall way behind. The USSR’s collapse was largely down to a period of economic stagnation under Brezhnev that lasted a decade or two. Hence why voting for populists is not a good idea. Other countries who have sensible people in charge (they might not be nice people, but they are vaguely sane) will quickly overtake you. And by the time you’ve figured that out, it will be too late to do anything.

The other factor in the west’s favour was they found a cheat code – fossil fuels. It is perhaps no coincidence that western Europe, and in particular the UK’s rise from a rural backwater to an industrial power house, happens to coincide with the discovery and exploration of large deposits of coal (ironically, it was initially a lack of firewood in the UK that led to increased exploitation of coal).

A single kg of coal has a calorific value of 25 million joules of energy, or the equivalent to an entire day’s worth of human labour. So its perhaps no surprise that, once the technology to fully exploit this resource was developed, western Europe would advanced very rapidly. Of course, if fossil fuels were ever to run out, or we had to give them up for environmental reasons (recall environmental degradation is a common cause of failure of many civilisations), that’s not going to work out very well…unless you’ve devoted the time to developing alternatives.

Not so safe spaces

And another issue I’d raise here is the misuse of safe spaces. In the aforementioned video, when someone tries to point out the obvious fallacies of these Fallists, instead they get shut down and told to apologise! That’s not a safe space. And this is no more a debate than you’d find in the DPRK.

The point of safe spaces is that right wingers will frequently try to shut down debate completely. You want to debate climate change (how long do we have to act? How much warming is too much? should we go for the more free market led solutions or centrally planned ones?) and they will try to deny climate change is happening at all or profess their belief that the earth is flat and the moon’s made of cheese. Debate race relations and they’ll deny there’s a problem (or claim that its racist to bring up white privilege). And they will often be deliberately obstructive and try to be as intimidating as possible (by basically acting like a complete man-baby, good example of Alex Jones doing that here). And these tactics come right out of the nazi playbook, as this was one of the ways they shut down their political opponents.

So the point of a safe space is to say, look if we are here to have a debate and that means accepting certain boundaries, e.g. if we are debating climate change mitigation, we are starting from the assumption that something needs to be done about it (which still leaves a a fairly broad spectrum of options and opinions). If you are debating race relations we are assuming there’s a good reason why ethnic minorities get twitchy every time they see the police. In short, its to ensure there is an actual debate and prevent it being shut down by someone who just wants to act like an asshole (because they knows they will lose once people start bringing up pesky facts).

And I’ve seen numerous examples where this is exactly what happens with left wing groups. E.g. you’ll be debating election tactics for the left and straight away any form of criticism of Corbyn is not allowed, you can’t even bring up facts and figures, such as opinion polls that show how massively unpopular he is with voters, nor can you raise the realities of how the decidedly unfair UK election system works (which requires progressive parties to work together rather than against one another). Inevitably, you don’t get a debate. Instead, you get a group hugging session. And all attendees are then left baffled when they lose to a clown by a massive historic margin (how can Corbyn/Bernie lose when everyone I know voted for him!).

The reality is that as many on the left will take comforting lies over unpleasant truths as much as those on the right. Which can be just as debilitating. For in much the same that right wingers need to realise that infinite economic growth forever (without any consequences) is impossible, we need to remember that civilisations can regress and go backwards. And the surest way to achieve that is by letting ignorance and ideology take over from fact based critical thinking.

Brexit Britain: “worldbeating” for all the wrong reasons

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One phrase you keep on hearing from brexiters is worldbeating. They want their Empire 2.0 to reflect the warped vision of British exceptionalism beaten into them back in public school. And at least in some respects they are succeeding. The UK is now worldbeating” for all of the wrong reasons.

Firstly its now official, the UK is one of the worst effected by Covid. While we can argue a bit about the figures (its likely some less developed countries are showing artificially lower figures due to less effective testing, or in some cases government manipulation of figures, something Trump is attempting in the US). But certainly in terms of countries where some level of testing is ongoing, England has the highest death rate in Europe and the UK is the 2nd worst in the world for per capita excess deaths. And its worth noting there is still some disparity within the UK as to the death rate from Covid in care homes (oddly enough while other countries are trying to get an accurate measure of these figures, the UK government seems to be trying to actively avoid such awkward questions).

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Interestingly, while Scotland’s death rate is high by European standards (then again its part of the UK and subject to the same policies from Westminster), it is still lower than in England, vindicating the SNP’s decision to adopt their own approach independent of London in how they dealt with Covid.

So while the bungling incompetence of Boris Johnson & the PM…sorry “special adviser” Cummings has to be part of the problem, clearly the massive Tory cuts to healthcare is the main reason behind this “worldbeating” death rate. And no, before anyone says it, oh every government has failed to invest properly in healthcare (that’s just a coping mechanism for Tory voters trying to allay their guilty conscience). Every year that labour had control of the NHS budget it went up in excess of inflation. Every year the Tories were in charge it has gone down. Its that simple, they didn’t invest in healthcare and people died. When you voted for them, you voted to kill people.

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The Tories response of course, rather than learning the error of their ways and reversing past policies, has been to double down, they’ve handed out contracts for testing or the prevision of PPE or ventilators to their chums and cronies, often without any proper tendering process and to companies who have no experience in that field (e.g. they handed medical testing contracts to an accountancy firm and the manufacture of ventilators to a manufacturer of diggers). And just in case you hadn’t guessed it, yes the key thing uniting all of these companies wasn’t their suitability to do the job, it was their donations to the Tory party (or that senior Tories sit on the board or work for them).

We were also promised a “worldbeating” contact and trace app…which didn’t work and drained people’s phone batteries thanks to all the spyware Cummings minions had installed on them. So while most EU states now have a working app and a contact tracing service to go with it, the UK has no app and a tracing service (predictably run by a Tory donor awarded under a no bid contract) that is in chaos. Of course the one benefit of using private firms linked to Tory donors, is that they will keep information private, allowing the government to cover up the extend of the crisis to the detriment of being able to deal effectively with it (hence why we’ve seen new local lockdowns spring up with no advance warning).

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And we were told last election that you can’t vote for Corbyn, why he’ll nationalise everything and destroy the country. Well a recent report from the ONS has said that the UK’s railways have now been effectively nationalised by the Tories, to the point where things such as the debts held by the private firms running the railway’s should technically count as part of the UK government debt (and rail employees counted as civil servants in all but name).

The only difference is, that labour’s policy would have given the government more control over the service. Hence they could look at making improvements to the service or lowering ticket prices (which are completely out of control, seriously I had to buy a train ticket recently and it was only barely cheaper than renting a car). All in all the UK’s rail service offers some of the poorest value for money in the world (as a someone who has travelled in trains around the world, UK trains are the most expensive and offer a very poor quality of service). So another “worldbeating” success then.

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British Trains are not only the most expensive in Europe, but some of the least reliable

And speaking of Corbyn, the tabloids were quick to drum up fear of his chums among the hard left “old guard” of the labour party during the election. And who do we see being nominated for the house of lords by Johnson? But hard left labour leavers such as Kate Hoey, Gisela Stuart, Frank Field and many others, such as Claire Fox (a member of the Revolutionary Communist party). They are allies of Corbyn, and while they were critical of him, that was because he didn’t back brexit more firmly (in a party that overwhelmingly supports remain) and they felt he took the whole Antisemitism thing too seriously (yes really!)….and these are the sort of people who Johnson, a Tory PM, who ran on an anti-Corbyn platform, wants as members of the house of lords. Go figure.

I’d further note that this more or less confirms what I’d long thought, that many of these labour MP’s were such hard core brexiters that they effectively sold out and betrayed their left wing principles, for which they are now being rewarded. There were efforts within labour to forge a middle ground (respect the referendum, campaign on the promise to negotiate a deal with Brussels, then put it to the people with remain or no deal as alternative options). However, these MP’s fought this process every step of the way. Even when Corbyn (who is also a brexiter of course) was cornered at conference and forced to adopt this compromise policy, this cabal of leavers persuaded him to not fully commit to it, which was one of the factors why labour lost the election (as neither remainers or leavers trusted labour on brexit anymore).

They also used their votes in parliament strategically to ensure labour lost several key votes (which of course Corbyn didn’t punish them for), even going against their own constituents (several represent strongly remain voting areas). Like I said, this can’t have been a coincidence. They were clearly working with the Tories and now they are collecting their twenty pieces of sliver. The only reason why Len McCluskey or Corbyn himself aren’t becoming lords as well is because even Daily Mail readers would smell a rat.

And speaking of which, Len McClusterfu*k is busy trying to undermine the labour party, by threatening to cut of funding (because settling out of court an anti-Semitism case might hurt Corbyn’s feelings…so better to destroy the party in order to save it).

And these labour Judases were not alone, a whole bunch of other people got peerages, including a Russian Oligarch linked to Putin (the son of a KGB agent no less). And this is on the back of the Russia report, which showed how Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin had undue influence on the UK. And the Tory response…make em lords of the land! Meanwhile John Bercow becomes one of the few speakers in history not to get a peerage.

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Johnson with his mate (and now a lord) a Russian Oligarch friend…that’s taking control…if you are Putin that is!

But we are supposed to get a “world beating” set of trade deals….you mean like the ones we had while within the EU, with not just the EU and EEA nations but 50 nations other around the world. While it is true that trade talks between the EU and other nations (such as the US) have failed, that’s generally been because the EU negotiators concluded that such deals would be too detrimental to outweight the benefits (there is is certain give and take with trade deals). The same applies to the UK. You can have a trade deal…if you don’t mind making a lot of farmers unemployed. And you are prepared to lower your food safety standards or privatise the NHS.

And who is behind the UK’s trade policy? Another drinking buddy of Dominc Cummings & Michael Gove, who is seen as a “snake oil Merchant, even by fellow leavers. And in Kent the local MP’s (who voted for brexit) are complaining about the plans to build several massive lorry parks to hold all the trucks queuing up after January. They want their no deal brexit…but only if everything stays exactly the same!

I’ve heard it asked whether Boris & co are pretending to be mad in the hope of getting a trade deal from the EU, or are they actually mad. I’d argue, neither is true, they are just corrupt. They know that their backers and donors can profit from a no deal (its called disaster capitalism) and they can blame everything on covid, the EU and migrants/poor people.

I previously compared the Tory government to Brazil’s operation carwash. In truth that is insulting to Brazil’s most corrupt politicians. They are no where near as bad as the Tories, who aren’t even bothering to try and hide their contempt for the people (there’s a Tory MP arrested for rape who is not even been suspended from the party). Yet what”s the bet many of the racist mugs who voted Tory last election will do so again next election. That is brexit Britain for you, a “worldbeating” kleptocracy.

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Is it just me, but when Tories say “worldbeating” they mean sh*t. If so, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go to the bathroom, I have some “worldbeating” business to take care of.

How grids will cope with electric cars

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A few months ago (in the before times), the UK government’s BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) taskforce released a report that presented both the benefits and challenges of transitioning road transport over to electric vehicles. Given that the media tended to focus on the more sensational aspects of the report (i.e. in theory, if all of those BEV’s were to be plugged in all at once this could cause blackouts), I thought it would be useful to provide a more balanced review of this report and what it means going forward.

Firstly, one myth that I frequently hear is that electric cars would require a massive increase in power generation to charge all those cars. However, the scale of this problem is perhaps being exaggerated somewhat. As the report mentions, even if we converted all of the UK’s vehicles over to electricity, it would only increase demand by 30%, which matches values for similar reports, such as the one below from the ICCT in 2013.

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The estimated impact of BEV’s on the grid is often overestimated (this from a 2013 ICCT report)

We can estimate this figure ourselves by taking the average fuel economy of an EV (say for example a Tesla Model X, which work out at about 36 kWh/100 miles), the number of vehicles in the UK (38.7 million, of which 82% are cars) and the average distance driven per year (7600 miles) . Multiplying all of that out we get a total annual energy use of 106 billion kWh/yr. The current annual energy consumption of the UK grid is about 334 billion kWh/yr. So even if we converted all of the cars in the UK over to electricity, you’d only increase electricity demand by 30%, in line with our report’s estimate.

And if anything I’d argue this is probably an over estimate. For in truth we are unlikely to ever have that many electric vehicles on the road. Vehicle ownership levels and distances driven have been falling for several years now (so likely there will simply be less vehicles in future). Better public transport, cycle lanes and facilities such as car clubs(of which I am a member) are negating the need for individual vehicle ownership.

Furthermore, some vehicles will not be converted to BEV’s for various reasons while electric vehicles might be suitable for many, given that 80% of all vehicle journey’s are under 20 miles, but they won’t be suitable for everybody. Long distance lorry drivers, travelling salesmen, police, emergency vehicles & taxi’s in rural areas, will probably not convert over, as you’d struggle to design a vehicle with enough range to meet their needs (likely instead these vehicles will be powered by a hybrid powertrain, biofuels or Hydrogen fuel cells).

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The discharge rate of individual charging ports can be quite high, potentially even higher than needed to power most houses

But what happens if millions of electric cars get plugged in at the same time and go to 100% charge all at once? Well certainly yes that would be a problem, as this paper discusses. Even just 5% of the UK’s current vehicle fleet (1.9 million cars) all being charged at a rate of 50 kW’s would require double the peak output from the UK’s current grid (currently about 60 GW’s). Fortunately, this can be resolved using smart grid technology, which controls and regulates charging to prevent such spikes in demand.

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A paper by Adolfo & Perujo (2009) demonstrates the impact on the grid of BEV’s depends a lot on how charging is handled

As noted, the vast majority of car journey’s are relatively short (less than 20 miles), while the range of electric vehicles on the market is between 150 to 350 miles. Thus on average most vehicle batteries will still be almost full when parked up. Given that your average car spends 96% of its time parked, then there’s no need to charge them up straight away (or use a supercharger to do the charging). It would make more sense to charge them at night using off peak electricity. Indeed modelling by the UK national grid suggests closer to a 4-10GW peak in grid demand due to electric vehicles. with smart charging.

Of course, as the aforementioned EV task report discusses, there is the issue of how to implement such a strategy. How do you motivate people to understand you don’t need to keep the car fully charged. We’ll need to tackle range anxiety (you don’t keep a petrol powered car fully fuelled all the time, why should it be any different with a BEV?). This could take the form of rewards for charging off peak or allowing vehicle to grid discharging, with higher charging costs if charging during peak hours. Such policies already exist for large industrial users of electricity (cold storage facilities, steel mills, factories, etc.), whereby they are able to buy electricity at a discounted rate. However, in return they are expected to de-rate or turn off equipment during times of peak demand (if they don’t de-rate, they get charged at a premium rate for their electricity).

In fact the electric vehicles themselves could off a solution, by turning the BEV fleet into a giant energy storage system. Assuming we use just 10% of a fleet of say 20 million electric vehicles (with say an average battery capacity of 75 kWh’s) would yield an energy storage capacity of 150 GWh, five times the UK’s current electricity storage capacity. This could be used to help even out the peaks and troughs of the grid (such as those caused by sudden spikes due to lots of electric vehicles charging, or intermittent renewable energy).

Of course there is the question of how to control all of this and the solution would be some sort of smart charging app, controlled by a mobile phone. But as the report highlights that would require the availability of data in compatible formats, as well as data protection. The charging ports themselves will also need further harmonisation, as there are several competing versions in use. Keep in mind that building regulations may soon require the inclusion of BEV charge points.

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There is a wide range of different charging ports, which might need some standardisation

So its not going to be straightforward. An awful lot of infrastructure will have to be build, notably all of those charging points, raising questions as to where will they be located, how their installation is funded and who will be responsible for maintaining them (the vast majority of UK cars are currently parked on private property, typically drive ways, private roads or car parks, rather than in garages or on public streets).

So in fairness to the naysayers, they were right…..several years ago, when the average range of electric vehicles was much shorter (20-30 miles and hence most would need recharging straight away), smart grids weren’t really an option and we all didn’t have wireless internet access via a hand held computer in our pockets. However, technology has moved on considerably since then.

There will also be a need for some additional electricity capacity and improvements to the grid will be needed, particularly if we are using more and more intermittent renewables to power everything. But these are not an surmountable problems. The problem is they require long term planning to be put in place now if they are to be successful.

 

The Americanisation of UK politics

Some of the UK government policies in recent weeks have seemed baffling. Not just the usual cronyism (with Cummings drinking buddies getting lucrative no-bid contracts for stuff they aren’t qualified to do) and incompetence….and that’s before we even consider the Russia report. (recall that Cummings who led the brexit campaign also worked in Russia for several years). But we also have out of touch policies, such as stamp duty cuts (great news for anyone who can afford a house, not much use to someone who can’t pay the rent). Or vouchers to middle class people so they can go to dine out.

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Think about that, we have thousands of people dependant on food banks, people dying after their benefits were withdrawn, an NHS in crisis (but don’t worry it will all be over by Christmas!), essential workers struggling to make rent, and the government’s response is to spend millions so that people who can afford to eat out, can have that experience subsidised (they also seem to forget that what the Scots & Irish will do is take the voucher to a gastro-pub, order a bowl of chips and then drink the rest of the money, so basically they are handing out porter vouchers!).

Or we have the other obvious contradiction where they are going to sign a US trade deal which allows low-quality US food to be sold in the UK, but not lower the UK’s farming standards. This means that the middle and upper classes will still be able to get their farm fresh organic food, for a higher price mind, while its poor people (or those dependant on food banks) who’ll be forced to eat the GMO modified, chlorine washed American food.

This unfortunately is the shape of things to come, for we are seeing the Americanisation of UK politics. Which was in fact what the last election was really about (if you voted Tory last election ,well this is what you voted for,, its a little late to complain). For those unfamiliar with American politics if America had a tagline it would be along the lines of “if you are poor, you can fu*k off”. Its not just minorities who are discriminated against in the US, its poor people in general. The US government frequently brings in policies that subsidise middle class lifestyles at the expense of those on low incomes.

So for example the entire healthcare system in the US is an absolute mess. The US government spends more money per capita subsidising its private healthcare, than some European nations spend on their entire healthcare system (which covers everybody). And the US citizens have to chip in thousands each of their own money on top of this. Meanwhile there are millions of American’s left without any healthcare cover.

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America spends almost as much public money subsidising its private healthcare system (which doesn’t provide universal cover) as other countries spend on their entire healthcare system (which does cover everybody)

The US government subsidises car based lifestyles rather than investing in public transport, even thought the latter would be better for cities (or those on a low income) and produce less carbon emissions. And, as I’ve discussed before the US policies towards climate change amount to spending billions to defend the properties owned by the wealthy, even if it diverts the floodwater downstream and floods out a load of working class people.

Hell even America’s military policy has an element of this. Defence company’s are owned by wealthy donors to the major parties. Much of the staff in these firms are well paid middle class professionals. The only losers are the poor working class saps who have to go fight in the foreign wars and deal with the mental and physical scars afterwards.

The reasons behind these policies are quite easy to understand when you look at things through the eyes of a cynical Washington insider. US elections are bankrolled by the rich. And its the rich and the middle class who effectively decide the outcome of all elections. The poor, frequently don’t vote (indeed they are discouraged from voting) and even those who do vote often vote against their own interests.

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If you are white, wealthy well educated or a boomer you are far more likely to vote in US elections

Like much of America, many in the working class are socially conservative, but lean to the left politically. It is a myth that low income Americans put Trump in the White house (hence why he doesn’t mind tens of millions of people getting evicted, if this prevents them from voting, it could be his best shot at re-election). In truth Hilary won the popular vote among low income voters, although a significant minority did vote for Trump for ideological reasons. By contrast higher income voters were more likely to vote for Trump the wealthier they were, presumably because they knew he’d screw over poor people and give the well off a tax cut.

While low income voters voted heavily for Obama (one of the few recent US president’s whose actually given half a crap about the poor) but they then crippled his administration by backing republican congressmen and governors. This is the problem, low income Americans aren’t a consistent voting block. Yet lawmakers know there are large blocks of voters in the middle to upper income level who will vote for them if they back certain policies (e.g. tax cuts, middle class subsidies). And they will also vote against any politicians if they propose certain policies (e.g. tax increases, increased social welfare spending or anything that stinks of changing the status quo).

As far as US politicians are concerned its a case of mind over matter. They don’t mind if the working class gets screwed because politically, they don’t matter. And this also explains why the Bernie or bust brigade are never going to get anywhere. Firstly, there is no way they’d ever get the nomination. Even if they got the nomination there’s large blocks of people who will come out of the woodwork to make damn sure they will never win. And even if they won, their opponents will just filibuster everything or use the Supreme court to run down the clock.

This is not to say the situation is hopeless. Obama did managed to sneak through a few progressive policies, most notably Obamacare. But it frequently means watering down those policies to get something that will pass (and which will be difficult to repeal as soon as the other side is back in power). It also requires playing the long game, relying on keeping someone vaguely leftwing in power to continue the legacy and gradually chip away. Yes Hilary and Biden are fairly right wing (they are to the right of many centre right parties in Europe), but they ain’t going to repeal Obamacare and they could probably be pushed (by a suitable band of left leaning democrats) to extend its provisions to ensure universal coverage. Not a single payer system granted, but an important step in that direction. Hence why it was so foolish for the Bernie or bust brigade to vote against Hilary in 2016.

But either way, we are now seeing the same sorts of politics play out here in the UK. The working class towns who voted Tory because of brexit are likely to be the ones most severely effected by it, as well as the upcoming Covid related depression. And inevitably when the next Tory wave of austerity hits, the Tories aren’t going to take money posh people in the home counties (where most of them live). No they will screw over the poor up north. Sure they’ll make positive noises, stick a lick of paint on a hospital and claim it a new build, replace infrastructure (using private finance) that should have been fixed years ago. Their media allies will play their role in hiding everything. And ultimately they know that half of the public are mugs who will still vote Tory again after the play the race card.

Now I could be wrong, the Tories might have miscalculated. We should get a good indication in next year’s local elections. If labour wins convincingly, then the Tories are in trouble. Doubly so if labour runs on a fairly left wing platform. But if labour only returns to its pre-Corbyn levels of support, then labour are in trouble. They will likely have to play the same game as the democrats and start shuffling over to the right in order to have any chance of winning.

There is of course one similarity between the UK and USA. They both use a decidedly unfair system of voting known as First Past the Post (FptP), which creates this two party system. Hence voters are forced to choose between Tweedledum or Tweedledee, with many MP’s or congress members who are so safe they cannot be unseated, no matter how badly they screw up. By contrast many European states work on the system of Proportional Representation. This allows smaller parties to break the two party duopoly, as it means individual MP’s can be more easily unseated if they piss off their constituents.

This means parties can’t simply abandon a large block of voters, not unless they want to catch a whole pile of political blowback. For example, I discussed before the differences between how Germany phased out its deep pit coal mines (with not one involuntary redundancy) as compared to the US and UK (after a suitable foto-op, miners have pretty much been thrown to the wolves). The Germans did this because no party could afford to piss off that many voters, as it could make all the difference in an election. By contrast West Virginia or North Dakota (two key coal mining states) are pretty solidly republican.

So if there’s any single policy that the left or the centrists should be uniting behind, its reforming the voting system in both the UK and US. Such an unequal voting system inevitably leads to massive inequality, corruption and the squandering of taxpayers money.