The usual early term madness has kept me from blogging, but heres a few stories that came up.
The US government shutdown
sort of, still on
The media, particularly in the US have been pulling summersaults over this one. As I mentioned before this shutdown which still involves the very bits of the US federal government that spend the most money up and running, is not democrat vs republican, but Tea Party birther vs the rest of the GOP.
Theres talk of some sort of deal being done at the 11th hour, which doesnt surprise me. Remember that this is the Republicans standard party trick, weve been here a couple of times in the past already, they did it all the time under Clinton. While the Republicans will claim that they are shutting down the government as part of a strategy aimed at imposing Fiscal restrain, the reality is different. Often the details of any deal will reveal a couple of sweat heart deals done to ensure pork being directed towards the districts of certain key GOP seats.
Ron Paul used to pull this trick all the time. Hed take a bill that he knew was going to pass anyway, stick a rider onto it (which awarded money to his district), pull his best Tea Party pose and vote against it or try to Filibuster it, leaving the rest of congress with the choice between voting it down or passing the amended bill/slush puppy.
Of course if the Democrats even thought about pulling a similar tactic to block Bush and his tax cuts or war budget, they’d immdiately be labelled “un-patriotic” and accused of “hating America“.
Of course the danger with this tactic of the GOP is that its a bit like playing Russian Roulette, sooner or later that gun is going to go off. For the last few weeks markets have been jittery. While more experienced watchers assumed they would always sort something out in the end, it wont take anything drastic during such a future shutdown to send things into a tailspin, e.g. a terrorist attack (or indeed some new terrorist video showing…whosever running Al-Qaeda these days blowing his nose), geological event (earthquake, flood, etc.) oil rig exploding, could easily combine with such a shutdown to create a right old mess.
Consider that while many economists did correctly recognise that a massive property bubble had built up in the late 2000s, few predicted the financial crisis, as most always assumed some sort of soft landing. Such market panics can take on a life of their own and once started are very difficult to stop. I doubt the US government could halt another such slide, even if they offered to tar and feather the tea party and parade them thro time square for people to hurl fruit at them. The end result would likely be China stepping in and the Americans become officially Chinas bitch for the next 50 years.
The Snowden factor
Theres been more waffle as regards Edward Snowden, with him being accused of doing the worst damage to the UKs intelligence network since the Cambridge spy ring of the cold war. The assumption now being that the Chinese and Russian intelligence are going over the data supplied by him.
My response is to say bull! This assumes the Russians and Chinese intelligence werent already aware of this PRISM network, which given the scale of the operation Im doubting. Furthermore, PRISM itself, not Snowden, has created a massive vulnerability within US intelligence. Now if the Chinese, Russians or anyone else wants to spy on the US all they need to hack one server (that big data base sitting in Utah) or sneak in one spy to that facility (and theyve gotten plenty of spies into vulnerable places during the cold war) and they have access to every e-mail, dropbox and web data in the US.
The real reason why the intelligence service are so angry with Snowden (or Bradley Manning) is because they exposed the stupidity and incompetence of these services as well as demonstrating how lax their own security was, and thus how easy it would be for a bunch of foreign spies to get in.
An interesting story from the US about a man who disappeared for a few years, was declared legally dead and then reappeared and is now trying to get the courts to recognise that he is in fact alive and well. But a loophole in state law prevents the court from overturning this declaration.
My advice to him is, are you mad or what? Stay legally dead. After all he now cannot get arrested or prosecuted, never has to pay taxes again, indeed hes a one man walking tax haven. Indeed if he wants the Feds to declare him alive again, just do something to really cheese them off…such as not paying taxes!
Some scientists have way too much free time. I came across this attempt to calculate the size of the nuke needed to blow up the asteroid in Armageddon. The conclusion is pretty damn big! Greater than the energy output of the Sun.
Royal Mail strike
The Tories were accused of selling Royal mail short. However, with a strike now looming its obvious nothing is going to be rosy in the garden. The fact is that the Royal Mail sell off is kind of like those scams the Kray twins would pull. Set up a company or shop, buy in loads of stock and sell it off cheap, then take off before the suppliers or the loansharks showed up. Its basically just a massive pump and dump scam.
Of course, for the majority of us thats a problem. While the Tories can get their butler to deliver their messages, the rest of us need the Royal Mail to deliver stuff like, well exam results, passports, court summons, etc.
Power shortages paranoia
The Royal Academy, whove essentially turned themselves into a lobby group for nuclear and fossil fuels over the last few years, began warning of power shortages this week as a possibility in future winters. Now while, I happen to agree that there are risks of future power shortages, I fail to see how committing to building a nuclear plant that will take 10 years to build will solve an energy crisis in 2014.
And in the event of the UK grid coming close to shutdown its worth remembering that the first plants in the grid to turn off will be the nuclear plants (as they cant risk damage to their systems they are legally required to disconnect from the grid and go into shutdown mode if the frequency falls outside of certain parameters) and they will also be the last bit of the grid to come back on line afterwards.
The real reason for any future energy crisis is the Tory policy of privatisation and a complete failure of both parties to come up with some sort of reasoned long term energy plan, and indeed the long obsession of both parties with nuclear, which has served to prevent anything else being built on the grid. Assuming that you can just wait for things to go tits up and then fix it with a sticky plaster does not work with energy grids.