Christmas time news round up

I’ve been away for most of the Christmas/New Year period, so I thought I’d do a round up of somethings that caught my eye over the last month….

The block

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Roy Moore losing the special senate election in Alabama to Doug Jones was certainly welcome news. However the fact still remains that 650,436 voters thought having a kiddy fiddler as a senator was okay with them. Indeed such was the narrow margin of his loss, Mr Snowflake is now appealing the result and calling for a re-vote. One assumes the state motto of Alabama should really be “Pedo’s welcome” and the state mascot should be Pennywise from IT. If Gary Glitter ever gets out of jail, we know where we can send him.

And the bulk of those who voted for him would be self described “value voters” (try not to laugh), who also voted overwhelmingly for Trump who has spent millions digging himself out of sexual harassment lawsuits. So one assumes those “values” are much the same as those in Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Republican party is at every level now a morally bankrupt institution. Its less a political party now and more of a tribe or a corrupt cargo cult. Its guiding political philosophy is no longer “conservatism but more anti-liberalism and pandering to the wealthy donors who help to keep them in power. And to be fair, we can’t blame Trump alone for this, its a downward spiral conservatives have been on since the 1980’s.

As I recall someone joking a while back, Satan himself could be a GOP candidate, he could run on a policy of ripping out the hearts of the first born of anyone who voted for him and he’d still get at least 40% of the vote in any US election. And many republicans would vote for him and them blame the democrats, because they went and put that bearded hippy on the ballot paper (some guy call Jesus) and they could hardly vote for him (…I hear he was born in the Middle East).

So this is an important point to understand when it comes to trying to debate conservatives, particularly those from the alt-right. You are wasting your time. Any facts that don’t support their position will be ignored, or twisted and deliberately miss-represented….or they’ll just plain make sh*t up. They are basically immune to logic and facts.

It is simply not possible to run a democratic society if half of that society has basically decided to abscond on their civic duties and hand their democratic rights on to a series of corrupt tribal leaders. The lessons of history tells us that this will likely end rather badly, especially for conservatives.

Russia cables

Recently the head of the UK armed forces has raised concerns about the risk posed to undersea communication cables by the Russian navy. The concern is that they might resort to cutting these cables or eavesdropping on them.

Now where would the Russians get a crazy idea like that from? Probably from the CIA and NSA. Who, with the help of US navy subs, have supposedly been tapping into undersea cables for years. So this is very much pot calling the kettle black.

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Also it is starting to get to the stage where the Russians are getting the blame for every little thing now. That said, there’s no smoke without fire, but you do wonder if issues like this are being exaggerated by those in Western intelligence and military organisations trying to protect budgets. After all, given the allegations against Trump or the brexiters of Russian collusion, how would it look for them to cut the budget of something the CIA or MI6 were selling that was intended to counter Russian this or Russia that. Pretty darn dodgy one assumes. Hence why perhaps some in the intelligence and military community are constantly talking about Russia.

Trump hates Christians

One of the justifications for Trump’s policy towards the middle east is the defence of the Christian minorities living within the middle east. Well those Christians would rather he shut the hell up, as his actions are putting their lives in danger. In the wake of Trump’s announcement to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Christian leaders refused to meet Mike Pence during his Christmas time visit and he ended up being forced to cancel it.

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It should be noted that Christians in the middle east tend to be pro-Israel, as that’s one of they few country’s in the region which isn’t actively persecuting them. But they also understand the danger inherent in provoking the anger of Muslims and the long term obstacle to peace that an Israeli capital in Jerusalem represents. And the recent history of the region tends to be a case of one side provoking the other with the Christians caught in the middle.

And on a related topic, the UN voted to condemn Trump’s actions over the Christmas period. Trump mumbled something about cutting funding to any country that voted against him (i.e. offended his ego). Again, this is putting your foot in a quagmire.

Firstly, if he doesn’t follow through with this threat, then everyone knows it was an empty threat and he talks the talk but can’t walk the walk. A long standing doctrine of US diplomacy has been not to make threats they aren’t prepared to follow through on (hence why US diplomats are usually very careful in their choice of words). Otherwise you risk being seen as toothless. And given that Egypt and Saudi Arabia were two of those that did vote against the US (and both receive a lot of funding from the US and host a number of Trump businesses), its going to be difficult for him to follow through without upsetting a lot of apple carts.

While its true that many country’s often used aid money as a way of currying favour with others and potentially getting them to vote this way or that at the UN, the general rule is not to bluntly state as much. Because now Trump has made it clear that those who voted with him are essentially entitled to a few billion in funding. While the others should just go and sell their vote to China (who will be more than willing to pay….in exchange for an airbase in Central America!). In short, he’s just put a few dozen UN votes up on E-bay.

So Trump’s actions here could not be more ill-judged.

Trump’s tweets

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And speaking of Trump, why is he still on twitter? Given he’s now openly and repeatedly violated twitter’s own policies against promoting hate speech and/or violence, surely his account should be shut down. And its not that they can’t do it, a disgruntled employee did take Trump’s account down for a few hours last month. So it is a matter of policy that the company is ignoring its own rules and keeping his account open.

And its not just Trump. Ask anyone running a blog or a vlog that is moderately left wing and they will tell you how they face harassment (false DCMA claims, a deluge of spam, etc.), trolling and more recently the demonetising of vlog posts on a pretty regular basis, often for no apparent reason. Yet right wing vlogers like Laura Southern or Jayda Fransen (head of Britain First….but born in Germany!…..so the party name should really be Britain second) can run their potty little mouths and not face any of these same issues.

We need to get away from the myth, a myth many on the left themselves seem to buy into, that social media has a liberal bias. It doesn’t, if anything the tech billionaires running these companies have a strong bias towards conservatives. Most are socially liberal but economic conservatives. They support and agree with republicans on many issues, if they could only get them to shut up about Benghazi or Obama’s birth certificate for ten seconds.

Of course, they are deluded. The real loser in the last US election was libertarianism, not the democrats or the centre left (who, as noted, have been doing reasonably well recently). 2016 was the best chance that libertarians have had in a generation to make their mark on the political stage and they flunked it. Gary Johnston’s vote collapsed and many conservatives voted for Trump, whose about the most un-libertarian candidate you could possibly get. In short libertarianism, as a mass political movement is now dead in America. Brexit (which amounts to a return to a nativist command economy) also killed such notions off here in the UK. But even so, the fact is that there is still a bias among many tech billionaires towards the conservatives. Although that might not last very long once they are confronted by the consequences of some of Trump’s policies.

And we also need to realise that computers themselves may have a certain bias towards conservatism. Advertising revenue is increasingly being controlled by machine learning algorithms and they are going to favour the content consumers who are the easiest to sell to. And guess which side of the political fence that is?

Try the following experiment, turn off any trackers, browse anonymously and visit some random left wing sites (the guardian.com, climatecrocks, Huntington post, motherjones, etc.). The default ads that come up will probably be pretty generic ads, M&S, Sears, latest movies, etc. Now go to a right wing website (e.g. Newsmax, Alex Jones, etc.) and you’ll be bombarded with ads for gold/bitcoin or get rich/fit/bigger di*k quick scams. The fact is that its easier to sell to certain types of people. And given how dependant on advertising social media is, they will always favour one side over the other. Hence the inherent danger of ending net neutrality.

The EU on Tax havens

The EU has put together a list of the country’s it feels are acting as tax havens. While its good to see some progress on this issue, and again as I’ve said many times, its only through pressure from international organisations, such as the EU, that we’ll see action on tax havens. But equally one must be a wee bit skeptical of this list as its a bit “selective in who it labels a tax haven.

For example, Luxembourg isn’t on the list, even thought its one of the biggest tax havens in Europe. It is slightly ironic seeing faraway Islands, who actually do very little business with Europe on this list, when the EU’s most important tax havens are absent.

And of course the world’s largest tax haven isn’t on the list. That being London. And the brexiters would have us believe that the EU is anti-UK. Of course, given that its been made clear to Theresa May that she’ll be facing a choice between a Norway model (which means no immigration controls and having to pay into the EU budget, plus not being able to negotiate independent trade deals) or a Canada model, which will mean London loses some of its access to the EU, its possible the problem of the UK as a tax haven will just take care of itself.

Scottish tax rise

Speaking of tax, the SNP have recently announced they plan to increase the income tax rates for high and middle income earners while lowering the taxes of those on low incomes. They promise to spend the extra money on the NHS, schools and the police. Its going to work out costing me a few hundred a year (so a few quid a week, probably less than I spend on milk) but that seems fair enough.

Of course the tabloids are foaming at the mouth over it. What they seem to forget is that the Tories put up my taxes multiple times. The only difference is they were sneaky about it. They pushed up VAT, they put up NI rates and they put up VEI tax for small and environmentally friendly vehicles (such as a Prius or Golf), while cutting the tax on SUV’s. When I lived in England they cut funding to councils, leading to higher water rates, council tax and business rates, which ultimately fed its way through the system to see a rise in the cost of living (this is the real trickle down effect).

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And that’s before we consider the combined effect of austerity, stagnant wages and inflation which has cost everyone in the UK and average of 5.5% of their income (although its closer to -16% for younger workers and -20% for many public sector workers) and brexit will at the very least double that again.

So ya, I could have a moan about the SNP putting up taxes. But a few hundred a year, pales in comparison against the thousands the Tories have cost me. But listen to the tabloids, they’ll have you believe the Tories increased the chocolate ration from 30g to 25g’s and we should be patriotic and grateful for that.

The Scottish invasion of Ireland

I stumbled on this old BBC documentary about a long forgotten episode in Irish history, the Scottish invasion of Ireland in the 14th century. Not long after Robert the Bruce beat the English at Bannockburn, he sent his brother Edward to lead an expeditionary force into Ireland to help liberate the Irish from English rule and become the new high king of Ireland. This would have united the Celtic lands of the British Isles under one family, creating a united Celtic Kingdom.

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An alternative UK could have existed incorporating the Celtic nations of the British Isles

History is often decided by pivotal moments like this. An event that could have dramatically changed history. While the Scots were initially successful, defeating the English and their anglo-Irish allies in several battles, they received only limited support from the Irish. In part this was due to cultural differences (clan A was backing the Scots, which meant clan B who had been fighting with clan A refused to back the Scots, prompting clan C to attack clan B as they were too busy dealing with clan A and the Scots, who were then in turn attacked by Clan B, drawing in the Scots who found themselves fighting both clans B & C).

Plus the invasion happened to coincide with one of the worse famines in European history. This left the Irish in no real position to help, left the Scottish army starving and forced to forage for food off the Irish (read steal it, hardly a way to win hearts and minds). In then end ground down by hunger plus a number of tactical errors led to the Scot’s being defeated by the anglo-Irish and English reinforcements.

What’s perhaps interesting is how this incident was swept under the carpet and largely written out of the history books. For the Scots it was an embarrassment, for the English, it suggested that the united kingdom could have been a very different UK, with its capital in Carrickfergus and dominated by the Celtic nations. While for the Irish it makes them look kind of silly, the golden opportunity to get out from under English rule which they failed to take.

Then again, it would have never worked out, I mean we’d have to agree how to spell the word “whiskey” for one thing, and that’s never going to happen.

The graduate

An interesting story here from a few weeks back about an Oxford graduate who is suing his university over his grades. He claims that because he only got a 2:1, this put back his career and basically ruined his life. Now if that sounds a little far fetched, you ain’t heard the good part. He graduated over a decade ago and yet he still claims that 2:1 is haunting his career.

The reality for students is that the grade you receive in university is only really relevant to your first job. After that it plays a decreasing level of importance each time you go for a job interview, as your work experience will become more and more relevant. Having a 1st class honour might get you shortlisted a bit more often for interview, but unless you can back that up with a good interview and work experience, it won’t matter diddly squat.

I mean I got a 2:1 at uni which I was not happy about (we had a module in final year that was badly handled, if I’d gotten a higher mark in that I’d have had a 1st), but that’s life and I’ve overcome that and now I’m a lecturer. And I can all but guarantee you that if you asked my line manager what my grade in my undergrad degree was he won’t be able to tell you.

In fact, there’s a challenge, anyone here a line manager? Can you recall the degree (which uni, year & grade) of any recent hires you’ve made? I’m guessing you’d probably get only half of them right and it probably had little to do with the decision to hire them (unless they were a graduate with no work experience).

There is a point to be made certainly about inadequate teaching at UK universities, a consequence of the defacto privatisation of UK universities. And the problem is particularly bad at some of the Russell Group uni’s, where a lecturer actually teaching his classes (rather than getting his PhD students to do it) is seen by management as playing hooky. But this is more of a matter of whether or not students are getting value for money. Like I said, if you’ve learnt anything in uni its how to study independently and 10 years after graduation you should be over any issues you had with teaching.

So Mr snowflake here should be told by the judge to go suck on a lemon. A bad workman blames his tools. Anyone complaining about a lack of employment a decade after graduation, it ain’t the degree that’s the problem!

Bombardier and protectionism

Some people don’t know when to quit. After the intervention of Airbus in the row over Bombardier’s C-series that should have been the end of it. But no, the US authorities have tried again. However, they don’t seem to understand its not just a few thousand jobs in the UK that are at stake. 20,000 workers in the US contribute to C-Series production. This is the problem with nationalistic protectionism, it sees the world in us versus them terms. It doesn’t reflect the fact that you might save a few jobs in Boeing, but result in many more workers in another factory in the US losing their jobs.

Similarly, restricting immigration its argued will mean more jobs for local people. However, this simply isn’t true. All it will mean is that companies find it harder to recruit and either they’ll find loopholes to get around such laws and hire who they want. Or they’ll automate those jobs or they’ll move them overseas.

In a globalised economy its not foreigners coming over here and stealing your job you need to fear, but foreigners staying at home and your job moving.

Catalan elections

The election results in Catalonia are in and the results don’t look great for the Spanish conservatives (the PP). The pro-independence parties were returned to power, with a slightly reduced majority, while the PP was more or less wiped out (getting only 4 out of 135 seats). Then again, sending riot police into polling stations is going to kind of end up doing that.

In short, if you think the Catalan crisis over, think again. They’re just getting started. While its doubtful the pro-independence movement will declare another referendum, they might start to take measures to break with Spain. They could call on Catalans to refuse to pay their taxes to Madrid, refuse to collect VAT, hold a general strike, and otherwise cripple the Spanish economy until Madrid has no choice but to yield.

One interesting feature of the results was that the largest single party is now the Catalan Citizens party, which is largely a single issue anti-independence party. It took 25% of the vote. With the population clearly split on this issue (25-33% anti-independence, 40-54% in favour roughly), one has to say that there are really only two alternatives. Further concessions and regional autonomy to placate the nationalists (including some level of “national” recognition, a state within a state sort of thing). Or have a legally sanctioned in/out referendum. The left wing opposition in Madrid have long favoured one or other of these options. However, that was when support for independence was much lower and before Rajoy stirred up a hornet’s nest by sending in riot people to beat up peaceful protesters.

But in the absence of some sort of concession, conflict and confrontation is inevitable. In fact its probably just a matter of time before some hot head on one side or other of the debate starts setting off bombs and suddenly the PP have got themselves a civil war.

Into the blue

The brexiters had an early Christmas present, in that they will be getting their blue passports back. This was an issue that came up during the referendum, the old foggies reminisced about how they missed the old blue passports, which merely suggests their reasons for voting leave were irrational.

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The Brexiters had many sensible reasons for voting for brexit, bring back hangin, blue passports, incandescent light bulbs, lb’s & oz’s, small things really

Not least because, its been pointed out since then that at no point did the EU ever compel the UK government into changing the colour of its passports. They did propose harmonising the design of passports in the 1970’s, as part of an effort to help speed up customs controls and improve security, but it was entirely voluntary. And it was a TORY government that went along with these proposals in 1981 (under Thatcher of all people).

Indeed, the UK going back to blue isn’t even a voluntary decision, the UK is being forced into doing so, as it will no longer be an EU member and thus not UK citizens will no longer be entitled to EU passports. Oddly enough Croatia, among others, opted to keep its passports blue after joining the EU, so its just going to make it easier for the citizens of certain countries to sneak into the UK and mean longer waits for UK citizens to get into Europe….plus them having to pay for the privilege. Meanwhile, me with my Irish/EU passport can sail through passport control both sides no problem.

An incorrect story related to this circulated that it was going to cost the UK £500 million to change the colour of its passports. This isn’t entirely correct (this is what the new passport system will cost, but its a cost the UK will have to pay anyway). In truth its going to cost £50 billion to do something we could do for free by staying in the EU.

No dogs or Polish men

As we know one consequence of brexit has been to embolden the racists and the xenophobes. As an example, the sign below showed up in rural Oxfordshire, effectively banning Eastern Europeans from fishing.

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Admittedly, some of my relatives back in Ireland have had problems with Eastern European fishermen. A pond, which is one of the few places you can catch carp in Ireland, is on land my relatives own. And we’ve had Romanians show up with no rod license (and a frying pan!) looking to catch them. However, a quiet word reminding them of the law general does the trick….and if it doesn’t, a quick call to the local Garda office (who will confiscate all fishing equipment and impose a heavy on the spot fine, noting that under Irish law they can do that even if you are merely caught with a rod near the pond, never mind if you are actually caught fishing).

So its not as if there wasn’t a solution to this problem that could have resolved the matter without going the full Daily Mail. But so emboldened are the racists now that they will resort to such things without a thought for how it makes them look.

Caravans

According the BBC there’s been a significant jump in the number of caravans being purchased in the UK since brexit. Of the many negatives associated with brexit it would appear more of being stuck behind one of these things is one of those negatives. No wonder Clarkson voted remain.

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What I dislike about caravanning (my spell checker whats to change this word to canning!), other than the inconvenience and lack of consideration they show anyone else on the road (at least those in Scotland, where narrow roads can mean there’s no where to overtake them and they rarely pull over to let people past) and the waste of fuel. Its that holidaying with a caravan amounts to being penny wise and pound foolish.

With a tent you can generally camp pretty cheaply (£5-10 per night), while with a caravan you’ve got to pay for the extra fuel you’ll burn, the parking/hook up fee, consumables, etc. Add it all up, say £20-30 a night grounds fees, extra £10 per day for fuel and another £5-10 for consumables your are looking at about £40-45 a night, which is towards the lower end of the cost of a B&B room in Scotland at peak season (so once you factor in the cost of the caravan and depreciation, you are unlikely to break even).

Normally the main advantage of caravanning over B&B’s is that you don’t have to book in advance. But in peak season in Scotland, sites can fill up pretty quickly, so typically you would be advised to book in advance. While with a tent, if the camping grounds are full, you can simply trek a few hundred metres in from the road (and off any farmland…else the farmer might release his prize bull into the field!) and wild camp for free for the night.

In short caravanning seems to come with all the disadvantages of camping, but none of the advantages. While it comes with similar costs and inconvenience of B&B’s. Its really a mugs game.

The Royal price

The Queen gets a lot of criticism for the amount of tax payers money it costs to fund her, about £82 million a year. However, it was recently revealed that the production costs of the netflix series “the crown” is running at around £100 million or so. This would mean that the actual royal family is cheaper than a TV series about them.

So here’s a thought, give Meghan Markle a selfie stick and a camera, get her to film the Royal’s Meet the Kardashians style, broadcast that, and the Royal family could pay for itself, indeed we might even be able to make money off the back of them!

Hodoring the door and nuking the fridge

Speaking of TV, I’ve heard of the odd supposed “leak” of the Game of Thrones season 8 script online. It is reasonable to assume, after they royally screwed up last time, that HBO are being extra careful as regards leaks this time, so most of these “leaksare likely to be hoaxes from obsessive fans. The odd time I’ve bothered to read one, generally only when I need a bit of a giggle, its all too obvious that its not the real thing. Because these “leaked” plots make sense, don’t include a load of obvious howlers and were clearly written by someone whose read the books – which means they can’t be the real script!

When the season 7 plot leaked most people ignored it, dismissing it as a hoax, as it seemed unlikely that HBO would commit to spending tens of millions of dollars filming something this badly written. Well the leak turned out to be about 90% accurate (likely an earlier draft of the script actually filmed). Frankly if HBO wanted to save some money, they could go along to a GoT convention, grab the first bearded fanboy they see, stick him in front of a laptop, keep feeding him beer and bar snacks and in an evening he’d probably churn out something far better than what’s actually being filmed right now.

As I discussed in a prior post, GoT is now little more than expensive fan fiction, written by people who have little love for the novels and are bound by other requirements put in place on them by producers and company exec’s. Anyone hoping for a great season 8….wait for the books….although you might be waiting a long time! Its even been suggested that since G.R.R. Martin might not live long enough to finish them, we might need to create an AI to finish them for him.

But here’s the problem, much like Star Wars or Star Trek, even after a series has clearly jumped the shark (sometimes called nuking the fridge, or hodored the door as I suspect we’ll be calling it in a few years time), the series keeps going, simply because the producers (with dollar signs in their eyes) know they can get away with it and millions will still pay to watch whatever crap they churn out. As I recall one fanboy lamenting, George Lucas could film himself taking a shower, call it episode 7 and still expect to pull in a few hundred million in its first week.

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So long as money can be made, they will not learn the consequences of bad script writing and bad production and keep churning out crap. Hence why I won’t be seeing the latest star wars film, nor did I see the last two star trek films, nor will I be watching GoT series 8. Only when the movie industry sees their profits take a dent will they do anything.

And speaking of the latest star wars film, there’s actually a petition from hardcore fans for Lucas to disown it, as they disliked it that much. In essence it seems that Disney has decided to disregard the fans and focus on selling a generic sci-fi movie with lots of CGI & explosions to the masses. And for the record, I’m not giving the films a miss because I necessarily support this petition, but because I have better things to do over Christmas than go see a generic sci-fi film with lots of CGI and explosions.

Now the problem with this strategy is that making money out of the fantasy or sci-fi genre is difficult at the best of times. Its where movie studios go to die. If a producer/actor/director wants to ruin their career, or a studio wants to set $200 million on fire, make a sci-fi or fantasy movie. Any movie library will be littered with many such career ending box office bombs, e.g. the 13th warrior, In the Name of the King, Dredd, Pluto Nash, John Carter to name a few. While some of these films were dire, others on the list weren’t that bad. Its just that with such large sunk costs its very difficult to make any money with these sorts of movies.

The reason why the LOTR, star wars, star trek or GoT series stand out from the crowd is that they can rely on a legion of fans to show up (often going multiple times, or buying expensive DVD box-sets) and basically meet the overhead costs. The movie then makes its profits off the back of the general audience (i.e. those who couldn’t tell you the name of the reptilian bounty hunter seen for 5 seconds in Empire strikes back, nor tell you his entire character bio).

So the danger is that by screwing over their own fans, the studios might well find audience numbers tank and they end up making a loss.

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The sadopopulist agenda behind brexit

The EU looked on last week with incredulity and disbelief, as an agreement they’d thrashed out with Theresa May, which would have settled the first round of brexit talks was torpedoed at the eleventh hour, apparently by the DUP, a small fringe party in Northern Ireland. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, the UK’s reputation is taking a battering from these brexit talks. To many in the EU it seems like the country is unable to make any sort of decision, even when you’ve got the PM in the room (remind me, when exactly did we elect Arlene Foster as PM?). As one German newspaper put it “Brexit is the biggest political nonsense since the Roman Emperor Caligula decided to appoint his favourite horse as consul”.

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The EU showed up for talks on day one with well thumbed piles of documents, the British have one notebook between three of them….

And meanwhile back in the UK we had a conclusion to a long running saga involving the brexit secretary Dave2, who has been charged with contempt of parliament, with calls for him to be locked in the tower. This may have gone under the radar of international news, but briefly for many months now MP’s have been asking Dave2 and his department for information on their planning on the impact of brexit on specific sectors of the economy. For example, I highlighted in a prior article how leaving the EU will mean the UK leaving the EU nuclear regulatory agency and open skies agreement (which technically means that as things stand, with no agreement with the EU, nuclear reactors might have to shut down and planes stop flying for several months after April 1st 2019).

But Dave2 kept giving evasive answers along the lines of, oh we’ve got lots of boffins working on this, don’t worry your pretty little working class heads, we all went to a posh boarding schools……and we smoke pipes. Naturally, this convinced many MP’s that these impact assessments might contain some very bad news, which the government was trying to cover up. So they pressed him further, calling for a parliamentary vote on the matter (requiring that the documents be handed over), which he lost. He then tried to stall for time, portraying the MP’s as 5th columnists working for the EU, which is kind of silly when one of those MP’s happens to Jacob Rees-Mogg (on the right of both the Tories and the brexiters).

Well finally this week MP’s managed to corner Dave2 and he revealed that actually he’d been lying there are no impact assessments. When he was stalling for time, it wasn’t to give him time to censor the reports and take out anything incriminating, instead it involved him and his staff rapidly cutting and pasting stuff off the internet to placate MP’s. Yes, a year and half after the brexit vote and the UK government still has no clue what the impact of it will be, nor how they are going to prepare for it. “Fu*ked if we know!” is the official government position on the impact of brexit.

Of course this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Plenty of independent studies have been conducted into the impact of brexit, both before and since the referendum. Prior to the referendum the government commissioned its own studies, which were generally negative about the UK’s prospects post-brexit. Given that the circumstances haven’t changed much, its reasonable to assume that any impact assessments would show the same thing and it hardly helps the brexiters case for their own department to conclude they are cutting off their own nose to spite their face.

And there was worse to come. Philip Hammond, generally seen as the grown up in the room also revealed to MP’s that there had been no comprehensive discussions by the cabinet as to what the UK’s brexit strategy or final end state was going to be. It would appear the cabinet is split into two factions, with Phil and Amber in one corner rocking back and forward muttering OMG, while in at the other end of the room the brexiters have been jerking one another off as they watch the movie Dambusters over and over again as they dream of empire 2.0.

To say this is bad is an understatement. As the military say, its the Seven Ps of Planning: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pis* Poor Performance. Yet it is now clear that the UK has entered into brexit talks without any sort of plan. All this poker talk about noting wanting to reveal their hand to the EU has been bunk, the EU (and anyone with half a brain) has known all along what’s going on, the UK has no cards to play, they don’t even know what they want. The UK government’s official negotiating strategy for brexit involves screaming Leeroy! and charging into the room.

And worse still, good politics is about compromise and trade off’s. In politics nobody ever gets to have their cake and eat it. You want to restrict immigration? okay, but you do realise that’s going to curtail economic growth (by creating labour shortages), push up taxes and mean longer NHS waiting times. What to re-nationalise the railways (as Corbyn wants)? Yep, we can do that. But its going to take some time to implement, will be legally difficult (as the train companies might be reluctant to simply hand over their franchise rights and might fight the government in court). And there’s no point in going down this road unless you are willing to put the sort of cash into the railways to bring them up to European standards (which means again, likely you are looking at putting up taxes).

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The problem from the start with the brexiters has been they don’t even seem to be aware of the idea that such trade off’s are necessary. The situation with the Irish border being a case in point. Any kind of change to the customs arrangements will mean a hard border between the UK and EU. Such a hard border would open a huge can of worms and it would not be popular abroad, notably with Washington, where opposition to a hard border has bipartisan support in Congress.

Once you accept this reality it leaves only two options. The UK stays in the customs union and becomes an associate member of the EU (meaning it can’t negotiate separate trade deals, indeed it will have no say whatsoever as to the terms of the trade deals the EU negotiates….and will have to keep paying into the EU budget). Or we put the border at the Irish sea and tell the DUP, well if you don’t like it we can have a border poll, would you prefer that instead?

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Dumb and dumber, spot the difference

The brexiters don’t even seem to be aware, nor wish to even acknowledge, that such trade off’s exist, leads one to conclude that the Tory brexiters have to be the dumbest most incompetent bunch of clowns to ever be put in charge of a major government. I heard someone suggest the other day that they should do a brexit special addition of the thick of it. Actually, we are now at the stage where reality has outrun satire…..

Sadopopulism

……Or there is another explanation? The history professor Tim Snyder recently coined the term Sadopopulism to describe how the wealthy and the oligarch’s are dealing with the post-truth age.

Basically, the rich can’t rely any more on their traditional tactics of bullying centrist parties (via their control of the media) into adopting favourable policies. The deficiencies in those policies have been exposed, increasingly centrist parties are reluctant to play ball and they’ve lost a lot of support due to the blow back. The rich can’t rely on the extreme left (as they’d lock them up!), nor the extreme right. The fascists would shoot them all (then steal their stuff!) while libertarianism would likely lead to anarchy and possibly the rise of other oligarch’s who’d challenge them (then shoot them and steal their stuff!).

So instead, they rely on populism to target some easily identified scapegoats, the poor, migrants, ethnic minorities, Muslims, etc. They then undertake policies that are intentionally designed to cause harm (this were the “sado” element comes in). And to be clear this isn’t raising/lowering taxes kind of stuff, which makes everyone better off, other than a small minority (again, politics is about trade off’s). This is policies that will intentionally hurt more or less everyone (save the elites themselves of course!). They can then point out, ya you’ve got it bad, but its all the fault of poor people/migrants who are now even worse off. And after all some of those poor people did vote for Trump/brexit, so now they are being punished for that.

Its worth noting that this theory is backed up by studies into monkeys. In situations where other monkey’s were rewarded for effort that they put in, some actually opted not to reward, even those this decreased the changes of them being rewarded in turn. In other words they’d accept being worse off just to spite others.

So its possible, much like the recent tax cuts in the US, the answer here is the brexiters might be intentionally playing dumb. They know their negotiation strategy won’t work, they know they are committing an act of national self harm, that’s the whole point! Then while the country is reeling from the aftermath, they can slip through a few bills stripping workers of their rights and they’ll have the excuse to privatise the NHS (and sell it off to themselves). As the character Littlefinger on Game of Thrones put it, chaos is a ladder.

Shameless hypocrisy and the cult of fantasy

Well you do have to hand it to the republicans. If you are going to tell a lie or con someone, better to go for the big con. And so we have their tax plan, that will give billionaires a massive tax cut, yet put up the taxes on middle income Americans (after a brief interlude of 4 years). At the same time it will blow a massive hole in the US government budget, causing the deficit to skyrocket.

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A pair of liberals (Jeff Sessions and some chicken little called Paul Ryan) spread fake news about the dangers of deficit spending

Exactly how much higher the US deficit will rise to is unclear, some say $1 trillion another report estimates $1.7 trillion (against a current deficit of $440 billion, so a doubling or quadrupling of the deficit). Suffice to say this makes a mockery of the GOP mantra throughout the Obama era. We were told, from the very first days of the tea party that their objection to Obama was because he was black because he was spending way too much money and threatening the health of America’s finances. Several times they threatened to shut down the federal government because they refused to raise the US debt ceiling. Now blink and they’re saying well bolix to that, my new Gulfstream ain’t going to buy itself.

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Of course, this is hardly a huge surprise. For Republicans the deficit has long been a political football. They’ll use it against the democrats when they are in power, then spend like a sailor on shore leave afterwards. The five most recent Republican presidents have all run deficits, generally worse than their democratic predecessor, with Reagan being the worst offender (although Trump/Pence will almost certainly now exceed him) and Bill Clinton being the only recent US president to return a significant budget surplus.

Obama did indeed run up some large deficits, which means he stands out from other recent democratic presidents (who ran much smaller deficits, or ran a surplus). But he was dealing with one of the worst recession in ninety years, a crisis which was the fault of the Republicans and their mismanagement of the banks. He certainly didn’t bring this deficit down nearly as quickly as he should have, that is true. But in his defence he did try to cut spending and proposed some tax increases, but the Republicans fought every step of the way.

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Tax cuts to the wealthy have consistently had the opposite effect republicans claim

Now the GOP will no doubt claim, oh but this will stimulate the economy and create loads of jobs, which will then increase tax revenue. Well firstly there is very little evidence to prove that these supply side economics actually works, indeed if anything the evidence suggests the opposite is true. The economy is like an orchestra. Lots of different factors come together to make it work. You need inward investment, a reliable energy source, a stable political system, an educated workforce, access to foreign markets, etc. Although one must note Trump’s proposed protectionist measures will likely impact on a number of these and could well restrict economic growth.

And when we say the economy is like an orchestra its perhaps better to look on it as more like a school band. It succeeds in battering out a tune, not because of the idiot in the back out of sync with the rest of the band, but despite him. But the GOP, like the parents of this spoilt little brat, filter out all of that and assume the band’s success is all down to their little darling’s ill timed and out of tune musical torture.

But even if we give the GOP the benefit of the doubt, the level of growth that would be necessary to reduce the deficit is pretty significant. Do the maths and you’ll see that US economy would have to grow by a rate of 30-50% over 5 years (6-10% per year!) to cancel out this deficit. That would require a level of economic growth equivalent to China or Ireland in the 2000’s, which is simply not going to happen. Especially when you factor in the impact of the baby boomer retirements, which will pull tens of millions of taxpayers out of the work force and then claiming their retirement benefits.

What about cutting spending? While the GOP don’t mention it in these tax plans, its almost certain when these colossal deficits become evident massive spending cuts will have to follow. Indeed, this might be the whole point of the tax cut, because it will give them the excuse to basically sell of the US federal government (to themselves!). Well the flaw in this plan is, like I said earlier, Obama tried that, but the only things with enough zeros behind them that could be cut and make a difference to the deficit are things like defence spending or retirement funding. And those are the very sacred cows the GOP won’t cut. Obamacare, for the record, was set up to be revenue neutral (it costs money but by making workers healthier and more productive it should cancel out its own impact on the deficit).

Cutting out whole government departments (as the GOP proposes) on the one hand, won’t cut the budget enough and secondly will leave key economic sectors effectively an unregulated wild west. The financial crisis, the collapse of ENRON and various other scandals of the G. W. Bush era showed the dangers of such deregulation (and again most of Obama’s deficit was run up repairing the damage from these crises). So budget cuts of this kind would cause more harm than help. Its the equivalent of setting your house on fire in the middle of a blizzard in order to keep warm.

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But anyone looking to debate Republicans on this issue is wasting their time. We need to recognise the fact that American conservatives aren’t a political movement any more (they’d need these things called “policies” first!) they are basically a cult. A cult of angry people who’ve concluded that solving the problems that make them angry sounds like a lot of hard work, so instead they’ve placed the comforting lies of their demagogue leaders above facts and decided to go urinate in a ballot box. This is not strictly speaking a right wing phenomenon (Corbyn’s supporters in the UK, Sinn Fein in Ireland, etc.) but it has certainly taken over the political right to a much greater extend.

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Trump the brilliant business man managed to lose money in the one industry where the house always wins!

Indeed, so much so that it wouldn’t be accurate to call American conservatives Christians anymore either. Many even go so far as to suggest they’d believe the word of Trump over the words of Jesus. This is a cult that is openly anti-intellectual and hostile to facts of any kind.

Consider the fact that Trump now claims things he was caught on tape saying never occurred. There’s phenomenon with US shootings, going right back to Columbine High, where every time a shooting occurs, conspiracy theories flood the internet, often leading to the victims of said shootings and their families being harassed and threatened by pro-gun activists.

Now the problem with these fantasy cults is that they are entirely self destructive and self defeating. As the woes of the brexiters demonstrate the aren’t going to get to have their cake and eat it. They will almost certainly leave the UK worse off than it was prior to brexit. And longer term, the likely outcome will be either the UK rejoins the EU (on not nearly as generous terms as it now enjoys) or the UK probably breaks up. For anyone who voted for brexit as some sort of protest against the Tories, well firstly you’re an idiot and secondly for the next two decades the priority for the government (whether its labour or the Tories in power) will be brexit and dealing with the fallout afterwards. Meanwhile your local public services will wither and die, your local hospital will close….or be sold off to some American multinational. You essentially voted to be ignored even more than you were being ignored before.

And the second problem, as Trump demonstrates, is that while these demagogues can’t fulfil their outlandish promises, they can use their time in office to feather their own nests and do a few favours for those who helped them into power, as these tax cuts and a number of Trump’s political appointments demonstrates.

As with the brexiters, any angry Trump voters who voted for him so that those pricks in Washington will pay attention to the forgotten America. Well you’re a moron. And now you’ll be ignored and forgotten even more. And the likely outcome of your decision is national bankruptcy. Which given how massively dependant many mid-west (and generally Republican voting states) are on federal spending will spell disaster, as many in these states are reduced to penury.

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The only socialism in America, aside from tax cuts for billonaires, is liberal voting states propping the economies of republican voting states

In short, voting for “populists”, or the cult of fantasy as we should really call them, is the equivalent of the chickens voting to put the fox in charge of the hen house, just because he promised to built a wall around the hen house and make the wolves pay for it. This begs the question, what happens with this process runs its course and the lies of the cult of fantasy are exposed and the followers realise they’ve been had.

Well firstly don’t expect that to happen any time soon. I mean look what’s happened to many cults throughout history. Many literally go down in flames with their cult leader (blaming his enemies for forcing him into killing them all), long after it should be obvious they’ve been conned. It will take sometime for the penny to drop.

I guarantee you, a decade from now the line the Daily Mail will take is that the UK was forced out of the EU against its will. And its economic woes since then are all the fault of the EU and the handful of migrants that are still allowed into the country (who will presumably be forced to go around wearing little yellow stars). Whoever is the poor unfortunate sap of a democrat who has to clean up the massive deficit mess left behind by Trump and co. will be blamed by fox news for the very mess Trump is now creating. Why they will say with nostalgia can’t we go back to those glorious times when Trump was in charge. And why can’t we name some national landmarks after him (because you’ve already named everything after Reagan!).

Its possible that we could see the collapse of the mainstream parties and the rise of some sort of third way, as was seen in France recently. But the electoral system in both the US and UK are more or less designed to make it impossible for any alternatives to the two party system to emerge. So my guess is that the end result of the cult of fantasy is that governments will become ever more extreme, with lurching to the extremes of the right and then the left, getting more authoritarian with every iteration. Meanwhile nothing gets done, nothing changes and the problems build up until its possible the whole system of western style democracy might well collapse. Unfortunately I suspect Putin’s Russia is a template for what we can expect future governments to look like.