Rural America under threat from capitalism, climate change and the GOP

daryanenergyblog

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Rural America, which voted overwhelmingly for Trump, is under attack from all sides. As this article from the Guardian discusses America’s factory farming system has destroyed rural America, turning many into little more than modern day serfs. Trump’s “tax cutmight actually push up the running costs of many US farmers, as it eliminated various deductions that they benefited from. Quite apart from the economic blowback from his tariff policy and trade wars. And inevitably the rate of suicides is up in rural America.

US agriculture is now heading in completely the wrong direction, as such intensive farming methods are not only bad for rural communities, reducing the number of well paid jobs (in favour of low paid jobs filled by recently arrive immigrants) but they are also terrible for the environment. Carbon emissions are higher (there’s been some efforts to claim…

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Trump and the truth about taxes

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Some details of Trump’s tax returns leaked recently, which seemed to suggest that he hasn’t paid any taxes for ten years due to the fact he’s lost over a billion dollars over that period. So doesn’t look like he’s such a great businessman then. Trump (America’s court jester in chief) then preposterously claimed that this was a deliberate strategy to avoid payment of taxes (essentially all but admitting to tax fraud). However it does highlight a number of important issues with regard to tax and the wealthy.

Firstly it shows that most Americans, in particular republicans, don’t understand how marginal tax rates work. That even if the 70% Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes was applied, it would only apply to top earners and only the portion of their income in the tens of millions. In truth they’d be paying closer to 20-35% on their overall income, particularly when you consider the various deductions that would apply. Which is about what the average American pays in tax, so it would more be about levelling the playing field. After all Warren Buffet pay less tax (as a proportion of their income) than his secretary.

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An example of a marginal tax in action, this person might be paying a maximum rate of 50%, but only pays 32% overall

But such is the naivety of many Americans that Trump can make a logical fallacy and many fall for it. What he’s essentially saying is that if you’ve got a 100 dollars and the government is going to take away half of it, your best strategy would be to not only burn the $100, but burn another $100 you’d borrowed from somebody else….whereas if you just paid the tax you keep $50, probably more like $75 once you account for the effect of marginal rates.

Another cause for concern is that Trump’s businesses just happen to involve several industries (construction, hotels and casino’s) where its remarkably easy to fiddle ones taxes. Which probably explains why he’s going to such extraordinary lengths to prevent any probes.

A building site for example will be a hive of activity, with hundreds of contractors and sub-contractors coming and going, as well as a steady stream of trucks pulling in to making deliveries. Its all too easy for a developer to simply award a contract to someone for work that never gets done or award a contract at a vastly over inflated cost (e.g. they claim it took a hundred guys a month, when it only took a few dozen a week’s work). Then the developer and contractor split the difference (with the developer writing it off as a business expense). Or buying your concrete and other supplies at inflated prices (or simply inflating the amount used). And its worth noting that some of Trump’s suppliers and contractors were mob connected firms.

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As for hotels and casino’s, there’s all sorts of ways you can fiddle the books to milk the joint dry, without the IRS or the investors getting wise. You could for example just order lots of booze and gourmet food in the front door on the company books and then sell it out the back door for cash in hand. Employee expenses can also be fiddled. And there is of course the infamous casino skim racket, which I’d say was almost certainly in play in Trump’s Atlantic city casino.

So there are many good reasons to go digging into Trump’s tax affairs. Not only could this see him in a cell wearing a number, but it could lead to a number of mobsters being brought to justice too. Keep in mind this isn’t a victimless crime, his investors, employees and Atlantic city all got shafted. And the mob might well have been using this operation to launder drug money (as that’s often the whole point of such rackets).

Which also btw leads one to be suspicious of his recent tariff policy. Suddenly imposing tariffs and sending the markets into freefall, silly idea right? Well not if you’ve got connections with some boiler room hedge funds, who know this is coming and position themselves to take advantage of the drop in advance. Its entirely possible that Trump is deliberately sending out messages on twitter to manipulate markets. Of course, the danger is that the Chinese, who aren’t in on the scam, retaliate and they do have a nuclear option, start selling off US bonds.

But I digress. Certainly however, Trump’s statements on tax do show the limitations of tax policy. Those on the left will often cite “tax the rich” as their go too solution to everything. But as Trump shows there’s all sorts of ways the rich can fiddle their taxes. Certainly yes there are good reasons why the rich should pay more in taxes. They have more disposable income. Asking them to pay a few grand extra a year amounts to a choice between the gold and the silver trim package for their super yacht. While asking a low income family to pay a few quid extra a month amounts to a choice between feeding the kids or heating the home in winter. So its only fair higher earners pay more.

But, even if we ignore the various tax fiddling options, the numbers just don’t add up, something I’ve discussed before. The rich are asset rich, but don’t necessarily earn as much in terms of taxable income as you think. Just because a billionaire is worth several billion doesn’t mean he makes that much money every year. In truth he might only make a few million. And much of that will be speculative wealth (e.g. the value of the shares he owns goes up, but of course if he sold the shares all at once they’d lose value). And again, a few fiddles can cut that down even further.

Hence even if you applied the 70% tax Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for, you’re not going to pull in nearly as much money as you’d think. At best you’d be able to cut some of America’s deficit spending (or spend some money on climate change prevention). Or here in the UK you’d be able to reign in some of the worse of Tory austerity measures. Which would be a good idea, but not quite the effect many on the hard left seem to think it would have.

And, as noted, the big problem with the rich and taxes is just getting them to pay any in the first place. Personally, I’d settle for getting to just pay what they owe. Hence why I’d argue the focus should be on cracking down on aggressive tax avoidance and reigning in tax havens. But of course that requires strong international institutions (such as the EU), which some left wing populist oppose.

In truth however, if you want to increase tax revenue, you’ve really got to do it for everyone, although obviously the rich will get hit the hardest by such a rise. Putting them up on as much items as possible is a better strategy as this spreads out the impact and makes it harder to fiddle the system and avoid taxes. This is what the Scandinavians do. They also often charge a wealth tax, which means you pay tax on your net worth (typically about 0.1-1% per year) as well as property and land value taxes. But again, such taxes hit everybody. And putting taxes up for middle income voters (who tend to be the ones who decide elections) is easier said than done.

Hence the trick with tax rises is selling them properly. For example, the SNP recently put up taxes here in Scotland, with all tax bands rising (other than the very lowest bands), with the highest rises effecting the highest earners. This was sold on the back of avoiding the sort of austerity measures being applied down in England. Which I thought was fair enough. And if polls are to be believed, it seems most in Scotland agreed. By contrast in France, Marcon has gotten himself in all sorts of trouble with his tax rises largely because he didn’t sell them properly and introduced them too quickly.

This is the risk the left run if they plan on selling “tax the rich” as the snake oil solution which will cure everything. It will raise some money yes. It will help restore some equality to the system yes. But its not going to magically solve everything overnight. And it might well produce a populist backlash, that the right will exploit.

The BBC’s real bias

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Those on the right often like to portray the BBC as having a left wing bias, as most recently demonstrated by Ben Shapiro, in his interview with Andrew Neil. However the reality is, if anything, the opposite (Andrew Neil‘s for example is a former editor of Murdoch’s Times newspaper and about as right wing as they come).

Case in point, the BBC pulled an episode of the political sketch show “Have I got news for you on the grounds that Heidi Allen, the acting leader Change UK was a guest on the show. They argued that this was done to avoid bias before the EU elections. Which would be fair enough, if we were to ignore the fact that Farage (leader of the Brexit party) was on Question time on Thursday. So letting the leader of a pro-remain party appear on a light hearted Friday night comedy show (where the hosts spent most of the time taking the piss out of their guests) is “bias”. But letting Farage, an ally of the far right, onto a serious discussion show (and lie through his teeth and not be challenged on it) is okay. Oh and he has a regular weekly radio slot on LBC. Yep that’s the BBC’s bias for you.

The problem here is two fold. Firstly the BBC is led by public school educated upper class types. And this gives many of them a very particular nativist and elitist political bias (and while Farage might claim otherwise, in truth he represents the elites, the hedge funds and the offshore banking). Brexit is an identity crisis rotted in the UK’s public school system after all. In fact the only difference between the UK’s public schools and a madrassa is that the madrassa’s try to give you a more balanced education.

Secondly is the fact that the BBC is heavily dependant on the government for its very survival. Its funded by the license fee, which in theory the government could withdraw at any time. The license fee isn’t popular, even the BBC seems to accept its a relic of the past and needs to be replaced (a tax on internet and TV advertising has been proposed). And the Tories have purposely avoided settling the question of the BBC’s funding while in office, as they understand that keeping it in limbo allows they to exert a certain level of control over it.

So while I do believe that some in the BBC do try to be unbiased, as an organisation it simply isn’t and its distinctly slanted in favour of both the right, brexit and the government.

Game of Thrones and the epidemic of bad writing

So the latest series of GoT is out and, much as I feared, it show’s all the signs of the same problems that have been afflicting the previous few series, or indeed TV and movies in general, for some time now.

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Night vision goggles to full power!

Dany & Jon’s high school reunion

Let’s do a quick synopsis, the first two episodes were basically a high school reunion up in Winterfell. Everyone reminisced about the time they tried to kill each other, or they time they killed one another’s father/mother/lover/first born. Either that or they whinged about Plot Armour” Jon’s swipe right towards Dany the Velcro Munchkin (I assume one of those Targaryen superpowers is velcro like skin, otherwise how does she stay on a dragon in a 60mph jet stream without a saddle). Oh, how terribly unfair it is that she’s come to rescue them, suppressing the North “freedom”….ah….you live in a feudal society, nobody is truly free, not even the lords or kings, as feudalism is essentially a series of overlapping obligations and responsibilities.

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The truth is its Stark’s and the North who made off like bandits and its Dany who got screwed on this deal. Plot Armour is still in charge of the north. The only change is that Velcro has a veto over his decisions (then again, she’d have that anyway when they get hitched). In return they gain the benefits of all of her military forces (and its difficult to see them beating Cruella Cersei or Frosty the Iceking without that). If she takes the Iron throne they get power and influence (as she’ll need to appoint a small council) plus land and title down south.

And the real benefits kick in with the next generation. Basically, the Stark’s and their offspring become the rulers of the seven kingdoms. After all, why do you think Tywin sunk millions into propping up the Baratheon’s for so long? Because he knew he was essentially buying seven kingdoms at a massive discount. The Stark’s are in the same position, but its not costing them a penny. How ungrateful are these people?

Inevitably the topic of the Tarly roast came up, which shouldn’t be an issue, if you understand medieval society. He broke his oath of fealty to his overlord and got thousands of Tyrells, including Diana Rigg’s character, killed. That’s pretty much you dead. In fact by medieval standards death by dragon for such a crime is practically a mercy kill.

Yes you could see Tyrion’s point, do it nice and legal, but the outcome would be the same. In fact the only thing strange was that Dany seemed inclined to let him off, if he bent the knee. Seriously? He does that, you forgive him (imagine how any surviving Tyrell’s or their bannermen would feel about that?), give him back his sword and hope he doesn’t bury it her back sometime?

So this should not have been an issue. Same way, as I pointed out before, any claim tying “Plot armour” Jon to the throne wouldn’t cut much mustard and would get him laughed out of the room. In a medieval world possession is 9/10’s of the law, its who’ll support you that’s important not who you are. This is actually referenced in GoT when Renly and Stannis meet in season 2. Renly admitted that Stannis had the better claim, but he had more friends, a larger army and thus a stronger claim.

The Iceman cometh

So okay that didn’t go so well and so next episode we got a big battle. But that’s it, the Night king gone, going out like a punk, no explanation no backstory, no idea who he was or what he wanted. For all we know Bran could have dropped his wallet in the three eyed raven’s cave and our skeletor tribute act was just returning it.

And why did they fight at winterfell? There’s an old military saying that you’re halfway to defeat when you let the enemy decide the terms of battle (where it will be fought and under what conditions). And holding it in a castle that’s literally build on top of a graveyard (when you’re up against someone who can raise the dead) does strike me as a little foolish.

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Won’t it be a better idea to put all of these guys INSIDE the castle rather than outside it?

A more sensible strategy would be to use harassing tactics. This is something that light cavalry (such as the Dothraki who clearly are based on the Mongols) are good at, ride in, pepper the enemy with arrows (presumably dragonglass tipped), make ride by attacks, try to break up the enemy formation, then use their superior speed to get out of trouble (rinse and repeat). Such tactics would gradually thin out the numbers (with little risk to their own), such that even if there was one epic final battle (and maybe doing it in day time so we can see what’s bloody happening!), there be a lot less wights to deal with.

What you wouldn’t do is ride light cavalry into a large infantry formation. That’s a really bad idea, flaming swords or not (and aren’t the Dothraki fearful of magic? Strange they went along with this). Infantry formations, especially if they can form a shield wall, are pretty bad news for cavalry. The only difference between running into shield wall and running into a brick wall, is brick walls don’t stab you with long spears.

Hence the Unsullied, once they were attacked, should have mopped the floor. It should have turned out like the battle of Watling street, in which a handful of Romans destroyed a massive Iceni army led by Boudica…and the Roman’s didn’t have dragons to assist them…or a castle!

And speaking of which, even if you are going to fight the battle at Winterfell (after you’ve staked all the corpses in the crypt through the heart!), won’t it be better to do that from INSIDE the keep? And how about digging a moat or something? Even if all the troops won’t fit inside the castle, then expand it, much like Caesar did at Alesia, throwing up some 16 km’s of walls & defensive ditches in just a few days.

In fact, given that we know Frosty the smirking Iceman was basically a giant walking off switch, just throw the kitchen sink at him. They had two dragons, a large numbers of archers and war machines, taking him out should have been easy. Hell they could toss Lyanna Mormont strapped to a jar of wildfire at him, whatever it takes.

That said, as I pointed out in my prior post on this topic, undead are scary but not very effective enemies. They can help set the tone and have characters terrified every time they go to open a door. But they’ve far too many vulnerabilities and weaknesses. And this lot are even worse. Dragonglass, Valyarian steel, fire (well aside from the Gaffer obviously), water, they are harder to keep alive than a Screamapillar. So not really surprising that it ended on a bit of damp squib, but it could have been better written.

Dumb and Dumber

And perhaps this has been the problem for sometime, notably since they ran out of book material, bad writing, undertaken by people who are clueless as to how medieval society works, who aren’t familiar with the source material and likely working according to a tight deadline, probably with additional demands to include unnecessary fan service or battle scenes with lots of cool special effects and explosions. The end result is a mess, they painted themselves into several corners and then tried to use yet more bad writing to get out of it.

For example, allowing Daenerys to go on a bunch of Monty haul campaigns without considering the consequences of that. Much of the bad writing in GoT has stemmed from attempts to counteract these decisions, compounding the original mistakes. The worst example being the ridiculous episode 6 from last season, where they went north to capture a wight (honestly, less said about this episode the better, made worse when you remember that Alliser Thorne took the hand of a wight to King’s landing in season 1).

And the thing is, there’s been far easier way for the writers to contain their Daenerys/Munchkin problem, smack her down with a cold dose of reality. Okay, so she’s got this large army. How does she plan on paying, feeding, equipping and maintaining them? Maybe we can get out of paying them, but what exactly is the difference between a slave and a freed slave who works for her for free? And how exactly is she supposed to move this vast force to Westeros? And how’s she’s going to maintain them on a small rocky Island like Dragonstone?

Reality would force her to leave most of her forces behind in Meereen and bring only a token force with her. Oh and how do the dragons get there? Fly thousands of miles over ocean, staying in the air 24/7 for several weeks? We could be nice and have them mature slower, hence they are small enough to fit on a ship, else she’s got to travel by herself overland (risky!), in stages. In any event she’d also be heading for Dorne to link up with her allies there (in the novels Quentyn Martell was sent to bring her to Dorne), relying more on their armies than her own forces, as well as negotiation rather that combat (which is more in keeping with the time period, battles were actually rare occurrences).

Similarly, Cersei can’t just blow up all her enemies and a church and still expect to be alive the next day, nevermind becoming queen (this, I’d argue is where GoT truly jumped the shark). I get the impression this was a Dynasty move by the show runners to kill off several leading characters so they could spend more money on special effects. But, as I discussed in a prior post, it ignores the fact that the two of the key pillars of a medieval society are the nobles and the clergy. Without the nobles a ruler has no money, soldiers, food or clout of any kind. And its the clergy’s job to keep the peasants (who vastly outnumber everyone else) in check and stop them roasting her and her knights on spits (and yes this sort of thing happened in medieval times when the clergy lost control). So she’s got to deal with her enemies through the normal means (which admittedly could involve a bit of skullduggery and intrigue).

And no, Euron (the show’s version being a hybrid of Euron and Vicarion from the books) can’t simply conjure up a vast fleet of ocean going ships from a group of barren treeless islands in no time at all. Nor can he teleport that fleet around the planet on a whim.

And we see exactly the same problem affecting several other series, such as star trek and star wars. The latest star trek film and all other projects have been cancelled other than one online web series, largely due poor reception from fans, leading to falling revenue from films, games and toy sales.

And star wars too is in crisis (falling revenue, particularly in the toy division). The proposed Rian Johnson trilogy (to follow on from the current one) has been cancelled, he’s been given his marching orders and aside from the final film already in the works, it looks like everything else is on hold or migrating over to Netflix.

And the cause? Bad writing by people who’ve no clue about the genre they are writing for, with a bunch of lawyers and corporate types with $ in their eyes, looking over their shoulders. If you’ve ever met a trekkie or a star wars fan and you wanted to wind them up and get them to burn their DVD collection, I’d say the best way to do that would be to pretty much do what’s gone on with both of these franchises recently. GoT seems to be following the same script (the more serious the fans, the more furious they seem to be). So probably just as well its the last season.

A spoiler alert for the EU elections

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The UK’s local election results (in England, Scotland wasn’t voting this time around) have shown a massive swing away from the pro-brexit parties, towards pro-remain parties. Now while it is certainly true that local elections tend to be fought over issues such as fortnightly bin collections and the cost of the Christmas lights, certainly there’s clearly something of a trend here that’s a bit too obvious to ignore.

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At the end of the day, even if you are voting on local issues, who do you want in charge of local affairs? The party that proposed brexit, got a deal and then voted against it. Or the party that backed remain, but voted in favour of article 50 and who has been sitting on the fence ever since, with the party leadership trying to come up with an excuses for why they should vote for a Tory brexit plan they all hate. Or maybe you’d rather put some grown up’s in charge instead? And its also worth remembering that as these elections didn’t include London or Scotland, its probable the swing on this issue is if anything understated.

This is exactly the point I’ve been making for sometime. Corbyn and May seem to think that if they can just sneak brexit through, that’s it done and dusted, all the 17 million or so who voted remain, many of whom can show very real personal loss and hardship brought onto them by brexit, will go away and shut up about the issue forever. Well obviously no, they won’t. As the economic impact of brexit takes effect it will mean that instead support for rejoining the EU will grow. Corbyn’s plan is to let brexit happen and then blame the Tories. But, as these results should make clear, the outcome of a Tory brexit is voters backing pro-EU parties, not other forms of euroscepticism.

So they’ve got the message loud and clear, we’ll be having a 2nd referendum then. LOL! Nope, both party leaders are arguing instead that a strong swing to remain indicates support for their policy. May wants a 3rd vote (or is it a 4th vote? honestly I’ve lost count!) on her deal (once she’s changed the font). Corbyn seems to think it means voters defecting from him to the lib dems and greens means they want labour to back May’s deal this time (brexiter logic, don’t even try to understand it!).

As I’ve said before, so long as Corbyn (aka Captain Ahab) is party leader, labour are a pro-leave party. He will prioritise getting brexit through over becoming PM or reversing Tory austerity. Even thought labour is overwhelmingly a remain party, labour voters need to remember you are essentially voting for a Tory brexit by voting labour. It doesn’t matter what you vote for at conference, or what’s in the party manifesto, Corbyn has consistently shown he will ignore both and push through his own agenda. And you can also be guaranteed, even when he does go, he’ll make sure his own hand picked successor (eurosceptic and clueless) takes over.

But, what’s really troubling me is the upcoming EU elections. I’d be inclined to vote Green party in these. While its claimed the UK’s EU elections operate on proportional representation, its a flawed version of PR, as it doesn’t include a transferable vote (and hence tends to favour the major parties). A party needs about 15% of the vote per seat in Scotland. And last time the lib dems and greens split about 15% of the vote between them (so no seats for either party).

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However, now Change UK threaten to split a pool of about 20% of the vote 3 ways. This means that when you add that to the SNP’s 40%, 60% of Scottish voters will likely vote for pro-remain parties. Add in labour’s 14% (Scottish labour is very much a remain party, even more so than in England) that works out at support at 74% for remain. However, thanks to Change UK’s spoiler action, its possible the seat allocation will split more like 50/50.

Why didn’t Change UK do an election deal with the other parties and run on a joint ticket? And worse still, while no lib dem or greens got elected in Scotland last time, several did get elected in English constituencies. Change UK spoiler action now threatens to cost these MEP’s their seats (in fact one of their candidates recently pulled out for this very reason, she doesn’t want to stand and help brexiters get elected).

Looking at the UK wide polls add up the pro-remain parties and they do have a lead (although a narrow one at that) and again you add in labour and support for remain represents a majority. But inevitably the media won’t report that. They will focus on seat allocation (which will likely split 70/30 in favour of leave) or which individual party got the most votes or seats (which will be Farage and his gallery of ghouls).

So my advice to anyone in the UK is don’t vote for Change UK. Check your local results and opinion polls and back incumbent pro-remain MP’s (in Scotland that would be the SNP, in England Greens and lib dems, in Wales Plaid Cymru). And whatever you do, don’t vote for labour either (the media will count that as a pro-leave vote). Certainly if there’s a big shift in support in Scotland, whereby the green’s stand a chance, I might well vote for them and I’d advise everyone else to watch the polls closely and do the same. But the priority this time is maximising the number of remain supporting MEP’s who get elected. Particularly when you understand what’s going on in the rest of Europe.

I appreciate what Change UK is trying to do. They know that the Tories are now just enablers of fascism and xenophobia. The nasty party. That Corbyn is a pighead numpty, who hasn’t changed his views on anything since 1970 and hasn’t got a clue how to win an election. However simply compounding the main parties mistakes while waving a pro-remain flag isn’t progress. A hard defeat might snap them back to reality and force them to change tactics (such as doing forging an alliance with the lib dems).