Pre-election analysis – the UK’s Trump v’s the rebel alliance

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So its possible we’ll have an early election, thought probably not as early as Boris Johnson wants. He seems to be hoping that by bringing a bit of Trump like behaviour to the UK he can get a majority, allowing him to force through the sort of brexit he prefers…..which might not necessarily be a no deal mind (if he’s got enough seats then he doesn’t need the DUP or the hard brexiters anymore, he could toss both under the bus and put forward May’s deal again, or the EU’s original proposal of leaving NI in the single market, negating the need for any backstop).

The odds are certainly in his favour, he’s 10% ahead in the polls and such tactics have certainly worked in the past, but its not that straight forward. In fact its a very risky gamble. As I pointed out before, such is the unfairness of the FPTP system its mathematically possible for the Tories to win a majority of seats with only 30% of the vote. However, its also mathematically possible for them to finish 10% ahead of anyone else and yet still not get a majority.

Certainly yes, Boris Johnson is good at one thing and it’s lying. He could sell a clapped out VW Bettle by claiming its actually a classic Porsche…which is pretty much a good description of his likely election strategy! However, the Tories have been trying to out UKIP, UKIP for the last two decades and failed every time. Farage, assuming he fields candidates (and given my point above he’d be very naive not to do so) lives in a glass house and can hurl rocks Boris can’t, while promising bigger and better unicorns. To return to my analogy about the used car, he’s going to be across the street at the election selling an actual Porcsche….which he doesn’t actually own…as he’ll basically be pulling the old pig in a poke scam.

So some significant number of voters will defect to the brexit party or UKIP (so even if the brexit party don’t stand, he’ll still lose some votes). And, as perhaps his recent walkabout should have highlighted, there are some UK voters who fundamentally won’t vote Tory. Even among some leave voters this would be unthinkable (in fact some voted leave to give Cameron & the Tories the two fingered salute). Go into the wrong bar in Glasgow, Leeds or Liverpool, tell them you are a Tory and you’ll hear a click behind you as they lock the doors, cos you ain’t leaving the place alive! Now whether this block of voters is 5% or 25% I do not know. But if I were Johnson I’d rather not find out the hard way!

At the other extreme his Stalinistic purges of moderate opponents is causing many to quit the party. Johnson seems to be confusing Tory members (who are pretty gung ho for no deal yes) with Tory voters (who are a completely different kettle of fish). Ruth Davidson’s quitting alone puts nearly all of the Scottish Tory seats in doubt. His own brother now quitting is also crucial, as he was one of the few moderate Tories left in a cabinet post.

And this business of sacking 21 further MP’s for doing something Johnson regularly did himself (including the father of the house Ken Clarke along with Winston Churchill’s grandson!) is going to have quite an impact. There is nothing to stop any of these MP’s (or other previous Tory defectors), from running again as independent Tory candidates. Or they might simply throwing their weight behind some pro-remain candidate in their constituency. Some Johnson crony parachuted in at the last minute is going to have a bit of an uphill struggle getting elected.

And losing votes from both ends is exactly the sort of scenario where the Tories could lose many of the marginal seats, meaning that they win the battle but lose the war (i.e. top the polls but finish well short of a majority). To make matters worse the election isn’t just going to be solely about brexit. Johnson and his puppet master adviser Wormtongue Cummings know this, so they’ve been trying to out Corbyn Corbyn, with lavish promises of money from heaven. Of course given that a hard brexit will depress the economy and pull down tax revenue, its hard to see how he’ll be able to afford current spending, never mind the sort he’s planning.

But while Boris is promising a few million here, a few there, Corbyn’s promising billions. And Corbyn can claim he has a plan to finance this, he’ll go for a softer brexit (or more likely none at all once his party and coalition partners have their say) and put up taxes for the rich. Now granted there’s a few holes in his proposals (which I’ve discussed before), but the Tories can’t get away with using the magic money tree jibe (not that they won’t try of course!), because they need a forest of them after brexit. So its not certain this tactic will work. It could leave them open to attack by lending more credibility to Corbyn’s proposals. And my guess is the public will find Corbyn’s proposals more appealing.

That said, certainly the Tories main election asset is Corbyn. Poll after poll shows that the public don’t like him, he’s not seen as a PM in waiting. And no I’m not a secret Tory or a lib dem (I usually vote either Green, SNP or labour). I’m simply reflecting the opinion of him you’d hear expressed in any working class pub, food bank or greasy spoon cafe. And these are the sort of people who generally vote labour. In Tory circles he’s the spawn of Satan. If there’s one thing that would cause moderate Tories and centre ground voters (who hate Johnson and don’t want a no deal), to lose their nerve and vote Tory anyway, its the thought of a Corbyn premiership.

And Corbyn’s policy of different forms of fence sitting on brexit (while thwarting efforts to block it) is going to be a major problem in any snap election. His official policy is to have an election, win it, negotiate a new deal with Brussels and put that to a people’s vote. The reality is that, while there will be differences between a Corbyn brexit and a May brexit no doubt (as he’ll go for a customs union, which negates the need for a backstop), the differences aren’t huge. Parliament is as likely to vote against such a deal as it was to vote against May’s deal. And a people’s vote will almost certainly result in remain winning by a large margin (meaning Corbyn then has to resign becoming the 4th PM brought down by brexit). And this assumes his party, who are overwhelmingly pro-remain, and his likely coalition partners (even more pro-remain) are going to be okay with putting his progressive agenda and all other business on the back burner for several years so he can sort out brexit.

The obvious hypocrisies of this policy will be exposed and his position will fall apart within the first week of any campaign, leading him to lose votes in all directions. The Tories and brexit party will say he’s pro-remain, the lib dems that he’s pro-leave. And how can we trust a leader whose still not made up his mind about something this important after 3 years? In which case, labour will haemorrhage seats to all its rivals and that could easily tip the scales Johnson’s direction.

The obvious solution therefore would be for labour to go full on pro-remain, forming an electoral alliance with the lib dems, greens and SNP. That would maximise his gains and minimise his losses. The trouble is that Corbyn lives in a bubble and doesn’t understand any of this. And he has a halo around him (as this piece perhaps shows), which stops his supporters seeing the blindingly obvious. If you’ve wandered onto any momentum blog or twitter feed recently they are wall to wall wailing against the lib dems. You’d swear a no deal brexit, austerity and privatising the NHS was their idea rather than the Tories.

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What remainers need……

And recall Corbyn has his own set of defectors, such as the Jewish MP who quit over anti-Semitism some time ago, who recently joined the lib dems. And he plans to field candidates against them next election, even thought they’ve little chance of getting elected….although they might help a Tory get elected in the process! In short, I get the impression that Corbyn and his red shirts are going to turn the next election into the Judean people’s front v’s the people’s front of Judea, with him and momentum playing the role of the crack suicide squad, with the Romans Tories looking on with bemusement.

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…..but what they might actually get

For the price of the inevitable defeat that will follow such a strategy is going to be high for labour supporters. Johnson gets in with a large majority and implements a hard right agenda that makes Corbyn’s hard left policies impossible to ever implement (as everything in the country including the NHS and public services will now be owned by US multinationals, plus they’ll bring in US style voter ID laws that make it difficult for young people or the poor to even vote). A big block of voters will leave the party in disgust and likely never come back (some polls have shown labour slipping to 4th place behind the lib dems and brexit party). He’ll have to resign, the Blairites will take over and his failure will be pointed to for decades as “proof” that such left wing policies are a route to electoral disaster (which I’d argue will be unfair, the problem is that Corbyn is just a crap leader, not necessarily his policies).

So it is all up in the air. Yes Johnson may succeed in turning the Tories into the US republican party under Trump. He might sell a plan to make the UK great again, which turns out to be a plan to turn the country into the 51st state and a somewhat poor and bankrupt one at that! Or he might find the electorate recoil in horror at such a thought and he’s simply given Corbyn the opportunity to sneak into power as head of a remainer rebel alliance. Delaying the election does on paper decrease the probability of the Tories winning, but it certainly doesn’t rule it out. There’s everything to play for, but do the players really want to play?

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Unfit for office…or opposition!

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I would argue that that there are two problems with British politics right now. Firstly a radicalised Tory party, whose broken every one of their pro-brexit promises, that seems to be committed to some sort of pointless and unconstitutional brexiter banzai charge. Which they will of course blame the EU for (as well as migrants and anyone who voted remain). But part of the problem is also a lack of effective opposition.

Labour have been facing the biggest open goal in politics for 3 years now, but have actually gone backwards in terms of support. And this is largely why we’ve gotten to this stage where no deal could be seriously considered. If labour were providing effective opposition, going up in the polls and largely seen as a government in waiting, there is no way the cabinet and Johnson’s ghoulish minions would even be considering no deal.

Case in point, given that an election after a vote of no confidence isn’t guaranteed to work, as there might not be time remaining to hold one (or time afterwards to form a government and do something). And that’s assuming labour’s poor poll ratings don’t see them get annihilated. So the sensible solution proposed by a number of pro-remain MP’s is a government of national unity to sort out brexit one way or another (revoke article 50 or a 2nd referendum) then dissolve itself and call an election.

This government would be led by an interim PM, likely a veteran politician with some prior ministerial experience (this would reassure allies and businesses that there was a safe pair of hands at the helm who wasn’t going to do anything crazy). Such a unity government would have a very narrow mandate beyond brexit. All they can do is slap a few band-aids on public services to undo the damage the Tories have done. Anything more radical (re-nationalising the railways, major tax or welfare reform, etc.) won’t be possible as they’ve have no electoral mandate, no guaranteed support in parliament, insufficient parliamentary time and the lords would just block it anyway. So it would be something of a thankless task. Likely candidates for this role include Dominc Grieve, Anne Soubry, Vince Cable or Tom Watson.

But no, instead Corbyn is insisting that he’ll be PM (why? ego one assumes). Indeed he’s implied that labour won’t even negotiate with the other parties, but try to force through a minority government. His deputy McDonnell even suggested (and I’m hoping he was joking) that Corbyn would go to the palace and demand to be made PM if they win a no confidence vote (so basically he’s going to launch a one man coup d’etat…presumably armed with a cucumber from his allotment). It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Basically this means one of two things. That Corbyn and his cabal really are so deluded that they think that they can just walk in and take over the government, wave a magic wand and put everything right in the world….while ignoring completely the impending crisis of brexit and its aftermath. Honestly Trump seems to have a better grasp of politics than Corbyn et al. And they are ignoring polling which suggests they will at best lose dozens of seats, or worse, potentially finish 4th behind the lib dems and brexit party. The last thing he wants now is an election.

The alternative theory is that Corbyn is really so desperately anti-EU that he’s willing to put the country through a no deal brexit shredder and scupper his chances of ever becoming PM to achieve it. If he sabotages any effort to form such a unity government then a no deal brexit will have his grubby paw prints all over it. And you can be guaranteed this will be pointed out to voters next election.

And in another facepalm moment, McDonnell also suggested that labour won’t block a 2nd indy ref in Scotland. While this is a sensible strategy, it was a grave error last time for labour to whip its members and MP’s into backing remain, but its the sort of position that needs to be rolled out tactfully. You’d only want to adopt it once it was clear a referendum was imminent and use it as a bargaining chip to make sure the SNP behave themselves (i.e. they don’t go the full Cambridge Analytica).

Inevitably the right wing media reported it as labour is in favour of Scottish independence (no they aren’t that’s not what he said). And because he’d not cleared this with the Scottish labour party leadership first, it got a very angry reaction from the Scottish wing of the party.

All in all it shows us that Corbyn’s cabinet is as dysfunctional, factional and chaotic as the one in the white house. He’s completely delusional, has no clue what he’s doing and seems to have no real goal other than making sure brexit happens at all costs, even if it destroys his party to achieve it.

Dragging the queen into brexit

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In another example of how utterly dysfunctional both the main parties have become, there’s the fact that both seem determined to drag the queen into the debate about brexit. Either by getting her to intervene in the selection of who is PM, the date of any election (till after brexit happens) or by asking her to suspend parliament (i.e. suspend democracy) and force through a no deal. This is politically very dangerous. The queen, like any head of state (America being the exception) is supposed to stay out of politics (and this I’d argue is the flaw in the American system). As it can get very messy very quickly if she does get involved.

For example, let’s suppose she backs Boris and a no deal brexit. That is going to upend the lives of millions of people. Families will be split up, millions of jobs will be lost, the UK’s GDP will go down but 6-10%, there might be food and medicine shortages (we might even run out of bog roll!). And any issues with the NHS or medicines means people will die. And all of that the Queen will now be responsible for, with it all played out on the 24 hr news cycle.

So the royals will now have millions of angry voters who’d be wanting a referendum alright. But not on re-joining the EU, but on whether to packing her off back to Saxony. We’d be in the same situation the royals were in after Princess Diana died. And the only got through that thanks to Tony Blair. Boris by contrast will quickly toss her under the first passing bus to save his skin. And Corbyn has co-signed bills looking to remove the queen. And such a train wreck could re-invigorate the republican movements in Canada, Australia and NZ, who might also have similar votes.

So the trouble is that once she makes one decision she’s going to have to make more. This is exactly the sequence of events that led to past royal dynasty’s failing or kings loosing their heads (recall it was proroguing parliament where Charles I troubles started).

So for example, what if Scotland wants independence? Let’s suppose she backs Boris and blocks an official referendum. The danger is that if SNP can demonstrate enough support in an unofficial poll, then they can force their way out of the union by just making themselves such an pain in the ass that the rest of the UK throws them out (e.g. they could ask Scots to refuse to pay UK income taxes, refuse to hand over oil or VAT revenue, run up massive debts on the UK’s credit card then refuse to service those debts, organise wild cat strikes which lead to power cuts and gas shortages in England in the middle of winter, etc.).

All the queen will have done is ensure that Scotland becomes a republic (as Ireland and India did) and it increases the chances of a disorderly Scottish exit. Or worse, the Scots might take a leaf out of Norway’s book and invite some member of the royal family to take the crown of Scotland. Meaning there would be two British monarchs and allies (such as Canada, Australia and NZ) will have to decide who to back. The one whose kingdom is let by racists and disintegrating largely due to actions taken by her (and her heir apparent is Charles remember). Or some dashing new Scottish king (Harry and Megan maybe?), whose kingdom sits on lots of oil, has whisky galore and is applying for EU membership.

The sensible thing for her to do in such a situation would be to either respect the poll but ask the SNP to negotiate an orderly exit (which would be a bit rich given how she supported no deal with the EU), or ask for a 2nd official poll (after she helped Boris block a 2nd EU referendum) or call for some sort of compromise (Devo Max). Of course while this would preserve her crown, it would put her on a collision course with the PM and the cabinet.

Or how about a UK-US trade deal? If that goes through after brexit, farming and manufacturing will be devastated, the NHS sold off and we’ll be eating chlorinated chicken (meaning more people die). So she might have to get involved in that or block it entirely. Putting her on collision course with the government. And the same equally applies if she backs remain. She ends up with lots of angry people beating down her door.

My point is that both Corbyn and the Tories seem to think the queen is some sort of jack in the box. They can take her out of the box, get her to sign a national death warrant and they climb back in her box and stay there. But of course, she can’t. Its impossible to predict what way she’d go (and my advice to her would be, stick to protocol, throw it back at parliament and if they can’t decide, put to some sort of public vote). And once she gets involved in politics its very difficult to untangle her from it.

The channel hop

A French man recently demonstrated a flying platform (basically an enlarged drone) and flew it over the English channel. As Trevor Noah pointed out, you can imagine the reaction of brexiters, they got brexit to keep out the foreigners and next thing you know some flying Frenchman lands on the white cliffs and starts chasing after their daughters.

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A flying foreigner, every brexiter’s worst nightmare

But jokes aside, and while this flying platform does have certain limitations, it does show how quickly technology can change. And how that change has many consequences. For example, we can make multiple criticisms of Trump’s wall and the ease with which it can be breached. But its one fatal flaw is it can’t stop planes and aircraft. Yes, you have some chance of stopping illegal migrants at airports….assuming they are dumb enough to tell you they are entering on a tourist visa with no intention of leaving.

Now we’ve gotten to the stage where drones can carry people, that opens up all sorts of possibilities. Notably of Mexican people smugglers at the border offering migrants an air taxi service into the US. Such a drone could carry people several km’s into the US (i.e beyond the zone currently patrolled by border agents), drop them off and then flying back and pick up somebody else. This would negate the wall completely.

This is one of the problems with conservative governments, their inability to see future trends and changes in technology. Hence why they tend to get blind sided by them and their knee jerk reaction is to try and get it banned.

Case in point, when mp3’s and online file sharing first came out the entertainment industry tried to get them banned. They poured millions into anti-piracy ads that were often parodies of themselves. How can we make money off a service that we just give away for free they said?…to which Google, Facebook and You-tube responded, hold our beer….Now streaming is a massive multi billion dollar industry and the main means of distributing media.

The oil industry and its vested interests, promote climate change deniers, even despite the fact that the oil industry is losing money hand over fist, with 50% drop in oil stocks over the last few years, while renewables are a growing industry. The brexiters want to bring back Britain’s trading empire, ignoring how globalised trade in the 21st century works. They also want a 3rd runway and a new terminal at Heathrow, which will involve demolishing several nearby historic villages and subjecting London to more noise pollution. This despite the fact that airlines are ditching their large planes and abandoning the hub and spoke model in favour of smaller planes and more direct flights, largely due to the availability of newer more fuel efficient aircraft (such as the Airbus A350).

This to me just serves to demonstrate the fatal flaw in conservatism. You’ll get a lot of kicking and screaming. They’ll tell you that television, flying, rock and roll music, gay marriage, abortion, gun control or acting on climate change will be a slippery slope to the end times. Yet in the end they are forced by circumstances to adopt it anyway, upon which they’ll conveniently forget their opposition and move on to the next artificial controversy.

UK College goes bust

The UK government has spent quite a bit of time recently promoting private colleges and universities as it attempts to emulate America’s heavily commercialised higher education system. I’ve long opposed this because I know how ridiculously unfair the US system is. It means large sections of the population simply can’t go to uni as they can’t afford it. And even those with better off parents often still leave uni with massive debts that cripple their finances for life.

Of course the other problem with the US model is the frequency at which their universities go bust. Something that’s practically unheard of in Europe. And such bankruptcies have very real and serious consequences, as this news piece on one such failure discusses. Not just to students, but to local businesses and employment. There are some small towns or neighbourhoods in the UK whose economy would implode if the local uni shut down.

And inevitably one of these new colleges, GSM London has now failed. Fortunately, it doesn’t look too bad…suspect any students or staff caught up in this will have a different view on that! But I’m talking about the wider impact. Its in London, so the impact will be dampened somewhat. Hopefully they can all find alternative employers or courses to enrol on. However, it is a worrying sign of the times.

While the UK government has shown a willingness to quietly bailout uni’s in trouble. Much as I predicted, that’s not always possible. They might be in such a state to be beyond saving. Or the creditors, anxious to get their greedy paws on the valuable city centre real estate the uni owns might refuse any bailout and force through a bankruptcy.

And its also worth keeping in mind that government’s plans are to cut tuition fees. Which would be a good idea. Only they aren’t planning to provide any additional funding to universities (so they are expecting that they can just cut their funding by 30%, on top of the drop off in student numbers from the EU and loss of research funding and expect the uni’s to cope). Naturally its been pointed out that this would be disastrous and almost certainly push many universities over the edge. So we might not be so lucky next time.

A most convenient death

Word is that the alleged sex trafficker to the rich and famous, Jeffrey Esptein, has apparently killed himself in his NY cell. Now call me a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, but when someone that well connected (Trump, Clinton, Prince Andrew, you name it) magically happens to die, just days before he can be put on trial and such connections were due to be subjected to legal scrutiny (which could have involved said individuals being required to testify in court under oath), well its a little bit suspicious.

Which probably explains why his victims are arguing for the investigations to continue. Perhaps even try him posthumously. And there is a legal precedence for this. But of course, fat chance of that happening! I mean why do you think they killed him/let him commit suicide for in the first place? So they can brush the whole thing under the carpet of course.

Loosing sleep

The Caledonian sleeper is (or perhaps I should say was) one of those hidden gems of UK transport. Its a train service running from London to the highlands of Scotland, with stops in the central belt (and Northern England) along the way. So you can literally go to sleep in London after a night on the town, wake up in Fort William the next morning, grab some breakfast and be on the summit of Ben Nevis before lunchtime.

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The Caledonian sleeper works its way across Rannoch Moor in winter

However, the rail companies have long hated it, as it means keeping lines open at late hours, screwing up their maintenance schedules. So they’d like noting better than to cancel it. Unfortunately, as its quite popular, plus its also used by MP’s to travel between their constituencies and London, any talk of cancelling it has been thwarted. So instead they tried to let it whither by not investing in it or just making the service poorer. For example, you used to be able to book half board and share a cabin with somebody else, but they’ve tried to did away with that due to “customer demand” (we are too believe there are customers out there who prefer to pay double for their tickets!).

Well now it seems they’ve figured out a solution. Invest money in the sleeper service. Because nothing in British transport will royally screw something up and make things worse than investing millions of pounds in it. Since this £150 million revamp the service has been dogged by complaints of late or cancelled trains (keep in mind, you are showing up to the station at 23:00, you can’t just wait for the next service, that’s not till the following morning!). Others complain about poor catering, lights being left on all night (which can’t be turned off) and noisy air conditioning.

So it seems like the rail companies will finally get their wish and do away with the sleepers…by trying to make them better! To them their own incompetence is now an asset.

Populists, corruption and disaster capitalism

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If I was to tell you about a newly installed government, whose minsters and party donors were making millions betting against their own country via offshore firms, who openly earn large sums in kickbacks for a few hours of supposed work (e.g. after dinner speaking fees, “consultancy fees”, etc.), a government that was now using a crisis to give out sweatheart deals to its cronies, you’d probably assume I’m talking about some tin pot dictatorship in the developing world. But no, I’m talking about the UK under Boris, which has got to count as the most corrupt in the country’s history. But its actually the new normal (you think this is bad, wait till they are in coalition with Farage!).

Recently Channel 4’s dispatches did a piece on “brexit millionaires and how many in the Tory party, or their donors, were cashing in on brexit and making millions. Front and centre was Jacob Rees-Mogg, aka the right honourable member for the 18th century, the new minister for silly walks leader of the house of commons. In between being a grammar nazi (he’s set a whole bunch of grammar rules for civil servants, rules he has himself broken 700 times), he has been profiting from brexit. His offshore investment firms have racked in millions since brexit started. With him personally profiting to the tune of at least +£7 million. So much so he can afford to buy a a multi-million town house in London (to go with his country estate) and pay for it in cash. This is corruption, pure and simple.

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Rees Mogg’s little country cottage

And he is by no means alone. Boris is going for a no deal brexit, not because its what people voted for (he and his ministers have been challenged to provide an example of when in the referendum they suggested the UK might have to leave without a deal, we’ve yet to get an answer). In fact polls show the public would rather just cancel brexit all together than except no deal. Even Teresa May is warning no deal threatens the union (pity she didn’t say that while in office!). But the cabinet backs it because they know its the best way for them and their mates to make a quick buck. Food and medicine shortages! millions loosing their jobs! civil war in NI! Scottish independence! how is any of that their problem?

In fact here’s a good one, from a young Tory whose whinging that Boris can’t ignore him and implement no deal against the wishes of parliament and the country. LOL, the naivety of youth. He can, he is and he will. If you have a problem with that you shouldn’t have voted Tory.

And in other countries we are seeing similar trends. Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s made it deeper and released alligators. In Italy, the horseshoe government of populists are now literally surrounded by steaming piles of garbage as the cities public services have collapsed. And corruption is as bad as ever (if not worse), so much so some are thinking of voting for Berlusconi. And if that sounds unlikely, well consider that in Greece, the populists there made such a pigs breakfast of things that the very party who got the country into a massive mess in the first place have just been voted back in.

Rome is now in such a mess, tourists are been giving advice about the risks to their health while visiting

Many people voted for populists because they were appalled at self serving politicians divorced from reality. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, voting for even more corrupt and incompetent populists has just made the situation worse. The very same elites these voters hate, just took to bribing and manipulating the populists. And guess what, they are even dumber than the regular politicians and cheaper too! In fact they’ll do things the regular politicians won’t dream of doing (because the latter are prone to rare moments of clarity where they actually giving a shit).

Angry desperate voters, voted for the most extreme option on the ballot paper thought they were sending a message. But the message that arrived in elites HQ was that these voters are even more naive and stupid than we thought, so let’s take full advantage of them (I mean they could have voted for some established third party candidates, or others who can’t be bought, then we’d be really screwed, but instead they vote for some complete idiot whose in our pocket). The elites can basically do whatever they want now, just so long as their boy remembers to make the odd racist dog whistle and some vague promises that they’ll never have to keep.

The fact is that populists leaders know that they aren’t held to the same standards as other politicians. It used to be a politician made the slightest gaffe, that was it, game over. Remember how Ed Miliband lost because of one photo of him looking awkward for a second eating a bacon roll, or the whole plebgate business. It used to be a politician said something to the media that was inaccurate, or broke the ministerial code and they’d be gone within a week (a good example, Brian Lenihan and the 1990’s Irish presidential election, he went from odds on favourite to being sacked and losing by a landslide over one phone call he made back in 1982).

Now they can get caught in a lie live on air and nobody bats an eyelid, because its one in a string of so many lies nobody can keep up (well unless you are a member of the labour party of course….or black….or worse both). Its understood that voters will ignore this, they are voting based on anger and tribal loyalties, not facts and policy. So long as said leader stays on message and keeps them angry (i.e. they have absolutely no good incentive to help these voters in any way, because then they might calm down and start acting sensibly) he can get away with anything.

Consider for example how both the Tories and the GOP have abandoned their long term commitment to balanced budgets. Both came to power talking about the dangers of deficit spending and how they would be pro-business. Now the policy is bollix to that and fuck business. Like Trump, Johnson seems to be planning to spend like a sailor on shore leave. But not on hospitals, schools or helping the poor (Tory policy here has been branded by the UN as ‘mean-spirited and callous), but instead on no deal preparation, tax cuts for the rich and big infrastructure projects than can be farmed out to Tory donors.

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The Tories new motto

I mean seriously, why do you think Boris gets paid over a £150,000 to show up and give an after dinner speech? You think they like the sound of his voice that much? No its a bribe and now they’re going to cash in. And its hardly as if any of this should be a surprise, given his past performance as London mayor and foreign secretary.

Of course the fact these policies, combined with the economic impact of a no deal brexit (or Trump’s tariffs), will make a mess of the economy and wreck the public finances doesn’t matter to them. They’ll get rich, who cares. In fact they’d even see a silver lining to that. They can use such a crisis to sell off state assets (such as the NHS) to themselves and their allies and dismantle the welfare state.

Its a strategy the rich have been applying in developing world countries for decades. They’d take advantage of the country’s naive or incompetent populists/autocratic government, to swoop in and wreck the economy on purpose, knowing they and their allies (juiced in local elites) would be able to take advantage of the chaos. Now they’re just doing the same in western countries (what goes around comes around I suppose).

And furthermore, even if some leftie such as Corbyn or Bernie ever gets into power, so what! They’ll not be able to afford to implement any of their policies or even reverse the mess the current government is making. In fact, the conservatives can just blame them for everything (as they did with Obama). What’s that? the lefties might putting up taxes? So what! let em! all their money is offshore….course if the UK was only part of some big pan-European club which was determined to do something about such tax avoidance …just a thought!

Summer news roundup

Unfit for office

One of the main stories of the last week was a blazing row between prospective PM Boris Johnston and his live in girlfriend. He denied it had happened, and the police refused to comment, until it turned out a neighbour had recorded the row (so they had to be shouting loud enough that he could hear it in his place). Naturally the right wing media had a massive tizzy about this, calling it an invasion of privacy, while team Boris went into damage limitation mode.

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Ordinary I’d agree, however there its a case of pot calling the kettle black here. Boris used to be editor of the Spectator (during the phone hacking scandal) and has regular column in the Telegraph. The UK media (when they aren’t hacking people’s phones and emails) are well known for setting up sting operations, getting a political they don’t like drunk, high or just angry and recording them, then reporting what was said out of context (most notably Vince Cable, reporting a conversation in a constituency office out of context).

So a neighbour recording a scary sounding row in the hope it might be useful as evidence for the police (something the police agreed was a sensible idea) is a nosy pleb who should mind his own business. But a tabloid hack bugging a celebrity or using a long lens to get a picture of a member of the royal family with her top off, that’s good journalism. And while the right wing media are very quick to report on the private lives of celebs or left wing politicians, they are slow to report the infidelity of right wing politicians. Boris and his girlfriends (and children out of wedlock) or Farage’s affairs are largely kept out of the newspapers.

Either way, it is merely one of a long number of reasons to doubt Johnson’s suitability for high office. Almost anyone who has had anything to do with him has said he’d make a terrible PM. And as for brexit, his plan is basically bonkers, labelled “a fantasy” by some civil servants. He plans to go to Europe, bang on the table and get a better deal. What’s actually going to happen is he’ll go there to find a sticky note on the door saying nobody home, we’ll get back to you in mid November (the EU has disbanded its negotiating team, they have to wait for the new parliament to sit and elect new members)…after the UK’s scheduled to leave.

So that would imply no deal, but he’s also said the chances of that are very low, which is probably just as well as the country is woefully poorly prepared, indeed the person in charge of no dealing planning just quit. All in all, it would appear that he’s not got a clue what he’s going to do. His sole reason for going for the job is ego. He’s posh and if his bullingdon buddy Cameron (whose not from as rich a family as Boris) can be PM, why he’s practically entitled to the job, its his by right.

Of course, given that the media is camped outside number 10 pretty much 24/7, the next blazing row with his girlfriend/wife/boyfriend will be broadcast worldwide. And if he thinks he can lie his way to office and then backtrack, think again. His could well be the shortest and most disastrous PM term in history. Interesting time perhaps. And I suppose it means for Americans, the brit’s can stop laughing at them over Trump.

Trump v’s Iran

Speaking of Trump, there’s the drum beats to war over Iran. Its possible that the plan is to provoke a war with Iran to improve Trump’s poll ratings and give him a boost ahead of the next election. Well if that’s the plan its a terrible plan, as I outlined before. Its all very reminiscent of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

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Iran is much better armed and equipped than Iraq was (including the latest in Russian air defence missile technology). Its probably inevitable the US forces would take losses. And that means captured US pilots, or sunken warships (they’ve also got subs, including Russia made Kilo class subs), a media disaster for any US president (remember what happened to Jimmy Carter!). Iran is also closely tied to the anti-Jihadi forces in Iraq and Syria, as well as to the Russians. So there’s multiple ways this could blow back on the US. An oil embargo, them being driven out of Iraq (or indeed the Iraqi forces turning on them and taking US military personnel hostage) and Syria, a rise in terrorism, you name it.

Also given that Iran has now begun enriching Uranium, it raises the risk that Trump’s actions means they get nukes anyway and his listening to right wing hawks and Israel simply helped them do so. And recall there’s a way Iran can get access to nukes very quickly – the Russians. The worst case scenario is that Iran is so intimidated by this conflict that they retreat under the protective blanket of Russia and invite the Russians to install nuclear missiles in Iran. Plus if Russia takes any casualties from US attacks (which is possible, they’ll likely have advisers and contractors on site) Russia might choose to retaliate in another theatre, most likely the Baltic.

So this can only end badly for America. We can only hope he chickens out, probably more about saving his precious ego than anything.

Working class leave

Corbyn meanwhile still goes through the routine of promising a move towards a 2nd referendum. But then he goes into a meeting with his lexiter cabinet, who seem determined to leave at any cost (even if it destroys the labour party) and emerges to backtrack. The fact is that labour’s brexit strategy is as equally divorced from reality as Johnson’s. Take a recent article from leading Lexiter Jon Turddas Curddas, saying how the working class labour supporters will never forgive labour if they back a 2nd referendum.

Excuse me, but brexit would only not happen in a 2nd referendum if the leave camp lost. So he’s saying the party should deny people a vote on this, now and until the end of time just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Also we need to address this myth that the working class labour supporters voted overwhelmingly leave. They didn’t. Polls show that between 90% and 70% of labour supporters backed remain (the margin depends on who you consider to be a “labour supporter”, a party member or someone who tends to vote labour). And if anything the party is swinging more and more to remain, not least given the threat no deal presents to working class jobs.

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Labour is overwhelmingly a remain supporting party

Why then did some labour constituency’s vote for brexit? Well because under the UK’s decidedly unfair first-past-the-post-system an MP can be elected without a majority of votes. Its possible to win with as little as 25% of support, although 30-40% is more typical. So take 10-30% of labour support, add it to the Tory & UKIP vote, chuck in a couple of thousand people who don’t normally vote, but the bloke on the telly told them they’d get a free unicorn if they voted for this thing called “leave” and yes you can get a labour seat to vote heavily for leave. Like so many deluded leavers, Curddas assumes that everyone in his constituency agrees with him, even though polls, not to mention basic maths, do not support this.

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And those polls show labour is haemorrhaging support. Does Craddas and his fellow London leave brigade seriously think that they can drag the country out of the EU, pissing off many of labours young new supporters, seeing many others lose their jobs and not suffer any sort of blow back? Like I said, they are as deluded as the Tories.

And now is the winter of our discontent

Case in point, I came across this old copy of a documentary about the infamous winter of discontent. Over the course of the winter of 1978/79 the UK was besieged by a series of strikes as the then labour government fought with its normally loyal supporters in the unions. This eventually led to an early election and the milk snatcher Maggie Thatcher winning, largely because labour party supporters stayed away from the polls.

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And so its worthwhile remembering what happened, as it provides many valuable lessons for today. Firstly, yes the media made a mountain out of a mole hill. The PM Callaghan never said the famous line “crisis what crisis” (he merely said it was a matter of opinion as to how bad things were…i.e. You hacks are just trying to make hay so you can get a Tory elected). Yes the grave diggers went on strike, but only in one small part of the country. There was disruption from those strikes but it was sporadic and it didn’t last the whole of the winter. But all of that said, it was a mess (just not as big a one as the media made it out to be), the labour government fecked up, they have to take the blame for that.

And at the heart of the problem was the global economic events of the 1970‘s. Contrary to what many Corbyn/Bernie supporters believe the 70’s was not a working class utopia, quite the opposite in fact. There were several economic crises, not least of those being caused by the oil shocks. This had the effect of pushing up inflation, which caused workers to demand higher wages, which caused more inflation, which caused more jobs losses.

The labour government were determined to stop this cycle, by limiting wage increases in return for the government acting to keep living costs down (by restricting rent increases or price rises on basic food items). But there was a disconnect between those in the Westminster bubble (which included union bosses) and the rank and file union members or labour supporters in the factories, who’d effectively just taken a pay cut because of inflation.

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Both groups thought the other had their back. The workers assumed a labour government won’t go against striking workers, the government assumed that working class workers won’t undermine a labour government and hand the wicked witch of Finchley the keys to number 10…who immediately went to war on those very same unionised industries. But that’s what happened. Turkey’s will literally vote for Christmas sometimes.

So the lesson for labour would be that just because those around Corbyn think brexit is a great idea (including union boss Len Mc Cluskey), doesn’t mean the rest of the country (or even his own party) agrees. If they think they can screw over remain supporting labour voters and fuming thought they’ll be, they will still vote labour in the next election, think again. Yes some will be sufficiently scared of more Tory madness, but others will make a point of voting lib dem, green (or not at all). And it doesn’t take many of them to do that to decimate labour at the polls (even just a 10% drop in support would be catastrophic, remember they need to gain support to win an election not lose it!).

And even if Corbyn gets in to power, does he really think workers whose jobs might be put at risk by his brexit policy (including much of the civil service, who, like those in the 1970’s, have taken a 30% pay cut in real terms since 2008) won’t strike and plunge his government into chaos, casting labour into the wilderness for another generation. Well history says yes they will.

And there’s lessons here for the Tories. They seem to think that they can screw over business and they’ll just take one for the team. They won’t sue the government (several have already won multi million pound payouts), speculate against the pound or move their company to Ireland….except they are and more will follow! And the Scottish Tories fear a Johnson premiership combined with a no deal brexit, could create an ironclad case for independence.

Another clip I came across recently was this bit from the Long Good Friday. A film from the Thatcher era it sees this scene where the protagonist basically telling a bunch of yanks to feck off, he’s a European and in the single market, they can stick their money, he’s going into business with the Germans (you’d have to watch the whole movie to understand the context of it….has a young Helen Mirren in it too!). Well the 2019 remake would appear to involve our protagonist kissing US booty and promising to be their bitch. That effectively is brexit in a nutshell.

Unfit to lead?

Another story was a “leak” from the civil service claiming that Corbyn is too frail to be PM and largely under the control of his advisers. On the one hand, given what I’ve said above, that kind of does make sense. Then again, you could say the same thing about May or Boris, yet nobody is questioning their suitability for office. There are procedures and rules for how such issues should be dealt with (without leaking things to the media). And I cannot help but notice that this story first appeared in the Murdoch press. If these leakers were genuinely worried, why didn’t they follow the correct policy, or approach a more credible newspaper?

One worries that this is simply a case of old Etonians in the civil service, all too aware of the dangers Johnson posses to the Tories electoral chances, they’ve decided to get ahead of themselves and start running interference well in advance. But even so, rather than take any criticism instead Corbyn wants to make a federal case out of this. Shoot the messenger and the message will die, won’t it?

Life expectancy falling

Some other disturbing news shows that the UK has now recorded the first drop in life expectancy rates in a century. While there are many reasons behind this drop, less healthy diets and lack of exercise are part of the problem, but clearly there is a link to the decline in NHS spending (while the Tories will claim to have increased it, this ignores inflation and an ageing population, which means cuts in real terms) and the impact of austerity.

And the Tory response was to make all sorts excuses ranging from old people dying of flu (actually vaccines against the flu are becoming much more effective), harsher winters (we’re getting more student cold snaps, but its winters are in general milder now than previously). And of course, life expectancy rates are still rising in the rest of the world, even in more prosperous parts. We’ve long accepted for many generations that the next generation will be better off and live longer, but the Tories have now so broken the UK that this is no longer true.

Women’s world cup

Not sure if anyone’s been watching the women’s world cup, but on the whole I think its been quite good. I cannot help but notice there’s a lot less diving and other primadonna theatrics, which just goes to show that most male professional footballers are just a bunch of overpaid wimps.

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Anyone for some footie….or tea?

However there’s been some controversy over VAR (Video Assistant Referee), which has destroyed the natural rhythm of many of the games, by having the referee dash off the pitch to watch a playback of some event, often for something that could easily wait (a yellow card decision for example).

This isn’t an issue with other sports, which have used VAR for many years (while FIFA fought tooth and nail against it) and it doesn’t interrupt the game much. In hockey for example they’ve a system whereby the game just carries on as normal, save certain key decisions (e.g. did the ball go over the goal line), but either team can refer to VAR at anytime. If their claim succeeds they can make further referrals. If it fails they lose their right to do so. End result is it doesn’t really effect the flow of the game. But anything that’s a good idea, you can rely on FIFA to screw it up.

And one cannot help but notice they are tweaking the rules as they go along in the middle of a major women’s tournament, not the men’s. And the players haven’t been properly briefed about it, as became clear during the Cameron game (where a number of VAR decisions went against Cameron and they nearly walked off the pitch). Which just tells everything you need to know about FIFA.

Cycling ban

In effect last week cycling has been banned in the UK. A cyclist who hit a mobile phone zombie (she stepped in front of him while on her phone) was successfully sued. While her payout will be limited to a few thousand, he’ll have to pay up to a £100,000 in costs. Needless to say this opens a massive can of worms.

Firstly it requires cyclists (and potentially drivers) to be responsible for the irresponsible actions of others. Needless to say, this will have all sorts of disastrous repercussions. The crash for cash brigade will have a field day. All they need to do now is walk in front of a bike/car/scooter at a junction, lie down on the road and claim they were hit (a innocent “passerby” accomplice willingly testifying to the “accident”).

Well the thing is the best strategy if that happens to you on a bike is keep going. The mistake this cyclists made was stopping to check on her welfare. If he’d kept going and left her bleeding on the side of the road, he’d not be in this mess.

Which inevitably means people’s lives will be put at risk, as anyone with a lick of sense who hits someone will just ride or drive away (yes that’s technically illegal, but do you want to end up £100,000 poorer?). I hope the judge in this case and the attention seeking claimant will be happy when they learn their actions have led to an explosion in fraudulent claims, the insurance premiums of everyone in the country going up and one or two deaths because someone was left bleeding the road after an accident.

What this highlights is everything that’s wrong with the UK legal system. Given the lack of a proper constitution it means that judges can basically just make it up as they go along. Hence if you can pay enough money to lawyers you can pretty much buy whatever outcome you want, creating a horrible legal mess for everyone else in the process.

What happens in Alabama stays there

Alabama, the state that last year recently narrowly avoided electing a known kiddy fiddler, showed us everything awful about what happens when the Republican party’s toxic ideology is implemented.

A pregnant woman was shot in the stomach and she’s now been charged with manslaughter of her unborn child, while the person who shot her walks free. I mean guns only kill bad people, so it must be her fault that her body (with her baby) got in the way of the bullets aimed at her. If she was innocent god would have intervened (maybe she just didn’t pray hard enough or give enough money for her minster’s private jet).

I’ve pointed out before that in Europe the laws are such that its more gun regulation than gun control. You can pretty much get any kind of gun you can get in the US, the main restriction is what you do with it (and, oddly enough, shooting pregnant women in the stomach will get you sent to jail, and your gun ownership privileges revoked).

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However, I think the NRA types are sleep walking America towards a future where instead it will be gun control. i.e. total bans on guns for all but a handful of strictly regulated purposes. And probably state funded abortions too! If they honestly think stuff like this is going to have no blow back then they are very naive. And they will only have themselves to blame when that day comes.

You have trodden on the forbidden lawn

Guardian columnist George Monbiot, and a number of academics recently produced a report on the UK’s land ownership and how it is fostering inequality, not to mention helping the wealthy to dodge tax. They have recommended to the labour party a number of measures to reform the UK’s land ownership to counter these issues.

Needless to say, this hit something of a raw nerve among right wing media barons (who just happen to be major property owners!), who launched a massive media blitz against these proposals and began using them to bash Corbyn. A reminder, while the labour party (and Corbyn) are aware of this report, they have yet to adopt any of its proposals or craft any specific policies from it.

But since when have facts stood in the way of a good hatchet job, with the gutter press duly improvising by pulling a couple of scary (and fictitious) policies out of their own arses, sticking Corbyn’s name against it and going on a massive tirade against a straw man that exists only in their own paranoid imagination. Its all very similar to the Fox news reaction to the recent Green new deal proposals.

You know you are over the target when you start taking flak. And clearly this reaction from the right wing media highlights that maybe Monbiot and co are on to something. Let’s just take one of their proposals, abolish council tax and replace it with a property tax instead, a policy I’ve long advocated (I’d include the option of a local income tax instead as well thought). This would not only be much fairer, as it would link ones ability to pay to what you pay, but also eliminate a lot of the cheating of the council tax system that goes on. While people in every income bracket do this (council tax is essentially an honesty tax, its fairly easy to avoid paying it if you don’t want too), its obviously the wealthy who are the worse offenders.

Of course, as you can probably guess, the last thing the rich want is a tax system that’s “fair” and links their wealthy property portfolio to how much tax they pay (its not as if they can move their country estate overseas, nor can they plead hardship on a multi million pound London flat which earns several thousand a month in rent), hence the over reaction to this report. Which is why I’d advice everyone to read it.

May’s legacy – Solar bashing

Theresa May is probably thinking of her legacy. She’s confronted Putin over Salisbury (good!) and promising billions towards fighting climate change ignoring the fact that the solar industry (which was growing steadily for some time) has now collapsed in the UK. With the Tories contemplating new taxes to make damn sure they kill it off for good (we can’t let the plebs generate their own power!).

What worries me is the long term consequences of all of this. As I’ve pointed out before, the UK’s energy system is badly in need of investment at nearly every level. Ageing power stations need replacing, the grid needs updating and that’s before we even tackle climate change.

By burning one industry for the crime of being successful, she and the Tories are sending a dangerous signal to industry. Yes they favour Natural Gas and nuclear. But both of those have limited room for expansion (given the recent cancellations nuclear is almost certain to contract). And brexit could be a show stopper to either. So her legacy could well be to put the UK on a route towards rising carbon emissions, power cuts and energy shortages.

CANZUK post-brexit?

The latest delusion (just before I went away anyway) from the brexiters is something they call the CANZUK partnership. The idea being that the UK forms a trading block and a free travel zone with Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It is first of all worth noting that this is not a new idea, but its obviously been prompted more heavily since brexit happened.

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Well needless too say picking out the three mostly white parts of the British Empire and saying were going to trade with these countries and let their citizens come and go as they please, but we’re not going to do so with the likes of Malaysia, Singapore or India (larger and the UK does more trade) just stinks of racism. And given that the UK’s combined trade with CANZ countries is just 6%, against the 42% with the EU, its hardly a suitable replacement.

Furthermore, the rhetoric we heard throughout the referendum was that Britain is full we can’t take any more….yet now they are saying, nah its fine everyone’s welcome….so long as they are white and speak English. Keep in mind the stated goal of brexit is to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. That would immediately be blown if existing rates of immigration from just these three countries continued, never mind if it increased significantly (which it certainly would). And this issue of racism isn’t just an idle point, it would be illegal under UK law, trading standards, competition rules and WTO trade rules. Individuals and their governments (notably the US and the EU) who lose out aren’t going to let something like that just slide, they will challenge it.

While its true a number of high ranking politicians in Canada, NZ & Australia have expressed interest in the idea, that was either before brexit or when it looked like the UK would still be in the single market or customs union afterwards. These countries are not interested in a policy that puts them at a disadvantage in trade with the EU and the rest of the world.

As you can imagine all three will want something back from the UK in return. NZ & Australia will almost certainly want concessions on farming and fishing (screwing over the UK’s farmers & fishermen) and Canada will want something too (that we all be polite & put the bins out on time? buy more maple syrup?). In fact the main objectors to the UK’s proposed post-brexit tariffs are, you guessed it, NZ, Australia and Canada.

And its not like immigration isn’t an issue in these three countries. How would it look in Canberra, where the position of conservatives there is that Australia is full (despite having 30 times the land area of the UK and 1/3 the population), when they open the borders to millions of foreigners who can come in without any sort of limits. That’s not exactly going to go down well.

Then there’s the issue of existing trade relations with other countries. Given for example that Canada has a free trade agreement with both the US and the EU, what’s to stop an American company (or a Polish one, or a Mexican firm) just setting up an office north of the border, stamping a big maple leaf on everything and then shipping it to the UK, where it passes in tariff free with no checks whatsoever (or visa versa). Obviously the solution would be for Canada to more thoroughly check things at its borders, which the UK would also have to do (in violation of the GFA).

In other words effectively CANZUK would mean the border between the four states becomes softer, but a harder crust is needed at the boundaries of these four states. But this will no doubt fall foul of existing trade relations that all four have with their trading partners. In the UK’s case this would, as noted, be illegal under the terms of the GFA. And inevitably all of the other countries would likely face similar issues.

The reality is that CANZUK is just another slightly racist dog whistle, a way for the brexiters to give a nod and a wink to the bigot brigade. I could see them try to negotiate such a deal, but allowing those talks to fail, just so they can blame the CANZ governments for the failure (much as they’ll blame the EU for a no deal brexit). Allowing immigration to continue, but issuing border controls with a racist colour chart is just unworkable (and besides not everyone in CANZ is white, surely they’d have to be allowed in too?). And such a free trade zone would only work if the UK was willing to undertake several massive concessions first. And that means ultimately accepting that the UK will be worse off out of the EU than in.

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.

A not so slow news week

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Of course the big story over the last week was the arrest of Julian Assange and his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy. To be honest, the only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen sometime ago.

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There’s an accepted wisdom that if you are offered asylum by a country, you don’t make waves for them. After all they still have to have relations with the country whom you are fleeing from. And that’s assuming you are in the actual country, not in an embassy metres from cops who want to arrest you! And you especially don’t want to go interfering in the affairs of the state who is protecting you, that’s just common sense. One has to assume that the historic distrust of many Latin American countries towards the US (thanks to its past policies in the region) is why they held this off for so long.

Assange’s supporters claim the arrest was illegal. It wasn’t. Diplomatic immunity is a mutually agreed convention. If both parties opt to wave it (as often happens), then a protected individual losses their protection and can be arrested just like everybody else. Police can enter an embassy upon request. There’s also a claim that Ecuador has been bribed with several billion in funds. However, this likely refers to a loan granted recently by the World Bank and IMF. Many states contribute to these funds (including Russia and China) so this accusation doesn’t really ring true.

Assange also claims he only sought refuge because he feared being extradited to the US and facing the death penalty. It is illegal under EU law to do such a thing. In fact, by contributing towards brexit, he’s inadvertently made this more likely.

And that’s the problem. Julian has been very selective and applied political bias to the information he’s released. Wikileaks was rather quiet about anything damaging to Trump, but released those Hilary e-mails (which actually didn’t contain anything new) right at the time when they would inflict maximum political damage. By taking sides like this, its difficult for him to play the card of being the little guy against the machine. Because it looks more like he’s an enabler of the alt-right.

To be honest I don’t think the guy is the full shilling, even before he went into the embassy. As I’ve mentioned, several of his decisions were tactically stupid, arrogant and foolhardy. Even his decision to stay in the embassy is questionable. Given that his expulsion has been on the cards for sometime and the police outside were withdrawn sometime ago, why didn’t he make a break for it? The Colombian embassy is in the same building and there’s about a dozen other embassies in a 1km radius. If he was willing to risk a car or taxi journey he could be in the Australian embassy within 5-10 minutes.

And while yes some of these would have shown him the door, others would have had to apply a certain due process (notably the Australian embassy). This would have required the US authorities to declare their interest and make documents publicly available (which they probably won’t want to do). Also some of these embassies have underground car parks. Meaning they could spirit Assange into a diplomatic vehicle, drive to an airfield and put him on a plane out of the country.

So I’d argue these numerous blunders made by Assange suggest he’s might have some mental health issues. And obviously if that’s true then he can’t be extradited, either to Sweden, nor to the US. Thought I doubt his lawyers will be allowed to use that argument.

The black hole

Scientists have recently managed to photograph a black hole, where all matter and the fabric of spacetime breaks down. Its therefore the one place in the universe where you can escape news of brexit or Trump, hence NASA are planning a mission there as we speak and millions are ready to sign up.

Jokes aside, this is kind of a big deal. While scientists have long suspected the existence of black holes, the idea that vast amounts of matter could be compacted down to a singularity has never sit well with them. Even Einstein, while he accepted his own theories (worth noting that it was actually Karl Schwarzschild who first proposed the existence of black holes based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity), he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea (which probably explains his obsessions over quantum theory later in his career). But we cannot deny the vast body of evidence built up over the years. And now we have an actual image of one.

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And the heart of this story is an unsung hero in the form of a post-grad student from MIT by the name of Katie Bouman, who proposed the imaging method used to capture this image. Its an excellent example of how academia should work. A hypothesis is proposed and, regardless of who proposed it, its subjected to multiple layers of peer review and scrutiny. Assuming it passes, funds are sought, its implemented and we get back our results.

Inevitably the internet being the internet, and there’s people out there who resent anyone who is successful (particular if it’s a woman), Ms Bouman (we should probably should start calling her Prof Bouman, because if this doesn’t earn you tenure I don’t know what will!) has attracted a online few trolls. But then again, you can’t say you’ve had the whole internet experience until you’ve received at least three online death threats and attracted at least a dozen cyber stalkers. Maybe we can send them on the mission?

Brexit update – limbo until halloween

And speaking of black holes that nothing can escape, the UK has secured ANOTHER brexit extension till Halloween (insert brexit metaphor or joke of your choice!). But you have to kind of ask, what’s the point?

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The time allotted by the EU is too much for the brexit bigot brigade to bear (hence there will probably be a strong showing for far right parties in the upcoming EU elections). And yet too short to allow a 2nd referendum. It serves no real purpose other than kicking the can down the road and hoping the UK actually makes a decision.

I would also argue that the EU is being very naïve. Their assumption is that one of two things will happen. May will go and a Tory brexiteer will take over, who’ll leave the EU straight away and the EU just triggers its no deal contingency plans. Or there’s a general election, Corbyn gets in and he either asks for an even longer extension (to have a 2nd referendum), or negotiates a Norway+ style arrangement. However, neither is actually likely.

Firstly, while yes the Brexiteers are talking the talk on no deal, I’m not sure they are willing to walk the walk. Remember they want it to happen accidentally (either that or May’s deal is voted through by Corbyn). If they force it through, then they have to take the blame for it and that’s their career over. If some brexiteer like Boris took over, he’d also be faced with the same parliamentary arithmetic as May. Not enough support for either no deal or May’s deal.

So he’d probably try and sabotage the EU from within (much as Mogg recently suggested) in an effort to win a free unicorn off them and distract from his own short comings. We’d only leave when the EU basically voted to kick the UK out against our will, thus giving him cover to blame all that follows on them.

And while labour has been going up in the polls, that’s more a reflection on how badly May is doing and a strong swing to UKIP and other far right parties. The issue for labour in any election is it has no brexit policy and it can’t agree on one. A pro-remain policy is at odds with the views of Corbyn and his cabal. A pro-leave policy would anger the 90% of labour supporters who want a 2nd vote. And it won’t take that many of them to swing a few seats. As I’ve pointed out before, go through the article 50 petition signature stats, constituency by constituency and you’ll see that there’s more than enough who signed it to swing plenty of safe labour seats into marginals and put others seats they have to win beyond reach.

And even if he won, and that would take some doing, he’d be right back in the same position as May. Its some variation on May’s deal (which everybody hates), no deal (which would be a disaster) or no brexit (which nobody is brave enough to support). Corbyn can’t magically change anything. He’s not the 2nd coming. I suspect what those who vote for him would actually get would be more akin to this scene from the wizard of Oz.

How to infuriate the EU in 10 seconds

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The irony is that the UK has actually got some leverage over the EU. Threatening no deal was never going to work. The EU’s never believed the UK would actually be foolish enough to follow through. And, in any event, they’ve had three years to put in place various contingency plans to cope. And they are also aware how woefully inadequate the UK’s no deal plans are.

To draw an analogy, let’s suppose the Pope had a glass too many of the confession wine and went around waving a gun. You could quite safely call his bluff. He’s the Pope and a Jesuit, he won’t hurt a fly (mostly because the fly would probably win….that said I won’t bring up the whole pedo priest business!). On the other hand, if Chuck Norris did it….well you’d want to be careful (if Chuck Norris was the UK’s brexit negotiator, we’d be the only country left in the EU, because he’d have roundhouse kicked the rest out of the building, fact!).

No, the UK’s one trump card left is to threaten the opposite – revoking article 50, then have a 2nd referendum at some in-determinant point in the future. That would absolutely drive the EU, particularly the likes of Marcon, up the wall. They’d be rolling on the ground and chewing the carpet if that happened.

The EU is going to start its budget negotiations for the next seven years some time at the end of the year, which will carry on for about a year or so. The last thing they want is the UK to still be in the club, but the topic of brexit is unresolved. i.e. That the UK might trigger another referendum at any time. And, if that goes the way of leave again, another set of exit negotiations, right when they are squabbling over money and they need to know if the UK is out or in (else they don’t know how much everyone will have to pay).

But of course, nobody in the UK parliament will even consider that, as it would only work if they were willing to let this process extend will into the 2020’s (ignoring the fact its going to continue anyway into the 2040’s).

Worse out than in

The other issue with this long brexit delay is that it means that all of that stockpiling that went on, by the government, companies and individuals has been for nought. Yet, given that brexit (and no deal) remains a looming threat, such stockpiling will have to continue. No quicker than I’ve eaten my way through my stockpile of Tayto crisps, Irish biscuits and Irish tea, I’ll have to start all over again.

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But this is no laughing matter for industry, they’ll now be forced to keep a floating stockpile of spare parts and perishable items for the foreseeable future. What’s wrong with that? Well many UK companies operate on a system of Just In Time manufacture, which is simply incompatible with the needs for brexit related stockpiling. The whole point of such a system is to eliminate inventory. This saves on cost (as you don’t need to pay for a warehouse), improves quality control (any issues get spotted immediately and dealt with straight away) and reducing waste. Leaving the UK stuck in the brexit twilight zone for another 6 months is thus going to have a negative effect on the UK economy.

And another piece of brexit related news is that of how the UK is now officially worse off than if the referendum hadn’t happened. Even if we ignore the £1.5 billion spent on no deal planning (that’s now basically gone to waste), the UK has sacrificed 3% of GDP growth to not leave the EU. And recall back in the referendum when it was said brexit would cost every household over £4k by 2030. Well its already cost each household £1,500 already, which implies where ahead of the curve.

Yes, inevitably during the referendum Cameron told a few porkies. He implied for example that said £4k loss would happen immediately on the 24th of June. That there would be emergency budgets, etc. But the main threat of brexit, was always the brexit bear effect and that bear is very real and we’ve now seen its claws.

Norway minus

Given that soft brexit and the Norway model seems to be everybody’s preferred compromise, I have to ask, has anybody bothered to run this by Norway and the other members of EFTA? Because I think you’ll find the last thing they want (or need), is the UK coming in and demanding special treatment, like some spoiled toffee-nosed etonian.

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Why no deal is probably inevitable in one easy to follow chart

I was actually in Norway during the referendum (and I’d previously been in Iceland a year or two before) and they know why they aren’t in the EU. Its largely due to fish, which is 10% of Norway’s economy, 30% of Iceland’s and 50% of Greenland’s, but under 1% of the UK’s. And even these stats don’t do justice. You live in a village up north in these countries, you’ve got a steep mountain on one side (or a volcano!), the sea the other side and a small sliver of land on which to build a fishing port. Job opportunities in these communities involve A) fishing B) Tourism during the short summer or C) Marrying a puffin.

Thus these nations are all willing to accept being rule takers from Brussels, but not rule makers, so they can exert a bit more control over this one key issue. Their concern therefore is that the UK will try to push the sort of rhetoric we’ve heard from the brexiteers into EFTA. Or that the UK tabloids will just turn on them as their hate figure in place of the EU. And they just don’t want that in their little club house.

Now if the UK were willing to compromise, for example not bringing in any changes to immigration or welfare rules for some extending period, agree to some dilution of the UK’s voting power such that the other states can easily outvote it, that would probably work. But the UK is in this mess precisely because it won’t compromise.

So I’m not sure how that’s going to work. And single market membership won’t eliminate checks at the Irish border, we’d need a customs union as well. Like any of the brexit options, the Norway model amounts to accepting that the UK is worse off out than in and that’s the one unspeakable truth none dare utter.

Ourselves alone

There’s some who say that the solution is for Sinn Fein (which translates from Irish into “we ourselves” or “ourselves alone”) to come to Westminster and break the deadlong. Quite frankly, we’ve already got one bunch of terrorist supporting criminals in parliament (the DUP, aka the old testament with fortnightly bin collections), the last thing the country needs is another bunch. And I do not make these allegations lightly, Sinn Fein (like the DUP) have been recently linked to vigilante gangs, terrorists (obviously perhaps) and one of the largest bank robberies in both Irish and UK history.

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Aftermath of a recent vigilante raid by SF supporters in Co. Roscommon

So the last thing that parliament needs is for John Bercow to find himself refereeing kneecapping and arson competitions across the chamber. If you think the UK is in a crisis now, wait till SF show up. They have a saying along the lines of “England’s difficulty is Ireland opportunity”. They will try to be as disruptive as possible. Far from breaking the deadlock, they’ll flip flop either way on every vote on every issue to make sure nothing happens. Hell given the state of the building, they’ll probably start drilling holes in the ceiling (or calling in false bomb alerts). After all, they and the DUP have shut down parliament in Belfast over some dispute over the Irish language, for two years running now.

Furthermore, while SF will claim they don’t want to sit in parliament because it would mean taking the oath of allegiance, that’s just a load of BS. No, the real reason is that they’d have to take a position on something. And like all populists, they don’t want to do that (because then something might get done and they’d have nothing to whinge about!). Take their position on brexit. They are eurosceptics who want Ireland to leave the euro (and thus the EU), they want out of the single market, yet they don’t want a hard border, they won’t support any deal that gives Westminster any say over NI or Irish affairs and they don’t want no deal. And you thought the Tory Brexiteers policy was convoluted and hypocritical!

And if you think that’s bad, SF’s policy on pretty much every other issue is the same. Don’t take a position, because then you’ll displease someone. Like all populists they are the party of protest. They are against everything and for nothing. Urinating into ballot boxes isn’t allowed, so voting SF is basically the next best thing.

So no, the worse case scenario is for SF to show up. Hell I’d even include a bit in the law just in case, that if they do show up now they have to kiss her mag’s feet and give her a sponge bath. The best we can hope for is they bugger off and be themselves alone.

Breaking faith

Within conservatives brexit has taken on something of a religious status, a class struggle (the toff’s screwing over the working class, but getting them to vote for it first!). Fintan O’Toole’s talk on brexit kind of illustrates this narrative well.

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So any conservative coming out and saying that they were wrong about brexit is thus treated like a heretic. And this is rather vividly illustrated by a recent case study. Peter Obrone published an article in which he admits that he was wrong about brexit. It has turned the UK into a laughing stock and its quite clear the idea that we’d get a better deal outside than in the EU is false. Needless to say, this hasn’t gone down well with his fellow brexiters, as this piece from C4 news illustrates. I’m reminded of this song from the 90’s.

This is the problem. The reason why so many brexit voters cling to unicorns, or dismiss any negative news about brexit as “fake news” is that the minute they accept that the UK won’t be better off out of the EU, even if its only slightly worse off, their whole world view falls apart. It means that they voted to make themselves poorer and make their country weaker. That Farage, Johnson etal lied and they were fooled by those lies. Quite simply put, this makes them look stupid (as well as selfish, racist and unpatriotic) and their ego can’t take that kind of a hit. So they grasp for whatever fairy story that will magically make it all go away.

And we see the same in the US with Trump supporters who do not live in the same world as the rest of us. There is literally something wrong with their brains. Just take this piece where the relatives of Fox news viewers lament what happened to their family members.

Which illustrates the problem with any 2nd referendum. This lot aren’t going to change their minds no matter what. I’d guess, at best you’d get 60/40 in favour of remain and that’s if you are lucky. Similarly a Democrat victory in 2020 is by no means guaranteed and it will probably be by a tight margin.

The Atlantic city shuffle

And speaking of Trump, here’s an interesting article about the mess Trump left behind when his casino collapsed in Atlantic city. When the Trump Taj Mahal opened he declared it “the eighth wonder of the world”. But within a year it had gone bankrupt….only to then go bankrupt again! Yes, Trump managed to go bankrupt with his casino twice! And its likely that this was solely down to the mismanagement of the casino’s finances. In a casino, the house always wins, the casino owners are the only real winners….unless Trump is running one of course!

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In fact, its difficult to believe that even Trump is that incompetent. The suspicion is that Trump’s mob connections, used the casino to run a money laundering racket. In fact he was fined $10 million for various violations of anti-money laundering laws related to his casino’s.

Fortunately for Trump going bankrupt multiple times or breaking the law doesn’t mean he goes to jail. Nor indeed does it mean he losses a penny of his money, nor is he disqualified from voting (as happens to many African Americans after a slight misdemeanour) nor is he bared from standing for elected office. Like in any feudal society (such as Westeros!), there’s one law for the nobles and another for the rest of us plebs.

Apocalypse later: Brexit no deal delayed?

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There’s much talk and speculation about brexit being delayed. May suggests by a few months, Tusk even suggested by 2 years. Is this a good idea or not? Well let us discuss, because, as the expression goes, a week is a long time in politics. A month or a few years is an eternity and a lot can happen in that time.

Firstly I think we need to digress and address an important issue. Many in the UK are woefully ill-informed when it comes to brexit. Some seem to think that once we hit March 29th, or whichever delayed date we substitute, that’s it brexit’s sorted. Think again. Brexit is a process not a destination. Some seem to think that if the UK leaves with no deal this resets everything to the way it was before the UK joined. That for example, the many bilateral agreements the UK had with Ireland (which were superseded by entry into the EU) will automatically reapply. That is not the case (hence the point I made about driving licenses).

As outlined in article 50, section 3:

All the treaties shall cease to apply to the state in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement” (or two years after if there’s no agreement). There’s nothing in there saying we can roll everything back to the 1970’s, no backsies, no do-overs, no Mulligans. Leave means leave, out means out, simple as that. So it would be worth going over what the UK needs to do after March 29th, assuming no further delays, before we start talking about the implications of any delays.

The withdrawal agreement merely details in legal terms how the UK is to be walked off the premises by the EU, the settlement of old bills, citizen rights, and sets out the terms of how the next phase of negotiations will proceed. This next phase, which for some reason is called “the transition phase” (even thought there’s nothing to transition too), involves negotiations about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, covering a wide number of areas ranging from freedom of movement, bilateral agreements, security and most notably trade.

Now if the UK opts for some generic off the shelf model, e.g. Norway or Switzerland, customs union, etc. then its widely accepted that this could be negotiated within 2-3 years. If not, if the UK is going to follows May’s plan of trying to negotiate some sort of “bespoke” deal, then its going to take at least a decade by some estimates. And even that assumes good co-operation on both sides. i.e. if the UK goes on another Unicorn hunt, then this date will slip even further. Hence why the NI backstop exists.

In addition the UK will also need to re-negotiate a number of that aforementioned bilateral agreements, most notably with Ireland, but also with other EU states (notably Spain) and even those outside the EU (such as with the US). Even those that are still on the statute books need a bit of a tweak here and there.

For example, strict reading of the common travel area rules with Ireland would seem to imply it only refers to movement between Ireland and the UK. It doesn’t seem to consider international flights (probably because it was written before this was an issue). Strictly speaking therefore, while a British person arriving in Dublin from London can expect to be simply waved through passport control, they could require an entry visa if arriving from New York, with the threat of deportation if they didn’t have one, even if they owned had lived in Ireland for decades. And arriving off a car ferry from France a British person could be required to pay import duty on their car (10% of its value, kind of an expensive holiday so!).

So naturally, there’s a few things to get squared away here, and the expectation is that this can be done in 3-5 years, assuming no silly buggers from either side.

The UK also needs to negotiate new trade deals with 60 odd countries around the world, whose trade access will be lost after the end of the transition period (or straight away in the case of a no deal). Again, its widely believed that these will take at least a decade or two to sort out. The UK can rush these deals, if it doesn’t mind conceding a lot. Hence its in the UK’s interests to take its time. Similarly, the other countries want to know what sort of deal the UK gets from the EU. Indeed, even some of the deals already struck are really just interim measures until those negotiations are completed.

Finally (you’re still going? when will this end!) there’s the real transition phase, where the terms of any new trade deals are implemented. One cannot simply change trade conditions overnight, that would be very disruptive to businesses (hence the issue with a no deal brexit). It would take typically 5-10 years over which any new tariffs are applied or removed. The UK will also have to finish settling all of its bills. Rather than a lump sum payment the UK opted to pay in instalments over time. This means that technically the UK will still be paying into the EU’s coffers until 2045.

So, depending on what you count as being out of the EU, its going to take the UK until 2027 to the 2040’s to actually complete the withdrawal. And that assumes good co-operation on both sides. Any funny business and this timetable slips considerably (up to infinity, the backstop kicks in and the UK never leaves, remaining tidally locked in the EU’s orbit forever).

This also explains what I mean when I say that brexit kicks into the long grass all other issues in the UK, such as poverty, climate change and public services. Case in point, there was a debate last week about climate change (due to the recent wave of climate strikes from school kids) and only a handful of MP’s actually bothered to show up. The government will be just too busy dealing with everything above to do anything else. And no, a no deal brexit doesn’t speed anything up, it would actually make things worse.

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A debate on climate change last week in the UK parliament, this is how low on the list of priorities it is thanks to brexit

So in that context, what difference would a few months make or even two years? The answer, quite a lot. Firstly May will probably not be PM. Now if she’s replaced by someone sensible, e.g. Hammond or Javid, then things could probably stick to the above timetable. If not, e.g. Boris or Mogg, then it slips considerably. There also could be a general election.

Corbyn’s decision to back a second referendum is the most sensible way for him to hold his party together. However, I’m not convinced he’s being sincere, after all he’s promised this before and reneged on it. In much the same way as May’s recent speech (promising a delay if her deal isn’t passed) was probably just her fooling her own MP’s into letting her run down the clock (so she can present them with the binary choice, her deal or no deal on the 28th of March), Corbyn could be faking support for a people’s vote, knowing it won’t be approved by parliament (because he’ll make sure enough of his pro-brexit MP’s rebel to defeat it).

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But needless to say going into an election supporting a people’s vote reduces the probability of further defections to the independent group. But it will also cost him votes. Not as many as supporting brexit would, but none the less it will cost him some support and he’s already lost some people who just won’t back him no matter what, thanks to his failure to change policy on this for so long.

So the odds are good that the UK will end up with a hung parliament, with who is ever in power dependant on either the new independent group, the lib dems or SNP (or all three!). So this will drastically alter the UK’s negotiating position (not to mention bringing the possibility of another referendum). But the UK isn’t the only place that’s having elections soon.

Ireland might also have an election post-brexit, as its only got a minority government. The odds are good that the current governing party, Fine Gael, will remain in power (but still a minority government). Or if not, then their rivals Fianna Fáil will get in under a similar set of conditions. However, one curve ball is the possibility of Sinn Fein ending up in government (probably a minority government or as a coalition partner). This changes everything. They will have one goal in all talks with the UK – a border poll. They won’t care about the long term economic or political damage of playing games in these negotiations will be. After all they, and the DUP, have shut down the NI assembly for two years due to a silly dispute over the Irish language.

And the EU is also having elections too. Both to the EU parliament and in individual EU countries. The expectation is that the far right populists might do well. For example in Italy, much as I predicted the consequences of 5S propping up fascists and helping them into power, is that once in power the League did lots of fascists things and it turns out that enabling fascism doesn’t go down well with 5 star’s left leaning supporters (nor does starting a measles epidemic). In a recent by-election for example, 5S support slumped from 40% to just 11%. So while there’s probably a resurgence of the traditional left coming in Europe, it might not arrive before the elections this summer.

Some on the right in the UK think this would be a good thing, but they are wrong. Yes, like Trump many of the far right euroskeptics will make lots of anti-EU speeches and pro-brexit sound bites (as well as pro-Putin!), but that’s about it. Their platform is my country first (well Russia first, then their country second anyway), make Hungary/Italy/Poland/Spain great again.

Hence, they’ll want some “victory” they can show off to the supporters (just look at Trump’s proposed trade deal). Now you could argue that the best thing for them to do would be arrange for a comprehensive free trade….ok let me stop you there. Big words like “customs union” or “MoU’s” are words that they (like Trump) don’t understand, nor do their supporters. The victory they’ll seek will therefore be more tabloid headline happy sorts of things.

For example Spain far right might seek the return of Gibraltar (or its removal from any trade treaty to the extent it becomes impossible to administer), the French ones might want an apology for Agincourt (or that British wine be henceforth known as du vin rosbif), the Poles argue that if the UK doesn’t want its citizens anymore, maybe you should repatriate all the tax money they paid into the UK government pension and welfare schemes while they worked in the UK. And the UK, given it set similar pointless red lines and hunted unicorns in the past can hardly complain when the other 27 start playing the same games.

Fortunately, there’s a way out for the UK – the infamous backstop. They UK just walks away from negotiations, lets it kick in and runs down the clock on the populists, returning to negotiations when someone sensible is in power again. But obviously, this delays things considerably.

So all in all delaying brexit isn’t without its risks. Hence why I’d argue it should only be undertaken when there its clear what the UK will be doing in this period. For example, a people’s vote. Or leaving, but with a clear understanding that the UK will be entering into a permanent customs union afterwards.

Blindly extending article 50 raises the risk that the process stalls and the timelines draw out considerably. Or the UK simply sliding off the cliff edge in 5 months time rather than 5 weeks time (although given the total lack of perpetration in the UK, maybe an extra few months would help). This seems to be the view shared by other EU states, they are happy to extend the deadline, but only if its clear what the UK plans to do during this period. Otherwise they’d just rather the UK gets on with it.

And given how long those timelines will be in the best case scenario (I don’t recall it being pointed out to voters during the referendum that we’d still be talking about brexit well into the 2020’s) then in the absence of any clear plan revoking article 50 and cancelling the whole thing looks like the most sensible course of action.

Brexit madness and British delusions

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Ever since May’s defeat she, her cabinet and the right wing media, have been hinting about possible compromises from Brussels. They’ve suggested that in this stand off the EU will blink first. That the Irish will be up for renegotiating the Good Friday agreement, you name it. However the Irish have now put their foot down and made it clear there will be no compromise on the backstop, even if it means a no deal.

This doesn’t surprise me, for the last few weeks I’ve been reading the news on Irish websites (e.g. the Irish times or RTE news) and the British news and its like they are reporting on two entirely different things in different parts of the world. So either May and her cabinet (plus large elements of the media) are delusional, or they are wilfully deceiving both the public and parliament. Whichever it is, there is nothing to be gained by Ireland or the EU compromising, after all we could never trust the British to hold up to their side of the bargain.

And some of the comments coming out of the UK have frankly added fuel to the fire, hence why I’m not really surprised Dublin is taking such a firm line. For example, in a blatant breach of the BBC’s supposed impartiality radio 4 host John Humphrey’s preposterously suggested that the solution might just been that Ireland leaves the EU, gives up independence and becomes part of the UK. Ya and maybe the solution to a trade deal with the US is for the US to become part of the UK? Or, rather than a 2nd indy ref, how about we dissolve the act of union and go back to direct rule of the UK from Edinburgh castle? Or we could resolve the issues at Gibraltar by reversing the treaty of Utrecht?

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Why Ireland left the UK is still a mystery to many Brits

Unfortunately, what Humphrey’s betrays is something I’ve heard several times from those who went to posh boarding schools. They have a warped view of history that’s about as biased as the sort you’d get in a madrasa and comes with an equivalent fanatical zeal to match. They can’t for the life of them understand why Ireland left the UK in the first place, nor the Americans or Canadians. Nor can they understand the hostility that references to the British empire stirs up among many in Asia. Or why it might be a bit of a diplomatic faux paus to quote Imperialist poets in a Myanmar temple (yes Boris actually did this!).

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…Or why the Indians left the Empire? Its a baffling mystery!

And there are large elements of UK history that the British believe in which is just flat out wrong. For example, you’ll often be told that there’s been no successful invasion of the UK since 1066. Well actually, there have been dozens of them. Numerous ones by the Scottish (the Welsh even had a go once or twice), two successful invasions during the war of the roses, another which put William of Orange on the throne and of course the infamous raid on the Medway (the Dutch sailed down the Thames and burnt the British fleet at anchor)to name a few. Hell one wonders why the UK landing cards, don’t include under “reasons for visiting” the option “invade this wretched isle and reclaim my birthright”.

And this also warps their world view leaving many brits with a form of selective blindness. Its what drives their view of British exceptionalism (that the UK should be allowed to leave the EU and yet still enjoy all the benefits, without paying for the privilege). Which leads to an inability to spot the obvious hypocrisies of, for example, leading brexiteers loudly proclaiming how brexit is a great idea, while moving their firms outside of the UK in advance of brexit. Or availing themselves of an EU passport (a privilege that’s not open to those who can’t afford a 2nd home overseas, doubly so now that its been made clear british expats will lose access to healthcare).

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The Royal navy helps “negotiate” a trade deal with China. And you wonder why British talk of “exciting free trade agreements” worries many

But surely the UK will win against the EU? Its not as if they’ve lost numerous battles and economic wars in the past? Like I’ve said, that the EU would take the line it has, or that the Irish would react so strongly to threats against the peace process, should not come as a surprise to any sane individual, whose even remotely familiar with this thing called “history“. For there is also a long standing failure of the British government in taking ownership of EU policy that it had a hand in.

They’ll whinge about unpopular legislation that Brussels “imposed on them”…while failing to point out it was a proposal the British supported, overwhelming number of British MEP’s voted for and the UK government could have vetoed had they wished. And equally British governments will take credit for things that were an entirely EU proposal.

And this extends to the withdrawal agreement. After all the backstop was May’s idea to placate the DUP. Now she’s saying she wants to get rid of it to placate the DUP……WTF! So you can imagine the incredulity in Brussels. And frankly the last thing the UK wants to do now is unpick a deal, remember the EU will inevitably ask for something in return (likely a commitment to a permanent customs union and/or extended freedom of movement indefinitely). May is again prioritising remaining PM for a few more days over the best interests of the country.

Women might be from Venus, men from Mars, while brexiteers seem to inhabit a different universe entirely! Brexit is a right wing project born out of a deluded and warped view of history among posh upper class twits who all went to fancy lads school. Hence why they are blind to the fact that brexit, as I’ve pointed out before, is a choice between May’s (existing) deal or no brexit at all.

But unable to comprehend this, the brexiteers (and large elements of the British public, who’ve had the same warped education) are instead prepared to dive off the the no deal cliff. Now the thing is, I’m increasingly of the view that this is what’s going to happen (hence the wave of stockpiling going on in the UK by both companies and the public).

What’s that you say? A citizens assembly to sort out brexit? It would have been an excellent idea….3 years ago! But now, let’s just say there are easier (and cheaper) ways of organising a riot.

And while a no deal brexit would be generally bad news all around, but it would be especially bad for the upper classes. The likely outcome I suspect will be either some sort of hard left government, a fascist coup, the break up of the UK, or a revolt of the centre and a rapid push for a 2nd referendum to rejoin the EU (under the terms of a new member, which will mean the end of non-dom status and the UK’s offshore tax havens).

So in essence, should the upper class types come to their senses in the next 60 days, it is for them a choice between either backtracking on brexit (good luck with that one! I’ll have the popcorn at the ready), or facing the Russian roulette of either Corbyn, Tony Robinson or Vince Cable ending up in charge.

Christmas news

Panto politics

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Christmas time is panto season in the UK and that was on full display. Corbyn might (or might not) have called May “a stupid woman” (I could call her much worse things!…and he’s a fu*king moron since we’re talking about it) prompting the Tories to waste an entire day of parliamentary time playing “oh yes you did, oh no I didn’t” arguing. And recall May recently had an argument with Junker because he called her policy “nebulous” (again I could come up with worse descriptions, fu*king retarded for starters).

I mean seriously, one of the most important decisions in the UK’s recent history and they are wasting time because of  playground name calling. Are they grown adults or kids in a school yard?

In part this has to be blamed I’d argue on the UK’s broken political system. The first past the post voting system tends to lead to choice between Tweedledum or Tweedledee. And given their virtual monopoly on both the right and left it means they can waste time on silly things (panto debates like this, or in the US trying to ban abortion), without fear of losing votes.

Contrast that with the situation in many other European countries with proportional representation. Here the government generally ends up as a coalition. Its argued that this makes government’s less stable. I’d argue the opposite. Basically, such antics won’t happen in a coalition, because the coalition partners will just walk away, either forcing an election or crossing the idle, joining the opposition and forming a new government (as happened recently in Spain). This enforces a certain code of behaviour on the major parties.

The sort of open warfare we’ve seen in the Tory party over brexit, for example, just won’t happen in a coalition government. Not least because there would probably never have been a brexit vote in the first place. Furthermore, such two party systems are much more vulnerable to cyber attack, as we saw in 2016. So to my mind, if there’s anything we can learn from recent events its that need to reform UK politics and ditch the first past the post system.

Army to deploy for brexit

And as if to provide another example of everything wrong with British politics, we have the government’s no deal planning, which they were proud to announce includes deploying the army….who will presumably parachute in and distribute food….stuck in a queue in Calais (so what are they going to do, invade France!), or medicines (which presumably they’ll make themselves). And while they are at it, I assume they’ll be picking crops in the fields, taking up nursing and doctors jobs to meet NHS staff shortages. Hell, brexit’s left us short staffed in my uni, maybe we could get a few squadies in to give a few lectures.

What is it about the British and the army? I presume some politicians played too much with their action figures as a kid. In Ireland a politician calls out the army and the media spend the next few days taking the piss out of him. Deploying the army is expensive (hundreds more per soldier per day than it costs to keep them in barracks) Trump’s recent deployment to the US border for example, cost between $200-300 million in the space of a few weeks. And the army are kind of busy people, what with training, various ongoing security operations, aid missions, search and rescue, not to mention the small matter of protecting the country.

The whole doctrine of Western countries hinges on the fact that they have a smaller force of well trained full time soldiers, rather than a large force of poorly trained and badly motivated conscripts (read young boys and old men), as for example is Russia’s policy. This creates a force multiplier effect. That is to say a professional army can do a heck of a lot more damage with less troops and less equipment. Quite apart from the fact that a repressive regime can’t deploy its full strength at any one time (they have to hold back a significant number of troops to deal with the possibility of unrest on the home front).

Of course this military doctrine falls apart when politicians start using the army as their own private goon squad. So what the headlines should read is that the government has essentially admitted that no deal will be a disaster, which they’ll have to fix at great cost and by compromising the country’s national defence.

Nine lessons for brexiters

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The UK’s former EU ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers, has unleashed a blistering attack on the UK government’s brexit policy. Its worth listening to the full podcast of his speech, nine lessons brexiters need to learn. One could roll out the standard counter argument, a point made about Stephen Fry’s recent podcast on brexit, that such intellectual discourse, with its reliance on “facts” might go down well in a lecture hall, but you try repeating that in a pub. Where no doubt some red faced gammon will shout you down with “brexit means brexit”….

….Which, oddly enough, is the first point he makes. Brexit does mean brexit. Out means out. The UK can’t leave the EU and expect to enjoy all the benefits of membership, not without paying some sort of price. This is something brexiters seem unable to grasp. The Irish backstop has been such an obstacle for the UK largely because they were blind sided by it. They didn’t expect the EU to back Ireland over the UK. But Ireland is in the EU, the UK is leaving. And, when during the trade negotiations, and Spain brings up Gibraltar, or the French bring up fishing, or the Poles immigration rights, guess whose side the EU will take?

On which point, as Rogers points out, brexit is a process not an event. And it will be a decade or two before its all sort out. If you don’t like the withdrawal agreement, you ain’t going to like the trade deal much either. And forget about “shutting the door” to migration, or having single market access which the UK doesn’t pay for. There is, as Roger points out, no possibility of a deal such as Norway+ or super Canada (well okay, I’m sure there’s a cocktail or something that a bar in Toronto sells called that), nor a “managed no deal. Inevitably the UK will be forced to make further concessions during the trade negotiations, more so again if they go for a no deal option.

And speaking of no deal, there is an obvious hypocrisy between claiming the UK can function just fine on WTO rules with its largest trading partner. But that they somehow needs to negotiate some sort of extensive trade deal with South American or African countries (which it already has trade deals with, which it loses at the end of March), nations the UK does significantly less trade with. And obviously other countries, such as the US, will prioritise their own interests in any trade talks over the UK’s. The idea that they’ll cut the UK some sort of special deal that screws themselves over is ludicrous.

However, its his final point which I think is most noteworthy, that of a lack of transparency with the whole brexit process. The brexiters have yet to be straight with the public. They’ve mostly focused on a few pro’s of being outside of the EU (many of which they are unlikely to actually get, and some which are just fantasy), yet they have steadfastly refused to acknowledge any of downsides (dismissing them as project fear). Hence the shock horror when many were confronted with May’s deal. And if, as noted, the trade negotiations go the same way, the anger among the gammon brigade is going to just build and build.

In short, if brexit is to continue, brexiters need to tell the public the awful truth and prepare them for the inevitable. Its ironic that one of arguments against a 2nd referendum (or abandoning brexit) is the fear it would enhance the far right. The opposite is true. A brexit, sold to the public as a short pleasant unicorn ride to sunlight uplands, that instead turns into a long hard unending trudge, during which the many issues that led people to vote leave get worse and worse, is exactly the sort of breeding ground in which the far right will flourish.

Economic hitmen circling

If you are looking for a book recommendation over the holidays, I’d suggest “confessions of an economic hitman” by John Perkins. It details how corporations would exploit the fact that so many developing world countries were (and still are) run by chest puffing populist autocrats, who could be manipulated into doing foolish things with the state’s finances, bankrupting the country and giving the corporations extraordinary leverage over these states.

Well I was reminded of it recently when I was talking to someone who works in stocks. Because, given that we’ve started to elect similar populists, who often either don’t understand how politics works, or are on the take themselves, corporations are simply copying these tactics and applying them in western states.

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Case in point, the reaction of many traders to brexit was to immediately draw up a list of UK firms and start shorting their shares. They had to be selective about who they went after in the early days (some companies would carry on despite brexit, others were doing badly for reasons entirely unrelated to brexit). But with the current political turmoil they go just as easily toss a dart blindfold and still get a bullseye.

The UK high street for example, has seen drops in footfall and a general slow down in trade. And with online retailers also suffering clearly its something more fundamental that changing tastes. In fact one study suggests that even despite all the closures we’ve seen over the last 18 months, only about half the shops the UK currently has are actually needed. Brexit has in short, presented the short sellers with an open goal.

Which is ironic given how many voted leave as some sort of a two fingered salute to the elites. But, to draw an analogy, imagine you live in a block of flats and hear your neighbours, who are angry with the landlord, plotting to burn the building down. Well the economic hitman’s reaction to that is to take out a massive fire insurance policy on the building….then provide the residences with cans of petrol and a box of matches.

This is the unfortunate reality. Angry ranting and raving just to make yourself feel better is counter productive. Because once you’ve finished bouncing off the walls you’ll likely find those who you were angry with have simply used the distraction to get even wealthier and more powerful.

UK firms seek post-brexit EU regulation

And to further the point above, May has told UK companies to prepare for a no deal brexit. And the reaction of many of them? Well aside from crapping their pants, some have stepped up their efforts to register their companies in EU states. Hundreds of UK manufacturers, in particular aerospace, airlines and other manufacturers are seeking EU jurisdiction before the UK leaves the EU. This means that they will be regulated by the EU rather than the UK.

Why? Well because the EU is their biggest customer and if they aren’t in compliance with EU regulations, they can’t sell into the EU. Furthermore, there’s also the matter of legal action. Let’s suppose you are a UK airline, or a manufacturer of aircraft parts. A plane crashes and you get sued because it is claimed the plane was unsafe. Now at the moment you can claim that your aircraft was fully complaint will all EU regulations and safety standards. This reduces the odds of the case going against you. And furthermore, even if it does, there are legal limits to how much you can be sued for per passenger. Outside the EU (and your aircraft could well crash in some distant country not just in the UK, hence UK law is no fall back in this case), this defence doesn’t work and the claim limit is unlimited (which means nobody’s going to insure you or give you a line of credit!).

Of course this immediately contradicts one of the key points made in the referendum, that corporations would be flocking to the UK, to escape the EU’s burdensome regulations (you know laws that stop flammable materials being used in buildings or prevent toxic paint being used on children’s toys). Instead the opposite is proving to be true. And it also means many UK firms will now have one foot out of the country. So if things do go to pot, its going to be very easy for them to simply relocate.

Cinque merda

You may recall that tragic bridge collapse near Genoa (which in fact I’d passed under a few months prior), which the Italian Horseshoe government of 5-star and the League promptly blamed on the EU. Well I stumbled on this article which reveals that a report back in 2013 warned that the bridge was a risk of collapse, only for that report to be dismissed as a “fairy story” by the 5 star party, who were then in opposition.

This is the problem with populists, its easy to say no to bridge repairs as a waste of people’s taxes and gather popular support in the process, but actions have consequences. And those consequences include bridges collapsing due to lack of repair and people dying. The irony is that one of those 5 stars is transportation….and this is the same party who also can’t get the buses to run in Rome because they keep catching fire!

In fact, very few of those 5 star promises are being met. Human rights have inevitably gone to pot, thanks to their decision to go into government with a bunch of fascists. Their anti-vaccine tendencies has resulted in a measles epidemic breaking out. Renewable energy? Word is they are negotiating a deal involving Russian gas and a new pipeline to carry it. Corruption? Their Mayor in Rome has been battling allegations of corruption and cronyism for some time now.

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In seems to be that anything positive they try to do, they screw it up. You wonder if they should just change the party’s name to “cinque merda” (five turds) instead.

That sinking feeling

On of the problems with climate change is that we can’t really predict its consequences. Yes we know that its going to get warmer, which will have various consequences (more heat waves, melting polar ice and thus sea level rise, possibly colder winters). But the real danger is the X factor. The unexpected consequences of climate change, the stuff that will just come out of left field. These are problematic given that we can’t really predict them and hence can’t plan ahead.

Case in point, this story from the UK. The recent hot weather and drought sparked a large number of claims for subsidence. Subsidence has many causes, but a not uncommon cause is a change in moisture level in the soil. If the soil gets too dry, it can soften and crack. And naturally the long dry summer we’ve just have, particular worse given that it was followed by very heavy rain, has let to this rash of claims. Yet another example of the economic price we’ll pay for climate change.

The Heist

Finally an interesting video here on the most important unsolved robberies, you’ve probably never heard about. In March 1971, several anti-war activists managed to break into an FBI office and made off with a large number of files. They were suspicious that the FBI was (illegally) spying on the peace movement. And not only did they find evidence of this, but they’ll also exposed COINTELPRO a secret FBI surveillance programme, of the sort we’d normally expect from the KGB.

The revelation of COINTELPRO had a significant effect on the FBI and US politics in general. Indeed, it wasn’t until post-911, under Bush that the US federal agencies ever dared to do anything similar again. Anyway, what is perhaps interesting is that the people who pulled this off (and got away scot free) weren’t Russian trained agents, or sleuths of some kind, they were just a bunch of highly motivated amateurs. Yet they managed to outwit the FBI for decades, only revealing their involvement recently, well after the statue of limitations had run out.