Covid news roundup

The room where I hid

So the big news of the last week is the book out by Papa smurf who broke bad John Bolton, that makes various allegations about the abuse of power and incompetence in the Trump white house. It appears to verify the claims regarding the Ukraine scandal as well as the Mueller report. The book suggests Trump tried to do a deal with China just to get re-elected, and discusses his vulnerability to pressure from Putin (plus his closeness to dictators around the world). The book portrays a Trump white house that is so dysfunctional they’ve essentially abandoned routines such as the daily intelligence briefings (as Trump would spend most of the meeting talking about himself).

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Of course given that the book also reveals that Trump is so dumb he thought Finland was part of Russia and didn’t realise that the UK has nuclear weapons, it is no wonder they’ve given up. And ultimately the book confirms that Trump is placing his own personal business interests ahead of those of the country, even in the middle of pandemic.

Now the White house will claim its all the lies of a disgruntled former staffer. And Bolton (a war hawk prominent during GW Bush and the Iraq war) can hardly be considered a reliable witness. However, there seems to be an awful lot of disgruntled Trump staffers right now coming out with tell all books. And their stories are confirmed by what we do know does go on in the white house from FOI requests (such as the fact much of Trump’s diary is blank “executive time where he sits around raging on twitter).

Quite simply put, even if the book was fiction, the very fact many are willing to believe it should tell you everything you need to know about the chaos in the white house. Bottom line, back in 2016 the US voted to not have a president for a few years, but instead let some racist swampy don sit in the white house and pretend to be president, while looting the US treasury.

And the democrats are furious because of the fact Bolton chose not to testify against Trump at his impeachment before the senate, saving it all for his book. Had he said under oath what’s in this book, it would have been very hard for the GOP to let Trump off without any consequences. Which should tell you why he didn’t testify. The Republicans know full well how dirty and dysfunctional Trump’s white house is. So likely there was a deal done, he doesn’t testify, but gets to publish his book (a bit of kicking and screaming from Trump not withstanding) and no doubt he’ll get back into power and some point next time they get back in (or he’ll get some cushy job as an adviser).

Out of control

Meanwhile, the cases of Covid in the US have begun to surge upwards. Last time I checked its up to nearly 40k a day, not far off its previous peak back in April. It could be a 2nd wave, although Antony Fauci reckons its just a continuation of the first wave. But with numerous super-spreading events (political rallies, demonstrations, etc.) this is hardly surprising. What it shows is that the virus isn’t under control and the US squandered the lockdown.

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The whole point of a lockdown was to flatten the curve and give countries the time to covid-proof their economies. This is what China, Japan, Korea or Germany succeeded in doing. So even if this is just a dead cat bounce, it indicates that the US hasn’t gotten the virus under control. Hence if and when a 2nd wave happens it will burn through the US unchecked. In effect Trump has taken $2 trillion dollars and squandered every penny. He may as well have spent it on his precious wall for all the good it would have done. Yes you could try another lock down, but will people obey it? And that means another $2 trillion in costs. Can the US afford that?

Trump might get his wish, a wall around the country, but one to keep Americans in rather than foreigners out. Already the EU is considering banning travel from the US due to its failure to get the coronavirus under control.

The hypocrisy of the right

Consider that the current US death toll from Covid stands at over 120,000. That’s more than have been killed in every war the US has fought since the end of World War 2. And a large number of those causalities are directly down to the inaction and incompetence of Trump. The only thing I find surprising is that he’s only 9 points behind. Then again, US politics is now completely tribal. At least 40% of the country are committed followers of the cult of Trump. Its their new religion and he can do no wrong.

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A Trump death clock showed up outside his rally in Tulsa

Consider that Hilary’s worse crime was Benghazi (which she had nothing to do with and was in no way responsible for) which saw 4 people killed, sending the right wing media into an 8 year tizzy, even to the point of making a Michael Bay action movie about it. But Trump gets 120,000 people killed, and silence. This is the hypocrisy of the right.

So for example, a largely peaceful BLM protest in London, during which ONE out of tens thousands tried (but failed) to set fire to the UK flag on the Cenotaph, is apparently the worst crime in history (and should carry a sentence longer than you’d get for rape or violent assault), which to the right wing media, turned the whole march into a riot. Yet a few days later a bunch of neo-nazi’s fighting with police is instead branded “a scuffle”. And when one of the skinheads decides to urinate on a memorial, well when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. The mental gymnastics Tory voters brains must go through, its a wonder it doesn’t make them dizzy.

The biggest losers

Meanwhile in brexitland, if Trump does lose in 2020, the biggest loser will likely be the UK. It is very unlikely a trade deal could be signed off and ratified by Congress before the election. As I’ve noted before any deal that screws over Ireland will be politically unacceptable to the Irish American community.

And frankly only a complete moron would negotiate a deal under the present circumstances. Just look at the situation with the proposed Japan trade deal, where the UK has essentially been given 6 weeks to sign one or else piss off. The much heralded CANZUK deal will have zero benefits, might actually leave the country worse off and require the opening up of the UK’s borders to immigration. Which might be just as well, because without more farm workers much of the UK’s harvest for this year will be left to rot in fields.

And while the government claims there will be no border checks, certainly not in NI, actually they’ve quietly sent out letters to the relevant port authorities advising them to start setting up customs posts. Of course they’ve left it way too late, in fact one report seen by Bloomberg suggests they seem to have forgotten about these big things called “trucks which go through UK ports rather often.

And this is just for openers. If Trump loses, then being such a close ally to him will put the UK at a distinct disadvantage. Consider that the Tories ignored intelligence warnings about Trump’s closeness to Russia and has hampered efforts by the democrats to investigate him. And there will almost certainly be some sort of congressional investigation into Trump if Biden wins. Trump might even face charges over his lack of action over the Coronavirus. The UK will likely face a US government far more hostile than it has faced at any time since the end of world war 2. The UK will likely be sidelined as the US focuses more on improving its relations with the EU. We will go, as Obama warned, to the back of the queue.

The Summer of Covid

And, much like in the US, with major super spreading events such as the recent crowded beaches, its possible the UK too could also soon see a resurgence in Covid cases. The government, against all scientific advice plans to lift all restrictions on the 4th of July, including scraping the 2m rule. But to be fair, given that since the real prime minster a certain special adviser’s  500 mile jolly with no consequences, the public simply don’t believe the government any more. They’ve lost control of the situation.

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Boris asks Brit’s to apply common sense…and everyone goes to the beach!

Again one must contrast the UK’s situation, with 65,000 dead and counting (the worst per capita in the world so far) and the experience of EU countries like Germany. And like I’ve said before, if a 2nd wave does start, this will be far more damaging to the country than a few extra weeks of lockdown. And they will have a window of a few weeks at most to re-impose the lockdown and make sure everyone sticks to it. Which I’m doubtful will be possible.

Meanwhile Scotland and Wales have adopted a different policy towards lockdown, with a more gradual relaxing of measures, even thought the number cases is already much lower per capita than in England. This threatens to undermine the policy of both, not least because it looked like the Tories forgot about Scotland and that they have a different policy.

Naturally this means that if a 2nd wave does happen it could be a lot more destabilising. Johnson could well be making the case for Scottish independence.

Wrong failing sacked

Another story over the last week was the sacking of Rebecca Wrong Failing Long Bailey by Keir Starmer over a tweet she sent regarding an article, which included some anti-Israeli material. Now I thought this was a little harsh, but then again it was an unforced error and she was likely on a yellow card already and under orders not to do anything dumb.

Whether or not the article contained anything anti-Semitic is not the point (it included some unverifiable claims about US police copying Israeli military choke holds). The point is it demonstrated she’s politically inept. Labour now have the Tories on the ropes. Under Corbyn PMQ’s was more like gardener’s question time. He’d ask a question along the lines of “I have a Tim from Sevenoaks who has problems with his NHS services….and his Azaleas”, the PM (either Boris or May) would give some generic canned response that didn’t answer the question “the NHS runs hospitals, Azaleas should be planted in the spring” and rather than follow that up or probe a bit deeper, Corbyn would move on to something about rail services…and Juniper bushes.

Now instead, with Starmer, its like a cross examination in the old bailey. Its been rumoured Johnson is resorting to using an earpiece to communicate with Cummings (aka the real PM) and that doesn’t seem to make much difference. His approval ratings have collapsed and the Tories are tanking in the polls. Its considered only a matter of time before labour pulls ahead.

Naturally, the right wing media are desperate for any angle they can use to attack labour with. And her tweet threatened to give them their old favourite anti-Semitism and pin that on Starmer the way they did Corbyn. I guarantee you, if Starmer hadn’t fired her, the right wing media would have gone on about it for months, or until she resigned. And you can bet Johnson would bring it up in PMQ’s.

In short, it was a massive political error and shows how she’d have made a hopeless labour leader. And the hard left of the party can hardly complain. They picked her as Corbyn’s successor. There were other candidates on the left of the party (such as Angela Rayner, who is so left wing she wants to ban private schools), but they were sidelined. Long Bailey was chosen precisely because she was considered to be weak minded and easily manipulated, much as Corbyn was, by the cabal of toxic advisers around him, such as Len McCluskey, Jon Lansman and Karen Brady.

So no, its not a Blairite plot, actually quite the opposite. Starmer does seem to be taking on board a recent report into labour’s loss which says people do want the sort of change labour stands for, but the problems last election were two fold. Firstly, the public didn’t believe labour could deliver on all its ambitious promises. And secondly they just didn’t like Corbyn and didn’t see him as capable of delivering such change.

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Corbyn and the hard left prepare to leave labour and form their own party

So the hard left have a choice, accept this reality, get with the program and get behind the new labour leader. Or go off and found your own party…no doubt called the Judean people’s front, before promptly splitting in multiple smaller factions.

The cult of the Punisher

I came across a video regarding the proliferation of police using the punisher symbol on their uniforms or vehicles. This includes some of the cops engaged in violence against peaceful protesters in recent weeks wearing punisher symbols. For those who don’t read comics, the Punisher (aka Frank Castle) is a vigilante anti-hero who hunts down and kills criminals. Which is hardly the sort of thing cops should be trying to emulate.

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Furthermore it could be seen as a neo-nazi coded symbol. In much the same way racists use coded language and dog whistles (which may seem innocence enough to outsiders, but they will know the actually meaning), they are also aware that they can’t go around in nazi uniform or wearing their hoods. So instead they used coded symbols, such as an 88, or a Celtic cross as a substitute for a swastika…or a punisher symbol as a sub for the nazi death’s head symbol.

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As a result, in most other countries the cops would at least get a telling off for this, if not a suspension or sacking. The police represent and protect the public trust, and you undermine that when you wear symbols unrepresentative of the values you are supposed to be upholding (such as vigilante justice!). I mean how would conservatives feel of a hard left supporting cop when around with a hammer and sickle on his car, or wearing one of those soviet style bearskin hats. The right wing pundits would likely crack a rib screaming about it.

So its a massive disciplinary issue, yet nothing is being done about. Which should just show you how out of control the US police forces have become. They’ve become a law onto themselves. And you would have hoped they’ve have the self awareness to realise that anyone going around with pictures of skulls on their uniforms means you are probably the baddies.

Boris Sats

We have the makings of yet another Tory tax payers money burning party brewing with the UK government planning to try and buy its own satellite network. Officially this is due to brexit, as the EU are refusing access to their Galileo system. Not true, the UK will enjoy access, as will every other country (much as we currently have access to the US GPS system). The trouble is that the EU (much like the US) will reserve the right to scramble or turn off signals at certain times. Which could impact the UK’s ability to operate its nuclear deterrent.

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Initially the Tories were planning to build their own “world beating” system…but given that there is zero chance of that happening, so instead the Tory plan is to buy their way into the proposed OneWeb satellite constellation system. However, this service is in the bargain bin because it went bankrupt.

It did so because its up against competition from the SpaceX and their Starlink system, which is far more advanced. Not to mention the fact that Musk has the means to launch his own rockets rather than buying someone else’s. Then there’s the existing Iridium sat-phone network, which is upgrading its satellites to handle data.

Its probable there is only room for one such network, although its possible Iridium and Starlink could carve out their own independent niches. And its far from proven that satellite based data transfer can be competitive with ground based fibre optic networks. However there is certainly no way two networks such as OneWeb and Starlink could compete against one another….and I think you can guess which one is most likely to fail!

So the Tories are going to have to not only spend a significant amount of money buying and then subsidising this network, but there’s the small detail of how to launch it. The UK lacks the facilities to do this, so they’d have to rely on the either US or EU based rockets. So the Tories are concerned about not having an independent data and navigation system and their solution is to ask the EU and the US to provide one for them, WTF? What could possibly go wrong!

Well aside from the fact that these satellites are intended for data transfers not location information. You can piggy back the relevant signals, or use the data streams to trace locations of users, but that’s not really going to work when it comes to guiding nuclear weapons….unless you are planning to send Putin an email before you launch and hope he stupid enough to open it!

Why does this remind me of Cummings track and trace app (that drained phone batteries due to all the spyware and won’t work on certain types of phones) or the ventilators contracts gifted to Tory donors that turned out to be useless, or the no bid PPE contracts to a Tory donor who doesn’t sell any PPE! Like I said, its another Tory money burning party, a trough of swill for their donors to stick their snouts into and gorge on public money. I hope those who voted Tory are proud to see their taxes well spent.

Gone to the Dogs

And speaking of money burning parties, I mentioned before the story about how a UK minster unlawfully approved of a development on the Isle of Dogs, to the benefit of a Tory party donor, such that he could avoid paying £50 million in taxes to the local council.

Well now, he’s been forced to disclose emails and text messages, which includes an exchange by one of the investors, who just so happens to be Richard Desmond, the former owner of the Express newspaper, and the minster in question. During this exchange they are both fairly matter a fact about what they are doing is certainly dodgy and corrupt.

Plus Desmond does not hide his contempt for the local council referring to them as “the Marxists and his strong desire to avoid the payment of taxes. Recall, he used to run one of the UK’s leading newspapers, a strongly Tory paper. Keep in mind there is a rule in UK law saying you need to be a “fit and proper” person to run a newspaper. Does this sound like a fit and proper person? Is Jenrick going to resign? LOL! Ya sure when pigs fly maybe!

The global bike drought

I was considering buying a new mountain bike recently. Long story short, but my current bike is unique, in that there’s something else wrong with it every day. I’ve taken it to bike shops before and they’ve told me that they so much as pumped up the tires I’d be in negative equity. As a trade in, I’d get a slap in the face with a soggy set of bike shorts in exchange for them taking it off my hands.

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Now granted, it has its advantages. Notably its never going to get stolen (I once left it for a month chained up outside a Glasgow railway station and nothing happened to it, I’ve previously left in unlocked in public and it was still there when I got back). But I’m probably due a change. Its getting hard to source parts (they just don’t make those oversized front wheels and wee back ones anymore) and mine doesn’t have suspension (so I’m shaking for several minutes after a downhill section).

So I go online and try to place an order and I’m promised my bike will be delivered…in late August….maybe! I try somewhere else, order date will be guaranteed, your bike will arrive….in November! It would seem one of the effects of Covid has been to spark a worldwide bike shortage. This is due to both an increase in demand (as many are now trying to cycle everywhere rather than rely on public transport) at the same time production is down due to Covid restrictions.

So I’m thinking I’ll just have to keep my bike in service. Although I am thinking of getting an out of service, but more modern bike, hopefully with suspension, stripping it down and restoring it to working order.

The long emergency

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There seems to be still quite a lot of miss-information about the coronavirus. Everyone had a good laugh at Trump asking if we could use bleach to cure the virus. Well India basically just tried that on an entire town.

While yes, the rate of infection is slowing, some countries are easing their lockdowns (perhaps a little prematurely), in other countries (notably Brazil and Russia) the rate of infection is accelerating rapidly. And in others, despite a lockdown (the US and UK for example), they’ve only really managed to go from a exponential rate of growth to a linear one (see John Hopkin’s data for more on that). Of course, this means that once the lockdown measures are removed, within a few weeks you’ll be back to where you started and $2 trillion dollars poorer.

So I thought I might be useful to go over some issues that have arisen recently.

Can we sue China?

There seems to be a growing narrative that Covid-19 came from a lab in Wuhan, rather than a wet market as widely assumed. Hence the logic goes, its all China and the WHO’s fault, so we can sue them for the damages caused, right? Good luck with that one.

Firstly, contrary to what you might read in the conspiracy theories on Reddit, the links between this Chinese lab and Covid-19 are pretty shaky. Certainly nothing that any good lawyer couldn’t rip apart in a matter of minutes. Its always difficult to pin point the exact origin point of any virus outbreak and this outbreak isn’t any different.

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is a good example (which didn’t start in Spain, its called that because Spain wasn’t under wartime censorship and its papers reported openly about the outbreak). The official patient zero for the 1918 outbreak was a cook’s assistant in a US army base in Kansas. While its plausible the virus could have started on the base (they kept and slaughtered animals on the base, and this was a form of swine flu), there are other theories suggesting it originally started in China (likely in a wet market or slaughterhouse of some kind), or among British soldiers in France.

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The 1918 Spanish flu started in the US…not Spain!

So building a case ironclad enough that could prove a Chinese origin for this outbreak is going to take some doing. Furthermore, I’d argue some of these allegations are probably counter productive. For example, suggestions that the virus was circulating in France in December, well the Chinese can now legitimately argue, oh so its a French disease then.

They are also under pressure to close down their wet markets permanently. And (somewhat ironically), its believed that Chinese efforts to promote their traditional medicines (TCM) instead of, well “real” medicine, might have contributed to the start of this outbreak. Banning (or heavily regulating) both of these would be hugely unpopular within China.

Naturally, being able to take the focus off the wet markets gives them the excuse to shrug their shoulders and say “who knows where it came from”. Its not exactly helping matters. And by cutting funding to the WHO, the US is allowing China to step in and put pressure on the WHO to consider TCM as registered medical treatments.

But even if you could prove conclusively it was China’s fault, how are you going to sue them? They are within their rights to simply give Trump the one fingered salute and tell him to piss off and find someone else to make America’s i-phones. The technical term for countries suing each other is known as “war”.

And how would they pay anyway? RMB? They’ll just run the magic money machine and print off trillions of the stuff, while giving all Chinese a pay rise (so on paper they’ve paid in full, but in reality they’d basically just handed over a lot of worthless paper). Dollars? They would immediately dump their entire holdings of US bonds all at once, devaluing the dollar to the point where they could pay the bill pretty easily in dollars given it would now be worth a fraction of its value.

And in any event, the bulk of the blame for this outbreak lies with the foolish decisions by certain chest thumping populist leaders who failed to act decisively once warnings were given (and the WHO did declare a health emergency in late January, so its not like they didn’t get a heads up). And those leaders (notably Trump) might want to watch their words given the very real risk that a mutated version of the virus could now emerge. this could be similar to the current virus, just one nobody has immunity too and none of the vaccines under research will work against. Or it could be much worse. And where in the world is it most likely such a mutated version will emerge? Wherever there is the most number of case….you know….like the US.

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A more sensible strategy (than blame-storming) would be to learn lessons and implement changes to how such outbreaks are handled. Putting in place mandatory international reporting structures (so any doctor ringing the alarm bell, that alert goes out globally to everyone, not via the Amity town mayor who doesn’t want a pandemic on lunar new year’s eve rocking the boat for him). Of course, you’ll get as much opposition to that in the US as you would from the Chinese.

It also means banning dangerous and unhygienic practices, such as the aforementioned wet markets (or some similar practices in US food production) and certain alternative medicines (not just TCM, hell Alex Jones has been peddling Silver pills s a cure for coronavirus, which is just as bad). That’s probably a better long term response.

Herd immunity

Many, in particular libertarians, are outraged at being forced to stay inside. They want as little government as possible…yet still want a government big enough to pay for a massive military, a vast interstate highway network, subsidised fossil fuel consumption, not to mention a government so authoritarian it can tell people what they can do in the privacy of their own homes, whom they can marry and a government that can imprison and kill its own citizens, in some cases without even a trial. As discussed previously on this blog, conservatives don’t understand the concept of irony.

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Any resemblance between Trump supporters and the zombie apocalypse is purely coincidental

My view is, if Elon Musk wants to re-open his factory, fine, but only if he agrees to pay for the healthcare of all of his employees (and anyone else they might infect) and they all get to cough on him and his new born baby before every shift change. Because in essence that’s what he and other libertarians are proposing should happen for everyone else. While you’ll hear few who will openly admit it, there are quite a few of the world’s wealthy who just want to let the virus run its course, while they remain safely tucked away in their mansion of course and let the plebs develop a “herd immunity” to the virus.

Well the problem with this strategy is that it will cause hundreds of millions to get sick and a vast number of people will die. In fact, the scary thing is we aren’t even sure how many that could be. But 20-50% of the entire world population getting sick and perhaps 1-10% of those who get sick dying (so between 0.6 to 15 million dead in the US alone) would not be an unreasonable estimate.

In short the economic impact of that would make the impact of the current lockdown seem pretty tame. Except, in a libertarian world, there would be no government bailout money. Musk’s factory would be paralysed as many of his workers would be either sick or absent from work (perhaps feigning illness to avoid picking up the virus), as would many of his suppliers (so his entire supply chain would collapse). Plus, as noted, he’d be liable for the sick pay and healthcare costs of all of these sick workers. And I don’t see many in a hurry to buy a car in the middle of a global pandemic.

Double jeopardy and triple jeopardy

Furthermore, there is a more serious flaw with this “herd immunity” hypothesis – that’s not how viruses work, it may be possible to catch this virus more than once. The antibodies for a particular disease don’t linger around indefinitely. That’s why you need a flu vaccine every winter and booster vaccines for other diseases from time to time.

Plus, if the virus does mutate (and there are signs its already doing that), there is no guarantee that those who had the infection before will be immune to it a 2nd time around. It is also possible to become a host for the virus without actually getting sick or displaying any symptoms (meaning you can unwittingly spread it around without even realising it).

It ain’t over till its over

Similarly, while yes developing a vaccine does sound like a good idea, but I worry many are seeing it as some sort of panacea, when it might be a damp squib. If the virus mutates sufficiently, then it might not be fully effective (or work at all). And remember, vaccination only works if you can be vaccinated before you get sick, not afterwards. Of course there’s nothing to stop us developing another vaccine (as well as better treatments for those already sick) and eventually we’d come up with something that will be widely effective. But that’s going to take time, likely years.

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In fact, if we did get a viable vaccine, the sensible thing to do would be to stockpile it rather than issue it straight away. Then, at an appropriate moment, implement mass vaccinations of key front line workers (doctors, nurses, bus drivers, teachers, not politicians or rich people). This is what was done recently to defeat an Ebola outbreak in Africa. Unfortunately, the timeline for being able to do all of that is going to be at least a year from now, Christmas 2021 being a more realistic end date. So this is merely the first stage of a long emergency (as I’ve said before, anyone who tells you this is the end of the beginning of this outbreak, or that the worst is over, do me a favour and slap him for me, we haven’t even started). And it ain’t going to be over till its over…..and the fat lady can’t sing because she’s been told to self isolate.

Of course you can’t keep the whole world in lock down for a year or two, so what governments should be doing is coming up with a long term strategy for how to operate under an extended period of social distancing. The message to business owners should be to start figuring out how you would re-open while implementing social distancing rules, but this simply isn’t happening.

So for example restaurants and bars should have been told to spend the last couple of weeks switching from open plan to individual booths and stalls (by putting up a few stud walls or curtains). Shops could do more of the sort of click and collect service. Airlines could fly again, once they’ve worked out how they can operate and still limit the spread of disease within the planes (compulsory screening of passengers 24 hrs before departure, masks worn at all times, etc.). Musk could re-open his factory, but only when he’s figured out how to open while still implementing social distancing. And, as noted, a guarantee of sick pay and full healthcare coverage for all employees (as well as encouraging all of those who can work from home to continue to do so). Government seems to be waking up this reality yes, but only now, when the message should have gone out two months ago.

But of course, this is the sort of stuff people don’t want to hear. They want to hear nice easy answers, such as it will all blow over and we can get back to normal and forget about it. If so, many countries, including those that think they are out of the woods, might be in for a rude awakening in the autumn.

Every cloud has a silver lining

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The Covid-19 outbreak is a global tragedy that has adversely effected the lives of millions. However as a vlog post I saw recently points out, its not all bad news. Its had some positives as well and it is perhaps worth reflecting on those.

First of all, it has always been a question of when the next global pandemic was going to hit, not if it would happen. The WHO and various other health authorities have been warning of this for sometime. And compared to some of their baseline scenarios (one of which was the basis for the fictional virus in the 2011 film Contagion), we’ve got off rather lightly.

Covid-19 spread has been a lot slower than it could have been. And its mortality rate of 1-3.4% (depending on who you ask) is nowhere near as bad as the 5-10% for Spanish flu or 20-30% for diseases like SARS or smallpox. Also, the world caught something of a lucky break, as the disease was initially localised to one region of China. Yes, the Chinese authorities did screw up their initial response. But enough of a warning and quarantine measures were taken to buy vital time for the rest of the world (of course some countries run by populists chose to ignore these warnings, but at least we got some sort of heads up).

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By contrast in the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968, or the 2009 Swine flu epidemic, the virus went global pretty quickly (thanks to international air travel). The end result being that the first most health authorities worldwide knew about these new diseases was when people started showing up at hospitals and dying (the 1968 pandemic would go on to kill over a million people).

This was the basis for the scenario portrayed in the aforementioned movie Contagion, where the fictional disease outbreak starts in a Macao casino and spreads to the four corners of the world within 24 hrs. By the time the health authorities realise what the hell they are dealing with, millions are already infected and hundreds of thousands are already dead. So the current situation, while bad, it could have been a lot worse.

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Scene from the 2011 movie Contagion

So we should see Covid-19 as something of a fire drill for a future pandemic. One where we might not catch the lucky breaks we’ve caught this time (and we might be dealing with something a lot deadlier). China came out pretty much okay, largely because this was not their first outbreak. They clearly had some sort of contingency plan to deal with this sort of thing. One assumes that in the wake of this crisis other countries will have the good sense to do the same.

The crisis has also highlighted the importance of healthcare. Countries with well funded national healthcare (such as Germany, Scandinavia, Lithuania, etc.) have weathered the storm better than countries who didn’t provide adequate funding (such as the UK, Italy or Spain). Boris Johnson was essentially elected on a mandate of A) not being Jeremy Corbyn, and B) running the NHS into the ground, so it can be privatised. Now he owes his life to the service. He’s going to find himself under pressure to pretty much reverse the last ten years of Tory policy towards the NHS and fund it more extensively.

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Trump (who massively cut back the CDC’s budget early on in his presidency), even if he can get re-elected, is unlikely to be able to get rid of Obamacare, not without replacing it with something else (and from a right wing point of view, particularly post Covid-19, almost anything is going to be worse). It is difficult to see a scenario where healthcare will be given such a low priority in US in the future.

Virus

Its likely Covid-19 started in a Chinese “wet market, which is a PC way of describing an outdoor unregulated abattoir which looks like something out of the middle ages. Indeed, its been suggested that the outbreak’s origin in China might be down to the regime trying to favour alternative Chinese medicine over….actual medicine…. as a cost saving measure. Which, if true, has to count as one of the most spectacular backfires in government policy since Mao’s great leap forward.

For years health authorities world wide have been lobbying China to shut these markets down. Not only for animal welfare reasons, but because they were a likely point of origin for a disease like this. And its likely that SARS, MERS, the Hong Kong flu and perhaps even HIV and Ebola (the latter two probably came from African wet markets) all originated in this kind of environment. The Chinese have now banned wet markets temporarily, so we can only hope the flak they are going to catch over this crisis will eventually make that ban permanent. And that other countries will follow suit.

One of the reasons why Covid-19 is killing people is that it can lead to viral pneumonia, against which there is no real treatment. Well what if I was to tell you there might not be any way to treat regular bacterial pneumonia, or a host of other bacterial infections, in a few years time. This is because we are running out of effective antibiotics.

This is occurring mostly for two reasons, the unregulated use of antibiotics in agriculture and a lack of investment in the development of new ones. One can hope that this crisis will highlight the importance of investing in drug research. If you think vaccines are too expensive, try a pandemic. Which may lead to new vaccines for diseases such as Malaria, HIV or West Nile, which between them kill tens of thousands of people in developing countries every year.

But its not just better healthcare funding which is a fringe benefit of this outbreak. Air pollution, carbon emissions and energy consumption have all decreased. Its estimated that the drop in air pollution in China alone might actually save more lives than people killed by Covid-19 in the country.

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And with everyone working from home, I think its becoming obvious that not everyone needs to work in an office 9-5. While some staff will be needed in frontline roles, a lot of back office activity can take place at home. In my job for example, while yes we (and the students) need to be on campus for laboratory work or workshops (hence the havoc this crisis is creating). But a lot of the rest of the teaching, research and admin tasks can be performed at home.

If we were to see a cultural shift recognising this reality, it would have a number of significant consequences. For example, in the UK childcare costs are insane, about £1000 to £2000 per month, per child. So if you are a single parent and you earn less than £40k (assuming you can only afford to spend a maximum of 50% of your take home pay on child care), you can forget about having a career. You are literally better off giving up your job and living on benefits. Similarly for couples, its not unusual for one of them to be forced to give up their job to mind the kids. Naturally, if working from home becomes a more feasible proposition, then that would allow a huge number of people (many of them women) to re-enter the workforce.

It would also mean you don’t necessarily need to live so close to where you work anymore. This would also have a wide variety of benefits. For example, many UK companies feel the need to be based in Greater London. Which means they have to pay their staff a “London allowance to account for the much higher living costs. This creates a vicious cycle as it tends to concentrate more and more of the UK’s wealth and spending within London. At the same time, the rest of the country is starved of jobs (meaning more people move to London to find work). And with less salaried workers spending their money outside of London, these regions become poorer (which simply encourages yet more companies and people to relocate to London).

And this is by no means a British problem. In France there are (or so French people tell me) two kinds of people, the French and Parisians. Its like something out of the Hunger Games with the districts and the capital, with Paris representing 30% of France’s entire GDP. In Ireland about 40% of the country’s entire population live in the Greater Dublin area. As you can imagine these factors tend to distort the politics and economics of these countries rather severely.

Now imagine a scenario where I could have a well paid job in London, but instead live and work in say, the West Midlands. I could get a much bigger house for the same rent/deposit (i.e. an actual house with a garden v’s a shoe box in London) and would be spending my London salary in my local community, effectively redistributing the wealth of the UK to an economically deprived area. Equally, if companies don’t expect all their employee’s to be in 9-5, you don’t need as big and expensive an office building in central London. It becomes more of a priority that its close to public transport links.

Now granted, not everyone can work from home (then again, if lots of workers move out of the big cities, that pushes down rents for those who have to stay). Employers would need to establish some ground rules in order to make sure employees are working (and not watching cat videos). And there’s various ways you can do that (notably by your boss having some clue what it is that you do and what’s going on in the firm, you’d be surprised how many I find are clueless to any of this). But even for those working at home, there will be times when they will need to come in to work, perhaps at short notice. So they’ll need to be careful where they base themselves.

This might present problems for countries with poor public transport (such as the US). But for those with good public transport, such as most European countries, it means that, thanks to high speed rail, you could get from a house in southern France (or Italy) into the office in Paris (or Milan) in a few hours (so potentially you don’t even need to overnight, you can hop on an evening train and be home for dinner). Certainly not a commute you’d want to do every day (although some do), but if its a once in a wee while sort of thing, that’s bearable. And certainly a damn sight better than pouring yourself into a subway train every morning. And it also creates a strong incentive to expand public transport networks to extend the economic benefits of home working.

And the current crisis does raise the question as to how important international business travel really is. While it is fun to fly out to far away places for work, one does have to question the wisdom of flying hundreds of academics to a conference to discuss how to prevent climate change (by perhaps holding this conference online?). A world where people travel less often, and are more likely to use public transport for long distances, where energy consumption and pollution is lower, is moving very much in the right direction in terms of tackling climate change.

Finally, as I’ve noted in prior posts, the Covid-19 crisis has led to many left wing policies becoming mainstream. A few months back, the Tories were thrashing labour policies as being crazy. Spend money on public services, welfare and healthcare like a sailor on shore leave? Why we can’t afford, you’d bankrupt the country.

Blink and now they are handing out hundreds of billions (mostly to corporations) like Halloween candy, more than enough money to fund policies like a basic citizens income. In fact Spain has indicated they plan to introduce just such a policy. There’s even talk of nationalising large chunks of the UK economy. This from a government who was elected largely because they weren’t Jeremy Corbyn.

And we’ve seen Amazon, a company that thinks Ebenezer Scrooge was a bleeding heart liberal who gave his workers way too much time off. Well suddenly they are now in favour of policies like sick pay. And in the US, the massive jump in unemployment is making it pretty clear that America needs some sort of welfare state (not least because US employees and their families often lose their health insurance if they lose their jobs). And I don’t hear libertarians whining any more about how any sort of state intervention is a form of tyranny (you know like Trump telling GM to stop building cars and build medical equipment instead, imagine their reaction if Obama did that).

But, isn’t their a danger of Trump using this crisis to cancel the election and just remain on as president? There are many ways Trump could end up making this crisis so much worse. However, as one lawyer discusses, there is one undeniable fact (and the US constitution is very explicit on this point), Trump’s term of office ends on January 20th 2021. As of noon on that day, unless there has been another election to give him a 2nd term, he will no longer be president (nor will Pence be the VP). While there is a question mark over who would take over (likely in some caretaker capacity), it can’t be Trump nor Pence (the mostly likely candidates being either Nancy Pelosi or the leading democrat in the Senate!).

In fact I’m not really surprised Bernie’s bowed out of the election race. The way things are going, the virus is going to more or less force many of his policies to be implemented, regardless of who wins the election.

So while yes, Covid-19 is a terrible tragedy, we should try to look at the positives. Every cloud has a silver lining.

The Coronavirus and the failings of populism

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So like me, I suspect most readers have by now been confined by Covid. But I think its important we understand how we got here. I enquired in a prior post as to whether dumb anti-vax, climate change denying populism was more or less dangerous than the Covid-19 virus. Well it would appear both have teamed up to create a complete sh&t show. Italy’s death tool now exceeds that of China’s (that’s what happens when you put anti-vacciers in charge of your healthcare!). Populism in Italy is literally killing people.

It starts off with denial. Be in the local officials in Wuhan Provence who didn’t want to make waves, the racists in Italy claiming it was a Chinese problem, or the likes of Trump claiming it was no worse than the flu (which is simply not the case, there’s a big difference between a annual winter flu bug and a pandemic flu, its still unclear where on that curve Covid-19 sits).

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Then when it becomes clear such denial of basic scientific facts has created a health crisis (and given how badly many populists have miss-managed their nations healthcare, the last thing they need is some virus killing off all of their boomer age voters), you get rash ham fisted authoritarian measures being imposed, with not much thought for the consequences or the practicality of such measures. Case in point, Boris Johnson even asked the likes of car and digger manufacturers if they could make ventilators for the NHS (would you want to be rigged up to medical equipment made by a digger manufacturer?).

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Hey Boomer!

A big part of the problem is that many are not factoring in human nature or the macro economic effects. The Italians say they are going to lock down entire cities, what does everyone do? Start travelling! I had a whole bunch of students from Italy and other EU states up and leave as soon as they heard this. Trump’s decision to ban flights to the EU (while initially keeping them open to Ireland and the UK) was clearly a vindictive move on his part to have a dig at the EU because he could. And of course this just meant that everyone got on a flight to the US via London or Dublin. And as many were US citizens, its not like they can be bared from entry.

The lock down in Spain has prompted many UK and Irish to head home (personally I’d take my chances with the Spanish healthcare system than the UK’s, but Ireland maybe there’s some logic to it, given how about 50% of the world’s ventilators are made in Ireland). And offering special shopping times for the elderly? Well you end up with lots of coughing boomers in the same shop at the same time, complaining about how the selves are empty since they bought everything on them the previous day.

And also of course, predictably the plutocrats behind these populists are trying to exploit the crisis for financial gain. Trump has laid out tax cuts that clearly benefit the wealthy. The UK governments £350 billion package, is clearly just a big slush fund to the benefit of big business. In fact, you can tell as much by the fact the market crashes stalled (you know how rigged a system is when a government comes out with a policy that is utter nonsense and unworkable and share prices go up rather than down).

In fact, let’s talk about the economic impact. If anything I’m surprised the markets haven’t dropped further. I don’t think people appreciate the economic calamity here. The previous financial crisis may have started in the mortgage market. But it became a great recession because in the immediate aftermath, everyone became Ebenezer Scrooge and stopped spending. That’s pretty much what we are facing now. In Ireland alone, its been estimated that 58,000 have already lost their jobs due to the shutting down of shops and bars and hundreds of thousands more will follow. In the UK the film industry alone we are looking at 170,000 lay-offs.

So its not difficult too see how this outbreak could quickly turn into another large economic depression. What use is mortgage relief to someone who isn’t paying a mortgage. Many small business live pay check to pay check, so without some sort of swift injection of cash, they will go under pretty quickly. And interest rates can go to zero and it still won’t matter if you’ve no cash flow to pay any loans back with. And closing schools means single parents can’t work, which is devastating to their income. Now the plutocrats might well not care about the little guy. But they will when millions of people stop paying their rents, or default on the credit card/student debts.

I suppose the one sliver lining is that the crisis has led to some progressive policies making it into the mainstream. We have for example Amazon, one of the most Libertarian and Talyorist companies in the world, suddenly discovering the benefits of sick pay (no doubt when the bosses realised that they were better off having sick employees stay at home and not come into work and cough on them). Who knows, next thing Jeff Bezo’s might even pay some taxes! We also have the road to Damascus conversion of Fox News going from “its a democratic hoax” to “the biggest crisis in history” in the matter of a week. And the US government is now going to supply free testing kits for Covid-19. Who knows, this could be a step towards a single payer healthcare system.

Hell one could argue the best use for that £350 billion the UK government is throwing around is to just give the money out to people as a form of universal basic income. That’s about £5,800 for every person in UK, about £112 per week. Given to just low income families, you could double or triple that number. That would help to offset many of the economic effects I mentioned earlier.

And with brexit talks in limbo its going to be interesting to see if the government sticks with its plans for a end to the transition period and a no deal brexit in December. Because if you think the shortages in the shops are bad now, wait until a no deal brexit happens and then you’ll know what real shortages look like. Already this is having consequences (as much of the medicines and medical equipment needed to deal with any pandemic come from the EU).

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As for all of this flatten the curve business, it kind of ignores how these viruses progress. They come in waves. What we are currently seeing is just the first wave. The 2nd will strike at some point, likely in the autumn/late summer period. Possibly it will be a milder form of the virus. Or like Spainsh flu it might even be worse. So the idea that you can keep the country under lock down for the 12 weeks Boris Johnson is suggesting is a little implausible.

Certainly yes, because the populist fu&ked up, we’ve been stuck with the problem and have had to impose the strict measures to contain it. But my point is that the idea that we can all hide indoors until the develop a vaccine is a little implausible (that is going to take the best part of a year). Some sort of middle ground will be needed, whereby some semblance of normality is restored, once the worst of it is over, but with enough precautionary measures to limit any 2nd (or third) wave that emerges. That could allow bars and restaurants to re-open, but you’d still discourage large public gatherings and advise companies to allow employees to work from home where possible.

And finally, there is the elephant in the room, which nobody’s talking about. Its now considered very likely that the virus, much like several other pandemics, emerged in one of China’s “wet markets. Aside from the horrible animals welfare issues surrounding these markets, they are a potent breeding ground for all sorts of viruses, as you’ve many different animals being stored and slaughtered in close proximity to one another.

Yet the Chinese government has done nothing to ban these markets. When asked they claim, oh we’d just drive them under ground if we banned them. Are you kidding me? China is one of the most scrutinised and watched populations in the world. You’re seriously tell me that you can find someone comparing the leader to Winnie the Pooh, yet you can’t find someone walking around with the cages of several wild animals. But it just shows you that even the Chinese government is a slave to populism at times.

But this crisis also shows, that when push comes to shove, even the most right wing or libertarian governments will take action. Which is what worries me about climate change. Eventually action will have to be taken to contain it. Not taking action today, will mean more disruption, deaths and economic cost further down the line, until it becomes a massive threat to the survival of entire nations (and the wealth of its ruling elites).

But at this stage the more free market friendly options will not be available, so governments will have no choice but to go for the more extreme and authoritarian measures (in other words, today you can do your bit by buying an electric car and sourcing your energy from renewables, but if we delay too long, then governments will simply ban private car ownership and strictly ration energy supplies). In fact its worth noting that the shutdowns due to the Coronavirus have already decreased emissions significantly. This is the trap that right wingers are falling into and they need to realise it sooner rather than later.

More News

6095 days since mission accomplished and the US starts another war

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Its being argued, ironically by some on the alt-left (the so-called anti-anti Trump left), that Trump isn’t so bad, Hilary would have been worse, after all he’s too incompetent to start any wars. Well that theory just got blown out of the water last week, with the assassination of a high ranking member of the Iranian government by Trump in Iraq. Too say this is going to lead to blow back is to put it mildly. Already the Iraqi parliament has voted to request all foreign troops leave the country.

Trump may be choosing to follow the standard play book of many US presidents, if in trouble at home, bomb somebody. However, the problem for Trump is that attacking almost any of the likely Trump targets comes with severe blowback and repercussions. And Iran has to be the worst of them all to target.

Firstly, the US and Iran were essentially allies in the war against ISIS (as well as America’s former allies the Kurds). The worse thing Iran could do is down tools and let it be known to ISIS (and the Kurdish militia in Turkey) that they have a free hand and suddenly all the work of the last few year is undone, bombs start going off and US servicemen start disappearing (yet he can’t attack the Iranians in retaliation as all the evidence will point to them not being involved). And that’s before Iran, or their allies (HAMAS, Hezbollah, etc.) start attacking US, western and Israeli interests around the world.

And the most likely target would be oil tankers passing through the straits of Hormuz. Indeed the mere threat of this is causing all sorts of problems for the global economy, both pushing up oil prices, while pulling down the value of oil companies, notably Saudi Aramco, which may not go down well with one of Trump’s key allies in the region.

Oh, but if they attack the US I’ll bomb them says Trump. Ya, that’s kind of the Iranian plan! The Iranians have acquired a number of advanced weapon systems recently from Russia, most notably the S-300 air defence system (known to NATO as the SA-12). The US has the military capability to overwhelm these defences, but now without taking losses. In other words, some US aircraft will be shot down, US pilots will end up in Iranian custody, provoking a damaging hostage crisis in an election year (assuming they don’t get lynched by an angry mob before the Iranians can arrest them, footage of which will of course appear on social media).

Worse still, given that much of this new hardware was acquired from the Russians relatively recently, its reasonable to assume that Russian military personnel and/or contractors will be on site. Its also well known that China and Iran are co-operating on a number of industrial projects, as well as some military cooperation. Meaning there will be some Chinese citizens (including potentially some military personnel) in Iran. If any of them get killed in a US bombing campaign (which will of course be an illegal act under international law), then events could escalate quite quickly. There’s a good chance of retaliation from them in some way.

This could be either economic measures (such as a mass sell off of US bonds), or military (as in an attack against a US ally, Estonia, Kuwait or Taiwan and basically giving the US an embarrassing bloody nose)…or they could just release a certain pee tape. Either way, it just shows how events could very quickly spiral out of control.

And where was the UK in all of this? Well nowhere, Trump didn’t even give the UK a heads up. The UK was left to meekly cheer from the sidelines, even thought its quite possible they might be the target of Iranian (or Russian) retaliation. In fact, UK warships are having to be rushed into action to protect UK oil tankers. As one newspaper puts it, the UK post-brexit has gone from being America’s poodle to being its lapdog. That’s taking control alright!

Paradise lost

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Meanwhile bush fires rage out of control in Australia, in no small part due to climate change. And one of the towns destroyed happened to be called Eden. Paradise has literally been lost to climate change. And least we forget, the current Australian government does contain more than a few climate sceptics, most notably the Australian PM himself, who once even once took a lump of coal into parliament to complain about “coal-phobia”.

Does this mean people have woken up to climate change? Ya and in other news a leopard has changed its spots. No, the Australian PM has refused to answer any such questions and the media instead has focused on dealing with the immediate problems caused by the fire, or the short term factors that led to them starting. I mean who could know that plants will burn when they get extremely dry. And who could’ve anticipated that Australians might have barbecues around Christmas time.

Like the soviet union after Chernobyl exploded, the climate change deniers will stick to the party line. Climate change can’t cause bush fires, you didn’t see burning kangaroos, take him away he’s delusional, its only 3.6 Roentgens (which is technobabble I know, but its become something of a meme now), not great, but not terrible.

For the same reasons, conservatives are utterly incapable of accepting the reality of climate change. Because much as Chernobyl exposed how rotten and dysfunctional the soviet system was, climate change would mean deniers having to accept the need for urgent action. Which given the atmosphere is a global commons, would mean international co-operation and government intervention….which means putting the coal companies who bankroll their campaigns out of business.

Of course, much as I warned in a post a few years ago, the downside to all of this is that the politicians themselves end up taking the blame. And quite rightly the Aussie PM has found himself being heckled as a result of these bushfires. And this should come as a warning to all right wing politicians. Ignore climate change and you’ll end up in a scenario where you will be completely out of your depth. The public will throw their support behind your most extreme opponents on either the left (Extinction rebellion types) or the extremists on the right (who will blame climate change on migrants, foreigners and poor people).

The assassination of Jess Philips by the coward Jeremy Corbyn

Speaking of ideologue’s who can’t handle the truth, much as I predicted, any opponents to the golden child, who’ll succeed Corbyn and lead labour to the socialist workers paradise, will be vilified and condemned, regardless of their suitability for high office, nor how left wing they are. Rebecca Long Bailey is the chosen one, endorsed by the supreme soviet Corbyn’s advisers (you know, the ones who’ve led labour to historic defeat after defeat).

And sure enough, Jess Philips announces she’s throwing her hat in the ring, mentions the possibility of maybe labour maybe campaigning to rejoin the EU at some point, post-brexit (the one thing Corbyn absolutely doesn’t want), and the labour/momentum blogs come alive with negative messages against her.

Too be clear, I’m kind of neutral on who should be the next labour leader. My guess is that either Scotland will be a separate country, or I’ll likely be back in Ireland, or somewhere else in the EU (taking advantage of the privileges being an EU citizen grants me!) by the time who is the leader of the labour party becomes a relevant issue. But yes, Jess Philips strikes me as one of a number of potential candidates who could reverse labour’s fortunes. And not because she’s anti-Corbyn (she’s actually fairly left wing in truth), but because she’s from a working class background, she is able to connect with working class people, she’s shown herself quite capable of taking on the Tories and (unlike Corbyn) she had a proper job before becoming a politician. But yes, there are others in labour who fit this bill as well (just nobody who Corbyn is backing!).

However, as the opposition to her should show, this is not what the Corbyn faction want. A sensible politician who will oppose the Tories and might actually win an election, hold a 2nd referendum and re-join the EU? Don’t be crazy! We want someone who is ideologically pure…and a secret brexiter (leading a party whose 90% remain supporting), who’ll make a tit of themselves for the next 5 years, provide no effective opposition to the Tories, lose the next election and become another martyr for nihilism, but who’ll still be celebrated by the Corbynites for “winng the argument” (ya like that will be a great comfort to all those screwed over by the Tories).

Changing trains

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I happened to be out on a post-Christmas walk, when I saw a train go past, clearly an ex-Virgin Pendolino, but without the Virgin logo on it. For those who don’t know, Virgin lost the contract to operate, after they were forced out by the Tories for political reasons.

Now too be clear, I’ve never been a fan of Virgin trains and had my fair share of bad experiences on their trains. However, I fail to see how changing the logo on the side of a train changes anything. This is the problem with the Tory privatisation policy, its a game of pass the parcel from whichever billionaire bribes them the most, or commits the latest act of politician patronage.

And the rail users be damned. In the same week another fare rise is announced, we hear that Deutsche Bahn is slashing fares by 10% to help fight climate change. Of course, the counter argument is that the reason why the Germans can do this is because they have spent many decades investing in their rail service to provide a better more efficient service. This is something the British simply haven’t done.

And yes privatisation certainly hasn’t helped, but its not like Corbyn’s plan to spend several billion buying out the railway companies, just so he could peel off those same Virgin train stickers and put a British Rail sticker in their place isn’t going to magically change everything. Only investing large amounts of money to offset decades of under investment will change things for the better.

Chaos reigns at Disney

Disney likes to claim their theme park is the “happiest place in the world”. Well it seems like the production of Rise of Skywalker certainly wasn’t a very happy experience for many on set (some of the actors are saying they don’t plan to come back for any future movies). And we’ve had more leaks coming out, as attempts are made to pass the buck for what went wrong with the new trilogy. In fact, somebody has run the numbers and concluded that overall Disney may have lost over $2 billion on the Lucasfilm purchase, once you add up all the costs and subtract from revenue.

The latest leak, which seems to come from someone close to director J.J Abrams, claims that the previous plot leaks came from Disney management, not a disgruntled staffer, as part of some effort to paint Abrams in a bad light (while the leaks are undoubtedly true, as they match the released cut of the film, I find it dubious that Disney would undermine their own box office just to make Abrams feel bad). It also claims that a 3 hr long directors cut exists, which was allegedly co-written with George Lucas himself (again, I’d take that one with a pinch of salt), which was dropped by Disney at the the last minute (just weeks before the new movie hit theatres).

To me the key point here to take away is, there was no plan for how the new trilogy should unfold, no management nor oversight, everybody was just winging it as they went along. By contrast other franchises (such as Marvel) will plan several movies ahead, years in advance, before they even start filming. Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy was too busy being a Hollywood icon to bother even goggling her own job description, Disney CEO Bob Iger was to busy writing his own book (and apparently he wants to run for president!) to monitor what Kennedy was up too. Meanwhile J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson were in boat pulling oars in opposite directions, leaving them spinning in circles, while George Lucas looked on in horror.

I mentioned before, the the recent Cats movie might be a good case study of the dangers of groupthink. But the new star wars trilogy might well be textbook example of what happens when you design something by committee. Having people with overlapping responsibilities but nobody in overall control (and no forum for them to sort things out) is never a good idea. Rather than several people doing the same job, instead nobody does the job. In short, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Arise lord Poverty

The Tories assumed they won’t have it all their own way, prior to the last election. After all, it was reasonable to assume they’d catch some blowback from everything. Hence several veteran MP’s in vulnerable seats didn’t stand. Well, now Boris Johnson’s simply made them lords, giving them the ultimate in golden parachutes. Some have even been invited to join the cabinet.

Chief among them is Ian Duncan Smith, whose system of universal poverty credit has thrown many in the UK into dire poverty of the sort you’d normally associate with developing world countries. More than 247,000 people signing a petition objecting to the award for a man “responsible for some of the cruellest, most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen”.

And Johnson ally Nicky Morgan, has been made a life peer and asked to join the cabinet. Yes, they’ll be deciding who get medicines and food after brexit and not a vote cast in their name. But apparently we had to leave the EU because it was so undemocratic.

My solution, how about we the public get to vote on their new title, which they will be required to use at all times. So IDS could be come Lord Scrooge. Nick Morgan can become Lady Arse-licker, etc. Can you imagine the Queen’s next garden party “I announce the arrival of Lord and Lady Taxdoger, Sir steals-a-lot-from-disabled, Dame Priti Racist and Sir Jeremy Cunt

The Boris bridge

We’ve been warned that Boris Johnson can be prone to indulge in megalomaniac obsessions with big ticket vanity projects, which he tends to railroad through without proper oversight. There’s the infamous garden bridge, which fortunately never got built (but still cost the taxpayer £37 million). Or the £60 million cable car system that unfortunately did get built (and is hardly ever used). Or “Boris Island”, the planned new airport for London (which would be the wrong side of London, as everyone else in the country would have to travel through London to get too it, in an estuary with a large bird population and thus high risk of bird strikes and the small matter of a World War II munitions ship with a few thousand tons of unexploded bombs on board).

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However, as PM he now seems to be planning on the ultimate folly, a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland…presumably so that, once both are out of the UK and back in the EU, they can trade more easily with one another. I recall joking how the DUP would be looking for an extension to the giants causeway off Theresa May. Well it would seem they are actually going to get one off Boris. Reality is out-running satire in brexit Britain.

Naturally, this ridiculous idea has been widely criticised by many experts. It would cost at least $15 billion and face numerous technical challenges (as in there’s a massive hole  in the middle of the Irish sea…which the British have been chucking munitions, chemical weapons and nuclear waste into for decades!), quite apart from a big question mark about its economic feasibility.

For those not from this part of the world, there are a host of good, high speed ferry links between Ireland and the UK. And the most popular is the Wales to Dublin route, which is served by multiple ships (including both one of the world’s largest ferry’s and one of its fastest). If you are travelling from England to Ireland (north or south) its simply a lot easier, quicker and cheaper (plus it burns less fuel) to take this route across, rather than drive all the way up to Scotland, and then down the B roads to Stranraer and take the ferry across from there.

And this apparently is one of a number of ways that Westminster aims to get powersharing back up and running (still deadlocked over the Irish language). Basically it looks like they plan to simply start bribing politicians up North with promises of loads of dosh.

Now the problem with this is that Northern Ireland’s parliament is one of the most corrupt, dysfunctional and incompetent bodies in the whole of Europe. This is largely because Stormont is split on ideological lines. Its completely tribal. The primary goal of politicians on both sides is to grab as much money for their community as possible (which will of course be squandered) and rub the other sides face in any mess and try to score political points. And the end consequence is NI is an economic black hole, with a GDP much lower than either Ireland’s or the rest of the UK’s. The UK’s GDP per capita would actually go up if they could get shot of NI, while Ireland’s would go down significantly.

However, what perhaps what this does demonstrate is that Northern Ireland might well be the template for future Westminster governments, which too is becoming little more than a similar tribal body, focused on scoring ideological points, rather than actually fixing the mess the country is in.

Musk v’s astronomy

I’ve mentioned Musk’s Starlink system before. But one aspect of its operation, which does not seem to have been considered, is its impact on light pollution. It threatens to make astronomy, both the professional kind and the amateur, nearly impossible to do, given the large number of satellites with their large solar panels. Even the small numbers launched so far (a few hundred out of the 12,000 he wants to launch) are enough to cause problems.

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Musk has suggested, he’ll make the satellites less reflective, perhaps even paint them black or something. However astronomers have pointed out that that’s not how astronomy works. That density of objects in a low orbit is going to cause all sorts of problems, there’s really no way around that without changing one or other of those parameters (i.e. less satellites or move them to a higher orbit, neither of which Musk can do).

You may enquire well where is the US government on all of this. Asleep at the wheel of course! The FTC rushed through the application without any sort of proper checks, or even talking to astronomers first. Such is life under Trump. And while this libertarian approach might seem to benefit Musk, he might feel differently if people start boycotting his services (or stop buying his cars) until he de-orbits these satellites. Sometimes companies do want big government on their back.

Trump’s wall

Of course Trump’s number one priority was going to be his wall. How’s that going? Well to date under a 100 miles has been built out of the 2,000 needed! And most of that is fencing, covering areas which already had a fence. In fact the main component he’s added is some addition vehicle barriers (so they’ll mildly inconvenience someone looking to cross for a few minutes maybe). And all of this after the massive tizzy he pulled early last year shutting down the government for weeks just so he could get his precious wall. And recall that Mexico isn’t paying for it, he’s funding it by robbing money out of the pension fund for US veterans (how very Patriotic!)

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What Trump promised….

But at least once its there (and at this rate it will take over a decade to complete) its done, right? Well ya if we ignore how much it would cost to maintain and staff it…..so they can watch helplessly as migrants come in, with the wall making little real difference. Because far from being impenetrable, people have already managed to climb over it, or cut truck sized holes in it, and in some cases its actually being cut up and stolen by locals!

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….reality

Does this mean it will be abandoned? You’re joking right! Republicans don’t care if it works or not, nor how much money gets wasted. Its all about ID politics. Its a big totem symbol as to how racist America has become under Trump. Frankly they’d be just as happy if he blew tens of billions planting a line of burning crosses along the southern border. Facts do not matter to republicans anymore.

New year news roundup

The anarchy of the populists

I had a debate with someone over drinks during Christmas and they argued we shouldn’t worry about populists like Trump, Bolsonaro or Boris because they are quote “too retarded to be dangerous”. They can’t do anything spectacularly bad because they are just too dumb to figure out how to do that. And they will be easily outmanoeuvred by their opponents of the mandarins within their respective governments. The Trump impeachment fiasco being a case in point.

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I’d counter by pointing out that yes, this lot are as thick as a railway sleeper, but there’s plenty of people around them who are not and actively hope to exploit the chaos that follows. And as I mentioned in a prior post (with regard to the fall of the Roman republic), even stupid people can get the better of smarter people sometimes.

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And there are many pressing problems in the world that aren’t being adequately addressed. For example take climate change and the recent failure of UN climate talks. And this despite numerous red flags being raised by scientists, for example the fact that Greenland’s ice sheets are now melting seven times faster than in the 1990’s.

Okay, one has to acknowledge that recent advances means renewable energy and electric cars are now a thing. And yes many are investing in them for not just environmental reasons but good financial reasons too. So change is going to happen anyway. However, there’s still a need for nudges from government, as the pace of change just isn’t anywhere near fast enough. Not least because even small changes to an individual government’s policy can have dramatic changes to this fledgling industry (e.g. changes to UK government policy last year led to a 56% drop in investment).

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Even in Trump’s America, renewables are cheaper than coal and expected to fall below the price of NG eventually

This is why it was crucial that the latest UN talks addressed the so called article 6 rules for future carbon markets. So kicking the can down the road (as happened in Madrid, same as last time) is a major blow. In essence without a plan as to how you are going to cut emissions, then any sort of targets are kind of meaningless. I mean why don’t they just adopt Extinction Rebellion’s ludicrous target’s while they are at it, at least then they’d stop gluing themselves to trains and electric vehicles.

In short, the problem with populists is they’ve put the world into a holding pattern, with many global issues being left on the back burner. A situation which dictators as well as the greedy and corrupt are all too keen to exploit.

Labour in denial

Meanwhile we have another form of denialism at play within labour. They’ve formed a committee to try and figure out how it was they lost the recent election. In other news the US national parks service has launched a research project to determine if bears sh*t in the woods and the RSPB have commissioned a panel of experts to assess the water tightness of a duck’s colon.

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Back in the real world polls have been conducted of voters and the number one reason given for voting against labour was they didn’t like nor trust Corbyn and secondly they didn’t like his manifesto…you know the one based on Foot’s 1983 manifesto, aka the longest suicide note in history. Naturally this flies in the face of Corbyn supporters claims that their leader was popular, everyone liked the manifesto and (don’t laugh) they won the argument (presumably the argument was who was least qualified to be PM, him or Boris Johnson). No, the real reason they lost apparently was brexit.

Well firstly, how is that a surprise? this was a brexit election after all! Did it not occur to Corbyn that this might come up! And secondly those same polls say it wasn’t so much that Corbyn took a strongly remain or leave position that was the problem (he lost about 2-3% from both sides because they thought he supported leave/remain). It was the fence sitting that put off a large chunk of voters (about 15%). If he couldn’t make up his mind about something this important, how could they take seriously anything else in his manifesto. Ultimately the buck stops with Corbyn and his team of toxic advisers.

So to be realistic, such an investigation is a waste of time. After all labour may have lost but Corbyn and his cabal achieved all of their objectives. A big Tory win means brexit goes ahead (which he wants). By diverting resources away from northern seats towards seats in the south he prevented the lib dems picking up any seats, notably any of the ex-labour defectors (splitters!).

And besides the northern labour voters where never going to support Corbyn and his left wing manifesto, so why bother defending those seats. They want to throw their lot in with the Tories, fu*k’em. They’ll soon learn the hard way when their benefits and health care disappears. He and any future labour leader can thus focus all resources on southern or city based seats instead, where such policies do have greater support.

And of course Corbyn’s key goal is to ensure that the Chosen one, Rebecca Long-Bailey (aka Corbyn without a beard or Foot 3.0) wins the leadership electionsurrounded by the same toxic advisers who lost the last election and led labour to ruin. And what do the polls say? Well only 2% of the UK public think she’d make a good labour leader, with moderate Keir Starmer topping the polls.

Now one has acknowledge the effect of name recognition in such polls. Hence other candidates who’d make good leaders such as Jess Philips or Angela Rayner don’t currently fare too well. But this isn’t an excuse for the golden child given that she’s been following Corbyn around like a faithful hound for the last year or so as Corbyn groomed her for leadership. And she was prioritised in interviews during the election over other more experienced party members (even on issues related to their shadow ministry) to increase her media exposure. And despite all that she’s still only about to get 2% of the public to back her.

Keep in mind that to win the next election, labour need to achieve a swing equal to that of Tony Blair in the 1997 election. Which clearly isn’t going to happen if labour just repeat the same mistakes from this election, with basically the same people and the same policies. Which will only encourage the Tories to do their worse, as they’ll know there is no chance of labour defeating them, no matter how badly they screw up.

More billionaire’s join the Brexitous

And while Corbyn and his team are playing their games of thrones, the rest of us are left to deal with the consequences. NHS services are now on the verge of collapse (which is of course exactly what the Tories want, after all the NHS has to fail and become massively unpopular before they can privatise it). And it seems clear the Tory plan is to force through a hard brexit/no deal at the end of 2020. And the country is still unprepared for Brexit (go to the UK government’s own website and you’ll come away with more questions than answers, fu*ked if we know! seems to be the official government position).

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And predictably we have more stories of brexit supporting hedge fund managers scrambling to get EU citzenship and register their assets in the EU before the inevitable crash happens (while betting against the UK of course). Similarly many Tory party donors, peers and ex-MP’s are all signing up for EU citizenship. And the Tories are proposing a slush fund to make sure that their allies and supporters who can’t move their assets get bailed out. Its disaster capitalism and the hardest of hard bexit’s for the rest of us. With socialism, lavish government spending and all the perks of EU citizenship for the very people behind brexit in the first place.

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Of course the thing is that, Tories being Tories, they won’t see the hypocrisy here. While they won’t admit it, as they see it there’s one rule for them and the aristocracy (just look at prince Andrew) and another for the plebs. We have to know our place, pay taxes, obey the laws and deal with the consequences of brexit. But the elites don’t. I mean how else are they supposed to get to their private yacht in Monaco if they aren’t an EU citizen? You seriously think we’re going to spend an extra £350 million a week on the NHS! LoL!

Booze and dash…

Speaking of politicians who don’t face up the consequences of their actions, its been reported that Irish politicians and government officials have racked up 20,000 euros of unpaid bar bills in the last year and a half. Now when you consider how small the Irish government is (only about 160 or so TD’s), you’ll realise that’s some pretty heavy going (this is just the bills left unpaid, so they’ve probably been going through a lot more sauce)…or “lightweights” as the rest of the country would call them.

…or bribe and dash

And in another story about runaway’s, it turns out that the ex-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has done a runner and ended up in Lebanon, where he and his family have substantial investments. He was previously living in Japan under house arrest facing bribery and corruption charges.

Which leads one to wonder who had a hand in helping him skip town. His passport was being held by the authorities, so theoretically he’d have needed a false one, or the help of some government to get out of Japan and all the way to Lebanon without being detected. Inevitably suspicion must fall on the French, as they may have not wanted too much said about the inner workings of French politics in a court room.

And there may also be a brexit angle to all of this. While none of these charges specifically mentioned the UK (i.e. that he may have taken a backhander off the Tories to delay the announcement of Nissan moving production out of England after brexit), its quite possible this might have come up eventually in court. So who knows, maybe he got help from the Tories. Either way it shows there’s one set of rules for the rich and another for the rest of us.

Star wars: the fall of Disney

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So the Rise of Skywalker (aka the Star Wars Holiday Special as some are calling it) is out and it turns out that all the rumours that leaked out on the internet were true, the movie is kind of sh*t (with a Rotten tomatoes score of 54% and an IMDB rating of 7/10, the lowest ever for a star wars movie). It basically undoes every bit of established Star Wars canon going right back to the first three movies. I think the memes say it all.

Of course the very fact there were such leaks in the first place, notably of the disastrous test screenings (where people actually walked out before seeing the ending) was a serious warning sign. Many of those who work for Lucasfilm are fans themselves. And just like the disgruntled GoT fans, when they saw the abomination that was being created, they decided to start leaking details online.

But one little fact alone can probably explain a lot about what went wrong for Disney Star Wars. A notable absentee at the Rise of Skywalker premiere was one George Lucas, who hadn’t been invited. Apparently this was by mutual agreement (rather than a snub), as George didn’t feel comfortable saying nice things about a final movie cut he feels “betrayed by (rumours are there were 8 different endings filmed, including a George Lucas cut, which Disney passed on).

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and the Star Wars rights they also inherited a massive pile of source material, notably the novel and comic book series such as the Heir’s to the Empire series, or Yuuzhan Vong invasion saga. These followed the adventures of many of the main Star Wars characters after Return of the Jedi, as well as introducing a host of new characters, such as Admiral Thrawn or Mara Jade, as well as the offspring of the Solo’s and Skywalkers (who become the next generation of Jedi). Apparently Lucas himself had drawn on this source material (as well as material from the six existing movies, the clone wars and video game stories) to come up with an outline for how the next three movies should progress. And when Disney bought him out, these were included as part of the purchase.

However, Disney decided to pass on these plot outlines and much of this source material. Likely the reason why was that they’d have been movies for an older audience, while they wanted to make kid movies with a PG or U rating (ironically, quite a number of the Disney star wars movies have ended up been rated PG-13 in regions outside the US anyway!).

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Keep in mind Disney weren’t simply interested in bums on seats and selling movie tickets. What they paid Lucas $4 Billion for was the merchandising rights, the happy meal tie-ins, the toy lines, the product endorsements, the new rides in their theme parks. And as kids would be the main target, it stood to reason they needed kid friendly movies. Hence the order went out to essentially copy the original three movies (i.e. IV to VI in the series) as closely as possible. After all, very few of the target audience had probably even seen the first three movies.

And this of course is where the problems started, as the more mature fans (aka the Fandom Menace) quickly noticed this plagiarism and began pointing to the obvious contradictions in the the new plots. The consequences of this fan backlash wasn’t fully understood by Disney. They failed to appreciate that a large chunk of their revenue was dependant on these fans. They were the sorts who not only went to see the film once, but several times, they bought the toys (for themselves or their kids), they bought the DvD collections, etc. So they were in effect shooting themselves in the foot by killing off the golden goose.

Much of the fan criticism has focused on the movie producers, notably J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. Certainly, they do deserve some criticism, most notably Johnson (director of the last Jedi), who seemed to take a perverse delight in winding up star wars fans. And while arguably Abrams had some vague idea of how he planned to end the three movies (maybe not a very good one, but at least he had a plan), these efforts were sabotaged by Johnson for purely selfish reasons. At the time he was in talks with Lucasfilm about directing an entire new trilogy of his own. So he reasoned that the best way of becoming the next George Lucas was to put his own mark on the franchise by basically crapping on everything.

That said, it was Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy and Disney chairman Bob Iger who hired Johnson and Abrams. They gave them their instructions as to the direction the films should take. They signed off on the scripts and approved the final cut. So this is a mess of their making. The buck stops with them above all else. And with Disney’s share price now falling, they both might want to start updating their CV’s.

Because while yes the movies have been profitable, they haven’t been nearly profitable enough to justify the initial $4 billion investment (plus in addition to production costs, there’s marketing, distribution and financing costs to consider, which are often equal to or greater than the initial production costs). Consider that outside of the US, box offices have been dismal. And the toy’s have not been selling well either. And while Disney plus took a healthy uptake thanks to the Mandalorian series, as its now over, people are cancelling their subscriptions in droves.

All in all, it will not be lost on Disney that for every dollar they’ve ploughed into star wars they could have made far more money investing in other projects instead. Going against George Lucas advice and pissing off fans was a very bad idea.

A stinking cat litter tray of groupthink

One consolation for Disney executives has to be that okay, at least we didn’t spend the money on some coughed up furball like Cats the movie. The most entertaining thing about this movie has been reading the truly awful reviews its getting, both from critics and movie fans. Some of the memes have been pretty good too:

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For the sake of comparison, Cats has a rotten tomatoes rating of 20% and is now rated at 2.5 in the IMDB movie ratings, putting in the bottom 40 movies ever made, alongside Battlefield Earth, Manos the Hand of Fate and Santa Claus conquerors the Martians (all candidates for worse movie ever made and all made on a smaller budget).

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Oh and this is what a cat actually looks like

You do have to wonder what was going through the movie producers heads as they proceeded with this steaming pile of catnip. And the minds of many A list actors who appear in the film as well (I’m presuming their agents will be joining the exec’s behind star wars in the New year job hunt!). I mean being associated with this fiasco and having images of them dressed up like a cat is exactly what their career needs! Its not like there’s anyone mean on the internet who’ll keep bringing this up every time they post to social media or anything! It short its an excellent example of the dangers of group think.

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Never underestimate the stupidity of large groups of people working together….

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

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In my last post I discussed how the left’s tactics in this election are counter productive, those of labour in particular. Labour has become an echo chamber of self delusion. I even had some labour supporter try to argue against me voting SNP, even thought I’m in a marginal seat and its a tight race between the Tories and SNP (the labour candidate is nowhere, so I’d be helping the Tories get elected if I vote for anybody but the SNP). But labour seem more committed to winning some sort of ideological battle with the rest of the left than actually beating the Tories (keep in mind the other parties offered Corbyn a pre-election pact but he refused). And I’ve spotted one or two things over the last week that kind of prove my point.

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For example we have an extinction rebellion protester (recall XR are closely linked to momentum, Corbyn’s crack suicide squad) gluing himself to the lib dem battle bus (which incidentally is electric powered). Think about that for a minute, he could have glued himself to the Tory bus, the brexit party bus, Downing street gates, a coal fired power station, whatever. But no he picks on the lid dems and an eco-friendly bus. Because if you read labour blogs or twitter feed they you’ll likely believe that brexit, climate change denial and selling the NHS to US corporations are all the lib dems idea. Such is the delusion rampant within labour. And of course this is just leading to push back from other left wing parties. Meaning that even if labour wins the election its going to be nearly impossible for labour to get any of their policies implemented.

Aware that he’s alienated the remain vote, Corbyn proposes to instead appeal to leave voters. Well this video, of a focus group discussion among a group of leave voters, shows how that is a non-starter. All of them say they are going to back Boris because he’s promised to “get brexit done”, or they like his style, £350 million more to the NHS, he promised me a Unicorn, etc. Yes, they are deluded or being conned, but either way, clearly Corbyn is wasting his time canvassing them. Which should hardly come as a surprise to anybody…except for Corbyn and his cabal of toxic advisers of course!

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Then we have this video about how British Asians, who have traditionally voted labour, but many are now intending to vote Tory in this election. Now again, you do have to scratch your head on this one, they are voting for a party that is institutionally racist and a PM who has a record of racist slurs. And we also have to consider some of the skullduggery going on. (the Tories are up to their old tricks again). But it highlights how people just aren’t turned on by Corbyn’s manifesto. And this should hardly come as a surprise. This is the fifth election in a row where he’s tried to sell these same ideas and every time he’s lost.

Too be clear I’m not saying I disagree with the basic idea that we should pay more in tax (particularly the wealthy) and get better public services. But the devil is in the detail and clearly the majority of people do not agree with the version of this Corbyn is trying to sell. If they were, labour would be well ahead in the polls. Yet rather than changing tactics, at every turn Corbyn’s policy has been to double down.

This election won’t be won by the Tories more lost by labour. Largely because Corbyn and his merry band of nihilistic martyrs spent their time fighting the other left wing parties, rather allying with them to confront the Tories.

As for the consequences of labour’s impending defeat, we have this video showing British people’s reaction upon being told how expensive medical treatment is in the US. And no private health insurance doesn’t cover all expenses. There are out of pocket expenses for medicines and other services which don’t get covered and people have to pay for these themselves, often at the cost of hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars at a time. And that’s for those who have health insurance. For those who don’t, well if you are lucky you might be able to afford a doctor, but you’ll probably be bankrupted in the process. And if you are not able to afford it you just die, simple as that.

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And excessive medical bills and a lack of a decent welfare system is one of the reasons why in parts of the US poverty is endemic, effecting tens of millions of people. There are whole counties or neighbourhoods in US cities where you will see poverty more akin to what you’d find in a developing world country or something you’d see in a war zone. And this documentary from German TV does a good job of portraying this reality and how easy it is too fall into this poverty trap through some personal tragedy, illness unemployment or marital breakdown.

And yes, quite a few of those stuck in this poverty trap are Trump supporters, even thought poverty is getting worse under Trump (and he wants to cut what little welfare spending there is). It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

But American style poverty & health care is effectively is what you’ll be voting for if you vote for the Tories this election. Next week the Turkey’s will literally vote for Christmas.

The Turkey’s prepare to vote for Christmas

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So Corbyn played his trump card, that he had proof that the Tories are planning to privatise the NHS. Now I have to say (and I’m hardly known as a fan of Corbyn) that I’ve heard first and second hand accounts from at least two independent sources (one of whom works for the government and another in finance) who can back up his story. So no this is not coming from the Russians (clearly that’s just Cummings and the right wing media in damage control mode).

Even small details in Corbyn’s claims, such as their being 6 separate meetings between the US and UK trade delegations, is what I was told several months ago. I’ve not made a big deal out of it, simply because I assumed it was common knowledge. Then again, I don’t read any right wing newspapers so maybe I’m being a little naive.

But either way, yes if you vote Tory, you are probably voting to end the NHS, the rolling back of consumer safety, workers rights and environmental protection. That is pretty much a given. And before anyone says I’m alright jack I can afford to go private. Go ask an American sometime how much it costs them to get health insurance. And then there’s the out of pocket medical expenses the HMO’s don’t always cover. You can be spending a thousand dollars on an ambulance, several hundred for medicines, etc. Not only do Americans spend twice the amount on their privatised healthcare system, but the US government spends more subsidising a private system (per capita) than the UK spends on the NHS. So its going to cost the UK money not save it.

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Yet despite it all, the Tories are still way ahead in the polls even thought they’ve had an awful campaign so far, where the PM has to be kept away from people, Mogg told to hide in his country estate and even Trump has been told to please keep his trap shut (least he blurt out something incriminating). But they are still likely too win, largely because the other parties haven’t worked out the Tory strategy and aren’t doing anything to counter it.

The Tories under Boris have completed their transformation into the UK Republican party. And the republican party mantra is, if you ain’t one of the 1% you can fu*k off. They can get away with this because they know that there’s enough people who will support them for a variety of reasons ranging from ideology, bigotry, racism, greed, stupidity and straight out sadism. For republicanism is at its heart sadopopulism. Tory/GOP supporters are quite okay with policies that make them worse off (or actually endanger their lives), so long as some other perceived enemy is also (or more severely) effected. I have it bad but at least them liberals/migrants/poor people have it worse.

And while you’d never get a majority to support that, such is the undemocratic nature of elections in the US and the UK its possible to get a majority control in government with only 30% of the votes. The brexit vote was carried by just 37% of voters (and many leave voters will be dead before brexit happens). Trump got 3 million less votes than Hilary and won with the support of just 25% of the electorate.

In short, the Tories are not a political party anymore but a tribe. Hence why many of the tactics the opposition are employing simply won’t work. Corbyn for example recently said that, given how he can’t get remainers to support him (cos he’s straight up lied to them dozens of times in a row), he was going to appeal to leave voters for the rest of the campaign LOL. Nothing he says will convince them to vote labour. Boris is the brexiters tribal chief, endorsed by the high priests of brexit (Farage, Mogg & Rothermere) and protected by the black magic of the tribe’s witch doctor (Cummings). Logic and facts have no meaning for Tory voters.

And since we are talking about it, no Trump is not going to be impeached. Do you really think republicans are that stupid they don’t know he’s committed a long list of numerous crimes, practically on a daily basis? They know it all too well, they just don’t care. He’s their tribal chief, until he’s deposed they’ll back him to the hilt (of course once they realise his goose is cooked then they’ll betray him, you can’t backstab someone without first getting behind them).

The only way of seeing him in a prison cell is for the democrats to win the 2020 election by whatever means necessary. Which means putting forward a candidate who has the best chance of beating him and uniting the left wing vote behind that candidate, regardless of which wing of the party they represent (no more of this Bernie or bust BS and someone needs to tell Bloomberg to pi*s off). Then they prevent another Trump from ever happening again by change the voting system to Proportional Representation, split up the job of president into head of state and head of government (as is the norm in most countries) and de-politicise the US judicial system (so nobody will ever be able to overturn Roe v’s Wade).

The same is true in the UK. The left and centre need to unite to stop the Tories. In any seat where the Tories have any chance of winning, there should only be one other candidate standing. Between now and election day is it that difficult for the candidates to get together and agree to all withdraw bar one, whom the rest endorse (with the understanding that said candidate will support a 2nd referendum and switching the UK’s voting system to PR). And incidentally, in quite a lot of seats in English cities the lib dems are often the 2nd placed party. In return many labour marginals could be moved into the safe seat category. This would turn the tables on the Tories.

Also it needs to be acknowledged that a big turn off for many voters is Corbyn. Put it this way, any election literature I’ve seen from labour this election (from the local candidate), doesn’t even mention Corbyn once. That’s how toxic he’s considered by even those within his own party. Rumours have it he was planning to quit in the spring anyway, so why not just make it official. He comes out and says that he’ll stay on in a caretaker capacity until brexit is sorted (one way or the other), then resign and let a new labour leader take over as PM. Furthermore, the initial focus of a labour government will be on resolving brexit and ending austerity. The more hard left policies such as re-nationalisation would be issues for the next PM to implement (or possibly a future government after another election).

This would essentially be a statement of fact. A labour government is not going to have time (or the money) for anything other than brexit and basically cleaning up the Tories mess, at least for the first year or two. Backbenchers and coalition partners will insist on these issues being prioritised. Admitting this reality would probably be enough of a compromise to persuade wavering remain voters (who will otherwise vote Tory to stop Corbyn) to back the coalition.

And similarly the lib dems need to drop their policy of revoking article 50 if they win. While yes it does make sense if you understand what’s going on (or how a 2nd referendum would actually pan out), but to anyone who isn’t a political expert it sounds arrogant and elitist. And its not like they are going to win a majority anyway. The SNP too should drop all talk of independence until after brexit. They haven’t much chance of winning a referendum until the damage of brexit/Boris has been demonstrated, so why talk up an issue now that will just cost you votes.

Of course, its highly unlikely any of this will happen. After all we are only having an election because the opposition were too pig headed to come together, oust Boris and his cabinet of ghouls and hold a 2nd referendum (then an election). If you’ve been on any labour/momentum social media recently they spent half their time moaning about the lib dems. You’d swear brexit and austernity was their idea. And the lib dems end up reciprocating.

And in fairness to the lib dems you only have to listen to the latest out of Len McCluskey’s dumb pie hole, in which he suggests that Corbyn should ignore what was said at conference and back leave. This has been the problem, you can’t trust anything Corbyn says because he can’t tie his shoe laces without first consulting with his cabal of toxic advisers.

Hence with a disunited left, its very likely the Tories will still win anyway. Doesn’t matter how badly they screw up, what pesky facts the opposition come up with, nor how out of touch or down right nasty the Tories sound. They will win because they don’t need a majority of voters to back them, just their tribe (who don’t care about the facts), a biased media (even the BBC have become so pro-Boris as to inspire meme’s) and an unfair voting system.

The Tory tribe don’t care how evil or corrupt their chief is, so long as he “shares the cake” and they get a crumb or two, they’ll still support him. Granted they might feel a little differently when they lose access to healthcare (as many older Tory voters are ultimately voting to die in a pool of their own piss on a dirty hospital floor), but it will be too late then. The Turkey’s are literally voting for Christmas.

Another election nobody wants

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Just before the EU referendum result in 2016 it looked likely we’d having an election in Ireland, as there was only a minority government who couldn’t really survive a no confidence vote. That didn’t happen and still hasn’t because it was considered unwise to have an election with brexit going on in the UK (hence the opposition agreed not to table any no confidence motions). Well the UK’s about to have its second brexit election (potentially leading to its 4th brexit PM) at what has to been the most inconvenient time in UK history. And, as I will explain later in this article, a third brexit election is a distinct possibility (and possibly a referendum too).

The cult of the one true brexit v’s the cult of the one true Corbyn v’s the cult of the one true Farage

And as campaigning kicks off we have the absurdity of three parties who all claim to represent “the people” against an out of touch elite (despite the fact that all three party leaders were privately educated themselves!). Certainly the fact that the Tories are ahead in the polls does suggest they are likely to win. However, they’ve been campaigning for the last three months while the rest of the parties haven’t. Now the PM’s brexit deal is coming under scrutiny and, as its an awful deal, both the brextremists and the remainers are finding issues with it (hence why Trump warned it would make a US trade deal difficult). And there’s that report into Russian hacking which the PM is refusing to release (I wonder why!). This could cause the Tories to lose votes to both sides.

And the Tory promises of loads of dosh for everything is starting to be walked back. We’ve gone from 40 new hospitals to a handful that will get refurbished (i.e. a lick of paint)…..maybe. More importantly there is the issue of how does the government propose to pay for all of this. The global economy is slowing, the bond market is becoming increasingly volatile and brexit will inevitably lead to a further slow down in the economy and yet further falls in tax receipts.

Bottom line, either the Tories have to be prepared for another round of austerity, one that would make Osborne look like Santa Claus, or they have to prepared to raise taxes. I think you can guess which of the two they’ll chose to do. Yes some Turkey’s will literally vote for Christmas in a few weeks time, but it doesn’t take that many voters in a few marginal seats to either vote a different way (or just stay at home because its snowing outside) to cost the Tories the election.

It is possible the labour will go up in the polls now the campaign has started. This is after all what happened last time. But remember the issue last time was that Corbyn (or he who must be obeyed as he told his MP’s this week) was up against Teresa May, aka the yellow submarine, who spent the entire campaign either running away from people or being honest about Tory policies (which is kind of like an Asbestos salesman being honest about the health effects of his merchandise). In short labour were faced with an open goal and they still lost. And Boris is seen as a much more capable campaigner than May (by which I mean he’s better at lying to people).

And labour’s opaque brexit position doesn’t help. Their brexit policy is basically to shrug their shoulders and say fu*ked if we know! Its the May/Boris deal (with a few minor tweaks) or no deal or no brexit. And given their unwillingness to either try and force through the deal (with amendments) against the PM’s wishes, the fact that 19 labour MP’s rebelled and supported a deal without punishment (a deal that will gut workers rights) and the fact labour resisted attempts by the lib dems to attach a 2nd referendum, all make it difficult for voters to judge where they stand not just on brexit but anything for that matter.

Foot in mouth disease

In essence we could be seeing a repeat of Micheal Foot and the disastrous labour campaign of 1983 (which saw a landslide victory for the Tories and Maggie Thatcher, setting labour up to lose 3 elections in a row). The only difference is that support for Corbyn is already lower than it was for Micheal Foot at the peak of his unpopularity. He is literally one of the most unpopular politicians in UK history….and labour supporters say they actually want an election! LOL!

Part of the problem here is that Corbyn is playing the long game. He doesn’t want to be PM and is quite happy to lose the election as his goals are both to make sure brexit happens (and a labour victory would prevent that) and to drag labour further to the left. He might not be electable but there are several on the hard left in the party who could be.

The thing is, this was also Micheal Foot’s plan. He was happy to inflict a decade of Thatcher on the UK in return for moving labour more to the left. But of course the opposite happened. In the wake of his defeat Labour drifted further and further to the right until they ended up with Tony Blair (“the best conservative PM in UK history” as one Tory voter once called him with no hint of irony). So the odds are history might well repeat itself.

The position of the brexit party will be critical. If they decide to campaign in certain labour marginals but not Tory marginals, then that benefits the Tories. If they go after every seat (and given that Boris has a reputation for betraying his allies, Farage would be a fool to trust him) that benefits labour. But keep in mind that if the brexit party gets enough support, they might hoover up seats from both parties. And both labour and the Tories are looking at near total wipe out in Scotland (its likely they’ll both be reduced to one seat each….both of whom are held by disloyal rebels as regards their respective party leaders).

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This could lead to a result where there is truly a hung parliament. That is too say, no combination of labour plus pro-remain parties or the Tories plus pro-brexit parties (assuming any of them are stupid enough to go into coalition with Boris) can form a government. So how is this election going to improve things? 

Election 2020?

Hence why I’d argue that this election might be a prelude to a future election in late 2020 or early 2021.

If say the Tories lose enough seats to allow labour, the lib dems and possibly the SNP to go into coalition, its a government that might not last very long. The price the smaller parties will extract for their support is likely to be Corbyn retiring. Now he’s said he was going to step down in the spring. And if labour loses lots of seats he might be pushed out anyway (not that he’ll mind, remember his goal is to make sure someone younger and more electable on the left becomes leader, the election he truly cares about is the next labour leadership election). Meaning someone else in labour becomes PM (with perhaps Corbyn in a brief caretaker role). So this would probably satisfy the other parties into supporting labour on the condition of a 2nd referendum (which would pretty much take up all of his time in office). That they should be able to push through, as well as perhaps some electoral reforms. But that’s about it.

On almost every other issue their will be disagreement. The lib dems aren’t going to support his policy of nationalisation. And while the SNP might do so, they’d likely insist that those assets should be owned by Scotland (and in fairness this would be within the spirit of devolution), something labour could never agree too. Free uni education, scrapping universal credit and ending NHS austerity is something all parties could support, but how to pay for it and the pace of the changes would be the sticking point.

Labour might be happy to spend like a sailor on shore leave but the other parties won’t be. As I’ve mentioned before the SNP have pushed up taxes in Scotland without causing too much fuss, but their experience shows such tax increases need to be sold to the public in advance and introduced gradually. A populist led labour will be in too much of a rush to do this properly. And thus they will lose many votes in parliament (either due to labour rebels or their coalition partners not supporting these policies). And of course if labour has a new leader/PM they’ll probably be keen to have their own mandate (not least because the other obstacle will be the house of lords which will block many of labour’s more extreme policies, even if they can get the lib dems & SNP to support them in the commons). So an early election is very likely, probably in 2020 or 2021 not long after a 2nd referendum.

And if the Tories win the upcoming election, the same is also likely to be true. The problem for Boris is that not only does he have to win an election, he has to win by a large margin while also seeing off the brexit party (he can afford to let them drain votes away from labour and get the odd seat, but not so much that they become a major force in UK politics).

The only thing uniting the Tories right now is fear of Corbyn and some vague commitment to brexit. Once he’s gone away and brexit happens (in some way or form), open warfare within the party will resume. The ERG will want chances to the withdrawal agreement or will try to sabotage the trade negotiations with the EU . The remainers will try to push for a softer brexit. And these factions will turn every vote on every issue into a tit for tat struggle.

For example, as you may know the Tories want to privatise the NHS and sell it to the US healthcare companies. However, I suspect at least some Tories will see the flaw in this plan. The average age of the Tory voter is 57 (and rising) and the US has a lower life expectancy than the UK. Does introducing a healthcare policy that will literally kill off your own voters really sound like a good idea? Inevitably some Tory MP’s will rebel (or sabotaging trade negotiations with the US, by for example doing something that will insult Trump’s ego). And if Boris repeats his mistake of expelling such MP’s he’ll simply piss away his majority very quickly.

And recall that the UK leaving the EU is merely one small step on the road. In fact its the easiest of the steps. The UK will have to start negotiating its future relationship with the EU and then all other states. This will require making some unpopular decisions which will upset some significant number of voters and prompt further rebellions and defections. And all against a backdrop of falling tax revenue, a sluggish economy and Scotland trying to leave again (but this time possibly succeeding). So without a very large majority its likely Boris will struggle to get anything done. Meaning an early election is also a possibility, doubly so if he’s dependant on brexit party support (which they’ll likely withdraw once they reason they can unseat a large enough body of Tories to essentially subvert the Tory party).

The problem for Boris at this point is that Thatcher (and her successor Major) won those elections against labour because the UK economy was doing well (probably down to the globalisation of trade and north sea oil rather than anything Thatcher actually did) and they were both keen on moving the UK closer to Europe (which is the one thing they did which we can definitely say did actually benefit the economy). Boris isn’t going to be so lucky.

He’ll be facing the opposite scenario and quite possibly a new labour leader who is both on the left of the party and electable. Because while I would expect labour to drift further to the right as time goes on, the first iteration will be someone who is still fairly close to Corbyn (just not surrounded by a cabal of brexit party fifth columnists with an axe to grind). The price the Tories could pay for brexit is ending up with a hard left government that proceeds to take revenge on them and their voters for brexit and austerity.

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So while I would encourage people to vote, I’d point out that you might well find you have to vote again in the not too distant future. But we still can’t have a 2nd referendum, because apparently asking people to vote twice on the same issue is undemocratic, yet asking them to vote multiple times in an election until the politicians get the result they want is ok.

News roundup

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.