Brexit deal or no deal

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Theresa May, aka the yellow submarine, is famous as a politician who doesn’t actually advocate any particular policies. Largely because she knows that any idea she comes up with is generally going to be a bad idea (e.g. the treatment of the Windrush or the dementia tax).

So its probably not a huge surprise to hear that her brexit trade policy has been criticised from both sides of the house, with both leavers and remainers arguing against it. Even Donald Trump turned his nose up at it. And its almost certain to be rejected by the EU. Its effectively been declared dead before the ink’s had a chance to dry.

And the Tories are now taking a pounding in the polls, slipping behind labour again, with a sharp rise in UKIP support (recall that in some marginal seats every vote for UKIP is effectively a vote for Corbyn, given that labour is often the 2nd party in those constituencies).

The downside is that the brexiters will see this as furthering their goal of a “no deal” brexit. However there is a dangerous flaw in their logic (inevitable really, most of them are posh kids used to getting their way by holding their breath until they turned blue and the nanny panics). Arguing no deal is better than a bad deal, is the sort of thing you’d hear a dead beat husband say to justify not show up to his divorce hearings (which just means his ex gets the car, the house, the kids, the dog and half of all the money!).

They seem to think we’re playing a version of the TV gameshow Deal or No Deal, with the EU cast in the role of the unseen banker. However, the truth is a little different. And if we were playing a version of Deal or no deal, then the box is already opened and we know what’s in it (a bill for tens of billions of euro’s and a drop of several points of GDP) and the banker/EU can decide what else to put in the box or how much its worth and make the UK accept the deal regardless of how awful or unfair it is.

In the event of a “no deal or a break down in talks, then the EU will activate its contingency plans and its lawyers will decide what the implications of a no deal brexit are. In effect, they’ll go through what the UK has already agreed to and signed and pick the bits out of that which they like (and ignore the bits they don’t like). In other words the only one who gets to “have their cake” in a no deal brexit is the EU.

And keep in mind what the UK has a agreed to already includes a hefty exit bill, continued freedom of movement and the UK (or at the very least NI) remaining part of the customs union, forever! Which hardly sounds like the sort of outcome the brexiters would want.

Now granted, the UK can try to defy the EU….if we ignore the little fact that over half the UK’s food is imported from the EU and how dependant the UK is on electricity from the continent (southern England depends of several GW’s worth to get through the winter) or gas from Norway (40% of all imports, Norway being part of the EEA and thus trade will be affected by a no deal brexit). I think the definition of the term “fucked” is when experts start to seriously debate how you should go about stockpiling tinned food.

And, as discussed previously, sooner or later a court case will go against the UK government and they’ll be forced into an about face. e.g. a car maker sues them due to delays at the ports and either wins a massive compensation bill or an injunction prohibiting customs officials from interfering with their trucks.

As the Irish labour leader recently pointed out, what the brexiters are proposing to do is renege on international treaties (you know the sort of stuff Hitler and his cronies got in a spot of bother over), which is almost certainly illegal under international law. Contrary to what Trump says (he suggested suing the EU, then again he has a habit of using slapp lawsuits, which he usually loses!) the UK is likely to be the loser in any such legal cases.

Hence why its possible that at some point in the event of a no deal, the International court of justice in the Hague (not to be confused with the ICC, or the ECJ in Luxembourg) will get involved, or more specifically the PCA (the Permanent Court of Arbitration). They are basically the UN equivalent of VAR and they could well be called in to rule on the legality of a no deal brexit.

While I’m not calling myself an expert on this (plus we are into uncharted legal territory anyways), but my guess is that they’ll rule that no, you can’t just break an international treaty because you feel like it (or because Russian trolls managed to con large number of voters into doing something really dumb). The UK can only break treaties its signed by the mutual agreement of both the UK and EU.

Equally however, the PCA might also rule that some aspects of article 50 aren’t legal either. Notably the imposition of this artificial deadline (which is clearly intended to give the EU the upper hand in the closing stages of negotiations). The court could well rule that no, talks have to keep going on for as long as they have to. And if that’s inconvenient for either party, well tough!

So its possible that the outcome of a no deal (e.g. a cabal of hard brexiters ousts Theresa May and ends negotiations), would be several months of chaos, which is then interrupted by court rulings that annul everything, forcing the UK and EU back to the negotiating table. If the UK wants out quickly, then they can just sign whatever exit terms the EU’s lawyers have prepared. Yes it will be an awful deal, but just close your eyes, think of England (because Scotland, NI or Wales won’t be hanging around for much longer in such a scenario!) and sign. Equally if the EU wants the UK out of the room in five minutes flat, then compromise on some of those red lines.

So the consequences of a “no deal” could actually be the UK stays locked in negotiations with the EU more or less indefinitely. Of course it probably won’t get to that. Because it will quickly become obvious to brexiters and remainers alike that the Tory party simply can’t deliver on brexit, at least a brexit that doesn’t involve economic chaos and the breakup of the UK. They will therefore pivot behind Corbyn who will win a snap election.

Corbyn is arguably a more committed brexiter than anyone in the Tory party (in Westminster’s circles he’s known as “May’s chief whip”). Largely because he has bigger fish to fry (overturning every piece of legislation both the Tories and new labour have passed since 1970!) and he’ll want to get the talks over with as soon as possible. And he’s willing to compromise on areas such as freedom of movement or the custom’s union to do it. But of course, this will mean the UK remaining tidally locked in the EU’s orbit forever more (or until the penny drops and people ask what’s the point of being in the EU’s orbit but having no influence over it? leading to a 2nd vote and the UK rejoining).

So before the brexiters reject Theresa May’s policy….or more to the point, the edited version that Brussels will approve of in a few weeks time! Consider that this is probably the best brexit deal they will get. The alternatives are likely to be either one negotiated by Corbyn, or a 2nd referendum overturning the previous result. With the splitting up and/or collapse of the Tory party shortly thereafter.

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NATO Funding

Trump, in between insulting his hosts and committing several diplomatic faux pas, criticised other Nato members over their defence spending, most notably Germany. However, the situation is a little more complicated that he suggests. If anything this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Firstly, Germany has a very short coastline, and thus not much of a navy (which means they don’t need to but expensive kit like nuclear subs or aircraft carriers). And they also don’t have nuclear weapons. Both of these factors reduces their military spending considerably, as well as the number of personnel required.

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Overall, Germany has the 5th largest military in NATO. And with the exception of Turkey all of the other 3 are both nuclear powers with a large navy. It also has the 4th largest military budget (in terms of overall spending). And again, all of the 3 ahead of them are nuclear powers, with a large navy.

One could argue that while the Bundeswehr is quite capable of defending Germany itself, they lack in terms of numbers and stockpiles of equipment. This means that in the event of a shooting war they’d struggle to cope with high attrition losses for very long. And they’d be only be able to provide limited help to their neighbours.

However, that said, if there’s two headlines nobody in Europe wants to read over their Sunday breakfast its “Germany rearming” or “German troops in Poland”. So we need to apply some political realism here.

Also the German’s would probably counter by pointing out that they have a large industrial base and build almost all of the military hardware that they need. In fact they are the leading supplier of equipment to Nato when comes to things like tanks, military vehicles, artillery and heavy weapons. Indeed, even US tanks use the German made Rheinmetall 120 mm gun. So in the event of a shooting war, so long as Germany can keep those factories open, they’ll simply be able to build replacement equipment for anything they (or their Nato allies) need.

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The German made Leopard 2 equips many Nato armies, with nearly 3,500 in service

And ultimately the German’s are very efficient and stereo-typically Teutonic when it comes to their military budget. That is to say, they don’t waste a lot of money on stuff they don’t need. And they manage military spending very carefully to reduce waste.

By contrast, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, the UK are hopeless when it comes to managing their military budget, with a litany of overspends and foolish projects that should never have gotten funded.

And across the pond, a significant proportion of America’s $700+ billion budget is wasted. Aside from simple poor money management or incompetence, the US has lots of military hardware it simply doesn’t need. E.g. 11 aircraft carriers, more than the rest of the world combined (at a time when its widely accepted that they are vulnerable to long range missile attack or submarines). Plus they’ve got over a dozen amphibious assault vessels (basically a mini-carrier) as well. And they’ve got large numbers of military bases in the centre of the country which don’t really serve any useful purpose (what do they think is going to happen? Chinese paratroopers are going to drop in and invade Tennessee? And don’t all the locals own guns? Isn’t that the whole point of the 2nd amendment?).

American defence procurement is littered with examples of projects that were ill-conceived from the start (e.g. the Skybolt missile), badly mismanaged (the Sgt. York), overly ambitious (Reagan’s SDI) or with no clear idea about what role the weapon system would perform (e.g. the Zumwalt class). Meaning Congress sometimes just refused to buy the finish product (if you ain’t planning on buying it, why bother wasting billions developing it?).

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At a price of $1.5 trillion, the F-35 is the ultimate example of wasteful military spending

Part of the problem is that Congress has long treated the US defence budget as basically a jobs program. Republicans know that if they actually practised what they preached (small government, low taxes) that would mean the economy of many Republican voting states (who are net receivers of Government money) would collapse, sending millions fleeing for the more prosperous (and often democratic voting) parts of the country. In short, US military spending is the biggest act of socialism on the planet. One which republicans can support, yet still keep a straight face when whinging about Obamacare or the deficit.

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And the brass in charge of the US military are well aware of this fact. Its something which they exploit to get their way (and thus further their careers, both in the army, or as a “consultant” for a defence contractor afterwards), even if the end result is billions of tax dollars going up in smoke, as this clip from the satirical film “the Pentagon wars” illustrates. And of course US military contractors can be some of the most aggressive lobbyists in Washington. Which probably explains why the US defence department has never been audited.

All in all, when it comes to the swamp that is US government spending, the US military budget occupies the deepest and dankest part of that swamp. And clearly by trying to hawk American ware’s overseas, Trump shows he has no intention of draining it. Quite the opposite in fact!

The brexit red flags you might have missed

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Therssa May’s little Brexit away day in Chequers seem to go well, at the time of writing, nobody’s thrown their toys out of the pram yet (save the odd grumble of discontent). As before, with the brexit bill we were toldthe party won’t wear it” that there would be mass resignations, a leadership challenge, rebellion, destruction of the death star, fire & brimstone, etc.

However, instead, nothing. When push comes to shove, the brexiters have about as much backbone between them as an English adder. Although that said, what May is proposing, just doesn’t go far enough for the EU. They’ll likely turn her down and force her and the brexiters to concede more ground, which probably will result in some push back eventually.

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As I mentioned before the brexiters have to oppose a soft brexit of any kind because they know demographics are against them. Sometime over the next decade a significant number of those who voted leave will have died….likely in a pool of their own piss an a dirty hospital floor because the UK can’t hire nurses anymore (thanks to brexit) to treat them. Already recent polls have shown a majority in favour of remaining in (or rejoining) the EU. Hence why the brexiters have to go for a brexit that’s as difficult as possible to unpick or reverse. Its basically what they did with rail privatisation.

So like I said, I suspect some sort of push back will come at some point. However, outside of Chequers there’s been a number of worrying developments over this past week which would give anyone, leave or remain good reason to be concerned and be looking to either halt the brexit process or go for the softest brexit possible.

Trading places

Firstly there’s the issue of future trade deals. One of the assumptions the brexiters are making is that they can get exciting” trade deals in “emerging” markets. However in order to qualify as “British” as part of any future trade deals, said goods, such as cars for example, then the majority of the parts and materials have to have been made in the UK (and yes I know that sounds obvious, but the brexiters don’t seem to get it). Currently many UK made products, most notably cars, are mostly built out of parts coming in from overseas (notably Europe).

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Hence if for example Trump gives the UK this much vaunted trade deal (and that’s a big if, you honestly think he’s going to screw America just to do the brits a favour?), that won’t matter, UK made cars will still count as “European” when they arrive in the US. In fact UK based car companies will be in the worst of both worlds in the event of a hard brexit. They’ll have to pay a tariff on parts imported from the EU into the UK and then pay a further tariff on the car when its exported (and 75% of the UK’s vehicle production is for export, as in they roll off the production line in right hand drive!).

I would note that this scenario is not unusual. Many car makers, particularly in places like China or Mexico, face the same problem. However, they have the advantage of much lower labour costs. If you’re paying half what it costs to make a car in the UK, do you really care if someone slaps a 20% tariff on you. Yes you’ll try to get a trade deal to eliminate that, but ultimately, its not going to break the bank. However for the UK this could immediately render UK car production uneconomic. Further, in order to avoid similar problems, European car makers might stop buying UK made parts as well.

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But what about Nissan, didn’t they invest in brexit Britain? Well yes, but only because the government effectively bribed them. Further it was pointed out to me this week that basically Nissan far from being naive, actually played May and the brexiters like a fiddle. Car makers chance their car models about every five years or so. But it takes the best part of several years to actually do that. Hence Nissan’s board had probably already decided to continue production in the UK prior to brexit, under the assumption of a remain vote. Aware that it would be several years before any of the aforementioned tariffs actually hit them (when production of the planned models will be winding down) and that shutting the plant now would mean throwing away a lot of money, it is not surprising they decided that this was a hit they could absorb, particularly if they could scare a kick back from May in the order of a few billion.

Now the problem is that sometime around about 2020 Nissan and other car makers are going to have to make the more important decisions about future car production. As things stand many will have to look at introducing hybrid or all-electric version of their vehicles and the UK doesn’t make a lot of that hardware and, for reasons noted earlier, they might not sell such parts (or vehicles in the UK post-brexit). So in the absence of any comprehensive trade deal with the EU, its all but certain that at this point Nissan et al will take their multi billion pound cheque from the government, tuck it in their back pocket, fire a few thousand British workers and ride off into the sunset.

A is for atom, C is for chaos

Secondly, we have news about Euroatom and the UK’s supposed replacement for it. As I pointed out in a prior post, the brexiters assumption that they could leave Euroatom, but yet still somehow be part of it (or just gate crash future meetings) was bollix. Well it seems that message got through eventually (kudos to Barnier for somehow getting that into Dave2’s thick skull!). So they scuttled away and prepared to set up their own version of Euroatom. Whose job it will be, much as I warned, to basically google and then plagiarise all of those pesky EU regulations the brexiters hate and implement them in the UK.

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The UK nuclear industry’s readiness for brexit….all red lights!

Well a recent audit judged the UK’s preparedness for brexit (with around 8 months to go) as regards nuclear regulation and rated the UK at red in all five categories. And just to be clear to the brexiters, no this isn’t something you can fudge or make do and mend at the last minute. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL! You know the stuff that glows in the dark! If the UK isn’t up to speed on this by March 2019 the consequences could be pretty serious. Nuclear plants might have to shut down, hospitals could run short of isotopes, factories could be forced to shut. Hell, even your average smoke alarm has a small quantity of radioactive material in it. So leaving the nuclear industry unregulated isn’t an option.

I know people who work in the nuclear industry and while they will be quick to point out that, they’re name isn’t Homer Simpson and they do take safety very seriously. Unfortunately, they are also the first to admit there’s a good few jackasses in the industry (typically upper class twit’s who went to the right school and have been overly promoted as a consequence) who are only one mistake away from a Darwin award. The many foul ups over the years at UK nuclear facilities are testament to the fact that the UK nuclear industry needs regulating.

And this isn’t a matter the UK government can simply fudge. Private companies might not play ball, if they fear losing their insurance cover or line of credit (quite apart from the consequences if several of their workers ending up glowing in the dark!). And the IAEA has to sign off on everything. And if come March 2019, the UK nuclear regulator consists of a port-a- cabin at Sellafield with a few clueless trainees inside frantically googling what is a Geiger counter?, odds are they’ll shut the whole thing down.

Border polls

Thirdly, a poll has come out regarding Irish reunification that would have Ian Paisley rising out of his grave….and likely going off to beat the DUP leadership to death with a crucifix. Prior to brexit you’d struggle to even get a majority of Catholics to support re-unification, polls (both catholic and protestant combined) typically ran at 65% no, 30% yes (the rest don’t know’s). Well that lead of +30% has now been slashed to just 3% with 45% no and 43% yes (the balance again undecided). Need I point out but 3% is within the margin of error for an opinion poll, but also easily within the margin of what can be overturned in an actual referendum campaign.

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And again, the really bad news economically as a result of brexit hasn’t struck yet. In short, the odds of NI (and recall the DUP campaigned for brexit) becoming part of the south are probably in the order of 50/50.

Reacting to this poll, the Irish PM did point out his best guess that the North probably won’t vote for reunification. However, his comments have to be put in the context that his main rivals politically are Sinn Fein and that the NI economy is much weaker than in the Republic, with a GDP about 20% lower. Hence there would be a price to pay for reunification and I’m not sure if people in the south appreciate that (or are willing to pay that price).

Personally, I’d argue that in a soft-brexit scenario (particularly where it was pretty obvious that a 2nd referendum and the UK rejoining was a likely possibility in the medium term) Varadkar is probably right. However, in hard brexit scenario I’d argue its very likely he’s wrong and NI would in fact join the south. But either way, if this isn’t setting off alarm bells and having unionists wake up in a cold sweat, I don’t know what will. The DUP backing brexit was a historic mistake for the party.

Vote leave’s illegal campaign

Finally, we have the not so small matter of the legality and legitimacy of the brexit vote being called into question (again!). As I’ve pointed out before on this blog a couple of times, questions have been asked about the tactics and funding of the vote leave campaign, not to mention undisclosed links to hedge funds, the misuse of personal data and links to both US far right groups and the Kremlin.

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Well a leaked report suggests the electoral commission is going to find that vote leave broke UK electoral law during the referendum. And this “leak” came from none other than the vote leave camp themselves, suggesting that they wanted to get the news out in advance because the actual report is going to be so much worse. Indeed, they submitted a 500 page rebuttal (the lady doth protest too much me thinks!).

Now leave voters will likely shrug their shoulders at this and say “fake news” (buddy, its an official independent investigation, the very opposite of fake news!). However, you might want to consult the small print of the Vienna commission, which both the UK and US (among others) have signed. Under this, the referendum result should now be annulled and the vote re-held. And there are a number of precedence’s set across Europe where similar votes were annulled and then re-run (most recently in Austria).

But of course the UK isn’t Europe or the US. With no proper constitution, under British law, the UK government can just ignore this inconvenient little fact….until a court ruling goes against them! At some point they are going to face further legal challenges to brexit. And this ruling from the electoral commission means they can’t hide behind “the will of the people” any more (i.e the 37% who voted for brexit, closer to 25% if we consider those who were denied a vote or leave voters who’ve already died since the vote).

And its not the Gina Miller types I’d be worrying about. Its corporations and businesses who will be able to show how brexit has caused them real and serious economic harm. And they can hire high priced lawyers to fight their case. And recall some of these cases will be fought in court rooms in Europe or in the US, meaning it doesn’t matter diddly squat what laws the UK government passes to try and wriggle out from under it.

Such legal cases could get pretty nasty. We are kind of into uncharted legal territory here. The lawyers will start subpoenaing government documents left right and centre, and who knows what will come out from that (nothing good I suspect!). Ministers will be hit with summons to testify in court under oath. Think about, if Boris Johnson ends up in the dock there are three possible outcomes, A) he lies under oath, is found to have committed perjury and gets hauled off to jail. B) He tries to make a joke out of it with a latin quote and gets done for contempt. C) He cracks under cross examination and fesses up to everything, then gets arrested for obstruction of justice and electoral fraud. Or D) knowing Boris, he manages to do all three!

The smart legal advice to the government (well unless they want to hold the next cabinet away day in Wandsworth scrubs!) would be to just settle these cases out of court. Take the lawyers aside, offer them whatever amount of money it costs to make them go away (which is basically what they did with Nissan after all) and hush the whole thing up. Of course once word gets out and you have corporate lawyers queuing round the block, at the same time the public are seeing their taxes going up to pay for brexit, it will probably get to the stage where they’ll have to have another referendum at some point….

…..Or maybe, they won’t. In theory if a pro-EU government were to come to power at some point in future, they could argue, not unreasonably, that brexit was an illegal act undertaken by corrupt ideologically driven bigots, power hungry fifth columnist and traitors in the pay of a foreign power. Rather than have a 2nd referendum, they’d could simply vote to annul the result and proceed with EU membership without even bothering to hold another referendum. So the seeds in brexit’s downfall might have already been sown.

But either way, there’s enough red flags starting to go up that only a fool would ignore them. But unfortunately the brexiters, like captain Ahab, are committed. Brexit is the hill on which they’ve chosen to die on. They can’t back down now, if they do they are finished. It would be the end of Tory party, the DUP and Corbyn.

While I was away….

Just back from Holiday, thought I’d catch up on a few stories that came up while I was on my travels….

When in Rome do as the Romans do….stay away from burning buses

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The 5 Star movement remain committed to good public transport….with heating!

One of my stops on holiday, was Rome, where they’ve a bit of a wee problem with buses that keep catching fire. The locals blame the new Five Star mayor and cutbacks on maintenance, which is merely one of a host of scandals she’s gotten caught up in. Which given that 5S are now part of the government in Italy, is hardly a good sign.

While there was a few things in the joint NL/5S manifesto I agreed with, e.g. ending austerity, a national citizens income, better public transport (you might want to focus on stopping buses catching fire first!). But they also promised to lower taxes at the same time as greatly increasing public spending. This in a country whose in debt to the tune of 130% of its GDP.

Now while its true there’s nothing wrong with a country borrowing money, particularly in a time of crisis, Keynes never said that gives governments a blank cheque to spend like a sailor on shore leave and ignore any form of financial responsibility. Clearly, at the very least they’d have to demonstrate some plan for paying off this debt (otherwise nobody would lend them money to spend in the first place). This could include putting up taxes for the wealthy, or increasing the tax on things like alcohol and cigarettes (which are both very cheap, I mean I was buying Belgian ales for less than they cost in Belgium!), or starting to introduce carbon taxes (which would eventually replace things like VAT altogether). Cuts could also be made in areas that are cutable, e.g. in terms of defence spending.

But there in lie the problem with a populist government, they can’t do anything unpopular, even if its in the long term best interest of the country. Indeed, the NL part of the government wants to hire more police and build prisons for the hundreds of thousands of migrants they are going to deport. Of course, it would be unwise to undertake such deportations (and unlikely they are going to succeed). Many of the countries in question may not take them back and others would not be a safe place to send them. There is a legal precedence going back to the holocaust, whereby those responsible for deportations to Germany (in the full knowledge that they were potentially sending people to their death) which would come into play, meaning members of this populist government could find themselves facing a war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

And their solution to their debt problems is to demand that the EU simply writes off a large chunk of Italian debt. The EU’s unlikely to do that because A) that would set a precedence, which could lead to both Italy and the entire eurozone’s debt being downgraded. And B) as Italy would now be considered to be in a state of default, banks would be a lot less likely to lend to Italy. So rather than freeing Italy from under the thumb of the ECB, they’ve be more dependant than ever on ECB money to keep the country solvent. Yes, the EU must take some share of the blame for Italy’s predicament, but Italy is mostly in mess of its own creation (something which no populist party could ever admit, hence why they have to blame the EU and migrants for 100% of Italy’s problems).

Print money? That’s really only a temporary solution and the window of opportunity during which that could help has arguably passed. Also such measures would drive up inflation, diluting the value of people’s savings and push up prices. Indeed inflation (or more accurately stagflation) is a big problem in Italy right now. One could argue a number of the policies announced are in fact more anti-stagflation measures than anti-austerity measures. But introducing policies to counteract inflation, which will just cause more of it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or in Italy’s case (given that the ECB would never allow this either), its robbing Peter in the full knowledge that he’ll catch you at it and then beat you and Paul up later with a baseball bat.

Oh and 5S and NL also want to drop sanctions on Russia. And this in the same week the Dutch reveal how they have direct evidence linking the Russians to the downing of MH17. You have to love Italian corruption. In America Trump has to at least pretend he’s not Putin’s ally. But in Italy, they don’t even bother hiding that. He helped us get elected, so we’ll be sharing the cake with him, what’s wrong with that?

At least they’ve backed down from their more extreme policies of withdrawing from the Euro and the EU. The NL in fact actually wants a referendum for Northern Italy to separate from Southern Italy. But as is so often the case, when confronted with reality, such headline grabbing (but utterly ludicrous) plans have had to be dropped (like the £350 million a week for the NHS we were promised in the UK).

That said, it is alleged that the reason why the Italian president rejected their pick for finance minister was that he heard that they were planning for a secret withdrawal from the EU over a weekend (think about that for a minute, the UK’s going to take several years to get out of the EU and this lot thought they can do something similar over a weekend!). In the wake of this the populists called for him to be impeached and replaced by the Prime Minster (which would be unconstitutional, this is kind of the whole reason why they are separate jobs). In short, it seems like they haven’t much of a clue what they are doing or how government is supposed to work.

The populists have also asked the EU with coming up with the means for a country to withdraw from the euro at some future date, if they were to have such a referendum. Well the bad news is, I suspect some eurocrat IS probably working on just such a plan as we speak. But its not how Italy can voluntarily leave the euro, its how the EU can kick Italy out of the euro if they break its rules, while minimising the damage the rest of the eurozone takes from the inevitable Italian bankruptcy that follows.

I think we can get some feel for how things will pan out based on one of the earlier sticking points the NL stuck with, they wanted Silvio Berlusconi to be part of the new government. Why in blue blazes would they want that? Well because they know full well they’ve made promises neither they, nor 5S can keep.

What Italy will get is just a less competent (as well as corrupt and more authoritarian) version of the previous government. Just one that picks random fights with the EU, which they will generally lose. There fear is, that Mr Bunga Bunga (whose probably more to blame than anyone else for Italy’s current woes) will exploit that and next thing you know, a year from now, he and Trump will be trading anecdotes about their criminal exploits at Mar-a-largo.

Barcelona tourism protests

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Across the sea in Barcelona, there’s been anti-tourist protests recently. Now yes tourists can be annoying (in London during the summer you’re tripping over them, Edinburgh during the Fringe you can barely walk down the street and I reckon the use of rocket launchers against campervans on highland roads should be legal, when they trundle along at 30 mph with fifty cars behind them). But statistically, Barcelona isn’t even in the top ten of tourist destinations in the world (and having been there, the numbers aren’t anything near as bad as you’d find in say Florence or Rome).

However, a Spanish tour operator did mention to me that there’s been a big upsurge in tourism in Spain over the last few years, due to issues across the Mediterranean making such destinations seem unsafe. And as noted, Italy is starting to get very expensive (and politically unstable), so that’s driving more tourists towards the Iberian peninsula.

So to the locals the sudden surge in numbers is probably something they’d notice. And there’s a few particular features of tourism in Barcelona that I can see would likely wind up the locals. Firstly, there’s been a proliferation of Airbnb’s, with long term tenants being thrown out of their flats so it can be rented out to tourists (for the record, I stayed in one of the older pension hostals).

Also there’s lots of large tour groups running around, who seem to follow a set formula of places to visit. So if you’re in say, the Boqueria at the wrong time, you’re barely able to move for the numbers. And this has also had the effect of pushing up prices (the days of cheap eats in the Boqueria are long gone). And part of what’s driving these massive hordes are cruise ships, which have been docking in Barcelona in ever increasing numbers.

Indeed, my bit of tourist advice for Barcelona (or other cities like Rome with similar or even worse overcrowding) is remember that said tour groups tend to mostly consist of old retired couples. So with that in mind go to the places they won’t go (anything with lots of steps, loud noises, young people or this thing called “rock and roll”). And similarly if going to the places that are likely to be busy, such as the aforementioned Boqueria, go either early in the morning (when the oldies are still putting in their false teeth) or later in the evening (or around lunchtime when they’re having their nap) and you’ll avoid the crowds. But suffice to say though, you can see how all of this would piss locals off a bit. But equally, its a little more complicated than the simple populist “too many tourists”.

Now the thing is all of these problems are within the capacity of the local Catalan government to solve (keep in mind Barcelona voted in favour of independence by a margin of 92%). As I discussed in a prior article, most likely most of these airbnb hosts are breaking the law (notably local fire codes), so even without any new legislation a crack down on them is possible. Tourist guides can be regulated. And those regulations could stipulate terms that mean they stay away from certain parts of the city at certain times or on certain days giving the locals a bit of breathing space. Limiting the number of cruise ships or imposing a 72 hour rule on them (once in the harbour they can’t leave again for 72 hrs) would also relieve pressure somewhat.

Should you be wondering why the Catalan government isn’t doing any of this…..you’ve not be watching the news have you? They’ve got their eyes on the bigger prize of independence. And for that independence to succeed tourism will be a vital industry, as it will serve as a key source of foreign currency (meaning they can raise the cash to buy things like oil or other stuff the rest of Spain will be refusing to sell them). So at present the Catalan government doesn’t want to reduce tourist numbers, if anything they want numbers to keep going up. Not that they’re going to point that out to the angry populists in their own party of course!

But at least it shows that left wing populists can be as prone to blaming foreigners for their problems, as much as the right wing ones.

The downfall of Rojay

And speaking of Catalonia, we’ve just seen the downfall of Spanish PM Rajoy. If Catalonia ever gets independence, it will largely be thanks to his reign of error. When he took office, support for full independence was hovering around about 25-30%, although there was widespread support for greater regional autonomy. Now support for independence is closer to 40-50%. A combination of his austerity measures and his stubborn refusal to even consider alternatives has effectively convinced a large portion of Catalan’s that they can’t get anywhere with the likes of him in charge in Madrid.

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Already, in complete contrast to Rajoy, his successor is talking about reconciliation and negotiating with the Catalan’s. However, I suspect the damage has already been done. The brutal crack down against the vote earlier this year has hardened opinions and nothing short of a legally sanctioned in/out referendum will suffice.

I bring this up because some in the UK have suggested that Westminster should copy Rajoy’s tactics when it comes to seeing off future moves for independence from the SNP. I would argue that would be an excellent idea….if the Tories WANT to guarantee Scottish independence.

As things stand, support for independence is hovering around the 45-50% mark. Given the fallout from brexit and the blow back the Tories will catch for that in a few years time, such tactics will all but guarantee the SNP will win any vote (official or unofficial) by a landslide. And while Rajoy could just ignore the Catalan’s, Scotland can’t be so easily dismissed (given that Scotland controls the majority of the UK’s energy supplies!).

In short, the Tories had best get used to conceding ground to Brussels, because the only way their going to hang onto Scotland and Wales is by conceding more power to Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Magic money trees

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You may recall how Corbyn talked about nationalising the UK’s railways and the Tories laughed and said, oh we can’t do that, its too expensive, there’s no magic money trees……Only low and behold, the Tories have just nationalised the east coast mainline and bailed out their chum Richard Branson (who you will recall tried to rub Corbyn’s face in it last year, over that skit where he sat on the floor).

And this is hardly the first time. Hinkley C, Heathrow, BHS and Carillon, to name a few, have all had a bailout. And let’s not even begin to mention the costs associated with brexit. Recall, the tens of billions paid to the EU is just the start. The UK will also now need to set up whole new government departments to basically do the stuff the EU previously did for us. And there’s all the promises they made, farm subsides to be paid and the tax revenue hole left by leaving EU citizens.

So it would appear that whenever the Tories need it, not only is there a magic money tree, but there’s a whole forest of them.

Border woes

On my travels I also passed through the wee seaside town of Ventimiglia. One unusual feature of this town is that it has three railway stations, of which only part of one is still in service (the rest are either demolished or slowly being taken over by weeds). And the disused sections are absolutely massive, consisting of marshalling yards with dozens of lines of parallel track.

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You may wonder why a town with a population of just 50,000 ever needed such massive railway infrastructure. A little geography will probably help. The town sits right on the Italian/French border and is the last stop before entering France. So obviously, back in the days before the single market, every train that crossed the border needed to stop here for a customs inspection. It kind of hammers home the issues the UK will face post brexit.

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The Tories are still stuck with their delusions that they can magically solve the issue of the Irish border with technology (and presumably more magic money trees). Well the experts don’t just say no, they say “are you mad or what!”. Every month 385,000 goods vehicles and 1.85 million cars cross the border. That’s an average of 75,000 vehicles a day that would need to be checked (and potentially double that number or more at peak times). And there are potentially hundreds of border crossings where you’d need to have inspectors or infrastructure in place.

I think the problem is that many brexiters still have this vision of Ireland as a nation of farmers who ride around with a donkey and cart. They don’t seem to realise that as a factor of GDP manufacturing represents a greater share of the Irish economy (about 40%) than it does the UK (about a quarter). And we’re talking several high tech industries here, everything from aircraft parts, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, to microchips and software. And yes, this does involve parts being sent north of the border, then onto the rest of the UK or Europe.

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In Ireland these days, we make more than just shamrock and stout!

And speaking of farmers, agricultural produce does represent a significant portion of our exports to the UK. And it is agricultural products that will likely see the largest shift in tariff’s and prices post-brexit (by as much as 50% accounting for currency exchange and differences in tariff’s) and the largest drift in regulation if the UK caves in to some of the demands its likely to face from trading partners such as the US (meaning certain UK food products would be banned from sale in the EU or visa versa). So there’s going to be a very strong financial incentive for smugglers to start shifting such goods.

Already there are smuggler gangs, moving narcotics (Ireland’s rugged coastline makes it a transshipment point for drugs), alcohol, tobacco and fuel. Many of these gangs have links to either loyalist or republican paramilitaries. So even if this “electronic” border did work, they’d take steps to thwart it. Such as taking pot shots at drones, blowing up cameras, or sending guys in balaclavas around to threaten the families of the technicians who program the surveillance software. And these groups also have politician connections to the DUP or SF (much as how the RHI scheme in NI ended up mired in corruption, so too is likely to be any electronic border).

But this is the problem with brexit. Its an idea dreamt up by posh public school boys who live in some ivory tower and are ignorant of what happens in the real world.

Changing tastes

Interesting article here about the likely impact of brexit on the full English breakfast. Let’s put it this way, about the only two ingredients that will be unaffected are the bread and the eggs. Well at least we’ll be able to make French toast then!

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The full English Irish Breakfast

The height of hypocrisy

And speaking of brexit, Nigel Lawson, a leading brexiter, is now apparently trying to get residency in France. And he’s in good company, Nigel Farage’s kids both have gotten German citzenship (and its been claimed he’s applying as well) and several unionist have applied for Irish citizenship.

Do right wingers have no shame, no sense of irony and do they understand the meaning of the word hypocrisy? Or are they just a bunch of idiotic self centred jerks? They see nothing wrong with campaigning for something that will drag tens of millions of brit’s out of the EU, then think nothing of applying for EU citizenship themselves. After all how am I supposed to get to my yacht on the Cote d’Azur! Hell, who wants to live in England anyway, why they eat French toast for breakfast since brexit.

What happens in Donegal, stays in Donegal

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Ireland recently had a referendum on abortion, which resulted in a resounding vote in favour of overturning the ban…..Well everywhere except in Donegal. That said, Donegal is kind of the land that time forgot. Its the sort of rural backwater where you’d be almost tempted to greet the locals by saying “how”. Its the sort place you fear that using a mobile phone might result in the locals burning you at the stake for witchcraft. So no real surprise really that they bucked the trend.

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This creates some awkward problems for Theresa May. Her DUP allies have, like their cohorts in the south, relied on the hypocrisy that they can pretend to be anti-abortion, even thought it just means anyone looking to get an abortion merely has to get a Ryanair flight to the UK. In a year’s time however, they’ll merely have to drive across the border, which will make something of a mockery of this policy.

The result was also was a major blow to the religious right in Ireland and their north American allies. One (catholic) priest even suggested that anyone who voted yes, should be bared from confession and basically excommunicated (which means 66% of the country!) until they do penance. Here’s an idea, how about as penance yes voters have to join the DUP or the orange order (given that they’re the only two groups in the country still in favour of an abortion ban).

Montecassino

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The abbey dominates the local landscape

Another spot on my travels was the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino. A bit off the beaten track, but well worth the visit. It is steeped in history (back to Roman times, as well as the founding of the Benedictine order and monastic orders in general). But its also famous for being the site of the battle of Monte Cassino in World War II.

To say this was controversial was to put it mildly. The Americans bombed the Abbey (effectively committing a war crime) to the point where it became the most bombed building in Europe. What was more tragic was that it was entirely unnecessary. While there were Germans in the hills surrounding the abbey, there were none within the abbey itself….well not until after the Americans bombed the place. After this the Germans argued, perhaps not unreasonably, that the allies had just made it part of the battlefield and they promptly occupied the ruins. The large Polish cemetery just below the abbey testifies to the consequences of this error.

And the Polish cemetery also hints at how the British have a warped view of history. Read a British textbook on the battle and they’ll go on and on at great length about how this commonwealth unit or that took part in the battle. They scarcely mention that it was Polish who had to come in and dig the British and the Yanks out of a mess of their own making and ultimately take the abbey. And then they’ve got the nerve to come over to the UK and get jobs, pay taxes and help to fund the NHS!

Trump’s Korean flip flop

A major story that broke while I was away was that of Trump pulling out of the Singapore summit, apparently because the North Korean media said mean things about his vice president (somebody call the wambulance). Of course the real reason he pulled out can be summarised in two words – John Bolton. He no doubt convinced Trump that he should have his little war with the North Koreans as a way of saving himself from impeachment.

Unfortunately, what Trump, or Bolton, didn’t seem to get is that there are other players involved here. The South Koreans, while they want to keep up the pressure on the north, they also don’t want to see a war start (as they’ll be on the receiving end of any retaliation). So they will keep the talks going if they can. Which, probably explains why Trump’s just flip flopped now. An egomaniac like him couldn’t bear the situation, where they carried out without him, even thought he’ll really just be meat in the room.

The other factor is China. They are often described as a North Korean ally. As I’ve discussed before, that’s not entirely true. But certainly they ain’t going to sit ideally by and let North Korea, get attacked by Trump because of some mean tweets (and anyone who knows anything about North Korea would realise those comments were merely for the purposes of domestic consumption). The danger is that they will use economic pressure against the US, or potentially interfere in any war.

So all in all, its a very worrying development. At the very least it means the US will increasingly see itself sidelined, much as Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal just means the US will have no say in how that deal progresses in future.

Eurovision boycott?

Also while I was away, Israel won the Eurovision song contest. This raises a worrying problem, as it was announced they will host the contest next year in Jerusalem.

What’s wrong with that? Well, it would be seen as legitimising their claim of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. There is no way the Palestinians, nor the rest of the Arab world will ever accept that. They might be willing to accept a divided Jerusalem with one half the capital of Israel and the other half the capital of Palestine (or an international city which is capital of both), but a Jerusalem that is exclusively the Israeli capital is just not an option they’ll ever accept. Which basically means that the current conflict will go on forever…..or at least until someone gets there hands on a nuke or something. That effectively is what Trump endorsed when he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump did this to placate the religious right in his country. They are some of the biggest supporters of Israeli expansion of its settlements on the west bank. Not because they necessarily like Jews, actually its because they’re hoping that this war forever between Israel and the Arab world will bring about the end times….during which most of the Jews will be killed or converted.

So to me its quite clear that there should be a boycott of the next eurovision, if its held in Jerusalem.

Trump syndrome in action

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And speaking of crazy Trump supporters, while I was away we saw the melt down of Roseanne Barr. And Kanye West, suggested that slavery was a choice. Well, at least we won’t be hearing much from either of them for a while. Indeed, this seems to be something of a trend for Trump supporters. Apparently many of those who quit the Trump white house are having trouble finding jobs afterwards. Supporting Trump is literally hazardous to ones career. On the other hand, both have done us all a service, by demonstrating the cult like behaviour of Trump supporters.

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There is a distinct difference between a cult and say a religion or a political party. For example, a catholic bishop doesn’t have to agree verbatim with everything the Pope says (many won’t be happy about his recent comments about gays). Similarly in most political parties its okay to criticise the leadership (up to a point of course). And they can praise the opposition when they do something positive.

With a cult however there are only two things you can say, praise for the leader and the vilification of his opponents (which will be anyone who has criticised him in the past). The leader is considered infallible and his enemies are evil and anything they say (such as the Russia investigation) is clearly lies and fake news. Unlike other political leaders at no point will you hear any of Trump’s supporters criticise him, even when he’s clearly done something wrong. Even things that sound like criticism are often phrased such as “the leader should do XYZ”.

And the trouble with getting involved with cults, is the difficulty in leaving. You want to leave the labour party, all you’ve got to do is cut your membership card in two. But once people are in the Trump cult, its not easy to leave, given that they’ve burnt all their bridges behind them (I can’t see Roseanne going back to the green party). Hence the hostility and lack of rational reasoning you’ll see from them.

Of course what this means is that anyone waiting for the penny to drop for Trump supporters, think again. If he makes it to the next election, regardless of how badly he screws up, he’ll still take in at least 40% of the vote at a minimum.

Gun hire schemes

A bunch of practical jokers thought to set up a mock “gun hire” scheme at subway entrances recently, as a way of mocking the NRA. A dangerous thing to do, because this lot have no sense of humour and don’t understand the concept of irony. The danger is they’ll decide this is a good idea and actually do it for real.

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Consider how a few weeks ago I joked how the Outing club should start carrying guns around campus, to get around some SAPS in administration who wanted to shut them down on Elf’n’Safety grounds. Well in another incident a Trump supporter recently showed up to her graduation with an assault rifle and “come and take it” written across her mortar board. Ya and if she’d been black she’d have probably been shot by the police before she got two blocks.

But like I said, your trying to reason with people who are not reasonable people.

Setting the range for hybrid cars

The current transport secretary Chris Grayling is known as a bit for being pro-car and not a huge fan of green energy, so you have to view everything coming out of his department with a level of suspicion. For example, they’ve recently announced that the UK reg’s will specify a minimum all electric range that hybrid vehicles must be able to achieve.

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On the one hand this sounds like a good idea. As things stand a car with a larger than normal car battery and starter motor can be classified as a hybrid, when in truth its really just a conventional petrol powered car. However, that said, the range that his department is talking about is in the order of 50 miles, which even well established hybrids such as the Prius can’t achieve.

Its important to realise that the range of vehicles do vary for good reasons. The all-electric range of a hybrid involves a level of compromise. Putting a heavier battery into a hybrid will deplete its fuel economy, which may well negate the benefits of hybridisation. And its worth noting that the bulk of car journey’s in the UK are less than 20 miles.

Of course with the UK pulling out of the EU, it hardly matters what the UK says on this matter. Inevitably the EU will decide what it thinks a suitable hybrid range should be and car manufacturers will build according to that specification. They’ll then simply sell either all electric or petrol only models in the UK, if they aren’t compatible with this new law. So all Chris Grayling is doing is restricting the car choices of future UK drivers. And the fear is that might be exactly what he’s aiming for, so he and his Tory pals can keep driving around London in their range rovers.

Noise machines

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And speaking of the EU, they have also announced legislation requiring future electric vehicles to have noise generators fitted to them. I would question the need for this. While yes, its eerie having electric cars creeping quietly up on you, but its something you get used to when you are in a city with lots of electric vehicles (such as Oslo or some Chinese cities). Maybe its just because I had the green cross code drilled into me as a kid that I instinctively look both ways when crossing the road, so its not really an issue for me.

One of the main benefits of electric cars is that they cut down on traffic noise, leading to quieter cities. This policy could negate this benefit. Now if people were being regularly cut down by electric vehicles, I’d agree we have to do something, but I see no evidence that this is a problem. And some experts have also questioned whether such noise generators actually work in the real world. So I worry that this policy is simply being imposed as a sop to those who are suspicious of electric cars, in the same way the first petrol powered cars had to have a guy walk in front of them with a red flag.

Local election results

It was slightly worrying in the wake of the local election results to hear both sides declaring victory. However, there was bad news for both the major parties in this election.

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Governing parties tend to do badly in local elections and given the shambolic nature of Tory government, with them making a pig’s breakfast of brexit, the windrush scandal and the Trump who is coming for tea (and whose solution to knife crime is to make it easier for criminals to acquire guns), the Tories should have been crucified. Hence their margin for victory was to avoid total wipe out in areas like London, which they achieved. However this ignores certain key details in the results that swung things in their favour.

Firstly the continuing collapse of UKIP was the main story of this election. Inevitably this led to some migration of voters over to the Tories, which prevented a complete collapse in their support. If we were to add UKIP’s losses to the Tories losses (which given that the Tories have basically become UKIP-lite is not unreasonable) then the picture for the Tories looks a lot more in keeping with what we’d expect for a mid-term election. However the Tories need to consider that the UKIP well is now tapped dry. UKIP have hit rock bottom….although knowing them they’ll likely keep on digging. But the Tories can’t rely on UKIP losses benefiting them in the next election.

When Cameron initiated the EU referendum, Tory support was pretty evenly split between leave voting and remain voting seats (with a slight lean towards leave). Now its closer to a 70%/30% split in favour of leave voting areas, with the Tories increasingly been driven out of remain voting districts. Which means the swing they’ll need to achieve next election to win in those marginal seats is all the larger. Indeed, baring a collapse in support for labour it might now be impossible for the Tories to achieve a majority. That is unless they can get those remain voting districts to support them again. Which would probably mean changing their brexit policy….or perhaps having a brexit policy!

The other factor in the Tories favour was their secret weapon – Jeremy Corbyn. Labour suffered due to the anti-Semitism scandal and was thus not able to capitalise on the Tories difficulties as much as they should have. However, while this was a factor yes, I doubt it was as critical as some in the media have suggested (let’s face it, they don’t like him much so they’re going to ham it up a bit).

I would argue that the reason for labour’s lacklustre performance boils down to two key factors. Firstly, labour’s brexit fudge is being exposed. Labour’s problem with brexit is that while a significant proportion of labour members and supporters voted remain (as in around 90%), its front bench (including Corbyn) are mostly leave voters. And while the majority of labour voters also voted remain, a minority in some key areas did vote leave (which combined with the Tory supporting leave voters to give leave a majority in those areas). Inevitably Corbyn has walked a fine line between placating the remain voters (with promises of a soft brexit), while pursuing a pro-leave strategy, hoping the remain voting millennial’s don’t catch him at it.

Now while labour’s strategy on brexit is infinitely more sensible than the Tories (given that they have no clue what they are doing), its still bonkers, its not going to work. The wheels are starting to come off Corbyn’s brexit plan and voters are starting to notice. This means some are more inclined to vote for pro-remain parties such as the lib dems or the greens (who both did rather well in these elections). And as brexit approaches, this trend will likely accelerate. And if there is any sort of a backlash against brexit (as I suspect their will be once its realised they’ve screwed the country over), labour won’t be able to capitalise on this, given that voters identify them as a pro-leave party.

The other factor in this election relates to Corbyn’s war against other left wing parties. The only reason Theresa May is still prime minster is because Corbyn rejected offers of an election deal with the other left wing parties. Given that several Tory MP’s only won by margins of just a few hundred votes (or less!), such a deal would have made a Tory majority impossible, even with the help of the Unionists. Corbyn’s response since the election has been to ramp up the pressure on the other left wing parties, trying to convince their voters to support labour instead. The sharp rise in support for these other parties in this election, should serve as a warning to labour that this strategy isn’t going to work. We have perhaps hit peak Corbyn. His strategy will just mean next election the other left wing parties will campaign against him and labour (rather than the Tories), which will make a labour victory all but impossible.

So all in all, these election results should be food for thought for the leaders of both parties. However, the initial reaction of both May and Corbyn seems to be that they’re going to read out of these results what they want to see and carry on regardless. Both are putting the internal politics of their own parties ahead of the best interests of the country. This means its increasingly likely the next election will simply be decided by the luck of the draw (who will lose more support in key marginal seats), likely a hung parliament and a coalition. But with labour and the Tories so divided internally they won’t be able to govern effectively (even if they could get a majority). We’d be as well off skipping the next election campaign and just getting the Queen to flip a coin.

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the stolen elections of 2016

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A story has been on the brew for sometime now about the extend to which big data and the use of what the intelligence agencies call “Psyop’s” played in both the EU referendum and the American presidential election. It has been alleged, something that seems to have crept under the radar of the mainstream media until now, that a company called Cambridge Analytica used various psyop’s techniques to profile voters and target them with customised adds in order to sway them into voting one way or the other.

The law/regulatory agencies are such a joke the reality is that anybody who wanted to cheat the law could do it easily without people realising.” Dominic Cummings, head of the vote leave campaign

So for example, if a trawl of a persons Facebook profile led them to believe he was a bit neurotic, they’d bombard him with fake news about hordes of migrants flooding the country. If you were one of the Bernie or bust brigade, they’d hit you with lots of anti-Hilary stuff hoping that while they probably couldn’t get you to vote Trump, they’d at least trigger you into vote for a third party (which in certain swing states would be as good as voting for Trump). These rumours were by and large either denied by the alt-right or they shrugged their shoulders and said so what.

Well a whistleblower has now come forward and firstly confirmed the veracity of these claims (and there are several others less prominently placed in the firm who back up his story). He’s also disclosed the full scale of this campaign of disinformation. While many assumed that only tens of thousand of profiles were affected (from which a larger data pool was extrapolated) actually its been revealed that some 50 million facebook user’s data was harvested. We are talking about using military grade psyops on an industrial scale to manipulate an electorate using lies and misinformation to change the outcome of an election. If that doesn’t count as electoral fraud, I don’t know what does.

It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.” Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower

And I am not throwing around that word “fraud” idly. Under election rules in both the US and UK it is illegal to accept foreign donations and illegal to allow foreigners to interfere in an election. Cambridge Analytica is part of a shadowy web of firms connected to American hedge funds, the alt-right and Putin’s Russia.

“deep digging….Oh, we do a lot more than that.” Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica

Now unsurprisingly CA have denied any involvement in the leave campaign and tried to distance themselves from the Trump campaign. However, this is a difficult pill to swallow. As the BBC pointed out, a representative of CA was at the leave campaign launch. And there is clear evidence of money being paid to them and their associates.

And given that Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager, was on the board of CA for sometime, its a little difficult for them to deny involvement. And since winning office, CA have been given several lucrative contracts for the US military and justice department by the Trump White house, which sounds suspiciously like “hush money” being paid out. So we are talking corruption of the highest order, which makes the current allegations against Trump seem fairly mild.

Its no good fighting election on the facts….two fundamental drivers are hopes & fears and many of those are unspoken and unconscious” Mark Turnbull, Cambridge Analytica Manager

And more recently, CA senior officials have been caught on tape by Channel 4 news offering to arrange for the smearing of a politician for cash, suggesting they were doing way more than simply running a few numbers or distributing campaign adds. And the tactics they discussed are eerily similar to a number of those used by Putin against his opponents. An important point, as I find it a bit too much of a coincidence that Putin was running his own fake news/Psyops campaign independent of the one his allies in the leave and Trump camp were running via CA. Given the links identified between these groups one can only assume that they both co-ordinated their efforts. CA told them who to target, Putin’s troll farms made up the fake news and hacked the DNC, giving Trump and the leave campaign plausible deniability.

And in the last few hours, Channel 4 have released another tape in which CA executives confirm that yes they did work on Trump campaign (illegally!). Indeed they were even the source of all the “crooked Hilary” stuff, and that they used “proxy” organisations to help spread their messages around.

Yes, its probable that a British based company, funded by a shadowy group of right wing billionaires, conspired with a foreign government to run a psyops operation against millions of American and UK voters in an effort to rig elections. If the Illuminati of Dan Brown fame are real, then they’re a bunch of amateurs…..in fact it is kind of odd, this story has been brewing for months and yet ace conspiracy theorist Alex Jones hasn’t mentioned it….so it must be true then, he only deals with ones that are fake!

Needless to say this scandal has profound implications. Firstly, given the closeness of both the US election (recall Trump won because of just 40,000 votes in 3 US states) and the brexit vote there is no way either could even remotely be considered legal and legitimate. One also has to question the legitimacy of many other recent elections, for example the recent vote in Italy. Those who say, okay one lot cheated, but you still have to accept the result. Well okay and if I guess your pin number and empty your bank account, will you just accept that result? Fraud is fraud.

As I’ve pointed out in a prior post, the problem in many parts of the world is that elections are seldom free or fair. And recall that CA, and other firms like it, honed their skills in electoral fraud in developing world nations such as Kenya, Russia or Trinidad and Tobago (too name a few).

Aside from the obvious consequence that one cannot trust in the outcome of these elections, it also means such regimes are illegitimate and beholden to the whims of their special interests. Its been suggested that Putin is less the puppet master and more a puppet of the Oligarchs who prop him up. He’d probably retire tomorrow and live the life of Reilly if he could. But that’s not going to be allowed to happen. As the recent deposing of Mugabe showed, once the elites decide to overthrow such a leader, they can do so very easily. They simply charge him with vote rigging and fraud, which is kind of like accusing a duck of quacking, he’s swiftly found guilty (after a detailed investigation….which takes all of ten seconds to conduct) and frogmarched out of the presidential palace to be replaced by another puppet.

And this is now the reality in both the UK and US. Trump we all know is guilty as hell of numerous acts that would warrant impeachment. He can be removed from office tomorrow, if the GOP ever decide to do so. Similarly Theresa May is only in her job because they want someone to take all the flack for brexit, then they’ll have the real leadership contest. If she actually tried to stay on or act like a PM, she’d be on her ass outside downing street so fast her head would spin.

The corruption, chaotic and dysfunctional nature of government which often holds back developing nations also has its roots in the illegitimate nature of their elections. With the big wigs fighting their games of thrones for a slice of the pie, lowly civil servants are left to fend for themselves. With no clear direction in terms of long term policy and no money, inevitably they outsource such decisions to the highest bidder.

And the chaos in the white house and the paralysis in the UK parliament (May has now essentially lost her majority when it comes to brexit, so they are wasting their time debating fortnightly bin collections, rather that the EU withdrawal bills) means both are starting to mirror a developing world government.

And equally such regimes are vulnerable to overthrow in a military coup. In theory if the joint chief’s decided tomorrow that Trump needs to be removed from power, they’ve now got more than the right to declare him a usurper who won the election by fraud, drive their tanks up Pennsylvania avenue and arrest him and most of his supporters. If you’ve ever wondered why some impoverished African nation with barely two pennies to rub together spends twice what it does on hospitals and social welfare on its army, its because they know that they have to pay off the generals, or they might be tempted to overthrow them.

So those who voted Trump (or Putin) because you trust him as a strong leader well A) are you nuts? And B) You were conned on a scale unprecedented in history and C) no, he’s a puppet of the very murky special interests you hate. And they can remove him anytime they feel like it, if he stops dancing to their tune.

With UK election rules being described as weak and helpless” in this era of dark money and big data, there needs to be an urgent review of all electoral law. Naturally such tactics should be banned and the penalties for breaking the electoral rules made all the more severe. I would suggest a new law of “perverting the course of democracy” with harsh penalties for those found guilty, possibly up to life imprisonment. If that sounds like going too far, democracy is at stake unless the penalties are suitably severe, someone will be tempted to break the rules. CA prove that.

One also has to consider whether it might even be necessary to turn off all social media for a month prior to any election. Or requiring voters to undertake a fake news awareness course and/or a citizenship course might need to become compulsory for all (its ironic that migrants to the UK have to do one of these, when any dumb random Daily Mail reading, Putin loving, racist with a pulse can vote once they turn 18).

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And as I noted at the time of the brexit vote, the rules of elections should be changed to make it harder to prevent a minority of the electorate hijacking the system (again, this is exactly what CA were playing at). Only 37% of the UK electorate backed brexit and certain regions, such as Scotland and London, voted overwhelmingly against it. As a basic minimum such a referendum should require +50% of the electorate to support it in all major regions of the UK to be legal. And Trump didn’t win the popular vote, getting only about 28% of the total electorate to support him and “winning” despite receiving 3 million less votes that Hilary. Clearly the US electoral system is a mockery of the word democracy and needs to be completely reformed, as it is ripe for this sort of exploitation.

Finally some form of backstop protection might be needed. That is to say that if a candidate is elected and allegations like these emerge, there are checks and balances in place that would either automatically trigger a re-vote (so the brexit referendum would automatically now be invalidated and re-held….with the leave camp and their donors required to fund the cost!). Or the winning candidate is automatically disqualified and considered to have forfeited the election (or referendum) by cheating. So for example Trump would now be declared a usurper, hauled off to jail and Hilary would be sworn in. She would also be at liberty to un-sign any legislation he’s passed (such as his Muslim travel ban or tax cuts) and dismiss any of his appointees, as he would have been governing the country under false pretences.

Again, I know that all sounds radical, but if there’s no punishment and no proper checks and balances, some will do this again and we’ll never ever have a free and fair election.

And there are some profound implications for social media companies too. Facebook are at the centre of this entire scandal and now accused of lying to MP’s. While they have responded by suspending CA from Facebook, this is merely one of a number of recent scandals where it is alleged that Facebook either knew their data was being misused by repressive regimes or they were complicit. And in the case of Burma, Facebook data was used in aid of genocide.

And all that would be worrying enough if it weren’t for the fact that Facebook boss Mark Zukerberg is allegedly running for President. And I had a go at Oprah a while ago! Needless to say, the idea of letting him lose in the White house does not sound like a good idea. It would be about the only thing worse than a Trump presidency.

And facebook are not alone, other tech billionaires are also implicated, notably Robert Mercer (who owns CA) and Paypal boss Peter Thiel. The scandal also puts a new spin on the infamous advert strike effecting Google and Youtube. Its possible that the mysterious changes that Google enacted that provoked the add boycott had something to do with these same data analytic’s, as Google searches have been shown to employ similar profiling in the past.

One fix might be to force tech firms to disclose what data they harvest from users and how they target them with adds. Of course, that would require action at a more international level, at the very least the EU and US….which given recent events seems unlikely to happen….I mean why do you think this lot got into bed with brexiters and Trump for?

And above all else data protection laws need to be strengthened and tightened up. One of the loopholes that CA exploited was the fact that the default privacy settings on Facebook are set extremely low. One could suggest the opposite, they are set by default at their highest possible setting. And companies should be forced to disclose what they are doing with your data and to whom they are sharing it with.

In the meantime it might a case of voting with our feet and showing our displeasure for these tech companies by boycotting their services. I’ve always been suspicious of Facebook and hence I don’t have a Facebook page. If I did I’d be deleting it right now (after telling all my stalkers followers why). Ditto with regard to e-bay and Paypal (which I won’t be using anytime soon). I tend to use synonyms online and if forced into filling in any questionnaire I give deliberately misleading information. Its a practice I’d advise others to copy.

As Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist at the Observer who has been leading their investigation into the scandal puts it:

This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a “managed” democracy. Paid for by a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. And enabled by us. If we let this referendum result stand, we are giving it our implicit consent. This isn’t about Remain or Leave. It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.

Does anyone fancy a bespoke kebab?

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So the EU has released its all to predicable terms for the transitional brexit deal, which has sent the brexiters off into a tizzy. Corbyn, meanwhile has had a rare attack of common sense and realised that being leader of the opposition means opposing Theresa May, not supporting her. So he’s aligned labour’s brexit policy to include staying in the common market and thus more in line with what the labour membership want and indeed what the majority of the country wants.

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However, like Theresa May, Corbyn still wants the UK to be treated differently and thus he wants a “bespoke common market deal. We’ve seen numerous possible brexit options jettisoned. The Norway model, the Swiss model and even the Canada model fall by the way side. So we’re now down to the Turkey model for brexit. Or the kebab option as I suspect it will be called shortly. But both the major parties don’t just want any old kebab, they want a “bespoke” kebab.

To draw an analogy, let’s imagine Monsieur Barnier as the owner of a continental delicatessen and in walks May and Corbyn and both ask for a bespoke kebab (which the Tories think they shouldn’t have to pay for). Barnier has no idea what they’re talking about. Yes he did something similar once, as a favour for a Turkish customer, but that was a one off. He suggests they try something else from the menu, there’s the Norwegian stock fish sandwich, Swiss stew or the Canadian bacon special but no bespoke kebab, perhaps you should try Donald’s burger bar down the street (mind you that’s gone downhill since it got taken over by a Russian sushi chain).

May and Corbyn both plan to keep asking for a bespoke kebab over and over again until blue in the face, because shouting loudly at foreigners has worked so well for Britain in getting its way in the past. Obviously what’s actually going to happen is they’ll get thrown out, at which point May scuttle’s off into an alley, bites the head off a rat and sits on a dustbin Gollum style eating it while mumbling something about her “precious”. Corbyn meanwhile plans to stand outside the shop shouting at passers by for his bespoke kebab, until someone from the council comes along and takes him into care.

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Jokes aside, clearly both the main parties negotiating strategy isn’t going to work. Yes, labour’s shift to staying in the custom’s union is infinitely more sensible than the approach of the Tory party. It recognises that Northern Ireland is a place that exists and that a hard border there would be a very bad idea, plus that the UK does this thing called “trade” with the EU. However, as those more familiar with the “Turkey modelpoint out, there’s still checks at the border (trucks can be held up for several hours). The UK will still have to pay into the EU budget. And while yes the UK will be free to negotiate new trade deals with other countries in areas that the common market doesn’t cover, those tend to be the very areas the UK doesn’t WANT to open up its markets (e.g. healthcare, farming, etc.).

The grown up’s solution would be to negotiate a Norway model like arrangement but stipulate it as an interim to medium term solution. The EU would go along with that, they’ll always take a fudge that kicks the can down the road. Longer term the UK could then look at either a 2nd referendum in a decade’s time (after all the old racists have died off) and re-joining the EU. Or if there is a desire for a more radical hard brexit (and again, polls currently show most want a soft brexit), then the option to do that and back out of existing trade arrangements over time will be available.

However, I’m being way too sensible. The problem with such an option, or any of the other possible brexit models is that it requires one to admit that brexit is going to leave the UK worse off.

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In fact, just to keep score, way back in 2011, when brexit was just a twinkle in Beelzebub’s Farage’s eye I put up a post in which I predicted that brexit would threaten the peace of the good Friday agreement (tick) and the union with Scotland (tick). That the UK would have to pay an exit bill (tick) and continue to pay for access to the common market (tick). And that there was no way the EU would allow access to the single market without the UK paying in and retaining freedom of movement (tick). That the UK would need to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ (tick). And besides, ending freedom of movement probably won’t work because the reasons justifying it are flawed. And “shutting the door” to immigration would just lead to labour shortages and crops rotting in fields.

I also predicted that the UK’s relationship with America would change (either the special relationship would end or we’d become the 51st state, it currently looks like the latter) and the UK’s relations with rest of the commonwealth would suffer (tick). And far from the UK getting “exciting” new trade deals, in “emerging markets“, instead the UK’s going to have to spend decades renegotiating the deals its already got via the EU. And its been made clear by other world leaders (even Trump) that the deal the UK gets won’t be nearly as generous. Indeed, the word from Washington is that regional protection for Cornish pasties, Scotch and Cumberland sausages will have to go, as the price for a UK/US trade deal (I mean who could have known the US would want a trade deal that favours them!).

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And on the economic front, the markets are clearly jittery. There have been several large bankruptcies recently. Just the other day two of the country’s leading retailers collapsed. And there’s a long list of other firms on shaky ground. While these business failures aren’t entirely the fault of brexit, clearly it isn’t helping. And there’s worse to come. Many companies are in holding pattern right now, they are waiting to see the terms of brexit before they make any decision. But its inevitable that there will be some sort of “correction and some significant level of job losses.

In short, everything the remainers warned would happen has happened (or is clearly going to happen). But this is the truth that cannot be spoken by either of the main parties. Brexit is now the official state religion of the UK and speaking ill of it is the equivalent of the Pope coming out to mass on Sunday wearing a Glasgow rangers top and singing a famine song. Brexit is essentially a suicide pact that 37% of the country voted for (without knowing what they were voting for), which will now be implemented on everyone and democracy be damned.

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Again, labour’s policy is more sensible here than the Tory’s, but its still bonkers. Its the classic dilemma of the sweet shop owner v’s the doctor. The doctor wants to cure your cancer with chemotherapy, but the sweet shop owner promises to use chocolate and sweet things which he claims, will not only cure cancer, but all other ills and make you fitter and stronger. So Corybn has to sound like the sweet shop owner, while trying to sell the idea of taking our medicine.

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Of course so long as this impasse lasts, the only winner is going to be the EU. They’ve essentially come out on top at every turn so far, largely because the UK has no real negotiating strategy other than to ask for stuff we can’t get and probably don’t actually want.

Of course the fatal flaw of many in the UK, brexiters, remainers and those in the middle is that they are confusing the EU with someone who actually gives a toss either way. As far as the EU is concerned they have bigger fish to fry right now (climate change, Trump, Russia, Berlusconi, Catalonia, etc.) than deal with the primadonna antics of British politicians.

They’ll try to get an agreement yes, there is some room for compromise. But fundamentally there’s some things they can’t do nor allow. They have been more than clear on that since the very start. And if push comes to shove they’ll just say suit yourselves, c’est la vie and jettison the UK without any agreement.

The sadopopulist agenda behind brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumb and dumber, spot the difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shameless hypocrisy and the cult of fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit reality bites

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So before the referendum we were told that there would be no exit bill when the UK left the EU. We won’t be paying a penny. As Boris Johnson put it the EU would be told to “go whistle” for its money. We’d stare Fritz straight in the eye and say nien…..

…….of course what the brexiters didn’t mention is that we weren’t hearing them right. Rather than saying “nein” what they actually planned to say to the EU was “nine“, as in “is ninety billion euro’s ok?“.Once Britain’s rebate on EU assets is taken into account, this will result in a net payment by the UK of £50-60 billion, depending on the breaks…paid in euros btw!

We were told the PM could never agree to this. That there would be rioting in the streets, the tabloids would abandon her (what and throw their lot in with Corbyn?) and the cabinet would resign en-mass. And this morning…..nothing. Largely because the brexiters want the news cycle to move on. They were warned repeatedly that this day would come, before and after the referendum and I mean years before. The truth is most of them merely see brexit as a ladder to further their careers and they understand full well it is an act of national self harm. No matter what happens the UK will be worse off after brexit, that is the unescapable truth.

In these “talks” Brussels holds all the cards. The EU doesn’t have to be nasty about it. As Donald Tusk advised at the start of this process, the mere act of brexit will be punishment enough on Britain (a punishment that was self inflicted by the UK on itself). Sixty million do not dictate terms to a trade block of 500 million, especially when the leadership of said 60 million can’t even agree what it is that they want. Expect similar climb downs on the Irish border and the ECJ in the coming weeks.

And the EU was very clear that this money is not buying the UK a trade deal. What the UK is buying is a choice between a Norway plus model that will grant free access to EU markets, but at the expense of surrendering sovereignty to Brussels, paying about 90% of what the UK currently pays into the EU budget and only very limited changes to freedom of movement. Or a Canadian style arrangement, although that will be incompatible with an open border in Ireland, so some compromise will be needed here, likely by throwing the unionists under the bus.

Its worth nothing that there are two unionist parties in the Northern Ireland, the DUP and the UUP. The UUP campaigned for a remain vote, not because they are a bunch of hummus eating europhiles. But because, unlike the DUP, they aren’t moronically stupid. They understood all too well that Westminster will prioritise English interests over the interests of a couple of bigoted creationists in Northern Ireland. If that means effectively paving the way to a united Ireland, well so be it. So before Arelene Foster has a tissy, keep in mind she is in a mess of her making.

Now a word from the UK’s greatest ally

Indeed there were question marks about who tweeted those 3 racist videos to Trump. I’d guess that would be Trump’s British drinking buddy, Nigel Farage (who has well known associations with the UK far right). He correctly guessed that Trump would re-tweet them, burying the brexit divorce bill story and taking it off the front pages. However Trump’s outbursts and his rebuke to Theresa May should underline the other problem with brexit. In effect, if we follow through with the brexiters plan, the UK is trading sovereignty it shares with EU states and handing that sovereignty into the sweaty palms of Donald Trump. Its not so much a case of the UK becoming the 51st state (that would give the UK voting rights in US elections), its the UK becoming another Puerto Rico.

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Again as always, the brexiters are poor students of history. If they’d paid more attention, they’d know the period from the end of World War 2 to the UK joining the EU was a frustrating time for the UK. Time and again, the UK found its interests being trampled on by a now dominant US. The Suez crisis, numerous proxy wars fought out in commonwealth countries during the cold war and the Skybolt crisis to name a few. The Skybolt crisis did work out rather well for the UK in the end, but it so frustrated them that, according to De Gaulle, this was one of the reasons why the UK wanted to join the EU in the first place.

After the UK joined, the relationship improved, simply because the US needed an ally in the EU clubhouse. Now that the UK is leaving, that abusive relationship of the past is going to resume (much as I predicted would happen back in 2011). I mean can you imagine any past UK PM (assuming the UK voted remain) putting up with Donald Trump in the way Theresa May has had too? The UK has no choice now but to put up with whatever abuse they get from the US, regardless of who is in charge. Meanwhile the French are already positioning themselves to be America’s new best buddy inside the EU.

But we’re going to at least get a great trade deal off the US aren’t we? Well when Trump says it will be “great”, he means for the US. The UK, notably UK farmers and manufacturers are going to get screwed six ways.

So the can anyone who voted leave please explain to me how paying £50-60 billion to get the crap beaten out of us by both the EU and US, risking the peace of the good Friday agreement and ultimately becoming a vassal state of the US, is a good idea. I mean if the brexiters want to get robbed and beaten up that badly, just go to into any pub in Glasgow and tell em how great it is to be in jolly old England….