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.

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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.

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….

 

Local election autopsy

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With the local election results in, they make for grim reading for labour. They lost several mayoral election and 382 council seats. Should anyone doubt the disaster Corbyn is leading the party into, well here’s the evidence. Indeed you could tell it was bad by the fact that even before the counting had even started labour was already making excuses and had essentially already conceded defeat.

Firstly, the good news, UKIP were more or less wiped out, losing all but one of their seats. This to be honest isn’t that surprising, given that the Tories have spent the last few years turning themselves into UKIP. Voting for UKIP was always a protest, hence why they tended to do well in local elections or EU elections with low turn outs. However, once people had a UKIP councillor and realised what a total nob they’d voted for, they are forced to confront the fact that they voted for local government paralysis. The end result was they were always going to do badly in any election where people spent any longer than 5 seconds deciding who to vote for.

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Also it should be remembered that the far right parties in the UK (and the rest of Europe) do go through this cycle of doing well, then fighting with each other, imploding, only for another head of the hydra to rise up. Many UKIP members, including Farage himself are ex-members of the National Front or the BNP. So I fear rumours of the far right’s death in the UK are greatly exaggerated. Even if UKIP do now implode, I won’t be surprised if another racist party comes along to take their place, with basically the same people in it.

But back to labour, let us look at four areas, in Glasgow they lost control of the council to the SNP (thanks to a strong swing away from them towards the Tories), in Methyr a similar thing happened, and they lost two Mayoral elections in Teeside and the West Midlands.

Labour losing in Glasgow to the Tories? WTF! Seriously! This is the sort of town where even the Unionists don’t vote Tory. I recall a past EU parliament election where the Tories got just 2,500 votes. By law of averages, half of those were probably spoilt ballot papers. And most of the locals would see that many Tory votes as a reason to form an angry mob and hunt these Tory bastards down and run them out of town. When Thatcher died there was actually a party held in George’s square. Well under Corbyn, labour are now losing elections in Glasgow.

And they also lost control of Methyr Tydfil, the constituency of the labour party’s founder, down in the Welsh valleys. This area was devastated by the miners strike, so if you want to die quickly, go into a bar in Methyr and say something positive about Thatcher. I used to live down the valley from here and one of the reasons why they had to burn Thatcher rather than bury her, was because many of the miners in this part of the world were threatening to go and dance on her grave (or piss on her grave). So they’d have needed to build a dance hall and public toilet on her grave site! But labour now can’t defend seats in a place like this.

However, it is Teeside and the West Midlands that have me most worried. Here labour lost Mayoral elections they should have easily won. Both these areas saw a strong leave vote in the EU referendum (not everywhere, but in certain parts) and Corbyn’s whole justification for his brexit strategy is to keep voters in districts like this on side. And, much as I’ve been warning for some time now, its a strategy that has comprehensively failed. Labour support has gone down, not up. There was a swing in these districts towards the lib dems too (remainers turned off by Corbyn’s pro-leave rhetoric), although they didn’t win that many seats (overall they lost seats thanks to the strong swing to the Tories).

For those unfamiliar with Teeside or the West Midlands, these areas include a large number of people who I would describe as “working class social conservatives”. These are the sort of people who don’t like change, who are insular and suspicious of foreigners, go to church regularly and by and large they don’t really buy into the labour party’s socialist leanings, yet they still vote labour. They do so because they have bitter memories of the unholy mess Thatcher inflicted on them. The West Midlands is fairly multicultural, with a wide variety of ethnic groups, Irish, Nigerian, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. Again, quite a lot of these would be regular church (or Mosque) attenders, they tend to be socially conservative, but they have also historically voted labour. And they do so because they are well aware of the racist undercurrents within the Tory party. The Tories might think that when they dog whistle with a nod and a wink nobody except their racists allies hear them. Well I’m afraid we all hear it. Hence why large blocks of people in the UK have historically voted labour, even those whom you would otherwise put in the “conservative” camp.

So what worries me, is that I would see these results as a sign that these communities, faced with the choice between UKIP-lite and a hard left Corbyn, are opting for the Tories. As they see it the choice is to be either shot by Corbyn’s red brigades or poisoned by May’s hard brexit. And they are opting for the poison, after all maybe they can find a cure to that later. And it is in districts like this, but with a stronger Tory base, where the general election will be fought. In short if labour is losing in these four districts in the local elections, areas where historically they won’t even need to bother campaigning, well what chance do they stand in other areas where support for them is historically only marginal?

And the response from Corbyn and his supporters? To make excuses and blame everything and everybody, the voters for a low turn out (actually a low turn out tends to benefit the smaller parties, not the bigger parties or the governing party), the Tories, the lib dems, even accusing his own party of disloyalty. Much as a bad tradesman blames his tools a bad leader blames his rotten luck and his own staff for his failings. A truly awful boss blames his customers (or voters). Is it fair the Tories are holding an election now? No, but in warfare you rarely get to chose the time and place of battle, fate or the enemy chooses it for you. Politics is much the same.

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And if staff are disloyal, well that does kind of suggests you ain’t very good at the job of being a leader. Only a bad leader spends all his days accusing his staff of disloyalty. As I’ve pointed out before its not Corbyn’s left wing views that are the issue. Most labour MP’s are not secret Blairites, Tories in all but name, with Thatcher tee-shirts under their suits (as Corbyn would have you believe). I’ve met MP’s before and most are actually fairly left wing, maybe not as left wing as Corbyn, but certainly more to the left than your average person. What puts them off Corbyn is that they see him as unelectable and utterly clueless when it comes to running a political party.

Case in point, the tale of lieutenant Sobel. He was the drill instructor who took easy company (of band of Brothers fame) through basic training. By all accounts he was tough on his trainees and drill them rigorously. Many veterans credit him with preparing them well for combat in Normandy. However, he was hopeless as a field commander. During training exercises in England, he got his men lost, marched the company into an obvious ambush and worse still he refused to listen to advice from others (a bit like Corbyn). As a result, on the eve of D-day, all of his NCO’s simultaneously resigned and requested transfers (again a bit like the labour party under Corbyn!). The Army promptly replaced him. Which might seem harsh, but if a leader is looking over his shoulder and questioning his men’s loyalty and the troops are starting to question his orders, before they’ve even made contact with the enemy, the worse thing you could do is send them into combat. That would be leading lambs to the slaughter.

And its kind of the same with labour. Corbyn has some excellent qualities. He’s a good orator and he’s good at calling out the Tories lies and hypocrisy. If I wanted to organise a protest, he’s the person to call. But he’s not a leader. While it might seem crazy for labour to change leader so close to an election, the truth is labour is doing badly because they don’t have a leader and haven’t had one for nearly a year.

In short labour faces a choice between two unpleasant, but distinctly different post-election scenarios. One where Corbyn remains leader, leads the party to its worse defeat in living memory and the Tories win with a landslide that exceeds Tony Blair. He then refuses to go and leads labour into political annihilation and obscurity, probably sinking left wing politics in the UK for a generation. Or he resigns, the party deputy leader takes over, they get a poll bounce and while I doubt they could win, they might just cut down that Tory majority. And that’s crucial because the smaller the Tory majority, the more leeway labour has to prevent a hard far right brexit.

Gibraltar and article 50

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Brexit threatens to make a monkey out of the UK

The EU’s response to article 50 was fairly conciliatory and to be honest about as good as the UK could expect. If the EU wanted to be nasty, they could have taken the opportunity to pull funding from all EU farm subsidies, university research and development aid to the UK for all projects that would end post-brexit. Then slap all UK students in EU universities with a massive bill for their fees and ex-pats with fees for healthcare costs. They could have given MEP’s the day off, stopped Farage’s salary packed him off on the Eurostar home, handed out bottles of Champagne and declared a new EU wide holiday “so long suckers day”. But they didn’t.

But instead the plan seems to be to sort out the exit from the EU first then talk about a trade deal. This is as good as the UK is going to get. As one MEP pointed out, brexit is in of its self painful enough (self inflicted) punishment, the EU doesn’t have to be nasty. As for the Theresa May’s plan to essentially play chicken and brinkmanship with the EU, this is the equivalent of her driving towards the EU in a mini cooper, while the EU is in a truck driving towards her. And given that the EU has to balance out the consensus of 27 member states, its a truck that’s on cruise control. The EU won’t blink first. The eurozone crisis should have made that fairly obvious.

Of course the bit that got the tabloids worked up was how the EU appears to be backing Spain over Gibraltar. This is hardly surprising. Put yourself in the EU’s shoes. Suppose your a boss of a company, two employees are in dispute with one another over something. One is one of those nightmare employees who is always causing problems, who fortunately has already given his notice. The other is not your most dedicated employee, but he’s certainly loyal and generally pulls his weight. Who are you going to back up?

Personally, while I understand why Gibraltar’s citizens want to be part of the UK, I can’t understand why the UK wants with Gibraltar (I’m told by ex-pats its a grotty little tourist trap), nor what Spain wants with it either. Personally, I’d try and sell it to Morocco or some gullible Saudi sheik. However, Gibraltar’s post-brexit status does hammer home the sorts of issues the UK will face post-brexit. If the UK wants to maintain air links with Gibraltar, that will require EU agreement. So everything will have to take a week long sea voyage there or go through Spain (or possibly even Morocco). If the UK imposes strict border controls on the EU, then the EU will reciprocate, Gibraltar citizens will need a visa just to go into Spain to go shopping and visa versa. Trade and tourism will collapse. Leaving the EU common market and suddenly all the food and resources the colony needs gets slapped with tariffs ranging from 10-30%. In short, unless the rest of the UK is willing to pay a lot of money to subsidise Gibraltar, it will become non-viable pretty quicly. The locals will all leave and the UK will own a ghost town.

Naturally fighting talk about going to war to protect Gibraltar is just plain silly and shows how far divorced from reality the brexiters have strayed. Are they seriously proposing to attack a NATO ally because the Spanish make Gibraltar pay an extra 20% more for olive oil and they make the locals fill out the same sort of visa application form the British make Spanish fill out upon arrival at Heathrow?

But the thing is this will apply to the whole of the UK as well, Gibraltar is merely a microcosm of the problem. Any immigration controls or restrictions on free movement of people or goods, will be reciprocated by the EU. Smugglers, both those on the Irish border and the channel ports will be having a field day. An interesting article for example about the lengths smugglers of tea would go to in days gone by to outwith the tax man.

Furthermore, given that Spain has now indicated that it won’t block Scotland joining the EU, this suggests a secret horse trade has gone on. The EU has given Spain some leeway over Gibraltar, in return for which they will not object to Scotland joining the EU in the event of a yes vote. I warned before that if Tories plan to rely on “the Spanish option” to block Scottish independence, that’s not going to work….of course if Gibraltar really wants to put the cat among the pigeons, the thing to do would be to vote to join Scotland (they’d get to join the EU again and piss off the Spanish!).

But certainly if you heard a popping noise this Friday that was the sound of the brexiters bubble bursting. It should be obvious now that they are not in the driving seat. The UK’s options are to take the best deal the EU offers them, or screw the country over by exiting without a deal. Which isn’t much of a choice.

EU collapse fantasies

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Press brexiters on the fact that they’ll get a worse deal outside the EU than inside it, they’ll go into denial, why would the EU cut itself off from its main trading partners…..well largely because you dickheads voted for brexit! Case in point, UK airlines have now been warned they’ll need to move their base and refinance such that they are majority EU owned and based, if they want access to EU airspace. David Davis himself more or less conceded this week, that yes, the UK will be worse off. At this point, forced to accept that yes, it is all but inevitable that the UK is going to get a pretty raw deal, they’ll mumble something about how the EU will probably collapse anyway. This fantasy of the EU crumbling, just because the UK leaves, tells us a lot about brexiters.

Firstly I would have to agree that the EU as an institution has never been more vulnerable. I’d rate the chances of it falling apart at about 25%. Now if you’re a eurocrat, that’s a pretty scary thought, a 1 in 4 chance of the EU breaking up. That’s a big red warning light that should be going off in Brussels. Certainly the need for reform of the EU post-brexit is urgent. Unfortunately for the brexiters, this reform will likely involve making it more democratically accountable (e.g. an elected EU president), more centralisation of certain powers (including possibly NATO) and to balance that all out, more regional autonomy with perhaps a multi-speed Europe. In short, everything brexiters don’t want to happen.

But that still leaves a 75% chance that the EU will survive this crisis. Part of the problem the brexiters don’t understand is that getting another country to leave the EU, aside from Greece and Italy (who many in the EU want to leave!), isn’t going to be easy. Much was made by the Daily Mail of the “success” of the Dutch and French fascist parties recently, with them leading opinion polls. Unfortunately, leading an opinion poll in most cases means getting just 25-30% of the vote.

While in Britain the Tories won a majority with the support of only 37% of the vote, things are a little fairer in Holland and most EU states with proportional representation. You want a majority, then you need 50% of the votes (which the Tories haven’t gotten in decades), about half of what the Dutch fascists are currently getting. The chances of Le Pen winning a run off, even if the other candidate was a potted plant, is somewhere between slim and zero.

And even if they could win an election and put an exit from the EU on the ballot, its not quite as straight forward as it was in the UK. The UK is also leaving the EU on the basis of support from only 37% of the electorate (the 70% turn out times the 52% support in the referendum), closer to 27% if we factor in the many millions of EU citizens and UK citizens living abroad who were denied the right to vote in the referendum. In most of the rest of the EU, the idea that 37-27% of the electorate (most of them old geriatrics who’ll be dead before brexit goes through) is not democracy, its perversion of democracy. Generally election rules in these countries would require something as radical as leaving the EU to gain +50% support (i.e. a majority of the electorate, not a plurality of those who showed up on the day). Its doubtful you could get that in the UK, so even less so in the rest of the EU.

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Hence the brexiters are likely to be disappointed to learn that the EU will likely survive. And in fact, that’s just as well because its better for the UK that there is an EU. If there’s a worse case scenario than a hard brexit from the EU, its a hard brexit and then the EU breaking up shortly thereafter. That means the UK has to go and negotiate deals with each of the 27 member countries, and they’ll all have a host of competing agendas. We might get a trade deal with Germany for auto parts, by conceding on allowing free movement of German citizens into the UK, only for the French to slap a 25% tariff on all car parts travelling through their ports unless we rebrand Cheddar Cheese la merde anglais.

Indeed, this is precisely the problem with brexit, it involves the UK delegating important decisions to Brussels (or Washington and Bejing), fooling itself that its taking control, but leaving it up to the EU to be the responsible grown up and pass all the regulations and laws that will ultimately govern UK trade. So by conjuring up such EU breakup fantasies, what the brexiters betray is that they have no plan, no big idea.

And also by pandering to such EU breakup fantasies they show that they simply do not care. They don’t care that people are losing their jobs (e.g. Heriot Watt just announced 100 jobs to go and put the blame squarely on brexit), they don’t care that young people are now migrating in droves (the talk among my students seems to be where to immigrate to after graduation, given the lack of graduate places), or British citizens with an EU spouse are being forced to leave the country. They don’t care that people have lost money due to the collapse in the pound, with prices now gradually creeping up with inflation rates going up.

Granted they probably will start to care when they realise they can’t afford retirement anymore and that many of the retirement perks the government showers on the grey vote are starting to be withdrawn. Case in point, many councils can no no longer afford to pay for elderly care homes anymore and there are chronic staffing shortages, so services are starting to be withdrawn. And with the son or grandson the old brexiters were relying on to look after them in old age having now immigrated, they’ll find there’s nobody left in the country to look after them. And I can’t say I’ll have much sympathy.

And given that polls do show that people will not accept a hard brexit or any deal that leaves the country worse off, its very likely that either parliament might come under pressure to reject the deal Theresa May gets (and remain in the EU). Or in a decade or two (once all the old racists have died off), its possible that another referendum will be held and the UK will rejoin the EU.

In short, this brexiters EU collapse fantasy is essentially an admission that they know they’ve screwed themselves and the country over for ideological reasons, just so they message their fragile egos. Is the equivalent of some fool who burnt his house down for the insurance money, but the company refused to pay, so now they want everyone else to burn their houses down too just so they can feel a little less foolish.

Brexit review – 5 months on

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Its about 5 months since the referendum, so where are we in terms of brexit? Well, if leaks from Whitehall are to be believed, nowhere. Theresa May claims that she’s come up with a cunning plan, as cunning as a fox who won most cunning in show five times in a row. Only those leaks suggest that five months of work has actually produced…..nothing.

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Like a school kid who constantly refuses to do her chores because she says she’s working on her homework, we’ve now seen inside Theresa May’s schoolbook and there’s nothing there but a few doodles. There is no grand master plan for brexit and their probably never will be. A country of 60 million does not get to dictate terms to a continent of 500 million, we’ll get what we’re offered and we’ll have to take it.

And we can’t even guess what sort of brexit we’re going to get, the government’s apparent position sways between the hardest of hard brexits, the laughably delusional statements of Boris to more recently Theresa May implying to the CBI she’ll go for the softest of soft brexits and may take more than the two years to happen as she’ll try to negotiate a transition deal. In short brexit means brexit seems to mean whatever the Tories reckon will placate whichever audience they are talking too.

About the only certainty we can have about the brexit process is that the Tories will inevitably use it to go after hard won environmental protections and labour laws designed to protect the very “JAM” families they now pretend to be the champions of.

And what are labour up too? Why aren’t they trying to stop the Tories? Well because with Corbyn in charge they are a rudderless ship. Both he and the “muesli” brexiters in labour also want brexit, as they hope they can rebuild their socialist workers paradise on the ashes of the mess the Tories leave behind. Of course they’ll never get the chance to do so given the impossibility of them winning the next election.

Which brings us to the supreme court ruling due next month. Theresa May’s strategy here seems to be that of the typical arrogant Tory, assume you’ll get your way (ya that worked well in the referendum didn’t it!) and then run around in a panic when you don’t and blame others for the mess you waded straight into. Her plan B is to put a three line piece of legislation to parliament. That would be little short of an insult to the democratic process. The most important bill in recent UK history cannot be three lines long. Not least because such a bill would be too opaque and at risk of further court challenges.

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And keep in mind what parliament really wants here is to be consulted about the brexit process. They aren’t comfortable with the idea of turning Theresa May into an all seeing and all knowing dictator for some ill defined period and parliament reduced to that of a debating club. The government says they can’t involve parliament, because that would give away our (entirely non-existent) strategy. Well there’s a simple horse trade there, have a closed session of parliament and tell MP’s what Theresa May’s “bloody good idea” is. Then vote on article 50. Of course they won’t do that (because she doesn’t actually have a plan), and therefore there’s a chance of defeat in the commons. I’m doubtful the lords would endorse such a bill, as it would essentially be a case of the PM trying to cynically get around a court order. If the lords say no, then that puts a delay of at least 6 months to a year onto the process.

And the SNP and Northern Ireland assembly also want it determined if that have some say in the process. If the court says yes then that delays brexit yet further, or at worst kills it stone dead (or at least until after a border poll in Northern Ireland and an 2nd indyref in Scotland, this one called by Westminster).

And what is the state of the public finances? Well the guess is that we’re looking at a £122 billion hole in country’s finances, much of which will have to be borrowed. Its now likely the UK debt will exceed 90% of GDP by the next election (a level unseen since 1964) and likely exceed the symbolically important point of 100% within the next decade. And as former Chancellor Alastair Darling has pointed out this is arguably a hard problem to fix than he faced in the financial crisis . That was a temporary blip, this is an ongoing crisis that can only be stopped by massive public spending cuts or a significant hike in taxes.

And of course there’s the Trump factor. Some Tories were secretly hoping he’d win, as that would make things easy for the UK. But much as I warned, no, the only think we can be sure about trump is that he’s unpredictable. He’s now trying to instruct the Queen as to who she should pick as her Ambassador to the US. And his first instructions to Farage? go sort out those Scottish windfarms. Yes Trump things he’s entitled to dictate the energy policy of Scotland. And this is the great white hope of the brexiters!

Nigel Farage, the interim leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) holds a platter of Ferrero Rocher chocolates during a party in London

You’re ambassador, lord Farage will see you now

Actually my guess is that Trump may not be in power by the time negotiating with the Americans comes up, he’ll likely have been impeached or had a little “accident” before then. I still say there’s an outside chance he won’t even be inaugurated, especially with allegations of voter fraud now swirling. Bottom line, you can’t rely on the Americans to bail you out, they’ve got bigger problems to deal with.

Given all of the above you would question the logic of pushing ahead with the aggressive timetable Theresa May has set. It would make far more sense to now delay the brexit process for at least a year in my view. Trigger it say in 2018 instead. This would give time for the legislative hurdles to be dealt with and for the government to actually come up with a strategy and consult parliament about that process. Also the fact is that 2017 is not a good time to be negotiating such a thing, there’s elections in Germany and France this year and possibly in Italy too. We’re not going to get anything sensible out of the EU because they have no idea who will be in charge of these countries in 6 months time. Waiting a year would give time to resolve this, talks when they do start, will be at a much swifter pace.

Of course the downside to delaying brexit, the whole reason why Theresa May is insisting on her current strategy is that this would mean the 2020 elections would straddle the brexit process. We’ll be voting on the next parliament about the same time brexit talks are winding up. My response is, good that’ sounds like an excellent idea. It gets around calls within her own party and the lib dems for a 2nd vote on the terms of brexit. If you like the deal she’s got, vote Tory, if you don’t vote labour, if you’d rather stay in the EU after all vote lib dem, if you want hard brexit and become airstrip one of the Trump empire vote UKIP.

So if’s that simple you may enquire why is Theresa May going out of her way to avoid this? After all the poll suggest she’ll likely win the next election anyway. Well the answer is very simple, I suspect if we got the PM drunk and asked her that question the response would be BECAUSE YOU MORONS VOTED FOR BREXIT.

Many voted brexit because they feel the government doesn’t listen to them, it was an act of political self harm, a cry for help. However as I warned prior to the referendum the likely outcome wouldn’t be a government that’s more caring and listening. Its one that would be more hostile, authoritarian and much more willing to lie and deceive the public. After all voters have just shown they can’t be trusted with important decisions.

So let us be clear, this is why the PM is so reluctant to trust either the public or even her own MP’s with a vote. Because both have shown themselves to be woefully unqualified to make important decisions anymore. Brexit means chaos and brexit means a UK that is significantly more authoritarian. So congratulations to any brexit voters who voted for this.

The trouble with Corbyn

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So labour have elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader (again). However while he’s wildly popular with his party base, many others in the party, notably the PLP have serious misgivings and perhaps for good reason. Hence a split in the labour party is now a very real possibility.

Take for example Corbyn’s stance on Brexit. He’s spent most of the last few months going around apologising for the swivel eyed loons who voted for Brexit, trying to portray it as a revolt against globalisation. Well I don’t remember once hearing that word mentioned in the campaign, I seemed to remember a lot of xenophobic screaming about migrants and some BS lies about billions to the NHS. And while yes it is known that many neo-fascist parties are opposed to globalisation (not because they want more socialism, quite the opposite!), that still doesn’t make them you’re friends. However, it does hint that Corbyn secretly did vote for Brexit and he has no intention of opposing it.

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This puts him at odds with most of the country’s left leaning voters and indeed most of his own party, who tended to vote remain. It means that he’s chasing the votes of the 37% of the electorate who voted leave. However the Tories and UKIP have that voting block pretty much tied up. Meanwhile the 63% of the country who were either denied the opportunity to vote, or voted remain are left with nobody to speak for them. From a party politics point of view, this is a disastrous strategic mistake.

Left wing “Muesli Brexiters” as I prefer to call them (like Corbyn or George Galloway) are few in number, because most on the left are all too aware that leaving the EU is throwing the baby out with the bath water. The Tories will now use it as an excuse to roll back all sorts of legislation protecting the environment, workers rights, pensions and access to welfare. All while trying to turn the country into a low tax haven (oh btw, the tax codes of tax havens do not make it cheaper to live there, often VAT rates are high, flat taxes dis-proportionally hit the poor and the general costs of living are high). And Brexit has given comfort to bigots to go out and hurl racist abuse. It has also made it harder to tackle many of the world’s pressing global issues, which require co-operation and collaboration, not division and selfishness.

To draw an analogy, imagine Corbyn’s trying to sell burgers at an old firm game. Rather than parking at the Celtic or neutral supporters entrance, he instead drives his green coloured biofuel powered burger van down to the Rangers end and tries to sell them Hipster Vegan burgers made of Tofu. Chances are he’ll do very little business, get accused of being a Papist sent to poison them and earn a plastic fork in the eye for his trouble.

So far this lack of action, either during the referendum or afterwards, hasn’t really eroded his support base, but inevitably it will. We’re in a sort of “phony war” stage on Brexit, the really bad news hasn’t arrived yet. Inevitably once it does arrive and people start losing their jobs, their rights and employment protections, many of those who just voted for him as labour leader will realise he intends to do nothing to help them (because ultimately he wants Brexit). Obviously at that point he may not be so popular. But understandably many in the party don’t want to wait for that. As it means labour essentially sitting on its hands through one of the most important periods in recent UK politics.

Corbyn’s supporters have tried to portray anyone who opposes him within the party of being Blairites and left wingers in name only. While this is a fair point when it comes to the likes of Alastair Campbell or Peter Mandelson, but many in the party, including Owen Smith or Tom Watson are certainly not Blairites. And while they might not be as left wing as Corbyn’s its not his left wingness that worries them, its his unelectability. As a comedian joked at the Fringe, he’s turned PMQ’s into Gardener’s question time. “Prime Minster I have a letter from a David from Rotherham and he has problems with his NHS services…..and his Azaleas”.

The PLP are all too aware that the majority of the public just aren’t that turned on by Corbyn’s policies, poll after poll and meetings in their constituency offices has told them that. And regardless of their own views on the matter (its not as if they have to agree with every policy coming out of labour HQ), they know that the UK’s first past the post system makes trying to win an election on such a platform very difficult, if not impossible. Ultimately the PLP’s concern is more a matter of job security that ideology. They reckon he’s going to cost them their seats and that they will lose those seats to UKIP and Tories.

 

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Corbyn actually polls below “don’t know” and is less popular than an incumbent PM

One of the dangers for the Tories with pulling the pin on the Brexit hand grenade was always the risk that in the fallout that followed a hard left leader would come to power and he’d be then in the position to roll back market capitalism and run the non-doms out of town. However I would argue this is now very unlikely to happen. Corbyn has positioned himself such that come the next election the hard Brexiters will pivot towards UKIP, while those who want to see it stopped or a 2nd vote (on the terms of it or to rejoin the EU) will pivot towards the lib dems, greens and in Scotland the SNP.

Now the irony is that the Tories having gone to all this trouble to kill off UKIP, its quite possible UKIP will emerge from the next election stronger than ever. Ordinarily this would spell defeat for the Tories, the FPP system meaning they should lose seats to labour. But Corbyn’s labour party will also be haemorrhaging votes (he’s already down 9% in the polls, despite all the problems in the Tory party). Consequently the balance of probability is (and I’ve seen polling analysis which suggests this is now the most likely outcome) the Tories will still be the largest party, although they may fall sort of a majority. Note that as they’d then have to go into coalition with either UKIP or the lib dems, that would all but guarantee a 2nd vote on Europe in some way shape or form.

Corbyn’s supporters will say, but the media have been against him from day one. And yes, I agree, they have not given him fair treatment. If he rescued a baby from a burning building, they’d accuse him of being anti-fire and taking jobs away from hard-working firemen. But he has sort of made things easy for them, what with going around in dodgy tracksuits and that whole traingate business. If you lean over in front of your enemy and he kicks you up the arse, I mean what did you think was going to happen?

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When I first saw this photo, I’d didn’t click it was Corbyn, I thought it was going to be a story about some chav who robbed a charity shop

And if Corbyn thinks the media are being hard on him now, wait until we are in an actual election campaign. While inevitably Brexit and its fallout will impact on the next election, it will not be the terms under which it is fought. No, the next election will be fought on the unsuitability of Corbyn for the post of PM. The Tories will make sure of that. I mean look at what they did to Ed Miliband and all they had to go on was him looking awkward for a split second while eating a bacon roll. Can you imagine what they’re going to do to Corbyn? What the labour party members decided to do last week was vote to let an old guy get dragged into the street and watch him get beaten senseless for the next few years.

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After Corbyn looses the next election, the balance of probability is that the Blairites will take over again and they’ll change the voting rules to make damn sure this never happens again. They’ll pivot the party to the right and labour will essentially become the equivalent of the democrats in America. Alternatively the party splits, either before the next election or not long after it. This new party (we’ll call them the UK Democrats, because that’s essentially what they’ll be) gradually takes over labour’s position, becoming a slightly more centrist version of the lib dems (perhaps even merging with them), while Corbyn’s labour, robbed of much of its voters, finance and support declines and joins the ranks of the many other parties of the socialist left, whom it spends the rest of the time fighting with.

Perhaps I can illustrate the danger Corbyn posses via my own position. I’m exactly the sort of left wing voter he’ll need to persuade to vote labour next election if he’s to win. I’ve voted labour in the past and I’ve voted for other left wing parties before (Greens, SNP, etc.). I generally vote labour back in Ireland, noting that they are a “proper” labour party in Ireland, not any of this new labour nonsense. So will I vote labour in the next UK election with Corbyn in charge? NO! Is it because he’s too left wing? No, nothing to do with that. I voted remain, I want someone who speaks for the 63% of us who didn’t vote leave. Corbyn is clearly not up to the task. Ultimately, he has very little chance of getting elected. If I want to see left wing or liberal policies implemented, I’m better off voting lib dem or Greens (or in Scotland SNP). They have some chance of implementing those policies as a coalition partner in a future government and are providing much more robust opposition to the Tories at the moment.

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Quite a few labour members have posted on twitter them cutting their labour party membership cards up after Corbyn’s re-election

So the question to Corbyn supporters is, if you can’t persuade me to vote for him, or the thousands of his own party members cutting their membership cards in half this week, what chance do you have of persuading the millions of centre ground voters (who will decide the next election) to vote for him? Labour have just voted to lose the next election. Its time for Corbyn and his supporters take take a healthy dose of Realpolitik.

Weekly roundup

Veto warning

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At a conference to discuss the post-Brexit future of the EU, the UK was warned that the EU would make leaving “very painful”, if any form of immigration controls were included. Indeed, the threat was made of a possible veto of any deal by four Eastern European countries, if the UK refused to guarantee freedom of travel. Its unclear if this applies to just current EU citizens in the UK or future arrivals. However, the message is clear, the Brexit position on immigration is not going to be allowed, it is not and never was a deliverable possibility.

But we do 60% of our trade with the EU the brexiters claim, why would the EU jeopardise that? Well because it might be 60% of the UK’s trade, but its only about 10% of the EU’s trade. And certain countries will bear the brunt of that. Others, such as the Eastern European countries making these threats, will not be seriously effected. There is no way the rEU or the UK can bully them out of a veto. So if the UK tries to stonewall the EU, as the three brexiters seem to plan on doing, they will be in for a rude awakening.

Keep in mind at the point where this veto will be made it would be at the back end of negotiations where the UK has likely just days or weeks away from essentially being chucked out of the EU and EEA if it doesn’t get a deal. In such circumstances a panicked climb down by the UK seems very likely.

As always my suspicion is that cooler heads will prevail long before we get to this stage. Some sort of horse trade will be done, EU citizens will have to fill out some forms and will not be entitled to benefits for a few years (although that could result in a rebate of their taxes back to their country of origin). The swivel eyed loons will be told they’d got immigration controls, but in truth nothing substantial will have changed.

 

Academic poaching

And as if to underline what’s at stake here, there have been warning about how much of the UK’s key science centres are now a risk of being poached. Either individual scientists, or the entire institutes themselves might well move in the next few years.

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As I mentioned in previous posts, a lot of the funding for these institutes comes from the EU. And they also get quite a bit of private sector funding too (often the EU funding is dependant on them raising matching funds from the private sector). And many research centres and university’s in Britain will have a small network of high-tech start ups around them, which will both assist and be dependant on the success of said institute at securing funding. Getting that funding outside the EU gets very complicated very quickly. Freedom of travel is also crucial to science and I can’t see how these institutes could function if that were to end.

So the price the UK could pay, is much of its very best and brightest, everything from Fusion energy research to graphene could potentially move overseas in the next few years. Then again, many Brexiters seem to be the anti-science troglodytes who’d rather go back to the 1950’s. Well be careful what you wish for……

 

ITT Tech

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Just prior to the Brexit vote the Universities minister issued two statements which caused great concern in academia. The first was his intention of allowing for-profit universities in the UK. The 2nd was his statement that “some providers may exit the market”, or in other words, the government is okay with the thought of universities going bankrupt.

Well we had a warning this month of what the likely consequences of such a policy would be. ITT Tech, the parent company of several for-profit universities across the US went bankrupt just before the start of term. This left tens of thousands of students out of pocket and with no university place to start or continue their studies at. Many of them have now been left in limbo.

And the reasons for their collapse? Poor standards of education, well below those of mainstream universities and accusations of predatory practices. ITT tech students were some of the the most heavily indebted students in America. And incidentally some of that debt was owed to the US government. Students are now refusing to pay back these loans, arguing the collapse is the fault of the government for failing to regulate ITT tech properly.

So I would ask anyone in the Tory party or any government minster, do you really want to see this sort of scandal play out in the UK? And before you answer that question, take out an electoral map of the UK, work out how many marginal seats are in (or near) a university town and after you’ve worked out how, estimate by how much you’d lose the next election, perhaps then you might decide to reconsider this policy.

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Tweeting twits in cars

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There was recent talk about increasing the number of penalty points for mobile phone use in cars to 6 . In some respects I can see the point of this. Far too often I’ve seen people driving along, not just talking on a mobile held to their ear, but texting with it. And I mean sometimes when I’ve been cycling or walking along at night I’ve noticed drivers gliding along with their face down at the phone, trying to drive with one hand and half an eye on the road. You do have to worry about some people.

However, the danger with such knee jerk legislation, is that it can often lead to overzealous enforcement by the police. Keep in mind the cops have done people for blowing their nose at a traffic light or threatened to arrest a four year old child for riding a kiddies bike on the pavement. Given the cops an inch in the UK and they will take things to an illogical extreme.

What counts as mobile phone use in a car? For example, I’ll sometimes use my mobile as an Mp3 player. Now I’ll plug it in and set everything up before I start driving, but occasionally I might need to just hit the volume button or turn it on/off (without taking my eyes off the road of course and only when its safe to do so). Does that count? Should I get 6 points for that? Now okay, maybe you say yes it does count, in which case I suppose I’ll just listen to the radio instead, will adjusting the volume on the radio now get me 6 points? Because its essentially doing the same thing. Or how about adjusting the air-con, or the sat nav? Keep in mind that there are time you’ll need to adjust these systems for safety reasons (e.g. its night, the sat nav display is too bright so you turn it off or tap it into night mode, your coming up to a busy junction, you hit the mute button on the radio so it doesn’t distract you, windows start to fog up, you need to clear them, etc.).

And I bring this up because it has a legal bearing for me. I have an Irish license and while the Irish government does transfer points issued by the UK authorities onto Irish license, they don’t give the UK courts a rubber stamp. We have this long standing principle in Ireland of “rights” and “due process”. And any Irish court would likely take a dim view of saying doing such and such a thing with a mobile is enough to lose you your license, but doing the same thing with the car radio is okay. Indeed the Irish government has been having difficulty securing convictions for its own laws against in car mobile use.

And to go slightly off topic, but there’s a Brexit dimension here. While I suspect the transfer of penalty points across the Irish border will continue (its a bilateral agreement and nothing to do with the EU) I’m not sure about other EU countries. I suspect any such rules the UK has with the rest of the EU will end with Brexit. Meaning Polish lorry drivers will be able to not only use their phones while driving without fear, but speed as fast as they like and park wherever they like and there’s basically nothing that plod can do about it other than go whistle Dixie. Keep in mind I already know people from the continent who regularly just tear up parking tickets they get in the UK and put them straight in the bin. Such rules are difficult to enforce at the moment, post Brexit it will be impossible. And again its the tendency of the UK legal system to ignore the basic principles upon which any proper legal system is supposed to work that’s to blame.

But I digress. Clearly one has to wonder how out of hand such measures could get and how difficult it becomes to enforce. Might I suggest a more common sense approach. If you are so addicted to your phone that you can put it down for a few minutes while driving maybe you need to decide which is more important, your ability to drive safely or your phone? Keep in mind that if you travel by public transport instead not only can you text and tweet to your hearts content, but many buses and trains theses days come with free wifi. #OMG

And in much the same way that anyone stumbling out of pub with car keys is likely to be rugby tackled and subject to a citizens arrest these days, if you see someone in the car behaving recklessly with a phone (or turning his head away from the road and trying to tune the radio), point out to them how dangerous this is. #where_did_that_tree_come_from? #Sad face

 

Unsporting behaviour

There was some controversy this week when one of the Brownlee brothers helped the other across the line to win a bronze medal. The British media looked on this as brothers in arms, or good sportsmen ship. Ah, no! I’m afraid its what’s known as “cheating”.

The rules of individual sports like the triathlon are very clear, you cannot assist in any way another competitor, nor can they or should they except such help. Riders have been disqualified in the past just because a spectator (never mind another runner) was seen to push them. Until a few years ago triathletes weren’t even allowed to slipstream during the cycling stage of a triathlon. Giving or accepting aid like this isn’t just against the rules, it violates the very spirit of the sport itself.

Put it this way, if a Polish or Chinese athlete had done the same thing and a British athlete had been denied a medal, would the UK media be reacting the same way? Probably not. We can’t have one rule for those who are popular with the media (and have a good sponsorship deal) and another rule for everyone else. There’s little point in getting worked up about Russian doping, if were going to apply the full weight of the law to one group of athletes and ignore them for others.

So while I hate to be mean, but both brothers should have been disqualified for this. And should another “hand of god” like moment happen in a future football match, I don’t want to hear any English whinging about how unfair it all is. You’ve gain just as much, if not more, unfair advantage in sports as everyone else.

 

Not so fancy bears

And speaking of sports there were more revelations about the medical records of British athletes. Now to be fair, if the Russians are trying to tar everyone with the same brush, they are failing. What these records show is that the sort of massive state sponsored doping isn’t going on in the UK or US. However, that’s not to say all of the UK’s athletes are angels. The revelations do flag up some worrying questions.

Quite a few appear to regularly be benefiting from what’s called TUE’s basically an excuse to use a banned substance for medical reasons. The problem is that known drug cheats like Lance Armstrong were known to use these as a way of getting around tests, when they realised (or feared) they might fail a test. So an athlete regularly getting these, while it doesn’t prove anything, it certainly doesn’t look good. In short, anyone who believes doping begins and ends with Russian, think again.

 

The Empire club

A restaurant in Australia is in hot water after calling itself the Colonial club, a sort of colonial themed restaurant for public school boys who are ignorant of history. Naturally this is causing much offence and there are calls for it to be closed down. One wonders if they do a Jallianwahla Bagh cocktail, or an Irish Famine potato salad or how about the Hola special?

What is it about Empire that the Brit’s don’t get? One of the Brexiters put up a tweet (in reaction to another one showing the EU top of the medal table at the Olympics) claim the British Empire “won” the Olympics. British need to understand that to some people this is the equivalent of going up to a Polish person and saying how much better they were under the third reich. There are only two occasions where bringing up the British Empire isn’t going to get you in trouble:
A) You’re Prince Philip (we sort of expect this stuff from him!)
B) At a memorial for the victims of a British empire massacre, explaining why it was so terrible

 

The joys of Hitchhiking

A French hitchiker in New Zealand went beserk this week after spending 4 days by the side of the road and not getting picked up. To be honest, I think if you are hitch-hiking, you need to have a better strategy. And in a remote area, you need to have a plan B in case you don’t get picked up, e.g. walk to where you want to go and if you don’t get picked up along they way, you’ll get there anyway. Or have a public transport option you can call on.

One of the issues I take with this story was how he was called “a spoilt millennial”. First of all, Millennials are really an invention of marketeers who like to segment people into neatly defined groups. An many of those qualities they ascribe to “millennials” don’t actually gel with the facts, as this Adam Conover video discusses. I teach a lot of “millennials” and I know of just as many who are spoilt selfie takers with a sense of some sort of god given entitlement, as I know similar people from previous generations. It certainly does not fit the description of the average Millennial I know. Indeed it was mostly baby boomers with there sense of entitlement who voted for Brexit, not millennial’s (whom the baby boomers screwed over).

Brexit now comes with a price tag

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The Tories have been accused of pulling the pin on the Grammar school hand grenade, not because they think its a good idea, but because they want to distract from the shambles of the Brexit fallout. We’ve already learnt that a points system isn’t going to happen. Then it was a restriction on entry unless migrants had a job. They’ve gone quiet on that one too now, so presumably that’s been ditched also, for what should be obvious reasons. Now they seem to be planning on requiring entrants to have a work visa.

What’s wrong with that? Well because it constitutes what Sarah Palin would describe as “central planning”. Its distinctly anti-business and authoritarian. Decisions on recruitment will be taken away from employers and they’ll be left at the whims of government policy. This is the sort of thing that will result in crops rotting in the field, projects put on hold because of a lack of skilled labour or businesses shutting down as they can’t get the staff they need. Inevitably employers will relocate outside of the UK to the rest of the EU where they can recruit more freely. Indeed its interesting to note that the post-Brexit shares rally now appears to be over, the FTSE 100 & 250 have been falling for the last few days, possibly because the penny is finally dropping that it might not be business as usual.

Keep in mind that British citizens count towards inward migration figures. And perhaps not surprisingly UK nationals make up the vast majority of those entering the country. Last time I checked the figures of those entering the UK to permanently take up residence 83,000 of them (25%  of the total if we include students, 55% if we exclude students) were British. As the EU states will reciprocate with any restrictions, its likely that what you’ll see is a slight drop in EEA citizens coming, cancelled out by a sudden jump in UK citizens coming home permanently. Only difference is instead of getting nice young Polish people with skills the country needs, we’ll be getting older people (in many cases retired) who’ll be taking more money out of the state than they contribute.

The only way net migration could be cut to “the tens of thousands” is by bringing in North Korea like border controls and essentially banning British people from moving abroad (or moving back to the UK).

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Its likely that the only way this visa idea would work is by doing something along the lines of the Swiss, with no specific restrictions on numbers allowed in, just so long as they fill in the necessary paperwork. In other words it will be an empty formula, consisting of a bit of form filling and paying a fee. It will change nothing, aside from making the job of EU citizens coming in, or British going out, that little bit more bureaucratic.

And speaking of the Swiss, a situation in Switzerland whereby the people voted for immigration restrictions mirrors the situation in the UK. The Swiss tried to stonewall the Europeans, the EU refused to budge, guess whose blinked first? Yep, the Swiss seem to be on the verge of caving in. They’re looking for some window dressing so that they can claim to be compiling with the wording of the referendum decision while perverting its original intend, much as Theresa May will be doing in about two years time.

And if the stakes weren’t high enough, there’s the matter of the Etias. This was an anti-terrorism measure proposed back in 2011, similar to the visa entry system to the US. Whereby non-Schengen citizens (i.e. anyone outside the EU, Norway and Switzerland) will have to pay a fee and fill in an online form 72 hours before entering the EU. Now originally the UK was supposed to get a pass on this, or some sort of opt in. However, given the recent talk of immigration restrictions, its increasingly unlikely the UK will get any leeway from the EU (short of the UK joining the single market without condition).

Now for a tourist having to apply 72 hours in advance of travel to the EU is just plain inconvenient. But to some British, airline staff, truck drivers, salesmen, its potentially crippling. We could see waves of these people loosing their jobs, replaced by EU citizens or their company relocating across the channel. Its increasingly likely I would therefore argue that the UK will be sent packing with their tail between their legs once these Brexit negotiations start. The EU won’t get nasty, they don’t need too. All they’ll do is read the UK the riot act and force them to confront the cold hard facts of life.

Indeed the very fact Theresa May has resorted to chucking around dead moggies and bringing up Grammar schools, does tend to suggest they know they’re not going to get their way. And the frustrations seem to be building. Liam Fox, who was recently sent packing by the Australians (he’d been talking up the possibility of a trade deal with them), went so far as to insult UK small business owners for not being suitably patriotic. Ya, like the Russian cosmonauts who weren’t suitably patriotic enough to hold their breath for ten minutes after their soviet leaders sent them up in a shoddy capsule. Business leaders have naturally pointed out they are doing the best they can but some dickheads decided to have a referendum on EU membership and that’s kind of screwed them over.

In short, the Tories lies on Brexit are starting to catch up with them.