Right wing policy is all about walls…and they don’t work!

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So we now know that its going to be a no deal brexit and that basically means the Tory policy is the same Trump’s – build a wall in the English channel and expect someone else to pay for it (spoiler alert, they won’t!). However there is a problem here, both for the Tories and Trump. Walls don’t actually work and can lead to the worst of both worlds.

The likelihood is that what we will see after January 2021 is long queues at Dover and Folkstone leading to serious delays and possible shortages of supplies in shops. How serious these shortages are is hard to guess, but it will not correct itself quickly, sporadic shortages of certain items (one week no eggs, next week lots of them but no flour, etc.) will be something we have to get used to, because that’s sort of the price you pay for having such border checks. As I’ve discussed before, this was the reality in the time before the single market.

Supermarkets and retailers plan their orders months in advance. They will have already started work on their Christmas stock. This is how they are able to have what you need or want on the shelves at the correct time (e.g. first decent day of sun, there’s barbecue stuff, first frosty morning, de-icing kits and snow shovels). While they can plan ahead for some certain predictable events, the trouble is that if the demand side of things causes supplies to sell out quicker than expected (as recently happened during the pandemic) its going to be harder to restock in a hurry (due to the border delays) and it will cost more money to do so, pushing up prices.

And when it comes to costs we are not just talking about tariffs, but the cost of paying for a truck to sit in a queue for several hours (or possibly for the driver to have to overnight as he’s gone over his hours). Then there is the cost of paying someone to fill out all that paperwork, estimated at £200 per item in a truck (so if you have boxes of 50 different items in the back of one truck, that’s £10,000 on paper work to move one truck across the border). Those costs will have to be borne by someone.

And that doesn’t just mean customers, it also means costs to the government and ultimately tax payers (those border facilities cost money to build and maintain, border guards don’t work for free). Indeed it has been estimated that the costs of establishing a border, as well as numerous regulatory agencies and then administering all of that, will cost far more than the UK ever paid to Brussels during its entire period of EU membership. And this doesn’t include the loss of trade or the economic damage caused by brexit.

And no, we can’t all buy everything off British suppliers. They won’t be able to produce enough to meet demand. Inevitably if everyone tries to order say, British tomatoes, the price will soar. And retailers know their customers, they know what will sell and what won’t. Hence they will not stock fruit and veg that’s the wrong colour or shape, which is why the EU had all those rules about bendy banana’s (to ensure suppliers didn’t find themselves in the situation where a supermarket rejects their entire stock for some arbitrary reason). Which is why the UK will need to come up with similar rules (then pay someone to administer them).

But here’s the problem, border controls don’t work. Inevitably people will start to circumvent them. Don’t underestimate people’s ingenuity in circumventing a disliked bureaucracy. This was, after all, the reality pre-single market. If you went to France on holiday, you made sure to fill the car boot with French wine on the way back. If going to visit relatives in the UK you’d bring over a big suitcase full of contraband, which you’d then fill up for the return journey. And truck drivers who cross borders regularly will start carrying a few “special delivery” boxes (any items that is expensive or scarce post-brexit) tucked away in the back of their truck. Professional smugglers will set up their one operations as soon as they see a way of making a profit (and that £10k a truck load, not including the savings from dodging tariffs and taxes, is going to be mighty tempting). This puts UK companies in the worst of both worlds, unable to export easily and facing competition from foreign produce that is smuggled in with no regulation, taxes or tariff’s.

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Now that’s a proper wall, unlike Trump’s puny little fence

Bottom line you can’t search every single car or truck, enough will leak in to cause problems. Take the Berlin wall. Now that’s a proper wall (Trump’s wee fence seems pretty tame in comparison) with literally an army guarding, operating under shoot to kill orders. But it didn’t work. Smuggling of people out through check points still occurred, as did the smuggling of goods into the GDR. This combination of loss of trade thanks to those strict border controls, smuggling of items into the GDR and a brain drain, is why the GDR collapsed. And speaking of which, brexit itself has already caused a brain drain with applications for EU passports soaring by up to 2000% in some cases.

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However, despite taking such draconian measures people still managed to sneak out and contraband was smuggled in

This is why the European single market came into existence in the first place. Countries thought they were playing a protectionist game of beggar thy neighbour, when they were actually playing a game of beggar thy self. This required common rules, which the EU was set the task of administering. Of course, as I’ve discussed before, perhaps the flaw of many free trade deals (or the single market) has been to adopt a very neo-liberal model, rather than one that actually works to protect jobs and the environment.

But either way, trade deals with the US or other blocks will also require common rules, just ones the UK has little say in (as the US will decide those rules, not the UK). Plus the supply lines to the these parts of the world are quite long and I can’t see much business going their instead of the EU (it will still be quicker and cheaper to just have a driver queue at Calais than wait a week or two for cargo to cross the Atlantic…plus most transatlantic trade goes through Rotterdam!).

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UK citizens are likely to reject US food

And supermarkets have already indicated they will refuse to stock certain US items such as Chlorine washed Chicken, GM foods or crops grown with heavy use of pesticides. They are doing this because they recall that there was a consumer revolt in Europe a few years back, during which such products were rejected. The EU’s labelling rules (which the US has suggested should be dropped) were brought in specifically to deal with this issue. The same process will just play out again. Supermarkets will be reluctant to stock such items. And customers, aware of the new labelling laws (and thus anything that is made with US ingredients needs to be looked on with suspicion), will just not buy anything that so much as touches America (even items currently on sale in the UK), making the trade deal counter productive.

What’s Trump going to do? Send the marines into UK supermarkets to force Texas made Cornish pasties into people’s trolleys at gunpoint. And Americans will probably still be reluctant to buy British meat (which is more expensive) given the whole mad cow business (I recall overhearing an American commenting on that, so yes that’s still a thing). Is Boris going to parachute Royal Marines (in redcoats one assumes) into American restaurants and force people to eat British steaks (and while they are at it, how about paying some taxes on your tea?…course technically it will now be Britain who will be subject to taxes without representation).

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An eight year old girl demonstrates how to climb a replica of Trump’s border wall

And the same is true of immigration controls. Firstly, they don’t work, even if the wall can deter crossing (and it won’t), they’ll just go around it via border check points….or just take a flight to Las Vegas or Florida and pretend to be on vacation. Like the Berlin wall, its an expensive act of security theatre.

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Meanwhile the UK, aware of migrants paddling across the channel, is proposing to send multi-million pound warships out to intercept them, invade French territorial waters and drop them off…likely resulting in a French warship entering British waters to drop them off in Dover, as the French have made clear that the price of brexit is that you can’t send migrants back.

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Your taxes hard at work…helping migrants to get to the UK that is!

Why oh why do all these migrants want to come to the UK? Is it because France is racist? Well, no more than the UK is racist. The issue here is that the UK (much like the US) has for years presented itself as a “world beating” land of milk and honey. And unsurprisingly many refugees, particularly those from ex-British colonies, then see it as the obvious bolt hole in the event of issues back home. After all, its how the current home secretary got here (ironically she’s a refugee herself!). So its a little late to start complaining.

Beside which, the number of jobs in an economy is not a fixed constant, it varies depending on economic activity. Strict border controls, reduces economic activity and thus leads to more unemployment. And it has been proven that migrants add more jobs than they take away.

In fact strict border controls can actually be counter productive. Put yourself in the shoes of a greedy, ethically challenged businessman. You want to get a leg up on your competitors, so you predominantly hire undocumented migrants. They will work for a much lower salary (possibly less than minimum wage) you don’t have to pay for their healthcare, pension, etc., and its a lot less likely they will unionise or go to the authorities to raise concerns about workplace safety or poor hygiene standards. Of course, once your competitors figure out what you are up to, they too will copy this model and in the end American workers (or British workers) will effectively be driven out of an entire industry.

This is pretty much what’s already happened to a number of US industries, such as the meat packing industry. And if anything Trump’s wall, or the brexiters immigration controls, will just mean more of the same. Indeed, one could argue that the it gives some business owners (such as a certain hotel baron with a habit of hiring undocumented workers) a perverse incentive in maintaining the status quo. Because if you ever actually managed to control immigration, they’d lose most of their workforce. While if immigration controls were ever relaxed, they’d face demands for a proper salary (as well as back pay) and workers would start bringing up their rights (as well as levelling the playing field for American workers).

So a better strategy would be to deflect public attention with some security theatre, while crippling ICE, by for example forcing them to devote most of their agents to patrolling and guarding a pointless border wall that actually does little to stop immigration, or sending them off to Portland to harsh some demonstrators.

Of course this is exactly why the EU did away with immigration controls for workers in the first place. They realised it wasn’t doing anybody any favours and was actually counter productive. And south America too has adopted a similar approach when it comes to the movement of labour between their countries.

Similarly, there are cases where strict protectionism can increase smuggling, by making it more lucrative for people to do it, meaning more will be willing to take the risk (or just bribe officials). After all this is the entire basis behind the drugs trade and people smuggling.

In short, right wing populism only looks like a good idea if you’ve recently had a lobotomy, or are ignorant of world economic history since the end of world war 2 (which is part of the problem, most brexiters are ignorant of history beyond the dambusters raid). The brexiters and republican policy amounts to relearning those lessons of history via the school of hard knocks with the same predictable outcomes.

The flawed thinking of the Fallists

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I mean its not like anything bad ever came from burning art or books!

As I mentioned in a prior post, I see no reason against taking down certain statues (that frankly were put up for largely racist reasons in the first place). But I worry that if you start taking down any statue that anybody is offended by, you’ll end up taking them all down. Hell, “the statue” is an important landmark in my home town of Cork in Ireland. Its erected to Father Matthew, both a catholic priest and a leading member of Ireland’s temperance movements (so presumably he’s offending at least three groups, atheists, anyone with a grudge against the catholic church and everyone in Ireland who likes a drink!).

But much as there is a lack of understanding of history on the part of those looking to maintain these statues, its not like the right wing have a monopoly on stupidity. There are plenty looking to tear down these statues (and much else as well) who have an equally poor understanding of history.

A good example of this are the Fallists of South Africa. In addition to arguing against university fees (which makes sense given how unequal a society SA is, then again a stopped clock is correct twice a day) but they are also radical decolonisers who don’t just want to take down a few statues but roll back anything that stinks of colonisation.

In short they want to take off the curriculum anything from Western science. This video from a few years ago kind of sums the situation up, arguing Newton’s laws are racist, then arguing in favour of black magic instead and calling for science to be abolished so people can “decolonise their minds”….said while holding an i-phone!

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….said while holding an i-phone!

This is wrong on so many levels. Firstly science can’t be racist, its a method, a way of separating out fact from fiction. In short, we accept Newton’s laws, not because he was white, but because the equations are proven to be effective. And they tie into a scientific narrative stretching back many centuries (including the works of non-European scientists…some of them from Africa!). We don’t accept witch doctors, magic and wizardry because they have consistently been unable to demonstrate their supposed abilities in a controlled experiment, even when offered a substantial reward to do so.

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The Babylonians and Egyptian civilisations were some of the pioneers of the scientific method, including the study of the stars and planets

Secondly there seems to be an automatic assumption here that science is a European or a western invention. Its not, it has its roots in ancient civilisations such as Babylon (in modern day Iraq) and Egypt (in Africa!). Indeed for most of human history Western Europe has been well behind the rest of the world when it comes to science and technology. While the Egyptians (again….in Africa!) were raising the pyramids (the great pyramid being the tallest building in the world for over 3000 years!), temples and building an extensive irrigation system, they were also studying astronomy, medicine, maths and physics. Meanwhile, western Europe was still getting over the idea of using bronze rather than stone tools (no doubt there were some anti-Bronzers going around claiming that bronze tipped spears gave you cancer, but I’m sure they got the point eventually!).

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Ancient Egypt was famous for its large civil infrastructure projects, many of which survive to this day

And the ancient Egyptians weren’t a one off (noting that of course there were multiple Egyptian civilisations), Africa has seen many advanced civilisations over its history, often well ahead of their European contemporaries, the Ethiopians, or the Mali Empire  (who build Timbuktu) to name a few. And of course there were plenty of other advanced civilisations around the world as well, in the Middle east, India, China or south and central America.

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Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest civilisations

Even within Europe, western Europe (the bit that did most of the colonising) has been fairly backward compared to those in the South. Indeed when we talk of the Roman, Greek and Byzantium civilisations its better to look on them as Mediterranean civilisations, rather than purely European ones. As the key “killer app” of these civilisations was their ability to trade across the Mediterranean sea and ultimately with the lands beyond. And often times the wealthier and more developed parts of these Empires were the bits in Africa, Anatolia and the Levant.

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The Ptolemaic city of Alexandria. At its zenith in 50AD, it was one of the largest and most advanced cities on the planet

Consider that at its zenith the city of Alexandria (again in Africa) was a massive, wealthy, bustling metropolis with a population of half a million. It included the infamous great library of Alexandria (one of the great centres of learning of the ancient world) a giant lighthouse (one of the wonders of the ancient world), paved streets, running water, etc. Around about the same time London was a small circle of mud huts inhabited by a bunch of slack jawed yokel’s who’d likely try and eat a book if you gave them one (so nothing much has changed then!). Similarly the aforementioned Timbukto was, at its time, another major centre of learning and trade.

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Timbukto was an important trading hub and a centre of learning during the early Islamic period of west Africa

Its really only been in the last 300 years that western Europe has had any kind of lead. Put it this way, if we consider all of recorded history as running from the founding of Jericho (about 10,000 years ago) to the present day. And if we were to condense that timeline into a 24 hour period, then western civilisation has been in the lead for about the last 45 minutes (and the way we are going I doubt we will see out the hour!).

So what happened? Well two things, first the west kept steadily advancing while other civilisations stagnated. There were many reasons for this, but a lot of the time its often self inflicted, often slowly over time, be it environmental degradation (likely the cause of the Mayan collapse), the decay or collapse of critical infrastructure (basically they implemented a policy of austerity, failing to account for how vital it was to preserve their infrastructure), civil strife or religious fanaticism. The aforementioned great library of Alexandria was burnt down in 390 AD by fanatical Christians, an event that’s often seen as the trigger for the dark ages. And let’s be clear that’s what “decolonising people’s minds” looks like. Books being burned, scholars killed or driven away.

And of course if one civilisation decides to let the nutters take over (you know like arguing in favour of witch doctors and against established science), while another civilisation does not, that’s not going to end well for the former if those two ever meet. Not that I’m suggesting that this justifies colonialism. I’m simply pointing out it would have never happened in the first place had these civilisations kept listening to the experts and had kept sensible people in charge.

And the only difference today is that you don’t have to take your foot off the gas pedal for nearly as long to fall way behind. The USSR’s collapse was largely down to a period of economic stagnation under Brezhnev that lasted a decade or two. Hence why voting for populists is not a good idea. Other countries who have sensible people in charge (they might not be nice people, but they are vaguely sane) will quickly overtake you. And by the time you’ve figured that out, it will be too late to do anything.

The other factor in the west’s favour was they found a cheat code – fossil fuels. It is perhaps no coincidence that western Europe, and in particular the UK’s rise from a rural backwater to an industrial power house, happens to coincide with the discovery and exploration of large deposits of coal (ironically, it was initially a lack of firewood in the UK that led to increased exploitation of coal).

A single kg of coal has a calorific value of 25 million joules of energy, or the equivalent to an entire day’s worth of human labour. So its perhaps no surprise that, once the technology to fully exploit this resource was developed, western Europe would advanced very rapidly. Of course, if fossil fuels were ever to run out, or we had to give them up for environmental reasons (recall environmental degradation is a common cause of failure of many civilisations), that’s not going to work out very well…unless you’ve devoted the time to developing alternatives.

Not so safe spaces

And another issue I’d raise here is the misuse of safe spaces. In the aforementioned video, when someone tries to point out the obvious fallacies of these Fallists, instead they get shut down and told to apologise! That’s not a safe space. And this is no more a debate than you’d find in the DPRK.

The point of safe spaces is that right wingers will frequently try to shut down debate completely. You want to debate climate change (how long do we have to act? How much warming is too much? should we go for the more free market led solutions or centrally planned ones?) and they will try to deny climate change is happening at all or profess their belief that the earth is flat and the moon’s made of cheese. Debate race relations and they’ll deny there’s a problem (or claim that its racist to bring up white privilege). And they will often be deliberately obstructive and try to be as intimidating as possible (by basically acting like a complete man-baby, good example of Alex Jones doing that here). And these tactics come right out of the nazi playbook, as this was one of the ways they shut down their political opponents.

So the point of a safe space is to say, look if we are here to have a debate and that means accepting certain boundaries, e.g. if we are debating climate change mitigation, we are starting from the assumption that something needs to be done about it (which still leaves a a fairly broad spectrum of options and opinions). If you are debating race relations we are assuming there’s a good reason why ethnic minorities get twitchy every time they see the police. In short, its to ensure there is an actual debate and prevent it being shut down by someone who just wants to act like an asshole (because they knows they will lose once people start bringing up pesky facts).

And I’ve seen numerous examples where this is exactly what happens with left wing groups. E.g. you’ll be debating election tactics for the left and straight away any form of criticism of Corbyn is not allowed, you can’t even bring up facts and figures, such as opinion polls that show how massively unpopular he is with voters, nor can you raise the realities of how the decidedly unfair UK election system works (which requires progressive parties to work together rather than against one another). Inevitably, you don’t get a debate. Instead, you get a group hugging session. And all attendees are then left baffled when they lose to a clown by a massive historic margin (how can Corbyn/Bernie lose when everyone I know voted for him!).

The reality is that as many on the left will take comforting lies over unpleasant truths as much as those on the right. Which can be just as debilitating. For in much the same that right wingers need to realise that infinite economic growth forever (without any consequences) is impossible, we need to remember that civilisations can regress and go backwards. And the surest way to achieve that is by letting ignorance and ideology take over from fact based critical thinking.

The Americanisation of UK politics

Some of the UK government policies in recent weeks have seemed baffling. Not just the usual cronyism (with Cummings drinking buddies getting lucrative no-bid contracts for stuff they aren’t qualified to do) and incompetence….and that’s before we even consider the Russia report. (recall that Cummings who led the brexit campaign also worked in Russia for several years). But we also have out of touch policies, such as stamp duty cuts (great news for anyone who can afford a house, not much use to someone who can’t pay the rent). Or vouchers to middle class people so they can go to dine out.

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Think about that, we have thousands of people dependant on food banks, people dying after their benefits were withdrawn, an NHS in crisis (but don’t worry it will all be over by Christmas!), essential workers struggling to make rent, and the government’s response is to spend millions so that people who can afford to eat out, can have that experience subsidised (they also seem to forget that what the Scots & Irish will do is take the voucher to a gastro-pub, order a bowl of chips and then drink the rest of the money, so basically they are handing out porter vouchers!).

Or we have the other obvious contradiction where they are going to sign a US trade deal which allows low-quality US food to be sold in the UK, but not lower the UK’s farming standards. This means that the middle and upper classes will still be able to get their farm fresh organic food, for a higher price mind, while its poor people (or those dependant on food banks) who’ll be forced to eat the GMO modified, chlorine washed American food.

This unfortunately is the shape of things to come, for we are seeing the Americanisation of UK politics. Which was in fact what the last election was really about (if you voted Tory last election ,well this is what you voted for,, its a little late to complain). For those unfamiliar with American politics if America had a tagline it would be along the lines of “if you are poor, you can fu*k off”. Its not just minorities who are discriminated against in the US, its poor people in general. The US government frequently brings in policies that subsidise middle class lifestyles at the expense of those on low incomes.

So for example the entire healthcare system in the US is an absolute mess. The US government spends more money per capita subsidising its private healthcare, than some European nations spend on their entire healthcare system (which covers everybody). And the US citizens have to chip in thousands each of their own money on top of this. Meanwhile there are millions of American’s left without any healthcare cover.

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America spends almost as much public money subsidising its private healthcare system (which doesn’t provide universal cover) as other countries spend on their entire healthcare system (which does cover everybody)

The US government subsidises car based lifestyles rather than investing in public transport, even thought the latter would be better for cities (or those on a low income) and produce less carbon emissions. And, as I’ve discussed before the US policies towards climate change amount to spending billions to defend the properties owned by the wealthy, even if it diverts the floodwater downstream and floods out a load of working class people.

Hell even America’s military policy has an element of this. Defence company’s are owned by wealthy donors to the major parties. Much of the staff in these firms are well paid middle class professionals. The only losers are the poor working class saps who have to go fight in the foreign wars and deal with the mental and physical scars afterwards.

The reasons behind these policies are quite easy to understand when you look at things through the eyes of a cynical Washington insider. US elections are bankrolled by the rich. And its the rich and the middle class who effectively decide the outcome of all elections. The poor, frequently don’t vote (indeed they are discouraged from voting) and even those who do vote often vote against their own interests.

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If you are white, wealthy well educated or a boomer you are far more likely to vote in US elections

Like much of America, many in the working class are socially conservative, but lean to the left politically. It is a myth that low income Americans put Trump in the White house (hence why he doesn’t mind tens of millions of people getting evicted, if this prevents them from voting, it could be his best shot at re-election). In truth Hilary won the popular vote among low income voters, although a significant minority did vote for Trump for ideological reasons. By contrast higher income voters were more likely to vote for Trump the wealthier they were, presumably because they knew he’d screw over poor people and give the well off a tax cut.

While low income voters voted heavily for Obama (one of the few recent US president’s whose actually given half a crap about the poor) but they then crippled his administration by backing republican congressmen and governors. This is the problem, low income Americans aren’t a consistent voting block. Yet lawmakers know there are large blocks of voters in the middle to upper income level who will vote for them if they back certain policies (e.g. tax cuts, middle class subsidies). And they will also vote against any politicians if they propose certain policies (e.g. tax increases, increased social welfare spending or anything that stinks of changing the status quo).

As far as US politicians are concerned its a case of mind over matter. They don’t mind if the working class gets screwed because politically, they don’t matter. And this also explains why the Bernie or bust brigade are never going to get anywhere. Firstly, there is no way they’d ever get the nomination. Even if they got the nomination there’s large blocks of people who will come out of the woodwork to make damn sure they will never win. And even if they won, their opponents will just filibuster everything or use the Supreme court to run down the clock.

This is not to say the situation is hopeless. Obama did managed to sneak through a few progressive policies, most notably Obamacare. But it frequently means watering down those policies to get something that will pass (and which will be difficult to repeal as soon as the other side is back in power). It also requires playing the long game, relying on keeping someone vaguely leftwing in power to continue the legacy and gradually chip away. Yes Hilary and Biden are fairly right wing (they are to the right of many centre right parties in Europe), but they ain’t going to repeal Obamacare and they could probably be pushed (by a suitable band of left leaning democrats) to extend its provisions to ensure universal coverage. Not a single payer system granted, but an important step in that direction. Hence why it was so foolish for the Bernie or bust brigade to vote against Hilary in 2016.

But either way, we are now seeing the same sorts of politics play out here in the UK. The working class towns who voted Tory because of brexit are likely to be the ones most severely effected by it, as well as the upcoming Covid related depression. And inevitably when the next Tory wave of austerity hits, the Tories aren’t going to take money posh people in the home counties (where most of them live). No they will screw over the poor up north. Sure they’ll make positive noises, stick a lick of paint on a hospital and claim it a new build, replace infrastructure (using private finance) that should have been fixed years ago. Their media allies will play their role in hiding everything. And ultimately they know that half of the public are mugs who will still vote Tory again after the play the race card.

Now I could be wrong, the Tories might have miscalculated. We should get a good indication in next year’s local elections. If labour wins convincingly, then the Tories are in trouble. Doubly so if labour runs on a fairly left wing platform. But if labour only returns to its pre-Corbyn levels of support, then labour are in trouble. They will likely have to play the same game as the democrats and start shuffling over to the right in order to have any chance of winning.

There is of course one similarity between the UK and USA. They both use a decidedly unfair system of voting known as First Past the Post (FptP), which creates this two party system. Hence voters are forced to choose between Tweedledum or Tweedledee, with many MP’s or congress members who are so safe they cannot be unseated, no matter how badly they screw up. By contrast many European states work on the system of Proportional Representation. This allows smaller parties to break the two party duopoly, as it means individual MP’s can be more easily unseated if they piss off their constituents.

This means parties can’t simply abandon a large block of voters, not unless they want to catch a whole pile of political blowback. For example, I discussed before the differences between how Germany phased out its deep pit coal mines (with not one involuntary redundancy) as compared to the US and UK (after a suitable foto-op, miners have pretty much been thrown to the wolves). The Germans did this because no party could afford to piss off that many voters, as it could make all the difference in an election. By contrast West Virginia or North Dakota (two key coal mining states) are pretty solidly republican.

So if there’s any single policy that the left or the centrists should be uniting behind, its reforming the voting system in both the UK and US. Such an unequal voting system inevitably leads to massive inequality, corruption and the squandering of taxpayers money.

The problem with cancel culture

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Trump deploy’s his own version of the black and tans to a US city and nobody seems to mind, when you ignore the lessons of history you are forever doomed to repeat them

It is true there’s a lot of racism about. We need only look at events in Portland, where Trump has deployed his own version of the Black and Tans (the Black and Tans were a paramilitary force sent to Ireland after World War 1 to quell the revolt, but only ended up provoking it further, which is exactly what’s happening in Portland). And of course, there is silence from the right. How would they have reacted if Obama sent unidentified federal agents into white neighbourhoods to take down far right groups? They do realise that if Trump gets away with this, that’s exactly what a future hard left US president could do?

There has been some much needed revision of past history, particularly if you live in the UK. Its suddenly dawning on a lot of people over here that when we talk about such and such a family having made their money via “trade” in the 18th century…that generally means slavery or the proceeds of slavery, or some other criminal enterprise. That the British Empire was one founded largely on racism and brutal exploration. And fighting wars for “king and country” means poor sods dying so the rich can get richer (by “trading” some more!).

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Alex Baring, banker, politician, philanthropist…slave owner!

Its true racists these days often talk in code (so called “dog whistles”) where certain seemingly innocent symbols, gestures and words have an entirely different meaning to them. But some on the left have gone the full Joe McCarthy and are started to see racists hiding behind every bush. Hence they’ll deride someone as a racist for wearing a cowboy costume. Or a white person going out to do charity work overseas makes you an apologist for colonialism.

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Hence, I worry its starting to go a little too far. I certainly see why statues of Cecil Rhodes or Confederate generals should get pulled down (particularly when you know the history of why and when they were put up). But I think Columbus and Churchill is taking things a little too far. Similarly banning Orcs and Drow from fantasy (because apparently they are racist) is just silly (they are fantasy creatures who don’t actually exist, it is worrying when a gamer like me has to point this out).

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The two peaks in the erection of Confederate statue’s just happen to coincidence with the two main spikes in racist incidents, not any particular date related to the civil war

And its also counter productive. Already Trump’s team seems to planning to weaponise this (as they know that they could shift key demographics, e.g. Italian American voters or the Fandom menace over too their side in the upcoming election). Recall he only needs a 5-8% swing in his favour to win.

There are two versions of many historical figures, the tabloid version of them and the historic reality. Columbus for example, didn’t discover America (I suspect the first native American to look down at the ground discovered the place!), in fact he went to his grave disputing its very existence. The size of the earth has been known for thousands of years, first estimated by the Greek’s in around 200 BC (other civilisations probably made earlier estimates, but this is the first recorded attempt at its calculation). Columbus was basically a crank who didn’t believe these estimates and thus that you could get to Asia quicker by sailing Westwards rather than East. Even when he found the West Indies he was still convinced this was Islands off the west coast of Asia (hence the name).

America gets its name from Aermigo Vespucci, who through careful study of the facts concluded that all of these lands were part of some new continent. Ironically Columbus claim to fame is mostly down to to anti-catholic propaganda from the early 20th century, as it annoyed the piss out of right wing baptist southerners that they owed their country’s existence to a bunch of catholic Europeans. Italian Americans (who were immigrating to the US in large numbers at this time) then latched on to these myths and hence why we have Columbus day for all of the wrong reasons.

Similarly “great leader” and Churchill are two things that rarely appear in the same sentence. Its more than usually “Churchill” and “disaster”. Churchill was in truth a high functioning alcoholic, whose bluster and snobbish views contributed to the destruction of the British Empire. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, his world war 1 record included getting a British squadron sunk  because he was too busy trying to help a German friend  keep his job at the admiralty (who kind of didn’t like the idea of German being in such a position during a war with Germany). Then there was his involvement in the disaster at Gallipoli (the less said about that the better!). While in the 2nd world war the misadventure north to Norway was Churchill’s idea (which ironically led to him becoming PM). His constant talking down of independence groups, or his support for brutal policies in the colonies (such as the aforementioned Black and Tans in Ireland being one of his ideas) ultimately hastened their independence.

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So frankly if they want to have statues up this incompetent pair of twats, I ain’t stopping them. Though don’t be upset if I decide to laugh my ass off or point out certain uncomfortable truths. Its just I’d question whether those defending these statues would be so keen if they knew a bit more history. But equally we have the problem that the cancel culture lot, who want the statues taken down, are themselves also a little ignorant of history.

So for example, if we take down Churchill’s statue, why are we leaving up Gandhi’s statue? He’s got more than a few skeleton’s in his closet too (let’s just say, its just as well they didn’t have twitter in those days, he’d likely get banned) and maybe a little bit racist. And its also worth remembering that while there was a lot of violence initiated by the British forces against his protests, the real fireworks started after the British left and the country was partitioned, with massive ethnic cleansing and rioting breaking out (estimated 14 million refugees and 0.2 to 2 million deaths).

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The Partition of India ended up creating some of the largest acts of ethnic cleansing and violence in history

My point is that if we are going to start taking down statues because someone’s offended by them (and there’s plenty of Muslim’s who’d want Gandhi’s taken down), then pretty soon you are going to have to take down all of them….even Lobey Dosser’s statue in Glasgow.

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Presumably this cartoon character (the only 2 legged horse in the west) has to be taken down as well

As for cowboys, well the actual historical evidence is that cowboys came from a wide and diverse range of backgrounds, many were Hispanic (ironically enough, the Cowboy hat is likely to be of Mexican origin), black, Irish and with quite a few women too. And no, they didn’t regularly fight with native Americans (that genocide was the responsibility of the US army!). Many Cowboy’s didn’t even carry guns.

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So are Mexicans who wear Cowboy hats also racist?

And to this day there’s still plenty of people working on horseback managing their herds, both in the US, but also down in central and south America. Cowboy dress (cowboy boots, spurs, poncho, chaps, etc.), while it does looks kind of silly, its actually quite practical if you are spending all day out on the range on a horse. So surely this must mean that dressing up as a policeman, or a nurse, or a fireman is also equally racist?

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A Vaquero (basically cowboy in Spanish) watches over his herd. Despite appearances, his dress is actually quite practical for a day on a horse, brightly coloured, so he can be easily seen, big hat & long sleeves to keep the sun off, wools to keep warm at night, but loose fitting for when it gets too hot under the mid day sun.

As for this “white saviour” business, so you’d rather people don’t do charity work if they are non-white? Which means, assuming we can’t find anyone of the right ethnic group to do the work (crises can start in one country, then another, so having a small army of people of the correct ethic groups is going to be problematic), you’d rather people just starve or die of treatable diseases? And I’m going to assume for the sake of fairness that anyone who subscribes to this view is going to refuse treatment from a nurse or doctor during the current pandemic, who is not of the correct ethnic group.

Like I said, the left is at risk of going the full Joe McCarthy and driving people into the arms of Trump. Just because someone occasionally says something that might possibly be racist, doesn’t automatically make them a grand wizard of the KKK. They might just not know that this is a racist code word (that is after all, kind of the point of such codes). Hell, large crowds march through city centres in Spain (and some south American countries) during Easter week dressed in what can only be described as KKK costumes, that doesn’t mean all of the Spanish speaking world are racist!

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An Easter parade in Mexico, the hoods are an old Spanish tradition, worn during Holy week, to represent shame and a form of penance

One cannot tell if someone is a racist because of one gesture, statement or a tweet they’ve sent (or liked) at some point. Anyone disputing that, give me access to your entire social media history over the last 10-20 years and I’ll pull out something (one action out of thousands) with which you shall be judged on, now and forever more, even after you’ve deleted it. That’s not how you out racists.

If someone repeatedly makes racist statements or gestures, even after there attention has been drawn to this fact. If they consistently criticise one group over another (e.g. they go into a twitter frenzy over 2 people dying of Ebola during Obama’s presidency, but Trump’s just doing his best when 140,000 dead and counting). If they associate with known racists, or the refuse to criticise them (or defend the indefensible such as slavery or the holocaust), then you can legitimately argue they are a racists. But otherwise no, you can’t.

In short, go woke and get ready for many more years of Trump.

Covid news roundup

The room where I hid

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

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

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

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

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

Out of control

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

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

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

The hypocrisy of the right

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

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A Trump death clock showed up outside his rally in Tulsa

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

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

The biggest losers

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

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

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

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

The Summer of Covid

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong failing sacked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cult of the Punisher

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

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

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

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

Boris Sats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone to the Dogs

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

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

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

The global bike drought

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

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

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

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

Trump’s broken America

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The protests in America should not really come as that big a surprise. They represent an outpouring of pent up rage and repression. We’ve seen the US police use tactics that would not be out of place in a totalitarian regime. And its also worth noting the violence against journalist, with a CNN reporter even arrested live on air. One has to draw a parallel between this police harassment and Trump’s constant attacks against the media.

Yet the so-called libertarians” on the right are nowhere too be seen. An unarmed citizen is murdered by the government, no reaction. Government forces drive vehicles into protesters, no reaction. The president threatens to take away the right to protest and put troops on the street, no reaction. President steals money off veterans, no reaction. State officials ask non-essential businesses to maybe close for a few weeks due to a disease pandemic, Tyranny!

But it does raise the question about how to solve the problem. Some states are talking about banning certain forms of restrain or making police more accountable for their actions. But I’d argue this doesn’t really solve the underlying problem. Its like proscribing a few aspirin as a cure for cancer. The problems here are much more deeply rooted.

First of all we need to acknowledge that racism in America is a very real thing, its not the exception its more the norm. The reality is that in some parts of the US, segregation ended in name only. America is a melting pot under which the fire was never lit. And this makes ending inequality very difficult. Its all too easy to lavish funding on a schools and public services in a white neighbourhood, while neglecting those in poorer districts. The statistics for covid-19 deaths, where BAME fatalities are much higher, speaks volumes as to the extent of this inequality. Hell, there’s even been times they’ve build flood barriers that protect a wealthy white suburb at the expense of flooding the poorer neighbourhood downriver.

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However, its not quite this simple. After all, there are racists over here in the UK, or in the EU, including some racist cops. Just look at any recent election result! Yet we don’t see the same volume of violent arrests and racist incidents nearly as often this side of the Atlantic. While a black person is significantly more likely to be shot by the police than a white person in the US, Americans are 70 times more likely to be killed by the police than UK citizens.

Then again, as I’ve pointed out in a prior post, cops over here don’t have to worry about guns as much. While in the US, thanks to the NRA, every tom, dick and harry has an assault rifle (because having more guns makes everyone so much safer…we’ll just ignore all the evidence that says otherwise). Thus US cops can justify going in with guns blazing and using excessive force (we thought he had a gun), while its a little harder for a British cop to get away with that. Yes it has happened, but not nearly as often as in the US.

So the problem does go a lot deeper than simple racism. Gun culture is part of the problem. But its also the mindset it has created in the police, who have been increasingly militarised, with military style equipment (much of it on display in the last few weeks) as well as military style tactics. To be clear, while yes there were some looters taking advantage of the protests, the protests themselves were mostly peaceful. Using anti-riot equipment and tactics is completely out of proportion (again, can you imagine the outcry if they used those tactics against Trump supporters protesting the lockdown).

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It is indicative of an attitude that has developed within the police, where they seem to think that they are above the law and they know best. And many of the policing methods used by the US police are outdated and discredited. Let’s start with the matter George Floyd was murdered/arrested over. He was accused of passing a counterfeit bank note. Most other police forces in the rest of the world would argue that not only is that not grounds to conduct a violent arrest with guns drawn, but probably not even grounds for an arrest at all.

You don’t have to arrest people for non-violent offences (generally you have to pose a threat to public safety, property or be otherwise acting in a disorderly manner and even in the later case you’ll usually get a police caution first). Its a waste of police time to do so (you have to cuff him, drive him down the station, book him in, put him in a cell, have someone guard him, interview, etc.). Its far easier to just pop a letter in the post and issue the suspect with a court summons, or issue a fixed penalty notice (which basically means you get a letter offering you the choice between paying a fine, going on a course of some kind, or doing some community service or you can take the matter to court and dispute the charges).

Similarly, the so-called zero tolerance policy is discredited. When NYPD got the hump over a previous Mayor’s efforts to reform the service and staged a “slowdown”, crimes rates instead went down. And research suggests that aggressive policing for petty crimes, or punishing poverty can ultimately lead to more crime. An end to NY’s “stop and frisk” policy did not see any rise in crime.

In fact, that’s another problem with US justice, the frequency with which people are locked up. America has a prison population of 2.2 million, the highest in the world (equivalent to the populations of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham all behind bars) and the highest  prison population per capita (beating out many totalitarian regimes!). And again, yes blacks and latino’s are far more likely to be banged up in the US. But Americans in general are 5 times more likely to end up in jail than people here in Scotland (and if you’ve ever seen Sauchiehall street on the night after an old firm game, you’ll know that’s not because Scot’s are a bunch of law abiding teatotallers).

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And as, with the issue of arrests, there are many good reasons to question whether prison is the best form of punishment. After all if prisons were so effective, surely crime rates in the US would be significantly lower (and isn’t the point of lax gun laws to lower the rate of crime as well?). Yet the opposite is true. They are basically the university’s of crime.

And part of the problem here is how US policing  is organised….or should I say disorganised. In a lot of cases positions such as prosecutors and sheriff’s are elected. Which sounds like a good idea, until you see some of the wackos who have been elected over the years, the poor management of taxpayer funds and the corruption that has resulted .

But even the competent ones can struggle to change things. Crime figures in the US have been falling for decades and its questionable if you need so many officers. In most other countries its recognised that you don’t need large numbers of officers on patrol (we have CCTV cameras and all sorts of electronic evidence gathering methods), not least because crime is increasingly moving online.

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US crimes rates have been falling…..

But when your job is dependant on votes from a bunch of illiterate Karen’s (who want to speak to the manager), who “feel” less safe (cos you are getting older, nothing the police can do about that), statistics ain’t going to cut it. These voters, and the police themselves, put pressure on US cities and districts to provide the police with more and more funding. And it has now run completely out of control. Consider that LA spends nearly half of its city budget on policing. NY spends about $6 billion to police one city, yet England and Wales spends about double that to police the entire country.

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….over the same period police spending increased substantially

Put a whole army of heavily armed and bored cops on the street and tell them to go looking for trouble and guess what, they’ll find it. Not with criminals, who one assumes are smart enough not to break the law while a police cruiser goes by (and in any event thanks to the NRA they are heavily armed, the cops won’t go near them, way too dangerous!). No instead, like any bully, they’ll pick on someone who can’t fight back. Like a man relaxing on his mom’s porch, or another picking up rubbish outside his apartment block, or a fireman sitting in his own car, or even the state attorney on her way to work! (what links all of these people? I think you can guess!).

In short, America has spent the last few decades running a massive version of the Stanford prison experiment, with the same predictable outcomes. And that experiment was terminated with the advice that nobody should try to run it again.

Finally, we need to acknowledge the lack of a social safety net that exists in the US. If you are poor you likely have little to no access to healthcare or social welfare. Getting seriously ill can mean dying. Losing your job can mean going hungry (and losing your health care coverage!). And this isn’t just at the federal level, but also the state and country level, as all of the cash has been hoovered up to pay for police forces. Which in itself makes the problem worse, as it means the police are often the only social service available for some communities, meaning they get drawn into things that are none of their business (what the UK police refer to as FATDOB, or Fu*k All To Do wt Old Bill).

And with the ladder pulled up some time ago (by the boomers, aka the worst generation), this state of affairs has created a whole host of massive social problems in the US, ranging from drug abuse, the opioid crisis, gang culture and of course racism. And these social problems are self reinforcing. If only a handful of rogue police treat the local community like they are the enemy, well pretty soon that community aren’t going to trust the police, they won’t call them if they see a crime (a factor with regard to those falling crime figures I mentioned earlier, they could in some cases represent people less likely to report crimes because they fear the cops will show up and shoot them or some innocent bystander). At this point the police cease to be a police force, but instead, an occupying military force, not unlike what you’d find in a totalitarian regime.

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Which is why some are calling for pretty radical reform, such as defunding police forces entirely (which appears to be the fate of the Minneapolis police department at the centre of this crisis), disbanding the service, rebuilding a force from scratch while diverting funding into community projects. This may seem extreme, but there isn’t really many other options that would realistically work. There has been attempts at reform before, but institutional resistance from the police themselves makes it impossible.

Case in point, officers in Buffalo nearly killed an elderly man and were suspended from duty, prompting 50 of their snowflake fellow officers to resign from the riot squad, but still stay on the force and draw their salary (to draw a comparison, suppose one of my colleagues nearly beat a vulnerable student to death, left them on the ground bleeding and when the uni fired said lecturer we all refused to do any work, but continued to draw a salary, how would the DailyFail/Fox news react to that?).

Meanwhile in Washington, there is of course zero chance of any help from Trump and the democrats just voted to extend the Patriot Act, expanding Trump’s powers as regards policing. Meanwhile Mr Vanilla’s reaction to all this was to have a brain fart about how maybe the cops could shoot people in the leg rather than the head (hate to break it to you Joe but even a leg wound can be fatal & what if they miss and the bullet buries itself in the skull of a nearby child?).

It should be noted that there is some precedence here. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was reorganised as the PSNI as part of the NI peace process. The city of Camden in NJ, after a major scandal, disbanded their police force and replaced it with a reformed service. But doing so with a service as large as the NYPD would be a bit of a challenge to say the least.

But of course, without the right measures in place to stop the same rogue officers simply re-applying for their old jobs, you’ll only be changing the sign on the door. If the same morons elected in the past as sheriffs keep getting elected, nothing changes. And I’d argue that there needs to be a complete change of attitudes within the police. I’d suggest a rule that if they are caught breaking the law, they should get double the punishment a citizen gets (so if the penalty is 5 years, they get 10). A policy I’d also extend to politicians (and their special advisers).

A policy of collective responsibility is also needed. The police can’t just shrug the shoulders and blame a couple of bad apples, they need to take responsibility as a force for the short comings of all officers (and thus encourage them to report rogue, incompetent or racist officers). And that also goes for companies as well, notably Fascistbook Facebook which is making no effort to reign in racists spread miss-information on its platform (personally, if I had a Facebook account, I’d have deleted it by now).

But, as I’ve pointed out, this goes way beyond a couple of crooked cops. It cuts right into the heart of a whole bunch of deeply rooted social and economic problems many in the US have chosen to ignore for many decades. So long as you have these massive poverty traps, you will have all of these social ills and the crime that results.

And to bring things back to the UK, this is the scary truth. The post-brexit end state the Tories are aiming for is basically the mess we see in the more deprived parts of the US today. Meanwhile, the rich in their gated communities and home counties estates can just plug their ears and ignore all that. Hence why the removal of the statue of a slave trader in Bristol is probably a positive signal that this policy will go down like a lead balloon.

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The statue of a slaver is dumped in the sea by protesters in Bristol

But in America, resolving this crisis means a change of policy nationwide. It will not be easy, it will take time. If there was a quick and simple solution, someone would have already tried that. But certainly at least the first step is acknowledging there is a problem here and everything is not okay.

The long emergency

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

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

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

Can we sue China?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herd immunity

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

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

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

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

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

Double jeopardy and triple jeopardy

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

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

It ain’t over till its over

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

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

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

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

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

Why good leadership matters

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One way to handle the crisis!

I’ve heard it argued (before this whole crisis) that it scarcely matters who you vote for these days. Presidents and prime minsters have no real power anymore. Like the character Zaphod Beeblebrox (the president of the universe from the Hitchikers guide to the Galaxy, who in truth has no real power or authority), they exist merely to distract the public from who is really in charge (the elites, Whitehall mandarins, the corporations, etc.). Our elections are about as meaningful as those in Judge Dredd (where all real power is held by the judges, even though elections are held for the largely ceremonial role of mayor). In fact, in a classic example of life imitating art, in 2000AD’s “portrait of a politician” (published in the 80’s) an Orange haired Orangutan is elected major of Mega city one….why does that sound familiar!

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In 2000 AD’s judge Dredd a Monkey was once elected as Mayor of the city…sound familiar?

Convinced that their vote doesn’t really matter, some have instead taken to voting for leaders, such as Trump and Boris, because they are a bit of a laugh, they find them amusing. And they know it drives liberals and anyone else who cares about politics up the walls. Ya, well I’m wondering how many of those currently dying of coronavirus are still laughing. In a crisis a leader does have quite a lot of responsibility and you want someone competent in the job.

But its not Trump’s fault his supporters say, how can you blame him for a disease. It was the fault of the WHO, China, 5G, the democrats, the gays [insert favourite hate group here]. As I’ve pointed out before, China could have handled the initial stages of the outbreak better. Similar, yes the WHO have probably not done everything they could. But this is to be expected in a crisis such as this, not everything is going to go according to plan (as the saying goes in the military, every plan falls apart upon first contact with the enemy).

That’s the whole reason why the CDC had a panel of experts, ready to spring into action when something like this happens….well at least they did until Trump decided to fire them to fund his tax cuts that is. And in the middle of a pandemic is not the time for this sort of postmortem. Cutting funding to the WHO will only cost lives.

Because in fairness to the WHO, they were working under the assumption that most countries were led by competent leaders. Not leaders so dense and ill informed that White house staffers and other world leaders have had to resort to using brightly coloured cue cards to get across the most basic of facts (such as what’s the difference between a virus and bacteria).

Trump claim’s his travel ban absolves him of blame. However, as I pointed out at the time, it was probably counter productive. It came in after the virus was already in the US and he couldn’t stop US citizens returning home. The ban also left the door open to flights from countries he where he had business interests. Of course this simply meant lots of people got straight on a plane and travelled to (or via) the US from infected areas.

A more competent leader would have stopped short of a complete travel ban (at least initially), advised against all but the most essential travel and reassured any US citizens overseas that the government had their back. In any event, a travel ban is only buying you time. As soon as they saw the WHO notices, the leadership in countries with more competent leadership began preparing hospitals, sourcing medical supplies, preparing testing and alert procedures. They also began testing like crazy in an effort to put a ring fence around the outbreak.

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Trump meanwhile did nothing…for 6 weeks! When the time came to initiate lockdowns, other states did so much earlier, even though the number of cases were quite small. Trump dithered, worrying about the impact on his hotels most likely, while making many misleading statements that made the worst of a bad situation, by confusing the public (claiming its a democratic hoax, that its like the flu, or it will go away in the summer, or there was a cure available). And when finally forced to accept the inevitable he took to pilfering medical supplies that more competent nations had ordered weeks earlier.

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The UK has not become more dystopian since the start of the outbreak. Any resemblance to a certain George Orwell novel is purely coincidental

And the UK response from the Tory government wasn’t much better. Having run the NHS into the ground prior to the outbreak, they failed to take it seriously, with Boris Johnson missing 5 Cobra meetings related to the risk of an outbreak. Now the NHS is running short of PPE, meaning doctors and nurses will have to chose between saving lives or saving themselves. And as for all those new ventilators we were promised, medical experts have dismissed those build by the likes of JCB or Dyson (a digger manufacturer!) as essentially useless and of no medical use (and you need trained staff to operate them anyway!). Rather than co-operating with an EU scheme to acquire more ventilators and PPE from legitimate manufacturers, they chose instead to rely on their chums from their Eton days (both JCB and Dyson are owned by brexit supporters).

The end result is a stark contrast in outcomes. Countries such as Germany, China, Korea, or Denmark have successfully flatten the curve (I’m told that while it got pretty bad in German hospitals, they never actually ran out of beds). They are now started a phased end to the lockdown and the likely impact on their economy will be reduced. Which is somewhat ironic given Trump/Johnson’s reasons for dithering on a lockdown (or cutting medical funding) was for the benefit of the economy. If you think healthcare funding isn’t a priority, or that the private sector is better off just being left alone, try a pandemic.

And I bring this up because this is only phase one of the virus. Anyone you hear saying that this is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end for Covid-19, do me a favour and slap them for me. No, this is merely the first stage of the first wave of infection. The second wave (and perhaps a third and forth wave after that) will come at some point, likely in the autumn or late summer. This might be the same virus, a weaker form of it, or it could be a mutated version that’s much worse (which nobody, even those already infected, will have immunity against).

This is the problem. A lockdown is only a temporary measure. Already I’ve seen signs its starting to fail in the UK. Any time I’ve been out exercising or shopping I notice more and more signs that its starting to fail (people holding parties or businesses quietly reopening). Or I’ve heard stories of workers being called back into work (as they are now deemed “essential”, which I take as code word for bosses deciding that if they don’t get production going again soon, they won’t have a company left to save).

And none of this should be a surprise. Yes the lockdown was necessary, to try and flatten the curve. But it represents a temporary pause that should have been used to prepare a long term strategy of dealing with the virus. And again, yes some countries (generally those led by sensible people) have done that and can now start to reopen. Others, notably India, the US or the UK (all led by populists) have squandered their time.

Thus, its likely that when the lockdown ends, a second wave starts in one of these countries, which then goes global. And the leaders might not get to decide when the lockdown ends. If only 20% of a people decide to ignore the rules and break quarantine it will undo the efforts of the other 80%. Run the numbers and it only take a few months after that for the virus to go right through a country’s entire population (meaning tens of millions will be off sick at any one time and between 0.6-10% of those infected will die). And as a recent protest by gun totting Trump supporters shows (who must surely deserve a group Darwin award for stupidity), its possible the US lockdown will fall apart before the curve has been fully flattened.

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Candidates for the largest mass darwin award, plan to fight the virus with bullets, because every problem can be solved with guns

Then there is the economic effects to consider. Basically governments can’t rescue every company. You can’t keep a substantial proportion of the workforce forlonged forever. Some firms will fail, but then again some were probably doomed to fail anyway (such as the comic book industry, parts of the oil industry and some of the airlines). Others are vital to the working of the economy and their failure would cause considerable blow back.

Inevitably this means governments will have to pick winners and losers. And what’s the bet that populist leaders will pick the winners from among their own cronies (much as the Tories just did as regards ventilators), or those loyal to them, rather than those that are essential and worth saving. Socialism for brexit/trump supporting elites, libertarian rat race capitalism for everyone else. Recall both Trump and Johnson’s original plan was for boomers to hide in their homes while millennial’s took the brunt of the virus to develop herd immunity for society as a whole.

As this crisis makes clear, the first priority is to insure competent leadership in any government, not those who you find entertaining or whose soundbites you like the most. This is not some Saturday night TV talent show. Not saying you have to vote for neo-liberal friendly leaders (actually I’d advise against that as its generally them who got us into this mess in the first place). It just means picking from among the candidates who are vaguely sane in the first instance and then worry about their politics and manifesto after that. Granted, this can be difficult in countries which lack proportional representation, but that’s exactly why constitutional reform is so important.

Otherwise you end up in the worst of both worlds, a leadership that can’t achieve meaningful change, yet one that is also too inept to handle a crisis (and will likely fold to pressure from lobbyists to roll back workers rights and environmental protections as a “temporary measure). While there will be those in the government who will try their best to put out fires, its kind of a hard job when the fire chief is a serial arsonists (who encourages his supporters to become pyromaniacs).

So let us be clear, if you voted for populist leaders recently, a lot of the deaths and the economic hardship that has resulted (with more to come over the next year or so), that’s on you. Actions have consequences. Voting is a serious matter. You are picking the person who made get to decide whether you live or die, or end up destitute. If you lack the maturity to make such an informed decision, don’t vote.

The truth about the blitz

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Britain underwent a crime wave during the war years

The government is trying to encourage what it calls “the blitz spirit”. However, I think this shows that yet again, many of these posh Etonians have a warped (and dangerous) view of history. If anything the history of the blitz hints at some worrying likely trends, as regards the current lockdown.

One of the often forgotten facts about the UK during the blitz is how there was a massive spike in crime. Rates of reported crime went up at least 57%. And, to be clear, that’s just reported crimes (the worse the police are at catching criminals, the less likely people are to report crime) so the actual rates were probably much higher, perhaps as much as double the pre-war crime rates.

Part of the problem with the blitz was that the blacked out streets made it very easy for criminals to operate (all you had to do was don an ARP warden’s (Air Raid Protection) uniform and you could pretty much get away with anything). And it wasn’t just looting of bombed out premises, more serious and violent crime also went up. And in some cases it was off duty soldiers themselves who were behind these crimes.

The blitz was the golden age of the “spiv, (well prior to brexit anyway!) who made a fortune selling items on the black market. If it was rationed or banned, you can guarantee there would be someone down a back alley selling it. The first people liberated in world war 2 were criminals (as the government had bigger fish to fry, they paroled or released early a lot of prisoners) and the worst moment for spiv’s was when Hitler died and the war ended.

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World War 2 was the golden age of the Spiv

And ordinary people too also got in on the act. For some it would be minor acts, such as cheating on rationing rules, maybe buying some black market food or fuel, or emptying sugar bowls into a purse when in a cafe. Others engaged in looting of burnt out buildings or sunken ships (as in the famous whisky galore incident) or robbing crops and food from allotments.

And the situation wasn’t particularly different in other countries. Ireland for example, despite being neutral, was forced to bring in war time rationing of supplies. And again, yes it saw a rise in crime as a result. Even in totalitarian regimes there were issues. Germany, given how chaotically run it was under the nazi’s, became a nest of crime and corruption. In Russia food theft became so common, armed guards had to be posted 24/7 around farms, allotments and granary’s.

So when Boris Johnson talks about the Blitz spirit, is he suggesting we should all break quarantine, sneak out and go looting? In fact, case in point, there was the art theft of a Van Gogh painting recently, so some are already getting into the “blitz spirit”.

We also have squads of self appointed vigilantes harassing van lifers trying to self isolate in the highlands (telling them to “go home” unaware that their home is their van!), pretty much confirming every negative stereotype of country folk in the process. Then we have the loon’s torching 5G towers (moron logic, made in China = Coronavirus). Which, incidentally mirrors events during the blitz when various self appointed busy-bodies and over zealous ARP’s would break windows of homes if they saw the slightest glimmer of light, or threaten people they saw smoking outside.

But don’t we have boffin’s building lots of new cheap ventilators? Well no, ventilators are a pretty complicated piece of engineering. And they are pretty much useless without trained staff to operate them. This is what worries me about the present situation, we are being led by inept politicians, with a poor grasp of history (and technology), who do not understand what’s going on and are reacting to events rather than planning a coherent long term strategy.

As the crime wave of the blitz shows, people will obey draconian laws only up to a point (and worse some morons will get carried away!). If a law or rule is impractical, or there’s some easy way it can be circumvented, then that’s what people will start to do. This is why the war on drugs has been lost (so long as people want to take drugs, someone will supply them and all you are doing is making criminals richer and funding terrorism).

Already the police in the UK are warning that they doubt they can enforce the lock down for anything longer than three more weeks. And in my opinion, that’s probably realistic. To be clear, I’m not disagreeing with the idea behind the lockdown. I’m simply questioning its practicality and the fact that its time that’s being squandered. If the government’s plan is to keep everyone inside until this all blows over, well that ain’t going to work. This crisis will go on for months, if not a year or more. Instead they should be using the breathing space the lockdown allows to “Covid-proof” the country.

In the first instance, there’s the advice from the WHO’s to test, test and test again. If you know who has had the virus (and the majority of those with mild symptoms haven’t been tested), then you know whose got antibodies and is now immune to it (well until it mutates anyway!) and they can go back to work (subject to suitable precautions of course!). If we assume that say, 5 times the number of officially confirmed cases is the actual number infected, then that’s about a quarter of a million people in the UK (and nearly 2 million in the US) who can carry on as normal.

Similarly, there’s probably a significant body of people who might be naturally immune to the disease (by some estimates at least half the population). Identifying them means they can be released from quarantine too (again, subject to certain precautions). Businesses too, should be encouraged to work out how they plan to operate in a post-lockdown world (as this is not going to end any time soon) and then allowed to re-open. For example, shops putting up a counter between the customers and the stock (not unlike how many small shops used to operate in the old days). Or reintroducing “snug’s” and booths into cafe’s and pubs. Home deliveries and keeping the bulk of back office staff at home are all potential measures that could be taken.

Otherwise, all that’s going to happen is your going to reset the growth rate of the virus back to zero, everyone gets released from quarantine (or the measures fail because a enough people start ignoring or circumventing the rules to render them meaningless). And within a month we’re right back to where we started, just with more cases.

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6095 days since mission accomplished and the US starts another war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise lost

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

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

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

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

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

The assassination of Jess Philips by the coward Jeremy Corbyn

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

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

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

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

Changing trains

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

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

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

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

Chaos reigns at Disney

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

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

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

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

Arise lord Poverty

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

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

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

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

The Boris bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musk v’s astronomy

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

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

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

Trump’s wall

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

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What Trump promised….

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

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….reality

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