Summer news roundup

Unfit for office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump v’s Iran

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

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

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

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

Working class leave

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

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

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Labour is overwhelmingly a remain supporting party

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

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

And now is the winter of our discontent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfit to lead?

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

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

Life expectancy falling

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

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

Women’s world cup

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

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Anyone for some footie….or tea?

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

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

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

Cycling ban

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

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

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

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

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

What happens in Alabama stays there

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

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

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

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

You have trodden on the forbidden lawn

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

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

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

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

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

May’s legacy – Solar bashing

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

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

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

News roundup

Back from an overseas business trip, thought it would be time for a catchup…

The not so big blue wave

So the results of the US mid terms are in and it turned out much as predicted. The democrats took control of the house, but the GOP still hold the senate and hence can block impeachment and keep nominating supreme court justices.

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Missing big blue wave, if found please forward to the DNC

While one has to call it a victory for the democrats, not that you’ll ever get Trump to admit to that. But at the same time, its pretty clear that any idea that the GOP voters will rebel against their party was wishful thinking. The fact is that the Republicans are less a political party and more of a cult, a cult of anti-liberalism. They don’t have any real policies, other than to opposite whatever it is the left are calling for….and of course doing some favours for their corporate donors along the way.

What is clear from this election is that republicans know exactly what they were voting for back in 2016. They know Trump is incompetent and not fit for the job, but they’d rather have an incompetent fascist than a competent democrat. They don’t support him despite his racism, his unchristian like behaviour and the fact he stands for everything the GOP has opposed since the civil war, but because of it.

Thus the democrats need to quit taking the moral high ground and grow a spine. My advice would be to pull every dirty mean trick they can to now shut down Trump’s and wait out the rest of his time in office. Its basically what the GOP did to Obama, so its only fair the democrats do the same.

And when they get back into power, then what goes around comes around. He’s going to appoint a couple of pro-lifers to the supreme court, we’ll just appoint a dozen 20 something members of the ACLU and the Brady foundation (then make any further changes to the structure illegal without the unanimous approval of every member of Congress).

Similarly if the GOP are going to cut welfare programmes, then once in power the democrats need to make clear they’ll be doing the same. An end to farm subsidies (which predominantly benefit republican voters), reforms to military spending and government contracts (which benefit the 1%) and ending the practice of democrat voting states effectively subsidizing republican voting states all needs to be on the table.

Only when confronted with the threat of such measures will the republicans be brought to heel.

 

The not surprising October surprise

The election also included the usual “October surprise, which is basically something completely irrelevant to the campaign (e.g. Hilary’s e-mails) which the right wing media will blow out of all proportion. In this case it was a immigrant caravan…which is still hundreds of miles away from the country.

And you’ll notice how they only started talking about it to deflect attention from right wing terror attacks…sorry I mean a Trump supporter getting a little too carried away. Because when a white guy goes and shoots people (or mails bombs) that’s not terrorism apparently. And the immediate aftermath of such an attack is not the time to talk about new gun legislation, or the remarks made by Trump that inspired such an attack. But if a Muslim doesn’t anything…..

 

Wheels coming off in Italy

For me it was always a case of how long before the wheels started to come off the populist 5S/league horseshoe government rather that if. And it looks like we’ve not had to wait long.

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In Rome (under the control of a 5S for several years now) there’s been protests as regards the collapse in public services, notably public transport (with bus fires still a major problem) and rubbish collection. The irony is that one of those stars of the party is access to good public transport and public services. So they can’t even get this right!

Now it has to be acknowledged that one of the difficulties that 5S faces is the enormous levels of corruption that exists within Italy, notably the public sector. However, the fact that 5S has gone into coalition with the very people behind that corruption (the league and their ally Berlusconi, not to mention members of 5S itself) doesn’t exactly help. And it highlights just how naive and inept 5S actually are that they didn’t anticipate that this would be a problem.

Meanwhile 5S’s fascist allies have been busy, well, doing fascist things. For example, one of them recently compared a black politician to a monkey. And not only did he not face any sanction over this, but when she called him out over it, he sued her. Yes this is Italy under a horseshoe government, its okay for politicians to be racist, but its illegal to criticise them over it.

You go into power with fascists, they’ll do fascist stuff, shock horror. I mean did any supporters of 5S really think this won’t happen? You did at lest google the term “Liga Nordbefore voting to approve this coalition?

About the only thing that unites the two parties is their hatred of the EU. And inevitably their budget proposals have been rejected by the EU (in part because they know most of the extra cash will simply go straight into the pockets of the mafia). So it looks like they’re going to fight city hall and inevitably lose.

 

A sign of the times

The other week some racist brexiter nutter was caught on a Ryanair flight making racist remarks to a fellow passenger (an African granny). What I thought was interesting was how the Irish media made a federal case out of it (which seemed to be more along the lines of why didn’t Ryanair land immediately and sling Mr Gammon straight off the plane).

However, the British media (and it was a brit involved) largely ignored it. Post-brexit, racists making racist comments in public falls into the “dog bites man” category and just isn’t news worthy. Which I thought was an interesting contrast with the Irish media’s response.

 

Leave means LEAVE!!!!

The British, with just months to go, still don’t seem to understand the consequences of brexit. There’s even an organisation with the passive aggressive name leave means leave (or presumably that should be leave means LEAVE!!!!), which it will come as little surprise to learn is almost entirely made up of greyhaired old white men with sweaty red faces (like our racist in the previous story). But the thing is they don’t seem to grasp what leave actually means.

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Spot the leave voter…..

For example one of the more serious consequences of leaving, as I mentioned before, is the UK’s decision to leave the ECJ at the same time. There have been test cases in Ireland which have seen people getting away with crimes, even in one case murder. It would appear that what leave means is that if you break British law and make a break for the border you can literally get away with murder.

And the British solution? Refer the matter to the ECJ! Yes the very body they are now leaving is being asked to pull their ass out of the fire. It would appear that the British think that just because they are pals with the Irish they can have some sort of associate membership of the ECJ (which presumably they aren’t going to pay for). And is not as if giving the Irish (or any other EU state) that sort of leverage over the UK won’t come back to haunt them later.

The real world consequences of this are not good. Basically if you live in the UK and someone from the EU owes you money, after March 2019, you’re stuffed. You’ll have to go to a European court, which means hiring an English speaking lawyer in the relevant country (which won’t be cheap) and waiting a long time, as the wheels of justice in some EU states are very slow to turn (as in years), especially when it comes to civil cases (they prioritise criminal cases, assuming that the longer they leave a civil case, the more likely the parties will settle out of court).

Should you be wondering at this point, why isn’t their a body to get around all of these problems? Well there is. Its called the ECJ! And it was set up because the British and Germans were sick of having to deal with the courts in countries like Italy or Spain (oh and in some EU states the law often varies depending on the region, a court in Catalonia cannot command local officials in Andalusia).

And this brings up the political fallout too. Take the position of the DUP. While one understands their opposition to the EU’s proposed backstop (that Northern Ireland remains part of the customs union), it at least settles the issue. That’s a far better alternative, where there’s a hard border that cripples the Northern Irish economy. The more people effected by brexit, the more will vote in a border poll to join the south. While previously you’d struggle to get a majority of Catholics to support a united Ireland in the North, now the polls show an overall figure with a margin of just 3%. Some that a bit of economic disruption will easily overturn. In short, if there’s ever a united Ireland, we’ll have the DUP to thank for it, rather than Sinn Fein.

I’m reminded of an ex-flat mate of mine. He decided he was spending too much money on nights out, so his solution was to cut back on expenses….which didn’t include his nights out. Instead he decided he didn’t need to pay his share of the gas bill any more (because he never turned on the heating), nor the TV license (ditto). He was also a member of a sports club and cancelled his membership. But given that all his friends were members he kept sneaking in and using the facilities, or going to social events.

That’s kind of where the brexiters are with the EU. They want out, but they still want all the benefits of being a members, just without paying for it. In short, it seems to me that many brexiters don’t seem to realise that leave actually does mean leave.

 

News flash – the UK is an Island

Dominc Raab gets a lot of stick for being…well a little bit thick. But to be fair he’s only been in the job as brexit secretary a few months and he’s doing better than his predecessor, who spent a grand total of 4 hours negotiating with the EU in the space of a year and a half. Then again, part of the price we pay for brexit is that fact that a lot of idiots have jobs in cabinet, simply to maintain the delicate balance that props up the PM.

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Well anyway, Raab’s returned to the UK with news of an important revelation that he was unaware of. Apparently Britain is an “Island and therefore needs these things called “ships” to trade with the rest of the world. This means Dover getting clogged up due to a no deal brexit might be kind of bad.

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Dominic Raab…life is like a box of chocolates and he certainly doesn’t know what he’s going to get!

I mean who could of known. I remember going to Dover once and thinking I might walk to France, but then I my feet got wet. Well now I know why. Expect the Daily Mail to claim that the English Channel is moat dug by the French to punish the UK for brexit.

And if you think that’s a joke, consider that the head of HMRC (a lowly customs official) received death threats from angry Gammon’s when he pointed out the potential costs of leaving the customs union would cost businesses £20 billion a year.

 

So long and thanks for all the fish

But at least brexit will benefit the fishermen. That the one line you keep on hearing, the fishermen, the fishermen, deer god will someone think of the poor fishermen….who are going to get royally shafted by brexit.

Of course the people who own the fishing boats and fish quota’s, well that’s a different story. And who are these people? well a recent survey discovered that a small group of wealthy families control much of the UK’s fishing quota’s.

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The UK takes control and goes from being able to fish in all of these waters, to just some of them

Just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List hold or control 29% of the UK’s fishing quota. More than two-thirds is controlled by just 25 businesses or families (half of whom are linked to criminal activities). And in England alone nearly 80% of fishing quota’s is held by foreign owners or domestic Rich List families. Half of Northern Ireland’s quota is held by just a single trawler.

This is the reality of brexit, the only real winners will be a handful of the very wealthiest, whose wealth and offshore assets leave them immune to the negative effects of brexit.

 

Trust gone

Another brexit related story was that of a phone conversation between the Irish PM and the British one. Almost as soon as he put the phone down, the Irish PM rushed out a media statement explaining what was said. Why? Because he’s all too aware that he’s dealing with a bunch of deluded manics back in London, who will have only heard what they wanted to hear and that the UK media will just make stuff up about what was actually said.

And the EU is now saying they won’t even consider holding a summit until the UK has basically decided what they want, written it down on paper and signed. That’s how low the trust between the UK and the EU is now. They don’t even trust the British to remember what was said over the phone a few minutes before and report that honestly.

 

The people’s will

Universities minster (and Boris Johnson own brother) Jo Johnson has just resigned, calling for another referendum. Which of course ain’t going to happen.

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I mean consider that for months now, you even remotely question the wisdom of brexit, you’ll be told its “the will of the people”, ignoring recent polls suggesting the people are rather sick of it and would rather call the whole thing off.

In short, the “will of the peoplehas become the people’s last will and testament. A national suicide pact that only about a quarter  of the country voted for, without knowing that this was what they were voting for.

 

University bankruptcies loom

Brexit has made for choppy waters in universities. We lost a number of staff, through either redundancies or the fact they decided to tunnel out of the lunatic asylum and escaped back to Europe. Research funding has been cut and EU student numbers are down. But the thing is my uni don’t have it that bad. A recent report suggests that several of the UK’s universities are “one policy change away from collapse”.

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Some have lost hundreds of staff through redundancies and the non-renewal of rolling contracts. And while the loss of a few students and a bit of research funding hasn’t exactly helped our situation, spare a thought for some other uni’s in receipt of hundreds of millions a year of EU R&D money, with courses almost entirely made up of fee paying foreign students. And remember we’ve not actually even left the EU yet, the real bad news is yet to arrive.

So with several universities literally circling the drain, it is time to address the question I asked sometime ago, what happens when a UK university actually goes bankrupt? The government seems to think, it won’t matter, it will serve to scare the rest straight, the magic of the market will fix everything. My fear is that opposite will happen.

Overseas students (from the EU or further a field) will flee the country (taking their money with them), R&D money (from the private & public sector) will disappear and banks will start cutting off lines of credit. So one collapse will probably be followed by several more. And in the context of brexit, its the larger more prestigious uni’s (basically any dependant on large EU research grants or with a large intake of foreign students), which are potentially in the firing line, not just the ex-polytechnics.

In many cases the local uni is the main local employer in its area and supports many tens of thousands of jobs (those student take-away meals don’t cook themselves!) and props up local property prices. So the political fallout of such a bankruptcy is going to be massive. And once one goes down, and others looking wobbly, this impact won’t be restricted to that constituency.

So the political price the Tories will pay if they allow such a thing to happen is going to be massive, more than enough to potentially swing an election Corbyn’s way. Hence why the question is are they actually prepared to pay that price? Or will they, as has happened so often when a privatised company gets in trouble, just be forced to step in and prop the universities up, same way public money is being used to prop up the failings of the privatised energy, water and rail industry?

Because that’s the reality of Thatcherism, make a mess of a perfectly functioning public service, let the private sector run it into the ground, then skip town with all the money, forcing the government to step in and pick up the pieces.

 

Moorside nuclear plant cancelled

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Hinkley C is increasingly looking like the hill and which the UK nuclear lobby are going to die on. This ridiculous boondoggle has so poisoned the well, that it could well be the last nuclear power station ever built in the UK.

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Case in point, we now have news that the proposed Moorside nuclear project in Cumbria has been cancelled. This shouldn’t come as a huge shock. As I reported before, the bankruptcy of Westinghouse last year meant this was probably inevitable. However, it does highlight how bad the situation is for nuclear energy.

Consider that Toshiba would not have taken this decision lightly, its going to cost them about £125 million just to walk away with nothing to show for it. And there were efforts to try and get someone else (notably a South Korean firm) in to take over the project, but inevitably they weren’t interested in polishing a turd. Of course this highlights all the problems with the Tories unhealthy obsession with nuclear, lavishing money on expensive boondoogles that the private sector won’t touch with a barge pole, while punishing renewables for their successes.

 

Mars colonisation nixed

Elon Musk’s plans to colonise Mars may have taken a bit of dent due to a recent study published in Nature. Its behind a paywall, but the gist of the report is that in order to terraform Mars, you’d need to heat the planet up. That would involve releasing lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to bring up the atmospheric pressure and temperatures. Well the researchers did an inventory of available CO2 resources on Mars and concluded there isn’t nearly enough of it available to do the job.

And since we’re talking about it, the “heat the planet up” part of terraforming would be the easy part. Creating a stable oxygen rich atmosphere would be the harder part (this process took billions of years on earth). Along with stopping the solar wind eroding away the atmosphere again, much as happened to the original Martian atmosphere. And as Mars lacks a magnetosphere, colonists would still be vulnerable to things like solar flares even with an atmosphere.

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So this seems to suggest terraforming Mars might well be impossible. However, it doesn’t rule out the option of para-terraforming, whereby you build a large dome over a deep Martian valley or crater and terraform the atmosphere within that dome.

 

No dogs, disabled or poor

A survey by the housing charity Shelter has revealed that 10% of rental property ads in the UK include the phrase “No DSS (this is the scheme through which disabled and the unemployed get their housing benefit). In essence its the equivalent of putting up a sign saying “no working class scum need apply” or including a skin colour chart saying you must be this white to get a flat.

Now the only thing I find surprising about this is that its only 10%. I suspect its in truth a lot higher than that. Under UK law it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion or economic background. But the shocking thing is that while you could probably pull some of these landlords up for putting such a thing in their ad, under the current law prosecuting them for actually discriminating against people (even racial discrimination) is nearly impossible.

This is the problem with the UK, its property laws are like something out of a Dickensian novel. For too long UK law has favoured landlords over tenants, which is perhaps not surprising in a country where parliament is made up of the landlords rather than renters.

News roundup

The Pedo party

Is it just me or does it appear like the major qualification you need to get ahead in the Republican party is to be a pedo, kiddy fiddler or sex offender of some form or another? Since Trump took over we’ve seen a long line of dirty old men going into the white house. I mean they even set up a dating site (for straight blue blooded republicans) and the male model they chose in the ads turned out to be a sex offender. Its like Trump is some sort of magnet for this sort of thing.

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Consider that evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote GOP, have gone from being 80% likely to say that a president should resign for having an affair (and quote a bible verse), to being 80% likely to say, ah it doesn’t matter, the bible? Well that says lots of things, I mean its not as if we have to take it literary!

At least it does go to prove my theory of conservative flip flop syndrome. In essence the Republicans, much like the UK Tories, aren’t really a political party anymore. They have no actual policies, no direction. They are just a cult devoted to follow which ever random nutty sex offender/tax cheat happens to be in charge at the time. And once he loses power in disgrace, they’ll shrug their shoulders and say so what, then forget about him. Recall how back in the Bush days, or Romney in 2008, they were the true messiah, failing to support them was treason again the US….until they criticised Trump! Of course, like any cult, the GOP needs funding, so they’ll happily sell their services to whichever random billionaire can afford to bribe them.

What this shows is that the democrats need to take the gloves off. The GOP won’t fight fair and you won’t win a fair fight when they’ve stacked the system against you. I’d propose that as soon as they get power back, prioritise shoring up the checks and balances. I’d federally mandate how electoral districts are organised (the states draw the line, but according to rules set by the federal government, overseen by non-partisan officials) and introduce proportional representation. Both would guarantee that the party that wins the most votes gets the most seats (the only reason why the GOP get so many seats is gerrymandering). It would also open up the possibility of smaller parties getting representation.

As for this Brett guy, once a democratic president is in charge, I’d give him and any other Trump justices a choice, resign or we stack the supreme court. There’s nothing in the constitution that stops a democratic president/congress either setting term limits on supreme court justices (which would force all but two to resign and be immediately replaced) or say appointing a few dozen twenty something women (and card carrying members of the ACLU) to the supreme court (this incidentally is what FDR threatened to do). Suddenly its likely he’ll remember some important yard work in needs to catch up on and retire.

Jacinda and the peacocks

At the UN there was controversy when some delegations showed up with babies, but at least the NZ PM’s baby didn’t make a speech and crap all over the place….unlike America’s baby (who got laughed out of the room).

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Much was made of the NZ PM’s speech and the contrast between it and Trump’s. She spoke of unity and fixing global problems, he spoke mostly about himself and blaming others for his problems. I was reminded of something a military officer once told me about the traits that the military look for in a good officer (good judgement, leadership, team player, etc.) and there are red flags which signal that this guy should never be given command, as he’s likely to become a dangerous liability (who’ll march his unit into a minefield and get them all killed).

Well we see a lot of those red flags on display at the UN summit. Selfishness and putting oneself first is always a worry (note to Trump, there’s no “i” in team….although there is a “u” in c*nt!). An officer like this is likely to send in his boys, then take off in the other direction when the shooting starts. I recall Oliver Stone once mentioning that on his first day in Vietnam his officer put him out on point!

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Other worrying red flags include impulsive behaviour (Trump again, he who dares….usually walks straight into an ambush), or equally bad, indecisiveness (Theresa May). Its important for a commander to be aware of what’s going on around them, so a detachment from reality (Trump or the brexiters) is very dangerous. And a good commander needs to listen, a bad one ignores advice (Trump again) or even punishes (Corbyn) those who offer it.

However of all of the traits you want to avoid in a commander, its one who blames others for his misfortune (such as foreigners). He berates his own men for disloyalty (have you given them reasons to be loyal, or plenty of reasons to question everything you say?). Or worse, blaming the enemy (if the enemy isn’t co-operating with your plans, well that’s kind of supposed to happen!). In short, the buck stops with the commander and any who is unwilling or unable to accept that is unfit for command.

All in all, this populist wave has left us a world led by strutting chest puffing peacocks, all of whom won’t be so much as put in charge of anything more dangerous than a stapler if they joined the military. All we can do is hope there isn’t some sort of crisis in the next few years, because I have very little faith in the majority of the world’s leaders. And its no wonder NZ is becoming the bolt hole of choice.

Hilary would have been worse

How different it would have been if the person who got the most votes had won. Mention this of course to Trump voters (or the Bernie or bust brigade) and they’ll mumble something about “Hilary would have been worse”. Really?

Would Hilary have appointed a long list of sex offenders to senior positions? (granted she’d have had to lock Bill in the basement or put him in a chastity belt). Would she have appointed a bunch of incompetents (purely on the basis of loyalty rather than ability to do the job) to senior government positions? Would she have left hundreds of important posts vacant? Would her aides have to brief her using cue cards and take stuff of her desk in case she did something stupid? Would she have gone to Russia and buried her tongue up Putin’s a*s?. Would she have started rolling back environmental protections and workers rights, or given a massive tax cut to the super rich? Would she have started a trade war for no good reason? Would Chelsea Clinton be jetting around the world acting as the defacto foreign secretary? Would she have started to use the US treasury as her own personal piggy bank, striking deals with countries on the basis of what most benefited her personal businesses? Would America have fallen from the world’s most respected nation to the butt of the world’s jokes?

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As I said from the beginning, Hilary would not have been my first choice as President. But in the election you had a choice between her and the pus*y grabber in chief. I know which of those two is the lest worse scenario. This is why I do worry about the mid terms. The democrats seem to be at war with themselves. The only condition that should apply is are you willing to oppose Trump and if possible get him impeached? Anyone who meets that criteria gets my vote.

On which point btw, I strongly advise voting for republicans, even the moderate ones critical of Trump. As recent events have shown, they can be leaned on by the party and made to toe the line (probably because having had their snout in the feeding trough for so long the GOP and its donors have a lot dirt on them that they could easily leak to the media).

To draw an analogy its like the US was this town out in the old west and the position for sheriff was open. The choice was some guy in a black hat, who had a English accent (despite being German), a large scar and an evil laugh (and when he laughs birds drop dead out of the sky). Or some other guy (the man with no name), who while not being necessarily a good guy, he clearly ain’t the baddie. But no, some of the town want to vote for old man Bernie, despite the fact he’s been pushing up the daises up on boothill for the last couple of months. Well now they’re getting bull whipped by the black hat, while he burns down the church (with the preacher inside) and they are trying to console themselves that might have been worse.

Musk out at Tesla

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So Musk managed to get himself banned from running his own company. Well to be honest this was a train wreck that was going to happen sooner or later. There’s a certain discipline that comes with being a CEO, not unlike some of those qualities I mentioned earlier. However, they are really only optional. There is in fact one key skill which a CEO must have above all else – keeping your big mouth shut!

A CEO is the face of his company. Anything he says is going to have an impact on the share price. This is why most tend to be fairly guarded about what they say, often taking the view that if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything. Hence why some of the statements from CEO’s regarding brexit should be setting off alarm bells.

Musk got himself in trouble thanks to his efforts to stop short sellers driving down Tesla’s share price. Yes, this was unfair, but on the other hand, he was kind of making it easy for them. What with calling a British diver a pedo, refusing to answer questions at a press conference because “they weren’t cool” or smoking pot live on the internet. As his downfall should show, the markets are decidedly unfair. They are a bit of a wild west. Yes the corrupt sheriff can send out his one spurs to rob your farm. Yet when you set out to take revenge its you who ends up swinging from a rope, regardless of whether or not you shot the deputy.

Which is slightly ironic given his, and other tech billionaires, affinity for libertarianism. In a libertarian world it would be even worse. Ford and GM would in fact have likely crushed him along time ago, same as Standard oil would destroy its competitors. So I suppose what goes around comes around.

Minister for starvation

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Its difficult to avoid talking about brexit. Firstly we have the story than given the difference between where the UK would be if we hadn’t voted for brexit and where we are now, the UK is now 500 million a week worse off (you’ll recall those ridiculous promises of an extra 350 million a week!). The UK has been forced to appoint a minster of starvation supply (for the first time outside of a war).

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Meanwhile, back in fantasy land, at the Tory party conference, they were trying to outdo each other with their different brexit fantasies. It was less a conference and more of a unicorn horn measuring contest. Brexit to the Tories is more about who they want to be the captain of the Titanic as it sinks and whether or not they should burn the lifeboats before anyone can use them. Meanwhile, a bunch of young Tory activists got caught with racist and classist slogans on their T-shirts, but of course that’s allowed, yet a labour supporter did it, the newspapers would be wanting Corbyn to be hung.

On a positive note, it was noted that Theresa May never mentioned her Chequers plan in her speech, which could hint that she’s going to roll over and accept whatever the EU offers her….Or it could be because she knows that if she so much as mentioned that word, it would be like playing the rains of Castamere at a wedding. Within seconds they’ve have all started stabbing one another. So probably more of a survival instinct than anything.

Increasingly it looks like we’ll just have to wait for all the brexiters to die off and vote to re-join the EU….which probably won’t take too long, ironically thanks to brexit. The NHS (which again the bus ads promised would be better off) is already in crisis, with a Breixtus of EU staff leaving, not surprising when brexit threatens to turn them into 2nd class citizens. The government’s solution? Oh, we’ll just have the nurses train as doctors or shorten their training time. I mean its not as if people die if hospitals make a mistake or something.

Making rent

Housing The Homeless

I’ve come across quite a few stories over the last few months about homelessness in California, one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the world. And we’re in many cases talking about people with jobs who are homeless, as its become difficult if not impossible to make rent in California, to the point where some are sleeping in their cars or living out of campervans. Let me repeat that, we’re talking about people with jobs, who work hard, who have kids and a family living in their cars. Welcome to Trump’s America.

Now too be fair, this is part of the hangover from the financial crisis. And we really have to pin the blame for that on past US presidents (notably G. W. Bush). And of course Obama’s recovery was a rising tide that didn’t lift all ships. Governors of California (who have come from both parties since the crash) also have to take some share of the blame. That said, Trump has cut federal housing aid, and who did he appoint in charge of housing? Ben Carson (the first person to conduct brain surgery on himself).

So there’s plenty blame to share out, the question is how to fix it. Well clearly a lack of rent control is part of the problem. If you let landlords charge $2000 a month for a flat (with a two month deposit on top), then nobody except the better off will be able to pay that. And there’s a lack of good affordable social housing. In Europe for example, try to get planning permission for a hundred luxury condos and you’ll be told nope, not going to happen, unless you add in a few dozen affordable homes or council houses.

Of course there’s an elephant in the room here we’re ignoring, one you can clearly see if you’ve ever flown over California and looked out of a window – urban sprawl and low density housing. While we’ve got problems with urban sprawl in Europe yes, but never to the same extend as it occurs in the US. Developments that would be refused in Europe are routinely approved in the US.

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In fact, government policies intended to promote car ownership are a major contributory factor, by for example legally requiring large parking lots everywhere. By contrast, getting planning permission for car parks in Europe is tricky and will often be refused (we’ve a long standing issue in my block with parking, long story but the bottom line is the council will routinely turn down applications for parking lots, unless you’ve got a damn good reason for having one and even then they’ll insist its underground).

The end consequence of this is vast spread out cities where you need a car to just get around. Case in point, the population density of LA is around 1,000 per sq km, while in London is closer to 5,000 and Paris 21,000. If the oil ever runs out LA is going to starve to death, given in some LA neighbourhoods you can literally get picked up by the cops for just walking. The US has legally mandated a country full of vast parking lots, now its got them filled with homeless people rather than apartment blocks.

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And, as always, this highlights the shortcomings of the libertarian politics of the tech billionaires. Their lassie-faire approach amounts to them amassing vast fortunes and living in huge mansions, while the serf’s who toil away making all that money have to steal food from work, then find a quiet parking lot to catch some sleep in and hope they don’t get mugged. This is what a libertarian world looks like.

A real magic money tree, scientific publishing

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An interesting article here from George Monbiot about the racket of scientific publishing. If you are an academic, in almost all cases you have to publish your research in a peer reviewed journal. Many academics will in fact have it in their contract of employment that they must publish a certain number each year, often in specific journals.

However these journals are owned by private companies, notably Elsevier, which was the brain child of Robert Maxwell. So in essence we academics use public funds to generate intellectual property that we are then obliged to hand over to a private company, who then charge our own university library a small fortune to be able to access it. In essence we are being contractually obliged to participate in a wealth transfer scam from the public sector into the pockets of media billionaires.

This situation could be solved relatively simply. Either the government just nationalises these firms and makes their data publicly accessible free of charge. Or it puts in place a rule prohibiting uni’s from setting targets for staff based on for-profit journals. This would mean we publish in open access journals more frequently. Faced with the risk that the intellectual property they own would quickly become worthless (scientific data tends to get obsolete pretty quickly), the private publishing houses would then likely be forced to go open access themselves……

Comcast buys Sky, Murdoch on suicide watch

.So why you may ask, aren’t governments trying to move towards open access journals? Well because they don’t want to upset media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch of course. The media is something of a closed shop, a forbidden lawn onto which politicians dare not tread….or the Sun will publish an article calling them gay.

However, in amongst all the other stories recently, a little story slipped through that’s actually of significant importance. For many years now Rupert Murdoch has sought to take full control of UK broadcaster Sky. However, while the UK’s politicians are a spineless lot, they ain’t stupid enough not to see the danger with letting him have full control of all the newspapers and half the TV audience. So they’ve been obstructing that process, although more about going through the motions than any real opposition.

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Well the phone hacking scandal forced those plans to be kicked into the long grass for a while. Brexit provided good cover to resume the process, but the chaos it unleashed slowed things down somewhat. However now at the moment of truth, what’s gone and happened? A rival firm, Comcast, has swooped in and bought Sky right out from under Murdoch’s nose. And if to make matters worse, its CEO while republican, is more of a moderate (read a greedy rich as*hole, but at least one whose vaguely sane). So its likely he’ll start to shift Sky more towards the centre ground of politics, rather than constantly supporting the Tories.

Keep in mind that for much of recent UK politics this has been going on in the background. Murdoch has supported this candidate or that and got his newspapers to sing their praises regardless of how nutty or ludicrous what they were proposing was. He’s more responsible for brexit or Trump than probably anything else. And now suddenly, in no small part thanks to Trump and brexit, he’s been pipped at the finishing post. Well, what goes around, sooner or later, it comes around. Karma can be a bitch!

Not so cool news

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I had a bit of a rant before about Game of Thrones season 7. However my main bone of contention was with I’d call the “cool dude” school of film making, that seems to have taken over. This brand of film making views the plot and the script as secondary and merely a way of stitching together various epilepsy inducing CGI sequences (the point of which seems to be to get the audience to say “this is cool dude”).

The trouble is that this is a style of film making that gets boring very quickly. And as its necessary to throw away much of what makes any particular genre appealing to its fan base, it tends to piss off the fans. A situation not helped by hiring directors or producers whose knowledge of say, star wars/trek is limited to whatever they managed to google while in the cab on the way to the studio.

Well it would appear the wheels are starting to come off. On the back of poor box office and bad reviews several leading actors in the latest Star trek film have quit, reportedly over pay disputes (if the film ain’t making as much they need more of those dollars for the CGI budget, which the actors seem unwilling to accept). Its possible the next star trek film might be cancelled. There’s even a crazy rumour going around that the studio is so desperate they’re going to hand it over to Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Romulans? The hateful Klingons? Vulcan fiction? Kill Kirk?).

Also on their way to the job centre are the actors playing superman, batman and Cpt. America. Meanwhile, the star wars franchise is in such disarray after the Solo movie flop (that was a train wreck you could just see coming!), that it looks like any further movies (bar the ones too far into production to halt) are also going to get canned.

In short, the customer is always right. Piss off your fans, they’ll vote with their feet. I mean I’ve not been to say very many of these movies recently because, to be blunt I’d be as well off shining a strobe light in my eye for two hours.

Ultimately the problem is these major studios have a monopoly on the story lines, nobody else can make a star trek film without the risk of being sued, even though its a genre that’s over fifty years old and its original creator has been dead for twenty years. If you left any other company (cars, laptops, washing machines, etc.) with the exclusive rights to produce a product and they’d never innovate, their products would become increasingly bloated and over priced.

So this is probably one situation where we should let the markets sort it out. Let anyone who wants to make a superhero/sci-fi movie do so. Yes some will be dire and laughably bad (the Russian film Guardians for example), but others might well be much better than anything the mainstream studios can come up with.

Katla is isn’t going to blow….for now!

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If you are a tabloid reader, you might have heard that the Icelandic volcano Katla was about to erupt. For those who don’t know, Katlia is the bigger brother of the big E volcano (I ain’t even going to try and get its spelling right!) that erupted in 2010 and disrupted all of those flights. Well Katla is many times larger (with a Caldera 10km’s across) and it erupts about every 100 years. When was the last eruption? About 100 years ago! So an eruption from Katla would be far worse and could last for much longer (possibly months).

However, before you start digging a shelter or stockpiling food (a sensible idea perhaps, but for other reasons!) no, that’s not what the scientists studying the volcano actually said. In fact they pointed out they could see no signs the volcano was in imminent danger of eruption. The study did reveal a lot more about the potential impact of its eruptions. For example, in one past eruption it created a flash flood with a flow rate the Nile, Mississippi, Amazon, and Yangtze combined.

So while its unlikely to go off tomorrow, the warning is that we probably won’t get a huge amount of warning prior to any future eruption. Which given how disruptive this could be, it would seem to make sense to put in place some contingency plans for how we are going to cope, if say transatlantic flights had to stop for a few months…..so not really something the British have to worry about after March 2019 then!

News roundup

Do panic

A few months back the brexiters complained that they wanted the Royal Mail to celebrate brexit by issuing stamps to mark the occasion. Well RM seem to have met them half way by issuing a set of “Dad’s Army” stamps. Clearly someone at RM is trolling the brexiters.

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Inevitably perhaps, others have been creating their own versions of potential brexit stamps.

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Our Brexit, hallowed be thy name

Meanwhile, back in the mad house, Saint Theresa of Maidenhead May suggested that an extra £20 billion would be available after brexit for the NHS thanks to the “brexit dividend.

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This was met with incredulity by many. At the time of the referendum when they made similar claims, it was pointed out that the UK only really spends about £8 billion on its EU membership, once farm subsidies, rebates, research funding, structural funds and other things Brussels pays for are taken into account. Of course the implication would be that, much as I warned might happen prior to the referendum, this could indicate that the Tories do not plan to pick up the tab for these bills. Farm subsidies will end in March 2019, the fishermen and deprived communities in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall will see their lifeline cut off and universities will see research budgets slashed, with a knock effect to the many high tech start ups who depend on that research funding to get them off the ground.

And there’s the not so small matter that the UK will be stuck, not with a brexit dividend, but a brexit deficit. There’s the exit bill the UK will need to pay, £40-50 billion net (depending on rebates and currency exchange differences, since its calculated in euro’s). And then there’s the economic cost of undertaking brexit (about 3-7% of GDP, best guess £72 billion).

Plus, what do you think the EU does with all of that cash? They spend it on hiring civil servants to administer all the EU regulations, that May is trying to squeeze into UK law. It was improper regulation on the British end that led to the Grenfell tower fire. In China, there’s a controversy over baby formula, leading to shelves being emptied in Australia because some mum’s don’t trust the Chinese stuff anymore. So regulations are something you neglect at your peril. And the three immediate areas that will need tackling are nuclear materials, medicines and food safety…..so no pressure then! And in any event the conditions of any trade deal, be it with the EU or other parties, will need to include a budget to account for paying for the regulation of that deal.

In short, never has a UK Prime Minster said something so inaccurate since Lord North told parliament that the Americans loved being part of the UK so much, they’d happily pay a bit more for tea. But as I’ve said before, brexit is now the state religion of the UK.

While May, perhaps sensing what she was implying, did backtrack and mubble something about a tax rise to pay for the extra money until the (non-existent) dividend kicks in. But even this is worrying. Basically what she said was that the Tory party is abandoning its manifesto and sacrificing it on the altar of brexit. And while more money for the NHS isn’t a bad thing, its almost certain that this new tax burden will fall on the middle and low income earners (this is the Tories after all, which is more likely, they give up smoked salmon once a week to pay for hospitals, or they get the plebs to pick up the tab?).

Brexit is now to the UK what Juche is to North Korea. The excuse upon which anything can be sold. A tax rise? Its for brexit (but don’t worry we’ll pay you back later). An end to farm subsidies? Privatise the NHS? Strip workers of their right to strike? Its all to make sure brexit works!

Of course the problem with this attitude is it means they just can’t understand why for example Rolls Royce or JLR would suddenly want to move thousands of jobs out of the glorious thousand year reich British empire mark II (because they are companies with shareholders perhaps?). Nor can they understand why the EU are being such assholes and threatening to cut the UK off from intelligence data and the European arrest warrant (because they have this thing in Europe called “rights” and “laws” and the UK will join Belarus and Kazakhstan as the only non-signatory to the ECHR). In other words, they are blind to the consequences of their actions. Like the suicide pilots flying their plane into the world trade centre they cannot see the obvious insanity of what they are doing and genuinely think they’ll be going to a better place.

Lock em up….by which we mean the kids

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In between picking fights with China, Trump has been busy locking up kids in cages after tearing them out of their the parents arms (what’s the bet he’ll put Roy Moore in charge!). Conditions at the facility where the kids are detained, referred to as the dog kennel, are described as inhumane and equivalent to a prison. Experts warn of the emotional scaring this will inflict. Parallels have been made to concentration camps and the detention of Japanese Americans during world II.

The day you know you’re living in a fascist state is the day you hear your justice secretary (soon to be named ministry for state security) deny he’s running concentration camps. The irony is one of the justifications of the Alex Jones mob for opposing Obama was that he was black was planning to set up FEMA concentration camps.

Oh, and for good measure the US is quitting the UN human rights council. Because clearly the words “human rights” and “America” should not be sharing the same sentence right now, even Trump can figure that one out.

Let’s be clear if you voted for Trump (or voted for a third party in a swing state, which is basically the same thing under the US system) then this is what you voted for. And frankly it shouldn’t surprise anybody, its exactly what was warned would happen if Trump was elected. At least now when reading the history books and you wonder, how could the Germans vote for Hitler, well now you know how and why. And part of the reason why international pressure failed to contain him, wasn’t because Neville Chamberlain was a weak and naïve leader. It was because he was leading a divided Britain, which had more than a few (Daily Mail reading) fascists of its own, who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

Trump, upon realising that this might not look so well, immediately tried to dodge responsibility, blaming the democrats, the immigrants themselves and pretty much anyone else he could think of. Its worth noting that something similar played out during the holocaust, the Yugoslav civil war and the Rwandan genocide, in which often those in senior roles were separated from the actual atrocities and generally tried to avoid taking responsibility for such things, leaving it to a handful of fanatical racist nut cases to do the dirty deeds. This of course made it so much easier to order more of the same and treat as mere bureaucratic exercise. Forget the lessons of history and they will repeat themselves.

The really big short

Trump’s tariff policy has sent stock markets crashing to the point where all of this years gains have been wiped out. And the main losers won’t be in Wall street, they’ll be ma and pa firms across the US, as well as many ordinary Americans who are about to see their living costs rise in response to these tariffs (you’ll be paying them, not the Chinese). It sounds like typical Trump. He’s not doing it because he thinks its a good idea, its an action driven purely by ego…..

Or is it? Given that Trump has not actually fully separated himself from his businesses (which is illegal btw), we need to consider the possibility that he’s colluding with others, and doing a little bit of insider trading. Its possible to profit from a falling market by shorting the market. If you can correctly guess that the stock of a particular company is going to fall, you can bet on the share price declining (by borrowing shares, selling them at a high price and then buying them back later after the price has fallen).

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However, shorting is a risky business. Its the equivalent of betting that Brazil or Germany were going to lose their opening matches. Now while this will happen occasionally (as indeed happened to Germany….guess they won’t be eating Taco’s for a while!), but the odds are you’ll be wrong more often than you are right. And to make matters worse its possible with short selling to lose more than your original investment if the market moves against you. Hence most traders will often hedge their bets (basically bet both ways, but slightly bet higher one particular way). This reduces the risk, but also the profit margin.

Of course if you have access to insider information, e.g. you are the president and you know there’s a big tax cut coming, or you’re going to impose tariff’s on the EU, then change your mind and then impose them anyway. A trader with advanced knowledge of this could easily adopt short positions and profit considerably from this.

But, not only is it illegal for a president to be in any way linked to these sorts of deals, but insider trading is also illegal and for good reason. Because if you get it wrong (and markets can be difficult to predict, even if you have access to insider information) things can go from bad to catastrophic pretty quickly. Consider how rogue trader Nick Leeson managed to lose over £800 million, wiping out Barings bank.

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Indeed one has to look at Trump’s real estate losses in a new light. People laugh and say oh Trump is such a loser he can lose money running a casino. How can you do that? I mean people literally walk into a casino and hand over their money!

Well, not if your running a casino skim operation. Its possibly that Trump, under pressure from his mob connections, was deliberately running the joint into the ground. Its just they miscalculated. Normally you skim just a little off the top, but not enough anyone will notice, nor that might risk bringing down the racket. But Trump was such a balloon head, or he and his co-conspirators just got too greedy, they managed to bleed the place dry. Which doesn’t bode well if this same lot are at the helm of the US economy.

Enabling fascism

Speaking of fascists, in Italy the populist horseshoe government is split because one of their leaders, looking to emulate Trump, wants to build his own concentration camps….sorry I mean happy camps (I’m sure they’ll come up with a more PC name!). He also wants to count Roma gypsies and presumably make them go around with little stars on them, I mean nothing bad ever happened from doing that. He’s also suggested that an anti-mafia journalist, who criticised him should have his police protection removed.

This has all come as a bit of a shock to a number of 5S voters. But what should it? You enabled a bunch of fascists and helped them into power, now they are enacting fascist policies. What did you think was going to happen? They were going to go door to door handing out milk and cookies?

Its possible that this might bring down the horseshoe government a little earlier than was expected. Which I’d consider a good thing…..if it weren’t for opinion polls suggesting a likely win for the Northern League and Forza Italia (Mr Bunga Bunga’s outfit).

The Glasgow school of art fire

In Scotland the Glasgow School of art burnt down. Designed by Rennie Mackintosh, the Mac, is to Glasgow what the Casa Mila is to Barcelona. This fire occurred just four years after another fire, which destroyed the college library, which was in the process of being rebuilt. Incidentally, lost in the story about the art school fire, was the fact that another important building, the neighbouring ABC theatre, had also burnt down after the fire spread to it.

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Two fires in the space of four years is more than bad luck. Clearly there’s something up with the building in terms of fire safety. My understanding is the contractors for the restoration after the previous fire were on site, so they’ll have some questions to answer.

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The library of the Glasgow school of art, prior to the fire in 2014

But clearly there’s some issues with fire safety that needs to be addressed. And this is not just a problem for the school of art. There’s been several large fires in older buildings in Glasgow and the basic problem is, they ain’t up to current fire codes and need to be modified accordingly. This article discusses some of the issues, although in the context of post-war era buildings, but much of the same policy should be applied to Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. E.g. fitting external fire escapes (as in New York) and sprinklers, fire resistant barriers, etc.

Meanwhile the question now being asked is whether the art school can be rebuilt. Some suggest it might not be feasible, others feel it is possible. We’ll have to see. There will inevitably be a strong desire from the art community and the Scottish government to rebuild it, but some polls suggest there might be opposition from the public, if it costs too much money.

For the moment, given that its basically now a burnt out shell, the best that can be hoped for is facade retention. Which would have to be undertaken quickly, given that its on a hill and exposed to the winds (it probably won’t survive the winter in its current state). Even then if the building were rebuilt, you’d be rebuilding everything inside that retained facade. And as noted, you’d have to modify the design to account for modern fire codes, which would require considerable modification from the original. So it would be more of a replica, rather than the real thing.

The thinking wing nut’s troll

The Toronto academic Jordan Paterson has been in the news recently, largely thanks to an encounter on Channel 4 news earlier this year, which has made him something of an intellectual hero for the alt-right. However, in truth he’s just a slight better inform right wing troll, who engages in many of their same tactics (gish gallop’s, contrarian arguments, weasel words, etc.)

Take this example where he attempts to argue that much as the right is basically anti-liberalism ID politics (his alt-right followers only hearing what they want to hear will have no doubt filtered that out) that the left is basically the same. That many on the left for example only support social welfare programs that they’ll never benefit from due to a similar commitment towards ID politics.

This position combines a number of contrarian arguments based on a falsehoods. It relies on the myth that working class people tend to vote conservative, and its the “champagne socialists” who vote for left wing parties. However, data from both the last UK election and US elections show that those who are working class tend to vote for left wing parties. When those on right try to claim the opposite, they are often forced to use weasel words statements (e.g. focus on white men over 40 in specific states).

But certainly it is true that a certain portion of those on higher incomes do vote for left wing causes. As I happen to be one of those, although real ale socialist would be more accurate, I can tell Mr Patterson my views have nothing to do with ID politics. Its because I understand that I might end up needing that social welfare safety net myself someday. No matter how hard working you are, or how well paid, all it takes is one accident, cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy of your employer or misadventure and suddenly you’re in a world of trouble.

For example (and this is just one of many examples I could give), I know a guy back in Ireland, hard worker, used to lead scouting groups, took a fall at work one day. He seemed to be fine after a few days, but as the months and years passed he developed ever worse back problems (not unusual for these to take time to surface) and eventually he had to give up work. Now if we take the right at its word, he should be dragged to the side of the street and left to die just because he had the misfortune to have an accident that wasn’t his fault (should you wonder why he hasn’t sued, his employer went bust during the crash and it was only a small building firm anyway, there won’t have been any money to sue for).

That’s all it takes to ruin your income. I wonder if Mr Paterson has paused to consider what would happen to him if he, or one of his relatives, were to fall ill and need expensive medical treatment, which his HMO wasn’t willing to cover (pre-existing conditions and all that). In fact I know of a lecturer who found himself in this very situation. A relative got ill and he had to drop everything, give up his well paid job and fly home to Pakistan. Now while last I heard he’d gotten a part time job over there, but I’m going to hazard a guess its paid a lot less than a lecturing post in the UK. And given his likely outgoings I suspect he’s probably only just about managing. Voting in favour of social welfare is not ID politics, its basic common sense.

Indeed perhaps more the question is why is it that some, notably those over 40’s blue collar workers don’t vote for left wing parties. I would argue that this stems from a long instilled ideology of rugged individualism (you’re considered less of a man if you ask for help), as well as the usual right wing lies and propaganda. And more crucially this tendency does tend to be growing (while those on lower income tended to vote overwhelmingly for left wing candidates by at least 80/20, now its closer to 60/40). So its more a sign of desperation and frustration than meaning an increase in support for the politics of the right. Which perhaps isn’t surprising given how the right doesn’t really have a political philosophy anymore, other than “anti-liberalism”.

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The calm rational logic of Trump voters

But either way, the only real difference between Mr Paterson and Alex Jones (and they are both believers in the paranormal, living on wing nut welfare, which kind of makes his point regard social welfare more than a little hypocritical), is that Paterson knows how not to look and sound like a nut, even when he’s saying pretty crazy things.

The Wakanda conundrum

I came across an interesting little video on youtube, which discuss the Wakanda conundrum. For those who didn’t see the movies (Black Panther, age of infinity), or don’t read comic books, Wakanda is a small yet highly advanced African country which has kept itself hidden from the world for many centuries (for reasons we won’t get into right now). It owes its formation to the arrival of a meteorite from space made of a strange and nearly indestructible metal. As a result its now extremely wealthy and century’s ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

So what’s the problem? Well there’s simply no way such a society could exist. No matter how valuable this resource is, without trading with the outside world (and thus sharing ideas and technology) they’d struggle to figure out how to exploit it. And without trading this resource, they’d never be able to earn any cash from it and thus never be able to buy in the stuff they’d need to exploit the resource and develop their economy. In short the economic policy of Wakanda is basically the same as that of North Korea, and they ain’t exactly the richest country in the world, nor the most advanced (I’m sure Trump would tell you differently tho!).

And speaking of which, the government of Wakanda is an absolute monarchy, with kings picked by barbaric fights (okay, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of politicians fighting over whose in charge, its not that much different maybe). The problem with such a system is all it takes is one bad king to ruin everything. And essentially, that’s the plot of the Black Panther film, but they ignore the consequences of that.

Then there’s the matter of the so-called “resource curse”, which means that small countries with valuable resources can sometimes end up worse off than countries without any. While this doesn’t apply in every situation, Iceland and Norway or Bahrain, for example. But generally countries tend to only avoid the resource curse so long as they’ve got open borders, good trade and a reasonably free society and competent government. Inevitably Wakanda would hit the buffers sooner or later and descent into a corrupt, autocratic mess.

And the other problem with having resources is it tends to draw attention to you. African dictators surrounding Wakanda, not to mention western colonists (notably the Belgians), would soon learn of it and be very quick to swoop in and try to take over the country. And given how in the last film the Wakandian army got the snot kicked out of them by a large pack of dogs, I doubt they’d be able to hold off an invasion, regardless of how advanced their technology.

Uber scooters

A number of silicon valley based firms have begun to set up dockless bike and scooter hire schemes. The logic is, rather than the traditional bike hire schemes, where bikes are picked up and dropped off at designated spots (which can mean trucks rolling around transporting bikes from docking station to docking station). Instead, the system is more free flowing. You pick up the bikes wherever you find one (a mobile phone app directs you to the nearest one) and then leave it wherever you are when you’re finished. Simple!

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So what’s the problem? Well many of these schemes are being set up by companies without the support of local governments and councils. This is causing all sorts of problems, from people riding bikes and electric scooters on pavements, then abandoning them in the middle of the pavement, where they represent a trip hazard, particularly for blind people.

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I think this is a good idea that needs to be developed more, indeed I’d be curious to see if its possible to marry this idea with current car sharing schemes. However, clearly there needs to be some sort of regulation. Frankly the operators of these schemes are lucky councils didn’t just classify all of their scooters as litter and bin them (then fine the company for waste disposal), which is actually what happened in China. No doubt these rules would specify where the bikes and scooters could be used and that where they can be left (if not at designated docking points, then off the pavement and parked neatly). Presumably a system of fines imposed (and/or penalty points) on those who break the rules might bring some discipline to the situation. So it would be a good idea for these firms to start working with local authorities, rather than trying to go the whole uber.

So long and thanks for all the fish

The one shining reason for brexit we were told was the fish. The fish, dear god will someone think of the fish! Those poor fishermen, Farage said as he cried crocodile tears. Well, aside from the fact that this ignored the realities of how trade deals work, and that the Tories have already screwed the fishermen over, there’s a more specific problem – the fish are moving.

As a result of climate change North sea cod and north Atlantic cod are migrating northward out of UK waters and into Scandinavian waters. You would think the Scandinavians would be delighted about this, but they aren’t. Their preferred fish is the Arctic cod and the increasing presence of North Atlantic cod is not only making fishing difficult for them, but threatens the long term viability of their industry. While I’m not much of a fish eater, I’m told by those who do that there’s a distinct difference in taste between the two types and that as a result, the Arctic cod is considered a more valuable product. So you can see the problem. Its issues like this that underline the need for action on climate change.

One possible temporary fix would be for the Faroese, Greenland, Norwegian and Icelandic governments to agree to let EU boats into their waters (for a fee of course) to catch the North Atlantic cod and basically take em back down south. Of course given that the UK is leaving the EU, its inevitable we’ll be cut out of any such deal. Given that all are part of the single market, its going to make a lot more sense to deal with the EU than the UK. So it looks like the UK isn’t even going to get a smoked kipper out of post-brexit fishing deals.

Free range parenting

I got into a discussion on another blog recently about how parents are becoming increasingly controlling of their kids, so called helicopter parenting, and how this wasn’t a good idea. Well now its official. A study from America suggests that overly controlling parents can lead to behaviour problems.

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I’d argue the problems go much further. We end up with students in university, who are used to having every little obstacle swept out of their way and thus haven’t learnt how to strike a work life balance or think for themselves. Its long been my observation, as both a student and a lecturer, that students from the strictest parenting background tend to be the ones who become complete tear away’s in uni.

They’ll show up in the first week of term dressed like a Mormon, or in full islamic dress, but by the end of the first semester they’re complete party animals (for whom breakfast consists of peeling last night’s pizza off their face before eating it), who start missing classes and falling behind. By contrast those from more “liberal” backgrounds (who’ve already learnt how to manage their time and say no to a night out) are able to maintain focus. And they tend to be the ones more likely to drop out, not least because it can sometimes turn out that their parents picked the course and uni for them, which turned out to be something (or somewhere) they didn’t want to study.

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In contrast to this is so-called free range parenting. Rather than for example, walking the kids to school, parents take the view, well he/she knows what time classes start, they know how to get there, so its the kids responsibility to get up on time and get there. If they don’t, its going to be a steep learning curve. While there are merits to this, there are problems with it, not least of possible legal issues.

But my view is that parents need to think of the long term impact of what they are doing. While you have to have some rules and boundaries with kids, if you don’t give them some level of independence, they’ll never learn it. Then you are stuck with them living at home and you have to get them evicted. Birds won’t leave the nest if they don’t learn how to fly.

The bursting of the London property bubble

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Property prices in the UK are now clearly on a downward trend, notably around London. Since the brexit vote, they’ve fallen by 15%. With Europeans being attacked on the London underground for daring to speak a foreign language, and even some of the windrush generation, who came to Britain over fifty years ago being told to go home by the government, its perhaps no surprise that this will have a knock effect on house prices. The expectation is that this is not a blip but we’ll see a slump in prices lasting at least five years.

At face value this would appear to be the one bit of good news you could draw from brexit. Property prices in London are massively inflated, largely because of investors (from home and abroad) who’ve been buying up London properties and using them as gambling chips in a casino. In some cases they don’t even bother renting the property out. And some of the money is almost certainly of questionable origins, the spoils of criminal enterprise, or money stolen from the state coffers in various countries around the world. Its one of the things that makes London the money laundering capital of the world.

However, prices would have to drop by rather a lot to make them affordable to first time buyers. To even have a chance of getting a mortgage in the UK you need to be able to put up a 10% deposit. So for the average UK house price of £200,000, or closer to £500,000 in London, it means you need to have between £20,000-50,000 in savings. This is well beyond what many first time buyers can afford. And furthermore, that is the MINIMUM amount that stops the mortgage broker laughing in your face (then having his goons roll you down the stairs), and actually given you a chance of getting a mortgage. To give yourself some leeway when buying and to get a good mortgage deal (plus leaving an overhead to allow for home improvements) you’d really want at least double this £40k – 100k or about $55k – $140k in cash.

And that’s assuming you can find a house where the broker is willing to wait around for you to go and get a mortgage. One of the problems with the UK property market, particularly around London, is that properties can go very quickly. I’ve seen ads for houses which state that those looking to pay with a mortgage need not apply, as the broker would rather just sell it quickly to an investor to use it as a gambling chip, rather than Mr Joe public to use as a home.

So while the crash has helped a little bit, for most first time buyers it hardly matters. And of course if you are selling your home for some reason, then this is all very bad news. For example, let suppose you bought a London flat at the peak of the boom, but now need to sell it (as you’re moving overseas for example). You put down a £75,000 deposit on say a £500,000 flat. Well that flat will now sell for closer to £425,000 meaning that once the bank’s been paid off you’ve lost all of your initial deposit, plus all the various fees on top that (and several months of mortgage payments, about £24,000 a year for a flat like this). So we’re talking fairly significant losses here, more than your original investment. And spare a thought for those with Grenfell tower style cladding, who’ve now been told homes they bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds are now worth a mere fraction of that.

While brexit is at least part of the trigger for popping the bubble, others argue that recent changes to stamp duty are also responsible. However, those changes were brought in to try and bring some sanity to the property market and get out of the scenario of them being kept empty and unused. And in that regard the plan does seem to have worked. Indeed a committee of MP’s recently even suggested the radical step of taking flats off rogue landlords.

And even if it were true, like all bubbles the UK property bubble was going to pop eventually. To draw an analogy we have a warehouse made of timber crammed with oil soaked rags and one night a mouse dislodges a bolt which causes a spark, which burns the place to the ground. This is the equivalent of blaming the mouse for causing the fire.

The immediate losers of this crisis are likely to be estate agents, the least liked and most distrusted profession in the UK (after politicians). The high turnover and high fees they are used to are now evaporating, so quite a few of them will be on the way down to the jobs centre. I suspect few tears will be shed.

The wealthy overseas property investors are unlikely to lose out immediately, as they bought some time ago, so prices would have to fall quite a bit to mean they hit their squeal point. And also the whole reason why they are investing in UK property is because if they cashed out and took the money home they’d get themselves arrested. So its not really their money that’s at risk in the first place. Either way, a property bear market is more likely than a sudden sharp correction. Meaning that we could be waiting sometime for any recovery.

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Abandoned building sites are starting to become a feature of some British cities

The exact scale of the problem is difficult to judge as we simply don’t know how much money was committed to UK property speculation and by whom. There are several high profile projects where construction has ground to a halt. Someone who works in the city told me about a pitch event she attended where they were selling London property bonds. Naturally, she fled the room pretty quickly (after helping herself to the free booze of course!) when she realised they were basically selling unhedged commodity speculation, which is generally illegal because its possible to lose more than your original investment (as the example I gave earlier illustrates). However, such funds did take in quite a bit of cash and its unclear where the blow back for this will emerge.

Keep in mind that last year China’s credit rating was downgraded when it became clear similar schemes existing in China and it was unclear how much money had been gambled and who was going to get to left without a chair when the music stopped. Of course, the real reason why China got downgraded is that they didn’t go to the right school, or know the secret handshake. So its unlikely the UK will be downgraded. But that just means that any crisis that emerges from this mess will be all the more sudden and damaging.

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The real reason for the housing crisis? The UK basically stopped building affordable homes in the Thatcher era

So it is difficult to see any positives out of this mess. If past events are anything to go by, we’ll see rents go down for a few years (until the expected rise of interest rates works its way through the system and pushes them back up again). But in the mean time home owners will struggle to sell. The main buyers will likely be corporations looking to build up a large portfolio of property to rent. With builders getting burned, there will be a halt to further construction of homes, which means that further down the line once the crash has run its course, there will be a shortage of housing. All in all the UK housing crisis will just get worse.

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What this crisis shows is that a laissez-faire approach to housing, relying on the magic of the market, isn’t going to work. The old policy of urban planning, possibly wedded to new ideas of how to design urban areas, needs to be pursued again.

What the Dickens are they up too

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I’ve long accused the Tories of trying to take the UK back to the Victorian era. However, already the UK is starting to resemble a Dickensian novel, where the poor are downtrotten and robber baron fat cats run amok, unchecked by government.

An Englishman’s home…is his landlord’s castle

Consider a recent report, which described how one third of those renting property in the UK are living in homes that fail basic health and safety standards. And more often than not it is those on lower incomes that are the most likely to experience these problems. Why don’t they report these rogue landlords? Because given that UK laws favour the landlord, nothing generally happens, other than you getting evicted.

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Some examples of the appalling conditions UK tenants are forced to put up with…and still pay rent!

Should you ask, well why don’t they just go out and buy a home? Well because you’d need money for a deposit first. And one of the consequences of Tory policies over the last few years is that many UK workers are now chronically insecure financially, literally living pay cheque to pay cheque. A quarter have serious money troubles. Food banks use has continued to rise, indeed they’ve seen a 45 fold increase (yes 45 times higher) in use since the Tories came to power.

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Usage of food banks, has increased every year since the Tories have been in power….

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….primarily driven by low income and benefits sanctions

And its not as if there are homes out there that could be rented (or sold), indeed large numbers of UK homes are currently unoccupied, over a 100,000 have been empty for ten years or more. And tens of thousands of luxury flats in London are also being built, to lie empty.

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The fact is that there’s a housing crisis in the UK because back in the Thatcher era, the UK stopped building social houses and sold off most of its stock. While the labour government did try to do something, they didn’t really try hard enough (remember there was a boom, housing seem to be taking care of itself, they didn’t understand it was all just a bubble). Now we’re returning to the normal state of affairs. And given that the only people who can afford to buy homes are those with well paid jobs, or spiv’s and speculators, who see homes as merely gambling chips in a casino, the end result is the dickensian mess we see in the UK housing sector, something Grenfell tower merely highlights.

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UK workers have seen their income decline and are one of only three countries where people are still worse off than they were prior to 2007…and the only one worse is Greece!….

And even those with mortgages might be in trouble. To cope with the financial crisis quite a number of people switched to interest only mortgages. But now they are being warned they might not have the capital to pay off the mortgage, meaning they could face eviction.

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….and Greece is set to solve its deficit problems before the UK!

Life on the streets

And spare a thought for those who are homeless already. One undeniable fact, since the Tories came to power, the number of rough sleepers has increased. Which is again not surprising given the state of the housing market and the finances of many in the UK. But also given the horrible mean and degrading way the Tories are now running the welfare system. We have people facing sanctions, for no apparent reason, or even for simply attending a funeral, often because benefits officers have a perverse incentive to issue them.

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And the Tory response to all this? Far from trying to make things better they are literally playing their favourite game of kick the beggar. Increasingly the homeless in the UK are facing harassment, by for example councils robbing their blankets and clothes, playing loud music to get them to move on, or buying them one way tickets to no where.

And they show no sympathy for those on benefits, indeed they are practically dancing a jig over their plight, seeing it as class revenge for voting for labour (much like how Trumps tax policy is essentially class revenge on the working class for Obama).

Raiders of the lost pension fund

And unfortunately it will come as little surprise to learn that at the same time the directors at Carillon were running their company into the ground, while awarding themselves large bonuses for doing so, they were also skimping on the company pension scheme. This is a theme that is becoming increasingly common across the UK, a failing companies run by managers who see their employee’s hard earned retirement cash as their personal piggy bank, to be raided any time they feel like it. After all, that Rolls ain’t going to buy itself.

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Carillion bosses ignored a growing pension’s deficit and still paid out dividends to shareholders….and bonuses to themselves

And its not just pension funds. Its not uncommon for the government, be it the local council, inland revenue or customs and excise to be the ones to pull the plug on a failing company, usually for non payment of taxes (business rates, VAT, employee’s PAYE, etc.). Libertarians sometimes cite this as an example of how the big bad evil government crushes businesses. But its a contrarian argument that amounts to advocating legalised theft. After all employees of the firm will have seen their salaries deducted (to cover tax and pension contributions) and customers will have paid VAT and trusted the firm to pass that money on, only for the boss to put it in his pocket. I mean if you or I took money out of the company petty cash box and left an IOU in its place, how many seconds before we’d be fired and the cops called?

Yet it would appear company bosses can basically do the same thing without consequences. Indeed, one of the favourite tactics of the infamous Kray twins was to buy up failing businesses (usually pubs or nightclubs) and basically run the business into the ground, not paying any tax (VAT on alcohol being a large part of any bar’s turnover), buying booze in the front door on the company accounts, then selling it out the back door for half the price. Then when their line of credit ran dry, they just walked away (or burn the place down for the insurance money). In effect that seems to be how a number of UK companies are now run. If the Kray’s had simply done what they did on a larger scale, say bought a chain of elderly care homes and run them into the ground instead, they’d be in the house of lords by now.

And not only is it often left to the state to pick up the pieces when a company fails, but by the time they send in the bailiff’s there’s usually nothing left, so the exchequer is left out of pocket. A bill the honest tax payers are forced to pay. So when I say libertarians are advocating theft, its ordinary taxpayers who are getting their pockets picked. And the costs of these bailouts are starting to mount. Many councils now report they are on the verge of bankruptcy. A recent audit revealed that the UK’s pension protection fund (PPF), set up as a sort of insurance policy against some sort of economic crash bringing down multiple pension funds at once is now basically insolvent, owing more than its assets to the tune of £104 billion. Or about 2.5 EU exits.

Exit through the wingnut shop

And how goes the Tories snake oil cure to all ills? Well a recently leaked report shows that no matter which way you cut it, the UK will be worse off.

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Of course the brexiters said, that’s nonsense, why this report didn’t analyse the deluded crack smoking fantasybespoke” trade deal they prefer. An option, that the EU more or less ruled out, when it set the ground rules for the UK trade negotiations and the terms of any transition. Brussels was unusually blunt and to the point on this, something that you’d assume would set off the brexiters into a massive foaming at the mouth tirade (given that it essentially means the UK will lose all influence over the EU, yet still have to pay into EU coffers). But the day after this announcement the pro-brexit papers barely mentioned it (which like the brexit bill, should tell you they’re going to just roll over and accept it).

Indeed, while the EU took almost no time to agree its position on the terms of any post-brexit trade deal (it took 2 minutes to pass), Theresa May has still not set out her position and the government still hasn’t got its flagship plagiarise all those EU laws we campaigned against great repeal bill passed.

Oh, and Boris now wants a bridge over the channel, even thought that’s basically a logistical impossibility (it was one of the options considered in place of the channel tunnel, but quickly dismissed as unfeasible). And it was joked a few months back that the DUP would be looking for an extension of the Giant’s causeway to Scotland. Well no, but they do want a bridge to Scotland now. Yes, reality in the UK is starting to outrun satire.

At this point, you would think it would be a slam dunk that Corbyn’s going to be elected to power by a Tony Blair style landslide. In fact you’d wonder why he isn’t going around number ten with a measuring tape working out where he’s going to put his stuff.

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Labour do lead in the polls, but not by much

However, there’s two problems with that. One, he’s a tool, who can’t even get his own party to support him, let alone the country. And secondly, the Tories are kept in power by a large body of “swivel eyed loons”, to quote one Tory MP, who “….are mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school-aged children or caring responsibilities….”.

So unfortunately, don’t expect the Tory train wreck to stop any time soon, not until the country’s fallen completely off the tracks, which will be all Corbyn’s and the labour party’s fault (not forgetting migrants), of course.

Weekly Roundup

The country that went out into the cold….

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Meanwhile Cameron was in Norway this week to discuss trade. Of course this also led to some reflecting on how much of what is said by the UKIP brigade about how much better off we’d be outside the EU (like Norway) is basically bolix. Does Norway have less issues with Immigration? Quite the opposite if anything in fact! There’s been a recent trend of migrants and refugee’s using a loophole to simply cycle across the border from Russia and entering Norway legally. And of course Switzerland also has many issues with immigration, indeed the swiss are actually a minority in their own country in some districts.

Does Norway have less trouble with them pesky EU regulations?….actually, no they just rubber stamp and sign up to anything the EU passes, they have no right of veto or even a right to discuss such measures. But it costs them less money than actually being a member? Well marginally, the estimate is the UK would still end up paying 94% of what it currently pays, once the costs of EU inspection and regulation are accounted for (like Norway, we’ll be paying eurocrats to come over and make sure we’re obeying the EU’s trade rules). And once the inevitable drop in GDP (of 3-14%) is accounted for, one assumes that would probably make the country much worse off.

Meanwhile Cameron’s secret “negotiations” with the EU seem to have come a little unstuck, after several EU leaders claimed they still hadn’t a clue what changes he’s actually after….presumably whatever cosmetic changes he can get to hoodwink the tabloids into supporting a Yes vote one assumes.

Also this week the US again reiterated the point that Brexit would invalidate all US trade deals with the country. The UK would therefore need to renegotiate such deals, and its doubtful they’d get the same generous terms as the EU has managed. Now to anyone with half a brain this should be obvious. I’ve pointed this out myself several times and this isn’t even the first time the Americans have said this, nor that they’ve expressed disquiet at the idea of Brexit.

However, Farage and the UKIP bigot brigade in Mr Men land don’t seem to be aware of this. They’ve been working under the delusion (one could draw parallels to some of the SNP’s pre-independence delusions, such as automatically becoming an EU member and keeping the pound) that somehow the US will reward Britain’s efforts to destabilise the NATO alliance and harm transatlantic trade by lavishing gifts on the British.

Farage even went so far to accuse the US official in question of being a paid stooge of some shadowy pro-EU conspiracy. Now ignoring the fact that, as mentioned, this is not the first time the US has pointed this out. There is also a certain hypocrisy given that Farage himself is in the pay of various shadowy hedge fund types who plan to profit from the chaos Brexit will unleash.

The Hungry for power games

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The Hunger for power games in the US continues, with the first two cannon’s of resignation fired. This came in the wake of the democratic debate, where it became evident that this is clearly a two horse race between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, leading to two of the trailing candidates dropping out.

Meanwhile, in the GOP debate, an attempt by Jeb Bush to cut Marco Rubio down to size failed rather spectacularly. Donald “only a few million” Trump (he’s been telling a story about how he had to work his way up because his father would only led him “a few million” to get started) has now slipped in the polls and is trailing Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon…..who constantly looks and sounds like someone who conducted brain surgery on himself. Basically if you think Trump is bad, wait till you hear Ben Carson.

The GOP debate has to stand in stark contrast to the democratic party debate (the only time anyone brought up Benghazi et al, was when Bernie Sanders said he was sick of hearing about Clinton’s “damn e-mails”). Which means that on the plus side, its very likely that after the Republicans have finished knocking chunks out of each other, they is less chance of whoever they put forward getting elected.

Argie hypocrisy

You may recall how the Top Gear team were chased out of Argentina over a number plate that seemed to allude to the Falklands war? Well the Argentinians are reopening the case. Are they going to put on trial the “war veterans(many in there twenties who fought in a war thirty years ago!) who attacked the BBC crew and burnt their cars? No, they are going after Clarkson for altering the number plate as they attempted to flee the country. Needless to say this stinks of hypocrisy. One wonders what Interpol will make of it when they ring up. “What you want us to arrest Clarkson for a minor offence regarding a number plate? Ya, why don’t we arrest him for being an arse in a denim free zone while we’re at it?

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source http://jalopnik.com/more-proof-the-original-offensive-top-gear-license-plat-1644835449 points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

Also I don’t think the Argentinians understand how this plays out for neutrals. I mean personally, I can’t fathom why the Brit’s nor the Argie’s want the Islands. There is oil in the seas nearby, yes, but I’d argue this is a separate claim’s issue. But instead the Argentinians constantly choose to come across as them being bonkers mad. Ultimately one is forced to ask the question who should control the Falklands, the nutters who foam at the mouth and scream Malvina’s whenever some mentions the Falklands, or the people who are already there (okay, not very sane either, they seem to have this strange thing for Maggie Thatcher…and sheep!)

Every now and then a retired UK Admiral will pop up and say how its impossible now for the UK to protect the Island thanks to recent spending cuts. However I would argue that the Argentinian behaviour on this issue (not just Top Gear, but their defacto blockade of the Island) has now so alienated neutrals that the fact is, it doesn’t matter. Even if the UK failed to protect the Islands they would likely find their western allies taking the UK’s side. Argentina would face sanctions similar to those Russia’s been hit by, except that Argentina isn’t Russia (no oil) and its economy would quickly collapse. No doubt a US carrier battle group would soon show up to conduct “exercises” (Operation Handball?).

In short the British military won’t have to do anything, it would be just a matter of time before the Argentinians retreated with their tail between their legs. And they would have no one to blame but themselves.

Lording it over

Normally the house of lords is the sort of place you expect to more or less rubber stamp the legislation of a Tory government. However this week instead, they chose to reject Osborne’s attempts to emulate Thatcher’s poll tax by cutting working tax credits.

This is a rare, but entirely justified action by the upper house. The Tories went through the election repeatedly claiming that they won’t touch tax credits, yet blink and they were cutting them within a few months. Obviously if the Tories have now moved so far to the right that a bunch of hereditary rich guy’s think they are going too far, this should serve as a warning of how far they’ve drifted from the centre ground.

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Cameron is now talking about expanding the upper house to stack it with pro-Tory peers. Already the Lords has over 800 peers, even thought the seating capacity of the chamber is closer to at most 400. What’s he going to do, find a few hundred right-wing dwarves? High ho, high ho, its off to cut we go, with a hovel and a pick pig and a racist shit….

While I agree that there is a need for some serious reform of the House of Lords, this means cutting the number of peers and making it more democratically accountable, not stacking it with more old rich guys.

Tampon Tax

Finally, we come to the “Tampon Tax. While pistachio nuts and Jaffa cakes are subject to no VAT (because they are seen to be essentials) tampon’s are instead taxed. If ever you wanted to see evidence of how chauvinistic this government is its this. Presumably its never occurred to Cameron why his wife is always running to the bathroom and a little anxious about once a month or so.

Weekly Roundup

Getting it wrong on the refugee crisis

The Tories have looked on the growing crisis over refugees not as a humanitarian crisis that they need to pull their weight on, but as a cynical opportunity. They’ve been suggesting that the masses of migrants proves that there is a need to restrict the movement of people across EU borders.

However this amounts to muddling up two distinctly different issues. Internal migration between EU countries by workers, which the British benefit from, being able to travel to other EU states for work (or retirement in Spain or Southern France) and external migration from outside the EU.

Certainly some of those coming across the Med are not refugees but economic migrants and yes they are exploiting a lack of EU co-ordination on this issue. However the solution is more co-operation by EU states on this, a common policy on migrants, and agreement to share migrants and a firmer policy towards returning non-refugee’s home, particularly if they break the rules (such as breaking into the channel tunnel or arriving illegally by boat). So in many respect’s the Tories and UKIP have got it ass backwards.

However, if the Tories think they can use this to argue for changes to internal EU travel, think again. The Germans, who have taken in far more than any other EU state are very clear that unless they see some movement on Cameron’s part to take on his fair share of the burden, then the British can forget about any form of renegotiation.

The UK reported to the UN over disability cuts

And speaking of human rights violations, the UK is now being investigated by the UN for possible human rights violations over its welfare reform policies. It is alleged that these are discriminatory towards those with disabilities, who have suffered disproportionately worse than any from the recent cuts to welfare. Figures released last week by the DWP that thousands of claimants died within weeks of being declared “fit for work.

So on second thoughts, maybe the Syrians shouldn’t come here. If IDS and Osborne keep this up we might have the disabled and unemployed sneaking onto trucks to Calais to try and claim asylum from a British government, who discriminates and persecutes them!

Shot on Camera

Of course a shocking story over the last week was the shooting death of a journalist and cameraman live on air, in the US. This inevitably lead to more calls for Gun control, which politicians, afraid of the gun lobby, promptly ignored.

Of course the usual reaction of the gun lobby is to suggest that the solution to a crazy person with a gun is to encourage more carrying of guns by people to defend themselves…like in the wild west, how did that one work out? Indeed, studies have shown that regions with concealed carry laws have higher rates of gun crime.

But returning to the wild west, there-in lie the problem, in those days many towns far from encouraging the carrying of firearms actually had quite strict laws against the carrying of guns, often requiring for example that guns be deposited at the sheriff’s office as people came into town (he’d issue them with a receipt). The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral came about when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (who had been deputised by the town council) attempted to enforce local gun control laws.

Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. And now the gun lobby will hide behind lawyers and lobbyists rather than settle things “like men” as it were. Perhaps the Ok Corral would have worked out differently if the Clanton’s had their lawyer in tow?

Oddly enough thought, the Republicans seem keen on allowing guns in some places…but not others, such as Republican rallies, the G. W. Bush library and (irony of ironies) all Trump hotels and golf courses.

Osama Bin Corbyn

You know your opponents are getting desperate when they start making stuff up. Take Carmichael and his Ferrero Rocher” allegations against Nichola Sturgeon.

Well now there’s ludicrous claims regarding Jeremy Corbyn and comments he made after Bin Laden’s assassination. He said at the time that it was a tragedy that Bin Laden wasn’t captured and brought back for trial in New York. However, it was implied by the right wing media that he said that Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy (leaving out the second half of the sentence). Quite clearly Corybn’s opponents have been going over his past with a fine toothed coob looking for anything that might be used to smear him….even if its not true!

Of course, there are many who would agree with Corbyn, and not necessarily the usual leftie tree hugger types. But in reality it was no surprise really that they killed him. Given that Bin Laden used to work for the CIA, the US didn’t want him showing up in court and pointing this inconvenient little truth out and dishing out the dirt on the US.

Old big nose is back

And speaking or right wing hatchet jobs, Rebekah “Sideshow” Brooks has apparently got her old job back. So much as predicted, the Murdoch’s have gotten away with this scot free, despite admissions by Brooks herself to bribing police.

A shed load of rent

As the London property bubble continues there’s been a new trend in London, the renting out of shed’s as converted “studio” flats. One prospective tenant showed up at a apartment to find his “double bedroom” was a shed in the lounge. Meanwhile wholesale “social cleansing” continues across the city. Hence why there is an urgent need for measures to ease the problem, such as rent controls and greater building of social housing.

Squatters and tenants (lack of) rights

This week the Tory’s introduced a policy that turned the practice of squatting into a criminal offense. Now while they’ve attempted to portray it as a means of evicting hippies from well-to-do London Mansions (there’s a certain class of “professional protesters” who live at no fixed abode and basically go from squat to squat in London, often in posh neighbourhoods, much to the annoyance of many toff’s paying millions to live on the same street). But it has implications for many ordinary people as well.

There is a housing crisis in the UK, yet 450,000 properties are estimated to be vacant at any time. While some are vacant for good reasons (renovations) in many cases they are vacant for economic reasons, i.e. the greedy landlord or letting agent would rather keep a house empty than lower the rent. There are two properties on my route to work that have been vacant for at least a year, and I know this for a fact as I viewed them when I moved to the area, and concluded that the rent being charged meant I wasn’t interested (I told the letting agent as much), but sure enough they are still on the market at the same advertised rent I rejected.

Casino Landlords

During the boom years a new type of landlord emerged in the UK, a type I refer to as the “casino landlord”, as they regard homes and flats as little more than gambling chips in a casino. Many would buy up homes by the hundreds (often online or over the phone without ever having viewed many of them), using the collateral of the stocks of houses they already owned to purchase more homes, while first time buyers (with no collateral) struggled to compete against them and get this first rung on the property ladder. Typically the 1st time buyer, or professionals like me who move around the country regularly (and thus don’t want to commit to buying just yet), were often forced to go to these “casino landlords” to find a place to live. So in essence first time buyers end up paying their mortgage for these landlords.

This policy of “casino landlords” is not only grossly unfair, as it makes it very difficult for people to buy a home and concentrates a large portion of the country’s capital in the hands of a few, but also because it distorts the property market, and ultimately the financial markets. It was loans to these casino landlords that largely drove the excesses of boom and played a major role in the credit crunch of 2007. While quite a number of the “casino landlords” got wiped out in the crash, a price we as a society are ultimately footing the bill for to this day with the bank bailout. But unfortunately with low house prices and 1st time buyers finding it even harder to get on the ladder, they are off again. How long before there’s another crash and we are again forced to provide another bailout?

Dickensian law

This new anti-squatting law means that many tenants who are in dispute with their landlord in some way (for example because he’s stopped maintaining the flat and the tenants are withhold rent to try and force the issue, or the tenant has lost his job and waiting for the housing benefit paperwork to go thro) risk being labelled criminals. Inevitably this will greatly increase levels of homelessness in the UK, at a time (as noted) we have hundred’s of thousands of vacant property.

This would all be bad enough if it weren’t for the fact that the UK already has an almost Dickensian system of regulation of letting that is distinctly tilted in the landlords favour. In the UK you’re landlord is pretty much your lord and master and you’re the unwashed oink paying homage to him.

Consider that in most other parts to Europe, or indeed in many parts of the US, you have much greater control over what you do with a property you are renting. You can make home improvements or redecorate (in theory the landlord could request you put it back to the way it was before, but as people in Europe rent for much longer, chances are he probably won’t remember what it was like before!) while in the UK you need the landlords permission to so much as put a nail in the wall. You can choose to change energy supplier (in the UK you need the landlord’s permission).

You can also own pets (in some places they do have restrictions on pets or can require you clean the place appropriately to remove any “doggie” smell or hairs) while in the UK you can’t even own a goldfish (a work colleague of mine got told to get rid of her goldfish by a UK letting agent). This last one might explain to me the rat epidemic in the UK right now. When I was growing up we always had a cat or dog and therefore hardly ever saw mice (save when the cat brought you a live one!). The other morning I saw a large rodent (not sure if it was a rat, but it was way too big to be a mouse) in broad daylight in my back garden…fortunately the neighbour’s cat was around soon after that to investigate.

Many parts of Europe and the States have rent control, which limits what rent the landlord can charge and how much it can be increased by in any given period (steep fines can be leeved on a landlord who breaches these rules), while “rack rents” are a common feature of renting in the UK. Also while the UK landlord can fob off his council tax onto tenants, generally in other parts of the world paying things like property tax is seen as the landlord’s responsibility (although inevitably he will pass such costs onto the tenants).

While landlords in the UK are forbidden from discriminating on ethic grounds (of course some still do, just ask anyone from a minority whose tried to rent in certain areas), UK landlords can certainly discriminate on the basis of income and class. Many UK landlords will slap things like “no DSS” on their rental notices , which essentially implies “no chav’s or working class scum”….Of course if you’re like me, a professional moving between cities and you have no job in the meantime (i.e. the whole point of moving is to start a new job!) this can make getting a place to rent problematic, nevermind if you’re a professional fresh of the plane from India.

And while European landlords need a valid reason to evict you, UK landlords can pretty much tell you to feck off anytime they feel like it. And getting you’re deposit back off a UK landlord, particularly if you’re a foreigner, is next to impossible, even if you’ve left it as you found it (in Germany for example it goes into an interest paying deposit account with the tenant reaping the interest payment and a third party deciding on whether it can be withheld).

As we all know the social housing system in the UK was gutted by successive UK governments, notably “the” Thatcher. Social housing in the UK has nothing like the capacity needed, they are badly maintained and often run down, often in the middle of nowhere…..Which is just as well as successive governments seem to have gone out of their way to ensure that some estates (or perhaps I should say “ghettos”) are populated but lots of not entirely nice people, as seen in the UK TV show “The scheme”. Indeed UK social housing estates have frequently been used as little more than a dumping ground for people that the government would rather get rid of (out of sight out of mind).

By contrast in other European countries social housing is not only more readily available, but the stigma (and fear!) attached to it doesn’t exist (one famous block from the Weimar Republic days in Germany is now a world Heritage site, can you see any UK council houses achieving that status?).

When is a squatter a squatter

So this anti-squatting law merely shifts an already hugely unfair system all the more over to the landlord. Of course there’s squatters and then there’s squatters.

Many of the landed gentry in the UK don’t seem too realise that their right of ownership to their vast estates amounts to squatting. They’re forbears were given these estates by the monarch centuries earlier (in other words they never purchased the land, merely broke in and occupied it), but it was often taken by the monarch off of another noble, or indeed the ordinary peasants who had farmed it throughout history.

Doesn’t this law now make many toff’s, Cameron included, criminals? It seems to me that there’s one property law for the rich and another for everyone else.

Home are for living, not gambling

The UK desperately needs to clean up its letting market. As Vince Cable himself once said, homes should be for living in not gambling chips in a casino. If you want to play the money markets, get in touch with a broker and buy some shares, not people’s homes.

The Lib dems talk of a “mansion tax”. I don’t think that would work and I suspect it misses the point. I would instead advocate a property tax. This would give a 100% discount to every household for their first property, up to a specific value (say £1 million countrywide and £2 million in London). This provision is important as it heads off at the pass any attempt by the Telegraph or Daily Mail to claim that people will be “taxed out of their home”. However, once you own a 2nd home you have to pay property tax at a rate of say 0.25% of the value of your total property portfolio (that is the total value of all the property’s owned). If you buy a third, it goes up to say 0.5% (again against your total portfolio), and so on.

Alternatively if all that sounds too complicated (or unfair), just a simple flat 1% charge against the value of all property portfolios held by a household that exceed £1 million in value or any more than 3 properties. I can see some leeway for 3 properties by the way as some people will inevitably be between houses at times while in possession of, say a holiday home or maybe their recently deceased grandma’s house (the purpose of this tax is to get the rich to pay a bit more and run the casino landlords out of town, not tax ordinary householders).

As this tax (in whatever form it is implemented) is based on the landlord’s finances it would be illegal for him to pass it on to the tenants. Further to that this tax would be applied to all UK residents (we’ll say anyone who is in the UK for more than 60 days per year or who owns a UK passport) and applies regardless of citizenship status (so the non-doms can’t dodge it) or if the property ownership is registered abroad.

Such a tax system would very quickly force many of these casino landlords to sell up, indeed if we want to avoid a rush of property sales on the market and a crash in house prices, a simple solution would be to offer them a deal whereby they get a substantial discount in the tax, if they give their tenants a similar discount in rent (e.g. the landlord puts down the rent by 30% the government lowers his property tax by 30%, tenants will then presumably spend the many on other things boosting economic growth) and so long as they sell said property within the next 10 years.

Alternatively if were not going to allow squatting how about a rule that states that if a property remains unoccupied for more than, say 6 months (for reasons other than refurbishment), then the local council is within its rights to take over the property and use it to rehouse homeless people (obviously they’ll pay the landlord the going rate for social housing in the same area and take the necessary steps to ensure the property is well maintained for the duration) while the landlord looks for tenants. Of course as I suspect the last thing most landlords want is a load of poor people in his plush pad, he’ll very rapidly lower the rent to a level sufficient to get it let before this 6 month period expires. They’ll also be more keen on keeping flats maintained and thus hanging onto tenants.

Whatever measures are taken the UK is burying its head in the sand on property. The current near medieval system of ownership and renting is being exploited by a small number of spiv’s and speculators, distorting the property market and threatening the long term economic stability of the country. If we’re going to say that squatters don’t have a right, how about at least enshrining the right of everyone to some form of home.