Brexit and Immigration

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Brexit has been interpreted by Theresa May and the Tory party, as the UK voting to make itself poorer, in order to cut immigration. Of course, as I’ve pointed out before, this is a false narrative, which comes from a fundamental misreading of immigration statistics.

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If leaving the EU is about immigration, how come non-EU countries have far more immigrants than the UK?

But either way, that’s their policy and the proposed immigration bill has now had its second reading in parliament. And oh boy is it bad. Basically, all of the EU citizens already here are being tossed into the meat grinder of May’s hostile environment. As will it also impact on any new migrants foolish enough to come to the UK, be they from the EU or further afield. Oh, and minsters will be allowed to change future immigration law without parliamentary scrutiny. So its basically a massive power grab by the home office, all but guranteed to lead to another Windrush scandal.

Because already we’ve heard numerous horror stories as a result of UK immigration policy. A British citizen with a disabled husband and an autistic daughter forced between choosing which of the two to abandon post-brexit. A 90 year old with severe arthritis being told to return home and appeal a visa rejection on a technicality (which as he’s no house or family back in the US would mean him living on the street). A women threatened with deportation (with two hours notice) on the basis of evidence from her abusive ex-husband.

And these are some of the milder stories that have made it into the news. I’ve heard other examples of outright racism from UK border staff. Individuals who’ve gone into debt with pay day loan companies due to some cock up by the UKBA (who basically don’t understand their own rules). Even cases of border agency staff admitting to applicants they hadn’t read the application in full before rejecting it. And May is proposing to add another 3 million to that and doesn’t expect any problems?

They’ve also set an arbitrary wage limit of £30,000 below which all workers are considered as “unskilled”…which pretty much tells you just how out of touch the Tory party is. Earn less than 30k, you’re a scullery maid or a tradesman and thus an unwashed pleb and there’s enough of them here already.

To say this policy is bad is too put it mildly. It has the potential to be an even bigger job killer than a no deal brexit. The myths of the “Britain is full” variety are based on the false assumption that the number of jobs in the UK is fixed, when its not. Migrants can actually increase the number of available jobs (as more people spending money in the country means more employment) and by paying their taxes, they can contribute to better public services (of course the problem here is the Tories haven’t been spending that extra money on public services, but instead gave wealthy people a tax cut or hiding the fact that privatisation of public services has often made them less efficient and more expensive to run).

This new immigration policy seems to assume that there are no skill shortages below this arbitrary wage limit, when in fact there are multiple ones, notably in areas such as agriculture, construction, engineering, the NHS and care homes. It is no exaggeration to say the consequences of this policy would be major engineering projects being cancelled, crops left to rot in fields and many of these red faced gammon brexit voting bigots dying on hospital floors in a pool of their own piss.

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The UK is heavily dependant on foreign qualified doctors. So post-brexit, try not to get ill…ever!

But can’t we get brits to do these jobs? Well no. As I’ve pointed out before, if the answer was that simple, they’d already be doing those jobs. For example, most junior employees often have a very low starting salary (which can include nurses and other medical practitioners). And in some professions, its hard to prove your exact income as employment is often on a contract, piecework, or journeyman type basis. And, as I discussed before, with regard to the energy sector, such a wage limit will create labour shortages across the nuclear, fossil fuel and renewable energy sectors.

The agricultural sector (and fishing) will be severely effected by this new policy. Most of the jobs in this sector are seasonal, typically spiking in the autumn and spring. The growing season in the UK is shorter than in southern Europe but longer than in Eastern Europe. So its possible for farm workers from other parts of the EU to come over, work for a few weeks, then move on and eventually return to their own farms to plant/harvest their own crops.

The idea that instead of experienced European farm hands, you’re going to drag a load of unemployed townies out of the UK’s cities, bus them off to work in farmers fields (many of whom haven’t so much as mowed a lawn before), and put them in charge of dangerous farm machinery, its farcical at best. And what are the supposed to do for the rest of the year? And yes farmers have tried this in the past (most recently as part of the Tories welfare chain gangs) and their experience is it ain’t going to work.

And even if they could get it to work it would probably be more expensive, which means food that’s a lot more expensive. And more than likely (given the tight margins on food production), rendering uneconomic much of the UK’s farms, leading to closures in the sector on a scale similar to what happened to the coal miners in the 80’s.

And at the other end of the scale one has to question whether we necessarily need more workers in the middle to high income salary range. Is there really a massive shortage of lawyers, interior designers, city traders and accountants in the country? And even if there were, such a policy could actually cost many British their jobs (because as noted migrants create more jobs). While companies like to keep a mixed bag of staff of different experience levels, push come to shove they will prioritise the hiring of a more experienced staff over a recent graduate, because they are more valuable to the company. Ultimately, if the only way to hire an experienced German lawyer or a Belgian accountant is to put enough zeros behind his contract to get him in the door, that’s what they’ll do, even if it means cutting back on the number of graduate recruits to do so.

In fact in my own line of work we’ve hired hardly any UK PhD graduates since the referendum. And now that I mention it, several who were already on the pay roll were the first given their marching orders in the months after the vote. And given that there’s been a significant drop in UK students undertaking PhD’s (due to fees, nobody wants to rack up further debt when they get to the end of their degree), how exactly are we going to recruit the next generation of lecturers, given the brexidous on UK campuses, with both UK and EU academics heading off to European universities. I don’t know, maybe we could go back to the old British tactic of press ganging? (get’em drunk at a conference and they wakes up in a lecturer theatre). Or maybe we can get Failing Grayling to give the lecturers? That seems to be May’s solution to everything these days.

And remember what applies to foreigners in the UK will be reciprocated by other countries. British overseas are already in a panic over the possible consequences to them of a no deal brexit. Many might be forced to return home (and most are retirees) or renounce their UK citizenship (which risks breaking up families). And UK graduates won’t be able to avail of employment opportunities in Europe, leaving them in the worst of both worlds.

Of course, if you’re a wealthy oligarch and willing to invest enough money in the UK, you can avail of a golden visa. No messy forms to fill in, no awkward questions (notably as to where you got the money in the first place!), no queues or waiting period, you’d don’t even need to work or pay tax. Just come on in. As always, the Tories are drafting a policy that favours the wealthy plutocrats at the expense of everyone else. The horrors their policy are inflicting, and will continue to inflict is lost on them. They’ve transcended the nasty party and become the sadist party.

But once the second coming happens Corbyn gets in he’ll put everything right in the world, won’t he? Actually no, Corbyn and much of the labour party were absent from the second reading of the immigration bill. In fact the original message sent out to MP’s was to abstain. The reality is that Corbyn has been taken in by the same toxic bigotry that migrants are a drain on the UK and drive down wages (which again, just isn’t true). He’s willing to talk to the talk about how the Tories policy favours the rich, or how human rights are important to him. But push come to shove he’s quite happy to see millions in the UK stripped of their rights and thrown to the wolves, while he sits in his allotment shed dreaming of his socialist workers paradise.

What’s that the Corbynites say? He’s got to play the long game and pretend he’s in favour of immigration controls (or brexit) to appease northern lexiters, then when he’s in power he can repeal these laws. Well, firstly that’s the cynical politics of manipulation at its worst (and I thought Boris was bad!), and secondly he can’t. Protocol dictates that governments do not revisit past legislation without good cause or reason. So unless he actively opposes this bill or fights an election with such a policy on the party manifesto (so presumably he’ll be hoping lexiters can’t read), then he can’t repeal it. The speaker won’t allow him to schedule time to debate it, the lords would probably veto it and the queen is within her rights to withhold royal assent. And as 35 year veteran MP he surely knows that. Its just he also knows there’s a large body of millennial’s who’ve been so badly screwed over by the Tories, they are desperate enough to believe any old tripe he comes up with.

All I can say is the sooner that the grown ups within both labour and the Tories wake up to reality and leave their respective parties, the better. And with labour membership down 10% in the last two months and polls saying Corbyn’s failure to oppose brexit will cost him dearly next election (and this was before him suggesting he might support May’s brexit deal), that seems to be what starting to happen.

As for the Tories, with new utlra-right wing parties being formed and the conservative party itself being infiltrated by the US far right, they need to learn that appeasing the far right doesn’t make them go away, it emboldens them to ask for more and more until they have everything.

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Brexit update: Running down the clock

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Recently the Guardian’s business editor Nils Pratley asked the question, when does the no deal panic start? One could ask the same question as regards Trump’s trade policy and the recent shutdown. Well in some respects, its already happening and in another respect the panic will not be televised, or at least it will be kept as quiet as possible.

While companies are quick to advertise good news, they try to keep any bad news out of the media. After all, good news means the share price goes up. Bad news, sends the share price down. And if you want to destroy employee morale and reduce productivity, let the staff know you might be considering job cuts. And furthermore the economic issue with brexit is more the long term impact it will have, not the short term shock. As the saying goes its not the stag investors who take fright at the first sign of trouble you worry about, its a long protracted bear market. Because bears have claws.

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Beware the brexit bear!

And already we have seen several worrying signs which shows the economy flat-lining. P&O for example has announced its re-flagging its ships under a Cypriot flag (Rule Britannia….Cyprus rules the waves?). Barclay’s is one of a number of banks to announce plans to move £166 billion and hundreds of jobs to Ireland, with others are planning to set up in Paris or Frankfurt. Dyson has moved to Singapore, which apparently is nothing to do with brexit (and if you believe that I’ve got some magic beans I can sell you). Meanwhile, the construction industry, which was just about recovering from the EU referendum result, is now reporting a decline in building projects due to uncertainty over brexit.

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So far Germany seems to be winning the race to house bankers post-brexit

Now in any normal economic times any of these indicators would send waves of panic around Whitehall, but it would now appear that the UK government’s official motto seems to be “fuck business. Which probably explains why up to a third of UK companies are actively considering relocating out of the UK post-brexit. Hell, we have the Norwegian government now advising students not to go to university in the UK.

But probably the biggest blow by far recently was Nissan announcing its u-turn, that they will not locate X-trail production at Sunderland. This is a huge blow, given the very public backing Nissan gave to brexit, thanks to a letter they received from Theresa May. While the current jobs are safe (for now!), the problem is that once a company stops investing in a factory, its not long after that when the job losses start.

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While there’s still be some direct investment in the UK car industry, its clearly on a downward trend and going to turn negative relatively soon

And with the publication of that infamous letter, it seems that Nissan were offered a very substantial bribe to stay in the UK, with up to £60 million in direct investment and several hundred million indirectly (via investment into electric vehicle research, charging points, etc.). Of course, given that the former Nissan chairman is under investigation for corruption, its entirely possible that a brown envelope might have been involved as well. After all, May is currently trying to bribe MP’s with peerages or promises of slush funds to their constituency. In short her government is now guilty of the sort crony politics we’d have expected in the days of the Regency. But even that doesn’t seem to be working, as she literally can’t pull off a bribe successfully!

Of course what this highlights is that Nissan have decided that whatever promises May has made, they can’t believe her anymore. After all we now have the absurdity of a backstop that was her idea in the first place, which she got parliament to vote against, and she’s going to go to Brussels to see if it can be removed. But then a few days later she says the backstop can stay, but she’s going to insist on some unspecified changes to it, which will make everything okay…!?!

Its becoming rather obvious that May is winging it, something she’s been doing since day one. And while she is clearly running down the clock, I’m not sure if this is a deliberate strategy or just a coping mechanism to get her through to the end of the day. You would be a very foolish MP (or car maker) to stake your future on any promises made by her, because 24 hrs later she’ll have not only have broken them, but forgotten what it was she’d promised.

And this letter to Nissan might still come back to haunt her. It implies tariff free access to the EU (which as things currently stand isn’t going to happen). If she doesn’t deliver on that, Nissan might sue the UK government seeking financial compensation. And if that sounds far fetched, its looking likely the owners of the channel tunnel are going to sue the government over brexit. To be blunt, the only winners in a no deal brexit will be corporate lawyers, who’ll be having a field day.

And while May’s act of looking utterly pathetic to the point where the EU feels sorry for her, has allowed her to get some concessions, its doubtful it will work this time (and in any event, the EU will want something in return). The EU needs to consider whether they can believe a word out her mouth anymore (or anyone else from Westminster). Can she be trusted to deliver on her side of the bargain? And I seriously doubt, even if she got some significant concessions, she’d get her party to back her deal. They’re making a big deal about the backstop because they can. If it goes away they’ll find something else in the 500 pages of the deal to moan about. Ultimately they don’t want to take ownership for what they know is going to be a deal that leaves the UK worse out than in.

Meanwhile Corbyn can’t be seen to back it either, preferring to do his usual Humpty Dumpty and stay sitting on the fence, even as his party disintegrates around him. Labour party membership has now fallen by 10% in just two months, about 360 members per day are now leaving.

Meanwhile, across the pond, we’ve heard the first rumblings of discontent as the US congress wakes up to the consequences of a no-deal brexit. A resolution has been introduced in the US Congress opposing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. This was something that was always going to happen. Firstly, the Good Friday agreement was brokered with the help of the US. If the UK were to renege on it, this would be hugely damaging to the US and its international reputation (if the US can get its oldest ally to back a treaty it brokered, what are the odds of North Korea or Russia sticking to any?). And secondly 33 million US voters identify themselves as being of Irish descent. That’s a voting lobby no politician in the US can ignore, particularly as it includes many swing voters in key swing states (a significant number voted for both Obama and then Trump).

Of course the problem here is that Americans understand the politics of Northern Ireland even less than the Tories. Expect them to make several perfectly reasonable suggestions over the next few months, but ones that May and the DUP have already ruled out. e.g. “why doesn’t NI just stay in the Single market?” “Say, why don’t you guys just leave the EU but stay in the EEA, that’ll avoid a hard border?”. In short good luck to May trying to explain NI politics to Trump and then get the US congress to support a US/UK trade deal in an election year. Notably because one of the key committees that will approve or veto a US/UK trade deal just happens to be led by an Irish American senator with strong pro-republican sympathies.

But isn’t the EU going to blink first? Well stranger things have happened. However, the fact is that the UK has to make its mind up pretty soon (Greg Clark suggested as early as the middle of next week), otherwise the trickle of companies either hitting the panic button or heading for the door will become a flood. And we’re assuming no deal is even an option, because the institute for government says it would be impossible, given that almost none of the required legislation has passed, nor will pass in time.

So the UK can’t really wait for the EU to blink, while the EU can wait not only until the 29th of March, but even beyond it (i.e. wait for the UK to come crawling back after descending into chaos). I’ll say it again its May’s original deal (and probably staying in the customs union or single market long term) or no brexit, you have to chose one.

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.

My get out of jail free card, courtesy of brexit

An interesting ruling has been made by the Irish supreme court which has some far reaching implications.

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Basically, an Irish citizen, who ran a business in the UK but is now back in Ireland, is being pursued by the British for non-payment of tax. As I mentioned in a recent post, its not uncommon for business owners to dodge payment of VAT or raid the company pension fund and get away with it. So this is a rare case of one of them being held to account (presumably because he didn’t go to the right school).

Anyway, the British applied for a European arrest warrant. However, said tax dodgers lawyers argued the defendant cannot be guaranteed a fair trial in the UK as he will lose his civil right part way through the process (due to brexit) and thus he cannot be extradited. Well the judge agreed and to be fair he does have a point, given the contradictory positions coming out of London, which includes withdrawal from the ECJ and ending the 4 freedoms of the EU on April 1st 2019 and even withdrawing from the European convention of human rights (or walking away without any agreement at all).

Of course the legal implications of this ruling is that effectively every Irish citizen living in the UK now has a get-out-of-jail free card. I could go down to London tomorrow and go around the museums, smashing national treasures with a hurley, then take a crap in one of the Queen’s fountains, kick her Corgi’s, shoot a swan, etc. So long as I could make it to a ferry port or airport and get back to Ireland before they issue an arrest warrant (or if I did get arrested, absconded while on bail) then I’m home free.

Naturally this hardly good news (particularly given that are some less than law abiding Irish people, who don’t particularly like the Queen…nor the brexiters!). It should be noted that the Irish government opposed this ruling (for what should be obvious reasons) and were supporting the extradition case. But it highlights the consequences of the legal minefield the UK is about to stray into post-brexit and the chaos that could ensue.

Because when Theresa May says “brexit means brexit”…then repeatedly fails to clarify what that means. Well what’s going to happen is that what brexit means will be decided not by the UK parliament, nor even the EU, but by judges, customs officials and lowly civil servants in the four corners of the world. Without a clear agreement in place and with the UK taking a contradictory position (get free trade, but ending the four freedoms), its left to these people to use their own judgement, which can lead to unpredictable results.

For example, take those European health and safety laws the brexiters love to hate. Well without those laws on the statute books and with no agencies to replace them and provide regulatory oversight, companies can no longer use “compliance with all European safety standards” as their defence when being sued in court. Also there are liability limits in many cases for civil law suits, even when negligence can be proven (this  is why you don’t see $2.8 million payouts over a spilt cup of coffee in Europe). So in theory, such caps on payouts could disappear and it would become a lot harder to defend against civil suits, which would see insurance premiums soar. And recall, its not just a simple matter of the UK bringing in new laws. The injured party might be in Europe (or worse America!).

And to give perhaps a more specific example, with the UK withdrawing from the European nuclear regulator on April 2019, who is going to regulate the countries nuclear power plants? There’s a risk that they might be forced to shut down and Hinkley C mothballed. And again, this is not a decision the UK parliament will get to make, it will be made by HSE inspectors, insurers or company boards. Also, what if there were to be a problem with Hinkley C, e.g. let’s supposed the French screw up somehow (as has happened with a few recent projects) or there’s an accident and the British try to sue them or prosecute EDF executives. Will the French allow that? Well maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Will a French judge allow their extradition? Who knows! Let’s just say I’m glad I live at the opposite end of the country.

Or let’s suppose a French local politician decides that henceforth British cheese is banned because it contains dangerous ingredients (English milk). Or he insists it’s labelled “du Fromage Roast beef”. What are the producers of British cheese supposed to do?

Yes, there are legal ways to settle these issues. The tax dodger’s case has now been referred to the ECJ (who may overturn the ruling). The Irish government is already talking about a new post-brexit extradition treaty. Trade disputes can be resolved via the WTO. However, this is not a case of flicking a switch. Such cases take months or even years to resolve (so our tax dodgers case may simply time out, or a company caught in limbo might go out of business). New treaties can take equally long to draft and sign. And it requires good co-operation from both sides for such negotiations to run smoothly. If the UK follows through on the brexiters plan, which is basically to undertake brexit negotiations in bad faith, then you can forget about it.

This is the real danger that the brexiters are missing. They could find themselves stuck in a legal quagmire and it won’t be easy to get out of it. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to Google “how do you roast a swan?”.

Christmas time news round up

I’ve been away for most of the Christmas/New Year period, so I thought I’d do a round up of somethings that caught my eye over the last month….

The block

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Roy Moore losing the special senate election in Alabama to Doug Jones was certainly welcome news. However the fact still remains that 650,436 voters thought having a kiddy fiddler as a senator was okay with them. Indeed such was the narrow margin of his loss, Mr Snowflake is now appealing the result and calling for a re-vote. One assumes the state motto of Alabama should really be “Pedo’s welcome” and the state mascot should be Pennywise from IT. If Gary Glitter ever gets out of jail, we know where we can send him.

And the bulk of those who voted for him would be self described “value voters” (try not to laugh), who also voted overwhelmingly for Trump who has spent millions digging himself out of sexual harassment lawsuits. So one assumes those “values” are much the same as those in Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Republican party is at every level now a morally bankrupt institution. Its less a political party now and more of a tribe or a corrupt cargo cult. Its guiding political philosophy is no longer “conservatism but more anti-liberalism and pandering to the wealthy donors who help to keep them in power. And to be fair, we can’t blame Trump alone for this, its a downward spiral conservatives have been on since the 1980’s.

As I recall someone joking a while back, Satan himself could be a GOP candidate, he could run on a policy of ripping out the hearts of the first born of anyone who voted for him and he’d still get at least 40% of the vote in any US election. And many republicans would vote for him and them blame the democrats, because they went and put that bearded hippy on the ballot paper (some guy call Jesus) and they could hardly vote for him (…I hear he was born in the Middle East).

So this is an important point to understand when it comes to trying to debate conservatives, particularly those from the alt-right. You are wasting your time. Any facts that don’t support their position will be ignored, or twisted and deliberately miss-represented….or they’ll just plain make sh*t up. They are basically immune to logic and facts.

It is simply not possible to run a democratic society if half of that society has basically decided to abscond on their civic duties and hand their democratic rights on to a series of corrupt tribal leaders. The lessons of history tells us that this will likely end rather badly, especially for conservatives.

Russia cables

Recently the head of the UK armed forces has raised concerns about the risk posed to undersea communication cables by the Russian navy. The concern is that they might resort to cutting these cables or eavesdropping on them.

Now where would the Russians get a crazy idea like that from? Probably from the CIA and NSA. Who, with the help of US navy subs, have supposedly been tapping into undersea cables for years. So this is very much pot calling the kettle black.

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Also it is starting to get to the stage where the Russians are getting the blame for every little thing now. That said, there’s no smoke without fire, but you do wonder if issues like this are being exaggerated by those in Western intelligence and military organisations trying to protect budgets. After all, given the allegations against Trump or the brexiters of Russian collusion, how would it look for them to cut the budget of something the CIA or MI6 were selling that was intended to counter Russian this or Russia that. Pretty darn dodgy one assumes. Hence why perhaps some in the intelligence and military community are constantly talking about Russia.

Trump hates Christians

One of the justifications for Trump’s policy towards the middle east is the defence of the Christian minorities living within the middle east. Well those Christians would rather he shut the hell up, as his actions are putting their lives in danger. In the wake of Trump’s announcement to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Christian leaders refused to meet Mike Pence during his Christmas time visit and he ended up being forced to cancel it.

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It should be noted that Christians in the middle east tend to be pro-Israel, as that’s one of they few country’s in the region which isn’t actively persecuting them. But they also understand the danger inherent in provoking the anger of Muslims and the long term obstacle to peace that an Israeli capital in Jerusalem represents. And the recent history of the region tends to be a case of one side provoking the other with the Christians caught in the middle.

And on a related topic, the UN voted to condemn Trump’s actions over the Christmas period. Trump mumbled something about cutting funding to any country that voted against him (i.e. offended his ego). Again, this is putting your foot in a quagmire.

Firstly, if he doesn’t follow through with this threat, then everyone knows it was an empty threat and he talks the talk but can’t walk the walk. A long standing doctrine of US diplomacy has been not to make threats they aren’t prepared to follow through on (hence why US diplomats are usually very careful in their choice of words). Otherwise you risk being seen as toothless. And given that Egypt and Saudi Arabia were two of those that did vote against the US (and both receive a lot of funding from the US and host a number of Trump businesses), its going to be difficult for him to follow through without upsetting a lot of apple carts.

While its true that many country’s often used aid money as a way of currying favour with others and potentially getting them to vote this way or that at the UN, the general rule is not to bluntly state as much. Because now Trump has made it clear that those who voted with him are essentially entitled to a few billion in funding. While the others should just go and sell their vote to China (who will be more than willing to pay….in exchange for an airbase in Central America!). In short, he’s just put a few dozen UN votes up on E-bay.

So Trump’s actions here could not be more ill-judged.

Trump’s tweets

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And speaking of Trump, why is he still on twitter? Given he’s now openly and repeatedly violated twitter’s own policies against promoting hate speech and/or violence, surely his account should be shut down. And its not that they can’t do it, a disgruntled employee did take Trump’s account down for a few hours last month. So it is a matter of policy that the company is ignoring its own rules and keeping his account open.

And its not just Trump. Ask anyone running a blog or a vlog that is moderately left wing and they will tell you how they face harassment (false DCMA claims, a deluge of spam, etc.), trolling and more recently the demonetising of vlog posts on a pretty regular basis, often for no apparent reason. Yet right wing vlogers like Laura Southern or Jayda Fransen (head of Britain First….but born in Germany!…..so the party name should really be Britain second) can run their potty little mouths and not face any of these same issues.

We need to get away from the myth, a myth many on the left themselves seem to buy into, that social media has a liberal bias. It doesn’t, if anything the tech billionaires running these companies have a strong bias towards conservatives. Most are socially liberal but economic conservatives. They support and agree with republicans on many issues, if they could only get them to shut up about Benghazi or Obama’s birth certificate for ten seconds.

Of course, they are deluded. The real loser in the last US election was libertarianism, not the democrats or the centre left (who, as noted, have been doing reasonably well recently). 2016 was the best chance that libertarians have had in a generation to make their mark on the political stage and they flunked it. Gary Johnston’s vote collapsed and many conservatives voted for Trump, whose about the most un-libertarian candidate you could possibly get. In short libertarianism, as a mass political movement is now dead in America. Brexit (which amounts to a return to a nativist command economy) also killed such notions off here in the UK. But even so, the fact is that there is still a bias among many tech billionaires towards the conservatives. Although that might not last very long once they are confronted by the consequences of some of Trump’s policies.

And we also need to realise that computers themselves may have a certain bias towards conservatism. Advertising revenue is increasingly being controlled by machine learning algorithms and they are going to favour the content consumers who are the easiest to sell to. And guess which side of the political fence that is?

Try the following experiment, turn off any trackers, browse anonymously and visit some random left wing sites (the guardian.com, climatecrocks, Huntington post, motherjones, etc.). The default ads that come up will probably be pretty generic ads, M&S, Sears, latest movies, etc. Now go to a right wing website (e.g. Newsmax, Alex Jones, etc.) and you’ll be bombarded with ads for gold/bitcoin or get rich/fit/bigger di*k quick scams. The fact is that its easier to sell to certain types of people. And given how dependant on advertising social media is, they will always favour one side over the other. Hence the inherent danger of ending net neutrality.

The EU on Tax havens

The EU has put together a list of the country’s it feels are acting as tax havens. While its good to see some progress on this issue, and again as I’ve said many times, its only through pressure from international organisations, such as the EU, that we’ll see action on tax havens. But equally one must be a wee bit skeptical of this list as its a bit “selective in who it labels a tax haven.

For example, Luxembourg isn’t on the list, even thought its one of the biggest tax havens in Europe. It is slightly ironic seeing faraway Islands, who actually do very little business with Europe on this list, when the EU’s most important tax havens are absent.

And of course the world’s largest tax haven isn’t on the list. That being London. And the brexiters would have us believe that the EU is anti-UK. Of course, given that its been made clear to Theresa May that she’ll be facing a choice between a Norway model (which means no immigration controls and having to pay into the EU budget, plus not being able to negotiate independent trade deals) or a Canada model, which will mean London loses some of its access to the EU, its possible the problem of the UK as a tax haven will just take care of itself.

Scottish tax rise

Speaking of tax, the SNP have recently announced they plan to increase the income tax rates for high and middle income earners while lowering the taxes of those on low incomes. They promise to spend the extra money on the NHS, schools and the police. Its going to work out costing me a few hundred a year (so a few quid a week, probably less than I spend on milk) but that seems fair enough.

Of course the tabloids are foaming at the mouth over it. What they seem to forget is that the Tories put up my taxes multiple times. The only difference is they were sneaky about it. They pushed up VAT, they put up NI rates and they put up VEI tax for small and environmentally friendly vehicles (such as a Prius or Golf), while cutting the tax on SUV’s. When I lived in England they cut funding to councils, leading to higher water rates, council tax and business rates, which ultimately fed its way through the system to see a rise in the cost of living (this is the real trickle down effect).

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And that’s before we consider the combined effect of austerity, stagnant wages and inflation which has cost everyone in the UK and average of 5.5% of their income (although its closer to -16% for younger workers and -20% for many public sector workers) and brexit will at the very least double that again.

So ya, I could have a moan about the SNP putting up taxes. But a few hundred a year, pales in comparison against the thousands the Tories have cost me. But listen to the tabloids, they’ll have you believe the Tories increased the chocolate ration from 30g to 25g’s and we should be patriotic and grateful for that.

The Scottish invasion of Ireland

I stumbled on this old BBC documentary about a long forgotten episode in Irish history, the Scottish invasion of Ireland in the 14th century. Not long after Robert the Bruce beat the English at Bannockburn, he sent his brother Edward to lead an expeditionary force into Ireland to help liberate the Irish from English rule and become the new high king of Ireland. This would have united the Celtic lands of the British Isles under one family, creating a united Celtic Kingdom.

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An alternative UK could have existed incorporating the Celtic nations of the British Isles

History is often decided by pivotal moments like this. An event that could have dramatically changed history. While the Scots were initially successful, defeating the English and their anglo-Irish allies in several battles, they received only limited support from the Irish. In part this was due to cultural differences (clan A was backing the Scots, which meant clan B who had been fighting with clan A refused to back the Scots, prompting clan C to attack clan B as they were too busy dealing with clan A and the Scots, who were then in turn attacked by Clan B, drawing in the Scots who found themselves fighting both clans B & C).

Plus the invasion happened to coincide with one of the worse famines in European history. This left the Irish in no real position to help, left the Scottish army starving and forced to forage for food off the Irish (read steal it, hardly a way to win hearts and minds). In then end ground down by hunger plus a number of tactical errors led to the Scot’s being defeated by the anglo-Irish and English reinforcements.

What’s perhaps interesting is how this incident was swept under the carpet and largely written out of the history books. For the Scots it was an embarrassment, for the English, it suggested that the united kingdom could have been a very different UK, with its capital in Carrickfergus and dominated by the Celtic nations. While for the Irish it makes them look kind of silly, the golden opportunity to get out from under English rule which they failed to take.

Then again, it would have never worked out, I mean we’d have to agree how to spell the word “whiskey” for one thing, and that’s never going to happen.

The graduate

An interesting story here from a few weeks back about an Oxford graduate who is suing his university over his grades. He claims that because he only got a 2:1, this put back his career and basically ruined his life. Now if that sounds a little far fetched, you ain’t heard the good part. He graduated over a decade ago and yet he still claims that 2:1 is haunting his career.

The reality for students is that the grade you receive in university is only really relevant to your first job. After that it plays a decreasing level of importance each time you go for a job interview, as your work experience will become more and more relevant. Having a 1st class honour might get you shortlisted a bit more often for interview, but unless you can back that up with a good interview and work experience, it won’t matter diddly squat.

I mean I got a 2:1 at uni which I was not happy about (we had a module in final year that was badly handled, if I’d gotten a higher mark in that I’d have had a 1st), but that’s life and I’ve overcome that and now I’m a lecturer. And I can all but guarantee you that if you asked my line manager what my grade in my undergrad degree was he won’t be able to tell you.

In fact, there’s a challenge, anyone here a line manager? Can you recall the degree (which uni, year & grade) of any recent hires you’ve made? I’m guessing you’d probably get only half of them right and it probably had little to do with the decision to hire them (unless they were a graduate with no work experience).

There is a point to be made certainly about inadequate teaching at UK universities, a consequence of the defacto privatisation of UK universities. And the problem is particularly bad at some of the Russell Group uni’s, where a lecturer actually teaching his classes (rather than getting his PhD students to do it) is seen by management as playing hooky. But this is more of a matter of whether or not students are getting value for money. Like I said, if you’ve learnt anything in uni its how to study independently and 10 years after graduation you should be over any issues you had with teaching.

So Mr snowflake here should be told by the judge to go suck on a lemon. A bad workman blames his tools. Anyone complaining about a lack of employment a decade after graduation, it ain’t the degree that’s the problem!

Bombardier and protectionism

Some people don’t know when to quit. After the intervention of Airbus in the row over Bombardier’s C-series that should have been the end of it. But no, the US authorities have tried again. However, they don’t seem to understand its not just a few thousand jobs in the UK that are at stake. 20,000 workers in the US contribute to C-Series production. This is the problem with nationalistic protectionism, it sees the world in us versus them terms. It doesn’t reflect the fact that you might save a few jobs in Boeing, but result in many more workers in another factory in the US losing their jobs.

Similarly, restricting immigration its argued will mean more jobs for local people. However, this simply isn’t true. All it will mean is that companies find it harder to recruit and either they’ll find loopholes to get around such laws and hire who they want. Or they’ll automate those jobs or they’ll move them overseas.

In a globalised economy its not foreigners coming over here and stealing your job you need to fear, but foreigners staying at home and your job moving.

Catalan elections

The election results in Catalonia are in and the results don’t look great for the Spanish conservatives (the PP). The pro-independence parties were returned to power, with a slightly reduced majority, while the PP was more or less wiped out (getting only 4 out of 135 seats). Then again, sending riot police into polling stations is going to kind of end up doing that.

In short, if you think the Catalan crisis over, think again. They’re just getting started. While its doubtful the pro-independence movement will declare another referendum, they might start to take measures to break with Spain. They could call on Catalans to refuse to pay their taxes to Madrid, refuse to collect VAT, hold a general strike, and otherwise cripple the Spanish economy until Madrid has no choice but to yield.

One interesting feature of the results was that the largest single party is now the Catalan Citizens party, which is largely a single issue anti-independence party. It took 25% of the vote. With the population clearly split on this issue (25-33% anti-independence, 40-54% in favour roughly), one has to say that there are really only two alternatives. Further concessions and regional autonomy to placate the nationalists (including some level of “national” recognition, a state within a state sort of thing). Or have a legally sanctioned in/out referendum. The left wing opposition in Madrid have long favoured one or other of these options. However, that was when support for independence was much lower and before Rajoy stirred up a hornet’s nest by sending in riot people to beat up peaceful protesters.

But in the absence of some sort of concession, conflict and confrontation is inevitable. In fact its probably just a matter of time before some hot head on one side or other of the debate starts setting off bombs and suddenly the PP have got themselves a civil war.

Into the blue

The brexiters had an early Christmas present, in that they will be getting their blue passports back. This was an issue that came up during the referendum, the old foggies reminisced about how they missed the old blue passports, which merely suggests their reasons for voting leave were irrational.

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The Brexiters had many sensible reasons for voting for brexit, bring back hangin, blue passports, incandescent light bulbs, lb’s & oz’s, small things really

Not least because, its been pointed out since then that at no point did the EU ever compel the UK government into changing the colour of its passports. They did propose harmonising the design of passports in the 1970’s, as part of an effort to help speed up customs controls and improve security, but it was entirely voluntary. And it was a TORY government that went along with these proposals in 1981 (under Thatcher of all people).

Indeed, the UK going back to blue isn’t even a voluntary decision, the UK is being forced into doing so, as it will no longer be an EU member and thus not UK citizens will no longer be entitled to EU passports. Oddly enough Croatia, among others, opted to keep its passports blue after joining the EU, so its just going to make it easier for the citizens of certain countries to sneak into the UK and mean longer waits for UK citizens to get into Europe….plus them having to pay for the privilege. Meanwhile, me with my Irish/EU passport can sail through passport control both sides no problem.

An incorrect story related to this circulated that it was going to cost the UK £500 million to change the colour of its passports. This isn’t entirely correct (this is what the new passport system will cost, but its a cost the UK will have to pay anyway). In truth its going to cost £50 billion to do something we could do for free by staying in the EU.

No dogs or Polish men

As we know one consequence of brexit has been to embolden the racists and the xenophobes. As an example, the sign below showed up in rural Oxfordshire, effectively banning Eastern Europeans from fishing.

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Admittedly, some of my relatives back in Ireland have had problems with Eastern European fishermen. A pond, which is one of the few places you can catch carp in Ireland, is on land my relatives own. And we’ve had Romanians show up with no rod license (and a frying pan!) looking to catch them. However, a quiet word reminding them of the law general does the trick….and if it doesn’t, a quick call to the local Garda office (who will confiscate all fishing equipment and impose a heavy on the spot fine, noting that under Irish law they can do that even if you are merely caught with a rod near the pond, never mind if you are actually caught fishing).

So its not as if there wasn’t a solution to this problem that could have resolved the matter without going the full Daily Mail. But so emboldened are the racists now that they will resort to such things without a thought for how it makes them look.

Caravans

According the BBC there’s been a significant jump in the number of caravans being purchased in the UK since brexit. Of the many negatives associated with brexit it would appear more of being stuck behind one of these things is one of those negatives. No wonder Clarkson voted remain.

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What I dislike about caravanning (my spell checker whats to change this word to canning!), other than the inconvenience and lack of consideration they show anyone else on the road (at least those in Scotland, where narrow roads can mean there’s no where to overtake them and they rarely pull over to let people past) and the waste of fuel. Its that holidaying with a caravan amounts to being penny wise and pound foolish.

With a tent you can generally camp pretty cheaply (£5-10 per night), while with a caravan you’ve got to pay for the extra fuel you’ll burn, the parking/hook up fee, consumables, etc. Add it all up, say £20-30 a night grounds fees, extra £10 per day for fuel and another £5-10 for consumables your are looking at about £40-45 a night, which is towards the lower end of the cost of a B&B room in Scotland at peak season (so once you factor in the cost of the caravan and depreciation, you are unlikely to break even).

Normally the main advantage of caravanning over B&B’s is that you don’t have to book in advance. But in peak season in Scotland, sites can fill up pretty quickly, so typically you would be advised to book in advance. While with a tent, if the camping grounds are full, you can simply trek a few hundred metres in from the road (and off any farmland…else the farmer might release his prize bull into the field!) and wild camp for free for the night.

In short caravanning seems to come with all the disadvantages of camping, but none of the advantages. While it comes with similar costs and inconvenience of B&B’s. Its really a mugs game.

The Royal price

The Queen gets a lot of criticism for the amount of tax payers money it costs to fund her, about £82 million a year. However, it was recently revealed that the production costs of the netflix series “the crown” is running at around £100 million or so. This would mean that the actual royal family is cheaper than a TV series about them.

So here’s a thought, give Meghan Markle a selfie stick and a camera, get her to film the Royal’s Meet the Kardashians style, broadcast that, and the Royal family could pay for itself, indeed we might even be able to make money off the back of them!

Hodoring the door and nuking the fridge

Speaking of TV, I’ve heard of the odd supposed “leak” of the Game of Thrones season 8 script online. It is reasonable to assume, after they royally screwed up last time, that HBO are being extra careful as regards leaks this time, so most of these “leaksare likely to be hoaxes from obsessive fans. The odd time I’ve bothered to read one, generally only when I need a bit of a giggle, its all too obvious that its not the real thing. Because these “leaked” plots make sense, don’t include a load of obvious howlers and were clearly written by someone whose read the books – which means they can’t be the real script!

When the season 7 plot leaked most people ignored it, dismissing it as a hoax, as it seemed unlikely that HBO would commit to spending tens of millions of dollars filming something this badly written. Well the leak turned out to be about 90% accurate (likely an earlier draft of the script actually filmed). Frankly if HBO wanted to save some money, they could go along to a GoT convention, grab the first bearded fanboy they see, stick him in front of a laptop, keep feeding him beer and bar snacks and in an evening he’d probably churn out something far better than what’s actually being filmed right now.

As I discussed in a prior post, GoT is now little more than expensive fan fiction, written by people who have little love for the novels and are bound by other requirements put in place on them by producers and company exec’s. Anyone hoping for a great season 8….wait for the books….although you might be waiting a long time! Its even been suggested that since G.R.R. Martin might not live long enough to finish them, we might need to create an AI to finish them for him.

But here’s the problem, much like Star Wars or Star Trek, even after a series has clearly jumped the shark (sometimes called nuking the fridge, or hodored the door as I suspect we’ll be calling it in a few years time), the series keeps going, simply because the producers (with dollar signs in their eyes) know they can get away with it and millions will still pay to watch whatever crap they churn out. As I recall one fanboy lamenting, George Lucas could film himself taking a shower, call it episode 7 and still expect to pull in a few hundred million in its first week.

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So long as money can be made, they will not learn the consequences of bad script writing and bad production and keep churning out crap. Hence why I won’t be seeing the latest star wars film, nor did I see the last two star trek films, nor will I be watching GoT series 8. Only when the movie industry sees their profits take a dent will they do anything.

And speaking of the latest star wars film, there’s actually a petition from hardcore fans for Lucas to disown it, as they disliked it that much. In essence it seems that Disney has decided to disregard the fans and focus on selling a generic sci-fi movie with lots of CGI & explosions to the masses. And for the record, I’m not giving the films a miss because I necessarily support this petition, but because I have better things to do over Christmas than go see a generic sci-fi film with lots of CGI and explosions.

Now the problem with this strategy is that making money out of the fantasy or sci-fi genre is difficult at the best of times. Its where movie studios go to die. If a producer/actor/director wants to ruin their career, or a studio wants to set $200 million on fire, make a sci-fi or fantasy movie. Any movie library will be littered with many such career ending box office bombs, e.g. the 13th warrior, In the Name of the King, Dredd, Pluto Nash, John Carter to name a few. While some of these films were dire, others on the list weren’t that bad. Its just that with such large sunk costs its very difficult to make any money with these sorts of movies.

The reason why the LOTR, star wars, star trek or GoT series stand out from the crowd is that they can rely on a legion of fans to show up (often going multiple times, or buying expensive DVD box-sets) and basically meet the overhead costs. The movie then makes its profits off the back of the general audience (i.e. those who couldn’t tell you the name of the reptilian bounty hunter seen for 5 seconds in Empire strikes back, nor tell you his entire character bio).

So the danger is that by screwing over their own fans, the studios might well find audience numbers tank and they end up making a loss.

News roundup

I have been away on business for a couple of weeks. I thought it would be useful to do an update.

Bloody pathetic woman

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Prior to the election Theresa May promised to be “a bloody difficult woman” in pursuit of brexit negotiations. I recall joking that given her behaviour during the election (basically hiding from public appearances and avoiding TV debates), her strategy would probably actually involve locking herself in the loo for the duration of talks and waiting for the EU to push a favourable agreement under the door.

Well I was sort of right. Her solution to dealing with the EU was to go to Brussels and turn on the water works. And the EU “conceded” something to her, just to get this blubbering wailing mess out of the room. Of course they didn’t really concede anything, they simply agreed to talk privately among themselves about what a potential transitional trade deal would look like, which they’d already agreed to do prior to the summit, the only difference was they made this public, giving May the illusion of having won some concession when in truth she’d won nothing.

And the early results of those talks aren’t encouraging for the brexiters. It pretty much states what we’ve long been telling them. You’ll have to pay the exit bill. A trade deal will take a considerable period of time to negotiate, not only long after March 2019 but probably extending past the next general election (leaving the country in economic limbo for a considerable period of time). Access to the EU market in any form will mean accepting all of those pesky EU rules they despise on the UK statute books. Plus we’ll either need to hire several thousand new civil servants to administer and regulate those rules or pay the EU a few billion to do it all for us….oh and you’ve a month to make a decision, so no pressure!

Oh and the latest word from the WTO regarding the UK’s future trading relationship isn’t positive either. The UK could face charges as high as 10-50% hit on the cost of its exports after March 2019, not just to the EU but to a host of other countries the EU has existing trade deals with. Yes, we could do a deal with the US, ditch EU rules. But you’re assuming that all the companies who are trading with the EU, who will then instantly lose access to their customers in the EU (as they will no longer be in compliance with EU rules and thus their products will be banned from the EU), can simply wave a magic wand and find new customers in the US and establish a supply chain to those customers on the other side of the Atlantic…and do all of that over night.

Of course the problem for the UK is that there is now an open civil war ongoing in the Tory party. Micheal Fallon, a May supporter has just got taken out, so in return she took the opportunity to take out leave supporter Priti Patel (although to be fair, suggesting international development aid should be given to the Israeli army for use in occupied territories the UK doesn’t recognise Israeli control over is a sackable offence for a minister in any circumstances).

In order to get the compromises the EU wants one or both of the main leadership candidates, Dave2 (the person whom the media tycoons have chosen to lead the party) or Boris have to basically take a big bite out of a shit sandwich (if you’ll pardon the bluntness of my language), because May’s already eaten all the crusts. They would have to sign off on paying the EU tens of billions of pounds (having promised in the referendum the UK would be £350 million a week richer), they’d have to accept some level of freedom of movement, recognition of the ECJ and likely leave northern Ireland half in and half out of the rest of the UK. Either of them does any of this and they can rule out wining the post-May leadership contest. And yet she can’t sack them and put someone more complaint into their jobs. So in short, the UK has become ungovernable .

Hindu fascism

Should you wonder what possessed Mrs Patel to go to Israel without authorisation, try to overturn a long standing UK (as well as US, EU and UN) backed position on the occupied territories and then propose her department give UK development aid money to the Israeli army. Well we need to get past the idea that racism and bigotry is something that only white men are responsible for. The crisis in Myanmar and the persecution of a Muslim minority (by Buddhists under Aung San Suu Kyi) being a case in point. Unfortunately a significant number of Hindu’s, such as Mrs Patel are also fanatically islamophobic to an extend that makes Nigel Farage sound like a moderate.

Now naturally I’m not saying all Hindu’s are bigots, but certainly some are. And while I’d like to say its few on the fringes (who’ve probably made the mistake of reading the Daily Mail), in truth were are talking a fairly significant number of them. The BJP, the ruling party in India, at present, is very much anti-Muslim and more than a little racist. Indeed they are basically an Indian version of UKIP.

Their policies have included such highlights as knocking down Muslim temples (leading to massive riots that killed thousands), trying to introduce astrology as a university degree, arguing that some ancient Hindu civilisation we’ve never heard of once existed (and even conducted nuclear tests) and professing a belief that cow dung can cure cancer. They also want to stop tourists visiting the Taj Mahal, which they argue is a Shiva temple (its a mausoleum for a Muslim emperor’s wife)…..Just to reiterate, these nutters are running India and have access to nuclear weapons (well if they put the astrologers in charge of missile guidance we’ve nothing to worry about I suppose!).

And Hindu fascists have also been very quick to find common cause with other similar groups around the world. More than a few thought that India was on the wrong side during World War II, notably Savitri Devi a British fascist and Hindu convert, who is revered by both Hindu extremists and the alt-right to this day. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume Mrs Patel kept didn’t mention this little fact of history to her Israeli hosts.

Catalatrophy

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The Catalan crisis is a crisis not so much due to the Catalan’s pursuit of a referendum (assuming any referendum had the proper checks and balances, e.g. the need for a full majority, i.e. 50% of the voters to back it, they’d have probably lost it), but the conservative government in Madrid’s refusal to allow it and the brutal crack down before and after.

They’ve now likely just succeeded in convincing many Catalan’s that Madrid can’t be trusted to stay out of the regions affairs. By suspending the regional government they’ve left Catalonia with two choices, full independence, or direct rule from Madrid. And by making martyrs of the leadership, they’re just going to provide a totem for independence supporters to rally around.

And there is history here. The reason why Ireland isn’t part of the UK is because of events during world war one (a war which had nothing to do with Ireland, yet we got dragged into it) and the crackdown by the British after the Easter rising. Both events convinced the Irish that even with the proposed home rule we’d been promised London simply couldn’t be trusted not to meddle in Irish affairs. And hence we were better off outside of the UK, regardless of what economic price we had to pay to get that independence. This is not far from were Catalonia is now.

Hence while the sensible solution would be to hold a proper poll on the matter, something the left wing parties in Madrid have been proposing for sometime I might add, the window of opportunity where that could settle the matter has probably now passed. Up until recently the assumption was that (as noted) such a poll would go against the Catalan independence movement, while now its 50/50 either way. Also even if such a poll were held and even if it was a firm No vote, I don’t think the Catalan independence movement will pack up and go home. Having been beaten up by the cop’s they aren’t going to give up until they get what they want, so in essence Madrid has radicalised them. And its only a matter of time before some hot head starts setting off bombs. As JFK said “those who make political change impossible make violent revolution inevitable”.

And some of those bombs will be going off in Brussels, for the EU very firmly backed Madrid when they should have stayed neutral. This pro-Madrid stance was probably what emboldened Madrid enough that they felt comfortable sending in the riot squads. The EU’s reasoning has been that they don’t want to encourage other separatist movements. However my suspicion is that all they’ve succeeded in doing is guaranteeing that if Catalonia does separate from Spain it will be a messy breakup of Spain and that the other independence movements around Europe will now be emboldened to carry on regardless. In short the EU has made life more difficult for itself not less.

So clear the solution here, given the impossibility of a pig headed Spanish PM changing course, is for the EU to act. They should put in place a contingency plan for what to do if a country who is an EU member breaks up. If Catalonia must leave the EU (as suggested) then so too must Spain (as the conditions on which it entered the EU have now changed as well). Or both are allowed to transition into EU members. If that offends Madrid, then tough. Otherwise Brussels could find itself facing violent attack from separatists from across the continent, which would create a crisis that makes brexit look like a storm in a tea cup.

Not so Trumped up charges

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The first charges in the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections have been made and needless to say the reaction from him and his supporters has been similar to the reaction you’d get from a toddler whose hand you caught in the cookie jar, a combination of bawling and counter claims against his sister, or in this case Hilary.

There are allegations made that suggest Hilary may have gotten funds from a pro-Putin source and certainly there’s some smoke here, but not necessarily a fire. It should be noted that it is a known tactic of Putin to secretly give money to his political opponents, usually through back channels and anonymous allies, such that the opposition don’t realise what’s going on, only to then to allow this bombshell to be leaked to the media at a time when it is most inconvenient to those opponents. That he would play the same trick with Hilary would hardly be a surprise.

However, even if the worse case scenario was true, Hilary knew about this money, well two wrongs don’t make a right. Trump’s still in trouble, he can have the cell next to her. It is deeply ironic how everything he’s accused Hilary of, Trump and his administration have now also done. He’s had his own email scandal, his own Benghazi. Yet the GOP have launched no investigation, they are too busy investigating Hilary.

To draw an analogy, its like seeing a mafia don being dragged into court and on the way in he passes a hot dog stand and randomly accuses the owner of that stand of not paying his taxes. And as a response the federal grand jury suspends his case while they launch an investigation into the hot dog stand owner’s tax affairs. And again, its the sort of behaviour that one regularly sees play out in corrupt African dictatorships.

Perhaps more worryingly is Trump’s warmongering towards Iran and North Korea. Its been suggested that he might launch some sort of attack against these countries in order to deflect attention from the Russia investigation, which does actually sound plausible. And that’s very worrying because the likely consequences of such an intervention are unlikely to be pretty serious. Tens of thousands of dead and the destabilisation of the world, probably leading to a stand off between the US on one side and China and Russia and their allies on the other sort of serious. All to massage the ego of one guy.

Paradise papers

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The latest paradise paper leaks are oh so predictable. Some time ago I read a book called Treasure Islands about the offshore industry and many of the very mechanisms discussed in the book are identical to what these leaks reveal. I’m sorry but this is news only to the blind and naïve.

It also explains why when the brexiters threaten to turn the UK into a tax haven post-brexit, the response from Brussels is to start howling with laughter. As author Nicholas Shaxson puts it “the largest tax haven in the world is in London”. Most of the dirty work of tax avoidance actually takes place in offices within London itself. Offshore on the tax havens, they’ll have a few lawyers and officials to sign documents and that’s it. And to be fair to the UK, Delware in the US and Luxembourg in the EU means there are equivalent operations within both the US and EU.

It would be all too easy for the EU, UK and US to simply ban all financial trade with this regions, or slap some sort of financial transaction tax on all such activity. Or worse, adopt tax and salary transparency laws (meaning everybody’s earnings and tax payment records become public, meaning it’s very easy to work out who is paying their taxes and who is on the fiddle allowing tax dodgers to be easily caught). The fact is that it is an open secret that, as one billionaire put it “only the little people pay taxes”. The rich can avoid them not because there’s no way to shut down tax havens, but because the politicians are too scared to open that can of worms and try to do something about it.

Sparkling hypocrisy

In the US, the land of the free ain’t so free. You can’t for example buy Haggis, because the FDA says its unsafe (and if the brexiters have their way, those FDA rules might well apply in the UK too). Nor can you buy a kinder surprise. And fireworks are banned in some US states. Okay, fireworks are actually dangerous, but even in elf n’safety obsessed UK we’ve seemed to find a way of regulating that to a point that’s acceptable. But no so US states still say, no fireworks, they’re too dangerous, even sparklers are banned…..But a semi automatic rifle, oh they are perfectly safe! Go figure!

A matter of education

Before the EU referendum farmers were warned that subsidies would likely go, that they’d face the risk of rising costs, being cut off from the EU markets and losing access to seasonal workers from the EU. Well now we’ve seen how a cliff edge hard brexit and a sudden imposition of high tariffs could cut off that market access (and as noted earlier its not as if they can just pick up the phone and find someone else on April 1st 2019 who wants to buy several hundred tons of cheese). Farmers costs have risen rapidly and they are worrying signs that immigration controls could cut off access to seasonal workers, raising questions as to how they are going to harvest their crops post-brexit. And this is not just a problem for farmers, it will impact on food prices as well.

And inevitably a report has now come out suggesting farm subsidies should be scraped. They point to New Zealand as a model for British farming, ignoring the fact that New Zealand has a tiny population where their costs are lower and their farms are massive. The small holdings of the type we see in the UK either don’t exist or don’t produce the same things as we do (most smaller farms are vineyards producing wine or grow fruits….not a really an option for UK farmers!). The NHS was also warned that it would face staffing shortages, which again predictably are starting to come true.

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One has to question where brexiters are maybe a little thick. And actually since you mention it, polls do show a link between education and which way people voted in the referendum. Those with a high level of education voting largely remain, those with no education beyond GCSE’s were the most likely to vote leave.

So now you know what happened to the farmer who didn’t pay attention at school. He voted for brexit, lost his farm and ended up as a poor cotter on the estate of some laird with no healthcare or pension in his old age.

The centenary of violence celebrated

The wheel of violence that has ground over the middle east for decades rolls on. While ISIS looks like its now more or less beaten, fighting has broken out between the Kurds and the Iraqi government forces around the oil rich town of Kirkuk. The Kurds (some 30 million strong) are the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland of their own.

So we can see how this cycle of violence will just continue, the Kurds get radicalised, they start a four way war with Turkey, Iran, Iraq and what’s left of Syria, who btw are also starting to turn on the US backed free Syrian forces. 5,306 days since G. W. Bush declared mission accomplished, the fire he lit in the middle east continues to burn and it will likely continue to do so for decades more.

Indeed, strictly speaking it wasn’t G. W. Bush who lit the fire in the middle east, but the British. One hundred years ago a UK diplomat made the Balfour declaration, something that was recently celebrated in Israel, as they see it as the first acceptance of Israeli statehood. To be honest, its not the sort of thing I’d celebrate. As you are celebrating a hundred years of violence, which has seen more than a few Jews as well as Muslim’s killed btw.

And the thing is that what the British were proposing to do was use the Jews as their colonial stooges. A long standing British policy of colonisation was to drive out any disloyal locals, steal their land and “plant” some convenient lackies on that land, who were generally people they wanted out of the UK for some reason or another (the convicts sent to Australia, the Presbyterian’s in Northern Ireland, the Puritans in North America).

And it wasn’t even the local Muslims whom the British were worried about. At the time they were fighting world war one (where Germany was backed by the Turks and a number of other actors in the region) and the middle east was a key battle ground, given the Royal Navy’s dependence on oil. The first unit of British troops deployed overseas during world war one went not to Belgium but Basra to defend the oil fields. And the British, all too aware that post-war they’d face competition from their long standing rivals the French, wanted someone in the region loyal to them, rather than the French. So in essence Israel is celebrating how they became pawns of the British Empire.

And there is a further cruel irony to the Balfour deceleration. This British policy of both divide and rule (which one of the reasons for the violence and bigotry in India I referred too earlier) and planting of loyal supporters on someone else’s land was greatly admired by the nazi’s. In essence what they were doing in Eastern Europe was simply trying to copy what the British had been doing for centuries in other parts of the world (in a slightly crueller way, but same basic principle). So that’s hardly the sort of thing we should be celebrating, least of all the Israeli’s.

And so this wheel of violence will not only roll onwards, but we literally have some in the region celebrating its centenary.

Brexit border troubles

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The Northern Irish border

I’ve discussed before how much of the Tories rhetoric regarding brexit falls apart if they want to keep an open border with southern Ireland. The Irish government has pointed out that this will be unworkable if they UK ends free movement and has therefore suggested that the border posts are moved to all entry ports onto the Island of Ireland, effectively turn Northern Ireland into a British overseas territory, which happens to share a land border with the EU.

They are prepared to help the British in some way with border control on the Island of Ireland, which it has to be acknowledged is a major concession by the Irish (they are in no way obliged to do anything), but there’s a limit to what they can do. If a Polish migrant shows up, we can take a photo of him, scan his passport, etc. tell him sternly not to go to Northern Ireland, but if he goes outside the airport and hops on a bus straight to Belfast, well there ain’t a lot we can do about that.

Now the Tories tell us, oh we’ll rig the border with cameras and electronic monitoring equipment. Ya so you’ll get a picture of our Polish migrant’s bus going North as it always does at that time every day. Short of the Polish guy stick his head out the window while holding his passport, this electronic border won’t work. And he can always just live in the South and commute by car to work in the North. And the Tories do realise there’s at least 200 crossing points and that’s just those on the main trunk roads, some of which cross the border multiple times in a few miles. And as the picture above shows, much of the border is simply open hillside, or a farmers field.

And if our Polish migrant gets to a ferry port keep in mind there are no customs controls, nor border guards. You need photo ID to board a ferry, but there’s no passport control. There’s some British transport police and some rent-a-cop security guards on duty. But regardless of how suspicious they are that someone with a Polish driving license might be a fence jumper, they can’t really do anything. And anyway, I know plenty of non-British people with a British driving license (all you need to do is request one and so long as you’ve a European driving license they’ll give you one) and similarly you can easily get an Irish one if you are from the EU. So there will be no way to stop these migrants getting into the rest of the UK.

So what the Irish are basically saying is that the proposed UK immigration controls won’t work, they’ll be just window dressing to fool the bigot brigade into thinking they’ve got tight border controls. This perhaps is where the Irish are being a little naïve, Theresa May and co probably know they won’t work because they don’t actually want to restrict immigration, they just want to pretend they are. But either way the Irish solution does kind of make sense, doesn’t it?

Well not if you’re the DUP (who are debating whether next they should have traffic lights set up so that orange means go and green means stop, or whether they should ask for the Giant’s causeway to be extended to Scotland). They naturally worry that this will loosen the ties between them and the UK, and thus be a step towards reunification. And this is where Theresa May’s decision to go into coalition with the DUP was very foolish, as she’s now likely to be forced to either give in to the Irish, and then potentially see her government collapse, or concede to the DUP and have no effective border controls post-brexit (and once the bigot brigade catch her at that, they’ll stop voting Tory and start voting UKIP or BNP).

The Irish have already indicated that if they don’t see some movement from the UK on this issue, they might not co-operate with the British post-brexit, potentially leading to a breakdown in policing along the Irish border. Which is bad news, because as I’ve pointed out before, its not people we should be worrying about as regards the Irish border, its goods and contraband. The smugglers will have a field day. Those cameras will get nice lovely pictures of lorries filled with cigarettes, booze, petrol and even meat or milk heading North.

And with the UK outside of the free trade area and 10-30% tariff on all sales, plus tax rates up 20-30% on top of that they will make a killing. And speaking of which, many of these smugglers are associated with terrorist organisations, so most of that funding will fill the coffers of various dissident groups in the North. The drop in tax revenue and a flood of cheap goods will bankrupt the northern Irish economy and undermine the economy of the rest of the UK (once “washed” in Northern Ireland it will be impossible to stop this contraband making its way on to ships and into the UK mainland), making reunification a matter of when rather than if.

And its not just cheap fags and booze that the smugglers will be shipping, but drugs as well and weapons. The rough and rugged terrain of the Irish west coast, with its thousands of bays and inlets is impossible to police. So the focus instead is mainly on going after the dealers in the major cities and the smugglers shifting it off the Island. Without co-operation with the Irish police about the only thing that will get cheaper in the UK post-brexit is the street price of crack cocaine.

There are essentially only three ways this can end 1) The UK goes for a soft brexit and remains in the single market with free movement. 2) A hard border likely leading to the troubles reigniting and the British army gets to referee IED bombing contests between the different factions….forever….while the northern Irish economy implodes, this will likely lead to…..3) Northern Ireland unites with the South and leaves the UK. The Brexiters have to pick which these three options they want.

So much for strong and stable!

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Its laughable this morning. Here we have Mrs strong and stable herself (I can’t write that while keeping a straight face), who undertook an election at the worse possible time, not because the country needed one, but so the Tories could selfishly exploit labour’s low polling numbers. And, having gambled with the UK’s future for the most cynical of political reasons and then lost, she has the nerve to ask for a period of stability during the brexit negotiations. I mean seriously, how out of touch are these Torybots. Not since G. W. Bush stood in front of a banner saying “Mission Accomplished” has a politician been so wrong.

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And let us be clear, the Tories lost this election, not because Corbyn is some sort of political genius, but because Theresa May was terrible. After the awful local election results, Corbyn spent most of his time visiting safe labour seats in an effort to shore up support. When the lib dems and Greens approached him about some sort of progressive alliance, being the clot that he is he rejected this, even thought it ultimately meant the Tories winning crucial seats (I mean god forbid someone who isn’t a bearded hard left brexiter winning those seats! Obviously Corbyn thinks it would be better a Tory win them instead!). Note that several high ranking Tories, including Amber Rudd and IDS only survived by a margin of a few hundred votes. Zack Goldsmith managed to get elected by just 50 votes. So had Corbyn agreed to this progressive alliance, its very likely we’d have seen some pretty major scalps last night.

He also flunked a number of TV interviews, getting basic facts about his manifesto wrong. They had to hide Diana Abbot away after she buggered up earlier on in the campaign. So this is clearly more a case of the Tories losing the election rather than labour winning. And they squandered a 20 point lead at the start. Because while Corbyn wasn’t great, Theresa May was unbelievably $hit! As the spectator put it “Theresa May has the warmth, wit and oratorical ability of a fridge-freezer”.

The Yellow Submarine

Around Whitehall Theresa May has a nickname – the submarine. Because when the going gets tough, she dives below the surface, hides and runs away. And that was basically what she did for the bulk of the election campaign. She chickened out of the debates, she refused to do interviews on local radio or on the BBC’s flagship Today programme, avoided crowds (save a few carefully choreographed campaign events) or “people” in general. When rumours of cuts to pensions emerged, a possible “dementia tax to go with the bedroom tax, she was flip flopping like crazy. At one point during a factory visit the press were locked in a room to stop them asking awkward questions. So I have to assume that when she talked about being “a bloody difficult woman” during the brexit negotiations, her plan involved hiding in the loo and waiting for the EU to push a favourable exit deal under the cubicle door at the 11th hour.

The two terrorist attacks didn’t exactly help, leaving the Tories looking like a deer caught in headlights. The Tory cuts to policing occurred on her watch as home secretary. This is something she can’t dodge blame for. She mumbled something about changing the law or doing away with the human right act, because we know how much the terrorists value human rights, that’ll show em!

And her best bro Trump didn’t exactly help matters by attacking the London mayor in the middle of a terrorist incident, something which she failed to condemn. And recall her invite to him to come over next month is still valid, something that inevitably cost her votes and almost cost her dearly.

Then there’s the issue of brexit, the whole reason apparently for her having an election. And what exactly is the Tory policy on brexit? F*ck knows! Other that the vague idea that we trust Mrs strong and stable wobbly and inept, she goes into Brussels, doesn’t talk to them or give away anything, keeps her cards close to her chest and somehow gets to have her cake and eat it. A sensible strategy if you’re playing gin rummy for a half a packet of crisps, but not when negotiating with the EU over something this important. Trying to play brinkmanship with the EU is like trying to play chicken with a freight train. It ain’t going to swerve or stop because it can’t and frankly it doesn’t have too. Just ask the Greeks.

By contrast the labour strategy, which is to negotiate something along the lines of the Norway model, or the lib dems (another referendum) are far more sensible positions. More importantly for a voter, you know exactly what you’re getting if you voted for them. It dawned on me a day or two ago how badly this could play for the Tories when I was talking to a brexit voting Tory. And he could not explain to me how the Tory strategy was going to work. So if brexiters and Tories are having doubts, you can imagine how this played with remain voters (or those soft leave voters who were essentially conned into voting leave).

Now too be fair, election’s are difficult times for Tories. They have to constantly resist the urge to resort to lizard form, they have to go outside during daylight hours and remember not to call voters plebs. They rely on the right wing media to paper over the cracks. And true to form the Daily Mail and Express editors had their tongues firmly attached to May’s ass for the last two weeks. But this time the cracks were more like chasms and crevasses. Attempts to shore up the Tories involved pushing things to levels of Monty Pythonesque absurdity where even UKIP members started to doubt them.

Consider that the Daily Fail devoted 13 pages on the eve of the election trying to paint Corbyn as pro-terrorist, because its possible that one of the terrorists might have once attended a labour rally (obviously to support Corbyn, not because he was casing the event as a possible future target). Okay, and Jimmy Saville was a Tory supporter, knighted by Margaret Thatcher, so by the same Daily Mail logic does that make all Tories pedo’s?

The great British weather

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Finally, we have the weather to consider. It was raining yesterday morning, although it cleared up a bit towards the evening. This would have effected the outcome because older people (who tend to vote Tory) tend to vote in the morning, while younger voters (who tend to vote for left wing parties) tend to vote in the evening on the way home from work. So its possible that a few hundred votes in key marginal seats were lost because some pensioners opened their curtains in the morning and thought well I ain’t going out in that and stayed in bed.

The Jock vote

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In Scotland the parties fought for every vote

In Scotland it wasn’t a great night for the SNP. That said, they won all but three of Scotland’s seats last time, so it was inevitable that they were going to lose some seats this time. Also the success in 2015 was borne out of two factors. Firstly labour took a very firm stance during the Indy ref of opposing independence, despite the fact that this meant pissing off 45% of the electorate and a majority of voters in several key seats in and around Glasgow. The Tories meanwhile spent the 2015 campaign going on about how Miliband would be in the pocket of those sneaky soap shy Scots. This meant that both labour and the Tories were almost wiped out in 2015.

This time around, labour took a more neutral line towards independence and the Tories focused primarily on soaking up the anti-independence vote. All the literature in my door from the tories was about how the lib dems and labour have no chance, only the true blue Tories can beat the SNP. There was even a Tory poster outside the polling station (which most surely be illegal) proclaiming that the lib dems and labour have no chance of winning here (just as well I voted SNP then, who beat the Tories!). For the record, the lib dems and labour won back several seats in Scotland.

Naturally the argument presented in the media is about how this means Indyref2 is off the cards. Well keep in mind the SNP still control 60% of Scotland’s seats and there’s a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. If the indy ref result was based on these metrics, they’d win easily. There is, as I’ve discussed before, a dilemma for the SNP. They would like to hold a 2nd referendum ASAP to try and ensure Scotland stays in the EU. On the other hand the more bad news from brexit builds, as well as the anger against the Tories in Westminster (given that independence offers the opportunity to rid Scotland forever of Tory rule) the more likely they are to win.

Weighting up the factors, I’d opt for the long game and wait. That said, I think the SNP need to put in place the necessary measures such that, if it becomes clear that the brexit negotiations are going to result in Scotland getting royally shafted (e.g. tariffs or migration restrictions that will wipe out certain key industries), then a referendum can be called and held quickly. In short there needs to be a big red button on Sturgeon’s desk and while she shouldn’t press the button, the threat that she might should be constantly hanging over the brexit negotiations.

Lessons learnt

So what lessons can we learn from this result? Well I would argue the reason why the polls were wrong this time, as with the previous election and the EU referendum is because there are a lot of angry and confused people who are trying to send a message. Its a rambling incoherent message from the sort of people who have no clue how politics works (e.g. the sort who were googling “what is brexit?” the morning after the referendum vote), but its quite clear what it is – no more austerity. The Tory policy of austerity has cast many millions in the UK into the sort of poverty we should have left in the last century. Until the Tory cuts are reversed, we’ll continue to see random and difficult to predict results like this in all future elections and referendums.

Now granted, ending austerity is easier said than done. Taxes would have to go up. Non-dom’s will have to start paying their fair share of tax. Areas spared from cuts (such as pensions or defence) might need to share the pain. While I think there might be a need to take certain privatised public services that are failing back into public ownership, wholesale re-nationalisation isn’t something the country can afford right now. And naturally a hard brexit is out of the question, given the negative impact that would have on tax receipts. There are, as the Tories say, no magic money trees, but that applies to both parties.

Given that we must now call into question the validity of the EU referendum result (i.e. a large chunk of the leave vote was just a protest vote), there is no mandate for a hard brexit. A soft brexit, with perhaps a 2nd referendum later seems a more sensible strategy. So less a divorce and more of a trial separation.

Thirdly, the UK needs to ditch its ridiculous first past the post election system. The rest of the civilised world used some form of proportional representation (or the two round voting system in France), which is a much fairer and more reliable system. Now supporters of FPTP will say, oh but PR leads to political instability and hung parliaments, while FTTP leads to more stable government….LOL! well I think we can bin that argument after last night.

I mean seriously, at the last election the Tories secured a majority with just 37% of the vote. Which when you account for turn out means they had a majority with the support of just 25% of the electorate. That’s not democracy, its a perversion of democracy. Had just 639 votes gone from the Tories to labour then we’d have gone from a Tory majority in 2015, to a hung parliament. And, as mentioned earlier, there are MP’s who lost their jobs, or came very close to losing this time by just a few hundred votes. They may well have prevailed (or lost) simply because it rained at a particular time of day. That’s how fickle the FPTP system can be. Its basically a form of high stakes lottery, an insane way to run a country and a grossly unfair system.

Send in the clowns

Are these lessons going to be learnt? Well not by the Tories! Already the word is they are going to form a coalition with the Ulster unionists. For those with bad memories, it was Tory pandering to the unionists and euroskeptic backbenchers that crippled John Major’s government and led to Tony Blair’s landslide victory in the 1997 election. To call the unionists unreliable allies is if anything an understatement.

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Theresa May is greeted by her new coalition partners

On paper they are fairly gung-ho, pro-hard brexit, send the EU and all the Poles to hell along with all the Catholics. Unfortunately, as a hard brexit will probably wipe out the Northern Irish economy and likely lead to a collapse in the peace process, a border poll and them all becoming Irish citizens, the Unionists will be prone to sudden flip flopping. We could see the scenario where the Tories are in the room negotiating with the EU, digging their heels in on a particular issue, only to be handed a mobile phone with a tweet from the DUP stating that not only do they no longer support the government on this issue, they will walk out of government unless they reverse their position.

Note that adding together the DUP and Tory seats, they have a majority of just 2 seats. So all it takes is a handful of MP’s (e.g. those who won by just a few votes in a pro-remain constituency) to either vote against the government or abstain…..and one of those is Kenneth Clarke (so on brexit its potentially a majority of one!)….and the government can be outvoted. And keep in mind that the fixed term parliament act means that in theory if the Tories form a government, which then collapses, the opposition can block an early election. Protocol would then dictate that the leader of the opposition (currently Corbyn) would then be invited by the Queen to try and form a government, presumably some sort of progressive alliance.

So returning to the question at the beginning, should the opposition parties cut Theresa May some slack? Absolutely not! Stick it to em! The Tories have selfishly prioritised their own needs above that of the country for too long, they will continue to do so, even if it means driving the country over a cliff edge. So the opposition should try to block them at every turn, using every trick available to them and basically paralyse the government in the hope of forcing them out. Then a progressive alliance can take over. And while I’m not a huge fan of Corbyn, he’s certainly a better pick for the job. Theresa May has demonstrated over the last two months why she is wholly unqualified for the job of PM. The Downing street cat could do a better job than her!

Rolling back the years

I have to finish by contrasting with the political situation in Ireland. We’ve just elected our first openly gay Prime minster, who also just happens to be the son of an immigrant (I suspect the Daily Mail readers all fainted when they heard that one). Keep in mind that it was illegal to even be gay in Ireland right up until the 1990’s (yes really!).

So Ireland has progressed a lot over the last few decades, in part I might add because we have this thing called “a constitution” (UK readers might need to google that one) and a PR based voting system. There should have been an election by now in Ireland, as there’s a minority government and both the main parties are keen to sort it out with an electoral show down. But it was decided, for now, that any election should be delayed until some progress is made with the brexit process. While Irish politicians aren’t great (a shower of gombeens, feckin edjits and cute hoor’s as me grandpa used to say), they are a heck of a lot more mature and professional than any UK politician. And again, that’s probably down to our political system and its checks and balances.

So while in an Irish election you face the choice about whether you want shower of gombeen’s or mob of cute hoor’s to take us into the 21st century, in the UK election the choice is between a labour party who wants to take the country back to the 1970’s and a Tory party who want to go back to the 1900’s. That’s how far the UK has slipped in the last few years. The UK is about as strong and stable right now as a one legged stool and its on the verge of becoming a basket case, a failed state.

Blogging catchup

I’m just back from a trip overseas on business, so I thought it would be a good idea to catchup.

Trump pulls out of Paris climate treaty

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It was perhaps inevitable that Trump would pull out of the Paris climate treaty. He’s rowed back on nearly all of his campaign promises, as inevitably many of these policies were just unworkable or unenforceable. The Paris treaty was one of the few things he could actually change, largely because it will take until nearly the end of his presidency to complete the withdrawal (meaning a few months later his successor might well opt to simply re-enter the agreement).

However it has to be said the main loser is going to be the US. There’s a serious case of deja vu here. When G. W. Bush dropped out of the Kyoto protocol, making the same lame arguments about “jobs” and “growth” the end result was that many of the technical experts in fields such as electric cars, fuel cell research and solar panels all went abroad, mostly to Europe and China and helped investors there found companies that are now worth tens of billions of dollars and employ many tens of thousands of people. And inevitably they then exported this technology back to the US. In other words thanks to Bush America ended up having to buy its own technology back off the Chinese and Europeans. Hardly putting “America first” was it!

History will now repeat itself. If Elon Musk gets into trouble and has to start letting staff go, no doubt they’ll just head overseas and get jobs in Chinese or European renewable multinationals. He himself might well get bought out by some Chinese investors who move production overseas. So how exactly are Trump’s actions going to create jobs?….well aside from more jobs in China anyway!

Furthermore, the US hasn’t really got a choice in the matter. Fossil fuels are a finite resource. As I’ve discussed before, the shale gas boom is eventually going to run out of steam. And there’s already signs of a slow down. Climate change is a crisis that will hit the US hard. So regardless of what Republicans think the US will have to give up fossil fuels eventually. What most countries are opting to do is a slow gradual transition. This means that the positives of a renewables boom (i.e. more jobs, more stable energy prices) tends to cancel out the negatives (higher energy prices, the temporary disruption caused by installing renewables infrastructure). Germany is the poster child for this, but a similar policy is playing out in Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Scotland and Portugal to name a few. And yes, in all of these countries the renewables boom has largely been a positive that has greatly benefited the economy.

However, trying to undertake a crash course in fossil fuels phase out, which Trump has now all but guaranteed America will have to carry out eventually, will likely to be very disruptive to the economy. In short there’s a hard way and an easy way and Trump just committed America to the hard way. The country will be forced some day to undergo a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels, likely when supply shortages, high prices and the damage caused by climate change starts to bite. And they’ll be also forced to import most of the technology to do so from abroad. So Trump has more or less signed America economic death warrant.

Leader of the free world

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Indeed, during Trump’s recent European tour it became rather obvious what level of damage he’s already inflicted on America’s reputation abroad. The fact is that Trump is probably one of the weakest president’s America has ever had. Allegations regard him and his families ties to Russia (and the Saudi’s) have crippled his administration. Plus its all well and good making campaign speeches about how much America pays for NATO. However, around the G7 table it will no doubt have been pointed out that most of America’s military spending is on things nothing to do with NATO (while countries like Germany and Poland spend almost their entire military budget on NATO related activities).

And then we have the issue of Trump’s silence over the Portland murders of two men who came to the defence of a Muslim woman being abused by a Trump supporter. It would have been very easy for him to condemn this, but he did not do so until a good week after. And even then the announcement came from the official US government account, not his own twiter account. This could not be a clearer signal that Trump isn’t just saying racist stuff to curry favour with the KKK brigade, but he is actually a racist and a fascist himself.

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The resulting power vacuum means that someone else had to take up the mantle of leader of the free world. Given that May is leading the UK into self imposed exile (and economic suicide) that rules out the brit’s. So it now falls to Germany to lead the free world. This has both positives and negatives. On the positive side the Germans, even right wingers like Merkel, are considerably more sensible leaders than any recent American president. On the downside, Merkel is a bit risk adverse and not really the sort of person who is good at handling a crisis (as the situation in Greece proved). And the end consequence is a Europe and an EU that’s even more dominated by Germany than before.

Playing chicken

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I need to do a more detailed update of the election situation, but suffice to say the Tory lead is slipping. This was always the risk, elections are fickle affairs, even with the massive lead the Tories had in the polls at the start there’s always a danger events will turn against them. Its possible the polls are wrong and that labour support is being overestimated. But of course its equally possible that the labour lead is being underestimated. While the probability is that the Tories will still win, that doesn’t mean a Tory win is guaranteed (I’d say its an 75% chance of a Tory win, 20% chance of a hung parliament and a 5% chance of a labour win). And all it takes is one scandal, one leak of something the Tories don’t want to reveal in the next few days and the outcome of the election could change.

Of course the Tories must also acknowledge that they are doing badly not because Corybn is some sort of popular political genius in charge of a united party. He’s been unable to get basic facts right and most election literature I’ve seen from labour candidates avoids even mentioning him (by contrast the Tory, lib dem and SNP literature does mention Corbyn, so he’s an electoral asset….for the other parties!). So the reason why the Tories are doing badly in the polls is because they are making a pigs ear of an election that they should otherwise win easily.

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Take the recent election debates, where the wicked witch of Maidenhead Theresa May refused to show up. This was a major miscalculation. Granted, given the risk of her reverting to her true form, showing up to a debate with “people” was always going to be a bad idea. But not showing makes her look weak, arrogant and too chickshit scared to face Corbyn. How exactly is she proposing to deal with the EU if she’s too afraid to face off against some bearded hippy? So this decision could well backfire badly. Although given that the main winner of the debate were the Greens and lib dems, so its likely labour will lose support as well as a result of the debate.

The fact is that unless the Tories win by a significant majority this will be seen by her party as a political failure on her part and I’m guessing there will be a move against her. Then again, I’ve a suspicion that the real reason for the election is that the Tories are hiding something, quite possibly that May will be resigning soon for health reasons (or that she’s about to get caught up in some major scandal and forced to go). So that might well be the case anyway.

Living in a different era

One of the problems with Brexit and any Tory election victory is how it has puffed up the bigot brigade, who feel they can now throw their weight around. For example, we have a slum landlord type in England who is now refusing to let property to “coloured people. We have a jobseeker who was dismissed as a “left wing loon tree hugger (in an e-mail sent to her) and the number of racist incidents reported countrywide has doubled since the vote with 1 in 3 minorities now reporting some form of abuse.

One is forced to conclude this lot live in a different world and brexit has allowed them to start acting out their insane fantasies. However, this puts them at odds with reality, which does bode well for the country’s future.

Take northern Ireland, a key potential flash point for the brexit negotiations. Any changes to the status of the NI border will have profound knock on implications both in Northern Ireland and the South and thus effect the peace process. On the other hand a lack of a hard border makes a hard brexit an exercise in futility. Any migrant can simply get on a bus at Dublin airport and be in the UK within two hours. And as I’ve pointed out before, its goods not people that the UK needs to worry about. An open Irish border with different tariffs either side of it would be mercilessly exploited by smuggler gangs, undercutting the UK economy and probably bankrupting the economy in NI.

However whenever this issue is discussed in the media, scroll down to the comments and you’ll get lots of the brexit bigots referring to Ireland by the historic term “Eire” and voicing their deluded fantasies that not only is there no risk of a border poll (and Northern Ireland voting to leave the UK) but that Ireland might actually vote to re-join the UK. That’s how far out of touch this lot are.

For those who don’t understand the controversy, shortly after Ireland’s independence in the 1920’s the UK adopted a policy of referring to the Irish Republic as “Eire” as they felt that using the English word “Ireland” could be interpreted as support for a united Ireland and they didn’t like using the word “republic” as they were peeved at how we’d rejected rule by the crown. The British stuck to this policy rigidly to the point of absurdity. During the 1948 Olympics in London while all the other nations paraded under a banner with the name of the country in English, Ireland was forced to parade under the “Eire” banner, the only time in Olympic history a country has paraded under its native language.

Of course the irony here is that “Eire” is the Gaelic geographical name for the Island of Ireland. So actually by adopting this policy the UK was arguably voicing support for a united Ireland. This explains why in 1949, presumably after someone had lent them an English/Irish dictionary, the UK did an about face and took to referring to the Irish state as “the republic of Ireland” (or ROI for short). So when I say Brexiters live in a different era, I am not joking, they are literally sticking to a UK policy that dates prior to the 1940’s. That’s the sort of attitude you’re dealing with.

Downgrade of Chinese debt

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One story that seems to have been missed by many was the downgrading of China’s debts by the rating agency Moody’s, blaming concerns over China’s growing private debts. This is the first time the Chinese have suffered a downgrade since 1989. This provoked a furious response from Beijing. Although arguably this less than measured and diplomatic reaction did more harm than the actual downgrade itself.

On the one hand I’d say the Chinese have a point. Its all too obvious that the rating agencies are biased. I recall someone from the Brazilian finance ministry once bemoaning the fact that during the Workers Party era they’d pass a new policy on something completely unrelated to Brazil’s ability to service its debts (e.g. health care or employment law) and the rating agencies would hit them with a downgrade. Even though the UK or US government might well have down something very similar a few months earlier yet they didn’t get hit with a downgrade. Consider that the US has elected a president recently who boasted about reneging on America’s debts. If China is in such big trouble that its credit rating should be cut, then fairness would require that America’s (and the UK) should lose its A rating altogether.

That said, there’s no smoke without fire. Interbank lending and lending to local businesses as well as growing credit card and mortgage debts in China represents something of an unknown quantity in the country, with it unclear how much has been lent to who and how safe those loans are and what’s going to happen when those loans are defaulted on.

Now some will react with glee to the news China might get into trouble. Think again. Alot of the debt buying going on worldwide, both private and public debt, is being handled by China. So if China catches a cold the rest of might get Ebola. Any change in policy in China, e.g. they stop buying bonds or raise interest rates, would have a amplified knock effect in the west. Mortgage rates would soar, inflation would skyrocket. A devaluation of the RMB would suddenly make many Western goods uncompetitive and could push Western states into recession. While its often pointed out how much of America’s debt’s (both private and public) is owed to China (and thus Trump supporters seem to feel they can just up and renege on that), they forget that two thirds of it is owed to other Americans, mostly pension funds. So any American default of its foreign debts to China would likely bankrupt the entire US pension system overnight.

So this is something that should concern us all. Anyone urging the likes of Trump or May to play some sort of “great game” with China needs to realise what’s at stake – namely keeping your job and not living out your retirement in a dumpster! The trouble is, as recent events have shown above, there’s more than enough people in both the UK and US who will cut off their own nose to spite their face.

The biggest corruption scandal in history

And speaking of Brazil, operation car wash, the investigation that brought down the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, continues and its quickly growing into one of the biggest corruption scandals in world history. Its becoming clear also that crimes of Rouseff or her predecessor Lula were actually fairly minor and that the main reason why she was removed was more because she refused to try and slow down or halt the investigation. So her impeachment is looking more and more like a de-facto coup.

And the current president Temer and his party have their grubby little paw prints all over this scandal. Its clear that they have been on the take far more than Rouseff’s workers party. And since coming to power, we’ve seen key persecutors fired and replaced with political lackies of the president, judges dying in mysterious circumstances, witnesses disappearing, etc. To say this stinks is to put it mildly. There is a very real risk this crisis could bring down the entire Brazilian political system or possibly lead to a coup.

Ruinair

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Given past experience with British Airways I purposely didn’t fly with them this time and avoided Heathrow like the plague. So I wasn’t entirely surprised by the news that BA had all sorts of IT problems (not that their recent penny pinching cuts have anything to do with that!), nor with news of them leaving passengers in the lurch.

The fact is that the only difference between BA and Ryanair is that Ryanair are cheaper and generally on time. In a crisis BA will just fob you off and abandon you just as quickly as the budget airlines. So you may as well fly Ryanair or Easyjet and save yourself a few bob. And I am by no means alone. I know lots of business traveller who won’t get on a BA flight, even if their employer is paying for it. I welcome the day when BA collapses, much as Alitalia is currently going bankrupt.

The impact of brexit on Northern Ireland

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Well the results from the NI election are in and the result isn’t going to make great reading for either the Unionists nor the brexiters. The one thing that was never supposed to happen in Northern Ireland has happened – the Unionists have lost their majority.

While the DUP are still the largest party, in theory they and the UUP can now be outvoted on any issue…such as whether or not to hold a border poll. Now granted, Sinn Fein don’t hold a majority either. They’d need support from the smaller non-unionst parties. And all “non-unionst” means is that they don’t go on orange parades, nor is their pin code 1690. While they aren’t against the idea of a border poll, they aren’t in favour of one either, it doesn’t make them flag waving Irish nationalists.

However in the event of a hard brexit, one that starts impacting on the Northern Irish economy, they could be persuaded to back a border poll, to settle the issue. In short there is now a path to a border poll, that did not previously exist. And its very difficult to tell, particularly against the back drop of a hard brexit which way such a poll would go.

The unionists can block a border poll even without a majority. Rules written into the Northern Irish constitution allow a minority of delegates to veto legislation. Ironically, these rules were inserted to protect the nationalists, something the DUP originally objected too! But the DUP cannot do this alone anymore, they’d need UUP support too. Also blocking a vote and standing against the rest of the assembly raises the risk of the pro-poll parties pulling the plug again, declaring a new election and an electoral alliance in which they don’t stand in each other’s constituencies, effectively turning the election into a defacto border poll.

Now like I said, the other smaller parties aren’t automatically going to go along with Sinn Fein on this. And there’s no guarantee even if a border poll was held that it would be a Yes vote. But the point is that its now a plausible option. The unthinkable (from a unionist point of view) is actually possible now. And the unionist have to look to the moderates in the centre ground and on the left, to save them from a mess of their own creation.

While many unionists are generally euroskeptic (and often to the right of UKIP on many issues) the UUP backed Remain in the referendum, precisely because they feared what is now playing out in NI might happen in the event of a leave vote. But the DUP very stupidly backed leave. Arlene Foster may go down in history as having done more for Irish reunification (through a combination of arrogance, stupidity and incompetence) than Gerry Adams or Martin McGuiness!

But either way, the cost of brexit for unionists is not that they are going to “take control”, its that they’ve lost control and their fate is now in the hands of others….something the rest of the UK will soon discover when brexit negotiations start and they realise its the EU, US and other powers who will decide the UK’s future.