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?”.

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What the Dickens are they up too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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….primarily driven by low income and benefits sanctions

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

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

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

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

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

Life on the streets

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

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

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

Raiders of the lost pension fund

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

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

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

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

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

Exit through the wingnut shop

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

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

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

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

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

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Labour do lead in the polls, but not by much

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

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

Rather a waste of time

TV anchor veteran, Dan Rather has come out of retirement and now has a show on the Young Turks network. I think its interesting he chose to do this via the new media of the internet rather than via the TV news. Then again, this highlights the problem with the media in the US. The mainstream news media, in particular the TV news is too formulaic and anxious to avoid addressing controversial topics. While Trump complains about “fake news” (which is more the product of his supporters) and “bias”, the truth is the mainstream media are simply not tackling him or his minions effectively, but instead they are giving his propagandist the oxygen they need to survive.

Of course the accusation against Dan Rather (or the TYT, or many other left wing media outlets online) is that he’s biased against the alt-right. Which is true, but you kind of have to be these days. There’s a big difference between being biased but sticking to the facts, compared to being biased and lying, distorting the truth or just plain making stuff up (like Breitbart or the Daily Mail). The motto of the Trump presidency, if the state of the union speech is anything to go by would be “it is in fact possible to polish a turd“.

The trouble with much of the mainstream media is that they will, in the interest of “balance” present both sides of an argument on issues where there is really no argument. e.g. on climate change. To draw an analogy, it would be like you going to the doctor, but then in the interest of “balance” we bring in some homeopathic woo pedaller and have him give his opinion, then make you flip a coin as to whose going to get to treat you.

And debating the alt-right is generally a pointless exercise. As this vlog post points out, the entire tactic of alt-right debate is to control the conversation and shutdown it down. They know the other side has facts on their side, so they’ll try to take the ball away and stop the game. In essence they aren’t fight fair because they don’t have to.

The right’s political philosophy is a fantasy, which is often self contradicting and openly hypocritical. It survives only on a suspension of disbelief. To draw an analogy, imagine you’re watching the latest star wars film and after the first hour we stop the film, bring on Neil deGrasse Tyson who proceeds to give a 2 hour lecture (during which you can’t leave nor look at your mobile phone) highlighting the scientific inaccuracies in the film, as well as giving away lots of spoilers to the 2nd half of the movie. Or we send Richard Dawkins into a kinder garden to read out the scientific proof that there is no Santa Claus. That’s how a liberal spouting “facts” sounds to someone on the alt-right. They will simply ignore you (and hate you for it), but will latch on to any myth or comforting lie the alt-right “debater” can squeeze in. That essentially is why debating them or giving them air time is a waste of time.

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Indeed, they’re doing a re-run of Babylon 5 right now on one of the UK TV back channels. For those unfamiliar with the series, its 3rd season covered the rise to power of a authoritarian regime on earth and its ere to see how for example they had a kellyanne conway type describe how to use “alternative facts“. Or how the B5 version of Trump gets implicated in a massive criminal conspiracy, but rather than accept the evidence, his supporters ignore it and suppress those trying to uncover the truth.

Thus its increasingly falling to the new news media to do the sort of investigative journalism that the TV channels used to do. For example, Vice news have an interesting piece out about North Korea’s rocket program. There’s been some disquiet among engineers about major advances the North Korean’s have made over the last year or so in their rocket program. As I mentioned in a prior post, space flight isn’t easy, it takes a lot of experience to be able to build a reliable rocket system. It is implausible to say the least that the North Koreans have made such advances without outside help.

Vice news highlights the fact that Ukraine’s rocket industry has suffered in recent years and cuts in a US program intended to keep rocket scientists employed (no doubt Trump keeping his bosses in Moscow happy) might have sent a number of unemployed rocket scientists Kim Jung-un’s way, although the Ukrainians perhaps rather predictably blame the Russians for helping North Korea. Either way, its an important story the mainstream media appear to have missed. And it suggests that the long held assumption that the North Koreans lack the capability to hit the mainland US with a missile might not be true anymore, or for much longer (and that Trump’s pro-Russia policy might be helping the north Koreans!).

Although, that said, any land based ICBM’s in North Korea are well within range of US and South Korean aircraft and could be destroyed on the ground long before they can prepare them for launch and fire them. This is the whole reason why the UK abandoned development of its land based ICBM’s in the 60’s as it was understood that they simply couldn’t protect such missiles from a sneak air or submarine launched cruise missile attack. So Kim is wasting his time developing a weapon system that’s of questionable strategic value.

On the other hand we see a resurgent old media in the form of some newspapers who appear to be rediscovering their history of investigative journalism. Case in point the President’s club debacle here in the UK, where a “charity” auction for rich members of the old boy’s club turned out to be grope fest for dirty old men. On the one hand, its not surprising. If you ever wonder why some “gentleman’s” clubs are men only, its because of what goes on inside those clubs is decidedly not a female friendly activity, as the Profumo affair revealed. So the only thing really surprising, is that they weren’t a little bit more discreet and actually got caught. But again, it highlights how we have to rely on the likes of the FT (hardly a bastion of liberal sentiment) to report on such things, as the TV news have simply ignored issues like this (or indeed issues such as gender pay equality).

Unfortunately, much of the new and old media are wasting their time. Many of the FT’s fat cat readers for example couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Given that most Trump supporters put Dan Rather and TYT into the “liberal media” box some time ago, nothing they say is going to change anyone’s mind about Trump. Until we can find some way for truth to trump lies and myths, its a case of the truth being out there, but nobody cares.

Founding Fallacies of Privatisation – the collapse of Carillion

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The collapse of Carillion has left building sites at a standstill (including one or two hospitals), with workers laid off and sub-contractors left unpaid

The collapse of the UK construction firm Carillion has left the UK policy of PFI (public finance initiatives) in tatters, while exposing everything that has been wrong with the government’s long standing policy on financing infrastructure projects.

Since the Thatcher era, the government (both under new labour and the Tories) have used PFI to fund public infrastructure projects. The logic is that rather than the state putting up its own cash, instead they rely on the private sector to fund projects, with the state paying it off in instalments. This avoids the need for the government to issue bonds and increase the public debt.

Now as anyone who has ever taken out a loan will know this is a very silly way of financing a project. The state will nearly always be able to borrow money more cheaply than a private firm. And it is always desirable to reduce the length of time over which you pay back any loan. Case in point, I’ve recently been looking into overpaying my mortgage and doing so will save me tens of thousands over the lifetime of the mortgage (so much so I wish I’d started doing it earlier!).

Indeed financing projects via PFI’s is 40% more expensive than doing it via public finance. And furthermore, those debts are still technically the responsibility of the taxpayer to honour. The estimation is that the UK’s liabilities on PFI contracts amounts to £200 billion. To put that in prospective, that would meet the funding costs of the NHS for a 1.5 years. Its about four times more than the net cost of leaving the EU. So its not really reducing the public debt, much like tuition fee’s its just hiding it at great expense and passing on the costs to the next generation. In essence, its another example of inter-generational theft.

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Future generations will by paying off the folly of these PFI contracts for decades.

The other problem with PFI’s has been that the construction companies have been behaving quite recklessly. They’ve often drastically under priced jobs in the hope of undercutting the competition, gambling that they’d be able to outsource the job, squeeze subcontractors or using the small print of the contract to deliver the building in a substandard condition. The end result has been building projects that have consistently been delivered late, cost a lot more than planned and generally have not been up to the standards expected (having high maintenance costs for example).

And privately run public services have been more of the same. For example the firm running the Newcastle metro was actually budgeting for the cost of fines as it was cheaper to just pay the fines than run the service properly. In essence many of these companies have been playing the same game as the banks prior to the financial crisis, making reckless bets thinking the gravity train would run forever and anyway we’re too big to fail the government will have to bail us out if the balloon goes up.

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Carillion had its fingers in lots of pies

The reasons for Carillion’s collapse are multiple. There are reports of them taking massive losses on contracts in the middle east. Also the brexit effect has to be considered. The sudden jump in inflation has pushed up the cost of everything, making the cost of delivering on a project much more expensive. That said, a well run company should have priced the job with enough of a contingency to allow for that. I know some in construction who are feeling the brexit pinch alright, but they’re at least still covering their costs. There worry is more the long term implications it brings (what happens when the economy slows down and the order book runs dry and they can’t hire experienced Polish brick layers anymore to complete the contracts they’ve still got).

However it seems Carillion were throwing caution to the wind and inevitably they just pushed to hard and got caught out by circumstances. And with building sites at a halt, subcontractors not being paid, it has left an awful tangled mess for the government to sort out, as well as dealing with the public anger over fat cat bosses awarding themselves massive bonuses as their firm failed. And the government doesn’t really have a choice but to act, as there’s a risk that the collapse of this firm bringing down other firms too, the impact on the wider economy to consider and the simple reason that they can leave public services unfulfilled or expensive building projects incomplete.

Again, this highlights the short comings of the PFI process, if not the fallacy of the entire neo-liberal economic model. Even if private firms could deliver services for less than the costs of the public sector (and they can’t), what do you do when a company supplying a public service fails? Inevitably the government has to step in. So all PFI’s (or privatising public services) amounts to doing is privatising profits for the few while socialising the risk for the many.

Carrillion’s collapse is essentially a re-run of the events leading up to the banking crisis (on a smaller scale). When you ignore the lessons of history, you are doomed to repeat them.

The Great Tax Experiment

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At the core of the republicans tax plan is the notion that if they cut taxes for the wealthy, there will be a trickle down effect and we’ll all be better off. But when you ask for any hard evidence of this, they’ll usually go quiet for a bit, mumble something about Reagan (who, as I discussed in a prior post put up taxes, oversaw three recessions as well as the biggest decline in real wages in history), then change the subject.

Well actually, as Richard Reich points out, we’ve actually been conducting a tax experiment in the US going back over many years now. He compares the state of economies like California (which has relatively high state taxes) to economies like Texas and Kansas (who have very low taxes). And suffice to say, the results of this “experimentare at odds with everything that conservatives say about tax.

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We’re told that high taxes will lead to sluggish economy growth and lower wages. California has consistently had one of the highest economic growth rates, highest wages and highest standards of living, not just in the US but in the entire world. Kansas and Texas are left eating California’s dust.

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Kansas governor Brownback’s reign of error has seen the Kansas economy stagnate due to his tax cutting and austerity policy……

High taxes we are told will scare away the wealthy leading to capital flight and more unemployment. Well then explain Beverley hills! Or why are so many tech billionaires and their companies concentrated in California? Think about that for a minute. The CEO’s of Apple or Google could simply move headquarters to Kansas, staying within the same country and save themselves millions a year in personal taxes. Yet they haven’t.

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Private employment in Kansas, far from growing in response to tax cuts, it has dropped well below the US average

And here in Europe we’ve been conducting our own tax experiment. The Scandinavian countries have traditionally adopted a policy of high taxes and large levels of public spending. Yet they too enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world, the highest wages and yet low levels of public debt. By contrast it is southern European countries, such as Italy, Greece the UK or Ireland, who’ve gone for the low tax model who tend to be the ones getting into trouble.

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Of course we are being a bit obtuse here. The economic growth rate of one country or state is not solely down to its tax policy. There are many good reasons why the tech companies are based out of California and not Kansas (the weather for one thing! And I can’t see a bunch of computer nerds surviving a night in a bar full of rednecks). The economy of California is fairly diverse, covering, mining, oil, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, movies, etc. Texas and Kansas are by contrast heavily dependant on one or two core areas, notably agriculture and oil production. A low oil price or a hard winter and their economies can tank. So tax is merely one of a number of factors that influence the economy. But that’s kind of the point.

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California spends $0.78 for every tax federal dollar it raises, while Texas spends $0.94 (20% more) and Kansas spends $1.12 (44% more)

Republicans will have us believe that if you put up the taxes of the wealthy, an increase that will cost them a few pence on the dollar, something they can easily afford (and probably won’t even notice, as its their accountant who works out their taxes). That they’ll be so incensed by this, they’ll take their money, pile it in a corner and sit there sulking. While if you give them a tax cut, that again amounts to few pence on the dollar more into their pocket, they’ll go on a massive spending spree. Not only spending the pennies they got back from the tax man, but millions more of their own money. And they will magically find a way to spend it in a way which will only benefit the local economy. i.e. they won’t say buy an Italian sports car (which is made abroad) or invest it in a transnational corporation (which does most of its business overseas and reports its profits within some offshore tax haven) or hoard it in their bank account.

So the point here is the best we can say about tax cuts is that they might give a temporary economic boost, but the benefits won’t necessarily occur where we want them (or need them) to occur and the effect is likely to be short lived. While increasing taxes (up to a point of course) doesn’t necessarily cause a negative effect on economic growth. But a government can chose how and where it spends the money it raises from taxes.

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.

The sadopopulist agenda behind brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumb and dumber, spot the difference

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

Sadopopulism

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

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

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

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

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

Shameless hypocrisy and the cult of fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit reality bites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now a word from the UK’s greatest ally

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brexiters want to build a wall at the Irish border and make the Irish pay for it

An extraordinary extract from a radio interview with brexier Kate Hoey, in which she suggested that not only was a hard border a swell idea but that the Irish should pay for it. Many were quick to draw parallels to Donald Trump’s comments as regards the Mexican border.

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Needless to say her words have been noted in Dublin, and like Trump’s, they have simply enraged politicians there and confirmed for them why the British can’t be trusted any more (hence why the EU must insist they pay their bills first and give written guarantees on the Irish border question). It looked like we were going to get an election in Ireland, but the resignation of a key politician means its been deferred for now. My guess is that they want to keep the government going for at least the rest of the year so they can maintain a strong line on brexit.

Now the funny thing here is, Kate Hoey is from the labour party. Like Corbyn she’s from the hard left and sees the EU as an impediment to his/her socialist workers paradise. This is why I’m as skeptical of left wing populists as the right wing ones. Both live in a fantasy world divorced from reality.

For example, Corbyn’s key reason for leaving the EU is that he thinks EU law prevents the re-nationalisation of the railways or power companies. Of course this ignores the reality that most of the UK’s privatised public services are owned by state run quango’s from across Europe. EDF energy for example, is owned by the French government, ScotRail is owned by Abellio (which isn’t a stomach complaint, but a Dutch government owned train company), who also own West Midlands trains. Of course in of itself, this merely makes a mockery of Thatcher’s policy of privatisation. It simply betray’s the fact that what’s actually happening is we are paying other European governments to own our public services for us, because its against the Tories free market religion to do so. But either way, clearly Corbyn and the hard left of the labour party, are as deluded on this issue as the Tories.

As for the Irish border, I heard it suggested by another brexiter how we could have a “seamless” border just like that between Canada and the US. You’ll first notice how they’re no longer holding up Switzerland or Norway as examples (which shows how their position has shifted from the one they took during the referendum), as they understand that given the likely direction of brexit (with the UK outside of the single market and travel area), its simply not possible to have customs arrangements similar to these two countries. However, the Canadian/US border is certainly not “seamless” or unguarded.

For example, consult the train timetable for the Amtrak Maple leaf, and you’ll notice how its held up for an hour to an hour and a half each way at the US/Canadian border. Well having been on that train before, I can tell you that’s about as long as it takes for the border guards to work their way through the train, stamp everyone’s passports and check everyone’s luggage. And that’s actually a fairly efficiently run border crossing, an hour hold up is small compared to the several hours you might spend at some other border crossing’s around the world (for people, it can take days for goods and cargo to clear customs). And this is only because the US and Canada have existing agreements on trade and travel of the very sort that will expire on brexit.

Bottom line, as I’ve discussed previously, if there’s any sort of difference in tariff’s one side of the border or another, the smugglers will try to exploit that (with most of the proceeds going into the pockets of terrorist groups both sides of the border). It is logically impossible for the UK to have a different immigration policy to Ireland (and thus the EU) if we share an open border, as there’s no way for us to stop EU citizens crossing it (we have this thing in Ireland called “a constitution” which gives people all of these “rights“…the brexiters might want to google those terms some time). And a hard border would violate the good Friday agreement, potentially leading to the troubles reigniting (try building up the UK economy post-brexit while London’s under siege again from IRA bombers).

This is what worries the Irish about brexit and why the Irish government is taking such a strong line on this issue. We can see the brexiters, both the Tories and Corbyn, are deluded. They have no clue about the history of the region or the long term implications of what they are doing. They reckon everything’s going to go their way and they can improvise a solution to the Irish border on the back of a fag packet the night before the UK leaves.

Of course, we know that won’t work. We know that tax revenue will take a hit, businesses in the UK will be driven to the wall and the Irish won’t be able to export anymore. And migrants will be crossing over laughing all the way, sharing their experiences on social media as they do so, leaving the tabloid bigot brigade foaming at the mouth. In reaction to these tabloid headlines, the UK government will hastily bring in border controls, no doubt they will claim as a “temporary” measure, that will essentially become permanent….and pretty soon after that the British and Irish army are back to refereeing roadside bombing competitions.

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….and just so we are are clear, no we won’t be paying for your fu*king wall. I’ll let former Mexican President Vicente Fox summarise for me on this issue….