News roundup

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

Bloody pathetic woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindu fascism

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

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

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

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

Catalatrophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so Trumped up charges

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise papers

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

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

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

Sparkling hypocrisy

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

A matter of education

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

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

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

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

The centenary of violence celebrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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La la brexit land

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Post-brexit, the UK now has lower growth than Italy and a higher inflation rate than Sweden

I happened to catch the movie La La Land recently and it occurred to me that the brexiters seem to inhabit more of a fantasy world than the characters in the movie. A fantasy world that should have by now been shattered as the cold hard realities of brexit sink in. An interesting Guardian article here about the folly of the brexiters and how all of their promises have come to nothing. Which is exactly what everyone told them would happen before the referendum.

The brexiters promised “new and exciting trade dealsin “emerging markets (what on Pluto?), which they could sign up to quickly. The EU, faced with the prospect of losing trade with the UK would agree to let us have our cake and eat it. The Americans under Trump would lavish gifts upon us, some even envisioned British Empire 2.0, with the UK at the heart of a new trading hub to rival the EU, US and China.

Well its becoming obvious now that any new trade deals, even those with the US, Canada or Australia will involve long and protracted negotiations, not least because the UK simply doesn’t have the staff to negotiate these deals in any sort of a hurry. And with a 220% tariff imposed on Bombardier imposed by supposed UK ally Trump, even despite the direction and personal intervention of the PM, its clear that the US will (surprise, surprise) put its own interest first.

And who is the white knight riding to Bombardier’s aid? It would appear to be Airbus (no doubt acting with the blessing of the EU). Although its worth noting they are taking a 50% stake in the company for which they will not pay a penny…..which is kind of metaphorical for the whole brexit process. The Brexiters get themselves into an awful mess and the Europeans lend them a rope with which to help themselves out of the quagmire….for a price!

Certainly the UK can get a trade deal with the US or its other trading partners reasonably quickly, if you don’t mind conceding heavily to the other side. Or in other words if you’re okay with the idea of UK farmers being driven to the wall, chlorinated chicken, growth hormones in beef or GM grains being sold on supermarket shelves unlabelled and the NHS ending up owned by US HMO’s.

And a key step in the UK’s future post-brexit trading relations is to rejoin the WTO. The brexiters have assumed that this will merely be a formality, they can just self-invite themselves along to the first post-brexit WTO meeting, joining on the same quota terms as the UK currently enjoys via its EU membership. However, that position has been rejected by several WTO member states, including the US, New Zealand and Canada. So it would appear Empire 2.0 is a non-starter.

But then again, why should anyone be surprised. If you represented these governments wouldn’t you try to negotiate the best position possible, particularly as for all three countries it is their farmers who would stand to gain the most (or lose the most) from any WTO quota agreement with the UK, farmers who represent a key political demographic. Its ironic how so many neo-liberals, such as the brexiters, who talk a lot about rational self interest can fail to appreciate that others will put their interests first and the UK’s second.

But we’ll be able to grow more food after brexit, the government says (although in the same breath the minster in question also said we would import more, so obviously he doesn’t understand the concept of supply and demand), right? Utter tripe” is the response from farmers, who live in the real world and understand that with their costs going up and likely to prove difficult for them to hire staff, not to mention trade deals that will see them wiped out, the opposite is more likely.

And the brexit talks are deadlocked because the UK is intentionally playing brinkmanship with the EU. The assumption is that German industrialists worried about the implications of a hard brexit with no deal will put pressure on the EU to back down and allow the UK to cherry pick what it wants. However the actual word from German industry is that they don’t want the integrity of the single market threatened by the UK being allowed to cheat the rules. And they are already advising any firms doing business with the UK to start preparing for a hard brexit. Which, to be fair, is the sort of thing you’d expect a German trade body to say (the Germans are well known for their dislike of unfairness and wanting everyone to stick to the rules, if you don’t believe me try to give away a free train ticket at a German railway station sometime!).

Now I suspect that behind the scenes one or two CEO’s of the companies directly in the firing line (e.g. Airbus, BMW, the financial services industry) are having a quiet word with the EU and Angela Merkel to try and limit the damage to themselves of a hard and messy brexit. But given the UK government’s position at the talks, the best way for the EU to cushion the blow would be to offer a carrot to these companies to relocate out of the UK, as is already starting to happen.

And the EU has to represent everybody, one man’s loss from brexit will be someone else’s gain. For example, UK based car makers, who are already laying people off, will see their tight Just In Time manufacturing process ruined by any sort of border controls at Dover and facing potential tariffs on exports back to the continent. But there’s plenty of companies with no UK manufacturing bases who will do rather well out of this. And even those that will suffer the worse, such as BMW (who own Mini and have a stake in a number of other UK car makers), can simply scale back production in the UK (sacking thousands of British workers in the process) and move production to Europe.

The airline industry will also be severely effected by a hard brexit. Already the bankruptcy of Monarch makes the UK owned airline functionally extinct (BA are already registered in Spain and Easyjet are applying to become Austrian). Certainly those airlines based in the UK will face disruption, regardless of where they are registered (which includes Ryanair). But its unlikely to bankrupt them, they’ll just sack a load of UK based staff and move their main hubs to European airport. I don’t know, maybe the Brexiters never realised it but airplanes can fly!

Indeed, another interesting story, Easyjet recently teamed up with Lufthansa to try and take over the Italian national carrier Alitalia, one of the world’s most in-efficient and incompetently run companies. Yes, they could have used the same money to rescue Monarch and buy it for a fraction of its current value. But instead they decided, in the context of brexit, Alitalia looked like a better deal.

So in short the people who are going to get royally shafted by a hard brexit, isn’t the EU, its UK workers, in particular those on lower incomes. Much as was predicted and warned about prior to the referendum. So it begs the question, why are the brexiters still committed to a policy that clearly isn’t going to work? Given their public school education and decades of xenophobic bigotry they’ve been exposed to in their little privileged home counties bubble, that they didn’t realise any of this would happen prior to brexit is perhaps understandable (although not forgivable). But they have no excuses now, they have literally been told to their faces (or been laughed in their faces) by the EU and foreign governments that their clever little plan is a deluded fantasy. So they have now got no excuses.

One is forced to assume its one of two possibilities. They really are that stupid. A bunch of idiotic black knightesque morons who think that if they never give up they can never lose. Or alternatively, they know their plan isn’t going to work, but they don’t care. To them chaos is a ladder, the whole reason why Boris, Davis and Liam Fox are pursuing it is solely for the goal of career advancement. They don’t care how much of the country they have to burn down to get to the top in the process.

News review

How to lose a country in one day

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Given that the fallout from the Catalan independence vote is still ongoing at the time of writing, its difficult to know which way its going to go, but in some respects the outcome of the referendum hardly matters now. Effectively by violently shutting down the voting process the Spanish government has handed a massive victory to the Catalan’s.

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Spainsh taxes at work, beating up old ladies

Usually when I talk to Spanish about Catalan independence, be they from the region or other parts of the country, the response is to laugh, then point out that its very different from the Scottish independence question. They also generally point out how support for independence has traditionally been only about 25-30%, the recent jump to +40% or so is a response to an unpopular right wing government in Madrid and its policy of austerity (now why does this sound familiar?). The assumption has been that once the right wing government in Madrid is forced from power and austerity ended, independence support will slip back to traditional levels.

However, given what’s happened in the last few days I’d argue that’s unlikely to be the case, everything has now changed. This police intervention will have hardened the minds of independence supporters, hence I’d call the +40% supporting independence a pretty solid support from now on, and it will probably grow rather than wane. As a result there are really now only two outcomes. That the Spanish government will have no choice but to run its own legally binding referendum at some point in the future. And with a +40% support level then it basically boils down to turn out (keep in mind that in the brexit referendum it took only 37% of the electorate to back brexit to get it passed). Or Catalonia will become independent in the near future, possibly within the next few days.

The Catalan government might well argue that given the low probability of them being able to hold a free and fair referendum while part of Spain they are now within their rights, regardless of the vote on Sunday, to simply make a unilateral deceleration of independence. The is a precedence here for that, Ireland never had a referendum prior to leaving the UK (although several were held afterwards) and Norway left Sweden first, before a referendum was held to confirm the seperation.

Now the question is, will such a decleration be supported by the people? If a significant portion of the Catalan population for example stopped paying their taxes, or a general strike were to be organised, crippling Spain’s most economically important region (which includes the headquarters of most of their major companies, notably their banks), the Spanish government would be very quickly forced to either grant a referendum or respect Catalan independence.

Fortunately for the Spanish government the Spanish constitution would likely require that a referendum would need a solid majority of support (e.g. 50% plus one vote must back it, as should have been the case in the UK brexit referendum). However, with the level of support behind independence as it now stands the Spanish government are not going to find it easy to win, even with such a rule. The previous plan, to simply get the no voters to boycott the poll, won’t work anymore. They’ll have to fight a campaign and in both the Scottish Indy ref and brexit vote a swing of more than the required magnitude was achieved over the course of the campaign. So its easily doable. And again, if a large block of no voters just don’t show up to the polls (perhaps turned off by the police tactics over the last few days) while the pro-independence lot get the vote out, then the vote could easily be won.

And the way the Tories won the indy ref, the infamous vow (which never really was fulfilled) isn’t an option. Firstly, because after what happened on Sunday, they won’t be believed. And secondly because they’d have to make the same offer to all the other regions of Spain. And once they start doing that there’s not a lot left for the government in Madrid to do. Plus if Catalonia goes, its likely other regions, such as the Basque country, will follow. So by cracking down on this independence movement the conservative government might just have put Spain on the course towards its own breakup. They have now destroyed the option for compromise, leaving the Catalan’s with basically only one alternative.

And there’s a lesson here for the UK. Some have argued that the response of Westminster to dealing with the SNP should copy that of the Spanish government. I would hope that events on the streets of Barcelona, or the quagmire that will now follow, should demonstrate why that’s just a non-starter.

The longest political suicide note in history

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At the labour conference delegates were told to prepare for power….is that a pig flying past? The problem is we’ve been here many times before. Take 1992. The Tory party were in disarray over Europe (again, sound familiar?), the economy was in the tank, labour were riding high in the polls, so much so that they made one too many promises to the far left. With the result that a big chuck of the electorate in marginal seats lost their nerve, voted Tory and labour lost to John Major. Let me repeat that, they lost to John Major, a guy so dull his Spitting image character was actually grey.

The problem with the labour manifesto is that much of what Corbyn is promising is going to be nearly impossible to deliver and he is the worst person you could pick to try and deliver it. If he’s in a coalition government, there’s no way the other parties will sign up to much of it, indeed they might well go over to the Tories instead. And even if he has a majority he’ll struggle to hold his party together to support such measures. The right of the party won’t support overtly socialist policies, the far left won’t want to do anything that stinks of compromise and they’ll face pressure from big business who will use the courts to slow things down to a crawl.

Good politics is about good compromise, but Corbyn isn’t good at that. People support him because they say he’s not like other politicians, he doesn’t lie. Really? What about that whole business with him sitting on the floor on a train when there were empty seats? And we all know he really voted leave even though he claims to have voted remain. The only difference between Corbyn and other politicians is that he’s bad at it. He could have deprived the Tories of a majority (even with the support of the unionists) if he’d only taken up the offer of an election deal with the other left wing parties not to stand against each other in marginal seats. Several of those key seats were won by a margin of a few hundred votes.

Just to take an example,, the issue of tuition fees. As a lecturer I see first hand the problems tuition fees are causing all the time. But no sooner had I written an article pointing out how the labour policy, while it would be expensive (but in the long run a cost worth paying), it was a good idea, only for Corbyn to chickened out of it and dropped the idea. So if he’s back pedalling on policies now, how likely do you think it is that he’ll actually deliver on promises once in power?

Re-nationalisation isn’t that bad an idea, given the mess public services are in. But there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way and Corbyn is clearly committed to doing it the wrong way. If he wants to simply buy back all of the assets held by the private companies they’ll demand he pay the full market price, which would be more than he could afford. And if he tries to set the price lower, they’ll take him to court and tie him up in knots with legal challenges. It would literally take the full length of parliament just to untangle the legal mess he’ll be getting himself into over this.

Oddly enough the very thing Tony Blair, or the Clinton’s, were good at was this ability to compromise, to negotiate and do deals. The trouble of course was he took this to its illogical conclusion by thinking he could get G. W. Bush to compromise over Iraq. But even so, you do need to be willing to compromise and negotiate if you want to get anything done in politics, that’s just the way it works.

My fear is that Corbyn’s government would quickly get stuck in the doldrums and become a lame duck administration, not unlike that of Hollande’s time in office in France. And what was the end result of that? The traditional left got wiped out and the Blairites took over with a new party.

And given that we don’t know who the Tory leader will be or what the terms of brexit are, then its a bit premature to be declaring victory. Not least because we don’t know how the public will react. They might well blame the Tories for the mess that follows, or they might recognise that Corbyn bares some responsibility too and vote for third parties, meaning another hung parliament, possibly one that might require the Tories and labour to work together (which isn’t going to happen with Corbyn).

And given that the economy will be probably taking a hit from brexit, there won’t be a lot of money to go on a spending spree (again this was the problem for Hollande, he had big plans to change things, but the French economy tanked and he couldn’t implement those changes).

So the danger is that those £3 tories, who joined labour and voted for Corbyn in the hope that he destroys the labour party, might well get their wish in the end. Its just they might have to put up with him in power for 4 years first! And see their own party destroyed as well.

Game of dolts

Meanwhile over at the legion of doom Tory party conference the knifes are already out. Not so much for Teresa May (she”s finished!), but the other leadership contenders are jostling for the top spot. To draw an analogy with game of thrones, the rains of Castamere is on a continuous loop throughout the conference hall, they are all gathered around Teresa and her supporters openly sharpening their knifes or loading crossbows and loudly arguing over her about how they are going to divide up the loot after they’ve knifed her.

Boris Johnson for example laid out his stall arguing for the sort of brexit senile swivel eyed bigots the Tory faithful would want, rather than one that’s practical. Clearly this was designed to box in his main rival David Davis. As he’s actually negotiating brexit he can’t propose something that’s simply not deliverable. Boris, who least we forget promised all sorts of nonsense in the referendum campaign, can promise whatever BS he wants.

Of course the trouble is that once Brussels realises what’s going on, they’ll stall. They know the longer these negotiations drag on the more desperate the UK will be to do a deal. And they know Boris is just the sort of buffoon to dig himself into a pit and they can then sell him the rope to hang himself with. So once again, the future of the country is being sacrificed for the internal politics of the Tory party.

Ni bombardier/ Trump trade

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And a perfect example of the mess the Tories have gotten the UK into played out recently with regard to Bombardier in Northern Ireland. The Trump administration, who are supposedly pro-brexit and will do a trade deal “very quickly” hit the Canadian company, which has manufacturing facilities in NI with a whopping 219% tax on its aircraft sales. And this was after the PM raised the issue with Trump personally.

Critics like myself have repeatedly warned that the UK will not get as good a trade deal outside of the EU as it would inside. And that the US will always prioritise looking after its own interests above those of the UK, especially under the administration of a populists like Trump. This serves to prove the point.

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The UK has threatened to retaliate by cutting military contracts with the US, but I suspect they are bluffing and the US will call their bluff. The UK has no choice but to buy those aircraft off the Americans, largely because of past Tory mistakes in aircraft procurement (dithering on buying essential equipment because they were too penny pinching, not holding a proper bidding process when in a blind panic they realised they now needed it, signing deals and paying for stuff in advance, etc.) and the obvious alternatives are made where?…in Europe!

And case in point, would the Americans hit the EU with a 219% tax on its aircraft production? Unlikely. A counter tax by the EU would inflict more damage to the US than they’d inflict on the EU. The main rival of Boeing, Airbus, has its own manufacturing facilities in the US, so they could make life very difficult for the US administration very quickly by threatening thousands of high tech jobs. Also while the Americans can laugh off the Tories feeble bluff on military contracts, the tens of billions of annual arms sales the US makes to EU nations is a different matter. These could credibly be terminated and the EU nations source from their own suppliers within the EU. So such a threat from the EU would have to be taken seriously.

But of course the brexiters will carry on regardless oblivious to the obvious warning messages.

Monarch and the brexit effect

And the collapse of the airline Monarch is another example of the sort of blow back the UK is facing. Now Monarch’s problems were multiple (caught in a price war, rising costs, difficulties securing routes, the impact of terrorist attacks on package holidays), however brexit was the final nail in the coffin.

Ultimately the brexit effect caused its costs to rise, notably the cost of fuel (always the Achilles heal of any airline). It could have been saved by new investers coming along. However, the terms of brexit are unknown, in particular the brinkmanship the Tories have been playing means there’s theoretically a chance of many UK airlines being forced to cancel routes or even buy back their own shares. So who in their right mind would invest in a UK based airline knowing any of that?

This is something we’ll likely see a lot of. Brexit is kind of like one of those hospital superbugs. If for some reason you end up in hospital, it can kill you off and there’s not a lot the doctors can do to save you, although it only takes those who by accident or illness have ended up in the hospital in the first place.

The world’s most powerful eight year old

And speaking of Trump, there was a worrying story this week over Trump and his tweets. He had very publicly backed a particular candidate to take Jeff Sessions vacated senate seat, only for that candidate to lose the republican primary. And his response was to start deleting the tweets he’d made in support (which might be illegal!).

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This is not the sort of behaviour we’d expect of a president, or indeed any grown adult. It would seem that Trump’s ego is so important to him that he can’t accept the embarrassment of defeat. It suggests he’ll do anything he can just to avoid looking bad…which is not good news when he’s in a pissing contest with another eight year old call Kim Jung-un and they both have nuclear weapons.

Lock them up

You remember all of that chanting during the US election, lock her up, lock her up! Why? Because Hilary used a private e-mail account to conduct official business. Now in the context of wikileaks, which was ongoing as she first took office, with it rather obvious that the Bush administration had left a series of massive security holes in the US intelligence apparatus (Chelsea Manning had simply copied the diplomatic cables off an unsecured server onto a fake Lady Gaga CD!), her actions have to be put in the proper context.

Well, predictably now several of Trump’s inner circle have been caught doing exactly the same thing. The only difference being is that while Hilary at least took some security precautions, they’ve been using the likes of gmail or yahoo accounts. I mean even in my uni, they they advise us and the students not to use such accounts for official university business. And I’m hardly handling state secrets. So are we going to hear calls for Ivanka or Jared to be locked up? Well of course not! Conservatives need to google the terms “hypocrisy” or “irony” because they might find they are a perfect example.

Lecturing on the breadline

A disturbing story here from the Guardian about how some Adjunct professors who are so poorly paid they end up living in their cars or resorting to second jobs or even prostitution just to make ends meet. This highlights everything that is wrong with higher education in the US, a model the Tories are effectively trying to copy over here in the UK.

Under this system universities are run like businesses with a strong emphasis on revenue raising and bringing in money, such that lecturers often don’t have a lot of time to deal with students. In some uni’s its getting to the stage where a lecturer who actually shows up to class to teach is considered by management to be playing hooky. As a result PhD students, Post-docs or Adjunct professors are hired on zero hours contracts to do that actual face to face teaching.

But even if you can ignore the plight of these people (as I’m sure the Tories can! Not exactly “people” persons), think about it for a minute. Students in the US are paying way more for their education than here in the UK. And who is the uni hiring to do the lecturing? Some homeless guy from down the street. If I was a student going to a US university, paying $30k a year I’d want someone to be a bit better paid. In short, if you are a UK student and you think you aren’t getting value for money out of your university, well its much worse in the US and it will be worse in the future unless fees are scraped.

Death penalty shot down?

Finally an interesting piece here about how some US states, all too aware of the difficulties they now face administering death sentences by lethal injection are contemplating switching to using firing squads instead. What is it with American’s and guns? If you’ve ever doubted the lobbying power of the NRA, here’s your proof. I’m surprised they don’t just change the American flag to have 50 bullets and switch the bars for profiles of different gun types.

Of course, the brutality of firing squads is likely to have a generally negative effect on public perceptions both of guns and on the death penalty. The reality is that there is no nice humane way to kill someone, because its not a humane thing to do. If there’s one positive one can draw from this, its that it will likely mean the eventual abolition of the death penalty in the US.

Trump the African Dictator

We were warned by Trevor Noah, prior to the election, that Trump sounded a lot like an African dictator. Unfortunately, every day he and his regime are becoming ever more like one. The constant posturing for the sake of his ego, the lavish personal spending, the inability to accept criticism and of course the massive levels of corruption.

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Your tax dollars hard at work….

Trump promised to “drain the swamp” but instead, he’s done the opposite, with his cronies and family members increasingly using the assets of state for as their personal play things, be it to go shopping in Europe, holidays, or business trips abroad. The Secret service is at risk of going bankrupt given the huge bill its run up guarding Trump during his trips to Florida every weekend (where the state pays the cost of putting him up in his own hotel) or protecting and providing transport for his relatives on business trips to sign deals abroad, something that is in clear violation of the constitution.

Again, this is all reminiscent of the sort of corruption African autocrats are famous for. However, there is another aspect of African autocracies that Trump demonstrates – his supporters. African dictators maintain their hold on power through violence and intimidation of voters (which least we forget, Trump supporters also engaged in last election), but that only goes so far. A key feature of their rule is the fact that they have a core group of supporters, typically 20-33% of the population who will back them no matter what.

Make no mistake, the supporters of African dictators such as Mugabe or Obiang Nguema are well aware of the corruption and abuse of power that goes on. But they back such dictators regardless of this, because they are a member of the same tribe. Indeed, some even see a silver lining to such corruption as they expect the dictator to “share the cake. They look the other way to him embezzling billions in state funds in the hope that a few crumbs fall from the table which they can scoop up. Indeed, a candidate who actually ran on a promise to “drain the swamp” would probably lose votes.

And this is the role many in the Republican party have now fallen into. Many still back Trump not because they are unaware of the corruption allegations, or because they don’t understand just how serious his abuse of office is. Actually quite the opposite. The GOP is now a tribe, a cargo cult and they see it as necessary that they back their leader regardless of how bad he gets or how big a cliff he dives the country off.

This in of itself suggests that the conventional wisdom, that we must merely wait for investigations against Trump to conclude and see him impeached, or wait for the next election and see the GOP devastated in polls, might not work. If he’s this bad now and a hard core of the GOP are still backing up, its not going to be that straight forward to unseat him. And don’t expect future elections in the US to be free and fair.

Instead, we need to start treating Trump the same way that any African autocrat is treated if he is to be removed from power. And that means recognising that the checks and balances aren’t going to work. It means refusing to recognise his office and refusing to do business with any firm that does business with him or his companies (a list here, TK Maxx and Amazon being the key ones in the UK, along with Uber of course).

Indeed a boycott of US industry as a whole (encouraging firms to re-register themselves abroad and thus threatening a collapse in tax revenue) is really the only way forward. Its exactly how they brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The dangers of Trump on Korea

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Prior to getting caught by his lies as regards protesters at Charlotteville, and thus being exposed as the racist that he is, Trump was busy trolling the North Koreans. Which isn’t so much a case of waving a red rag at a bull, its walloping the bull across the nose and then calling it gay. Its worth reviewing the situation here, as it reveals the dangers present in having the likes of Trump in the White House.

Firstly its worth looking back at North Korea’s history, or more precisely the North Korean propagandists version of its history. They say, we didn’t start the Korean war, nobody knows which side started it. The controversy over who started this war is only a controversy in North Korea. All other sources agree that it started after Kim Il-Sung, acting under orders from Stalin, sent his armies north.

Stalin calculated that he could achieve a quick and easy victory here and score first blood in the cold war. The regime of Syngman Rhee was not popularly supported, given that he was every bit as brutal as the regime up the north (if not worse). Also there weren’t that many American troops in the South prior to the start of the war because Rhee and the Americans didn’t trust each other. Incidentally, the North Koreans also try to claim that the Rhee & the US were planning to hand Korea back to Japan. The idea that Rhee, who had been implicated in plots to kill the Japanese royal family, would go along with that is obviously absurd.

So by all accounts it looked like a slam dunk, all Kim needed to do was kick down the door and the whole rotten mess would collapse before the US could do anything. There’s an old military saying that all plans survive until first contact with the enemy and this was very true in Korea. Firstly, the South Koreans by and large resisted (they disliked Rhee, but they disliked the Communists even more), costing the NK army valuable time. Secondly, the Americans pulled off an amazing feat of logistics, moving troops first into the path of the NK army to halt its advance, then undertaking a sea borne invasion deep behind enemy lines.

Thirdly, seeing the UN as just League of Nations 2.0 (a talking shop where nations left passive aggressive notes on the fridge for one another), Stalin underestimated the blow back he’d get as a result. The Russians were at the time boycotting the UN (over issues related to Berlin and Taiwan) and thus were unable to prevent the US getting a resolution passed which authorised military force against North Korea.

Now while this UN resolution was clearly taking liberties with the UN, equally it was a corner Stalin had painted himself into. If there’s one positive we can draw out from the Korean war (there ain’t many), it was how countries started to take the UN a little more seriously afterwards. Either way, this put Stalin in a tight spot, as he couldn’t directly assist North Korea, as that would be going against a resolution from the UN (which Russia had helped to found). So as the NK army was routed in the South and forced to retreat, Russia was forced to rely on the Chinese to repel the Americans.

This is perhaps the tragedy of the Korean war, it amounted to two superpower blocks basically blasting the crap out of each other and the Koreans, both north and south, getting caught up in the cross fire. Its a bit like one of those movie scenes where the two protagonists getting into a gun fight in someone else’s home/place of business and basically thrash the place, then move on and leave him to clean up the mess (if he’s still alive).

If North Korea has a motto, it would have to be “with friends like ours, who needs enemies”. Its “allies” have repeatedly screwed the country over, so it probably explains North Korea’s isolationist policy of Juche. The trouble is, that Juche doesn’t work. Consider that prior to them adopting this policy, back in the late 1970’s the North Korea economy wasn’t in that bad a shape, there GDP was significantly higher than in neighbouring China and not that far behind South Korea. Since then the Chinese economy has grown eight fold while the North Korean economy has contracted (with a slight recovery in recent years). North Korea has gone from a net food exporter with good modern farming methods, to one which can’t feed itself and is dependant on welfare from abroad. It merely serves as a poster for everything that is wrong with isolationist economics of the sort Trump or the brexiters peddle.

The other major policy of North Korea is what CIA agents refer to as the crazy gang” gambit, often expressed using the acronym CFC for Crazy, Fearsome and Crippled. The logic is that nobody will attack them because, while there is little doubt the NK army can be defeated, the cost of that victory will be high and the winner will face the enormous costs of essentially rebuilding the country from scratch.

However there is a fatal flaw in this combination of Juche and CFC. It means the North Koreans, have to be constantly playing brinkmanship with their neighbours. THey need to do this for reasons of domestic politics and to ensure that the supplies that China sends that keeps the regime going continue to roll in. And they must be careful not to be seen to back down as that could leave the regime vulnerable on the domestic front. The trouble is that this is simply not a long term sustainable strategy as it requires everyone else to be the grown ups and naturally with Trump, that’s unlikely to be the case.

Also the danger with Trump is he might intentionally try to start a war with North Korea to distract from domestic politics (his impending impeachment for example). However, as I discussed in a prior post, this could escalate very quickly and end very badly. The Republican’s concept that they can safely leave Trump in charge and then quietly knife him at a time when it is convenient for them to do so is simply not a sensible strategy.

Brexit border troubles

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The Northern Irish border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White house chaos

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There’s a story I missed picking up on a few months back, as I was away at the time, concerning Trump’s mental state and whether he is fit for office. Given recent events, I think this needs to be discussed.

As David Pakman outlines, it has been commented that Trump’s behaviour, his erratic speaking style, constant gaffes and flip flops, memory loss, cartoon like racist views, his difficulty with stairs could all be symptoms of the onset of dementia. This could well explain for example, why he insists on having his family members around him, as part of their job is to support him given that he’s essentially not able to function in the job by himself. And several leading experts have voiced concerns, although they do point out that without a personal evaluation its difficult to say for sure.

And if true this does change everything. When we say Trump could be removed from office by the Republicans any time they feel like it, this is literally true if these stories are correct. Under the terms of article 25 of the US constitution, the cabinet (many of them hand picked Pence loyalists) could vote to remove him from office, citing the above factors and that would be that. Congress would have to endorse it, but obviously one assumes they’d quietly run it by congress first to ensure their little coup was going to succeed.

And we’ve been here before with Reagan, who is now known to have been suffering from the early symptoms of dementia during his presidency (which would eventually become full blown Alzheimer’s), which severely restricted his capabilities to function as president. It also left him dependant on his wife (and her astrologer!), creating a massive security risk. And it was widely rumoured that a contingency plan was in place to remove him from office under article 25 if there was ever a major crisis.

I have to say, having had relatives with dementia, it does kind of make sense this theory. But equally, I don’t know what he was like before. It could be he always was an dumb narcissistic racist, whose gotten a little dumber and more racist as he’s gotten older. You’d need a proper medical evaluation to tell either way. But here’s the thing, the fatal weakness of the US constitution is that it places opinion above fact. If enough of the cabinet believes him to mentally unfit to hold office, that’s all that matters.

Now one assumes that when it came to congress, they’d probably insist on some sort of medical evaluation. Assuming Trump refuses, or gets that quack hair doctor of his to do it, they’ll take that as defacto confirmation, because again, facts don’t matter to congress, only opinion. If they are of the opinion he’s mentally unfit (i.e. they reckon they’ll get re-elected if they oust him) that’s all that matters.

And coincidentally, this 100 facts is trumped by someone else’s opinion extends to impeachment proceedings. An impeachment trial is no more a proper trial than one held before Judge Judy….and that’s being insulting to day time television! If impeachment was determined with the same standards of a proper legal trial they would have impeached G. W. Bush and Reagan (although he might have gotten off on the basis of diminished responsibility), Nixon would have been perp walked out of the White house in hand cuffs and Bill Clinton would have gotten off Scot free. So in theory if enough republicans and democrats decide to oust Trump, he’s gone.

Another possibility, one that is perhaps more scary, is that the GOP are well aware of Trump’s mental incapacity. Indeed, this is the whole reason he’s in the job. Which is better, a competent president, or one who is easily manipulated into doing the things they won’t dare do (such as the recent business regarding transgender soldiers), whom they can blame for everything that goes wrong and who is so dogged by scandal, corruption and suspicion that he can be removed from power at the drop of a hat.

And again, this was the accusation made regarding the Reagan presidency. For the duration of his term, America didn’t have a president, they hired an actor to play the role of president, while the Republicans got on with the job of running the country.

And scarier still is the half and half possibility, which I actually think is closer to the truth. Yes Trump isn’t the full shilling, he probably he shouldn’t be president, but he’s sufficiently in charge of his faculties to see the danger, as are his family and loyalists. He knows that a move against him will happen sooner or later. This in itself probably explains the recent efforts by Trump to purge the cabinet of Pence loyalists, as part of of an effort to stack his cabinet against an article 25 push. However, this will probably result in political paralysis. It could ultimately have the opposite effect, if cabinet members fear he might remove them, they are more likely to back Pence if and when the time comes.

And Trump was also apparently trying to see if he could pardon himself or his family even before any trial has taken place. Well firstly, no he can’t pardon himself and furthermore this is a tacit admission that they’ve done something wrong. In the UK, one of the conditions of a pardon is that you drop all legal appeals, which was one of the issues with the Megrahi case. As the law sees it innocent people don’t want to be pardoned, certainly not prior to their trial, as that denies them their day in court and the opportunity to clear their name.

Furthermore, by pardoning people to stop an investigation, this could be seen as obstruction of justice. Now while yes, it has happened in the past that a president has pardoned those close to him who had been prosecuted, notably in the Scooter Libby case. But on those occasions everyone on both sides of the aisle just wanted to draw a line under the issue, so they pushed some leaves over it and tiptoed away. The problem for Trump is they won’t drop the matter, he’ll have just signed his own political death warrant by issuing such a pardon.

So with Trump and the GOP starting to fall out out, its going to make for interesting times…I hope nobody’s going to expect anything useful out of America sometime soon…..like a trade deal. Trump might not be making America great again, but its making politics more interesting!

The trouble with trade: Walmart

One has to worry about the consequences of a US/UK trade deal. As I’ve said before, getting a trade deal isn’t the problem, its the concession the UK will inevitably be forced to accept as part of that deal.

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This week Liam Fox tried to argue that on the one hand they’d ban chlorinated chicken from the UK and in the same sentence so what if we do allow it. Well if you adopt the first position, banning US food products and cars (many of the larger SUV’s will fail current UK/EU environmental standards) the Americans will respond in kind and what exactly will we be trading with the US? On the other hand, if you allow Chlorinated chicken or steroids in beef, you’ll be cutting yourself off from the EU market.

A case in point of everything that is wrong with the US is Walmart. For those unfamiliar with Walmart they are a large supermarket chain known for engaging in fairly unethical practices. Quite often they’ll move into a town and quickly put all of the local business out of business very quickly, turning a once thriving high street into a ghetto. Walmart often offer a full comprehensive range of services. You can get groceries, firearms, fast food and have your car’s wheel’s balanced while you wait. So when I say all of the business in the high street goes, I mean all of it.

As the company is run and operated by a family of staunch neo-conservatives, they have been known to use their companies de-facto monopoly on sales to censor content of  books, CD’s or videos solid in their store. So while they’ll allow you to buy Die Hard with vengeance (despite is sex and violence), they’ll rate anything from Michael Moore as “non family friendly” and ban it from their shelves.

And they achieve their monopoly by vastly undercutting the competition, something they can do by squeezing their suppliers mercilessly. They squeeze their staff salaries so far that many are dependant on welfare. Of course this means indirectly Walmart are in receipt of subsidy from the state and they are often able to pressure counties and towns into offering them tax breaks or free highway construction in return for them setting up in an area (big government get off my back…accept when its propping up my monopoly). And they have a harsh anti-union policy. Any time a union has been successfully established in a Walmart, they’ve shut the store down.

But the problems with Walmart get worse when they decide to leave. After having milked a community dry, destroyed the town centre and devastated the local business community, they are known to just up and leave, often simply because of a slight drop in sales, usually because the local economy is struggling through some temporary problem.

Of course this means the largest employer in said town disappears overnight, making a bad situation much worse, while leaving locals with a long drive to the next town over to get basic groceries. In short it can lead a once vibrant town to basically die, all some very rich people with more money than they know what to do with, can get that little bit richer.

Now granted, the UK has its fare share of problems with aggressive supermarkets and town’s desperate for cash willing to bend over backwards to help them, even when they should really tell them to piss off. For example in Oxford they have a wonderful covered market, which the council (desperate for cash due to the austerity) has raised the rent on local traders by 50% …..twice….leading many to fear for its survival. Meanwhile they’ve been offering tax breaks to the likes of Starbucks to set up in town and paying for road infrastructure to the benefit of Tesco’s.

The difference in the UK is that there are laws limiting the size of supermarkets, protecting small business from monopolistic pressure and employees from union busting companies. Now, I would argue the trouble is that these laws don’t go far enough and are sometimes broken by the supermarkets (who know they can get away with a lack of enforcement). But post-brexit there is a very real risk that all of these protections will disappear as part of any trade deal. So we could well see ASDA (owned by Walmart) pursuing a Walmart like reign of destruction across many of the UK’s small market towns. So if you voted for brexit, congrats, because this, like so many things, this is what you voted for.

To shoot and terrorise

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The shocking murder of a Australian women at the hands of US police last week has highlighted the massive problem that American gun culture has created. If being killed by one of the millions of people with guns in the country wasn’t enough of a risk, there’s also the risk of being killed by the cops who are supposed to be there to protect them. The statistics speak for themselves, you are 70 times more likely to be killed by the police in American than you are in the UK and 28 times more likely than in Germany.

Of course, was this story about someone who was black, or a migrant from Mexico rather than Australia, it probably won’t have attracted this much attention. But at least the cops in Minneapolis are being consistent in their cover up (equal opportunities incompetence). The body cameras were suspiciously turned off at the time (as was the dash cam on their car). They’re claiming they heard a loud noise, then they said they feared an ambush (from a blonde woman in her PJ’s?), which all sounds a bit like the excuses Oscar Pistorius was making after he murdered his girlfriend. Next thing you know they’ll claim the dog ate the evidence.

There is in essence a fatal flaw in the right to bare arms mantra of the the NRA. Ya, you’ve got the right to bare arms, but those rights also give the cops the right to blow you away (or anyone else who looks suspicious). Tell the cops they can take your gun from your cold dead hands and they’ll say, well suit yourself, bang!

Now this is not to say there haven’t been deaths at the hands of police in the UK. For example the death of Jean Charles de Menezes at the hands of British police (they thought the Brazilian was a suicide bomber) or the death of Ian Tomlinson (which they initially tried to blame on anti-capitalist protestors). But you’re talking a handful of incidents every now and then, compared to what is a daily event in the US.

And again this is only a fraction of the 33,636 total gun deaths in the US per year, nearly a hundred a day. As the BBC recently reported (in a documentary), in one weekend back in 2015 there was 184 shootings and 87 deaths.

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In the US a gun owner is statistically 5 times more likely to accidentally shoot himself or be killed by the cops than he is to be killed by a terrorist

In short the carnage on the streets of the US is many times worse than that inflicted by ISIS in recent attacks across Europe. It is to say the least deeply ironic how the NRA try to use the fear of terrorism to justify mass gun ownership. In truth, it is no wonder there’s not been many terrorist attacks in the US, because ISIS knows they’d struggle to kill any number significant enough to feature as more than a blip on the total US firearms related deaths per year or even per day.

Of course the reason why US cops are so jittery is precisely because of this high gun crime rate. They know full well that right to carry laws and lax gun controls means every little incident they get called out too, be it a drunk being rowdy, a domestic incident or a cat up a tree in the wrong part of town could result in them facing a stand off against an armed attacker. Every hobo, kid or any sudden movement could be someone with an AR-15 looking to blow them away.

By contrast, police are less jittery in Europe because its a lot less likely they’ll encounter someone armed with a gun. Now while it is true that some European countries have very strict gun laws, Ireland or the UK for example, this isn’t true across all of Europe. Joerg Sprave discusses German gun laws on his vlog and as he reveals you can buy quite a lot of firearms in Germany legally, even things like the MP5 (which is banned in many US states!). Switzerland too has fairly liberal gun laws. The difference between these countries and the US is that there is no 2nd amendment, you have no right to bare arms, the state may allow you to do so (but its at their discretion), if you can prove you have a legitimate reason to want to own one (and saying you want to shoot people or for self defence will generally mean instant disqualification) and you’re not a criminal or insane.

There’s also few carry laws in Europe and how firearm incidents are treated is very different. In short, if you bring a gun into any situation, regardless of the circumstances, e.g. you caught a burglar in you’re own home and he attacked you, you’ll be going to jail unless you can explain how it is you happened to be armed at the time and why you had no other choice (in Germany guns must be kept in a locked gun safe and the ammo in a separate location, so the cops would legitimately question how you could find and load the gun in advance).

And keep in mind, as Joerg also points out in another video, German self defence laws are anything but liberal, they give you quite a lot of leeway to defend yourself, family, property or even your honour. But the one thing they don’t give you the right to do, is act like an asshole and run around with a gun, while drunk or stoned mumbling about your 2nd amendment rights.

Now granted the situation isn’t universal across Europe. In the UK you catch a burglar in your house you are practically obliged to invite him downstairs for some tea and crumpets. But my point is that while there are guns in circulation in Europe, they are more strictly controlled.

So while police in Europe do need to be wary of the possibility of a gun appearing in any incident, it is a fairly rare event. Criminals in Europe, while they will have access to firearms, they will generally not carry them around on a routine basis because A) that would give the cops a reason to arrest them straight away and B) they can’t get a gun license (because, oddly enough, we don’t allow those with a criminal record to own a gun in Europe), so any firearm they acquire will be via the black market, which will be very expensive. Hence, the cops this side of the Atlantic aren’t as jittery as police in the US.

Yes, they will encounter the odd dump street punk who takes things too far (or a jihadi), but these are rare events. As a UK drug cop once told me, you can tell when your dealing with hardened criminals, because they will never get caught with anything incriminating, chill out straight away, not say a word (other than “where’s my lawyer?”) and co-operate fully. Its the angry young crack heads who start shouting and running their mouth (with the cop diligently writing it all down in their little notebook, while going ya, ya, sure mate as they searching him/his car/home and finding plenty to lock him up on) those are the ones you have to watch out for, as they can kick off at the drop of a hat.

So all in all, one has to conclude that the high rate of police deaths (if not gun deaths in general) in the US are clearly a result of America’s lax gun laws. And naturally incidents like this unfortunate event in Minneapolis simply breeds distrust in the cops and the authorities.

Worryingly, this might well be the entire intent of the extreme gun policy taken by Republicans. As this article discusses there’s been a long standing effort by some wealthy neo-liberals to destroy trust in US institutions, as this strengthens their hand. If nobody trusts the police, they’ll turn to vigilante’s and private armies, which means any billionaire becomes immune to prosecution, because there’s no way he can be arrested.

And Trump plays into this. His supporters, even though they are all too aware that he colluded with the Russians, is engaging in African dictator level corruption in the White house, simply don’t care, they’ll back him whatever happens. Which is exactly what the rich elites want. By undermining the office of the president, Trump ensures it will scarcely matter who is president in future, it could be Ralph Nader, Bernie Sanders or Jeb Bush, they will essentially be a toothless figure head.

And the thing gun advocates need to realise is that sooner or later a crack down is going to come (not least because once these lax gun laws have served their purpose the Republicans will turn against them). People will tire of the carnage and they’ll vote for parties who will change things.

Its worth remembering that while the 2nd amendment is quite old, how it is interpreted now is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of the US gun legislation, barely a decade or two old. Prior to this the situation was very different. So by wedding the 2nd amendment to this carnage, they are simply guaranteeing that if and when that crack down comes, it will be repealed, all of their gun rights will go and they will look on the “liberal” gun laws of Europe with envious eyes.

Should Bitcoin be banned?

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One feature of recent cyber attacks was how the perpetrators behind these ransomware programs wanted to be paid in Bitcoins. This isn’t that surprising, Bitcoin has become the preferred currency on the dark web and the criminal underworld. It is increasingly used for money laundering, tax evasion, to buy drugs, prostitution, fund terrorism or to even hire assassins.

While there is some “legitimate” bitcoin activity, this mostly seems to be restrained to speculative trading of bitcoins, operating exchanges or mining” of new bitcoins. Indeed one of the flaws in the ransomware attacks is that its likely to prove very difficult for the perpetrators to recover these funds without being found by the authorities. And the evidence is that very few of those effected paid up. However, its possible they might not care, the whole point of the attacks might just be an investment scam, to create an artificial jump in prices, allowing them to sell high and buy low.

If bitcoin is a vision of a libertarian world, it shows everything that is wrong with that vision. Indeed, as we speak bitcoin is a war with itself, largely because without any central regulating authority, there’s nobody to make the important discussions about how it should operate. This has resulted in the speed of service slowing to a crawl, at one point recently people were waiting 3 days or more for a trade to go through (not exactly convenient if you’re buying a cup of coffee!).

So it is perhaps high time for government’s to consider whether they would be better off just banning bitcoin completely. Now Bitcoin bugs will tell us this is impossible, however by doing so they simply show how naive they are to how governments, currencies or the law works (which of course is exactly the problem with libertarians!).

While bitcoin is technically legal in most countries, this doesn’t mean itslegal tender. In most countries there is no obligation to use the legal tender for all trades. In the Northern Ireland for example, its not uncommon for shops to accept euro’s. Around a number of US airbases in the UK dollars will sometimes be accepted. And in Argentina, where I was recently, they’ll often take euro’s or dollars. Indeed, even barter is legal in many forms (e.g. part exchange of vehicles, companies accepting payment in kind, etc.). In short, so long as you pay any taxes that are due, the government doesn’t really care what currency you use. In other words, bitcoin is in most cases not legal approved, but its not illegal. There’s a very big legal difference between the two.

In fact banning bitcoin would be scarily easy. All that would need to happen is for a couple of governments to get together (say the EU and the US) and ban the sale or ownership of bitcoins, citing the numerous examples of its misuse I’ve quoted above. At this point all the “legit” bitcoin businesses will either have to fold or move overseas. And given that the currency will tank in value at the same time, my guess is most will either fold, or find a way of establishing a new currency that conforms to this new legislation.

This means the number of bitcoin trades will decline significantly. Now bitcoin advocates think they “the gov’mint” can’t trace them. Well law enforcement says no, we can trace bitcoin trades if we have to, but its a lot of hard work. Given that virtually all the remaining bitcoin trades will be criminal in some nature they’ll find things a lot easier as the number of trades will drop significantly. In effect the criminals will lose their cover. Indeed given that even owning bitcoins is now a crime in of itself, even criminals will want to offload them, else they could be prosecuted for simply owning bitcoins, in much the same way Al Capone was imprisoned not for racketeering and murder, but for tax evasion.

So while there will continue to be some trade in them after such a ban, outside the west, much of the network that supports those trades will vanish and the currency will probably become too unstable to survive, particularly if a legally acceptable (and government regulated) alternative that is better supported then appears.

Of course the message to bitcoin bugs is for them to realise that they are not invulnerable. If they don’t do something to tackle the criminal use of bitcoin, eventually national government will do it for them, likely by wiping bitcoin out of existence.