A not so slow news week

Wikifreaks

Of course the big story over the last week was the arrest of Julian Assange and his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy. To be honest, the only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen sometime ago.

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There’s an accepted wisdom that if you are offered asylum by a country, you don’t make waves for them. After all they still have to have relations with the country whom you are fleeing from. And that’s assuming you are in the actual country, not in an embassy metres from cops who want to arrest you! And you especially don’t want to go interfering in the affairs of the state who is protecting you, that’s just common sense. One has to assume that the historic distrust of many Latin American countries towards the US (thanks to its past policies in the region) is why they held this off for so long.

Assange’s supporters claim the arrest was illegal. It wasn’t. Diplomatic immunity is a mutually agreed convention. If both parties opt to wave it (as often happens), then a protected individual losses their protection and can be arrested just like everybody else. Police can enter an embassy upon request. There’s also a claim that Ecuador has been bribed with several billion in funds. However, this likely refers to a loan granted recently by the World Bank and IMF. Many states contribute to these funds (including Russia and China) so this accusation doesn’t really ring true.

Assange also claims he only sought refuge because he feared being extradited to the US and facing the death penalty. It is illegal under EU law to do such a thing. In fact, by contributing towards brexit, he’s inadvertently made this more likely.

And that’s the problem. Julian has been very selective and applied political bias to the information he’s released. Wikileaks was rather quiet about anything damaging to Trump, but released those Hilary e-mails (which actually didn’t contain anything new) right at the time when they would inflict maximum political damage. By taking sides like this, its difficult for him to play the card of being the little guy against the machine. Because it looks more like he’s an enabler of the alt-right.

To be honest I don’t think the guy is the full shilling, even before he went into the embassy. As I’ve mentioned, several of his decisions were tactically stupid, arrogant and foolhardy. Even his decision to stay in the embassy is questionable. Given that his expulsion has been on the cards for sometime and the police outside were withdrawn sometime ago, why didn’t he make a break for it? The Colombian embassy is in the same building and there’s about a dozen other embassies in a 1km radius. If he was willing to risk a car or taxi journey he could be in the Australian embassy within 5-10 minutes.

And while yes some of these would have shown him the door, others would have had to apply a certain due process (notably the Australian embassy). This would have required the US authorities to declare their interest and make documents publicly available (which they probably won’t want to do). Also some of these embassies have underground car parks. Meaning they could spirit Assange into a diplomatic vehicle, drive to an airfield and put him on a plane out of the country.

So I’d argue these numerous blunders made by Assange suggest he’s might have some mental health issues. And obviously if that’s true then he can’t be extradited, either to Sweden, nor to the US. Thought I doubt his lawyers will be allowed to use that argument.

The black hole

Scientists have recently managed to photograph a black hole, where all matter and the fabric of spacetime breaks down. Its therefore the one place in the universe where you can escape news of brexit or Trump, hence NASA are planning a mission there as we speak and millions are ready to sign up.

Jokes aside, this is kind of a big deal. While scientists have long suspected the existence of black holes, the idea that vast amounts of matter could be compacted down to a singularity has never sit well with them. Even Einstein, while he accepted his own theories (worth noting that it was actually Karl Schwarzschild who first proposed the existence of black holes based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity), he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea (which probably explains his obsessions over quantum theory later in his career). But we cannot deny the vast body of evidence built up over the years. And now we have an actual image of one.

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And the heart of this story is an unsung hero in the form of a post-grad student from MIT by the name of Katie Bouman, who proposed the imaging method used to capture this image. Its an excellent example of how academia should work. A hypothesis is proposed and, regardless of who proposed it, its subjected to multiple layers of peer review and scrutiny. Assuming it passes, funds are sought, its implemented and we get back our results.

Inevitably the internet being the internet, and there’s people out there who resent anyone who is successful (particular if it’s a woman), Ms Bouman (we should probably should start calling her Prof Bouman, because if this doesn’t earn you tenure I don’t know what will!) has attracted a online few trolls. But then again, you can’t say you’ve had the whole internet experience until you’ve received at least three online death threats and attracted at least a dozen cyber stalkers. Maybe we can send them on the mission?

Brexit update – limbo until halloween

And speaking of black holes that nothing can escape, the UK has secured ANOTHER brexit extension till Halloween (insert brexit metaphor or joke of your choice!). But you have to kind of ask, what’s the point?

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The time allotted by the EU is too much for the brexit bigot brigade to bear (hence there will probably be a strong showing for far right parties in the upcoming EU elections). And yet too short to allow a 2nd referendum. It serves no real purpose other than kicking the can down the road and hoping the UK actually makes a decision.

I would also argue that the EU is being very naïve. Their assumption is that one of two things will happen. May will go and a Tory brexiteer will take over, who’ll leave the EU straight away and the EU just triggers its no deal contingency plans. Or there’s a general election, Corbyn gets in and he either asks for an even longer extension (to have a 2nd referendum), or negotiates a Norway+ style arrangement. However, neither is actually likely.

Firstly, while yes the Brexiteers are talking the talk on no deal, I’m not sure they are willing to walk the walk. Remember they want it to happen accidentally (either that or May’s deal is voted through by Corbyn). If they force it through, then they have to take the blame for it and that’s their career over. If some brexiteer like Boris took over, he’d also be faced with the same parliamentary arithmetic as May. Not enough support for either no deal or May’s deal.

So he’d probably try and sabotage the EU from within (much as Mogg recently suggested) in an effort to win a free unicorn off them and distract from his own short comings. We’d only leave when the EU basically voted to kick the UK out against our will, thus giving him cover to blame all that follows on them.

And while labour has been going up in the polls, that’s more a reflection on how badly May is doing and a strong swing to UKIP and other far right parties. The issue for labour in any election is it has no brexit policy and it can’t agree on one. A pro-remain policy is at odds with the views of Corbyn and his cabal. A pro-leave policy would anger the 90% of labour supporters who want a 2nd vote. And it won’t take that many of them to swing a few seats. As I’ve pointed out before, go through the article 50 petition signature stats, constituency by constituency and you’ll see that there’s more than enough who signed it to swing plenty of safe labour seats into marginals and put others seats they have to win beyond reach.

And even if he won, and that would take some doing, he’d be right back in the same position as May. Its some variation on May’s deal (which everybody hates), no deal (which would be a disaster) or no brexit (which nobody is brave enough to support). Corbyn can’t magically change anything. He’s not the 2nd coming. I suspect what those who vote for him would actually get would be more akin to this scene from the wizard of Oz.

How to infuriate the EU in 10 seconds

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The irony is that the UK has actually got some leverage over the EU. Threatening no deal was never going to work. The EU’s never believed the UK would actually be foolish enough to follow through. And, in any event, they’ve had three years to put in place various contingency plans to cope. And they are also aware how woefully inadequate the UK’s no deal plans are.

To draw an analogy, let’s suppose the Pope had a glass too many of the confession wine and went around waving a gun. You could quite safely call his bluff. He’s the Pope and a Jesuit, he won’t hurt a fly (mostly because the fly would probably win….that said I won’t bring up the whole pedo priest business!). On the other hand, if Chuck Norris did it….well you’d want to be careful (if Chuck Norris was the UK’s brexit negotiator, we’d be the only country left in the EU, because he’d have roundhouse kicked the rest out of the building, fact!).

No, the UK’s one trump card left is to threaten the opposite – revoking article 50, then have a 2nd referendum at some in-determinant point in the future. That would absolutely drive the EU, particularly the likes of Marcon, up the wall. They’d be rolling on the ground and chewing the carpet if that happened.

The EU is going to start its budget negotiations for the next seven years some time at the end of the year, which will carry on for about a year or so. The last thing they want is the UK to still be in the club, but the topic of brexit is unresolved. i.e. That the UK might trigger another referendum at any time. And, if that goes the way of leave again, another set of exit negotiations, right when they are squabbling over money and they need to know if the UK is out or in (else they don’t know how much everyone will have to pay).

But of course, nobody in the UK parliament will even consider that, as it would only work if they were willing to let this process extend will into the 2020’s (ignoring the fact its going to continue anyway into the 2040’s).

Worse out than in

The other issue with this long brexit delay is that it means that all of that stockpiling that went on, by the government, companies and individuals has been for nought. Yet, given that brexit (and no deal) remains a looming threat, such stockpiling will have to continue. No quicker than I’ve eaten my way through my stockpile of Tayto crisps, Irish biscuits and Irish tea, I’ll have to start all over again.

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But this is no laughing matter for industry, they’ll now be forced to keep a floating stockpile of spare parts and perishable items for the foreseeable future. What’s wrong with that? Well many UK companies operate on a system of Just In Time manufacture, which is simply incompatible with the needs for brexit related stockpiling. The whole point of such a system is to eliminate inventory. This saves on cost (as you don’t need to pay for a warehouse), improves quality control (any issues get spotted immediately and dealt with straight away) and reducing waste. Leaving the UK stuck in the brexit twilight zone for another 6 months is thus going to have a negative effect on the UK economy.

And another piece of brexit related news is that of how the UK is now officially worse off than if the referendum hadn’t happened. Even if we ignore the £1.5 billion spent on no deal planning (that’s now basically gone to waste), the UK has sacrificed 3% of GDP growth to not leave the EU. And recall back in the referendum when it was said brexit would cost every household over £4k by 2030. Well its already cost each household £1,500 already, which implies where ahead of the curve.

Yes, inevitably during the referendum Cameron told a few porkies. He implied for example that said £4k loss would happen immediately on the 24th of June. That there would be emergency budgets, etc. But the main threat of brexit, was always the brexit bear effect and that bear is very real and we’ve now seen its claws.

Norway minus

Given that soft brexit and the Norway model seems to be everybody’s preferred compromise, I have to ask, has anybody bothered to run this by Norway and the other members of EFTA? Because I think you’ll find the last thing they want (or need), is the UK coming in and demanding special treatment, like some spoiled toffee-nosed etonian.

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Why no deal is probably inevitable in one easy to follow chart

I was actually in Norway during the referendum (and I’d previously been in Iceland a year or two before) and they know why they aren’t in the EU. Its largely due to fish, which is 10% of Norway’s economy, 30% of Iceland’s and 50% of Greenland’s, but under 1% of the UK’s. And even these stats don’t do justice. You live in a village up north in these countries, you’ve got a steep mountain on one side (or a volcano!), the sea the other side and a small sliver of land on which to build a fishing port. Job opportunities in these communities involve A) fishing B) Tourism during the short summer or C) Marrying a puffin.

Thus these nations are all willing to accept being rule takers from Brussels, but not rule makers, so they can exert a bit more control over this one key issue. Their concern therefore is that the UK will try to push the sort of rhetoric we’ve heard from the brexiteers into EFTA. Or that the UK tabloids will just turn on them as their hate figure in place of the EU. And they just don’t want that in their little club house.

Now if the UK were willing to compromise, for example not bringing in any changes to immigration or welfare rules for some extending period, agree to some dilution of the UK’s voting power such that the other states can easily outvote it, that would probably work. But the UK is in this mess precisely because it won’t compromise.

So I’m not sure how that’s going to work. And single market membership won’t eliminate checks at the Irish border, we’d need a customs union as well. Like any of the brexit options, the Norway model amounts to accepting that the UK is worse off out than in and that’s the one unspeakable truth none dare utter.

Ourselves alone

There’s some who say that the solution is for Sinn Fein (which translates from Irish into “we ourselves” or “ourselves alone”) to come to Westminster and break the deadlong. Quite frankly, we’ve already got one bunch of terrorist supporting criminals in parliament (the DUP, aka the old testament with fortnightly bin collections), the last thing the country needs is another bunch. And I do not make these allegations lightly, Sinn Fein (like the DUP) have been recently linked to vigilante gangs, terrorists (obviously perhaps) and one of the largest bank robberies in both Irish and UK history.

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Aftermath of a recent vigilante raid by SF supporters in Co. Roscommon

So the last thing that parliament needs is for John Bercow to find himself refereeing kneecapping and arson competitions across the chamber. If you think the UK is in a crisis now, wait till SF show up. They have a saying along the lines of “England’s difficulty is Ireland opportunity”. They will try to be as disruptive as possible. Far from breaking the deadlock, they’ll flip flop either way on every vote on every issue to make sure nothing happens. Hell given the state of the building, they’ll probably start drilling holes in the ceiling (or calling in false bomb alerts). After all, they and the DUP have shut down parliament in Belfast over some dispute over the Irish language, for two years running now.

Furthermore, while SF will claim they don’t want to sit in parliament because it would mean taking the oath of allegiance, that’s just a load of BS. No, the real reason is that they’d have to take a position on something. And like all populists, they don’t want to do that (because then something might get done and they’d have nothing to whinge about!). Take their position on brexit. They are eurosceptics who want Ireland to leave the euro (and thus the EU), they want out of the single market, yet they don’t want a hard border, they won’t support any deal that gives Westminster any say over NI or Irish affairs and they don’t want no deal. And you thought the Tory Brexiteers policy was convoluted and hypocritical!

And if you think that’s bad, SF’s policy on pretty much every other issue is the same. Don’t take a position, because then you’ll displease someone. Like all populists they are the party of protest. They are against everything and for nothing. Urinating into ballot boxes isn’t allowed, so voting SF is basically the next best thing.

So no, the worse case scenario is for SF to show up. Hell I’d even include a bit in the law just in case, that if they do show up now they have to kiss her mag’s feet and give her a sponge bath. The best we can hope for is they bugger off and be themselves alone.

Breaking faith

Within conservatives brexit has taken on something of a religious status, a class struggle (the toff’s screwing over the working class, but getting them to vote for it first!). Fintan O’Toole’s talk on brexit kind of illustrates this narrative well.

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So any conservative coming out and saying that they were wrong about brexit is thus treated like a heretic. And this is rather vividly illustrated by a recent case study. Peter Obrone published an article in which he admits that he was wrong about brexit. It has turned the UK into a laughing stock and its quite clear the idea that we’d get a better deal outside than in the EU is false. Needless to say, this hasn’t gone down well with his fellow brexiters, as this piece from C4 news illustrates. I’m reminded of this song from the 90’s.

This is the problem. The reason why so many brexit voters cling to unicorns, or dismiss any negative news about brexit as “fake news” is that the minute they accept that the UK won’t be better off out of the EU, even if its only slightly worse off, their whole world view falls apart. It means that they voted to make themselves poorer and make their country weaker. That Farage, Johnson etal lied and they were fooled by those lies. Quite simply put, this makes them look stupid (as well as selfish, racist and unpatriotic) and their ego can’t take that kind of a hit. So they grasp for whatever fairy story that will magically make it all go away.

And we see the same in the US with Trump supporters who do not live in the same world as the rest of us. There is literally something wrong with their brains. Just take this piece where the relatives of Fox news viewers lament what happened to their family members.

Which illustrates the problem with any 2nd referendum. This lot aren’t going to change their minds no matter what. I’d guess, at best you’d get 60/40 in favour of remain and that’s if you are lucky. Similarly a Democrat victory in 2020 is by no means guaranteed and it will probably be by a tight margin.

The Atlantic city shuffle

And speaking of Trump, here’s an interesting article about the mess Trump left behind when his casino collapsed in Atlantic city. When the Trump Taj Mahal opened he declared it “the eighth wonder of the world”. But within a year it had gone bankrupt….only to then go bankrupt again! Yes, Trump managed to go bankrupt with his casino twice! And its likely that this was solely down to the mismanagement of the casino’s finances. In a casino, the house always wins, the casino owners are the only real winners….unless Trump is running one of course!

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In fact, its difficult to believe that even Trump is that incompetent. The suspicion is that Trump’s mob connections, used the casino to run a money laundering racket. In fact he was fined $10 million for various violations of anti-money laundering laws related to his casino’s.

Fortunately for Trump going bankrupt multiple times or breaking the law doesn’t mean he goes to jail. Nor indeed does it mean he losses a penny of his money, nor is he disqualified from voting (as happens to many African Americans after a slight misdemeanour) nor is he bared from standing for elected office. Like in any feudal society (such as Westeros!), there’s one law for the nobles and another for the rest of us plebs.

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News roundup

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

The not so big blue wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The not surprising October surprise

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

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

 

Wheels coming off in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A sign of the times

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

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

 

Leave means LEAVE!!!!

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

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Spot the leave voter…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

News flash – the UK is an Island

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

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

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

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

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

 

So long and thanks for all the fish

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

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

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

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

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

 

Trust gone

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

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

 

The people’s will

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

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

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

 

University bankruptcies loom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Moorside nuclear plant cancelled

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

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

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

 

Mars colonisation nixed

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

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

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

 

No dogs, disabled or poor

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

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

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

Asgardia, the CubeSat Solar Empire

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I’ve discussed before the issues that would arise in terms of establishing any space based settlement, and how that might prove a lot more challenging than those pursuing such colonisation efforts assume.

In short, travelling into space is expensive and dangerous and there are no real silver bullet solutions to get around this problem. Therefore, it will be some time before we build any space colonies. And, given that there’s no proof that humans can survive in conditions of zero (or low) gravity and heightened radiation for extended periods, its likely the crew on these colonies will not be permanent residents. Instead, they’ll likely be rotated back to earth every couple of years. Hence its a bit early to start talking about mass migrations into space or how any sort of space based government would work.

However, a group called Asgardia have recently attempted to do just this. Under the…

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How the Tory’s Trident deception undermined UK security

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It was revealed last week that a Trident missile test failed just a few days prior to a vote in Parliament about Trident renewal. However, news of this failure was suppressed by Theresa May and her government. They’ve tried to spin it since then that they kept it secret, not for fairly obvious political reasons, but on grounds of “national security”. Well this is a complete lie and worrying too as it hints about how the current government works and no doubt how it will handle Brexit negotiations.

Firstly, keeping the results of this test secret from the other nuclear armed states would be virtually impossible. They have early warning satellites, spy satellites, subs (often sent out to shadow nuclear missile carrying subs and report on their activities) and long range radar systems, all of which allows them to track missile launches like this. On some occasions the other powers will have been told in advance about such test, as a launch might endanger any space based assets they have passing overhead….or a test might be mistaken for a sneak attempt at a first strike (potentially prompting a retaliatory strike).

So the other nuclear powers would have been watching and observed the results of this test. And this is largely the point of testing missiles like this. Testing a trident missile is the equivalent of the UK walking in front of the other nuclear powers and performing a Haka. It reminds them that the UK has a fully functional nuclear deterrent. There is in short, not much point in testing such a missile (and wasting tens of millions of tax payers money) if the other states aren’t watching.

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Trident missiles have failed before

So the other powers saw the missile test and saw it fail. This not that an unusual occurrence. Even the best rockets are only about 92% reliable (meaning 1 in 12 of them will fail). This is the whole reason why a Trident sub carries more than one of them. So by itself this was a little embarrassing, but its happened before.

But the other powers know that the UK isn’t North Korea (granted the Tories seem to want to turn it into NK with brexit, but we’re not there yet). They would have waited for the press release from the MoD and tried to read what they could out of it to try and figure out what went wrong…..only they were greeted by silence. Why, they will have thought, are the British being silent? They know we saw the missile fail, why keep it a secret?…..Unless of course there’s something they are trying to hide? i.e. that the trident isn’t quite as reliable as claimed!

Keep in mind that while the other powers will be in a position to observe live missile tests, they won’t know what’s going on in the labs and engineering firms that build the missiles. Its possible that individual parts of the missile have repeatedly failed tests, but by luck the live firings of the assembled missile have always worked. Only now these problems have escalated to the point where the entire missile is failing in flight.

Case in point, Orbital (a new space start up) and their Antares rocket. For years there were rumours that they were seeing failures and burn outs of the rocket’s Russian built engines during ground tests and inspections. But any time they launched, everything seemed to work- Until in 2014 when a rocket blew up on the pad (or more precisely it blew up the pad!). As a result Orbital have essentially gone back to the drawing board and switched to a new engine. SpaceX too has had problems with the use of LOx in combination with composites, but any issues in testing never carried over to endanger a launch – Until a few months ago when a rocket exploded on the pad.

Now I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with the Trident missile. But my point is, that by trying to suppress news of this rocket failure it may have created the impression that there is. In short Theresa May wasn’t protecting UK security, she was undermining it for selfish political reasons. It raises the risk that the other major powers would have seen the test failure, put two and two together and decided it equalled five. And if a shooting war broke out in the mean time, they might actually take action they otherwise won’t consider.

And it gets worse. The supposed reason for this failure was to do with the GPS guidance system of the rocket. GPS signals can be interfered with. This is why most ICBM’s have a backup guidance system that relies on alternative principles (inertial, celestial, etc.) that should step in if the primary guidance failed. We must consider the possibility that the missile went of course because one of the other powers was at the time jamming GPS signals and the backup guidance failed. By failing to report anything for several weeks this would have sent the message to that other state that the British were still scratching their heads clueless as to what had happened. And that in the event of a shooting war, Trident was little more that 20 billion worth of useless hardware.

So let us be clear, Theresa May was quite happy to undermine British security just because she was scared of a confrontation with Jeremy Corbyn on an issue where she was already guaranteed a majority. Frankly if she can handle Corbyn, waving a ban the bomb petition (while wearing one of his dodgy tracksuits), how does she propose to handle Putin, the Chinese or the Europeans during Brexit? And her reaction to Trump banning UK citizens from the US? Silence because she’s afraid of the big bad bully with the mad hair. I mean how spineless is she! If Brexit mean brexit, it means the UK becoming the 51st state of Trump land.

This episode also implies that the government will suppress important information and keep it from Parliament during Brexit negotiations. We’ll only find out when its too late to change anything. If there weren’t enough reasons for MP’s to vote against this article 50 bill, this is clearly another.

And of course, ironically enough, the suppression of this test failure also creates a compelling case against trident renewal, probably more so than it would, if the incident had been reported earlier.

The Case for Space?

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Figure 1: Could space travel and eventual colonisation help solve some of the world’s environmental problems?

I’ve been doing a bit of speculation recently on my energy blog about who space policy and sustainability might interconnect. In short, can space colonisation offer a possible solution to resource shortages or over-population? I’ve broken the answer down across three posts below:

Space a sustainability solution? A critical review

In the first article I look at the goals of space colonisation as well as the technical obstacles involved, notably in terms of propulsion technology and launch vehicle design. And to be clear, we are talking about space colonisation here, not space exploration, that’s two entirely different things.

Is it possible to significantly reduce the costs of launching payloads into space? The answer I suspect is, yes, which could make exploration cheaper and easier, but probably not by enough to make colonisation possible any time soon.

Space a sustainability solution – Part 2: Living on the high frontier

Not least because, as discussed in this second article, the problems associated with getting into space are small compared to the issues that come with living in space. Certainly, its possible for humans to live for extend periods on world’s like Mars or the Moon. But its far from proven if permanent habitation is possible.

And its also far from proven that we can sustain life support off earth for any colonists without regular resupply from earth, so any such colonies wouldn’t be a “backup” earth, as they’d be wholly dependant on earth for survival.

And one also has to question the motivations. With the exception of low level extraction of rare earth or precious metals, its difficult to build a credible and economically viable plan for space colonisation. I doubt we’ll be moving large number of people off the planet any time soon.

The case for space – Part 3: Martian delusions

Finally, I look at the recent announcements from groups such as Mars One, the Mars Society and Elon Musk’s proposals for Mars exploration and colonisation.

In short, one is left to ask if Mars one is an outright scam or merely a textbook example of the Dunning Kruger effect.

Bob Zubrin’s Mars Direct plan has some merit, although there are some holes in it, notably as it relies on a number of untested elements.

Unfortunately Elon Musk’s plans, which are based on Mars direct (just on a larger scale) also has a number of possible holes and potential show stoppers. Its possible they might be able to overcome these issues, but my guess is that it will take a lot longer that he proposes to get such a program off the ground and cost an awful lot more. And again, the jury is out as to whether Martian colonisation is even possible, or even a good idea.

Things I missed while on Holiday

I’ve been on holiday for a few weeks with another wee break coming up. So I thought I’d comment on the stories I’ve missed while away.

Olympics closing ceremony…which I missed, which was probably just as well as it featured the spice girls, not exactly my favourite people!

Julian Assange gets Asylum – To be perfectly honest, the only asylum this guy should be in is the type that hands out strait-jackets and free drugs :DD . But as the expression goes “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” has to apply doubly to Assange. Now on the one hand if the Swedes just issued a declaration saying that he would only be charged/interviewed with regard to the rape charge (possibly we could allow the Ecuadorian government to participate as a neutral observer). This would resolve the current crisis, but I get the impression that even this would not sufficient for Julian. On the other hand, it seems odd that such an offer hasn’t been made, which sort of suggests Julian has good reason to fear going back to Sweden as it might turn into a mere pit stop on his way to Gitmo!

Will the British police storm the embassy? I hope not or they’ll be making it open season on every UK diplomatic mission in the world. They will have set a legal precedence that the likes of Assad, Putin or Mugabe will drive a bus thro. Diplomatic immunity is a 4,000 year old tradition going back to the time of Rameses the Great. One possibility is the Ecuadorian government trying to sneak him out in the boot of a car (considered diplomatic territory) and onto a plane…one assumes the cops have a few special branch officers at Heathrow waiting to rugby tackle him as he runs from the car to the plane!

Virgin loses West Coast Train franchise – I’m not surprised by this, I’ve had many bad experiences with Virgin (and I’m still waiting for my refund btw). Branson said he’d run it like an airline. Unfortunately he succeeded. They seemed to have turned the West Coast line into a case of Ryanair service for British Airways prices.

Will First Group do any better? Hardly! As I’ve discussed before the problems with rail travel in the UK are more fundamental, i.e. we have a “fake” private rail system that needs more in subsidies than British Rail pre-privatisation needed. Changing the livery on the side of the train or the coffee cups isn’t going to achieve a thing.

Neil Armstrong Dies – The first man on the moon makes his final “giant leap”. He was the perfect guy for the job. What many people don’t know was that things started to go badly wrong in the last few minutes of the moon landing. The LEM’s computer crashed unexpectedly due to the volume of data coming in and the astronauts realised they were heading for a dangerous boulder field. The manual said in such a scenario they should abort, but Neil switched the LEM into manual mode and with the guidance and help of Aldrin, he got the LEM down on the ground with seconds of fuel left remaining (both have often wondered if anyone goes back to the moon could they check the tanks and see how much fuel was actually left!). He and Aldrin were in essence the right people in the right place at the right time.

That said, Armstrong represented a different era of America. The US space program is caught in the doldrums, with no manned launched capability nor clear mission. It is possible that private space launchers will, as Obama hopes, provide a service. But that to me is a bit of a gamble. In any event I would argue the current world priority in space should be science missions, such as a new generation of space telescopes and long range space probes (notably to Jupiter and its moons). At some future date, the time will come for further manned missions, both to the moon and Mars (to stay perhaps?). But its pure speculation how long it will take for that day to arrive. Neil Armstrong might be remembered more as our “Eric the Red” rather than “Christopher Colombus” in that it might be centuries before anyone goes back to the moon again.

What happens in Vegas….well I’m quite sure the Royals would like to add “…stays in Vegas”. Unfortunately the tabloid press would disagree. The newspapers initially agreed to keep the photos of a naked prince Harry under raps…of course they forgot about this thing called “the internet”. Here’s a link if you’ve missed it. The Sun tried to portray its decision to publish as a moral one regarding press freedom and striking against censorship. Ya right! If that’s so I dare the Sun to publish those cartoons of Mohammed? Or how about pictures of the Tienanmen square massacre? (Murdoch’s been cosying up to the Chinese for years) Or how about those pictures of Bush doing coke? The only reason why the Sun published them is because they were salivating at the cash they could pull in.

I also did see this odd article on the Beeb which tried to suggest it was normal for people to take their clothes off when they were drunk. I’m Irish and therefore I think I can call myself an expert on drunken activity and while it happens to some people it is certainly not “normal” in anyway. Generally if you find yourself starkers you’ve either drunk way too much or have had your drink spiked, or simply can’t handle you’re liquor.

Lance Armstrong gives up fight against drug allegations – Meanwhile another Armstrong appears to be in trouble. Lance Armstrong appears to have decided to stop trying to defend himself against doping allegations. While he’s not admitted to anything, this has quite serious implications.

It essentially means that between 2010 and the last win by Miguel Indurain in 1995 every single tour winner has had either been disqualified or had some cloud of doubt placed over his win. Indeed numerous winners in the pre-Indurain era (its widely believed that Indurain had a natural physical advantage compared to other cyclists and that if he was taking drugs, then he was an idot!) are also under suspicion, right back to Eddy Merchx (Merchx regularly won stages by a margin of ten minutes or more, so again if he was taking drugs, he was an idot!).

Indeed if the authorities do decide to strip Armstrong of his titles they are left with the problem of who to award them too, as a number of the 2nd and 3rd place finishers behind him are also at the centre of various doping controversies.

This to me is the real problem with drug taking in sports, it ruins things. Sure the athlete gets the medals and the sponsorship endorsements, but we’re left speculated over who would have actually won a clean race. Take the example of the women’s 100m final in Sydney, where the top two athletes have since tested positive, as also happened with the men’s 100m in 1988 (while Johnson got caught, allegations have swirled since then regarding Carl Lewis). Then there was all that speculation over a Chinese swimmer during the Olympics, and I’m sure some are even wondering about whether Phelps performance was “enhanced” in some way. Like I said it ruins the sport.

To my mind, the solution is simple – take the money out of sports. Athletes can only participate in major events such as the Olympics or Tour de France if they agree to some sort of wage cap on earnings. An athlete who knows that once their sporting career is over that they’ll have to go out and get a job is less likely to cheat.

Alternatively its a case of throwing in the towel, accepting the fact that athletes are going to dope, but instead trying to manage the problem, i.e. make it legal, if carried out under careful supervision. Naturally, some athletes will choose not to dope, but this could be solved by using a handicap system (doped athletes have to wear a belt of small weights, or have several seconds added to their time).

Wheels Come off Ron Paul’s “delegate strategy” – One story I covered a while ago was the “undemocratic” tactics of Ron Paul’s Tea Party supporters (often referred to as “Paulestinians” within the Republican party). They had been planning to rig the delegates who went to the up coming Republican National Convention. They would then vote for Ron Paul, even though the state they represented may well have voted for Romney (oddly enough internal rules of the Republican party allowed this). Unsurprisingly, the GOP leadership has now closed this absurd loophole and the “Paulestinians” are going nuts about it.

Now while I’m no fan of Romney nor the Republican party, what Ron Paul and his cult of personality were up too was an attempt to circumvent the democratic process. This I would argue disqualifies him and his Tea Party supporters from holding high office, as like the nazi’s or many religious fundamentalist parties, they clearly see the democratic process as merely a means to an end. How ironic that Ron Paul is constantly going on about liberty when he and his supporters seem to be dead set at denying millions of their fellow conservatives their liberty.

Micheal D Higgins take down of Tea Party goes viral – Speaking of the Tea party, about a year or two ago, Micheal D. Higgins, Ireland’s new president, had a debate with a Tea Party loon and basically knocked chucks out of him. It has recently gone viral over the internet.

I think what this demonstrates is the vast gulf between politicians in Europe and those in the US. Can anyone see a politician like Higgins, a heavy weight intellectual, a poet laureate and a writer winning an election in the US? No chance!America, and increasingly the UK, is run by handsome millionaire politicians whose main election strength is their ability to pose in front of a camera. Party conferences are increasingly not about meeting and discussing policies but presentation and spin. Is it any wonder that the world is in the mess its in when photogenic politicians get elected in place of people with something resembling “intelligence”.

The Euro crisis….rumbles on, nuff said! The problem is as more political than economic and until the politicians, notably Merkel, get their finger out of their ass, nothing will get done and it will just keep going from bad to worse. At some point soon its likely the euro will be beyond saving, I’m sort of hoping an election in Germany or an asteroid hit (in Athens or Berlin) or something else (revolution or a military coup in a eurozone country?) comes along to save the continent in time.