The Trouble with AirBnB

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There’s been a massive increase in the number of spare rooms,or even entire flats, offered for rent on AirBnB, across the UK and worldwide. We’ve recently identified several within the building where I live. However this is cause for concern, because there are quite a number of issues with AirBnB. Put rather bluntly, if you are offering rooms on AirBnB you might be breaking the law and you are also possibly jeopardising your neighbours financial well being.

So what’s the problem? This clip from Adams ruins everything sums up the main arguments against AirBnB. Cracked also reviews the major arguments against it.

But for starters, if you are offering rooms on AirBnB what kind of mortgage do you have? Because if you’ve got a owner occupier mortgage that only allows you, your family and non paying guests to stay in the property. Even with a buy to let mortgage only registered tenants on a long term least (generally more than 90 days) are allowed to stay. If you are renting rooms, or worse the entire flat on AirBnB, then you are almost certainly breaking the terms of your mortgage. In theory if the bank finds out, they could tear up your contract and demand immediate repayment (i.e. you get 30 days to come up with say £100,000 or lose the house!).

And this issue of who is allowed to stay in the property is not some minor bureaucratic point. People tend to prioritise mortgage or rent payments above all else, as they don’t want to end up homeless. So the risk to the bank of you defaulting on a mortgage loan is relatively low, hence why they can get away with offering such a low rate of interest on such a large loan. By contrast hotels and B&B’s are a much more risky business (recall Trump’s four bankruptcies involved exactly these sort of properties). They are much more likely to go bankrupt, hence why they have to put up a higher proportion of starting capital and get charged a higher interest rate. While some banks are starting to offer AirBnB compatible mortgages, they generally involve a higher rate of interest and a larger deposit. So unless you are on one of these mortgages, you are likely to be committing mortgage fraud.

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Then there’s the issue of home insurance. Again, home insurance assumes you are either renting (long term) or living in a house you own. AirBnB type arrangements aren’t covered. Some insurers are starting to offer AirBnB compatible policies, but as with the mortgages these cost more than a conventional insurance policy. If you are renting out rooms under AirBnB and you lack an appropriate policy, then you (and any of your guests) are likely to be uninsured and there is very little chance of your insurer paying out in the event of a claim.

Also the above only applies to home insurance. There’s also the issue of getting liability insurance (in case you being sued by a guest if he falls in the bath tub or tumbles down the stairs). Then there’s your block insurance if you are in a larger apartment complex. Hotels and B&B’s have to comply with a long list of safety requirements to be given permission by the local council to operate and too convince any insurer to provide them with cover. e.g. does your building have a sprinkler system? I know mine doesn’t, but I know that in some countries hotels (above a certain floor height) are legally required to have one (and this applies even if the building is a mixed development). Hotels tend to have better security arrangements, CCTV, key cards and codes that expire every 24hrs, security guards, etc.

Hotels aren’t doing all this for fun, they are doing it generally because their insurance policy will be voided if they don’t. e.g. in the UK there are no sprinkler requirements, but your insurer (or fire officer) may insist on expensive modifications (e.g. putting in fire walls and new fire escapes) if you don’t have a sprinkler system.

Now I’m not usually the sort of person to get worked up about health and safety, but this is one situation where the H&S killjoys experts have a point – hotels, B&B and hostels do catch fire, there have been several large and often fatal incidents over the years (e.g. the MGM Grand fire or the Downunder Hostel fire in Australia, hence why the regulations are so strict. And no, small B&B’s aren’t exempt, you still have to comply with at least some minimum level of safety.

This raises the question as to whether, in the event of a claim, would the insurance company pay out. My guess is they’ll probably take it on a case by case basis. If a fire started say in an AirBnB rented property, they’d likely pay out to any of the neighbours effected, but refuse to pay out to the AirBnB owner (so he gets saddled with maybe £50,000 of fire damage and he’s still in debt to mortgage company). If it was an issue nothing to do with any AirBnB property (e.g. the roof caves in), they’d likely just pay out and not ask any questions. However in a scenario where say a large number of flats in a block are AirBnB and say the building burns down, the insurer might well argue that the block was essentially functioning as an illegal hotel, thus invaliding the policy and they are within their rights to refuse to pay out to anyone.

Suffice to say, its hard to say which way things could go, it will likely take a few test cases to sort out. However the implication is that if you’ve got AirBnB owners in your building, there is a risk that you might not be fully insured anymore. So anyone renting rooms via AirBnB is having a potentially detrimental effect on their neighbours. Quite apart from all the other issues with large numbers of people coming and going at odd hours.

And as I mentioned earlier, you generally have to apply for planning permission if you are planning to set up a hotel or B&B. And yes, this applies even if you don’t plan to make any alterations to your building (as you are changing the use of your property). In some parts of the world you will also need to apply for a license of some sort in order to operate a hotel or B&B. And this is not some bureaucratic rubber stamp process. Any application from an AirBnB owner for permission to operate has a very strong probability of being rejected. Why?

Well because, as noted, homes and apartment blocks often don’t comply with the same building codes imposed on hotels. There’s also issues like disabled access, which hotellers have to cater for (newly built apartments also have to have disabled access, but older residential blocks don’t) and possibly parking issues. Then there’s the provision of water, electricity, broadband and public services (e.g. bin collections, access for fire engines and emergency vehicles), which will be based on the assumption that all the apartments in a certain area are domestic properties, not defacto hotel rooms. This is why hotels pay business rates to cover these costs. An Airbnb might also need a different form of TV license to those used by a domestic property.

And speaking of which, you are paying tax on any earnings you make from AirBnB, aren’t you? You’d need to declare this as income on your self assessment tax form (as well as paying those business rates, water charges, TV license, etc.). So its very likely than anyone offering rooms on AirBnB is not paying their taxes in full….like David Cameron’s dad, or Jimmy Carr.

Also the freehold (or leasehold) on many buildings may well prohibit any form of AirBnB like activity (mine forbids the operation of any form of business within the block for example). Getting around this is going to be harder than dealing with the council, as you’d need to get your neighbours or the leaseholder to agree (and they’d either say no or insist on a cut of any of your profits).

Another issue for councils is the fundamental matter that they don’t want all the apartments in a city turned into hotels. This makes it harder for people to buy or rent. If its possible for a landlord to kick out his tenants paying £1,000 a month on a 3 bedroom apartment and then move in AirBnB guests paying £50 a night each (i.e. up to £4,500 per month!) everyone would do it and city centres would be full of AirBnB‘s with nowhere for the people who live there to rent. So AirBnB is contributing to the housing crisis in the UK. Hence it is not unreasonable for the authorities to be resistant. And while some aren’t doing much about it at the moment, a crack down is going to come at some point. Already some cities are starting to take action and my guess is that this is only the start.

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Protests against AirBnB by renters facing eviction is a growing problem

Then there are other issues, e.g. lets suppose you are an AirBnB owner and one of your guests refuses to leave at the end of his stay (as has happened on a few occasions already), nor will he pay you anymore. What are you going to do? Drag him out by the scruff of the neck? Okay and then when the cops show up they’ll be putting the cuffs on you (for assault) and letting him back in. In the UK a landlord has no legal right to undertake an eviction. Only the courts can sanction an eviction and it can only be carried out by an agent of the court (e.g. a bailiff). Until your tenant has had his day in court, he remains your tenant, you can’t throw him out or harass him in an effort to try and make him leave, indeed doing so would likely make it harder to secure an eviction.

While yes it is true that certain providers of shorter term accommodation can get around the need for a court order, but they still can’t drag someone out of the building (there is a due process they have to go through as well). And they are operating within a tightly defined legal frame work. As I think we’ve established, any AirBnB owners is likely to be operating in legal limbo and is almost certainly in breach of the law. So it would be up to the courts to decide. While they would almost certainly authorise an eviction, that could take weeks. And one wonders what the court will make of someone admitting under oath to operating an illegal hotel, in violation of planning laws, building codes, while simultaneously committing tax fraud, insurance fraud and mortgage fraud.

And note that we are talking about the UK here. UK law blatantly favours the landlord, unsurprising in a country where the landlords and the landed gentry have been making the laws for several centuries. In certain US states or in Europe the legal situation is very different. It can take months, sometimes years to evict someone.

As for AirBnB guests they have to consider the risks they are taking. For example, what do you really know about the person you are renting off? There’s already been a number of clients who’ve been scammed by rogue landlords and con artists. You might find the room you’ve been offered is well below the standards, or even dangerous. There’s even been guests who’ve died during their stay at an airbnb (due to poor safety standards or carbon monoxide poisoning). You might find your host suddenly cancelling on you days before you travel. Note that a recent crack down by authorities in London caused many to lose their bookings. This link includes a few tales of woe from Airbnb guests and providers.

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And this brings us to the racial profiling. About the one thing you will know about your AirBnB guests or hosts is what race he is, as he will provide either a photo or a short video. Trouble is you can’t really tell a lot from that. You’re host could be fine, or he could be Begbie from Trainspotting, or an axe murderer on the run from Eastern Europe whose previous premises was the inspiration for the movie Hostel. As a result this has let to accusations of racial profiling or profiling by social class by both hosts and guests.

Certainly, the fact is that the law, factors, insurers and mortgage companies haven’t quite caught up with events. Once they do, they’ll likely re-draft laws and policies to accommodate things like AirBnB. However, this will almost certainly come at a price. AirBnB owners will suddenly find it costs a lot of money and hence there’s a reason why hotels charge £100 a night for a room (because that’s about what it costs to pay off all those bills!) and suddenly AirBnB isn’t the brilliant money making scheme they’d thought (much like Uber). Also changes to the law, while bringing AirBnB the right side of the law, they will probably allow more leeway for AirBnB operators to be blocked from operating, if for example other residences in a block object to it.

And inevitably further crack downs will come at some point, both by the authorities and perhaps private investigators operating on behalf of insurers and mortgage companies. And woe to any AirBnB owner who gets caught in this dragnet.

Blogging catchup

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There are dark clouds on the horizon…..

My travels down south

One of things you need to get used to in Argentina is the crippling bureaucracy, forms stamped in triplicate, checked, queried sent back and then recycled as fire-lighters. They say you have to be patient to be Argentinian. The brits could have stopped any invasion of the Falklands just by getting them to queue and fill out the appropriate paper work (trouble is the argie’s are so used to standing in large queues so they’d out queue the British!).

They do try to cut down the red tape at border control by streaming people into different groups, one for locals, another for those from neighbouring South American countries, another for everyone else and one for Americans (they implement the same harsh checks the Americans implement on Argentinians, so any American going to South America, bring a big book, expect a long wait and to be finger printed, photographed, body cavity searched and asked if your a terrorist/rapist/nazi or here to steal our jobs). Naturally one has to dread what will happen post-brexit if the UK tries to restrict immigration from its neighbours. The queues will be horrendous. As it was it took an hour to work my way through a half empty Buenos Aires airport and about four hours to go through the border into Chile.

Another little incident, on the taxi ride in London, the taxi driver saw a crash in the opposite carriageway. He dialled 999….and got put on hold…..for ten minutes before he had to give up and focus on driving (he was on a hands free btw). He was getting the same fobbing off from the cops as I’d been getting from BA. Imagine you’ve got an axe murderer breaking down your door and you’re on the line to the cops and getting put on hold like that. Britain truly is going to the dogs.

By contrast I lost my wallet. Within twenty minutes, as a result of a call to an non-emergency line (by someone else rather than me) there were two Argentinian cops outside. Granted there wasn’t a lot they could do and let’s face it a tourist losing his wallet is hardly a police priority, but its in stark contrast to what you’d expect in the UK. The fact is UK policing, like so many things in the UK (public transport, hospitals, roads, public housing) is kind of crap and no way near up the standards of those in other countries. We have public services many developing nations would be ashamed of.

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Of course Argentina is at the back end of a major economic crisis. Frankly all those brexiters whinging about how bad they’ve had it the last few years come across as a bunch of spoiled brats compared to what the Argentinians have been through since 2007. Are they voting for brexit from their South American neighbours? Are they blaming migrants from Chile for all their woes? No of course not. Yes the previous government Argentine did labour on about the Falklands (predictably), but the current regime’s gone quiet about that. In short it does tend to suggest Brits lack backbone.

Trump train wreck draws nearer

Trump hasn’t even been inaugurated and he’s already in a crisis. Normally a president gets a honeymoon period from Congress and the press. Even that’s run its course for Trump already. And some of those leading the assault are his fellow Republicans. It doesn’t bode well, particularly given his disastrous press conference. Then there’s him appointing his family members to senior positions and not putting his money in a blind trust fund.

All in all it leads me to the conclusion that Trump will probably be impeached at some point. For the moment the GOP will hang onto him, as they need him. But sooner or later, after a few scandals, after his supporters realise they’ve been had and start jumping on the anti-Trump band wagon, there will be moves to oust him.

Recall how all through the election he went through cycles of being denounced and disowned by his own party. That sort of cycle continues, things will come to a head eventually. And there’s several obvious flash points already, his differing views on healthcare reform, his sucking up to Russia, his dubious appointees, the very real possibility of corruption scandals and conflicts of interest, sex scandals, confrontations with China, etc. And keep in mind it doesn’t require a majority of Republicans, only enough to join with the democrats and swing an impeachment vote.

Tories let their brexit fantasies slip

A brain fart from the chancellor let slip the Tories post-brexit fantasies. He suggested that the UK could “punish” the EU for imposing tariffs on it by lowering its corporation tax. Let’s think about that for one minute. As noted in a prior post, the UK will probably have to in some way subsidise its manufacturing sector post-brexit. The governments overall costs will be up (by tens of billions), tax revenue will be down (no young Poles to pay for the NHS), so cutting taxes is not a long term strategy without some major cuts to public spending.

That means no subsidies to farmers, manufacturing, fishermen or the regions. It means big cuts in NHS spending and cuts to the welfare budget. Keep in mind that working tax credits and pensions are the main source of welfare spending (over 50% of total spending), unemployment benefits are less than 10% of the welfare budget. So any significant cuts to welfare would impact on pensions and working tax credits.

In short one has to ask how popular the idea of a massive tax break to corporations would be while manufacturers get hammered, millions lose their jobs. While those lucky enough to keep their jobs lose their pensions, benefits, tax credits and see big cuts to public services. It doesn’t quite tie in with the Tory mantra of looking after working families. So it is something of an empty threat.

Of course they can only make it thanks to their ally Corbyn. He’s rendered labour so unelectable that the Tories could conceivably get away with such a thing. It also betrays the reality that brexit will be negotiated to benefit only those in the UK who live within the M25. The rest of the country will get screwed.

True GDP

Speaking of London, its commonly stated how the UK is so much better off under the Tories. Actually, that’s not true, it depends on where you live. As the graph below shows, if you live in London or the South East then yes, the GDP in your region has gone up by rather a lot. However, in the rest of the country its a different story. Scotland and the South West has seen a decline and then a recovery (no thanks to the Tories), while the rest of the country has never really recovered from the crash. Northern Ireland has flatlined.

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So when you hear stories about how well the economy is doing, ask for a minute yes and for who?

Corbyn rebranded

Corbyn promised to rebrand himself as a populist firebrand prior to Christmas. To copy the tactics of Trump and co. to push labour to victory. So how is that working out? Predictably, not so well. Indeed, my suspicion is that this was a plot by some Blairite’s in his cabal to push the Corbyn train wreck over the edge.

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For starters what Trump calls “post-truth” the rest of us call “lying. Corbyn goes around promising the sun the moon and the stars and he’s going to be accused of the very thing he berates the likes of Tony Blair for. Recall that what got Tony Blair such a bad name with those on the left, was those lies over Iraq. While Trump and Farage might be able to stir up the laden racist living in some easily deluded fools, I’m doubting Corbyn can use the same tactic with those on the left. They like there “facts” too much.

And we’re ignoring the fact that the media are unlikely to give him a free ride. While they failed to take Trump and the brexiters to task for their numerous lies (perhaps because they were so numerous it was hard to keep up). But they are certainly not going to let Corbyn away with that. He says anything that sounds like a change in policy his flip flopping, he back tracks he’s dithering, he promises anything that’s probably undeliverable they’ll line up experts around the block to denounce him.

Is this fair? No, but its the reality that every left wing leader has had to deal with for some time. Brown, Miliband, Sturgeon have had to put up with the same. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

And given that there’s two by elections coming up, at least one of which he’s likely to lose, it doesn’t bode well for Corbyn. Losing a byelection to a sitting and unpopular Tory government in a safe labour seat would be unprecedented and just plain bad. Losing one to UKIP would be disastrous and fatal. My guess is that if labour loses these next two byelections, we’ll probably see another leadership challenge shortly there after.

Perhaps more worrying for labour is the reasons for these byelections. Two MP’s simply up and quit. It suggests that many within the labour party are simply admitting defeat. They know Corbyn’s leading the party off a cliff but that they won’t be able to unseat him until its too late. They know he’s essentially allied himself with the Tories on brexit. Any political ambitions they have are about to be dashed. And come the next election a lot of them are about to find themselves unemployed. So yes, some are out looking for work already and if an opportunity comes along (such as to become director of the V&A), they are going to take it. So labour will probably face a dripping away of MP’s as they flee the sinking ship.

Cycle status

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary has shown himself to have some UKIP like views towards cyclists. Firstly he knocks one off his bike getting out of his ministerial car. Secondly he say’s they aren’t proper road users. I’m reminded of the the late (insane and drug fuelled) major of Toronto Rob Ford, who banned cyclists from the cities streets….then left wondering why there were so many new cars on the road.

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Any car driver who dislikes cyclists, just imagine he’s in a car instead. Do you want those tail backs to be even longer? More delays more misery. Cyclists are doing you a public service. And if you want to rant about them not paying road tax, well neither do you, there’s no such thing as road tax, roads are paid for mostly out of general taxation. And as for vehicle tax, cops, the queen and tractors (to name a few) don’t pay that either. Try screaming abuse at them and see what it gets you (about 6 months I’m guessing).

Either way, making Chris Grayling transport secretary is like making Jimmy Savile minster for children.

Brentry

On my travels I read an interesting article in the Economist about Brentry, that is the UK entry into the wider European economy. After the Romans abandoned the UK it had become a continental backwater, invaded and fought over by one group after another. By 1066, the rest of Europe had bounced back from the dark ages, international trade was expanding, new ideas from the east (well actually old ones that had be rediscovered) were being implemented and tried out. Britain however, was still essentially caught up in the dark ages.

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While William the conqueror and his methods were certainly brutal, one has to acknowledge the economic benefits the Normans brought with them. The UK started to trade with the rest of Europe. The Normans brought security as well as new technology and new ideas. They went on a building boom, castles, city walls, restored Roman roads and then later built many of the country’s now famous cathedrals. A sort of medieval Keynesian economics was at play. By the king’s death, Britain was booming. One is reminded of this Monty python sketch.

Indeed the Economist suggests that the Brentry might even explain the North/South divide. Its often forgotten that there were two invasions of Britain in 1066, one by the Normans, but an earlier unsuccessful one by the Danes (well more specifically the Norwegian king), that was beaten off. Much of northern England had been under Danish influence for sometime, so many supported this invasion. Needless to say they weren’t in a mood to bend the knee to a bunch of cheese eating surrender victory monkey’s. So they resisted, the Normans put down the rebellions with their usual brutality, but this put the north a good century behind the rest of the UK in economic development and they’ve been playing catch up ever since.

War of the worlds hysteria

I also came across a release of Orson Welles infamous War of the World’s broadcast. It is often remembered for the supposed national panic in unleashed when it was mistaken for an actual news broadcast. Well in truth this is mostly a fake news myth invented by the media of the era (sound familiar?).

While yes a small number of very silly people did mistake it for actual news, but these were isolated incidents. Most were quickly informed it was just a radio play of a book that had been available for several decades. There’s no evidence of anyone jumping from roof tops or being treated in hospital for shock, or mass evacuations of New York suburbs. The newspapers blew the story way out of all proportion. Why? Because they, in particular those controlled by Randolph Hearst (the Rupert Murdoch of his day) saw radio as a threat to their business. So the exaggerated the level of panic. And let’s face it, it sold lots of papers.

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Indeed, some pointed to how strange it was some getting in a tizzy over aliens from Mars while ignoring the very real threat from Hearst’s buddy Mr Adolf across the pond in Europe.

Apple’s devolution

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Maybe Apple are just pissed off at having to pay an extra $13 billion in tax. But they announced that they were releasing the new i-phony i-phone without an audio jack. I’m reminded of this sketch from collegehumor. I mean they’ve basically released a product that is less useful than the previous one.

No doubt they will point to the history of the audio jack. Did you know the basic design dates back to 1878? . However equally one could argue the basic design of the wheel dates back to pre-history. Is apple going to try and come up with a new one (i-wheel?). Obviously the real reason is just so they can sell you wireless head phones at $160 a set (which you can then easily loose), while a pair of cheap head phones costs $10.

Suffice to say, this is why I don’t buy Apple products. I mean Microsoft are a bit of a monopoly, but Apple is an outright scam for people with more money than sense.

The future of work

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Many from working class areas of Britain voted for Brexit because they fear their jobs are under threat from migrants. Similarly support for Trump has been growing in parts of the US rust belt. And there’s a major divide, both sides of the Atlantic, when it comes to education. If you have a college degree, you are very unlikely to be a Trump supporter and less likely to have voted leave.

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Now it has to be said that the argument that migrants are taking jobs isn’t backed up by the facts. A strong leave vote was seen in the parts of the UK with the lowest number of migrants, while places like London with very high rates of migrant tended to vote for remain. Similarly, major US cities, where migrants tend to concentrated tend not to be the places where there is strong support for Trump. So either these migrants are holding down three of four jobs (and presumably being rapist, drug dealers and claiming benefits in whatever limited free time this busy schedule allows them), or the risk they pose is being vastly overestimated.

When I hear the story about how, oh I can’t get a job because the company down the road just hired a load of Poles/Mexicans who will work 60 hours a week for 3 bucks an hour, my response is A) don’t you think you should report that to the proper authorities? because its kind of illegal! B) leaving the EU ain’t going to help, you do realise Switzerland and Norway have more migrants per capita than the UK? C) In a globalised world, restricting the movement of labour will result in jobs moving overseas, so its foreigners staying at home and taking your job we need to worry about (far more jobs have moved overseas than have been taken by foreigners moving here) and D) do you have these guys number? cos I’ve got this bit of decking…..

But there’s an elephant in the room here that I think both sides of the debate are missing – automation and technology. In short, even if it were true that you’re in competition with Poles or Mexicans working for £3 a hour (which you aren’t, its just a neo-fascist myth), how do you expect to keep your job when you are competing against a machine that will do the job 24/7 for nothing?

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Like the frog in the saucepan, technology has crept up on us and we’ve not noticed. And yes it is changing the workplace as we know it . Think about it, when was the last time you rented a video? I’m guessing you get your video fixes from youtube or netflix these days? In fact when was the last time you saw a video store? Are there any young people reading this who need me to explain what a video store is? How about booking a holiday or flight in a travel agent? And I mean in an actual office, not online? Same with car insurance or other financial products. What about paying your taxes online? don’t tell me you actually take a day off work so you can go down the tax office and do in manually (obviously you’ve way too much free time!).

Online shopping is now much more common. And in shops these days various tasks are becoming more and more automated. We have those self service checkouts. Its conceivable in the not too distant future that shelves could be stacked by machine (we have machines that can do that already) or even provide customer service (yep, they’ve prototype machines that can do that).

Automated cars are now being developed and while I reckon it will be some time before they become a day to day reality (not because the machine’s aren’t smart enough, but because they have to share the road with dumb humans). But they are probably going to happen eventually, which will have numerous implications…. and meaning a whole host of jobs disappearing or changing radically. And there are similar plans to automate entire ships, cargo planes or trains.

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Could the Johnny cabs of Total Recall become a thing of the future?

In short technology has changed the world of work and it will continue to do so. There will still be jobs available, but many traditional jobs will disappear, and the skill set you need to get those jobs still available (or the new jobs created by technology) will continue to rise. This is the problem facing certain segments of society. As they see it, the bar keeps going up, they can’t get over it anymore, so they have it in their heads that we can somehow lower the bar again and keep everything the same, but we can’t, not without reversing many recent technological trends and isolating ourselves from the globalised world.

In manufacturing engineering for example, we are well ahead of the curve. There’s still plenty of people working in UK factories and the UK still makes lots of stuff. Prior to the Brexit vote the UK was on course exceed its 1970’s peak in car production by the 2020’s, even though the work force is a fraction of what it used to be (i.e. automation has made a smaller workforce more productive). However, nobody gets a job these days in a factory without some sort of qualification. The days when, like in Bruce Springsteen’s “the river”  (or Jimmy Nail’s “big river) , your dad could have a word with the guys down at the plant and you could walk straight into a unionised job for life are long gone.

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Many traditional jobs will increasingly disappear in future

And my prediction is that this will now roll out across the entire economy. The blunt message I’d give to people is that if you don’t have some sort of third level qualification (a degree or professional qualification of some kind) you will probably struggle to remain employed in future. So for those who voted Brexit, or are thinking of voting Trump, I’d say leave migrants alone, they are not the main threat to your employment, you need to get educated.

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And to be honest, you won’t want to be employed in future if you don’t have a qualification. What few unskilled jobs that remain will be increasingly the really crappy jobs that nobody wants, with the highest levels of job insecurity and the worst pay. The sort of jobs which will only be taken by students (who will take anything while they pay their way through college), recently arrive migrants (who just want some cash while they settle in), or those suitably desperate who can’t find anything else. Indeed, the employees of Sports Direct will argue this is already reality for them. You could argue that quite a number of those who voted Brexit (or Trump) are the canaries in the coal mine, as they are already seeing these effects.

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Feel worthless at work sometimes? Others have it worse

However, their actions are likely to prove counter productive. Restricting migration does not mean locals will find it easier to get work. What’s likely to happen is employers will just move jobs overseas, or you’ve just given them a very strong financial incentive to find a way of developing a machine to do those jobs instead.

So clearly such a future of work means some profound changes for society. Obviously the costs of third level education means its beyond the reach of many. Hence why I think of all the proposals from Bernie Sanders that Hillary needs to endorse, its reducing college tuition costs. Yes, I realise that won’t be cheap (i.e. can she afford it and still reduce the deficit?), but I suspect it will be a necessity in future, if a massive level of social stratification is to be avoided.

And in the UK far from putting up fees, we need to start cutting them. Is it any coincidence that in countries like Germany where higher education is free, there is less unemployment and less people whinging about migrants?

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And this is not just for the benefit of those who don’t have a degree yet. Even those of us who have one will likely need to return to university to learn new skills from time to time. A recent trend in academia has been a move towards what are called massive online learning courses. And these are mostly aimed at post-grads (rather than undergrads) looking to learn a new skill. I won’t be surprised if a few years from now, the main job of universities is supporting courses like this, rather than teaching degrees to undergrads in RL.

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The future of work will likely be a future where we need to accept the fact that change is good, its normal. We need to be intellectually curious and willing to learn new things and try out new ideas. Of course if you’re a conservative voter, changes are you’re not intellectually curious and you don’t want things to change. You are also more likely to reject ideas like global warming and evolution. The roller coaster of technology is going too fast, they want it to stop so they can get off.

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In the future all of us will need to re-train and change careers from time to time

But getting off the roller coaster would mean giving up what we have. Given that I can’t see us banning the use of the internet for commercial purposes (I mean how would you even police that!) or introducing soviet style jobs for the boys policies (you join one queue and then another), I don’t see how these future trends can be halted. Technology has created many problems for our society (e.g. global warming) and often as not, the solution to these problems is more technology (e.g. renewables, electric cars). So the “getting off the roller coaster” option that conservatives are aiming for would come with a price and I don’t think they understand that this price is probably more than they are willing to accept (you’d have to live sustainably without fossil fuels or renewables…. so basically become Amish!).

Another question we have to ask is whether full employment is a realistic goal for future society. Our entire economic system assumes that anyone who can work will work, but that may not be true in future, there might not be enough jobs to go around in the future.

Now in theory this shouldn’t be an issue. Technology merely means making a smaller pool of workers more productive. In Germany and Scandinavia, yes the manufacturing sectors are smaller than they were a few decades ago. But they avoided the wholesale decimation of working class areas seen in the US or UK, with some districts being reduced to little more than welfare colonies. This I would argue is because the bulk of these job losses were due to miss guided neo-liberal economic policies in the US and the UK. Reversing these policies would seem a sensible solution, although voting for Trump or Brexit amounts to asking for a double helping of more of the same.

So in theory, full employment is still a possibility. But we need to remember that more productivity often means more energy and resource consumption. Now with good recycling policies and a 100% renewable energy grid this shouldn’t be a problem, but we don’t have that yet. So its possible that full employment will not be possible in future (at least for some period of time). Which means some profound changes to society. Given that already the number of workers is falling in Western states thanks to an ageing population, this means even less and less people having to pay more and more of a nation’s taxes to fund the welfare for those who aren’t working.

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Migrants are increasingly needed to help fund retirement for an ageing population

And incidentally curbing migration, which means less young people coming into the workforce and paying taxes to fund the pensions and healthcare of retirees, is likely to prove entirely counter-productive. It could well be a recipe for national bankruptcy.

My view is that we may need to change how the entire tax system works. This is one of the reasons I’ve long favoured a system of carbon taxes, or taxes on things that are generally bad for society (e.g. high VAT on alcohol or fatty foods), a Tobin tax (i.e. a tax on financial transactions) and of course higher rates of corporation tax. In all cases, the goal here is to spread the tax net away from simply funding everything off of income taxes and pushing those rates up every time the state coffers run bare. Which of course tends to provoke much whinging from the fewer and fewer workers stuck paying incoming tax.

And as for distributing welfare, well one alternative to the current system is that of a basic national income paid out to everyone. This would be enough to fund housing and keep people out of poverty. You want more money, you want the luxuries, get a job and work for it. No more whining about lazy people on benefits, everyone is on benefits, indeed presumably this system would come with the clause that such payment would be withdrawn if anyone commits anti-social behaviour (e.g. petty crime, dodging taxes via your offshore account, the usual!). Just this year the Swiss at a referendum on implementing this. Now while it was rejected, I think this was because many didn’t understand the underlying issues. So I won’t be surprised if such ideas don’t catch on in future.

So in essence our society is at a crossroads. I’d argue that we are at the end of a 2nd gilded age. Like the first gilded age, this was a time when neo-liberal capitalists ran wild, we all had a big party and nobody complained a lot because everyone was doing rather well out of it (as this moment of Zen from the film Margin Call summarises). But now, like in the 1920’s we’re stuck with the hangover. And like society in the 1920’s we face a choice.

On the one hand we can opt for a new deal of continuing down the path of social and technology progress. And let’s face it, progress is good. The factories of past era’s, yes there was full employment, but they were awful places to work. Repetitive backbreaking labour while being exposed to extremes of heat, noise, toxic chemicals and rotating machinery. Many had to retire from such jobs in their 50’s because their job ruined their health. Technology means that cars and other products these days are safer, more reliable (used to be the best way to make money from TV’s was selling warranties to fix them), more energy efficient and more user friendly. I mean is anyone reading this seriously suggesting that they hate Microsoft/Apple/Google so much that you want your old Commodore 64 back?

Or, as some societies did in the 1920’s and 30’s, we may end up taking the regressive path of fascism, blaming foreigners and other convenient scapegoats for all of our ills, restricting trade, reversing past policies, going backwards and focusing inward….until said leaders realise they need a war to prevent national bankruptcy and likely end up starting world war 3 in the process!

The Consequences of Brexit

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I was away on holiday during the vote, I mean I go away for 3 weeks and you lot exit the EU, WTF! Oddly enough I was outside the EU in Norway, basking in land of milk and honey the leave camp promised us?…well actually no.

The Norwegians couldn’t understand why Britain left the EU. They have to pay to be a member of the EEA (one of them was moaning to me about its considerable costs) yet not gain any of the benefits of being an EU member. The main reason why Norway is not in the EU boils down to fisheries. Not because they fear EU regulations, actually they feel the EU doesn’t regulate fisheries enough.

But at least the Norwegians have control over their borders right? No! There are more migrants per capita in Norway than in the UK, about 25% more in fact and they are arriving at a much faster rate than in the UK (nearly 3 times higher per capita faster). At one point (keeping in mind I was in rural areas, small fishing villages, not major towns) I was on a bus, the driver was Chechen, there were several middle eastern gentlemen (who got off at a fish factory, where clearly they were working), quite a few Chinese (and with the prams and shopping bags, I’m guessing they were locals), some tourists like me and perhaps one or two actual Norwegians.

And Switzerland has double the number of migrants per capita that Norway has. The only EEA, non-EU country that has a lower number of migrants than the UK is Iceland (which is only marginally lower). Which probably has less to do with Iceland’s migration policy and everything to do with the name of your country including the word “Ice” in it (hence, migrants tend to give it a wide berth fearful they’ll freeze to death or be eaten by a polar bear). So unless the Brexiters are proposing to rename the UK “Icebergland” or “Monster Island”, its unlikely this will have any impact on migration.

And already a number of the predictions and warnings are starting to come true, the pound has plunged in value, the stock markets were down $2 trillion in just 48 hrs, trading in certain shares was actually suspended at one point. Inflation is likely to rise, food prices will go up and many of those retiree’s and people on low incomes who voted leave will soon themselves considerably worse off and baring the brunt of consequences (as predicted).

Immediately I felt this effect as it meant everything started becoming more expensive. Room’s I’d booked a few days earlier suddenly rose in price rapidly. It was like living in Zimbabwe. I was in a queue waiting to change the last of my Kronor’s in Oslo airport, reading the news when I saw the story about the UK being downgraded by all 3 of the major rating’s agencies, so when I was asked which currency I’d like my money back in I said euro’s, rather than pounds.

Dirty rotten scoundrels – Project Betrayal

On his way out the door Cameron said that the leave camp had a lot to live up to, by which he meant all the insane lies and promises they made prior to the vote. Well less than 24 hrs after the vote they were breaking every single promise made. Apparently they never promised the NHS £350 million a week, despite driving around on a bus with that written on it.

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Nor indeed will there be any changes to immigration law, because there’s no proof anyone voted leave due to fears over….despite the leave camp stirring up racial hatred for months (to the point where an MP got murdered). After all if Britain applies such restrictions to other EU states, they’d reply by doing the same to Britain in turn (which would lead to many ex-pats from the UK being forced to return home, and millions of them coming back in all at once would make any current issues regarding migrations seem pretty small).

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And fishermen have been warned to expect no increases in allowed catches. Indeed, the experts have been warning of over fishing for years, post-Brexit the expert advise would probably by for a complete halt to all fishing in UK waters for a few years.

To EEA or not to EEA?

The crucial question the markets are asking is whether or not the UK will now go for a “Norway model” of EEA membership. This would give the UK access to the single European market and involve the least amount of disruption to the economy.

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However, as noted earlier this represents pretty poor value for money. The UK would still essentially have to pay the EU for the privilege (Norway pays 83% of what we pay now), most of those pesky EU laws the leave camp were hammering on about would remain in place, only now the UK gets no say in any future changes to said laws (our EU parliament members are essentially replaced by fax machine in Whitehall through which future EU dictates will be received and implemented with question). And crucially there will have to be a commitment to free movement of people, the Germans have been pretty clear about that one.

The only reason Norway and Iceland accept these terms (rather than just go the whole hog and join the EU) is because of issues regarding fisheries (as noted), while the Swiss worry about the EU trying to arrest all its bankers and money launderers, if they became a member. So these countries accept these conditions for very specific reasons.

Yes there will be some changes. Much like other EEA countries, EU citizens coming over will have to fill in a few forms, it becomes a bit easier to deny them benefits (until they start working and paying taxes of course). But once they’ve been here long enough it will make no difference in real terms, just more bureaucracy (which of course UK tax payers will be paying for of course). The likelihood is that the result will be (as noted) no decrease in migration. Indeed in certain scenarios it could lead to an increase in migration, as minorities in the EU who currently can’t apply for asylum in the UK will gain that right.

The UK will also be able to pick and chose to keep certain elements of legislation its adopted from the EU. And the main two areas where they will be able to effect change are employment law and the environment. In short, its likely the Tories will now gut employment laws and remove many of the rights and protections that workers, particularly low income workers. have long relied on. By voting for Brexit they have now voted to remove the laws that say, stops you being fired by your boss just because you got sick or insisted on wearing a safety harness to stop you falling to your death. And forget about asking for Christmas day off to be with your family, or for overtime pay.

As for the environment, its now likely the laws here will also be gutted. Its now questionable, if not very improbable that the UK will remain committed to its the promises made during the Paris climate conference. Siemens has already announced it is freezing all wind farm development in the UK. Its also been warned that the £20 billion in new energy infrastructure the UK now needs to keep the lights on may not be build in time. Warnings have also been raised about further delays or a cancellation of Hinkley C.

Rise of UKIP?

Now while the markets, private industry and quite a few in the Tory party are quite happy to push back from the table and take EEA membership as the least worse option, this is very different from the milk and honey” promises made during the referendum. Of the leave camp people, I can count using my thumbs the number who voted leave for reason other than immigration. Many of the Brexit voters, once they realise they’ve been conned on a massive scale, will probably not accept those terms and probably drive for something else. Of course they won’t get it, but they’ll try. As Paul Mason puts it:

What happens when the investment banks move to Frankfurt, the carmakers to Hungary, the offshore finance wizards to Dublin, the tech companies to newly independent Scotland? What happens when, instead of Poles, it is poor white English people herded into the polytunnels of Kent to pick strawberries for union-busting gangmasters?”

But if the Tories think they’ve killed off UKIP, think again. My guess is that whoever emerges from the Tory leadership contest will go to the EU, sign away Britain’s sovereignty in exchange for EEA access, leave the country worse off than it was before. There will be (as noted) no specific immigration restrictions.

UKIP will ignore the reasoning behind this (reason and logic aren’t exactly their strong points) and they will respond to this complete betrayal of every promise made during the referendum by campaigning at the next election on a platform for tearing up any EEA agreement and “shutting the border”. They’ll promise a points system (which as I’ve discussed before, won’t work and ignores certain fundamental facts such as the fact that Canada or Australia don’t apply their points system to their immediate neighbours), and much other silliness. Inevitably they’ll pick up some significant portion of the leave vote and likely split the Tory vote.

In essence all Cameron will have done is guarantee that his warring party will now struggle to ever get a majority in future. They will only ever be able to form coalition governments with either the lib dem’s, labour, or if desperate UKIP.

Labour unity?

Now is the time for labour to take advantage of the political chaos in the Tory party, rise above events and cease the moment…..if they weren’t at war with themselves! Okay, Corbyn could have been a bit more active during the referendum campaign, but to blame him for Brexit is simply not fair. The blame lies squarely with Cameron. Like everything else he screwed it up, holding it at a time of year when the turnout from young voters would be low (as they won’t be at term time addresses, or working, or at Glastonbury) and millions of Brits abroad or EU citizens who’ve lived here all of their lives were excluded from the vote.

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But such is the labour party’s hatred for their own leader, he can’t do anything right. If he rescued a baby from a burning building, half his team would quit on grounds that he was anti-fire, mocking man’s greatest invention while taking jobs away from hard working firemen.

A labour leadership battle now could not be more ill-timed. And the balance of probability is, either Corbyn will emerge victorious (once the party faithful have another vote) or someone else from the hard left of the party will take over in his place. Granted, labour’s changes at the next election are better with a centrist in charge, but a leaderless, warring labour party has no chance.

Scotland?

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As expected, the SNP have suggested a 2nd referendum on Scottish independence is now very likely. 63% of Scot’s voted to stay in the EU, in parts of Edinburgh, the remain vote was as high as 78%. And as also expected, opinion polls are starting to show a lead for independence. A recent poll post-EU referendum suggests a whopping 27% lead to independence, although previous polls suggest a smaller lead.

It would make sense for the SNP to delay any independence vote for as long as possible. Let the economic bad news build, let more of the leave camp realise that they’ve been betrayed and conned by the Tory party, then when the country is nice and angry, call the referendum. While I was minded to support independence last time (but critical of the SNP), but I guessed it probably won’t pass. This time., I’m not so sure. Like I said, it will boil down to timing.

And Sturgeon shows every sign of playing it cool this time. She’s been in talks with Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and even the London mayor about some sort of plan to keep these regions in the EU, but perhaps still in the UK. I’m not entirely sure how that would work, but by going through the motions she can claim that she at least tried.

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She’s also talking to the EU directly (having already been in talks with the Irish) and will be meeting with the EU president shortly. And some of the murmurs coming out of Brussels suggest she made find a sympathetic ear.

If Scotland can get some sort of deal from the EU, either an option to leave the UK and stay in the EU (unlikely, but worth a shot), or some sort of fast track framework to EU membership (keep in mind, leaving the UK will take a few years anyway) then that could dramatically change the outcome of any 2nd Independence referendum. A narrow chance of a Yes suddenly becomes a near certainty.

Currency is an issue too, as it was a key factor last time. I would hope this time the SNP have the sense not to propose keeping the pound, which is falling in value and probably not a very safe bet. Some sort of “Denmark model” for a future Scottish pound is a possibility. It would be pegged to the euro initially (until an independent Scotland is able to find its own feet), then later allowed to float more freely. This would be a much more sellable option that all the if’s and possibly maybe’s from last time.

In short, by England voting for Brexit an independent Scotland looks a lot more likely.

United Ireland?

And in Northern Ireland too, Sinn Fein are already seeking a border poll on uniting the Island. Of all the regions in the UK, Northern Ireland will suffer the worst from Brexit. They have to compete against a Republic of Ireland where taxes are lower, our GDP is higher (so people have more money to spend), we have better infrastructure, more third level graduates, access to the eurozone and now post-Brexit the single market too. Ask yourself if you were setting up a company on the Island of Ireland, which side of the border would you set up in?

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Its worth keeping in mind that Brexit puts the northern Ireland peace process under threat. The lack of border controls, means any attempt to impose any kind of immigration restrictions on EU citizens in the UK will be impossible. All a Polish guy will need to do is get a cheap Ryanair ticket to Dublin, hop on a bus (there are buses direct from the airport) and he’ll be driven straight to Belfast city centre.

Any sort of tariff’s will result in smuggling, which means more money going towards terrorist groups up in the North (this was sort of the whole point in doing away with border controls, eliminate a key flash point!). Putting border controls at northern Ireland ports would be unprecedented (and probably unworkable given the shear volume of traffic they handle). I know of no other country that has border posts within its own national boundaries. They effects on the Northern Irish trade would be considerable, and inevitably drive more towards voting for a united Island.

So the Good Friday agreement will have to be renegotiated and you can bet what Sinn Fein’s demands will now be. Certainly opinion polls, all taken prior to the EU vote I might add, do suggest no appetite for a united Ireland. Even among Northern Ireland Catholic’s its questionable if you’d get a majority. However, I suspect that given time this will change.

It is often forgotten that the silent majority of Northern Irish people are neither strongly unionist, nor republican. They just want to get along and keep their job. Naturally if this majority now start losing jobs, start see their mortgages and living costs rising, then those poll numbers will start to shift and eventually you will probably find that a majority voting for a united Ireland isn’t that unlikely.

Interestingly there’s been a huge rush for Irish passports since Brexit. Being Irish (which fortunately I am) is a sort of post-Brexit hack. You have all the rights of British citizenship, but are also an EU citizen. The Irish passport office is starting to complain about the shear volume it now needs to process. Potentially 6 million in the UK could apply (that’s nearly 10% of the population!).

Certainly one has to say, as I’ve been saying for years, a UK outside of the EU might well mean an end to the UK. Hence why UKIP should really call themselves the UK destruction party.

Indeed, a complete break up of the UK isn’t that unlikely. I don’t think it will happen soon, but it may well now be a medium term inevitability. One could argue that the UK is a pact based on the understanding that the England will not allow overt English nationalism to do anything that would harm the interests of the non-English minorities within the UK. If you take the view that that contract was just torn up on the 23rd, then the pact that has allowed the UK to exist is broken and its very possible the different parts of the UK will eventually go their separate ways.

I mean, even some in London are talking about independence from the rest of the country now!

Economic fallout

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As noted there’s been turmoil on the markets the last few days. And while there’s been something a a rally (which I’d put down to news that Teresa May seems more likely to success Cameron than Boris!), one can expect this to be temporary. With every drip of bad news the markets will gradually drop that little bit further. Already many companies have put in place a hiring freeze, my uni’s already done so, were expecting an announcement as to whether a spending freeze will also now come in.

Obviously a slow down in the economy will produce a bear market, falling stock prices, rising inflation, wages frozen yet the cost of living going up and falling tax revenue. While Osborne has backtracked for now on a post-referendum emergency budget, its difficult to see how some changes won’t be needed.

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The trouble is Osborne’s already pulled all of the Austerity levers he can. His options now are to either go after areas where he hasn’t cut substantially which is basically those things that benefit pensioners, raise taxes (fat chance of that!) or pull the one lever he hasn’t tried yet – the compulsory enforced retirement of public sector workers above the age of say, 60 (some countries have gone to this extreme already as part of their austerity). And before the many Brexiters who are in this age group start whining about how he can’t do that, why we have rights….oh you mean those rights in EU law you just voted against?

Half a million civil service are believed to be at risk. Bottom line, if you thought things were bad before they are about to get worse and its generally been those who voted for Brexit who will feel the pinch.

The generational gap

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Which brings us to the issue that there was a large generational gap in voting patterns. The old disproportionately voted for Brexit, while the young voted to stay in. Had the turn out of young people been higher (as it would have been had Cameron held the referendum at another time of year) the result could have been different.

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Some have likened this to a generational betrayal. As Jack Lennard puts it:

“This is a final middle-fingered salute to the young from the baby boomer generation. Not content with racking up insurmountable debt, not content with destroying any hopes of sustainable property prices or stable career paths, not content with enjoying the benefits of free education and generous pension schemes before burning down the ladder they climbed up, the baby boomers have given one last turd on the doorstep of the younger generation”

Or as Nicholas Barrett puts it:

“the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors”

Many of the younger generation are now stuck with the reality that Brexit will make it harder for them to get a job and harder to get on the property ladder (yes house prices might fall, but if you can’t get a mortgage or a job to pay for it, what difference does that make!). Inter-generational betrayal could well lead to anger and eventually inter-generational revenge (a scenario, a BBC “if” episode looked into a few years back, where the younger generation rebelled against the generous deal pensioners are getting and voted in politicians who withdrew many of these benefits).

Hence why if the government were to exercise the options I mentioned earlier (gut pensions, withdraw winter fuel payments and free TV licenses, force older workers into retirement) I don’t think there will be a lot of sympathy from the younger generations. And when pensioners start to struggle because a jump in inflation and a bear market has suddenly made it harder to fund their retirement, I suspect many will say, you made your bed now lie in it.

In short anyone of pension age, or approaching it (and you might be retiring a little earlier now than you thought!) who voted for Brexit has just voted for a more scary and unpredictable financial future.

Anti-Intellectualism and racism

We now live in a post-facts era. In the referendum campaign, many facts and certainties (i.e. that the £350 million a week claim was rubbish, that the pound would fall in value, that the UK’s credit rating would be cut, etc.) were simply ignored by leave voters, in favour of lies, myths and half baked bullshit. It is, as Dana Nuccitelli points out, not really surprising to learn that many Brexit voters also happen to be climate change deniers.

So Brexit does suggest the sort of rising anti-intellectualism that we’ve been seeing in America has now spread to the UK. Given how crucial science is to the UK economy, this is a very worrying development. Quite apart from the fact that UK universities and tech companies are highly dependant on EU research funding (as well as access to the EEA for collaborative research purposes), this could well represent a slide backwards for the UK. One could see the UK falling behind in the science race, which will of course eventually have a devastate economic effect on the country.

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And one of the post-referendum effects seems to be that its now okay to be openly racist in the UK. Many ethnic minorities have complained about an upsurge in racist abuse. Least we forget an MP was killed during the campaign. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will prove to be an isolated incident.

And coincidently, the view from abroad isn’t good. Many in the hostel’s in Norway whom I met from around the world took this referendum as being essentially an opinion poll on how racist Britain is. Given that 52% on a turn out of 70% voted leave, some are interpreting this as saying that 37% of British are racists. Britain’s reputation in the world has taken a severe beating as a result.

It worth watching what some of the US media are making of this, here’s Samatha Bea’s take on Brexit, the Daily Show’s and John Oliver’s.

Will German’s still buying Mini’s or Indians buy Jaguar cars they know to have been built by bigots? Will Beefeater Gin (which was being heavily marketed in Sweden while I was there) still be touting their Britishness when most people associate Britain with racism and bigotry? And will high tech firms set up in a country where their ethnic minority workers face racial harassment on the streets and bureaucratic racism from the state just because they had the nerve to come here and push money into the UK economy?

UK Trumped

Donald Trump, who showed all his keen political skills by arriving in the country at the worst possible time. It was a bit like a fan of KISS showing up to a concert the day after when a Baptist prayer group were renting the hall.

Trump did make some noises that he favoured Brexit and would offer the UK a favourable trade deal. Fat chance of that, Trump after all has flip-flopped his way through this whole campaign.

Trump is very much a protectionist and the idea that he would offer the UK a deal that will put his own business and the jobs of those voting for him at a disadvantage is clearly not going to happen. Once all of this is pointed out to him, he’d likely drag his feet on any deal and demand lots of concession, which (given how desperate the UK will be to get a deal) Westminster will have to concede on. He’ll probably insist on Windsor castle being named the Trump palace and putting a golf course across the tops of the cliff’s of Dover.

The UK’s best hope is that Clinton wins and wins big, with her party gaining a majority in Congress. This will cause her to focus on domestic politics and she’ll be anxious to avoid distractions. So she’ll toss the Brit’s a bone and perhaps given in on a few points. However anyone thinking that 60 million can get a better deal from 300 million Americans, than 450 million Europeans can get is clearly living in cloud cuckoo land.

And the UK will also now have to negotiate trade deals with other countries too, Japan, China, India, etc. In all cases they have the UK over a barrel. As noted, already there’s talk of Hinkley C being cancelled because of Brexit and of major infrastructure projects being put off as it is. Many UK jobs are dependant on foreign firms (increasingly owned by Asia) remaining in the UK. So its inevitable that the UK will not get anything like the deal it currently gets from these countries by being in the EU.

Indeed, its the WTO the UK first needs to square the circle with. Technically the UK will now have to join the WTO and its chief has already warned that’s not going to be straight forward, getting more difficult the further the UK drifts from a EEA style Norway model. Without WTO membership foreign trade becomes increasingly difficult.

A second vote?

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All of these things explains why several million have signed a petition calling for a 2nd vote. Already several Tories have suggested that there should be a 2nd referendum on the terms of any exit deal, while the lib dem leader is promising to try and stop Brexit and if that doesn’t work campaign on a platform of taking the UK back into the EU.

All of this raises the possibility of a 2nd EU referendum. Which given how dangerously flawed the last one was, its hardly fair that a racist minority (i.e. 37% of the electorate) should be allowed to cause so much damage to the lives of the remaining majority. However there is a rather significant obstacle to any talk of a 2nd vote. The EU itself.

As far as the EU is concerned out means out, as Junker has made very clear. Any idea of informal talks is being denied and the EU is putting increasing pressure on the UK to invoke article 50 and start the ball rolling on its EU exit. Quite simply put, the EU is fed up with pandering to the Brits, you’ve decided to leave, fine piss off then and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

And keep in mind some eurocrats in Brussels have long favoured some sort of arrangement that demotes the UK to 2nd class status within the EU, so a push towards EEA membership is probably the next least worse option as they see it.

Also by shuffling Britain towards the exit door, the EU knows it makes it more likely that they will get an agreement favourable to them. The UK will have two years to negotiate its exit or risk being chucked out without any agreement, likely provoking a full blown economic crises and mass capital flight (if you thought events on Friday were bad, wait a while). As I pointed out before a future UK PM will come under enormous pressure at this point from the civil service, business, the military and allies to sign any such deal put in front of them by the EU, even if it ultimately leaves the UK worse off that it already is. So Brussels strategy here is sound.

So even in the best case scenario, e.g. the Tory party splits, an early election which a labour and lib dem coalition wins. Along with the pro-EU elements of the Tory party they hold an immediate 2nd referendum and win; I would still expect the EU to insist that the UK need to renegotiate its membership. This means that all of those “reforms” Cameron got will go (they were only there to appease the bigot brigade, which clearly didn’t work, so no point in keeping them) as will likely things like the British rebate. Of course if they are feeling particularly uncharitable they may insist the UK must now accept entry to the EU under the same terms and conditions of a new EU member state (i.e. all of the UK’s opt outs will go, we have to commit to joining the euro, etc.).

In short the UK just said no to the best deal we were ever going to get from Brussels. Any attempt to dither about leaving or re-enter the EU will mean accepting an agreement which leaves the UK worse off than it was before. There is basically no going back from this. If your a regret full leave voter, then your a moron and and idiot, do me a favour and stay away from ballot boxes.

Ignore it?

Another option is that parliament simply ignores the referendum. In theory its not legally binding, both houses (and arguably the Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish assemblies) have to approve it and its probable at least one of those will say no (actually all would vote no if given a free vote). In short, Parliament could treat this referendum as if someone just chucked a dead cat in their yard, get a shovel and throw it back over the fence.

However, I don’t think that’s a realistic option politically, nor do I think the EU, nor the markets would except this without some form of 2nd referendum or an early election.

The positives?

Which brings me to at least the one set of positives we can salvage from all of this. Brexit marks probably the end to all of the right’s lies and myths. Like a serial killer they’ve finally managed to act out their twisted fantasy and are now stuck with the consequences of that.

And the consequences are the buck stops here. Pretty much everything bad that happens over the next few years will be blamed (rightly or wrongly) on Brexit. Can’t get a job, or you’ve just lost the one you had, guess who’s fault that is? Not foreigners, not migrants or the EU, but the people like you who voted for Brexit! Your company can’t export overseas anymore because of a loss of free trade deals with the China and the US, guess whose to blame for that one? Your benefits cheque just got cut and you’re in dire financial straits, well you shouldn’t have voted leave then! You’re a pensioner and now can’t afford to heat your home or buy food anymore, well guess whose fault that is? Going abroad is now a pain in the ass because of all the passport controls and red tape, well I suppose you shouldn’t have voted for Brexit should you!

In essence Brexit amounts to the Bigot brigade breaking cover. And out in the open they are now exposed to certain day to day realities in a way they’ve previously managed to avoid. Because unfortunately reality has something of a pro-liberal and pro-progressive bias.

Other stories of the week….

Osborne pledge comes back to haunt him
I recall, back when I was a student, not long after Blair brought in fees, being told by some Tory drone how the Tories were anti-tuition fees. In fact they’d signed pledges to repeal them once elected. Now at the time I thought, ya sure, were those printed on loo roll?

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Needless to say it was obviously a desperate tactic the Tories used to try and avoid total wipe out in some constituencies during the Blair years. Once they stood a chance of actually being elected they quietly forgot about these pledges.

However a student, going through her old things has managed to find one of these fabled Tory “no tuition fee” pledges with Osborne’s signature on it. Here’s a link to the incriminating document.

You may recall all the hostility directed at the lib dems for them signing pledges against tuition fees, only for them to break those pledges once in coalition. Indeed, the lib dems would point out, tuition fee rises weren’t there idea, that would be the Tories….notably Osborne himself! Although I would note that documents do suggest that it might not have been that clear cut.

But if anything we have Osborne caught doing something far worse. He clearly and knowingly signed pledges which he had no intention of following through on if he got into power. Beware the naive person (such as the lib dems!) who believes anything the Tories say.

No more mortarboards
And speaking of uni’s, the elf n’safety killjoy’s campaign to suck the joy out of life continues. East Anglia university has now banned its students from throwing mortar boards in the air after graduation on the grounds that “they might cause injury”. But don’t worry, we’ll photoshop them in!

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Quite frankly any student who is so dumb enough to throw a mortar board in the air, then forget about how gravity works and gets injured by it, well clearly they didn’t learn a lot in uni!

Referendum gets nastier
Now while I will agree that Cameron and the stay camp are perhaps hamming it up in their case for staying in the EU, something Sturgeon drew attention to today. However, their position is based on facts, although they are perhaps taking the most negative version of those facts. But the position of the leave camp is based on BS, outright liespetty racism and xenophobia.

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Take the latest one regarding Turkey. The leave camp claim that we can’t stop the Turks joining the EU and swarms of Turk’s streaming across the channel. Well actually, no. All the nations of the EU will have a veto and its likely Greece and Cyprus will object unless Turkey changes its stance towards the situation in Northern Cyprus. There’s a big long list of other issues that Turkey needs to agree too. And nobody can see that happening any time soon.

Furthermore, like any new entrant to the EU, there would be some temporary restrictions on immigration of Turkish workers, as had applied to other states who recently joined the EU such as Romania, Bulgaria and Poland (the UK chose to wave the restrictions on Polish migration under Tony Blair as the UK had a shortage of labour at the time given the then economic boom).

To say the leave camp’s statement is far from the truth doesn’t even cut it. Either the leave camp are grossly misinformed and need to fire their advisers (that will be the ones in the KKK get up!). Or they are openly and quite deliberately lying (same as they’ve still got that BS about the EU costing us £350 million emblazoned on their battle bus, even thought this was debunked weeks ago, yet they keep repeating it) because somehow they think its for the greater good that they lie about this one.

Antibiotic resistance rates growing
And again we have worrying long term projections about a possible future without antibiotics. Already several bacteria resistant to all known antibiotics have surfaced. This report warns that by 2050, we could see someone die from a superbug related strain every 3 seconds.

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The report does suggest a number of radical measures. Notably, a requirement that pharmaceutical companies are forced to either spend money on antibiotic research, or to pay some sort of tax on their profits which will be fed into such research. The report also recommends a strict no antibiotic prescriptions policy to doctors, unless they’ve first done tests to confirm it will actually help.

Of course, I would argue the problem needs to be tackled at source. In many parts of the world, antibiotics are routinely fed to farm animals, even ones who are not in the least bit ill. Studies have shown this is a very likely source of any future superbug outbreak, given that several of these superbugs have been found in farm animals. A ban on such practices (a ban on any meat produced this way, with testing of animal carcasses for traces of antibiotics) would go a long way. Yes it will mean more animals dying, which in turn will make meat much more expensive, but it’s the most sensible way to resolve the problem.

Still standing
Despite the fact that all the twits on twitter have been chirping it for months it would seem this PJS/YMA super-injunction is still standing. This is thanks to the Judge (known as SS for Senior Sentencer) doesn’t want to be made a fool of by being proved wrong, so he’s acting like a little kid, in the face of the internet’s attempts at blowing it out like a candle in the wind. I mean seriously, just put “pjs” into google followed by a space and see which is the first name the auto complete comes up with. Already newspapers beyond the UK have named them. A classic proof of the Streisand effect, although I think its going to be a long, long time before the SS, PJS and YMA are furnished with the knowledge about how foolish this is making them look.

More importantly however is that what is going on here is judges and lawyers making up new laws without anything being passed in parliament. While the human rights act does play a role in this, keep in mind other EU countries don’t have the same issue, even in Russia (which also subject to the same human rights act, hence why Putin is currently being sued over MH17). The fault lies with the nature of the UK justice system and a lack of a UK constitution.

Egypt Air flight
There’s a lot of speculation, about this Egypt air plane missing over the Mediterranean. Many are assuming, or all but concluding it was terrorism, however I’m not so sure.

One has to be very careful about reading too much into any facts that filter out during an air crash investigation until all the evidence is in. Because it could turn out to be significant, or it might not matter.

For example, the plane executed a 90 degree and then a 360 degree turn. This could mean some sort of pilot action, either as an attempt to recover from some mechanical failure, or perhaps someone trying to crash the plane (perhaps a cockpit intrusion). However, equally it could just be the result of an out of control plane with a jammed stabiliser.

However the day afterwards, the media were certain it was terrorism. The Sun had it on good authority from some “aviation expert” (I assume that means some bloke down the pub who thinks he was in the RAF durin the war) that the plane was brought down by a cockpit fight with hijackers.

But revelations from the final ACARS messages (web updates the plane sends back to manufacturers relating to possible system problems) reveals smoke in the avionics bay and/or lavatory a few minutes prior to the crash. This tends to suggest that what happened to the plane was more gradual and tends to suggest a fire. That said, any sort of malfunction could lead to false ACARS signals, so we still can’t rule out some sort of terrorist action. Its just a fire (possibly someone having a fag in the toilet, or an electrical fire) does seem the more likely cause. But even so, better to wait until all the facts are in.

That said, I won’t hold my breath and wait for the Egyptians to produce a report, as they have a pretty awful reputation when it comes to air crash investigations. The loss of Egypt Air 990 was almost certainly caused by a suicidal pilot, something everyone, except the Egyptians, now accepts. They instead blame a “technical fault” that has never been seen before and never seen since then.

And the Metrojet flight brought down over the Sinai, is now widely accepted to be a bomb. But again the Egyptians will not admit this, instead concocting theory after theory to explain it away without them having to take the blame. So I won’t hold your breath and think the truth will eventually come out.

Stoned Sheep on the rampage
Finally, we have the story of stoned sheep on the rampage in a small Welsh town. They had eaten cannabis abandoned by the side of a road and went on a psychedelic, drug fuelled rampage through the local village. Now that’s what I call a Baaad trip!

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The engineer’s view

I was catching up on the latest views from the engineering realm over the last few weeks and I thought it would be useful to reflect on some recent developments.

Perovskite Solar cells
Despite being a £120 billion worldwide business, renewables received very little coverage over the election. And what coverage it did receive involved promises from the Tories to cut subsidies…and give an even bigger subsidy to the nuclear industry! And let’s not even get started on subsidies to the fossil fuel industry which vastly exceed anything ever given to renewables.

Well one innovation getting some recent attention is that of solar cells relying on Perovskite rather than silicon, with a British firm, Oxford PV, at the forefront of developments….well until the Tories run them out of town (you know how pro-business they are!).

What is interesting about the Perovskite panels is that they offer the opportunity for significantly enhanced efficiencies, particularly if used in tandem with a layer of silicon based panels. Also they offer a much lower environmental impact. The environmental impact of solar panels is often exaggerated by critics, who often ignore the fact that far more heavy metals are emitted by fossil fuel plants. That said, there is certainly a desire to cut those numbers further, particularly if the result offers yet another opportunity for major cuts in production costs.

The downside? Most of the world’s Persoviskite is sourced from Russia!

Bladeless Wind turbines
Another innovative idea is bladeless wind turbines. These rely on the principle of resonance to keep the turbines turning, without the need for any blades. This offers the possibility of lower visual impact, greater efficiency and lower costs.

Downsides? Well the technology isn’t very mature and it may prove difficult to scale up these turbines to the levels seen with HAWT’s. But its good to see this sort of research with people thinking outside of the box. However it also shows why subsidies are necessary, at least so long as we are effectively subsidising other energy sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear.

Scrapping the bottom of the railway barrel
Recently Scotrail was rather controversially taken over by the Dutch company, Abellio,….which sounds like a type of stomach complaint you’d get after eating too many Amsterdam space cakes! 😳

Anyway, one of the things that Abellio did was to promise that they’d buy in new trains. However the IMECHE magazine has suggested, as has the Scottish Herald, that quite a few of these will be refurbished Intercity 125’s, a type of British rail era train set. So it would seem a “new” train to the Dutch is to slap a coat of paint on something you’ve pulled out of railway bone yard. Dressing up mutton as lamb doesn’t quite cut it, this is dressing up haggis and calling it caviar!

The IMECHE is of course strongly behind HS2. However in recent additions, they’ve been recognising that there is still scepticism from large sections of the public. However they do point out that the major question critics fail to answer is, if not HS2 what else? The UK has an antiquated and inefficient railway system that most Eastern European countries would be ashamed of.

Continuing the current policy of sticky plasters on a leaky dam isn’t going to cut it. New lines have to be built to ease overcrowding, as well a long delayed completion of countrywide electrification (yes less than half of the UK’s railway network is electrified!). New trains need to be bought in to increase speeds, relieve overcrowding and provide greater comfort. Stations need to be upgraded, after all we’re still using an infrastructure largely designed by the Victorians when the population was a fraction of today’s.

In short, its time for some difficult and ultimately expensive spending decisions to be made. Or we’ll be still being trucked around on creaky overcrowded railway carriages older than the majority of the people sitting in them.

Brexit may mean bis-exit
And of course the general view of the engineering community to Brexit would be something along the lines of “have the rest of you gone mad or what?”. EU membership is crucial to trade. While it is true that the head of JCB did back Brexit, this was taken by many of his colleagues as a sign that he’s slightly out of touch.

The pro-exit camp are often deluded into thinking that the UK is so important to the EU that we can drive a hard bargain and get a better deal with the EU (and other countries) outside the union, for example pointing to the large amounts of cross channel trade, about 50% of UK overseas trade is with the EU, about £11.8 bn in exports and £19.7 bn in imports.

However this has to put in the context of the EU’s total trade of 1.7 trillion euro’s and imports of 1.6 trillion. Yes UK trade with the EU might be worth 50% of our trade, but its just 1% of the EU’s total trade!

In the event of a break down in negotiations post Brexit, who do you think will blink first? the British delegation worried about losing 50% of trade, or the EU worried about losing 1%? The UK will be over a barrel in such negotiations, as they will also find themselves when negotiating with the US or China. Merkel could force Cameron to endure some sort of bush-tucker trial and he’d happily eat frogs legs or snails, perhaps get him to drink that awful Berliner Kindl beer, and yet he’d still sign anything they put in front of him. He’d have no choice.

Already there are signs that businesses are positioning themselves for Brexit. In the back pages of the engineering mag’s you’ll hear all sorts of stories, for example that Jaguar is building new factories, not in the UK (while the Castle Bromwich site is full, they’ve plenty of space at other sites) but overseas in Asia, Turkey or the EU. And this is by no means a one off, what’s left of UK automotive manufacturing would be in dire straits in the event of Brexit. Rolls Royce and Airbus, have not been quiet about their views on Brexit and its again worth noting that they seem to be either holding off on key investment decisions or have already decided to build new factories overseas. Even today’s announcements regarding HSBC had a Brexit angle.

The danger of course being, that all of these move will leave major corporations with essentially one foot already out of the UK, making it very easy for them to simply move completely out of the UK if (as predicted) there are major issues post an EU referendum.

Back to 1992
Cameron was elected Tory leader on the promise that he would stop the party “banging on about Europe”.

Well at this week’s G8…..or is it now the G7 again…. world leaders were busy discussing the crises in Ukraine, Libya and Syria, the refugee crises that has resulted, the possibility of Grexit, the great sand wall of China and climate change. Meanwhile Cameron spent much of the G7 leaving the room to argue with his own MP’s over Europe. And Farage, perhaps feeling left out, decided to have a go at the Americans (Obama has made it clear that US/UK relations will suffer if the UK leaves the EU, something Farage has more or less helped to confirm).

I recall warning anyone who voted Tory (or UKIP) that you better like Europe because you’re going to be hearing about it alot for the next five years and not a lot else. Its like 1992 all over again. If this is what the next few years are going to be like perhaps Cameron should just resign and we can have John Major back!

We of the tiny house
One environmental movement that has been growing in recent years has been the push for greener and more energy efficient homes. The UK’s building account for 42% of the country’s energy consumption, thus anything that cuts the carbon footprint of houses is going to have a dramatic impact. German or Scandinavian style “passivhaus” buildings offer dramatic energy savings, with a house that potentially needs no central heating system, yet is still comfortable and warm in winter.

And some are going further from zero carbon homes, to houses that actually generate energy or homes build from low impact recycled materials. Its a concept started off by the so-called “earthship” movement of the 1970’s, which is now starting to go mainstream.

Another more recent development is the Tiny house movement. These seek to build very small and compact homes. By building a house small you are obviously greatly reducing the home’s environmental footprint. While not everyone’s cup of tea (I won’t mind one, but I’d use it as a weekend cottage up in the Highlands), they do come with the advantage of much shorter lead times, lower costs and that they can be built on much smaller sites and literally squeezed into places you couldn’t normally fit a house. A documentary internet film discusses the movement and its ideas here.

However in the US and Canada, the authorities have taken a dim view of these environmental movements, no doubt convinced “green home” means hippies growing BC bud, while Tiny house means “trailer trash“. They’ve been cracking down on such building projects and blocking planning. Of course green buildings have been here before, the Earth ship movement faced similar difficulties in the 70’s.

But so much for the land of the free! And whatever you do, don’t park a Tesla outside that Tiny house (they’ve been banned too!), they’d probably waterboard you! Clearly this just shows that Republicans are the biggest hypocrites on the planet. Perhaps the tiny house people should just put a gun rack on the roof, mount the home on wheels and call it an SUV. They’d probably get a subsidy for that in texas!

Sodom and Houston
Speaking of which, in addition to banning Tesla’s for being too good to the environment and stopping the climate change that isn’t happening. But if it is, its caused not be greenhouse gases, but by Sodomy. A piece from Texas radio in which some bible thumping hick blames recent flooding in Houston on “sodomy”.

Seriously? I assume in this context “Sodomy” means them city folk with their fancy mobile phones, “rock and roll”, that thing called “the internet” and “DVD’s”. Careful now and down with that sort of thing!

Week in review

Time to print Drachmas?
The optimist in me is looking at the climb down by the Greeks in negotiations with the EU, as promising. While its clearly not a workable deal, it shows that the Greek’s need to kerb their enthusiasm while the Germans need to cut them some slack. So it could be a step towards something more positive. Meanwhile the pessimist in me thinks that the real reason why the Greeks finally gave in is because they need to kick things into the long grass for a few months to give them time to print Drachma’s.

Actually, if I were the Greek’s, I’d start printing Drachma’s anyway. It gives them the extra option, if the Germans refuse to back down, to walk away from the Euro as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if the Germans learn in the middle of negotiations (via a suitably timed leak) that the Greeks might actually walk away and leave them with a three hundred billion bill to pick up 88|, it might serve to scare them straight. So they have literally nothing to lose.

When Tes-goes
I came across a article recently about Britain’s abandoned Supermarkets. One of the problems with the aggressive expansion program’s of supermarket chains such as Tesco’s or ASDA has been to drive local stores out of business. This causes all sorts of local issues, destroying town centres, increasing the need for cars to reach out of town retail parks, which imposes various costs on councils for new road building and reduced council tax revenue. Then what happens? Tesco’s closes its store and leaves the town without any shops at all!

Such closures can therefore have a double whammy impact on council budgets. Often in order to support such stores councils have to spend money. For example, putting up new road signs, new roundabouts and integrating approach roads and footpaths from the store into the local road network. Which, to avoid queues might also need further widening and expensive modifications. Normally something referred to as “section 106 agreements” will act as compensation to the council, releasing funds that can be ploughed into various community schemes. But with the store closed the council looses these funds, quite apart from the loss of tax revenue. The result is an an inevitable squeeze on already tight council budgets.

Its a trend very familiar to many in the US, notably thanks to ASDA’s parent company Wal-Mart, who have successfully turned many US towns into a ring of strip malls with a ghetto in the centre. And of course should Walmart for any reason be displeased with local politicians, by them for example introducing some new taxes or ordinances (pesky government, promoting local democracy!), they can and will hold the town to ransom by threatening to shut down the store. And don’t even mention the word “union”, as Walmart has a policy to close any store where staff successfully unionise.

Of course what this show’s is exactly why Councils should have been more considerate in the first place. As in, if you let Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s build a massive superstore, you do realise the economic implications for that? It would seem sensible to me in future for councils to therefore be a bit more clever. E.g. refuse any single mega store, but be clear they will allow the construction of a number of smaller stores, thus ensuring they aren’t dependant on one single supermarket chain. I would also suggest a ban on stores above a certain size is probably a policy worth considering.

Dead man’s switch
There’s been a number of accidents recently involving lorries running out of control. The tragic events in Glasgow and Bath for example. It raises the question as to whether they could be avoided somehow, by for example fitting a “dead man switch” which would automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle went out of control. Well technically yes, such systems are not new and have been fitted to many vehicles (forklift trucks, railroad cars, light watercraft, etc.) for many decades. The problem is guaranteeing that the switch will be disengaged in an emergency.

Perhaps a better way would be to use software. Many vehicles these days rely on drive by wire, i.e. when you turn the steering wheel, all you do is generate signals that go to the car’s ECU, which then communicates with the power steering system what to do. Similarly in some cars the pedals are merely transducers connected to the ECU instead of to the carburettor throttle or brakes. This is central to such features as traction control, cruise control or automatic braking.

So technically, you could easily configure all large lorries such that in the event of the driver losing conciousness, or behaving erratically, e.g. excessive sudden acceleration in an urban area, lane departure, the ECU would detect this and automatically apply the brakes. Such features could also include parking sensors around the vehicle to cover blind spots, with the brakes again being applied if, say a cyclists was detected. Consider that of the four cyclists killed in London this year, all have involved a collision with a lorry.

However, there are downsides. Costs obviously, as such vehicles system would be a little bit more expensive and would be difficult to retrofit into older vehicles. So there would have to be a transition period for such technology to be brought in. Also the problem with lorries is that you’re dealing with an awful lot of mass. Once something that big runs out of control, there’s not a lot the driver, nor a computer, can do to stop it. Which is why perhaps we need to consider perhaps simply banning such large vehicles from town centres altogether and insisting on the use of smaller vehicles to do the same jobs. More costly yes, but certainly safer for all.

Russian bombers
Several times now Russian Tu-95 Bear’s have been intercepted by the RAF close to UK airspace, provoking a furore within the press and the usual “Britain under threat” stuff. Actually no. The sharper among you may have noticed something important about the Tu-95, i.e. the fact that they are so old and obsolete they still use propellers, hardly a surprise for an aircraft designed in the 50’s! There main role in the Russian airforce these days is actually long range maritime patrol rather than as bombers. For, as a bomber aircraft, they are pretty much useless against any country with an airforce or any form of of air defence system (SA missile’s for example). This is why most countries got rid of such bomber forces decades ago, as they are simply obsolete and of questionable military value.

Certainly the situation in Russia is worrying, but parallels with 1939 are inappropriate. As I’ve discussed in a prior post, the fact is that NATO enjoys an enormous military advantage over Russia. Consider that the Russian airforce has, at most, about a hundred half decent fighter aircraft (i.e. aircraft that aren’t flying museum exhibits and are of some actual military use) against a combined NATO force of over a thousand similar aircraft or better, with tens of thousands of less advanced aircraft in support! In the event of a shooting war the Russians would be outnumbered in the sky’s ten to one, often by superior aircraft. There is no question that NATO could stop Russia and bomb Putin into submission any time they choose to do so…and shoot those Tu-95’s out of the sky before they came anywhere near the UK!

The danger is the long term implications of this activity. e.g. the reason why the UK isn’t buzzing Russia with its long range patrol aircraft is because we don’t have any of those (cancelled by the Tories) and NATO closed down its forward operations base for long range maritime patrol (in Iceland) some years ago.

So the risk is that NATO will respond to Putin’s actions by putting aircraft and troops in positions more threatening to Russia (such as in Ukraine!), which in itself raises the risk of conflict between the two kicking off accidentally. Also I reckon its only a matter of time before the Americans start bringing up missile defence again. They and the Israeli’s have been quite busy developing these systems, which are getting quite advanced and reliable. Deployment of such systems in the Balkans or Ukraine could be very destabilising, as it would effectively counter much of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, perhaps forcing them into a more hair trigger stance with what few missiles they have that can counter the NATO ABM systems.

And this is also worrying, because the very reason Putin is engaging on this strategy, even thought its undermining Russian security by doing so, is because he’s an ego-manic surrounded by Yes-men who dare not confront their boss with the truth.

A resigning matter
One subject that didn’t get a lot of media attention, particularly within the right wing media was the spectacular resignation of the Daily Telegraph‘s long standing political editor Peter Oborne, citing the lack of coverage the Telegraph had given the HSBC scandal. He accused the paper of pulling stories purely to protect advertising revenue, as well as the exertion of editorial bias by the paper’s reculsive owners (and tax exiles themselves), the Barclay brothers.

Needless to say this is a rare insight into the goings on of major newspaper and it does suggest a lot we should be worried about. We rely on newspapers to be objective in their work, as otherwise the result isn’t news, its for said media outlet to be reduced to that of a propaganda organ that plays the master’s tune, much like RT and Fox News. The justification for allowing the likes of the Barclay’s or the Murdoch’s to own multiple titles is the assumption that they will keep their noses out of editorial matters. If they can’t do that and the phone hacking scandal certainly suggested that they can’t be trusted, then these media empires should be broken up.

And of course credit due to Oborne. He might be a right wing hack, but at least he’s an honest right wing hack! ;D

Hypocrisy?
The Tories are slashing the welfare budget because they argue there are many claiming benefits who aren’t genuine hard up cases and that benefits should be more effectively means tested and that there should be a cap on how much you can received regardless of circumstances. Yet when it comes to pensioners, they intend to dole out a full whack of benefits, winter heating allowance, free TV license, bus passes, etc. without any form of means testing, even though these benefits cost the country far more than we ever spend on the unemployed.

Now I’m not saying pensioners aren’t entitled to these benefits, I’m merely pointing out the obvious hypocrisy. If you’re going to means test the very poorest people in the country, what’s wrong with applying the same rule to everybody, as labour and the lib dems have suggested? Or has it something to do with the fact that the bulk of the working class are likely to vote labour, while the bulk of pensioners are more likely to vote Tory?

Of course, many pensioners are quite likely to vote UKIP, even thought if there’s anything more threatening to the retirement income of pensioners its UKIP. Their current spokesman on the matter has in fact recently talked about a UKIP policy to scrap the state pension and replace it with a privatised system.

As I’ve said in the past, any pensioner tempted to vote UKIP, I would advise to first buy a tin of cat food and decide if you think you could live out you’re days eating it, as that’s likely to be the stable of your diet if UKIP ever got into power! :))

Its a sin
The church of England joined with other Christian groups over the last few weeks, with much fire and brimstone, lambasting corporations >:-[ for non-payment of tax and their failure to pay a living wage. No doubt chief executives need to remember the bit about how it is harder for a camel to ride through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter heaven, and all that…

…However their attempt to take the moral high ground was somewhat undermined by news that the Church doesn’t pay the living wage either, advertising several posts paying just the minimum wage. Of course one could argue, such hypocrisy is nothing new, its generally be a case throughout history for the clergy to say do as we say, don’t do as we do.

Also one has to remember that churches are non-profit organisations, every penny saved on salaries, goes to other worthy causes, such as getting the leaky cathedral roof repaired. And in fact, many churches these days, in the UK, are under huge pressure from the enormous repair bills to keep their churches and cathedral’s functioning. By contrast any money saved by Starbucks or Poundland on lower wages goes on the Chief exec’s private yacht, or the champagne breakfast at the next shareholders meeting. So there is something of a difference!

The Fat Dictator

The big pre-Christmas story is of course the distinct lack of Christmas cheer coming out of North Korea. The hermit state is accused by the US FBI of instigating a politically motivated hack attack against the Japanese company Sony, in order to pressure Sony into halting the realise of the satirical film “the interview”.

The situation has now brewed into a full blown political crisis, with insults being traded by both sides and North Korea making its trademark threats of “terrible consequences” if the crazy little cheese munching dwarf in Pyongyang doesn’t get his bottle. Unfortunately, while Pyongyang denies it, the facts do tend to stack against them, notably given that the language used by the hackers, sounded suspiciously like the stuff we’re used to hearing out of the NK propaganda ministry.

Of course Sony, a company not exactly famous for brilliance in cyber-security, has hardly escaped criticism. The information leaked by hackers included e-mails which revealed Sony’s policy of unequal pay, less than gratifying comments about leading celebrities and mismanagement of employee’s personal details, something that’s likely to lead to class action lawsuits.

Sony claims that they cancelled the film due to fears over “safety” and that theatres were refusing to show it. But this is contradicted by a number of independent cinemas. Not only were they prepared to show the movie, but when Sony showed reluctance, they proposed showing instead “Team America – World Police, in order to give the two fingered salute to “the young general” and his cronies…only for Paramount (owner of the copyright) to close ranks with Sony and effectively censor a film that’s been on general release for nearly a decade.

In short, its very probable that, Sony’s real motivation for cancelling the release of the interview was simply a way of making all these negative stories just go away. As the vulture put it “The Interview was no longer the hill that Sony wanted to die on”.

Indeed, some of the leaks revealed Sony were nervous about the film, even before the hacking started. Leaked e-mails show back and forth exchanges between Seth Rogen and Sony management, regarding the final death scene of Kim Jung-un, something Seth has himself commented on prior to the hack. It seems that Sony wanted him to tone it down a tad.

Unfortunately, Sony didn’t count on this act of intellectual cowardice provoking an even bigger backlash. Making fun of vane dictators is a tradition that goes all the way back to the day of Charlie Chaplin’s “the Great Dictator”. Kim-Jung-il was himself mercilessly satired as a platform shoe wearing, ronery, alien coachroach in disguise. Saddam was the main object of ridicule in the Hot Shots films, Frank Drebin took down the Ayatollah and Gorbachev in “Police Squad: the Naked Gun”. And the satirical puppet show Spitting Image was well known for mocking many dictators (notably Gaddafi) as well as western politicians (notably Gaddafi’s nemesis, Ronald Reagan).

Sony’s climb down, along with prior backtracking and self-censorship by newspapers over the whole cartoons of Mohammed fiasco, means that now all any totalitarian dictator needs to do is issue some random threats via some anonymous e-mail account and criticism of his regime will be swiftly silenced. In effect the reach of police states such as NK and Saudi Arabia now extends right up the White house lawn and across the grass of parliament square.

Indeed another film about North Korea has also been cancelled by another Hollywood studio as a consequence. It is thus for good reasons that this incident has to be seen in serious light, as it represents a roll back of artistic freedom to a pre-1930’s level.

Fortunately Sony, realising they’ve vastly worsen their position by acting so cowardly, are talking about releasing the film on “other platforms”. As a consequence Kim Jung-un might be on course to learn a lesson in the so-called “Streisand effect”, whereby a film that would have probably been overlooked by many, will now gain a wider audience.

And that’s bad news for him, as there were many reasons for North Korea to want to suppress this film, not least of those being that Kim Jung-un is not in as a secure position as his predecessors. There would be a certain irony of course if the Kim regime were brought down by a mere movie, given how enthusiastic his predecessor was in his support for NK’s film industry.

That said, NK has long engaged in a policy that the CIA insiders often refer to via the acronym CFC – Crippled, Fearsome, Crazy. Knowing they could never win a conventional shooting war with South Korea, let alone the US and its allies, the Pyongyang crazy gang have long embarked on a strategy for survival which involves appearing to be dangerously unhinged, thus convincing the west to leave them putter in their poverty stricken sand box.

So while its possible, they tipped their poker hand bluff a little too heavily this time, it might be worthwhile considering this incident along those lines.

Making a few points

Reckless talk
One of the problems with dealing with racists is their tendency to talk in code. All too aware of the reaction they’d get if they openly aired their views in public, they will instead use coded language, which will fly over the head of most people, but their fellow bigot’s will hear and understand (hence why its often referred to as “dog-whistle politics” in the US). For example, “Inner city youths” means the N word while “immigrant” means “no darkies”. And of course all that birther crap was code for “bring back the Jim Crow laws“.

Needless to say, UKIP have become masters at these tactics, but last night the mask slipped and Rochester UKIP candidate Mark Reckless :crazy: made the classic rookie mistake for a bigot politician and forgot for a minute his code words, suggesting (to the shock of many of his audience) that he thought all EU migrants should be deported.

Of course he was quick to backtrack, claiming he would be “sympathetic” towards those who work or have mortgages to pay. However he didn’t withdraw his original comment and furthermore his “sympathy” hints at a UKIP policy wedded to arbitrary law whereby some bureaucrat makes arbitrary decisions about this person being allowed to stay and another person not allowed. Keep in mind that many long term immigrants may have put down roots making it difficult to define who is British and who is not.

e.g. My granny never got a British passport, despite having lived in the UK longer than Farage has been here, worked all her life, paid taxes and Reckless would put her on a ship back to Ireland….in violation I might add of numerous Anglo-Irish treaties going back to the 1960’s (i.e. before the UK joined the EU). Conversely I have friends who came from Africa or Asia to the UK and do have British passports, or have married British citizens and kept their home passport. Obviously any sane person would realise that such a policy would be unenforceable and stupid.

Farage was of course forced to undertake damage control, claiming that this is contrary to UKIP policy on immigration…which was a surprise to me as I was unaware UKIP actually had a “policy” on immigration, other than a lot of lies and polemics about “Britain under threat”.

Indeed in a further development, another UKIP’s member (apparently their immigration spokesman) has suggested they want British only queues introduced (again for those who don’t speak bigot that translates as “why should I be forced to rub shoulders with a smelly dark skinned person”).

However, can you imagine if a politician from Labour, Lib Dems, the Tories or even the Greens made a statement this far from the party’s policy on a core issue? Clearly they would be expected to resign at once. Of course in UKIP, a party which doesn’t even have a proper ballot system for picking candidates (like North Korea!), this does not happen. A UKIP government would therefore be government by chaos and mayhem.

Unfortunately its likely Mr Reckless will soon be the MP for Rochester, making them the laughing stock of the rest of the UK. It reminds me of the time California made “the Terminator” Arnold Schwarzenegger governor, much to the cringing embarrassment of Californians forced to steer all conversations away from politics for several years.

Top of the Terror pops
There’s a report out by an anti-Terrorist think tank which reveals some rather ghoulish statistics. It would seem that 80% of terrorist related deaths can be traced to just 4 groups – ISIS, the Taliban, Al-Queda and Boko Haram. Somewhere in hell no doubt Jimmy Savile is doing a sort of perverted “top of the pops” for the the damned “moving up swiftly to number four its Boko Haram and their hit single Papa don’t teach….or we’ll blow up his school!” :no:

That said the report does make a few good points, notably that most of the situations where terrorism kicks off involved three main factors:
– High social hostilities between different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups
– The presence of state-sponsored violence such as extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses
– High levels of overall violence, such as deaths from organised conflict or high levels of violent crime

Eliminating these conditions is a far more effective way of defeating terrorism than through the use of smart bombs. Of course this probably falls into the category of “no s&it Sherlock” for most people. But it’s worth remembering that it might not be so obvious to many in the US or the present UK government. After all the UK, tried for several decades to defeat the IRA in battle. It was only the peace process initiated by Tony Blair that finally brought about peace however.

That said, these Wahhabist groups are of a different breed of terrorism. The IRA, like most terrorist group, had some genuine grievances that allowed room for negotiation. ISIS, whose party tricks include beheading aid workers, blowing up Mosques and banning colours aren’t exactly the sort of group you can negotiate with.

Water and dust
One of the big stories over the last week however was of course the Phillae lander bouncing down to a landing on a comet. This was a daring mission and the fact they got any data back at all is little short of a miracle. However the results do hint at the presence of organic material. This is to say the least, a significant development, as it does give some credibility to many long held theories about the origins of life.

Of course one can’t avoid the rather obvious fact that this mission was only made possible by EU wide co-operation, of the sort that UKIP would rather see less of. The probe, along with its Rosetta mothership were assembled in the UK, based on a European design, using European research funding. An EU exit would leave the UK out of the loop as far as future missions like this.

The worst of both worlds
It was refreshing to read the report from the Higher Education Commission on the consequences of fees and the defacto privatisation of the UK’s universities. The report does not mince its words, declaring that student fees have resulted in the “the worst of both worlds” for both students and the tax payer. And with the majority of student loans likely to be written off, the report questioned the long term sustainability of this system.

The report makes clear what I and many in the profession have long argued – that the result is a case of lose, lose for everyone. Students wind up paying more, not just in fees but in other costs too. As they assume they’re effectively paying for a degree they put pressure on lecturing staff to pass them and making various demands of universities (e.g. better facilities), sometimes getting litigious (or engaging in plagiarism) if they don’t get their way. Of course the universities respond by spending more on facilities and staff, even though the money they get from the government in terms of teaching grants has fallen. And also arbitrary caps on student loan numbers have amounted to a defacto cut in the budget’s of many universities. And again ultimately when everything goes pear shaped it will the government picking up the tab.

The report does lay out a number of options, ranging from a cut in tuition fees or a graduation tax, although both of these options (and various others discussed) would still leave a fairly large hole in the finances of many universities, which would have to be plugged with government cash.

You only live twice
In a worrying development, it’s been alleged that the Russians have been testing a “Satellite Catcher” military satellite. The Americans report an undeclared Russian launch of an object that then began manoeuvring in a way that most conventional satellites do not. This is no doubt is a case of Putin ratcheting up things.

Of course there is some hypocrisy here, given that the Americans have been testing their own space spy plane the X-37, which is believed to have similar capabilities. Even so it represents a worrying militarisation of space.

Lunar scam
Speaking of space, another scam seems to be brewing in the Alt-space movement. As I mentioned in a prior post, there are quite a sizeable number who are fairly pro-space (possibly as a result of playing EVE Online for one too many hours or maybe too much Star Trek as a kid) and who inevitably have been targeted from time to time by those looking to cash in.

A few years ago the Mars One mission came up with the preposterous suggestion for a one way suicide mission to Mars, encouraging subscribers to submit an application to be one of the “lucky” people to go…for a small fee of course. Given that most of those applying would probably be physically incapable of undertaking the trip (quite apart from lacking in certain essential astronaut “skills”….piloting, astronavigation, ability to survive months in a tin can without an X-box, etc.) this led to accusations of the whole thing being a scam.

Anyway another group, Lunar One, are proposing to land a probe on the moon carrying essentially a memory stick. They hope to fund it using crowd source funding and for a fee allowing subscriber to upload data onto the “probe”. Again, this one had my spidery senses tingling straight away. I mean I’m not against space exploration, but equally one has to question what the scientific value of launching a memory stick at the Moon would be?

And what guarantee to we have that this group will carry out their plan? Do they have a detailed engineering assessment we could see…or even an engineering team? (Mars one had just one engineer! In its entire four person operation….Apollo redux I doubt!) How about a break down of their budget?…or even a simple Gantt Chart?

Climate of good will
One story you might have missed is that the US and China have struck a deal on climate change. Certainly the actual deal is something of a case of too little too late (it ignores the fact that the US is massively over it previously agreed Kyoto targets already and allows China to see rises in greenhouse gas emissions until 2030) and one has to question how Obama is going to get it passed by Congress.

And I’m guessing the climate deniers in the Tea Party are as we speak, rolling around on the ground and chewing the carpet! :##

However it represents an important milestone as it sees the world’s two largest polluting nations now recognising the fact that they need to limit carbon dioxide levels. This will strengthen the position of the Europeans and greatly weaken the opponents of climate change action (such as the Indians, Canadians and Australians). So while its something of an empty gesture, at least its something.

A fine place to stay
A hotel in Blackpool has managed to discover the unfortunate consequences of being on the receiving end of the so-called “Streisand effect”. The proprietors of the Broadway Hotel, which by all accounts sounds like a typical grotty little Blackpool dive, disgruntled by the continuous bad reviews they’d gotten on sites like Trip Advisor decided to introduce a policy of fining guests £100 if they left a bad review.

Needless to say, a couple showed up, didn’t like their stay, left a bad review and got fined. Of course this brought in trading standards, then the media and then the whole of the Internet. I noticed when this story broke yesterday the hotel had a mere ten reviews on Google, but now has accumulated some 126 reviews, nearly all of them negative, within a few hours.

Under threat of legal action and no doubt feeling the heat of media/internet pressure, the hotel “management” (which I uses in the loosest of ways possible) have now caved in, refunded the money and are presumably hoping the whole thing will just blow over. Incidentally, this mirrors a similar case in America.