Covid news roundup

The room where I hid

So the big news of the last week is the book out by Papa smurf who broke bad John Bolton, that makes various allegations about the abuse of power and incompetence in the Trump white house. It appears to verify the claims regarding the Ukraine scandal as well as the Mueller report. The book suggests Trump tried to do a deal with China just to get re-elected, and discusses his vulnerability to pressure from Putin (plus his closeness to dictators around the world). The book portrays a Trump white house that is so dysfunctional they’ve essentially abandoned routines such as the daily intelligence briefings (as Trump would spend most of the meeting talking about himself).

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Of course given that the book also reveals that Trump is so dumb he thought Finland was part of Russia and didn’t realise that the UK has nuclear weapons, it is no wonder they’ve given up. And ultimately the book confirms that Trump is placing his own personal business interests ahead of those of the country, even in the middle of pandemic.

Now the White house will claim its all the lies of a disgruntled former staffer. And Bolton (a war hawk prominent during GW Bush and the Iraq war) can hardly be considered a reliable witness. However, there seems to be an awful lot of disgruntled Trump staffers right now coming out with tell all books. And their stories are confirmed by what we do know does go on in the white house from FOI requests (such as the fact much of Trump’s diary is blank “executive time where he sits around raging on twitter).

Quite simply put, even if the book was fiction, the very fact many are willing to believe it should tell you everything you need to know about the chaos in the white house. Bottom line, back in 2016 the US voted to not have a president for a few years, but instead let some racist swampy don sit in the white house and pretend to be president, while looting the US treasury.

And the democrats are furious because of the fact Bolton chose not to testify against Trump at his impeachment before the senate, saving it all for his book. Had he said under oath what’s in this book, it would have been very hard for the GOP to let Trump off without any consequences. Which should tell you why he didn’t testify. The Republicans know full well how dirty and dysfunctional Trump’s white house is. So likely there was a deal done, he doesn’t testify, but gets to publish his book (a bit of kicking and screaming from Trump not withstanding) and no doubt he’ll get back into power and some point next time they get back in (or he’ll get some cushy job as an adviser).

Out of control

Meanwhile, the cases of Covid in the US have begun to surge upwards. Last time I checked its up to nearly 40k a day, not far off its previous peak back in April. It could be a 2nd wave, although Antony Fauci reckons its just a continuation of the first wave. But with numerous super-spreading events (political rallies, demonstrations, etc.) this is hardly surprising. What it shows is that the virus isn’t under control and the US squandered the lockdown.

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The whole point of a lockdown was to flatten the curve and give countries the time to covid-proof their economies. This is what China, Japan, Korea or Germany succeeded in doing. So even if this is just a dead cat bounce, it indicates that the US hasn’t gotten the virus under control. Hence if and when a 2nd wave happens it will burn through the US unchecked. In effect Trump has taken $2 trillion dollars and squandered every penny. He may as well have spent it on his precious wall for all the good it would have done. Yes you could try another lock down, but will people obey it? And that means another $2 trillion in costs. Can the US afford that?

Trump might get his wish, a wall around the country, but one to keep Americans in rather than foreigners out. Already the EU is considering banning travel from the US due to its failure to get the coronavirus under control.

The hypocrisy of the right

Consider that the current US death toll from Covid stands at over 120,000. That’s more than have been killed in every war the US has fought since the end of World War 2. And a large number of those causalities are directly down to the inaction and incompetence of Trump. The only thing I find surprising is that he’s only 9 points behind. Then again, US politics is now completely tribal. At least 40% of the country are committed followers of the cult of Trump. Its their new religion and he can do no wrong.

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A Trump death clock showed up outside his rally in Tulsa

Consider that Hilary’s worse crime was Benghazi (which she had nothing to do with and was in no way responsible for) which saw 4 people killed, sending the right wing media into an 8 year tizzy, even to the point of making a Michael Bay action movie about it. But Trump gets 120,000 people killed, and silence. This is the hypocrisy of the right.

So for example, a largely peaceful BLM protest in London, during which ONE out of tens thousands tried (but failed) to set fire to the UK flag on the Cenotaph, is apparently the worst crime in history (and should carry a sentence longer than you’d get for rape or violent assault), which to the right wing media, turned the whole march into a riot. Yet a few days later a bunch of neo-nazi’s fighting with police is instead branded “a scuffle”. And when one of the skinheads decides to urinate on a memorial, well when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. The mental gymnastics Tory voters brains must go through, its a wonder it doesn’t make them dizzy.

The biggest losers

Meanwhile in brexitland, if Trump does lose in 2020, the biggest loser will likely be the UK. It is very unlikely a trade deal could be signed off and ratified by Congress before the election. As I’ve noted before any deal that screws over Ireland will be politically unacceptable to the Irish American community.

And frankly only a complete moron would negotiate a deal under the present circumstances. Just look at the situation with the proposed Japan trade deal, where the UK has essentially been given 6 weeks to sign one or else piss off. The much heralded CANZUK deal will have zero benefits, might actually leave the country worse off and require the opening up of the UK’s borders to immigration. Which might be just as well, because without more farm workers much of the UK’s harvest for this year will be left to rot in fields.

And while the government claims there will be no border checks, certainly not in NI, actually they’ve quietly sent out letters to the relevant port authorities advising them to start setting up customs posts. Of course they’ve left it way too late, in fact one report seen by Bloomberg suggests they seem to have forgotten about these big things called “trucks which go through UK ports rather often.

And this is just for openers. If Trump loses, then being such a close ally to him will put the UK at a distinct disadvantage. Consider that the Tories ignored intelligence warnings about Trump’s closeness to Russia and has hampered efforts by the democrats to investigate him. And there will almost certainly be some sort of congressional investigation into Trump if Biden wins. Trump might even face charges over his lack of action over the Coronavirus. The UK will likely face a US government far more hostile than it has faced at any time since the end of world war 2. The UK will likely be sidelined as the US focuses more on improving its relations with the EU. We will go, as Obama warned, to the back of the queue.

The Summer of Covid

And, much like in the US, with major super spreading events such as the recent crowded beaches, its possible the UK too could also soon see a resurgence in Covid cases. The government, against all scientific advice plans to lift all restrictions on the 4th of July, including scraping the 2m rule. But to be fair, given that since the real prime minster a certain special adviser’s  500 mile jolly with no consequences, the public simply don’t believe the government any more. They’ve lost control of the situation.

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Boris asks Brit’s to apply common sense…and everyone goes to the beach!

Again one must contrast the UK’s situation, with 65,000 dead and counting (the worst per capita in the world so far) and the experience of EU countries like Germany. And like I’ve said before, if a 2nd wave does start, this will be far more damaging to the country than a few extra weeks of lockdown. And they will have a window of a few weeks at most to re-impose the lockdown and make sure everyone sticks to it. Which I’m doubtful will be possible.

Meanwhile Scotland and Wales have adopted a different policy towards lockdown, with a more gradual relaxing of measures, even thought the number cases is already much lower per capita than in England. This threatens to undermine the policy of both, not least because it looked like the Tories forgot about Scotland and that they have a different policy.

Naturally this means that if a 2nd wave does happen it could be a lot more destabilising. Johnson could well be making the case for Scottish independence.

Wrong failing sacked

Another story over the last week was the sacking of Rebecca Wrong Failing Long Bailey by Keir Starmer over a tweet she sent regarding an article, which included some anti-Israeli material. Now I thought this was a little harsh, but then again it was an unforced error and she was likely on a yellow card already and under orders not to do anything dumb.

Whether or not the article contained anything anti-Semitic is not the point (it included some unverifiable claims about US police copying Israeli military choke holds). The point is it demonstrated she’s politically inept. Labour now have the Tories on the ropes. Under Corbyn PMQ’s was more like gardener’s question time. He’d ask a question along the lines of “I have a Tim from Sevenoaks who has problems with his NHS services….and his Azaleas”, the PM (either Boris or May) would give some generic canned response that didn’t answer the question “the NHS runs hospitals, Azaleas should be planted in the spring” and rather than follow that up or probe a bit deeper, Corbyn would move on to something about rail services…and Juniper bushes.

Now instead, with Starmer, its like a cross examination in the old bailey. Its been rumoured Johnson is resorting to using an earpiece to communicate with Cummings (aka the real PM) and that doesn’t seem to make much difference. His approval ratings have collapsed and the Tories are tanking in the polls. Its considered only a matter of time before labour pulls ahead.

Naturally, the right wing media are desperate for any angle they can use to attack labour with. And her tweet threatened to give them their old favourite anti-Semitism and pin that on Starmer the way they did Corbyn. I guarantee you, if Starmer hadn’t fired her, the right wing media would have gone on about it for months, or until she resigned. And you can bet Johnson would bring it up in PMQ’s.

In short, it was a massive political error and shows how she’d have made a hopeless labour leader. And the hard left of the party can hardly complain. They picked her as Corbyn’s successor. There were other candidates on the left of the party (such as Angela Rayner, who is so left wing she wants to ban private schools), but they were sidelined. Long Bailey was chosen precisely because she was considered to be weak minded and easily manipulated, much as Corbyn was, by the cabal of toxic advisers around him, such as Len McCluskey, Jon Lansman and Karen Brady.

So no, its not a Blairite plot, actually quite the opposite. Starmer does seem to be taking on board a recent report into labour’s loss which says people do want the sort of change labour stands for, but the problems last election were two fold. Firstly, the public didn’t believe labour could deliver on all its ambitious promises. And secondly they just didn’t like Corbyn and didn’t see him as capable of delivering such change.

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Corbyn and the hard left prepare to leave labour and form their own party

So the hard left have a choice, accept this reality, get with the program and get behind the new labour leader. Or go off and found your own party…no doubt called the Judean people’s front, before promptly splitting in multiple smaller factions.

The cult of the Punisher

I came across a video regarding the proliferation of police using the punisher symbol on their uniforms or vehicles. This includes some of the cops engaged in violence against peaceful protesters in recent weeks wearing punisher symbols. For those who don’t read comics, the Punisher (aka Frank Castle) is a vigilante anti-hero who hunts down and kills criminals. Which is hardly the sort of thing cops should be trying to emulate.

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Furthermore it could be seen as a neo-nazi coded symbol. In much the same way racists use coded language and dog whistles (which may seem innocence enough to outsiders, but they will know the actually meaning), they are also aware that they can’t go around in nazi uniform or wearing their hoods. So instead they used coded symbols, such as an 88, or a Celtic cross as a substitute for a swastika…or a punisher symbol as a sub for the nazi death’s head symbol.

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As a result, in most other countries the cops would at least get a telling off for this, if not a suspension or sacking. The police represent and protect the public trust, and you undermine that when you wear symbols unrepresentative of the values you are supposed to be upholding (such as vigilante justice!). I mean how would conservatives feel of a hard left supporting cop when around with a hammer and sickle on his car, or wearing one of those soviet style bearskin hats. The right wing pundits would likely crack a rib screaming about it.

So its a massive disciplinary issue, yet nothing is being done about. Which should just show you how out of control the US police forces have become. They’ve become a law onto themselves. And you would have hoped they’ve have the self awareness to realise that anyone going around with pictures of skulls on their uniforms means you are probably the baddies.

Boris Sats

We have the makings of yet another Tory tax payers money burning party brewing with the UK government planning to try and buy its own satellite network. Officially this is due to brexit, as the EU are refusing access to their Galileo system. Not true, the UK will enjoy access, as will every other country (much as we currently have access to the US GPS system). The trouble is that the EU (much like the US) will reserve the right to scramble or turn off signals at certain times. Which could impact the UK’s ability to operate its nuclear deterrent.

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Initially the Tories were planning to build their own “world beating” system…but given that there is zero chance of that happening, so instead the Tory plan is to buy their way into the proposed OneWeb satellite constellation system. However, this service is in the bargain bin because it went bankrupt.

It did so because its up against competition from the SpaceX and their Starlink system, which is far more advanced. Not to mention the fact that Musk has the means to launch his own rockets rather than buying someone else’s. Then there’s the existing Iridium sat-phone network, which is upgrading its satellites to handle data.

Its probable there is only room for one such network, although its possible Iridium and Starlink could carve out their own independent niches. And its far from proven that satellite based data transfer can be competitive with ground based fibre optic networks. However there is certainly no way two networks such as OneWeb and Starlink could compete against one another….and I think you can guess which one is most likely to fail!

So the Tories are going to have to not only spend a significant amount of money buying and then subsidising this network, but there’s the small detail of how to launch it. The UK lacks the facilities to do this, so they’d have to rely on the either US or EU based rockets. So the Tories are concerned about not having an independent data and navigation system and their solution is to ask the EU and the US to provide one for them, WTF? What could possibly go wrong!

Well aside from the fact that these satellites are intended for data transfers not location information. You can piggy back the relevant signals, or use the data streams to trace locations of users, but that’s not really going to work when it comes to guiding nuclear weapons….unless you are planning to send Putin an email before you launch and hope he stupid enough to open it!

Why does this remind me of Cummings track and trace app (that drained phone batteries due to all the spyware and won’t work on certain types of phones) or the ventilators contracts gifted to Tory donors that turned out to be useless, or the no bid PPE contracts to a Tory donor who doesn’t sell any PPE! Like I said, its another Tory money burning party, a trough of swill for their donors to stick their snouts into and gorge on public money. I hope those who voted Tory are proud to see their taxes well spent.

Gone to the Dogs

And speaking of money burning parties, I mentioned before the story about how a UK minster unlawfully approved of a development on the Isle of Dogs, to the benefit of a Tory party donor, such that he could avoid paying £50 million in taxes to the local council.

Well now, he’s been forced to disclose emails and text messages, which includes an exchange by one of the investors, who just so happens to be Richard Desmond, the former owner of the Express newspaper, and the minster in question. During this exchange they are both fairly matter a fact about what they are doing is certainly dodgy and corrupt.

Plus Desmond does not hide his contempt for the local council referring to them as “the Marxists and his strong desire to avoid the payment of taxes. Recall, he used to run one of the UK’s leading newspapers, a strongly Tory paper. Keep in mind there is a rule in UK law saying you need to be a “fit and proper” person to run a newspaper. Does this sound like a fit and proper person? Is Jenrick going to resign? LOL! Ya sure when pigs fly maybe!

The global bike drought

I was considering buying a new mountain bike recently. Long story short, but my current bike is unique, in that there’s something else wrong with it every day. I’ve taken it to bike shops before and they’ve told me that they so much as pumped up the tires I’d be in negative equity. As a trade in, I’d get a slap in the face with a soggy set of bike shorts in exchange for them taking it off my hands.

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Now granted, it has its advantages. Notably its never going to get stolen (I once left it for a month chained up outside a Glasgow railway station and nothing happened to it, I’ve previously left in unlocked in public and it was still there when I got back). But I’m probably due a change. Its getting hard to source parts (they just don’t make those oversized front wheels and wee back ones anymore) and mine doesn’t have suspension (so I’m shaking for several minutes after a downhill section).

So I go online and try to place an order and I’m promised my bike will be delivered…in late August….maybe! I try somewhere else, order date will be guaranteed, your bike will arrive….in November! It would seem one of the effects of Covid has been to spark a worldwide bike shortage. This is due to both an increase in demand (as many are now trying to cycle everywhere rather than rely on public transport) at the same time production is down due to Covid restrictions.

So I’m thinking I’ll just have to keep my bike in service. Although I am thinking of getting an out of service, but more modern bike, hopefully with suspension, stripping it down and restoring it to working order.

Why Cummings ain’t going anywhere

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So the Tory government has now descended into farce. If we are to take the government at its word, driving 60 miles with suspect eyesight (with a kid in the back) to Barnard’s Castle is an acceptable means to test ones eyesight. In the middle of a press conference last week the health secretary toyed with idea of amending laws as he went along (without any parliamentary approval or judicial review). The law, not to mention scientific advice, is being bent and contorted to save the job of a special adviser.

To say this is dangerous is an understatement. Firstly it amounts to the imposition of arbitrary law, where the laws are written not by parliament but on the fly by ministers, often retroactively to cover themselves and the elites. And the law’s interpretation is now also made by minsters, not courts and judges.

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The dangers inherent in this (quite apart from the gagging of the media over this), even for a minor offence, are quite serious. Because, spoiler alert, arbitrary law will typically be interpreted by the wealthy to the benefit of the wealthy (as its basically neo-feudalism), with harsh penalties for the poor and ethic minorities. Hence while Cummings doesn’t even get a slap on the wrist, you have a black person arrested and threatened with tasering for something nowhere near as bad (even thought he was only dropping off food for a relative).

Secondly, the lockdown has now essentially collapsed. The relaxations of the lockdown measures announced are really retroactive to what’s actually happening on the ground. I don’t know about you, but in my neck of the woods, the vast majority have basically given up. I’m seeing families from different households mixing, kids outside playing (with no social distancing), parties, gatherings in large groups, etc. I was in the shop today and I was the only person wearing a mask (even the staff weren’t wearing them). And yes, the police say some people have cited Cummings as their excuse for breaking quarantine rules.

Now the problem here is that inevitably there will be a 2nd wave (particularly as the UK is still some way behind other European countries with thousands of new cases every day) and NHS staff have made clear they are exhausted and in absolutely no condition to deal with a 2nd wave if it hits any time soon.

As I mentioned in a prior post, the government will have a few weeks to put back in place lockdown measures to prevent this. And given how everyone’s been given an excuse to ignore the rules, if you can invent a valid excuse, well that ain’t going to happen. Particularly, as the government plans local rather than national lockdowns. But thanks to Cummings, anyone who can invent a reason to leave the infected area (child care, eye sight test, cat had kittens, etc.), can now do so, even if they’ve got symptoms.

So, given that Cummings might well prove to be responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands and the collapse of the UK healthcare system (oh and a disastrous no deal brexit in January, which will probably be followed by the collapse of the UK), why are they so keen on saving him?

Well that might have something to do with another wee story that the Tories managed to bury this week. A minster overruled a local council on a planning decision, regarding a large (£1 billion) property development, to the benefit of a Tory donor to the tune of £40 million (as the expedited decision allowed the developer to avoid the payment of newly introduced local taxes). The local council objected and sued. Their lawyers requested all the emails sent between the minster and developer as part of the evidence gathering process. This provoked the minster to immediately settle the case, even admitting that he broke the law.

Let us review that, a minster has admitted that he broke the law so that a Tory party supporter could make £40 million at the expense of a local council. And of course, he ain’t getting sacked either! And this is the sort of thing that’s becoming almost routine under Johnson. Contracts being handed out like Halloween candy to those friendly to the Tory party, even for things like medicinal supplies and services (I mean its not like we need to apply some scrutiny to those right now!). And this includes several contracts given to firms linked to Cummings, no questions asked.

Its not unlike the “Operation Carwash” scandal in Brazil. And the UK has the nerve to call other countries corrupt. The only difference being, the Tories aren’t even bothering to try and hide what they are doing. And why should they? They know half the country are mugs who will still vote for them next election, no matter how badly they screw up, nor how many people die from Covid. And they know the hard left will sabotage Starmers chances anyway (it would make the chosen one Corbyn look bad if he lost by a historic margins…several times! only for Starmer to waltz in and win on the first try).

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The reality is that Cummings real role in government is less “special adviser” and more special messenger. Cummings has a pretty shady past, including a period in Russia and contacts with several Oligarchs, not to mention various dodgy hedge funds and offshore firms. So he effectively acts as a go-between for them, who whispers in the ear of the PM what policies various wealthy elites would want implemented.

Hence why he can’t be sacked. If he is, Johnson will be in danger of angering the one group of supporters he actually cares about. This is what brexiters voted for. Like I said at the time, when the Tories said “take control” they weren’t talking to plebs like you, but to the elites who bankrolled the Tory party. Did you actually think they gave a crap about ordinary people? LOL! For the post-brexit future they envision for the UK is that of being a dodgy, low-tax Kleptocracy, with no real public services. A Dickensian society, but with broadband and big brother.

The only question is, what happens when their lies are exposed? On the one hand, you could argue that the Cummings affair shows that even within the Tory party, nevermind the general public, you are going to get push back at some point and possibly an internal Tory revolt (meaning a new leader or an early election).

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However, I’m doubtful. I cannot help but notice that much of this “tory anger” over Cummings is really just bluster to keep their constituents onside. MP’s after all, if they really want Cummings gone, could simply vote to remove the post of special adviser (thus making him redundant). But the lack of any effort to do that suggests they know they only have to to talk the talk, rather than walk the walk. The gold fish like attention span of Tory voters ensures they will quickly forget about it all within a few days. And besides, no doubt the Daily Mail will find a way to blame it all (and the impending collapse of the NHS) on foreigners.

Government by chaos and hypocrisy

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I suspect we’ve just discovered a new phrase from this lockdown, which will enter the language – “doing a Cummings” (which means essentially the plebs should do what we say, but don’t do what we do). Its the government who are setting the rules on this lockdown. They made clear that all but the most essential travel should be avoided. Especially if you were showing symptoms.

And it was the government and their right wing media attack dogs who went after many others who breached these rules, be they government scientists or advisor’s to the Scottish government (you know how much they hate experts, especially Scottish ones), who were forced to resign for breaches of the rules. The only difference between what they did to get fired and Wormtongue Cummings did, is that they weren’t displaying any symptoms of the coronavirus when they travelled, nor had they been in direct contact with someone who had tested positive. As a retired Durham chief constable has said one can scarcely come up with a more blatant breach of the lockdown rules.

And we’ve also had numerous examples of over zealous policing, from them going into stores and ordering them to stop selling easter eggs and alcohol, or searching people’s shopping to check they’ve only bought essential items. Yet no action is being taken against Cummings.

So if the rules have been all along, oh actual when we say you can’t travel you actually can travel hundreds of miles, even while sick, visit elderly relatives, or go for a walk (drop a review when your done), or how about a nice drive (remember the agro they were giving dog walkers for driving a couple of miles or van lifers for just walking around outside their own vehicle). So long as you think its necessary. If that’s the actual policy, then a) That’s BS and basically unenforceable, plus b) why didn’t they say so!

If this was the policy all along, is the government now going to apologise to all of those who made personal sacrifices to self isolate even though it meant abandoning loved ones and not seeing parents before they died? Or others who had young children and had to stay in the house with them, even thought this risked the kids getting sick. Are the aforementioned scientists going to receive a public apology (both from the government and the media) and be reinstated with full pay?

Because in the absence of that it means that, much like everything else with this government (brexit, the NHS, coronavirus, climate change) the official policy is one of confusion. “Fu*ked if we know!” is now the UK government’s official motto. There is now serious confusion about what you can or can’t do. I mean I literally don’t know anymore.

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Print off and cut out this free Cummings Mask to be able to travel in the UK free of any annoying lockdown rules.

Which just means that the lock down is now going to fall apart. And with the R0 still close to one and the number of cases per day still relatively high (its not fallen off rapidly like in other countries, its still about 4,000 cases a day), this means the crisis will drag on, which means the economy can’t re-start (as many people will chose to stay indoors or work from home even if the government relaxes the lockdown early). The NHS also won’t get the chance it needs to prepare for the 2nd wave, likely to hit in the autumn or winter. Which means that its at risk of being overwhelmed.

This 2nd wave could be a milder form of the virus, or it could be worse, or more of the same. We’ll find out when it happens. But it will be circulating at the same time as the usual winter flu bugs, meaning doctors will have to try identify different diseases with very similar symptoms, while trying to keep the patients separated (as you don’t want someone with Covid catching the flu as well and visa versa). This will be the point of maximum difficulty for the NHS.

And the window of opportunity for preventing that 2nd wave overwhelming the NHS will be very short, a couple of weeks in the autumn. As I’ve mentioned before, do the maths and you’ll see that if only 20% of the people ignore the rules (i.e. they do a Cummings) then it will undo the good work of the 80% who follow the rules. So confusing the message at this time is very dangerous.

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Of course the real reason why he wasn’t fired is that Cummings is more powerful than any minsters or perhaps even the PM. We now have minsters of the crown lining up to kiss the ass of an unelected nobody, whose official position technically ranks him below that of the Downing street cat. But because he knows where the bodies are buried as regards brexit and could probably get Boris sacked (or imprisoned) if he leaked certain information, he’s essentially untouchable.

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For this is reality of what Tory voters voted for, government by chaos. You voted not to have a PM, but a spokes-model for various right wing special interests (some of them linked to foreign governments), whose agenda includes dismantling the welfare state, privatising the NHS and basically finishing where they left off under Thatcher. Hence why Boris selected his minsters on the basis of their loyalty to him and their ability to kiss ass and take orders (orders that come not from the PM but from unelected special advisers like Cummings). Not to mention their complete lack of any useful qualifications, experience or competence, making them unlikely to become a threat to the PM in a future leadership challenge.

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A rapidly deleted tweet shows what the civil service thinks of this whole mess

For if Cummings does go, I’d take that as a sign that someone (perhaps the ERG brigade) have decided the time has come to move against Boris. The sith always betray their own and its inevitable, now that Corbyn’s out of the picture (the one thing unifying the Tory party), they’ll start infighting over who gets to be top dog (and spoiler, Boris won’t be PM by the next election, he and Cummings will be the fall guys for Covid and the post-brexit no-deal mess coming in January).

So I hope Tory voters are happy now, because this is what you voted for. The mess that is this crisis (and the crises to follow), the tens of thousand dead more than in other European countries, that’s on you.

The long emergency

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There seems to be still quite a lot of miss-information about the coronavirus. Everyone had a good laugh at Trump asking if we could use bleach to cure the virus. Well India basically just tried that on an entire town.

While yes, the rate of infection is slowing, some countries are easing their lockdowns (perhaps a little prematurely), in other countries (notably Brazil and Russia) the rate of infection is accelerating rapidly. And in others, despite a lockdown (the US and UK for example), they’ve only really managed to go from a exponential rate of growth to a linear one (see John Hopkin’s data for more on that). Of course, this means that once the lockdown measures are removed, within a few weeks you’ll be back to where you started and $2 trillion dollars poorer.

So I thought I might be useful to go over some issues that have arisen recently.

Can we sue China?

There seems to be a growing narrative that Covid-19 came from a lab in Wuhan, rather than a wet market as widely assumed. Hence the logic goes, its all China and the WHO’s fault, so we can sue them for the damages caused, right? Good luck with that one.

Firstly, contrary to what you might read in the conspiracy theories on Reddit, the links between this Chinese lab and Covid-19 are pretty shaky. Certainly nothing that any good lawyer couldn’t rip apart in a matter of minutes. Its always difficult to pin point the exact origin point of any virus outbreak and this outbreak isn’t any different.

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is a good example (which didn’t start in Spain, its called that because Spain wasn’t under wartime censorship and its papers reported openly about the outbreak). The official patient zero for the 1918 outbreak was a cook’s assistant in a US army base in Kansas. While its plausible the virus could have started on the base (they kept and slaughtered animals on the base, and this was a form of swine flu), there are other theories suggesting it originally started in China (likely in a wet market or slaughterhouse of some kind), or among British soldiers in France.

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The 1918 Spanish flu started in the US…not Spain!

So building a case ironclad enough that could prove a Chinese origin for this outbreak is going to take some doing. Furthermore, I’d argue some of these allegations are probably counter productive. For example, suggestions that the virus was circulating in France in December, well the Chinese can now legitimately argue, oh so its a French disease then.

They are also under pressure to close down their wet markets permanently. And (somewhat ironically), its believed that Chinese efforts to promote their traditional medicines (TCM) instead of, well “real” medicine, might have contributed to the start of this outbreak. Banning (or heavily regulating) both of these would be hugely unpopular within China.

Naturally, being able to take the focus off the wet markets gives them the excuse to shrug their shoulders and say “who knows where it came from”. Its not exactly helping matters. And by cutting funding to the WHO, the US is allowing China to step in and put pressure on the WHO to consider TCM as registered medical treatments.

But even if you could prove conclusively it was China’s fault, how are you going to sue them? They are within their rights to simply give Trump the one fingered salute and tell him to piss off and find someone else to make America’s i-phones. The technical term for countries suing each other is known as “war”.

And how would they pay anyway? RMB? They’ll just run the magic money machine and print off trillions of the stuff, while giving all Chinese a pay rise (so on paper they’ve paid in full, but in reality they’d basically just handed over a lot of worthless paper). Dollars? They would immediately dump their entire holdings of US bonds all at once, devaluing the dollar to the point where they could pay the bill pretty easily in dollars given it would now be worth a fraction of its value.

And in any event, the bulk of the blame for this outbreak lies with the foolish decisions by certain chest thumping populist leaders who failed to act decisively once warnings were given (and the WHO did declare a health emergency in late January, so its not like they didn’t get a heads up). And those leaders (notably Trump) might want to watch their words given the very real risk that a mutated version of the virus could now emerge. this could be similar to the current virus, just one nobody has immunity too and none of the vaccines under research will work against. Or it could be much worse. And where in the world is it most likely such a mutated version will emerge? Wherever there is the most number of case….you know….like the US.

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A more sensible strategy (than blame-storming) would be to learn lessons and implement changes to how such outbreaks are handled. Putting in place mandatory international reporting structures (so any doctor ringing the alarm bell, that alert goes out globally to everyone, not via the Amity town mayor who doesn’t want a pandemic on lunar new year’s eve rocking the boat for him). Of course, you’ll get as much opposition to that in the US as you would from the Chinese.

It also means banning dangerous and unhygienic practices, such as the aforementioned wet markets (or some similar practices in US food production) and certain alternative medicines (not just TCM, hell Alex Jones has been peddling Silver pills s a cure for coronavirus, which is just as bad). That’s probably a better long term response.

Herd immunity

Many, in particular libertarians, are outraged at being forced to stay inside. They want as little government as possible…yet still want a government big enough to pay for a massive military, a vast interstate highway network, subsidised fossil fuel consumption, not to mention a government so authoritarian it can tell people what they can do in the privacy of their own homes, whom they can marry and a government that can imprison and kill its own citizens, in some cases without even a trial. As discussed previously on this blog, conservatives don’t understand the concept of irony.

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Any resemblance between Trump supporters and the zombie apocalypse is purely coincidental

My view is, if Elon Musk wants to re-open his factory, fine, but only if he agrees to pay for the healthcare of all of his employees (and anyone else they might infect) and they all get to cough on him and his new born baby before every shift change. Because in essence that’s what he and other libertarians are proposing should happen for everyone else. While you’ll hear few who will openly admit it, there are quite a few of the world’s wealthy who just want to let the virus run its course, while they remain safely tucked away in their mansion of course and let the plebs develop a “herd immunity” to the virus.

Well the problem with this strategy is that it will cause hundreds of millions to get sick and a vast number of people will die. In fact, the scary thing is we aren’t even sure how many that could be. But 20-50% of the entire world population getting sick and perhaps 1-10% of those who get sick dying (so between 0.6 to 15 million dead in the US alone) would not be an unreasonable estimate.

In short the economic impact of that would make the impact of the current lockdown seem pretty tame. Except, in a libertarian world, there would be no government bailout money. Musk’s factory would be paralysed as many of his workers would be either sick or absent from work (perhaps feigning illness to avoid picking up the virus), as would many of his suppliers (so his entire supply chain would collapse). Plus, as noted, he’d be liable for the sick pay and healthcare costs of all of these sick workers. And I don’t see many in a hurry to buy a car in the middle of a global pandemic.

Double jeopardy and triple jeopardy

Furthermore, there is a more serious flaw with this “herd immunity” hypothesis – that’s not how viruses work, it may be possible to catch this virus more than once. The antibodies for a particular disease don’t linger around indefinitely. That’s why you need a flu vaccine every winter and booster vaccines for other diseases from time to time.

Plus, if the virus does mutate (and there are signs its already doing that), there is no guarantee that those who had the infection before will be immune to it a 2nd time around. It is also possible to become a host for the virus without actually getting sick or displaying any symptoms (meaning you can unwittingly spread it around without even realising it).

It ain’t over till its over

Similarly, while yes developing a vaccine does sound like a good idea, but I worry many are seeing it as some sort of panacea, when it might be a damp squib. If the virus mutates sufficiently, then it might not be fully effective (or work at all). And remember, vaccination only works if you can be vaccinated before you get sick, not afterwards. Of course there’s nothing to stop us developing another vaccine (as well as better treatments for those already sick) and eventually we’d come up with something that will be widely effective. But that’s going to take time, likely years.

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In fact, if we did get a viable vaccine, the sensible thing to do would be to stockpile it rather than issue it straight away. Then, at an appropriate moment, implement mass vaccinations of key front line workers (doctors, nurses, bus drivers, teachers, not politicians or rich people). This is what was done recently to defeat an Ebola outbreak in Africa. Unfortunately, the timeline for being able to do all of that is going to be at least a year from now, Christmas 2021 being a more realistic end date. So this is merely the first stage of a long emergency (as I’ve said before, anyone who tells you this is the end of the beginning of this outbreak, or that the worst is over, do me a favour and slap him for me, we haven’t even started). And it ain’t going to be over till its over…..and the fat lady can’t sing because she’s been told to self isolate.

Of course you can’t keep the whole world in lock down for a year or two, so what governments should be doing is coming up with a long term strategy for how to operate under an extended period of social distancing. The message to business owners should be to start figuring out how you would re-open while implementing social distancing rules, but this simply isn’t happening.

So for example restaurants and bars should have been told to spend the last couple of weeks switching from open plan to individual booths and stalls (by putting up a few stud walls or curtains). Shops could do more of the sort of click and collect service. Airlines could fly again, once they’ve worked out how they can operate and still limit the spread of disease within the planes (compulsory screening of passengers 24 hrs before departure, masks worn at all times, etc.). Musk could re-open his factory, but only when he’s figured out how to open while still implementing social distancing. And, as noted, a guarantee of sick pay and full healthcare coverage for all employees (as well as encouraging all of those who can work from home to continue to do so). Government seems to be waking up this reality yes, but only now, when the message should have gone out two months ago.

But of course, this is the sort of stuff people don’t want to hear. They want to hear nice easy answers, such as it will all blow over and we can get back to normal and forget about it. If so, many countries, including those that think they are out of the woods, might be in for a rude awakening in the autumn.

Why good leadership matters

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One way to handle the crisis!

I’ve heard it argued (before this whole crisis) that it scarcely matters who you vote for these days. Presidents and prime minsters have no real power anymore. Like the character Zaphod Beeblebrox (the president of the universe from the Hitchikers guide to the Galaxy, who in truth has no real power or authority), they exist merely to distract the public from who is really in charge (the elites, Whitehall mandarins, the corporations, etc.). Our elections are about as meaningful as those in Judge Dredd (where all real power is held by the judges, even though elections are held for the largely ceremonial role of mayor). In fact, in a classic example of life imitating art, in 2000AD’s “portrait of a politician” (published in the 80’s) an Orange haired Orangutan is elected major of Mega city one….why does that sound familiar!

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In 2000 AD’s judge Dredd a Monkey was once elected as Mayor of the city…sound familiar?

Convinced that their vote doesn’t really matter, some have instead taken to voting for leaders, such as Trump and Boris, because they are a bit of a laugh, they find them amusing. And they know it drives liberals and anyone else who cares about politics up the walls. Ya, well I’m wondering how many of those currently dying of coronavirus are still laughing. In a crisis a leader does have quite a lot of responsibility and you want someone competent in the job.

But its not Trump’s fault his supporters say, how can you blame him for a disease. It was the fault of the WHO, China, 5G, the democrats, the gays [insert favourite hate group here]. As I’ve pointed out before, China could have handled the initial stages of the outbreak better. Similar, yes the WHO have probably not done everything they could. But this is to be expected in a crisis such as this, not everything is going to go according to plan (as the saying goes in the military, every plan falls apart upon first contact with the enemy).

That’s the whole reason why the CDC had a panel of experts, ready to spring into action when something like this happens….well at least they did until Trump decided to fire them to fund his tax cuts that is. And in the middle of a pandemic is not the time for this sort of postmortem. Cutting funding to the WHO will only cost lives.

Because in fairness to the WHO, they were working under the assumption that most countries were led by competent leaders. Not leaders so dense and ill informed that White house staffers and other world leaders have had to resort to using brightly coloured cue cards to get across the most basic of facts (such as what’s the difference between a virus and bacteria).

Trump claim’s his travel ban absolves him of blame. However, as I pointed out at the time, it was probably counter productive. It came in after the virus was already in the US and he couldn’t stop US citizens returning home. The ban also left the door open to flights from countries he where he had business interests. Of course this simply meant lots of people got straight on a plane and travelled to (or via) the US from infected areas.

A more competent leader would have stopped short of a complete travel ban (at least initially), advised against all but the most essential travel and reassured any US citizens overseas that the government had their back. In any event, a travel ban is only buying you time. As soon as they saw the WHO notices, the leadership in countries with more competent leadership began preparing hospitals, sourcing medical supplies, preparing testing and alert procedures. They also began testing like crazy in an effort to put a ring fence around the outbreak.

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Trump meanwhile did nothing…for 6 weeks! When the time came to initiate lockdowns, other states did so much earlier, even though the number of cases were quite small. Trump dithered, worrying about the impact on his hotels most likely, while making many misleading statements that made the worst of a bad situation, by confusing the public (claiming its a democratic hoax, that its like the flu, or it will go away in the summer, or there was a cure available). And when finally forced to accept the inevitable he took to pilfering medical supplies that more competent nations had ordered weeks earlier.

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The UK has not become more dystopian since the start of the outbreak. Any resemblance to a certain George Orwell novel is purely coincidental

And the UK response from the Tory government wasn’t much better. Having run the NHS into the ground prior to the outbreak, they failed to take it seriously, with Boris Johnson missing 5 Cobra meetings related to the risk of an outbreak. Now the NHS is running short of PPE, meaning doctors and nurses will have to chose between saving lives or saving themselves. And as for all those new ventilators we were promised, medical experts have dismissed those build by the likes of JCB or Dyson (a digger manufacturer!) as essentially useless and of no medical use (and you need trained staff to operate them anyway!). Rather than co-operating with an EU scheme to acquire more ventilators and PPE from legitimate manufacturers, they chose instead to rely on their chums from their Eton days (both JCB and Dyson are owned by brexit supporters).

The end result is a stark contrast in outcomes. Countries such as Germany, China, Korea, or Denmark have successfully flatten the curve (I’m told that while it got pretty bad in German hospitals, they never actually ran out of beds). They are now started a phased end to the lockdown and the likely impact on their economy will be reduced. Which is somewhat ironic given Trump/Johnson’s reasons for dithering on a lockdown (or cutting medical funding) was for the benefit of the economy. If you think healthcare funding isn’t a priority, or that the private sector is better off just being left alone, try a pandemic.

And I bring this up because this is only phase one of the virus. Anyone you hear saying that this is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end for Covid-19, do me a favour and slap them for me. No, this is merely the first stage of the first wave of infection. The second wave (and perhaps a third and forth wave after that) will come at some point, likely in the autumn or late summer. This might be the same virus, a weaker form of it, or it could be a mutated version that’s much worse (which nobody, even those already infected, will have immunity against).

This is the problem. A lockdown is only a temporary measure. Already I’ve seen signs its starting to fail in the UK. Any time I’ve been out exercising or shopping I notice more and more signs that its starting to fail (people holding parties or businesses quietly reopening). Or I’ve heard stories of workers being called back into work (as they are now deemed “essential”, which I take as code word for bosses deciding that if they don’t get production going again soon, they won’t have a company left to save).

And none of this should be a surprise. Yes the lockdown was necessary, to try and flatten the curve. But it represents a temporary pause that should have been used to prepare a long term strategy of dealing with the virus. And again, yes some countries (generally those led by sensible people) have done that and can now start to reopen. Others, notably India, the US or the UK (all led by populists) have squandered their time.

Thus, its likely that when the lockdown ends, a second wave starts in one of these countries, which then goes global. And the leaders might not get to decide when the lockdown ends. If only 20% of a people decide to ignore the rules and break quarantine it will undo the efforts of the other 80%. Run the numbers and it only take a few months after that for the virus to go right through a country’s entire population (meaning tens of millions will be off sick at any one time and between 0.6-10% of those infected will die). And as a recent protest by gun totting Trump supporters shows (who must surely deserve a group Darwin award for stupidity), its possible the US lockdown will fall apart before the curve has been fully flattened.

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Candidates for the largest mass darwin award, plan to fight the virus with bullets, because every problem can be solved with guns

Then there is the economic effects to consider. Basically governments can’t rescue every company. You can’t keep a substantial proportion of the workforce forlonged forever. Some firms will fail, but then again some were probably doomed to fail anyway (such as the comic book industry, parts of the oil industry and some of the airlines). Others are vital to the working of the economy and their failure would cause considerable blow back.

Inevitably this means governments will have to pick winners and losers. And what’s the bet that populist leaders will pick the winners from among their own cronies (much as the Tories just did as regards ventilators), or those loyal to them, rather than those that are essential and worth saving. Socialism for brexit/trump supporting elites, libertarian rat race capitalism for everyone else. Recall both Trump and Johnson’s original plan was for boomers to hide in their homes while millennial’s took the brunt of the virus to develop herd immunity for society as a whole.

As this crisis makes clear, the first priority is to insure competent leadership in any government, not those who you find entertaining or whose soundbites you like the most. This is not some Saturday night TV talent show. Not saying you have to vote for neo-liberal friendly leaders (actually I’d advise against that as its generally them who got us into this mess in the first place). It just means picking from among the candidates who are vaguely sane in the first instance and then worry about their politics and manifesto after that. Granted, this can be difficult in countries which lack proportional representation, but that’s exactly why constitutional reform is so important.

Otherwise you end up in the worst of both worlds, a leadership that can’t achieve meaningful change, yet one that is also too inept to handle a crisis (and will likely fold to pressure from lobbyists to roll back workers rights and environmental protections as a “temporary measure). While there will be those in the government who will try their best to put out fires, its kind of a hard job when the fire chief is a serial arsonists (who encourages his supporters to become pyromaniacs).

So let us be clear, if you voted for populist leaders recently, a lot of the deaths and the economic hardship that has resulted (with more to come over the next year or so), that’s on you. Actions have consequences. Voting is a serious matter. You are picking the person who made get to decide whether you live or die, or end up destitute. If you lack the maturity to make such an informed decision, don’t vote.

Every cloud has a silver lining

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The Covid-19 outbreak is a global tragedy that has adversely effected the lives of millions. However as a vlog post I saw recently points out, its not all bad news. Its had some positives as well and it is perhaps worth reflecting on those.

First of all, it has always been a question of when the next global pandemic was going to hit, not if it would happen. The WHO and various other health authorities have been warning of this for sometime. And compared to some of their baseline scenarios (one of which was the basis for the fictional virus in the 2011 film Contagion), we’ve got off rather lightly.

Covid-19 spread has been a lot slower than it could have been. And its mortality rate of 1-3.4% (depending on who you ask) is nowhere near as bad as the 5-10% for Spanish flu or 20-30% for diseases like SARS or smallpox. Also, the world caught something of a lucky break, as the disease was initially localised to one region of China. Yes, the Chinese authorities did screw up their initial response. But enough of a warning and quarantine measures were taken to buy vital time for the rest of the world (of course some countries run by populists chose to ignore these warnings, but at least we got some sort of heads up).

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By contrast in the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968, or the 2009 Swine flu epidemic, the virus went global pretty quickly (thanks to international air travel). The end result being that the first most health authorities worldwide knew about these new diseases was when people started showing up at hospitals and dying (the 1968 pandemic would go on to kill over a million people).

This was the basis for the scenario portrayed in the aforementioned movie Contagion, where the fictional disease outbreak starts in a Macao casino and spreads to the four corners of the world within 24 hrs. By the time the health authorities realise what the hell they are dealing with, millions are already infected and hundreds of thousands are already dead. So the current situation, while bad, it could have been a lot worse.

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Scene from the 2011 movie Contagion

So we should see Covid-19 as something of a fire drill for a future pandemic. One where we might not catch the lucky breaks we’ve caught this time (and we might be dealing with something a lot deadlier). China came out pretty much okay, largely because this was not their first outbreak. They clearly had some sort of contingency plan to deal with this sort of thing. One assumes that in the wake of this crisis other countries will have the good sense to do the same.

The crisis has also highlighted the importance of healthcare. Countries with well funded national healthcare (such as Germany, Scandinavia, Lithuania, etc.) have weathered the storm better than countries who didn’t provide adequate funding (such as the UK, Italy or Spain). Boris Johnson was essentially elected on a mandate of A) not being Jeremy Corbyn, and B) running the NHS into the ground, so it can be privatised. Now he owes his life to the service. He’s going to find himself under pressure to pretty much reverse the last ten years of Tory policy towards the NHS and fund it more extensively.

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Trump (who massively cut back the CDC’s budget early on in his presidency), even if he can get re-elected, is unlikely to be able to get rid of Obamacare, not without replacing it with something else (and from a right wing point of view, particularly post Covid-19, almost anything is going to be worse). It is difficult to see a scenario where healthcare will be given such a low priority in US in the future.

Virus

Its likely Covid-19 started in a Chinese “wet market, which is a PC way of describing an outdoor unregulated abattoir which looks like something out of the middle ages. Indeed, its been suggested that the outbreak’s origin in China might be down to the regime trying to favour alternative Chinese medicine over….actual medicine…. as a cost saving measure. Which, if true, has to count as one of the most spectacular backfires in government policy since Mao’s great leap forward.

For years health authorities world wide have been lobbying China to shut these markets down. Not only for animal welfare reasons, but because they were a likely point of origin for a disease like this. And its likely that SARS, MERS, the Hong Kong flu and perhaps even HIV and Ebola (the latter two probably came from African wet markets) all originated in this kind of environment. The Chinese have now banned wet markets temporarily, so we can only hope the flak they are going to catch over this crisis will eventually make that ban permanent. And that other countries will follow suit.

One of the reasons why Covid-19 is killing people is that it can lead to viral pneumonia, against which there is no real treatment. Well what if I was to tell you there might not be any way to treat regular bacterial pneumonia, or a host of other bacterial infections, in a few years time. This is because we are running out of effective antibiotics.

This is occurring mostly for two reasons, the unregulated use of antibiotics in agriculture and a lack of investment in the development of new ones. One can hope that this crisis will highlight the importance of investing in drug research. If you think vaccines are too expensive, try a pandemic. Which may lead to new vaccines for diseases such as Malaria, HIV or West Nile, which between them kill tens of thousands of people in developing countries every year.

But its not just better healthcare funding which is a fringe benefit of this outbreak. Air pollution, carbon emissions and energy consumption have all decreased. Its estimated that the drop in air pollution in China alone might actually save more lives than people killed by Covid-19 in the country.

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And with everyone working from home, I think its becoming obvious that not everyone needs to work in an office 9-5. While some staff will be needed in frontline roles, a lot of back office activity can take place at home. In my job for example, while yes we (and the students) need to be on campus for laboratory work or workshops (hence the havoc this crisis is creating). But a lot of the rest of the teaching, research and admin tasks can be performed at home.

If we were to see a cultural shift recognising this reality, it would have a number of significant consequences. For example, in the UK childcare costs are insane, about £1000 to £2000 per month, per child. So if you are a single parent and you earn less than £40k (assuming you can only afford to spend a maximum of 50% of your take home pay on child care), you can forget about having a career. You are literally better off giving up your job and living on benefits. Similarly for couples, its not unusual for one of them to be forced to give up their job to mind the kids. Naturally, if working from home becomes a more feasible proposition, then that would allow a huge number of people (many of them women) to re-enter the workforce.

It would also mean you don’t necessarily need to live so close to where you work anymore. This would also have a wide variety of benefits. For example, many UK companies feel the need to be based in Greater London. Which means they have to pay their staff a “London allowance to account for the much higher living costs. This creates a vicious cycle as it tends to concentrate more and more of the UK’s wealth and spending within London. At the same time, the rest of the country is starved of jobs (meaning more people move to London to find work). And with less salaried workers spending their money outside of London, these regions become poorer (which simply encourages yet more companies and people to relocate to London).

And this is by no means a British problem. In France there are (or so French people tell me) two kinds of people, the French and Parisians. Its like something out of the Hunger Games with the districts and the capital, with Paris representing 30% of France’s entire GDP. In Ireland about 40% of the country’s entire population live in the Greater Dublin area. As you can imagine these factors tend to distort the politics and economics of these countries rather severely.

Now imagine a scenario where I could have a well paid job in London, but instead live and work in say, the West Midlands. I could get a much bigger house for the same rent/deposit (i.e. an actual house with a garden v’s a shoe box in London) and would be spending my London salary in my local community, effectively redistributing the wealth of the UK to an economically deprived area. Equally, if companies don’t expect all their employee’s to be in 9-5, you don’t need as big and expensive an office building in central London. It becomes more of a priority that its close to public transport links.

Now granted, not everyone can work from home (then again, if lots of workers move out of the big cities, that pushes down rents for those who have to stay). Employers would need to establish some ground rules in order to make sure employees are working (and not watching cat videos). And there’s various ways you can do that (notably by your boss having some clue what it is that you do and what’s going on in the firm, you’d be surprised how many I find are clueless to any of this). But even for those working at home, there will be times when they will need to come in to work, perhaps at short notice. So they’ll need to be careful where they base themselves.

This might present problems for countries with poor public transport (such as the US). But for those with good public transport, such as most European countries, it means that, thanks to high speed rail, you could get from a house in southern France (or Italy) into the office in Paris (or Milan) in a few hours (so potentially you don’t even need to overnight, you can hop on an evening train and be home for dinner). Certainly not a commute you’d want to do every day (although some do), but if its a once in a wee while sort of thing, that’s bearable. And certainly a damn sight better than pouring yourself into a subway train every morning. And it also creates a strong incentive to expand public transport networks to extend the economic benefits of home working.

And the current crisis does raise the question as to how important international business travel really is. While it is fun to fly out to far away places for work, one does have to question the wisdom of flying hundreds of academics to a conference to discuss how to prevent climate change (by perhaps holding this conference online?). A world where people travel less often, and are more likely to use public transport for long distances, where energy consumption and pollution is lower, is moving very much in the right direction in terms of tackling climate change.

Finally, as I’ve noted in prior posts, the Covid-19 crisis has led to many left wing policies becoming mainstream. A few months back, the Tories were thrashing labour policies as being crazy. Spend money on public services, welfare and healthcare like a sailor on shore leave? Why we can’t afford, you’d bankrupt the country.

Blink and now they are handing out hundreds of billions (mostly to corporations) like Halloween candy, more than enough money to fund policies like a basic citizens income. In fact Spain has indicated they plan to introduce just such a policy. There’s even talk of nationalising large chunks of the UK economy. This from a government who was elected largely because they weren’t Jeremy Corbyn.

And we’ve seen Amazon, a company that thinks Ebenezer Scrooge was a bleeding heart liberal who gave his workers way too much time off. Well suddenly they are now in favour of policies like sick pay. And in the US, the massive jump in unemployment is making it pretty clear that America needs some sort of welfare state (not least because US employees and their families often lose their health insurance if they lose their jobs). And I don’t hear libertarians whining any more about how any sort of state intervention is a form of tyranny (you know like Trump telling GM to stop building cars and build medical equipment instead, imagine their reaction if Obama did that).

But, isn’t their a danger of Trump using this crisis to cancel the election and just remain on as president? There are many ways Trump could end up making this crisis so much worse. However, as one lawyer discusses, there is one undeniable fact (and the US constitution is very explicit on this point), Trump’s term of office ends on January 20th 2021. As of noon on that day, unless there has been another election to give him a 2nd term, he will no longer be president (nor will Pence be the VP). While there is a question mark over who would take over (likely in some caretaker capacity), it can’t be Trump nor Pence (the mostly likely candidates being either Nancy Pelosi or the leading democrat in the Senate!).

In fact I’m not really surprised Bernie’s bowed out of the election race. The way things are going, the virus is going to more or less force many of his policies to be implemented, regardless of who wins the election.

So while yes, Covid-19 is a terrible tragedy, we should try to look at the positives. Every cloud has a silver lining.

The truth about the blitz

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Britain underwent a crime wave during the war years

The government is trying to encourage what it calls “the blitz spirit”. However, I think this shows that yet again, many of these posh Etonians have a warped (and dangerous) view of history. If anything the history of the blitz hints at some worrying likely trends, as regards the current lockdown.

One of the often forgotten facts about the UK during the blitz is how there was a massive spike in crime. Rates of reported crime went up at least 57%. And, to be clear, that’s just reported crimes (the worse the police are at catching criminals, the less likely people are to report crime) so the actual rates were probably much higher, perhaps as much as double the pre-war crime rates.

Part of the problem with the blitz was that the blacked out streets made it very easy for criminals to operate (all you had to do was don an ARP warden’s (Air Raid Protection) uniform and you could pretty much get away with anything). And it wasn’t just looting of bombed out premises, more serious and violent crime also went up. And in some cases it was off duty soldiers themselves who were behind these crimes.

The blitz was the golden age of the “spiv, (well prior to brexit anyway!) who made a fortune selling items on the black market. If it was rationed or banned, you can guarantee there would be someone down a back alley selling it. The first people liberated in world war 2 were criminals (as the government had bigger fish to fry, they paroled or released early a lot of prisoners) and the worst moment for spiv’s was when Hitler died and the war ended.

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World War 2 was the golden age of the Spiv

And ordinary people too also got in on the act. For some it would be minor acts, such as cheating on rationing rules, maybe buying some black market food or fuel, or emptying sugar bowls into a purse when in a cafe. Others engaged in looting of burnt out buildings or sunken ships (as in the famous whisky galore incident) or robbing crops and food from allotments.

And the situation wasn’t particularly different in other countries. Ireland for example, despite being neutral, was forced to bring in war time rationing of supplies. And again, yes it saw a rise in crime as a result. Even in totalitarian regimes there were issues. Germany, given how chaotically run it was under the nazi’s, became a nest of crime and corruption. In Russia food theft became so common, armed guards had to be posted 24/7 around farms, allotments and granary’s.

So when Boris Johnson talks about the Blitz spirit, is he suggesting we should all break quarantine, sneak out and go looting? In fact, case in point, there was the art theft of a Van Gogh painting recently, so some are already getting into the “blitz spirit”.

We also have squads of self appointed vigilantes harassing van lifers trying to self isolate in the highlands (telling them to “go home” unaware that their home is their van!), pretty much confirming every negative stereotype of country folk in the process. Then we have the loon’s torching 5G towers (moron logic, made in China = Coronavirus). Which, incidentally mirrors events during the blitz when various self appointed busy-bodies and over zealous ARP’s would break windows of homes if they saw the slightest glimmer of light, or threaten people they saw smoking outside.

But don’t we have boffin’s building lots of new cheap ventilators? Well no, ventilators are a pretty complicated piece of engineering. And they are pretty much useless without trained staff to operate them. This is what worries me about the present situation, we are being led by inept politicians, with a poor grasp of history (and technology), who do not understand what’s going on and are reacting to events rather than planning a coherent long term strategy.

As the crime wave of the blitz shows, people will obey draconian laws only up to a point (and worse some morons will get carried away!). If a law or rule is impractical, or there’s some easy way it can be circumvented, then that’s what people will start to do. This is why the war on drugs has been lost (so long as people want to take drugs, someone will supply them and all you are doing is making criminals richer and funding terrorism).

Already the police in the UK are warning that they doubt they can enforce the lock down for anything longer than three more weeks. And in my opinion, that’s probably realistic. To be clear, I’m not disagreeing with the idea behind the lockdown. I’m simply questioning its practicality and the fact that its time that’s being squandered. If the government’s plan is to keep everyone inside until this all blows over, well that ain’t going to work. This crisis will go on for months, if not a year or more. Instead they should be using the breathing space the lockdown allows to “Covid-proof” the country.

In the first instance, there’s the advice from the WHO’s to test, test and test again. If you know who has had the virus (and the majority of those with mild symptoms haven’t been tested), then you know whose got antibodies and is now immune to it (well until it mutates anyway!) and they can go back to work (subject to suitable precautions of course!). If we assume that say, 5 times the number of officially confirmed cases is the actual number infected, then that’s about a quarter of a million people in the UK (and nearly 2 million in the US) who can carry on as normal.

Similarly, there’s probably a significant body of people who might be naturally immune to the disease (by some estimates at least half the population). Identifying them means they can be released from quarantine too (again, subject to certain precautions). Businesses too, should be encouraged to work out how they plan to operate in a post-lockdown world (as this is not going to end any time soon) and then allowed to re-open. For example, shops putting up a counter between the customers and the stock (not unlike how many small shops used to operate in the old days). Or reintroducing “snug’s” and booths into cafe’s and pubs. Home deliveries and keeping the bulk of back office staff at home are all potential measures that could be taken.

Otherwise, all that’s going to happen is your going to reset the growth rate of the virus back to zero, everyone gets released from quarantine (or the measures fail because a enough people start ignoring or circumventing the rules to render them meaningless). And within a month we’re right back to where we started, just with more cases.

The chickens come home to roost for populism

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I’ve not talked much about the Coronavirus as I was waiting until it was clear whether or not it would go viral (if you’ll pardon the pun). Outbreaks like this do happen, we had SARS back in 2002, MERS in 2012 and there’s been one or two Ebola outbreaks in Africa. All were ultimately contained. While there has been a large outbreak of the Coronavirus in China, the authorities there seem to now have the situation under control. The death rate from the disease is also relatively low (3-4%, at least in China), much lower than with either SARS or MERS. However, there’s been some worrying developments that do give cause for concern.

Firstly, we need to remember that this isn’t China’s first rodeo. They’ve seen outbreaks like this several times now (notably SARS) and are much more experienced at dealing with them. They have been able to take draconian measures no western democracy could even consider. At the start of the outbreak China built two entire prefabricated hospital in Wuhan in ten days (clearly part of some sort of national contingency plan to deal with something like this). I mean the UK takes ten years to build just one hospital!

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By contrast, some of the responses outside of China have been ham-fisted, amateurish and downright foolhardy. Take the quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan. While yes, it has been common practice for centuries to quarantine ships in harbour, but this was generally intended for small cargo ships with a crew of a few dozen. Imposing such measures on a cruise ship with over 4,000 on board is practically ringing the dinner bell for this virus. Even confined to their rooms it can (and did) spread easily via the air conditioning ducts, the staff (as they handed out food or serviced the rooms) and the ship’s open balconies.

Then we have the rapid spread of the virus in Italy, with a death rate ten times higher than in China. Not really surprising, Italy is under the control of Five star and the affected provinces are controlled by the Northern League, both anti-vacciers. They’re policies have already led to measles outbreaks in Italy (the irony is one of those five stars stands for better public health!). And in Iran too (run by Ayatollahs who aren’t exactly well known for their faith in science) we’ve seen the numbers climb alarmingly. This is what happens when you put cranks and nutters in charge of your healthcare system. Populism is literally hazardous to ones health.

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The Populist solution to a virus, send in the Army, who can hopefully shoot the microbes

It is for good reason that the WHO is warning that the world simply isn’t ready for a Coronavirus outbreak. Here in the UK, the NHS is at breaking point. Treating people on trolleys in corridors is now the norm. Its been revealed there’s only capacity to treat 15 patients with severe breathing difficulties across the entire country and doctors have declared the government’s strategy and advice as regards the virus as clueless. Can you imagine what would happen if UK hospitals suddenly had to face a surge of patients due to this virus. As in Italy the likely outcome would be a death rate much higher than in China (SARS and MERS for the record ran closer to 10-30%).

The status of the NHS is no accident, its been a deliberate strategy by the Tories to run the NHS into the ground just so they can privatise it. However, that plan could now backfire. It could lead to a backlash against them, such that they’ll have to retain it, the bits already privatised might fail and the country will be left with an expensive bill (which means putting up taxes). Quite apart from the problem that the most likely victims of any outbreak are going to be Boomer’s, who mostly vote Tory. Killing off your own voters is not a sensible long term political strategy.

And in America, the Trump administration has been up to something similar. Aware that they can’t really get rid of Obamacare, as then they’d have to replace it (and almost anything else is worse from their point of view). So they’ve been trying to run it into the ground. Rural hospitals have been closed down, services withdrawn, the costs for medical services has soared. And who has Trump picked to lead the fight against the coronavirus? Mike Pence, a believer in faith healing. I hope Trump voters feel so much safer knowing that!

All of these chickens will come home to roost if the Coronavirus makes it to US shores. Aside from the potential for many deaths from this virus, there’s the enormous economic damage it could have. And one wonders about the financial future of America’s private healthcare industry after millions of Americans show up in hospital and begin demanding expensive medical treatments at the vastly inflated prices charged state side. It could easily cause the entire private health insurance system to unravel. Which, irony of ironies, could lead to single payer healthcare system.

So does this means the populists are all going to learn their lesson on the value of taking science and experts seriously? LOL. Ya and in other news a Leopard changed its spots. No, pesky little facts don’t matter to populists. The explosion of conspiracy theories and misinformation regarding this virus shows that. They will blame it all on immigrants and poor people, same as the do for everything else, in fact they’ve already started.

I mean just look at Ireland and the recent election, where Sinn Fein did rather well. It is a known fact that Sinn Fein and the IRA have worked closely together for years and that the IRA is still active. Yet you can have people in their 60’s, who saw the troubles first hand denying these facts, even when a leading member of SF celebrates their election success by shouting “up the RA. Apparently its all media bias against them (yes the media shows they are biased against SF by accurately reporting what they say).

SF did well in the election, probably in no small part to their buddies in Moscow (they’ve failed to back sanctions against Russia and have made various pro-Kremlin noises & send delegations to Moscow from time to time), where a campaign was pushed on social media focusing on hospital beds and high rents effecting young people (the irony of course is that the last government introduced rent controls and build more hospitals). But since when have populists let the truth get in the way of an election campaign. And yes SF includes some of the usual anti-vacciers, conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and other wacky crankery. Just the sort of people we need in charge in the middle of a pandemic.

This is what you are dealing with when it comes to populists. Facts don’t matter to them, only whatever opinions happen to match their own. Their minds are capable of undertaking feats of mental gymnastics that would make Simone Biles dizzy. And the left wing populists are just as prone to this as the right wingers. Populism is a delusionary disease of the mind. And I’d say the jury is out as to which is more dangerous, populism or the coronavirus.

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6095 days since mission accomplished and the US starts another war

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Its being argued, ironically by some on the alt-left (the so-called anti-anti Trump left), that Trump isn’t so bad, Hilary would have been worse, after all he’s too incompetent to start any wars. Well that theory just got blown out of the water last week, with the assassination of a high ranking member of the Iranian government by Trump in Iraq. Too say this is going to lead to blow back is to put it mildly. Already the Iraqi parliament has voted to request all foreign troops leave the country.

Trump may be choosing to follow the standard play book of many US presidents, if in trouble at home, bomb somebody. However, the problem for Trump is that attacking almost any of the likely Trump targets comes with severe blowback and repercussions. And Iran has to be the worst of them all to target.

Firstly, the US and Iran were essentially allies in the war against ISIS (as well as America’s former allies the Kurds). The worse thing Iran could do is down tools and let it be known to ISIS (and the Kurdish militia in Turkey) that they have a free hand and suddenly all the work of the last few year is undone, bombs start going off and US servicemen start disappearing (yet he can’t attack the Iranians in retaliation as all the evidence will point to them not being involved). And that’s before Iran, or their allies (HAMAS, Hezbollah, etc.) start attacking US, western and Israeli interests around the world.

And the most likely target would be oil tankers passing through the straits of Hormuz. Indeed the mere threat of this is causing all sorts of problems for the global economy, both pushing up oil prices, while pulling down the value of oil companies, notably Saudi Aramco, which may not go down well with one of Trump’s key allies in the region.

Oh, but if they attack the US I’ll bomb them says Trump. Ya, that’s kind of the Iranian plan! The Iranians have acquired a number of advanced weapon systems recently from Russia, most notably the S-300 air defence system (known to NATO as the SA-12). The US has the military capability to overwhelm these defences, but now without taking losses. In other words, some US aircraft will be shot down, US pilots will end up in Iranian custody, provoking a damaging hostage crisis in an election year (assuming they don’t get lynched by an angry mob before the Iranians can arrest them, footage of which will of course appear on social media).

Worse still, given that much of this new hardware was acquired from the Russians relatively recently, its reasonable to assume that Russian military personnel and/or contractors will be on site. Its also well known that China and Iran are co-operating on a number of industrial projects, as well as some military cooperation. Meaning there will be some Chinese citizens (including potentially some military personnel) in Iran. If any of them get killed in a US bombing campaign (which will of course be an illegal act under international law), then events could escalate quite quickly. There’s a good chance of retaliation from them in some way.

This could be either economic measures (such as a mass sell off of US bonds), or military (as in an attack against a US ally, Estonia, Kuwait or Taiwan and basically giving the US an embarrassing bloody nose)…or they could just release a certain pee tape. Either way, it just shows how events could very quickly spiral out of control.

And where was the UK in all of this? Well nowhere, Trump didn’t even give the UK a heads up. The UK was left to meekly cheer from the sidelines, even thought its quite possible they might be the target of Iranian (or Russian) retaliation. In fact, UK warships are having to be rushed into action to protect UK oil tankers. As one newspaper puts it, the UK post-brexit has gone from being America’s poodle to being its lapdog. That’s taking control alright!

Paradise lost

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Meanwhile bush fires rage out of control in Australia, in no small part due to climate change. And one of the towns destroyed happened to be called Eden. Paradise has literally been lost to climate change. And least we forget, the current Australian government does contain more than a few climate sceptics, most notably the Australian PM himself, who once even once took a lump of coal into parliament to complain about “coal-phobia”.

Does this mean people have woken up to climate change? Ya and in other news a leopard has changed its spots. No, the Australian PM has refused to answer any such questions and the media instead has focused on dealing with the immediate problems caused by the fire, or the short term factors that led to them starting. I mean who could know that plants will burn when they get extremely dry. And who could’ve anticipated that Australians might have barbecues around Christmas time.

Like the soviet union after Chernobyl exploded, the climate change deniers will stick to the party line. Climate change can’t cause bush fires, you didn’t see burning kangaroos, take him away he’s delusional, its only 3.6 Roentgens (which is technobabble I know, but its become something of a meme now), not great, but not terrible.

For the same reasons, conservatives are utterly incapable of accepting the reality of climate change. Because much as Chernobyl exposed how rotten and dysfunctional the soviet system was, climate change would mean deniers having to accept the need for urgent action. Which given the atmosphere is a global commons, would mean international co-operation and government intervention….which means putting the coal companies who bankroll their campaigns out of business.

Of course, much as I warned in a post a few years ago, the downside to all of this is that the politicians themselves end up taking the blame. And quite rightly the Aussie PM has found himself being heckled as a result of these bushfires. And this should come as a warning to all right wing politicians. Ignore climate change and you’ll end up in a scenario where you will be completely out of your depth. The public will throw their support behind your most extreme opponents on either the left (Extinction rebellion types) or the extremists on the right (who will blame climate change on migrants, foreigners and poor people).

The assassination of Jess Philips by the coward Jeremy Corbyn

Speaking of ideologue’s who can’t handle the truth, much as I predicted, any opponents to the golden child, who’ll succeed Corbyn and lead labour to the socialist workers paradise, will be vilified and condemned, regardless of their suitability for high office, nor how left wing they are. Rebecca Long Bailey is the chosen one, endorsed by the supreme soviet Corbyn’s advisers (you know, the ones who’ve led labour to historic defeat after defeat).

And sure enough, Jess Philips announces she’s throwing her hat in the ring, mentions the possibility of maybe labour maybe campaigning to rejoin the EU at some point, post-brexit (the one thing Corbyn absolutely doesn’t want), and the labour/momentum blogs come alive with negative messages against her.

Too be clear, I’m kind of neutral on who should be the next labour leader. My guess is that either Scotland will be a separate country, or I’ll likely be back in Ireland, or somewhere else in the EU (taking advantage of the privileges being an EU citizen grants me!) by the time who is the leader of the labour party becomes a relevant issue. But yes, Jess Philips strikes me as one of a number of potential candidates who could reverse labour’s fortunes. And not because she’s anti-Corbyn (she’s actually fairly left wing in truth), but because she’s from a working class background, she is able to connect with working class people, she’s shown herself quite capable of taking on the Tories and (unlike Corbyn) she had a proper job before becoming a politician. But yes, there are others in labour who fit this bill as well (just nobody who Corbyn is backing!).

However, as the opposition to her should show, this is not what the Corbyn faction want. A sensible politician who will oppose the Tories and might actually win an election, hold a 2nd referendum and re-join the EU? Don’t be crazy! We want someone who is ideologically pure…and a secret brexiter (leading a party whose 90% remain supporting), who’ll make a tit of themselves for the next 5 years, provide no effective opposition to the Tories, lose the next election and become another martyr for nihilism, but who’ll still be celebrated by the Corbynites for “winng the argument” (ya like that will be a great comfort to all those screwed over by the Tories).

Changing trains

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I happened to be out on a post-Christmas walk, when I saw a train go past, clearly an ex-Virgin Pendolino, but without the Virgin logo on it. For those who don’t know, Virgin lost the contract to operate, after they were forced out by the Tories for political reasons.

Now too be clear, I’ve never been a fan of Virgin trains and had my fair share of bad experiences on their trains. However, I fail to see how changing the logo on the side of a train changes anything. This is the problem with the Tory privatisation policy, its a game of pass the parcel from whichever billionaire bribes them the most, or commits the latest act of politician patronage.

And the rail users be damned. In the same week another fare rise is announced, we hear that Deutsche Bahn is slashing fares by 10% to help fight climate change. Of course, the counter argument is that the reason why the Germans can do this is because they have spent many decades investing in their rail service to provide a better more efficient service. This is something the British simply haven’t done.

And yes privatisation certainly hasn’t helped, but its not like Corbyn’s plan to spend several billion buying out the railway companies, just so he could peel off those same Virgin train stickers and put a British Rail sticker in their place isn’t going to magically change everything. Only investing large amounts of money to offset decades of under investment will change things for the better.

Chaos reigns at Disney

Disney likes to claim their theme park is the “happiest place in the world”. Well it seems like the production of Rise of Skywalker certainly wasn’t a very happy experience for many on set (some of the actors are saying they don’t plan to come back for any future movies). And we’ve had more leaks coming out, as attempts are made to pass the buck for what went wrong with the new trilogy. In fact, somebody has run the numbers and concluded that overall Disney may have lost over $2 billion on the Lucasfilm purchase, once you add up all the costs and subtract from revenue.

The latest leak, which seems to come from someone close to director J.J Abrams, claims that the previous plot leaks came from Disney management, not a disgruntled staffer, as part of some effort to paint Abrams in a bad light (while the leaks are undoubtedly true, as they match the released cut of the film, I find it dubious that Disney would undermine their own box office just to make Abrams feel bad). It also claims that a 3 hr long directors cut exists, which was allegedly co-written with George Lucas himself (again, I’d take that one with a pinch of salt), which was dropped by Disney at the the last minute (just weeks before the new movie hit theatres).

To me the key point here to take away is, there was no plan for how the new trilogy should unfold, no management nor oversight, everybody was just winging it as they went along. By contrast other franchises (such as Marvel) will plan several movies ahead, years in advance, before they even start filming. Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy was too busy being a Hollywood icon to bother even goggling her own job description, Disney CEO Bob Iger was to busy writing his own book (and apparently he wants to run for president!) to monitor what Kennedy was up too. Meanwhile J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson were in boat pulling oars in opposite directions, leaving them spinning in circles, while George Lucas looked on in horror.

I mentioned before, the the recent Cats movie might be a good case study of the dangers of groupthink. But the new star wars trilogy might well be textbook example of what happens when you design something by committee. Having people with overlapping responsibilities but nobody in overall control (and no forum for them to sort things out) is never a good idea. Rather than several people doing the same job, instead nobody does the job. In short, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Arise lord Poverty

The Tories assumed they won’t have it all their own way, prior to the last election. After all, it was reasonable to assume they’d catch some blowback from everything. Hence several veteran MP’s in vulnerable seats didn’t stand. Well, now Boris Johnson’s simply made them lords, giving them the ultimate in golden parachutes. Some have even been invited to join the cabinet.

Chief among them is Ian Duncan Smith, whose system of universal poverty credit has thrown many in the UK into dire poverty of the sort you’d normally associate with developing world countries. More than 247,000 people signing a petition objecting to the award for a man “responsible for some of the cruellest, most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen”.

And Johnson ally Nicky Morgan, has been made a life peer and asked to join the cabinet. Yes, they’ll be deciding who get medicines and food after brexit and not a vote cast in their name. But apparently we had to leave the EU because it was so undemocratic.

My solution, how about we the public get to vote on their new title, which they will be required to use at all times. So IDS could be come Lord Scrooge. Nick Morgan can become Lady Arse-licker, etc. Can you imagine the Queen’s next garden party “I announce the arrival of Lord and Lady Taxdoger, Sir steals-a-lot-from-disabled, Dame Priti Racist and Sir Jeremy Cunt

The Boris bridge

We’ve been warned that Boris Johnson can be prone to indulge in megalomaniac obsessions with big ticket vanity projects, which he tends to railroad through without proper oversight. There’s the infamous garden bridge, which fortunately never got built (but still cost the taxpayer £37 million). Or the £60 million cable car system that unfortunately did get built (and is hardly ever used). Or “Boris Island”, the planned new airport for London (which would be the wrong side of London, as everyone else in the country would have to travel through London to get too it, in an estuary with a large bird population and thus high risk of bird strikes and the small matter of a World War II munitions ship with a few thousand tons of unexploded bombs on board).

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However, as PM he now seems to be planning on the ultimate folly, a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland…presumably so that, once both are out of the UK and back in the EU, they can trade more easily with one another. I recall joking how the DUP would be looking for an extension to the giants causeway off Theresa May. Well it would seem they are actually going to get one off Boris. Reality is out-running satire in brexit Britain.

Naturally, this ridiculous idea has been widely criticised by many experts. It would cost at least $15 billion and face numerous technical challenges (as in there’s a massive hole  in the middle of the Irish sea…which the British have been chucking munitions, chemical weapons and nuclear waste into for decades!), quite apart from a big question mark about its economic feasibility.

For those not from this part of the world, there are a host of good, high speed ferry links between Ireland and the UK. And the most popular is the Wales to Dublin route, which is served by multiple ships (including both one of the world’s largest ferry’s and one of its fastest). If you are travelling from England to Ireland (north or south) its simply a lot easier, quicker and cheaper (plus it burns less fuel) to take this route across, rather than drive all the way up to Scotland, and then down the B roads to Stranraer and take the ferry across from there.

And this apparently is one of a number of ways that Westminster aims to get powersharing back up and running (still deadlocked over the Irish language). Basically it looks like they plan to simply start bribing politicians up North with promises of loads of dosh.

Now the problem with this is that Northern Ireland’s parliament is one of the most corrupt, dysfunctional and incompetent bodies in the whole of Europe. This is largely because Stormont is split on ideological lines. Its completely tribal. The primary goal of politicians on both sides is to grab as much money for their community as possible (which will of course be squandered) and rub the other sides face in any mess and try to score political points. And the end consequence is NI is an economic black hole, with a GDP much lower than either Ireland’s or the rest of the UK’s. The UK’s GDP per capita would actually go up if they could get shot of NI, while Ireland’s would go down significantly.

However, what perhaps what this does demonstrate is that Northern Ireland might well be the template for future Westminster governments, which too is becoming little more than a similar tribal body, focused on scoring ideological points, rather than actually fixing the mess the country is in.

Musk v’s astronomy

I’ve mentioned Musk’s Starlink system before. But one aspect of its operation, which does not seem to have been considered, is its impact on light pollution. It threatens to make astronomy, both the professional kind and the amateur, nearly impossible to do, given the large number of satellites with their large solar panels. Even the small numbers launched so far (a few hundred out of the 12,000 he wants to launch) are enough to cause problems.

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Musk has suggested, he’ll make the satellites less reflective, perhaps even paint them black or something. However astronomers have pointed out that that’s not how astronomy works. That density of objects in a low orbit is going to cause all sorts of problems, there’s really no way around that without changing one or other of those parameters (i.e. less satellites or move them to a higher orbit, neither of which Musk can do).

You may enquire well where is the US government on all of this. Asleep at the wheel of course! The FTC rushed through the application without any sort of proper checks, or even talking to astronomers first. Such is life under Trump. And while this libertarian approach might seem to benefit Musk, he might feel differently if people start boycotting his services (or stop buying his cars) until he de-orbits these satellites. Sometimes companies do want big government on their back.

Trump’s wall

Of course Trump’s number one priority was going to be his wall. How’s that going? Well to date under a 100 miles has been built out of the 2,000 needed! And most of that is fencing, covering areas which already had a fence. In fact the main component he’s added is some addition vehicle barriers (so they’ll mildly inconvenience someone looking to cross for a few minutes maybe). And all of this after the massive tizzy he pulled early last year shutting down the government for weeks just so he could get his precious wall. And recall that Mexico isn’t paying for it, he’s funding it by robbing money out of the pension fund for US veterans (how very Patriotic!)

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What Trump promised….

But at least once its there (and at this rate it will take over a decade to complete) its done, right? Well ya if we ignore how much it would cost to maintain and staff it…..so they can watch helplessly as migrants come in, with the wall making little real difference. Because far from being impenetrable, people have already managed to climb over it, or cut truck sized holes in it, and in some cases its actually being cut up and stolen by locals!

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….reality

Does this mean it will be abandoned? You’re joking right! Republicans don’t care if it works or not, nor how much money gets wasted. Its all about ID politics. Its a big totem symbol as to how racist America has become under Trump. Frankly they’d be just as happy if he blew tens of billions planting a line of burning crosses along the southern border. Facts do not matter to republicans anymore.

News roundup

Unfit for office…or opposition!

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I would argue that that there are two problems with British politics right now. Firstly a radicalised Tory party, whose broken every one of their pro-brexit promises, that seems to be committed to some sort of pointless and unconstitutional brexiter banzai charge. Which they will of course blame the EU for (as well as migrants and anyone who voted remain). But part of the problem is also a lack of effective opposition.

Labour have been facing the biggest open goal in politics for 3 years now, but have actually gone backwards in terms of support. And this is largely why we’ve gotten to this stage where no deal could be seriously considered. If labour were providing effective opposition, going up in the polls and largely seen as a government in waiting, there is no way the cabinet and Johnson’s ghoulish minions would even be considering no deal.

Case in point, given that an election after a vote of no confidence isn’t guaranteed to work, as there might not be time remaining to hold one (or time afterwards to form a government and do something). And that’s assuming labour’s poor poll ratings don’t see them get annihilated. So the sensible solution proposed by a number of pro-remain MP’s is a government of national unity to sort out brexit one way or another (revoke article 50 or a 2nd referendum) then dissolve itself and call an election.

This government would be led by an interim PM, likely a veteran politician with some prior ministerial experience (this would reassure allies and businesses that there was a safe pair of hands at the helm who wasn’t going to do anything crazy). Such a unity government would have a very narrow mandate beyond brexit. All they can do is slap a few band-aids on public services to undo the damage the Tories have done. Anything more radical (re-nationalising the railways, major tax or welfare reform, etc.) won’t be possible as they’ve have no electoral mandate, no guaranteed support in parliament, insufficient parliamentary time and the lords would just block it anyway. So it would be something of a thankless task. Likely candidates for this role include Dominc Grieve, Anne Soubry, Vince Cable or Tom Watson.

But no, instead Corbyn is insisting that he’ll be PM (why? ego one assumes). Indeed he’s implied that labour won’t even negotiate with the other parties, but try to force through a minority government. His deputy McDonnell even suggested (and I’m hoping he was joking) that Corbyn would go to the palace and demand to be made PM if they win a no confidence vote (so basically he’s going to launch a one man coup d’etat…presumably armed with a cucumber from his allotment). It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Basically this means one of two things. That Corbyn and his cabal really are so deluded that they think that they can just walk in and take over the government, wave a magic wand and put everything right in the world….while ignoring completely the impending crisis of brexit and its aftermath. Honestly Trump seems to have a better grasp of politics than Corbyn et al. And they are ignoring polling which suggests they will at best lose dozens of seats, or worse, potentially finish 4th behind the lib dems and brexit party. The last thing he wants now is an election.

The alternative theory is that Corbyn is really so desperately anti-EU that he’s willing to put the country through a no deal brexit shredder and scupper his chances of ever becoming PM to achieve it. If he sabotages any effort to form such a unity government then a no deal brexit will have his grubby paw prints all over it. And you can be guaranteed this will be pointed out to voters next election.

And in another facepalm moment, McDonnell also suggested that labour won’t block a 2nd indy ref in Scotland. While this is a sensible strategy, it was a grave error last time for labour to whip its members and MP’s into backing remain, but its the sort of position that needs to be rolled out tactfully. You’d only want to adopt it once it was clear a referendum was imminent and use it as a bargaining chip to make sure the SNP behave themselves (i.e. they don’t go the full Cambridge Analytica).

Inevitably the right wing media reported it as labour is in favour of Scottish independence (no they aren’t that’s not what he said). And because he’d not cleared this with the Scottish labour party leadership first, it got a very angry reaction from the Scottish wing of the party.

All in all it shows us that Corbyn’s cabinet is as dysfunctional, factional and chaotic as the one in the white house. He’s completely delusional, has no clue what he’s doing and seems to have no real goal other than making sure brexit happens at all costs, even if it destroys his party to achieve it.

Dragging the queen into brexit

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In another example of how utterly dysfunctional both the main parties have become, there’s the fact that both seem determined to drag the queen into the debate about brexit. Either by getting her to intervene in the selection of who is PM, the date of any election (till after brexit happens) or by asking her to suspend parliament (i.e. suspend democracy) and force through a no deal. This is politically very dangerous. The queen, like any head of state (America being the exception) is supposed to stay out of politics (and this I’d argue is the flaw in the American system). As it can get very messy very quickly if she does get involved.

For example, let’s suppose she backs Boris and a no deal brexit. That is going to upend the lives of millions of people. Families will be split up, millions of jobs will be lost, the UK’s GDP will go down but 6-10%, there might be food and medicine shortages (we might even run out of bog roll!). And any issues with the NHS or medicines means people will die. And all of that the Queen will now be responsible for, with it all played out on the 24 hr news cycle.

So the royals will now have millions of angry voters who’d be wanting a referendum alright. But not on re-joining the EU, but on whether to packing her off back to Saxony. We’d be in the same situation the royals were in after Princess Diana died. And the only got through that thanks to Tony Blair. Boris by contrast will quickly toss her under the first passing bus to save his skin. And Corbyn has co-signed bills looking to remove the queen. And such a train wreck could re-invigorate the republican movements in Canada, Australia and NZ, who might also have similar votes.

So the trouble is that once she makes one decision she’s going to have to make more. This is exactly the sequence of events that led to past royal dynasty’s failing or kings loosing their heads (recall it was proroguing parliament where Charles I troubles started).

So for example, what if Scotland wants independence? Let’s suppose she backs Boris and blocks an official referendum. The danger is that if SNP can demonstrate enough support in an unofficial poll, then they can force their way out of the union by just making themselves such an pain in the ass that the rest of the UK throws them out (e.g. they could ask Scots to refuse to pay UK income taxes, refuse to hand over oil or VAT revenue, run up massive debts on the UK’s credit card then refuse to service those debts, organise wild cat strikes which lead to power cuts and gas shortages in England in the middle of winter, etc.).

All the queen will have done is ensure that Scotland becomes a republic (as Ireland and India did) and it increases the chances of a disorderly Scottish exit. Or worse, the Scots might take a leaf out of Norway’s book and invite some member of the royal family to take the crown of Scotland. Meaning there would be two British monarchs and allies (such as Canada, Australia and NZ) will have to decide who to back. The one whose kingdom is let by racists and disintegrating largely due to actions taken by her (and her heir apparent is Charles remember). Or some dashing new Scottish king (Harry and Megan maybe?), whose kingdom sits on lots of oil, has whisky galore and is applying for EU membership.

The sensible thing for her to do in such a situation would be to either respect the poll but ask the SNP to negotiate an orderly exit (which would be a bit rich given how she supported no deal with the EU), or ask for a 2nd official poll (after she helped Boris block a 2nd EU referendum) or call for some sort of compromise (Devo Max). Of course while this would preserve her crown, it would put her on a collision course with the PM and the cabinet.

Or how about a UK-US trade deal? If that goes through after brexit, farming and manufacturing will be devastated, the NHS sold off and we’ll be eating chlorinated chicken (meaning more people die). So she might have to get involved in that or block it entirely. Putting her on collision course with the government. And the same equally applies if she backs remain. She ends up with lots of angry people beating down her door.

My point is that both Corbyn and the Tories seem to think the queen is some sort of jack in the box. They can take her out of the box, get her to sign a national death warrant and they climb back in her box and stay there. But of course, she can’t. Its impossible to predict what way she’d go (and my advice to her would be, stick to protocol, throw it back at parliament and if they can’t decide, put to some sort of public vote). And once she gets involved in politics its very difficult to untangle her from it.

The channel hop

A French man recently demonstrated a flying platform (basically an enlarged drone) and flew it over the English channel. As Trevor Noah pointed out, you can imagine the reaction of brexiters, they got brexit to keep out the foreigners and next thing you know some flying Frenchman lands on the white cliffs and starts chasing after their daughters.

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A flying foreigner, every brexiter’s worst nightmare

But jokes aside, and while this flying platform does have certain limitations, it does show how quickly technology can change. And how that change has many consequences. For example, we can make multiple criticisms of Trump’s wall and the ease with which it can be breached. But its one fatal flaw is it can’t stop planes and aircraft. Yes, you have some chance of stopping illegal migrants at airports….assuming they are dumb enough to tell you they are entering on a tourist visa with no intention of leaving.

Now we’ve gotten to the stage where drones can carry people, that opens up all sorts of possibilities. Notably of Mexican people smugglers at the border offering migrants an air taxi service into the US. Such a drone could carry people several km’s into the US (i.e beyond the zone currently patrolled by border agents), drop them off and then flying back and pick up somebody else. This would negate the wall completely.

This is one of the problems with conservative governments, their inability to see future trends and changes in technology. Hence why they tend to get blind sided by them and their knee jerk reaction is to try and get it banned.

Case in point, when mp3’s and online file sharing first came out the entertainment industry tried to get them banned. They poured millions into anti-piracy ads that were often parodies of themselves. How can we make money off a service that we just give away for free they said?…to which Google, Facebook and You-tube responded, hold our beer….Now streaming is a massive multi billion dollar industry and the main means of distributing media.

The oil industry and its vested interests, promote climate change deniers, even despite the fact that the oil industry is losing money hand over fist, with 50% drop in oil stocks over the last few years, while renewables are a growing industry. The brexiters want to bring back Britain’s trading empire, ignoring how globalised trade in the 21st century works. They also want a 3rd runway and a new terminal at Heathrow, which will involve demolishing several nearby historic villages and subjecting London to more noise pollution. This despite the fact that airlines are ditching their large planes and abandoning the hub and spoke model in favour of smaller planes and more direct flights, largely due to the availability of newer more fuel efficient aircraft (such as the Airbus A350).

This to me just serves to demonstrate the fatal flaw in conservatism. You’ll get a lot of kicking and screaming. They’ll tell you that television, flying, rock and roll music, gay marriage, abortion, gun control or acting on climate change will be a slippery slope to the end times. Yet in the end they are forced by circumstances to adopt it anyway, upon which they’ll conveniently forget their opposition and move on to the next artificial controversy.

UK College goes bust

The UK government has spent quite a bit of time recently promoting private colleges and universities as it attempts to emulate America’s heavily commercialised higher education system. I’ve long opposed this because I know how ridiculously unfair the US system is. It means large sections of the population simply can’t go to uni as they can’t afford it. And even those with better off parents often still leave uni with massive debts that cripple their finances for life.

Of course the other problem with the US model is the frequency at which their universities go bust. Something that’s practically unheard of in Europe. And such bankruptcies have very real and serious consequences, as this news piece on one such failure discusses. Not just to students, but to local businesses and employment. There are some small towns or neighbourhoods in the UK whose economy would implode if the local uni shut down.

And inevitably one of these new colleges, GSM London has now failed. Fortunately, it doesn’t look too bad…suspect any students or staff caught up in this will have a different view on that! But I’m talking about the wider impact. Its in London, so the impact will be dampened somewhat. Hopefully they can all find alternative employers or courses to enrol on. However, it is a worrying sign of the times.

While the UK government has shown a willingness to quietly bailout uni’s in trouble. Much as I predicted, that’s not always possible. They might be in such a state to be beyond saving. Or the creditors, anxious to get their greedy paws on the valuable city centre real estate the uni owns might refuse any bailout and force through a bankruptcy.

And its also worth keeping in mind that government’s plans are to cut tuition fees. Which would be a good idea. Only they aren’t planning to provide any additional funding to universities (so they are expecting that they can just cut their funding by 30%, on top of the drop off in student numbers from the EU and loss of research funding and expect the uni’s to cope). Naturally its been pointed out that this would be disastrous and almost certainly push many universities over the edge. So we might not be so lucky next time.

A most convenient death

Word is that the alleged sex trafficker to the rich and famous, Jeffrey Esptein, has apparently killed himself in his NY cell. Now call me a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, but when someone that well connected (Trump, Clinton, Prince Andrew, you name it) magically happens to die, just days before he can be put on trial and such connections were due to be subjected to legal scrutiny (which could have involved said individuals being required to testify in court under oath), well its a little bit suspicious.

Which probably explains why his victims are arguing for the investigations to continue. Perhaps even try him posthumously. And there is a legal precedence for this. But of course, fat chance of that happening! I mean why do you think they killed him/let him commit suicide for in the first place? So they can brush the whole thing under the carpet of course.

Loosing sleep

The Caledonian sleeper is (or perhaps I should say was) one of those hidden gems of UK transport. Its a train service running from London to the highlands of Scotland, with stops in the central belt (and Northern England) along the way. So you can literally go to sleep in London after a night on the town, wake up in Fort William the next morning, grab some breakfast and be on the summit of Ben Nevis before lunchtime.

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The Caledonian sleeper works its way across Rannoch Moor in winter

However, the rail companies have long hated it, as it means keeping lines open at late hours, screwing up their maintenance schedules. So they’d like noting better than to cancel it. Unfortunately, as its quite popular, plus its also used by MP’s to travel between their constituencies and London, any talk of cancelling it has been thwarted. So instead they tried to let it whither by not investing in it or just making the service poorer. For example, you used to be able to book half board and share a cabin with somebody else, but they’ve tried to did away with that due to “customer demand” (we are too believe there are customers out there who prefer to pay double for their tickets!).

Well now it seems they’ve figured out a solution. Invest money in the sleeper service. Because nothing in British transport will royally screw something up and make things worse than investing millions of pounds in it. Since this £150 million revamp the service has been dogged by complaints of late or cancelled trains (keep in mind, you are showing up to the station at 23:00, you can’t just wait for the next service, that’s not till the following morning!). Others complain about poor catering, lights being left on all night (which can’t be turned off) and noisy air conditioning.

So it seems like the rail companies will finally get their wish and do away with the sleepers…by trying to make them better! To them their own incompetence is now an asset.