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.

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CANZUK post-brexit?

The latest delusion (just before I went away anyway) from the brexiters is something they call the CANZUK partnership. The idea being that the UK forms a trading block and a free travel zone with Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It is first of all worth noting that this is not a new idea, but its obviously been prompted more heavily since brexit happened.

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Well needless too say picking out the three mostly white parts of the British Empire and saying were going to trade with these countries and let their citizens come and go as they please, but we’re not going to do so with the likes of Malaysia, Singapore or India (larger and the UK does more trade) just stinks of racism. And given that the UK’s combined trade with CANZ countries is just 6%, against the 42% with the EU, its hardly a suitable replacement.

Furthermore, the rhetoric we heard throughout the referendum was that Britain is full we can’t take any more….yet now they are saying, nah its fine everyone’s welcome….so long as they are white and speak English. Keep in mind the stated goal of brexit is to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. That would immediately be blown if existing rates of immigration from just these three countries continued, never mind if it increased significantly (which it certainly would). And this issue of racism isn’t just an idle point, it would be illegal under UK law, trading standards, competition rules and WTO trade rules. Individuals and their governments (notably the US and the EU) who lose out aren’t going to let something like that just slide, they will challenge it.

While its true a number of high ranking politicians in Canada, NZ & Australia have expressed interest in the idea, that was either before brexit or when it looked like the UK would still be in the single market or customs union afterwards. These countries are not interested in a policy that puts them at a disadvantage in trade with the EU and the rest of the world.

As you can imagine all three will want something back from the UK in return. NZ & Australia will almost certainly want concessions on farming and fishing (screwing over the UK’s farmers & fishermen) and Canada will want something too (that we all be polite & put the bins out on time? buy more maple syrup?). In fact the main objectors to the UK’s proposed post-brexit tariffs are, you guessed it, NZ, Australia and Canada.

And its not like immigration isn’t an issue in these three countries. How would it look in Canberra, where the position of conservatives there is that Australia is full (despite having 30 times the land area of the UK and 1/3 the population), when they open the borders to millions of foreigners who can come in without any sort of limits. That’s not exactly going to go down well.

Then there’s the issue of existing trade relations with other countries. Given for example that Canada has a free trade agreement with both the US and the EU, what’s to stop an American company (or a Polish one, or a Mexican firm) just setting up an office north of the border, stamping a big maple leaf on everything and then shipping it to the UK, where it passes in tariff free with no checks whatsoever (or visa versa). Obviously the solution would be for Canada to more thoroughly check things at its borders, which the UK would also have to do (in violation of the GFA).

In other words effectively CANZUK would mean the border between the four states becomes softer, but a harder crust is needed at the boundaries of these four states. But this will no doubt fall foul of existing trade relations that all four have with their trading partners. In the UK’s case this would, as noted, be illegal under the terms of the GFA. And inevitably all of the other countries would likely face similar issues.

The reality is that CANZUK is just another slightly racist dog whistle, a way for the brexiters to give a nod and a wink to the bigot brigade. I could see them try to negotiate such a deal, but allowing those talks to fail, just so they can blame the CANZ governments for the failure (much as they’ll blame the EU for a no deal brexit). Allowing immigration to continue, but issuing border controls with a racist colour chart is just unworkable (and besides not everyone in CANZ is white, surely they’d have to be allowed in too?). And such a free trade zone would only work if the UK was willing to undertake several massive concessions first. And that means ultimately accepting that the UK will be worse off out of the EU than in.

The populist threat to the Good Friday agreement

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that Ireland is some sort of democratic utopia right now. However, its more about the fact that relative to the UK (with Brexit), the US (with Trump) and Europe (with various far right populists), we come off a bit better, the best of the bad lot as it were. We still have all the usual issues of incompetent politicians wasting public money, corruption scandals (more recently regarding police whistleblowers) and sooner or later we’ll have to have a tribunal about all of the tribunals.

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

But its not as if Ireland has escaped the racism, bigotry and populist upsurge of other parts of the world. In fact recently there’s been some very worrying developments. We’ve had the murder of a journalist in Northern Ireland, a rise in vigilante activity (linked to Republican groups) and even an unauthorised Saoradh parade of provo’s on O’Connell’s street. As events in Sri Lanka recently showed, terrorism can just bubble below the surface, then erupt without warning. And while brexit is certainly part of the problem, it would be unfair to blame it alone. The rise of extreme politics, the DUP and Sinn Fein, at the expense of more rational parties is clearly part of the problem.

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A paramilitary parade in O’Connell street….taken this Easter, not 30 years ago!

Sinn Fein have of course gone through their usual dance of condemning all of the above, without condemning it. Yes its terrible that those bullets choose to hit that journalist…rather than the cop they were aimed at, but clearly that’s not SF’s fault. I recall there was something of a stopped clock element to how Ian Paisley would often refer to “IRA/Sinn Fein”. As he saw it they were both two sides of the same coin…course he failed to mention how closely aligned the DUP was (and still is) to loyalist terrorists. But either way, inevitably the rise in support for these parties, combined with brexit, has embolden terrorist groups.

And least we forget, NI terrorist groups are also linked to a significant proportion of the crime both sides of the border. We are talking about crimes such as smuggling (drugs, booze, cigarettes, guns, etc.), racketeering, counterfeit goods, robberies, kidnappings, bank raids. You name it NI terrorists, and their political allies, have their grubby finger prints all over the place. After all, running a terrorism campaign is expensive, Semtex doesn’t exactly grow on trees. And given that the terrorists are marked men, they need their political allies (SF & the DUP) to run errands for them from time to time.

And its also important to understand how people are drawn into these terrorist/criminal gangs. Often they live in fairly deprived areas, that have seen little inward investment and depleted public services. A situation not helped by Tory austerity, the current power vacuum in Stormont, or the uncertainty over brexit putting a freeze on business investments. So with nothing better to do and few prospects, they get drawn into these gangs.

With many new entrants to politics (the usual angry populist voters who just want to vent their fury) Sinn Fein and the DUP have tried to distance themselves from this criminality and terrorism, much as the far right parties in Europe try to distant themselves from the skinhead gangs. But like I said, they are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. There are plenty of other parties, both sides of the border, with the same basic political goals (although they tend not be single issue parties). Its not as if these views are under represented. The whole point of Sinn Fein or the DUP is to be a mouth piece for the gangs. So long as these parties exist, there will be the threat of terrorism and visa versa.

And there seems to be a failure of many to recognise this, both among voters, but also the politicians, particularly those in the UK. After all, May’s government (if you could call it that!) is propped up by the DUP. Meanwhile Corbyn (while busy denying he’s a dictator oh and labour’s in favour of a 2nd referendum now….maybe…maybe not, we’ll see) has been busy courting Sinn Fein.

And even US politicians don’t seem much better. The surprise announcement of Trump’s UK state visit probably has something to do with events in the US congress and Nancy Pelosi’s recent fact finding tour of Ireland. The British are all too aware that any threat to the Good Friday agreement will rule out any possibility of a US/UK trade deal. And this is a position that enjoy’s cross party support in Congress (such is the strength of Irish/American voters).

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The Nancy Pelosi recently visited Ireland for talks about brexit and the GFA

The UK’s only hope is to play their Trump card, the joker in the pack and hope to get the ball rolling on any trade deal before he leaves office (which could be as early as next year, depending on the election or any impeachment). Hence the urgency of his visit. Granted, doing a trade deal with the US in a hurry would basically mean conceding everything to the US, but its not like Tory MP’s care if farmers, fishermen and factory workers lose their jobs, or they have to privatise the NHS (actually they would see those as positives in any trade deal!).

But what policy did their ally Trump recently announce? He’s withdrawing from an international arms control treaty. Which will now make it easier for terrorists to buy weapons, not unlike those recently used in shootings. And yes, it is a proven fact that both the IRA and UVF have acquired weapons in the past via the US, by taking advantage of its lax gun laws.

So all in all we have a very dangerous situation developing. There is, unfortunately, a very strong risk of a break down of the GFA and a return to the bad old days. And consider that such a campaign would be far worse that it was in the old days. Technology as it were has moved on.

Back in the 80’s the IRA couldn’t hack into key computers and shut down the financial markets. Or buy a few drones, fit them with explosives and fly them over airports and other large public events (or merely threaten to do so). In fact one weapon the IRA are known to have acquired (but not used) was surface to air missiles. The only reason they didn’t was because that would have been a significant escalation at a crucial point in the peace process. One assumes that if things kicked off again, this could be the opening salvo.

Like I said, I won’t blame it alone on any one factor (such as brexit), clearly there are multiple drivers here. Angry voters who vote for these parties (because urinating into a ballot box is illegal so this is the next best thing), without considering the consequences. Tory austerity. The fact that both of these parties currently see them as benefiting from the impasse in Stormont. Establishment politicians who see nothing wrong with doing deals with the allies of terrorists (if they wore turbans and prayed to a different god, can you imagine the outcry?). US politicians who don’t understand what’s going on this side of the pond. Something needs to give, if we’re to see off this threat.

The Southsea bubble: brexit edition

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I joked before about how when the brexiters talk the talk aboutexciting” trade deals “in emerging markets” they don’t say where are these mysterious new markets. Timbuktu? Peru? El Salvador?….Well actually yes. The brexiters think that they can substitute trade with the largest single economy in the world, for trade with Latin America. Things I’ll say in jest, they’ll say with a straight face. Humour and satire are again being outrun by facts.

So, what’s wrong with this idea? Well firstly the South American economy is worth only about a quarter of that of the EU economy. And while the UK literally has a pipeline to the EU, via the channel tunnel, Latin America is the other side of the world…and on the other side of the inter-tropical convergence zone (if you’re a nervous flyer, you don’t want to fly to south America, it gets pretty choppy).

And while you’ll come out of the channel tunnel onto either a high speed railway line or an eight lane motorway, the transport infrastructure down south isn’t that developed. The roads away from major cities aren’t great and there are large gaps in the network, the unfortunate consequence of living on a continent with vast jungles, massive rivers, high mountains and uncontacted tribes (who’d sooner eat Boris Johnson than buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner off him!).

In short its a bonkers suggestion. Even more bonkers when you realise the UK already HAS a number of trade deals with Latin American countries, with other deals being negotiated via the EU. Deals the UK will lose upon leaving.

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I mean what are we going to sell them? Given that the Tories have been principally trying to re-assure farmers, one assumes they mean beef. Well, you do realise that Argentina is beef country? Order a steak in Argentina, you get a massive steak that’s half the side of a cow (for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the UK), and no sides (and they don’t exactly do vegetarian food out there btw!). So I don’t see how British farmers could compete. And as they’d be looking to export meat to the UK, this would flood the UK market and bankrupt UK farmers. Plus, given the presence of foot and mouth disease, the UK would risk losing its disease free status, meaning it would lose access to the European and north American markets.

Should I be accused of saying south American’s don’t eat their greens, they do, but its more fruit and salads. Brazil also has large sugar cane and grain growing plantations. I don’t see how the UK could compete and it would inevitably be the losers in any such deal. Plus a number of south American countries are somewhat paranoid about their agricultural production and might be reluctant to allow UK imports, as they would worry about diseases being brought in, threatening a vital industry. Its illegal to bring fruit (or in some cases grains of any kind) into a number of south American countries (they search bags at customs and they will fine you if they find some much as an apple core). And speaking of fruit, Argentina and Chile both have a large wine industry. Do the brexiters seriously think English wine (what the French call “du vin roast beef”) is going to compete against that?

But what about cars or planes? Well given that a number of car and plane manufacturers are now threatening to leave the UK, that might be a moot point soon. But since we’re talking about, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina have their own car industries (Mexico and Brazil’s each manufacture more cars than the UK).

As a European traveller down south you’ll notice how a lot of their cars (Clio’s, Golf’s Megane’s, etc.) all seem to be a generation or two behind the ones back in Europe. I assume the car manufacturers are moving equipment from Europe down there, allowing them to get a bit more revenue out of model before its retired. And as they’ll have worked out any issues with the car back in Europe, they can build them cheaply in Latin America (quite apart from the lower labour costs). Again, there ain’t no way UK based manufacturers could compete (and as they will no longer comply with EU emission standards and safety requirements, we can’t sell them or even drive them on European roads).

The luxury end of the car industry is dominated by US or Asian brands (Lexus, Cadillac, etc.) so that’s going to be a difficult one to break into and it likely won’t go down well in Washington, where it will be seen as trying to eat America’s lunch.

As for aircraft, Brazil is home to Embraer, the world’s third largest aircraft manufacturer. More famous for small regional jets, they’ve recently begun to branch into medium sized jets. While I can see a few UK airlines buy the odd plane off them….well not that we’ll have many airlines left, most are already registered in the EU (even BA!). But either way, the UK is unlikely to see any real gains.

One feature of south America you do notice is how the contrasts between rich and poor are fairly stark. The poor are very poor and the rich are very rich. Hence why if you hang around the posher parts of Buenos Aires or Rio, you’ll be paying London prices, and that’s the cheap places! There’s also a certain level of social apartheid in south America. This is a part of the world where boys from the favelas can literally get picked up by the cops (or shot!) for just walking down the street in a posh part of town. South America had the misfortune to be where a number of right wing thinkers, in collaboration with various military dictatorships, were allowed to run various social and economic experiments. And needless to say, the results haven’t been pretty.

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That said, the vast bulk of people in this part of the world, while not poor (nor are they rude rich snobs), they ain’t exactly rolling in money. The sort of high value expensive stuff the UK would be looking to sell they won’t want to buy and they can get something similar locally (or made in China) for a fraction of the UK price. So in short, there’s pretty much no way any of the trade the UK will lose post-brexit with the EU can be made up in Latin America. Indeed, given the loss of Latin American trade deals post-brexit (once existing trade deals are lost upon brexit), its questionable whether any of the trade the UK already has with the region can be recovered quickly.

Another consideration is that while many South American countries have free trade agreements with each other and freedom of movement, its not as all encompassing as it is in the EU. In fact it wouldn’t be far removed from the “bespoke” trade deals May often talks about. And the end result is that if you try to go across any border in South America, there’s generally going to be a queue (and a delay of a few hours), as there will be customs and passport checks of some form or another. Its inevitable that the same will happen at Dover and in Northern Ireland, particularly if the UK starts signing trade deals with third parties (such as the US) which aren’t compatible with EU rules.

However, there is one sector of the south American economy where the UK could potentially see a market for its wares – financial services, which they can sell to the many nouveau riche in the region (social apartheid? Our kind of people! you know we used to do great business with the ones committing actual apartheid?). I mean seriously, the Tories have never in their history cared about factory workers , farmers or fishermen. Do you honestly think they’ve gone through some sort of road to Damascus conversion?

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No, instead when they boast about how “we” can get “exciting” new trade deals, they are talking into a mirror. The “we” refers to them and their boarding school chums in the city. The plebs in the factories and fields are snookered. But that’s hardly the Tories problem. After all, why do you think the likes of Farage and Aaron Banks wanted brexit in the first place? (so they could bet against the pound and make a killing from its collapse in value after the brexit vote).

However if this is the plan, its a crap plan. Latin America is not exactly the most politically, nor economically, stable part of the world. Those right wing social and economic experiments I mentioned? Let’s just say that there was a certain level of what the CIA would refer to as “blowback. As we speak Argentina might be about to go bankrupt (again!). In Brazil there’s strikes and unrest, with talk of martial law and military dictatorship. And Venezuela? Don’t ask! Tying the UK’s economic fate to that of south and central America doesn’t exactly sound like a brilliant plan.

Oh, and there’s the small matter of those Islands in the South Atlantic that the UK is occupying, which tends to get up the noses of the locals a bit. I suspect any sort of a trade deal might involve them being jettisoned.

Its also important to remember that the Tories will place their ideology above the well-being of the country. As I pointed out in a prior post, the privatisation of the UK’s railways wasn’t undertaken in a way that would be most likely to succeed and produce an efficient service. It was undertaken in a way that would be as difficult for a future labour government to unpick as possible. That this would destroy British railways long term or cost the government more than it saved was of little concern (they don’t use the train, that’s what the Jag is for!). So to is it with brexit.

Students protesting against Brexit in front of House of Parliament

The brexiters are all to aware that demographics are against them. That once the older generation who voted leave have all died off, the odds are the younger generation who voted remain (or were denied the chance to vote at all) will simply vote to rejoin the EU (indeed recent polling suggests public opinion is already turning against them). So a critical goal of the brexiters is thus to achieve “a clean break”, which is code word for a brexit that as difficult as possible to reverse, even if its detrimental to the UK.

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In short, what the brexiters propose is a re-run of the south sea bubble. That bubble grew out a false claim that a UK company had been granted a monopoly on trade in South America (in truth they had permission to send exactly one ship a year!….to trade in slaves!). This was then blown out of all proportion by speculators, not unlike the very spiv types behind brexit, who then buggered off and left an awful mess for a future government to clean up, which bankrupted many in the UK. When you forget the lessons of history….

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Do panic

A few months back the brexiters complained that they wanted the Royal Mail to celebrate brexit by issuing stamps to mark the occasion. Well RM seem to have met them half way by issuing a set of “Dad’s Army” stamps. Clearly someone at RM is trolling the brexiters.

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Inevitably perhaps, others have been creating their own versions of potential brexit stamps.

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Our Brexit, hallowed be thy name

Meanwhile, back in the mad house, Saint Theresa of Maidenhead May suggested that an extra £20 billion would be available after brexit for the NHS thanks to the “brexit dividend.

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This was met with incredulity by many. At the time of the referendum when they made similar claims, it was pointed out that the UK only really spends about £8 billion on its EU membership, once farm subsidies, rebates, research funding, structural funds and other things Brussels pays for are taken into account. Of course the implication would be that, much as I warned might happen prior to the referendum, this could indicate that the Tories do not plan to pick up the tab for these bills. Farm subsidies will end in March 2019, the fishermen and deprived communities in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall will see their lifeline cut off and universities will see research budgets slashed, with a knock effect to the many high tech start ups who depend on that research funding to get them off the ground.

And there’s the not so small matter that the UK will be stuck, not with a brexit dividend, but a brexit deficit. There’s the exit bill the UK will need to pay, £40-50 billion net (depending on rebates and currency exchange differences, since its calculated in euro’s). And then there’s the economic cost of undertaking brexit (about 3-7% of GDP, best guess £72 billion).

Plus, what do you think the EU does with all of that cash? They spend it on hiring civil servants to administer all the EU regulations, that May is trying to squeeze into UK law. It was improper regulation on the British end that led to the Grenfell tower fire. In China, there’s a controversy over baby formula, leading to shelves being emptied in Australia because some mum’s don’t trust the Chinese stuff anymore. So regulations are something you neglect at your peril. And the three immediate areas that will need tackling are nuclear materials, medicines and food safety…..so no pressure then! And in any event the conditions of any trade deal, be it with the EU or other parties, will need to include a budget to account for paying for the regulation of that deal.

In short, never has a UK Prime Minster said something so inaccurate since Lord North told parliament that the Americans loved being part of the UK so much, they’d happily pay a bit more for tea. But as I’ve said before, brexit is now the state religion of the UK.

While May, perhaps sensing what she was implying, did backtrack and mubble something about a tax rise to pay for the extra money until the (non-existent) dividend kicks in. But even this is worrying. Basically what she said was that the Tory party is abandoning its manifesto and sacrificing it on the altar of brexit. And while more money for the NHS isn’t a bad thing, its almost certain that this new tax burden will fall on the middle and low income earners (this is the Tories after all, which is more likely, they give up smoked salmon once a week to pay for hospitals, or they get the plebs to pick up the tab?).

Brexit is now to the UK what Juche is to North Korea. The excuse upon which anything can be sold. A tax rise? Its for brexit (but don’t worry we’ll pay you back later). An end to farm subsidies? Privatise the NHS? Strip workers of their right to strike? Its all to make sure brexit works!

Of course the problem with this attitude is it means they just can’t understand why for example Rolls Royce or JLR would suddenly want to move thousands of jobs out of the glorious thousand year reich British empire mark II (because they are companies with shareholders perhaps?). Nor can they understand why the EU are being such assholes and threatening to cut the UK off from intelligence data and the European arrest warrant (because they have this thing in Europe called “rights” and “laws” and the UK will join Belarus and Kazakhstan as the only non-signatory to the ECHR). In other words, they are blind to the consequences of their actions. Like the suicide pilots flying their plane into the world trade centre they cannot see the obvious insanity of what they are doing and genuinely think they’ll be going to a better place.

Lock em up….by which we mean the kids

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In between picking fights with China, Trump has been busy locking up kids in cages after tearing them out of their the parents arms (what’s the bet he’ll put Roy Moore in charge!). Conditions at the facility where the kids are detained, referred to as the dog kennel, are described as inhumane and equivalent to a prison. Experts warn of the emotional scaring this will inflict. Parallels have been made to concentration camps and the detention of Japanese Americans during world II.

The day you know you’re living in a fascist state is the day you hear your justice secretary (soon to be named ministry for state security) deny he’s running concentration camps. The irony is one of the justifications of the Alex Jones mob for opposing Obama was that he was black was planning to set up FEMA concentration camps.

Oh, and for good measure the US is quitting the UN human rights council. Because clearly the words “human rights” and “America” should not be sharing the same sentence right now, even Trump can figure that one out.

Let’s be clear if you voted for Trump (or voted for a third party in a swing state, which is basically the same thing under the US system) then this is what you voted for. And frankly it shouldn’t surprise anybody, its exactly what was warned would happen if Trump was elected. At least now when reading the history books and you wonder, how could the Germans vote for Hitler, well now you know how and why. And part of the reason why international pressure failed to contain him, wasn’t because Neville Chamberlain was a weak and naïve leader. It was because he was leading a divided Britain, which had more than a few (Daily Mail reading) fascists of its own, who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

Trump, upon realising that this might not look so well, immediately tried to dodge responsibility, blaming the democrats, the immigrants themselves and pretty much anyone else he could think of. Its worth noting that something similar played out during the holocaust, the Yugoslav civil war and the Rwandan genocide, in which often those in senior roles were separated from the actual atrocities and generally tried to avoid taking responsibility for such things, leaving it to a handful of fanatical racist nut cases to do the dirty deeds. This of course made it so much easier to order more of the same and treat as mere bureaucratic exercise. Forget the lessons of history and they will repeat themselves.

The really big short

Trump’s tariff policy has sent stock markets crashing to the point where all of this years gains have been wiped out. And the main losers won’t be in Wall street, they’ll be ma and pa firms across the US, as well as many ordinary Americans who are about to see their living costs rise in response to these tariffs (you’ll be paying them, not the Chinese). It sounds like typical Trump. He’s not doing it because he thinks its a good idea, its an action driven purely by ego…..

Or is it? Given that Trump has not actually fully separated himself from his businesses (which is illegal btw), we need to consider the possibility that he’s colluding with others, and doing a little bit of insider trading. Its possible to profit from a falling market by shorting the market. If you can correctly guess that the stock of a particular company is going to fall, you can bet on the share price declining (by borrowing shares, selling them at a high price and then buying them back later after the price has fallen).

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However, shorting is a risky business. Its the equivalent of betting that Brazil or Germany were going to lose their opening matches. Now while this will happen occasionally (as indeed happened to Germany….guess they won’t be eating Taco’s for a while!), but the odds are you’ll be wrong more often than you are right. And to make matters worse its possible with short selling to lose more than your original investment if the market moves against you. Hence most traders will often hedge their bets (basically bet both ways, but slightly bet higher one particular way). This reduces the risk, but also the profit margin.

Of course if you have access to insider information, e.g. you are the president and you know there’s a big tax cut coming, or you’re going to impose tariff’s on the EU, then change your mind and then impose them anyway. A trader with advanced knowledge of this could easily adopt short positions and profit considerably from this.

But, not only is it illegal for a president to be in any way linked to these sorts of deals, but insider trading is also illegal and for good reason. Because if you get it wrong (and markets can be difficult to predict, even if you have access to insider information) things can go from bad to catastrophic pretty quickly. Consider how rogue trader Nick Leeson managed to lose over £800 million, wiping out Barings bank.

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Indeed one has to look at Trump’s real estate losses in a new light. People laugh and say oh Trump is such a loser he can lose money running a casino. How can you do that? I mean people literally walk into a casino and hand over their money!

Well, not if your running a casino skim operation. Its possibly that Trump, under pressure from his mob connections, was deliberately running the joint into the ground. Its just they miscalculated. Normally you skim just a little off the top, but not enough anyone will notice, nor that might risk bringing down the racket. But Trump was such a balloon head, or he and his co-conspirators just got too greedy, they managed to bleed the place dry. Which doesn’t bode well if this same lot are at the helm of the US economy.

Enabling fascism

Speaking of fascists, in Italy the populist horseshoe government is split because one of their leaders, looking to emulate Trump, wants to build his own concentration camps….sorry I mean happy camps (I’m sure they’ll come up with a more PC name!). He also wants to count Roma gypsies and presumably make them go around with little stars on them, I mean nothing bad ever happened from doing that. He’s also suggested that an anti-mafia journalist, who criticised him should have his police protection removed.

This has all come as a bit of a shock to a number of 5S voters. But what should it? You enabled a bunch of fascists and helped them into power, now they are enacting fascist policies. What did you think was going to happen? They were going to go door to door handing out milk and cookies?

Its possible that this might bring down the horseshoe government a little earlier than was expected. Which I’d consider a good thing…..if it weren’t for opinion polls suggesting a likely win for the Northern League and Forza Italia (Mr Bunga Bunga’s outfit).

The Glasgow school of art fire

In Scotland the Glasgow School of art burnt down. Designed by Rennie Mackintosh, the Mac, is to Glasgow what the Casa Mila is to Barcelona. This fire occurred just four years after another fire, which destroyed the college library, which was in the process of being rebuilt. Incidentally, lost in the story about the art school fire, was the fact that another important building, the neighbouring ABC theatre, had also burnt down after the fire spread to it.

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Two fires in the space of four years is more than bad luck. Clearly there’s something up with the building in terms of fire safety. My understanding is the contractors for the restoration after the previous fire were on site, so they’ll have some questions to answer.

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The library of the Glasgow school of art, prior to the fire in 2014

But clearly there’s some issues with fire safety that needs to be addressed. And this is not just a problem for the school of art. There’s been several large fires in older buildings in Glasgow and the basic problem is, they ain’t up to current fire codes and need to be modified accordingly. This article discusses some of the issues, although in the context of post-war era buildings, but much of the same policy should be applied to Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. E.g. fitting external fire escapes (as in New York) and sprinklers, fire resistant barriers, etc.

Meanwhile the question now being asked is whether the art school can be rebuilt. Some suggest it might not be feasible, others feel it is possible. We’ll have to see. There will inevitably be a strong desire from the art community and the Scottish government to rebuild it, but some polls suggest there might be opposition from the public, if it costs too much money.

For the moment, given that its basically now a burnt out shell, the best that can be hoped for is facade retention. Which would have to be undertaken quickly, given that its on a hill and exposed to the winds (it probably won’t survive the winter in its current state). Even then if the building were rebuilt, you’d be rebuilding everything inside that retained facade. And as noted, you’d have to modify the design to account for modern fire codes, which would require considerable modification from the original. So it would be more of a replica, rather than the real thing.

The thinking wing nut’s troll

The Toronto academic Jordan Paterson has been in the news recently, largely thanks to an encounter on Channel 4 news earlier this year, which has made him something of an intellectual hero for the alt-right. However, in truth he’s just a slight better inform right wing troll, who engages in many of their same tactics (gish gallop’s, contrarian arguments, weasel words, etc.)

Take this example where he attempts to argue that much as the right is basically anti-liberalism ID politics (his alt-right followers only hearing what they want to hear will have no doubt filtered that out) that the left is basically the same. That many on the left for example only support social welfare programs that they’ll never benefit from due to a similar commitment towards ID politics.

This position combines a number of contrarian arguments based on a falsehoods. It relies on the myth that working class people tend to vote conservative, and its the “champagne socialists” who vote for left wing parties. However, data from both the last UK election and US elections show that those who are working class tend to vote for left wing parties. When those on right try to claim the opposite, they are often forced to use weasel words statements (e.g. focus on white men over 40 in specific states).

But certainly it is true that a certain portion of those on higher incomes do vote for left wing causes. As I happen to be one of those, although real ale socialist would be more accurate, I can tell Mr Patterson my views have nothing to do with ID politics. Its because I understand that I might end up needing that social welfare safety net myself someday. No matter how hard working you are, or how well paid, all it takes is one accident, cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy of your employer or misadventure and suddenly you’re in a world of trouble.

For example (and this is just one of many examples I could give), I know a guy back in Ireland, hard worker, used to lead scouting groups, took a fall at work one day. He seemed to be fine after a few days, but as the months and years passed he developed ever worse back problems (not unusual for these to take time to surface) and eventually he had to give up work. Now if we take the right at its word, he should be dragged to the side of the street and left to die just because he had the misfortune to have an accident that wasn’t his fault (should you wonder why he hasn’t sued, his employer went bust during the crash and it was only a small building firm anyway, there won’t have been any money to sue for).

That’s all it takes to ruin your income. I wonder if Mr Paterson has paused to consider what would happen to him if he, or one of his relatives, were to fall ill and need expensive medical treatment, which his HMO wasn’t willing to cover (pre-existing conditions and all that). In fact I know of a lecturer who found himself in this very situation. A relative got ill and he had to drop everything, give up his well paid job and fly home to Pakistan. Now while last I heard he’d gotten a part time job over there, but I’m going to hazard a guess its paid a lot less than a lecturing post in the UK. And given his likely outgoings I suspect he’s probably only just about managing. Voting in favour of social welfare is not ID politics, its basic common sense.

Indeed perhaps more the question is why is it that some, notably those over 40’s blue collar workers don’t vote for left wing parties. I would argue that this stems from a long instilled ideology of rugged individualism (you’re considered less of a man if you ask for help), as well as the usual right wing lies and propaganda. And more crucially this tendency does tend to be growing (while those on lower income tended to vote overwhelmingly for left wing candidates by at least 80/20, now its closer to 60/40). So its more a sign of desperation and frustration than meaning an increase in support for the politics of the right. Which perhaps isn’t surprising given how the right doesn’t really have a political philosophy anymore, other than “anti-liberalism”.

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The calm rational logic of Trump voters

But either way, the only real difference between Mr Paterson and Alex Jones (and they are both believers in the paranormal, living on wing nut welfare, which kind of makes his point regard social welfare more than a little hypocritical), is that Paterson knows how not to look and sound like a nut, even when he’s saying pretty crazy things.

The Wakanda conundrum

I came across an interesting little video on youtube, which discuss the Wakanda conundrum. For those who didn’t see the movies (Black Panther, age of infinity), or don’t read comic books, Wakanda is a small yet highly advanced African country which has kept itself hidden from the world for many centuries (for reasons we won’t get into right now). It owes its formation to the arrival of a meteorite from space made of a strange and nearly indestructible metal. As a result its now extremely wealthy and century’s ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

So what’s the problem? Well there’s simply no way such a society could exist. No matter how valuable this resource is, without trading with the outside world (and thus sharing ideas and technology) they’d struggle to figure out how to exploit it. And without trading this resource, they’d never be able to earn any cash from it and thus never be able to buy in the stuff they’d need to exploit the resource and develop their economy. In short the economic policy of Wakanda is basically the same as that of North Korea, and they ain’t exactly the richest country in the world, nor the most advanced (I’m sure Trump would tell you differently tho!).

And speaking of which, the government of Wakanda is an absolute monarchy, with kings picked by barbaric fights (okay, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of politicians fighting over whose in charge, its not that much different maybe). The problem with such a system is all it takes is one bad king to ruin everything. And essentially, that’s the plot of the Black Panther film, but they ignore the consequences of that.

Then there’s the matter of the so-called “resource curse”, which means that small countries with valuable resources can sometimes end up worse off than countries without any. While this doesn’t apply in every situation, Iceland and Norway or Bahrain, for example. But generally countries tend to only avoid the resource curse so long as they’ve got open borders, good trade and a reasonably free society and competent government. Inevitably Wakanda would hit the buffers sooner or later and descent into a corrupt, autocratic mess.

And the other problem with having resources is it tends to draw attention to you. African dictators surrounding Wakanda, not to mention western colonists (notably the Belgians), would soon learn of it and be very quick to swoop in and try to take over the country. And given how in the last film the Wakandian army got the snot kicked out of them by a large pack of dogs, I doubt they’d be able to hold off an invasion, regardless of how advanced their technology.

Uber scooters

A number of silicon valley based firms have begun to set up dockless bike and scooter hire schemes. The logic is, rather than the traditional bike hire schemes, where bikes are picked up and dropped off at designated spots (which can mean trucks rolling around transporting bikes from docking station to docking station). Instead, the system is more free flowing. You pick up the bikes wherever you find one (a mobile phone app directs you to the nearest one) and then leave it wherever you are when you’re finished. Simple!

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So what’s the problem? Well many of these schemes are being set up by companies without the support of local governments and councils. This is causing all sorts of problems, from people riding bikes and electric scooters on pavements, then abandoning them in the middle of the pavement, where they represent a trip hazard, particularly for blind people.

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I think this is a good idea that needs to be developed more, indeed I’d be curious to see if its possible to marry this idea with current car sharing schemes. However, clearly there needs to be some sort of regulation. Frankly the operators of these schemes are lucky councils didn’t just classify all of their scooters as litter and bin them (then fine the company for waste disposal), which is actually what happened in China. No doubt these rules would specify where the bikes and scooters could be used and that where they can be left (if not at designated docking points, then off the pavement and parked neatly). Presumably a system of fines imposed (and/or penalty points) on those who break the rules might bring some discipline to the situation. So it would be a good idea for these firms to start working with local authorities, rather than trying to go the whole uber.

So long and thanks for all the fish

The one shining reason for brexit we were told was the fish. The fish, dear god will someone think of the fish! Those poor fishermen, Farage said as he cried crocodile tears. Well, aside from the fact that this ignored the realities of how trade deals work, and that the Tories have already screwed the fishermen over, there’s a more specific problem – the fish are moving.

As a result of climate change North sea cod and north Atlantic cod are migrating northward out of UK waters and into Scandinavian waters. You would think the Scandinavians would be delighted about this, but they aren’t. Their preferred fish is the Arctic cod and the increasing presence of North Atlantic cod is not only making fishing difficult for them, but threatens the long term viability of their industry. While I’m not much of a fish eater, I’m told by those who do that there’s a distinct difference in taste between the two types and that as a result, the Arctic cod is considered a more valuable product. So you can see the problem. Its issues like this that underline the need for action on climate change.

One possible temporary fix would be for the Faroese, Greenland, Norwegian and Icelandic governments to agree to let EU boats into their waters (for a fee of course) to catch the North Atlantic cod and basically take em back down south. Of course given that the UK is leaving the EU, its inevitable we’ll be cut out of any such deal. Given that all are part of the single market, its going to make a lot more sense to deal with the EU than the UK. So it looks like the UK isn’t even going to get a smoked kipper out of post-brexit fishing deals.

Free range parenting

I got into a discussion on another blog recently about how parents are becoming increasingly controlling of their kids, so called helicopter parenting, and how this wasn’t a good idea. Well now its official. A study from America suggests that overly controlling parents can lead to behaviour problems.

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I’d argue the problems go much further. We end up with students in university, who are used to having every little obstacle swept out of their way and thus haven’t learnt how to strike a work life balance or think for themselves. Its long been my observation, as both a student and a lecturer, that students from the strictest parenting background tend to be the ones who become complete tear away’s in uni.

They’ll show up in the first week of term dressed like a Mormon, or in full islamic dress, but by the end of the first semester they’re complete party animals (for whom breakfast consists of peeling last night’s pizza off their face before eating it), who start missing classes and falling behind. By contrast those from more “liberal” backgrounds (who’ve already learnt how to manage their time and say no to a night out) are able to maintain focus. And they tend to be the ones more likely to drop out, not least because it can sometimes turn out that their parents picked the course and uni for them, which turned out to be something (or somewhere) they didn’t want to study.

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In contrast to this is so-called free range parenting. Rather than for example, walking the kids to school, parents take the view, well he/she knows what time classes start, they know how to get there, so its the kids responsibility to get up on time and get there. If they don’t, its going to be a steep learning curve. While there are merits to this, there are problems with it, not least of possible legal issues.

But my view is that parents need to think of the long term impact of what they are doing. While you have to have some rules and boundaries with kids, if you don’t give them some level of independence, they’ll never learn it. Then you are stuck with them living at home and you have to get them evicted. Birds won’t leave the nest if they don’t learn how to fly.

While I was away….

Just back from Holiday, thought I’d catch up on a few stories that came up while I was on my travels….

When in Rome do as the Romans do….stay away from burning buses

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The 5 Star movement remain committed to good public transport….with heating!

One of my stops on holiday, was Rome, where they’ve a bit of a wee problem with buses that keep catching fire. The locals blame the new Five Star mayor and cutbacks on maintenance, which is merely one of a host of scandals she’s gotten caught up in. Which given that 5S are now part of the government in Italy, is hardly a good sign.

While there was a few things in the joint NL/5S manifesto I agreed with, e.g. ending austerity, a national citizens income, better public transport (you might want to focus on stopping buses catching fire first!). But they also promised to lower taxes at the same time as greatly increasing public spending. This in a country whose in debt to the tune of 130% of its GDP.

Now while its true there’s nothing wrong with a country borrowing money, particularly in a time of crisis, Keynes never said that gives governments a blank cheque to spend like a sailor on shore leave and ignore any form of financial responsibility. Clearly, at the very least they’d have to demonstrate some plan for paying off this debt (otherwise nobody would lend them money to spend in the first place). This could include putting up taxes for the wealthy, or increasing the tax on things like alcohol and cigarettes (which are both very cheap, I mean I was buying Belgian ales for less than they cost in Belgium!), or starting to introduce carbon taxes (which would eventually replace things like VAT altogether). Cuts could also be made in areas that are cutable, e.g. in terms of defence spending.

But there in lie the problem with a populist government, they can’t do anything unpopular, even if its in the long term best interest of the country. Indeed, the NL part of the government wants to hire more police and build prisons for the hundreds of thousands of migrants they are going to deport. Of course, it would be unwise to undertake such deportations (and unlikely they are going to succeed). Many of the countries in question may not take them back and others would not be a safe place to send them. There is a legal precedence going back to the holocaust, whereby those responsible for deportations to Germany (in the full knowledge that they were potentially sending people to their death) which would come into play, meaning members of this populist government could find themselves facing a war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

And their solution to their debt problems is to demand that the EU simply writes off a large chunk of Italian debt. The EU’s unlikely to do that because A) that would set a precedence, which could lead to both Italy and the entire eurozone’s debt being downgraded. And B) as Italy would now be considered to be in a state of default, banks would be a lot less likely to lend to Italy. So rather than freeing Italy from under the thumb of the ECB, they’ve be more dependant than ever on ECB money to keep the country solvent. Yes, the EU must take some share of the blame for Italy’s predicament, but Italy is mostly in mess of its own creation (something which no populist party could ever admit, hence why they have to blame the EU and migrants for 100% of Italy’s problems).

Print money? That’s really only a temporary solution and the window of opportunity during which that could help has arguably passed. Also such measures would drive up inflation, diluting the value of people’s savings and push up prices. Indeed inflation (or more accurately stagflation) is a big problem in Italy right now. One could argue a number of the policies announced are in fact more anti-stagflation measures than anti-austerity measures. But introducing policies to counteract inflation, which will just cause more of it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or in Italy’s case (given that the ECB would never allow this either), its robbing Peter in the full knowledge that he’ll catch you at it and then beat you and Paul up later with a baseball bat.

Oh and 5S and NL also want to drop sanctions on Russia. And this in the same week the Dutch reveal how they have direct evidence linking the Russians to the downing of MH17. You have to love Italian corruption. In America Trump has to at least pretend he’s not Putin’s ally. But in Italy, they don’t even bother hiding that. He helped us get elected, so we’ll be sharing the cake with him, what’s wrong with that?

At least they’ve backed down from their more extreme policies of withdrawing from the Euro and the EU. The NL in fact actually wants a referendum for Northern Italy to separate from Southern Italy. But as is so often the case, when confronted with reality, such headline grabbing (but utterly ludicrous) plans have had to be dropped (like the £350 million a week for the NHS we were promised in the UK).

That said, it is alleged that the reason why the Italian president rejected their pick for finance minister was that he heard that they were planning for a secret withdrawal from the EU over a weekend (think about that for a minute, the UK’s going to take several years to get out of the EU and this lot thought they can do something similar over a weekend!). In the wake of this the populists called for him to be impeached and replaced by the Prime Minster (which would be unconstitutional, this is kind of the whole reason why they are separate jobs). In short, it seems like they haven’t much of a clue what they are doing or how government is supposed to work.

The populists have also asked the EU with coming up with the means for a country to withdraw from the euro at some future date, if they were to have such a referendum. Well the bad news is, I suspect some eurocrat IS probably working on just such a plan as we speak. But its not how Italy can voluntarily leave the euro, its how the EU can kick Italy out of the euro if they break its rules, while minimising the damage the rest of the eurozone takes from the inevitable Italian bankruptcy that follows.

I think we can get some feel for how things will pan out based on one of the earlier sticking points the NL stuck with, they wanted Silvio Berlusconi to be part of the new government. Why in blue blazes would they want that? Well because they know full well they’ve made promises neither they, nor 5S can keep.

What Italy will get is just a less competent (as well as corrupt and more authoritarian) version of the previous government. Just one that picks random fights with the EU, which they will generally lose. There fear is, that Mr Bunga Bunga (whose probably more to blame than anyone else for Italy’s current woes) will exploit that and next thing you know, a year from now, he and Trump will be trading anecdotes about their criminal exploits at Mar-a-largo.

Barcelona tourism protests

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Across the sea in Barcelona, there’s been anti-tourist protests recently. Now yes tourists can be annoying (in London during the summer you’re tripping over them, Edinburgh during the Fringe you can barely walk down the street and I reckon the use of rocket launchers against campervans on highland roads should be legal, when they trundle along at 30 mph with fifty cars behind them). But statistically, Barcelona isn’t even in the top ten of tourist destinations in the world (and having been there, the numbers aren’t anything near as bad as you’d find in say Florence or Rome).

However, a Spanish tour operator did mention to me that there’s been a big upsurge in tourism in Spain over the last few years, due to issues across the Mediterranean making such destinations seem unsafe. And as noted, Italy is starting to get very expensive (and politically unstable), so that’s driving more tourists towards the Iberian peninsula.

So to the locals the sudden surge in numbers is probably something they’d notice. And there’s a few particular features of tourism in Barcelona that I can see would likely wind up the locals. Firstly, there’s been a proliferation of Airbnb’s, with long term tenants being thrown out of their flats so it can be rented out to tourists (for the record, I stayed in one of the older pension hostals).

Also there’s lots of large tour groups running around, who seem to follow a set formula of places to visit. So if you’re in say, the Boqueria at the wrong time, you’re barely able to move for the numbers. And this has also had the effect of pushing up prices (the days of cheap eats in the Boqueria are long gone). And part of what’s driving these massive hordes are cruise ships, which have been docking in Barcelona in ever increasing numbers.

Indeed, my bit of tourist advice for Barcelona (or other cities like Rome with similar or even worse overcrowding) is remember that said tour groups tend to mostly consist of old retired couples. So with that in mind go to the places they won’t go (anything with lots of steps, loud noises, young people or this thing called “rock and roll”). And similarly if going to the places that are likely to be busy, such as the aforementioned Boqueria, go either early in the morning (when the oldies are still putting in their false teeth) or later in the evening (or around lunchtime when they’re having their nap) and you’ll avoid the crowds. But suffice to say though, you can see how all of this would piss locals off a bit. But equally, its a little more complicated than the simple populist “too many tourists”.

Now the thing is all of these problems are within the capacity of the local Catalan government to solve (keep in mind Barcelona voted in favour of independence by a margin of 92%). As I discussed in a prior article, most likely most of these airbnb hosts are breaking the law (notably local fire codes), so even without any new legislation a crack down on them is possible. Tourist guides can be regulated. And those regulations could stipulate terms that mean they stay away from certain parts of the city at certain times or on certain days giving the locals a bit of breathing space. Limiting the number of cruise ships or imposing a 72 hour rule on them (once in the harbour they can’t leave again for 72 hrs) would also relieve pressure somewhat.

Should you be wondering why the Catalan government isn’t doing any of this…..you’ve not be watching the news have you? They’ve got their eyes on the bigger prize of independence. And for that independence to succeed tourism will be a vital industry, as it will serve as a key source of foreign currency (meaning they can raise the cash to buy things like oil or other stuff the rest of Spain will be refusing to sell them). So at present the Catalan government doesn’t want to reduce tourist numbers, if anything they want numbers to keep going up. Not that they’re going to point that out to the angry populists in their own party of course!

But at least it shows that left wing populists can be as prone to blaming foreigners for their problems, as much as the right wing ones.

The downfall of Rojay

And speaking of Catalonia, we’ve just seen the downfall of Spanish PM Rajoy. If Catalonia ever gets independence, it will largely be thanks to his reign of error. When he took office, support for full independence was hovering around about 25-30%, although there was widespread support for greater regional autonomy. Now support for independence is closer to 40-50%. A combination of his austerity measures and his stubborn refusal to even consider alternatives has effectively convinced a large portion of Catalan’s that they can’t get anywhere with the likes of him in charge in Madrid.

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Already, in complete contrast to Rajoy, his successor is talking about reconciliation and negotiating with the Catalan’s. However, I suspect the damage has already been done. The brutal crack down against the vote earlier this year has hardened opinions and nothing short of a legally sanctioned in/out referendum will suffice.

I bring this up because some in the UK have suggested that Westminster should copy Rajoy’s tactics when it comes to seeing off future moves for independence from the SNP. I would argue that would be an excellent idea….if the Tories WANT to guarantee Scottish independence.

As things stand, support for independence is hovering around the 45-50% mark. Given the fallout from brexit and the blow back the Tories will catch for that in a few years time, such tactics will all but guarantee the SNP will win any vote (official or unofficial) by a landslide. And while Rajoy could just ignore the Catalan’s, Scotland can’t be so easily dismissed (given that Scotland controls the majority of the UK’s energy supplies!).

In short, the Tories had best get used to conceding ground to Brussels, because the only way their going to hang onto Scotland and Wales is by conceding more power to Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Magic money trees

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You may recall how Corbyn talked about nationalising the UK’s railways and the Tories laughed and said, oh we can’t do that, its too expensive, there’s no magic money trees……Only low and behold, the Tories have just nationalised the east coast mainline and bailed out their chum Richard Branson (who you will recall tried to rub Corbyn’s face in it last year, over that skit where he sat on the floor).

And this is hardly the first time. Hinkley C, Heathrow, BHS and Carillon, to name a few, have all had a bailout. And let’s not even begin to mention the costs associated with brexit. Recall, the tens of billions paid to the EU is just the start. The UK will also now need to set up whole new government departments to basically do the stuff the EU previously did for us. And there’s all the promises they made, farm subsides to be paid and the tax revenue hole left by leaving EU citizens.

So it would appear that whenever the Tories need it, not only is there a magic money tree, but there’s a whole forest of them.

Border woes

On my travels I also passed through the wee seaside town of Ventimiglia. One unusual feature of this town is that it has three railway stations, of which only part of one is still in service (the rest are either demolished or slowly being taken over by weeds). And the disused sections are absolutely massive, consisting of marshalling yards with dozens of lines of parallel track.

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You may wonder why a town with a population of just 50,000 ever needed such massive railway infrastructure. A little geography will probably help. The town sits right on the Italian/French border and is the last stop before entering France. So obviously, back in the days before the single market, every train that crossed the border needed to stop here for a customs inspection. It kind of hammers home the issues the UK will face post brexit.

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The Tories are still stuck with their delusions that they can magically solve the issue of the Irish border with technology (and presumably more magic money trees). Well the experts don’t just say no, they say “are you mad or what!”. Every month 385,000 goods vehicles and 1.85 million cars cross the border. That’s an average of 75,000 vehicles a day that would need to be checked (and potentially double that number or more at peak times). And there are potentially hundreds of border crossings where you’d need to have inspectors or infrastructure in place.

I think the problem is that many brexiters still have this vision of Ireland as a nation of farmers who ride around with a donkey and cart. They don’t seem to realise that as a factor of GDP manufacturing represents a greater share of the Irish economy (about 40%) than it does the UK (about a quarter). And we’re talking several high tech industries here, everything from aircraft parts, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, to microchips and software. And yes, this does involve parts being sent north of the border, then onto the rest of the UK or Europe.

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In Ireland these days, we make more than just shamrock and stout!

And speaking of farmers, agricultural produce does represent a significant portion of our exports to the UK. And it is agricultural products that will likely see the largest shift in tariff’s and prices post-brexit (by as much as 50% accounting for currency exchange and differences in tariff’s) and the largest drift in regulation if the UK caves in to some of the demands its likely to face from trading partners such as the US (meaning certain UK food products would be banned from sale in the EU or visa versa). So there’s going to be a very strong financial incentive for smugglers to start shifting such goods.

Already there are smuggler gangs, moving narcotics (Ireland’s rugged coastline makes it a transshipment point for drugs), alcohol, tobacco and fuel. Many of these gangs have links to either loyalist or republican paramilitaries. So even if this “electronic” border did work, they’d take steps to thwart it. Such as taking pot shots at drones, blowing up cameras, or sending guys in balaclavas around to threaten the families of the technicians who program the surveillance software. And these groups also have politician connections to the DUP or SF (much as how the RHI scheme in NI ended up mired in corruption, so too is likely to be any electronic border).

But this is the problem with brexit. Its an idea dreamt up by posh public school boys who live in some ivory tower and are ignorant of what happens in the real world.

Changing tastes

Interesting article here about the likely impact of brexit on the full English breakfast. Let’s put it this way, about the only two ingredients that will be unaffected are the bread and the eggs. Well at least we’ll be able to make French toast then!

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The full English Irish Breakfast

The height of hypocrisy

And speaking of brexit, Nigel Lawson, a leading brexiter, is now apparently trying to get residency in France. And he’s in good company, Nigel Farage’s kids both have gotten German citzenship (and its been claimed he’s applying as well) and several unionist have applied for Irish citizenship.

Do right wingers have no shame, no sense of irony and do they understand the meaning of the word hypocrisy? Or are they just a bunch of idiotic self centred jerks? They see nothing wrong with campaigning for something that will drag tens of millions of brit’s out of the EU, then think nothing of applying for EU citizenship themselves. After all how am I supposed to get to my yacht on the Cote d’Azur! Hell, who wants to live in England anyway, why they eat French toast for breakfast since brexit.

What happens in Donegal, stays in Donegal

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Ireland recently had a referendum on abortion, which resulted in a resounding vote in favour of overturning the ban…..Well everywhere except in Donegal. That said, Donegal is kind of the land that time forgot. Its the sort of rural backwater where you’d be almost tempted to greet the locals by saying “how”. Its the sort place you fear that using a mobile phone might result in the locals burning you at the stake for witchcraft. So no real surprise really that they bucked the trend.

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This creates some awkward problems for Theresa May. Her DUP allies have, like their cohorts in the south, relied on the hypocrisy that they can pretend to be anti-abortion, even thought it just means anyone looking to get an abortion merely has to get a Ryanair flight to the UK. In a year’s time however, they’ll merely have to drive across the border, which will make something of a mockery of this policy.

The result was also was a major blow to the religious right in Ireland and their north American allies. One (catholic) priest even suggested that anyone who voted yes, should be bared from confession and basically excommunicated (which means 66% of the country!) until they do penance. Here’s an idea, how about as penance yes voters have to join the DUP or the orange order (given that they’re the only two groups in the country still in favour of an abortion ban).

Montecassino

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The abbey dominates the local landscape

Another spot on my travels was the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino. A bit off the beaten track, but well worth the visit. It is steeped in history (back to Roman times, as well as the founding of the Benedictine order and monastic orders in general). But its also famous for being the site of the battle of Monte Cassino in World War II.

To say this was controversial was to put it mildly. The Americans bombed the Abbey (effectively committing a war crime) to the point where it became the most bombed building in Europe. What was more tragic was that it was entirely unnecessary. While there were Germans in the hills surrounding the abbey, there were none within the abbey itself….well not until after the Americans bombed the place. After this the Germans argued, perhaps not unreasonably, that the allies had just made it part of the battlefield and they promptly occupied the ruins. The large Polish cemetery just below the abbey testifies to the consequences of this error.

And the Polish cemetery also hints at how the British have a warped view of history. Read a British textbook on the battle and they’ll go on and on at great length about how this commonwealth unit or that took part in the battle. They scarcely mention that it was Polish who had to come in and dig the British and the Yanks out of a mess of their own making and ultimately take the abbey. And then they’ve got the nerve to come over to the UK and get jobs, pay taxes and help to fund the NHS!

Trump’s Korean flip flop

A major story that broke while I was away was that of Trump pulling out of the Singapore summit, apparently because the North Korean media said mean things about his vice president (somebody call the wambulance). Of course the real reason he pulled out can be summarised in two words – John Bolton. He no doubt convinced Trump that he should have his little war with the North Koreans as a way of saving himself from impeachment.

Unfortunately, what Trump, or Bolton, didn’t seem to get is that there are other players involved here. The South Koreans, while they want to keep up the pressure on the north, they also don’t want to see a war start (as they’ll be on the receiving end of any retaliation). So they will keep the talks going if they can. Which, probably explains why Trump’s just flip flopped now. An egomaniac like him couldn’t bear the situation, where they carried out without him, even thought he’ll really just be meat in the room.

The other factor is China. They are often described as a North Korean ally. As I’ve discussed before, that’s not entirely true. But certainly they ain’t going to sit ideally by and let North Korea, get attacked by Trump because of some mean tweets (and anyone who knows anything about North Korea would realise those comments were merely for the purposes of domestic consumption). The danger is that they will use economic pressure against the US, or potentially interfere in any war.

So all in all, its a very worrying development. At the very least it means the US will increasingly see itself sidelined, much as Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal just means the US will have no say in how that deal progresses in future.

Eurovision boycott?

Also while I was away, Israel won the Eurovision song contest. This raises a worrying problem, as it was announced they will host the contest next year in Jerusalem.

What’s wrong with that? Well, it would be seen as legitimising their claim of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. There is no way the Palestinians, nor the rest of the Arab world will ever accept that. They might be willing to accept a divided Jerusalem with one half the capital of Israel and the other half the capital of Palestine (or an international city which is capital of both), but a Jerusalem that is exclusively the Israeli capital is just not an option they’ll ever accept. Which basically means that the current conflict will go on forever…..or at least until someone gets there hands on a nuke or something. That effectively is what Trump endorsed when he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump did this to placate the religious right in his country. They are some of the biggest supporters of Israeli expansion of its settlements on the west bank. Not because they necessarily like Jews, actually its because they’re hoping that this war forever between Israel and the Arab world will bring about the end times….during which most of the Jews will be killed or converted.

So to me its quite clear that there should be a boycott of the next eurovision, if its held in Jerusalem.

Trump syndrome in action

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And speaking of crazy Trump supporters, while I was away we saw the melt down of Roseanne Barr. And Kanye West, suggested that slavery was a choice. Well, at least we won’t be hearing much from either of them for a while. Indeed, this seems to be something of a trend for Trump supporters. Apparently many of those who quit the Trump white house are having trouble finding jobs afterwards. Supporting Trump is literally hazardous to ones career. On the other hand, both have done us all a service, by demonstrating the cult like behaviour of Trump supporters.

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There is a distinct difference between a cult and say a religion or a political party. For example, a catholic bishop doesn’t have to agree verbatim with everything the Pope says (many won’t be happy about his recent comments about gays). Similarly in most political parties its okay to criticise the leadership (up to a point of course). And they can praise the opposition when they do something positive.

With a cult however there are only two things you can say, praise for the leader and the vilification of his opponents (which will be anyone who has criticised him in the past). The leader is considered infallible and his enemies are evil and anything they say (such as the Russia investigation) is clearly lies and fake news. Unlike other political leaders at no point will you hear any of Trump’s supporters criticise him, even when he’s clearly done something wrong. Even things that sound like criticism are often phrased such as “the leader should do XYZ”.

And the trouble with getting involved with cults, is the difficulty in leaving. You want to leave the labour party, all you’ve got to do is cut your membership card in two. But once people are in the Trump cult, its not easy to leave, given that they’ve burnt all their bridges behind them (I can’t see Roseanne going back to the green party). Hence the hostility and lack of rational reasoning you’ll see from them.

Of course what this means is that anyone waiting for the penny to drop for Trump supporters, think again. If he makes it to the next election, regardless of how badly he screws up, he’ll still take in at least 40% of the vote at a minimum.

Gun hire schemes

A bunch of practical jokers thought to set up a mock “gun hire” scheme at subway entrances recently, as a way of mocking the NRA. A dangerous thing to do, because this lot have no sense of humour and don’t understand the concept of irony. The danger is they’ll decide this is a good idea and actually do it for real.

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Consider how a few weeks ago I joked how the Outing club should start carrying guns around campus, to get around some SAPS in administration who wanted to shut them down on Elf’n’Safety grounds. Well in another incident a Trump supporter recently showed up to her graduation with an assault rifle and “come and take it” written across her mortar board. Ya and if she’d been black she’d have probably been shot by the police before she got two blocks.

But like I said, your trying to reason with people who are not reasonable people.

Setting the range for hybrid cars

The current transport secretary Chris Grayling is known as a bit for being pro-car and not a huge fan of green energy, so you have to view everything coming out of his department with a level of suspicion. For example, they’ve recently announced that the UK reg’s will specify a minimum all electric range that hybrid vehicles must be able to achieve.

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On the one hand this sounds like a good idea. As things stand a car with a larger than normal car battery and starter motor can be classified as a hybrid, when in truth its really just a conventional petrol powered car. However, that said, the range that his department is talking about is in the order of 50 miles, which even well established hybrids such as the Prius can’t achieve.

Its important to realise that the range of vehicles do vary for good reasons. The all-electric range of a hybrid involves a level of compromise. Putting a heavier battery into a hybrid will deplete its fuel economy, which may well negate the benefits of hybridisation. And its worth noting that the bulk of car journey’s in the UK are less than 20 miles.

Of course with the UK pulling out of the EU, it hardly matters what the UK says on this matter. Inevitably the EU will decide what it thinks a suitable hybrid range should be and car manufacturers will build according to that specification. They’ll then simply sell either all electric or petrol only models in the UK, if they aren’t compatible with this new law. So all Chris Grayling is doing is restricting the car choices of future UK drivers. And the fear is that might be exactly what he’s aiming for, so he and his Tory pals can keep driving around London in their range rovers.

Noise machines

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And speaking of the EU, they have also announced legislation requiring future electric vehicles to have noise generators fitted to them. I would question the need for this. While yes, its eerie having electric cars creeping quietly up on you, but its something you get used to when you are in a city with lots of electric vehicles (such as Oslo or some Chinese cities). Maybe its just because I had the green cross code drilled into me as a kid that I instinctively look both ways when crossing the road, so its not really an issue for me.

One of the main benefits of electric cars is that they cut down on traffic noise, leading to quieter cities. This policy could negate this benefit. Now if people were being regularly cut down by electric vehicles, I’d agree we have to do something, but I see no evidence that this is a problem. And some experts have also questioned whether such noise generators actually work in the real world. So I worry that this policy is simply being imposed as a sop to those who are suspicious of electric cars, in the same way the first petrol powered cars had to have a guy walk in front of them with a red flag.

Passenger 69

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United airlines sparked controversy this week for dragging a doctor off a plane in Chicago. They got themselves in all sorts of trouble due to their boss giving a diplomatic response to the media, but then sending an e-mail around to his staff which blamed the passenger, which inevitably soon found its way on to the internet. As a result their stock has nose dived and he’s been forced to eat humble pie.

Incidentally, a good parody of the incident here from the Jimmy Kimmel show.

The reason for this incident is supposedly that the plane was “overbooked”. A practice by which airlines deliberately book on board more passengers than there are seats on the plane. Actually, the true reason is that they needed to move several crew members around. So this was more down to United not hiring enough staff and being overstretched and putting its customers at the bottom of its list of priorities.

But even this overbooking business is a load of baloney. The argument from the airlines is that they need to overbook because a certain percentage of passengers won’t show up and they don’t want to lose revenue. That’s grade A BS. I missed a long distant flight recently, through no fault of my own (entirely BA’s fault) and not only have I not be refunded for that flight that I didn’t take, but they are being very slow supplying me with the paperwork to put in an insurance claim against them (likely because they know that if I do put in such a claim, the insurer will pay me off, then sue them for the costs plus expenses). Airlines overbook because they are greedy and view their passengers as little more than self loading cargo.

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What I think a lot of passengers don’t realise is to what extent you surrender your rights when boarding a flight. Airlines offer no certainty that they will get you there on time (or even arrive at all!). The conditions of carriage you enjoy with public transport, does not exist in the airline industry. And if you think things are bad in Europe, they are worse in America. Boarding a plane in the US and you are essentially entering a totalitarian state ruled over by bossy air hostesses with a nasty case of Sanford prison syndrome. And the one piece of legislation in Europe that gives passengers at least some rights? Well that comes from the EU and will almost certainly be chucked on the fire with brexit.

Budget airlines get a lot of stick for how badly they treat their passengers, although Ryanair has been trying to change its tune recently and be a bit nicer. But I think they deserve credit for at least being up front. They are a budget service, no frills, yes we’ll treat you like self loading freight, but we are letting you know that up front and we are much cheaper. The non-budget airlines instead pretend that they are something better, when in truth if the shit hits the fan, they will abandon you, as BA abandoned me for four days at Heathrow (with diarrhoea), or drag a doctor off a plane with patients waiting. Yet they’ll still charge several times the amount for essentially the same service.

Ryanair have plans to open a transatlantic service. Right now given the way the likes of BA or United treats its passengers, I’d probably fly Ryanair and save myself a few hundred, which I could then use to treat myself to a nice hotel room in New York when I arrive. And I welcome the day when budget airlines put the established airlines out of business.

The Trouble with AirBnB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Protests against AirBnB by renters facing eviction is a growing problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why post-brexit immigration policy is doomed to failure

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We’ve had two reports come out over the last week regarding the post-brexit impact on immigration. One warns that already skill shortages are creeping in and that these will inevitably impact on the economy. Another report predicts that the brexit bigots are in for a nasty surprise, as its likely that brexit won’t produce any meaningful cuts in UK immigration. It will make little difference overall and simply mean trading EU migrants who come in for shorter periods (which we want, as it means they pay taxes and leave before they become a burden on the state in later life). While in return we’ll be getting more older UK citizens moving back home, or longer term migrants from beyond the EU (both of whom are generally looking to settle permanently).

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Surely both of these reports can’t be correct? Well yes they can be. Its just that both of them are feeling different parts of the brexit elephant at different times in the future. Inevitably the drop in the pound (which makes British wages less attractive), brexit uncertainty and the sharp rise in xenophobia all means that the number of Europeans coming in will take a knock. And, as noted, we are already seeing some of these effects. This will lead to labour shortages in many key areas. And a drop in people in work will eventually mean a drop in tax revenue.

Why can’t unemployed brits take up these posts? Well because in many cases they lack the skills and training required, or they live in the parts of the country where there aren’t labour shortages. At the same time, the low value of the pound makes wages in the rest of Europe suddenly seem rather attractive. So some of those with the skills we need, both British and EU citizens, might be tempted to move to Europe to take advantage of their now higher salaries.

On the other hand, as I’ve pointed out in a prior post, the representation of EU citizens in migration figures is often misunderstood by the brexiters. While yes, group together all of the EU countries their numbers look high, but we’re ignoring the fact that on a country by country basis far more come in from India or China than any EU country. And UK citizens and their families make up a very large chunk of net migration figures.

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Also net migration figures represent just what they say – net migration, i.e. the turn over, those coming in minus those leaving. This is an important distinction because it means the numbers of people we are dealing with is a lot higher than many realise. You’ve got many UK citizens who travel back and forth for work related reasons, as well as seasonal workers who come into the UK to meet key skills shortages. The idea that all of these people are going to have to go through some sort of intensive screening and form filling is going to create a logistical nightmare.

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We’ve had a taster of sorts of the chaos this will cause already. Some EU citizens have been thinking ahead and applying for UK residency. Note we’re talking about people married to British citizens, who’ve been here for 24 years. They get asked to fill out some Byzantine 85 page form, pay a few hundred quid in costs, surrender their passport for several months and then have their application rejected for no obvious reasons and get a letter back advising them to prepare to leave the UK.

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The UK is lagging well behind taking in its far share of refugee’s.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of crap that migrants from beyond the EU have had to deal with for years. It highlights something we’ve long had to cope with in the HEI sector – that the UKBA is one of the most incompetent and badly run government departments on the planet. They are a law onto themselves who are able to hide their ineptitude and stupidity behind a cloak of scary Daily Mail headlines. Regularly they’d impose all sorts of Monty python-esque like rules or dictates on us (or employers), rules they’ll often then re-interpret in a completely different way to what the law actually says….then ignore any information we send them. e.g. the one time we did have to report one of my students to the UKBA (she dropped out of the course), I was more than a little surprised to bump into her on the bus a few months later (and she got off at the same stop as the halls of residence, so I’m guessing she was still living in her term time address). Yes they had her name and address and several months later, they still hadn’t done anything!

If any other government department behaved like the UKBA they’d be spending half their budget just defending themselves from lawsuits and paying out compensation to those whose civil rights they’d violated, or the time of employers and universities they’ve wasted.

Now imagine what’s going to happen when a few million EU citizens in the UK all have to apply at once for residency. Throw in another 6 million for those of us of Irish descent (if for some reason our reciprocal rights are lost) and we’ve got a massive backlog (I believe they currently handle only about 100,000 a year!). The end result is something akin to the Clark County gaming commission. There will be a ten year backlog and as a result anyone who you would genuinely want to kick out (e.g. a Muslim jihadi, Romanian Gypsy criminal horse meat butcher….I’m trying to imagine the worse case scenario for a Daily Mail reader), it will take several years for his application to get to the front of the pile and thus for anyone to realise he shouldn’t be in the country. And when his number is about to come up, all he has to do is change his circumstances (e.g. change his name by deed poll, marry, divorce, have a kid, etc.) and his application gets moved to the bottom of the pile.

At this point UK immigration law becomes pointless, as one could live and die without it ever applying to you. This is why Australia, UKIP’s poster child, doesn’t apply the same rules for New Zealand citizens as it applies to those from Europe. Similarly Canada and America apply a much more relaxed immigration policy to each other than they do to those from further afield. Its simply not logistically possible to have everyone coming in from your nearest neighbours fill out an 85 page form and then pay some civil servant to read it. In short, the proposed immigration controls are just unworkable.

Clearly what these stories show is that there’s an urgent need to reign in and reform the UKBA. Keep in mind that this incompetence and mistreatment of EU citizens has already been noted by the EU and they will inevitably reciprocate post-brexit. So failing to reign the UKBA in will mean it takes 6 hours for UK citizens to clear customs post-brexit. Frankly whichever moron came up with this ridiculous 85 page form (so complicated that even the UKBA can’t seem to figure it out!), should be sacked on the spot. Ultimately for the sake of speed and efficiency, the UK’s immigration rules will require simplification. And even in the best case scenario, more border guards will still have to be hired to prevent any backlogs developing in the system. And that’s going to cost a few billion. Yet another of those many “hidden extra” costs (along with a few billion for the farmers, eight billion for university research, another eight for the car industry, etc.) that the brexiters forgot to mention on the side of those buses.

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The UK border post brexit?

So the Tory policy on immigration is clearly unworkable, it would be difficult to come up with anything worse. But what is Corbyn’s response? Well he’s come up with some half baked plan to divert immigrants away from certain parts of the country that already have large numbers of migrants. To call this a massive misreading of the situation is an understatement. Migrants generally congregate in the parts of the country where there are labour shortages and thus jobs available. These areas tend to see very little support for either UKIP or brexit. By contrast areas with high unemployment and low rates of migration tend to be where the support for brexit was at its strongest.

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There is an inverse correlation between leave voters and the number of migrants in their local area

It is in these areas with relatively low immigration rates where you’ll find UKIP bigots sitting on their arse whinging about migrants taking their jobs, when in truth there are jobs available, if they’d just get up off their arse and move somewhere where there is work (or perhaps retrain and gain the skills to get a job). And unlike the UKIP’ers, migrants have no interest on sitting around living on benefitsAnd how is Corbyn going to make them move where he wants them too? Is he going to have is own version of the stasi follow immigrants around?

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EU citizens are a tiny portion of benefits claimants…..

Corbyn’s is basically proposing to pour fuel on the UKIP fire. It represents such a colossal misreading of the problem, that it clearly shows that he is even more out of touch on this issue than the Tories. And that takes some doing.

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…..and far more Pakistani’s claim benefits anyway….so how is leaving the EU supposed to help?

Either way, all of this means that any hope of the brexiters for a points system and serious cuts to immigration is unlikely. But unfortunately, that’s not going to stop them trying. Hence why we’ll probably see them try to impose some Daily Mail friendly border controls. Of course once the UKBA ends up buried under a sea of paper work, many millions of the types they want to keep out, sneak in through the cracks, while a lack of skilled labour leads to factories closing, chronic NHS staffing shortages, crops rotting in the fields, etc. Finally at this point, there will be panic and they’ll have to roll back these restrictions.

In short, the UK will have voted for the worst of both worlds, loss of all of the benefits of being in the EU with none of the border controls that were supposedly the justification for brexit in the first place.

Four days in Heathrow

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Got stuck over Christmas for four days in Heathrow all thanks to a screw up by BA. And this was before the strikes hit! Fog caused them to cancel a whole load of flights into the airport and delayed outgoing flights. Apparently the UK has yet to discover the benefits of this thing called “radar”, which is odd given that they claim to have invented it. I ended up spending several days getting fobbed off by BA staff. They’d tell you to go to one queue, then another, then ring a number, then check a website, then call your travel agent who would tell you to call BA 😦

And the Heathrow staff weren’t much better. The shops ran out of food and they were doing demolition work at 1am with a hammer drill while hundreds slept rough the other side of checkin. No consideration what so ever, no help to anybody.

All in all I’m forced to ask what exactly is the difference between Ruinair Ryanair or  Awkwardjet Easyjet and BA? Because the only difference as I see it is that Ryanair are usually on time and half the price. Yes Michael O’Leary is a bastard, but he pretty much tells you that up front. I’m surprised its not Ruinair’s motto “yes we’re bastards, but we’re usually on time and dirt cheap”. BA by contrast charge considerably more for essentially the same service. They are no more likely to look after you in an emergency, so frankly you may as well book with the low cost airlines (or take the train….unfortunately they don’t do trains to South America).

Of course these delays are largely because Heathrow is over capacity. This is why the government wants to build a third runway. However even if that was the solution, that’s not going to do solve anything for a decade. The fact is that successive governments have been kicking the can down the road on Heathrow for decades, both Tory and labour are equally to blame. After the first night I went to stay with relatives in London, which meant I got to see the other side of the argument, i.e. constant plane noise in the background. And this was with Heathrow at 50% capacity. So an extra runway will make things that bit worse.

As I mentioned in a prior post a report back in the 70’s recommended shutting down many of London’s airports and building a new one on a green field site to the north west of the city in rural Buckinghamshire. This would reduce noise over London and provide plenty of room for future expansion. And as it would be near (or on) the West Coast mainline, it would be easier for high speed rail to connect to the airport from the rest of the country (eliminating the need for commuter flights into this new airport). However inevitably as it would mean ploughing up the estates of the landed gentry it was ignored and we’ve been going around in circles ever since. This is what happens when governments dodge long term questions like this. You end up with a mess that can’t be quickly or easily fixed or put right.

Keep in mind Germany is in the process of consolidating all of Berlin’s airports to one site to the South of the city allowing it to close down all of those within the city limits. So there’s no reason why the UK can’t do the same. Its just governments here are, like the BA staff at Heathrow, taking the lazy way out of any difficult problem.

And case in point, the main obstacle to the other proposal, so-called “Boris Island” airport, is the wreck of the Richard Montgomery in the Thames estuary. This is the semi-submerged wreck of a World War II liberty ship with several thousand tons of explosives on board. Yes, seventy years after the end of the war the wreck of a ship with thousands of tonnes of explosives is sitting in the Thames just waiting to go off. Nobody has bothered to do anything about it because that would be too much like hard work.

So my advice to anyone is is A) Don’t fly with BA, Iberia or any of their code sharing allies. And B) avoid any flights through Heathrow. The slightest thing goes wrong, your screwed. If you have to do a long distance flight, use Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt as your hub. The flight into them won’t take much longer than one to Heathrow anyway and you’ll avoid having to deal with lazy BA & Heathrow staff.