Trump’s broken America

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The protests in America should not really come as that big a surprise. They represent an outpouring of pent up rage and repression. We’ve seen the US police use tactics that would not be out of place in a totalitarian regime. And its also worth noting the violence against journalist, with a CNN reporter even arrested live on air. One has to draw a parallel between this police harassment and Trump’s constant attacks against the media.

Yet the so-called libertarians” on the right are nowhere too be seen. An unarmed citizen is murdered by the government, no reaction. Government forces drive vehicles into protesters, no reaction. The president threatens to take away the right to protest and put troops on the street, no reaction. President steals money off veterans, no reaction. State officials ask non-essential businesses to maybe close for a few weeks due to a disease pandemic, Tyranny!

But it does raise the question about how to solve the problem. Some states are talking about banning certain forms of restrain or making police more accountable for their actions. But I’d argue this doesn’t really solve the underlying problem. Its like proscribing a few aspirin as a cure for cancer. The problems here are much more deeply rooted.

First of all we need to acknowledge that racism in America is a very real thing, its not the exception its more the norm. The reality is that in some parts of the US, segregation ended in name only. America is a melting pot under which the fire was never lit. And this makes ending inequality very difficult. Its all too easy to lavish funding on a schools and public services in a white neighbourhood, while neglecting those in poorer districts. The statistics for covid-19 deaths, where BAME fatalities are much higher, speaks volumes as to the extent of this inequality. Hell, there’s even been times they’ve build flood barriers that protect a wealthy white suburb at the expense of flooding the poorer neighbourhood downriver.

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However, its not quite this simple. After all, there are racists over here in the UK, or in the EU, including some racist cops. Just look at any recent election result! Yet we don’t see the same volume of violent arrests and racist incidents nearly as often this side of the Atlantic. While a black person is significantly more likely to be shot by the police than a white person in the US, Americans are 70 times more likely to be killed by the police than UK citizens.

Then again, as I’ve pointed out in a prior post, cops over here don’t have to worry about guns as much. While in the US, thanks to the NRA, every tom, dick and harry has an assault rifle (because having more guns makes everyone so much safer…we’ll just ignore all the evidence that says otherwise). Thus US cops can justify going in with guns blazing and using excessive force (we thought he had a gun), while its a little harder for a British cop to get away with that. Yes it has happened, but not nearly as often as in the US.

So the problem does go a lot deeper than simple racism. Gun culture is part of the problem. But its also the mindset it has created in the police, who have been increasingly militarised, with military style equipment (much of it on display in the last few weeks) as well as military style tactics. To be clear, while yes there were some looters taking advantage of the protests, the protests themselves were mostly peaceful. Using anti-riot equipment and tactics is completely out of proportion (again, can you imagine the outcry if they used those tactics against Trump supporters protesting the lockdown).

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It is indicative of an attitude that has developed within the police, where they seem to think that they are above the law and they know best. And many of the policing methods used by the US police are outdated and discredited. Let’s start with the matter George Floyd was murdered/arrested over. He was accused of passing a counterfeit bank note. Most other police forces in the rest of the world would argue that not only is that not grounds to conduct a violent arrest with guns drawn, but probably not even grounds for an arrest at all.

You don’t have to arrest people for non-violent offences (generally you have to pose a threat to public safety, property or be otherwise acting in a disorderly manner and even in the later case you’ll usually get a police caution first). Its a waste of police time to do so (you have to cuff him, drive him down the station, book him in, put him in a cell, have someone guard him, interview, etc.). Its far easier to just pop a letter in the post and issue the suspect with a court summons, or issue a fixed penalty notice (which basically means you get a letter offering you the choice between paying a fine, going on a course of some kind, or doing some community service or you can take the matter to court and dispute the charges).

Similarly, the so-called zero tolerance policy is discredited. When NYPD got the hump over a previous Mayor’s efforts to reform the service and staged a “slowdown”, crimes rates instead went down. And research suggests that aggressive policing for petty crimes, or punishing poverty can ultimately lead to more crime. An end to NY’s “stop and frisk” policy did not see any rise in crime.

In fact, that’s another problem with US justice, the frequency with which people are locked up. America has a prison population of 2.2 million, the highest in the world (equivalent to the populations of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham all behind bars) and the highest  prison population per capita (beating out many totalitarian regimes!). And again, yes blacks and latino’s are far more likely to be banged up in the US. But Americans in general are 5 times more likely to end up in jail than people here in Scotland (and if you’ve ever seen Sauchiehall street on the night after an old firm game, you’ll know that’s not because Scot’s are a bunch of law abiding teatotallers).

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And as, with the issue of arrests, there are many good reasons to question whether prison is the best form of punishment. After all if prisons were so effective, surely crime rates in the US would be significantly lower (and isn’t the point of lax gun laws to lower the rate of crime as well?). Yet the opposite is true. They are basically the university’s of crime.

And part of the problem here is how US policing  is organised….or should I say disorganised. In a lot of cases positions such as prosecutors and sheriff’s are elected. Which sounds like a good idea, until you see some of the wackos who have been elected over the years, the poor management of taxpayer funds and the corruption that has resulted .

But even the competent ones can struggle to change things. Crime figures in the US have been falling for decades and its questionable if you need so many officers. In most other countries its recognised that you don’t need large numbers of officers on patrol (we have CCTV cameras and all sorts of electronic evidence gathering methods), not least because crime is increasingly moving online.

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US crimes rates have been falling…..

But when your job is dependant on votes from a bunch of illiterate Karen’s (who want to speak to the manager), who “feel” less safe (cos you are getting older, nothing the police can do about that), statistics ain’t going to cut it. These voters, and the police themselves, put pressure on US cities and districts to provide the police with more and more funding. And it has now run completely out of control. Consider that LA spends nearly half of its city budget on policing. NY spends about $6 billion to police one city, yet England and Wales spends about double that to police the entire country.

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….over the same period police spending increased substantially

Put a whole army of heavily armed and bored cops on the street and tell them to go looking for trouble and guess what, they’ll find it. Not with criminals, who one assumes are smart enough not to break the law while a police cruiser goes by (and in any event thanks to the NRA they are heavily armed, the cops won’t go near them, way too dangerous!). No instead, like any bully, they’ll pick on someone who can’t fight back. Like a man relaxing on his mom’s porch, or another picking up rubbish outside his apartment block, or a fireman sitting in his own car, or even the state attorney on her way to work! (what links all of these people? I think you can guess!).

In short, America has spent the last few decades running a massive version of the Stanford prison experiment, with the same predictable outcomes. And that experiment was terminated with the advice that nobody should try to run it again.

Finally, we need to acknowledge the lack of a social safety net that exists in the US. If you are poor you likely have little to no access to healthcare or social welfare. Getting seriously ill can mean dying. Losing your job can mean going hungry (and losing your health care coverage!). And this isn’t just at the federal level, but also the state and country level, as all of the cash has been hoovered up to pay for police forces. Which in itself makes the problem worse, as it means the police are often the only social service available for some communities, meaning they get drawn into things that are none of their business (what the UK police refer to as FATDOB, or Fu*k All To Do wt Old Bill).

And with the ladder pulled up some time ago (by the boomers, aka the worst generation), this state of affairs has created a whole host of massive social problems in the US, ranging from drug abuse, the opioid crisis, gang culture and of course racism. And these social problems are self reinforcing. If only a handful of rogue police treat the local community like they are the enemy, well pretty soon that community aren’t going to trust the police, they won’t call them if they see a crime (a factor with regard to those falling crime figures I mentioned earlier, they could in some cases represent people less likely to report crimes because they fear the cops will show up and shoot them or some innocent bystander). At this point the police cease to be a police force, but instead, an occupying military force, not unlike what you’d find in a totalitarian regime.

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Which is why some are calling for pretty radical reform, such as defunding police forces entirely (which appears to be the fate of the Minneapolis police department at the centre of this crisis), disbanding the service, rebuilding a force from scratch while diverting funding into community projects. This may seem extreme, but there isn’t really many other options that would realistically work. There has been attempts at reform before, but institutional resistance from the police themselves makes it impossible.

Case in point, officers in Buffalo nearly killed an elderly man and were suspended from duty, prompting 50 of their snowflake fellow officers to resign from the riot squad, but still stay on the force and draw their salary (to draw a comparison, suppose one of my colleagues nearly beat a vulnerable student to death, left them on the ground bleeding and when the uni fired said lecturer we all refused to do any work, but continued to draw a salary, how would the DailyFail/Fox news react to that?).

Meanwhile in Washington, there is of course zero chance of any help from Trump and the democrats just voted to extend the Patriot Act, expanding Trump’s powers as regards policing. Meanwhile Mr Vanilla’s reaction to all this was to have a brain fart about how maybe the cops could shoot people in the leg rather than the head (hate to break it to you Joe but even a leg wound can be fatal & what if they miss and the bullet buries itself in the skull of a nearby child?).

It should be noted that there is some precedence here. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was reorganised as the PSNI as part of the NI peace process. The city of Camden in NJ, after a major scandal, disbanded their police force and replaced it with a reformed service. But doing so with a service as large as the NYPD would be a bit of a challenge to say the least.

But of course, without the right measures in place to stop the same rogue officers simply re-applying for their old jobs, you’ll only be changing the sign on the door. If the same morons elected in the past as sheriffs keep getting elected, nothing changes. And I’d argue that there needs to be a complete change of attitudes within the police. I’d suggest a rule that if they are caught breaking the law, they should get double the punishment a citizen gets (so if the penalty is 5 years, they get 10). A policy I’d also extend to politicians (and their special advisers).

A policy of collective responsibility is also needed. The police can’t just shrug the shoulders and blame a couple of bad apples, they need to take responsibility as a force for the short comings of all officers (and thus encourage them to report rogue, incompetent or racist officers). And that also goes for companies as well, notably Fascistbook Facebook which is making no effort to reign in racists spread miss-information on its platform (personally, if I had a Facebook account, I’d have deleted it by now).

But, as I’ve pointed out, this goes way beyond a couple of crooked cops. It cuts right into the heart of a whole bunch of deeply rooted social and economic problems many in the US have chosen to ignore for many decades. So long as you have these massive poverty traps, you will have all of these social ills and the crime that results.

And to bring things back to the UK, this is the scary truth. The post-brexit end state the Tories are aiming for is basically the mess we see in the more deprived parts of the US today. Meanwhile, the rich in their gated communities and home counties estates can just plug their ears and ignore all that. Hence why the removal of the statue of a slave trader in Bristol is probably a positive signal that this policy will go down like a lead balloon.

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The statue of a slaver is dumped in the sea by protesters in Bristol

But in America, resolving this crisis means a change of policy nationwide. It will not be easy, it will take time. If there was a quick and simple solution, someone would have already tried that. But certainly at least the first step is acknowledging there is a problem here and everything is not okay.

Why good leadership matters

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One way to handle the crisis!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernie or bust will probably mean bust…again!

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I’m increasingly worried that the democrats are going to screw up the next election and give Trump another 4 years (impeachment will go nowhere, if anything the republicans will try to exploit it too increase their seats in congress). And of the democratic candidates that have me most worried its Magic Grandpa Bernie Sanders. In a perfect world, I’d probably vote for him myself, but the reality is we don’t live in a perfect world and the odds are good that if he wins the nomination, Trump’s going to win the election, likely with the democrats enduring a Corbyn level defeat (so losing control of the house as well).

But he’s way ahead in the polls his supporters say. Ya and Hilary had an even stronger lead until a few weeks before the election, despite all the mud the GOP slung at her (which, given the lack of any prosecutions post-election, we now know amounted to diddly squat). But his supporters ignore the meta data within those polls, which shows that among key demographics he performs terribly (such as white males, the over 50’s, blue collar workers or ethnic minorities, particularly those with strong religious convictions, all counting as the sorts of people in swing states who will decide the election).

Least we forget Trump won, despite Hilary’s large poll lead, for two reasons. Firstly, he managed to get the vote out in key swing states. Bernie is exactly the kind of character whom we can be guaranteed to attract a large turn out to try and stop him (and much as some remainers voted Tory to stop Corbyn, we can assume some middle class types might do the same to stop Bernie). Secondly, the democrats were divided, in no small part due to the Bernie or bust brigade, some of whom went off campaigning against Hilary in key swing states. Hence why the disunity in the left (with again Bernie supporters at the heart of it) is deeply worrying.

I’d also take a Bernie Sanders poll lead with a pinch of salt. Republican insiders have let slip that they have a dossier of attack material on Bernie that is so big it needs to be wheeled around on a cart (which includes such fun facts as him honeymooning in the Soviet Union, his appearance at a pro-communist/anti-US rally in Nicaragua and penning an essay about a woman enjoying being raped). Needless to say after Fox news has been allowed to weaponise this information (plus a whole bunch of fake news thrown in for good measure) something tells me he won’t have much of a lead anymore (in fact he’ll probably be behind). And Trump has a key ally in the form of Facebook to help spread such propaganda.

I mean has Bernie actually ever met the sort of people who vote for Trump? He is the last person who could ever persuade them to vote democrat. In fact it is pretty much an open secret that Trump’s preferred opponent is Bernie, as the GOP reckons he’d be the easiest to defeat. Which also probably explains why Fox news has recently been defending Bernie. Hint to democrats, picking the candidate who your opponents prefer isn’t the most sensible election strategy.

And even if by some miracle he could get elected he’s got zero chance of getting any of his flagship policies implemented. Like Corbyn, its not so much the message but the messenger that’s the problem, he’s too divisive (if he can’t get Elizabeth Warren to support him, what chance does he have of stopping Rand Paul from just filibustering everything for four years?). Bernie in his decades long time in office has only ever sponsored a single bill that became law, largely because of his inability to form alliances or compromise.

Take for example his idea of breaking up the big banks. No way congress will vote for that, there will be opposition every step of the way and the banks themselves will sue the pants off him for even trying. Consider that the US government v’s Microsoft case went on for about a decade and didn’t really go anywhere. He’s talking about taking on an entire industry with very deep pockets (plus a supreme court that is massively tilted to the right) and all the time in the world to run down the clock on his presidency.

And furthermore, as I’ve pointed out before, small banks are less stable than big banks. The financial crisis was a failure of regulation. The size of the banks is a separate issue. Just google the term “panic of” or “crash of”  and see how many hits you get for past financial crises that often started in small financial institutions which then snowballed (as they didn’t have the cash reserves to survive and failed, creating a domino effect).

And, as the savings and loan crisis in the 80’s showed, governments can be drawn into bailing out networks of small banks. So he’d be making a future bailout more likely not less likely. This is the problem with Bernie, spent a few minutes critically analysing his policies and they are revealed to be about as dumb as saying Mexico will pay for the wall (when in fact Mexicans are stealing the wall!).

Does this mean I support Joe Biden? No! I’d also question the logic that he’d beat Trump (it would at least be a tighter race, could go either way, and the democrats would stand a better chance of being able to defend their control of the house). The problem for the democrats is that they’ve basically rummaged in the drawer and pulled out the same manifesto Hilary ran on. Of course the problem with Bernie is he’s running on Mondale’s manifesto from the 80’s (who lost to Reagan by a landslide)….along with some other ideas Bernie cooked up while smoking dope at Woodstock. Neither tactic is likely to succeed.

To my mind, if the democrats are serious about winning then they need a unity candidate. Someone who isn’t going to dance to wall street’s tune, but equally isn’t going to get accused of trying to turn the country into Venezuela. I’d also argue that the candidate shouldn’t be a mainstream politician (any long serving member of congress the GOP can label as “one of the elites”). Bernie himself has argued as much, but fails to consider the same also applies to him.

As for policies, American politics is broken. So rather than a wish list of every populist policy Bernie supporters like (but which have zero chance of ever becoming law), instead how about a manifesto intended to fix this broken system. In other words, proportional representation, a revised constitution (separating out the powers or president and prime minster), more powers to individual states, a depoliticised supreme court, a temporary freeze on any further trade deals and some sort of relief fund to the rust belt states.

All of that would pretty much take the wind out of Trump’s sails. And while Bernie supporters might not get want they want immediately, it would set things up such that they could do so later on (notably by giving more powers to the states means that many left leaning states can start to implement such policies internally).

But I fear that instead tribalism will take over. Much how Corbyn devoted most of labour’s resources into campaigning against the lib dems, the democrats will knock chucks out of each other, then fail to unite behind a candidate and lose the election. Yes, I’d dearly love to see the look on Tucker Carlson’s face if Bernie won (and he realises he’d help out), but its a fantasy, it ain’t going to happen. The priority for the democrats has to be to defeat Trump by any means necessary and then prevent another Trump from ever happening again. Replacing him with the Trump of the left isn’t progress.

The Turkey’s prepare to vote for Christmas

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So Corbyn played his trump card, that he had proof that the Tories are planning to privatise the NHS. Now I have to say (and I’m hardly known as a fan of Corbyn) that I’ve heard first and second hand accounts from at least two independent sources (one of whom works for the government and another in finance) who can back up his story. So no this is not coming from the Russians (clearly that’s just Cummings and the right wing media in damage control mode).

Even small details in Corbyn’s claims, such as their being 6 separate meetings between the US and UK trade delegations, is what I was told several months ago. I’ve not made a big deal out of it, simply because I assumed it was common knowledge. Then again, I don’t read any right wing newspapers so maybe I’m being a little naive.

But either way, yes if you vote Tory, you are probably voting to end the NHS, the rolling back of consumer safety, workers rights and environmental protection. That is pretty much a given. And before anyone says I’m alright jack I can afford to go private. Go ask an American sometime how much it costs them to get health insurance. And then there’s the out of pocket medical expenses the HMO’s don’t always cover. You can be spending a thousand dollars on an ambulance, several hundred for medicines, etc. Not only do Americans spend twice the amount on their privatised healthcare system, but the US government spends more subsidising a private system (per capita) than the UK spends on the NHS. So its going to cost the UK money not save it.

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Yet despite it all, the Tories are still way ahead in the polls even thought they’ve had an awful campaign so far, where the PM has to be kept away from people, Mogg told to hide in his country estate and even Trump has been told to please keep his trap shut (least he blurt out something incriminating). But they are still likely too win, largely because the other parties haven’t worked out the Tory strategy and aren’t doing anything to counter it.

The Tories under Boris have completed their transformation into the UK Republican party. And the republican party mantra is, if you ain’t one of the 1% you can fu*k off. They can get away with this because they know that there’s enough people who will support them for a variety of reasons ranging from ideology, bigotry, racism, greed, stupidity and straight out sadism. For republicanism is at its heart sadopopulism. Tory/GOP supporters are quite okay with policies that make them worse off (or actually endanger their lives), so long as some other perceived enemy is also (or more severely) effected. I have it bad but at least them liberals/migrants/poor people have it worse.

And while you’d never get a majority to support that, such is the undemocratic nature of elections in the US and the UK its possible to get a majority control in government with only 30% of the votes. The brexit vote was carried by just 37% of voters (and many leave voters will be dead before brexit happens). Trump got 3 million less votes than Hilary and won with the support of just 25% of the electorate.

In short, the Tories are not a political party anymore but a tribe. Hence why many of the tactics the opposition are employing simply won’t work. Corbyn for example recently said that, given how he can’t get remainers to support him (cos he’s straight up lied to them dozens of times in a row), he was going to appeal to leave voters for the rest of the campaign LOL. Nothing he says will convince them to vote labour. Boris is the brexiters tribal chief, endorsed by the high priests of brexit (Farage, Mogg & Rothermere) and protected by the black magic of the tribe’s witch doctor (Cummings). Logic and facts have no meaning for Tory voters.

And since we are talking about it, no Trump is not going to be impeached. Do you really think republicans are that stupid they don’t know he’s committed a long list of numerous crimes, practically on a daily basis? They know it all too well, they just don’t care. He’s their tribal chief, until he’s deposed they’ll back him to the hilt (of course once they realise his goose is cooked then they’ll betray him, you can’t backstab someone without first getting behind them).

The only way of seeing him in a prison cell is for the democrats to win the 2020 election by whatever means necessary. Which means putting forward a candidate who has the best chance of beating him and uniting the left wing vote behind that candidate, regardless of which wing of the party they represent (no more of this Bernie or bust BS and someone needs to tell Bloomberg to pi*s off). Then they prevent another Trump from ever happening again by change the voting system to Proportional Representation, split up the job of president into head of state and head of government (as is the norm in most countries) and de-politicise the US judicial system (so nobody will ever be able to overturn Roe v’s Wade).

The same is true in the UK. The left and centre need to unite to stop the Tories. In any seat where the Tories have any chance of winning, there should only be one other candidate standing. Between now and election day is it that difficult for the candidates to get together and agree to all withdraw bar one, whom the rest endorse (with the understanding that said candidate will support a 2nd referendum and switching the UK’s voting system to PR). And incidentally, in quite a lot of seats in English cities the lib dems are often the 2nd placed party. In return many labour marginals could be moved into the safe seat category. This would turn the tables on the Tories.

Also it needs to be acknowledged that a big turn off for many voters is Corbyn. Put it this way, any election literature I’ve seen from labour this election (from the local candidate), doesn’t even mention Corbyn once. That’s how toxic he’s considered by even those within his own party. Rumours have it he was planning to quit in the spring anyway, so why not just make it official. He comes out and says that he’ll stay on in a caretaker capacity until brexit is sorted (one way or the other), then resign and let a new labour leader take over as PM. Furthermore, the initial focus of a labour government will be on resolving brexit and ending austerity. The more hard left policies such as re-nationalisation would be issues for the next PM to implement (or possibly a future government after another election).

This would essentially be a statement of fact. A labour government is not going to have time (or the money) for anything other than brexit and basically cleaning up the Tories mess, at least for the first year or two. Backbenchers and coalition partners will insist on these issues being prioritised. Admitting this reality would probably be enough of a compromise to persuade wavering remain voters (who will otherwise vote Tory to stop Corbyn) to back the coalition.

And similarly the lib dems need to drop their policy of revoking article 50 if they win. While yes it does make sense if you understand what’s going on (or how a 2nd referendum would actually pan out), but to anyone who isn’t a political expert it sounds arrogant and elitist. And its not like they are going to win a majority anyway. The SNP too should drop all talk of independence until after brexit. They haven’t much chance of winning a referendum until the damage of brexit/Boris has been demonstrated, so why talk up an issue now that will just cost you votes.

Of course, its highly unlikely any of this will happen. After all we are only having an election because the opposition were too pig headed to come together, oust Boris and his cabinet of ghouls and hold a 2nd referendum (then an election). If you’ve been on any labour/momentum social media recently they spent half their time moaning about the lib dems. You’d swear brexit and austernity was their idea. And the lib dems end up reciprocating.

And in fairness to the lib dems you only have to listen to the latest out of Len McCluskey’s dumb pie hole, in which he suggests that Corbyn should ignore what was said at conference and back leave. This has been the problem, you can’t trust anything Corbyn says because he can’t tie his shoe laces without first consulting with his cabal of toxic advisers.

Hence with a disunited left, its very likely the Tories will still win anyway. Doesn’t matter how badly they screw up, what pesky facts the opposition come up with, nor how out of touch or down right nasty the Tories sound. They will win because they don’t need a majority of voters to back them, just their tribe (who don’t care about the facts), a biased media (even the BBC have become so pro-Boris as to inspire meme’s) and an unfair voting system.

The Tory tribe don’t care how evil or corrupt their chief is, so long as he “shares the cake” and they get a crumb or two, they’ll still support him. Granted they might feel a little differently when they lose access to healthcare (as many older Tory voters are ultimately voting to die in a pool of their own piss on a dirty hospital floor), but it will be too late then. The Turkey’s are literally voting for Christmas.

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.

Populists, corruption and disaster capitalism

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If I was to tell you about a newly installed government, whose minsters and party donors were making millions betting against their own country via offshore firms, who openly earn large sums in kickbacks for a few hours of supposed work (e.g. after dinner speaking fees, “consultancy fees”, etc.), a government that was now using a crisis to give out sweatheart deals to its cronies, you’d probably assume I’m talking about some tin pot dictatorship in the developing world. But no, I’m talking about the UK under Boris, which has got to count as the most corrupt in the country’s history. But its actually the new normal (you think this is bad, wait till they are in coalition with Farage!).

Recently Channel 4’s dispatches did a piece on “brexit millionaires and how many in the Tory party, or their donors, were cashing in on brexit and making millions. Front and centre was Jacob Rees-Mogg, aka the right honourable member for the 18th century, the new minister for silly walks leader of the house of commons. In between being a grammar nazi (he’s set a whole bunch of grammar rules for civil servants, rules he has himself broken 700 times), he has been profiting from brexit. His offshore investment firms have racked in millions since brexit started. With him personally profiting to the tune of at least +£7 million. So much so he can afford to buy a a multi-million town house in London (to go with his country estate) and pay for it in cash. This is corruption, pure and simple.

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Rees Mogg’s little country cottage

And he is by no means alone. Boris is going for a no deal brexit, not because its what people voted for (he and his ministers have been challenged to provide an example of when in the referendum they suggested the UK might have to leave without a deal, we’ve yet to get an answer). In fact polls show the public would rather just cancel brexit all together than except no deal. Even Teresa May is warning no deal threatens the union (pity she didn’t say that while in office!). But the cabinet backs it because they know its the best way for them and their mates to make a quick buck. Food and medicine shortages! millions loosing their jobs! civil war in NI! Scottish independence! how is any of that their problem?

In fact here’s a good one, from a young Tory whose whinging that Boris can’t ignore him and implement no deal against the wishes of parliament and the country. LOL, the naivety of youth. He can, he is and he will. If you have a problem with that you shouldn’t have voted Tory.

And in other countries we are seeing similar trends. Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s made it deeper and released alligators. In Italy, the horseshoe government of populists are now literally surrounded by steaming piles of garbage as the cities public services have collapsed. And corruption is as bad as ever (if not worse), so much so some are thinking of voting for Berlusconi. And if that sounds unlikely, well consider that in Greece, the populists there made such a pigs breakfast of things that the very party who got the country into a massive mess in the first place have just been voted back in.

Rome is now in such a mess, tourists are been giving advice about the risks to their health while visiting

Many people voted for populists because they were appalled at self serving politicians divorced from reality. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, voting for even more corrupt and incompetent populists has just made the situation worse. The very same elites these voters hate, just took to bribing and manipulating the populists. And guess what, they are even dumber than the regular politicians and cheaper too! In fact they’ll do things the regular politicians won’t dream of doing (because the latter are prone to rare moments of clarity where they actually giving a shit).

Angry desperate voters, voted for the most extreme option on the ballot paper thought they were sending a message. But the message that arrived in elites HQ was that these voters are even more naive and stupid than we thought, so let’s take full advantage of them (I mean they could have voted for some established third party candidates, or others who can’t be bought, then we’d be really screwed, but instead they vote for some complete idiot whose in our pocket). The elites can basically do whatever they want now, just so long as their boy remembers to make the odd racist dog whistle and some vague promises that they’ll never have to keep.

The fact is that populists leaders know that they aren’t held to the same standards as other politicians. It used to be a politician made the slightest gaffe, that was it, game over. Remember how Ed Miliband lost because of one photo of him looking awkward for a second eating a bacon roll, or the whole plebgate business. It used to be a politician said something to the media that was inaccurate, or broke the ministerial code and they’d be gone within a week (a good example, Brian Lenihan and the 1990’s Irish presidential election, he went from odds on favourite to being sacked and losing by a landslide over one phone call he made back in 1982).

Now they can get caught in a lie live on air and nobody bats an eyelid, because its one in a string of so many lies nobody can keep up (well unless you are a member of the labour party of course….or black….or worse both). Its understood that voters will ignore this, they are voting based on anger and tribal loyalties, not facts and policy. So long as said leader stays on message and keeps them angry (i.e. they have absolutely no good incentive to help these voters in any way, because then they might calm down and start acting sensibly) he can get away with anything.

Consider for example how both the Tories and the GOP have abandoned their long term commitment to balanced budgets. Both came to power talking about the dangers of deficit spending and how they would be pro-business. Now the policy is bollix to that and fuck business. Like Trump, Johnson seems to be planning to spend like a sailor on shore leave. But not on hospitals, schools or helping the poor (Tory policy here has been branded by the UN as ‘mean-spirited and callous), but instead on no deal preparation, tax cuts for the rich and big infrastructure projects than can be farmed out to Tory donors.

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The Tories new motto

I mean seriously, why do you think Boris gets paid over a £150,000 to show up and give an after dinner speech? You think they like the sound of his voice that much? No its a bribe and now they’re going to cash in. And its hardly as if any of this should be a surprise, given his past performance as London mayor and foreign secretary.

Of course the fact these policies, combined with the economic impact of a no deal brexit (or Trump’s tariffs), will make a mess of the economy and wreck the public finances doesn’t matter to them. They’ll get rich, who cares. In fact they’d even see a silver lining to that. They can use such a crisis to sell off state assets (such as the NHS) to themselves and their allies and dismantle the welfare state.

Its a strategy the rich have been applying in developing world countries for decades. They’d take advantage of the country’s naive or incompetent populists/autocratic government, to swoop in and wreck the economy on purpose, knowing they and their allies (juiced in local elites) would be able to take advantage of the chaos. Now they’re just doing the same in western countries (what goes around comes around I suppose).

And furthermore, even if some leftie such as Corbyn or Bernie ever gets into power, so what! They’ll not be able to afford to implement any of their policies or even reverse the mess the current government is making. In fact, the conservatives can just blame them for everything (as they did with Obama). What’s that? the lefties might putting up taxes? So what! let em! all their money is offshore….course if the UK was only part of some big pan-European club which was determined to do something about such tax avoidance …just a thought!

Trump and the truth about taxes

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Some details of Trump’s tax returns leaked recently, which seemed to suggest that he hasn’t paid any taxes for ten years due to the fact he’s lost over a billion dollars over that period. So doesn’t look like he’s such a great businessman then. Trump (America’s court jester in chief) then preposterously claimed that this was a deliberate strategy to avoid payment of taxes (essentially all but admitting to tax fraud). However it does highlight a number of important issues with regard to tax and the wealthy.

Firstly it shows that most Americans, in particular republicans, don’t understand how marginal tax rates work. That even if the 70% Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes was applied, it would only apply to top earners and only the portion of their income in the tens of millions. In truth they’d be paying closer to 20-35% on their overall income, particularly when you consider the various deductions that would apply. Which is about what the average American pays in tax, so it would more be about levelling the playing field. After all Warren Buffet pay less tax (as a proportion of their income) than his secretary.

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An example of a marginal tax in action, this person might be paying a maximum rate of 50%, but only pays 32% overall

But such is the naivety of many Americans that Trump can make a logical fallacy and many fall for it. What he’s essentially saying is that if you’ve got a 100 dollars and the government is going to take away half of it, your best strategy would be to not only burn the $100, but burn another $100 you’d borrowed from somebody else….whereas if you just paid the tax you keep $50, probably more like $75 once you account for the effect of marginal rates.

Another cause for concern is that Trump’s businesses just happen to involve several industries (construction, hotels and casino’s) where its remarkably easy to fiddle ones taxes. Which probably explains why he’s going to such extraordinary lengths to prevent any probes.

A building site for example will be a hive of activity, with hundreds of contractors and sub-contractors coming and going, as well as a steady stream of trucks pulling in to making deliveries. Its all too easy for a developer to simply award a contract to someone for work that never gets done or award a contract at a vastly over inflated cost (e.g. they claim it took a hundred guys a month, when it only took a few dozen a week’s work). Then the developer and contractor split the difference (with the developer writing it off as a business expense). Or buying your concrete and other supplies at inflated prices (or simply inflating the amount used). And its worth noting that some of Trump’s suppliers and contractors were mob connected firms.

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As for hotels and casino’s, there’s all sorts of ways you can fiddle the books to milk the joint dry, without the IRS or the investors getting wise. You could for example just order lots of booze and gourmet food in the front door on the company books and then sell it out the back door for cash in hand. Employee expenses can also be fiddled. And there is of course the infamous casino skim racket, which I’d say was almost certainly in play in Trump’s Atlantic city casino.

So there are many good reasons to go digging into Trump’s tax affairs. Not only could this see him in a cell wearing a number, but it could lead to a number of mobsters being brought to justice too. Keep in mind this isn’t a victimless crime, his investors, employees and Atlantic city all got shafted. And the mob might well have been using this operation to launder drug money (as that’s often the whole point of such rackets).

Which also btw leads one to be suspicious of his recent tariff policy. Suddenly imposing tariffs and sending the markets into freefall, silly idea right? Well not if you’ve got connections with some boiler room hedge funds, who know this is coming and position themselves to take advantage of the drop in advance. Its entirely possible that Trump is deliberately sending out messages on twitter to manipulate markets. Of course, the danger is that the Chinese, who aren’t in on the scam, retaliate and they do have a nuclear option, start selling off US bonds.

But I digress. Certainly however, Trump’s statements on tax do show the limitations of tax policy. Those on the left will often cite “tax the rich” as their go too solution to everything. But as Trump shows there’s all sorts of ways the rich can fiddle their taxes. Certainly yes there are good reasons why the rich should pay more in taxes. They have more disposable income. Asking them to pay a few grand extra a year amounts to a choice between the gold and the silver trim package for their super yacht. While asking a low income family to pay a few quid extra a month amounts to a choice between feeding the kids or heating the home in winter. So its only fair higher earners pay more.

But, even if we ignore the various tax fiddling options, the numbers just don’t add up, something I’ve discussed before. The rich are asset rich, but don’t necessarily earn as much in terms of taxable income as you think. Just because a billionaire is worth several billion doesn’t mean he makes that much money every year. In truth he might only make a few million. And much of that will be speculative wealth (e.g. the value of the shares he owns goes up, but of course if he sold the shares all at once they’d lose value). And again, a few fiddles can cut that down even further.

Hence even if you applied the 70% tax Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for, you’re not going to pull in nearly as much money as you’d think. At best you’d be able to cut some of America’s deficit spending (or spend some money on climate change prevention). Or here in the UK you’d be able to reign in some of the worse of Tory austerity measures. Which would be a good idea, but not quite the effect many on the hard left seem to think it would have.

And, as noted, the big problem with the rich and taxes is just getting them to pay any in the first place. Personally, I’d settle for getting to just pay what they owe. Hence why I’d argue the focus should be on cracking down on aggressive tax avoidance and reigning in tax havens. But of course that requires strong international institutions (such as the EU), which some left wing populist oppose.

In truth however, if you want to increase tax revenue, you’ve really got to do it for everyone, although obviously the rich will get hit the hardest by such a rise. Putting them up on as much items as possible is a better strategy as this spreads out the impact and makes it harder to fiddle the system and avoid taxes. This is what the Scandinavians do. They also often charge a wealth tax, which means you pay tax on your net worth (typically about 0.1-1% per year) as well as property and land value taxes. But again, such taxes hit everybody. And putting taxes up for middle income voters (who tend to be the ones who decide elections) is easier said than done.

Hence the trick with tax rises is selling them properly. For example, the SNP recently put up taxes here in Scotland, with all tax bands rising (other than the very lowest bands), with the highest rises effecting the highest earners. This was sold on the back of avoiding the sort of austerity measures being applied down in England. Which I thought was fair enough. And if polls are to be believed, it seems most in Scotland agreed. By contrast in France, Marcon has gotten himself in all sorts of trouble with his tax rises largely because he didn’t sell them properly and introduced them too quickly.

This is the risk the left run if they plan on selling “tax the rich” as the snake oil solution which will cure everything. It will raise some money yes. It will help restore some equality to the system yes. But its not going to magically solve everything overnight. And it might well produce a populist backlash, that the right will exploit.

Varsity blues

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I’ve meant to comment more fully on the Varsity blues” case for sometime, where rich parents have been paying middle men to get their kids into university. This has involved faking documents or claiming athletic merits (in sports they didn’t even partake in), bribing of admissions tutors and the rigging of exams. We’re talking corruption here on a level that would cause even the most corrupt governments on earth to blush. I’ve heard of helicopter parenting, but this is ridiculous.

Oh and it turns out one of the students in question, going to USC (I assume that stands for the University of Spoiled Children), is basically using her time in uni (bought at such a high price) as little more than an opportunity to party, rather than study. Those millions were well spent then!

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Yet the thing is that this is simply the tip of a corrupt iceberg. There’s all sorts of shady practices that go on in US universities. From how universities disproportionately take on students from wealthy backgrounds (presumably just a coincidence!), or how whites are vastly more likely to attend a top tier uni than anyone else. To academics farming themselves out as paid experts to anyone who offers them enough cash.

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And while academic standards in Europe are usually enforced pretty well (if you fail you fail, see you again next year, no exceptions), in the US, there’s all sorts of shenanigans, with the jocks from the football team being given extra tuition or the opportunity to earn extra credit (what we call in my uni “cheating”) just to allow them to pass.

And if the dodgy recruitment policies weren’t bad enough there’s the sky high fees, which immediately put academia beyond the reach of so many Americans (if you think fees are high in the UK, ask an American sometime about how much uni costs, I’d advise having something soft nearby to faint onto). Plus you’ll need somewhere to live on campus. Which could well mean joining a sorority or frat and go through hazing. Aside from the issue that they have been labelled as “hot beds of racism and sexism”, they are also the epitome of the term “white privilege”, as they are largely for the better off. In corporate America its not what you know, but who you know. You could be top of the class at Yale, but some rich jock who struggled to pass (and only did so with generous use of contract plagiarism) gets the job ahead of you, just by waving around his fraternity ring.

But at least by going to UCLA or Harvard, I’ll be taught by Nobel laureates? Think again, most students in the US (even the top universities) are taught by teaching assistants who are overworked, on minimum wage and struggling to get by. To the point where some are living in their cars. The only way you’ll get to see an actual professor is if you bump into them in the lift, or get a 2nd job as a cleaner.

Now okay, you may say I’m being unfair. There are some examples of good teaching and world leading research at US universities. Take for example, the recent imaging of a black hole. But this is the problem with US academia, the standards are extremely patchy, both in terms of teaching and research. For every Katie Bouman, I can point you to some woo pedaller, such as some of her colleagues at MIT who were pushing that water woo stuff I talked about awhile ago.

Go to a US uni and yes its possible you might get a professor who actually gives a crap, shows up to class and tries to help you learn. Or might get one who sends one of his PhD students to do the teaching, as he’s way too busy prostituting himself to some corporation, or ripping off his own PhD students work and passing its off as his own.

And as I’ve said before, the direction of travel here in the UK is to copy the US academic system. Both in terms of the high fees, the unequal recruiting policies to the dodgy financing and shady deals with corporations. In fact only this week we had the revelation that UK uni’s have spent £90m on staff gagging orders, in just two years.

And the thing is there is a straightforward way of fixing the US admissions system – centralise applications through an independent, government regulated, third party. In Ireland for example, we have the CAO system, whereby you apply to the CAO rather than the individual universities. The CAO system assigns every student a number and only the computer knows which number corresponds to which name, with selection on the basis of merit (i.e. you only get to go to the best university if your grades are high enough). There’s also separate programmes for students from a disadvantaged background (where it might not be fair to solely judge them on grades alone) and well as various schemes for mature students.

Furthermore, fees in Ireland are largely covered by the state. And while universities are independent and self governing in Ireland, as they are financed by the state, they are also regulated by the government. which tends to cut down on the sort of funny business we see in the US. And the EU also supplies various research funding schemes for universities, so they aren’t necessarily dependant on compromising their academic standards just to get funding.

So its strange how in the wake of this scandal, both sides in Congress aren’t pushing for these sorts of policies. One has to conclude its because they WANT a university admissions system that is unfair and benefits the rich. These issues I raise are not an unfortunate side effect of the commercialisation of US academia, they are the deliberate intention. The purpose is to game the system in favour of the better off against everyone else. And like I said, this is the route of travel for academia here in the UK.

The fall of the Roman Republic: Lessons for the modern world

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I stumbled on this youtube channel, Historia Civilis which, amongst other things, presents the fall of the Roman republic in quite an interesting and entertaining way. Worth a look, if you are a history buff. It occurred to me however, that the downfall of the Roman republic presents several valuable lessons for us in the modern world. As one can see parallels with current events and those leading up to the fall of the republic.

At the heart of the matter were three men, Julius Caesar (who presumably needs no introduction!), Pompey (the veteran general, not the football team) and Crassus (the richest man in Rome and victor over Spartacus). These three men formed the a loose alliance known as the Triumvirate in order to help push their various political agendas through the Roman parliament, the senate.

Key among there demands was money. Pompey and Caesar needed financing to maintain their armies (Crassus was also keen on various tax reforms), but also there was the issue of looking after their retiring soldiers (after all if they didn’t look after them, nobody else would sign up and pretty soon they’d have no army and a lot of angry ex-soldiers gunning for them). There was also the issue of land reform, putting land the republic owned to better use (possibly by settling the former soldiers and commoners of Rome on it). Caesar was also keen on making northern Italy a formal part of the Roman republic (many of his soldiers came from here, which means they’d all become voting citizens and would likely give him control of a vast voting block).

So a lot of their demands, weren’t that unreasonable……unless you were a member of the Roman upper classes of course! They formed a conservative faction within the parliament, the Optimates (or conservatives, think the GOP), who were opposed by the Populares who favoured the commoners or plebs (think the democrats). The triumvirate really didn’t care who was in charge so long as they got their way. But there was a tendency, particular with Caesar, to favour the populists.

In essence friction caused by the conservatives attempts to block the triumvirate’s demands led to an increasingly hostile and partisan mood in parliament, ultimately eroding support for the senate. This eventually spilled onto the street, with political debate becoming increasingly tribalist, hostile and eventually violent. Then fighting began between the triumvirate members, which led Pompey to align himself with the conservatives.

Towards the end the two factions morphed from populists v’s conservatives to Caesarian’s v’s Pompeyan’s, with both sides effectively backing a dictator, while accusing the other faction of being autocrats tying to put a dictator in charge. After Caesar’s victory the senate basically became a rubber stamp facility for him to get his way. After his assassination by senators, things got even worse, leading to the rise of the first Emperor (Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son and chosen successor), upon which it eventually became little more that a debating club.

The “will of the people” can be used to justify anything, even dictatorship, slavery and genocide
Beware of anyone who cite’s “respecting the will of the people” as the justification for their actions….but then seems suspiciously reluctant to allow the people’s wishes to be confirmed in some sort of free and fair vote. This went on all the time in ancient Rome, where it was used to justify pretty much anything, murder, ignoring the law, violating parliamentary procedure, genocide, slavery, burning down of temples or public buildings, theft and ultimately dictatorship.

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Roman legions enact the “will of the people” by enslaving non-Romans

In short, the many checks and balances we have in society exist to stop autocrats doing this. Part of why the Roman republic collapsed was because many choose to ignore those checks and balances, in order that they could “respect the will of the people”.

And another factor was how populists manipulated the public. While the Roman republic was a democracy, it wasn’t a very fair one, it decidedly favoured the rich (even when we ignore the corruption and bribery that went on). Part of the reason why the plebs began backing extremists was probably out of a certain level of frustration with how the upper classes treated them (why does that sound familiar). They also backed Caesar, in part because some of his policies did appeal to them. But mostly because the Optimates hated him.

Beware of ideologues bearing grudges
Good politics is about good compromise. And there were several ways that the disputes between the populists and conservatives could have been resolved. But passions ran high on both sides and eventually the senate descended into partisan politics, where bills were passed more as a means of scoring points against rival factions, rather than any real purpose (such as you know like maybe running the country!). And needless to say, filibustering and numerous acts of skulduggery were rife. In effect the senate stopped governing Rome, which created a power vacuum and it was inevitable something else would come along to fill the gap. And the void was filled by the autocratic rule of first Pompey and later Caesar (then later on an emperor, important to note that at no point was Caesar appointed emperor).

Again, one can draw direct parallels with modern politics. On any topic, healthcare or gun control in the US, brexit in the UK, there are a number of ways a compromise could have been reached to resolve these issues. But the parties (notably the conservatives) have refused to compromise. Again, this leads to a government that doesn’t govern. One that misuses procedures to ensure nothing gets done (or railroad through legislation that clearly doesn’t have majority support). Parliament fiddles while Rome burns. As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

God is a busy person, he seems to be always on everyone’s side….and always against your opponents
Modern day politicians, particularly those on the right, are always banging on about religion. Being very quick to say how their policies are inspired by Jesus….which leads one to wonder how they managed to skip the bit in the bible about Jesus throwing the merchants out of the temple, or claiming that it would be easier for a richman to ride through the eye of a needle than get into heaven. Well, misusing religion to justify your policies aren’t a new phenomenon. It happened regularly in ancient Rome.

For example, at one point Julius Ceasar managed (by which we mean bribed) to get himself elected to the post of Ponitfex maximus, effectively the Roman equivalent of the Pope. He then set about exploiting this for political gain. And his opponents would do likewise, getting legislation they didn’t like or elections they disagreed with overturned on the basis of “bad omens”. Naturally this proved to be a major problem as it led to a general breakdown in the rules of the house.

Beware of “spontaneous” street protesters turning violent
Like I said, the tribal politics on the senate floor quickly spilled out onto the street and political debate took on a darker more tribal tone. While pushing, shoving and maybe the odd punch up were not that uncommon in Roman politics, gradually this fighting became worse and worse. Eventually, people started carrying weapons to political events. And it was only a matter of time before they started using them, leading to much violence and blood on the streets of Rome.

One can draw direct parallels with, for example the tea party types showing up with the guns outside polling stations, or the recent harassment of politicians in the UK outside parliament. Hence why its important that this behaviour gets nipped in the bud, presumably by making it illegal to use violence to pervert the political discourse (or the threat of it and I don’t see how showing up with a gun to a rival political rally, or a polling booth in a predominantly black distinct can be interpreted any other way). Its worth noting that under the laws of the Roman republic you could be executed (or banished) for showing up armed at political events (or so much as laying a finger on certain government officials). While that’s probably going a bit too far today, but some time in the clink to cool their heels would seem appropriate.

Not least because this violence in Rome wasn’t initially as random as it seemed. Its quite clear that many of these thugs were working on behalf of various members of the triumvirate. Similarly, call me paranoid, but I find it more than a little coincidental that the tea party’s stated goals just happened to meet those of plutocrats in the GOP (and its strange they seem to ignoring the fact they’ve reneged on a number of the tea party’s stated goals and nobody’s making a fuss about it). Similarly, are we to believe that these yellow vest protesters in France are a “spontaneous” anti-government protest….which just happens to align itself with the goals of the far right.

The problem in Rome was that this violence soon ran out of control. Which should hardly come as a surprise, that’s kind of what happens with a brawl. Its easy to throw a punch, what’s harder is getting everyone to stop. Those behind the violence were soon fighting each other, with Roman citizens, the senate and triumvirate getting caught up in the cross fire. Things came to a head with two factions, one led by Milo (from the conservative faction) and the other mob led by Clodius (of the popular faction) fighting each other in the streets of Rome. This violence eventually led to Clodius being murdered by Milo’s gang and Milo being expelled from Rome.

Eventually this violence on the streets forced first Pompey and later Caesar to move armies into Rome to put down the violence….and maybe help them rigsupervise” an election or two. This is of course the danger. Look at any other country (recently in Brazil or Venezuela for example) and once the military start getting involved in policing protests, they get involved in the politics. And its difficult to predict the outcome of that. Because in the end the Roman senate, and its inability to reconcile its own differences, left them faced the choice between two dictators.

Cooler heads don’t always prevail, smart people do stupid things and never underestimate a dumb person
One of the things we often get told, is oh don’t worry, nobody wants a no deal brexit/Trump dictatorship, cooler heads will prevail. Why our leaders are smart people, they’ll come up with an answer. Well that’s not what happened in Rome. In fact very smart people did very dumb things, leading them to be out manoeuvred by street thugs (such as Milo, Clodius) and the less than intellectually gifted (such as Mark Antony). Largely because they were too caught up in their own ideology and too busy settling petty scores with their rivals.

Take the Roman senators Cicero and Cato. I’m guessing that even if you know little about Roman history, you’ve probably heard of them. They were two of the sharpest minds in the Roman world. Yet they committed various howlers during this period that I suspect even Trump could have seen coming. At one point for example, Cato got tricked into taking up a task in Cyprus, which put him out of the senate at a crucial time. While Cicero found himself on the run facing trumped up charges. They’re own arrogance became their undoing.

By contrast, the members of the Triumvirate weren’t exactly a bunch of heavy weight intellectuals. In fact some accounts suggest Pompey was kind of “slow” and not exactly the sharpest tool. However, they managed to command armies in battle and lead them to stunning victories. And they outmanoeuvred their political opponents on several occasions.

In fact, one could argue the most sensible of the triumvirate was the one you hear the least about, Crassus. He cashed out early, gaining control of the wealthy province of Syria. So he kind of made off like a bandit. It could have ended well for him….if he hadn’t made the crass decision to start a war with the Parthian Empire and dying on the battlefield.

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Crassus died on the battlefield fighting a pointless and illegal war in what is now modern day Syria….why does this sound familiar?

The frog in the saucepan isn’t true, but the political metaphor is correct
There’s the old saying that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, while you put him in tepid water and warm it up he’ll sit there and get cooked to death. Well firstly, its not true (yes somebody has actually checked!). But the political metaphor is correct. Like I said, the decline of the Roman republic was gradual. At no point did either Pompey nor Caesar declare themselves emperor (although they were made dictators). It would be difficult to put your finger on the exact point where the republic’s collapsed.

I would also argue that neither Pompey nor Caesar set out to become an absolute ruler. They were certainly greedy and ambitious men, but I don’t think they intentionally destroyed the republic, no more than Cato or Cicero intentionally hastened the decline of the senate. It just sort of happened that way. Because once they pulled the pin on the autocrat hand grenade, they couldn’t put it back in.

One of the reasons for example, why Caesar marched on Rome, was that he was facing the risk of prosecution for his actions as consul several years earlier. Just prior to his assassination he was made consul for life (which was one of the reasons why he was killed of course), because he didn’t want events to repeat themselves (he was planning to leave the city and go off campaigning again). And one can draw direct parallels with modern dictatorships. Castro in Cuba, Maduro in Venezuela, Trump in 2020 or Putin in Russia. In other words, the boiling frog applies to the would be dictators as well.

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The Ides of March, Roman senators express no confidence in Ceasar’s rule.

Of course, Caesar’s violent death at the hand of 23 senators, several of them his friends and allies (notably Brutus), was unfortunately to set something of a precedence for future Roman rulers. Indeed, a horrible histories fun fact about Rome was the frequency with which Emperors met their doom at the hands of the praetorian guard, the men who guarded emperors while they slept. And of course, we can draw similar parallels to many recent dictators (Gaddafi or Saddam for example). In short, being an autocrat can be hazardous to one’s health.

Beware the law of unintended consequences
Which brings us to the final and perhaps most important point, it is remarkably easy to break a democratic system. Many people in the west, having lived their entire lives in a democracy, having never witnessed the sort of civil unrest or break down of the social order seen in other countries don’t seem to be aware of this fact. Hence they just don’t have any concept of life without it. We’re not even aware of the idea. Hence how Francis Fukuyama can naively proclaim the end of history, without getting laughed out of the room.

After all, think how the Romans at the time of the republic felt. Their republic was many centuries old. From Rome they controlled a quarter of the world’s population and half the known world. No doubt, they too were supremely confident that the republic would survive anything, even a little political crisis, that seem to just drag on and on. After all they’d faced similar crises in the past. If there’s one lesson we can draw from the Roman republic, its that the surest way to kill a democracy, is probably to assume it will never fail.

Now this will be something that some will react with glee to, as truth be told, many on the right (and some on the left too) want to bring down democracy. But be careful what you wish for, as you are unlikely to have any control over what replaces it.

Like I said, neither side the Optimates nor the Populares wanted the republic to become an empire, but that’s what ended up happening. So similarly, Putin in his efforts to undermine the EU needs to think carefully of the consequences. Because while he might break up the EU, NATO (which is the thing that really worries him) remains as united as ever. Does he really want NATO forces on his border, run by various populist mini-Trump’s itching for a fight, while inviting other states, such as Ukraine or Georgia to join (and basically encircling him).

Or alternatively, I’ve heard it argued that the problem with the EU is its too decentralised. A federal state (not unlike the “united states of Europe” Churchill once argued for) with a democratically elected president, plus an upper and lower house might be the solution. So anyone committed to break up the EU needs to be aware the danger is that by provoking such a crisis, the very EU superstate of their nightmares might be what replaces it. And similarly, the Tories, in their effort to create a fantasy cartoon Britannia 2.0, might end up driving the country to the extremes (a far left or far right government) or even cause the UK to break up.

And plutocrats in the GOP who want to shrink the US government and drown it in the bath thumb, ya and what will be the end game after that? I see two possibilities, an authoritarian fundamentalist Christian administration (think handmaidens tale). And if you think Bernie Sanders is anti-business you need to read the bible sometime (some of the stuff in it would make Ocasio-Cortez look like Rand Paul). Alternatively, you might find the wealthier and generally left leaning parts (Eastern seaboard, new England & Northern states) of the US cede from the union, forming either their own country, or perhaps merging with Canada (Super Canada?).

My point is, be careful what you wish for. It might come true and you might find you preferred the status quo, but by then it will be too late.

Far right terrorism

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Let me paint you the following scenario, imagine if a Muslim terrorist ran into a church in a western country, screaming fanatically, shot dead dozens of people at prayer, posting his rampage online. Then it turned out that he’d been radicalised by various radical preachers and activists online (including the president of another country sympathetic to his cause) and received training from other radicals groups via the internet. A little investigating reveals these same individuals have inspired numerous terrorist attacks in the past, both overseas and within their own country. And this against the backdrop of a rising trend of terrorist attacks inspired by the same people.

And not only do the country’s hosting these terrorist sympathisers refuse to arrest them or curtail their activities, but one or two of politicians even make speeches praising them, or blaming the attack on the victims. I suspect we’d not be entirely surprised if drone strikes start, or some of these radicals get abducted by a load of special forces and spirited out of the country to face justice.

Well basically that’s what happened in New Zealand last week, only in this case substitute the word “far right” (or “Trump supporter”) for “Muslim”. And, he probably wasn’t acting entirely alone, he had help from others and his acts were inspired by far right ideologies online, some of whom are hold office in various countries, notably the US, Australia and Europe. We need to start calling things what they are. And inspiring someone with lies, bigotry and hatred such that they go out and kill people (or training them in weapons use), that makes you an international terrorist.

Oh and rather than just sending her “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, the NZ PM is instead planning to change the countries gun laws (and I mean change them ASAP not at some ill determined future date), even thought gun control is a tetchy subject in NZ. This in effect is how a grown up politician responds to an event like this, as opposed to the spineless weasels you’ll find in the US congress.

And actions should have consequences. I’m all for freedom of speech, but that ends when you start using lies and bigotry to radicalise others into committing acts of terrorism. Now while I’d be against drone strikes and extra-judicial killings (that said, if the NZ PM decided to now authorise drone strikes or targeted killings against leading members of the US far right, it would be hard for the US to argue against this, given that they’ve done the same themselves after they were attacked), clearly some level of punishment is in order. Lengthy prison sentences would seem more appropriate. And politicians who inspire acts of terror should be removed from office immediately and barred from seeking re-election or public service.

Also the matter of how the media treat this. Back during the NI troubles it was a matter of routine that the media didn’t interview known terrorists, or those who inspired them (they might well report on what they said, but they’d put it in the proper context, rarely would they directly broadcast what they said). One has to question whether similar rules should now be applied to the far right (which to be clear would include the likes of Trump or the Italian and Hungarian presidents).