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.

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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).

Some other news

Splitters!

This week seven eight members of the Judean people’s front labour party split from the party, blaming Corbyn’s toxic leadership style. And its entirely possible that they will be just the first of many out the door, with dozens others apparently considering quitting, particularly if Corbyn tries to steer the party towards supporting May’s brexit plans.

SPLITTERS

This was followed up by several centrists Tory MP’s jumping ship too. This is arguably a good deal more significant, as it means that technically May no longer has a majority, even with DUP support. Fortunately for her, Sinn Fein don’t sit in parliament (because they are a party of protest and taking their seats would involve doing something useful), so she can still get thing through (thanks to so-called “Republicans“), but only by a margin of one (yes if one Tory or DUP MP says no, that’s it the bill fails).

To be honest, I’m not surprised, in fact I’m only surprised it was only a handful and it took this long. In truth these MP’s didn’t leave labour (or the Tory party), the labour party left them. Its now the cult of the one true Corbyn (v’s the cult of the one true brexit). I mean seriously, labour members need to read through “top ten signs you are in a cult” and compare and contrast to the labour party under Corbyn. The only thing you can do in a cult is get out quickly, you aren’t going to convince its leader to change. Corbyn will take the party over the cliff and then expect them all to line up and drink the kool aid.

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Corbyn’s labour party might be all about him, but its not a cult, Corbyn’s honour!

Indeed the reaction of the labour party to these events is very cult like. They called for byelections (so you think the referendum result should stand now and until the end of time, but constituents who voted for their MP last year should be made to vote again, even though the odds now are they’re will be another election within a few months). Or they want to ban MP’s from leaving their parties (ya and why don’t we put shock collars on em and not let them out in public without little star armbands). One labour MP even speculated that this all might be an Israeli plot (not that antisemitism is a problem in labour!).

At the other extreme, some of Corbyn red shirts have been egging on these MP’s to quit for sometime. And now they are having a nice laugh about it all. But consider this is what happened in France with Macron. He left the socialist party and everybody in the party laughed. Then gradually more and more joined from both major parties until it was the largest party in parliament. Needless to say, they stopped laughing sometime ago.

While I’d consider a UK version of En Marche unlikely (thanks to the FPTP electoral system), but an electoral alliance with the lib dems, Greens and SNP is a very real possibility (meaning they’ll avoid standing against one another next election). These three parties could also form what’s called a “technical group within parliament, giving them more say (they could table bills, ask for parliamentary time, or if enough labour MP’s leave, potentially even challenge Corbyn for the post of leader of the opposition).

Do the electoral maths and baring a massive swing to either the Tories or labour, it might be impossible to form a government without one or more of these centre ground parties. Which means there could be a 2nd referendum on the EU sooner rather than later. So what’s the point in forcing through a brexit deal nobody seems to want, if within a year or two there’s a 2nd referendum? Won’t it be better just to have the people’s vote now?

Brexit news

While I want to avoid dwelling too much on brexit, its like a elephant of the room for everything right now. Oddly enough the Dutch government now has a brexit mascot, which appears in TV adds in the form of a big blue monster, which is an apt metaphor (thought I reckon they should have given it Boris’s blonde hair, Gove’s glasses, Mogg’s bowler hat, jackboots for Tony Robinson and a pint and a fag for Farage). Which of course also just goes to show how much better the EU is at preparing for brexit compared to the UK.

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Case in point, the ferry contract given to a company that didn’t actually have any ships. The government, under Failing Grayling (who unbelievably is still a minister, probably because he makes the rest of them seem vaguely competent), says that no money was spent on this, as the deal is now off. But its only been cancelled because one of the Irish parties involved walked away. And they claim they were never formally part of the deal in the first place (they’d never signed any contracts).

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And yes it has cost taxpayers money, some £800k to “consultants. Although quite what they were consulted on is unclear. About the only redeeming feature of those behind this ferry contract was they were members of the good old boys network and they were British. Because all of the other ferry contracts (indeed most of the contracts related to no deal perpetrations) are being handled by European companies. Yes, if brexit means brexit, it means millions to EU firms to ferry stuff across the channel, including those blue passports.

Its also being confirmed that the government is going to be sued by Eurotunnel over their handing out of these no bid contracts (Eurotunnel used to own a ferry company at the low cost end of the scale, which they were forced to sell off by the government some years ago, citing competition concerns). This is likely to be the first of many brexit related lawsuits. And rather foolishly, the government isn’t doing the sensible thing and settling this case out of court. Which raises the possibility of ministers (or even the PM) being hauled in to testify under oath.

Meanwhile, the brexitous continues. We have the story of another airline failing over brexit, news that Honda is indeed shutting down its Swindon plant at the cost of thousands of jobs (been on the cards for months, expect similar announcements from other firms shortly). We have a report from the bank of England confirming that the economy is now slowing down and, even thought brexit hasn’t even happened yet, its already cost the economy £80 billion, or about £800 million a week (so the slogan on the bus claiming an extra £350 million a week was, much as I predicted, off by a factor of negative £1150 billion a week…should we really be trusting the fate of the economy to people this bad at maths?). According to the brexit job losses counter btw, this takes the total brexit related losses to over 200,000 (about an average of 1,500 job losses every week since the referendum).

Oh and yet another brexiteer billionaire is jumping ship, heading off to Monaco to get a passport. Because brexit is going to make us all so rich, we won’t need his tax money anymore.

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The Tories unveil their new election slogan

In fact this is kind of the point about brexit many are missing. As this excellent piece from the director of Policy Research (IPPR) points out, brexit does not mean a medieval siege. There might be shortages afterwards, but that will be the fault of a bungling UK government. The real trouble starts when the UK finds itself competing against a trade block of over 500 million people, with the EU dangling carrots in the face of UK businesses to tempt them over the channel. And with no hope of getting trade deals on the same terms the UK currently enjoys (to date the UK has signed just 7 out of the 69 it needs which covers only about 1/8th of the overseas trade the UK does with countries outside the EU) , never mind getting better terms, it means the slow quiet dismantling of the UK economy.

Brexit means ??????

And just to add confusion to confusion, Michael Gove told farmers recently that the UK would be bringing in heavy tariffs to protect farms  from external competition. This runs contrary to the suggestion that the UK would wave through food shipments to avoid lengthy queues at the border, as well as to preserve the good Friday agreement. In effect he’s saying that yes Kent and Northern Ireland are going to become lorry parks in a months time, food prices are going to soar (tariffs can be as high as 50% on food), shops might run out of food and a show down with Washington is looming over the GFA…..or maybe he’s just copying May’s policy of winging it and saying whatever the audience wants to hear so he can get out of the room without being lynched.

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Of course this serves to explain why the UK is so unprepared for a no deal brexit. Because even with a few weeks to go we’ve no idea what the government’s policy is. What documents the government has published are often vague and directly contradicted by another department. “fucked if we know” seems to be the official government policy.

Gunboat undiplomacy

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Meanwhile Failing Grayling (and Gove) has some competition for the prize of most incompetent minister, from defence minster Gavin Williamson. He claimed that the UK’s defences forces would have its “lethality enhanced, although quite how the EU has been holding the UK back wasn’t really explained (no doubt he believes all those bent banana’s and H&S regulation was stopping squadies doing their jobs). He’s also talked about forward deploying the UK’s new carriers in the Caribbean and Pacific and send the new carrier on a world tour.

Given that his department is shouldering a multibillion pound overspend one has to wonder where the money to pay for all of that is going to come from. Plus the thorny issue of the fact that the carriers aren’t currently in commission and don’t have any planes operating off them. And recall those planes are the controversial F-35 (an excellent aircraft….so long as the enemy doesn’t have an airforce and spoiler alert, both the Russians and Chinese do!).

And forward deploying the carriers would leave them vulnerable to sneak attack (I don’t know if Gavin’s heard of Pearl harbour?) by long range anti-ship missiles, either ballistic or air launched. And its worth noting that China, India and Russia all have such missiles. And Russian TU-22’s long range anti-ship aircraft also operate out of bases on Cuba and Venezuela.

Perhaps inevitably these comments went down like a lead balloon in Beijing, forcing the Chancellor of the exchequer to cancel his trip to China after the Chinese took offence. And I mean, can you blame them? Tip to brexiteers if you want to get trade deals off people, it might be a good idea not to go around sabre rattling and threatening to park aircraft carriers off their coast.

And just to show that he’s not alone in incompetence, Liam Fox and Jeremy Cunt Hunt managed to piss off the Japanese, to such an extend it seems they were prepared to walk away from trade talks, as they tried to apply the hard sell on the Japanese. Needless to say, it takes some skill to have pissed off both the Chinese and Japanese in a single week. But they need to realise, you are not double glazing salesmen trying to pressure some old granny into a sale. Trade deals take time and requires compromise (because as noted, you ain’t going to get a deal as good the EU enjoys). This is kind of what being outside the EU looks like.

Of course in his brain fart, the defence secretary allows the brexiteer mask to slip, and betrays the dreams of empire 2.0 and another era of gunboat diplomacy. But it also shows how out of touch they are with the realities of the modern world. How most of the world doesn’t share their nostalgia for the British empire (quite the opposite in fact). How the likely response to a British warship in their waters isn’t going to be a favourable trade deal, but a blunt order to turn around asap or we’ll sink you.

Holocaust denial

Case in point, consider the recent comments from Jacob Rees Mogg in which he attempted to deny the British use of concentration camps during the Boer war. Because the truth is that the UK invented the concentration camp, not the nazi’s, and tens of thousands died in these camps.

In fact what is interesting about these comments is how few of the major news media covered his comments. Those that did gave similar apologetic’s to Mogg (typically by saying Dunkirk & Churchill over and over again, after all it was the Boer’s fault for dying in the camps basically, not the British for setting them up) or just ignored the whole thing. Even the BBC didn’t run a story on it, despite the fact he made the comments on the BBC’s question time. Which just goes to show, Mogg was expressing an opinion that is widely shared by many ex-public school boys.

In fact it is interesting to compare how the media ignores the institutional racism and bigotry within the Tory party, yet the slightest hint of anything within labour is blown out of all proportion. Yes there is definitely an antisemitism problem within labour (this is one of reasons for the recent defections), but the media are making a big deal out of it because they can and its a cheap shot they can take against Corbyn. But they are also willing to ignore far worse within the Tories, UKIP or the DUP. I mean imagine if one of labour’s MP’s was to express a similar view to Mogg about the holocaust. There would be uproar.

These public school boys in the UK have been subject to a level of indoctrination and radicalisation on par with the sort you’d get in an ISIS run madrasa. As far as they are concerned the British Empire was a glorious thing and they were doing the world a favour by conquering them (and shooting a few locals every now and then, forcing them into concentration camps, stealing their grain, etc.). Why the colonies (and I’ve heard that term used to describe countries in the modern day) were only forced out of the empire by a bunch of bed wetting liberals back home and many in places, like India, yearn for the day when the Empire returns.

If you’re a neutral scratching your head unable to understand why the Tories aren’t supporting May’s deal (knowing its the best they’ll get), this is why. As far as these public school boys are concerned, they did the EU a favour by joining and now that they’re leaving, why should they have to pay. After all they might not afford the EU the privilege of trading with their vast (and non existent) empire.

Dark satanic take aways

A recent episode of the BBC’s panorama focused on the dark side of takeaways. Recently in the UK, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of takeaway apps, which means you can just dial in to your local takeaway, place an order online and about ten to thirty minutes later your food is delivered.

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However, as the report shows, your food might not be coming from an actual restaurant. The firms behind these apps have been setting up, so called “dark kitchens, which are basically kitchens in windowless shipping containers under an overpass, or on waste ground somewhere. This raises a number of issues.

For example the fact such apps don’t include any information about hygiene ratings (which actual restaurants and takeaways have to provide). And there’s been worrying stories about to what extent such restaurants understand issues related to allergies (The panorama team ordered a meal, sent it away for testing and found it contained stuff it wasn’t supposed to). And some restaurant owners claimed that they were pressured into purchasing slots towards the top of the list of local takeaways (suggesting that if you pay enough you’ll be the first a customer sees, regardless of how good or safe your food actually is).

And these dark satanic mills of our time are also often set up without planning permission. Which is a bit of an issue for local residents who suddenly have to contend with mopeds coming and going all night. What this all shows is how the disruptive effects of the internet aren’t always positive once they move into the real world. And how there is a need for governments to keep on top of events and not be afraid to regulate new industries to stop things running out of control.

Unfriending Facebook

Case in point, facebook. This week saw a UK parliamentary committee turn in a scathing report, going so far as to call the company “digital gangsters and calling for facebook (and google) to be regulated. A good idea, the UK should do that. But isn’t facebook’s European headquarters in Ireland? So how exactly are you going to regulate them after you leave the EU? What’s May going to do? Threaten to unfriend Mark Zuckerberg.

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Jokes aside, my guess is that we could well see the pendulum swing from one extreme, where internet companies have been able to do what they want, when they want, not even bothering to pay taxes. To now facing heavy government scrutiny and regulation. Which is both a good thing (a crack down on fake news and the unethical practices of some internet firms is long overdue) and bad (given the potential danger of governments meddling in social media or censoring content).

Broken Britain

One of the reasons some have given for voting leave in the UK relates to the abject poverty now present in parts of the country. We now face a scenario, where homeless people dying on the streets is becoming a more common occurrence, where 14 million people in the country now live in poverty to the point where the UN is feeling the need to get involved. And perhaps with good reason. For as food bank use has soared, Dickensian diseases such as rickets have re-emerged in the UK.

Granted this is a little unfair on the EU (whose structural funds have actually helped parts of the UK in peril), when this is mostly the fault of Tory policy, either those of the Thatcher era or a decade of punishing austerity. Indeed, even the government has recently had to acknowledge the link between the roll out of their Universal Credit system and a rise in food banks.

But we are where we are. And where we are is that the Tories are quietly ignoring this inconvenient little fact, which should hardly come as a surprise (when have they ever cared about working people in this country?) and pushing through with a brexit policy which will leave many in the country even worse off. In short if you voted leave as some sort of cry for help, I’m afraid what you voted for was to be ignored and forgotten even more than before.

And across the pond, similar trends exist in Trump’s America, with poverty on the rise. In fact, an interesting video here from ABC about the death of the American dream. But isn’t Trump’s new tax cut going to help out struggling families? Oh it will help alright, to push the over the edge and onto the bread line. In effect he’s raised taxes for most Americans, cutting them only for the super rich like him.

And I know its cruel to say so, but seriously, why is anyone surprised? You vote for parties that favour the 1% and surprise, surprise the screw over everyone else and make themselves richer. Did anyone really expect that the Tories would push for a socialist friendly brexit? (or end austerity after the referendum result). Or that a professional conman like Trump, whose spent his whole career screwing over his own work force and investors, would behave any differently once in office. As the old saying goes people vote for the government they deserve and that’s what they’ve gotten.

Unfit for office

Speaking of Trump, everyone had a good old chuckle about how the president spends an inordinate amount of his time on “executive time (an average of about only 3 hrs of actual work per day), which is basically code word for him sitting around watching Fox news, tweeting, ringing up his friends and supporters, or bouncing off the walls about the horrible things the NYT says about him.

But I think there was a meaning to this story that was missed. Basically, Trump has, consciously or subconsciously, been deemed by the US government, lobbyists and even his own White house staff as unfit for office. So much so that they see good reason to involve him as little as possible in any actual decision making. Preferring instead to leave the boss baby puttering in his presidential play pen, only taking him out or involving him in matters where its legally required (i.e. they need his signature on a piece of paper).

Consider that previous presidents tended to have a fairly full schedule, as numerous people beat a path to the White house door looking for some of the president’s time. Senators, congressmen, ambassadors, lobbyists for corporations or NGO’s, department heads from the various branches of government, etc. Clearly all of these people are avoiding contact with the White house because they judge that Trump is just too incompetent to be of any actual help. So the US under Trump is something of a rudderless ship. But worse still, that also means that there’s ample opportunities for well juiced in cronies of Trump to line their pockets.

And on the topic of Trump an interesting article here about the potential floodgate he could be opening, if say a future US president were to invoke “the Trump rule” and declare a national emergency to fight climate change. Powers said president will be able to exercise include being able to divert tens of billions of dollars to renewable energy, being able to rescind oil drilling contracts, cease energy industry assets or restrict supplies and apply restriction on cars and vehicles (e.g. mandate much lower speed limits or ban gas guzzlers altogether).

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A young UK convert to ISIS recently turned up in a refugee camp. And even thought she’s unrepentant (even saying ISIS terrorist attacks against the UK were justified) she wants back into the country. And Trump, no doubt acting under orders from Moscow, seems to agree and wants her and other members of ISIS returned to their home countries.

This caused media fury, how can we let a supporter of terrorism into the country?….you guys do know that the DUP (who also have links with terrorists) are literally in government? Pot calling the kettle black I think. And, won’t it be better to get her back into the UK and prosecute her? That said, I’ll admit there is an argument to be made that by joining ISIS she rejected the UK and thus forfeited her rights to all of its laws and protections. Its a little late for her to turn around now and say that’s unfair. If she wishes to apply for citizenship again, fine, but presumably she’ll have to renounce terrorism and ISIS first.

Universities on the edge

The UK government recently released a study on student finance and among its recommendations is that fees should be cut, potentially by as much as 30%. This does kind of make sense. As I’ve pointed out before, students are getting a bit of a raw deal and as they often need to borrow money to go to uni (which they often don’t repay in full), so its just shuffling money around so the government can hide some of its debts off the books.

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However, what worries universities is there is no indication that the government is going to fill this funding gap with money of its own. So in short, universities are being asked to swallow a 20-30% cut in their income. Which raises the risk that some will go bust as a result.

Recall that university finances are under enough pressure right now, largely down to brexit, as they face raising costs (inflation making equipment and running costs higher, plus staff demanding higher salaries), falling number of international students (EU student numbers are down, but so too are those from outside the EU, as many are put off by the risk of a no deal brexit and May’s hostile environment, which has seen international students swept up in it) and the prospect of reduced research funding (once the EU turns off the tap). Oh and they are also facing rising pension costs too. So a cut to fees would be something of a prefect storm. Frankly, it won’t be a question of if a university went bust, it would be when.

Now the Tories seem to think this is okay. So what if a few ex-polytechnics go bust. Well firstly, we’ve already had this conversation, last year a university came close to bankruptcy and the government blinked first. This set a precedence. You can’t say to other uni’s (and their students), we’re only bailing out the ones posh kids go too, you pleb’s are on your own. No sorry, what applies to one has to apply to the others, otherwise the government risks being sued. And consider that some of the ex-poly’s have done really well for themselves. But at the same time some of the red brick institutions have declined (in fact of the uni’s I’d be most worried about its an even mix of red bricks, plate glasses and ex-poly’s).

And finally, the thing that really worries me is that the government won’t be able to blink and bail a uni out. Its creditors, looking to get their hands on its billion pound city centre real estate portfolio, might force it into insolvency. And like I’ve said before, once one uni fails (for whatever reason) its likely several more will follow, leaving the government with an awful mess to clean up afterwards.

Brexit and Immigration

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Brexit has been interpreted by Theresa May and the Tory party, as the UK voting to make itself poorer, in order to cut immigration. Of course, as I’ve pointed out before, this is a false narrative, which comes from a fundamental misreading of immigration statistics.

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If leaving the EU is about immigration, how come non-EU countries have far more immigrants than the UK?

But either way, that’s their policy and the proposed immigration bill has now had its second reading in parliament. And oh boy is it bad. Basically, all of the EU citizens already here are being tossed into the meat grinder of May’s hostile environment. As will it also impact on any new migrants foolish enough to come to the UK, be they from the EU or further afield. Oh, and minsters will be allowed to change future immigration law without parliamentary scrutiny. So its basically a massive power grab by the home office, all but guranteed to lead to another Windrush scandal.

Because already we’ve heard numerous horror stories as a result of UK immigration policy. A British citizen with a disabled husband and an autistic daughter forced between choosing which of the two to abandon post-brexit. A 90 year old with severe arthritis being told to return home and appeal a visa rejection on a technicality (which as he’s no house or family back in the US would mean him living on the street). A women threatened with deportation (with two hours notice) on the basis of evidence from her abusive ex-husband.

And these are some of the milder stories that have made it into the news. I’ve heard other examples of outright racism from UK border staff. Individuals who’ve gone into debt with pay day loan companies due to some cock up by the UKBA (who basically don’t understand their own rules). Even cases of border agency staff admitting to applicants they hadn’t read the application in full before rejecting it. And May is proposing to add another 3 million to that and doesn’t expect any problems?

They’ve also set an arbitrary wage limit of £30,000 below which all workers are considered as “unskilled”…which pretty much tells you just how out of touch the Tory party is. Earn less than 30k, you’re a scullery maid or a tradesman and thus an unwashed pleb and there’s enough of them here already.

To say this policy is bad is too put it mildly. It has the potential to be an even bigger job killer than a no deal brexit. The myths of the “Britain is full” variety are based on the false assumption that the number of jobs in the UK is fixed, when its not. Migrants can actually increase the number of available jobs (as more people spending money in the country means more employment) and by paying their taxes, they can contribute to better public services (of course the problem here is the Tories haven’t been spending that extra money on public services, but instead gave wealthy people a tax cut or hiding the fact that privatisation of public services has often made them less efficient and more expensive to run).

This new immigration policy seems to assume that there are no skill shortages below this arbitrary wage limit, when in fact there are multiple ones, notably in areas such as agriculture, construction, engineering, the NHS and care homes. It is no exaggeration to say the consequences of this policy would be major engineering projects being cancelled, crops left to rot in fields and many of these red faced gammon brexit voting bigots dying on hospital floors in a pool of their own piss.

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The UK is heavily dependant on foreign qualified doctors. So post-brexit, try not to get ill…ever!

But can’t we get brits to do these jobs? Well no. As I’ve pointed out before, if the answer was that simple, they’d already be doing those jobs. For example, most junior employees often have a very low starting salary (which can include nurses and other medical practitioners). And in some professions, its hard to prove your exact income as employment is often on a contract, piecework, or journeyman type basis. And, as I discussed before, with regard to the energy sector, such a wage limit will create labour shortages across the nuclear, fossil fuel and renewable energy sectors.

The agricultural sector (and fishing) will be severely effected by this new policy. Most of the jobs in this sector are seasonal, typically spiking in the autumn and spring. The growing season in the UK is shorter than in southern Europe but longer than in Eastern Europe. So its possible for farm workers from other parts of the EU to come over, work for a few weeks, then move on and eventually return to their own farms to plant/harvest their own crops.

The idea that instead of experienced European farm hands, you’re going to drag a load of unemployed townies out of the UK’s cities, bus them off to work in farmers fields (many of whom haven’t so much as mowed a lawn before), and put them in charge of dangerous farm machinery, its farcical at best. And what are the supposed to do for the rest of the year? And yes farmers have tried this in the past (most recently as part of the Tories welfare chain gangs) and their experience is it ain’t going to work.

And even if they could get it to work it would probably be more expensive, which means food that’s a lot more expensive. And more than likely (given the tight margins on food production), rendering uneconomic much of the UK’s farms, leading to closures in the sector on a scale similar to what happened to the coal miners in the 80’s.

And at the other end of the scale one has to question whether we necessarily need more workers in the middle to high income salary range. Is there really a massive shortage of lawyers, interior designers, city traders and accountants in the country? And even if there were, such a policy could actually cost many British their jobs (because as noted migrants create more jobs). While companies like to keep a mixed bag of staff of different experience levels, push come to shove they will prioritise the hiring of a more experienced staff over a recent graduate, because they are more valuable to the company. Ultimately, if the only way to hire an experienced German lawyer or a Belgian accountant is to put enough zeros behind his contract to get him in the door, that’s what they’ll do, even if it means cutting back on the number of graduate recruits to do so.

In fact in my own line of work we’ve hired hardly any UK PhD graduates since the referendum. And now that I mention it, several who were already on the pay roll were the first given their marching orders in the months after the vote. And given that there’s been a significant drop in UK students undertaking PhD’s (due to fees, nobody wants to rack up further debt when they get to the end of their degree), how exactly are we going to recruit the next generation of lecturers, given the brexidous on UK campuses, with both UK and EU academics heading off to European universities. I don’t know, maybe we could go back to the old British tactic of press ganging? (get’em drunk at a conference and they wakes up in a lecturer theatre). Or maybe we can get Failing Grayling to give the lecturers? That seems to be May’s solution to everything these days.

And remember what applies to foreigners in the UK will be reciprocated by other countries. British overseas are already in a panic over the possible consequences to them of a no deal brexit. Many might be forced to return home (and most are retirees) or renounce their UK citizenship (which risks breaking up families). And UK graduates won’t be able to avail of employment opportunities in Europe, leaving them in the worst of both worlds.

Of course, if you’re a wealthy oligarch and willing to invest enough money in the UK, you can avail of a golden visa. No messy forms to fill in, no awkward questions (notably as to where you got the money in the first place!), no queues or waiting period, you’d don’t even need to work or pay tax. Just come on in. As always, the Tories are drafting a policy that favours the wealthy plutocrats at the expense of everyone else. The horrors their policy are inflicting, and will continue to inflict is lost on them. They’ve transcended the nasty party and become the sadist party.

But once the second coming happens Corbyn gets in he’ll put everything right in the world, won’t he? Actually no, Corbyn and much of the labour party were absent from the second reading of the immigration bill. In fact the original message sent out to MP’s was to abstain. The reality is that Corbyn has been taken in by the same toxic bigotry that migrants are a drain on the UK and drive down wages (which again, just isn’t true). He’s willing to talk to the talk about how the Tories policy favours the rich, or how human rights are important to him. But push come to shove he’s quite happy to see millions in the UK stripped of their rights and thrown to the wolves, while he sits in his allotment shed dreaming of his socialist workers paradise.

What’s that the Corbynites say? He’s got to play the long game and pretend he’s in favour of immigration controls (or brexit) to appease northern lexiters, then when he’s in power he can repeal these laws. Well, firstly that’s the cynical politics of manipulation at its worst (and I thought Boris was bad!), and secondly he can’t. Protocol dictates that governments do not revisit past legislation without good cause or reason. So unless he actively opposes this bill or fights an election with such a policy on the party manifesto (so presumably he’ll be hoping lexiters can’t read), then he can’t repeal it. The speaker won’t allow him to schedule time to debate it, the lords would probably veto it and the queen is within her rights to withhold royal assent. And as 35 year veteran MP he surely knows that. Its just he also knows there’s a large body of millennial’s who’ve been so badly screwed over by the Tories, they are desperate enough to believe any old tripe he comes up with.

All I can say is the sooner that the grown ups within both labour and the Tories wake up to reality and leave their respective parties, the better. And with labour membership down 10% in the last two months and polls saying Corbyn’s failure to oppose brexit will cost him dearly next election (and this was before him suggesting he might support May’s brexit deal), that seems to be what starting to happen.

As for the Tories, with new utlra-right wing parties being formed and the conservative party itself being infiltrated by the US far right, they need to learn that appeasing the far right doesn’t make them go away, it emboldens them to ask for more and more until they have everything.

Brexit update: Running down the clock

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Recently the Guardian’s business editor Nils Pratley asked the question, when does the no deal panic start? One could ask the same question as regards Trump’s trade policy and the recent shutdown. Well in some respects, its already happening and in another respect the panic will not be televised, or at least it will be kept as quiet as possible.

While companies are quick to advertise good news, they try to keep any bad news out of the media. After all, good news means the share price goes up. Bad news, sends the share price down. And if you want to destroy employee morale and reduce productivity, let the staff know you might be considering job cuts. And furthermore the economic issue with brexit is more the long term impact it will have, not the short term shock. As the saying goes its not the stag investors who take fright at the first sign of trouble you worry about, its a long protracted bear market. Because bears have claws.

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Beware the brexit bear!

And already we have seen several worrying signs which shows the economy flat-lining. P&O for example has announced its re-flagging its ships under a Cypriot flag (Rule Britannia….Cyprus rules the waves?). Barclay’s is one of a number of banks to announce plans to move £166 billion and hundreds of jobs to Ireland, with others are planning to set up in Paris or Frankfurt. Dyson has moved to Singapore, which apparently is nothing to do with brexit (and if you believe that I’ve got some magic beans I can sell you). Meanwhile, the construction industry, which was just about recovering from the EU referendum result, is now reporting a decline in building projects due to uncertainty over brexit.

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So far Germany seems to be winning the race to house bankers post-brexit

Now in any normal economic times any of these indicators would send waves of panic around Whitehall, but it would now appear that the UK government’s official motto seems to be “fuck business. Which probably explains why up to a third of UK companies are actively considering relocating out of the UK post-brexit. Hell, we have the Norwegian government now advising students not to go to university in the UK.

But probably the biggest blow by far recently was Nissan announcing its u-turn, that they will not locate X-trail production at Sunderland. This is a huge blow, given the very public backing Nissan gave to brexit, thanks to a letter they received from Theresa May. While the current jobs are safe (for now!), the problem is that once a company stops investing in a factory, its not long after that when the job losses start.

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While there’s still be some direct investment in the UK car industry, its clearly on a downward trend and going to turn negative relatively soon

And with the publication of that infamous letter, it seems that Nissan were offered a very substantial bribe to stay in the UK, with up to £60 million in direct investment and several hundred million indirectly (via investment into electric vehicle research, charging points, etc.). Of course, given that the former Nissan chairman is under investigation for corruption, its entirely possible that a brown envelope might have been involved as well. After all, May is currently trying to bribe MP’s with peerages or promises of slush funds to their constituency. In short her government is now guilty of the sort crony politics we’d have expected in the days of the Regency. But even that doesn’t seem to be working, as she literally can’t pull off a bribe successfully!

Of course what this highlights is that Nissan have decided that whatever promises May has made, they can’t believe her anymore. After all we now have the absurdity of a backstop that was her idea in the first place, which she got parliament to vote against, and she’s going to go to Brussels to see if it can be removed. But then a few days later she says the backstop can stay, but she’s going to insist on some unspecified changes to it, which will make everything okay…!?!

Its becoming rather obvious that May is winging it, something she’s been doing since day one. And while she is clearly running down the clock, I’m not sure if this is a deliberate strategy or just a coping mechanism to get her through to the end of the day. You would be a very foolish MP (or car maker) to stake your future on any promises made by her, because 24 hrs later she’ll have not only have broken them, but forgotten what it was she’d promised.

And this letter to Nissan might still come back to haunt her. It implies tariff free access to the EU (which as things currently stand isn’t going to happen). If she doesn’t deliver on that, Nissan might sue the UK government seeking financial compensation. And if that sounds far fetched, its looking likely the owners of the channel tunnel are going to sue the government over brexit. To be blunt, the only winners in a no deal brexit will be corporate lawyers, who’ll be having a field day.

And while May’s act of looking utterly pathetic to the point where the EU feels sorry for her, has allowed her to get some concessions, its doubtful it will work this time (and in any event, the EU will want something in return). The EU needs to consider whether they can believe a word out her mouth anymore (or anyone else from Westminster). Can she be trusted to deliver on her side of the bargain? And I seriously doubt, even if she got some significant concessions, she’d get her party to back her deal. They’re making a big deal about the backstop because they can. If it goes away they’ll find something else in the 500 pages of the deal to moan about. Ultimately they don’t want to take ownership for what they know is going to be a deal that leaves the UK worse out than in.

Meanwhile Corbyn can’t be seen to back it either, preferring to do his usual Humpty Dumpty and stay sitting on the fence, even as his party disintegrates around him. Labour party membership has now fallen by 10% in just two months, about 360 members per day are now leaving.

Meanwhile, across the pond, we’ve heard the first rumblings of discontent as the US congress wakes up to the consequences of a no-deal brexit. A resolution has been introduced in the US Congress opposing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. This was something that was always going to happen. Firstly, the Good Friday agreement was brokered with the help of the US. If the UK were to renege on it, this would be hugely damaging to the US and its international reputation (if the US can get its oldest ally to back a treaty it brokered, what are the odds of North Korea or Russia sticking to any?). And secondly 33 million US voters identify themselves as being of Irish descent. That’s a voting lobby no politician in the US can ignore, particularly as it includes many swing voters in key swing states (a significant number voted for both Obama and then Trump).

Of course the problem here is that Americans understand the politics of Northern Ireland even less than the Tories. Expect them to make several perfectly reasonable suggestions over the next few months, but ones that May and the DUP have already ruled out. e.g. “why doesn’t NI just stay in the Single market?” “Say, why don’t you guys just leave the EU but stay in the EEA, that’ll avoid a hard border?”. In short good luck to May trying to explain NI politics to Trump and then get the US congress to support a US/UK trade deal in an election year. Notably because one of the key committees that will approve or veto a US/UK trade deal just happens to be led by an Irish American senator with strong pro-republican sympathies.

But isn’t the EU going to blink first? Well stranger things have happened. However, the fact is that the UK has to make its mind up pretty soon (Greg Clark suggested as early as the middle of next week), otherwise the trickle of companies either hitting the panic button or heading for the door will become a flood. And we’re assuming no deal is even an option, because the institute for government says it would be impossible, given that almost none of the required legislation has passed, nor will pass in time.

So the UK can’t really wait for the EU to blink, while the EU can wait not only until the 29th of March, but even beyond it (i.e. wait for the UK to come crawling back after descending into chaos). I’ll say it again its May’s original deal (and probably staying in the customs union or single market long term) or no brexit, you have to chose one.

Managing the shutdown and Trump

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The thing that I don’t get about the US shutdown is how can the government just shut down and stop paying its workers? This is the sort of thing you’d expect to happen in a failed state, where corruption meant the president (or one of his cronies), emptied the treasury into an offshore bank account and fled. Its clearly a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. Again, imagine you’re and investor in, well any other country on the planet, and you heard the government had run out of money. You’d be pulling your cash out of there and making for the airport right quick.

And, don’t US workers have some sort of rights? I mean in most countries, your boss stops paying you he’s in breach of contract. You are within your rights to withdraw your labour, quit without giving any notice and potentially sue for back salary (or redundancy money), even force your employer into liquidation if he refuses to pay up. Or is this one the things we can look forward too after the UK leaves the EU? And keep in mind that this exactly the problem facing US private sector employers who might have to start laying off staff soon.

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Its worth noting that the shutdown effects some states more than others, and a lot of them are swing states or republican….

Speaking of brexit, as a last ditch way of stopping a no deal brexit, its possible the UK government’s tax collecting powers will get vetoed by MP’s. While that won’t cause a UK government shutdown straight away, obviously there’s only so long the country could keep going if the government loses tax income. But certainly, such shut-downs, or even the threat of one, should tell you something has gone terribly wrong in that country and the political system has essentially failed to do its job.

The sticking point is Trump’s wall. However, given how much he’s flip flopped on this issue, its far from clear what he actually wants. Within weeks of his presidency starting it was pointed out to him by border agents, and all of the US states who line the US/Mexico border that they don’t want a wall built, for a variety of simple practical reasons. He seems to have accepted this and stated that instead we’d be getting a fence. But trouble is there already IS a fence. It doesn’t cover the entire border, but largely because it doesn’t have too. Natural barriers, such as the Rio Grande, high mountains, fields of desert cacti, etc. present formidable obstacles to anyone trying to cross (more so than his wall). And putting up a fence/wall here would present various practical problems. For example, ranchers on the Rio Grande need access to the river bank for their cattle.

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Already most of the US/Mexico border is covered by fences

So on the one hand the $5+ billion he’s asking for is too much to upgrade the existing fences, and far too little to build his fabled wall. Keeping in mind that a wall (or fence) would be ineffective without someone there to guard it. As I pointed out in a prior post, any determined group of fence jumpers will make short work of Trump’s wall (delaying them for perhaps 20 minutes to an hour), unless there’s an army of border guards to stop them. Which would cost several billion a year to operate. And speaking if which, I thought Trump said the Mexicans would pay for the wall. And doesn’t he claim to be worth tens of billions? Surely he could afford to build it himself and then the Mexicans will pay him back?

Furthermore Trump says we need the wall to stop the flow of drugs. Well there was a BBC episode of “Stacy Dooley investigates” recently which looked at drugs smuggling into America and you know where most of it was coming from? CANADA! Yes, America’s friendly neighbour to the north just so happens to be the main source of Opioid’s, Methamphetamine’s, MDMA, illegal Cannabis, etc. as well as the source of ingredients for numerous other narcotics. And there’s no fence and very little security (during the show they took them out to remote spots where literally one side of the road is the US, the other side is Canada, you can just show up with two pickups, toss bags between the two). So you’d think it would make more sense to beef up security at the Canadian border.

Of course this highlights the real reason why Trump and his supporters want the wall. It has nothing to do with security and more to do with security theatre. He and his supporters are racists and bigots and they want to turn the US into some sort of giant whites only gated community. You can sell illegal drugs in the US (or commit acts of terrorism, the majority of which are committed by white males) all you like. Just so long as you are white, they don’t mind.

In essence Trump is trying to blackmail congress into signing a blank cheque for reasons that are racially motivated. And if there’s one thing that Congress doesn’t do, its sign blank cheques. In fact its strange the Republicans aren’t up in arms over this. I mean Obama asked for the slightest amount of money for anything, even things that were essential and good value for money and the GOP howled with fury and claimed he was trying to bankrupt the country. Now the deficit be damned we need our tax cuts and our wall. It just goes to show the GOP has become little more than the cult of anti-liberalism. They are in favour of things because the democrats are against it.

So, where do we go from here? Clearly the democrats backing down to Trump’s childish behaviour would be ill advised. Appeasing chest-puffing, table bagging vain autocrats never ends well. In fact I’d argue where in this mess because in the past congress has given in to the boss baby, just to avoid total national paralysis. This for too long has been a flaw of the democrats, their willingness to be the grown ups in the room and concede ground to the GOP, for the sake of the country. But, like a spoilt little child, this just encourages more bad behaviour from the GOP. If the democrats do concede, what’s the bet Trump will shutdown the government again in order to get the Mueller investigation stopped, or the election rules changed in his favour, or maybe try to rig the election with threats of a shutdown for the full duration of the transition period.

One possible way out would be to concede to Trump, but with the caveat of some independent review of border security and its needs. Given that such a review will inevitably conclude that such measures would be a waste of time and money (instead the focus should be on border crossing, airports or, as noted, the Canadian border). And by the time it reaches this conclusion he’ll have been either impeached or voted out of office. While Trump might not go for it, it would at least allow the democrats to ensure the blame falls squarely on his shoulders alone.

If that doesn’t work, the democrats will just have to be strict parents. The worst thing you can do as a parent, if you’ve got a screaming brat, is spoil him and give in. Rewarding bad behaviour, will result in worse behaviour. If Trump rejects the above, I’d suggest the democrats withdraw the offer, as well as the current offer of $1.6 billion for extra border security and end all negotiations with the white house (keeping channels open with moderate Republicans of course), focusing instead on something that will infuriate Trump (such as the Muelller investigation or publishing his tax returns). This (after a bit of kicking and screaming) will force Trump and the GOP to act like grown ups and come up with some sort of compromise.

While I was away….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barcelona tourism protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The downfall of Rojay

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

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

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

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

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

Magic money trees

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

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

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

Border woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing tastes

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

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The full English Irish Breakfast

The height of hypocrisy

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

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

What happens in Donegal, stays in Donegal

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

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

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

Montecassino

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The abbey dominates the local landscape

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

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

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

Trump’s Korean flip flop

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

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

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

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

Eurovision boycott?

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

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

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

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

Trump syndrome in action

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

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

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

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

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

Gun hire schemes

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

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

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

Setting the range for hybrid cars

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

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

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

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

Noise machines

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

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

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the stolen elections of 2016

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A story has been on the brew for sometime now about the extend to which big data and the use of what the intelligence agencies call “Psyop’s” played in both the EU referendum and the American presidential election. It has been alleged, something that seems to have crept under the radar of the mainstream media until now, that a company called Cambridge Analytica used various psyop’s techniques to profile voters and target them with customised adds in order to sway them into voting one way or the other.

The law/regulatory agencies are such a joke the reality is that anybody who wanted to cheat the law could do it easily without people realising.” Dominic Cummings, head of the vote leave campaign

So for example, if a trawl of a persons Facebook profile led them to believe he was a bit neurotic, they’d bombard him with fake news about hordes of migrants flooding the country. If you were one of the Bernie or bust brigade, they’d hit you with lots of anti-Hilary stuff hoping that while they probably couldn’t get you to vote Trump, they’d at least trigger you into vote for a third party (which in certain swing states would be as good as voting for Trump). These rumours were by and large either denied by the alt-right or they shrugged their shoulders and said so what.

Well a whistleblower has now come forward and firstly confirmed the veracity of these claims (and there are several others less prominently placed in the firm who back up his story). He’s also disclosed the full scale of this campaign of disinformation. While many assumed that only tens of thousand of profiles were affected (from which a larger data pool was extrapolated) actually its been revealed that some 50 million facebook user’s data was harvested. We are talking about using military grade psyops on an industrial scale to manipulate an electorate using lies and misinformation to change the outcome of an election. If that doesn’t count as electoral fraud, I don’t know what does.

It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.” Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower

And I am not throwing around that word “fraud” idly. Under election rules in both the US and UK it is illegal to accept foreign donations and illegal to allow foreigners to interfere in an election. Cambridge Analytica is part of a shadowy web of firms connected to American hedge funds, the alt-right and Putin’s Russia.

“deep digging….Oh, we do a lot more than that.” Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica

Now unsurprisingly CA have denied any involvement in the leave campaign and tried to distance themselves from the Trump campaign. However, this is a difficult pill to swallow. As the BBC pointed out, a representative of CA was at the leave campaign launch. And there is clear evidence of money being paid to them and their associates.

And given that Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager, was on the board of CA for sometime, its a little difficult for them to deny involvement. And since winning office, CA have been given several lucrative contracts for the US military and justice department by the Trump White house, which sounds suspiciously like “hush money” being paid out. So we are talking corruption of the highest order, which makes the current allegations against Trump seem fairly mild.

Its no good fighting election on the facts….two fundamental drivers are hopes & fears and many of those are unspoken and unconscious” Mark Turnbull, Cambridge Analytica Manager

And more recently, CA senior officials have been caught on tape by Channel 4 news offering to arrange for the smearing of a politician for cash, suggesting they were doing way more than simply running a few numbers or distributing campaign adds. And the tactics they discussed are eerily similar to a number of those used by Putin against his opponents. An important point, as I find it a bit too much of a coincidence that Putin was running his own fake news/Psyops campaign independent of the one his allies in the leave and Trump camp were running via CA. Given the links identified between these groups one can only assume that they both co-ordinated their efforts. CA told them who to target, Putin’s troll farms made up the fake news and hacked the DNC, giving Trump and the leave campaign plausible deniability.

And in the last few hours, Channel 4 have released another tape in which CA executives confirm that yes they did work on Trump campaign (illegally!). Indeed they were even the source of all the “crooked Hilary” stuff, and that they used “proxy” organisations to help spread their messages around.

Yes, its probable that a British based company, funded by a shadowy group of right wing billionaires, conspired with a foreign government to run a psyops operation against millions of American and UK voters in an effort to rig elections. If the Illuminati of Dan Brown fame are real, then they’re a bunch of amateurs…..in fact it is kind of odd, this story has been brewing for months and yet ace conspiracy theorist Alex Jones hasn’t mentioned it….so it must be true then, he only deals with ones that are fake!

Needless to say this scandal has profound implications. Firstly, given the closeness of both the US election (recall Trump won because of just 40,000 votes in 3 US states) and the brexit vote there is no way either could even remotely be considered legal and legitimate. One also has to question the legitimacy of many other recent elections, for example the recent vote in Italy. Those who say, okay one lot cheated, but you still have to accept the result. Well okay and if I guess your pin number and empty your bank account, will you just accept that result? Fraud is fraud.

As I’ve pointed out in a prior post, the problem in many parts of the world is that elections are seldom free or fair. And recall that CA, and other firms like it, honed their skills in electoral fraud in developing world nations such as Kenya, Russia or Trinidad and Tobago (too name a few).

Aside from the obvious consequence that one cannot trust in the outcome of these elections, it also means such regimes are illegitimate and beholden to the whims of their special interests. Its been suggested that Putin is less the puppet master and more a puppet of the Oligarchs who prop him up. He’d probably retire tomorrow and live the life of Reilly if he could. But that’s not going to be allowed to happen. As the recent deposing of Mugabe showed, once the elites decide to overthrow such a leader, they can do so very easily. They simply charge him with vote rigging and fraud, which is kind of like accusing a duck of quacking, he’s swiftly found guilty (after a detailed investigation….which takes all of ten seconds to conduct) and frogmarched out of the presidential palace to be replaced by another puppet.

And this is now the reality in both the UK and US. Trump we all know is guilty as hell of numerous acts that would warrant impeachment. He can be removed from office tomorrow, if the GOP ever decide to do so. Similarly Theresa May is only in her job because they want someone to take all the flack for brexit, then they’ll have the real leadership contest. If she actually tried to stay on or act like a PM, she’d be on her ass outside downing street so fast her head would spin.

The corruption, chaotic and dysfunctional nature of government which often holds back developing nations also has its roots in the illegitimate nature of their elections. With the big wigs fighting their games of thrones for a slice of the pie, lowly civil servants are left to fend for themselves. With no clear direction in terms of long term policy and no money, inevitably they outsource such decisions to the highest bidder.

And the chaos in the white house and the paralysis in the UK parliament (May has now essentially lost her majority when it comes to brexit, so they are wasting their time debating fortnightly bin collections, rather that the EU withdrawal bills) means both are starting to mirror a developing world government.

And equally such regimes are vulnerable to overthrow in a military coup. In theory if the joint chief’s decided tomorrow that Trump needs to be removed from power, they’ve now got more than the right to declare him a usurper who won the election by fraud, drive their tanks up Pennsylvania avenue and arrest him and most of his supporters. If you’ve ever wondered why some impoverished African nation with barely two pennies to rub together spends twice what it does on hospitals and social welfare on its army, its because they know that they have to pay off the generals, or they might be tempted to overthrow them.

So those who voted Trump (or Putin) because you trust him as a strong leader well A) are you nuts? And B) You were conned on a scale unprecedented in history and C) no, he’s a puppet of the very murky special interests you hate. And they can remove him anytime they feel like it, if he stops dancing to their tune.

With UK election rules being described as weak and helpless” in this era of dark money and big data, there needs to be an urgent review of all electoral law. Naturally such tactics should be banned and the penalties for breaking the electoral rules made all the more severe. I would suggest a new law of “perverting the course of democracy” with harsh penalties for those found guilty, possibly up to life imprisonment. If that sounds like going too far, democracy is at stake unless the penalties are suitably severe, someone will be tempted to break the rules. CA prove that.

One also has to consider whether it might even be necessary to turn off all social media for a month prior to any election. Or requiring voters to undertake a fake news awareness course and/or a citizenship course might need to become compulsory for all (its ironic that migrants to the UK have to do one of these, when any dumb random Daily Mail reading, Putin loving, racist with a pulse can vote once they turn 18).

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And as I noted at the time of the brexit vote, the rules of elections should be changed to make it harder to prevent a minority of the electorate hijacking the system (again, this is exactly what CA were playing at). Only 37% of the UK electorate backed brexit and certain regions, such as Scotland and London, voted overwhelmingly against it. As a basic minimum such a referendum should require +50% of the electorate to support it in all major regions of the UK to be legal. And Trump didn’t win the popular vote, getting only about 28% of the total electorate to support him and “winning” despite receiving 3 million less votes that Hilary. Clearly the US electoral system is a mockery of the word democracy and needs to be completely reformed, as it is ripe for this sort of exploitation.

Finally some form of backstop protection might be needed. That is to say that if a candidate is elected and allegations like these emerge, there are checks and balances in place that would either automatically trigger a re-vote (so the brexit referendum would automatically now be invalidated and re-held….with the leave camp and their donors required to fund the cost!). Or the winning candidate is automatically disqualified and considered to have forfeited the election (or referendum) by cheating. So for example Trump would now be declared a usurper, hauled off to jail and Hilary would be sworn in. She would also be at liberty to un-sign any legislation he’s passed (such as his Muslim travel ban or tax cuts) and dismiss any of his appointees, as he would have been governing the country under false pretences.

Again, I know that all sounds radical, but if there’s no punishment and no proper checks and balances, some will do this again and we’ll never ever have a free and fair election.

And there are some profound implications for social media companies too. Facebook are at the centre of this entire scandal and now accused of lying to MP’s. While they have responded by suspending CA from Facebook, this is merely one of a number of recent scandals where it is alleged that Facebook either knew their data was being misused by repressive regimes or they were complicit. And in the case of Burma, Facebook data was used in aid of genocide.

And all that would be worrying enough if it weren’t for the fact that Facebook boss Mark Zukerberg is allegedly running for President. And I had a go at Oprah a while ago! Needless to say, the idea of letting him lose in the White house does not sound like a good idea. It would be about the only thing worse than a Trump presidency.

And facebook are not alone, other tech billionaires are also implicated, notably Robert Mercer (who owns CA) and Paypal boss Peter Thiel. The scandal also puts a new spin on the infamous advert strike effecting Google and Youtube. Its possible that the mysterious changes that Google enacted that provoked the add boycott had something to do with these same data analytic’s, as Google searches have been shown to employ similar profiling in the past.

One fix might be to force tech firms to disclose what data they harvest from users and how they target them with adds. Of course, that would require action at a more international level, at the very least the EU and US….which given recent events seems unlikely to happen….I mean why do you think this lot got into bed with brexiters and Trump for?

And above all else data protection laws need to be strengthened and tightened up. One of the loopholes that CA exploited was the fact that the default privacy settings on Facebook are set extremely low. One could suggest the opposite, they are set by default at their highest possible setting. And companies should be forced to disclose what they are doing with your data and to whom they are sharing it with.

In the meantime it might a case of voting with our feet and showing our displeasure for these tech companies by boycotting their services. I’ve always been suspicious of Facebook and hence I don’t have a Facebook page. If I did I’d be deleting it right now (after telling all my stalkers followers why). Ditto with regard to e-bay and Paypal (which I won’t be using anytime soon). I tend to use synonyms online and if forced into filling in any questionnaire I give deliberately misleading information. Its a practice I’d advise others to copy.

As Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist at the Observer who has been leading their investigation into the scandal puts it:

This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a “managed” democracy. Paid for by a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. And enabled by us. If we let this referendum result stand, we are giving it our implicit consent. This isn’t about Remain or Leave. It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.