Monthly Archive: May 2021

St. Croix and the refinery disaster

In 2012, the US Virgin Islands suffered a major negative impact to the economy of St. Croix when the island’s oil refinery closed. The refinery was owned by Hovensa, and had first begun producing oil products in 1966. It was a joint venture between Hess Petroleum and Petroleos de Venezuela. For most of its life, the refinery processed sour crude from Venezuela. it was one of the largest refineries in the world, capable of processing up to 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day when operating at peak capacity.

The refinery’s closure was for the same reason that several other refineries in the USA have closed in the last 10 years – its equipment was worn out and obsolete, and the purity requirements for newer fuels such as low-sulphur diesel would require additional equipment to be installed. In addition, the refinery used oil to run its equipment, whereas modern refineries use natural gas or have been converted to use natural gas, which is cheaper than crude oil as an energy source. Margins in refining are very low (1-2%) so if your costs are 3% higher than a competitor, you lose money, and because of the size of the refinery, the monthly losses were in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

After closure, the site was mothballed except for the storage facility. The closure put thousands of people out of work on the island. So the US Virgin Islands government began exploring ways in which they could get the refinery to re-open. At the time that the refinery closed, it was estimated that $2bn of upgrades and rework would be required to make the refinery competitive.

In 2015, the US Virgin Islands government sued Hovensa, claiming that the closure was illegal. How they could expect to force a business entity that had made an economically obvious decision to close a loss-making plant was not exactly clear. The owners responded by filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After the usual legal manouvering, the government settled with Hovensa, and the refinery was sold for $800m to a venture capital consortium. 

Now named LImetree Bay, the new owners had to work hard and spend a lot of money to re-activate an old (and in many ways, obsolete) facility that had not been operational for 8 years. They spent $2.7bn on updates, repairs and upgrades, with a focus on creating low-sulfur maritime fuels, and Limetree Bay Refinery re-started operations in 2020.

Almost immediately there were problems. And the problems have been continuing, to the point that the EPA is considering cancelling the plant’s operating approval. Limetree Bay was an environmental problem in its previous life, and the new version of the facility seems to be no better.

The underlying challenge is a real one. Island archipelagoes lack good sources of employment for residents. Tourism only provides so many jobs. There are little to no employment sources for regular blue-collar men. The refinery generates a lot of cash into the local economy when operational, so the government had a powerful political and societal incentive to get it re-activated. However, the age of the refinery’s base equipment was always going to result in problems. Ideally they would have bulldozed the facility and started over, but that would have been cost-prohibitive. 

In the meantime, the US Virgin Islands is stuck with a leaky bucket economy job generation engine, which sooner or later will generate yet another environmental mini-disaster.



“Well I don’t know about that”

I read this and hear this excuse from time to time. It usually happens when I draw people’s attention to Bad Stuff that is going on around them, sometimes right under their nose.

The frustrating aspect of the response is that it is often the response they give when you point out to them that their opinion and/or understanding of the issues or events is, to put it mildly, deficient. Since I normally move to argument supported by facts, it probably occurs to them that I might actually (at the very least) know more than they do about the topic. (Whether I know enough or have the right knowledge is a whole different question).

The tart response that I want to use, but (to be truthful I seldom do use) is “well then it’s about time you woke up and started paying attention”.

The reason I seldom use the response is that it is, most of the time, not likely to yield a positive outcome. Nobody likes being told that they have not been paying attention. Especially if they haven’t.

So I usually count to a large number and move on. But the sentiment remains. If you want to have serious opinions that you can support and hold a discussion on, it might be a good idea to, you know, do some work in advance.


Brexit and the myth of “we knew what we were voting for”

I still keep wading through the statement “we knew what we were voting for” which is being used by all sides in the post-Brexit upheaval.

Reality Check. NOBODY who voted Leave knew what they were voting for. All the ballot paper asked was whether the UK should remain in the UK, or leave.

Anybody who claims “I knew what I was voting for” is engaging in one or more of the following:

  • Lying
  • Bullshitting
  • Imagining their own version of Brexit

The most charitable interpretation is that people voting Leave had an imagined outcome that they were certain would occur, or they thought they properly understood and agreed with one or more of the many promises made by Leave leaders, mostly to the effect of “this will be easy”.

I am prepared to bet money that almost nobody imagined the current outcome. The hardline Brexiters certainly did not, since all they did after the referendum was to rant and rave about “trading on WTO terms”, and demand that the UK tell the EU to get lost on every topic and “go it alone”. Remain supporters initially hoped that the UK decision would be ignored by Parliament, and when that did not happen, they hoped for a “soft” Brexit, which would retain key parts of the existing relationship such as freedom of movement.

Both sides were wrong, for all sorts of very good reasons. But the final outcome, shaped by 3 years of dithering, confusion and incompetence by the British governments, and distorted at every twist and turn by people many of whose understanding of the EU, global trade and reality wouldn’t fit on the back of a postage stamp, is going to irrevocably impact the economy and democracy of the UK, in a bad way, for generations.

My default response to anybody who claims in any seriousness “I knew what I was voting for” is: Bullshit. You had no real idea, except that perhaps you had something in your imagination, or something that you read or saw or heard about from supporters or leaders of Leave, and if you want me to take anything else you say seriously, you may as well admit that, so we can actually have a useful conversation. Absent that admission, you’re an unserious warbler, and this conversation is over.


UK Tabloids – deceit and dishonesty

There is an old saying from the UK, coined for the tabloid newspapers. It goes:  one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The UK tabloids prove the correctness of that saying, day in day out. They do it by a combination of one or both of the following:

  1. Making Shit Up – inventing stories in whole or in part, or exaggerating events until they bear no resemblance to what actually happened
  2. Distorting events to fit them into an overarching narrative or worldview

(1) is the go-to tactic for tittle-tattle and titillation articles, especially about celebrities, the Royal Family and other public figures. Sex, drugs, money or rock’n’roll is usually in there somewhere.

(2) is the most common tactic when reporting on politics or governance.

At the present time, the tabloid newspapers are uniformly pro-Brexit. They were cheerleaders for Brexit from day 1. It fits their long-standing “we represent the Real People” positioning.

The problem is that Brexit, so far, has little in the way of good outcomes, and plenty of bad outcomes. Many of those bad outcomes are a direct result of the British government making poor decisions, and then trying to blame other parties for the outcome of those bad decisions.

Currently, the British government is having to try to dig itself out of a very large mess over the reality that the UK is now, as far as the EU is concerned, a third country. Meaning, the UK left the club and gave up the membership benefits. The UK now has to negotiate with the EU as a third country, and also has to negotiate with other countries without any support or backing from the EU.

One country the UK is having to try to negotiate with is Norway, over fishing rights. Norway is not in the EU, and because the UK is not in the EU, it now has no trading bloc on its side. This means that the negotiation is suddenly one of equals. There is no pressure on Norway to agree to any deal that it finds to be unacceptable. In other words, the UK has no real leverage in the negotiations. It has to take what it can get, not what it thinks it is entitled to. Unfortunately, as the article itself makes clear, the UK entered the talks with the idea that the previous arrangement with Norway when it was a member of the EU was unfair to the UK, therefore any new deal has to be more in the UK’s favor. That does not really work when you are asking for access to another country’s waters.

The UK and Norway just failed to agree on a whole host of issues related to fishing rights.

The Daily Express, one of the oldest UK tabloids, chose to report these events like this:

This is a classic example of lede distortion. The lede begins “Norway shuts out UK”. That is an accusation, which is not supported by the content of the next paragraph or the rest of the article. The paragraph states that the negotiations failed. Both parties failed to agree. If the UK knew going in that a failure would result in Norway no longer issuing fishing licenses, then that was predictable, and not exactly the fault of Norway.

There is no information in paragraph 1 on whether existing fishing licenses continue either. If they continue, and Norway stops issuing new ones, then it is not a “shut out” anyway, and the lede becomes deceitful, not merely deceptive.

This example is common practice in tabloid-land, where the entire business model is based on either enticing readers with juicy (read: salacious) details about something, or riling up readers by reporting something that inflames their emotions.

In this case, it was the latter approach. The lede is designed to point the blame on Norway, via the line “Norway shuts out UK” (boo! hiss! Big Bad Norway!) . The first paragraph does not align with the lede, but that is almost certainly deliberate. “negotiations fail” is a non-judgmental line. “Norway shuts out UK” is judgmental, and blames somebody other than the UK, which is the narrative that you need to continue with if you believe that Brexit was a good and just action. The Express began 2021 with other triumphalist headlines over fishing rights such as “We’re in charge now!”, a narrative that the UK was now going to be in control of all of its fishing rights.

Clearly, having a next door country say “sorry, but you have no rights to continue to fish in our fishing waters, we do not have to grant you any unless we negotiate it, and we don’t like the deal you are offering” conflicts with the “we have control” narrative.

The logical fallacy or myth, which is operative here, is that the UK controls all of whatever the Express thinks is “our waters” and “our fish”. It’s total bullshit, not just because of the reality that the UK has left the EU, but also because of the rules of UNCLOS, which the UK is automatically obliged to follow as a member of the United Nations. Under UNCLOS, the UK is legally obligated to engage in joint stewardship of fishing waters. This, by the way, is why the UK had to do a deal on fishing with the EU. Failure to do so would have opened the UK up to censure and possible sanctions underwritten by the United Nations.

The Daily Express is simply writing bullshit ledes to paper over the reality that the UK does not have “control” over its fishing waters. The sovereignty myth is, as will become increasingly obvious, colliding with modern global reality. Reality will win. In the meantime, we can expect to see more articles like this every day where the lede either does not match the article content, or where the article content is a distortion or a collection of bullshit.





Tom Baugh – 1949-2021

Tom Baugh, one of our oldest and best friends since Mary and I met, passed away on 25th May.

We first met Tom and Betty…ooh, I don’t really know, some time in 2008, at a local social venue. They were welded at the hip friendship-wise with Don and Jackie. We became friends with all 4 of them quite quickly. We naturally gravitate to people who have no pretension or artifice.

I have been pondering how to describe Tom. Describing humans in a sentence or two is actually rather difficult. But if I had to summarize a lifetime of character in several words, it would be “solid and good”. Tom was one of the most WYSIWYG people that I have had the privilege to know. He was not loud, not quiet, but instinctively friendly, with a deep but non-booming tenor voice, and a sly, slightly dry wit. He and Betty were happily married and devoted to each other, and Tom, being very steady, was her ideal foil. He laughed easily, not a forced laugh, but a laugh that you knew was coming from a real laugh center as opposed to an artifice appearances or social ingratiation center. He appeared to have no particular vices or challenges. His worldview was more conservative than mine, but we never really got into that, mainly because I had no interest in creating friction where none was warranted.

I never really got to know Tom in any deep sense, but sometimes you hang out with people and you don’t need to “know” them in any deep way, because you know from experience that the right thing to do is to just live in the moment and enjoy the company. So, over the years, Mary and I hung out with Tom and Betty and Don and Jackie in many different social situations and locations, and Tom was always just…Tom.

Tom was a solid person, grounded, devoid of pretension or artifice, without a bad or malicious bone in his body. He was, in every respect, one of the Good Guys. Which makes his sudden passing all the more difficult to process. The process of chance intervened and has taken him away from us way too soon. HIs body failed him.

My heart goes out to Betty and his family, and also to Don and Jackie, who outside his family, knew him the best.

We live (as the old Chinese saying goes) in interesting times, where circumstances worldwide are leading to stress, and a lot of people are not being their best selves. Right now, the world could do with a lot more Toms.


The Space Shuttle – An honest appraisal

The NASA Space Shuttle program was the successor to the Apollo series of manned space and Lunar visitation missions. NASA needed a new overarching mission, after achieving the objective set out by President John F Kennedy in 1962. They had a large organization to keep busy.

The Space Shuttle was the next generation dream. It was promised to be a fully re-usable orbiter, capable of rapid turnaround missions to Low Earth Orbit for a modest cost. The planning assumptions were all based around a very high mission rate and total number of missions.  One assumption was that the new post-Apollo program would need a total of 546 shuttle launches in 1975-85 alone. This number looks ludicrous today, but reflects the level of optimism about the capability that re-usable orbiters would provide. A high mission number was also financially convenient because R&D and maintenance costs then look a lot smaller as a percentage of mission costs.

The program in its final form was simply the most politically palatable post-Apollo program that gained the most political support for continued funding. The configuration, with the external boosters, was largely imposed by NASA senior leaders and political supporters, and was not the result of a bottom-up engineering analysis. 

As a result of the defective processes that led to its initiation, the program was plagued by delays, and massive cost inflation. The original commercial targets for the shuttle program were never met. In the final event, the cost of the program was such that each shuttle launch cost over $1bn if all of the total program costs were amortized by the number of missions. A more charitable interpretation is that the launch cost was around $245m per mission, if you accounted for all of the then-current costs of NASA and third parties.

That massive cost inflation destroyed parts of the business plan for the Shuttle program. One part of the business plan was for the Shuttle to launch commercial satellites into geostationary orbit. This was never a viable business, as the low frequency of shuttle launches, and the high cost of each mission, meant that the shuttle was not competitive with rocket-based satellite delivery organizations. Satellites were launched from the shuttle, but they were almost all US military satellites, and that business stream disappeared after the Challenger accident when the military walked away from using the Shuttle and reverted to using expendable rocket launchers.

The biggest issues with the program were the public failures of the Challenger and Columbia missions, resulting in the deaths of all of the crew members. The underlying issue with both failures was not the program itself or the technologies, but appallingly lax safety processes inside NASA and across contractors and third parties, the result of an intensely political communication environment where the main objective was for nobody to bring Bad News to the table. Upward message dilution was baked into the culture of all of the corporations and government bodies collaborating on the program. Both mission failures resulted in lengthy pauses in shuttle launches as NASA attempted to rectify the issues that contributed to the accidents.

Challenger was launched, with NASA under intense political pressure for a quick launch, on a morning where overnight temperatures had fallen below safe minimums to preserve the integrity of the booster rocket o-rings, which were not designed to function in sub-zero temperatures. Columbia was allowed to continue its mission, up to the failed re-entry, despite clear visual evidence of damage to the leading edge of one of its wings during the launch. NASA assumed “it will be OK” despite having access to the technology to examine the wing leading edge from the ground. Rescuing the crew via an emergency rescue mission with another orbiter was possible, but NASA simply blew off the detail examination and everybody crossed their fingers. We know how that turned out.

Richard Feynman, in his book “What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?”, recounts his time on the Challenger investigation commission. Feynman, being a lot smarter than the average guy, realized early on that NASA and contractors would do everything it could to steer, and where necessary, shut down detail investigation. So he persistently and consistently talked to engineers, including the teams responsible for the design of the Shuttle’s rocket engines, and engineers responsible for the creation of the booster rockets. What he found were two fundamental issues:

  1. The shuttle propulsion system was not created the way that engineers would like to create a system to assure operation and reliability. It was designed top-down to meet a “clean sheet of paper” set of objectives, and supposedly to get the Shuttle program up and running quickly, and was not assembled bottom-up from proven components. As a result, when numerous reliability issues appeared during testing, extensive bottom-up re-designs were required to address them, and some of the issues were never addressed
  2. There had been numerous design and reliability issues from the very beginning with the sealing of the booster rocket casings, and the problems had never been fully solved by Morton Thiokol

The Shuttle program ended in 2011, with a final total of 105 missions having been flown, for the loss of 2 out of 5 orbiters. The total was a fraction of the original target, achieved over a much longer time period for a massively inflated cost.

While the Shuttle program was a great source of publicity, advanced key aspects of rocket engine technology, and has created iconic images and publicity (good and bad), the facts are that the program never met any of its original goals, and it arguably diverted NASA resources and focus from activities that were probably safer and more cost-effective, such as robotic and unmanned missions within the Solar System.


Loss of accountability – the decline of ridicule

When a person or organization proposes an action or makes a claim that is ridiculous, ridicule, by definition, is a logical response.

Ridicule is a powerful took for shaming idiots into silence. However, for ridicule to actually work, two pre-conditions have to be met:

  1. There have to be people around the person or organization uttering ridiculous nonsense who are prepared to actually ridicule what was just said or proposed
  2. The person or persons being ridiculed has to be capable of being shamed or embarrassed

Those two pre-conditions are different, but not mutually exclusive. In this world, absence of accountability leads to assumptions of impunity, and that makes people more prepared (even enthusiastic) about “trying it on”, to see what boundaries or norms or laws they can break. If a person says something utterly ridiculous in public and nobody contradicts their statement or mocks them, the message they receive will be clear. Bullshitting, lying or talking nonsense has no downside.

Cults are an end-point example of what happens when leaders get to utter ridiculous ideas or claims without contradiction. In cults, the leader is regarded as a supreme savant, an infallible role model whose utterances are never to be questioned. Ridiculing your cult leader is a short cut to exile, ostracism and other socially penal consequences. In authoritarian governments captured by cult thinking, it will be life-threatening. In fact, even politely questioning a cult leader is a dangerous action. All of this is logical given that most cult leaders are malignant narcissists, whose entire concept of self is based on personal infallibility and the idea that everybody is merely there to serve them.

The cult approach to communication has become dominant in several countries over the last 5 years, as electors chose deeply authoritarian political parties and leaders to govern them. The governments in the USA (until recently) and the UK (currently) are dominated by authoritarians who regard all opposition as, by definition, illegitimate and irrelevant.

Just like unruly children, politicians of the authoritarian tendency in the USA and the UK have been working out what they can get away with in terms of making statements that in many cases are either bullshit or lies, but which appeal to their supporters. They have, at the same time, been trying to ensure that those bullshit utterances are not even questioned, let alone ridiculed. In competitive sport, the tactics used would be classified under the general euphemism of “working the refs”.

The Trump administration did this by defining most media organizations as purveyors of “fake news”, and demonizing media interlocutors as anti-American. The Johnson government in the UK is doing much the same thing, but more indirectly, by attempting to remove the independence of broadcast media, and by relying on friendly tabloid news outlets who will write nonsense stories and print them repetitively.

The media, unfortunately, has no cogent or effective response to the current tactics of intimidation, because media assumptions about politicians and how politicians operate are out of date. The assumption that major political actors are operating in good faith in a constructive way, and usually tell the truth, is so baked into media DNA that it cannot be effectively countered. Politicians get to be interviewed, utter complete nonsense, and are rarely challenged in any effective way, much less ridiculed. As a result, in the USA we get nonsense like this. Notice that there is no clear attempt by the media organization to point out the obvious either in the lede or the beginning of the article, namely that the GOP representative is flat-out lying.

This is the end result of the Both Sides approach to media coverage, which prioritizes being seen as impartial above being a fact-based communicator. If your reporting approach values perceived impartiality above the fact-based communication of information, all of your interviewees and sources have an immediate incentive to move to an assertion-based model of communication, where Sounding Good is more important than being fact and reality-based.

All of the media failures to ridicule bullshit and lies have a fundamental underlying cause. We The People are actually OK with this level of nonsense. Media organizations live or die by eyeballs and butts on seats. If a media organization found its viewing figures plummeting, and found out that viewers were ignoring it because it was allowing bullshit on-air, I suspect that the media organization would soon change its behavior. The bottom line would tell the story, and changes would be made. So, until We The People stop tolerating ridiculous nonsense, this media behavior will probably continue.

The reason why we tolerate bullshit and nonsense has a wider social aspect that must not be overlooked. Many of us are reluctant to engage in ridicule, especially in family situations. It is seen as disrespectful and dismissive by many people, and therefore is automatically bad.

This is not true. One major way in which illusions and myths become baked into thoughts and behavior is by acceptance of nonsense, coupled with repetition. Respect is not automatic, it needs to be earned. There is no logical reason to respect the views of a person when those views are clearly nonsensical. I actually believe that we have a societal duty to point out that the views are ridiculous. If we do not do so, then the nonsense will spread.

As the old saying goes, people prefer comfortable lies to uncomfortable facts, and politicians and other marketing-based communicators know this and exploit it.

The old parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes was meant to be cautionary tale of what happens when people fail to point out the obvious. That parable needs to be remembered by all of us.

The road back is a long one. We as individuals have to be much more prepared to engage in ridicule of ridiculous ideas and proposals. We also need to penalize media and individuals who engage in that behavior, or who are amplifying it. Without We The People changing our behavior, the media will not modify its behavior, and people will continue to obfuscate, bullshit and lie to us.


Saturday round-up – 22nd May 2021

  1. When a major political party has introduced 408 bills across the USA to try and add restrictions and new rules on voting, that’s a clear strategy to disrupt the process of voting based on universal suffrage.
  2. The British royal family can always be relied upon to provide tabloid amusement and a diversion. The kerfuffle over Princess Diana’s interview from 1995 and the latest Harry revelations from an interview with Oprah Winfrey are taking media bandwidth away from from the grim realities of Covid-19 and Brexit. The impact of Brexit, coupled with other recent world events, is even affecting the building sector.  It is a typical feature of the British media landscape, and thoroughly supports the person who described the UK tabloids to me as “budgie cage liner”.
  3. The latest Brexit posting from Chris Grey is his usual excellent fact-supported analysis. Also, it is close to bizarre that the NFU seems to think that reminding Boris Johnson of the promises he is supposed to have made to “look after” the UK farming sector after Brexit is going to result in them not being hung out to dry if and when a trade agreement is agreed with Australia. The goal of the current Conservative government is to ensure that the UK cannot ever re-join the EU. They intend to do this by agreeing to clauses in new trade agreements that specifically conflict with EU legislation. Agreeing to import meat from Australia, which allows (among other things) beef cattle hormone injections, will create a scenario where a trade agreement with a third country conflicts with current EU legislation. If the trade agreement has a really long term, that will successfully eliminate any real chance of the UK re-joining the Single Market and Customs Union, probably in my lifetime.
  4. A fascinating article from Jon Worth’s excellent blog about overnight sleeper train services in Europe, and how their existence is at best tenuous. The situation in the UK is also terrible, with sleeper services having effectively disappeared, with only occasional attempts at revival.
  5. We have a new candidate for Sovereign Citizen of the Year in the USA. This guy is showing some definite potential.
  6. I found an excellent new blog aggregator site. Of course, it then proceeded to link me to this grim story.
  7. But this story rivals it for bizarre grimness.
  8. The most sinister aspect of the new Texas abortion prohibition law is how it essentially abolishes the concept of standing.
    ANYBODY can sue anybody else under the law.
    We can expect to see a massive blizzard of shakedown lawsuits by unscrupulous lawyers against medical practitioners, and even the friends and family of people who try to obtain abortions, on flimsy or no grounds.
    BTW, this expansive dumping of standing may be logical, given that Republicans are often frustrated by standing when trying to file frivolous lawsuits in the political arena.
  9. There is so much to unwrap in this story of the appalling and illegal behavior of a supposed Republican congressional candidate. The idea of the GOP as the party of personal responsibility and the nuclear famly really has no credibility at the present time. None. Diddly squat. What amazes me is why interviewers do not simply burst out laughing at this guy. UPDATE – It gets worse…this guy’s son by the girl he impregnated is currently awaiting trial in California. Guess what he is charged with?
  10. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack was merely the latest in a whole string of ransomware attacks against corporations. The DarkSide group is also selling its technology and tools to other ransomware groups, but then there are rumors that the group has had to temporarily cease operations. Although if I had successfully extorted $90m in BitCoin from somebody, I would probably be looking for a nice villa in a beach resort in the tropics…

UK railway privatization – the saga continues

The history of rail privatization in the UK is a complex one. The government of John Major originally privatized the rail system in 1996, splitting the assets into infrastructure (to be maintained by an infrastructure corporation named RailTrack) and franchises for regional services. The Labour government continued with the model and associated processes.

RailTrack effectively went bankrupt in 2001, after major issues with its stewardship were exposed following the Hatfield rail accident, and had to be bailed out by the government and re-constituted as a new company (Network Rail). The bailout was a costly process that also involved litigation against the government and the former Transport secretary.

A number of franchisees have had their contracts terminated over the years (which created its own set of problems, since the new franchisees did not inherit the old franchisee leadership and management, and key operational knowledge went missing and had to be rebuilt), and several franchises, most notably the East Coast franchise, failed. Some former franchisees are now banned from bidding, due to performance and other issues. There is compelling evidence that several franchises in recent years have met the definition of what Modern Railways termed “zombie franchises” – operators that are losing money and who will eventually default and lose their franchises.  A small-print table in the article shows that apart from the service disruption and transition issues of failing franchisees, there is a significant cost to the taxpayer in simply managing the re-bidding process for franchises.

This history of rail privatization and operations is interesting reading, not only because it shows that extensive government control and support for the UK rail system continues decades after the system was supposedly privatized, but also because it shows the extent to which the franchisees are foreign-owned. Many current UK franchises are partially or wholly owned by European companies or European government bodies.

Problems with even finding qualified companies to bid on franchises have led to a government review of the operation of the entire UK rail system. The report has just been issued, and it looks likely to lead to a much higher level of government involvement in rail operations.

The report does not mince words. The publication summary admits that the entire current franchising and operational model is now unsustainable. This was kind of obvious given the recent franchise failures, and the failure of some franchises to even attract qualified bidders.

The solution appears to be a complete reboot of the infrastructure-train operating company model, but the responsibilities of the train operators will be much narrower, with more of the basic business parameters such as fares being set by the government. This is probably a response to massive continued criticism of fare increases by the franchisees, who under the old model had freedom to set fares.

The new government-supervised infrastructure and operational parameters corporation will be named Great British Railways. You could not find a better example of desperate over-compensation in naming if you tried.

The irony of the history is that the government is now just as involved in railway operation as it was before initial privatization, the amount of government support is still considerable, and many of the operational franchisees are foreign-owned. The last aspect is the least-understood, a consequence of the Thatcher-era free market approach which did not care who ran businesses, as long as they did the job properly. Whether UK electors understand the extent to which European countries run and control aspects of the UK’s infrastructure is doubtful.



The art and science of Kompromat and Jeffrey Epstein

It is clear by now that the late Jeffrey Epstein, over a period of over 20 years, operating behind the front that he was a hedge fund owner and money manager (and it was a front with little substance to it, as this article makes clear), was running some sort of covert operation to befriend, flatter, and ingratiate himself with a large number of plutocrats, oligarchs, businessmen, academics and other sorts of celebrities.

Epstein had an expansive and expensive lifestyle with no obvious means to finance it, and traveled wide and far on personal jets with all manner of people. Logically, the only tenable explanation was that Epstein was collecting money (and lots of it) from people who suddenly found themselves either indebted to him, or people who controlled him and were paying him for the influence that he was exerting on those indebted people.

The list of people who Epstein befriended and ingratiated himself with is a long one, and the extent to which some of those people interacted with Epstein is slowly becoming clearer by the day.

The most recent burst of re-examination has been triggered by the news that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda French Gates will be divorcing. Gates, it is now clear, was spending a lot more time with Epstein than was previously known or publicly admitted. Allegedly, the relationship between Gates and Epstein, dating back to 2011, was the root cause of Melinda French Gates initiating the divorce. (It now seems that Bill Gates was also playing away with other women during their marriage, an ironically unsurprising event when you consider that his marriage originally started as a workplace romance with Melinda).

Since retiring from Microsoft, Bill and Melinda Gates have been devoting their time to their charitable foundation. Gates, richer than Croesus, probably had no need of basic financial advice, and as this article points out, it is unclear why Bill Gates thought that Jeffrey Epstein should be any better as a source of philanthropic advice than any one of hundreds of other well-connected people. The excessive contact with Epstein led to Gates resigning from the Microsoft board in 2020, under the pretext that he needed more time for philanthropy.

The general public’s conspiracist worldview of Jeffrey Epstein, who, it is well-established, had a liking for girls well under the legal age of consent, has coalesced around the conviction that his strategy was to ingratiate himself with the rich and famous (always men, you will notice) and then entrap them by offering them female juveniles as sexual playthings. Epstein’s arrest and extraordinary plea deal in Florida, when he eventually pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution, was essentially an escape from what could have been many years of incarceration. He served 13 months, most of it on work release in a private wing of a county jail. The deal has been criticized ever since it was revealed, and the States Attorney who agreed to it, Alex Acosta, has taken the brunt of the criticism, ultimately resigning from his role as US Secretary of Labor in the Trump Administration.

Epstein’s arrest on further sexual abuse charges and his mysterious death in jail have cemented him in the public gaze as primarily a pedophile and pimp for would-be pedophiles. However, that seems way too simplistic. Not every adult male is a pedophile-in-waiting. Some, after all, are gay or bisexual, which are also traits making them vulnerable to entrapment.

If Epstein’s business was entrapment and capture of assets for his controllers (who, I believe, were Russia and Israel, with Ghislaine Maxwell as the intermediary for the Israel connection), then there were plenty of other behaviors, many related to business, that Epstein could have facilitated, that would provide leverage to make people compliant and willing accomplices.

Money laundering is the main alternative explanation. Ever since the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s, Russian oligarchs and business leaders have been adept at moving large sums of money out of Russia to other countries for investment and enjoyment purposes. This is particularly true in locations like the UK, which appeals to Russian oligarchs because of its low taxes and plaintiff-friendly libel laws. There is plenty of evidence that wealthy Russians have been laundering large sums of money into and via the USA, often using a well-established process of buying apartments or property using cash instruments from overseas corporations, often paying well above market rate for the property, in which case a later-kick-back occurs to the buyer, moving cash into the buyer’s US bank account. Once you have engaged in money laundering, you are highly vulnerable to prosecution if that scheme is revealed.

In due course, I expect that it will be revealed that large parts of Donald Trump’s business empire were maintained by money laundered from Russia. There are all manner of businesses and business transactions inside Trump’s empire that in pure business terms, make no sense, but which do make sense in the presence of money laundering. The connection between Trump and Epstein was probably part of a web of people all working covertly to move money around the world, mostly in defiance of local and international laws.

My verdict is that Epstein wasn’t too concerned about how he entrapped people. He would get to know them, discern their vulnerabilities and primitive desires, and create a scenario which capitalized on those vulnerabilities and desires to get them to engage in activities which were highly illegal. If the activity was recorded in detail, with Epstein in possession of the evidence, then that person was now beholden to Epstein, and he could call in one or more favors from them at a later date, or get them to support covert activity on behalf of his controllers…or else…

Epstein was smart and cunning enough to realize that he needed to create a fig-leaf of intellectual heft for his activities. He also befriended academics and intellectuals, even if, in most cases, it is not likely that he was going to get any RoI from them for his controllers. Most likely he wanted to burnish his credentials as a mover and shaker, and provide a veneer of sophistication for his activities. Many intellectuals are vulnerable to flattery, and being sat next to world leaders in business or technology at dinners at posh venues would inflate their egos significantly. Ditto world leaders. The likes of Bill Gates would no doubt be flattered to be able to converse with leading intellectuals, as a form of validation that they had ideas of substance, and were not simply driven assholes who had been ruthless enough and/or lucky enough to accumulate large piles of money.

The underlying purpose of Epstein’s social strategy remained the same; to seduce wealthy and influential people who could be manipulated for the benefit of his underlying client controllers. Intellectuals like Steven Pinker were a bit of glitter dust to provide a veneer of sophistication and class, and occasional help in the form of testimonials as to Epstein’s probity (cough).

Was Jeffrey Epstein murdered in jail? Given how much information he must have possessed on hundreds of people, it is safe to assume that many of those people desperately wanted him to be silenced. His controllers would also not have wanted his role for them to be revealed. The two prime suspect nations have a track record of eliminating people who might threaten the security of the state. Never mind the individuals whose predilections for under-age girls would prove deeply awkward. (Including a certain member of the UK royal family). Quite simply, too many people would have benefitted greatly from Jeffrey Epstein’s demise. So, he obligingly died.

Whether enough evidence has survived Epstein’s demise, we do not really know. However, Ghislaine Maxwell is still alive and is in custody, and she may, to use an old phrase, know where many of the bodies are buried.

Ghislaine Maxwell is probably also terrified of being eliminated in jail. However, if she is released, I expect that she will disappear, and then show up either dead, or in Israel, which has no extradition treaties with any other countries. I am still puzzled about why she did not flee to Israel when she first disappeared. It may be because Trump and Netanyahu had, by all accounts, a tenuous relationship, with Trump pissing off Netanyahu with some of his clumsy attempts at Middle East power plays. Or it may be that with Trump still in power in the USA, she considered herself safe in the USA, or likely to be pardoned (which would be a tribute to her hubris, since as we are now seeing, Trump pardoned few people. Narcissists regard people who are no longer useful as totally expendable).

We will continue to see more revelations about more people who were, even transiently, in Jeffrey Epstein’s orbit. I expect that in due course some of them will end up in receipt of felony charges. I also expect that politicians of both parties will be found to have been pulled into the Epstein circle. Epstein was shrewd and calculating, and if politicians of both parties were beholden to him, then he and his controllers would have influence, no matter which party held power in the USA.

The recent plea deal by Joel Greenberg has led to excited talk that Matt Gaetz is due to be indicted any day now. My suspicion is that the plea deal by Greenberg may turn out to be more related to Jeffrey Epstein. Both men had homes near each other in Florida. Greenberg, superficially, looks to have been engaging in similar (albeit lower-budget) activities to Epstein, but there might be more of a connection between the two men than many people realize. (Although Greenberg probably doesn’t want to suffer the same fate as Epstein). The fact that Greenberg bargained 33 felony charges down to a guilty plea to only 6 suggests that he must have offered a LOT of information (translation: Names) to trade away to make those other 27 felony charges disappear.

None of this will unfold on the timeframe that people want. The wheels of justice do grind exceedingly slow. But they grind.


Healthprose pharmacy reviews