Current Affairs

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…
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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.

 

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The UK government is still searching for the benefits of Brexit

If you formulate a grand project or strategy in most lines of business, you have to prove that the project will result in tangible, quantifiable benefits (and lots of them) to even be considered for funding. You don’t get to start the project on the basis that “the benefits will be defined later”.

Today’s news that the UK government intends to hire a consultant or similar to investigate the benefits of Brexit is a massive Tell. Brexit as a project has been underway for 5+ years (47 years, if you count the entry to the EEC, after which time there were always people in the UK claiming that the UK should leave). And the government is still looking for the benefits?

This is additional proof that Brexit was a project and a strategy which, as implemented by the UK, has no quantifiable nett upside or positive value for the UK. If there was a quantifiable upside it would have been possible to articulate it before Brexit occurred, defend it, and then realize it when Brexit occurred. None of those conditions were met. The UK entered Brexit with no coherent strategy, spend years arguing with itself and the EU, ended the process with a poor deal, and is now desperately looking for the fig-leaf marked “Benefits”. Best of luck with that.

 

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Sunday round-up

No, Donald Trump is not going to be a candidate in 2024

Donald Trump is not mentally competent. He has not given a live speech or interview for months. His postings on his new social media site are disconnected gibberish, and this will continue. However, the GOP remains captured by his deeply undemocratic ideas.

The UK elections reveal a dangerous disengagement

Amidst all of the hoopla over the Hartlepool by-election, a very worrying aspect of the election was almost completely ignored. Less than 50% of the electorate in Hartlepool voted. This is not a sound basis for representative democracy. It certainly should result in anybody claiming a “mandate” being ridiculed into silence, but the evidence is that a lot of electors are withdrawing from participation. All political parties should be worried about this, but the reality is that the winning parties do not care (for obvious reasons).

The results in the rest of the UK are highly region-specific. The Conservatives actually lost seats and council control in parts of South East England, notably Kent, where the negative impacts of Brexit first showed up in the form of massive lorry parks, the ludicrous Kent Access Permit and other assorted disruption. However, the distorting effects of the First Past The Post system mean that there was little overall impact, even in Scotland.

The Scottish referendum issue will continue to rumble on, but the mathematics shows that a majority of voters in Scotland supported parties who also support an independence referendum, so people claiming otherwise reveal themselves as mathematically challenged and unserious warblers.

As Covid-19 recedes, Brexit will dominate the political world again

Because Brexit is already an economic failure, the only way in which the government can provide even a fig-leaf of justification is by presenting it as a necessary cultural and historical event. We can therefore expect to see continued invocation of slogans and fine-sounding ideas based around “sovereignty” (which was never defined except in very abstract terms, so it is an ideal slogan around which to build rhetoric. Like beauty, sovereignty is totally in the eye of the beholder), plus the dismissal of pro-EU voices as disloyal or unpatriotic (this, by the way, is the Hermann Goering playbook, as revealed in his Nuremberg interrogation).

The slowly increasing financial impacts of Brexit will be ignored, or waved off as “this would have happened anyway”.  However, every time the UK argues with the EU and loses, or tries to negotiate a trade deal with another country and is forced to accept poor terms, we will be reminded of the strategic folly once again. This, like a dripping tap, will slowly have an impact. However, I expect Brexit support to stay high, because nobody likes to admit to having made a mistake. Like racism, I expect a lot of Brexit support to slowly, literally, die with the supporters.

The government is already expanding on the culture war aspects of Brexit via its sudden demonization of “woke” groups presumed to be dangerous. All of the old suspects are there, colleges and teachers being at the top of the list. It’s like reading 1970s Tory propaganda sheets all over again. Nothing is new under the Sun. The entire approach is to demonize groups for narrow political ends, and it is already working.

Why these culture war diversions always seem to work is a complex topic, but it has a lot to do with media incuriosity. When did you last hear a media interviewer say “can you define Woke?” to a politician?

A determined attempt to demand definitions for glib slogans like “woke” or “will of the people” (a phrase that should worry anybody with a good grasp of history, given its fascist popularity) is a good way of uncovering bullshit, but the modern media is not equipped attitudinally to do that. Until people peddling slogan word salad are forced to define it, rhetorically empty phrases like “woke” will continue to be used as emotional activation code phrases.

The UK government has discarded norms, and is going to try to consolidate a one-party regime

All of the recent evidence suggests that the UK government, as Chris Grey has noted, now lives in a weird parallel universe. In order to perpetuate that state of mind in their minds and the electorate, they need to be able to be above scrutiny, both by the media, and by Parliament. It is a re-run of the scenario in “1984” (“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”)

We can therefore expect to see the following two strategies unfolding in parallel over the next 12-18 months:

  • Determined attempts to reduce media scrutiny, via a combination of assuring BBC compliance and ignoring or denigrating all media outlets that are not obviously pro-government
  • The formulation and passing of laws designed to reduce parliamentary and independent scrutiny of government actions

The first of these strategies is well under way via the appointment of Conservative sycophants to the BBC governing body, and the recent announcement of the intent to privatize Channel 4. Make no mistake, “privatize” in this context translates to “sold to a group of Tory supporters who will enforce fealty to the government”.

The second strategy is visible via periodic government complaints about “independent” scrutiny, and a series of actions going back years which have reduced opportunities for debate and scrutiny of government plans and decisions. The plan to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act is the most recent example. The government wants to pick and choose the date of the next General Election in order to maximize its chances of governing for another 5 years without any checks and balances.

The absence of a written Constitution in the UK makes the exercise of power not bounded by historical norms and conventions very very easy. The only person who could stop that would be the Queen, who is not supposed to intervene in any way in the political process.

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My personal future – Brexit and the impacts

In 2016, the UK voted by a narrow majority to leave the EU in an advisory referendum.

There was no strategy offered by the Brexit supporters beyond “we are bound to get a great deal”. As events have proved, the UK has ended up with a bad deal. There are a whole host of reasons for this, which I will not elaborate on.

The biggest impact on my personal future has been to eliminate Europe as a possible living location when I stop working full-time in 2 years or so. After visiting the Azores in 2018, Mary and I were seriously wanting to relocate to there when I stopped full-time IT work. That would have been ideal from the perspective of being close to the UK, and also would have been OK for access to the USA. However, the elimination of Freedom of Movement in the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU, and the lack of any reciprocal agreements with the EU on fundamental life issues such as healthcare, means that living in the Azores will be prohibitively expensive and complicated, mainly because of healthcare costs and residency issues. The same issues apply to any other European country in the EU.

So, the Leave vote in 2016 has eliminated any chance of me relocating to be closer to my family in the UK.

Since, as far as I can tell, most of my immediate family voted to Leave, I have to assume that they either failed to realize that this might be an impact on my future, or they never even considered it. They certainly never asked me, either before the referendum, or since the referendum. They know my views of Leave, that much is certain.

I am certainly not going to relocate to the UK. The country demonstrated, both in the referendum result, and the result of the General Elections since then, that the majority sentiment is now one of narrow-minded, exclusionary xenophobia. The current government is incompetent, corrupt and ignorant. The UK electors voted for this outcome. I hold them responsible, and I am not going to return to live in that sort of a country. I do not even intend to visit for tourism reasons.

I am looking at possibly buying a property in Ireland, but that is as close as I will come to the UK. Ireland has some special relationship arrangements with the UK that have not (so far) been torpedoed by Brexit. However, if the UK government persists in picking fights with the EU, those special arrangements could disappear soon. So I am wary of making any immediate commitment.

We are now looking at relocating to either Hawaii or Costa Rica.

Hawaii has the advantage of being part of the USA, but property is expensive. We would probably end up in a small house or even an apartment.

Costa Rica is an enlightened country with a good record of environmental stewardship and democracy, and property is more affordable. It has good healthcare, which would be affordable for us if I stop working. Mary might even be able to work from Costa Rica, and I intend to work from there on writing projects.

The next 12-18 months will determine our next location. If our investments do well, I may be able to shift to full-time writing in 12-18 months. We are working on the house to make it as valuable as possible when the time comes to sell it.

The UK’s decision to try and re-run the Golden Age of Empire has resulted in us having to re-think a lot of plans. Europe is off the list as a living location. .

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Brexit Supporter rationalizations for outcomes

Now that we are several months into the post-Brexit world, with all manner of outcomes, mostly negative, clearly visible and documented, it is interesting to note the response of many Brexit supporters.

A classic line, being used in many variable ways, is “this is not the Brexit that I/we voted for”. Here is fisherman Chris Vinnicombe, interviewed on TV, uttering a classic version. 

His exact words were “Most fisherman, me included voted for Brexit but we didn’t vote for this”.

Well, no, they didn’t vote for “this” (the actual outcome). There is a very simple reason for that. There was no outcome specified on the EU Referendum ballot paper. Here is the exact text of the June 2016 referendum ballot:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

with the responses to the question to be (to be marked with a single (X)):

Remain a member of the European Union
Leave the European Union

So, Chris and his fellow fishermen were presented with a binary Yes or No question to answer. There was no information, not even a hint, as to what the final outcome would be if they voted Leave.

When anybody who voted for Brexit says “I didn’t vote for this”, the correct answer is “no, you voted for nothing except to Leave. Everything else was, and still is, in your imagination”.

Of course, there were plenty of politicians, charlatans and bullshitters who were only too willing to predict the outcome if the UK voted Leave. They seemed to think it would be easy. The messaging from the Leave supporters was charmingly simple: leave it to us and we will negotiate an excellent Brexit which will make you all very happy.

We know how that has turned out. After prematurely triggering Article 50, internal strife over what exactly the UK should try to negotiate resulted in 3 years of disputes, 2 General Elections and, after months of posturing dickery by the UK, in the negotiation of what has now turned out to be an alarmingly deficient trade deal with the EU.

When disappointed Brexit supporters say “this is not the Brexit I voted for”, my response may depend on how charitable or snarky I am feeling.

The snarky response would be “you never voted for any Brexit. You just voted to leave. So how you can say that is beyond illogical”.

The more polite response, which is more akin to playing a fish on a line (haha) is to politely inquire “so which detail Brexit did you think you voted for?”

You can expect that, most of the time, this will result in hemming and hawing, with a weird list of bits-and-pieces cockamamie ideas involving “sovereignty”, “fishing”, “freedom” and other slogans with no useful content. Like any cockamamie idea based on regressive ideology, slogans played a major part in how Brexit was promoted as a good thing. Sometimes people will be more detailed.

The response to the response is then going to be “and what evidence did you have that the government intended to negotiate that sort of Brexit, or was that just your hope?” That will probably result in another long silence.

As you can guess, this will be an uncomfortable conversation, but that is not all the fault of the Brexit voters. The real issue is that there never was a Brexit strategy. Nobody in government seriously expected that Leave would win, so when that was the result, the government had no ready answer to the obvious question “what would Brexit look like?”.

The government certainly couldn’t expect to get any useful input from Leave voters. When your reasons for leaving the EU consist of slogans mixed with bullshit anecdotes, that is not a credible starting point for any thought processes. Any chance of getting input from Remain supporters was squandered with the juvenile campaign against Remainers, with its use of school playground sloganeering, triumphalist dickery, and pseudo-patriotic demands that Remain supporters “shut up”.

So, after June 2016, we had a shocked government with no strategy for how to negotiate Brexit, umpteen million Leave supporters, all with their own individual sets of hopes, dreams (and in some cases, cockamamie fantasies) about what Brexit would be, and almost the same number of Remain supporters sitting off to one side, alienated and pissed off.

This was always going to end badly. If Brexit had been a project, it would never have passed even a preliminary review. No strategy, no vision, no plan, millions of competing stakeholders…shred the paper and let’s forget about this damn stupid idea.

So when Brexit supporters say “this is not what I voted for”, the tough question has to be “so what did you think you voted for in June 2016, and what made you think that there was any chance of that actually happening?”

Because, when the history of Brexit is written, probably after I am gone, the conclusion is going to be that Brexit was a terrible decision made by an uninformed electorate that had been fed BS by all sides for decades about what the EU was and how it operated. Having made a bad decision, the implementation by the UK government was even worse.

Right now, most Brexit supporters would rather live in Denial than come to terms with the results of the decision. Many of them will refuse to own the result, and will continue to blame everybody and everything in sight. Because ultimately, deflection is more comfortable than accountability.

 

 

 

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The UK Royal Family public battle

Unless you just woke up, after the style of the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, or you just arrived from another planet, you will probably have seen the latest round in the very-public public relations battle being waged between Prince Harry and his wife, and what seems, superficially, to be the whole of the rest of the British Royal Family.

The latest round in the battle occurred when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey, THE doyen of UK chat show interviewers. During the interview, they listed a number of events that have happened, and itemized a collection of complaints against the Royal Family.

Predictably (after all, why else would they have given the interview, and why else would it have been broadcast?) the content of the interview has aroused strong reactions, of all types.

The UK tabloids, who have a Faustian bargain with the Royal Family (more of that in a minute) have, predictably, chosen to side with the UK end of the family, and paint Harry and Meghan as hypocritical back-stabbers.

I have read numerous reactions online. My initial conclusion is that how you view the interview depends to a large extent on how you view families and how you think they should operate.

I have deep ambivalence about families. They are great when they function well, but, as most of us know, there is nothing as messy and mentally lethal as a family rupture. When people in families fall out, it is often not only terminal, but all manner of primitive emotions are activated, and then family members are unable to stop themselves from doing and saying Dumb Stuff. Like divorces, family ruptures can trigger appallingly bad behavior.

The rupture in the Royal Family between Harry and his sibling, and what seems (superficially) like the whole of the rest of the family, has clear roots and causes. Harry’s mother Princess Diana was badly served by the Royal Family as her marriage to Prince Charles disintegrated, and, if truth be known, it was almost certainly a form of arranged marriage, with Charles apparently wanting to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, but being told that she had “a history” (she was married, with a string of affairs already), and therefore being steered towards marrying a chaste virgin who would, presumably, be content to do The Royal Thing and be obedient, and produce the required heir to the throne. We know most of the rest. Diana soon became dissatisfied with her obedient nodding-dog life, and began to assert herself. This did not play well with the “Do Your Duty” mindset.

Ultimately, Diana and Charles were divorced, and Charles is now back with Camilla Parker-Bowles, which is probably who he should have been married to all along. Diana, meanwhile, had ended up in an invidious position, as the focus of tabloid curiosity, being followed everywhere, her every move reported on with prurient glee by the UK tabloids and gossip magazines. We know how her life ended, in the crash in Paris. What was not so obvious was that her driver at the time was trying to shake off paparazzi in following cars, which might have had something to do with the car crashing on what is a dangerous stretch of road. I have driven that exact road, and it is not a good road to drive, especially at night.

Harry, not in line to inherit the throne, but being smart, would have known all about the “nothing to do” syndrome that infects lesser royals, which has in the past led to feckless male royals engaging in all manner of scandalous behavior. He certainly knew all about how corrosive tabloid attention was to his mother. So while William could bask in the security of knowing that one day he will be King, Harry had to build a purposeful life. That included joining the army, rising to the rank of Captain and doing 2 combat tours. It also led him to chafe against many of the restrictions that his public royal position imposed.

One thing that seems to be almost universal among people who have met Harry in person is that they like him. To them, he is genuine, thoughtful and personable, with no airs and graces. That would have put him into a different orbit than most of the other royals immediately. Worthy though Prince Charles may be, struggling himself to lead a useful life while his mother continues to rule, nobody has ever described him the same way that people who meet Harry describe him.

The Royal Family is all about duty, a crushing sense of obligation and tradition that means that Prince Charles, for example, has had no agency in most of his life. It was mapped out for him before he was born. Little wonder that the history of the Royal Family in England is replete with affairs, juvenile behavior and a fair few scandals that have mostly been kept hidden from public view. If the rest of your life is mapped out, drinking and shagging suddenly look a lot more exciting.

The new generation of royal family members are increasingly marrying commoners. This is because of a simple reality; there are fewer and fewer eligible aristocratic or royal partners out there. At one time, the European royal families married amongst each other almost as a rule. That has more or less ended.

We also have to remember that what is now called The House Of Windsor is not its original name. It was, in the day of Queen Victoria, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Royal Family, on the patriarchal side, was German. King Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany were cousins. The family name was changed in a hurry to Windsor in World War I for obvious reasons. The roots of the Royal Family are Prussian-German. This probably contributed to a lot of royal admiration for Adolf Hitler in the run-up to World War II. The obvious liking of King Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor for Hitler in the pre-war years proved so embarrassing that when World War II broke out, the British government had him and his new American wife shipped off to the Bahamas, where he spent the war in the entirely ceremonial post of Governor-General.

One can imagine that when it became clear that Harry wanted to marry Meghan Markle, an American actress, that members of the Royal Family sat there thinking “uh oh, here we go again”. A royal prince marrying an American actress? Alarm!

What is clear is that, just as the Duke of Windsor ended up largely estranged from the rest of the Royal Family after marrying Wallis Simpson, living in Paris for the rest of his life, Harry is now largely estranged from the Royal Family after marrying Meghan Markle. Clearly, being an object of public curiosity 24×7 is not what either of them had in mind, or feel they can tolerate. Harry did not want that mode of operation because of what happened to his mother. Meghan did not want it either. Their move to Canada and then the USA was obviously a “get me out of here” move. Their retirement from being working royal family members was also clearly a refusal to Play The Game. It cost them most of their royal income, and it seems that they are now living off of Harry’s trust fund left to him by his mother.

The legal actions by Meghan against the UK tabloids, which she keeps winning, were also an unmistakeable message to the UK tabloid press that they were not going to control her or Harry, and that she was prepared to wield the stick of libel law against them if they did not behave.

The Royal Family’s relationship with the UK tabloids is a complicated Faustian bargain. At one point, the relationship was deeply antagonistic, with Prince Charles routinely snapping at tabloid reporters and wishing their editors a miserable Christmas, among other quips. However, these days, there is a sort-of-understanding that the bedrock of reflexive support for the Royal Family is largely comprised of tabloid readers. (I think this is true; most people I know in my circles in the UK are agnostic about the Royal Family, and many professional people would not be upset if the Royal Family in its current form was abolished).

The era where the Royal Family enjoyed uncritical public support is long gone. The death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother broke the link for good, but other aspects of Royal behavior, with the 24×7 intrusive news cycle, have become public knowledge, revealing the soft underbelly of a dysfunctional family crushed by duty and increasingly dominated by people way past State retirement age. The Royal divorce rate is appalling, and the hugely debatable behavior of Prince Andrew has thrown a shadow over the family.

The Royal Family’s reaction has been predictable. In classic stiff-upper-lip UK family mode, they are expecting that everybody should keep quiet in public, and sort things out behind closed doors. The problem with that approach is that the media will dig and dig for anything that can be used to drive public commentary. So now we have the Faustian bargain in place, with the Royal Family leaking snippets to the tabloids to keep them interested, give them stuff to print and speculate on, and also to promulgate the “party line”. There is an entire industry in the UK devoted to royal-watching, generating hundreds of jobs. It is a big business for the media. A beast that must be fed.

The “party line” in this context is that Harry is a naif, captured by an American bitch. It is a classic story line, and in the grand tradition of tabloid journalism, whether it is factual is irrelevant. One of the classic UK tabloid rules is that one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Having observed the way in which the UK narrative about their move to the USA was being shaped by the tabloid relationship, I suspect that Harry and Meghan decided that they had to put their side of the story in the public domain. Hence the Oprah interview.

In family management terms, the Oprah interview was never going to have a positive outcome. I am sure that Harry and Meghan knew that, but I suspect that at this point in time, they don’t care enough, given their exile, to let it influence their actions.

Who do I believe? I don’t think that you can believe either side’s version of events and take it at face value. I suspect that selective memory is playing a part in the explanation of events on both sides.

How will all of this play out? To use the old English phrase, buggered if I know. The Royal Family can, if they really want to, just forget all about Harry and continue to manage the brand with the on-deck royals. However, that has its own risks. If other people associated with the late Jeffrey Epstein (perhaps with family names like Maxwell) end up revealing more information about what really happened at parties involving a certain Royal Family member, the Royal Family may suddenly start to wish that they had Harry and Meghan onside instead of in exile. The current generation of Royals are no more publicly exciting than the last generation. With the exception of the Duke of Sussex.

 

 

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Being lenient with pre-trial defendants – remember Lyle Jeffs

The current public outcry over the absurdly lenient pre-trial arrangements being agreed to by judges for a number of the January 6th Insurrection defendants are dangerous and stupid, not because they show the massive contrast between the treatment of white defendants vs. minority or immigrants and refugees. This is not even a debating point. It’s as obvious as night follows day.

The insurrectionists seem to fall into two groups:

  1. Long-term anti-government activists, many associated directly or indirectly with Oath Keepers, and Sovereign Citizen groups
  2. People sucked in by the charisma of Trump, fully invested in his “I was robbed” story, and also seduced by the conspiracy siren songs of QAnon.

Both groups believed they were doing what Trump told them to do, and that they would be treated as heroes, and not as criminals. Of course, they expected that the January 6th Insurrection would be successful.

The decision to let defendants like Kyle Rittenhouse and Jenny Cudd not only stay out of jail, but (in Cudd’s case) actually travel to Mexico for some sort of “bonding” trip, is indicative of a naive approach that I expect to lead to embarrassment for more than one judge in the next few months.

I remind everybody about the case of Lyle Jeffs, the brother of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving what is essentially a life sentence. After government investigations into welfare claim activity by the FLDS, Lyle Jeffs was indicted in 2016, along with several other FLDS men, with running a welfare fraud scheme.

Jeffs appeared in court on the charges, and the prosecution argued strenuously for him to be remanded in jail because he was a flight risk. They reminded the judge that Warren Jeffs had also absconded and become a fugitive before being apprehended in a car stop due to failure to correctly display license plates on the car in which he was a passenger (anti-government activists love to not legally tax and look after cars, as part of their low-level scofflawing).

The judge, instead of listening to the prosecution, instead decided to issue a home confinement order to Jeffs, and order him to wear an ankle monitor. Within a couple of weeks, law enforcement discovered that Jeffs had removed the ankle monitor, and had disappeared from his home in Salt Lake City.

Despite all of the fanciful rumors that he had fled to more hospitable climes South of the border, Jeffs was eventually recaptured just under one year later in South Dakota, after he tried to pawn pairs of pliers for cash and the pawnshop owner recognized his image as a fugitive and reported his presence to law enforcement. He had been living out of his truck on the run for months.

Jeffs, a leader of a cult that regards itself as above government, with his brother having already gone on the run to avoid court,  was allowed out of jail, and promptly proved the prosecution right by becoming a fugitive. Ultimately he agreed a guilty plea and was sentenced to several years’ imprisonment in November 2017.

Now we have Kyle Rittenhouse, supposedly in home confinement with strict movement restrictions, whose whereabouts are currently not officially known, after a letter addressed to the location lodged with the court was not returned. The plot thickens…it seems that the original address lodged with the court was falsified at the request of the Kenosha Police Department. Whether the judge knew about this falsification is not clear. We may yet see an awkward conversation between the judge and the defense lawyer. The prosecution has asked for a bond increase and an arrest warrant to be issued.

Many of the January 6th insurrectionists are showing, by their cavalier post-arrest actions, that they are scofflaws. The legal system needs to take a much tougher line with some of these defendants, or we will soon be reading about a disappeared defendant or three who, it will eventually become clear, have fled the USA.

 

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The UK and the EU have a trade deal. Reality will now intervene

After more stops and starts than I can count, the UK and the EU appear to have agreed the outline of a trade deal.

There is a lot more work to be done. The deal has to be “nodded through” the Council of Ministers, and then voted on by the European Parliament. In the UK, the deal was voted through after half a day (!) of debate. That a treaty of this importance could be voted on that quickly is not a testament to the efficiency of parliament, but a very powerful indication of the way in which the current government has no interest in debate or discussion.

There are 2000+ pages in the draft deal, so anybody who claims to have read it all is probably bullshitting. However, it is clear that on the most contentious issue, fishing rights, both sides (as you would expect) ended up compromising, and the UK and the EU have kicked the can down the road by referring vaguely to “working groups”. This is a classic piece of double-speak for “we couldn’t agree on the details, so we will hash it out later”.

The big question is how the deal will impact the UK economy. The problem in answering that question in the short term will be impact of Covid-19, which is probably impacting the UK more than any part of Brexit, especially since the UK is still in the Transition period out of the EU. After January 1st, the UK will be outside of the EU, obliged to follow the same rules in many areas as non-members.

A smart government would have asked for an extension of the Transition period, since there are enough curveballs out there being thrown at the UK due to Covid-19 to make taking on any more risks highly unwise. However, this is not a smart government, or maybe it is a government trapped by promises made to covert controllers (like the oligarchs that increasingly dominate politics and media ownership).

I expect the economic impact to be gradual. There may be short-term fresh food shortages, but those can always be mitigated – for a price. I expect the prices of many imported food items to rise significantly. This may give UK producers a boost in the short term, but most of those producers will also find it a lot more difficult to sell into the EU, so the overall impact to businesses will be neutral at best.

One of the aspects of the modern world that many Brexit voters and supporters still do not understand is the extent to which countries trade with each other, and the extent to which disruption of that trade has an immediate practical impact on a country. The UK will find this out, immediately for items such as perishable goods, and slowly over time for non-perishable goods.
The main medium-term impact will be in the services sector, which is a large percentage of the UK economy. The trade deal does not cover most of that area of the UK economy, so UK service providers will be operating at a disadvantage when trying to sell into Europe. I expect to see a lot of service-based businesses, especially financial services, relocating to Ireland or Northern Europe in the next 1-3 years. I believe that Ireland will be a main beneficiary of the shift.

The most damaging medium-term impact will be in manufacturing, which still provides a lot of employment, especially in the former heavy industry areas of the UK. I expect overseas manufacturers to cease inbound investment in the UK in favour of other EU countries. The hassle and expense of running a manufacturing location in the UK, outside of the EU, will make new investment unprofitable. This will unfold over time, but will be very economically damaging to many of the old industrial areas, and I would not rule out social unrest.

The UK is going to get an expensive and painful lesson over the next 5 years about the practical meaning of the word “sovereignty”. It is my belief that when future historians write about the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, they will conclude that the terms “sovereignty” and “trickle-down” were two of the most egregious bullshit political slogans ever invented. This article explains why “sovereignty”, as used by Euroskeptics, was, is, and always will be a pile of streaming brown fertilizer. 

To some extent, the lesson on “sovereignty” will be irrelevant. The Leave vote was never about “sovereignty”. That was a post hoc rationalization, a slogan to hang Leave on as a strategy. The real driver for the Leave vote was resentment about increasing inequality and austerity, channeled successfully by demagogue politicians into hostility to the EU. Remember that until 2015, when the idea of a Referendum on EU membership was floated, the EU was not even at 10% in surveys of UK electoral careabouts. But suddenly, the EU became the Source Of All Ills? That’s one large pile of bullshit right there.

Now that the EU is off to one side, and no longer directly involved in the stewardship of the UK economy, the utter irrelevance of any argument based on sovereignty is going to be shown up. Although, distressingly for the hardcore Brexit supporters, who really wanted a WTO-only Brexit, the need to interact with the EU on any aspect of the trade agreement will continue to be seen as a Bad Thing and a reason for letting the current agreement expire after 2025, when it will expire unless renewed by mutual agreement. So, the idea that Brexit is a done deal that leaves the UK able to do what it likes without reference to the EU is a pile of caca. The UK is going to be negotiating with the EU, whether it likes it or not, for ever and a day.

Regions in the UK such as Cornwall, who benefited from EU funding, which bypassed UK government decision makers, will now discover that the promised “Brexit dividend” was and is a mirage, like those “sunlit uplands”, and other glib slogans, some recycled from the Glorious Days of Empire, that were put into the media and on the sides of buses. The fishing industry is going to discover that the Brexit bonanza is illusory, and farmers will soon discover the downside of being outside the EU when it comes to exporting livestock and produce.

Having watched this shit-show from afar, I have no current intention of returning to live in England. The country lost my respect when the citizens voted three times in 9 years in a way that showed that they know next to nothing about Civics and how to select useful politicians. I may buy a property in Ireland or Scotland, but not England.

I expect Scotland to become an independent country within 10 years and to re-join the EU shortly after independence. I also expect the move for Irish unification to be unstoppable within 5 years, once the reality of being outside the EU with a bizarre border hits home in Northern Ireland.

 

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AOC and the tensions in the Democratic party

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, being young, sparky and pushy, ruffles feathers in US politics.

Unlike many more moderate and centrist Democrats, she does not cringe or shrink from criticism by opponents. She faces it down. This makes her very popular with many people who believe that the Democratic Party desperately needs to be more unrepentantly progressive. The GOP has succeeded by being blunt, tough and uncompromising, goes the thinking. Time for the Democrats to stop being scared of their own shadows.

The ruffling of feathers by AOC may have come back to bite her. It is Committee season in the House, as the assignments on committees of varying prestige are determined. Representatives vote, usually in secret, for who will be on those committees. AOC seems to have lost out, being defeated 43-13 in secret ballot voting for a position on the Energy and Commerce Committee. This occurred despite her candidacy being supported by Nancy Pelosi. The winning representative, Kathleen Rice, weirdly and ironically, actually voted against Nancy Pelosi in the 2018 Speaker contest.

Now, a vote of 43-13 is not a defeat. It is a burying. It is difficult to conclude anything other than that this was an ambush. It was a punishment beating. The conclusion in many reports is that AOC lost because she, to use the old cliche, does not play well enough with others.

This result, leaving aside the interpersonal dynamics between AOC and more moderate Democrats, is symptomatic of a pathology that persistently frustrates and demotivates progressive Democratic supporters, and which will, if not addressed, continue to limit the performance of the party at State and local level.

The party continues to support moderate candidates in many areas, causing massive frustration in the progressive wing, which has led to an entire parallel ecosystem of financial support by organizations such as ActBlue, which was formed specifically to address the challenge of what became known as “Blue Dog” Democrats – candidates who, many progressives felt, were not representative of progressive values.

The fundamental tension between the two wings of the party – the establishment wing, which wants candidates to be a good fit for their districts, and the progressives, who want candidates to be representative of progressive values, remains unaddressed to this day.

There is plenty of evidence that you cannot win an election, no matter how much money you have, if the candidate is not a good fit for the district or state. In this election cycle, extremely well-funded Democrats such as Amy McGrath and Sarah Gideon were defeated in Senate races. Money helps, but it is clearly not the sole determining factor of success. Additionally, at House level, some districts are so heavily gerrymandered that the chances of a Democrat winning are twice the square root of nothing. ActBlue could throw tens of millions of dollars at these races and the Democrat would still be handily beaten. The votes simply aren’t there for a Democrat.

The lack of resolution of the deep disagreement between the two wings of the party, however, breaks out into public too many times, and sends the signal that the party lacks a unified voice, and lacks confidence in its own policies and messages. The trigger this election cycle was the fact that Joe Biden outperformed his own party in many states. The Democrats lost House seats, have failed to win control of the Senate, and that is giving Biden little room for maneuver as he sets out to undo the tremendous damage inflicted by Donald Trump.
The tension and resulting frustrations of progressives with what they see as weak, accommodationist and naive party leadership have existed for decades. Anecdotally, I knew several voters (including my ex) who voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 Presidential election because, as one of them said to me, “I’m not a Republican, so why would I vote for a Democrat impersonating a Republican?”.

Now, you can dismiss that and shake your heads all you like, but the selection of Joe Lieberman and the distancing from Bill Clinton in 2000 sent a bad message of a party almost scared of its own shadow. I watched video of Al Gore at campaign events, and despite his attempts to sound passionate, he was simply not reaching a lot of people. Al Gore was, to use an old phrase, not a good retail politician, unlike Bill Clinton. Whatever you think about Bill Clinton as a person, he could probably sell refrigerators to the Inuit.
Did Al Gore’s decision to not run on the success of the Clinton era issue lose the Florida election for him? I have no idea, I lived in Texas at the time, and he certainly was never likely to win Texas. He didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee, so badly did he perform overall in 2000.

In 2016, the same pattern occurred, when I found 2 online friends, angered by Bernie Sanders failing to win the Democratic nomination, who informed me that they were going to vote for Trump. I don’t know if they actually did, but the fact that they were adamantly insisting that they intended to was worrying enough.
There are a lot of people whose political positions, compared to the major parties, are all over the map, but one thing that unites them is a conviction that “politics as usual” has fucked over the country and voters, including some of them personally. Trump captured a lot of those people in 2016, and we know how that has turned out.
AOC, more than Bernie Sanders (who is, we have to face it, no spring chicken), is a lightning conductor for the sentiments of many of those electors who self-ID as progressives. They are likely to regard her losing the committee vote as yet more bad-smelling evidence of “politics as usual”.
On one level, I can understand the desire by many House democrats to slap AOC down. She is an irritant, gets a lot of publicity, some of it negative, and the Democrats have a thin House majority, with reps like Henry Cuellar (who is from a very conservative Texas district, and nearly lost a primary this year to a candidate supported by AOC) always hovering at the “defect to the GOP” door.

Unlike some optimists, I regard a Democratic Senate tie as unlikely to unlock any significant changes in Senate direction, because the Democrats have this generation’s Joe Lieberman in the Senate in the form of Joe Manchin.

Could AOC walk away from the Democratic Party? I think it is very possible. She is young, smart, idealistic, and a LOT of progressive people I read and talk to are consistently unhappy with what they see as spineless milquetoast centrism. This translates to cynical fatalism and a reluctance to become actively involved in supporting local politics.

One of the few ways in which a political party can improve its chances of winning is to engage people who normally sit out elections. Some of those people are utterly alienated from politics and are not reachable. Others see themselves as outsiders, who fail to see any upside to participating in what they see as a corrupt system dominated by shysters, time-servers and bullshitters. Outsiders never respond positively to any explanation of political events that contains any element of “this is how it works around here”. That generally activates the “then let’s blow this fucking shit up” emotional reaction.
Most of these issues and sources of tension could be solved if the Democratic Party and their supporters across the entire spectrum actually knew how to work effectively at a national level to consistently communicate solid frames and seize control of messaging. George Lakoff has been offering to help the party for decades and they keep ignoring him. The result is that the party still cannot frame and deliver messages to save its life, so the entire electoral effort ends up driven by local ideas of “what will play well”, which in turn leads to consultants dominating election tactics, and at national level the effort relies on finding a Presidential candidate with charisma.

This, I suspect, is the root cause of the phenomenon where Biden outperformed Democrats in many districts in the election. If people had broken for Democrats at a more local level in the same way they voted for Biden as POTUS, the Democrats would be an a stronger position in the House and might already have control of the Senate.
I could go on, but IMHO, the idea that slapping down AOC by denying her a committee position is a positive for the Democratic Party is a delusion that needs to be dumped down a hole. It does not look good to younger progressive voters, period.

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