The post-brexit options for Scotland

One of the outcomes of December’s brexit talks (aka the brexiters surrendering to reality) was how Gibraltar managed to secure a deal with Spain. This deal saw them join not just joining the single market but also Schengen (the EU’s open travel zone, i.e. johnny foreigner can now come and go as they please), as well as surrendering control of all of their ports, airport and border to Spain.

Think about it, Gibraltar, a colony that the brexiters have threatened to go to war with a NATO ally to defend, is now so deeply embedded in the EU that while Spanish and EU citizens, like me, can show our burgundy passports and be waved through, UK citizens with their blue UK passports (made in Poland) will have to queue in the 3rd country lane, fill in landing cards and customs declarations and be asked by Spanish border guards (in Spanish one assumes) about their business and reasons for visiting a British colony. And that’s if they aren’t turned around and told to go home, as is the case right now due to covid restrictions (UK and non-EU citizens are essentially bared from travel to the EU until the covid crisis is over unless they have an essential reason to travel).

Now you’d be forgiven for thinking the Tories would be up in arms about this. But actually no, they are cool with it, no complaints from London, lets talk about fish….actually second thoughts let’s talk about unicorns instead. Perhaps because they understand that their crappy brexit deal left Gibraltar with the choice between doing a deal with Spain or breaking with London altogether.

Of course it raises the question, well if Northern Ireland and Gibraltar can stay in the EU’s economic area, or indeed stay within Schengen (which is sort of EU+), why can’t Scotland? After all it would be good for Scotland, given its high value exports (Scotch whisky, Smoked salmon, Angus steaks, banking, etc.) and it would be good for the rest of the UK, as businesses could set up in Scotland (rather than in Ireland) and benefit from its easy access to the EU single market (paying their taxes to the UK exchequer).

Also it makes the NI protocol more likely to work long term. The issue with supplies right now in NI is that its a very small place. And its questionable how long it can survive by itself. Take for example UK supermarkets in NI, They now have to produce food and other items for NI separately in NI and label it appropriately or else move production to Southern Ireland. Many simply won’t do that as it doesn’t make any economic sense. However, add 8 million Scottish customers into the mix and it becomes a viable proposition, particularly when you consider that Scotland produces a lot of the ingredients that go into those food items itself.

But of course no matter how good an idea this is, Westminster won’t agree to it. For England’s relationship with Scotland (or NI and Wales) can be equated with that of an abusive and controlling partner. Maintaining their power over Scotland is the primary goal, even if it means sacrificing Scotland’s freedom, their joint prosperity and likely laying the seeds for the day the Scots make a bolt for the door and do anything to get out of this toxic relationship.

But won’t it mean customs checks at the Scottish/English border? Well yes and no. Goods destined for the Island of Ireland and the rest of the EU could just be waved through (ironically an electronic border would work well in this regard), as it would be more a matter of spot checks at Dover just in case someone pulled a fast one while the truck passed through England (e.g. loaded it up with Chlorinated Chicken and other items banned in the EU). Of course if there is a direct ferry link from Scotland to the EU (much like there now is from Ireland) then those checks can be bypassed completely.

For goods being exported to England from Scotland/NI checks need only be applied if there are items banned in the EU which England allows the sale of (again Chlorinated chicken or US made Cornish pasties and Scot Whisky) or visa versa (e.g. a US trade deal will likely require drugs be restricted to the price gouging US versions, while Scotland/NI will keep access to low cost medicine). Also, given how dependant the UK is on goods brought in from the EU (which includes most of its food), such border controls will apply anyway to Scotland (just down at Dover instead). The whole point of being in the customs union would be to remove or limit the scale of these checks and the billions in economic damage to Scotland.

In truth this is really a English problem, as its basically be a case of England imposing sanctions on itself. Now granted they are crazy enough to do more of that (after all, they just did it!). But it becomes a lot less likely if Scotland can exclude itself, as brexit is more about perceptions than facts (its not going to look so good for the English have to lose their consumer rights and pay through the nose for stuff when north of the border the Scot’s can get it for free on an NHS prescription).

In short its Tory sadopopulism at its worst. But there is a sneaky way for Scotland to get its way. Its widely expected that the SNP will top the poll in the upcoming Scottish parliamentary elections and then propose a referendum on Scottish independence.

However, I’d propose an alternative referendum. Ask two questions, the first says that Scotland should stay in the UK and attempt to join the EU customs union via a reverse Greenland option or on similar terms to NI or Gibraltar. However (and here’s the sneaky bit) there is a second question which says that if this isn’t possible (perhaps because Westminster blocks it or an EU country like Spain decides to play silly buggers), then do you wish Scotland to instead be an independent country. My guess is that given the mood right now in Scotland you could easily win a yes vote for both those questions with a reasonable majority.

This would put the cat among the pigeons down in Westminster. If they block a Customs union move, they will be triggering a constitutional crisis and essentially bouncing Holyrood into making a deceleration of independence. Now the Tories will say that’s illegal, but that doesn’t matter (who is going to arrest Nicola Sturgeon? She pays the cops salaries up here! Scot’s law remember is a different legal system from English law). It was also illegal when about half the countries on the planet declared their independence. The real question will other countries recognise it. And there’s all sorts of mischief the Scots can engage in to more or less force the English to kick them out of the union (e.g. have workers go on strike and cut off gas supplies to England, ask all taxpayers to stop paying taxes to Westminster and start paying them to Holyrood instead, printing off massive amounts of Scottish bank notes and devaluing Sterling).

Hell I could declare my house the independent republic of daryanistan and make the neighbour’s cat the king (he seems to think he is anyway!). The issue is that nobody would recognise it, the postman would refuse to show his passport and fill out a landing card when he came to deliver mail and the cops won’t recognise my diplomatic immunity when I try to buy a Main Battle Tank off Korea (for duck hunting, I swear!).

The danger for the Tories is that if it looks like they forced Scotland into an impossible position, countries might start to recognise its independence and you get a snowball effect (starts off with Ireland and a few smaller states, then some of the bigger ones until eventually someone like the US under Biden joins in) at which point the Tories are stuffed. It would be too big a gamble. They’d be better off accepting the outcome of the first question and running with that.

The same goes for EU states like Spain, they don’t want to make it easy for Scotland no (as that might encourage break away regions in their country), but they equally don’t want to give the SNP the pretext to unilaterally declare independence. It would be far better to focus on the trade negotiations.

On which point, I’m not suggesting they would be easy or quick. In much the same way the EU tried to steer the conversation in the UK/EU trade deal onto fish and goods (and away from services) the EU will do the same in any trade negotiations with Scotland. Now I doubt the SNP would be foolish enough to fall for that. But equally it will take sometime to negotiate a treaty. And much how the Tories couldn’t really afford to be patient when they knew the swivel eyed loon brigade were in a hurry (to get out of the EU so they could see their grandkids future destroyed before they died), the same is true of some SNP supporters (and as noted, the longer this goes on, the worse the economic damage).

So I’m not saying it would be easy, but it could be compromise that keeps everybody happy.

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The all too predictable outcomes of brexit…or we told you so!

This is a post from my other blog….

So we’ve started to see the effects of brexit. Gaps are starting to appear on shelves, notably in the Fresh food isles (I’ve been able to get everything I need, with a bit of shopping around, but there’s clearly a reduced level of choice). Northern Ireland is particularly badly effected with job losses and food shortages seen as inevitable, and some UK owned stores within the EU are struggling and may have to close completely.

Meanwhile there has been some chaos at ports, with people showing up with the wrong paperwork (fortunately as many truckers shunned the ports this last week, this has avoided any lengthy tailbacks), but traders have warned it will get worse once the volume of lorries increases. In fact the problem with incorrect paperwork has gotten so bad, one courier has simply stopped delivering across the UK/EU border for the time being. Meanwhile some people who need access to certain medicines have seen their supplies cut off.

And ironically, give all the talk about fish, some fishermen in Scotland have been told to reduce their fish catch, or in some cases, had to stop fishing completely. The problem is that the infrastructure to allow them to export their produce just doesn’t exist. And given the potential for delays transporting the fish to Europe (who wants to buy 2 day old Scottish fish when freshly caught French fish is available), it doesn’t make sense to export (and if it takes longer to get the fish to market you are going to need more trucks to match the same demand and currently there is a shortage of trucks)….but I’m sure those unicorns we were all promised are on the way.

And speaking of Scotland, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that support for independence is surging, now at 58% and rising (that’s +13% rise since the 2014 referendum, most if it in the last year or so). Plus a poll from NI (just one for now, but clearly indicates a shift in opinion) has come out showing a majority in favour of re-unification for the first time.

Oh and, much as I predicted, the media have been papering over the cracks and hiding the impacts of brexit. When they mention them at all (e.g. the shortages in British owned supermarkets in the EU) they spin it as an opportunity for some nativist points scoring (as they see brexit as a re-run of the Italian job where we get to add up the scores and see who won, when in truth its a lose lose scenario for everyone). Or we have this piece from the BBC (the Brexit Bullsh*t Corp.) talking about thesurprising” and “unexpected” impacts of brexit (such as truckers having their sandwiches confiscated at the border).

Ya, surprising only if you’ve had your head in the sand for the last 5 years. Hell I wrote an article 9 years ago warning of the possible impacts of brexit. People were warned, they choice not to listen. If you don’t like the consequences (e.g. the UK now breaking up) well you are just going to have to accept them, its a little late in the day to start complaining. Its a millstone that leave/Tory voters are going to have to wear around their necks for the rest of their days.

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Lock him up….in Holland!

Reblogged post from my other blog….

Let’s be clear with what’s going on in Washington, the GOP and Trump know damn well that they lost the election. Most of his supporters know that too (save a few of the Qnon nutters). What this is really about is intimidation of the democratic and legal process. Its about making the democrats reluctant to push the issue and prosecutors afraid of investigating or arresting Trump and his cronies. Its the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a tin pot autocracy.

And it also served to show how massively biased US law enforcement has become. The FBI have been warning for years that US law enforcement has bee infiltrated by far right groups (which explains why the police just stepped aside and let the crowd in). Consider that after the Portland protest Trump sends in a unmarked and masked militia to conduct a brutal crack down and mass arrests (some were arrested for just putting a chalk line on the pavement to let other protesters know the boundaries of the protest area so weren’t bothering anyone). During the BLM protests they deployed an army airborne division to the capital. His little photo op with a bible saw 400 arrests and the tear gassing of thousands of peaceful protesters. Yet, so far there’s only been a handful of arrests with what amounts to an insurrection, if not a terrorist act (they have recovered a number of pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails).

And Trump calls himself a law and order president, yet he has now incited a riot (which last time I checked is a crime, if this lot can do it, anyone else is allowed to break into the offices or homes of GOP politicians or their wealthy donors). Ya, him and his supporters want to be a law unto themselves. It was the ultimate expression of white privilege. Consider what would have happened if they’d been black or Muslim, do you think any of them would still be alive?

Certainly removing the anarchist in chief from power immediately, via impeachment or the 25th amendment would be advantageous, but would require finding an honest republican in possession of a spine. Longer term (after the 20th of January) Trump needs to be brought to justice and if his supporters are going to try and make that difficult, there is an alternative. Put him and his allies on a plane and bundle them off to the Hague.

What’s that you say, but the US isn’t a member of the International Criminal Court. Yes, but there’s nothing to stop them joining and furthermore the ICC isn’t the only court in the Hague (this is the problem with Republicans, they don’t know or understand what it is they are against). There’s also the much older (as in 1900’s era) Permanent court of Arbitration (which acts as a sort of legal advice entity), the International court of Justice (ICJ, which rules on disputed between nation states), as well as various temporary and semi-permanent tribunals dealing with various war crimes or disputes, e.g. the tribunal related to Genocide in the Yugoslav war.

Probably the case most relevant to Trump however is that of the trial of the Lockerbie bombers. This represented a complex legal situation, as the suspects were Libyan, the actual planting of the bomb occurred in Germany, which detonated over Scotland (Scot’s law being different from English law remember) in the hold of an American plane. So the trial was held in Holland, on an ex-US army airfield, with Scottish judges presiding.

Sending Trump to the Hague (either the ICC or some temporary court jointly set up by the US and the ICJ) presents several advantages. It gets him out of the country and away from his supporters for one. And even if we use US judges, they will be free to conduct their work without intimidation from Trump’s bigot brigade. Given that these trials tend to take awhile, to be very technical and well frankly, boring, your average Trump supporter would sooner gnaw their own leg off than listen to more than an hour of such deliberations. So they’ll quickly lose interest, forget about Trump and go back to watch NASCAR, pro-Wrestling or committing unspeakable acts of depravity with farm animals.

Furthermore, it would allow other counties to file charges against Trump. For example the Kurds for him conspiring to assist in a Turkish invasion of their territory, the Iraqi’s and Iranians for various unlawful killings of several people in Iraq. At the same time it would avoid political interference from Congress, should the GOP regain control in the mean time, as well as avoiding accusations of the court being bias by those on the right.

And for Trump himself, a Dutch trial would be some sort of personal hell. A spoiled little brat used to bullying those around him to get his way, would suddenly find himself in a venue where he gets talked down too by judges (and some of them might be black or Asian and we know his views on race). He’ll be expected to sit up straight, pay attention and only speak when spoken too (if he speaks out of turn, they’ll just cut his mic, and they’ll also likely take away is phone and stop him from tweeting). And no doubt once a Dutch prison doctor gets a look at him they’ll put him on a diet of salads, so no more junk food, pill popping, fake tan or whigs.

But either way it does highlight what the agenda has to be for Mr Vanilla Biden, forget about the usual left wing policies (plenty of time for that later). There’s not much point passing such legislation if the GOP can take over again and wreck it in a single term (just look at the damage Trump has done, the largest deficit in history, a 9/11 death toll every day, more people killed from covid than died fighting WW2). Instead political reform should be the priority. That means packing the supreme court, it means adding new states (so more senators and electoral college votes to tip the scales back towards the democrats), it means declaring the Trump supporting movements Qnon, Proud boys, etc. terrorist groups and then purging the security forces of their members (personally I’d take all the DC police on duty the other night and force them to draw lots and then randomly fire 1 in 10 of them and strip them of their pension benefits).

Bi-partisanship? LOL. There’s no point appealing to republicans better nature, as they demonstrated last night (by continuing to pander to tinfoil hat wearing nutters) they don’t have any morals. Until the republicans demonstrate they deserve such treatment I’d freeze them out of the political process completely. In fact I’d quietly let them know that further misbehaviour will have consequences. For example, if republicans dispute Biden legitimacy of being president, simply cut any federal programme that benefits those who funded their campaigns (they want to whinge about federal spending, fair enough practice what you preach, in fact just to piss the MAGA lot off, spend the money on Obamacare or planned parenthood). If the GOP don’t play along with the reform of the supreme court, remind them it can be packed with moderate justices, or a bunch of 20 something left wing loons. The choice is up to them.

In short the democrats have a busy schedule, as they’ve got 2-4 years (they should pick up more seats than they lose at the mid-terms, but I won’t risk it and try to get everything passed before then) to save the country from fascism.

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Brexit – anatomy of an awful deal

Reblogged post from my other site:

So Boris got his brexit deal...by basically dithering and then conceding everything to the EU, because (surprise, surprise) usually in any trade deal the loser tends to be the smaller partner, particularly if they are in some sort of hurry to get a deal. Its worth noting that the EU offered an extension to the transition period due to covid and were open to the idea of drawing out the negotiations, so the artificial deadlines are entirely the fault of the UK side of the negotiations.

Now the Tories will claim its a great deal. And it is….if you are a Brussels bureaucrat! The deal mostly covers trade in goods, rather than services. This is a problem because the bulk of the UK’s trade balance with the EU is made up by services (quite simply put, they sell us cars, fine wines and food, the UK sells them banking, insurance and media services). So by largely focusing on goods, this creates a massive trade imbalance in the EU’s favour, to the tune of about £75 billion per year (or about £1.4 billion per week).

And there will still need to be some customs checks and inspections, as we’ve left the single market. While there doesn’t seem to have been much chaos so far, this is largely because companies stockpiled heavily beforehand, hauliers have largely shunned the channel ports (Ireland now has new ferry routes that bypass the UK altogether) and the UK is just waving through trucks until July (which is technically illegal under WTO rules and quite dangerous as who knows what those trucks are carrying).

So at some point we can assume we’ll start to see issues developing. This is particularly true if the UK diverges significantly from EU standards, as the deal allows tariffs to be imposed at this point, which means yet more paperwork and cost. A cost that will be borne by UK shoppers when they buy these goods and exporters when they pay someone to fill in all the extra paper work (estimated at £13 billion alone). And speaking of costs there also the cost of hiring all of these new custom’s agents, setting up new government agencies to replicate work done by the EU, not to mention the costs to businesses. All told, the cost to the UK of brexit is estimated to be in the region of +£200 billion….which is about than the UK contributed to the EU’s budget during the entire time it was a member!

And what about fish? While the UK gained some concessions, they are largely symbolic (it would have actually been cheaper to give every fisherman in the UK £1 million and stayed in at this rate). As it has been pointed out before, the bulk of the UK’s quota’s are held by a handful of very wealthy families. There aren’t enough fishermen in the UK to take advantage of increased quota’s anyway. Hence its likely that any increase will just be sold off by these wealthy families to European boats or they’ll bring in non-EU fishermen to do the fishing (who will most likely come from Africa, as that’s the logical place to go for experienced fishermen, can’t wait till the bigot brigade hear about this one!).

In fact, I’d wondered why the EU had tolerated the UK’s insane position on fishing and not simply ended talks and told the Tories to come back when they’d stopped smoking crack. It was a deliberate strategy. The longer Boris droned on about kippers, the less time allowed for talks on the issues the EU didn’t want to talk about (such as services). At the 11th hour, they knew they could just make some meaningless concession, get everything else they wanted and Boris and the brexiters would go off high fiving one another thinking they’d won a great victory, when in reality they got played.

In fact there is still some confusion. For example, my big question, can I drive on my Irish driving license? Up until a few days ago I was told not only that A) yes you can, but B) you can’t change your license to a UK license until its within the last 6 months (oh plus the Irish have said they won’t let UK drivers drive with a UK license in Ireland). The official position now appears to be “fu*ked if we know” we’re just the government. The Tories brexit checker, advertised as Check Change Go, is more a case of Check, Cry and then Go F&*k yourself.

So why did this awful deal go through? Why didn’t they abandon fish and focus on services? Well largely because brexit is now the state religion of the UK and such pragmatism would effectively amount to admitting the UK is worse out than in. Its all about optics. Imagine for example that the PM stuck to his guns, dragged out the talks for years (constantly extending the transition period as and when needed), threw the hauliers and fishermen under the bus and got a deal that was more favourable for the service sector and British exporters.

Now on paper that would be a much more favourable deal for the UK, but it would count to brexiters as a defeat. It would mean delaying brexit, which means Boris won’t survive as PM for long (remember what happened to Theresa May, even thought it meant the brexiters accepting a worst deal than she’d negotiated). And it would mean on the first day, big queues of lorries, sudden spikes in prices and shortages in supermarkets and lots of angry fishermen on the Thames screaming profanities. In the court of public opinion this would count as a defeat and it would expose the realities of brexit straight away.

On the other hand, this deal hides the consequences. The queuing of lorries will mostly be at lorry parks or truck yards across the country (as they won’t be able to depart and head for Kent without the right paperwork). It hides the unemployment to letters many thousands will be getting in the next few weeks. It gives fishermen enough of a forlorn hope not to protest. And ultimately it limits the economic impact till later, when it can be blamed on covid. And of course the Tories can rely on the right wing media to spin it in their favour and paper over the obvious cracks.

In short one could compare this brexit deal to the cladding on Grenfell Tower. Highly flammable and dangerous, but designed to paper over poverty. It makes the UK look good from the outside, even thought its turning the place into a death trap and will eventually go up in smoke.

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2020 a year in review

This is a reblog from my other site.

THis is a reblog from my othersiI think if 2020 had a tag line it would have to be something along the lines of “…but then it got worse“. We shall have to hope things get better in 2021…although it ain’t looking great initially.

Plague Island

So the brexiters are now raging that the French, Dutch, Irish, et al have used their right as sovereign nations to close their borders (I thought you can’t do that if you are in the EU?)…in one direction…for a two days (supplies could still get into the UK, they just couldn’t leave by truck, unless the driver was tested). Or in other words a partial no deal brexit (but without tariffs or any checks). Surely the Brexiters should be celebrating, we’ll be riding around on unicorns and reaping the benefits of brexit a few weeks early.

Of course this new lockdown is largely the fault of the Tory government and its incompetent handling of covid. Their failure to get a handle on the crisis provided the virus with the breeding ground to mutate. They were warned that this new strain was circulated as early as the 14th of December (this is when a statement on the matter was first made, likely they knew about it sometime before then), yet they still planned to ignore medical advice and remove all lockdown rules for Christmas. Its not really a huge surprise European governments reacted as they did when they know the Bullingdon clown is in charge over here on plague Island.

And now medical experts are pleading for an extension to the brexit transition period, which if course is also being ignored, because, they’ve been ignoring the experts all along and look where that’s got them – 80,000 dead and counting. Plus, a brexit deal where the UK has conceded virtually everything (as has been the case with most of the trade deals the UK has struck, which generally leaves the UK worse off and a rule taker not a rule maker), oh and we’ve overpaid for the Covid vaccine because, surprise, surprise the EU can get it cheaper than we can (bulk discounts).

Something fishy going on

At least I suppose the French lockdown of the border has highlighted how dependant the UK is on trade with the EU. And how crucial it is that some sort of comprehensive deal is eventually put in place. Consider than on January the 1st it will be illegal for a truck driver to even carry a ham and cheese sandwich across the border without the necessary paperwork. And if that sounds overly bureaucratic, actually no, that’s quite normal at most international border crossings, where they often don’t allow the transfer of fruits or vegetables (e.g. the US allows travellers to bring cheeses across but not meats, tinned food, rice, fruits or vegetables). Some countries even have sniffer dogs to check passengers for any undeclared food items.

And oddly enough, given all the talk about fish, its UK fish products going into the EU that are on very short time scales and most vulnerable to tariffs. Several such companies in Scotland said they will have to likely send their lorries to a dump than wait for the Calais crossing to reopen. Keep in mind that any deal struck in the short term (and a skinny deal seems likely) will not include free trade of all goods and services, as well as equivalent standards, meaning checks are going to have to be carried out in 2021. It would require membership of the EU free trade area to eliminate the need for any checks at the border (and that would take several years to negotiate, not least because it would involve non-EU nations such as Norway and Iceland).

Post-brexit, trade of some products could simply be rendered uneconomic. Delaying delivery of fresh produce by even a single day means its going to be less attractive to wholesalers (who wants to buy two day old fish when freshly caught stuff is available) and some portion will have gone off by the time it arrives. Which on top of the tariffs (plus the fact the driver might not be able to do the run without going over his hours and having to stop) and the cost of filling in all of that paperwork, means its going to be much more expensive and there just won’t be as much available.  

So what’s the point in a no deal? Or a skinny deal? Its going to cost the country a fortune, far more than the UK has ever paid to the EU. All just to gain control of fishing rights (an industry worth 0.1% of GDP), which isn’t even going to benefit the fishing industry much, as it just means you can’t export your fish and end up bankrupting the fishing industry. And in all likelihood the French fishermen will blockade French ferry ports and gum up the works completely in January.

In any event, the problems with fishing are within the UK’s control and they always have been, to quote a section from a recent Guardian article:

But the greater injustice by far to our fishers is our own government’s allocation of quotas to large companies. Two-thirds of the UK’s quota of fish goes to just three multinationals ; boats under 10m long get just 4% though they account for 77% of fishers . A Greenpeace report found a quarter of Britain’s quota was owned by five families , all in the Sunday Times rich list…

.British “slipper skippers were allowed to put their feet up and live off the earnings from selling their quota to foreign companies. If concern for our small boat fishing fleet were really the impediment to a vital Brexit deal, the government should be getting tough on preventing this sell-off.

Panic buying…again!

Looks like I’m stuck at home for Christmas, I’m in self imposed isolation as I have a bit of cold (which I’m pretty sure now is just a cold, but better safe than sorry). I’ve gone a modest stockpile of food, as I planned ahead, just in case of something like this happening (I even have some Turkey!). But I’m guessing that there are hordes of people rushing off to panic buy loo roll and spaghetti again, because presumably they are planning to eat so much Spaghetti for Christmas dinner they worry they might sh*t themselves (jingle tills, jingle tills, panic all the way, oh what fun it is to fight in the aisles and dump stuff in my trolley sleight…I’ll stop now!).

I’ve discussed the issue of stockpiling for general emergencies (such as this) or for brexit before. And suffice to say, if you are rushing off to the supermarket now, you’ve left it way too late. Buying pasta and far more fresh food than you can ever hope to eat before it goes off is not only stupid but pretty selfish.

The solution is to treat it as an inventory management problem. Rather than assuming the supermarket will always have what you want at a reasonable price, have a small floating stock of the stuff you normally eat. That way you don’t have to panic buy and if you get stuck unexpectedly inside (as I am), it doesn’t matter you’ll have enough to cope (as is my situation right now..might you, I might run out of Irish whiskey and have to settle for only the Scottish stuff, but times are tough!).

But like I said this is going to be the problem with brexit after January, fresh food supplies will not be as reliable anymore, they will become more sporadic (one day they’ll be out of peppers, next day loads of them but no tomatoes) and prices will go up. There are alternatives, some fruit and veg are grown in the UK (just not nearly enough to go around, plus have you ever tasted English wine!). There is the option of tinned food or frozen vegetables, although they obviously aren’t as good as the fresh stuff (and frozen veg takes up room I your freezer which is not a forever machine).

How then do the supermarkets stop panic buying? Well I’d limit purchases to a maximum of 2 of any item and a maximum of 12 items total per person for a few weeks (anyone showing up at the tills with 13 items, gets refused service and told to come back tomorrow). There is as much a psychological aspect to the panic buying and its about curbing that behaviour. Cutting the number of items on sale (i.e. one or two brands of soap rather than a dozen) and make sure there is plenty of those items on the shelves (perhaps even closing until they can ensure this). If people see empty shelves one day, then some small number of items the next, the selfish ones will try to clean them out.

Who should be vaccinated first?

Is it just me, but I’ve noticed that those who are in the younger generation tend to be taking this whole crisis a bit more seriously, even thought they are less vulnerable to the disease. By contrast, it seems to be the baby boomers and the older generations who are throwing caution to the win, insisting on seeing family at Christmas, not wearing masks, or having their noses poking out of masks (I’m tempted to get a big dog and train him to bite any exposed noses he sees).

Which brings us to the issue of who should be vaccinated first. Well clearly health workers and those with vulnerable conditions yes. But after that the UK’s plan is to go largely by age. Which you could argue makes sense given they are more likely to die from the disease (and their aforementioned habit of ignoring the rules). But I’d argue that might not be the best solution.

It ignores the fact that certain ethnic groups are more vulnerable to covid. It will take over a year to vaccinate everybody and by then some may have lost their immunity (as the antibodies won’t linger forever) or a new strain may have emerged that the vaccine isn’t effective against. Instead, I’d argue in favour of ring fenced vaccinations around possible super-spreader events.

So that would mean prioritising vaccinations in schools, universities, hospitality employees, shopping staff,etc. This would limit the room for the virus to spread. It could still spread (as not everyone would be vaccinated), but much more slowly, giving more time for more people to get vaccinated and more time to develop new vaccines for emerging strains.

But inevitably, given that baby boomers actually bother to show up to the polls and vote, they will get vaccinated first. And lets be clear, that’s the main reason why its going by age. If young people have a problem with that, start voting and being political active, otherwise you can’t complain about being ignored and put at the back of the queue for everything.

UK is now a Chumocracy

Nigel Farage, when not shouting at the sea or founding far right political parties (anti lockdown or whatever is the flavour of the month), has also been involved recently in some dodgy scams. Given he can’t mooch off the EU anymore (well more precisely off European tax payer’s, remember that UK citizens paid for his lavish spending as well via their taxes) he’s clearly trying his hand at some grifting, given he knows there’s millions of brexiters who are as thick as mince and will believe anything he says.

Earlier this year he was promoting the sale of gold and silver as well as shilling for crypto, which would only make sense if you think the UK economy is going to so completely collapse after brexit and that the pound would become worthless (so not exactly on message here). However he’s now been appearing in internet adverts promoting a fairly dodgy sounding investment advice scam, not unlike the contrepreneur scams I mentioned in a prior post. Yes the person who is most responsible for brexit is a dodgy scam artist, so why are we we going ahead with brexit?

Well largely because of how the media in the UK works. Very little of what I’ve said above is being reported in the mainstream media. For much the same reasons they were slow to report on his extra marital affairs, nor that he applied for a German passport straight after the referendum.

By contrast anyone on the left makes the slightest mistake, they will do a 20 page exclusive and go on about it for weeks. But a right wing politician can be openly scamming people, or the Tories handing out billions in no bid contracts to their chums and it doesn’t get reported. In short, Brexit Britain is not a democracy, but a Chumocracy. And we have the nerve to call other countries corrupt.

Covid and its impact on elections

Equally, anyone thinking covid and the mess that’s to follow in January will derail the Tories (or Farage) think again. The media will develop a goldfish like memory of everything that’s happened this year. They will point to the growth in the economy (its likely by 2024, we’ll be into some sort of recovery, they’ll just highlight the growth, ignoring how much better it would have otherwise been without brexit or a better covid response). They’ll also play the race card of course (ignoring the fact that if there is a problem then now that’s entirely on them).

While labour stands a better chance now they’ve got a credible leader in charge, they are not guaranteed to win. This is why the ridiculous infighting now going on between the Corbyn brigade and Starmer needs to stop. The recent US election shows why. Biden only scraped in, despite the fact Trump is on course to have killed more American’s than the axis forces managed in WW2 (the US death toll is now 3000 per day, that’s a 9/11 or a pearl harbour every single day)…and he still got 47% of the vote.

The one major change will be a level of Darwinian evolution. In that more of the baby boomers and Trumpers will have joined anti-mask protests, got covid and died and thus will be unable to vote in 2024. And some will also die from natural causes between now and then given their more advanced age. Its this demographic shift that is going to be the killer for the right long term, hence why they are trying to pack the Supreme court or make brexit as difficult as possible to reverse.

It might not happen in 2024, but when it does happen, the left needs to keep their powder dry. As I’ve discussed before, I would not spare the rod once the boot is firmly on the other foot. The way to beat the right is to fight fire with fire.

Pardon my war crimes

Trump is going on a pardoning spree of his political allies and basically any yahoo who has vaguely right wing views, such as 4 security contractors who were convicted of war crimes in Iraq. This highlights why letting Trump go unpunished would be a huge mistake. This has to be grounds for charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

There’s also a very simple way to also nip this in the bud. Make it clear that anyone pardoned by Trump will be handed over for trial overseas. So these contractors will be shipped off to Iraq (after perhaps getting reassurances that they won’t be executed, just imprisoned for life). There are precedence’s where by an international court could try Trump and his allies in the Hague (which will be beyond the justification of any US presidential pardoning or Republican interference).

So he’ll simply be digging him and his allies into even deeper hot water by pardoning them. Which means people will quickly stop requesting pardons from him, or even start insulting him on twitter to make sure they don’t get pardoned!

Aborted vaccination

Several of the covid vaccines were developed with the aid of research based off of experiments done using aborted fetises. The very types the pro-life types were getting in a tizzy over the last few years and which they are seeking to ban by their stacking of the supreme court. Well now the Vatican is ignoring the obvious hypocrisy and saying its morally ok to take the vaccine.

I’m sorry but that’s a little bit more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow. It does kind of suggest to scientists that the next time the church object to something (cloning, artificial organs, stem cells research, synthetic biology, AI, cybernetics, etc.) they should simply ignore anything the churches say, get around the rules however they must (set up labs in Canada/the EU or across state lines), because as soon as they need those treatments the religious right will be the first in the queue looking for them. Which just means they’ve made themselves irrelevant to the debate. They might ban abortion yes or stem cell research but its just going to be a barrier to certain people who’ll have to take a trip somewhere else not run by bible thumpers.

If you truly believe that such medical experiments go against gods plan, I’m sorry but you can’t take the vaccine. Or you accept the fact that you were wrong to oppose abortion and such research in the first place. Perhaps you could make up for it by donating the money you’d normally give to the church to planned parenthood. Its one or the other.

Going out with a bang

So 2020 has been all round bad, but has it really been that bad? I mean its not like we’ve had anything really bad happen like a tsunami or a large volcano going off….well A) yes we have, Kilauea just erupted in Hawaii and B) there’s still several days to go, don’t tempt fate!

Posted in crime, cults, economics, EU, history, news, politics, scams, technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The world’s most expensive piece of flotsam

Reblogged from my other blog

If there’s one thing that frustrates me more than anything as an engineer, its bad design. Not least because, I’ve been in situations where I’ve seen how such bad design comes about. Typically, it comes down to a lack of good co-ordination between the different stakeholders and various professionals involved.

For example, an architect with grand designs and his eye on winning design awards woo’s a client into letting him go crazy and he ends up with a building that goes way over budget, takes much longer to build than planned and ultimately ends up as impractical and expensive to maintain. Good design is about striking a balance between the various factors (form, function, cost, ease of maintenance, sustainability, etc.). And often where that process fails its because of an unwillingness of some party to compromise in some way. Which can also often be an issue when money and politics intervenes.

And nowhere do you see this process play out most often than in military projects, which often serve as textbook examples of everything that can go wrong with engineering design. I’ve previously covered the F-35, but another recent example of a military money pit would be the Zumwalt Class stealth ship, which is little more than a very expensive piece of flotsam.

The Zumwalt class stealth cruisers have been beset with numerous problems from hull leaks, propulsion failures, but most notably its signature weapon, the AGS rapid fire precision guided gun system, intended to provide both anti-ship capability and fire support to ground troops during amphibious assault. Trouble is, the guns don’t actually work and have no ammo available.

Yes, the US has paid out about $23 billion in R&D costs with a further $4 billion per hull, for a class of ships with no guns. What are the sailors supposed to use instead, bad language? They are basically the equivalent of going up to the enemy with one of those toy guns that has a flag which pops out saying bang.

And this failure is entirely predictable. The Navy’s problem is that the weapon’s proved expensive to develop. Rather than firing normal artillery rounds the navy wanted something capable of firing longer range rocket propelled precision guided munitions. The trouble with those is they were always going to be expensive. And now that they have the guns finally working, it turns out they can’t afford to buy the ammo.

This is exactly the sort of problem that should have been identified earlier in the project. The contractor (BAE systems) should have pointed this out, which the Navy should have known anyway (they buy similar munitions for other things, what made them thing they’d suddenly become magically cheaper?) and they should have made damn sure Congress were aware of this before approving the project.

This is where the engineering compromise comes in. Rather than a pair of high cost precision guns with super expensive ammo, why not just mount lots of larger calibre guns? These can fire a larger round over a longer distance, negating the need for rocket assistance. To give some sort of comparison, while the Zumwalt’s mount two 155mm (6”) guns, the WW2 era New-Orleans Class heavy cruisers (of a similar weight to the Zumwalt’s) mounted nine 204mm (8”) guns, the German Deutschland class mounted six 280mm (11”) guns and the aptly named HMS Terror (a WW1 British shore bombardment monitor with about half the displacement of any of these cruisers) sported two insanely large 380mm (15”) guns (which is a bit like seeing a toddler running around with a rocket launcher!).

Hell even the light cruiser HMS Belfast (a museum ship on the Thames, which is much smaller than the Zumwalt) mounts nine 155mm guns. Yes, you heard that right, the royal navy have a 75 year old museum ship capable of outrunning the US navy’s latest and greatest warship (plus the Belfast’s gun’s actually work!).

Now granted, these older ships would be using older manually loaded guns with a rate of fire of 2-4 rounds per minute, against the 10 rpm the AGS is capable of (that said, if you’ve got 9 guns you can throw a lot shells towards the target). And larger shells take up more room below deck, so you can’t carry as many of them. But it is possible to build quick firing guns of a large calibre. The US navy in fact experimented with such a weapon back in the 70′s, building a 204 (8”) gun capable of firing 12 rpm. Interestingly, a side goal of that project was to have similar precision guided long range shells, which was ultimately abandoned as it was seen as too expensive.

So it would have to have been understood from day one that this was a high risk project. You’d want to make damn sure the guns actually worked (and figure out the price tag of the shells) before you even started building the ships. If that wasn’t acceptable, then they should have looked at the alternatives. As noted, they could have had the same stealth ship but mounting several larger calibre conventional guns, effectively a stealthy, ocean going version of existing monitor type vessels.

Another alternative would be to bring back (or keep) in service one or two of the Iowa class battleships. Although I would point out that these ships are 70 year’s old and require a massive crew to operate (that said, anything would be cheaper and more capable than the Zumwalt’s at this point!). And, as you can imagine, a 50,000 ton warship has all the stealth features of a brass band, making them a sitting duck for enemy air or missile attack.

A further alternative is the arsenal ship. You basically take a disused cargo ship, cram its hold’s full of hundreds of artillery rockets, drive it up to the enemy shoreline (this could be done remotely, with no crew on board) and start shooting. A bit crude, but it achieves the same result.

And the solution? Oh, we’re going to develop rail guns or directed energy weapons and mount them on the warships instead! So the solution to an overly ambitious, expensive and technically challenging project, is to come up with something even more expensive and difficult to develop. Ya, I wonder how that’s going to work out!

Furthermore, railguns aren’t really the solution here. They are great for firing high speed armour piercing shells, but not the kind of shells used in shore bombardment (typically HX or fragmentation shells). As for turning the Zumwalt’s into an anti ship platform, most modern ships these days fight each other using missiles or their aircraft. While most do have a deck gun, that’s really a last resort weapon. Two warships going at each other with their deck guns is the modern day naval equivalent of a back alley knife fight, one that will most likely be won by the ship that gets lucky (by either shooting first or hitting something important like a magazine). E.g. a Zumwalt is off an enemy shoreline and a enemy coastal patrol boat a fraction of its size comes around a headland and opens up on the Zumwalt from behind before it can get its forward guns into action.

Either way, my point is that the US Navy had alternative options. Each would have come with drawbacks, but would have been deliverable according to a predictable budget and time-scale. Instead, they chose the most technically difficult, expensive and risky option, with predictable results. Who is too blame? Congress? The Navy? The contractor? I’d say all of them. The navy should have known better, the contractor should have pointed out the technical difficulties they were being asked to overcome and Congress should have done a better job regulating the other two.

Ultimately it shows the enormous waste of money that is US government defence spending. How the mantra of “support the troops” can see vast sums of taxes going to waste in various money burning parties, with significant levels of cronyism and corruption. Where ships are built in the home state of a senator on the take from defence contractors…..even if that state is Wisconsin….which is quite some distance from any ocean last time I checked. Indeed defence contractors, knowing they won’t be punished for doing a crap job, have a perverse incentive to jack up the price, as the higher the cost the more of margin they can cream off the top.

But it also highlights how that, contrary to what you will hear from republicans, there is more than adequate money to fund many left wing proposals. A tiny improvement in defence spending efficiency (i.e. buy the same stuff, just spending it more carefully) would produce saving more than sufficient to fund a green new deal, better healthcare or a cancellation of university tuition fees.

Unfortunately, many democrats are as unwilling to take on defence contractors as the GOP, its practically against their religion. Biden (aka Mr Vanilla, as it was a choice between a soggy plain lolly or a sh*t sandwich which Trump claimed was chocolate chip flavour) could do many things on his first day in office, even without a majority in congress, but I don’t hold out much hope of him doing so. Better than Trump yes, but he’s going to need prodding to nudge things in the right direction.

Posted in aviation, defence, economics, politics, technology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Tackling the US deficit post Trump

Trump has run up a huge $3.1 trillion deficit (that’s in one year, on top of about £6.5 trillion since the start of his presidency) and you can be guaranteed a few weeks into the next democratic presidency the republicans will develop a goldfish like memory and forget that it was Trump who ran up this deficit and start blaming Mr Vanilla Biden for it.

Now normally I’d say, the democrats should be the grown ups and fix the problem. But we have now seen 4 republican presidents in a row run up a huge deficit and start a recession. They then leave office and expect the democrats to pick up the pieces, making the unpopular decisions to set things right again (allowing the GOP to hurl rocks from the sidelines, win mid-term elections and cripple the administration). Its like having a messy flatmate who never cleans up and then constantly complains to you about how dirty the flat is while you are in the process of doing the dishes.

So instead, I’d say “fu*k that”. If I were Mr Vanilla Biden, I’d calmly remind the republicans of the graph above (how red states spend the govmint’s money raised for them of the back of blue states while, while with no hint of irony, they complain about big govmint) and ask them to point out which republican cash cow they’d like to sacrifice, or which red state they’d like to see bankrupted or maybe give us a heads up on how much their billionaire donors are willing to pay in taxes.

Beyond pushing up taxes for the wealthy (basically reversing Trump’s tax cuts), I’d engage in a bit of Keynesian spending to get the country through the recession and ignore the deficit for the time being (if the money markets were ever going to pull the plug on lending to the US government, they’d have done so under Trump, their bluff has essentially been called).

Even if the GOP regain control of congress, well the same way Trump used presidential emergency orders to fund his border wall, Mr Vanilla Biden can declare a national emergency and provides covid relief and full healthcare coverage for everybody. Or write off all student debts. Or maybe even just use a presidential order to do some sort of populist cash handout right before an election.

While this might seem reckless, the reality is that deficits are less of a problem for democrats because future democrat administrations are prepared to raise taxes and make meaningful spending cuts (in areas that will actually make a difference, such as defence spending, corporate subsidies and govmint pork), while republicans will talk the talk, but never do anything.

Remember all those big spending cuts Trump, like Bush before him promised? whole departments gone, instead he spent like a sailor on shore leave! The truth is that, beyond some cosmetic and ideologically driven cuts to screw the poor and minorities (which usually results in more welfare claims, healthcare cost or crime so usually ends up costing the government money rather than saving it), republicans do not cut spending, they are the party of debt and deficits. They are just very good at lying and claiming it is the other way around.

Indeed if they kick up enough stink, I’d stick it to them. Ring fence certain spending to prevent it from being cut and then impose budget limits on borrowing (which is not unusual, many countries have such measures in place to stop some crazy person doing something stupid). This would mean it will be a legal requirement that things like welfare or Obamacare payments are met, and illegal to run massive deficits paying for government pork (some countries have budget rules which will automatically trigger tax increases in such a scenario).

This will basically neuter any future GOP president from day one. He/she will be faced with the stark choice on the first day in the white house. 1) Break every campaign promise that involves spending money (war with China, an alligator moat with Mexico, summon Gozer the Gozerian). 2) raise taxes…which didn’t work out too well for G. Bush senior! Or 3) Make meaningful tax cuts that will harm the republican base and piss off GOP donors.

In short, every future republican president will be rendered a lame duck and the damage they can do will be limited, even when the democrats are no longer in control.

Posted in budget deficit, economics, news, politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The sneaky plan to save America

If there is one thing this election has made clear is that Republicans cannot be trusted. They are a crazy death cult of the Trump and the Karen’s. And a threat to America’s survival as a democratic state. The poll defying margin came about because Biden made the same mistake Hilary did, he appealed to the republicans better nature, hoping that he could win them over. Well it didn’t work, they dithered and voted for Trump anyway.

The RNC meet to discuss the election results

Which just tells me that any talk of bipartisanship is wasted breath (other than to lay a trap for the republicans and force them to expose how fanatically crazy they now are). If the democrats want to save America from lurching towards some dystopian future (Handmaiden’s tale, Man in the High Castle, Black Mirror, take your pick), then they need to act quickly.

Packing the Supreme court…or more precisely unpacking it of nutters

Predictably the republicans, having spent 2016 arguing that under no circumstances should a supreme court justice be sworn in during an election year, while complaining about the ideology of Obama’s picks. Then, being their usual hypocritical selves, they go and appoint an wholly unsuitable nut job as to the supreme court in the dying days of a Trump administration that’s going down in flames. This will leave conservatives with a 6-3 majority and raises the risk of policies such as Roe v’s Wade being overturned or Obamacare being undone in the middle of a pandemic.

And to be clear, this is a very deliberate strategy on the part of the American right. They know that demographics are against them. The GOP represent an ageing and ever decreasing pool of angry racist boomers. By contrast, a significant proportion of Americans actually support many left wing policies. The GOP can only hold power in the US due to the decidedly unfair way its election system works. Trump finished behind Hilary by 2.5 million votes and still won. And few thousand votes here and there he could have finished 5 million votes behind Biden and still clung to power. The republicans have gerrymandered congressional districts to make sure they can similarly gain control of congress with a minority of votes. Rigging the supreme court ensures they can block unfavourable legislation even after their voting base has shrunk to the stage that they can’t hold onto power anymore.

In most countries politicians vet and/or veto supreme court justices, they don’t pick them (a panel of legal experts do that). Indeed one of the situations where they are supposed to veto a justice is if its clear the nominee holds particularly strong political views on a controversial topic such as abortion. In Ireland for example, government’s have collapsed and the careers of leading politicians have been ruined by efforts to get an inappropriate justice on the bench (because its understood by all parties that this is beyond the pale of acceptable behaviour).

Now granted Biden Mr Vanilla could look at impeaching some of the justices Trump has appointed (they have pretty shady pasts) or otherwise force them out, but frankly that takes too long and could get messy (they’ll run down the clock hoping to get enough control on the senate at the mid terms to stop it). It is a case of fighting fire with fire. Straight out of the block in January, I’d pack the court with new justices, neither liberal nor right wing, but some sort of genuine commitment to law and order, 4 more should do it, that would make it an even 6-7 split (between sensible people and nutters).

FDR famously used the threat of court packing to convince several biased justices to resign and restore balance to the Supreme Court

And too be fair, its a fool’s errant to repeal Roe v’s Wade. What would be the outcome? Some states would ban abortion yes, meaning back alley abortion clinics would open the next day (you’d be going from a regulated setup to an unregulated free for all, who’ll give an abortion even after a mother’s waters have broken). And legal ones will pop up just over the state line, in the nearest blue states or across the border in Canada.

Worst still by re-opening Roe v’s Wade would set a dangerous legal precedent. It means any other ruling can be re-evaluated. And while the democrat’s don’t want that, the republican’s really don’t want that. Have they considered what would happen should the court ever return to liberal control? For example we have Santa Clara v’s Southern Pacific (which establishes the person-hood of corporations) or various rulings that allowed the carrying of firearms in public (as I mentioned in prior posts, in the old west many towns had strict gun laws, indeed open carry laws are really only a recent phenomenon). If Roe v’s Wade can be overturned, so can anything.

And I’d say the democrats should make it clear, they won’t spare the rod, if Roe v’s Wade goes, then as soon as they’ve got control again, every other ruling will be up for review, especially if it relates to conservative sacred cows like gun control.

Also there could be procedural benefits to having extra justices. It would mean that the court can hold more cases, with smaller groups of justices presiding, only referring the case to a full sitting as and when needed (and my guess is that as this involves a lot of hard work, and many of Trump’s appointees are dangerously under-qualified, they’ will quickly be out of their depth and retire early).

Subverting the electoral college

Longer term the priority for the democrats should be reform. Once the court is balanced again, take away the president’s power to nominate justices (he/she is reduced to simply vetoing an unsuitable candidate on the advice of the senate, as is the case in most other countries). And swap the US electoral system to one using proportional representation rather than First-past-the-post. Plus henceforth the person who gets the most votes (as Hilary did in 2016 and Gore did in 2000) gets to be president, no more electoral college.

But of course, that would require constitutional amendments, which the GOP will block at the state level. And, like I said, there’s no point appealing to republican’s better nature, they don’t have one. So again we fight fire with fire. There is for example a sneaky plan to subvert the electoral college (NPVIC) and turn it against itself (as states are free to vote for whomever they want as president, it means a controlling number of states can simply agree to all vote for the winner of the popular vote, regardless of which way the vote goes in each state). Democrats should make it a priority to drive this through.

NPVIC does actually enjoy some bi-partisan support, which will likely be enhanced by the recent election results, of course the RNC will still oppose it!

The more the merrier….and less crazy!

Next we could look at adding more states. DC could be granted state hood, along with Puerto Rico. But why stop there? What about American Samoa, Guam, or the Virgin Islands? In short you could add 10-12 extra senate seats that will almost always go democrat (or at worst a sensible republican). This would mean that the natural buoyancy of the senate, which is currently tilted towards the republicans, would instead now tilt in favour of the democrats.

Of course the GOP can still filibuster certain bills. So we might need to add a couple more senate seats. There was a proposal to split California into 6 separate states. A perhaps less radical solution would be an even split down the middle mid-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This would basically create two California’s, which both predominantly still vote democrat adding two extra senate seats.

A lot of red states have the strange situation where you’ll have a large liberal leaning city (Kansas city or Austin Texas being good examples) in the middle of red-neck Trump country. How about encouraging those cities to secede from their states and become their own mini city-state? And the supreme court trying to overturn Roe v’s Wade or Obamacare would be the perfect excuse to do so (as such cities could argue they want to allow both of these policies within the city limits).

Kansas city, which represents nearly half of the state’s population (including those technically in Arkansas its actually closer to 70% of the state’s population) tends to vote democrat, but gets drowned out by the rural red voters, so all of the electoral college votes and senators end up being republican. How is that fair?

This could create another few dozen senate seats, pushing things towards a default two-thirds majority for the democrats (or more accurately a 2/3’s majority of sensible people v’s nut jobs). Meaning the democrats will not only control the appointment of supreme court justices (and if the GOP block attempts to reform it with sensible justices, then I’d recommend appointing the youngest liberal left wing loonies you can find just to wind them up). And the democrats will also be able to override filibusters and pass bill after bill without delay, undoing several decades of republicanism in a few short months.

And adding more states, some of them quite populous and left leaning, means that the natural buoyancy of the electoral college will also change. While, as noted, republicans can now win without a majority of voters (well short of one in fact). In this scenario, there will be far more electoral college votes in the safe democrat column. Meaning the GOP will have to get a majority of votes to win (and pretty much take all the swing states too), while the democrat’s won’t have too.

No more Trump’s

Of course, all this would mean, soon it would be republicans scrambling to pass NPVIC, judicial reform and pushing for proportional representation. Which is precisely the point of all of the above – get the GOP to sabotage their own dirty work. But that only gets the GOP back to a level playing field. Which is the problem for them. They can’t win on a level playing field, not if while fielding extremist candidates that only appeal to angry racists and boomers.

The only way they’d stand a chance after such reforms would be with moderate republican candidates, who have enough broad appeal to win (you know like the candidates they used to field before the southern strategy). In other words, there will never be another Trump, nor any other alt-right or religious right candidate.

Posted in crime, cults, economics, history, news, politics, power | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The changing nature of heat

Within the EU recently there have been significant drops in carbon emissions, most notably in the electricity sector. The UK for example, has seen a 45% drop in carbon intensity (despite all the Tories anti-renewable dithering), with an average level of emissions of 250 gCO2/kWh. However Scotland is well on course to join the 100% club, with an 92% drop in carbon emissions since 1990 and an expected carbon intensity of 24-50 g/CO2/kWh beyond 2020.

While this still leaves some way to go, electricity of course being only 18% of total energy consumption, and the energy sector as a whole being only responsibly for 60% of emissions (the remaining 40% coming from industry, mining and most notably agriculture). However, it does show how the situation is rapidly changing. Which may require the need to re-evaluate certain policies.

For example, electric vehicles have long run the risk of simply shifting emissions from tailpipes to power plants. However, with a cleaned up grid in Europe, this is less of an issue any more. And, as I recently discussed, vehicle to grid technology can actually help balance a future renewables heavy electricity grid.

However, by far the biggest sector impacted will be in terms of heat generation. Traditionally in the UK gas fired central heating has been seen as more environmentally friendly. As gas boilers are about +90% efficient (while a power station is 55-33% efficient, with a further 10-25% lost during transfer via the grid and in end use appliances), they have a carbon intensity of about 290 gCO2/kWh, while electric heating was typically in the order of +450 gCO2/kWh. As a result gas boilers were often recommended on environmental grounds and governments spent quite a bit of money upgrading council flats, or offering grants to see more gas boilers installed. And gas central heating has become a must have commodity in UK homes (they often mention it in UK property ads as a selling point).

However these significant drops in the carbon intensity turns everything on its head. Now in fact, its the gas boilers that seem to be part of the problem, rather than the solution, with electric heating increasingly looking as the better choice. That said, there are other reasons why electric heating has long been looked down on. To be blunt, its kind of crap.

Traditionally, you’d be relying on electric storage heaters for space heating, which are good at storing heat, but aren’t great at actually releasing any (until about 3am when your in bed and wondering why the house is suddenly warm). And water heating was done by immersion heaters (essentially a giant kettle) which are energy intensive, inefficient to run and prone to leaking.

However, that is also now changing, with new combi electric boilers becoming available. These work just like a gas combi boiler, in that they provide instantaneous heat, only using electricity when there is demand for heat (thus, they don’t need a big tank). And they can run radiators as well as providing hot water. Hence you can swap one for a gas boiler, without changing the radiators. Furthermore, gas boilers come with various safety hazards (carbon monoxide poisoning) and need a flue installed to vent gases. This is not an issue with a electric boiler.

Indeed, I’ve kind of been caught up in all of this. My old gas boiler died recently and repairing it was going to be prohibitively expensive. Worse, refitting another gas boiler in the same location would have also been expensive (they’d have had to rip down the ceiling across half the flat to install a new flue). And the only spot where it could be relocated to an outside wall was in a bedroom (which is fine so long as you maintain it and have a mains powered CO alarm installed, but could be a showstopper if I tried to sell the place). So instead, I opted for the electric boiler option (which, given that I’m on a 100% renewable electricity tariff, makes mine a zero carbon home).

That said the other main reason why gas boilers have been preferred is cost. Gas is about ¼ to 1/5 the price of electricity in the UK. In my case, I live in a very energy efficient flat. About 25% of my annual heating costs was the gas standing charge, 20% the actual gas and the rest boiler maintenance. So in theory, by getting rid of the gas standing charge I should be only slightly worse off (or more than likely about the same or slightly better off, depending on how much the maintenance costs are).

Of course for people who don’t live in an energy efficient homes, this might not be an option (mind you that’s sort of why I went for one in the first place!). Hence other alternatives might need to be considered such as heat pumps, hydrogen (basically running those same gas boilers off hydrogen instead of natural gas), biomass or district heating systems.

One has to consider however, the enormous rise in energy demand over the winter in the UK. Hence whatever option is chosen it would have to be something storable. So in the case of heat pumps or direct electric heating, you’d need some sort of seasonal electric storage (possibly in the form of a large PHES system located in the highlands). Hydrogen could take the form of underground caverns filled with hydrogen, while district heating systems (and heat pumps) could look at heat storage underground.

I’d also further note the impact on the grid itself. In much the same why electric vehicles will likely force changes to how the grid is wired up and how bills are calculated, the same is likely to be true for future heating systems. Particularly if its heavily dependant on heat pumps or electric heating systems, as they too can be programmed to come on at certain times of the day, using off peak electricity (so a form of energy storage not unlike what’s possible with electric car batteries), de-rating during peak hours, to help even out the peaks and troughs.

Its worth noting that electric heating systems can be fitted with a surge tank to allow a few hours of energy storage (the issue is, this reduces their efficiency, but it would make still economic sense with the right electricity tariff’s). Furthermore that the main obstacle to installing electric combi heating is often the capacity of the building’s electricity system (some older buildings just can’t withstand the very high current draw such a boiler will require). A heat pump will require either a large garden for a ground coil, or a suitable spot on a wall onto which a fan coil unit (which will be making some noise 24/7) can be mounted (this was the problem in my place, neither of these were options, so I had to go for the electric boiler).

Either way, it does show how the situation isn’t as insurmountable as the naysayers would have us believe. There are solutions. Yes nothing will offer a like for like replacement for fossil fuels and likely it will be range of these different options that get implemented. But it shows that the situation is rapidly changing. How steady improvements in decarbonising the electric grid can be rolled out to other sectors.

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Lock them up

My only concern, when Trump was hospitalised, is that it raised the risk of him dying before he can be arrested. It is a known fact that Trump has committed numerous crimes in office (and before entering office) ranging from tax fraud, embezzlement, voter fraud, abuse of office, civil rights violations, and that’s before we get onto the more serious potential charges of treason and conspiracy charges (often times in politics covering up a scandal is seen as worse than the actual crime, hence why Nixon was impeached for what would otherwise be considered a fairly minor offence).

And its not just Trump, its his much of his cabinet, most notably Bill Barr (who should really do more time for his crimes than Trump) and several members of his family, such as Jared Kushner and Ivanka. The democrats have been aware of these crimes, but are too focused on playing political games to advance action seriously enough. If they win the election and get control of the senate they need to take action and launch investigations.

To allow this monstrosity to stand will simply be a signal to the alt-right & republicans that they can do their worst and get away with it. For the sake of US democracy he and his allies have to be punished and be seen to be punished. Otherwise you can then be guaranteed that the next republican president will be something even more awful than Trump.

And if the left don’t see action, then you’re eventually going to end up with another set of left wing populist demagogues emerging on the left, who will make Bernie or AoC look mild by comparison (in truth, while both are fairly left wing by current US standards, they are only moderately centre-left by global standards). And, given that the GoP will have set a precedent that you can do nasty stuff and get away with it, you can bet your bottom dollar any hard left populist will not hesitate to abuse office in the same way Trump has done (just look at some of those in South America, such as the Peronists or Bolivarans).

Then we have reports that alt-right groups have infiltrated the police. Some of these groups, such as the proud boys or the boogaloo movement, have been labelled as potential security threats by the FBI. So I’d make it official, declare them terrorist groups and sent masked unidentified men to arrest them, much like Trump did in Portland to protesters, and haul them off to Gitmo for a nice long water boarding (this would force the GOP to either nod in agreement and break with the far right, or they’d have to seek new laws preventing this, which would neuter the threat of any future republican president doing what Trump did).

And this is hardly a unique situation. There is the case study of the former FBI chief Edgar Hoover. While action wasn’t taken until after he died (this was before Watergate might you), there was a congressional investigation that looked into his abuse of power and criminal acts. This produced a number of important changes to how intelligence and law enforcement agencies operated (which are probably the only reason the US isn’t a Trump dictatorship right now).

Granted there’s a bit of a difference, but it is certainly possible and reasonable to investigate Trump and his associates. And I’d extend that to his appointees as well, notably his Supreme court picks. For Trump is more of an accessory to a decades long plan by the republicans to rig the supreme court with activist judges who will place their own politics above the law. This risks making the Supreme court as bigger threat to US democracy than Trump.

But my concern is that the democrats are basically a party of left wingers (to varying degrees of course), led by a bunch of right wingers with some vaguely left wing sympathies (I think this sketch from Spitting Image kind of sums up the modern democratic party rather well). Much as they’ve done in the past, they’ll turn a blind eye to GOP law breaking, tell them they are very naughty boy’s but otherwise do nothing about it. Which just means they’ll get nowhere. Doesn’t matter what Biden Mr Vanilla has in his manifesto, the republicans will use their control of the supreme court or senate to block it and he’ll just shrug his shoulders and say aw shucks!

Which just means sooner or later we’ll get another Trump again, possibly as soon as 2024, who will be even more awful and do even more damage. And, as noted, sooner or later the left will lose patience, they will start to reject mainstream democratic candidates and drift towards their own left wing demagogues (who will eventually take over the democratic party, much like how the tea party took over the GOP). So it will be a choice each election between a right wing nutter and a left wing nutter.

And this could well be Trump ultimate legacy (and Biden’s too if he’s not careful). To turn America into a failed state. That is the price America will pay if they let his and the republican’s crimes go unpunished.

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