Thursday, 29 November 2018

All You Need to Know About Brexit

Brexit is probably the single most important undertaking that the UK will decide upon effecting every individual in the British Isles not to mention having a meaningful impact on the European Union.

After a referendum which rivals the election of liar-Trump to the presidency of the United States in the extent of lies, half-truths and general intentional misinformation the British public voted to leave the EU without any clear indication of just what that meant and under what terms they should go. Now, almost 2 years later the British Prime Minister has been able to negotiate what is essentially a soft Brexit requiring the UK to adhere to all the rules and regulations of the EU; pay the EU as if they were members; but have no vote as they would no longer be members.

Annoyingly this was obvious from the moment they triggered Article 50 although the Brexiteers in their Elizabethan fantasy land thought they would just walz away from the EU and dance back into the time when Britannia did indeed rule the waves.

So now everything is narrowing down to a vote in Parliament on Theresa May's Brexit deal on December 11.

As a precursor to that vote Prime Minister Theresa May has offered to debate on BBC the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party, on Sunday 9 December, two days before MPs vote on her deal.

So how did the wannabe Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn respond?

"...Labour sources say the party has not yet agreed to take part, with Jeremy Corbyn telling 'This Morning' he preferred ITV's offer out of "respect" for viewers who wanted to watch the 'I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!' final on ITV the same evening - 9 December. I want to watch it myself," he said."

And you wonder how the Brits could have voted to leave the EU....

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Democracy in Chains

It is not my normal approach to let someone else do my writing but in this case I think the Introduction of Nancy MacLeans' "Democracy in Chains" is the best explanation of the challenge facing democracy in the United States I have seen.

Please find it on:

Go to the page.

And read it.

Then forward it to everyone you know.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Democracy in Spain

I have been carrying on a running argument with an Indian colleague of mine about what he considers to be the unfair handling of the Turkish coup and the Catatonian bid for independence.

His baseline, as it turns out, is that the major difference is that Turks are "people of color", and Spaniards are white, and therefore Spanish police brutality is overlooked and Turkey is condemned for being barbaric. To him that explains why the Germans are so aggressive about the Turkish handling of the coup.

My counter has been that the Germany has been less concerned about the Turkish response to its own population (although the wide ranging imprisonments under the auspices of the coup seem to be more politically motivated as opposed to dealing with real security concerns) but rather with the imprisonment of German journalists under the guise that they are foreign agents "spying" on Turkey fomenting unrest.

They are also concerned about threat that Erdogan poses to democracy in that he is using autocratic means to change laws to position himself to be able to claim the mantle of "operating within the law".

The Germans have a history with this and so are perhaps especially sensitive about putting into law actions which are actually criminal.

Furthermore, I have argued that it is incorrect to compare the Turkish coup with the situation in Catalan and a better comparison would be how the Spanish are going about dealing with Catalonia versus the Turkish handling of their Kurdish minority.

I haven't made much headway.

This despite the fact that the Kurds haven't even ventured to hold an independence referendum in Turkey. The recent response to the Iraqi Kurdish plebiscite is perhaps a good indication of why not. The Iraqi central government responded quickly and remorselessly with military force.

And we shouldn't forget that a referendum in Turkey on Kurdish independence, as in Catalonia, is against the law.

It is an imperative of central or federal governments to ban referendums as they would go at the core of the state's central powers. Even if the Scottish referendum had been won by those wishing to leave the UK it was not a legally binding referendum although it had been countenanced by the central government.

This morning a spokesperson for the Catalan independence movement was quoted that this was not a question of legality but rather of democracy.

I think that might be where the problem begins.

One of the first tenets of democracy is the rule of law.

I would suggest that the Spanish government has been clear regarding the illegality of a referendum and how they would respond to it. Incarcerating the Catalan government and calling for a new election is not something they thought up overnight.

They have Article 155.

Spain's Senate voted 214 to 47 to invoke Article 155 and seize control of the region immediately after it had declared its independence. This marks the first time since the fall of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 that the central government has taken direct control of one of Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions.

Despite the fact that I think the Spanish government was a bit heavy-handed with their police actions against the referendum, the basic response was the correct one.

All the plebiscites in the world, if they are against the law in the country in which they are held are actually anti-democratic. If you want to have a legal plebiscite then you have to win enough votes at a national level to legalize a referendum, especially on independence.

Democracy is a two-edged sword.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The View from South of the River

Yesterday I went out to the pub with one of my business partners and his father 'John'.

It was an interesting experience.

The father is in his early 70's, a bit of a self-made man which means he dabbles in a number of things with a strong bent towards residential real estate and as he would say he's "doin' awright".

Bromley generally votes Conservative although the margins of victory have been slowly reducing. Essentially they fit into the left wing of the Conservative party which in American parlance would mean "Republicans with a heart".

Bromley voted Remain, as did 'John'. He voted Conservative in the June 8th election, but actually was voting against Jeremy Corbyn of Labour as opposed to for Teresa May of the Conservatives.
When his son, who voted remain and voted Tory heard the results of the June 8th election he called his father to moan about what a disaster it was. To his surprise, his father was almost euphoric.

His rationale was that Teresa May, although a tepid Remainer, was indeed a Remainer. He also said she had no scruples coupled with a consuming desire for power and so she happily jumped into the leadership battle after the Brexit vote, taking up the Leave standard and embracing wooden phrases such as "Brexit means Brexit"- whatever that means- and the equally inane "no deal is better than a bad deal", without ever engaging with the idea that no deal could indeed be the worst deal.

So when Ms May called the snap election claiming it was to achieve a crushing majority in Parliament thus stiffening her back for the coming battles with the EU 'John' thought the election was actually a chance for a second referendum on Brexit. He was concerned that there was even more at stake in this second referendum as he was concerned that Mr Corbyn would have a much stronger showing on the Brexit wave. This despite the fact that if he were not an outright Leaver he was basically an abstaining Remainer and could still garner those young voters who had failed to show up for the actual Brexit referendum.

And, according to 'John', despite the risk, this explains the abysmal campaign run by Ms May.

So on the morning of the 9th he was confident that Ms May would work out a way to remain prime minister and would actually have a 'soft' Brexit mandate, and would no longer have to pretend that no deal was an option.

The dalliance with the DUP is still unclear as they represent the far right and the far left of the Conservative party and have a pork barrel list on top. Their anti-abortion and homophobic anti same-sex marriage goals will find no support in Westminster but their open-border demands between Ireland and Northern Ireland actually plays into the hands of Ms May and all the soft Brexiteers regardless of party affiliation.

So, if politics makes for (very) strange bed partners a Conservative/DPU majority is the epitome of that phrase.

Enter the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrats won 12 seats, 2 more than the DUP.

They are a recognized party and were part of the last coalition with David Cameron's Tories.

They ran a poor campaign with their leader, Tim Fallon, an evangelical Christian who spent most of his campaign trying to deny that he was anti-gay refusing to deny that homosexuality was a sin. He has since resigned and it looks as if the new leader of the Liberal Democrats will be Vince Cable who is pro-Europe, was Business Minister under Mr Cameron. Mr Cable lost his seat in the 2015 elections and therefore although his predecessor had declared that the Liberal Democrats would not do a deal with the Conservatives Mr Cable feels no responsibility to uphold that pledge.

This was all last night.

It remains to be seen who Ms May goes with but I believe one thing is for sure: Brexit may mean Brexit, but what Brexit means is a much broader church today than it was 2 weeks ago, and that can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

To Save the EU Germany might have to Change

I get into a lot of arguments about Germany's current account surplus which this year is around 8.6% of GDP. That is a huge number. It has drawn criticism from primarily the US claiming currency manipulation. It has also come under attack because of the German propensity to save. Lastly, the other old chestnut rolled out is Germany's ruthless efficiency (in manufacturing).

Germany carries an almost hysterical fear of inflation predicated on its experience of hyper-inflation in the 1920's. This has resulted in a national consciousness which focuses on financial stability with a strong tendency to save on a private as well as on a public level.

But Germany's current account surplus is only partially a result of trade. It doesn't subsidize its exports and only indirectly controls the level of the Euro by virtue of its economic might. Under the current structure the independence of the European Central Bank (ECB) remains as sacred as that of the Bundesbank with the caveat that politically there is monetary but not fiscal union which means Germany, like every other EU nation looks to its own house first.

Because there is no overt currency manipulation nor are there any subsidies paid to support exports the problem appears to boil down to excess savings at the expense of investment.

The Financial Times(FT) recently attacked the Germans suggesting that Germany should tackle its saving surpluses which they went on to blame on over-regulated service industries; low growth level of public and private sector investment; and damaging and unnecessary fiscal surpluses.


Damaging and unnecessary fiscal surpluses.

Just what is it that they would like Germany to do?

I believe they are referring to calls from some corners for a fiscal union, or at least the first steps to a fiscal union giving the EU/ECB the right to impose policies on member states to influence the relationship between savings and investments. But this would be a major step to a federal Europe. It requires relinquishing aspects of sovereignty that no one seems to be willing to do because they think Germany will run a federal Europe.

Sounds like a rock and a hard place.

What it really requires is a German politician- either Merkel or Schulz to admit domestically that although Europe has benefited from the EU and Euro, Germany has benefited even more. It might be time to spread some of the German benefit (ie surplus), and to do so will require more rather than less union.

The argument somehow always ends with someone yelling at me that the Germans run Europe.

I don't argue. I refer to their complaints about Germany's ruthless efficiency.

I ask would they prefer they were building tanks instead of cars.....

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Of Nepotism and Ethics in a Banana Republic

The following is a quote from the New Yorker:

"Having sent Tillerson home from Beijing spouting Communist Party mantras, Xi’s envoys have turned their attention to the representative they really care about: Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. From a Chinese perspective, Kushner’s role in the White House is a clannish arrangement that they know well. Many of Trump’s current courtiers may be gone in a year of two, but the members of his family will remain. For a while, China appeared to be preparing to endear itself to Kushner in a way that only it can: Anbang, a financial conglomerate with close ties to the Party leadership, was nearing a deal that would have unlocked billions of dollars to help Kushner save a troubled investment in a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue. Last week, the Kushner family announced that talks had broken off, for reasons that were not clear. It’s certainly possible that a surge of negative publicity was making one side or the other uncomfortable."

Let me repeat part of that: "Anbang, a financial conglomerate with close ties to the Party leadership, was nearing a deal that would have unlocked billions of dollars to help Kushner save a troubled investment in a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue."

So let me get this straight. Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to his father-in-law Liar Trump is in China negotiating a deal with a Chinese financial conglomerate to protect one of Jared Kushner's investments?

I expect to read articles like this concerning the antics of third world dictatorships (or corporate CEO's), but not about members of the president's inner circle, and especially not if they are related to the president.

From the cabinet of billionaires to the buffoons masquerading as counselor to the president and presidential press secretary it looks like a ridiculous sitcom parodying a tinpot dictatorship.

Unfortunately it is not a TV show despite the best efforts of Trump in conjunction with various outlets of the media who are determined to push their view that news in general and politics specifically are just another form of entertainment to be used by Liar Trump for self-enrichment and by the media to increase ratings in order to sell commercials.

It is real life geopolitics.

I can only hope that Liar Trump might be learning the lesson that despite his desire to phrase everything for the benefit of third graders the real world is a lot more complex. Cue Health Care, Tax Reform, Syria, China and just about everything else he will encounter.

While he's on that learning curve I have to maintain my faith in the integrity of the American form of governmental checks and balances to save us from HL Mencken's "narcissistic moron".

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Little Britain

I have been so overwhelmed by the cascade of garbage emanating from the White House and certain parts of Capitol Hill that I have found it difficult to reflect on anything else thus putting what I view to be one of the most self-destructive acts undertaken by a sovereign state into the shadows.

Of course I am referring to brexit.

I am not going to go over all of the inanities of the the referendum. I am not going to fall into the category of a "remoaner" as the brexiteers like to tar anyone who was against brexit from the beginning and is still incredulous at the we've drunk the kool-aid and brexit means brexit brigade.


I am going to quote Tony Blair, who, for all his faults, came out with a concise description of where we are.

The brexiteers have made the decision that they don't like the house they are currently living in because the "utilities" are somehow controlled by people who don't live in their neighborhood. Their solution is to sell their homes without ever having looked at what their new home will look like, how much it will cost, what repairs will be necessary and whether the "utilities" will be any better once they are controlled by their neighborhood.

But I can report that the brexiteers tell me that I am wrong, that Tony Blair is certainly wrong, and then continue to bleat their brexit means brexit refrain.

I therefore now have chosen a different tact.

I tell them how happy I am that brexit means brexit and that now the NHS will finally get the funding it requires as brexit means Britain will save £350 million a week which will be put into the NHS.

You guessed it. They look at me with a perplexed look and tell me that I can't possibly believe that the NHS is really going to get £350 million a week.

And I can't possibly believe that they really voted for brexit.