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Monday, 31 December 2018

The end of the show

The end of the show (1980) by The Cats

I like to thank you, yes I do
I've got to face the truth
You've done the best you could to please me
I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I really must admit
That it could have been better all the time

Yes you've been acting like a star, a great one yes you are
I'll be the last one to deny, I could have known it long ago
Cause I've watched your pretty shows
I've seen you have played your parts so well

Well this must be the end of games we used to play
We better part and say goodbye
This must be the end of the show
I hate to see you go
But it's over now

I could have known it long ago
Cause I've watched your pretty shows
I've seen you have played your parts so well

Well this must be the end of games we used to play
We better part and say goodbye
This must be the end of the show
I hate to see you go
But it's over now

Yeah, but it's over now
But it's over now
Yeah, but it's over now
But it's over now

Note LO: I've corrected the various typos in these lyrics 

Trump worries he’ll become a ‘Hoover’, the president at the beginning of the Great Depression (BI)

Business Insider title: Trump worries he’ll become a ‘Hoover’, the president at the beginning of the Great Depression

  • President Donald Trump has reportedly complained to his advisers the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy will “turn me into a Hoover.”
  • Trump was referencing Herbert Hoover, the president of the US at the start of the Great Depression.
  • Trump has repeatedly criticized Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell over rising interest rates, which the president has blamed for turmoil in the stock market.

"President Donald Trump has reportedly complained to his advisers the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy will “turn me into a Hoover,” a reference to Herbert Hoover – the president of the US at the start of the Great Depression.

Trump has in recent months repeatedly criticized Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powellover rising interest rates, which the president has blamed for turmoil in the stock market, and recently asked aides whether he could fire him, The New York Times reported. Trump appointed Powell as Fed chairman.

On Monday, Trump tweeted, “The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders. The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch – he can’t putt!”

The president’s criticism of the Fed has been a break with historical precedent and has sparked concern among economists.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday denied allegations Trump has considered dismissing Powell.

In a Saturday tweet, Mnuchin quoted Trump as stating, “I totally disagree with Fed policy. I think the increasing of interest rates and the shrinking of the Fed portfolio is an absolute terrible thing to do at this time, especially in light of my major trade negotiations which are ongoing, but I never suggested firing Chairman Jay Powell, nor do I believe I have the right to do so.”

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Sunday said Trump “now realizes” he can’t fire Powell despite his criticism of the Fed chairman."

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Don't blame Putin for America's social-media stupidity (VF)

Vanity Fair title: Don't blame Putin for America's social-media stupidity

Vanity Fair subtitle: We imagine ourselves lab rats in a big, gray box forced to endure the machinations of other, more powerful people: Putin, Dorsey, Zuckerberg, Mueller. What happened to individual agency?

"At moments like this, we should recall Yakov Bok. For those who may have forgotten, Bok is the protagonist of Bernard Malamud’s 1966 novel, The Fixer. He is a tragic figure—a Jew in Kiev at the end of the Russian Empire falsely accused of ritual murder. Every cosmic force in the universe is arrayed against him: the state; the mob; the ancient anti-Semitism of the limping, sclerotic imperium; even his wife, who has recently left him for another man. None of this is newsworthy. What’s remarkable is what happens to Bok, in jail, while he waits—interminably, under the harshest of conditions—to be indicted. It is there, in his cell, that Bok discovers the source of all freedom, which is thought, the great, unconquerable interior he inhabits, an interior more or less similar to the billions of other interiors inhabited by other human beings. It is there that Bok, the hapless handyman, returns to—fixes—himself: They can take everything away from him, but they cannot strip him of the ideas in his head. His ideas shall set him free.

I think about Bok constantly these days, and not because I am especially fond of Malamud, although I am. I think about him while listening to the endless patterings of pundits and Democrats and sundry newsmakers rattling on about Russia. Yes, we should be worried about the Kremlin and its many disinformation campaigns, and, to be on the safe side, we should assume our president is a patsy and an idiot, or an idiot-patsy, and we should be concerned that the last adult standing in the room, James Mattis, is no longer pinch-hitting for, you know, America.

But none of these things would matter that much if most Americans, like Bok, simply reclaimed their agency. When we talk these days about Russia, we talk about it, like so much else, with an air of inevitability, as if these things—bots, fake news, our partisan rancor—happen to us. We imagine ourselves lab rats in a big, gray box forced to endure the machinations of other, more powerful people. The Mueller investigation, viewed through this unhappy prism, is not simply about unearthing the facts, or righting a wrong, or making sure Russian intelligence isn’t choosing our commander in chief. It is about imposing a kind of parental authority.

We forget what social media is. It is a series of decisions we make about whether to log on, and how long to stay, and whether to read or peruse or like or share or comment. It is about the nature of our comments. It doesn’t happen to us. We are not magically conditioned by it. We choose, often stupidly, to take part and, worse yet, believe. The people who chose to believe in Pizzagate were stupid. (To be fair to Trumpland, so were the people who thought that millennial-middle-finger brouhaha in SoHo, posted earlier this month, was real.)

How many times has some finger-wagging scold reminded us of all the tech titans who won’t give their children iPhones or let them have their own Instagrams, as if to say: These people are peddling dope, and they know it. Maybe. I enjoy the occasional Facebook rumble probably for all the wrong reasons (to make other people feel bad, to assert my toxic masculinity). But I don’t believe anything I believe or like can be blamed, ultimately, on some evil hoodie tapping away in Siberia. I blame my stupidities on me. The progressive—smirking, well intentioned, myopic—will offer up lots of blather about false consciousness or privilege or how you can’t expect the unwashed masses to fend for themselves out there.

Please. We forget what the tech titans know and are doing their best to make us forget—that we are not lab rats, that we retain a consciousness, an interior. We have philosophy, literature, mathematics, and we have the capacity for introspection and abstruse inquiry. It is true that we are mostly idiots now, we know almost nothing, we confuse “information” and “knowledge,” we think an education is for getting a job and not elevating a soul, so it may be safer, smarter—it may make for better policy—to impose restrictions on the things we say to or share with each other. If you, too, believe that Democrats are not only wrong about taxes but also traffic in small children, then you plus a laptop plus reliable Wi-Fi are probably a threat to the national security.

But we shouldn’t pretend Russia is to blame for that. We remain the captain of our own, hollowed-out ship. This was the freedom that poor, luckless Yakov Bok, he who came from a village and had no money or hope or formal education, stumbled on only after being locked up. Bok relishes his freedom, derives all of his strength and meaning from it. At the end of the novel, as he is being led to trial, he must wade through a sea of Jew haters, and he can smell the billowing violence—but it doesn’t matter. What matters is he is free, even if he is not, and his dignity remains intact.

Of course, if he were an existentialist or just better attuned to the whims and plunderings of contemporary America, he would know better. He would grasp just how awful this freedom can be. In this country, too many of us have learned freedom by rote. We celebrate it. We sing songs, wave flags, march, salute, well up, pay tribute, recall all the tribulations of the Americans who came before. But we are loath to embrace it, because contained deep inside our freedom is agency—ownership—and that means it does not really matter what Vladimir Putin does. He is a would-be puppet master, but his puppets are not wooden. They are us."


Saturday, 29 December 2018

Will Republicans use the 25th Amendment in 2019?

My blogs of yesterday and the day before represented conservative views in conservative media like the Washington Times and the Washington Examiner. Both conservative sources provide (my) counterweight against left-liberal media outlets like Washington Post and New York Times.

It's (very) interesting to learn that conservatives are increasingly worried about their 45th President. You wouldn't expect reading anything else in left-liberal media. While (some) Democrats are considering impeachment, (some) Republicans are considering applying the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
"Given that House Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters are already talking impeachment, Mr. Todd predicted the president’s fate will be tied to Senate Republicans, who will “decide whether the president finishes his term or doesn’t, pure and simple.” (Washington Times, 23 December 2018)
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is invoked by the U.S. Cabinet and "formally outlines the transition of power if the president is unable or unfit to serve" (BI). Impeachment is an action by U.S. Parliament a.k.a. Congress (ie, House and Senate) that requires a 2/3 supermajority and only applies in extreme situations like treason.

From a mathematical point of view, impeachment of the 45th President does not stand a chance of winning as Democrats only have a (small) House majority, let alone a 2/3 supermajority in Congress. If impeachment would ever become a realistic scenario, no doubt Republicans would first apply the 25th Amendment by replacing the 45th President with the Vice-President.

The investigation headed by Robert Mueller, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, may change the above equation. Recently, a US judge even inquired at the prosecution whether former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn committed treason while secretly working for the Turkish government (Bloomberg, Guardian).

In his 2018 book, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated:
"When you consider that the election turned on 80,000 votes or less in three key states, it stretches credulity to conclude that Russian activity didn’t swing voter decisions, and therefore swing the election." (Vox-2018)
The 45th President regularly tweets: "NO COLLUSION". Clearly, the various indictments by Robert Mueller tell a different tale. The key issue remains whether there was intentional collusion by American citizens and (a) foreign nation(s), which would equal high treason.

Robert Mueller seems close to evidencing the Trump-Russia dossier by Christopher Steele. The fear over this finding seems to be driving the 45th President's increasingly erratic behaviour.

 Treason (It's Just A Story) - 1980 - by The Teardrop Explodes

Is it real 
Or is it treason 
Is it treason

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Friday, 28 December 2018

Trump forgets his base is populists and conservatives (WE)

Washington Examiner title: Trump forgets his base is populists and conservatives

"When candidate Donald J. Trump steamrolled American politics in 2016, he seemed to understand the coalition available to him was an eclectic bunch that felt its issues had been ignored.

They were both populists and conservatives, and they placed him in office.

Over the past week, it appears he has forgotten that his supporters are both populists and conservatives — with the “ and conservatives” being a very important part of the equation.

In the wake of an election where Republicans lost 40 seats, Trump has careened, strategy-free, toward a shutdown, negotiating only with himself. He's blowing up the staff that gave wary Republicans confidence, and in the realm of foreign policy, he's abandoning the Reaganite conservative part of his coalition to the consternation of Israel and the delight of dictators in Moscow and Ankara.

Trump won by bringing wary nationalists and populists into a conservative party. But the tail cannot wag the dog. Trump's coalition is big enough to govern as long as he agrees to preserve the four legs of the conservative stool: babies, guns, tax cuts, and a muscular foreign policy.

Republicans, of course, cannot win without populists. Trump understood that before anyone in the party hierarchy. But Trump cannot win without conservative Republicans — and the last month casts doubt on whether Trump understands that.

Coalition politics always requires sail-trimming by all coalition partners. Many Republicans who flocked to former President George W. Bush’s call to "restore honor and dignity to the White House" in the wake of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal have swallowed hard and accepted Trump for the promise of conservative Supreme Court justices and the defeat of Democrats.

Now they wonder when Trump will trim his own sails for them.

The bargain has always been that he'd cut taxes and surround himself with traditional Republican foreign policy experts. The departure of Gen. Jim Mattis from the administration is not just a vacancy in the Cabinet. Coupled with United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley's exit, this has Republicans, even those who have steadfastly stuck with the president, worried that there is a vacancy in the coalition bargain.

Trump has lost Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who bit his tongue for years, even as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., spilled his spleen with frustrations over the president's lack of discipline.

Trump has also been publicly rebuked by Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, perhaps the most populist and Trumpian member of the Senate but a foreign policy hawk nonetheless. An alienated Cotton and an angry McConnell, on top of the normal array of less steely handwringers, are not the building blocks of a strong coalition.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama ran and won on a coalition that was made up of New Deal Democrats and the ascending coalition of young people, minorities, single women, and others. In 2012, he decided to shed the New Deal coalition and focus primarily on the coalition of the ascendant. He won but with less votes than he did in 2008, and it should be noted that his party, the Democrats, suffered deeply up and down the ballot under his new coalition.

The conservative populist coalition that Trump tapped into in 2016 was there long before he came along. Their impact was felt in elections they did vote in, like the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, and also in the ones they didn’t vote in, like the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, when Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney did not inspire the populist portion and they stayed home.

Trump did not create this conservative/populist coalition. His presidency is the result of it. The past few weeks show he’s either forgotten that or he believes that doesn’t matter anymore."

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Fox News' Brit Hume claims Trump 'blowing up' conservative base: 'I wonder if he understands' (WT)

Washington Times title: Fox News' Brit Hume claims Trump 'blowing up' conservative base: 'I wonder if he understands'

"Fox News’ Brit Hume says it appears as though President Trump is “in the process of blowing up” his conservative base.

The network’s senior political analyst lamented recent decisions by the commander in chief by sharing an op-ed titled “Trump forgets his base is populists and conservatives” on Monday. He, along with The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, warn that Mr. Trump is “abandoning the Reaganite conservative part of his coalition” on foreign policy.

“Republicans, of course, cannot win without populists,” Ms. Zito wrote Sunday. “Trump understood that before anyone in the party hierarchy. But Trump cannot win without conservative Republicans — and the last month casts doubt on whether Trump understands that.”

“The departure of Gen. Jim Mattis from the administration is not just a vacancy in the Cabinet,” she continued. “Coupled with United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s exit, this has Republicans, even those who have steadfastly stuck with the president, worried that there is a vacancy in the coalition bargain.”

Absent from the piece, however, was any mention of Mr. Trump’s hard-line stance on border security and its effect on the Republican’s base.

The government shutdown — now in its third day — began due to the president’s demand for a spending bill with $5.7 billion for border security. Building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico was a promise Mr. Trump made on the 2016 campaign trail.

“At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!” Mr. Trump tweeted Monday from the White House. “I am in the Oval Office & just gave out a 115-mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas. We are already building and renovating many miles of Wall, some complete. Democrats must end Shutdown and finish funding. Billions of Dollars, & lives, will be saved!”  "


Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Driving Home for Christmas

Driving Home for Christmas (1988) by Chris Rea

I'm driving home for Christmas
Oh, I can't wait to see those faces
I'm driving home for Christmas, yeah
Well, I'm moving down that line

And it's been so long
But I will be there
I sing this song
To pass the time away

Driving in my car
Driving home for Christmas

It's gonna take some time but I'll get there
Top to toe in tailbacks
Oh, I got red lights all around
But soon there'll be a freeway, yeah
Get my feet on holy ground

So I sing for you
Though you can't hear me
When I get through
And feel you near me

Driving in my car
I'm driving home for Christmas
Driving home for Christmas
With a thousand memories

I take look at the driver next to me
He's just the same
Just the same

Top to toe in tailbacks
Oh, I got red lights all around
I'm driving home for Christmas, yeah
Get my feet on holy ground

So I sing for you
Though you can't hear me
When I get through
Oh and feel you near me

Driving in my car
Driving home for Christmas
Driving home for Christmas
With a thousand memories

I take look at the driver next to me
He's just the same
He's driving home, driving home
Driving home for Christmas

Driving home for Christmas

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas Everybody

Merry Christmas Everybody (1973) by Slade

Are you hanging up your stocking on your wall
It's the time when every Santa has a ball
Does he ride a red nosed reindeer
Does a ton up on his sleigh
Do the fairies keep him sober for a day

So here it is, Merry Xmas
Everybody's having fun
Look to the future now
It's only just begun

Are you waiting for the family to arrive
Are you sure you got the room to spare inside
Does your granny always tell ya
That the old songs are the best
Then she's up and rock 'n' rolling with the rest

What will your daddy do when he sees your mama kissing Santa Claus A-ha

Are you hanging up your stocking on your wall
Are you hoping that the snow will start to fall
Do you ride on down the hillside
In a buggy you have made
When you land upon your head
Then you bin slayed

Monday, 24 December 2018

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Do They Know It's Christmas? (1984) by Band Aid

[Paul Young]
It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade

[Boy George]
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

[George Michael]
But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard

[Simon LeBon (Duran Duran)]
But when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear

Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears

[Bono & Sting]
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it's them
Instead of you

[Boy George & Others]
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life(Oooh)
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

[Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]
Here's to you

[Paul Young]
Raise a glass for everyone

[Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]
Here's to them

[Paul Young, Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]
Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

[Chorus: All]
Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Corbyn faces furious Labour backlash over backing Brexit (Guardian)

Guardian title: Corbyn faces furious Labour backlash over backing Brexit

Guardian subtitle: Labour leader accused of betrayal on second poll and ‘in danger of losing young backers’

"Jeremy Corbyn is facing a storm of criticism from Labour activists and MPs after suggesting he would press ahead with Brexit if the party won a snap general election.

In a sign that he is losing backing among overwhelmingly pro-remain Labour supporters, Corbyn was also accused of betraying the party membership by appearing reluctant to back the idea of supporting remain in a second referendum.

The first signs of a serious internal revolt from party members on the left, who helped propel him to the leadership, came after Corbyn gave an interview to the Guardian in which he suggested he thought Brexit should go ahead and said EU state-aid rules would prevent a Labour government intervening to support UK industries.

His anti-EU tone drew immediate criticism from party supporters and members who had successfully persuaded the leadership to back the possibility of a second referendum at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September.

Richard Brooks, a Labour member, activist and co-founder of For our Future’s Sake (FFS), a pro-remain youth and student-led organisation, said Corbyn risked losing the backing of young people as well as the mass Labour membership he had promised to empower. “Jeremy Corbyn is in danger of betraying and losing the support of millions of young people and students who very nearly propelled him to Downing Street last year, and whose support he needs if he is to ever to become prime minister.

“Students and young people will not forget or forgive politicians who sell them down the river by backing a Brexit that limits our life opportunities and makes us poorer,” he said.

Labour MPs who back remain said they were planning to issue a statement within days insisting that the leadership must take its lead from members over Brexit, and be ready to campaign for remain in a second referendum if the party cannot force a general election. Michael Chessum, who worked on Corbyn’s 2016 leadership campaign and served on Momentum’s first steering committee, said: “Real movements need internal democracy and leaderships that respect the mandates they are given. Jeremy has fought for decades for the right of members to decide policy, and that is why many of us fought for him so hard.

“It is beyond me why he would now seemingly take a stance so completely at odds with both the will of members and the mandate of party conference. If a left leadership is seen to thwart the will of members, this will do the left profound damage in the long run in Labour’s internal politics.”

Asked about a second referendum in his Guardian interview, Corbyn suggested his preference was to fight for a better Brexit deal than Theresa May had achieved. “It would be a matter for the party to decide what the policy would be; but my proposal at this moment is that we go forward, trying to get a customs union with the EU in which we would be able to be proper trading partners,” he said.

A Labour spokesman insisted Corbyn had not departed from the policy agreed in Liverpool, and was not opposed to a second referendum. “Jeremy Corbyn was restating Labour’s policy of rejecting Theresa May’s botched Brexit deal, supporting a jobs-first alternative, pushing for a general election and keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote,” the spokesman said.

The party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who has pushed for the party to hold open the option of a second referendum, stressed the need to take a lead from the membership on Brexit policy. “Labour’s programme for government is not yet determined because we have not yet written our manifesto. Our approach to Brexit will be determined after consulting members and taking heed of policy decided at conference.”

Pro-remain Labour MPs also tore into Corbyn. Pat McFadden, a former Labour business minister, said: “It would be a tragedy if Jeremy Corbyn facilitated Brexit and continued his lifelong hostility to the European Union on the basis of his views of the state-aid rules. There are plenty of EU member states with state-owned industries and with different tax and spend policies from those followed by the Tory government. It would not be the EU that would stop a Labour government regenerating the United Kingdom, but the economic damage brought about by Brexit that he may yet enable.”

Ilford North Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “Our members and voters are overwhelmingly pro-European. This lets them, and our country, down.”

Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said her party would never be forgiven if it facilitated Brexit, while former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna described Corbyn’s remarks as “depressing”.

Meanwhile, support for a deal that would prevent the UK from signing its own trade agreements is gaining ground among some senior Labour and Tory MPs as a potential compromise that could end the deadlock. Frontbenchers and backbenchers in both parties believe signing up to a customs deal with the EU could be enough to ensure May’s deal wins a majority in the Commons next month. It would however anger hardline anti-EU Tories who would oppose any move to keep the UK tied to the EU’s economic system and prevent the UK signing trade deals post-Brexit.

The idea of keeping Britain in a permanent customs union was narrowly defeated in a vote in the summer, but some figures who voted against it then are now reconsidering as Britain’s formal EU exit looms. While the move would go a long way to solving some of the trade barriers created by a hard Brexit, it would also end the prospect of Britain striking its own trade deals with other countries."


Corbyn: Brexit would go ahead even if Labour won snap election (Guardian)

Guardian title: Corbyn: Brexit would go ahead even if Labour won snap election

Guardian subtitle: Exclusive: opposition leader says he would go to Brussels to secure better deal if he was PM

"Jeremy Corbyn has defiantly restated Labour’s policy of leading Britain out of the European Union with a refashioned Brexit deal, shrugging off intense pressure from Labour MPs and activists for the party to throw its weight behind a second referendum.

The Labour leader insisted that even if his party won a snap general election in the new year, he would seek to go to Brussels and try to secure a better deal – if possible, in time to allow Brexit to go ahead on 29 March.

“You’d have to go back and negotiate, and see what the timetable would be,” he said.

Corbyn underlined the fact that he cannot set Labour’s policy unilaterally, saying: “I’m not a dictator of the party.”

In an exclusive interview, Corbyn also:
  • Admitted to being “extremely angry” in the House of Commons on Wednesday, when he denied calling Theresa May a “stupid woman”.
  • Pledged an end to the selection process that led to the Peterborough MP, Fiona Onasanya, who has been convicted of perverting the course of justice, emerging as a candidate.
  • Announced that Labour would repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act that is used by the authorities to target beggars and rough sleepers.

Twenty-four hours after the furore in the House of Commons in which he was accused of insulting the prime minister, the Labour leader appeared much more relaxed on a visit to the Hope Centre, a homelessness charity in Northampton whose campaign against eviction he is supporting.

He admitted he had lost his temper when confronted with a wall of jeering Conservative MPs at prime minister’s questions after May had accused him of lacking a clear Brexit policy.

“I was extremely angry: the last point I’d made was, they’d suddenly found £4bn to prepare for no deal. £4bn. At the same time, police officers have lost their jobs; 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, a housing crisis; a homeless man dies on the steps of Westminster; and she and the Conservative party turned the whole thing into some pantomime joke,” he said.

Conservative MPs challenged Corbyn’s claim that he muttered “stupid people” and not “stupid woman”, as many viewers of video footage believed.

But he was unrepentant. “It’s interesting their sudden concern about these matters. Where is their concern about the homeless people of this country?” he said, repeatedly jabbing a finger on the table to emphasise his point.

“Where is their concern about universal credit? Where is their concern about 200,000 children living in poverty in this country?”

The prime minister was taunting Corbyn for declining to table a motion of no confidence in her government – as some shadow cabinet ministers wanted him to do.

Instead, he exasperated many of his own MPs by putting down a symbolic motion criticising the prime minister – which the government refused to allow time to debate.

“The reason I tabled the motion in the way I did was to try and maximise support around the specifics of the vote in the House,” he said. “The reason I took that judgment is I thought it was the best way and the best chance.”

With the clock running down to 29 March, when Britain is due to leave the EU, a vocal group of Labour MPs – including some in the shadow cabinet – are pushing for the leadership to endorse the idea of a “people’s vote”.

But asked if he could imagine a referendum emerging as a solution if it becomes clear that parliament is deadlocked – as the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, mooted this week – he said: “I think we should vote down this deal; we should then go back to the EU with a discussion about a customs union.”

As to what stance Labour would take if a referendum were held, Corbyn said, “it would be a matter for the party to decide what the policy would be; but my proposal at this moment is that we go forward, trying to get a customs union with the EU, in which we would be able to be proper trading partners.”

And he struck a distinctly Eurosceptic note by again highlighting Labour’s concerns about the state aid rules that form part of the architecture of the single market.

“I think the state aid rules do need to be looked at again, because quite clearly, if you want to regenerate an economy, as we would want to do in government, then I don’t want to be told by somebody else that we can’t use state aid in order to be able to develop industry in this country,” he said.

Neither is he willing to countenance the idea that Labour should support May’s deal, to avoid Britain crashing out with no deal in place at all – a move the prime minister has repeatedly said is in the “national interest”.

“The national interest is for parliament to have a vote on this deal now,” Corbyn said, pointing out that it was May who had pulled the vote, which MPs had agreed to hold on 11 December.

“They reneged on that. And then she suddenly turns round and starts accusing us of playing politics with it. She’s the one that reneged on the deal. Not me.”

In his party conference speech, Corbyn surprised some activists by saying Labour could back the prime minister’s deal if she secured a permanent customs union and offered stronger assurances on workers’ rights and environmental standards.

He said that offer remains open. “It’s there: at no stage since I made that in October has the government been in touch with us at all.”

To those activists who support his leadership but ardently hope he will stop Brexit, Corbyn said: “We have to recognise a number of things. One is, as a party, about 60% of Labour voters voted remain; about 40% voted leave. We have to recognise why people voted in those directions.”

“Labour is unique as a party, because it’s got to bring all sides together – hence my view on a customs union, on access to the market.”

In Northampton, after hearing the personal stories of three of the Hope Centre’s clients, Corbyn said Labour would act quickly to end rough sleeping, which has more than doubled since 2010 to 4,751 – a figure charities believe is a drastic underestimate.

The shadow housing secretary, John Healey, has announced that a Labour government would allocate £100m to buy emergency cold-weather accommodation for rough sleepers, part-funded by a levy on second homes.

Corbyn said he would also repeal the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which criminalises rough sleeping and begging. It dates from the period of the Napoleonic wars, when destitute soldiers were returning from the battlefield – but was invoked almost 3,000 times in 2016.

“It’s an absolute relic of the kind of politics of the Duke of Wellington, being used against people now, on the streets of this country. Can’t we just move on from the Duke of Wellington, and get rid of it?” he said.

He said he was “very, very disappointed, and very sad” about the case of Onasanya, who was suspended from the party after being found guilty of repeatedly lying to avoid a speeding ticket.

Onasanya, along with the Sheffield Hallam MP, Jared O’Mara, who remains an MP despite resigning from Labour, was selected for 2017’s snap election by a small panel of members of the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC).

“In any future election, we’ll have a much more democratic process,” Corbyn said. “It was no secret I was not happy with NEC panels selecting candidates.” He added, “I’m very determined that the party membership should be enfranchised in doing this. I’m very clear about that.”

He said Labour was “very ready” to fight a general election, if the impasse at Westminster resulted in a snap poll – and asked if he was ready to become prime minister, he replied: “Yes. Absolutely.”

He joked that he would take with him to Downing Street a reconditioned garden fork, bought during his visit from a social enterprise run from the Hope Centre’s workshop.

Meanwhile, with business at Westminster suspended for the Christmas break, Corbyn said: “I’ve got an appointment with my allotment on Sunday.” "


No-deal Brexit travel warning: don’t go on holiday after March 29 (Times)

"Families will be advised not to book holidays after next March, according to contingency plans being drawn up to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

The proposed guidance, which will shock the travel industry, was expected to be discussed at last week’s cancelled cabinet meeting, after civil servants were told to ramp up emergency planning.

Senior officials have explored the idea with at least one cabinet minister and discussed the impact that the advice could have on specific tour operators amid fears it might bankrupt them. A leak inquiry was under way in No 10 last night to establish how the proposal became public.

One option is for the government to cover losses to holiday companies, according to a source familiar with the talks. Steps are being considered to protect holidaymakers who have yet to book trips, amid fears a no-deal Brexit will see flights grounded and spark chaos at airports and ports.

The European Regions Airline Association, which represents 50 airlines, wrote to the European Commission this month warning that it must act urgently to prevent the grounding of flights. It said a no-deal Brexit could have “disastrous consequences”, affecting routes, aviation safety and border security. The Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, said in September that a hard Brexit could lead to flights being grounded and that its likelihood was underestimated.

Its rival, easyJet, has registered more than 100 aircraft to a newly created airline based in Vienna and switched pilot licences to German and Austrian permits.

No-deal planning is expected to be top of the agenda when the cabinet meets on Tuesday. A paper circulated to ministers has three options on Brexit: no deal, May’s deal or revoking article 50.

A group of ministers including Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Stephen Barclay, Gavin Williamson and Penny Mordaunt plan to use the meeting to push for no deal to become the “central planning assumption”. Hunt said he was positive about a no deal and that he “would like to have a crack” at being prime minister. “I’ve always thought that even in a no-deal situation this is a great country. We’ll find a way to flourish and prosper,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, and Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, are said to be “philosophically opposed” to spending money on an outcome no one wants.

Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said: “It beggars belief any minister could have considered these proposals and honestly thought a no-deal Brexit is a credible way forward.”

Downing Street said: “We do not comment on leaks.” "

Brexit Britain: Small, boring and stupid (Politico)

Politico title: Brexit Britain: Small, boring and stupid

Politico subtitle: The UK better get used to being a middling power.

"BRUSSELS — So here we are at the supposed Brexit cliff — a political crisis and diplomatic crisis rolled into one — and I have a confession. I’m thoroughly bored by it all.

I suspect I’m not alone.

For those beyond Brussels and London, maybe just starting to tune in, here’s some advice. Let go of any illusions that this drama is about trade protocols, residency rights or the status of the Irish border. The histrionics going on in the United Kingdom aren't even really about its impending departure from the European Union — or about Prime Minister Theresa May’s tenuous attempts to cling to power.

Brexit is the story of a proud former imperial power undergoing a mid-life crisis. The rest of the world is left listening to Britain’s therapy session as they drone on about their ex-spouse, the EU: When will they stop talking and just move on?

The promise of Brexit at the time it narrowly passed in a national referendum in June of 2016 was that it was a way for Britain to feel big again — no longer hectored by the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, no longer treated as just one of 28 members in an unwieldy confederacy.

The U.K. simply doesn’t seem to know how to play the game of give and take needed to negotiate with a far larger partner.

"Britain is special," the Brexiteers assured British voters, who cast their ballots accordingly.

The last two years have revealed something different: For the first time in modern history, Britain is small. Having sailed into the 20th century as an empire, the U.K. spent the second half of the century shedding nearly all of its colonies — and as a result much of its economic and military might.

But that was ok, in part because the U.K. — a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and a nuclear power — had a close ally in the United States. But even more importantly, it was alright because, just as decolonization was drawing to an end, the U.K. joined an emerging economic and political power: the EU.

The U.K. finally overcame French objections and joined the bloc in 1973, seven years before it lowered the Union Jack in its last African colony and more than a decade before it struck an agreement with China to hand over Hong Kong.

Ignorant about its leverage and ignorant about the EU, the U.K. is coming across as clumsy and caddish.

Britain’s imperial history and 45 years of membership in the EU — where London was a dominant voice — is why it is struggling to conduct diplomacy as the middling power it is now becoming. Accustomed to issuing colonial diktats or throwing its medium-sized weight around a medium-sized pond, the U.K. simply doesn’t seem to know how to play the game of give and take needed to negotiate with a far larger partner.

It is perhaps because of this history that many people in the U.K. are so awfully uninformed about the EU. Its political and journalistic classes are simply unused to having to consider the opinions of others.

I can’t say I’m surprised. From various perspectives — now as a journalist, formerly an adviser to both the U.K. government and the EU, and always a citizen of the Commonwealth — I’ve been immersed in Brexit and Britain’s identity complex for years.

While many Brits have strong emotions about the EU, they rarely have a strong understanding. I feel like a kindergarten teacher every time I speak on the issue.

It is fashionable to blame an irresponsible U.K. media (including the country’s most famous sometime-journalist, now leading Brexiteer MP Boris Johnson) for stoking misunderstanding about the EU for decades. Long before Macedonian troll factories and Russian bots there were the editors of the Sun tabloid newspaper.

But what about the millions of people who consumed those fibs and the spineless politicians who avoided the hassle of correcting them? We blame Greeks for blowing up their economy and hold accountable big-spending governments for saddling future generations with excessive debts. Britons don’t deserve a free pass: It’s time they reckoned with what they sowed through 45 years of shallow EU debate.

It is Britain’s unique ignorance that makes Britain so boring. Ignorant about its leverage and ignorant about the EU, the U.K. is coming across as clumsy and caddish.

Nothing tells the story better than the sad stop-start diplomacy of Theresa May. The prime minister is an appropriate leader for a shrinking Britain — one without a clear or consistent vision, whose efforts at both navigating Brexit and her own political survival seem driven by awkward improvisation.

London’s demands are simply unrealistic, as anybody with more than a passing familiarity with the EU can tell you.

Her frequent mad dashes across Europe underline how the U.K. lost the negotiation before it had begun. May flies across the Continent with fanfare, but her trips are always driven by domestic pressures — not a desire to find common ground with those on the other side of the table.

Meanwhile, EU negotiators have laboriously and quietly toured every capital, building up their united front before the talks started. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier could find himself locked in a thousand black cars, and it wouldn’t matter: He’d step out smiling every time.

Britain’s political contortions are symptoms of an almost willful lack of understanding: The U.K. doesn’t know what it wants from the EU, and doesn’t really know what it wants from getting out.

For decades, as one of the EU’s larger — and more troublesome — members, London secured itself special deals inside the EU. It won rebates from its budget contributions and opted out of the euro and Schengen rules governing border checks. It now feels entitled to similar treatments as it leaves.

Today Britain wants things it already has (frictionless trade with the EU), without continuing to pay the price other EU members pay to have it (the legal, economic and political constraints that come with EU membership).

London’s demands are simply unrealistic, as anybody with more than a passing familiarity with the EU can tell you.

Balancing competing interests is difficult enough for individual countries. Look at U.S. Congress, the German federal system, or even the mighty French presidency trying to cope with the yellow vest street protest movement. Doing the same across 27 countries is even harder. Negotiations take time, and any sudden sharp policy change has the potential to disrupt the EU’s equilibrium.

The deal on offer is the best London is going to get — simply because it is the best Brussels is going to be able to offer.

And yet, cheered on by two ex-U.K. Brexit negotiators who barely bothered to show up in Brussels and negotiate, British politicians are lining up like whiny children to demand the remaining 27 EU countries make amendments to the Brexit deal.

Britain has a lesson to learn. What a global power can pass off as “exceptionalism,” for a medium-sized country simply comes across as ingratitude.

Ryan Heath is POLITICO’s political editor."

‘Gevolgen Brexit voor EU veel ernstiger dan voor Britten’ (NRC)

NRC titel: ‘Gevolgen Brexit voor EU veel ernstiger dan voor Britten’

"Interview | Willem Buiter De Nederlands-Brits-Amerikaanse econoom Willem Buiter ziet het populisme verder aan terrein winnen door groeiende ongelijkheid. „Een veel overtuigender herverdeling van inkomen en vermogen is nodig.”

Hij hoopt dat de Brexit er uiteindelijk toch niet komt, of dat het zo’n zachte Brexit wordt dat het een ‘Brino’ wordt: Brexit in name only, Brexit alleen in naam.

Willem Buiter, Nederlands-Brits-Amerikaanse topeconoom verbonden aan Citibank in New York, praat niet zozeer als econoom, maar eerder als betrokken burger. In een gesprek in het kantoor van Citibank op Schiphol toont Buiter zich bezorgd over de verzwakking en verbrokkeling van Europa in een wereld die voortraast, en waar de volgende financiële crisis alweer op de loer ligt.

De economische gevolgen van Brexit, vooral een zonder akkoord (‘no deal’) zullen weliswaar „ernstig” zijn, zegt Buiter. „Maar de politieke gevolgen voor Europa zullen veel ernstiger zijn.”

De Britten zullen „verarmd” achterblijven, omdat zowel de binnenlandse vraag als het aanbod van werkkrachten uit de EU een „schok” te verduren zal krijgen. „De Britten zullen dit overleven. Maar de EU zal achterblijven als mondiaal irrelevante politieke speler, verzwakt en gekrompen.” Zo’n EU kan geen aanspraak meer maken op, bijvoorbeeld, leidende posities binnen het Internationaal Monetair Fonds en de OESO. „Dat is slecht nieuws voor iedereen. Want we hebben op het continent nog steeds goede ideeën. Over privacybescherming. Over het milieu. En over slimme verzorgingsstaten.”

Wat kan Europa doen?
„Weinig, helaas. Brexit is een extreme uiting van middelpuntvliedende krachten in de hele EU. Wie wil er nou meer integratie, behalve president Macron en een half dozijn federalisten als ikzelf?”

Welke krachten bedoelt u precies?
„Die van het populisme, deels ook met autoritaire kanten, nationalisme, anti-immigratiesentiment. Al die dingen zijn een fenomeen binnen de ontwikkelde economieën. Of eigenlijk, van Europa en de VS. Want er zijn ook ontwikkelde economieën die niet of minder vatbaar lijken voor deze trend: Canada, Australië, Nieuw-Zeeland, Japan.

Wat hebben deze vier landen gemeen?
„ Ten eerste: ze hebben een relatief gelijke inkomensverdeling. De vruchten van de globalisering en van technologische vooruitgang zijn breed verdeeld.

Ten tweede: deze landen hebben hele hoge sociale mobiliteit, met uitzondering van Japan misschien. Eén van de redenen waarom mensen opstandig worden is dat ze vrezen dat hun kinderen slechter af zullen zijn dan zijzelf. In die vier landen speelt dat minder.

Ten derde: geen van deze landen is bijzonder hard getroffen door de financiële crisis. Populisme en anti-globaliseringssentiment lijken niet zozeer verband te houden met recessies, of zelfs met diepe recessies, maar met recessies die voortkomen uit een financiële crisis. Het vertrouwen in instituties krijgt dan dikwijls een schok en slaat dan om in woede. Mistrust, disgust.

En ten slotte: deze vier landen hebben geen grootschalig probleem met immigratie, omdat ze voor migranten moeilijk te bereiken te zijn.”

Het populisme is nog maar net begonnen

Dan lijkt het niet toevallig dat de VS en het VK Trump en de Brexit voortbrachten.
„Precies. Voor die twee landen geldt het tegenovergestelde. Ze zijn zeer ongelijk, ze hebben een lage sociale mobiliteit. In de VS is die nu waarschijnlijk zelfs lager dan in Europa: je bent wat je ouders waren. De VS en het VK vormden het hart van de financiële crisis. En je kunt er als migrant makkelijk komen. Je kunt Dover vanuit Calais zien liggen.”

Vaak wordt gezegd dat de volgende financiële crisis even erg zal zijn als de vorige.
„Dat is correct. Er is wel wat gebeurd in de VS en Europa om het conventionele bankensysteem te hervormen, maar dat is verre van compleet, zeker in de EU. Intussen is er in de financiële wereld een grote overgang geweest naar instellingen die eruitzien als banken, maar niet als banken worden beschouwd. Private-equityfondsen bijvoorbeeld, die een even grote hefboom op het vermogen hanteren als banken, die eenzelfde mismatch hebben tussen kortlopend aangetrokken geld en langlopend uitgezet kapitaal, maar door niemand effectief worden gereguleerd. De totale schuld is intussen alleen maar groter geworden. We zijn te snel gestopt met het opruimen van de financiële sector en de schuldenberg. Daar zullen we ongetwijfeld een prijs voor betalen. God weet wanneer. Het kan in twee jaar zijn, of vijf jaar, ik denk niet dat het nog tien jaar zal duren.”

Dat klinkt verontrustend.
„Ja. Het is verbazingwekkend dat politici en centrale bankiers hiernaar kunnen kijken zonder te handelen. Of het onwetendheid is, of met opzet ontkenning, dat weet ik niet. Ik weet niet wat erger is.”

U legt een verband tussen de opkomst van het populisme en de financiële crisis. Als er nu nóg een financiële crisis komt, zal dit het populisme verder voeden?
„Het populisme is nog maar net begonnen. Het wordt nog steeds sterker. Dat zul je zien bij de komende verkiezingen voor het Europees Parlement. Als rechts en links populisme elkaar daarna in Europa vinden, zoals nu in Italië, dan gaan we de prijs betalen voor het niet opruimen van de financiële puinhoop van destijds. Niets van dit alles is onvermijdelijk. Dat is het goede nieuws. Het slechte nieuws is dat er geen actieve wil lijkt te zijn om het te adresseren.”

Wat kunnen we doen?
„We hebben een veel overtuigender herverdeling van inkomen en vermogen nodig. We moeten ophouden de jongeren voor alles op te laten draaien. We moeten levenslang beroepsonderwijs optuigen. Een gemeenschappelijk Europees immigratiebeleid. Een beleid om degenen die binnen zijn, ook daadwerkelijk te laten integreren. Het is nodig om gettovorming en marginalisering te voorkomen. Dat kost allemaal tijd, geld en moeite.” "

Noot NRC: Willem Buiter (1949) is economisch adviseur – tot voor kort was hij hoofdeconoom – van de Amerikaanse Citibank. Daarvoor doceerde hij politieke economie aan de London School of Economics en was hij lid van het monetaire comité van de Bank of England.

Noot LO: ik heb enkele URL's toegevoegd voor verduidelijking.


Saturday, 22 December 2018

How Complex Wholes Emerge From Simple Parts (Quanta)

Quanta magazine title: How Complex Wholes Emerge From Simple Parts

Quanta magazine subtitle: "Throughout nature, throngs of relatively simple elements can self-organize into behaviors that seem unexpectedly complex. Scientists are beginning to understand why and how these phenomena emerge without a central organizing entity."

"You could spend a lifetime studying an individual water molecule and never deduce the precise hardness or slipperiness of ice. Watch a lone ant under a microscope for as long as you like, and you still couldn’t predict that thousands of them might collaboratively build bridges with their bodies to span gaps. Scrutinize the birds in a flock or the fish in a school and you wouldn’t find one that’s orchestrating the movements of all the others.

Nature is filled with such examples of complex behaviors that arise spontaneously from relatively simple elements. Researchers have even coined the term “emergence” to describe these puzzling manifestations of self-organization, which can seem, at first blush, inexplicable. Where does the extra injection of complex order suddenly come from?

Answers are starting to come into view. One is that these emergent phenomena can be understood only as collective behaviors — there is no way to make sense of them without looking at dozens, hundreds, thousands or more of the contributing elements en masse. These wholes are indeed greater than the sums of their parts.

Another is that even when the elements continue to follow the same rules of individual behavior, external considerations can change the collective outcome of their actions. For instance, ice doesn’t form at zero degrees Celsius because the water molecules suddenly become stickier to one another. Rather, the average kinetic energy of the molecules drops low enough for the repulsive and attractive forces among them to fall into a new, more springy balance. That liquid-to-solid transition is such a useful comparison for scientists studying emergence that they often characterize emergent phenomena as phase changes.

Our latest In Theory video on emergence explains more about how throngs of simple parts can self-organize into a more extraordinary whole:

Spooky as emergence can seem, a formal understanding of it might be within reach. Some researchers are looking for universal rules that would describe emergent phenomena in any system. Statistical procedures like renormalization can identify precisely when and how collective phenomena start to become more significant.

As a scientific concept, emergence has its critics, who find it too slippery and too uninformative to be useful. But if nothing else, emergence helps to illustrate why scientists find hierarchies of physical laws and processes operating at different scales throughout nature."


Friday, 21 December 2018

Wiping the slate clean: is it time to reconsider debt forgiveness? (FT)

FT title: Wiping the slate clean: is it time to reconsider debt forgiveness? 

FT subtitle: ‘Debt is still sometimes wiped out in our modern world – through bankruptcies, defaults or sovereign debt restructuring plans – but these events are aberrations, not the norm’

"If you mention the word “debt”, many people will wince — especially at this time of year. For the holiday season is not just about family and festivities; it is also a bonanza of consumer spending. And when the New Year rolls around, most of us will be rueing that credit card bill. 

If you want to get another perspective on debt hangovers, read American economist Michael Hudson’s new book. . . and Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year. In his early career, Hudson worked variously as a Wall Street analyst, think-tank consultant and government adviser, dealing with the 1970s and 1980s debt crises in Latin America. In 1984, he began working at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, where he launched a passionate crusade to re-examine the history of lending. 

The period that particularly excites Hudson’s passion is the Bronze Age (about 2,500BC) in ancient Sumer, Mesopotamia and Babylon. This era is not well known to most people since about the only things that have survived are ruins and tablets with cuneiform script. Yet echoes still exist: the Statue of Liberty, for example, reflects the Babylonian practice of emperors holding up a torch when they made a proclamation. The inscription around the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia — “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” — also harks back to Babylon. Hudson explains why the phrase has particular significance: “liberty”, he says, does not simply refer to the abstract idea of freedom but to another idea — debt forgiveness. 

There is evidence that Mesopotamian societies used interest-bearing loans: the first tablets and records from this period (including the Rosetta Stone) are essentially lists of debts. Early records also show that Mesopotamian scribes knew that debt tends to grow much faster than the economy as a whole, creating inequality and social tensions. According to Hudson: “Babylonian training exercises grasped that herds and production grow in S-curves, tapering off — while debts mount up, ever growing at interest.” 

From 2,500BC, the records show that emperors would periodically declare a debt jubilee to restore “economic balance by cancelling agrarian personal debts, liberating bondservants and reversing land forfeitures”. That essentially “wiped the [debt] slates clean”, in a literal sense. This practice did not extend to business-to-business debts — it only affected agrarian debts owed to temples (ie the state). But these jubilees created a safety valve: whenever debt exploded to a point that inequality was creating crushing tensions and harming productivity, the emperor would act. 


Our modern political economy is shaped by ideas absorbed from Roman and Greek law, and the Romans took a different approach to the Babylonians, choosing to uphold creditor and property rights at almost any cost. “Classical antiquity replaced the cyclical idea of time and social renewal with that of linear time,” Hudson observes. “Economic polarisation became irreversible, not merely temporary.” 

Debt is still sometimes wiped out in our modern world — through bankruptcies, defaults or sovereign debt restructuring plans — but these events are aberrations, not the norm. Modern finance is predicated on the idea that debts should be repaid. Indeed, the idea of debt forgiveness is so taboo that when leftwing political groups in the US called for mortgage debts to be written off after the 2008 housing crisis, it was quickly shot down. 

Similarly, there has been little political impetus to write down America’s crushing $1tn-plus pile of existing student debt; on the contrary, under the Trump administration, the debt-relief programmes that already exist for students have been watered down. And you only need to look at Greece to see the opposition in Europe towards the idea of writing off national debt— even when it is clear that this debt will never be fully repaid. The Babylonian mindset seems deeply alien now. 

There is one area, however, where the modern world does share a thread with the past. Debt today, as in 2,500BC, has a nasty habit of expanding faster than the pace of economic growth, particularly when money is not anchored by anything that is tangible and limited in size (such as gold). Indeed, if you look at the economic history of the past century, it is a story of ever-expanding global debt: so much so that as a proportion of GDP, debt now stands at a record high of 217 per cent, up from 117 per cent in 2008. 

So perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves as the New Year strikes is not just what we will do with our own credit card bills (or student loans) — but what will happen to the world’s overall debt pile? Is rising debt destined to be a permanent feature of our 21st-century economy? Or will that debt eventually spark hyperinflation, selective defaults — or a social explosion in some countries? Is there, in other words, any way for nations to create 21st-century “safety valves” to cope with the fact that most countries are unlikely to “grow” their way out of debt? The answer is unclear. But the next time you look at your credit card bill, consider Babylonian history; if nothing else, it gives a new twist to our vision of “liberty”. "

Writer: Gillian Tett

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’ (ScienceMag)

"Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he's got an answer: "536." Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, "It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year," wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record "a failure of bread from the years 536–539." Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle. Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a culprit. At a workshop at Harvard this week, the team reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547. The repeated blows, followed by plague, plunged Europe into economic stagnation that lasted until 640, when another signal in the ice—a spike in airborne lead—marks a resurgence of silver mining, as the team reports in Antiquity this week.

To Kyle Harper, provost and a medieval and Roman historian at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, the detailed log of natural disasters and human pollution frozen into the ice "give us a new kind of record for understanding the concatenation of human and natural causes that led to the fall of the Roman Empire—and the earliest stirrings of this new medieval economy."

Ever since tree ring studies in the 1990s suggested the summers around the year 540 were unusually cold, researchers have hunted for the cause. Three years ago polar ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica yielded a clue. When a volcano erupts, it spews sulfur, bismuth, and other substances high into the atmosphere, where they form an aerosol veil that reflects the sun's light back into space, cooling the planet. By matching the ice record of these chemical traces with tree ring records of climate, a team led by Michael Sigl, now of the University of Bern, found that nearly every unusually cold summer over the past 2500 years was preceded by a volcanic eruption. A massive eruption—perhaps in North America, the team suggested—stood out in late 535 or early 536; another followed in 540. Sigl's team concluded that the double blow explained the prolonged dark and cold.

Mayewski and his interdisciplinary team decided to look for the same eruptions in an ice core drilled in 2013 in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps. The 72-meter-long core entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, Saharan dust storms, and human activities smack in the center of Europe. The team deciphered this record using a new ultra–high-resolution method, in which a laser carves 120-micron slivers of ice, representing just a few days or weeks of snowfall, along the length of the core. Each of the samples—some 50,000 from each meter of the core—is analyzed for about a dozen elements. The approach enabled the team to pinpoint storms, volcanic eruptions, and lead pollution down to the month or even less, going back 2000 years, says UM volcanologist Andrei Kurbatov.

In ice from the spring of 536, UM graduate student Laura Hartman found two microscopic particles of volcanic glass. By bombarding the shards with x-rays to determine their chemical fingerprint, she and Kurbatov found that they closely matched glass particles found earlier in lakes and peat bogs in Europe and in a Greenland ice core. Those particles in turn resembled volcanic rocks from Iceland. The chemical similarities convince geoscientist David Lowe of The University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, who says the particles in the Swiss ice core likely came from the same Icelandic volcano. But Sigl says more evidence is needed to convince him that the eruption was in Iceland rather than North America.

Either way, the winds and weather systems in 536 must have been just right to guide the eruption plume southeast across Europe and, later, into Asia, casting a chilly pall as the volcanic fog "rolled through," Kurbatov says. The next step is to try to find more particles from this volcano in lakes in Europe and Iceland, in order to confirm its location in Iceland and tease out why it was so devastating.

A century later, after several more eruptions, the ice record signals better news: the lead spike in 640. Silver was smelted from lead ore, so the lead is a sign that the precious metal was in demand in an economy rebounding from the blow a century before, says archaeologist Christopher Loveluck of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. A second lead peak, in 660, marks a major infusion of silver into the emergent medieval economy. It suggests gold had become scarce as trade increased, forcing a shift to silver as the monetary standard, Loveluck and his colleagues write in Antiquity. "It shows the rise of the merchant class for the first time," he says.

Still later, the ice is a window into another dark period. Lead vanished from the air during the Black Death from 1349 to 1353, revealing an economy that had again ground to a halt. "We've entered a new era with this ability to integrate ultra–high-resolution environmental records with similarly high resolution historical records," Loveluck says. "It's a real game changer." "

Note LO: I have added several URL's for clarification and verification purposes


Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Think big. Act small.

Recently, I noticed a familiar saying again, albeit in Dutch: Groter denken, kleiner doen (NRC). The more I think about it, the more I agree. It's generally foolish doing the opposite: think small, act big. Small easily becomes narrow-minded and failure will move fast (eg, arrest).

From a scientific point, the saying also makes sense. A picture of a funnel illustrates the saying. The more input above, the more focus and power below.

In human terms: the more knowledge, beliefs, intuition, and imagination (ie, the 4 types of intelligence) are put in above, the more focus and willpower come out below.

Similarly, turning the funnel upside down, would be foolish and making its application useless.

There are 2 other scenarios: i) think big, act big (eg, Tesla) and (ii) think small, act small (eg, Pay-It-Forward). These 2 other scenarios seem driven by the volume of financial resources (ample versus small) rather than anything else.

Thinking big is necessary because everything in life is connected - a.k.a. interconnectedness. The downside of thinking big is the sheer volume of input factors. To some extent, thinking big is like playing chess: the more you think ahead, the more chances on winning (source 1, source 2).

Thinking small (or narrow-minded) is like ignoring causality, or cause and effect. It also ignores Isaac Newton's 3rd Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (source). Taking the liberty to act big with narrow-minded views, may take away your freedom.

Acting small generally fits the efforts of one (1) human being. Hence, the saying makes sense again. The only tangible help you can give to someone is through deeds. The impact of offering words, like I do, is much less clear. For instance, I seldom receive feedback on my writing despite the many views. Last but not least, human intentions are usually open for various interpretations.

Acting big can easily be misunderstood. The public and private views about Elon Musk of Tesla are almost opposite: world saver versus a devil in (manufacturing) hell. George Soros was once seen as a philanthropist and now as a bogeyman (the Week). Bill Gates of Microsoft took the opposite way: from evil genius to "most significant person of his generation".

If I ever change the name of my Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish blog then I may opt for the title: Think Big, Act Small. My aim in writing is opening people's eyes. That seems small enough although the aftermath could still be big.

Thinking Big (2014) by Martin Gallop

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise