3 february 2016, super mario

No, not that one - but the next president of the united states, or at least republican nominee. Strange as it may seem to crown the fifth-placed senator the victor (coming in with 23% behind Clinton, sanders, trump & cruz in the iowa caucuses), the republican battle has so far all been about who will emerge as the challenger candidate (trump or cruz) and who as the establishment's, with the latter heavy favourite to win. That's what marco rubio won last night. Though tea-party propelled (see 24 october 2011, no deleveraging at home), he sports the backstory shield of an hispanic obama; though no liberal, he works quite hard to remain in the arena of reasonableness. Though I am hilary all the way (see 2 february 2013, hilaryous), he is a worthy opponent, and in this anti-establishment era, with hilary forced to play the safe hands establishment card to see off her own sanders insurgent, he might just win. Meanwhile, a wonderful piece on today's today (2:10 in) that shows the good a president can do, this one the 91-year old jimmy carter, still at it.

30 january 2016, windows zen - not

I have always regarded computers, like cars, as just a way of getting from a to b, or more ambitiously, to z. I neither know nor care what goes on under the bonnet; I call my mechanic, or son. However, so frequent have our help moments become, forced as we are to load ever cleverer applications on to the old dear, that we have finally faced up to the need to change our antique dell desktop, #disposableworld. After due deliberation, and despite loving my i-phone, we ignored the siren voices both of going apple (how much did you say again) and of converting to a laptop (you're so old-fashioned dad) and went like-for-like, of course with upgraded speed, memory and gizmos (there being no basic black ford on the market). I hate it. I don't think I've ever written a computer review before, but there's a first time for everything, so here goes. Windows 10 is absolutely rubbish, user-unfriendly and full of unnecessary stuff that forces you to do things you don't want, like store contacts on the cloud. Focus of my ire is its email programme, an emotional media for me as, though different, it is what remains of my earlier-life penchant for writing letters. It is unintuitive and generally abysmal to the point of non-function. No stars. My signing-on bonus was a week trapped in despondency and the loss of the precious few hours I carve out each week in front of my screen in my study that keep me going. At least I've worked out how to change the hated but ubiquitous email "signature". Mine might as well read "typed on an olivetti lettera 33", my inner luddite having seemingly taken control momentarily. In cyberspace, no-one can hear you scream...

12 january 2016, when nothing goes right, go left

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When the financial "excesses of untrammeled capitalism" crisis almost brought the house down in 2008, europe's left seemed the obvious inheritors. Yet, since then it is the centre-right that has reinforced its credo and made the most credible job of picking up the pieces. Though in power in france, the left is the most unpopular (and erratic) government ever; in germany its counterpart is a weak supporting act. In country after country - spain being the latest - the left has lost. The "greek effect", where a far-left splinter gains momentum (as seen in spain and now internally with the death of britain's labour party) only makes it worse. Yet these leftists are shackled to another era, with rebaked old recipes of marxist colllectivism. More modern, radical leftist thinkers, like unger ("why the left should abandon equality") and graeber ("most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism") have no hinterland or are pilloried for being neoliberals (guilty as charged). I am not the first to observe that the world's largest taxi company (uber) owns no cars, its largest accommodation provider (airb&b) no property, its largest store (alibaba) no stock and its largest media company (facebook) no content. Those behind these incredible societal-size innovations are capitalists red in tooth and claw, and unimaginably wealthy. Backers of the "shared economy" (see 5 june 2014, more of driving less) and that "collaborative commons" which technology is set to unleash never quite seem to have hopes realised. In fact the acceleration and fattening of profits from physical goods to virtual intellectual property is just an even racier capitalism than before, though the corporations earning are different ones. Leftism is not about stopping that but ensuring the level playing fields of entry and maintenance to this new arcadia.

1 january 2016, the year of leaving

When the question has been put to more pro-european populations in easier times, the french, dutch and irish amongst them, the answer has been "no". So why does anyone expect something different from the far more half-hearted brits ? Don't look at the "outs" split and disorderly campaign, look at the message, clear and bright. That's why the uk is set to leave, the biggest backwards step for the eu since its foundation in 1957. Rages against the establishment, driven by those on the wrong end of globalisation, inequalities and empowerment, continue to sweep across the western world, the snp destroying labour in scotland, the national front coming first in french elections and donald trump raging to contendership for the american presidency. Underpinned by a generation drip-fed predjudice against the eu "other" doing down "our" country, the risk of such a surge carrying the outs to victory in britain's binary referendum is high. Their clarion call is simple and alluring: good riddance to the lot of them ! Europe costs the country a fortune (a billion pounds a day !), burdens industry with costly regulation (especially on the golden goose of the city of london !), dampens our democracy (brussels makes all our laws !) and, worst of all, forces us to leave our front door open to shady migrants that take jobs, force down wages and suck up school and hospital places. With millions more arriving every day and the euro economy constantly collapsing, why should great britain be weighed down by all that ? Better to cut loose and nimbly sail the world alone again; good fences make good neighbours. Its a fabulous populist bandwagon to jump on, towards which luminaries in all parties (yes that's you boris) may be tempted. With most conservatives against, there is an especial risk that the new labour leadership, anyway lukewarm, makes a tactical decision to see cameron lose and so throw the government into total turmoil from which could be seen the possibility of a new order. The election of a conservative majority government means that mass anti-establishment anger has yet to find a lighting rod in the uk. The referendum looks a very strong candidate.

16 december 2015, what goes down, must come up

So, finally, after almost a decade, us interest rates have risen, ending a period unprecedented in the history of monetary policy since such a thing began with the creation of the bank of england in 1694. Though rates remain on the floor in london and frankfurt, the inevitable upward march (yes, even eventually in euroland) has begun. So what ? Inflation, on both sides of the atlantic, remains extremely low (the "usual" trigger for rate rises) and the jobs market, even in the us, is far from robust, much less so in europe and in both cases (as shown by stagnant wages) flattered by the growth of low-grade and flexible positions. There is a strong argument that this extraordinary period of zero rates and money-printing (see 21 october 2010, "dread the launching of the bad ship qe2") was a necessary evil, but these last years were not a new paradigm but a period that despite its comfort blanket effect has negative consequences which ultimately need unwinding. The lack of any "taper tantrum" shows global markets agree; indeed the rise was anticipated and welcome. There were always limits to how long dropping bucketfuls of money from the sky could be sustained, although the rise will not be without consequence, not least of a dollar bubble, of higher costs for those borrowing globally in dollars and especially for the battered emerging markets, china most of all. Nonetheless, to quote the very uneconomic henry kissinger, whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately. Off we go...

12 december 2015, trumped

Cycling home listening to the ever-excellent pm programme (on i-player of course), I found myself, possibly for the first time ever, agreeing with the visceral mep dan hannan, who brought a semblance of sense to a hysterical debate on donald trump's latest outburst by pointing out that banning him from entering the uk for his calls to ban muslims from entering america was a somewhat ridiculous bending to the inevitable "something must be done" feeling. Alas, everyone is talking about trump (and into that trap I fall), which proves yet again that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and few are better at it than "the don". Happily, he has no chance of actually becoming president: the excellent nate silver, who correctly predicted the result last time around in all 50 states, points out he has about 25% support amongst republicans who themselves make up around 25% of the electorate, so a net 6-8%, which is about the same as believe the apollo moon landings were faked (and probably the same people). He has though, as so many spiky populists have before him (hello nigel), shone a spotlight on an uncomfortable issue and succesfully shifted the political centre. Trump is redirecting obama's isolationism to move american identity more towards its nasty, nativism persona and ever further from the "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses" mantra on which it was originally built. Maybe its europe's era to inherit that spirit on which wealth and prosperity was built over generations. Last word though to the real genius behind donald trump, it was finally revealed yesterday: sacha baron cohen (in full).

Attached File: trump.pdf

3 december 2016, the other hilary

From the leadership vacuum that is today's british labour party, step forward hilary benn, after a stonking speech in yesterday's totemic debate about whether or not to extend british bombing of islamic state into syria. Joining 60-odd other labour members to support the government, against his leader and the rest of the party, benn established himself overnight as the principled, strong orator, independent-minded bulwark from within against jeremy corbyn, should the party ever want such a thing. With a combination of this year's general election and the subsequent party leadership contest taking out a whole generation of post-corbyn potentials, it was inevitable that one of the next crop would establish themselves alongside the refuseniks of chuka umunna and tristram hunt as the weathervane leader-in-waiting on whose shoulders the future of the party may yet rest if they ever get to the point of taking the fight for centre-left social justice outside labour altogether. The princely former cabinet minister and shadow foreign-secretary is of course the son of one of the left's greatest modern orators (best interview ever) and joins a worryingly-long list of party dynasties, including will straw, tamsin dunwoody, stephen kinnock, the millibands (if brothers count) and (oh yes) emily benn. Meanwhile, talking of heavyweights in the making, tonight is the oldham west and royton byelection, contested by the ex-council leader jim mcmahon with whom I had the pleasure of working alongside on a number of occasions...

27 november 2015, fiddling while the rome connection burns

One of the uk's easier demands of the eu is for economic governance arrangements that stop the eurozone ganging up on the "outs". In reality this is about stopping london's financial centre being disadvantaged (a longstanding desire of several within the eurosystem). The uk though are not really against (in many respects they are actually for) the eurozone, and indeed other "core" configurations, integrating further and faster. Schengen (see 23 september 2015, will schengen survive ? and the euro are only the most notable of the differentiated integration that already exists. Staying in orbit around the core would not be a bad position for the uk while its decade or two of adjacency funk lasts, although when the referendum comes along such subtleties will be lost in the laconic to hell with the lot of them/good fences make good neighbours simplicities (see 27 february 2014, sleepwalking towards the exit) that are increasingly likely to turn the brits back into little englanders.

17 november 2015, hot on the heels of cornwall...

There was a crucial moment in negotiating manchester's devolution status with the government, when news broke to lighten the mood in the form of liverpool, after some years trying to get their act together, again miserably failing to. The number one item facing that city region's six (all labour-run) local authorities, was the combined authority's new name. In a monty pythonesque twist to the concept of local empowerment, their utter disagreement led to them asking whitehall to decide the name for them, which is how they ended up with the snappily-titled halton, knowsley, liverpool, st helens, sefton and wirral combined authority (or hklsswca for short). A couple of months later they were at it again with four of the authority's members choosing the new leader while the other two were out the room. Finally though, today was a big day for the hklsswca, as they got their handshake with my old mucker, and now the official minister for sorting out liverpool's arguments, jim o'neill (see 14 january 2010, brics and more tar) and agreed to elect a mayor in return for the transport-and-bells-and-whistles powers that regular readers will recall my describing many times. "I'm pleased, not so much that we've managed to negotiate with central government" said joe anderson, liverpool's current mayor, "but that we have finally been able to get an agreement at a local level". No I didn't make that up, and yes, anderson is mayor of the small liverpool city area, not the whole of the hklsswca city region; do keep up. And yes, hklsswca is still its name, which my sources tell me is excellent branding on the streets of shanghai, right up there with manchester united. Seriously though, all power to your elbows. St michael must be proud.

14 november 2015, paris to paris, a heavily-edited story of 2015

13 november, paris, france, 129 killed; 13 november, baghdad, 19 killed; 13 november, beirut, lebanon, 43 killed; 1 november, mogadishu, somalia, 13 killed; 31 october, sharm el sheikh, 224 killed; 23 october, jacobabad, pakistan, 22 killed; 14 october, maidugurie, nigeria, 42 killed; 10 october, n'djamena, chad, 38 killed; 10 october, ankara, turkey, 102 killed; 5 october, baghdad, iraq, 57 killed; By 1 october, usa, 994 killed (mass shootings only); 20 september, maidugurie, nigeria, 145 killed; 16 august, douma, syria, 82 killed; 13 august, baghdad, iraq, 76 killed; 10 august, diyala, iraq, 50 killed; 7 august, kabul, afghanstan, 51 killed; 13 july, monguno, nigeria, 43 killed; 29 june, leego, somalia, 70 killed; 26 june, soussa, tunisia, 38 killed; 26 june, kuwait city, kuwait, 27 killed; 13 june, monguno, nigeria, 63 killed; 8 june, waziristan, pakistan, 26 killed; 1 june, randi, iraq, 41 killed; 22 may, saudia arabia, 21 killed; 13 may, karachi, pakistan, 45 killed; 2 april, garissa, kenya, 147 killed; 28 march, Idlib, syria, 236 killed; 20 march, sanaa, yemen, 137 killed; 4 february, fotokol, cameroon, 91 killed; 24 january, mariupol, ukraine, 30 killed; 7 january, baga, nigeria, over 2, 000 killed; 7 january, paris, france, 7 killed.

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