Hoping to live in hope
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a hardened neanderthal who has occasionally been mentioned in this blog has it seems had an about face on a bill before Congress which amongst other things aims to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.* The bill has been floating around for quite some time and would form part of President Biden’s legacy. It has been watered down considerably since it was first proposed. The devoted cynic in me tells me that if Joe Manchin is now supporting it the bill must have been watered down almost to the point of worthlessness. Indeed, a 40% cut in carbon emissions would need extremely fast action at all levels of governance, finance and co-operation, something notably absent of late (e.g. think of the Supreme Court curtailing the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency). But I suppose there is here a glimmer of hope, always providing the Democrats can get the bill into law before the mid-term elections. Let’s remember that Manchin’s vote is so important because the Republicans are loathe to do anything about climate change, and most pundits predict they will retake at least one house of Congress in November. Biden’s popularity ratings are at an all-time low.
Even if the bill becomes law, there will be multiple opportunities for backsliding, on the grounds of ‘events dear boy, events.’ Here in blighty we witness Liz Truss seeking to garner popularity by dropping a green energy levy. Her stance may change of course if somebody whispers in her ear that nuclear could be classed as a ‘green’ energy source (as it has been in the E.U.).
*A figure I am sure which has been plucked out of thin air, like many of the political targets on climate change (unlike what one might term as scientific targets).
+In the light of the English Women’s footballing success, surely there’s a lesson there for Rishi Sunak—’play the ball, not the woman!’ © C. Challen
+’regulatory reform will face predictable opposition, but this will be overcome as people observe the benefits of a common law regulatory system based on responding to the side effects of free market experimentation.’ These are the words of Patrick Minford, aka Liz Truss’s ‘economic advisor.’ It’s worth dwelling on the words ’the side effects of free market experimentation.’ Liz Truss wants to set fire to all the EU regulations that were embodied into UK law following Brexit. So in future, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens after some ‘free market experimentation,' and cross our fingers that maybe, just maybe we’ll get some common law regulation to deal with the ‘side effects.’ Brexit is definitely not done yet.
+I met James Lovelock, who as has died aged 103, a couple of times whilst an MP and involved with the politics of climate change. His articulate grip and eloquence at a great age was in itself thoroughly impressive. But I couldn’t agree with him in every respect of his undoubted environmentalism, which meant, in my opinion, holding some unjustified reservations about renewable energy and his support for nuclear power. There may be a case that renewable energy, such as wind (I think he had a particular dislike for wind turbines ‘despoiling the landscape’) may not be inexhaustible, but what about tidal power? I wrote a review of one of his books from which I got the impression (highly mistaken, most probably) that overuse of tidal power might diminish its source (i.e. the Moon). Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Could the Moon crash into Earth if we overused tidal power? Sounds bonkers, so I’m sure I misread it.
The last two contenders in the Tory leadership race slugged it out on BBC1 last night. I’m not sure it was the best thing to spend an hour watching it, but in the hopes that some great plan would emerge to save the country I did just that. Sadly, there was little to be encouraged about. Sunak behaved with a degree of rudeness that can’t be ignored, continually interrupting Truss, but then she did little more than repeat slogans with the claim that she was a woman of action. She’s not afraid of Putin so she’s hardly going to wilt under Sunak’s many interruptions. The audience, comprising Tory voters, gave Sunak more rounds of applause than Truss. The debate was poorly mediated. As much time was devoted to the candidates’ fashion choices as was given to the subject of climate change (on which neither candidate showed much interest). This reminded me of a scene from the film Don’t Look Up, where the seriously worrying content is upended by the need to entertain, to keep things light. It would be like Churchill, making one of his gravest speeches inserting a comment about whether he would prefer a soft or a hard boiled egg before fighting them on the beaches, the fields, the streets, etc., etc. To coin a phrase, to Sunak and Truss I would say ‘I knew Churchill, and you’re no Churchill.’ But then they both really want to be Thatcher. God help us.
This'll sort it!
According to Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor, Labour will reboot UK growth. A key part of this will be the creation of a new committee to be known as the ‘industrial strategy council.’ This brings back shades of Harold Wilson. This quote from the Wikipedia entry for George Brown is telling:
After Labour's victory at the 1964 election, Wilson appointed Brown as First Secretary of State, making him the next-most senior member of the Cabinet, and appointed him to the new position of Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to curtail the power of HM Treasury.
The new Department of Economic Affairs didn’t last long, and despite Wilson’s optimistic ‘White Heat of Technology’ speech, I think the swinging sixties did more to inject some life into the British economy. But what is being proposed now has no intent to ‘curtail the power of HM Treasury.’ Perhaps all is not lost. The Blair/Brown governments eschewed anything that might be called an industrial strategy. Governments, in their minds did not—and could not—’choose winners.’ In the field of renewable energy technologies this blindness was extremely frustrating. Such thinking if replicated e.g. in Denmark would have prevented them from becoming world leaders in wind turbine technology. I think we can thank Tony Benn for the Blair/Brown ‘choosing winners’ aversion. Benn’s injection of aid to ailing businesses met with little success.
The industrial strategy council will come with a lot of baggage, which is to say that every industrial interest (such as we have left) will come with a prepared agenda, which will be based pretty much on business as usual. And I wonder who exactly will be invited to join this great body? With a name that includes the word ‘strategy’ I doubt it will get much more than a sniff from the short-term capitalists who have done so much damage to the UK economy.
I’ve just read Bill Browder’s (c.f. blog 9/7/22) Freezing Order — a memoir of his travails tackling Russian corruption and its paper trails in the West, not least the United States, where a good part of the tainted money ends up. It is a pacey read, and I would strongly recommend it. But it is actually also a story about the complexities of addressing the problem, since highly paid lawyers appear to have no scruples when it comes to serving high paying clients, regardless of the source of their money. Tied into this is the inability of government bureaucracies to act with alacrity when it comes to dealing with complexity. On top of that can be added a degree of political meddling by semi-corrupt Western politicians who are happy to spike efforts to clean up the system if there’s something in it for them—and it’s not just the Trump gang playing this game. A painfully egregious example of the failure of the American judicial system to deal with these issues is examined in detail, where we find complex financial cases ending up in the court of a senile 83-year old judge.
Having said all of which, I will have to read Browder’s first book Red Notice, which I hope will look at his beginnings in the chaotic free for all which was the post-Soviet economy, and where his investment business, Hermitage Capital made its fortune. That enterprise only seems to have hit the rocks when Putin expelled him in 2005.
+I rarely get emails in response to this website. When I do they tend to come from ‘Alexa,’ ‘Tanya’ or similarly named people who claim to be experts at driving custom to my pages. They often (nearly always) refer to their skills at driving people to view my ‘learning content.’ That obviously is a generic term which could mean anything. So I was flattered to get this one a few days ago:
I am William Scott from Atlanta , Enjoyed your site and your wonderful Artworks. am very much interested in the purchase your Art piece for our Anniversary to surprise my wife ,A friend of mine sent me your website and what an inspiration your Arts are beautiful and inspirational, would like to receive further information about your original works you have for sale and your location: ) . regards , William .
This almost suggests that the sender has actually looked at the content of my website. But of course I am suspicious. I doubt anyone would purchase one of my ‘beautiful and inspirational’ artworks for an ‘Anniversary.’ So the email has been deleted. Nevertheless, in the million to one chance that this email is genuine, I invite you, ‘William from Atlanta’ to send me a cheque for $1,000 to me at my postal address (you’ll probably find it somewhere on the internet) and when I’ve cashed it you can let me know all your details and which Artwork you’re interested in. I’ll keep my paying-in book handy. And please tell your friends, they might like to purchase an Artwork too! I’m so flattered . . .
+A new word will shortly be added to the dictionary. This is ‘bothsidism.’ It could be that this first emerged when Donald Trump described both sides in the Charlottesville Black Lives Matter clashes a few years ago as ‘fine people,’ when clearly the violence emanated mainly from one side, that is from the racists. Now, Bothsidism has been applied to the Forde Report on misdoings in the Labour Party during the period of Corbyn’s leadership. It seems both sides were equally to blame, e.g. for weaponising anti-Semitism. But a close reading of the report doesn’t support ‘bothsidism.’ Corbyn may have been wholly useless as an organised, decisive leader of his team, but the other side were well organised and clear in their objectives. Nevertheless, the despised Guardian gave full throat to the bothsidism narrative, and in so doing managed to play down their favourites’ sins.
Frost in a heatwave
‘The Conservative chairman of the Northern Ireland affairs committee said: “I don’t wish to be rude but who the hell is an unelected, failed minister to tell any MP what to do? For some unknown reason David Frost perpetually thinks we give a flying f*** what he thinks. We don’t and we won’t.” (Evening Standard 15th July)
It’s rare that I agree with a Tory MP, but in this case Simon Hoare, the MP in question has pithily hit the nail on the head. ‘Lord’ Frost is in the right-wing press every week and surely deserves no more attention than any other former whisky salesman.
The backdrop is of course the Tory leadership race, which grows more tedious by the day as each candidate seeks to move further to the right. You don’t have to be cruel to be a Tory, but it helps. This is a weekend of broadcast TV debates, where if they have time on their hands millions of Brits can listen to the candidates’ soundbites and then discover that they the people have no say in the matter (to be fair, they had no say over Brown, either). I guess the only observation one can make is that this shower are as far from the ‘natural’ party of government as could be imagined.
I’ve been trying to get my head round what it would actually cost the UK to address its climate change challenge. This question of course is largely irrelevant if other countries, particularly the U.S., China and India don’t step up to the mark. But the UK for quite a long time has claimed a leadership role, so it should know what is required, when it’s required and what it’s going to cost. The Labour Party reckons that £28 billion a year until 2030 will set us on the right track. The Tory government a couple of years ago said it was going to spend £12 billion. Both figures refer to public money, and both assume the private sector will multiply those figures. The Institute for Government said this:
‘In 2019, the CCC [Climate Change Committee] estimated that the total costs of getting to net zero would be £50bn per year, less than 1% of projected GDP over that period. The Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) put the figure at £70bn per year, or over £1 trillion by 2050 . The economic analysis of net zero will undoubtedly change in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, however.’ (UK net zero target | The Institute for Government)
With the cost of renewable energy sources plummeting, perhaps there can be some reasonable doubt as to what the real figure will be. But with current energy costs driven by fossil fuels, there is an extra shovel of doubt, since we can already hear Tory leadership pretenders suggesting they would slash green subsidies paid by all of us, and even cut taxation on transport fuel duties. In politics, the world of the immediate problem always trumps what’s brewing in the longer term.
But here we are only talking about the costs of mitigating climate change—by it seems 2050, when everything will be alright. In the meantime, the other cost of climate change –adapting to it—will begin to have a marked impact on public finances. Flooding, storms, heatwaves, infrastructure breakdowns will all demand immediate attention. I doubt there are many people who will say another windfarm will stop their local flood. The connection is too tenuous. I think the demand for adaptation will, forgive the pun, swamp the demand for mitigation. Perhaps one example of this will be that the demand for air conditioning will outstrip any lagging demand for insulation (forgive the pun again).
I’ve had difficulty trying to find precisely what Labour’s annual £28 billion would be spent on. I imagine it’s a commitment which basically follows the advice of the Climate Change Committee. No doubt a good part of it will find its way into nuclear coffers, which as I’ve said before does not address the issue (the timelines are all wrong). In any case, what will survive of this commitment if Labour wins power? The challenges of putting the economy back into shape after a Tory government (a not unprecedented challenge) cannot be understated.
We are, I think in a world of slogans and soundbites (that’s original!). Meanwhile, l’actualité is pointing south faster than the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change can reach a watered down consensus every five years. The underlying message remains the same: don’t frighten the horses! Everything will be alright!
A glass of water, your Highness?
There was a bit of a hoo-hah last week on media channels about why the third in line to the throne, little Prince George was wheeled out at Wimbledon wearing a suit and tie when temperatures were soaring. Is this a Royal protocol? Or simply part of his training to get into shape for wearing all sorts of rigs and outfits when everybody else would be quite happy in tee-shirts? I think there’s something in that theory. The Royals must not be seen to sweat, so they are given early lessons with coping with the heat. We got a different glimpse of this when Prince Andrew told Emily Maitlis in his notorious interview about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein that he ‘couldn’t sweat.’ I wonder if this is all part of their breeding. Aristocrats should never sweat. Period.
The problem here is that research shows that if you can’t sweat, you may die. Thanks to studies linked to the effects of climate change on human beings, the following has emerged:
'Our studies on young healthy men and women show that [the] upper environmental limit is even lower than the theorized 35 C. It’s more like a wet-bulb temperature of 31 C (88 F). That would equal 31 C at 100% humidity or 38 C (100 F) at 60% humidity.'
(How hot is too hot for the human body? Our lab found heat + humidity gets dangerous faster than many people realize (theconversation.com))
In other words a temperature of 31 degrees centigrade with humidity at 100% can kill. The body can no longer cool itself by sweating. It overheats.
The Royal family may need to change its attire in the not distant future. As indeed we all will, if we haven’t already.
The whole story?
+With our attention dominated by the Johnson story, here’s a few headlines from the last two days you may have missed (courtesy of The Daily Climate):
‘Heat wave blankets NC, raises risk of health effects’ [NC = North Carolina]
‘Italy's worst drought in 70 years in photos’
‘Australia flood, boosted by climate change, making history in Sydney’
‘Heat, drought and wildfires: Torrid spell torments Portugal’
‘Global dismay as Supreme Court ruling leaves Biden’s climate policy in tatters’
‘Biden administration pushes more ocean drilling amid record oil and gas profits’
‘Europe calls gas and nuclear energy 'green'’
‘The world is turning back to coal’
There’s still time to stock up on baked beans and toilet paper.
+I’ve just read Oliver Eagleton’s The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right. The title suggests a project, but the content suggests a somewhat different story—of someone who just seems to drift into cosy relationships with establishment figures. Is this a result of an inchoate personal development, or something which has been abetted, if not constructed by other, shadowy figures? Some people are born with projects and others have projects thrust upon them. In Eagleton’s telling it seems Starmer’s ‘journey to the right’ is largely self-inflicted (so to speak) with, in his earlier legal career, receiving little but regular nudges in the Right direction. He was not, in other words a hand-picked candidate from the off. On his way Starmer is well served by a healthy cynicism, which is fully revealed in a lengthy chapter called ‘The Politician’ which describes in detail Starmer’s manoeuverings over Brexit. Starmer’s most egregious display of cynicism of course came later, with his ‘Ten Pledges’ during the Labour leadership campaign in 2020, all of which he ditched.
Come page 186 Eagleton lists four components of Starmer’s ‘project.’ They are ‘1) a ‘values-led’ non-antagonistic electoral strategy; 2) an unsparing crackdown on the Labour Left, seen as more dangerous than the Conservatives; 3) an Atlanticist-authoritarian disposition, combining intervention abroad with repression at home, and 4) a return to neo-liberal economic precepts, overseen by Blairite leftovers’ (emphasis added).It’s the fate of top politicians to leave office believing that their work is unfinished. Think Thatcher, Blair, Brown—and now, laughingly perhaps, Johnson. So Eagleton’s use of the phrase ‘Blairite leftovers’ caught my eye. This is where the project takes on a capital ‘P.’ Of those whose work was unfinished, I suspect Blair feels the loss most grievously, and at the relatively youthful age of 69 is determined the good work should continue.
I had hoped there might be some reference to Starmer’s membership of the Trilateral Commission, and perhaps more analysis of the influences and connections he has made with corporate economic interest groups. It could be that this area of Starmer’s ‘project’ is still fairly opaque (all of a pattern with Starmer’s decision not reveal his financial backers’ identities in the leadership race until it was all over) and maybe Eagleton didn’t want to be accused of ‘conspiracism’ since any mention of things like the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderberg Group—which welcomes David Lammy this year) can set all sorts of hares racing. Suffice to say I am now quite prepared to accept that Starmer is a wholly owned appendage of the Atlanticist-Corporate-Military nexus and is doing his damndest to bash the Labour Party into this round hole. Plus ça change.
+As luck would have it I was down in Westminster on Thursday, the day of Boris’s half resignation, for a meeting of the Association of Former MPs. The meeting was addressed by Bill Browder, of whom more later. Naturally, (breaching no confidences) I found myself before the meeting sitting on the Terrace next to a table of four Tory MPs, one of whom was planning to stand for the Tory leadership. I got the impression that any Tory MP who could garner the support of three others will be emboldened to put themselves forward. This I think is more a statement of desire for promotion to the new cabinet rather than a bid for the top job. Such young upstarts want to put down a marker for a somewhat more distant future. In the meantime they need to show they are rising stars. Needless to say I couldn’t recognise any of them.
+But an election has taken place amongst Conservative parliamentarians, and this is getting no attention at all. Two hereditary Tory peers have departed, and their places have been filled by a vote of the other 45 Tory hereditary peers. Appropriately enough the winners were Lord Remnant (no really) and Lord Wrottersley (I imagine the latter is pronounced Rotter-sly). So we have two new lawmakers who now qualify for ministerial posts! The Eighteenth century lives! Just don’t tell Jacob Rees Mogg (whose music hall act is surely up). Thanks to PoliticsHome for this info.
+To Bill Browder. He is what we may call an intriguing egg. An American who chose British citizenship decades ago, he fairly early on discovered that he wanted to be a successful capitalist (his own words) not least as a reaction against his Communist family upbringing – his grandfather was leader of the American Communist Party and stood against Roosevelt. Browder succeeded in his capitalist ambition, not least through his financing of Russian oligarchs, originally with Putin’s support. But Putin wasn’t controlling the oligarchs, whom Browder discovered were reaping all the profits leaving Putin out of the game. So Putin changed the game, and it became rather risky for Browder to stay involved. He pulled out, leaving only the title deeds of his companies in Russia. It turned out that these still had some value to Russian fraudsters who found a way to use them to defraud the Russian state of $230 million. I simplify all this of course, but when Browder’s Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky refused to play ball with the Russian ne’r do wells he was arrested, tortured and a year later murdered. Browder went on to campaign for a law (first in the US) to prevent the proceeds of Russian corruption benefitting its illicit owners in Western countries. The ‘Magnitsky’ law has now been adopted in over 30 countries, and extends beyond the proceeds of just Russian corruption.
This story, as told by Browder is impressive but I was left wondering. Browder was clearly somebody who saw the ‘opportunities’ thrown up by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The mad rush to turn the Soviet economy into the knock-down basket case it became was as corrupt a process as could be imagined. Anybody who had anything to with it at the very least needs to examine their conscience. I asked Browder if his experience had altered his attitude towards the desire to garner extreme wealth. I think he overlooked the answer to that one, since I had also asked him at the same time to comment on the role of the West in facilitating the deposit of corrupt earnings in the West – long after everybody knew how tainted the money was. He agreed it takes two to tango. His view is that 5% of this wealth is blood money. I bet that’s on the low side, but given the amounts involved it will still be a grotesque amount. He justly described London as the world’s largest trader in this corrupt flow.
Browder is an engaging, eloquent and convincing character. He achieved some unwanted fame when Putin, at his first summit meeting with Trump suggested Browder should be deported to Russia. Trump seemed happy with the idea but as with all things Trump it wasn’t pursued. Nevertheless Browder was Trump’s most wanted man for a time (now the No. 1 is Zelensky). Browder still takes protective measures for himself and family. I guess I will now have to buy Browder’s book Red Notice to see if he answers the many questions I have about his time during the post-Soviet period of economic collapse and corruption. He of course may be entirely blameless, but without Western support for the Dutch auction of a country’s economy, Russia might not be in the kleptocratic state it is today (he said). Had things worked out differently, there may not have been today’s crisis. Browder was an insider witness to the foundations of today’s Russia.
+You can rely on this blog to think ahead of the mainstream media about yet-to-break stories. So now’s the time to consider who will be included in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list. I imagine he wanted to carry on as PM for a couple more months just to focus on this task, the very kind of thing he enjoys most. First off will be a life peerage for his wife, for her dedicated management of No.10 and services to the wallpaper industry. Since he would be entitled to a life peerage on his own departure, she’ll be doubly a lady. His dad too should get a gong for producing the original spermatozoa, so arise Sir Stanley. I don’t know the names of all Johnson’s cousins, etc., but I’m sure their contributions will not be forgotten. To his political chums there will be some easy decisions. Just as Thatcher gave William Whitelaw a hereditary earldom (long after he could do much about it) Rees-Mogg should be considered for such an award. He has produced enough sprogs to merit it. For her services to our culture ‘Mad’ Nad Dorries should get something. She would probably find it orgasmic just to get a British Empire Medal from Boris, but I’m not saying the suggestion of a BEM is in anyway euphemistic. I can’t for the life of me think what Pritti Patel should get. It’s hard to come up with anything that’s quite fine enough. A jail term perhaps? Ooops! That’s not an honour is it? There are a great many Tory MPs out there who have clung onto Johnson’s coat tails like dud limpets. What will they get? And what about those who may yet have a role to play in the continuing Johnson saga – publishing deals, lucrative speechifying circuits and plain old ‘advice.’ Perhaps some space can be found on the list for future favours. Well, you can see this is growing into a bigger task than earlier imagined. He definitely needs another three months.