RIP Darkus Howe

Darkus Howe was more Malcom-X than Martin Luther King Jr. I don’t expect most of my American friends have ever heard of him. In the late 1970’s and 1980’s he was the “Devil’s Advocate”.

For me, as far as black civil liberties go, he was the most influential for me. This debate. argument was typical of his style. He died on Saturday.

Politics and the art of deception

Yep, lots of people are rightfully outraged at the election of Donald Trump and what the future holds. They look at his tweets, at was he says, and are super excited that he is going to do all the things he said or tweeted.

Meanwhile, back in the UK there is a whole lot of hand wringing going on about #BREXIT and what it means. It started the morning after the vote was announced, when liar, braggart, and Trump confidant Nigel Farage admitted that the £350-million for the UK National Health Service that was one of the flagship reasons for leaving the EU, was a “mistake”, or a lie.

The whole point of politics to find a way to get things done? That often r
requires a twisted tongue so as not to upset a prevailing government, or official before they’ve agreed to do what you want. It’s what Clinton mean when she said  she often had both a ‘both a public and a private position’.

Often this comes back to bite the politicians, when what they want to do is bad, doesn’t happen or in some other way backfires. Anyone who thinks that you can be open and transparent with everyone all the time, simply has not been successful at any meaningful level. Tony Blair is a fine example of this, his legacy in tatters, all the positive work he did while in office forgotten, over the lies and deception that took the UK into the “War on Terror“.

Everyone now is overheating about what Trump might do based on what he said or tweeted. First of all most of that is simple distraction. It’s throwing crumbs to the dogs, while he actually gets on with what he wants. His deception and lies though will come back to bite him, but you can’t assume he’ll do, or more importantly, be able to do everything he has claimed. It’s what politicians do, they say what they need to get the chance to do what they want.

Did you never ever tell your kids a white lie, or something that wasn’t really true to get them to do something? Did you ever threaten them when you had no real intention of following through? If you can honestly answer this no you did not, I’ve got a country you can run post BREXIT.

insidious greed – HSBC

If you’ve not been following along today, it’s well worth reading back through the BBC Business Live News feed on the HSBC Tax Avoidance scandal. It is indeed the perfect example of the sort of insidious greed that is destroying society today.

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It’s not just the “me” culture that is all around us, but the industry and culture that is behind it. Rather than pay taxes now, there is a whole industry on tax-avoidance. It’s become an accepted practice, mostly illegal, certainly immoral and to deflect interest in their actions, just like with the bully at school, they deflect criticism and investigation away from their own failings, by making a big deal about those who can least defend themselves.

The amount of tax avoided, mostly illegally, by the HSBC 7,000 will have gone along way to dealing with many of challenges that the UK is currently facing, and the austerity measure they are taking.

Add to that the same offshore tax dodges being employed by large companies, and the industry of sleeze ball consultants, awarded for advising, aiding, and making this possibly, doing everything from advising, writing, and ultimately even joining governments to implement tax policy that facilitates this has got to stop.

It’s easier to blame welfare cheats, immigrants, in fact anyone than themselves. Here in Texas we have both past Governor Perry, and current Governor Abbott continually railing against the Federal Government. Under Governor Perry, we had the HHSC(Ed: no relation) contract scandal, with the State going with a no-bid contract, with little oversight and unclear results to again go after the “little people“. It’s much easier to make them the problem than deal with the problem of insidious greed of the wealthy and their legions of shills.

hsbc taxWatch this extract from the BBC Panorama show to get a quick summary, or read the summary here.

Drive my car

Beep beep’m beep, beep yeah. Having driven a couple of hundred miles back in the UK, it’s remarkable to compare the experience to my now normal Texas drives. I rented a Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer, manual shift, of course. Overall a pretty decent car although not comparable to my normal drive, at least a decent size car.

First of there is the whole Petrol and refueling thing. You can’t pay at the pump. This makes no sense at all. Second, the pumps have no auto-fill setting, which mean you have to stand and hold it, breathing in the fumes. 3.When you go inside to pay the cashier, you almost always have to wait. 4. They always ask if you need a vat receipt(yes, I know why, its still weird). 5. Sticker shock. I paid 87.20 UK pounds to fill the Insignia with diesel. Thats a whopping $142 for approx. 18 US Gallons. That makes the price $7.88 per gallon. Compare that to $3.45 average currently in Austin for premium gas/petrol, and $3.25 for desiel.

There are some benefits though. 1. Compared to my current US (premium gas/petrol) ride which has averaged 21MPG over 15,000 miles, the Insignia (2.0 manual 6-speed desiel) does 60MPG. Taking the price per mile

  • $7.88/50MPG = 16c per mile in the UK, desiel.
  • $3.45/21MPG = 16c per mile in the USA, petrol
  • $3.25/42MPG = 8c per mile in the USA, diesel(hypothetical, see below)

The price per gallon, and the miles per gallon for the UK figures are both divided by 1.20095 due to the smaller size of a US Gallon.

Now, its late, nearly 2 a.m. so it’s quite possible I’ve made a mistake. But that seems counter intuitive, especially as the UK Price includes a huge amount of tax. Tax/VAT is included in both price per gallons. Yes, I know I drive a big car in the US, but the MPG is actually not bad for a US sized engine. Taking a similar GM diesel car, the Chevy Cruise with a similar GM 2.0 diesel engine, the EPA combined estimate is 42MPG, which based on the EPA estimated MPG is half the price per mile, still sticker shock then.

Other advantages in the UK include much clearer signs, although way too many on many junctions. Driving on the A361 towards Trowbridge, I lost count at 26 signs facing me as I drove towards the traffic circle/roundabout at Cepen. The signs are more reflective, and more descriptive, also more prescriptive.

The best thing though was being able to set the cruise control to 78MPH, and then driving 80-miles on the M42, M5, M4 and not having to worry about getting stopped for exceeding the speed limit. The limit is nationally 70MPH on motorways/Interstate roads in the UK. Compare that to the confusing 50/60/65/70 MPH speed limits on Mopac and I35 in Austin. Yes, I was speeding in the UK, but for the most part you wouldn’t get stopped unless you were going faster than 80MPH, and yes, you get passed by people doing 90MPH+ – I’ve had 5-tickets over 7-years since living in Austin, all of them on either Mopac or Instate roads, only one was for exceeding 75MPH on I10.

Despite their inherent narrow traffic lanes, the higher volume of vehciles, and especially commercial trucks, and the fact most motorway/Interstate have fewer lanes than the US, the UK lane discipline, level of driver skill, and overall driving experience is better. Much of this is down to the no passing on the slower, inside lanes law, some to the fact that where there are more than 2-lanes, trucks are NEVER allowed in the fast lane.

Baby you can drive my car
Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I’ll love you

Thatchers impact on me

Listening in on BBC Radio London, and watching the social media around Margaret Thatchers death has been difficult. She was polarizing in life, and so in death. Billy Bragg, Morrissey both wrote long pieces on the effect, and impact of what she did. @ragtag aka Karl Roche a former IBM colleague posted a link to Russel Brands piece on Mrs. Thatch. in yesterdays Guardian.

Brand makes many good points, especially near the end when he says:

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship.

and

I do recall that even to a child her demeanour and every discernible action seemed to be to the detriment of our national spirit and identity. Her refusal to stand against apartheid, her civil war against the unions, her aggression towards our neighbours in Ireland and a taxation system that was devised in the dark ages, the bombing of a retreating ship – it’s just not British.

I’m not getting dragged into the venomous, partisan discussion about what she did and didn’t do for Britain. Unlike Brand, I am old enough now to understand what Thatcher did for me, and why. I can never say how, what, and where I would have ended up if she had not existed, because she did.

Margaret Thatcher was clearly a reaction to the post 2nd World War Britain. A country that lost half a million people in the 2nd World War, almost 1% of its’ total population. The devastation to London and the home counties was second only to those European countries and cities who had been in a direct battle. In post war Britain, everyone came together, great numbers of people came from the north of England, from the West Indies and from Ireland to help rebuild, to create the new communities.

Britain came into its’ own, united, social, and made great gains and great recoveries. I grew up in a town that housed some 70,000 people, that for the most part hadn’t existed 10-years before I was born, it was just a small town. There were six similar towns, all around London.

Britain had been at the forefront of many things, culture, music, art, while flower power didn’t start in the UK, it quickly found a home in London, we had the swinging sixties, The Beatles, The Stones, David Bailey, David Bowie, Roxy Music. Heck in 1966 England even won the Soccer World Cup. My generation had everything to look forward to, including not having to suffer from the dour and gray days of pre-war London, the Rachman like exploitation suffered by recent immigrants in West London, we lived in a relatively affluent suburb, with plentiful council and social housing.

We also had loads of job opportunities  both heavy industry and technical industry, administration and the emerging information society. Things were not perfect, many of the old industries were suffering from intransigence of the Unions; Industry and the Unions lacked the vision and competition to be successful in the new world order, driven by the emergent Japan and the other European countries buoyed by the US Marshal Plan, of which Britain had been the biggest recipient we were floundering.

For me though, the election of the Thatcher government in 1979, took me from the euphoria of the early 1970’s, laced with the frustration of the 3-day week, to wondering how, and what to make of myself. My parents took advantage of the Thatcher governments “gerrymandering” and bought their council home. The effect over the next few years was to fundamentally change the country, riots, no chance of social housing, little chance of private rental, soaring mortgage and interest rates, the “me” culture.

When I first met my future wife, Wendy. Our first home was a rental on the ground floor of a damp, Victorian house. It was super expensive, came with its own mold, wallpaper wouldn’t stay on the walls in the bathroom and the kitchen, because the walls were so damp.  The chances of getting a mortgage were no existent. We went to see the council, and were seriously advised that the best way to get any chance of a council home, was for Wendy to have a baby, and for us to live apart. I was astounded, speechless, angry.

We’d gone from the bright future of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s back to the 1930’s. Job’s were scarce, communities had been decimated, people were rioting on the streets. I managed to get a job with Canada Life Assurance in Potters Bar. I had no idea where it would lead, but it came with the possibility of a Life Insurance backed mortgage at preferential rates. 1980, we moved into a small, terraced house, built in 1896, and were paying the preferential mortgage rate of 15%. Yes, 15%, and when Wendy and I decided to start a family in 1982, and Wendy stopped work, my salary was barely covering the mortgage and bills, there was no real alternative housing.

It’s not that I felt anyone owed me anything, but it’s hard to explain, given I had not lived through a war, not been transported to a different country, not been subject to a family breakup, in fact to this day, I’ve never been unemployed a day in my life. But everything had changed.

And so it was when I got a phone call from a recruiter, a bank from NY was coming to London and wanted to talk to me. I went for the interview, and when on the same day as the interview, they offered me a job, I stopped at High St Kensington tube station and made a call to Wendy. “Where had I been?” – “what had I been doing?” – I would be home later and explain it all. I bought a babygrow for Ella before getting on the train and the next 4-weeks were a whirlwind, as we first made a decision to move to New York City, and then rapidly set about closing out our former lives in England.

I can say with all honesty, not that I’d ever met Mrs Thatcher, or because the British are bad people, but I couldn’t see how I’d ever get a fair chance in the UK. I’ve never looked back. I can’t say how things would have been different if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been Prime Minister, because she was. What I do know, having been thinking about this a lot over the last few days, is that I made Norman Tebitt proud, I did what he extolled us to do in 1981, I got on my bike and rode out of town.  Maggie would have approved.

Many, if not all my core beliefs though are the antithesis of Mrs Thatchers’. I do what I can for others, I believe in a social safety net. I believe government has a role in setting and defining how we should lead our lives; I believe in a fair taxation system, where those that have the most, pay the most; I believe in a common, state funded medical system; I believe that workers should have the legal choice to organize to defend themselves against an exploitative employer; I don’t know if this was because of the socialist culture that I grew up in, or as a reaction to what I watched get destroyed, or just because, well they are the rights of a society.

For all that though, I can’t see what all the fuss was about, Mrs Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, did the job she was elected for. My American friends to this day don’t understand that in Britain we don’t elect the Prime Minister, we elect a MPs. they belong to a party, and the party MP chose their leader. Mrs Thatcher was for perhaps as much as 10-years, a leader.

My parents, their peers, knew what they were voting for and got it. Mrs Thatcher though never built anything that society wanted or needed, compared to those that had come before her, she’d never really passed any substantive, lasting law, except the 1980 Housing Act. Most of which followed, despite her ladies not for turning aspiration was either reversed, not implemented or superseded. In comparison with Clement Atlee, Mrs Thatcher never built anything, she just tore things down and sold them off. As Brand said “If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t”.

The 1% Olympics

I’m over in the UK for the Olympics and to see my family, there is a definite undercurrent about the overbearing regulations and heavy handed implementation and complaints about LOCOG.

The Independent has a great article: Father of Olympic branding: my rules are being abused

DJT1million • 3 days ago • parent −
I’m not sure that the Olympics are widely loathed to be honest. I think that there is, instead, massive indifference with occasional outbreaks of justifiable fury when the G4S scandal came out or when the money lavished on the Games is set against massive and punitive cuts to the lives of ordinary people and their services.

Locog have also been their own worst enemy with their arrogant and patronising attitude along with the heavy handed treatment of anyone daring to refer to The Games without paying the appropriate fee. Even here in the heart of London there’s barely a reference to the Olympics. I did expect people to get the bunting out, have little shop window displays supporting our athletes, schools having Olympic themed summer fetes before they break up for the holidays but there’s nothing. Locog have scared everyone into ignoring the whole party unless they’re a sponsor forgetting (or ignoring) that 95% +++ of the cost has been paid for by UK taxpayers, London council tax payers and National Lottery players. We all have a stake too.

Unintended consequences – these Games highlight just how dysfunctional our society currently is. They’re a perfect illustration that can be understood by everyone of just how far our nation has been handed over to big business at the expense of our wider society and values as a whole. Everything, the control freakery, the needs of the corporate sponsors, the ZIL lanes, the tax avoiding, the lavish (mis)use of public funds to benefit the very few and so on and on and on is the high water mark of 30 years of increasing inequality and the dysfunction inherent in the prevailing economic and political orthodoxy that is currently running out of steam.