BrainDead

Apr. 24th, 2017 01:21 am
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Posted by Andrew Hickey

I’m very surprised, given the circle of people I know, that no-one pointed out the TV series Braindead to me. In fact it’s only because of an Amazon Video recommendation — one that was actually aimed at my wife (who uses our Amazon Video account far more than I do) that I saw it at all. I’ve not heard anyone talking about it at all.

Which is a shame, because it’s really rather impressive at doing what it did.

Braindead is, roughly speaking, a series for people who liked The West Wing but wished more of the characters had their heads explode or had their brains eaten by alien insects. It was broadcast on CBS in the US, and on Amazon Prime over here, last year, but was cancelled after one season. This is a shame, as it’s by far the most emotionally accurate series about politics I’ve seen in a long time.

The basic premise of the series is a simple one — Laurel Healey, a wannabe filmmaker who’s short of money and so working in the office of her brother, a centrist Democrat senator, discovers that a new species of alien insects is crawling into people’s ears, eating half their brains, and taking control over them. The people they take over remain more or less the same as they were, but politically more extreme than they were, with a taste for smoothies, and a love of the song “You Might Think” by the Cars. Sometimes, if they’re unlucky, their heads will explode because of a buildup of alien insect farts.

The main fun of the series comes from the collision of genres — much of the drama is the conventional stuff of US political dramas, with one of the big overarching plots of the thirteen episodes being an attempt to get enough Senate votes together to pass a bipartisan finance bill while also trying to figure out what gotchas have been planted in it by the other side. But then, in the middle of an argument about the stuff of normal politics, insects will crawl out of the ears of two senators and have sex with each other, before crawling back into their brains.

It’s very much a series aimed at geeks — the “previously on BrainDead” recap at the beginning of each episode isn’t a standard montage, but a song written and performed by Jonathan Coulton (I’m not very familiar with his work, but I’ve always had the impression he was one of those Professional Geeks. The songs are quite good though, especially when, later in the series, they start to bear less and less relation to the previous episode, in one case recapping an episode of Gunsmoke instead). There are lots of Spaced-style shots referencing classic films, too; the most obvious one is probably the homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but my favourite is a scene in episode three that recreates a moment from 2001: A Space Odyssey, while I also laughed at a recreation of a sex scene from Eyes Wide Shut, with Michael Moore replacing Tom Cruise.

But its real strength actually comes from the same place as its greatest weakness. The show’s basic political stance is that of The West Wing and other centre-fetishism shows — that everyone even slightly to the left or right of the current establishment political consensus is absolutely crazy, and that the highest, noblest, most principled possible calling in politics is to hack procedural rules in such a way that you can convince your opponents to agree to a 5% budget increase for the Centers for Disease Control in return for concessions on education funding. Or whatever.

There were several points in the series where I cringed at the portrayal of Obama/Clinton-style Democrats as the most utterly principled people in existence, but what’s worse is that the makers of the series don’t actually seem to even know what the opinions of the people they’re satirising are. The most radical, extreme, left-wingers in the show? They want to protect arts funding and stop animal testing, and they talk a lot about how great Scandinavian social democracy is. Meanwhile the show’s Big Bad, Senator Red Wheatus (played wonderfully by Tony Shalhoub, whose performance really holds the show together) is a Trump-supporting hard right Republican, and he does at least want to start an unnecessary war in Syria, which is accurate as far as it goes, but he’s also the kind of person who will say patronisingly to black characters “I do believe black lives matter” — not a phrase that even most of the *moderate* Republicans will use. At the same time, both the right-winger wanting to start a war and the left-winger wanting to protect NPR and Sesame Street are “as bad as each other”.

So the most extreme leftists in this worldview are somewhere close to Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband, while the most extreme rightists have no politics at all and certainly wouldn’t ever be racist. I have greater extremes of left *and right* on my Twitter feed.

And yet. And yet…

Even if it doesn’t understand the people it’s satirising, and even if it falls into the false-equivalency trap, what BrainDead does do, really, really well, is to evoke the horrible, terrifying feeling created by the victories of the fascist populism that seems to have taken over the Anglosphere recently. The feeling of looking at half the people in your country preparing to vote for someone who has no aims other than greed and destruction. The terror at the loss of a world which, for all its problems, was at least comprehensible, and its replacement with a world which will cheerfully vote for someone who talks like half his brain’s been eaten away by insects and his head’s full of alien farts.

And to be fair to it, it also at least *tries* to undercut its own centrism — sometimes very effectively. There’s a whole episode in which Laurel has been detained by the FBI for waterboarding (by a torturer who owes a lot to Michael Palin’s character in Brazil), and whether she’ll be tortured or not depends on the outcome of a Senate subcommittee meeting. The stable, simple, understandable system is a predictable machine, but one that can and will chew people up and hurt them.

BrainDead may well be, for all its myriad flaws, the work of art which speaks most to my own emotional experience of the world for the last year, and it’s well worth watching for that. The amazing thing is that the show was developed in late 2015 — some of the resonances in it make more sense now, in 2017, than the writers could have known.
It can be viewed on Amazon

Postscript for those for whom representation matters: the principal characters of the series are all white, but there are a large number of black characters. I don’t recall any LGBT characters being present in the series, though one man may have been coded as gay. The gay-coded man was also one of three autistic-coded characters, none of whom were straight white men (the other two were a middle-aged female entomologist and a black chess-genius conspiracy-theorist who’s one of the main supporting characters). Most (but not, I think, all) episodes pass Bechdel.

And a few notes of specific triggers that people I know who may want to watch this have — the series contains intimate partner violence, some scenes that while not depicting rape show something that could hit the same emotional buttons, and the mention of a dog being euthanised.

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Posted by Mike Smithson

So Le Pen isn’t going to be another Trump

As it has turned out the polling in the French presidential election has proved to be pretty accurate. Macron has, as I write, 23.9% of the first round votes with Le Pen on 21.4%.

The Betfair exchange betting now splits 88% to Macron with to 12% Marine Le Pen.

It is now very hard to envisage the circumstances that have anybody other than the young former investment banker as the next president of France.

What is striking about the Wikipedia map of how individual parts of France voted is the East-West divide with the former departments more likely to go for Le Pen.

As a betting event this has been huge even though French law makes it very difficult for those inside France to bet with online British bookmakers. This suggests a huge interest in this election in the UK.

The final round of voting takes place on May 7th three days after the British local elections which could provide a good guide to the general election on June 8th.

The polls have been proved very right in France – is that going to be the experience here or is Nate Silver right about his criticism of British polling?

Mike Smithson


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Posted by The Voice

The Liberal Democrat membership surge is about to take the party to a landmark 100,000 members – thanks to a staggering 12,500 joining since Theresa May announced the snap General Election last Tuesday.

Reaching six figures makes the party bigger than it has been since the mid-1990s and puts it on course to reach its highest membership ever within days. The biggest the party has been since its formation is 101,768 in 1994.

It means that more than 50,000 members have joined since last year’s European referendum and more than 67,500 since the 2015 General Election.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron pledged to build the party to 100,000 members by the end of the parliament as a key pledge during his 2015 leadership campaign – but at that point everyone expected the end of the parliament to be 2020.

Tim Farron commented:

Thousands of people are joining the Liberal Democrats every day because they want to change Britain’s future.

People want a strong opposition to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit agenda and the Liberal Democrats are the only party challenging them up and down the country. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has completely failed, offering no opposition whatsoever and giving Theresa May a blank cheque to pursue a Hard Brexit.

This election is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to stop a disastrous Hard Brexit, if you want to keep Britain in the Single Market, if you want a strong opposition to fight for an open, tolerant and united Britain, this is your chance.

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Posted by Mark Pack

It’s customary, though neither mandatory nor universal, for other parties not to put up a candidate against the Speaker when they are running for re-election. Not so this time with the Liberal Democrats and Speaker Bercow, as the party has just selected a prospective candidate:

Keep up with news about Lib Dem selections

If you’d like to be notified by email when further posts about Liberal Democrat selections appear on this blog, just sign up here. (Note: if you’re already signed up for a daily email alert with all my new blog posts, then there’s no need to sign up for these alerts too as the stories will also be in the full daily digest.)

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Posted by Caron Lindsay

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 477th weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the five most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (16-22 April, 2017), together with a hand-picked seven you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

1. My on a hiding to nothing General Election prediction by Richard Morris on A view from Ham Common.
An interesting bit of number crunching.

2. Election 2017: Actually this is good for all parties by Stephen Tall on Stephen Tall.
Even for Labour? Apparently so.

3. Top 20 Liberal Democrat targets on 8 June by Jonathan Calder on Liberal England.
Could we see the likes of Julian Huppert, Ed Davey, Vince Cable and Kelly-Marie Blundell in Parliament? Let’s hope so.

4.  A lot of Labour voters in the north, Midlands and Wales won’t vote Tory. They’ll do this instead by Nick Tyrone on NickTyrone.com.
Not such a happy prediction.

5. It’s dawned on the Tories that they may have made a terrible mistake by Richard Harris on A View from Ham Commono.
Either that or they are realising that a massive poll lead doesn’t lend itself to their Corbyn/Sturgeon scare stories..

And now to the seven blog-posts that come highly recommended, regardless of the number of Aggregator click-throughs they attracted. To nominate a Lib Dem blog article published in the past seven days – your own, or someone else’s, all you have to do is drop a line to voice@libdemvoice.org. You can also contact us via Twitter, where we’re @libdemvoice

6. Why has May called a general election now? by Jennie Rigg on THAT’s not what you said in the Jeffries Tube.
May have more to do with the CPS and the 2015 election than Brexit.

7. Another vote, another disappointment? by Alex Wilcock on Love and Liberty.
For one T May, of 10 Downing Street.

8. “That would be an ecumenical matter”  by Zoe O’Connell  on Complicity.
Another post on Farron and sin.

9. New Twitter muting policy by Jennie Rigg on THAT’s not what you said in the Jeffries Tube. And as a bonus, here’s her list of who to follow during the Election.
Some very good Twitter advice.

10. Three things I’d do if I were Tim Farron today by Nick Barlow on What you can get away with.
He’s done two of them already.

11. Out of the darkness into the light  by Mark Valladares on Liberal Democracy
Election musings from holiday in the Baltics

12. Every vote will make me stronger by Alex Marsh on Alex’s Archives.
How the Liberal Democrats need a strong articulation of social liberalism to make progress in the General Election

And that’s it for another week. Happy blogging ‘n’ reading ‘n’ nominating.

Featured? Add this to your blog post!
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* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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Posted by TSE

Looks like the French have lost that lovin’ Fillon

But given that both François Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are fewer than 2 points behind Le Pen, and we’ve not had any votes counted yet, don’t start spending winnings yet or write off those losses. Though if this exit poll is accurate I expect Macron to win in a fortnight.

Though I’m glad I laid both Fillon and Le Pen.

TSE

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Posted by Tim Worstall

The Washington Post has done us all a service by annoying all the right people. The WaPo did a report showing how the claims for disability have risen in rural America in recent years. This intensely annoyed the usual groups and led to the Huffington Post, as if it ever isn’t, becoming near terminally outraged. Talk Poverty also got an incredible case of the humps and insisted that the entire piece should be withdrawn etc. You can actually hear them, even from this distance, scratching out those letters to the editor denouncing this outrage to all that is good and holy about American journalism.

Except there’s something really very interesting in the Washington Post report and it’s something that links in, very tightly, with that research from Angus Deaton and Anne Case about falling lifespans in parts of rural America. What we’re really seeing here is, in good part at least, the effects of rural outmigration, more specifically from Appalachia. Indeed, I don’t insist that this is so but I strongly expect that it is, we might well not be seeing a rise in the number of rural people on disability at all. Rather, just the migration away of those not. Well, OK, that’s probably too strong actually, but I would be willing to bet good money that it is migration which is what is causing the stark changes in the numbers.

Huffington Post is outraged here:

Disability rights advocates and a leading Democratic think tank are livid at The Washington Post over a March 30 front-page story on the prevalence of disability benefits in rural America.

The newspaper claimed that “as many as one-third of working-age adults” in rural communities receive disability benefits. But as the Center for American Progress calculated ― and The Huffington Post confirmed by looking at the raw data ― that proportion holds true in only one county in the entire country.

Republicans often use stories like the Post’s to argue that the disability rolls have grown due to abuse from people who can work but simply do not want to.

Myself I don’t think we should suppress economic information because of the use that people will put it to. Obviously, it’s possible to disagree about this. John Cowperthwaite famously insisted that no one be allowed to collect GDP data for Hong Kong. On the basis that some damn fool would only try to do something with it. Talk Poverty is also treating that soapbox as Everest:

And yet the article is framed as follows: “Across large swaths of the country,” the article still reads, “disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults are receiving monthly disability checks.”

If by “large swaths” and “scores of… rural communities” The Post means McDowell County, West Virginia, population less than 21,000 residents—and nowhere else in America—then sure.

But the fact is there’s a word for using data this way: cherry-picking.

The actual story being complained about is here:

Between 1996 and 2015, the number of working-age adults receiving disability climbed from 7.7 million to 13 million. The federal government this year will spend an estimated $192 billion on disability payments, more than the combined total for food stamps, welfare, housing subsidies and unemployment assistance.

The rise in disability has emerged as yet another indicator of a widening political, cultural and economic chasm between urban and rural America.

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Posted by Anthony Wells

ITV’s Peston show had some fresh ICM polling this morning. Topline voting intention figures were CON 48%(+2), LAB 26%(+1), LDEM 10%(-1), UKIP 8%(nc), GRN 3%(-1), so don’t show any significant change since their snap poll on the day of the election announcement, fieldwork was Wednesday to Thursday.

Thre was also a poll in the Sunday Express. Voting intentions were reported as CON 42%, LAB 26%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 8%, GRN 6%. The poll was conducted by Norstat – a company that normally polls in Norway and Denmark, but who I don’t think have previously released British voting intention figures. There are not yet any details of methodology, how it was sampled or weighted, how turnout was dealt with and so on.

Finally, the YouGov/Sunday Times poll from last night is now up on their site here.

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Posted by Tim Worstall

There’s much huffing and puffing from the New York Times as it considers the effect of proposed tax changes upon the finances of real estate investors like the President, Donald Trump. For one of the Republican proposals is to remove interest as an allowable business expense. The critique is that interest not being taxable encourages companies to take on too much debt as opposed to equity. This makes them more fragile–the reason being that payments to equity investors are not deductible from corporate taxes while payments to debt investors are.

But that basic idea is sadly nonsense. Because it doesn’t matter who is actually paying a tax, the tax will still change the price. For example, there are places where dividends are paid out of untaxed profits–it’s only the retained profit in a company that pays the corporate income tax. Instead the recipient of the dividends pays something like the normal income tax rate on their dividends. Equally, there are places where the entire profit is taxed at the corporate level and the dividends are received tax free. For non-higher rate taxpayers at least that was the historic British system. You can have hybrid systems as well, where there is some taxation at the corporate level and some at the recipient. But how expensive equity is to the company depends upon what is the accumulated rate of all or any of those systems of taxation. It’s the total tax rate upon equity returns which matters, not how the tax is divided between company and recipient.

Exactly the same is true of the taxation of interest upon debt. It doesn’t matter who is paying the tax, it’s the rate of it which changes things. Presently interest is a deductible expense at the corporate level and is then regular taxable income at that of the recipient. If we make interest non-deductible at the corporate level we should thus make the interest received tax free. And at that point we’d gain no revenue from the change nor change the relative prices of anything. We can even check this. Many state and more local bonds pay interest which is not subject to income tax. This lowers the amount of interest that the issuer has to pay. The post tax interest rate on tax free bonds is about the same as the post tax interest rate on taxable bonds. That is, the tax upon the interest is incident upon the borrower either way we do this.

Which leads to this:

Certain tax breaks, in fact, seem to exist solely or primarily to benefit the real estate industry, with dubious benefits or even harmful effects for the broader economy.

Start, for example, with the ability of businesses to deduct interest payments. More than in just about any industry, real estate investors use leverage — borrowed money — to enhance returns. They lower their taxes by deducting interest payments. The New York Times has reported that Mr. Trump’s businesses have at least $650 million in debt.

Although the corporate tax code has allowed interest payments to be deducted since it was enacted in 1913, a growing number of economists and tax experts have called for abolishing the deduction, as does the House Republican tax plan, “A Better Way,” on grounds that it distorts capital markets by favoring debt over stock. (Dividend payments are not deductible.)

It doesn’t distort markets at all. Assuming that we’re going to have the same level of taxation upon interest paid then it doesn’t matter a darn who is paying it. We get the same prices, and thus the same incentives, whether the interest is deductible and taxable and non-deductible and not taxed. But, and here’s the kicker, there is no mention that interest received should become non-taxable. Which is why I ask whether the Republicans have read their own tax proposal:

Problem #3: The Current Code Penalizes Savings and Investment
The United States has one of the highest levels of taxation on capital in the world. We tax capital once at the corporate
level and then again at the individual level — with integrated tax rates on certain investment income exceeding 50 percent.
The overall taxation of capital in the United States is higher than all but four of the 38 countries that make up the
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and
China).

Income from investment is taxed too highly because the US taxes equity returns twice. The solution to this is therefore to tax interest returns from debt twice as well, once at the corporate and once at the individual level? Have these Republicans actually read their own plan? If we’re going to do tax reform–and we should–could we at least try for a coherent and thought through plan?

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Posted by Tim Worstall

Donald Trump now appears to be putting the European Union ahead of Britain in the line of those countries which can hope to sign on to a free trade deal with the United States. This is, despite the leaping up and down going on about it, a matter of very little importance at all. It’s very much more to do with the fact that Britain cannot in fact sign any independent trade deals before Brexit has actually happened than anything else.

The United States could strike a free-trade agreement with the European Union after President Donald Trump warmed to a deal with the bloc, the Times reported on Saturday, quoting sources from both sides of the discussion.

Post-Brexit Britain would be pushed behind Europe in the race to secure a U.S. deal after Germany’s Angela Merkel persuaded Trump that talks on a deal would be simpler than he thought, the newspaper said.

That report is here:

Mr Trump’s change of heart has been put down to Mrs Merkel’s intransigence. After her trip to Washington, she briefed cabinet colleagues on what she said were “very basic misunderstandings” by Mr Trump on the “fundamentals” of the EU and trade.

“Ten times Trump asked her if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, ‘You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU’,” a senior German politician said. “On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message, ‘Oh, we’ll do a deal with Europe then.’

That’s hardly intransigence that’s just a statement of reality. The European Union claims sole competency to discuss and manage trade affairs for all those in the bloc. As such no country is allowed to discuss or agree to anything about trade whatsoever.

This in turn led to a “realisation” in the White House that an EU trade deal would be more important than a deal with Britain.

The claims come after House Speaker Paul Ryan hinted earlier this week that the infamous TTIP deal could be resurrected.

TTIP isn’t a great deal by any means but it’s a perfectly reasonable one and would make us all that little bit richer. Thus, of course, it would be good if it did, or when it does, go ahead. And it would certainly be possible for it to be done pretty quickly as pretty much all the negotiating has already been done. Which does mean that it could be put in front of that potential deal with the UK.

But here’s the kicker about that. As with the EU’s sole competency above that means that Britain cannot in fact sign a trade deal with anyone, not even the US, before March 2019. And the TTIP could be brought into action rather faster than that I would have thought. Thus it’s not Britain being skipped over in favour of the EU, rather it’s just that them’s the facts and that’s that.

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Posted by Tim Worstall

The New York Times carries an OpEd telling us that Google–and some other tech firms are- is a monopoly and thus must either be broken up or regulated as such a monopoly. The slight problem with this idea being that the writer of the piece doesn’t in fact understand the technical words that are being bandied about. Google is not, for example, a natural monopoly, and those areas where it is dominant are nothing at all to do with the utility model of a marketplace. Further, the author doesn’t in fact understand the more basic points about monopolies. It’s only if they are non-contestable that we need to anything about them. If it is possible for people to contest then we simply do not have a problem with the continued market dominance.

What’s really happening here is that people aren’t understanding the thought process which goes into economists worrying about monopolies. We do worry if, then if, then if and then, if this fourth thing is also true, then perhaps we should do something. But the first couple of things happening are not instructions that we then need to act, it’s the whole chain. It’s rather like in reverse those people who tell us that free markets don’t work because perfect information. You know, when we look at the entry level textbook models we see that perfect information is assumed. So, people then say that such perfection is never attained–it ain’t–so therefore free markets don’t work. Which is to confuse the model with reality of course. For when we go out there and test models against that reality we find that we don’t in fact need all that much information for markets to trend, asymptotically of course, to how those simple models actually work. After all, there is a proof, the market for lemons, that we can never have an efficient market in used cars. And yet we do have such a market. You know, despite Janet Yellen’s husband getting his Nobel for the proof.

That. I think, is the sort of thing which is happening here:

Is It Time to Break Up Google?

The proof of dominance is there, most certainly:

They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising,

The first question is do we care? Care about the market being dominated that is? I, for example–and presumably until those bots get a bit better–have a monopoly on the production of economic scribbling a la Tim Worstall stylee. No one cares about that at all and I’ll be left alone to break up in my own good time as happens to us all as we reach that three score and ten. Is search advertising something we’re actually worried about being dominated?

While Brandeis generally opposed regulation — which, he worried, inevitably led to the corruption of the regulator — and instead advocated breaking up “bigness,” he made an exception for “natural” monopolies, like telephone, water and power companies and railroads, where it made sense to have one or a few companies in control of an industry.

Could it be that these companies — and Google in particular — have become natural monopolies by supplying an entire market’s demand for a service, at a price lower than what would be offered by two competing firms?

They’re not supplying the entire market. And that someone becomes a natural monopoly through increased efficiency is not something which actually concerns us. What does concern us is that economic efficiency. In fact, we’re quite fine and dandy with someone dominating, monopolising even, a sector of the market through that efficiency. Because, of course, it means that whatever it is is being supplied efficiently and thus we’re richer. In fact, to break someone up because they’re efficient is madness.

We would indeed worry if having dominated the market they then exploited their monopoly. Raised prices just because they can in the absence of competition. At which point our question becomes is the monopoly contestable? As with those Chinese rare earths 7 years back. China really did have a supply monopoly and then they tried to throw that economic weight around. Four years later the monopoly was comprehensively broken as new production entered the market and prices are now below 2010 levels. China’s position was contestable–as, given the amount of capital flowing around Silicon Valley would likely Google’s too.

And if so, is it time to regulate them like public utilities?

Quite why we’d do that is unknown. For they’re not a utility at all. That some utilities are, sometimes, natural monopolies does not mean that monopolies are utilities or that the regulatory structure is correct for them.

We are going to have to decide fairly soon whether Google, Facebook and Amazon are the kinds of natural monopolies that need to be regulated, or whether we allow the status quo to continue, pretending that unfettered monoliths don’t inflict damage on our privacy and democracy.

They’re not natural monopolies, no, they’re all eminently contestable dominant players, that’s all. And precisely because the dominance is contestable they’re unlikely to try to gouge consumers. For if they do then the competition will arise. It’s, again, only if the competition cannot arise that we must do something.

It is impossible to deny that Facebook, Google and Amazon have stymied innovation on a broad scale.

And that’s just ridiculous. Three of the most innovative organisations on the planet are stymiying innovation?

To begin with, the platforms of Google and Facebook are the point of access to all media for the majority of Americans. While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent.

That’s not preventing innovation, that’s allowing it, pushing it on. For innovation does indeed mean new ways of doing things, something which will lead to the people using the older ways being pushed out of the marketplace:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, newspaper publishers lost over half their employees between 2001 and 2016. Billions of dollars have been reallocated from creators of content to owners of monopoly platforms.

That’s the very evidence we need of massive innovation as the old purveyors shrink and the new grow. That’s what innovation is. This argument being used here is akin to insisting that Model T’s are anti-innovation because buggy whip makers go bust.

I’m under no delusion that, with libertarian tech moguls like Peter Thiel in President Trump’s inner circle, antitrust regulation of the internet monopolies will be a priority. Ultimately we may have to wait four years, at which time the monopolies will be so dominant that the only remedy will be to break them up. Force Google to sell DoubleClick. Force Facebook to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.

In order to even think about doing anything at all we need to know that Google–and others–have non-contestable monopolies and also that they are exploiting them to our harm. As they don’t and aren’t then there’s nothing we need to do.

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Posted by Mike Smithson

On this week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast Leo Barasi talked about the state of the parties and the race ahead with Conor Pope of Progress and political consultant Laurence Janta-Lipinksi. You can listen to the episode below or by clicking here.

Despite using Easter to announce several policies, Labour is making little effort to pretend it knows what it would do with power. The party’s website still invites visitors to “help shape our next manifesto” and Corbyn semi-loyalist Dawn Butler suggested on Newsnight there might have to be a “rolling manifesto” while policies are developed.

This isn’t just a lack of detailed policies. It’s also about what Labour stands for and who it is trying to appeal to.

Corbyn ran for the leadership with the promise of a “radical economic strategy” yet the recent announcements have largely been repeats of earlier Labour policies. Free meals in primary schools was floated for the 2010 election. A plan to pressure big companies to pay suppliers on time was in the 2015 manifesto. The triple lock on pensions was another Miliband pledge.

You could argue that Labour’s recent policies go further than previous ones. But no-one can seriously claim they would revolutionise the economy. As such, they seem designed for the same voters progressive but not radical – that the 2015 manifesto aimed to win over.

Yet Corbyn’s Labour has also made some radical pledges that wouldn’t have made it into recent manifestos. Among its current 10 pledges are rent controls and nationalisation of the railways.

This week’s Opinium poll for the PB/Polling Matters podcast tested public views of eight possible and actual Labour policies.

The policies that did best were a mix of the radical and the incremental. Two of the top-scoring were 2015-style measures: a £10 minimum wage in 2020 (more radical than Miliband, but hardly socialist) and requiring companies to pay suppliers on time.

Also among the top-scoring was “control rents so landlords cannot keep increasing the amount they charge”, which 47% of those considering Labour strongly supported. Surprisingly, that measure was most popular among the 55+ age group, and least popular among the ‘generation rent’ 18-34s.

Other radical policies were much less popular though. A citizens’ income of £6000 and railway nationalisation were strongly supported by only 29% and 32%, respectively, of people who would consider Labour.

So Labour might find support for a mix of tangible incremental policies, and radical policies aimed at tackling a well-known problem. With 49% saying they would at least consider Labour, these policies appear to win the strong support of around a quarter of the population – suggesting there is still a 25% strategy open to Labour.

But while this might suggest Labour could avoid slipping further, there are two problems with this approach.

First, such an incoherent mix of policies would leave voters struggling to know what Labour stands for. One set of policies suggests Labour would govern as social democrats. The second set suggests Labour wants to revolutionise major parts of the economy.

Without a unifying argument, Labour’s pledges would be easily forgotten. Ed Miliband didn’t lack popular policies but the failure to stake out a clear position, and stick to it, cost the party at the election.

Second, the poll also suggests even well-scoring policies may be less popular than they seem. Over Easter, Labour’s policy that got the most coverage was the pledge for free school meals. Yet this was the least popular of the policies tested.

It’s hard to be sure why it did so badly, but free food for children doesn’t seem an inherently unpopular measure. Its failure in the poll might be because it is now associated with Labour. If that’s the case, more policy announcements might do little to stop Labour’s vote sliding further, even if they were popular before they become linked with the party.

You can listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast with Leo, Conor Pope and Laurence Janta-Lipinksi below:

Leo Barasi

Leo Barasi tweets about politics and public opinion at @leobarasi

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Paul Walter


The Isle of Wight County Press reports:

A FRESH face will be taking the reigns in the Isle of Wight Liberal Democrats’ fight for parliament on June 8.

Nicholas Belfitt, 24, of Shanklin, was selected as the parliamentary candidate at a local party meeting today Saturday.

Mr Belfitt is the youngest parliamentary candidate on the Island but was Isle of Wight Lib Dem vice chair for two years, before being elected as party chair last autumn.

He said: “I am deeply honoured on being selected for a chance to represent my home, but now the real work begins.

“This is now the time for the Island to be offered a true voice in Parliament, one that will finally fight tooth and nail for our Island.

“I am going to take Island issues straight to the heart of government. People are tired of the established groups, they need know this isn’t a re-run of 2015, but a time for real change.

You can read the full report here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is a councillor and one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

Bank holidays & productivity

Apr. 23rd, 2017 01:07 pm
[syndicated profile] chris_dillow_feed

Posted by chris

Labour wants us to have more bank holidays. There might be a good economic case for this.

My chart hints at the point. It shows that, across 35 OECD nations, there is a very strong negative correlation (of minus 0.77) between annual working hours and GDP per hour worked. Countries that work less are more productive. The French, for example, are far more productive than the UK even though they spend all their time eating cheese. Prodhours

The same correlation exists over time. We work only around half as much now as we did in the 19th century, but we’re far more productive in those hours we do work.

Of course, correlation is not causality. A big reason for this relationship is that more productive societies use their greater wealth to take more leisure.

But this might not be the whole story. It could be that the imposition of shorter working hours can help to spur productivity. Parkinson’s law tells us this. It says that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. If a manager knows that he has a long week to fill an order, he’ll take that long week. A shorter week could sharpen his incentives to increase efficiency.

Also, if people are working longer they get tired and jaded and so less efficient. A recent study of call centre workers has found that productivity falls as working hours rise even for people working quite short hours. This corroborates evidence from a very different industry – British munitions workers (pdf) during World War I. John Pencavel writes:

Employees at work for a long time may experience fatigue or stress that not only reduces his or her productivity but also increases the probability of errors, accidents, and sickness that impose costs on the employer…Restrictions on working hours – those imposed by statute or those induced by setting penalty rates of pay for hours worked beyond a threshold or those embodied in collective bargaining agreements – may be viewed not as damaging restraints on management but as an enlightened form of improving workplace efficiency and welfare.

France’s imposition of a 35-hour working week, for example, did seem to lead to a boost to productivity.

Of course, more bank holidays alone won’t close the massive productivity gap between the UK and other countries. But they might be one of many policies that might help.

There is, equally, a very long tradition of denying this. Nassau Senior opposed the 19th century Factory Acts limiting working hours because he believed that profits were made in the last hour. He was plain wrong (pdf). Mightn’t his 21st century counterparts also be mistaken?

It depends upon your view of British bosses. If you think they’re clueless inflexible buffoons, then there’ll not be a boost to productivity, because they won’t be able to rejig working methods sufficiently. If, however, you think they are smart enough to justify their big wages and egos, you’ll be more confident. From this perspective, it’s the right who should be more welcoming of Labour’s proposals than the left.

So why aren’t they?  It’s because to them, managerial control is a good thing in itself.

Herein, though, lies the radical question posed by Labour’s proposal: should the job of increasing productivity – which should be our top economic priority – be entrusted wholly to managers, or is there instead a case for intervention by the state and (in different respects) workers? Even if Labour is wrong, it is at least asking a good question.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Paul Walter


MedwayCLPBob and Big Ben

The BBC reports:

Former Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews has defected to the Lib Dems after describing Jeremy Corbyn’s party as a “political basket case”.

Mr Marshall-Andrews told The Times he had jumped ship in light of the Brexit campaign and Labour’s refusal to stand aside in the Richmond Park by-election.

The QC and barrister was MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

A Labour spokesman said: “Bob Marshall-Andrews has not been a member of the Labour Party for some years.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said he was “coming over to the only party that is offering a credible opposition to a divisive Tory Brexit government”.

Mr Marshall-Andrews used to sit with the socialist group of Labour MPs alongside Mr Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was a thorn in Tony Blair’s side for many years and has been an excellent panellist on “Have I got news for you”. Also, by strange coincidence, I once sat behind him and his family on a beach in Cornwall one afternoon.

Welcome to the party, Bob!

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is a councillor and one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

Spud blight

Apr. 23rd, 2017 10:13 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

What, then, is that ‘something’? That is the question that needs to be asked. I think the answer is apparent. It is about advancing the neoliberal cause…….. Like all neoliberals her one goal is to push back the state and increase inequality.

Isn’t it interesting that inequality has been declining these past few years?

The so-called Great Repeal Bill, with its Henry VIII clauses that willdeny accountability, will reduce employee and environmental rights, harm the protection for those with disabilities (as if that could still be imagined), diminish universal rights to health care, harm security in old age, damagingly bias markets in favour of big business and foreign owned companies, remove legal protections, probably claw back against LGBT rights, undermine social stability and encourage the break up of the Union. But none if this will matter to May. She will have fostered the self interest of the few, increased their access to the state as a means for appropriating its common wealth for private gain and will have put in place mechanisms that will be contractually hard for successors to unwind. That is the goal.

And amazingly the Great Repeal Bill does absolutely none of those things. It simply encapsulates all of those protections we currently derive from EU law into British domestic law. Not a single one is repealed.

So how’s that for Spud’s blight upon the body politic?

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Paul Walter

The Telegraph reports:

The Liberal Democrats have drawn up a hit-list of pro-EU Tory MPs who they want to unseat as they plot a Brexit purge for the election campaign.

The Telegraph can reveal that four Conservatives in parts of the country which most voted to stay in the European Union have been singled out.

Among those targeted will be Tania Mathias MP, whose Twickenham constituency overwhelmingly backed staying in the EU at last year’s referendum.

According to Lib Dem party analysis just one in three voters in Twickenham wanted Brexit – something the Tories are now promising to deliver at this election.

…The Lib Dems will also seek to challenge Nicola Blackwood, the Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, along with Anne Main, the MP for St Albans and Ben Howlett, MP for Bath. All three are going into the election supporting Brexit despite a minority of their constituents voting for Brexit at the EU referendum.

You can read the full article here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is a councillor and one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack


I’m been promoted. Now I’m a strategist. So says The Economist:

Things are looking brighter for the Lib Dems. Last year no party campaigned to remain in the European Union so vehemently. And now, none is likely to benefit so much from the vote to Leave. The party’s noisy opposition to the government’s proposed “hard Brexit” has helped it to notch up some spectacular swings in council and parliamentary elections since the referendum…

Even before the EU referendum, strategists had talked of building a reliable “core vote” … Advertising the Lib Dems’ support for a “soft Brexit” is an obvious way to attract the 48% who voted to Remain…

The party’s position on Brexit has also helped it to win back protest voters, who abandoned the party when it got into bed with the Conservatives in 2010. Mark Pack, a Lib Dem strategist, notes that support for close relations with the EU is now the “anti-establishment position”.

[syndicated profile] crooked_timber_feed

Posted by John Holbo

I have been down my work hole for weeks. Apologies, plain people of Crooked Timber. Also, I haven’t worked on On Beyond Zarathustra for months. Maybe that’s even worse. Gotta get back into the good stuff over the summer. Here is a downpayment. I’ve found the first occurrence of a Dr. Seuss-style tree in Western art. It’s from the Vienna Genesis, which is pretty awesome proto-comics and you should check out all the pages at Wikipedia.

I don’t recall Scott McCloud saying anything about this in Understanding Comics. If you want to read a confusing scholarly discussion, try Franz Wickhoff on Roman Art. I think it’s the earliest occurrence of ‘continuous narrative’, also ‘illusionism’. And his use of the latter is eccentric, so you are sure to be the life of the party discussing his ideas!

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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