Diary Day 682: more lost time. A whole week. Every day was hot, dry and dusty. Even the weather was un-British in this most un-British of times, until the weekend. A weekend of cool, life-giving rain. But after two months of drought there is no grazing, farmers are using hay meant for winter feed to sustain their animals and crops have already failed. I worry about inadequate future food supplies. Must sow some more veg.
How has wildlife been coping? Badly I suspect. Not much to eat. As for water, we thoughtless people have filled in so many ponds. All life needs water.
Yesterday the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (DCMS) published an 89-page interim report on disinformation and ‘fake news’. It is downloadable as a PDF file free from the Parliament website. Anyone who still thinks this is unimportant needs a brain transplant. The summary says this:
“There are many potential threats to our democracy and our values. One such threat arises from what has been coined ‘fake news’, created for profit or other gain, disseminated through state-sponsored programmes, or spread through the deliberate distortion of facts, by groups with a particular agenda, including the desire to affect political elections.
“Such has been the impact of this agenda, the focus of our inquiry moved from understanding the phenomenon of ‘fake news’, distributed largely through social media, to issues concerning the very future of democracy. Arguably, more invasive than obviously false information is the relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behaviour. We are faced with a crisis concerning the use of data, the manipulation of our data, and the targeting of pernicious views. In particular, we heard evidence of Russian state-sponsored attempts to influence elections in the US and the UK through social media, of the efforts of private companies to do the same, and of law-breaking by certain Leave campaign groups in the UK’s EU Referendum in their use of social media.
“In this rapidly changing digital world, our existing legal framework is no longer fit for purpose. This is very much an interim Report, following an extensive inquiry. A further, substantive Report will follow in the autumn of 2018. We have highlighted significant concerns, following recent revelations regarding, in particular, political manipulation and set we out areas where urgent action needs to be taken by the Government and other regulatory agencies to build resilience against misinformation and disinformation into our democratic system. Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions.”
It ends with 53 paragraphs of conclusions and recommendations which I have yet to wade through.
At nearly the same time, someone (the DCMS Committee I think, having got them from Facebook) published the Facebook dark ads used by Vote Leave. They were racist, deceitful and worst of all, anonymous – until now. And they were run before and even the day after Jo Cox’s murder. We now know these were psyops for which, or the targeting of which, Vote Leave paid around half its budget, including the illegal overspend, to the Canadian company Aggregate IQ, part of the Cambridge Analytica operation.
This is deep.
The People’s Vote coalition, or umbrella group, ramped up its campaign. Endorsements came from Gary Lineker, and a good video went out on social media with clips of pro-Leave campaigners claiming how easy it would be. They are denying they ever said it now.
Lest we forget, eh, boys and girls?
The delightful Jacob Rees-Mogg, given a grilling for once, said (or should I say let slip) something I am prepared to entertain as possibly correct – that the benefits of Brexit would not be felt for 50 years. Possibly this sheds light on the fact that his investment management firm has opened a second fund based in the Republic of Ireland. It’s so much easier doing business in the EU, eh?
I cannot resist sarcasm at the moment, as my country goes quite rapidly down the toilet pan, taking the hopes and self-respect of millions with it. And Brexit is voluntary!
Nathalie Loiseau, the country’s European affairs minister, said on Thursday France and other member states still did not want Britain to leave the bloc.
“We have always said, always, that the door would remain open and that we were not the ones who wanted to diverge from the United Kingdom,” Ms Loiseau told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “It was the British people who decided to leave the European Union.”
I disagree with that part. Only some of them! And it was only advisory.
Asked whether the UK could stay in on the same terms it had now, Ms Loiseau replied: “Sure, of course. [Like] every single member state of the European Union, we have one conviction, which is that the best possible status is being a member, the most profitable status.”
A voice of sanity in this insane corner of the world.
It emerged that Tory ministers are considering stockpiling medicines and food, and drawing up plans to send in the Army.
Dr Jeanette Dickson, of the Royal College of Radiologists, explained why there is a problem with radioactive medical isotopes, used to treat cancer patients. They are all imported. She said: “These medicines are like a burning fuse.” Their radioactivity rapidly dwindles. So delays at the border are a bad thing, even if we are still allowed to buy the radioactive materials after crashing out of Euratom.
I stumbled upon an article published earlier this month called “Brexit Meets Gravity” by Paul Krugman, who won the Nobel Prize for economics for, among other things, his work on international trade patterns. He briskly took apart the Brexit supporters’ case on free trade agreements with the USA and perhaps others to replace the EU: “Now, many of the arguments for Brexit were lies pure and simple. But their claims about trade, both before and after the vote, may arguably be seen as misunderstandings rather than sheer dishonesty.
“In the world according to Brexiteers, Britain needn’t lose much by leaving the EU, because it can still negotiate a free trade agreement with the rest of Europe, or, at worst, face the low tariffs the EU imposes on other non-EU economies. Meanwhile, Britain can negotiate better trade deals elsewhere, especially the US, that will make up for any losses on the EU side.
“What’s wrong with this story? The first thing to understand is that the EU is not a free trade agreement like NAFTA; it’s a customs union, which is substantially stronger and more favorable to trade.”
And he explains how the problem for businesses is not so much tariffs, as friction. There have to be customs inspections to ensure that goods really are from the other country in the free trade agreement. And that brings in the need for rules about how big a proportion of the goods qualifies as being from the other country and not a third country. Which generates more paperwork and friction.
He then goes on to debunk the myth that a customs union with the USA would work. The first problem is the asymmetry in size which would mean terms were dictated by the US. The second is gravity. “One of the best-established relationships in economics is the so-called gravity equation for trade between any two countries, which says that the amount of trade depends positively on the size of the two countries’ economies but negatively on the distance between them.”
He illustrates it, appropriately, with a graph of UK trade. Lots with France, Germany, Spain. Not much with Japan.
The US is much further away than the EU member states, so volume of trade with the US is going to be smaller than with the EU.
This point was made by economists at the LSE and elsewhere in the UK years ago, but not enough people listened. In particular, the Brexit camp of boneheads – if that is what they were rather than simply crooks, for surely there is no third option – did not.
In other news, the delightful Arron Banks was exposed by a report from Channel 4 News to the effect that a payment he had made to a Government minister of Lesotho shortly before some decision about diamond mining was allegedly a bribe. The police over there are very, very interested, apparently.
Kate Hoey lost a vote of no confidence by Labour Party delegates in her Vauxhall constituency, a vote which has opened up a can of worms about Momentum and a national deselection programme. All voted in favour except three abstentions.
It is raining again.