“Their aim is not to destroy us, but simply to author us and profit from that authorship.”
The new head of the UK’s security services, M15 said y’day: “You might think in terms of the Russian intelligence services providing bursts of bad weather, while China is changing the climate.”
The US election, Coronavirus economic instability and the growing threat of populism are likely to set the background for the next few years. But they won’t be the main story – that’s going to be defined by China’s continued rise and challenge to US and Western economic dominance. The Chinese must be laughing their heads off at the way the West has been pole-axed economically by the Coronavirus, and is now increasing riven by political polarisation. The West’s growing instability is playing right into China’s game plan. Sun Tzu would be delighted…
You know you are really getting old when the UK’s chief spook looks fresh out of school, but Ken McCallum, the new man in the hot seat has 25 years behind him. James Bond’s latest cinema outing might be delayed, but McCallum confirmed the services are active: “M15’s operational successes are mostly invisible..” He said Terrorism remains the biggest threat, but Russian, Chinese and Iranian espionageis growing in severity and complexity.
I would have loved to have asked him some questions – especially about media manipulation, distrust and the destabilisation of democracy.
Let me try and explain in terms of a quick look at markets, the Virus, then politics. And then I going to tell you to dial your scepticism dial right up to 11 and learn to ignore it all!
Markets – Second Recovery Dip
The mood is darkening. All around Europe and the US we are seeing renewed, and apparently belated, efforts to contain the virus. As lockdowns are imposed, businesses fear for the future, redundancies are rising, consumers are panicking. The Pandemic economic hit is taking a double dip on economies; having chipped away at confidence in the spring and summer, it’s now taking huge chunks out of growth expectations. The hopes of a vaccine reversing the decline are being knocked further back every day.
As the doomsters say: Hope is just the first step on the road to disappointment. There is a growing sense the economic outlook gets worse before it gets better.
Pandemic – what don’t we know?
I made the mistake of watching the news last night. Angry politicians demanded “we follow the science”, take “circuit break” steps, and immediately to lockdown the whole country. There was the obligatory interview with a “scientist” who confirmed the worst… “if we don’t lockdown it’s going to get much worse”. That was followed with man-on-street interview with a Scouser who whined and moaned about how unfair it is to lockdown down Liverpool for the next 6 months… It’s always Liverpool.
The models used by the scientists show predictive parabolic curves heading up in terms of infections, admissions, and inevitably deaths.. They show the rising cases among younger people are now spreading into older generations. The numbers of deaths are creeping attributed to Covid are creeping up – but aren’t (yet?) matching the predicative curves.
Dissent is growing. Trust that science and governments are getting it right is fracturing. Tweets, news feeds, friends and colleagues are sending me articles from medical journals and newspapers, and well-argued videos (like the soft-spoken and very convincing Irishman Ivor Cummins) that all say the same thing: we’re massively over-reacting. There is multi-billion liked post on Facebook: “Do you know anyone who has actually died of Covid.” (For the record… I do know two people my age who had Long Covid for months.)
The contradiction between what the politicians do and what scientists say is being used to further the “incompetence-at-the-top” narrative. A senior member of SAGE (the government scientists advising on the pandemic) is on record saying we should have “circuit broke” in August, but earlier papers predicting 107,000 UK deaths are now embarrassing. Predictably the story has been seized as further evidence lockdowns are a waste of time.
There is a growing polarisation between large numbers of people who have read all the “stuff” and are convinced the Pandemic is a minimal threat, and the actions of government which will destroy the economy. It raises doubts and suspicions. Why the panic? Have the scientists told government something we aren’t being told? Are governments acting in our best interest?
Yes. I believe they are.
What we definitely know is the virus is very serious for the elderly and infirm. If 20% of the country do come down with the virus, and 10% of the +80 cohort (3.2 million) get it bad and are hospitalised, we are looking again at hospitals being swamped. If 2% of over 65 year olds get it, that’s another 220,000 folk in hospital. UK medical services won’t cope with 300,000 chronic cases. If that’s the worse case, then it would be brutal.
Park your thinking on Coronavirus for a moment, and lets turn to something related..
US Elections and Polarisation
On the advice of a very good friend, who just happens to suffer from a bad case of being a Republican, I watched a video. The speaker was an elderly distinguished looking gentlemen who laid out a very convincing case. He made clear that Donald Trump is in many ways a bad man, but is exactly the right man to fight the Democrat threat. This clever, erudite speaker went on to carefully describe how Biden is a tool of the Antifa/BLM plot to destroy America, how transgenderism will dominate policy, and all Democrats are traitors leading America towards Civil War. It’s the duty of every Republican patriot to rally America to Trump’s flag.
I was appalled.
My Republican chums were in complete agreement with everything the guy said.
The video capped the news flow many voters have come to fear and believe about this election; conclusively demonstrating how the Democrats have been captured by Antifa and BLM, and that Biden is just a pawn. Whoa. Stop. Reality Check. Do most Republican’s really 50% of their fellow citizens, Democratic voters, are treasonous? Do they really think the other side wants a Civil War?
The latest “numbers” apparently show 33% of Republican Voters think Democrat voters want the US to crumble and Fall. The Democrats are much more forgiving; only 25% of them believe all Republicans want the union to collapse. American politics has become incredibly polarized in just a few years.. Why? What Changed?
I urge everyone to quickly get up to date with the issues in Surveillance Capitalism – the way in which Social Media, Tweets, News Feeds, and the algorithims that determine what you see and what you don’t are shaping the dialog. If you want a quick primer you could do worse than watch the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma.
The whole basis of Big Tech on the web is to earn money via Advertising. They want you to engaging with content so they can sell youto advertisers. When you don’t know what the product is – you are the product!
Google, Facebook and the rest use algorithms to watch, listen and send you content you are most likely to engage with. Because I’ve been watching and reading Far Right videos and articles to try and figure out why America is so polarized, I’ve been getting some extraordinary stuff in my feeds. The algorithms now perceive me to be a Militia Supporting Libertarian! They wish!
A few weeks ago I was reading how Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year old militia supporter who murdered two BLM protestors, is an “American Patriot” who was protecting property. I’m shocked anyone could possibly believes such misguided sh*t, but next thing I got an ad in my news feed offering to sell me “kill shots every hit” ammunition. Take a look at the proliferation of “pink slime” news providers in the US – they boil down to propaganda that appeals to many voters who read what they want to read.
I’m sure it’s not just Republicans that are spinning and polarizing the agenda with fake news and distortion. The left is guilty as well. All these stories about Trump’s taxes, his renting rooms to foreign powers in Trump buildings, his family, etc. These stories confirm and affirm exactly what Trump haters already suspect and increasingly believe.
Every Democrat is not a BLM Pod-person. Not every Republican is a camouflage wearing racist. They all care about their country.
BUT why are they at each other’s throats? Because of deeply held beliefs, or because they have had their beliefs magnified by the growing dangers of fake news? Big Tech algorithms and new feeds are driving instability and reinforcing hatreds.
Let’s step back and put this together..
Why has the west become so unstable and polarized? Why is there such distrust and contention over the Coronavirus response and Politics? Why are so many depressed about the economic outlook?
This new age of Surveillance Capitalism and Directed Fake-news is dangerous. We just don’t yet understand how its distorting the political process. But neither can we ban freedom of speech – that way leads to Big Brother. We have to find middle ground. In the meantime be wary. Use your sense of pragmatism and a bit a critical skepticism. Start to question everything.
1) The Pandemic second wave will again challenge economies – but it is not the end of the world. It will accelerate change, and we will recover.
2) The Pandemic will be beaten. Treatments and Therapies are improved, and if it’s a matter of keeping health services functional in the face of a predicted wave – it will have to be done.. and we will face massive costs. But we will recover.
3) Politics is about reasoned debate – it’s become polarized because people are fed the news the want to read, not the facts they need to understand. That’s why Google and Facebook are going to be regulated – which means sell. We will recover and do it better.
And.. my comment: “The Chinese must be laughing their heads off at the way the West has been pole-axed economically by the Coronavirus, and in now increasing riven by political polarisation”, is just my opinion presented as irrefutable fact.
You don’t need to believe it, (although you probably should….)
Five Things Too Read This Morning
FT – Beijing’s first bond offer to US investors draws record demand
BBerg – The Roll-Royce of Junk Bonds Has Arrived
BBerg – London Heads for Clampdown as UK Virus Response Fragments
WSJ – Goldman’s Pandemic Hot Streak Continues in Third Quarter
FT – IMF says austerity is not inevitable to ease pandemic impact on public finances
Out of time… and back to the day job digging for diamonds in a soup mine.. .