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01/22/2022 - Happy New Year: Mainly Stressful and Painful
22nd January 2022 • Mark and Carrie • Mark and Carrie
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Mark Blyth, political economist at Brown University's Watson Institute, and Carrie Nordlund, political scientist and Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs at Brown University, share their take on the news.

On this episode: how to think about Covid in the age of omicron; Biden's stalled legislative agenda; is The January 6 commission the new Mueller Report?; finding hope for American democracy in...Alaska; the charged politics behind how we explain inflation; Russia, Ukraine, the US, and NATO; Boris Johnson's Teflon-like qualities, parties and all; continued misadventures with the Royal family; Djokovic's vaccination drama in Australia. 

You can learn about the Watson Institute's full podcast network here.

Transcripts

[MUSIC PLAYING] INTERVIEWER: Well, hi there, and happy new year, happy year of the tiger.

SUBJECT: Oh the-- girl, girl.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah [LAUGHING].

SUBJECT: Girl, the tiger's good girl. I don't know what tigers do. They go argh! [MIMICS TIGER'S PURR]

INTERVIEWER: Right, yeah-- somewhere in the middle.

SUBJECT: Somewhere like that.

INTERVIEWER: Somewhere out of there, yeah. How was your break?

SUBJECT: It was good. We had a very interesting one, and we might as well launch into this and start talking about Omicron, because I think I figured out that I am genetically immune to it.

INTERVIEWER: Ooh!

SUBJECT: And I will explain this to you-- obviously that's bold, but I'm going to go with it anyway.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I like it.

SUBJECT: So we went skiing, and we went out to Utah, where we haven't been for years and years and years. And the entire skiing industry has been basically bought up by private equity and consolidated the large blocks, and the walk-up rate is now $212 if you want to just ski for the day. So you have to buy passes months in advance and then commit to the series of resorts. It's just the consolidation of everything. Like there's four airlines, there's three internet suppliers, there's two ski passes for the whole country. It's awful.

INTERVIEWER: So wait, if I-- just hang on to do the math. So if I was skiing for a week, can I buy-- I can buy a pass, or I have to pay-- if I ski seven days, I've to pay like $1,500?

SUBJECT: So say for example we fell for it and we bought the passes upfront in October the year before or whenever it is, and we were like, yeah, we got them. We got them for a grand each. And then we say, Karen, we've got free accommodation. Why don't you come with us? And then when you walk up and say, I'd like to ski with these guys for like three days about, that'd be $600.

INTERVIEWER: Holy cow.

SUBJECT: Yeah, it's horrible. Anyway, we can get back to that if you want to talk about that. The real reason I mention this is-- so we went out and we did it, and the skiing was great for the first two days, and then there was a huge snow dump. There was a big snow dump and indeed that was fine. So we had to go from this one ski resort to another ski resort on a bus. So you know those big bendy buses? The ones that bend in the middle?

INTERVIEWER: Oh, yeah, yeah.

SUBJECT: Yeah, right. So there's so much snow falling, and basically, Park City-- that's what it was-- has become one of the places in the pandemic that every rich idiot in the world move to, which means there's permanent gridlock and no parking at the best of times. With the snow falling, a 10-minute journey took 50 minutes. There must have been a hundred skiers on the bus all pretending to socially distance by being like sardines in a can and pretending to wear masks.

So we're all on this bus and I'm like, OK, that's it. We've all got it. Just stand by. And then we flew back home, came home, got PCR test. None of us had it.

INTERVIEWER: Wow.

SUBJECT: I know. And yet almost everybody else I know has been Omicroned. So it just goes to show you how random.

INTERVIEWER: It's your strong Scottish genes, yeah.

SUBJECT: And well, Klingon genes basically.

INTERVIEWER: Klingon, yeah.

SUBJECT: So there we are. So anyway, here's my point about this. Are we still freaking out about COVID or are the only people that care are leader writers for the New York Times and other East Coast elites? Because when I was out in Utah, it didn't really seem as if the people of Utah were giving that much of a crap.

INTERVIEWER: No, I think-- I mean, here's-- I mean, I'm not-- I'm using myself as the example here, because I feel like I still am like-- I fight with myself when I wear the mask at the grocery store, because I'm like, don't I believe in science and do-- all that stuff. And so I just reached my limit on this thing, so I feel like if I'm close to this and I look around and the restaurants are packed, I'm way behind the curve, and everyone's over it, yeah.

SUBJECT: So this whole thing of the government sending everybody a rapid test, is there a danger that that basically signals to everybody, oh, God, they're still at it. What a waste of money.

INTERVIEWER: Well, it is interesting, because Biden did this press conference, and we'll talk about the legislative setbacks that he's had. But you felt like in some ways during the press conference he had to announce the test, sending it to everybody, and the masks, and all that stuff as a way to say I'm still doing this. We're still doing something about COVID, so don't blame me for it, because I know you want to blame me for it. And so it was like this defensive mechanism.

SUBJECT: Right, but it's just a weird thing to do. It's like you're really annoyed with your fourth grade teacher because she wants you to do long division all the time. And you've moved on to a new class, and then the same teachers following your own going, I'm still making you do-- you're like, where is this going?

I'm not sure that sort of-- I don't think anybody's going, well, I was skeptical about Biden, but now that he's going to send me tests I'm not going to use and masks I'm going to totally ignore, I've converted. Is this just massive Democratic mismessaging again?

INTERVIEWER: Well, I'm probably-- I mean, I guess it was interesting-- it's interesting to look at the poll numbers. And then, part of this is like he comes into office, and he's going to be the great savior of COVID. And so the approval of his job in COVID is really, really high, and now it's just gotten-- so it was like 70 when he comes into-- 70% approval, and now, it's like 44%, but you just-- Americans are so fickle too, and so I guess they're just gambling to say it shows that we're doing something versus doing nothing. Because turns out can't really do anything with a disease or with a virus that has a mind of its own, but I guess, they're just trying to look like they're-- trying to save their legislative selves in some way. It feels like a lot of hand-waving.

SUBJECT: Before we go back on to Biden, here in Rhode Island, of course, we've been dealing with the quote, unquote "total collapse of the health system." And what's really fascinating about that isn't the number of cases ending up in the ICU. It's the fact that after two years of being treated like shit, loads and loads of health care workers who work for a monopoly employer-- which is what we have-- obviously, the healthcare system-- who are getting paid 18 bucks an hour for doing difficult, dangerous stuff said I'm done. I can get 16 at McDonald's. I don't need this crap anymore.

So they have a huge labor shortage, which is what's really causing the problems in the health care sector. Yet we've still got this messaging, which is essentially it's this terrible virus, and it's going to put hundreds of thousands of people in the hospital. And it's like that doesn't really seem to gel with what we see on the ground.

INTERVIEWER: Well, and this is your point about ski resorts. The hospitals have consolidated, and there's a profit-driven business, and that when a Q-tip costs $58 in the hospital-- I mean, all of these different forces coming together to then combine into the nurses and everyone else saying this is too much after two years, yeah.

SUBJECT: Yeah, absolutely. So that's where we are, and that's just our usual happy space. Let's think more about Biden. So Build Back Better-- whatever happened to that one?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, so it's tough right now for the Biden administration. You feel bad for them mostly because, I think they were riding pretty high in the first year, feeling like they got some stuff done, and now it looks like Build Back Better-- I really wish that they talk about your point about mismessaging or bad messaging-- that they need to do something different. But that's going to have to be cut up like in a chop shop in order to get that thing passed.

Voting rights-- I mean, last week was just-- or this week, I can't remember which week-- was not good in the Senate. I mean, the Senator from Arizona said essentially Biden says, I'm for breaking the filibuster. We can move forward, and we're going to move forward. We are on a simple majority on this, and Kyrsten Sinema said I can't support that, so voting rights-- I mean, the Biden administration is smart to move forward on it, to make people vote against it, but I mean that was awful.

SUBJECT: Yeah, just seems to be loads of pyrrhic victories every single time. It's like all you need to do is bribe Uncle Joe, and often he'll fold. No, he won't. Oh, we can do voting rights, because you really have to be on the wrong side of history to go against that one. No, you don't. You can defend the filibuster. It's indefensible. Watch us do it. They just seem to just never quite get the strategy right.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, I agree with that. Though, the one saving grace, I will say, is that it's January right now, and a week is like a year in the political world, so that everyone that's crying about the midterms, including myself, there's still a long way to go when it comes to that. But one of the interesting things-- here is my transition-- is that Republicans are just the party I've known right now, but I actually think there is-- you can start to see some crumbling right now with Trump. There's the spat between Trump and Ron DeSantis-- the governor of Florida.

And also the Supreme Court has said that Trump can't use executive privilege for some of his January 6 stuff. And then this interesting NBC poll came out, and you know polls, whatever. But it does show that the support of Trump by Republicans is the lowest it's been since Twenty-Nineteen, so I do wonder if the Trump stuff, the Trump support is really starting to wane.

SUBJECT: But there's another way that this could play out. What was the name of the guy who was going to do the report to Congress that was going to show Trump was all this criminal Russia blah, blah, blah, blah, blah? And he delivered a big report to Congress, and it amounted to nothing. What was his name again?

INTERVIEWER: Mueller.

SUBJECT: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Is there a kind of Mueller jeopardy clause hanging over this? They're like once again we have the January 6 investigations are moving forward, and this person is talking, and this person's talking. And at the end of it, they'll do a report. It will be totally anodyne that says a businessman from Queens inflated the value of his assets so we could get better terms on a loan. Like that's really never been done before. Every single person who remortgage their house tries to do that.

INTERVIEWER: I'm laughing because I was reading an article about January 6, and I stopped midway through because I was just-- I got bored, and I was like is there-- I mean, what's-- just give me the bottom line here, people.

SUBJECT: Yeah, and the bottom line may be he survives, and then his numbers go back up again. So there we go. We'll find out soon enough. All right, so give me something hopeful that I don't know anything about-- rank, choice, voting, and Alaska. If this is the bar for hope, it has fallen to new lows, but let's go for it.

INTERVIEWER: OK, so we're going to try to do this so you don't fall asleep. So Alaska Supreme Court upheld the ranked-choice voting. It will be the second state after Maine to do ranked-choice voting. And ranked-choice is super straightforward and that you rank your top five candidates for office-- mayor, what have you, statewide elections in Maine and now Alaska.

SUBJECT: What if you don't have five candidates for a job?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that's the problem. Is that Americans, we're not super great on the whole civic education thing. So I mean, I was just reading some academic papers about this, and of course, the big problem is that people don't fill out their entire ballots. Because I mean, we barely know like Joe Biden's name or that Obama was born in the United States because we know that Hawaii is an American state. So I don't know how we're going to know about like five-- be able to rank five different candidates for this.

SUBJECT: So what's it meant to do? Why is this a good thing? Why is it something worth doing?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I mean, it breaks the two-party rule, because then other parties come through, or it allows for maybe more moderate candidates to get some oxygen versus the really strong Democrats or Republicans on either side. Or on the other side, there was some research having to do with the European countries that allows extremist parties to then be part of the-- to be part of it, and maybe vent some of that frustration. That to me I needed to understand a little bit better.

SUBJECT: So if we take a long-term perspective on this, the primary system was invented after Nineteen-Sixty-Eight to solve the problem of oligarchy and the parties by giving thorough democratic reforms. It became so democratic that it was captured only by activists whose preferences do not represent anybody except the most extreme. So now, we're banking on another electoral reform to save ourselves from the last electoral reform. Is that pretty much it?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that's right.

SUBJECT: Cool, awesome.

INTERVIEWER: Yep, that's exactly right. So it's interesting though to see it done in cities. Here's the thing that I was really curious about. Is that does it actually change the outcomes of election? Like do researchers see that it would have changed the outcome of election? And that is unclear. I mean, most-- the research that I read, at least, is that people not filling out their entire-- all their ballots, and that you might see a few more people voting. So unclear at this point.

SUBJECT: Wouldn't it be ironic if we went through all this, and it turned out that everyone was just as extreme as the people that you think are the extremists? Like it didn't really change anything. It's just like everybody-- just, no, I'm still a complete nut job.

INTERVIEWER: Right, right. I know a favorite topic of yours, inflation. I felt like we had to talk about this only because I'm scared of it now, and I'm curious whether you think this is something real or whether this is just like the front page of The Washington Post.

SUBJECT: So it's definitely a real thing, and the really interesting thing beyond the transitory-- and we've spoken about that before, how long is a transitory period. But the really interesting thing is what's the drivers behind this, because that's what tells you what to do with it. And on that, there is no consensus whatsoever. So in the past week, I read a summary of research by Adam Tooze through his newsletter chart book that basically makes the case for its team transitory-- the signals are that it's falling.

Martin Sandberg at the Financial Times did another really good piece. If you look at monthly changes versus year-on-year changes, then you get a very different picture. And the key thing is all of this is based upon, if you will, economic prejudices. So well, it's the stimulus checks-- you gave people all that extra money. Well, it wasn't extra money. It was income replacement, and when you divide across the whole population, it's not enough to cause a symmetric inflation across all sectors. That's just not it. And most money is bank money, credit money. It's not actually central bank money, so put all that down.

But people really want to believe that story. So it's the stimulus-- it's what Biden did. So you're never going to get past that. Certain people are going to believe that. They're primed for that message in a sense. Then you get the more interesting stuff about, well, it's the wages. Well, wages are definitely going up at the bottom for the first time in a long time. There's tight labor supply and the rest of it. Right, but is that filtering through into hurting profits? Because that would be the mechanism by whereby wages squeeze profits. Profits then get pushed onto price increases to protect profits. Corporate profits have never been higher, so it's highly unlikely that's it.

So is it then price gouging? Well, I would say it would be given the fact, there's two $200 a day for skiing, and every single sector in the United States has basically been bought up and consolidated by private equity and large firms. So I think it's a great deal of things that could be true in that space, but again, there's a very big resistance to this one.

And this came up when a young economist called Isabella Weber, who is at University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote a piece in The Guardian similar to the type of stuff that I do-- a thousand words. It's not exactly nuanced. And she says people are looking at the Nineteen-Seventies-- maybe you should look at the post-war period. Some people have already made that argument. And what that really is a lot of shifting over of areas of the economy from defense, production, to war fighting, to civilian, whatever transition costs.

And also what they did at that time and during the war as well, they had lots of price controls. And if it is basically just firms taking opportunity of shortages to ramp up profits, maybe we should think about that. And that's a-- Twitter reverse exploded. I mean, it was insane. There's a kind of thing about the economics community, particularly in the US. The nineteen-seventies is a contested history, and how you think about the '70s really determines a lot of stories you tell yourself afterwards.

And one of the settled stories is that Nixon did price controls. They were a disaster. Price controls never work. They're a disaster. Anybody who advocates for price controls needs their head examined, and it was really vicious. What happened to it? Very serious people-- Paul Krugman, for example, actually had to apologize afterwards for the way he just went mental on this. And I thought it was really interesting how there's a kind of psychological trauma involved here for many people.

Again, there are people who will never not believe the story that it's all money, and there's a whole bunch of people who have a particular view of the nineteen-seventies, and anything that uncorks that, that opens that up is just completely beyond the pill. You're not allowed to do that. So to me, to get back to your fundamental question, the inflation is there in the sense that prices are going up in a very simple terms. There is no consensus on what's causing it.

And the very fact of identifying causes is an intensely political act, because when you do that, you're saying this is what's to blame, therefore this is what we should do. And if it is the case that it's supply shortages, it's like coming out of COVID but then stopping again, it's spending less on services and more on goods at a time when goods are backed up. If you put up interest rates, that's not going to do anything. It's not about altering inflation expectations or any of that stuff, but that seems to be the blunt instrument that everybody wants to use. Why do they want to do that? I don't know. Maybe because it increase your margins in some way and finance. There's other ways to think about it. But the point is nobody knows anything other than the fact that it's real.

INTERVIEWER: Well, I have a question about price control-- elementary. Is price control exactly as it sounds? Like the government says to Jeff Bezos you can only sell your pencils for $1?

SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But if you think about the difference between Nixon trying to control the price of pork, which led, for example, butchers to basically shove pork out the back door to restaurants on trade deals, versus that you've got a firm-- let's take for example Amazon or let's take any of the digital giants-- that have monopoly profits, that have unbelievable profit margins, because the marginal cost of production is zero.

Let's take your local favorite crappy internet forum, where you're lucky if you get a choice of two in your city. And they've been charging you for the past 10 years literally 50 to 60 times more than any other developed country. Well, and suddenly, they're pushing up prices. I'm sorry what is COVID or supply shocks or any of that got to do with the fact that you're shoving that price up?

So maybe, for example, we should be looking at those sources not just of inflation but in a question of fairness. We used to have a justice department that would go after trusts and other economic entities that were price gouging, and rather than thinking that that's something that the state should do, we now go absolutely mental when somebody even mentions the prospect, which is very, very strange.

INTERVIEWER: Your point about the '70s is so right on, because of course, so much of the stuff is that Biden is Jimmy Carter, and I saw one piece that said he should be so lucky if he's Jimmy Carter. Carter only lost a very small number of seats in the midterms, and Biden's going to lose everything and blah, blah, blah. So the '70s is-- even just say it, and people just start breaking out in hives, so you're so right about that '70s narrative.

SUBJECT: Oh, and it's so weird because it depends exactly on what metric you choose, and the funny thing about inflation is it's a metric. It's a measurement, and what you put in the measurement and how you calculate it and all that sort of stuff really determines what comes out. And one will start on the nineteen-seventies. You go back to the nineteen-seventies, truck drivers who we've had a shortage of for 10 years, in real terms got paid a third more in the '70s than they do today. So was the '70s so awful for them?

Yeah, we have this metanarrative of it was the worst of times, and if we didn't do all the terrible things we did like jacking up interest rates to 20% et cetera, et cetera, then God knows where we'd be today, and it's sort of like really? Might be a bit overstated.

INTERVIEWER: On terrible times, we talked about this last podcast about Russia and Ukraine, and it's still-- I mean, it is really heated up over the last few days. What is your take on what Russia's positioning is, and what is the real issue?

SUBJECT: Well, as we said last time, their stake on it is essentially back in the day when we gave up the old empire and you made a promise to Gorbachev verbally, James Baker, that you wouldn't expand NATO. Since then, 12, maybe more, countries have joined-- all of the ones that were in the old Warsaw Pact. And not content with that, you also brought in the Baltics. You've actively promoted democracy i.e. Made unstable all of the border states around us-- Georgia, Azerbaijan, et cetera, et cetera.

You brought the Baltics in. You made them NATO members. You gave them F-16s to annoy us, et cetera. And now, you're doing the same thing with Ukraine, which literally puts NATO on our doorstep. Now, you have this thing where you keep saying that it's not an anti-Russian alliance. What else could it be? I mean, you only expand one way, and it stops with us.

So their playbook since Georgia in Two-Thousand-and-Eight has been you can't join-- let me get this straight. You can't join NATO if you have contested borders. Watch me contest your borders. So that's it. So they are not going to allow Ukraine to join NATO. Now, of course we are taking the high road on this, because talk is cheap. Because on the one hand, we're saying, well, we can't tell a sovereign nation it can't join. Of course, it's allowed to, and all the foreign ministers of NATO have affirmed that there's the right of every sovereign to make this decision, yeah.

Meanwhile, you've got the Germans vetoing the Brits, flying planes over Germany with weapons for Ukraine. They're completely hamstrung because their entire heating bill for the winter depends upon Russian gas exports. The Poles are caught in the middle of this going told you so. The whole thing's a total mess. And one thing we know is that the United States is not going to go to war over Ukraine. It's simply not going to happen.

And they will not give them the guarantees they want, and they've upped the ante on the guarantees. They were like Bulgaria to withdraw from the Alliance, and it was never going to happen. So they will do it. It's just-- I think it's just a question of time. I think that they will invade. It's not clear where they stop.

Maybe they're actually going to Kiev, occupying, putting in a puppet government, massive civil repression, hundreds of thousands of deaths. I'm not sure they're really up for that, because in the long term, I'm not sure they can hold it. But if the game is simply keep disputing the borders because that way you can't join NATO, they can do that from now to a thousand Christmases.

INTERVIEWER: Well, but don't-- I mean, right now they certainly have a lot of leverage on Europe, because it's cold. Do they have the same leverage in the summer? I mean, do they have a small window of time to actually act on their threats? I mean, I think that the seasonality of this is what is interesting to me.

SUBJECT: Well, the other one-- it's not as if the Germans are actually going to turn around the other way in the summer and go, oh, no, we really are going to back it up, and that's not it. I read something recently this week where someone said a freeze at the German foreign ministry is our nearest neighbor is Poland and the nearest city is Moscow.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, geez.

SUBJECT: So they're not looking West. They're looking East.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, yeah.

SUBJECT: And the other thing, it's not just heating. I mean, what does Germany make? They make lots of things with steel. How do you make steel? You burn gas. You do that in the summer as well.

INTERVIEWER: Well, and the Kazakhstan thing as well, which I understand is also playing out. So you get the sense, I mean, they're getting the band back together again, and that Russia-- I mean, Kazakhstan is in disarray over fuel prices, and so who do they call in? But they call in the Russians. I mean, it's, I mean, all of these different pieces floating around, and what is it necessarily-- what does it add up to?

SUBJECT: Well, it seems they'll just be playing their way. I mean, you have this big strategic realignment between China and Russia both who have an interest in basically no longer relying on the dollar for clearance of their transactions and essentially getting freedom away-- getting away from control of the United States, et cetera. And then you also have these peripheral regimes that were very high on redistributing down until the cronies that run them discovered it's much more fun to redistribute up.

And eventually that becomes fragile. They fall over, and then they call in the Russians for support, at which point the Russians are like, we're back. So Belarus went that way. Kazakhstan's gone that way. It's less getting the band back together than like drunk band member stagger through the door of the van and de facto the bank-- the band is back together again.

INTERVIEWER: You forget that in the '90s, under Yeltsin, there was a moment like the Scorpions' "Winds of Change." Democracy was spreading, and Russia could have been brought in, and that didn't happen.

SUBJECT: Yeah, they absolutely didn't. And from the Russian point of view, instead of which they followed American economic advice, and 40% of GDP disappeared in five years. They create a class of oligarchs that stole the state that were only tamed by Putin. And they've had a modicum of stability and growth since that point in time under his regime, which is why they keep voting for him. So the local on the ground view is very, very different from the chattering classes in the West talking about it.

INTERVIEWER: Chattering class who owns their penthouse in Manhattan, yeah.

SUBJECT: Exactly.

INTERVIEWER: Speaking of chattering class, so Boris, who I read in the paper he goes by-- his friends call him Al, but in any case seems to be on the ropes. I mean, he had these parties which-- I mean, so he had parties last spring when the UK was on lockdown, and there's the picture of the Queen mourning Prince Philip all by herself, where Boris or his people, someone had some sort of get-together in a garden. He thought it was work, but it was really a party, and bring your own alcohol. And I guess he didn't know what the rules were, even though he sent it.

And now, you have the hyphenated fancy members of parliament denouncing him, and saying he's got to go, and they quoted Oliver Cromwell, which in American sounds very highfalutin. So I mean, for my-- from total external, it looks like he's on the ropes.

SUBJECT: Yeah, he's on the ropes. So the question is when you knock him out, who do you replace him with?

INTERVIEWER: Well, the Chancellor of the Exchequer it seems to be the--

SUBJECT: Right, but the right wing of the party think he's a closet socialist. Sunak's been spending all of our money. Where are our tax cuts goddamn it? We voted for Brexit to get away from Europe not to widdle way back in. So the thing about the Tory party is they're very split, and the thing about Boris is because he's such a cipher. I mean, this is a who as a journalist wrote two essays on Brexit-- one why we shouldn't do it, and one why we should do it. And then just basically went with the let's do it one, and the rest is history.

And he has this weird ability not to unite the party but to straddle both camps and in a sense keep them together weirdly-- in part, because, well, what's your alternative? You're not going to go down the Theresa May route again and get someone who is a very technocratic leader. That's not what the problem you need to solve is. And the other big problem they have is-- they talk a good game of leveling up the country and all the rest of it, but they've actually done nothing-- in part because of COVID. Nobody's agreeing on transformation just no peace, take back better, et cetera, et cetera-- take back better, build back better.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

SUBJECT: That's the Republican version, is take back better. We're just going to take it back better. Anyway, where was I with Boris? Yeah, so they don't really have any kind of real set of plans for the country, and in a way, the rich boys getting together to win parliamentary seats to get drunk in the garden at Downing Street and call it a jolly while the city of London continues to turn that cash, that for many of them is a good result.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, geez. But you know interesting point is that Labor doesn't really have an answer either. Because if they had somebody, then there might be then-- Boris might actually be running for his political life, but I mean, Labor doesn't really have an answer. I mean, they've got Keir Starmer but--

SUBJECT: Keir Starmer, the guy who sounds strangely like a German war comic.

[LAUGHTER]

But yeah, it's a-- there was a brilliant line on the British news quiz this weekend. I laughed so hard. I nearly crashed the car as one of the commentators on there said Boris has been describing what was obviously a party in Downing Street Garden in the summer with tons of booze as a work meeting, and I can imagine a work meeting with Boris basically as a party with tons of booze, whereas I can imagine a party with tons of booze with Keir Starmer is actually a work meeting. I think that really sums up the way that people feel about these people and not in a sense why Boris gets so much slack. And at the same time, there just seems to be no way for Starmer to grab on to him. He's very Teflon in that way.

INTERVIEWER: Right, right. Well, I was struggling to find something lighter to tie to--

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

SUBJECT: We always are. I mean, we increasingly are. I mean, let's go-- what was it with Jonah? The engineer was saying at the start of this-- he's like, well, we're living through the sixth great extinction, where scientists have just said that we just busted through planetary boundaries on toxic chemicals. What else is going on? Oh, a great one I read today. This is brilliant. There's now more plastic in the in the environment than there is biological organisms.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, geez.

SUBJECT: Yeah, I know. It's just--

INTERVIEWER: This is incredible.

SUBJECT: So what's your up? Give me your upside.

INTERVIEWER: Well, just to add on to that, the volcano eruption in Tonga-- I don't know if you saw that, but it was from space. It was like-- you could see it from space. Anyway, my lighter material was-- and is it really in quotes-- is just how dumb is Prince Andrew. I mean, we have someone who allegedly assaults young women. But I was reading about him from the very trusted news source called "The Sun," and I guess he collects teddy bears. And one of his maid's duties was to-- or housekeepers duty was to arrange the teddy bears in certain patterns at the end of the day.

SUBJECT: I totally believe that.

INTERVIEWER: So there's a lot going on with well Prince Andrew.

SUBJECT: Well, I mean, this is the downside if there is an upside of having a hereditary monarchy, because you can have people who do that for you because that's who you are. You're a prince. You collect teddy bears. I guess, we have some underling who's chief teddy bear sorter.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, teddy bear wrangler. Yeah.

SUBJECT: But the problem is that-- the whole Epstein thing is pretty straightforward. Ultimately, it's really hard for the royals to monetize their brand, but they all have very expensive lifestyles and particularly Andrew and his ex. And they go on a whole-- and they took a loan from a bad guy, and it all started from there. It's really straightforward. What else happened? Oh, yeah, Djokovic-- what do you think about that one?

INTERVIEWER: Oh, my Lord. So I watched this because first of all, I need to be clear here, because I have a bias because I'm a Nadal fan, and so therefore, I'm not a big fan of Djokovic. But I thought about it, and I was like, OK, here's someone who's not vaccinated, and he just looks like a doofus. I mean, he actually lied that he didn't he had COVID, and then he went and talked to little kids in the hospital, this kind of stuff.

But then I was reading more serious articles about it, and the Serbian nationalist party is starting to gain steam, and so I wondered does he now become-- the Serbian nationalists hold him up on a pedestal because he stood up to the Australian government? It has all these political implications, and I just thought, I don't know, he just looks like a doofus but then seeing these other-- the larger political picture.

SUBJECT: So to me, the interesting part of this was what the Australians that-- I mean, so again, it was like the confidence and subtlety you would expect from the government of Australia. So you let a man despite the fact that you won't let your own people in, because they've been stranded abroad forever. You won't let your own people out, because you might not let them back in again, but tennis players, film stars, whatever, they can all come and go.

So you let him in even though he lied, then you say, well, I'll probably be all right. Then you reverse yourself. Now, it's probably going to be bad. Then you go, no, he's finally got to go out, and then he finally goes out. And you're just like, what was that for? And why do you have these two tiers anyway? I mean, my nephew finally got back to New Zealand two weeks ago, and he still had to spend 10 days in a hotel. He was triple vaxed, nothing wrong with him. Do a PCR test. And he won a lottery to get on a flight that went through bloody Fiji to get home.

INTERVIEWER: No way.

SUBJECT: Yeah, I know. it's too-- and then it's like, well, you're a big tennis player. Why don't you come in then? I haven't been vaxed, never mind me. It's all a bit of a laugh. It's just another example of people just obviously having good reason for having no confidence in government.

INTERVIEWER: Well, right, and it's the Boris thing to you-- one rule for you, and one rule for the rest of us. Right, yeah. I didn't realize that. I mean, a lottery to get on a flight for heaven's sake.

SUBJECT: Oh, yeah. I mean, when you get back in New Zealand, it's like if you've been stranded abroad for two years, you stick your name in, and they generate a number, and they randomly generate a lottery. Meanwhile, if you like some investor from Wall Street with 10 million dollars, I bet you're not doing that crap.

INTERVIEWER: Right, well, you've just changed your citizenship to New Zealand, and--

SUBJECT: Well, exactly.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

INTERVIEWER: --they'll just get bunkered into the side of the mountain. Well, on that happy note--

SUBJECT: On that happy note--

INTERVIEWER: I'm sorry.

SUBJECT: No, I was going to say, so where do you want to end? We could end with the Chinese Olympics. They're coming up. You're a big Olympics fan, aren't you?

INTERVIEWER: I do. I love the Olympics, and I just saw that NBC is not sending their commentators, or they're sending, I think, one commentator over, but otherwise all the play-by-play will be done from the exciting town of Stamford, Connecticut. So yeah, this Olympics is going to be don't criticize the Chinese government, because no one's going to be there to protect you if they disappear you. And no fans, and zero COVID. So bring on that unity.

SUBJECT: Wow, that's a fun one, yeah. Wow, awesome. Well, perhaps it'll save us one thing, which from the point of view as someone who's lived in the United States for 30 years-- I am a citizen and all the rest of it, but I can't stand their Olympic coverage. It's the most soccer and asinine bullshit. Every single person who's about to run, jump, ski, or fall in the face is somehow a hero. They've overcome adversity. It's the back story. It's like they're a professional athlete. Can we let them go on with it please? It's-- I can't watch it-- literally can't watch it. It's just literally turning it into daytime soap.

INTERVIEWER: Mark persevered over a childhood disability--

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

SUBJECT: The one I remember-- and it was great because it was the ultimate screw you to all this-- was Bode Miller. You remember Bode Miller?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, the skier.

SUBJECT: So yeah, so he was like a hot dog, the top gun, the whole thing. And it was yeah, he's going to win six medals. No, he's going to win eight medals. No, he's going to win nine golds. And it was-- I just had this picture of him sitting in his wagon or whatever you're sitting in these things just going, yeah, watch this arseholes, as he basically just crashed out of a competition after competition.

And the criticism rained down, and this is before you really had social media. And it was just, oh, he's just not trying. And it's like what do you know? Why don't you try belting down a gown hole course at 70 kilometers an hour on ice and tell me he's not trying-- just because you've built him up to be the best skier since Thor.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, yeah-- no, one of the Olympic swimmer said in the summary-- he's like it wasn't a particularly pleasant experience. I mean, some points were, but most of it was just really stressful and awful and just the pressure on the athletes [INAUDIBLE]. But exactly your point like, yeah, you do-- especially skiing when they crash, oh, I just-- it's hard to watch, because you just are imagining how painful that is.

SUBJECT: Oh, absolutely. And on that happy note of its mainly strenuous and-- it's mainly-- what was it? Mainly stressful and painful? That could be-- the thing that could be the episode later for this episode.

INTERVIEWER: I really like that. Happy new year-- mainly stressful and painful.

SUBJECT: Yes, I think that's it.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you, everyone.

SUBJECT: Bye.

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