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Sensemaker, 26 October 2020

Monday 26 October 2020

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Seven Nigerians seeking asylum were handed over to police after special forces stormed a tanker off the Isle of Wight to take them into custody.
  • Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington DC will, next month, become the Catholic Church’s first African-American cardinal.
  • Lewis Hamilton eclipsed Michael Schumacher’s record by winning his 92nd F1 Grand Prix in Portugal.

The Republicans. Eight days to go and a lot of people are talking about a blue wave election in the US next week.  A blue wave would be a red wipeout – losses in the Senate and in at least a few states Trump won handily four years ago. So it’s worth gaming out what happens to the Republican party in that event.

  • Divorce. It’s hard to see how the party co-opted by Trump could co-exist with the anti-Trump Republicans who have campaigned so doggedly for his defeat. This is not just a rift between fellow-travellers and never-Trumpers. As the veteran ex-Republican (now independent) consultant Stuart Stevens writes in It Was All A Lie, it’s a rift between a national party sullied by the Trump brand and Republican state governors – including three exceptionally popular ones in New England – who now look like “the last outposts of a dying civilisation, the socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republican Party” of old.
  • Demographics. Rumours of the imminent death of the party because of the rise of the non-white voter have been exaggerated for a generation – but the demographics really do look bad for Republicans now, unless they choose collectively to embrace change. That change has to be generational even more than ethnic. Millennials and Gen Z voters (born after 1981) will balance boomers numerically for the first time this year, and outnumber them substantially for the first time in 2024. And they skew heavily Democratic.
  • Doom. Ever since Jimmy Carter lost Texas in 1980, the holy grail for Democratic strategists has been to win it back. Biden is unlikely to oblige, but if Trump goes down it will solidify Texas Democrats’ belief that history’s on their side. They’re running competitive candidates in state house districts that weren’t competitive at all last time, and they believe winning back the state’s 38 electoral college votes is only a matter of time and turnout. Add those votes to California’s 55 and New York’s 29, and there is almost no way for Republicans to win the White House.

Reality check: the GOP exists to wield power, but also to represent a large number of people, not all white, who still believe it stands for freedom while the Democrats stand for political corruption. It is much more likely to modernise than die.

In the app today… Listen to the latest Slow Newscast, which opens a week-long file on Trump’s deal with America’s evangelicals. Can it hold? We’ll know soon enough. Sign up for tonight’s ThinkIn on the future of information and tomorrow’s breakfast session on Covid’s winners and losers, this time in the food business. Our open news meeting is tomorrow lunchtime and the Wednesday evening ThinkIn is on climate change and the Middle East.

Please share this Sensemaker with your friends and colleagues.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Trump’s golf courses
Sticking with the Betelgeuse of earthly politics, City AM has a splendidly poker-faced analysis of the financial performance of the Trump courses at Turnberry and Aberdeen compared with those of the non-Trump courses at Loch Lomond and Gleneagles. The latter two have broken even or better over the last six years. The former two have haemorrhaged money. Stephen Clapham reckons Trump has lost or invested more than $150 million in the two courses, which would be worth $420 million if he’d simply put it in an S&P 500 tracker fund. Which would just about have covered his reported debts to Deutsche Bank.


New things technology, science, engineering

Facebook and the election
Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want to be stung by the same bee twice. The WSJ says he’s required Facebook to prepare for the US election by tweaking its algorithms as it has previously for elections in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The bar for suppressing inflammatory posts will be lowered and the speed at which viral content can spread will be slowed down. Facebook and Twitter are both still taking flak from the right for limiting the spread of the New York Post’s unverified “scoop” about Hunter Biden’s laptop last week, but they seem to be more concerned about being branded patsies for misinformation campaigns like those of 2016. Probably the smart choice.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Electric ignorance
survey of American consumers reported by Axios found that on the whole they’re still put off buying electric cars by worries that the batteries catch fire and are hard to replace, acceleration lags, maintenance costs are high and there aren’t enough qualified mechanics when things go wrong. All these perceptions are basically wrong. Tesla says that in terms of fires per billion miles driven its cars are 11 times safer than petrol ones. Acceleration in all EVs is sensational and maintenance is minimal because there are so few moving parts. They’ll also be more affordable quite soon: UBS says their manufacturing costs will be roughly the same as for carbon-burners by 2024.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy

Vaccine hope
For weeks now we’ve heard hopeful noises from the UK government that a Covid-19 vaccine could be available after Christmas. That’s probably an optimistic timescale but there are still reasons to be cheerful about the prospect of a vaccine – and its ability to protect the most vulnerable. The FT has the inside track on a study, soon to be published in a medical journal, showing that the vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is prompting positive immune responses in older adults, in whom it’s been feared vaccines might work less well. This is in addition to last week’s finding by Bristol University that the Oxford vaccine is working as it’s designed to at a cellular level and causing a “strong immune response”. There’s a PR race as well as a science race going on here, but this is still good news.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Remote monarch
King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand has spent more time in Bavaria this year than he has in the country he rules. But he has been exercising his powers from there and Thai anti-government protestors want to know if he broke German law in doing so. This week demonstrators plan to rally at the German embassy in Bangkok to petition Berlin authorities to investigate. It seems Germany may be on side: earlier this month foreign minister Heiko Mass told the Bundestag that “politics concerning Thailand is not to be done from German soil”.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.


the week ahead

UK
26/10 – House of Commons in recess until next Monday; UK–EU future relationship talks resume between David Frost and Michel Barnier; man charged with death of footballer Emiliano Sala appears at Cardiff Crown Court, 27/10 – Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse hears evidence from former prime minister Tony Blair, 28/10 – fortnightly review of England’s tier two coronavirus restrictions, 29/10 – international trade secretary Liz Truss set to address Chatham House Global Trade conference, 30/10 – inquest into death of Jeremy Kyle guest Steve Dymond, 31/10 – Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme due to end; emergency government funding for Transport for London expires; final day of Six Nations rugby tournament, 1/11 – Women’s FA Cup Final takes place at Wembley; UK Job Support Scheme launched

World
26/10 – US Senate to vote on Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court judge; Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire comes into effect; Italy’s strict new coronavirus measures begin, 27/10 – second anniversary of Tree of Life synagogue shooting; French health minister appears before Covid-19 inquiry, 28/10 – Gilead, maker of antiretroviral drug Remdesivir, reports quarterly results with accompanying investor call, 29/10 – preliminary figures for US third-quarter GDP released; Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify all set to release quarterly results; 30/10 – Forbes releases annual list of top-earning dead celebrities

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell
@GWhittell

Ella Hill
@_EllaHill