Tuesday, 28 February 2017
The fallout from last week's by-elections has been wonderfully entertaining hasn't it. You take your pick of which of the smorgasbord of statistics and nerdy facts best illustrate how unprecedented this result was, but suffice to say that this sort of result only usually happens once in a couple of generations and then only to people who look like Michael Foot or Chauncey. Even Wallace never faced this kind of humiliation and, to be fair to him, would likely have resigned had he done so. He did after all resign after suffering a humiliating election defeat, even though he should actually have clung on and saved his party from itself. Instead he threw it to the left wing hordes of fantasists. Now they are in control, albeit giving a more than decent impression of being in chaos.
Labour are not so much in denial as now reduced to arguing that gravity is only a theory and that hirsute, scruffy old gentlemen wearing nasty brown geography teacher style jackets are the new cool. There were very many reasons given for the loss of Copeland. Chauncey said that it was disappointing but that it has been going this way for decades. He claimed that the Stoke result was a brilliant vindication of him and a rejection of Ukip and ignored Copeland completely as inconvenient to his special brand of idiotic delusion. But then compared to some of his colleagues he sounded almost reasonable.
Cat Smith (who isn't a cat but clearly has the mental faculties of one) said it had been a brilliant result because the party had only lost by a couple of thousand votes when the national opinion polls suggested worse. John - I love the IRA - McDonnell said that they lost because of Tony Blair. Yes the party of the people is so fragile that it is rendered a loser just because the man who quit the top job a decade ago saw fit to opine on Europe a few days before Copeland voted.
But the best of the lot was Shami - I see no anti-Semitism, now give me a peerage - Chakrabarti. The recently ennobled shadow attorney general and consumer of private education told Andrew Marr that the reason Labour lost in Copeland was because lots of working class people don't own cars. Whatever happened to Mondeo man eh?
It is, as this blog has pointed out more than once, so very typical of the sort of people who now make up the Labour Party, the smug, university educated, public sector employed, metropolitan Labour Party that knows nothing whatever about the modern labour force. Chauncey lives in a world in which coalminers are the salt of the earth, cloth cap wearing earthy folk he imagines still require people like him to patronise. He imagines that they would still exist had it not been for Thatcher and conveniently ignores the fact that those hellish, dangerous jobs had been dying out for decades. He is against nuclear power but for reopening the mines and sending men back down them.
McDonnell is a class warrior who hates Tories for their own sake but has no more idea of who or what he fighting for. He hates the British state, hates our history, loves out enemies just because they are our enemies. He sees cuts, all cuts, as indefensible, whatever he pays lip service to now. Point out to him that public spending has not actually been cut in any year since 2010 and he will probably call this an alternative fact. McDonnell wants to be a class warrior in the same way that little boys want to run around and kick footballs.
And then there is Shami. Shami, for whom I always used to have some respect even when I profoundly disagreed with her has exposed herself in recent months as being a typical unthinking left wing zealot who looks for victims to sympathise with and feel sorry for rather than people to represent, although as an unelected peer she need not worry about representing anyone or anything other than her own prejudices.
In short this is the modern stuck in the past Labour Party, a party that has lost its way even more than it has haemorrhaged voters. This has been happening for many years, in that Chauncey is quite right. But he doesn't seem to ask himself why. He prefers to talk of the struggle without pausing to ask for whom he is struggling. In truth he is only struggling for his fellow travellers, his fellow bourgeois petty revolutionaries who are so disappointed in the working class that they have abandoned their roots, become bourgeois themselves and bought themselves cars, flat screen TVs and foreign holidays. They don't aspire to class war they aspire to nice homes, comfort, decent schools for their kids. They don't buy silly scare stories that the Tories will kill babies. They no longer feel the need to thank the Labour Party endlessly for creating the NHS, because it happened 60 years ago and it doesn't seem to work terribly well. So why preserve it in aspic?
And so they are reduced to making excuses for their losses. I want a general election for many reasons, but would be genuinely fascinated by what excuses Chauncey and co dreamt up to explain away the kind of devastating loss suggested by the opinion polls and last week's results. Would Chauncey even resign then? You can be damned sure he would do his best to hand over to one of his proteges without pausing to wonder if that might simply make matters even worse and consign his party to much deserved doom.
Ukip have correctly identified that Labour is ripe for the taking, that it no longer talks to or for the people who vote for it and still regards them as this homogenous class in need of a party named after them. But Ukip has no chance of replacing Labour any time soon. The Lib Dems are just Labour but with whiter skin. And so this vast chasm has opened up in British politics, or rather English politics. Labour are unelectable, but still too big to completely die. They are like one of those old high street companies we like to see still existing but never actually frequent. They are like Woolworths. But then we all know what happened eventually to Woolworths.
Monday, 27 February 2017
Last week Donald Trump doubled down on his rhetoric about the media, continuing his facile fake news meme, or at least what he is trying to turn into a meme and railing against the media's use of anonymous sources. This is the same president who used to be his own anonymous source when in business and was during the campaign trail too, at least in the earlier stages. Indeed he famously even used to pretend to be someone else so that he could be a source about how great a lover he is and what enormous attributes he has.
Anonymous sourcing must be irritating, every government gets furious about leaks and those on the inside speaking about things they would rather remain secret. But that does not mean it is not a perfectly legitimate form of reporting, especially in areas like those of national security and the military.
And most politicians leak. Trump leaks. When you read a story that says 'sources close to' that is a leak by a politician about him or herself. It's not always the politician him or herself that does the leaking as Trump used to, but its usually done with their knowledge and approval. It is an example of people saying things and telling things to reporters they don't want to go on the record about but want in the public domain. It is spin, it is using the media to get their version of events out. But it is also a way of holding the powerful to account by ensuring that what they do is reported and thus accessible to the public who elect them.
Trump does not like this. Of course he doesn't. It shows him up to be the chaotic, scatter-brained, ill-educated, small-minded, meretricious dummy that he is. The reason his administration, which is only five weeks old remember, is leaking so much is because those who can see it from the inside are appalled and want him held to account. This is a man who cannot and must not be allowed to operate in secret. This is a man who is capable of appalling excesses if left to his own devices and instincts. So the leaks and anonymous sourcing is a perfect example of the system working, of the fourth estate doing its job.
This is how Mike Flynn was brought down. Trump says Flynn did nothing wrong, but why in that case was he forced out? He was forced out because the Washington Post got, through an anonymous source, information about what he had been up to with the Russians. Trump has actually claimed that it was fake news but has also complained about The Post getting its information from a leak. Well it can't be both. The most worrying thing is that Trump may be too stupid to see that those two statements are incompatible.
Trump claims that the sources quoted by newspaper organisations don't exist. Here again he contradicted himself in such a bone headed way it gives one a headache. They claimed nine sources, he said, before going on to claim that he knows this cannot be true because he knows all nine of the people it could have come from and knows that they didn't leak. Where do we even begin with how dumb that is, how contradictory, how irrational, how off the wall stupid?
Anyway, of course the sources exist, indeed they are likely from his own inner circle at least in part. What is driving him mad is he doesn't know who they are and so cannot fire them. But then that is why they wanted to remain anonymous. Remember this is part of a tradition of reporting in most western states. Organisations try to remain secret. Leaks emerge. Governments get furious and call for a leaks inquiry. The leakers are never found.
None of this is so very different to the way Watergate emerged. It came about thanks to an initial case into which two reporters started digging. They dug and dug, often using anonymous sources including the infamous Deep Throat who was right at the top of the Nixonian administration. But Deep Throat was an anonymous source so anonymous he was only used on deep background. Nevertheless he led Woodward and Bernstein to revelations about corruption and cheating that brought down a president and saw several senior figures jailed.
Trump is an autocrat. His businesses were and are deliberately opaque for the very good reason that he doesn't want people to see what he gets up to, the strokes he pulls, the dodges, the weaves. He has been successful, not because he is a genius at the art of the deal but because he is a liar, a cheat, a bully and a crook. It is why, for all of his celebrity, he is detested by large numbers of people, this blogger included and since long before he became president or even a candidate.
In business he forced those who worked for or did business with him to sign non-disclosure contracts. His ex-wife Ivana was made to sign one before she was paid off, meaning that certain allegations about Trump were kept from the public.
This is why Trump has been so guarded about what information about him is in the public domain. If he were open and accountable then there would be no need for leaks. If he had published his tax returns then there would be no questions about his finances and where his money comes from. The reason that his administration is leaking is precisely because he is trying to do things under a cloak of secrecy, only allowing out information that he sees fit to share.
In this of course he is no different to anyone else. Few of us want people prying into our private affairs or the way we work. But then he is not a private individual anymore. He is the most powerful man in the world working with public money on behalf of the American people. He has to be held to account by whatever means are at the disposal of the media.
The press is part of the way the American and other western democratic systems work. It is part of the checks and balances built into the constitution. It is not perfect and is not perfectly objective. The Washington Post and New York Times, CNN and the major networks are not perfectly objective because nobody is. But they are professionals doing a job. Do they make mistakes? Of course they do. Do they allow their own prejudices to intrude on their reporting? Of course they do. But any government has to trust the public to form their own judgement about claims and counter claims.
But on Friday, in an act of petulance, several organisations were banned from the so called huddles that reporters go to away from the cameras when the president's press spokesman briefs the press. This, ironically, is a form of anonymous briefing, a kind of deep background reporting that has gone on for generations. This ban is also, quite simply, wrong. The press spokesman of the president is a public official paid for with public money. He does not get to act this way, to pursue petty vendettas against people doing their jobs.
But is all of this bluster, or is the constant refrain of fake news a precursor to something? Is Trump conducting this vendetta simply because he is an autocrat or because he fears that things are going to come out about him that might severely damage him or even bring him down? Is he trying to create in the minds of the public doubts about the honesty of the press in preparation for revelations about him that will inevitably emerge as reporters do more and more digging and as the leaks become impossible to plug? Is he, in short, getting his retaliation in early?
Calling people names is part of Trump's standard modus operandi. It is remarkably effective when levelled against political opponents like 'little' Marco Rubio or 'crooked' Hillary Clinton, remarkable in particular because Trump has tiny hands and is only rich because he is crooked. But it is less likely to be effective against whole news organisations like the New York Times, BBC, Washington Post, CNN and all three major networks in the US. After all, what is more likely, that all of them are reporting fake news, or that the president is a pathological liar who is afraid of the truth?
Trump is losing this fight already and he knows it. This is why he keeps getting ever more furious about it. But you cannot take on most of the established news media and expect to win. The best way is to engage with them, be open and accountable, use charm and persuasion. Bluster and anger will never hold sway.
The great irony of Donald Trump is that all of this masks his terrible insecurity and frustration. What was all of that talk about how popular he is and how well attended his inauguration was? It was because he knows he's not and it wasn't. He keeps being rude about the New York Times because it has always been sniffy about him and refused to give him the credit he thinks he deserves. He watches a lot of news and sees himself on there being given less than the fawning adulation he thinks he deserves. Why does he keep going down to Mar a Lago every weekend? Because there he gets the applause, the plaudits, the praise, the obsequiousness he so enjoys that would feel cloying to most normal people. Trump is in possession of a massive ego and a massive narcissistic personality disorder and that is why he behaves like the spoilt brat he undoubtedly is. But he also undoubtedly has a great deal to hide. If and when that is revealed his fury will be a sight to behold.
Sunday, 26 February 2017
Priests are important. This is not just the opinion of the priests themselves. Priests are important to any religion because they are the people, usually men, who interpret and apply the rules. Let's face it they make up the rules too. That's what this section of Leviticus is all about. It's ostensibly about rules for priests. In reality its about making the priests distinct and different from the common man over whom they rule. For this purpose the notion of holiness was invented.
So there now follows a litany of stupid rules about holiness and priests based on superstition and ignorance. God has his priests who are supposed to be his spokesmen, his enforcers. So what they do matters. They have to be holy and to be careful about what they touch and who they touch and what they touch thereafter. To be fair this was before the invention of rubber gloves. You'd think that God would have thought of that though.
So here there is much mention of uncleanness. Don't touch my stuff, says God, if you have uncleanness on you. This can mean all manner of things to which we will come in a moment. But simply washing your hands or wearing a pair of Marigolds was not an option for this punctilious god.
There then follows a list of things that are unclean. Lepers for a start. God, as we have pointed out before, being apparently unaware of antibiotics. So lepers are unclean. They were generally avoided by most people, but should a priest touch them then God, who you might imagine was immune to such things, did not want his stuff in his big tent touched thereafter. If anyone had a running issue then this was also unclean. The dead were unclean. So was the seed that goeth from a man. This was before the invention of the tissue and condoms too of course.
Oh and creepy crawlies are unclean too. Apparently God is an arachnophobe, which is weird because he made them.
Anyone who had come into contact with this random list was unclean and could not eat holy food until sundown when he would be clean. And hungry.
Any animals that died naturally were unclean and must not be eaten by priests. Much better for them to sponge off other people.
And this holy food was only to be eaten by priests. Their servants were banned from eating such food. Why, incidentally, did priests need servants? Here's an interesting distinction though. The slaves of priests were allowed to eat this food and so were their families. So this food suddenly ceases being holy food, the animal sacrifices for God and becomes just food, so long, of course, as you are in with the in crowd.
Oh but if the priest's daughter married a stranger then she lost the right to eat the holy food.
And God was very picky about the food that his priests were allowed to eat whilst pretending that it was really for God. The slaughtered animals had to be perfect, without blemish. Perfectly symmetrical and with nothing missing or extra. But it did depend upon what the offering was. Peace offerings to God could have blemishes. But if it was for a vow then that had to be perfect.
And no animal sacrifices were to be accepted from strangers. No. They, the strangers, were corrupt and had blemishes and so their offerings were not to be accepted. A peculiar form of racism there from God.
Finally there were rules on when animals could be sacrificed. Of course there were. It was not allowed to sacrifice an animal on the same day as its offspring. You had to wait for the following day or any day thereafter. And if you had a newborn ox, sheep or goat you had to wait 8 days until it was an acceptable sacrifice. Perhaps God wanted a few days to admire his handiwork and how cute they were before his ever hungry priests were allowed to consume them.
Saturday, 25 February 2017
Friday, 24 February 2017
If only politics were like football then Chauncey would be toast this morning. Instead, after narrowly winning in Stoke but losing a seat to the Tories in Copeland, he will cling on. Obviously (copyright Matt Chorley). It's pathetic but entirely predictable.
The headlines are about Ukip and its failure to break through. The anti Labour, anti EU vote was split between the hapless Paul Nuttall and a 25 year old Conservative candidate. Things might actually have been worse for Labour today. Had they lost both seats then surely even Chauncey would have had to go. But as it is he will stay, make excuses, claim credit for a win he should be taking for granted and hope no more of his MPs decide to jump overboard. Labour, the party of opposition, should be winning seats like these in safe areas by a country mile. Instead they lost one and clung on in Stoke. Its a disaster being spun as a partial triumph.
Ukip would probably have won in Stoke had Nigel Farage still been leader and maybe its candidate. As it is they are quickly turning into an irrelevance. They ought really to be dissolving themselves, after all the clue is in their name. We as a country have done what it says on their tin and so really what is the point of them? Ukip, if Paul Nuttall stays in charge, are doomed. He should go just because of the way he campaigned and told as many lies as the President of the United States. Douglas Carswell ought to be begging to be readmitted into the Tory fold.
Labour meanwhile will be quietly hoping that Theresa May doesn't decide to call an election this May. She has no need to. With this win her small but manageable majority is restored to what it was at the election. But she and her party must be tempted. There is an opportunity to call an election, win a massive majority, grind Labour into the dirt, maybe even turn back the SNP tide a little in Scotland thus negating the referendum threat and then get on with Brexit safe from another election for five years. They could then even repeal the hated Fixed Term Elections Act imposed on us all by the bloody Lib Dems.
In Copeland the Tories plastered Chauncey all over their campaign literature. Labour kept him out of it. That is what would happen nationally if we were to have a general election. Labour would be decimated. The man is a disaster and not even one waiting to happen. He's like a car crash that we can see starting to happen, that could be avoided, but the man holding the steering wheel is telling the party that the fact he keeps bumping into trees is immaterial. That concrete wall he is heading for won't be so bad.
So these by-elections ultimately won't change much. Labour is still heading for disaster, the Tories are coasting and gloating and Ukip is dead.
While we await the results of the two by elections in Stoke and Copeland, let us reflect for a moment on the cruel vicissitudes of life as a football manager. Last May, entirely unforeseen and unpredicted by any but the most strident and deranged amongst its supporters, Leicester City went from one of the perennial yo-yo clubs to champions of the Premier League. Now they are flirting with a new and unwelcome stretching of the yo-yo string. From champions to relegated in one season.
And so last night, rather more predictably than their triumph in May, they sacked their manager Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri should probably have gone in December really, if they were being entirely rational. But football is not entirely rational. Sentiment is involved too. How could Leicester sack the man who took them to that glorious championship? How could they sack the man who led them to glory, galvanised that squad of bargain basement buys and signings from the lower reaches into a team of players capable of embarrassing the best in the land?
Of course what happened last season, as we all knew deep down, was a glorious fluke. We see it in cup competitions from time to time, unfancied teams sometimes manage to go all the way to Wembley and even win cup competitions. But its not supposed to happen in the league. The league is about consistency, about hard graft but also class. In truth its not of course. There's still a lot of luck involved and Leicester proved that. They rode their luck, got few injuries, few suspensions, played high octane football, defended well, hit teams on the break and shook the Premier League. By the time the other clubs had worked them out it was too late. It still helped that the so called glamour clubs failed to step up last season even after spending countless millions. The two Manchester clubs were out of sorts despite their absurdly expensive squads. Arsenal did what Arsenal always do. Chelsea went from champions to also rans and also sacked a manager. Liverpool started poorly, sacked a manager and then struggled to find consistency. Spurs came closest out of all of them but were ultimately found wanting. And so Leicester did a real Roy of the Rovers and made football romantic for at least one season again.
We all knew that gravity would reassert itself this season, that Leicester would do well to make the top six or eight. But few of us expected their fall to be quite this precipitous. In truth Ranieri was never the genius some thought him to be. But he was a good manager whose tinker man tendencies were prevented by the sparseness of the Leicester squad. It brought out the best of him. This season his utilitarian but thrilling football was countered by savvier opponents. In Europe they have performed mostly admirably.
Football is a meritocracy though and results matter. That is why Ranieri is gone. Politics is supposed to be like that too. Now, what about those by elections.......
Thursday, 23 February 2017
Let's be clear, this blog enjoys criticising and otherwise excoriating Tony Blair as much as the rest of them. But he is not responsible for the scandal of our having paid out £1m to a terrorist. Neither are ministers in the governments of David Cameron, or at least not Tory ones. It wasn't their fault that they were forced by circumstance to share government with the holier than thou prigs of the Lib Dems.
But the blame lies fairly and squarely at the human rights industry's door. It is they who always believe the worst of our security services and military, they who constantly agitate for trials and inquiries and compensation for the supposedly unconscionable behaviour of our largely blameless and public spirited personnel who do their work in an admirable, fair and professional manner. That is how Phil Shiner, the corrupt human rights lawyer, prospered for so long. Its the same mindset we see from the likes of Chauncey and his beloved Stop the War coalition. Britain and the west is always to blame and our enemies can always be excused, no matter how egregious their behaviour.
Say what you like about the Iraq war and other interventions but they were done with noble if naive intentions. They were attempts to make the world fairer, safer, more just. But the critics refuse to see that.
We have of course learnt our lesson. We have learnt that we cannot impose our values on other cultures and shouldn't try, no matter how frustrating it can be dealing with regimes whose human rights records are so appalling. But here again the sanctimonious left wants to have its cake and eat it. We must not interfere in other countries and cultures, that is imperialism. But we should still not trade with these regimes, we should still criticise their human rights records. Which is it? You cannot have both.
We see the same on the rights of women and other minority groups. They want to respect other cultures, other sensibilities and beliefs whilst at the same time claiming to be advocates of women's rights or gay and lesbian rights.
But these are the double standards of the left. They can be very persuasive and dominant. Even the Daily Mail advocated the release of Ronnie Fiddler, the jihadist cretin who we had released from Guantanamo and then paid £1m to only for him to blow himself up, thus proving that the authorities who had caught him and imprisoned him and been right all along.
The problem we all face is that there is no easy solution to the jihadist menace. We tiptoe around the issue, but this is a problem restricted to one religion because that religion, though fundamentally no more stupid than all the others, has been seized upon by zealots and turned into a murderous cult or series of cults who imagine they are fighting for their brainless god, their imaginary prophet and that all of the world is ranged against them. In reality the world is remarkable tolerant as the response to Trump's Muslim ban demonstrates. There have been numerous terrorist atrocities across parts of the western world these last few years, but few of us believe that we are in a war against Islam or more particularly against Muslims. We just wish that they would take their silly superstition a little less seriously and come and join us in the real world. Still, live and let live eh?
That still leaves the intractable problem of what we do against the worst jihadists, the most deranged and deluded, the ones who went to Syria imagining they were doing their idiot god's work, the ones who blow themselves up or exhort others to. Answer: we use the full force of the law against them, harass them and make their lives difficult. We have a rule of law in this country and around the western world and it is our protection against the overweening state. But we also need protection from the human rights lawyers who cynically use every trick in the book to defend and free clients who are guilty but who they feel are more sinned against than sinning.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance of course. But it would be nice if some of our fellow citizens were a little more vigilant and a lot less credulous.
Wednesday, 22 February 2017
Brexit is back on the agenda this week - when was it off it you might reasonably ask, although if you did I might reasonably point you in the direction of goings on across the pond which have occasioned much comment and quite a lot of agenda adjusting. Indeed the antics of the liar in chief have caused such fits of the vapours on this side of the Atlantic that the French and the Germans have quite forgotten that they are meant to be playing good cop and bad cop with we want aways and indeed have forgotten who was meant to be playing whom. For the record the French always want to play the bad cops since the Germans played that role up to 1945. There was a treaty about it or something. Charles de Gaulle probably demanded it.
There was an entirely pointless debate about the liar in chief on Monday in Parliament in which various MPs grandstanded about him, not least because they were being carried by some cable networks in the US. Donny Little Hands, as we all know, is a keen fan of cable news when he is not calling it fake news. Its not clear whether he caught the debate. It's all academic anyway. The rabble rouser in chief would not come across well in Parliament, he prefers his speechifying in aircraft hangers. He would, however, like to get in touch with Pugin dude and have him decorate a few of his hotels. And The White House.
Brexit is back on the agenda because it passed the Commons before the recess and now this week it is in the Lords. Indeed Theresa May went along to the upper house to have a look for herself at proceedings there. Some have said, unkindly, that she went to menace them or possibly to practice her hard stare for when Brexit negotiations get underway. This blog can exclusively reveal that she actually went along there to see how the Lords will look if the Commons has to move in there when the Houses of Parliament are being refurbished. She also thought she might as well have a look at what room there is in the place in case she has to fill it with dozens of new peers if it plays awkward over the Brexit bill. She was also looking wistfully at the place she would really like to send John Bercow to given his recent indiscretions. The berk that is Bercow clings on though and we must wait for a general election. Or next year. He is supposedly standing down then, although don't be surprised if he reneges on that plan. Possibly the only way to get him out is by starting the refurbishment early and telling him he will have to go and live in his own house.
You will have noticed that a number of ex MPs and even ex prime ministers have been popping up over the last week as the debate moved to the Lords. Tony Blair, who seemingly has no self knowledge whatsoever, gave a speech in which he offered to lead the campaign to try and stop Brexit. Yes the people have voted, he said, but they did so without being in full possession of the facts. If only governments presented us with all of the facts in the form of dossiers perhaps. Blair declined to offer the country a referendum on Europe on 3 separate occasions despite having promised to do so. He now proposes to try and reverse the one we actually got because he's none too keen on the result and thinks he knows better. Blair has been joined by Peter Mandelson, Lord Oleaginous of Spin, in offering, entirely gratuitously, their views on the issue. The country has not reacted with gratitude to their intervention, not even those who wanted to remain.
Meanwhile Labour are 18 points behind the Tories in the latest opinion poll, a fact that may well be reflected in this week's by-elections in Copeland and Stoke. The Tories are set to win in Copeland by all accounts but Labour may well hang on in Stoke since Ukip imploded there with their candidate who lied about where he lives, thinks that wearing tweeds is a good look and has been forced to admit that he did not have a close friend killed at Hillsborough. Things have got so bad that Nigel Farage has refused to campaign for his successor anymore and this is the same Farage who was an enthusiastic campaigner for the liar in chief. He even, if you recall, posed in a tasteful lift with him.
If Labour do lose one by-election and hang on in the other it will either be down to Nuttall's idiocy or to the Tories having never thought they stood a chance in Stoke. Or possibly, according to Chauncey, on their winning hands down on social media. This is Chauncey's strategy. Talk straight to the people. It's only a matter of time before he starts talking about fake news and the dishonest media. His MPs however just want to poke him.
I've been feeling a bit unwell this week, very unwell last night. I was feverish and breathless and may have an infection. I'm going to see my GP this afternoon. I called this morning and got a same day appointment.
Today Chauncey was even more breathless than I am at the moment. Why? Because he was retreating to Labour's comfort zone once again and shouting about the NHS. It's in crisis according to Labour. At every election they tell us that we have a only a few hours/days choose a time period of your choice to save the NHS. It's time that politicians started talking honestly about the NHS and acknowledge that, while it works miracles, it is in need of fundamental reform and new sources of funding.
But Chauncey was in full on rant mode today talking dishonestly about closing down A&E units and hospitals, measures that clinicians actually back because larger centres of excellence are better equipped to deal with patients. Stays in hospital are shorter now than ever, not because of cuts to the NHS but because medicine and technology allow this.
The prime minister came fully equipped with such facts today. The trouble with Labour's comfort zone is that they retreat to it so often and so predictably that she is forearmed and forewarned. And Chauncey is hopeless at pressing her for answers. He shouts a lot and sounds passionate but there is no forensic questioning. He comes to the session with his pre-prepared questions and is no more incapable of steering from them than a train is from veering off tracks.
Chauncey is given six questions, six bites of the cherry. He often accuses the PM of not answering the question, although today he did so when she had indeed answered, something she gleefully pointed out. But he never presses her. He never goes back for a second go on any question. He never reveals a killer fact or has the presence of mind to marshal his thoughts and notes to prove her wrong. And he is up against Theresa May who is on top form. The confidence now shines out of her. She still stumbles once in a while and lacks the smoothness of a Cameron or a Blair but that seems to be working for her. Just look at the polls.
He talked of waiting times, social care, hospital beds, patients on trolleys, he quoted doctors, he even retreated back to his minor triumph of a couple of weeks ago on social care in Surrey. Mrs May said he was demolished on that occasion and should apologise. She used the standard line about only being able to put more money into the NHS if the economy is strong. That is her and the Government's default response. But she can say it, partly because this is true and it resonates with the public, but more importantly because she is up against an opponent who hasn't the wit to hit back on it. Overall though there was an unenlightening exchange of statistics between the two. Chauncey cherry picked bad statistics and Mrs May fired back with her own cherry picked figures. We were left none the wiser, but with the clear impression that the PM was unruffled by the shouty man opposite her. She finished off her answers to him by saying that Labour used to be the party of boom and bust but now it is the party of borrow and bankrupt. Not the greatest of lines, but it was more than enough to see of Chauncey.
Chauncey was in need of a win today more than ever. His leadership is under pressure. PMQs has little impact with the public but it does affect party morale. The Tories are riding high and have the luxury of watching those two by-elections tomorrow not really minding how they turn out. A win in one would be nice. But Chauncey scraping over the line in both would make his position safe and thus he would continue no doubt telling himself that he is making progress. He says that he is better than the Government on social media. Maybe he should start tweeting his questions to the PM instead, at least then we wouldn't have to hear him wheezing and shouting incoherently.
The Government does seem to be making conciliatory moves on a number of major issues especially with the Budget approaching next month. Could we see more money for social care? Could we see a new approach on business rates?
Tuesday, 21 February 2017
In a text book example of why the Lib Dems find themselves in their present predicament to the large scale amusement of the country at large, one of them, an unelected Liberal Democrat who is merely a moron and not simply an oxymoron, opined thus yesterday:
'If we had voted Remain 52 - 48, we would not be seeing a hard Remain where we adopted the Euro and joined the Schengen Area.'
This, needless to say, was during the opening skirmishes of the House of Lords debating the Brexit bill and came from Lord Newby, the Lib Dem leader in that house. We are always told that debates are of a higher quality in the Lords, and so congratulations to Lord Newby for attempting to disprove this notion in addition to confirming everything that we all think about his party.
He probably thought this an excellent debating point. Needless to say it isn't. It is a fatuous one, but one that could only come from a party that has long been so beholden to all things European it comes across like a sci-fi convention for people who don't need to wear masks or silly outfits rather than a proper party. I have no idea if Kling-On is allowed to be spoken in the House of Lords, but Lord Newby might as well have been doing so while gripping his Bat'leth.
So let me disabuse him. First, as you are very well aware, the referendum was on whether or not we should stay in the EU and not whether we should either leave or plough further into it.
Second, not even the bloody Lib Dems could, with a straight face, recommend that we become further enmeshed in it by joining the hated euro currently causing economic carnage across the continent and Schengen which is just facilitating carnage and those who seek to create it.
Thirdly, and most importantly, who are you kidding? If we had voted last year to stay in the EU then getting sucked further and further into it was precisely what was planned. The Commission had kept its plans on the backburner while the referendum was taking place but they would by now be proposing all manner of further integration and 'more Europe.' Despite the aforementioned carnage of the last couple of years there has still been no rolling back of Schengen. Despite the millions put out of work by it, the euro remains untouched and untouchable. Our voting to stay in would have been seen as a vote for further integration and there would have been little any of us could have done about it. Many of us made that argument at the time.
Finally, as we also argued at the time, the only viable way for us to leave the EU and regain control over the things that the British people wanted to regain control over was to have so called hard Brexit, to vote to leave the single market and the customs union. That remains the case now, although our access to the single market is negotiable.
Its nice to know isn't it that, 8 months on, they still haven't come up with better arguments for their baleful project.
There's something beautiful isn't there about a president who keeps talking about fake news and who then actually makes the stuff up the next night. Of course Trump makes up more or less everything anyway, but most of it is low level stuff and, since there is so much of it, he generally gets away with it. Thus he can make claims about the jobs he's already bringing back to America (he's not, he hasn't made any material difference to jobs announcements since he was elected) he can make his repeated claims about his election win - there are so many lies that the media cannot keep up.
Occasionally they do of course, such as last week when he was confronted with his lie about his electoral college win. Then see him try to row it back. He tried twice to row it back and then he blamed it on someone else. Finally he tried to claim simply that it was a big win, when in fact, as we have just established, it was not a big win. It was in the lower reaches. But this is what Trump does. He keeps saying the same things over and over again like an annoying schoolboy making fart noises.
For the record here are the numbers once again:
In 2016 Trump won with 304 electoral college votes to Clinton's 227, although he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
In 2012 Obama won with 332 to 206 and so a much wider margin and this for a second term. Obama also won the popular vote by nearly 5 million.
in 2008, a year more comparable to 2016, Obama won with 365 votes to 173. He also won the popular vote by nearly 10 million votes.
We have to go back to 2004, the election after the Iraq War, to see the last time when a winning candidate scored a lower electoral college score than Trump's. Bush won by only 286 to 251 but he did win the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
Famously in 2000 Bush won by only 5 electoral college votes, 271 to 266 and got half a million fewer votes than Al Gore.
In 1996 Bill Clinton won by a massive landslide, winning by 379 votes to 159. He also won the popular vote by just under 8 million.
In 1992 Clinton won his first term by beating incumbent president George HW Bush by 370 votes to 168. He won the popular vote by just under 6 million votes.
In 1988 Bush won his one and only term by a massive 426 electoral college votes to 111. He won the popular vote too by 7 million votes.
Then we go all the way back to the man Trump likes to compare himself with. He might be best to forget that because Ronald Reagan scored two of the most massive wins in American history.
In 1984 Reagan won by 525 electoral college votes to a puny 13 for his opponent Walter Mondale. He also beat him by nearly 17 million votes.
In 1980 Reagan beat the hapless Jimmy Carter by a similar margin. Carter was of course the sitting president at the time. Reagan won by 489 to 49 electoral college votes. He also won the popular vote by over 8 million votes.
The bottom line then is that, of the last five presidents Bush has scored the lowest electoral college votes but Trump is the next lowest.
The bottom line then is that, of the last five presidents Bush has scored the lowest electoral college votes but Trump is the next lowest.
So these are the facts. Trump is trying to create a fake news story of himself being a popular president when in reality he won by an electoral college margin that was not especially significant historically and was one of those rare occasions when the winner lost the popular vote. His electoral college score was the third lowest. Only George W Bush has done worse. The winner losing the popular vote has happened several times but is still unusual. Trump is not a popular president and he does not have an overwhelming mandate to do the things he is doing. The press have every right to hold him to account and to ask awkward questions.
The problem for the man who accuses others of fake news however is that he cannot stop himself. And he sends out his lieutenants to do his bidding too. At the weekend the poor sap sent out to lie for him was Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. You can see the interview below. Priebus mentioned the New York Times story of last week in which the paper used the established journalistic practice of unnamed but multiple or at least two sources. They reported that the Trump campaign had multiple contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.
This has infuriated the administration. Fake news they cry. Priebus then absurdly claimed that he has spoken to intelligence officer and they told him that the story is nonsense. Except he wouldn't name who told him this. Why? He represents the government, not a journalist. Nobody would lose their jobs by speaking to the White House Chief of Staff. They would by talking on the record to a journalist. Presumably Priebus will be offering on the record testimony from these officials to the world to back up the Trump claims of having no contacts with Russians. There is of course circumstantial evidence to back up coordination with Russian officials since those Clinton emails kept being released whenever the heat was on Trump.
These constant calls of fake news whenever Trump sees a story he doesn't like are starting to get old already. Yes there is a certain kind of bovine Trump supporter who buys that line. And yes journalists are not above a bit of hyperbole and exaggeration and often have agendas, but calling the press the enemies of the American people went way too far. Unfortunately the president is a man who is incapable of backing down unless forced to. Now he sees himself as unassailable and so his behaviour is only going to get worse.
This, as many have pointed out, is how dictatorships get started. The checks and balances of the US system are probably robust enough in normal times to resist the likes of Trump. But everyone has to be wary. It wouldn't take much for Trump to invoke some kind of emergency and try to bring in controls, to try and bully the media into being compliant, to force government officials to toe his line, to seek to prosecute or otherwise silence whistleblowers, law enforcement agencies, courts and the media. This is what Trump has done throughout his career. He has silenced people through the threat of law suits or contract. Just before he entered power he bought off those who were suing him over his eponymous and entirely fraudulent university. Bullying and aggression is how he acquires property and how he silences dissent. But not for nothing does he prefer doing business in countries where the rule of law is rather more flexible and biddable than in America or most western democracies.
We are probably overreacting to what has happened thus far, but the price of liberty is eternal vigilance as one of Trump's more celebrated predecessors almost certainly didn't say. But we will assume that he did. One thing is for certain, Jefferson didn't say about the press what Trump claimed he said this weekend. The liar in chief, or someone better educated than he, was cherry picking a phrase and using it in his miasma of mendacity. We must all keep looking clear eyed through that miasma and ignoring his attempts to distract us. He is only doing so because he is frustrated and angry and because only a few are buying his snake oil. That's what a free press does. It shines a light on issues that liars and cheats would rather keep shaded.
Its being reported that the man who absurdly, having just lost in court, tweeted that he would see his tormentors in court over his Muslim ban is going to have another go tomorrow with a fresh executive order. This will dilute some elements including on refugees, those with green cards and visas. But it may still be challenged. It will be challenged thanks to what the president himself said on the campaign trail about implementing a Muslim ban. Hoist by his own petard. Fake news?
Monday, 20 February 2017
Last week was such a never ending car crash for the Trump administration it has been hard for us all to keep up. From the discussing of an international crisis over dining tables in Trump's own private members club, to his invading a private wedding ceremony on those grounds with the Japanese prime minister and boasting about how much he has been enriched by the newly weds (so much for him separating himself from his business) to the resignation after 24 days of his National Security Advisor to the revelations that his campaign had regular discussions with Russian officials about his political opponents. In addition there was yet another one of his staffers giving an appalling media performance and repeating lies about voter fraud. Add to this the mere trivia of Trump's bone crushing handshake of world statesmen. The laugh of it is that he crushes their hands to show what a big man he is but then has to hold their crushed hand again because the big man is frightened of steps. Maybe that was why he was a draft dodger because if he had been captured by the Vietcong like John McCain was and tortured for information all they would have had to do was show him a set of steps and he would have admitted that he has silly hair, small hands and he's not really a billionaire. Of course later he would have called it all fake news.
And then there was that press conference. Now was this meant to distract us all from awkward questions about Russia? Maybe it was. But only in part. This was much more to do with Trump's ego and of his being mad and out to get even. And its perfectly true that Trump is his own best press spokesman, if only because nobody is as big and unabashed a liar as he is, nobody is so much of a racist, nobody so much of a fantasist, nobody so gratuitously offensive. Nobody so egregious, nobody so jaw droppingly ignorant and stupid.
Watch and wonder in the video of the whole thing above as he asks a black woman reporter if the members of the black caucus (Trump didn't actually know what this was - it had to be explained to him) are friends of hers and if she can set up a meeting. Watch and wonder as he tells the media that they are very dishonest people only to be picked up by one of them when he repeats, yet again, that he won a record electoral college victory, the biggest since Reagan. Except he didn't. Obama won more both times. Oh he was talking about Republicans he quickly responded. Nope. George HW Bush did better. Oh, he said, I was given that information. So they hand you that same specious and incorrect claim that can be checked in five seconds before every event with cameras do they Donald? Or did you see it on Fox News?
The worst thing is that Trump loves this. He loves it. This is what validates him. He loves spinning bullshit and jousting with the press. Its how he gets his kicks. He misses the cheering of the crowds on the campaign trail, so much so that he had a campaign rally over the weekend despite his only having been sworn in 4 weeks ago. It was going to be a record breaking crowd he informed us all. Yes, you read that right. He lied about the crowd before the crowd even began assembling. He then proceeded to lie about all kinds of other things including a baffling claim about Sweden that has had the Swedes themselves calling Washington to object. Turns out that this was all based on, yep, Fox News again. Nothing of note happened in Sweden on Friday night and certainly nothing terror related. Sweden remains one of the world's most liberal, tolerant, wealthy and respectful places in the world. It does take in a lot of refugees it is true and has slightly recanted on this policy in recent years. It has definitively not suffered a major terrorist outrage. The only Scandinavian country to have done so was Norway at the hands of a white supremacist Nazi.
Facts though are a minor matter to Trump. This is why it is wide of the mark to claim that this is a deflection strategy. There is no strategy. There wasn't a strategy to win him the White House. He won it anyway. There is no strategy to run it now he has it. He doesn't really want the bother. But he does like the hoopla, the attention, the cameras, the crowds cheering. He's just not keen on what people are saying about him. If there is a strategy it is to get him out doing more 'talking direct to the people' without the filter of the media. Because when Trump does that he can say what he likes and lie to his heart's content. That was why the press conference, that was why the rally on Saturday. He became irritated by his press coverage and so tried to get his message out. Unfortunately for him he came across as unhinged. Sure there are some who believed him. But the vast majority will have been appalled.
In Donald's mind he really wasn't ranting and raving last week during that press conference. He even claimed, typically, that it was one of the greatest ever press conferences. There's probably a list of them somewhere. Donald reckons that, by the end of his tenure, he will occupy all of the top ten by constantly exposing the lying media and their fake news based on real but illegal leaks. He honestly cannot understand what is wrong with that. Maybe someone should explain it to him. But with maps and on one page.
This is what Trump does. He creates his own narrative. He heard one thing being said on the news sites he watches, he didn't like that and so he started asserting the opposite. He did it with the Flynn resignation in which he said that people were stopping talking about that and the Russian issue and were now concerned with where the information came from and who leaked it. People? Which people were saying this? But that is what he does. Trump always knows best and always knows what people are talking about, what they are concerned about. Unsurprisingly they always agree with him this unpopular populist.
But here's the bottom line on Trump, he is incredibly thin skinned as we all know. This exhibition of bravado was a clear sign that he is hurting, suffering and very very angry. He knows in his heart that last week was a disaster. And he must know it is going to get worse. Only he knows what his true intentions are with regard to Russia, but he now knows, after last week, that whatever dodgy deal he had planned is now going to be politically impossible. He more or less said as much in the conference after assuring us that that Russia ship off the east coast is 'not good.' He seemed quite emphatic about this. Maybe they had that printed on one of his one page memos in large Donald friendly letters.
Trump's relations with Russia are going to be focused upon relentlessly by political opponents, political allies and the media with laser like focus now. This is the weak point of the administration alongside the president's personality of course. So remarkable as it may seem this may be the start of weeks that will be even worse. There is always some chaos and confusion at the start of all new American administrations. There are lots of new feet to settle under desks, a lot of steep learning curves. They have only made it worse for themselves though by being so very brash and arrogant, of not listening to advice and by getting off to such a bad start with the intelligence services. Most people who serve in government do it, not for the money because there isn't much and not for the prestige but out of a genuine sense of public service and love of country. Many have been appalled and disgusted by how they have been traduced and diminished by Trump and his band of know nothings. Given that Trump has enough skeletons in his cupboard to fit a pet cemetery, he presents an easy target.
For all that he rails against fake news and the dishonest media and claims that satire and SNL sketches don't offend or upset him they clearly do. Which is all the more reason to keep doing more and more. The media and satire are the only real opposition in America right now. They are its best defence against a would-be authoritarian president. He cannot keep giving hour long press conferences and rallies to make him feel better. He has to govern or at least do his impression of governing. And when he does that he comes across disastrously because he hasn't the first clue how to do it and is incapable of asking for help. Worse, he is so obsessed with surrounding himself with people who have never said or written anything disobliging about him that he is struggling to recruit people to that government to help him.
Things may be about to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Or maybe that dishonest media can make Trump quit. Hell, if he says he'll go now, we'll even let him claim that his was the best presidential resignation ever. It will certainly get the biggest crowd.
Sunday, 19 February 2017
The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Leviticus: Chapter 21 - Rules About Priests and Their Need for Virgins
There are few things that are beyond the consideration of this very prescriptive God. Leviticus is about him and his very close attention to detail. Thus far though it's all been about rules for worshipping and a lot of rules about how ordinary people must lead their lives. Now here are some rules about priests. At last!
So, as you will be aware, priests were to be the sons and descendants of Moses' brother, Aaron. They can only come from that family, which presents a problem because Aaron never existed. Aaron was created and inserted into the narrative so as to establish a precedent for the role and powers of priests. Moses never existed either of course, but we won't worry about that for now.
So priests had to try and create a lineage back to the fictitious Aaron in order to claim their right to be priests and all of the privileges that went with those roles. They got to dress up in all kinds of daft finery and got to eat an awful lot of sacrifices. Oh and of course they had an awful lot of power. Not that this was why they did it. Oh god no.
Anyway, now comes the quid pro quo. It's not that bad though.
The priests for a start, said God, had to be extra holy. This, for some reason, meant that they could not grieve in the same way as ordinary people. They could mourn certain key relatives said God but not their wives. The people they could grieve were their father, brother, mother and daughter. They could also mourn their sister but only if she was a virgin. But, when they did mourn, they must not make an exhibition of themselves by shaving their heads or part of their beards. There was to be no cutting into the flesh to show their grief. Funerals for non priests must have been very hairy and bloody mustn't they. Nearly as hairy and bloody as the Tabernacle after a few sacrifices.
God has a thing about virgins. Not only were they only allowed to mourn their sister if she had not slept with a man, God then revealed that priests were only allowed to marry women who were virgins, in other words they were not permitted to marry women who were widows, or divorcees.
Oh and if a daughter of a priest became a prostitute then they should be burnt alive. It's interesting this. This holy and moral God does not disapprove of prostitution per se. He just disapproves of his priests marrying prostitutes or their daughters becoming prostitutes. So is prostitution okay with God for everyone else? It seems so.
Priests were to be extra holy and very pure. Purity in this sense means that God would not allow priests who had deformities of any kind or who were disabled, ugly or had blemishes of any kind. These were impurities and so they were not to be priests. There were to be no dwarf priests, no one lame, no one with a flat nose or anything superfluous. They were to be perfect in every way. Did they have to have a full medical and inspection before becoming priests? Were the priests all male models with perfect bodies? No wonder they married virgins only. Virgin super models presumably.
God only wanted the best looking people in his house. Well, they did get to wear the best and most colourful clothes after all. Although what happened if they burnt or cut themselves whilst dealing with all of the animal sacrifices is something God clearly never thought of.
Saturday, 18 February 2017
Friday, 17 February 2017
Part of me wants to write some excoriating piece about the arrogance of Tony Blair presuming to lecture the British people about Brexit. But then I realised that we want him and people like him to do that and keep doing that.
Blair personifies the political class - the non listening, arrogant, disdainful, sanctimonious, hypocritical class who run the EU and think they are right about everything. They think this even though, repeatedly, they have been shown to be wrong. The EU is the sort of ridiculous super quango that is created by the Tony Blairs of this world. Its why we voted to leave.
But please, Tony, keep lecturing us about why we are wrong and why you were right when you kept trying to take us into the euro or when you gave away our rebate or didn't bring in interim controls on eastern European immigration.
Blair has no idea about how much he is loathed. He is, in his own way, as delusional as Donald Trump.
If you get the chance do watch Trump's latest press conference. It was unhinged, it was all over the place, it was angry, frustrated. He kept telling the press that they are fake news, even when he was tacitly admitting that what they had been reporting was true. He even told the world that he was not ranting and raving. In fact he ranted and raved about it.
This was a press conference called ostensibly to address the chaos in the White House because of difficulties with nominees not being confirmed and with only recently appointed National Security Advisors having to quit. Yet Trump claimed that his administration is a fine tuned machine. Those in the know, by the way, suspect that the leaks about Michael Flynn came not from the intelligence services but from the White House.
This press conference was classic Trump. It was all bluster and anger and finger pointing and contradictions. It cannot, for instance, be fake news about the Michael Flynn Russia scandal because the veracity of the reports was confirmed by Flynn resigning. Trump may claim to be angry with the 'lying media' but the media told the truth about that and forced him to sack a man he would have held onto had not the public been made aware of his treachery via the media.
Trump went on the attack in this press conference because he knows that he is in trouble. The whole Muslim ban was bad enough, but that only appalled a certain section of American society that doesn't vote for Trump anyway. The Flynn scandal was an order of magnitude worse because it exposed the double dealing and lies of Trump's White House and his campaign. They were in regular contact with Russian officials during the campaign and may well have coordinated with them. This has not been denied. Instead they seek to change the subject to the source of the leaks. But, given what came out, those leaks are easily justifiable. Anyway they only serve to confirm what we suspected already.
There is something odd about Trump's relationship with Russia. The Flynn debacle has made it more difficult politically for Trump to take a softer line with Putin. Nevertheless he shrugged off Russia's buzzing of US ships off the east coast and launch of a missile in contravention of arms limitation treaties. What else does he have planned for America's relationship with Russia, the kleptocratic, murderous Russia that has invaded the sovereign territory of a neighbouring country? Why does Trump keep defending Russia? Do they have some hold over him?
Many have suggested over recent weeks that Trump's various pronouncements and tweets are part of a sophisticated strategy that will be revealed in time. I have long argued that there is no sophistication here at all. Trump is an ignoramus. He is ill educated, bone-headed, lazy, vain, narcissistic and quite startlingly dumb. His briefings have to be one page long and include pictures. During the campaign he boasted of how he would beat ISIS (he is obsessed with ISIS) with a brilliant but secret new plan. It turns out that his plan was to get his generals to come up with a plan. They did so - actually the Obama administration had started the process - but they couldn't present it to the new president. It was too complicated for him to understand.
And one only had to listen to his answers to the press when alongside Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be astonished at his ignorance. One state solution? Two state solution? One or the other he said. We can do a deal. How? You cannot, by definition, impose a peace deal on an unwilling party. But that sums Trump up. On one of the most intractable issues in world politics he was blasé, insouciant. In truth he couldn't be bothered to do any of the reading or preparation. He just turns up and wings it. And his finely tuned machine once again betrayed that it has a faulty component or two because his UN ambassador flatly contradicted her boss. The two state solution, she said, remains US policy. Never mind what the president says, he doesn't know what he's talking about.
During his press conference, among many gems, Trump told a rapt world that he had been briefed and he could share with us what he had been told about nuclear holocaust: it would be like no other. Its reassuring that the man in charge of the world's most powerful military is now cognisant of this important fact and how grateful we should all be that he told us this direct and without the lying media to filter it.
Everything is a mess, he said. He inherited a mess. But don't worry because he is going to sort it. He doesn't identify what he thinks is a mess other than the jobs being exported. His solution to that would make matters worse. His ignorance of economics is startling too. Last week it was reported that he had to ask an adviser which was best: a strong dollar or a weak dollar. Does that sound like someone who can come into office and clear up some inchoate mess he has identified, inchoate because we all thought that the American economy was doing pretty well and creating jobs. The world is in a bit of a mess for sure, but its not clear how a man who has only just learnt about the realities of nuclear war will help. His solution also seems to involve appeasing Putin. Presumably he won't have heard what happened the last time appeasement of a dictator was tried. We could ask him to read about it but can you boil the Nazis down to one page with pictures?
The Russian scandal and the emerging facts about it are going to bring Trump down. I now confidently predict this. Congress will have no choice but to investigate Trump's dealings with Russia and to force him to reveal his finances and tax returns. There are rumours that that file full of Trump's indiscretions in Moscow may now have some basis in fact after all. For all of these reasons Republicans should now start distancing themselves from this catastrophe in the making and prepare to bring him down. They should do so for reasons of self preservation if nothing else. It might be that the mere threat of being exposed will force him out. That would be doing us all a service. Donald Trump is not fit to be president. He is too stupid to be president. He is too ignorant and belligerent to be president. He is temperamentally unfit to be president. Anyone supporting or backing him will find it toxic to their future. That is why he needs to be investigated and removed. That is now urgent.
Thursday, 16 February 2017
In a previously unknown essay found recently in America, Winston Churchill expressed his belief in aliens. This is garnering silly headlines as you might expect. But it didn't, I think, mean that Churchill was another Lembit Opik type figure or one of those people who imagine that they have been rectally probed in the desert. This, I have always thought, simply tells us a great deal about their sexual predilections and little else. Anyway, so long as the aliens are over the age of consent who are we to judge?
Churchill, I imagine, was just writing in the wake of HG Wells and Orson Welles. Alien life had never been thought of much before and indeed men being probed in the desert was a phenomenon that was created around the same time. Not that I am saying Churchill had leanings that way you understand.
But belief in aliens or extra terrestrials was actually perfectly reasonable even then. The first tentative steps for man to go into the lower reaches of space were being thought of then. The science was in its infancy and we were then some way off finding planets outside our solar system. But we could infer their presence by simple logic and have subsequently had that inference proven. Now we have discovered that the conditions for life are by no means limited to Mars. There are many other candidates in our solar system including some really exciting prospects among the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
None of this is to say that we need to worry any time soon about a war of the worlds. Our own world has plenty of prospects for villainy and arrogance for us to worry about. But there is a definite prospect of our either finding actual extra terrestrial life or finding evidence that it once existed. This may well happen in the next few years. Churchill was a man who was fascinated by science and technology. That fascination served us well during the war. But its nice to know he applied it in a more intellectually curious way too.
America's new Defence Secretary, James Mattis, is warning Europe that it needs to start paying more for defending itself. This is, or ought to be, in no way controversial. In a world in which ISIS is a constant threat against which we cannot let down our guard and, more importantly, in which Russia is a growing and deliberate threat it is the first duty of all sovereign states to defend themselves.
NATO was created precisely because of the then Soviet threat. The Russian bear is once again growing its military and probing for weaknesses. Throughout Europe it is finding plenty. Britain, though the accountants quibble over exactly what we are spending, it clearly isn't enough. When we hear tales of submarines being out of commission or of regular breakdown in surface ships there is clearly a problem both with the levels of spending and with the way it is spent. For too many politicians, in particular Labour, defence procurement is just a means of creating jobs that win it votes . This is precisely why the money is so often wasted.
And, though money is clearly tight, it could easily be found. Once again we should question the priorities of a government that cuts defence spending to the bone and yet keeps finding ever greater sums to fulfil a nonsensical policy of spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid. This is a figure that was plucked out of the air. It means that DFID has to scramble around for ways to spend this money and waste and corruption are legion. Better to divert some of these billions into areas like defence and social care where there is clear and identifiable need.
We shall soon be sending our letter to the EU beginning the process of leaving. That too will free up money we should be spending at home. If Europe objects to our spending our money on ourselves there is fortunately little they can do about it. For many membership and the all-for-one ethos of the EU is a way of shirking their own duties and passing them on to others. That sums up the EU beautifully, although NATO is much the same. Anger at this state of affairs is not unique to the Trump administration. This time though America seems to mean business. The worry is that Trump's relationship with Russia is unclear and worrying. But then that just means we should start defending ourselves better.
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
And so, more or less as we suspected, we now know that Donald Trump knew that Michael Flynn had spoken to the Russian ambassador and then misled the Vice President. But this is not the whole story. Remember what happened at the time: President Obama went by the diplomatic book and expelled Russian diplomats and closed various Russian sites in the US used for spying and other activities. The assumption was that Russia would follow suit. It did not. We now know why. The incoming administration, via Michael Flynn, spoke to them and gave them certain assurances. Trump then praised Putin for being smart when he chose to overlook the expulsions.
In other words this was Flynn acting with the at least tacit connivance of the then President Elect. Trump knew what had happened within a few days of taking office. He also knew that there was a potential legal issue. He did nothing. He did nothing because he didn't care. Up until a couple of days ago the Trump administration was spinning its alternative facts about Flynn and was determined to keep him in place. But the information got out. Indeed Trump is most angry that his administration is leaking like a sieve. The reason it is leaking though is because so many working in Washington are appalled by what is going on.
The line coming from the administration is that Flynn had to go because his situation became unsustainable. But they knew about this at the end of January. They were warned that a man in a highly sensitive role might be vulnerable to blackmail and yet they did nothing. This is a matter of national security, an excuse they use when trying to bring in pointless immigration bans and yet on a clear breach of security they ignored it until the details leaked to the press. Just watch above as Kellyanne Conway squirms and makes nonsensical defences of the indefensible.
The real concern is this once again raises questions about Trump's relationship with Russia and with Putin. The Kremlin's intemperate response when Flynn was forced out tells us a great deal. They have lost their man in the White House as much as Trump has. What on earth is going on? What are Trump's intentions vis a vis Russia?
There are more and more stories leaking out about the chaos and dysfunctionality of the Trump White House. It is staffed by people who don't know what they are doing under a president whose attention span means that his briefings have to be one page long and are illustrated with maps and diagrams. Trump's presidency is like an Ikea instruction leaflet. But there is something bigger going on with Russia. There is clear intent there and we still don't know the motivations behind it. This is a story that is not going to go away. Trump's presidency is already looking shaky and possibly doomed.