Four Years Gone

    Four years ago, in a piece called ‘Which is Worse?,’ I wrote that:

    Brexit is worse than Trump, because Trump is only for four years — less if he gets impeached or twenty-fived, which is almost certain; but Brexit is forever.

    – Me, Which is Worse?

    Who would have thought, back then, that, while Trump would be gone (having been impeached not once but twice) but Brexit, in its final form, would only be getting started?

    I use the word ‘final’ facetiously. David Allen Green has been writing about this too, and he avers:1

    In 2016, American voters (via the electoral college) elected Trump for a term of four years, while those in the United Kingdom voted for Brexit with no similar fixed term.

    One decision was set to be revisited in four years, the other was not.


    There will be no cathartic Biden-like ceremony to bring Brexit to a close.

    This is because of the nature of the 2016 referendum (which, unlike the election of Trump, was not a decision for a fixed period); and because of the dynamic structure of the new relationship as set out in the trade and cooperation agreement; and because of the unsettled politics both internally in the United Kingdom and of its relationship with the European Union.

    And so, to a significant (though not a total) extent, the United States was able to bring what it decided in 2016 to a formal and substantial end, the United Kingdom cannot similarly do so.

    For the United Kingdom, 2016 is here to stay.

    – David Allen Green, The United States had its cathartic post-2016, post-Trump ceremonial moment – but the United Kingdom cannot have a similar post-2016, post-Brexit moment

    His ‘here to stay,’ and my ‘forever’ could be overstating the case. I feel sure that the United Kingdom, in some form, or at least parts of it, will join the European Union again one day. How far away that day is, and what form the accession country or countries of the time will have, we can only learn by living through it. It will be more than another four years, that’s for sure.

    1. As he loves to do. It would be hard to find one of his posts without the word ‘aver’ in it. I think they get inserted by automatic operation of law.

      He also loves a long title: ‘The United States had its cathartic post-2016, post-Trump ceremonial moment – but the United Kingdom cannot have a similar post-2016, post-Brexit moment’. ↩︎

    The Cold War Never Ended

    Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz, writing in the New York Times:

    American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

    – Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz, Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

    The Cold War continues. And Trump’s on the Russian side of it:

    The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

    – Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz, Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

    Look at the picture at the bottom of this article. Trump seems to have started creating an army of cloned bald-headed men to build the wall for him!

    Luckily The Fall wrote a song about it years ago.

    Trumping Through London

    On Friday I went for a walk through central London with a couple of hundred thousand of my closest friends.

    The march was due to start at 2pm from Portland Place. I was a little late. I went straight to Oxford Circus. I came out of the tube station and just stood and watched the people walking down Regent Street. It was amazing, and seemed endless. Then I saw these two with great signs:

    Anti-Trump protestors with signs: 'If Adolph (sic) Hitler flew in today... They'd send a limousine anyway'; and 'Bloody Trump, combing over hair, taking our tax money.'

    A Clash quote and a bad pun? Count me in.

    I walked down the pavement alongside the march for a bit, taking more photos.

    Anti-Trump protestors, London, July 2018

    Anti-Trump protestors, London, July 2018

    Before long we got to Trafalgar Square.

    Anti-Trump protestors in Trafalgar Square, London, July 2018

    Anti-Trump protestors in Trafalgar Square, London, July 2018

    There were many speakers and a few musicians. Len McCluskey told us that the police had estimated the crowd was over 250,000, which was surprising, since they tend to underestimate. Anyway, if so, it was the biggest since the Iraq war demo. More amusingly, we were a bigger crowd than at Trump’s inauguration.

    That said, I looked around and it didn’t feel that crowded. I’ve seen the O2 full, and I would guess that there were a similar 20,000 in the square.

    But it turned out when I left that there were many, many people in the streets around the square. I guess they didn’t want to push forward because the square looked full. I’m quite glad about that.

    The atmosphere was fantastic all day. The police presence was pleasingly low (or at least low-key), despite the stories of leave being cancelled and people drafted in from all over the country.

    Did it do any good? Probably not, in the sense that it won’t have any direct effect on Trump. But it made a lot of people feel good, and it showed the world that we care.

    It's Inconvenient to Talk

    On Trump’s phone (mis)use:

    Trump’s call-capable cellphone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cellphones used by Obama.


    I mean, it’s not going to be much use at making calls without a microphone.

    You Choose

    Funny where thoughts of current affairs take you.

    All the fawning (and, to be fair, condemnatory and neutral) coverage of Trump’s bombardment of a Syrian air base in response to Assad’s gas attack have stated the quantity and type of munition that was used: “59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles.”

    Those of us who lived under the shadow of the mushroom cloud in the 80s will remember that missile. It was the one stationed at Greenham Common, which of course was the subject of much protest, mainly from the Women’s Peace Camp.

    The Greenham camp was primarily part of the anti-nuclear movement, as the missiles stationed there carried nuclear warheads. Obviously the ones the US launched a couple of nights ago didn’t, but what the whole thing did was remind me of a song from that time: “Tomahawk Cruise,” by TV Smith‘s Explorers.

    I recall hearing that song in my Dad’s car1 back when it came out. It’s possible that I only heard it that one time, but it has stuck in my mind all these years, just waiting to be shaken loose.

    On listening to it on Apple Music I’m pleased to find the chorus is almost exactly as I remembered. The rest of the lyrics are more oblique than I’d have expected. It was an anti-nuclear song, but less obviously than I’d have thought.

    It’s very 80s, as you might expect (it was released in 1980), but there is, of course, nothing wrong with that. Inevitably it’s to be found on YouTube and Spotify.

    Not sure whether this counts as nostalgia, in terms of my post the other day, but I don’t really care. What definitely isn’t, though, is the album I’m listening to as I type: The Chiswick Story by Various Artists2 (most of whom I haven’t heard) is a potted history of the label. Lots of good stuff on there.

    1. Bit weird, as he never listened to Radio 1, and there’s no way it would’ve been on Radio 2. I guess maybe I was waiting in the car while my parents shopped. ↩︎

    2. It was suggested because that’s the label “Tomahawk Cruise” was on. ↩︎

    So Many Black Pixels...

    Never, in the field of political reporting, has so much redaction of falsehoods happened to one president.

    Laptop Ban Stranger Than I Thought

    Today’s Washington Post WorldView newsletter throws more light, a lot of shade, and a lot more confusion onto the ban I linked to last night, on taking laptops and tablets in hand luggage from certain airports.

    First, I didn’t realise that the list of affected airports is different between the UK and the US. Second, for the US, it is just a small set of airports, not all airports in the affected countries. The UK takes the broader approach — but for a different set of countries.

    The most interesting point to my mind is that this may all be Trump trying to help American businesses:

    When pressed by reporters, officials in both countries said the measures were not a response to a specific threat, but rather the result of intelligence assessments that concluded groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are seeking new methods to sow terror in the skies, possibly through hidden bombs in electronic equipment.

    And later:

    Farrell and Newman suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration “weaponizing interdependence” — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors. My colleague Max Bearak detailed how this could be a part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, President Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.

    “A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” said Trump at that meeting. “I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”

    So unfair. But if that’s what’s behind it, what the hell does our glorious leader get out of going along with a slightly modified version of it? It’s certainly not to protect British airlines, as they (unlike American airlines) are affected by the ban. Maybe my “lapdog” dig was exactly right. For years Tony Blair was referred too as George W Bush’s poodle. Maybe Theresa May is adopting the same role for Trump. Which is a horrifying thought.

    Another WaPo article contradicts all that, though, suggesting that the whole thing might be based on some credible concerns:

    The U.S. restrictions were prompted by a growing concern within the government that terrorists who have long sought to develop hard-to-detect bombs hidden inside electronic devices may have put renewed effort into that work, according to people familiar with the matter

    But it asks the question and fails to get a satisfactory answer, “Why not ban all electronics on flights, then?”

    People familiar with the discussions said the restrictions were designed to defeat the particular type of threat that is of greatest concern: the possibility that terrorists could smuggle explosives inside electronics and manually detonate them once on a plane.

    Even if that makes sense (after all, its not like a computer in the hold is (or could hide) some kind of timing device): why just from a strange subset of airports, even in the countries of concern?

    And if it’s all based on a real threat, why the US/UK difference?

    They also raise the real concern that journalists, activists, and just ordinary citizens, will be separated from their personal information, leaving it under the control of unknown people.

    Buckle up, folks, this ride is only going to get stranger and more unpleasant.

    Wiretaps and Wipeouts

    Couple of thoughts about the news, tonight. First of all, CNN reports on Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s “counselor,” and her strange thoughts about microwaves:

    “What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway said, before suggesting that surveillance could take place through phones, TVs or “microwaves that turn into cameras.”

    I want one of these magic microwaves. I mean, think about it: you can reheat your leftovers, then take a photograph of them and post it to Instagram. All from the same device.

    More sanely (at least slightly) they seem to be backing off from the nonsensical wiretapping accusations. According to Sean Spicer, the Whitehouse press secretary:

    “The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities”

    So that’s OK, then.

    In another article they treat it all more seriously, pointing out that doing down your predecessors is a tactic of dictators everywhere:

    They, too, use the apparatus of government to support their whims. And worse, they also seek to punish their predecessors in office and political opponents — as we have seen in countries from Iran to Zambia to, of course, Russia.

    How long until we hear Trump surrogates suggest that Obama might be guilty of a crime?

    Closer to home, the UK government’s Mayhem programme involved them forcing through the Brexit bill, so we’re teetering along the slippery slope, getting ready to run towards the cliff of deadly metaphors.

    Jeremy Corbyn has things in hand, though. He tweeted:

    This is the same Jeremy Corbyn who, just a few weeks ago, put a three-line whip in place to make his MPs vote in favour of the initial version of the bill — which is identical to the version that has now been passed, since the Lords’ amendments were all rolled back.

    I voted for him as leader, twice, but I regret it now, I’ve got to say. He’s a decent guy, and I agree with him on many — even most — issues. But on this, the most important thing facing our country today, leading to potentially the biggest disaster since the Second World War, he’s been completely useless. Worse: complicit.

    Why Liberals Are Wrong About Trump

    This is well worth reading. We should all see an alternative view from time to time:

    Why Liberals Are Wrong About Trump

    Which is Worse?

    I’ve been saying for a while now that Brexit is worse than Trump, because Trump is only for four years1 — less if he gets impeached or twenty-fived, which is almost certain; but Brexit is forever.

    But Trump is moving so fast, following through so fiercely on his campaign promises, that even if he doesn’t last, he’s going to do incredible damage to the USA, and to the world.

    And then there’s pieces like “Trial Balloon for a Coup?,” which, along with the stories it links to, is terrifying. If the things suggested there were to come true, Trump and his successors could be forever, too.

    And even if they manage to get rid of him, that means Pence takes over, which would be its own class of awful. He at least knows something about government and the Constitution, though. I guess?

    So I don’t know. Brexit, if we can’t stop it, is going to be bad for the economy, jobs, and society; but despite the hard-right support for it, I don’t think it means the country is being turned into a fascist state. On the other hand, after a Tory-led hard Brexit they could make the UK into what they’ve always wanted: a tax-haven for the rich and sweatshop for the poor, with permanent austerity policies.

    And there’s no opposition to speak of.

    But Trump…

    But Brexit…

    1. OK, it could go to eight, but who really expects that? ↩︎

    Trump, Nixon, and Subjectivity

    John Gruber reminds us of Hunter S Thompson’s obituary of Richard Nixon, saying it “[f]eels appropriate today” (this was yesterday, of course).

    I hadn’t read it in a while, but there are some glorious lines in it:

    If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president.

    He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

    They were a crooked bunch, though, the Republicans back then. This on Spiro Agnew:

    He was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon’s vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.

    Which is not exactly accurate according to the Wikipedia article, but it’s not too far off.

    The quote Gruber draws our attention to is this:

    Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

    Which reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Which is that I don’t think I want journalism to be objective. At least not in the area of political commentary. News is different, of course. But to me the best journalistic writing comes about when the writer’s personality comes through. When their unique voice can be heard in every paragraph. HST was of course the exemplar of that, but you don’t have to be as extreme as him to write things that have some heart and soul about them, that do more than just recite the facts.

    Indeed, that journalistic objectivity is part of the problem. The whole he said/she said reporting of science in particular — just think of the way climate change is discussed 1; or the MMR fake controversy of a few years back. Journalists need to be able say, “This person says x but they’re wrong because of y and z.”

    And that isn’t necessarily even being subjective. It’s just being willing to not treat both sides of a debate as equal when they’re not.

    Back to HST on Nixon, and the crookedness of the Republicans:

    Two years after he quit, he told a TV journalist that “if the president does it, it can’t be illegal.”

    which is something that Trump has quoted, I believe. Or if not, it’s clear that it’s what he believes.

    1. In reality there’s no “debate.” ↩︎


    Not a lot to say about today. Trump is president. World War III hasn’t started yet, but presumably he’s got the nuclear codes now.

    Actually it’s entirely possible that whoever is responsible for briefing the new president on such matters (and come to think of it, who is it who has that responsibility?) didn’t actually give him the real codes, or the real nuclear football. After all, they’ve probably taken an oath to defend the republic (I’m now assuming it’s somebody military) against enemies domestic and foreign, and one could safely argue that Trump is an enemy of the republic.

    Indeed, an enemy of all decent people. But we’re just going to have to live with him now.

    At least until they impeach him. Or invoke the 25th Amendment1 to declare him unfit. Sooner or later one of those must happen.2

    Although that will leave us with President Pence, so I don’t know…

    1. I read up on it after the West Wing episode “25.” ↩︎

    2. Please! ↩︎

    Poetry and Politics

    It’s hard to believe that this is for real: a poem about Trump written by an American, riffing on the orange one’s Scottish heritage (which, I’m sure it’s fair to say, embarrasses our entire nation).

    Indeed, something in the headline gives me pause: why would The Scotsman describe it as “created” rather then “written”? I wonder whether it has been generated algorithmically by a program.

    It must be a fawning, sycophantic, arse-kissing algorithm of the worst sort, if so. And if not — and if it’s not some particularly subtle satire — then the guy behind it is… unbelievable, assuming he’s writing from the heart. And has one.

    But if you’ve gone and read that, then you should wash your mind out with Hal Duncan’s response, which is not only better poetry, it’s written in modern Scots, and contains lines like this:

    Ah’ll spit a rhyme for ye: Ye cannae write.

    Best of McLeod? Don’t make me fuckin laugh.
    Yer tangerine nazi rapeclown’s fuckin loathed
    by Scots who mind when rebels wurnae naff
    gold-shittered gobshite Emperors unclothed.

    But don’t wait here. Go and read the whole thing.


    If you’re a fan of the Illuminatus trilogy, or the works of Robert Anton Wilson in general, the idea that Trump’s speech is like the last words of Dutch Schulz is particularly amusing.

    Huffington Trump

    I’ve been meaning to note that I love the way that every article in The Huffington Post about Trump has this note appended:

    Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

    Laurie Penny Rules

    Laurie Penny’s “I’m With the Banned” is the best piece of political journalism I’ve read since Hunter S Thompson died.