Posts Tagged ‘politics’

15241400_10154227620278869_1594286058828515718_nUnder the pressure from the relentless pro-Brexit propagandists (which we view with some concern given the American Presidential election experience where literally hundreds of pro-Trump websites were set up by the Russians, and when countless anti-Clinton memes were generated from “invisible” overseas sites that might very well be funded by Putin as well, or by his big money backers in the extreme right in America, both of whom would love to weaken the EC) we have been giving some thought to the concept of a mandate in politics.

And it is simply this.

If a mandate is gained through what can clearly be shown to be a deliberate and oft-repeated lie – in other words, a deliberate con – is it actually a mandate at all? In a world where we blindly talk about “post truth” politics, is the concept of a mandate obsolete as well?

In deciding such a question, it is surely instructive to look at some of the other “estates” of the modern democratic society, and see how they deal with lying.

In the courts, for example, being caught lying brings with it swingeing penalties, even jail time.

In the media, uncovered lying can result in civil damages, or worse.

Yet suddenly we seem not only prepared to countenance a world where politicians are held to (much lower) standards, but where when their calumnies are discovered, no one seems to really care.

“Ah well, all politicians lie!” is the stock response, as in “You can’t trust any of them, so give it up.” As if this is somehow an adequate substitute for holding them to account and demanding they treat us with the minimal respect die to anyone whose support they are demanding, that is, to tell us the truth.

We are not naive. We know that all politicians have lied from time to time. But that is a world of difference from a situation where any attempt top tell the truth is overwhelmed by deliberate falsehoods, often promulgated through social media, which become part of the zeitgeist before any official denial or rebuttal can be issued.

brexit-busThe most egregious example of this in the UK during the Brexit campaign was the so-called Brexit bus, promising to return to the UK the funds that it devotes to the EU budget.

Only two things were wrong with this very prominent promise, which was repeated in tens of thousands (at least) of targeted leaflets issued in official-looking jargonese immediately prior to the Leave-Remain poll.

One, it was a barefaced lie. It virtually doubled the amount the UK donates to the European project.

Two, it was a barefaced lie. As conceded by arch-Brexit campaigner the very day after the Brexit vote, such a compact (to devote the money to the NHS instead) was unworkable, a fact confirmed by others like fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson, and later the incoming Prime Minister, Mrs May.

If there is one sentence that explains the referendum result, though, it’s this one from the website of the Advertising Standards Agency. “For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum.” In other words, political advertising is exempt from the regulation that would otherwise bar false claims and outrageous promises. You can’t claim that a herbal diet drink will make customers thinner, but you can claim that £350m a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union.

The money was “an extrapolation . . . never total”, said Iain Duncan Smith on the BBC. It was merely part of a “series of possibilities of what you could do”.

Does that picture look like “a series of possibilities” or a simple, cast-iron commitment, to you?

brexitMore (slightly more nuanced) rubbish has been pouring out of the Brexit camp which has been trying to tell people that they can keep access to a single market without agreeing to the EU’s freedom of movement. That there is not the slightest possibility of such a deal being agreed to by Junkers, Merkel, Hollande and all the rest is clear and has been stated repeatedly by the Europeans – the impossibility of such an outcome is perfetly obvious to Blind Freddie. Yet the Brexiteers continue to repeat it, albeit increasingly desperately.

And what about the Turkey lie? The fact that staying in the EU means Britain will be flooded with Turkish migrants when that country accedes to the EU. Apart from the again certain fact that accession to the EU by Turkey looks increasingly like a pipe dream, and a decade or more off at the very earliest, on leaving the EU, we, of course, have no vote as to whether Turkey becomes part of it.

The very next day after the Brexit vote, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan told Newsnight that “taking back control” of immigration didn’t necessarily mean cutting it. That would come as something of a shock to millions who voted for Brexit egged on by spurious talk of “taking back control” of Britain’s borders, clear code for “cut immigration”. He also advocated joining the single market: meaning that if Turkey does join the EU, Britain will be obliged to accept freedom of movement for its citizens anyway.

When Britain leaves the EU, it will also lose automatic access to the scheme by which failed asylum-seekers are returned to the country in which they first claimed sanctuary.

All this monument of untruths is not lying on the scale of a few convenient fibs or quibbles over minor details, of being “economical with the truth”. There is a reason that calling someone a “liar” in the House of Commons is forbidden. It is that Members of the House are considered to have reached the pinnacle of social advancement, to be honourable people, dedicated to “doing the right thing”, on a par with judges, bishops, captains of industry, and others. To accept a British Parliament that is “post truth” is to throw away any semblance of what Britain and its parliament represent.

Brexiteers argue that the incredibly narrow advisory referendum win for Leave mandates the British Parliament to support “the will of the people”, and implement withdrawal from the EU post-haste. But leaving aside that this assertion is based on the highly morally dubious conduct of the Leave campaign – reason enough on its own to ignore it in our opinion – this argument fails to understand the British constitution in any way or shape at all. It is another entirely despicable lie that is intended to stick through being continually repeated.

Firstly, let us be crystal clear, the referendum was never, and never could be, legally binding on Parliament. In the British constitution, Parliament is sovereign. It is entirely up to a vote in Parliament as to whether any negotiation on Brexit should be agreed to. There is no way round this very obvious fact, recently confirmed by the High Court in a damningly unanimous decision.

“Ah!” cry the Brexiteers, “but Parliament is morally obliged to follow the will of the people! You are anti-democratic!”

Not so. If we are to debate on the basis of morality, let us consider (a) the vote was never legally binding – this is not an opinion, it is undisputed fact and presenting it as otherwise is another lie (b) the victory was secured by lying on a scale never seen before, (c) the outcome was very close, and in a previous speech Nigel Farage has argued that a 52-48 vote in favour of staying in the EU should trigger a second referendum – but not, perhaps, when the vote goes his way? –  (d) in other democratic exercises such as elections there will be OTHER elections coming along down the line when a decision can be reversed, if desired – but that opportunity does not exist in this situation, hence the vital need for both Houses of Parliament to consider their next step with great care. As what looks like a “once and for all decision”, Parliament is morally obliged to consider the timing and terms of any Brexit extremely carefully. Quite apart from the also oft-measured and very obvious – if inconvenient – fact that the mood in Britain has now swung badly against the Leave camp.

Let us now, though, consider the single biggest argument in favour of Parliament retaining a perfect right to vote against the terms of Brexit, or of Brexit itself, if it so wishes.

One might have to be a member of the derided “intellectual liberal elite” to understand this incredibly simple point, but Parliament is sovereign, and in Britain at least, the Westminster system is that of a Representative democracy, not a Delegated one.

The difference being that our system allows – nay, demands – that our MPs vote according to their best deliberations, and not merely at the whim of how they perceive the electorate’s bidding, however that bidding is delivered to them.

For centuries, our MPs have been held to a higher standard.

As Edmund Burke put it back on the 1700s, in the “trustee model” of democracy, Burke argued that his behaviour in Parliament should be informed by his knowledge and experience, allowing him to serve the public interest above all. Of an MP he said that in giving “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living … Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion“.

Essentially, in the British model of democracy, a trustee considers an issue and, after hearing all sides of the debate, exercises their own judgment in making decisions about what should be done. He added, “You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament“. (Burke, 1774). Burke made these statements immediately after being elected in Bristol, and after his colleague had spoken in favour of coercive instructions being given to representatives.

J.S. Mill also championed this model. He stated that while all individuals have a right to be represented, not all political opinions are of equal value.

This is why, for example, Britain has no death penalty, despite it frequently receiving 80% or more support amongst the population.  It is why homosexuality was de-criminalised long before the public would have voted for it, ditto the legalisation of abortion. In short, MPs think they know better. And sometimes, frankly, they do. Pointing this out enrages members of the public who cynically choose to denigrate all politicians. Nevertheless, it is true. This principle lies at the very heart of British democracy. If we discard it, we discard the entire box and dice.

It’s this simple: despite what rabble rousers and Brexit-bots sound off endlessly about, the referendum result does not have equal value to the will of Parliament. That is why MPs, of any party, are not obliged to slavishly follow the referendum result, and are, in fact, quite to contrary, obliged to consider the matter on its merit.

Opposing a blind Brexit with closer consideration is not, in any sense, anti-democratic. In fact, it is the epitome of British democracy.

“Yes, We Can!”

barack-obama-yes-we-canIt seems like just yesterday that Obama came to the fore of world politics with this optimistic and energising slogan, shouted back at him excitedly by hugely enthusiastic crowds.

Eight years later, despite Obama winning a second election and ending his Presidency with quite high approval ratings, (reflecting a generalised opinion that he’s a likeable guy), that promise frankly seemed to many people more like “No, We Couldn’t.”

Whilst there were some successes in Obama’s presidency, too many people felt left behind. From Florida to Michigan via Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, people came out in their droves in yesterday’s election to register their discontent.

Trump’s victory is going to be spun – everywhere, endlessly – as a great uprising against the elites, a sort of Western “Arab Spring”, and a repudiation of Obama (and by implication, Clinton), a generalised push back against left-of-centre liberal intellectualism, against feminism, against so many isms that people will be frothing at the mouth to get them out. And Brexit, we will be told constantly, was a similar rejection of the ruling European elite, and Trump, as he famously predicted the night before the election, was just Brexit plus plus – surely the only time a political event in another country has been quoted the night before an American election.

The problem is that this analysis of what’s going on in world elections at the moment is actually wrong. Too shallow. Too simplistic.

Not because people aren’t reacting against elites. They are. Blind Freddie can see that. But that’s really not the point. The real issue here is that people are scared, frightened, confused and casting about for someone to blame for what ails them, and the elites are merely the most obvious and useful target. After all, they’re in charge, so it must all be their fault, right?

“What must be their fault?” “This shit we’re in.” “So what do we do?” “Chuck the elites out.” “Yay! Pass the pitchforks.”

"Who's to blame?" "Dunno, but he'll do."

“Who’s to blame?” “Dunno, but he’ll do.”

The problem is that that analysis is skin deep, and chucking out the elites, if that’s going to be the solution, is only step one of a change, anyway. After all, if you’re going to chuck out the elites, you have to replace them with new administrators. Who are they going to be?

So before we assume we know what’s going on, let’s roll back a bit. WHY are people so scared and angry?

The answer is actually very simple. Breathtakingly simple.

The world has been going through a massive structural change – a fundamental change to free-er trade, and integrated global markets, fuelled by the freest and fastest movement of capital in human history. Massive movements of money wreak chaos in the world’s economic systems. Businesses get blown up overnight. Currencies wobble and slide alarmingly, with the knock on effect on future orders, travel, banking and a dozen other areas.

At the same time, new manufacturing bases like China, India, and elsewhere have sprung up to feed products and services into older, more established economies.

All this has cut the guts out of many key industries in America in particular, and because they have a Government which is periodically ideologically opposed to interfering in the economy, the people affected by the changes are often left to fend pretty much for themselves.

(Layered on top of this is a generalised concern about terrorism and conflict which keeps people permanently unsettled. The obvious fact that hardly anybody, in statistical terms, ever gets hurt by terrorism, is no compensation for those watching lurid pictures of those unfortunates that do, and especially when irresponsible politicians take every opportunity to talk up the threat instead of cutting it down to size.)

But back to economics. Because “it’s the economy, stupid”, right?

The only solution is for economies to be quicker, more flexible, and more innovative. The world might not want your eight cylinder Detroit-built gas guzzler any more, but it seems to want a super-fast electric Tesla, not just because it’s cheap to run, and environmentally friendly, but because it’s a bloody good car, chock full of driver goodness.

But for every Tesla there are dozens of clunky, slow-moving businesses, frantically trying to build firewalls around their markets, and failing.

Many of the people running these companies are more focused on merging with another company and making a quick buck out of stock options, and while they talk a good story about the need to expand and innovate it’s not really their focus. Otherwise they would, yeah? So sooner or later, the hungry and the fast eat the slow and the complacent, as they always do, and the hungry and the fast are increasingly somewhere else, not in our old, established economies. They are in places with fewer restraints on business – especially on labour issues and environmental protection – and they are frequently quasi-command economies where decisions are taken very fast, and without opposition. It’s a potent mixture.

The real problem has been that the political elites are locked into a zero sum game.

They can’t get elected, or re-elected, without saying they know how to fix things. But in reality, they don’t really know how to fix things.

The changes that are going on are so fundamental that they aren’t actually amenable to “being fixed”. Certainly not quickly, and certainly not just by saying it. Many of the changes taking place now are “forever” changes – the clock simply can’t get turned back. People are going to have to adjust, and no amount  of overblown rhetoric from the elite is going to smooth over or resolve the problems.

So if a business in America, for example, (or any old economy market), wants to continue to compete in low-tech commodity marketplaces that they once previously dominated, what are they going to do? Slash the wages of their workers to those of workers in China? India? Mexico? Vietnam? Indonesia? And increasingly – Africa, too? Install better (and more expensive) automation? And anyway, where’s the money going to come from?

What happens to the worker voters then? Longer hours for smaller pay – or being replaced by some whizz-bang new production line – isn’t going to go down well with a workforce that has been cosseted for generations by the terms won by pro-active and powerful unions.

So here is our fear.

The real terror we have is that Brexit will have little or no effect on whether or not Britain can compete on the world stage in the way that it used to when the country had preferential access to cheap colonial resources, and technological leadership in areas like car manufacture, aircraft design, heavy engineering, added value food manufacture, and much more. Brexit may, indeed, happen – or some version of it – but when it fails to produce some magical re-ordering of the state of Britain’s economy, and vast swathes of the country continue to be over-crowded and under-employed, where will electors turn next?

And what about America?

greatagainWhat if “Make America Great Again” turns out to be just so much more polly-waffle. Because America actually can’t be made great again, because it’s hopelessly under-capitalised (seen the deficit recently?) with a shrinking tax take, too turgid, not innovative enough, and rapidly being muscled out by new, cheaper more agile competitors.

And America’s too political. Just too damn political. So when someone calls for huge investment in “green energy” for example, sensible, laudable forward-thinking initiatives are killed by a bunch of old-economy oil barons protecting their turf, aided and abetted by politicians who are either in their pocket, or who would rather deliver a smart soundbite about how alternative energy sources will never match up to our needs, and anyway, “who believes all that global warming stuff anyhow?” rather than take on the task of educating the public as to why such investment isn’t just a good idea, it’s mandatory.

The very obvious point is that moving to alternative energy sources will simply make the planet cleaner, anyhow, and wouldn’t that be nice, even if global warming isn’t happening and 99% of the scientists in the world are wrong? And anyway, old-style energy sources are running out whether or not the planet is warming. One day we will run out of gas, oil, coal, and uranium, or it will simply be too expensive to extract what’s left. What then?

Doesn’t it seem to make sense to have a fall back solution?

Of course it makes sense, but we are idolising politicians who could care less if it makes sense. Look at Trump’s insistence that he will wind back support for solar energy and expand the coal industry. It plays well amongst unemployed coal miners, it played well in key swing states like Pennsylvania, and the owners of coal companies will be delighted. Not so much the future-focused industries. Among solar-power installers, SolarCity Corp. which Tesla Motors Corp. is currently trying to acquire, closed down 4% on Wednesday. Rival Vivint Solar Inc. was among the biggest decliners, ending the day off 6.3%, while SunRun Inc. tumbled 4%. Solar-panel makers and solar-power developers fared no better. SunPower skidded 14% and First Solar Inc. lost 4.2%. The American depositary receipts of China-based solar-panel manufacturer JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. fell 8.4%; Trina Solar Ltd. ADRs closed 2.3% down for the day. The Guggenhim Solar ETF  was off 5.6%.

This is just one industry sector out of dozens we could consider. We’re going to make America great again by massacring an industry of the future and pumping up a tired old industry of increasing irrelevance. Irrelevance, we say? Yup. Coal prices have fallen more than 50% since 2011 as it has faced stiff competition from plentiful natural gas which is easier to extract and transport, cleaner to use, and cheaper. That isn’t going to change.

We’re going to rob Peter to pay Paul – lose jobs and wealth in the solar industry to prop up jobs and profits in the coal sector. And in doing so, we will send the American ability to compete (against the Europeans, especially) backwards, again. And for what? So we can make it look like we are keeping in line with our hugely overblown promise. “Back to basics! None of this wanky new stuff! Let’s get those mines open again!” We’re in the process of doing exactly the same in Australia.

Politics, pure and simple.

But the stakes here are simply enormous. The howling, inchoate anger of the masses that saw Trump elected will absolutely not tolerate another failure. Trump has massively raised expectations of his (and by implication, the Republicans’) ability to fix things with a massive tranche of people who have lost all hope and trust in “the system’s” ability (or desire) to help them.

He’s their last throw of the dice.

He has blindly and repeatedly promised jobs, jobs, jobs with no plan as to how to create them, other than slashing taxes for business and for the well off, and vaguely “getting government off people’s backs”. Which is all well and good, except the evidence is that cutting taxes very often does not create jobs, because the “trickle down” effect of lower taxes for the rich is illusory, and there is no evidence that cutting corporate tax results in higher levels of investment in business, either.

And “getting government off people’s backs” is simply code for slashing the social credit: cutting money for hospitals, education, welfare, veterans, transport and more. Which are precisely the things that the disenfranchised people that vote for him need to survive. So in four Trump/Republican supporting areas in America last night electors voted to increase the basic wage – because they can’t live on what they’re getting now – an act which will now be opposed by the very people they voted for.

Sometimes, looking around can be instructive. This interesting little article about how constantly pumping up the electorate’s expectations has essentially wrecked the Icelandic economy and destroyed the trust of the voters is well worth reading.

Is there an alternative? Yes there is. We need politicians (and opinion leaders) who can explain the realities of the world in simple enough terms for people to understand. It is not a coincidence that Trump’s largest area of support drew from the under-educated. The same was true of Brexit. If the Legia Nord persuade Italy to leave the EU, or the National Front take power in France, the same will be true again.

That’s not a value judgement, it’s an indisputible fact that needs to be understood. If you haven’t finished high school, let alone done further education, you simply aren’t going to have the head skills to understand complex arguments. So what do we do in response? Do we work out how to make those arguments genuinely accessible? Do we re-examine our communications techniques to explain what’s going on to the widest possible number of people, to prevent an expectations bubble blowing up? No, we don’t – because we don’t think we can get elected that way. So we reduce our political messages to the mindlessly boiled down and un-achievably aspirational. We’re going to Make America Great Again. How? Sorry, I need to move on and talk about emails.

Trump has ratcheted the expectations for his incoming Presidency to impossibly high levels. If he crashes and burns, we genuinely fear for the very fabric of society. And we fear that effect appearing all over the world.

churchillOne of the most famous political speeches of all time was made by Winston Churchill when he took over Government in the most parlous situation in May, 1940. With Britain’s very existence at stake, he said:

“I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

The national unity that was engendered, and the national effort it produced, has never been exceeded before that time, or after. Indeed, many consider Britain’s War Cabinet from 1940-45 to be the most effective UK Government of any era.

Blood? Toil? Tears? Sweat? An Ordeal? Struggle? Suffering?

Didn’t hear a lot about that sort of stuff in recent years, did you? And yet now is exactly when the angry, bitter, betrayed working and middle classes desperately need our political leaders and our media to tell them the truth.

They won’t, so we will.

A lot of the next ten or twenty years are going to be shit, quite frankly, and there’s no real sign that we know what to do about it.

Our kids will probably be less well off than we are, at least some of them will, and some of us will be, too. Our kids are going to have a whole heap of challenges we can only guess at now.

Our world is changing faster than we can manage, the stars are realigning, and the very first thing we need to do is face up to it, because unless we do, there is not just a vanishingly small chance we’ll work it out, there is no chance whatsoever.

We need a massive effort, akin to being in a war against a tyrant. And we are going to make mistakes, there are going to be mis-steps, and if we try to slay our opponents or burn the house down every time there is, we’re never going to get anywhere.

The days of plentiful cheap resources and endlessly expanding markets are gone. Forever. And we can’t rely on population growth to take up the slack, because it creates as many problems as it solves.

How we handle the coming change, with its inherent difficulties, will be the measure of our shared humanity. Let’s start by facing up to the challenge, and taking the people with us.

 

 

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We haven’t been doing very well with our predicting, recently. There: that’s a sentence you don’t normally expect in the world of political punditry.

But the fact is we got the Brexit vote totally wrong – we were hardly Robinson Crusoe in that regard, but that doesn’t matter – and we also failed to predict a Conservative overall majority in the UK, but again, almost no-one got that right either and it was a very close run thing … from a psephological point of view the change in the Lib Dem seats in the West can literally be assumed to have taken place in the last 48 hours, so we weren’t the only people surprised.

But for a year now, we have been confidently predicting a Clinton victory in the 2016 Presidential election. Our analysis has ranged from “massive Clinton victory” to “comfortable Clinton victory” and at no stage have we EVER speculated that Trump could win.

And today, despite all the recent froth and bubble in the media, we repeat our prediction. Clinton’s got this. With a margin somewhere between “just” and “just about comfortable”. Which considering she has been subject to the longest period of personal vilification ever seen in modern political history, much of which has been entirely politically motivated and rank untruths, is really quite a remarkable thing. She has been pilloried, lied about, accused of ludicrous things, with a level of pure vitriolic hatred that can only be described as anti-democratic and neo-fascist in its expression. And she’s a woman. And anyone who thinks that there isn’t evidence of blatant sexism in some people’s denial of her right to be President is simply naive, just as many of the attacks on her health and stamina – which seem to be just fine when you consider her punishing schedule – are codes for “weak, poor little woman thing”.

Let’s be clear: we have previously pointed out at length that “No”, Clinton is not a perfect person. Who is, after all? Let alone in the field of politics. She is, however, a shining knight clothed in holy armour wielding a blazing sword of righteousness compared to Trump. That a large percentage of intending American voters can’t see that is truly distressing and disturbing to the rest of us.

We can’t bring myself to be angry with every Trump voter. After all, they’re perfectly entitled to disagree with us, and we know some of them personally, and they are patently obviously decent folk. Social media has dominated where they are getting their information from, and this is what’s dominating their social media , a highly sophisticated misinformation campaign mounted deliberately, and with malice aforethought.

So what we have been witnessing is a perversion of democracy. Let us hope that enough Americans agree so that after Tuesday we see some real and meaningful reform to both media coverage and the tone of campaigning. This morning on radio in Melbourne one of the more senior (and least alarmist) hosts remarked “America is broken. It’s like Humpty Dumpty, and I cant see how it’s ever going to be put back together again.” Which is a miserable thought for all who treasure much of what is good – even great – about America.

Anyway, back to the impending result. A lot of people have been opining that some Trump voters are hiding their intentions from pollsters because they’re embarrassed to admit they support him, and arguing that the phenomenon is “like Brexit”, which is all very well except right up to the Brexit vote it was always going to be close (Brexiteer Nigel Farage famously remarked that a 52-48 vote in favour of Remain should be ignored, then promptly changed his tune when his side won by that very margin), and speaking out against the EU was never something that the vast majority of Britons had any problem with.

It should also be noted that for someone to be so embarrassed to be supporting Trump that they would have to lie to pollsters yet still be intending to vote for him would require some very complex mental circumlocutions. And given the hurricane of criticism she has received, we think it just as likely that some Clinton supporters might not wish to express their support for her, so any “ashamed of Trump” effect would in all probably be evened out by an “ashamed of Clinton” effect. Indeed, if anything, the “enthusiasm” levels that are measured are lower for Clinton than Trump, so that effect would be greater.

So we simply do not believe, as the Trump side has been furiously talking up, that there is some vast unspoken well of support for the Republicans.

Essentially, we think the opinion polls have it about right, which is somewhere in the region of a 2-3% lead in the popular vote for Clinton, which is now climbing again, but a stronger lead for her in some key battleground seats. We think Trump may actually do better in some of the solid “red” seats than is currently expected, except it won’t matter because he’ll be piling up votes where he doesn’t need them.

There has been much talk about which the key swing states are. We all know about Florida, where we suspect Trump may just pull it off, following an erosion in support for Libertarian Gary Johnson which has caused a drift back to him, as people focus on the main game. But Florida really is too complex to call with any degree of certainty. Two other factors are complicating matters. Firstly there is some strong evidence that a significant percentage of early Republican voters have backed Clinton, which in a state with a very significant early voting percentage, and where the Democrats ground game is markedly better, may just tip the state back to her. It was won by Obama, remember. Secondly, Latinos in the state are voting in increased numbers, and as we have opined previously, Trump has very good reason to fear an uptick in the Latino vote. Because of our political preferences we are hopeful of a Clinton victory, but the psephologist in us urges caution. And in any very close election, we are minded to remember Bush v Gore, which we remain convinced was nothing more nor less than a judicial coup. Now, though, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 between Liberals and Conservatives, so any similar farrago this time may be avoidable … Hillary Clinton is ahead 48 – 42 percent among Florida voters who already have cast ballots.

Let us hope this election doesn’t come down to lawyers at dawn. One calculation has a 17% chance that Florida will be the “tipping point” state, yet again.

FLORIDA VERDICT Too close to call/Very close Clinton victory

Moving up the country, the next vital state is North Carolina. There were some early indications that Clinton might be in trouble in a state with a large black vote where there was less enthusiasm in black voters than in the Obama elections, in a state won by the Republicans last time, and in areas where Republican voter suppression has been seen at its most naked. The voter suppression laws have been largely declared invalid, but possibly too late to rescue the situation. Then again, President Obama, who is still a talisman for the African-American vote, has been strategically deployed to “get the black vote out”. If he succeeds, what might have been the narrowest win for Trump may turn into a narrow win for Clinton. There’s no question that the race is tight, but we perceive Clinton inching ahead in the last couple of days. In particular, a normally very reliable poll now has her up by three having previously had Trump ahead by four just a couple of weeks ago. In a reliable poll using the same methodology, that’s a significant movement, and in the last week Clinton has seemingly risen slightly further. The only impossible to discern factor is how far Libertarian candidate Johnson will fall. Five Thirty Eight actually says Trump is more likely to win, but we think there may be enough African-American enthusiasm to carry the day for the Democrats.

NORTH CAROLINA Too close to call/Very close Clinton victory

The next crucial contest is Ohio. We think that this can now be safely called in the Trump camp. He has been improving there steadily, and there is, clearly, a generalised move to the Republicans in the central states. Some of the key factors here are that Clinton is doing significantly less well with female voters here than generally, and Trump has garnered an historically high number of male voters.There is also a strong sense amongst the working class and non-college educated vote that they are being ignored by the elite, especially as regards trade deals and employment initiatives. The notably right wing Governor, Kasich, has ironically and pointedly refused to back Trump, but his general stance seems to have solidified Republican support.

OHIO Trump

Moving to the right, but only geographically, Pennsylvania seems equally locked in the Clinton column. The state seems to be delivering a solid lead of 4-6% for Clinton in survey after survey no matter how you dice and dust the results. That’s now too big for Trump to overhaul except in some mythical scenario where his vote is being under-estimated by 10-20%, which isn’t going to happen. A potential transit strike in Philly won’t help poorer voters of either party to get around on polling day. It remains to be seen whether the City’s attempt to injunct the strike is successful.

PENNSYVANIA Clinton

It is worth pointing out that no one has been elected president since 1960 without carrying two of the three key swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This year, North Carolina has been added to that mix. We see the four states leaning to Clinton overall – just. Are we confident in that prediction? Not especially. In Florida and NC we could be dead wrong, as the current polls are well within margins of error. Interestingly, though, that can cut both ways. Take 3-4% off Clinton and Trump does very well indeed. Add 3-4% to Clinton and it becomes a Clinton landslide.

Can we get a better idea by looking at other close states? Maybe. But first a word overall. Nate Silver’s normally highly reliable 538 site has a movement back to Clinton from Trump in terms of their chances of winning of what may be a hugely significant 0.8% from the fourth to the fifth of November. This presumably reflects both the FBI’s confirmation that Clinton is to be charged with nothing regarding the endless email scandal, and the following:

The small state of Nevada should deliver it’s 6 votes to the Republicans without any difficulty. Except … the Democrats ground game here has been especially aggressive, particularly via organised labor and targeting the Latino community. If Trump loses Nevada – and he could – he’s in trouble.

Whilst New Hampshire has come back towards Trump in the very recent past, Clinton is still solidly ahead in the vast majority of polls, although there have been a couple that have it line ball or leaning Trump, but these come from polls that seem less reliable than some others, and one which is positively partisan. The role of the Libertarian candidate here will be crucial in a state where “alternative” candidates often do well. How well his vote holds up will probably decide the state, and at the moment he seems to be hanging onto enough votes to cruel things for Trump. It’s only 4 electoral college votes, but they’re four votes who if they went to Trump it would suggest a real Republican surge.

In Michigan, with its important 16 electoral votes, Clinton is holding onto about a 4% lead, with Gary Johnson’s vote holding much steadier than in some other places. Whilst the race unquestionably tightened in the last half of October the situation now seems more stable for Clinton, and possibly moving back to her slightly. The opposite is true in Iowa, where Trump is strengthening his position, as with many mid-West states.

Virginia was close for Obama but it is becoming increasingly suburban and – as it does – liberal. If Clinton were to lose it – we don’t think she will – she can kiss her hopes goodbye.

So: our prediction?

We predict that without Pennsylvania, Trump cannot win, even if he carries Ohio and Florida – unless he is able to also capture Michigan and Wisconsin. But both states have voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections and Clinton is ahead in both.

One of the interesting factors will be how early Florida declares – or is declared – by the media. Beyond the very fact of the significance of its votes going to Trump, because of the time difference a very early declaration for Trump could cause a cascade effect through the centre and west.

A Trump win in Pennsylvania would be very difficult for Clinton to make up. The loss of Pennsylvania together with Florida would be a real blow to her chances.

We see Clinton with anything from the barest 270 electoral college votes up to about 290-300. Trump probably about 230-256, maybe a few less.

Which means Trump will do better than anyone ever imagined possible until recently. But no: he isn’t going to win.

Betting odds are currently 4-1 or so ON Clinton and 4-1 or 5-1 AGAINST Trump. That looks about right.

Well, for today, at least. We’ll see more polls and analysis tomorrow, but till then, well, that’s what we think.

UPDATE as at 14.25 AEST

Polls have firmed for Clinton overnight with it now looking likely she will take Florida, unlikely she will take North Carolina but not impossible, not going to take Ohio, will take Pennsylvania, and will take Michigan and Nevada.

Somewhere, a fat lady is singing. Clinton wins.

 

 

May you live in interesting times ...

May you live in interesting times …

Expect major news regarding the UK Labour Party in about half an hour from now.
Possibly the most dramatic news in UK politics in generations. Or a storm in a tea cup. We shall see.
You heard it here first.

streicher

 

Comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles – three of which may be poisoned, so best to discard the whole bowl – is an idea that has deep roots.

The concept of one bad apple threatening the peace of society dates back at least to 1938 and a children’s book written by an especially nasty demagogue called Julius Streicher, called Der Giftpilz, or The Toadstool, in which a mother explains to her son that it only takes one Jew to destroy an trump handsentire people.

Active in politics from 1919 onwards, Streicher’s arguments were primitive, vulgar, and crude but he believed in what he said and was an uninhibited, wild agitator, to whom masses would listen; which was what mattered to the Nazis and their backers.

streicher hitlerIn November 1923, Streicher participated in Hitler’s first effort to seize power, the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Streicher marched with Hitler in the front row of the would-be revolutionaries and braved the bullets of the Munich police. His loyalty earned him Hitler’s lifelong trust and protection; in the years that followed, Streicher would be one of the dictator’s few true intimates.

As well as “The Toadstool”, Streicher also published a newspaper that Adolf Hitler loved to read, Der Stürmer. The newspaper published anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-communist, and anti-capitalist propaganda.

In 1933, soon after Hitler took power, Streicher used his newspaper to call for the extermination of the Jews.

One of Streicher’s constant themes was the sexual violation of ethnically German women by Jews, a subject which served as an excuse to publish semi-pornographic tracts and images detailing degrading sexual acts. These “essays” proved an especially appealing feature of the paper for young men. With the help of his notorious cartoonist, Phillip “Fips” Rupprecht, Streicher published image after image of Jewish stereotypes and sexually-charged encounters. His portrayal of Jews as subhuman and evil is widely considered to have played a critical role in the dehumanization and marginalization of the Jewish minority in the eyes of common Germans – creating the necessary conditions for the later perpetration of the Holocaust.

This “Otherisation” is today eerily repeated in the claims of Donald Trump that “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” And also arguing that all Muslims must be refused entry to the United States because they are potentially terrorists.

Do such statements resonate? The evidence is they do. In just one reported event, two brothers reportedly attacked a 58-year-old Hispanic homeless man in Boston, breaking his nose and urinating on him, in mid-August. They allegedly told police they targeted the man because of his ethnicity and added, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.” After the GOP candidate was told of the attack, and instead of denouncing the act Trump said his followers were “passionate.” Later (no doubt after taking advice) the Twitter-friendly presidential candidate tweeted about the incident, saying he would “never condone violence.” Yet Trump has denied protesters their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly and dissent; currently at least three protesters are suing Trump after being manhandled and physically abused at his campaign events. Peaceful protestors have been verbally abused, manhandled, pepper-sprayed, beaten and kicked by Trump supporters. Trump has repeatedly talked about the virtues of punching and otherwise abusing protesters. At one rally he encouraged his supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters. He offered to pay the legal fees of his supporters who attacked protesters. He expressed his personal desire to punch protesters, although one late night comedian observed that Trump seems more like the evil mastermind who would stroke a white cat while someone else does the punching.

Streicher’s attitudes were so disgusting he even offended many of his fellow Nazi leaders. For his twenty-five years of speaking, writing, and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as “Jew-Baiter Number One”. In his speeches and articles, week after week, month after month, he infected the German mind with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution. Each issue of Der Stürmer, which reached a circulation of 600,000 in 1935, was filled with such articles, often lewd and disgusting. As we now know, the mood of terror created by Streicher and others resulted in the industrial extermination of millions of people as state policy.

juliusstreicher225Julius Streicher was not a member of the military and did not take part in planning the Holocaust, or the invasion of other nations. Yet his pivotal role in inciting the extermination of Jews was significant enough, in the prosecutors’ judgment, to include him in the indictment of Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal – which sat in Nuremberg, where Streicher had once been an unchallenged authority as Gauleiter. Most of the evidence against Streicher came from his numerous speeches and articles over the years. In essence, prosecutors contended that Streicher’s articles and speeches were so incendiary that he was an accessory to murder, and therefore as culpable as those who actually ordered the mass extermination of Jews (such as Hans Frank and Ernst Kaltenbrunner). They further argued that he kept them up when he was well aware Jews were being slaughtered.

He was acquitted of crimes against peace, but found guilty of crimes against humanity, and sentenced to death on 1 October 1946.

With various histrionics on the scaffold, Streicher was hanged in October 1946.

The consensus among eyewitnesses was that Streicher’s hanging did not proceed as planned, and that he did not receive the quick death from spinal severing typical of the other executions at Nuremberg. Kingsbury-Smith, who covered the executions for the International News Service, reported that Streicher “went down kicking” which may have dislodged the hangman’s knot from its ideal position. He stated that Streicher could be heard groaning under the scaffold after he dropped through the trap-door, and that the executioner intervened under the gallows, which was screened by wood panels and a black curtain, to finish the job.

The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is this Monday evening, in America. It will make interesting viewing.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-4-50-39-pm

This is one very possible outcome for the USA presidential election.

It shows Clinton winning by 308 electoral college votes to Trump’s 191, crucially giving Florida to Clinton, plus North Carolina and Pennsylvania. A couple of states are left as toss ups.

The rationale for the above map is quite simple. We do not believe Trump can win a Latino heavy state in Florida (29 precious votes), and Clinton is ahead in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina (which in the two last elections were toss ups, won once each by each side, but where court actions to disallow Republican voter restrictions may tip the state to Clinton, and where she also holds a 2% opinion poll lead currently). Trump cannot really find a path to the 270 electoral college votes he needs without Pennsylvania, and whilst his raw appeal may swing some disgruntled blue-collar votes to him, it will be destructive of the Republican vote in the more liberal city suburban areas.

You can have your own fun speculating on various scenarios here.

 

trump__clinton

 

So far so good, but it’s all pure speculation at this stage, of course. There are plenty of days to go, all of them with potential trip ups for both candidates, and both candidates are hugely unpopular anyway. We happen to think the televised debates will see a very startling poll bump for Clinton, the first of which is next Monday night in America, at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY. We think Clinton – who is fearsomely bright – may wipe the floor with Trump, who isn’t. But we may be way wrong. Clinton has a habit of appearing stiff and starchy, and that won’t play well against Trump’s famously informal style.

Still, we think she will effectively expose what a nonsense the man is intellectually, and that, as they say, will be that. If there’s a “gotcha” moment, it will be very clear.

But that isn’t really what this article is about.

This article is really to discuss the nightmare scenario that America is actually splitting – psychologically and emotionally, if not literally – into two states with strongly opposed views. One made up of the industrial north, the east and west coasts, and one made up of the centre of the country. It’s very clear to see in the map above, which with a few wrinkles will almost certainly be roughly what the country’s electoral map will look like after the election.

Is the Union actually under threat once again?

We must remember that the United States descended into a civil war that was essentially a conflict over slavery, but more essentially a conflict over the economic influence and wealth that slavery allowed its practitioners. (Concepts of “states rights”, incidentally, have comprehensively been shown to be an intellectual red-herring as regards the cause of the war.)

America is today divided into two states economically again. Much of the (much more populous) north and the coasts are leaving the centre behind as regards economic recovery, and where that is not the case, lugubrious amounts of Federal monies are pouring in to take up the slack. The centre, and much of the south, mostly much more agriculturally-based, feels neglected. And angry.

Where the centre is doing well economically – Texas, for example – there is little latent enthusiasm for the Union, and even a spasmodic resurgence of arguments that the State would do better on its own. Much of the centre and South is still virulently “anti Washington” and “anti Establishment” – opinions that have largely remained unchanged since the conflict of the 1860s.

So what does this mean for America’s future?

One obvious outcome is that it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the necessary reforms can be enacted to allow America as a whole to take advantage of its recent economic growth can be made – certainly not with the general cross-aisle agreement that would be necessary. The atmospherics and mutual dislike will simply be too fierce.

Yet whichever party wins in November there simply has to be a concerted attempt to reverse the massive Federal Government debt – and the debt held by States – but a country riven by division is very unlikely to agree a program to do much more than slow the growth in debt, which is all the Obama administration and the Republican Congress have managed to achieve in the last eight years. That achievement is to Obama’s credit, but it isn’t enough.

A country cannot live “on tic” forever. A fact realised in Australia, where the conservative Government and socialist Opposition just agreed a package of spending reforms.

In foreign policy, America still faces very serious challenges in the Middle East, and especially with a newly assertive Russia and China. The country needs to be essentially “speaking with one voice” to effectively address a whole morass of scenarios that threaten world peace.

Then there are the core social attitudinal differences. The centre is overwhelmingly Christian (and fundamentally so, to a large extent), the north and the coasts are much more socially liberal and culturally diverse. As both parties seem to lose any sense in which they are competent economic managers, so people increasingly eschew making a judgement about that, and vote on the basis of other matters, despairing of anyone’s ability to “make America great again”. So matters such as abortion, and LBGTI+ rights, assume a higher significance. In 2016, opinions on those and other matters could hardly be more divided.

Whatever the result in November – and we still believe it will be a strong win for the Democrats – the incoming party will have a massive job putting America back together again. And we are not at all sure that they can. Exactly how that would play out is yet to be seen.

Yes, we are aware of the fact that we have recently argued for greater civility in politics.

But frankly, with the best will in the world, politicians are sometimes just total dickheads.

Then again, their electorate can hardly complain too much.

respect

Honestly, we despair, Dear Reader.

harred

“Haters gonna hate” goes one of the more popular phrases doing the rounds on the internet currently.

This fascinating – strongly recommended and well-researched – article from the BBC tackles one of the most pressing issues facing modern democracy.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160823-how-modern-life-is-destroying-democracy

It argues that the brutal tribalisation of Western democratic politics – the ever widening gap between left and right that also sees both those “wings” of politics more extreme in reality as well as simply being perceived as such – is partly a function of the way we live now, and perhaps especially interestingly, that the algorithm-driven marginalisation of readers into ever more narrowly targeted discussion groups on social media is a major factor.

In other words, the more time we spend on Facebook, the less we are exposed to competing points of view, and the more rigid we therefore become in our opinions, because we are constantly exerting confirmation bias on ourselves, and receiving it from those who agree with us. What’s more, the stronger the confirmation bias the less likely we are to accept opposing evidence. Even facts don’t make any difference to the opinions we hold.

As we replicate this social media bias into our daily lives with our friends’ groups, the same effect is multiplied.

All of which bodes ill for the institution of democracy. Democracy only survives – only works – when there is a broad, implicitly accepted consensus that disagreement isn’t just healthy, it is actually the oxygen that nourishes democracy. Debate is good. It’s more than good, it’s how wisdom is created. It’s also how agreement is built between competing groups exerting different pressures on the system. With no debate, whichever side is stronger merely overthrows the other, and the other becomes angrier and more likely to resort to non-democratic methods to achieve their desired outcomes.

The number of friendships shattered by the emotions released over “Brexit” must pass into tens of thousands, or more. And it isn’t good enough to say “well, they can’t have been very good friendships to begin with”, because we can observe that many were. But the tensions raised, especially via the debating tactics used, essentially told people that their side were angels and the other side demons. In most cases, of course, that simply wasn’t true.

The current American presidential election has descended into by far the least edifying contest in living memory.

No, Hilary Clinton is not a perfect human being any more than her husband was. Yet neither is she the epitome of evil and illegality that she is accused of being by many on the right. Discussion of her intended program is virtually banished in pursuit of relentless personalised character attacks. Similarly, Trump has said plenty – and done plenty – that warrants forensic analysis, and his character is legitimately under question. Yes despite his strangled syntax and rubbery policy positions, it also cannot be denied that he has tapped into a rich and deep vein of anti-establishment angst that deserves to be heard and understood, lest it spiral beyond the system and into the realm of civil disobedience and worse.

There have already been glimmerings of a rejection of the very notion of civil society in America, to left and right. This is extremely worrying, as the country’s nascent economic recovery is very fragile, and the rest of the world relies on it becoming locked into place. That requires stability.

 

hitler

 

What we need is a return to courtesy. To a willingness to concede that the other side might have a point. Not a mindless dumbing-down style of courtesy that means we tolerate people saying any old nonsense – as we have argued often, free speech never was – and never should be – considered to be absolute.

We need the people to demand courtesy of our political leaders, and we need the people to demand that they operate with transparency, ethics, and respect for their opponents. That they argue the merits of a policy position, and not just the morality or motives of their opponents.

We need, in effect, to demand more of our leaders; we demand they do much more than enthusiastically follow whatever lapse into tribalism we exhibit. A great truism is that ‘We get the politicians we deserve”. So getting better politicians means we have to say, loud and clear, that we want to elevate people who can look beyond stoking the fires of tribalism – yes, even to the point of putting those fires out, and even if they serve an electoral purpose.

They get paid the big bucks. We have a perfect right to expect more than self-serving populism in return.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 4.22.40 pm

80 Shia Muslims from the minority Hazari sect were killed Saturday and over 300 mutilated by IS in car bomb attacks on their peaceful demonstration in Kabul.

Be interesting to see how it occupies the news cycle in the West over the next couple of days. Or not.

Haven’t heard a word on it anywhere. You?

eu puzzle

We have a habit, Dear Reader, of predicting elections (and referendums are a bit like elections, aren’t they?) BEFORE the result is known. We do this for a number of reasons. When we get it right (which is almost always – although some would argue we didn’t pick a majority for the Tories at the last British General Election, whereas we would argue we did flag it as at least a possibility) we like to stick it up those less perceptive types who think we know nothing – childish, we agree, but very satisfying – and also it’s just plain fun to try and get it right. Everyone’s gotta have a hobby, right?

We have said, all along, ever since the referendum was announced, that Leave will not win. Our reasoning was and is very simple, and quite different to all the other reasons advanced by pundits.

It is simply this.

The “Steady As You Go” argument

 

Electorates are inherently conservative. They tend to vote for the status quo, and especially when they are uncertain of the advantage of changing things. That is why, for example, that the received (and correct) wisdom is that Governments lose elections, Oppositions don’t win them. (And that’s why the Coalition will be returned to power in Australia, incidentally, as they have not done enough cocking up, in enough people’s opinion, to actually lose the whole game.)

In the EU referendum, in our view, the Leave campaign have done an excellent job of ramping up xenophobia and leveraging generalised disgruntlement in the electorate. They have worked on crystallising the anti-politics fever that seems to be gripping most Western democracies, as people rail against the admitted inadequacies of representative democracy. We see it everywhere – the visceral hatred from some for President Obama, the embrace by Trunp by those in America who feel themselves disenfranchised by “Washington”, the rise of the far right in Denmark, Austria, France and Russia, the apparently unresolvable divide in Thailand, the growth of micro parties and third parties in Australia, (reportedly about to push towards nearly 30% of the vote at the July 2nd poll), and so it goes on.

Brexit has leveraged this angst effectively through a ruthless application of rabble-rousing.

In our view the support for Brexit – which has risen by between 5-10% over the last 12 months – is at least as representative of a general mistrust of the establishment as it is a reflection of genuine anti-EU sentiment. In this context, the EU is just the establishment writ large, and the Leave campaign knows this, and has presented it as such with commendable, if amoral, consistency.

By choosing the wayward buffoon Boris Johnson, the plainly odd Michael Gove, and the determinedly esoteric and individualistic Nigel Farage as their lead acts, Leave have presented themselves as the natural anti-establishment choice.

But despite Leave’s efforts, at least 14% of the British electorate still report themselves to the pollsters as “Don’t knows”. Abut 5 million people entitled to vote in the referendum apparently haven’t got a clue what they think, despite literally years of coverage of the matter.

One has to have sympathy with them. Both sides in the debate have fudged statistics and relied on barbed soundbites rather than any serious appeal to the intellect to sway the electorate. There has been a deal of outright lying going on.

In fact, this referendum has been an appalling example of the comprehensive trivialisation and failure of British political leadership, and almost no major player comes out of it with any kudos.

But assuming these 14% are not simply too embarrassed to embrace either of the sides, it is highly likely that the majority of them, if they vote at all, will lump (without any great enthusiasm) for Remain. “Don’t knows” nearly always overwhelmingly back the status quo. (For the same reason, the bulk of Independents in the USA will break for Clinton, not Trump. “The devil you know” is a powerful motivation.)

Yes, there is a chance they are enthusiastically pro-Remain but don’t wish it to be known because they are frankly confronted by the aggression of the Brexit camp and yes there is a chance that they are enthusiastically pro-Leave but don’t want it known as they fear being painted as irresponsible. If either of those things turn out to be true then the winning margin will be much higher for one side or the other than is currently predicted.

The current Daily Telegraph poll of polls has Remain leading Brexit by 51-49, having had Brexit ahead for at least some of last week. If those “undecideds” break very strongly one way or the other that calculation could be way wrong.

When the dishes are all washed at the end of the night, we think they will break disproportionately in favour of the status quo, and also that a good proportion of them won’t vote at all.

For that reason, we feel more comfortable with a prediction of about 55%-45% in favour of Remain, and if that turns out to be the result then everyone in the Chardonnay-sipping commentariat will throw their hands in the air and say “Well, what was all that fuss about? It was never really close, no one got that right!” Except we did. Today.

The ‘Polling Discrepancy’ argument

Our second reason for making our prediction is that telephone polls overwhelmingly favour Remain by a bigger margin than the overall polling is showing, because online polling has the two sides much closer.

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.24.00 pm

As the chart above highlights, polls where people answer questions on the phone suggest higher EU support than polls conducted on the internet. Since the start of September last year, phone polls suggest a nine per cent lead for Remain, while online polls have it at just one per cent. Why would this be? Well, that depends really on whether one is a conductor of phone polls versus online polls. A lively debate has been going on between the polling organisations.

In our view, it is because people respond differently in different social situations.

They may feel more encouraged to speak their mind to a real person, for example, or exactly the opposite, they may feel less free to state their views.

They may be more inclined to tell the truth when clicking on a survey question on a screen, or they may be more prepared to give a tick to something they actually don’t intend doing when they get into the polling booth proper. There will be a difference between phone polls where you actually speak to someone and where you use your keypad to respond to recorded questions.

Bluntly: polling is an inexact science.

What polling does do very well is track trends accurately. On that basis, there has undoubtedly been a move towards Leave in the last two-to-three weeks, but it may well be that Leave support peaked a week early, as it now seems to be weakening again. It is as if voters walked to the brink of the abyss, had a look, and stepped back. If this turns out to be the case it will be promoted as a triumph of campaigning by the Remain camp, but that would be a mistake. It’s simply the innate fear of change kicking in again. It’s one thing to tell a pollster you are voting Leave when it doesn’t matter because Leave has no hope of winning. Quite another to tell them that when it appears you may carry the day.

Two other factors, we believe, has bolstered the Remain cause.

The ‘Nigel Farage Gaffe’ argument

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.35.23 pm

The first was the badly judged UKIP poster promoted by Nigel Farage that showed a huge queue of universally black and brown immigrants waiting to enter the UK. (They were actually photographed trying to enter Slovenia, but that’s splitting hairs.)

Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationals and Green MPs immediately united to condemn the poster, accusing Mr Farage of ‘exploiting the misery of the Syrian refugee crisis in the most dishonest and immoral way’. Popular Scots Nats leader Nicola Sturgeon called it “disgusting”. Others lined up to condemn it as “reprehensible”, “vile”, and “quite revolting”. Even Farage ally Michael Gove said the poster made him “shudder” and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne also aid the poster was “disgusting” and compared it to Nazi propaganda. Social media lit up with actual examples of the poster set against eerily similar Nazi propaganda from the 1930s to make the point.

The poster will play well with the neo-racists, anti-immigrationists, Little Englanders and out and out racists that make up the majority of UKIP’s dwindling band of supporters. But that’s simply Farage shoring up support for his views amongst people who were never going to vote for Remain anyway. We strongly suspect that the majority of Brits, who are, at their core, a fair minded people, will recognise the poster for what it is – an intimation of what Britain would be like under a hard-right Government that could well follow a successful Brexit vote. We think a small but significant number of people will have moved back from Leave to Remain as a result.

The ‘This Has Got Out Of Hand’ argument

Our last reason for suspecting Remain will win with relative comfort is the near-universal shock we have observed over the death of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was callously shot down while going about her daily business, allegedly simply because she held pro-refugee and pro-EU views. This awful event has shaken the British people rigid. Attempts to wave off any connection between the shooter and far-right groups, let alone the Brexit camp, and to characterise him as merely “mentally disturbed”, have, it seems to us at least, failed. Just as the Farage poster offended the British sense of fair play, at least for some people, so the assassination of Jo Cox has driven home to many how divisive and ugly the whole EU debate has become. Families have descended into recriminations, lifetime friends have fallen out with each other, and there have been multiple examples of violent fractiousness from all over the country.

The British people have now had more than enough of this unpleasant debate, which was foisted on them by a bitterly divided Conservative Party and a weak and vacillating Prime minister, and they heartily wish to be rid of it.

Staring down the barrel at what could be years of a messy dis-integration from Europe starts to look like a very poor option to a majority.

In 24 hours, Europe will be calmer again. With Britain inside it, and by then, presumably, permanently.

You heard it here first.

Jo

 

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have often bemoaned the brutalisation of politics. The way “anti politics” has become the new norm. A politics which is little more than cynicism, mistrust, name-calling and sloganising. It is seen most clearly and more than ever in the mindless forwarding of memes that brook no discussion, because no discussion is possible.

Those with an agenda to drive will accuse this blog of descending into vitriol on occasion. We reject that accusation. Politics is a serious matter, and you cannot “do” politics without disputation. Indeed, disputation – the contest of ideas – is the very core of freedom. And if we have, and it can be demonstrated, then we will recant and apologise.

But there is a difference – a gulf – between healthy disputation and hatred. And hatred has become the new normal, and relatively recently, too.

Whether it is in America, France, Denmark, Norway, the UK or Australia. Whether it is a discussion of guns, of racism, gay rights, of female emancipation, the European Union, or, most obviously, immigration, refugees and specifically Islam. The attitude that “you are with me, 100%, or you are evil and worthy of whatever abuse I choose to throw your way” has taken deep root. With the ascension of Trumpism, most obviously, we see how the inchoate mass rage generated by mindless sloganeering translates into political power, and then political violence. Democracy is a fragile flower, and it is wilting.

This article discussing Jo Cox’s assassination – for that is what it was – says it better than we can. We strongly recommend you read it. Because hatred is never funny. Hatred is never smart. Hatred is never right. Hatred is never appropriate.

Sure, “politics is a contact sport.” It doesn’t have to be murder.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/a-day-of-infamy/

In slightly better news, #ThankYourMP is trending in the UK. Many people simply saying thank you to their MP, whether or not they vote for them. Well done, whoever thought that up.

No. Europe 2016.

 

Europe

Bundy

 

It looks like the feds are going to throw the book at the Bundy bird refuge occupiers. And the book keeps getting bigger.

The group was already facing the charge of “conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from the refuge occupation”.

A number of them were also facing charges relating to the 2014 Bundy Ranch Standoff, including “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, weapon use and possession, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction, extortion to interfere with commerce, and interstate travel in aid of extortion.”

Yesterday, new charges were added against several of the defendants. Penalties for conviction on the charges range from five years to life in prison.

  • Ammon Bundy: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Ryan Bundy: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and theft of government property”
  • Jon Ritzheimer: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and theft of government property”
  • Ryan Payne: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Brian Cavalier: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Shawna Cox: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Jason Patrick: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Dylan Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Sean Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and depredation of government property”
  • David Lee Fry: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Jeff Wayne Banta: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Sandra Lynn Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Kenneth Medenbach: “Theft of government property”
  • Wesley Kjar: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Corey Lequieu: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Jason Charles Blomgren: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Darryl William Thorn: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Geoffrey Stanek: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Travis Cox: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Eric Lee Flores: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”

It’s the charge of “carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence” that carries the life sentence. Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with seven others were charged with that offense.

Kenneth Medenbach’s theft charge stems from his taking an Agency Ford pickup. Ryan Bundy and Jon Ritzheimer stole cameras valued at more than $1,000.

I suspect they’re all starting to wish they’d simply stayed home. Our opinion? If they’d done what they’d done and been Muslims or inner city African Americans they’d all be dead as doornails now, so they should count their blessings.

If convicted – and we are all for due process, and let us state categorically they are currently innocent – then one hopes the powers-that-be will throw the proverbial book hard and accurately.

141026_sabato_goldwater_gty

 

If you want to understand the Trump phenomenon, just look back 50 years.

Barry Goldwater was an American politician and businessman who was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona (1953–65, 1969–87) and the Republican Party’s surprise nominee for President of the United States in the 1964 election.

Goldwater is the politician most often credited for sparking the resurgence of the American conservative political movement in the 1960s. He also had a substantial impact on the future libertarian movement.

Goldwater badgeGoldwater was a touchstone for the wilder vestiges of the conservative tendency in the Republicans – very much the precursor of today’s Tea Party insurgency: not so much in terms of its politics, but in terms of its rejection of “the way things are done”, and annoyance at the tacit agreement in major policy planks that had hitherto existed between both major parties.

Goldwater rejected the legacy of the New Deal and fought through the conservative coalition against the New Deal coalition.

In a heavily Democratic state, Goldwater became a successful conservative Republican and a friend of Herbert Hoover. He was outspoken against New Deal liberalism, especially its close ties to unions which he considered corrupt.  Goldwater soon became most associated with union reform and anti-communism: his work on organised labour issues led to Congress passing major anti-corruption reforms in 1957, and an all-out campaign by the AFL-CIO to defeat his 1958 re-election bid.

save americaHe voted against the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954, but in the fevered atmosphere of the times he never actually charged any individual with being a communist or Soviet agent.

Goldwater emphasised his strong opposition to the worldwide spread of communism in his 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative.

The book became an important reference text in conservative political circles.

Goldwater shared the current Trumpian disdain for central government and immigration. (Although it should be noted that Cruz and Rubio have also moved to harden their position on immigration, it is Trump who has made it a current touchstone for the current Republican Party with his populist and incendiary language, especially in the South.) His “Save America” theme had a populist edge that we see strongly reproduced in the apocalyptic pronouncements of the current front runners.

 

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But Goldwater was no mindless demagogue. He was more circumspect. In 1964, he ran a conservative campaign that emphasised states’ rights. The campaign was a magnet for conservatives since he opposed interference by the federal government in state affairs. Although he had supported all previous federal civil rights legislation and had supported the original senate version of the bill, Goldwater made the decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

His stance was based on his view that the act was an intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do or not do business with whomever they chose. In the segregated city of Phoenix in the 1950s, however, he had quietly supported civil rights for blacks, but would not let his name be used publicly.

All this appealed to white Southern Democrats, and Goldwater was the first Republican to win the electoral votes of all of the Deep South states – South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – since Reconstruction (although Dwight Eisenhower did carry Louisiana in 1956).

He successfully mobilised a large conservative constituency to win the hard-fought Republican primaries and in doing so became the first candidate of Jewish heritage to be nominated for President by a major American party.

He swept aside the Republican Party’s anointed son, wealthy philanthropist and liberal four-term Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, in the first such example in the modern era of the Republicans failing to have “one of their own” confirmed against an insurgent, although some would argue that Ronal Reagan was a similar example.

At a discouraging point in the 1964 California primary campaign against Barry Goldwater, his top political aide Stuart Spencer called on Rockefeller to “summon that fabled nexus of money, influence, and condescension known as the Eastern Establishment. “You are looking at it, buddy,’ Rockefeller told Spencer, ‘I am all that is left.” Rockefeller exaggerated, but the irretrievable collapse of his wing of the party was underway. His despair finds its echo in the current desperation of the Republican organisation and establishment at the increasing likelihood of a Trump nomination this year.

But in what may well be a precursor to Trump’s national election performance should he secure the Republican nomination in 2016, Goldwater’s vote on the Civil Rights Act proved devastating to his campaign everywhere outside the South (besides “Dixie”, Goldwater won only in Arizona, his home state), and the Democrats won states they did not expect, like Alaska, contributing to a landslide defeat for the GOP in the general election in 1964.

Trump’s offensive remarks about Latinos may now cruel him in exactly the same way – Latino voters are now a key constituency that appear currently ironed-on supporters of the Democrats, and it’s one that that the Republicans must appeal if they are to have any chance of winning nationally. With their enthusiasm for “small business” and entrepreneurism the Latino community should be fertile territory for the Republican Party. That they are clearly not is a measure of how desperately far behind the eight ball the Republicans currently are with their populist campaign.

Goldwater’s conservative campaign platform ultimately failed to gain the support of the electorate, but he didn’t just lose the election to incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, he lost it by one of the largest landslides in history, bringing down many other Republican candidates around the country as well.

The Johnson campaign and other critics successfully painted him as a reactionary, while supporters praised his crusades against the Soviet Union, labour unions, and the welfare state. This, however, mainly piled him up support with people who would support a Republican candidate no matter what, (an effect that has been seen in election losing performances by the Labor/Labour parties in both Australia and the United Kingdom in recent years) and may even have lost him crucial support with conservative working class voters who didn’t want their bargaining power reduced.

His defeat, however, and the Republicans swept away with him, allowed Johnson and the Democrats in Congress to pass the Great Society programs, and a large enough Clinton or Sanders win in November would similarly embolden the Democrats to continue with the cautious reform programmes instigated under Obama in health, possibly focussing on making further education more affordable than it is currently. Such an outcome would be seen by many who are alarmed by Trump’s rise as deliciously ironic.

On the other hand the defeat of so many older Republicans in 1964 also cleared the way for a younger generation of American conservatives to mobilise which contributed to a growth in the party’s influence.

goldwater reaganAlthough Goldwater was much less active as a national leader of conservatives after 1964 his supporters mostly rallied behind Ronald Reagan, who became governor of California in 1967 and the 40th President of the United States, in 1981.

Indeed, with Reagan’s accession to the Presidency, with an emphasis on low tax and low spending rhetoric (which was not followed through in office) one can argue that Reagan was Goldwater’s legacy to America.

Reagan also successfully brought the evangelical Christian movement into the mainstream Republican fold in a move which continues to resonate to this day, especially in the candidacy of Ted Cruz. However that move also offended more moderate Christians, some Roman Catholics, and secular independents.

(As an aside, Trump’s record would hardly endear him to today’s religious conservatives, except for his decisive rejection of Muslims – interestingly his thrice-married history has its echoes in the rejection of Nelson Rockefeller, who was damaged by his divorce and re-marriage – but then again, if he is the nominee where else can they go? To what degree the religious right falls in behind Trump or simply stay home out of a lack of enthusiasm could also be an important factor in the Republican’s overall result.)

Goldwater, for all that he was a precursor to the anti-establishment Trump, was a man of some gravitas. In particular, unlike Trump, who avoided being drafted in the Vietnam war and has been criticised for doing so, he had a proud and distinguished military career.

With the American entry into World War II, Goldwater received a reserve commission in the United States Army Air Forces. He became a pilot assigned to the Ferry Command, a newly formed unit that flew aircraft and supplies to war zones worldwide. He spent most of the war flying between the U.S. and India, via the Azores and North Africa or South America, Nigeria, and Central Africa. He also flew “the hump” over the Himalayas to deliver supplies to the Republic of China.

Following World War II, Goldwater was a leading proponent of creating the United States Air Force Academy, and later served on the Academy’s Board of Visitors. The visitor center at the USAF Academy is now named in his honour. As a colonel he also founded the Arizona Air National Guard, and in a move that goes to his more nuanced attitudes to race than some, he would de-segregate it two years before the rest of the US military. Goldwater was instrumental in pushing the Pentagon to support desegregation of the armed services.

Remaining in the Arizona Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve after the war, he eventually retired as a Command Pilot with the rank of major general. By that time, he had flown 165 different types of aircraft. Goldwater retired as an Air Force Reserve major general, and he continued piloting B-52 aircraft until late in his military career.

Meanwhile, with his successes on “Super Tuesday” behind us, The Trumpinator rolls on seemingly unstoppably. We are on record as saying we didn’t think he could secure the nomination, but like many others it appears we completely under-estimated the populist rejection of “Washington” that he represents on the right (echoed by the success of Sanders on the left), and we now we suspect we were wrong.

We still find it hard to believe, but the Republican Party now appears to be entirely in thrall to an anti-establishment far-right insurgency that is essentially, at its core, simply “anti” politics and not in the slightest interested in serious policy outcomes.

It is perfectly fair to say that any one of dozens of idiotic pronouncements Trump has made would see him disqualified from holding high office in any other democratic Western country in the world, but the right in America seem to have wilfully suspended disbelief in their visceral hatred of the “liberal”, centralising, “socialist”, “Statist” conspiracy that they see represented by the Democrats and alsi now by many in their own party. However at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we do confidently believe (and fervently hope) that this most “dumbed down” of Presidential campaigns cannot ultimately prevail.

Like Goldwater, Trump and his clumsy and oft-expressed bigotry may merely usher in another crushing Democratic victory, which would, surely, be the ultimate reward the GOP receive for abandoning good governance in their obtuse Congressional obstructionism against Obama, and in fleeing the centre ground by refusing to confront the Tea Party with better and more timely arguments and greater political courage.

Of course, Trump would never agree with us. In fact, no doubt, he would flip out one his standard insults, to cheers and applause from his acolytes.

 

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If you, like us, were starting to feel left out by not having been personally insulted by this obnoxious populist just head to The Donald Trump Insult Generator.

Hours of innocent fun for all the family.

See also “Trump. The man who got memed.”

First there was George Galloway.

Then Nigel Farage’s horrific bright green tie.

Now, the campaign to leave the EU has pulled out their most amazingly cringe inducing weapon of all – an absolutely dreadful parody of Baddiel & Skinner’s iconic soccer song, “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)”.

The ghastly music video is the brainchild of Grassroots Out campaigner and former UKIP Stockton North Parliamentary Candidate Mandy Boylett, who for some reason thought it would be a good idea.

It’s like Ukip Calypso all over again.

We’re willing to bet this video adds a few votes to the ‘Remain’ campaign. And here’s what Baddiel thinks of the Out camp reworking his song:

Badiel

No word yet on how Skinner or the Lightning Seeds plan to vote.

Aerobics teacher Boylett also says she plans to enter the song for Eurovision, which makes total sense. Baddiel said it was “a fabulous suggestion”.

Only in Britain.

For other cultural F*** Ups, just put F*** Up in the search box top left of this page. Enjoy!

eu puzzle

“What did the EU ever do for the UK?”

You hear it asked by well-meaning people all the time. And to be fair, the EU has had its share of bad publicity. We all know it’s bureaucratically top-heavy. We all know it’s clunky and sometimes passes really silly laws. But that said, how has Britain fared from it’s membership of this unique social, economic and political experiment?

We have consistently been supporters of the EU, but not for reasons to do with economic matters.

But with the referendum looming we thought it a good time to re-post this great letter by Simon Sweeney in the Guardian newspaper. Frankly, if you still think “Brexit” is a good idea after reading this, then you’re simply not interested in facts.

“What did the EU ever do for us?

Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade;

Providing structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline;

Regulating for clean beaches and rivers;

And cleaner air;

Insisting on lead free petrol;

Making restrictions on landfill dumping;

Instilling a recycling culture;

And arranging:

cheaper mobile charges;

cheaper air travel;

improved consumer protection and food labelling;

a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;

better product safety;

single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;

the break up of monopolies;

Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;

In the EU we have:

no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;

price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;

the freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;

funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad;

access to European health services;

labour protection and enhanced social welfare;

smoke-free workplaces;

equal pay legislation;

holiday entitlement;

the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime pay;

the strongest wildlife protection in the world;

improved animal welfare in food production;

EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;

EU representation in international forums;

bloc EEA negotiation at the World Trade Organisation;

We have become used to:

EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;

European-wide arrest warrants for criminals;

cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling;

better counter terrorism intelligence;

European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;

support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;

and investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.

All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed.

It furthermore has assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980.

Now the union faces major challenges brought on by neo-liberal economic globalisation, and worsened by its own systemic weaknesses although it is taking measures to overcome these. We in the UK should reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of total government expenditure of £695bn is good value. We must play a full part in enabling the union to be a force for good in a multi-polar global future.

Simon Sweeney,
Lecturer in International Political Economy,
University of York

Despite this, the anti-EU campaign will have the full force of Murdoch’s and the other 4 extremist right-wing media billionaires papers whose straightforward agenda always has been, and still is, to weaken or remove all our human rights and reduce working people to contemporary serfdom.

Over 80% of UK papers are owned by just five extremist right-wing media billionaires: Rupert Murdoch, (Sun/Times), Barclay Brothers (Telegraph), Richard Desmond (Express) and Lord Rothermere (Daily Mail).

Murdoch is Australian/American living in New York, Rothermere lives in France, the Barclay Brothers live in the tax havens of Monaco and Guernsey.

So key question – is in light of the above list of the EU’s successes – why have these billionaires and their loopy political fellow travellers for decades tried to destroy the EU’s democratic institutions? Hmmm?

Don’t be conned. Get the facts, and share them.

trump hands

In a move which once again encourages us as to his credentials, the most fearless Pope in living memory has questioned US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Christianity over his oft-repeated call to build a border wall with Mexico.

With admirable bluntness, Pope Francis said “a person who thinks only about building walls and not of building bridges, is not Christian”.

The New York businessman also supports deporting nearly 11 million un-documented immigrants.

But calling himself a “proud Christian”, Mr Trump blamed Mexico for the Pope’s remarks, calling them “disgraceful”. Mr Trump has previously alleged that Mexico sends “rapists” and criminals to the US.

Pope Francis made the comments at the end of a six-day trip to Mexico.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” he said.

He declined to say whether Americans should vote for Mr Trump, who is leading the Republican race for president.

“I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and I will give him the benefit of the doubt,” the Pope said.

Over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink religious affairs desk, we think Trump is a solidly evil individual with hateful views that are (take your pick), mindlessly triumphalist, quasi-fascist, racist, anti-female, and typically moronic in their presentation and content. We don’t actually think he’s the Anti-Christ, but then again anything’s possible. Popularity is one of the signs of the Anti-Christ, after all. And as it now looks like it wasn’t President Obama, well … (Hang on a sec while we adjust our tinfoil hat.) 

Frankly, we think Il Papa let the New Yorker off easy. We miss the good old days when Popes excommunicated leaders.

pope-francisAnyhow, addressing a rally in South Carolina, Mr Trump responded to the Pope’s comments.

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian,” Mr Trump said. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

Which is an interesting commentary on the role of a religious leader, really. What role they have other than to question everyone else’s religion and faith is hard to discern. The mobile toupe then went on to say “[The pope] said negative things about me. Because the Mexican government convinced him that Trump is not a good guy.”

Of course, in God-fearing South Carolina – the next state to vote in the primary process – to have the Pope say that he is un-Christian is potentially very damaging. On the other hand, many US protestants are also rabidly anti-Catholic, so who knows exactly how it will play in the South.

Over the course of the campaign, the billionaire property developer has been at pains to prove his religious credentials, appearing at rallies with a copy of the Bible that his mother had given him as a child. He has also said the Vatican was the so-called Islamic State group’s “ultimate trophy” and that if it attacked, “the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened”.

Two of Mr Trump’s Republican rivals, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both Catholics, wimpishly said they look to the Pope for spiritual guidance, not political direction.

Referencing Mr Trump’s much vaunted wall between America and Mexico, Mr Rubio said the US has a right and an obligation to control its borders. Mr Bush told reporters he “supports walls where it’s appropriate” and that “Christianity is between he and his creator. I don’t think we need to discuss that.”

cleansing temple giorJerry Falwell Jr, the president of the conservative Christian Liberty University and a Trump supporter, told CNN that the Pope had gone too far. “Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country,” he said. Funnily, Mr Falwell appears to have forgotten a few of Jesus’s more choice comments about the Jewish rulers the Pharisees and Saducees, not to mention dear old King Herod. And his attitude to rapacious capitalism was pretty clear, too. Of course we should never let our political bias get spoiled by a few facts even when commenting on religious matters.

The war of words between the right-winger and the Pope has been going on for a while. Earlier this month, Mr Trump called Pope Francis “a very political person” in yet another interview with Fox News, aka Trump Central.

“I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border we have with Mexico,” Mr Trump said. An alternative reading is that the Pope perfectly well understands the situation – which is, if course, essentially economic in nature – and doesn’t think Mexicans are automatically a danger to Americans who need to be forcibly kept out of the country by forceful measures.

American Roman Catholics are seen as an important voting bloc in US elections. Many traditionally support Republican candidates because of their opposition to abortion and gay marriage. This might well be why Mr Trump has responded so abrasively to the Pope’s comments, especially as he has been courting the evangelical Christian vote, often successfully, despite his fellow Republican rivals trying to argue that his religiosity is not sincere.

There is another interpretation of course. Which is that Trump is actually not any type of Christian at all, despite his public protestations, and that the truth hurts.

Meanwhile, in more religious trouble for the hotelier/developer, Ted Cruz’s campaign is now running an advertisement featuring a 1999 television interview Mr Trump gave in which he said he was “very pro-choice” when it comes to abortion.

In January, Mr Trump faced ridicule after flubbing a Bible verse when giving a speech to a Christian university in Virginia. The thrice-married businessman has also said he is a Presbyterian Christian but has had trouble recalling his favourite Bible verse when asked.

We think Mr Trump needs to stop sounding off and consider this:

Trump table

We have decided, Dear Reader, to have a regular-cum-occasional posting that collects together those snippets of news that fall into the “Wait … what?” basket. You know, those items where you simply shake your head in disbelief at how incredibly inappropriate, silly, bizarre, insulting or head-scratching the world can be.

Usually about poliphiltics. But by no means exclusively.

Today we have the retirement from the Australian Parliament of  dear old Phil Ruddock. The current “Father of the House”, which means the silly old bugger has been there longer than anyone else having racked up 42 years at the grindstone – way past any realistic use by date – Ruddock’s unemotional delivery has become so dead pan over the years it’s sometimes necessary for interviewers to stick a pin in his thumb to see if he’s still alive.

Mr Ruddock was previously attorney-general, Indigenous affairs minister and immigration minister, and when announcing his retirement nominated counter-terrorism and family law changes as his key achievements.

He has campaigned against the death penalty and chaired the human rights sub-committee of Parliament’s joint foreign affairs committee. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Mr Ruddock would now be Australia’s first Special Envoy for Human Rights, with a hardly-defined brief to trot around the world, as she puts it, to “focus on advancing Australia’s human rights priorities of good governance, freedom of expression, gender equality, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and national human rights institutions. Mr Ruddock will actively promote Australia’s candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council for the 2018–20 term. He will represent Australia at international human rights events and advocate our HRC candidacy in selected countries.”

Widespread rumours that Ruddock is actually the evil Emperor from Star Wars are very unkind and will get no credence in this column.

Widespread rumours that Ruddock is actually the evil Emperor from Star Wars are very unkind and will get no credence in this column.

Hmmm. Once renowned as a “wet” Liberal and vocal on human rights issues, Ruddock nevertheless morphed into a very different creature in Government. Astute followers of Australian politics will note that following the Coalition’s rise to government at the 1996 election, Ruddock was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. In this role, he administered the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and presided over the Howard government’s tough policies on asylum seekers. During his time in office, the previous Keating Labor Government’s practice of mandatory detention of asylum seekers was continued and extended. Under his watch, asylum seekers, including children, were locked behind razor wire in Australia’s deserts. Even a daughter, Kirsty, publicly turned against him over the mandatory detention of children, which continues to this day.

In 2001 Ruddock was also appointed to the role of Minister for Indigenous Affairs. By this time he had become a high-profile figure enjoying considerable support within the Liberal Party, while being strongly opposed by left-wing activists and some human rights advocates. His “Pacific Solution” – which prevented asylum seekers receiving legal access to Australia – was condemned by Human Rights Watch as contravening international law, as being a human rights violation: Oxfam and the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) agreed with this viewpoint. At one point he was one of the few senior ministers (besides the prime minister) to have needed personal security details. Some of his decisions were highly controversial in Australian politics, and led to Amnesty International’s public attempt to distance the organisation from him (he had once headed the Amnesty International group in Parliament) by asking him to remove his lapel badge.

In 2003, Ruddock became Attorney-General in a cabinet reshuffle. On 27 May 2004, Ruddock introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill to prevent any possible court rulings allowing same-sex marriages or civil unions. It has prevented same-sex marriage in Australia ever since.

Now, Ruddock will represent Australia’s human rights concerns overseas. We do not wish to be mean: we have no doubt he deserved some sort of sinecure for his long service. That it should be this one seems simply astonishing.

fashion_designer_1bbhvs2-1bbhvsbMeanwhile, mesmerised by imagined and real threats – often more imagined than real – the world continues on its overly terrified, for which read biased, way.

Waris Ahluwalia, who is a ubiquitous presence in the fashion world, was reportedly banned from a flight for wearing a turban.

The model and designer behind House of Waris posted a selfie to Instagram on Monday morning holding up his boarding pass with “SSSS” – which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection – circled on the ticket.

“This morning in Mexico City I was told I could not board my @aeromexico flight to NYC because of my turban,” he wrote in the caption. He also included the hashtags #FearisanOpportunitytoEducate, #humanrights, #dignity, and #lovenotfear.

Ahluwalia, who appeared in a recent Gap advertising campaign (including posters which were subject to racist graffiti), and is a regular on the New York City party circuit, initially complied with the supplemental security measures before boarding his flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport, including having an agent swab his hands and the bottoms of his feet to test for explosives.

But when asked by an airline worker to remove his black turban, an accessory in his signature style he is never seen without, he refused. “That is not something that I would do in public,” the Grand Budapest Hotel actor told the New York Daily News. “That’s akin to asking someone to take off their clothes.”

After abstaining from removing his turban without being brought to a private screening area, he supposedly was told, “You will not be flying Aero Mexico. You will need to book another flight.”

On his Instagram post, commenters aired their frustration with Ahluwalia’s mistreatment. “This is outrageous. Sikhism is not even related in any way to terrorist extremists,” Angie wrote.

“What a sad day, a beautiful faith of love and peace is treated in such a horrible way.”

Kirthan Aujlay added, “Absolutely disgusted by this. How much longer are Sikh men going to be targeted by bigots?”

Many also shared similar experiences and praised Ahluwalia for publicising the discriminatory incident.

In our view the fact that many Muslims are profile-stopped because of some Muslim extremists is bad enough, but perhaps understandable given world tensions, if regrettable. But these idiots don’t even seem to understand that a Sikh is a unique northern Indian religion that is related to Hinduism. (In previous unprovoked attacks on Sikhs in America – aimed at terrorising Muslims – people have been killed.)

Mind you, not all social media comment was supportive. On Facebook, Sukhi Sagoo offered a counter argument: “Regardless of whether you are a Sikh or you wear any kind of headdress, I think for security reasons and for the safety of fellow passengers it’s not a bad thing to cooperate with the authorities. As long as it’s done in a private room and not in a public place. If you have nothing to hide, then why not cooperate?” Mahtab Singh Shergill also said that a hijab for Muslim women is just as precious yet they, in general, cooperate with security checks (the same can be said for nuns). “You need to understand that it’s their job to make sure that the flight is secure and retaliation can cause serious doubts,” he wrote. “They don’t make every Sikh they see remove the turban; if he was asked he shouldn’t have denied.”

The actor and designer was still at the airport more than 12 hours later. Mr. Ahluwalia, who has a record of anti-racist activism, said he planned to remain there as lawyers from the Sikh Coalition and Aeroméxico discussed the matter by telephone. He said he had no immediate plans to board another flight.

Sikh men wear the turban as a symbol of commitment to equality and social justice. Gurjot Kaur, a senior staff lawyer with the Sikh Coalition, said that the episode in Mexico City highlighted similar problems that men with beards, people with religious headwear and women in Islamic head coverings often encounter at airport security, where they are often unfairly associated with terrorism.

“It does play to the larger issue of profiling,” she said.

Ms. Kaur said the coalition had asked Aeroméxico’s lawyer for a public apology for Mr. Ahluwalia and a commitment for security personnel to undergo diversity training. She said she was speaking with the airline’s lawyer, John Barr. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr. Ahluwalia said he was in Mexico to attend an art fair as a guest of L’Officiel magazine. He said he did not encounter similar scrutiny at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he boarded his Aeroméxico flight in New York last Tuesday.

Mr. Ahluwalia said it was not the first time that his turban had caused consternation. He said he had been questioned about the turban at airports in the United States and abroad but had never been denied access to a flight.

At some airports, however, he said he has had to “rub the turban,” while trying to hold a straight face, for security officials “and then put my hand in front of them, and they swab my hands.”

Anyhow, in response, Waris, who has a runway show as part of New York Fashion Week this week, sent an additional social media note to his fans. “Dear NYC fashion week. I may be a little late as @aeromexico won’t let me fly with a turban. Don’t start the show without me.”

More nonsense soon.

The current GOP race is something of an un-reality show, frankly.

The current GOP race is something of an un-reality show, frankly.

Aaaaand … we’re back.

Happy New Year everyone, and yes the holiday was lovely, thank you. Will write more on what we saw – and the conclusions we drew – soon.

Meanwhile. So. Here we go.

Deep breath.

Welcome to a year of trying to save America from itself.

Beginning with:

Trump

 

No apologies whatsoever for posting partisan stuff.

We will seek to make our political commentary and predictions unbiased, but any sane, rational person must surely campaign against the current crop of Republican candidates.

They are universally awful. Even the RNC is terrified of them.

Even worse, for the health of public discourse, it means that Hillary (and almost certainly it will be Hillary, although Bernie Sanders will have a couple of creditable early results) will have a coronation rather than get elected on her merits or otherwise, and that ain’t good for America, or anyone who respects democratic debate and the great contest of ideas.

Oh, and you heard it here first. Trump will NOT be the Republican nominee. But if by some miracle we are wrong, he simply cannot win a general election. Demographically, he has simply no chance.

Mind you, what damage he will do to both the Republicans and the broader American body politic along the way is another matter.

Of course, the only hell-toupee fake tan machine ever to run for President is generating some good jokes. Our current favourites are:

What is Donald Trump telling Barack Obama supporters? Orange Is The New Black.

What plane does Donald Trump aspire to fly on? Hair Force One!

Why are Muslims worried about Trumps immigration plans? Once you deport Juan you deport Jamal.

Trump supporters’ new campaign slogan? “We shall over-comb.”

And then one we actually wrote ourselves:

Donald Trump. Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.

We feel a t-shirt coming on.

OK.  That’s enough Trump for now – Ed.

Ted CruzThere’s been talk on the right in America in the last week on “shutting down” the Internet to combat terrorism.

Quite apart from the complete impossibility of doing that, if you want to be President of the USA and theoretical leader of the “free world”, you really should be able to reserve the appropriate URLs for your campaign well in advance.

In the third GOP presidential debate which has just finished on CNN live from Las Vegas, Ted Cruz again told viewers to check out his opinions at TedCruz.org.

Why not dot com, you may have wondered? Well, here’s what happens when you visit TedCruz.com. D’oh!

 


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