Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder and treason and plot.
Now Johnson and Tories will rend and will sunder
What Fawkes in his madness could not.
After a few rounds of voting, (now former) Labour MP the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle has been elected the 158th Speaker of the House of Commons. As Harriet Harmon said in her speech just before the first round of voting, of the 158, only one was female.
In other news, Voyager 2 has become the second human spacecraft to check in from the other side of the heliosheath separating the solar system from interstellar space.
One of these stories is probably a lot more important than the other...
On 4 November 1979, "students" stormed the American Embassy in Tehran:
After a three-hour struggle, the students took hostages, including 62 Americans, and demanded the extradition of the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was receiving medical treatment in the United States for the cancer that ultimately would kill him. Some hostages would later be released amid the crisis, but it would take over a year for all to be freed.
It would take 444 days—until the last day of President Jimmy Carter's term—for Iran to release the hostages.
NPR this morning had an interview with Ambassador John Limbert, one of the hostages.
It's the first day of November 2019, the month in which the 1982 classic film Blade Runner takes place. Los Angeles has a bit of haze today from wildfires in the area, but I'm glad to report that it isn't the environmental disaster portrayed in the movie. No flying cars, no replicants, and no phone booths either.
In other news:
The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal points out that while PG&E has some responsibility for California's wildfires, the real culprits are the voters and elected officials who have ignored routine maintenance for two generations:
A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.
In software development, engineers have long noted that taking the easy way out of coding problems builds up what they call “technical debt,” as the tech journalist Quinn Norton has written.
Like other kinds of debt, this debt compounds if you don’t deal with it, and it can distort the true cost of decisions. If you ignore it, the status quo looks cheaper than it is. At least until the off-the-books debt comes to light.
In the same vein—or, perhaps, in a root-cause analysis—Vox recently interviewed author Bruce Gibney about his 2017 book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America:
[T]he damage done to the social fabric is pretty self-evident. Just look around and notice what’s been done. On the economic front, the damage is equally obvious, and it trickles down to all sorts of other social phenomena. I don’t want to get bogged down in an ocean of numbers and data here (that’s in the book), but think of it this way: I’m 41, and when I was born, the gross debt-to-GDP ratio was about 35 percent. It’s roughly 103 percent now — and it keeps rising.
The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.
We used to have the finest infrastructure in the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers thinks there’s something like a $4 trillion deficit in infrastructure in deferred maintenance. It’s crumbling, and the boomers have allowed it to crumble. Our public education system has steadily degraded as well, forcing middle-class students to bury themselves in debt in order to get a college education.
Then of course there’s the issue of climate change, which they’ve done almost nothing to solve. But even if we want to be market-oriented about this, we can think of the climate as an asset, which has degraded over time thanks to the inaction and cowardice of the boomer generation. Now they didn’t start burning fossil fuels, but by the 1990s the science was undeniable. And what did they do? Nothing.
There's a reason the latest meme sweeping Gen Z is "ok, boomer."
American late-night host Jimmy Kimmel wondered if there were differences between President Obama's announcement that we had assassinated Osama Bin Laden and President Trump's announcement that we had assassinated Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. He only found a few:
To quote The Untouchables, "We laugh because it's true."
The House of Commons have just voted 438-20 on the third reading of the bill to have a general election in December. This overrides the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act of 2011, as Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts pointed out.
Because Amendment 2 to the bill, setting the election date of 9th December, failed about half an hour ago, the election will be on Thursday December 12th.
Under the rules of Parliament, the last sitting day will be next Wednesday, November 6th, and the campaign will officially begin on the 8th--the day I'm flying there.
The last time the UK had an election in December was in 1923. The Conservatives under Stanley Baldwin got the most seats in that poll, but they lost 89 from the previous Parliament. The Liberal Party won 115 seats, the first time a third party won more than 100 seats. The hung Parliament that resulted from this realignment forced another election 10 months later.
That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.
Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.
Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:
- Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
- Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
- That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
- Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
- An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
- Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
- The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.
Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.
Writing in the Guardian, journalist and historian Neal Ascherson says that the long Brexit fight has deepened divisions within the UK that have always been there, but now may have passed the point of no return:
It’s commonly said that the Brexit years have made the English more xenophobic, less tolerant, more angrily divided among themselves.
[T]he deepest change since 2016 is the weakening of the United Kingdom’s inner bonds.
The “great rest of England” seem to have felt for many years that if the Scots want to leave, “it seems a pity but it’s their right”. Few southerners would feel diminished. Many believe, incorrectly, that England subsidises Scotland. Since 2016, Scotland’s heavy vote to stay in the EU, and the SNP’s incessant campaigning against any sort of Brexit, have become a severe irritant to “British” politics. Devolution is working more scratchily month by month, and the common English assumption for the past few years has been that Scottish independence is inevitable. Curiously, this is not how it looks in Scotland, where minds change slowly and where it’s far from certain that the next independence referendum will drag the yes vote over the line.
In the union of four nations, one – England – has 85% of the population. What the past three years have shown is that the big partner is no longer concerned to put its own interests behind those of the others. A poll this year showed that Tory voters would be ready to “lose Scotland” (revealing words) if that ensured Brexit. In turn, devolution only made sense when all four nations were inside the European Union. If England in 2019 can no longer remember why the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland once made sense, Brexit has delivered the United Kingdom to the hospice of history.
Meanwhile, a deal in the works between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats may end the fixed-terms parliament act and send the UK to the polls on December 9th, instead of December 12th as the Government have previously asked. The EU have voted to postpone Brexit until January 31st, further complicating things for the Labour party (even though Labour demanded the extension).
I expect an earful at the Southampton Arms in two weeks.
Benjamin Wittes, writing for Lawfare, points out that Alexander Hamilton predicted exactly how an impeachment would bring partisan differences into even sharper relief than ordinary politics. So Republicans in Congress have to change the subject:
Yes, Trump’s approval numbers show there are cracks in the wall, as every pundit is busily pointing out. But the larger point, it seems to me, is that there is still a wall. And as Hamilton argued, it is the comparative strength of that wall, not any demonstration of Trump’s innocence or guilt, that will regulate the decision as to the president’s fate. The president’s defense, in other words, has been reduced to raw political power; it is not a genuine examination of facts but rather a numbers game to assemble enough elected officials aligned with the president’s faction to refuse to look reality in the eye and thus to ensure Trump’s acquittal.
Of course, no senators or members of the House of Representatives can say this outright. Despite this era of shredded norms and broken taboos, it is still verboten to state what is so obviously true: “I refuse to support Trump’s impeachment because, however merited it may be, I am a Republican and he is a Republican and the advantage of my party would be ill-served by his removal—which might also threaten my own prospects of reelection, which depend on voters who like the president more than they like me.”
There just isn’t any good argument for Trump at this stage. So what is a poor Republican member of Congress or senator, animated by Federalist 65 but unable to admit it, to do?
Their answer is to make noise.
In other words, get ready for a lot more sound and fury, signifying nothing, from the Republican caucus.