The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Andrew Sullivan on Boris Johnson

Sullivan, who attended Oxford with the British Prime Minister, takes a nuanced view:

It’s hard to take the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, completely seriously. Just look at him: a chubby, permanently disheveled toff with an accent that comes off as a parody of an upper-class twit, topped off by that trademark mop of silver-blond hair he deliberately musses up before venturing into the public eye. Then there are those photo-op moments in his long career that seem designed to make him look supremely silly — stuck dangling in midair on a zip line with little Union Jacks waving in his hands; rugby-tackling a 10-year-old in Japan; playing tug-of-war in a publicity stunt and collapsing, suited, onto the grass; or declaring at one point that he was more likely to be “reincarnated as an olive,” “locked in a disused fridge,” or “decapitated by a flying Frisbee” than to become prime minister.

And yet he has. And more than that: This comic figure has somehow managed to find himself at the center of the populist storms sweeping Britain and the West — first by becoming the most senior politician in Britain to back Brexit in 2016, and now by plotting a course that might actually bring the United Kingdom out of the epic, years-long, once-impossible-looking mess he helped make. Just over four months into office as PM, he appears poised to win an election he called and, if the polls are anywhere near correct, score a clear victory and take Britain out of the E.U. by the end of January.

Shallow, lazy, incompetent, and bigoted, this clown has somehow leveraged the fears of the many to advance the only thing he has ever genuinely believed in: his own destiny.

But there is another story to be told about him: that he has been serious all along, using his humor and ridiculousness to camouflage political instincts that have, in fact, been sharper than his peers’. He sensed the shifting populist tides of the 2010s before most other leading politicians did and grasped the Brexit issue as a path to power.

I can't quite tell where Sullivan comes down on Johnson, but as a lifelong liberal Tory, Sullivan seems to see Johnson as the right person for the job right now. He has no love of Johnson's mendacity or narcissism, and thinks he'd sell his sister for ten votes. But Sullivan sees Johnson as a strong politician who managed to neuter the far right by co-opting it.

Next week will be interesting. The UK election is in six days.

Act III, Scene 1

The first debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn last night probably didn't sway anyone:

In a testy live debate on ITV, during which the prime minister repeatedly returned to the claim that he would “get Brexit done”, both men lavished praise on the NHS, but Corbyn said Johnson would put it up for sale.

Throughout the debate, Johnson continually tried to bring the focus back to Brexit, on which Corbyn repeatedly declined to say how he would campaign in a second EU referendum, while the Labour leader attacked the prime minister over the NHS and public services.

At one point, the audience openly laughed at Johnson when he agreed that the truth mattered in the election. The Conservatives came under fire during the debate when it rebranded its CCHQ Twitter account as “factcheckUK” and used it to pump out a series of pro-Tory messages.

Barry Gardiner, a shadow cabinet minister, emphasised the audience scorn for Johnson’s truthfulness, saying: “People looked at the prime minister and thought: how can we believe a word he said? How can we believe the manifesto when it comes out? He promised we would come out on 31 October and he would die in a ditch if we didn’t. It’s just lie after lie after lie.”

Polling still shows neither party getting 50% of the vote, but the Conservatives have pulled ahead a bit. The election is three weeks from tomorrow.

Backfield in motion

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.

The hospice of history

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.

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.

The real divide

As someone who's had an online presence since 1983, I have learned a thing or two about online discourse. Principally, it's mostly crap. Most people know this.

But the dangerous thing is, in the last few years, people have forgotten it's crap. Everyone gets so worked up about the specific meaningless thing someone else posts they forget that there is a clear pattern of discourse going back to the beginning of politics.

The basic goal of the right is to consolidate wealth. The basic goal of the left is to live in an egalitarian utopia. And the basic goal of probably 90% of the world is just to live peacefully.

Notice the asymmetry. Living in an egalitarian utopia will never happen, for the simple reason that no one can agree on what that looks like. So the left's ultimate goal will forever be out of reach. We reform one thing, and discover inequality in another. So we try to fix that, and it turns out there's more inequality. It's Whack-a-Mole, for eternity. But the point is, we're trying. We will never live in a utopia, but we can make lives better anyway.

The right, on the other hand, has a long track record of achieving its goal, because it's easy to understand and easy to implement. They get your money; you lose your money; they win.

Now, most people don't vote to hand their money over to people who just want to get rich. So the challenge on the right has always been how to get people to give them money. And because their end goal is easy to understand, and tends to be popular with the people who achieve it, they've developed a few strategies to get your money and huge money-making enterprises to promote these strategies.

Right now, their main strategies are these: sell you things you want on easy terms and strangle you with interest, scare you into handing over your money, borrow from you to give you things you want and then make the other side explain how you were screwed (and not pay you back), make you borrow money to survive, or just steal it outright.

This post is really only about how the Right uses fear. Because everything else they do is just commerce.

As much as we may believe that the Right-wing parties care about jobs, the working class, traditional values, immigration, or whatever they claim to be for in any particular election, they really don't. Again, they care only about consolidating wealth. Because of that, they hate the free press, hate the poor, hate the middle-class, and hate anyone else who gets in their way.

It doesn't help that the center and the left have math, history, and numbers on their side. The right has a powerful message that appeals to a huge swath of people: give us your money and we'll protect you from everything you fear.

Only, they won't. They never have. One has only to look at every dictatorship ever, starting with the kleptocracy in Venezuela (or Russia or Zimbabwe or Hungary or Turkey...) right now to see how simple the whole problem is.

Since about the mid-1960s—not coincidentally, after a Democratic president passed the Civil Rights Act against the wishes of six states' worth of racist Democrats—left and right in this country have increasingly aligned by party, by geography, and by religion. Not just in the US: Canada just had an election yesterday in which a flawed center-left candidate almost lost to a frightening far-right candidate. And don't even get me started on Brexit.

The solution is equally simple: financial transparency. Demand to know where the money is going. Who voted to spend it; who voted to take it; what the actual effect of a government budget will be on you and your people. Then pay attention to what politicians actually say.

An honest person doesn't fear the truth.

Let's take Attorney General Bill Barr's speech at Notre Dame University this week as an example. He said a lot of controversial things, many of them just to rile up his base or piss off his opposition. Mainly, he said that people of faith are under attack from people who have read the First Amendment. (That's not exactly what he said, but given the miniscule portion of irreligious people in the US vs. the 70% who identify as Christian, it seems the top law-enforcement officer of this country fails to understand the Establishment Clause.)

But if you read how he concluded the speech, you see his primary  and clearly-articulated goal: he wants to send American tax dollars to religious private schools. Private schools owned by large corporations. Large corporations owned by the Secretary of Education.

Does Bill Barr care about giving every child in America the word of Jesus? Maybe. Who knows. Probably not. But he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos care a lot about funneling public money to themselves. That bit is obvious.

I'm never going to have an abortion; you're never going to get fired for praying in your office. The vitriol ginned up about that sort of thing just distracts from the real issue of the early 21st century: Rich people are stealing from you, and you're letting them.

So do this. Vote your conscience on abortion, if your candidate discloses where he got all his money. Vote to protect your job, if your candidate doesn't get paid by your employer. Vote to protect your kids against bad medical research, if your candidate doesn't work for big drug company. Or better yet: run for office yourself.

And for fuck's sake, vote in local elections on local issues. Your alderman can't change foreign policy, but she can decide whether your alley gets paved this year, which might be more relevant to you.

To sum up: The "right" doesn't actually oppose the center or the left on philosophical or policy grounds. They oppose everyone on avaricious grounds. The religion and morality are just camouflage, meant to get votes from the very people they're stealing the most from.

A vote for the modern, movement-conservative Republican Party, or the Brexit-addled UK Conservative Party, or the Canadian Conservative Party (seeing a pattern?), is a vote for aristocracy and against your retirement account. (And hey, for everyone who isn't a trader on Wall Street, how did your private 401(k) accounts work out for you? Yeah, me neither.) It's really that simple.

If you really can only manage to vote on a single issue, then vote against thieves. We can find common ground on policy. We can't find common ground if someone else steals the land.

What a silly bunt

British PM Boris Johnson is now, I believe, 0 for 8 in votes in Commons as the chamber voted 322 to 306 this afternoon (London time) to force the government to delay Brexit until January:

The prime minister will be legally obliged to request a Brexit delay at 11pm under the terms of the rebel Benn act, after the government lost the critical vote.

It came during a historic Saturday sitting of parliament, which saw the PM adopt an emollient tone, as he implored MPs to throw their weight behind his deal.

Letwin said he was minded to support Johnson’s deal, but the aim of his amendment was “to keep in place the insurance policy provided by the Benn act, which prevents us from crashing out automatically if there is no deal by 31 October”.

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted it will comply with the requirements of the Benn act, which forces the PM to write to the EU and request an extension if he has not received parliamentary support for his deal by the deadline. But Johnson has also insisted he will not delay Brexit.

Johnson could still force the UK out of the EU a week from Thursday, but doing so would run afoul of Parliament and would certainly trigger a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, if any of my UK readers would like some tariff-free Bourbon in exchange for some tariff-free Scotch, I'll be in the Big Stink on 9th November. I can bring two litres duty-free. Hit me up.

Boris Trump

I watched PM Boris Johnson's statement to the House yesterday as it happened, and I have to say, he seemed like a more-articulate version of Donald Trump. Instead of scowling, he smirked; instead of rambling incoherently, he banged the table succinctly. But otherwise, he demonstrated his unfitness for office and, as a bonus, the Conservative Party demonstrated theirs by giving him a standing-O.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee put it well:

If his party had some notion that the mantle of office would sober up this self-intoxicated scoundrel, they were wrong. If they thought charm and wit would be his winning political weapons, they were wrong. Not a scintilla remains of that “one nation”, “healing” and “bringing the country together” guff he talked in the leadership campaign. This is two-nation politics, deliberately driving the rift ever deeper. This is calculated contempt for parliament and the judiciary, designed to stir anger among his Brexit base outside against that imagined “elite”. That’s the definition of demagoguery, turning voters into “the mob” to force his way where he finds democratic and judicial processes barring his wishes.

ohnson’s strategy, devised with his unwise adviser Dominic Cummings, is to act so savagely that he provokes Labour into calling a vote of no confidence, as time and again he goaded Corbyn for cowardice, too frit to face the voters. Neither Labour nor the other opposition parties will be so foolish: they will call an election only when the no-deal danger has been delayed with an extension to the 31 October leaving date.

To date, the PM’s every tactic has been a disaster: losing every vote, his proroguing of parliament failed, blundering into the supreme court’s damning verdict. The net effect last night was yet again to bolster Jeremy Corbyn’s standing, his calm dignity of language casting Johnson as the wild-man extremist. The prime minister bawling insults at him as “a communist” fails when in front of everyone’s eyes is a grownup refusing to be riled by this spoilt adolescent.

Those who have left look back on their old party with horror: Amber Rudd warned yesterday of Johnson’s “dishonest and dangerous” language, but they have all quit. New candidates to replace the 21 departed will be of the Johnson stamp, chosen by the same aged firebrands who foisted this unspeakable prime minister on the country. It was never more imperative that this party should be resoundingly defeated at the next election – and that will take tactical collaboration by a progressive alliance of opposition parties. Johnson last night will have helped forge that determination.

Meanwhile, this government shambles towards a devastating no-deal Brexit. But make no mistake: Johnson, as PM, can lose every single vote and still crash the UK out of the EU on October 31st.

What a morning

PM Boris Johnson is now addressing the House of Commons, capping a crazy day in the UK. And that's not even the most explosive thing in the news today:

I'll be listening to Johnson now, daring the House to call for a vote of no-confidence, daring them to have an election before October 31st.