A Bitch-Slap for Barack

President Obama has said Congress made a “mistake” by overriding his veto and pushing through a bill that allows legal action against Saudi Arabia over the 9/11 attacks.

the BBC reports.  Not until the 16th paragraph does the article say:

The Senate voted 97-1 and the House of Representatives 348-77, meaning the bill becomes law.

Do you think the BBC would have buried this in the last quarter of the article if Bush was on the receiving end of a slap-down like this?  If it were anyone other than Obama, he or she would be taking a step back and reflecting on whether his wielding of the veto was wise in the face of such overwhelming, cross-party opposition in both houses.

And this is what I’ve always disliked about Obama: he thinks he’s assumed an African-style presidency whereby he can do what he likes because he’s President, and everyone else should fall into line and not question the brilliance of his leadership.  On assuming office Obama didn’t seem to know how the US government is structured and what the President’s role is within it, and at no point during his two terms has he shown he is even interested in finding out.  He has set a precedent of the POTUS wielding far greater influence and authority than the Founding Fathers ever intended based on his supposedly inherent wisdom and indisputable good intentions.  Ask yourself whether this is a good thing now that we’re going to have either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House for the next four years.

And this:

Mr Obama told CNN on Wednesday: “It’s a dangerous precedent and it’s an example of why sometimes you have to do what’s hard.

“And, frankly, I wish Congress here had done what’s hard.

He really said that?   A president who has ducked countless tough decisions in order to maintain his popularity among his admirers, including foreigners who have anything but America’s best interests in mind.  Was the rejection of Phase 4 of the Keystone XL pipeline in order to appease the environmentalists a case of Obama doing “what’s hard?”  Or sticking to his principles over Syria once he’d made his “red line” remark?  Self-awareness is not his strong suit, is it?

Mr Obama suggested that his colleagues’ voting patterns were influenced by political concerns.

Politicians voting on political matters are influenced by political concerns.  I guess this is why people think he is the cleverest President ever.

Ten Days in New York

I’m back from New York, having had a fantastic time wandering around, drinking, and hanging out with friends.  What follows are my general observations and thoughts, in no particular order of importance.

New York is massive, I mean seriously big.  I first got an inkling of this when I found the time it took to get from Harlem to 42nd Street on the subway was longer than I thought, and I’d only covered about half of Manhattan.  Later in the week I tried to walk from lower Manhattan to midtown, but gave up as I realised no matter how many blocks I covered I still wasn’t getting much closer.  Later still I stood on the Brooklyn Bridge and looked towards midtown, and realised it was an awfully long way off.  And when I crossed the Robert F. Kennedy bridge into Astoria and looked westwards at Manhattan, it seemed to stretch southwards forever.  Even disregarding Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, Manhattan itself is enormous, on a different scale to anywhere else I’ve lived (Lagos, despite having a population of about 18 million people, isn’t that big geographically).  I quickly realised that simply walking everywhere isn’t really an option in New York.

It took me a while to get used to the subway.  About two days in I figured out that different trains run on the same lines but stop at different stations, and that some trains were “local” – stopping at every station – and some “express” and only stopping at major stations.  And whether a train was local or an express changed with the time of day and the day of the week.  This was all a bit complicated for a farm boy from Wales, but at least it explained why New York subway stations are designed with a third track in the middle: it allows trains to pass through without stopping.

The metro itself worked well enough, and was mercifully air conditioned.  But the stations themselves weren’t, and it was stiflingly hot down there.  The locals seemed to cope with this a lot better than I did, as I was sweating buckets.  I can’t say I liked the subway carriages themselves, the stainless steel design making them look more industrial than perhaps they need to, but they were clean enough.  The same can’t be said for the stations, which were in desperate need of a pressure wash, and the whole system kept reminding me of violent scenes in films from the 1980s.  At least they don’t have Guardian Angels patrolling it any more.  I will say this, though: the people seem a lot friendlier on the New York subway than they are on the London underground or Paris metro.  One chap offered to help me figure out the myriad combinations of stops and express trains – something you’d never see a Parisian doing – and I noticed people spoke and interacted with each other more than anywhere else I’ve seen.  Aside from one bellend who came in dressed like a gangster, shirtless with his pants hanging down his arse and tattoos all over him carrying a ghetto blaster playing music that only reinforced my theory that the louder music is played the worse it is, everyone was awfully polite.

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New York

I’m currently in New York where I’ve come on holiday for 10 days or so, staying in a rather nice apartment in Harlem.  That’s a description you’d not have seen written anywhere 20 or 30 years ago, but this part of New York has gentrified considerably since New Jack City was made.  It’s no Kensington, and you still see a lot of people who look like extras from The Wire hanging about outside laundromats and dodgy-looking discount stores, but there’s not much evidence of serious crime.

I haven’t been to New York since summer 2000, when I came here at the start of my 5-week road trip around the USA.  A few things have changed since then, and not just the lower Manhattan skyline.  For a start, people using the visa waiver scheme now need to pay $14 online for an ESTA – Electronic System for Travel Authorization – which is something the department of Homeland Security uses to see if you’re a terrorist or not.  I knew nothing about this until the airline (fortunately) informed me a few days before I flew.  JFK airport doesn’t look quite so impressive now I’ve travelled around a bit, but despite a long line at immigration I cleared through it quickly enough and was pleased to find Uber works for airport collections too.

One of the first things I noticed, sitting in the traffic on what I think was the Long Island Expressway, was how much the cars had changed since I was here 16 years ago.  Back then they were mostly American – either Ford or GM marques- and much bigger than those you see in Europe, totally different models.  Now you see Toyotas and Nissans everywhere of the same or similar models to those on sale in Europe.

The other thing is that the place doesn’t feel as exotic as it did when I first came here.  Last time I had barely travelled anywhere before coming to the USA, but now I’ve clocked up around 40 countries since it’s just like visiting yet another foreign place.  Only as I found with Australia, it seems a bit weird to be in a place which is obviously foreign and everyone speaks English (of a sort, anyway).

I also used the New York metro yesterday, and made a bit of a hash of it.  I got one one train, thought it was going in the wrong direction, got off it, realized I should have stayed on it, then got back on the next one.  And bloody hell, New York is big.  I only went from 135th to 42nd street, and it felt like we’d covered miles, and I was only halfway down Manhattan island.  And despite my being thoroughly familiar with London, New York is another step up in terms of people running around in a mad rush.

My plan here is to take lots of photos, do some shopping, go on the piss, and take a half-day trip out to an area of Brooklyn for some research for a story I’m working on.  And I’m supposed to be going to the US Open tennis on Monday with the chap I’m staying with, who is taking a client there and for some unfathomable reason has decided to being me along.  Incidentally, my host is an American who I met in South Carolina during my 2000 road trip, in a Wal-Mart car park of all places.  Funny how things can turn out.

More on Trump vs Clinton

By all accounts, if the poll data is correct, Hillary Clinton ought to win November’s presidential election at a canter:

Having been holding his own right up to the conventions, Trump appears to have gone into meltdown while Hillary just carried on as usual.  Senior Republicans are urging their party to abandon their own candidate – who, it should be remembered, won the nomination hands down – having seemingly conceded the presidential race and are looking to shore up their own positions in the Senate and House.  How this is supposed to demonstrate that a party is fit to govern is anyone’s guess: if the Democrats sweep the next elections, the clueless Republicans will only have themselves to blame.

At this point one would normally say that unless major revelations come out about Clinton between now and November, the election is in the bag for her.  Only major revelations about Clinton have been coming out on a weekly basis for as long as I’ve been paying attention and none of them seems to have damaged her in the polls at all.  Quite what a Democrat candidate would need to do in order to experience a collapse in the polls is a question worth pondering.

But with all that said, and Trump being written off, I still think there’s room for a surprise here.  Trump trotted into the Republican nomination in part because many Republican voters and conservatives were fed up of their representatives in both houses pandering to the Democrat agenda, and they felt the other Republican candidates were basically Democrats wearing a different hat and very much part of the same Establishment.  By abandoning Trump and endorsing Clinton, these rebelling Republicans have now gone and proved it.  If Trump doesn’t represent an electable Republican, these “moderate” Republicans who are throwing their toys out of the pram make him look like Ronald Reagan.

Where I think the surprise might come from is people putting too much faith in polls, social media, and the traditional media.  The heavy defeat suffered by Labour in the 2015 UK General Election came as a complete surprise to everyone – not least the pollsters, who were confident right up the exit polls that it would be either a hung parliament or a narrow Labour victory.  The next morning, social media was filled mainly with those wailing about the result, as was a good chunk of the mainstream media.  Many questions were raised about how this happened, how all the experts, commentators, and pollsters had somehow missed the mood of the country.

Only the same thing happened again in June when the UK voted to leave the EU by a margin of just under 4% on a turnout of an impressive 72.2% (the turnout in the 2015 General Election was 66.4%, and in 2001 just 59.4%).  In the build up to the vote, every major political party, newspaper, and TV station came out in favour of remaining, and countless experts, business leaders, and other commentators both domestic and foreign maintained a continuous, overwhelming narrative of doom and disaster should Britain vote to leave. The Leave side were dismissed by the entire Establishment and political classes as being backward racists who didn’t understand anything, and even Barack Obama weighed in on the side of Remain in an episode that did little to alleviate historical British complaints of American cack-handedness.  On the night of the vote it appeared the Leave campaign would have no chance against such an onslaught…yet Britain awoke on the morning of 24th June to discover that they’d won.  As with the Conservative victory in May 2015, social media and most traditional outlets were dominated for the week by two themes: much wailing from the losing side, and utter incomprehension as to how this happened.  In the case of Brexit, the message was effectively:

“How did these backward, ignorant racists win?  All the right thinking, smart people voted to remain!”

There is no concrete explanation for how the Establishment, media, experts, and pollsters got things so badly wrong and failed to gauge the mood of the country, but I suspect it went something like this.  Having dominated the media for so long, sealed themselves off from opposing views, shouted the loudest on social media, and sought to outlaw views deemed unacceptable, the Establishment and their supporters have forced their opponents into hiding.  Most ordinary folk are just trying to go about their lives, earn a living, and support their families, and aren’t interested in social justice crusades and slanging matches across the Interwebs.  Nor are they interested in being berated by complete strangers for holding quite reasonable political views, and in an increasingly hostile climate they have taken to remaining silent rather than answer questions or respond accurately to pollsters.  Even somebody as thick-skinned and obnoxious as myself has occasionally found it is better just to nod along with some idiotic left-wing opinion than to mention I’m of an altogether different political stripe.  Better just to shut up and take full advantage of the secret ballot.

This isn’t anything new.  The “shy Tory” has been a phenomenon for years, but I think with the spread of social media, the particular vindictiveness with which the Establishment and their supporters operate in contrast to ordinary people, and the increasingly repressive restrictions on expressing (or even merely holding) opinions which to many people are quite reasonable has greatly increased this effect.  We’ve seen it in action twice in the UK, and although the US is not the same place I am wondering whether this most unusual of elections will reveal that the conditions are much the same over there.

For now we have almost the entire Establishment: politicians, business leaders, the media, celebrities, religious figures, foreign elites, all telling us that Trump will be a disaster and under no circumstances should anyone who doesn’t want to murder all minorities vote for him, and all the polls, commentators, and experts are telling us Hillary is set to win by a mile.  Only I have an inkling that this sort of thing is precisely what propelled Trump to the nomination in the first place, and is precisely the sort of thing that will seriously piss off the great, silent minority into turning out to vote for him for no other reason than to tell the Establishment they are tired of being insulted and ignored.  It could be I’m entirely wrong and the polling data will reflect how people actually vote, but I think this election could throw up a surprise or two yet.

Putin prefers Trump, but why?

Via Samizdata, I came across this article by Michael Totten, who is more usually known for his superb reporting from the Middle East.  The theme of the article is the supposed mutual admiration between Putin and Trump, and there has been lots of discussion recently regarding which of the two presidential candidates Russia prefers:

He’s not a Russian “Manchurian” candidate. He doesn’t take orders from Moscow, nor is Vlad bankrolling the Donald. There is no conspiracy here. There doesn’t need to be. Their interests and opinions align organically. Trump genuinely likes Putin, and the feeling is mutual.

Although it appears that Putin and his fellow Russians do prefer Trump over Hillary, I think most commentators have missed the point as to why.  Everybody I have read has focussed on policies and which of the two would be more likely to oppose Russia’s interests and ambitions.  Personally, I don’t think at this stage policies have much to do with it.  I think it is all down to character and personality.

Russians actually don’t mind people opposing them.  If you stand up to a Russian, they will on some level respect you and maybe even admire you.  Russians still admire Margaret Thatcher, despite her being wholeheartedly against everything they stood for at the time, and they do so because she was strong and had political courage.  Russians didn’t like George W. Bush much in terms of policies, but I always got the impression they had a sneaking admiration for his determination to actual do what he said he was going to.

What Russians absolutely detest is the sort of cowardly, half-hearted, and flip-flopping behaviour seen by pretty much every European politician and epitomised by Barack Obama: the weasel words over the shooting down of MH17, the capitulation to Iran over the captured US sailors, the backtracking over the “red lines” in Syria, and a multitude of other international and domestic issues which required somebody to have the courage to talk tough, make a decision, and follow through on it.

Russians are an old-fashioned lot and they have not bought into the PC niceties which the police are now enforcing in the west.  They expect their male leaders to exhibit masculine behaviour and their females tough and uncompromising in their defence of Russian interests.  Sometimes they take this too far and you get the ridiculous pictures of Putin fishing with his shirt off, etc. but underlying this is a genuine desire to see their country run by people with a set of balls.  What Russians will never, ever respect is somebody who is lauded for being a brilliant intellectual but is photographed doing this:

And this picture may have captured the hearts of American women over 35 and the pajama boys, but I could imagine it being passed around the briefing room in the Kremlin to hoots of laughter:

To put it crudely, as most Russians would, they think Obama and his counterparts in Europe are a bunch of effeminate pussies.  Regardless of their policies, I suspect most Russians who have fought (literally) their way to the top of the pile in the Kremlin can’t stand dealing with them simply because of their characters.

So when it comes to Trump, at a guess I would say Russians admire the man for standing up, speaking his mind, pissing everyone off, laughing at the PC-brigade trying to silence him, and having a wife worthy of any Russian oligarch.  As for Hillary, they probably see her as a washed-up grandma riding on the coat-tails of a man who was shagging the interns behind her back.  If you know Russians, it’s not hard to see why they might admire Trump more than Clinton.  But I doubt it has anything to do with policies, not yet anyway.

Trump’s Isolationism

Very few people recall this, or at least they don’t mention it anymore, but George W. Bush was elected as President of the USA after running a campaign which was very isolationist.  Bush Jr. spoke during his election campaign of bringing American troops home from Europe, closing bases overseas, and expecting other countries to do a lot more to provide for their own security.  I was a subscriber to The Economist at the time and I remember much wailing from the Europeans and other progressives that this backward cowboy didn’t understand the complexities of the world outside Texas and that America under his presidency would abandon its responsibilities around the globe.  I recall the Germans being particularly incensed that US bases on which the economy of entire towns depend might close, and the criticism was neither polite nor restrained.

9/11 changed all that.  Bush had little choice but to go after the Taliban once they’d refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, and pretty quickly Bush realised that America could not isolate itself from the world in the way he wanted.  And once this turnaround occurred and the US military machine built up momentum…well, we had Iraq and any memories of Bush being an isolationist keen on keeping the military at home disappeared completely.

Not that this meant much to Bush’s earlier critics: the complaints went from his being a backward Texan cowboy wanting to abandon the USA’s security responsibilities to his being a backward Texan cowboy who was too ready to use American military power overseas.  The ease with which the same people switched reversed their criticism said a lot more about them than Bush.  Effectively – and this is the basis of a lot of the criticism the US had regarding Iraq and the Gulf – Europeans want the USA to shoulder the lion’s share of global security (including safeguarding their own countries) in terms of money, men, and material but wish to dictate exactly how the Americans should go about doing that.

Well the world doesn’t work like that.  The world’s elite didn’t want the Americans to invade Iraq in 2003 but – as P.J. O’Rourke pointed out – when Kuwait got invaded in 1990, nobody called Sweden.  So by default American earned itself some say in how it goes about fulfilling the task that the whole world has dumped on it, regardless of the attempts made in the UN to get America to pay the price of containing Saddam Hussein while the likes of France and Russia went about normalising relations with him.

The problem the Europeans now have with the prospect of a Trump presidency is a serious one as he appears to be keen to adopt similar isolationist policies to those that Bush originally campaigned on.  The isolationism espoused by Bush was popular enough among Americans at the time, but they quickly changed their minds after 9/11.  Now they have had over a decade of vitriolic abuse and universal condemnation for having used their troops overseas in a manner not approved by Europeans, any wailing from Europe about America abandoning them might well fall on deaf ears indeed.

I often thought those that vehemently opposed the US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq might rue the day when the US military decides it will stay at home and let nature take its course.  If Trump wins the presidency in November, that day might be closer than I thought.

House of Cards: Feminist Shite

(If anybody doesn’t want to read spoilers of Seasons 1-4 of the American TV series House of Cards, don’t read this post.)

I recently finished the fourth and most recent season of the American TV series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and nobody else who can act.  Several people had recommended it to me, with one or two saying it was “amazing”.  Perhaps I should have been forewarned by the fact that two of these people were women of a feminist persuasion.

Seasons 1 and 2 weren’t bad, and depicted an utterly unscrupulous and ruthless Kevin Spacey manipulating situations and people as he wormed his way from Democratic party whip to Vice President and finally to President of the United States.  What I found most interesting about the first two seasons was that it showed what I suspect is the true nature of politics, i.e. politicians making decisions which affect millions of people purely to further their own personal ambitions.  The series lays bare the corrupt and unprincipled nature of politicians and politics for all to see, yet the show is loved by people who favour big government and believe politicians should have ever-more involvement in people’s lives.  I know at least one fan who decries the antics of Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood yet intends to vote for Hillary Clinton in November.  Go figure.

But somewhere between Seasons 2 and 3 the feminists got hold of the script and effectively made the show all about Frank Underwood’s wife, played by Robin Wright.  She played a reasonable supporting role in the first two seasons, ably assisting her husband in his rise to the top (but also betraying him in more ways than one), but during Season 3 she revealed her own political ambitions and contrived to land herself the position of US ambassador to the UN.  During the nomination process her opponents pointed to her utter lack of experience yet she obtains the position anyway thanks to her husband’s prerogative to just appoint somebody of his choosing – whereupon she promptly makes a complete idiot of herself and the United States by being played like a fiddle by the Russians.  I thought at this point she’d be relegated to a supporting role again, her character having been shown to lack experience or competence in a political role –  as her opponents were saying (and any reasonably viewer thinking) all along.

But no.  The feminists who had hijacked the script were having none of it.  Season 4 saw Frank Underwood lying in a coma having been shot in an assassination attempt, a weak VP in temporary charge, and First Lady Claire Underwood running about doing what she likes as though she had some constitutional authority to do so.  A strong, experienced, and somewhat ruthless female secretary of state allows herself to be bullied by Claire into submission, to the ridiculous extent that it is Claire who is sent into a room alone with the Russian president to negotiate a solution to some strategic issue of vital importance.  And of course, Claire gets the notoriously stubborn Putin-a-like to capitulate by browbeating him in a manner in which I suspect feminists think women should speak to their husbands.  As the season advances, Claire finds herself able to order members of the presidential staff around on whim, involving herself in matters of national security even to the point of being in the situation room, and not a single person in the administration raises a squeak in protest.

This wouldn’t be so irritating were it not for the fact that each scene of Claire’s brilliance takes on exactly the same form.  She wears the same arse-hugging style of dress or skirt in every shot, she manages a single facial expression throughout the entire series, and for each pivotal scene the only thing that changes are the words being spoken.  It quickly becomes repetitive, and not a little tedious.  But not content with that, the feminists have to ramp it up by making Claire the object of seemingly every key man’s sexual desire as well.  In Seasons 1 and 2 she is shagging a rather hip British photographer who is world famous, the type that would in real life be hanging around models from Eastern Europe.  But in House of Cards he’s pining after the ageing wife of a US senator.  She finds herself fending off the advances of the (divorced) Russian president, who tells Frank that she is truly beautiful, or something like that.  Because prominent Russians are well known for flattering American women and have difficulty picking up stunners back home.  Uh-huh.  In Season 4 Claire is shagging a famous author, a younger man hired by Frank to write their speeches or biographies, or something.  When Frank finds out he doesn’t mind, and this ruthless motherfucker who committed two murders in his ascendancy to the White House doesn’t just accept it, but gives the couple his blessing.  Again, the idea that a famous author would fall in love with the older wife of the US president instead of having a beautiful, loving partner of his own doesn’t even get questioned.  Despite various betrayals on her part of her husband’s political maneuverings plus the aforementioned infidelities, Frank wakes from his coma praising her to the heavens, forgiving her in full, and stating in unequivocal terms that she is the most important person in the entire series.  Even the wife of the Republican presidential nominee is forced by the scriptwriters to shower her with gushing praise during a visit to the White House.  Season 4 ends with her being nominated as the VP on her husband’s ticket, having seen off seasoned and ruthless female opponents by making hackneyed speeches in a figure-hugging dress.

The audience, by having it rammed down their throats every episode, is expected to unconditionally accept that Claire Underwood is a brilliant politician, responsible for every success her husband has achieved, desired sexually by every man who meets her, and is easily capable as a president herself (there is a Season 5 on the way).  By contrast, despite a brief affair with a young journalist in Season 1, her husband Frank is a greying, cuckolded, semi-invalid who owes her everything.  It is the definition of tedious, and I almost didn’t make it to the end of the series.  Watching this rubbish during the current buildup to the US presidential election, I got the feeling that the scriptwriters were fantasizing about what Michelle Obama could do in her position as First Lady.  Now I see the progressive media praising her speech at the Democratic National Convention for all its worth, I am wondering if a section of the American liberal left haven’t confused real-life politics for a TV show.