The Prayers of Farmers

I can’t remember exactly where I first heard this saying, but I think it was in one of the soldiers’ autobiographies I read when I was still in school (I used to read a lot of military stuff back then). The saying goes that there is no such thing as an atheist on a battlefield. This isn’t too difficult to understand: when faced with imminent death, people need all the help they can get and are prepared to strike a bargain with just about anyone. It’s is also a recognition of the fact that their fate is very much out of their hands, with the Gods as it were.

About the same time I was reading books like Chickenhawk and The Tunnels of Cu Chi I was living back in West Wales, which I mentioned in my previous post. It was a farming district and I grew up in what was originally a blacksmith’s cottage surrounded by farms, fields, and animals. Several of my schoolfriends lived on farms and my parents knew most of the neighbouring farmers, and as I got older I noticed that the farms were silent on Sundays. The farmers would do no work and not receive visitors (including annoyingly inquisitive teenagers fascinated by agricultural machinery), and would almost all go to church. I thought this strange because they otherwise didn’t seem like particularly religious people (for instance, you’d see few religious artifacts around the houses and they didn’t mind drinking and swearing). I eventually asked my mother about this and she said farmers were often regular attendees at church because so much of their livelihood depended on the weather, which was in the hands of the Gods. It is unlikely that any farmer in 1990s Wales would have starved to death following a bad harvest, but a few generations before and a crop failure would have been deadly serious, and even in modern times events such as flooding and disease can put unbearable stress on farmers. Many of the ones I grew up around are now dead of heart attacks; thankfully none I knew committed suicide, but the rates are high. So their attending prayer was understandable: much depended on factors outside their control and they needed all the help they can get. Besides, what harm could it do? (There are shades of Pascal’s Wager in here).

I say this to explain why this article in today’s Washington Post annoyed me. This is how their original headline read:

To me, this is wholly unsurprising. From the article:

Perdue, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party before governing Georgia for two terms from 2003 to 2011, has a strong agricultural background, having grown up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. As governor of Georgia, he also took conservative stances on immigration and voting rights and drew national headlines for holding a public vigil to pray for rain in 2007 amidst a crippling drought.

Again, this is wholly unsurprising. Faced with a crippling drought, a farming community prayed for rain. Where in the world doesn’t this happen? Here you have middle class, city-dwelling journalists sneering at a backward, unenlightened Georgian farmer for thinking rain can be summoned through prayer. I can imagine it now: “Hahahahahaha! What an idiot! How can people be so stupid?”

Of course, such utter lack of understanding of the USA outside the coastal cities and their constant derision of people they don’t understand is why the media’s preferred Democratic candidate got smashed in the Presidential election by a Republican who they thought had no chance. I came across this story this morning on Twitter and found the headline has not gone down well with some liberals either (which is probably why they changed it):

Indeed. I too am as secular as they come and I suppose if pushed I’d describe myself as agnostic. But I know enough not to sneer at the personal beliefs of people who are doing no more than trying to get themselves through a patch of bad luck, especially if they are farmers. I’ve seen the harsh reality of farming and rural life close up; our media elites clearly haven’t.  Some humility and manners wouldn’t go amiss, would they?

Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s West Wales Roots

I see that Bradley/Chelsea Manning is back in the news as Barack Obama has decided that giving Wikileaks classified information on the US military in Afghanistan is less severe than passing on information embarrassing to the DNC, and pardoned him/her.

I always paid attention to the news articles regarding Manning for no other reason than part of his biography reads as follows:

Born Bradley Edward Manning in 1987 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, she was the second child of Susan Fox, originally from Wales, and Brian Manning, an American. Brian had joined the United States Navy in 1974 at the age of 19, and served for five years as an intelligence analyst. Brian met Susan in a local Woolworths store while stationed in Wales at RAF Brawdy.

In November 2001, Manning and her mother left the United States and moved to Haverfordwest, Wales, where her mother had family. Manning attended the town’s Tasker Milward secondary school.

I was born in Haverfordwest and grew up in nearby Pembroke, and Tasker Milward was one of the big rivals of my local comprehensive school’s rugby team, alongside Milford Haven School. I knew the local Woolworths store that is mentioned, I used to get taken there as a kid where I’d look at the hoppers of sweets which were about as available to me as gold bullion. I have often wondered how much of the way Manning turned out is a result of growing up partly in Haverfordwest: they are all a bit odd down that way. Give it a year or two and we might hear that everything stems from his not being able to understand a damned word anyone was saying and the discovery that everyone was related.

On another issue entirely, the following Wikipedia paragraph is a good demonstration of how political correctness and the obsession with flexible pronouns is turning otherwise sensible English into gibberish:

Manning became the target of bullying at the school because she was the only American and was viewed as effeminate.

She was bullied because she was effeminate. This makes Tasker Milward school sound like a place where feminine girls were some sort of rarity. Actually, now you mention it…

Russians Upset Over Distant Events

It’s good to see Cold War paranoia is back in 2017:

Russia says it views the arrival of more than 3,000 US soldiers in Poland as a threat to its own security.

The troops are part of President Barack Obama’s response to reassure Nato allies concerned about a more aggressive Russia.

It is the largest US military reinforcement of Europe in decades.

Here is a map of Poland and its surrounds:

The distance between the eastern Polish border and the western Russian border is about 500km.  There are entire nations lying between Russia proper and Poland; they might as well complain about the troops in Germany as Poland.

Of course, they may be talking about the Russian enclave around Kaliningrad, in which case it is necessary to note that:

Last October, Russia sent nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to its exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, followed a month later by Bastion anti-ship missile launchers.

Which presumably don’t threaten anyone, oh no.  They’re for defensive purposes, you see.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC that the move “threatens our interests and our security”.

Perhaps if the Russians would state clearly what their “interests” in Poland and its neighbours were, such agonising would be unnecessary.  And this is just bollocks:

“It’s a third country that is building up its military presence on our borders in Europe,” [Peskov] said. “It isn’t even a European country.”

Poland’s not in Europe?  Where is it then, Africa?

Poland’s Undersecretary of State for Defence Tomasz Szatkowski said the deployment was necessary because of Russia’s “large exercises” next to its border and its “aggressive actions in our vicinity – I mean Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea”.

Ah, finally somebody who is speaking sensibly.

Mr Trump’s nomination for defence secretary – Gen James Mattis – is likely to be asked about the new administration’s attitude to Russia in his Senate confirmation hearing later on Thursday.

Leaving aside Obama’s last-minute posturing, a thousand quid says Mattis fully approves of the troops being in Poland and sees preventing Russia from attempting to annex more of Eastern Europe as being a top US strategic priority in the way that confronting them over Syria most certainly is not.  I can well imagine Trump pushing the Europeans to start paying more for their own defense and rightly so, but I think Putin will be making a very big mistake if he thinks the US is about to abandon Eastern Europe to Russian control.

UPDATE

And whaddya know?

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees for defence secretary and spy chief have been taking aim at Russia during their Senate confirmation hearings.

General James Mattis, defence secretary nominee, warned Nato was under its biggest attack since World War Two.

Mr Mattis, a retired general and Mr Trump’s pick for Pentagon chief, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to divide Nato nations.

“I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with with Mr Putin,” he told the Armed Services Committee.

“And we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance and that we take the steps… to defend ourselves where we must.

“I think it’s under the biggest attack since World War II, sir, and that’s from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea.”

I think we might get to find out fairly soon just how much of a Russian puppet Trump is.  My guess, as I hinted at earlier, is the stance of his administration will be “You can have Syria, but if you start rattling sabres in Eastern Europe, we’ll arm them to the teeth”.

ExxonMobil’s Lobbying Efforts

This is a rather good tweet from ExxonMobil, presumably posted to set straight the dimwitted journalists who reported on Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing yesterday:

This is something ExxonMobil has long claimed, and was reported in Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power: their efforts in Washington D.C. are aimed less at trying to change government policy than 1) trying to figure out how government policy will impact ExxonMobil, and 2) inform lawmakers what impact those policies will actually have.

The difference might be too subtle for some, but this is different from ExxonMobil lobbying the US government to implement (or not) policies in order to benefit the corporation at the expense of everyone else.

Donald Trump and Press Freedom

Much fun was had at Donald Trump’s press conference yesterday when he shut down a CNN loudmouth who appeared to think Trump owed him a favour.  Cue much gnashing of teeth on Twitter about how Trump is endangering the freedom of the press.

Let’s get something straight here.  Freedom of the press means only that a newspaper or other media organ is allowed to operate free of government interference, and can write or say whatever they like subject to the usual caveats regarding defamation and issues of national security.  And that’s it.

Freedom of the press does not mean that certain journalists are entitled to take part in the press conferences of presidents (or president-elects), and demand that the speaker takes their questions.  This is especially true if the media organ in question – in this case CNN – chose to abandon all pretence to journalistic integrity and openly side with one Presidential candidate over another during the election.

Donald Trump owes the mainstream media absolutely nothing, and is no more obliged to grant them access to his press conferences or answer their questions than he is to me in my role of a blogger.  True, it would be better if a US President or President-elect does hold press conferences such that the people can be better informed, but the media has utterly abused its privileges in this regard for so long that allowing it to continue in its current form would be tantamount to a conspiracy to mislead the public.

I hope Trump kicks out or ignores those news organisations which have proven themselves to be staffed by partisan hacks openly campaigning for the Democrats, and gives preferential treatment to those who at least pretend to be informing the public in an impartial manner.  If no such organisations exist, then perhaps it is time to get rid of the White House press conferences and let Trump stick to using Twitter.

Either way, unless Trump is attempting to shut newspapers down or severely restrict what they can print (as we in the UK seem to be doing with barely a whimper), then complaints of press freedom being under attack are utterly baseless and should be ignored.

A BBC Eulogy for Obama

It comes as absolutely no surprise that the BBC’s correspondent in New York should write a fawning piece about Barack Obama’s “legacy” regarding race relations, but it’s worth taking a look anyway.

Barack Obama sealed his racial legacy the moment he sealed victory in the 2008 election – a black man would occupy a White House built by slaves, a history-defying as well as history-making achievement.

On this point I am in agreement: the election of a black man to the office of the US President was indeed hugely symbolic, and in some ways very important.  On that basis alone, Obama’s Presidency will go down in history.

In 1961, the year of Obama’s birth, there existed in the American South a system of racial apartheid that separated the races from the cradle to the grave.

In some states, his very conception – involving an African father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas – would have been a criminal offence.

Thus demonstrating that governments can and do get things catastrophically wrong when they adopt policies based on race.  Some of us believe governments should therefore refrain from doing so altogether, but alas we appear to be in the minority.

Little more than half a century later, a black man ran the White House – occupying the Oval Office, sitting at the head of the conference table in the Situation Room, relaxing with his beautiful young family in the Executive Mansion – a family that has brought such grace and glamour to America’s sleepy capital that it is possible to speak of a Black Camelot.

America’s sleepy capital that has a murder rate of 60 per 100,000 population, a rate of forcible rape of 53.4, and is the 13th most dangerous city in which to live and work in the US.  I’ll come to the “grace and glamour” bit in a minute.

In legacy terms, his very presence in the White House is one of the great intangibles of his presidency. Just how many black Americans have been encouraged to surmount colour bars of their own? Just how many young African-Americans have altered the trajectory of their lives because of the example set by Obama?

To the nearest approximation?  None.

And behaviourally, what an example it has been. Because of the lingering racism in American society, the Obamas doubtless knew they would have to reach a higher standard, and they have done so, seemingly, without breaking a sweat.

I agree with the author that Obama has barely broken a sweat during his Presidency, save perhaps when he was playing golf instead of addressing crises of national importance.  That’s half the problem: he seemed to think attaining office was the job.  But the idea that “lingering racism” propelled the Obamas to set higher standards raises a few questions.  Such as “What standards?”

In deportment and personal conduct, it is hard to recall a more impressive or well-rounded First Family.

Well, judgements as to a family’s deportment and personal conduct are best made by those closest to them, not sycophantic journalists who receive only carefully arranged photoshoots, pre-written speeches, and filtered information.  Let’s wait until the Obamas are gone from the White House, their contemporaries retire, and the memoirs begin to appear.  Taking part in Carpool Karaoke and making saccharine speeches when the cameras are rolling doesn’t tell us much; how Michelle treated the kitchen staff will.  And insofar as class and grace is concerned, didn’t George W. Bush and his wife exemplify that as a First Family?  Leaving his policies aside – as we are with Obama on this point – Bush was unfailingly polite and dignified and I don’t think anyone had a bad word to say about him as a person, nor his wife.

The “when they go low, we go high” approach to racists who questioned his citizenship has made the Obamas look even more classy.

“When they go low, we go high” was not an approach with which the Obama’s dealt with racists, it was what Michelle Obama used as a rallying cry during her campaigning for Hillary, only for her husband to prove the exact opposite when his policies were roundly rejected by the electorate a short time later.  If I know this, why doesn’t the BBC correspondent in New York?

Also, why is it racist to question Obama’s citizenship?  Look, I don’t subscribe to the whole “birther” thing, but if there are certain criteria which must be met when running for President of the USA, then why is it wrong to ensure a candidate is legible?  One would have thought there would be a US governmental body that ensures a candidate’s eligibility as a matter of course, but apparently there isn’t hence speculation abounds.  This is something that needs fixing a lot more urgently than the Electoral College.

His family’s dignity in the face of such ugliness recalls the poise of black sit-in protesters in the early 60s, who refused to relinquish their seats…

Indeed, Obama does come across as somebody extremely reluctant to relinquish his seat.  Even if we take the reporter’s comments about Obama’s dignity in power at face value, what about during the transition and afterwards?  At the rate he’s going, and if he and his wife don’t learn to stop carping from the sidelines, his family are going to look about as dignified and classy as the Kardashians before too long.

America’s racial problems have not melted away merely because Obama has spent eight years in the White House. Far from it.

Well yes.  We did notice.

Indeed, the insurmountable problem for Obama was that he reached the mountaintop on day one of his presidency.

As I said: attaining power was the job.  Obama knew everything about getting elected and nothing about governance.  He didn’t even seem interested in it.

Achieving anything on the racial front that surpassed becoming the country’s first black president was always going to be daunting.

True.  But not making things worse should have been achievable.

Compounding that problem were the unrealistically high expectations surrounding his presidency.

Expectations based on empty “hope and change” promises made during his campaign.

His election triumph is 2008 was also misinterpreted as an act of national atonement for the original sin of slavery and the stain of segregation.

Ah, so you mean it wasn’t as symbolic as everyone made out?

Yet Obama did not win the election because he was a black man.

Indeed.  And Hillary didn’t lose because she was a woman.

Doubtless there have been substantive reforms. His two black attorneys general, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, have revitalised the work of the justice department’s civil rights division, which was dormant during the Bush years.

Those Bush years which were presumably full of civil rights abuses, race riots, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement?

The Affordable Healthcare Act, or Obamacare, as it was inevitably dubbed, cut the black uninsured rate by a third.

Because healthcare policies are best judged in terms of race.

Partly in a bid to reverse the rate of black incarceration, he has commuted the sentences of hundreds of prisoners – 10 times the number of his five predecessors added together.

He’s helped black people by releasing black criminals back into their communities at unprecedented rates.  This is apparently something America’s first black President should be praised for.

As well as calling for the closure of private prisons, he became the first president to visit a federal penitentiary. “There but for the grace of God,” said a man who had smoked pot and dabbled with cocaine in his youth.

Thus reinforcing the belief that the American justice system is so stacked against black men that only good luck can keep them out of prison.  Again, this is something we are supposed to be praising.

Race relations have arguably become more polarised and tenser since 20 January 2009.

Arguably?

Though smaller in scale and scope, the demonstrations sparked by police shootings of unarmed black men were reminiscent of the turbulence of the 1960s.

Indeed, we need to go back 50 years before we see a country so fraught with racial tensions as today’s America.

The toxic cloud from the tear gas unleashed in Ferguson and elsewhere cast a long and sometimes overwhelming shadow. Not since the LA riots in 1992 – the violent response to the beating of Rodney King and the later acquittal of the police officers filmed assaulting him – has the sense of black grievance and outrage been so raw.

Historians will surely be struck by what looks like an anomaly, that the Obama years gave rise to a movement called Black Lives Matter.

Alternatively, historians might be cruel enough to identify a direct link between Obama’s words and actions and the increase in race-related violence in America during his time in charge.

Public opinion surveys highlight this racial restlessness. Not long after he took office in 2009, a New York Times/CBS News poll suggested two-thirds of Americans regarded race relations as generally good. In the midst of last summer’s racial turbulence, that poll found there had been a complete reversal. Now 69% of Americans assessed race relations to be mostly bad.

The title of this piece is “Barack Obama legacy: Did he improve US race relations?”  He got there in the end, but I think that question has now been answered.

An oft-heard criticism of Obama is that he has failed to bring his great rhetorical skills to bear on the American dilemma, and prioritised the LGBT community’s campaign for equality at the expense of the ongoing black struggle.

Another oft-heard criticism is that pandering to “victim” groups and dabbling in identity politics is pretty much all he ever did.

But while he was happy to cloak himself in the mantle of America’s first black president, he did not set out to pursue a black presidency. He did not want his years in office to be defined by his skin colour.

Strange, considering that’s all he and his supporters ever talked about.

His famed race speech in the 2008 primary campaign, when his friendship with a fiery black preacher threatened to derail his candidacy, was as much about his white heritage as his black.

A white heritage that he wheeled out when it suited him and never mentioned it again.

Besides, there were pressing problems to deal with, not least rescuing the American economy in the midst of the Great Recession and extricating US forces from two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

How did that withdrawal from Iraq go in the end?

Rather in those early years, it was as if he was trying to position himself as a neutral arbiter in racial matters, though one sensed his preference was for not intervening at all.

As his presidency went on, however, it became more emphatically black. He spoke out more passionately and more intimately.

And by sheer coincidence, race relations plummeted to their lowest levels in half a century.

Telling reporters that his son would have looked like Trayvon Martin, the unarmed high school student shot dead in Florida by a neighbourhood watch coordinator, was a departure.

Ah yes, taking sides in the middle of an ongoing investigation and attempting to influence the outcome.  That was a departure, all right.

But that month Donald Trump had also announced his improbable bid for the White House, and the forces of conservatism were starting to rally behind an outspoken new figurehead, who sensed that nativism, xenophobia and fear of the other would be central to his electoral appeal.

He also sensed people were fed up with Obama and his politics.

That America’s first black president will be followed by the untitled leader of the Birther movement, a candidate slow to disavow support from the Ku Klux Klan and happy to receive the backing of white nationalists,

Trump was slow to disavow support from the KKK?  As Wikipedia would say: citation needed.  You might as well claim Obama was slow to disavow support from the Black Panthers.

Donald Trump can easily be portrayed as a personal repudiation and also proof of racial regression.

True, but not as easily as somebody who has seen race relations deteriorate over eight years in charge while he relentlessly pursued race-based policies.

The truth, though, is more complicated.

Yes, it is, isn’t it?

Obama is ending his presidency with some of his highest personal approval ratings, and clearly believes he would have beaten Trump in a head-to-head contest.

And Connor McGregor thinks he could beat Floyd Mayweather.

Moreover, although Trump won decisively in the electoral college, almost three million people more voted for Hillary Clinton nationwide.

“Nationwide” meaning “mostly in California”.

But the black writer Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a persuasive case that Obama has always been overly optimistic on race, in large part because he did not have a conventional black upbringing.

His formative years were spent in Hawaii, America’s most racially integrated state, and the whites he encountered, namely his mother and grandparents, were doting and loving.

Obama was not the victim of discrimination in the same way as a black kid growing up in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, or even New York or Illinois. As a result, he may have underestimated the forces that would seek to paralyse his presidency and to impede racial advance more broadly.

Indeed, that’s why so many people saw his visiting prisons and saying “There but for the grace of God”, and claiming Trayvon Martin could have been his son, as empty political posturing which only inflamed racial tensions.

Indeed, Trump’s victory, messy though it was, can easily be viewed partly as a “whitelash”.

Much of his earliest and strongest support came from so-called white nationalists, who saw in his candidacy the chance to reassert white cultural and racial dominance. Some of the loudest cheers at his rallies came in response his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim invectives.

Why, it’s almost as if eight years of racial politics under Obama has ushered in a new era of…racial politics.  There’s Obama’s legacy right there: getting white people to vote along racial lines.  Well done, Barack!

The BBC spends part of its £3.5bn tax on British owners of televisions to pay for reporters to sit in New York and pen articles like this.  Worth every penny, I’m sure.

The Myth of Russian Prostitutes

Even rabid lefty journalists seem to think that these latest allegations regarding Donald Trump are bollocks of the first water, but I’m going to put in my two cents anyway:

In the document, a source says Mr Trump hired the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow, where he knew President Obama and Michelle Obama had stayed on one of their officials trips. The source goes on to say that Mr Trump asked prostitutes to perform lewd sex acts on the bed where the Obamas had slept.

“According to Source D … Trump’s perverted conduct included … defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

Ah yes, of course.  One can’t possibly have a story taking place in Moscow without prostitutes being involved, be it a poorly-written Hollywood film or what looks like an internet hoax being passed to the CIA who then took it seriously.  Whenever anything slightly dodgy is happening involving Russians, prostitutes must be shoehorned in there somehow.

It seems to be a reputation Russia cannot shake.  I wasn’t in Russia during the 1990s, but from what I heard from those who were pretty much everything that was there was for sale – women included.  During this period the former Soviet Union saw an exodus of young women who went abroad to be mail-order brides, prostitutes, and strippers and thus the reputation was born.  I don’t know when this peaked, but when I arrived in Dubai in 2003 certain clubs were packed with “Russian” prostitutes.  Only they were almost all from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and to a lesser extent Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Moldova.  About a quarter of them were ethnic Russians, the rest Central Asian or mixed.  By the time I left in 2006 their numbers had dwindled and they’d been replaced by Africans and Chinese.  I never went back so I don’t know if there are any there now.

When I went to Sakhalin in 2006 I found a lot of young women who were keen to form relationships with expatriates, and some of those expatriates were two decades older than the girls and sported large beer bellies.  However, even these women were in the minority: most girls on Sakhalin wanted to marry a Russian guy (or Korean if the girl was part of that community).  But I never saw a prostitute the whole time I was there.  I heard there was a kind of brothel catering to Filipino workers somewhere out on the airport road, and there were certainly banyas where prostitutes worked, sort of like the massage parlours in the UK.  And the local paper and presumably websites had plenty of adverts featuring women who promised to show you a good time, but this is hardly unique to Russia as a brief glance at Craigslist would reveal.

I went to Moscow on a business trip once in 2008 and ended up with a group of guys from Gazprom in some high-class strip bar where girls my height wandered around in spangly bikinis and high-heeled shoes made from clear plastic.  By the time I arrived I’d been sick twice thanks to ferocious drinking which took place earlier that night, after which they’d dragged me to a place where I’d drank a whole pot of tea to get me on my feet again.  I must have stayed all of thirty minutes in that strip bar and whilst the girls were undoubtedly for sale, they were hardly throwing themselves at the customers in the manner one sees in gangster films.

In other words, whatever happened in the 1990s is a long time ago and prostitution in Russia – from what I can tell – is not much different from how it is in any European country.  Contrary to what many people think, a trip to Russia will not see eighteen year old stunners throwing themselves at you; the closest you’ll come to that is when one walks into you while uploading photos onto vkontakte.ru on her mobile.  True, the women there are pretty and there are plenty of single ones with whom a relationship is possible (although perhaps not always advisable) but prostitutes they are not.  Nor are Russians particularly into group sex, lewd acts, and other weird stuff that Hollywood likes to portray.

By contrast, I saw a lot of prostitution in Nigeria and in Thailand.  I saw a lot of strip clubs in Melbourne too, which made Blackpool Pleasure Beach look as classy as the US Masters.  Having lived in Russia and France, I don’t see much difference between the two in terms of prostitution, weird sex, and the propensity for wealthy, successful men to like attractive young women.  Nobody would have written about Trump visiting Paris and getting prostitutes to swamp on a bed, but if it takes place in Russia seemingly this is quite normal.

A decent journalist would have known this is a crude, inaccurate stereotype and declined to print the story.  To their credit, most of them did.  Apparently the CIA has taken it seriously though.  Doesn’t that just fill you with confidence?

Unsolicited Advice

I remember back when I was in school, probably in the lower sixth form, I was watching a game of cricket being played on the school’s oval.  For those not familiar with cricket, when a batsman gets out he often has a quick word with the incoming batsman to share some advice regarding the pitch and the bowling.  You don’t see it so much at test levels, but at club and school cricket you do.  Anyway, I was watching this particularly inept batsman walk out to take the crease and he was hit plumb LBW first ball.  As he trudged back to the pavilion he passed the incoming batsman and stopped to talk to him.  My friend who was sat beside me said “What possible advice could he give the new batsman after that performance?”

Now to US politics.  We’ve already had the outgoing CIA director giving interviews to the BBC as to how he thinks Trump’s administration should handle Russia, Iran, and ISIS.  Now we have Obama giving Trump advice:

US President Barack Obama says he has advised his successor Donald Trump not to attempt to run the White House “the way you would manage a family business”.

Which is sound advice, but less meaningful coming from somebody who ran it like a banana republic.

In an interview with ABC News, Mr Obama said that Mr Trump must “respect” US institutions.

This from somebody who shat all over pretty much every institution he came into contact with.

He warned that there was a difference between governing and campaigning.

It’s nice to know Obama has finally figured this out: there’s been no sign that he’s done so in his eight years in office.

“There are world capitals and financial markets and people all around the world who take really seriously what he [Mr Trump] says,” Mr Obama said.

As opposed to what Obama says.

Mr Obama also talked about the US intelligence agency’s report into alleged cyber-attacks by Russia and the attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential campaign.

He said that he had “underestimated” the impact of such attacks.

The only thing he underestimated was how useful this bullshit would be in explaining away Hillary’s defeat and the rejection of his policies.

He said that a conversation had taken place with Mr Trump in which he had discussed the importance of having faith in the intelligence community.

“There are going to be times where the only way you can make a good decision is if you have confidence that the process is working,” he said.

Indeed, and if that process isn’t working – for example, by giving free passes to criminal behaviour of Presidential candidates and making up shite about Russians hacking elections – then it is time to change things around.

Last week Mr Trump said he was a “big fan” of intelligence agencies, after months of casting doubt on the Russian link to the security breach. But he later raised questions over how the Democratic Party had responded to the cyber-attacks.

“How and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?” Mr Trump asked in a tweet.

Questions journalists should have been asking Obama instead of relaying his “advice” to Donald Trump.

I don’t like to keep praising Putin, but…

…I’m rather glad an adult has entered the room:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ruled out a tit-for-tat response after the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats amid a row over hacking.

He said Russia would not “stoop” to the level of “irresponsible diplomacy” but would work to restore ties with the US under President-elect Donald Trump.

What was Michelle Obama’s recent remark?  That the White House needs a grown-up in charge?

Well, not long to go now, Michelle.

President Trump in 2017

A friend of mine sort of asked me to speculate on what a Trump Presidency will look like in 2017, presumably so I can be proven right and her catastrophically wrong.

It’s a difficult one, as Trump has no history in politics to look back on.  I think we can safely say he won’t be as bad as his detractors are saying he will, because that would involve the skinning of puppies on the White House lawn while simultaneously launching nuclear weapons at China on the orders of Putin and urging his supporters to go out there and grab a woman by the pussy.  That isn’t going to happen.

The biggest damage he can do is via the military or the economy.  I really don’t think he will do any of what I would call “damage” outside these spheres, and that would include demolishing the UN building with everybody still in it, ignoring the Paris Agreement, sacking a good half of all federal employees, continuing to troll the press, and undoing Obamacare.  Others’ views may differ as to what constitutes “damage”, but that’s the gist of mine.  In other words, I really don’t care if those who are wringing their hands over Trump’s potential domestic social policies are still wringing their hands, or even hanging themselves from rafters, throughout 2017.

I don’t think there is any risk of Trump going on the warpath, particularly against Russia and thankfully not over Syria. Had Hillary won, we might be looking at a serious confrontation now as shrill voices call for no-fly zones over Aleppo which would involve American jets shooting down Russian ones and Stinger missiles being handed out willy-nilly to jihadist rebels.  Trump appears to have more sense than that.  That said, Trump knows he has a decent military at his disposal and will certainly be prepared to use it if required.  I don’t think he’s going to shy away from potential military confrontation if he believes doing so would make America’s position weaker, and this was demonstrated by his remarks over Taiwan and Israel.  There is a chance he could blunder into a military engagement which would prove disastrous, but one would hope that he has appointed General Mattis so that he is properly advised on such matters and can avoid making the mistakes of his predecessors.  With Mattis as Secretary of Defence, Trump ought not to be rushing headlong into inadvisable wars.  The best outcome that can he hoped for, and I think is achievable, is that the USA uses military force (or the threat of) sparingly in those places where it is needed most, but leaves any potential adversary under no illusions as to what will happen if America is trifled with.  This would involve the USA telling Europe it is going to have to have to shoulder much more of the responsibility for its own defence from now on, which will be expensive and require its people to fight occasionally.  Good.

On the economy I think Trump is far less certain, mainly because I think he is trying to do the impossible.  There have been genuine losers from globalisation, people who saw their jobs disappear to China or Mexico and not replaced, and these made up a large chunk of Trump’s support.  He made promises during his election campaign that he would bring jobs back to America, but this would mean either subsidising domestic production, imposing tariffs or a combination of the two, none of which is economically sensible or even possible on the scale required to revitalise America’s rust belt.  The best he can do is remove the artificial barriers to American job creation: overly stringent environmental legislation, leaden bureaucracy, Union intransigence, and taxes which are too high.  Even if he manages this, and gains a hearty round of applause for me, I don’t think it will make much different to manufacturing and other secondary industries in the United States: the forces of globalisation are too large and the results too beneficial for almost everybody to be reversed.  The best that can be said is that at least Trump recognises there is a social problem and wants to do something about it, but it’s way beyond his – or anyone else’s – capacity to do anything about it.

If he wants to improve the nation’s finances he could start by reducing the size of the giant, sprawling bureaucracies that make up the federal government and suck up so many hundreds of billions of dollars, something no other President has managed to do – Reagan included.  With a trajectory like this, the best we can hope for is he does enough to slow their growth a bit and puts a tiny dent in the annual deficit.

In summary, and judging by what he’s done so far, I don’t think he will be awful, and nor will he be great, at least by the criteria I’ve laid out here.  I think he will be at worst a decidedly average President in 2017, and at best one who surprises us by not being too bad.  Of those two options, I’ll go for the latter.  I also think he’ll be far better than Hillary would have been, and Obama was.