Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Category: Current Events (page 1 of 4)

You Think 2016 Was Bad?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking on plots of novels, and so it’s only natural that when I think about events occurring on our world, I try to imagine how they would develop were they events of fiction rather than reality.

People talk about 2016 as being the year from hell, but the thing is, most of the bad things about 2016 were the taken of decisions to do something bad, with the something bad itself having not yet occurred.

In other words, if 2016 were fiction, it wouldn’t be a stand-alone novel, but would instead be one of those slightly frustrating first books of a trilogy where lots of plot lines are initiated but nothing ever gets finished – and you then have to wait a year for the next book.

And that leads onto a second thought: if 2016 were merely the first book of a trilogy – what’s going to happen in the next two books.

Well with thanks to my friend Ian McDonald for the crucial plot development at the end, here goes…

2016: The Unfolding (Book I of the End Years Trilogy)

2016 begins in a world still struggling to extract itself from the Great Recession of 2008, and racked by wars triggered by climate change and ill-advised imperialist interventions.

In Europe, the European Union is under assault from the forces of left and right, while in the United States dark populist forces are gathering.

As mainland Europe struggles to cope with the refugees pouring out of a war-torn Middle East, the disastrous result of a recklessly called referendum plunges the United Kingdom into political and constitutional chaos. Meanwhile, the American presidential election produces a stunning shock of unprecedented proportions as a racist and misogynistic narcissist utterly unsuited to the role is elected on a tidal wave of neo-fascist populism.

2017: The Unravelling (Book II of the End Years Trilogy)

2017 begins with the results of the American election turning from tragedy to farce as the president-elect is revealed to be a Russian intelligence asset whose election was largely due to the Kremlin’s intervention. Meanwhile in Britain, the phony period of fudge and bluff comes to an end as the process to leave the European Union is begun.

As the world economy spirals further into the chaos triggered by Brexit and the nationalistic protectionism of the American president, Russian president Vladimir Putin invades the Baltic states. Shorn of effective leadership, and betrayed by the United States at the moment of invasion, NATO disintegrates.

Alongside this, and goaded by the United States’ ascendant right-wing, an increasingly belligerent Israel attempts to increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As the Western World attempts to celebrate an uneasy Christmas, a drunk American president engaged in a late night Twitter argument with the president of Iran orders a nuclear strike on Tehran. Following a rehearsed script written several months previously by Pentagon lawyers, and deploying pre-written letters signed by certain departmental heads, the Air Force officer carrying the “nuclear football” announces that by issuing such an order the president is clearly incapacitated as defined by the twenty-fifth amendment, and as such, presidential authority will now lie with the vice-president.

2018: The Unleashing (Book III of the End Years Trilogy)

2018 starts with the United States engulfed in a full blown constitutional crisis, with a still-tweeting president claiming to have been the victim of a military coup and the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming to be following the now legitimate commander-in-chief, the former vice-president.

Both the military and civilian authorities are split as to the legality of the Joint Chiefs interpretation of the 25th amendment. A majority of state governors declare allegiance to the former president, with several calling up their state national guards. The regular military itself fractures into uselessness. Within weeks constitutional crisis has given way to a limited, but still bloody, civil war, with fire fights breaking out in Washington DC between different factions.

The American economy, paralysed, enters a death spiral; the world economy follows. Vladimir Putin meanwhile, follows his move into the Baltic states with an invasion of Poland and a declaration of a new Russian Empire, with himself as emperor.

With the world on the brink of an all out war, only one leader remains with the moral and political authority to hold the centre: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Gathering together the remains of NATO, she forges a new alliance. While her forces meet and defeat the Russian invasion, triggering a democratic uprising in Moscow, a Canadian led force allied with the anti-Presidential forces occupies Washington DC in the last hours of 2018.

When the sun rises on New Year’s Day 2019, it is on a new world, in a new era.

David Cameron Might Just Have Saved The UK

The most important news from yesterday, other than the referendum result, was David Cameron’s decision to not immediately trigger Article 50, but instead leave that decision to his successor to take, in October at the earliest. Had he triggered it yesterday, as he’d said during the campaign he would, he would have committed the UK to a hard and full Brexit within two years.

As a result, three further options have opened up: a soft, though still full Brexit taking longer than two years; a partial, Norwegian style, Brexit; or some sort of supposed renegotiation that concludes with the UK remaining an EU member.

This is huge. I’d think this will eventually be seen as the most crucial decision taken by him during his entire political career. I’m mystified as to why it wasn’t the lead item in every news piece.

It’s About Identity, Not Democracy

Brexit supporters often attack the EU for its supposed lack of democracy, saying things like: “What about that President of the Commission? We didn’t elect him!”

I’ve heard this time and time again, and I’ve only just realised that I’ve misunderstood it every time. Pro-Europeans such as myself hear it as:

We didn’t elect him!

And each time we hear that, we point out that we did elect him. And then we patiently, and as it turns out pointlessly, explain the particular electoral mechanism involved. (Essentially, the people of Europe elect MEPs belonging to various factions, and then the leader of the faction that wins the most seats gets to be a sort of “European Prime Minister”).

But what they actually meant was this:

We didn’t elect him!

…where “we” refers not to the people of Europe, but the people of the United Kingdom. It’s just like when a Scottish Nationalist complains that: “We didn’t elect David Cameron!”

He or she is not complaining about the system by which David Cameron was elected PM (a First Past the Post election to a UK parliament, followed by a ” virtual election” among the MPs to select a PM from amongst their number). He or she is not advocating an arguably more democratic system, where the PM is elected by a direct presidential style election. In fact, since such an election would arguably give the British PM more power over Scotland, that would probably be the last thing our Scottish Nationalist would want.

His complaint is not in the “elect” part of his sentence, but in the “we”. He doesn’t like the fact that since English voters outnumber Scottish voters by about 10 to 1, essentially, Scottish voters have only a minor say in who rules them. When he says that “we” didn’t elect David Cameron, he means the people of Scotland. His problem is not that the UK is undemocratic. He just doesn’t want what he identifies as his country, Scotland, to be ruled by the English.

The EU is actually quite democratic, and where it isn’t democratic, that’s usually to preserve the rights of individual member countries (the national veto, for example). It’s not about democracy. It’s about identity. Are you happy to elect leaders as part of a European election, accepting that sometimes you won’t get who you voted for?

Which basically comes down to: do you feel European?

 

 

David Cameron’s Constitutional Crisis

“What we have is what I always wanted, which is one single question, not two questions, not devo max, a very simple single question that has to be put before the end of 2014 so we end the uncertainty.” – David Cameron, October 2012.

* * *

“If we get a No vote, that will trigger a major, unprecedented programme of devolution, with additional powers for the Scottish Parliament – major new powers over tax, spending and welfare services.” – David Cameron, September 2014.

CameronED2There’s an old trick politicians use when trying to force an unpopular option down the electorate’s throat. Don’t give them the opportunity to vote for the middle-of-the-road option they actually want. Instead offer them only two choices: an extreme option that you figure they’ll find too risky and radical; and your choice, that they’ll have no option but to vote for through gritted teeth.

Back in 2012, Alex Salmond wanted the referendum ballot to offer two questions that would deliver three options:

  • Stick with the status quo, with a limited, devolved parliament within the United Kingdom.
  • Stay within the United Kingdom, but have significant, further powers devolved to the parliament (a.k.a. “Devo Max”).
  • Independence.

People could have voted yes to independence and yes to Devo Max, no to independence but yes to Devo Max, or no to both independence and Devo Max. But David Cameron vetoed the twin question option, insisting on a straight choice between status quo and independence. I think it’s pretty clear that he did this thinking that independence had no chance, and by doing so he would torpedo the option that the majority of the Scottish people wanted, but he clearly didn’t: Devo Max.

The problem with this old politicians trick is that sometimes the electorate call your bluff, and it was when – two weeks ago – it looked like the Scottish electorate might be about to do just that, that Cameron was belatedly, “miraculously” even, converted to the cause of Devo Max (a.k.a. “The Vow”).

I guess we can’t know, but I think that if we’d had a two question ballot paper, with an explicit Devo Max option there right from the start to dilute and divide the yearning for self-determination, the yes vote would have been depressed. Perhaps 45% would have been 40%, or even 35%. Meanwhile, I think a big chunk – perhaps half – of the people who voted no yesterday would have voted for Devo Max, along with pretty much all of the yeses. I’d therefore see a Devo Max option, one that you could have voted for as well as independence, getting perhaps 70-75% support.

But, you might ask, how is that significantly different from the situation we have now, where a no option which mutated to a Devo Max option has won with 55% support? Well it is different, in two important ways:

Firstly, Scotland could now be uniting behind an option that three quarters of the voters had selected. Instead, we have a result so divisive that it cannot help but leave a legacy of bitterness and division.

And secondly, instead of voting for a Devo Max option agreed, defined and debated over more than two years, people have instead voted for an off-the-cuff, emergency lash up birthed in an atmosphere of panic and confusion. And not surprisingly, this spit-and-chewing-gum construction is already starting to unravel.

Scots voters were promised the best of all worlds: Cameron, Clegg and Miliband promised them increased devolution on an accelerated timetable with no strings attached, including a continuation of their funding under the Barnett formula; and Gordon Brown promised them that they could have draft legislation ready by May next year.

But that was pre-vote then, and this is a post-vote now.

This morning David Cameron alluded to the West Lothian question by speaking of “English votes for English MPs”, additionally adding that further Scottish devolution could only proceed in tandom with hearing “the millions of voices of England”. Meanwhile, this afternoon, when Alex Salmond phoned him, Cameron was now apparently saying that he “would not commit to a second reading vote (in the House of Commons) by 27 March on a Scotland Bill.” And that’s before we mention the 63 Tory MPs who have apparently already gone on the record as opposing Devo Max. Basically, Cameron promised something that he didn’t want, and probably can’t deliver.

My prediction is this. Devo Max will either be stalled indefinitely by arguments over English representation or devolution, and calls for constitutional conventions. Or it will come with unpleasant strings attached, such as a significant diminishing in power of the Scottish representation in the UK parliament at Westminster (by turning Scottish MPs into second-class MPs who can only vote on UK wide-issues), and possibly an adjustment in the Barnett formula that will lead to harsh spending cuts in Scotland.

Which will nicely open the way for the SNP to run in the Scottish elections of 2016 on a platform of a second independence referendum, on the grounds that previous one’s result has been rendered invalid by the promise and then effective withdrawal of a no-strings, “best of all worlds”, Devo Max.

Nice one Dave. You’ve certainly cocked this one up.

Scotland and Me: A Personal View

Firstly, to get the big question out of the way, if I was Scottish, I’d vote yes. Not because I’d think it will be easy. I don’t. I think it might be quite hard – worthwhile things usually are. I’d be voting yes because ultimately I’d rather be a citizen of a small democracy of five million people whose destiny I have a say in, than a citizen of a large democracy of sixty million people whose destiny I largely don’t.

But I would ask one thing of the post-Yes, Scottish people: can we keep Faslane and Coulport as Guantanamo Bay-style, leased sovereign enclaves. (In return for a currency union, use of the Bank of England, and first pick at the House of Commons wine collection).

It’s not about saving the several billion pounds it would cost to move the site, nor the undesirability of storing a shitload of nuclear weapons right next to Plymouth. (I know some might ask how come it was okay to store a shitload of nuclear weapons right next to Glasgow, to which I’d reply that pondering on that question a while might help them understand why so many Scots are keen to leave the union). No, it’s not about that. Personally, I’m in favour of abandoning Trident anyway.

No, the reason why I’d like us to keep Faslane is because it would create a wonderful new setting for stories. Stories need conflict, and nothing generates conflict like a few dozen megatons of someone else’s nuclear weapons stored right next to your biggest city. It only needs relations between the Scottish and rUK governments to deteriorate a tad and you have a wonderful Cold War-esque thriller with a twist.

“With the United Kingdom and Scotland on the verge of war, the last thing Redcap detective Jim Conner needed was a killer loose in Faslane’s nuclear submarine yards. With Prime Minister Farage’s visit only three days away and the five infantry regiments of the Scottish Army poised to attack the sovereign enclave, the clock is truly ticking.”

Tell me that’s not awesome!

Journalistic Intelligence: Too Much To Ask?

Yesterday, I was reading John Inverdale’s column on sports in City AM. Inverdale is a supposed sports journalist who recently, famously, nearly lost his job with the BBC by making sexist comments live on air about new Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli. So I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to be the sharpest tool in the journalistic toolbox. But I was nonetheless amazed to see him saying the following in a column decrying the practise of knighting sportsmen and women whilst still active:

Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins are waiting in cycling’s hall of fame for Sir Chris Froome, who must surely receive a similar accolade – why is his Tour de France win this year less remarkable than Wiggins’ 12 months ago?

Sir Chris Hoy was knighted after winning his seventh Olympic medal (six gold and one silver), making him the greatest British Olympian of all time, taking that accolade from… Bradley Wiggins. In 2012 Wiggins not only became the first British man to win the General Classification (a.k.a. Yellow Jersey) of the Tour de France, he also won Olympic gold in the time trial at London 2012, to go with the medals he’d previously won at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. That total of four golds, one silver and two bronze made him the most decorated British Olympian of all time until Chris Hoy overtook him a few days later.

So Bradley Wiggins has a Tour de France win, plus seven Olympic medals, four of them gold. Chris Froome has a Tour de France win, plus one Olympic bronze medal.

With respect, those two records are not comparable. Froome’s Tour de France win is one hell of an achievement, but the Tour de France win was only a part of what got Bradley Wiggins a knighthood. Given that Chris Hoy got a Knighthood purely on the basis of a similar Olympic medal haul to Bradley Wiggins, it’s arguable that Wiggin’s Tour de France win played only a minor role in getting Wiggins his knighthood, that he might have got it anyway.

John Inverdale is supposed to be a sports journalist. Is it really possible that he doesn’t know that Bradley Wiggins is one of only two Britons in history to win seven Olympic medals? Is it conceivable that he doesn’t know what Wiggins got his knighthood for?

Or was he just skipping facts to make a lazy point in his column?

I’m not sure what’s worse.

Didn’t Trayvon Martin Have The Right To Stand His Ground?

To those who believe that George Zimmerman is innocent…

Imagine that everything happened pretty much as Zimmerman claimed it did, with one difference: he wasn’t able to get off a shot and as a result Trayvon Martin beat him to death. You’d say that Martin was guilty of murder right? You’d say that if you were on a jury, you’d convict him, yeah? Really?

Let’s say that the police arrived to find Martin standing beside a dead Zimmerman and he gave them the following story:

“I was coming home when I realised a guy seemed to be following me. He didn’t look like a cop or anything. I tried to walk faster, but he kept on following me. I even tried taking short cuts, but he still kept following me. I was getting scared. I wasn’t in an area where I felt safe knocking on people’s doors. Eventually, I doubled-back and told him to stop following me. I thought I needed to stand up to him. Let him know that he couldn’t just follow people around at night.

“Then he pulled a gun out. Now I was really terrified. I thought maybe he was some racist out to kill someone black, for kicks. He didn’t look at all calm or in control, like he was hyped up or something. I didn’t have a gun myself. I knew I couldn’t run because he could just shoot me in the back. But if I did nothing, he could just shoot me whenever he felt like it. Then he looked away, just for a moment. I knew this might be my only chance, and I knew I had to seize it right away.

“So I jumped him. I knew I had to move fast and not let him get a move. I knew that if I let up, just for an instant, he’d be able to get his gun on me and shoot me. I got on top of him and started to bang his head on the sidewalk, again and again. I didn’t like doing it, but I knew I couldn’t stop until he was completely out of it. Otherwise, he’d just shoot me and kill me.

“Eventually, I felt him just go limp and I stopped. I realised then he was dead. I didn’t want to kill him, but he pulled a gun on me.”

Imagine then, at the subsequent trial, his defence’s argument basically boils down to:

“Zimmerman followed our client in a highly suspicious and threatening manner and then, when confronted, pulled a gun on our client. Our client had reasonable cause to fear for his life, and given that he was unarmed himself had no option but to use lethal and sudden force to defend himself. It is for this reason that our client is pleading not guilty to the charge of murder.”

Are you really saying that you would convict him in this case? Are you really going to argue that a man doesn’t have the right to defend himself when he finds himself being followed by an armed man?

Wouldn’t you decide that Trayvon Martin had the right to stand his ground?

Her Name Was Reeva Steenkamp

To the editors, journalists, proprietors and readers of the Sun and the Daily Star. She was not “The Blade Runner’s Lover”. Her name was Reeva Steenkamp. She was a law school graduate, an activist for women’s rights, a model, and an aspiring TV presenter.

Daily_Star_newspaper_front_pageThe_Sun_newspaper_front_pageHer tragic death deserved to be marked with dignity, not treated as an excuse to turn the front-page of your newspaper into little more than a wank mag for sick and perverted men.

Decent newspapers bothered to talk about her, and her life. Would it be too much to ask that you do the same?

Paralympics: Changing Attitudes

It’s often said of the Paralympic Games that it exists to challenge and change attitudes to disabilities. We need to stop assuming that disabled people can’t do things and start assuming that they can. Disabled people don’t need to be patronised, applauded like children merely for existing.

And I think the Paralympics does trigger exactly this change.

Certainly, when watching the wheelchair basketball match last night between GB and Germany, I found it took me only minutes to go from being impressed simply that a man in a wheelchair could throw a basketball into a basket to shouting “you twat” at that same man when he missed a shot at 70-70 with about two seconds left to play.

That’s progress, right?

Olympics: Men’s Gymnastics At The North Greenwhich Arena

There’s a strong streak in the British psyche that believes we’re shit and enjoys it that way. Many people predicted disaster for the Olympics, talking of unfinished arenas, an embarrassing opening ceremony. and transport meltdowns. Well the arenas were finished, the opening ceremony was awesome, and I can report that for us, at least, today, the transport worked fine. The trains were busy, but not much more so than usual, and while there were some queues, there was nothing that took more than a few minutes.

People also talked of overbearing security. Well there was airport style security surrounding the North Greenwich Arena (a.k.a. the O2, a.k.a. the Millennium Dome), but it’s perhaps the friendliest and least intrusive security I’ve been though. And the soldiers manning the scanners (from the Rifles), were great. Brilliant. I cannot say how highly I was impressed by them. And you know what, I think they made me feel a lot safer than the G4S guys would have been (had they turned up).

This was my first time inside the O2, and I have to say it’s quite an impressive place. Before the start, they did a rather cool gymnastic display with light show.

Then it was onto the gymnastics proper. We were watching the first of three sessions of the mens’ qualifications, and we lucked out in the teams we were getting to watch. If asked, I’d have said that I wanted to see the home team and the best. We got exactly that: Great Britain, China (last time’s gold medalists), France and South Korea. We had some French guys sitting right behind us, and they really did get into it. (They really do actually shout “Allez!”)

I can’t claim to be a fan of gymnastics, and although I’ve watched it on the tv quite a lot, this was my first time I’ve seen it live. I did have a few observations.

1) Gymnasts are brave. I don’t know if anyone’s ever actually died doing gymnastics, but if not, it’s not for want of trying.

2) Gymnasts are tough. Footballers will fall over screaming if something brushes their hair. We saw one Korean guy so screw up his tumble that he landed on his head from about ten feet, but he still bounced straight up to his feet to take his bow.

3) Gymnasts have to be able to focus. This isn’t like tennis, or snooker, where everyone’s expected to stay quiet. For a start, there are six pieces of apparatus (four for the women) going simultaneously. So you might be midway through a really complicated horizontal bar routine when suddenly there a massive outburst of cheering and applause because some other guy’s just landed a tough vault. On top of that, there are beeps to let the floor guys know that they’re running out of time, music playing in the background, and just a general background hubbub of cheers and shouts.

It was really cool. And the arena looked great. This is what it looked like when things got going (this was taken during one of the warm ups).

Click on pictures to enlarge.

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