17 February 2017

Whom to believe ...

On the one hand:
NPR's National Security Correspondent Mary Louise Kelly said she had spoken to a White House official on Wednesday, who succinctly described a scene of chaos. "I just reached somebody inside the White House today and asked them to describe, what's the mood like in there? What's going on in the halls?" " Kelly told the NPR Politics Podcast. "And this official said, it is an absolute effing trainwreck"
Ms Kelly also described "a lot of empty desks in the basement of the West Wing," which is where senior members of the National Security Council usually reside, after many abandoned their roles after clashing with the Trump administration.
Citing her sources, Ms Kelly said nobody was sure who was “steering the ship” anymore, and added the White House was, “to put it charitably, in upheaval”.
But on the other hand, President Trump says:
"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved."
You pays your money and you takes your choice ...


14 February 2017

It's not getting better ...

The Independent reports on conditions inside the US National Security Council:
Every day new leaks emerge from the White House about a state of fear and loathing at the National Security Council, which Mr Flynn at least nominally heads. The latest, published by the New York Times, suggested things were so chaotic that members of staff were waking in the morning, reading Mr Trump’s latest Twitter posts, and then struggling “to make policy to fit them”.
The same report said that others have begun using encrypted communications to talk with each other, after hearing that Mr Trump’s top advisers were considering an “insider threat” programme that could result in the monitoring of phones and emails.
Meanwhile, efforts to get Mr Trump to focus on complicated issues are not straightforward. In short, Mr Trump is not a details man. NSC staff members have been told keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps. “The president likes maps,” one official told the newspaper. 
So policy recommendations and position papers have to be in picture-book form for the presidential child-man ...


10 February 2017

Amateur hour

Worrying.  The Independent reports:
In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps US and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two US officials and one former US official with knowledge of the call.
When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.
Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favoured Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.
Typically, before a telephone call with a foreign leader, a president receives a written in-depth briefing paper drafted by National Security Council staff after consultations with the relevant agencies, including the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies, two former senior officials said.
Just before the call, the president also usually receives an oral "pre-briefing" from his national security adviser and top subject-matter aide, they said.
Trump did not receive a briefing from Russia experts with the NSC and intelligence agencies before the Putin call, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine if Trump received a briefing from his national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Even Putin must be wondering if it was a good idea to have elected Trump ...


31 January 2017

It has a certain simplicity ...


Instant hero

Bloomberg reports:
President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates as conflict escalated over his executive order banning entry to the U.S. by citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.
Yates, an Obama administration holdover, was ousted Monday just hours after she told Justice Department staff not to defend the ban in court because she didn’t think it was legal. A White House statement said she was removed for “refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” 
Good for her!  She'll not be unemployed for long.

30 January 2017

The not so grand old USA

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

28 January 2017

Music of the week


Put his hand away Theresa, you don't know where it's been ...

Quote from The Guardian:
"As the two leaders finally shook hands, the bust of Churchill covered its eyes and begged to be sent back to Britain. Their hands remained uneasily entwined as they walked down the colonnade towards the Palm Room. When Trump started to creepily stroke her hand, Theresa almost retched. She quickly pulled herself together and reminded herself to just think of England. Sometimes you had to take one for the team." 

27 January 2017

"It's the same the whole world over ..."

Special treatment for the fatcats.  The Times reports:
Revenue & Customs collected £1 billion less tax from the 6,500 richest people in Britain six years after they gave them their own “customer relationship managers”, a critical report reveals.
Parliament’s spending watchdog said that HMRC could not explain why tax revenues from individuals worth more than £20 million had fallen by 20 per cent since 2009 while tax paid by everyone else had risen by 9 per cent over the same period.
The public accounts committee added that Revenue’s approach to the very wealthy suggested that they were getting “help with their tax affairs that is not available to other taxpayers”.
Stockholm syndrome, perhaps?   Ot HMRC simply seduced by wealth and power?


Bring on the tequila and the guacamole?

Bloomberg resurrects a somewhat fanciful idea:
In 1998, the Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black, then owner of the Daily Telegraph, a conservative British newspaper, gave a keynote speech at the Centre for Policy Studies, a free-market think tank in London, entitled "Britain's Final Choice: Europe or America?" 
"None of the continental European countries has a particular affinity with the United States and Canada or anything slightly comparable to Britain's dramatic modern intimacy with North America," he said.
Black's argument was that the U.K. should leave the EU and join the North American Free Trade Agreement:
Such an expanding Nafta would have every commercial advantage over the EU. It is based on the Anglo-American free-market model of relatively restrained taxation and social spending, which is the principal reason the United States and Canada together have created net, an average of two million more new jobs per year than the European Union for the last 15 years. Nafta, as its name implies, is a free trade area only. The United States will not make any significant concessions of sovereignty and does not expect other countries to do so either.
Given Trump's current propensity to tear down NAFTA, I cannot really see this as a runner.  But with Trump, who knows?


26 January 2017

Easier said than done

So you wanna build a wall?  1900 miles long and several metres high?

Well, you can't just go and slap a few bricks on top of one another.  Your kind of wall requires planning.  It needs to be properly designed and engineered.  It also needs to take account of local soil, rock and climatic conditions.  So you are going to have to undertake a considerable amount of surveying before you start.  You will need to appoint consulting engineers and architects (probably by a process of competitive tendering - as you are the Federal US government).

You will also need to consult the state authorities of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California to ensure that your plans are compatible with local regulation and planning laws.  And you will need to acquire - or at least lease - the land next to the border from whoever owns it - you may not build a wall on someone else's property.

A contract to build such a wall would be massive - too big for any single contractor.  So you need to consider how to divide up the contract into manageable chunks.  Then again, you will need to put the contracts out to competitive tender.  And the winning contractors will need to gather their resources - labour, equipment and machinery, concrete - and move it to the areas concerned.

At each stage of the above proceedings, you will have to consult the Big Man in the White House. You know what a fusspot he can be about all the details.

And all this before the first concrete is poured.  I reckon that, if you are lucky, you might be in a position to start work in 2019.  Maybe ...


23 January 2017

Welcome to the post-truth era

When I say that I am as handsome as George Clooney and as intelligent as Einstein, I am not telling lies; I am merely offering "alternative facts".

A White House aide explains the dispute over the size of the inauguration crowd:

 For what it's worth, this may or may not be evidence:

Trump on left; Obama on right


19 January 2017

Pure nostalgia ...

... but worth watching:


It doesn't happen often!

Today, snow in the mountains above Benalmadena!

h/t Jeanie


Inspired marketing?

Yes, actually, there really is an outfit calling itself  CheapOairlines.  Its website is here.

You may not have much confidence that they will get you to your destination.  But at least they don't have any pretentions.



h/t :  Bill Cowan


Naughty boy - again

He knew exactly what he was doing.  After Mrs May dominated events earlier this week, Boris was desperate to get back in the limelight.  The BBC reports:
Like some latter-day Basil Fawlty, Boris Johnson mentioned the War and didn't get away with it.
The foreign secretary urged the French president not to "administer punishment beatings" on Britain for choosing to escape the EU "rather in the manner of some World War Two movie".
Not surprisingly, uproar has ensued. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Johnson had shown once again that he could be "supremely clever and yet immensely stupid".
Boris doesn't mind who he upsets, as long as he can be the centre of attention.  Childish, really.


17 January 2017


The day wee Mikey sucked up to Donald will have shredded such reputation as he had left.  Never again will he be considered a serious politician.  This photo will be resurrected whenever he puts his head above the parapet.  As The Guardian illustrates:
... he turned up on BBC2’s Daily Politics where Jo Coburn gave him the biggest putdown yet. “You had the president-elect for an hour and you didn’t once challenge him on any inconsistencies?” she observed. Mikey beamed. At last. Someone who got the point. It had never been about what Trump did or didn’t say. It had been about, he, the Great Mikey, getting a whole hour of Trump’s time. To bask in the orange glow of reflected glory. Me and Mini-Me. Don and Mini-Don. Mini-Mini-Mikey.


Quote of the day

The Prime Minister decides to go it alone:
“We seek a new and equal partnership – between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out,” May is expected to say.
“We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. My job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.”
Is there something shameful about seeking to split the difference between full membership and a solitary. lonely existence out in the cold?  Why seek to invent a new model if an existing model might be readily adapted?  If it's good enough for the Swiss, for the Norwegians or for the Canadians, what makes us so different?  Or are we so thirled to the notion of proud Britannia's singularity that we will cut off our nose to spite our face?


15 January 2017

Music of the week

Brave New World

I'm just glad that I am retired.  From The Sunday Times (here):
Companies are fitting thousands of their staff with body-worn tracker devices that check how much sleep they have, how well they work with colleagues and even monitor their body language, tone of voice or emotions.
Supporters of the revolution in “workplace wearables” say it is creating a more productive “augmented human being”, but privacy campaigners say it is leading to a “Big Brother” society.
Employees of at least four British companies, including a major high street bank, are already carrying “sociometric badges”, often for 24 hours a day. The credit card-sized badges are worn around the neck and include a microphone for real-time voice analysis, a device that tracks the wearer around the workplace, a Bluetooth sensor to scan for proximity to others and an accelerometer to check physical activity. Monitoring employees’ phone calls and emails provides further data.
Appalling nightmare.


A backward step

I find it hard to believe that a responsible government would envisage the re-imposition of customs duties and other barriers to trade with our main economic partners, with untold adverse consequences for the UK economy.  And for the fiction of limiting immigration.  But it appears that will happen.  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May is to announce that the government is prepared to accept a clean break with the EU in its negotiations for the UK’s departure. In a speech to be delivered on Tuesday, the prime minister will make clear that she is willing to sacrifice the UK’s membership of the single market and customs union in order to bring an end to freedom of movement.
An article in the Sunday Telegraph cites “sources familiar with the prime minister’s thinking” as saying that May is seeking to appease the Eurosceptic wing of her party by contemplating a “hard”, or “clean”, Brexit.
In the speech to an audience of diplomats at London’s Lancaster House May will hope to end months of speculation about her intentions by setting out her aims for Brexit. According to the Sunday Telegraph, she will say that the UK must:
  • be prepared to leave the EU customs union;
  • regain full control of its borders, even if that means losing access to the single market, and 
  • cease to be subject to rulings by the European court of justice. 
Expect the pound to sink like a stone on the foreign exchanges tomorrow morning.


Photo(shop) of the day

Jeremy Corbyn-Trump:


14 January 2017

The Trump diary

Entry for last Tuesday (according to The Times):
Emergency conference. Kellyanne is back, and Ivanka, and the boys, and my alt-right guy, Steve Bannon. News has broken about a dossier of disgusting allegations about my relationship with the Russians.
“More fake news!” I’m shouting. “Lies!”
Ivanka says she doesn’t know what a golden shower even is, anyway. Then Donald Jr says there’s one next door, next to the golden bidet. Then Steve says it’s actually a political party in Greece.
“Great guys,” he adds.
“That’s not it,” I say. “I know what it is. Don’t ask how. But it’s a lie. I’m a germaphobe.”
“It’s a smear,” says Kellyanne.
“More a stain,” says Eric.
“Oh God,” says Ivanka, who has just looked it up on her iPhone.


Linguistic analysis

He don't speak proper.  The Guardian reports:
1) Trump uses a pretty small working vocabulary. This doesn’t seem to be a conscious strategy, though it works as well as if it had been. Much was made during primary season of the way in which reading-level algorithms (unreliable though they are) found his speeches pitched at fourth-grade level, ie the comprehension of an average nine-year-old.
2) His syntax, spelling and punctuation are – in conventional terms – a catastrophe. In his tweets, he is prone to run-on sentences, shouty capitalisations, unpresidented misspellings and malapropisms, quote marks used for emphasis and verbless exclamations. In speaking, he is prone to anacoluthon – sentences whose grammar collapses – and reflexive repetition.
3) The workhorses of his rhetoric are charged but empty adjectives and adverbs.Things are “great”, “wonderful”, “amazing”, “the best”, or they’re “crooked”, “fake”, “unfair”, “failing”. He sprinkles intensifiers liberally: “a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer”.
Plus, he tells fibs.

Doesn't seem to matter when it comes to connecting with the voters ...



Far from sure that this is the right approach.  The Independent reports:
All doctor’s surgeries in England will open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, Theresa May has vowed, unless they can prove there is no demand from patients.
Ministers hope improving access to GPs will ease pressure on hospitals, which has become critical. There is increasing exasperation in Government that the lack of GP appointments is driving patients to seek treatment in hard-pressed hospital accident and emergency departments.
In addition, GPs will be warned that in future money to surgeries which are not open when patients want to visit will be cut.
The director of acute care for NHS England Professor Keith Willett has recently estimated that 30 per cent of the patients attending A&E would be better cared for elsewhere in the system.
I have no great sympathy for GPs - the last time I contacted my local GP practice in Edinburgh, I was offered an appointment some three weeks later.  But ...

Are there enough GPs to cover a 7 by 12 schedule?  Are practices not already under-staffed and do  they not already rely on a supply of locums?  Are sufficient students coming through the medical schools and opting for general practice?  And all this at a time when the recruitment of doctors from outwith the UK is likely to become ever more restricted.

And, even if the alleged 30% of patients attending A&E but suffering minor ailments and complaints could be re-directed to GPs, would it make a significant difference to the hard-pressed A&E departments?.  After all, it is not those kind of patients who are having to wait for surgery on trolleys in corridors.

Finally, given the serious problems in the NHS, a better way forward might involve seeking the co-operation of the medical profession rather than issuing unworkable ultimatums.


11 January 2017

The germaphobe speaks

From The Guardian (here):
Trump suggested that the intelligence community had fabricated documents describing Russia obtaining compromising information about him. He said “sick people,” his “opponents”, had assembled the documents, and “garbage” “fake news” media outlets had disseminated them. He rejected outright claims in the documents of contacts between his campaign and Russia, and of him behaving badly in Moscow. He said he always warned people traveling with him about cameras in foreign hotels and that in any case he is a germaphobe.
Doubt if that will satisfy the media ...


Not a good day

Mr Corbyn twists and turns in successive interviews over EU immigration and high pay.  The Independent sums it up, rather sympathetically:
Corbyn looked muddled and unpopular on Brexit, muddled and potentially popular on high pay, and missed a golden chance to press Labour’s advantage on the NHS. All in one day. It is hard to believe that someone who seriously wants and intends to be prime minister could have allowed such confusion around him. 
I suppose he clings in private to the idea that remarkable things happen in politics, but it cannot be fun on a personal level to have most of your MPs thinking you are a hopeless liability while the party tests record depths in the opinion polls. 
What is more, he must know that, if the Conservative Party collapsed and he, who will be 70 if the election is at the set time, formed a government, he would hate it. There is no way this can end well. 
But, while Corbyn muddles his way ahead, the country is going to the dogs.


Fake news? Or a president-elect compromised?

I suspect that this story might run and run.  The New York Times reports:
WASHINGTON — The chiefs of America’s intelligence agencies last week presented President Obama and President-elect Donald J. Trump with a summary of unsubstantiated reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Mr. Trump, two officials with knowledge of the briefing said.

The summary is based on memos generated by political operatives seeking to derail Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Details of the reports began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.


The memos describe sex videos involving prostitutes with Mr. Trump in a 2013 visit to a Moscow hotel. The videos were supposedly prepared as “kompromat,” or compromising material, with the possible goal of blackmailing Mr. Trump in the future.

The memos also suggest that Russian officials proposed various lucrative deals, essentially as disguised bribes in order to win influence over Mr. Trump.
The Donald has responded by twitter (of course):
We'll no doubt see, in due course ...