Brit living in Belgium and earning an income from building interfaces. Interestes include science, science fiction, technology, and European news and politics
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Wumo 17. Jul 2024

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Wumo 17. Jul 2024
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PaulPritchard
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Never doubt the instincts of Donald Trump, who just appointed ‘never Trump guy’ as his running mate | Marina Hyde

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In his journey from self-help author to Republican courtier, JD Vance may find the presidential candidate just as fickle as he is

Encouraging scenes from the Republican national convention (RNC), where US politicians and the wider world are being told to dial down their rhetoric by a crowd of people rhythmically raising their right fists and screaming “Fight, fight!” It’s just a hunch, but when historians come to assess the period we seem to be marching into, they’re not going to say that “metaphors” did it.

By way of an unnecessary recap, Donald Trump has survived an assassination attempt at a rally in Pennsylvania, and your jaw just had to drop at his extraordinary instincts. He was back on his feet within seconds, while Joe Biden’s campaign is suffering the PTSD.

Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

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Some quick thoughts on Gareth Southgate

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green sports court illustration
Photo by Timothy Tan on Unsplash

The first tournament I remember was Italy 1990. I was eight years old. No interest in sport whatsoever. I still have no interest in sport whatsoever. What I do have an interest in is the England team and that interest started in 1990. 

Out of nowhere, I remember football being discussed around the breakfast table. My friend's father was talking about it in the car on the way to school. In class it was the only thing anything spoke of. It was my first experience of being part of a broader national conversation, of being embedded in something larger. Watching those matches, there was a sense that the team represented that broader identity in a specific but indecipherable way - that their behaviour and their performance was symbolic of something larger than themselves, which affected all of us.

Six years later, Gareth Southgate fluffed a penalty. Until that moment, we'd spent the summer of 1996 riding an impossible surge of optimism and momentum. We would watch matches in school. We'd write holds reading 'Honk if you love England' out the back of the school bus. Everyone everywhere seemed to be singing Three Lions. And the lyrics of that song also seemed to affirm a sense of belonging. Years of hurt: it provided this elegiac story of struggle, pain and underdog status. The kind of thing it felt meaningful to be part of.

The momentum broke with that Southgate penalty. Suddenly all hope was lost. And now we were part of those song lyrics. We had written another line of loss to add to a history of woe. It was awful, but there was a trace of something beautiful in it. The sense you have sometimes of enjoying sadness.

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The remarkable thing about Southgate is that this moment shaped him but did not define him. He is kind and gentle with his players. He is supportive. He is understanding. He is a million miles away from all the paper-thin bullshit machismo you often see in football - the 'hairdryer' treatment and the angry shouting at the ref and the vein-bulging certainty of the person behind you in the pub, fit to burst with outrage that his tactical genius is not recognised by the players on the screen. 

When those players go off the pitch after a loss, or even after a missed penalty, Southgate puts his arm around them, and he whispers in their ear, and you think: thank heavens this man is there, doing those things, and saying this stuff. Thanks heavens we are a better place than we used to be.

That moment in 1996 must have affected him to his core. Of course it did. He had the nation's hopes on his back and he fluffed it. But instead of being defeated by it, he was improved by it. He made himself into a better man. And by virtue of that, a better leader. 

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There was always this whiff of something unpleasant about England, if we’re honest. There was a kind of constipated anger, a sense of entitlement and barely concealed vitriol. You'd see it in the reaction to Southgate when he missed that penalty. You'd see it in the front page of the Mirror at the time: "Achtung! Surrender - For you Fritz, ze Euro 96 Championship is over!" The occasional brawls and the drunken violence. There was always something a bit shameful about us.

After Brexit and Boris Johnson, that suspicion felt particularly pronounced. I remember having a terrible thought in the run-up to the 2021 Euros: if by some chance we won, it would be treated as validation by Johnson and his press cheerleaders. It was awful. The encroachment of party politics into places it has no right to be. The Brexit poisoning of another wellspring of national unity, taking something which had never previously entailed cultural division and corrupting it. 

And then Southgate wrote Dear England. He took on the racism directed at England's players when they took the knee. "For those people that engage in that kind of behaviour," he wrote, "I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that." He then said something which was really rather profound:

"For many of that younger generation, your notion of Englishness is quite different from my own. I understand that, too. I understand that on this island, we have a desire to protect our values and traditions — as we should — but that shouldn’t come at the expense of introspection and progress."

And with that comment, Southgate brought his decency from the personal sphere to the political. He took part in national storytelling. He spoke clearly to the worst elements of England's support, elements that previous managers would have been too nervous to challenge, and told them that the team did not belong to them. 

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That article was, in its own way, just as important as Danny Boyle's Olympic Opening Ceremony - the other great moment of sporting national myth-making in living memory. It redefined what the England team stood for and showed a welcoming smile to people who might previously have been reticent about supporting it. 

And where are we now? We live in an England where Norman Tebbit's small-minded tests have been stamped into the dirt, where the whole notion of them is a laughing stock. A video emerged during this tournament of Indian and Pakistani cricket supporters all watching football together, every single one of them supporting England. It was testament to the national team Southgate was describing and in part created: one which was open and diverse, not angry and insular.

Southgate has been inundated with abuse and criticism throughout his time in power. What he deserves is celebration. Watching England was once a humiliating experience: nervousness, impotence, frustration, anger, recrimination and entitlement, followed by disappointment. Now it is an entirely different experience. England has grace, not just in its play but in its character. When it is defeated, it still holds its head up high. It does not descend into frustration and belligerence. It's a team you can be proud to support. Sure, we still don't have a trophy. But we now operate confidently at a level that we could once only dream of, back in the days of grinding out group-stage wins and getting to a quarter final at most.

It’s a team that tells us a better story about ourselves. And that is due, in large part, to one man, who fluffed a penalty nearly 30 years ago, and the kind of person he decided to become.

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No Country for Old Men

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Fascist movements have historically been given an easy ride by liberal democratic governments. Too often, the danger that these movements represent is not recognized until too late, and liberal governments cling on to the belief that authoritarian political actors intent on destroying or undermining democracy are not as bad as they seem to be, and fail to mobilise the forces required to stop them, until it’s too late.

It was the same in Italy and Germany, and now, in the United States, the Democratic Party - always a leaky vessel to carry the hopes of an anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian movement at the best of times - appears to be drifting listlessly into political battle with the gravest threat to the American republic since the Civil War.

This threat was already clear before the events of last weekend. Take Project 2025 - the Heritage Foundation-led coalition of Conservative organizations seeking to develop an transition agenda for a Trump presidency, which has received a lot of media attention in the last two weeks. Among other things, Project 2025 wants to sack tens of thousand of civil service workers and replace them with Trump loyalists. It also wants to take control of the Department of Justice and the FBI; use the military for domestic law enforcement, abolish the Department of Education, cancel climate change research, roll back environmental protections and affirmative action programs, limit contraception and abortion rights - and all this so that Jesus can walk among us once again.

These are plans that would reach into every sphere of American life, and they’re intended to. In a ‘Promise to America’ on the Project 2025 website, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts rails against a vast array of enemies that includes drag queens, ‘critical race theory’, ‘gender ideology’, ‘globalists’, Beijing, ‘left-wing “experts”’, federal bureaucrats, the UN, the European Union, Big Tech, ‘Marxist elites’, ‘Marxist academics’, ‘billionaire climate activists’, and the ‘totalitarian cult known today as “The Great Awokening”’ (has anyone else heard of a movement that defines itself with this term? No, me neither).

As someone accustomed to seeing the left losing, I find it difficult to accept Roberts’s hysterical claim that ‘every hour the Left directs federal policy and elite institutions, our sovereignty, our Constitution, our families, and our freedom are a step closer to disappearing.’

Such assertions owe more to Richard Hofstadter’s ‘paranoid style’ than anything approaching reality, and Project 2025 is a Christian nationalist blueprint for what would effectively be the authoritarian takeover of the US government, using the corrupt criminal-rapist and Putin stooge Donald Trump as its chief instrument.

Heritage believes that Trump won the last election, and it has also accused the Biden administration of using ‘multiple forms of federal power’ to influence the election in November. The executive director of Heritage’s Oversight Project has declared that ‘as things stand right now, there’s a zero percent chance of a free and fair election’ and the organization is already contemplating legal action in the event that Trump loses.

There was - even before the Pennsylvania shooting - a very real possibility that he might not lose it, and if Trump wins, this will not be a freakish aberration like his first administration, making up policy on the hoof. It will be a vengeance government - an all-out, more ideologically-focussed assault on all the institutions that hold executive power to account, supported by organizations like Project 2025.

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It will entail deportations of millions of immigrants, and the unleashing of massive police/military power against immigrants and minorities. Outraged by Biden’s policy on Gaza? Last November, the New York Times reported that Trump and his sinister former aide Stephen Miller plan to deport any foreign student who takes part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration. Other immigration proposals include the establishment of deportation camps in Texas, the removal of grants of temporary protected status for people from unsafe countries, and - of course - a militarised ‘wall’.

All this is part of what Kevin Roberts recently called ‘the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.’ And now someone has shot at Trump, killed one person at his rally, and seriously wounded two others, and the MAGA movement has been foaming with disinformation and conspiracy theories blaming it on ‘Antifa’ and the left.

There have also been some leftwing theories floating around, mostly of the ‘false flag/staged variety’, but this has been gold for the Trumpies. One US congressman claimed that ‘Biden ordered’ the shooting. Hillbilly elegist and now Trump’s Vice President JD Vance tweeted:

That’s a man who knows who he needs to please. No Democrat has ever suggested that Trump should be shot, and there is nothing, literally nothing, to suggest that Democrat ‘rhetoric’ led to Trump’s attempted assassination. In 2022, when Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul Pelosi was nearly beaten to death with a hammer, Vance insisted that the assault on the Speaker of the House of Representatives’ husband should not be made into a ‘political issue’.

Yet here he is, making an entirely spurious ‘political issue’ out of the Trump shooting, to advance himself. What a guy. It’s also worth recalling that in 2022, many Republicans, including Trump’s son, laughed at what happened to Pelosi:

Republicans, including Trump, have opposed all forms of gun control, including controls on the weapon used to shoot at Trump. For years, the conspiracy theorist and MAGA spokesman Alex Jones - a man who supported Trump and was supported by him - tormented the parents of the Sandy Hook massacre by portraying them as ‘crisis actors’ whose children had not actually been killed.

No leading Republican has ever criticized Jones for this egregious cruelty, because the MAGA cult does not extend any empathy or compassion to anyone beyond itself. This is a movement that has seethed with hatred and cruelty since its inception. It talks constantly about civil war and coups, of hanging and shooting governors. Its members joke, as the QAnon general Mike Flynn did in 2021, of going to Washington and ‘shooting somebody.’

Yet now they blame the Democrats, and the ‘left’ for what - as far as we know - appears to be another freakishly horrific and unfathomable incident in America’s dark history of random violence and political murder. And they aren’t the only ones. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was at on Substack. Over here, Nigel Farage has blamed the attempted assassination on liberals and left, first as a guest on Kuenssberg’s show, and now in the Telegraph, where he can be found imploring ‘the left’ to ‘think very hard about how they seek to play politics.’

Javier Milei has done the same in Argentina. Ditto Gert Wilders in the Netherlands:

We shouldn’t be shocked by such gaslighting. This is what this movement has always done and will always do. It fights dirty, because it is dirty. It lies, because if it told the truth about almost anything, it would have no reason to exist. It has made this clear many, many times, and yet the Democratic Party leadership doesn’t seem to have grasped how dangerous it is.

It it had, it would not heading for the election led by a candidate who the polls continuously demonstrate is a political liability. This was already clear even before Biden’s calamitous debate performance, and his latest ‘gaffes’ at the NATO conference, but it will become even clearer from now on.

America stands only less than four months away from the most consequential election since Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860, and there is a very real possibility that the Democrats might lose the election because of its leader. Of course, in a normal world, this shouldn’t be happening. In a normal world, the Republican Party’s wild embrace of sedition and authoritarianism would write it off the electoral map.

But that world no longer exists. And in these circumstances, it should be all hands on deck for the opposition, with a mass electoral movement pulling out all the stops to prevent the brazen power grab that is now unfolding.

Of course it is entirely right that leading Democrats, including Pelosi and Biden, should condemn the Trump assassination attempt - the aim must always be to defeat Trump politically and legally, not shoot him or celebrate the fact that someone shot at him. But let no one think that emollient calls for ‘unity’ and ‘healing’ and respect will have any impact on Trump and his followers.

This is not a movement that can be persuaded into behaving respectfully. That’s not the game they’re playing, and even though I recognize why politicians have to make such appeals, being nice to them will not make them nicer.

Thanks for reading Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

What is needed is an all-out mobilisation of voters who will not allow this movement to take power again. And in America, the figure of the president - whether we like it or not - is central to that movement.

Of course it shouldn’t be the case, but in an age of telepolitics, infotainment and social-media driven political outcomes, it matters what the president looks like, and sounds like, and how he or she communicates to the electorate. If you want a mass mobilisation - even on an electoral level - you need a leader who can ignite a mass movement and speak to it with the urgency required, as Obama once did.

Biden

Joe Biden is not that man. Once again, in normal times, faced with a brazenly corrupt presidential candidate who is a convicted felon, rapist, and seditionist with dozens of criminal charges hanging over him, who lies with every breath he takes, the age and acuity of his opponent would be a minor consideration.

But that is not America in 2024, and the reality is that even before last weekend, Trump’s charges had barely affected his position in the polls, whereas Biden’s glazed nightmare of a debate had affected his already low standing, and the fact that he and his closest aides seem to have been lying and trying to cover it up have not helped.

There is some debate about whether Biden once said back in 2020 that he would only run for one term. But there is no doubt, that in a speech in Michigan, in March 2020, he said, ‘Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else. There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.’

This is exactly what should have happened. Biden did amazingly well in 2020, managing to defeat Trump in the midst of a pandemic, through a campaign that was largely waged from his basement. But perhaps that basement protected him, because now Biden is two points behind Trump in Michigan - a state he must win -and that new generation of leaders has not emerged, and the more Biden appears in public, the less Americans seem to trust him.

Had Biden announced that he would only serve one term, that search for a successor could have taken place, and Biden would have gone down as the caretaker president who restored something like normality after the pandemic, who helped bring back competent government, presided over a robust labour market, widened access to affordable healthcare, increased spending on renewables, and other achievements that contrasted radically with the mayhem of the Trump years.

I know that Gaza - rightly - has lost him votes in some quarters, but Gaza has not been the decisive issue in Biden’s failure to cut through.

Competent government hasn’t improved his overall ratings - something Labour should take note of. This might be unfair, but politics is unfair, especially when dealing with opponents for whom notions of fairness, integrity and basic decency are alien concepts. And the result is that, even before last weekend, Biden was poised to lead his party to a defeat that his country can ill afford, and which the rest of the democratic world cannot afford either.

Because if Trump wins, it will unleash a toxic tsunami that will galvanize similar ‘take our country back’ movements across the world. And the fact that this outcome should be decided by a political contest between a criminal madman and an old man who appears to be in the midst of serious cognitive decline is a tragic failure of politics. Some readers may be old enough to remember when Leonid Brezhnev was believed to be in a coma during the tv appearances in the last years of his life. The historian Roy Medvedev later claimed that he was clinically dead, between 1976, when he suffered a stroke, and his death in 1982.

In those days, many people saw the gerontocratic rule of the last Soviet years as the tragi-farcical symbol of a disintegrating system. But then, Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, and some claim that his mental decline was already evident at various points during his two terms in office.

Unlike the Soviet Union, the US didn’t disintegrate. But Reagan was not running to be the next president. His ‘gaffes’ could be concealed, just as Biden’s have - until recently. But now, his obvious decline is a problem for his party and his country. Even the Heritage Foundation now see Biden as a liability - which is why they are reportedly looking into ways to prevent the Democrats from replacing him.

I don’t say this with any pleasure, but in these cruel political times, many of Biden’s enemies will take pleasure in every mistake he makes. In a single debate he has provided material for endless memes and video clips that he cannot come back from, in a performance that made the mad liar Trump seem almost statesmanlike. And now Trump has been shot, and that image of his bloodied ear, pumping fists and the American flag will be used over and over again - Trump the martyr, saved by a miracle, maybe by God; Trump the indomitable fighter who the deep state couldn’t kill, who did it all for America.

Objectively, Trump remains what he was before Pennsylvania: the felon, the seditionist, the corrupt authoritarian megalomaniac, the liar and fraud. But now he has been saved by God, and Biden can barely remember the name of his own vice-president.

It remains to be seen whether the shooting boosts Trump’s popularity, but I would be very surprised if it doesn’t, and I cannot see what can boost his opponent’s. Of course, it will be humiliating for Biden to stand down. Many of us will have known parents and grandparents who succumbed to similar decline and struggled to accept it. In Biden’s case, stepping down will take bravery, but it can be done and it should have been done before.

After all, if Biden was seriously ill, he wouldn’t run. And what is happening is no less serious. In 2016, the Democrats put a weak candidate into a dog fight, because it was somehow assumed to be ‘her turn.’ Then, they were taken by surprise. Now they know what is coming, but they appear no less complacent, as they prepare to put an even weaker candidate into the ring with the same dog, after ignoring all the warning signs that this was not likely to go well.

We can only hope that those with the power to do so can bring this cruel spectacle to an end. Because the stakes are too high to allow one fragile old man to bear the weight of his sinking country.

For all these reasons, the Democrat leadership needs to step up, and take whatever action is required to make Biden step down down.

And if they don’t or can’t do that, they will not be forgiven. And this may well become one election that America cannot come back from.

Thanks for reading Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

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What France and America Know About Each Other

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They’re arrogant.

They don’t like us very much.

It’s more or less okay to apply preconceived blanket statements to this country.

They think they’re cooler than we are.

Friends greet each other with a gesture that’s weirdly intimate.

More sex happening over there.

More dynamic food scene.

They have a cheese that’s somehow both liquid and solid at the same time.

Their economic system and overall societal structure are on the verge of a full collapse, and we’ve been waiting for a while now to say we told you so.

Unaware their cultural approach to drinking is referred to as “alcoholism.”

Unaware their cultural approach to race relations is referred to as “racism.”

Unaware that Emily in Paris is making fun of them.

Responsible for making the red beret popular.

Responsible for Timothée Chalamet.

Also, André the Giant.

Should take back Pepé le Pew.

They mispronounce—in a way that feels deliberately hysterical—the words charcuterie and Wi-Fi.

They mislabel—in a way that feels deliberately confounding—the words entrée and college.

Stole and ruined our idea of democracy.

Act like they invented the movies.

Act like they own the Olympics.

We’re traveling there this summer because of the unimaginable scene that will be the Paris Olympics.

Will probably beat us in basketball.

They somehow still believe the world revolves around them.

They somehow seem to think they own the idea of liberty.

Forget where the Statue of Liberty really belongs.

Still, we were counting on them to be the country that didn’t let the fascists back in.

Totally obsessed with us.

Are they still totally obsessed with us?

They’re difficult.

Wouldn’t exist without us.

Never listed among world’s top ten happiest nations for a reason.

Endure in spite of themselves.

I mean, of course, they’re cooler than we are.

They can be really romantic when they want to be.

They possess some kind of unique magic we’ve devoted more time than we’d like to admit trying to pinpoint.

We could use their validation right about now.

Actually, we could use the postcard dreamland image they still seem to hold about us, which we long ago stopped believing about ourselves. So our real question is: Are you still up?

More impressive monuments.

More paradoxes.

Just friends.

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acdha
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EU charges Elon Musk’s X for letting disinfo run wild

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The European Union is calling Elon Musk to order over how he turned social media site X into a haven for disinformation and illegal content.

The EU Commission on Friday formally charged X for failing to respect EU social media law. The platform could face a sweeping multi-million euro fine in a pioneering case under the bloc’s new Digital Services Act (DSA), a law to clamp down on toxic and illegal online content and algorithms.

Musk’s X has been in Brussels’ crosshairs ever since the billionaire took over the company, formerly known as Twitter, in 2022. X has been accused of letting disinformation and illegal hate speech run wild, roll out misleading authentication features and blocking external researchers from tools to scrutinize how malicious content on the platforms spreads.

The European Commission oversees X and two dozens of the world’s largest online platforms including Facebook, YouTube and others. The EU executive’s probe into Musk’s firm opened in December 2023 and was the first formal investigation. Friday’s charges are the first-ever under the DSA.

Infringements of the DSA could lead to fines of up to 6 percent of a X’s global revenue. 

In preliminary findings, the Commission said X’s platform so-called blue checks had misled users into thinking some content was trustworthy when it wasn’t necessarily.

The EU said X’s blue checks policy was deceiving and had been abused by malicious actors. The checks were initially created as as way to verify users like government officials, public figures and journalists, in efforts to limit misinformation, but Musk changed that policy, allowing users to buy blue check accounts. The new policy has been abused by fraudsters to impersonate U.S. politician Hillary Clinton and author J.K. Rowling, among many other celebrities.

The platform also didn’t respect an obligation to provide a searchable and reliable advertisement repository and limited access to its public data to researchers, the Commission said.

X will now have a right to defend itself against the charges and propose measures to alleviate the EU’s concerns.

The Commission said it continues to investigate if X breached rules connected to the spread of illegal content and took sufficient measures to limit disinformation.

The EU so far launched investigations under the DSA into companies including AliExpress, Meta’s Facebook and Instagram and TikTok over alleged problems like insufficient consumer protection and addictive algorithms.

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