America: a lament

 

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Let me start by saying this: today has been a wretched day. I’m going to try and get more specific and rational in a moment, but before I do it’s only fair to acknowledge the emotional place I am writing from. This post is not about informing, persuading or educating you. It is about making me feel better. When something bad happens I often find writing about it helpful. Reality may be chaotic and unknowably complex but if I can grab hold of it for long enough to examine it and knit an argument from it, then I feel like I am back in control even if only on the page. I could, for example, feel the gut punch of the Brexit vote and yet still stand up and craft a plan for what should happen next.

But the enormity of what has happened, the range and power of the shockwave it will create leaves me unable to produce anything that coherent. Too much has changed and too little is stable for me to feel I have a purchase on it. And that uncertainty is distressing.

After Brexit, I felt like I’d lost my country. After Trump’s victory, I feel like I’ve lost my world. I used to assume that, broadly speaking and with exceptions, the world would get more prosperous, safer and more co-operative. Even horrifying events like 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, seemed like setbacks rather than fundamental reversals. Trump’s victory seems more devastating than that.

The most powerful man on earth is a racist, misogynistic, conspiracy theorist, who has admitted to assaulting women, lacks any respect for the rule of law, has dodgy finances, holds some ‘maverick’ views, possesses little understanding of the issues with which he must grapple and most damningly seems to have no compunction about telling blatant lies.

That seems to speak to America and the West more generally having given up on making the world better and instead now just want to lock it out. We have gone to a dark place of hatred and suspicion, and I don’t know if we even want to get out of it.

If this was happening anywhere else it would not be so devastating. Even when grim events hit my own country, like the upsurge in hate crimes that followed Brexit, we could at least see them as our problem rather than something universal. Of course, it wasn’t happening in isolation. Nativism, populism and authoritarianism are on the rise more or less everywhere, and Brexit actually seemed to be a milder form of that tendency. Nonetheless, Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, Orban and the like still seemed to be a nasty sideshow so long as there was an American president willing to use his country’s enormous power to counterbalance them. Now one of their number is headed for the Oval Office and they suddenly seem to run the world.

I move in circles where to degenerate America and its power is fashionable. Even the American’s do it.  The US and its hegemony was a menace to freedom, the story went, it used its incredible power to get rid of those who got in it – and its corporations – way. It overthrew awkward but democratically elected leaders like Chile’s Salvador Allende and Iran’s Mohammed Mosaddegh, it missteped all over weaker countries like Vietnam and Iraq, and even made the rest of us sign up to its stupid copyright laws just because Disney can afford a tonne of lobbyists.

That is a reasonable story but it is only partial. It sees America’s imperfect espousal of democratic values as equivalent to other actors rejecting them outright. That’s an especially grievous error because while America is not alone in having these values, no other country backs them up so forcefully. America sometimes act like a bully because its strong and it’s that strength that guarantees freedom in many parts of the world. When Putin eyes the Baltic States, when Xi wonders about bringing Taiwan to heel and when Kim Jong-Un fantasies about the reunification of the Korean peninsula, a voice says “DON’T YOU DARE!” and it has an American accent.

Trendy lefty anti-Americanism has never given America enough credit for this. It has looked at America’s huge defence spending and seen a monstrosity, not a burden it bears for the sake of the global stability in which it wishes to share. Yes, this was self-interested, it made it easier for America to trade and reduced the risk of them being caught up in any instability. But that was also in the rest of the world’s interest too: it made it easier for us to trade and stopped us getting caught up in instability. 

Now Trump, knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, doesn’t appreciate this. Which ironically may be what finally gets people like me to see the merit of an America that tries to control the international order. The alternative may not be liberty but that order breaking down, and a return to a world of more naked geopolitics in which Russian or Chinese wolves can eat Ukrainian or Vietnamese lambs. But I fear it’s too late now. We will probably never get a chance to be grateful for that America, for it is likely gone, replaced by something meaner, nastier and smaller.

The global economy graphed

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The map above divides up global GDP between countries and how those national economies break down by sector.

My main observation are that:

  1. Wow, the American segment of that graph is big!
  2. While Asia may be rising but it has not yet risen. A similar observation can be made about Europe’s decline. Medium sized European countries like France, Britain and Italy still make up a sizeable share of the World Economy. Germany’s economy is almost twice the size of India’s. Indonesia has a population fifteen times larger than the Netherlands but their economies are about the same size. Hence, while things like the Eurozone crisis might seem like purely regional affairs they matter for the World as whole.
  3. There are 54 countries in Africa. Not one of them has an economy larger than Austria. Indeed, the entirety of Africa’s economy can be found in the small South African section and in the modest ‘rest of the world’ one.

Hat tip: Vox

German-Americans are the largest ethnic group in the US

The Economist reports that:

German-Americans are America’s largest single ethnic group (if you divide Hispanics into Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc). In 2013, according to the Census bureau, 46m Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33m) or England (25m). In whole swathes of the northern United States, German-Americans outnumber any other group (see map). Some 41% of the people in Wisconsin are of Teutonic stock.

And that:

Today German-Americans are quietly successful. Their median household income, at $61,500, is 18% above the national norm. They are more likely to have college degrees than other Americans, and less likely to be unemployed. A whopping 97% of them speak only English at home.

They have assimilated and prospered without any political help specially tailored for their ethnic group. “The Greeks and the Irish have a far stronger support network and lobby groups than we do,” says Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador in America. There was no German-American congressional caucus until 2010, though there were caucuses for potatoes, bicycles and Albanian affairs. The German caucus has quickly grown to about 100 members, who lobby for trade and investment as well as the preservation of their common cultural heritage.

Understanding Jon Stewart’s British fans

My formative political influences seem to retiring on mass at the moment. Andrew Sullivan gave up blogging last week and now Jon Stewart has announced he’s leaving the Daily Show. To give you an idea of how big a deal the Daily Show was for me, I actually used a quote from him to introduce my GDL thesis on whether the British legal system discriminates against Christians:

On one level my fascination with Stewart is even stranger than mine with Sullivan. Stewart’s perspective was arguably even more American. The Daily Show did occasionally send correspondents abroad but that was invariably to countries like Egypt and Iran that were prominent in American political discourse. When Tony Blair appeared as a guest Stewart both made and had jokes made at his expense about his ignorance of British politics.

Yet as a British teenager and undergraduate I couldn’t watch enough of the Daily Show: I not only viewed new episodes but also combed through the back catalogue on the Comedy Central website. And I wasn’t alone in my love. Weak rating might have lead Channel 4 to stop showing the series but what its British fans lacked in numbers we made up for in ardour. Jokes from the show were a common part of how a certain young political obsessive talked about the subject of our obsession.

So why did this (admittedly very narrow subsection) of Brits find a man from New Jersey talking about a politics we were not part of so interesting?

Part of it obviously was that Stewart and the Daily Show team were really good at what they did. The show was not only funny but also informative, and Stewart’s was very convivial company.

It was also the case that we were in denial about not being part of the American debate. We might not know who the German finance minister was or which party was in power in Slovakia but give us a map of a swing state in a US presidential election and we’d draw on the Republican and Democrat leaning precincts with ease. And the Daily Show made that a little more true. Take the recent disgracing of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who took an RGP to his career and credibility by exaggerating the degree of danger he was exposed to while embedded with US troops in Iraq. While much of the British media has had to run pieces explaining who Williams is and why he’s such an important figure in America, Daily Show fans already knew. He was a regular guest on the show and the sheer weirdness of a comedian masquerading as a news anchor while also sort of being one interviewing a news anchor who does a pretty good turn as a comedian.

The show arrived on Channel 4 in 2005 at a point where British politics was dominated by intentionally bland Blairism. In this context, the grotesqueness of the Bush presidency had a certain perverse appeal. Plus it felt like the one genuine controversy of that era, the Iraq War, had been dropped on us from the US. We wanted to see the authors of that catastrophe satirised and as they were in Washington not London that made turning to an American comic a logical choice.

One could also make a case that in a roundabout way Stewart was talking about British politics. To see why compare the Daily Show with John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Oliver is often intensively parsing social issues or policy questions. That was less Stewart’s (and indeed Colbert’s) focus. Their jokes were primarily about the sorry state of America’s political culture and language. They would dissect or lunge at the mendacious way politicians tended to speak, the media’s tendency to work itself up into a storm about trivialities and to create generate non-stories from feeble evidence and most of all the tendency of just about everyone to apply lower standards to people on their own side than to the other. This is all lamentably recognisable to anyone who follows British politics. So while we were watching Stewart take apart American cable news, we were getting a primer on how to do the same to British tabloids.

The meaning of Andrew Sullivan

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Andrew Sullivan or his blog the Dish, and will therefore regard the news that he is giving up blogging as not especially worthy of note. But for me this is a momentous announcement. I’ve been reading about politics online for a decade now yet the Dish remains perhaps my most treasured discovery. It took me from being a rather straightforward Orange Book liberal to something rather stranger. This was even though he rarely wrote about the UK. Instead what he did was expose me to a very peculiar worldview.

Indeed peculiarity was perhaps Sullivan’s key trait. Political writing is generally a very tribal enterprise yet he was utterly individual. He was: an American literary institution who grew up in East Grinstead, a Tory boy and self-described conservative who was an early Obama booster and came to hate the Republican Party with a fury few left-wingers could and most perhaps strikingly he was a conservative Catholic who is now married to another man. This made him so much more interesting than most political bloggers: you usually guess the contents of their posts before reading them, that was impossible with Sullivan.

He’d had an impressive career before taking up blogging. His 1995 book Virtually Normal made him one of the first people of note to call for equal marriage. This might be a mainstream, and in some circles even trite, position but then it was a confounding notion. It offended not only those who thought the gay community was not worthy of response but many within that community who saw it as caving to the norms of a hetro-orientated world. He also had a controversial tenure as editor of the New Republic.

However, it is blogging that defines his legacy. This is in part because he was one of the first to use it as a medium to discuss politics: not many other people were blogging about Bush v Gore. But it was also a product of the individuality I discussed earlier. Such a quality is perhaps easy to generate when you have plenty of time to reflect on your position and thousands of words to convey your personal twist on it. Doing the same in a medium like blogging that involves rapidly producing reactive bursts requires a truly huge personality.

And when I encountered that personality a decade it was a revelation. His biggest intellectual influence was the Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Sullivan described him as:

“While not denying that the truth exists, the [Oakeshottian] conservative is content to say merely that his grasp on it is always provisional. He begins with the assumption that the human mind is fallible, that it can delude itself, make mistakes, or see only so far ahead.” In light of this extreme fallibility, human beings should err on the side of inaction. Claims to certainty—in religion, or political ideology—are invariably hubristic. We have to build our politics on “the radical acceptance of what we cannot know for sure”.

What made Sullivan fascinating was that he saw in this not an argument against the left. He would attack those who held to a position dogmatically almost regardless of what that position was. For example, he criticised both Pope Benedict and Sam Harris. However, the group whose dogmatism he appeared find most objectionable were those people in America who also called themselves conservatives. He came to see the invasion of Iraq as a classic case of violence being used in the service of a utopian project. And he clearly found the spectacle of the likes of Sarah Palin luxuriating in their ignorance and close mindedness almost unbearable.

I don’t, however, mean to make him sound like a man just spitting bile. Reading his posts gave one the impression not of listening to someone shouting at the TV but rather of eavesdropping in an erudite conversation. Like his friend Christopher Hitchens, he had a talent for inserting poetry into his pugilism. There was also a pleasantly self-reflective quality to his blogging. Writing constantly led to what he called “grotesque over-sharing”. We, therefore, read in his own words about his foibles, doubts and demons. This was a refreshing antidote to the smug certainty that too often percolates online. And Sullivan’s blog avoided the worst repository of the smugness: the comments section. He handled conversations with his readers via emails, some of which he posted extracts from and his responses to in posts.

The result was that the blog became more than the sum of the parts. Individual posts were well written and interesting but the real fascination came from seeing how it all came together to make Andrew Sullivan’s worldview, and how that in turn interacted with the community that emerged around the Dish.

This is why there is something epochal about Sullivan stepping away from his keyboard. As Ezra Klein explains for Vox:

Sullivan was the closest we had to someone trying to run a blog with real scale. He was trying to make his blog — and its sizable audience — into a business. But blogging, for better or worse, is proving resistant to scale. And I think there are two reasons why.

The first is that, at this moment in the media, scale means social traffic. Links from other bloggers — the original currency of the blogosphere, and the one that drove its collaborative, conversational nature — just don’t deliver the numbers that Facebook does. But blogging is a conversation, and conversations don’t go viral. People share things their friends will understand, not things that you need to have read six other posts to understand.

There’s a lot of truth to this. As my own reading grew increasingly mediated by Facebook and Twitter, I read the Dish less regularly. And that frankly is clearly a loss. You would be searching for a long time before you found an individual post that was as interesting as Andrew Sullivan as an individual.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I’d recommend Johann Harri’s profile of Sullivan.

Why has Vietnam forgiven America?

Despite the stunning brutality its war with the US, Vietnam is now one of the most pro-American countries on the earth. The discovery of a mutual enemy may explain this turnaround.

A 1967 photo of a Viet Cong prisoner being tortured by US soldiers through the use of stress positions.

 

 

It’s unclear how many Vietnamese perished as a result of the Kháng chiến chống Mỹ or ‘Resistance War against America’ but even the lowest estimates number in the millions. During its duration Vietnam became the most bombed piece of land in history as the USAF dropped more bombs than were used by all sides throughout the entirety of WWII. The after effects of a toxic defoliating agent known as Agent Orange as well as unexploded ordinance continued to cause deaths even after the war ended. And even the most sympathetic observer must admit that US forces committed some appalling atrocities against the civilian populations they were supposedly there to protect.

This history meant that I assumed that Vietnam would be a country in which there was strong anti-American feeling. In fact, during my time there I hardly heard any negative comments about America and the Americans I met – including a housemate who was a serving USAF officer! – never seemed to have any problem on account of their nationality. To check I had not gotten a wildly inaccurate view, I checked Pew’s research on global attitudes towards America. It showed that 76% of Vietnamese viewed the US favourably, the 8th highest proportion of the 44 countries surveyed. And rather ironically a higher proportion than in France, the country which the US gave arms and money to in the hope it could keep Vietnam as a colonial possession.

This rapprochement extends beyond attitudes to strong economic links between the two countries and even to co-operation between their militaries.

How to explain this turnaround from deadly conflict to affection? The short answer is I’m not sure but I think the following are probably important factors:

  • The passage of time. The Vietnam War only ended forty years ago but that’s long enough to ensure that most Vietnamese have no direct memory of it. It’s a relatively young country so around two-thirds of the population were born after the war ended in 1975.
  • They know many Americans opposed the war. If anything, Vietnamese people give ordinary Americans too much credit believing the war to have been an elite imposition on the American public when in fact there was a large constituency for Johnson and Nixon’s assertively anti-communist stances.
  • They won. For America the trauma of Vietnam was not simply a matter of the loss of lives and resources. It was also the fact that its eventual defeat meant that it wall in vain. For Vietnam this point is reversed. Victory perhaps makes magnanimity easier.
  • America is not a present threat. 30 Rock can make jokes about Uber-Republican Jack Donaghy supporting “the committee to reinvade Vietnam” because it is never happening. Sure Washington would be pleased if the Communist Party followed the lead of Myanmar’s military and used political liberalisation as a way to further distance themselves from China. However, even at the height of the Bush Jr’s hubristic mission about spreading democracy there was never any suggestion this would extend to Vietnam. The era of shadowy groups of CIA sponsored exiles trying to bring about coups in the country is well and truly over.
  • The Vietnamese who supported America’s war. The defeated pro-American regimes in South Vietnam enjoyed less support from its population than did the Communist government in the North. That’s why they were defeated. However, such support did exist. Therefore, there is a segment of the Vietnamese people who will have looked favourably upon America all along.
  • American culture. The Vietnamese consume American movies, music and fast food just like the rest of us.
  • America is hardly alone in having wronged Vietnam. Vietnam is a former French Colony that was invaded by the Japanese during WWII and then by Britain at its end who helped the French take it back leading to a bloody independence war that prefigured the later conflict with the Americans. As for Vietnam’s relations with China that’s going to need a point all to itself….
  • America is not China. You might assume on the basis that they are culturally very similar and have similar systems of government that Vietnam would feel a sense of fraternal warmth towards its neighbour to the north. In fact, it is loathed. The same poll by Pew that showed that 76% of Vietnamese people have a favourable view of America shows that just 16% feel the same way about China. Vietnamese national identity rests in large part on collective memories of centuries of trying to resist occupation by the Middle Kingdom. Whatever, goodwill Chinese support during the American War might have generated was quickly dissipated when the Chinese themselves attacked Vietnam in 1978. And there is a real possibility of the two countries going to war again over their competing claims to the Spratly Islands. This later point establishes clear common interests between Vietnam and the US. The former fears that if the Chinese Navy reaches the point where it can dominate the waters in which the Spratly Islands lie then it will be able to take them by force and claim the fossil fuels that go with them. America fear that such domination would allow china to close those waters to the American navy and vessels trading with the US.

 

My instinct is that it’s the latter is the most important. If that’s the case then ironically the basis of Vietnam’s reconciliation with its erstwhile adversary is fear of a former ally.

 

Next on Matter of Facts: we’ve seen that the War no longer conditions how Vietnam sees America yet the West still thinks of Vietnam as a war not a country. In tomorrow’s post I explain why it’s important this changes.

Moronic responses to ebola

OK, let’s be clear what is happening in West Africa is horrifying and worthy of a very serious response. However, there have been some really callous and dumb responses. Salon reports some of them of which the most shocking is this:

Howard Yocum Elementary School, in Maple Shade, New Jersey, is across the river from Philadelphia. It’s 146 miles away from a hospital in Maryland, 782 miles from a hospital in Georgia, and 1,475 miles from a hospital in Texas, where Ebola patients are located. However, when parents and school officials heard that two students from the East African country of Rwanda were enrolled, they lost it—even though Rwanda, which has no Ebola cases, is 2,846 miles from the virus’ epicenter, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa.

The school’s staff told teachers (but not parents) that Rwandan students were coming and not to worry. That lit up the rumor mill, and here’s what parents told Fox News:

  • “I don’t feel comfortable sending my daughter to school with people who could be infected with Ebola.”
  • “Really concerns me. I don’t want to keep my boy out of school.”
  • “Don’t smile in my face and have a secret like that.”
  • “Stay there until all this stuff is resolved. There’s nobody affected here—let’s just keep it that way.”

As a result, the Rwandan children have been “voluntarily” quarantined by their parents for 21 days, which is the Ebola incubation period. “I don’t think it would hurt,” one parent told Fox News. “You have a lot of children that are involved, so I don’t think it would hurt.”

Really? Do they think those two Rwandan kids will return to class free of stigma?

The horrible world of Ayn Rand

 

 

Good news: Last Week Tonight is back. And this week it takes aim at Ayn Rand. The Russo-American philosopher and novelist who by openly advocating the value of selfishness wound up sounding like a satire of the argument for capitalism yet is inexplicably popular on the American Right.

The left-leaning policy journalist Jonathan Chait analysed her influence thus:

Rand’s most enduring accomplishment was to infuse laissez-faire economics with the sort of moralistic passion that had once been found only on the left. Prior to Rand’s time, two theories undergirded economic conservatism. The first was Social Darwinism, the notion that the advancement of the human race, like other natural species, relied on the propagation of successful traits from one generation to the next, and that the free market served as the equivalent of natural selection, in which government interference would retard progress. The second was neoclassical economics, which, in its most simplistic form, described the marketplace as a perfectly self-correcting
instrument. These two theories had in common a practical quality. They described a laissez-faire system that worked to the benefit of all, and warned that intervention would bring harmful consequences. But Rand, by contrast, argued for laissez-faire capitalism as an ethical system. She did believe that the rich pulled forward society for the benefit of one and all, but beyond that, she portrayed the act of taxing the rich to aid the poor as a moral offense.

Countless conservatives and libertarians have adopted this premise as an ideological foundation for the promotion of their own interests. They may believe the consequentialist arguments against redistribution–that Bill Clinton’s move to render the tax code slightly more progressive would induce economic calamity, or that George W. Bush’s making the tax code somewhat less progressive would usher in a boom; but the utter failure of those predictions to come to pass provoked no re-thinking whatever on the economic right. For it harbored a deeper belief in the immorality of redistribution, a righteous sense that the federal tax code and budget represent a form of organized looting aimed at society’s most virtuous–and this sense, which remains unshakeable, was owed in good measure to Ayn Rand.

I made a similar point on my old blog. I contrasted her views with those of Adam Smith:

At the root of the different viewpoints of Smith and Rand are fundamentally different views of morality itself. Rand’s philosophy simply turns the world on its head and makes virtue into a vice. Smith is attempting something much more complicated, to set how to create a good society composed of people who are not necessarily good. If we look closely at his famous saying that ‘it is not for the benefit of society that ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.’ We see not a celebration of self interest but a statement of how Smith believed things were. Smith might wish us to be entirely virtuous but he knows we’re not. He understood that to try to build a socialist utopia on such shaky foundations was futile and we would be better off trying to turn mans vices into virtues through the market.

The point I was making was that she was an extreme and unpleasant distortion of free market thought, and therefore a fringe figure who should not be held against the movement as a whole. In the eight years since I wrote it the Tea Party has invalidated my argument by taking her ideas to the centre of political debate in the most powerful country in the World.

The supreme court justice who’s been silent for 8 years

Justice Clarence Thomas - the quiet man

Justice Clarence Thomas – the quiet man

Clarence Thomas is a remarkable individual. He was born into creole speaking community in Georgia and raised in poverty by a poor single mother. Yet he rose to become chairman of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then only the second African American ever to sit on the US Supreme Court. He also stands out for being that rarest of breeds in American politics: a black conservative. In fact, by most reckonings he is the Court’s most conservative member.

He’s also remarkable for not saying a great deal. As Jeffrey Tobin of the New Yorker – a persistent critic of Thomas – explains:

As of this Saturday, February 22nd, eight years will have passed since the last time Clarence Thomas asked a question at a Supreme Court oral argument

…………………….

The Court’s arguments are not televised (though they should be), but they are public. They are, in fact, the public’s only windows to the Justices’ thought processes, and they offer the litigants and their lawyers their only chance to look these arbiters in the eye and make their case. There’s a reason the phrase “your day in court” resonates. It is an indispensable part of the legal system. But the process only works if the Justices engage. The current Supreme Court is almost too ready to do so, and sometimes lawyers have a hard time getting a word in edgewise. In question-and-answer sessions at law schools, Thomas has said that his colleagues talk too much, that he wants to let the lawyers say their piece, and that the briefs tell him all he needs to know. But this—as his colleagues’ ability to provoke revealing exchanges demonstrates—is nonsense. Thomas is simply not doing his job.

In fact, Tobin notes that there are two justices – Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – who have never heard Thomas take part in a hearing.

If it happened there

For several months now Slate has been publishing a column called ‘if it happened there.’ It writes about events within the US in the way the American media reports on other countries.

So it covers Michael Bloomberg’s rule in New York City like this:

Under his control, the city has grown wealthier, safer, and healthier (though with a level of income inequality rivaling that of Honduras), and he has left his mark with a number of popular public works projects. Intriguingly, this native of the hated rival city of Boston—who makes regular but mysterious visits to his walled-off estate on a tropical island off the country’s shores—has managed to cast himself as a consummate New Yorker, respected by wide segments of the city’s population.

However, the billionaire politician has also courted controversy by ramming through new election laws to keep himself in power and turning the city’s security services into a vast intelligence apparatus empowered to search citizens without warrant. He has also provoked amusement with highly publicized campaigns aimed to improve the eating habits of New Yorkers. These heavy-handed efforts were often resisted by large swathes of this ethnically diverse city known for its greasy street-corner sausages and carb-heavy bread-based delicacies.

And Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty’s homophobic outbursts like this:

Robertson’s low-brow public image might make him seem an unlikely leader, but after all, this is a country where a professional wrestler can become the governor of a populous Northern state, and an actor who once co-starred with a chimpanzee could become president. The events of the past month could be an indication to the nation’s elites that this backwoods insurgent with a massive popular following and extensive access to firearms may now have become too powerful to stop.

The Federal Government shutdown:

The current rebellion has been led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a young fundamentalist lawmaker from the restive Texas region, known in the past as a hotbed of separatist activity. Activity in the legislature ground to a halt last week for a full day as Cruz insisted on performing a time-honored American demonstration of stamina and self-denial, which involved speaking for 21 hours, quoting liberally from science fiction films and children’s books. The gesture drew wide media attention, though its political purpose was unclear to outsiders.

And now UK based Think Africa Press has joined in with this mock coverage of the Scottish Independence referendum:

The Scottish have long had a strong presence in this island nation. Local legends describe a Scottish chieftain called James seizing the English throne, which doubtless explains the antipathy between the two groups today. The last two premiers of the UK, Brown Gordon and Anthony Tony Lynton Blair, were both of Scottish background, and depended on support from Scottish voters to retain their grip on power. However, current Premier Dave Mister Cameron is considered English, despite his ethnically Scottish name.

Now, a growing separatist movement, led by the charismatic demagogue Salmon Alexander seeks to change the status quo. Tensions have bubbled up, and though no violence has yet been observed, concerns are growing. Given that the army is divided on tribal lines, with ethnically Scottish and English regiments, the possibility of civil war cannot be ruled out.