Should Journalists Have To Declare Their Political Biases And Donations?


Belief that the media is biased is one thing that unites conservatives and leftists in America and Britain. So why not demand that journalists reveal any political affiliations upfront, to give us better context for their reporting and commentary?

Should online, print and television journalists declare their political leanings (and donations) upfront, in the name of transparency? Jonah Goldberg thinks so, and makes a persuasive case.

Goldberg writes in the National Review:

One of the reasons I like good opinion journalism, particularly in long-form magazine articles, is that it doesn’t hide from the fact it is making an argument. You know where the author is coming from, and you can take that into account as he or she marshals facts and evidence for his or her case. We know opposing lawyers in a courtroom are biased, but if they don’t make strong arguments, they lose.

I understand bans on reporters giving to campaigns, but we should understand what those bans are: a means of hiding the political leanings of reporters from readers and viewers.

This has become a particularly hot topic after a report issued by the Center for Public Integrity confirmed the unsurprising fact that American journalists and media personalities give vastly more in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party than to Donald Trump and the Republicans.

And given this vast discrepancy – with $382,000 given by hundreds of media personalities to Clinton and just $14,000 by a handful of people to Trump – Goldberg points out that hiding behind the fig leaf of impartiality or being a political “independent” is no longer fooling anyone:

Anyone who has spent a moment around elite reporters or studied their output knows that they tend to be left of center. In 1981, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman surveyed 240 leading journalists and found that 94 percent of them voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, 81 percent voted for George McGovern in 1972, and 81 percent voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only 19 percent placed themselves on the right side of the political spectrum. Does anyone think the media have become less liberal since then?

None of this means liberals — or conservatives — can’t be good reporters, but the idea that media bias is nonexistent is ludicrous. Judges have far greater incentives to be neutral and objective, yet we know that Democrat-appointed judges tend to issue liberal decisions, and Republican-appointed judges tend to issue conservative decisions.

The Obama administration and campaigns have hired dozens of prominent, supposedly nonpartisan journalists, including former White House press secretary and Time magazine reporter Jay Carney, former Time managing editor Rick Stengel, the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray, and ABC’s Linda Douglass.

Was it just a coincidence that they were all ideologically simpatico with the Obama agenda? How did the Obama team even figure out they were liberals in the first place?

Of course, exactly the same revolving door between the media and political worlds can be found in Britain, with well-known television journalists from BBC and ITV news suddenly shedding the white robes of virtuous objectivity to mysteriously shack up in Downing Street in a political communications role. This transcends party politics, and the Conservatives are by no means the only ones at fault – in the case of Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological henchman Seumas Milne, we have seen a Guardian polemicist not even leaving his job but merely take a leave of absence to become head of communications for the opposition Labour Party.

You can’t stop this from happening, and nor should anyone necessarily try. But the public do have a moral right to know the political leanings and affiliations of those who report and interpret the news. We expect MPs and Lords to declare their financial interests so that we can monitor their behaviour and ensure that they are not unduly influenced by their commercial connections. But a well-functioning press is every bit as vital to our democracy, so why should we not understand the motivations of reporters, commentators and editors.

Consider the case of Jasmine Lawrence, editor of the BBC’s 24-hour news channel. Lawrence was caught posting virulently hostile (and ignorant) thoughts about UKIP on social media prior to the 2014 European Parliament elections, and received only the mildest of cautions from her bosses.

As this blog noted at the time:

What the BBC fail to address in their response is the fact that the remainder of the BBC’s election coverage is not the problem. The problem is the fact that Jasmine Lawrence will remain the editor of the BBC News Channel, presumably resuming full duties as soon as the election coverage is completed on Sunday.

Yes, it is certainly likely that she caused editorial harm and biased coverage in the weeks leading up to the election before her ill-advised tweet saw her stripped of her duties, but how much more damage can she now do in the coming year leading up to the general election?

We all have political preferences, and that’s fine. But the Jasmine Lawrence tweet doesn’t just reveal a tendency to lean one way or the other along the political spectrum. The editor of the BBC News Channel clearly has a deeply ingrained, long held antipathy toward UKIP and the people who support that party or agree with its policies.

Are we really supposed to believe that when she walks into the BBC offices in the morning, Jasmine Lawrence takes off her scornful, UKIP-denigrating hat and puts on her cap of unblemished impartiality, and that the decisions she makes regarding story selection, focusing of time and resources, determining which guests to interview, lines of questioning and other matters will not be influenced by the same sentiments that prompted her to call UKIP supporters white, middle aged sexists and racists?

At present, we are deluding ourselves that the people who report the news – and worse still, the people who get to decide what even counts as news in the first place – are uniformly honest and committed to impartiality, and that the possibility of subconscious bias simply doesn’t exist. And this is holding human beings to a standard of behaviour which cannot possibly be met.

Far better that we more fully embrace the free market in our journalism, and equip news consumers (i.e. ordinary voters) with more perfect information – not just about our politicians, but also about the people who report on them. That way, television and print journalists can continue to strive for objectivity where appropriate, but we will have the backup of knowing about any political memberships, donations or affiliations that may influence their reporting, either consciously or subconsciously.

This doesn’t need to be an official thing. Indeed, nothing would be worse or more totalitarian than keeping a centralised state register of journalists’ political affiliations – that would be Orwellian in the extreme. Rather, the culture should be changed so that declaring one’s political allegiances upfront comes to be seen as a matter of honour and journalistic best practice.

Only earlier this week, a BBC television journalist named Danny Carpenter was suspended from his job for describing Theresa May’s new Conservative government as “the new Nazis” on his personal Facebook page.

The Daily Mail reports:

A BBC news presenter has been suspended for allegedly calling the Tory government ‘the new Nazis’ in an online social media rant.

BBC Look North’s Danny Carpenter reportedly accused the government of being ‘cynical, vicious, racist and xenophobic’ in a Facebook rant and has now been suspended by the corporation as they carry out an investigation.

Mr Carpenter is also said to have called for the Brexit to be ‘voted out’ by Parliament because of a ‘combination of dishonest fear-mongering and lies about the economy’.

This is clearly a partisan zealot of the highest order, someone with political beliefs even more pungent than those of this blog – and clearly very ideologically different. But just as I would never expect to be allowed to stand in front of a television camera reporting the news with a straight face, so Danny Carpenter should never have been allowed within 5 miles of a BBC studio except as a paid opinion contributor (like my star turn on the BBC Daily Politics earlier this year).

Jonah Goldberg is quite right to point out that the pretence of journalistic impartiality is a fraud which we all perpetrate on ourselves. Pretending that we are being served a conscientiously-curated stream of objective, unbiased reporting at all times lulls those of us credulous enough to believe it into a false sense of security, meaning that people do not apply their own scepticism or challenge what they are told.

And the rest of us, fully aware that what is being sold to us as objective coverage is in fact ideologically skewed, are increasingly spurning the mainstream media. More and more of us are taking refuge in new independent media sources, curated for us by algorithms and presented through social media, some of which are diligent and honourable but many of which can trap us in an ideological bubble of bias confirmation.

Goldberg concludes:

This lack of transparency benefits news organizations, but it really doesn’t fool anybody — except maybe the reporters themselves.

I agree. And playing along with the deception by furiously pretending that we have an impartial media only fuels the atmosphere of distrust and resentment in our politics. Having prominent journalists declare any strong political allegiances upfront would not solve all of our problems by magic. But it certainly wouldn’t do any harm.



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Quote For The Day

After the election, American conservatives cannot simply pretend that Donald Trump never happened. The Republican Party must fully reject Trumpism and then reach out to voters with a brighter, most optimistic conservative message

Jonah Goldberg, addressing an Ashbrook Center event in Cleveland, Ohio back in 2014, when Donald Trump was just a loudmouth birther and not, y’know, a major party presidential candidate:

I love first principles, I’m all about first principles, I think that’s great stuff. But people forget that politics has to be about persuasion, about bringing people to your side who don’t already agree with you. Otherwise it might as well be a Civil War re-enactment club or a Dungeons & Dragons society where we just play our little roles and then we go home.

And this is something that a lot of conservatives have lost. And one of the things we have lost is the ability to tell stories.

Goldberg goes on to criticise the excessive hagiography of Ronald Reagan, pointing out that Reagan’s recent reputation as an unbelievably principled conservative who never once sullied himself with compromise actually much more closely fits Barry Goldwater – who of course went down to glorious defeat.

The point, I suppose, is that Donald Trump fails both tests. He is not a conservative – or at least he has done absolutely nothing to prove that his Damascene conversion to traditional Republican values and talking points is remotely genuine, and not simply a convenient ploy to co-opt supporters.

Worse still, Trump is incapable of telling an authentically conservative story which might actually attract and persuade undecided voters, because every time he opens his mouth to tell a story a new victimhood-soaked conspiracy theory dribbles out instead.

I also post the quote as a reminder to myself. Lord knows that I have a lot of issues with the current British Conservative Party and the direction it has gone under Cameron and May (well, really since mid-Thatcher, when I was born). But when you rant on the internet every day it is easy to preach to the choir sometimes and forget that there are some good Conservative MPs of principle out there who do want to take the country in a different, more small-L liberal direction, and who have no truck with Labour’s vacuous centrists-in-exile or Theresa May’s flirtation with authoritarianism.

But more than anything, the Goldberg quote is a reminder of the huge rebuilding exercise the Republican Party will have to do after Donald Trump. Whatever story they previously used to connect with voters, however battered and dubious it may have been, has now been utterly obliterated. Some say that the GOP can (and will) simply forget that Trump ever happened, and move on serenely. I’m not sure that will be possible – not least because many Republican grassroots members may not let it happen. They may well find an heir to Trump, and throw their support behind Trump Mark II.

Besides, this crisis represents too great an opportunity for American conservatism to re-invent itself. This blog has been intermittently banging on about the need for small government conservatism to come to terms with our modern, globalised world – a world in which supply chains and labour markets are international, and the kind of mass, semi-skilled manufacturing work which once paid well enough to support a comfortable middle class life has either permanently disappeared, or else barely pays a subsistence wage.

This is a particular challenge for conservatives, who believe in empowering the individual and restricting the overbearing hand of government. Left-wingers can simply wave their arms and promise a new government programme to retrain vast swathes of the population, or buy their silence with benefits. Conservatives do not have this luxury.

But the eventual answer will, I am sure, have to come from conservatives. Cranking up the size of the state until it is all things to all people is unsustainable, squelching innovation at best and provoking economic crisis at worst, as proven every single time it has been attempted. Globalisation continues apace and the burning question continues to go unanswered.

Perhaps, once the Republicans are finished debasing themselves by their association with Donald Trump, they might care to have a crack at solving it.



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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 43 – DePaul University Censors Pro-Life Conservatives To Placate Black Lives Matter


Appeasing the gods of social justice and identity politics now overrides a Catholic university’s commitment to Catholicism itself

It is now indisputable: Black Lives Matter are rapidly becoming the one absolutely holy and inviolable interest group on American college campuses, a favoured priesthood of living saints who must be protected from blasphemy and offence at all costs.

There really is no other way to describe the privilege enjoyed by this organisation following the news that DePaul University in Chicago – a Catholic institution – recently banned a poster produced by the DePaul College Republicans because their catchphrase “Unborn Lives Matter” is supposedly deliberately provocative and hurtful to the delicate Black Lives Matter snowflakes.

I repeat: the president of a Catholic university actively suppressed the free speech of his own students because they dared to publicly support traditional Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life and the rights of unborn children – which might have offended a group of people who are supposedly concerned about racial justice, not abortion rights.

Campus Reform reports:

The DePaul College Republicans chapter has been censored yet again, this time over promotional flyers proclaiming that “Unborn Lives Matter.”

According to University President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, the club was forbidden from using the flyers because they were “bigotry…under the cover of free speech,” meant to “provoke” members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

DePaul College Republicans Vice President John Minster told Campus Reform that his group wanted to use the “Unborn Lives Matter” flyers to draw members to their club meetings, but had to submit the design to the Office of Student Involvement for approval.

OSI Director Amy Mynaugh was out of town during the approval process, however, and the design proposal made it all the way to President Holtschneider.

Holtschneider not only declined to approve the flyers, but sent a letter to the entire university body explaining that the pro-life posters constituted “bigotry” and were not considered free speech.

The letter from President Holtschneider reads in part:

DePaul is a private Catholic institution, and we also are part of the academy.  By our nature, we are committed to developing arguments and exploring important issues that can be steeped in controversy and, oftentimes, emotion.  Yet there will be times when some forms of speech challenge our grounding in Catholic and Vincentian values.  When that happens, you will see us refuse to allow members of our community to be subjected to bigotry that occurs under the cover of free speech.  In fact, you have seen this in past months, as we have declined to host a proposed speaker and asked students to redesign a banner that provokes the Black Lives Matter movement.

Some people will say that DePaul’s stance unfairly silences speech to appease a crowd.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  As we experienced last spring, it’s not difficult to agree that there is a difference between a thoughtful discussion about immigration and a profane remark about Mexicans scrawled in the Quad; or between a panel on racial climate and a noose — a powerful symbol of violence and hatred — outside a residence hall.  In both recent cases, the first, we encourage; the second, we abhor.

Because co-opting a topical phrase to express support for the Church’s pro-life stance is apparently “provocative” – the “provocation” outweighing the moral question at stake in the eyes of DePaul University.

And putting up a poster declaring that “Unborn Lives Matter” – the clearly stated and strongly affirmed position of the Catholic Church, the institution with which DePaul is inseparably affiliated – is not a statement of moral purpose, but is instead deemed the equivalent of a “profane remark about Mexicans scrawled in the Quad”.

The letter continues:

If you read DePaul’s Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression, you will see that our Vincentian values were in the forefront six years ago when these guidelines were developed.  Though a group of your own DePaul colleagues are giving them a fresh look for updates, the current guiding principles still apply.  I encourage you to read the entire document to gain a better understanding of the balance between our values and speech.  In particular, I ask you to reflect on these sentences: “We accept that there is a distinction between being provocative and being hurtful.  Speech whose primary purpose is to wound is inconsistent with our Vincentian and Catholic values.”


Disagreements will happen on important issues—many that are personal to members of our community for whom race, immigration, gender disparities, religious beliefs and economic privilege are more than conversation topics; they are part of an inescapable lived experience.  Students and others will almost certainly continue to explore and seek the exact limits of our tolerance for free expression when that expression is meant to cause distress.  Certainly, everyone is allowed to have their opinions on these topics.  I simply ask when you are expressing your opinion that you respect the difference between a reasoned discussion and words whose primary purpose is to wound.  I also ask that the university community refuse to “rise to the bait” in those moments when speech may become uncomfortable or even exasperating, but falls within the bounds of the academy’s commitment to full and robust debate.

Because hurt feelings are far more important than abortion. And the omniscient president and administrators of DePaul university can look clearly inside the human heart and discern whether a given student intends to provoke, offend or hurt when determining their right to speak.

This is ludicrous. Holtschneider made no attempt to speak with the DePaul College Republicans before censoring their poster and banning it from campus – he high handedly presumed to know what motivated them to speak out in favour of the rights of the unborn, and then publicly find them to be morally deficient and their motives cynical. That is effectively the judgment on their character that Holtschneider passed by revoking their right to express themselves – that they are Evil Racists more interested in “provoking” certain members of the black community than witnessing to their faith and speaking their consciences.

The National Review rages:

As a private, Catholic university, DePaul is not explicitly obliged to respect students’ free-speech rights like a public university would be. But it is disturbing that the university would choose not to do so, and even more disturbing that DePaul’s administration justified their decision by invoking the university’s “Catholic values.” It is hard to believe that the phrase “Unborn Lives Matter” is in violation of a Catholic university’s values when, in fact, this phrase ought to embody them.

This is not the first time that DePaul’s administration has been confused about the proper application of its Catholic guidelines. For instance, one of the university’s 2016 commencement speakers was Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who in his professional capacity has advocated same-sex marriage and radical gender theory, and opposed religious-freedom legislation that would have enabled Catholic institutions to uphold their values. DePaul was also found to have referred students to jobs and internships at Planned Parenthood, and to have promoted social-media posts celebrating the Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

While it is the university administration’s prerogative to take these actions — even though they openly conflict with established Church doctrine — it is appalling that the same administration would invoke its Catholic principles to ban pro-life flyers from campus. It is evident that Holtschneider and his staff are intent upon silencing conservative student voices, even if they must wield their Catholic identity as a cudgel to do so.

It is particularly depressing that the SJW snowflakes of DePaul have their grubby hands on the university’s Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression – we can safely assume that the next version of this document will be even more restrictive, and prioritise the feelings and “identities” of coddled students even more strongly over the imperative for debate and the quest for truth. Which will be some achievement, considering the current version already draws a specious “distinction between being provocative and being hurtful.

But one can only be so angry at the students themselves. As this blog has explored repeatedly, these thin-skinned students are very much a product of their environment and their upbringing. They are the result of Everyone Wins A Prize schooling, parental paranoia about a child abductor lurking on every corner and the endless, nauseating praise for the most pedestrian of accomplishments and the corrosive idea, inculcated at every stage of their academic lives, that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will kill me stone dead”.

Far more to blame are the adults – the liberal college professors now struggling to stay ahead of their students in the race to be ever more strident, intolerant and authoritarian in response to ideas they dislike, and the spineless university administrators who would sooner collaborate with the new regime and stab academic freedom in the back than push back against their millennial masters.

But special criticism has to be levied at the leader of a Catholic educational institution – somebody with Reverend in their title – who prioritises the prickly feelings of Black Lives Matter (and their proprietary sense of ownership over the phrase “[insert interest group] lives matter”) over and above the Church’s teaching on a core social issue.

I happen to be Catholic myself. Personally, I do believe that All Lives Matter. I believe that life begins at conception, and that therefore abortion inherently means the taking of a life. But I also believe that this is also sometimes the lesser of two evils, or an understandable choice in an impossibly difficult situation. As well as the commonly given exceptions – rape, incest, the life of the mother – I believe that abortion should be a legal, safe and much, much rarer. And part of making abortion much rarer must surely involve easier access to (and education about) contraception. One of the best ways to stop new lives being discarded before they begin is to prevent the hideous situation from arising in the first place.

I recognise that all of the above places me in conflict with the church’s teaching, and that is something which I have to wrestle with. I’m reasonably sure that I am right, and that my viewpoint will be vindicated and adopted by the Church in the fullness of time, but that doesn’t lessen the sense of unease at being out of communion with my religion on such an emotive issue.

But here’s the difference: I don’t expect external authority figures to step in, suppressing the free speech of others to prevent my guilty conscience from being pricked. Nor do I expect them to do so because the language they choose to use in affirming traditional Church teaching “appropriates” the name of another cause I happen to care about, or which impacts me. I can think and write what I want – I have no business limiting the freedom of others to do the same.

And students at a Catholic university, of all places, should be free to affirm Catholic teaching through articles, peaceful protest and harmless posters without fear of censorship by craven university authorities – spineless, degenerate cowards who would sooner suppress freedom of speech and publicly reject their own religion’s teaching than risk the slightest offence to their new deity: the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

Bigotry “under the cover of free speech”? That is to be DePaul University’s sneering, dismissive and hostile attitude toward young conservative Catholics who dare to affirm the teachings of their faith?

People of faith should pray for the censored College Republicans (whether or not you agree with their cause), and for DePaul University. Because religion counts for nothing if it has to disregard doctrine and bend the knee to social fads and new secular shibboleths.

And I don’t know how much longer the academy can plausibly survive the continued ruthless letting of its most vital lifeblood – the right to free speech.


Safe Space Notice - 2

Top Image: National Review

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Live Blog: Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton, Third Presidential Debate


Live Blog: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in their final live televised debate

Debate Time: 6PM Pacific Time / 2AM UK Time

Watch Online: Live Stream Here



7:48PM Las Vegas / 3:48AM London

Summarising the final debate

Well, that was by far the best of the three presidential debates. Chris Wallace had by far the most gravitas of all of the moderators called to undertake this most difficult of tasks (shaming those who questioned his abilities simply because he works for Fox News), and broadly kept things on track. I particularly liked the way that he ordered his questions, ensuring that the debate started with substantive policy discussions, with the more contentious issues (the personality based stuff) sandwiched in the middle.

Others seem to agree that this debate was a cut above the rest:

The headline that most pundits will take away is the “shock” revelation from Donald Trump that he will not necessarily accept the result of the presidential election if he is not declared the victor. I have no idea why they are surprised – Trump has been essentially making that very point continually for weeks now, with his accusation that the election is being “rigged” by Hillary Clinton and a compliant media. If you really do believe that the election is stacked against you (as Trump seems to have persuaded himself), why on earth would you concede in the event of defeat? This isn’t a matter of agreeing with Trump, it’s a matter of logic.

Will Trump’s refusal to accept the validity of the election upfront actually harm him? Well, in terms of everything else that he has done over the course of this campaign I don’t see how this will be any more off-putting to undecided voters than his other antics. And of course it will be red meat to his most ardent supporters.

But from a policy perspective, what did we actually learn from this most policy-focused of the three debates? Well, essentially the candidates simply reinforced what we already knew. Hillary Clinton sees government and the state as the answer to nearly every question, even those questions which nobody has asked yet. She wants to “invest” in the American people, which sounds positive until you remember that investors tend to demand a dividend or some other type of return for their largesse.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, gave no more evidence that he has actually studied the issues or gained a level of expertise (or even curiosity) beyond the same glib soundbites that one would expect from a first-term congressman in a very safe Republican district. Repealing and replacing Obamacare, but with what? We still don’t really know. Rebuilding the military, but in what areas and to what levels? We don’t know. Eliminating the budget deficit and tackling the national debt? Sure. But how? Donald Trump will tell us later.

And so the decision before American voters remains as unappetising as ever:

Hillary Clinton remains this blog’s choice, for the simple reason that she is the type of uninspiring, statist technocrat that Americans have had before (and proven that they can endure), while Donald Trump represents a leap off a cliff. It is a thoroughly depressing choice, but the only conceivable choice that this blog can make.

Andrew Sullivan seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid and actually mustering enthusiasm for Clinton, which is more than I can do:

I mean, he’s not wrong in terms of Trump’s temperamental unsuitability for office. But was this a “devastating” defeat for Trump from the perspective of viewers? I think not. In fact, Trump may have just squeaked another points victory in this debate. What may well be devastating from Trump, though, is the fact that he failed to score the kind of knock-out victory that he really needed.

Points victories and incremental improvements will not save Donald Trump at this point. And Democrats, together with conservatives of conscience, should probably be very grateful that he failed to do much better.

7:36PM Las Vegas / 3:36AM London

Apparently the candidates did not agree to closing statements. Chris Wallace blindsides them by demanding one anyway, one minute each. Good for him. These debates have all suffered for not having the candidates try to wrap up their message and key themes (as far as Trump can claim to have a “theme” at the end.

Clinton says she will do “everything I can to ensure you have good jobs and rising incomes”.

Trump says “she is raising money from the people she wants to control. It doesn’t work that way”. Whereas Clinton painted a positive message (as one would expect from the continuity candidate), Trump paints a dark vision of America where “you get shot walking to school”, the military is run down and everything is bad.

“We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get with her”, Trump concludes.

And that’s a wrap.

7:32PM Las Vegas / 3:32AM London

Good final question by Chris Wallace, asking candidates whether they would adopt a “grand bargain” to save entitlements incorporating benefit cuts and tax increases to share the pain.

Trump immediately pivots to the need to “repeal and replace ObamaCare”. He won’t ask anything of Americans or suggest that difficult decisions or sacrifices might have to be made. No, everything is easy in Trump Land. Everything can be fixed by signing another great trade deal or standing up to China. This is just infantile, superficial stuff.

Clinton says that she will “raise taxes on the wealthy”, and makes a witty remark that she would raise taxes on herself “and on Donald, assuming he doesn’t find a way of getting out of it.” But she “will not cut benefits”.

7:30PM Las Vegas / 3:30AM London

Clinton wants “to invest in you, to invest in your family”. Again, there is no role which she does not envision the state playing in the lives of Americans. But her line about American growth being powered by the middle class rather than the wealthy few will resonate.

7:29PM Las Vegas / 3:29AM London

Hillary Clinton guns for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan again, affirming that America already is great. These Canadians would agree:

7:27PM Las Vegas / 3:27AM London

Hillary Clinton again specifically describes the picture of the Syrian boy “sitting in an ambulance with blood coming down his face” in an attempt to sentimentalise the need for military action in Syria. Of course, this enlightened humanitarian was also part of an administration which dramatically stepped up drone warfare against numerous targets, including American citizens, and which has been highly reluctant to reveal civilian casualty estimates.

7:19PM Las Vegas / 3:19AM London

How things stand so far

I generally concur with this assessment:

By the greatly warped standards with which we now judge presidential debate performances, this is probably on the money. Trump has been hitting Hillary Clinton very hard, quite effectively in some places, displaying open contempt and derision for her in some places – “Thanks a lot, Hillary, great job!”, he said at one point.

But because of his manifold personal flaws, Hillary Clinton has always had at least ten ready comebacks and zingers to every criticism that Trump has made. Even where he was effective on the email scandal and on foreign policy, Clinton has been able to wriggle her way out of trouble.

From a Clintonian perspective, Hillary can look back with satisfaction thus far. She has remained calm and composed, avoided committing any obvious gaffes once again, and effectively rendered Trump ridiculous-looking (to all but his most committed supporters) at several points. There have been no magisterial moments of brilliance, but then Hillary Clinton isn’t a brilliant political candidate. Agree with her or not, she is a shrewd political operator. But a candidate, not so much.

7:18PM Las Vegas / 3:18AM London

Hillary Clinton says that Trump is “the most dangerous person to run for president in the modern era.”

7:16PM Las Vegas / 3:16AM London

Donald Trump hammering Hillary Clinton for the Obama administration’s policy of drawing down troops in Iraq, and the subsequent fall of Mosul and other cities to ISIS.

This would be a whole lot more effective if Donald Trump was not stubbornly and transparently lying about having supported the initial invasion of Iraq.

7:13PM Las Vegas / 3:13AM London

Cynical Democratic posturing on taxes – and their subverting of language by speaking of “undocumented” rather than “illegal” immigrants – knows no limits:

7:10PM Las Vegas / 3:10AM London

Hillary Clinton accuses Trump of “whining”, and “denigrating our democracy”, and says that she is “appalled” that a major party nominee would take that position.

Both candidates are now finally starting to have some success steamrollering over Chris Wallace when they really want to make a point or land an attack.

7:08PM Las Vegas / 3:08AM London

“She should not be allowed to run. She’s guilty of a very serious crime”, says Trump, speaking about Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and “so many other things”.

Well, he’s coming out fully swinging now, that’s for sure.

7:07PM Las Vegas / 3:07AM London

Chris Wallace putting Donald Trump on the spot as to whether or not he will accept the outcome of the presidential election if he loses.

Trump responds: “I will look at it at the time. What I’ve seen is so bad. The media is so corrupt”.

So that’s a no, then.

7:05PM Las Vegas / 3:05AM London

“Everything he says about charity or anything else – you can’t prove it”, says Clinton, finally bringing up Donald Trump’s undisclosed tax returns. Fair criticism.

What is not fair, though, is criticising Donald Trump for offsetting his income tax liability against past business losses. Clinton is in no position to clutch her pearls in faux moral outrage about this – if you don’t want people to take advantage of legitimate tax loopholes, don’t create them and don’t tolerate them.

7:04PM Las Vegas / 3:04AM London

Hillary Clinton complaining that Donald Trump used money given to his foundation to buy a portrait of himself. Fair enough. But Hillary Clinton hired Sidney Blumenthal to the Clinton Foundation – after the Obama administration forbade her from hiring him at State – for the expressed job of polishing the Clinton legacy. She is in absolutely no position to criticise Donald Trump for being vain.

7:01PM Las Vegas / 3:01AM London

Chris Wallace asking Hillary Clinton about “pay to play” allegations relating to the Clinton Foundation.

My take on the foundation:

The point, I suppose, is that a family charitable foundation is a perfectly legitimate option for an ex-president and his family who intend to quit the political game after leaving office. But when this is not the case – when Hillary was pursuing senatorial ambitions and later becoming Secretary of State – conflicts of interest are inevitably going to occur.

When one is as rich and well-connected as the Clintons, acquiring more money becomes of limited interest. Instead, the reason for getting up in the morning after having left the White House often becomes the building of power, influence and legacy – and, of course, keeping the family in the style of living to which they have become accustomed (i.e. minimal contact with ordinary people). A family foundation accomplishes all of these objectives wonderfully. But when one or more members of the family are still politically active it is highly questionable.

It would have been far better, when there are still active political careers in play, for the Clintons to have put ego aside and thrown their support behind an alternative, existing foundation – much like Warren Buffett is giving away much of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recognising that it makes little sense to build up his own philanthropic expertise from scratch and create all the overheads which come from a second foundation when a perfectly good one already exists.

Why did the Clintons not take the Warren Buffett approach? Three reasons – ego, power and prestige. It is great that the Clintons are philanthropically active. But nearly all of their philanthropic work is done through the Clinton Foundation ($1 million to the foundation in 2015 and just $42,000 to another charity), meaning they want to do charity on their terms. It is a few distinct shades further away from pure altruism, and more to do with continuing to exercise power after the White House.

6:59PM Las Vegas / 2:59AM London

It’s worth pointing out that Hillary Clinton would not be able to make herself look good by reeling off a list of all the indefensible things that Donald Trump has said if the Republican Party had nominated somebody remotely serious. But they didn’t, so here we are.

6:57PM Las Vegas / 2:57AM London

If we are going to call out devious pivots, then it is only fair to criticise Donald Trump for his evasions too:

6:55PM Las Vegas / 2:55AM London

Clinton rightly rakes Donald Trump over the coals for scoffing at the possibility that he might have sexually assaulted several women because they were not good looking enough.

“Trump goes after [women’s] dignity, their self worth. And I don’t think that there’s a woman out there who doesn’t know how that feels”, says Clinton. A powerful line.

She then descends into bland platitudes about diversity, and America being great, and our children and grandchildren and blah blah. But it was a calm, measured and broadly effective denunciation of Trump’s character.

Donald Trump denies saying something that he blatantly did say, and accuses Clinton’s campaign of being “sleazy”.

6:54PM Las Vegas / 2:54AM London

Chris Wallace asks why so many women would make up stories about Donald Trump behaving inappropriately toward them.

Trump responds by alleging that the Clinton campaign fed the stories to the media, and then goes further, accusing Hillary Clinton of fomenting violence at his campaign rallies. In any other presidential campaign that would be an incendiary statement. This time…it’s about average.

6:52PM Las Vegas / 2:52AM London

I’m not sure that Hillary Clinton’s broad, beaming smile when Donald Trump alleges that “she gave us ISIS” is the best reaction shot…

6:51PM Las Vegas / 2:51AM London

Looks like Clinton has come with a prepared response to Trump’s “thirty years” criticism this time. She reels off a list of all of her past jobs, contrasting what she was doing at certain points in time with what Donald Trump was doing.

“When I was in the situation room for the Osama Bin Laden raid, he was hosting Celebrity Apprentice”, snaps Clinton. Ouch.

6:49PM Las Vegas / 2:49AM London

Donald Trump resurrects his “you’ve been around for 30 years; why didn’t you do all these things earlier?” line. It’s effective. I mean, it also completely overstates the political power of a first lady and first-term junior senator, but it is still an effective line.

6:49PM Las Vegas / 2:49AM London

I’m with Giordano’s:

6:46PM Las Vegas / 2:46AM London

Again, Donald Trump unfavourably compares the GDP growth of the United States (a developed country) with that of India and China, both developing countries. This is infantile, sheer economic illiteracy. No advanced economy in the world grows at a clip of 8-10%. What is Trump’s secret formula?

6:44PM Las Vegas / 2:44AM London

Andrew Sullivan concurs with me on Donald Trump’s effective call-out of Hillary Clinton’s “open borders” evasion:

She has no good answer on her private remarks about her dream of open borders in the Western hemisphere. And so she tries to shift the question to Putin’s role in Wikileaks. Trump is right: that was a nifty pivot, and he exposed her.

6:42PM Las Vegas / 2:42AM London

Amazing “free trade deals” are not going to eliminate the budget deficit, Donald Trump, let alone tackle the national debt. It’s a glib answer worthy of a junior congressman, not a presidential candidate.

6:40PM Las Vegas / 2:40AM London

Clinton mocking Trump’s “trickle-down economics on steroids”.

Well, it’s better than “Trumped-up trickle-down”, I guess.

6:38PM Las Vegas / 2:38AM London

Naturally Hillary Clinton sees the state as saviour, promising “the greatest jobs program since World War 2”. This is all so predictable, a cookie-cutter Democratic nominee’s response.

6:37PM Las Vegas / 2:37AM London

And we’re on to the economy.

6:36PM Las Vegas / 2:36AM London

Stefan Molyneux has a great rebuttal to Hillary Clinton’s sudden concern about foreign powers wielding influence over American policy:

6:34PM Las Vegas / 2:34AM London

So far, Trump has failed to have the kind of stand-out moment that he really needs. There’s still an hour to go, but he is not winning on the Russia argument and there are a decreasing number of remaining openings available to mount a fightback.

6:33PM Las Vegas / 2:33AM London

Getting very tired of Hillary Clinton’s opportunistic, cynical scaremongering about Russia. This is everything I detest about Clinton. This blog is no fan of Putin’s Russia, but Clinton is vastly over-hyping any possible threat Russia poses to the United States in her pursuit of power.

6:31PM Las Vegas / 2:31AM London

Good response from Trump, calling out Hillary Clinton’s pivot and evasion. Wanting open trade and open borders is a perfectly legitimate political position, but if that is what Hillary Clinton really wants then she should have the courage to own her leaked statement and defend it. But she won’t, because she lacks principle.

If only the alternative wasn’t Donald Trump…

6:28PM Las Vegas / 2:28AM London

Excellent! Chris Wallace brings up Clinton’s speech in which she revealed her dream of a “hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders”.

Clinton has no response – she immediately pivots to scaremongering about Russia, a country with a GDP less than Spain who are no longer the powerful Evil Empire of Reagan’s era. Nice pivot, but will Wallace allow her to get away with it?

6:28PM Las Vegas / 2:28AM London

One of Trump’s weaknesses is that he cannot restrict himself to criticising Hillary Clinton, and veers off to criticise her husband as well:

6:25PM Las Vegas / 2:25AM London

“We are a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws” says Hillary Clinton, whose nominating convention in Philadelphia featured lots of illegal immigrants standing on the convention stage being cheered for their lawbreaking.

6:24PM Las Vegas / 2:24AM London

And Clinton naturally begins with an anecdote about a young girl worried about her illegal immigrant parents being deported, sentimentalising the issue and waxing about how she doesn’t want to “rip families apart”.

And of course she refers to “undocumented” rather than illegal immigrants. Because this is all part of the leftist agenda to control thinking through use of language, softening the language to make people tacitly accept – even celebrate – illegal immigration.

6:22PM Las Vegas / 2:22AM London

Seems that Trump has brought four women who have lost children or relatives to murderers who turned out to be illegal immigrants. Looks like he is taking the “law and order” approach to the immigration issue rather than the jobs issue.

“We have to have strong borders; we have to keep the drugs out of the country .. We absolutely cannot give amnesty” says Trump.

“One of my first actions would be to take the drug lords – we’re going to get them out”, he continues. It’s that easy, apparently.

6:22PM Las Vegas / 2:22AM London

Oh good, we’re on to immigration. At least Chris Wallace might distinguish between legal and illegal immigration in his questioning, unlike much of the left-leaning media.

6:18PM Las Vegas / 2:18AM London

Good to see Chris Wallace putting Hillary Clinton in the spot as to how far she would go in support of abortion rights. Clinton, of course, is of the opinion that the foetus has no Constitutional rights. It’s easy to mop up votes by waxing about the “right to choose”. Much harder to grapple with the thorny questions to emerge from that blanket pronouncement.

Clinton gives a solid answer – clearly she has prepped well, knowing to expect some more socially conservative questions in this debate.

Trump talks about “ripping the baby out of the womb” in an abortion just prior to birth. Clinton says that the language Trump used is “unfortunate”. Yes, it is – because Trump didn’t sanitise the issue as Clinton so desperately wants to do.

6:16PM Las Vegas / 2:16AM London

The US Libertarian Party, a refuge for many principled conservatives this election cycle, is providing some liberty-minded commentary of this debate as it proceeds:

6:14PM Las Vegas / 2:14AM London

Hats off to Chris Wallace. Ten minutes into the debate and we are talking about real, thorny issues and matters of policy relating to gun control and the Second Amendment. Neither of the first two debates managed to get so serious so quickly. That an anchor from “evil” Fox News has managed to do so should be a matter of shame for the others.

Dreher agrees:

6:12PM Las Vegas / 2:12AM London

Rod Dreher rightly warns that Donald Trump didn’t mention anything about religious freedom. And that, of course, is because deep down he doesn’t care about religious freedom. Because he isn’t a real conservative.

6:10PM Las Vegas / 2:10AM London

Interesting choice by Chris Wallace, diving into the debate by talking about the Supreme Court and judicial process. Neither candidate is able to come out swinging in dramatic fashion – will this more measured opening set the tone for the debate?

6:08PM Las Vegas / 2:08AM London

Donald Trump predictably starts talking about how the Second Amendment is “under siege”, a reliable vote winner for Republicans. Note how the great federal gun seizure is always planned for “tomorrow” though. GOPers have been warning that Obama is coming for America’s guns since before he took the oath of office, and yet the Second Amendment remains intact. But Trump is happy to keep peddling an existential threat which is largely non-existent.

6:07PM Las Vegas / 2:07AM London

Hillary Clinton immediately politicises the Supreme Court, saying that it should stand on the side of “the people” (meaning her leftist policies). I’m sorry, but no. The Supreme Court should stand on the side of the Constitution, not on the side of whatever basket of special interests Clinton decides to label “the people”.

Clinton sees the Supreme Court as an essential vehicle for continual, aggressive social change, far beyond anything that can be reasonably inferred from the text of the document and the original intent of the Founders. Not good.

Unfortunately, Clinton is able to score a point by pointing to Republican obstructionism over the nomination of Barack Obama’s appointment for Justice Scalia’s replacement.

6:05PM Las Vegas / 2:05AM London

Chris Wallace’s first question is about the Supreme Court, and where both candidates “want to see the court take the country”. He follows on to ask whether they believe the Constitution is a living document or set in stone.

6:04PM Las Vegas / 2:04AM London

And they have taken the stage. Both look serious – no handshake.

6:01PM Las Vegas / 2:01AM London

David Harsanyi rages against the media’s moralising against Donald Trump in a piece for the Federalist. Harsanyi writes:

So forgive me if I don’t take liberal concern-trolling about the GOP’s wicked presidential choice too seriously. After all, even if Republicans had nominated the most qualified, competent, and chaste moderate in the existence of the republic, there still would be no #NeverHillary movement within the Democratic Party. No matter how many scandals were uncovered. No matter how many lies she told. What they’ve done is normalize Hillary’s behavior. Because Trump.

Actually, many of these same people treated a competent and ethically upright moderate like Mitt Romney just like they treat Trump. And even the most sexist-sensitive liberal would likely support a lecherous Bill Clinton over a virtuous Republican nominee. Because state power is the virtue. So spare us.

It’s been something to watch the media engage in this smug, self-satisfying, feigned outrage — much of it aimed at real Trump scandals, and plenty of it hyper-parsing and overreactions — after giving him nearly unlimited and uncritical airtime during the primaries to ensure his nomination for the ratings and to help Hillary.

It’s hard to disagree with some of this. While Donald Trump fully deserves enormous criticism for his behaviour any many of his ill-considered policies, much of the media’s excessive pearl-clutching has been more than a little cynical and contrived.

5:59PM Las Vegas / 1:59AM London

Chris Wallace admonishing his audience not to “hoot and holler” as the candidates debate. It will be interesting to see if he enforces this rule across the board, or if he criticises Trump supporters for cheering while letting Clinton supporters scream to their hearts’ content.

5:56PM Las Vegas / 1:56AM London

We’re about to get underway. The warm-up act is regaling the audience with a riff about how great an opportunity this debate is for the students at the University of Nevada, many of whom are helping out with logistics. Unless this debate is much better than the previous two, I think that this “opportunity” is a decidedly mixed blessing.

My wife and I are due to spend a few days in Las Vegas with family after Christmas – hopefully this debate will not reduce the city to a smoking crater in the ground.

5:48PM Las Vegas / 1:48AM London

Is this the launch of Trump News Network?

This blog has recently speculated that Donald Trump’s intentions may have either shifted away from winning the presidency towards stoking up his supporters enough to turn them into loyal viewers of a future Trump cable news network.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds:

As a serious attempt to build an election-winning coalition of voters or persuade a majority to abandon their doubts and embrace his “ideology”, Trump’s continued behaviour has been entirely counterproductive. But as a strategy to enthuse his most ardent supporters and drive a further wedge between them and all mainstream sources of news (even including Fox News) it has been a masterpiece. Journalists are now routinely booed at Trump rallies, while the candidate himself accuses the media of being part of an organised establishment plot to swing the election for Hillary Clinton.

Currently these voters are served only by the more fringe conservative media – sites such as World Net Daily, Breitbart, InfoWars and alt-right personalities like Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich. And while many of these outlets are professionalising their operations, there probably still exists a gap in the market for a well-funded, professional-looking television news network that looks like CNN but talks like Alex Jones.

And now there are further intriguing signs that the grounds may be being prepared for a move into the news media:

If you don’t like the coverage you are receiving from existing networks, just create your own. Putin and Berlusconi would be proud.

5:42PM Las Vegas / 1:42AM London

And we’re back. Apologies for the pause. Semi-Partisan Politics is operating using rather ancient computing power, and things crawled to such a halt that an emergency reboot was necessary. Perhaps this is not a bad time to mention that if you find this blog’s coverage useful and entertaining, donations large and small are most welcome.



High on the list of upcoming necessary purchases is a laptop which doesn’t die when you try to open more than five tabs, and which doesn’t give off the heat of a nuclear reactor.

5:03PM Las Vegas / 1:03AM London

Donald Trump’s debate prep guru has apparently thrown in the towel and given up trying to teach Trump the Unteachable.

In advance of the debate, The Hill reports:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes are reportedly no longer speaking.

New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman revealed that “Ailes’s camp said Ailes learned that Trump couldn’t focus—surprise, surprise—and that advising him was a waste of time.”

“These debate prep sessions weren’t going anywhere,” Sherman added during the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday.

Quite why it took Roger Ailes this long to realise that Donald Trump is a dud candidate is anybody’s guess – perhaps the man who taught George H. W. Bush to swagger is finally losing his touch, what with also having been drummed out of Fox News.

4:57PM Las Vegas / 12:57AM London

When Rudy Giuliani has to act as your chief character witness, you know you’re in trouble:

4:55PM Las Vegas / 12:55AM London

Fiscal conservatives will appreciate this one:

4:35PM Las Vegas / 12:35AM London

CNN continue to promote the presidential debate as though it were a heavyweight boxing match:

4:18PM Las Vegas / 12:18AM London

What would it take for Trump to win the election?

The National Review paints a stark picture of the uphill battle faced by Donald Trump to win critical bellwether swing states like Ohio:

If Trump does win Ohio, he will achieve something many thought was impossible, winning a hard-fought swing state without any long-standing major campaign get-out-the-vote operation. It will obliterate everything every campaign professional has ever taught or learned about the importance of preparation.

On the plus side: Trump’s biggest fans would seemingly walk through fire for him, with an army (of indeterminate size) of volunteers willing to give up their own time and money to get people to the polls in an impromptu, uncoordinated get-out-the-vote operation. And while all comparisons between the UK’s vote for Brexit and the Donald Trump campaign are vastly overblown and often offensive, one common feature is that both anti-establishment insurgencies are buoyed by people whose political engagement seems to have gone from near zero to off-the-charts.

On the negative side (for Trump): Hillary Clinton has been waiting for this moment her entire life, and her professionalised get-out-the-vote operation will build on all of the success of the previous George W. Bush and Barack Obama political operations. Hillary Clinton has had political operatives laying the crucial groundwork in states since well before Donald Trump even threw his hat into the ring.

4:10PM Las Vegas / 12:10AM London

Yes, the Clinton email scandal matters

In the wake of further Wikileaks email revelations from the hacked account of Clinton campaign apparatchik John Podesta, the National Review reminds us exactly why Clinton’s decision to use a private email server while serving as Secretary of State – and her subsequent evasiveness and liberty with the truth when held to account for her actions – is an entirely legitimate point of criticism.

Their editorial states:

Although it was ostensibly investigating Clinton and her State Department staff (many of whom had become her campaign staff), the Justice Department kept campaign officials in the loop about developments in Freedom of Information Act cases related to Clinton’s e-mails, and about administration efforts to delay and minimize disclosures. The DOJ worked with the Clinton team’s defense lawyers to restrict the FBI’s ability to ask key questions and examine critical evidence. It also declined to present the case to a grand jury, which the DOJ must do in order to subpoena critical evidence and indict culpable suspects. Instead, it gave the suspects immunity from prosecution and made other gratuitous concessions in order to acquire evidence the production of which could have been compelled.

Meanwhile, as the former secretary’s claims about never having sent or received classified information were exposed as lies — in fact, some of her e-mails contained information classified at the very highest levels of secrecy — the State Department colluded with Clinton aides to control the fallout. Newly disclosed FBI documents suggest that high-ranking State Department official Patrick Kennedy leaned on the FBI, and perhaps other agencies, to downgrade classification of Clinton’s e-mails (which might bolster her false denial of transmitting classified information) and to exploit Freedom of Information Act exemptions (which would allow the State Department to withhold disclosure of e-mails that would be politically harmful). This news should come as no surprise. FBI reports had previously indicated that State Department brass were pressuring career officials to change designations to minimize Clinton’s apparent misconduct.

While Kennedy and others were applying pressure from Foggy Bottom, Podesta sought help from a different source. Months ago, the State Department grudgingly acknowledged that Clinton and President Obama had exchanged at least 18 e-mails over Clinton’s private account, and FBI reports obtained by Congress revealed that Obama used an alias on those occasions. Prior to that revelation, Podesta suggested to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s top aide at State and a key campaign adviser, that the White House invoke executive privilege to shield those exchanges from a congressional subpoena.

This isn’t partisan point-scoring. This is really bad. And while it may not have the telegenic allure of a good old fashioned sex scandal, it speaks to character every bit as much – and it probably speaks to Hillary Clinton’s likely governing style as president even more strongly.

In any other presidential election, Hillary Clinton’s actions with regard to her email would be immediately disqualifying. The fact that she remains preferable to a potential Donald Trump in this dismal election cycle is a reflection on just how bad of a candidate (and a person) he is, and is certainly not a reflection of any virtue or worthiness on Hillary Clinton’s part.

3:56PM Las Vegas / 11:56PM London

Left-wing anxiety about the “Fox News debate”

The New York Times is paranoid that the final presidential debate, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, will fail in his duty of impartiality:

A major topic at tonight’s presidential debate — maybe the first topic — will be “debt and entitlements,” according to Chris Wallace, the Fox News host who is moderating the debate.

I encourage you to watch for whether Wallace bases his questions on budget reality. Much of the public discussion of the national debt isn’t based on reality. It instead relies on facts that are badly outdated.

[..] Reasonable people can disagree about how much to emphasize the decline in the projected debt versus how much to emphasize the debt itself. But it’s simply irresponsible to talk about the debt while ignoring the enormous change.

Wallace has a reputation as a serious journalist, not a Fox News partisan like Sean Hannity, and I hope Wallace lives up to that reputation.

A reasonable concern? I suppose so. But Chris Wallace, like Shep Smith, is one of the good guys at Fox News, and I have no reason to doubt that he will chair the debate in a professional manner.

Besides, for impartiality to come into question would require the debate to actually focus on the detail of fiscal policy rather than devolving into glib soundbites and insults, a level of discourse which neither of the first two debates managed to reach.

3:45PM Las Vegas / 11:45PM London

What to expect from this final presidential debate? Who knows. Read ten different press previews and you’ll get ten different answers. But one thing is clear enough – if Donald Trump really wants to turn his campaign around and actually make a Hail Mary pass for victory rather than simply continuing to stoke the resentments of his supporters, he needs to do something extraordinary.

What precisely that “something extraordinary” looks like is difficult to say. He could try going after Hillary Clinton even harder – really hammering her on things like the email scandal and her relationship with Wall Street. But attacking harder is likely to just make him look deranged to more moderate voters, people who don’t necessarily buy the Hillary Is Satan schtick that his hardcore supporters love. The only way that attacking harder might benefit Trump is if he actually manages to achieve a moment of combustion and really make Clinton lose her temper or composure. And even then, it’s hard to see how Clinton injures her own prospects more than Trump.

As for Hillary Clinton, I fully expect her to spend most of the debate in cautious, defensive “home stretch” mode. Sure, we might see the odd flash of steel as she tears into Donald Trump’s character, particularly around the new sexual assault allegations (which conveniently emerged not when Trump was being a reality TV star, not when he was being a birther, not when he was fighting for the GOP nomination but only in the final month before the presidential election. I’m not saying the allegations are false, but I am saying that their convenient timing doesn’t do anything to allay Trump supporters’ paranoia that the whole thing is rigged against them).

But aside from a few more cheesy, canned one-liners and a few telegenic “shame on you” moments (which, don’t get me wrong, Trump fully deserves), I expect we will see Hillary Clinton behaving like the England football team protecting a one goal lead against Slovakia with 45 minutes left to play. Dull, uninspiring, and acceptable only if she doesn’t self-destruct and concede a last-minute equaliser.

3:00PM Las Vegas / 11:00PM London

Yes, I’m blogging the final Trump v Clinton 2016 presidential debate. I’m doing it again. Goodness knows why – it’s certainly not for the benefit of my mental health or circadian rhythm. But it seems right and proper to see this thing through to the bitter end.

As always, I welcome your feedback and company as we watch along together. Please feel free to use the Comments feature, or contact/troll me on Twitter or by email.

You can read my live-blog of the first debate here and the second debate here. New readers – welcome, see my About page here for a brief bio.



Top Image: Joe Raedle/Getty, Rolling Stone

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 6 – Stay In The EU Or Kittens Will Die


Hysterical Remainiacs are now warning that Brexit will endanger the lives of the nation’s pets and farm animals

For the past four months, the British people have been subjected to some ridiculously childish hissy fits and the incessant catastrophisation of Brexit by self-regarding EU apologists in the media. But this latest tantrum by Ian Dunt, editor of, is on another level.

Ian Dunt already has great form in portraying the slightest move to limit the growth of the state or safeguard national sovereignty as being part of a plot by the Evil Tor-ees to kill the poor and chuck out every last foreigner, but his increasingly bitter and alarmist Brexit coverage is starting to make him look particularly ridiculous. Because Dunt is now claiming that among the many other evils of Brexit, spurning the EU and demanding self-government will also put “people and animals at risk”.

Yes. Going ahead with Brexit means that kittens will die.

Dunt explains:

Look at any part of British society and you’ll see the damage Brexit is doing.

Take veterinary services. Yesterday afternoon, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) wrote a letter to the prime minister. These are not radical organisations. They never really put out political statements of this sort. They stay in the background, concerning themselves mostly with relatively dry questions of policy detail. But they’ve been forced to issue a warning that Brexit – and Theresa May’s descent into anti-foreigner rhetoric – are putting people and animals at risk.

“Anti-foreigner”? Really? One can argue endlessly about the economic merits of Theresa May’s seeming determination to reduce net migration, but I challenge Ian Dunt to produce one example where the prime minister has actively sought to whip up anti-foreigner feeling in the population.

Wanting controls on immigration is not an extremist or unpalatable political viewpoint – many countries in the world (like Australia and the United States) don’t automatically accept anybody from their region or continent who wants to live and work. And at some point the British Left are going to have to take their collective finger off the nuclear button and stop screeching “racism” at anybody who dares to suggest that government should have control of who is allowed to come and settle in the country.

Regardless, Dunt continues:

Around half the veterinary surgeons registering to practise in the UK each year are from overseas – mostly the EU. Europeans are particularly prevalent in public health roles like the Government Veterinary Services. In the meat hygiene sector, some estimates put the number of veterinary surgeons who graduate overseas at 95%. And these people – the people who look after our pets, who check our food – are feeling increasingly uncomfortable in this country.

And this supposedly matters because:

The veterinary profession doesn’t just look after pets. It monitors and controls the spread of disease and assures the quality of the food we eat. If it goes into decline, the animals we love and share our homes with are in more danger. But there is also a very significant public health risk to go alongside the emotional one.

[..] while anti-immigrant newspapers and politicians whinged, immigrants were there: Treating your cat. Picking your fruit. Treating your condition. They are crucial to the running of this country and unless we start recognising that, it’ll be this country which suffers the consequences of their absence.

[..] The policy implications of Brexit are even more serious. In the future, the two organisations warn, “changes to the mutual recognition system or immigration restrictions could have a profound impact upon the veterinary workforce”. That means Britain may face a shortage of vets as it loses half its annual intake. It means a potentially catastrophic impact on TB testing and meat hygiene. It means abattoirs may be unable to export their products because the UK veterinary requirements are not recognised by European authorities.

So in other words, wanting to leave a deeply unpopular and dysfunctional continental supranational government is so terrible that it will kill our pets, causing us immense emotional harm, and also ensure that agricultural and food safety standards immediately fall off a cliff, leading to the immediate return of BSE and foot and mouth disease. Our democracy is hostage to the presumed fortunes of our household pets.

See? We warned you! Why didn’t you listen! Now Fluffy the Kitten is going to die, and it’s all your fault, you ignorant, hateful, xenophobic Brexiteer!

Will these histrionics from bitter, intellectually bankrupt Remainers never end?

The one valid point in this screaming tantrum of an article is that changes to (or severance of) the mutual recognition agreements governing veterinary standards or food safety – much of the latter of which actually falls under the purview of Codex Alimentarius – could cause real disruptions to trade. Too much of the political debate over Brexit has focused on buccaneering assumptions by government ministers and journalists that the avoidance of tariffs is the sole issue, when this is not at all true. The potential erection of non-tariff trade barriers by failing to extend mutual recognition of standards would have immensely more impact on British industry in terms of cost and complexity of doing business, and it is this which politicians need to wrap their heads around.

Dunt (inadvertently) raises an important issue here, and a timely warning. But his incessant, hysterical scaremongering (and pretence that there are no solutions or workarounds to the practical issue he flags) overshadows his argument. This is the polar opposite of constructive criticism – it is the kind of sulky fault-picking more worthy of a toddler than a grown man with a political website.

And yet I am coming to suspect that this is how it will always be. Never expecting victory in the EU referendum, I naturally didn’t devote much time to thinking about what it would actually feel like to be on the winning side, to finally overturn the 40-year pro-EU consensus. Now I’m starting to get an idea. And it is not pleasant.

Brexiteers had better get used to endless “won’t somebody please think of the kittens?!” caterwauling from aggrieved pro-Europeans, because it will probably last the rest of our lives. Even if Brexit ushers in the kind of democratic renewal that some of us hoped for – and even if we achieve secession from the EU on the most favourable terms possible – they will still criticise us and act as though we have ushered in an unprecedented calamity. And in the absence of counterfactuals, who can disprove Ian Dunt when in five years he whines that we would be enjoying hover cars and 200 year lifespans if only we had done the sensible thing, listened to him and voted to remain in the EU?

Brexiteers should settle in for the long haul. Yesterday it was Marmite, today it’s kittens and tomorrow it will be something else. And why? All because Ian Dunt and other pro-European can’t just bring themselves to say “I hate patriotism, I’m ashamed of my country, I feel more European than British and more than anything I hate the 52 percent of my fellow citizens for  defying my will and causing me not to get my own way for once in my life”?

Maybe therapy would help some of the Remainiacs-in-denial towards a necessary moment of catharsis. One can only hope so. Their endless hysterics and catastrophisation of Brexit makes them look far more stupid than it makes Brexit seem reckless.

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