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Welcome back to this week’s installment of the all-new What Just Happened?!, a semi-comical weekly digest of the most important news from the UK, US and the World from Will Marshall, and Alistair Simmonds-Yoo. Look out for us every weekend, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Internet


What will make you feel better about yourself in these dark winter days? A 62 year old achieving a physical challenge and world record you will likely never be capable of! George Hood, a former US Marine, held a plank for 8 hours and 15 minutes, which is frankly ridiculous. Whilst a remarkable feat, I can’t help but wonder if that 7 hours of training a day for 18 months could have been spent better, but hey, each to their own. 

The Long Read

Have a gander at this excellent piece of long-form journalism from Wired, delving into the murky world of scam Airbnb listings in London. Think mirrored photos, identikit furniture, the Catholic Church and David Schwimmer’s wife.

The UK

A Confederacy of Hate-mongers

Toby Young, the professional shit-spouter in chief who occasionally pretends to be a journalist, has launched a remarkable new scam, known as the ‘Free Speech Union’, of which he has appointed himself general secretary. For the bargain basement price of £49.95 a year for a basic membership you’ll get their ‘Sword and Shield’ protection, which amounts to their attempting to mobilise an army of trolls to drown out any criticism when you tweet something about an MP’s breasts, eugenics or disability rights. They also sort of maybe half-promise legal support, and they might help you crowdfund.

The whole thing stinks of a club for angry incels who are furious about there being more than two genders of people who are repulsed at the idea of having sex with somebody so hate-filled. Luckily we can say that, and call Toby Young a despicable fuck-headed moron (with admittedly remarkble media-savvy) because they all believe so passionately in free speech!

Missing: 1 Prime Minister

You’d be forgiven for having forgotten who our PM is in the UK since the end of last year; sightings of Boris Johnson have been few and fleeting. He has been accused of being a “part-time Prime Minister” by the opposition for his failure to appear at any of the areas affected by recent floods. He has also refused to call a Cobra meeting (an emergency high-level cabinet meeting) in response to flooding, which some have said has hampered relief efforts.

This is nothing new for Johnson though, he came under fire as early as 2011 for taking his time returning from holiday during the London riots. Rather this is all part of his strategy of redefining Prime Ministerial expectations by refusing to be seen to pamper to the media. 

Johnson and his strategists know only too well the pitfalls that actually making appearances can generate: namely they expose him to heckling and embarrassing moments caught on camera. I’m sure we all recall the PM locking himself in a walk-in fridge, and getting called out for pocketing a journalist’s phone.

If you do want to see Johnson though, there’s plenty of ways to find him: you could try changing your LinkedIn Profile picture to that of a stripper and drop him an InMail offering technology lessons, or simply try yelling in central London that you’re one of his unknown number of children and he’ll appear from whatever bush he’s hidden behind and scamper away.

The US

Shitty end of the Stick…

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Trump has been busy rolling back protections for rivers and wetlands from industrial waste and human shit. The Agency has been ordered to be “more deferential” to local authorities, who complain that not pouring raw human shit into rivers is too costly. 

Cities are being allowed free reign to ‘renegotiate’ their obligations to meet water pollution laws, using contractual methods that are designed for use only in cases of genuine financial distress, not just not really wanting to pay to treat water.

The administration has also rolled back laws including those that prevented the release of pesticides and other pollutants into rivers and wetlands, and limits on mercury released from coal-fired generators.

… & that stick is American Democracy

Dear Democratic Party employees of America, do not listen to the luminous green reptile offering you money in exchange for salvation. The reptile will swallow everything whole if you let it, for it is nourished by the sincerity of less scaly beings. That’s right, I’m talking about Mike Bloomberg hiring Democratic Superdelegates (ahead of DNC votes) to work for his campaign. What the actual reptilian fuck?! 

In a much less aggressive affront to democracy, though one which makes the whole thing seem closer to entertainment than anything else, Joe Biden keeps pretending to be someone the electorate wants. Be this pretending that Nelson Mandella said certain things about him or failing to give credit for many (heavily) plagiarized speeches – as can be seen in this speech from Neil Kinnock, a former British Labour Party Leader, which Biden liked so much he decided to perform it! (sans accréditation). 

Don’t get me wrong, Old Uncle Joe is a reliable and lovable character providing one is operating with an extremely minimal capacity for discernment. 

Due Shady Process

A legal battle could well be ahead for the voting privileges (rights?) of some 200,000 people in Wisconsin. Of some ~3 million voters in 2016, Trump won by a margin of ~20,000. We can expect conservative groups to advocate for the stringent requirements on the prospective electorate. 

The World

A Petri Dish Made in America

The Covid-19 outbreak seems to be spreading to new territories pretty rapidly, and many are particularly concerned about South Korea and Italy, however it’s Iran that should be keeping us up at night. The numbers coming from the country simply don’t make any sense in the context of those from other countries; namely the death rate sitting around 16%, compared to 2% in China and 1% in South Korea. This suggests the outbreak is far larger in Iran than the authorities are admitting, likely in the tens of thousands rather than dozens. That theory is reinforced by the temporary detention of 118 ‘rumour-mongers’, and blocking of online posts making allegations about the outbreak size.

The question is how well the Iranian health infrastructure can deal with the outbreak. Years of sweeping international sanctions have left the Iranian state with limited resources. Although these sanctions don’t directly impact medical supplies, they do affect the wealth of the state in general. Iran also has notoriously porous borders, and the most common air routes are to international hubs such as Istanbul and Dubai, from where the disease could be distributed around the world rapidly. It could well be that sanctions from the international community have set Iran up to be the next major base from where the novel Coronavirus can take hold and spread.

If you happen to be in the U.S. then fear-not, this dude is in charge of protecting you from Covid-19. 

Also, reassuringly, Trump seems to think the Coronavirus is about him, while criticizing his perceived opponents for politicizing the virus immediately before laughing at the Democrats Iowa Caucus disaster… Trump also appeared unsure about whether or not the virus will spread, saying: 

“we’re ready to adapt and we’re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads

As the sworn enemy of self-obsessed would-be authoritarians (formerly known as ‘experts’) agree, it’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of when

There are ~60 cases in the states.

Burn Les Trains

Paris: Gare de Lyon is set ablaze by opponents of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A singer, deemed to be in bed with the corrupt government, was performing in Paris. Then we have these crazy scenes of a group of men ushering the firefighters away from a budding Moped-blaze under the station.

While French democracy is apparently alive and well – we can all spare a thought for the countries with the word ‘Democratic’ in their names, as this is usually a dead giveaway (cf. DPRK, DRC, GDR). Much like when one calls themself a ‘very stable genius’ or denies doing something heinous. 

From Turkey With Love

In an intriguingly timed decision, Turkey opened their borders with the EU for tens of thousands of migrants. Ostensibly this is in protest of the EU’s failure to compensate Turkey as promised for keeping ~3.7 million refugees out of the EU… a nation to call home can be bought and sold, apparently. Meanwhile, Syria’s Idlib province is undergoing a long and grim battle between the incumbent rebels (backed by the Turks) and the Syrian state (backed by the Russians). Some combination of Syrian government forces killed 33 Turkish soldiers. This forebodes significant further escalations and likely more refugees heading to Turkey – where they might just be greeted in Europe by the Greek authorities firing tear gas at the ‘illegal’ migrants.

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, get in touch with the authors Will Marshall and Alistair Simmonds on Twitter and let us know what you did and didn’t like.

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