The Presidential Inauguration (explained using only the ten hundred most used words)

The White House for kids who can't read good.

(Up-goer five lets you try to explain a hard idea using only the ten hundred most used words. It takes its idea from this picture. This piece is written with it.)

Today is the day the head man in the most important state in the world gets to promise that he will stay the head man for another four years. Because of the things which the people who made that state agreed on over two hundred years ago, the most important man — and it has always been a man — has made this promise in almost the same way every four years without a break since the year the whole thing began.

The real promise, though, was made with just the important man and a few other important men the day before today in a room in the White House. It is not always done like this — the first time the man made his promise he did it in front of everyone — but there is no reason not to. In fact, since the promise has to be made on day twenty of the first month, if he wanted to have the party on the first day of the week he would have to have done it this way.

(Last time, if you remember, he made the promise in front of everyone but did it wrong and had to do it again in his new house.)

The promise has not always had to be made on day twenty of the first month. Until 1937 it had been made on day four of the third month, but then it was moved forward. This is because the way the important man is picked used to take a lot longer. It is a very big place, after all, and before they had things like cars it would take a long time for all the people who had been picked to go to the head city and pick the important man. That is still why there is a three month wait between everyone writing who they want the head man to be on little pieces of paper and the head man actually getting his job.

But anyway.

Today may not be the day the head man really gets his job, but it is the day he makes his promise in front of everyone else. And, more to the point, it's the day everyone has a big party to show how happy they are that their home has not broken down into a bad place.

Last year that party had a well known man playing music, another well known woman making music with her mouth, and lots of people reading from a very important book about god. This year, there will be more of the same.

But there has already been a sad thing which might make the big party look bad. The day before today, a man who made music at a small party for the head man's promise-making was thrown out of the party for not agreeing with the head man. He played one piece of music — called "Words I Never Said", which is sort of about how bad the head man is — and made it last half an hour, then was made to leave by six big men.

That news might make everyone remember that the head man has a lot of people who don't like him on the left as well as the right. It is something which he doesn't like to point out, a little bit because the way the fights work in the city where all the important men and women go to tell everyone what to do is that they are between people on the middle-left and people on the very far right. In the short run, it is more important for the head man to come out on top of those fights. But in the long run, it might be telling that the very first fight of his second four years was with someone he did not think would be a problem.

The last time the head man made his promise. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Bulent Kilic/Getty Images
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We need to talk about the origins of the refugee crisis

Climate change, as much as Isis, is driving Europe's migrant crisis, says Barry Gardiner. 

Leaders get things wrong. Of course they do. They have imperfect information. They face competing political pressures. Ultimately they are human. The mark of a bad leader is not to make the wrong decision. It is to make no decision at all.

David Cameron’s paralysis over the unfolding human tragedy of Syrian refugees should haunt him for the rest of his natural life. At a time when political and moral leadership was most called for he has maintained the most cowardly silence. 

All summer, as Italy, Greece, Hungary and Macedonia have been trying to cope with the largest migration of people this continent has seen in 70 years, Downing Street has kept putting out spokespeople to claim the government is working harder than any other country “to solve the causes of the crisis” and that this justifies the UK’s refusal to take more than the 216 refugees it has so far admitted directly from Syria. The truth is it hasn’t and it doesn’t.

Anyone who truly wants to solve the causes of the nightmare that is Syria today must look beyond the vicious and repressive regime of Assad or the opportunistic barbarism of ISIL. They need to understand why it was that hundreds of thousands of ruined farmers from Al-Hasakeh, Deir Ezzor and AL-Raqqa in the northeast of that country flocked to the cities in search of government assistance in the first place - only to find it did not exist.

Back in 2010 just after David Cameron became Prime Minister, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that, after the longest and most severe drought in Syria, since records began in 1900, 3 million Syrians were facing extreme poverty. In 2011 the International Institute for Strategic Studies published a report claiming that climate change “will increase the risks of resource shortages, mass migration and civil conflict”. These were some of the deep causes of the Syrian civil war just as they are the deep causes of the conflicts in Tunisia, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Egypt. So what about Cameron’s claim that his government has been working to solve them?

Two years after that Institute for Strategic Studies report pointed out that conflict as a result of  drought in countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia had already claimed 600,000 lives,  the parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls found the UK Government had issued more than 3,000 export licenses for military and intelligence equipment worth a total of £12.3bn to countries which were on its own official list for human rights abuses; including to Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and Syria. That was the same year that UK aid to Africa was cut by 7.4% to just £3.4billion. Working to solve the root causes? Or working to fuel the ongoing conflict?

A year later in 2014 home office minister, James Brokenshire told the House of Commons that the government would no longer provide support to the Mare Nostrum operation that was estimated to have saved the lives of more than 150,000 refugees in the Mediterranean, because it was providing what the government called a “pull factor”. He said: “The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing, is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”

In fact the ending of the rescue operation did not reduce the number of refugees. It was not after all a “pull factor” but the push factor – what was happening in Syria - that proved most important. Earlier this summer, David Cameron indicated that he believed the UK should consider joining the United States in the bombing campaign against Isis in Syria, yet we know that for every refugee fleeing persecution under Assad, or the murderous thuggery of ISIS, there is another fleeing the bombing of their city by the United States in its attempt to degrade ISIS.  The bombing of one’s home is a powerful push factor.

The UK has not even fulfilled Brokenshire’s promise to fight the people smugglers. The Financial Action Task Force has reported that human trafficking generates proportionately fewer Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) annually than other comparable crimes because the level of awareness is lower. Prosecuting the heads of the trafficking networks has not been a focus of government activity. Scarcely a dozen minor operatives pushing boats on the shores of Turkey have actually been arrested. But it is not the minnows that the UK government should be concentrating on. It is their bosses with a bank account in London where a series of remittances are coming in from money transfer businesses in Turkey or North Africa. Ministers should be putting real pressure on UK banks who should be registering SARs so the authorities can investigate and begin to prosecute the ultimate beneficiaries who are driving and orchestrating this human misery. They are not.

That image, which few of us will ever completely erase from our mind, will no doubt prompt David Cameron to make a renewed gesture. An extra million for refugee camps in Jordan, or perhaps a voluntary commitment to take a couple of thousand more refugees under a new European Quota scheme. But if the UK had been serious about tackling the causes of this crisis it had the opportunity in Addis Ababa in July this year at the Funding for Sustainable Development Conference. In fact it failed to bring forward new money for the very climate adaptation that could stem the flow of refugees. In Paris this December the world will try to reach agreement on combating the dangerous climate change that Syria and North Africa are already experiencing. Without agreement there, we in the rich world will have to get used to our trains being disrupted, our borders controls being breached and many more bodies being washed up on our beaches.