Home » 'Impossible things' » The Pumpkin – Issue 65: Did we really think it was going to be so easy?… Bar, bar, black sheep… Own gooaaaalll!… I was President of the United States (no, not that one!)… Daddy, I can’t breathe… GW: Meteorological meltdown

The Pumpkin – Issue 65: Did we really think it was going to be so easy?… Bar, bar, black sheep… Own gooaaaalll!… I was President of the United States (no, not that one!)… Daddy, I can’t breathe… GW: Meteorological meltdown

Quote of a while ago

“Allowing the fossil fuel industry to dictate our relationship to the environment is a form of collective insanity.” – Chris Hedges, US public intellectual, 2013

 

“Don’t be in such bad mood, comrade! Take silly box off head! We see highest cathedral spire in Europe, maybe throw scumbag off, what’s not to like?” Expelled GRU agents from Amsterdam arrive at Heathrow….

 

“History seems to have found a way of repeating itself in the sense that we have a “leader of the free world” who is profoundly uninterested in what you or I have to say on the subject of freedom…”

Did we really think it was going to be so easy?

We no longer recall what was the first appalling thing Trump did after he became president. A rash of articles and podcasts soon appeared, confidently predicting his imminent impeachment.

Possibly it was his transgressive inauguration speech: bitter and vengeful, no thanks to anyone, projecting a bleak view of a broken America, burning and crime ridden, a home to immigrant murderers and rapists, an economic basket-case humbled on the world stage – pictures which few in Washington recognized; promising nothing but the tough approach to everything, the ominous slogan Make America Great Again! holding out hopes of advancement for the white man, but nothing but more years of misery and abuse for the rest. The first US President to make a policy plank out of an ambition to jail his political opponents for imaginary crimes.

Twenty-two months – 600 weird and disruptive days – later, he’s still there, worse than ever.

Did we really think that you and we could bravely call ourselves The Resistance and, wielding the weapons of reason and logic, learning and tolerance, through our sheer niceness, disarm with mere words the lowering forces of the new brutocracy?

That our wit and sarcasm and aphorism-rich dinner-party conversations and books and essays and late night satire shows and blog posts by the million would soon remove the threat of a cunning and degenerate, criminal monster, a feral clown bent on absolute power, the naked horror of the unbridled neoliberal world he represents?

I’m sorry to keep harking back to Germany in 1932; but I can find no closer parallel in history, other perhaps than Don Siegel’s 1952 anti-Communist motion picture, “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers”; a Sci-Fi allegory of the panic then sweeping the USA, that “They” were coming – They being The Pod People!

At first nobody believes it; but gradually, as the pods duplicate themselves as everyone’s next-door neighbor, and co-opt the townsfolk into handing out more pods, the whole town is taken over, nobody heeds the warnings, nobody cares anymore; until, finally, just when you think he’s managed to escape to a better world of domestic appliances and cars with fins, Matthew, the still-battling hero is revealed in the final shot to have become one of Them… The only hope is eternal vigilance!

There’s an excellent plot summary on Wikipedia. Attempting to warn the citizenry:

“Matthew and Elizabeth are chased across San Francisco. They hide out in a Health Department building, and witness pods being distributed to people gathered in the square outside. They are eventually trapped by Jack and Kibner, who tell them that the alien species simply wants to survive and it is beneficial for humans.”

Is this starting to remind you of anything?

Do you still have a Health Department to hide in? Probably not.

Possibly the last two holdouts in the Republican Senate, Jeff Flake and Susan Collins, “Matthew and Elizabeth”, opted at the last minute to vote for the last judge on earth any sane administrator would want to put in the Supreme Court, approving Kavanaugh only because it hadn’t been decisively shown by an incomplete investigation everyone agrees was derisory, that he is the bad person they previously imagined him to be; while the sidelined naysayers who actually knew the man are still trying to warn everyone that he is?

Yes, Jeff and Susan joined the Pod People.

As I keep a’boglin’, I’ve just been reading a most excellent book, The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis (although it rambles off-topic at times and I found the ending rushed and inconclusive. Sorry.) Of the six – well, five-and-a-half, I gave up on the execrable “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff – books I have so far read about the Trump administration, this one is the most chilling.

Cleverly, Lewis sets up the argument that the average US voter fears and loathes their own government more than the Devil, and is profoundly mistrustful even of the efforts of the dedicated and highly qualified men and women working for poor wages in the great agencies of State to try to make life better for them. This is the constituency to which the Orange Candidate appealed.

But Trump’s careless gutting of the budgets and personnel of these useful institutions he doesn’t understand and despises, merely to please the worst instincts of those untutored deplorables who hate Big Government but do not realize that it’s made up of lots of useful Small Government, is counterproductive and will damage your health.

Here, for instance, is Kathy Sullivan, feted as the first woman astronaut to walk in space, a hugely qualified scientist with degrees in both oceanography and astrophysics, who out of a sense of public duty becomes a senior government official – Assistant Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the NOAA.

Kathy is both puzzled and saddened in 2011 when 158 people are killed unnecessarily in the town of Joplin, Mi., and hundreds more injured, having perversely ignored an urgent tornado warning from her department because they don’t believe in the government weather service.

Yet it was the NOAA – part of the Commerce Department – that pioneered the science behind tornado warnings, and set up the National Hurricane Center, another useful institution under threat, that also puzzles over why so many Americans would rather drown than listen to government safety advice.

Worse was to come, however, when the Trump maladministration took over, driven by the “small government = more money for us” doctrine of the Republican party, that Steve Bannon advised Trump to take to nihilistic extremes.

A corrupt financier and “friend” of the Trump family, Wilbur Ross was put in charge at Commerce. He turned up on his own, without any staffers appointed to manage the huge and multifaceted department, having no idea what the functions of the department were, and unprepared to listen. Lewis writes: “Dozens of civil servants sat all day waiting to deliver briefings that would, in the end, never be heard.”

(This is precisely why in Britain we don’t make Civil Service appointments renewable on the basis of which party is in government. It’s a ridiculous waste of talent, energy and experience to have to start again every time you have an election. How they vote is up to them. Ridiculous Americans.)

The elderly satrap, Ross (80) was unimpressed to hear that an important part of Commerce was doing atmospheric and ocean science. He had no interest whatever in science, and said so, good and loud. He had until that point been the co-vice chair of Bank of Cyprus, a notorious money-laundering vehicle dominated by Putin oligarchs. He was interested only in gains, however gotten.

It was not until the following October that anyone was appointed to run the NOAA. In the end, the pick turned out to be the CEO of AccuWeather – the private company with a paywall, that gets its weather data free from the NOAA; yet which had lobbied hard in 2005 for a law denying the National Weather Service the right to broadcast free weather forecasts; and made substantial contributions to party funds.

Barry Myers’ primary interest, one assumes, is to shut down government scientific weather forecasting that competes with his commercial service. This hidden privatization, says Lewis, is the philosophy running now through government: if there’s a commercial competitor that could be making more money, departments are being defunded, gutted or closed.

As with Trump, it eventually came out that Ross, though wealthy, is not a billionaire, as he claimed. He’d lied to Forbes Magazine, that keeps track of the personal net worth of wealthy individuals, that he had $3.7 billion in the bank when, in fact, his wealth was at best $700 million. A miserable man, there were stories of him pocketing sweeteners from restaurant tables rather than having his cook buy them in a store.

It’s also been alleged that he recently pilfered $120 million by systematically cheating a business partner. The case was settled out of court, so we can’t know for sure. Stung, Forbes wrote:

“If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.”

Not, perhaps, as big as one Donald John Trump, who has been outed in the New York Times this past week for tax frauds totalling over $500 million; dating back even to infancy when, at the age of 3, his father Fred had “employed” him in the family firm on a salary of $200,000 a year, to avoid taxes.

People like the Pulitzer prizewinning financial journalist and inveterate Trumphound, David Cay Johnson, have been bobbing up and down for years like the character in the movie, played by Kevin McCarthy, shouting about this stuff: “They’re coming!” (His body is later found around the corner…)

And no-one listened to him. They thought he was mad – until approximately half the country’s 120 million active voters had put into the White House, a Pod Person who has spent almost two years now sucking out their souls and recasting them in his own disaffected, mean and greedy likeness.

Who, guided by über-Podperson, Adolf Hitler’s best-selling self-help manual, “Fascist Dictating for Dummies”, is someone who poisons everyone he comes in contact with, subverting their moral universe and bending them to his selfish and endlessly demanding will: a blackmailer, a gaslighter, a taker, a briber – a psychopath, with the mind of a wilful four-year-old.

HR disaster

One of the so-called “adults in the room”, General HR McMaster, was a highly regarded, highly decorated 3-star general, said to be possessed of advanced intellectual capacities, extensive scholarship and great sagacity. Equipped with a curious, high-domed cranium, he surely has room in it for at least three normal human brains.

Yet, appointed as National Security Advisor to steady the ship in the wake of the departure of the suspected Russian agent and all-round weasel, General Flynn, he soon found himself profoundly morally compromised in the service of a cunning and degenerate criminal, a practised deceiver; himself suspected of fidelity to a foreign power.

“There is nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the Secretary of the State, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”

“It” was the widely reported meeting in the Oval Office between the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov; the Russian Ambassador and reputed FSB spymaster, Sergei Kislyak, and Donald Trump, recently installed President of the United States of America; the three of them alone, save for a “photographer” from the Russian state news outlet, Tass. Trump had requested McMaster and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, leave the room. So yes, they were present – until they weren’t.

The Washington Post later reported, they had confirmed sources that at that meeting in May, 2017, Trump had boasted to the Russians about a top-secret Israeli intelligence operation he knew about, to infiltrate the ISIS high command, that had resulted in a worldwide ban on passengers taking laptops openly on aircraft, after a specific warning about a bomb plot.

So furious were the Israelis at this gross betrayal, reported the Post, that for a time they ceased sharing intelligence with the CIA. Who in turn, stopped sharing intelligence with Trump.

To calm the furore – people still made a fuss about Trump’s cavalier approach in those faroff days – Gen. McMaster had been sent out to face reporters on the White House lawn, and what he said to them was a lie; a statement concocted by the spinmeisters, Conway, Hicks and Spicer, to protect the loose-mouthed Trump; a fatuous, bombastic oaf who could never resist showing off his self-assumed superiority in all matters, and could not be trusted with State secrets.

Once you have told your first lie in Trumpworld, it gets easier, and you enjoy the love. Soon, however, you will find yourself employed without choice to gnaw the heads off little puppies….

A year later, the profoundly compromised McMaster was fired by Trump, and resigned from the army without promotion; a national disgrace, who had nevertheless dared to stand up in some measure to Trump’s infantile caprice, and may have bought us a little time. The more compliant John Bolton – an inflammatory Iran hawk with no military background, to avoid the Vietnam draft (like W Bush) he’d joined the National Guard – was brought in at Security to ramp up the sense that all would now be chaos, orchestrated like a Boulez symphony by the increasingly bullish (but no more intelligent or well-intentioned) president.

The economy was booming!

Trump by the beginning of 2018 was consolidating his reputation as a highly unpresidential and unpredictable, autocratic thug, given to making vicious ad hominem Twitter attacks in the middle of the night on his perceived enemies, his day-to-day policy-making dictated by whatever the little faces were yammering at him on the screens everywhere tuned to the Fox News channel; still with no apparent interest in the levers of government or the advice of advisors, contemptuous of international allies and treaties; whose mental state was giving serious concern.

Yet the economy was booming, thanks to rising interest rates that were driving the markets to dizzying new heights; and a resurgent dollar, that he would surely, eventually come to regret, along with his tariff wars. No-one imagined he was responsible, the boom had begun under Obama. Thanks to his insane tax cuts for the wealthy (and himself, if he paid any) the national debt had climbed to over $22.5 trillion, social programs were being defunded, but at least the economy hadn’t collapsed. Yet.

Led by the amoral southern plutocrat, “Mitch” McConnell, the Republican party was beginning to realize, they too were profoundly compromised by their association with this senescent, bullying old sex-pest; a serial liar, financial criminal and business fraud with highly dangerous connections; a degenerate, narcissistic sociopath without empathy, compassion or decent instincts toward anyone; a self-invented Mafia boss it would be dangerous to cross. Who wants to be murdered by Tweet?

Yet, lured by the fanatical support of his “base” in the Red states heartland of America, and by his appeal to the evangelical Christian right, whose high-minded hypocrisies they all espoused, the Republican-controlled Congress chose the path of least resistance and most moral hazard, and are now so deeply enmired in Trump’s gluey web of deceit and corruption that they can’t see a way out; but must go all the way with him into the deepest shit any American can remember.

You can maybe now understand why, earlier, I raised my graying head above the sandbags and mentioned the shade of Adolf Hitler. There are of course no similarities to justify a direct comparison, we have in many senses moved on and – though there are, what, faint reflections, echoes? – ours is a very different world, in which consumer-capitalist techno-economics has largely replaced militarism as a tool of power projection. Also, Hitler was 38 when he came to power: Trump is 72 and has less time to kill.

Nevertheless, in 1930s Germany many perfectly wise and responsible men and women living in an unstable social compact next to a disaffected working-class did allow themselves to be co-opted into a state of complicity – silence at best – with what they must have realized was a truly evil world vision projected by a nasty clique of moral degenerates; yet which excitingly allowed them to express a darker side of themselves that had been long suppressed by social norms and conventions. Many took to wearing cool uniforms and summarily executing inconvenient or noncompliant people and those they persuaded themselves were not fully human. Until the Red Army arrived in Berlin, there were no comebacks on that.

History seems to have found a way of repeating itself in the sense that we have a “leader of the free world” who is profoundly uninterested in what you or I have to say on the subject of freedom, tolerance, intellectual endeavor – justice, but who seeks to draw us in to his demonic powerplay; to share in  the thrilling wickedness of the scheme he proposes, to tear up the existing order, the useless constitution, whatever it says, to expel the “Other”; with, at the end of it all, the promise of “People like us” – white and in debt – ending up on top of the heap. And to make him rich in the process, what’s not to like?

With Senate approval of the appointment of another conservative judge who will license whatever mischief Mr Trump may get up to: then, now or in future, we move a step closer to a New American dictatorship; a thrilling scenario in which anything might be possible, where all your enemies, the people you hate, the clever ones with the money, the schooling and the entitlement, the ones keeping you down, the black and the brown ones, the Jews and the Muslims can all be made to go away – with no need to ask where.

I predict that the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh will be taken as a further sign the new world order is open for business. Monkey business.

With all our cleverness, our educated ability to see through the lies, to mock and gibe and question the authority of the President – as Stephen Miller, Trump’s pet college vampire once percipiently warned us never to do – to apply all our elitist techniques of rational thought and articulacy to make the monster go back under the bed – did we really think it would be so easy?

To turn back the cyclical tide of history with our words?

Our ever-so elegant, inadequate, powerless words?

God help us.

x

Bar, bar, black sheep

The hearing to elevate the controversial Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, an appointment for life, is approaching its end with a Congressional Judiciary Committee review behind closed doors of the really thorough FBI report on his dodgy moral background, that the Feds’ve had all of three working days to investigate and write up.

The two or three un-proof-checked paragraphs of testimoy bh a limited group of non-witnesses will be spun into a full exoneration, nothin’ to see here folks, the big clunkin’ rubber stamp will be wielded, Trump will make a great victory speech to the dumbfucks, and the US Supreme Court will become even more of a disgrace than it already is.

By the time you read this, there seems little doubt the nomination will have been waved through, thanks to the appalling Senator McConnell, a rich old polecat who will say and do anything to make the Republican Party richer. “Fine young man, perfect judge material” to gerrymander the court’s decisions in favor of wealthy appellants and swivel-eyed pro-lifers for the next 30 years. Dozens of potential witnesses, victims all clearly lying, paid by the Democrats, Soros…. hashtag disgraceful.

Forty witnesses all queuing to talk to the FBI about the thuggish and emotionally damaged fratboy, Kavanaugh were resolutely ignored in the whitewashing of this redfaced individual, screaming his innocence to a sympathetic audience of Republicans, mostly men, who are now so besmirched with the shit spewing from the White House that they can never be washed clean, not even by the blood of Christ.

And then the psychopath, Trump, will humblebrag and whine and boast to his pet dumbfucks in some barren hangar in Nowheresville, Arkansas that, yet again, he has achieved a momentous triumph of policymaking to make America great again – remembering, as we no doubt shall, that the only reason he pushed this sanctimonious, drunken, overemotional wreck forward in the first place and spent the next two weeks personally calumniating anyone who criticized his lousy choice, including sexual assault victims – hateful women – was because Kavanaugh had assured him the President couldn’t be prosecuted for federal crimes while in office; and Trump has started his 2020 run for re-election already.

We are reminded now, however, that this is not the first wholly inappropriate appointment Trump has tried to foist on a judiciary already groaning with conservative white men.

Commenting on the trend, Michael Wolff writing in The Guardian last December examined the notorious case of Matthew Peterson, a hapless Trump nominee for a District Court judgeship in Washington, who couldn’t answer a single legal question put to him at his Senate hearing and admitted that he had never tried a case before in any court, anywhere. Wolff went on:

“The ABA (American Bar Association) unanimously rated another of Trump’s nominees as ‘not qualified’ because he was a 36-year-old blogger with a strong ideological bent and no trial experience: Brett Talley. He was the fourth Trump nominee the ABA found to be devoid of judicial merit. Talley is married to a White House lawyer, by some strange coincidence.

“On the other hand, Talley did blog about his total support – ‘financially, politically and intellectually’ – for the National Rifle Association, just one month after the massacre of elementary schoolchildren at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut.” So much for judicial impartiality.

“Last month (November, 2017) the Republican-led Senate judiciary committee confirmed him to a lifetime job as a judge in Alabama.” (His nomination was later withdrawn.)

In the words of Michelle Obama: “What is the matter with you people?”

Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment is clearly too much, even for the ABA, representing thousands of lawyers, who have given him the thumbs-down principally on the basis that he’s not considered sufficiently competent AS A JUDGE…. In addition, he has refused to allow scrutiny of his previous record in court. Why is that?

But it’s no longer a legal matter: his appointment is now purely a partisan political fight to the death; no shred of decency or modesty will motivate this horrible man to recuse himself altogether, so as not to bring the Supreme Court of the United States into further disrepute.

“…many months into the Trump administration, thousands of officially required positions have still not been filled.”

We recall, perhaps, that it was a principal policy plank of one unmentionable German chancellor in 1933 to pack the judicial benches with party supporters, before starting on the show trials and brutal executions of his opponents. A similar policy fuelled his Soviet near-neighbour’s justice system for many years. Unfortunately, human society is adequately furnished with individuals awaiting only official sanction to pull the lever on their fellow men and women and watch them swinging.

But Trump was merely continuing with his nihilistic Bannonite policy of, it seems – we must conclude, mustn’t we, and not be tempted to assume, that he is just a total ignoramus, or a paid agent of the Kremlin – of undermining and ultimately bringing low, all the revered traditional institutions of governance in the USA.

In other words, the stuff going on in the background, while no-one is looking.

As previously mentioned, a new book, The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis (Allen-Lane/Penguin Books) cleverly sets up the numerous vital functions and formerly principled management of the great federal agencies as serious-sounding Aunt Sallies, creating value and delivering forward motion, before laconically – and without resorting to in-house gossip or the usual expletives and pejorative insults – pointing out that, many months into the Trump administration, thousands of officially required positions have still not been filled; or are occupied by Trump loyalists and chancers with no special knowledge or experience of the job whatever, who have set about defunding key environmental, medical and social programs to profit private corporations.

So, while packing the courts with unqualified placemen who will do the President’s bidding and keep him out of jail, where in most people’s view he belongs*, Trump is using the same ploy to insert his version of the Brownshirts at all levels and in all areas of responsibility for national government, to quietly and surreptitiously push through some of the most repressive, socially damaging and retrograde policies ever attempted, far away from Congressional scrutiny.

Only the latest of these, former conservative prosecutor Caren Harp – a graduate of a “Christian law school”, was put in to run the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and has quietly set about dismantling all its Obama-era attempts to put rehabilitation and education at the forefront of its policy statements. The Guardian writes:

“Under the agency’s old vision statement, the office expressed a desire for America to be ‘a nation where our children are healthy, educated, and free from violence’.

“After Donald Trump entered the White House in January 2017, the phrase was changed – without any public notice or consultation – to ‘a nation where our children are free from crime and violence’.

“Other changes to the agency’s websites included removing guidance … to stop putting children into solitary confinement, avoid placing girls behind bars and address the disproportionate impact of courts and prisons on black and other minority kids.”

This new policy is surely at odds with Mr Trump’s professed views on gang violence, since it is clear that harsh reformatory regimes breed and do not deter crime. The defunding of youth projects in the inner cities, too, can only increase the propensity of young people to join drug gangs, being the only remaining source of income for families seeing savage cuts in social supports, such as food stamps.

On the other hand, the private companies that profit from contracts to run the prison catering, the work programs (inmates sewing McDonalds’ uniforms on 20c an hour), the laundries, the education, such as it is – the transportation and maintenance, will be straight in there, making their fortunes out of detaining as many inmates for as long, and as often, as they can. Rehabilitation is nowhere on the list

The Pumpkin therefore asks the questions again: Is all this being done for doctrinaire political reasons, implying at least that there is some philosophy, however maleficent, behind it? Is it just the hatred of the marginalized underclass which Trump sweats from every permatanned pore at his weekly Nuremberg-style rallies?

Or is it a deliberate attempt to start a class war in America; a real, shooting war to, as it were, restore the Confederacy, or at least to violently rehabilitate its white supremacist, rural Christian aims and values, tearing the country and its fragile social compacts; its paper constitution, apart?

Is that what Trump’s Russian creditors have said they want him to do?

*Oh yes, he does!

x

Own gooaaaalll!

Despite a hearty school upbringing, The Pumpkin knows little of the art of football; principally because he has never known the heartache and the joy of supporting a particular club, that he might associate with his ancestral community.

Frankly, he sees, but does not fully get, the point. Dragged by his well-connected father to a tedious west London fixture in the rain at the age of 9, that ended in a low-scoring draw, he was further traumatised by being introduced after the match to a famous footballer who had just stepped out of the team bath. Traumatized, in the ensuing 60 years he has attended out of paternal obligation, only one, equally tedious fixture ever since.

At least he kept his children away from the dressing rooms.

Nevertheless he is not unaware of the general demeanor of the sport in the UK: the recent years in which leading clubs have been purloined from their underperforming local boards, answerable only to the fans, by big global business; often by foreign billionaires with dubious sources of income, cashing in on hugely lucrative TV deals while their whiter-than-white money spins in the tumble-dryer.

The Pumpkin recalls, he once occupied an apartment in West London above an elderly couple, the husband of which had been a professional footballer in the pre- and post-war years, interrupted by service in the army.

Tommy Law had played for Chelsea and, as an international, for Scotland. He was paid £5 for turning up to a match, £3.10s if not required to play. He had one or other of his legs broken six times by hard-man defenders, eventually forcing his retirement. The £1,100 raised at his benefit match was his pension.

Portugal and Juventus star, Christiano Ronaldo is paid €30 million a year, and still can’t avoid accusations of tax cheating and sexual assault. But, by God, he produced one of the greatest goals in history at the last World Cup… sorry, where was I?, oh yes.

Manchester United.

For some reason, the most famous football club in the world. Any 9-year-old kid kicking a ball around on a dirt patch in a favela in Rio or Lagos knows at least two English words. And yet, it seems, the iconic club is in deep shit. Its vastly overpaid players under their temperamental manager Mourinho have barely mustered a goal so far this season. A profound air of gloom hangs over Old Trafford ground. Why?

Because it is owned by Americans, possibly.

“The six Glazer siblings who collectively own 97% of United’s voting shares were paid approximately $23m (£18m) in dividends, the third year dividends have been paid. The total paid to them and the other financial investors was £22m, following £23m in 2016-17 and £20m the previous year, a total of £65m out of the club. The salary packages paid to directors and senior executives, which includes the six Glazers, was £13m, following £12m in 2016-17 and £11m the year before. A year ago, the Glazers’ holding company, Red Football, sold 4.3m shares in Cayman Islands-registered United, for $17 per share. That is a further $73m (£56m) made by the Glazers from their heavily leveraged acquisition of a football institution.” – David Conn, The Guardian.

What the fuck has any of this devious business shit got to do with football?

It’s not even the money. United is a huge global franchise awash with money, it can afford to pay the Glazers $100 million a year for doing what appears to be fuck-all. The point is not the money: it’s that they are in it ONLY for the money. The game, the tradition, the history of the community means nothing to them.

Why is there a single ripped-off, traduced and disappointed United fan who still supports this incredible profit-making exercise for a foreign entity that is only in it for the money, a corpse with a capitalist face, that cannot manage to produce either success on the pitch, or entertainment for the fans?

Just go! Walk out! Don’t turn up! Don’t buy the overpriced season tickets, the merchandise, the hype. Find a park, get a ball and start again. Support another local club – I know, City, but. The Glazers don’t give a fuck about you, mate. They would if you weren’t there, even for a month.

There’s not a single homegrown player in the United squad, just a bunch of spectacularly overrewarded haircuts imported from all over the world, spending nine tenths of their time on the bench, listlessly buying Italian sports cars; while the superstar manager known as “The Special One”, who has barely managed this season to persuade his players that the aim is to kick the ball into the net at the other end, moans that he’s not allowed to spend £millions more buying up more no-hopers he won’t “get on with”; because interpersonal relationships are apparently everything, and earning the money by winning matches isn’t.

Everyone can see, the whole fucking shemozzle is completely corrupt, blown wholly out of proportion and so far removed from the working class community roots that spawned “The Beautiful Game” (some of us poshos find Rugby Union aesthetically more pleasing and a damned sight more exciting) that it barely still deserves to be called football.

It’s just a game of Monopoly played on a Subbuteo table.

 

I was President of the United States (no, not that one!)

Look, I see nothing wrong with Trump appointing Lorna Marks, his wife’s fave handbag designer, as US ambassador to South Africa. It’s a job, somebody has to do it.

And at least Pretoria gets an ambassador. Many more important and strategic capitals around the world are still awaiting the Orange One’s pleasure.

That Marks was born and lived in South Africa at all, even for a short time, seems a vast improvement on the relevant connections between other ambassadors and their host nations.

Of course, she’s not very black and may need some coaching to appreciate the complexities of life in a vibrant multicultural environment, a “Rainbow nation” nonetheless afflicted with extremes of poverty, wealth, crime, racism and corruption, and in the grip of a narrow clique of old reactionaries. (No, not the USA!)

Being a fashion designer is no more an indication of incompetence than any other trade experience, and if you can get away with charging $400 thousand for one bag, you’re no slouch when it comes to persuading women, at least, that it’s a great idea to respect your brand – which, as Ambassador, would be brand Trump.

Sure she’d be absolutely fine.

I wonder if we ought to draw the line, however, at misrepresentation; although the diplomatic community, especially, is rife with fantasists.

Marks has repeatedly described her friendship with the late Diana, Princess of Wales, although there is no evidence of it. She has also claimed to have played tennis at Wimbledon. As indeed might have any member of the All England Club and their guests on the 350 days when the famous WTA tournament is not in progress.

Not THE Royal Ballet, as it turns out; the Royal Ballet’s local affiliate in her home town of East London, “in the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality of the Eastern Cape province.”

By the same token, I can claim to be a performing member who has had various leading roles with the National Theatre of Wales.

Local affiliate, naturally.

More of a community theatre sort of thing, really. But quite good.

While, many years ago, it says on my CV, I was a BBC newsreader.

Local radio, only for eight months, but it was still London.

Not East London, mind.

Fairly central, in fact.

x

Daddy, I can’t breathe

A heartbreaking story emerged this past week, from the inquest into a bright, attractive young girl who was done to death in 2016 by the food industry.

15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died in hospital after a traumatic flight to Nice, aboard which she had suffered an extreme reaction to a Prêt-á-Manger baguette she had eaten in Heathrow Departures, that contained sesame seeds that were not declared on the label.

The details are fairly harrowing, as her father fought to save her and the cabin crew ran around like headless chickens.

It later emerged that six other nonfatal cases of extreme allergic reactions to Prêt baguettes had previously been reported. That fact alone, and the lack of a warning notice, could cost the company dearly; as we all hope it does.

Being as I am, the thought did cross your Uncle B.’s mind that it must have been the moment the parents were dreading, and hoped would never come. Because from the age of 8 Natasha seems to have been allergic to pretty much everything added to food. As she grew up and became more independent, the likelihood was that, sooner or later, something would get her.

The idea that the fast-food industry could ever achieve total purity is a fantasy; the rule should be, if something you eat might kill you, eat at home.

My girlfriend had a condition called coeliac disease, which involves severe reaction to wheat gluten. She was always being laid low by some careless inaction or other in the catering trade. I recall one incident when she ate some French biscuits we thought were safe, that included ‘farine de Blé’, translated in the dictionary as cornflour. It subsequently turned out that Blé can mean pretty much any grain, including wheat.

Prêt, it seems, benefits from a rule that says food prepared centrally and distributed to outlets must display full information on the packaging, but food such as sandwiches prepared locally in its small shops needn’t. The loophole being, that ‘prepared’ doesn’t necessarily mean all the ingredients are locally sourced – like the baguette with the tempting filling.

“Responding to (the health inspector’s) evidence, Dr Sean Cummings, the acting senior coroner for west London, said: ‘It seems on the face of it a bit strange that a local sandwich shop can benefit from that regulation … but that an organisation that sold … 218m items (a year) could also benefit from that regulation … A cynic might think it was almost a device to get round regulation relating to information on food allergens.’” – Guardian

Happily, I’m not allergic to anything I’ve eaten so far in my life, but a sort of nagging, possibly cynical  doubt persists.

Given the huge increase in compensation awards there has been over the past twenty years, why do food manufacturers run the risk of killing their customers, when a few simple precautions might prevent tragedies occurring?

I’ve just tucked in to a plate of Chilli con Carne, prepared for reheating by The Authentic Curry Company, of Aberdare (just add rice). It’s actually quite good; although obviously not as good as the version I make, when I can be arsed to cook for myself.

And at the end of a comprehensive list of really quite natural and normal, healthy ingredients, we find the following:

ALLERGY ADVICE: Produced in a factory or made with ingredients from suppliers that use Nuts, Gluten, Crustaceans, Fish, Eggs, Peanuts, Soya, Milk, Celery, Mustard, Sesame Seeds, Sulphur Dioxide & Molluscs.

Now, that list would kill just about anyone. Any Orthodox Jewish consumer would be instantly struck dead. The Authentic Curry Company of Aberdare might as well lace their perfectly healthy and natural minced Welsh beef, onion and beans product with novichok.

What is wrong with you? Why in God’s name risk using a supplier that can’t guarantee their production lines are so clean, your consumers can safely eat off of them? Why would you ever want to use a supplier who clearly doesn’t gve a fuck if your consumers live or die?

Who would ever suspect your microwavable (3-minutes) ersatz Tex-Mex-style evening meal for 2 (big enough, indeed, for one), would be such a minefield of common allergens?

Are you sure you’ve left nothing out? Penicillin, maybe? Emulsion paint? Nigel Farage’s toenail clippings?

Or is it you? Are YOU also the factory processor who adds nuts, egg and oyster shells will-ye, nill-ye to your Chilli con Carne, in the course of an evening’s shift?

Because my girlfriend could have a reaction to just one slice of gluten-free cake coming into contact with a cake-slice that had previously been used on another cake containing wheat flour. I witnessed it. I saw it happen – the rash, the swollen and painful joints, the bleeding. Great, for a professional musician. In severe cases it takes only homeopathic concentrations of gluten to have an effect.

The food industry really has to get its act together.

Then, you can say that about pretty well anyone these days.

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Ednan-Laperouse have had to bury their pretty, vivacious and endlessly helpful daughter, age 15, her only crime being to have an immune system too sensitive to survive in the modern world of adulterated processed foods and inadequate supervision.

 

Sorry it’s so long.

GW:

Hurricane watch: “A tropical storm warning was in effect for Pinar del Rio and Isle of Youth, Cuba, and a tropical storm watch is in effect for the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula from Tulum to Cabo Catoche. The National Hurricane Center now predicts that PTC 14 will approach the northern U.S. Gulf Coast at close to hurricane strength on Wednesday. The next name in the Atlantic storm list is Michael.”

Wunderground tracking data has Michael proceeding up through Alabama and Florida into the east coast states in the coming days. Something I’m sure they will welcome after ten months of storms. It’s already been part of a larger system causing havoc in central America, that:

“…will continue to bring heavy rains to portions of the Pacific coasts of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras through Monday, (with) dangerous flash flooding and mudslides. Over 2700 people were in shelters in Costa Rica due to flooding, and over 1000 in Nicaragua”.

In the eastern Pacific, 1000 miles west of the Mexican coast, “Hurricane Sergio is proving resilient as a major hurricane. As of 11 am EDT Saturday, Sergio’s top sustained winds were 125 mph, keeping it in the Category 3 range. Global models agree that Sergio will carry out a sharp U-turn from Sunday into Monday, then accelerate toward an expected landfall on the west coast of Baja California around Thursday”, and on into Arizona in the wake of last week’s Hurricane Rosa. (Wunderground)

Meanwhile another hurricane is forming in the Arabian sea. Tropical cyclone Invest 99A could strengthen and arrive later in the week, either in Yemen, or in Oman, in the wake of July’s Hurricane Mekenu, which killed over 30 people. Hurricanes are not uncommon occurrences in the region, but seldom at this time of year: “On average, storms strike Oman once every three years, and usually before June or after October” (Wikipedia).

Post-tropical storm Leslie is still stuck in mid-Atlantic, with no agreement as to where it might go next: east, certainly, but to the Canary Islands, or further north to the Azores? Place your bets. Update: Wunderground map has it strengthening now (Monday 8 Oct) and tracking as a Cat 1 hurricane towards northern Portugal and Galicia in the footsteps of last year’s Hurricane Isobel. It’s certainly pushing hot air up as far as my town, where it’s getting on for 17C.)

(From Wunderground)

 

Update Friday 12th Oct: An interesting possibility has arisen. Severe-weather.eu sugests, Leslie has not done the anticipated U-turn into the open ocean, but is instead about to become the first hurricane in recorded history to hit Madeira. It may then move north, to clobber Portugal in the southern corner, the Algarve – still as an actual hurricane. Meanwhile remnant hurricane Michael, originally expected to whizz over to the Bitish Isles, is forecast on a new track as a post-tropical storm, bending southwards of the British Isles towards the Bay of Biscay, and may even arrive in northern Portugal the day after Leslie…. Making Portugal, one suspects, one of the few countries ever to have been hit by two different storms in the space of two days, that have both previously been graded as hurricanes.

Comment:

Meteorological meltdown

It was reported separately in the news today (Monday, 8th Oct) that US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was visiting Seoul after “successful” talks with officials in Pyongyang. Meanwhile in nearby Incheon, the IPCC was launching its latest report on climate change, the last for a while, prior to the next round of talks in Poland.

Neither report mentioned anywhere that the Korean peninsula has been trashed in the past two days by former Cat 5 Typhoon Kong-Rey, now downgraded to TS but still packing strong winds and heavy rain, causing at least two deaths, widespread damage and cancelled flights. Kong-Rey was one of two top-level (160 mph sustained winds) Cat 5 typhoons in the Pacific simultaneously last week; a highly unusual concurrence.

Does this omission not seem bizarre to you? That the BBC’s point-man on Environment, Roger Harrabin, should deliver a 30-seconds voicepiece about climate change from a live hurricane zone without once even ironically mentioning the extreme weather event occurring outside the hotel bar?

The IPCC conclusions are both alarming but also comforting, in that they still offer the world’s governments twenty years in which to reduce emissions (at a time when many countries are complacently proposing to increase them) into the mid-century, before we have to start worrying next about “2 degrees”; with a (frankly unachievable) target of zero by 2050. And again, sea-level rise and “1-in-10 years heatwaves” are presented as the main consequences of failure. (We have had three heatwave years running here in Europe, and certainly six since 70,000 people died in 2003. 2018 was the hottest summer ever in California too.)

This is insanity. Two reasons:

1 the “pre-industrial” baseline, from whence temperatures are said to have risen by “1 degree”, appears to have no definition, but was said on the BBC to be “the past 100 years”. By 1918, the industrial era had already been in train for over 150 years. Taking 1750 as the baseline, roughly when Watt and Newcomen were building steam engines heated by coal, based on tree-ring and ice-core data the global mean temperature has already increased by 1.8 per cent, according to the world-renowned climate scientists posting under the collective pseudonym “Sam Carana”, on Arctic-news.blogspot.com.

2 “Sam Carana” further point out, the IPCC data is based on a flawed methodology, measuring global temperature at sea-level over both land and sea. Measured on the more standard 2-meter land contour, where most of us live, you get a higher number – 2.3 degrees. In addition, the global mean temperature is not the number we most need to fear: it obviously includes both the lowest and the highest temperatures measured everywhere, summer and winter, by day and night. But it’s not the mean that kills you! The average hottest temperature, i.e. the average of temperatures recorded at midday, in summer, may have already risen by as much as 4 degrees. That, too, is the increase in the average annual temperature in the Arctic region, where anomalies of up to 35 degrees were being observed last winter.

There are still Posts on Arctic News offering us 10.2 degrees of warming by 2026; an obvious rapid extinction-level event unprecedented in the history of life on earth.

Nor does the IPCC report – yet again – take much cognizance of the perhaps 60 different “feedback loops”, mechanisms for more abrupt warming that are already being triggered, or are on the verge. Arctic methane is obviously one, with the recent discovery that the permafrost layer, rapidly thawing, and a source of methane in itself, may be capping huge reserves underground, to add to the 100 Gt in the ocean. News that 1.5 degrees would allow us to save some coral reefs might comfort spear-fishers, but the fish will be long gone by 2050.

And in a peculiar statement, the arch-prophet of global warming, James Hanson, is quoted as saying:

“1.5C gives young people and the next generation a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene or close to it. That is probably necessary if we want to keep shorelines where they are and preserve our coastal cities.”

“Probably”? But our shorelines are already being inundated! Miami, San Francisco, the Carolinas… Dakar, the Maldive Islands, Fiji… many, many places are already experiencing sea-level rise due mainly to water expanding as it warms, bringing flooding misery to urban areas at high tide. Desalination is weakening the Gulf Stream. Warmer water is being pushed into the Arctic ocean. The circumpolar jetstream wind is becoming chaotic. The icefields are melting at an alarming rate, and will go on melting even if we bring industrial civilization to a grinding halt by 2050, as unless we can rapidly remove the carbon from the atmosphere and find somewhere to put it, that 1.75 degrees is already baked-in!

Probably.

Except for another of those little feedbacks, the loss of the global dimming effect produced by pollution from all our industrial output would lead to runaway warming, starting within days.

We should be preparing, not for a long battle with the energy producers and citizens outraged by limits on their consumption, but for social and economic, meteorological chaos. Perhaps we already are, as States appear to be adopting more and more repressive models of governance.

But, as with the reporting from South Korea this morning, no-one is even noticing that it’s raining outside.

 

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