“Hahaha! Now I am invisible, you shall see my backstop wall has a frontstop fence!”
(Photo: apologies to Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty)
Quote of the Week:
“Our campaign is about taking on the special interests that dominate our economic and political life. I’m talking about Wall Street, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the military industrial complex, the private prison industry, and the large multinational corporations that exert such an enormous influence over our lives.” – Senator Bernie Sanders, announcing that he is running for the White House again.
And with that list, he expects to be around in 2020? Anyway, his campaign raised $1m in pledges in the first three hours, and the filthy rich Republicans are already screaming “Socialist!”, and “Tax!”, so that’s a start.
Meanwhile, on the subject of tax, Alabama newspaper editor Bedloe Sutton has been criticized for publishing an editorial calling on the Ku Klux Klan to rise up and ride to Washington armed with hemp ropes and lynch any tax-raising Democrats they find there. He says he’s absolutely serious.
Should be an exciting two years.
Wtf is Trump’s emergency about?
“The saying goes that in any authoritarian society ‘the leader can never be trusted, but he must always be believed’.”
The central enigma of Trump, The Pumpkin believes, commands us to decide: is he just a self-deluding minor-criminal buffoon; an inarticulate, narcissistic sociopath; an under-educated, incurious, made-for-TV business tycoon teetering on the fragile edge of sanity, or does some genuinely darker purpose lurk beneath that bullish exterior and his often brutal ‘zero-sum’ view of a transactional universe, in which you are either a winner or a loser – on his terms?
Mussolini, or Hitler?
In that rather blunt analogy, we always assume that Mussolini was the Opera Buffo character, the preening, preposterous, not-so scary spaghetti monster – and Hitler, the deadly, all-devouring snake. But we forget that it was Mussolini who is credited as the inventor of modern fascism. He at least had an -ism to work with! But what did Hitler have?
The sad death at 77 from colonic cancer of the Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler during his last days in the brilliant film “Downfall”, has brought to light a similar conundrum to that of the Trump phenomenon. After spending months researching the character, Ganz remarked, he had only the mannerisms. He still had no idea of what really made Hitler tick.
And that’s the problem with self-proclaimed “leaders”. There may well be nothing at all beneath the surface, a yawning space to be filled only by a terrible hunger for universal approbation and a mad belief, as in Louis 1Vth’s cracker motto: “L’État, c’est moi!” (“I am the State”), in one’s own historic inevitability. A void into which historians may pour whatever conclusions they like.
The process of transition from democracy to autocracy – and then tyranny – invariably proceeds through seeing, one stage at a time, how much one can get away with.
Whereas most politicians project their power, devoid of soul the true authoritarian – the psychopath – insatiably ingests his.
Writing on Open Democracy, Julian de Madeiros answers the question in rather starker terms than the usual parade of MSNBC pundits and late-show comedians imagining that Trump is merely off his rocker:
” …the Italian scholar Giorgio Agamben defines totalitarianism as ‘the establishment, by means of a State of Exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the elimination not only of political adversaries, but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into our political system.’ Only then, and for this purpose, can a genuine state of emergency be imposed. The state of exception functions to normalize and integrate the necessary legal framework to enact a wholesale reactionary conspiratorial politics. This is more than just mere scapegoating, it is the internalization of extra-legal processes into the legitimization of the regime itself.”
And after havering and blustering for weeks, having tried and failed to achieve what everyone else sees as a vain and pointless project, even to the extent of trying out his powers to shut down government, careless of the suffering it caused to thousands, President Trump has moved to bypass the normal budgetary control vested in Congress through the declaration of a State of Exception to counter a so-called emergency which even he recognizes does not exist; is his own proud invention.
In a long, rambling and unscripted dissertation on Thursday night, a frequently snivelling Trump publicly admitted, whether by accident, design or an excess of self-confidence is hard to tell, that he had made up the story of an “invasion” of the southern border by criminal migrant elements – brown people – because if he were not allowed to fulfil his expedient campaign promise to “build the wall”, he would be less likely to win a second term in office.
It’s an admission that may well lose his case for him in courts up and down the land; until, as he has also said, it reaches a supreme court packed with his placemen, where he expects to win. For the legal basis on which he has declared an emergency is shaky; all the more so if there is clearly no emergency, which he has as good as admitted there isn’t.
And then he went off to Mar a Lago to cheat at golf for three days.
Is this his Reichstag moment?
To build his wall, or fence, or physical barrier, that he fantasizes he has already begun doing, he now proposes to take the money the democratically elected Congress is refusing him, whether they like it or not – whether 65% of disapproving American taxpayers like it or not – by assuming powers to override the legislature and to force the Pentagon – which is under the President’s control as Commander-in-Chief – to pay for it, and to provide the labor needed by diverting the Corps of Engineers from their normal duties of preventing floods and suchlike.
So, yet again, we are trapped in the same conundrum as before. Is he doing this just to get his silly wall built, this vanity project that nobody, not even he, believes will have the prophylactic effects on crime and illegal immigration he says it will? Just to get himself re-elected?
Or is he doing it because it sets a precedent that could lead to him assuming absolute powers to, for instance, fire Mueller, close down the mainstream media, suspend habeas corpus and inconvenient parts of the Constitution, dissolve Congress, put soldiers on the streets of American cities and lock-up his critics and political opponents?
And what would he gain from any of that? (The real question is, what would his billionaire backers, Evangelical so-called Christians, his disappointed Confederate supporters and President Putin gain?)
While America hovers in this climate of uncertainty, because – well, why would you want to believe your country was being taken over by an insane megalomaniac armed with the nuclear codes? – we tend to overlook that on the day he announced his State of Exception, new judicial decisions about several of his former henchmen were being handed down, that substantially increased the state of legal jeopardy in which Mr Trump has lived precariously for the past two years.
The President is noted for his adroitness at diverting accusations of malfeasance onto others, or simply bullying or, in the last resort, buying his way out of trouble. He has got away with it throughout his career, and nothing he has done since occupying the White House on a minority vote in the country suggests that his habits have changed one whit.
So it may be that his latest actions are neither those of a comic bull in a china shop, nor a big step towards achieving the simple-minded dictatorship he favors as a model of pain-free governance; but are yet another entertaining smokescreen among many he continues to generate, to divert the media’s attention away from the investigations which law enforcement officers are struggling to pull together into a coherent set of indictments against Trump and his family.
In passing, it was barely noticed too that his pick for the new Attorney-General of the United States, Mr William Barr, was confirmed yesterday in the Senate.
Mr Barr, a veteran of the Bush neo-con presidency, is reportedly an entirely reliable figure who will do nothing to impede the process of investigation by the Special Counsel – of whom he has charge – or of the FBI working at the behest of various District Courts looking into, for instance, Trump’s supersized inaugural fund: where it came from, and whatever happened to the spare change – reliably reported to be somewhere north of $60 million?
But danger-spotters will consider the many brutal remarks Trump tweeted about Barr’s hapless predecessor, the Georgia gnome, (my God, one has almost forgotten his name already!) Jefferson “Jeff” Beauregard Sessions 111 – and conclude that Mr Trump is hardly likely to nominate anyone whose personal loyalty is not assured: “L’État” being “lui”, as it were….
While Barr told the Senate hearing he believed it was “vitally important” that Robert Mueller be allowed to complete his investigation, it is less certain that once he has, Mr Barr – a noted Trump supporter who is not keen on the idea of locking-up sitting presidents – will not simply shut down debate about its findings by refusing to allow the final report to be published or sent to Congress, in full or in part.
There is, as has been said, more than one way to skin a cat; or for a rogue President, an outlier on the graph of bad hombres, to achieve an ambition to discredit and dismantle all the supposedly liberal, democratic institutions he perceives as impediments to his and his supporters’ crude, authoritarian tendencies.
What his actual ambition is, however, is still unclear to anyone other than his increasingly fanatical followers, the “Cult45” as they’ve been dubbed, who are in no doubt that he has been sent by God to make America white again. As De Medeiros writes, “The saying goes that in any authoritarian society ‘the leader can never be trusted, but he must always be believed’.”
And Mr Trump has been skilful in creating for his diehard base, a world of belief in which observable facts and rational propositions are subordinated to magical thinking and the will of the crowd.
More Hitler than Mussolini, possibly.
Let them out!
Mr Trump is nothing if not a hypocrite in a suit.
At the same time as he is insisting that European countries must take back their own self-exiled ISIS extremists from captivity in Syria and Iraq, he has obstinately refused for two and a half years to release the last five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay who have long been cleared for release by military tribunals.
Her justice rewards #2
Possibly the most abstruse legal case in recent history ended last year when – Politico reported – a judge threw out a slander claim against Hillary Clinton over her alleged use of a personal email server.
All through the Trump election campaign – all through, that is, AFTER the notorious 6 June, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower to obtain “dirt” on Clinton from the Russians – the orange candidate was exhorting his hysterical dumbfucks to “Lock her up!”. And they’re still doing it.
The Pumpkin was never quite sure why, but it seems to relate to this case.
It was because a tranche of thousands of deleted emails had been recovered, as we now know by a Russian intelligence hacking operation acting in (illegal) concert with the Wikileaks website. Among them were emails relating to statements made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton about the murders in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 of the American ambassador and three of his staff.
The official line was that the murders were inadvertent and carried out by a mob inflamed by (as it happens, false) reports of a US-made movie trailer insulting the Prophet, that attacked the consulate, where the ambassador just happened to be at the time, visiting Libya’s second wartorn city.
Ultimately it turned out from CIA reports that the attack had been deliberately planned and carried out by a Jihadi militia under cover of the rioting. Had the State Department had advance warning but said nothing, as the Ambassador entered the trap?
Somehow, lawyers for the families of two of the dead Americans made a case that a) the emails were illegal, because of Clinton’s improper use of a non-official channel, and b) the change to the official story was communicated in such a way as to slander the dead men and defame their families.
It was said that the original storyline had been made up so as not to damage Obama’s chances in his campaign to get elected for a second term.
Imported by Trump’s organizers to testify onstage at a rally as victims of “Crooked Hillary” and her plain dishonesty, the parents had themselves launched an emotional attack on Clinton, alleging that as Secretary of State she had somehow failed to protect their “children” (grown men, State department security people).
They were demanding damages, claiming that Clinton had slandered them in response to their claims that she had acted irresponsibly or even illegally – something for which U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that there was absolutely no evidence.
Judge Jackson’s ruling also discounted the use of the private email server as any sort of factor in the case. But her ruling in fact hinged on a technicality: that if the parents were going to demand financial compensation, they had failed to say so early enough in the case.
The appellants have reacted angrily, accusing Judge Jackson of political bias. Yet The Pumpkin might mildly observe, the bias appears to be all on the side of the appellants’ attorneys, who have a history of going after the Clintons in what has been said to be “thousands” of lawsuits since the 1990s.
In a possibly inflammatory and certainly contemptuous statement, attorney Larry Klayman claims that the judge:
“clearly put politics and ahead of her oath of office as a judge to administer to the law in a neutral unbiased way … Judge Jackson, who is an Obama appointee and a Democrat, was clearly protecting Mrs. Clinton and this intellectually dishonest decision will be appealed. My clients are confident of success,” Klayman said. (Politico report)
Described as “pathologically litigious”, and founder of a libertarian group known as the Freedom Foundation, Klayman is said to be a “birther” conspiracy theorist who once attempted to have President Obama deported as a non-citizen.
It seems tragic that the parents of the dead Americans should have allowed themselves to fall into the clutches of this obviously eccentric and grandstanding charlatan, who has been banned from a number of courtrooms around the country.
But despite last year’s ruling, Trump continues to conflate his attacks on Clinton and the FBI in tweet after tweet, claiming the entire law enforcement apparatus of the country and – whenever he loses a case – the judiciary are involved in a political conspiracy against him, funded by the official opposition.
This year-old ruling may come into play shortly, as it is Judge Berman Jackson who has tried the cases against Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and is being asked to slap a 24-year sentence on the 70-year-old this week for decades of financial crimes and his attempts to dupe the Mueller investigation. Rumors of a Presidential pardon have been swirling. But Mr Bad Deeds is out of town, grandstanding with the avunculicide, the loveable roly-poly Kim Jong-un.
Is another financial crash coming?
Despite his claims of an economic miracle, the budget deficit of the USA has increased since Trump took office from 19.2 trillion dollars in 2016 to almost 23 trillion this year. He has himself in the past identified $24 trillion as the “point of no return”, i.e. the point at which the debt finally becomes unrepayable, ever, and so is to be defaulted on.
Although Trump’s past sayings are never a reliable guide to his future fantasies.
The six-times bankrupt loser does not care: massive deficits, the bigger the better, are how you run a business, and if anyone complains, or asks for their money back, you sue ’em. And in the case of entire countries, well, invade and take the oil seems to be the simple philosophy.
It’s never been a better time to be a lawyer in the USA. In addition to the – I’m taking these figures off the top of my head but they’re about right – 18 separate criminal investigations, Trump is also fighting over three THOUSAND civil suits, pro and con.
Nor, judging on the evidence of the things he has tweeted or spoken about in any of his famous “word salad” interviews, can Trump identify the technical differences between the budget deficit (i.e. government spending set against tax revenues), the trade gap (i.e. overall money-in, money-out in trade in goods and services with other countries), and the stockmarket (i.e. overall value of shares in a select number of traded public companies). To Trump, it’s all his money to spend as he likes.
So it may come as no surprise that increasing numbers of US economists are becoming alarmed.
Seven million Americans are reportedly at least three months behind on their car payments. Millions of those “sub-prime” borrowers of lease finance will also have credit-card debts and mortgages they can’t finance either, which is uncomfortably reminiscent of the situation in 2007 before the banks stopped lending to one another and several went belly-up, requiring $trillions in rescue funding.
For these folks, taxes have risen around 10 per cent this year, thanks to the Trump “reforms” they stupidly voted for, imagining (while billionaires trousered more billions) that a small, one-off reduction last year was for always.
Now why did they think that, we wonder?
Oh, could it be the President lied to them?
Not with a bang, but with a fart
“What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” said one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.”
The climate disruption story has been bedevilled by the lunacy of scientific silos; over-specialization leading to a crazy kind of reductionism that promotes separate, individual studies while occluding the much more alarming “big picture”.
Maybe the fact that the Arctic region especially has for several years been experiencing huge temperature anomalies, heat resulting in outgassing from thawing permafrost swamps, kaarst lakes and clumps of frozen methane on the shallow seabed of the East Arctic Siberian shelf, and the vast reserves that lie beneath, might have something to do with it?
Like the Arctic News blogspot scientists have been trying to say for the past four years?
But the report from the American Geophysical Union, at least those morsels mentioned in the press, signally fails to make any mention of this Arctic methane, or indeed fracking operations in Colorado, blaming instead cattle ranching and African swamps! Are these clever people idiots, or is there a fault with the reporting?
But at least the news of a methane crisis has finally come to the attention of scientists with access to mainstream media, as the story appears in today’s Observer newspaper, albeit on page 18; and a few people might start to take notice. CO2 buildup might well prove terminal by 2100, but a blowout of 500 gigatonnes of Arctic methane would mean curtains within months.
To date, only carbon dioxide has been seen as the villain, but it is carbon dioxide that is generating the warming that is freeing the methane, which is on average 60 times more potent a greenhouse gas and thus, the most important component of one of those rather important ‘feedback loops’ the recent IPCC report studiously ignored.
Deep breath, everybody….
GW: Open the floodgates of Heaven
Greece: A search is still underway for 4 people missing, presumed drowned after their vehicle was swept away in flash flooding near Heraklion, Crete. “Heavy rain had affected the island over the last few days. Some areas recorded around 400mm of rain between 12 and 17 February.” (Floodlist)
Zimbabwe: Many are thought to have drowned in a flooded mine after a dam wall collapsed near the town of Kidoma on 12 Feb. Elsewhere, 2 people were drowned in flooding in Masvingo province. The national weather service reported record rainfall of 203 mm in 24 hours, 13 to 14 February, breaking the previous high of 98 mm set in 1977. (Floodlist report)
USA: And the misery continues. Pulses of more prolonged, heavy rain are forecast for most of the week across the southern midwest, with widespread risk of flash- and river-flooding. Parts of Tennessee could see 7 to 10 inches of rain in the next few days. “The Storm Prediction Center has already issued a Day 6 outlook for potential severe weather on Saturday across this region, noting the possibility of tornado-favorable conditions. Long-range models are suggesting that at least one more round of heavy rain could affect the South early next week before February draws to a close.” (Wunderground)
Australia: “Tropical Cyclone Oma is tracking towards NE Australia after grazing New Caledonia. The Category 1 system currently packs peak sustained winds of 85 mph (137 km/h).” (Severe-weather.eu) A more recent update has Oma as a very wide, slow-moving Cat 3 Typhoon with a well-formed eye, one of the worst kind, although its track is uncertain. “Meteorologists can’t rule out the chance that Oma will cross the Queensland coast somewhere in the south-east, possibly on the weekend.” (MyGC.com.au) A 4-6 meter tidal surge is predicted. 2 tourists, one French, one British, have gone missing from a beach in Brisbane where sea conditions are already said to be treacherous.
UK: following last week’s warm spell, temperatures are set to dip a little but are expected to be as high as 20C, 68F in places by next weekend – possibly beating the 1998 record of 19.7C (Express). Certainly the official forecasts are for quite a warm weekend. Pinch yourself, it’s still February. Severe-weather.eu predicts that this plume of “incredibly warm” air coming up from western Europe will stretch all the way through Scandinavia into the Arctic and persist through next week.
Iceland: “A very intense cyclone (a so-called ‘bombogenesis’ cyclone or weather bomb) will develop across the North Atlantic later today and move towards Iceland and Greenland tomorrow and on Thursday (20-21 Feb.). A violent windstorm will result from this cyclone, bringing extremely severe winds in excess of 150 km/h as well as significant wave heights up to 15 metres.” (Severe-weather.eu)
Yellowstone: Steamboat geyser, biggest in the park, goes off for the 6th time this year (record 32 times last year). Selected seismometer data still being omitted from public records; magma still rising. A M3.2 earthquake was recorded inside the park, Sunday (Mary Greeley).