Swamping the drains
I’ve just been enjoying the 18 June roundup of press stories compiled and adroitly cross-referenced by the indefatigable Rachel “Madcow” Maddow of MSNBC, concerning Trump’s noted ability to pick “the very best people”.
It seems that after two years of disastrous picks for Secretary of the Army, starting with the crooked bank manager who lent Paul Manafort $16 billion he hasn’t paid back, who is now himself up on a felony corruption indictment, and having insulted his way through a platoon of Defense Secretaries, Trump has had to let Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan go, over “lurid” allegations of domestic violence (he told the Washington Post there was “no justification” for defending his son beating his mother unconscious with a baseball bat, and not in a fun way), and has now promoted Pick No. 4 for Secretary of the Army after only weeks in the job, across to being his new Acting Defense Secretary.
The gentleman in question, Mr Mark Esper, who will be responsible for running the bigliest defense establishment the world has ever known, with a budget the size of an emerging nation and a mission that looks like it’s any day about to become a shooting war over Iran, is the former principal lobbyist – a PR consultant – for one of the world’s largest advanced weapons systems manufacturers and a key US defense contractor, Raytheon.
In which President Trump was reported in 2017 to hold stock.* No conflicts of interest there, then. Let’s hope his family life is a little less turbulent than his predecessor’s.
This sorry trail of recruitment blunders Trump always denies has infected the White House since his election is only one among many that have characterized the administrative chaos everyone else observes. Starting with National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, an extraordinary number of senior officials have been appointed, only to be obliged to resign or be fired, often after offences related to domestic violence have emerged from their past. Trump, too has been accused – but never convicted – of violence, including rape – against previous wives.
It looks like no-one is ever vetted for a post in this administration, which appears to offer a wife-beaters’ charter to candidates for office, although I’m sure that’s just inadvertent. Who doesn’t go after the little woman with a baseball bat from time to time? Their security clearances are just railroaded through over the objections of those whose job it is to make sure criminals and lunatics are kept out, while repellent enabler McConnell squeezes the nominations like perfectly formed turds through the bowels of the Senate.
Drain that swamp!
*I’ve just read the full Wikipedia account of the night over chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago with Premier Xi, when Trump ordered allied forces into action to bomb the al-Shayrat airbase after deciding Syria had dropped chemical weapons on Douma, a suburb of Damascus, killing civilians. It’s a terrifyingly detailed account listing previously unreported instances of aggression by Russian units against British Royal Navy submarines – a majorly complex sea-and-air action also involving the French. Amid the general mockery of Trump wasting 103 cruise missiles (many made by Raytheon) at $900 thousand a pop on rocketing an abandoned airbase, not one of the mainstream media as I recall reported how close we came to an actual war with Russia that night.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Trump today launched his official bid to gain a second term as president, although while not on the golf course he hasn’t stopped campaigning for a minute since 2015 (60 Nuremburg-style rallies and counting) and is still bitching about how “Crooked Hillary” rigged the election he won. At a presser on the White House lawn he was asked by April Ryan, the veteran White House correspondent, if he would now apologize for his notorious campaign to secure the death penalty for the Central Park 5. An opportunity to heal division, bring unity?
Not a bit of it.
The case involved five young black and Hispanic men who confessed to the rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1990, on a night in which some 30 criminal assaults took place in the vicinity. The woman was beaten and left in a coma. To boost his credibility as a prominent citizen of New York, Trump took out full-page press ads demanding their execution. Four defendants served 6-7 years each; one, tried and sentenced as an adult, served 13 years in adult prison.
In 2001, however, DNA evidence and a confession proved beyond doubt that the five had not committed the offence for which they were tried and found guilty, also on appeal; and they were eventually released. “Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist who was serving life in prison, confessed to officials that he had raped the female jogger. His DNA matched the two samples found on and near the rape victim, and there was other confirmatory evidence. He said he committed the rape alone.” (Wikipedia)
The original confessions had been obtained without witnesses – four of the five were minors and should legally have had a responsible adult or legal counsel present – and all five claimed they had been beaten by police.
Trump has never apologized or admitted any error over the miscarriage, and today was no exception. In an unpleasant echo of his take on the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally, that there were “good people on both sides”, he pompously turned away from Ryan, a black woman, to explain to no-one in particular that there were “views on both sides” and that the prosecution (who formally withdrew the case against the men) were still convinced of their guilt. He then shut down a follow-up question.
This is the appalling, self-justifying, incompetent old sack of rotting shitburgers who desperately wants, and may very probably somehow engineer, another four years in the White House. (Even if he loses, he says, he might not go!) His poll ratings are currently disastrous, so much so that last week he fired the White House pollsters for telling him that. Following which he told ABC TV interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, that he would welcome more Russian help; an admission of treasonous intent publicly available on video that he has since denied making.
A good war should set him right.
Lock them out!
President Trump’s first policy announcement on launching his campaign has been to order ICE, the immigration police, to begin deporting all undocumented migrants from the US next week – literally, that is, millions of people – as he says Mexico is doing such a “very good job” of keeping unwanted migrants out.
Shome contradiction, shurely? Why, only two weeks ago he was threatening Mexico with tariffs if they didn’t do more to seal off the border with Guatemala. Now they’re very fine people. What does go on under that terrifying wisp of golden keratin?
He really is a shameless, bigoted old fraud. Gammon personified. A real gammonburger. His policies are aimed purely at pleasing his minority voter base and have nothing whatever to do with his key platform of national revival; quite the opposite, his divisive economic and social policies are having disastrous effects and only his rambling, bombastic, delusional speeches to aircraft hangars full of screaming, hate-filled lunatic dumbfucks are keeping his atrocious presidency alive.
The code of Omerta
“Trump faces at least 15 criminal or civil inquiries by nine federal, local or state agencies into his business, his charity, his campaign, his inaugural committee and his personal finances.” (Politico). MSNBC reports, the FBI is also drilling into his transaction history with Deutsche Bank on behalf of the House Finance and Oversight committees, following bank whistleblower Tammy McFadden’s claim that managers shut her down when she flagged possible instances of fraud and money laundering involving both Trump and Kushner accounts.
Might explain why the latest former White House staffer, Trump’s – ahem – rather attractive press counsel Hope Hicks, accompanied by a Trump lawyer, clammed up totally under questioning by the House Intelligence commitee, even on questions she’d answered for the Mueller inquiry. The committee is considering having to hold her in contempt, along with Mueller himself, former WH counsel Don McGahn and Attorney-General Barr, all of whom are refusing for whatever reason to co-operate with inquiries into Trump’s criminal conduct.
The Shite House meanwhile is claiming that anyone summoned by congressional committees who is or has ever been connected with the president is covered by a non-existent “special Presidential immunity” Trump’s lawyers have invented, that prevents them from testifying.
How does he get away with it? It amounts to a massive obstruction of justice, a cover-up of what looks more and more like a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy. But it seems that unless the doubtful Democratic duo of Pelosi and Schumer move to start impeachment proceedings – which in any case he is likely to ignore – there’s no-one who can prosecute the case as all the judicial power rests with the prime suspect himself, a president who claims that by virtue of having been elected he must be above the law.
Welcome to your new dictatorship.
He’s got a little list #2: Count your fingers
A UN special rapporteur has delivered “an excoriating” indictment of Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman in respect of the murder of Saudi dissident, Jamal al-Khashoggi; demanding that the prince – who has denied responsibility – be criminally investigated by the International Court.
“It is the conclusion of the special rapporteur that Mr Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law,”, quotes The Guardian.
An aspect of the story that is unlikely to have been considered, and for which no indictment is anticipated, concerns Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; often described, in the peculiar phrase commonly adopted by journalists instead of the more accurate “confederate”, or “co-conspirator”, as “a friend” of the equally callow and carefree Prince bin-Salman.
Mr Kushner is, as we know, despite his lack of experience in any field that doesn’t involve throwing poverty-stricken tenants out on the street, wearing a bewildering assortment of hats as a “senior advisor” to the strangely tinted president.
One of them is as his Middle East peace envoy. For instance, he is about to be involved in a conference in freedom-loving Bahrain, to obtain support from “the international business community” for more private investment in the shrinking Palestinian sectors of Israel, from which Trump has withdrawn federal aid; and on which (at the urging of his billionaire friend and political funder, decrepit casino magnate Sheldon Adelson) he has piled numerous insults, such as the highly controversial recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
It’s been a bit of a mystery as to why Trump rushed so soon and so ardently to exonerate “MBS”, as the ruthless Crown Prince is disarmingly known, of any responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder, even before the full horrible details of his dismemberment in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul had emerged; and to continue to argue in the face of much intelligence community reporting that the jury is still out, “it may have been him, it may not”, right to the present day.
Trump has long had a peripheral involvement in the story. Back in the 1990s he bought (and then had to sell at a loss) a modest-sized superyacht from Khashoggi’s billionaire arms-dealer cousin Adnan, an international playboy who was involved in a major 1980s bribery scandal known as the al-Yamamah deal, in which the Thatcher government appears to have bunged him $60 million to swing a fighter jet contract for British Aerospace over a decision to go with the French Dassault.
Yet in his classic defense of ignorance, Trump denied knowing any Khashoggis.
Jamal sought sanctuary in the United States in 2017, having found himself on the wrong side of the Saudi royal family – a unique governmental entity consisting of hundreds of unpleasant and interrelated desert princelings all jockeying for power. There, he wrote a monthly column for the Washington Post, critical of the bin-Salman faction; earning for himself the accusation that he was an agent of the hated political Islamists, the relatively non-violent Muslim Brotherhood.
MBS, who is responsible for prosecuting the failing war to prop up the corrupt Saleh regime in Yemen against rebellious northern tribals, in which 100 thousand civilian victims are believed to have died pointlessly so far, came to power and prominence just a couple of weeks after Trump had made his first foray into international diplomacy, not something he had ever been noted for, with a state visit to Riyadh that culminated in an esoteric-looking ceremony where the gathered leaders all weirdly placed their hands together on a mysterious glowing ball, or “Illuminatus” as some call it.
Your friendly Pumpkin has previously suggested a purely coincidental link between the deposing of MBS’s cousin, the former Crown Prince Muhammad bin-Nayef, and Trump’s visit. The business seemed in some ill-fated way to be based on the plot of Syriana, a 2005 George Clooney movie in which a US-compliant despot is installed in an oil-rich state by its senile king over the incumbent modernizing Crown Prince, who ends up being vaporized with his whole family in a drone strike by a rogue CIA unit secretly masterminded by Christopher Plummer.
One of MBS’s first actions in his new position of acting head of state – bin-Nayef’s father, King Salman bin-Abdulaziz al-Saud, has Alzheimer’s – was to have 200 of his princely family and prominent members of the Saudi business community arrested on vague charges of corruption and locked in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, until they agreed to pay him huge sums in ransom. Some were tortured, and one died.
Shortly after that, began the strange campaign by Saudi Arabia (Barbaria, as we call it) and MBS’s friend MBZ, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, to blockade the tiny, but spectacularly oil-rich gulf state of Qatar, interdicting its food supplies and oil exports and threatening war unless the emir agreed to shutdown the well-regarded Al Jazeera global news operation and make other helpful concessions on their bucket list.
Back home, Trump gave his full-throated support to the Saudis, accusing Qatar publicly of sponsoring international terrorism (ha! Ed.) and being in league with Iran. Which was odd, considering a) he had met with the emir of Qatar, Mohammed bin-Thani (MBT) during his brief tour of the Middle East and said what a great ally he was and how much money he was going to spend buying “beautiful” American weapons, and b) the biggest US airbase and forward command in the entire Middle East is located at al-Udeid, in Qatar. Although some have suggested Trump may not have realized it was there, being the Commander-in-Chief who doesn’t take briefings from anyone other than Sean Hannity.
A few weeks later, however, MBS and MBZ quietly lifted the blockade, and Trump once again began praising Qatar as a good friend of the USA. What had changed? Certainly not Al Jazeera, which is still very much operational.
Well, the only thing anyone could think of, especially after it came out that Kushner’s father Charlie had been to Qatar some months previously on a cash-raising mission for his business and been turned away, concerned the welcome news that a Canadian investment company, Brookfield, had agreed to buy out the 999-year lease on a loss-making Kushner Companies-owned office-cum-retail property, 666 Fifth Avenue.
Jared had been nominally left in charge of Kushner Companies while his father, Charlie, was serving time for fraud and witness tampering, and in 2007 – just before the banks imploded – had paid way over the odds for a New York tower block, in his puppyish excitement to impress his dad, only to fall foul of the 2008 global crash. The hideous “signature” building, which is in urgent need of expensive refurbishment, was half-empty and hemorrhaging money. Now, looming up in 2019 a loan instalment of $1.8 billion was due, and KushCo didn’t have the liquidity to meet it.
So Kushner, seeing that American banks won’t touch either the Kushners or the Trumps, known serial defaulters, with the proverbial footage of pole, arranged a very large loan with the giant Chinese insurance company Anbang that seemed to include a hefty cash emolument for himself. And on that basis, after the Chinese got cold feet over the possible allegation of bribing an influence-peddlar, his “friend” MBT, bin-Thani of Qatar, who had agreed a further half-billion investment, hastily withdraw the offer. This apparently enraged Jared, with consequences that are fairly not unclear.
Happily, Brookfield agreed, for no apparent reason, they would pay the entire future rental of the building up-front, and carry out the full refurb. With one bound, the Kushners were free. But who was this previously not much known Canadian company with a cash-splashing habit? Well, as Bloomberg reported, it turns out it’s a funnel operation for investing into global opportunities, a hefty proportion of the embarrassment of oil riches owned by the sovereign wealth fund of… Qatar.
Tiny, oil-rich Qatar, in essence, or so the implication of the story would seem to run, had been strongarmed into bailing out the piddling little Kushner family’s struggling real estate firm in a shakedown operation run under the auspices of the Trump administration – US foreign policy – by the Orthodox Jewish “Peace envoy” Jared’s Middle Eastern Arab “friends”, MBS and MBZ; risking a regional conflagration.
And then began the faint background accusations that it could have been Kushner who, purely as a favor, might have possibly helpfully supplied his “friend”, the newly installed MBS, with the list of names and locations and whatever dark crimes those 200 wealthy princes and businessmen he “arrested” in The Princes in the Hotel affair, may have been suspected of having committed: all the muck US intelligence could rake up on their known movements, contacts, holdings, investments, current assets and possibly hostile affiliations.
This was a top-secret CIA file, so the story goes, that Jared was only able to access because his father-in-law had overridden the strong warning of the official security analysts that his son-in-law – in view of his many dubious connections and unpaid debts to foreign banks – did not deserve a high-level security clearance; let alone a White House Sunday garden pass.
And even more faintly in the background, can just be heard the faint, squeaky whisperings of a nuance of a hint of a susurrus of a suggestion from some quarters that among the names exposed on that CIA target list, together possibly with some reference to his suspected dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood, may have been that of Jamal Khashoggi.
But we should draw a veil now over the proceedings for, as your Pumpkin concurs, it is highly unlikely and, indeed, wrong to believe that the name Kushner would ever appear anywhere in the 100 pages of the UN’s “excoriating” report, as being in any way complicit with a brutal execution his father-in-law has doubted really happened.
The Pumpkin would rather keep his fingers attached to his hands, if you don’t mind.
“A YouGov poll this week found that (by two-thirds to one-third) Tory party members would rather Brexit took place even if it meant significant damage to the economy, even if it meant Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, and even if it meant the loss of Northern Ireland, too. A large majority of Tories even think Brexit is more important than the survival of their party. Half of them would be happy for Nigel Farage to be their new leader.” (Guardian)
GW: Boom bang-a-boom!
Turkey: “At least 3 people have died in the north east of Turkey after heavy rain caused flash floods and landslides in Arakli district in Trabzon Province on 18 June. A further 7 people are still missing and 3 others were injured.” Rescuers “are carrying out search and rescue operations with helicopter support. Around 70 people were evacuated from the area.” (Floodlist)
Poland: A heavy downpour caused severe flooding around Lublin on 19 June, 2019, leaving communities cut off. Local authorities said 100 homes suffered damage, along with several roads. Electricity and drinking water supplies have been interrupted. Dozens of fire service and military personnel are working in the area. (Floodlist)
Philippines: over 45,000 people have been displaced by flooding on Mindanao Island. (Floodlist)
Uruguay: Many areas have seen over 30 cm of rain in the past week and over 5,000 people have been displaced by floods. 3000 of those “are in the city of Durazno, where the overflowing Yi River has caused severe flooding. Flooding has blocked vital roads in at least 12 locations across affected areas. Neighbouring parts of Argentina have also seen heavy rain over the last few days.” (Floodlist)
Europe: “Models are in good agreement for the development of an intense heatwave across a large part of west-central Europe, starting on Monday next week and likely extending until the weekend. Both global models GFS and ECMWF are hinting at peak afternoon temperatures around 36-41°C in France next week – up to 20C above average – and even 32C in southern England.” French meteorologists are not ruling out 45C, 4C over the previous highest-ever (The Weather Channel). More thunderstorms bringing heavy rain, high winds and large hail are the forecast for the Balkans up into eastern Europe until then. (Severe-weather.eu)
USA: Accuweather is predicting a high chance of more tornadoes in northeastern states Friday (21 June) as the seemingly unending chain of storms continues across the country. 100 deg. F-plus temperatures (103 yesterday, 20 June) this week are in fact slightly lower than normal for Phoenix, Az. Last week’s unseasonal 100F-plus heatwave in California has eased off the throttle, with temps back in the high 80s.
Bhutan, etc.: The melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the turn of the century, with more than a quarter of all ice lost over the last four decades, scientists have revealed. The accelerating losses indicate a “devastating” future for the region, upon which a billion people depend for regular water. Temperature data from the region also show an average rise of 1C from 2000-16 compared with 1975-2000. (Guardian)
Kaboom: “The Pentagon believes using nuclear weapons could ‘create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability’, according to a new nuclear doctrine adopted by the US joint chiefs of staff last week. The document, entitled Nuclear Operations, was published on 11 June, and was the first such doctrine paper for 14 years. Arms control experts say it marks a shift in US military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war.” Guardian. The paper was taken down after the Pentagon realized people reading it might be scared.
No sweat: “Wetbulb” temperature is a calculation based on both temperature and humidity. At 35C and 100% humidity the limit of survivability in the open is 6 hours. Higher temperatures require less humidity to kill, largely through the inability of the body to cool itself by sweating, leading to cell breakdown and organ failure. In other words, you cook. Parts of northern India and Pakistan have seen temperature over 50C, 123F. Paul Beckwith reports, “Present extremely hot temperatures combined with high humidities exceed the 35 C (95F) wetbulb temperature threshold. It doesn’t matter how healthy, fit, and strong you are; the physics is fatal. Luckily, the worst conditions seen on the Pakistan-India border (mostly in Pakistan) are for a few hours, and not the full day, but death rates in this region must be huge.”
“It’s hard to believe we’re looking down the barrel of a loaded climate gun when it’s so consistently damned embarrassingly weirdly normal outside.”
What’s gone wrong with the weather, then?
Okay, well, look, here we are, three weeks into the official Atlantic Hurricane season, and the only storm there’s been was Andrea, back on 20 May, that only made 1006 mb and a 40mph sustained windspeed, which we get pretty much every 2-3 weeks here on the west coast of Britain – and it didn’t make landfall either.
Other than that, nothing.
Outside as I write, 21 June, it’s sunny and 21C, 70F. Not that the official Met Office weather station 4 miles up the road will admit to that, hidden away as their thermometer is in a dark box where it’s probably 4C cooler. But nor is my digital thermometer in full sunlight either, it’s been swallowed up by a forever-expanding Photinia bush that’s grown just this year to rival the size of the house and has sparrows nesting inside it.
Okay, it’s been mild – a “green winter”. We had a long dry spell in March, and a long wet spell just the last three weeks. Inbetween, 80mph Storm Hannah ripped the opening buds off the westerly-facing trees and burned the leaves brown with salt spray. They’re happily recovering, and apart from that it’s a bucolic spring, with birds and bees and verdant, vibrant countryside – just about everything you could wish for.
So as far as anything goes we’ve had nothing but normal since the end of February, when there was that big heat anomaly over one weekend and record temps. It’s hard to believe we’re looking down the barrel of a loaded climate gun when it’s so consistently damned embarrassingly weirdly normal outside.
Luckily, we have Dr Andrew Glikson writing in Arctic News today to set us straight.
“The term ‘climate change’ is no longer appropriate since, what is happening in the atmosphere-ocean system, accelerating over the last 70 years or so, is an abrupt calamity on a geological dimension, threatening nature and human civilization. Ignoring what the science says, the powers that be are presiding over the sixth mass extinction of species, including humans.
“As conveyed by leading scientists: “Climate change is now reaching the end-game…”
Glikson goes on to elaborate that the current 560 ppm-plus carbon equivalent, which takes into account the carbon content of all the other greenhouse gases we’re struggling to breathe along with the CO2, is as high as it’s been since the Oligocene (33.9 to 23 million years ago). The current rate of increase is as alarming as it’s been since the extinction of the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago; while the warming oceans are reaching the limit of their ability to absorb more CO2, that we’re pumping out in record amounts again.
“The current rise of total GHG to about 560 ppm CO₂-equivalent implies that, for a climate sensitivity of 3 degrees Celsius per doubling of atmospheric CO₂, global warming has potentially reached 3°C. This level is almost 3 times the 2018 global land-ocean temperature of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels as reported by NASA.” (And twice the so-called Paris target, of 1.5C by 2030.)
Oh dear. Well, that’s told us. Anyway, the UK is virtuously on course this year for almost 50% of its electricity to be generated from renewables.
I guess we deserve our normal weather. We’ve earned it.
(Dr Glikson is an Earth and Paleo-climate Scientist, Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University, Research School of Earth Science, the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Planetary Science Institute, and a member of the ANU Climate Change Institute.)