“In Iran people vote but all candidates have to be approved by the Supreme Leader, so the people always end up with idiots.
In the west – the free world – we have democracies that allow a choice of candidates without the same undemocratic constraints, and the people freely vote in idiots.
At least the Iranian people have an excuse.”
Comment on a Steve Bell cartoon from ‘BabylonianSheDevil03’.
Put three words together: Ukraine, Iran, Giuliani – and the conspiracy theories write themselves….
A good day to bury bad news
“Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 to Kyiv went down just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s airport at 06:12 local time (02:42 GMT). The majority of passengers were from Iran and Canada.” (BBC News, 8 Jan.)
Let’s say for the sake of argument that a 3-years-young Boeing 737, apparently serviceable and not the same model that drives itself into the ground to the jeers of the men who built it, was deliberately brought down over Iran, with the deaths of 176 passengers and crew.
It’s really a very simple idea and not necessarily a vacuous conspiracy theory: it’s unlikely to be mere coincidence when two countries are so prominently involved at such a time of high tension in global politics, with one main element in common: the political ambition of President Donald J Trump.
In addition to an astonishing miscalculation bringing the US into direct conflict and potential war with Iran, Trump has been notoriously involved in skulduggery in Ukraine, attempting extortion of a foreign power that led to his impeachment last month by the House of Representatives and a pending trial in the Senate.
It is absolutely beyond doubt that he did try to force the new president of Ukraine, Zelenskiy, to reopen a failed corruption investigation into his main political rival, Vice-President Biden and his son, by threatening to withold a package of financial and military assistance already voted through by Congress, that had been suspended on his order.
Trump himself admitted it on camera, before later walking back what he’d said; his chief of staff, Mulvaney initially denied it but then admitted it; the ambassador to the EU, Sondland lied to the House but then changed his testimony; some 15 more witnesses to Trump’s phone calls, impeccable career diplomats, intel officers, military liaison and civil servants, all agreed under oath that he did it, and how; a trail of emails between the Pentagon and the Office of Management Budgeting expressed alarm at the illegality of what Trump had done.
As is his wont, in best gangster fashion Trump has subsequently tried to obstruct the course of justice by ordering witnesses to defy legal subpoenas, and by concealing written evidence that has now emerged thanks to FOI requests from an independent ethics watchdog. He has engaged in blatant witness intimidation by ‘outing’ the whistleblower who first drew the attention of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Services to Trump’s illegal actions, despite knowing that death threats had been made by his supporters against the individual concerned.
He then tried to manufacture an alibi by claiming the contents of his ‘perfect’ phone call had included words to the effect that he had specifically asked for NO favors. That was true – but only of a subsequent call he made in September, AFTER the contents of the original call in July asking for a favor, a ‘quid pro quo’, had already been relayed to the Justice Department and buried on a top secret server. Again, it was a clear obstruction of justice.
Worse later emerged, that Trump had first tried to get Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Poroshenko, to create dirt on the Bidens, but had been thwarted when the president unexpectedly lost the election, and so hurriedly had to recalibrate and try again with the new guy; hence the clumsiness of his blackmail attempt.
In a sub-plot, Trump has also been desperately trying to engineer a version of his own election in which Ukraine, not Russia, had hacked the Democrat party’s server – apparently as a favor to Mr Putin – through obtaining false statements from the new president, and from discredited Ukrainian officials. He is persisting with this idiotic campaign, that’s already been widely discredited, because he knows there may be one or two extra votes in it – and Putin would approve.
It’s all Russian matryushka dolls, one plot nested inside another, but all with the same goal: to get himself re-elected, and thus avoid being indicted on charges of misuse of election funds, that are subject to a statute of limitations. He is still an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the case against his lawyer, Michael Cohen, of payments made from election funds to silence inconvenient women.
Then, possibly to divert attention from his impeachment, to please his more militant and gullible dumbfucks; or perhaps to stiffen the resolve of the majority Republicans in the Senate, who have already said that, whatever it says about impartiality in their oaths of office and regardless of the evidence, they will acquit him of the impeachment charges when it comes to trial; or to bury some other bad news, possibly that emerging from inquiries into his corrupt relationships with Deutsche Bank officials to fraudulently obtain $2 billion in loans secured by a Russian state-owned bank, or maybe all three, on 3 January he gave in to pressure to assassinate the Iranians’ Number Two leader, Gen. Qassim Suleimani in a drone strike on Iraqi soil.
His action, carried out seemingly without any prior motive*, military advice or backup strategy other than to utter more dire threats of annihilation should the Iranians violently object, and without informing NATO allies, although it seems he had blabbed to a number of his golfing pals over Christmas at Mar-a-Lago, and probably to his buddy, Sean Hannity, brought the USA to the brink of open war with Iran – the outcome that individuals within the administration had been angling for for three years.
In the ensuing few days Trump, Vice-President Pence and Secretary Pompeo have all been lying their heads off about why the General had to die when he did. He’d been a bad guy, a terrorist responsible for killing ‘thousands’ of Americans. He was in Iraq to plot more dastardly attacks on Americans and this was self-defense. He’d been involved in plotting the 9/11 attack!
Meanwhile, the media were having a field day with the story that the Pentagon had sent several options over to Mar-a-Lago at the request of the president, who was looking for an Iran ‘spectacular’ to kick off election year. Killing Suleimani was the craziest of them and no-one had thought he would be dumb enough to pick it. Be careful what you wish for! (Or stop normalizing this demented old gangster?)
Suleimani was not a good guy, it’s true. The founder and head of the elite al-Quds division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, he’d made it his mission to strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East through co-ordinated actions by proxy Shi’a militia groups, including Hezbollah. He had however needed to remove the threat to Iran’s ambitions posed by the expansion of the mainly Sunni Islamic State, and so found himself on the American side, at least for the time being, and played a significant part in its military defeat. America is seldom grateful to its allies.
It’s strongly rumored that he had flown to Baghdad, where he met up at the airport with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the co-ordinator of Iranian-backed militia operations in Iraq, along with their PR advisor, to bring to the table a possible plan for ending the conflict in Yemen. The Saudis were to be represented at the talks. The Pentagon may have been tipped off by Israeli intelligence and determined to nip in the bud, a peace process that would allow Iran to increase its influence in the region.
But a story gaining traction suggests Suleimani was lured to his death in Baghdad by the US pretending to promote the talks. The Iraqi prime minster, it’s reported, issued the invitation following a phone call from Trump.
Retribution came swiftly in the form of a pre-agreed, soft missile attack on a couple of airfields used by US forces, who were given several hours to evacuate. A few buildings were taken out, which at least demonstrated the accuracy of Iranian rocket fire. There were no casualties, although president Rouhani claimed for the benefit of public satisfaction that 80 Americans had died, and president Trump expressed himself satisfied. “All is well!” he declared.
And the next morning, by the most extraordinary coincidence, Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 to Kyiv went down in flames just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s airport. Eyewitnesses talked of an explosion at 4,000 feet, although the Iranians, struggling to keep any investigations and information under their control, declared that the pilot had tried to turn back to the airport but was somehow overwhelmed by a mechanical failure.
The Americans had suspended their own civilian flights in Iranian airspace the previous day. Did they anticipate something? But who would have carried out an act of sabotage, and why?
There’s a long list of air crashes caused by sabotage, either deliberate as with Lockerbie or, as with Malaysian flight MH17, shot down apparently accidentally by a drunken militiaman showing off with a Russian-made SA-15 BUK missile over Ukraine in July 2014, as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It could have been the latter: an accident, involving a trigger-happy operative or some malfunction at an air defense installation. If it was deliberate, again, why? There could have been little time for a pre-planned operation. Does the passenger manifest offer any clues, possibly to the deliberate assassination of someone or some group on the list? Certainly not the 30 children who died; and so far, not the random groups described, of tourists and technicians.
Here’s a little theory. We’ve noticed that the Revolutionary Guard, which functions as a state-within-a-state and controls the judiciary almost as tightly as Trump controls his, has lately displayed a habit of grabbing and locking up people with joint Iranian citizenship as political bargaining chips; a case in point being Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian-British mother serving five years on clearly trumped-up spying charges. But there are others.
The majority of the passengers on flight PS752 were Iranian joint nationals, especially more than 60 Canadians en route back to their adopted country. Iran does not recognize joint nationaity. Is some super-patriotic group within Iran determined to punish these ‘traitors’ to the purity and security of the Iranian nation?
It sounds far-fetched, until we learned today that Trump’s latest ‘fixer’, former New York mayor and crimebuster, a man with terrible teeth who has busied himself lately with Ukrainian relations involving corrupt oligarchs, known organized crime figures and discredited former officials, Rudy Giuliani has been working as a lobbyist for just such an organization in Iran…. identified on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes (citing Bloomberg and the Daily Beast) as a fringe dissident group, the MEK.
Described as a Marxist ‘cult’, unlikely bedfellows, this group of extreme nationalists based in exile in Albania has been working against the regime in Tehran and pays large sums of money to US politicians, among them Iran ‘hawk’, former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, as well as Giuliani, to agitate for regime change. Identifying them as ‘my people’, Giuliani claimed they had been angered by Suleimani’s operations against them, claiming he was responsible for killing several of their followers in Iran.
So toxic is the MEK considered to be, says Hayes, that even Secretary Pompeo has ordered State Department officials to avoid contact with them. That was yesterday, by the way. The day 176 people including 30 children died in a disaster involving a Ukrainian airliner leaving Tehran airport bound for Kyiv. The day after the US ordered its airlines to avoid Iranian airspace.
The connection is not made, quite, yet, but something of the sort must surely be suspected. Put three words together: Ukraine, Iran, Giuliani – and the conspiracy theories write themselves.
*Asked in an interview in 2015 about the Quds force, Trump had no idea who they were and assumed the interviewer was talking about the Kurds. That seemed a little odd in view of who had provided the money to finance a Trump hotel development in Azerbaijan in 2012.
Postscriptum: US military satellite data is this morning confirming the accidental ground-to-air SA-15 missile launch theory proposed here, an hour before yesterday’s 5 pm BBC news. Two missiles were detected. The question is, were the systems on automatic in case of a US attack or were human operatives in a hyperactive state of alert? Near an airport? Ukraine? A tragic coincidence, that the Iranians are stupidly denying.
Postscriptum: In a further de-escalation, Iranian authorities have agreed, 11 Jan., that the plane was indeed shot down by a missile battery on high alert, and people will be punished. The interesting word is ‘unintentionally’, since the version put out by their civil aviation authority argues that the plane had lost radio contact with the control tower and was turning back to the airport unexpectedly. In which case it would have been seen as hostile, making the shooting down quite intentional, surely.
The Pumpkin still marvels at the coincidence that it was a Ukrainian aircraft. What are the chances?
The madness of King Donald
Trump has told a rally of his dumbfuck supporters that he should have been awarded last year’s Nobel peace prize for saving Ethiopia from a war.
No one knows what he is talking about.
Ethiopia’s young new premier, Abuy Ahmed, was awarded the prize in October for his efforts at restoring peace in the country, releasing political prisoners, introducing liberalizing reforms and generally tidying up the mess his predecessors left. In July he signed a peace treaty with neighboring Eritrea after decades of hostilities – a deal brokered by the United Arab Emirates, for which Trump now says he deserves the credit.
Or, he added ruefully, he should have got it for persuading his friend Kim Jong-un to abandon his nuclear program – which he hasn’t done either.
Last year, the US spent $13 million on each of the 40 men held in Guantánamo – totalling over half a billion dollars. The majority have never been charged with a crime. – Reprieve petition.
The Game is On
Most days, having an interest in US politics I get a briefing in my inbox from The Washington Post. I may have mentioned it before. I can’t afford to subscribe ninety bucks a year to the full content of the paper itself, but the briefing is often enough to set me off on one of these Posts.
Today’s main story concerns the failed state known as Libya, a benighted, oil-rich country that fell apart in the wake of our ill-judged Western intervention in 2011 to destroy the murderous regime of the megalomaniac, Gaddaffi. The WaPo suggests that the apparently irresolvable sectarian warfare going on there now, sucking in proxy militias and mercenary bands and detachments from former colonial powers from all over the globe, could be a model for an apocalyptic 21st century world of endless struggles over resource depletion and increasing warlordism.
The editorial strongly jolted my memory of having years ago attempted to write a story called The Game Without Rules, a dystopian tale about a world in which the rival powers have agreed to set aside an arena, an entire country, where perpetual warfare could be conducted without limit or consequence. A few years later, as the civil war raged I imagined that might be Syria, but now I suppose Libya will do. Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon – they will all join together eventually.
But this piece is not about geopolitics, it is another consideration of how extraordinary coincidence can be.
Every morning I check the stats on this, muh WordPress bogl, to see who has been reading what. And this morning there appeared at the bottom of the list, for the first time, an apparently random Post someone had been brunching on overnight, just another one of the approaching 850 Posts we’ve applauded up to now, that I did not recall Posting as it was quite a long time ago and a lot of blather has since passed under the bridge.
It was from 25 May, 2016, a piece called Have We Reached the Tipping Point?, in which I wrote about the experiments of the American ethologist, John B Calhoun, who determined back in the 1960s that overpopulation was the prime cause of social breakdown in his artificial rodent colonies. I referred to a UN report that in 2011 we had crossed the symbolic population number of seven billion, and were now at 7.4 billion. I suggested we might have added one too many ‘rats’ to the labyrinth.
And, to illustrate a rather sombre view of where society was going, from the rise of populist movements to the growing nastiness on our streets and in our media, I wrote in that very Post about having once tried to write a story called The Game Without Rules – a story I could not find a way to finish – that began with the arrival in London of two girls from Liverpool, unknowingly crossing a population tipping-point that sparked violent riots leading to revolution and social disintegration!
Excerpt: (remember folks, this was a month before the referendum….)
“The ‘Brexit’ campaign to force Britain out of the European Union is a perfect example. It is in all respects a rightwing coup attempt, mounted by a loose coalition of ultra-conservative politicians who feel their class have been out of power for too long, who have sensed that the unpopular austerity that has followed the financial crisis of 2007/8 has given them an opportunity to focus public fear and suspicion of ‘incomers’ on the old centrist consensus, now seemingly discredited and broken.”
You heard it here first!
Business as usual. Indonesia’s Mt Ta’al violently erupts, 13 thousand evacuated. Well, 12,999…. Actually, it’s a bit of a metaphor for the rest of us. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)
GW: Wind in the billows
Australia: first of the tropical season, Cyclone Blake brought some rain relief to the coastal fire zone of Western Australia, 7 Jan., bumping ashore twice near Broome and stranding fire-trapped evacuee motorists on a highway. A second cyclone, Invest 92S is now brewing to the northeast and may hit as a Category 1 storm near Darwin tomorrow, 10 Jan. before moving out to sea and intensifying again, possibly to Cat 3. People have been warned to seek shelter. (Severe-weather.eu )
A cooler week to be followed by more thunderstorms has brought some respite for the firefighters and beleaguered householders in Victoria and New South Wales.
Iceland: 48 hours after the last enormous, high-intensity North Atlantic cyclone underwent rapid depressurization (‘bombogenesis’) over Iceland, another one has formed. Severe-weather.eu reports, pressure is dropping fast and could settle in the 930 mb range, the kind of low you get in the middle of a major hurricane. Tuesday’s storm resulted in heavy rain and waves up to 50 feet high battering the Faroe islands.
Perfect storm: Severe-weather.eu exceeded its excitement quota on 10 Jan., describing a sequence of satellite images of the very powerful cyclone deepening to hurricane strength just to the SW of Iceland (complete with eye – and hashtag) as ‘weather porn’. The central pressure dropped an astonishing 41 mb in just 12 hours.
British Isles: Strong gales of up to 80mph are set to sweep across parts of the UK on Monday. The Met Office has warned coastal routes and communities could be particularly affected by Storm Brendan as large waves batter seafronts. Yellow weather warnings are in place for Northern Ireland, much of the western half of the UK and the north-east of Scotland from 12pm on Monday to midnight. (Guardian) The warnings in Ireland are Orange, with “significant risk of coastal flooding due to a combination of strong winds, high spring tides and storm surge.” (RTE)
Russia: On New Year’s Day, around 60 single-storey houses along the shore of the Sea of Okhosk in eastern Siberia were completely submerged beneath a huge wave that came ashore west of Magadan. Windows were stove in and the water froze rapidly over the properties, leaving many villagers homeless and begging for help on Instagram. No cause has been attributed.
Middle East: Days of heavy rain from 09 January 2020 caused severe flooding in southern Iran and parts of United Arab Emirates. At least 2 people lost their lives and hundreds were displaced. (Floodlist)
Angola: another 4 people have died in floods in the northeast of the country after heavy rain, which is continuing to fall. 2 were killed when a building collapsed. 41 people have died as a result of heavy rain and floods in the country since August 2019. (Floodlist)
Bangladesh: while we were reporting on the abnormal cold wave that spread across northern India over New Year, temperatures falling as ‘low’ as 7C in New Delhi, on 29 December Japan Times reported: “At least 50 people have died in Bangladesh as cold weather continues to sweep across the country. The country’s lowest temperature this year — 4.5 deg. C (40.1° Fahrenheit) — was recorded early Sunday in Tetulia, a border town in the north. Hospitals have been crowded with people suffering from cold-related illnesses such as influenza, dehydration and pneumonia.”
USA: an unusual weather pattern (how many more times will we hear that, I wonder?) has brought an extraordinary range of damaging storm conditions across a huge swathe of the south and up through midwestern states towards the northeast, with temperatures varying wildly from 20 to 60 Fahrenheit within 100 miles. On the northern side, up to 2 ft of snow is forecast across the Canadian border, freezing rainstorms disrupting traffic, rare thundersnow events; while to the south there are warnings of thunderstorms bringing heavy rain with flooding, tornadoes and power outages. (Accuweather) 9 people have died so far, most in traffic accidents.
No surprise, 2019 was the second wettest year in US weather history, after 1973. However, taken as a two-year span, 2018-2020 was the wettest period recorded since 1895. 8 of the ten wettest 12-month spans on record for the U.S. fell within 2018 and 2019. (Wunderground, citing NOAA) While 2019 was only the 34th warmest year in the history of US weather records, possibly owing to the endless rain, average annual temperatures in the 2010s have been 2 deg. F higher than in the decade 1910-20. Alaska posted its hottest year on record with, for the first time, an average above 0C, 32F.
Arctic: researchers have determined that thawing of the permafrozen tundra regions, with concominant release of much CO2 and methane, is historically dependent, not directly on warmer atmospheric conditions, but on the presence or absence of sea ice. This somewhat illogical conclusion hangs on one factor: increased rainfall turning to heavier snow earlier in the autumn, trapping residual warmth underneath.
Fish ‘flu: The first patient infected with the new coronavirus in China has died. He was a 61-year-old man with existing health conditions. 7 people are still critical, but there have been no new cases for a week. The virus, which causes pneumonia and other severe symptoms, has been identified as a close relative of SARS. Its appearance has been connected with a fish market in Wuhan. (BBC)
Tie cheer: a chink of light appeared at the end last week with the heartwarming story of Sir Darius Brown (his real name), a 13-year-old African-American who has a little business making colorful bow ties for dogs. It started when he learned how hard rescue shelters were finding it to rehome strays and had the idea of making them look cuter. So far his bow ties have helped find homes for 200 dogs. (BBC)