Before we start, will the BBC please sack their supine, regime-compliant, uncritical so-called ‘Senior US Editor’ John Sopel? The man is a pathetic pushover, a Trump shill who makes no effort to investigate, establish or explain the unpleasant truths behind his shallow, cliche-ridden reports but merely contents himself with praising the satanic Orange Liar and its traitorous regime.
Fuck him. He is less a journalist than a PR baboon.
(Is it okay to say this sort of thing over the Interwhatsit? I mean, they won’t withdraw their advertising? Ed.)
For a complete contrast to the routine disgraceful normalisation of Trump’s dystopian White House in UK media, The Pumpkin suggests you read Adam Gopnik’s piece in The New Yorker, 6 April. It’s not as long as the URL would suggest:
Thank you, carry on.
Where’s this going?
By: Pumpkin Chief America Editor, John Sopoor ©2017 @anywherebuthere
The world is agog. What does this overnight change of policy towards Syria mean?
My assumption is it means General McMaster is now running the country, and after rationalising the Bannon problem on the Security Council has taken Jared Kushner under his wing; while Ivanka will have “softened” her loving father’s approach with a few tearful, well-chosen words about dead “beautiful” children; as if Assad hasn’t been killing both beautiful and plug-ugly children indiscriminately by the thousand for the last six years while Trump supported his predecessor’s drone-infested non-intervention policy that he now says was responsible for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun. (The UN has charted 161 chemical attacks during that time.)
(And as if he didn’t have his goons throw a woman with a “beautiful” crying baby out of one of his campaign shenanigans last year. And as Jonathan Freedland points out in The Guardian today, as if Trump hasn’t been trying for weeks to ban Syrian children from fleeing to safety in the USA.)
It means that Mr Trump is holding a summit with President Xi today – ringside tickets at $200 thousand apiece – and wishes to send a strong signal from General McMaster that he means business over North Korea, business over the South China Sea, business over… er, business. Sixty cruise missiles at $832 thousand each just to crater an airfield is not a rap over the knuckles for Assad, it is a show that the Orange Oligarch can afford to blow $50 million of US taxpayers’ money on a one-night stand. Sixty missiles incidentally manufactured by Raytheon, a company listing as a stockholder, one… er, Donald J Trump.
It no doubt amused someone that President Xi learned about the assault over dessert. After all, did the Chinese not invent fireworks?
It means Mr Trump has had a chat with Mr Putin who has reluctantly agreed to get his men out of the target area while Mr Trump has a play with his missiles. Suitably patriotic images of their bright, hopeful rocket trails leaving US destroyers up past Old Glory into the night sky have been distributed, and Mr Trump’s weak and failing old eyes will have sparkled in the light. The chat probably took place a few days ago, when Mr Trump called to commiserate with Mr Putin over the St Petersburg train bombing.
Hope that it represents any sort of a coherent policy shift on Syria seems less certain. The mainstream media held in such contempt by Bannon/Trump has rushed yet again to hail this example of his maturity, firmness and wisdom, as they did after his disastrous budget speech that had only the virtue of not having been written by him. The media has got to stop normalising Trump and support those in government and the security services who are working to impeach him.
However much you respect the office, the tenant is not what you would wish him to be. He is a well-suspected financial criminal, a con-man, a compulsive liar, a nepotist and serial bankrupt with traitorous and amoral associates. He owes millions of dollars to your enemies’ private and State banks. He is so clueless and biddable as to be a danger to world peace. Find somebody better.
I am reliably informed by MSNBC that of the 530 vacancies in the State Department that opened up at the start of the Trump administration, for want of a better word, 76 days ago, including most of the top diplomatic positions, only 12 have so far been filled. There is still no China desk, so Mr McMaster will have had his work cut out preparing the ‘President’ for the summit.
The senior diplomat, the unqualified Mr Tillerson is operating virtually a high-wire act without a net: he travels with just a small clutch of ex-oil industry cronies and no press pack. He doesn’t trust civil servants, and indeed staffers have been ordered not to address him, or even to look at him directly. (This might be because he is too important, blindingly effulgent even, but it looks to me more like shame.)
It seems to suggest that negotiators with any Middle Eastern diplomatic experience are going to be thin on the ground, despite Kushner’s baptism of fire on a joint Iraq-Kurdish security round-table last week at which the only other US delegate supporting the 14-year-old plastic wunderkind appears to have been a man identified as one of Mr Trump’s personal bodyguard; a goon in a track-suit prominently displaying the Adidas logo.
Where I am struggling for air is to understand why no-one has asked if, the instant Mr Trump makes the inevitable gaffe with ‘Xi who must be obeyed’, the Chinese leader would not simply ask for the money back? Although China has recently dumped a lot of US debt, which has fallen to only $1.12 trillion (Japan is now America’s largest creditor), Mr Trump and his business associates have outstanding loans from Bank of China (and other banks) worth almost $1bn (Mother Jones).
Then, it wouldn’t be the first time the President has defaulted on his debt.
Only previously, he didn’t have the American taxpayer to cover it; and $50 million-worth of 1,000-lb whizzbangs to brandish at his creditors.
False flag? So fake!
The usual response from the Russian smoke machine to accusations of foul play is that the victims must have murdered themselves or possibly killed their own children to gain some more effective intervention from the Western powers.
In the case of the attack on Khan Sheikhoun they played a minor variation, suggesting that kindly Syrian fighter-bombers must have accidentally struck a warehouse known to contain rebel supplies of Sarin gas, thus inadvertently releasing a poison cloud. (If it was known to contain banned chemical weapons, why was it allowed to be bombed? The Pumpkin was under the impression the Russians had cleared out all Assad’s stockpile three years ago?)
The ingenious theory was debunked today by Guardian journalist Kareem Shaheen, who managed to get into the small town in Idlib where he found that there was indeed such a warehouse, but that it contained only silos empty apart from some rotting grain, and hadn’t anyway been significantly damaged. While yesterday, the BBC unearthed a chemical weapons military expert who pointed out that any Sarin if hit by a bomb would have been destroyed, as it burns.
Of more use to the Russian case however is the question, why would Assad still be using poison gas on civilians, when he is so clearly now winning the war?
Was he confident there would be no American retaliation? Was it a test of the Trump administration? Are there rogue elements in his airforce hoping to drive a wedge between the Americans and the Russians to take the heat off ISIS? Was it force of habit, simple terrorism? Or is Sarin just cheaper than using high-explosive? And if the Shayrat airbase was indeed the point of departure for Syrian planes armed with Sarin bombs, why didn’t Trump order the silos destroyed with specialist nerve-gas-killing warheads, which the Americans have? Why did he leave the base operational?
No-one has yet succeeded in answering it, and may never do. None of it adds up.
But certainly it has been of enormous value to the flailing Trump administration, providing him at last with the opportunity to look tough and decisive in a popular (-ish) cause with little risk of starting WW3 at the same time as diverting salacious media attention away from FBI and Senate probes into the treachery, confusion, financial finagling, nepotism and rank incompetence in the White House.
A helping hand, possibly, from his friend and banker, Vladimir Putin?
Beating the retweet
What is going on?
YouTube appears to be censoring critics of the Trump regime.
Since a number of large advertisers pulled out of Google and other social media platforms in protest at their ads appearing coincidentally alongside ISIS beheadings and other horrid content, several online news and comment channels have had their advertising pulled too.
But not by the advertisers who want to remain with them.
Having invested heavily in studio facilities, broadcaster David Pakman has been increasingly despairing as despite his three million weekly pay-per viewings his ad revenue slumped to a low of 34 cents on one day last week. Pakman was unable to get any information out of YouTube but has been told by his furious advertisers that they have been told that the mention of various keywords in his opening title sequence referring to controversial subject matter that might be discussed on the show has triggered the ad placement algorithms to shut down their advertising content, leaving him with only the few small sponsors he plugs on-air and his subscriber base.
The Pumpkin also likes to steal material from the Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell shows on MSNBC. In the past week, several issues of the broadcast have become ‘Content unavailable’, although the shows are listed in the sidebars to the main pages. Where the show is available, the picture has been messed with so that you get a small vignette of the actual show inset into a larger frame of just picture noise, or a tiled duplicate of the smaller frame; apparently for ‘copyright’ protection purposes, although there was no problem with copyright up to ten days ago. Not only that, but content posted as ‘NEW’ with a today’s or yesterday’s upload date is often found to be weeks old.
Both Keith Olbermann and Mike Malloy seem not to have added any new content the past week. If they did, I can’t find it: ‘current-date’ postings to the YouTube menu of both broadcasters are anything from one month up to 7 years old. And if Thom Hartmann, the one broadcaster on RT America who isn’t a propaganda mouthpiece for the Kremlin, hasn’t just taken a vacation, that show’s got a problem too; since he’s no longer around*. *Oh no, he’s back now.
What is going on?
These are not ‘fake news’ merchants, Islamists, religious cranks, global warming deniers or Russians, although they are occasionally strong and insightful critics of the Trump regime; that as the number of FBI and Senate investigations into his criminality goes on rising is increasingly meddling with internet service provision. Measures taken or mooted in the past week include ‘data-strip’ searches of travellers’ mobile devices, and extending rights to sell or pass on supposedly secure customer data without notice – including passing a law making it illegal to ever reverse the ruling.
YouTube is owned by Google. According to the Independent, Google could take a $750 million ‘hit’ while it sorts out its placement problem, five of the world’s largest advertisers having pulled out – with YouTube its hardest-hit subsidiary.
Has someone taken a decision to adversely impact channels specifically critical of the administration, under the smokescreen of a general boycott? Is the discussion content of these non-mainstream news programmes too much for Google’s delicate constitution to stomach – even while they continue to profit from selling your data to any and everyone? Or while the platform ad revenues slump, hopefully temporarily, is it more profitable to just not pass on the money to the content providers, thereby keeping the cash flowing?
What is going on?
(PS 23/04, advertisers seem to have discovered power: a boycott by 50 advertisers on Fox News has brought down the serial sex-pest, Bill O’Reilly, despite his huge… er, ratings.)
Tending to extremes
A lengthy piece in the London Review of Books (7 January, 2016) by the legendary investigative journalist and war reporter Seymour Hirsh identified what has been a long-running civil war in US strategy over Syria, between the CIA and the Pentagon.
Their two opposing views formed in 2013 and highlight an obvious concern, ignored by the CIA, that continuing to arm and train the rebel forces against Assad would merely encourage the migration of moderate opposition groups to more hardline militias such as Jabhat al-Nusra and ensure a constant flow of arms to ISIS.
The CIA appeared to have learned little from the 1970s conflict in Afghanistan, where their creation of the Muhajideen force to counter the Russian insurgency – as in Syria also there by invitation – led to the growth of the Taliban. In 2013, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA however, took the opposite view, in alignment with the Russian policy, arguing that Assad was the better option as his removal would inevitably lead to extremists taking over, as they had done in Libya after the downfall of Gadaffi.
And the Director of the DIA from 2011 to 2014 was… General Michael T Flynn.
Thus, according to the Hirsh account, a secret policy was adopted of supplying the Assad regime indirectly via allies including France and Germany with ‘leaked’ US military intelligence, behind the backs of the Obama administration.
The dilemma for all the Western nations in Syria has simply been that, while everyone identifies Assad as the villain of the piece, an urbane, softly spoken, courteous and well-educated torturing, murdering, psychopathic pragmatist who gas-bombs his own people, before the war his broadly secular regime represented and possibly still represents the best hope for stability in the region and a bulwark against Iranian-backed Shi’a extremism; which for some reason we still regard as worse than Saudi-backed Sunni extremism.
This is now, one would have thought, a pretty optimistic view. Without continued support, either from Russia alone or a coalition of the unwilling, Assad could not regain and retain power while spending hundreds of billions of dollars on reconstruction, without maintaining his brutal repression of opposition elements and a flow of cash from China. The Russians certainly can’t afford to rebuild dozens of ruined cities.
To say as Tillerson was until this morning, that the ‘Syrian people will decide’ who is to lead them is just fanciful: the prospect of holding free and fair national elections beyond Assad’s safe-area west of Damascus, dominated by his own Alawite party, is surely non-existent; even if the voters were to return from the refugee camps in Turkey and the chilly fields of Croatia and Bulgaria to their blasted cities, the disruption has been almost total. Were they able to, by some miracle, it is certain they would vote Assad out. You imagine he would contemplate that possibility for one moment?
Now, however, with Russian intervention designed to break the deadlock and create a barrier – with or without Assad – against the spread of Islamist contagion northwards into the Caucasus, thus putting the Russians into direct conflict with the generally anti-Assad, non-interventionist policies of the NATO alliance, America is in a pretty impossible position: arming and training the same supposedly moderate militias the Russians are trying to obliterate, but with both sides taking direct action against ISIS under a shared-skies arrangement that has now broken down as a result of Moscow witholding co-operation in feigned protest against Trump’s gestural rocketing of the Shayrat airbase.
Paint Turkey into the picture, however, its complex love-hate relationship with Russia, the Kurdish nationalist dimension, the bizarre machinations of its president-for-life, and you start to run out of mental capacity to grasp the full canvas. (Especially when you add-in China’s soft-power ambitions in the region….)
So we’ll ignore all that and speculate wildly instead about the energy industry.
One of the reasons no-one has been too exercised about the civil war in Syria is that Syria is not to any great extent an oil-producing nation; unlike its neighbour, Iraq; where the oilfields lie mainly in the northern area where Kurdish nationalist ambitions have created a proto- home state.
Offshore it’s a different story, with massive undersea gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean opening up opportunities for Israeli and US players.
Thus far, there appears to have been no exploration off the Syrian coast. But there seems to be no reason why the field should not extend that far north; indeed, there may be some additional reason for Moscow to take an interest: not to encourage, but to suppress competitive production.
The major fields under development are in the politically tortuous areas of Israeli waters, where an Oklahoma-based company called Noble Energy is sitting on massive reserves that are the subject of a legal action in the Israeli courts that has prevented them from exploiting their find. A decision is awaited later in the year.
The problem for all the energy players in the region is that there is so much gas under the sea – and maybe under the adjacent land; the Israeli- occupied Golan Heights, for instance – that prices have been tumbling; which naturally adds to Russia’s woes in the wake of the collapse in global oil prices; Russia being the dominant supplier in the region, and to Eastern Europe. But few buyers are willing to pile in to share in the bonanza if they know prices are only going to fall once they’ve signed the contract.
So it would be in Russia’s interests to restrict the supply of gas and force the price up; while at the same time using its Latakia and Tartus bases in Syria to break out of its Black Sea bailywick and project a little more ‘hard power’ in the region.
Noble, however (we’re not supposed to say who it is) in conjunction with an Israeli company, Delek, is talking of bypassing Syria to build an undersea pipeline directly to flood the Turkish energy market.
This would also conflict with Russia’s interests, as Gazprom is anxious to extend its market reach beyond the area of Ukraine, from which it profits little by exporting gas to a country that often fails to pay for it. And Gazprom also sells to Turkey and would not like to see its price undercut by Israeli gas. Turkey in turn is showing signs of fomenting trouble again in bi-partite Cyprus, which borders the gas fields to the west; and in other disputed Aegean islands. Does Erdogan have ambitions to explore and exploit his own ‘domestic’ energy sources?
There is the minor problem, too, that another major field is sitting off the coast at Gaza, discovered by British Gas. Israel is under pressure from Turkey to let the Palestinians immured in Gaza develop it as a means of providing themselves with a productive economy. There are both good and not so good reasons to say yes, since more prosperity for Gaza would reduce the hold of Hamas on the populace, but it’s being fiercely contested by rival interests.
And a shareholder in Noble is… President Donald J Trump. (Or was, under the Emoluments Clause he’s not supposed to be profiting from foreign investments; although the words ‘conflict’ and ‘interest’ are among the many thousands missing from his vocabulary.) Hence the presence of Noble director, George Papadopoulos as Foreign Energy Security advisor to the Trump team. (Another climate-change denier, incidentally, from the oil-soaked Hudson Institute.)
The Jerusalem Post (23 January) reported on a productive meeting in Washington between Papadopoulos and ultra-right Israeli settler leader Yossi Dagan, after which George purred: “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria” – settler code for the East Bank. Settlers are the last people who would approve a deal on gas with the Palestinians. In February, after a meeting with a bemused Prime Minister Netanyahu, Trump modified US policy on settlements and greenlighted a return to the ‘one-state solution’, effectively marginalising the Palestinians as second-class Israelis living permanently within a system of religious and ethnic discrimination.
Which might all sort of explain why General Flynn, who since leaving the Army has been earning (and failing to declare) large sums of money as a PR consultant of various kinds to the anti-Israel Erdogan regime, while also working for several Russian interests, and having fed all that US military intel to the Assad gang, is no longer persona grata in the Oval Office, and instead is urgently seeking the protection of the FBI.
A version of the story can be found on the RealNews channel: