Quote of the week:
“Wine is not an investment if you drink it as soon as you buy it.” (Former managers suing Johnny Depp claim he has ‘compulsive spending disorder’. Seems perfectly sound to me.)
“It’s beginning to look like a one-man production of Macbeth.”
So much of the reporting around the affairs of Trump and his frankly scummy-looking business interests is effectively buried by his daily more atrocious antics and lost from sight.
The Washington Post today (24 Aug) for instance is forced to go to the trouble of dismantling his diversionary attack on South Africa where, he believes, white farmers are being killed for their land as a matter of government policy: another “dog whistle” of encouragement to American racists on a claim entirely bereft of truth or facts, a story based on the alternative truths and facts plugged by Mr Tucker Carlson of Fox News.
This nonsense is eating up some of the newstime that would otherwise be devoted to his imbecilic interview on Fox & Friends in which Trump says he knows stuff because he watches lots of TV, illegal campaign donations in the form of hush money are “not a crime” (because it was his own money!), he barely knew his attorney for ten years, and if he were to be impeached the economy would collapse because it all derives from his thought process (pointing to his head!).
And then in the middle of the night he apparently woke up and tweeted just this: “NO COLLUSION! RIGGED WITCH HUNT!” in all-caps, before falling back into an uneasy slumber. Cheeseburger dreams….
It’s beginning to look like a one-man production of Macbeth.
No-one seems to know what scandal, if any, will eventually bring him down. His support base continues to greet his rambling, dissembling, self-pitying rally speeches with rapturous applause; despite, or more probably because of, their increasingly repetitious nature. “Witch hunt!”… “Crooked Hillary!”… “Fake Nooze!”… “Lock her up!” And now, “Truth isn’t Truth”… They really don’t care what he is or says, so long as he is not what they had before. Only he is, but worse….
Reading through a Post from April 2017, The Pumpkin happened across a commentary we had written about one of the many shady byways of the Trump business empire; citing a report on The Intercept by investigative journalist, Alan Nairn that his then Director of Deregulation, the self-deregulating, asset-stripping billionaire and Wolf of Wall Street, Carl Icahn, was attempting to foment a rebellion to depose the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, to prevent him imposing environmental controls on his mining interests, in favour of a business ally of Trump’s; and that to this end he was backing a local militia associated with the Islamic State.
The alarming nature of the assertion seems to have passed everyone by; the rebellion appears not to have got very far, but Trump’s business interest in the region is still ongoing
“Mr. Hary (full name Hary Tanoesoedibjo) attended Mr. Trump’s inauguration last year and stayed at his Trump International Hotel in Washington. He also arranged for two Indonesian power brokers to meet with Mr. Trump in Trump Tower, including the then-Parliament speaker, Setya Novanto, who was sentenced last month to 15 years in prison for his part in embezzling more than $170 million from a national identity card program.
“Mr. Trump has reported receiving between $2 million and $10 million in royalties from the project.” – NYT, 15 May 2018.
You see, it’s not just Russia.
A book out this month by a conservative former Republican party strategist, Rick Wilson, is titled: “Everything Trump touches dies”, which may be true, although the best that can be said for him (so far) is that the Orange Don has never been accused of actually rubbing anyone out, preferring symbolic acts of execution by lethal tweet.
Certainly, every business deal Trump touches via his globally active Trump Organization (props. pro tem., Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka Trump) does seem to be accidentally peripheral to the most astounding criminality and corruption: deals like the notorious Trump Baku, Azerbaijan hotel project, hastily abandoned; its financing linked by the excellent Adam Davidson, staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, via corrupt local kleptocrat, Zia Mammadov to a proscribed terrorist organization, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; and a Trump Georgia, Black Sea development involving two local oligarchs accused of lending each other money via a bank they secretly owned together.
He does seem to have bad luck with his business partners.
Trump’s involvement licensing his name to the billionaire Hary Tanoesoedibjo’s project (fingers in many pies and political aspirations) to build a ‘6-star’ leisure resort 50 miles south of Jakarta, complete with two golf courses, formed the basis of a report in the New York Times last May, quoted above; and may have led to a curiously anomalous decision he made to order his Commerce Secretary, the reportedly profoundly corrupt* oligarch and Trump family consigliere, Wilbur Ross, to lift sanctions specifically on a Chinese tech company, WZT, linked with the financing of the project.
For he was caught on the horns of a dilemma, hoist with his own petard, pick any self-destructive metaphor you like, when his cynical and retributive trade war with China began to conflict directly with his business interest, as far as Chinese investment (as part of President Xi’s ambitious “Belt and Road” global development initiative) was concerned.
Had he the education, Trump might well have adopted The Sun King, Louis X1V’s slogan, “L’État, c’est moi” (I am the State). For just as he seems to imagine the government works for him, and the Justice Department ought to, his America First! foreign policy seems inextricably entangled with his personal business ambitions.
As Mother Jones reported in January 2017:
“…when it comes to his own business deals, Trump’s actions don’t exactly align with his hawkish rhetoric. In the past, he has tried repeatedly to land big real estate deals in China with state-run Chinese companies as partners. He’s sought access to China’s famously tricky business markets—even for his reality TV show, The Apprentice.
“Trump still owes potentially hundreds of millions in debt to one massive, state-run Chinese bank, while leasing a floor of Trump Tower office space in Manhattan to another….”
If it is not a conflict of interest for the President of one country, who personally owes half a billion dollars to a State-owned bank in another, to impose arbitrary and punitive trade tariffs on that other country, I can’t really say what might be.
Of course, his famous MAGA hats and many of Ivanka’s “fashion” range items are cheaply made in China, putting America First!; while Mr Xi has been generous in ensuring that recognition of their many trademark applications has been prioritized in his commerce department, a process that normally takes Westerners years to battle through.
It’s a complicated relationship.
Amid the furore that has been caused by his personal lawyer and bagman, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea this week, implicating Trump under oath as a co-conspirator to make illegal payments out of campaign funds to silence two of Trump’s former mistresses; the Manafort trial, and the lawyerly gossip on the TV news panels about indictments and impeachment: who’s spilling their guts to the Mueller investigation, and what they might be saying, these dubious international activities involving possible breaches of the foreign Emoluments clause – essentially, the President’s employment contract forbids him from making undeclared earnings abroad – sanctions-busting, and money-laundering have simply got buried.
Today, however, MSNBC is reporting that while it may prove tricky to indict a sitting president on felony charges, a tidal wave is building from the New York Attorney-General’s office, based largely on the vast amount of evidence on paper and “tapes” seized in the FBI’s raids on Cohen’s properties, against Trump’s tax-exempt charity foundation and its trustees, Don Jr, Eric and Ivanka, for illegal use of funds in a variety of ways you may find already sourced in previous Posts on this website and extensively elsewhere.
As Rachel Maddow observes, if they can’t get at Trump himself, they can certainly get at his businesses, his “charities” and his children….
It now appears that when Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130 thousand payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, there is paper evidence and a signature to show he ordered the money to come out of his private charity foundation; a “tape” has him telling Cohen to “pay cash”…. thus linking two technically illegal payments he ought not to have made to the benefit of his own election campaign. Observers have also noted that Trump may have lied when he said he had no prior knowledge of the payment, since he so clearly did.
Cohen was subpoena’d again yesterday (22 Aug) to explain the Foundation’s activities to the tax authorities, as he had apparently arranged the repayments by instalments as tax-deductible expenses (!). He was reportedly on the phone to the IRS personally within minutes, asking for a meeting (he’s out on bail pending sentencing on the illegal campaign donations charges).
Trump, as we know, personally coughed up $25 million in advance of the election to buy off a New York district court arraignment on the matter of the bogus Trump University, in compensation payments to litigants who had been cheated of fees of up to $35 thousand apiece in exchange for a meaningless paper “degree” in real-estate management. The Pumpkin anticipates soon learning where that payment may really have come from, given Trump’s famous reluctance to actually pay any bill from his own pocket.
Then, charges in 2016 of misrepresentation in the matter of property sales against Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, were mysteriously made to go away. As a trustee of his Foundation, who presumably therefore authorized the illegal payments, Trump’s favorite daughter may not be so lucky this time.
And that will surely drive the beleaguered President out of his tiny Chinese mind.
TYT reports that Trump has tweeted his delight that 90 per cent of Republicans (about 35 per cent of all voters) approve the job he’s doing and “52 per cent overall”. It’s all a bit sad, really, as the poll he’s quoting actually says 52 per cent overall think he’s doing a terrible job. But again he accuses the fake news media of lying about his numbers.
Why is my brain disintegrating so?
“Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research…. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education. … The longer people were exposed to dirty air, the bigger the damage to intelligence, with language ability more harmed than mathematical ability and men (especially over 65) more harmed than women.”
– From a report in The Guardian, 28 Aug.
Long ago and far away, I had a job writing a three-minute news bulletin and broadcasting it on the hour, with a slimmed-down set of headlines on the half-hour. Dutifully, I would scour my limited range of sources of stories, national and international, and put out a fresh script every hour, to maintain the listeners’ interest.
The listeners being some 20 thousand workers, mostly from ethnic minority communities, within a group of factories baking biscuits and small cakes for the grocery trade, trapped at their workstations standing seven hours a day next to a loudspeaker shared between two. (The idea had been sold to the directors by a small firm manufacturing loudspeakers.)
The factories operated a three-shift system around the clock. The rest of the station’s 24-hour output consisted of pop, bhangra and soul music, including requests; creative “infomercials”, which the rotating team of ten presenters (and sometimes me) wrote and produced, encouraging safety and hygiene, and the occasional management announcement – although those were few, as a matter of policy the management were to be seen to be as hands-off as possible. So innovative were we, the New Musical Express began publishing our “chart” every week, based on the numbers of requests we received.
My own shift ran from 6 a.m. to 6.15 p.m, Monday to Friday, and from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, with one week’s holiday a year. My commute to work was 12 miles on a 50cc Honda, and the pay was £21 a week. After a year or so I was crazy with lack of sleep, but had become so adept at this extreme endeavor that I was able to concentrate between bulletins on more important things, namely the attempting of cryptic crosswords.
My ambition became to complete the main cryptic crosswords in three serious newspapers: The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian, by lunchtime. Occasionally I was successful, oftentimes not. But by teatime, after another year had gone by I could usually manage all three.
You need a modicum of intelligence, a good wit, a little deviousness and – helpfully – a classical education to do cryptics. But mainly, you just need to learn a few simple rules that all crossword compilers feel bound to follow; standard verbal tics and tricks that point you towards the method by which to solve each individual clue.
An anagram, for instance, might be signposted by the word “scrambled”, or “confused” in the clue, telling you to look for a combination of letters of the right length. The rest of the clue will define the word you need for the answer. It helps, too, if you have solved another clue whose “lights” (the white squares) intersect, giving you at least one letter to work with.
Now approaching my 70th year I live, as your Uncle Bogler has frequently moaned, in a tiny cottage* of just four rooms, set back within a few feet of a thundering arterial road in the outskirts of a bustling seaside town. As time goes by, the volume of traffic, alternately speeding and static depending on the time of day and the season of the year, both private and commercial, continues to grow beyond intolerable proportions; there being a desperate need for a bypass no-one has the political will or the cash to have built.
During the seven years I have been here, six of them spent in a vain attempt to sell the place to somebody better suited to the urban life, I realize as my health, both physiological and mental, deteriorates that environmental factors have been playing a significant part in my rapid disintegration. Not the least of them, the unpreventable leakage of artificial sunshine from three of the new, daylight halogen units sleep-deprivingly blazing all night outside my bedroom.
Where last year, as an actor of growing repute, I was still hurling myself about the stage with joyful abandon, in the course of the last six months I have gone blind in one eye – twice – with limited success in having the sight surgically restored; while I am now catheterized and strapped to a bag, occasionally pissing down my leg or bleeding alarmingly, as the result both of an oversized prostate having cut off the normal flow of urine, and of there being only one part-time urologist serving the elderly population of the entire county, whose waiting-list stretches to the gates of Eternity.
Last March, I endured my first proper streaming head-cold in as many years as I can remember, with a cough that settled on my chest and persisted into June. All last year I had a condition ironically known as “dry eye”, where one’s eyes are continually weeping; and some inscrutable digestive problem that would wake me regularly at 6.30 a.m. with a sharp gnawing sensation like rats tunneling their way out of my gurgling abdomen, regardless of what time I had eaten the night before, that could only be relieved by adopting the foetal position.
To add to all that has been an increase in aches and pains and localized vague feelings of unwellness, especially in the area of the kidneys, only partly relieved by replacing my mattress last week with a firmer one; and a persistent breathlessness unrelated to any exertion. Clearly, there is pollution: as I observe the sky over our little river valley that often appears bright and sunny, with a little effort beneath the dome of cerulean blue can be discerned a supporting arch of brown.
But it is your Uncle’s mental state that is giving him concern; and thus, the report with which we began this item, has both relevance and reassurance. Paranoid, riddled with anxieties, fearful of travel beyond the home and a small selection of familiar byways, wearing, as I have remarked, a groove in the world; unable to concentrate, fixated on YouTube and the horror in the White House, my mind is disintegrating: not because it is rapidly aging, or as a result of its consumption of alcohol, but obviously because its host is being slowly poisoned by the endless stream of bloody cars, all going nowhere important, and huge 32-tonne, 16-wheeler lorries blocking out the sky, heading for the town’s supermarkets, the dust from their brakes leaving an ash-gray coating over everything; the fronts of the houses black with soot from their filthy exhausts.
As it happens, I have not tried to do a crossword for some years now, and have gone rusty. Last night, turning idly to the inside back-page of my copy of The Oldie magazine on my bedside table, the allure of the “Moron” standard puzzle proved too great and I decided to have a go. I completed it in about ten minutes, despite making a significant error that held me back on the last two clues for a further half-hour.
Abandoning it unfinished, I switched out the light and settled down to sleep; and a minute later, switched the light back on as the solution to the last clue had immediately proposed itself. Encouraged by this success, I turned then to the “Genius” level cryptic puzzle, of the kind that long ago I would have eaten for breakfast.
Dear Readers, Spammers, Likers, etc., I was immediately baffled by the absence of several clues that should have been given in numerical order. The numbers were missing. I managed to get a few easy ones, but nothing would lead to anything else. The setters have been getting cleverer. I have never been a great reader of instructions, so I now turned to the top of the page to see what on earth was going on, and found the following paragraph:
“This year marks the 200th anniversary of the creation of a work by a person whose name is given by three unclued entries. Each of eight clues consists of definitions of two words of different lengths; in each case, one letter is removed from the longer word to create the shorter one, which is the answer to be entered in the grid. Solvers (who they? Ed.) should place the removed letters outside the grid, in the positions they would occupy if the grid were extended, to reveal the first word of the title’s work in English….” And so on.
By this time, my addled brain was swimming. It was as if I were being asked to assemble a chest of drawers from Ikea, without an Allen key and blindfold. I read and re-read the words, but they still made no sense.
I have long given up reading books, especially with small print, as I had become bored with reading and re-reading the same paragraph, over and over again, completely unable to absorb its meaning. Now here was a complex set of instructions, telling me I needed to solve clues without being given the clues, or even the numbers of the clues…. I just could not compass it, things being made worse possibly by the bottle of well-chilled Chardonnay with which I had washed down my frozen battered cod balls-and-chips, followed by a nightcap.
With many groans, I awoke at all the usual times, toddling off to the bathroom by the light of the street lamps, my “night bag” trailing on the floor behind me – for some silly reason nothing percolates while I am lying down, I still have to get up and go, assisted by the force of gravity and a painful contraction or two.
At 6.30 I grit my teeth and assume the foetal position as the rats awake and begin to gnaw. No more clues have answered themselves in the night, nothing stirs in the addled brain as the noise of the early morning traffic, by whose growing volume I can pretty accurately tell the time, begins to assume rush-hour proportions.
I switch on the Today program at three minutes to seven, to catch the weather. And there on the news is the story of the Chinese research, the pollution and the brain-damage, and I turn over and shut my eyes tight, scarce daring to breathe the polluted air, hoping to avoid hearing yet another interview with Iain Cunting-Smith giving his vast and airy opinions of gang warfare on London’s streets, his disastrous welfare reforms or his beloved fucking Brexit, the moron, feeling the hard plastic tube tugging painfully on my bladder as I have forgotten it is there, entangled in my aching legs – hoping for some release.
*I have also recently read that the average new-build home is only two square meters larger in surface area than my “tiny” Victorian laborer’s cottage. I am giddy with a sense of space.
GW: blow me down and frazzle me sideways
Hurricane Lane: the story so far
Wednesday 22: “The (absolutely enormous) Category 4 storm is barrelling towards Hawaii with savage winds of up to 156mph and is expected to hit the southwestern tip of Big Island at around 7pm BST tomorrow (8am local time), 24 Aug. Emergency services are on high alert and officials have warned of “significant impacts” even if the hurricane does not directly hit Hawaii.” (Express) (Actually, part of the threat posed by Lane is that it’s moving at only 6 mph and will consequently hang around dumping rain for many hours.)
Already, p.m. 23 Aug, heavy rain has caused landslides and a number of roads have been closed. The US navy has evacuated its ships from Pearl Harbor and has them standing by at sea ready for emergency relief efforts. Governor David Ige has complained: “Lane is not a well-behaved storm”. That’s saying something. (UPI) “Overall, we can expect widespread 10” to 20” amounts, as already observed on the eastern Big Island, and we would not be shocked to see a few localized storm totals in the 30” – 50” range.” (Bob Henson, Wunderground)
Friday 24: “As if the Lane situation weren’t complex enough, a new disturbance about 300 miles to the east developed enough convection and spin on Thursday to be classified as Invest 95C.” (Wunderground) This growing tropical storm could eventually catch up and merge with the outer bands of Lane, which is rapidly weakening at the centre, to produce even greater rainfall totals over the Hawaiian islands.
Saturday 25: “Hurricane Lane … continued to trigger an array of havoc across the Hawaiian Islands. Torrential rains were spreading northward across Oahu to Maui after Lane’s outer rainbands dropped more than 30” on parts of the Big Island, where flooding was described by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center as “catastrophic”. Meanwhile, “two fast-moving wildfires broke out on Friday in the drier downslope flow along Maui’s west coast, causing at least one injury (covering 300 acres).” (Wunderground).
Thousands of homes have been left without power. Apparently, only surfers were having a good time on the 30-foot storm surge, but upper-level wind shear conditions and the glancing blow on land have ripped Lane to bits and with maximum windspeeds now below 70 mph the monster storm has been downgraded to a very wet remnant TS. A threat of flooding from the Ala Wai canal in downtown Honolulu still remains.
Update, 26 Aug: downgraded to TD. Huge hurricane just fizzles out! “Peak rainfall totals on the eastern Big Island topped 40” at three stations, adding up to amounts that are among the highest ever observed in a tropical cyclone in the 50 U.S. states. – the highest rainfall thus far, as reported by weather.com, was at Mountain View, in the higher elevations of the Big Island, which received 51.53 inches of rain from 22 – 26 Aug (72 hr total). Less damage than expected.” (Wunderground)
Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Invest 95C was last reported (23 Aug) 550Km SE of Honolulu. (Meteoi) Bob Henson at Wunderground writes that the slow-to-start Atlantic hurricane season is entering its normally busiest period with depressions starting to move out of Africa unable as yet to achieve spin due to high winds in the upper atmosphere, but sea temperatures are rising and wind-shear weakening and it is only a matter of time before “Florence” (the first name available) is bound to form as a potentially dangerous Cape Verde hurricane.
Japan: Typhoon Soulik crossed over Honshu island Wednesday 23 Aug on its way to batter Korea. President Moon Jae-in called local governments to get ready for the powerful storm and take all necessary actions to keep people safe. Behind it, Typhoon Cimaron made landfall in the Tokushima Prefecture of Japan and is moving on across the island of Shikoku towards Honshu. (Express, UPI and others.) Associated Press reported one death and one injury from Soulik in South Korea, although a change in direction spared the capital; while hundreds of flights were cancelled across western Japan. Remnants of Lane may follow the same trajectory later next week.
Taiwan: “7 people have died as a result of torrential rain and flooding, 23-26 Aug, including 3 who died in the city of Kaohsiung when scaffolding fell from a building. As many as 116 people were injured and around 6,000 people were evacuated. …numerous locations recorded more than 700 mm of rain in 24 hours and some over 900 mm.” (Floodlist)
Afghanistan: “at least 11 people have died in flash floods in the eastern province of Kunar, along the border with Pakistan. Eight of the victims were from the same family. The flooding also damaged farmland, livestock and crops”. (Floodlist)
USA: Up to 15.3 inches of rain fell on Dane County, near Madison, Wisconsin in one 24-hour period, 20 to 21 Aug. Flash flooding closed roads and damaged properties. (Floodlist)
Sudan: “Heavy rains since mid-July have caused severe flooding. As many as 8,900 families have been displaced. As of 16 August the floods and rain had left at least 23 people dead, over 60 injured and affected more than 70,000 people in 7 different states.” (Floodlist)
Germany: A major forest fire has broken out near the capital. “The blaze, which began on Thursday afternoon (23 Aug), spread quickly overnight to engulf 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of forest between the Brandenburg town of Treuenbrietzen and village of Jüterborg, 39 miles (63km) south-west of the German capital, Berlin.” (Guardian) Firefighters are being hampered by unexploded munitions dating from WW2, while a thick plume of smoke has drifted over Berlin itself and residents are being told to stay indoors.
Wildfires: a look at The Weather Channel map of global wildfires might be concerning, I have no idea. Without commentary it looks like half the world is on fire right now. Brazil, for instance, is just one solid blob of orange location markers. Is this normal for August? You judge:
The “Ring of Fire” Pacific rim disturbances are continuing.
Five days after the record M7.1 in Venezuela, “discredited” earthquake predictor (80%-plus success rate, USGS now privately using his methods) “Dutchsinse” reports on the largest-ever deep earthquake to arrive under South America, a M7.1 600Km beneath the Peru/Ecuador border, in the ostenosphere below the S America tectonic plate. He warns of the danger of a shallower M8 next to the same location within 6-10 days.
While reporting this event, Mr Janitch notes a unusually large M5.0 arriving live next to the fracking operations in Colorado, just south of Yellowstone, and a M3.0 in the English channel.
He speculates about a global disturbance event.
Yellowstone: USGS reporting a number of springs drying up or at low water, boiling. The Blessed Mary draws our attention to “drumbeats” and harmonic tremors on the seismographs, continuing ground uplift, disturbing volume of rising magma, outgassing of helium and SO2.
02 Sep., she reports, the Steamboat Geyser, biggest in the park, has erupted for the 16th time this year. The largest number of times it has erupted in an entire year before was 3 in 2003. Park director, Michael Poland has reassured her, geyser eruptions are perfectly normal