an autodidact meets a dilettante…

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a deeper dive into the shallow waters of Emu Bay

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Jacinta: So Emu Bay, shale, Cambrian, trilobites, early complex life, Kangaroo Island, why Kangaroo Island, where do we begin?

Canto: Well, let’s just begin. Apparently the first fossil finds, the first signs that there was something significant, date from the fifties, but it wasn’t until the seventies that real excitement grew.

Jacinta: And these finds were from the Cambrian. Can you give us some background on the so-called Cambrian explosion, and the geological epochs as they pertain to life forms?

Canto: The Cambrian explosion dates to around 530 million years ago. The most celebrated evidence of this comes from the Burgess shale in British Columbia, Canada, though the finds there date to about 510 million years ago – the middle Cambrian. Emu Bay’s fossils have been dated further back in time, though as always there’s some uncertainty as to precise dating. Another famous deposit, the oldest, is in southern China, the Chengjiang fauna.

Now, briefly, the planet’s life-span has been divided into six eons, which you can take as seriously as you like: first, the Hadean, from Earth’s formation 4.6 billion years ago to the end of the late heavy bombardment around 4 billion years ago; second, the Archaean, when life began and then photosynthesis evolved; third, the Proterozoic, from 2.5 billion years ago to 540 million years ago; fourth, the Paleozoic, to 250 million years ago, then the Mesozoic, to 65 million years ago, and finally the sixth, Cenozoic eon, up to the present day. Though the last three are sometimes called ‘eras’ under the title of the Phanerozoic eon.

Jacinta: So how does the Cambrian and other epochs or whatever, map onto this – the Cretaceous, the Jurassic and so forth?

Canto: Well, these are called periods, but let’s not get too caught up in all that, and let’s start with the Cambrian period, as we’re concerned with more or less recognisably modern complex life. It’s generally agreed to date from 540 million years ago, following on from the Ediacaran period, and has been divided into Early, Middle and Late, at least by some, and was followed by the Ordovician some 485 million years ago…

Jacinta: Okay, enough, let’s get back to Emu Bay and the Cambrian explosion.

Canto: Just look online and you’ll find a ton of info on this and the other Cambrian deposits, so I’ll provide links to those sites that have helped me.

Jacinta: And a glossary, maybe.

Canto: Arthropods – from which modern spiders, insects and crabs evolved – and molluscs came into being in the Cambrian, and they’re well represented in the Emu Bay shale, dating from around 520 million years ago. Trilobites (three-lobed critters), a type of arthropod, are particularly well represented. They’re the earliest known creatures to have developed ‘full’ eyesight, I think, which would make them pretty devastating predators at the time.

Jacinta: Eyesight’s an interesting one, and it seems complex sight requires brains as well as good lenses….

Canto: Yes it is complex, and sight is obviously going to be one development among many in the fight for advantage, and developed and used differently in different environments. Anyway, one of the most interesting and important things about Emu Bay is the preservation of soft tissue – crab muscle, trilobite antennae for example. The types of antennae are very revealing apparently. And they’ve even found the turds of these creatures…

Jacinta: So how is it possible for muscle tissue etc to be preserved for over half a billion years?

Canto: That’s a very good question. It’s obviously a rarity – unless there’s an explosion of such finds in the future. A Catalyst program on Emu Bay from 10 years ago puts it this way:

Why this rare occurrence happens is not entirely clear. But it appears that, 520 million years ago, the bottom layer of the sea was depleted of oxygen; no scavengers could disturb the dead and no bacteria could survive to decay the soft tissue.

Jacinta: But one of the big differences between this site and the Burgess shale is that these were shallow water creatures, and the Burgess shale preserved deep water creatures, is that right? So these might have been more exposed to air?

Canto: Well the issue we’re looking at here comes under the heading of ‘taphonomy’ – the branch of palaeontology that deals with the processes of fossilisation. And taphonomy seems very much a work in progress – progressed further by analysis of this site. But it does get very technical. Let me give you an example, from a paper published in the Journal of the Geological Society in 2016:

The EBS [Emu Bay Shale] seems to have been rapidly deposited in a relatively nearshore setting adjacent to an active tectonic margin that generated continual syndepositional faulting and slumping. The Konservat-Lagerstätte interval appears to form part of a localized, deeper-water micro-basin succession on the inner shelf that was subject to fluctuating oxygen levels, at least in the bottom waters (Gehling et al. 2011). This depositional setting is in stark contrast to the majority of other Cambrian Konservat-Lagerstätten, specifically Burgess Shale-type deposits that formed in outer shelf environments, either near or immediately adjacent to the seaward margins of expansive carbonate platforms (e.g. Burgess Shale), or offshore of broad clastic shelves (e.g. Chengjiang) (Gaines 2014).

Jacinta: Hmmm, I think I get the continental drift.

Canto: As to the oxygen question, that’s still being worked on. And as to the deposit being ‘adjacent to an active tectonic margin’, I don’t get that. The whole of Australia sits on a large tectonic plate, the Australian plate, which stretches way south of Kangaroo Island. Perhaps plates can be sub-divided into micro-plates, I don’t know.

Jacinta: Perhaps an active tectonic margin just means a fault-line. But enough of the geology, tell us about the creatures themselves – some of the first predators – and their well-developed eyes.

Canto: More than 50 separate species have been found there, though in terms of specimens, the trilobite Estaingia bilobata dominates. Trilobites are incredibly common in the fossil record, with some 17,000 species known. The earliest ones found seem already highly diversified but their origin in the pre-Cambrian is very much a mystery.

a heap of Estraingia bilobata trilobites found at Emu Bay. I’m guessing from the rule on the right that each one is 2-3 cms long

Jacinta: And do these trilobites have amazing eyes?

Canto: They’re among the first animals we know of to have complex eyes and their lenses were made of calcite, which fossilises well. It’s also hypothesised that the early success of trilobites with their weaponised, prey-catching eyes helped to trigger or speed up the Cambrian explosion of diversity. But the big story about eyes fossilised at Emu Bay isn’t trilobite eyes. An abstract from Nature describes a creature with eyes more complex, and better preserved than any others for the following 85 million years:

The arrangement and size of the lenses indicate that these eyes belonged to an active predator that was capable of seeing in low light. The eyes are more complex than those known from contemporaneous trilobites and are as advanced as those of many living forms. They provide further evidence that the Cambrian explosion involved rapid innovation in fine-scale anatomy as well as gross morphology, and are consistent with the concept that the development of advanced vision helped to drive this great evolutionary event.

Jacinta: I seem to remember reading about this a few years back.

Canto: Yes, Ed Yong of not exactly rocket science did a great post about it. The animal is called Anomalocaris, meaning strange shrimp, and it has been discovered, or uncovered, bit by bit over more than a century, in the Burgess shale and elsewhere. Its 3cm-wide eyes, stuck out on stalks, were about 30 times more powerful than those of trilobites, with at least 17,000 lenses in each eye – all of which was discovered from a single specimen at Emu Bay, the only place where soft tissue was preserved, though specimens of Anomalocaris have been discovered around the world. Including many specimens found at Emu Bay itself.

Jacinta: So, this discovery, of the eyes, really put Emu Bay and Kangaroo Island on the map for a time.

Canto: Well, sort of, among the cognoscenti. But yes, it was exciting to think of such a marvellous find so nearby. And there may well be a lot more to discover.

fossilised eyes of Anomalocaris

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emu_Bay_Shale

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomalocaris

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature10689

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/12/07/anomalocaris-sharp-eyes-predator/#.WtMuHS_L0go

http://jgs.lyellcollection.org/content/173/1/1

Written by stewart henderson

April 15, 2018 at 9:42 pm

online shaming, some problems and perspectives

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Canto: So what exactly is online shaming, and do we need to worry about it?

Jacinta: It’s an extension of any kind of shaming, like in primary school when we picked on some misfit and ostracised her, because she was fat, or ugly, or ‘smelly’ or seemed somehow dysfunctional and a soft target. It was easy to do because we were in a group and our target was too weak to retaliate.

Canto: Did you really do that?

Jacinta: Mildly, peripherally, briefly, when I was very young. But the problem today with social media is this large-scale ganging up, because social media does tend to separate people into their own in-groups, which dehumanise those belonging to their out-groups. The example Jon Ronson gives in his book So you’ve been publicly shamed, and in various talks viewable online, is of a woman who makes a careless joke mocking views on AIDS and Africans is first taken to task by a ‘right-thinking’ in-group, and then character-assasinated in a sort of race to the top, or bottom, in terms of high dudgeon or indignation. All of this occurring on Twitter in a matter of hours, unbeknown to the target.

Canto: And you’ve given a fairly generic example there – a person tweets something careless, someone takes umbrage and retweets it, sometimes distorting it slightly, or adding some dark colour to it, and a kind of holier-than-thou hatred gets unleashed. But I must say, I’m not a Twitter user, so I’m very much out of this loop. What Ronson tells me is about the horrific power of Twitter, which makes me glad to be out of it. I like to think that I wouldn’t engage in that sort of thing myself, I’ve always been wary of crowds and of saying things to be popular, which is what this is partly about isn’t it?

Jacinta: Yes, part of it is about displaying your ‘virtue’ and allegiance to your in-group, but it often becomes very violent, and because of the online aspect, it can spread more rapidly and involve far more people than ye olde public square shaming. Reputations can be shredded and victims may find it difficult to recover.

Canto: But isn’t there good public shaming? I mean, I don’t know much about the Volkswagen scandal, how they duped the system and presented false data about diesel emissions, but you can imagine a scenario in which a car manufacturer tries to keep something dodgy about their data secret, and a disgruntled employee blows the whistle on Twitter, creating a firestorm of indignation and retribution.

Jacinta: That’s a good point but even that is very likely to get out of hand, with solid factual information mixing with bullshit and personal grievances. As a weapon, public shaming is always going to be a bit of a loose canon. Think of a company like Monsanto, which to a particular in-group is synonymous with Pure Evil, and just seems to bring out the worst of responses from the loopy left, no matter what it does.

Canto: So what’s the solution?

Jacinta: Not surprisingly, finding solutions is far easier than creating problems. But before I get into that – and you’ll probably guess what they are – thinking before you tweet, giving the benefit of the doubt, respecting diversity, watching out for mob behaviour… before I get into that, let’s look at the various forms or techniques of public shaming.

Canto: Well, there’s doxing – which comes from documents. Publishing or posting documentary info on someone, often private info, to harass, shame or expose something about them. This can be done for good or ill of course. There’s naming and shaming, which is often used against paedophiles or people released on parole or after serving a sentence, who are perceived as a danger to the public by some vigilante group or individual. There’s revenge porn – nude or ‘compromising’ photos often posted by jilted lovers, but also by computer hackers for various nefarious purposes. This, along with doxing and other forms of online targeting, can have permanent effects on the target’s career and reputation.

Jacinta: Yes, and there’s the ‘shaming’ of restaurants or products, often done in an organised way, and groups like ‘GetUp’ and ‘change.org’ who drive online petitions against companies or decisions they don’t like, and as you can see, this shaming can shade into ideological disputes such as environmentalism v big business, or even conspiracy theories. But I do notice that, in terms of individual shaming, women usually come out of it worse than men. The Justine Sacco shaming is an obvious example. The tweet she sent was extremely mild compared to those sent about her…

Canto: Apparently some black people found it offensive…

Jacinta: Well, come on, the ironic nature of the tweet has been explained countless times. It wasn’t hilariously funny, sure, but if you remain ‘offended’ then you’re one of those serially offended people who blight the lives of everyone who likes to engage in a bit, or a lot, of self-and-other-mockery.

Canto: But I’ve read that Sacco has recently been reinstated in the job she was sacked from as a result of the tweetstorm, and before that she was doing well in another job of a similar sort. So she hasn’t suffered much.

Jacinta: Clearly she’s very talented in her line of work, and good luck to her, but the level of abuse she suffered – often sexualised – tends to be reserved for women. And take the case of Adria Richards, also dealt with in Ronson’s book, which I haven’t read, but there’s an interesting online article about her. She was at a conference and heard two guys nearby having a private but loud conversation which included such sexual terms as ‘I’d fork his repo’ (I’ve no idea what that means) and ‘big dongle’ (not a term I would use – I prefer cock and prick). She found this offensive and tweeted as much, including a photo of the guys. One of the guys was sacked as a result, but when he himself tweeted about what he considered the underhand nature of what she did, the Twitter world turned on Richards big-time. She was sacked after a campaign by hackers launched a ‘distributed denial of service’ attack on her employer, and internet trolls gave her a horribly hard time with the usual disgusting invective that tends to get directed at women.

Canto: Well, I’ve read the article, and I agree that she was treated horribly, but I would say the over-reaction was on both sides. I must say that, to start with, if she was so offended by the lads’ remarks, why not turn round and ask them to shut up? And second, I don’t understand what’s so offensive about forking and repo and dongles, whatever they are. I presume they’re sexual terms but like you, I was brought up in a working-class environment where a cock was called a cock, a cunt a cunt and a fuck a fuck. Most euphemisms aren’t even comprehensible to me, let alone offensive.

Jacinta: Well I can only agree. I think it’s an American problem. But the first thing she should surely have done was ask them to desist if she was offended. It’s quite likely that they would have complied. There’s no mention of her ever doing that. And posting photos of someone online without their permission should be a big no-no. I already have friends who refuse that permission – they’ve become very wary of social media and I don’t blame them. So it was a ‘classic over-reaction’ as one commentator out it, but then to go after Richards in revenge was also wrong.

Canto: It’s a classic example of what’s being called the ‘weaponising’ of social media, people’s lives getting messed up because they can’t engage in straightforward communication, and need to parade their offendedness to the world. Let me tell you a story about trash-talking from my younger days. I was at a party with my girlfriend and we ended up staying the night, sleeping on the floor in a spare room, along with another girl, an old friend of my girlfriend, whom she hadn’t seen in ages. The two women ended up talking much of the night, or rather my girlfriend’s friend held forth in a long monologue about her high-octane sex life, describing a host of encounters in detail, comparing tackle and performances ad nauseum, all with a degree of contempt and mockery that made me wonder why she hadn’t switched to a more enjoyable hobby. However, it never once occurred to me to complain. I was no doubt fascinated at first, but the relentless inhumane carping soon turned me off. Now imagine if this hadn’t occurred way back in the eighties, imagine I was a different sort of person, and I’d recorded the whole thing on my smartphone and posted it online…

Jacinta: She would’ve suffered hell, which even she wouldn’t have deserved. Which brings us again to solutions. And really, at the moment it’s self-imposed solutions. I don’t know if there are any laws preventing us to post images of others without their permission, but they might have to be created. And of course it would be just about impossible to impose laws preventing people from making false or injurious statements about others online. Laws about hate speech are endlessly controversial, for obvious reasons. We’re only just waking up to the power of these social media sites to destroy reputations based on the tiniest of infractions, often misunderstood. The Adria Richards case perfectly illustrates this. Of course the owners and managers of these sites need to be part of the solution, but they’re loath to impose severe restrictions. I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

etcetera etcetera etcetera etcetera

Written by stewart henderson

March 31, 2018 at 5:17 pm

Trump’s downfall: he won’t go quietly

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The attack on Andrew McCabe, including his precipitate firing, isn’t really a new low, but the fact that it was accompanied by so much Trumpeting invective, followed by the old – but less often seen recently – invective against Team Mueller, all stems IMHO from the subpoena on Trump’s businesses and their financing. This spells Trump’s doom, but it may take some time. Meanwhile Team Mueller is faced with a speedy assault, and a possible attempt to fire Mueller while whipping his scarily loyal base. The attempt by his lawyer, Dowd, surely at the Trump’s urging, to get Mueller to close proceedings, was predictably met with silence, and the promise of a (small) number of Republicans to protect Mueller. But Trump’s behaviour seems to be closing off all options. After his rantings, what can he do but fire his inquisitor, which I believe he has the power to do, though both Sessions and Rosenstein have expressed their support for Mueller. Congressional Republicans appear to be all at sea on the issue. They tried to introduce bipartisan legislation to protect the enquiry but it has gone nowhere. Trump will no doubt try to appeal directly to ‘the people’, his base, as he always has. That’s what his tweeting is all about.

The point is, Trump is no Nixon. He’s no ideologue, he’s pure demagogue. He doesn’t care about his cluelessness, he just wants to be in control, with the power of a Putin or ‘kill all drug dealers’ Duterte. As such, he’s hoping that the people he’s conned will back him against Mueller and co, with violence if necessary.

Trump won’t resign. Never. If they come for him, he’ll lock himself in the White House toilet, and they’ll have to knock the door down and taser him. So how will his dumping be dealt with? But before I explore that thorny issue, what if Trump somehow fires Mueller, which now seems highly likely?

First, there’s the question of how that process will work. I think it starts with Sessions, who has said not so long ago that he has full faith in Mueller. However, he could switch, and probably will. So then, with Mueller fired, what would congressional Republicans do? One pundit argues, from recent Republican responses, that they’ll do nothing. If that’s so, I don’t know what will happen. Others talk of a constitutional crisis, but I honestly don’t know what that entails.

I don’t know how Trump can get out of this. He might be thinking if he keeps slugging it out, demonising his pursuers, he might improve his popularity. Some polls are registering an improvement, though the one I regularly use hasn’t changed much at around 40%. There just seems no way his popularity will surge. And at some stage there will be a request that might turn into a subpoena, or an indictment of someone much closer to him than heretofore. As another pundit suggests, he might try to legally resist a subpoena, and this could drag along for months. Meanwhile the mid-terms are approaching, and however they go he’ll be faced with a far less supine congress by year’s end.

I don’t know much about impeachment, and I don’t particularly want to go there, because it’s a political process and I’m more interested in the law and criminality. I find it hard to believe Team Mueller won’t find any indictable offences when trawling through Trump’s finances. I do have concerns about what the Trump Organisation will hand over. It just seems to me unlikely that they’ll come clean about all their dealings. So money laundering and other financial crimes are likely. Obstruction too, with evidence from Comey, McCabe and others. The Wikileaks connection could be another factor, and Kushner’s dodgy business connections, and the horribly complicated Clinton emails controversy.

So again we’re left to wait for another dramatic move from Team Mueller. It’s hard not to be distracted by the Trump’s melodramatics though, as we try to work out how to hook the slippery old fish. Many pundits are saying he’s his own worst enemy, but is he? This is a guy who’s been involved in shady business dealing for decades, a guy who has fucked over many people, who has been high-handed and amoral throughout his life, and has gotten away with it. He has never really suffered any punishment. Will it be different this time? Nobody knows at this point. That’s the morbid fascination of it. I note that he’s looking to add more lawyers to his team as Mueller, Avenatti et al come after him. My guess is that he plans to surround himself with an ultra-thick layer of lawyers so that they’ll have to use a chainsaw to eventually get to him. It’s going to get grizzly.

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 22, 2018 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump’s downfall – like watching a slow-mo train wreck

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the demise of Richard III

So after something of a lull (but not in the offices of the DoJ’s Mueller and his team) everything’s hotting up in the Russia investigation, and my prediction seems now a dead cert. The indictment of the thirteen was a fascinating read, and we’ve yet to find out if any Americans close to Trump were wittingly involved in this trolling affair. There’s likely more to come from that direction, but the most recent guilty plea and co-operation deal from former White House aide Rick Gates lands a decisive blow, and we still haven’t heard from Flynn – though there may be nothing much to hear.

The Mueller team’s strategy in this investigation, or perhaps I should say the pundits’ attempts to comprehend the strategy, makes for irresistibly compelling viewing and listening, especially as we’re now getting reading material from the team, and very deliberately so, as the American public, or that part of it that matters, need to be made aware of the real and serious nature of the Russian threat and the relationship between the Trump campaign and presidency, and Russian oligarchs, government officials and supporters, such as former Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych. I should mention the most compelling of the pundits, for me, who include Rachel Maddow, Laurence O’Donnell and Ari Melber for MSNBC, and Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo for CNN and their numerous expert guests.

What has been tantalisingly suggested in the most recent indictments of Manafort, Gates and the Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan is a possible/probable connection between 1: Manafort’s financial problems and the many swindles he engaged in after the deposing of Yanukovych in 2014 and the sudden reduction of those problems when he became Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, and 2: the financial connections between Trump and members of his family and Russian oligarchs. One key to that reduction seems to be the millions of dollars of loans received from a Chicago bank headed by a Trump supporter, who apparently was hoping to be made Secretary of the Army in return. Didn’t happen of course.

And the crises keep on coming in Trumpland. I’ve not written here for a few days, and the latest, just in, is that Kushner has been effectively demoted due to his lack of a security clearance, which will mean a battle between him and John Kelly, which will involve Trump, but more importantly it will focus attention on just why Kushner is deemed a security risk. And of course the clearance issue involves a scandalously large number of White House staff besides Kushner. Another shemozzle. There was apparently a conversation between White House counsel Don McGann and Deputy A-G Rosenstein (initiated by the White House I’ll bet) a couple of weeks ago about Kushner’s clearance. I’d love to have heard its substance. It’ll be interesting to see how Trump handles this particular debacle. He presumably won’t fire Kelly, because that’ll do nothing for the clearance situation – it’s people like Mueller and Rosenstein he wants to fire. My guess is he’ll try to continue with business as usual, defying Kelly’s order that Kushner not be allowed access to top secret documents. The media need to be watchful on this.

But getting back to Manafort-Gates, this appears to be the main game re Trump’s downfall. According to all the legal analysts, the case against Manafort is more than extremely strong, and his only hope of getting a lighter sentence is to plead guilty and co-operate with the Mueller investigation – though perhaps he’d prefer to live his life out in jail than leave himself open to Russian hit-men. He’s showing no sign of cracking as yet, but I can’t imagine it’s due to loyalty to Trump. Meanwhile, reports are that Trump is very worried about Manafort spilling the beans. Again it’s all about following the money.

For the rest of this piece, though, I want to focus on whether Trump will be kicked out, how will he be kicked out, the obstacles and a little bit about the aftermath. First, let me focus on an article in the New Republic, by Matt Ford, published in late January, entitled ‘Trump is Here to Stay’. It’s not a pro-Trump piece, but it questions the likelihood of indicting a sitting president. This is a key question, because I’ve never taken much interest in the political process known as impeachment, which is a more or less uniquely American thing. To me, it should be all about the law – laws being similar (or more similar than different) in all advanced western nations. And no single person, regardless of station, should be above the law. So I would be expecting that Trump would be removed by the Department of Justice, not by Congress, but there’s no precedent for this. But there’s no precedent for Trump either. I wouldn’t want Trump to be removed by a political process, I’d want him to be removed for breaking the law, or laws.

So what laws would he have broken? Obstruction of justice and perjury are two obvious ones, and others would have to do with his finances, and how they tie him closely to Russian oligarchs and their extreme anti-democratic ambitions and their interference in the recent elections – for which one Russian oligarch has already been indicted. Of course my disagreement with Ford and his article is driven by optimism and an unwonted love of fireworks, but I think that, though he accepts Mueller’s thoroughness, he underestimates it. He might also think differently now that these Russians have been indicted, and Gates has pleaded guilty. The Mueller team have come out in public a lot more in the past month, and more is surely expected, nobody can really predict what will come out next. Indictments against, say, Kushner for his financial dealings may change the picture, especially if they’re comprehensive. And Manafort may yet change his tune under pressure. And remember that the Mueller team can look at any wrong-doings that turn up in the course of their investigations, which include the dodgy profits Trump is certainly deriving from simply being the President. I think Ford also underestimates the groundswell of resistance, which may lead to unprecedented national action throughout 2018. The mood against Trump may turn more and more ugly, and if a Mueller indictment comes on top of that, we may witness a true constitutional crisis. For example, I don’t see Pence as being acceptable to the American public, so we’ll be in uncharted territory. Americans might at last see that their political system needs some serious revision – too many personal appointees of America’s CEO and not enough elected officials running things – not enough democracy, in effect.

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 1, 2018 at 11:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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watching Trump’s downfall – follow the money

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veteran federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, bullish criminal fraud expert and key member of the Mueller team

Canto: The good thing about the Mueller investigation, or ‘special counsel enquiry’, is its broad terms of reference, as we Australians would describe it. The brief of the enquiry is to investigate any links and/or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation…

Jacinta: So that would include obstructing justice, but I’m not sure that the firing of James Comey, then head of the FBI, in May 2017, will fit the ‘obstruction of justice’ category.

Canto: But the FBI were investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Trump more or less admitted, just after firing Comey, that it was because of the ‘Russia thing’.

Jacinta: ‘More or less’ isn’t good enough, and it could be argued that justice wasn’t obstructed because Comey’s firing led directly to the Mueller investigation.

Canto: Okay forget obstructing justice, at least for now, I was going to talk about money. That’s to say, matters arising directly from the investigation. That’s how Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted. They were lobbying for the pro-Russian faction in Ukraine, in particular the disgustingly villainous Viktor Yanukovych, but were involved, not incidentally, in massive money-laundering schemes. So they’re in big trouble, and it’s well known that Trump and his family are up to their ears in Russian money, and if Trump’s finances aren’t dodgy, then the term dodgy surely has no meaning. Mueller’s team, detailed here, ‘possess a vast array of experience investigating financial fraud, corruption, money laundering, foreign bribery, and organized crime’. A perfect bunch to catch out Trump.

Jacinta: You’re making a few assumptions here about Trump’s corruption. Yes he’s a bullshit artist, he doesn’t have any normal concept of the truth, he’s ignorant, he’s inhumane, he’s a bully and much more. That doesn’t make him a criminal. If he was involved in the kind of activities Manafort was involved in, he surely would’ve been indicted by now.

Canto: They may have enough to indict him, but doing so would bring the investigation to a spectacular halt. His indictment might be the cherry on the cake, the last thing to add. First they’ll be spiralling in on the family, Kushner and Trump Jr…

Jacinta: You’re sounding like the most optimistic anti-Trump pundit, imagining they already have mountains of evidence, they’re just adding to the pile to make this the most spectacular house-of-cards downfall in US history, for which their names (I mean the Mueller team) will be covered in eternal glory. I’m a little sceptical.

Canto: Trump has never produced his tax returns and I’m assuming he has much to hide. His companies declared bankruptcy four times in the early nineties, and two more times in the 2000s. It came to the point where the only bank that would lend to him was Deutsche Bank, a financial institution that was at the same time heavily into laundering Russian money. And it’s no secret that Trump and his family are heavily indebted to Russian oligarchs – super-rich members of Putin’s kleptocracy. Naturally they’re expecting a quid pro quo. This is where the interference lies – Trump’s indebtedness and the Russian government’s expectations.

Jacinta: But has Russia really benefitted, apart from Trump’s fawning over Putin? There was talk of the Trump administration going easy on Russia in exchange for dirt on Clinton, but it hasn’t actually happened has it? Trump’s personal indebtedness to Russians, if proven, doesn’t prove that he or his team conspired with Russians to subvert the US political/democratic system. I mean, there’s no doubt the Russians have been trying to subvert the American, and British and French and other western governments, and they were working toward a Trump victory in 2016 for obvious reasons, but whether or not they conspired directly with the Trump team, that’s unclear. Certainly the Russians would’ve tried to, but did they actually succeed, and what evidence has there been of a quid pro quo?

Canto: We don’t know, but it’s likely that Mueller’s team does. They’ve subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for documents relating to Trump and his family’s finances, though this has been denied by Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. Deutsche Bank is about the only major bank in the world willing to lend to Trump, and it was found guilty of laundering some $10 billion dollars of Russian money last year. Kushner received a loan of $285 million from Deutsche Bank in 2016, just before election day. The Mueller investigators will know much much more about this than we or any reporters do. It’s about connecting the dots, to quote one reporter, between the Trump and Kushner finances, Deutsche Bank and Putin and his billionaire kleptocrats. Apparently Trump and his companies have received no less than $3.5 billion in loans and loan-guarantee agreements from Deutsche Bank since 1998. It’s impossible to believe that Mueller’s lawyers aren’t shining all sorts of lights on all this murkiness and making more sense of it than has ever been made before. I look forward to the next indictment. It might be the most fateful one yet.

Jacinta: Okay, here’s a question. What exactly is money laundering?

Canto: Well, as the term suggests, it’s about turning dirty money into apparently clean stuff. Ill-gotten into ‘legit’. Though the term has become envaguened in recent years,

Jacinta: Good word.

Canto: Thanks, so now it just about covers all kinds of dodgy financial dealings, including terrorist financing. But the key, usually, is to give the appearance of legitimacy to money obtained illegally or wrongfully. And of course the variety of ways this can be done is just about endless. So let me tell you about the Deutsche Bank ‘mirror trade’ system. It was about accepting two trades at once that looked essentially equal and opposite, one in roubles, the other in dollars or other western currencies. These trades looked innocuous but their real purpose was to convert money, and to shift it out of Russia. This, inter alia, helped to ‘clean up’ the money, which was more often than not of dubious origin, given Putin’s kleptocracy.

Jacinta: Just a quick read of Deutsche Bank’s history reveals scandal after scandal, a history of corruption – fraud, price manipulation and so on… which makes me long to get off the topic of money-grubbing and kleptomania and political jiggery-pokery and back to sciencey subjects. I’ve had enough.

Canto: Okay, I’ll try to get my mind off the Trump spectacle – what will happen will happen. No more, I promise – for a while. Just let me end with a list of dictators Trump has lavished praise on. Of course there’s Russia’s Putin and Duterte of the Philippines, but there’s also Nursultan Nazarbayev, dictator of Kazakhstan for the last 25 years; Xi Jinping, long-time leader and now dictator of China, lover of execution and other forms of repression; Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s new repressive macho-man; Recep Erdogan, the Turkish bag of shit; and he’s expressed approval of Kim Jong Un and even Saddam Hussein. In fact, anybody who doesn’t seize power for himself (no women allowed) and hold onto it for a long time is considered a lightweight…

Jacinta: Okay calm down, let’s look at different sorts of power in the future…

 

Written by stewart henderson

January 4, 2018 at 10:53 am

watching Trump’s downfall – a new civil war?

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Putain and Frump chat about the best Russian hidey-holes cum 2018

Canto: So maybe I’m getting a bit over-excited about the Trump mess. I’m already getting nervous about my prediction that he’ll have fled to exile in Russia by next year.

Jacinta: That was your prediction?

Canto: Well, no I just thought of that one, but he’ll be out of office. The thing is, it’s the Mueller probe that’s most likely to nail him, and I’m being forced to defer to lawyers who predict that Mueller’s team won’t be completed until 2019 or beyond.

Jacinta: Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Canto: Still, there are other possibilities. His popularity is the lowest of any Prez after a year in office since polling began, by a long way. It’s a slow, steady decline, and if it continues that way it’ll be well down in the twenties by late next year, and that may mirror his fall, slow and steady.

Jacinta: Though hopefully with no soft landing.

Canto: Well if he’s out of power it couldn’t possibly be soft. And I don’t mean weakened by the mid-term elections, I mean out the door.

Jacinta: Well the Republicans have just passed what many are calling a truly terrible tax bill, and people are already taking to the streets. And considering that Trump himself is going to benefit massively from it, while the have-nots and have-littles, many of whom voted for Trump, have been screwed, it may be that this time his base will shrink more than he ever thought it could.

Canto: Yes, there might be fighting in the streets. And here’s where Trump’s over-confident arrogance might just kill him off. He’s made a dangerous promise to campaign heavily towards the mid-terms next year, because he thinks he alone can fix it, that’s to say he can bring his ratings up with the same bullshit that he used last year. The same aggression, the same fake promises, the same conspiracy theories, the same hate speech. But his base, or maybe his ex-base, won’t have seen any improvement in their lives, the circus will have lost a lot of its glitz and the opposition will be mobilised to protest, to drown him out. It could turn ugly, and as fewer people buy into his shite…

Jacinta: The shrinking base will get tougher and angrier, and it’ll be the confederates and the union all over again. Or something.

Canto: Well, war of a kind is brewing, because the rhetoric, especially from the far right, is getting apocalyptic. Mueller and the FBI and the DoJ are in the process of launching a coup, they should be marched out of their lawyerly hidey-holes in cuffs, we have to act now to stop this show trial, that sort of thing.

Jacinta: And some say this is getting orchestrated, or at least egged on, by the White House. Trump junior even got in on the act the other day. He apparently likes to talk about rigged systems and a sinister Deep State…

Canto: The one responsible for September 11?

Jacinta: Yes, and contrails and the fake moon landings and the assassination of JFK and AIDS. The one running the USA and the world from bunkers deep beneath the Rocky Mountains. Anyway the Deep State is now a kind of anti-Trump, similar to the Anti-Christ, out to destroy the Prez.

Canto: Though he’s doing a pretty good job of that himself. And all the adults are saying that Mueller’s a consummate professional and his team won’t be fazed by the baying hounds, but I’m just wondering whether things might get out of control if they don’t produce something positive soon, like an indictment of Kushner, or a summons to Trump himself.

Jacinta: But wouldn’t that just set the Trumpets blaring?

Canto: Not if it was a solid indictment, or a well-worded summons. Of course plenty of Trumpets would blare, and Fox News would howl…

Jacinta: Do foxes howl?

Canto: Yes and they bark and scream and gekker and it’s all pretty hair-raising, but the Trumpets are definitely more dangerous. But anyway I think the drama that would follow the next big Mueller move would be nothing compared to the drama that would follow a move against Mueller, by the White House or a GOP faction.

Jacinta: A number of prominent Dems consider that the holiday break would be an ideal time for Trump to make a move, and they’re issuing warnings. What do you think?

Canto: I think these warnings are tactically sound, though they’re also heartfelt. They really feel this is a fight for democracy. I don’t think Trump would have done anything, but these Democrats speaking up helps to assure that.

Jacinta: Well if Trump does act the civil war may begin with the ‘nobody is above the law‘ rallies. Heard of them?

Canto: Yes a bipartisan organisation that’s set to mobilise protesters around the nation from the moment that Mueller is sacked. So they’ve learned from the past, but the Trumpets should’ve learned too. I don’t think there will be another Saturday night massacre.

Jacinta: No, and I think Trump’s trickier than you might think – he seems to slime his way out of a lot of situations that would see others in prison, and I think he’ll manage somehow to slime his way out of having to swear to anything on oath. But I don’t think he’ll ever manage to slime his way back into popularity again. I would love it if the people got him.

Canto: Like Mussolini?

Jacinta: A pleasant fantasy but let’s be civilised. An uprising so relentless as to make his administration completely unworkable.

Canto: So a night-flight to Russia mightn’t be out of the question then?

Jacinta: Well I can only think of two things that would undo him, a popular uprising or a situation in which he’s forced, personally, to tell the truth.

Canto: But there’s a third. Being forced to reveal his finances.

Jacinta: Well I include that in the second. Being forced to tell the truth about his finances.

Canto: I’m getting impatient, waiting for the DoJ’s next move. I heard they were going to interview Trump’s lawyers, who keep trying to calm him down, like with this idea that he’s about to be exonerated.

Jacinta: Which is silly. I’m pretty sure the investigation will get to Trump, but not until they’ve built up a really solid case. And they won’t be asking him to sit down to a friendly interview, as was reported on somewhat speculatively back in October. Anyway, a few days ago the press were all over this story about the Mueller team interviewing Trump’s lawyers, but I’ve heard nothing since.

Canto: The DoJ won’t be leaking anything about it if it takes place. The White House leaks like the Titanic, but it’s all bullshit.

Jacinta: I think obfuscation’s a better word. Yes you won’t be able to trust anything they say, but Trump’s mood might be revealing.

Canto: Not necessarily. You’re assuming the lawyers will relay to Trump the truth about their meeting. Better to assume the opposite.

Jacinta: What a tangled web they weave. Maybe a public uprising will cut the Gordon knot.

Canto: Most obscurantly put Jacinta. Most obscurantly.

Written by stewart henderson

December 24, 2017 at 8:06 pm

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watching Trump’s downfall – waiting for Mueller

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Trump’s rating, from Gallup. Opinion polls differ on Trump’s precise rating, but all show a steady decline throughout the year

Canto: So let’s have fun talking about the craziest political administration in my long lifetime, and where it’s going.

Jacinta: Not fun for everyone, not fun for women, non-whites, the poor, scientists, the judiciary, sick people, intellectuals, the FBI, net start-ups…

Canto: But not so bad for people who don’t actually live in the USA…

Jacinta: Rubbish. The abandonment of net neutrality in the USA will affect access to net content in Australia and elsewhere, with much more control going to established providers, and this administration’s anti-science stupidity will affect Australian scientists working or wanting to work in the USA.

Canto: Okay, not so bad for me. Especially as I’m confident that Trump will be out on his arse within months.

Jacinta: So how do you think that will happen?

Canto: Well right now, Trump is being pressured by his base via Fox News to sack the head of the Special Enquiry, Robert Mueller. This is funny in itself because they don’t explain how this can be done and they don’t look at the consequences. So they seem to be unwittingly precipitating Trump’s downfall.

Jacinta: How so?

Canto: Well imagine Trump takes the advice of Fox – advice that he himself is urging them to provide. Trump apparently hasn’t the  capacity to sack Mueller directly, much to his chagrin. This must come from the Attorney-General, Jefferson Sessions, but he has recused himself from this whole issue, so the job falls to his deputy, Rob Rosenstein, who very recently made it clear that he wouldn’t sack Mueller without just cause. And he stated clearly only a week or so ago that he didn’t see any just cause at that time.

Jacinta: But since then members of the Trump transition team and GOP pro-Trumpers…

Canto: I prefer to call them Trumpets, very noisy ones.

Jacinta: Okay, a few Trumpets are making a big noise about Mueller’s team having obtained the transition team’s emails illegally, a claim strenuously denied by a spokesman for Mueller.

Canto: And other independent law experts have argued that the Trumpets are blowing hot air on this. And think about it, this enquiry is investigating collusion between the transition team and Russian officials, collusion to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. What would be the first evidence they’d want to look at? Communications of course. Emails. So if there was no collusion, why would the the transition team be complaining about a collecting and investigating of emails?

Jacinta: Yes, you’d think they’d be handing over their emails and texts voluntarily. Nothing to see here, see?

Canto: Right, so Rosenstein won’t agree to sack Mueller, so he’d have to be sidelined somehow, and Trump would have to go down the line to find someone to sack Mueller, which by the way wouldn’t stop the enquiry from proceeding. And I’ve heard from experts that there aren’t too many down the line who would have the authority to sack Mueller, so he might reach a dead end there, and imagine all the adverse publicity a mess like that would create.

Jacinta: For Mister 32%. But I’ve heard that Mueller could be sacked by Presidential privilege, and that it could happen sooner rather than later, which could be the real beginning of the end for Trump. If Congress doesn’t react to that, the general public might.

Canto: Right, if Trump manages to fire Trump directly – and we know how he loves doing that – he’ll want to shut down the whole enquiry, citing ‘there’s no collusion, no collusion, it’s obvious folks, so obvious’, and there’s no way he’ll carry the general public on that one. A recent survey says that 68% of them disapprove of his response to the probe already, and that percentage will jump if he takes direct action, surely.

Jacinta: Well I’ve also just heard, through the cable news networks we’ve been consuming like popcorn lately, that Trump is expecting a letter of exoneration from the Mueller team soon. Where he got this idea from nobody quite knows – lawyers are saying nobody gets letters of exoneration from these types of enquiries. they publish their final findings and that’s it. It’s possible though that he got the idea from his own lawyers, or more likely from a garbled self-serving interpretation of what they’ve been telling him. Trump’s private lawyers are due to meet with the Mueller team next week, and they may have suggested to him that this is a sign that the enquiry is winding up.

Canto: Fat chance of that. Or should I say, my god I hope not. But it’s unlikely for a number of reasons. First, his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, a very close associate and friend of Trump, has pled guilty to a number of relatively minor charges as part of a plea bargain he’s made with the Mueller probe, and most lawyers I’ve listened to are quite certain Mueller will have gotten valuable information on collusion from Flynn, and possibly also Papadopoulos. That would probably implicate Kushner as well as Trump himself. It’s also a well-known fact that Trump’s finances are tied up with Russia and have been for decades. He’s clearly beholden to Russian interests, which is why he’s so sensitive to the collusion issue.

Jacinta: I have one word to add. Deutschebank.

Canto: I think it’s two words actually, but yes Deutsche Bank has been subpoenaed to produce Trump’s financial records. I’m sure they’d be very revealing, especially considering Trump’s fawning attitude to Putin, one of the world’s most ruthless dictators. This is one of the least publicised points in the case, and it may well be the one point that crushes Trump.

Jacinta: And it could take the Department of Justice about a year just to sort through that mess. But can Trump himself be subpoenaed? I can’t imagine him testifying under oath without committing perjury after perjury.

Canto: I believe Trump can be subpoenaed, and he’s said he’s perfectly willing to testify under oath, without being subpoenaed, but of course that was just one of his lovely bubbles, and I suspect his head would explode if he really was forced to tell the truth. Not out of anger, but out of ‘that does not compute’ confusion. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word.

Jacinta: Yes I don’t think he’d go willingly into that lion’s den. But this is one of the frustrations for me. The Trumpets want this enquiry to end soon, preferably with Mueller and his team going straight to jail, but most lawyers and independents believe it’s far from over and may stretch into 2019. So the frustration is that I want to see Trump meet his demise asap, but I know that an investigation that brings down a sitting President has to be more thorough than thorough. And if, say, charges are brought against Kushner or Trump junior in the near future, the Trumpets will blare out for the investigation to be investigated, and Trump’s rage will make him more unhinged and incoherent than ever. That itself may bring about a national crisis…

Canto: Yes, well that’s where the fun begins, for us in our faraway ivory tower…

Fox Trumpets

Written by stewart henderson

December 20, 2017 at 8:05 am

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