an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘politics

zero sum game nationalism, Chinese style

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Jacinta: So we’ve been hearing about Russia’s, or Putin’s, obsession with wrecking democratic processes in the USA, Europe and elsewhere – not to mention in Russia itself – but what about Russia’s much more economically smart neighbour, China? We know it’s bent on interference, but for what reason, and to what degree?

Canto: Well this conversation’s based on something we heard this morning, about China having interfered, or tried to, in the last few federal elections, and the consequent problem of foreign donations and investments, and ‘pay for play’ generally.

Jacinta: Yes there’s been a top secret report into foreign interference generally, which is unfortunately ‘classified’, but some of it’s being leaked apparently, and there’s an article about it here. The report names China as the most concerning nation.

Canto: Quelle surprise. And it gets murky fairly quickly, with former NSW Premier and federal Foreign Minister Bob Carr, clearly a Chinese government apologist, trying to undermine John Garnaut, the principal author of the secret report. He recently described Garnaut as one of ”the leaders of the recent anti-China panic in the Australian media”.

Jacinta: Right – why should we panic about the most populous and economically dynamic nation on the planet, a massive human rights abusing dictatorship, interfering with all of our election processes down to the council level, with increasing frequency and sophistication? Surely they’re just doing it for our benefit?

Canto: Garnaut’s ASIO enquiry examined China’s infiltration of Australian political parties, media and academia, and it probed the activities of Huang Xiangmo, a billionaire Chinese businessman who created a ‘think tank’ (always a term to raise the skeptical antennae) called the Australian China Relations Institute (ACRI), headed by Carr. Huang also runs a lobbying organisation for the Chinese Communist Party. Garnaut provided testimony to the US Congress a couple of months ago about China’s considerable activities in interfering with Australian elections. Meanwhile Carr is talking up how friendly to us the Chinese dictatorship is, and questioning Garnaut’s right to advise the government on these matters. He doesn’t seem to have much interest in the facts about interference – which admittedly, we’re all in the dark about, in terms of details. Anyway, ACRI appears to be little more than a lobbying group.

Jacinta: I worry about academic interference, as I work in a field that’s become ever more dependent on full-fee Chinese students. What’s most clear about Chinese students – pace those from Hong Kong – is their general ignorance of and indifference to a political system that allows them no voice and provides them with minimal and distorted info. So I try to open their minds a little, but I get nervous – I’ve heard of spies in the ranks, reporting back to the Beijing bully-boys. And fear of ‘insulting’ the dictatorship, biting the hand that feeds us, will surely be hampering university administrators as well. The worry is that the universities profiting from all this Chinese money will become advocates of a softly softly approach and turning a blind eye to political influence.

Canto: But so far we haven’t addressed the question of what China hopes to gain through interference. Clive Hamilton – no doubt one of Carr’s ‘panic merchants’ –  had much trouble publishing his book Silent Invasion, simply for fear of a Beijing backlash. Two major publishers backed out – were they leaned on? The book raises questions about Carr and Andrew Robb and their dealings with billionaire businessmen..

Jacinta: But look, I do wonder about Silent Invasion‘s subtitle, ‘how China is turning Australia into a puppet state’. Doesn’t that sound a teensy bit panicky?

Canto: Granted, but there are disturbing things happening on Australian soil – which we shouldn’t panic about, but we should act upon. And we should be aware that China is not our friend, as is generally the case with small countries when big countries come sniffing around them. Look at the Philippines way back in the day, when they got some US assistance in their fight for independence from Spain. Once the natives had gained their independence the poor buggers then had to fight off the US, which was only interested in gaining control. Rule of thumb for small countries – don’t trust the overtures of the friendly giants in your neighbourhood, because for the time being, until we grow out of this infantile stage of humanity, nationalism is largely a zero sum game.

Jacinta: There was a small demonstration by a group of Tibetans in Canberra some years ago, at the time of the Beijing Olympics torch relay. They were set upon by Chinese thugs, apparently in what appears to have been an organised attack. Wonder what organisation was behind it. On that occasion, thousands of Chinese students were apparently bussed into Canberra, to celebrate their Chinese-ness. Rumour has it that they were bribed with job offers in China. That probably happens in China itself – fealty to the dictatorship is doubtless a pre-requisite for getting on in business there.

Canto: And the Chinese government recently issued a warning to students due to attacks on them by Australians, though it looks to have been an over-reaction, and probably politically motivated.

Jacinta: I’m sure there have been such racist attacks, we’re just as racist as other countries of course, but the Chinese government would love to have something to criticise us for. Our government’s announcement of tougher espionage laws was met by the usual claims from China of bias and a cold war mentality.

Canto: Those laws were announced precisely as a result of evidence of Chinese interference, and the reasons for the interference are the usual nationalistic ones – to get Australia to allow more Chinese investment, to have a more sympathetic attitude to China’s expansionism in the region, to support China’s domestic assimilation policies and the like. So there are the usual self-interested big nation issues, but there’s also the drive to get Australia, and other nations, to wholly accept its oligarchic and dictatorial closed society with its associated human rights abuses as legitimate, or at least of no concern to other nations.

Jacinta: The Sydney Morning Herald has a maddeningly undated 3-part online article, ‘China’s Operation Australia’, written by a team of top journalists, which highlights ASIO’s concerns about influence peddling and the monitoring of Chinese dissidents inside Australia. Chinese media have been particularly targeted, with some once-independent Chinese news outlets succumbing to the pressure of the Chinese oligarchy. ASIO believes it to be the largest foreign interference campaign ever carried out in Australia.

Canto: Yes and two of the biggest operatives in this campaign are the aforementioned Huang Xiangmo, and Chau Chak Wing. They’re both billionaires, and Chau is an Australian citizen, so changes to the law about political donations from foreigners wouldn’t affect him, though he appears to be in cahoots with the oligarchy. However it appears to be Huang who’s most suspect, though it’s not entirely clear why. He’s a dynamic business type from humble origins who appears to be genuinely philanthropic as well being a hustler for influence. His keenness to become an Australian citizen suggests he’s not entirely wedded to the Chinese political system, while other activities suggest otherwise. And here’s where I start to question, or put into perspective, the ASIO concern. If there’s influence peddling here, it’s not like the rabid Russian, Putin-directed attempts to subvert democracy in the USA and Europe. It’s definitely an attempt to influence policy toward China, and we need to be aware of that. Rules against foreign donations will help, monitoring is always required, and illegal activities should be exposed, but we need to be realistic about the zero sum game that every nation, including Australia, plays, while trying to whittle away at that ultimately self-defeating game in the name of global concerns, including human rights, which are, and always should be, a global issue.

Jacinta: All the same we need to hold our nerve against big bullying countries, and call them out on the international stage if need be.

Written by stewart henderson

June 3, 2018 at 1:13 pm

John Locke, the glorious revolution and the emergence of modern democracy

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Canto: So I’ve heard from various American pundits, who are concerned about the current move toward despotism over there, that their constitution and their war of independence were all for the purpose of breaking away from such despotism, namely the British monarchy. ‘So how in tarnation can this be hapnen in our country’, they mutter half-tearfully. So please explain.

Jacinta: Well, we can explore rather than explain. I’m no expert on the American constitution, but my general feeling without looking at it in detail would be that it was magnificently revolutionary and forward-thinking for its time, but that time was over 200 years ago. Every structure needs to be renovated now and then.

Canto: Also, though of course I accept that their fight for independence was a just one, their description of the British monarchy as a tyranny was a little over-simplified. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, in the century and a half before American independence, the Brits beheaded one king and chased another out of the country and didn’t accept his successors, William and Mary, until they agreed to conditions restricting their power, including a clear separation of powers. And these restrictive conditions have tightened over the years.

Jacinta: Yes but powerful states, such as the Britain of those days, tend to be more despotic over distant territories than over their home territory, where uprisings are more directly threatening.

Canto: Good point. But what’s interesting, when you look at history, is how much the more spectacular movements towards democracy in the late 18th  century, that’s to say the American independence war and its new state, and the revolution in France, owed to the outcome of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ that ousted James II, and to the philosopher of the new approach to governance, John Locke.

Jacinta: And yet the USA today is suffering under the burden of a potential if not actual despot, and they appear uncertain how to deal with him. It just seems unthinkable that such a character would ever achieve this position under the Westminster system, or in any western European polity.

Canto: Yeah, so wha’s hapnen?

Jacinta: Well, when I listen to the pundits on CNN and MSNBC, and on some of Sam Harris’s podcasts, they tend to talk of an increasingly polarised nation, echo-chambers of ideology enabled by social media sites, lack of civil discourse and the like. That’s to say, issues of today, usually with a tone of ‘it’s not like it used to be’. I suspect that this is a little exaggerated, and that a change of system might be in order.

Canto: So what can the Americans learn from the Westminster system, and from Locke?

Jacinta: Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government was published in 1689, significantly just after the ousting of James II, the installing of a constitutional monarchy, and the establishment of the English Bill of Rights – which, admittedly, was more about parliamentary than individual rights. It’s worth noting that absolute monarchy was then at its height in France under Louis XIV, who naturally felt it incumbent on him to support his ‘divine right’ colleague’s bid to regain the throne. In those days political philosophers were rather thin on the ground, and they liked to compare life under some kind of organised state with life in ‘the state of nature’, which was rather a playground for their imaginations. Locke’s predecessor, a generation or two earlier, Thomas Hobbes, described his ‘natural state’ as a war of all against all, which was nasty, brutish but at least mercifully short. People apparently decided one day to substitute this free-for-all for a scenario in which they’d bestow power on some entity, a Leviathan, in return for safety and protection. In giving up their freedom to this absolute authority they would preserve their lives from the depredations of the other, and what they gained would be better than what they lost. This was, of course, an argument for absolute monarchy just at the time it was being directly challenged. Locke’s perspective was very different, having come out of the experience of civil war between the forces pro and con Charles I, and then later James II – a rabid and very unpopular Catholic.

Canto: Yes, this makes me think of the accidents of history. Had James II been more like his older brother – that is, religiously liberal (or indifferent), more wary of the French, and more ‘indulgent’ with parliament, constitutional monarchy would have been delayed for who knows how long.

Jacinta: Yes, and Locke may not have written the political philosophy that later inspired, or partially inspired, the American and French democratic movements.

Canto: Or partially democratic movements.

Jacinta: Yes, democracy has always been partial, it seems to me. Certainly the constitutional monarchy agreed to by William and Mary in 1688 was far from democratic, but interestingly the upheavals of the period, and the more immediate dissemination of information in the form of political pamphlets – a product of the civil war in the 1640s – led to the emergence of radical democratic groups such as the Levellers, who wanted complete adult suffrage and annual parliaments, and also the Diggers, who demanded communal ownership of land so that no-one might starve. Starvation, by the way, was actually happening due to the harsh enclosure system that protected the landed aristocracy from the canaille. 

Canto: Anyway, I’ve never been sure about how much democracy is enough. Recent history suggests that directly electing a single leader, by national popular vote, can be an unmitigated disaster.

Jacinta: Yes, because it seems that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t get a general populace to make an informed decision. Education has always been touted as the answer, but it can’t be imposed on people, and it’s extraordinary how intractable so many people are to the charms of learning… Anyway, returning to Locke and the late seventeenth century, it’s fascinating to read some of the documents being written at this time, envisaging, in what seems to us today to be thoroughly moderate and reasoned language, changes to the political system that would take another two centuries or more to enact.

Canto: Because ruling powers or classes are, as a whole, extremely reluctant to give the slightest ground, and always think that the position of power granted to them is for the best or ‘natural’. So change generally needs to be incremental, or less, so as not to scare the aristocratic horses.

Jacinta: Anyway, Locke was no radical, and his Second Treatise was designed to justify what had already taken place in the Glorious Revolution. He begins, like Hobbes, with a state-of-nature ‘theory’, in which everyone has equal status and ‘rights’, especially the right to self-preservation, but nobody has the means to enforce those rights. Also, attached to those rights is the obligation to respect and protect the rights of others, which of course speaks to the means in some sense.

Canto: Suggesting some sort of social contract?

Jacinta: Yes, if you like, or the basis of a civil society, a ‘common-weal’ or commonwealth. Here’s a quote from the Second Treatise:

Having in the state of nature no arbitrary power over the life, liberty or possession of another, but only so much as the law of nature gave him for the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind; this is all he doth, or can give up to the common-wealth, and by it to the legislative power, so that the legislative can have no more than this. Their power in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the publick good of the society.

What Locke is pointing to here, notably in that last sentence, is that a government’s legitimacy is tied to the public good, and that an illegitimate government, one that doesn’t contribute to the public good, has lost its right to govern and should be dispensed with, one way or another.

Canto: Basically, this argument would’ve been used as a justification for the overthrow of James II, and as a means of limiting the power of his successor.

Jacinta: Government by the consent of the people, through the parliament (which was then hardly representative of the people, but a little more representative than a single absolute monarch), an idea which, with variations, inspired many figures of the 18th century ‘enlightenment’. The words and ideas of Locke were much employed during the 18th century uprisings against the French ancien regime and the British tyranny in America. But in Britain, they were used to justify the people’s fight against Charles I and later James II, in the 17th century. Of course the democratic process progressed by small steps from there, and it’s still progressing, but the work of Locke certainly helped it along. So I’ll end with some more words from the Second Treatise, on people power:

Who shall be the judge whether the Prince or the Legislative act contrary to their trust?…. The people shall be judge, for who shall be judge whether his trustee or deputy acts well, and according to the trust reposed in him, but he who deputes him, and must, by having deputed him have still a power to discard him, when he fails in his trust?

References

The age of genius: the seventeenth century and the birth of the modern mind, by A C Grayling

The second treatise of civil government, by John Locke

Written by stewart henderson

May 29, 2018 at 1:22 am

what to do with a serious problem like Trump: part one

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When I first encountered Trump, I suppose a couple of decades ago now, I quickly felt an intense, visceral loathing and disgust. He struck me as tasteless, vulgar, ignorant, vain, an exemplar of the absence of all humane values. A boorish, blustering, bigoted, bragging blundering, bullying, bullshitting buffoon, not to put too fine a point on it. And then, when those he demeaned and belittled began acting as if they deserved it, I began to wonder – who is worthy of more contempt, Trump, or those who take him seriously for more than a second? How could anyone with an ounce of sense not see that he was a walking advertisement for abortion?

But then, when you start thinking everyone’s a fuckwit except yourself, you know something’s going wrong. Okay, you do start listening around and find that in many circles Trump’s a laughing-stock. But then he’s somehow super-rich, and people like to hob-nob and ingratiate themselves with the super-rich no matter how obnoxious and boring they are.

So why was Trump super-rich? I have to say that, having lived mostly below the poverty line in one of the world’s richest countries (that’s to say I’ve rarely come close to going hungry), I’ve never really associated with rich people, never mind the super-rich. They’re like alien beings to me. But it stands to reason that there are two types of super-rich people; those who inherited wealth, or those who gained it by their own talents and efforts – legitimate or illegitimate.

So which of these was Trump? He struck me as flamboyantly imbecilic, far removed from the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs types. And I have to say it wasn’t a burning question for me. Naturally I was far too superior to concern myself with such riff-raff, and yet…

Information fell into my lap over the years. He’d inherited oodles of wealth from his father, a ‘business tycoon’. He’d never done a day’s work, in the general sense, in his life. He’d been bankrupted many times. His net worth was anything from negative infinity to positive infinity. His principal business was real estate, which was as hazy to me as scalar field theory. But his principal interest was self-promotion, which I felt a bit more cluey about. It seemed he was little more than a ‘big noise’.

So that was it, until he began to run for President, and shocked almost all pundits, including this pseudo-pundit, by winning quite well on an electoral college basis, though losing the popular vote.

Of course during the run-up to these ludicrously long US presidential elections, especially in the final months of 2016, we were pretty well forced to learn more about Trump than many of us ever wanted to know, and it’s been an ongoing ‘reveal’ throughout the last eighteen months or so. But I return to my initial response to Trump, and my feelings of contempt, and easy superiority.

How did Trump become what he is? How did I become what I am?

How free are we to form ourselves?

I think the answer is clear, though clearer when we look at others than when we look at ourselves. We didn’t get to choose our parents, our genes or our upbringing, we didn’t get to choose or influence our experience in the womb and in our earliest formative years, which the Dunedin study, inter alia, reveals as more character-forming than any other period in our lives.

More questionably I didn’t get to choose a character that loathes someone like Trump, any more than Sean Hannity and many others got to choose a character that finds Trump appealing, refreshing and admirable, assuming that I’m reading more or less accurately Hannity’s mind.

So am I saying we’re all blameless when it comes to our flaws, and unpraiseworthy when it comes to our virtues? Further, am I saying that moral judgment is inappropriate?

I hope not. After all, humans are the most social of all creatures – vertebrate creatures at least. We’re interested in getting along, in minimising harm and maximising advantage, for us all. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to any person, or policy, or activity, that threatens that well-being. So we should discourage, and sometimes punish behaviour that harms or demeans others, while at the same time recognising that the bully or aggressor is acting under the sway of traits she has less control over than we might think.

So we should judge behaviour as immoral when it damages others or damages the institutions or activities that tend towards the general well-being. And we should check or punish those who commit those faux pas, which we might call crimes, misdemeanours, or bad behaviour, to the extent that they understand that resistance of the general will is futile – that’s to say, that continual commission of those faux pas will be counter-productive to their own well-being.

Let me return then to the case of Trump. In watching and listening to him, I find him, as President, consistent with the person I loathed decades before, though I also realise, as I did then, that there is something unfair and slightly unseemly about my contempt, for reasons described above. Trump is the product of a background and influences which are clearly far removed from mine. I was also, like many, somewhat fascinated by him as a specimen who revealed, more effectively than most, how infinitely variable human experience and character can be.

However, though I recognise that he is what he is and can’t help but be, I’m also alert and alarmed that he is now the President of the USA – a shocking development, considering the man’s character.

For, though nobody should be blamed for his own character, there are some characters that the general society needs to be protected from, because of the damage they are capable of doing, or incapable of not doing, given certain powers and opportunities.

Trump came to his current position with a reputation which, I feel, was deserved, given everything I observed of him, and everything I learned. That reputation was one of dishonesty, self-aggrandisement, wilful ignorance and anti-intellectualism, and indifference to the feeling and suffering of others, with possibly a few exceptions, and leaving aside his children, whom he would see as extensions of himself to a large degree.

There are some characters who are so pathological, so damaging to themselves and/or others that society needs to be protected from them, unless of course their pathology can be identified, treated and cured. In the case of Trump, the terms psychopath, sociopath, malignant narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder have been given an airing. It’s surely not coincidental that these claims about Trump have been much more frequent since he has become President. His power to damage the wider society is at its zenith.

When I first heard the term narcissistic personality disorder directed at Trump, it was in a discussion with a mental health professional, early in the Presidency. That professional was critical, even angry, that the term was used to describe Trump, because, he felt, this term described a real and debilitating pathological condition which was far too serious to be used for political purposes against Trump. His words gave me pause, but now I think it’s time to look at this matter more closely.

First, before actually looking more closely at the ‘mental disability’ terms described above, I should say this. As Stormy Daniels’ impressive attorney Michael Avenatti has said, Trump’s behaviour, especially his constant self-promoting and self-protecting lies, should concern all Americans regardless of their political persuasion. Trump’s behaviour in office is essentially not a political issue, in spite of its massive political consequences. One pundit recently described Trump as a ‘lifelong Democrat’ before switching to the Republican party a few years ago. It’s my contention however that Trump was never a Democrat and has never been a Republican. He has never been interested in politics in the usual sense – that of believing in and promoting policies and practices for the most effective running of a state. He has little interest in or knowledge of political history, political philosophy or international affairs, and no knowledge whatever of science, or history in general. He doesn’t read or have anything like an enquiring mind. He has expressed very little compassion for others, except when it may benefit himself, and his concept of truth is not something that anybody seems to be capable of recognising or describing.

This description of Trump is not a political one. It’s a description which most sensible people would broadly agree with. It’s a description of a person so singularly ill-equipped to be the President of the world’s most powerful military and economy, that the question of how he came to be in that position and how he can be removed from it before further damage can be done, should be paramount.

Before I go on, I should address those outliers who say that Trump has been a successful and impressive President. They would cite the booming economy and the administration’s tax legislation, the only major piece of legislation enacted thus far. On the tax legislation, I will not consider its fairness or unfairness, or the effect it has had on the US economy. I will simply say that Trump recently claimed more or less sole responsibility for this legislation, a claim that was demonstrably false. Trump did not participate in the writing of this legislation, and he most certainly hasn’t read it. He simply presided over a Republican congressional majority responsible for its production. As to the US economy, that is a massively complex area, full of winners and losers, which, of course, I’m not competent to comment on, any more than Trump would be. Suffice to say that the reasons for an economy’s success are manifold and generally historical.

So there is a problem with Trump as President. In my next post I will go into more detail about what the problem is, and why there is no easy solution.

Written by stewart henderson

May 5, 2018 at 11:33 am

Relaxing time: let’s talk about Trump again

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Trump’s mental health usually only gets publicity when it’s questioned by political insiders – medical experts aren’t given enough credence

Jacinta: We like to explore the Trump debacle when we feel too lazy to focus on other subjects, which generally require research and diving into unfamiliar and taxing fields, such as palaeontology, microbiology, geology, astrophysics or remote historical epochs. So now, since we’re on holiday, let’s have fun fun fun.

Canto: So first, some comments on Sam Harris’ interview with Niall Ferguson, conducted some weeks ago. Ferguson is primarily a financial historian, though I know him through his book War of the World, which I found interesting but questionable at times – though of course I can’t remember my objections now. I think I basically disagreed with his thesis that the twentieth century was more hateful and violent than other periods – IMHO, it was just more effective at killing people, and of course there were more people to kill than in previous centuries. Anyway, on listening to Ferguson talk to Harris, I found myself disagreeing on more points than I can go into here, but I’ll restrict myself to his comments on Trump. He seemed overly complacent, to me, about Trump’s destructive capacities, describing him as a populist (a rather watered-down description) who would probably only serve one term, though maybe two. He also felt that, quite possibly, it would’ve been worse for the USA had Clinton won, as the Trump supporters would’ve felt cheated, while all the old elite cronies would’ve returned to office…

Jacinta: We’re not sufficiently au fait with Yank politics to ‘get’ that feeling, to feel it under the skin so to speak, though we understand in an abstract way that many sectors of US society feel left behind, and Ferguson seemed to be claiming, strangely, that it was better for the disadvantaged and under-educated that ‘their’ candidate, who of course hasn’t the slightest interest in the Presidency except to make money and be the centre of attention, won the election and immediately betrayed them, than that Clinton won and protected the Affordable Care Act, promoted education and science, and didn’t introduce massive tax cuts for super-rich corporations, while continuing to hob-nob with their own kind.

Canto: A couple of books we’ve read lately, The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, and Chasing the scream, by Johann Hari, have provided glimpses into the struggles of blacks and immigrants in the US, but so many of we non-Americans smugly look askance at the inequalities and harsh divisions there, the hapless health system and the hideous gun culture. What I don’t get with Ferguson is how he can claim that someone like Trump, who only exacerbates these inequities, was perhaps preferable to Clinton – who, presumably, does have liberal values of the ‘nobody left behind’ type, which she would surely have tried to act on to some degree – simply because his betrayal would’ve shown to his supporters that he had feet of clay. It’s a bizarre and really quite cruel argument.

Jacinta: He also seemed not to give too much credence to the Mueller investigation. We’re both in agreement that Trump will be out of office by the end of the year, a prediction made last December. The Cohen raid and the charges they will inevitably lead to have boosted these chances, but I feel it was slam-dunk, as the Yanks have it, well before that. The only problem I see is getting Trump to accept the verdict.

Canto: There’s also the question of whether team Mueller will play the Trump card before the end of the year. He wants all the President’s men first. Ferguson considers impeachment, but argues there’s only a fifty-fifty chance that the Dems will be in control after the mid-terms, and that even then Trump could survive impeachment, as Clinton did. He didn’t consider the obvious fact that Trump will never have more than fifty percent approval (unlike Clinton), and I think he grossly underestimates the turn against him in the electorate. The way things are going now, the mid-terms will see a massive turn-around. I think the majority now not only want to see a Democratic congress, they want to see Trump impeached.

Jacinta: And yet we don’t want impeachment, right? We want Trump charged, convicted and imprisoned. We don’t want politics to play any role whatsoever.

Canto: Probably a forlorn hope but, yes, we’d like to get the Yanks to accept finally and forever that their head of state isn’t above the law. In this instantiation, he’s a criminal, pure and simple.

Jacinta: So let’s have a nice schadenfreudesque time contemplating how the crim and his henchmen – they’re all men naturally – will get their just desserts.

Canto: So many things. Three guilty pleas – I doubt if Papadopoulos has much to offer, but Flynn and Gates are major figures, co-operating with the enquiry. Campaign manager Manafort facing major charges and guilty as fuck. Cohen certain to be charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations…

Jacinta: What is wire fraud?

Canto: That’s simple – it’s any kind of fraudulent activity involving, or by use of, telecommunications systems – computers, phones, TV, radio – it’s been on the books in the US since the nineteenth century. The Cohen situation is most obviously dire for Trump, from a public perspective, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the info team Mueller has garnered from Deutschebank is damning as fuck as well. And there are other matter that should be criminal too. There’s this thing in their constitution called the Emoluments Clause, which Trump has basically ripped to shreds and used as toilet paper, but I’m not sure if that’s the criminal act that it should be.

Jacinta: It’s interesting that the high-profile Stormy Daniels lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has recently predicted that Trump won’t finish his first term. Do you think he’s been reading our blog posts?

Canto: C’est evident. However, he’s predicting Trump will resign. We, on the other hand, feel that Trump isn’t the resigning type. Has he ever resigned in his life? He’s never been in a position to do so, never having been an employee.

Jacinta: Haha, when he was campaigning he talked about ‘we workers’. He really is a blow-harding genius. Yes, we’ve already said that Trump would rather lock himself in the White House toilet than go quietly…

Canto: That would certainly get him lots of publicity, and any publicity is better than none for Trump, according to Maggie Haberman, not to mention Oscar Wilde.

Jacinta: So assuming team Mueller has an embarrassment of riches to choose from – the DNC hack, the lies about meetings with Russians, financial crimes, conspiracy, obstruction of justice multipled by x – and that their findings, or some of their preliminary findings, are out by year’s end, and are comprehensively damning, how will Trump be ousted? Assuming that he says they’re all fake charges and refuses to resign?

Canto: I wish I could answer that. I do think, though, that both the Senate and the House will ‘flip’ as they love to say there, and the animus against Trump will harden. He’ll be impeached and it will be a popular move, but considering that may not happen until after the mid-terms, it leaves little time for our prediction to succeed.

Jacinta: Stop press – Trump has just gone on a massive rant at Fox News, in which he has incriminated himself more than once and proved how obsessed he is with his own petty affairs and how utterly indifferent he is to running the country. It was darkly hilarious, with the Fox anchors trying to shut him up and finally coming up with the ultimate bullshit line, ‘I know you must have a million things to do, Mr Prez’….

Canto: Yes he clearly does fuck all, not that anyone in their right mind would want him to do anything Presidential, much better if he devotes the rest of his life to golf.

Jacinta: The sport of bores, as James Watson would have it. So who is to blame for this monumental disaster? Where do we begin?

Canto: We begin with a lack of vetting for candidates to putatively the most powerful job on the planet. You can’t just let anyone become your President. You certainly can’t take breast-beating pride in a democracy that let’s any moronic thug have power over you. And that can be fixed. They have to change their laws, of necessity. And if this can’t be done without altering/amending the constitution, then do so, of necessity. Sure, okay the American Constitution was the greatest document ever written by any humans on the face of the earth for the past ten thousand years…

Jacinta: Get your facts straight and don’t be sacrilegious, it was written by angels not humans.

Canto: But if it was able to bring about this fiasco, it still has a few problems. Anyway, I think I’ve gone through most of the problems and their solutions before. Far stricter laws on making money from the office, scrapping pardon powers and veto powers, more straightforward and streamlined rules of succession, and of course making it clear that a president is as liable to prosecution while in office as any other law-breaker. And considering the power he wields in office there should be no statute of limitations for the prosecution of presidents. He should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one as is clearly the case now.

Jacinta: As for removing him, I think the best way is on medical grounds. He’s a sociopath, of the malignantly narcissistic kind. This is argued forcibly in an essay by Mitchell Anderson:

Sociopaths are neither crazy nor necessarily violent, as so often misrepresented by Hollywood scriptwriters. Likewise, they typically possess normal intelligence. The one superpower sociopaths do possess is an emotional deafness that allows them to act with a shark-like self-interest beyond the moral bounds of even the most hardened normal humans. People with this frightening condition can act without conscience, effortlessly lying to manipulate those around them.

Anderson refers to the book The dangerous case of Donald Trump, released last year, in which some two dozen medicos deliver their views on Trump’s sociopathic condition. For example, a long-standing professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says this:

Donald Trump’s speech and behaviour show that he has severe sociopathic traits. The significance of this cannot be overstated. While there have surely been American presidents who could be said to be narcissistic, none have shown sociopathic qualities to the degree seen in Mr. Trump. Correspondingly, none have been so definitively and so obviously dangerous.

And there are other quotable quotes. So in this case there is a mechanism for removal – the 25th amendment to the constitution. Unfortunately, severe psychiatric conditions which yet allow people to function okay physically, are still not taken seriously enough by the general public to be called out. Mental health experts need to be listened to more on this one. Otherwise the USA’s current political nightmare will go on and on.

Written by stewart henderson

April 28, 2018 at 8:15 am

Trump’s downfall: more palaver

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dream, dream, dream

As I’ve often said, I’m lazily distracting myself by watching Trump’s downfall and commenting on it. I don’t seem to have the staying power at present to write anything too sciencey, and the Trump disaster is easy to attend to, though I must say I mute the TV or youtube every time the Trump comes on (isn’t it funny how the name itself smacks of the con man). I much prefer hearing about him second-hand. Again, though, I must say my prediction of him being out by the end of the year looks more of a dead cert than ever. It’s just a matter of the Mueller team having too much on their plates to digest. It’s likely they won’t have finished their meal by year’s end. But Trump may well have been spat out and into gaol by then. It depends of course on how Mueller organises his indictments – bottom up or top down. It could also be a bit of both.

But Trump is America’s tragedy. What happens, after all, once he and his family are ousted? The Presidency itself, the institution, will be seriously damaged. I’m sure the nation will manage to limp along until 2020, and a likely big turnaround in the mid-terms will largely put the nation’s affairs in safer hands, but new, tighter laws will have to be enacted, re nepotism, emoluments, financial disclosure, vetting of candidates for office, inter alia. These are essential to make the USA safe, and to allow it to be taken seriously again on the global stage.

Okay enough of the high-minded lecturing, let’s get down to wallowing in the grubby details. Everybody’s waiting for the next indictment or subpoena from the enquiry. Kushner? Trump Jr? Erik Prince? Roger Stone? Take your pick from these and a host of others. And what about this Stormy Daniels affair, another follow-the-money rib-tickler? Where do I begin?

A shady Lebanese-American wannabe mover-and-shaker, George Nader, has been questioned by the Mueller team, presumably primarily about a meeting in the Seychelles involving himself, an even shadier mover-and-shaker Erik Prince (an advisor to and supporter of Trump), and UAE diplomats with financial ties to Russia. There was apparently a dodgy Russian banker, Kirill Dmitriev, at the meeting as well. There’s little doubt that getting Prince to testify will reveal more dirt, but the team will have to make sure they know everything before asking the questions. I just wish I could listen in on what they do know.

Meanwhile there’s a special election in Pennsylvania and Trump has been there big-noting himself and insulting opponents, mostly women. He’s even promoted the idea of executing drug-dealers, because he’s a great admirer of Phillipines dictator Duterte. I’m currently reading Chasing the scream, a fast-paced narrative and denunciation of the disastrous war on drugs, but of course Trump doesn’t read, and certainly doesn’t care. He just likes the idea of killing people. I’m waiting for the result of this election, waiting for the next subpoena, the next indictment, waiting waiting…

I’m also hoping that women will play a major role in Trump’s downfall. I’m a little wary of the Me Too movement, having been falsely accused myself. True, I wasn’t accused by a woman, but it has taught me very effectively that accusations can be easily made, and with devastating consequences. But what the movement highlights is that, because of power imbalance, men have been treating women too badly for too long, and women are fighting back. It’s interesting to note that the Politico article just linked to cited recent research which ‘found women were nearly twice as likely as men to be deterred from running for office because of potentially having to engage in a negative campaign’. Such campaigns are what so many men like Trump choose naturally as their MO. And here’s another interesting quote, with an Australian theme:

In 2016, the Guardian published an analysis that found Hillary Clinton received abusive tweets at almost twice the rate of her Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders, while former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, too, received about twice as much abuse as her male challenger, Kevin Rudd.

Actually, Rudd and Gillard belonged to the same party, but it’s probably right to describe them as opponents.

So I’m hoping that after the carnage of this Presidency, with Trump and his family in jail and his successor discredited, that the President after 2020 will be a woman. Obviously she will be a Democrat.

Elizabeth Warren has struck me as very impressive, from my still fairly minimal observations of her – a leftish liberal more palatable to the squeamish Americans than Sanders. After some more research I may write a piece about her. I certainly wouldn’t want any ‘celebrity’ female candidates running for office, and I suspect Hillary Clinton has done her dash.

As I slowly write, things keep happening. Rex Tillerson has been sacked. Silly man, he should’ve resigned long ago. I’ve had a bit of a fantasy in which all the top White House staffers and Trump appointees get together, decide enough is enough, and stage a mass resignation. It would actually be better for them – instead of being stuck in utterly thankless jobs, they’d come out of it as instantly employable for having the guts to take a stand. But of course, this would take organisation and co-ordination, and we’ve seen no evidence of that in this administration.

Finally, Putin has attempted to murder another Russian expatriate, along with his daughter. Many others have been poisoned too. Trump has belatedly come out in support of the British government’s rather tepid statement that Russia is ‘highly likely’ to be behind the nerve agent attack – though the whole statement is worth reading. Putin’s minions are saying that given Putin’s recent announcement that they’ve created some kind of super-weapon, it’s dangerous to accuse Russia of wrong-doing. To me, this is tantamount to an admission of guilt, and fairly solid proof of Monsieur Putain’s mafioso scumbag credentials. How to deal with this? Internationally and with unassailable solidarity. Russia has already been brought to its knees by Putin’s thievery, but we need to apply more pressure and provide as much support as we can to the millions of Russians who want to be freed of this scumbag so they can enter the adult world.

I’m a little disappointed that the Trump is still holding good at 40%, which should ensure he doesn’t get re-elected (yes yes, out of office by year’s end), it seems that only more indictments of the inner circle will drop him down below 35. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but I’m reading Chasing the scream, the racy but horrifyingly tragic bestseller by Johann Hari about the spectacularly disastrous ‘war on drugs’ in the USA and Mexico (disastrously forced on it by the US). The Trump recently threw red meat to his base by promoting the idea of execution for drug dealers (in the campaign for the Pennsylvania by-election, won by the Dems, haha), another know-nothing piece of squawking from someone who knows nothing but the idea of crushing, stamping, beating. It’s Mussolini without the hanging – yet.

Written by stewart henderson

March 15, 2018 at 10:26 pm

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

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Trump’s downfall: the Russians keep on coming

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Yevgeniy Prigozhin, one of Putin’s mafioso thugs, and boss of Russian Bot Enterprises

Now to return to that fun topic, the dumping of Trump. Just to repeat, I’ve predicted that Trump will be ousted by year’s end, and I’m today feeling more confident in that prediction than ever, though my optimism meter has bounced about over the past few months.

The so-called speaking indictment recently released by special counsel Robert Mueller has put paid to Trump’s windy blather about ‘the fake Russia thing’. I suspect this was part of its intention. Being true patriots and all, the Mueller team want to prove to the American people once and for all that they’re under attack, contra Trump and his GOP supporters. They’ve indicted 13 Russian individuals and 3 companies on 8 counts, including conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and several counts of aggravated identity theft, and they’ve told a detailed 37-page story to back it all up. And although the indictment doesn’t provide direct evidence of Russian government involvement, it states that funding was provided by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a close ally and friend of Putin. The indictment is available online here and no doubt elsewhere.

Clearly this’ll stump Trump. The terms ruse, witch-hunt and fake news will no longer be so easily available to him. He himself tweeted shortly after the indictment was announced that because the conspiracy was first launched in 2014, he was somehow in the clear. Not only is this obviously false, the tweet unwittingly admits that the Russian conspiracy was real. I heard that he quickly regretted this, but oops, too late, because his possibly soon-to-be ex-national security advisor HR Puffnstuff McMaster has announced that the indictment provides incontrovertible evidence of the Russian conspiracy.

Rubs hand with glee

So it seems Trump wants to continue to undermine Mueller’s credible findings, and meanwhile American adults will want to know when sanctions will be imposed on Russia and what will be done to safeguard the November elections. These sanctions have already been voted for in Congress, but Trump hasn’t signed them into law. My guess is he’ll try to use the ‘argument’ that the Russian conspiracy had no impact on the 2016 election to do nothing. But that’s a pretty dangerous course to take.

The impact of the Russian conspiracy on the election is impossible to prove one way or another (you can’t read the minds of voters), and it isn’t a focus of the Mueller enquiry, which is entirely concerned with illegal activities. The fact that Trump isn’t at all concerned, as America’s head of state, that Russians engaged in illegal activities to meddle in US elections, should be, you’d think, of enormous concern to citizens of one of the most jingoistic nations on Earth. It should surely be his downfall, and a national scandal. But maybe I’m misreading things. After all, I was never able to believe that Trump could be elected in any civilised country.

Which of course raises the question – why is Trump so reluctant to sanction the Russians? Is it just because of his man-crush, or is it something deeper and more sinister? As many pundits are saying, we’ll get the answer to that by following the money, which is surely what Mueller is doing.

Having just read the full indictment – which really is a page-turner – I find it pretty compelling in its argument and wealth of evidence, and yet on listening to the mainstream cable news networks (CNN and MSNBC) over these last few months, I’m coming to realise that there’s a vast bulk of Americans, perhaps a third, who are so hooked into Fox News and its so obviously crude and distorted view of the US political scene that, it seems, nothing will move them to save themselves from their patently anti-democratic wannabe dictator. I get my occasional glimpses of Fox News and its tirades from the other networks, though I snatch a few direct looks myself. It really is appalling – hilarious in a death-black sort of way. If this number of people believe this sort of guff, and this ferociously, then ultimate action against Trump could lead to something like civil war, an outcome beyond the Russians’ wildest hopes.

One of the more grotesque claims now being made by the Fox Media-Trump cabal is that the Russian meddling was completely without impact, so why bother going after them? Better to go after the Mueller team, the FBI, the CIA and other ‘enemies of the nation’. Again, could this outcome be any better for the Russians?

I’ve said that it can’t be proved that the Russian bots and trolls influenced the outcome of the 2016 election. You can’t prove that any single voter had her vote decided by a particular rally or online article or image or whatever. That’s why the enquiry never intended to investigate this. It’s police enquiry, after all, so it’s investigating illegal methods and activities. But as to the results of these methods, we assert a few facts. The Russians’ principal focus was denigrating and debilitating the Clinton campaign – that’s surely why they ‘supported’ Sanders. Another major focus was supporting Trump (though occasionally muddying the waters) – that’s surely why they attacked the campaigns of Cruz and Rubio. Another salient fact is that the Trump election campaign was successful, confounding nearly all the pundits. The Russians would’ve had multiple reasons for supporting Trump, including some sort of quid pro quo, but one reason surely was that, since the Russians’ intentions were profoundly anti-democratic, as is shown by their efforts to disrupt democracies around the world, it would be screamingly obvious to promote the cause of perhaps the most profoundly anti-democratic candidate ever to contest a US presidential election.

It seems unthinkable that Trump wouldn’t act against the Russians, and it seems unthinkable that the American people would let him get away with this. Current reporting from Wired online tells us that pro-gun Russian bots are trolling over the Florida killings, as they did at the time of the Las Vegas massacre and on other occasions. It’s surely past time for the people to rise up against a leader who cares nothing about this and would obstruct efforts to act. Maybe they’re hoping that Mueller will do their job for them. I think, though, this needs more than just Mueller. The adults need to take over the asylum.

Written by stewart henderson

February 19, 2018 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Fox News

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