Following the ins and outs of the White House should be turned into a new board game. It would certainly be an unpredictable game of chance. Who will be next for the chop? Speculation in the last week suggests that Gen, H.R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor is headed for the door. This despite what the New York Review of Books has described as McMaster’s abandonment of his reputation for speaking truth to power and supplanting it with “Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ jingoism.” But privately McMaster finds Trump an ‘idiot,’ and a ’dope’ with the ‘mind of a kindergartener.’ The sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of course earned some credit for acknowledging that Trump was a moron. Meanwhile, the man himself finds McMaster condescending and pedantic. When McMaster was appointed he sacked a number of senior officials – mostly those who had been hired by his predecessor, Gen. Michael Flynn, who had to go after lying to Vice President Pence about his dealings with Russia.
It’s possible that one of those that McMaster sacked could make a comeback. Rich Higgins, who worked on the Trump campaign and landed a job in the national security office wrote a seven page memo analysing a campaign to destroy the president. What is the motivation for this? Here is a flavour of the memo:
While there is certainly a Marxist agenda and even lslamist motivations that must be seriously addressed in their own right, these motivations alone seem inadequate to explain the scope and magnitude of the effort directed against the president. The economic drivers behind the Marxist and Islamist ideologues are enormously influential and seek to leverage these ideological movements for their own self interests. While beyond the actual scope of this document, the benefactors of these political movements include; Urban Real Estate who depend greatly on immigrant tenants, International Banking who seeks to maintain US debtor status so as to control the application of American power, and elements of the business sector that depend upon immigrant labor or government infrastructure. The overall objective of these economic forces is the forced urbanization of the populace, thereby necessitating a larger, more powerful government. In summary, this is a form of population control by certain business cartels in league with cultural Marxists/corporatists/lslamists who will leverage Islamic terrorism threats to justify the creation of a police state.
(The full memo is at http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/10/heres-the-memo-that-blew-up-the-nsc/)
Apparently Trump read the memo and reportedly ‘gushed’ over it, only for his rapture to turn to fury when he heard McMaster had fired its author. I wonder if Trump actually did read it – the memo after all is seven pages long. If he had he might have been shocked to discover that amongst the benefactors of the war against him was ‘Urban Real Estate.’ After all, his father Fred’s big helping hand developing his construction business was ‘powerful government’ itself, as the New York Times reported:
His establishment as one of the city’s biggest developers was hardly free of controversy: The Senate Banking Committee subpoenaed him in 1954 during an investigation into profiteering off federal housing loans. Under oath, he acknowledged that he had wildly overstated the costs of a development to obtain a larger mortgage from the government.
Then we might consider the international banking community seeking to ‘maintain US debtor status’ in the light of the Trump appointed US Treasury Secretary, ex Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin telling an audience of students that there is no problem with US debt (see my blog 11/3/18) So there is some confusion in Higgins’ thinking, even if it is dressed up in some pseudo political science mumbo-jumbo. We might ask why even bother paying attention to it? The answer lies in the fact that whilst it was seen as a bit OTT, many in the administration thought it was correct. Everyone is out to get the president, even senior Republicans themselves who don’t understand Trump’s revolution.
Perhaps in some ways Trump resembles an early Margaret Thatcher, who had the worst approval ratings of all time before the Falklands war, and who had yet to develop what became ‘Thatcherism.’ ‘One of us’ eventually became the motif of her administration and not merely in terms of sacking ‘wets.’ Thatcher is the last PM we’ve had who relished her divisiveness and even prospered from it. Trump is following suit and it’s futile to hope that there aren’t other parallels.
It’s an astonishing world when one considers – in the context of Trump – that even people like Rex Tillerson could be a voice of reason or moderation. Watch out Gen. McMaster. You’re next.
Is running a building society harder than running the country? It must be judging by the generous remuneration building society executives reward themselves with. The combined bill for the 14 board members running the Leeds Building Society is £3,100,000 which is, curiously, almost the same as the Prime Minister and her 22 cabinet ministers get paid. I appreciate that the board members have listed their performance measures in their annual report, and the Cabinet has no known performance measures of any description, but even so! I suppose we shouldn’t forget that the idiotic Foreign Secretary claimed £141,000 wasn’t enough to live on. Once again I will vote against the Society’s remuneration report. And it’s time the government introduced its own Cabinet remuneration report, so that we could all vote against that as well.
There seems to be a widespread view that the Salisbury nerve agent attack came about as part of Putin’s nationalistic pre-election agenda. This agenda is all about showing how western interests are continually seeking to diminish Russia’s autonomy. Perhaps. The flip side of this is that it gives Theresa May a perfect opportunity to come across as robust, strong and err . . . stable. I suspect her poll ratings will go up after this incident. That leaves Corbyn in an awkward spot, and I’m not sure in response to May’s Commons statement on Monday that I would have taken such a partisan tone. The issue of Russian funding of the Conservative Party might better have been tackled in a separate opposition day debate. I would have taken this opportunity to ask more questions about whether risk assessments have been carried out on other potential targets? Was this target still working for British intelligence or being paid for by the British state (what was he living on? How did he manage to pay £260,000 cash for a house when he’d just been in prison for several years?); what thought is being given to the consequences of retaliatory action? Does May really believe she can out tough Putin? Sadly, some opposition MPs sounded like they wanted to out tough May. One Labour MP even suggested that the Commons authorities should pull the plug on Russia Today broadcasting debates from the cockpit of our democracy. There is a danger after events like this that some may lose touch with reality.
Well, confronted by our idiotic Foreign Secretary, the Russian ambassador had nothing to say. Although no-one yet has said what he actually did say. So the verdict has been brought in: they're guilty. There'll be no pleading the 5th here! In response to May's statement to the Commons today, I thought Corbyn did a better job. Listening to his comments, he asked a number of pertinent questions - around nine in total. May didn't attempt to answer six of them, and two other answers were somewhat general. Here is my run down of the exchange, a service not provided in the media:
1. If the Government believe that it is still a possibility that Russia negligently lost control of a military-grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW with our allies? I welcome the fact that the police are working with the OPCW.
Answer: no answer
2. Has the Prime Minister taken the necessary steps under the chemical weapons convention to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian Government under article IX(2)?
Answer: none specific to this question. May’s response was much more general:
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions about the nerve agent that had been used. He asked whether we were putting together an international coalition to call on Russia to reveal the details of its chemical weapons programme to the OPCW. That is indeed what we did. We gave the Russian Government the opportunity, through the démarche that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary delivered to the Russian ambassador in London earlier this week, to do just that. They have not done so.
3. How has she responded to the Russian Government’s request for a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests?
Answer: no answer
4. Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?
Answer: no answer
5. Can the Prime Minister update the House on what conversations, if any, she has had with the Russian Government? While suspending planned high-level contacts, does she agree that is essential to retain a robust dialogue with Russia, in the interests of our own and wider international security?
Answer: no answer
6. Can the Prime Minister outline what discussions she has had with our partners in the European Union, NATO and the UN and what willingness there was to take multilateral action?
Answer: The right hon. Gentleman talked about getting an international consensus together. As I said, I have spoken to Chancellor Merkel, President Trump and President Macron. Others have also expressed their support. Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General, said: “We stand in solidarity with our Allies in the United Kingdom” and “Those responsible—both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it—must face appropriately serious consequences.” The NATO Council has expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on alliance territory since NATO’s foundation, and allies agreed the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said: “I express my full solidarity with PM @theresa_may in the face of the brutal attack inspired, most likely, by Moscow. I’m ready to put the issue on next week’s #EUCO agenda.” We will be doing that.
7. While the poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal are confronting us today, what efforts are being made by the Government to reassess the death of Mr Skripal’s wife, Liudmila, who died in 2012, and the deaths of his elder brother and son in the past two years?
Answer: no answer
8. Yesterday Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile who was close friends with the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in his London home. What reassurances can the Prime Minister give to citizens of Russian origin living in Britain that they are safe here?
Answer: no answer
9. Corbyn raised the role of corrupt Russian money, etc. in the UK, an issue which Parliament will address in forthcoming legislation.
Answer: The right hon. Gentleman asked about the corrupt elites and money going through London. As I said in my statement, led by the National Crime Agency, we will continue to bring all the capabilities of UK law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. There is no place for these people or their money in our country, and that work is ongoing.
In a week's time - 20th March - the UK government faces a court case which is part of a campaign to force it to increase its legally binding CO2 reduction target, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008. The campaign group Plan B Earth has brought the case after a crowdfunding exercise (they could still do with a bit more dosh). The need to increase the CO2 reduction target arises not only from the growing evidence of global harming, but also from the Paris agreement. My old friend Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute will address campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice next week. He will say:
"For most of my 71 years, all I have ever been is a musician, playing the violin and composing music. Doing this was wonderful. But the origins of humans making music go back at least 40,000 years, so I guess that makes me a kinda new kid on the block.
From long ago, music has worked within a shared universal standard of playing ‘in tune’ & ‘in time’ which makes it possible to play & also to play together. Music groups, such as orchestras for example, do actually ‘work’ for this reason and to avert the worst of climate change, a basis such as this is needed.
The Contraction & Convergence (C&C) climate proposal developed from this. Starting in 1989, it was introduced to UN climate negotiations in 1996 (COP-2), largely agreed at COP-3 in 1997 and it became very, very widely known & supported thereafter as, "the intellectually & morally coherent C&C principle".
However, in 2015 the UN adopted the Paris Climate Agreement. Due to increased climate-urgency, stiffer limits for temperature control and carbon reductions were adopted. Though the UK is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, HMG refuses to revise the emissions reduction target it set itself in 2008, to bring itself into line with the Paris Agreement.
As a result, the UK is now openly awarding itself more than 3 times its share of the global carbon budget that remains. With this UK target unchanged, it is a provocation.
Why should any other country accept the UK seizing more than three times its share of the much smaller global carbon budget that now remains for 1.5°C?
In recognition of this principle and this petition, I will play the “Ave Maria” melody Gounod added to the 1st Prelude from the “Well Tempered Clavichord”, one of the simplest but most famous & beautiful pieces of music ever written. Bach wrote it in 1721 for his wife Anna Magdalena.
Before this meeting ends this morning, perhaps I'll add some music that reflects the sadness of the situation, praying that we will now act together quickly on climate change to stop it getting worse. Before the end of this day - the Spring Equinox, 20 03 2018 - we should have a decision from the Court."
Today our Leader, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May laid down the gauntlet to the Rooskis (as Slim Pickens calls the Russians in Dr Strangelove, which I watched yet again last night). Obey my deadline to tell us all (about your complicity in the attack on your ex-spy and our double agent) by the end of tomorrow or we’ll, we’ll, we’ll . . . . well, we’ll think of something! So far, it’s not clear what she has in mind to punish Putin’s regime: perhaps she’ll send all the oligarchs home? Remove their right to non-dom status? One thing that has been mooted is removing Russia Today’s UK broadcast licence. Big deal, those that want to will just watch it on the internet. And Russia will of course simply point a finger at British censorship. For the first time ever I watched a little bit of RT tonight. Yes, it’s propaganda – but is it any more biased than what we’re served at home? Well yes, probably, but not so much that it should bother us. It would be more worrying perhaps if it was more subtle.
I also took the opportunity (once again for the first time) to look at Al Jazerra, another sometimes contentious news outlet. I have to say I was amused. There was a story about U.S. contempt for Canada (that goes back a bit: don’t mention ‘manifest destiny’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny) following a quote from a recent Trump speech which Al Jazeera reported thus: ‘“In Trump's manic mind, Canada is, in fact, a sly, fiendish, duplicitous ‘trading partner’ that has fleeced America out of good jobs and profitable business for far too long. “Canada's brutal, Canada's really tough," Trump told an adoring crowd of cultists in Pennsylvania recently. "Because they just outsmarted our politicians for decades."’
So there’s lots going on in these alternative news sources, and sometimes (heads up Daily Mail readers) it may be worth looking in just to see if there’s a chance somebody has a different opinion. As regards the Canada stuff, just out of interest I Googled ‘medicine trade Canada/US’. The top reports all pointed to how a revised NAFTA – which Trumpo wants – will force up the price of pharmaceuticals to Canadians, who currently benefit from a health system not unlike ours. Americans have an unregulated market in medicine. Now there’s something worth looking at post-Brexit.
Al Jazerra link here: www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/shocking-trump-threats-canada-180312120304994.html
For many people over the age of 60 the beginning of the end of the world as we knew it seems to have happened with the passing of the 1972 European Communities Act. That at least is the impression one might have picked up from ‘Sir’ Vince Cable on the Today programme this morning, answering for his comments made to some LibDem meeting about the older Brexit voting generation. The 1972 EC Act is now a dead letter of course, swept away by a ‘great repeal bill’ which will restore our once great nation’s place in the world. Shipbuilding, the huge furnaces of industry, bowler hats, mini skirts, long hot summers with ice cream, broadsheet newspapers and traditional royal weddings all now beckon. Make Great Britain Great Again.
But as we dismantle Ted Heath’s European legacy I wonder: are we going far enough? The full restoration of our glory might be incomplete if we don’t look again at his other great legislative innovation of 1972. Who remembers the Local Government Act? With the reforming zeal of an earlier day Tony Blair, Ted sought to blow away the fusty legacy of ancient institutions and create a cutting edge wizardry of modernity. Out went Rural and Urban District Councils and in came new all-powerful councils with streamlined new headquarters and letterheads with logos.
The revolution couldn’t come quickly enough. Who wanted a bunch of locals running their water supplies when new water authorities could bring efficiencies to bear which later would profit shareholders so much? Who dreamt that dreary town clerks could be supplanted by visionary chief executives? Who in their wildest dreams imagined that the world of Norman Pitkin could be supplanted by a world of high powered super charged (and super paid) blue sky thinkers? For us nostalgic ones, this Act had more obvious and immediate reverberations than some notion of ‘joining Europe.’
Local services existed long before anyone dreamt of seeing off de Gaulle and his infamous ‘nons.’ If we weren’t a country filled with shopkeepers we certainly were ticking by nicely with an army of patient, diligent local administrators who lived in our midst, remedying local ills all in good time whilst going about their duties in an eternally honoured British fashion, which is to say before formal complaints procedures were handled by call centres and endless tea breaks became a signifier of a decaying economy.
Brexit means Britain will be Great Britain again. That is, the type of Britain we over 60s can recall. And who better to imagine the new Britain of tomorrow? Certainly not the young voters who flocked to vote remain. What do they know of how things were in the 1950s and 1960s? What do they know of endless summers and a strata of government which cuddled you from cradle to grave? What do they know of a society which had only recently been freed from rationing, and still maintained public services which included the utilities we are now led to believe can only be provided by foreign, nationally owned corporations?
Perhaps Ted Heath was a supreme ironist. At the same time as he took us into Europe, signalling (so it is assumed) the end of our nation state, he dismantled the structure of local government, making it less local and hence more susceptible to dismemberment by central government – a thousand cuts, a thousand reforms (in the name of efficiency). And an end to the historic Ridings of Yorkshire, the advent of Humberside (deceased) and the abolition of Rutland. Can’t we have all those things back, to complete our journey into the New World?
As for the memory of Ted? He’s still fondly remembered in some parts.
I was drawn to a piece on the Mother Jones website by the promise of a little argy bargy in a video of the US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin's meeting (Feb. 26th) with students at the University of California, Los Angeles(UCLA) - the release of the recording of which Mnuchin apparently did not approve. The first 10 minutes contain warnings to the audience that free speech is precious, etc. and that troublemakers may be removed by the 'university police department.' They kept their word on that one. But the hour long video did provide some interesting insights into the Trump administration's mindset. Perhaps the most stunning was that a country with a 100% debt to GDP ratio need not worry about debt. 'Debt is OK' said Mnuchin, the ex-Goldman Sachs banker, who added that zero debt was a bad thing. The tax bill which cuts taxes most for the richest 1% and which many economists reckon will add $1.5 trillion to the national debt doesn't worry Mnuchin, who is confident that growth will take care of it. There's an evidence based policy for you.
If you you really have nothing better to do, here's the link:
Reducing the use of fossil fuels is 'immoral' according to the US Energy Secretary Rick Perry. It seems he believes poor people should not be denied the economic development that developed countries enjoyed on the back of coal and oil. “Look those people in the eyes that are starving and tell them you can’t have electricity,” Perry told a room full of energy leaders and policymakers on Wednesday. “Because as a society we decided fossil fuels were bad. I think that is immoral” (see link below).
All the climate change predictions I have read, e.g. about sea level rise show that poor countries like Bangladesh will be hardest hit. What they need are resilient and sustainable energy sources - and the technologies are growing at a rapid rate. Yet subsidies to fossil fuels still outweigh those to renewable energy. But Perry's crocodile tears for the poor could have an upside, although I doubt he's heard of Contraction and Convergence, which is the framework which posits an equitable global per capita share of future CO2 emissions. This is the fairest way to ease off the fossil fuel pedal. But if you don't believe in science, why bother to think rationally about anything? Perhaps Mr Perry doesn't care about the world's poor after all.
You've got to hand it to Trump. No, not the poisoned hanky! His chutzpah knows no bounds and his hotly anticipated meeting with Kim Jong Un I am sure will be memorialised one day by a John Adams opera 'Trump in North Korea' or something like that. Who will be Trump's Kissinger? Bryn Terfel would make a good Trump. But will the meeting happen? There's so much confusion in the White House it's hard to say. I think I'll dig out Dr Strangelove just in case.
I have posted on my gallery page another attempt at film making, to illustrate four constructed pieces of art. Warning: one of these incorporates the f-word. Parental guidance needed. Some people may find the message, which is not in the least bit subtle, offensive. But after having read yet another story in the paper today about somebody who has lived and worked and paid taxes in this country all their life being told to clear off by the Home Office (and being refused NHS treatment to boot) - well, sometimes life isn't subtle, is it?
This is the film they said couldn't be made. But it was. And here it is. ENJOY!