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Trumpwatch – How Elon Musk can overcome Trump’s climate-change obstinacy

23 June 2017 1 comment

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Fun Fact #1:According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.” – NASA, Earth Observatory

Fun Fact #2:Atmospheric CO2 concentration started to increase at the time of the Industrial Revolution and has been increasing rapidly since 1900. This increase is in proportion to the usage of fossil fuels. Therefore, reducing consumption of fossil fuels in order to reduce CO2 emissions has become a crucial countermeasure for global warming.” – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Fun Fact #3: In 2011/13, China had 78 million  cars. In 2014, there were 154 million cars in China. By 2015, that number had risen to 172 million. A year later, another 28.3 million were sold, taking the figure to around 200.3 million private cars. By 2050, the estimated number of private vehicles in China is estimated to be between 464.9 to 557.7 million.

Fun Fact #4:The global number of cars on the road and kilometers flown in planes will nearly double by 2040 […] Cars are projected to reach the two billion mark by 2040.” – World Economic Forum

Fun Fact #5:A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.”  – US Environmental Protection Agency

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Until recently, Canadian-American businessman,  engineer,and inventor, Elon Musk was an Advisor on  Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

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Elon Musk

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Musk’s appointment to this Forum on 14 December last year joined the likes of;

  • Stephen A. Schwarzman (Forum Chairman), Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Blackstone;
  • Paul Atkins, CEO, Patomak Global Partners, LLC, Former Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission;
  • Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO, General Motors;
  • Toby Cosgrove, CEO, Cleveland Clinic;
  • Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co;
  • Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock;
  • Travis Kalanick, CEO and Co-founder, Uber Technologies;
  • Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company;
  • Rich Lesser, President and CEO, Boston Consulting Group;
  • Doug McMillon, President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.;
  • Jim McNerney, Former Chairman, President, and CEO, Boeing;
  • Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo;
  • Adebayo “Bayo” Ogunlesi, Chairman and Managing Partner, Global Infrastructure Partners;
  • Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, and CEO, IBM;
  • Kevin Warsh, Shepard Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Economics, Hoover Institute, Former Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System;
  • Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO, EY;
  • Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO, General Electric;
  • Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winner, Vice Chairman of IHS Markit;

A formidable Who’s Who of American capitalism’s “Captain’s of Industry”.

Trump’s propaganda website, “Great Again” stated;

Members of the Forum will be charged with providing their individual views to the President — informed by their unique vantage points in the private sector — on how government policy impacts economic growth, job creation and productivity. The Forum is designed to provide direct input to the President from many of the best and brightest in the business world in a frank, non-bureaucratic and non-partisan manner.

Trump was more effusive;

You’re doing well right now and I’m very honored by the bounce. They’re all talking about the bounce … Anything we can do to help this go along, and we’re going to be there for you. And you’ll call my people, you’ll call me. It doesn’t make any difference. We have no formal chain of command around here.

Musk’s appointment to the Forum had been unforeseen, as he had voiced criticisms of Trump and his victory at the elections;

The announcement came as a big surprise to many, considering Musk has been very critical of Donald Trump before and after the election. Before Trump became President-elect, Musk said in an interview with CNBC that the Republican nominee was “not the right man for the job” and that “he doesn’t seem to have the character that reflects well on the States.” After the business tycoon won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, Musk also lamented that the outcome “not the finest moment in our democracy in general.”

Before the election took place, Musk also stated that Hillary Clinton’s economic and environmental policies were better. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Musk has made much of his fortune from harnessing renewable energy. He’s also a proud advocate of environmental sustainability. Trump, on the other hand, believes climate change is a “hoax” invented by the Chinese.

Musk holds strong views regarding human civilisation’s impact on the planet’s environment;

We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere … can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.” – 17 April 2013

We are going to exit the fossil fuel era. It is inevitable. Right now we have an incentive structure that is designed to slow it down [transition from fossil fuels]. If countries decide to do a carbon tax or cap and trade, and it is real and not watered-down and weak, I think we can see a transition that is in the 15 to 20 years time frame as supposed to 40 to 50 years time frame. By putting a price on carbon, we are fixing a pricing error in the market. Any price will be better than the close to zero we have right now. ” –  2 December 2015

Burning oil is like taking furniture from your house and setting it on fire for heat.” – 1 July 2016

By definition, we must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse. Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better.” – 20 July 2016

“  CO2 isn’t exactly pollution, but it does cause warming and slight acidification of water if very large quantities are dug from deep underground and added to the surface cycle. The problem is the age-old tragedy of the commons. The common good being consumed is atmospheric and oceanic carbon capacity, which currently has a price of zero. This results in an error in market signals and far more CO2 is generated than should be. We won’t ever go to zero CO2, but the rate over time should be dropped far below what it is today.”  – 26 January 2017

Musk’s views are clear. They are also in direct stark contrast to Trump’s own, stated belief, that global warming was a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to hobble American industry“.  By participating in Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, Musk appears to be an optimistic believer  in being inside the enemy’s tent pissing out, rather than vice versa.

At best, it was a naive belief.

On 27 May, Trump used his favourite medium to announce that he was going to… make an announcement;

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On 28 May, rumours began to circulate that Trump had already made up his mind and was going to make good on his threat to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord;

President Trump has privately told multiple people, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave the Paris agreement on climate change, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

Publicly, Trump’s position is that he has not made up his mind and when we asked the White House about these private comments, Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks said, “I think his tweet was clear. He will make a decision this week.”

The same report claimed that “… the EPA staff are quietly working with outside supporters to place op eds favoring withdrawal from Paris“. Evidently, the more unpopular/unreasonable a political decision is, the more ‘spin’ is required to ‘massage the message’ and lull the masses back to sleep.

Trump’s appointee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and fellow climate-change denier, Scott Pruitt, had been advocating since April for the US to withdraw from the Paris Accords;

Scott Pruitt, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has said that the US should back out of its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, the landmark plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to limit global warming to below 2˚C.

This follows President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to cancel the agreement, with a decision on whether he will do so expected within the next month.

“It’s a bad deal for America,” Pruitt told cable news show Fox & Friends last week. “China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030.”

Pruitt  was being willfully disingenuous (ie; lying his head off);

“That statement is either deliberately misleading or woefully uninformed about what the Paris agreement is and what it does,” says Alden Meyer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

China and India have already taken action to reach the goals they set for 2030, and China has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by a higher percentage than US commitments. “Pruitt is really off the mark here,” Meyer says. “It’s very clear that China is going to overachieve its Paris objectives.”

Han Chen of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York says that China implemented its first mandatory national cap on coal consumption last year and added three times as much wind capacity as the US in 2016.

“China already suspended over 100 planned or under-construction coal projects last year,” says Chen. “Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants policies that favor highly polluting fossil fuels. It’s no question which country is more ambitious on climate action at the moment.”

On 31  May, just days before Trump was due to officially announce what the entire world already knew, Elon Musk issued his own announcement;

 Tesla CEO Elon Musk threatened Wednesday to stop advising President Donald Trump if the White House withdraws from the Paris climate accords.

Asked on Twitter what he would do if Trump pulled out of the landmark global deal to curb emissions, Musk said…

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Musk, who also founded SpaceX, is on Trump’s manufacturing jobs council, his strategic and policy forum, and his infrastructure council. Musk has defended his role advising Trump in the face of some criticism from anti-Trump activists, arguing that they should want his voice in the discussions to offer views that differ from those of the president’s other advisors.

Sure enough, on 2 June (New Zealand time), Trump did not fail to disappoint an entire planet of  7.3 billion humans;

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Without any hint of self-awareness of irony, Trump stated;

“ The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”

Trump’s arrogance was such that even the North Korean leadership (who are also a signatory to the Paris Accord) was moved to say the right thing at the right time;

A spokesman for the North Korean government described the move as the “height of egotism and moral vacuum seeking only their well-being even at the cost of the entire planet, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“[The US] is ignorant of the fact that the protection of the global environment is in their own interests,” the spokesman added.

“The selfish act of the US does not only have grave consequences for the international efforts to protect the environment, but poses great danger to other areas as well.”

Following on from Trump’s announcement, Elon Musk  made good on his warning that he would not be a collaborator to any undermining of the Paris Accord;

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Musk further tweeted;

Under Paris deal, China committed to produce as much clean electricity by 2030 as the US does from all sources today

Musk was correct. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman,  Hua Chunying, declared  China’s intention to  persevere with the Paris Accord;

“ Climate change is a global challenge. No county can place itself outside of this. At the same time, we will continue to resolutely be a protector and promoter of the global climate system process, proactively participating in the multilateral climate change process. We are willing to work with all sides to jointly protect the Paris agreement process, promote the actual rules and regulations of the agreement in follow-up talks and effectively enact them, and promote global green, low carbon, sustainable development.”

China has strong motivation to reduce atmospheric pollution generated by human industrial activity;

China had fought previous attempts by foreign governments to limit carbon emissions, claiming it should be allowed the same space to develop and pollute that industrialized nations had.

But with its capital often choked by smog and its people angry about the environmental degradation that rapid development has wrought across the country, Beijing has become a strong proponent of efforts to halt global warming.

The consequences of runaway climate change could be devastating for China, it’s people, and it’s economy. According to Climate Scientist, Benjamin Strauss;

Roughly a quarter of the world’s people who live on land at risk from 4C warming are living in China. That is more that twice as many as who live on vulnerable land in Europe and the US combined. The Shanghai region by itself has more than 20 million people living on land that could be lost.

Spokesman for the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov, added his country’s voice to endorsing the Paris Accord;

“ President Vladimir Putin signed this convention when he was in Paris. Russia attaches great significance to it. At the same time, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of this convention is likely to be reduced without its key participants.”

Meanwhile, many Trump supporters; alt. right purveyors of lies and conspiracy-theories such as ‘Infowars‘ and ‘Brietbart‘;  and assorted right-wing conservatives like Anne Coulter and Mark Levin were falling over each other in their scramble to praise their Dear Leader for taking the planet closer to ecological melt-down. The American Right seem to be the only ones supporting Trump.

Ironically, big corporations have parted company with Trump and the American Right, siding instead with the science community;

Major U.S. corporations and leading business figures are raising an eleventh-hour appeal to President Donald Trump, urging him to not pull the country out of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted Wednesday an image of an earlier joint open letter from over 20 top companies based in the U.S. or having business stateside, in which they made a business case that the U.S. should remain a part of the accord.

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In the face of  an intransigent anti-science cabal that now occupies the White House, aided by Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the rest of Planet Earth has no choice but carry working to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, nitrous oxide, and methane).

People of influence such as Elon Musk must now reassess their options.

By fortuitous coincidence, one option is already available to Musk and is stated on his Tesla website;

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

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Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

Musk has given away his electric car patents, promising “not [to]  initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

He has indeed joined the Open Source movement. Open Source is described as “a decentralized development model that encourages open collaboration“. There is an element of socialist co-operative behaviour with OS.

However, simply stating that Musk will not stand in the way of  anyone who “wants to use [Tesla]  technology” is not enough.   This is an opportunity for Musk to counter Trump’s refusal to act decisively on climate change. This is Musk’s opportunity to show leadership where Trump – and other Republicans and conservatives – will not.

This is the proposal I have sent to Elon Musk, via Twitter;

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Frank Macskasy
New Zealand/Aotearoa – @fmacskasy

 

Kia Ora Mr Musk,

I wish to congratulate you on your principled decision to withdraw from Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Withdrawing the United States from the Paris Accord on climate change shows a disturbing lack of understanding by Trump and a refusal to understand the science behind climate change, and it’s impact on Planet Earth.

By rejecting the science and claiming that climate change is a “Chinese orchestrated hoax” implies that the Chinese government has exercised full-spectrum dominance and control over NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, Geological Society of America, and many others. This is patently laughable.

Mr Musk, you are in a unique position to take a measure of leadership on this critical problem confronting humanity and the entire planet.

On your Tesla website, you have stated that you intend to allow people to use your electric car technology without any impediments created by patent-rights;

“Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

Your generosity in removing patents to Tesla technology is the seed to which the Paris Accord can move forward with a giant leap.

Instead of just allowing access to Tesla technology, I propose that you engage with the Chinese government to set up Tesla car-manufacturing plants throughout the Chinese People’s Republic. You could stipulate that the only two provisos would be;

1. Each plant must be powered by renewable energy. No fossil fuel energy sources to be used.

2. All electric vehicles will be for domestic consumption only (if you so wish).

With the number of private vehicles in China estimated to each 464.9 to 557.7 million by 2050 (ref: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251560842Modeling_future_vehicle_sales_and_stock_in_China) and with each typical car emitting approximately 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (ref: https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle-0), it does not take much maths to work out how much extra CO2 will be pumped into the atmosphere by just one nation alone.

Your leadership on this problem would rival that of your SpaceX programme and ambitions for Mars.

You can achieve what Trump has failed in such a dismal fashion.

This would be a spectacular act of international co-operation with the future of the entire planet and our species at stake.

Mr Musk, you can be the visionary. If China is to have 557.7 million cars by 2050, let them be electric. Let them all be Teslas.

Best wishes,
-Frank Macskasy

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Solving the crisis of climate change will take a titanic, collective effort from us all.

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References

NASA: World of Change – Global Temperatures

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries:  History of Fossil Fuel Usage since the Industrial Revolution

Huffington Post:  Number Of Cars Worldwide Surpasses 1 Billion – Can The World Handle This Many Wheels?

Wall Street Journal:  China Soon to Have Almost as Many Drivers as U.S. Has People

News.Cn:  China’s car ownership reaches 172 million

South China Morning Post: China 2016 car sales surge at fastest rate in three years

Researchgate:  Modeling future vehicle sales and stock in China (p26)

US Environmental Protection Agency:  Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle

World Economic Forum: The number of cars worldwide is set to double by 2040

Wikipedia: Elon Musk

The Hill:  Trump names Elon Musk, Uber CEO to advisory team

Great Again:  President-Elect Donald J. Trump Announces Travis Kalanick of Uber, Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo to Join President’s Strategic and Policy Forum

The Guardian:   The Minute – Trump promises Silicon Valley ‘bounce’

True Activist:  Donald Trump Appoints Elon Musk As Strategic Presidential Advisor

Twitter: Donald Trump – global warming Chinese hoax

USA Today: Icons – Elon Musk doesn’t let up at Tesla, SpaceX

Reuters:  Tesla’s Elon Musk says transition from fossil fuels inevitable

Twitter: Elon Musk – burning fossil fuel

Tesla: Master Plan, Part Deux

Gizmodo:  Gizmodo Chats With Elon Musk About Climate Change And Donald Trump

Twitter: Donald Trump – global warming Chinese hoax

Twitter: Donald Trump – Decision on Paris Accord

Axios:  Scoop – Trump tells confidants U.S. will quit Paris climate deal

New Scientist:  Environment chief says US should exit Paris climate agreement

CNBC:  Elon Musk threatens to leave White House advisory councils if Trump drops Paris accord

Twitter: Elon Musk – will have to resign from councils

Radio NZ:  Donald Trump withdraws US from Paris climate deal

RT News:  ‘Height of egotism’ – North Korea blasts US withdrawal from Paris climate accord

Twitter: Elon Musk – departing presidential councils

Twitter: Elon Musk – China committed to producing clean electricity

Scientific American: Ahead of Trump Decision, China Says It Will Stick to Paris Climate Deal

China Dialogue:  Chinese cities most at risk from rising sea levels

RT News: Russia confirms commitment to Paris climate change agreement amid fears of US pullout

Media Matters:  Right-wing media cheer Trump withdrawing United States from the Paris climate agreement

Fortune.Com: Top CEOs Are In a Last Ditch Bid to Persuade Trump to Stick with the Paris Climate Deal

Twitter: Marc Benioff – Decision on Paris Accord

Tesla: All Our Patent Are Belong To You

Wikipedia: Open Source Model

Twitter: Frank Macskasy – sharing Tesla

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

Trumpwatch: What’s a few more nails in the planet’s coffin?

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 18 June 2017.

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The Scalise Shooting: this solves nothing!

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A few days ago;

Congressman Steve Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, was in critical condition on Wednesday night after he and three others were shot as they practiced for a charity baseball game.

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Also wounded were a congressional aide and one former aide who now works as a lobbyist, officials said. One Capitol Hill police officer suffered a gunshot wound and another officer twisted an ankle and was released from a hospital, police said.

Reports indicate that the gunman, who was shot and killed, was a Bernie Sanders supporter;

It quickly emerged the [gunman], had posted anti-Trump messages on his social media accounts and campaigned on behalf of Mr Sanders, the Left-wing Senator who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Whatever my  thoughts and feelings toward those on the Right – including this current Trump Administration – the actions of the shooter (who will  not be named here) in Washington D.C. cannot be condoned. In fact, when news of the shooting came through on Radio NZ, I felt sick in my stomach.

For at least three reasons, political assassination must never be allowed to become a social norm;

  1. The person who resorts to a weapon to silence an opponent has lost the contest of ideas. It elevates the value of  an assassinated person’s ideas. In effect, they have been martyred, and history is full of examples, whether it be Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr.
  2. Whatever one thinks of a political opponent, they too have families who will mourn their violent death. Their partner and children do not deserve such a tragedy in their lives.
  3. It’s just plain wrong.

As well, the gunman has undermined and damaged his own ideology. Supporters of Bernie Sanders will now share the odium of one disturbed assassin’s crime.

Already, those inclined toward conspiracy theories have jumped on this shooting for their own agenda;

It didn’t take long for some to connect the shooting to Sanders himself. One person in particular, Jack Posobiec — a Trump supporter who has pushed the conspiracy theory surrounding DNC staffer Seth Rich’s death — especially fueled that idea.

“Just 4 days ago Bernie Sanders ordered his followers to ‘take down’ Trump,” he tweeted.

However,

Sanders did not say that. Posobiec seemed to pull it from a CNN headline that describes Sanders’ nearly hourlong speech at Sunday’s People’s Summit.

The headline, “Sanders to faithful: Take down Trump, take over Democratic Party,” refers to Sanders’ message of resistance to the establishment rule, one that he campaigned on and since has reiterated, and his strong criticism of Trump.

Sanders called Trump “perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country” in his speech and ended by saying, “I want you to think about the incredibly brave heroes and heroines in our history against unbelievably daunting odds who risked their lives for social justice, for economic justice, for racial justice.”

But he did not at any point say anyone should “take down” the president.

If  this blogger were of a mind to resort to invented fantastical conspiracy theories, one could posit that the Scalise shooting may have been a “false flag” black-ops carried out by Trump supporters to (a) undermine Sanders’ credibility and (b) create sympathy for Trump.

Conspiracy theories are easy to invent; they require a simple idea; a small element of truth (or a mutated variety of it); and a strand of apparent logic.

But there is zero evidence for such a conspiracy.

The plain truth of the matter is that one disturbed, angry, frustrated individual, with typical American-style access to firearms, took it upon himself to decide who lives and who dies based purely on his own prejudices.

That is unacceptable.

It was unacceptable when successive US governments assassinated political enemies in foreign lands, or the Putin government assassinated it’s critics domestically or abroad.

As a self-professed “leftie” myself, I dis-own the actions of one man. He does not speak nor act for me. If I ‘attack’ Trump and his party, it will be with words and ideas. If I ‘attack’ Trump, it will be on issues; his policies; and  his actions (or non-actions). If I ‘attack’ Trump, it will not be in such a way as to cause his family to grieve his death.

For example, I will criticise Trump because of his apparent selective morality;

Mr Trump later visited the hospital where Mr Scalise was recovering. The president then tweeted: “Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the truly great people, is in very tough shape – but he is a real fighter. Pray for Steve!”

The president, accompanied to the hospital by his wife Melania, sat by Mr Scalise’s bedside and spoke with his family.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer describeD the scene in the intensive care unit as “emotional.”

It is disconcerting that – as far as this blogger is aware – Trump never visited the sole survivor of three men who stood up to a racist bigot threatening two young women in Portland;

Pressure is mounting on Donald Trump to address the fatal stabbing of several men who tried to protect a Muslim teenager from being subject to a racist rant on a train.

53-year-old Ricky Best and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were killed after they tried to stop Jeremy Christian from hurling abuse at two women, one of whom was wearing a hijab.

A third passenger, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, was wounded.

Ted Wheeler, the Portland mayor, and the FBI have condemned the killings.

The President has not mentioned the attack by Christian, a man who has been described as a white supremacist, yet Mr Trump has continued to actively use social media.

Tweets since the attack include his “big results” from the trip to Europe, “fake news” and health care, and he has even praised the newly-elected Republican representative in Montana who allegedly assaulted a Guardian journalist at a campaign event. 

Veteran journalist Dan Rather made an appeal on Facebook for the President to name the “brave Americans” killed in the attack, and his post has been commented on and shared more than 340,000 times.

“I wish we would hear you say these names, or even just tweet them,” Mr Rather said. 

When there was a comment from the White House, the supposed tweet from Trump was – irony of ironies – apparently  “fake”. It was most likely written by a White House staffer;

After pressure mounted on Donald Trump to comment on the racist attack in Portland, Oregon that left two men dead on Friday, the president said on Monday the attack was “unacceptable”.

Trump’s words were broadcast on the @POTUS Twitter account, rather than the more commonly used @RealDonaldTrump, on Monday morning, shortly before Trump marked Memorial Day with a speech at Arlington national cemetery in Virginia.

“The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable,” the tweet read. “The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.”

The @POTUS  tweet does not sound like Trump’s style of writing on that particular medium.

Have I ‘attacked’ Trump?

Yes I have. And for damned good reason. But no violence was used.

No one died. No blood was spilled.

This is how a contest of ideas should – must! – take place in a civilised society.

Otherwise we are still cave-swelling barbarians – albeit with high-tech weapons, reality tv, and delusions of civility. To be a gun-wielding maniac, whether from the Right or Left, is to surrender to our worst urges. No intelligent thought, creative imagination, or insights required.

When one of “Our Own” from the Left or Right resorts to violence, we have to own that person. In this case, the Left has to take ownership of the Washington gunman and remind ourselves; this is not the way.

When a  Norwegian neo-fascist terrorist murdered seventyseven people in his own country, we demanded that the Right take responsibility for his actions.

The Left should  do no less.

Final note

After the attempted assassination of President Reagan, on 30 March 1981, US Congress passed into law the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The Act restricted access to firearms and was supported by President Reagan, and passed into law by President Clinton on 30 November 1993.

After this attack on one of their own, Republican lawmakers might re-visit their recent history when it comes to gun-control.

A bullet makes no distinction between Republicans and Democrats. Only the person wielding the gun does that.

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References

Reuters: Scalise in critical condition after attack by gunman at baseball field

The Telegraph:  Donald Trump visits Steve Scalise in hospital after Republican congressman shot at baseball practice

The LA Times: How fake news starts – Trump supporters tie Bernie Sanders to Alexandria shooting using a fake quote

The Independent:  Portland attack – Calls mount for Donald Trump to address fatal stabbing of ‘brave men’ who tried to protect Muslim teenager on train

The Guardian:  Portland attack – Trump says victims stood up to ‘hate and intolerance’

Wikipedia: Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act

Previous related blogposts

The Portland Heroes – the indomitable human spirit at its finest

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 June 2017.

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The Portland Heroes – the indomitable human spirit at its finest

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Nine years ago, a so-called “ordinary” New Zealander,  Austin Hemmings, 44, came to the aid of a woman being assaulted in an Auckland street. In the fracas, he was mortally wounded and died;

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Austin Hemmings

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The woman Austin Hemmings died trying to save says he stood in front of her to shield her from a knife-wielding attacker and ordered her to run just moments before he was stabbed to death.

“Who does that? Who dies for someone they don’t know?” the woman told the Sunday Star-Times yesterday in her first interview since her September 25 ordeal.

 The 26-year-old West Auckland woman, who has name suppression, calls Hemmings her guardian angel and says he stayed calm as he tried to talk to the attacker.

The woman had taken a break from her job at the call centre in a downtown Auckland office block to talk to a male friend on her cellphone when she was approached by a man she recognised as her cousin. She waved at him and he started talking to her. “It was really confrontational, up in my face.”

Frightened, she told the friend on the phone to call the police. “I just got frozen and all that came out of my mouth was `Help, can somebody help me?’ And there was no one until Austin came.”

She said she saw Hemmings, who had just left work, out of the corner of her eye.

“I said, `Excuse me, sir, can you please help me?’ He just stood in the middle of myself and [the accused] and just said to him, `What’s going on here?’ And [the accused] ignored him and said `Get out of the way, it’s none of your business’.

“And Austin was like, `I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I can’t leave you to do what you’re doing’ sort of thing.

Less than a minute later, Hemmings turned to her.

“All I can remember is him saying, `Run!’ And I get to the lift and it’s so unreal, you press the elevator and it’s not there. I remember thinking, `Are you serious?’ And [the accused] was running after me, and I prayed that someone would be in the elevator, and it comes. No one. My heart sank, and I thought, `Is this what it’s meant to be’?”

The doors opened. They fought in the lift. “I prayed not to black out … I pushed him out with all that was left in me.”

He fell, got up and ran, and the lift doors closed. They opened again on the floor of her work. “All I remember is our receptionist’s eyes wide open. I said, `Call the cops’.”

Her nose and lips were bleeding. Her colleagues wiped her down with paper towels before police arrived and took her back down to the street.

She says she asked people if they knew what happened to the man who’d helped her. “No one answered me.”

Then she was checked over by an ambulance officer. “I said, `How’s that man?’ and he stopped for a second and looked at his clipboard and said `Oh, he’s dead’.

“I broke down. I’m just crying because I’m like, `Who does that? Who dies for someone that they don’t know’?”

Austin Hemmings’ killer – whose name does not merit repeating, nor remembering – was sentenced to a minimum of sixteen years in prison.

On 27 July 2011, the late Mr Hemmings was posthumously awarded the New Zealand Bravery Star by the Governor-General, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, and Lady Susan Satyanand. The medal was presented to Mr Hemmings’ wife, Jennifer Hemmings;

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Jennifer Hemmings

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Eight years later, in Portland, Oregon, United States, three “ordinary” Americans stood up against another thug. This time two courageous men lost their lives to a violent, knife-wielding, foul-mouthed, bigot. The two heroes were Taliesin  Meche and Ricky  Best;

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Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche (23) and Ricky John Best (53)

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Two men were stabbed and killed in Portland on Friday after they tried to intervene while a man shouted racial slurs at two women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, police said. 

Police on Saturday identified the victims as 53-year-old Ricky John Best and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche. Best died at the scene, and Meche died at a hospital, police said. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, of Portland was also stabbed in the attack and is in serious condition at a Portland hospital, police said. His injuries are not believed to be life-threatening, police said. 

In a press conference Saturday, Mayor Ted Wheeler said the victims were heroes, CBS affiliate KOIN reports. 

“They were attacked because they did the right thing,” Wheeler said. “Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all. They are heroes.”

Ricky Best was a father of four, three teenage sons and a 12-year-old daughter. He was a public servant, working for Portland’s  Bureau of Development Services, and a U.S. army veteran. He had survived tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Note the irony that he was murdered by a fellow American, whilst protecting two muslim women.)

Taliesin Namkai-Meche was a  Portland native and had recently graduated at Reed College in economics. His tutor, Professor Kambiz GhaneaBassiri,  described Namkai-Meche;

“I still remember where he sat in conference and the types of probing, intelligent questions I could anticipate him asking. He was thoughtful, humble, smart, inquisitive, and compassionate.”

A third man who intervened, Micah David-Cole Fletcher (21), was treated for serious knife-injuries but is expected to heal.

The assailant was a low-level criminal with right-wing, white supremacist racist views. He was filmed at a far-right “free speech” rally giving  Nazi salutes and screaming “Die Muslims. Die fake Christians. Die Jews“.

The assailant, a stocky male, towered over the two young muslim women,  threatening and abusing them verbally.

The assailant will also not be named here.

Instead, I pay tribute to people like Namkai-Meche,  Best, and Fletcher who valiantly stood up to bigotry. They did not know the two young women being threatened, but they knew it was not right.

Just as Austin Hemmings did in 2008, these  men stood up to what they saw as unacceptable thuggish behaviour. They refused to stay silent and look the other way.

There is an impulse in human nature to do good; to be altruistic; to stand up and help others even though they may be total strangers. It is this indomitable spark of humanity  which is perhaps our single,  most powerful,  saving grace. If we, as a species survive, it will be due to that innate impulse to act altruistically even when we may personally not benefit. Or even face personal danger.

That is why I hold the belief that, in the end, bigotry will not triumph. Prejudice runs counter to our inner impulse for fairness and acting decently in the face of brutish bigotry.

As a blogger researching the events which swirl around us in the second decade of the 21st century, I often read depressing things which makes me wonder if our children and their children will survive to see the dawn of the 22nd century and the marvels of art, architecture, music, science, literature, and technology to come. And if we will live to further understand, appreciate, and respect the delicate inter-woven intracacies of our natural blue-green world and the myriad of other creatures we share it with.

Writing stories like this is soberingly sad, but it also offers hope. Hope that everything we do has not – will not –  be in vain.

In the end, sometimes, that is what we have left to guide us and reaffirm our humanity: hope.

 

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References

NZ Herald: Farewell to a man who did the right thing

Governor-General: Austin Hemmings

CBS News: Father of four, recent college grad named as victims in deadly Portland stabbing

The Guardian: ‘He will remain a hero’: families and friends mourn victims of Portland stabbing

Related

Facebook: Dan Rather

Previous related blogposts

Blogger’s Lament – The Ultimate Sacrifice for Freedom

RIP, ‘White Mouse’

Peter Thomas Mahon, QC (1923 – 1986)

Kiwi Hero: Jazmine Heka

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 31 May 2017.

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Trumpwatch: What’s a few more nails in the planet’s coffin?

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… as long as those coffin-nails were “Made in America”.

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Trump’s First 100 Days can boast of several “achievements”. But not the variety that progressive-minded people – especially those concerned with global environmental problems and threats to peace – would welcome with a cheer.

Pimping for Coal

On 28 March, Trump signed another of his many Executive Orders – the sort of Presidential Executive Orders that in the past he railed against when Obama was President of the United States. As he ‘tweeted’ in 2012;

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This time, Trump was signing an Executive Order over-turning Obama’s policies of moving America away from using CO2-producing  coal for energy production. To avoid any accusation of “fake news” from Trump’s supporters, these are his actual words from the White House website;

 “ Today, I’m taking bold action to follow through on that promise.  My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.  We’re going to have clean coal — really clean coal.  With today’s executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations.  (Applause.)  And, by the way, regulations not only in this industry, but in every industry.  We’re doing them by the thousands, every industry.  And we’re going to have safety, we’re going to have clean water, we’re going to have clear air.

Trump’s fairy-tale fantasies on “clean coal — really clean coal” and promising that Americans (and the rest of us on Planet Earth) would enjoy “clean water, we’re going to have clear air” was parroted by the  head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and self-confessed climate-change denier,  Scott Pruitt;

I believe that we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment. We don’t have to choose between the two.

Trump’s appointment of Pruitt was scandalous by any measure, especially as the former Republican Oklahomas attorney general sued the Environmental Protection no less than thirteen times.

Little wonder than the  Sierra Club  called for Pruitt’s resignation for mis-leading the US Congress on increasing levels of carbon dioxide leading to worsening  climate change.

Just as bad as Pruitt’s head-in-the-sand attitude toward anthropogenic climate change, is Trump’s reference to “clean coal”. There is no such thing, as Fortune magazine reported in October last year;

As for Trump, he failed to mention that no U.S. major clean coal plant is operational. He also neglected to say that the U.S. coal industry has been struggling partly because of the economics involved. The rise in low cost U.S. natural gas, as well as cheap wind and solar, has done as much to hurt the coal industry as have environmental regulations. When power companies close an aging coal plant, it makes more economic sense for them to build a new natural gas plant, or even solar and wind ones.

The article by Fortune’s Katie Fehrenbacher mentions two “clean coal” power plants that, after years of Federal taxpayer-funding and delays, have never become operational. A third “clean coal” power plant was due to be operational by the end of 2016 – but according to it’s builders is no longer  economic.

Any notion of “clean coal” appears to be a wishful fantasy in Trump’s mind.

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists summed up Trump’s vandalism of the environment;

The wrecking ball that is the Trump presidency continues. The executive order undercuts a key part of the nation’s response to climate change, without offering even a hint of what will replace it.

US National Parks: See it; Love it; Mine the #@$?%!*&$ out of it!

In a piece of cunningly written euphemistic double-speak and jargon, Trump’s Executive order on 26 April announced plans to review Monument lands (similar to National Parks) with an agenda for “economic growth”;

Designations of national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906, recently recodified at sections 320301 to 320303 of title 54, United States Code (the “Antiquities Act” or “Act”), have a substantial impact on the management of Federal lands and the use and enjoyment of neighboring lands.  Such designations are a means of stewarding America’s natural resources, protecting America’s natural beauty, and preserving America’s historic places.  Monument designations that result from a lack of public outreach and proper coordination with State, tribal, and local officials and other relevant stakeholders may also create barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict public access to and use of Federal lands, burden State, tribal, and local governments, and otherwise curtail economic growth.  Designations should be made in accordance with the requirements and original objectives of the Act and appropriately balance the protection of landmarks, structures, and objects against the appropriate use of Federal lands and the effects on surrounding lands and communities.

Though couched in nebulous bureaucratese,  alarms bells begin to ring with certain key phrases peppered throughout the Executive Order:   “the importance of the Nation’s wealth of natural resources to American workers and the American economy“; “Monument designations … may also create barriers to achieving energy independence“; “Monument designations … and otherwise curtail economic growth“; “appropriate use of Federal lands“; “including the economic development“; “properly manage designated areas“; etc.

Here in New Zealand, National’s half-arsed proposal seven years ago to open up Schedule 4 DoC conservation-land to mining was met with over-whelming public protest;

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Two and a half months later, National’s ministers caved to public anger. Their proposals sank without a trace.

Trump is yet to be confronted with similar fury from outraged Americans. In the meantime,  his Executive Order has called for the  re-classification of  landmarks of a historic or scientific nature;

“In making those determinations, the Secretary shall consider:

[…]

(ii)   whether designated lands are appropriately classified under the Act as “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest”

Once re-classified as non-historic landmarks, non-historic and non-prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of non-historic or non-scientific interest” – then it’s “Drill baby, Drill!

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Trump’s Executive Order sought “consultation” with “the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Energy“, the “Assistant to the President for Economic Policy“,  and strangely,  “the Secretary of Homeland Security“.

The Trump Administration was seeking “consultation” with the Secretaries of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and Energy for obvious reasons: Trump was planning to commercially exploit the Monument parks.

What possible purpose could there be  for Trump to be consulting the Secretary of Homeland Security?

Simple: Crowd control.

As in;

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Trump was already making plans to react with an iron fist when Americans realised what their Glorious Leader was about to do to their Monument parks.

Protest would be met by force. Just ask the Native Americans who protested the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Trump takes a Dump on the Arctic’s Rump

On 29 April, Trump did the unthinkable (aside from launching the nukes and starting the Last World War) – he signed yet another Executive Order, the ‘America-First Offshore Energy Strategy’, authorising oil exploration in Chukchi and Beaufort Seas – both in the Arctic Ocean;

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq., and in order to maintain global leadership in energy innovation, exploration, and production, it is hereby ordered as follows:

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…as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, including the procedures set forth in section 1344 of title 43, United States Code, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, give full consideration to revising the schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales, as described in that section, so that it includes, but is not limited to, annual lease sales, to the maximum extent permitted by law, in each of the following Outer Continental Shelf Planning Areas, as designated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) (Planning Areas):  Western Gulf of Mexico, Central Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Cook Inlet, Mid-Atlantic, and South Atlantic.

As Trump stated on the White House website;

This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to job-creating energy exploration.  It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban.  So hear that:  It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban, and directs Secretary Zinke to allow responsible development of offshore areas that will bring revenue to our Treasury and jobs to our workers.  (Applause.)  In addition, Secretary Zinke will be reconsidering burdensome regulations that slow job creation.  

The Order effectively reverses Obama’s final act of his Presidency, in December last year, where he placed large marine areas under Federal protection from commercial development;

President Barack Obama on Tuesday moved to indefinitely block drilling in vast swaths of U.S. waters.

The president had been expected to take the action by invoking a provision in a 1953 law that governs offshore leases, as CNBC previously reported.

The law allows a president to withdraw any currently unleased lands in the Outer Continental Shelf from future lease sales. There is no provision in the law that allows the executive’s successor to repeal the decision, so President-elect Donald Trump would not be able to easily brush aside the action.

[…]

The lands covered include the bulk of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic and 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic. The United States and Canada also announced they will identify sustainable shipping lanes through their connected Arctic waters.

Canada on Tuesday also imposed a five-year ban on all oil and gas drilling licensing in the Canadian Arctic. The moratorium will be reviewed every five years.

[…]

Environmentalists say drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic puts the waters at immediate risk, for oil and gas that would not come online for years, after a transition to cleaner energy sources could be under way.

“The Arctic Ocean is ground zero for the impacts of climate change, and any oil production there would be decades away and inconsistent with addressing climate change before it is too late,” the League of Conservation Voters said in a statement after the announcement.

Obama’s Executive Order was a complete 180-degree turn-around from his previous decision to allow Shell to test-drill in the Chukchi sea in August 2015. Shell’s exploration programme folded a month later, citing “the disappointing results of an initial well, the high costs of development and the  challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska“.

After he has finished despoiling the land, air, and waterways of the Continental United States, Trump’s decision to overturn Obama’s Executive Order and  allow oil exploration in the Arctic places one of the most fragile eco-systems at risk from environmental degradation;

Concerns have been raised over Shell’s ability to clean up a spill, should one occur, in an area covered by sea ice for much of the year. If one considers the example of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it took 87 days to cap, even though it happened in a fairly accessible region. In the Arctic, which is virtually impenetrable in winter, a similar gusher would be far more difficult to tackle. More to the point, the region’s ecology is about the most fragile on the planet and would be far more vulnerable to the impact of a major spill.

However the legality of Trump’s Executive Order attempting to overturn his predecessor’s Executive Order is questionable, with the increasing likelihood  of environmental groups launching legal challenges;

It’s unclear whether a new president has the authority to reverse those bans without Congress, says Robin Craig, an environmental law professor at the University of Utah. If, following this executive order, the Trump administration decides to go ahead and open up those areas, environmental groups will likely sue. But because there’s no precedent, it’s unclear what the outcome of those lawsuits will be. “Who knows whether they’ll win or lose,” Book says. “It hasn’t been litigated yet.”

But groups like Oceana are ready to fight. Drilling in Arctic waters is dangerous and there’s no proven way to clean sea ice from potential oil spills, Pyne says. “It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s stormy, and it’s covered in sea ice,” she says. And drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts is unpopular with businesses and residents in coastal states. Oil spill can negatively affect fishing and tourism, and states just don’t want to risk it. “Regardless who’s in the White House coastal communities and businesses do not want offshore drilling off their coast,” Pyne says.

More of Trump’s anti-environmental and pro-business, pro-exploitation policies can be found on the Forbes and National Geographic websites. The picture painted by Trump’s policy enactments (through one Executive Order after another) and appointees makes for disturbing reading.

This is not a happy time for Planet Earth.

Battle of the Bizarro Hair-Monsters

What is it with sovereign leaders with little hands and appalling hair styles?

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Not content with planning to  ravage his own country’s environmental heritage, Trump’s provocative bellicosity toward North Korea could spark a catastrophic regional conflict where millions might be killed, and the global economy sent spiralling into another debilitating recession.

In the past, Trump has resolutely condemned America’s involvement in international conflicts;

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Four years later, he has bombed  Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan – and threatening war with North Korea;

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This is a man-child confronted with complex international crisis; with minimal political  experience (except what he ‘consumes’ from US movies such as ‘Rambo‘, ‘The Green Berets‘, ‘Red Dawn‘, etc); with access to an arsenal of atomic weapons.

The world is still having to contend with the violent aftermath of America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Trump is apparently hell-bent on more military adventurism?

Each day we wake up and the planet is still intact – is a miracle.

Words of Wisdom from a Trump Supporter

From Former Representative Joe Walsh (Republican, Illinois) comes this brutally candid admission;

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“ As a Trump supporter I do my best not to pay attention to what he says. If I pulled my hair out for every nutty thing he said, I’d be bald.”

Nothing further need be said.

The only questions that remain to be asked are;

  1. How much environmental damage can this man cause before he leaves the White House (or is impeached)?
  2. Will he spark The Last World War?
  3. Will humanity learn not to vote for demagogues that promise so much; deliver so little; and threaten everything in-between?

There have to be solutions to the failed experiment of neo-liberalism and globalisation that does not require madmen (and women) to be elevated to power.

As the 1930s showed us, demagoguery is a false road toward solving our very real problems.

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Postscript

On 30 April, Trump held a public rally in Nuremburg  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There  were no torch-light processions of goose-stepping Aryan-types in tight, gleaming, spit-polished, black jack-boots. It was a more informal affair.

Dress code, WASP-casual;

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For Trump, the ego-massaging rallies of last year’s election campaign have become an on-going campaign to keep his supporters ‘pumped’. Where have we seen that before…?

Oh yeah;

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Good old Big Bruvver and his Two Minute Hate sessions. (Just substitute Hillary Clinton for Goldstein; scream “Lock her up, lock her up!” instead of “Traitor, traitor!”, and you’ve nailed it. ‘1984’ or 2017, it makes no difference.)

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References

White House: Presidential Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act

Wikipedia: National Monuments

NZ Herald: Huge protest says no to mining on conservation land

Fairfax media: Government confirms mining backdown

Grist:  Sarah Palin endorses Donald Trump, resurrects “drill, baby, drill” theme

Chicago Tribune: Dakota Access oil pipeline camp cleared of protesters; dozens arrested

Vogue: 6 Things President Trump Criticized Barack Obama For and Is Currently Doing Himself

Twitter: Trump – Obama’s Executive orders – 11 July 2012

White House: Remarks by President Trump at Signing of Executive Order to Create Energy Independence

The Guardian: New EPA head Scott Pruitt – ‘We can be both pro-jobs and pro-environment’

The Atlantic: Trump’s EPA Chief Denies the Basic Science of Climate Change

Fortune: What Donald Trump Didn’t Mention About Clean Coal

Huffington Post: Scott Pruitt Has Sued The Environmental Protection Agency 13 Times

Common Dreams: The Sierra Club – Pruitt Misled Congress on CO2, Senators Should Demand He Be “Removed from His Position.”

Time: President Trump Signs Executive Order Rolling Back Obama-Era Environmental Regulations

White House: Presidential Executive Order Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy

Wikipedia: Chukchi Sea

Wikipedia: Beaufort Sea

Wikipedia: Cook Inlet

White House: Remarks by President Trump at Signing of Executive Order on an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy

CNBC: Obama invokes 1953 law to indefinitely block drilling in Arctic and Atlantic oceans

The Guardian: Shell gets final clearance to begin drilling for oil in the Arctic

The Seattle Times: Obama protection of Arctic, Atlantic meant to thwart Trump desires to drill

The Guardian: Nature’s last refuge: climate change threatens our most fragile ecosystem

The Verge: Trump signs executive order to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in Arctic and beyond

Forbes: The 4 Worst Things Trump Has Done For The Environment In His First 100 Days – And 1 Good

National Geographic: A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment

Middle East Eye: 13 tweets Donald Trump sent warning US not to attack Syria

CBS News: U.S. bombs al Qaeda suspects in Yemen for 2nd night

New York Post: US unleashes dozens of missiles on Syria in response to chemical attack

The Guardian: Devastation and a war that rages on: visiting the valley hit by the Moab attack

The Mirror: Donald Trump warns North Korea is ‘looking for trouble’ and says US ‘will solve problem with or without China’

The Week: Former GOP Rep. Joe Walsh: ‘As a Trump supporter I do my best not to pay attention to what he says’

Additional

ABC: Experts – Long road ahead for Trump offshore drilling order

Radio NZ: Trump signs Arctic oil drilling order

The Verge: Trump signs executive order to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in Arctic and beyond

NASA: NASA Releases Detailed Global Climate Change Projections

NASA: 2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records

Other Blogs

Redline: Trump and how the ruling class rule

The Daily Blog: Andra Jenkin – One in a Million – Donald Trump’s Administration Achievements

The Daily Blog: Andra Jenkin – The Powers that Be

The Standard:  The patriotic millionaires

The Standard: Poor Donald

The Standard: Donald Trump and Florida

Your NZ: Trump wants ‘really clean coal’

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 9 May 2017.

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Afghanistan, Russia, and US hypocrisy on a breath-taking, cosmic-scale

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That was then…

In December 1979, the then-Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to prop up a pro-Moscow, communist government. The reformist communist government of Babrak Karmal was threatened by insurgent groups, which were funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and… the United States.

The US became a major supporter of Afghan rebels;

And the CIA began one of its longest and most expensive covert operations, supplying billions of dollars in arms to a collection of Afghan guerrillas fighting the Soviets. The arms shipments included Stinger missiles, the shoulder-fired, antiaircraft weapons that were used with deadly accuracy against Soviet helicopters and that are now in circulation among terrorists who have fired such weapons at commercial airliners. Among the rebel recipients of U.S. arms: Osama bin Laden.

Then-US President, Ronald Reagan in February 1983,  met with Afghan Mujahideen leaders;

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In March 1983, Reagan praised Afghan rebels as freedom fighters;

“To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom. Their courage teaches us a great lesson — that there are things in this world worth defending.

To the Afghan people, I say on behalf of all Americans that we admire your heroism, your devotion to freedom, and your relentless struggle against your oppressors.”

By 1991,  Washington matched its rhetoric with cold, hard American dollars,  committing $250 million annually for the mujahidin;

Initially, the CIA refused to provide American arms to the resistance, seeking to maintain plausible deniability.(25) (The State Department, too, also opposed providing American-made weapons for fear of antagonizing the Soviet Union.(26) The 1983 suggestion of American Ambassador to Pakistan Ronald Spiers, that the U.S. provide Stingers to the mujahidin accordingly went nowhere for several years.(27) Much of the resistance to the supply of Stinger missiles was generated internally from the CIA station chief’s desire (prior to the accession of Bearden to the post) to keep the covert assistance program small and inconspicuous. Instead, the millions appropriated went to purchase Chinese, Warsaw Pact, and Israeli weaponry. Only in March 1985, did Reagan’s national security team formally decide to switch their strategy from mere harassment of Soviet forces in Afghanistan to driving the Red Army completely out of the country.(28) After vigorous internal debate, Reagan’s military and national security advisors agreed to provide the mujahidin with the Stinger anti-aircraft missile. At the time, the United States possessed only limited numbers of the weapon. Some of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also feared accountability problems and proliferation of the technology to Third World countries.(29) It was not until September 1986, that the Reagan administration decided to supply Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahidin, thereby breaking the embargo on “Made-in-America” arms.

Support for the rebel groups with money and weapons succeeded. Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan by 1988/89. Following from America’s humiliating defeat in Indo-china in the 1970s, this was pay-back for the Soviets having supported North Vietnam in the conflict.

In the power-vacuum that followed, the anti-Western Taliban seized power.

Own goal, Washington!

This is now…

History seems to be repeating;

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Trump appointee,  Defense Secretary ‘Mad dog’ Mattis has accused Russia of supplying weapons to Afghan rebels;

Asked about Russia’s activity in Afghanistan, where it fought a bloody war in the 1980s and withdrew in defeat, Mattis alluded to the US’ increasing concerns.

“We’ll engage with Russia diplomatically,” Mattis said. “But we’re going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law or denying the sovereignty of other countries. For example, any weapons being funneled here [to Afghanistan] from a foreign country would be a violation of international law.””

Violation of international law“?!

When did the US worry about violating international law when it supplied $3 billion worth of weapons and other support for Afghan rebels to over-throw the Soviet-aligned government in Kabul?

Methinks our American cuzzies doth protest too much. International law seemed not too high on their list of priorities when they armed Afghan rebels in the 1970s and 80s.

Secretary Mattis should study recent history – or stick a big, bold “H” on his forehead.

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“H” being for hypocrisy.

Postscript

Meanwhile, according to Russian government-aligned RT News, ” President Donald Trump [is] contemplat[ing] sending more troops to Afghanistan“.

Because sending more troops will help.  Remind us again how that turned out for the US in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s?

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References

Wikipedia: Afghanistan

Time: The Oily Americans

Wafflesatnoon: Misquote – Reagan Didn’t Compare Taliban to Founding Fathers

Reagan Library: Message on the Observance of Afghanistan Day

The Washington Institute: Who Is Responsible for the Taliban?

Google books: False Flags, Covert Operations, & Propaganda By Robert B Durham (p242)

CNN: Encore Presentation – Soldiers of God

Al Jazeera: US officials in Afghanistan suggest Russia arms Taliban

RT News: Bomb attack hits US base in Afghanistan as Defense Sec Mattis visits Kabul, casualties reported

Additional

Snopes.com: Freedumb Fighters

Al Jazeera: Afghanistan – The Soviet Union’s Vietnam

Previous related blogposts

PM unimpressed by protest outside his house – Afghans unimpressed by mass murder at weddings

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 April 2014.

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Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

15 April 2017 4 comments

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7 April 2017 – A Day of Infamy

Along with 7.5 billion other humans on this planet, I was dumbfounded  when the newsflash came over Radio New Zealand that the US had launched cruise missiles against Syria, nearly obliterating a military airfield at Shayrat airbase;

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Only an hour and a half earlier, Trump has been “considering retaliatory action” over the Syrian government’s alleged use of sarin gas at  Khan Shaykhun, in the Idlib Governorate.

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That was fast work. A cynic might suggest that the attack had been planned well in advance.

Despite my many reservations about Trump’s fitness to be the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet; despite his gullibility in listening to dubious “news” sources; despite his slavishness toward Israel;  despite his racist diatribes against ethnic groups; despite his stated intention to squander billions on the military; despite gagging aspects of family planning services; and despite his covert right-wing agenda to pare-back healthcare, environmental protections, and slash critical government services for the poor – there was one thing about him that stuck in my mind. His willingness to “do deals” to overcome problems;

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Trump made no discernible attempt to deal with  the Russians – Syria’s main sponsor –  to determine who had launched the poison gas attack on Khan Shaykhun. There was no “deal making” in evidence as Trump gave the order to unleash the destructive  firepower of 59 American ‘Tomahawk’ cruise missiles.

In fact, Trump’s decision to attack Shayrat airbase contradicts his own warning from 12 November last year when he cautioned;

“…if the US attacks Assad, “we end up fighting Russia, fighting Syria.”

So it is hardly surprising that  Australian  Green Party senator, Scott Ludlum, spoke for many when he admonished Trump’s cowboy adventurism;

“The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President.”

It’s OK when our ‘side’ does it

Despite a previous poison gas attack in Ghouta, Syria in 2013 – for which the Assad regime was implicated, but not proven – there is  little actual firm evidence that the Syrian government was responsible for the gassing at Khan Sheikhoun on 7 April. Whilst it is known that Syria does (or did) indeed posses sarin gas – so does Israel. (Though Israel has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, to date it has not ratified it.)

It is, however, not unknown for middle east despots to use poison gas to suppress rebel groups, as Saddam Hussein did in March, 1988, in Halabja. Saddam’s target at the time were Kurdish rebels fighting for independence. Some 6,800 men, women, and children were killed outright, and estimates put the eventual civilian death toll at 12,000.

Iraq used poison gas in it’s war with Iran without sanction. The West continued to support Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime despite the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi villages as well as Iranian combatants;

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

Means, Motive, and Opportunity

When considering a crime and it’s possible perpetrator(s), law enforcement officials take into account motive, means, and opportunity. The Assad regime certainly has two of the criteria: means and opportunity.

Fellow blogger and political commentator, Chris Trotter, recently questioned what would motivate Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to launch an attack using banned weapons that would earn near-universal condemnation from the international community – and possibly embarrass  and alienate critical support from Moscow. Chris asked;

… “Why would Assad do such a thing?” Syria was en route to a new round of peace talks. More importantly, she was about to enter negotiations in which the usual American, British and French demands that “Assad must go!” were to be, for the first time since the Syrian Civil War broke out in earnest, quietly put to one side. Having won the war on the ground, the Assad regime was on the brink of clearing away its enemies’ unrealistic preconditions. Finally, a serious conversation about Syria’s future could begin.

And yet, we are being invited to believe that, with all this at stake, President Assad ordered the use of Sarin gas on his own citizens. Somehow, instigating a reprehensible war crime against women and children was going to strengthen his moral authority. Somehow, by revolting the entire world, he would improve his chances of being accepted as Syria’s legitimate ruler. Somehow, by embarrassing the Russian Federation, his country’s most valuable military ally, he would enhance Syria’s national security. The whole notion is absurd.

Fair questions.

Did Assad believe that he could get away with it? Did he feel that Russia’s success in East Ukraine and Crimea, and the West’s unwillingness to challenge Moscow’s flexing of  its “hard power” gave him free license to use whatever means he had at his disposal? Did Assad feel emboldened at Trump’s “close relationship” with Russia’s President Putin?

But why chemical weapons, which, in this case resulted in no appreciable military gains for Assad’s military? Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a chemical weapons adviser to NGOs (and  former commanding officer of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment and NATO’s Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion) offered one possible rationale;

The fear of chemical weapons is the real terror of war. Less than 0.5 percent of casualties during World War I were attributed to chemical weapons, yet the Great War has become synonymous with their use. The current conflict in Syria and Iraq depicts a similar picture.

ISIL employs a morbidly brilliant psychological warfare, and chemical weapons are the ultimate psychological weapon against all their enemies.

It would seem unlikely to engage in such a risky gamble. Especially for such little military advantage. It would  be a colossal mis-judgement on Assad’s part if he thought that reliance on Western inertia and Trump’s isolationistic worldview would pay off.

According to Russian government-aligned RT News, Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem;

…denied claims that the military used chemical weapons in the western city of Idlib. Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Muallem said an airstrike by Syrian military had targeted an arms depot where chemical weapons stockpiles were stored by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front militants.

He said it’s impossible that the army – which has been making significant gains in almost all theaters of the Syrian war – would use banned chemical weapons against its “own people” and even terrorists.

The lack of clear motive on Assad’s part raises real doubt as to who launched the gas attack on Khan Shaykhun.

If not Assad, who?

There have been suggestions that rebel groups operating in Syria to overthrow Assad’s regime launched the gas attack as a ‘false flag’ operation to draw the U.S. into the conflict.

I have doubts on this.

Until Trump’s ascendancy to the White House, the United States has been reluctant to supply Syrian rebels – including the Free Syrian Army – for fear they could end up in the wrong hands;

In theory, the embargo aims to prevent anti-aircraft weapons getting into the hands of terrorists who might down civilian planes. Yet such weapons exist on the black market; since the US has gone out of its way to prevent the FSA from getting any – even from there – the weapons that do get snapped up end up in the hands of anyone but the FSA.

Even anti-tank weaponry supplied to certain rebel groups was closely monitored;

While warplanes and helicopters had replaced tanks as the main form of regime slaughter by mid-2012, this US embargo blocked not only anti-aircraft but also anti-tank weaponry. Thus only small arms and ammunition were allowed, in the face of a massively armed regime continually supplied by Russia and Iran.

[…]

US pressure is clear: Only “vetted” groups get TOW [anti-tank] missiles, sometimes only three or four at a time, they have to apply for them for specific operations, and they have to return the shells to make a claim for more. Even favoured groups soon found supplies dwindling, and the program diminished by late 2014.

By December 2016, after Trump’s inauguration, the US government softened it’s policy forbidding anti-aircraft weaponry being sold to Syrian rebels;

The House voted for the first time today to explicitly authorize the incoming Donald Trump administration to arm vetted Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles.

While the language in the annual defense bill also creates restrictions on the provision of the controversial weapons, it represents a win for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., a fervent advocate of helping the rebels resist President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

[…]

Trump was outspoken about his reluctance to get dragged into the Syrian civil war throughout the presidential campaign. He has since picked hawkish advisers and candidates for Cabinet positions, including retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense.

[…]

Mattis is well known in military and foreign policy circles for his aggressive determination to take on America’s foes, notably Iran, including in Syria and Iraq.

[…]

The new provision “would require the secretary of defense and secretary of state to notify the congressional defense committees, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee should a determination be made to provide MANPADs to elements of the appropriately vetted Syrian opposition,” according to the explanatory statement accompanying the compromise bill. “The conferees expect that should such a determination be made, the requirement for the provision of such a capability and the decision to provide it would be thoroughly vetted by and receive broad support from the interagency”.

At least one US lawmaker realised the lethal consequences of allowing anti-aircraft missiles into rebel hands. Representative John Conyers (Dem-Michigan) warned;

“I am disappointed that the House of Representatives’ explicit prohibition on the transfer of these dangerous weapons into Syria was reversed — behind closed doors — by the conference committee. This brazen act shows that some in Congress still hope to further escalate the civil war in Syria. Sending these weapons would only prolong this horrific conflict — and endanger civilian airliners across the region, including in Israel.”

Writing for the Huffington Post, Charles Lister reported that the Free Syrian Army had tried – and been stopped – from purchasing anti-aircraft missiles on the black market.  One FSA leader was reported as saying;

“Somehow, the Americans found out and our purchase was blocked.”

To date, use of anti-aircraft weaponry by rebels forces has been minimal.

If  the US was wary of handing over anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry to Syrian rebel groups – from where they could disperse to who-knows-where – it is hard to believe that even more deadly weapons such as poison gas would be permitted into rebel hands.

If anti-aircraft missiles could be used by ISIS  operatives to bring down civilian passenger jets – imagine those same operatives with poison gas in subways in New York, London, Paris, Moscow.

And remember the comment made by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, above;

“The fear of chemical weapons is the real terror of war… chemical weapons are the ultimate psychological weapon against all their enemies.”

Which suggests that the only other ‘player’ in the Syrian civil war capable of deploying chemical weapons would be a sovereign state.

If not rebels, who?

In a June 2013 story, the BBC reported on who was supplying the myriad ‘players’ in the Syrian conflict. One of the arms traffickers in the region was Saudi Arabia;

In late 2012, Riyadh is said to have financed the purchase of “thousands of rifles and hundreds of machine guns”, rocket and grenade launchers and ammunition for the FSA from a Croatian-controlled stockpile of Yugoslav weapons.

These were reportedly flown – including by Royal Saudi Air Force C-130 transporters – to Jordan and Turkey and smuggled into Syria.

Note the link: Croatian-controlled stockpile

Follow the link and it leads to a February 2013 story in the New York Times, which stated;

Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to anti-government fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases.

The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad.

So, what sort of weapons was Croatia selling on the open market? Interrogate Google with the parameters ‘Yugoslavia Croatia chemical weapons’. It offers this April 1999 story in the UK Guardian;

After months of prevarication, Nato launches a ground war against Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in Kosovo. But no sooner do British and US troops begin to move in and threaten Serb army units than Milosevic unleashes his secret weapons – sarin nerve gas and BZ, a psychochemical incapacitant.

[…]

According to former Yugoslav chemical weapons officers, Milosevic’s arsenal is far larger than previously thought. Besides sarin and BZ, it includes the blister agent sulphur mustard and the choking agent phosgene. And it is thanks to scientists in Britain and the US that he could use them on Nato troops.

[…]

In total, the Serb army may have as many as 5,800 122mm sarin-filled shells and 1,000 mustard gas shells, say these sources. In addition, Serbia is also known to have been developing a multiple rocket delivery system for sarin and a bomb capable of delivering 20 litres of the nerve gas to the battlefield.

[…]

Even the Pentagon, which is sceptical about Croatian estimates of the numbers of chemical shells and rockets in the Serb arsenal, accepts that Milosevic inherited from the JNA a programme capable of producing a deadly 3,000 rockets filled with sarin and 100 shells filled with mustard gas.

[…]

Although the Pentagon says it has no evidence that Serbia has continued to manufacture and test chemical weapons since the break-up of the Yugoslavia federation, officials told the New York Times they were ‘concerned’ about the stockpiles.

The Pentagon would be right to be “‘concerned’ about the stockpiles“. Where would they end up?

There is no proof that amongst the weapons purchased from Croatia there was included chemical weapons such as sarin gas. But the facts are clear;

  • Former-Yugoslavia developed massive quantities of poison gas weapons, including sarin gas
  • After the break-up of Yugoslavia, Croatia sold plane-loads of weapons to Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi Arabia supports rebel forces in Syria
  • Sarin gas was used in the gas attack on Khan Shaykhun

It is all circumstantial, of course. But it seems plausible that Saudi Arabian military/intelligence agents could have transported sarin gas shells/rockets to Idlib Governorate where, under close supervision,  they were launched against a defenceless city.

The plan was simple; to provoke a politically unsophisticated, naive, and impressionable Donald Trump into  military retaliation by blaming the attack on the Syrian regime.

Clinton – Not helping!

Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the Syrian regimes alleged poison gas attack on Khan Shaykhun do her no favours;

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears on stage at the Women in the World Summit in New York, US, 6 April 2017. The interview took place a few hours before the attack was launched on Syria. Acknowledgement: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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“Assad has an air force, and that air force is the cause of most of these civilian deaths as we have seen over the years and as we saw again in the last few days. And I really believe that we should have and still should take out his air fields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.

I still believe we should have done a no-fly zone. We should have been more willing to confront Assad.

Her strident jingoism confirms her critic’s description of her as a warmonger.

We can excuse Trump’s political inexperience, naivete, and  unsophisticated view of the world around him. This is  a man who gets his “news” from the Republican Party-mouthpiece,  Fox News, or the far-right Brietbart website. His political development appears arrested and not to far from that of an adolescent.

Trump may blunder into WWIII but a President Hillary Clinton  would apparently have egged it on. With decades of political experience behind her, Clinton should know better. She has no excuse for her simplistic  jingoism.

She should also have deeper insights into  Middle East politics than this. Her willingness to perpetuate the Syria-Is-Guilty narrative cannot be excused as easily as Trump’s stupidity.

Which means she is manipulating current events for her own agenda.

With the planet edging closer to WWIII, whatever ‘game’ she is playing is a dangerous one.

World War III – Are we there yet?

Moscow’s unofficial mouthpiece, RT News, relayed a chilling message to Washington’s power-establishment (not Trump) to ‘back off’. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that the illegal  missile attack the Syrian airfield was putting the US  “on the verge of a military clash” with Russia.

Not since the Cuban missile Crisis in October 1962 have the two nuclear-armed super-powers faced off, bringing the planet to the verge of atomic annihilation.

At that time, the Cold Warriors of the former USSR and USA still remembered the destruction caused by WWII. The Soviets, in particular, understood what Total War meant.

Alarmingly, though Putin has some understanding of military service, Trump has never served in the armed forces. Trump’s understanding of war most likely comes from brief news clips  and popular entertainment from Hollywood;

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Hopefully someone in his national security council is advising Trump that real war is not like ‘The Green Berets’ or ‘Hogan’s Heroes‘.

Sanders – the voice of calm sanity from a President the Americans never had

Former Democrat-candidate, Bernie Sanders, apparently accepts the official Washington narrative that the gas attack on Khan Shaykhun was orchestrated and executed by Assad’s military;

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Though hours later he issued a statement highly critical of of Trump’s unilateral use of military force against Syria. In a statement, later that day, Sanders said;

In a world of vicious dictators, Syria’s Bashar Assad tops the list as a dictator who has killed hundreds of thousands of his own citizens to protect his own power and wealth. His regime’s use of chemical weapons against the men, women and children of his country, in violation of all international conventions and moral standards, makes him a war criminal.

As the most powerful nation on earth, the United States must work with the international community to bring peace and stability to Syria, where over 400,000 people have been killed and over 6 million displaced. The horror of Syria’s civil war is almost unimaginable.

If there’s anything we should’ve learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which the lives of thousands of brave American men and women and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians have been lost and trillions of dollars spent, it’s that it’s easier to get into a war than get out of one. I’m deeply concerned that these strikes could lead to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement in the Middle East. If the last 15 years have shown anything, it’s that such engagements are disastrous for American security, for the American economy and for the American people.

The Trump administration must explain to the American people exactly what this military escalation in Syria is intended to achieve, and how it fits into the broader goal of a political solution, which is the only way Syria’s devastating civil war ends. Congress has a responsibility to weigh in on these issues. As the Constitution requires, the president must come to Congress to authorize any further use of force against the Assad regime.

Further, the US must work with all parties to reinforce longstanding international norms against the use of chemical weapons, to hold Russia and Syria to the 2013 deal to destroy these weapons and to see that violators are made accountable.

There appears to be mixed-messaging from Sanders on this issue.

The only positive from Sanders is that he would (apparently) “work with all parties to reinforce longstanding international norms against the use of chemical weapons“. Though naming Syria and Russia in the same breath ignores the reality that these weapons still exist in American stockpiles and Israel has refused to ratify treaties to eliminate them.

However, anything that pulls Moscow and Washington back from the brink of the abyss of WWIII must be viewed positively. At this point, Sanders appears less insanely unstable than Trump, and certainly less insanely hawkish than Clinton.

By the way, Mr Trump…

Israel also possesses atomic bombs – which seems not to concern Washington one bit. It would not be an over-statement to point out that detonating an atomic weapon over the Middle East would set the planet on fire.

Game over.

New Zealand’s Response to an Illegal Attack

Hours after the US attack, Bill English responded by explaining;

“We’ve seen the atrocities with the use of chemical weapons … We support action that is proportionate to the requirement to stop further atrocities.”

Which raises four questions and an observation;

#1 How can bombing a Syrian government airbase “stop further atrocities” when it has not been clearly established who was responsible for the gas attack on Khan Shaykhun? Is that not “jumping the gun” (excuse the inappropriate  metaphor) before guilt/innocence is proven?

#2 Considering that English refuses point-blank to initiate a Commission of Inquiry into a 2010 SAS  raid in the Tirgiran Valley, in Afghanistan  – despite a former Minister of Defence confirming that there were civilian casualities – is the National government  in a moral position to endorse a potentially illegal bombing of  Shayrat airbase?

#3 There is no firm evidence that the Assad regime is guilty of using poison gas on Khan Shaykhun – why has English  rushed to judgement and pre-determined guilt?

#4 There is evidence that the SAS may have committed war crimes in 2010 in the Tirgiran Valley – why has English rushed to judgement and pre-determined innocence?

#5 English’s “moral compass” is highly dubious, to put it politely.

Chaos in  Trump’s Administration?!

Washington’s renewed appetite for military adventurism in the Middle East (which, by the way, rarely ends well) has cloaked two recent events that the White House wanted off the nation’s front pages and lead-bulletins.

#1: Bannon

Arch far-right activist, Steve Bannon has been quietly removed from Trump’s National Security Council a day before the missile strike on Shayrat airbase.  According to a New York Times report;

…White House officials said, the ideologist who enjoyed the president’s confidence became increasingly embattled as other advisers, including Mr. Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, complained about setbacks on health care and immigration. Lately, Mr. Bannon has been conspicuously absent from some meetings. And now he has lost his seat at the national security table.

In a move that was widely seen as a sign of changing fortunes, Mr. Trump removed Mr. Bannon, his chief strategist, from the National Security Council’s cabinet-level “principals committee” on Wednesday. The shift was orchestrated by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, who insisted on purging a political adviser from the Situation Room where decisions about war and peace are made.

Bannon, though, was not taking his removal from the NSC quiety, threatening to resign if his removal went ahead.

But Bannon will still be present at certain meetings, on an “ad hoc”* basis, according to this report;

“He is off the memo as a member of the principals committee,” said the source familiar with Wednesday’s meeting, “but the president or McMaster can invite him to attend at any time.”

Asked why Bannon attended a meeting on the same day his departure was being announced, the source said, “He is one of the president’s closest and most trusted advisors.”

Asked whether Bannon would continue to regularly attend NSC meetings, the source said, “I don’t know. It’s going to be ad hoc, I think.”

(* Ad Hoccery  appears to be the defining basis upon which the Trump Administration is predicated.)

One does not have to be political scientist to realise that a power struggle is taking place in the White House – a struggle for ascendancy over a President who appears  easily influenced.

On the day of the attack on Shayrat airbase, Bannon (circled in red) was present at the National Security Council meeting held at Trump’s ad hoc “Situation Room” at his private  resort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida;

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#2: Nunes

Another event which has slipped well under the political radar is the “voluntary temporarily stepping down” (aka, removal) of Devin Nunes (Republican-Tulare), from the House Intelligence Committee.  Nunes is (was?)  Committee Chairperson until it was discovered that he had inappropriately leaked information obtained from the White House regarding an investigation into possible collusion with Russia by Trump associates during last year’s election campaign;

In short, the new chronology is this: White House officials leaked intelligence information to Nunes, who then announced them last Wednesday as fresh revelations, saying that he had received them from an unnamed source and that the White House was unaware. Nunes then made a show of going to the White House to brief President Trump on revelations that had come from his staff in the first place. The administration finally used the information to claim vindication on its still-evidence-free claims that President Obama surveilled then-candidate Trump.

Nunes blamed unnamed “left-wing activists” for his “voluntary stepping down”.

Devin Nunes is the second (third? I’ve lost count) casualty from Trump’s erratic presidency, following on from the resignation (not “voluntarily temporarily stepping down”) of national security adviser Michael Flynn on 13 February.

Hey! Look over there!

If ever Trump needed a diversion to deflect public attention away from ongoing turmoil in his Administration, what better than a spectacular show of American military muscle in a country he had previously said the US had no interest in intervening;

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Of course, Trump gave his explanation for changing his mind;

“ Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

Trump added;

“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, little babies… that crosses… many lines.”

Laudible and noble. What righteous person doesn’t love children?

Everyone, of course. Everyone except the vile villains who launched the gas attack on Khan Shaykhun (whoever they might be). And this person;

One man said he lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, where [Donald] Trump has a home, and there were plans to relocate Syrian refugee families there.

He asked Mr Trump if he could “look children aged five, eight, ten, in the face and tell them they can’t go to school here”.

Mr Trump did not hesitate and said he could, which brought applause from the crowd.

He said: “I can look in their faces and say ‘You can’t come’. I’ll look them in the face.”

It is a shame that Mr Trump wasn’t considering “beautiful babies” and  “children of God” during his election campaign last year.

Even Breibart ‘News  reported Trump’s comments.

Breitbart ‘News’

Meanwhile, Breibart ‘News’ has been an ongoing cheerleader supporting military action against the Assad regime, in 2012, as well as more recently. On both occasions, unsubstantiated allegations of Assad using poison gas against civilians and rebels was reported as ‘facts’ by Breitbart;

2012:

Rebel forces in Syria report that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now using chemical weapons on them. Moreover, intelligence operatives from the West have confirmed those reports as well. But there has yet to be a peep out of the Obama administration over it.

2017:

The strike was aimed at deterring another chemical weapons attack by the regime.

This is the same far-right Breitbart ‘News’ where Steve Bannon – Trump’s current Chief Strategist –  once held the position as Executive Chairperson.

Profitting from the attack on Syria

The PAC which raised money for Trump’s election campaign last year has capitalised on the attack on Shayrat airbase. As reported on the ‘Daily Beast‘ and elsewhere;

President Trump ordered a military strike on Syria Thursday night in response to a recent chemical attack. By Friday afternoon, a supportive PAC was fundraising off of the strike.

“Last night, President Trump ordered military action against Syria in response to their chemical weapons attack,” an email from the Great America PAC, first flagged by Dave Levinthal at the Center for Public Integrity, read.

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“59 United States tomahawk missiles destroyed the airfield used to store Syria’s toxic weapons and aircraft involved in the Sarin gas attack.

What are your thoughts?”

The message asks respondents to vote on whether they approve of the strike and subsequently includes a request for money. The email was signed by Ed Rollins, currently the national co-chair of the PAC who joined the group in May of 2016.

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In case the wording on the second image is too difficult to read, it says;

Thank you for your vote. President Trump sent a message to the world by striking Syria. Help us support our Commander-in-Chief by making a special contribution below.

It should come as no surprise. There has always been money to be made from war, especially in the American Empire where industries such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Bell Helicopter Textron, and many others have made billions in profits making weapons for the US military.

But it must be a novelty (or new low, depending on which way your moral compass is pointing) that a political fund-raising organisation has exploited death and destruction to raise cash for their candidate/office-holder. Especially when that death and destruction  may be predicated on a lie.

This must give even  the most ardent Trump supporter pause for thought.

Infowars Turns on Trump

…And at least one previous Trumpista has indeed paused, thought, and turned his back on the Orange One.

Infowars editor, Paul Watson recently ‘tweeted’ his defection  from the Trump Camp;

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Although this may be fake news/false flag/deception/deep-state conspiracy and the real Paul Watson is safe aboard the Mothership, along with JFK, Trotsky, Elvis, and Doris Day.

Israel – the Red Flag to Middle East Bulls

Israel has voiced it’s support for the US attack. As reported in the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – himself no stranger to aggression against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank – congratulated the US for it’s missile attack on Shayrat airbase;

“Israel supports the recent US missile attack in Syria because it is morally right and because it makes clear there is price for the use of chemical weapon. We are doing this because of moral reasons in light of the difficult images from Idlib, and also so that it will be clear that there is a price for the use of chemical weapons.”

Israel has also violated Syrian airspace to attack and destroy so-called terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. In March this year, Netanyahu stated;

“When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah and we have intelligence and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it. That’s how it was yesterday and that’s how we shall continue to act.”

Days later Netanyahu revealed that he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin point blank;

“We attack if we have information and the operational feasibility. This will continue.”

Israel’s arrogant sense of entitlement extends it’s military operations from Gaza and the West Bank to another sovereign state – Syria.

Syria, predictably has exercised it’s legal right to  attempt to shoot down Israeli warplanes that crossed into it’s airspace. Just as Turkey exercised it’s right to shoot down a Russian warplane that crossed into Turkish airspace in November 2015;

Vladimir Putin has called Turkey “accomplices of terrorists” and warned of “serious consequences” after a Turkish F-16 jet shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday morning, the first time a Nato country and Moscow have been involved in direct fire over the crisis in Syria.

The Russian president, speaking before a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Sochi, said the plane had been shot down over Syrian airspace and fell 4km inside Syria. Putin said it was “obvious” the plane posed no threat to Turkey.

The Syrian conflict is a quagmire with multiple players – both state and various armed factions.

The complexity of the conflict – coupled with information that may or may not be true – creates a potential powder-keg. In some ways, I am reminded of Europe, in 1914; an interwoven web of imperial powers jostling for supremacy; strategic alliances; revolutionary groups; unstable monarchies; and ethnic tensions.

Sound familiar?

The drums of war are beating, and they are getting louder. This time, we may have to rely on the stability of the Russian leadership to deliver us from another Sarajevo, 1914.

That stability appears dangerously lacking in Washington right now.

Postscript – The Curious Case of Peter Thiel

Writing for Mediaworks, veteran journalist and media-host, Mark Sainsbury, had this to say in February of this year;

Citizenship rightly should be prized and earned. It is not a commodity to be traded.

Which brings us to the curious case of Peter Thiel, the controversial American billionaire whose “exceptional circumstances” somehow allowed him to become a citizen of this fine country.

[…]

He apparently had a strong desire to be a citizen of a country he hardly visited – certainly not enough to qualify for an application in normal circumstances.

So was it the fact that citizenship enabled him to bypass the Overseas Investment Office’s scrutiny when he bought his Wanaka property? You’d have to say given all his amazing qualities, that shouldn’t have been a problem anyway.

I listened to Xero boss Rod Dury – a strong supporter of Mr Thiel’s application – not surprising given Mr Thiel made a significant investment in Xero. Mr Drury accepted that many successful people like Peter Thiel want a bolt hole in case it all goes pear-shaped in the Northern Hemisphere.  And if you could afford it, why wouldn’t you?

But is that what it really comes down to?  That we are a convenience, a Hobbit-themed panic room for the super rich?

Let’s just call it for what it is: We are a haven for sale.

The great irony, of course, is that any implosion in the Northern Hemisphere could likely be triggered by another of his influential friends; the man he backed for the US presidency: Donald J Trump.

Perhaps Mr Thiel knew something we didn’t?

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References

Radio NZ:  Afternoons – US launches strikes on a target in Syria

Radio NZ: Midday News for 7 April 2017

Wikipedia: Khan Shaykhun

Wikipedia: Sarin Gas

The Guardian: ‘Global gag rule’ reinstated by Trump, curbing NGO abortion services abroad

Twitter: Donald Trump – Deals – 21 May 2015

RT News: Trump warns that by attacking Assad, US will ‘end up fighting Russia’

Sydney Morning Herald: Malcolm Turnbull ‘knew in advance’ of US strike on Syria, called for a ‘strong response’

NTI: Israel

New York Times: Halabja – America didn’t seem to mind poison gas

Al Jazeera: Remembering Halabja chemical attack

BBC: Iraq – chemical warfare

Foreign Policy: Exclusive – CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran

Al Jazeera: Remembering Halabja chemical attack

RT News: Syria denies & condemns use of chemical weapons – foreign minister

The New Arab: Anti-aircraft missiles could be a game-changer in Syria

Al-Monitor: Congress authorizes Trump to arm Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles

Huffington Post:  Russia’s Intervention in Syria: Protracting an Already Endless Conflict

BBC: Who is supplying weapons to the warring sides in Syria?

The Guardian: UK link to Serb poison gas

CNN: Hillary Clinton – US should ‘take out’ Assad’s air fields

RT News: America’s Syria strike ‘on verge of military clash’ with Russia – PM Medvedev

Twitter: Bernie Sanders – Syria – 7 April 2017

Politicususa: Bernie Sanders Shows America How A President Should Handle Syria And The Middle East

Radio NZ: NZ told in advance about US Syria strike

Radio NZ: Little on SAS claims – ‘We need to know what the truth is’

Radio NZ: Afghan raid – Ex-minister accepts reports of civilian deaths

New York Times: Trump Removes Stephen Bannon From National Security Council Post

The Independent:  Steve Bannon threatened to quit if removed from National Security Council, say reports

CNBC: Bannon attended National Security Council meeting after his removal from top committee

New York Times: Who Was in the Room? These Advisers Joined Trump for the Syria Strike

Los  Angeles Times: Devin Nunes says he’s temporarily stepping aside from Russia probe

The Atlantic: The Call Was Coming From Inside the White House

Bloomberg: Trump Asked for Flynn’s Resignation After ‘Eroding’ Trust, Aide Says

Twitter: Trump – Do not attack Syria – 5 September 2013

CNBC: Trump explains why he launched missile attack on Syria

Radio NZ: Syria chemical killings ‘cross many lines’ – Trump

The Telegraph: Donald Trump – ‘I’ll look Syrian children in the face and say they can’t come’

Breitbart ‘News’: Trump – I can look into face of Syrian children and say ‘You can’t come here’

Breitbart ‘News’: Obama Yawns As Syria Uses Chemical Weapons, Crosses ‘Red Line’

Breitbart ‘News’: Trump Orders Strikes Against Syrian Regime Airbase in Response to Chemical Attack

Wikipedia: Steve Bannon

Great America PAC: Home page

The Daily Beast: Pro-Trump PAC Raising Money Off Syria Strikes

Wikipedia: List of United States defense contractors

Wikipedia: Paul Watson

Twitter: Paul Watson – Donald Trump – 7 April 2017

Jerusalem Post: Netanyahu – Israel backs US attack on Syria on ‘moral’ basis

Al Jazeera: Netanyahu – Strikes in Syria targeted Hezbollah arms

Jerusalem Post: Netanyahu – Israel clarified to Russia that IDF will continue Syria strikes

The Guardian: Putin condemns Turkey after Russian warplane downed near Syria border

BBC: Syria war – A brief guide to who’s fighting whom

Mediaworks: Mark Sainsbury – Peter Thiel’s made NZ a haven for sale

Additional

The Boston Globe: Trump and the Doomsday Clock

Other Bloggers

The Daily Blog: Gas Attack In Khan Sheikhoun! But why would Bashar al-Assad blow himself up?

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10April 2017.

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Trumpwatch: The Art of Deflection

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pointing-fingers

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The Art of Deflection

The Right make a big thing out of  Personal Responsibility. It is core to their philosophy of the primacy of the Individual, as National’s website points out again* and again*  and again;

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With the Cult of Hyper Individualism, “taking Personal Responsibility”  is the corollary of the “Small State” and reduced government services. The Right demand Personal Responsibility from everyone. (So when an individual ‘fails’, the fault – and responsibility – must lie with  him/her, rather than the State’s tilting the playing field toward the rich and the powerful.)

The leadership of the National Party have demonstrated on numerous occassions how ‘dedicated’ they  are to their  philosophy of Personal Responsibility;

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When faced with a failing policy and worsening social and economic indicators, National automatically defaults to three standard deflections;

#1 Blame the previous Labour government

#2 Blame ‘welfare abuse’/Release a ‘welfare abuse’ story in the media

#3 Blame Global Financial Crisis or similar overseas event

If the problem is Auckland housing-related, there is a fourth default-deflection the Nats can rely on;

#4 Blame Auckland Council/RMA/both.)

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Works a treat!

Doing it  right-wing style – why take personal  responsibility when there are perfectly good scapegoats available?

The newly-elected right-wing Donald Trump administration  appears to have taken lessons from National’s strategy for blame-gaming over the last eight years;

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Trump’s three default positions appears to be;

#1 Blame the media

#2 Blame Obama/Clinton/government departments

#3 Blame the rest of the world

Blaming Hillary Clinton also appears to be a personal favourite of  some Trump’s supporters. Faced with their hero – an unstable, thin-skinned narcissist in the White House busily tweeting bizarre comments in the early hours of the morning – pointing to Clinton as a “worse alternative” is the only possible  strategy remaining to mitigate Trump’s increasingly  irrational behaviour.

Without the bogey(wo)man of a “worse alternative”, one is ultimately left with assessing Trump’s actions and utterances on it’s own merits of what is, or isn’t, acceptable behaviour.

After all, for most left-wingers and liberals in New Zealand, it can be generally agreed that our former Dear Leader, John Key, is nowhere as bad as odious characters throughout history such as Franco, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Pinochet, et al…

But,  would you still vote for him?

As with National, the Republican Party is also big on  personal responsibility;

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Taking personal responsibility – the Right-wing way.

Time for a beer…

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References

National Party: Our values

National Party: Speech to National Party Central North Island regional conference – John Key

NZ Herald: Transcript – John Key’s speech at the National Party conference

New York Post: Trump blames military for SEAL’s death

NDTV: Donald Trump Blames Oscars Fail On Show’s Political Tone

BBC: Trump blames Obama for town hall protests and security leaks

TVNZ News: Trump blames FBI for failing to stop media leak

Daily KOS: Trump Blames Jews for Anti-Semitic Attacks on Cemeteries and Elsewhere

NPR: Trump Blames Media For Downfall Of National Security Adviser Flynn

CBS News: Trump blames media for rift with intelligence community

ABC News: Donald Trump defends travel ban, blames computer glitches, protesters for airport chaos

The Australian: Trump blames fraud for popular vote

The National Herald: Trump Blames China Over North Korea Nuclear Program

The Economist: Blame Mexico!

New York Post: Trump blames Clinton for media reports on his Russian ties

Fairfax media: Republican Party office firebombed, Donald Trump blames Hillary Clinton

The Week: Donald Trump on blaming Hillary Clinton for everything: ‘Why not?’

The Guardian: Trump blames sexual assault claims on collusion between Clinton and media

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: “… then they came for the LGBT”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 March 2017.

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