Mafia Don, as former FBI Director, James Comey designates Donald Trump in his best-seller, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership is ever more desperate, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation closes its net on the nepotist-in-chief and his comic Corleone family’s alleged criminal collusion with the Russian government.
Two weeks ago, in Richfield Ohio, the US will exit Syria, he tells a crowd.
“Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump promises, in a riff which echoes The Beatles’ classic, Get Back “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be…”
But that was then. This is now. Now Trump has as his National Security Adviser, John “mad-bomber” Bolton the stark raving bonkers neo-con, “architect” of the Iraq War WMD disaster, a hawk’s hawk who lusts for war on Iran, North Korea, Syria and regime change in Libya, Syria, and Venezuela.
Apply the emergency brake. In another high-speed Trumpian highway chase U-turn, which evokes our own helmsman, hydrogen gas-bag Mal, another untethered barrage balloon, of whom Essential’s Peter Lewis, writes, “(Turnbull) didn’t walk away from his beliefs, he never had any “, Trump tweets about “our beautiful, smart” missiles a reference to the slow, low-flying, long-range Tomahawk missile first deployed in 1991.
Will he also countermand his instructions to his military commanders to quickly end American involvement in Syria? Who knows what he’ll do when the diversion fails to halt Mueller’s inexorable advance. For now, in the eternal present of the president’s goldfish consciousness, it’s time for a token show of force. And perfect for chicken-hawk Trump.
A Tomahawk may be large and slow, but it has a long-range and flies below enemy radar.
Unlike James Comey, who is “an untruthful slime ball”, – (at least it’s an area in which Trump can claim some special expertise) – Mafioso Don reveals in 280 characters or fewer why the fading ex-star of The Apprentice is still world’s best reality TV president.
He provokes Russia into threatening to shoot down any US missiles and to respond to any strike on Syria “at the source”, the first threat of direct military action since 1945.
Then it’s on for young and old – especially the old white males of Trumpdom.
“A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump says on a special Saturday night White House broadcast, Friday our time.
Associated with? No proof is provided that Syria is behind the alleged chemical attack last weekend in Duma, where up to 70 people may have been killed.
The gas allegedly used in the Duma attack is chlorine which is not on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) list of banned chemicals and is not classified as a chemical weapon. Any country, including Syria, is allowed to possess it, but cannot use it as a weapon.
If chemical weapons were used, the US is being highly selective. A string of such attacks in Syria has been reported in the last five years. The UNHCR’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (even the title is a worry) claims to have confirmed at least 34 chemical attacks since 2013, many of which it says used chlorine or sarin, a nerve agent, and were conducted by the Syrian government.
Syria, Russia and Iran all deny that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.
“The use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances is illegal and utterly reprehensible,” our local Great Helmsman reads from his US kit of talking points, Saturday, despite his government’s support of Saudi Arabia which, The Washington Post, reports uses US-supplied white phosphorous, a chemical weapon, against Yemen. But relax, it’s OK if it’s used carefully. It’s a nice little burner.
Last June, Human Rights Watch warned, “US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.”
In early 2017, US Marine artillery deploys to Syria in support of the operation to retake Raqqa, an operation in which “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)” are also participating.
The Washington Post publishes photographs of the deployed Marine unit equipped with white phosphorus projectiles, as well as similar pictures showing white phosphorus projectiles with US Army units outside Mosul.
A Raqqa resident living in Beirut tells The New York Times in June of an internet cafe in Raqqa hit by white phosphorus, killing around 20 people.
White phosphorus, the US claims, it sells for signalling only. What could possibly go wrong? When used against soldiers and civilians as reports attest, it can kill or maim by burning to the bone. It was used in the Battle of Fallujah November 2004 where Jim Molan helped direct operations in a hopeless attempt to “flush out” Sunni insurgents.
Depleted uranium was also used against civilians. Coordinates revealing where US jets and tanks fired nearly 10,000 DU rounds in Iraq during the war in 2003 have been obtained by the Dutch peace group Pax.
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published an epidemiological study in 2010, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009,” found that “Fallujah is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.” But that was then and this is now. That was them and this is about Trump’s political survival. Bigly.
Turnbull, so pro-USA, he says, we’re “joined at the hip” (and lip?) parrots Trump’s hypocrisy.
“The Assad regime must not be allowed to commit such crimes with impunity. The attacks are “a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response.”
There’s always a first time. But Turnbull needs a calibrated, proportionate diversion when his 30th Newspoll Abbott petard blows up in his own face this week.
There’s blood in the water. A hapless Turnbull staggers across his own Rubicon of “30 losing Newspolls”, as The Australian’s latest landline phone survey, published last Sunday, reveals Labor leads 52-48 on first-party preferences based on 2016 voting intentions. Blood, too, in news of mass deaths in the live sheep trade, a business essentially, as a senate committee found in 1985, “inimical to animal welfare”.
While refugees can rot in squalor offshore, animal lives really matter to this government, given the power of images of animal cruelty to move television viewers to demand that the Coalition do something. Cue shock and horror; David Littleproud’s debut.
“I’ve seen that footage and I was absolutely shocked and gutted,” neophyte federal Agriculture Minister and Barnaby Joyce protégé, David Littleproud says in an extraordinary outburst of visceral imagery. Talk about going butcher’s hook.
Littleproud’s responding to 60 Minutes’ fourth story since 2003 on the live sheep trade showing WA ship, The Awassi Express, on a three-week voyage from Fremantle to the Persian Gulf with 65,000 sheep. 2400 sheep, it is said, die from heat stress and overcrowding. Lambs are born and crushed underfoot.
There’s no money to invest in a humane live sheep fleet but the federal government announces this week that it will match Victoria in plunging $50 million each into a half- billion dollar pilot plant that will operate for just 12 months to produce “up to” three tonnes of hydrogen from brown coal over a whole year.
Three days after Tony Abbott’s coal-fired power and Lycra revival bicycle tour through the Latrobe Valley, Turnbull is desperate to compete with anything that Abbott may have to offer. Even if it is another, utter con-job. At least he goes for a noble gas.
The PM’s hydrogen mania appears highly selective; contrived. Where was Turnbull when wind and solar-fuelled hydrogen projects – which will create significantly more hydrogen at a fraction of the cost from wind and solar – were unveiled by the ACT and South Australian governments (before Labor’s SA election loss)?
SA’s 50MW wind and solar-fuelled electrolyser at the new Hydrogen Hub would be built by Neoen near Crystal Brook, could provide 20 tonnes of hydrogen a day, at a fraction of Turnbull’s brown coal thought bubble. Giles Parkinson reports the entire complex, including 150MW of solar, about 150MW of wind, a 50MW hydrogen plant along with up to 400MWh of battery storage, would cost around $600 million.
The brown coal hydrogen experiment is located at the Loy Yang brown coal mine complex, where AGL will keep its huge brown coal generator operating until 2048, despite our hopelessly conflicted energy minister Josh Stalin Frydenberg insisting, like a true state socialist, that Loy Yang A and B plants must run until 2070.
For the pilot to succeed, however, depends on carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that is still a pipe dream. Like the perpetual motion machine. Not that Andy Vesey AGL boss needs to worry about the pollution created during the experiment. Like the government’s energy policy itself, it’s exempt from any real-world constraints.
Our CCS industry is a metaphor for the Turnbull government’s track record of over-promising and totally under-delivering. Last year’s Auditor General’s report, reveals a total of $450 million wasted so far. All up, over $1.5 billion has been squandered.
There is nothing to show for government funds punted on CCS. Snowy Hydro 2.0 is also likely to be an expensive dud. Think NBN with coal-fired uploads.
$6 billion just disappeared into buying out NSW and Victoria’s interests – (provided the 2018 Budget passes)- to help the Turnbull government proceed with its untried, unproven Snowy Hydro 2.0 pipe dream – now estimated to cost $4.5 billion – not including the $2 billion estimate it will cost to upgrade transmission lines from the mountains to Sydney and Melbourne.
The Turnbull government can find $12 billion plus if it means feeding its anti-solar and wind ideology, but it has no intention of putting any money where its mouth is on the live sheep trade, a business where farmers’ interest and animal welfare are ever at odds.
Yet the conflicted Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud is beside himself with outrage. It’s easier than admitting as Bernard Keane notes that the Department of Agriculture simply refuses to regulate animal welfare. Dave rushes to defend the farmers.
“This is the livelihoods of Australian farmers that are on that ship. That is their pride and joy and it’s just total bullshit that what I saw is taking place.”
The aptly named Littleproud proceeds to lash his own department, a mob lovingly fashioned in his own image by former party leader in exile, New England’s pride and joy, Barnaby bullshit Joyce.
Minister Littleproud is making “a brave decision”, as Sir Humphrey would say, if not a “courageous” career move.
Agile, innovative and keen to staunch more bad PR, Littleproud says he’ll get the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, himself a paragon of compassion and justice who has endeared himself to all Centrelink pensioners via his robo-debt regime of terror to examine the “skills, capabilities and culture of the regulator”. Perfect call.
The regulator is the federal Department of Agriculture. It’s will rather than skill that is their deficiency. Yet can they be blamed for just following orders? Ask Nuremberg.
“Staff have diligently reflected Barnaby Joyce’s indifference to animal welfare and preference for the industry to self-regulate. That is Joyce’s legacy on this matter,” writes The Saturday Paper’s Martin McKenzie-Murray, a view echoed by Bernard Keane.
Joyce used live exports to harangue Labor, ceaselessly talking up how its “irresponsible policy plunged the northern Australian cattle industry into extreme hardship” despite a lack of any empirical evidence. The irony is that now Joyce’s indifference to animal welfare has created a real, live, problem for exporters. But he’s worse with people.
Cruelty to public servants is an Abbott-Turnbull signature theme. Agriculture ministry workers ought not to take it personally. Since Abbott, a Coalition committed to “smaller government” and to outsourcing to private contractors avidly slashes funds and culls its workforce, throwing government servants and their families into penury via Orwellian “efficiency dividends”, – if only to rehire some as contractors.
Last September The Australian Public Service (APS) Commission reports there were 152,095 APS staff at the end of June, after a decline of 2.3% over the previous financial year. It’s the lowest figure since 2006. Apart from understaffing and issues of morale and politicisation it’s a fair chunk of knowledge and experience to excise from a public service which increasingly must bear the wrath or the whim of the Minister.
Whim? A whole department may find itself “relocated” from Canberra to Armidale, decimating its workforce by decree as “Joe Stalin” Joyce is doing with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) which appears now largely crippled and utterly demoralised by a loss of qualified personnel.
Staff departures reached nearly 20 per cent in 2015-16, a national audit report found last year. APVMA was struggling to find regulatory scientists to replace those walking out the door since the Coalition government decision to move it in November 2016.
Yet there are even more disturbing signs. Australia now has a bureaucracy specifically engineered to deliver indifference and inflict suffering, warns Professor Stuart Rees in New Matilda, as “clients” of Centrelink would attest.
“Fear, engendered by cruelties has become central to the operations of an allegedly rational, efficient Australian government” he writes citing the now notorious example of Scott Morrison who as Immigration Minister, in 2013, instructed ASIO to delay security clearances for refugees until he’d changed the law to cruel their chances of citizenship.
Quibbling has broken out this week between Home Affairs Peter Pooh Bah Dutton and hapless Malcolm Turnbull, eternal puppet of the right-wing, over whether cabinet discussed Dutto’s brilliant idea to cut immigration. It’s a great way to seize the headlines and to dog-whistle racists which also allows Tony Abbott to gain some extra unwarranted attention, but it may be attention that the Coalition does not really need.
The Federal Ombudsman reported in December 2017 that on the handling of citizenship applications that required integrity and identity clearance, some people had waited over 18 months for an outcome. There was also an increase in the number of applications where a decision had not been made for over two years.
Bleeding profusely from some ugly self-inflicted injuries, such as making himself a hostage to Newspoll and to his party’s lunatic right-wing in his Faustian compact with Barnaby Joyce, an “unwritten”, secret agreement, whose details he stubbornly refuses to divulge, the underlying reality – despite its incessant crowing over jobs is that his government has clocked up 29 months of economic mismanagement.
To hear its front bench shills, the Turnbull government has created record numbers of jobs. Why 403,000 are recorded by the Bureau of Statistics in December. But, as Alan Austin points out, with natural population increase and migration, Australia’s population has never been higher either.
“The strongest growth in jobs relative to the adult population in history was actually in calendar 1989 when Bob Hawke was PM. Hawke beat Turnbull’s achievement – relative to population – also in 1985 and 1988.”
The Coalition never mentions unemployment. By September 2015, unemployed numbers shot up to 776,300; a rate rise of 6.1%. After 29 months of Turnbull government, 734,100 are jobless a rate of 5.6%.
Whilst it’s a modest improvement on Abbott’s disaster, Australia’s world ranking has fallen as globally jobs have risen. In 2013, we ranked seventh on our jobless rate in the OECD. By 2015, we slipped to 14th. Now we are 17th.
Underutilised workers, or the sum of unemployed and underemployed, rose in February to 1,841,000, the third highest quarterly figure since this statistic was first recorded in 1978. The only two higher quarters were both since Turnbull became PM and Senator Michaelia Cash employment minister.
The PM comes under fire from his own front bench, Monday, as Julie Bishop, Josh Frydenberg, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton each declare their very qualified support for their leader. They all have leadership ambitions. Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce kindly give Turnbull until Christmas to prove himself or quit. He may as well leave now.
The Newspoll gap narrows two points in two weeks, but since the 2016 election, Newspoll, Ipsos, Essential, ReachTel and YouGov have Labor leading the Coalition in 127 of 138 surveys. Six ties are recorded, but the government leads in five YouGov polls only, between June and October 2017, which allow respondents to nominate their own preferences. Yet there is no way the Coalition will concede its performance is at fault.
Team Turnbull will ignore all polls as it continues to deliver “good government”. This includes suppressing details of the deal whereby Turnbull gained the Nationals’ support to depose Tony Abbott, by promising to follow the suppository of all wisdom on climate, energy, no conscience vote on SSM, keeping the Northern Australia infrastructure slush fund for coal projects and supporting The Nationals’ outrageous $10 billion Inland Rail boondoggle. Above all, as he shows, Monday, Sally Cray will have her way.
The PM’s Principal Private Secretary, Field Marshal Sally Cray, the Peta Credlin of Turnbull’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, (PM&C) and most powerful woman in Australian politics today, next to Lucy Turnbull, Gina Rinehart and her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, but more of a potty-mouth comes out fighting.
Cray orders her Turnbull to put on his best f***ing shit-eating grin and to parade his loyal troops in his courtyard in a special presser, Monday.
Mal’s ministers blink in the sun of an Indian summer; moles suddenly fetched up unnaturally from their nocturnal subterranean undermining; alternately preening and squinting in the flare of a scrum of mainstream media camera chums, a Canberra club which bears far too much wattage and sheds far too little light.
The runts of his government’s underwhelming front bench are a shallows of Widmerpools, “the most dogged and fearless solipsist in modern fiction”.
Obeying Cray’s directive, each goes out of his or her way to spread the gospel of loyalty on their favourite fawning TV or radio talkback shows not hesitating also to declare themselves candidates should the occasion present itself. It’s a total disaster.
But not to our “Malentariat”, a press claque whose livelihoods depend on servile flattery. Hacks gush that Turnbull is back in town; he’s not only “closing the gap” in opinion polls, he’s safe because, as everybody knows, disunity is death and the nation’s phobic about changing leaders, a myth MSM, themselves have helpfully engendered first to attack Labor’s internecine rivalry; now to defend the government from itself.
Above, all, runs the clincher, his front bench, if not his parliamentary party have less popular appeal and even less talent than Mal. It’s not totally implausible. Mal will remain leader, we are told breathlessly, because there is no alternative. Yet.
Seldom has Turnbull’s tactical dyslexia been so clearly exposed. Nothing confirms a vote of no-confidence in any leader quite so well as a fake display of solidarity.
It’s a formidable performance. Stung by Tony Abbott’s Monash Forum insurrection, a comical ginger-group of rear-guard reactionaries who want to bring back coal, topple Turnbull and install Morrison, the elephant in the courtyard is the Lycra Sniper’s gibe that Truffles must explain why he does not now depose himself.
Abbott, The Incredible Sulk, like any self-respecting narcissist, also demands to be told what he did wrong. Publicly. In detail. But look, hands are waving in the air.
The Mexican Wave his front bench performs Monday turns out to be Turnbull’s cabinet putting up their hands for job – if the opportunity should present itself.
In other words, expect a lot more bitching, back-stabbing and pointy-elbowing for position before a knifing around Christmas; our traditional festive and killing season.
 “Unethical and untethered to truth” is James Comey’s character reference for Trump.