Roaming Charges: Metaphysical Graffiti

Photo by Tyler Bell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Tyler Bell | CC BY 2.0


I don’t know who was behind the grisly chemical attack in the northern Syrian city of Khan Shaikhoun that killed more than 70 people, including many children. All of the actors in the region–the Assad regime, the rebels, Russia, Al Qaeda, Israel, the Kurds, the Turks, the Iranians and the US–have access to chemical weapons and we know that the US, Israel, the rebels and Assad have probably used them in the past. Take your pick, choose your poison.

I am not a conspiratorialist, who furiously digs through deep strata of fantasy to find “crisis actors” and rogue CIA X-teams behind every school shooting, bombing or air crash. In fact, I find most conspiracy theorists to be lazy thinkers, craven opportunists and intellectual thugs. They are the bane of my inbox. The question here, as always, is who benefits from this depraved act and who suffers?

The timing is certainly suspicious. The Assad regime had nothing to gain and everything to lose from dropping chemical bombs on civilian targets. The Syrian government is winning the war. The rebel forces are in retreat. ISIS is a splintered force. Europe is desperate for a resolution to the Syrian war and an end to the tide of refugees. And the Trump administration had announced only a few days earlier that the future of Assad was up to the Syrian people. Of course, all of this assumes that Assad is still a rational actor, which may prove an assumption too far.

Obama, who so often made the dumb move, made the right call in 2013, when he rejected the demands of many in his inner circle and in Congress to escalate the US intervention in Syria in the wake of the chemical weapons attacks on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. After the Ghouta attacks, Syria agreed to turn over the remains of its chemical weapons arsenal to the Russians, who certified their removal and disposal. The US, by contrast, still retains about 12 percent of its chemical and biological weapon arsenal from the Cold War peak, which it doesn’t plan to totally destroy until 2040.

All of the incentives for launching this attack favor those who want the Syrian war prolonged and the Assad regime overthrown. And it seems to have worked. Those gruesome 70 deaths, out of more than 400,000 in the Syrian war, flipped the Trump administration before it could even ascertain the precise cause or perpetrators.  Rex Tillerson, who is about as loquacious as Bartleby the Scrivener, said last week: Assad can stay. This week: Assad must go. Trump, who in November warned US intervention in Syria could lead to World War 3,  swiftly followed suit, mumbling his own fatwa against the Assad regime a few hours before those missiles hit Homs: “Something must happen.”

What we do know for sure is that the chemical weapons attack will be used as a pretext for even more bloodshed in Syria, punitive bombing raids and incursions that will kill more civilians, more kids, and prompt a new flood of refugees who will be turned away by the nations that have been the principal agents in exacerbating their misery.

Trump’s decision to hit a Syrian government facility was an act of stunning rashness, made before any independent investigation into the chemical weapons attack or official determination of who was responsible–and, of course, without international or congressional authorization. It is perhaps most comparable to Bill Clinton’s bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, an act which helped to spawn two decades of endless wars. With no evidence to support him, Clinton claimed that the facility was a chemical weapons factory for Al Qaeda. Like Clinton, Trump’s poll numbers were in the toilet when he gave the orders to strike. Thus do war crimes feed on war crimes.

So mission accomplished for the neocons and the Hillaroids. The laptop bombardiers are flying high once again. Prepare to reap the whirlwind.


+ The hawks were quick to criticize the 59 cruise missiles launched Thursday night on the Homs airbase as a “conservative” response. The awful Richard Engle of MSDNC called the missile strikes “merely a slap on the wrist,” Little Marco Rubio said Congress would be “open to ground troops” in Syria and the New York Times’ Lt. Gen. (honorary) Nicholas Kristof advised that it was “Trump is right to make Syria pay a price for war crimes, and taking out airfields is the best approach. I do worry about his execution.”

So we have the frantic spectacle of liberals, conservatives and the mainstream press converging in mad new pro-war consensus with Trump running the show! It’s the bi-partisan bravery of being out of range…

+ Earlier in the week, Darling Nikki Haley set the stage by promising to “begin attacking” Syria, “alone if necessary.” The US has been attacking Syria for years. Last year, under President Peace Prize, the US dropped 12,197 bombs on Syria, more than any other country.

+ Any “surgical strike” on Syria by the US is likely to kill Syrians, Russians, Iranians
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550-e1477943826411and Hezbollah fighters, none of whom can be expected to react passively to the carnage. Surgical strikes are to warfare what clean coal is to the atmosphere. Stock up your fallout shelter, the Doomsday clock is ticking once again.

+ A few hours before Trump fired his volley of cruise missiles at the Shayrat Air Force Base, Hillary Clinton (who appeared to be co-chairing Trump’s shadow cabinet with Jared Kushner) advised Trump to “take out Assad’s airfields.” Message sent, message received.

+ Will Trump fulfill all of Hillary’s campaign promises or just this one?

+ The search for clean hands: When it comes to chemical weapons let us recall that in the war to eliminate Saddam’s mythical WMDs, the US was the first to use chemical weapons in its brutal assault on Fallujah. A type of warfare replicated many times by our chief ally in the region, Israel.

+ Then there are the Brits. Let us recall Winston Churchill’s deranged view on the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi revolutionaries in 1920, five years after the first major bombardment of poison bomb in World War One, when the Germans dropped chlorine weapons on French, British and Canadian troops at the Second Battle of Ypres. “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”

+ This just in from CNN Talking Skull Fareed Zakaria on the strikes against Syria: “I think Donald Trump became President of the United States last night.” This is yet more proof of the old maxim that you’re not really CEO of the Empire until you’ve killed a bunch of people in a foreign country. Cockburn and I used to run a kind of “death pool.” We called it the First Blood game, where we’d take bets on how many days it would take before a new president launched some kind of lethal raid. Zakaria, of course, is several months behind the times. It only took Trump two full days in office to green light that botched raid in Yemen that killed many civilians, including several children.

Contrast Zakaria’s blood lust with the sober assessment of Rand Paul: “If we topple Assad what comes next? Will we like the Islamic rebels that take over.” Stop making sense, Rand, it won’t get you anywhere in this climate…

+ You just wanted some Bang and a few laughs, but it looks you’re going to get Bang-Bang, instead, and things might not be so amusing…

+ The jobs report tanked on Friday, but the news was bright for weapons stocks. Shares of Raytheon, maker of the Tomahawk cruise missile, rose 2.1 percent in premarket trading after the U.S. missile strikes in Syria.

+ RussiaGate© is a distraction from what is really going down. Saying RussiaGate© is a distraction is a distraction from what’s really going down.

+ Trump’s Rasputin, Steve Bannon, apparently went into a rage and threatened to quit after getting 86’d off of the National Security Council, but stayed after Trump assured him he can continue to attend meetings, where he will no doubt be taking down names in his little black book. Recall that Rasputin came back from the dead multiple times. Bannon needed to be evicted from NSC before the Syrian airstrikes could be launched. When it all backfires, they’ll probably let him back in.

+ Less than 24 hours later, Bannon’s congressional factotum Devin “High” Nunes was forced to recuse himself from chairing the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into RussiaGate© after becoming the subject of an ethics investigation for, irony of ironies, leaking classified documents in his attempt to defend Trump’s smack-Tweeting about Obama tapping his phones.

+ These internal purges were orchestrated by what the Breitbart crowd is now calling the “liberal” wing of the White House, headed by Jared “Hindu” Kushner and HR McMaster, Trump’s National Security Advisor. McMaster is basking in the praise of the liberal press for cracking down on the Bannonites, including the exile to far-off Singapore of his deputy KT McFarland. These encomiums ignore the fact that McMaster has been accused of committing war crimes in 2005 against Iraqi detainees at the infamous military prison under his control in Tal Afar. The accusations come from Col. Arnaldo Claudio, a retired US military police officer who investigated the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Of course, having a resumé flush with war crimes has long been prerequisite for holding the post of National Security Advisor.

+ I have no sympathy for Susan Rice. Her hands are stained by the blood of thousands and she should be hauled before the Hague. But her unmasking of the names of the Trump crime syndicate is the least of her offenses. Moreover, when Trump told the New York Times this week that he believed Rice had committed a crime, he almost certainly let her off the hook. Some may remember that Charles Manson’s trial was almost derailed when Nixon proclaimed he believed Manson was guilty, a statement which garnered frontage headlines. Ultimately, the judge ruled that the sequestered jury had not been contaminated by Nixon’s pronouncement. Can’t say the same about Trump’s ex parte judgment.

My friend Elizabeth Ferrari observes that “In El Salvador, rightwing darling Blowtorch Bob D’Abussion named names in his public speeches and the people attached to those names were murdered. Hard to say how close Trump is to using the same tools but they were already tested out back.”

Actually, this kind of assassination-by-subliminal suggestion dates back at least to 1170, when Henry the Second complained loudly to his courtiers: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” A few days later Thomas á Becket lain slain on the floor of Canterbury Cathedral by three of Henry’s most deplorable acolytes, thus inaugurating generations of lusty pilgrims and a collection of bawdy tales.

+ Note that Jared Kushner dressed comfortable for an afternoon of yachting and cocktails on the Tigris, but apparently donned a flak jacket at the last moment just in case. No one else in the picture is wearing any body armor. Did he have some advance warning about a potential shoe-thrower in neighborhood? What was Kushner really doing in Iraq this week? Helping plot the bombing of Homs?

+ Speaking of Russia: With the emasculation of Bannon and the ouster of Nunes, is Trump on his way toward becoming a Potemkin President?

+ A key prong in Trump’s “extreme vetting” of foreign travelers to the US is the expansion of intrusive searches of cell phones. This is another policy, like near universal surveillance by the NSA and killer drone strikes, that the Donald can thank Obama for instituting so he didn’t have to. According to data from the First Amendment Foundation, searches of mobile phones by border agents grew from less than 5k in 2015 to 25k in 2016.

+ One could describe the surveillance of Trump, if it happened, as a kind of “extreme vetting” that failed.

+ If the NSA is going to spy on all of us, the least they can do is spy on our politicians, too, so that one day the documents will end up in a Wikileaks dump and we can see what the hell they’ve been up to.

+ Filibusted! Strom Thurmond is turning over in his grave that his own party just killed his favorite senatorial weapon. But I say good riddance. The filibuster is an anti-democratic rule used for decades to protect the “peculiar privileges” of the southern states. It’s up to the Left to retake the Senate–the states may not be one-person one-vote democracies but at least they aren’t gerrymandered. Not yet anyway.

+ Liberals don’t understand that politics is about power and are always shocked when rules are broken to achieve long-held political objectives. A dose of Foucault  might do them some good, if they want to understand how the game is really played.

+ The beneficiary of the filibuster-freed senate, newly-minted Supreme Justice Neil Gorsuch, has redefined Textual Originalism: to copy text originally written by others and claim as your own.

+ Here’s a little metaphysical graffiti from the Oval Office. Apparently, Trump has been reading Descartes for Beginners, but he only got halfway the through the illustrated booklet due to the rigorous demands of his golfing schedule. Trump told the New York Times this week: “Do I think? Yes, I think.” Now this maxim needs some parsing by philosophical minds. Is Trump saying, quizzically: “I think I think?” Or is plunging deeper and suggesting that while he thinks, he is not sure if he is, in which guess the president might be revealing himself as a Heideggerian, which would please Steve Bannon, who otherwise has had a tough week.

+ If it’s spring, it must be time to threaten North Korea with military action. Cue retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane.“We’re rapidly and dangerously heading towards the reality that the military option is the only one left when it comes to getting North Korea to denuclearize and not weaponized [intercontinental ballistic missiles].” The bellicose Keane was Trump’s first choice to become Secretary of Defense. Those South Korean zombie films, such as the terrific Train to Busan, may soon be reclassified as documentary features….

+ Speaking of Korean zombies, Senator Al Gore, Sr.’s solution to ever-lasting peace on the Korean peninsula was cooked up over hot toddies in the bar of the Willard Hotel with his good buddy Edward “Take It to the Bank” Teller. The plan was to irradiate the DMZ with highly radioactive nuclear waste. No joke. Read all about it in that timeless classic by Messieurs Cockburn and St. Clair, Al Gore: User’s Manual.

+ Kshama Sawant: “It’s not good enough for Seattle to be a Sanctuary City if immigrants can’t afford to live here.”

+ Prison staff at Gitmo: 1,750
Prisoners at Gitmo: 41
Average teacher/student ratio in US public schools: 1 : 27

+ China’s President Xi arrived at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday. Or as Trump calls him: “President Eleven.”

+ Polls show that Americans now view China more favorably than they do Trump. Perhaps President Eleven can stick around for the next 3.5 years to steady the ship?

+ Whatever will the Putinescas make of the announce this weekend from the Kremlin that Russia recognizes Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel?

+ And on Day 5 of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Donald Trump praised…Bill O’Reilly. On Day 6, Trump rested. Rest in peace, Donald, or do something really whack like bombing Syria…

+  Alabama takes one small step out of the Stone Age and into the Early Bronze Age by banning judges from imposing the death penalty when juries have voted for life in prison.

+ Russia is banning the pacifist Jehovah Witness sect as an “extremist” cult. I like the Jehovah Witness’s and always invite them for tea when they knock at the door. They are as militantly anti-war as the Quakers, more so since their faith never coughed up a Richard Nixon to my knowledge. I’m willing to talk to any anti-war activists–there are so few us when it really matters most. I’m an atheist, but I don’t condemn people for their faith, especially those who are oppressed for their political views. JW’s have helped all antiwar activists by challenging the draft and winning supreme court cases validating the rights of Conscientious Objectors, as well as other cases striking down ordinances forcing political and religious groups to have government permits to engage in door-to-door advocacy. For that alone, they should be honored.

But if they become the next wave of Russian refuseniks I don’t know how many of them I can entertain in one week. There are only so many copies of The Watchtower that will fit on the copy table next to my well-thumbed copy of Being and Nothingness–even though the covers almost always feature adorable paintings of animals and humans living in prelapsarian harmony….

+ When it comes to racial disparities for drug possession arrests, Montana, Iowa and Bernie’s Vermont lead the way. Even in the more diverse state of New York, blacks are five times more likely than whites to be arrested for minor drug crimes.


Graph courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

+ Police have killed 307 people this year. That’s hard sweaty work, which is why Kendall Jenner generously handed one of them a Pepsi….

+ Memo to Scott Pruitt:

1970-2011 in US
-air pollution ↓68%
-GDP ↑212% ↑88%
(Source: Senate Committee on Energy and Environment)

+ Chomsky, in an otherwise very edifying interview on Democracy Now!, veered off into a discussion of climate change, political terrain that is not his native habitat: “Every Republican candidate… either denied what is happening, or… said we shouldn’t do anything about it.”

I have a query for Noam. The Democratic candidate (like almost all Democratic politicians) confessed her belief in climate change and did nothing about it; in fact, she abetted it. Which is worse, ethically speaking?

+ When leaded water just isn’t enough anymore, there now comes news of the presence of neonic pesticides in US drinking water for the first time.

+ I know Jared Kushner has had a busy week telling Mad Dog Mattis how to plot the final push into Mosul and prepping Trump for Xi’s visit to Mar-a-Lago, but he might want to squeeze in a word with Ortsgruppenleiter Gorka, perhaps by recommending a text by George Lakoff on how to “reframe” some of his “messaging” about his support for anti-semitic paramilitary groups.

+ Alexander Cockburn used to say that the NYTs runs two or three corrections a day to convince its readers that everything else printed in the paper is true. Perhaps this correction, the best of the year so far, is meant to convince us that it is false?

Correction, April 5, 2017:

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article identified Ivanka Trump as President Trump’s wife. His wife is Melania. Ivanka is his daughter.

+ Russ Baker: “Pwesident Twump, Stop tweeting people like garbage.”

+ The fall of Trump Tower can’t be long now that Alex Jones has moved on from Pizzagate to the Case of Jared the Leaker

+ According to his physician, a certain Dr. Li, Mao Tse Tung, a candy fiend, never brushed his teeth, allowing a thick green patina to form over his grill, a coating which probably protected the enamel from decay–unlike Queen Elizabeth I who had lost all of her chompers by the age of 40, from sucking on sugar sweets all day long.

+ Trump donated his paycheck of $77,000 to the National Park Service this week. Two weeks ago his budget proposed slashing the Park Service’s budget by $1.6 BILLION! Only 22,000 checks to go, Donald!

+ Rep. Jodey Arrington, a Texas Republican, justified the cruel cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by saying that the Bible commands that “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Starve the poor and beat the weak
When they don’t work, but beg and tweak
How do I know? Because the Bible told me so….

+ Trump has no detectable sense of humor. So it’s hard to tell if he’s joking, as in this quip: “I will tell you one thing, [Pence] has one hell of a good marriage going.” Pence cringed, but then he cringes at everything.

+ In college, my classics professor used to call me Little Boots. For several weeks, I thought he was referring to my grungy habit of showing up to class in a pair of scuffed Timberland work boot. Finally, I asked. He responded tartly: “Jeffrey, read your Suetonius.” In that sacred text, I discovered that Caligula is a loose translation of the Latin for Little Boots.

Gaius Caligula has always gotten a bad rap (and not just for Malcolm McDowell’s over-the-top portrayal in the film Gore Vidal’s Caligula, which had nothing to do with Gore Vidal). He was a populist who tried to purge the Senate of the land barons and aristocrats. I’ve always considered him Rome’s second greatest emperor, a close runner-up to the poet-prince Nero.

Now people have taken to calling Trump the “comb-over Caligula,” which I consider an insult to man who made his horse, Incitatus, a consul of Rome. The plebs understood the symbolism. Yet I suppose there is at least one similarity. Both of them owned ornate pleasure yachts. Trump once owned, on paper at least, the 280-foot long Trump Princess, which he bought from arms dealer Adnan Koshoggi (of Iran-contra fame) and sold to Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal al Saud for $100 million. Caligula’s three yachts were sunk in Lake Nemi after the assassination of the great man. Two of the boats, at between 230 and 240 feet long, were excavated under the orders of Benito Mussolini and then bombed to fragments during World War II. A third 400-foot long yacht, the so-called floating palace, remains buried in the murky depths, where divers are now searching for it and its lost treasures.

+ Alvin (Future Shock) Toffler interviews the world’s most erudite Lepidopterist…

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

The Unchosen: the Lives of Israel’s New Others by Mya Guarnieri Jaradat
A People’s History of the Russian Revolution by Neal Faulkner
Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

On a Monday Evening by Bill Evans
The Catastrophist
by Tortoise
Planetary Prince by Cameron Graves
Reflection by Brian Eno
Drunk by Thundercat

Like Evil or Truth

Joseph Conrad: “The silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the Earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3