Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0


Based on the evidence of the last few weeks, when it comes to his role as Commander Supremo of “his” military, Donald J. Trump seems to suffer from a kind of attention deficit disorder. Each week there’s a new threat emanating from the West Wing, louder than the last one and aimed at a new target. The decibel level of Trump’s war shrieks is escalating in rough relation to the downward curve of his poll numbers.

First, Trump ordered the launch of 60 cruise missiles (one took a dive into the Mediterranean) to a largely evacuated Syrian airbase outside Homs. Was this the opening shot in a regime change war to oust Assad from power? Who knows. Trump was already too busy bragging about dropping the hugest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal on some cave-dwelling ISIS tunnel rats. Why now? Why here? A signal to the Mullahs of Tehran or, perhaps, Paul Ryan?

Uncharacteristically, Trump didn’t even pause for a selfie beside the smoldering crater left by his MOAB bomb in Afghanistan, before he was rattling his sabre at North Korea, boasting about how his giant Armada was steaming toward the Korean peninsula. A few days later this robust pronouncement was obsolete, when it turned out that the mighty fleet was instead retreating 3,000 miles in the opposite direction, south to the coast of Australia. Call it the wrong-way Armada. Meanwhile, Trump had already fast-forwarded to furious denunciations of Iran.

Trump’s martial pronouncements are generally too truncated and disarticulated to ever embody something so substantial as a trope or a theme. Indeed, many of these public utterances are so garbled that they defy translation by even the most gifted linguists. They are more like the petulant bleats of an overgrown adolescent testing out a rack of video games, blasting away at one zombie invasion after another until he tires of it and seizes on another scenario. It might be said that he practices the Man-Child theory of foreign relations: belligerent, shallow, easily bored.

Naturally, Trump’s arm-chair Janissaries are all fired-up by these weekly flirtations with global catastrophe, but they also must be a little confused. Syria, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea, Mexico, Iran, Canadian dairy farmers? Which of these are the real foe? Where will the next war start? Will it be the big one they’ve been waiting for?

Of course, what we are really witnessing in Trump’s bombastic, if inchoate, perorations is trace evidence for the diminution of American power. Previously, the leader of the Empire never had to publicly threaten punitive action against such minor global players. The severe consequences for imperial disobedience were simply understood.  Ironically, Trump’s chest-beating is precisely the kind of bellicose over-reaction that Kim Jong-Un was hoping for, since it elevates his status among his own government and immiserated population.

Both Iran and North Korea have digested the core lesson of Libya, which is once you relinquish your most powerful weapons you’re dead. Qaddafi submitted to the demands of the West, turned over his aging stockpile of WMDs and promptly lost his country and then his head. Now Libya is the hottest marketplace in the world for the slave trade and Kim Jong-un is racing to install nuclear bombs on ICBMs. Heckuva job, Hillary.

“Strategic patience” has become the new trigger phrase for generating neocon outrage. Trump’s inner circle of warmongers utter the phrase with the same acidic contempt that they once reserved for “nuance,” as if having the patience to develop a strategy to avoid nuclear annihilation is somehow an indicator of political spinelessness.

This kind of uber-male strutting was on full-display this week when Mike Pence went to the DMZ to stare down the North Koreans checking out the vice president a few dozen yards away. In his stentorian drone, Pence said they’d tried everything to deal with the intransigent North Koreans and were running out of non-military options—everything, it seems, but talking to them.

“The United States of America will always seek peace but under President Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready,” fumed Pence, using empurpled language he seems to have cribbed from the awful remake of Ben-Hur. The tougher Pence talks, the more ridiculous he sounds.

Pence’s trip to South Korea also gave rise to speculation over why the vice president took his wife to what has been called the most dangerous strip of land in the world, the DMZ. Was he using Karen as a human shield or did he need to be in her presence in order to have a private consultation with the country’s recently ousted president Park Geun-hye?

Trump’s historical ignorance leads the president to deploy words like “Armada” with a kind of depraved innocence of their meaning. Recall that the original Spanish Armada, the most fearsome Navy on Earth, was routed at the strait of Dover in 1588 by the rakish pirate-explorer Francis Drake, as Queen Elizabeth anxiously watched the battle from her royal perch on the White Cliffs. Will the past, once again, be prologue to the future?

Everything Trump knows about North Korea he seems to have learned in a 10-minute mini-briefing from the Chinese President over canapés at Mar-a-Lago. If Bannon still had Trump’s ear, he might have told the President that the rise of South Korea was fueled by globalization and the offshoring of US factories, while North Korea—isolated, austere, homogenous, intensely nationalistic–serves as a kind of small-scale model for the kind of retro-America that Trump sketched out as his dream state on the campaign trail.

It must be said that Trump is far from being the worst of his kind for the simple reason that most of the time he is unaware of the implications and potential fallout from his vapid blatherings. Usually, he is just improvising, playing it by feral instinct. The practice of realpolitik is not his thing. Not so for the likes of John McCain and his witless sidekick Lindsay Graham. These two uber-hawks have seized on Trump’s war talk with a sordid fervor. McCain is so aroused that he seems eager to fly the first bombing runs over Damascus, while Graham is just itching to press the launch button on cruise missiles targeting Pyongyang.

This, of course, is the problem with playing at war. Some people will take you seriously. Usually the wrong kind of people, the killing kind.


Roaming Charges

+ What Generals Talk About When They Talk About Bombs on TV. Lt Col. Rick Francona: “The goal of the bomb was to destroy the tunnels. The people killed were an ancillary benefit.

+ In a breathless story, Reuters claimed to have discovered documents from a Russian think tank outlining a plan to swing the election to Trump. If true, this would be the first time in decades that a white paper from a think tank had the slightest impact on anything, except the recycling markets. Put that team to work on climate change!

+ From Pocatello to Piscataway, Trump raged against the nuclear agreement with Iran, denouncing it as the “worst deal ever” and vowing it “rip it up” on day one. This week his administration quietly certified that Iran was abiding by the pact.

+ Remember Romney’s “binders full of women?” They weighed 15.6 pounds, were bound in black and are back in play now that Mitt’s contemplating a run for senate in Utah. I wonder how many names were submitted by Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly?

+ Even with Bernie Sanders (now the country’s most popular politician) out on the trail hyping the party, the Democrats’ favorability continues to plummet, especially among liberal/left independents. They are going the way of the Blairite/Labour Party in the UK, and, defying the laws of gravity, may actually hit bottom even sooner…


+ Sanders insisted this week that he is an independent “not a Democrat,” even though he talks, acts, votes and recruits just like a Democrat.

+ Democrats are in a state of collective ecstasy over the prospects for taking Georgia’s 6th congressional district, Newt’s old seat, with a candidate named Jon Ossoff who doesn’t live in the district and whose two campaign planks are: 1. cutting federal spending and 2. being tough on National Security. Ossoff’s Republican opponent baiting the naive interloper into announcing he supported Trump’s cruise missile strike on Syria and his MOAB bombing of Afghan peasants. In the end, the candidate who is a male version of Hillary got about the same share of votes as Hillary did in the same district in 2016. Who needs Republicans when you’ve got Democrats like this?

+ Here’s a vivid example of the Sanders two-step in action. On Friday, Sanders endorsed Ossoff, the hawkish Clintonian Democrat, but washed his hands by refusing  to call him a “progressive.”

+ Any politician who loudly proclaims over and over again how independent they are is almost certainly trying to conceal a deep complicity with the established order…

+ Why She Lost, Reason 37, Loyalty Scores. From the new book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes:

“Though she was speaking with a small group made up mostly of intimates, she sounded like she was addressing a roomful of supporters – inhibited by the concern that whatever she said might be leaked to the press.”

This traced back to 2008, a failed run that the Clintons had concluded was due to the disloyalty and treachery of staff and other Democrats. After that race, Hillary had aides create “loyalty scores” (from one for most loyal, to seven for most treacherous) for members of Congress. Bill Clinton since 2008 had “campaigned against some of the sevens” to “help knock them out of office,” apparently to purify the Dem ranks heading into 2016.

+ Being smeared as a “right winger” is the feeble kind of baiting that the anti-war Left has had to put up with from the They-Deserved-to-Die-As-Long-As-Our-Side-Killed-Them Left since the Wilson Administration…

+ More proof that the NSA functions like the new Panopticon: the FBI is sweeping up NSA data on phone calls, travel itinerary, and web-activity like it was “googling you.

+ So apparently the person Sean Spicer chose to apologize to for his “Holocaust Centers” performance art piece was … Sheldon Adelson, who, I presume, will now spread the word to the rest of the Jewish world, or at least to those staying at one of his mighty-fine casinos in Vegas and Macao. Adelson, it was revealed this week, donated $5 million for Trump’s inauguration soiree.

+ More than 6-in-10 Texans oppose the construction of a border wall. Of course, that didn’t stop them from voting by a 6-in-10 margin for a man whose main pitch was to build a border wall. That’s Texas for you, where you leave consistency of mind and moral purpose at the state line.

+ Gen. John Kelly fumed that congressional critics of his draconian border control policies should either change the law or “shut up.” Kelly, of course, has been painted by Democrats as one of the rational members of the Trump Inner Circle. How do you like your blue-eyed general now, boys and girls?

+ A recent survey by The Economist shows, what we all know from talking to people in the checkout line at Safeway, that there’s broad support across the political spectrum for a Single-Payer health care system, despite the fact that it is perennially dismissed as “unrealistic” by the mainstream media.


+ Fox News’ payout to settle sexual harassment claims: $85 million. Payments to male perpetrators: $65 million; payments to female victims: $20 million.

+ Betsy DeVos picked Candice Jackson to run the Civil Rights Office at the Department of Education, where her assignment is to vigorously investigate allegations of discrimination against minorities, women, gays and transsexuals in the nation’s schools. While a student at Stanford, Jackson filed her own civil rights complaint, charging that she had been discriminated against because she is white. Historians of the future will note that the transition from the Age of Post-Truth to the Age of Post-Parody only took a few weeks…

+ Last month, Trump abruptly fired all 46 US attorneys. Thirty days later none of those seats have been filled. Trump should follow up this excellent move by immediately firing all federal prosecutors as well.

+ Trump’s lawyers are making the novel claim that Inauguration Day protesters, many of whom were gassed, arrested roughed up by DC police, interfered with the President’s free speech rights. We’ve entered a political dimension where what is said is the opposite of what is meant…

+ Alex Cockburn and I spent years warning the Left (and anyone else who’d listen) about the constitutional dangers of “Hate Crime” laws and how they would inevitably come back to bite them. Now Maryland prosecutors are charging two women who burned Trump lawn signs with a “hate crime” against Trump supporters, who are now viewed as a “protected class.”

+ Here’s an excerpt from the best novel ever written about American politics, Joseph Heller’s Good as Gold, which should be required reading for adolescent, of whatever age, thinking of majoring in political “science” or political journalism. In this scene, Gold is being interviewed for a post in the new presidential Administration…

“What would I have to do?”

“Anything you want, as long as it’s everything we tell you to say and do in support of our policies, whether you agree with them or not. You’ll have complete freedom.”
Gold was confused. He said delicately, “I can’t be bought, Ralph.”

“We wouldn’t want you if you could be, Bruce,” Ralph responded. “This President doesn’t want yes-men. What we want are independent men of integrity who will agree with all our decisions after we make them.”

“Wouldn’t I have to know anything?”

“Absolutely not,” Ralph answered, and appeared astounded that Gold even should ask. “In government, Bruce, experience doesn’t count and knowledge isn’t important. If there’s one lesson of value to be learned from the past, Bruce, it’s to grab what you want when the chance comes to get it.”

Gold asked with distress, “Is that good for the world?”

“Nothing’s good for the world, Bruce. I thought you knew that.”

+ Newly unearthed documents at the UN disclose that the Allies knew for at least two years prior to the D-Day Invasion about the Nazi’s extermination program, including the location of many of the death camps and the scope of the genocide taking place. They went to extraordinary lengths to keep these escalating atrocities a tightly held secret. So much for the “Good” War…

+ Easter Day tweet from Paul Ryan, who wants to kick 24 million off of their minimal health care and end all social welfare programs for the poor: “Diverse though we may be, Christians around the world are united in our shared belief that Jesus rose from the dead.” But Paul, what if Jesus didn’t so much “rise from the dead,” as have his bones excavated to make room for another Israeli settlement?

+ Exxon is seeking a special waiver from the Trump administration allowing it to skirt the Russian sanctions so that the company can drill for oil in the Black Sea. I’m surprised they even felt the need to ask.

+ The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just breached the 410 parts per million barrier for the first time in 3 million years. Perhaps it will hit 420 next year and we can all smoke a bowl of Alaskan Thunder Fuck to celebrate…


Graphic by Climate Central.

+ The home insurance market is breaking down because of coastal flooding from climate change. These are largely rich people’s homes, who enjoy plump portfolios fattened by fossil fuel stocks. So there is some karma here as their beachfront dreams submerge…

+ The Arctic Ocean is literally turning upside down and the glacial rivers of the far north are now reversing course and draining into the Pacific. Meanwhile, drill, baby, drill….

+ An estimated 4,000 snow geese died during their winter migration after stopping in the inviting, though highly toxic waters of the Berkeley Pit, one of the world’s largest open pit mines in Butte, Montana.

About 20 years ago, those same lethal waters killed hundreds of Tundra Swans, memorialized in a powerful painting by my friend the eco-artist Steve Kelly that was printed on a billboard along the interstate outside of Butte. The white tower on the crest of the mountains is the so-called Madonna of the Rockies, reflected by the dead swans forming a cross in the lethal wastewater. Under Trump, Zinke and Pruitt, the entire Interior West may soon resemble the fatal abyss of the Berkeley Pit…


+ Memo to Uday and Qusay Trump: A recent study of biodiversity in the forests of Amazonia shows that hunting exacts a severe toll on the ecosystem, forcing declines in populations of species that aren’t targeted for slaughter.  The study estimates that only 17 percent of the original mammal abundance and 42 percent of the birds remain in hunted areas.

+ Benedictine College, a small outpost of learning on the Kansas prairie, banned the practice of yoga on campus citing the breathing routines and body-posturing as a form of “Hindu mysticism.” If they really wanted to do some good the Benedictines (who make the best beer of any of the monastic orders) should ban yoga (which in the US has nothing to do with Hinduism) as a statement against New Age Capitalism run amok…Of course, the ban will only make the noisome practice morally alluring.

+ In previews now: “Six Characters in Search of a Conspiracy…” starring Alex Jones.

+ John Schmidt III is a decorated member of a Navy SEAL team, which means he’s probably killed and tortured people in distant lands while dressed in tight-fitting Ninja gear. The highly-decorated Schmidt is now under investigation for appearing in 29 porn films–including the instant classic “Strippers Come Home Horny from the Club”– under the sobriquet of “Jay Voom.” The Navy is trying to determine whether Schmidt received proper clearance for “outside work.” The whole affair gives new meaning to “insertion team.”

+ Silver lining Dept. The best rock ‘n roll has always been made during times of political lunacy.

+ Where’s the great literature of the 21st century? someone asked. Oh, it’s out there, but you’ll have to file a FOIA with the NSA to find it and hire Susan Rice to unmask the names of the writer and characters…

+ So I got an angry complaint about my “Love at First Strike” column last week that was different from the usual complaints: 1. it’s bullshit; 2. it’s too long; 3. it’s unreadable, et al. This person said that it was incumbent upon me to “link to the definitions of words that they were unfamiliar with,” starting with “Electra,” as in my description of Ivanka being “our Park Avenue Electra,” which this complainant believed to be a kind of car and not a slasher-princess with a daddy complex in the greatest cycle of plays ever written.

+ The Deep Etymology of “Cucks”: My exploration of the meaning of the word “cuck” last week generated quite a bit of commentary, most rejecting the Urban Dictionary’s theory that “cuck” is “a word used by White Supremacists to solicit sex.” Here’s an informed note from long-time CounterPuncher Michael Fiorillo:

Hello Jeffrey,

I’m a longtime Counterpunch reader and supporter, and go back to Alex’s “Press Clips” days at the Voice in my genealogy as a reader and admirer. I’m also a big fan of “Roaming Charges,” which, aside from its informativeness and high protein content, is funny and wise…

Anyway, after all these years as a reader, it’s more than funny that I should be contacting you on the issue of cucks, off all things, but such are the times…

So, fwiw, I found the Urban Dictionary definition unsatisfactory, since it made no mention of what (by my admittedly anecdotal, internet-addled sense) is the most interesting/revealing aspect of the term, which is it’s being a marker for a virulent re-emergence of white male sexual fear and panic. Again, it’s all just my sense of things, but I understand (for example, God forgive me, in the comments section of a site like Zero Hedge, or other sites where the term is thrown around) “Cuck” to mean a white man who let’s/ enjoys having his wife be fuckled by Black men, with all the presumed dishonor and disrespect that follows.

To me, that’s the significance and interest in the term’s current use: cuckolds, in the traditional sense, have always been subjects of scorn, but the current conflation of it with social/labor redundancy, intensifying class and racial conflict, identitarian politics, etc. is fascinating (and disheartening)…

Well, there’s my two cents, which was as much as anything a perverse personal introduction and way of saying thanks for all your work.

Michael Fiorillo

In these fraught matters, it’s always fruitful to consult Jonathan Green’s Dictionary of Slang, whose entry on “cuck” reads as follows:

Cuck n. [abbr.] a cuckold; thus cuckquean, a female cuckhold.

1546  J. HEYWOOD Proverbs II Ch. Vi.: You make her a cuckquean and consume her good. C. 1629 R BROME City Wit II i: Merry to bee made a cuckqueane by such a Coxcombe. 1680 Merry Maid of Islington 17: Fear not that, good Cuckquean. 1705-07 N. Ward Hudibras Redividus I:10 12: Not the Horn-Plague, but something worse, / Had drove from thence.

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

The Dilemmas of Lenin by Tariq Ali
Rain: a Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
Green: a Field Guide to Marijuana by Dan Michaels

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Damn by Kendrick Lamar
Freedom is Free by Chicano Batman
American Teen by Khalid
Silver / Lead by Wire
Tropicoso by Jungle Fire

A Dimly Perceived, Uncomprehended Fabric

Edward Said: “We live in one global environment with a huge number of ecological, economic, social, and political pressures tearing at its only dimly perceived, basically uninterpreted and uncomprehended fabric. Anyone with even a vague consciousness of this whole is alarmed at how such remorselessly selfish and narrow interests – patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds – can in fact lead to mass destructiveness. The world simply cannot afford this many more times.”

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