Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane

Abandoned dairy barn, Mulino, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Do you ever have one of those mornings when you turn on MSDNC for the impeachment hearings and start banging the TV a few of times thinking it’s stuck on the Cartoon Network? That was me at around 6:45 AM PST on Wednesday when instead of Adam Schiff’s shimmering death-skull head, the screen depicted the strange doughboy visage of George Conway, house husband of Trump’s counselor Kellyanne, pontificating about impeachment on the Democrats’ home cable network. It sure seemed like a bad cartoon, a case of Ukraine in the membrane (apologies to Cypress Hill).

+ Who has the most unfortunate hair in the Conway family, Kellyanne or new MSDNC commentator, George? Depending on windspeed, my money’s on George…

+ I don’t know why the Democrats think having lawyers ask the questions at the impeachment hearings is going to suddenly grab the public’s attention. The questioning by Howard Liman and John Nields at the Iran/Contra hearings was so inept and confusing that they buried that scandal under hours of tedium before anyone knew what it was really all about.

+ Iran/Contra boiled down to a weapons-for-weapons scandal, TOW missiles to Iran for money to buy weapons for the Contras in violation of the Boland Amendment. Ukrainegate is also a “weapons” scandal. But in this case, the weapons were being WITHHELD in alleged violation of Congressional intent, in exchange for political dirt on Democrats, which made it a slightly less lethal transgression–until Trump released the money for the Javelin missiles, which could spark a major war in eastern Europe, a war the neocons and Democrat hawks seem eager to provoke. The difference in the 2 scandals demonstrates just how completely the Democrats have adopted the policies of the War Party since the days of the honorable Edward Boland.

+ In Watergate, the question that weighed so heavily on the mind of Howard Baker (at least) was: what did the president know and when did he know it? In the Ukraine Grift, the question appears to be: what did Trump know and did he understand it?

+ Ambassador William Taylor says that after he retired from the State Department and went to work at the US Peace Institute and has spent his entire opening statement arguing for a more militant policy toward Russia in Ukraine, which tells you all you need to know about the “Peace Institute.”

+ There are days, increasingly rare, when the Pentagon isn’t bombing someone. But the US State Department never sleeps. It squeezes people around the world into compliance with US policy 24/7.

+ According to former State Department honcho George Kent, the US-funded Ukrainian paramilitaries were the equivalent of the “Minutemen” of the American Revolution. It’s always this way the State Dept, which once tried to market the murderous Contras as the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.

+ As a rule of thumb, it’s the State Department guys in bowties, like Kent, who are the one’s you’ve really got to look out for. They tend to have the bloodiest resumés…

+ As David Hoelscher reminded me, I.F. Stone said that the State Dept.’s foreign service people “instinctively sympathize with undemocratic forces” and that, when a journalist is well informed and asks good questions, he or she is much more likely to get honest answers from Pentagon flacks than from diplomats.

+ Just noticed during the half-time break that George Conway is wearing a soft cast on his right hand. Has Kellyanne been playing rough again at home?

+ Thanks to Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, these impeachment hearings have the circus, but where’s the bread?

+ As I understood Taylor’s opening statement, the one new nugget he has disclosed is that when Gordon Sondland was asked what Trump thought of Ukraine, “Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.” Surely this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Trump.

+ Taylor said that he was in part seduced into taking his post against the fierce objections of his wife, because he thought Trump might take a harder line against Russia on Ukraine than Obama had. Taylor was a Bush appointee for a reason.

+ Taylor described what he called an “Irregular Policy Channel” on Ukraine, excavated by Giuliani for secret transit to Kiev by the Three Amigos: Gordon Sondland, Karl Volker and Rick Perry.

+ Are the Giuliani Irregulars any more inept at making foreign policy than the Obama Regulars, like Nuland, Powers and Clinton?

+ The old hands at the State Department should relax. I’m sure Big Pharma is currently working on a drug to treat “Irregular Policy Channel Syndrome.”

+ For the Democrats, Taylor is the kind of grizzled, unrepentant made-for-TV Vietnam Vet they hoped Mueller would be.

+ It’s laughable that the US interest in Ukraine was in preserving what Taylor called a “Rules Based Order.” Our rules, our orders.

+ As the hearing rolled on, hour after improbable hour, we were presented with the preposterous spectacle of both the Biden camp and the Trump camps claiming they have been victimized by…Ukraine!

+ Are members of Congress subject to random drug testing? The old wrestling coach Jim Jordon is so jittery and hyper it looks like he’s taken a fistful of what baseball players used to call “greenies”…

+ It would be great if these hearings could impeach Trump and pre-impeach Biden.

+ Things I learned from the Impeachment hearing: Kiev is pronounced KEEV, at least by the Foggy Bottom Regulars. I don’t know how the Irregulars, like Giuliani, pronounce it. I guess we’ll have to wait for another butt-dialed message.

+ The Republican counsel, Steve Castor, projects a look of studious incompetence. You can see why he appealed to Nunes…

+ Val Demings is by far the most effective Democratic inquisitor. Typically, they waited 5 and half hours to call on her….

+ With so much smoke in the hearing room will it ever be possible to find the gun?

+ One of the piquant ironies of Ukrainegate is that Trump ended up adopting the belligerent Biden/Nuland strategy in Ukraine, which was to send the regime Javelin missiles to intimidate Russia, a policy Obama rejected over Biden’s strident objections.

+ Trump can always count on one distraction every month or so that will get the enemy of the people off his back for a day: some kind of mass shooting. If it takes place in a school, he might even get two days. He doesn’t even have to pick up his Android, it just happens like clockwork. Is this considered an “in-kind” contribution from the NRA?

+ Looks like Rudy can fail after all…

+ Portland hotelier turned Trump Ambassador to EU (courtesy of $1 million donation to Trump inaugural) on Giuliani, according to the intriguing deposition of David Holmes: “Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and fucks everything up.”

+ I note that Holmes graduated from Pomona College, where I lectured a couple of times in the early 2000s. I hope he didn’t attend any and then decide to take up a career in the State Department or I have failed miserably in my mission.

+ As the GOP and the Deep Staters hyperventilate about Trump being hoisted on his own (or Rudy’s) petard in Ukraine, the CIA actually pulls one off in Bolivia. Coups are one of the things the CIA is really good at. If they wanted to execute one here, Trump would have been gone two years ago (or never elected)…

+ Is Bolivia the first Lithium Coup? Over to you, Kurt…

[By the way, I recently watched an amusing documentary called Sunset Strip, which fingers Nirvana for destroying the glam scene which had taken root in West Hollywood. Way to go, Kurt! If we all blast “Lithium” loud enough, perhaps the same fate will befall the coup-plotters in Bolivia.]

+ Noam Chomsky: “The coup is promoted by the Bolivian oligarchy … and has the full support of the United States Government, which has long been eager to expel Evo Morales and his movement.”

+ A statistical analysis of Bolivia’s vote count reveals that the final results weren’t affected by fraud or irregularities.

+ Where was Elliott Abrams, when the Bolivian generals chased Evo out of Sucre? Someone should attach an electronic bracelet to that war criminal’s ankle so we can keep track of his nefarious migrations.

+ Who is Jeanine Anez to decide who can and can’t run for president in Bolivia, even if she claims the support of the Three Amigos: Trump, Putin and fellow pretender Juan Guaidó? One thing is for sure: this evangelical right-winger with a hatred of indigenous people of the Andes who now claims to be Bolivia’s “interim president” wasn’t elected by anyone. She seized power on her own, backed by generals, multinational corporations and their political hacks in the US, the OAS and, yes, Putin’s Russia.

+ There should be a contest to decide the greatest coup. We could call it the World Coup. Bolivia, of course, fields a strong side in each group…

Group A. Bolivia (2019) vs. Chile (1973)
Group B. Bolivia (1952) vs. Honduras (2009)
Group C. Bolivia (1964) vs. Brazil (1964)
Group D. Bolivia (1980) vs. Argentina (1976)

US (2019) has yet to win it’s qualifier.

+ “The temporary death of democracy in Chile will be regrettable, but the blame lies clearly with Dr. Allende… Pinochet and his fellow officers are only pawns. Their coup was homegrown, and attempts to make out that the Americans were involved are absurd.” -The Economist, 9/15/73.

+ Bolivia has had two national flags, the second is called the Wiphala, to represent Andean indigenous peoples. After the coup, rightwing groups are burning it in the streets.

+ Trump’s statement on the Bolivian coup targets Venezuela and Nicaragua…”These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail.”

+ It took Bernie two days to come up with this tame statement on the Bolivian coup, which is not nearly as forceful as Jeremy Corbyn’s or his own acolyte, AOC, and makes no mention of the US role in instigating and backing the coup.

+ If Bernie is this cautious now in his statements on Venezuela and Bolivia, how much more timid will he become if he wins the Democratic nomination?

+ Still awaiting any word on Bolivia from Tulsi Gabbard.

+ Thanks to Jared Kushner, the White House is now live-streaming the construction of Trump’s border wall. The sequel sounds more exciting, as it follows the adventures of three Mexican teenagers who come along with blow torches and burn holes in the wall every 100 yards or so…

+ 69,550 migrant children were held in U.S. government custody over the past year, enough infants, toddlers, kids and teens to fill a typical NFL stadium.

+ If there was a pond on the Ellipse of the White House, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mike Pence was out there drowning women to see if they’re witches, as long as Mother was available to chaperone him……

+ The Democratic Party is once again the runaway winner at this year’s Political Darwin Awards, headlined by Pete Buttigeig, who is now leading in the Iowa polls.

+ Mayor Pete, doing his best to outflank Biden on Israel.

Keep it up, Pete, and who knows, maybe Sheldon Adelson will pitch you a few bucks…

+ Mayor Pete would be the shortest president since William McKinley (and you know how that worked out for him). Only 10 presidents have been shorter, even when you count those with shrinking reputations…

Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason to rule
They got pointy little heads
And tiny little bones
Stubby little fingers
For their push-button drones…

+ Speaking of short people, the dwarf Michael Bloomberg has only two known supporters: Tom Friedman and Bret Stephens. But, hey, that’s two more than DeBlasio was able to round-up.

+ Bloomberg is apparently trying to appeal to the Clinton (Bill) demographic. What other lane would you run in when your misogyny is so robust that you allegedly told one pregnant employee to “kill it” (her fetus), quipped that “if women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale’s,” and bragged that his Bloomberg computer terminal computer terminal could “do everything, including blow jobs.” “I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business,” Bloomberg blurted.

+ Bernie Gantz may soon replace Netanyahu as Prime Minister and it’s likely no one will notice the difference, certainly not the Palestinians…

+ Chew over the implications of this poll reported by Jefferson Morley showing that Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete are the two favorite candidates of National Security employees. (By the way, Morley, who now runs the ironically-titled Deep State blog, was the “left” editor at the Washington Post Outlook Section, who invited me to write occasional pieces for the Post back in the mid-90s…) His blog is must-read, as is his recent book on the CIA’s crazed spy hunter James Jesus Angleton.)

+ A Lancet analysis of 1,629,352 women and 2,354,041 children less than 15 yrs old, living within 50 kilometers of high-intensity war zones finds that “exposure to the highest decile conflict in terms of conflict-related deaths increased female mortality by 202% & increased orphanhood by 42%.”

+ At his Weds. press conference, Trump interrupts Erdogan as he points to a Turkish reporter and says, “Only friendly questions, from friendly reporters.” It’s worth mentioning that Turkey jails more journalists than any country in the world, including CounterPunch’s Michael Dickinson, a political cartoonist and member of the Stuckist Art Movement, who was jailed for a “seditious” cartoon of Erdogan and then evicted from Turkey.

+ In hawking her new book Darling Nikki Haley said that she found Trump to “truthful” and she “never doubted” his “fitness for office.” Watch your back, Mike Pence!

+ I just realized that when HRC said Many Many Many People want her to run for president that it referred to one person named Many Many Many People, a distant relative of Major Major Major Major, last seen in Catch-22 exploiting his resemblance to Henry Fonda in order to become Squadron Commander…

+ Democratic numbers among “white voters” in Pennsylvania, according to the most recent Muhlenberg poll.

Biden 46%
Sanders 44%
Warren 44%

In 2016, Clinton won 40% of Pennsylvania white voters. Even 42% would have delivered a clear win.

+ Someone said Deval Patrick, ex-gov,. ex-oil executive, ex-Bain capital hot shot, is running for president. Surely they mean president of the board of Citibank, where he belongs…

+ NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has hired 500 new cops, most of them to harass poor people for “fare evasion.” Cost over four years: $249 million.

+ In Potter County, Texas, which surrounds the city of Amarillo, jailers regularly dispense legal advice to defendants; court-appointed attorneys rarely meet with their clients; and poor defendants are sent bills for their legal costs, which, given the poor quality of their lawyers, usually result in convictions. In Texas, the poor won’t get no justice tonight, but they will get a bill.

+ More than 13% of American adults — nearly 34 million people — report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died because they couldn’t afford healthcare…

+ Citibank executives are warning of a “war on Wall Street and wealth” in the 2020 elections. Looks like somebody got Triggered!

+ Less than one in 10 Americans now oppose legalization of pot for either recreational or medical use….

91% back either policy
59% want both
32% want medical
8% oppose both

+ Trump is crediting his daughter Ivanka with having personally created more than 200 percent of all new jobs in the United States. Think what she could do as chair of the Fed!

+ The richest 1% of Americans are about to surpass the wealth of the entire middle class, controlling more than half of the equity in US companies. The bottom 50% of Americans have 35.7% of the US economy’s liabilities and just 6.1% of its assets.

+ How schools in Minnesota are teaching the merciless nature of capitalism to the kids: dumping hot meals in the trash instead of serving them to students with more than $15 in debt for school lunches.

+ Ursula K. Le Guin: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.”

+ There was some hardcore Blonde Bigot on Blonde Bigot action going on this week between Ann Coulter and Donald Trump over the fate of the Dreamers. Disgusted by Trump’s lack of viciousness on immigration, Coulter says Trump should go and the Dreamers say.

+ According to The Intercept: “Trump has reportedly continued to make calls on his iPhones, even after warnings from American intelligence officials that Russian and Chinese spies are regularly eavesdropping on his calls.” Maybe Jared Kushner will suggest streaming Trump’s calls live on Soundcloud and iTunes so we can all listen in, like the very exciting video feed of the Wall construction….

+ Here’s a convincing piece by Jack Shafer arguing that the press has been cowardly and derelict in not attempting to out the whistleblower: “Without a doubt, the whistleblower deserves physical protection from threat-making nuts—including the president. But journalists would be unwise to award an assassin’s veto to people who might read their stories and then decide to run amok.”

+ Betteridge’s Law of Headlines is a rule that states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no“. It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist who wrote about it in 2009, although as with most adages the concept is much older. (Thanks Rudy Tucich.)

+ Speaking of the state of the press in the Land of the Free, a county resolution in Wisconsin calls for the prosecution of reporters if they don’t publish a specific press release in its entirety.

+ Q. Why is it so hard for accountants to prepare taxes for Israeli citizens?
A. Most insist that they have no occupation.

+ From Canada to the US, Brazil to India, Bolivia to Russia, indigenous people are under attack…

+ Never forget what happened at Acoma: “After a small battle with soldiers sent to negotiate, the conquistador Don Juan Oñate attacked the mesa and killed hundreds of men, women and children. He took 500 prisoners and sentenced those over 25 to 20 years of servitude. He ordered the right feet and hands of some two dozen captives amputated.”

+ Verna Teller of Isleta Pueblo, the first woman to lead a Pueblo in the Southwest, just became the first Native American woman to deliver an opening prayer in the US congress.

+ Nearly 400,000 coyotes are killed in the US every year, an average of 1,100 a day.

+ Monday marked the first day in recorded history when not a drop of rain fell on continental Australia. The fire danger warnings across the country were raised to “catastrophic” level.

+ Klimate Karma Strikes Venice: “The Veneto regional council, which is located on Venice’s Grand Canal, was flooded for the first time in its history on Tuesday night — just after it rejected measures to combat climate change.”

+ “‘We have no idea what four degrees of warming looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic,’ says Nick Watts, author of a new report on climate change and children’s health published by the Lancet.

+ “The public doesn’t fully see this as a human health crisis. Maybe polar bears were our early indicator — the proverbial canary in the coal mine. But when you talk about this crisis, the bear images should be replaced with pictures of children,” said Dr. Jonathan Patz, a professor and director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

+ According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the number of days per year when the Beaufort Sea is more than 30% open water has gone from “usually none” in 1980s to now more than 3 months. 2019 had 107 days, the third highest total.

+ It’s the middle of November and Our Little Mountain (elev. 11,245 feet) remains largely snow free…

Mt Hood from Oregon City, November 12, 2019. Photos: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Stop making sense! A group of California mayors is calling on state regulators to seize control of PG&E and turn into into a cooperative.

+ Onshore wind and solar power are now less expensive than any fossil-fuel-based energy option, even without subsidies. Don’t believe me? Well, try Forbes.

+ Air conditioning the outdoors. First Qatar, soon Antarctica?

+ Key West shatters record with 232 straight days with temps of 80 and above…

+ Got Almond Milk?

+ I was saddened to learn of the death of the Montana painter, writer, and environmentalist, Russell Chatham, who was a fixture in the Livingston scene for decades, along with Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, Jeff Bridges, Richard Brautigan, Doug Peacock and Margie Kidder. We have a couple of Chatham prints, one of them is of the Gallatin Range at twilight. I told Margie about it one day and she said in her own tart manner: “Does it have a fucking moon in it?”

“As a matter of fact it does,” I said.

“Russell found out that if he put a moon in his paintings he could sell them for $500 more a piece. I told him it was a crock shit and that his landscapes were just gorgeous without the damned moons.”

“Well, this is only a three-quarter moon, Margie, which must be why we got a discount.”

Fall Moon Rising, Lithograph, Russell Chatham.

+ Cockburn’s former editor at the NY Press, Mugger Smith, has a point about Succession–”It’d be swell if HBO paired Succession with a series based on The New York Times or The Washington Post, but I doubt a pitch on that touchy topic would get much serious consideration.”–though excuse me if I binge watch Season 2 again this weekend…

+ CIA receptionist: “I’m sorry, Madame, Agent Penis isn’t available. He’s having a little, well, down time. I see Agent Anus has an opening. Shall, I ring him?”

+ Dick Cavett: “I heard that you were on a chain gang?”
Robert Mitchum:: “You call it a chain gang, we called it home.”

+ Kanye trashed the racism of George W. Bush for his indifference to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, now he’s going to sell his latest record at the “church” of Joel Osteen, the guy who closed his doors to the refugees of Hurricane Harvey…?

+ Werner Herzog on taking a role in the new Stars War series, The Mandalorian, despite never having seen a Star Wars movie: “You shouldn’t feel upset that I haven’t seen the Star Wars films; I hardly see any films. I read. I was raised with Latin and Ancient Greek and poetry from Greek antiquity, but sometimes, just to see the world I live in, I watch ‘WrestleMania.’”

+ Neil Young says that his application for US citizenship is being held up by Homeland Security for his marijuana use, which the agency considers a blight on his “good moral character.” This is silly. If they’re going to delay Neil’s citizenship, it ought to be over much more serious cultural misdemeanors, like the Trans and Landing on Water albums….

+ The Mekons’ Jon Langford on the Chicago pub scene in the early 90s: “We drank at Deliah’s which always had the weirdest things you could possibly want to drink and still does. They had a lot of like, Basque seal blubber lagers, all sorts of things.”

+ Chuck Jones’ rules for Road Runner…

+ Trump Koan of the Week:  “If our [Border Patrol] people speak rudely to a person coming in, it means they get the electric chair. It’s a very unfair situation.”

Lord, Have Mercy…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

One of Us: a Biologist’s Walk Among Bears
Barrie K. Gilbert

Janis: Her Life and Music
Holly George-Warren
(Simon and Schuster)

All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator
Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Live at Home With His Bad Self
James Brown

Kate Davis
(Solitaire Recordings)

Black Space Tapes
Jamael Dean
(Stones Throw)

Images in the Stream
What I’m streaming this week…

Fire in Paradise
Directors: Zackary Canepari & Drea Cooper
(2019) Netflix

Ghosts of Sugar Land
Director: Bassam Tariq
(2019) Netflix

A Worship of Gimmickry

Robert Stone: “The term ‘Americanization’ invokes the transformation of the landscape into unnatural mechanical shapes, of night into day, of speed for its own sake, an irrational passion for novelty at the expense of quality, a worship of gimmickry.”

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