Roaming Charges: All the Pretty Missiles Are Going to Hell

LA River beneath Highway 101. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ We have reached that critical moment in world affairs where when the White House hotline rings at 3:30 in the morning, two-thirds of the planet’s population hopes that Barron picks up….

+ I feel fortunate to live in a country that takes freedom of speech so seriously that even the criminally insane have their own TV network: “This president will unleash holy hell on that regime…There will be retaliation and it will be disproportionate,” thundered Sebastian Gorka. “We are not a superpower anymore. We are a hyperpower.”

+ To this point at least, Iran appears to have acted with restraint. It didn’t target Pompeo Maximus or Mike Pence, which might have been considered a “proportionate” response to the assassination of Suleimani. It didn’t strike the diplomatic base at the US embassy. Instead, the regime launched a brace of missiles at military targets, two airbases in Iraq, inflicting, apparently, minimal casualties. Iran is in for the long game. They want the US out of Iraq. And that prospect is getting more and more likely every day.

+ The only way to deal with a bully is to confront him head on, which Iran did immediately and forthrightly, and Trump, like the nervous little man he is, backed down. Now the Iraqis need to treat Trump just as resolutely in their demands that the US leave Iraq once and for all.

+ Trump’s statement the morning after Iran fired a dozen warning shots at two military bases in Iraq was one of his weirdest yet. He entered the room out of a halo of light that must have been staged to excite his evangelic disciples who have anointed him as God’s representative on earth. A cadre of generals stood rigid as pallbearers behind him. He wheezed and sniffed through his text, stumbling over “Suleimani,” “Quds” and repeatedly butchering the word “accomplishment.”

+ As the great Buck Henry, who died at about the same time Trump delivered his speech, once said: “We need a president who is fluent in at least one language.” (Sadly, even the high IQ presidents–Obama, JFK, Clinton–have proved just as ruthless, and a good deal more cunning, than the imbecilic Bush and Trump.) Still it’s bracing to contemplate the possibility that Trump’s drugged-out, incoherent babble this morning may have knocked off Buck Henry, the screenwriter of Catch-22, in an absurd kind of collateral damage that both Henry and Joseph Heller might have appreciated.

+ It’s difficult to enter Trump’s mind under the best of circumstances, but the task is almost impossible when he is reading, perhaps for the first time, words written for him by someone else.

+ The speech felt like a Jared Kushner/Tucker Carlson production to me. There was no Bannon-like talk of carnage and body parts. Instead, Trump began by saying, oddly: “Americans should be happy!”

+ Suddenly, Trump the Unilateralist was NATO Man, making pronouncements like this:  “Today I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process.”

+ Still Trump seemed drugged. Many suggested he’d been stuffing his mouth with Sudafed. Others claimed he was wired on Adderall. Isn’t Adderall meant to increase the powers of concentration? Does this mean the wheezing, huffing, sniffing display we got treated to today is Maximum Trump?

+ A few sentences into the speech and the president was already laboring for air, out of breath simply from the mental exertion of reading the teleprompter. If the staffers had set the speed any faster, Pence might have called on to assume command…

+ President Huff-n-Puff: “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon, while I’m president.” You just made it a certainty, buddy.

+ Trump praised the “advance warning system” for preventing US casualties. What was the warning system? A notification to the Iraqi Prime Minister from Iran that bombing the Al-Asad and Irbil bases would occur after two hours…The fact the Iranian missiles weren’t knocked down with the advance warning doesn’t say much for US missile defense systems.

+ It’s pretty easy to see why Trump backed down. Middle East wars just don’t sell like they used to.

Trump’s handling of Iran:

Approve 37%
Disapprove 54%

@Reuters/@Ipsos 1/6-7

+ Of course, it’s striking that Trump didn’t have anyone on his speed dial tell him that if he wanted to sell a war, his first call should have been to Hill & Knowlton.

+ Now, if Trump wants to shift those polls numbers, he might have to hire Ari Fleischer, Margaret Tutwiler and Paul Bremer…

+ Maybe Madeliene Albright will come out of retirement to help Trump tighten the screws on Iraqi kids and cancer patients again…

+ If Bolton shows up at the White House banging on the door saying all is forgiven, don’t let him back in…

+ The “adults in the room” were precisely the ones who presented Trump with the extreme option of striking Suleimani, supposedly with the idea of making the other targets appear more reasonable…

+ Republican senator Mike Lee blasted the Trump administrations post-Iran briefing, saying they were told they could not dissent from Trump, couldn’t debate it, and if Trump needed justification to go to war “I’m sure we could think of something.” MIKE The Soleimani briefing “worst I’ve seen, at least on a military issue, in 9 years I’ve served in the Senate,” Lee said, adding: “What I found so distressing is one of the messages was do not discuss, do not debate appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran.”

+ Even Ilhan Omar was lamenting Tuesday tonight the danger to US troops in Iraq, instead of the Iraqi conscripts who were killed in the missile strikes. But to put that “threat” in perspective, here’s a stat from a Jon Krakauer story on Mt Everest, in his new collection Classic Krakauer. The death rate for sherpas ferrying millionaires up and down the peak is 12 TIMES higher than for US troops at height of Iraq war–2003 to 2007. The old rule from Vietnam, I believe, was that US troops killed 100 Vietnamese for every American combat death. In Iraq, it was probably more like 500 to 1.

+ Morning Consult asked voters to identify Iran on an unlabeled map. Only 28% got it right, but 47% support airstrikes regardless of where Iran is. Stephen Miller, of course, pointed to Mexico…

+ Trump’s let’s seize their oil and destroy their cultural legacy (one of the richest in the world) is ISIS with predator drones and cruise missiles. Was the tomb of Cyrus the Great (see below) on the target list?

+ Caution: Constitutional Scholar at Work…

+ Moments after Suleimani’s death was confirmed (by a ring taken from his macerated corpse, allegedly), Trump tweeted this:

+ How many coffins will it decorate?

+ The “imminent attack” justification is falling apart almost as soon as it was deployed: US officials told NBCNews that Soleimani was killed for plotting to strike US targets in Syria and Lebanon, but Congressional aide briefed on the intel said lawmakers saw nothing explicitly linking him to imminent attack and the planning and coordination did not originate with ordinary for Quds Force.

+ Pompeo: “There were a series of imminent attacks. We don’t know when, we don’t know where.” (Gotcha.)

+ In killing Suleimani, the US assassinated a high ranking official of the Iranian government, who was traveling through Iraq on a diplomatic visa, even though the US is not at war with Iran, without authorization from the Iraqi government or US congress, based on evidence no one has seen or is likely to see. Bush was more transparent.

+ Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Mike Pence’s specious attempt to link Suleimani with 9/11: “One thing I’ve learned in my lifetime is to not believe our government when it comes to matters of war. Johnson and Nixon lied about Viet Nam. Bush and Cheney lied about WMD’s in Iraq. Now Pence is lying about Iran/Soleimani’s supposed involvement in 9/11.”

+ Trump: “We have no issue with the Iranian people.” Then why is ICE rudely interrogating Iranian-Americans at the border?

+ The more brazen the war crime, the louder the US proclaims its innocence.

+ Pompeo after the assassination of Suleimani: “We have every expectation that people in Iran will view the American action last night as giving them freedom.”

Dick Cheney, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq: “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

+ Michael Bloomberg castigated Sanders for accurately calling the droning of Suleimani “an assassination.” “That’s an outrageous thing to say.” On the proper way to speak about his death, Bloomberg said: “I don’t know, get a dictionary and take your pick.”

+ Warren feeds the flames…

+ Contrast this toxic drivel with Ralph Nader: “As expected, Bloody Donald opens his 2020 re-election campaign with a ‘wag the dog’ act of war against encircled Iran. All without Congressional authority going back to Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003.”

+ Unlike Trump, American liberals don’t want to rashly commit mass murder and cultural genocide. They want a plan for doing so. One that “works.” “Biden called on President Trump to share his plan to keep American troops, embassy personnel, and interests in the region safe, adding that “Iran will surely respond.”

+ The “civil Nikki Haley” was a useful media creation when they wanted an internal foil against Trump. Any reading of her statements as UN Ambassador revealed her to be a bloodthirsty hawk, just as rapacious as Jeane Kirkpatrick or Samantha Power…

+ It could get worse and probably will…Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump are two of the top four choices for Republicans in 2024, along with Pence and Nikki Haley.

+ This pretty much confirms the Wag the Dog Theory, doesn’t it? House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested on Tuesday that Trump wouldn’t have ordered a drone strike on a Suleimani if House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff had not pursued impeachment. Isn’t that itself an impeachable offense?

+ Trump on Nov. 16, 2011:

“Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected — and as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.”

+ When Trump says he’s ending Middle East Wars you can take his word to the (blood) bank

+ Trump raged that “Iran will pay” for the protests outside the US embassy in Iraq. But, of course, Iran has already “pre-paid” with the airstrikes Trump launched in the previous days…and all the shit before that.

+ Here’s Pompeo Maximus once again invoking Cyrus the Great (601 BCE – 530 BCE), who the Evangeli-Cons have adopted as a strange precursor for Trump from Classical Antiquity. (Over to you, Herodotus…)

+ Surprisingly, not only are the evangelical Trumpians (who want to replace the clerics with a Shah-like monarch so devoted to Israel that he will ignite the historical fuse that sucks us all toward that final glorious conflagration at Megiddo) fixated Cyrus, but so apparently was their historical nemesis Thomas Jefferson, the agnostic slave mastah, who owned a densely-annotated copy of Xenophon’s Cyropodea–in dual Latin and Greek translations, thank you very much. Jefferson’s obsessive reading of the ancient text is alleged to have deeply influenced (sorry Mr. Locke) the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. But the influence almost certainly derived more from Xenophon than Cyrus and what Xenophon, whose Anabasis is one of the greatest adventure stories in western literature, knew about government he mostly learned at the feet of his master….Socrates, himself no small-d “democrat” (See: IF Stone’s The Trial of Socrates).

+ I prefer the Omen kid…

+ In 2013, Sheldon Adelson urged Obama to nuke the Iranian desert and then threaten to drop a nuclear bomb on Tehran, if Iran didn’t submit to American demands. There’s every reason to think he still believes it, and the casino magnate does have at least as much influence on Trump as his other top NatSec advisor, Sean Hannity…

+ Trump reportedly held out for 15 minutes before deciding to assassinate Suleimani, which is a whole 12 minutes longer than he lasted with Stormy Daniels.

+ It’s why they play the game…Increased tensions with Iran are boosting US defense stocks.

+ Bingo!

+ Donald Rumsfeld, November 2002: “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”

+ Calling Lisa Murkowski a “moderate” Republican is like calling Ted Bundy a serial killer with empathy for his victims.

+ Sarah Sanders, now a FoxNews talking head, on war powers: “I can’t think of anything dumber than allowing Congress to take over our foreign policy … The last thing we want to do is push powers into Congress’ hands and take them away from the president.” (How could James Madison have gotten it so wrong!)

+ Meanwhile, the CIA’s election fixers have arrived in post-coup Bolivia…

+ Sound familiar? Here’s Tacitus’ account of the first great Scot, Calgacus, speaking to his troops on the eve of his battle with the Roman general Julius Agricola at Mons Graupius in northern Scotland in 83 AD: “Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.”

These days land is at too much of a premium for the imperial powers to annihilate you and leave behind only  “solitude” (often translated as “desert” or “wasteland”). Instead, as Pompeo Maximus said of the Israeli “settlements” in Palestinian territory, they steal your land and call it peace.

+ So many blatant acts of malfeasance to go after HRC over and the Trumpians breathlessly pursued manufactured conspiracies, many concocted by John Solomon and Peter Schweitzer, that fizzle out in their own investigations instead. Of course, the Republicans are complicit in HRC’s true crimes: meddling in Ukraine, the Honduran coup, the globalization of fracking and the overthrow of Qaddafi.

+ After Harris & Castro dropped out & the media spent more than a month pumping liquid oxygen into her campaign, Klobocop is still 14 points behind Sanders in the only state she has a chance of winning before her own. Yet she goes on, scolding every progressive impulse of her rivals.

The latest Iowa poll results from the Des Moines Register…

Sanders 20 (+5)
Warren 17 (+1)
Buttigieg 16 (-9)
Biden 15 (-)
Klobuchar 6 (-)
Yang 5 (+2)
Booker 3 (-)
Steyer 2 (-1)
Gabbard 2 (-1)

+ A general strike was declared in India on Weds., the Bharat Bandh, where 250 MILLION people walked off their jobs in protest of the government’s “anti-people” policies. Wake up, America. It doesn’t have to be like this. The election isn’t going to save us, even if Bernie wins. We have to take our fate into our own hands. And we can. Look around…

+ The incredible, shrinking Liz Warren. First she looted her own health plan, then she called Suleimani a “leading terrorist,” and now she’s announced her support for Trump’s NAFTA v. 2.0.

+ Joe Biden, the senior citizen’s friend, in 1995: “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare & Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits….And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a 3rd time & I tried it a 4th time.”

+ The world’s 500 wealthiest people gained $1.2 trillion this year, boosting their collective net worth 25% to $5.9 trillion.

+ Michael Bloomberg’s net worth:

1996: $1.0 billion
2019: $56.1 billion

+ The percentage of income America’s 10 richest billionaires donated to charities in 2018:

Ellison: 0%
Page: 0%
Brin: 0%
Bezos: 0.1%
D. Koch: 0.1%
C. Koch: 0.5%
Zuckerberg: 0.7%
Bloomberg: 1.5%
Gates: 2.6%
Buffet: 3.9%
(Source: Public Citizen)

+ San Francisco’s black population has evaporated over the thirty years, down to only 5% of the city’s total poulation, but blacks still remain a ripe target for police. 26% of all stops carried out by the San Francisco PD last year were of black people, the largest racial disparity of any city in California.

+ Michael Bloomberg, asked about his prior support for how New York City cops and prosecutors handled the Central Park Five case, regurgitated with this disgusting nonsense, which puts him on a moral level with Trump: “There was an awful lot of evidence presented at that time that they were involved. There’s been questions since then about the quality of that evidence.”

+ Professional xenophobe & political bigot Ken Cuccinelli, who CNN employed as a “political commentator,” tweeted that a U.S. citizen accused of stabbing five Jewish people with a machete probably did it because his dad came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant and received legal status more than 30 years ago.

+ Just a taste of what we’ve missed as a culture not to have had Richard Pryor around to help us make sense of the last 20 years…

+ Ain’t that America, for you and me…”At least two people were shot and killed today at the Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, while the service was live streamed on YouTube. Witnesses say armed security guards were present.”

+Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno on the #MeToo movement “I feel that women may rue the day that all of this started when no one asks them out on a date, and no one holds the door open for them, and no one tells them that they look nice.”

+ Too bad Charles Bukowski and Scott Fitzgerald didn’t live to see this…While the number of Americans dying from cancer is down, the number of Americans drinking themselves to death has more than doubled.

+ Younger Americans are much more likely than their parents or grandparents to admit there are better countries than the United States. Keep those places a secret, kids, lest we bomb them.

+ I spent two days this week driving the 1000 miles from Portland to Los Angeles. It poured for the first 300 miles down I-5 to Ashland, then, as so often, the clouds dissipated and the rain stopped over the Applegate Valley. The much feared Siskiyou Summit (highest on the I-5 corridor) was dry and soon Shasta emerged in her twin-summited glory…

Mt Shasta. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ I love Mt. Hood, because I know almost every inch of it, but like Rainier, Shasta is a giant among mountains, rising almost fully-grown off the basalt plains. It has magnetism, so strong it creates its own weather.

+ When I think of the words that make up our polyglot language here in the Northwest, Shasta is surely the most beautiful. Maybe one of the most beautiful words in any language. The secessionists of southern Oregon and northern California would be much better advised to name their dream state Shasta rather than Jefferson…

+ I hit Red Bluff around 8 PM, after a good 10 hours on the road.  I checked in at the normally reliable and cheap Super 8 south of town. When I tried to log on to the motel’s WIFI, these were the choices offered me. Who knew Red Bluff was an outpost of sedition?

+ On Monday morning, I zigzagged from Red Bluff up to Paradise, a minor detour on my way to LA. Most of the burnt structures have been fully dismantled and many homes and businesses are being rebuilt, right in the fire zone. Much of the town and surrounding neighborhoods are fenced off. Only the ruins of a carwash and stacks of burnt cars remain, relicts of the once and future Apocalypse….

Gates of Paradise. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Insurance Claim Problems, Paradise. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Paradise Car Wash, ruins. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Car Crypt of Paradise. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Car Crypt of Paradise, 2. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Car Crypt of Paradise, 3. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ The state of Louisiana still hasn’t completed investigations into 540 oil spills after Hurricane Katrina. The state is likely leaving millions of dollars in remediation fines on the table, money that environmental groups say is sorely needed as storms get stronger.

+ The federal Superfund program now has the biggest backlog of unfunded toxic clean-up projects in at least 15 years. Projects in 34 sites in 17 states and Puerto Rico languished for lack of money in 2019.

+ The WSJ warns that Australia’s fires may “upend the way people live.” Let’s hope so. But the evidence from the fire-ravaged towns of the American West, which are rebuilt again and again, doesn’t give one much hope…

+ Where will Australians flee in a few years, when the beaches are under water?

+ With satellite imagery documenting the rapid retreat of glaciers around the world, we may have to stop referring to “slow movements” as a “glacial pace”…

+ Thank Obama, Biden & HRC for the fracking boom that drove a fatal nail into the coffin of the planet…”In 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that in 2019, the U.S. would be producing about six million barrels of oil a day. The reality? We’re now producing 12 million barrels of oil a day.”

+ The enduring Obama Legacy: fracking, deportations and drones (more drone strikes in first year in office, than Bush authorized in his entire presidency)…if only Trump had the guts to undo any of these.

+ A new policy “clarification” from the Trump administration pretty ends any effective punishment for the  illegal killing of wild and migratory birds. These people are forcing the OED to redefine both “pro” and “life”…

+ This must come as a relief to Kanye has he attempts to construct his “mediation bunker” in habitat for the critically endangered sage grouse….

+ At least 10 indigenous people were murdered this year in the Brazilian Amazon; seven were leaders, the highest number in two decades.

+ December 21 was the darkest day ever recorded in the history of Seattle.

Darkness, darkness, hide my yearning
for the rent we can’t afford to pay.
Keep my mind from thoughts of burning
Amazon’s headquarters along my way…

+ On a brighter note, a pack of wolves has been sighted in Colorado for the first time in 70. Keep your heads down, pals…

+ Martin Scorsese on his day-to-day routine, “I go out, they put me in a car, they take me somewhere, they take me out, put me back on a table, take me in. I go in a room, somebody talks to me, I say, ‘Yes.’ Then I come home and try to get in this door without the dogs going crazy.”

+ I was shocked to learn of the death of Neal Peart. I think I saw Rush’s first gig in Indianapolis, which, aside from a 20 minute version of Working Man, wasn’t great, frankly, and I’m not entirely sure that Neil was the drummer in that concert. Then a couple of years later I made a film on Super 8 film with a couple of friends of the 2112 LP, financed by my Grandmother, which was pretty good. Peart was a workhorse and stopped playing live when he couldn’t play has furiously has he had in his youth…

+ Inevitably, Peart’s death sparked an online debate over who’s the greatest drummer: Neil Peart, John Bonham or Keith Moon? How about none of the above and we begin the discussion debating the merits of Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Bernard Purdy, Sly Dunbar, Steve Gadd, Ziggy Modeliste, Al Jackson, Jr., Benny Benjamin and Ringo Starr?

+ Ringo and Charlie Watts basically defined the rhythm sound for modern rock, until Mitch Mitchell came along to show drummers, like Bonham and Peart, how they could play beneath a guitar that screamed as loud as a fighter jet…

+ The smaller the kit, the more accomplished the drummer.

+ For me, the real test for a “rock” drummer is not a 12-minute solo, like Moby-Dick, but how much you could drive the sound in a 3 minute song and no one has done that as well as Al Jackson, Ringo, Watts, Benny Benjamin, DJ Fontana, Steve Gadd, Sly Dunbar and Bernard Purdie…

+ Nick Schou: “Neil Peart was the greatest drummer who also wrote Ayn Rand lyrics.”

+ Soviet propaganda slogan: “Today you play jazz, tomorrow you betray the motherland.”  (Drug warrior Harry Anslinger’s US equivalent was: if you play–or even listen to– jazz, you’ll smoke dope and rape a white woman.)

+ Marx to Engels, 1861: ‘In the meantime, may I wish you in advance every happiness for the new year. If it’s anything like the old one, I for my part, would sooner consign it to the devil’. (H/T Vijay Prashad.)

+ Here’s a New Year’s resolution from Steven Salaita that I’ll try to keep myself and impose as an editorial diktat on CounterPunch writers: “In the new decade, resolve to avoid the phrase ‘Palestinian rights,’ a favorite of pundits and intellectuals auditioning for corporate media. Try ‘Palestinian liberation,’ instead.”

+ Trump Koan of the Week:  “I never understood wind, I know windmills very much, I’ve studied them more than anybody…tremendous fumes, gases are spewing into the atmosphere, you know we have a world, the world is tiny compared to the universe.”

You’re Still Breathing, But You Don’t Know Why

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Sketches of the Criminal World
Varlan Shalamov
Trans. Donald Rayfield

Canyon Dreams: a Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation
Michael Powell
(Blue Rider Press)

Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick: Stories From the Harlem Renaissance
Zora Neale Hurston

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Saturnian Queen of the Sun Ra Arkestra
June Tyson
(Modern Harmonic)

Junius Paul
(Internatinonal Anthem)

Up and Rolling
North Mississippi All-Stars
(New West)

The World’s Oldest Nation

“Many countries in the Middle East are artificial creations. European colonialists drew their national borders in the nineteenth or twentieth century, often with little regard for local history and tradition, and their leaders have had to concoct outlandish myths in order to give citizens a sense of nationhood. Just the opposite is true of Iran. This is one of the world’s oldest nations, heir to a tradition that reaches back thousands of years, to periods when great conquerors extended their rule across continents, poets and artists created works of exquisite beauty, and one of the world’s most extraordinary religious traditions took root and flowered.” (Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men)

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