You Got An Armchair View Of History Being Made

I love the English language. I especially love the way it uses metaphors to describe important stuff. Over the past day I’ve been trying to think of a metaphor for US special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

The Quiet Achiever, the Silent Assassin. Whatever it is, the word ‘silent’, has to be part of the narrative. Mueller likes to do everything very, very quietly and in the background.

For months, he’s beavered away without so much as a peep. Not one leak of any kind which is extraordinary in itself. But his silence is the silence of the lambs.

And after months of silence Mueller finally spoke. Or should I say he let the justice system do the talking. Explosive, incendiary, ballistic. Call it what you will. Most importantly, the White House never saw it coming. We now know what Robert Mueller was doing for the past four months, gathering evidence against three former Trump advisors, enough evidence to lay criminal charges. And at least one is squealing already. The first to rollover, George Papadopoulos, one of President Trump’s former foreign policy advisors.

Apparently, and unbeknown to anyone, Papadopoulos was arrested in July of this year. And in the months following, negotiated a deal resulting in a rollover guilty plea. Cooperation in exchange for lenient treatment. He will probably still go to prison but for not as long as he might have. You can bet the farm on two certainties: Papadopoulos told Mueller everything he knew and secondly, at some point, he wore a wire to record conversations. What Papadopoulos knows or gave Mueller we can only speculate but it will be enough, at the very least, for Mueller to go further up the food chain.

Did the White House know about Papadopoulos’s arrest and subsequent guilty plea? Judging by the body language of Press Secretary Huckabee Sanders, at a post revelations press briefing, the WH had no idea until they read about it or watched it on television like everyone else.  Talk about uncomfortable. Huckabee Sanders squirmed noticeably every time the name Papadopoulos, Russia and collusion were mentioned in the same sentence. Mueller is the play maker and it’s playing perfectly so far.

In the past 24 hours, Mueller added another two formidable names to the ever-growing web of alleged criminality. Former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort and his business partner Richard Gates. Both men very much in the Trump inner sanctum. Both men now facing very, very serious criminal charges including, in Manafort’s case, a charge of conspiring against the United States. Mueller again played it perfectly. Manafort is charged with, among other things, money laundering, failing to file a tax return on income earned. He is facing the prospect of many, many years spent in a Federal Prison if he’s found guilty. Manafort surrendered himself, pleaded not guilty and was released on US$10 million dollars bail and house arrest. Gates was granted US$5 million bail. That gives some idea of how serious this is. Now the fun will really start. Manafort and Gates will have lawyers representing them. And what do you think those lawyers are going to advise their clients? It can be summed up in one word: cooperate.

If you read the indictments, Mueller crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’. It is a simple yet compelling and watertight case against Manafort in particular. Proving guilt is not going to be a big ask.

You can expect, no make that definitely expect, Manafort, or Gates, or both, to rollover and become Mueller’s snitching bitches.

It won’t be a question of if.

The Mueller indictment is also extremely clever. It only relates to what Manafort was doing in 2006 and makes no mention of the 2016 Presidential election campaign.

Of course, to the Twitter maniac and POTUS for now, this was a signal that he’s off the hook.  NO COLLUSION he thundered in capital letters on Twitter, as if that makes it more compelling.

Donald Trump is mistaken if he thinks it’s the end of the matter. Throwing Papadopoulos, Manafort and Gates metaphorically under a bus won’t help. The WH can try and distance itself from those men but it will be futile.

This is the beginning not the end.

Robert Mueller has thrown a lasso over the White House. At this point in time it is sitting relatively loosely and only managed to damage some low hanging fruit when it was first thrown. But expect that lasso to tighten in the coming days, weeks and months. Make no mistake Mueller’s ultimate target is Donald Trump but the Special Prosecutor knows to get a Republican, dominated Congress, to impeach the President, his case must be watertight and bullet proof. A lot more dominos will fall before reaching that point.

Over the years, that famous quote from film actress Betty Davis has been misquoted many times, and it’s about to be misquoted yet again by me: Fasten your seatbelts we’re in for a bumpy ride. Trump’s in trouble and he knows it and he also knows there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s too late to stop Robert Mueller. The genie is out of the bottle and we are all going to be lucky enough to get an armchair view of a very significant moment in history.

 

 

 

Welcome To World Of Donald Trump

A man walks into a bar in Kansas City. I’m not telling a joke by the way. Many of the patrons are from countries other than the United States. Their physical appearance is a dead give away. The man asks them, as if he had some God given right, what visa did they hold? Were they in the United States illegally? There is cold blooded method in his madness. He leaves and returns to the bar with a gun, killing one person, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian born engineer working for Garmin in the United States. Two other people are wounded, one seriously. The seriously wounded man, is incredibly lucky to be alive and still walking. The bullet narrowly misses his carotid artery and spinal column. This is a racially motivated hate crime. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

A celebrated Australian author of children’s books, Mem Fox, goes to the United States on business. She holds a valid visa and Fox is a regular traveller to the US. By regular, I mean 116 times before, without incident. But this time it’s different. This time she’s travelling directly in the wake of Donald Trump’s anti immigration rantings, his executive order on immigration. Fox is detained and questioned for two hours by US Customs officials. “I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” she would later say. “I felt like I had been physically assaulted which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby. And I’m 70 years old.”

Fox tells Australian reporters the Customs officials seem turbocharged with the power granted them by Trump’s order. Fox complains. She receives an apology, but says this will be her last trip to the United States. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The White House holds a press conference. The media, the fifth estate, exists to hold people like Donald Trump accountable. Now there’s a fine word with a multitude of meaning. Accountable. You see the media exists as a free and independent entity in a flourishing democracy. In fact it is one of the foundations of a true democracy. Politicians are criticised, questioned and held to account. They can be caught out lying. Now there’s another good word. Lying. But when a number of media organisations, like CNN, the BBC and the New York Times, try entering the briefing room, they are barred. Barred from entering? Are you serious? In stark contrast the ‘friendly’ to Donald Trump news services like Fox, One America News Networks and the hideous Breitbart news have no problem attending the White House briefing. In fact they are welcomed with open arms. Trump calls the media, purveyors of fake news. They tell lies according to Trump. It’s a bit like that story of the pot, the kettle and the colour black. If Donald Trump really wants to see mendacity he should look in the mirror more often. Terrorist attack in Sweden anyone? Is this Stalinist Russia? Not it’s the good old USA, the greatest democracy in the world. Yeah right. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

This media ban is unprecedented. It is a disgrace. Nothing like it in the history of American democratic politics. By democratic, I mean democracy. Not the party. These are the actions of a dictator. A man who thinks he’s above the law and now that he’s President, can do whatever he likes, whenever he likes, to who ever he likes. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The son of the late, Mohammed Ali, the greatest American heavyweight world boxing champion of all time, is detained at a Florida airport and questioned about being a Muslim. I guess the name is a dead giveaway. The same name as Dad. But who cares in Trump America. He sounds like a muslim. And all Muslims are dangerous. Right? Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Ali junior and his mother, Mohammed Ali’ s second wife, are returning to the United States from a vacation in Jamaica. Ali junior’s lawyer, tells a Louisville, Kentucky newspaper, his client was detained and questioned for two hours by Immigration officials, who repeatedly asked him: Where did you get your name from? Are you Muslim?

Clearly they were not boxing fans. For the record, Ali junior, was born in Philadelphia and holds a US passport. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Trump’s besieged. He’s taking a beating in the polls. Loved, loathed and despised equally by many including members of his own Government, who keep feeding the media with damaging leaks designed to embarrass and humiliate. So what does he do? Trump takes his message to the American people. Mass rallies of supporters. Hang on. Didn’t we just have a Presidential election campaign? Trump tells them the mainstream media are liars and the economy is going great. And guess what? He says I’m going to keep having rallies, keep talking to the people because I can’t trust anyone. Only a fool would believe him. This man is a bombast. A wrecker and a hater. He can’t be trusted and will trash alliances, relationships and all the goodwill the United States spent decades cultivating. Welcome to the world of darkness. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Scotland The Not So Brave

Overnight a small revolution was narrowly averted. Wars have been fought, won and lost over the issue of independence. Unlike the United States, Scotland didn’t go to war to fight for independence from the United Kingdom. All they had to do, if they wanted it, was turn up and vote in a referendum. And when push turned to shove, the canny Scots decided it was better to be inside the tent than out.

Make no mistake this could easily have gone the other way and if it did we’d be saying cheerio the nou to the United Kingdom as we know it. So there was a lot at stake, a lot to lose and a lot of people very worried especially the British Prime Minister. Why he, or anyone else would want to remain joined to a country whose national dish is a sheep’s stomach filled with heart, lungs and liver, whose male population insists on wearing a skirt and whose people speak in a way that no-one can understand is beyond me. Of course I am having a huge joke. But you could almost hear the collective sighs of relief when Scotland said no, instead of aye, to independence.

So, what made the Scots want to take the high road to independence in the first place? Here’s a brief history lesson. The Scottish National Party won the country’s General Election in a landslide result in 2011. They ran on a platform promising a referendum on independence. The Scottish National Party also claimed the country’s 300-year-old union had as much relevance and oomph as a deflated set of bagpipes. There is also Scotland’s North Sea oil wealth that people like the country’s First Minister seem to think could make Scotland one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It was time for the Scots to take control of their destiny and free themselves from what pro independence supporters saw as the shackles of the British Parliament. The Yes vote had some high profile lobbyists including Scottish actor Sean Connery, even though he didn’t vote in the referendum. Independence for Scotland has to be seen for what it is: an in your face challenge to the United Kingdom, the most successful political, social and economic union in the world. But for all the political rhetoric what the issue is really about is money. The Scots want a lion’s share of the tax from North Sea oil and gas. People like the British Prime Minister argue it is very much a finite resource. And because it’s getting harder to extract these resources, now is the time more than ever for the United Kingdom to stay united so it can support the industry with the broad shoulders of England, Scotland and Wales.

The pressure was on for the Scots to decide which way to go. Eight six percent of the country’s five million eligible voters cast their ballot. Fifty four percent voted No and 45 percent Yes. Scotland’s First Minister and the leader of the country’s National Party who campaigned tirelessly for a Yes to independence said the referendum had been “ a triumph of the democratic process.” Reading between the lines what he was really trying to say was all of those caber tossing, whiskey drinking, kilt-wearing tossers who voted NO were nothing but a bunch of losers. The British Prime Minister was seriously worried. So much so that after the NO vote was declared he went on British national television to say that he had listened to the Scottish people and that changes would be introduced to give them greater independence without having to become an independent country.

But some wise old sages suggest the real reason the Yes vote fell over has to do with whiskey, the Scottish National drink. The Scotch Whiskey Association while never officially opposing independence did say the risk outweighed the advantages. And again the issue was money. An independent Scotland would be a smaller country. The banking industry would shrink limiting available credit to the country’s whiskey distillers and pushing up interest rates.

An independent Scotland would also inevitably lead to changes in terms of trade, which could make it more expensive to ship Scotch whiskey overseas. Whiskey accounts for 20 percent of Scotland’s exports and nine out every 10 bottles produced, are sent overseas. The UK has diplomatic representation in most countries around the world and is able to bring some heavy lifting to the process of marketing scotch. An independent Scotland would have a much smaller profile and diplomatic footprint and would offer much less marketing support.

But realistically the more things change the more they stay the same. Scotland will always be Scotland even if the country had voted yes to independence. It will still have its shortbread and its neeps and tatties and most people I know will struggle to understand one word in 20 every time a Scots person opens their mouth to talk. So I say this to the Scottish people: Lang may yer lum reek. If you want to know what it means you’ll have to look it up.

Caught Out

This may not surprise you about Governments per se but the Australian Government has been caught out doing something it should not have been doing. Believe me the something they did is not a very good look.

Australian intelligence services inserted listening devices into the wall cavity of an East Timorese Government office under the guise of an aid project.

For those of you who may not know, East Timor is situated to the north of Australia. It is an independent country now but has a very bloody history. Invaded at one point by Indonesia.

Not far from East Timor and close to Australia in the Timor Sea there lies a very lucrative oil and gas field that Australia would very much like to exploit. The reserves are worth $40 billion. Clearly there is a lot at stake here. By now you probably know where this is going.

The Australian Government has no real defense to offer for spying on the East Timorese. It deserves to be condemned and rightly so. But what do you think happened as a result of this disclosure? Departmental heads sacked? An official inquiry into what happened?

Did it mean for example that an organization like the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, which operates the same way as the CIA, was hauled over the coals for breaching another countries sovereignty? You must be joking.

This revelation, of course, came courtesy of a whistleblower and now the Australian Government is only interested in shooting the messenger.

Here is the history. The information first came to light as a result of a television report by an Australian media organization, which received it from a lawyer acting on behalf of an Australian spy. The lawyer was also acting for the East Timorese Government, which wants to nullify the Treaty it has with Australia over the oil and gas reserve on the grounds that it manifestly favors Australia. The Australian spy knew what was done and was to be the star witness at an International Court of Justice hearing on the issue in The Hague.

East Timor says the spying shows that the Treaty was not negotiated in good faith as proscribed by the Vienna Convention and it wants it torn up.

But let’s get back to the main point of the story, which is what the Australian Government is doing in response.

The Australian Federal Police have been asked to investigate if the lawyer and the spy can be charged under the Australian Intelligence Services Act, which carries a two year prison term as penalty. The Federal Police have also asked the media organization that reported the story to hand over all of their material in relation to the report. They want to get their hands on unedited footage of the lawyer’s television interview.

The Federal Police confirmed they began their investigation after receiving a referral but that is all they are prepared to say. Never mind the illegality of what Australia was doing let’s focus on the people who let the world know it was happening.

The lawyer and the media organization both say they intend to fight the matter in court if need be.

Meantime, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization which might have placed the listening devices in the first place raided the lawyer’s home, seized documents as well as electronic data and cancelled his passport.

The Australian Attorney General says the lawyer and the spy appear to have breached Australian security laws. And if you read between the lines of that comment it means the Australian Government is going after both of them.

I have said this before and I will say it again. Being a whistleblower anywhere in the 21st Century is a dangerous game because you risk becoming an endangered species. All Governments everywhere want to wipe them out. And if that happens who are the losers? The answer is all of us.

 

 

In The Midst Of Madness

Things happen that make me think we live in a very strange world.

Take this as a for instance. We’re at a local park. A mother is pushing her small daughter on a swing. A father of another child is waiting impatiently nearby for his kid to have a turn.

He asks the woman how long her daughter will be. She replies five minutes. Apparently, that was the wrong answer. The father takes matters into his own hands. He manhandles the little girl from the swing and tries to replace her with his child.

The mother of the little girl is understandably shocked and outraged by this obvious show of rudeness. But what she does next might surprise you. It certainly surprised me.

She called the cops. Now I don’t know if that is what most mothers would do but that’s what she did. Amazingly, the local police arrived very soon after in their police car probably with lights and sirens blazing.. I bet you wouldn’t get that kind of service if you were ringing to report a burglary. Never mind. It seems our police have nothing better to do than to waste their time. Ok. The man was a stranger. He was rude. He had no right to touch her child. But calling the cops? Give me a break.

The police spoke to the two respective parents. A police inspector later released the following statement

“Police attended the scene, there was a dispute over one child staying on the swing longer than reasonable. The police spoke to both parties, and no offence was detected by the police. Neither party wanted to make a further complaint. From the information police had at the scene there was no incident.”

You can say that again. Like I said. It was a complete waste of valuable police time. Of course this soap opera doesn’t end here. It was bound to be replayed on social media, which it was, as these kinds of incidents have a habit of doing. And you might be interested in knowing the response it got.

One mother was right behind the decision to call the police. After all, the father concerned was teaching his child disgusting manners and how to be impatient and rude. Well that must be a criminal offence.

Another opined that a stranger touching your child is not something you can just let go. If the mother had tried to sort it out herself there is no telling what the man might have done. Taken it out on her perhaps. The issue clearly was the fact that he got physical. I guess you would call it child rage.

Yet another said I would definitely call the police. The heart stopping feeling of some stranger picking up your child would be enough to make me smash him in the face with the swing. Of course that kind of advice would only result in the mother being arrested and charged with assault.

It must have looked like a crazy scene. The idea of armed police (they all carry guns and tasers these days) descending on a child’s playground would be disconcerting for everyone especially the children.

I just think what a waste of precious resources. Instead of doing what they should be doing and making our streets and neighbourhoods safer places to live in, the cops are responding to a call about two adults fighting over a swing.

But of course it raises some interesting questions: Should the mother have called the police? Well should she? What would you do if you found yourself in that situation?

 

 

The Foot In The Mouth

I hate to say it. But, the Prime Minister of Australia suffers from foot-in-mouth disease.

His latest crazy utterance concerns the referendum debate for independence in Scotland. Yes. Scotland. Why he would bother to buy into that is a complete mystery to me.

But he did. And in doing so managed to mightily offend a very large number of Scottish people.

Scotland is deciding if it wants to be free of the UK and go its own way as an independent country in much the same way that the United States did with Great Britain. In Scotland’s case they won’t have to fight a war. Simply vote yes or no on the issue in about a month’s time.

At the moment the latest polls in Scotland are suggesting that a majority of Scots people are in favor of independence. But there is still a lot of water to pass under the bridge before the referendum and anything could happen.

To put this in context, the Australian Prime Minister happened to be in London for talks with the British Prime Minister David Cameron who was no doubt bemoaning to his antipodean counterpart that Scottish independence was not a good idea as far as the Poms were concerned.

Cue Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to announce at a London Press Conference that an independent Scotland would not be in the best interests of the international community. Say whaaa?

Abbott then went on to assert that “ the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” Say whaaa?

Of course it was enough to get the Scots including their First Minister positively choking on their haggis.

Mr Abbott’s remarks were called “bewildering and ludicrous”.

The Scottish Government weighed in saying “Many Australians, including the great number with close Scottish connections, will look on in bafflement at these remarks – Australia is a country that has gained its independence from Westminster and has never looked back.

“Scotland’s referendum is a model of democracy, which has been cited as such internationally, including by the US secretary of state. An independent Scotland will be a beacon for fairness, justice and cooperation in the international community – and a great friend of Australia.”

The Scottish Government went on to rightly point out that Australia and the United States had prospered as independent countries able to make their own decisions and with populations never contemplating any prospect of that being reversed.

Enough said. So what is the moral here?

I think a sound piece of advice to follow whether you be Prime Minister or average Joe. If you have nothing to say then say nothing.