Phishing for Trump

Someone tried to blow up the Democratic Party as it gathered in Philadelphia this week to unify around presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Prime suspect? Jacob Zuma’s best friend forever, Vladimir Putin. These are extraordinary times.

The device was an information bomb: 20 000 emails heisted from the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) servers between January 2015 and the end of May this year. CrowdStrike and other private cybersecurity experts have fingered the FSB, successor to the KGB, and the GRU, Moscow’s military intelligence directorate. US intelligence agencies are said to have “high confidence” the Russian government was involved.

The trove found its way to a person or persons operating under the Twitter alias @Guccifer2. He, she or they began publishing selected items on a popular blogging platform on June 15 and simultaneously supplied what may or may not be the full haul to Wikileaks, which released a searchable online database of the material last Friday. Continue reading “Phishing for Trump”

The GOP and Mr Jimmy

Traditionally, the acceptance speech of an American presidential nominee is followed by a cascade of balloons from the convention hall ceiling and snappy, upbeat music blasting on the speakers. For a long time the preferred tune was “Happy Days Are Here Again”.

The Donald Trump convention in Cleveland, Ohio, ended on a different note: Mick Jagger (without his permission) wailing “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometime, you might just find you get what you need.”

It’s a macabre song, featuring a girl with blood-stained hands, a bleeding man in a glass, and someone called Mr Jimmy at a Chelsea drugstore looking “pretty ill” and muttering the word “dead”. Whoever picked the number — one of the Trump “children” perhaps — chose well.

Office-holding Republicans did not want Trump. They got him. Now their party is as sick as Mr Jimmy looked and may be on the way to the grave. George W. Bush, who with the rest of his clan stayed well away from Cleveland, was heard to wonder whether he would turn out to be “the last Republican president”. Continue reading “The GOP and Mr Jimmy”

Nut Jobs to Gotham’s Rescue

Night one of the cartoonish Donald Trump convention in Cleveland, Ohio, was devoted to the proposition that under President Barack Obama America has become Gotham City and that the mayhem will only deepen if Hillary Clinton is elected in November.

Republican Batman-in-waiting Donald Trump made his first appearance — to introduce his wife Melania — as a silhouette on a dazzling white screen to the unauthorised strains of Queen’s “We are the Champions”.

It was as if the previous speaker, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, having warned that the upcoming election might be America’s last if Clinton won, had left the stage to flick on the Bat Signal. Except that the shadow smacked less of the Caped Crusader than of the Penguin, the portly villain played by Danny De Vito in the second of the Michael Keaton Batman movies. Continue reading “Nut Jobs to Gotham’s Rescue”

Hooking America

Between 1999 and 2014 more than 165 000 Americans died from overdoses of OxyContin and other prescription opioid painkillers. One in four prescribed this class of drug on a long-term basis becomes an addict. Emergency rooms treat 1 000 opioid abuse cases a day. All this we are told by the US Centres for Disease Control. It’s dangerous stuff. Fentanyl, another opioid, killed Prince.

Thanks in no small part to OxyContin, the heirs of Arthur M. Sackler were last year named the 16th richest family in America, ahead of the Rockefellers and Mellons. Forbes put the clan’s net worth at $14 billion. Its closely-held company, Purdue Pharma, patented the drug — synthetic heroin in a time-release pill — and has been pushing it very aggressively since the mid-90’s.

How aggressively is detailed in a 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health entitled “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy”. Multiple studies have shown that OxyContin is no more effective than any other opioid, but it rules the roost. Purdue has simply outmuscled the competition with its marketing.

In 2001 alone, it spent $200 million to get America hooked, including $40 million in bonuses to its sales staff who had a database of 94 000 physicians ranked by the size of their chronic pain practices and propensity to prescribe opioids. Doctors and nurses were recruited and trained as advocates at all-expense-paid symposia. Consumers could redeem coupons for free starter supplies. And, of course, there was swag — hats, stuffed toys, music CDs with the jingle “Get in the Swing with OxyContin”. Continue reading “Hooking America”

A badly needed firewall

In 415 BCE, Alcibiades, a made-for-reality-TV Athenian with a lot of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in him, revved up his countrymen (the women had no say) to add Sicily to their empire. There being no checks or balances to blunt the passions of the voting demos, off they sent thousands of their finest over the strong objections of Nicias, a seasoned general who knew better. Few came back. Athens was never again a top draw power.

The story, as narrated by the historian Thucydides, was seared into my memory at school, the same school attended by Britain’s lame duck Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his bloated nemesis, Johnson. Had Cameron learnt a little Greek, he might have been slower to submit a question of no less consequence to a similarly unfiltered national plebiscite.

What moved 52 per cent of British voters to opt for Brexit would appear to be much the same disgruntlement that has led to Trump becoming the Republican party’s de facto presidential nominee.

Happily, America does not choose its chief executive by referendum. Continue reading “A badly needed firewall”

Capitalists kill growth

“Mankind”, wrote Edward Gibbon, has a “propensity…to exalt the past and deprecate the present”. Donald Trump, the combed-over werewolf at Washington’s door, understands this. The reason he’s so worrisome is that for all too many voters, the past really was better.

In 1998, the median net worth of American families, was $102 500. By 2013, measured in constant dollars, it was down 21 per cent to $81 200, according to Federal Reserve data crunched by personal finance columnist Liz Watson. Particularly hard hit have been working class families with incomes in the second lowest quintile. Their median net worth plunged 53 per cent over the 15 year period, from $47 400 to $22 400. The top 10 per cent meanwhile did nicely. Their median net worth surged by 75 per cent to $1 130 700.

Which helps explain the distemper Trump is exploiting with his poisonous spew of other-bashing and protectionism. It also accounts for Bernie Sanders’ strong showing on the left which at least suggests there might ultimately be a bright side. Assuming he does not win in November, Trump may end up doing his country and the world a favour, serving in all his vileness as a reform-inducing emetic.

There’s a growing realisation that capitalism as practiced in the US, and not just here, is in trouble. Obviously there is no consensus on the cause, and unlikely to be one in an election year. However, one diagnosis is quietly gaining traction. What ails the economy, in this view, is an idea first popularised by Milton Friedman and now taught in business schools as revealed truth, namely that the sole and exclusive purpose of the corporation is to maximise shareholder wealth. Continue reading “Capitalists kill growth”

Trust Deficit

So South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation says it has demarched the US and other embassies that issued alerts about possible terrorist attacks targeting their citizens on SA soil. DIRCO claims to know the source of the information which triggered the alerts and dismisses its credibility. Perhaps if there was a greater degree of trust between SA and the foreign governments concerned, this unpleasantness could have been avoided. One could even imagine the SA government taking the lead in issuing an alert itself. On other other hand it might have been able to convince the others that their intelligence was dodgy and that no alert was needed. But the necessary trust seems now to be utterly lacking — hardly surprising given the allegations by Security Minister Mahlobo and ANC Secretary General Mantashe that US is plotting the Zuma administration’s overthrow. Nor can one have much faith in the trust-building skills of Minister Nkoana-Mashabane following her all too revealing interview with alJazeera.