It’s one of those weeks when your heart goes out to TV show hosts. At least, the few who still have trouble articulating absurd questions like, were the Kerala floods retribution for the state’s enthusiasm for beef double-fry, or that business of opening Sabarimala to women? Or, should India accept foreign aid for a domestic calamity? Why ask the question at all, when India itself has repeatedly sent aid to numerous countries, including quake-hit Pakistan and the US in the wreckage-strewn wake of Hurricane Katrina?
But this week, someone far away was yearning to be asked absurd questions. Having suffered a deniability crisis when his former lawyer Michael Cohen admitted to having paid hush money to certain controversial women, Donald Trump sought out the safe haven of Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt. He got a friendly reception, and used it to claim that he learned of the payments “later on”, and that they were from his private finances, rather than campaign funds.
We see the beginnings of a loud and robust defence in this interview, which could stymie the demands of impeachment which are rocking the internet. In the first place, paying people to silence them is not illegal, merely disgusting. And it may not be disgusting to the Trump voter. Besides, finally, the political establishment would hesitate to impose the highest penalty for misuse of campaign funds, which is usually punished by a fine. Trump turned the gun on his attackers in the course of the interview, by recalling that Barack Obama had been fined for the inappropriate use of campaign funds.
However, sensing his weakness, Chinese state media briefly put up a satirical video thanking the US president for making Beijing stronger. Showing the US president in daft poses (no Photoshop needed at all), it reflected domestic anger over the trade wars unleashed by Trump. Setting aside banana republics, this must be the only head of government to have been lampooned by other governments since World War II. Years ago, an image attributed to the Russian state had circulated, showing Trump with his tongue stuck to a lamppost, surrounded by a host of smiling Putins.
Meanwhile, in Kerala, irritation about the needless controversy created by the Centre over accepting relief funds from the United Arab Emirates has been trumped by plain outrage over a surgical strike from overseas on the choice of millions — coconut oil. The headlines were outrage bait, reporting that a “Harvard professor” had declared coconut oil to be “pure poison”. Nothing better to light the fuse, and the professorial denunciation of coconut oil got about as much media coverage as Trump’s dreadful interview.
In truth, though, the professor, Karin Michels, was probably reacting to the coconut oil craze which has swept the Western food fad sweepstakes. The Guardian reports that sales revenues have grown 16-fold in four years, and Michels may not have considered the effect of her admittedly strong condemnation in regions where coconut oil is not a new fad, but merely an everyday fat. The people of Kerala, who are already under considerable stress, took it as a direct attack on the domestic holy of holies, the kitchen. Their withering return fire is likely to continue for some time.
Reacting to a despicable false flag operation by persons unknown, the Additional Directorate General of Public Information of the army has had to publish a warning against sharing a video of an “impostor wearing Army combat uniform”, “spreading disinformation about rescue and relief efforts.” That’s the state of our war within, while CNN sets a new benchmark for war reporting, with a map identifying the US munitions companies whose precision hardware was used to murder civilians in Yemen.
It all started with the identification of the Saudi bomb which targeted a school bus taking children on an excursion on August 9, and killed 40 boys aged six to 11. CNN had identified it as a 500-pounder laser-guided MK82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin. A similar bomb was used in another Saudi raid on a funeral service in October 2016, in which 115 people were killed. In March 2016, an MK84 killed 97 people in a market. CNN has mapped attacks in which civilians were killed with the American defence suppliers whose munitions were used: 155 dead in Sanaa, the capital (Raytheon), 97 dead in Mastaba (Raytheon again) and an unknown number killed in Saada (Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics). That map pins blame, very dramatically, where it belongs.