Perhaps you watched the forced smiles on the faces of President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as they exchanged words with Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, on the grounds of the White House. Or perhaps you observed how Trump first told the press that he had read the personal letter delivered to him from Kim Jong-un, and then stated a few hours later that he had not even looked at the letter.
If you felt sick to your stomach, it is not because of the omelet that you eat for lunch. There is something so grotesque going on in Washington D.C. today that it rivals the institutional decay under Louis XVI or Nicholas II.
Maybe you had solace in the suggestions that Trump might win a Nobel Peace Prize, or you read the editorials suggesting direct parallel between his daring actions and Ronald Reagan reaching out to Mikhail Gorbachev.
But is the end of the Cold War the more apposite parallel? Perhaps we should remember the treaties for cooperation signed between Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union in another strange historical moment that few of us remember.
Germany supported Poland’s demands for the city of Bohumin when Germany carved up Czechoslovakia in 1938. A working relationship between the ruling classes of the two countries was established, even as the Soviet Union threatened, in response, to end the Soviet-Polish non-aggression pact. But then, on August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-Aggression pact which was followed by Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1 and the Soviet Union’s invasion of the rest of Poland on the 17th.
None of those agreements for cooperation meant anything at all because there was no trust between the signees, the decisions were made by a handful of people with no input from the citizens.
In the end, Germany would violate its agreement with the Soviet Union two years later, invading on June 22, 1941, and starting the most brutal military campaign in human history.
We witness in the United States today a decision-making process unfolding among a handful of men who are unaccountable to the people, without any input from the congress, let alone from experts.
This tragicomedy is made possible not by Trump’s political genius, but rather by the breakdown of meaningful discourse on policy in the United States. Intellectuals have withdrawn to their private worlds and most citizens, provided with poor educations and terrible journalism, are left to fend for themselves.
Childish Gambino’s video “This is America” describes perfectly a fetishist consumer culture in America wherein the terrible violence of 9/11, or the Charleston church shooting, is quickly erased by new distractions. The citizens are reduced to consumers seeking out new thrills.
It is in such a cultural environment that Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, has emerged as the central figure in the negotiations with North Korea.
It would be no exaggeration that Pompeo is completely unlike any secretary of state in American history. He is a man who came to power by following the marching orders of the multi-billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and who has no interest in the concerns of anyone other than a tiny handful of wealthy patrons.
The official record says that he visited North Korea twice this year, once as director of the CIA and again, and again recently as secretary of state. He took along government officials to engage in discussions concerning North Korea’s denuclearization plans and met at length with Chairman Kim Jong Un and Vice-chairman Kim Yong Chol.
Considering the amount of disinformation that comes out of the Trump White House, and the abuse of top-secret and classified status, there is no reason to believe that there were only two trips, or that the group was limited to government officials.
As analysts do not hesitate to imagine fantastic scenarios in which North Korea launches a preemptive nuclear strikes on South Korea and the United States which are not supported by any evidence, and make no sense, please allow me to indulge my imagination.
The plane to Pyongyang probably had representatives from Koch Industries determined to sign exclusive contracts with North Korea for the exploitation of natural resources. North Korea holds extensive deposits of coal, uranium, iron, gold, magnesite, zinc, copper, limestone and rare earth metals (required in the electronics industry) which are worth, according to the South Korean mining company Korea Resources, around 6 trillion USD. Even if the total accessible is less than that figure, the value of strip mining North Korea is not negligible.
The plane may have contained representatives of firms interested in obtaining exclusive contracts to build infrastructure in North Korea, and firms who wish to nail down exclusive market access for imported US agricultural products.
One thing we can be sure of: Pompeo did not discuss non-proliferation in any serious manner in his meetings with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.
Pompeo knows nothing about the technical and demanding process of enforcing nonproliferation agreements and negotiating diplomatic treaties. He spent years working to undermine the nuclear agreement with Iran in congress for blatantly fraudulent reasons. Moreover, because the previous secretary of state Rex Tillerson dismissed, demoted, or drove to resignation just about all the senior officials in the State Department, Pompeo is left with a skeleton crew at State of the most self-serving and cynical bureaucrats. He is literally incapable of engaging in any serious negotiations.
The decision of the United States to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, an action for which Pompeo was the head cheerleader, was the final nail in the coffin for American diplomatic legitimacy. The complex treaty with Iran required real expertise in nonproliferation and negotiations that were transparent and documented, in cooperation and it included other nations.
The United States today is ignoring international law and the conventions of diplomacy to a degree unprecedented since its founding.
We are in uncharted and dangerous waters.
If we look at Pompeo’s career in business, and in Kansas politics, it is not hard to guess what he talked about in Pyongyang: contracts for American corporations to exploit natural resources in North Korea and contracts for American corporations to exploit cheap North Korean labor. If “nonproliferation” came up at all, it was used as a form of gunboat diplomacy: “give us contracts to your coal, copper, steel, uranium and gold mines or we will invade.”
Pompeo’s model is Iraq and its development after the 2003 Iraq War under the leadership of multinational corporations. The concept then was to carve up the fossil fuel resources and to give contracts to Bechtel and Halliburton for the building of infrastructure that Iraq never asked for.
The model is not so different from the model for Iran’s economic development taking place in Washington D.C. today among Pompeo’s clients. They are already planning for the division of fossil fuel resources, after the regime change, or after war.
What was discussed
Let us talk a look at what Pompeo said at a press conference after his return from Pyongyang on May 14 for clues as to the content of the negotiations.
“This will be Americans coming in — private sector Americans, not the US taxpayer — private sector Americans coming in to help build out the energy grid. They need enormous amounts of electricity in North Korea.” (Voice of America)
Pompeo’s suggestion that a flood of “private sector Americans” will pour into North Korea to build up the energy grid is presented as a positive, as opposed to a burden to the taxpayer. But the point is that private corporations in a rapacious quest for quick profits are expected to build up a wasteful energy grid for North Korea, whether it wants it or not. That energy grid will be powered with the cheap coal mined in North Korea by Pompeo’s number one client, the Koch brothers.
North Korea does not need enormous amounts of energy, it needs the help of non-profit NGOs, of experts from universities, and of opportunities to interact with like-minded people from around the world dedicated to addressing real problems. It needs to educate its citizens so that they understand the negative environmental impact of mining.
The assumption is that in order for North Koreans to live happy lives they must consume “enormous amounts of electricity.” This argument has become prevalent in the media in the United States, but it is completely unfounded. There are many ways in which North Korea could develop without mass consumption of energy, and it can make its policies without the interference of corporations who are forced to make short-sighted decisions for the sake of profit.
More likely the energy is needed not so much for North Koreans as for powering the low-wage factories where American corporations can make fortunes by finding skilled workers who can be exploited even more than workers in Vietnam or China. North Korea is not the point at all, but rather finding a new chance to create profits through harsh exploitation.
The devastating impact on the air, and on the climate, of this use of coal is the furthest thing from Pompeo’s mind. He has a record of brazenly promoting junk science reports produced by the sham research institutes established by the Koch Brothers to promote the idea that climate change is a myth, or that fossil fuels are necessary for economic growth. He has also consistently fought against regulations in the United States (as a congressman) that would protect citizens from the pollution produced by factories.
Pompeo goes on to remark,
“We will work with them to develop infrastructure, all the things that the North Korean people need, the capacity for American agriculture to support North Korea so they can eat meat and have healthy lives.”
The infrastructure that Pompeo is imagining will probably include highways, power plants, water purification plants and towering apartment complexes and luxury malls aimed at the wealthy. It is an infrastructure of exploitation for the average citizen and thoughtless indulgence for the elites.
Opening up North Korea will mean the promotion of thoughtless consumption and of waste. The plan is to establish a deep dependency on outside expertise without allowing North Koreans to develop their own experts from the beginning. Moreover, granted the Trump administration’s push to destroy government at home and privatize the entire United States, we can be certain that all this infrastructure in North Korea will be run by multinational corporations for profit, and that little of the profit that goes to the average North Korean.
The comment about eating American meat is perhaps the most offensive part of Pompeo’s asinine remarks. The assumption that eating American meat would make anyone healthy flies in the face of substantial research indicating that the prevalent feeding of synthetic hormones and antibiotics to cows in the US is a major health risk. I would not touch the stuff with a ten-foot pole.
More importantly, although it might be helpful for North Koreans to get more protein, it would be far better for them to raise chickens or pigs on a small scale in their own country, in a manner that is not so profoundly destructive to the environment as the factory farms in the United States which pollute the environment to no end, places where cows are fed corn, instead of grass, thus creating a catastrophic problem through the release of methane into the atmosphere. Imported meat is not desirable in North Korea.
What North Korea needs now is to invest most of its efforts into restoring the quality of its soil and reforesting its mountains after decades of destructive industrial farming. The last thing that North Koreans need is to become addicted to American agricultural products in the form of fast food that lacks basic nutrients, such as the fare offered by McDonalds.
Whatever Tweets Trump may be sending out, we are not seeing the reunions of separated families, or broad engagement by NGOs in the critical social and medical sectors, or even a serious effort by intellectuals to engage in a discussion about what is truly in the interest of North Korea’s citizens.
Instead, the media tantalizes us with suggestions that this or that important meeting will take place. The US Congress has declared that sanctions must stay in place until the impossible task of complete denuclearization is accepted by the Trump administration—an administration that has neither the skills nor the will do so such a thing.
The gap between the American façade and its reality
The Façade of the US State Department’s headquarters, the Harry S Truman Building, is a popular place for college students from around the world who visit Washington D.C. for internships to take a commemorative photograph. The limestone façade, dating back to 1941, has a subtle, understated elegance; a refined version of WPA architecture. And the passing of years has added a genteel patina that brings to mind the hard-working diplomats involved in the fight against Fascism, or those who toiled late at night with Secretary of State George Marshall to establish the United Nations.
But such sweet reveries have little to do with what actually takes place behind that façade today. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent much of his time clearing the building of all diplomats with expertise, ethics or ability, leaving behind an institutional shell. He fired senior diplomats outright or made the environment so unpleasant that they left of their own accord.
But although this last stage in the death of the Department of State was rapid, it was but the culmination of a long process of strangulation.
The death of the State Department is part of the larger death of the Federal government and that story goes back to the 1970s. When Ronald Reagan and his group of wealthy cronies came to power in 1981, they acted quickly to strip Federal employees of their previous protections and to decimate their unions. The professional civil servants started to lose the foundations of their authority and thus could no longer serve as a check on politicians. Government work became less attractive to intellectuals, who increasingly chose to become lawyers or bankers instead.
The Reagan administration also took the first steps towards privatization of policy, and started to direct taxpayer money into private think tanks, consulting firms and other parasitic institutions concerned with profits, not long-term policy. The government was starved of the funds it needed to develop its own expertise and forced to be dependent on consultants. This shift in relations meant that the power relationship between corporations and government was permanently transformed.
The war on government expertise in the State Department took on a new urgency after the installment of George W. Bush. Bush brought into the White House a group of right-wing extremists who were ready to start a world war if given the chance. But there was real push-back from within the government itself. Most notably, the Clinton appointee George Tenet stayed on at the CIA and the liberal-minded Republican Colin Powell took over as Secretary of State. Although neither of those figures was heroic, the fact that they survived in their positions so long, meant that the campaign by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to fire every single person capable of resistance to their illegal actions was partially frustrated. There remained a core of qualified and motivated people in the Federal government who were serious about diplomacy and security. They released reports that openly contradicted the policies of the Bush administration even at the height of Cheney’s reign.
When those pockets of resistance frustrated two (or more) drives by Cheney and friends to start a war with Iran, it was decided among the right-wing operatives that the entire civil service system had to be gutted and all functions outsourced to corporations. The private sector, it was reasoned, because it focuses on profit, would not be inclined to resist orders.
What remained of government was also remade. Senior officials in government received special perks and could make a fortune as consultants after retirement while the treatment of rank-and-file government officials plummeted. It is an open secret that the current system for policymaking has become blatantly unconstitutional as decisions about US policy that should be the function of government have been farmed out to for-profit organizations that are not accountable.
Although the State Department itself lacks expertise and its status in the decision-making process has collapsed, it is obvious that Pompeo has real authority and that he is capable of carrying through policy decisions. If anything, he seems to be in an even stronger position than previous secretaries of state because he is able to completely ignore Congress, and to run roughshod over legal and procedural issues.
To answer the question of where his power comes from requires us to consider a larger process of transformation involving the entire government, Federal and local over the last thirty years. Not only did the government atrophy and thereby lose its ability to serve as a check on corporations, not only did government pass on the formulation of policy to lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants who work for a profit, the citizens of the nation ceased to be involved in the democratic process in the United States. Theda Skocpol limns this dénouement in her book Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life describing how Americans of all classes have withdrawn from participatory and democratic practices in their daily lives. Whereas Americans once met regularly with others from varied backgrounds at PTA meetings, Lions Club breakfasts and Mason lodge ceremonies, whereas they once gathered at veterans groups and women’s associations, at the YMCA or the Boy Scouts, today they are alone, or with a few friends, harmlessly talking about popular culture at Starbucks.
In the previous generation, such organizations held elections and many citizens participated in the process of governance at the local level within these organizations. Since the 1980s, and especially over the last 15 years, most citizens can only exchange opinions on social media but are not connected to any form of active organization that demands their participation or their commitment.
The result? The architecture of election campaigns and the formulation of policy still goes on, but those elections, dominated by the Republican and Democratic parties, are not paralleled by any democratic institutions in the lives of citizens, and thus have become increasingly distant and irrelevant. Government has taken as its model the non-transparent and non-participatory “management” style of corporations and the democratic process has withered away.
The lack of participation in the democratic process by ordinary citizens had made it possible for wealthy families, and corporations, to spend enormous amounts of money so as to create NGOs that promote their interests, found newspapers and magazines, or buy them off with advertising budgets, and to fund “experts” who hop from one news program another to promote fictional visions of North Korean threats or the benefits of free trade. That racket is where Pompeo got his big break.
The imagined “conservative” population in the United States that supports the policies of Trump are not as much a product of deep political convictions as they are wronged citizens struggling to understand a world gone insane as best they can in an environment of systematic misinformation in the commercial media owned by a tiny handful of right-wing corporations. Sadly, often those who were lucky enough to grow up in well off and highly educated families dismiss such Trump voters as “stupid” without any consideration for the situation these people have been placed in.
The process by which massive qualities of money is used to make popular movements that appear magically by paying off specialists, journalists, setting up events for which there is no audience and hiring lobbyists to promote the image that a movement exists to support the financial interests of corporations is carefully documented in the report “Buying a Movement” (1996) published by the NGO People for the American Way. The situation has grown far worse over two decades since that report was issued as dark money has taken over American politics.
The rise of corporate influence was only the first stage in the distortion of the policy process in the United States government. The long-term accumulation of wealth by a small group of individuals has pushed the United States into next phase at which the rate of wealth accumulation by the superrich has become almost exponential and a class of billionaires, rather than corporations, has emerged who are able to determine policy like emperors, beyond accountability.
But the continuing tax cuts and deregulation of corporate interests has produced an entirely new political world over the last five years. The Wealth-X Report, and its “billionaire census 2018” reveals that the wealth of billionaires has increased 24% in 2017 and that they control a $9.2 trillion,” or 12 percent of the global GDP.
Whereas twenty years ago the CEOs had tremendous influence on policy, they were still the administrative class for the private sector and they were still accountable to an extremely relaxed and indulgent meritocracy. The CEOs of corporations have been pushed out of the way to make room for the multi-billionaires, a class of people like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet whose words are echoed through the media as if they were modern prophets.
But there is another group of multi-billionaires who pushed Trump into the White House with piles of hidden money, and hidden control of US media. That group consisted of the hard-line pro-Israel Sheldon Adelson, of Bernard Marcus, Robert Mercer and above all the coal and petroleum masters, David and Charles Koch. This group of the superrich made a gamble that if they threw enough cash into politics they could short-circuit the entire system and elect a president who responds primarily to their demands. They calculated that they could rely on contradictory and humorous Twitter postings and silly articles to keep the rest of the population confused and distracted. So far, that gambit is working.
This scenario would have been impossible even five years ago, and the massive further transfer of wealth taking place since the recent “tax reforms” suggest that these men, and their associates, are so drunk with power that they will push the process even further.
David and Charles Koch (combined worth of approximately 100 billion USD) were the force that created Mike Pompeo and he responds to their requests, not to the duties as a servant of the Federal government, let alone the interests of the American people, or the international community.
Of course Pompeo is a smart man who graduated first in his class at West Point. But he rose to power through his unwavering loyalty to the Koch brothers, and little else. That is just how smart he was; he realized early one that with such a radical concentration of wealth going on, he did not have to waste his time pleasing the little people.
So yes, Pompeo has real power that cannot be ignored and he is wrestling with Harry Harris and others over what will happen with North Korea, but that power does not come from the laboring civil servants in the State Department, or even in the CIA or Department of Defense. It comes from the extensive networks of the Koch brothers, and other interest groups that have bought stock in Pompeo.
Pompeo received more funding from the Koch Brothers (Charles and David) and their coal mining interests, than any other member of congress.
Lisa Graves, director of Documented Investigations, explained in an interview that Pompeo worked closely with the Koch brothers from the start of his career. He instinctively backed the legislation proposed by the Koch brothers and actively ignored the concerns of his constituency in Kansas. Pompeo became the standard bearer for the Koch campaign to end the ability of government to regulate corporations, to protect the environment, and guarantee access to quality education that allows citizens to make their own decisions.
That weakening of the government required the creation of shell think tanks, promotion of ideas like “limited government” which are not about addressing the abuse of power by government, but rather about limiting its ability to address criminal actions by corporations.
Wenona Hauter, head of Food and Water Watch, remarked that “Pompeo is very much of an opportunist who is for sale to the highest bidder.” He ignored the citizens of Kansas when he blocked the right of states to demand labeling of GMO foods. His loyalty was rather to Monsanto and its promotion of dangerous chemicals in agriculture and the creation of an unhealthy dependency of all farmers on agribusiness.”
Pompeo had no problem in congress in promoting fake science, denying climate change, and distributing false research created by Koch-funded organizations that suggested that the impact of pollution on communities and other blatantly criminal actions by the Koch brothers did not exist.
Hauter explained, “We know that the Koch brothers are responsible for spending tens of millions of dollars on propaganda around junk science, trying to create this narrative that there is not a consensus on climate change. We know that’s a complete lie, and that there is consensus in the scientific community about climate change.”
But that is not the limit of the Koch effort. The Protest group “UnKoch My Campus” has released documents showing how the Koch brothers have actively interfered in the hiring of professors at universities so as to get faculty who would promote their fraudulent vision of “free market” policy wherein deregulation of corporations is essential for the prosperity of the nation. The Koch Brothers demanded of universities that they have say in the hiring of faculty and also in the decision of whether to retain faculty, while keeping that influence a secret. They also made enormous investments in the promotion of “Youth Entrepreneurs” which teaches college and high school students that corporate taxes must be low and government regulation must be minimal.
Prospects for the Summit in Singapore
So what are the prospects for the Kim-Trump summit?
Assuming that it is not postponed, or cancelled at the last moment, we can expect a media carnival in the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, in which Trump and Kim, accompanied by President Moon Jae-in, and perhaps even the nonproliferation specialist Dennis Rodman, take the marriage of reality TV with foreign policy to a new level. We are looking at global leadership on a par with Napoleon III or the “mad King” Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Experts on security and international relations issues are rolling their eyes, but you can be sure Fox News and CNN are counting the dollars to be made. Good policy decisions are the least important issue for a commercial press which focuses on entertainment. Trump’s preparation for the summit consists of watching Fox and Friends and Twittering cryptic messages. What could go wrong?
And then there is Rudy Giuliani offering up chilling messages suggesting violence at home and abroad that the commercial media was too happy to spread around.
Giuliani suggested that Trump could have shot the former director of the FBI investigation James Comey with impunity. This threat by one former government official against another is something we have not heard bantered around since the 1850s. Giuliani then claimed that Trump forced Kim to beg for the summit. The later seems to be a classic red herring aimed at muddying the waters and making just about any outcome possible, but it was also intended to be as insulting as possible. Trump did not issue any comment.
Weird as the comments are, they are not that funny. They suggest a radical collapse of governance and a move towards the use of force.
The Shangri-La summit will have some serious implications.
First the summit is meant as a means of political triangulation by the Trump administration to keep their grasp on power in the face of a major show down with the government factions behind the FBI investigations.
The Democratic Party has swung so far to the right in its bid to beat the Republicans by copying their playbook that this time it is the Democrats who are the hard-liners. They declared that they are against the easing of sanctions on North Korea unless five conditions odious conditions are met by North Korea.
This move to the right by the Democrats (paralleled by their overwhelming focus on Russia) makes Trump look like a liberal, open-minded figure, as opposed to those grumpy mainstream Democrats (and some Republicans). This is no small feat for the most reactionary and corrupt president in American history. But the transformation of the Democrats does not stop there. As many as half of the Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives have a background in the military or intelligence and many are in serious conflicts of interest that would make it hard for them to back down from pursuing a hard line on Russia, Iran, China or North Korea. To put it succinctly, the Democratic Party today has minimal relationship to the organization that once employed that name and supported such thoughtful figures as Dennis Kucinich and Paul Wellstone.
Secondly, the summit is taking place at the same time that powerful factions in the military press for a direct military conflict between the United States and Iran, Russia or China (or maybe all three). Whether the location is Syria, Yemen, the South China Seas, or even North Korea, the move towards full military confrontation continues apace.
You may have heard all about Trump’s Twitter campaign for peace with North Korea (backed up with nothing of any binding legal value) but did you hear the new ambassador to Korea Harry Harris say that “North Korea remains our most imminent threat. And a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable” on May 30?
Maybe you did not notice, but you can be sure that the Chinese and North Koreans did.
The US push against China has reached an extreme over the last month. Calls to limit visas for Chinese visiting to the US, to charge Chinese companies with espionage, and to engage in massive trade retaliation outside of the rule of law or international treaties have become mainstream.
The United States is pushing Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia and South Korea to adopt a strikingly hostile posture towards China, and completely shutting China out of the discussions about the future of North Korea. There is nothing strategic about this forced confrontation with China, the center of the global economy and the home for one out of six of the citizens of our Earth.
Not to mention that China is addressing climate change and promoting renewable energy with a seriousness that the United States cannot.
But the enthusiasm for an alliance with the United States is far less apparent in the discussions taking place among South Koreans, Japanese and other allies. Rather we see a stunning silence about the military alliances that suggest deep and growing ambivalence.
We are witnessing the “red giant” effect in American foreign policy.
The red giant is the penultimate stage for a star, the point at which it has exhausted the hydrogen at its core and the nuclear reactions that powered it cease. The core of the star then contracts due to its own gravity and that in turn draws in hydrogen which then starts a fusion reaction in a defuse and unfocused manner in the region around the now inert core. As a result, the star spreads out over a far greater surface area, but its intensity is much reduced.
This red giant eventually spends its energy and the star contracts one final time to form a white dwarf. Similarly, this massive extension of American military power in the nations of East Asia, but the collapse in the training of Asia experts, the disappearance of expertise at embassies and in think tanks, and the withering away of cultural and academic exchanges that tie American citizens together with Asians, suggest that the United States, deprived at its core of the ability to produce new ideas or to formulate policy, will expand out of control, but that this process will not go on for very long. It will inevitably result in a startling retrenchment.
Whether this summit is postponed at the last moment, canceled, or takes place in the format of a gaudy media festival, you can be sure that Trump will not produce any magic solutions.
We should consider the contradictory, but entire possible scenario that we may see the US draw closer to a real dialog with North Korea at the same time that it lurches towards a world war. The silence in the mainstream media about the drive for war with China in the United States is as deafening as it is disgusting. The summit has taken on a secondary role as a fig leaf to cover over the final stage of the militarization of the American economy.
The ultimate question for us will be whether the citizens of the world can take advantage of the Shiva-like destruction of the institutions of global governance established at the Bretton Woods conference (1944) and UN conference (1945) by the Trump administration and his allies and partners around the world. Will be have the vision and the bravery to create something better out of the chaos, or will we remain passive consumers, distracted and amused by foolish tweets all the way to the Apocalypse?