Roy Moore is the Establishment: A Takeaway From Last Night’s Victory

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Yes, this nightmare man believes the 10 Commandments are the basis of our law, but you could probably get 40-45 Republican Senators to argue the same thing.

The NYTimes has an important passage regarding Roy Moore, the slavering Christianist and theocratic bigot, and his victory last night in the Alabama senatorial primary to replace Jeff Sessions.

In a race that began as something of a political afterthought and ended up showcasing the right’s enduring divisions, the victory by Mr. Moore, one of the most tenacious figures in Alabama politics, will likely embolden other anti-establishment conservatives to challenge incumbent Republicans in next year’s midterm elections.

Now, you might say: oh jeez. This really could get a whole bunch of red-meat coal-rolling Bible-thumpers into the hallowed halls of the Senate, and really mess up the Establishment. We’re entering dark times!

And you’d be right, except for one this: The Republican establishment is already really fucking terrible. It hasn’t been Mitch McConnell attempting to save or fix Obamacare! He’s done everything he could to repeal it, no matter what the bill.

‘Ol Luther Strange was part of that. He was a reliable vote, in his interim position, when it came to repealing Obamacare. There wasn’t a single instance when a political reporter tried to game out the votes and asked “Where will Luther Strange go?” Remember, he was filling in for Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions is awful!

Yes, Roy Moore will bring more bombast, and will suck up a ton of media oxygen, and as my friend Dustin said, will make Ted Cruz look reasonable. Yes, he has no business being in public life, and his election to the Senate will continue making a mockery of our institutions and further shatter the illusion that we live in some kind of mature, well-functioning democracy.

But really: did you still believe that? Donald Trump is the President! The doltish flim-flam man from the TV! Roy Moore is just another example of how wild and ultimately ungovernable this country is, and how mean-spirited and bigoted and narrow-minded today’s right wing is, and with that, with his comic-opera cruelty and sneering, gun-blasted piety, he’ll fit right into Mitch McConnell’s Senate.

(If you want a good discussion of what Trump’s failed endorsement of Big Luther means, I recommend this Suzanne Monyak piece from The New Republic: basically, Trumpism, the “screw you, libs!” branch of the GOP, doesn’t even need Trump. It’s pretty scary stuff.)

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More Evidence In the Death of Dag Hammarskjöld

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“Welp…”

Last August, we talked about the UN reopening an investigation into the 1961 death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, whose plane crashed in the Congo while he was trying to broker peace between the new post-colonial government and Western-backed Katanga separatist factions.

The reason it was re-opened is that it was always suspected that the plane was deliberately brought down. Remember, it had only a few months since the CIA worked with Katangese separatists to murder the left-leaning Congolese liberation leader, Patrice Lumumba. And now Hammarskjöld was attempting to get the rebels to be part of a the newly independent Congo, instead of another white-dominate vassal state. It wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that he was marked for death.

However, weirdly, it looks like the new evidence points somewhat away from the US, and toward the French. Here is the summary of the new findings from The Guardian

  • In February 1961, the French secretly supplied three Fouga warplanes to the Katanga rebels, “against the objections of the US government”. Contrary to previous findings, they were used in air-to-air attacks, flown at night and from unpaved airstrips in Katanga.

  • Fresh evidence bolsters an account by a French diplomat, Claude de Kemoularia, that he had been told in 1967 by a Belgian pilot known as Beukels, who had been flying for the rebels as a mercenary, that he had fired warning shots to try to divert the plane away from Ndola and accidentally clipped its wing. Othman said he was unable to establish Beukels’ identity in the time available for his inquiry.

  •  The UK and Rhodesian authorities were intercepting UN communications at the time of the crash and had intelligence operatives in the area. The UK should therefore have potentially crucial evidence in its classified archives

  • The US had sophisticated electronic surveillance aircraft “in and around Ndola” as well as spies, and defence officials, on the night of the crash, and Washington should be able to provide more detailed information.

The report’s author, Mohamed Chande Othman, says that member states (namely the US, UK, and France) should have the information that proves Western involvement. But maybe not murder! It might have been an accident during an attempt to send a “message”.

But, to make it clear, the West was involved in arming rebel groups in order to splinter the sovereignty of a newly-independent nation, going so far as to murder the leader of the country, and harass the Secretary-General of the United Nations because he was attempting to preserve Congolese nationhood. And, when things went pear-shaped, covered it up for more than 50 years.

Even if this wasn’t murder, it was pretty damn close to manslaughter. And it was covered up because, man, that’s how did things. It wasn’t for the Congolese to know what was happening in their country, and it wasn’t for the rest of the world to know what the Western powers were up to. A UN head gets iced? That’s the price of doing business.

As I wrote then, this isn’t the distant past.

 This isn’t ancient history, and what’s interesting is the way that the old blended with the new. Leopoldville and Congolese slavery seem like a throwback (admittedly, just to the early 20th-century), but they mix with the post-WWII attempts to crush independence, with South African mercenaries and the rise of the apartheid state. And in that you really see the apotheosis of the CIA, grim crew-cuts sweating through the necessary work of protecting “interests” for the US or its racist allies, amoral moralists in short-sleeves deciding the fate of millions.

There’s a through-line between those jungle days and our era’s black sites and other assorted lawlessness.

Since its inception, the CIA has been on the wrong side of the law, an institution dedicated to operating without the hard work of participating in our self-governing experiment. It has perverted that, and in doing so, distorted our image around the world.

When you wonder why people in hotter, angrier countries blame the west for everything, it is because they have reason. A true reckoning with the death of Dag Hammarskjöld could be the purgative we need.

Kurdish Independence Referendum Key Moment in Modern Eurasian History

 

Image from Al Jazerra

 

What can bring together the governments of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and the United States?

Voting stations set up for the referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq have closed their doors and counting of ballots has begun, according to the official supervising body.

Voting closed at 6pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Monday, and the final results were expected to be announced within 72 hours.

Erbil-based Rudaw TV, citing the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, said 78 percent of the more than five million eligible voters turned out to vote.

In Kirkuk, authorities declared a curfew an hour and a half before polls closed as jubilant Kurds started to celebrate.

Yup. After 13 years of virtual autonomy, decades of Baathist repression, nearly 100 of being yoked into an imperial etching of a country, and centuries of repression, the Kurds of Iraq have taken a huge step toward having the first independent Kurdish state. That’s uh…not going over great in the rest of the region.

Needless to say, the government in Baghdad isn’t happy, but neither are their neighbors. Iran, Syria, and most of all Turkey have large Kurdish populations which could see this (non-binding) referendum as an incentive to start their own state.

Turkey has spent its entire post-WWI history defining being Turkish as being “not-Kurdish”, and has fought a long-running civil war to maintain that identity. Its intervention in Syria was more to prevent Kurdish power than to stop ISIS. Kurdish oppression has long been a key part of Asad rule in Syria, and Kurdish fighters (allied with the US) have been using the chaos to create autonomous zones, much like they did in Iraq.

So this is a hinge time, but it has been a long time coming. In the post-Ottoman scramble after WWI, England and France divvied up the Middle East, creating what seemed to be manageable states for the purpose of exploitation. The Kurds were left stateless, divided between these new countries and a newly Kemalist Turkey, fighting to consolidate power in the rump of empire.

It isn’t that there was no sympathy for the Kurds; it is just that, well, the whole thing was too damned difficult.  Better to have a few pliant countries than actually care about national ambition, no matter the noble mummerings of Versaille.

(Fun counterfactual history for HBO: imagine if both Kurdish representatives and Ho Chi Min were listened to at Versaille. You probably can’t, because history would be more boring).

To be fair, though, it isn’t like oppression was new to the Kurds. A regional minority, they had fought against Arabs and Persians and Turks and Russians and everyone else since forever, honing skills in their mountain fastness. There is a reason the US has cultivated them as allies: the peshmerga have a reputation as ferocious fighters, and unlike when we cultivate allies in other parts of the world, seem to have developed excellent democratic instincts.

Indeed, in many ways, the Kurdish indepenence movements are some of the last bastions of true radicalism in the world, which is why so many American leftists have gone to fight with them. They have a reputation of being egalitarian in terms of gender. We all love praising female peshmerga, with a frisson of excitement, but they are no less progressive in their politics.  If you want to hear a very weird but cool story, read how Abdullah Ocalan was influenced by the ecological radicalism of Murray Bookchin.

Indeed, the Kurds might be too liberal for the US, but that isn’t why America opposes the referendum. We support Kurdish independence in theory, but would like it to remain in theory until the right time, which is when the Middle East is stable, peaceful, and able to absorb a political shock, which is to say: never.

But never seems too long for people who have successfully set up a government and who are far more capable of governing themselves than the kelpto-theo-crats in Baghdad. The US, though, has no one to blame but itself. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the catastrophic jolt that set history back in motion after the colonial/post-colonial interregnum.

We’ve argued in this joint that the 100 years after WWI have been just a post-Ottoman shakedown, stilted and perverted by the the colonial period and the distortions of the post-colonial reactions, which took place in the context of the nation-state. But the invasion of Iraq broke apart that status quo, leading as it did to:

  • A split Iraq
  • Growing Persian strength (played out all around the region)
  • The rise of ISIS
  • Civil war in Syria (or at least, made worse by the factionalism unleashed in Iraq and the refugee crisis)
  • Kurdish autonomy and strength

All of these are essentially post-state, post-Sykes/Picot, post-Gertrude Bell and Winston Churchhill and Nasser and the Shah and Saddam. The war was the preciptiating factor int he great Near East dissolve, unleashing as it did forces which had been shifting around under the surface of a phony, ahistoric map.

To say we’re entering a new historic era is wrong. We’re just entering the next phase of an era that began as the Ottoman Empire fell and Europe rushed into the void. The Kurdish referendum won’t solve anything, and on the surface won’t change anything, but will set the tenor for the next step. The US can’t stop the forces that the invasion set loose. Nor, I think, should it try. More than one empire has been wrecked on the shoals of that sort of hubris.

Programming Notes and Quick Hits!

 

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Quick hits, see.

 

Sorry for the slow week. We’ll be doing a lot of blogging next week, as the Presidents of the United States and North Korea flip through their dictionaries to find the most obscure insults they can understand (Un will call Trump a “dew-beating wandrought” and Trump will respond with “very bad and very sick ‘Rocket Man'”). It’ll be fun.

I had a whole Quick Hits and Weekend Reads planned out, but as I went through the stuff I collected during the week, it was all really depressing. I understand that isn’t unusual here, but after another stupid and hateful week, just didn’t want to do to any of you.

If you’re interested, you can read about how 1.3 billion people live on environmentally and agriculturally degraded land, or how dangerous Pipeline 5 under the Great Lakes is (something we’ve talked about), or how lead in Flint’s water led to a far higher rate of fetal deaths and infertility, which the party of pro-life is content to ignore because privatizing water is a goal unto itself.

Or don’t read any of that! Have fun instead. Go play outside.

If you want one cheerful-ish read, the good people at Circle of Blue have an extensive report on how California’s Clean Water for All law is working. California was the first state to declare access to clean water a human right, and the impact that has had on distribution and sanitation has really borne fruit. Even during a drought, and even when water usage and distribution is a political football (see the surprising new block to the  Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta tunnel plan, which would have reengineered the state’s water supply), people in California are getting clean water.

That shows what happens when a government understands that water is for the people. It is a human right, a basic right, and our politics should be geared around ensuring that it works for everyone. It shouldn’t be based on figuring out who can profit from it.

But that’s not the GOP line. Everything should be sold. If it can be carved up, chopped up, and taken from people without political clout, it should be. Everything for profit. I swear to Moses, we’re about a year or two away from hearing Doocey say “Water isn’t a right, it’s a privilege!”

But the California experiment in basic decency serves as an elegant rebuttal to all that. So drink up, in whatever liquid you find fits a celebration. Even if things are dark, raise one up. Why not? Dark times call for good times. It’s the one light we have.

 

 

The Roll of the Dice: What Egalitarian Hunter-Gatherers Know About Luck (And We’ve Forgotten)

 

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This picture might be overly bucolic, but there is no Fox News

 

In this week’s New Yorker, John Lanchester has a really interesting, humbling, and depressing read about how civilization turned out to be really bad for people in general. It made us unhealthier, more stressed, and, though he didn’t say it, downright meaner.

He says outright that the Neolithic Revolution is the worst thing that’s ever happened to humans, and that if we had slowed our roll a few hundred thou after harnessing fire, we’d be much happier.

That isn’t to say we’d be stupid. As Lanchester points out, there were literally thousands of years after the dawn of agriculture but before the rise of city-states. This was a time where there was art and some religion, mythologies, and knowledge about how the world worked. People, it seemed, didn’t resist collecting into civilization because they didn’t know how, but because it didn’t seem to make sense.

The whole article is really interesting, and points to some fascinating-sounding scholarship, but this might have been my favorite part.

The study of hunter-gatherers, who live for the day and do not accumulate surpluses, shows that humanity can live more or less as Keynes suggests. (Affluence without abundance- ed) It’s just that we’re choosing not to. A key to that lost or forsworn ability, Suzman suggests, lies in the ferocious egalitarianism of hunter-gatherers. For example, the most valuable thing a hunter can do is come back with meat. Unlike gathered plants, whose proceeds are “not subject to any strict conventions on sharing,” hunted meat is very carefully distributed according to protocol, and the people who eat the meat that is given to them go to great trouble to be rude about it. This ritual is called “insulting the meat,” and it is designed to make sure the hunter doesn’t get above himself and start thinking that he’s better than anyone else. “When a young man kills much meat,” a Bushman told the anthropologist Richard B. Lee, “he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. . . . We can’t accept this.” The insults are designed to “cool his heart and make him gentle.” For these hunter-gatherers, Suzman writes, “the sum of individual self-interest and the jealousy that policed it was a fiercely egalitarian society where profitable exchange, hierarchy, and significant material inequality were not tolerated.”

This egalitarian impulse, Suzman suggests, is central to the hunter-gatherer’s ability to live a life that is, on its own terms, affluent, but without abundance, without excess, and without competitive acquisition.

What really strikes me about this is how hunter-gatherer societies embrace and understand the role of luck in life. Think about it. You could be an amazing hunter, but if something else spooked the animals, they’re off and running before you unleash and arrow. You could throw a spear perfectly, but if the gazelle zigs left instead of right, it falls clattering to the earth, pointedly and pointlessly.

So much in life is about luck, chance, and circumstance. You could stumble into some sweet hunting grounds or be born rich. You could watch the prey you’ve been stalking get freaked by a bird and run off, or you could grow up in the shadow of industry that’s poisoning your water and putting lead in your brain, limiting opportunities in life.

Things happen. As we’ve grown as a species, we’ve invented new ways to heighten the role of luck, the roll of the dice. Capitalism exacerbates this, with all its talk of meritocracy. Racism, prejudice, and borders make it stronger. Where you are born and to whom you are born make more a difference than who you are.

Hell, luck can extend to the random sequencing of a genetic code, a little glitch that makes you sicker or weaker or less able to rise up. That’s luck.

Paul Newman, in talking about his camp for sick children, had one of my favorite quotes about luck in life.

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No! You’re not allowed to be this handsome and wise!

 

I wanted, I think, to acknowledge Luck: the chance of it, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others; made especially savage for children because they may not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it.

And we’ve set up a society that refuses to recognize that. We’ve set up a society where the national myths are that you deserve your fate, and that there are many people who deserve to suffer. If they are suffering, ipso facto, they must deserve it. And they should suffer more, so that the luckier, who never consider their fortune anything just the justifications of virtue, can have more.

You may have recognized this as a summation of the Republican platform. It’s made crystal clear in their multiple attempts to repeal the ACA (and how goddamn happy Paul Ryan was when he thought he did).

Because that’s what repeal really is. It is saying that if you work three jobs, none of which have health care, you don’t deserve it. If you have a pre-existing condition, that’s too bad. If you live in a state with a Republican governor, too bad. If your cancer becomes metatastic and you can’t afford care, well, them’s the breaks.

That comes from the inability to understand that life is about luck. It’s about the driver looking up just in time to slam on her brakes before she t-bones you. Another second, another half-second, and you face a lifetime of therapy and mounting bills. There’s no virtue there. That’s only chance. The same as if you had entered the intersection a half-second earlier and were in her way.

Our system shouldn’t be about ignoring luck. It shouldn’t imagine that the person who happens to have the most meat at any given moment is the bravest, the best, and the most worthy. Our adherence to that superstition puts us far behind hunter-gatherer socieites. We’re less wise, less moral, and less knowledgeable about the world. We’re just less.

(h/t to Allison, Dee, and Bill Breeding for the breakfast conversation about this piece that made me think about luck and who we are. Always my favorite people to talk to.)

Is Iran Rogue for Arming The Houthis? Only If You Think the US Should Determine What Happens in the Middle East

 

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Pictured: Not the US

 

It’s been a big couple of day for people pointing out Iran’s involvement in Yemen’s cruel and generationally-destructive civil war. The Times had a pretty big story about it, relying on the unbiased reporting of the United States.

The top American admiral in the Middle East said on Monday that Iran continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen, stoking the civil strife there and enabling Iranian-backed rebels to fire missiles into neighboring Saudi Arabia that are more precise and far-reaching.

Iran has been repeatedly accused of providing arms helping to fuel one side of the war in Yemen, in which rebels from the country’s north, the Houthis, ousted the government from the capital of Sana in 2014.

The officer, Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan, said that Iran is sustaining the Houthis with an increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border. The United States, the Yemeni government and their allies in the region have retaliated with strikes of their own and recaptured some Houthi-held coastal areas to help blunt threats to international shipping, but the peril persists, the admiral said.

This is an…interesting spin on this. To be clear, it is almost certainly true. Though initial Iranian involvement in the Houthi conflict (dating back to 2004) was clearly exaggerated, as there weren’t any real links between the Houthi version of Shi’ism and Iran’s Twelverism, Iranian influence and involvement have grown disastrously.

But one of the main reasons Iranian involvement has grown is because of increased involvement by Saudi Arabia, its regional and sectarian rival. Saudi Arabia wanted to break the Houthi rebellion and support their chosen President, and so invaded, with horrifying results.

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Guardian: Miss Universe May Be Key to Trump/Moscow Connection

 

 

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This televised appraisal of overly-tall brunettes will be in history books. 

 

It’s just too perfect

The 2013 pageant has become a focal point for the simultaneous investigations, led by special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees, into whether associates of Trump colluded with Russian officials to help them win the 2016 US presidential election.

Investigators are examining closely efforts apparently made by the Russian government to pass Trump’s team damaging information on Hillary Clinton, using Trump’s politically-connected Miss Universe business partners as couriers.

They are also looking into the $20m fee that Trump collected for putting on the pageant from those same business partners – along with extraordinary allegations about Trump’s private conduct behind closed doors at the Ritz-Carlton hotel during his 2013 stay in Moscow.

The Guardian has learned of additional, previously unreported, connections between Trump’s business partners on the pageant and Russia’s government. The ties are likely to attract further scrutiny by investigators who are already biting at the heels of Trump associates.

This administration, and the entire political career of the ridiculous Current Occupant, have been defined by a few things: racism, ignorance, corruption, bluster, bullying, cowardice, empty machismo, vainglorious self-assurance, petty feuding, and no-skinned narcissism. But, aside from horrible destructive policies, what might best define the Trump era is just how fucking tacky it is.

Everything about Trump has always been tacky and vulgar. The gilded bravado, the phony TV persona, the desperate striving for approval masked as condescending confidence. The constant boasts about money, often to people who had much, much more (though always to people who had much, much less).

It’s not just that Trump has always been defined by tackiness; it’s that he has helped define it, from the bloated decadence of the 80s to the phony-conflict fake-strongman nausea of the reality show 2000s, his gross imprint has been a weight on our culture. He’s not solely responsible, but he did help create, and clearly thrived in, the worship of wealth, the addiction to ginned-up drama, and the deference toward TV ringmasters that paved the way to his Presidency.

So it is fitting that his true political career may have been partially launched by the glittery tackiness of Miss Universe, where, according to The Guardian he really became more entangled with the middle rings of Putinism, who used flattery and access to impress the world’s easiest mark.

Most people in the story, including the ridiculous Rob Goldstone, are present at the now-key Don Jr. meeting with a bunch of Russian insiders. The Miss Universe pagent is the nexus at which the key players start to gain influence in the Trump inner circle, access that eventually led to them working to put Trump in the White House.

That last sentence, by the way, ought to be the lead line in the obituary for our idiot times.

Anyway, read the whole piece. It points to where Mueller will be looking, the whole cast of characters that through “friendship” and money sought to manipulate, use, and support the Trump family in an attempt to both undermine our democracy and make more money. That it worked shows volumes about the emptiness of America’s worst family, but it wouldn’t have worked without the rest of our dumb, and essentially tacky, culture playing along.

Miss Universe! That’s where this all really got started. It’s almost too perfect.

(By the way, there is one mitigating factor for Trump in this, in a part that is painted as evidence of more collusion.

It is not known whether Trump met any associates of Putin in lieu of the president himself, but he certainly claimed to have.

“I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people,” he said in a radio interview in 2015. “I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”

When Trump brags about meeting the best people because he’s the best, but says he can’t tell you more, he’s lying. He’s a terrible con man, and this is his obvious tell. He’s so desperate for approval. That’s the hardest part about this: it’s impossible to use anything Trump says as evidence, because he is simply always, always lying.)