The Flicker Starts To Dim

We live in the flicker – may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.”  -Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Even before election results had come in, darkness seemed to come over Brazil, and cover further a dusking globe. The military police determined that to be anti-fascist was being strictly political, which is giving away the game to a terrifying degree.

But really, there wasn’t a game left to be given away. From the beginning of his campaign, Jair Bolsanaro, the next President of Brazil, has been clear about his contempt for democracy and his willingness, even eagerness, to destroy his opponents. He has shown disgust at the way Brazil has been run in the 30 years since it transitioned away from dictatorship and into democracy, and has exploited that chaos to all but promise to bring back that dictatorship.

In this, he has been aided by a wide coalition of Brazilians, many of whom are reeling by the epidemic violence and (mostly-manufactured) political chaos the nation has seen. There are the poor who are most impacted by the violence who are looking for a strong leader. Religious leaders like his cult of manliness and abhorrence of gay rights and “feminism”. The professional middle class has been stung by a relative decrease in purchasing power.

But of course, none of this would matter without the economic elites. As Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Marcelo K. Silva explained in the Boston Review, the rich and powerful wanted someone who would make them even richer and more powerful.

…Bolsonaro has received support from arms manufacturers, large land-owners, and owners of industry and commerce. Included among his few specific policy proposals (beyond rolling back government regulation in general) are proposals to legalize access to fire-arms, abolish progressive education, lower the penal age to sixteen, give immunity to police officers who kill civilians, treat social movements such as the Landless Movement as a terrorist organization, de-fund human rights organizations, roll-back already weakened worker protections, and weaken collective bargaining. Throughout his campaign he has frequently spoken of attacking social rights, such as public health and retirement benefits—something even conservatives in the past have avoided during election years.

This, of course, is the blueprint for fascism, a merger between economic elites and snarling nationalists, cruel epauletted tyrants who destroy enemies while paving away any resistance to further enrichment.  Militarism and police-state wilding are always going to make money for some people, and Bolsonaro promises unlimited amounts of both.

Of course, that’s not all he’s promising. He is also vowing to open up all of the Amazon to development, leaving no tree uncut.

That isn’t an exaggeration.

That’s been a thorn in the side of the Brazilian elite for years (really, ever since occupation). Indigenous rights have always been inconvenient, which is why they were ignored and destroyed for centuries. It’s only in the last few generations that countries have cared, in theory if not always in practice, for the indigenous.

That this has overlapped with protecting the Amazon, a vital part of the global ecosystem and legitimately crucial to human survival, has been a happy moral coincidence. Both need to be protected. And in the way of every iron-and-blood fascist since Saruman, Bolsonaro plans to destroy both.

In this way, he is more extreme than some of his contemporaries, but not by much. The Trump administration has been flagrant in its reversal of environmental regulations and abuse of indigenous people (these often amount to the same thing, which is the heart of environmental justice). Even seemingly minor things like their abuse of Bear Ears is designed to foster white nationalism by reminding Native Americans that they don’t belong.

Across the world we see this. We see the resurgence of homophobia, a toxic maleness, a desire for violence, a sneer at the idea the environment needs to be protected, a hatred of the weak, an oppression of the oppressed. These are the boots that are marching across the world every day, from Orban to Trump to Erdogan to Brexiteers to Duterte to Bolsonaro.

This is a fire that is spreading, and quickly. In America it has a buffoonish quality, but only to those who aren’t having their lives destroyed. It will get much worse after the midterms, win or lose. All over the world, the far-right is on the march, and their success will be emulated. With Angela Merkel announcing she won’t run again in 2021, Europe has been given a window of three years to destroy its right, lest it be consumed again by the madness that was started in its borders last century.

When Francis Fukuyama said that history was over after the Cold War, he was roundly mocked, and rightfully so. But so was Samuel Huntington, whose Clash of Civilizations was too broad and deterministic, but much closer to the mark. As the shape of the 20th-century broke apart, it seemed clear that violence was going to be the order.

The stability of the world, the idea of post-history was an illusion, as the Balkans and Rwanda quickly reminded people. But even those catastrophes were in line with the fighting in the Caucuses that erupted in the Soviet Union’s death throes. Still, though, very few grasped the fire that was slowly catching around the world, as the pre-WWI order suffered its final revolutions.

All of this has been exacerbated by climate change, by new media, and by the fragmenting and coalescing of different human orders. Fascism wasn’t inevitable, but it was always possible, even if we didn’t want to see it.

I don’t think people actually dismissed Fukuyama. I think while we said we did, we all sort of believed that the horrors of the past could never come back, that the light would always be shining, and that yesterday’s darkness would always be flickered away. That was a deep and dumb delusion.

Anyone who thought our time immune from fascism was wrong. It’s here, and it’s growing, and it has to be fought. We didn’t expect that this was the time in which we’d live, but it is. We’re living in the grinder now. We’re living in history. The sooner we fully realize that, the sooner we can fight.

Pipe Bombs, False Flags, Caravans, And the Howling Madness of America’s Deliquescence

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Even this thing is a goddamn meme.

If I can sum up the dominant strain of thought on the celestial Comment Board that is the American right wing, in regards to the series of assassination attempts against former Presidents, ex-CIA chiefs, sitting Congresswomen, George Soros, and now apparently Robert DeNiro, it is this:

The bombs were a false flag operation designed to make Republicans look bad to distract from Democratic mob violence, and to distract from the asylum-seeking caravan, which was funded by George Soros.

Now, right now this kind of thinking is limited to the fringes of the American right, if you define the fringes as “anywhere outside the White House”, which these days you pretty much have to. This kind of thinking was on Fox News and on Rush Limbaugh and pretty much everywhere else, from QAnon on up.

Indeed, the only reason it seems muted is because, for once, the President didn’t amplify the worst conspiratorial ramblings of the lunatic right wing. And the only reason he didn’t is because, for at least one day, it wasn’t in his interest to do so. He knew that it wasn’t, which was why in yesterday’s Nitwit Nuremberg in Wisconsin, he called attention to his astonishing restraint.

“And by the way, do you see how nice I am behaving tonight?” he told the crowd in Wisconsin. “Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well, and hopefully we can keep it that way. We’re going to keep it that way.”

Spoiler: he won’t. Indeed, after boilerplate pablum about “coming together” and whatnot, he blamed the media and left-wing mobs for the problem, talking extensively about harassing senators in restaurants.

What was left out was his indulging in the worst kind of race-baiting and conspiracy talk every day for weeks (and of course throughout his entire public life). This week has been amping up fear over the migrant caravan a thousand miles from the US border, calling it an invasion force and spreading the idiot rumour that it was laced with terrorists. This has been amplified by Mikes Pompeo and Pence, as well as the entire right-wing constellation of loutish halfwits.


It’s not just that the fact of the caravan that is agitating the professionally agitated- it’s the idea that this is funded by George Soros and encouraged by Democrats in order to…do something. I guess get more left-wing voters in America, because marching people two thousand miles to apply for asylum status is super efficient.

Indeed, the whole idea that this is good for Dems is ludicrous. This caravan is a gift to Republicans, which is why that is all they can fucking talk about. To believe that George Soros is an evil genius hellbent on America’s destruction and believe also that he is encouraging thousands of refugees to “invade” America two weeks before a racially-charged, and indeed fully racist, mid-term is to escape fully from even the thinnest bonds of reality.

But that’s where we are as a country. The Daily Beast, in investigating QAnon’s (and the right’s) response to the assassination attempts, showed the inherent madness of the movement.

On Wednesday, QAnon posters were also quick to claim that the bomb threats were a false flag operation meant to make Republicans look bad, in part because they had spent the days beforehand fixated on an anonymous internet post that claimed Soros would arrange for a shooting at a liberal political rally that would be set up to look like it was committed by a QAnon supporter. QAnon believers took the bomb scares as proof that the anonymous post had correctly predicted a false flag operation—even though none of the details in the post, including the rally shooting, were actually confirmed.

That’s madness; real cuckoo clock from hell stuff, and the heart of any and all conspiracies. Evidence against is evidence for; all our enemies are playing insanely complicated games that only we can see; the threads are all there, you’re just too blind.

In better times, this would be a curio, a shuttered sideshow, something to which we don’t really have to pay attention. But these aren’t better times, and indeed, that we didn’t pay attention to this burbling madness is partly why we got here.

We’re living in a time where this madness starts at a level of QAnon, and moves up the totem of right-wing thought and noise (the two are virtually indistinguishable). It might start as a joke, or as someone just doing it to stir shit up. Before the election, I described these types as people who were “just as likely to witlessly shout “Harambe!” as they are to shout “lock up that bitch!”, and mean both equally, which is to say both passionately and not at all(.) Just in it for the nihilistic lulz, driven by a deep-seated rage and sociopathic disregard for anyone who isn’t exactly like them?” The truth is there is no real difference.

And they feed Facebook, are amplified by agnostic algorithms, driven by at best greed and at worst libertarian techdick sympathies. They are repeated by legions of web-wrecked Boomers and others who find themselves in a hole and find the thin sands of conspiracy to be their only sturdy rope. And then it makes its way to the President, who has never found a lie too outrageous to amplify or an accusation to slanderous to repeat or an insinuation too dangerous to make so long as it could help him in any way.

Trump’s insane self-serving attitude and the sheer vulgarity of his nihilism has proven to be the perfect megaphone for the howling madness in this country. He is shaped by this madness (he himself is a web-wrecked old man), but also gives it shape, gives it form, solidifies it by the power of his reverberations.

(And yes, there are lots of conspiracy idiots on the Left, and in some ways they are just as annoying, but aren’t anywhere near as dangerous, and certainly aren’t anywhere even close to as powerful, much less even close to power.)

That’s where we are as a nation. The manifestation of the very worst of America has gotten everything he wanted, and he is transforming the nation in his own dull, cruel image. He’s warping every institution, but he himself is continually being warped by the violence, by the dispossession, by the amplified atomization of this vast and sprawling and messy country, in thrall with its myths and unable to reconcile its vast and bloody contradictions. He absorbs it, mixes it up with his own self-interest and toxic nothingness, and spews it back out on the rest of us.

The violence might be just beginning, or it might be subsiding. The impact that this rumbling madness has on the nation will be far more long-lasting, and might make itself unsolvable.

(Optimistic note: texting is the easiest way to get out the vote. You don’t even have to talk to people. It’s literally the least we can all do)

The Idea of a Russia/Saudi Alliance in a Post-US Middle East

Last week, we looked at the (admittedly impossible) idea that the United States might break with Saudi Arabia over Yemen, and then over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. I still think it is impossible, but just today the President of Turkey made it very clear he believes the murder was premeditated, and not the result of the laughably absurd fistfight.

Now, it is not the official policy of this blog to turn matters of truth and morality over to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but in this case, we’re inclined to believe him. At the very least, the Turkish intelligence community has been sitting on information for weeks, letting it drip out to counter ever Saudi lie. It’s been sort of masterful, if you ignore the backdrop of a man’s brutal torture and murder.

The Turkish angle here isn’t entirely clear, though it also seems pretty obvious on the surface. They have been vying once again with Saudi Arabia for the leadership role in the Middle East, and indeed the broader Muslim world. For 1000 years Istanbul was the heart of Islam, and while it is reductive and probably Orientalist to say they want it back, the idea of Turkey as a world-historic power is part of Erdogan’s appeal.

We’ve talked about how in the post-West Middle East, powers like Russia, Turkey, and Iran were circling back to familiar patterns. This isn’t due to historical determinism, but rather to the realities of political geography. They are all jostling over borderlands. And while Saudi Arabia isn’t on a border with any of them, there is an imaginary borderland between the Arab world, the Persian one, the Turkish one, and the Russian one.

Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as the true fighter for the Arab world against Iran, and successive US administrations have rushed to reward them for it. But the eager complicity of Obama, while real and a true stain, pales in comparison to the headlong alliance the US under Trump has forged with Saudi Arabia. Their mutual obsession with Iran, and the ahistoric and indeed idiotic idea that it has no rights to influence the region, have created a relationship based on murder and mutual complicity.

But let’s say that it changes (it won’t). Is a Saudi/Russian alliance possible? We have seen a lot of commentators say that we can’t lose the alliance of the House of Saud, for economic and geostrategic reasons. They’d move into the arms of Russia or China.

Russia is possible, I suppose, in the short term, but I don’t really see it being a lasting thing, for a few reasons.

  1. Russia is already involved in the Middle East on the side of Asad and ostensibly Iran, so are basically opposed to Saudi interests. Cynicism could allow for flexibility, as the Russian position isn’t based on any strong regional ideology, but there are too many inherent contradictions.
  2. Russia doesn’t need Saudi oil. The US doesn’t really, either, but Russia would much rather be the sole supplier of Europe’s energy than enter an alliance with a potential competitor.

These can surely be overlooked for a time being. There is no doubt that Moscow is using this as a wedge issue. They made it clear that the murder of a journalist doesn’t bother them in the slightest. They didn’t explicitly say “Come on- you really think that bothers us?”, but the implication was pretty obvious.

Western governments are acting horrified, and maybe they are. Angela Merkel said they might stop selling arms to the Saudis (which, could have happened over Yemen, but small victories, I suppose). Western mucky-mucks are pulling out of the obscene Davos in the Desert wankfest. This gives Russia an opening.

If Russia were to become a patron and ally of Saudi Arabia, with enough skill they could be the main power broker in the region, bring a rough peace to Syria, and play Iran and the Saudis off each other. That is probably the Russian angle here, at least in the long run. The short-term is just to cause chaos.

But I don’t think they have that skill, and anyway, if the US were to back away, China is the much more likely suitor. Energy and resources without strings attached is the Chinese approach to foreign policy. That would be a far snugger fit for the Saudi ruling clique.

(So far I’ve been stipulating that it would be easy to just suddenly start buying arms from another country, which isn’t the case at all. That’s a generational process and would cripple the Saudi war machine, which is the main reason the US should cut them off.)

I don’t really think any of this will come to pass. In announcing that the US has no intention of giving up arms sales, the Trump administration has inverted the idea of the client state. We know we let “useful” countries do essentially whatever they want as long as they are useful. But now we’re saying “we’ll do whatever you want if you give our richest corporations some more money.” Trump has made the US a client state.

But still: the outrage from the West has to make the Saudi nervous. If they didn’t have such a stalwart dipshit as their primary ally, they could be in trouble. I think they’ll be casting for closer alliances with China, while using and being used by Russia.

This, combined with growing Turkish ambitions, threatens even more instability. Erdogan is clearly trying to influence internal Saudi politics and shake up the ruling family. Russia is trying to play all sides without a long-term strategy. Old alliances aren’t exactly crumbling, but are revealed to be shakier. A million temporary alliances of convenience come and go.

We’re not quite in the post-US Middle East, but we are in a state where the US is just another player, a powerful one, but one dumber and less rich than it thinks. That’s very dangerous, and promises a region where new weapons and strategies fit bloodily over old patterns.

Could The US Separate Itself From Saudi Arabia?

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I feel like the premise of this article is essentially science-fiction

Yesterday, when writing about the possible ramifications of the United States cutting off military aid and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, I mentioned that this would be a series looking at the potential ramifications of doing so. Today’s piece was to be about how that would impact the United States.

But every time I started to write it- this morning, at lunch, during a boring meeting- I was standstilled by the same thought: the idea that we might separate ourselves from the House of Saud is as unthinkable as anything currently in politics. There seems to be no moral, financial, or geopolitical situation that makes it probable.

There are a lot of reasons for why not, both endemic to American politics and specific to our authoritarian moment.

For this scenario to come to pass, you’d have to imagine the following situations:

  • A US President would cede power that they have clawed and grabbed for over the last 70+ years.
  • A Republican congress would have to reassert their authority over a Republican president
  • A Democratic Congress would have to muster the moral courage to stand up to a Republican president
  • That Republican president would have to resist vetoing even without a veto-proof majority
  • This Republican Congress would have to stand up to this Republican president
  • This Democratic Congress would have to muster the moral courage to stand up to this Republican president
  • This President would have to be absolutely sure that he wasn’t deeply in debt to various Saudi princelings
  • This President would have to resist the temptation to side with authoritarians
  • This President would have to believe in accountability for leaders, and not feel that thuggish, freedom-curtailing measures were what true leader should do
  • They’d probably have to actually care about millions of Yemenis
  • They’d probably have to actually care about the brutal kidnapping and murder of a journalist.
  • This President would have to not be outsourcing his Middle East policy to his callow son-in-law, deeply leveraged and failing as a businessman, deeply in debt maybe now deeply indebted and easily played by the king-to-be
  • This administration wouldn’t have a “grand plan” that revolves around siding against democracy
  • This administration wouldn’t feel like dim cruelty is true strength
  • That any President and Congress could resist the media-abetted foreign-policy blob that has painted Iran as the primary enemy for decades
  • That we wouldn’t be easily suckered by wealth
  • That our cultural icons weren’t ruthless tech jackasses, phony jargon-spewing optimists jetting around the world to fete and be feted by other bastions of vast, unaccountable wealth, distributed in tropic havens around the world, glitzing over the suffering of the rest of the world
  • That our political system didn’t exist to support this vast untaxed wealth, here and abroad
  • That corruption wasn’t the primary global currency
  • That the US economy as a whole would have start to shift away from cheap oil and stop being held hostage by a dirty, polluting, unsustainable source of energy. In short, we’d have to sacrifice short-term convenience simply for long-term sustainability.
  • That we, in short, would have to be a better country, and not a ruined and ruinous one, led to doom by a slovenly Pied Piper, leading an army of piping brownshirts while the moneyed laugh in their havens and shelters across the globe.

The premise of this series is fiction. Still, we’ll get back to Yemen tomorrow.

The Ro Khanna Resolution: What Would Withdrawing US Support for Saudi/Emirati Coalition Mean?

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The War Powers Act seems a relic. It seems musty and outdated, hearkening back to a time when the Presidency was a small office fit for mustachioed nobodies put in place by various Conklings. Or it seems even older, a throwback to a more fractious time when Congress was worried about kings. But it is from 1973; it is exactly as old as Dark Side of the Moon, which still fucking brings it.

That is to say, in the lifetime of many readers, and nearly in the lifetime of the writer, Congress actually asserted its authority to say that the President wasn’t allowed to wage war wherever he or she (ok, he) wanted. He had to actually follow the Constitution, and get funding for his wars.

That has, of course, been superseded by a few things: in the modern media age, the President has ascended to the status of father-confessor to the nation, a towering giant instead of a co-equal head of one branch of the government. He’s the only person we see every day, and though it is easy to forget, this was true before Trump. The President could rally a nation around the idea of war, because war stirs up the blood, and Congress decided they’d rather go along than get in the way.

The bigger factor (although it ties into this) is the Authorization of Military Force from 2001, passed just three days after the terrors of September 11th. Over the years, that has been interpreted to mean whatever the President has wanted it to mean, just so long as he could invoke terrorism.

In Yemen, that has meant successive Presidents aiding Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their proxy war against Iran, and very real and deadly and genocidally indiscrimnate war against the people of Yemen. It has meant training, working with, providing arms for, and subsidizing a campaign that targets civilians, bombs infrastructure, attacks food supplies, and bears a lion’s share of responsibility for the deadly specters of starvation and disease that are overtaking the land.

But that might stop.

Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, has introduced a bill invoking the War Powers Act of 1973. As The Intercept reports, Khanna finds authority by:

declaring that Congress never authorized U.S. support for the coalition in Yemen and directing President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from “hostilities” against the Houthis, the Iranian-backed rebel group at war with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The resolution would not affect U.S. forces who are on the ground in Yemen fighting Al Qaeda.

In addition, Bob Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey and admittedly not an icon of ethics, is holding up a $2 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, sickened as we are by US munitions being launched at Yemeni schoolchildren. This sale was once touted by Trump as proof of his genius, because selling weapons to rich warmongers is a huge challenge. Trump actually touts the arms sales numbers as $110 billion, which is considerably more theoretical than real at this point.

Khanna introduced his bill last year, to crickets. This time, though, top Democrats are co-sponsoring. It could be cynical politics; we’re far enough away from Obama’s complicity to blame it on Trump, who has indeed increased the savagery of our involvement. It is most likely partially sincere, as US involvement is sickening. Whatever it is, there is momentum. Which leads to the question: what if it works?

This week we’ll be looking at the outcomes of these congressional actions, taken as a whole. For the purpose of this series, we’ll assume that it’ll all be lumped together, and taken as a “US to stop writing blank and literal checks for the coalition”.

We’ll be looking at Saudi Arabia, the US, the broader Middle East, and most importantly, Yemen.

What Khanna’s Bill Might Mean For Saudi Arabia

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I know, it’s not going to happen. 

I don’t want to overstate nor understate this case: the cessation of support from the United States would be a political and military disaster for Saudi Arabia in general and a personal disaster for Mohammed bin Salman in particular.

For years it has seemed like MBS has been coming close to overplaying his hand, but still somehow hasn’t busted. Kidnapping the PM of Lebanon? Sure, no worries. Kidnapping the Saudi elite, torturing them, and extorting billions from their pockets? That’s called fighting corruption, baby, and it was a play backed by guys like Tom Friedman and the international monied class for whom he is an amiable front.

The war in Yemen seemed a part of this. His actions threatened to starve millions, helped cholera run rampant, decimated agriculture and infrastructure, and completely shattered the country. It wasn’t just MBS of course: the Houthis have shown themselves incapable of real governance, and perhaps unwilling to try. And the Emiratis are just as bad.

But still: there is a mostly-justified sense that, from an international perspective, this is MBS’s war (we’ve talked about how it is a Yemeni war first and foremost, and will be afterward, but the internationalization was promoted primarily by MBS). When he first sent his planes to bomb, he was treated as a hero in the Kingdom, and largely feted in the outside world. It’s a primary reason why, a little more than a year ago, he jumped his place in line and was named the next king, the first of his generation.

So this war is his. And for years, almost since the jump, the war has been little more than a stalemate punctuated by brief bursts of attention-grabbing carnage: a wedding destroyed here, a bus full of children blown up there. But even with recent advances up the highlands by the “government”, it seems unlikely that any side is close to a victory. Indeed, it is impossible to define what victory might even mean in these circumstances, something we’ll cover more when we get to Yemen.

I think one could make the case that, in Yemen, MBS dramatically overplayed his hand. It is harder to notice, if you aren’t particularly inclined to care about genocidal war crimes, since he still has held a place of pride in the international firmament. He’s entered a war he can’t win and whose eventual outcome will not produce a Saudi-leaning stable Yemeni government. At best, he can keep his enemies tied up, but to do so means pretty much constant war. That’s usually known as a quagmire.

But what has kept him afloat is that there have been very few Saudi casualties, and Houthi incursions in the form of rocket and missile attacks have been few and far between. And, of course, he has access to basically all the weapons he wants in addition to the encouragement, or at least the shrugging indifference of, the rest of the world.

Until the last week.

The probable murder of Jamal Khashoggi has rocked the Kingdom in the way the deaths of tens of thousands of Yemenis failed to. It has stirred the battered conscience of the international community, and even Donald Trump promised very “aggressive” retaliation if it turns out the Saudis were involved.

(Of course, he also said he didn’t want to interfere with arms sales, upending the idea of leverage and essentially turning the US into a client state. It’s also probable he said this because there has been some heat, and he has no problem lying to change the subject for a second. But we’re talking now about if the US were to go through with cutting ties, so we’ll imagine for a second the admin is capable of doing the right thing.)

It’s easy to see why this is a big deal; it is very personal and brutal, without the sanitary distance of some far-flung war. But the reaction is nonetheless surprising.  It’s even threatened the success of his “Davos in the Desert” conference. The Kingdom has flailed, offering outright denials, angry threats, and offers to help with the investigation. But there is no version of his death that seems to square with Saudi denials.

Now, let’s say this is somehow a tipping point, and Khanna’s bill passes and all arms sales are cut off. Let’s say the US no longer supports Saudi Arabia in its war. No more refueling, no more arming, no more pointing out targets. Can Saudi continue?

Not for long, and then not for a long time. I’ve seen the argument that the Saudi will just turn to Russia or to China for weapons, pushing the Kingdom into those spheres of influence, and that may well be the case. We’ll discuss that more when we get to the “bigger picture” later this week. But from a military point of view that makes no sense.

Russia won’t be able to supply replacement parts for the US arms the Sauds are using. They won’t be able to keep weaponry active and in the field. That’s not how it works in a modern army. Parts are incompatible.

Saudi Arabia would have to find vendors they trust in Russia or China or elsewhere. The act of making deals, inspecting goods, planning with generals to understand what to buy, maneuvering through political implications, etc, could take years. This isn’t like McDonald’s refusing your business and sending you across the street to Burger King. It’s a huge, even generational process.

They would need to overhaul their entire fighting forces to be compatible with new arms and a new system. Slowly, everything they are using now would have to be phased out and replaced. It isn’t a plug-and-play type of operation.

So in essence, it would hamstring the Saudi war effort to an intolerable (for them) degree. They would quickly have to achieve their goals, which as we said are essentially impossible. They may have to withdraw, end active hostilities, or at the very least cut back. But it seems like there is no way they’d be able to keep up the same level of activities.

What would that mean internally? Well, let’s not forget that MBS isn’t actually the king. There are plenty of princelings with knives out for him. His global disaster would most likely be a personal disaster as well. How could the man who lost Yemen and lost the relationship with the US be king?

That might also mean a stop to his “reforms”, as surface-level as they are. Women driving, being able to participate more in society, and other things seem way behind the times and too little, but they do actually make a difference in the lives of women. And his desire to open up the economy is actually a good thing: reliance just on oil created this culture of insular corruption and sclerotic greed.

It would still be wildly corrupt. It would still be repressive. But there might be a spark of something new being born. Reforms have a way of getting out of control, and even though I don’t think MBS has a democratic bone in his body, economic and political reforms could crack a door open, and might make lives better.

Or of course, they might not. It is probably the case that he’d give an inch to make people like Steve Mnunchin say “it’s a new era etc now how do I get some more money?” and it would be business as usual. But who knows?

Absent MBS though, we’ll most likely see a slowdown to any reform. Scary times tend to lead to conservative reactions (see: everywhere), and the loss of the US as a primary patron will probably be the scariest time in the Kingdom’s short history.

That’s the takeaway right now. A loss of US support would be the single-most tumultuous event in the Kingdom. It would force a massive realignment, which, given Russia’s tangled regional alliances, would be very difficult. It could upend the political order, and cause generational changes in internal policy.

Or maybe it would cause it to open up to get in good graces again, but given that the US is leaning authoritarian, it seems unlikely. It seems less likely that reform is genuine, given authoritarian affinities between MBS, Trump, and Kushner. So I don’t think this is going to happen, but I know that the power centers are desperately hoping it won’t.

The starving people of Yemen, however, may feel otherwise.

(Tomorrow: Looking at US politics and Saudi Arabia)





America is Broken and the World is Burning

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Today, this morning, right now, in fact, Brett M. Kavanaugh is preparing to hear cases as the newest justice of the United States Supreme Court, a job he can be expected to hold for perhaps a quarter of a century.  This comes barely a week after he gave the most hyperbolically partisan and unstable testimony ever seen for a potential judge, much less a justice, and just a handful of days after the President openly mocked the woman who credibly accused the judge of sexual assault.

None of this is unrelated. Smart commentators said that his emotional outbursts and enemy-blaming helped him with the first audience that matters, the President. Trump was said to be mad that Kavanaugh wasn’t fighting more, wasn’t letting loose, wasn’t acting more like Trump.

And then he did, and the GOP rallied around him. And then Trump let loose with his outburst, and the dam broke, and Dr. Ford was a liar and a monster and the Democrats engaged in the worst forms of sexual McCarthyism. At best, Dr. Ford was correct that she was nearly raped, but the poor dear was wrong about who. Susan Collins, who pretend to Hamlet it up, officially embraced the lunatic “Kavanaugh doppleganger” theory, creating an alchemy in which a burst of Twitter madness somehow morphed into the official moderate position.

In the end, the bulk of the GOP went gleefully to bat for Kavanaugh. They were openly rude to other survivors of sexual assault, shooing them away, and following the President’s gruesome and dimwitted lead in saying that they were “paid protestors“.  In doing so, they not only failed to recognize or even acknowledge the pain and anguish in this country, but to dismiss the idea of protest itself as illegitimate.

So what do we have here? We have a Supreme Court justice who has sworn to be as Trumpian as possible, repaying his “enemies” for daring to question the place of privilege he has as his birthright. He owes his position to being Trumpian, and to staking out the most extreme emotional and conspiracy-laden claims (something to which, as his career in conservative hackdom proved, he was already inclined).

He also owes his position to the GOP giving full expression to their own Trumpness. This is a party that for years, decades even, has trafficked in the most vile conspiracies and has acted with cruel indifference toward anyone questioning their position of righteous misogyny. Trump, as we know, didn’t come out of a vacuum. He, or someone like him, is the inevitable result of 40 years of anti-intellectualism, or merging white nationalism with pseudo-populism and aggressive evangelicalism, of combining supply-side economics and junk science.

But Trump is also unique, a particularly malevolent being, and we see that the other branches of government are bending around his dark gravity. He’s a moral black hole, and he amplified and stretched out all the worst tendencies of already truly awful people like Chuck Grassley and Orin Hatch and John Cornyn, not to mention Ted Cruz.

It’s impossible to overstate how broken this country is, how shattered our institutions are. Mitch McConnell has made it his life’s goal to break the idea that government is an expression of popular will, and he has done so with rank cynicism and an overwhelming lust for power.  His vision of America has largely won, regardless of what happens in November. It will take a lifetime to repair the damage, if that is even possible.

The problem is, we don’t have a lifetime. As yesterday’s new IPCC report made clear, with blood-chilling precision, we have, at most, a decade to ameliorate the very worst effects of climate change. It will take massive political will and a nationwide effort to keep the temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees more than pre-industrial levels.

The picture they paint of 2 degrees is fantastically grim. Innundated coastlines, scorching deadly heat, an Arctic without ice in the summer, food shortages, water insecurity, hundreds of millions of people at risk of starvation. And they don’t give us until 2100, the far-seeming number that provided a measure of false comfort to those of us approaching middle age. They say that unless massive, international effort is taken now, we’ll be seeing the near curve of the worst long-term effect by 2040 (or, as near in time to us as 1996).

This is enough for genuine despair, unless you believe that it will spur true mass action. And maybe it will. But it is hard to imagine. In the United States, this will be dismissed by many as fake news, and we’ll converse of it as a partisan issue. Republicans believe X, and Dems believe Y, what do you think? That is, if it gets more than a day in play.

It isn’t that the Adminsitration doesn’t believe in global warming. They do. Though it was little-noticed, the EPA justified removing Obama-era constraints on auto emissions by saying that they see a SEVEN DEGREE rise in temp by 2100, so what can we do? Why bother with piddling things? That’s right: when it suits them, they are happy to admit that we are facing an extinction-level crisis, so why bother doing anything about it if automakers can grab a few more bucks while we slog around this Road of Bones.

And it isn’t just America. Brazil’s probably next President, a far-right authoritarian who is openly racist, misogynist, and violent, who is promising to be an undemocratic strongman, has also pledged to open up the Amazon to logging interests. That’s one of the reasons Brazil’s business community is embracing him, after “initial hesitation”. He’s going to open things up for everyone!

That about sums things up. The world is heating up, and the very rich are clustered together to protect their interests, to make enough money to try to shield themselves from the disaster they and their system has brought. To make it work, they are propping up and surrendering themselves to brutal strongmen and dim tyrants, destroying the last vestiges of the institutions we need to stave off the worst of a certainly brutal future. They are accelerating the catastrophe in the hopes of trying to survive it, the rest of us be damned.

Our system is broken. Our nation is shattered and divided, and it will only get worse as waves of climate refugees spread across the world. Authoritarianism will rise, and will be helped along by selfish capitalists, who in turn will be granted the right to act in more self-defeating and species-destroying self-interest.

Is it too late? Maybe not. Maybe this election could make a huge difference. At the worst, it will help to try to change things so we can act to turn this tide, and work toward true ecological and social justice, the only thing that can save us. We don’t have a lot of time as a species to get this right. We don’t have a lot of time as a country.

The election is a month away. Let’s get to work, and recognize that we’re not going to be able to roll down our sleeves again. Hopefully the sweat will be from hard work, and not from the fires raging unquenchably around us.

Guest Post: The Impact of this World on Women

Tonight, as our vile and disgusting President mocked a survivor of sexual abuse to a crowd of hooting and cheering jackals, a pack of crude slavering clowns with whom I am embarrassed to share a country, there are still people walking around wondering why women don’t come forward.

Tonight, as Dr. Ford is mocked by an obese and mentally deficient sexual abuser with the largest microphone in the world, there are people who wonder why women don’t come forward.

I can’t, no matter how hard I try, understand what it means to be a woman in this world, to have to modify behavior at all times to avoid being assaulted. It’s only been recently that I’ve truly begun to contemplate the weight of being a man, and the way women have to constantly maneuver around the possibility of violence and sexual assault.

My wife Allison has helped me on this journey, but she’s also taken a journey of her own. Over the last few weeks, while the Kavanaugh experience has triggered survivors and potential victims (i.e. all women), she has taken an emotionally intense self-defense course. It’s more than that: it was an exploration of how to defend yourself, emotionally, mentally, and of course physically.

I got to see the graduation, where a wide array of women fought off extremely menacing attackers. It was inspiring, and sobering, to know that this was the reality. It was damn impressive.

Allison was open enough to write a few paragraphs about the experience, one which I think so many women could benefit from. But I can’t truly speak to that. I know that, as a man, seeing them fight, and seeing them have to fight, underscored once again that I walk through a different world, where I don’t have to notice shadows. I would recommend any man learn more so that we can think seriously about how to make this world a better place simply by being better. It’s on us.

And I would hope that any woman will read what Allison has to say, and find their way to be safe until the world is a better place.

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A week ago I completed a very intense yet gratifying 4-day self-defense workshop through IMPACT Chicago. During the process I cried. I faced deeply held fears and insecurities and experiences I normally like to keep buried. I was physically exhausted and bruised. I was emotionally overwhelmed and challenged. And at the same time, I felt like I became the strongest, most confident, most inspired, and most vital version of myself. To my body and brain, the threats and fights I faced in IMPACT were 100% real, but I didn’t freeze or panic or give up (as I feared I might). I raised my voice and I stood my ground and I FOUGHT. I fought hard for myself as a woman and as an individual who knows I deserve to have my boundaries and my identity and my body respected. And I watched every single woman in the class (a group of different sizes, ages, colors, orientations, cultures, experiences) fight for the same things, with tremendous courage and conviction. It was awesome. I would recommend the IMPACT program to any and every woman who wants to feel safer, stronger, and better prepared (they have chapters in the UK and across the country –

Women are truly powerful, so much more powerful than I knew. And while it’s crushing how pervasive male harassment and oppression remains today, how determined some individuals and institutions are to keep demeaning and disrespecting and devaluing us, I know we can and will keep fighting back for as long as it takes. We’ll keep using our voices, our knowledge, and (if necessary) our bodies to insist upon our worth and our right to agency, safety, self-expression, respect, and empathy.