The Battle for al-Hudaydah Captures Yemen’s Imploding Tragedy

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The conflict in question is where all the buttons are bunched up. Image from yemen.liveuamap.com/

(Note: using transliteration used in the Times and elsewhere, though not really for any good reason)

Yesterday, after weeks of frantic negotiations and an increasing sense of dread, the coalition of the exiled San’a government and the remnants of the GCC launched an assault on the Houthi-led port city of al-Hudaydah, a city of 600,000 caught in the vise of the world’s most catastrophic human rights tragedy.

There is little doubt that this will be a brutal slog. The coalition is led ostensibly by Tariq Saleh, nephew of the late ex-President and an erstwhile ally of the Houthis (as in: until December). That he is now leading a city-ruining assault against those with which he so recently broke bread is not surprising. It fits in the long history of Yemeni politics and war in the immediate context of this conflict, which started when the Houthis tried to overthrow his uncle.

Of course, few really think that Tariq is calling all the shots. While he has led several thousand of his fighters up the coast, it is the UAE that demanded the Houthi’s leave the city, an ultimatum which went whooshing by at midnight, followed by the sounds of heavy guns and bombing runs.

So why is this city so important? Al-Jazeera captures the contradictions.

The Hudaida port is crucial for the flow of food supplies into a country that is on the brink of famine.

But Riyadh and Abu Dhabi maintain that the port is being used to smuggle weapons.

Both can be true, and almost certainly are (certainly the first one is, and few doubt the latter). And that’s really the problem. The battle for the city could wreck even the meagerest supplies that are preventing famine, but famine and disease are hardly being prevented whatsoever already.  Hudaydah is the primary port in the north; under the Houthis it remains one of Yemen’s poorest and most hungry provinces.

Expelling the Houthis will be a catastrophe, but their occupation of the province (and most of Yemen) has been catastrophic. While we focus on the US involvement and our complicity in Saudi and Emirati war crimes, we ignore that the Houthis are brutal and vicious, running and increasing gangster/theocrat rule, with lawless violence being a hallmark.

Indeed, reports from trusted reporters seem to show that there is ambiguity in Hudaydah about the coming conflict.

This negotiated plan is what had been offered in the past, but the Houthis declined. At this point, there seem to be few good options for success. Writing in the NYTimes, Gregory Johnsen says that right now, the only real option is a half-measure de-escalation.

Mr. Griffiths (UN Special Envoy) has put together a framework for peace negotiations, which was leaked to the press last week. A key component of that framework is disarmament, which would require the Houthis to surrender all their weapons, including ballistic missiles and artillery, except for light arms. But in an environment of such profound distrust, where weapons are equated with power, no one side will voluntarily surrender them.

Instead, Mr. Griffiths should push for transitional arms control. Unlike disarmament, which is an all-or-nothing affair, transitional arms control is gradual and allows for the slow building of trust by getting the warring parties to step back from the brink while maintaining control of their weapons should they feel threatened.

In exchange for getting Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to stop airstrikes, the Houthis would commit to placing their weapons under lock and key. Under such a scenario, the Saudis and Emiratis would still have access to their planes and the Houthis would keep the keys to their weapons depot.

That’s pretty much where we’re at. A hated occupier is being slowly forced out in a humanitarian nightmare by the parties that are absolutely complicit in the broader humanitarian nightmare, led by a former ally of the first group. The only chance to get people to stop killing each other is to convince them they will still be able to kill each other at a moment’s notice if things don’t work out.

I say the Houthis are an occupier because they are: the soldiers they use are from northern cities with no connection real connection to Hudaydah, and in the context of Yemeni politics, that makes it an occupation. It doesn’t matter that they control San’a. They are not “foreign”, but certainly don’t belong. They came out of their province and ran roughshod over the local population, the same way that Saleh did to both Sadah and Southern Yemen.

This is Yemen at the moment. A swirl of shifting, uncertain allegiances, a whole swath of the country controlled by an increasingly blood-thirsty and malevolent/incompetent occupying army, and being fought by a coalition that has zero concern for the local population, and is essentially their own occupying force.

The battle is just starting. The war is grinding on with no end in site. The humanitarian crisis is already unimaginable and will get worse. And the question of what Yemen is, or what it should be, or what the sides are actually fighting for, will continue to be murky and unanswered even as the smoke wafts away from ruined cities and the dead are wailingly buried in the ground.

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“I Know A Lot About Airplanes”: The Mostly Pointless Abandonment of South Korea

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Donald Trump is objectively the much better person here. Weird, right? 

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on North Korea, or East Asia at all. You’ve already seen a lot of pop-up experts the last few days, and will see a lot more today. (“What matters to Kim most of all is regime stability, Wolf.”)

I also certainly don’t want to pretend that what happened overnight was worse or comparable to nuclear war. It was much better! If I had to choose between a preening Donald Trump and the melting annihilation of human life, I’d choose the former, at least seven or eight times out of ten.

But let’s also not pretend that yesterday was anything more than preening. I can’t say for certain that this was a huge victory for Kim, or that the optics of him meeting with a world leader solidifed his standing in his country or around the world. That Donald Trump basically abdicated America’s historic alliances over the weekend undercuts that a bit, though I suppose Kim might be able to convince the North Korean media to portray it as a historic victory.

(Though to be honest, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. From what I understand, the North Korean propaganda machine portrays America as weak and decadent and crumbling, so why is meeting with its leader a victory? I know that contradiction is the heart of totalitarianism, but I’m still curious about how that circle is squared.)

This summit was optics, which is not nothing in international relations, but is also far from everything. You knew it was going to be optics when they announced that Trump was leaving a little early and that he only had 45 minutes of one-and-one scheduled. You knew it was optics when the Department of Energy wasn’t included in the summit. You knew it was optics, honestly, the second Trump got involved.

This isn’t how summits work. They don’t begin with the President off-handedly announcing he wants to meet. There is months and years of prep work, negotiations and agreements, painful discussions about language as both sides test and push limits. Then the leaders get together and wrangle over the end.

In a way, I get why Trump’s approach is appealing. He’ll cut through all that bluster and just get the job done because he’s a master negotiator. He’ll size Kim up within a minute and figure it out. That’s a fun thought! If you like Donald Trump, that sounds cool.

The problem is that Trump the actual human being has little to nothing in common with Trump the Image. He’s not a good negotiator, is wildly susceptible to flattery, and goes into talks with nothing more than half-baked notions he gets from half-watching Fox and Friends. None of this is an exaggeration. When he said he’s been preparing for these talks his whole life, he just means that he likes haggling with people. It also means he literally hasn’t been preparing at all.

He knew what he wanted out of this. He wanted Kim to say denuclearization, and as soon as he got that, he was gold. He could talk about Kim being a great and wonderful guy who “really loves his country.” And he got that. Throughout his press conference, which by Trump standards was relatively lucid, he talked about how this time Kim’s promise meant something because he “wants to get stuff done.”

Again though, I’m skeptical, because nothing in the signed documents indicates any different pressures or timetables than any other accord ever signed, or even North Korea’s official position (which is they truly and sincerely and why won’t you believe us don’t want nukes, but dream first of a nuke-free world, so you go first). Instead, Trump got a vague pledge and a can kicked down the road.

As Trump kept saying, though, this was just the beginning. But I don’t know. This is his chance to say something went great and then ignore it, and if Kim doesn’t follow through, shrug his shoulders and say he tried. It’s hard to take Trump’s pledges of follow-through seriously. All he does is promise something will happen down the road in order to claim victory, and then do it all again down the road.

He also got Kim to agree to return the remains of American POWs, which is certainly a good thing, but that’s also the kind of good-faith gesture that should be the prerequisite of any meeting.

And what did we give up? Well, for one thing, Trump continuously reiterated his desire to bring home all our troops from South Korea, which is, I guess, fine, except for two points. 1) Saying you really want to do something super badly is not exactly a common tool for a great negotiator, and 2) doing so just because Kim promises to denuclearize still leaves South Korea entirely vulnerable to NK’s conventional forces. Even before the regime went nuclear, the fear was that any conflict could kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people n Seoul just from artillery strikes alone.

Indeed, I think the big outcome of these talks was that Trump agreed to stop us military exercises with South Korea. Here’s the full transcript of that.

We have done exercises working with South Korea for a long time. We call them war games. I call them war games. They are tremendously expensive. The amount of money we spend on that is incredible. South Korea contributes, but not 100 percent which is a subject that we have to talk to them about also. That has to do with the military expense and also the trade. We actually have a new deal with South Korea. We have to talk to them. We have to talk to countries about treating us fairly. We pay for a big majority of them.

We fly in bombers from Guam. I said where do the bombers come from? Guam. Nearby. I said great. Where is nearby. Six and a half hours. That’s a long time for these big massive planes to be flying to South Korea to practice and drop bombs all over the place and go back to Guam. I know a lot about airplanes. Very expensive. I didn’t like it.

What I did say is and I think it is provocative. I have to tell you, Jennifer, it is a provocative situation. When I see that and you have a country right next door. Under the circumstances we are negotiating a comprehensive and complete deal. It is inappropriate to have war games. Number one, we save money. A lot. Number two, it is really something they very much appreciated.

I’m glad North Korea appreciated that! And I’m glad you gave us a deep dive into your tremendous knowledge about airplanes, to let us know that flying them is expensive. You know who wasn’t totally on-board with this plan? Our allies in South Korea, whose military didn’t know that you were canceling these. And neither did ours. 

US forces in Korea said they had not received updated guidance on military exercises.

“In coordination with our ROK [Republic of Korea] partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance,” a spokesperson told Reuters

The South Korean military issued a statement to NBC News saying: “Regarding President Trump’s comment regarding ending of the combined military drills … we need to find out the exact meaning or intention behind his comments at this point.”

This is classic Trump. He’s been all rankled and wrinkly about having to pay for joint military exercises, because all he sees is money and not value, and has no understanding about how these things work or why we do these exercises. So Kim can just say “these are really expensive” and “we’d appreciate it if you stopped” while whispering about nuclearization, and Trump gave up the store.

By “gave up the store” here I mean he sold out our allies. This is a disaster for South Korea, and I think people are just realizing that now. He values Kim’s smiles more than Moon’s security. And you know who else loves that Trump looked at the price tag (though not the value) of exercises in the region and gave them up? China. So this is a huge victory for China and North Korea, and a loss for South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. You might recognize that as a general inversion of American policy.

But that’s what he’s been doing. In the press conference, he is asked about the G7, and goes off on Trudeau for paragraphs at a time (calling him “Justin”), and doing a play-by-play of his own imagined version of events. So to recap, he spent the last few days severing alliances with our friends and strengthening our rivals, if not openly advancing the interests of geopolitical enemies.

That’s why this whole thing struck me as sort of a farce. Obviously, anything Trump is involved in is at least partly farce. That’s part of why I wonder how much of a triumph this is for Kim: there was hardly more dignity in yesterday’s meeting than in his palling around with Rodman. Trump might have been elevated, but he’s still a tacky casino operator and reality show star.

But what really struck me as false and horrible was when a CNN anchor said that it was a victory for Kim to be “meeting with the leader of the free world.” When that leader openly sides with Russia and China over Canada and Germany and the UK, when that leader officially closes our doors to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, when that leader tweets out praise for the Supreme Court allowing voter rolls to be purged, then he’s not the leader of the free world. He’s just a member of a much darker and crueler world. Maybe that’s why they got along so well.

 

Trump’s Dimwit Cruelty Is Key To Our Encroaching Authoritarianism

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Remember this guy? It’s less funny to me, now. 

Among certain citizen bloviators, myself among them, the idea that the modern GOP, embodied by Trump, is too stupid to pull off a genuine authoritarianism is a frequently-pulled-upon comfort blanket. The people in the White House are the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, led by a preening child who is terrified of genuine human thought. Maybe we’ll be lucky!

That idea is easy to understand when you see the actions of Paul Manafort, one of the few people tied to the campaign or the administration who is genuinely smart and a savvy operator. As we found out last night, he’s been acting…not super brightly.

Despite being under house arrest, with multiple ankle bracelets, and certainly under the watchful eye of the Special Counsel for conspiring to sell our election to Russia, he’s been contacting associates and asking them to lie about what happened. I’ll paraphrase the transcripts.

Hey, co-conspirator? Hey, it’s…Paul M. You know who- I’m on the news, and we did the Ukraine thing together. Anyway, I’m not really at liberty to talk, since I’m certainly being watched, but I’m really going to need you to lie about the collus…coolatta. (Wink!)(I mean the collusion). 

Smart as Manafort may be, he is also desperate and panicked. As Frank Foer put it in The Atlantic, he’s lost his cool 

Robert Mueller’s allegation that Manafort attempted to tamper with a witness permits us to peer inside Manafort’s mind, as it has functioned in a very different set of circumstances. When it comes to Manafort’s own deep problems, his moment of legal peril, he seems unable to muster strategic thinking. He has shown himself capable of profoundly dunderheaded miscalculations.

As Foer explains, Mueller knows everything. He’s got Rick Gates as a cooperating witness, and so he’s privy to all of Manafort’s dealings and contacts. He’s keeping tabs on everything. He know what’s up.

And that’s where our comfort has, at times, come in. That as Mueller gets closer, rolling up Manafort and maybe Kushner, Don Jr, etc, the rats will grow hungry and gnashingly desperate, terrified of every shadow. They’ll see the rest of their lives unspooling in a prison yard, and they’ll make more mistakes, turn on each other, blunder their way into confessions. God, I’m sweaty just thinking about it.

But then we remember that even when the powerful are idiots, they are, first and foremost, powerful.

This of course was briefly the story of the day when he tweeted it yesterday (yesterday? Jesus christ…). It’s hard to overstate what this means. He’s saying (with his lawyers, most notably Guiliani, confirming) that the President can pardon anyone, can stop any investigation into himself, and can do whatever he can to harass and discredit and law enforcement agency looking into his crimes. In other words: there are no laws to apply to him.

That’s dull and thuggish and not at all the work of a savvy player, but so what? If he’s willing to use the pardon simply to reward loyalty or protect himself, there are very few obstacles to stopping him. He doesn’t need to be smart. He just needs to be angry, and to not care at all about any norms or any decent behavior or anything beside his own impossibly fake tough-guy persona.

And as we see, this dim assumption of authority isn’t an obstacle to his success. Indeed, both pragmatically and emotionally, it is the source of his power.

Trump is the GOP

While his assertion of Presidential perogative is almost certainly untrue, and absolutely insane, and genuinely terrifying. it almost doesn’t matter. If the President pardons himself, I don’t think anyone knows what will happen. Even if the GOP decides to impeach him, would he even leave? What’s the mechanism for forcibly removing a President?

And let’s be clear: the GOP won’t impeach him.

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When this “own party” poll came out yesterday, it was solidified for many on the commentariat that the GOP was too scared to go against him for fear of losing the base. And that’s certainly true for some of them. Some of them may not like Trump, but they are willing to play ball to save their own skins.

But really, that’s mostly bullshit. Many of them like Trump because he is willing to do whatever the GOP wants, both for reasons of what passes for his ideology, and because his own pathologies, weaknesses, and vanities (which is to say: his sum total) perfectly align with GOP goals.

Sure, there are some variations, like his obsession with tariffs, but those are few and far between. There is a general policy alignment, but more than that, there is deep-seated cruelty and meanness of spirit, which is the animating principle of today’s GOP.

As an example, let’s look at Kris Kobach, last seen failing entirely to suppress the vote nationwide simply because he didn’t know the first thing about the law. This man, whose entire career has been based around the goal of not letting poor people or minorities vote (that’s no exaggeration), is now running for governor of Kansas. And he has a great idea for how to do that: being the world’s biggest asshole.

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At a parade

Yup…he’s riding around a parade with a big ol’ gun strapped to his jeep, because he’s a genuine tough guy who just accidentally never served. Needless to say, this upset some people, who were not thrilled about seeing a gun at a parade, on account of our citizens, especially students, are frequently massacred.

But Kobach was ready for that. He was ready to pounce that it was a FAKE GUN and that he was TRIGGERING THE SNOWFLAKES who HATE THE 2ND ADMENDMENT. I’m not kidding. As the KC Star explains in a fantastic, biting editorial:

Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach wants us to be very, very angry over his weekend parade appearance with a replica of a machine gun. That’s because he hopes Kansan Republicans will delight in that anger and revel in the idea that he’s triggering the “snowflakes.”

In a fundraising email on Monday, the Republican secretary of state bragged about the reaction to his appearance alongside what only looked like a big gun in Saturday’s Old Shawnee Days parade: “Within seconds of the parade being over, liberals started losing their minds … But the fact is, the only reason why these ‘tolerant’ left snowflakes get so upset over even the sight of me is because they know I will not back down in my defense of the Second Amendment.”

Kobach apparently does need it, though. His campaign couldn’t wait to put out a statement deriding “those who use the excuse of school violence to restrict the right to bear arms.”

There’s a hell of a lot going on here, starting with the language of the internet, in which Kobach, an ostensible grownup, reflects the only language that matters on the right: keyword incantations and barely-literate trollery.

(As for the gun being fake, he’s lucky he wasn’t a black man in a Wal-Mart or a 13-yr-old kid in a playground…)

Obviously, trolling was the only point of this. He wanted us to get upset over his replica gun, so that he could talk about how we’re…intolerant of guns. Think about it: he wanted us to be upset over making people think that a weapon of death was coming down their street so that he could sneer about “the excuse of school violence”, as if that’s not a hideous wailing national tragedy. As if it is something to poke fun at.

And that’s the point: the GOP has been taken over entirely by this wanton cruelty, by this delight and demeaning and belittling (while complaining the whole while that the Ivy League professors are snobby jerks). It’s been an inevitable product of 40+ years of policy, a spreading meanness that mutates into contempt for decency.

Trump’s Tacky Eagles Stunt Is Anything But Foolish

That’s why Trump isn’t an anomaly, but a culmination. It’s why the GOP isn’t going to impeach him or stop him. He enables their success by supporting voter suppression. His authoritarianism is what a minority party needs to stay in power. They are a far-right party aligned with far-right parties around the globe, and democracy is an afterthought, a nicety to be gestured at while the real work of plutocratic looting gets done.

Some, like the American Ambassador to Germany, have stopped pretending to be anything other than a part of a growing anti-democratic right-wing movement. And while we think Trump is different, because he’s dumber, that’s not the case. He doesn’t need to be smart. His small-fisted sense of patriotism is enough.

His statement disinviting the Eagles to the White House, simply because a  lot of them wouldn’t come, is proof-positive of that.

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Obviously, this is petty and stupid and foolish. For one thing, the Eagles players didn’t kneel during the anthem this season (despite what Fox News grossly pretended). What happened is that fewer than 10 players wanted to go (some reports have it at 3 or 4, probably depending on if you count Riley Cooper as 3 or 4 people), and so Trump cancelled it rather than have it reflect poorly on him.

But that wasn’t enough, of course. They didn’t want to come because they disagree with “their President” (and has any POTUS ever used a term so paternal and possessive?) about something that never happened, and so are essentially unpatriotic. It’s dishonest about the protests, dishonest about the reasons the Eagles weren’t coming, and dishonest about their motivations.

It’s wholly stupid and entirely false, a child’s idea of what patriotism is and a moron’s notion of revenge. It’s a jumble of brass bands and barely-mouthed incantations and symbols that the man calling for them doesn’t even understand. It’s an idiot’s path, designed entirely to rile up the base about angry blacks and ungrateful traitors and spoiled football players who hate the troops and the country by dint of disagreeing with the President.

If you think Trump’s brand of authoritarianism is too stupid to work, you’re wrong. If you think it is too cruel and punitive and obviously histrionic to take hold here, you’re wrong. You have a party that supports him because they revel in the onslaught of cruelties, they power of totems, the both fevered and dull recitation of buzzwords, and the slow stripping away of representative democracy.

They support Trump because of everything he is. We’re in extremely dangerous days, and the fact that they are so dumb and tacky and vulgar isn’t a cause for optimism: it’s a sign of the stompingly gray future to come.

 

NOTE: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO COME. This is an all-hands-on-deck election year. Don’t just vote, volunteer. Get involved. Democracy relies on everyday engagement.

Puerto Rico and the Lies That Kill: The Cost of Trumpism

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At the blog, we like to poke fun at our President from time to time, and point out that his language is “colorful” and “eccentric” and “the pure distilled sound of deranged dishonesty” and “a madman’s bark that is warping and distorting the institutions and assumptions on which democracy and a functioning society are based.” But there are times when the costs of his pathologies become even more clear.

There was a lot going on in this low, dumb, dishonest week, but this is what should matter most:

A new study in TheNew England Journal of Medicine, conducted in part by researchers at Harvard University, sheds new light on what’s really happened on the island. The team found that there were over 4,600 deaths potentially attributable to the hurricane, a 70-fold increase over official estimates. The survey also measured high rates of migration among people displaced by the storm and, after it passed, long periods where residents faced a loss of basic services.

I don’t really want to talk about how this got lost in Rosanne and Sam Bee and D’Szouza and all that. We know we have cracked priorities (I’m as guilty as anyone). But it is clear that these priorities, this inward gazing, redolent of self-obsessed decline, is part and parcel of why we didn’t care about Puerto Rico, and that this truth could go relatively (though obviously and thankfully not entirely) unmentioned, is tied up in Trump’s wild dishonesty.

Our disregard for Puerto Rico didn’t start with Trump, of course. It is a colonial legacy of a country that somehow doesn’t believe itself to be a colonizer (an assumption that can be disproven by: all of America). Most Americans probably didn’t know, or at least fully understand, that by dint of law and ties of culture, Puerto Ricans are Americans. That makes this the greatest natural disaster in modern American history, but of course, it wasn’t just natural.

This disaster was exacerbated by the administration’s flagrant disregard for non-white lives, and by Trump’s all-encompassing need to protect himself. These sicknesses met in how he talked about Puerto Rico, which again, is part of America. As I said then:

One of the more grotesque manifestations of Donald Trump’s attitude toward the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is that he insists on referring to the island as a collection of “thems”, as opposed to “us”, or rather, the US. We can’t leave “our” first responders there forever; “they” have to help “themselves”; “they” should be grateful.

Part of this was self-preservation. It was clearly a disaster, but disasters can’t happen under Trump, because he is the ultimate leader, and can never take responsibility for anything. Obviously, nothing bad can happen under his watch (unless he is betrayed), so he had to distance himself from “them”.

This also, obviously, can’t be separated from racism, both Trump’s personal racism and the kind baked into every American institution. I’m not going to pretend that any other American President would be able or willing to tearfully rally the country around a protectorate we’d rather forget.

But Trump’s essential dishonesty about the situation allowed us to ignore it, changed the topic, pushed the grim fate of modern American citizens into a malarial and nightblack cesspool. Trump didn’t care about “them”, and wanted us not to care about it, so he threw some paper towels, bragged about how good he did and how he did so much better than Bush and Katrina, bragged to Puerto Ricans about their very low death toll and how Katrina was a real disaster, declared victory, and brought “our” responders home. This all really happened!

I mean, that’s not all that happened, of course. This being the Trump administration, the aftermath was wracked with corruption and incompetence, with friends of Ryan Zinke getting absurd contracts to fail to repair the electricity (which costs lives and livelihoods). That’s par for the Trumpian course, but it was born from his essential dishonesty about himself, about what happened, and about Puerto Rico.

And so thousands died needlessly. Of course there was corruption and bad leadership on the island; there is everywhere in the country. But through the lens of Trump’s racism and need to insulate himself from anything that reflects poorly, that was shluffed off as brownish third-world nonsense, and distanced further from America. Trump was able to blame Puerto Rico on Puerto Ricans, pretending they weren’t American, and shifting the conversation to how good he did.

And people died. Our modern dishonesty kills. You want another example? Watch this video.

This is a viral video claiming to show Muslims rioting in Birmingham in order to eat in the streets during Ramadan, which is a weird thing since Muslims know about sidewalks and “inside”. But of course this isn’t a Muslim riot, but rather soccer fans in Switzerland celebrating a win or mourning a loss or just embracing soccer or something.

Needless to say, the “look at these Muslims” has been seen hundreds of thousands of times, and will certainly be used to reinforce prejudice, exacerbate tension, stir up violence, and continue to fray the slight bonds that keep Western civilization together. It’s a smallish sort of thing in the grand scheme, but its virality and complete dishonesty makes it perfect for our times.

And it doesn’t take much of a stretch of your imagination to consider the President, cranky and sleepy, retweeting it and saying “Donald J Trump was RIGHT and liberal Obama/Crooked H judges WRONG about security. Need STRONG AND SMART “travel” ban (won’t say Muslim) now! Good President!”

Our days are dishonest, and falseness is their currency. It is a weapon. It is a cudgel and a scalpel, capable of huge hammering deadly blows, as in Puerto Rico, and a million tiny daily incisions, until we’re baffled and worn out and unable to process. Trump didn’t start it, and it won’t end with him. But he is the snarling, bloated culmination of these times, both embodying and enlarging them. He’s every dumb, terrible thing we’ve done wrapped up in an empty package, and his legacy will be death and discord and misery. It’s a vulgar and tacky way to reconcile empire, but it is hard to say it is undeserved.

MH-17, The Mueller SpyGate Fake Witch Hunt, and the Assault on Truth

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Despite of everything, all our efforts to commence a serious, solid and professional joint work are rejected out of hand.

“There is a well-known style, a rough, clumsy algorithm. Dirty provocations are organised, and the guilty side is determined in advance.

The so-called “investigation” is conducted almost completely on the basis of information from social networks and several international non-governmental organisations, which have tainted themselves long ago by fakes, forgeries, primitive fabrications and so on.

This unworthy style is clearly observed in the so-called ‘Skripal’s case’, Syrian chemical dossier, and previously, in the fabrication of pretexts for military invasion to Yugoslavia and Iraq.

-Russian Ambassador to Australia Grigory Logvinov, in response to Russia being definitively implicated in the downing of MH-17 over Ukraine in 2014.

 The Kremlin said on Tuesday that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other related crimes would end one day, describing it as pointless.

“There’s hope that it will wind up one day,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about the investigation.

“In Russian, it’s called passing water through a sieve,” he said of the U.S. probe, using a Russian expression that means flogging a dead horse. “That’s exactly what the process looks like.”

One of the big questions of the Trump Era has been whether he is stupid, is deranged, is absolutely unable not to lie, or if he plots out his provocations for maximal effect. And the answer, most likely, is: all of it.

That’s what we see at the top, a tweet string yesterday unintentionally lightened up by his under-two-hour commitment to actually work at being President. In it, he blurts out all the keyphrases and incantations that the right has ben picking up: Fake News, Spygate, Phony Russian Witch Hunt, Rigged Russia Witch Hunt, 13 Angry Democrats, Crooked Hillary, Obama/Comey/Lynch et al.  He spouts how the only collusion (or: Collusion) was by the Dems.

On the surface, of course, it is a madshow, absolute blubbering insanity. But it makes a little more sense in light of the Russian statement about MH-17, in which it was shown (though it was known) that Russian soldiers downed a civilian plane as part of their wildly illegal invasion, division, and annexation of Ukraine.

You see a fairly similar use of language here: the Syrian Chemical Dossier, the scare quotes around the Skripal Case, because it is absurd to think that Russia is responsible for an enemy of Moscow being poisoned in Russia, the use of “fakes” and “phonies” and “forgeries” to describe a 4-yr multinational investigation.

This method of argument (if one could call it that) hinges on the knowledge that there is too much information in the world today, and too many easy recourses to alternate realities, that if you say enough things they’ll stick somehow. At the very least, they’ll confuse the issue, and force your opponents to spend time arguing one point.

Like, if you want to point out how absurd it is to say that Moscow was somehow framed for Skripal, you have to go into the whole history of Litvinenko, of Yuschkenko, of Politkovskaya, of Nemtsov, each of which have their own conspiracies you could spend the rest of your life debunking.

The Russians, for very complicated reasons, have perfected this as part of their “active measures”. They can frame everything that pains Russia in a bad light as part of this long-running conspiracy against Russia, which stretches back through time, and can incorporate elements as disparate as international Jewry and Hitler.

In his book The Road to Unfreedom, Timothy Snyder uses the term schizo-fascists to describe actual Russian fascists, like literal-Balbo-type ones, who use the term fascist to describe any enemy of Russia. I think it is a sort of clunky, but very useful term, and absolutely describes this phenomenon.

Because think about it: if you are talking to an honest-to-god fascist, and saying that you oppose them, and they say, “of course you do, you fascist”, what do you say? Do you talk to them about how their policies and ideas are drawn directly from the fascism of the 30s and 40s, filtered through the local context and mythologies?

Imagine doing so! And then they’ll say that you’re suppressing their speech, and are in fact the true fascist! Antifa are the real Nazis! Anti-Rosanne’s are the real racists! Democrats are the real corrupt ones!

It’s impossible to argue against it, not just because anyone can find a conspiracy theory to back that up (and what the undead Ukrainian journalist did, while understandable and probably right and undoubtedly pretty awesome, will only give more ammo to these sides), but because you are quickly reduced to their shouting level. I’m angry right now. No, goddammit, you’re clearly the fascist you’re wearing a skull armband. 

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Yes!

That’s what Trump is doing, intentionally or not. There’s a chance he just hears these things on Fox, and believes them, because he is both the kind of dummy who believes conspiracies and the megalomaniacal paranoid dissonance-addict who thinks everything he does was done to him, and worse, by someone else. He might just be regurgitating whatever he thinks makes him sound good.

But his one great skill has always been to manipulate the minds of people through sheer bullshit, and now he has a constant megaphone with which to do it. He knows, I think, that throwing everything out there will convince enough people and throw the rest of us off guard, unbalanced, unsure of where to strike. Which bit of that madness do we argue? Which section of this flood do we try to mop up?

That’s the international right’s methodology, Russian-inspired, and it is what unites them as much as white supranationalism. It’s a tool for advancing their agenda. And it works, because when you don’t care about truth, you win. When you think that facts are just wobbly toys to be knocked over, you win. When you internalize the idea that all liberals and multinationals are evil and conspiring against you and control the media, and that you can fight against them by any means needed, and that lying in that service is a higher form of honesty, you can win.

And yes, I know that now sound like a conspiracist, ranting about their methods. That I don’t think they are terribly organized, but rather inspired by each other, doesn’t matter. That I don’t think it is a conspiracy doesn’t matter. What matters is that I sound like I do, and now I am defending it, and that’s all that matters.

 

 

 

Pompeo Denies Iranian Existence

 

Image result for mike pompeo

Seriously, like two years ago this guy was a garden-variety Tea Party nobody. 

 

In a speech yesterday, our Secretary of State, the terrible Tea Party Christianist bigot Mike Pompeo, presented his idea of diplomacy in the aftermath of the United States’ violation of the Iran deal: colonialism.

In essence, Pompeo told Iran that they would be faced with the most devastating sanctions in human history if they didn’t comply with his list of 12 demands. This, on its face, was nonsense. After all, they already faced terrible sanctions, which is why they gave up their nuclear program and agreed to a hugely invasive inspection regime.

But even more so, in order for that to work, the EU, Russia, and China would have to be on board with this. And so far, it is far from clear they will be. The EU is already saying they might protect firms hurt by US sanctions, which they absolutely should. US leadership doesn’t mean anything if we violate our agreements and then demand our allies support us.

And Russia and China? Please. Russia’s whole goal is to make this a post-US world, and separating us from Europe is a big part of that. Trump and Pompeo just handed them a huge gift. China isn’t trying to separate us, as much as make themselves far more relevant, and our rush toward empurpled irrelevance is extremely helpful.

But beside the unreality of his claims, it was Pompeo’s demand that really showed just what kind of people the administration is. I’m going to paste them in full.

  1. Declare to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear programme and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.

  2. Stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing, including closing its heavy water reactor.
  3. Provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country.
  4. End its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
  5. Release all US citizens as well as citizens of US partners and allies.
  6. End support to Middle East “terrorist” groups, including HezbollahHamas and Islamic Jihad.
  7. Respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the disarming, demobilisation and reintegration of Shia militias.
  8. End its military support for the Houthi rebels and work towards a peaceful, political settlement in Yemen.
  9. Withdraw all forces under Iran’s command throughout the entirety of Syria.
  10. End support for the Taliban and other “terrorists” in Afghanistan and the region and cease harbouring senior al-Qaeda leaders.
  11. End the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps-linked Quds Force’s support for “terrorists” and “militant” partners around the world.
  12. End its threatening behaviour against its neighbours, many of whom are US allies, including its threats to destroy Israel and its firing of missiles at Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and threats to international shipping and destructive cyberattacks.

Some of these are extremely worthy. Some are insane (give up even their nuclear energy program?). Some are wildly hypocritical, like the demand to stop supporting the Houthis while we’re arming the Sauds in their genocidal war. It’s not that it is unworthy, but it is not exactly an ask backed by any moral authority.

But the point-by-point isn’t as important as the project taken as a whole. In essence, they insist that Iran stop trying to be a power in the Middle East. This isn’t just hyopcritical; it is colonial. It is demanding that Iran go back before the revolution, when they were a vassal of the west. It is demanding that the Middle East be ruled by America, who gets to decide who is the power and who isn’t.

I can’t state how wildly self-defeating this is, not just in Iran, but in the broader Middle East (Gulf Arab states not included). I talked about why a while ago, but think it is important to re-up.

It’s madness and fallacy to think that the Iranian regime, or really, any post-Shah Iranian government, would enter into any agreement that lessens their regional power and increases that of the West. To believe that is to have zero historical understanding, of the near or the distant past.

The Iranian revolution wasn’t about Islam, or not entirely. There was a mix of anti-imperialist leftists, communists, other various secularists, religious types who didn’t want clerical rule (which remember, is what Khomeini first promised) and non-ideological nationalists who were just tired of western interference.

Western Europe and Russia had eclipsed Persian power in the region in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until oil that the West really started controlling what was happening in Iran. Lopsided deals with venal flunkies gave England and then America a dominant role in the expropriation of Iranian resources. Shahs got rich, the west got rich, and most Iranians stayed poor. The same thing happened in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Western colonialism in the Middle East was a 20th-century phenomenon, which in our lifetime seems like all of eternity, but was really a blip. It was a terrible one, from the perspective of the inhabitants, of course. It was dirty and condescending and venal and greedy and grubbing. It was literally crude. Khomeini wasn’t just deposing a shah for the sake of Islam: he was kicking out the west for the sake of Iran.

That’s the heart of this. Iran, after a low and brutal, but historically brief, interregnum, is trying to reassert itself in a changing and fluid Middle East, still reeling from the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the perversions of 20th-century colonialism and nationalism.

To demand that they shouldn’t do this is breathtakingly arrogant and essentially colonialist. It’s saying to these dirty Persians that they should probably do what we want or else it would be a shame if we had to destroy your country. Grovel, or be brought low. One way or the other, on your knees.

The stupidity and venality of this is overwhelming. It brings us back to the days where we’d sign treaty after treaty with native nations, and then break them, running roughshod over their land, simply because we could. Because we had the power.

It’s no different. After treaty-breaking our way across the continent, we expanded worldwide, treating distant locals the way we treated the nations in this land. In the last generation, the world sort of accepted that this wasn’t the way to do things, that smaller countries had rights as well.

The US never really believed that, but certainly paid tribute to virtue (Russia was more or less the same, minus the tribute). This is nothing but the bad old days again. To assume that Iran will accept this is madness. To think that they should is arrogance. To think that they will, in the age of Trump, an ascendant China, and a swaggering Russia, is blindness.

“I Hereby Demand”: Trump’s Dumbshow Authoritarian Apotheosis

When the eventual history of this dumb and wretched is eventually written, this tweet could be one that children are forced to memorize, from a stone desk in their cave-school in the Nü-Barrens.

There’s a lot going on here, but the basic story is this: when the FBI found out about the extensive role that Russia was (ultimately successfully) attempting to play in our election, and the inordinate number of ties and meetings between Russia and the Trump campaign, they wanted to look into it. Seems reasonable, to me.

One thing they did was ask an intermediary to talk to several Trump campaign officials, your various Pages and Papadodoli. This intermediary would then report back to the FBI. Again, pretty basic stuff, when investigating criminality. Indeed, this would seem to be the bare minimum the FBI can do.

Of course, now that this is public knowledge, thanks to extraordinary leaks from quisling par excellence Devin Nunes, it has mutated into the FBI “infiltrating or surveilling” the campaign, which is only half accurate, for “Political Purposes”, which is nonsense.

The reason it is nonsense is basic common sense. This has been pointed out by probably millions of people, but the FBI, under the Higherly Loyal leadership of James Comey, slow-walked any Trump investigation to avoid even the merest hint of politics, even planting false stories in the Times about how there was no investigation, which was patently false. This is actually ok, or would have been, had they not made a huge show out of looking at some emails found because Anthony Weiner had to sext teenagers, and no, I will never ever get over this.

So, if you wanted to allege an FBI conspiracy to derail the Trump campaign, it was basically this: 1) Investigate and infiltrate; 2) find damning details of meetings and Russian interference; 3) alert the President, who said nothing; 4) tell the world there is no investigations; 5) ?; 6) win!

(This timeline ignores Mitch McConnell refusing to release a bipartisan statement telling Russia to back off, one the many reasons he’s the worst, but this timeline isn’t about Republican abetting, just baffling FBI conspiracies.)

Obviously, it is nonsense, but despite–or rather, because–of that, it is an absolute article of faith with the President, his surrounders, most elected Republicans, and the whole right wing machine. That’s why this tweet is so ominous. We don’t just have the normal absolutely insane situation of the President tweeting out idiot conspiracies. He’s now demanding that the Justice Department investigate itself.

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