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.

Brett Kavanaugh Shows the Shallow Nothingness of Our Ruling Class

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Justice Kavanaugh

Forget for a moment the performative anger. Forget the entitlement. Forget the insane conspiracies. Forget that he blamed the Clinton’s for his trouble. Forget, even just for a moment, that he’s at best a horned-up sex pest who combines that entitlement with a deep dismissal of women.

Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, Brett Kavanaugh coming up with an interesting or original legal theory? Can you imagine him having a nuanced look at a case? Can you imagine him focusing his penetrating insight into an undiscovered part of a case brought before him?

Of course not. Even if he were the bland basketball dad he portrayed himself as, there’s nothing in his record that says much of anything at all. And, of course, we can’t separate everything in the first paragraph from the totality of his absurdity.

All of it: the casual cruelty, the water-carrying for the conservative movement, the belief that getting into Yale based only on his attending one of the country’s most elite prep schools, the mocking laughter, the sheer shock and genuine horror that he could be held accountable for his actions: all of it is what makes up our elites.

Kavanaugh has put a glaring spotlight on the essential mediocrity of our ruling class, of the true elites that run this country. Not literature professors from Oberlin or Rachel Maddow or even Meryl Streep, but the ensconsed royalty who glide from position to position. Where they go varies a bit on personality and desire, but if you had the urge, as did Kavanaugh, you could float your way through the right wing and come to see the Supreme Court as your birthright.

What we see is that when you combine access to everything without the need to earn it, self-protection and cognitive dissonance makes it impossible for you to accept any dissent. This is very true when it comes from lower people, like reporters or Senators, and is especially, always true when it comes to women who don’t exist to please.

This is cruel, yes. It is viscous. It is a brackish burbling from our poisoned aristocracy. But what all that comes from, and what it creates, is a string of mediocre nobodies. They look in the mirror and see wealth and power, and instead of staring at weak chins and praising the accident of fate that gave them this unceasing fortune, they convince themselves they’ve earned it. They tell themselves they deserve it.

They’ve always been around, of course. And they’ve been bipartisan. But for the last 40 years, the Republican Party has mercilessly elevated these cruel nobodies, these unreflective wealth-mongers, these weird quasi-men who combine bootlicking with boot-stomping. Trump, obviously, is the ultimate triumph of unearned wealth and power, of the monstrous warping solipsistic power of unreflective privilege. But he’s also sui generis, a dark malevolent black hole, with his own terrible gravity.

Kavanaugh is different. There are a million of him. This has been remarked on before, usually (by me as well) in exasperation at the GOP, who could have nominated one of the same fascist-headed bullies who wasn’t a dogging pervert. Maybe he won’t get on. Maybe this week’s delay will clarify minds around this depthless goon who truly believes that any criticism of his character could only come from a vast conspiracy and not, say, the righteous consequences of a life spent harming others. Maybe they will end up finding another one, who will rule exactly the same, with the exact same lack of creativity, and the exact same hostility toward workers and immigrants and the environment and, above all, women.

They’ll find someone else. But really, that there are a million of these guys to begin with is the most damning indictment of our country available.


The Testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

Read it in full.

Read it an remember that she has no reason to lie under oath. Read it and remember that she knew her life would be forever turned upside down, and like Anita Hill, would be in history books as a victim. Read it and know that to think her lying outright she had to concede to have her life ruined in the hopes that a determined GOP majority would still refuse to confirm.

None of this is proof, of course. There isn’t, and won’t be, definitive proof unless Kavanaugh or Judge were to admit to it. But remember that when asked about this, Kavanaugh’s motivation for lying will be to save his job, to be promoted to lifetime tenure for the job he’s been being groomed toward for decades, and maybe even to save his marriage.

Dr. Ford’s incentives, if you believe her lying, are much harder to fathom.

Kavanaugh Continues Trump’s Attack on Workers

(Note: I had one of my most-trafficked days yesterday thanks to a Yemen post. So let’s follow that up by talking about OSHA!)

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A popular fish-based* entertainment park, let’s call it “Ocean World”, or “Sea Land”, has a show employing killer whales. A killer whale attacks and kills a trainer. It’s found that the entertainment park, which has a whole host of other problems, was found to have had safety lapses that led to the death of the trainer.

You’re asked to rule on whether OSHA, which by statute protects “all employees”, can fine the company a whopping $70,000 for violations. The case comes to your court. Do you rule:

  1. Oh, jesus, of course
  2. I find that while the death was tragic, WaterHeaven was not in violation of the statutes regarding safety, which I nevertheless find to be very important and Good.
  3. OSHA sucks.

If you’re Brett Kavanaugh, you’ve picked #3. Steven Greenhouse at The American Prospect explains more.

For Kavanaugh, the issue wasn’t what should SeaWorld have done to prevent Brancheau’s death or how could federal regulation have best helped prevent her death. Instead, the overriding issue for Kavanaugh was whether OSHA should even be regulating a company like SeaWorld. Kavanaugh asserted that OSHA should not be regulating sports or entertainment activities, saying it would be foolish, for instance, for OSHA to seek to limit injuries in professional football or NASCAR racing.

Although Kavanaugh describes himself as a “textualist” who follows the text of statues, he sought to create out of whole cloth an exemption from safety regulation for “entertainment activities” even though the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970—passed by a bipartisan majority and signed by Richard Nixon, a Republican—states that the law applies to “each employer.” The act calls on every employer to “furnish to each of [its] employees” work that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Writing that OSHA would never regulate football or NASCAR racing, Kavanaugh argued that since OSHA can’t explain why it wouldn’t regulate those “sports and entertainment activities,” but had opted to regulate SeaWorld, it was arbitrary and capricious and therefore illegal for OSHA to regulate SeaWorld. Kavanaugh glosses over the fact that Brancheau’s work at SeaWorld was not a competitive sport, like football or hockey, where injuries are inevitable.

Now, you could say this is a one-off type of case, as whale-training falls into a strange category of work. There are very few lines of business where it is even possible to get eaten by an orca, much less have that be a hazard of the job. I don’t know how he’s ruled on OSHA overall, if cases have come up.

But there are some key phrases here which give us hints. “aribtrary and capricious” are guiding lights in movement conservativism which can be used for any regulation which gets in the way of profit or protects workers at all. For a man to look at this case and feel that the real issue here is government overreach sort of distracts from his self-painted image of being an impartial jurist.

We know this, of course: he’s a mediocre flack, a rich fratty sex pest who has carried water for the conservative movement from the jump. Putting a man like him on the court has been the goal of the movement for 40 years; they’ve meticulously groomed and promoted his type.

There are a few end goals here. One, of course, being the end of Roe and Griswold.  The goal is to end any environmental protections that stop capitalists from doing whatever they want. The goal is to destroy any labor movements that get in the way of overwhelming profits. The goal, at its essence, is to remove the protections that recognize works as more than just tools of the boss class, to be used and disused as they please. It’s to stop recognizing that workers are human beings.

Kavanaugh isn’t alone. Neil Gorsuch famously believed that a worker has no right to protect her or his own life if it meant hurting the company at all. When a truck driver stranded in sub-zero conditions unhitched his trailer, whose brakes had failed, and drove to safety, he was fired for abandoning his cargo. Six judges said he had every right to do that. Gorsuch?

Maddin “wasn’t fired for refusing to operate his vehicle,” Gorsuch wrote last year in his dissent. He was fired for operating — that is, driving — his vehicle in a way contrary to company policy. So the company had a right to fire him.

Maddin had a simple choice, Gorsuch concluded: Freeze to death or lose your job. Maybe the company was not wise or kind, he added, “but it’s not our job to answer questions like that.” We judges just apply the law to the case at hand.

Now, obviously, there is a bit of a dodge here. He is sighing from above, wishing the company had policies that were better. But, alas, in this fallen world, what can one do? One can only “apply the law”.

The translation here is that if a company has a policy, no matter how dangerous or deadly or cruel it is, that must be followed. Men of goodwill like Neil Gorsuch can wish to heaven above that it were different, but if a company makes a decision, and you agree to work for them, your life is forfeit. Literally, your life belongs to company policy, which can’t be changed by regulation or judicial decree.

Kavanaugh might not make it through. But the next Heritage-clone who does will believe the same things. They are making it so that workers have no rights at all. They are making it so that if you sign a contract, you aren’t selling your labor to the highest bidder, but that the company is buying you.

This will be one of the primary legacies of Trump. He likes to talk about the working class, but his whole life has been marked by seething contempt for them. From screwing over contractors to dismantling every regulation possible, he’s punished those he’s seen as weak while empowering the already-powerful. He thinks that states should race to the bottom to compete for dangerous, unprotected jobs in which they can despoil the air workers breathe and the water they drink. There hasn’t been a bigger foe to workers since Calvin Coolidge.

And we have a Supreme Court poised to make that a generational reality, enshrined by a President elected with a minority of votes, the aid of a foreign power, and a vast campaign of voter suppression. If you ask if America remains a democracy, you have your answer right there.


*Melville concluded whales were fishes. Who am I to argue?