Kim Jong Saud.

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The Saudis have destroyed a key airport in Yemen, a point of entry for crucial aid shipments, making the grim prospect of a major famine even more likely than before. This happened the same week that the Kingdom apparently chose to hold Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri against his will, by some accounts, and forced his resignation (Hariri now disputes this) in an effort to sow discord in a country that survived a 15-year sectarian civil war. This multi-pronged effort to roll back Shi’a influence in the region is largely the handiwork of Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (or “MBS” as the folks in the know call him), a man who is taking the blood-stained legacy of Saudi’s extremism up to the next level.

Meet Sal the Butcher.Praised by many in the American imperial class as a “modernizer”, Prince Salman has leveled neighboring Yemen over the past two years, turning it into one of the world’s most deadly war zones. This attack was probably born of the Iran nuclear deal; perhaps Yemen was the bone thrown to a disgruntled kingdom after an American war with Persia was averted. The fight in Yemen is an extension of Saudi’s longterm efforts to remake the Arab world in its own image. Its principal enemy used to be Arab nationalism, championed by Nassar and others. Now that that wave of leaders is past, Iran and Shi’a populations are in the crosshairs, and the trigger has been pulled repeatedly – in Bahrain, in Syria, and most devastatingly in Yemen.

I don’t want to place responsibility for this disgusting war solely at the feet of MBS and his autocratic government. They could not do what they’re doing without military and diplomatic support from the United States. If we told them – firmly – to stop, they would stop. The fact that it continues demonstrates a desire on the part of Washington – and elements of both major political parties – for the conflict to continue. It’s similar to the situation in Korea in that there is an obvious solution to the problem and the fact that we fail to grab it up suggests more than stupidity and stubbornness. The other similarity is that MBS’s swagger is like that of Kim Jong Un, only our leaders appear willing to eat it up. Really disturbing.

I strongly suggest you contact your congressional representatives and tell them in no uncertain terms that this conflict has gone on long enough and it is time for the killing to stop. Senator Chris Murphy appears to have gotten the memo – now let’s see if we can get others on board.

luv u,

jp

Short takes (July edition).

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Another one of those weeks spent drinking from the political firehose. I’m going to try to run through a few of the items that have been top-of-mind for me over the last few days. Let me know if my list looks anything like yours.

Saudi-US cooperation at workYemen Horror. The WHO reported that cholera is spreading like wildfire in war-ravaged Yemen, infecting more than 400,000 people with almost 1,900 deaths attributed to the outbreak. This is in addition to the many thousands killed by the Saudi-led and U.S.-supported terror bombing of this unfortunate country. Since Congress is all about sanctions this week, one would hope they would consider slapping a few on the freaks running this horror show from Riyadh. Fat fucking chance. This is a bipartisan atrocity and it will only stop when we insist upon it.

Cracker abuse. Trump is unloading on his pal Jeff Beauregard Sessions, talking as though the AG’s job consists entirely of running interference against any investigative probes that come too near the President. Can’t say as I feel sorry for that racist old cracker – at his age, he should know better how to pick his friends. Better start ironing that bedsheet, Jeff-boy.

Trumpcare Fail. Okay, this started out to be a rant about John McCain and how he was dragging himself back to Washington right after surgery to deny millions of other Americans the ability to, well, have surgery when it’s needed. I was going to say that you can never count on him to do the right thing, but then he shocked me by doing the right thing, so credit where credit is due – he helped to kill the Obamacare repeal. I say Obamacare repeal because that’s what it has always been. The GOP has been waging political war against this thing called Obamacare for seven years, except that Obamacare doesn’t really exist. That’s why they seem to be having so much trouble agreeing on how to get rid of it – they keep stepping on  popular provisions of the ACA that are lying around like rakes, waiting to hit them in the face. Mitch McConnell blames the Democrats, of course, but it’s really just about him and his party. This is a big fail, fucker. Suck on that.

Drop the T. Trump announced by Tweet that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the United States military. This has thrown the service into a state of uncertainty and caused tremendous consternation among those who recognize our transgender comrades as human beings worthy of our love and respect. In other words, mission accomplished, Donald! Your alt-right supporters in the little mustache brigade are probably over the moon right now. They’ve probably already forgotten what you’ve said about Sessions. (Of course, they’re probably ADD.)

Manatee in a Suit. Gingrich was interviewed on NPR Morning Edition this week (7/26) and proceeded to throw the entire Justice Department under the bus in an attempt to make his new BFF Trump look a little better. Aside from hawking a book by Sidney Powell, the most hated man in America called the Justice Department “a extraordinarily left-wing institution” citing campaign contributions and decrying the Mueller probe as a “fishing expedition.” Wow, what a crackpot. The left wing conspiracy keeps expanding – last week it was Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski being tagged “leftists” by Limbaugh and others; this week it’s our entire federal law enforcement establishment.

luv u,

jp

Gulf War IV.

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Yes, I know … Trump is melting down, and I should say something about it. The truth is, there’s little to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s not like the Republican Congress is going to do anything about him – far from it. They invented the freaking guy. He is their Frankenstein’s monster. If they ever pull an intervention on him, it’s going to start with, “Hello, handsome!”

You are not evil ... you are GOOD!Besides, there are more important things going on, partly as a result of having a dolt as president. The Qatar crisis is one of those things, and after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Yemen (or the Saudi controlled piece of it), and Egypt abruptly broke off diplomatic relations with the country, Trump had this to say on Twitter:

“…so good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

Qatar, mind you, hosts a major U.S. military base that serves as a staging area for operations in the Gulf. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a state like Saudi Arabia accusing someone of sponsoring terrorism, Trump’s comments appear to confirm that the U.S. gave a green light to the Gulf Cooperation Council states to pull this number. The White House subsequently backed off of the President’s drunk tweet, claiming the president had called the Qatari Emir and “emphasized the importance of all countries in the region working together to prevent the financing of terrorist organizations and stop the promotion of extremist ideology,” essentially offering to mediate. That sounds like the foreign policy establishment stepping in somewhat hurriedly to keep this from spinning out of control.

My reaction to this has been, what the fuck? I think the most reasonable explanation I’ve heard thus far was from Trita Parsi on Democracy Now!, suggesting that Saudi and its allies may have done this as a strike against Al Jazeera in advance of a renewed offensive against Iran (which just got attacked by ISIS extremists on Wednesday). Do we need a fourth Gulf War, after Iran-Iraq (1980-88), the Gulf War/Desert Storm (1991), and the Iraq War (2003 – whenever)? Apparently Trump thinks so.

This was a dramatic and disturbing departure. Not confident about what will come next.

luv u,

jp

Middle passage.

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Trump was on the road this week, touching base with traditional allies, shaking his fist at traditional foes, making occasional awkward statements and non-sequiturs but generally doing what is expected of him as official high protector of the empire. Amazing how quickly even a low-intelligence loose cannon like “The Donald” will snap into place when there are longstanding economic and imperial ties in play.

At the helm of the Death Star. Who knew it was in Saudi Arabia?Much as he criticized Saudi Arabia during the primary campaign and even the general election, it was all smiles and bows and the dangling of manly swords when he arrived in Riyadh, not to mention threats against Iran and its embattled Shi’a allies in Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere. Then there’s the humongous arms sale, allowing Saudi to continue the bloody Yemen adventure that Trump will not mention but can’t stop funding with U.S. taxpayer dollars. (My money’s being used inappropriately. Someone call Mick Mulvaney!)

I have to think that the institutional elites that most benefit from the imperial profit machine probably don’t much mind Trump as a foreign policy president. His ignorance very likely is, in their eyes, his most positive attribute. The man knows nothing about any of the regions he is likely to visit as president. That means he can be steered into preferred policies by his aides. He is the proverbial empty vessel, even more so than George W. Bush was – at least Bush had some vague sense of his own objectives and a team of fanatical, experienced bureaucrats to fill the void between his ears. With Trump, there’s none of that. He’s truly at sea.

Empire abhors a vacuum, and so the absence of leadership is filled with the priorities of the forever-state. This is not a conspiracy theory – every empire that has lasted as long as ours has a structure of governance and self-perpetuation. It’s that great self-driving car, running over people of color by the thousand in thirsty pursuit of the next filling station. That’s why the pieces all fall into place, and the policy stays within certain boundaries, sometimes jiggling a little leftward, occasionally lurching to the right, but never crossing the line.

When I say “never”, I mean other than that one time with Dubya Bush when his reckless war-making tested those limits and brought on the correction we saw in 2006 – one of the most amazing periods in recent history. I suspect Trump’s correction will come from some other quarter, but I guess we will see.

luv u,

jp

Burning man.

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Watching the Trump campaign this week, I am reminded of a collection of bad movie scenes my brother curated back in the 1990s under the title, Destination: Brain – we informally referred to it as “The Greatest Hits”. As bad sci-fi movie aficionados, Matt and I loved to watch select passages from some of mankind’s worst films but found it tiresome to sit through 90 minutes of boring dreck just to get to that “sweet spot” of bad acting, cheap specials, horrible dialog, etc. Matt cut together Destination: Brain so that we could enjoy those poetically bad movie moments extracted from context, and yet given new meaning by their juxtaposition with other poorly-wrought scenes.

Winning!In any case, one of our favorite scenes was from a cheap-ass Frankenstein knock-off with a bunch of no-name actors and the clumsiest monster you ever saw. There is a climactic laboratory scene in which the monster’s arm catches on fire, and he runs around the lab, screaming, trashing the place from end to end. That’s what I think of when I look at where Trump has gone over the last week or so – a crazy-ass Frankenstein’s monster set on fire and spreading his conflagration to everything he touches. Better that he should do it during the campaign than in the oval office, am I right?

I am no fan of Ross Perot, but watching the news cover these serial sexual abuse allegations brings to mind the Texas billionaire’s studied but folksy rejoinder, “This is just sad.” Every minute spent covering this pissing match is another minute of not talking about the serious issues that face us. Not that the mainstream media and the dominant political culture need any excuses to avoid discussion of global climate change, or the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons, or the continuous state of war we’ve been embroiled in since 2001, or you name it. The notion that anyone should need more information about Trump’s past in order to vote against him is … well, it’s just sad. (The idea that any of these allegations would surprise any sentient American over the age of 25 is in itself beyond absurd.)

Tomahawk Thursday. We’re firing missiles into Yemen, nominally in response to missiles fired at our vessels in the Gulf. Of course, we are in so deep with the Saudis bombing Yemen into the stone age that the Houthi rebels (or as NBC calls them, the “Iranian-backed Houthi rebels”) do not distinguish between the U.S. and Saudi. You can kind of see why. That war sucks, and we can do something about it. The fact that we don’t is a crime.

Next up.

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I can’t decide whether the Syrian conflict is becoming more like the Afghan war of the 1980s or the Lebanon civil war (1975-90). It certainly has elements of both. Great and regional power proxies. A U.S. ally that is also a conduit for extremists (Pakistan in the 1980s Afghan war; Turkey in today’s Syria). Multiple armies running up against one another in a relatively small space (Lebanon when the Israelis, Syrians, and U.S. were all operating there at once). Rich Saudis bankrolling fanatical foreign fighters (Afghanistan). Now Syria has the misfortune of having drawn the interest of two great powers, one the global hegemon (us), the other its former and increasingly current rival (Russia).

When THEY do it, it's wrong. Got that?It is a bit maddening to see Defense Secretary Ash Carter denounce the Russians for being the gang that can’t shoot straight (which they apparently are) when only days ago our forces in Afghanistan blew up a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital – an accident, of course (we seem to have a lot of them). While we’re railing against Putin, we might pause to remember that we have been in Afghanistan for fourteen years, and that the place is still ungovernable. We’ve been in Iraq for 12 years at some level or another, and large swaths of it are under the control of a group we profess to hate – ISIS or ISIL, nurtured in the government-free zone we carved out in the cradle of civilization, supported by Saudi and Turkey. (I guess the friends of our friends are somehow our enemies. And the enemies of our enemies … also our enemies. Have we no friends?)

When you invade countries without cause or a thought to the consequences, you shouldn’t expect to make any friends. When you pursue policies that undermine the stability of an entire region, you shouldn’t be surprised when the whole place starts caving in. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – sometimes things are broken so badly that they cannot be put back together. As Americans, we can’t get our heads around that concept. We always think there’s something we can do. Basically, the one thing we can do right now is to stop actively making things worse. Once that’s pursued, other solutions may present themselves.

Speakerstakes. Speaking of ungovernable, there will be no Speaker McCarthy and, hell, maybe no speaker anybody for a while. The bug-fuck-nuts conference in the House must be high-fiving one another over yet another victory. Word to the wise: when you put government haters in charge of government, bad things will happen.

luv u,

jp

Bipartisanshit.

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Lopsided bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress have approved the President’s crackpot plan to arm the non-existent “moderate” opposition in Syria; in the Senate the tally of 78 to 22 was identical to the one that body delivered in support if Bush’s Iraq invasion. So much for the value of bipartisanship, as Chris Hayes has pointed out many times. By virtue of this blinkered legislation, we will be providing military training and equipment to many of the same people we profess to despise. (The simple fact that McCain and Graham are in favor of such funding should be enough for any sentient creature to surmise that it’s a bad call. McCain wouldn’t know a member of ISIS if he were inches away.)

McCain and his "moderates". The response to ISIS is another instance of decision-making driven by decades of bad policy. We are, in essence, seeking to deal with a mess of our own making, to put it charitably, and in so doing making an investment in future crises while bankrupting ourselves in the present.  The money and arms flowing to ISIS emanate from Saudi Arabia, other gulf states, and abandoned resources in Iraq, not to mention oil payments from third countries, like Turkey (our NATO ally). Many if not most of the weapons are stamped “Property of the U.S. Military”. Working with the Saudis to arm and train “moderate” opponents of the Assad regime is akin to working with the Pakistanis to arm and train “moderate” opponents of the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. How did that turn out again?

Once again, we are pushing towards war and there are few dissenting voices in the conversation. NPR’s Cokie Roberts had spoken of a major “educational” initiative by the Administration on fighting ISIS that would be rolled out after summer, just as the Bush charge to invade Iraq was stoked prior to the 2002 election. No real alternatives are presented; only deviations in degree from what we are doing now. Trial balloons are being floated by General Dempsey and others on the deployment of U.S. ground troops. We have seen with Libya how what started as a “humanitarian” effort morphed into a more determined campaign towards regime change. The current Iraq drive began with a mostly bogus story about impending genocide; next comes increased air strikes, then arming and training rebels. What’s next?

Obama fans: Think twice about supporting this. It is a really, really dumb idea.

luv u,

jp

Persistent truths.

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As I write this post, the parliament in Crimea has just voted to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, to which it belonged until the mid 1950s. The Russian parliament, in turn, is considering legislation to enable it to accept new provinces, an ominous turn to Where's America in this picture?be sure. There is a referendum on Crimean secession scheduled for later this month, and the new Ukrainian government is crying foul. So … are we on the brink of a new Crimean War? Charge of the Light Brigade, anyone?

The “Putin is Crazy” narrative is dominating the news cycle here in the United States. I can hear it right now, on the evening news. Even supposed activist liberal shows like Rachel Maddow are playing this as a crisis for which Russia is solely responsible, and strong evidence of Putin’s departure from reality. He’s living in another world, the German premier suggests, and that claim is being hammered home, day after day, on every network, every news channel, every media outlet. One would think no one had ever occupied a square mile of foreign territory before. (Ummm …. Afghanistan? Guam?)

I hate to be the lone dissenting voice on anything, but this thing is obviously spinning out of control, and the potential consequences are enormous. Despite his autocratic tendencies, Putin is not hard to figure out, friends. He doesn’t want another Syria as his next door neighbor. With the ouster of Yanukovych, he sees the potential for civil conflict, possible failure of the central government, etc. Putin sees the United States and Europe as having stoked the opposition, and in all frankness, it’s probably true that we did. We regularly support political movements in other countries to an extent that we would consider unacceptable should another country attempt the same on us. Now we openly support the revolution in Ukraine.

Is is about supporting democracy? Well, that’s certainly not a prerequisite for U.S. support. See Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc., etc. In all honesty, I think it would be a really good idea to work towards a diplomatic solution with greater energy. There is a tendency to fall into old cold war habits – a fact that reveals the bankruptcy of our obsession with communism back in the day. It’s really just about great power competition, and that should be considered illegitimate, particularly when so many lives are at stake.

Between us, we still have thousands of nuclear weapons. This is not something to fool around with.

luv u,

jp

New year, old news.

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This year is starting out very much like the last one ended. Here are a few of the ways I’m thinking of.

Conflict in Syria. Juan Cole reports that 2013 may have been the bloodiest year thus far in Syria, with an estimated 73,000 killed in the ongoing civil war, and more than 130,000 since the conflict started. This ongoing disaster is, in many ways, a regional conflict with a Syrian focus, as one representative of the International Crisis Committee put it recently. The only solution, it seems, is for the warring parties to say “enough”, to agree to some means of saving what’s left of their country, even if it means Assad remains in power. That would be a hard pill for many to swallow, but what is the alternative? As Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United States put their ample resources into fighting a proxy war with Iran, the Syrian people are caught in the middle. Six million refugees and no end in sight. Time to push the extremists aside and sue for peace.

Oil BoomEnergy refugees. While talking heads praise the fracking-fueled resurgence of America’s energy sector, people in places like Casselton ND are paying the price, driven from their homes in the middle of winter by the dramatic derailment and explosion of a sludge-oil train laden with fracking chemicals. This is the latest in a series of toxic spills as the country hurriedly ramps up production of the last-century fuels that are destroying our atmosphere in pursuit of short-sighted economic growth. Once again, it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs … if by that we mean, profits, profits, profits for the oil and gas industries and the corporations that support them.

Unemployment. The long-term unemployed are playing without a net this new year, thanks to a useless Congress intent on blaming the victims in a financial crisis they helped create and have bent over backwards working to prolong. I’d say the chances are close to nil that the House will pass an extension when they return to what’s euphemistically referred to as “work” in their little world, but miracles happen … particularly if you call to complain.

I’ll continue this noxious list next week. Stay tuned.

luv u,

jp

What law?

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This will be a quickie – I’m kind of pressed this week, for a variety of reasons.

It’s always astonishing to me to watch how issues in foreign affairs are reported in our nation’s mainstream media. This week there was a major network interview with the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. This was broadly characterized as part of a “charm offensive” that will include his appearance at the U.N. Any discussion of Iran is couched in the context of what is uncritically reported as their drive toward building nuclear weapons or a “nuclear weapons capability,” which the U.S., Israel, and some European allies oppose. We have imposed very punishing economic sanctions, which cause tremendous misery amongst the Iranian population, and we and the Israeli government regularly threaten Iran with military aggression. So the reporting on the “charm offensive” is a bit like trash-talking the victim after kicking them in the gut (and promising worse down the road).

I think if we’ve learned anything over the last thirty-five years it’s that the United States does not want any detente with the Iranian government, no matter how accommodating they become. We saw this with the Khatami government, which was very moderate and reformist and yet ended up on the “Axis of Evil” shortlist. Frankly, our leaders much prefer it when Iran elects presidents like Amedinejad, who are conveniently cartoon-like, racist, and easy to demonize. It’s the Rouhani’s who give them a belly ache.

Try for a moment to imagine a scenario in which we stop confronting Iran. There are two compelling reasons why it is unlikely to happen, so long as we remain an empire. First, it would put us squarely on the wrong side of Saudi Arabia in the great ongoing war against the Shi’ia. Second, it would further compel Israel to make peace, to deal, and that cuts against more than 35 years of stalemate strategy in which we have been a primary participant.

So, peace with Iran? Don’t hold your breath. It will only happen if we insist upon it … and you can’t do that without breathing deeply.

luv u,

jp