Sunday, July 14, 2019

Meanwhile, on the Arabian peninsula...


Given all the craziness going on in the USofA lately, our news media have paid scant attention to the ongoing crisis in Yemen — so you may have missed it when the UAE announced that it is ending its military cooperation with Saudi Arabia and withdrawing its forces.  After four years of war, it seems that the Emiratis have concluded that fighting the "Iranian threat" posed by the Houthis just isn't worth the effort and the expense.

This leaves the Saudis in an awkward position: they actually will have to learn how to use the hundreds of billions of dollars in weaponry purchased from the US over the past ten years in order to have any hope of winning their genocidal war, and they will have to take over the task of corralling and controlling the numerous and fractious "pro-government" militias fighting in Yemen.  Given the leadership style of Saudi Crown Prince MbS – macho incompetence – there is little reason to expect the Saudis will achieve those goals.

Emirati forces already have been withdrawn from the port city of al-Hudaydah, where international agencies offload food and medicine to relieve the suffering of the Yemeni people.  Whether the Emirati withdrawal will result in more or less aid getting through remains to be seen.  What is clear, though, is that Our President – who admires macho incompetence – will continue to support the Saudi war effort until a veto-proof majority in Congress acts to stop him.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Epstein Affair


It's hard to believe Jeffrey Epstein kept all those young girls to himself: he seems like a man who likes his consumption to be conspicuous, and so felt compelled to share some of his "conquests" with men he wanted to impress.  I suspect that the main function of the sweetheart plea deal he got from Alexander Acosta was to keep the names of those men confidential — men Acosta thought too powerful to touch.  Since the deal provides immunity for Epstein's co-conspirators, both named and unnamed, one does wonder just whose names were in Epstein's Rolodex.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Dan Barr may have set a new record for "un-recusing" himself from the Epstein prosecution — assuming that "un-recusal" is something that ever happened before.  While it is understandable that Our President has a problem with Attorneys General recusing themselves from investigations, Barr's instant turnaround does make one wonder if there might be more involved in his decision to take charge of the case.

It's hard to imagine any Americans over the age of twelve believing that their country provides "equal justice for all," and the Epstein plea bargain was just one more piece of evidence in support of that belief.  At the moment, Epstein's goose appears to be well-cooked — as a registered sex offender, just the trove of kiddie porn found at his New York townhouse is enough to put him behind bars for years.  The real question now is whether other powerful men will be sucked down in his wake.

Now that Dan Barr has taken charge of the case, I imagine the panic level in the corridors of power is down a notch or two.  Nevertheless, a coverup in 2019 may prove a lot more challenging than the coverup of 2008.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Choices


For quite a while now, Americans have had a sense that something has been going wrong in their country — but they're not at all sure what it is.  In 2008, they took a chance on "Hope and Change." Those voters got cautious incrementalism, and the banks that had tanked the economy got a bailout.  In 2016, America wanted change again, and got Tr*mp and his insane reality show of a presidency.  Corporate America got its massive tax cut, political polarization sharpened, and that sense of "wrongness" grew more acute.

While the super-rich might prefer a Republican candidate with a more rational approach to international relations and trade, they are stuck with Tr*mp for 2020.  Meanwhile, Democrats are sorting through two dozen contenders — but the basic choice they have to make is binary: either a return to the cautious incrementalism of the reigning Democratic establishment, or a sharp move to the left.  Those worried about "electability" have to figure out just what it is that will motivate voters this time around.  Are they still hungry for change, or sufficiently traumatized to long for the unsatisfying but predictable patterns of the past?

Joe Biden, widely considered the anointed candidate of the Democratic establishment, looked terrible in the first debate: not just old, but confused and unprepared.  Perhaps he'll do better next time, but it's hard to imagine him ever being exciting.  Still, it's not too late for some other "moderate" to gain institutional support.  On the left, Sanders would be the easiest target for Republican scare tactics, but Republicans will happily call Tulsi Gabbard a  socialist should she somehow happen to win the nomination.

Personally, I believe we should reserve our strategic voting for general elections, and cast primary votes based on our beliefs and values. If we don't, our beliefs and values might never matter at all.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

"Electability"


Joe Biden had a long, successful political career in Delaware; in part because he's good at local retail politics, in part because of consistent support from corporations and LLCs that flock to Delaware for tax advantages.  With regard to legislative decisions, Biden's approach has been "go along to get along" — a habit he likes to call "bipartisan cooperation."

Joe and Clarence, 1991
In national contests, Biden has been far less successful, due in large part to a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.  He is notoriously gaffe-prone, and not especially good at explaining himself afterwards.  Needless to say, political junkies are gleefully anticipating his performance in the upcoming debate.  With nine others on the stage, though, he won't have time to say much of anything at all – so he's likely to survive.

So far, in the current presidential campaign, Biden's missteps have not resulted in any crippling pratfalls, but they haven't passed unnoticed.  For Anita Hill, it was much too little, much too late.  Then, there was his overnight reversal on the Hyde Amendment — just a little too fast to claim he'd "evolved" — and one only can wonder how he'll defend his strong support of the pro-bank, anti-consumer "bankruptcy reform" legislation of 2005.

As for working with arch-segregationists Eastland and Talmadge, he really had no choice: they were senior legislators at the time, and Biden was very junior.  Still, it was totally tone deaf to choose them as his examples: and anyway, they were Democrats.  Couldn't he name any conservative Republicans to trot out as his examples of collegiality, like Ted Stevens or John Tower?  That's what his campaign managers would have advised — if he'd asked.

Yes, it's understandable that many long for the relative sanity of the Obama administration, but too many people had had enough of that by 2015 — and Biden is unlikely to inspire the younger voters Democrats will need to win back the Senate.  Americans wanted change in the last presidential election, and they want it even more this time around.  Biden is just more of the same.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Déjà vu all over again


Clearly, I'm not the only one who started flashing back to 2003.  Remember Colin Powell at the UN with his tube of fake anthrax?  (We geezers also remember the Tonkin Gulf "incident" of 1964.)

This time around, the pastiche of "evidence" consists of a grainy black-and-white video and a lot of "trust us" from a pack of known liars.

Apparently the earlier attacks, discussed in my previous post,  were not sufficiently impressive.  The attackers escalated a bit – enough to create some better visuals and edge up oil prices, but not enough to impede traffic through the Straights of Hormuz.  Nobody died.

Most of the rest of the world is extremely skeptical of the claim that the Iranians are going out of their way to provoke a war with the US; a war that would be a lot more damaging to Iran than Tr*mp's punitive sanctions.  That leads many of TV's talking heads to opine that the attacks were carried out by "the more radical elements in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps" rather than its central authorities – slightly more plausible, but not by much.

According to Mike Pompeo, intelligence sources have concluded that no non-state actor could have launched the attacks, presumably excluding the Houthis and Hezbollah; but certainly not excluding the Saudis or the Emiratis, who have purchased more than enough high-tech weaponry from the US.  As for the skill set, Erik Prince and his Academi mercenaries are conveniently located in Abu Dhabi.

Of course, there is another state actor with very close ties to Erik Prince: the Tr*mp Administration, which may see open conflict with Iran as a means to gin up nationalist sentiment and distract from its leader's increasingly apparent dementia and/or psychotic breakdown.

Yes, this is a conspiracy theory: I have no solid evidence of its validity.  It is possible that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who turned 80 in April, is battier than Tr*mp; or that somebody else's conspiracy theory is closer to the mark.  What is certain, though, is that the whole truth remains unavailable.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The "threat" from Iran


How do you win a war without actually fighting one?  You don't.  You can, however, create the appearance of war: engage in a lot of bloviating and sabre-rattling, and then declare victory.  You don't need a real war to "wag the dog."

When I saw the first photographs of the damage done to those oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, I was, to say the least, incredulous — describing the damage as "minimal" is an overstatement.  No oil was spilled; no flames; no casualties.  Compared to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 or the attack on the Limburg tanker in 2002, the recent acts of sabotage were flea bites.

All four tankers were able to proceed under their own power: there was no disruption of traffic in or around the port of Abu Dhabi, to the great "relief" of the Emiratis. If the Iranians truly were responsible, it's evidence that they're too incompetent to present a credible threat to anybody. Just the same, the "attacks" helped to justify the accelerated buildup of US military force in the region and the sale of $8 billion worth of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In the absence of any evidence implicating Iran, the obvious question is qui bono? — and the obvious answer is Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Tr*mp Administration.

Then there is the "intelligence" indicating Iran presents a "credible threat" to US forces in the region.  Such intelligence always exists: what changes is its interpretation, depending on what those who control it want it to say.

Those who want evidence of Tr*mpian "collusion" with a foreign government will do better examining the Saudis than the Russians.  Everybody expects Saudi support for Jared's "peace plan" for Israel and the Palestinians (and nobody will be surprised if the plan seeks to institutionalize apartheid in the name of "economic development.")

One final note: Erik Prince runs Academi, the successor to Blackwater, out of Abu Dhabi — and he employs a substantial number of former Navy Seals.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Meanwhile, in Alabama...


Alabama's new abortion law, legally, is extremely problematic; but there's one big problem Alabama lawmakers may not have considered.  It probably violates the Alabama State Constitution.  Why?

It fails to criminalize the women who have abortions.

The ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court in Ex Parte Ritter, a case decided in 1979, is clear: "[A]ll persons concerned in the commission of a felony, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense or aid or abet in its commission, though not present, must hereafter be indicted, tried and punished as principals."  Not merely "present" at their abortions, women are the initiators of the felony defined by the new law.  If their doctors are subject to sentences of up to 99 years, those women must be subject to the same penalties.

Other states, like Georgia, have not made the same mistake — but, needless to say, have downplayed the fact that recipients of abortions can expect time in prison.  While the religious fanatics behind the war on abortion may not be bothered by that fact, plenty of their fellow travelers will be encouraged to think twice.  Politically, jailing women who have abortions is a losing proposition.

Conservative states already are jailing women for behaviors that potentially endanger an embryo or a fetus.  Most often, those behaviors involve use of controlled substances; so they enjoy little sympathy from the general public.  Jailing a 14-year-old for aborting Daddy's baby is sure to provoke a far stronger response.