Monday, November 13, 2017

Saudis Have Painted Themselves into a Corner

Lebanon's prime minister, Saad Hariri, has been under house arrest in Saudi Arabia for a week. He went on television yesterday and vowed that he would return to Lebanon "in two or three days.”

I doubt it. The Saudis have fucked up again. They can't allow Hariri to return to Lebanon because once there his party, Future Movement, would disavow his resignation; plus, if Hariri returns, he will have to explain the reason he provided for fleeing to Saudi Arabia in the first place, that there was an assassination plot against him.

No, the Saudis obviously didn't game this one out. The Lebanese aren't buying any of it, and Hezbollah looks better than before Hariri was made captive.

Faced with a problem of his own creation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will most likely do what he has always done -- make the problem bigger.

The emergency Arab League meeting announced for November 19 will be an occasion for the Saudis to make further demands of Iran and Hezbollah.

The Saudis want a wider war, the idea being that in a direct conflict with Iran, not just a proxy conflict, the United States will have to join the Kingdom.

All the military celebrations during Sunday's NFL games, part of a Veterans Day salute, were accompanied by a barely perceptible but nonetheless present queasiness. The next U.S. war will be a game changer and not in a way that bolsters American hegemony.

People sense it. The tail is wagging the dog.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Medicaid Expansion in Maine Big Win for Democrats

Much is being made about the defeat of Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor's race:
Ralph Northam, 1,405,097, 53.9%
Ed Gillespie, 1,172,533, 45.0%
But I think the most hopeful sign of election night was Maine's popular vote to expand Medicaid. (See Abby Goodnough's "Maine Voters Approve Medicaid Expansion, a Rebuke of Gov. LePage.")

Repeated in other states whose governors refused the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, this will be a progressive voter magnet in 2018. With a modest amount of competence, the Democratic Party should retake the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Iran War Fever

From Bill Van Aucken's "Lebanese crisis bound up with war drive against Iran":
What has changed is the ratcheting up of the campaign against Iran waged by Washington in alliance with both Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Trump administration has signaled its willingness to upend the Iranian nuclear agreement, which would place it on path to war with Tehran, while the US Congress last month enacted a new series of sanctions against Hezbollah, including the placing of multimillion-dollar bounties on the heads of two of its officials.
Lebanon, which suffered a civil war that bled the country from 1975 to 1989, is threatened with being turned into a field of battle in the drive by US imperialism to destroy Iran as an impediment to establishing hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East. To this end, the US administration has deliberately sought to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, with potentially catastrophic implications for Lebanon.
The Israeli regime has made no attempt to conceal its glee over Hariri’s actions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the Lebanese prime minister’s resignation and statements in Riyadh as “a wake-up call for the international community to act against Iranian aggression.”
The country’s thuggish Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman went on Twitter to write: “Lebanon=Hezbollah. Hezbollah=Iran. Lebanon=Iran. Iran is dangerous to the world. Saad Hariri has proved that today. Period.”
The Jerusalem Post was even more explicit, stating, “Now, it seems that Hariri has given Israel more legitimacy for a full-scale and uncompromising campaign against Iran and Lebanon, not only Hezbollah, should a war in the north break out.”
It approvingly quoted Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet and former Israeli general, who vowed that should war begin, “Israel will bring Lebanon back to the stone age.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah responded on Sunday:
Nasrallah on Sunday played down the risks of conflict between rival camps in Lebanon or with his movement's arch-foe Israel.
"Do not listen to alarmist speeches ... do not worry, there is nothing to worry about," he said.
"We will react responsibly and calmly... we are concerned about the security" of Lebanon, Nasrallah added.
On Israel, he said the Jewish state "will not embark on a war against Lebanon unless it is guaranteed a quick, decisive and inexpensive war".
Van Aucken doesn't mention Saudi threats against Iran for a Houthi missile attack on Riyadh Saturday (see "Saudi-Led Coalition Fighting in Yemen Hints at ‘Act of War’ by Iran"). Iran denies having anything to do with it. Saudi Arabia has announced a complete land, sea and air blockade of Yemen. The humanitarian crisis there can only worsen.

On the purge within the Saudi royal family, David Kirkpatrick reports in "Saudi Crown Prince’s Mass Purge Upends a Longstanding System" that
“It is the coup de grâce of the old system,” said Chas W. Freeman, a former United States ambassador. “Gone. All power has now been concentrated in the hands of Mohammed bin Salman.”
Why the crown prince acted now — whether to eliminate future opposition or perhaps to crush some threat he saw brewing — was not immediately clear.
At 32 years old, he had little experience in government before his father, King Salman, 81, ascended to the throne in 2015, and the prince has demonstrated little patience for the previously staid pace of change in the kingdom.
He has led Saudi Arabia into a protracted military conflict in Yemen and a bitter feud with its Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar. He has taken on a business elite accustomed to state subsidies and profligacy by laying out radical plans to remake the Saudi economy, lessen its dependence on oil and rely instead on foreign investment. And he has squared off against conservatives in the religious establishment with symbolic steps to loosen strict moral codes, including a pending end to the longstanding ban on women driving.
Crown Prince Mohammed’s haste, however, may now come at a price, because the lack of transparency or due process surrounding the anticorruption crackdown is sure to unnerve the same private investors he hopes to attract — including through a planned stock offering of the huge state oil company, Aramco.
President Trump on Sunday appeared to give a tacit endorsement of the arrests in a phone call with King Salman. A White House summary of the call contained no references to the arrests, and said Mr. Trump had praised Crown Prince Mohammed for other matters.
Three White House advisers, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, returned just days ago from the latest in at least three high-level Trump administration visits to Saudi Arabia this year.
Nearly 24 hours after the arrests were announced, no Saudi authority or spokesman had identified those arrested or the charges against them.
Trump wants war with Iran. Al-Saud wants war with Iran. Israel wants war with Iran. War with Iran is coming. Don't look to the disintegrating Democratic Party to offer a counterweight.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Zombie Shall Go Off-Road

Since the end of August I have been confronted with a series of significant demands at work. One of the units of the local went out on strike and was on the picket line for a month before reaching an agreement with the employer. Unions rarely go on strike anymore. There are a variety of reasons for this, none of which are positive for labor, but the bottom line is that strikes are supremely difficult to manage. They are physically exhausting and emotionally taxing.

Once the strike ended, the local's bookkeeper resigned, which put me on the hot seat for taking care of all the finances, a web of a various arcane transactions -- payroll, tax filings, accounts payable and receivable -- electronic and otherwise. Then, if that wasn't enough, the local's general fund was targeted in a string of fraud attempts, which necessitated opening up a case with the local police, establishing a new account, reaching out to employers who remit dues payments electronically, etc.

All in all, a tale of professional woe since August. And there is no end in sight. If anything, things will grow worse as the year end approaches. My brain feels bruised.

I have no time to cogitate on current events. I've been workings Saturdays, and Saturday is my main reading day; so a lot of the grist for my mill has been depleted.

The dynamic remains the same though: The Western-led neoliberal world order is capsizing, and no mainstream political rescue operation is on the horizon. Democratic leaders in the U.S. think they can muddle along and beat Trump in 2020 with a Wall Street candidate; in other words, a redo of 2016.

The problem is a major new war is coming. The U.S.-Saudi jihadist response to the Arab Spring revolt(s) of 2011 has lost its steam. When blocked or defeated, the neoconservative response -- and neoconservative decision making is the only type of decision making that exists in Riyadh and Washington, D.C. these days -- is to make the problem bigger. That's how we should interpret the latest news out of Saudi Arabia.

Will Lebanon be destroyed again? Will Iran be attacked directly? I don't know. But the U.S. is at its limit politically and militarily. Europe will soon have to go its own way. Finally. But can Europe make this transition without cracking up itself? Probably not. Germany, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (and the bygone Republic of Vietnam), is organically connected to the U.S. deep state.

This particular path that the West is on has come to end. The zombie must go off-road.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Rajoy Outmaneuvers Puigdemont

Judging from "Catalonia Leader Turns Up in Belgium After Spain Seeks Prosecution," by Raphael Minder, Patrick Kingsley and Milan Schreurer, it appears that the government of Mariano Rajoy has learned from its mistake on October 1. Rather than react with force, the Spanish government has pinned its hopes of solving the problem of independence for Catalonia with elections in December.

This appears to have wrong-footed pro-independence leadership:
Not least, there was the important decision for separatist parties about whether to take part in regional elections called by Madrid or to risk sidelining themselves.
The two main Catalan parties — including Mr. Puigdemont’s Catalan European Democratic Party — said on Monday they would run in the elections, which are scheduled for Dec. 21, although perhaps no longer as part of the coalition that won the most parliamentary seats in 2015.
Germà Bel, a separatist Catalan lawmaker, said Mr. Puigdemont’s possible hopes of running a government from exile was “symbolic.”
“I don’t know of anyone who’s run a government from overseas,” he said. “Even Charles de Gaulle didn’t run a government from overseas.”
But he argued that it would be hard for Mr. Rajoy’s government to maintain control over Catalonia for an extended period.
The decision by pro-independence parties to take part in the December elections meant that they “at least implicitly” accept they are still part of Spain — no small concession.
“This election has been called by the Spanish government under Spanish law — and it will be an election run within the state,” Mr. Bel said.
When it comes to the polls, fear is usually a stronger motivation than hope. That's why I imagine that the pro-independence coalition of Carles Puigdemont will lose its majority in the regional government.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Why Our Dystopia Fatigue Won't Abate Anytime Soon

There is an especially good unsigned editorial in today's NYT. "Insect Armageddon" mentions a recent German study which documents an astonishing 76% reduction in winged insect biomass.

The oceans are dying. Primates are dying. Frogs, bats, honeybees -- what else? Every living thing appears to be dying. No wonder we're growing tired of dystopias. But what else can we imagine in our environment?
There is alarming new evidence that insect populations worldwide are in rapid decline. As Prof. Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, a co-author of a new insect study, put it, we are “on course for ecological Armageddon” because “if we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.”
The study, which tracked flying insects collected in nature preserves across Germany, found that in just 25 years, the total biomass of these insects declined by an astonishing 76 percent. The reasons for the decline are not entirely clear — and only flying insects were collected, so the fate of crawling insects, for example, is not known — but the scientists suspect two main culprits: the use of pesticides and a lack of habitat in surrounding farmland.
This isn’t the first study to indicate that insects are in trouble. The Zoological Society of London warned five years ago that many insect populations worldwide were declining, and a 2014 studypublished in Science magazine documented a steep drop in insect and other invertebrate life worldwide, warning that such “declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being.”
The disappearance of creepy, crawly, buzzing insects doesn’t elicit the kind of emotional response that, say, global warming’s threat to polar bears does. Many may be quick to say, “Good riddance!” But we cannot survive in a world without insects, as they are critical for pollinating our food and are themselves a food source for many fish, birds and reptiles. Insects are also nature’s scavengers and soil aerators.
There are proven steps that could be taken now to help stem this decline. Buffer zones of wildflowers and native plants around single-crop fields can help, as can agricultural practices that respect biodiversity and reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides. Our planet’s rapidly disappearing forests, wetlands and grasslands need to be preserved and restored wherever possible. More research is also needed to better understand why, where and what insects are disappearing and how they can be saved. But one thing is already clear: The fate of the world’s insects is inseparable from our own.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dystopia Fatigue

Since 2009 the primary cultural -- not to be confused with official -- narrative has been dystopian, exemplified by the popularity of all things zombie, such as the eight-season television series The Walking Dead.

But Western civilization is now experiencing dystopia fatigue. The problem, as Naomi Klein perceptively identified in No is Not Enough, is that we have lost the ability to conceptualize utopias. Decades of neoliberal triumphalism -- TINA, "there is no alternative" -- has left us intellectually blinkered.

So right when the neoliberal zombie appears headed for a fall -- Catalonia, Kurdistan, Dixiecrat absorption of the entire GOP, the construction of a Great Firewall in the West -- we are clueless what to do. Maybe Catalans will show us the way.

Which means that the zombie will probably find its feet and stumble on, only to fall again, until its head bursts apart.