Budgets are boring right? Not really. They are certainly complex, and passing them is complicated, as Washington, DC’s seemingly perpetual shut-down dance shows. But the question of paying for government is the most important one imaginable. Time and again in history we see great empires brought down by the simple question of “How do we pay for this?”
In the 1500s the Spanish Empire encircled the world, and controlled something like half of Europe, if not more. Their American territories brought a constant stream of precious metals. They were brought down mostly by the fact that they didn’t understand inflation, and defaulted on their debt repeatedly. In the 1920s the British Empire reached it’s largest extent. The “Sun Never Set” on the British Empire. 40 years later it was gone. Because they couldn’t pay for it. The holders of British debt in the United States got to dictate British foreign policy in a few crucial instances.
This video may not strike you as very serious. But seriousness is the whole point. We use Iran to justify a lot of bad behavior. Just a week or so back, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that we’re going to indefinitely hold territory in Syria because we don’t like the fact that Iran has influence in a country it has had influence in for decades. We use the “seriousness” of the Iranian threat to ourselves and Israel to justify stuff. This doesn’t mean we’re actually serious about the Iranian threat.
Because if we were serious about countering Iran, we’d be using every possible opening. We’d have the ability to both deal with them diplomatically, and oppose them militarily in proxy wars, just like the Cold Warriors of Yore. But we don’t. Because nothing about US foreign policy is serious. Other than its consequences for the world. This video is a thought experiment, asking how we’d tread Iran’s president Rouhani if we were truly serious about countering threats from Iran.
The most important news is often the stuff we never hear about. This is especially true in the era of Donald Trump’s twitter feed. With this video, I attempt to uncover one of the more important aspects of Trump’s presidency, the career of Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice. As Attorney General, Sessions is attempting to roll back a solid decade of progress in the arena of criminal justice, from civil forfeiture to marijuana legalization.
It’s frustrating to watch Sessions efforts be ignored. When Trump goes after him he even comes close to “resistance hero” status, or at least garners some sympathy. Jeff Sessions does not deserve our sympathy.
Back when I started doing this channel full time, I put out a series called “Notes From The Golden Age“. Today’s video, on the defeat of OPEC, is a long delayed addition to the series. In the six minutes of the video itself, I just laid out the facts as I understand them: The fact that OPEC did its level best to raise the price of oil, and they failed. If you want to hear more about why that is, and hear some discussion of the revolution in petroleum affairs we’ve experienced over the past five years, you could do worse than this video here.
Put briefly, oil doesn’t cost what it used to. The origin of this development is probably OPEC itself. That cartel drastically reduced the oil on the market on a couple occasions in the 1970s, driving the price through the roof. Much has, quite rightly, been made of the Shale revolution in the United States. A range of technological advances has made oil extraction easier, cheaper, and viable in places that it wasn’t before. This revolution has made US production competitive with Saudi Arabia again, and caused the plummet in prices that started in mid 2014. But the Shale revolution is only the most dramatic cause.
The plummet in oil prices is the result of a range of reactions to OPEC’s obscene market power. An under-heralded one is energy efficiency. We have finally reached a point where economic growth is decoupling from growth in petrochemical use. Some of this is renewables, but more of it is the very, very unsexy business of making cars and air conditioning units run more efficiently. Another reaction to OPEC was the broadening of the search for petroleum. Coupled with Technological advances, a staggering range of countries now produce significant amounts of oil and gas. OPEC has been beaten. They largely did it to themselves.
A lot of Saudi Arabia coverage focuses on the loose cannon effect the country has been having on Middle East politics for the past year. Little attention has been paid to the promises that have been made to the country, and the way those promises have not been honored. I thought it might be interesting to tell the story of 2017 from the perspective of Saudi Arabia’s rulers for once. I think it illuminates something many have been missing.
This video started out as a central idea I wanted to deliver about the Trump administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Then it evolved into more of a Saudi Arabia year in review thing. This video is different from the recent ones in a number of ways. It tries to cover a lot, quickly. Not sure whether it’s worthwhile or not. Let me know @robbolaw
What few people recognize is how far the US Congress has fallen, and how quickly. US pop culture, almost from the beginning, has featured a high degree of skepticism about Congress. They’ve always been known as a bunch of corrupt, pompous windbags. That’s a healthy attitude to take towards one’s government. But I think this constant attitude of contempt has served to hide Congress’s fall.
With the one two punch of Newt Gingrich’s “reforms” in the 1990’s (discussed here) and the expansion of the government after 9/11, Congress has lost the plot almost entirely. It’s only by looking at the power and principle that Congress could stand on just a few short decades ago, that we can get the full picture. That’s what this week’s video comparing Congress’s abdication of responsibility for Yemen to their treatment of Nicaragua in the 1980’s is intended to do.
Honestly, even I’m not so sure how I made it from John Kelly’s views of the US Civil War to Diocletian. But I did. It was nice to take a break from Saudi Arabia with a nice palate cleansing, and profoundly odd video. Comparing US history to Roman history is a profoundly silly thing to do. The systems are just too different. But sometimes the echos are so obvious I can’t help myself. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I enjoyed making it.
Trump’s tremendous Iran screw up makes me think of the Suez Crisis. But then almost everything does. I may be a little obsessed with the Suez Crisis. There’s a certain poetry to it. Maybe because it’s one of those rare examples of the United States doing the right thing. But as this video explains, it is also a warning. The Suez Crisis is my choice for the end of the British Empire. It’s an example we should all be thinking of more as Donald Trump accelerates the end of the US Empire.
Donald Trump’s wrecking ball trick has been tried before. In fact it’s pretty much the only trick he has. But this time it’s different. Things like the Climate Change agreement are easy to re-visit. By the next administration folks can come back to it. The Iran Deal is different. He hasn’t managed to destroy it yet, but if he does, the damage he does to US-Iranian relations, and the reputation of the country will be permanent. The Opportunity of the JCPOA, the possibility of a broader peace between the US and Iran, has probably already been squandered. The chances of Iran becoming a North Korea style Nuclear hermit have also been increased.
This video focuses on the basics of why Trump’s actions are so insane. Later in the week we should get into the repercussions. But earlier today I saw the Iranian Foreign Minister making a very valid point that didn’t make it into either. If Trump succeeds in destroying this deal. Which he is likely to do from the US perspective anyway. How does any country ever trust the United States again?
Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I’ve come to see Donald Trump as a cultural phenomenon more than a political one. There’s still plenty of time for somebody to whip him into shape, but it seems like the nightmares of his retrograde political ambitions are unlikely to come to pass. The man is just too incompetent. What he is, is a symbol. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently dubbed Trump “The First White President”. In this video I argue that he’s also the last. Donald Trump is one last barbaric yawp of resentment from mid-century suburban Babbits on their way to the grave. He symbolizes the accelerated destruction of a dying era rather than a new one. I’m excited to see what’s next…