Sunday, July 22, 2018

Blockades Work Both Ways

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now backing up President Rouhani’s statement that Iran will block all Gulf oil exports if Trump blocks Iranian exports.

Can they do it?   Perhaps partially?   If so, how?

But why would they?  Trump is not going to stop oil supplies to China and they are Iran’s biggest customer.   And Chinese oil tankers would love the concession to bring oil to India and other Asian customers.  Plus there is no way Trump can stop oil exports to Turkey without bombing pipelines.  Same for natural gas exports to Turkmenistan – and Trump's buddy in Moscow might object to that. 
In fact Trump is only trying to bully European buyers and perhaps South Korea and japan.  But he is giving waivers.  His deadline is November.


  1. Could they do it? To defend Persian Gulf oil exports against Iran again has been the USN's wet dream since the early 90's.

    I suppose the Iranians could pull it off if they get new equipment (air defence, land-based anti-ship missiles, passive sonars for beyond the horizon targeting) from Russia. They won't.

    Russia has a strategy of pushing oil prices up by cooperating with OPEC instead of freeloading on its back. To aid Iran in cutting off Persian Gulf oil exports would mean to push many of Russia's new friends in the region deep into American arms in exchange for short-term gains (but Iran might not even be able to pay for the hardware without Russian loans).

  2. Sven -

    Iran does not have to shut down the Straits of Hormuz. They only need to have one of their proxies ambush an oil tanker with an RPG to send international oil prices spiraling out of sight in the New York Mercantile Exchange and commodity bourses in Europe.

    Or perhaps more devious courses of action:
    1] by staging an explosion or an attempted one on the pipelines to Turkey and blaming it on the PKK or on America's allies the Peshmerga;
    2] staging an attack on one of their own tankers (or a Chinese tanker) and arresting a couple of US-Backed MEK guerrillas for the deed;
    3] or a step up of Houthi attacks on oil tankers in the Red Sea like the one in April;
    4] or a hundred other schemes where they have a thin fig leaf of deniability

    IMHO they most likely will not. But are making the statements in order to put pressure on US allies in Europe and Asia to ignore Trump's embargo.

    1. They would be blamed for any attack anyway, so they could just as well do it for real.

      An RPG does nil to a supertanker. Even Exocet missiles were shrug off by Iranian supertankers in the 80's.

    2. Sven -

      Iranian deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has claimed: “Iran has many options, ... and there’s not just one Strait of Hormuz or one solution”.

      Later he said: “I hope we don’t reach to a point to implement such actions. I think that the international community, US allies, specially Europeans, China, Russia and India don’t want to reach the point and that’s why they hold negotiations to meet Iran’s demands”.

      All of which reinforces the point that they are not going to do this. It is a gambit - Trump is not the only one who understands the value of a PR ploy.

      You are right that an RPG will not sink a supertanker. But any attack on tankers no matter how ineffectual is going to rile the markets.

    3. "the markets" won't do much for long unless they're about to turn anyway. A few damages to tankers followed by just about every tanker making it through the strait will lead "the markets" to return to normality within weeks.

      Russia de facto joining and re-stabilising OPEC and Venezuela's oil production collapse are much bigger factors for the oil prices.

    4. A real concern is "what price insurance?" Shipping companies will not move squat unless their ships and cargo are insured. I suspect that insurance policies are void when entering a zone of active hostilities and that a RPG and a suitably bellicose statement from Iran might be enough for Lloyd's to yank their policies.

    5. Sven -

      Trump's berzerker twitter rant last night against Rouhani sent oil prices higher.

    6. So, did someone reprot about that or why do you write such a thing?
      For I looked at the WTI price chart, and see no noteworthy increase in teh past 24 hrs.
      Instead, price is now 2 USD/barrel lower than just three days ago.

    7. West Texas Crude is down from the start of July but was up 1.7% yesterday, But that 1.7% increase was only 0.5% today. Brent Crude is up less at only 0.15% today. So it's fluctuating.

      Probably the market is realizing that Trump's tweet to Rouhani was just an attempted distraction from Russiagate or the Cohen tape. And not serious.

  3. The Iranians are savvy and they depend on oil for the majority of their economy, so closing the strait would also cut their own throat. I don't think they would try unless they were attacked first.

    Doesn't seem to be a smart play for them - like Mike said, they have other options to bring pressure.

    1. As I understand it, China is building a big seaport on the Iranian coast *outside* the straits. No yet operational, but ...

    2. Ael -

      Iranian port of Chabahar on the Indian Ocean outside Hormuz is already operational:

      India is financing a major expansion. Iran has been asking China to invest also, but I it is unclear to me if that deal has been made yet. China seems pretty happy with their port in Gwadar Pakistan which will dwarf the capacity of Chabahar:

      But to my knowledge there are no developed oil or natural gas fields in Southeastern Iran and so far no pipelines to Chabahar. There have been preliminary talks between Iran and India of an undersea gas pipeline between Chabahar and Gujarat in India.

      If built it would reduce the price of natural gas in India by close to 30% from ship bases LNG imports. So Trump and his Koch brother buddies may take offense and try to sabotage the deal.

      There is already a land-based natural gas pipeline under construction by Russia's Gazprom between Iran and Pakistan. Not sure of what percent is complete.

  4. Overall I tend to agree with the consensus that this is largely posturing from the Iranians. They have little to gain and more to lose from fighting Tanker War 2.

    What is both irking and frustrating is listening to these idiot Trumpkins blow and thunder about war with Iran without reading about universal condemnation of their warmongering from every editorial page and TV news outfit in the world. Yeah, I know, I know, but...fuckadoodledoo! Less than a generation after Dubya's Operation Clusterfuck how can ANYone not be infuriated by this? How can ANYone not simply respond "No, you're not gonna invade Iran and do regime change, dumbfuck, so siddown and enjoy a nice cup of STFU..."

    We really do get the government we deserve.

    1. Remember how they claimed Clinton as POTUS would risk war?

    2. Regarding your statement on consensus: I do not believe it is all posturing on the part of the Iranians.

      Sure, some of their bluster is red meat for the home crowd.

      And I agree with with you that they have a lot to lose if they start TankerWar2. Plus Andy is right on that they will NOT try to close the Hormoz entrance to their Gulf.

      But if Trump's sanctions manage to put a major dent in their oil sales they are not going to take it laying down. One way or another they will push back by somehow attempting to sabotage oil exports of the Saudis and Emiratis, both BTW have significant Shia minorities. They may not succeed, but they will damn well try. Ali Khamenei is not a showman like Trump, and there are lots of crazies in the IRGC who would love to stick it to the royal families across the water. It appears Khamenei may now have the moderates on his side also.

      Trump is the posturer. He will back down in a New York Minute. He will continue funding the MEK terrorists in Iran and the Iranian-American Pahlavi royals in Los Tehrangeles. And he may even direct a few airstrikes to bolster up his bonafides with the war crowd. Other than that his response is going to be not much more than a cookie fart, but he will claim it was an earth shaker.

    3. I dunno, Mike. The Iranians aren't fools like the Trumpkins. I think they know that giving their enemies a pretext for real war would be disastrous. IMO they've played their geopolitical hand pretty well, getting invited into Iraq and Syria and making pals there.

      No question that they will want to make the US pay if Trump gets his war. But I think they have a clear view of their military vulnerability. I can't see them taking a big risk just to rock a snook at Crock O'Bile Dummee.

    4. Let's hope you are right.

      On the other hand, as Andy said, they are savvy. And a lot savvier than those in our WH. If pushed they will slip the knife to bin Salman or Sheikh Khalifa smartly without Dodo Donny knowing what happened.

    5. "Hilary the Hawk, Donald the Dove", Sven? Yep. That claim was parroted at this very site at one time, and I can remember thinking what nonsense it was than.

      But in that particular case there IS a "both sides" problem, in that it's true that the mainstream pols in both the Democratic and Republican parties are partisans for what Andy Bachevich calls the "Washington Rules", primary among which is the belief that "war works"; that you can call down "fire and fury" and the result will be the goal you started with. I think a huge part of that is the Good War syndrome - the gauzy memory that the Greatest Generation got exactly the result they wanted out of WW2. All the OTHER fucking disasters (or minor messes) left behind by all the OTHER wars are conveniently forgotten.

      Again, though...the primary effect of this whole Iran nonsense just depresses the hell out of me. This is NOT a sensible or workable foreign policy. And yet, there's nobody in the "news" biz who is simply shaking their head and calling it what it is - utter nonsense. So the American Voter - simple rube that he or she is - never gets the hint that smart people running a smart government wouldn't be doing this stuff.

      So there's no downside for the Trumpkins, or for any American politician, to do it now, or to do similar things in the future...

    6. Empirically, I think it's hard to deny that Hillary was/is, at a minimum, very hawkish - IMO approaching McCain after he went off the rails. Her track record and campaign promises were at the upper-range of the interventionist clique and she was/is a foreign policy "insider" in all the wrong ways.

      Not that I'm happy with Trump, but those are the choices our two corrupt political parties gave us. A decent foreign policy President simply wasn't in the cards this time around.

    7. That wasn't the talking point, Andy. It was that Trump, with his talk of how foolish the Middle Eastern wars were and how he was going to "do something" about them, was the LESS hawkish of the two. That he would be the "more decent" foreign policy President. It wasn't portrayed as one of two bad choices, but as Hilary Will Start WW3.

      But anyone who looked at the people who Trump surrounded himself with, or, hell, who looked at the many Bushies still empowered in the GOP knew that was ridiculous.

      As suboptimal as Clinton and Obama were on war - and as I said, they weren't good - Trump was and is always going to be worse.

      So the choices our corrupt political parties give us were between a kick in the ass and a bullet in the gut. Trying to make that a 50-50 proposition is, at best, disingenuous.

    8. I'm aware of the talking point and, as I said, I'm not a fan of Trump's foreign policy. To repeat, this wasn't an election where we were going to get anything but a bad FP President.

      While I appreciate your attempts to cast her as better than Trump - and maybe she would have been - the fact remains that she had a terrible FP record and terrible instincts. She was on the wrong side of almost every major FP decision she had a voice in. I would place her quite a bit lower than "suboptimal."

      And this is what startled me about your comment. Clinton's actions and policies over the years were in direct opposition to everything you've (rightly) railed about here over the last decade when it comes to FP. She was the NATSEC establishment candidate - the neocons and GoP FP establishment became #nevertrumpers and supported her because of that record. In light of that it's strange to hear you use the euphemism "suboptimal" as if she was just one tick away from optimal.

      My position is that both candidates were terrible on FP. That is not a disingenuous position. Trying to argue that one is better than the other is like trying to argue that Bill Cosby is a better feminist than Harvey Weinstein. It's arguing that we need to overlook Cosby's terribleness simply because Weinstein is even more terrible.

      My view is that we should reject binary framing and be willing to call a spade a spade. We may be forced to "settle" for Cosby, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve all the scorn his actions earned him.

    9. And my point remains when you have a choice between bad and worse...DON'T choose worse.

      Yes, the DLC wing of the party is bad on military adventuring. No, they're not bull-goose looney like the GOP. If there's nothing but bad choices, take the least bad. That's really it. Full stop. I'm not sure why that's even an issue here.

      But even if it was, there's more. The Sanders candidacy showed that there's hope for the Dems. The GOP? Show me the equivalent there. You can't. There is none; the "moderate" Republicans daren't show their faces for fear of getting wingnut kamikaze'd. That has been my point w Trump; even if he WAS a Very Stable Genius, his party is run by the Freedom Caucus gibbering loons pining for 1859.

      As for "rejecting the binary framing", well, the first-past-the-post balloting system will always produce two large umbrella parties. It's baked into the process. You'll note that the only time that's changed has been when one of the two is dying; Republicans replacing Whigs in the late 1850s, for example. The third party in American politics simply divides the side of the political aisle it represents and empowers the opposition. We can wish for a parliamentary system all we want...

    10. And here's what's so depressing about this to me, Andy.

      You are incredibly well-informed, thoughtful, and intelligent. Compared to the typical American voter you stand out like Tom Jefferson in a high school Civics class.

      My hope would be that when someone like you contemplates the Mordoresque landscape of Trumpist Republicanism your immediate response would be to flee in utter loathing. I mean...what's there to like there? The Gilded Age economics? The racial and xenophobic divisiveness? The castigating of any opposition to "conservatism" as treason? The brutal Dubyaesque love for armed force?

      And yet, you're "not a fan", as mild a disavowal as I can imagine. Not "I can't think of a bigger trainwreck" or "I thick these Trumpkins are freaking nuts". Just "not a fan".

      So...if "not a fan" is your level of dislike, what are Joe and Molly Low-Information-Voter thinking? The folks steeping in the weapons-grade derp that they get off FOX and CNN and so forth?

      If your well-thought-out look at the American political system doesn't lead you to reject Trump and Trumpism out of hand...what chance is there that the ordinary joker will see through it?

      It's that that has me convinced we're doomed.

  5. The bad news (good news? Maybe if you figure the human race is getting what it asked for and getting it good and hard...) is that we may not have to worry about all that petroleum getting to market:

    "Of the planet’s 37 major aquifer systems, they discovered, 21 were on the verge of collapse. In the Great Plains, farmers had exhausted a third of Ogallala’s potable water in just 30 years. In California, the Central Valley aquifer was showing signs that it could drop beyond human reach by the middle of this century. But the worst declines were in Asia and the Middle East, where some of the planet’s oldest aquifers were already running out of water. “While we are so busy worrying about the water that we can see,” Famiglietti told me, “the water that we can’t see, the groundwater, is quietly disappearing.”

    But hey...fake news! Right?

  6. Chief,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    "Not a fan" was merely a rhetorical phrase. It would be a mistake to judge the strength of my opinion according to the "strength" of my outrage or fidelity, as the case may be. Over the top rhetoric is not my forte, and it doesn't fit my personality - never has. I don't have the wit or temperament to deploy polemic with the effectiveness that you do and that's something I've always admired about your writing.

    Moreover, "passion" hasn't worked as a tactic, for me at least, and I don't think it's generally very effective when it comes to convincing others. And in politics and the social fabric of our society, convincing others is, I believe, a very important goal if one wants to implement change. It's not enough to oppose Trump (or whatever politician or policy), one should endeavor to convince others in ways that are actually effective.

    For example, calling Trump worse and worse names or lecturing his supporters about how stupid, racist or whatever have not done much to hurt Trump. The media's obsession with over analyzing his every tweet has a record of almost three years of failure. He's been called "hitler" and a "traitor" (in the literal, Constitutional meaning of the word) and nary a move of the needle. What words of outrage are left that will resonate with those who might be swayed to oppose him come the next election? The rhetorical ammo depot is almost dry before the first two years are even over. And will "once more into the breach" work after the hundreth try?

    None of it has done much to damage Trump and I have to wonder why so many continue to beat their heads against that wall, hoping something will change.

    Overall, I tend to prioritize effectiveness over ideology. I don't have much use for good intentions or virtue signalling or ends-justify-the-means arguments. I especially have little use for framing issues in terms of a binary: right/left or GoP/Democrat.

    As far as the parties themselves are concerned, they've become small, less diverse and more insular. As time goes on, both parties will actually represent the interests of a smaller and smaller slice of America. They've turned from "big tent" parties that could actually put together a winning coalition of interests into organizations that are immune to failure and are largely controlled by monied interests, and influential donor base, and a relative handful of activists. They are minority factions who constitute a bare majority when their numbers are combined, yet they control all the mechanisms of government and continually entrench against competition or reform.

    This is a state of affairs that is not worth defending and, IMO, defending these parties is to enable their further decline.

    In short the current partisan system is failing the American people. Strongly insisting that the Democrats are "better" or "less bad" is actually part of the problem in my view. As it stands, I don't think either one of them deserve my support. That one is worse than the other on whatever metric you want to choose is irrelevant. I'll continue to do what I've done, which is focus on policy, supporting those I think are important and opposing bad policies, no matter their source.

    1. First, one observation on "big-tents".

      I think you and I, who grew up living in the coattails of the Depression and the New Deal, have a view of political parties that is historically unusual. The GOP of our young adulthoods was a remnant of the GOP of the New Deal. There were "moderate" Republicans, the "Rockefeller Republicans" of which my pop was the poster boy. And the Democrats had a big slug of Dixiecrats who made the Rockys look like screaming Commie Reds, making the Democratic Party more centerist.

      That was unusual for American political parties, which before 1860 tended to be much less diverse. The Civil War diversified the parties (largely through the Dixiecrats, frankly) that lasted until Nixon's Southern Strategy and the Civil Rights Acts.

      Since then the parties have, indeed, become more insular - or more "pure", if you will. The GOP has swapped over to become the Dixiecrats, while the Democratic Party has become the Republicans of 1870. There's little middle ground anymore, and that's not surprising; most American political parties AREN'T particularly diverse.

      In a parliamentary system those who disagreed with the majority in their party could form their OWN party and make coalitions with those who shared their policy views. In this country the options are a lot poorer because of the FPTP voting system. There's just no way for a minority party (or a minority policy) to get into the system. So the minorities either have to take over the party - as the Teabaggers with the GOP - or try and risk forming their own, as the Left did in the Socialist Era. That usually ends up empowering the people the minority LEAST agrees with, as the Socialists did in the early 20th Century.

      So as far as fighting the GOP and Trumpism, I'd agree about the head-beating...except that the current trajectory of the GOP is taking us back to some very, very bad places. Pre-New-Deal places. Pre-EPA places. Places where people like me, without political power, without wealth, typically lived hard and died sick and poor.

      To me, that's genuine cause for alarm. When the house is on fire it's not impolite to scream.

      What terrifies me is that we here in the US have been ridiculously cushioned for so long by the successes of our forebears. The New Deal, the reining in of the malefactors of great wealth, the environmental regulations that were gradually put in place from the 1950s to the 1980s...we've been living in a time of great peace, prosperity, safety, and cleanliness.

      Making America Great Again rests on the assumption that all those things can never go away. But the study of history convinces me how truly rare they are, what a strange and unusual combination of circumstances had to come together to make them, how easily they can be destroyed, and how difficult it will be to rebuild them. We the People have forgotten what it was like to BE the "people' of 1899 or 1905, but if we keep on this way we will learn. And I fear what will happen when we do.

      And here's the thing; like I keep trying to drive home - this IS A binary thing. One side isn't good. The other is completely, utterly, bug-fucking nuts. The DLC-Dems aren't great. But what "good policies" have the GOP to offer, pray tell?

    2. Chief, you keep saying that First Past the Post and parliamentary systems are different. But, in Canada (and many other countries) Parliaments are elected via First Past the Post elections and are not two party states. You may be talking about Duverger's so-called law, but, except for the USA, it does not appear to model reality.

      I wonder if the goofy "primary" mechanism plays a big role here, perhaps tied to the exploitable voter registration system where voters need to declare party affiliations.

    3. Lemme brag about my great country. :-)

      (West) Germany built itself a new constitution in 1948 from scratch, and was able to make use of experiences with constitutions from the late 18th to the mid 20th centuries. The result was superior to most if not all older constitutions.

      This is how we elect our more important federal parliament (the other one does little more than gaurd the states against burden shifting onto states' budgets):

      I have two votes in an election. One goes to a party, the toehr to a candidate. I cana ctually split the vote between for example a socialist candidate and a conservative party (both ludicrous for me).

      The candidates who got the msot votes in a district become member of parliament for 4 years. The overall composition fo the parliament does not fully depend on this. Additional candidates are being drawn from party election lists in order to compensate, so the % the parties got in the party vote define the % they have in teh aprliament.
      No parties with less than 5% of the votes get into the parliament (there are exceptions, for exmaple when they agined seats directly via candidates and the northernmost state has an exception for the Danish minority's party).

      This system combines the advantages of having representatives rooted in all districts AND the popular % support actually define the parliament composition.

      We don't have any primaries, though. The parties' candidates for chancellor office are unofficial only; the chancellor doesn't get elected direclty, but by the parliament (hence the chancellor always enjoys support by the majority of legislators, which avoids blockades as with Obama vs. GOP Congress).
      The chancellor candidates are -regrettably- selected by a tiny quantity of "top" politicians behind closed doors in soem parties, kind of like a circle of 3...30 superdelegates making up the entire primary. We have room for improvement there. Officially candidates are selected by party delegates, but they do de facto confirm only in some of the parties.

    4. Yes, Germany certainly has benefited from lessons from a couple centuries of representative democracy. A big issue with America is that they are really the first modern republic. This means they have a variety of inherent defects (because the founders, while extraordinarily clever men, could not entirely anticipate how the system would be gamed. And, since they had to distribute the power to say "NO" very widely, the system has a hard time adapting to exploits. See, for example, how the electoral college ensures that only a few "swing" states matter in deciding an Presidential election.

    5. Chief,

      I think your comment is an excellent historical analysis which I largely agree with. I would just add that they also changed as they became more democratic. As we've seen several times with the GoP, the party can be taken over by a sufficiently large and coherent political movement. Trump won the nomination despite the fact that almost the entire party leadership opposed him. For a long time I thought that the democratization of the parties would be a good thing, but I changed my tune.

      The Democrats are heading in that direction. They've been "saved" by the Clintons but now that they are quickly moving out of the picture, and now that the party is reducing the influence of stabilizers like superdelegates, it's only a matter of time before some outraged movement on the left takes over like the Tea Party did to the GoP.

      Anyway, I guess we differ in how to go forward. At this point I think the parties are becoming unreformable and uncontrollable. They will be the voice of whatever mob happens to be ascendent on each flank. Maybe I'm cynical and lack imagination, but I don't see how they can recover. I'm just hoping they fail softly to be replaced by different parties in what would likely be an ideological realignment. But that could well be a fantasy.

      In the meantime, I realize that we live, de facto, in a binary system, but that doesn't mean that I have play by the rules of that system or support it. And I get a lot of grief from people who live in the system - primarily partisans who seem mostly interested in determining which "side" I'm on and aren't happy when I refuse to play their game. I like to talk about policy but it's hard in that environment.

      When it comes to voting I'll vote for whoever I think is the best candidate regardless of party. In the past that means I've voted for Republicans and Democrats and third-party candidates in local, state and federal elections. There is still a lot of the "big tent" left on both sides at the state and local level, at least in my experience - so maybe there's hope?

    6. @Ael; the Corsican Republic actually had the first republican constitution.

      As a rule of thumb, if Americans claim they did it first and they're not talking about the moon, don't trust them ;-)

    7. Well, one could argue that the Icelandic Commonwealth with their Alþingi predates Corsica. However, as far as I know, neither one had any impact on the American Constitution (or indeed the design of subsequent representative democracies).

      My point is that the Americans had to design a system where they had little historical guidance (mostly Roman histories). They made mistakes and other countries have learned from those mistakes.

  7. I'm not sure why the FPTP system doesn't work the same way in Canada, Ael. You'd think it would; the metrics are identical. If there are three candidates for a single seat and the electorate splits roughly evenly, then whoever gets elected will be the one NOT the choice of 66% of the voters unless one or both of the losers are massively unpopular. A ranked, or transferable vote at least gives me the option of choosing the less objectionable of the two I don't want, but we don't have that anywhere here that I know of. In our setup, to have a chance of getting 50%+1 a two-candidate race is the best statistical hope, and so it has devolved.

    The primary setup may have a role, in that it effectively marginalizes the minority factions inside the large parties. That's what's gutting the GOP now; the wingnuts turn out in the primaries, EVERY primary, so Rocky the Rockefeller Republican is dead as the dodo. That doesn't seem to have hit the Dems as hard, but my guess is that despite the "both sides" rhetoric that's because most American lefties still worry, like Andy, about actual policy. The American Right has become a cult. Deficits? Tax cuts! Surpluses? Tax cuts! Peace dividend? Tax cuts! Most massive defense budget increase in decades? TAX CUTS!!! There's no room for actual policy reasoning when your primary electorate is policing the candidates for deviance from the God-guns-abortion-immigration-Islamophobia faith like an inquisitor in a household of conversos...

    1. And candidates don't even need 50+1, they need a plurality. Lincoln won his first election with less than 40% of the popular vote, Bill Clinton in 1992 only got 43%. Something between 1/2 and 1/2 of our Presidents got less than 50% of the popular vote.

      It's a crazy system for sure.

    2. Here is a very interesting electoral system article It discusses how the American electoral system is finely crafted to keep third parties out.

    3. One thing into consider is the source. Jacobin is a leftier-than-thou publication that has spent considerable energy dicking around w Jill Stein and other lefty vanity candidates. They do have a vested interest in making this all about the "corrupt duopoly".

      The bottom line is that if there's anything "finely crafted" about the US electoral system it's that it's crafted to empower white rubes from crappy rural areas and white plutocrats from where ever they were. Hard work has broadened the franchise...but those preferences were baked in and still are.

      Third parties are a form of political onanism we hear in the US to elide the ugly fact that to overcome those structural inequalities the US public would have to 1) pay attention to issues and policies - and not the QAnon or FOX versions, but the actual costs vs gains - and 2) vote. We don't, and so we're stuck with this bullshit.

    4. Well, Alberta is/was dominated for years by rural voters and oil executives. In many ways, we are/were a serial one-party province. But we always had several opposition parties (even if they had relatively small representation in the first past the post system).

      Given that there are 50 states, I would have expected that in at least a few of them you would have had thriving third party ecosystems. But, not so much. This tells me that the reason is systemic and not a result of some quirk of the American voter.

    5. Yep. The combination of FPTP and the structural requirements of the presidential system mean that you're gonna get two parties. I think the separate election of chief executives (whether they're presidents or governors) makes coalition politics nearly impossible. Why should the Leopards-eating-people's-faces Party make a deal with anyone else when they can get their guy into the Executive Mansion? If the party has to select a PM? That's different, and I'll bet that's a big reason for the difference between the US and Canada/the UK.

      Voters are still a BIG problem. Poor people (brown people, etc...) tend to get hosed largely because they don't vote in anything like proportional numbers. Things that well-off people like, or don't DISlike, or don't care about - tend to get enacted because pols quickly learn who matters.

      I asked Andy this and never got an answer, but it matters that people like him - smart, invested, well-read people - aren't willing to write off the "conservatives" despite their objectively loathsome agenda. I mean...what's there to like? Even if you agree with their notional objectives, their actual means and methods are somewhere between ridiculous, idiotic, and/or vile. Example? "Limited government" Good idea? Sure! "conservative" means to do that? Limit any and everything that would help regular citizens have safer, healthier, more productive lives. So reduce or eliminate workplace safety inspectors, health and food inspections, natural resource protection, minimum wages, antitrust regulations. Fund the hell out of military spending. Wash, rinse repeat.

      There's issues with the US system of government, yes. But right now, they pale beside the political issues on the Right side of the aisle. The GOP is literally willing to undo the things that produced the US of the New Deal and the Clean Air and Water and Civil Rights Acts. And We the People are not interested in fighting that? We're gonna get what's coming to us, and get it good and hard.

  8. Saudis halt oil shipments in Red Sea after Iranian proxies, the Houthis, attacked in the Bab el-Mendeb.

    1. "Iranian proxies" is pretty much the Saudi line on these guys. FWIW, the Houthis are largely Zaydi, a strain of Shia Islam that is supposed to be the closest to Hanafi Sunni belief. They are supposed to get along with the Twelver Shia of Iran, but are unlikely proxies, both due to their social, political, and religious differences as well as the distance and isolation between Yemen and Iran.

      I have no doubt that the boys of the IRGC are more than happy to see the Houthis take a whack at their enemies in Saudi, but I think this has more to do with the Saudi war in Yemen than it does the Saudi-Iran tensions.