Just a few things to talk about today, though I see them as part of an interrelated process. The first concerns Sen. Bob Corker’s statements on Thursday, to wit, and as reported by CNN:
Yes, stunning is one word for that. Alarming also comes to mind, but so too does gratitude. I thought, when I read about Trump undermining SecState Tillerson on Twitter vis-a-vis starting a dialogue with North Korea as being a waste of time, that what we were seeing was kind of a classic “good cop vs bad cop” variation. You know, kind of like Tillerson goes to NK as the voice of reason and Trump does what Trump does best, namely, Trump destabilizes the entire process and then Tillerson can go: “See…see! You better deal with me while you still can!”
Except Tillerson was apparently as flummoxed as the rest of us, and more than a little upset. So that leads us to one very disconcerting idea: that Senator Corker isn’t far off the mark. Trump is dangerous. As in: the President of the United States is dangerously unstable. As in: mentally ill. As in: compromised.
Now, recall if you will, Mr. Trump vacationing in Saudi Arabia a few months back.
There’s no telling what Alex Jones made of this image (“Trump mind now controlled by aliens posing as Saudi prince…?”), and I’m not sure that it matters a whole lot, but consider another story making the rounds this week:
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened his historic four-day visit to Moscow by signaling a new era of cooperation with Russia but demanding that Iran, an ally of the Kremlin, end its “interference” in Middle East politics.
King Salman called for any peace settlement in Syria to ensure that the country remained integrated, but he did not repeat the longstanding, and now shelved, Saudi call for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to stand aside.
The visit to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday is the first by a ruling Saudi monarch to Moscow and is widely seen as a potential turning point in Middle East politics, and even the conduct of world oil markets.
More than 15 cooperation agreements worth billions of pounds were signed, ranging from oil, military and space exploration, leading the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to claim the visit marked the moment when Saudi-Russian relations “reached a new qualitative level”. In one of the most remarkable deals, the Saudis said they would purchase the Russian S-400 defense system.
Many of the agreements covering Saudi investment in the Russia energy markets are hardly likely to strengthen the impact of EU and American sanctions over Russia’s interference in Ukraine. But Saudi Arabia is keen that the visit also secures a more permanent Russian cooperation over oil prices after a January agreement between the world’s two largest oil producers managed to stabilize oil prices.
Saudi Arabia wants to prolong the oil agreement, which curbed production and raised prices. Speaking in Moscow, the Saudi energy minister, Khalid Al-Falih, said the January agreement “had breathed life back into Opec” and made his country more optimistic about the future of oil. “The success of this collaboration is clear,” he said. Russia is not a member of OPEC, but badly needs oil prices to rise to rescue its ailing economy.
The Saudis have traditionally seen the US as its chief – if not exclusive – foreign policy partner, but changes inside the Saudi regime, as well as Saudi fears about US reliability, have left the kingdom looking to diversify into wider sets of alliances.
The visit has been in the works for months, if not years, but the Trump administration’s failure to give the Saudis unambivalent support in its dispute with Qatar earlier this year disappointed the Saudis.
Russia and Saudi were at loggerheads through most of the cold war and the Saudis have been stymied by the Russian decision to prop up Assad at a time when it was supporting the Syrian opposition with cash and arms.
Faced with Assad’s Russian-backed military advance in the south and west of Syria, the Saudis have been forced to scale back their political demands that Assad leave. They remain virulently opposed to an Iranian presence in Syria and will be seeking assurances from Putin that the Iranian militias fighting alongside the regime will be forced to leave Syria as part of any peace settlement. The Saudis also want the Iranians to stop backing the Houthi opposition in Yemen.In his opening remarks at the Kremlin, King Salman stressed his opposition to Iran, saying: “We emphasize that the security and stability of the Gulf region and the Middle East is an urgent necessity for achieving stability and security in Yemen. This would demand that Iran give up interference with the internal affairs of the region, to give up actions destabilizing the situation in this region.”Russia has pulled out all the diplomatic stops to welcome the Saudi king, although there was a glitch when the golden escalator due to take the aging king down the steps at Moscow airport failed to function.
I’m certainly not the only person writing about “nature abhorring a vacuum,” or that complex systems seek equilibrium. Bottom line: life generally does better when it happens harmoniously. Period.
But Trump seems to be all about chaos. As in: generating as much chaos as he possibly can. Like a two-year-old toddler throwing tantrums to direct more attention his way, Trump is seriously destabilizing the entire global order – which he, in fact, promised to do – but there appears to be no coherent plan to replace this order. And this order, such as it is, has kept the peace for quite a while, and made it possible, generally speaking, for life in the United States to flourish.
Now, let’s take a look at a few other recent developments. The US sends two aircraft carrier battle groups to the North Pacific, to the region where the fat kid with the bad haircut resides. Then Russia and China stage a fairly large naval exercise in the same area, at the same time as Russia conducts war games in Eastern Europe.
And recall that a year ago, when the fat kid with the bad haircut launched missiles about half the time they blew up. Six months ago something changed. The heat signatures of these launches changed markedly. They suddenly resembled Soviet-era ICBM launch vehicles. Launch vehicles made in Ukraine, as it happened, and then reports surfaced that Ukrainian missile technology had made it into these new North Korean launchers. Ukrainians are adamant that they did not give away those secrets, and reports that the fat kid’s spies infiltrated Ukrainian missile facilities have simply not been proven as fact. But Russia has scads of these missiles. Did Prince Vlad give the fat kid some spare launch vehicles?
And recall Venezuela? A lunatic named Maduro? Guess who’s supporting the whole show down there? Yup, that merry trickster, Prince Vlad the Impaler.
And here’s where the whole balance and equilibrium thing becomes important. If Trump is chaos, who better to step into the light than Prince Vlad? Who better to lead the way out of chaos and back into a more harmonious state of affairs?
And what happens when collateralized dollar-denominated debt suddenly gets called in, after the US dollar is dropped as the world’s basket currency?
Remember that old 80s flick – Red Dawn?
Nature abhors a vacuum. Maybe almost as much as Putin loves the idea of vengeance.
I was listening to some older Pat Metheny Group CDs this week, and one of my favorites from back in the day was an obscure album titled As Falls Witchita, So Falls Witchita Falls. Two of my favorite Metheny tracks are on this one, though one has a fairly obscure origin. It’s For You is an exuberant piece that has one of my favorite bass lines ever, which starts at the halfway mark (4:08) and really comes into its own at 4:40. (and yeah, piano and bass are my things, musically). A longer, more soothing piece can be found in September Fifteenth; the title is the date of jazz pianist Bill Evans’ death earlier that year (1980). Don’t know who Bill Evans is? Why not find a track called Peace Piece and give it a good, long listen. It’s loosely based on Leonard Bernstein‘s “Some Other Time,” and is a simple, apolitical piano composition. Worth studying if into music composition, too. Notable for using some less well-known chord structures…
Another group of favorite Metheny tracks can be found on the album Letter From Home, where you’ll find 5-5-7 (derives from time signatures within the composition). There is not a better piece of music for driving along mountains roads (at high speed) than this one. Period. Slip Away may be the best piece to play when you cut the dock lines and put out to sea, while Vidala gets my vote for sheer laid back groovin’.
My very favorite Pat Metheny Group track is The First Circle, from their album by the same name. The music is crystal clear, the meaning as obvious. No less clear yet more soothing is the track Más Allá, a perfect ‘watching the sunset with your significant other’ track.
Finally, from the album Imaginary Day, try the track titled The Awakening. Talk about a change of pace…?
Most of these albums are from The Pat Metheny Group’s so-called German period, when they recorded for ECM in Munich. Those guys were on fire…
I rambled through some old King Crimson this week, too, and spent some time In the Wake of Poseidon. This album came at the end of the Greg Lake period (1970) and features some doozies, notably Pictures of a City – a kind of film noir set piece that highlights some really peculiar work on sax before charging into Lake’s laser-sharp vocals (and is Pete Sinfield the best rock lyricist ever?). You feel smoother flows later in the piece so just know that the raucous earlier tempos are deliberate, taking you back to an earlier era for a little compare and contrast (and pick up those weird achromatic bass lines in the smooth passages?)? Cat Food, on the other hand, may just be the weirdest Crimson ever. Next…compare Poseidon to 1969s brilliant In The Court of the Crimson King. Few albums changed the direction of rock music more than this one, and yet, how very different the two are.
Anyway, have a good weekend. Look for the concluding chapter(s) of Deep End soon.