The best solutions to difficult problems are simple. The Columbus Egg. The Gordian Knot. The Procrustean Bed. So many people strained their fingers trying to untangle the messy knot, until Alexander came and slashed it open with one fine stroke of his mighty sword. Wise men vainly tried to make an egg stand upright on its end on the table, until Columbus smashed one end. Procrustes solved the problem of the great diversity of population height-wise, by chopping off the legs of the tall and stretching the legs of the short.
Now the glorious if a tad too long name of the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (or MBS) should join the list of the great solution-makers. He faced the problem of having a broke country, an empty treasury, and a lot of very rich citizens with full coffers.
Trump faces a similar problem; in the US, the top dogs have the whole hog, while the state is in multi-trillion debt. Just three well-to-do gentlemen—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg—have as much in their coffers as all the ordinary folk. The annual deficit is about $400 billion; the Rockefellers would not even notice if this paltry sum went amiss from their holdings, estimated at well over a trillion dollars, that is twelve zeroes after the first digit.
The Greeks have it even worse: they are in debt, biting the bullet of austerity, while the moneys the Greek state borrowed has lined the pockets of the rich.
The problem is universal. Everywhere, from the UK to Russia and from Brazil to Greece it’s the same: the state coffers are empty, politicians prescribe austerity for the people, while a few rich guys enjoy the fast growth of their untaxed capital.
Now, we know that, but what will you do about it, smart guy? Will you bite your moustache? Will you complain, in sotto voce or loudly, or just drink some cold beer to forget of this unhealthy fact of life? You know that you are not allowed to tax the rich people, you can’t stop them moving their capital offshore, you should not even utter such hateful words as it may be found anti-Semitic. It happened to Trump: when he attacked bankers in his election campaign, he was immediately called an ‘anti-Semite’.
Crown Prince MBS found a solution. He rounded up hundreds of the wealthiest people in his Kingdom, placed them in the posh five-star hotel Ritz Carlton in his capital Riyadh, and told them to cough up the dough. When they laughed at his face, he called for torturers to begin, Mafia-style, his extortion racket.
The Daily Mail, in an exclusive report, tells us that “the Saudi princes and billionaire businessmen arrested in a power grab earlier this month are being strung up by their feet and beaten by American private security contractors. The arrests have been followed by ‘interrogations’ which a source said were being carried out by ‘American mercenaries’. ‘They are beating them, torturing them, slapping them, insulting them. They want to break them down,’ the source told DailyMail.com.
(‘Blackwater’ has been named as the firm involved, and the claim of its presence in Saudi Arabia has also been made on Arabic social media, and by Lebanon’s president. The firm’s successor, Academi, strongly denies even being in Saudi Arabia and says it does not engage in torture.)
The torture in the glamorous hotel had been reported by one of best old-hand journalists in the Middle East, David Hearst. Several detainees were taken to hospital with torture injuries, he writes.
There is a vast difference between ‘incredible’ and ‘impossible’, and the princes of Saudi Arabia learned by their own experience that though it is incredible that these worthies, pillars of society, owners of great hotels in London and film companies in Hollywood would be tortured, it was by no means impossible.
The wealthiest Arab of all, Prince Al-Walid bin al-Talal, a billionaire 18 times over, an “important partner” to Bill Gates, co-owner of 21st Century Fox and Twitter, of Paris’ Hotel George V and London’s Savoy Hotel, inter alia, had been hung upside down, Mussolini-style.
Hundreds of other princes and gentlemen were tortured, too, until they agreed to surrender their ill-gotten assets, 70% of all they have. As I write, and as you read these lines, the torture goes on, and so far MBS has already milked his victims of hundreds of billions $$ worth of cash and assets.
“An Extortion racket”, you’ll exclaim. Perhaps MBS watched The Godfather in his impressionable youth and was impressed by efficiency of their methods. However, he has solved, or rather is in the process of solving, the problem of solvency.
Perhaps this is the method to be advised to Trump and Putin, as well as to other leaders? If the neoliberal dogma forbids taxing, if the offshore are sacred, what remains for a diligent leader but a plush five-star hotel and a band of experienced torturers?
But surely, the torturer will be condemned and ostracised by human rights’ defenders! Not at all. Not a single voice, neither from liberal left nor from authoritarian right objected to this amazing deed of mass torture and extortion. While the co-owner of Twitter has been subjected to daily beatings, the prime voice of liberal conscience, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, eulogised MBS as the bearer of progress. In an article as panegyric as they come, titled Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last and subtitled “The crown prince has big plans for his society”.
Tom Friedman does not use the word “extortion”, saying that [MBS’s] “government arrested scores of Saudi princes and businessmen on charges of corruption and threw them into a makeshift gilded jail — the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton — until they agreed to surrender their ill-gotten gains.” No condemnation at all! Can you imagine what he would say if Putin were to arrest his oligarchs “until they agreed to surrender their ill-gotten gains”?
I believe one line in Friedman’s eulogy, saying that the Saudis are content with the extortion act: “the mood among Saudis I spoke with was: “Just turn them all upside down, shake the money out of their pockets and don’t stop shaking them until it’s all out!” Moreover, I am sure the Americans would applaud if their billionaires were to get the MBS treatment. The Russians were mighty pleased when Putin locked up the oligarch Khodorkovsky, and complained that he was the only one to be jailed. They would love to see the whole lot of oligarchs who plundered Russia through manifestly fraudulent, staged auctions under American advisers in Yeltsin’s days, to be shaken “until it’s all out”.
Not only the media is supportive of the extortion scheme. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC: “I think that the Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] is doing a great job at transforming the country.” President Trump blessed MBS along similar lines. Not a word of condemnation came out of President Putin, either. Even Al Jazeera, though reporting the extortion in a matter-of-fact way, didn’t make too much out of it.