Monday, October 16, 2017

Kirkuk: PUK Sides with Iraq not KDP

Iraq is moving to take back Kirkuk from Kurdish control. Moon of Alabama has a good rundown, "Iraq - The End Of The Kurdish Independence Project." David Zucchino's report in The New York Times, "Iraqi Forces Said to Seize Oil Sites and Airport Outside Kirkuk," provides illuminating detail of the split between Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that is unfolding during the battle to retake Kirkuk:
Military commanders in Baghdad said their troops had taken control of an industrial district on the western edge of Kirkuk, as well as a power plant and refinery adjacent to the oil fields outside the city. The military command also said government forces had secured control of a military airport west of the city.
Among the sites the Iraqi forces claimed was a military base known as K-1, northwest of Kirkuk. Iraqi officers interviewed near the base on Sunday said that American forces had used the facility in the past.
K-1 was the main military base in Kirkuk Province for Iraqi government troops when they abandoned their weapons and fled an assault by Islamic State militants.
On Monday, a Kurdish commander from the governing political party in the Kurdistan region said his forces had mounted a counterattack about 15 miles west of the city. He said reinforcements with “sophisticated weapons” had arrived to support Kurdish fighters in the area.
“They are preparing to liberate the area” from Iraqi forces, said the commander, Gen. Mohammed Raiger.
A statement released by the Kurdistan Region Security Council said pesh merga fighters had destroyed five American-supplied Humvees used by Iraqi forces, and would continue to resist them.
“This was unprovoked attack,” the statement said of the government military advance. The council is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or K.D.P., led by Mr. Barzani, the region’s president.
But a leader of a rival Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or P.U.K., said the party had agreed to vacate its military positions and hand them over to government forces early Monday morning. Wista Raool, commander of P.U.K. pesh merga forces south of Kirkuk, said the party sought to return the oil fields to the central government.
Mr. Raool accused Mr. Barzani and his party of “stealing” the oil from the central government. Many members of the P.U.K., which maintains its own pesh merga force, opposed the referendum vote because it was spearheaded by Mr. Barzani.
Iraqi military commanders said fighting broke out early Monday between advancing government forces and pesh merga fighters from Mr. Barzani’s faction, just as the P.U.K. forces were handing over their positions. The commanders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Thoughtful commentary on Kurdish independence included Masoud Barzani's political survival (he is acting as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) after his term has expired) as a significant motive for holding the referendum. The PUK reluctantly supported the independence referendum but are not going to fight a war over it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Catalan Non-Independence + Punishing Dissent in the NFL and the Death of Broadcast TV

There will be no independence for Catalonia this go-round. Carles Puigdemont's obfuscating statement in the Catalan parliament yesterday at least makes that clear (see "In Catalonia, a Declaration of Independence From Spain (Sort of)" by Raphael Minder and Patrick Kingsley):
“I assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent state in the shape of a republic,” Mr. Puigdemont said, before adding, seconds later, that he and his government would “ask Parliament to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the coming weeks we can undertake a dialogue.”
Momentum for independence has been lost. Support on the street will evaporate. Madrid will not likely make the same mistake twice and crack down hard again.

Yes, Puigdemont was working with a fractious coalition. But in the end I would guess that it was the corporations moving their headquarters out of Catalonia that caused right-wing pro-independence lawmakers to think twice. Chalk up another win for neoliberalism.

Talk about an about-face. NFL owners who linked arms in solidarity with players on the field three weekends ago are now backing Trump's call to punish players who take a knee or protest in any fashion during the national anthem. Ken Belson summarizes in "Goodell and N.F.L. Owners Break From Players on Anthem Kneeling Fight":
By appearances anyway, the N.F.L. was one big family two weeks ago. After President Trump urged owners to fire players who did not stand for the national anthem, everyone from Commissioner Roger Goodell to the 32 team owners to the players and coaches locked arms, in many cases literally, in defiance and unity.
That unanimity has all but vanished. As the president continues to harangue the league over the anthem, and a number of fans across the country express displeasure with the handful of players who continue to kneel during the anthem, a growing pool of owners is trying to defuse the politically charged issue, even if it means confronting the players the owners previously sympathized with.
One of the most powerful owners in the league is now speaking openly about benching players who do not stand for the anthem, and Goodell, who said previously that players had a right to voice their opinions, is siding with the owners opposed to letting the players demonstrate. The owners plan to meet next week to establish what to do about the anthem gestures.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell said in a letter sent to owners on Tuesday.
He added that the league cared about the issues the players are trying to highlight, including social injustice and police brutality toward African-Americans. But he said that “the controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues.” [!]
The owners' and the League's about-face is overtly political and has very little to do with money. Trends adversely impacting viewership don't have anything to do with patriotism. Broadcast television is dying. The NFL has been the beating heart of broadcast television for a long time. It is no wonder that its ratings are in decline.

There was a little retrospective piece last week, part of regular series that The New York Times runs on page two of its front page, about Truman calling on Americans to ration their consumption of meat and eggs to help fight hunger in war-ravaged Europe. It was noteworthy because it was the first televised presidential address. The year was 1944, and, according to Times, there were 10,000 sets in the United States.

Six years later at the outbreak of the Korean War there were 10 million black-&-white TV sets.

In 1968, at the time of the Tet Offensive, there were 100 million TV sets in the U.S., many of which were color.

A half-century later we are undergoing a huge shift in the electronic age as the internet withers broadcast television. This represents a body blow to the prevailing political order because control switches that exist for broadcast television don't exist on the internet.

What we are experiencing is an attempt to apply the same switches on the internet that exist in the legacy media.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pence's 49ers Protest Reveals Trump's Desperation

VP Mike Pence's protest of 49ers players kneeling during the national anthem of Sunday's game in Indianapolis smacks of desperation. Pence left the football game and tweeted “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event  that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” (See "Trump Tells Pence to Leave N.F.L. Game as Players Kneel During Anthem" by Mark Landler, Ken Belson and Maggie Haberman, as well as Dave Zirin's caustic "Mike Pence’s NFL Walkout Was a Cheap, Transparent Stunt.")

Trump is proving to be a one-trick pony. He'll do anything to keep his hard-shell white nationalist base intact. And while his approval ratings are not as low now as they were in August following Charlottesville, he's having to go out of his way to gin up spectacles for the hayseeds, spectacles that are not spectacular. Trump is desperate because he won the presidential election last November based on economic nationalism and a sensible foreign policy, neither of which is particularly discernible in his administration. The right Democrat (Cuomo?) should easily beat him.

Monday, October 9, 2017

"No" is Enough for the Democratic Party

Tory doyen Theresa May has been pronounced dead. Jeremy Corbyn's rejuvenated Labour Party will likely lead the United Kingdom in the not too distant future. Whether a real social democrat can turn the battleship around, at least when it comes to its militaristic foreign policy, is subject to debate.

At least the UK has arrived at a point where the neoliberals have been routed from a mainstream stronghold, the Labour Party. That's not the case in the United States. The neoliberals remain deeply entrenched and in control of the Democratic Party.

Yesterday prominently featured throughout the day in NYT's online edition was Kenneth Vogel's story, "The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics." Vogel describes less a sea change and more an exercise in hedging by wealthy Democratic donors as they distribute money to big post-Trumpocalypse groups like Indivisible:
Perhaps no group epitomizes the differences between the legacy left and the grass-roots resistance like Indivisible. Started as a Google document detailing techniques for opposing the Republican agenda under Mr. Trump, the group now has a mostly Washington-based staff of about 40 people, with more than 6,000 volunteer chapters across the country. The national Indivisible hub, which consists of a pair of nonprofit groups, has raised nearly $6 million since its start, primarily through small-dollar donations made through its website.
Yet Indivisible has also received funding from the tech entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, as well as foundations or coalitions tied to Democracy Alliance donors, including the San Francisco mortgage billionaire Herbert Sandler, the New York real estate heiress Patricia Bauman and the oil heiress Leah Hunt-Hendrix.
And an advocacy group funded by the billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros, a founding member of the Democracy Alliance and one of the most influential donors on the left, is considering a donation in the low six figures to Indivisible. Mr. Soros has already donated to a host of nonprofit groups playing key roles in the anti-Trump movement, including the Center for Community Change, Color of Change and Local Progress.
Indivisible would “gladly” accept a check from Mr. Soros or his foundation, said an official with the group, Sarah Dohl. But, she added, the group is committed to ensuring that money from major donors does not become a majority of the group’s revenue “because we want to maintain our independence both from the funders and from the party.”
I'm sure Soros et al. want to fund Indivisible to get at its list of activists. There was a political awakening after the Trumpocalypse that didn't always reach establishment groups like the Clintonista Center for American Progress (CAP). Also, it is not clear how committed to "No Is Not Enough" that Indivisible is. At the end of the day -- the end of Tuesday, November 3, 2020 -- "No Trump" might be enough.

At the moment it is this calculation -- that a neoliberal Democratic establishment can harness enough of the disenchantment with Trump without having to yield to social democratic demands (Medicare for all, free college tuition) to win in 2020 -- which is preventing the kind of overhaul of the party which Corbyn and Momentum have achieved in the UK.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Either Violence or Servility: Martial Law Coming to Catalonia

Any hope that Mariano Rajoy would pursue a softer response to Catalan efforts to achieve independence from Spain need to be dispelled. A military attack is planned for Monday. According to World Socialist Web Site's Alex Lantier in "Spain prepares military crackdown in Catalonia":
With Spanish military and police units already being deployed, Madrid has signaled that it is preparing a brutal crackdown in Catalonia.
Spain’s Constitutional Court yesterday said that Monday’s planned session of the Catalan regional parliament, at which it was expected that the separatist parties would make a unilateral declaration of independence, must not take place. Coming after failing in a brutal attempt to halt the October 1 Catalan independence referendum, and with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejecting calls for mediation led by the Podemos party and the union bureaucracy, the move lays the basis for bringing in the army against what is now declared an unconstitutional meeting.
The Constitutional Court acted based on a complaint brought by the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC)—the Catalan wing of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), which is now working openly with the PP to prepare a military clampdown. Calling the PSC’s complaint “relevant and of general social and economic interest,” the Court ruled that any act decided by the Catalan parliament would infringe the rights of PSC MPs and be “totally void, without the least value or effect. It warned that defying this order could mean arrests and criminal prosecutions.
[snip]
Opening debate on the Catalan crisis at the European Parliament, Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the EU Commission, unequivocally endorsed Madrid’s use of force against the population of Catalonia. “The regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law in organizing the referendum of last Sunday,” Timmermans declared, adding: “it is the duty for any government to uphold the law, and this sometimes does require the proportionate use of force.”
Yesterday, Spanish Defense Minister MarĂ­a Dolores de Cospedal made clear that Madrid views an army intervention to be a legitimate response in Catalonia. At a meeting at the School for Higher Defense Studies, she insisted that Spain’s army is tasked with “defending its territorial integrity and constitutional order.” After King Felipe VI declared in a bellicose speech Tuesday that Catalan nationalists had placed themselves outside the law and democracy, Cospedal added, “Everything that is located outside of democracy is a threat to our nation.”
Spanish army units are already providing logistical support to police deployed in Catalonia. And after Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont indicated after Sunday’s crackdown that he could declare independence on Monday, a measure that Madrid has stated for months is illegal, political maneuvers by Madrid to seize the Catalan government are underway.
There are also moves underway by the Spanish judiciary to prosecute Catalan judges and Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, for failing to crack down on voters and demonstrating sympathy for separatists. The head of the Mossos, Josep Lluis Trapero, is to appear today before a court on the unprecedented charge of sedition, facing a 15-year prison sentence.
The courts are also removing legal restrictions to decisions by banks and corporations to move their headquarters away from Catalonia, amid reports that CaixaBank could soon move to Mallorca.
On Thursday, Rajoy also rejected appeals for mediation from Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias and Puigdemont, supported by the Stalinist Workers Commissions (CCOO) and social-democratic General Union of Labor (UGT) union bureaucracies. When Iglesias phoned Rajoy to discuss the plan, Rajoy thanked Iglesias but declared he had no intention of negotiating with anyone who “is blackmailing the state so brutally.”
This was a direct repudiation of the Podemos leader’s comments the previous evening. Iglesias had told reporters, “A group of trusted people should sit down at a table to discuss as a team for dialog. This is what I told the premier of Catalonia and the prime minister of Spain. I spoke to Puigdemont and Rajoy, and they didn’t say no.” Iglesias added that his conversation with Rajoy had been “cordial,” and that Rajoy had “taken note” of the proposal.
While the leader of Podemos held “cordial” talks with Spain’s right-wing prime minister, far-right forces are organizing anti-Catalan protests across Spain and singing hymns of the 1939-1978 fascist regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
Well aware that a new crackdown could provoke explosive social opposition among workers in the entire country, the Spanish press is agitating for moving to a police-state dictatorship. They are discussing the application not only of Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, a so-called “nuclear option” that suspends Catalan self-government, but Article 116. This suspends basic democratic rights—including freedom of thought and expression, the right to strike, and elections—and allows for press censorship.
After a quarter century of imperialist war and EU austerity since the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union, European democracy is at the breaking point. A decade of deep austerity since the 2008 Wall Street crash, which brought Spanish unemployment to 20 percent, has shattered Spain’s economy and discredited its ruling elite. Amid a deep crisis of the post-Francoite regime in Spain, and as the ruling class savagely attacks democratic rights across Europe, the Spanish bourgeoisie is using the Catalan crisis to return to an authoritarian regime.
Madrid’s plans for a bloodbath in Catalonia must be opposed. The critical question is the politically independent, revolutionary mobilization of the working class, not only in Catalonia but in all of Spain and across Europe, in struggle against the threat of civil war and police-state dictatorship and for socialism.
This requires a conscious break with Podemos and the Catalan nationalists, who have worked over the entire past period to confuse and disarm working class opposition, despite explosive social discontent. While masses of youth and workers participated in a one-day protest strike on Tuesday in Catalonia, the CCOO and UGT, close to Podemos and the PSOE respectively, were careful not to mobilize any Spanish workers outside of Catalonia.
The Catalan crisis has in particular exposed the bankruptcy of Podemos. It ceaselessly promoted illusions in the PSOE, which is rapidly moving to endorse a crackdown in Catalonia since the king’s speech, calling on the PSOE to form a joint government to oust Rajoy. Faced with the PSOE’s capitulation to Rajoy, Podemos is now stimulating illusions in the PP itself—even as a bloody military crackdown looms, and Rajoy indicates that he has no intention of negotiating with Barcelona.
As for the Catalan nationalists, who have run a series of austerity governments in Catalonia that smashed several strikes of transit and airport workers, their reactionary plans to develop ties with the EU and negotiate with Madrid the formation of a Catalan capitalist state are in ruins.
Faced with the prospect of a military crackdown, panic is reportedly spreading among Puigdemont’s supporters. Among Catalan nationalists in Barcelona, the city’s daily La Vanguardia wrote, “A strong feeling of vertigo runs through everyone—undermining militant enthusiasms, revolutionary visions, indignation in capital letters, patriotic ardors.” It added that King Felipe VI’s speech “has accentuated this feeling of vertigo. There is fear that the current escalation will end in catastrophe.
Yves Smith writing this morning in "Catalonia Versus Spain: Conflict Escalates as Constitutional Court Nixes Independence Declaration Pre-Emptively" provides some more detail about what to expect Monday:
If the separatists do not back down (and they have signaled they won’t), on Monday, the central government will at some point apply Section 155 to take over the Catalonia government. It will also, either using the Constitutional Court ruling or Section 155, arrest the leaders of the independence movement, declare the secessionist parties to be illegal, and crack down on protestors. The ones who try to interfere in arrests and try to allow passage of legislators to the parliament building will be roughed up the most.
Readers who know the surrounding area in Barcelona are encouraged to pipe up. Supporters are certain to be massed outside the parliament as the vote is set to take place on Monday. It seems likely as before that the local police will stand aside. The Guardia Civil does not seem to believe in finesse. Even so, the number of people who can mass in the square and streets outside the parliament building can’t possibly be as many as wound up clashing with the Guardia Civil during the referendum. In other words, the total number of people injured (and there are guaranteed to be injuries) is likely to be in the dozens, not hundreds. The flip side is that if anyone dies or is very badly hurt, that will push more Catalonians who have been fence-sitting or only weak supporters of independence into a more radical stance.
 At this point it appears that violence or servility are the options for Catalonia.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Poor Choices Ahead for Catalonia

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont appears to be dithering because his options are limited. It is not even clear that a declaration of independence can clear the parliament of Catalonia. According to Raphael Minder in "Catalonia’s Leader Seeks Talks to Resolve Standoff With Spain":
Even though he did not discuss his independence plans on Wednesday, Mr. Puigdemont is still expected to submit the results of last Sunday’s referendum — which he said approved independence overwhelmingly — for a vote by the region’s Parliament, in which separatist lawmakers have a fragile majority, making passage likely, but not certain. 
Spain’s government, with the support of Spanish courts, had declared Catalonia’s referendum illegal before it was held, and a move by Mr. Puigdemont to push for a declaration of independence would be likely to provoke an even broader crackdown by the central government. 
Madrid has left a large contingent of Spanish national police in Catalonia after they tried to block the referendum, clashing violently with voters who believe that the region, one of Spain’s most prosperous, is entitled to a separate state because of its distinct language, history and culture.
Another violent crackdown by the national government is what Catalonia has to look forward to. Yves Smith makes clear in a post, "Catalonia: Puigdemont Promises Secession in Days as King Censures Officials Acting Outside the Law," from the yesterday that
Catalonia’s separatists don’t appear to have a realistic end-game, particularly in the time frame they have set up. Punching the Catalans is seen as sport in much of the rest of the country, so even if Rajoy made less than optimal use of the political opportunity presented by cracking down on the referendum in an unnecessarily brutal manner, it’s not clear that he has come out a net loser. Reader St. Jacques argued that it had weakened Rajoy’s party, the Popular Party, to the benefit of PSOE, but the King’s denunciation may have limited the damage. If nothing else, the conflict over Catalonia’s future has diverted attention from a corruption scandal.
In the end, Madrid just takes control of the banks in Catalonia. And that's basically it. It's the same thing -- loss of control of the banking system -- that doomed Greece's Syriza. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Demands for Massive Censorship of Internet

Internet censorship is already here, but the shape of things to come will almost certainly be much worse, much more Orwellian. The Las Vegas massacre is being used as an excuse to demand that the Internet giants hire thousands of censors (conjuring up images of Terry Gilliam's Brazil) because "fake news" following the attack identified the shooter as a MoveOn.org liberal, or, alternatively, an ISIS jihadist. According to Kevin Roose in "After Las Vegas Shooting, Fake News Regains Its Megaphone":
Facebook, Twitter and Google are some of the world’s richest and most ambitious companies, but they still have not shown that they’re willing to bear the costs — or the political risks — of fixing the way misinformation spreads on their platforms. (Some executives appear resolute in avoiding the discussion. In a recent Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg reasserted the platform’s neutrality, saying that being accused of partisan bias by both sides is “what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”)
The investigations into Russia’s exploitation of social media during the 2016 presidential election will almost certainly continue for months. But dozens of less splashy online misinformation campaigns are happening every day, and they deserve attention, too. Tech companies should act decisively to prevent hoaxes and misinformation from spreading on their platforms, even if it means hiring thousands more moderators or angering some partisan organizations. 
Facebook and Google have spent billions of dollars developing virtual reality systems. They can spare a billion or two to protect actual reality.