Thursday, April 19, 2018

Jacobin Gets Its Act Together

World Socialist Web Site has done a good job recently of calling out reputedly Left organizations for supporting the recent Trump-Macron-May bombing of Syria. In "Pseudo-left parties promote US-French-British bombing of Syria" Will Morrow names Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) as a pro-war organization, which is interesting because Bernie Sanders opposed the bombing. Reference to the bombing is not readily apparent on the DSA web site.

Last week I noticed the absence of any mention of Syria on Jacobin's web site. Morrow detected it as well:
Jacobin magazine, the journal supported by the DSA, has not published a single recent article on the US threats against Syria nor on the bombings themselves. While Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara remained silent about Trump’s threats to bomb Syria in the days before the attack, he found time to publish multiple tweets about the New York Knicks basketball team. Jacobin’s silence denotes consent and complacency.
But yesterday Jacobin got its act together by publishing the excellent "US Out of Syria" by Greg Shupak. Devastatingly brief, it pretty much says it all:
The April 13 American, British, and French attack on Syria was just the latest disastrous action taken by Western powers in the country.
Western states and anti-government groups accuse the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical weapons attack in Douma, East Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, on April 8. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that an estimated 500 patients showed “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” and that “70 people sheltering in basements have reportedly died, with 43 of those deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals.” The WHO does not say who it believes is to blame for these deaths. The Syrian government and its allies have denied responsibility and US Defense Secretary James Mattis testified that America and its partners “don’t have evidence” of its culpability.
Here’s what we do know: The US admits it has between 2,000 and 4,000 American troops in Syria. Between late 2016 and May 2017, the US bombed pro-government forces at least three times. The US’s support for armed groups in Syria has gone far beyond its backing of Kurdish groups as America and its conservative allies in the Middle East have supported groups fighting the Syrian government, including reactionary religious fundamentalistsguilty of sectarian violence.
The CIA’s effort to oust the Syrian government has been one of the costliest covert-action programs in the agency’s history. Turkey and anti-Assad forces, to whom the US provided significant support, have taken over Afrin, a Kurdish-majority territory in northern Syria, plundering the area and driving out 220,000 civilians. Over the course of the Syrian war, America’s ally Israel has sponsored an armed insurgency against the Syrian government, has bombed Syria nearly a hundred times, and has sought to intensify its control over Syria’s Golan Heights, which Israel has illegally annexed. The US has also supported devastatingsanctions and, when a US-led coalition bombed ISIS-occupied parts of Syria, the coalition killed thousands of civilians.
As of July 2017, the US had ten military bases in Syria. Earlier this month, America began constructing two more. In June 2017, the US shot down two Iranian-made drones near Al Tanf. An Al-Monitor report says that the Trump administration is seeking $2 billion more in precision-guided weapons for Iraq and Syria, 20 percent more than the Pentagon spent on munitions in all Middle East war zones in 2017. The $2 billion includes a $31.1 million request for Javelin anti-tank missile systems that a retired US Air Force colonel says will “come in very handy” because they can be used against Syrian army tanks. Days before the Al-Monitor story, a US drone destroyed a tank fighting on behalf of the Syrian government.
Should the US embark on a larger-scale bombing aimed at the Syrian government over alleged chemical weapons use or any other pretense, the results will be grim for Syrians. Twelve million of the sixteen million Syrians still living in the country are in government-held territories. Should the US engage in widespread attacks on the Syrian government, it will therefore be doing so against the parts of the country where the vast majority of its population lives, which effectively guarantees a high civilian casualty rate.
America’s war in Afghanistan has killed thousands and its invasion of Iraq killed perhaps one million civilians. A 2011 bombing campaign has also helped devastate Libya.
There is no positive role that America and its allies can play through intervention — we must prevent our governments from inflicting more damage abroad and call for immediate US withdrawal from Syria.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hippies vs. Punks: A Promise of What's to Come

The last Hippies vs. Punks post was back at the end of August, nearly eight months ago. It is not as if I have stopped listening to or thinking about music. It's that a series of crises erupted at work. By the time things settled down in February I had figured out what I wanted to say, but a couple of things changed since last Summer that so far have prevented me from dipping back into the exploration of why, how, when the Hippies die off in the mid- to late-70s, to be replaced by the Punks.

First, my physical conditioning cratered. Week after week of 60-hour work-weeks prevented me from exercising. I was in survival mode for months. After a while when you don't exercise, you get weak. And when you get weak, your ability to produce diminishes; your discipline disappears; basically, you become another species.

Second, the demands placed upon me by my job, though no longer necessitating six-day work-weeks, are significantly more substantial than pre-crisis. Subsequently, I've had to slowly improve my physical conditioning before I can start sitting for hours in front of the computer on the weekend or get up early on a Friday morning (4:00 AM), which is how I used to do Hippies vs. Punks.

At the beginning of February, as the sunlight started to creep back from its winter recess, I happened to hear The Leaving Trains' Fuck (1987). I was in my kitchen preparing dinner when James Moreland's "Temporal Slut" shuffled on my iPod docking station. I couldn't place it. I thought it might be one of the later Fleshtones albums I purchased when I posted on Hexbreaker last April.

A couple more songs played and I still couldn't place it. Finally, I went and looked at the iPod. I saw that it was The Leaving Trains' Fuck which I had downloaded several months ago after I saw that the band's oeuvre was finally available for purchase and digital download. I think the last time I looked, 2014 or 2015, the only recordings available online were YouTube cuts.

At one time I owned Fuck. I had purchased it either in late 1987 or early 1988, but I never managed to get a handle on its hard, slick LA thrash sound. Much like my unsuccessful attempts at mastering Back Flag's My War and Hüsker Dü's Land Speed Record, I tossed in the sponge after several attempts, never really to listen to it again.

And while I apparently didn't remember much of the record's sound, I do remember the cover art:


A cloudy firmament conjuring up heaven's pearly gates juxtaposed with the basic building block of profanity. A kind of perfection, a marriage of the sacred and the profane whose semiotic economy one would be hard pressed to equal.

And when I think about Fuck, I think about Stacey. Stacey was my girlfriend right before I married my ex-wife. This was a time -- 1988 -- that SST Records seemed to significantly increase the number of bands signed to the label and the records which those bands produced. The horizon seemed wide open, free, robust and filled with rock'n'roll.

I must have listened to Fuck more than 25 times in February. I figured it out. I got it, which is something of an achievement given that it was three decades in coming. I am even prepared to do a song-by-song breakdown of the record.

But what it really got me thinking about was the period from 1987 to 1994, and how in this time frame I was alive, my horizon was truly open, and how everything since then has been of a diminished nature.

Rock'n'roll begins its death march in 1994. There are some bright spots along the way, including some manifest perfection in the form of Post-Rock and Alt-Country. But its descent to cultural marginality is clear; Kendrick Lamar's Pulitzer for music should make that obvious. As NYT rock critique Jon Pareles says in today's paper ("Kendrick Lamar Shakes Up the Pulitzer Game: Let’s Discuss"):
To me, it looks like some of the squawks are complaints about exclusivity being breached. And if you ask me, it should have happened sooner. I hereby nominate, for a retrospective Pulitzer, Public Enemy’s 1988 album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”: an experimental sonic bombshell, a verbal torrent, a mind expander. For that matter, the Pulitzers were late on Kendrick Lamar, too: “To Pimp a Butterfly,” from 2015, has even more musical breadth than “DAMN.” (which has plenty).
All of March I re-explored 1987 and 1988 in popular music. It's an amazing period. I saw Public Enemy perform at Nassau Coliseum in 1988.

What we shall do in the weeks ahead is back-burner 1975-1979 in favor of 1987-1994. Big-ticket culturally-unifying rock'n'roll dies with Kurt Cobain. There was an off-ramping period with Oasis and Radiohead, but 25 years later Hip Hop is the cultural king. No doubt about it.

The Hippie and the Punk are both cliches. Yes, they still resonate in the right audience. But for how much longer?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Robert Mackey of The Intercept is a Spook

Proof that The Intercept, funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and featuring the work of Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, is a platform for government-sponsored chicanery can be found in Robert Mackey's "Russia Says It Has 'Irrefutable Evidence' U.K. Staged Chemical Attack in Syria. Let’s See It."

Mackey is a spook along the lines of Eliot Higgins (whom Mackey admiringly quotes in the story), a cyber-savvy sleuth of social media who works to uphold Langley's world view. Mackey asserts that
Russian diplomats and pundits on state-controlled news outlets have, for years, promoted unverified conspiracy theories about the White Helmets working with Islamic extremists and foreign intelligence agencies. Attempting to discredit the rescue workers, who often film in the immediate aftermath of bombings by government forces or Russian jets, has been a central concern for supporters of the Syrian government since the protest movement of 2011 turned into an armed conflict.
What will Mackey say of Robert Fisk's exclusive from Douma "The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack"?

Mackey alleges that  
Given that Douma is now under the control of the Assad government, Russia’s ally, and thus off-limits to independent journalists, the Russian claims are impossible to verify or debunk — a situation Russian and Syrian officials have taken advantage of throughout the war to cast doubt on claims that atrocities have been committed by forces loyal to Assad.
Well, debunk Fisk does, not only that there was a chemical weapons attack in Douma, but that the White Helmets are legitimate, independent rescue workers. As Fisk notes
The White Helmets – the medical first responders already legendary in the West but with some interesting corners to their own story – played a familiar role during the battles. They are partly funded by the Foreign Office and most of the local offices were staffed by Douma men. I found their wrecked offices not far from Dr Rahaibani’s clinic. A gas mask had been left outside a food container with one eye-piece pierced and a pile of dirty military camouflage uniforms lay inside one room. Planted, I asked myself? I doubt it. The place was heaped with capsules, broken medical equipment and files, bedding and mattresses.
Of course we must hear their side of the story, but it will not happen here: a woman told us that every member of the White Helmets in Douma abandoned their main headquarters and chose to take the government-organised and Russian-protected buses to the rebel province of Idlib with the armed groups when the final truce was agreed
The Intercept should disavow Mackey's story, or at least request that Mackey write another one, explaining some of Fisk's revelations. Are all the people Fiske spoke to Russian plants? Are the White Helmets not associated with Jaysh al-Islam?

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Sunday Anti-War Rally

I attended an anti-war rally yesterday. Located in the heart of the downtown shopping district at a concrete park, the number of rally attendees was more modest than I expected. I wasn't anticipating huge numbers, but more than the, say, fifty people that filled a street corner.

We held "No War on Syria!" signs and signed petitions on other issues -- like a carbon fee, and an expansion of publicly-funded heath care. There was discussion of voter registration, Trump's legal troubles, and even a cynical mention or two of the war in Syria. I left after an hour.

Not a particularly good sign. But afterwards when, being downtown, I decided to purchase a new shirt for work, I was pleasantly surprised when the woman who was helping me asked approvingly how many people had been at the rally.

I haven't seen any polls on the latest missile strike, but polling on last year's were supportive, a big shift from the overwhelming disapproval when Obama mulled a bombing in 2013.

My sense is that people do not support a war with Syria. But people -- after Obama, after the New Cold War, after Trump -- feel more marginalized than ever. It's a "duck and cover" mentality. Why commit to political action when the entire arena is polluted?

That's the problem. But it's a success for neoliberalism.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

As Close as We'll Get to a "Smoking Gun" in the Skripal Poisoning

The long and short of it -- for an excellent compendium see Niqnaq's "skripal and BZ agent" -- is that the Skripals were poisoned by BZ, a toxic nerve agent which temporarily disables a person. The sample sent to the OPCW was spiked with A-234 (what has been referred to by the British as "Novichok") in "its virgin state."

Lavrov's question to the OPCW is why there was no mention of BZ in its final report:
Taking into account that Yulia Skripal and the policeman have already been released from hospital, whereas Sergei Skripal is still recovering, as the British claim without letting us see either Yulia or Sergei, the clinical pattern corresponds more to the use of a BZ agent. Nothing is said whatsoever about a BZ agent in the final report that the OPCW experts presented to its Executive Council. In this connection we address the OPCW a question about why the information that I have just read out loud, and which reflects the findings of the specialists from the city of Spiez, was withheld altogether in the final document. If the OPCW would reject and deny the very fact that the Spiez laboratory was engaged, it will be very interesting to listen to their explanations.
A-234 apparently degrades very quickly. To find it in its "virgin state" weeks after the event is highly suspicious; it would have killed the Skripals instantaneously. An obvious conclusion is that A-234 was added in haste to the BZ that poisoned the Skripals to fit the original story concocted by the British government.

Reuters ran a turgid version of the story. So far there is nothing in the "newspaper of record." It is too busy celebrating Trump's blowing up of fictitious chemical weapons labs in Syria.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Expect a Russian Reply Directed to Riyadh

The scale of the rogue U.S.-UK-French attack on Syria failed to live up to its promotion in the pages of the prestige press. It's a win for Syria, for Russia, for Iran, for all of us living in the belly of the beast.

The leaders of the crumbling Washington Consensus are caught between the disgusted but heretofore acquiescent masses and the threat of military conflict spiraling out of control and into nuclear war.

That leaves information warfare, psychological operations directed at domestic populations, false flag provocations that fool hardly anyone, jihadist mercenaries, opulently funded spookery and special forces, capped by cruise missile launches.

That's what this latest assault on Syria has reaffirmed -- a failing status quo.

Time is running out. But how much time is left? I always come back to that question. May, a doomed prime minister prior to last night, is now 100% zombie. The flower is off Macron's presidency. Trump is thrashing about like a gaffed fish.

Our problem is there is no substitute paradigm, no enlightened "outs" waiting in the wings to bear the burden of "good government." A social revolution is required. So a social revolution there must be. What this looks like is anyone's guess.

In the immediate future, given that this latest bit of Western insanity was clearly for the benefit of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, expect a Russian reply directed to Riyadh. That's the smart, the correct, move.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Upheaval in Europe Points to War with Russia

War with Russian is still the strong bet. War appears to be a last ditch frantic effort to slow the rapid collapse of the neoliberal center in Europe.

It doesn't look like the Five Star Movement (M5S) is going to govern Italy, as Outis Philalithopoulos explains below. M5S representatives are defecting to other parties. Philalithopoulos predicts a center-right government.

"US, Britain and France prepare onslaught against Syria," Statement of the World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board:
No less significant than the geopolitical motivations for the war are pressing domestic considerations. All of the major imperialist powers preparing for war are riven by deep internal crises and a growing movement of the working class.
French President Macron has signaled his support for the US war drive as his government is embroiled in a head-on confrontation with transportation workers over his hated neoliberal policies. Germany’s right-wing grand coalition government, cobbled together after months of back-room deals, enjoys minuscule public support.
The British state, thrown into crisis by the Brexit-mandated withdrawal from the European Union, is led by a prime minister who is held in universal contempt, with no authority or legitimacy. Theresa May is so afraid of public opposition to British involvement in Syria and a repeat of Prime Minister David Cameron’s debacle in 2013 that she has announced plans to proceed with an attack without a vote in Parliament.
And the United States is embroiled in the greatest political crisis since Watergate and the forced resignation of Nixon, exacerbated by a growing strike wave of teachers and mounting opposition throughout the working  by class.
The rush by NATO to embrace a conflict with Russia leaves the distinct impression that the US and the European powers would welcome a de facto state of war, which they could use as a pretext to intensify their drive to censor the Internet and outlaw domestic political opposition. The NATO powers are in the grip of a war fever as reckless as it is criminal. As their internal crises intensify, their military provocations become all the more naked.
"Italian Politics One Month Later" by Outis Philalithopoulos:
First [Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio] declared that the Five Stars would stick with the EU, with the Euro, and with the Atlantic alliance.
Next he declared that he was willing to form a coalition government with any political party as long as it would respect the Five Stars’ rules.
After that, he declared that he would be happy to form a government with the PD provided they would save face for him by leaving Renzi out of it. Or he could form a government with Lega provided that they would save face for him by leaving Berlusconi out of it.
For the time being, the center-right parties have been fairly decent about maintaining their pacts, and it soon became clear that Salvini/Lega would stick to the coalition they had committed to. Di Maio then returned to the idea of forming a government with the PD. When the PD said it wasn’t interested, the Five Stars responded that for the good of the country it ought to be, considering that it could thereby atone for its mistakes.
The current state of play is that Di Maio is continuing on his desperate quest to find a person, party, angel, demon, or extraterrestrial life form that might be capable of giving him enough support to allow him to form a government. In this he draws strength from the 11 million Italians who believed in him and his promise to provide a sort of universal basic income at least to the unemployed – an attractive vision especially in the South given the high unemployment rate there. On the other hand, if it starts to look like the promises of the Five Stars are empty, then there is a significant risk that many of its voters will lose faith and bolt in the next election.
Di Maio doesn’t merely have to worry about the voters deserting – there are also real reasons to doubt the loyalty of some of the newly-elected Five Stars senators and deputies. After the previous election, there were about 40 defectors (deputies and senators) from the Five Stars: the so-called “mixed group,” which subsequently became a prize that other parties worked to attract into their own orbits in order to bulk up their coalitions.
Di Maio’s worry is that as he continues to fail to form a government, there will be fresh defections – there have already been eight. Many of the Five Stars’ representatives come from modest backgrounds. Although defecting would mean having to pay the fines mentioned above, that might seem like a small price to pay compared to having the opportunity to safeguard their (potentially lucrative) seats at the table.
All of this raises the stakes for Di Maio in his frantic efforts to try to accomplish something, somehow.