Monday, November 27, 2017

The Neoliberal Center Burns

You have to tip your hat to the The New York Times. Though it is one of the principal outlets for the New Cold War with Russia, in its Saturday edition it published a shattering rebuttal from one of its Moscow-based reporters.

"Why Putin’s Foes Deplore U.S. Fixation on Election Meddling" by Andrew Higgins is an assessment of the U.S. media's Russophobia from the perspective of pro-Western Russian intellectuals:
Ultimately, they say, Americans are using Russia as a scapegoat to explain the deep political discord in the United States. That has left many westward-leaning Russians, who have long looked to America for their ideals, in bitter disappointment that the United States seems to be mimicking some of their own country’s least appealing traits.
The hunt for a hidden Russian hand behind President Trump’s election victory has caused particular disquiet among liberal-minded Russian journalists.
“The image of Putin’s Russia constructed by Western and, above all, American media outlets over the past 18 months shocks even the most anti-Putin reader in Russia,” Oleg V. Kashin, a journalist critical of the Kremlin, wrote last week in Republic, a Russian news site. He complained that the American media has consistently misconstrued the way Russia works, presenting marginal opportunists and self-interested businessmen with no real link to the Kremlin as state-controlled agents working on orders from Mr. Putin.
For Ivan I. Kurilla, a professor of history and an America specialist at the European University at St. Petersburg, a bastion of liberal thinking, Russia’s prominent and almost entirely negative role on America’s political stage since the November election reprises a phenomenon first seen in the late 1800s.
Americans use Russia each time they feel their own identity in crisis,” said Mr. Kurilla, the author of a new book on the history of Russian-American relations, “Frenemies.”
But don't expect from "the newspaper of record" a reduction in the number of stories devoted to Russian troll farms and Russian hackers disseminating fake news "weaponized" to destroy Western democracy. On the same day Higgins' story ran, The Times published Jason Horowitz's "Italy, Bracing for Electoral Season of Fake News, Demands Facebook’s Help":
In a global atmosphere already thick with suspicion of Russian meddling in elections in the United States, France and Germany, as well as in the British referendum to leave the European Union and the Catalan independence movement in Spain, many analysts consider Italy to be the weak link in an increasingly vulnerable European Union.
No one in Italy is more worried than the governing Democratic Party. In recent days, its members have made an orchestrated attempt to focus the attention of the country — and of powerful social media platforms like Facebook — on a misinformation campaign that they believe is devised to damage one of the last major center-left governments standing in Europe.
Mr. Renzi, a wily political operator who partly blames online misinformation campaigns and fake news for the failure of a referendum that forced his resignation in December, is not only seeking to protect himself, but also to go on the offensive.
(Before being dispatched to Rome, Horowitz held the "Get Bernie!" portfolio during the 2016 presidential election campaign.)

The template is a simple one. Any organized electoral challenge to the neoliberal center is tarred as a Russian psyops crafted personally by the evil Putin. The template is provided by U.S. intelligence agencies and dutifully applied by the corporate media. Brexit, Trump, Geert Wilders, Le Pen, AfD, Catalan independence, Italy's Five Star Movement -- every bogeyman tracks back to Moscow.

It's infantile and superficial. But it is also a strong indication how dead-ended the "Washington Consensus" has become. When you're desperate and trying to make it day to day, week to week, month to month, the tendency apparently is to revert to old patterns.

That's why I was surprised that in the run up to Germany's September elections there was no effort to inflate the online Russian bogeyman. This was obviously a failure of Western intelligence. No one predicted the precipitous drop off in support for the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. There were predictions that Alternative for Germany might reach the Bundestag, but not that Merkel would have to rely on a minority government. We'll see if Martin Schultz eats his words and ends up resuscitating the grand coalition. In any event, rest assured that if new elections are called, this time around, there will be plenty of Russophobia.

An interesting development in the disintegration of the neoliberal center is the recent hysteria over sexual harassment. Male animality is exposed. Celebrity scalps are piling up. Where and when it will end is hard to gauge. It could go on for a long time. I welcome it. Because it promises to burn, baby, burn.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Manson

Charles Manson died yesterday. For The New York Times write-up, see "Charles Manson Dies at 83; Wild-Eyed Leader of a Murderous Crew" by Margalit Fox. It is a reaffirmation of the conventional wisdom regarding the Manson Family, which isn't necessarily that wide of the mark; it just doesn't delve into how a jailbird like Manson was able to swindle his way to the infamy he achieved.

The best book I've read on Manson is one of first, if not the first, Ed Sanders' The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion (1971). I include here a review I wrote for my public library:
The Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family in August 1969, along with the sensational trial the following year, are usually credited, along with debacle at Altamont in December 1969, with destroying the peace-&-love era of the Hippie. In THE FAMILY, written in exuberant style by poet, activist and Fugs founder Ed Sanders, you have an amazing document that precedes HELTER SKELTER, the blockbuster bestseller by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, by a good three years. What Sanders accomplishes in THE FAMILY is to convey just how crazy the lunatic fringe of the 1960s were: Satan worship, human sacrifice, biker gangs, marathon orgies, the list could on and on. Manson does not come off well. A lifelong criminal who did a lengthy stint at McNeil Island prison where he picked up some handy mind-control tricks, Manson was a megalomaniac misogynist and racist who ordered others to do his killing. There are some fascinating tangents to THE FAMILY. One that Sanders explores is that Manson sent his minions to the Polanski household primed for slaughter thinking that Sharon Tate would not be there. (Her car wasn't there; it was in the shop that night.) In other words, the usual explanation, that Manson was looking for payback at rock producer and Doris Day offspring Terry Melcher's expense for not making him a superstar, is not credible. Manson knew that Melcher no longer lived on 10050 Cielo Drive. Sanders thinks that the Polanski home was chosen as the scene for slaughter because one of Charlie's girls, Linda Kasabian (the member of The Family who ended up ratting everyone out to prosecutors), had been burned by Polanski buddy Wojciech Frykowski (Abigail Folger's lover) on a MDA drug buy. Frykowksi and Folger were house sitting for the Polanskis while they were in England.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Saudis Have Painted Themselves into a Corner

Lebanon's prime minister, Saad Hariri, has been under house arrest in Saudi Arabia for a week. He went on television yesterday and vowed that he would return to Lebanon "in two or three days.”

I doubt it. The Saudis have fucked up again. They can't allow Hariri to return to Lebanon because once there his party, Future Movement, would disavow his resignation; plus, if Hariri returns, he will have to explain the reason he provided for fleeing to Saudi Arabia in the first place, that there was an assassination plot against him.

No, the Saudis obviously didn't game this one out. The Lebanese aren't buying any of it, and Hezbollah looks better than before Hariri was made captive.

Faced with a problem of his own creation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will most likely do what he has always done -- make the problem bigger.

The emergency Arab League meeting announced for November 19 will be an occasion for the Saudis to make further demands of Iran and Hezbollah.

The Saudis want a wider war, the idea being that in a direct conflict with Iran, not just a proxy conflict, the United States will have to join the Kingdom.

All the military celebrations during Sunday's NFL games, part of a Veterans Day salute, were accompanied by a barely perceptible but nonetheless present queasiness. The next U.S. war will be a game changer and not in a way that bolsters American hegemony.

People sense it. The tail is wagging the dog.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Medicaid Expansion in Maine Big Win for Democrats

Much is being made about the defeat of Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor's race:
Ralph Northam, 1,405,097, 53.9%
Ed Gillespie, 1,172,533, 45.0%
But I think the most hopeful sign of election night was Maine's popular vote to expand Medicaid. (See Abby Goodnough's "Maine Voters Approve Medicaid Expansion, a Rebuke of Gov. LePage.")

Repeated in other states whose governors refused the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, this will be a progressive voter magnet in 2018. With a modest amount of competence, the Democratic Party should retake the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Iran War Fever

From Bill Van Aucken's "Lebanese crisis bound up with war drive against Iran":
What has changed is the ratcheting up of the campaign against Iran waged by Washington in alliance with both Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Trump administration has signaled its willingness to upend the Iranian nuclear agreement, which would place it on path to war with Tehran, while the US Congress last month enacted a new series of sanctions against Hezbollah, including the placing of multimillion-dollar bounties on the heads of two of its officials.
Lebanon, which suffered a civil war that bled the country from 1975 to 1989, is threatened with being turned into a field of battle in the drive by US imperialism to destroy Iran as an impediment to establishing hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East. To this end, the US administration has deliberately sought to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, with potentially catastrophic implications for Lebanon.
The Israeli regime has made no attempt to conceal its glee over Hariri’s actions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the Lebanese prime minister’s resignation and statements in Riyadh as “a wake-up call for the international community to act against Iranian aggression.”
The country’s thuggish Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman went on Twitter to write: “Lebanon=Hezbollah. Hezbollah=Iran. Lebanon=Iran. Iran is dangerous to the world. Saad Hariri has proved that today. Period.”
The Jerusalem Post was even more explicit, stating, “Now, it seems that Hariri has given Israel more legitimacy for a full-scale and uncompromising campaign against Iran and Lebanon, not only Hezbollah, should a war in the north break out.”
It approvingly quoted Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet and former Israeli general, who vowed that should war begin, “Israel will bring Lebanon back to the stone age.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah responded on Sunday:
Nasrallah on Sunday played down the risks of conflict between rival camps in Lebanon or with his movement's arch-foe Israel.
"Do not listen to alarmist speeches ... do not worry, there is nothing to worry about," he said.
"We will react responsibly and calmly... we are concerned about the security" of Lebanon, Nasrallah added.
On Israel, he said the Jewish state "will not embark on a war against Lebanon unless it is guaranteed a quick, decisive and inexpensive war".
Van Aucken doesn't mention Saudi threats against Iran for a Houthi missile attack on Riyadh Saturday (see "Saudi-Led Coalition Fighting in Yemen Hints at ‘Act of War’ by Iran"). Iran denies having anything to do with it. Saudi Arabia has announced a complete land, sea and air blockade of Yemen. The humanitarian crisis there can only worsen.

On the purge within the Saudi royal family, David Kirkpatrick reports in "Saudi Crown Prince’s Mass Purge Upends a Longstanding System" that
“It is the coup de grâce of the old system,” said Chas W. Freeman, a former United States ambassador. “Gone. All power has now been concentrated in the hands of Mohammed bin Salman.”
Why the crown prince acted now — whether to eliminate future opposition or perhaps to crush some threat he saw brewing — was not immediately clear.
At 32 years old, he had little experience in government before his father, King Salman, 81, ascended to the throne in 2015, and the prince has demonstrated little patience for the previously staid pace of change in the kingdom.
He has led Saudi Arabia into a protracted military conflict in Yemen and a bitter feud with its Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar. He has taken on a business elite accustomed to state subsidies and profligacy by laying out radical plans to remake the Saudi economy, lessen its dependence on oil and rely instead on foreign investment. And he has squared off against conservatives in the religious establishment with symbolic steps to loosen strict moral codes, including a pending end to the longstanding ban on women driving.
Crown Prince Mohammed’s haste, however, may now come at a price, because the lack of transparency or due process surrounding the anticorruption crackdown is sure to unnerve the same private investors he hopes to attract — including through a planned stock offering of the huge state oil company, Aramco.
[snip]
President Trump on Sunday appeared to give a tacit endorsement of the arrests in a phone call with King Salman. A White House summary of the call contained no references to the arrests, and said Mr. Trump had praised Crown Prince Mohammed for other matters.
Three White House advisers, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, returned just days ago from the latest in at least three high-level Trump administration visits to Saudi Arabia this year.
Nearly 24 hours after the arrests were announced, no Saudi authority or spokesman had identified those arrested or the charges against them.
Trump wants war with Iran. Al-Saud wants war with Iran. Israel wants war with Iran. War with Iran is coming. Don't look to the disintegrating Democratic Party to offer a counterweight.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Zombie Shall Go Off-Road

Since the end of August I have been confronted with a series of significant demands at work. One of the units of the local went out on strike and was on the picket line for a month before reaching an agreement with the employer. Unions rarely go on strike anymore. There are a variety of reasons for this, none of which are positive for labor, but the bottom line is that strikes are supremely difficult to manage. They are physically exhausting and emotionally taxing.

Once the strike ended, the local's bookkeeper resigned, which put me on the hot seat for taking care of all the finances, a web of a various arcane transactions -- payroll, tax filings, accounts payable and receivable -- electronic and otherwise. Then, if that wasn't enough, the local's general fund was targeted in a string of fraud attempts, which necessitated opening up a case with the local police, establishing a new account, reaching out to employers who remit dues payments electronically, etc.

All in all, a tale of professional woe since August. And there is no end in sight. If anything, things will grow worse as the year end approaches. My brain feels bruised.

I have no time to cogitate on current events. I've been workings Saturdays, and Saturday is my main reading day; so a lot of the grist for my mill has been depleted.

The dynamic remains the same though: The Western-led neoliberal world order is capsizing, and no mainstream political rescue operation is on the horizon. Democratic leaders in the U.S. think they can muddle along and beat Trump in 2020 with a Wall Street candidate; in other words, a redo of 2016.

The problem is a major new war is coming. The U.S.-Saudi jihadist response to the Arab Spring revolt(s) of 2011 has lost its steam. When blocked or defeated, the neoconservative response -- and neoconservative decision making is the only type of decision making that exists in Riyadh and Washington, D.C. these days -- is to make the problem bigger. That's how we should interpret the latest news out of Saudi Arabia.

Will Lebanon be destroyed again? Will Iran be attacked directly? I don't know. But the U.S. is at its limit politically and militarily. Europe will soon have to go its own way. Finally. But can Europe make this transition without cracking up itself? Probably not. Germany, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (and the bygone Republic of Vietnam), is organically connected to the U.S. deep state.

This particular path that the West is on has come to end. The zombie must go off-road.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Rajoy Outmaneuvers Puigdemont

Judging from "Catalonia Leader Turns Up in Belgium After Spain Seeks Prosecution," by Raphael Minder, Patrick Kingsley and Milan Schreurer, it appears that the government of Mariano Rajoy has learned from its mistake on October 1. Rather than react with force, the Spanish government has pinned its hopes of solving the problem of independence for Catalonia with elections in December.

This appears to have wrong-footed pro-independence leadership:
Not least, there was the important decision for separatist parties about whether to take part in regional elections called by Madrid or to risk sidelining themselves.
The two main Catalan parties — including Mr. Puigdemont’s Catalan European Democratic Party — said on Monday they would run in the elections, which are scheduled for Dec. 21, although perhaps no longer as part of the coalition that won the most parliamentary seats in 2015.
Germà Bel, a separatist Catalan lawmaker, said Mr. Puigdemont’s possible hopes of running a government from exile was “symbolic.”
“I don’t know of anyone who’s run a government from overseas,” he said. “Even Charles de Gaulle didn’t run a government from overseas.”
But he argued that it would be hard for Mr. Rajoy’s government to maintain control over Catalonia for an extended period.
The decision by pro-independence parties to take part in the December elections meant that they “at least implicitly” accept they are still part of Spain — no small concession.
“This election has been called by the Spanish government under Spanish law — and it will be an election run within the state,” Mr. Bel said.
When it comes to the polls, fear is usually a stronger motivation than hope. That's why I imagine that the pro-independence coalition of Carles Puigdemont will lose its majority in the regional government.