Thursday, July 19, 2018

Mass Confusion

The fallout from Trump's Helsinki performance continues to dominate the news. There is very little narrative coherence to the front page now -- with the possible exception of the multiple trade wars percolating -- other than the "enemy within," which has been recast as the "enemy in the White House." Caitlin Johnstone has a compelling appraisal in "Russiagate Is Like 9/11, Except It’s Made Of Pure Narrative":
The last few days have been truly amazing. I didn’t even write an article yesterday; I’ve just been staring transfixed by my social media feeds watching liberal Americans completely lose their minds. I can’t look away. It’s like watching a slow motion train wreck, and everyone on the train is being really homophobic.
I’ve been writing about Russiagate since it started, and I can honestly say this is the worst it’s ever been, by far. The most hysterical, the most shrill, the most emotional, the most cartoonishly over-the-top and hyperbolic. The fact that Trump met with Putin in private and then publicly expressed doubt about the establishment Russia narrative has sent some political factions of America into an emotional state that is indistinguishable from what you’d expect if Russia had bombed New York City. This despite the fact that the establishment Russia narrative consists of no actual, visible events whatsoever. It is made of pure narrative.

I don’t even know where to start. Everyone has been completely mad across the entire spectrum of what passes for America’s political “left” today, from the usual suspects like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and their indistinguishable Never-Trump Republican allies, all the way to supposedly progressive commentators like Cenk Uygur and Shaun King. Comparing this pure narrative non-event to Pearl Harbor is now commonplace and mainstream. I just watched a United States Senator named Richard Blumenthal stare right into the camera refer to the hypothetical possibility of future Russian cyber intrusions as “this 9/11 moment.”

“We are in a 9/11 national emergency because our country is under attack, literally,” Blumenthal told CNN while demanding a record of Trump’s meeting with Putin at the Helsinki summit. “That attack is ongoing and pervasive, verified by objective and verifiable evidence. Those words are, again, from the director of National Security. And this 9/11 moment demands that we do come together.”

Nothing about the establishment Russia narrative is in any way verifiable, and the only thing it has in common with 9/11 is the media coverage and widespread emotional response.

September 11 had actual video footage of falling towers. You could go visit New York City, look at the spot where those towers used to be, and see them not being there anymore. You could learn the names of the people who died and visit their graves and talk to their family members. Exactly how it happened is a matter of some debate in many circles, but there is no question that it happened. There was an actual event that did happen in the real world, completely independent of any stories people tell about that event.

Russiagate is like 9/11, but with none of those things. It’s like if 9/11 had all the same widespread emotional responses, all the same nonstop mass media coverage, all the same punditry screaming war, war, war, except no actual event occurred. The towers were still there, everyone was still alive, and nothing actually happened apart from the narrative and the emotional responses to that narrative.

Russiagate is 9/11 minus 9/11.
And from Bill Van Auken's "The 'treason' charge against Donald Trump":
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history must question the current glorification of these agencies as defenders of democracy against the “traitor” Trump.
In any democratic society, the secret police and intelligence forces of the capitalist state have always been regarded with the greatest of suspicion. Nowhere is this truer than in the US. 
Indeed, so great was the suspicion of the CIA, that its founding charter barred it from conducting operations within the US itself, based on the recognition that its secretive activities took place outside of the parameters of the law, both national and international. 
Dubbed “Murder, Inc.” for its organization of assassinations, it also engineered coups against democratically elected governments that installed savage dictatorships from Iran and Guatemala to Turkey and Greece and countries throughout Latin America. 
As for the FBI, its record is littered with judicial frameups, provocations and murders. The agency conducted a virtual war against the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement and every section of the American left, flooding organizations with thousands of spies and agent-provocateurs. 
These agencies are largely responsible for the twin lies that have been utilized to justify the last quarter century of US foreign policy based on unending wars of aggression: “weapons of mass destruction” and the “war on terror.” 
That expressing skepticism as to the veracity and integrity of the CIA, FBI and NSA can be branded as treason represents a stark warning of the dangers of a US police state. 
The other “treasonous” act was the attempt to diminish tensions with Moscow. While Trump views Russia through the prism of his transactional “America First” foreign policy, the predominant factions within the US ruling establishment and Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus are so committed to the preparation for a military confrontation aimed at carving up and colonizing the Russian federation that no letup can be tolerated. 
These are the interests expressed by the Democrats, the consummate party of Wall Street and the CIA. It is unwilling and unable to oppose Trump from a progressive, not to mention left-wing, standpoint because it is the defender of the interests of finance capital and the Jeff Bezoses of this world. 
The terms “left” and “right” have ceased to have any real significance within the context of bourgeois politics in the US. The neo-McCarthyite politics embraced by the Democrats express the shift by the entire ruling establishment and its warring factions toward reaction and the destruction of the basic social and democratic rights of the broad mass of working people. 
That the same dynamic prevails among the pseudo-left organizations orbiting the Democratic Party was made clear by the reaction of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) to the uproar over the Helsinki summit, where, it declared, “Trump managed to look like a dupe of one of the most transparently evil people on the planet.” 
All of these political tendencies, reflecting the interests of the more privileged layers of the upper middle class, are being pushed sharply to the right by the upsurge in class struggle in the US and internationally and the threat of a revolutionary social explosion.
For an actual assessment of why Trump is in the White House read Thomas Edsall's "Why Don’t We Always Vote in Our Own Self-Interest?" --
One question that has troubled Democrats for decades is freshly relevant in the Trump-McConnell era: Why do so many voters support elected officials who are determined to cut programs that those same voters rely upon?
Take Kentucky, which has a median household income that ranks 45th out of the 50 states.
Over the past half century, residents of Kentucky have become steadily more reliant on the federal government. In the 1970s, federal programs provided slightly under 10 percent of personal income for Kentucky residents; by 2015, money from programs ranging from welfare and Medicaid to Social Security and Medicare more than doubled to 23 percent as a share of Kentuckians’ personal income.
Twenty years ago, there was only one county (out of 120) in which residents counted on the federal government for at least 40 percent of their personal income. By 2014, 28 counties were at 40 percent or higher.
But as their claims on federal dollars rose, the state’s voters became increasingly conservative. In the 1990s, they began to elect hard right, anti-government politicians determined to cut the programs their constituents were coming to lean on.
It is a confused, resentful, unselfed nation. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Brexit Crackup

While the media remains transfixed by Trump's Helsinki performance, the Conservative government of Theresa May finally appears to have slammed into a wall on Brexit. For the last couple of days votes on May's Brexit legislation have been taking place in parliament. Robert Stevens explains in "May government in meltdown over Brexit":
The votes imperilled May’s government, as she was forced to accept four amendments to the Bill from the hard-Brexit faction—which effectively wrecked the agreement on a soft-Brexit she had finally reached with her Cabinet just a week earlier. This deal was reached only under intense pressure from broad sections of business who demand continued access to the European Single market—the UK’s largest trading partner.
To wreck the Chequers agreement, around 20 Tories in the hard-Brexit European Research Group faction, led by backbencher and potential leadership challenger Jacob Rees-Mogg, threatened to vote against the government if their amendments to the bill were not accepted. The most divisive of the four Monday amendments overturned the complex UK/EU tariff proposals contained in the agreement reached at May’s country residence, Chequers, under which the UK would collect tariffs on goods on behalf of the EU. 
According to the Daily Telegraph, the party’s “Eurosceptics have set up a ‘party within a party’ with a highly organised whipping operation among Tory Eurosceptic MPs to try to frustrate Theresa May’s Brexit plans.” 
It detailed how “[m]ore than 100 Eurosceptic Tory MPs are now on a WhatsApp group co-ordinated by former Brexit minister Steve Baker who is giving them voting instructions.”
Leading soft-Brexit Tory Dominic Grieve said his party’s pro-Brexit rebels appeared “willing to plunge the country into a serious crisis to achieve the purity of their objective.”
Following the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned to be replaced by May—who was a supporter of Remain but pledged to implement Brexit. This compromise has blown up, not simply due to events in Britain but because these events have been shaped by the extraordinary antagonisms between the United States and European powers following the election of US President Donald Trump.
A path forward for May's soft Brexit appears blocked, but it doesn't appear that the hard Brexiters have the votes to lead. So impasse and a cliff's edge Brexit crackup seem the safe bet here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Neoliberal World Order Exposed

Why all the wailing? Reading the principal write-up in The New York Times this morning, Julie Hirschfeld Davis's "Trump, at Putin’s Side, Questions U.S. Intelligence on 2016 Election," one gets the impression that the scapegoating of Russia is the absolute foundation of U.S. policy both foreign and domestic; for Trump to publicly repudiate that scapegoating in Helsinki -- with "the evil Putin" at his side -- has created such an incendiary reaction from the political class in Washington, D.C. that it calls into question that political class's connection to the rest of us:
The 45-minute news conference offered the spectacle of the American and Russian presidents both pushing back on the notion of Moscow’s election interference, with Mr. Putin demanding evidence of something he said had never been proved, and Mr. Trump appearing to agree.
When asked directly whether he believed Mr. Putin or his own intelligence agencies about the election meddling, Mr. Trump said there were “two thoughts” on the matter: one from American officials like Dan Coats, his director of national intelligence, asserting Russia’s involvement; and one from Mr. Putin dismissing it.
“I have confidence in both parties,” Mr. Trump said.
He then changed the subject, demanding to know why the F.B.I. never examined the hacked computer servers of the Democratic National Committee, and asking about the fate of emails missing from the server of Hillary Clinton, his campaign rival.
“Where are Hillary Clinton’s emails?” Mr. Trump said.
His performance drew howls of protests from Democrats and some Republicans, prompting John O. Brennan, who served as C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, to suggest that the remarks warranted Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,’” Mr. Brennan wrote on Twitter, calling the president’s behavior “treasonous.” “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”
Key Republicans are calling on Trump to repudiate his press conference comments. And Trump just might. But damage to his opponents has already be done. Craig Murray writes (see "Detente Bad, Cold War Good") with his usual clarity that,
The entire “liberal” media and political establishment of the Western world reveals its militarist, authoritarian soul today with the screaming and hysterical attacks on the very prospect of detente with Russia. Peace apparently is a terrible thing; a renewed arms race, with quite literally trillions of dollars pumped into the military industrial complex and hundreds of thousands dying in proxy wars, is apparently the “liberal” stance.
Democrats are headed for a brutal presidential primary, but they have to deal with midterms first. Anything less than a takeover of the House is going to be interpreted as another failure.

With the exception of a race here and there, Democrats have given up on the idea of pulling people to the polls -- minorities, youth -- who don't usually turnout. So the question is whether Democrats can win a wave election minus the "Obama coalition"? I'd say no. But there's the example of Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania's 18th CD special election. Educated suburbanites will flock to the polls given the right circumstances.

Monday, July 16, 2018

There Won't be a Trial

There's a decent interview of Michael Isikoff by Real News Network's Aaron Mate. A friend of mine has been trying to get me to read Russian RouletteHe is convinced that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump.

Joe Lauria points out in "Clinging to Collusion: Why Evidence Will Probably Never Be Produced in the Indictments of ‘Russian Agents’" that the indictment announced Friday is not meant to end in a trial. It is primarily theatrical, of the cold war variety.
Evidence Likely Never to be Seen
Other apparent sources for information in the indictment are intelligence agencies, which normally create hurdles in a criminal prosecution.
“In this indictment there is detail after detail whose only source could be intelligence, yet you don’t use intelligence in documents like this because if these defendants decide to challenge this in court, it opens the U.S. to having to expose sources and methods,” Johnson said. [Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson.]
If the U.S. invoked the states secret privilege so that classified evidence could not be revealed in court a conviction before a civilian jury would be jeopardized.
Such a trial is extremely unlikely however. That makes the indictment essentially a political and not a legal document because it is almost inconceivable that the U.S. government will have to present any evidence in court to back up its charges. This is simply because of the extreme unlikelihood that arrests of Russians living in Russia will ever be made.
In this way it is similar to the indictment earlier this year of the Internet Research Agency of St. Petersburg, Russia, a private click bait company that was alleged to have interfered in the 2016 election by buying social media ads and staging political rallies for both Clinton and Trump. It seemed that no evidence would ever have to back up the indictment because there would never be arrests in the case.
But Special Counsel Robert Mueller was stunned when lawyers for the internet company showed up in Washington demanding discovery in the case. That caused Mueller to scramble and demand a delay in the first hearing, which was rejected by a federal judge. Mueller is now battling to keep so-called sensitive material out of court.
In both the IRA case and Friday’s indictments, the extremely remote possibility of convictions were not what Mueller was apparently after, but rather the public perception of Russia’s guilt resulting from fevered media coverage of what are after all only accusations, presented as though it is established fact. Once that impression is settled into the public consciousness, Mueller’s mission would appear to be accomplished.
For instance, the Times routinely dispenses with the adjective “alleged” and reports the matter as though it is already established fact. It called Friday’s indictments, which are only unproven charges, “the most detailed accusation by the American government to date of the [not alleged] Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election, and it includes a litany of [not alleged] brazen Russian subterfuge operations meant to foment chaos in the months before Election Day.”

Friday, July 13, 2018

More Plastic Than Fish by 2050

A good post by Gaius Publius, "Which Would Be Harder to Ban, Single-Use Plastic or Money-Bought Government?," appears this morning on Naked Capitalism:
In a related piece EcoWatch notes, “More than 8.3 billion metric tons of new plastics have been generated, distributed and discarded as of 2017. Much of that material ends up in our oceans. Every year humans send an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic out to sea. If plastic consumption continues at this rate, we are on pace to fill oceans with more plastic than there are fish by 2050.”
More plastic than fish in the ocean is a lot of plastic. Most or all of this plastic is single-use. You touch it for five minutes — drink your slurpee, drain your sugery coke, carry your groceries to the kitchen — then throw it away. Five minutes on the finger tips, a thousand years on the hips of an already over-burdened planet.
There’s so much plastic in the ocean that mussels are now so riddled with it they should not be eaten:
Shellfish are the natural filter systems of our seas, mechanisms of purity. So, to discover in a report released on World Oceans Day that mussels bought from UK supermarkets were infested with microplastic seems like a final irony in the terrible story of the plasticisation of the sea. According to the study by the University of Hull and Brunel University London, 70 particles of microplastic were found in every 100 grams of mussels.
We feed plastic to the ocean, and it feeds plastic to us. Our modern life, “consumed with that which it was nourished by,” eaten by what we eat.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Soy, A Chinese "Glass Jaw"?

Yesterday the Trump administration announced another $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to go with the $34 billion in tariffs already in place. Tariffs announced yesterday won't go into effect until after a public comment period scheduled for the end of August, giving China or the U.S. ample time to blink. The concern of the financial markets is there is no indication that either side has any intention of relenting.

It is important to remember that what the Trump administration is shooting for is to have China scrap its industrial policy, "Made in China 2025," and that's not going to happen. China is not a small nation willing to compromise its sovereignty to get along with a super power upon which it relies for its security. The United States is a rival. To relinquish is to capitulate.

There has been more reporting of late about China's voracious appetite for soy, something The New York Times considers a Chinese "glass jaw." But what I took away from Raymond Zhong's excellent "China’s Taste for Soybeans Is a Weak Spot in the Trade War With Trump" is that things are not as bad as they seem for China.

For one, Chinese agriculture is not as wedded to the pesticide-drenched industrial GMO model as the United States:
As an incentive, the provincial government offered generous subsidies to farmers both for growing soybeans and for switching their fields to soy from corn.
Word of the new subsidies spread quickly on the social media app WeChat. And soon, many farmers were returning corn seeds and fertilizer they had already bought and planting soy instead.
With all the government support, Guo Qiang, a 35-year-old farmer in the village of Dawusili, said that he would love to grow only soybeans, and no corn, on his family’s 50 acres. But his farm cooperative requires that members rotate their crops to keep the soil healthy.
To reduce its dependence on American soy, Beijing could also try to squeeze more beans out of each acre at home. But farmers in Heilongjiang acknowledge they are a long way from being as productive as farmers in the United States, where agriculture is more mechanized and genetic modification is embraced.
China allows imports of genetically engineered crops, but Heilongjiang forbids farmers to grow them. Many people here harbor deep doubts about such products’ safety, both for people and for the land.
“I wouldn’t grow them even if the government allowed it,” said Gai Yongfeng, the head of the Jiaxing farm cooperative in Dawusili. “They’re bad for the soil. After you’ve grown them somewhere, nothing else will grow there. That’s what everyone says.”
An ethic of sustainability appears to be stronger in China than in the United States, which is a long-term plus. But with its food security in doubt China will take this opportunity to diversify its suppliers:
American farmers could still take a sizable hit in the long run if China’s tariffs prompt Brazil and other suppliers to expand their soy acreage, or if China bankrolls cultivation outside its borders. Many people from Heilongjiang are already growing soybeans across the Amur River in the Russian Far East, where land is cheap and plentiful.
In 1969, fighting erupted between Soviet and Chinese troops along this border. But these days, relations are good and trade is brisk. In the border city of Heihe (pronounced “HEY-huh”), many street signs are written in both Chinese and Russian. In Xiaowusili (“SHYEEOW-oo-suh-lee”), the parks have trash cans painted to look like giant matryoshka nesting dolls.
China’s hunger for soybeans could deepen ties further. In a recent interview with the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, the head of a Russian soybean association said that the group was looking to team up with Chinese companies, and had set up an office in Heilongjiang’s provincial capital, Harbin, to attract investment.
Zhong could have mentioned but didn't the sizable investment the Chinese have made in arable land in Africa.

For a long time the Chinese knew this train was coming down the track. The only thing Trump has done is opened up the throttle on the locomotive. Instead of thinking in terms of 20 years from now, we're thinking of right here, right now.

There's no going back. Take a look around. We're living in a new age.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New Age

Trump arrives in the United Kingdom on Thursday to what the Guardian says is a massive police mobilization "in numbers not seen since widespread rioting in 2011, in order to meet planned anti-Trump protests." The UK is in turmoil as the hard Brexiters play out their weak hand. There is no appetite for a clean break with the European Union. Business is raising an alarm of massive layoffs. According to Stephen Castle's "Theresa May in Fight to Save Government Amid Brexit Rift":
Several major British employers have issued warnings in recent weeks over the risks of a chaotic, or “cliff edge,” Brexit. Most prominently, Jaguar Land Rover said it could derail more than $100 billion worth of investment plans in Britain and force the closing of some factories. Airbus and BMW also questioned whether they could continue to keep manufacturing facilities in the country under those conditions.
May's muddle will continue until the day of reckoning when parliament must vote to accept whatever deal the EU grants it.

But that's several months off. Right now it's summer, and I feel as if we entered a new era. It's Trumpian of course: Life on the street as the floor beams of neoliberalism continue to disintegrate.

Craig Murray captures the spirit of our new, confused age in his post devoted to the OPCW report on Douma, "No Trump, No Clinton, No NATO":
Trump’s reaction to yet more lying claims by the UK government funded White Helmets and Syrian Observatory, a reaction of missile strikes on alleged Syrian facilities producing the non-existent nerve agent, was foolish. May’s leap for British participation was unwise, and the usual queue of Blairites who stood up as always in Parliament to support any bombing action, stand yet again exposed as evil tools of the military industrial complex.
Hillary Clinton, true to form, wanted more aggressive military action than was undertaken by Trump. Hillary has been itching to destroy Syria as she destroyed Libya. Libya was very much Hillary’s war and – almost unreported by the mainstream media – NATO bombers carried out almost 14,000 bombing sorties on Libya and devastated entire cities.
The destruction of Libya’s government and infrastructure directly caused the Mediterranean boat migrant crisis, which has poisoned the politics of much of the European Union.
Donald Trump has not started any major war. He has been more restrained in military action than any US President since Jimmy Carter. My own view is (and of course it is impossible to know for sure) that, had Hillary been in power, Syria would already have been totally destroyed, the Cold War with Russia would be at mankind threatening levels, and nuclear tension with North Korea would be escalating.
“He hasn’t destroyed mankind yet” is faint praise for anyone. Being less of an existential danger to mankind than Hillary Clinton is a level achieved by virtually the entire population of the planet. I am not supporting Trump. I am condemning Clinton. I too, like Susan Sarandon, would have voted for Jill Stein were I an American.