Thursday, June 22, 2017

Macron Puffing Begins Anew After Brief Respite of Realism

Western press adulation over Emmanuel Macron hit a rough patch following Sunday's legislative elections, summed up by the vile Adam Nossiter ("For Emmanuel Macron, Fight for France Is Just Beginning"):
Mr. Macron got 24 percent in a first round of presidential voting in April against three opponents who all finished close behind. On Sunday, a record-breaking 57 percent of French voters boycotted the polls, leading to much anguished commentary in French media and questions about the legitimacy of Mr. Macron’s victory. And only two of his deputies elected Sunday received more than 30 percent of the registered voters in their districts, in Le Monde’s reckoning.
From Mr. Macron’s point of view, Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon will, at best, fill up airtime in Parliament. But at worst, theirs will be the voices for the union and street opposition that is already gathering against Mr. Macron to oppose his proposed changes to France’s rigid and job-killing labor code. [No reportorial bias there.] Both Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon suggested Sunday night that this is where they will be concentrating their fire in the months to come.
“We will fight the new work law, which destroys the rights of employees,” Ms. Le Pen said, while Mr. Mélenchon warned against “the destruction of the entire social order, by this repeal of the labor code.”
But in the last few days cheerleading for Macron has begun anew. Yesterday's sour, blame-the-victim column ("Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?") by the clownish Thomas Friedman offered one ray of sunshine -- "Look at the new president of France."

Then there's Thomas Edsall's piece today, "The End of the Left and the Right as We Knew Them," about the realignment of traditional politics to the new axis of globalist vs. nationalist. The neoliberal elite are hankering for Macron to reinvent the brand while maintaining its redistribution of wealth to the 1%:
According to Steven Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, globalization and the Great Recession of 2007-9 have resulted in a “pervasive anxiety” that provides fertile grounds for populists who promise a reassertion of control and national sovereignty, including over borders, as well as a renewed focus on those left behind in the global economy.
Patrick shares with a number of internationalists the hope that Macron and En Marche represent a viable political solution to contemporary conflicts that could be applied in other countries:
Macron’s genius has been to argue that he can thread the political needle, by embracing globalization and reinforcing social protections to compensate those exposed to its downside. In the process, he has obliterated traditional parties of the left and the right, while promising a synthesis tailor made for the twenty-first century. If he can bring it off, he will become a model for other leaders to follow — including in the United States.
This "synthesis" is being pitched as a "Scandinavian-style" economy where people are constantly upgrading their skills in a rewarding holistic partnership with their nurturing employer. Liz Alderman explains in her interview ("In French Labor Overhaul, Union Leader Offers a Way to a Compromise") with the head of French Democratic Confederation of Labor, Laurent Berger, that
Mr. Macron wants to steer France toward a more Scandinavian-style economic model known as “flexible security.” Pioneered in Denmark, it promotes consensus between unions and employers, and it aims to minimize joblessness by making it easy for companies to adjust their work force and by retraining the unemployed.
The idea is to no longer protect jobs for life, while giving people skills to transition to different careers.
It should be called a "U.S.-style" economy since the United States went through this decades ago. Then it was Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich (now safe in a prestigious U.C. Berkeley sinecure) who extolled the flexibility of "knowledge workers." Twenty-five years later we know that "flexible" is merely a marketing term for "precarious."

The Macron camp is indulging in the type of "It's Morning in America Again" propaganda that is more than three-decades stale in the U.S. Republicans, if they use it all, mumble it under their breath like reciting the pledge of allegiance at a compulsory meeting. It doesn't work with anyone anymore. Once again I ask, "Are the French this stupid?" According to Nossiter,
The battle of ideas during the election campaign is far from over, in the view of Mr. Delevoye, the Macron camp veteran. “French society, in all its diversity, finds itself divided between those who are fearful of globalization, and those who want to undertake the adventure of the future,” he said. “What’s begun is a cultural change, which is moving from fear toward hope, and the liberty to create.”
The promised "liberty to come" will be delivered by the following market fixes Alderman lists:
Mr. Macron’s plans contain several elements that unions, including the C.F.D.T., see as red lines. Foremost is a proposal to allow employers to negotiate directly with employees on a range of workplace issues, overriding sector-wide accords struck by unions. Labor organizations also oppose a measure to cap compensation awards in unfair dismissal cases.
Basically a mortal wound for organized labor that will deliver the French working class over to the mercy of their employers.

So get ready. The doubts expressed in the legacy media about the strength of Macron's base of support in wake of the record level of abstention in the second round of voting Sunday is going to give way to superficial boosterism of the sort found in Ivan Krastev's "Central Europe’s Tough Choice: Macron or Orban?"
Polls show that a growing number of Europeans are betting on the European Union. Improved economies across the Continent, the miserable performance of populists in the Netherlands, and the humiliation suffered by the “hard Brexiteer” Theresa May in this month’s general election in Britain have made many Europeans hopeful that the European Union has received a second chance, and that it is going to make the most of it.
Emmanuel Macron’s decisive victories in France — first in the presidential election in May and then again in parliamentary elections last week — on a proudly pro-European platform have led many Europeans to believe that rather than disintegration, further integration may now be possible. The hope among the ever-closer-unionists is that Mr. Macron’s labor reforms in France will persuade Germany to invest more in eurozone economies. Meanwhile, plans for further investment in European defense are afoot.
But while infectious optimism is visible everywhere in Western Europe, the East has remained conspicuously unenthusiastic. The prospect of Eastern Europeans exiting the union — as the former Czech president Vaclav Klaus recently implored them to do — is still about as likely as President Vladimir Putin of Russia losing next year’s elections, but many in Eastern Europe are squeamish about German-French efforts to reorder Europe. Why?
The stakes are too high for anything approaching realism to intrude upon the media monopoly. If the French social compact can be vivisected, a race to the bottom throughout Europe will begin post-haste.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What Difference Does It Make that Ossoff Lost?

UPDATE II: For another pitiless skewering of the Democrats, consult "Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump,’" by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin:
Others in the party were far more caustic, calling Mr. Ossoff’s defeat a warning to Democrats who see red-tinged suburban districts as the keys to winning power, and saying that Ms. Pelosi would undermine the party’s candidates for as long as she holds her post.
I agree. Pelosi became Speaker after the Democrats took control of the House following the 2006 midterms. She brought the Dems back, the story went, because she ran Blue Dogs in the suburbs. Well, Ossoff is basically a Blue Dog, and he didn't win. Maybe if he had been an ex-football star the outcome would have been different.

In any event, even if the Dems can Blue Dog their way back to a majority in 2018, the base is hankering for new leadership right now. After decades of centrist messaging and the steady drift rightward into the suffocating embrace of Goldman Sachs, the Democratic rank'n'file is not going to achieve any climax until there is a Momentum-like purge of DNC apparatchiks.

Problem is there is really no way to accomplish this. So expect business as usual: more hearings about Russia, more unchallenged troop deployments abroad to an ever-expanding list of conflict zones and possibly the end of Medicaid.

It is going to take another Bernie run, and then Bernie being blocked again by the DNC, for the party of Jackson to finally, thankfully, come to an end.

**** 

UPDATE: An accurate yet scathing mainstream indictment of the Democrats post-Ossoff can be found in Rick Klein's "Democrats face disarray after going bust in Georgia":
Nancy Pelosi emerged as a more effective messaging foil for Republicans than Donald Trump was for Democrats. The Republican establishment effectively rallied behind its candidates despite Trump’s polarizing presidency and the continued concerns over his leadership from inside that establishment.
Democrats don’t have a cohesive message or a road map for arriving at one. They surely haven’t proved that the House will be in play in 2018 — though it may well be — and Trump and his GOP brethren now feel emboldened for their governing agenda in 2017.
“Race better be a wake up call for Democrats -- business as usual isn't working. Time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future,” Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., tweeted Tuesday night, in a widely noted piece of commentary. “We need a genuinely new message, a serious jobs plan that reaches all Americans, and a bigger tent not a smaller one.”
**** 

I work with a young guy. I think he has Asperger's. From what I can tell he stays somewhat informed of current events. Yesterday as we were getting ready to close the office I asked him if he had an opinion on the Ossoff race in Georgia's 6th CD. He said no. I was reminded of a laconic query he put to me last winter when it looked as if Marine Le Pen was a shoe-in to win the French presidency, prompting a spiel on my part about France leaving the EU. "What difference does it make?" he asked.

What difference does it make that Ossoff lost yesterday? For starters I think the chances of Trumpcare clearing the Senate improved exponentially. Republicans are going to stay firmly planted on Trump island as long as he continues to win. He inserted himself directly in Georgia's 6th CD, something he did in the primary as well, the race was a referendum on Trump, and the Republican Karen Handel won.

How bad Trumpcare will be is yet to be decided. We won't know, assuming McConnell gets something through the Senate, until the House-Senate conference reconciles the two versions. It will be bad, but maybe Medicaid will only be pared back and not turned into a block grant. If it is block-granted, it will pull down one of the pillars of the Great Society.

The GOP is probably smart enough to phase out Obamacare's Medicaid increases over a long period rather than taking a meat ax to the program immediately. The latter route guarantees Democratic takeover of Congress even if the Democrats are feckless.

Democrats in the Senate now will be under even more pressure to do whatever they can to block Trump given that Republicans are not going to abandon him anytime soon. There should be a complete change in messaging. Clearly the neo-McCarthyism has been a total failure. It is an enervating distraction that signifies nothing; enervating because the Democratic Party effectively no longer has a peace wing. What gave the party a competitive advantage in the past, going all the way back to '64 when LBJ disingenuously ran against Goldwater by saying he would keep the country out of war, is that it was the peace party; that, and it was the party of working class. Now it is neither.

As a commentator wrote on The New York Times website this morning:
The Democrat[s] didn't have a prayer. In the end, Americans want Trump, tax cuts for the wealthy and their Heath insurance rates to go up or...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Prowler #6


I was in the coffee house down the block and to the east of where I work. I go there at lunch because they allow people to bring in food from outside --for me, a protein bar, an apple and a grapefruit -- as long as you order coffee. I get a double espresso and read the newspaper. The ceilings are high and the room long, like quarter-of-a-street-block long, with the counter situated in the middle. Sometimes even one of the six stuffed chairs is free.

Two weeks back I was sitting at a long dining-room table by myself when a young corporate man dressed in casual clothes came in and sat down at a table behind me. He was talking corporatese to someone on his smartphone. He went back up to the bar and ordered; then returned. After a while a young Asian-American woman, either Chinese or Korean, joined him. I am not sure if they greeted each other with an embrace or a handshake. She went back up to the bar and bought herself a coffee, complaining upon her return how long it had taken to be served. The young man agreed, saying it was horrible.

It was apparent from their conversation that they were friendly but not good friends. Maybe they knew each other at Stanford or Google. What they definitely shared in common was class. They were of the elite.

The young man spoke about just having moved from Singapore where he had been working. His wife had been getting a postgraduate degree at the London School at the same time. Now they were reunited and living in Seattle. (The guy probably worked at Amazon.)

He said that he and his wife had recently driven up to Vancouver (three-hours away and a border crossing) to get some good dim sum.

The conversation then pitched full throttle into food. Which area has the better Vietnamese, Seattle or Orange County? The young Asian-American woman, to the young man's astonishment, argued persuasively for Seattle.

It was at that point that I left. But the thought remained that class, while always with us, has returned in a big way. And the way to appreciate this is to focus on mobility. The elite are far more mobile now than those beneath them; or, put another way, those beneath the elite are far less mobile than they used to be, for they are the precariat.

Another way to appreciate this reassertion of elitism is to consider that Peter Parker, a.k.a., Spider-Man, is now the CEO of his own corporation, Parker Industries.


Even though I have a subscription, I don't think I have read Amazing Spider-Man regularly for at least five years. I did read the recent six-issue Prowler run, which was part of The Clone Conspiracy arc, a story line which refers back to an earlier cloning story published during the Watergate/Ford years.

The present arc pales in comparison to the original. Back in the mid-1970s Peter Parker was a regular guy in his twenties working as a photographer for The Daily Bugle who also just happened to be a superhero.

Thinking about those issues of Amazing Spider-Man this week, the Gerry Conway-Ross Andru issues from 1973-1975 -- from Gwen Stacey's death to her cloning by the Jackal -- issues I read as a kid when they came out, I was struck how they were able to accurately convey to a grade-schooler what life would be like.

When I got to my twenties I, like Peter Parker, was living in Manhattan. It was just as edgy, chaotic, violent and harrowing as depicted in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. I wasn't swinging from midtown skyscrapers or slugging it out with Doctor Octopus, but I was brimming over with testosterone and careening from one bar fight to the next street fight on a conveyor belt of morning subway rides hungover on my way to a Madison Avenue office.

The Peter Parker of today is nothing like that. He is a CEO for Christ's sake!

What the current Clone Conspiracy does have is Hobie Brown, a.k.a, The Prowler, an everyman member of the precariat. A marginal player who has been both villain and hero. A significant portion of the dialogue in the recent six-issue run is the conversation that Hobie has with himself regarding his low self-opinion. Gnawing self-doubt, who doesn't know it?

In Prowler #6 Hobie is interviewed by Peter Parker for a permanent position with Parker Industries. The Prowler projects his mind forward to a lonely gray-bearded life of vigilante crime-busting. Then there is a counter-projection of a fulfilling life with a lovely wife and two children.

But on the last page Hobie is left alone in his small dark apartment staring at the mask of his alter ego.

We should all be able to relate.













Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Ossoff Needs to Win

UPDATE: Trump weighed in this morning with two "KAREN HANDEL FOR CONGRESS" Twitter posts that excoriated Ossoff for being a carpetbagger. Also, if the polling is to be trusted, late momentum is breaking Handel's way. Not a good sign for Ossoff. Maybe all those young voters allegedly newly registered are flying under the radar and they will in fact show up and vote Democrat. We'll see.

****

Nate Silver (see "Why The Georgia Special Election Matters") says the special election in Georgia's 6th CD is too close to call. Some models see Republican Karen Handel winning by a couple points, while recent polls have spooky, centrist Democrat wunderkind Jon Ossoff up by a couple points.

Silver susses it all out exhaustively. I think he is correct when he says that the prime motivation for the GOP to repeal Obamacare will be lost with an Ossoff win:
As I said, however, the vote comes at a critical time for Republicans — and extracting any signal at all from Georgia might be enough to influence their behavior. Republicans really are in a pickle on health care. The AHCA is so unpopular that they’d have been better off politically letting it die back in March, at least in my view. But I don’t have a vote in Congress and Republicans do, and they’ve tallied the costs and benefits differently, given that the bill has already passed the House and is very much alive in the Senate. The central political argument Republicans have advanced on behalf of the bill is that failing to pass it would constitute a broken promise to repeal Obamacare, demotivating the GOP base. That argument will lose credibility if a Democrat wins in a traditionally Republican district despite what looks as though it will be high turnout.
McConnell can lose two GOP votes and still pass Trumpcare. Pence would break a 50-50 tie. The reporting done recently, as the Senate has pieced together its repeal of the Affordable Care Act in private, has focused on what the American Health Care Act is really all about -- not just abolishing Obamacare but destroying the Great Society's Medicaid.

To get Trumpcare through the Senate, McConnell is going to have to win the votes of Republican Senators from Medicaid-dependent states like Ohio (Rob Portman) and West Virginia (Shelley Capito) without losing troglodytes like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are likely already lost to McConnell, which means that the future of Medicaid could come down to a guy like Colorado's Cory Gardner, a mediocrity who edged out incumbent Mark Udall by a mere two points in 2014.

Gardner knows that a vote for Trumpcare will likely end his Senate career. So I'm sure he will be watching with rapt attention the returns from Georgia tomorrow. If a carpetbagging flim-flammer like Ossoff can ride into Newt's old stomping ground on a flying carpet of out-of-state cash and win, then the Republicans are going to be running scared.

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns writing in "High-Stakes Referendum on Trump Takes Shape in a Georgia Special Election" see the dam about to burst:
“It’s a race that we have to win,” said State Senator Brandon Beach, a Republican whose district includes part of the terrain being fought on here.
Republican officials worry that if Mr. Ossoff wins, it would send a resounding statement about the intensity of the backlash to Mr. Trump, prompting incumbents to think twice about running for re-election, slowing fund-raising and, most significantly, further imperiling their already-stalemated legislative agenda.
“It’s not just symbolic — we really can’t afford to lose any seats at this point,” said Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida, noting that “the factions” among congressional Republicans make their majorities more tenuous in practice than they may seem on paper.
In a district that was once nobody’s idea of “swing,” the parties themselves have elevated the stakes. The two candidates and outside groups have now spent more than $51 million.
In any event, Medicaid needs to be protected at all costs. Without a fully-funded Medicaid, or with a block-granted Medicaid, our whole system of elder care (think nursing homes) is in danger. That's why I hope Ossoff wins tomorrow.

Macron's Reign Will be Bloody and Enormously Unpopular

After the first round of voting for the France's National Assembly, the adulatory pro-Macron reporting noticeably shifted to one of foreboding. Macron's nascent La République En Marche! might clean up in the second round, but clearly, because of record low turnout, it did not have a mandate.

According to Alissa Rubin, Aurelien Breeden and Benoit Morenne in "Emmanuel Macron’s Party and Allies Win Big in France":
The record-low turnout, about 43 percent, dimmed Mr. Macron’s victory and pointed to the tentative, even ambivalent, view of many French citizens toward his promises to transform France.
“Many people are in a state of uncertainty, a ‘wait and see,’” said Luc Rouban, a professor at the Center for the Study of French Political Life at Sciences Po.
“The level of abstention in the second round is a sign that a large part of the working-class electorate are not going to vote anymore,” Mr. Rouban said, describing the sense of alienation evident in the abstention as “an invisible fracture” separating the poorest and more modestly off members of French society from the rest.
Mr. Macron’s opponents seized on the abstention rate to try to discredit his victory. The leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said the abstention level was “crushing,” adding, “Our people have entered into a form of civic general strike.” He suggested that with such a high number of people declining to vote, the government was robbed of its legitimacy.
En Marche! ended up winning 351 out of 577 seats, more than enough to reduce pensions and roll back labor law. The French are about to be treated to some Greek austerity. The concern in the legacy media is that large street protests are inevitable given the record level of abstention. The ranks of En Marche! are populated by neophytes. There is no indication that a rejuvenation of neoliberalism is in the making. In fact, every indication is that Macron's reign will be bloody and enormously unpopular.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Russia Appears to Have Blown Up Caliph Baghdadi

The reporting (see Andrew Kramer's "Russian Military Says It Might Have Killed ISIS Leader") of the demise of ISIS potentate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has the ring of truth to it. At the end of May Baghdadi was powwowing with other Islamic State honchos and hundreds of fighters in the desert outside Raqqa when two Russian Sukhoi fighter jets blew them all to kingdom come.

Whether Russia knew ahead of time that Baghdadi would be present or whether a regular patrol combing the desert for concentrations of jihadists got lucky is unclear. I suspect the latter, and that over the last two weeks intelligence agencies of the major players have picked up chatter from the collapsing caliphate that its emir is no longer among the living.

Lavrov has been reticent to claim the public relations windfall, though there is an acknowledgement in the Western prestige press that Russia bagging Baghdadi pulls down the major rhetorical pillar erected by the Obama administration that the Russians weren't fighting ISIS but merely enabling a ruthless dictator. As Kramer explains,
Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015; it said at first that cargo planes flying to a Syrian air base carried only humanitarian aid, but later openly announced a military operation. The Kremlin’s stated goal was fighting the Islamic State, lest it gain a stronghold in Syria not far from restive, predominantly Muslim regions in southern Russia.
But the Obama administration said that the pattern of airstrikes showed that Russia’s real intention was to prop up the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally battling a range of opposition groups, including moderate rebels. The killing of the Islamic State’s leader, if confirmed, would help bolster Russia’s initial justification for its intervention — that its goal all along was to fight terrorism.
My feeling all along is that Baghdadi is merely a figurehead, that the operations and strategy of the Islamic State are determined by foreign intelligence agencies aligned with the United States. His death is nonetheless a significant event, another portent that the diabolical perversion of the Arab Spring by the United States and its allies is running out of steam.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bernie Blamed for GOP Baseball Bloodbath

Just when it appeared that The New York Times was tempering its obsessive adherence to neoliberal orthodoxy (see Monday's unsigned editorial "Emmanuel Macron’s Unfettered Powers"), we get Yamiche Alcindor's very yellow piece of journalism, "Attack Tests Movement Sanders Founded," and the answer from the Obama/Clinton camp to Bernie's second run for the White House:
But long before the shooting on Wednesday, some of Mr. Sanders’s supporters had earned a belligerent reputation for their criticism of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party and others who they believed disagreed with their ideas. Sanders fans, sometimes referred to derogatorily as “Bernie Bros” or “Bernie Bots,” at times harassed reporters covering Mr. Sanders and flooded social media with angry posts directed at the “corporate media,” a term often used by the senator.
The suspect in the shooting in Virginia put a new spotlight on the rage buried in some corners of the progressive left.
Mr. Hodgkinson filled his Facebook page with photographs of the senator and quotes from his speeches. Mr. Hodgkinson also wrote messages filled with expletives directed at the president, and a post in March said: “Trump is a traitor. Trump has destroyed our democracy. It’s time to destroy Trump & co.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Hodgkinson posted a cartoon on Facebook explaining “How does a bill work?” “That’s an easy one, Billy,” the cartoon reads. “Corporations write the bill and then bribe Congress until it becomes law.”
“That’s Exactly How It Works. ....” Mr. Hodgkinson wrote.
That is not far from Mr. Sanders’s own message. On Saturday, during a conference in Chicago filled with Sanders supporters, he thundered, “Today in the White House, we have perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country,” to cheers from thousands. “And we also have, not to be forgotten, extreme right-wing leadership in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.”