Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Israel's Stepped Up Assault on Syria

The recent acceleration of Israel's attacks on Syria have led to the friendly-fire destruction of a Russian military surveillance plane off the coast of Latakia. Latakia was being bombarded not only by Israeli F-16s but a French frigate as well.

RT has a breakdown of the stepped up Israeli aggression:
Despite the fact that Israel rarely acknowledges striking specific targets inside Syria, earlier this month the IDF admitted hitting at least 202 “Iranian targets” in the country. Overall, Israel has launched 792 bombs and missiles at Syria since 2017, arguing that the strikes were necessary to prevent Iran from setting up bases in the country in order to stage attacks against the Jewish state.
As Israel continues to claim the right to intrude in Syria, despite repeated condemnations from Damascus, France had said that it will join the US-led campaign to strike Syria again if there are reports of chemical weapons use.
Over the last few weeks, Moscow has been beating drums about a false-flag chemical attack that is being prepared by the notorious White Helmets and jihadists in Idlib province in order to frame government forces. Such a provocation, the Russian military argues, will be used to trigger a US-led attack against Damascus.
The attack on Latakia came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of Idlib province, which is the last remaining stronghold of anti-government militants, including the Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (also known as the Jabhat Al-Nusra).
Israel response is a cut-and-paste job: It's one-hour bombardment targeted Syrian weapons that were to be transferred to Hezbollah. This has been the identical rationale trotted out over the last four years.

Don't expect an escalation from Moscow. Putin is already ratcheting down tensions.

The Russian strategy appears to be to avoid at all costs getting sucked into direct conflict with Israel or the United States, or France or the United Kingdom, for that matter. The idea must be that the internal contradictions of these states are so enormous eventually they will irrupt and thereby alleviate the pressure on the Russian Federation. The question is whether elites who guide the U.S. empire can focus that irruption on Russia.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bloomberg. Again.

A strong indication that the big-money donors who fund the Democratic Party are worried about the leftward drift of its rank'n'file is the news that billionaire Michael Bloomberg is talking up a presidential run as a Democrat. According to "Bloomberg May Run for President as a Democrat. His Views on Policing and #MeToo Could Be a Problem.," by Alexander Burns and Sydney Embers,
Mr. Bloomberg has mapped an energetic travel schedule for the midterms that will also take him to battleground states that would be crucial in a presidential race. He will make stops in Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania and address influential liberal groups, including the League of Conservation Voters and Emily’s List, aides said. And he is weighing a visit to the early primary state of South Carolina.
Mr. Bloomberg is also preparing to reissue a revised edition of his autobiography, “Bloomberg by Bloomberg,” aides confirmed.
Democratic leaders have so far embraced Mr. Bloomberg, giving him a regal reception aimed at ushering him securely into the party. At a climate conference in San Francisco, he stood beside Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a popular Democrat, to show support for the Paris climate agreement. And in an embrace laden with political symbolism, Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, introduced Mr. Bloomberg at two events as a herculean champion of the environment and a master of business and government.
“His name is synonymous with excellence,” Ms. Pelosi said, at a dinner atop the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “And he knows how to get the job done.”
In a private conversation at the dinner, Mr. Bloomberg pressed Ms. Pelosi to govern the House in a bipartisan way if Democrats take power, he said — a message he also trumpeted publicly in Las Vegas as he pleaded with Democrats to pursue the center. “Candidates who listen to voters in the middle are more likely to reach across the aisle and to get things done,” Mr. Bloomberg argued there.
There is considerable skepticism among Democratic leaders, and even some of Mr. Bloomberg’s close allies, that he will actually pursue the presidency, because he has entertained the idea fruitlessly several times before, and shown little appetite for the rough-and-tumble tactics of traditional partisan politics.
Close allies of Mr. Bloomberg are divided as to whether it would be wise for him to run for president in 2020, and at least one longtime associate has predicted that he will never seek the White House. Bradley Tusk, Mr. Bloomberg’s former campaign manager who helped him explore an independent candidacy in 2016, declared at a recent dinner in Washington, D.C., that he expected Mr. Bloomberg to toy with running before opting out yet again, multiple people who attended the event confirmed.
Bloomberg's public flirtation with presidential politics has become a structural feature of the two-party system in the United States. He has threatened to run in every presidential election going back to 2004. 

Bloomberg's intention is to maintain popular fealty to an imaginary "center," a fiction that has served the plutocrats well for the last 40 years. After Hillary's win on Super Tuesday in 2016, Bloomberg pulled the plug on a third-party campaign because it appeared that Hillary would sail to victory in the Dem primary over her challenger from Vermont. Needless to say, Bloomberg misjudged badly regarding both Hillary's popularity in the general election, and Trump's.

Bloomberg's not making the same mistake this time around. He is actively campaigning for Democrats in suburban districts. He wants to flip the House in 2018. He'll throw his hat in the ring in 2020 only if  Bernie is on his way to securing the nomination, something I consider unlikely because I think it already belongs to Andrew Cuomo. Bloomberg is fine with Andrew Cuomo.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Lies Have Become the Basis of Governance

Both George Galloway and Craig Murray have written pointed criticisms of the latest Skripals poisoning roll-out by Theresa May. The identification of the two allegedly Russian perpetrators in the Skripals case coincides with stepped up claims by the U.S. that Syria is planning a chemical weapons attack for its offensive against Qaeda-controlled Idlib Province. Trump has apparently done an about-face on Syria and is now in full agreement with the longstanding U.S. position of regime change.

Lies have become the basis of governance. It is a tricky and volatile way to rule. Eventually the truth will out. The problem nowadays is that it doesn't matter. Lies will simply be dusted off and re-used. Look at Iraq and its illusory WMDs.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

NFL Opener

The regular season of the National Football League begins tonight with the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles taking on the Atlanta Falcons. Yesterday blacklisted quarterback Colin Kaepernick was all over the newspaper because of a new Nike ad. Kaepernick's anthem protests have been blamed -- and continue to be blamed -- for the substantial ratings drop -- 10% last year; 8% the year before -- plaguing the league, which is significant because the NFL is really the last bastion of a cultural commons in the U.S. Its disappearing fan base is a harbinger of even greater political divisiveness.

My sense is that this year, absent some unforeseen development, will be as bad as last year, if not worse. Tom Brady's theory about the ratings drop is media overload. I think he is partially correct. It's that in tandem with a decrease in quality of the games, whether due to fears of CTE, conservative play-calling, or increased injuries from the Thursday-Monday schedule.

I'll be a canary in the coal mine. I'll tune into the hometown Seahawks, now in a rebuilding year, but have vowed to tune out in a week or two if the team continues to play as poorly as they did in preseason.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The U.S. Defends Al Qaeda

Despite all warnings of dire consequences coming from the U.S. politburo, it doesn't appear to me that the Syrian offensive to recapture Idlib can be halted. The U.S. must either talk tough and then act modestly as it did in Douma last year or go in heavy and risk a war with Russia. The U.S. has heretofore avoided a direct conflict with the Russian Federation.

As Bill Van Auken notes this morning in "Washington escalates threats over Syria as Russia bombs Al Qaeda positions," the United States is now openly acting as a defender of Al Qaeda:
Absent from the US statements is any recognition that Idlib is effectively run by the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate, which leads the dominant “rebel” faction, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (IHT), and includes large numbers of so-called foreign fighters. The IHT has reportedly set up gallows and employed firing squads to eliminate opponents seeking accommodation with the Syrian government.
The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has acknowledged that there are at least 10,000 Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters in Idlib. The front that the group leads is said to control 60 percent of the province’s territory along with its capital, and effectively governs the region. Others have put the number of Al Qaeda-linked fighters at between 20,000 and 30,000.
Washington is threatening to intervene not out of any humanitarian concerns. Successive US administration have carried out bloody interventions in the region—from the war of aggression in Iraq, to the regime change operations in Libya and Syria and the near genocidal US-Saudi war against Yemen—that have claimed the lives of millions and decimated entire societies. 
If it launches a new act of aggression in Syria, it will be to rescue the Al Qaeda-led “rebels,” which Washington and its Western and regional allies have supported since the onset of the proxy war for regime change in 2011, pouring billions of dollars’ worth of money and weapons to support these forces. And it will be to further US geo-strategic interests in dominating the Middle East and rolling back the influence of Iran and Russia in both Syria and the wider region.
With the open defense of Al Qaeda in Syria, Washington is unceremoniously ditching the 17-year-old “global war on terror” in favor of preparations for military confrontation with what US national security documents describe as “revisionist states” challenging US hegemony—i.e., Russia and China.
As for the warnings over a chemical weapons attack, these amount to an invitation to the Al Qaeda forces to stage an incident in order to secure air support from the US and its allies. Damascus flatly denied responsibility for earlier incidents—in Douma last April and in Khan Shaykhun a year before. Both were used as the pretext for missile and air strikes by Washington and its allies.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Splintering of the Labour Party

I've developed a screen aversion of late. Mostly I would say it is due to work. Work is a seemingly never ending source of misery. But my screen aversion also tracks back to nauseating news -- a lunatic rudderless Russophobia, threats emanating from the United States as Syria readies its offensive to reclaim Idlib Province from Al Qaeda control, the ongoing campaign to censor social media and the robust effort to tar Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite.

Corbyn is a threat to the listing neoliberal "New World Order" because the Labour Party which he leads will likely form the next UK government once a crash-out Brexit becomes a reality. Before that can happen, the Blairite wing of Labour is making sure that the party will split.

Paul Mitchell writes this morning in "Momentum’s Jon Lansman aids witch-hunt against Corbyn, joins Blairites at Jewish Labour Movement event" that
[T]he former welfare minister, Frank Field, quit the Labour group at Westminster complaining of the “tolerance” of anti-Semitism and “culture of nastiness” under Corbyn. Rather than forcing a by-election, as is usual, Field arrogantly declared he would continue as an independent Labour MP.
In 2010, Field accepted Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s invitation to act as “Poverty Tsar” in the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition that was overseeing vicious austerity. He has described former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a “hero”, commenting that he would see “Mrs. T from time to time”, during the time she was in office. His decision to quit the Labour group came after he had suffered a “no confidence” motion by his own Birkenhead constituency Labour party, in response to his voting with the Tory government on Brexit, preventing its potentially damaging defeat.
The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley commented that more resignations by the right-wing are on the way and that, “One of the challenges for this group over the summer of Labour ferment has been persuading some of their number to wait rather than resign immediately.” He reports that one associate of Mike Gapes, the Labour MP for Ilford South, who says he has been “agonising daily” over whether to quit, stating, “A lot of the summer has been about holding the gang together and stopping people splitting off, one by one. We’re all trying to stay in formation until the right moment.”
A front-page article in the Sunday Times, owned by billionaire oligarch Rupert Murdoch and which has played a central role in the manufactured anti-Semitism campaign, was headlined, “Labour Rebel MPs plot breakaway party and ‘no confidence’ vote.”
It reported that a group of Blairite MPs “ plan a no-confidence vote to give MPs a way of expressing their disgust at Corbyn’s handling of the affair in the hope that it will embolden others to join a breakaway.” It added, “Fury at Corbyn’s approach to anti-Semitism has pushed up to 15 MPs to the brink of a breakaway from Labour...”
Craig Murray cogently sums up the situation -- either Corbyn and the majority of Labour's rank'n'file membership is ousted or conservation Blairite MPs split off:
There are only two ways to resolve this. Either the MPs will have to leave parliament or the members will have to leave the party. There is no coherent party at present.
The Blairite Labour MPs have painted themselves into a corner by their decision to brand Jeremy Corbyn as personally a racist and an anti-semite. If I was in a party led by a racist and anti-semite, I would leave the party. The idea that they can continue as members of parliament for the party while expressing such views about the leader is a nonsense. But they do not wish to leave, because they would lose their comfy jobs. All of the right wing Labour MPs realise they would never win an election on their own account, without Labour Party support. It would be hilarious if not so serious, that they claim Frank Field can resign the Labour whip but this does not mean leave the party, and that he must still be the Labour Party candidate at the next election!
Their hope is twofold. Firstly, that the charges of anti-semitism against Corbyn will be widely believed and lead to a drastic drop in public support which will force Corbyn out. This is not happening. The public realise that the charges of anti-semitism are false and based on a definition of the word which simply means critic of Israel. Other than the normal polling malaise which follows any split in a party, there is no drastic plunge in support for Labour of the kind which would definitely follow if the public thought the party were led by an anti-semite.
To put it another way, either 40% of the public are anti-semites, or the public do not take these accusations seriously.
The Blairites other hope is that, by the Labour Party adopting the IHRA’s malicious definition of anti-semitism as embracing criticism of Israel, they will manage through legal action to force Jeremy Corbyn’s expulsion from the Labour Party. This attempt to use the British Establishment to circumvent party democracy is extraordinary.
By bringing things to this pitch, the Blairites have made compromise impossible. Either Corbyn and most of the members will have to go, or the Blairite MPs will.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Horrible Hope

One can arrive at a place of what appears to be maximal personal virtue. Vices have been eliminated. No drugs, no alcohol, no meat, no dairy, no tobacco, no junk food, no fornication. I buy organic. I am vegan. I exercise. I recycle. I compost. I consume on average less three kilowatt-hours of electricity per day in my humble studio apartment. I don't take public transit to work; I walk.

But recently I have been nagged by a suspicion that my apparent virtue is fraudulent. What makes me feel this way is that just about whatever I consume I deposit a nib of non-recyclable plastic into the garbage -- the little pull-top to the coconut milk container; the cap to mango juice bottle; the bag that holds the stir-fry faux-beef soy strips. Granted, it takes a while to fill up a trash container with these non-recyclable nibs and sheets. But in less than a month's time I have a shopping bag full of plastic destined for the landfill and from there likely the ocean.

That's why this blurb from today's Significant Digits caught my eye:
8,300 million metric tons of plastic

We humans have made a ton of plastic during our time on Earth — well, about 8,300 million metric tons. Most of it is now in the ocean or the dump. But some of it — like Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit or works of contemporary art — we’re trying very hard to preserve. Unexpectedly, plastics are a great challenge for conservators. The material is unpredictable and there is “huge variation in forms of deterioration.” [The New York Times]
If you're going to read one thing this weekend read Troy Vettese's "To Freeze The Thames," which appears in the May-June issue of New Left Review. It is a revelation.

The Little Ice Age of the 17th Century was likely triggered by a massive die-off of humans indigenous to the Americas. This returned a huge amount of agricultural land to the wild, which took a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere.

Vettese says that we can achieve the same results without the die-off if we take most agricultural land out of production and return it to the wild. People will have to go vegan because a significant portion of agricultural is tied up in producing feed grain for livestock. 

Basically, E.O. Wilson's half-earthing is possible but almost everyone in the developed world is going to have to live a radically different life.

Sadly, this is politically impossible. So what we are left with is a hope that is hard to swallow: A massive human die-off in the next few decades.