Friday, July 21, 2017

Post-Mortem on U.S. Covert War Against Syria

As the lamentations stream in following the public announcement that Trump has pulled the plug on the U.S. covert effort to topple the Syrian government, there is this surprisingly balanced post-mortem from Joshua Landis, "Terminating CIA Support for Syrian Rebels Sounds Death Knell for Western Attempt to Roll Back Iran and Russia in Syria," which appeared yesterday on his Syria Comment blog:
The end of Western support for Syria’s militant opposition has been clear since radicals began setting off bombs in European capitals.
Trump’s decision to stop support for Syrian rebels will be the final nail in the coffin of those factions which draw salaries from the CIA. They will be forced to pursue other careers.
More radical groups, such as those historically connected to al-Qaida and Ahrar al-Sham will also suffer from this decision. The radical militias prey on the weaker ones. They extort arms and money from the CIA-supported factions. The porous Syrian border with Turkey can now also be shut more tightly. The need to push resources to the CIA-vetted militias, kept border crossings open to all rebels, including al-Qaida. Factions merge and regroup with such regularity, that border guards could not know who was fighting for what end.
This is the last gasp for America’s policy of regime-change which has so compromised its efforts to promote democracy and human rights in a part of the world that needs both.
Landis, in language that portrays the CIA as a victim rather than as a perpetrator, acknowledges what could never be acknowledged in the mainstream media -- that the two principal Salafist, non-ISIS combatants were funded and armed by the U.S. government. As mea culpas go I guess it's better than nothing.

In the meantime, Trump shouldn't be lauded as a peace champion yet. The Pentagon is claiming territory in Syria's northeast in support of the Kurds. In the near term this is going to be more of a problem for Turkey than it is for Syria. Kurdish sovereignty is where the bouncing ball will fall next.

When I read the news yesterday I wondered "Whither Anne Barnard?" The New York Times Beirut bureau chief was such a stalwart advocate for the CIA Salafis, Skyping, texting, telephoning every heartbreaking jihadi thought and heroic deed, yet she hasn't been heard from in over a month, about the same time Trump's rollback of the CIA's covert war went into effect.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Who Killed Dag Hammarskjold? Probably the CIA

An interesting, well-written story from this past weekend that I missed until this morning is "Do Spy Agencies Hold Answer to Dag Hammarskjold’s Death? U.N. Wants to Know." Written by Alan Cowell and Rick Gladstone, the article tells the story of CIA, British Foreign Office and Belgian intelligence services foot-dragging when it comes to complying with information requests made by Mohamed Chande Othman, a former chief justice of Tanzania, who has been tasked by the General Assembly of the United Nations with reviewing all the evidence and assessing the need for further inquiry into the mysterious 1961 plane-crash death of Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold:
Mr. Othman declined to speak about the findings ahead of submitting the report. But senior United Nations officials and other associates of Mr. Othman said he had compiled detailed new questions about intercepted radio communications and other aircraft in the area as Mr. Hammarskjold’s plane went down eight miles from Ndola’s airfield — and that the answers may be found in the intelligence archives of the United States, Britain and Belgium.
“We know from available information that they know much more than what they’re saying,” said one of the senior United Nations officials, referring to the government keepers of those archives. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential United Nations report.
One theory is that the DC-6 may have been attacked or harassed by a French-built Fouga Magister fighter jet operated by secessionist forces in the southern Congolese province of Katanga, who were resisting Mr. Hammarskjold’s efforts to end their rebellion.
Seven months before the crash, three Fouga Magisters had been delivered to the secessionists aboard an American-owned cargo plane that was supposed to be delivering food. President John F. Kennedy was deeply embarrassed by the delivery, which was later reported to have been a C.I.A. operation.
Whether a Fouga was in the Ndola area on the night of the crash remains unknown, despite earlier assurances to Mr. Othman from the C.I.A. that it had no records of a fighter jet’s presence there, a senior United Nations official said.
Mr. Othman has also put new questions to Britain and Belgium about the findings of their own intelligence services. Essentially, the senior United Nations official said, Mr. Othman had asked Western governments to carry out “more exhaustive searches and comprehensive searches” through their archives.
His inquiries also include questions about two American military intelligence officials at different listening posts on the night of the crash, one of whom has since died. Both claimed years later to have overheard radio intercepts that suggested the DC-6 had been shot down. Mr. Othman has also inquired about whether an official American DC-3 aircraft had been parked at the Ndola airfield that night.
To skeptics of the official accounts, the apparent reluctance by the big powers to share all they know with Mr. Othman is inexplicable, suggesting they are hoping for interest in the case to fade away.
David Wardrop, the chairman of the United Nations Association Westminster Branch, a group in London that has supported further inquiry into Mr. Hammarskjold’s death, said the responses by Britain and the United States appeared to show they had decided that “slothfulness is the best way to exhaust the U.N.’s process.”
States assassinate individuals. Is there any doubt? I am reminded of David Graeber's book The Utopia of Rules (2015). The state -- whether it's applying for a driver's license or attending grade school -- exists because of an ever-present promise of violence.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Deep State Moves to Delegitimize Saudi Crown Prince

This morning The New York Times has published a story, "Saudi King’s Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival," describing the removal of crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) in favor of the youthful Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) not merely as a change in the line of succession to the throne of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but as a coup:
Before midnight, Mohammed bin Nayef was told he was going to meet the king and was led into another room, where royal court officials took away his phones and pressured him to give up his posts as crown prince and interior minister, according to United States officials and an associate of the royal family.
At first, he refused. But as the night wore on, the prince, a diabetic who suffers from the effects of a 2009 assassination attempt by a suicide bomber, grew tired.
Meanwhile, royal court officials called members of the Allegiance Council, a body of princes who are supposed to approve changes to the line of succession. Some were told that Mohammed bin Nayef had a drug problem and was unfit to be king, according to an associate of the royal family.
One American official and one adviser to a Saudi royal said Mohammed bin Nayef opposed the embargo on Qatar, a stand that probably accelerated his ouster.
Sometime before dawn, Mohammed bin Nayef agreed to resign. A video shot afterward shows Mohammed bin Salman kissing his hand.
The extent of support for the elevation of Mohammed bin Salman in the family remains unclear. Saudi state news media reported that 31 of the 34 members of the Allegiance Council supported the change, but analysts said many royals are hesitant to vote against the king’s wishes.
Some United States officials and well-connected Saudis say there are rumblings of discontent, and analysts have pointed out hints.
Neither King Salman nor his son attended the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, even though one of the two men had attended each of the last three meetings. Analysts say that family disputes may have kept the men at home or that they did not want to face criticism for the isolation they and three other Arab states imposed on Qatar.
This story by the NYT is a shot across al-Saud's bow, a companion to WaPo's story Sunday that identified the United Arab Emirates as orchestrating the hack "of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials."

NYT's coup story coincides with the "Gang of Four" (KSA, UAE, Bahrain & Egypt) blinking in their standoff with Qatar. (See Rick Gladstone's "Countries That Broke Ties With Qatar Indicate Some Flexibility on Demands.")

Mohammed bin Salman is smart enough to know that he is being delegitimized in the prestige press by anonymous quotes from "U.S. intelligence officials." The prestige press is also starting to come out against MBS's war in Yemen. Opposition is developing in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

It can't come at a worse time for Saudi Arabia which is on the verge of an IPO for Saudi Aramco.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Amazon is the Deep State

Making a purchase on Amazon has become as American as apple pie (and drone assassinations). This morning Niqnaq posts part one, "Amazon cashes in on war crimes and mass surveillance," of a two-part story, "Amazon and the CIA: a match made in hell," by WSWS's Evan Blake:
In recent years, the multinational corporation Amazon has risen to become the preeminent online retail giant and the fourth most valuable company in the world. One of Amazon’s most significant business contracts, which has largely been kept hidden from the public since it was finalized in October 2013, was a $600 million deal for Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build a private computing cloud for the 17 American intelligence agencies known collectively as the “intelligence community” (IC).
The deal initiated Amazon’s ever-deepening integration with the American state, and implicates the company in the international war crimes, mass spying and repressive operations carried out by the spy agencies of American imperialism. Similar to the Krupp company, which supplied arms to the German military during World Wars I and II, Amazon today provides the technological scaffolding for the wars waged by American imperialism.
The sharing of data—facilitated by Amazon—enables scenarios to take place where the CIA, NSA, NGA and the Air Force collaborate to identify, precisely locate and carry out the drone assassination of anyone deemed to be a “terrorist,” including American citizens. Thanks to Amazon, the spy agencies can now more seamlessly conspire to carry out bloody military campaigns, such as the military assault on Mosul, or secretly orchestrate the Saudi-led war against Yemen. They are no doubt using such technology to simulate and prepare for the long-planned wars against North Korea, Iran, China and Russia, which threaten to coalesce into a new, catastrophic World War between nuclear-armed powers.
In mid-2012, the CIA began conducting negotiations with AWS, IBM and an unnamed third corporation to decide which company would win the 10-year, highly lucrative contract to create the private cloud for the IC, which had to be capable of analyzing 100 terabytes of raw data at a time, an immense figure.
In February 2013, the CIA secretly selected Amazon as the winning bidder. IBM filed a bid protest, claiming they had offered a lower price than Amazon, but in October 2013, the US Court of Federal Claims sided with Amazon, which then began to build the C2S cloud infrastructure. The cloud became operational in the summer of 2014, with then-CIA chief information officer Doug Wolfe praising it as “one of the most important technology procurements in recent history.”
Last month, current CIA CIO John Edwards declared in a speech at AWS’ Public Sector Summit, “It’s the best decision we’ve ever made... It’s the most innovative thing we’ve ever done... It is having a material impact on both the CIA and the IC.”
There were a number of factors that led the CIA to partner with Amazon, one of which was their ability to save money in the long-term. While $600 million is an enormous sum, at that point the IC was spending upwards of $8 billion annually to store and analyze the billions of pieces of metadata, phone and internet records, and other information that it was collecting en masse on its self-built servers, as noted in documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
Amazon’s cloud-based server offered a means to significantly reduce these costs, as it had a unique ability to scale up or down to meet the storage, computing and analytics needs of the IC at a given time. Amazon would also incorporate any innovations or improvements devised by their engineers, which happen on an almost daily basis, directly into the C2S cloud.
The genius of U.S. corporate capitalism is the manner in which it compromises us all. We bank with one of the too-big-to-fail giants; we use their credit cards; we shop on Amazon. Not really a prescription for the attainment of critical consciousness.

So while the sagacious Samir Amin predicts a collapse of the neoliberal world order, and I tend to agree, the counterpoint is that the neoliberal world order, "the End of History," will continue to motor along because, since we are all so complicit in its maintenance, there is truly no alternative.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Neoliberal Elite Believe They are Immune to Sixth Mass Exinction Underway

There is a zombie-like quality that distinguishes the U.S. deep state. Two stories over the weekend illustrate this stumbling, brain-dead behemoth. Mujib Mashal's "Back in Afghan Hot Spot, U.S. Marines Chase Diminished Goals" describes preparations by the Marines to re-invade Helmand Province, "The Marines are simply trying to keep Lashkar Gah from falling to the Taliban, and to help the Afghan forces come out of their barracks and put up a fight." Tim Arango's "Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’" is a tendentious brief for a re-invasion of Iraq to cleanse the country of Iranian control.

How long can it go on? That's the question. Monthly Review's July-August issue is devoted to the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The essays I have read are all quite good. Samir Amin's "Revolution from North to South" is the last one; and in his last paragraph, he has this to say:
In conclusion, I will again point out that the system of neoliberal globalization has entered its last phase; its implosion is clearly visible, as indicated by, among other things, Brexit, Trump's election, and the rise of various forms of neofascism.
From the land of Brexit, William Davies, writing in the London Review of Books, "Reasons for Corbyn," explains why the young have turned their back on neoliberalism. Despite its clearly visible implosion, the elite show no signs of changing course:
Reacting to the breakdown of the vote on 8 June, business leaders and conservative commentators have expressed their disquiet at the fact that young people are so enthusiastic about an apparently retrograde left-wing programme. ‘Memo to anyone under 45,’ Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI, tweeted: ‘You can’t remember last time socialists got control of the cookie jar: everything nationalised & nothing worked.’ To which the rebuke might be made: and you don’t remember how good things were compared to today. Speak to my undergraduate students (many of them born during Blair’s first term) about the 1970s and early 1980s, and you’ll see the wistful look on their faces as they imagine a society in which artists, writers and recent graduates could live independently in Central London, unharassed by student loan companies, workfare contractors or debt collectors. This may be a partial historical view, but it responds to what younger generations are currently cheated of: the opportunity to grow into adulthood without having their entire future mapped out as a financial strategy. A leader who can build a bridge to that past offers the hope of a different future.
I have come to believe that this elite inability to make a course correction is not based on ignorance. For instance, last week there was a story by Tatiana Schlossberg "Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn":
From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds.
The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls the current decline in animal populations a “global epidemic” and part of the “ongoing sixth mass extinction” caused in large measure by human destruction of animal habitats. The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena.
Gerardo Ceballos, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, acknowledged that the study is written in unusually alarming tones for an academic research paper. “It wouldn’t be ethical right now not to speak in this strong language to call attention to the severity of the problem,” he said.
The elite know this. My sense is that the inability to make a course correction is intentional. The elite believe they will be able to survive the sixth mass extinction underway. If asked the old question "Socialism or barbarism?" the elite are answering, "Barbarism!" out of a hubris that they can wire the barbaric life much as they have capitalist mass consumer society.

I believe what is happening here is that the elite are consciously if not articulately rejecting mass society in the mistaken belief that they will be able to jet to a sylvan glade somewhere post-apocalypse.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Moral Bankruptcy of the United States

I called my congresswoman yesterday. She is a freshman. I donated to her campaign and phone-banked for her. I figured that since she started up a non-profit called "Hate Free Zone" in the wake of 9/11 that she, once in office, would be a reliable peace advocate.

To be honest, the only thing I can tell you about her service in Congress so far is that she has been snatched up as eye-candy by House Democratic Leadership. Here she is fronting for neo-McCarthyism:

In any event, yesterday I received this email from Just Foreign Policy:
Last night the House Rules Committee approved two amendments for votes today that fundamentally challenge U.S. participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. 
The Davidson [R-OH] amendment prohibits U.S. military action not authorized by the 2001 AUMF. U.S. participation in the Saudi war in Yemen is not authorized by the 2001 AUMF. That would block the U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen. 
The Nolan [D-MN] amendment prohibits the deployment of U.S. troops to participation in Yemen's civil war. That would block the U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen. 
This devastating war, which was never authorized by Congress, has been going on for more than two years and has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, with the worst cholera outbreak in the world, with the UN on the verge of giving up on vaccination against cholera in Yemen because of the war. 
We've never had votes like this before in either chamber. We have no idea how it will go. Every Rep. needs to be called, whether they are Democrat or Republican, pro-Trump or anti-Trump. 
Call your Rep. now at (202) 224-3121. When you reach a staffer or leave a message, you can say something like: 
"I urge you to vote YES on the Davidson and Nolan amendments to prohibit U.S. participation in the unauthorized Saudi war in Yemen."
So I called the local office of my congresswoman (not the D.C. office because I was at work and didn't want the local to absorb the long-distance charge).

A pleasant young woman answered the phone and tried to find the bill number. I hadn't read the Just Foreign Policy email closely enough to tell her H.R. 2810. She assured my she would get the message to the congresswoman.

Two stories yesterday reinforce 1) that the U.S. is directly complicit in war crimes in Yemen, and 2) the cholera epidemic there is at the point of "spiralling out of control."


This morning's Situation Report condenses the story as follows:
US doubles down on support for war in Yemen. Since an October airstrike in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that killed more than 130 people, “the United States doubled the amount of fuel it provided to coalition jets, according to figures obtained from the U.S. military,” writes Samuel Oakford in The Intercept. “The numbers underline the fact that U.S. support for the campaign has continued and even increased despite growing attention to civilian casualties and alleged war crimes by the coalition.”
For the second, see The Guardian's " 'Cholera is everywhere': Yemen epidemic spiralling out of control":
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Monday that the cholera epidemic in Yemen was spiralling out of control, reaching a milestone of over 300,000 suspected cases. More than 1,600 people have died. Children account for nearly half of all suspected cholera cases in the country, according to the UN’s children agency.
This is where the lack of an anti-war movement or a strong peace caucus in the Democratic Party becomes glaringly obvious. At a previous time, the U.S. facilitation of a cholera epidemic would be the subject of mass outrage.

The fact that it isn't has many roots: complicity with al-Saud's genocidal war started with the Peace Prize POTUS; there are too many wars for the general public to track; and the New Cold War provides a thick smokescreen for all manner of abhorrent behavior. They all point to a moral bankruptcy.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Democrat Elites Still in Bernie Denial + Kid Rock a U.S. Senator?

What is a "hipster"? A good definition is "a bourgeois bohemian," someone who is safely, superficially, predictably unconventional; someone, like a medieval courtier, who adheres to certain shifting protocols. Hipsters are usually fickle, bitter and filled with fear.

A "faux-hipster" then is someone who affects the coolness of a hipster but with the intention of buttressing the mainstream, the conventional, the "square" world. A faux-hipster is the serpent eating its tail, Ol' Blue Eyes backing Reagan.

MSNBC has built its brand on the faux-hipster, and FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's ESPN project, has followed along, leaning on the nerdy, geeky, wonky aspects of the millennial hipster.

Recently a Bernie Sanders presidential run in 2020 has received some attention. Last week Vox's Matt Yglesias argued that "Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ real 2020 frontrunner." Yesterday Common Dreams published "It's Too Early, Says Bernie Sanders, But 2020 Run 'Not Off The Table' "

And this morning FiveThirtyEight has a delightful chat, "Is Bernie Sanders Really The Democratic Front-Runner?," I think it is a must-read because it shows how lost the Democratic elite are. Nate Silver is attacked by his three colleagues for arguing the obvious -- Bernie is the front-runner. Take a taste:
harry: If you’re going to use Sanders’s prior support, then why is he polling at less than half of what he got in 2016? Doesn’t that suggest that a lot of that support was merely anti-Clinton and not pro-Bernie?
natesilver: Because they’re polling a ballot with 14 candidates, whereas it was a two-horse race in 2016. I dare you to look up Sanders’s favorability ratings with Democrats, Harry!
harry: I dare you to look up Trump’s favorability ratings with Republicans even after he entered.
clare.malone: Cool impasse.
natesilver: I’m not sure why you’re being such a hipster about this, Harry. Sanders is really well liked among Democrats. He was second last time. He’s leading in the polls now. Isn’t it obvious that he’s the front-runner?
If you read through the round table a couple of things rise to the top. Democratic elite opinion, here represented by FiveThirtyEight writers Harry Enten, Clare Malone and Perry Bacon Jr., is waiting, pining, begging for Elizabeth Warren to get into the presidential race. (Warren is better than Hillary, but I think the outcome would be the same because she can't juice turnout of the "Obama coalition" -- minorities and young people.) Bernie's candidacy is once again being written off because he allegedly doesn't have the support of black voters. So we can expect more and possibly worse race-baiting in 2020. It's going to be the Super Tuesday firewall all over again. Divide and conquer. And if Bernie is blocked, another Trumpocalypse.

For a real hipster take on potential candidacies there is yesterday's Slog from Charles Mudede, "Hick Hopper Kid Rock Running for Senate," about Kid Rock challenging Debbie Stabenow in Michigan:
This afternoon, "rapper," scratcher, and country singer Kid Rock tweeted that recently launched website Kid Rock For Senate is the real deal. In 2018, he will run against the Democrat Debbie Stabenow, Michigan's senior US Senator. In 2012, Kid Rock supported Mitt Romney, and his song "Born Free" was Romney's campaign theme. In 2016, Rock supported Donald Trump's successful run. In 2017, he visited the White House with Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent, and famously mocked Hillary Clinton's official portrait. 
The album that made Kid Rock Kid Rock (his real name is Robert Ritchie) is Devil Without a Cause. It was released in 1998, sold a gazillion copies, and introduced the world to "hick hop." Rock is not much of a rapper, indeed he's what we once called wack; but he can work the wheels of steel like an old school DJ. In this video, you can see him light up and smoke a cigar, and pour whisky in to a glass while cutting records down to the bone.
Rock also appeared on a sex tape with Creed's Scott Stapp. In this video, which was filmed in 1999 and entered the eternity of the internet in 2006, his cock is sucked by more than one woman. Recently, Rock's glass dildo was "subpoenaed in Insane Clown Posse lawsuit."
All of that said, Rock has not yet filed for the senate race. But if he does, if he actually runs, Stranger news editor Steven Hsieh thinks he will win. 
Now that's some fine hipster writing.