Saturday, August 31, 2013

"U.S. Assessment of Syrian Use of Chemical Weapons" a Faith-Based Document

If you take the time to read "U.S. Assessment of Syrian Use of Chemical Weapons" -- it was released yesterday and is only a few pages and takes no more than five minutes to ingest -- you'll quickly come to the conclusion that it is a "faith based" document. No compelling proof is offered of Syrian government responsibility for the chemical attack that occurred in the early morning of August 21 in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta; in fact, no proof is offered at all other than frequent references to social media.

Intercepted signal traffic, frequently referred to in the media and often cited by the Obama administration, is the assessment's smoking gun. But it is not provided. We still haven't heard it or read a transcript of it. So it doesn't make sense to shred the United Nations Charter and launch an attack on a country based on an opaque assessment from a government guilty of one of the worst canards in recorded history with its bogus intelligence manufactured to show that Iraq possessed a potent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. We are supposed to accept on faith that the smoking gun exists.

There are two massive doubts to consider, doubts which prevent a facile acceptance of this document:

Number one, if the evidence is of such quality that it produces a "high confidence assessment" that "is the strongest position that the U.S. Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation," why dismiss the work of the UN investigators on the ground and try to rush them out of country as soon as possible? This makes absolutely no sense. If the evidence is compelling and on your side you want the investigators to stay and do a thorough job. The fact that John Kerry has been jawboning Ban Ki-moon to get the inspectors out of Syria casts doubt on the evidence the United States possesses. As Putin says, "Show it to us."

Number two, "cui bono" has never been remotely addressed by the Obama administration. Yes, a superficial rationale has been provided as to why Assad would use gas. The Syrian Arab Army purportedly relies on it to clear pockets of rebels that can't be cleared by conventional arms. But all the reporting, both pro- and anti-Assad, had the military making gains in this area prior to the East Ghouta attack. Most importantly, the warhawks will never acknowledge that which is the most obvious -- the opposition has been trying to get the West to intervene militarily from the outset. This fact alone, that proponents of a cruise missile assault on Syria refuse to at least accept in theory that the rebels had everything to gain from a chemical weapons attack being linked to Assad, should make us very suspicious of a rush to war.


I'm out of town for the next few days. "Burdens of a Bachelor" will return Tuesday.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Duty Now for the Future

Feeling despondent about being dragged into another war in the Middle East? I am. Except this time around it's even worst than the last because our commander-in-chief is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and I supported him in the last two presidential campaigns.

All the big lies from the Bush II era are back. And the overall message is that there is no hope. You can put a black man in the White House, a child of a single mother, a one-time community organizer from the working-class metropolis of Chicago; you can knock on doors, donate your measly scraps of legal tender, elect who you think is the best candidate, and it won't make a shit of difference. No doubt about it. The verdict is in. We have no future except the future of more lies leading to more wars, suffering, death.

These were my thoughts heading out at lunch for a walk in the late August sunshine. I had my iPod on song shuffle. "Blockhead" began playing. "Yes!" I thought. "That's the answer!"

Last week I was rescued from a birthday chocolate cake slough of despond by Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978). What was called for was Devo's second album, Duty Now for the Future (1979), at high volume. Our future might be a grim Terminator landscape of drones monitoring and destroying us from above but at least, for the time being, there's recorded music.

In the early 1990s I read a book about artificial intelligence that contained a Marvin Minsky quote in its introduction that I've always remembered. It went something like this: "Don't talk to me of the illegal drug use in this country until we have a discussion about all the music CDs being sold every year."

Ah, yes. And I read this at a time before Windows 95. I had just seen up close the effect Apple Macs had on the publishing industry in New York City. They radically altered the traditional production department at magazines, newspapers and book publishers, wiping out paste-up artists, keypunchers, proofreaders and copy editors. What did Minsky have to say about the iPod when it appeared ten years later? Now everyone is AI enhanced with ear buds affixed almost constantly (at least in public).

Duty Now for the Future was ahead of its time. I remember listening to it as a lower division undergraduate one dark and rainy Friday night in the late fall early 1980s and thinking, "There's something about this that I can't get a handle on, something queer." And nothing captures better what I was experiencing then than "Smart Patrol"/"Mr DNA."

Like Are We Not Men? Duty Now for the Future is guitar driven. But what to make of all those synthesizers? I think that's where I was getting caught up. Now, thirty years later, it sounds completely normal and appropriate. And it completely kicks ass. No wonder Henry Rollins spent some sweat equity in the 1990s to put out the album for the first time in CD format in the United States.

As first two albums go, Devo shapes up equal to or better than such Punk/Post-Punk avatars as Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Wire, The Clash, Public Image Ltd and (if you allow me to toss in 2 Tone) The Specials -- all groups who had amazingly strong first and second records.

Tonight walking home up the hill from downtown into my urban neighborhood of young hipsters, everyone out on a sunny Friday after work drinking, smoking, enjoying themselves, seemingly oblivious to the huge dialectical shift underway: our "deep politics" are now laid bare and war -- the machinery of war -- is exposed.

Our duty now for the future is to withhold our support for such a system. No more being seduced by mellifluous Barack Obama corporate Democrats.

Obama's Political Immolation

If you've been following the news on Syria every day, you know that the case that the United States has presented blaming the Syrian government for a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb last week is weak to nonexistent. For instance, you would expect banner headlines the morning after the Obama administration's briefing last night of Congressional leaders if there had been any compelling, "smoking gun" proof that Assad's forces were responsible. Instead all you get is a description -- inside the story "Obama Set for Limited Strike on Syria as British Vote No" by Mark Landler, David Sanger and Thom Shanker -- of heavy hitters on Obama's cabinet going through the tired motions of trying to sell an intercepted telephone call between military officials as definitive proof justifying scrapping international law in order to let the Tomahawk cruise missiles fly:
In a conference call with Republicans and Democrats, top officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence agencies asserted that the evidence was clear that Mr. Assad’s forces had carried out the attack, according to officials who were briefed. 
While the intelligence does not tie Mr. Assad directly to the attack, these officials said, the administration said the United States had both the evidence and legal justification to carry out a strike aimed at deterring the Syrian leader from using such weapons again. 
A critical piece of the intelligence, officials said, is an intercepted telephone call between Syrian military officials, one of whom seems to suggest that the chemical weapons attack was more devastating than was intended. “It sounds like he thinks this was a small operation that got out of control,” one intelligence official said. 
But Republican lawmakers said White House officials dismissed suggestions that the scale of the attack was a miscalculation, indicating that the officials believe Syria intended to inflict the widespread damage. 
“I’m comfortable that the things the president told Assad not to do he did,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who took part with seven other Republican senators in a separate briefing by the White House chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough. 
Among the officials on the conference call were Secretary of State John Kerry; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr.; and the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice. It was unclassified, which means the administration gave lawmakers only limited details about the intelligence they assert bolsters the case for a military strike. 
Before the call, however, some prominent lawmakers expressed anger that the White House was planning a strike without significant consultations with Congress. “When we take what is a very difficult decision, you have to have buy-in by members and buy-in by the public,” Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday on MSNBC. “I think both of those are critically important and, right now, none of that has happened.”
If there had been definitive proof Cameron wouldn't have gone down in flames in the House of Commons yesterday.

Everywhere you look Obama is on shaky ground. No compelling evidence has been presented to justify a unilateral assault on a sovereign nation. International law will be violated if such an attack takes place. And so far the only ally to come forward vowing support is the Socialist government of Francois Hollande.

The damage that Obama is doing to his ability to govern is enormous. The source of his political power, his success as a politician both nationally and internationally, is his standing as an anti-war advocate and as proponent for peace and toleration. He beat Hillary Clinton and rose to the top of a crowded field of primary contenders in 2008 because as a Illinois state senator he came out against going to war in Iraq. Starting with the Snowden revelations and his peevish response to them, and now coming full force with his disingenuous case for an attack on Syria, Obama is eviscerating the basis of his support.

Obama has three-and-a-half years left to govern, and he is effectively mortally wounded. It's not clear going forward what impact this is going to have -- on budget negotiations with a belligerent GOP House caucus, on his ability to get any legislation through Congress, on midterm elections and the short-term viability of the national Democratic Party.

There are five destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. Each has a payload of 36 cruise missiles. As a baseline that's what the Syrians can expect -- a barrage of 180 missiles. It will probably be worse, and it will probably commence not too long after the UN inspectors exit the country. Sunday morning? Nothing will likely be achieved other than destruction, death and Obama's political immolation. At this point, there might a silver lining in the last item.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Growing U.S. Isolation on Syria

In the space of a day the seemingly inexorable U.S.-led run up to war on Syria appears to have come undone. Obama is still talking tough but it is apparent that the United States is for now almost entirely isolated. The United Nations is clearly on record with statements by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi that the inspectors be given time to do their job and that any military action must be approved by the Security Council. Adding to the Obama administration's woes is an announcement yesterday by Syrian UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari that
[H]e had submitted evidence of the three new instances of chemical weapons use in Syria, which he asserted had been carried out by armed terrorist groups, the government’s blanket term for Syrian opposition forces.

Mr. Jaafari said they occurred on Aug. 22, 24 and 25, and were also in the Damascus suburbs. He said Syrian soldiers were the targets. The ambassador did not explain why he waited to come forth with the allegations. 
“The Syrian government is requesting the secretary general to immediately instruct the investigation team operating in Damascus to investigate immediately these three heinous crimes,” the ambassador said. 
Mr. Jaafari repeated the Syrian government’s denials that it had ever used chemical weapons in the conflict and said the accusations were a conspiracy by Western nations acting on Israel’s behalf. He rejected assertions by the United States, Britain and other Western allies that there was persuasive evidence of Syrian government culpability in the use of the banned weapons. 
“We are not warmongers,” he told reporters outside the Security Council chambers. “We are a peaceful nation seeking stability.”
This from a story by Stephen Castle, Steven Erlanger and Rick Gladstone, "Britain to Wait on Weapons Report Ahead of Syria Strikes," which, given the extensive coverage in the press this morning, is probably the best single story on yesterday's setback for the warhawks.

Responding to Britain's failed effort to clear a authorization of force out of the Security Council, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did her best to impersonate the bellicose tones of former Bush UN ambassador John Bolton:
“All previous attempts to get the Security Council to act on Syria have been blocked, and we cannot allow diplomatic paralysis to be a shield for the perpetrators of these crimes,” she said. “We do not believe that the Syrian regime should be able to hide behind the fact that the Russians continue to block action on Syria at the U.N.” 
Asked if the United States would await the findings of the United Nations inspectors, Ms. Harf repeated the administration’s assertions that their work was too late to be credible because Syrian government forces had repeatedly shelled the attack sites, compromising evidence-gathering efforts. 
“We’re going to make our own decisions on our own timelines about our response,” she said. “Obviously, we will continue consultations with our international partners around the world, but we are making decisions based on our own timeline.”
It's all right out of the Bush playbook. It's as if we're suddenly reliving the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. But the good news here is that while in the past Obama has been able to successfully put over the same old Bush policies -- drones, surges -- because of his gravitas as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, those days are effectively done.

Cameron had to agree to two not one Parliamentary votes spread out over nearly a week. The debate promises to be lively with the warhawks taking a drubbing since their position is riddled with contradictions and omissions. What's the purpose of limited strikes other than to kill more innocents? Why can't the rebels be behind the Ghouta chemical attack? Unlike Iraq, why not let the inspectors complete their mission this time? The U.S. Congress, though less convincingly than its British cousins, is also demanding a debate and a vote.

Today the Obama administration will reveal its "irrefutable evidence" of Syrian government responsibility for last week's chemical attack. Its lies -- Biden repeated again yesterday the canard that Syrian Arab Army shelling of the site of the chemical attack has rendered any inspection not credible -- and silence up until now foretell a presentation that will be underwhelming.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Western Warhawks Headed for Tough Times

For the first time since the end of last week a ray of sunshine, of reason, of hope this morning that there will be some pushback against the Western war machine. The Arab League declined to endorse an attack on Syria. This queers the pitch for Obama and the leaders of the old colonial powers Britain and France. They say that they got what they needed in the form of a Arab League statement blaming the Syrian government for the chemical attack in a Damascus suburb last Wednesday. Nonetheless they're embarking on an illegal war with very little if any popular mandate. They have no support domestically, and they can't even get a public go-ahead from the Gulf emirates who have been fueling the conflict and aggressively lobbying for U.S. intervention.

The story can be read this morning in David Kirkpatrick (thank goodness for David Kirkpatrick) and Mark Landler's "Arab League Stance Muddies U.S. Case." Doubtless the warhawks in the West wish for now they had Morsi back running the show in Cairo rather than the generals. It was Egypt that stood up to the Saudis and blocked harsher language against Assad from being included in the Arab League statement:
But while they will not say it publicly, several countries in the region have been working vigorously behind the scenes to topple the Assad government. For two years, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have been shipping money and arms to rebels challenging Syrian troops. Neither Saudi Arabia nor any of the Sunni-dominated gulf states have publicly endorsed Western intervention. But all feel threatened by the regional rivalry with Iran, and all have privately urged the Western powers to intervene on behalf of the rebels, Western diplomats say. 
In the Arab League meeting on Tuesday, Arab diplomats said, Saudi Arabia pushed for stronger language explicitly condemning Mr. Assad for launching the attack, which would have come closer to helping the Western powers justify military action. 
But Egypt, still the most populous Arab state with the largest Arab military, disagreed, Arab diplomats said. 
“It shows the schizophrenia of the Arab world,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, noting that gulf states and Jordan also appear to be working closely with the West on possible intervention while refusing to endorse it publicly. 
But their silence created a potential problem for the United States and its European allies, he said, because it undermined the notion of a broad-based coalition with Arab support. “And every day that it goes on, opponents will try to exploit it,” he said.
And more trouble awaits the West today when Britain takes the Western case for war on Syria to the United Nations. At this point the West will have to reveal the evidence it has linking the Syrian government to the chemical attack in Ghouta. Up until now all that Secretary of State John Kerry and Press Secretary Jay Carney have mentioned is a circumstantial case: a chemical attack occurred; the Syrian government possesses chemical weapons; therefore it is beyond doubt that the Syrian government is responsible for the attack. This is the threadbare reasoning that the United States has relied on in its run up to war. Appalling, isn't it? There has been some whispering in the media about intercepted signal traffic that has Syrian government forces directing operations of the chemical attack. But the fact that Britain will be doing the heavy lifting at the UN leads one to believe that the Obama administration is leery about repeating a Colin Powell moment.

In any event, a debate will be had in a global forum, and it promises to be unkind to the bellicose Western perspective. The Brits will then hold a Parliamentary debate tomorrow which should also prove to be rough going for the Tories. Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Justin Welby, weighed in with a plea for caution and good sense in a Daily Telegraph interview yesterday. Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has been the point man for the Western warhawks, provided the case for intervention, which basically boils down to "We have to violate the UN Charter to protect decades of painstaking work to create rules and regulations to prevent the use of chemical weapons"; that, and the by now -- coming on the heels of support for the Egyptian military coup of a duly elected government -- totally unbelievable tripe about democratic nations living up to their values.

I imagine it's going to be rough going in the days ahead for the warhawks. It doesn't mean that an attack on Syria will not go forward, just that the West is going to pay a price for it, and I hope it's a steep one. Iran is threatening retaliation. Already the Obama administration is talking up the limited nature of its attack -- just some Tomahawk cruise missiles. I wouldn't believe it. And even if the strikes are limited there are always targeting errors and civilian casualties.

A major impediment to the Western case for intervention is the obviously counterintuitive nature of the Syrian government gassing a suburb shortly after the UN inspectors arrive into the country. Tactically there was no call for the attack. There is almost unanimous agreement that the SAA had no need for chemicals; the military was racking up steady gains in the area. The worst thing that Assad had to fear was foreign intervention, the very thing that the opposition has been trying to initiate for years. The rebels had everything to gain and Assad nothing by the use of chemical weapons.

So clearly the basic framework of the civil war up until now points to opposition being the perpetrators of the chemical attack in Ghouta. This is obviously a problem for the warhawks; hence, the story today by CIA scribe and rebel propagandist Anne Barnard, "Reports of Syria Chemical Attack Spur Question: Why?" It's a weak piece of tendentious reporting, but we've come to expect that from Barnard. From the outset she assumes that the Syrian government is the source of the chemical attacks; then she interviews a couple think tank hacks who explain that Assad ordered the attacks because he could, that he knew that there would be no repercussions.

If you were expecting more, that's all there is, which, incidentally, is identical to statement put out by the Syrian National Coalition. No where does Barnard engage the Syrian or Russian position and ask the question "Why would the rebels use chemicals on their own supporters?" The answer of course is too obvious. It's unfolding before our eyes.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Endless War

What is perplexing -- if not outright insane -- is how war with Syria has become a foregone conclusion without any proof as to who was responsible for firing the chemical-bearing shells at the Eastern Ghouta that claimed the lives of over 300 people. It would be one thing if we lived in an age when trust in government was high and the track record of politicians sending citizens off to war was pristine. But of course we live in a time when almost no one believes in the good faith of the government and we fight wars perpetually on the basest of motives. That's what makes the sudden acceptance by the New York Times Editorial Board that the Assad government is to blame for the chemical weapons attack last Wednesday morning -- without any discussion of all that the rebels had to gain by staging such an attack, without a discussion of what the video evidence pointed to in the way of chemicals used (industrial, not military-grade, chemicals), without anything more than the barest and most marginal treatment of Syria's (and Russia's) assessment of what happened -- so jarring. We're back to accepting assurances sight unseen from nameless officials. This is how we go to war.

The New York Times, which up until now has been anti-interventionist despite employing a robustly pro-opposition reporter in Anne Barnard, is edging towards a military strike on Syria to show the Iranians that we mean what we say that you can't have a nuclear capability.

You would think, based on how badly the Times was burned by passing on fabricated intelligence to its frontpage in the run up to the invasion of Iraq a decade ago (and the subsequent mea culpa), that the people who manage the paper would have learned a lesson. But when it comes to going to war our trusted and most prestigious organs of information chronically fail us.

And make no mistake, we're headed for war. This from today's "Kerry Cites Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use in Syria" by Michael Gordon and Mark Landler:
Administration officials said that although President Obama had not made a final decision on military action, he was likely to order a limited military operation — cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea at military targets in Syria, for example — and not a sustained air campaign intended to topple Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, or to fundamentally alter the nature of the conflict on the ground.
Some had argued that all the beating of war drums in Washington was just a way of getting talks percolating with the Russians. Not the case:
In a move that reflected its differences with the Kremlin over a possible American-led military operation against Syria, the Obama administration has decided to postpone a coming meeting with the Russians on the crisis. A Russian delegation had been scheduled to meet this week in The Hague with Wendy R. Sherman, the under secretary of state for political Affairs, and Robert S. Ford, the senior American envoy to the Syrian opposition, to discuss plans for a peace conference to end the fighting in Syria. 
A senior State Department official said Monday night that the session would be postponed because of the administration’s “ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria.”
And in another sad development Ben Hubbard, a usually fair reporter, has gone over to the dark side with a lengthy piece of frontpage propaganda aimed at demonizing the Syrian government.

All of this leads one to the unmistakable conclusion that what we do is war, regardless of who is in the White House, even if it is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Our future will be filled with war, endless war, as the Middle East is cracked and our "anti-war" president is replaced by another commander-in-chief who will not be as tentative about the use of force. Iran will be next. The people don't want anything to do with it. But what the people want doesn't matter.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Seattle Marathon Association 10K

For tonight's installment of "Remember! Work!" a non-work story: a description of the 10K race -- my first of the year -- that I ran Saturday morning.

I started out feeling great. The course was fast. I cooked along the first 5000 meters at 7.5-minute-mile pace. They didn't call out splits at the three-mile marker, but they did at mile one and mile two. Mile one was 7:40. Mile two was 15:00. So for my 5K time I probably ran a personal best, a 23-and-change. 

Then shortly after mile three I blew up. I was running, keeping pace, with a beautiful Asian woman with whom I had chatted at the beginning of the race. She was shooting for a 48, at least something under 50. At mile one she said that she thought we were going too fast. She said that she would continue to follow from behind. I was feeling good. I said, "Good." Then somewhere shortly after mile three she blew by me without a word and was gone. I struggled through mile four and mile five. The last mile I got my act together a bit. I finished with a 50:43, official time; 8:10 pace. I'd say my friend -- judging by where she was at the mile five marker, which was the last time I saw her, way up ahead -- ran a 48, maybe a 47.

Last year I ran a 51:46. A full minute improvement is better than I expected, and good enough considering that I was not properly trained up for this event. I need to be able to run a long run during the work week, something I can't do now because of my commute. My best 10K is the Husky Dawg Dash from October of 2011 when I was doing a lot of those long runs after work. I ran a 48 then I think.

I suffered tremendously Saturday morning. Miles four and five were a real test. My monkey mind was chattering away -- no, howling -- "Stop! You can't do this! What are you doing! No!" -- on and on. At a certain point I have to remember -- in a more timely fashion -- to stop resisting and just let the pain in. I did that finally with maybe a half-mile left in the race. Then it wasn't so bad.

I mention this tale of the 10K in a "Remember! Work!" post because it's vitally important to have something real in which to immerse oneself outside of work, something that can provide a counterpoint to the daily drudgery and soulless repetition of the rat race. Running road races is perfect medicine. It forces one to train, to stay healthy and disciplined -- to incorporate pain in one's life and not to avoid it. The pain of the race followed by the pleasure once it's finished puts all of one's woes in perspective.

U.S. Absurdly Claims "Very Little Doubt" About Syrian Poison Gas Use; It's a Run Up to Iraq Invasion Redux

The whole thing stinks to high heaven. On Sunday a nameless "senior Obama administration official said . . . there was 'very little doubt' that President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces had used chemical weapons against civilians last week and that a Syrian promise to allow United Nations inspectors access to the site was 'too late to be credible.' " This from a story by Scott Shane and Ben Hubbard that appeared yesterday on the New York Times web site.

Ask yourself the question, "Why is giving inspectors approval on Sunday after an early Wednesday morning gas attack too late to be credible?" The site of the chemical attack is behind rebel lines. The Syrian government's wariness to grant immediate access to the inspection team probably had to do with not being able to guarantee their safety. Imagine a situation where United Nations personnel are taken hostage by Al Qaeda jihadis.

Reports this morning that the U.N. convoy of inspectors came under sniper fire soon after they left the government checkpoint and headed into rebel territory highlights this danger and strongly suggests that it is the opposition that above all doesn't want an inspection, possibly because the evidence gathered will overwhelming reveal that the chemical stocks used to massacre the 300-plus civilians have a foreign signature. Why aren't France, Britain and the United States threatening strikes against opposition territory?

No, it's all like a bad flashback to the run up to the shock and awe in the Iraq war a decade ago. No matter how much access the Iraqis granted Hans Blix, and no matter the lack of any of weapons of mass destruction unearthed, none of it mattered. The United States fabricated its own proof using code-named anonymous sources and official pronouncements that were dutifully featured in the prestige press. One would hope that we had learned our lesson after the bloody -- and still bloody -- war in Iraq. But it doesn't appear that we have.

The fact that Israel is out front on this, denying any possibility other than a Syrian government origin of the chemical weapons attack and calling for inclusion of Iran in any planned military action, has to raise any news consumer's suspicion that there is something more here than fits the standard Western narrative:
Israel sharpened its message on Sunday, suggesting that the use of such weapons in the region should not go without a response. 
“This situation must not be allowed to continue,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, referring to the Syrian civilians “who were so brutally attacked by weapons of mass destruction.” 
“The most dangerous regimes in the world must not be allowed to possess the most dangerous weapons in the world,” he said. 
Some Israelis have argued that international intervention in Syria would distract the world from the crucial effort to prevent a nuclear Iran. But there is a growing sense among Israelis that Syria is now a test of how the world might respond to Iran as it approaches the ability to make a nuclear weapon. 
“Assad’s regime has become a full Iranian client, and Syria has become Iran’s testing ground,” Mr. Netanyahu added.
What we've got here is a grand barbecue. It's Middle East score settling and a carving up of Sykes-Picot, not just a roll back of the three-year-old Arab Spring. The Saudis are flying high. The Egyptian generals have smashed political Islam. Now it's time to finally get rid of Baathism. Seeing the Saudis gorging themselves at the table, the Israelis are trying to elbow their way in and take out Iran during the feeding frenzy.

The danger here in all of this is too immense to gauge. One thing is for sure. If Obama presides over a propaganda campaign reminiscent of the one used to frighten people into supporting an invasion of Iraq -- or even like the one used to justify bombing Yugoslavia in 1999 -- that'll be it for his ability to mobilize his diminishing base of supporters, for his legacy, for the immediate future of the Democratic Party. The promise of the Obama presidency -- if not the actual record -- has always been that he'll do whatever he can to keep American citizens from fighting foreign wars. We attack Syria, this one great promise disappears.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #35

This letter, written to a good friend with whom I went to college and who at the time was working as an English teacher in Madrid, captures the spirit of the last few months I spent as a married man. My wife had already given up on the sacred bonds of matrimony and was planning a new, swinging lifestyle around Morningside Heights. I was working as many hours as I could get as a proofreader in the reports department of Deloitte Touche located near the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center. I worked evenings. Every night the company provided a livery cab home. I didn't drink during the week, probably for the first time in five years, and then would binge on the weekends (an example of which you'll find below). I saved a good deal of money in a short amount of time, around four months. This provided me the nest egg I needed to escape from New York and relocate for half a year in the Emerald City before returning in the fall to try to salvage a marriage that had foundered.

Reading the letter just now I get some satisfaction in realizing that I hit all the points in the timeline laid out in the second-to-last paragraph. Also, I wish I could say after almost 25 years that I had it wrong, that I was just suffering from a depression brought about by an impending separation from my wife. But when I read the last line I think my assessment of adult life, as bleak as it is, is right on the money.
Spring 1990
Got your letter Saturday night, the 24th, as I was on my way out and downtown for what would turn out to be an evening of too much drink -- bourbon, malt liquor, cognac -- and smoke that left me stumbling€ around between Broadway and Amsterdam in the vicinity of 110th Street unable to find the subway, unable to see the concrete mole's burrow that signals the presence of the subway in the inebriate's brain. Finally, after seriously considering grabbing a few winks in an abandoned doorway, I realized that I wasn't that far away from Gary and Eleni's apartment. After another 20 minutes of woeful stumbling, I located their place and amazingly remembered the apartment number, 1W. I rang the buzzer a few times and no one answered. So I turned back down the street, forlorn and truly tired, hoping that I'd find the mole's hole this time around; but half way down 109th towards Broadway I realized that there was no way I was going to make it. I went back and rang the buzzer one or two more times; Eleni pulled back the drapes -- they have an apartment on the ground level that faces the street -- saw that it was me and let me in. I apologized, said that I was too drunk to find my way home; explained that I was so drunk because I didn't really drink anymore but that when I did drink I drank quantity-wise as much as I used to when I drank 5 nights out of 7 days; all of this was muttered slurred crazy and earnest through a heavy jaw and rubbery lips. Eleni was slightly frightened because she'd been jolted out of bed at 3 in the morning and Gary wasn't home. He was down in Washington D.C. on his spring break visiting an old college buddy and attending some kind of physician's conference. (Ashley was in Guatemala with an old high school girlfriend staying with Colum and Terri.) The street that Gary and Eleni live on in is an honest to goodness drug dealing death zone.Gary called last night, Sunday night, the night after the Saturday evening I'm describing, and told me -- he's fresh back from Penn Station and Washington -- that two guys had just been shot outside his front door. Anyway, I apologized to Eleni and told her I could leave if she didn't feel comfortable with me being there. She said no, of course not, and unfurled a blanket on the couch. I climbed in; -- that was it, snores and lights out. In the morning Eleni got up at 8 o'clock because she had to go to work. She's working part-time at Macy's now and taking training courses to teach Berlitz, or something like that. I felt like death, breathing that heavy mournful sigh that drives all the way up from the center of the earth and shoots into your body through the soles of your feet, nestling in the belly, clawing into the lungs, and from there passing through the voice box and out of your mouth into the morning light of Sunday -- a new work week begins, ugh.
Anyway, first things first. The reason why I've been such a mute so & so is that I've been working like a dog since the first week of February. I'm doing 40-plus-hour weeks every week working as a proofreader for a huge accounting firm conglomerate in the World Trade Center. And while working long hours hasn't stopped me from writing before, what fucks me up in this case is the shift -- a 2nd shift, from 5 PM to 1 AM, which is usually more like 2 AM. When I get home its 2:30ish and Ashley is asleep and I can't make noise; either that or Ashley is waiting up for me with a nice little meal prepared and expects me to go to bed with her as soon as I've finished eating. Although I realize now since Ashley's been in Guatemala this last week that I'm too hungry and burned out when I get home to do anything more than rustle up some grub and switch on the TV for a few looks. This means that all my letter writing has to be done in the bright light of high noon and, more important than that, fully sober, something I haven't had a lot of practice at. Which brings up another substantial shift this job has created in my personal existential diddledeedoo -- I hardly drink anymore, at the most, twice a week on the weekends. When you're working nights, you just don't have the opportunities to get fucked up. And anyway, like I said, they've got me working like a dog at this place. It's crunch time, tax season, and they've got to get their annual reports off to their multi-million dollar clients. I decided not to be wasting what little energy I do have pissing in the toilet.
The reason why I'm working this job (after having vowed. never to return to office work) is so that I can save money for the big Seattle plan. The plan is that I'll be out in California by May, moving my way up I-5 to Oregon by middle to late May, and settling in Seattle by June. We're going to sublet the place here and Ashley is going to move down to the Morningside Heights-Columbia campus area. This is all being done with a strict sense of gloom and skepticism: more gloom -- but an optimistic gloom, a hopeful sorrow -- on my part, and more skepticism -- a joyful skepticism, a gleeful denigration -- on Ashley's part. Ashley's ready to throw in the towel on the relationship while I'm forever an adherent to the philosophy that everything'll get worked out in time. Oh, well. We'll see how it fares. I sure love her though, and always will.
Well, enough of that. New Orleans, huh? When would you do that? When the fuck are you coming home? Write and tell me precisely what your time frame is. I'm sorry I haven't been writing, and I'm sorry this letter is so harried and lifeless. I'm rushing it before going down to midtown to expedite errands prior to work. It's all so lonely and sad -- the horror of adult life; the ubiquity of the grave; and on top of it all, stronger than anything, bigger and more present than anything else, is the aloneness, the blankness and loneliness that is everything, everybody. Ouch.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Initially put off by the overtly commercial, Star Wars copying nature of Marvel's new Guardians of the Galaxy title, which is paving the way for the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name to be released next year, I must say I enjoyed issue #4.

Bendis seems to be hitting his usual stride, and I've always admired Sara Pichelli's art. Her work with Bendis on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man was superb.

Check out these three scans from Guardians of the Galaxy #4. Justin Ponsor's colors are rich. The beautiful Gamora gets between the sheets with an out-of-his-Iron-Man-armor playboy Tony Stark, and looks to have gotten the better of him -- before being gunned down from behind by a mystery assailant:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Yesterday started out poorly. It could have been the big slice of chocolate cake eaten at 9 AM making me feel stoned. Add to that a general feeling of exhaustion that comes with the end of the work week; and then to top it off I listened to The Nuns' 4 Days in a Motel Room - Their Greatest Sins (1994) four times in a row from start to finish.

On the train home I was ready to fly the white flag of surrender. I needed something to wipe everything clean, to redeem myself, to give me the strength to carry on. On my post-work agenda I had the grocery store, a birthday gift for a coworker, dinner preparations. All minor mundane chores of a burdened bachelor made monumental by flagging spirits. Then I thumbed through my iPod and found the answer to my prayers. Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978).

By the time I listened to all 11 tracks through "Shrivel-Up," I had stormed up the hill to the grocery store and was a man reborn by dint of Nietzschean self-overcoming -- thanks to Messrs. Casale, Mothersbaugh & Myers.

I'm running a 10K tomorrow. My first one of the year. So I'm cutting Hippies vs. Punks short tonight in order to avoid an evening hunched over the keyboard. Suffice it to say that I had high expectations for tonight following multiple posts devoted to The Last Waltz (1978). At first, I was going to focus on The Dicks' seminal SST Records release Kill From the Heart (1983). Then I thought, No, I've got to do MDC's super-historical Millions of Dead Cops (1982). I saw both bands at the Rock Against Reagan concert in front of Moscone Center where the Democratic National Convention was taking place in July of 1984. That was a big event in my 19-year-old life. Dead Kennedys headlined. I participated in the march on the Hall of Justice following the concert and the running game of hide and seek with San Francisco's Finest (about which I still dream 30 years later). Better to spend some quality time on that post.

Then I looked at the undercard of the famous Winterland show in January of 1978 when the Sex Pistols blew apart. Avengers and The Nuns were the warm-up acts. I listened to the eponymous Avengers (1983) all the time in college. I downloaded the Avengers' Live at Winterland 1978 (2010) album this week. It's good; it sounds a lot like the Avengers album. But I was intrigued by The Nuns, the only knowledge of whom I had was the name. And that brings us back to the top of this post.

We'll have to explore The Nuns another time. It's a thoroughly depressing tale. Next to Crime, they were the biggest San Francisco Punk band in the heady days of 1977, a group briefly courted by San Francsico Sound impresario Bill Graham.

As for Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, though some will scoff, I'd class it with Never Mind the Bollocks (1977), Horses (1975), Pink Flag (1977) and Entertainment! (1979) as one of the greatest Punk/Post-Punk albums of all time.

Bad News Day

Some mornings are worse than others, but I can't remember a more depressing start to the day than what's in the news today.

First, let's take the story by David Kirkpatrick and Rob Nordland, "Mubarak Is Moved From Prison to House Arrest, Stoking Anger of Islamists":
Mr. Mubarak was released from prison the same day that a committee of jurists released a proposed constitutional overhaul that would in many ways bring back the Mubarak-era charter. 
The package would remove some provisions about the role of religion approved by last year’s Islamist-led constitutional assembly. The main addition in that charter set a framework for applying the principles of Shariah law, in accordance with established Sunni Muslim thought. But the overhaul preserves a longstanding clause grounding Egyptian law in the principles of Shariah. It brings back another clause left out last year that would limit women’s equality where it contradicts Shariah. 
On the question of rights, freedoms, women’s equality or decentralization, the proposed overhaul provides little or no improvement, legal analysts said. It still leaves broad and ill-defined loopholes for limiting freedoms of speech and assembly. On all those questions, “it is essentially the same,” said Zaid al-Ali, a researcher at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. “No one’s life in Egypt is going to improve because of these proposed changes.”
At the outset of the June 30 Coup there were those on the Left who argued that the SCAF was ushering in a new age of toleration, secularism and democracy for Egypt. I think it's clear now that's not going to be the case; rather, it's back to an aggressive form of Mubarakism.

Next, for a look at the contours of a Talibanized Syria take the time to read C.J. Chivers account of the Nusra Front abduction, imprisonment and torture of American photographer Matthew Schrier in "American Tells of Odyssey as Prisoner of Syrian Rebels."

And finally, for the coup de grace, take in "Obama Officials Weigh Response to Syria Assault," by Mark Landler, Mark Mazzetti and Alissa Rubin. The U.S. war machine rumbles into readiness regardless of reason. Not once in the story is the question asked, Why, with UN inspectors newly arrived into the country, would the Syrian government launch the deadliest chemical weapons attack since the infamous gassing by Saddam Hussein of the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988? To the credit of Washington Post, its reporters Loveday Morris and Colum Lynch do:
The [UN Security Council] diplomat and his colleagues remain puzzled at what motivation Syrian authorities would have to undertake a chemical weapons attack while U.N. inspectors were in the area. 
“We are all asking ourselves this same question, this is not logical,” the diplomat said. “What would be their interest in launching such an attack?” 
Note the absurd answer supplied by the rebels:
Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, called on Assad to allow access to the U.N. team if he had nothing to hide. 
“The reason they’ve done it now is very simple,” he said. “It’s such a strong message to Syrians. The regime is telling people, we own you, we can do anything even when the inspectors are here, and we know the international community won’t act.”
The Big Lie has been a success so far. This morning it's being reported that Russia is urging Syria to allow Ake Sellstrom's UN inspection team access to East Ghouta where the chemical attack took place. Regardless of the facts uncovered plans for war will proceed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Syria Chemical Attack Likely Rebel Ploy to Distract UN Inspectors from Khan al-Assal Massacre

A good place to start this morning to understand what's going on with yesterday's claims by the Syrian opposition that the government massacred hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb with poison gas is Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay blog. The action at last night's emergency session of the UN Security Council was all about expanding the mandate of the newly-arrived inspection team led by Ake Sellstrom to give them unfettered access to Syria to pursue "all allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria":
The Obama administration's goal was to have a U.N. chemical weapons team, which was already in Syria to investigate other chemical weapons allegations, launch a probe into the new allegations. That team, headed by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Damascus on Sunday. 
The United States, which was represented by the second highest-ranking American official at the United Nations, Ambassador Rosemary Di Carlo, circulated a draft resolution, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, that called on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "urgently take the steps necessary for today's attack to be investigated by the U.N. mission on the ground." But it also would have applied pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to grant the inspectors greater latitude. The draft would have called on all combatants in Syria to "allow safe, full and unfettered access to the U.N. mission and to comply with all requests for evidence and information. " It also would have underscored the "importance of a fully independent and impartial [investigation] into all allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria." 
In the end, the most strenuous provisions of the American draft were stripped out during closed-door negotiations with Russia and China. Instead, the 15-nation council issued a milder statement that made no reference to today's alleged chemical weapons attack. The council merely expressed "a strong concern" about "the allegations [of chemical weapons use] and the general sense there must be clarity on what happened." The statement also did little to strengthen the inspector's mandate, but simply "welcomed the determination of the [U.N.] secretary general to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation." 
Clearly miffed, National Security Advisor Susan Rice took to Twitter to declare that the "Syrian government must allow the UN access to the attack site to investigate. Those responsible will be held accountable."
Unfettered access with a mandate to investigate all claims -- we've been down this road before in Iraq. And we know how that ended up. Inspectors include spooks who accumulate targeting info for future air strikes. And even if the inspectors give the government a clean bill of health, as Hans Blix did in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, it creates a running narrative of de facto criminality for the host country -- guilty until proven innocent -- that is blown up and propagandized by Western media, something we've already seen with past reporting on alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.

The timing of the poison gas attack to coincide with the arrival of the Sellstrom's inspection team immediately raises the suspicion that it was done to upend or alter his mission, which likely would have confirmed Russian findings regarding Khan al-Assal.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Egypt's Coup Government Ascendant

At this point it doesn't look good for the Muslim Brotherhood -- and the possibility for any type of democratic government in Egypt for that matter. Following yesterday's news that the Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, was taken into custody (who knows when he'll be seen or heard from again?) David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh have an excellent story in today's paper, "An Egypt Arrest, and a Brotherhood on the Run," laying out the free fall of the premiere organization of political Islam. 

A couple of things struck me. First, the military junta is moving forward with plans to ban the Brotherhood from politics:
The new government’s drive to suppress the Islamists appeared to gain momentum on Tuesday. State news media reported that the government was bringing back a Mubarak-era constitutional provision barring political parties based on religion. That potentially would outlaw Islamist parties, including the Brotherhood’s political arm — the biggest vote-getter in recent elections.
Next, the Brotherhood's tough talk from the days of the sit-ins of a "million martyrs" and constant huge street demonstrators has been rescinded in the face of el-Sisi's brutal crackdown:
Devastated by the assault, the group has backed off its vow of a “million martyrs,” ending its six-week campaign of organizing demonstrations and sit-ins against the military takeover that ousted its ally, Mr. Morsi. Instead, on Tuesday, the group began calling Morsi supporters to organize their own “decentralized” protests. 
More street demonstrations or sit-ins “are always an option if the coup leaders’ frenzy goes down,” Mr. Haddad said, but the Brotherhood “held the banner for 48 days” and “it is with the Egyptian people now.” 
The Brotherhood’s retreat is a victory for General Sisi. At least for now, it appears that his new government’s brutal force has begun to take control of the streets of the capital. But in the long term, the Brotherhood retains deep roots in Egypt, especially in the countryside, and by forcing it back underground the military-backed government virtually eliminated any hope of fulfilling its public pledges to include it in the political process. 
It has also foreclosed the chance to use the Brotherhood’s more pragmatic leadership to channel and control the broader and more fractious Islamist movement, as Mr. Mubarak once did. And it risks further alienating a generation of Islamists, or driving some to violence. 
It was in Egyptian jails during earlier crackdowns, historians say, that Brotherhood members disillusioned with its nonviolent politics nurtured the ideology that now guides Al Qaeda.
Finally, as a sign of depth of the coup government's crackdown, even the West's favorite liberal, and a crucial ally of the military junta in taking down Mohamed Morsi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, is on the run:
The government also began investigating charges, filed by a law professor, against Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal former diplomat who resigned as interim vice president last week in protest against the mass shootings. 
The charges of “betraying the public trust” would carry only a small penalty, and Mr. ElBaradei had left for a home in Vienna. But along with a stream of state-media attacks against him, the case sent a signal that the government would prefer he stayed in Vienna and was a warning to other dissidents as well.
So for the time being the military government has a lot to crow about. Outside of Cairo there is still plenty of unrest, but the Muslim Brotherhood has not able to answer the coup government's ruthless violence.

For an excellent story about the significant leverage the U.S. government has over the Egyptian state in the form of the $1.3 billion in annual military assistance read Eric Schmitt's, "Cairo Military Firmly Hooked to U.S. Lifeline." Fifteen percent of the money goes to spare parts and maintenance. The Egyptians never developed the capability to service the weapon systems:
What Egypt’s generals fear most is the cutoff of hundreds of millions of dollars in mundane but essential maintenance contracts that keep the tanks, fighter jets and helicopters running, American officials and lawmakers said. In the past, maintenance costs have represented roughly 15 percent of total American military aid to Egypt, according to the Government Accountability Office
“The spare parts and maintenance of this military equipment that we’ve given the Egyptians is important to their capabilities,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, told CNN on Sunday. 
Or as Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and an expert on the Egyptian military, put it this week, “Without that sustainment money, planes won’t fly and tanks won’t drive.”
Exasperated American military officials have also watched in dismay as Egypt has failed to invest in its own mechanics and logistics networks, as was originally envisioned, as well as in F-16 pilot training.
Egyptian F-16 pilots receive only a quarter of the flight training hours of American pilots, Mr. Springborg said. Maintenance programs have been left to American contractors. 
“It was originally intended that Egypt would develop its own sustainment capability,” Mr. Springborg said. “One of the sad parts of the program is that this didn’t happen.”
Despite this tremendous leverage, Obama, who has a poor track record of taking on vested "deep state" interests, is unlikely to suspend the aid. It's too important to military contractors spread out over several key electoral battleground states:
At the same time, cutting off American military aid presents its own complications for the United States and could ensnarl the Obama administration in a knotty contractual battle with American military contractors, said military procurement specialists and Congressional aides. 
Under current procedures, Egypt can submit large orders in advance for weaponry and equipment that takes years to produce and deliver, under the assumption that Congress will continue to allocate the same $1.3 billion in military aid year after year. Some Egyptian orders now extend to 2018 under this arrangement, called cash-flow financing. In effect, officials said, the United States has handed Egypt a credit card with a maximum limit of billions of dollars — a perquisite extended only to Egypt and Israel. 
The administration has told Congress in recent days that canceling weapons and maintenance contracts could force the government to incur as much as $2 billion in penalties. Under the terms of the tank program, for example, most components are produced in the United States — Ohio, Michigan, Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania — and shipped to a facility outside of Cairo for assembly.
If the Arab Spring can be successfully rolled back it is a very bad sign for the rest of us. Hopes that we can solve our problems collectively through the ballot box will be dashed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don't Believe the Disinformation Campaign, West Does Have Leverage on Egypt

The New York Times gets it right this morning in the unsigned editorial "False Choices on Egypt":
President Obama’s muted chastising of the generals and his indecisive reaction to the slaughter does not inspire confidence. Instead of wringing their hands, administration officials should suspend the $1.3 billion in annual American military aid to Egypt — including the delivery of Apache helicopters — until the military puts the country on a peaceful path. 
Some say the aid can easily be replaced by the gulf states, but they have often promised aid — for the Palestinians, for instance — and failed to deliver, whereas the United States has reliably provided Egypt with an estimated $60 billion over three decades. 
Long term, Egypt cannot subsist on handouts and needs to develop a real economy to provide jobs, education and other opportunities to its people. That is the road to true stability and will require tourism and foreign investment. But that cannot happen in a country in perpetual turmoil with a repressive military intent on obliterating its adversaries. The United States should not be complicitous in this unfolding disaster.
Right now the regressive Gulf Arab monarchies and Israel might be ascendant with the news of the imminent release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak and the jailing of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohamed Badie, but, as pointed out in the NYT editorial, a huge country like Egypt cannot subsist on foreign aid. And as Steven Erlanger points out in his story, "European Union Sets Emergency Session on Suspending Aid to Egypt," on the upcoming meeting Wednesday of EU foreign ministers to craft a response to the brutal crackdown engineered by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi:
European nations are Egypt’s biggest trading partner, according to the Egyptian statistics office. The trade volume between Egypt and the European Union reached almost 24 billion euros in 2011 (then $34.5 billion), compared with $8.2 billion with the United States. And European nations sell about $400 million a year in military equipment to Egypt. 
Last year, the bloc and its member countries pledged a combined 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in multiyear loans and aid for Egypt.
The leverage that the West has with its trade, tourism and private investment is enormous. For all those elites who, like Steven Simon, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-United States, argue that "America Has No Leverage in Egypt," what they're really doing is aligning themselves with the political objective of rolling back the Arab Spring and restoring Mubarakism. The Saudis and Israelis and their supporters in the West cannot conceive of an alternative to a future dominated by political Islam other than by a headlong flight to the past.

The only way that the Mubarak loyalists, sheikhdoms and Likudniks can pull off their counter-revolution is through Western quiescence. Let's see what happens in Brussels tomorrow. The United States, because of the outsize influence of the Saudis and Israelis in American politics, has sidelined itself. Obama, true to his entire presidential performance so far, has proven to be a diffident leader. Rob Nordland has a story this morning, "Saudi Arabia Promises to Aid Egypt’s Regime," that doesn't bode well for those of us expecting Europe to stand tall for social democracy. Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal crowed after his meeting this past weekend with president Francois Hollande that he had straightened the French out and that they were now in the coup camp:
“The kingdom stands with Egypt and against all those who try to interfere with its domestic affairs,” King Abdullah said Friday in a televised speech. . . . 
Within hours of the king’s speech on Friday, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal, was on his way to Paris, where he said the French president, Fran├žois Hollande, supported the Egyptian generals’ road map. That seemed to contradict the statements of other European countries condemning the new government for failing to control the violence. 
Back in Saudi Arabia by Monday, the prince boasted that France had come around to his country’s point of view because of “truths and not assumptions.” It was unclear, however, if the French government shared that interpretation.
As usual David Kirkpatrick's daily reporting from Cairo shines bright. Check out his story today, "Egypt in Tumult as Court Orders Mubarak Freed," to read another fine example of reliable writing. He is trustworthy.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Throat Clearing at Work + the Majesty of Janis Joplin

For tonight's installment of "Remember! Work!" something that I've noticed from the first days that I went to work at the local, now more than two years past. The ladies -- not all, but a few -- are always clearing their throats in the morning. I have come to the conclusion that it's something dietary, maybe some type of starch in a pastry or fat in a meat they eat for breakfast. The other thing I notice is that people are always gulping for air when they talk in the morning. This I've concluded is due to the fact that most -- and I'm as guilty of this as the next person -- are over-caffeinated. Acidic coffee, no longer solely the preserve of the college-town bohemian, is now everyone's pleasure.

This weekend I watched the music documentary Festival Express (2003) about the train trip across Canada in 1970 with Janis Joplin, The Band, Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy, and others. Concert stops were in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary in early summer. The promoters lost money; they were dogged by protests intended to make the shows free to the public. This is an oft elided aspect of mega-festivals from of the Age of Aquarius -- hostility between scurrilous concert promoters and the idealistic audiences that they supposedly catered to. The resulting clashes between youth and security forces often masked the root causes of the violence -- ticket gouging and misrepresentation. Big-name bands like Led Zeppelin and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were often advertised but never actually booked.

Janis Joplin, backed by the Full Tilt Boogie Band, is easily the best act featured in Festival Express. Her performances are on a whole different level. The Dead and The Band really don't even come close. After seeing her do "Tell Mama," I thought, "Jesus! She must have terrified white people." Make sure you get to minute four of the above six-minute video. That's when Janis goes into her rap about what a woman needs, and what the teenage boy wants, etc. J. Edgar Hoover probably had Special Agents thinking of ways to take her down. Too radical.

Arab Spring Roll Back Continues, Mubarak to Go Free

If there was any doubt that the goal of the Egyptian military coup was to roll back the Arab Spring it should be put to rest this morning with the news from Reuters that Hosni Mubarak will be released from jail in a couple of days.

There is something sickly comical about supporters of the coup government arguing that General Sisi has to be supported in his bloody crackdown on pro-Morsi demonstrators because the military junta is all that stands between Egypt and chaos. Well, chaos is already reigning in Egypt. Thirty-six Islamists were slaughtered in the custody of security forces; 24 police were killed in an ambush by militants outside Rafa in Sinai where an insurgency is underway.

Israel is lobbying aggressively on behalf of the coup government, while the coup government is cracking down on the foreign media. The West will mouth platitudes about democracy and human rights, but continue its support for el-Sisi. The United States will nibble around the edges, as it did with the announcement that it plans to suspend non-military aid (it should be the other way around) to Egypt; this will allow Obama to claim that he is working with the junta to restore democracy as soon as possible.

The news of Mubarak's release is going to make the West's charade much more unbelievable. We'll see how Europe responds now that the cat is out of the bag. Can time be made to flow backwards? You would think that the answer from the birthplace of Hegel would be a resounding, "No!" But neoliberalism is triumphant. And neoliberal thought imagines itself as the end of history, a delusion which bodes ill for the Arab Spring.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #34

This is a letter written when newly arrived to the megalopolis. The voice is that of a young man long gone. Brash, profane, combative (I am now brash on only the rarest of occasions, just mildly profane and thoroughly pacific) I didn't have a high opinion -- as you can see in the second paragraph -- of the native New Yorker. The missive ends with a flying of the Berkeley flag. This university boy missed his college town.

Autumn 1988 
Got a view of the famous Chelsea today on my latest crusade for full employment. There I was, fully clad in a very pretty subtly striped black and white suit cruising down 23rd Street, and bam! here it is -- the Chelsea Hotel. The same as in SID AND NANCY; the home of Bob Dylan, who got his name from another guy who had lived there, Dylan Thomas; the same place that put up Arthur Miller, who wrote the big father play (the one with Biff). The red brick looked just as off, just as Amityville Horror-esque, as the movie; I looked up at it and thought about that scene in the movie where Sid gets up out of bed, just after the Sex Pistols had split apart at Winterland in San Francisco, and looks out over good old gray New York City; and there I was, just below Sid, and off to Springer-Verlag, publisher of science manuals. It was hot and I was definitely breaking a sweat. I kept looking at my watch, which kept telling me that I had a half-hour until my interview. I had to pee pretty bad, but before I went pee I wanted to find 175 5th Avenue, the place where I had to be at three o'clock. Anyway, fuck this story for a second. How the hell are you? -- So after I got out of the interview I went for the nearest bar, took that pee, got myself a tanker of Coors from the tap and gulped it down fast, and then I headed back onto the street and into the five o'clock sun. After popping into a yuppie bar to place a few calls to my various employment agencies (oh, wow!) I headed to 8th Avenue and another bar. This time I struck a Mick joint; got myself some Bass, a pint in fact; pounded it, as I contemplated talking to a fellow monkey-suited asshole (fuck him). The next thing I knew I was out the door and on my way to a livelier watering hole. I asked the barkeep there what-the-fuck a buck-fifty would buy me; he told me a pint of Budweiser. -- Yes! Heaven does exist. So while I sat on the stool, drinking€ Bud, looking at all the bottles of juice behind the bar, the blankets came wrapping around me one after another; one word., one phrase, one sentence, floating in. Guys, freshly out of work (5:15 PM) ordering shots of Absolute, of Johnny Walker Red Label, with beer chasers, telling stories about wives who bitched over spilled milk ( . . . giving the boys big belly laughs). Surrounded by this I found myself sitting sheepish and rosily demur, a glazed simper smeared on my lips, inhaling this old black guy's cigar smoke while I tried to look haggard and uninterested. I did think, more than once, about trying to swap my watch (a Swiss-built model from an uncle) for ten bucks. But I realized that fantasies don't grow limbs in one sitting. So I slid of my stool, put my hands back into my pockets, and settled for sobriety and 34th Street, Penn Station.
When I got home, I flared up my own cigar, cracked open a quart of Coors that had been judiciously omitted from the previous evening's repertoire, and sat down to write you this. But now it's almost a week later. New York is great. There's no denying it. But one thing's for sure: it's also really fucking overrated -- way inflated with its own pomposity and self-aggrandizement, coldness and sham heritage; too much nose-in-the-air crap. These assholes, when you get down to it, are the biggest whining, pampered, paranoid pussies in the U.S. of A. Where else could they live? Could they live in Madison? In Tulsa? In Fort Worth? In Ashland-fucking-Oregon? No way. These fuckers can't stray far; they're pampered, and they're damn stupid. Damn stupid. They can live right here, and they can drink their Heineken wrapped in a paper bag. But as for going someplace else and seeing something different, there's no way. I'm working now. Scholastic Magazines, Inc. Pretty much a shit hole, but I think most of the publishing world is. After my first day and all of its unbearable stupidity and circumlocution, I was ready to get back into school. But it's livable now, which is the frightening part. The one thing New York has going for it, which is a really incredible thing, is that you can walk down a street, like 42nd Street, and cop a total buzz. That's a rare thing in S.F. I got off more in Oakland, San Pablo between 27th and 22nd . . . Oakland is way more real/happening/etc. in a lot of ways. I say I'm from Oakland/Berkeley, and people say, "Oh, I know where that is." Berkeley, after having been treated to this, becomes more and more amazing. It's incredible, the pasture where the Sun grazes his cattle. And these aren't backward looking wet dreams on my part because it's not necessarily loss or longing that I feel for the place, just, like I say, astonishment that such a -- in many ways -- perfect place should exist.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Winter Soldier #17

Winter Soldier didn't last long following the departure of Ed Brubaker (his last issue was #14). Writer Jason Latour and artist Nic Klein took over and brought the title to its cancellation with #19. It's too bad because they were doing topnotch work. Latour crafted a narrative around a victim of one of the Winter Soldier's assassinations, a sympathetic female heavy named the "Electric Ghost." The story is given weight with its themes of fear and sentimentality and time consciousness. Nic Klein's pencils and colors are totally alive -- no cookie-cutters used here. I thoroughly enjoyed this comic book. Check it out if you can. Latour and Klein's run was Winter Soldier #15 through #19.

With Edward Snowden's revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance and lawlessness regularly making the news, I found the depiction of metadata in the five scans from the beginning of Winter Soldier #17 to be beautiful. Buck Barnes, a.k.a, the Winter Soldier, has just shot his way into an A.I.M. data hub: "More information in these walls than literally anywhere else on earth." It sounds like Latour had NSA's Utah Data Center in mind when he wrote that line. The disembodied talking head of super-spook Nick Fury floating against the backdrop of huge video display terminals captures the government's ambitions for total information awareness:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: The Last Waltz, Pt. 4, The Band, a.k.a., The Brown Album

Bert Lance died yesterday. I read his obituary in the New York Times on the train home this evening. Lance was a banker, a Jimmy Carter crony, part of the Georgia Mafia that the former governor carted to Washington to help him run the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate Leviathan. 

Lance didn't last long as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He was gone, resigning in disgrace, by September of Carter's first year in office. The crimes Lance was accused of were peanuts compared to Nixon's. Lance used his bank to make unsecured loans to support his political interests, and then used his position in the Carter administration to quash a Department of Justice investigation. But the nation's fourth estate and its two-party system had developed an insatiable appetite for political mega-scandal. So Bert Lance's run-of-the-mill corruption, varieties of which are on regular display in county seats and state capitals across the country, got blown up Oz-like into an issue on which the fate of the new government hung. It was absurd.

It seemed like every day that summer of 1977 I listened to breathless news reports about Bert Lance on the AM car radio as my father drove us up and down the Santa Cruz Mountains in his green Chevy Vega.

One could argue that Carter never recovered from the Bert Lance imbroglio, and neither did the nation. Every new presidential administration -- particularly if the commander in chief is a Democrat -- we go through an ersatz Watergate. Think Whitewater, or just recently the purported IRS investigation of Tea Party 501(c)(4)'s at the behest of politicos in the Obama administration. That's why I have argued in a previous Hippies vs. Punks post it would have been better for our body politic if the jejune Georgia Mafia never would have won.

A few nights before the 1976 general election, The Band performed on Saturday Night Live (less than a month before The Last Waltz):

The Band were friends of Jimmy Carter; they were his house guests when he was Governor of Georgia. Richard Manuel's version of "Georgia on My Mind," when performed during Carter's presidential run, was a nod to the peanut farmer.

The 1976 presidential election was extremely close. Not Bush v. Gore close, but close. Carter won seven states by less than 5%, for a total of 146 electoral votes. He beat Ford in the Electoral College by 297 to 240. Among Carter's staunchest supporters were young people and liberals. I think it's pretty safe to say that without a decent turnout by Hippies in Ohio and Wisconsin, which Carter won by the narrowest of margins, 0.27% and 1.68%, respectively, Ford would have won the general election. Were enough Hippies watching Saturday Night Live before Tuesday's election to swing the election Carter's way?

Tonight marks the last post on The Last Waltz, which you'll recall from part 1, I was a devotee of during the time I returned to New York City in the early 1990s and suffered through a divorce. I was attracted to the movie and the soundtrack because it seemed to champion a lifestyle that was a slave to pussy; a lifestyle I was ready to embrace as a newly minted bachelor.

And sure enough, reading Levon Helm and Stephen Davis' This Wheel's on Firethis idea of The Band being first and foremost constituted for pussy is confirmed. The Hawk, Ronnie Hawkins, was a businessman who had a simple philosophy. Get good-looking women to come to your shows and you fill the bar because all the guys will come to have a crack at the good-looking women. The Hawks, the precursor of The Band, a.k.a., Robertson, Danko, Helms, Manuel and Hudson were put together and drilled to draw the ladies. And they did. Reliably.

Eleven years ago there was a convergence. I left my girlfriend of 11 years and moved out on my own at the same time as the 2002 25th anniversary re-release of The Last Waltz. -- I was out on my own living alone as a bachelor for the first time since my initial immersion in The Last Waltz. It looked to me like I had timed it perfectly.

I went to see the new print at one of the art-house movie theaters in the University District. But rather than shell out for the new four-CD box set, I purchased a used copy of the eponymous The Band (1969), usually referred to as The Brown Album, and this became the soundtrack for my second run at bachelorhood.

The Brown Album, The Band's second album, is the one that marks the group's crossover from critic's choice to super-stardom success. If Music From Big Pink (1968) is high art, The Brown Album is a celebration of the high life. It's chock full of party-time songs: "Across the Great Divide," "Rag Mama Rag," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Jemima Surrender," "Look Out Cleveland," "Jawbone," "King Harvest (Has Surly Come)." It's an album with a heavy Levon Helm vibe; its two most recognized tracks -- "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Up on Cripple Creek" -- are trademark Helms tunes.

The Brown Album traces the trajectory of The Band's future -- not as a quirky group that created the majestic Music From Big Pink but as the arena rockers, corporate Hippies, that would climax in The Last Waltz. And while The Brown Album is truly great, I have some negative associations with it that have to do with my spectacularly brief, thoroughly unsuccessfully run at being a "player," a bachelor able to juggle three girlfriends at once. 

On one particular night, after a couple of months in my newly rented bachelor pad, the wheels not only caught fire but fell off. Two girlfriends broke it off with me in the short span of a bright early evening; and the third, with whom I was still in pursuit and hadn't consummated anything, was a no-call/no-show. I was drinking hefeweizen. And when I finished that, I moved to a fifth of Polish potato vodka. Forlorn and desperate, I started cold-calling women from work. Not a wise move. Outside the sun was brilliant, everything was lit like burning magnesium. I decided to cook some spaghetti and heat up a jar of spaghetti sauce. I had consumed all the alcohol in the apartment. I was plastered and famished. The sun wasn't going anymore; it was late spring in the north country. I gorged myself on a bowl of spaghetti as Side Two blasted at high volume out of my Harman/Kardon computer speakers.

As I drifted off in scorching sunlight streaming through the windows, "Look Out Cleveland" blaring in my ears, I realized that the whole thing -- the drinking, the partying, the fucking -- was a crock of shit, a dead end, an alley that leads to a blank concrete slab wall. The next morning I woke up with a searing hang over. My pillow case was smeared and stained red with spaghetti sauce.

But let's give Levon the last word on The Last Waltz, from his Afterword with Stephen Davis to the 2000 A Capella Books edition of This Wheel's on Fire:
[Rick Danko] was in Chicago the last time I spoke with him. He was on his way back to Woodstock and we were going into the studio with a little recording budget to do some songs together. I was gonna play drums for him, help him put the rhythm section together. 
Rick got home [on December 9, his fifty-sixth birthday], and went to bed on Thursday night. Friday morning he didn't wake up. Everybody else woke up but Rick. 
The only good thing about his dying was that Rick got to die in his own bed. He didn't get killed, a bunch of shit like that. Nobody got to say, "Well, the drugs did him in," or "The bottle done him down," or "If he just wouldn't have played with that gun, dammit." You know what I mean? Old Rick died at home. 
But the hell of it is, Rick still died with his money in their goddamned pockets. That's the hell of it. If Rick's money wasn't in their pockets, I don't think Rick would have died because Rick worked himself to death. Rick liked to live with his family the way they liked to live, and to live that way he had to work all the time. 
I know he's in a better place and all that bullshit. My beef is that he didn't have to be there yet -- not at only fifty-six years old. Rick worked too hard. He wasn't that old and he wasn't that sick. He just worked himself to death. And the reason Rick had to work all the time was because he'd been fucked out of his money. 
People ask me about The Last Waltz all the time. Rick Danko dying at fifty-six is what I think about The Last Waltz. It was the biggest fuckin' rip-off that ever happened to The Band -- without a doubt. 
We held a big funeral for Rick, a hell of a thing. The Traums played, John Sebastian, other friends. I sat there with my daughter, kind of stunned, not really believing it was happening or that I was there. Robertson came from California; he didn't want to be here, but knew he had to be. He got up and spouted off a lot of self-serving tripe about how great Rick had sung the songs that he -- Robertson -- had written. It made me sick to hear. Then he worked the press a little, like a good Hollywood boy, and went back to Los Angeles. 
He knows he's got Rick Danko's money in his pocket. He knows that.