Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Putin's Way": Gray Lady's Ersatz Investigative Journalism Stokes Russophobia Among American Liberals

This past Saturday the Gray Lady published an exposé (Steven Lee Myers and Jo Becker, "Even Loyalty No Guarantee Against Putin") on the recent house arrest of Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov for money laundering, the upshot of which is that the state stripped Yevtushenkov of assets he held in the oil company Bashneft. There was a hush, hush quality to the story, as if some deep, dark perfidy was being exposed by journalists Myers and Becker.

It turns out there is nothing much to the story, a garden variety corporate-Kremlin struggle that took on a new urgency after the February coup in Ukraine, Crimea's joining the Russian Federation and the subsequent Western sanctions leveled against Russia. Yevtushenkov wanted to go ahead with a public offering of Bashneft shares in London. People in Moscow, with good cause, questioned the wisdom of such a course of action:
Rosneft had approached Mr. Yevtushenkov last year about the possibility of a merger or sale, according to news reports at the time, but Mr. Yevtushenkov resisted, and instead prepared a public offering of the company’s shares in London. 
The deterioration of relations with the West in the wake of the war in Ukraine appeared to make the sale of Bashneft’s stocks abroad increasingly worrisome to the Kremlin. In the weeks that followed the annexation of Crimea in March, the powerful Investigative Committee — an investigative body often seen as pursuing political cases at the Kremlin’s behest — quietly began a civil and criminal inquiry into Bashneft that exploded into public only in July.
The Yevtushenkov story is part three of what so far is a four-part Gray Lady series called "Putin's Way": "[A] series . . . examining how President Vladimir V. Putin’s system of personalized state-sponsored capitalism allows him to wield power at home and abroad."

After I read the Yevtushenkov story, I went back and looked for the other parts of the series because I had somehow missed them. I missed them because they had appeared in the Sunday paper, and I don't get the Sunday paper. I get Monday through Saturday. I take a pass on Sunday because it's too expensive (you can subscribe to all other days of the week for almost the same cost as Sunday) and there's too much paper that goes unread.

The first part of "Putin's Way" (Steven Lee Myers, Jo Becker, and Jim Yardley, "Private Bank Fuels Fortunes of Putin’s Inner Circle") is about Rossiya Bank, and it appeared in September. The second part (Jo Becker and Steven Lee Myers, "Putin’s Friend Profits in Purge of Schoolbooks") is about the shakeout among Russian schoolbook publishers, and it appeared at beginning of November.

These stories share the same "Deep Throat" hush, hush tone that strongly conveys to the reader that serious investigative journalism is being done. Call it the legacy of Watergate. But ever since Watergate, mainstream political investigative journalism, when it focuses on national or international targets, is more often of a Whitewater type; meaning, that there is a lot of smoke and very little flame underneath.

I'm sure in this case the liberals glance at the headline and maybe skim a few paragraphs. But the large size of the story, the amazing abundance of column inches, scares them off a thorough appraisal. So they turn the page, left with the thought, "Boy, that Putin is really rotten."

And that is the point. The Gray Lady is building the future of the New Cold War, locking in a mindless predisposition to Russophobia among the smart set.

Today's installment of "Putin's Way," part four, "How Putin Forged a Pipeline Deal That Derailed," by Jim Yardley and Jo Becker, is the best to date, and by this I mean the most illuminating in its ham-handedness. Note the opening:
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Barely two weeks after President Vladimir V. Putin annexed Crimea on one side of the Black Sea, he won a different prize on the other side. In Bulgaria’s Parliament, lawmakers gave initial passage to a bill clearing the way for a mammoth gas pipeline from Russia
The pipeline, known as South Stream, was Mr. Putin’s most important European project, a tool of economic and geopolitical power critical to twin goals: keeping Europe hooked on Russian gas, and further entrenching Russian influence in fragile former Soviet satellite states as part of a broader effort to undermine European unity. 
The bill that Parliament took up on April 4 was arcane. But it swept aside a host of European regulations — rules that Mr. Putin did not want to abide by — for a pipeline that would deliver gas throughout southern Europe.
It was a dream bill for Mr. Putin, and with reason. While Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry ostensibly wrote the legislation, documents reveal the hidden hand of the Kremlin: Not only did much of the language come from a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, but Mr. Putin’s energy minister was directly involved.
“If this happens in the U.S., the whole government would resign,” said Martin Dimitrov, a minister of Parliament from Bulgaria’s Reformist Bloc. “Not in Bulgaria, apparently.”
What Yardley and Becker don't point out is that it did just happen in the United States, and, no, no one in government resigned. I'm speaking here of Obama signing off on the gutting of Dodd-Frank. Citigroup wrote the language, Republicans inserted the language into the budget bill, and Obama signed off on it. We're not talking here about a pipeline deal that would benefit Europe by bypassing fracturing Ukraine. We're talking about undoing one of the main bulwarks against another meltdown of the global economy. Which is more corrupt?

At the end of the story on South Stream Yardley and Becker reveal that the U.S. blackmailed Bulgaria to drop the pipeline:
 . . . In early June, the European Commission told Bulgaria to stop work on South Stream, saying it was investigating whether the pipeline construction contracts violated European competitive-bidding rules. When the Bulgarian government refused, the European Union cut off tens of millions of euros in regional development funds. 
By this point, Ukrainian government forces were battling pro-Russian separatists in the east, and in the West there was talk of a new Cold War. On June 6, the American ambassador, Marcie B. Ries, warned Bulgarian companies against doing business with companies linked to Mr. Timchenko, who is on American sanctions lists. On June 8, a congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, met privately with Mr. Oresharski.
In desperate need of the European funds, the prime minister announced the next day that South Stream would be halted until it had full European Union approval.
Blackmail, plain and simple. Should we call this "Obama's Way"?

There are many "tells" throughout the Yardley and Becker expose that we're dealing with hortatory rhetoric unconcerned with balance or truth. For instance, Bush apparatchik C. Boyden Gray is quoted several times -- he's given the last word -- without mentioning that he is a conservative Republican operative. How fair is that to Gray Lady's liberal subscribers?
The final, unexpected development came on Dec. 1 when Mr. Putin, on a state visit to Turkey, announced that South Stream was dead. He blamed Europe and, according to press reports in Turkey, said he was “fed up with Bulgarians.” 
Since then, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Europe’s most powerful leader, has suggested that South Stream might yet be built. After meeting with her, the new Bulgarian prime minister said he was confident European Union objections could be overcome. 
Even if they are not, some diplomats contend that Mr. Putin achieved many of his goals. 
While “he overreached, and he underestimated the response” to his intervention in Ukraine, said Mr. Gray, the former American diplomat, the Russian leader has been “quite effective” in countries like Bulgaria. 
“He won a great deal by getting Nabucco stopped,” Mr. Gray said. “Ultimately, his goal is to keep as much control over the former parts of the Soviet empire as possible.”
We're back to the future. The New Cold War is here, and The New York Times is playing its part.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Question Greece Poses to Empire's Power Elite: What is to be Done?

Empire is in a pickle. Its mainstream political parties have faithfully implemented the neoliberal credo of austerity -- attempting to balance budgets during recession by cutting basic government services and spending -- and the results -- slow growth, no growth, large numbers of long-term unemployed -- have discredited the mainstream political parties with the citizens that they putatively represent.

So a situation arrives like the one we now have in Greece, a parliamentary democracy that has been a laboratory for experiments in austerity, where Empire -- here represented by the troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF) of creditors -- can no longer feel confident that it can control the outcome of elections.

From the perspective of the power elite, the captains of the foundering mainstream political parties, Empire's 1%, what then is to be done? We will find out on January 25. If Syriza wins fair and square and Alexis Tsipras becomes prime minister, maybe the troika will do the smart thing and rescind some of its demands for austerity. This is unlikely because the bankruptcy of neoliberalism would then have to be publicly acknowledged and governments in France, Italy and Spain would likely collapse.

So the question once again for the power elite is what is to be done? Certainly a repeat performance of the "No" vote on Scottish independence will be staged. You will recall that was a combination of undefined promises of future goodies coupled with dire predictions of mass joblessness and a non-existent currency. All the mainstream organs of opinion will trumpet fear as well as blessings if the good little Indians of Greece should stay on their austere reservation.

The problem with the parallel to Scottish independence vote, as Suzanne Daley makes clear today in her excellent story, "Greek Patience With Austerity Nears Its Limit," is that Greeks will be immune to scaremongering:
Nowhere have austerity policies been more aggressively tried — and generally failed to live up to results promised by advocates — than in Greece. After more than four years of belt tightening, patience is wearing thin, and tentative signs of improvement have not yet trickled down into the lives of average Greeks. 
Now, after its Parliament failed to pick a president on Monday, forcing early elections, Greece faces a turning point in how to heal its devastated economy.
In the Jan. 25 general election, a majority center-right coalition government that has reluctantly stuck with austerity policies will face a charismatic left-wing challenger who says it is time for Greece to take its future into its own hands and do what it can to stimulate growth. Whichever path the country chooses, the outcome is likely to have broad implications for Greece and its place in the European Union.
In 2010, with Greece crippled by debt and threatening the survival of the euro, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and theEuropean Central Bank began imposing German-inspired austerity on the country. The aim was to slash the budget deficit and address fundamental problems like corruption and a failure to collect taxes. Such policies, they promised, would get Greece back on its feet, able to borrow again on financial markets.
Greeks grudgingly went along, assured that painful reform would return the country to growth by 2012. Instead, Greece lost 400,000 jobs that year and continued on a decline that would see a drop in the gross domestic productsince 2008 not much different from the one experienced during the first five years of the United States’ Great Depression.
Greece’s unemployment rate was supposed to top out at 15 percent in 2012, according to International Monetary Fund calculations. But it roared to 25 percent that year, reached 27 percent in 2013 and has ticked downward only slightly since.
Among international policy makers and economists, the debate over austerity remains as intense as ever. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the most high-profile advocate of the argument that only through fiscal prudence can nations achieve stability and prosperity, has given little ground even as larger and more influential countries like France and Italy have started balking at her demands.
But at the street level in Greece, there is little debate anymore, if there ever was. The images of suffering here have not been that different from the grainy black and white photos of the United States in the 1930s. Suicides have shot up. Cars sit abandoned in the streets. People sift garbage looking for food.
Even supporters of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras say that he faces an uphill battle to persuade the electorate to stay the course after five years of austerity.
His principal opponent, Alexis Tsipras, is promising to defy Greece’s creditors, renegotiate the country’s enormous debt, cut some taxes and work to restore cut pensions. 
It is unclear where such an act of defiance might lead, whether Greece’s creditors would be willing to change their approach or whether Greece even might find itself in the unprecedented position of facing expulsion from the eurozone, or even the European bloc altogether. 
Yet for many Greeks who have lost everything, rebellion may be a choice they cannot resist, even if it is a scary one.
In a wide-ranging review of the Greece program last year, the I.M.F. found that many of its predictions had failed. There was a sharp fall in imports, but little gain in exports. Public debt overshot original predictions. Predicted revenues from selling public assets were way off. The banking system, perceived as relatively sound at the beginning of the bailout, began having problems as the economy soured. 
Looking back, the I.M.F. concluded that many errors had been made, including too much emphasis on raising taxes instead of cutting expenses. In addition, the monetary fund overestimated the ability of the government to deliver the changes it was demanding — because they were proving politically unpopular and because Greek institutions were far weaker that anyone understood. 
Over the last four years, the three lenders have demanded more than 800 actions a year, Greek officials say, requiring hundreds of new laws, sometimes changed and readopted within weeks or days. 
Administering these changes would have been difficult in a country with sound institutions, but Greece’s were filled with poorly qualified political appointees and were undergoing hiring freezes and budget cuts even as they were supposed to be managing a huge overhaul: a large assortment of new taxes, the opening of closed professions and the sale of state-owned assets. 
Experts say that even now the Greek tax collection system does not truly function. Investigations into the Greek elite and their secret foreign accounts have foundered even in the face of public exposure of the accounts.
Germany will not allow a collapse of the eurozone. The eurozone benefits Germany; it gives Germany a continental-sized economy to lord over. But it won't yield to Tsipras' demand for growth-first budgeting. So what is to be done?

It seems to me that if Syriza cannot be defeated at the polls by ballot stuffing and blackmail then the next step will be for the troika to draw out negotiations while at the same time attempting to crack and destabilize the solidarity of the Greek majority.

If one were to look at Chile under Allende as an example of the kind of terror the dominant Western powers have in store for Greece led by Syriza, one would foresee the possibility of transportation strikes, power struggles within the military, etc. -- a panoply of subversion and skulduggery. The coming year will be a momentous one.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Greece's Syriza Soon to Deliver a Mighty Blow to Empire

The announcement this morning (Niki Kitsantonis, "Greece Heading to Early Elections After Presidential Vote Fails") that Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras failed to force through the election of his candidate, Stavros Dimas, for president means that there will be early general elections by the end of next month. Syriza, the leftist party that for years has been seeking to renegotiate the bloodthirsty debt agreement with the troika -- the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund -- is favored to win:
Opinion polls show the leftists firmly ahead of Mr. Samaras’s conservative New Democracy party, although Syriza’s lead has narrowed in recent weeks as the prospect of protracted political and financial uncertainty has grown. The Athens Stock Exchange fell by 10 percent during the vote, trimming losses to 7.4 percent later in the day.

The yield on 10-year government bonds, which moves in the opposite direction to the price, spiked nearly a full point to 9.3 percent. The outcome of the parliamentary vote also weighed on markets in the overall eurozone, with the Euro Stoxx 50 blue-chip index losing about 1 percent. The euro was little changed at $1.2199. 
In an interview with state television over the weekend, Mr. Samaras pushed opposition legislators to align with the government in Monday’s vote, saying that failing to elect a president would be “political blackmail” and would result in “pointless upheaval” for the country. 
Despite furious lobbying by the government, Mr. Dimas received only 168 votes, the same number as in the second ballot last week and eight more than in the first vote on Dec. 17. [Votes needed: 180]
Mr. Samaras accused Syriza of “foolish bravado,” adding that the leftists’ economic program was “full of unilateral moves” that would upset Greece’s creditors and jeopardize the country’s fragile return to growth.
Mr. Samaras’s coalition government is working with the so-called troika of lenders, which has granted Greece two bailouts worth 240 billion euros, or about $292 billion, since 2010 to keep the country liquid. In return, the troika has demanded an array of austerity measures that has slashed household incomes by a third and pushed unemployment above 25 percent. 
Negotiations with the members of the troika — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — on a tough economic program have been dragging amid rising opposition in Greece to austerity. But eurozone officials have expressed their readiness to extend Greece a precautionary credit line next year.
The possibility of Syriza coming to power is threatening to upend the economic negotiations. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister and a champion of austerity in Greece and other countries, said in an interview with the German daily Bild on Saturday that any Greek government would have to honor existing agreements. 
“New elections won’t change anything about Greece’s debt,” he said, referring to a debt burden equal to 174 percent of gross domestic product, the highest rate in the eurozone. 
Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at the London-based Eurasia Group, said the domestic troubles in Greece had the potential to once again bring broader consequences for Europe. 
“France and Italy will be vulnerable economically, as both have done little to reform since the days of the debt crisis,” he said, adding that the southern periphery would be more immune in economic terms. “They will be at risk politically, given their own troubles with populist parties.” [In other words, "Watch out, neoliberal elites. The people are pissed and aren't going to take it anymore."]
The key to investor confidence, he said, will be the E.C.B. and whether it undertakes bond buying at the turn of the year. “If the E.C.B. does not deliver, this could be the trigger for a major reversal in Europe wide market sentiment,” Mr. Rahman said. 
Mr. Tsipras insisted over the weekend that his party’s program for tackling the “humanitarian crisis” in Greece was “not negotiable,” though Syriza has not explained how the Greek state would pay for the promised benefits.
Here the reporter, Niki Kitsantonis, is either being lazy or disingenuous because Tsipras does explain how Syriza will pay for a return of benefits that have been slashed to feed the austerity beast. ZNet recently published the Syriza program, "What the SYRIZA Government Will Do." Tsipras plans to negotiate a growth clause. Meaning that debt payments will come only after growth has returned to the Greek economy. Funds from the troika will be used to promote growth first:
We demand immediate parliamentary elections and a strong negotiation mandate with the goal to: 
  • Write-off the greater part of public debt’s nominal value so that it becomes sustainable in the context of a «European Debt Conference». It happened for Germany in 1953. It can also happen for the South of Europe and Greece.
  • Include a «growth clause» in the repayment of the remaining part so that it is growth-financed and not budget-financed.
  • Include a significant grace period («moratorium») in debt servicing to save funds for growth.
  • Exclude public investment from the restrictions of the Stability and Growth Pact.
  • A «European New Deal» of public investment financed by the European Investment Bank.
  • Quantitative easing by the European Central Bank with direct purchases of sovereign bonds.
  • Finally, we declare once again that the issue of the Nazi Occupation forced loan from the Bank of Greece is open for us. Our partners know it. It will become the country’s official position from our first days in power.
On the basis of this plan, we will fight and secure a socially viable solution to Greece’s debt problem so that our country is able to pay off the remaining debt from the creation of new wealth and not from primary surpluses, which deprive society of income.
This is all Econ 101, nothing radical or something to be dismissed as frothing-at-the-mouth lunacy of an atavistic Marxist; it is the kind of reasoning often found in Paul Krugman's column. That's why it is troubling that the Gray Lady's reporter dismisses Syriza's program without comment.

One key predictor of how the Obama administration is going to react to Greece's early election -- and, therefore, how Empire is going to react -- is to see what Krugman says about Syriza. Krugman has been nothing if not consistent in debunking the "austerian" credo. He has written countless columns from the outset of the Great Recession pointing out the devastating consequences of slashing government budgets while the economy is contracting. For Krugman not to endorse Syriza's program for Greece means the fix is in.

But Krugman opposed Scottish independence. And recently he has engaged in pathetic Putin bashing. So it might well be that 1) he either avoids commenting altogether, or 2) he carries water for Obama yet again and bashes Tsipras.

While it is true that the Scots were made to buckle at the polls in September because of threats and scaremongering, it seems to me that Greeks who have lost a third of their household wealth will be more immune to such tactics.

What is certainly true, based on last May's European Parliament elections and the recent U.S. midterm poll, is that there is massive erosion in support of, belief in, allegiance to the large, established, mainstream political parties of the West.  These political formations have been completely captured by a corrupt, disconnected, neoliberal power elite and a majority of people have woken up to this fact.

A clue to the direction of where it will all end will be provided by Syriza in January. The people have reached a level of disgust with the status quo that is going to start manifesting itself positively. The real question is going to be, "How destructive will the Empire be in maintaining the status quo?"

I have to say, "Plenty."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

NFL Week 17: Home Field for Seattle

I realized last night as I watched Snowpiercer (2013), Bong Joon-ho's innovative post-apocalyptic thriller that doubles as an allegory for how traditional societies (as well as storytelling) work, what a degradation of one's humanity it is to toil at a job 50-out-of-52 weeks a year.

Hard on the heels of this realization was the thought that what keeps the passengers pacified as the U.S. train hurtles off the rails is the National Football League. The NFL is the preferred opiate of the American masses. Without it there would be little coherence to our national character right now. One can safely assert, I think, that the National Football League is the only game in town.

Then I went to bed thinking about the four games the Seattle Seahawks lost this season. What stands out about those games is that the Seahawks can definitely be beaten. You beat them by running the ball, dumping the ball off to a back in the flat, and connecting with the tight end. That is on offense. On defense you shut down Marshawn Lynch and you keep Russell Wilson in the tackle box.

Two teams -- San Diego in week 2 and Dallas in week 6 -- dominated Seattle this season. The two other losses by the Seahawks -- St. Louis in week 7 and Kansas City in week 11 -- were fourth quarter nail-biters and could have easily gone Seattle's way, the kind of games that routinely went the team's way last year's Super Bowl season.

So to take a stab at the question -- "Can the Seahawks repeat?" -- we need to zero in on the San Diego and Dallas games.

In both those games the Seattle defense was on the field far too long. The Chargers killed the Seahawks with Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead; Philip Rivers connected on short-to-medium range passes all day long. Kam Chancellor was not a 100% coming back from off-season hip surgery. K.J. Wright couldn't cover Antonio Gates. In the game against Dallas it was running backs DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle who did the real damage. The Cowboys racked up 401 yards to Seattle's 206. Byron Maxwell and Bobby Wagner left the game with serious injuries.

In those two games the Seahawks offense was a Formula One race car with timing problems; it couldn't sustain drives. It would score quickly; then, in succeeding drives, would repeatedly go three-and-out. This was in the Harvin era.

When all is said and done, the big coaching misfire for Pete Carroll's staff this season will be the inability or the mistaken decision to try to convert the Seattle offense, oriented primarily around the rushing of Marshawn Lynch, to a sleek, super-fast pass-first West Coast-style offense. For whatever reason, it didn't work. Carroll and Bevel couldn't get the parts to mesh and Harvin was sent packing labeled as a malcontent. I think the real reason for the failure is that to run that type of offense you need a drop-back passer with an acute sense of timing and a lot of touch. Drew Brees, who is maybe an inch or a half-inch taller than Russell Wilson, can run that type of offense. But at this stage in his career Russell Wilson cannot. Russell Wilson is a scrambler and a superb rushing quarterback who can drop a ball in over coverage but he is not an "all eyes on me" pure passer. He needs a Marshawn Lynch in the backfield to anchor his attack.

Once the Seahawks returned to the offensive scheme that won them a Super Bowl and the defense returned to health they have been the best team in the league. If they were to play either San Diego or Dallas now Seattle would win. Outside of the 49ers and Frank Gore during the first half of the game in week 15, no team has run on the Seahawks defense since KC's Jamaal Charles in week 11. And no team has beat them this year by throwing long. Beast Mode is cranked up and running. Russell Wilson is connecting to Owen Willson, who finally realized his speedy potential as a receiving tight end last Sunday night. The offensive line has been a shambles and the defensive line is penalty prone. But besides these two shortcomings, the Seahawks are sound. They are young, still hungry and filled with leaders -- Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, et al.

The Vegas line has Seattle by 13 over the Rams. If the Rams hope to win, St. Louis will have to play an error-free game while at the same time hoping that Seattle self-destructs with turnovers and key injuries. Such an outcome is unlikely. The Rams will need to run the ball and Shaun Hill must be able to complete passes to his tight end Jared Cook. We will know quickly if St. Louis has a prayer.

I say Seattle wins this game and cinches home-field for the playoffs. In many ways, the Seahawks are a better team than they were last year at this time.

In the AFC, the only team at this point that I can see beating New England is Pittsburgh. The Ravens might sneak in if the Chiefs can beat the Chargers, which I think is probable. And Baltimore has shown a knack for beating Belichik in the post-season. So all hope is not yet lost. The Patriots might yet be kept from the Super Bowl.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"I Know the Hole in Baby's Head"

The drug-damaged '60s rock legend might be a well-worn social figure, but Keven McAlester's 2005 documentary You're Gonna Miss Me devoted to The 13th Floor Elevators guitarist and lead singer Roky Erickson breathes new life into the caricature.

You're Gonna Miss Me, while situating The 13th Floor Elevators and Roky Erikson as important formulators of the psychedelic rock'n'roll revolution that took a sledgehammer to 1960s middle-class popular culture, is foremost a masterful portrait of familial dysfunction, brilliantly captured in Erikson's spoken-word piece, "I Know the Hole in Baby's Head" (above).

Family is the primary source of love, but it is also the locus of illness, squalor, regret, violence, self-mutilation. Society prefers a sanitized version of the family -- neat yards, tidy homes, loving fathers and nurturing mothers -- to the undeniable reality of uncommunicativeness, filth, regret, mental illness, and hatred, all accompanied by the soundscape of televisions blaring in the background. No wonder post-familialism is catching on. It is the rational thing to do. Good for one's psychic well-being and good for the planet.

The Punisher #10 + The Punisher #11

Now is a good time to get caught up on all the back issues of the current The Punisher title. With nationwide protests targeting homicidal police violence, two police gunned down in Brooklyn while sitting in their patrol car, and the recent release of the forward to Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's use of torture post-9/11, we are definitely in a Frank Castle world.

The world of Frank Castle, a.k.a, The Punisher, is a world of jihad. But there is no "Allahu Akbar" in Frank Castle's world. The Punisher is a nihilist, a vigilante. He sees only evil, death and destruction. He believes in law and order, but he finds only deceit, brutality and corruption.

The Punisher's mindset provides an interesting insight into the police power structure. Crime is rampant, a demon out of control, and an overwhelming force is required to keep it in check. It is a Hobbesian mindset -- man is a wolf to man and a monopoly of force is required to keep the wolves at bay.

But what if crime isn't out of control? What if man isn't an errant wolf? What if the state of nature is more collaborative than Hobbes imagined?

Then we find that the violence, the death and destruction that Hobbes believed brought people together to form a state and grant great powers to a sovereign are actually the product of the state.

This is the key realization of Rousseau: War, corruption, hierarchy are products of the state.

In order for citizens to continue to accept brutalization and subjugation by the state, the state must convince those who it rules that it is protecting them from wickedness and horror. That is why in the case of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, two protest movements that have recently arisen to challenge state power, both have been criticized for attracting society's scary underclass. In the case of Occupy movement, the many encampments dotting the nation's cities attracted homeless, some who were mentally ill and abused drugs. This became an excuse used by the Fourth Estate to reject the movement.

In the case of the Black Lives Matter movement, the murder of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by deranged shooter Ismaaiyl Brinsley was promptly used as an excuse to call a halt to the ongoing protests against police violence. The Fourth Estate has provided story after story making false, scary comparisons between today's New York City and the white flight, fear and loathing, "French Connection" New York City of the early 1970s.

Given the portrayal of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter by the mainstream media, one would expect The Punisher to gun down the protesters for attracting society's detritus. It would be a nice change to see a story arc where Frank Castle goes after the real bad guys -- the beltway politicians, Wall Street bankers, casino magnates, the PAC bundlers, the transnational oil corporation CEOs, and Saudi and Qatari princes -- rather than the usual street-level gang bangers, sundry hoodlums and crime families. I'll be waiting for that one.

The current Punisher title has Frank relocated to Los Angeles where he does battle with the Dos Soles gang. The Dos Soles are attempting to unify all gangs in Los Angeles in order to control the city. Towards that end, the Dos Soles gang has implemented a reign of terror.

I have cherry-picked pages from two issues, The Punisher #10 and The Punisher #11, that depict Frank's pal from the diner where he eats breakfast, a LAPD officer by the name of Stone, shooting a fleeing thief in the back and then embracing vigilantism when the owner of the diner is attacked by hooligans.

The writer is Nathan Edmondson. The artist, whose work I think is some of the best in comic books today, is Mitch Gerads. Check out the scans below to see what I mean. Amazing stuff.

Remember. It is the fear of violent disorder and mayhem that justifies police brutality. Be skeptical of the manufacture of fear, and we can begin to get some traction in our demands for a just state.

Friday, December 26, 2014

"The Great Deceiver"

Immersing myself in King Crimson records today, I was pleased to hear just now "The Great Deceiver." I listened to the song for the first time when I was in high school. I couldn't believe anything could sound so good. It is the first track off Starless and Bible Black (1974).

Health-food fagot with a bartered bride
Likes to comb his hair with a dipper ride
Once had a friend with a cloven foot
Once he called the tune in a checkered quit
Great Deceiver

In the door on the floor in a paper bag
There's a shoe-shine boy with a gin-shop slag
She raised him up and she called him son
And she canonized the ground that he walked upon

Great Deceiver

Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary
Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary

Cigarettes, ice cream, Cadillacs blue jeans

In the night he's a star in the Milky Way
He's a man of the world by the light of day
A golden smile and a proposition
And the breath of God smells of sweet sedition

Great Deceiver

Sing hymns make love get high fall dead
He'll bring his perfume to your bed
He'll charm your life 'til the cold winds blow
Then he'll sell your dreams to a picture show

Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary
Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary

Cadillacs, blue jeans, dixieland playing on the ferry
Cadillacs, blues jeans, drop a glass full of antique sherry

The Colt 45 Chronicle #83

This is a long letter. I think the longest one of the 83 letters posted so far in this reclamation project I have dubbed "The Colt 45 Chronicle," a collection of letters I retrieved from storage during halftime of the Seattle Seahawks playoff elimination in Atlanta two-seasons back. The letters cover a period of approximately 20 months at the end of the 1980s, a time when my wife and I moved from the sunny security of Berkeley, California to the megalopolis of New York City, culminating in the collapse of our marriage. This was a time in New York City when crack cocaine blasted off, Reverend Al Sharpton championed Tawana Brawley and Yusuf Hawkins was gunned down in Bensonhurst. Not a lot has changed in twenty-five years (though crack isn't as popular as it once was).

The letter below -- a description of a party my wife, some friends and I attended the summer of 1989 -- is gossipy, mundane and boorish, an excellent example of the yahoo persona I struggled with throughout my young-man years.

The letter does end well, or at least with some honesty, and true to the idea that not a lot has changed in twenty-five years. Describing a flash crush I experienced when I happened upon a beautiful young Jewish woman in the IRT station at 96th Street, I write:
So I sat there lost in reverie, thinking about women, about how they are so amazing -- a book that you always wanted to read, a key to the fucking universe. And I wondered about my life and the choices I've made: how I am now closed off to women. I'd been thinking a lot about stoicism lately, about the abnegation of any dependence on things that take you out of your self, like pussy, and I was comforted by the thought, the imperative, that I was no longer going to bind my ego to collecting pussy and books.
Summer 1989
Well, man, please forgive the inexcusable tardiness, a tardiness made all the more inexcusable by the fact that I haven't really been working: on the average about a day and an half a week. I've just been sitting/lying around doing absolutely fucking nothing. But tonight I have made the vow to bust up ol' Granddaddy Lethargy, coax him out on the ledge with a beer quart in my fist, and then kick his ass off for the twenty-two-floor reverse soar.
"The poop chute. Ah, yes! A delicate little morsel. And a bed in the bargain! But, oh, why not?" The best part of the story was the reclining chair complete with lever thrust, the one that left you with a tasty vision of the inner workings of your suave host's nostrils. What did Archimedes say? "Give me a lever and the right place to stand, and I can move the world." Anyway, a very good tale; I've repeated it quite a few times.
Right now, right at this second, the medical school "cocktail club" is having a shindig on the roof of Bard Hall (the roof you can look down and see from our south-facing window, the one that the ledge that we walked on overlooks). The music, which sounds like a Top-40 medley from the last three years with its SteveWinwoodPhilCollinsU2PetShopBoysREM droning, is drifting up eleven stories and elbowing its way through our open window (which is open because it's damn hot in New York, or at least, suddenly, hotter than it has been since last summer). But, anyway, the reason I mention this, that the medschool patsies are attempting to get heated, is that I fantasized, as I went to the stereo to change albums and turn up the volume, I fantasized climbing out onto the ledge (the one we were on that day), and, after casting a baleful but honest gaze down upon the tops of their dull heads, I fantasized firing, springing, leaping, swooping off that ledge, howling and clawing my way into the heart of the naked night; the medstudents, a little cheery from there half-sipped Vodka Collins and the Terrence Trent Darby pooping€ out of the PA, would yank their heads back in response to my cry and see me -- ninety feet up and twisting and tangling and stroking like a motherfucker. But just when it would look like I had lost all control and was about to plunge to an ugly death, I would straighten up and spread right into a swan dive, the prettiest swan dive you've ever seen.
The medstudents would be gasping and moaning€, throwing down their drinks and scratching at their throats for air. After holding the swan for a second, I'd tuck and roll, angling my body just so as to catch all the good gusts blowing off the springtime Hudson and thereby pushing me south and erasing some of the gap that separated our building from Bard Hall. Twenty-feet away from the roof and dropping fast I'd have to pull out all the stops. Flattening my body like a piece of sheetrock, my arms outstretched, I'd get lucky and snag the last bump of Hudson pop, just enough to push me --centimeters -- over the top of the guard rail, the rail that separated the occupants of the Bard Hall roof from the domain of my majesty, THE MAJESTIC DOMAIN OF THE AIRWAYS. To counteract the lethal impact of an eleven-floor fall, I'd collapse my arms and head under my chest and roll into a series of somersaults, effectively dissipating the force of collision with the roof. I'd end the somersaults -- two dozen or so in number -- with a springing handstand into a back flip, landing squarely on both feet right in front of the keg. I'd then grab a nearby 16-oz. plastic cup and pour myself a tall foamy one, calmly tossing it back in three noisome gulps.
At this point, they'd come running up, all those chummy medschool ninnies, begging me to tell then if it was true, if I had really done what they thought they saw me do. I'd turn to them and say, "No, that wasn't me. I think you've have had one too many of those cocktails. But if you could honor one request. I'd be very happy if you could pour me another beer.
Jessica is sorta seeing (not that you'd care, just that it's something to talk about) one of Ashley's first-year classmates. Jessica met him at a party that we went to a while back; it was Nancy's party. You met Nancy briefly when you were here. She was the one who thought she had seen you before. As parties go it was pretty damn good. Anyway, Jessica knows Nancy from Berkeley, and she was told that some other people she knows from Berkeley (the dance/drama groovies) were gonna be there, so she decided to accompany us.
The three of us, along with Gary and Eleni, trundled down to 103rd on the 1. It was raining pretty good, but not of the particularly cold variety). And we get there and, okay, the place is nice and full. Gary and I are clutching the quarts; there are medschoolers around, but they're nice and thinned down by a bunch of other types, like the Berkeley expatriates and sundry career-track cadavers.
Nancy's roommate is an old time college crony who now works in NYC publishing -- a real world-beat closet yupp six-foot cunt; a lot of her co-workers were spread about the apartment, which was all very well and good; it's always good to have margarine around you know, in the back of the refrigerator, when you run out of the real thing.
Once inside the door and all the obligatory greetings and introductions are gotten rid of, the first thing I do is head to the fridge to deposit the two sixes I'm cradling. I open the fridge door and bam! -- not an inch of free space and nothing but beer. I say to myself, "It's gonna be an good evening." I open the freezer and place the twelve little Adolphs in their frosty womb. Nancy protests; says I'll forget and they'll explode. I assure her, "They won't even be there long enough to catch a chill." Then I levitate out of the kitchen, quart still in hand like it was riding shotgun.
I make my way into the living room. A lot of women, but nothing special. Pet store kittens. All small and dewy-eyed. More like dolls, come to think of it. Nothing to inspire the snake to extra innings. 
Antony is there with his girlfriend, Grace. Grace has a girlfriend with her, a Plain Jane, but an open and eager one. The three of us talk a little, but it's good and loud, and I can't make out what they're saying. So I cut out, which at parties is always more like a fading out, slowly, blandly, fading to a different region of conversation.
I cruise back into the kitchen and grab three cans from one of the sixes in the freezer; the 32-ouncer is long gone. It's more happening in the kitchen -- as it always is, despite the fact that it's always the best lit place at a party -- probably because that's where all the serious, or more serious, drinkers congregate.
Dusting off the first can and cracking open another in one subtle mercurial notion, I strike up a conversation with a dude from Mississippi. His best buddy from way back is a medschooler classmate of Ashley's. He's just back from Europe. He's talking with one those real soft, real pretty and mellifluous accents that only a gentrified boy from the Deep South can utter. He's just back to the United States from Europe and he hasn't been laid in ten months and he misses his girl and he misses his hometown. But what's so great about what he's saying is that he's telling it to me in a real upbeat honest, strong way. He's not whining or bitching; he's just saying, "Yes, this is the way it is right now, and I'm a sure looking to be out of it."
The other thing that was interesting about the conversation with this guy from the Deep South, Dee was his name, was that you could tell that he was kind of uncomfortable about saying he was from Mississippi. Whether it was because he was in trendy, "I-am-Godly" New York City, or because of the movie MISSISSIPPI BURNING, I don't know. But like a good, slightly beer-buzzing, never-fear-to-be-honest Californian, I went right to the heart and asked him if he felt kind of self-conscious and shitty when he told the New York uppity-ups where he was from. And he knew where I was coming from, and he said, yeah, he did, but that when he really thought about it he knew he was okay and that he shouldn't feel that way because he was just reacting to the way that he thought and feared people might be thinking of him. I thought that was pretty damn excellent. So I celebrated with can number three.
Around about this time I excused myself the company in the kitchen -- snatching two more Coors in departing -- and went back into the living room to check out how the gang was doing. Ashley and Jessica were jawing; Antony, Grace and Plain Jane were huddled together looking a touch uncomfortable (I don't think they were drinking much); Gary was with some med-peers; Eleni was off dangling, partially disenfranchised (which is normal for Eleni).
I go up to Gary and he tells me he's about to put on his tape. I say, "Absolutely!" But first let me fill you in on something.
The odd thing about this party was that just about every person that walked in the front door came with a party tape clutched in a sweaty palm, a tape that they'd made and wanted to put on the cassette player. I'm not talking one or two individuals; I mean ten-to-fifteen people. Naturally, this created a balmy and tense climate throughout the evening because when one person, who had doubtless spent hours working up a final product, put on their tape, eight-minutes later another person would come along and rip that tape out and stick her tape in; at times, Nancy had to act as mediator, a paramedic for flustered pomposity.
So anyway, by the time I got back to the dance floor in the living room, Gary had decided to make his move and put on his James Brown mix. He goes up. Not that many people are dancing, four or five of those pet-store kittens and maybe one to two throwaway weenies. He hits STOP and then EJECT, slides the tape out (one of the marry half-rap/half-disco house music compilations (why is the shit so popular?) and slides his in; pushes PLAY, and then, Wham! It's, "Haa HaHa Haa . . . " That old familiar pop Pa poppop Pop of pristine funk. In no time, the living room is awash in gyrating flesh; it was a stormy ocean at night out there, all these whitecaps luminescent and vague in the dark; the people, nothing but salt sea foam spit from the surf up to crumbling cliffs. I'm out there, popping, chucking and ducking -- feeling good -- beer in hand and a fresh one close by on the stereo -- knowing that music means a lot more than something you listen to at a party; but that somehow, being drunk out there among a bunch of people, the volume shaking my feet and everybody trying as hard as possible to express what it is that they want to express, that is when music comes closest to the magnitude that it really is.
I don't know if Jessica was at that moment, dancing with the guy who she is sorta seeing now, but I do know that a little later on, after the James Brown had ended and the party had cleared out a little, she was dancing with him; and that's where it all started. The four of us -- me, Ashley, Jessica and Ishmael (that's the guy's name) went back together on the subway that night -- but Jessica stayed with us.
I ordered a steak sandwich tonight, but I got a full steak instead. None of the waitresses speak English in this place we occasionally go to. I said, "Bistec." And sure enough I was brought a bistec. (So you see, I'm your blood brother, going€ through some of the same things. ) Ashley, she ordered tuna fish, a tuna-fish sandwich; but the waitress cane back and communicated to her that they had no more tuna fish; so Ashley ordered a big "ensalada."
I hadn't had a steak in a long time, longer really than I can remember. It sure was good, and big too --it covered the whole platter. I cut off a portion for Ashley, and in return I got some of her salad. Man, I can't begin to tell how good it was to take a nice bite of well-seasoned, well-tenderized and well-done steak, just melting as soon as it touched my tongue, and then to wash it back with a tangy crisp fresh clean mouthful of shredded lettuce and cabbage, some rice, red beans and bread & butter on the side. The only drawback was that they had the air condition jacked up to notch Nordica and I was in shorts.
On our way home we stopped at the deli and bought some bottled water, half & half, toilet paper and peanut M&Ms. Back up at 22A I turned on the TV and was glad -- surprised and gladdened -- to find that the Mets were playing the Giants. And what do you know? There was good old Will Clark taking a cut at a David Cone twister.
Well, Mark, more apologies. I got your second letter the other day, and needless to say, I feel pretty crummy as a friend, this one I'm working on now still being in the hopper and all. I'm trying to make it longer than usual in order to compensate for its tardiness. It sounds pretty lonely out there, but sometimes it's nice to be that way. I know it's hard to believe when you're actually doing it all alone like that, but I've found, from the few times during the past five years when I have been solitary, that it's something to look back on with an acute sense of appreciation and dignity. Not that many people get a chance to do a Kafka thing, whether because of big fears or poor intellects or empty wallets. So it's a definite success that you're doing it. I know my heart goes out to you. I sure wish I wish out there busting up a new culture with you.
Since it's been a week since I started this golden calf, I might as well fill you in on some of the basics: I got work now; I work nights; I've been to more parties (all chalked up to  the inconsequential); the A's swept the Yankees this weekend right across the river here and are still in 1st place (Antony and I were gonna go see one of 'em, but didn't); the Giants are still in second the Reds; the Lakers swept the Suns to make it into the NBA finals; Detroit is having some trouble with Michael Jordan & Co. -- that series is 2-2 (I don't know, I think the Bulls have a shot at meeting the Lakers. The Pistons just don't look that good. The Lakers, by the way, look awesome).

I sat down next to a Jewish damsel on my back from work the other night. It was 12:30 AM and it was the 1 train. We were both waiting at 96th Street station. I had taken the 2 up from 42nd but had to get off at 96th because that's where the 2, which is an express, veers east and goes up into the Bronx. It was a pretty long wait, about fifteen minutes. When the 1 finally came it was on the express instead of the local track. I pondered the enigma for a millisecond -- the space between my moving and uplifted heel and the sweating gray concrete of the subway platform -- and then strode, like Jack London in Klondike snows, toward the opening train doors. About a stride and a half into my travels a young woman in a tan cotton overcoat stopped me and asked, "Is this, the . . . the right train?"
"Yeah, it's a 1. It'll take you Upper West Side."
So she got on, and I followed. I scanned the subway car, acting as if I didn't already know exactly where I was going to sit, and then sat myself right down next to her. 
The train left the station. I looked over at her. She was Jewish, that was for sure, with that telltale bushy wavy, oh, man, that syrupy hair; and she was reading the "Arts and Leisure" section of the NEW YORK TIMES. But what made the vision complete were these caramel-colored freckles that wreathed her nose like tiny kisses of sunshine and Cracker Jacks. Now that, that, that is a measure, a degree, a digit of manifest perfection -- those caramel-colored freckles -- so much like fresh cut grass and just-cooked donuts that you don't know whether you want to erect an alter or simply sit down to a feast. I looked at her wrists, so delicate and healthy and singing, and that was it! -- I was sold and lost down the river rambling uptown on the local.
So I sat there lost in reverie, thinking about women, about how they are so amazing -- a book that you always wanted to read, a key to the fucking universe. And I wondered about my life and the choices I've made: how I am now closed off to women. I'd been thinking a lot about stoicism lately, about the abnegation of any dependence on things that take you out of your self, like pussy, and I was comforted by the thought, the imperative, that I was no longer going to bind my ego to collecting pussy and books. But sitting next to this splendid daughter of David, I found myself totally drunk stoned and glazed. She could have crooked her little golden brown finger, and I would've licked the shit right out of her bunghole and then begged for more (kinda like Henry Duke, I guess); she was the sole substance off all things.
Before I knew it, as I was still whirling chants inside my head, she got off at 116th, Columbia University. I should have known! A fucking academic siren! The bitch wooing me with her visible invisibility to the old island where once fancied myself king, like Odysseus with Calypso, like Odysseus with Circe, but in this case I wasn't even -- not even -- an Odysseus. I hadn't even put wax in my ears: I jumped right for the ocean, right for shore, when I heard the song. No foresight, no control. I should have known. It was all there: the whole familiar look. And what do you know? All the old temptations came running, like a dog to his bowl freshly filled.
Mark, tell me if you need any reading material or foodstuffs sent. I'd be happy to be of service. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"The Kids of Today Should Defend Themselves Against the 70's"

At certain airports, one will come across sections of the concourse and find himself/herself suddenly transported back to the the early 1970s. It is an architectural vision of the future that is blank, invisible, non-partisan. No expectations. I must say I love this feeling when it happens. Because, now, today the future is all filled in, and it is dystopian.

Benjamin Mueller and Nina Bernstein had an article, "Targeted Attack on New York Police Officers Reopens Wounds From the Militant 1970s," in Tuesday's paper, not the first one by the Gray Lady, stoking fear of a Big Apple returned to the violence and upheaval of the bad-ass Black Power early 1970s. Fear of the 1970s. This is a preoccupation of the power elite. When change is in the air and it looks like people aren't going to take it anymore, the '70s are dangled in effigy as a time of chaos and death and failure.
For some members of the New York Police Department, the ambush killing of two officers over the weekend roused memories of a far darker chapter in the department’s past, the 1970s, when violence on the streets and anger at the police erupted into the deliberate murder of some officers
There were other similarities — public protests roiling the city and the nation; the police blaming politicians for fomenting antipolice sentiment; and city leaders scrambling to defuse a dangerous divide between law enforcers and the communities they serve.
The drug dealing and rampant crime that characterized that era have faded, but the shooting of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos on Saturday shifted the Police Department into the kind of defensive pose more reminiscent of decades past.
Then, as now, officers were being told to take precautions against the risk of targeted attacks, even though the threat from the Brooklyn gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, appeared to stem at least in part from a history of mental illness and recent expressions of despair.
Forty-six police officers were killed in the line of duty in the 1970s, and 41 more in the 1980s. Before Saturday, the last time an officer was killed in the line of duty was in 2011. 
Some of the assassinations of police officers in the early 1970s were stoked by a militant strain of the black liberation movement, including the explosive killing of Officers Rocco Laurie and Gregory Foster in 1972. 
Officer Foster, 22, of the Bronx, and Officer Laurie, 23, of Staten Island, who had fought together as Marines in Vietnam, were shot dead after walking out of a diner in the East Village just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 27, 1972. They had asked to be placed on patrol in the East Village because it was riddled with crime. 
Killings of police officers have dwindled, and the city has sought to rub out the stain of drugs and violent crime, but people in the law enforcement community say the fatal shootings on Saturday ripped open old wounds. 
“The drive to Bellevue Hospital, the chaos, and the sea of uniforms in and out,” Officer Laurie’s wife, Adelaide Laurie, recalled.
“Please don’t let it be that we are retrogressing to that horrible time in the ’70s,” Ms. Laurie said in an interview on Sunday. She added: “It’s the same idea. No one trusted the police; they were called pigs. I’m just kind of reliving that tragedy all over again.”
The text of story refutes the headline, a sure sign that we are dealing with propaganda here. There is very little that is similar between now and then. Drug use and crime is not the issue it was in the 1970s. I can't remember the last time I walked the streets of a big city and was either hassled or felt menaced. Police are not nearly as at risk. But the theme of the piece nonetheless is "Poor, poor police," and its underlying message is, "The police are feeling afraid and maligned. So don't protest."

Pitiful and woeful as this reasoning is, it will definitely have an impact on the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. The question becomes, Will the murders of NYPD's Liu and Ramos mark the beginning of the end for the Black Lives Matter upheaval much the same way that Bloomberg's razing of Occupy Wall Street's Zuccotti Park encampment spelled doom for the global Occupy movement?

I don't think so. Why? The political system is non-functioning; it is not providing society a way to release steam through legislation. The U.S. political system is completely captured by money. Money is brittle, inflexible; it wants to maintain or increase dollarocracy even if it is the costliest of all options.

Obama was able to capture, to a large extent, Occupy. Hillary will not be able to yoke Black Lives Matter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Afghanistan: This is the End

I'm heading out of town for the holidays. The page will be dormant for a day or two. Before I go I want to draw attention, once again, to the situation in Afghanistan, which is perilous for the Western-installed government of Ashraf Ghani. A story this morning by Rod Nordland describes the situation in Taliban stomping ground Helmand Province, "Taliban Push Into Afghan Districts That U.S. Had Secured":
Nationwide, Afghanistan has lost more than 5,000 police and soldiers in the fighting this year, more than any previous year, according to official Afghan data that has not been formally released, but that was obtained by The New York Times and confirmed by Western officials familiar with the data. 
The year has also hit a new high for civilian deaths in the fighting, which the United Nations estimates will exceed 10,000 by the end of 2014. 
Helmand has been a particular rough spot — not just according to casualty figures, but also taking into account overall views of the government’s performance.
A recent report commissioned by the international community and carried out by an independent consultant, Coffey International Development, found that by almost every measure Afghans in Helmand saw a worsening in corruption, security, government services and delivery of justice since the departure of foreign forces.
If you go to The New York Times home page and you search "Rod Nordland" and sort by "Newest" and then you repeat the process for "Azam Ahmed" you'll see what I mean. These are the Gray Lady's two principal reporters for Afghanistan. Their reporting over the last several months documents an increasingly dire situation; meaning, the Afghan powering-sharing government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah has a short half-life. As Azam Ahmed's interview ("Misgivings by U.S. General as Afghan Mission Ends") with outgoing U.S. combat commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson made clear, the number of casualties currently being sustained by Afghan security forces cannot be maintained:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Shortly after the speeches concluded, the flags were folded and the band silenced, the last American general to lead combat operations in Afghanistan offered his candid assessment of the war. 
“I don’t know if I’m pessimistic or optimistic,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the departing commander, considering the United States military’s reduced role next year. “The fact that we are in less places, the fact that there are less of us as a coalition, is obviously concerning.” 
In an interview Monday in his office after the lowering of the flag that signaled the official end of the coalition’s war-fighting mission, General Anderson offered a nuanced take on the final year of America’s longest war. 
The record casualties of Afghan forces are not sustainable, and neither are their astounding desertion rates, he said. Political meddling, not intelligence, drives Afghan military missions. The police and the army do not work together.
It was a reflection on the mission that was in stark contrast to the unbridled renditions of success offered during the ceremony by commanders, including General Anderson.
Nordland's article in today's paper:
Wounded police officers at Emergency expressed concern at the increased scale of the fighting. “Only the asphalt road is under the control of the government in Sangin. Everything else is Taliban,” said Samiullah, a policeman in Sangin for the past four years who goes by just one name. He was shot in the leg during an ambush in a village near the district center. 
Like many of the wounded, he complained about both the Afghan National Army and his own commanders. “Our own commanders sell our bullets to the Taliban instead of giving them to us, and then they buy a nice house in Lashkar Gah and stay there, leaving the little guys out there to do the fighting,” Samiullah said. 
Now that the Americans are gone, the army rarely conducts joint operations with the police, leaving them to do most of the fighting, said Mohammad Saleh, a five-year veteran of the Afghan Local Police in Sangin, who was badly wounded in both legs when his checkpoint was overrun by the insurgents. 
Mr. Saleh remains patriotic and wants to return to the fight, but he conceded that corruption was as big an enemy as the Taliban. “Our commanders all buy their positions, so they have to make money to pay for them,” he said. “The Taliban do not do this with their commanders.”
This is the kind of security force the U.S. leaves in the wake of its occupations -- a venal one. Like Iraq's "ghost army" that disappeared, or, rather, was never really there to begin with, when ISIS captured Mosul this past summer, the numbers of Afghan security forces are fluffed up considerably by phantom conscripts who exist only on paper in order for some official to collect extra paychecks.

Then there is the issue of the Afghan National Army Vs. Afghan Local Police. They fight one another. So already there is a civil war within the Ghani government.

We need to start asking what the fall of Afghanistan portends. Afghanistan's descent into civil war, prompting the Soviet invasion, is an event that heralded the coming neoliberal age. The collapse of the Western occupation of Afghanistan augurs ill for the dominant neoliberal paradigm. I believe the war is coming home to the Western core.

Jace Clayton Vs. Shilpa Ray

I made a mistake this weekend. I invested in The Julius Eastman Memory Depot (2013) by Jace Clayton a.k.a. DJ/rupture when I what really wanted was Teenage & Torture (2011) by Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers. Don't get me wrong. The Jace Clayton jiggering with piano work Evil Nigger (1979) and Gay Guerrilla (1980) of gay black composer Julius Eastman is tremendous, and I have been listening to it non-stop for the last several days. But I happened to hear "Genie's Drugs" off a 2011 Knitting Factory Records sampler on the train into work on Monday morning and it resonated perfectly. The real hoodoo sonic narcotic perfect for the first Monday of winter. Another year draws to a close.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Collapse of the Democratic Party + Obama Embraces Egyptian Police State + Blue Lives Matter Vs. Black Lives Matter

Yesterday in the Gray Lady's Sunday edition Jonathan Martin had a story, "Role for Warren: To Push, if Not Supplant, Clinton," that had the effect of tossing a bucket of cold water on the effort by to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren (Dem.-Mass.) to run for president. After reading the piece one comes away feeling fairly certain that Warren will not lock horns with Hillary Clinton for the nomination of the Democratic Party; in fact, Martin's article reads as if it had been written by a Hillary press handler, as one can tell from the first few paragraphs:
DES MOINES — Eight years ago this month, then-Senator Barack Obama began his evolution from political phenom to presidential contender with his first-ever trip to New Hampshire, a visit that attracted 2,500 voters, 150 journalists and a comparison by the state’s governor of Mr. Obama to the Rolling Stones. 
Last week, in the side room of Java Joe’s coffee shop here, the liberal group took the first step to propel Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, on a similar path, holding a rally to encourage her to get into the 2016 race. 
Yet there were only about 75 people present, some of them local political professionals engaging in a bit of reconnaissance and recreation, and just a handful of reporters. The highest-ranking official there was the Iowa Senate president, who carefully avoided stating her support for a Warren candidacy. 
Not that there is such a thing: Ms. Warren herself was not here, and she has repeatedly stated in public that she is not running for president. In private, according to several Democrats who have talked with her, Ms. Warren, 65, has also indicated that she would not challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton.
 Martin goes on to depict the potent force, juggernaut-like, of Hillary's candidacy:
A Des Moines Register-Bloomberg poll in October showed Mrs. Clinton leading Ms. Warren by 43 percentage points. In New Hampshire, where Mrs. Clinton led Mr. Obama in a Granite State Poll at the outset of the 2008 race by 14 points, she was beating Ms. Warren by 49 points last month in a Bloomberg-Saint Anselm College survey
There is only a very small segment of the party this time around that’s looking for an alternative,” said Jim Demers, a New Hampshire Democrat who backed Mr. Obama in 2008 and is now supporting Mrs. Clinton.
The bold red quote above by Jim Demers is absurd. It is not a "very small segment of the party" that does not want Hillary; it is the activist base, the ones who volunteer to knock on doors and who pay attention to current events. As I see it, Elizabeth Warren is the only politician who has enough legitimacy on issues of Main Street vs, Wall Street to keep enough of the Obama coalition -- Latinos, blacks, youth, women -- engaged and on the reservation to secure a presidential victory for the Dems in 2016. Democrat strategists have said they plan to win by having Hillary turn out the Obama coalition.

It is possible that Hillary Clinton could muddle through if the GOP nominates Scott Walker, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. But at this point I think Jeb Bush, if he can weather the storm of the Republican primaries, beats Hillary in a general election. At this point I won't even rule out the possibility that Mitt Romney could triumph over Hillary.

To get a sense of just how bad things are -- for both parties -- a must-read article is "Americans Are Sick to Death of Both Parties: Why Our Politics Is in Worse Shape Than We Thought" by academics Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson. Burnham and Ferguson describe a Democratic Party in denial of how historic -- historically poor -- its performance was in the 2014 midterms:
[O]ur cautious guess is that turnout in this year’s Congressional races will finally weigh in at around 36 percent of the potential electorate that had legal rights to cast a ballot. 
That’s a shocking statistic. Put aside for a moment all talk of 1942 and absolute levels of turnout. Instead focus on changes in turnout between presidential elections and the next off-year election. Across the whole sweep of American history, the momentous dimensions of what has just happened stand out in bold relief. The drop off in voting turnout from the presidential election of 2012 to 2014 is the second largest of all time – 24 percentage points. Only 1942’s decline from 1940 was bigger – 29 percentage points. But then there was an excuse. Millions of Americans were hurriedly fanning out across the globe to wage total war. (World War I showed a similar pattern – turnout in the off year elections of 1918 fell 22 points from 1916’s presidential race, marking the fourth largest decline ever. Which leads naturally to the question of the third largest. Read on.)
Now cast a glance at the actual levels to which turnout in many states sank this year. In the last generation, turnouts in the many formerly industrialized states in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic region, and parts of the Midwest have bounced around, with one or another state sometimes touching historic lows in a particular election. But this year the decline is broad and to levels that boggle the mind – rates of voting that recall the earliest days of the 19th century, before the Jacksonian Revolution swept away property suffrage and other devices that held down turnout. Turnout in Ohio, for example, fell to 34 percent — a level the state last touched in 1814, when political parties on a modern model did not exist and it had just recently entered the Union. New York trumped even this: turnout in the Empire State plunged to 30 percent, almost back to where it was in 1798, when property suffrage laws disenfranchised some 40 percent of the citizenry. New Jersey managed a little better: turnout fell to 31 percent, back to levels of the 1820s. Delaware turnout fell to 35 percent, well below some elections of the 1790s. In the west, by contrast, turnout declined to levels almost without precedent: California’s 33 percent turnout appears to be the lowest recorded since the state entered the union in 1850. Nevada also hit a record low (28 percent), as did Utah at 26 percent (for elections to the House).
We are witnessing levels of voter participation that go back two-hundred years to the days when suffrage was synonymous with property ownership. This is a collapse the size of which is truly sublime.

And what is the Democratic Party -- the party nominally committed to the "little guy," to working men and women -- doing about this crisis of legitimacy? They are telling us to line up behind Hillary Clinton, the spouse of the man who brought us NATO expansion and the war against Yugoslavia as well as the repeal of the Glass-Steagall.

This will not end well. People can no longer stomach the lies. Voters made their way to the polls in two consecutive presidential elections, giving Obama huge margins of victory in both 2008 and 2012, and for what? The benefits of the economic recovery, what of it there is, have all gone to the wealthy. Unions and pensions are less secure. We do have a new market-based system of health insurance that can count the expansion of Medicaid as an achievement. But we also have a new iteration of the Cold War and war in Iraq and Syria, both of which are largely due to the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

A recent example of an indigestible lie: USG has cleared the way for the delivery of military helicopters to Egypt, helicopters that have been put on hold since the Egyptian military ousted the elected president Mohamed Morsi in a coup the summer of 2013. Morsi is in prison along with more than 10,000 imprisoned this year alone. Egypt is a massive police state. Yet neither the USG nor Congress will sanction the generals of Egypt and Thailand like it has sanctioned Venezuela and Russia.

And right on cue there is evidence of the U.S. police state kicking back against the Black Lives Matter protest movement by waving the bloody tunics of two police officers murdered in their squad car this past Saturday in Brooklyn. As Liz Robbins and Nikita Stewart report in "At Demonstrations, a Change in Tone After Officers Are Killed": "After the killings on Saturday, the protest motto of 'Black Lives Matter' was joined by a chorus of 'Blue Lives Matter' on social media, in support of officers."

This was all predictable. As soon as police died in the line of duty their deaths would be used as a political cudgel to beat down the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been maintaining its momentum. There are Black Lives Matter actions all over the country all the time. The precedent here is when CIA agent Richard Welch was murdered in Greece at the height of the Church Committee revelations of national security state lawlessness, his death was used to kill off calls for sunlighting the Deep State.

The police are going to be called on in short order to maintain control as the political parties continue to lose the allegiance of the people.