Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Colt 45 Chronicle #61

I woke up last night after midnight muttering the name "Laurie Kittiver." Who is -- who was -- Laurie Kittiver? It took me a while, but I gradually pieced it together. 

Last night I finally got around to viewing David O. Russell's American Hustle (2013). It is good, but I was expecting that it would be better. One aspect of the film that is unquestionably superb is the music put together by Danny Elfman. Elfman leans heavily on cuts by Electric Light Orchestra and Jeff Lynne -- very evocative of the post-Hippie, pre-Reagan cultural Zeitgeist (if one excludes the Punks) of the middle-to-late 1970s. 

Elfman made a name for himself as the leader of Oingo Boingo, an I.R.S. Records, Los Angeles band synonymous with 1980s New Wave. Oingo Boingo's second album, Only a Lad (1981), was ubiquitous while I was at the university. 

A young woman who I worked with at the library loved Oingo Boingo. Her name was Laurie Kittiver.

Laurie, though maybe four years my elder, seemed much older. She could be as stern as a spinster high school Spanish teacher. 

When I woke up in the middle of the night muttering Laurie Kittiver's name, and after I finally remembered who she was, I thought of the night of her goodbye party. 

She was graduating and leaving the university and before she left she was having a shindig at her apartment, a nondescript unit in a cheaply constructed building from the late 1960s not too far off University Avenue in West Berkeley. Laurie Kittiver drank beer -- there was a keg that night on a small balcony, I believe -- from a red plastic 16-ounce cup. She seemed different, less the schoolmarm and more sexual. I'm sure we listened to a lot of Oingo Boingo that night.

Years later drunk and stoned at a party in West Berkeley standing on a dark balcony in the early morning, I had the sudden deja vu realization that I had been there before -- at Laurie Kittiver's goodbye party. Anyhow, the gauzy stoned deja vu topsy-turvy confusion came back to me last night with Laurie's name.

My first job when I got to New York City at the end of summer 1988 was as a researcher for Scholastic Press. My poor opinion of that experience is found below. Then the letter meanders off into the usual drunken nostalgia about the joys of university life. The epistle is addressed to my two drinking buddies, Mark and Niall, who were roommates living across from the Panhandle in Haight-Ashbury.
Autumn 1988 
Well, assholes, where's the letter? Lost in the mail? Oh, I'm very sorry. I didn't mean to imply that the two of you would somehow be . . . .  My God, work is so fucking terrible. I wrote a little anonymous and unsent hate epistle today to all the cuntless cunts who order about this demeaned freelancer (I'm bottom of the barrel):
You babies. You, who somehow managed to stay stunted Louisa-May-Alcott style. It's all dollhouses and Little Women here, can't you see? Sexuality? NILL! To you a pussy is a gratuity, an unexplained sprouting which is obediently endured and ignored. You had a big brain early on (when the world was paper dolls and piss and Hardy Boys and daddy's roof), and you figured out that you were pretty fucking smart and pretty fucking special. ("Oh, little muffin, all she does is read in her room all day. Now there's a smart girl!") But you forgot one important thing, didn't you? You forgot that bird watching and Nancy Drew and chemistry don't teach you shit about living right, living like you should. That's why when I come by and ask a simple question and you are busy, you have a fit and bark, "We're really going to have to talk about this some other time!" Needless to say, I am smarter than you, and I am better than you. History exists for me; you are nothing, absolutely nothing -- a shuffler of paper, a grease spot, an eyelash in the margin of the shit you write. I despise you.
So it goes, the torment, the resentment, the enormous stupidity. I want out. Give me a good job. I could take total boredom. But this job is at a publisher that deals with deadlines, and of course all the cuntless cunts get bent out of shape every fucking chance they get. What happened to those halcyon days grazing in the pasture of the Sun? Jesus, Berkeley gets more golden to my mind's eye every day I'm away. Like some big orchard where we could barely muster up enough energy and guts to move from one tree to another because we had so it so good where we were. Whenever I want, when I'm forlorn, I can flip open the book to one of Niall's drunken swaggers or one of Mark's bombastic cat calls, and, shit, I'm satisfied. The sight of puke running out of Niall's cockeyed mouth, or one of Mendoza's signature calypso jigs as a dozen scared and hate-filled dance-hall eyes bounce off his back, brings me right back to home base and right out of this. The thing that I realize now for the first time even though people have been telling it to me for years is that there is no place like Berkeley (Colum once called me up after he had moved to NYC and told me this in a way I don't know if I could ever come close to describing) . . . . . . . . . How many people get to swill beers and read books and work at what they want to work at and be young and have friends and have a place to congregate and listen to good music and be able to drive and be able to walk to where they want to go, and, most importantly, through all this, to be considered okay, to be considered an adult? I think it's only Berkeley. We take it for granted because we did it. But that's just it -- hardly anyone does it. Joe McHenry is living out here (a friend of Eric Mason) and he called up the other day and we rapped about the Berkeley scene (versus the New York scene) and he put forward something pretty incredible. Simply put, Berkeley had kick-ass parlor action. -- Dudes sitting around surrounded by a bunch of books, drinking, bullshitting. (Shit, I'm drunk.) To put on a good drunk with some good friends, to shoot the shot, to tap on the window and feel the line being cut up -- that's it. Mark, how about that day after Quinn's class? We cruised over in the eleven o'clock spring sun to Sufficient Grounds (just like two Peter Parkers going to the "Coffee Bean"). All that concrete on the way, and then through the corridor. You got a cappuccino and a fancy pastry; I got a house coffee. People brushed through the door, and we -- the two us, without speaking -- knew that they were full of shit. So we sat there like Castor and Pollux, laughing inside to each other, drinking our coffee and considering what we should do with our noon.

Captain America #17

A telling indicator of the depth of distrust in government is how it is depicted in the pages of Marvel Comics. Invariably the forces of malignancy have co-opted the USG, and it is the role of the superhero to beat it back.

It is a tall order. And no superhero has a tougher pull than Captain America, the putative representative of an increasingly discredited global behemoth. The American Dream is now generally regarded as no longer operative. Income inequality (brought front and center thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement) and a lack of remunerative employment are the new normal. Hand in hand with the economic stagnation of the Great Recession goes a commitment to perpetual war. This is on display currently with our Nobel Peace Prize winning president relaunching the Cold War and actively planning for another lengthy conflict in the Middle East.

But the latest run of Captain America could not be in finer hands. Writer Rick Remender is a true subversive. Marvel has the good sense to realize that the only way to keep Captain America alive is not to avoid reality. Below are seven scans of Captain America #17. The art is by Nic Klein; the colors, Dean White.

Captain America #17 opens with Nuke, a pill-popping Vietnam-era Super Soldier Program knockoff of the original Cap, reduced to a pile of charred meat as Dr. Mindbubble, a super-villain who owes his origin to a combination of self-administered LSD and Super Soldier serum, burbles soothingly to him:
There, there. A beautiful dream to help the passing. 
You should have been the prototype of the next species. But they twisted you up, old friend. And you let them. Let them take your beauty and burn it in effigy to a world ruled by religious and institutional fascism. 
Taught to lay your life on the line for their stubborn warfare  . . .
. . . Instead of interacting harmoniously with this joyful world. All just as I warned you, Nuke.
 But your test is over now, good spirit. I wish you a peaceful journey to whatever reward you've selected. 

Captain America #17 also features the anti-capitalist villain Ran Shen, The Iron Nail. The Iron Nail and Dr. Mindbubble, quite persuasively, break down the current deep state of our permanent government:
And what do we have here? A glittering dragon slithering from the sky.
Hello, Horace.
Ran Shen. What madness. I never imagined our paths to cross again.
I made you a promise.
That you did. How long had I been in there?
Fifty years.
Fifty years falling inward. It was a strange gift, Ran. I discovered complete tranquility within the core of my being.
While the world without fell to the fascist control of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Well, sure. Only possible outcome. A band of humans with so much power, and so little oversight, is destined to grow into a living organism -- with its own goals -- its own greed.
The more a thing grows, the more convinced it becomes that it is right. Why else would it have such success? And at a certain size, no one can control it -- no one can tell the swollen beast it is wrong!
And it falls on us to liberate humanity from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secret dictatorship. What do you say, old friend? Up for a little civil disobedience? 
Let's open their eyes.
In the final three scans, Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America, and his new sidekick Jet Black mix it up with the Shaolin Scientist Squad:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ears Sprouting Scallions

The night before last I dreamed that I had a green onion growing out of my ear. The feeling I experienced was one of embarrassment. How long had I been going to work with a green onion growing out of my ear?

Given the price of groceries -- $100 for two bags; that is what it added up to last night -- it might be a plus to be able to sprout vegetables out of one's head.

Jonathan Schell died this week. He was only 70. The big 'C' was the cause. My last stint of true freedom -- three months spent unemployed during the spring of 2011 -- I read Schell's superb The Time of Illusion (1976), which is a thoughtful deconstruction, beginning with the decision to secretly bomb Cambodia, of the perfidy of the Nixon administration.

I did a lot of running during that unemployed spring. My core conditioning, after a year spent commuting three hours every day, is finally beginning to dwindle to a state of unfitness. This leads to not only a physical state more prone to injury and illness but also to a slothful mentality. Exuberant flights of the intellect are few and far between when most of one's time is spent at work and on the train while running is reduced to weekend jogs.

Like a serf looking forward to a breezy afterlife, lately I find myself imaging a new, close-to-home job suddenly being offered up.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hippies vs. Punks: Zephyr, Pt. 2, Going Back to Colorado

Nineteen-seventy was the high point of the Hippie revolution. Far enough away from the summer of love and the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) to allow for a good-sized "massification of bohemia" (Robert Christgau's phrase), 1970 was also the beginning of the end. The king and queen of the Hippies, Jimi and Janis, died in September and October, respectively. By the time Bill Graham films his vanity documentary, The Last Days of the Fillmore (1972), in the early summer of 1971, it is hard to imagine a more tired, rudderless group of shaggy-headed young people.

Anyhow, there is a huge Hippie push in 1969 and 1970. You can see it all over YouTube. Every Hippie band had a Hippie album in those years, or at least so it seems. It amazes me. I have become convinced over the last year of this "Hippies vs. Punks" project that the amount of music made then in those two years far exceeds what has been produced today in the last two years, even with all the ease that the digital revolution now affords us.

Nineteen-seventy was also a big protest year. A national student strike followed the May 4 Kent State shootings. It wasn't if the revolution was going to happen because the revolution was happening; it was when the government was going to collapse. While Nixon aide Chuck Colson hunkered down with the 82nd Airborne in the basement of the executive office building as 100,000 protesters converged on Washington D.C. on May 8, revolution was definitely something more than a stoned Hippie fantasy. The national student strike was real. In response to the national student strike Nixon approved the go-ahead of the Huston Plan, full implementation of which was blocked by J. Edgar Hoover. But Nixon kept a black ops group under the auspices of the White House. This is the Plumbers Unit of Watergate fame. And since Watergate is a cultural, political high-water mark in the United States, after which the neoliberal neoconservative counterrevolution begins, we must praise the Hippies for getting as close as they did to overturning the corrupt order of war and ill-gotten wealth; but we must also blame them for a great deal of naivete and showing no follow-through.

During this time, Zephyr, disappointed at how they had been treated by their recording company (Probe, a short-lived psychedelic, progressive rock specialty label of ABC Records), jumps ship to Warner Bros. Records. Here is how bass player and band leader David Givens describes the process in an excellent interview with Allan Vorda available on the Tommy Bolin Archives web site:
I met Jimmy Page in April 1970 when we shared the bill with Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party in (oddly enough) Boston. They were in the middle of recording their second album for Atlantic, Led Zeppelin II. They were using Eddie Kramer as engineer/producer on some of the cuts and Page was really happy with his work. He recommended that I go see him in New York where he was supervising the construction of Hendrix’s new studio, Electric Lady, down in the Village on Eighth Street. Kramer, an expatriate South African, had worked with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and all of Jimi Hendrix’s recordings as assistant engineer, engineer, or occasionally producer.
We were in New York a week later and Candy and I called Kramer and asked him if we could meet with him. I used Jimmy Page’s name and he said come on over. We found him in the midst of the construction mess, poking around looking for wires. He was very gracious and we made friends quickly. Kramer came to see us play when we got back to Boulder; we even had him come up and sit in with us. He liked what we were doing and decided he wanted to produce our next record. At that time, we still had a record deal with ABC/Probe and we were up for our next LP under our contract. The President of ABC Records, the parent of Probe called me and Candy into a meeting in L.A. where he told us that it had been decided to squash Probe and bring us onto the ABC label. He had Bill Szymczyk, who had just finished producing the soon to be released James Gang second LP, with him. He wanted Szymczyk to produce our next record. He played the as yet unreleased James Gang album for us. It sounded good (and was to make a star out of Joe Walsh), but we wanted Eddie Kramer. I told the President about Kramer and Szymczyk said that Kramer was “a hype” and that he took more credit than he deserved for Hendrix’s success. If it hadn’t been Jimmy Page who recommended Kramer, I probably wouldn’t have been stubborn about it, but I was. The ABC Pres was not a happy man. He said either we made the album with Syzmczyk or we were out. I said fine, get the release. Me and my big mouth.
I immediately called Eddie and told him what was happening. He said not to worry, he’d get us a deal with Reprise or Warner Brothers. He called the President of Reprise, Mo Ostin, and got us a deal over the phone. Barry [Fey] was a bit taken aback but went along; the rest of the band was very happy about this turn of events. Jimi Hendrix was the Master and to be working in his brand new, state-of-the-art studio was truly exciting. We’d all felt that our first album wasn’t up to the standard of our live performances at all, and it looked as though we had remedied all of the things that had held us up.
Givens was hopeful  that the man who had a hand in creating the sainted Hendrix soundscapes would successfully midwife the improvisational magic of Zephyr onto a record. But like Bill Halverson, Eddie Kramer turned out to be another recording legend with feet of clay. Let's go back to Allan Vorda's interview with David Givens:
We had only two problems. We didn’t know it yet, but these two problems were going to thwart us again. Problem number one was Carly Simon. She was making her first album since her folk days and she was having Eddie produce it. She was a very smart girl, and she deduced, correctly, that if she struck up a romance with Eddie, she would receive priority treatment. She was ever so right: even though we had made a Top 30 album and she had no track record at all, she began getting the better time slots and more of it. Eddie is not the most macho of men and I suppose that fucking a big horse of a woman like Carly did something wonderful for his ego. At any rate, he was distracted by her and we suffered for it. He tried to be good, even had me play on a couple of her tunes, but he didn’t live up to his promises to us. It wasn’t all that bad, and we started out doing some good work. We’d been there for a couple of weeks when problem number two came up: Jimi Hendrix died. It was Sunday, and he had been expected to return to New York the next day to finish up his Cry of Love LP. He still had some vocals and some guitar work to finish and the final decision about which songs to include still had to be made. When he died, it fell to Mitch Mitchell and Eddie Kramer to mix the album and to try and make it sound finished. Hendrix did most of the mixing himself and Eddie and Mitch did not have his vision. After a day or two of really black mourning, the studio had to get back to work, but Eddie’s heart wasn’t really in it and he felt the weight of trying to complete Hendrix’s album. He and Jimi had been good friends, sharing a very successful endeavor and Eddie was feeling the loss. We were pushed aside right when we needed him to help us. The album suffered. I think there are great moments, but there’s some real junk on there that spoils it. On one of Tommy’s songs, Kramer was so preoccupied when he was editing it, that he inadvertently left in a whole duplicate chorus. Rather than pulling closer together and saving ourselves, we drew further apart. The last few weeks we spent on that album were torture. Mitch Mitchell and Eddie were having a very tough go of it and wanted as much time in the studio as possible. Eddie began forcing us to use the much smaller (though equally expensive) Studio B with various assistant (read: inexperienced) engineers as “producers.” We had to mix in Studio A, however, and mixing is an inexact sort of thing that can take more time than you might expect. Many times, Mitchell and various Hendrix hangers-on would be crowding into the control room toward the end of our allotted time. Many times Candy and I were furious, but there was nothing we could do — we had no way to force Kramer to live up to his commitment to us and he didn’t. We needed his direction and best efforts. We paid him for his direction and best efforts. He flaked out on us. After this album bombed, our confidence as a band diminished past the point of possible recovery. Time was running out for us.
Tommy and Bobby left in early 1971.

Going Back to Colorado is an easy listening, light rock album. There are some good tracks. I enjoy "Night Fades Softly," with its Pharoah Sanders vibe. But there is nothing revolutionary here. It is Hippie elevator music, a sound appropriate for the fern bar. It is not unpleasant; on the contrary, Going to Back Colorado is essentially pleasant. I can listen to this album repeatedly at low volume. And therein is the trapdoor for the Hippies. A song like "See My People Come Together" can be played as background music. The revolution can be not only televised but commodified.

We'll return to this issue of Hippie commodification and Electric Lady Studios in a future post. And we're not quite done with Zephyr. David and Candy Givens would go back to Colorado and put together another band after Tommy Bolin and Bobby Berge departed. Their final album of the Hippie era, Sunset Ride (1972), received favorable reviews; but due to some bad luck (a recurring theme for Zephyr), they were not able to parlay Sunset Ride into another recording contract. A final Zephyr post will tell the story of band's demise, which illuminates the difficulties the Hippies had in adapting to the 1980s.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Duopoly Disintegration

Democratic politics in big industrial oligarchies like the United States is a game of manipulating public ignorance. Republicans electorally feast on fear -- fear that big government is going to rob you blind or make you live with black people or round you up in an internment camp. Democrats peddle hope as well as fear -- hope that wars of choice will not be embarked upon, that jobs will be created, that government will be administered fairly. For both branches of the duopoly to function effectively, public ignorance needs to be not only dominant but ascendant.

Barack Obama convinced a lot of Democrats that it was no longer so irrational to hope that the duopoly might actually be able to address some of its systemic woes -- income inequality, unemployment, wage stagnation, climate change, militarism, etc. What is happening now is a significant number of people (one might say the critical strata of the Democratic Party electoral base) are waking up to the realization that it was irrational to believe that Obama represented a break with the past and a possibility of renewal.

Obama's appeal has always been his ability to seem as if he was speaking honestly. His supporters could point to Republican obstructionism to explain why his deeds never matched his words. But what happens when his words no longer ring true? We're seeing that now, for instance, with his lie-bloated speech yesterday in Brussels. Obama told some whoppers: Kosovo was not precedent for Crimea; Iraq was invaded by working within the international system; and the United States did not conspire with fascists to topple the elected government of Ukraine. All lies, and acknowledged as such by people who pay attention to the issues.

But Obama isn't playing to people who pay attention; he's cutting against the grain of his appeal -- the intellectual truth teller -- to bang the drum of public ignorance. And it is going to cost him.

Democrats will lose the Senate. Obama, never a tough customer, will spend the last two years in office having to be tough and veto and a lot of bad bills.

The rapid erosion of the Democratic Party as a national electoral force has commenced; hopefully, this will be more than a cyclical phenomenon. Hopefully, the duopoly will begin to disintegrate.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Despite Massive Propaganda Americans Don't Want Involvement in Ukraine

Before leaving work yesterday I saw a fundraising pitch based on Nate Silver's recent prediction that the Democrats will lose the Senate this fall. It is going to be tough for Democrats to generate any enthusiasm among their base when they are constantly saber rattling in Congress.

Today Obama is to deliver a speech in Brussels that will tack closely to themes that have proven to be a dud over the last couple of months. The floundering president will outline once again why Russia is a threat to "international norms," and he will remind Americans that the United States must stay fully engaged in Europe (as if we were reliving the days of the Berlin airlift).

But the American electorate wants nothing to do with it. This is driven home by the following paragraph from a story, "Obama Answers Critics, Dismissing Russia as a ‘Regional Power’," this morning by Michael Shear and Peter Baker:
In that poll [a survey by the Pew Research Center], conducted Thursday through Sunday, concern about Russia has increased recently, but only about a quarter of those surveyed said they viewed Russia as an adversary of the United States. About four in 10 said Russia is a serious problem, but about half said it is important for the United States not to get involved in the situation between Russia and Ukraine.
Take a moment to absorb that. After one month of panicked shrieking and constant demonizing -- really, as close as it gets to an all out information war in this country -- more than 50% of the public still says don't meddle in Ukraine. Granted, the numbers, due to the information war, have started to move in an anti-Russian direction, but nothing like the Obama administration can feel comfortable with after going all in with its strategy to vilify Putin.

Obama is weakened. I think at this point, what with Nate Silver's prediction and the president's inability to get his IMF overhaul bill through Congress along with the Ukraine bailout, there is no question that, absent some sort of bizarre, ahistoric turnaround, Obama is truly a lame duck. His approval rating languishes in the 40s, with those disapproving his performance registering over 50%.

Things are going to go from bad to worse. The New York Times is basically engaged in a blackout of news coming from inside Ukraine; it can only publish stories about "Russian provocation" in the eastern part of the country. What goes unmentioned is the turbulence within the putsch government. Ukrainian defense minister Ihor Tenyukh was dismissed the other day after troops failed to obey his command to fire on Russian forces in the Crimea. Tenyukh is a member of the fascist Svoboda party. Also going unreported in the Gray Lady is the murder of Right Sector leader Oleksandr Muzychko.

The Ukrainian putsch government is highly unstable. The Obama administration prefers that these facts are kept from the homeland; otherwise, the government has to answer for backing another failed state a la Libya. And so far "the paper of record" has proven largely compliant. Hopefully this will change.

But what will not change is the continuing hemorrhaging of the Democratic Party. Though there is no increase in popular support of the GOP, the Republicans will benefit and organized labor will shrink even smaller.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Finally, the Gray Lady Paints a Fair Picture of the Ukraine Crisis

I woke this morning to a drunk singing on the street below my apartment. Listening to lugubrious, slurred moans and wails is not the ideal way to begin one's day, but it does seems consistent with what has been in the news the last several months.

The good news this morning is that David Herszenhorn has a story that is probably one of the best things that has been published in the Gray Lady on the Ukrainian crisis. While "In Crimea, Russia Moved to Throw Off the Cloak of Defeat," begins with a denigration of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol -- the Cold Warrior information war mode that a regular reader of the New York Times has come to expect -- Herszenhorn unexpectedly changes course and presents a helpful, if still biased, appraisal of the East-West trade war in the Ukraine that led to the putsch, which was followed by Russia claiming Crimea:
“For 23 years after 1991, Russia has been treated consciously or subconsciously as defeated in the Cold War,” said Dmitry Kosyrev, a writer and political commentator with the RIA Novosti news agency in Moscow. “Russia has not accepted this mentality. We have something to say. We have not only interest, but experience. We are not a defeated country in the Cold War; we are something separate like India, like China.” 
Mr. Kosyrev added, “Not talking to us, not accepting our point of view, that’s exactly what brought Europe and the United States to the crisis in Ukraine.”
The contest for influence in Ukraine, long torn between Russia and the West, stretches back much further than last autumn. It is part of a wider tug-of-war that the West had dominated since the fall of the Soviet Union, drawing into Europe’s fold not just former Eastern bloc nations like Poland and Bulgaria, but the ex-Soviet republics — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — in the Baltics. 
Mr. Putin and many Russians believe that the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev had received assurances that the NATO alliance would not extend beyond a reunited Germany. They consider it a betrayal that NATO now includes the Baltics, reaching Russia’s borders — a point that Mr. Putin stressed in his speech announcing the annexation of Crimea.

In the case of Ukraine, Mr. Putin had been waging a battle for months to prevent Mr. Yanukovych from signing accords with the European Union,wielding a mix of threatened trade sanctions and the enticements of fiscal aid— precisely the economic tools that the West views as the preferred way to conduct geopolitical combat in the 21st century.
Last summer, Russia blocked Ukrainian imports at the border for stepped-up customs inspections, and issued a series of threats of debilitating trade sanctions. Mr. Putin personally conveyed those threats to Mr. Yanukovych, who ultimately told European leaders he could not sign the accords. In the contest for Ukraine, Mr. Putin thought he had won with soft power
After protests broke out in Kiev in late November, and Western leaders moved aggressively to revive the political and trade agreements, Mr. Putin once again reached into his economic arsenal, offering Ukraine $15 billion in credit assistance along with discounts on Russian natural gas. By his view, the West had refused to accept Russia’s fair victory. 
While it appears much of the protests in Kiev were organic, fueled by genuine public outrage against Mr. Yanukovych that grew in response to police brutality, Mr. Putin and the state-controlled Russian media portrayed the uprising as fomented and sponsored by the West.
What Herszenhorn chooses not to mention here is the famous "Fuck the EU" hacked phone call between Nuland and Pyatt where the two U.S. officials discuss their collusion with Ukrainian opposition politicians to topple the elected Yanukovych government. It's hard to dismiss this phone call as Russian paranoia, as it is Nuland's statement that the U.S. has spent $5 billion promoting "democracy" in Ukraine.

But Herszenhorn finishes his piece quoting a former Bush I and Clinton official, Andrew Weiss, that leaves no doubt that Europe instigated the current mess:
Andrew S. Weiss, who worked on Russia issues in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and the elder George Bush and is now vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Mr. Putin’s actions were logical, even if not compatible with Western interests, in seeking to destabilize Ukraine rather than allowing it to fall into Europe’s sphere of influence. 
“There is a very straight line rational strategy at work here,” Mr. Weiss said. 
Mr. Weiss also said that Europe repeatedly refused to hear Russia’s concerns, effectively forcing a conflict by insisting the trade deal with Europe was incompatible with joining Russia’s customs union, a trade bloc it formed with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Europe also resisted three-way talks with Russia and Ukraine. 
“In some ways the E.U. has taken maximalist positions with the Russians and acted as if they were surprised that Russia took offense or got angry,” Mr. Weiss said.
So with Russia read out of the G-8 by the G-7, and with the bluff of further sanctions in abeyance pending Russian moves into eastern Ukraine, we should be entering a period of relative quiet. Except I think that the putsch government cannot stand peace and quiet because what it represents -- IMF austerity, increased militarism -- is anathema to the citizens of Ukraine. So I would expect some sort of provocation, some form of loud bang, a diversion, to keep eyes off the necessarily unpopular, undemocratic moves that have to made. This should go on for some time because Ukraine is in bad shape.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Fable of Western Sanctions

Obama is in the Netherlands today to attend a G-7 meeting (G-8 minus an ostracized Russia). His goal will be largely confined to public relations gimmickry, to convey unity of purpose among the G-7 industrial nations towards "Russian aggression" in the Crimea. There is no unity of purpose. All one has to do is look at the graphic "How Much Europe Depends on Russian Energy" that was included in a story by Steven Lee Myers and Neil MacFarquhar this past Saturday to know that any sanctions Europe imposes on Russia will be window dressing only. Here's why: Germany, the largest economy in the Eurozone, imports 30% of its energy from Russia; the Netherlands, 34%; Sweden, 46%; Italy, 28%; Finland, 76%; Poland, 91%; Czech Republic, 73%; Lithuania, 92% -- and so on down the line.

The lede story today in the Gray Lady admits as much:
The other members of the Group of 7 economic partnership hardly have interests identical with those of the United States, and in many ways they are divided even among themselves, complicating any effort to draw a firmer line with Moscow. 
Mr. Obama’s sanctions, announced last week, were aimed at sowing pain among members of a Russian economic and political elite who owe their wealth and loyalties to Mr. Putin. But the sanctions were also targeted to minimize disruption to the global economy and to avoid further jeopardizing already meek Russian cooperation on issues like the war in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, the Middle East and North Korea. 
For European countries, the risk of wider conflict with Russia is even graver. Britain hosts Russian billionaires and their money; Germany gets about one-third of its energy from Russia and sells it machinery and cars; France is in the process of delivering sophisticated attack ships to the Kremlin; and Italy depends on Russia for some 28 percent of its energy.
The U.S. position boils down to lies and bluffs. First, the lies: Pretend the putsch that sent the elected Ukrainian president fleeing for his life is perfectly legal and that there is no precedent, like, say, the U.S. dismemberment of Yugoslavia, for Russian actions in the Crimea. Next, the bluff: Talk incessantly of serious economic consequences for Russia when clearly nothing of the sort is in the works.

It is both clumsy and obvious; it is simply embarrassing.

More proof of the crass nature of the Obama administration's information war is its fear-mongering the military exercises Russia is conducting on its Ukrainian border. Though fears of an incursion into eastern Ukraine have subsided with Russia agreeing to the presence of OSCE monitors, this salient fact is ignored; rather, war hysteria is played up.

The United States would be much better served by quieting things down. But apparently its leadership, beginning to realize that it is now responsible for a dysfunctional Ukrainian state, cannot accept the fact that its stewardship of the February putsch (Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Vicky Nuland's famous and oft-quoted "Fuck the EU") has turned into a punch bowl caked with turds.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Colt 45 Chronicle #60

Last Saturday I participated in a march and rally for the $15/hr. minimum wage in Seattle. It was a pleasure, probably the most fun I have had a political event in a decade. There is energy in this movement, thanks to Kshama Sawant's leadership. Her victory against an odious placeholder on the city council was the springboard. But to her credit, Sawant didn't hunker down and try to find her place within the council structure; she immediately set to work keeping her supporters mobilized and growing the movement to achieve a $15/hr. minimum wage in Seattle.

One of the things that was such a pleasure about last weekend's march was seeing the faces of union activists with whom I was friendly and familiar over a decade ago. Some appeared not to have aged at all. They were in the minority. Most had grayed and carried crimson in their countenances. I imagine aging has a lot to do with diet. A meat-based diet combined with alcohol will zap a person, and good. Best to cut down on meat intake and eliminate alcohol altogether once we get into our 40s. Couple these dietary changes with an exercise regimen of some sort -- movement! -- and one should be able to age with a degree of dignity.

The letter below, like #50 (which, based on the number of hits, is for some reason the all-time most popular post of this blog), is addressed to my father-in-law. I wrote it after about six months in the Big Apple. It is a fairly accurate description of Manhattan from the perspective of young man forced to work in its skyscraper canyons -- "Sequestered away in a fluorescently lit office twenty-five stories up with no windows, you begin to feel your masculinity drip away. But not just masculinity, life."

There is of course the backward-glancing reverie about life at the university, which, if you have read any of these "Colt 45 Chronicles," you know that beer-induced nostalgia for campus life is to be expected. I do get off a decent riff about respect being the true foundation of a happy relationship.
Spring 1989
How's the ballgame going Pete? It's been a year since we've seen you. Seems more like two or three. At night you can see the Yankee Stadium lights from our living room window. They reflect off the windows of this big ass concrete government building sitting over there to the east of Harlem. The stadium is just across the river in the Bronx. We walked there last summer; took St. Nicholas Avenue down. Harlem looked good, people had nice faces; it had a comfortableness to it, like a sofa on the porch. I haven't made that walk since then. I was gonna go today (I wasn't working), but the weather was bad and the game was supposed to be televised. So I took a rain check.
I got a new job today. The bad part about it being that it's down in the Wall Street area, which is a very long subway ride from where we live, about thirty minutes longer than the ride I made to my other job. The good part about it is that the work is much steadier, a solid 40 hours a week, with an opportunity to earn some overtime. My other job was only a couple days a week, and sometimes not at all; it depended on the amount of proofreading that had to be done. Yep, that's right.  I'm a proofreader. And I'll tell you, it's hard to accept at times. Sequestered away in a fluorescently lit office twenty-five stories up with no windows, you begin to feel your masculinity drip away. But not just masculinity, life. The women who make these high-rise offices run are the deadest-looking people you have ever seen -- sullen, gray, tortured, tired. Hell, I used to be a teaching assistant, with strawberry blonds in every class; I used to walk the sunny campus greens and stop and chat with friends and drink coffee as the birds whistled songs overhead in trees; I used to haul sheetrock, sucking in the bay fog at 8 AM, skipping lunch and working straight through to the can of beer at the end of the day. Well, that's all over with now. But it's all part of the picture, and it's good because you got give something up sometime. You just have to keep telling yourself that everything is okay and that God is Love and all the rest of that hogwash that only makes sense after you've put your nose to the grindstone.
New York City, like everything else that is truly great, is a well-crafted illusion. The people who make the big money and run the city don't even live here; they're out in Long Island or Connecticut or New Jersey. Greenwich Village can be okay. The West Village is mostly commercial and expensive; the East Village is solid, good places to eat for cheap but not that many good bars. Nothing jumps out and grabs you and says, "We're here!"
I've worked pretty much all over the city, except for post-Uptown, which is where we live. Uptown stops, or people stop talking about Manhattan, around the 90s; and, to give you some indication, we live between 169th and 170th. After the 90s the neighborhoods start to get poor. From 100th to Columbia University (not the medical school, which is where we live, but the actual campus -- 116th) the neighborhoods are black and Hispanic, with a student population tossed in for good measure. After Columbia, Harlem starts. After Harlem, around 150th, Washington Heights starts. That's where we live, or that's what it's called. It has a reputation for being the best place to buy crack in Manhattan; all the big boys sell there. We live a little ways up, smack dab against the Hudson. We have nice safe university housing in a family-oriented Hispanic community. It starts getting exciting about five blocks down. I've been down there a few times very late at night to get some fried chicken, down around 161st, and sure enough you get some royal treatment. People can't imagine what you're doing there at that hour except to buy what they have to sell. The only thing I took exception to was how aggressive they were. I had to fix 'em square in the eye and brush chests just to assure then that I all I wanted to do was get something to eat down the road. But once they perceived my drunken sincerity, they were decent and good-natured and nodded me a goodbye and I was off on my way towards, like I said, the best fried chicken and french fries I've had, and I think Ashley might agree.
I'm still drinking the Coors, but more and more I find myself moving to Colt 45. Ashley and I have a few friends, though nothing like Berkeley -- they're not that close. Ashley and I spend a lot of time together, probably more than since we were first living together, back then in the dark golden ages of the early 80s. We still respect each other, which, if you ask me, is the only thing in any relationship -- the only thing to keep a relationship a relationship and not a servilityship or tortureship.
So what I want to say is that you should come visit us. Anytime you want. We'll be here for the next three-and-a-half years. Another year from now I'll have this city down pat, even better than I do now, of course, because time is time. But I'm doing my research; I'm learning this beast. So when you have the money to pay for a ticket and say $100 spending money, you should make the trip; I'll pay for beers we drink at home. But then again, you wouldn't be missing much; you'd only be shifting your frame of reference, which, I guess, isn't so bad; in fact, it's probably the only thing that's noble, truly selfless, in this life.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Julie Doiron Mini-Kick: Lost Wisdom + "So Fast"

Good album I'm enjoying today is Lost Wisdom (2008) by Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire. It sounds similar to Thousands' The Sound of Everything (2011).

Below are tracks 8 and 9, "With My Hands Out" and "O My Heart":

I got going in this direction because of a Julie Doiron mini-kick I am on, motivated by a song I have always enjoyed from a compilation put out by Sub Pop, Spring Lineup - A Compilation Of Sub Pop's Heavy Hitters (1997). The song is called "So Fast," which Doiron recorded as Broken Girl. I heard it again after several years. What a song!

Doiron started recording as Broken Girl the same year, 1993, the Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville made such an enormous splash. And it sounds like she had been listening a lot to Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth (1980).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hippies vs. Punks: "Little Johnny Jewel"

This page has done precious little exploration of the Hippie-era New York City scene that actually birthed Punk. So far we have spent more time on London in 1976 and 1977, and San Francisco in 1978 than on the originary lebensruam of Manhattan's "Blank Generation."

Present at the creation is Television. This morning on my way down to the train "Little Johnny Jewel" shuffled into rotation on my iPod. What a song! First recorded as a single in 1975, "Little Johnny Jewel, Part One" and "Little Johnny Jewel, Part Two" sound as if they were just released. Lester Bangs compared Tom Verlaine's guitar playing to psychedelic pioneer Quicksilver Messenger Service lead John Cipollina. You can definitely hear it here.

Where Monsters Dwell #17

The resumption of the Cold War that began in February with the fascist putsch of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has tossed me off my game here. Normally on Friday I post on "Hippies vs. Punks." That hasn't happened since Valentine's Day. Last we heard from "Hippies vs. Punks," the Boulder, CO band Zephyr had recorded their debut LP in Los Angeles, a remarkable album that was nonetheless botched by producer and recording legend Bill Halvorsen. In part two, we were going to explore the victimization of Zephyr by another record industry giant, producer Eddie Kramer. For more than a month then we have been suspended between the summer of 1969 and the late summer/early fall of 1970, when Zephyr's second album, Going Back to Colorado (1971), was recorded at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios during the time of his death.

Another regular feature of this page that has been put on the back burner because of the new Cold War is the project of working through issues of the Marvel Comics Bronze Age reprint series, Where Monsters Dwell.

Currently we are at Where Monsters Dwell #17 (September 1972). A thoroughly unremarkable collection of four stories -- though Steve Ditko's "The World Beyond" (scans three and four below), which is reprinted from Strange Tales #82 (March 1961), is worth checking out; Ditko captures the last gasps of the early 1960s post-war High Modernism better than anyone -- Where Monsters Dwell #17 is noteworthy for a nice Gil Kane original cover; also, two of the four stories -- "If the Coat Fits" and "The Hidden Vampires," both reprinted from Journey Into Mystery #11 (August 1953) -- are examples of pre-Comics Code Authority Marvel horror.

Below are scans of the cover and all the splash pages (as well as one beautiful interior page from Ditko's "The World Beyond'). All the stories in Where Monsters Dwell #17, probably compiled by Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas, deal with disappearance.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What are We Fighting For?

The freak-out continues among the Western power elite. In the last six months, two main pillars of the neoliberal neoconservative "New World Order" have begun to buckle.

First, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) that has been front and center in the United States since at least the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the first failed attempt of Al Qaeda's 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, took a hit last September when citizens refused to grant Obama the authority to attack Syria. Though many might have been unclear as to the politics at play in the Levant and were merely objecting to another costly, open-ended war in the Middle East, many did in fact know what was going on. Uncle Sam was prepared to act as Al Qaeda's air force; our Nobel Peace Prize winning president, acting in concert with the corrupt Gulf Sheikhs, was about to replace a secular government with a Wahhabi caliphate.

This was a big wake-up call. The organizing principle for the unwashed masses after the collapse of the Soviet Union -- Reagan's "Evil Empire" -- and the disappearance of global communism was Islamic fundamentalism. Suddenly last summer, after 20 years of indoctrination telling us that radical Sunni Islam is evil incarnate, we plebs were told, "No, no, it is okay. We can fight for these guys." Wow. How did the Beltway smart set think that was going to play?

Now, as of this month, the second pillar, the gradual eastward movement of NATO and the eurozone following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is crumbling; hence, the howls.

A story this morning by Michael Gordon, "NATO Weighs Assistance for Ukraine to Dissuade Further Moves by Moscow," built out of quotes from acting and former heads of NATO, as well as assorted NATO functionaries, makes clear that the power elite have not given up on pillar #2. Ukraine will be armed and aligned with the West:
The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on Wednesday that the alliance was considering providing assistance to Ukraine to help deter Russia from another military intervention there. 
Mr. Rasmussen, who was in Washington to consult on the crisis in Ukraine, did not meet with President Obama. But he conferred Tuesday evening with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. 
In his speech at the Brookings Institution, Mr. Rasmussen described the Russian military intervention in Crimea as the “gravest threat” to European security since the end of the Cold War. He said the annexation of Crimea was especially serious for three reasons: the size of the military intervention, the fact that it affected a nation of 45 million, and Ukraine’s location on NATO’s doorstep. 
“This is a wake-up call, for the Euro-Atlantic community, for NATO and for all those committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace,” he said. “We had thought that such behavior had been confined to history, but it’s back, and it’s dangerous because it violates international norms of accepted behavior.” 
Mr. Rasmussen said the alliance was reviewing the full range of its cooperation with Moscow and had suspended its plans to escort Russian ships that are ferrying chemicals for making poison gas from Syria. The alliance has also canceled staff-level meetings between NATO and Russian officials, though it has kept the door open to political talks. 
NATO members have also taken a series of relatively modest military steps to reassure its East European members. The United States has sent six F-15 fighters to Lithuania to bolster NATO’s air policing mission in the Baltic states and has sent 12 F-16s to Poland, which borders Ukraine.
Two NATO surveillance planes are patrolling Polish and Romanian airspace. Britain also recently announced that it planned to send several Typhoon aircraft to join the Baltic mission. 
Mr. Rasmussen said that he expected additional steps, but he did not say what they might be.
But the elites should pay heed. They do not rule by divine right. They still have to win elections. And the voters have no interest in war. Within the United States, the animated wings of both of the moribund, corporate-controlled political parties are anti-war. Non-aligned independents are anti-war. There is no popular basis for war. There is no organizing principle for conflict: the Russian Bear is now a capitalist like Uncle Sam, and Al Qaeda is now an ally of Samantha Power descrying the savagery of Bashar al-Assad.

Who could, in his or her right mind, fight for any of this? It is all nonsense.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"There Stands the Glass"

Last week I intended to post briefly on the Ted Hawkins version of the Webb Pierce hit "There Stands the Glass." During my last great romance with alcohol, which took place around the millennium (2000 to 2002), I enjoyed listening to The Next Hundred Years (1994).

I thought about "There Stands the Glass" towards the end of last week because I was empty, spent, adrift (I've been grimacing a lot lately) and a nice cold drink sounded refreshing. The desert of life spent as an office worker is immense and desolate.

I righted myself without recourse to alcohol thanks to the tried and true power of the will. I dutifully executed the chores on my punch list for the weekend -- grocery shopping, laundry, march for $15/hr., road race -- and I was redeemed.

Russia Triumphant, West Apoplectic

“They cheated us again and again, made decisions behind our back, presenting us with completed facts. That’s the way it was with the expansion of NATO in the East, with the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They always told us the same thing: ‘Well, this does not involve you.’ ”
President Vladimir Putin                                                          
Address on the Treaty of Accession with Crimea and Sevastopol
St. George's Hall, Kremlin                                                        
The orgy of Russophobia on display today in the Gray Lady is remarkable. One story after another is chock full of acidic disdain and an ignorance of the basic facts of recent history. Case in point is Steven Erlanger's think piece on NATO, "Russia’s Aggression in Crimea Brings NATO Into Renewed Focus." Nowhere mentioned is the fundamental betrayal of the verbal agreement between Bush I and Gorbachev, that German reunification would be allowed to proceed as long as the former Warsaw Pact countries would not be gobbled up by NATO. Clinton promptly broke the agreement and expanded NATO. This is what Putin refers to in the quote above.

Putin's speech was refreshing to behold, in stark contrast to Joe Biden's tired, obviously mendacious statement in Warsaw where he makes more stale threats. At what point does the U.S. foreign policy elite realize that they are losing and just, please, you know, stop talking, stop blustering?

A perfect example is White House Press Secretary Jay Carney yesterday trying to take credit for punishing the Russian economy on a day when the markets responded positively to Putin's Crimea address. Here is how Peter Baker describes it in the best piece to be found in today's paper, "Obama’s Test: Can Penalties Change Russia’s Course?":
Mr. Carney said the United States would also expand its sanctions, and noted that the geopolitical uncertainty had already taken a toll on Russia’s currency and markets. “I wouldn’t if I were you invest in Russian equities right now unless you’re going short,” he said. 
And yet world markets rose on Tuesday after Mr. Putin’s speech and action, either shrugging off the crisis or interpreting his reassurance that he did not want to split Ukraine as a signal that he would be satisfied after taking Crimea. The ruble, bolstered by Russia’s central bank, backed off the record lows it had fallen to in recent days.
Either way, Mr. Obama was left on the defensive against critics who said he was not being strong enough. Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger in the 2012 election, said Tuesday that Mr. Obama and his team waited too long to project strength and prepare possible punishments before Mr. Putin sent troops into Crimea. “Part of their failure, I submit, is due to their failure to act when action was possible, and needed,” Mr. Romney wrote in The Wall Street Journal. 
Mr. Carney said it was “preposterous” and “provably wrong” to suggest, as other critics have, that the president sent a signal of weakness that emboldened Mr. Putin after failing to follow through on threats to retaliate against Syria last year for a chemical weapons attack on civilians. Mr. Carney went on to note that Mr. Bush’s willingness to invade Iraq “didn’t seem to affect Russia’s calculations when it came to its actions in Georgia” in 2008. 
Mr. Obama has given himself more tools to use against Russia, if he chooses to do so. An executive order he signed on Monday authorizes sanctions against not just Russian government officials but also the Russian arms industry and Russian oligarchs who support Mr. Putin’s rule. 
One Russian who has been on some lists of possible targets circulated in Washington and Brussels is Igor Sechin, a longtime Putin adviser who is now the president of Rosneft, the state oil company. 
Rosneft is deeply entwined in a variety of projects with ExxonMobil, including a joint venture signed in December to develop oil reserves in Siberia. If Mr. Sechin is barred from traveling to the United States and has his personal assets frozen, current and former government officials said that could put the partnership between the oil companies in real jeopardy. 
Republicans in Washington are also pushing Mr. Obama to be more assertive to break Russia’s energy grip over Ukraine and Europe. “If we are serious about challenging Putin’s aggression,” said Representative Ed Royce, Republican of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “the U.S. and our European allies should make an all-out effort to break that grip.”
That is a marker of the seriousness of Western talk of sanctions: Does the Russian energy sector get targeted? In order to go after Rosneft or Gazprom you would have to guarantee that Europe and the United States march together in lockstep, otherwise one country's loss would just be another's gain. Europe has already declared that the energy sector is off-limits. The result? Serious economic sanctions are as probable as a thermonuclear war between East and West.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Look to the East in Ukraine to Discern U.S. Intentions

At this point, with Joe Biden being trundled off to Poland and the Baltics to calm the former Soviet satellites, I am sure Obama wishes Ukraine would just disappear, at least for a while.

This morning, following Putin's speech announcing that Crimea will be accepted as a member of the Russian Federation and a pervasive sense of mirthful derision that has greeted the stentorian proclamation of  Russian sanctions by the U.S. and Europe, it is clear that the Western defense of the putsch in Ukraine has arrived stillborn.

The best riff on the sanctions dud is quoted this morning in "Putin Declares Crimea Is a Part of Russia" by Steven Lee Myers and Peter Baker:
The American sanctions targeted prominent Russian officials, but not those likely to have many overseas assets; the European list generally went after lower-level targets. As a result, the actions were met with derision and even mockery in Moscow. 
This is a big honor for me,” said Mr. Surkov, once called the “gray cardinal” of the Kremlin and known as the architect of Mr. Putin’s highly centralized political system. He told a Russian newspaper that he had no assets abroad: “In the U.S., I’m interested in Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work.”
Obama warns that more sanctions are to come; that the lucrative Russian arms industry is next. But to truly harm Russia, sanctions would have to come from Europe and they would have to target Gazprom and/or Rosneft. There is no indication Europe will go in that direction:
Asked whether the European Union had failed to match tough words with strong actions, Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, told journalists: “The U.S. is from Mars and Europe is from Venus. Get used to it.” 
He noted that “Europe is closer and will therefore pay a bigger cost for sanctions against Russia.” He also pointed to Europe’s collective decision-making process. 
“In the United States, one man takes a decision on the basis of an executive order,” Mr. Sikorski said, “whereas in Europe, for these measures to be legal, we need a consensus of 28 member states.”
If round one in Ukraine went to the Nuland neocons and the Right Sector street fighters, round two goes to Russia. Now, with the clock ticking, the momentum has decidedly shifted  in favor of Putin and against the putschists in Kiev. Shortly, the International Monetary Fund will come forward with a bailout deal. I would imagine this will represent a significant challenge for the putsch government. The fiction floated by Western governments and their servile press is that the putschists have a popular mandate from the people; the truth is, the putsch only represents a minority. Once the austerity features of the IMF loan package are published, the putsch government should begin to fray.

Appreciation of this is probably what is motivating Kerry to consider previously dismissed Russian proposals for a constitutional overhaul of Ukraine to allow for federalization. As laid out the last couple of days on the Moon of Alabama blog ("Ukraine: U.S. Takes Off-Ramp, Agrees To Russian Demands"),
There was another phone call today between Secretary of State Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. The call came after a strategy meeting on Ukraine in the White House. During the call Kerry agreed to Russian demands for a federalization of the Ukraine in which the federal states will have a strong autonomy against a central government in a finlandized Ukraine. Putin had offered this "off-ramp" from the escalation and Obama has taken it.
Going forward, the West needs Russia to help solve the crisis it created in Ukraine. But I am not confident that the United States has the ability to act cooperatively at this point. The logic of U.S. hegemony is "If you don't get what you want, just make the problem bigger." Populate the planet with a series of failed states. Granted, Obama and Kerry took the off ramp in the run up to war against Syria; let's hope that was not just a one-off.

Proof that Russia is going to bide its time is found in a refreshingly unbiased story by C.J. Chivers and Andrew Roth about protests in the pro-Russian Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, "In Eastern Ukraine, the Curtain Goes Up, and the Clash Begins." We should be able to interpret the intentions of the U.S. going forward by the response to pro-Russian protesters in the east. If there is a harsh crackdown by the putschist-aligned security forces, we know that it is the U.S. sticking to script, trying to the make problem bigger.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Threat of EU Sanctions on Russia Already Falling Flat

After an ennui-drenched Friday, a wonderful weekend.

Saturday was spent throwing a football with a coworker's sons, marching and chanting for "$15 Now!" The speeches at the post-march rally were actually good/informative. James Bible, former head of the Seattle NAACP, spoke about the class warfare being waged on the poor. Then Kshama Sawant laid out the plan for dealing with plutocratic opposition to the $15/hr. minimum wage -- agreeing to a three-year phase in for small business and non-profits to neutralize the plutocrats' tactic of hiding behind small business and then full speed ahead on gathering signatures to bring the $15/hr. minimum wage to the ballot as an initiative. I topped off the day by streaming two good movies: Out of the Furnace (2013) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). Both hard-luck stories.

Sunday I ran the annual St. Paddy's Day Dash, which I do every year. I enjoy the course, which is up 99 from Seattle Center until just before you get to the bridge over to Wallingford; then you turn around and come back to Seattle Center. I was worried my time would be worse than it was, but it wasn't, despite being waterlogged by a steady rain. The rest of the day after the morning race I relaxed. Good weekend.

And one of the reasons the weekend was so good, in addition to a welcome decline in number of the usual threats emanating from Great Satan's orifice, was the result of the referendum in Crimea went smoothly. According to a story this morning by Alan Cowell, "Lawmakers in Crimea Move Swiftly to Split From Ukraine":
The referendum — in which 96.77 percent of voters supported breaking from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation — was greeted as a triumph in Moscow on Monday, and lawmakers there promised to move quickly to adopt legislation to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation. “Crimea returns to Russia!” a headline in Komsomolskaya Pravda said, while Nezavisimaya Gazeta declared that “Kiev lost Crimea.”
A member of Parliament announced that President Vladimir V. Putin would deliver an address to lawmakers on the situation in Crimea on Tuesday. Mr. Putin told President Obama on Sunday that the vote was legal and cited the independence of Kosovo — which Russia has not recognized — as the precedent for Crimea’s secession, the Kremlin said in a statement.
“The referendum was organized in such a way as to guarantee Crimea’s population the possibility to freely express their will and exercise their right to self-determination,” the Kremlin’s statement on the latest of a series of conversations between the two leaders said. 
Mr. Putin also continued to raise the issue of violence and protests in other parts of Ukraine, which have stoked fears that Russia could move forces beyond Crimea. He told Mr. Obama that “the current authorities in Kiev have so far failed to demonstrate the ability and desire to rein in the ultranationalist and radical groups that are destabilizing the situation in the country and terrorizing ordinary people, including the Russian-speaking population and Russia’s compatriots,” the Kremlin statement said.
The putschists in Kiev called up reservists (which they have done before, to little effect) and added another 20,000 to a new national guard being put together under the direction of the neo-Nazis in Right Sector.

Now the ball is in Brussels' court. So far the sounds emanating from the European bureaucracy are meek:
In Brussels, foreign ministers of European Union countries met on Monday to weigh a first response to Moscow’s unfolding strategy in Ukraine, including possible economic sanctions. 
One of the ministers attending the European Union meeting in Brussels, Sebastian Kurz of Austria, gave a strong indication that the punitive European measures under debate would not initially reach into the highest echelons of Russia’s powerful energy companies, which are close to the Kremlin.
In a radio interview, Mr. Kurz said Sunday’s ballot in Ukraine would trigger an array of measures including visa bans and the freezing of assets held by political and military figures who orchestrated Russia’s intervention in Crimea, Reuters reported. 
Asked whether the list would include the heads of the energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft, as reported on Friday in Germany, Mr. Kurz replied: “This is not expected at this time.” 
He added: “I think picking business bosses indiscriminately would be a wrong step.” 
The foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, he said, would draw up a list of people to be subjected to the measures. The ministers have been reported to be trying to reduce a tally of up to 130 names to a smaller number.
Western tough talk on sanctions already appears to be falling flat.

But before we leave to discuss briefly the long, to-be-expected hand-wringing think piece about the tarnished luster of U.S. hegemony by David Sanger, a statement from British Foreign Secretary William Hague:
As he arrived in the Belgian capital on Sunday, Mr. Hague called the Crimea referendum “a mockery of proper democratic practice.”
But a lethally violent insurrection in a nation's capital that sent the elected president fleeing in order to avoid being lynched by neo-Nazis brandishing weapons from a looted armory, this is "proper democratic practice"?

Western rulers and their court ideologues have turned the world upside down in defense of unilateralism. This is on full display in the aforementioned David Sanger analysis, "Global Crises Put Obama’s Strategy of Caution to the Test." Sanger runs through the standard "Neocon vs. Realist" debate. There is not much to recommend taking the time to read it. Public opinion -- what the voters in the "Greatest Nation on Earth"™ think about endless warfare to police the entire planet -- rates only a brief, indirect mention out of a lot of column inches of copy:
Not surprisingly, the testing of administration policy at a time the president is politically weakened at home has sparked a critical question. Is it Mr. Obama’s deliberative, pick-your-battles approach that is encouraging adversaries to press the limits? Or is this simply a time when exercising leverage over countries that defy American will or the international order is trickier than ever, and when the domestic pressure to stay out of international conflicts is obvious to overseas friends and foes alike?
This is obviously the question to explore, but Sanger ignores it. How long can governing elites continue to act as if they exist in a free-floating cloud above the masses who elect them?