Monday, June 30, 2014

U.S. (Non)Response to ISIS

As Russia speeds delivery of SU-25 fighter planes to besieged Iraq, let's take a step back and reconnoiter the U.S. response, or lack thereof, to the emerging ISIS caliphate. First, blame Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki. The idea here, as floated by USG and -- uniformly -- its media minions, is that ISIS is a creation not of the rich Gulf emirates, whose history of funding and exporting Wahhabi jihad is well documented, but of the democratically elected Maliki government because that democratically elected government is not more inclusive of Sunnis.

The most obvious shortcoming of this argument is the absence of proof that Sunnis, who would be open to participating in Iraq's government if only given a sinecure, have -- anywhere -- gone over wholesale to a medieval movement that considers democracy irreligious. What the reporting has shown so far is that a relatively compact force of jihadis augmented by ex-Baathist Sufis led by former Saddam henchman Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri took Mosul by blitzkrieg on June 10. The Kurds followed by taking Kirkuk a couple days later. The whole thing had the vibe of central planning.

There have been hints in Anbar that the Sons of Iraq, the "Awakening" movement that battled ISIS precursor Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) during the U.S. occupation last decade, has gone over to ISIS. But this has only been alluded to, not documented at any length in anything that I have seen.

No, what is going on in Iraq smacks of a "Great Game" operation. The U.S. has done nothing so far to stem the jihadis. The 300 military advisers and surveillance flights are more to keep tabs on the Iraqi Army and the assistance it is receiving from Russia and Iran. Let's keep our eyes peeled for any strike on ISIS by the U.S. I'm skeptical one will every come off. Maybe once it is clear that the jihadis are being routed Obama will order a cosmetic Predator drone attack on a column of retreating Salafi foot soldiers, if only to maintain the cover story that USG is concerned about a terrorist safe haven.

The second aspect of the U.S. response to consider, besides the scapegoating of Maliki, is the linkage to Syria. Yes, Syria is linked to Iraq and the rise of ISIS. There is no denying that. But using the ISIS capture of Mosul and most of the Syria-Iraq border posts as an excuse to forward a half-a-billion dollar request to train and equip a non-existent "moderate" Syrian rebel army is also a strong tell. The target here is not ISIS but Assad.

So in both cases -- first, the blame-Maliki game; then the funding request for a discredited Syrian opposition -- USG is doing all it can to avoid confronting the real problem, which is ISIS and its Gulf sponsors.

It is truly pitiful, and one wonders how much longer it can continue, what with Russia and Iran acting with alacrity and the jihadis starting to suffer their first military defeats of the blitz. I'm sure the hope in Jidda and D.C. is that the gains of the blitz can be locked in -- Kurdish control of Kirkuk; Salafi control of Mosul -- and a long, grinding, costly (for Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia) guerrilla war commences.

There will be a price to pay politically in the United States. If the conflict grinds on and Obama continues his feckless dithering, Democrats will hemorrhage. If Iraq convincingly rolls back the ISIS blitz, the Fourth Estate will shriek that the sky is falling. Let's hope for the latter.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Franz Ferdinand Assassination Centenary

John Burns has been in Sarajevo the last couple of days reporting on the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his consort by Serbian nationalist teenager Gavrilo Princip. The assassination is the event that led to World War I.  The Central Powers (Austria-Hungary & Germany) declared war on the recently independent nation of Serbia. And the Allied Powers (France, United Kingdom, Russia), who backed Serbia, declared war on the Central Powers. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performed yesterday.

I tried to find the concert online and was unsuccessful. It was made available for broadcast by EUROVISION. The 100th anniversary commemoration was underwritten by the European Union. Here is the Vienna Philharmonic program:
Dušan Šestić
National Anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Joseph Haydn
Joseph Haydn: String Quartet, op. 76/3 (Hob. III:77), "Emperor Quartet", 2nd Movement

Franz Schubert
Symphony No. 7 in B minor, D 759 (“Unfinished Symphony”)

Alban Berg
Three Pieces for Orchestra, op. 6

Johannes Brahms
Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) for Choir and Orchestra op. 54 (Hölderlin)

Maurice Ravel
La Valse, Poème choréographique pour orchestre

Ludwig van Beethoven
European Anthem (Arrangement: Herbert von Karajan)
Burns published two stories: "In Sarajevo, Divisions That Drove an Assassin Have Only Begun to Heal" yesterday, and "Revelry in Sarajevo, Where Shots Started a World War" today. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a mess, undergoing a "Bosnian Spring" earlier this year when there were massive riots over privatization and unpaid salaries and pensions. As Burns describes in his Saturday story,
Despite the boycott by hard-line Serbs, the hope is that the centenary can be used to move sectarian groups toward a new sense of the benefits of a shared political life, and away from the political paralysis that has characterized Bosnia since the Dayton agreement.
That accord, which ended the 1990s blood bath, gave Bosnia a multilayered political structure, with more than a dozen governmental and parliamentary bodies — all elected on sectarian lines, and all now tottering under the weight of endemic corruption and fierce personal rivalries. 
Nearly two decades later, Bosnia remains one of the poorest nations in Europe. It has an official youth unemployment rate nearing 50 percent and an economy that is still 20 percent smaller than it was when the fighting broke out here in 1992. Hundreds of thousands of refugees remain scattered across Europe, wide areas of the country are virtually depopulated, and tens of thousands of homes are still abandoned and in ruins. Seething popular discontent led to days of protests and rioting this year, including the firebombing of government buildings in Sarajevo and other cities.
After those upheavals, Mayor Ivo Komsic of Sarajevo, a Bosnian Croat, appealed to the country’s 3.8 million people to make the 1914 centenary an occasion to renounce sectarian animosities in favor of a new beginning that could carry Bosnia to membership in the European Union — a status Croatia has already achieved and Serbia is nearing. “The eyes of the world will be focused on Sarajevo once more,” Mr. Komsic said, “and it is important that we send messages completely different from the messages of war we sent in 1914 and 1992.”
The Dayton Agreement is normally trumpeted as a great foreign policy achievement of the Clinton administration. But reading a broadside by Ron Jacobs, a writer I trust, against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, I stumbled across this nugget:
Two years later, spring of 1999. Bill Clinton was under fire in Congress for his misguided and manipulative dalliances with Monica Lewinsky. The Dayton Accords concerning the growing civil war in Yugoslavia had created the intended scenario, leading Belgrade to insist on its historical right to keep Kosovo under its governance. In response, Washington and other NATO governments began an intensive bombing campaign. Bill Clinton and his war cabinet began an around-the-clock assault on the Serbian people. Liberals and progressives drank the kool-aid and offered their whole hearted support. Bernie Sanders made it clear he was completely on board with the action. Indeed, after antiwar activists in Burlington, Vermont marched through downtown Burlington stopping at the offices of each Senator and ending at Sanders’ office where they staged a sit-in, Bernie instructed his office staff via telephone to call the police and clear the office. A week later at an emergency town meeting on the bombing in Montpelier, Vermont Sanders showed up with a couple staff members and a panel of pro and antiwar speakers. Bernie vehemently defended the bombing and actually told at least two members of the audience to leave if they didn’t like what he was saying.
Bosnian Serbs ended up holding their own non-EU sanctioned commemoration for Princip. In today's story Burns describes how Dayton has failed to alleviate tensions between Croats, Serbs and Muslims:
An academic conference to debate the causes and consequences of the war became eerily anodyne when scholars from France, Germany, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia and other European nations fell into a dispute ahead of the gathering about the topics to be discussed and the speakers who would address them. In the end, the program for the conference, held at the Hotel Hollywood in the mainly Serbian town of Ilidza, where the archduke and his wife spent their last night before taking a brief train ride into Sarajevo, was devised to avoid any open disputes about the role of Princip or other issues touching on war guilt. 
The compromise was guided by the European Union and its diplomatic mission here, which tries to draw rival Bosnian sectarian groups into a less wary and abrasive posture on Bosnia’s future than the main protagonists among the Serbs, Croats and Muslims have shown since the United States-sponsored Dayton agreement that ended the sectarian killing of the 1990s. Peter Sorensen, a Danish diplomat who is the European special representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, describes his role as that of a referee overseeing a “fierce fight, on a daily basis, over maintaining the political space” allotted to the groups under the Dayton pact. 
But Mr. Sorensen and other European diplomats failed to persuade the Bosnian Serb political leaders to join in shared commemorations of the centenary of the Sarajevo assassinations. Instead, Milorad Dodik, the most militant of the Bosnian Serb leaders, led his followers on Friday in erecting a seven-foot statue to Princip in a hardscrabble park in Lukavica, a suburb of Sarajevo and a Serbian military stronghold during the fighting of the 1990s. On Saturday, Bosnian Serbs held more celebrations of Princip and his fellow conspirators in Visegrad, 70 miles southeast of Sarajevo, where they also re-enacted the assassination.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Some Thoughts on Pride Weekend

A few thoughts here on Pride weekend. My neighborhood is the historic center of the gay and lesbian community in the Emerald City. The parade used to go down Broadway but has been moved downtown in the last five years. We still host a block party the Saturday before the Sunday parade; that means thumping dance music all-day long.

The current wave of celebration for gay marriage is what the Democratic Party is choosing to hang its hat on: Not the economy, not the recent $15-hour minimum-wage victories in SeaTac and Seattle, but the dramatic, sweeping acceptance of gay rights. For example, here are the first lines of a fundraising appeal I received the other day from the state party:
“GOP Front-Runner Compares Gay Marriage to Polygamy.” It’s sad but it’s true. 
Pedro Celis, the GOP candidate running against Suzan DelBene for Congress in the 1st district, is rushing to the right to appeal to the Tea Party. And he’s not alone.
Democrats are hiding behind the skirt of gay marriage because they are adrift. Gay marriage is all well and good. As Nietzsche said, "The more tolerant a society, the greater it is." Or something like that. But for a party to trumpet its tepid leadership on gay rights in a fundraising letter is a mark of desperation. (Unless I'm wrong, the great breakthroughs on same-sex marriage came in the courts and from ballot initiatives in 2012.)

People want jobs and public spending on transportation, housing and health. And the Democrats have delivered little. But the Nobel Peace Prize president is promising to deliver spending on war.

Ben Hubbard has a small piece today, "Syria: Dispute Unsettles Rebel Coalition," about the putative recipients, the Free Syrian Army, of Obama's latest folly, his $500 million lethal-aid request to arm and train a "moderate" Syrian force to compete with the Saudi-sponsored Salafis in the ouster of the Baathist government in Syria:
As President Obama asks Congress for $500 million to help Syria’s rebels, the dysfunction and infighting that have long undermined their fight against the Syrian government spilled into the open again on Friday. The leader of the interim government established by the exile opposition, the Syrian National Coalition, said in a statement that he was firing the head of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army and referring its members to a commission to investigate accusations of corruption. The military council responded that the interim government had made a “grave legal error” and did not have any power over it — a position that was supported by the leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Assi al-Jarba. Despite being endorsed by the West as the leaders of the struggle against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, none of the bodies involved in the dispute are currently playing a significant role in the civil war. The coalition is widely seen as ineffective, its interim government is little more than a list of names, and the military council has been overshadowed on the ground by rebel formations and extremist groups that have been more active.
The lightweight Saudi stooge Ahmad Assi al-Jarba had a photo op yesterday at the airport in Jidda with the Hogarthian John Kerry. Al-Jarba is being presented as an answer to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Yes, I know. It is hard to believe.

A legitimate question to ask is, "Which body is more corrupt, the Syrian National Coalition or the U.S. Congress?" The answer will be the latter if Obama is granted his half a billion.

David Brooks had an interesting column yesterday, "The Spiritual Recession: Is America Losing Faith in Universal Democracy?"

Brooks riffs on a recent article by Mark Lilla, "The Truth About Our Libertarian Age: Why the dogma of democracy doesn't always make the world better," in the New Republic and asks why people no longer aspire to large social projects like global democracy or socialism.
. . . Lilla argues that we have slid into a debauched libertarianism. Nobody envisions the large sweep of events; we just go our own separate ways making individual choices.
He’s a bit right about that. When the U.S. was a weak nation, Americans dedicated themselves to proving to the world that democracy could last. When the U.S. became a superpower, Americans felt responsible for creating a global order that would nurture the spread of democracy. But now the nation is tired, distrustful, divided and withdrawing. Democratic vistas give way to laissez-faire fatalism: History has no shape. The dream of universal democracy seems naïve. National interest matters most. 
Lilla’s piece both describes and unfortunately exemplifies the current mood. He argues that the notion of history as a march toward universal democracy is a pipe dream. Arab nations are not going to be democratic anytime soon. The world is an aviary of different systems — autocracy, mercantile despotism — and always will be. Instead of worrying about spreading democracy, we’d be better off trying to make theocracies less beastly.

Such is life in a spiritual recession. Americans have lost faith in their own gospel. This loss of faith is ruinous from any practical standpoint. The faith bound diverse Americans, reducing polarization. The faith gave elites a sense of historic responsibility and helped them resist the money and corruption that always licked at the political system. 
Without the vibrant faith, there is no spiritual counterweight to rampant materialism. Without the faith, the left has grown strangely callous and withdrawing in the face of genocide around the world. The right adopts a zero-sum mentality about immigration and a pinched attitude about foreign affairs.
Brooks is a genius of keeping the obvious unstated. The unchallenged domination of predatory capitalism is the taproot of "rampant materialism." A Muslim says “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” What do we say here in the belly of the beast on Pride weekend? I'll tell you what we say: It is The Teaches of Peaches (2000).

"Fuck the Pain Away" is all we have to say. That is the rainbow-colored standard that we fly so high.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Welcome to World War Four

Obama is finally giving the neocons what they want. He is sending a request to Congress to fund a Syrian opposition army. This is from Helene Cooper's "Obama Requests Money to Train ‘Appropriately Vetted’ Syrian Rebels":
President Obama requested $500 million from Congress on Thursday to train and equip what the White House is calling “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition, reflecting increased worry about the spillover of the Syrian conflict into Iraq. 
The training program would be a significant step for a president who has consistently resisted providing military aid to the rebels in the conflict in Syria, and has warned of the dangers of American intervention. But military and State Department officials indicated that there were not yet any specific programs to arm and train the rebels that the money would fund, nor could administration officials specify which moderate Syrian opposition members they intended to train and support, or where they would be trained.
The administration can't specify the moderates it plans to whip into a rebel army because they don't exist. The last group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), led by Syrian turncoat Gen. Salim Idris, has not really been heard from since their storehouses of U.S.-supplied hardware were commandeered by Islamic Front (IF) fighters last December. There is some question whether the FSA freely handed the equipment over to the jihadis. IF is another Saudi-backed Sunni fundamentalist organization. Idris fled to Qatar. This prompted the Obama administration to suspend nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition prior to the big Geneva II peace talks in January.

So we've been down this road recently, and it was a spectacular failure. Read the story that Michael Gordon, Mark Landler and Anne Barnard published on December 11, 2013, "U.S. Suspends Nonlethal Aid to Syria Rebels." It will tell you everything you need to know:
The episode that prompted the aid suspension occurred last week when the Islamic Front seized control of warehouses in Atmeh, Syria, that contain the American-supplied aid.
According to rebel commanders in Turkey and Syria, the incident unfolded with a confusing series of events that reflects the uncertainty on the front lines amid shifting rebel alliances.
By one account, news spread that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda that has clashed with rival insurgents, was planning an attack on the military headquarters and warehouses controlled by General Idris’s Supreme Military Council, which are near the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border.
The Supreme Military Council is the nominal leadership of the loose-knit Free Syrian Army, which the United States has promoted as a relatively moderate force and which the State Department has supported with nonlethal aid such as food rations, computers and vehicles.
Fighters from the Islamic Front rushed to the area, they claimed, to protect the warehouses, but ended up seizing them and the American equipment and supplies inside. But other opposition officials say the report of an attack by Qaeda-affiliated extremists was merely a ruse.
Maysara, an Free Syrian Army commander from Saraqeb in Idlib Province who maintains contacts in the Islamic Front, said that when fighters from three Islamic Front battalions reached the headquarters, they found it deserted and believed the commanders there had fled.
The Islamic Front fighters, he said, told him that they then “took the opportunity and stole everything in the headquarters,” including about 40 pickup trucks and tanks.
Under the administration’s division of labor, the State Department is in charge of supplying nonlethal aid while the C.I.A. runs a covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels.
“We have seen reports that Islamic Front forces have seized the Atmeh headquarters and warehouses,” a State Department official said. “As a result of this situation, the United States has suspended all further deliveries of nonlethal assistance into northern Syria. The humanitarian aid to the Syrian people is not impacted by this suspension.”
What Obama is doing is taking the main Syria dossier from the CIA and giving it to the Pentagon. The U.S., assuming Congress climbs aboard, is about to spend half-a-billion dollars on the Islamic Front, which, next to saturation bombing of Damascus, is what the neocons always wanted.

Make no mistake about it. We're talking about the U.S. creating another army. And we know how successful that has been. The Iraq Army turned tail and ran in mass (after $25 billion by the American taxpayer). The Afghan Army is even worse. Something like one-third deserts every year, not to mention anything about the green-on-blue attacks.

It is Afghanistan in the 1980s all over again. And we know how that ended. Doing the same thing in Iraq and al-Sham will destabilize the global order like nothing we have seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union that brought the forty-year World War Three to a close. An ersatz World War Four was supplied thereafter by the Global War On Terror, which is now supplanted by the real McCoy World War Four, the war against Shiite Iran and all her allies -- Russia, China, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq.

Domestically, the Grand Old Party effectively ran against the Jimmy Carter of the Iran hostage crisis and his ghost for over a decade. In 1992 Republicans went back to the trough again and would have been successful if not for the presence of plutocrat Ross Perot on the ballot. Perot allowed people a way to vote without voting for "acid, abortion and amnesty." The GOP had successfully tarred Democrats with the collapse of the social cohesion and full-employment prosperity of the 1960s. Voters elected Republican commanders in chief throughout the 1980s. Social democracy in the United States was choked off and the neoliberal race to the bottom was locked in.

Obama's final capitulation to the warpigs with this announcement of arming and training the mujahideen for yet one more wasteful, bloody, destructive adventure will be the end of the Democrats. Unless somehow enough libertarian Tea Party types join with progressive Dems to block Obama's request in the House.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kerry to Meet ISIS Sponsors to Plan Next Phase of Offensive

This is the last paragraph of "Iran Secretly Sending Drones and Supplies Into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say," by Michael Gordon and Eric Scmitt:
On Thursday, Mr. Kerry plans to meet in Paris with the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, as well as with Saad Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. But a major reason for the stop is to discuss Syria and the “grave security situation” in Iraq with his counterparts from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a senior State Department official said.
And this from Alissa Rubin and Rod Nordland, "Sunni Militants Advance Toward Large Iraqi Dam":
Mr. Kerry also told reporters that he had been asked by President Obama to travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday to confer with King Abdullah on the best ways to counter the ISIS advance.
This is usually the way it goes on official trips to the Kingdom: front load the high-publicity stuff at the beginning of the junket and then back-end the visit to the Saudis at the end of the week when people are preparing for the weekend. There is usually very little reporting done from Saudi soil.

My sense is that the ISIS offensive has stalled. Granted, all the Iraq border crossings are in the possession of either the Kurds or the Salafis, and the behemoth Haditha Dam is now at risk, but Samarra is secure and the large refinery in Baiji is back under the control of the Iraq Army.

More importantly, the response of Iraq's allies, Syria and Iran, appears to be robust. Syrian planes are reported to have struck ISIS staging areas in western Iraq, and Iran is rushing weapons, munitions and advisers to its neighbor, as well as massing ten divisions of Quds Force troops on the Iran-Iraq border.

This is troubling the Obama administration. Kerry said in Brussels yesterday that he was worried about the war being widened, which means that he is worried about Syria, Iran and Iraq acting in concert with their Russian benefactor to successfully beat back the ISIS blitz.

ISIS has to be overextended at this point. Losses will begin to mount. U.S. duplicity is already beginning to sink in. Citizens in the homeland are either completely confused and therefore upset or are hip to the game the administration is playing and are upset. That is why Obama's approval and disapproval ratings are edging into dangerous territory. This game of pretending to be concerned about the jihadi assault on Iraq all while doing nothing to counter it, choosing instead to complain about Syria, Iran and Iraqi Shiites has a short half-life.

So expect a game-changer shortly after Kerry huddles with the exporters of Wahhabi terrorism. Some sort of Vesuvius of provocation, like an incident in the skies over Iraq where one of those U.S. P-3 surveillance planes will be said to be shot down by a Syrian MiG. This will allow reprisal attacks by the U.S., probably with a NATO assist, allowing ISIS to establish an expanded front in Syria.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Another End Game on Ukraine Approaches

I have gotten into the habit of announcing an approaching end game in Ukraine for months. When the uprising in the Donbass started in April and it looked like the Kiev junta was going to sue for peace because it couldn't field a military response, I thought a rational conclusion to the putsch crisis -- namely, federalization and neutralization of Ukraine -- was nigh. Somehow, probably with ample support from the U.S. and her European allies, the Kiev junta put its newly created national guard, the one filled with Right Sector fascists, front and center and the assault on the southeast continued.

Then there was the thought that once the chocolate king was elected president in May Russia would have a willing bargaining partner to bring the fighting to an end. Once elected, Poroshenko expanded the "anti-terror operation" (ATO).

Finally, this month, there was Gazprom's suspension of gas deliveries to Ukraine because of non-payment. I thought that would hasten the junta to the bargaining table, but nothing of the sort happened. It is summer now and fuel tanks are topped out.

Now it is time for me to announce that yet another end game is upon us. Friday European leaders meet to debate and decide whether to support an effort by the United States to increase sanctions on Russia. The U.S. position is that Russia is not doing enough to tamp down the Donbass uprising, even though Putin has recently said that he will ask the Russian Parliament to rescind its authorization allowing military intervention in Ukraine.

Peter Baker has the story, "Doubting Putin, Obama Prepares to Add Pressure," which is quite good. (Baker is a cut above the normal mercenary scribe. Reporters like David Sanger, Rick Gladstone, Michael Gordon generally do nothing to inform; they act merely as receivers of official talking points. But Peter Baker can write. And while he sticks to the government-sanctioned narrative there is usually something in his stories that illuminates what is really going on.)
Even as the Kremlin voices support for a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, American officials remain unconvinced that it has backed up words with deeds. Russia has moved troops back to the border and positioned heavy artillery there in what American officials consider an effort to help the separatists, who on Tuesday shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter. 
But President Obama faces hurdles as he tries to keep the pressure up on the government of President Vladimir V. Putin. European Union leaders, who are scheduled to meet Friday in Brussels, are reluctant to go along if it looks like Mr. Putin may be backing down. And American business leaders objecting to unilateral actions that would hurt their companies are kicking off an advertising campaign to oppose Mr. Obama’s plans. 
Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Putin on Monday to urge him to take more tangible steps to defuse the crisis, and the Russian leader on Tuesday seemed to respond by asking his Parliament to rescind formal authorization to intervene militarily in Ukraine. American officials considered the move positive but symbolic, assuming that it was really meant to undercut European support for additional sanctions.
The sanctions themselves will go after Russian banking, military and energy:
The Obama administration has developed three options for further actions, according to government officials: banning any interactions with some of Russia’s largest banks; cutting off technology transfers to Russian energy and defense firms; and shutting down business with Russian defense companies. 
Believe it or not, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) are about to launch a big public offensive against Obama's New Cold War. The reason is obvious. U.S. corporate interests will lose out to European competitors if Obama leads with new sanctions without Europe in tow:
The drive for more sanctions comes as American businesses are growing more vocal in protesting the possibility that the United States may act on its own. While lobbying the White House and Congress quietly until now, leading business groups plan to start a wide advertising campaign voicing their concerns. 
“With escalating global tensions, some U.S. policy makers are considering a course of sanctions that history shows hurts American interests,” reads an advertisement to be placed in major newspapers on Thursday. “We are concerned about actions that would harm American manufacturers and cost American jobs." 
The ad, signed by Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will be placed in The Financial Times, The Hill, The New York Times, Politico, Roll Call, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. A copy was provided on Tuesday by someone not directly affiliated with either sponsoring organization. 
Linda Dempsey, the vice president for international economic affairs at the manufacturers association, would not discuss the ad campaign but said American businesses would be unduly harmed if Washington proceeded with sanctions that were not matched by Europe. 
“Unilateral sanctions by the United States end up with other countries and their industries filling the void,” she said. “The harm and the real impact of those unilateral sanctions is on U.S. industries and U.S. workers. It’s not that we’re out of the market for a year or two. We could get out of the market for decades.”
Europe could end this charade here and now by forcefully stating that no further sanctions will be considered and that Putin has been a good-faith actor since the Kiev coup in February sent the elected president fleeing for his life.

But don't count on strong, principled action from European leaders. Their conduct in all of this has been feckless. Nonetheless, the ad roll out by NAM and the U.S. Chamber says that this is about to change. Friday Europe could very well stand upright on its hind legs and seriously bring an end to the fighting in Donbass.

But the U.S. is wily. Assuming that they can't reach consensus this Friday, the Obama administration is looking for Europe to sign off a set of sanctions that will go into effect if Russia is perceived to have begun backsliding:
If the Europeans are not willing to impose new sanctions after Friday’s meeting, the American side hopes to reach agreement on a package that would be ready to use if Mr. Putin does not follow through on his recent positive statements or reverts back to more hostile actions once the meeting has passed. In effect, that would make the sanctions package a deterrent.
This of course opens the door for a false-flag provocation, the kind of dark art in which the USG specializes. So it could very well be that I will be back here in another couple weeks or a month announcing another end game.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hippies vs. Punks: Saved by The Damned's "New Rose"

There is something that I want to mention and if I don't do it soon I'll forget it entirely. Two weeks for me is about the outer limit of keeping something in mind without writing it down.

Not last week but the week before, when I was limping along in a great deal of pain one morning trying to get through a crosswalk before the light turned red, The Damned's "New Rose" shuffled on the iPod:

What a song! Though each step sent a jolt of misery into my brain, I smiled a bruised smiled because my brain was also filled with the aural ecstasy of "New Rose."

Released in October of 1976 when Fly Like an Eagle was soaring the charts and giving the Hippies a swan song, "New Rose" is credited with being the first single by a UK Punk band; I think it might be the purest expression of Punk any Punk music not just first wave English Punk.

The Damned were always considered also-rans to The Clash and Sex Pistols. On the storied Anarchy in the UK Tour, The Damned decided to perform at a few venues that refused to allow the Pistols on stage (due to the band's super-historic incendiary appearance on the Today show). The Clash and The Heartbreakers showed solidarity and refused to perform.

I was so affected by hearing "New Rose" that I purchased the first album, Damned Damned Damned (1977), though it can be streamed for free on YouTube:

I know I have written briefly before about this album, the first full-length Punk record released in the UK, preceding The Clash (1977) by two months. I called it good. But it is time to amend that. I am ready to class Damned Damned Damned -- along with The Clash (1977), Never Mind the Bollocks (1977) and Pink Flag (1977) -- as a timeless monument to Punk.

Listen to this record. Put your player on repeat. Summer is upon us. July approaches. The planet is growing hotter.

The sound you will hear is the sound of purity. The buzz burning blur of youth and its confused clarity.

"Society is a Hole," as Sonic Youth would sing eight-years later. The Hippies felt the same way but acted as if there there was a way out of the hole. The Punks brought home the message that there is no way out.

Iraq: Obama's Making and Unmaking

What was foreseeable this past winter, when the Nobel Peace Laureate president relaunched the Cold War with his support of a fascist-led putsch in Ukraine, has been verified by a New York Times/CBS News poll. Obama's approval rating at 40% is one point away from the doldrums of the thirties, a level of support which historically has shown a president to be operating without the consent of the governed.

According to Michael Shear and Dalia Sussman in "Poll Finds Dissatisfaction Over Iraq," the capture of large parts of Iraq by uber-Qaeda group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is the cause of the president's undoing:
The poll found that 58 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Mr. Obama is handling foreign policy, a jump of 10 points in the last month to the highest level since Mr. Obama took office in 2009. The spike in disapproval is especially striking among Democrats, nearly a third of whom said they did not approve of his handling of foreign policy.
Fifty-two percent of Americans say they disapprove of how the president is dealing with the current violence in Iraq (including about a third of Democrats); 37 percent approve. 
“I voted for him because he said, ‘Give me four more years and I will fix everything,’ but nothing is being fixed,” Michelle Roberts, 34, a Democrat from Salem, Mass., said in a follow-up interview. “I understand he wants to fight terrorism, but send in robots, drones. Don’t send in our troops. Our men and women are dying for what?” 
The erosion in support across both parties has contributed to a drop in Mr. Obama’s overall rating that threatens to undermine his administration’s political ambitions during the remaining two and a half years of his second term. The president’s approval rating is now at 40 percent, while 54 percent say they disapprove of the job he is doing in office, a six-point jump since May.
As Obama teeters on the brink, one step away from the point of no return, the indicator that bodes ill for his remaining time in office is the jump in his disapproval rating to 54%. One could argue that Obama has lived on the edge of low-forties approval since his disastrous flirtation with bombing Damascus at the end of summer last year and he has always managed to survive. But disapproval ticking closer to a super majority is proof that attitudes are hardening towards the Nobel Peace Laureate.

Another key passage by Shear and Sussman is the confusion that dominates the electorate:
Although the survey suggests that Mr. Obama’s small steps toward military action in Iraq are in line with those of many Americans, it also indicates that people may still yearn for their commander in chief to manage foreign crises, even when the solutions are not obvious to them. A large majority thinks that the United States has important interests in Iraq’s future. Two-thirds said Mr. Obama had not done enough to explain American goals in the country.
This confusion is the result of a people being indoctrinated for the better part of two decades to believe that Wahhabi-style Islam of the type practiced by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden is the greatest enemy to the United States. Yet Obama and his Secretary of State Kerry spend the majority of their time so far talking about malign Iranian and Syrian influence and lecturing the one-time U.S. favorite Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's head of state, that he has to go because he is too sectarian. And all the while there is not one word (other than some ass-covering by an "unnamed senior official" saying that the administration is aware of the problem) about the robust support ISIS receives from the Gulf Sheikhdoms. No wonder people are confused.

People are confused because Obama is playing a game, pretending that the foe is still Al Qaeda and its ilk but the administration's enemy of choice is actually Iran and the states aligned with Iran in the Middle East, Iraq and Syria. A good indication of this can be found in the administration's non-existent reaction to the news that Iraq's border crossing with Jordan has been captured by ISIS. If there were any real threat to Jordan there is no doubt that the Salafis occupying the crossing at Trebil would be blown to smithereens by U.S. aircraft.

More and more the assessment from the first days of ISIS's blitzkrieg capture of Mosul -- that what is happening in Iraq is a planned partition of the country -- seems to be the accurate one. A new secret agreement to carve Iraq into a Kurdish state as well as a Sunni caliphate encompassing parts of Syria while leaving the Shia the rest is in the offing. Call it a centennial overhaul of Sykes-Picot.

And it will be the final nail in Obama's presidential coffin. A guy who rose to power in the Democratic Party based on his pacific stance on the Iraq War is presiding over its bloody destruction. And the carnage and mayhem have just begun. There is no telling how bad things are going to get.

It is hard to say if it will be the wholesale undoing of the Democrats. We can only hope that moribund progressives and liberals will rise in mass and vacate the party.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kerry's Theater of the Absurd

Foreign affairs as practiced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is a theater of the absurd, a traveling roadshow of lies, that makes one pine for the almost Achesonian (in comparison) Hillary Clinton. Once Kerry climbs aboard his jet aircraft with his faithful scribe Michael Gordon in tow you can expect the mendacity to run like the wind and absolutely nothing to be accomplished.

Presently, the Secretary of State is in Baghdad trying to secure a replacement for Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; this despite the fact that he solemnly pronounced at his last stop, in Cairo, that the United States was "not in the business of picking Iraq’s leaders." Don't count on al-Maliki stepping down.

In Cairo, Kerry embraced the military coup government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announcing that all -- the massacre of innocents, the show trials culminating in blanket death sentences for hundreds, the abolition of political organizations -- is forgotten and the money will flow. According to David Kirkpatrick and Michael Gordon, writing in "Kerry Says U.S. Is Ready to Renew Ties With Egypt":
Mr. Kerry expressed firm confidence that the United States would soon fully restore $650 million — the first tranche of the $1.3 billion in annual aid — to the military that the Obama administration had partly withheld after the takeover.
“I am absolutely confident we will get on track there,” he said. Addressing a previously suspended shipment of 10 Apache helicopter gunships that the Egyptian military has been especially eager for, Mr. Kerry said he was just as confident “that the Apaches will come, and that they will come very, very soon.”
And in Egypt’s economic challenges, Mr. Kerry said, President Obama and the United States are “committed to be helpful.”
Three years after Mr. Obama called publicly for President Hosni Mubarak to bow to the Arab Spring uprising demanding his ouster, Mr. Kerry’s remarks appeared to suggest that the administration is now ready to work with another military-backed strongman.
Mr. Sisi won 97 percent of the official votes in a barely contested election last month, and both European and United States-funded observer delegations said it fell short of international standards of democracy. But Mr. Kerry’s comments suggested that the Obama administration was nonetheless ready to try to work with Egypt’s new military-backed government while urging it to improve its records on human rights.
Mr. Kerry tacitly acknowledged the administration’s criticisms of the new government’s authoritarian record, including its heavy-handed crackdown on both the Islamist opposition and liberal or leftist dissenters. “I emphasized also our strong support for upholding the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” he said. 
Mr. Kerry said they had talked about the verdict expected Monday in the case of three journalists who have been jailed since December on politicized charges without any publicly disclosed evidence of a crime. And he said they had also talked about the hurried mass trials that had handed death sentences to more than a dozen senior leaders of the Islamist opposition and hundreds of their supporters, arousing horrified alarms from Western governments and rights groups. 
He also alluded to the government’s criminalization of membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group whose party dominated the recent free elections but has since been excluded from politics. “There is no question that Egyptian society is stronger when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success,” Mr. Kerry said.
The Leveretts, along with Seyed Mohammad Marandi, in their most recent article, "Trying to Force Iran to “Surrender” Will Backfire—Why U.S. Engagement with Tehran Needs to Respect Iranian Independence," remind us that the policy of Egyptian subjugation to U.S. hegemony enshrined in the Camp David Accords is tied to the rise of Saudi-backed jihad and Israeli regional military unilateralism:
The United States has tried subordinating the strategic orientation of a major Middle Eastern state before. Three and a half decades ago, the U.S.-brokered Camp David accords reduced Egypt to a strategic and economic dependency of the United States. While American foreign policy elites regularly extol the regional “stability” wrought by Camp David, that stability was in fact dangerously illusory.
In the wake of Camp David, Saudi Arabia made promotion of violent jihadism an increasingly prominent tool in Saudi foreign policy—a trend that incubated al Qaeda and is still spawning an ever-proliferating array of ideologically similar threats to international security. Three decades of rule by a U.S.-puppet regime, with accompanying political repression and economic stagnation, made Egypt itself a prime source for jihadi ideologues (such as al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri) and fighters. And allowing the Israeli military to consolidate nearly absolute freedom of unilateral initiative—one of Camp David’s first fruits—has been deeply corrosive of America’s regional standing.
On the jet to Cairo, Gordon scribbled down the prevarications of a "senior official" regarding the funding of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham:
[ISIS] is largely self-sustaining because of its success with extortions and in the plundering of the banks in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, which it controls. But some funding "has flowed into Iraq from its neighbors," a senior official on Mr. Kerry's plane said.
"That does not mean that it is the result of an official government policy in many, if not most, cases," the official added.
The idea that ISIS funds itself by looting banks in a city it has held for two weeks is absurd. ISIS has been in control of large parts of northern Syria for a year. Efforts are being made to distance the member states of the GCC from ownership of ISIS, a sign that last week the truth was emerging as to the role of Saudi, Qatari and Kuwaiti sponsorship.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saudis Hijack Arab Spring + Latino Voters in the Belly of the Beast + Disappearance of Newspapers

Some housekeeping for this page on a day when Algeria and South Korea are playing a goal-crazy game in Brazil, take the time to read Vijay Prashad's soccer-oriented "Football in Mosul," which appears on Counterpunch's web site this weekend. This is from the article's last section titled "Saudi Arabia":
The hot desert winds of counter-revolution blew from Saudi Arabia to drag the Arab Spring away from its moment of hope. Bahrain was the first blow, and then Saudi attentions spread across North Africa and into the Levant. Qatari ambitions for the Muslim Brotherhood played their part in knocking off enemies of the House of Saud, but then they had to be dampened. Qatar, the Gulf’s junior player, had to be put in its place. Its principle vehicle – the Muslim Brotherhood – preached a form of Islam that is anathema to the Wahhābiyyah of the Saudis. Saudi money and local Salafis backed Egypt’s Sisi as the Saudi tentacles throttled the Syrian opposition’s many platforms (their Shummar clansman, Ahmad Jabra, was sent to take over the Syrian National Coalition, and their al-Zoubi clansman, Bashar al-Zoubi, took charge of the Saudi-funded but inconsequential Southern Front). The Muslim Brotherhood has gone back to its familiar holes, the liberals took refuge behind the military, and the people…..well. Petro-dollars petrified the Arab Spring. 
Incoherence from Saudi Arabia resulted not only from the contradictions of politics in Syria or Iraq, but also from the deep and important battles within the House of Saud. King Abdullah, ailing and near his end, has sidelined the powerful Sudairi Seven (the Nayefs, the Turkis, the Sultans and of course Bandar bin Sultan) to the advantage of his own lineage. The Sudairis have not taken this lying down. It is said in the Kingdom that they are pushing a hard line for support of the jihadis to corner King Abdallah’s regime into power plays that would benefit them. Start-ups like ISIS relied upon jihadi venture capital from the princes in their private capacity. Such money inflames the region and draws Saudi Arabia – despite official denials – into this or that intrigue that they cannot fully control. Blowback is something that the Saudis know a lot about, from the 1979 Al-Masjid al-Haram seizure in Mecca to the emergence of Osama Bin Laden’s network in the Kingdom. Not developments that they would welcome again. 
Intelligence officials in the Arab world have long speculated that from 2003 al-Duri had taken refuge in Saudi Arabia. He is suspected of being one of the architects of the anti-US insurgency in the “Sunni Triangle,” a fashionable term that makes more sense in the Pentagon and in US think tanks than it does on the ground in Iraq. Al-Duri’s alliance with ISIS gives them the legitimacy of his Ba’athist pedigree in a region that benefitted from the Ba’ath state, and ISIS in turn gives al-Duri the seasoned fighters that he does not otherwise command. It is a unity of convenience, but also an alliance that advances the twisted goals of sections of the Saudi elite. No wonder that the State both said that they do not support ISIS but that they do not want the US to enter the conflict against them. 
The United States has decided not to bomb ISIS positions, but it will send three hundred troops to help with the defense of Baghdad. The US destroyed the Iraqi Army with its bombing runs in 1991, the sanctions regime of the 1990s, the Shock and Awe campaign of 2003, the destruction of the army after 2003 and the prevention of any latitude for the new government to recreate a robust military force. No wonder that the Army simply has not the wherewithal to stand up to the advance of ISIS, not now, not in January in Ramadi and Fallujah. This was in the name of democracy promotion. In that name, the US foisted a Constitution on Iraq, based on which Nouri al-Maliki won two elections. Now, in the name of democracy promotion, the US has asked that he step down as a precondition for aerial strikes. This is an American habit – this or that leader, the US president likes to say, has to go. This is democracy by imperial fiat. 
Iraq trembles for its future, as it has trembled over the past thirty-five years – since Saddam Hussein gleefully heeded the US call to attack Iran in 1980. The boot of imperialism has lain heavy on the neck of Iraq. One sees only the face of the man who has worn that boot (Saddam then, later al-Maliki) – not who has shaped the boot and delivered it to its local satrap.
Two pieces from last week are worth perusing. First, a short article, "Why Hispanics Don’t Have a Larger Political Voice," by Nate Cohn, a new young political reporter for the Gray Lady, fleshes out why Latinos aren't a greater electoral force, at least for now, in the United States:
Hispanics make up about 17 percent of the population of the United States. In the Senate races likely to determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the chamber, Hispanic voters will probably make up less than 3 percent of the electorate. 
The explanation for the gap starts with the most basic rules of voter eligibility. People must be over age 18 to vote, and 28 percent of American Hispanics are under 18, compared with 22 percent of non-Hispanics. Voting-age adults must be United States citizens to vote, yet only 69 percent of adult Hispanics are citizens, compared with 96 percent of adult non-Hispanics.
As a result, only 49 percent of Hispanics are eligible to vote, compared with 74 percent of non-Hispanics. Hispanics make up just 11 percent of the voting-eligible population.
Eligible Hispanics are also less likely to vote than other Americans. A big part of the reason is demographic: Hispanics are younger than other Americans, and voters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds become significantly more likely to vote as they age. In 2012, the turnout rate for potential Hispanic voters was 48 percent, compared with 66.2 percent among blacks and 64.1 percent among whites. The lower Hispanic turnout rate is not as significant a factor as eligibility and geography, but it does further reduce the Hispanic share of the electorate, especially in midterm elections. 
The power of Hispanic voters is further diluted by geography. Hispanics are disproportionately concentrated in large states, like California, Florida and Texas. Incredibly, Hispanics represent an above average share of the population in only nine of the 50 states. There are very few Hispanic voters in most small states, like Wyoming or the Dakotas, and small states are overrepresented in the political process, thanks to the structure of the Senate. Effectively, the Hispanic share of the eligible Senate electorate is just 7.5 percent. 
Finally, Hispanic voters are concentrated in noncompetitive states and districts, diminishing their role in the most important races. This year, Hispanics represent less than 5 percent of eligible voters in nine of the 10 most competitive Senate states, and about 4 percent of eligible voters in those races over all. That means the nation’s 50 million Hispanics have about as much say in this year’s crucial Senate races as do Alaska Natives — Native Americans in Alaska — who happen to represent 13 percent of eligible voters in the Senate’s least populous battleground.
The good news is that the potency of the Hispanic voter will only increase:
In time, the political underrepresentation of Hispanics will end. The Hispanic share of the electorate will steadily increase. Most of today’s Hispanic children were born in the United States; 94 percent are citizens. As they reach voting age, the Hispanic share of eligible voters will begin to catch up with the Hispanic share of the population, although it may take a generation or longer. The Hispanics who are already eligible to vote will become more likely to participate with age.
Finally, last week the Gray Lady's salty dog media columnist David Carr had an excellent piece, "Eric Cantor’s Defeat Exposed a Beltway Journalism Blind Spot," on why the prestige press along and up-and-coming data-heavy Internet outlets were so completely blindsided by the House Majority Leader's epic failure in the Republican primary:
There are a number of dynamics — political, cultural and economic — at work. Congressional races are a mess to cover because there are so many of them, and this year, the House of Representatives is not in play while the Senate most definitely is. The math of covering someone who may become one of only 100 senators is far easier.
The same forces that keep politicians penned up within a few blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue work on journalists as well. No one wants to stray from the white-hot center of power for fear of being stuck in some forsaken locale when something big happens in Washington — which is why it has become one of the most overcovered places on earth. 
That Beltway provincialism is now multiplied by the diminution of nonnational newspapers. The industry as a whole is about half as big as it was in 2007, with regional newspapers suffering acute cutbacks. In just the last year, five reporters with decades of experience have left the Richmond statehouse.
Plenty of reporters are imprisoned in cubes in Washington, but stretched news organizations aren’t eager to spend money on planes, rental cars and hotel rooms so that employees can bring back reports from the hustings. While the Internet has been a boon to modern reporting — All Known Thought One Click Away — it tends to pin journalists at their desks. I was on a panel with Gay Talese some time ago, and he said, “We are outside people,” meaning that we are supposed to leave our offices and hit the streets. But the always-on data stream is hypnotic, giving us the illusion of omniscience.
Data-driven news sites are all the rage, but what happens when newspapers no longer have the money to commission comprehensive, legitimate polls? The quants took a beating on this one, partly because journalists are left to read the same partisan surveys and spotty local reporting as Mr. Cantor’s campaign staff, whose own polling had him up by more than 30 points.

The Colt 45 Chronicle #66

Yesterday summer got off to a wonderful start. I ran for the first time in two weeks. My foot and leg issues, both left and right, seem to be healing well enough now that I was able to putt around on the soft artificial turf of a soccer field located in the neighborhood while a father scrimmaged with his sons kicking the ball back and forth. The Sun was high in the east and it was still early, not even 9 AM. A guy shot hoops by himself shirtless at an adjoining basketball court. An old man, also shirtless, walked back and forth in the middle of the soccer field. And I ran around the perimeter listening to my iPod. I kept looking up at the Sun. It was all too good to be true.

I topped the day off by preparing myself a dinner of two garden burgers and three-potatoes worth of homemade french fries. I then sat down and watched the 196-minute roadshow cut of The Sand Pebbles (1966), which I had picked up at the library earlier in the afternoon.

If you ever want a cure for whatever ails you, try sitting down to a Steve McQueen movie, particularly anything he did from The Cincinnati Kid (1965) to Bullitt (1968). You'll be treated to a view of American masculinity that is long gone. Athletic, laconic, working class, always butting up against the-powers-that-be, the McQueen take on heroism does not exist anymore. Now we favor super-assassins or comic book superheroes.

The Sand Pebbles, with its story of a U.S. Navy gunboat patrolling the Yangtze River when the Kuomintang took control of China from the warlords in the 1920s, premiered at a time when LBJ's going-all-in commitment to war in Vietnam was starting to arouse significant domestic opposition. The Sand Pebbles, for its time, is a surprisingly provocative anti-imperialist statement from a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox). The message? Nations traffic in lies and everyday people -- the sailors, the coolies, the whores, the missionaries -- are merely grist for the mill.

It has been quite some time since the last "The Colt 45 Chronicle" post. The reason for the delay is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. At the time, my wife and I watched the whole thing unfold on television, and I think we were deeply affected by it, enough at least that I wrote a fictional account of the crackdown from the perspective of an actual Columbia exchange student who returned home to Beijing to participate in the democracy uprising. I wrote it in a letter to my friend Mark who was teaching English in Madrid.

I was motivated by the Tiananmen Square student protests but also I think I was influenced by recently having read Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895) as I rode the subway back forth to various temporary clerical jobs. In the introduction to my Signet paperback edition it was mentioned that Civil War veterans who read the novel thought the twentysomething Crane was actually a grizzled former combatant at Chancellorsville. Instead, he was a sensitive young man who wasn't born until six years after the Civil War but who successfully conjured up the battlefield by means of his imagination.

I thought the same thing could be done with Tiananmen. So what you get is a The Red Badge of Courage inspired rendering written in the early Grunge Age by a young man suffused with the spontaneous prose of Jack Kerouac. It is laughable, and I was immediately embarrassed once I sent the letter off to Mark. I think the next time I saw him I even apologized for subjecting him to it. But it is what it is.

In the weeks prior to and following the June 4 anniversary, the New York Times ran many stories devoted to Tiananmen and its aftermath. I didn't have time to read many of them, but I went back later and did something of an audit. And what surprised me was how little, despite the prodigious number of column inches, was really there. It brought to mind Hemingway's idea that whatever is edited out from a piece of writing leaves a trace presence, a gravity. Papa's directive was always to cut freely because the weight of that which is eliminated the reader will feel as if by some occult power. Well, the reverse is true. Publishing story after story regardless of actual substance will create a presence, even if it is merely a mirage. This is how thought control works in the "free" Western world where media monopolies dominate with government approval.

Probably the biggest story the Gray Lady ran was on Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua, who in 1989 happened to be the student body president of Peking University. "With Choice at Tiananmen, Student Took Road to Riches," by David Barboza and Michael Forsythe, is meant to be a morality tale where the Gray Lady instructs her readers on the hopeless venality of the Chinese government. Barboza and Forsythe begin their lengthy article by writing that
A few days after the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests 25 years ago, the Chinese government filled the airwaves with a list of the 21 most wanted student leaders accused of stirring up an antigovernment rebellion. At the top of the list was a 20-year-old student at Peking University named Wang Dan, who set up an unofficial student union to mobilize his classmates to demand democracy. 
There was no public mention then — and there have been very few mentions since — of the head of the official student union of Peking University at that time. His name is Xiao Jianhua. Mr. Xiao never opposed the government, and the events of June 1989 did not make him one of China’s “most wanted.” Instead, they catapulted him into the ranks of its most wealthy.
But after digesting the entire story all one comes away with is a sense that Xiao Jianhua is a smart guy who worked hard within the system to make a success of himself. There is neither a portrait of feckless collaboration nor a smoking gun of corruption to be found here. I found the most compelling passage to be a description of Xiao's devotion to reading:
He grew up in Feicheng, a poor farming village in a mountainous region of the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, one of six children born to a middle school teacher and his wife. At a young age, he was, by most accounts, a voracious reader of history and literature.
“Every morning, he’d get up at 5 a.m. and jog into the hills to study,” recalled Guo Qingtao, a childhood friend from the village and later a Peking University classmate. “He could recite every text from memory. He even read the teacher’s manuals.”
At 14, Mr. Xiao passed the highly competitive national college entrance exam and won admission to Peking University. He arrived in Beijing, friends say, with tattered clothes but ambitions to be a political leader.
“He loved politics,” said Zhou Chunsheng, his college math tutor and now a professor at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing. “He wanted to be a high official, and he was reading everything — social sciences books, Marxism, the collected works of Mao.” 
Mr. Xiao’s path to power was interrupted, though, by the most momentous student protests since 1919. At Peking University, the students were not just swept up in the protests, they were among the leaders of it — the ones who led a march into Tiananmen Square, the city’s axis of political power, to press for political reforms.
At the time, Mr. Xiao was president of the university’s official student union. The duties were largely social, organizing lectures and dances, but the post was coveted because of its ties to the Communist Youth League, a launching pad for future careers in the party.
But in the spring of 1989, students at the university began to march on Tiananmen Square with a list of demands both for university leaders and for the Communist Party at large. Mr. Xiao, as the titular representative of his fellow students, was caught in the middle.
“Xiao tried to tell the government what the students demanded, but some of the activists didn’t like his conservative approach, so they set up their own organization,” says Mr. Guo, his former classmate. “At the time, he was only 17 years old and was put under a lot of pressure. Feeling powerless, he went to the library and buried himself in books.”
The responsibility of pressing the student cause fell to a history major named Wang Dan, who helped set up an alternative student association at the university and organized boycotts, sit-ins and hunger strikes.
The Xiao expose falls particularly flat when one studies Andrew Jacobs' "Tiananmen’s Most Wanted" post that appeared a day before the 25th anniversary on NYT's Sinosphere blog. A "where are they now?" of seven of the 21 Tiananmen protest leaders that the Beijing Public Security Bureau listed on a most-wanted circular issued on June 13, 1989, five of the seven ended up working on Wall Street.

Can there be any doubt that Wall Street is more corrupt than the Chinese government? After all, was it China that melted down the global economy causing untold suffering that we are still dealing with? Of course it wasn't. It was the casino capitalism promulgated on Wall Street and K Street.

But China is an unofficial official enemy, and Tiananmen was the proto-Color Revolution that failed. This autumn the Gray Lady will no doubt be celebrating the proto-Color Revolution that was the mother of all Color Revolutions, the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany.

Spring 1989
Democracy. Democracy. (We're on a roll now.) Looks like it's time for an American liberty & TV monoculture, globe round and China wide. -- Columbia student leaves Morningside Heights lecture hall, leaves strolls on campus greens (who knows? we might have seen him that day as he made his way to library main, text books neatly wrapped in arms), leaves for hometown Beijing when martial law is announced. Goes and joins his buddies on the SQUARE. Not much sleep or food -- but so the fuck what? Democracy rocks on old Tiananmen. Nights in sleeping bags on the hard ground under Mongolian stars and Chairman Mao (big sir) portrait. -- The morning becomes for him timeless. Early Saturday, he hears the crow of a cock, street bred and fed, as it tramps in the damp dawn dust of silent secret garbage alleys half a mile to the east; and he wakes and rolls over to snuggle into the softness and sweet smells of Mei Ju Ne, his love. She smells like summer, he thinks.
The cock crows, and its cry rips and rises out of the east side by side with the deep blue dawn sky promising a day full of the sun. He lifts up his head and cocks his ear and says to himself: "This, this is the cockcrow of the West, of enlightenment and freedom and Columbus and New York. Here I am in my birthplace, grand ancient Forbidden City Beijing, heart of the East, and I am alive . . . to it all . . . a great Western happening being announced in the East."
He sighs, letting his head fall back on old Tiananmen, and falls asleep to dreams of Broadway bookstores, 1 trains and university coffee shops.

His eyes open and he sees an egg yolk hung up in the sky, and he thinks, What time is it? -- People are crazy and running all around and a dull hum is shaking his back. 
The tanks come and the soldiers come. And he says, "Fuck this shit! Who do they think they are? They want to fight. I will stay here and fight with them."
So he stays. He finds Mei Ju Ne at the southern edge of Tiananmen, the area where the troops are massing; she's with some friends checking out the situation, trying to figure out if the troops are really going to march.
He grabs her. This scares her; and pissed off, she starts screaming. Friends avert their eyes, looking down at their shoes bashful and uncomfortable. He apologizes; tells her he didn't know where she was and was worried. She looks at him, and right then -- right then and there amid the fear and tension and incredible highness of everybody -- they exchange a glance of such pure sweet kindness that at that moment they know exactly what it is that they're going to have to deal with soon. 
So they cut out immediately, leaving behind buddies to face and contemplate ugly green colored army, and they hustle towards the monument at the center of the Square. 
The shooting starts and the tanks roll. Students scatter. A lot of the more energetic and vocal dissidents are the first to take to their heels, while some of the laziest and quietest are the most at ease in the bam and whistle of gunfire. He and Mei Ju Ne sit close to the monument and watch everything unfold. It seems unreal to them, like watching TV -- no, bigger, like a movie with Dolby sound -- a total sensory overload: Too many people running this way and that; too many people falling; too much noise and energy and confusion and fear and hate, and blood -- all that unreal strange leaping red just there -- and death, silent stupid meek sorry death littering everywhere.
And the bodies pile up and the tanks roll on. He is mad angry and teeth grinding; he wants to sprint and explode into that weak mass of frightened soldier steel, destroying it with his strength and fearlessness. But she is crying and very afraid, and he must not abandon her. So they stay, along with several hundred others, and they wait on the monument. 
Eventually they come. And he sees them coming because they're not that far off. He can see the shine of the sun bouncing off round polished helmets. He puts his arm around Mei Ju Ne. She knows. The soldiers are sixty yards away and firing live rounds. He thinks back across the Pacific, back across America, to New York City, the land of his education and enlightenment, back to afternoons inside quiet subway stations, back to afternoons on the ferry looking at Liberty statuesque and ghostly green, a time when he dreamed of home, of China -- how much he felt for it, his love and need -- and his girl.
People start to drop around him. Wails moans screams -- people dying, brains spilling on stone. The soldiers have come bayonets drawn white. He hugs her to his heart and turns his back . . . .
A death, one soul vote for democracy. A Columbia student, the paper said, went back to his hometown when martial law was declared; was one of the students who chose to stay on Tiananmen Square after the People's Army began its advance. I guess he made his decision to take it on. Old big old bad ass grandpappy Death -- just the biggest thing any of us (anybody anywhere) will ever have to take on in our little chicken-scratched sojourn on the compost heap.
Two months ago today, Tuesday April 4 (which is recorded in my date book), we made our Columbia jaunt, Mark. Somewhere among the pretty fashionable liberal university babes sheltered by ivy-strewn brick walls and charcoal-black wrought iron fences was our holy Chinese saint-to-be. Fresh from bookstore browses and cigar chomping blanknesses, our most pressing and deep-felt problem was the boredom bought by too much liberty and liberality. We have switched the conjunctions in Pat Henry's famous American formula; switched it from an "or" to a"but. "

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nihilism #7

When last we left off, with Nihilism #6, I had mentioned that a perfectly succinct formulation of nihilism could be found in a movie, The Couselor (2013), written by Cormac McCarthy:
"You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, this world that you have created will also cease to exist."
But I have been thinking about this, and I should retract "perfect" as a distinction for this statement as a formulation of nihilism.

The founding father of nihilism as a school of philosophy and not just a label (Friedrich Jacobi coined the neologism, seeing it pejoratively as the Enlightenment's strange fruit) is Friedrich Nietzsche. And for Nietzsche the crowning achievement of his philosophy is the doctrine of Eternal Recurrence, the idea that what we do in the here and now will replay itself infinitely.

In other words, this world that we have created will not cease to exist because our existence is forever present.

When I broke up with my last girlfriend I decided to wake up early every morning, around 3 AM, and read from Nietzsche's last work, the posthumously published The Will to Power (1901).

I needed an emetic to cure me of my debilitating addiction to romantic love. I thought at least one page a day of the sagacious bachelor who famously wrote, "You go to women? Do not forget the whip!" (Derrida wrote a book, Spurs (1979) about this line.)

I stuck with it for for a month or two before moving on to something else. But this morning I returned to The Will to Power thinking about this issue of the Eternal Return of the Same.

The last section of The Will to Power is devoted to Eternal Recurrence. This from Note #1058:
Everything becomes and recurs eternally-- escape is impossible!-- Supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence as a selective principle, in the service of strength (and barbarism!!). 
Ripeness of man for this idea.
I always thought of the Eternal Return as a regulative concept, the palm at the end of the Western mind, a final refutation of all opposites, something that says the mental world and the physical world are one and all is possible.

Nietzsche solves the riddle of time-past and time-future, much like T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets (1943), by saying both are eternally present. There is a great deal of power to be tapped here. (Next nihilism post, an exploration of barbarism.)

(No. 1 of 'Four Quartets')

T.S. Eliot


Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Clarifying Obama's Statement on Iraq

Yesterday after Obama's statement that the U.S. is sending 300 military advisers to assist Iraq the U.S President answered questions from reporters. If there was any doubt the Fourth Estate is bought and sold in the United States it was certainly laid to rest yesterday. There was not one question about the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and where its funds and fighters are coming from. Questions dealt with Maliki, and the role of Syria and Iran in the conflict. Unbelievable, isn't it?

I thought it would be illuminating to quote Obama's last answer to a question he fielded on Iran, crossing out Iran and replacing it with Saudi Arabia. It makes for an answer that would more truly represent the interests of American voters who elected him:
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that just as Iraq’s leaders have to make decisions, I think Iran  [Saudi Arabia] has heard from us. We’ve indicated to them that it is important for them to avoid steps that might encourage the kind of sectarian splits that might lead to civil war.

And the one thing that I think has to be emphasized -- we have deep differences with Iran [Saudi Arabia] across the board on a whole host of issues. Obviously, what’s happened in Syria in part is the result of Iran [Saudi Arabia] coming in hot and heavy on one side. And Iran [Saudi Arabia] obviously should consider the fact that if its view of the region is solely through sectarian frames, they could find themselves fighting in a whole lot of places. And that’s probably not good for the Iranian [Saudi] economy or the Iranian [Saudi] people over the long term either. I suspect there are folks in Iran [Saudi Arabia] who recognize that. A Iraq in chaos on their borders is probably not in their interests. But old habits die hard, and we’ll have to see whether they can take what I think would be a more promising path over the next several days.
Thank you very much, everybody.


2:01 P.M. EDT

No Iran War

The takeaways from Obama's announcement yesterday are delay and obfuscation. Sending 300 military advisers to Iraq, as well as filling its skies with surveillance aircraft, will do nothing to roll back the jihadi gains in the north. The U.S., operating with its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), wants Maliki gone, as they want to be rid of Assad in neighboring Syria. (A senior administration official was quoted as saying that future U.S. airstrikes could include Syria.) 

The plan appears to be the creation of a federalized or partitioned Iraq with an augmented Kurdistan in control of its own oil sales and Kirkuk; re-Baathification in the form of Sunnis given control of the ministry of defense or interior, as well additional patronage-rich departments; while the Shia get a more U.S./GCC-friendly head of state. Alissa Rubin and Rod Nordland have the story, which appears to have been written with the ample help of USG, "Challengers Emerge to Replace Divisive Maliki":
The Kurds want the Iraqi central government to recognize the contested city of Kirkuk, endowed with oil, as part of the autonomous Kurdish territory they have carved out in the north. The Kurds also want assurances that they can sell the oil from Kurdistan without oversight from the central government.
The Sunnis want to lead at least one security ministry, such as defense or interior, and control some of the other powerful ministries such as education or higher education, both rich in patronage and jobs. 
So far the only point of near agreement among Iraq’s political factions is that Mr. Maliki, who has been prime minister since 2007 and is in his second term, must go. 
“We will not allow a third term for the prime minister; they must change him if they want things to calm down,” Nabil al-Khashab, a senior political adviser to Osama al-Nujaifi, the former speaker and most prominent of the Sunni leaders, said Thursday.
Washington's man in Baghdad orchestrating Maliki's ouster is Brett McGurk, assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq. Rubin and Nirdland continue,
It is far from clear, however, whether any of the suggested successors could gather enough votes. The names floated so far — Adel Abdul Mahdi, Ahmed Chalabi and Bayan Jaber — are from the Shiite blocs, which have the largest share of the total seats in the Parliament. 
Mr. Mahdi came within a vote of winning the prime minister’s job in 2006 and previously served as one of Iraq’s vice presidents. He is viewed as a moderate who has long worked well with the Kurds. 
Mr. Chalabi is a complex figure who has alternately charmed and infuriated the Americans but has ties both to them and to Iran. His biggest liability could be his uncompromising support for the systematic purge of many Sunnis from government jobs after the American-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party a decade ago. Mr. Chalabi now says he supports terminating the basis for that purge, the so-called de-Baathification law. 
Mr. Jaber, a minister of interior in the transitional Iraqi government and later finance minister, could also face problems. He is alleged to have allowed abuse and torture of prisoners when he was in the Interior Ministry, and it is unclear whether he has much widespread support. 
Other names are beginning to surface, and while the Americans are urging quick action, it could take weeks, if not months, for the factions to reach consensus. 
Senior American officials in Baghdad, including the ambassador, Robert S. Beecroft, and the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq, Brett McGurk, have been encouraging the Iraqi political factions to work together. At least two Iraqi political officials said the Americans were urging the factions to agree on a replacement for Mr. Maliki.
“They want to see the back of him,” said an Iraqi official, who met with the Americans this week and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the talks.
With a whisper campaign of Ahmed Chalabi to succeed Maliki we're back to the future. Chalabi was the neocon's man. They wanted him to run the show in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion. But things didn't go according to plan. Chalabi was seen as a puppet. He then recreated himself by allegedly cozying up to Iran.

The last great mobilization of anti-government sentiment in the United States, excepting the brief Occupy flowering of the fall of 2011, was in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  The "No Iraq War" yard sign was ubiquitous.

Shortly after Bush-Cheney invaded Iraq, people started altering there "No Iraq War" signs by duct-taping over the 'Q' and handwriting a 'N' to read "No Iran War." Then after not too long the manufactured yard sign below appeared:

People put up these "No Iran War" signs because the chatter in Washington was that "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." Everyone knew that the neocons were going after Iran. Saddam Hussein's Iraq, weakened by a decade of sanctions, would quickly topple thanks to U.S. military shock and awe and then it was on to Tehran.

But things don't work out the way elites draw them up in the board room.

After a quiescent anti-war movement hitched its cart to an attractive candidate in the Democratic Party things have gone from bad to worse. Now we're back on the road to Tehran.

The fact the Kerry is being sent out to rally support in the Middle East for regime change in Iraq is not a good sign. At this point all Kerry does is lie sonorously. More mayhem is to come.