Sunday, August 31, 2014

Something to Hüsker

My holiday weekend of SST Records remembrances continues. Today after a morning heavy on jazz -- Gerald Cleaver's Detroit (2008) and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' Ugetsu (1963) , to name a few -- I settled in and listened to Hüsker Dü's output on SST, minus Everything Falls Apart (1983), which I don't have and never owned on vinyl.

When Zen Arcade came out the summer of 1984 it blew everyone away. We hadn't heard anything like it. It was like a faster, edgier, heavier, ballsier, more intense R.E.M. Listening to "I'll Never Forget You" now (see above) I am reminded why we were so attracted to the Hüskers. Superb!

But the song that had us smitten, at least me and my cousin Colin, was the fourth cut on the first side of the double album. "Chartered Trips" wowed:

Hippies vs. Punks: We Jam Econo, The Story of the Minutemen

I saw the full-length Minutemen documentary, We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (2005), the year of its release. I went to my neighborhood art-house theater, Northwest Film Forum, with a girlfriend. One of the filmmakers gave a brief talk before the screening. The Minutemen are universally revered by those who know the band's music and story. So the filmmaker was appropriately penitential, in the Christian sense of a reconciliation with God, when he described the labor of love of putting the film's archival footage together and working with the great Mike Watt.

What struck me about the documentary the first time around was how unusual the band was in the early days. The footage from the Paranoid Time (1980) and The Punch Line (1981) period shows a band of clean young normal men playing truly unique music. There was no crafted persona, no buzz cuts and beards. Just totally real young guys playing short, fast, politically radical songs that didn't sound like anything anyone else was doing.

I saw the film again probably three or four years later. I checked out a DVD from the library. What I took away from that screening on my 13-inch color television is what a kick-ass song "Little Man with a Gun in His Hand" is.

Last night, after a rainy overcast day spent indoors puttering around not doing much of anything (I didn't even go out for a run), by happenstance I ended up watching on YouTube We Jam Econo again. The documentary is so good that once started it is difficult for a Minutemen-devotee like myself to stop.

What I picked up this time, which sort of slipped by me the first two viewings, is how important the year 1976 is for the Minutemen. That is the year that D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley graduate from San Pedro High School. It is also the year, as Watt explains, that Punk breaks into popular consciousness

Boon and Watt are immediately attracted to Punk and its "Do It Yourself" (DIY) sensibility as well as its celebration of the misfit. They had grown up during the heyday of arena rock where rock stars were elevated as avatars and demigods. Boon and Watt thought there should be a band on every neighborhood block, a nightclub on the block after that, and a record label on the block after that. Music should be accessible to all and played by all.

Watt acknowledges, as the camera, positioned on the floor of the passenger-side front seat of his van, absorbs his face, that the Minutemen were a creation of circumstance. The band benefited from its position in the temporal slipstream at a time when the Hippie traded in his "Age of Aquarius" aspirations for a place on the corporate spreadsheet, while the young Punks graduated from secondary school to say "Bollocks to all that!"

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Avengers A.I. #12

Each Wednesday after work I have a routine. I'll get a burrito at my neighborhood taqueria, and then I'll walk down Broadway to the comic shop and pick up the new releases for the week. It is a good practice to support your local comic dealer because he provides a safe, clean space for people to congregate. My neighborhood comic shop actually hosts fantasy games each night. When you walk in the front door you have wall-mounted comic-book displays on your left and right, but in the back of the store are card tables at which sit people, mostly young men, but some women too, and a few older folks, playing Dungeons & Dragons. It is a neighborhood social club, which is what used to represent the bedrock of our society.

With the waning of ethnic fraternal orders and labor union locals, the neighborhood social club is an anachronism. Our lives have migrated online. Amazon and Facebook, Google and Apple -- corporate behemoths -- dominate our waking hours and consciousness. The problem is we are not spirits. We are meat wagons that convey a spirit. So we need a healthy local community in order to be happy where we live. That means we need clean, safe social spaces in our neighborhood. And that is why I am proud to support my local comic shop.

A breathtaking exploration of the increasingly artificial nature of our civilization is the 12-issue run of Avengers A.I. The title provides an epilogue to Age of Ultron. That Marvel crossover event concluded with Hank Pym besting his malevolent artificial-intelligence spawn, Ultron, by introducing an virus that wipes out Ultron. The virus morphs into Dimitrios who traipses around in 1960s-era Iron Man armor. Dimitrios' goal is no less than the annihilation of all reality.

Avengers A.I. is written by Sam Humphries; the artist is Andre Lima Araujo. Both the writing and the art are superb.

Avengers A.I. #12 is the series finale. You will find nine scans from that issue below: the cover page and eight interior pages. Dimitrios, close to realizing his plan of reaching the nexus of reality, the "Golden Knot," and snuffing out the Universe, beheads Galactus and rides it to a showdown with the Creator, who turns out to be a bald-headed parrot.

I am reminded of an Alan Moore documentary, The Mindscape of Alan Moore (2003), that I saw several years ago where the prolific comic-book author predicts that, due to the breakthroughs in computing power that have been multiplying so rapidly, society will soon "turn into steam." What this means exactly is open to interpretation. I took it to mean that civilization as we know it will be radically altered, and we will make a disastrous attempt, much like Dimitrios, to slough off corporeal existence.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Seahawks End Preseason Poorly + Saccharine Trust + Minutemen

Quickly some housekeeping at the outset of this holiday weekend. The Seahawks, minus Russell Wilson's quick scoring drive to open the game, looked poor last night in the last game of preseason against the Raiders in Oakland. It was the defense -- mostly starters, not scrubs -- that collapsed. The Raiders offense led by rookie QB Derek Carr and some hard running by Latavius Murray shredded the Hawks. It verged on the embarrassing. Not a good way to enter the NFL regular season opener.

Two songs from the golden age of SST Records. Saccharin Trust's "A Human Certainty" off Paganicons (1981), the last track on the band's debut EP. (Note how this cut prefigures the Sonic Youth sound of the mid-80s.)

And a live version of Minutemen's "Sell or Be Sold," off the super-historic What Makes a Man Start Fires? (1983):

Kiev Has Lost

The end of summer approaches. The Labor Day weekend begins. The end appears to be approaching for the coup-makers in Kiev. The junta military is about to snap. How else to interpret Putin's address to the Novorossiya militia?
It is clear the militia has achieved a major success in intercepting Kiev’s military operation, which represents a grave danger to the population of Donbass and which has already led to the loss of many lives among peaceful residents. 
As a result of the militia’s actions, a large number of Ukrainian service members who did not participate in the military operation of their own volition but while following orders have been surrounded. 
I call on the militia groups to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian service members who have been surrounded, so as to avoid any needless loss of life, giving them the opportunity to leave the combat area unimpeded and reunite with their families, to return them to their mothers, wives and children, and to quickly provide medical assistance to those who were injured in the course of the military operation. 
For its part, the Russian side is ready and willing to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Donbass, who have been affected by this humanitarian catastrophe. 
I once again call on the Ukrainian authorities to immediately stop military actions, cease fire, sit down at the negotiating table with Donbass representatives and resolve all the accumulated problems exclusively via peaceful means.
Andrew Roth reports this morning from Moscow in "Putin Commends Separatist Militias in Ukraine" that there is dissension within the Ukrainian military:
Ukrainian irregular troops, who primarily serve in volunteer battalions, have complained in recent days of receiving no military support in pockets of strong separatist resistance. Semyon Semenchenko, the head of the pro-Kiev Donbass battalion, whose forces have been pinned down for more than a week in the city of Ilovaysk, called on Facebook for protests at the army’s headquarters in Kiev. 
“We have been tricked once again,” Mr. Semenchenko wrote on Wednesday. “There will be no help today. Those responsible are the minister of defense and the commander of the ATO,” he wrote, using the shorthand for Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation against the rebels in the east. 
The Ukrainian news media also reported that the Transcarpathian battalion, another pro-Kiev group, had returned home to western Ukraine after its soldiers came under heavy artillery fire from Grad rockets.
What makes this all so bizarre is that two weeks ago Gray Lady reporter Andrew Kramer, who was on the ground in Donetsk, predicted that the rebels' days were numbered but a few. Now, the junta military is surrounded southeast of Donetsk and the self-defense forces control a road to the west. Quite a turnabout.

I must admit that two weeks ago I was lost in the fog of war and Andrew Kramer's reporting. The junta's terror campaign of shelling the metropolitan centers of Luhansk and Donetsk led me to conclude that Putin would try to secure a ceasefire and some sort of reconciliation with Kiev. This turned out, as we see, not to be the case.

And that is why there is such a hue and cry in the West and from Kiev, with junta prime minister Yatsenyuk making a desperate plea for Western support, because the jig is almost up. The junta military offensive has always been a circus meant to keep the attention of the masses diverted from the impossibly high hurdles that Ukrainian economic integration with Europe represents. Putin reminded everyone of this in Minsk on Tuesday.

But for now the U.S. and Kiev will do what they have done since March, wail and gnash teeth over Russian aggression. Neil MacFarquhar and Michael Gordon in "Ukraine Leader Says ‘Huge Loads of Arms’ Pour in From Russia" sum up this wailing as follows:
Mr. Poroshenko spoke as NATO released satellite images to corroborate accusations that Russian forces were actively involved in Ukraine fighting. NATO also said that more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had joined the separatists battling the Ukrainian military. 
“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” Brig. Gen. Nico Tak of the Netherlands, a senior officer in NATO’s military command, said in a statement. One image, dated Aug. 21, shows a Russian military convoy with self-propelled artillery moving in the Krasnodon region inside Ukraine. Another, dated Aug. 23, shows Russian self-propelled artillery units in firing positions near Krasnodon.
General Tak said the Russian soldiers were backing the separatists and “fighting with them.” He also said NATO estimated that about 20,000 Russian troops were deployed on Russian territory near the Ukrainian border.
The United States ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, said in a series of Twitter messages that Russian military assistance to the separatists had failed to help them sufficiently, “so now an increasing number of Russian troops are intervening directly in fighting on Ukrainian territory.” He also asserted that Russia had sent its newest air defense systems, including an effective weapon, the SA-22, into eastern Ukraine, “and is now directly involved in the fighting.”
The Novorossiya militia responded by saying that there are Russians fighters among its ranks but they are volunteers:
“There are active soldiers fighting among us who preferred to spend their vacation not on the beach, but with us, among their brothers, who are fighting for their freedom,” Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a rebel commander and the prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said in an interview on Russian state-run television. 
Mr. Zakharchenko said that 3,000 to 4,000 Russians had fought alongside separatists since the conflict erupted. 
That assertion evaded the issue of direct Russian involvement by painting the soldiers as volunteers. It suggests, however, that Moscow still seeks to organize and to some extent control a force that could be operated at arm’s length with a backbone of local participation. 
While the United States and its European allies have condemned Russia, they have not responded to criticism that the Ukrainian tactics against the separatists have included shelling civilian areas in rebel strongholds. The United Nations has estimated that 2,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine violence.
Yesterday Obama promised more sanctions. But there are already significant sanctions targeting Russian banking, military and technology. Any additional steps will have to go after the behemoth, Gazprom, which will harm Europe. Will France cancel its warship contract with Russia? If the answer is no, then the sanctions game has run its course.

NATO will likely station more troops and hardware in Poland and the Baltics, on a rotating basis to evade promises not to garrison Russia's borders. But a greater worry for the West should be what to do about the mess that they have made of Ukraine.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Michael Brown: Race-Based Peonage Exposed

The shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the beginning of the month has revealed much that is shameful about how we live our lives here within the United States of America. All were witness to the St. Louis County peace officers' militarized, attack-oriented response to the spontaneous protests that erupted following the shooting. And all have had to come to terms with the inherent racism of a system that allows for a black-majority city like Ferguson to be policed by a nearly all-white law enforcement agency.

What I have found encouraging is that there has been very little defense in the mainstream media of our rotten, racist, militarized status quo. The evidence is too overwhelming to refute. People can be bamboozled about what goes on overseas, but it becomes more difficult to convince people of something that goes against their direct daily experience: in this case, that the police are angels of light and good order and there is no racial bias to found in our public places. Fox News, the few times I caught a glimpse of it, made some passes at playing "blame the victim," but it rang hollow. You could feel the skittishness emanating from the executive suites. You don't want to be perceived as lily white in a global marketplace that is multiracial; it is bad for business. If a television network goes too far in fomenting race hatred, an advertising boycott campaign can't be far behind.

A particularly illuminating story by Campbell Robertson and Joseph Goldstein, "In Aftermath of Missouri Protests, Skepticism About the Prospects for Change," appeared in the newspaper yesterday; it provides an accessible nuts and bolts explanation about how institutional racism works:
MAPLEWOOD, Mo. — On Monday night, just a few hours after Michael Brown was laid to rest, an amiable judge sat in the City Council chambers here and weighed in on the traffic violations and petty crimes, one by one, of more than a hundred people. At least two-thirds of those waiting were black, roughly a reverse racial image of the demographics of Maplewood itself. 
The scene was banal compared to the tear gas and outrage over the last two weeks in Ferguson, 13 miles away. But it is in courts like this that the daily frustrations that led in 
Young black men, who in many towns in St. Louis County are pulled over at a rate greater than whites, routinely find themselves in the patchwork of municipal courts here, without lawyers and unable to pay the fines levied for their traffic violations. Many end up being passed from jail to jail around the county until they can pay their fines and in some cases other administrative fees, a revenue source on which some towns are growing increasingly reliant.
“It angers people, because it seems like they’re just messing with you,” said Cameron Lester, a 22-year-old college student who knew Mr. Brown, and days earlier was protesting his death. He described how an unpaid $75 ticket once turned into days behind bars in two different police stations and hundreds of dollars in fees. He was skeptical about change. 
“Will it make a difference?” he asked. “Same thing as Trayvon Martin. Where’s that now?”part to the turmoil in Ferguson begin to fester.  
What Roberston and Goldstein describe is our present-day system of peonage, the way in which white supremacy was enforced in the South after the Civil War. Newly freed blacks were rounded up as "vagrants" and forced into involuntary servitude or contract labor. Southern states enshrined this in laws known as the "Black Codes."

As Robertson and Goldenstein explain the current version of the Black Codes begins with "driving while black." After a traffic citation is written, a no-show at court turns into an arrest warrant and additional penalties and fees:
That there is racial disparity in police stops is borne out by official numbers. 
In Maplewood, according to a 2013 report by the state attorney general, black motorists were searched or arrested during stops at more than twice the rate of whites. Yet searches of whites and blacks were almost equally likely to turn up contraband. Messages for the police chief in Maplewood were not returned. 
In the city of Hazelwood, blacks were twice as likely as whites to be searched during a police stop, and nearly three times as likely to be arrested, while searches of whites were about one and a half times as likely to yield contraband. 
City officials, pointing out that there is extensive training to avoid racial profiling, said these numbers cannot be interpreted without context.
“If our stops may reflect a higher percentage of people, perhaps that reflects the percentage of people who are coming through Hazelwood,” said Gregg Hall, the city’s police chief. 
Many of the towns have come to rely on court fines; in St. Ann, which has a population of around 13,000 and a 27-person jail, court fines and fees make up well over a third of the general fund revenues.
Matt Conley, the St. Ann city administrator, said that a rise in the number of tickets there came from a crackdown on speeding because of frequent accidents. 
“Nobody is forcing people to go out there and speed and commit traffic issues,” he said, adding that radar cameras cannot detect race. 
When a person fails to appear and pay, here as in many other places, a warrant is issued and that person’s license is suspended. In the hodgepodge of cities that make up St. Louis County, some drivers may have multiple warrants. In Ferguson, more than one and a half warrants have been issued for every resident. And as the warrants stack up, so do the fines: Not showing up to pay a $90 taillight violation means a failure-to-appear warrant with its own fee of $100 or more; each successive failure-to-appear warrant adds to that; and if there is a stop, there are incarceration fees and towing fees.
In the end, said Brendan Roediger, an assistant professor at St. Louis University Law School, a person who had trouble coming up with $90 might owe a jurisdiction well over a thousand dollars.
“The police aren’t actually pulling people over to find contraband,” he said. “They’re pulling people over to see if they have warrants. And they always do. If you run a system that ultimately makes every black person in your town have a warrant, then racial profiling does work.”

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, who represents part of the city of St. Louis, said the racial disparity in traffic stops, the unwillingness of cities to consider ability to pay and the fact that small city budgets are increasingly reliant on court fines show how officials have learned to “sustain their municipalities by pulling young black men over.”
This is race-based peonage plain and simple, a system where involuntary servitude is used to maintain the local power structure:
Making the rounds,” the “muni-shuffle,” the “jail hop”: Talk to a young black man in northern St. Louis County and he knows what this is. When someone is stopped on a warrant in any of the municipalities in north St. Louis County, he knows he is going to jail everywhere he has a warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket. Whether the full amount of the fine — often in addition to hundreds of dollars in fees — is still due after a few days in jail is up to the judge. 
“You sit in jail for a week and you get out and you still owe it,” said Brandon Ghoston, 33, who works at a car dealership and has done the rounds himself. 
His brother, Nikos Chatman, who paints airplanes at the St. Louis Downtown Airport, has a ritual: “If I know I have warrants in five or six different places, and I get pulled over, the first thing I do is light a cigarette because I know I’m gone, I’m going to do the rounds.” 
“I’m 30 years old and I’ve never been locked up for anything but a traffic ticket,” Mr. Chatman added. “I’ve been locked up a lot of times.”
How to change a system that has been around basically for 150 years -- since the end of the Civil War? The prevalent line is always "Get out and vote." But winning elections, hard as that is, is not even half the struggle. Once the right people have been elected to office, you have to keep the voting public engaged in the change process; you have to keep the elected official(s) engaged; and you have to combat the push-back from the entrenched status quo, the abiding "deep state" of things.

As long as we have this simplistic, Cracker Jack cartoon vision of civic engagement -- "Vote the bums out! -- nothing will change.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ceasefire in Gaza, No Ceasefire in Novorossiya

"They're destroying our buildings." That is the line that filled my head as I awoke this morning. My wristwatch alarm had gone off at the usual time, 4 AM, but then I went back to sleep and dreamed of being out on the desert hardpack at Burning Man with Sergey Brin.

"They're destroying our buildings" refers to the chief strategy of U.S. allies Israel and Ukraine. An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in Gaza was announced yesterday. Despite vows from both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that they would never again accept a return to the status quo ante, that is exactly what happened. Jodi Rudoren reports in "Cease-Fire Extended, but Not on Hamas’s Terms" that
A statement from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry describing the deal included only vague language about “the aspirations of the Palestinian people” and the need to create “an independent Palestinian state to achieve peace and security in the region.” Hamas’s call for a seaport and airport in Gaza, and Israel’s call for demilitarization of the coastal territory — along with an exchange of Israeli soldiers’ remains for Palestinians in Israeli prisons — were put off for discussion within a month if the truce holds.
Though Egypt, Israel and the United States have all said a cease-fire should strengthen Mr. Abbas and give him the leading role in rebuilding Gaza, he was not mentioned in the Egyptian statement. The statement also said nothing about Gaza’s southern Rafah crossing with Egypt, whose frequent closings since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in Egypt have been a prime Palestinian complaint.
The agreement restores the six-nautical-mile fishing zone off Gaza’s coast that Israel agreed to in 2012 but later cut back. It also says that Israeli-controlled border crossings will be opened to allow the “quick entry” of humanitarian aid and materials to reconstruct Gaza, where more than 11,000 homes and scores of schools and mosques have been reduced to rubble. A senior Israeli official said the entry of cement and concrete would be monitored to ensure it was used for civilian purposes, because “we’re not interested in allowing Hamas to rebuild its military machine.”
It is hard to know why exactly the Palestinian side caved in so badly. Maybe there is a secret agreement on the release of Hamas prisoners. After all is said and done the place to look is the obvious. The longer the Israeli bombardment lasted the more Gaza became an uninhabitable landscape of rubble:
The agreement followed a week of renewed fighting after the collapse of an earlier cease-fire. Israel killed several top Hamas military commanders and felled three high-rise buildings in audacious airstrikes, while more than 100 rockets a day pounded its battered south. 
“The human catastrophe is just very immense, it’s getting worse and worse every day, and I think that’s one of the reasons Hamas took into consideration in accepting the cease-fire,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. “The mood is very critical of Israel, but they are also asking questions of Hamas: Why did we have to go through all this? Why is there no cease-fire? Why did we provoke Israel into this war? More and more questions are in the minds of the Palestinians, especially in this last week.”
There was an excellent story at the beginning of the month by Rudoren and Fares Akram, "Conflict Leaves Industry in Ashes and Gaza Reeling From Economic Toll," that highlighted the Israeli strategy of targeting Palestinian industry in Gaza for destruction. All of this -- targeting civilian homes and industry -- is a war crime. And it worked to bring about the best Netanyahu could expect to achieve, a ceasefire with a vague promise to allow construction material through the blockade to rebuild what will be destroyed again at a later date.

The ballyhooed meeting yesterday in Minsk between Putin and Poroshenko turned out to be, at first blush at least, little to do with securing a ceasefire in the Donbass and more about the reasons Russia has for opposing Ukraine's newly-signed association agreement with the European Union. Niqnaq has a illuminating post today, "minsk in a nutshell," that lays out Putin's arguments, the foremost of which is that duty-free products from Europe will flood Ukraine where they be misleading re-labeled Ukrainian goods and exported to Russia:
As soon as Ukraine introduces zero import duty on goods from Euia, a step envisaged right after the ratification of the agreement that would apply to 98% of all the goods, there will obviously be a sharp increase in the supply of Euian goods to the Ukrainian market. We understand our Euian partners: they have already developed the Ukrainian market rather well, and would like to get hold of whatever is left and squeeze out everyone else. Besides, less competitive Ukrainian produce will also be squeezed out from its own market. Where to? Primarily to Russia and the other Customs Union states, but primarily to us. We should not rule out the risk of illegal re-export to the Customs Union market of goods from Euia under the guise of Ukrainian produce, either.
I was wrong. I thought Putin was going to make a deal with Poroshenko at Minsk. But now it appears that while Putin was in Minsk Moscow has committed itself even more to Novorossiya by opening up new fronts. According to Andrew Higgins and Michael Gordon in "Putin Talks to Ukrainian Leader as Videos Show Captured Russian Soldiers":
The release of the videos [of junta-captured Russian soldiers] and the high-level talks came a day after Ukraine accused Russia of sending an armored column across the border toward the coastal city of Mariupol. That, along with other Russian moves, prompted Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the United States ambassador to Ukraine, to express alarm on Twitter. “The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway. #escalation,” he wrote. 
Western officials said the purpose of the push toward Mariupol, which is far from the main conflict zone, was to open a new front that would divert Ukrainian forces from Donetsk and Luhansk, and possibly to seize an outlet to the sea in the event that Russia tries to establish a permanent separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine. 
Two other Russian incursions, the officials said, were aimed at breaking the siege of Luhansk by Ukrainian forces and opening a supply corridor to Donetsk. 
To support the counteroffensive, Russia has deployed a sizable amount of artillery within range of Ukrainian forces near Luhansk. The Ukrainian forces were out of range of artillery based on Russian territory, so Moscow moved the units into Ukraine. 
“Russian military units with self-propelled artillery have entered eastern Ukraine and have established an operational presence in the Krasnodon area, an area controlled by Russian separatists,” a senior Obama administration official said. 
The videos released by Ukraine could make it more difficult for the Kremlin to stick to its approach of denying that it has any hand in the fighting, though a state-run Russian news agency cited an unnamed Defense Ministry official as saying the soldiers had crossed into Ukraine by accident.
Colonel Cassad reports the hot phase of fighting will last through Ukrainian parliamentary elections in October. No politician can afford to be seen suing for peace until then. This means the humanitarian crisis in Novorossiya will deepen since all the junta military has proven it can do is shell civilian structures using heavy artillery. Power and water has been out for weeks in Luhansk. Unless the counteroffensive of the Novorossiyan self-defense forces is a smashing success and the junta is routed thoroughly we can expect more destroyed homes and high rises and civilian slaughter.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

GWOT is Dead! Long Live GWOT!

The big story this morning is one by Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, "Obama Approves Air Surveillance of ISIS in Syria":
Defense officials said Monday evening that the Pentagon was sending in manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights over Syria, using a combination of aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes. Mr. Obama approved the flights over the weekend, a senior administration official said. 
The flights are a significant step toward direct American military action in Syria, an intervention that could alter the battlefield in the nation’s three-year civil war.
Most of this article and one by Ben Hubbard, "Syria Declares Its Readiness in Backing Efforts to Fight Jihadists," rehash the threadbare and discredited lines from what was once referred to as Syria's civil war: the brutal Assad government will not be aided and the Free Syrian Army will be armed and trained to take the fight to Islamic State in its northern stronghold of Raqqa province. According to Landler and Cooper:
Administration officials said the United States did not intend to notify the Assad government of the planned flights. Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly called for the ouster of Mr. Assad, is loath to be seen as aiding the Syrian government, even inadvertently.

As a result the Pentagon is drafting military options that would strike the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, near the largely erased border between those two nations, as opposed to more deeply inside Syria. The administration is also moving to bolster American support for the moderate Syrian rebels who view Mr. Assad as their main foe. 
On Monday, Syria warned the White House that it needed to coordinate airstrikes against ISIS or it would view them as a breach of its sovereignty and an “act of aggression.” But it signaled its readiness to work with the United States in a coordinated campaign against the militants.
Ben Hubbard manages to repeat as gospel the canard (debunked by Seymour Hersh in two articles, "Whose Sarin?" and "The Red Line and the Rat Line") that the Syrian government gasses its own people:
Antigovernment activists have long accused the Syrian government of allowing ISIS to expand because its presence helped them in the civil war: ISIS was good at killing rebels and strengthened the government’s argument that it was facing a terrorist plot, not a popular uprising. 
But as ISIS has overshadowed the rebel movement, it has increasingly fought the government directly, often winning. 
Since mid-July, the group has seized three military bases in the northern province of Raqqa, including an air base it stormed on Sunday. 
But analysts said it was unlikely that the United States would change direction and publicly ally with Damascus against ISIS. Mr. Assad’s forces have not proved to be effective militarily against the group, and American officials are likely to find it hard to work with a government that has launched chemical attacks on its own people and destroyed residential areas in its quest to kill rebels.
The difficulty for the Obama administration, if chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey is to be believed and USG does indeed intend to knock out IS by hitting it in Raqqa, is how to do this without 1) alienating its chief regional allies -- Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, and 2) ground troops to advance on jihadi turf in the wake of American air strikes. The Syrian Arab Army is the answer to number two, but it seems clear that the Obama administration will not partner with Damascus for fear of angering the sheikhs. Possibly a mercenary force is being assembled at this very moment.

In the near future there will be American air strikes in northern Syria. Iraq must have a government formed by September 11. Haider al-Abadi, the successor-to-be of Nouri al-Maliki, has signaled his willingness to arm Sunni militias, but only within the existing security structure. A key demand of the Sunnis to participate in any unity government has been to be given control of the defense ministry. I doubt Abadi's offer goes far enough to guarantee their support. Ben Hubbard notes in "Suicide Bomber Kills 13 in Baghdad as New Leader Calls for Unity":
To help combat ISIS, Mr. Abadi, the prime minister-designate, said he planned to increase support for groups of armed citizens who defend their areas, but he said they could operate only under the umbrella of the official security forces.
The status quo is about to get even more messy: No new government in Baghdad, unilateral U.S. air strikes in northern Syria, and now the imminent collapse of national government in Afghanistan. According to Rod Nordland and Jawad Sukhanyar in "Afghan Presidential Candidate Threatens to Withdraw From Election":
KABUL, Afghanistan — One of the two candidates for Afghan president will withdraw from a bitterly contested audit of the results unless election officials meet a series of technical demands made by his campaign, one of his top aides said Tuesday. 
Declaring the process a “joke,” Fazul Ahmad Manawi, the chief auditor for the candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, said Mr. Abdullah would stop cooperating with it and would withdraw from the election entirely unless the demands were met by Wednesday morning. 
As if to underscore the disarray into which the presidential election has descended, Mr. Manawi’s news conference, at the headquarters of the Independent Election Commission, was immediately followed by a melee, with representatives of Mr. Abdullah and his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, shouting and throwing punches until the riot police arrived and restored order, arresting at least two people.
Afghanistan, birthplace of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), is where GWOT dies. Yet GWOT lives on -- in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Egypt, Xinjiang. Long live GWOT!

Monday, August 25, 2014

If GWOT is Authentic Where are the Economic Sanctions on the Gulf Sheikhdoms?

After a year spent where the United States ignored and downplayed the existence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, choosing instead to focus on the officially demonized figures of Bashar al-Assad and Nouri al-Malaki, suddenly the uber-jihadi group is front and center. Islamic State's threat to oil-rich and pro-American Kurdistan, followed by its decapitation video of freelance journalist James Foley, has put the Global War on Terror (GWOT) back in the limelight and made the caliphate Public Enemy No. 1.

At this point the public must be feeling whipsawed. First, despite more than a decade of programming regarding the evils of Islamic fundamentalism, people were asked to ignore Western collaboration with jihadis in order to accomplish the collapse of the Syrian government; now we are being told to be afraid, very afraid.

So it is prudent to be skeptical. Questions are being asked about the authenticity of the Foley beheading. And even today's Gray Lady editorial, "A Necessary Response to ISIS," mentions the support given to Islamic State by of our closest allies in the Gulf:
The prospects of defeating ISIS would be greatly improved if other Muslim nations could see ISIS for the threat it is. But, like Iraq, they are mired in petty competitions and Sunni-Shiite religious divisions and many have their own relations with extremists of one kind or another. ISIS has received financing from donors in Kuwait and Qatar. Saudi Arabia funneled weapons to Syrian rebels and didn’t care if they went to ISIS. Turkey allowed ISIS fighters and weapons to flow across porous borders. All of that has to stop.
Creating a regional military force may be required, including assistance from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Turkey. It certainly will require money, intelligence-sharing, diplomatic cooperation and a determined plan to cut off financing to ISIS and the flow of ISIS fighters between states. France’s suggestion for an international conference deserves consideration. 
No matter how many American airstrikes are carried out — Mr. Obama is also considering strikes against ISIS in Syria — such extremists will never be defeated if Muslims themselves don’t make it a priority. To their credit, some leaders are speaking out. Among them is Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, the grand mufti, who called ISIS and Al Qaeda the “enemy No. 1 of Islam.” 
But they must go further and begin a serious discussion about the dangers of radical Islam and how ISIS’s perversion of one of the world’s great religions can be reversed.
Kuwait and Qatar come in for more unwelcome attention in Rukimini Callimachi's "U.S. Writer Held by Qaeda Affiliate in Syria Is Freed After Nearly 2 Years: Peter Theo Curtis, Abducted in 2012, Is Released by Nusra Front":
Ghanim al-Mteiri, a sheikh from Kuwait, approached an employee of The New York Times with a photograph of Mr. Curtis in captivity, and The Times arranged for the image to be sent to the Curtis family. The sheikh, a known fund-raiser for jihadi groups, said he could organize Mr. Curtis’s release, and Ms. Curtis agreed that same month to fly to Istanbul, meeting twice with the shadowy figure, who insisted on seeing her at night, relatives said.
He proposed a complicated prisoner swap, offering to release Mr. Curtis if his mother arranged for the government of Iraq to free two women — both wives of jihadists — held in prisons there. The proposal went nowhere.
American experts on ISIS and Middle East politics suggested that Qatar, which has supported some militant Islamic extremist groups in the past but is an important American ally, moved more aggressively to help secure Mr. Curtis’s freedom after Mr. Foley was killed, partly to emphatically send a message that it opposes groups like ISIS. 
“I think what we’re seeing is a shift as the result of the Foley beheading,” said Rick Brennan, senior political scientists at the RAND Corporation. “Qatar has an interest in making certain it is seen as an ally in the war on terror. And beheading Americans or Westerners is not in Qatar’s interest."
The question of whether the sudden efflorescence of GWOT is contrived or authentic is important. If it is truly authentic, then why not sanction the countries known to support Islamic State? Look at all the effort expended to isolate Russia. Why not something approaching a fraction of that effort directed at Qatar and Kuwait? The behemoth, Saudi Arabia, could be spared for now, the message being, "You're next."

But we all know this is a fantasy. The Gulf monarchies are stakeholders in USG; they have representatives in the U.S. Congress. There will be no sanctions. The Great Game will continue as it has in Afghanistan. The West, with its unrivaled air power, will blow up the "bad guys" -- along with a lot of innocent people -- yet jihad will spread.  Perpetual war. That is what we have in store.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Slave of the Future

Returning home from several days out of state, I played back the messages recorded on my answering machine. One was from my grocery store alerting me that some almond butter I had purchased recently was being recalled because of salmonella. One was inviting me to be a particpant in a poll on a politcal matter. And the last was from my ex-wife, a woman who divorced me approximately 25 years ago, calling to wish me a happy birthday. She was heading off to Burning Man, something, I am under the impression, that she does every year.

There was a good story by Nick Bilton in the Thursday Styles section of the Gray Lady entitled "A Line Is Drawn in the Desert: At Burning Man, the Tech Elite One-Up One Another." Bilton describes how the tech elite have turned Burning Man into a gated, sherpa-serviced luxury playground:
In recent years, the competition for who in the tech world could outdo who evolved from a need for more luxurious sleeping quarters. People went from spending the night in tents, to renting R.V.s, to building actual structures. 
“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. (He asked not to be named so as not to jeopardize those relationships.) “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!” 
His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.
This is drastically different from the way most people experience the event. When I attended Burning Man a few years ago, we slept in tents and a U-Haul moving van. We lived on cereal and beef jerky for a week. And while Burning Man was one of the best experiences of my life, using the public Porta-Potty toilets was certainly one of the most revolting experiences thus far. But that’s what makes Burning Man so great: at least you’re all experiencing those gross toilets together. 
That is, until recently. Now the rich are spending thousands of dollars to get their own luxury restroom trailers, just like those used on movie sets. 
“Anyone who has been going to Burning Man for the last five years is now seeing things on a level of expense or flash that didn’t exist before,” said Brian Doherty, author of the book “This Is Burning Man.” “It does have this feeling that, ‘Oh, look, the rich people have moved into my neighborhood.’ It’s gentrifying.” 
For those with even more money to squander, there are camps that come with “Sherpas,” who are essentially paid help.
Tyler Hanson, who started going to Burning Man in 1995, decided a couple of years ago to try working as a paid Sherpa at one of these luxury camps. He described the experience this way: Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare — yes, in the middle of 110-degree heat.)
“Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” Mr. Hanson said. “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees.” 
Mr. Hanson said he won’t be going back to Burning Man anytime soon. The Sherpas, the money, the blockaded camps and the tech elite were too much for him. “The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,” he said. “Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It’s now become a mirror of society.”
Speaking of "a mirror of society," one of the things I do every year when I make the trip to Southern Oregon to visit my mother is I get us tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. OSF commissions new work, and I always try to see these plays. Year before last it was the tremendous Party People. This year was the even better Family Album. Gray Lady theater critic Charles Isherwood pans the second act of the play. But the second act was the best thing I have ever seen in my life. The cultural references came so fast and furious, the music was so vital and true, I was transported to a transcendent place of organic perfection -- the kind of artistic experience you only read about in books as a schoolboy.

And what was the second act about? The enslavement of all things creative and familial to the Internet. An enslavement of our lives to getting "hits," which as every blogger knows is essentially fickle and arbitrary. Yet this is how we live our lives now. We know what we are doing. We know that it is artificial and random. Yet we keep on doing it.

Isherwood had a problem with the second act's avalanche of things"going viral." But the raising up of hyperreality was the whole point; it is how the characters achieve their emancipation. I hope playwrights Stew and Heidi Rodewald are right. I hope dialectically we can work our way clear of our present digital addiction and graduate ourselves to some sort of higher unity.

As I was trying to go to sleep last night in my Super 8 Motel room I was thinking about how the "good man" is necessary for society. (I say "good man" because it is still a man's world. The millennia of civilization have been overwhelming patriarchal.) There needs to be somebody who is good in order that others might aspire to something other than being bad. This is the priest. The celibate. This is who I have become. And we know what Nietzsche thought of the "good man." This is aphorism number 356 (1887-1888) from the The Will to Power (1901): "Modest, industrious, benevolent, temperate: is that how you would have men? good men? But to me that seems only the ideal slave, the slave of future."

While travel is burdensome, costly and exhausting, it is something that has to be done, if only to upturn the patterns that become so entrenched a person tends to forget that he has an identity independent of his everyday routines. I savored sitting on the bed alone in my motel room and watching the Seahawks preseason game against the Bears. I enjoyed running on the all-weather track of my high school in the cool morning sunshine, after which I walked the campus quad, transporting myself back to Carter- and Reagan-time. The Iranian Revolution and Bobby Sands' hunger strike in H-Block Long Kesh.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

With GWOT Back on the Front Page, U.S. Should Make Peace with Russia

What is going on in the Donbass is quite clear. One can even pick it up by reading the Gray Lady's reporter Andrew Kramer. In Donetsk Kramer writes in "Ukrainian Troops Press Rebels in Their Eastern Strongholds" of a junta military  terrorizing the civilian population prior to Putin's meeting in Minsk on Tuesday with Poroshenko. The idea is if Kiev can maximize the crisis Putin will make concessions to make the problem go away, the problem being a fundamental break down in Donbass society, a 21st-century version of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War:
DONETSK, Ukraine — With street fights and artillery barrages, the Ukrainian military pressed its advance on Wednesday on the two eastern provincial capitals held by pro-Russian separatists in a day of violence that killed 52 civilians and Ukrainian soldiers and an unknown number of rebels. 
In one of the heaviest artillery attacks yet on the center of Donetsk, the larger of the capitals, shells struck street kiosks and residential apartment buildings near the stadium of the Shatyorsk soccer club, in the city’s heart. Fighting on the outskirts, particularly around the strategic town of Ilovaysk, a transportation hub, has also flared in recent days. 
The fighting has intensified as the Ukrainian and Russian leaders prepare for a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday to explore a diplomatic solution to the conflict, suggesting the sides are maneuvering to achieve the strongest possible military position before then.
Shells landed for a second day in a neighborhood of Makiyivka, near Donetsk, about a mile from a separatist checkpoint. One blew out the windows in the bedroom of Anna Zyukova’s 2-year-old son, Vladislav, leaving pockmarks of shrapnel sprayed into the wallpaper behind his crib. “Thank God we got him out yesterday” to a relative’s home away from the shelling, Ms. Zyukova said. 
At the rebel checkpoint, a commander who offered only his nickname, Chaika, or the Seagull, said he was as baffled as anybody by the scattershot shelling into residential districts. His position was in a forest, away from homes. 
“We are soldiers and we are fighting,” he said. “We understand when they shoot at us. But why are they firing at the residential areas? We don’t know.”
As for Luhansk, Kramer casts doubt on junta reports that the Ukrainian military controls a big chunk of city real estate:
In Luhansk, the other remaining separatist stronghold, government forces have now gained control of “significant parts” of the city after days of street fighting, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters in Kiev. 
Though block-to-block fighting began in Luhansk late last week, the government’s claim of controlling areas there could not be independently confirmed. In a brief telephone interview Wednesday morning, a human rights researcher in the city said he had seen no sign of the Ukrainian Army so far.
It is going to be a long weekend of terror for the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk. The rebel militia will not be broken in four-to-five days. Putin is ready to make a deal. The question is whether Kiev is. Maybe the junta cannot. Maybe all Kiev is able to do is wage war and commit atrocities. If this is the case, hopefully Washington has figured out by now where this is all heading, World War Three, and will force a deal down the throat of its ghastly offspring.

The Obama administration would be wise to settle things with Russia because it looks like the Global War on Terror is back on the front burner. Since last year it has become apparent that the U.S. had decided to go along with the Gulf monarchies in rolling back the Arab Spring. The Sisi coup which ousted the Muslim Brothers in Egypt last summer followed by the rise of Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq occurred with Saudi blessings. The U.S. assented, albeit meekly, but it assented nonetheless.

Now there is evidence -- we'll see, it is too early yet to tell -- of a division between the House of Saud and Uncle Sam (unless one believes that IS is a free actor, which I do not). And it looks like Kurdistan was the source of that division. Islamic State fighters battered the vaunted Kurdish pesh merga, took control of Mosul Dam and threatened Erbil. The U.S. responded with airstrikes coordinated with Iraqi special forces and the pesh merga and routed the jihadis. The jihadis answered with a "golden oldie," a snuff flick meant to sow terror in the Far Enemy.

The U.S. being the biggest bully on the block will need to respond in some fashion. The question is what IS does next. My sense is that the jihadis are too vulnerable, too spread out. If they were to go all in on a high-profile attack on the Far Enemy now they would pay dearly. So the Foley beheading is likely a one-off. Islamic State will turn its attention back to Syria, which is what they have been trying to do since the U.S. military asserted itself on behalf of the Kurds.


I'll be out of town the next few days. Back on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Expect a Donbass Deal Next Week

Usually I scan the news before going to bed. I'll read quickly a full article if I think is important, like I did last night with "Ukrainian and Russian Leaders Will Meet as Rebels Continue to Falter," by Andrew Higgins and Andrew Kramer:
KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces pushed deeper into territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels on Tuesday, fighting street battles in the besieged city of Luhansk and pressuring the outer defenses of Donetsk in a further blow to the separatists’ crumbling virtual state. 
While continuing its offensive, the Ukrainian government said it saw a chance for a peaceful settlement after an announcement that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would meet next Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro O. Poroshenko, and European Union leaders in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
Things are not going particularly well for Novorossiya.  While the dispatches from Colonel Cassad list plenty of junta losses, they also frequently mention a "crisis" atmosphere for a rebel militia attempting to cover the entire theater of the Ukrainian military offensive. Then there is the issue of the LPR/DPR's loss of leadership. Andrew Kramer reports in "Plenty of Room at the Top of Ukraine’s Fading Rebellion" that it has had an immediate adverse impact on the rebellion:
. . . President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia appears to be maneuvering for a face-saving settlement, analysts say, a way to escape a losing situation without puncturing his strongman image or antagonizing the ultranationalists at home who were expecting him to follow up his annexation of Crimea with an invasion of Ukraine
Step 1 has been a change in leadership. In recent weeks, in what separatist officials hopefully call the “Ukrainianization” of the leadership, almost all the original Russian leaders of the rebellion have resigned and gone home, replaced by Ukrainians of dubious qualifications
Aleksandr Borodai, a Russian citizen, stepped down as prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, to make way for a Ukrainian, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who had led a police advocacy group before the war. In the Luhansk region, Valery Bolotov, a Russian citizen, announced last week he had “temporarily resigned” as prime minister and left for Russia for medical treatment. He was replaced by Igor Plotnitskiy, a former public health inspector in Ukraine. 
Igor Girkin, who uses the nickname Igor Strelkov, or Igor the Shooter, a former colonel in the Federal Security Service who led the Russian military takeover of Crimea before arriving in eastern Ukraine, resigned as defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Vladimir Kononov, a local resident and former judo instructor, took his place. 
The shuffle also removed those in charge when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down on July 17, including Igor Bezler, who used the nickname Bes, or the Demon. Mr. Bezler, a native of Crimea, appeared in a video in April identifying himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army. His location is unknown. 
The only remaining senior Russian here is Vladimir Antyufeyev, a reputed spy who lived under an assumed name for a decade and is now the first deputy prime minister. 
For the pro-Russian enterprise, the change of leadership was a gamble. While opening the prospect of peace talks, as the authorities in Kiev have refused to negotiate with Russian citizens, it has also left the rebel military ranks adrift, with control in the hands of local Ukrainians with modest résumés.
Kramer goes on to play up the loss of leadership as feeding the drunken anarchy that rules the streets of Donetsk without exploring the possibility that the excessive alcohol consumption might be a reaction to the junta's shelling of the city, a war crime.

In any event, something is in the works. Merkel will be in Kiev on Saturday; Putin in Minsk with Poroshenko on Tuesday. A deal has to get done for the simple reason that when the Ukie military enters Luhansk and Donetsk, the "Aleppo" phase of urban combat will commence and the humanitarian crisis will expand exponentially. While an argument could be made that the United States has been angling for such an outcome all along, the hope for Putin and Merkel is that the junta can see clearly enough to realize that by turning Donetsk and Luhansk into Aleppo it is destroying the future viability of the Ukraine. Also, I am sure that Merkel and Putin come with purses filled. Putin has Gazprom; Merkel has the European Central Bank.

So I think a deal will be done. I hope a deal will be done. But last night I dreamed a disturbing dream. I boarded a train. The train was waiting on the platform, and I walked in the open doors. Others waited on the platform. For some reason when I entered the train I decided to leave my shoulder bag/brief case on the platform. I think my thought was that I wanted to check out to make sure the train was headed in the right direction. There were a few riders who were already sitting down inside.

Shortly after I entered the train, the conductor announced the train was leaving and then the doors shut. I got up to leave, but it was too late. I looked at my bag sitting on the platform where a few commuters milled about waiting for the next train.

Immediately I became panicked. My wallet, with all my credit cards and identification and $100 cash, was in the bag. The amount of time to replace all that stuff was too staggering to comprehend. I had to get off the train. But how to do that? The next stop -- when was the next stop?

The rest of the dream was like a Steve McQueen action movie. I think I actually pried the doors of the train car open and jumped out, leaving me in an industrial rail yard with new stubbly spring grass on the surrounding hills. I took off running, calculating the entire time the probability that my bag would still be there when I finally arrived back at the platform.

The point? Don't get on the train. Get off the train. And that is what I think Putin does.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

English Oceans + Rising Son

Alcohol and women. Two problems I finally put behind me. The former, six-years ago; the latter, four going on five years. That's why I find it odd that I never became a Drive-By Truckers devotee until I had given up two mainstays of the band's songwriting.

English Oceans (2014) is the latest album. It is tremendous. Probably the best since Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008). At #16 on the Billboard 200 it is the highest a DBT's album has charted.

The alternating songs of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have sort of been the soundtrack to my burdened bachelor's life. The monastic lifestyle and road runs.

Another new release this year that I have been enjoying is Takuya Kuroda's Rising Son. I heard the track "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" walking to the library after work, and I was like, "Oh, my. That is certainly true."

Coup Coming Shortly to Afghanistan + Europe Grows Tired of Kiev + Intifada in St. Louis County Continues

A particularly good story today from Matthew Rosenberg, "Amid Election Impasse, Calls in Afghanistan for an Interim Government," reminding us once again what poor prospects there are for peace and stability. Currently a whispering campaign is underway for an interim government, a.k.a., a putsch, to rule the country in absence of any hope that the Abdullah-Ghani recount will ever be concluded or unity government of the two candidates agreed upon:
That official and others interviewed in recent days spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing plans that could be considered seditious. The fact that they discussed the plans in advance suggests that they are using the threat of a coup to achieve political ends, not simply plotting in secret to execute one. 
The officials said they believed they would have the backing of Afghanistan’s army, police and intelligence corps. Though no concrete plans are in place, several officials said a committee would most likely be formed to run Afghanistan and that representatives of Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani would be asked to join. Both candidates have dismissed the idea of an interim government. 
Many Afghans are liable to view any step to an interim government as a power grab by the men who surrounded Mr. Karzai for the last 12 years who may be seeking an excuse to preserve their power.
The United States and European countries are loath to see Afghan officials make an end-run around Afghanistan’s Constitution, which would call into question the lives lost and billions spent by the West in Afghanistan. Yet, in the two months since the runoff, the Abdullah and Ghani campaigns have proved unable or unwilling to compromise.
At the same time, talks on creating a national unity government, which the candidates agreed to as part of an American-brokered deal to end the crisis, have made limited progress. A special audit of all 8.1 million votes under the supervision of the United Nations agreed to as part of the same deal has been mired by arguments over what constitutes a fraudulent vote.
Along with the threat of violence, the political fight has brought Afghanistan’s ethnic divides back to the surface, pitting the smaller Tajik and Hazara communities against the dominant Pashtuns. The economy is suffering as well. Two Afghan officials warned that the government would soon be unable to pay its civil servants because revenue from taxes and customs were down by nearly a third this year.
The primary motivation for a coup/interim government appears to be the signing of the stalled bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States. The Taliban is gaining ground, and the U.S. needs an agreement in place by the middle of next month in order to keep troops in country; otherwise, like the Russians did in 1989, the superpower promises to exit completely by the end of the year:
Signs of fraying within the Karzai government have already begun to emerge. With Taliban military advances threatening entire districts, for instance, some Afghan officials are now deploying army and police units and seeking help from the American-led military coalition in defiance of Mr. Karzai, who has tried to limit when and where foreign and Afghan forces can operate. 
A new government is needed soon if there is to be any chance of securing deals to keep American and European troops here after the end of the year, some Afghan officials said. They said it would be better to start laying the groundwork to justify an interim government now in case Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani cannot not find a solution.
Talk about plans for an interim government intensified after some of Mr. Abdullah’s most powerful backers — men who command well-armed militias — came within days of trying to seize power and declare their candidate the president after the release of preliminary results that gave Mr. Ghani a wide lead.
Three senior Afghan officials said they needed a government in place by mid-September to ensure security agreements needed to keep some United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year. They said a new presidential election could most likely be held next year, probably at the same time Afghanistan will elect a new parliament, which would help keep costs under control.
Karzai's refusal to sign a BSA, along with his wariness to engage Taliban advances, leads one to believe he is probably operating according to an understanding with the Taliban's sponsors in the Gulf, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The caliphate, though suffering some setbacks recently, could one day span Asia from the Mediterranean to the Pacific.

Turning to Eurasia, Angela Merkel has announced her first visit to Kiev since the February coup. Billed as a peace mission -- maybe, though I can point to no evidence, Merkel now realizes that left to its own proclivities the junta will indeed create a failed state (is there any doubt at this point?) on the eastern edge of Europe, a Kosovo on steroids that just happens to be where a significant amount of the fuel that powers Germany's economy transits -- anyhow, billed as a peace mission, possibly that is the reason the junta is blaming the rebels for the atrocity of blowing up a caravan of refugees.

Something is happening here -- what with the Russian aid convoy stilled stalled at the border, foreign ministers negotiating in Berlin, the Western prestige press going over the top with its front-loading of specious junta claims -- the destruction of Russian APCs that crossed the border into the Ukraine, the Ukie military capturing downtown Luhansk, and now the rebels, conjuring up images of MH17, knowingly slaughtered refugees -- but what it is ain't exactly clear. The junta appears to be throwing up as much dust, generating as much noise as possible.

It could be this: Europe has grown tired. The show cannot go on. A deal must be secured that grants the Donbass substantial autonomy within a federalized Ukraine. In other words, the deal Russia originally proposed last winter.

Quickly, a few words on the uprising in St. Louis County. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's mustering of the National Guard did not the cow the protesters who took to the streets again last night. Monica Davey, John Eligon and Alan Blinder report in "National Guard Troops Fail to Quell Unrest in Ferguson":
As darkness set in along West Florissant Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares and a center of the weeklong protests, demonstrators were required to keep moving
After more than an hour of peaceful protests, some in the crowd began to throw bottles at the police, who brought out armored vehicles and tactical units. But many peacekeepers in the crowd formed a human chain and got the agitators to back down.
At another point, as protesters gathered near a convenience store, some of them threw objects; the police responded with tear gas. 
And near midnight, the police began announcing over loudspeakers that people needed to leave the area or risk arrest after what the police said were repeated gunshots and a deteriorating situation. 
A few blocks away, at the police command post, National Guard members in Army fatigues, some with military police patches on their uniforms, stood ready but never entered the area where protesters were marching. State and local law enforcement authorities oversaw operations there. 
Residents seemed puzzled and frustrated by the continually changing approaches, suggesting that the moving set of rules only worsened longstanding tensions over policing and race in this town of 21,000. 
“It almost seems like they can’t decide what to do, and like law enforcement is fighting over who’s got the power,” said Antione Watson, 37, who stood near a middle-of-the-street memorial of candles and flowers for Mr. Brown, the 18-year-old killed on a winding block here. 
“First they do this, then there’s that, and now who can even tell what their plan is?” Mr. Watson said. “They can try all of this, but I don’t see an end to this until there are charges against the cop.”

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gray Lady's Info War Against Novorossiya

For the most part the Gray Lady's reporting on the battle for Novorossiya has been adequate. If a person is willing to read the dispatches every day from start to finish, while maintaining an eye on other sources available on the Internet, then one can basically figure out what is going on.

The problem is in what the Gray Lady chooses to emphasize. Take the story by Andrew Kramer, "Ukraine Says Army Controls Center of a Rebel City," which I spied on the newspaper of record's web site last night before going to bed:
DONETSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military on Sunday moved into the heart of the separatist hub of Luhansk for the first time, officials said, chipping at one of the cornerstones of the pro-Russia rebels’ disintegrating virtual state. 
Ukrainian officials said army units had raised the national flag over a police station in central Luhansk, the eastern city that, along with Donetsk, has been a center of rebel activity and an important destination for Russian fighters and aid. Other parts of Luhansk, however, were still said to be under rebel control. 
The claim could not be independently confirmed, though a photograph of the flag and police station was circulating on social media, and the report was consistent with the progress of fighting there going into the weekend.
There is a tendency in the Western press to "stovepipe" or "front load" all bogus junta claims to the top of the story, usually constructing the headline out of said claims, and then append a demur, parenthetical "could not be independently verified." With that disclaimer the Gray Lady can argue, in a legal sense, that she is objective and neutral, when clearly she is waging an information war.

The objective is to create the impression that for Novorossiya all is lost. And I must admit it had an impact on me. I went to bed and dreamed disturbed, harrowing dreams. But all is not as the Gray Lady would have us believe. For instance, Kramer says that "Besides the advance in Luhansk, the Ukrainian military made another critical move, capturing the town of Yasinovataya, a strategic railway hub north of Donetsk." But according to a report by the reliable Colonel Cassad, Yasinovataya has not been captured by the junta:
Yasinovataya is currently not captured by the junta. As stated at the beginning of the offensive, Yasinovataya is a key goal for the junta in the battle for Donetsk. So when junta tanks rolled into Yasinovataya, Poroshenko’s Twitter reported it captured, although there is a difference between entering a city and capturing a city. Similarly, claims about the taking of Lugansk were untrue, when a couple of days ago junta’s infantry entered to the West of Hriaschevaty suburbs. Yasinovataya is now under fighting, both sides have been amassing reserves, with extensive use of tanks and artillery.
So there you have it. A night filled with nightmares for nothing. But that is the point of disinformation.

In his story Andrew Kramer paints a picture of drunken and unruly rebels at the point of collapse:
The army has tightened its siege on Donetsk in recent weeks, and inside, a breakdown in discipline among the hard-pressed rebel fighters had locals on edge. Residents said rebel fighters had taken to carousing drunkenly at night and wearing civilian clothes at checkpoints, a change that would allow them, at a moment’s notice, to throw down their weapons and blend in with the population.
Kramer also speculates that the large number of empty trucks in the humanitarian aid convoy, still idling at the border where they have been since Friday, are meant to transport the routed rebels back to Russia:
The seemingly imminent defeat of the rebels also raised the possibility that the huge convoy of trucks waiting to bring aid from Russian to civilians in Luhansk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine might also be used to carry fighters and weapons out of the country. During random inspections by journalists, a number of the trucks have turned out to be mostly empty, and Russian officials have not offered much explanation other than to say they were trying to account for the possibility that some trucks might break down.
Kramer could just as easily talk about the rebel victories in, as Colonel Cassad says, "Ilovajsk, Miusinsk and Krasny Luch," or the fact that the junta cannot use air power without it being shot down:
Today self-defence shot down 3 aircraft: one MiG-29 and two Su-25. Regarding the MiG, there’s confirmation from the junta. A video already appeared about Su-25 (although the video is confusing, a fuller version actually shows visible characteristic of the wreckage of a MiG-29, so this may be one and the same aircraft). So, confirmed 2, and 1 unconfirmed. In general, we can say that junta’s attempts to use aviation in the zone of punitive operation has always ended with losses, because of no opportunity to crush even such old air defence systems, as ADMS and MANPADS.
Why doesn't the Gray Lady report any of the turmoil emanating from Kiev? The sanctified space of the Maidan has finally been cleared by skinheads. Where is the outrage? Where is the unsigned editorial inveighing against the use of violence on peaceful protesters? Also, an internal power struggle has broken out into the open between Dmytro Yarosh of Right Sector and junta interior minister Arsen Avakov. Yarosh is threatening a march on Kiev to be staged by Right Sector's volunteer paramilitary unit unless the interior ministry rescinds all charges against the group's members.

But for all the exigencies of the information war -- what trifling anecdotes get emphasized at the expense of real newsworthy events like the forced clearing of the Maidan, the epicenter of the February coup which brought us where we are today -- the Gray Lady's Kramer concludes by pointing the informed reader in the correct direction:
In the past week, three senior rebel leaders have left the war zone, in moves seen as setting the stage for a possible negotiated settlement by removing contentious personalities or Russian citizens from top positions. 
In Luhansk last week, the prime minister and military commander of the Luhansk People’s Republic, Valery Bolotov, announced in a recorded video address his “temporary resignation” as leader and departure for Russia for medical treatment. 
Aleksandr Borodai, a Russian citizen, stepped down and was replaced by Mr. Zakharchenko. Mr. Borodai later announced that a fellow Russian who had been the military commander, Igor Girkin, who uses the nickname Igor Strelkov, or Igor the Shooter, had also resigned and a Ukrainian citizen appointed in his place. 
Mr. Borodai said Mr. Strelkov had left the eastern Ukrainian war zone for a “vacation,” and would return. 
Something is definitely in the works. The aid convoy is a distraction meant to buy time. In Berlin there is a powwow between the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine who are trying to hammer out a deal. It doesn't look like we are there yet.